Also available for Xbox 360
With all the hype that Red Dead Redemption 2 got at launch, I started to feel a little bad that I hadn't played the previous games in the series yet. After playing through Red Dead Revolver, I took a brief break before diving into Rockstar's not-Grand-Theft-Auto heavy hitter, Red Dead Redemption. I wasn't really sure what to expect as all I'd really heard was that it was extremely different from Red Dead Revolver (which is absolutely true), it was really good, and it was kind of Grand Theft Auto in the Old West.
Red Dead Redemption follows the character of John Marston, a Wild West gangbanger-turned-vigilante on a less-than-voluntary mission to hunt down and kill his former gang companions. This quest takes him through the fictional state of New Austin and parts of northern Mexico and into contact with a jaded town sheriff, a sweet rancher lady and her grumpy libertarian father, a snake oil salesman who would make Joel Osteen look sincere, an actual necrophiliac, an alcoholic Irishman (I guess that's a bit redundant), and a Pancho Villa stand-in among others. Throughout his journey to hunt down his former companions, he has the opportunity to help - or hurt - the people he encounters. There are many opportunities to do good. If you pass a wrecked lawman with escaped fugitives, will you help him catch the criminals, or will you shoot him and skin his horses? If you see a prostitute being beaten to death in the street, will you pretend you see nothing, or will you shoot him and save her? If you see someone stranded on the road, will you stop to help? I always did cause I'm a Good Guy(TM), but they always ended up being horse thieves, so then I murdered them. For the good of the people, of course.
Visually, the game looks pretty good for the time although there were a few noticeable frame rate drops every now and then that got a bit annoying. The voice acting, however, for the main characters was very well done. Rob Wiethoff's performance as John Marston especially was spectacular, and the quality of his performance really helps to immerse you in the world and story being told. Voice acting is extremely important to my immersion, and the quality of the motion capture and voice acting are usually the determining factor in how emotionally invested I get in the game. This game made me tear up. That's as glowing an endorsement as I could ever write.
As a history teacher, one of the things I loved about Red Dead Redemption's setting was the relative accuracy with which it was portrayed. Obviously some creative liberties were taken, and there were parts that were made less accurate for the sake of making a fun game, but for the most part, Rockstar did a fantastic job of showing the death of the "Wild West" and the awkward and often unwilling transition to modernity. Those two systems had a lot of incompatibilities with the spread of federal law enforcement and vigilantes' increasingly finding themselves as being the outlaws, the horse's increasing obsolescence as a mode of transportation with the rise of the automobile, and the assimilation of native American tribes with the lingering myth of the "savage red man." Those issues were rarely put explicitly front and center, but they were issues that were addressed with subtle finesse throughout the game, and that made the historian in me as giddy as a kid in a candy store.
Red Dead Redemption is a fantastic work of historical fiction in its own right and a stellar open world video game. The world can feel a bit empty at times, but the accuracy with which that world is portrayed especially with respect to when the game is set is exemplary. It tells an immersive story with a massive world and an impressive degree of historical accuracy. The who, what, and where are all fictional, but they're believable, and the when of the setting is done justice. It's not perfect, and there were more a few technical hiccups and bugs that I encountered, but man, what a wild ride. I suspect most folks have played this one by now, but if somehow you haven't, do yourself and favor and remedy that. Whether you play on PS3 or 360, play this game. It's fantastic.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Golf Story is a unique sort of game especially in today's gaming landscape. It's a sports game - golf, specifically, as the name suggests - but it's a story drive sports RPG. That's what's relatively unusual about it. That sounds to may like a bit of a tough thing to pull off, but I gotta admit, Golf Story did it superbly. I never thought I'd find a sports game with a compelling story let alone one that also has well done RPG mechanics, but lo and behold, here it is, and it's a Switch exclusive, no less.
You play as some dude who decides to be a professional golfer to make his presumably dead dad proud of him...or something. The "why" of his little quest wasn't explained as thoroughly as I might have liked, but regardless of why, he heads back to his old childhood golf course to work on his game and start working his way up to the pro tour. His first step on this road to golfing betterment is to convince the old man serving as the course's official coach to give him lessons.
So the actual gameplay is pretty reminiscent of Earthbound to me if you swap out the JRPG combat with golf matches and challenges. Some characters will have you hit a ball into a certain area X number of times, some folks will have you sink a series of challenge holes, some will flat out challenge you to a best-5-out-of-9 match, but it's all about golf. When you finish a challenge or play a round of golf on your own, you're rewarded with experience and money. When you level up, you can upgrade stats like your power, accuracy, etc. With the money, you can buy better clubs from the various courses' pro shops to get bonuses like higher loft, lower loft, a farther drive, etc.
As far as golf mechanics go, it's not as intensely simulator-esque as some of the more realistic golf games are. You still have to take wind and slope into account, but it's not nearly as brutal as some of the Tiger Woods PGA games can be with wind and slope. There are a handful of different golf courses in the game most of which culminate in a tournament. To win the tournament, you have place first; second or third place finishes don't cut it, and not even tying for first is good enough. For most of them, this isn't too tough. That changes when you get to the professional tournament at the end of the game. That one is BRUTAL. You have to average par at the MINIMUM on each hole, and these holes don't play around. Narrow fairways surrounded by water, high winds, obnoxious slopes, and merciless AI opponents all make it so that you have ZERO margin for error in this tournament. At this point in the game, it honestly started feeling more frustrating than fun which is a total 180 to how the game had felt to me up until this point.
Visually, the game takes a retro aesthetic with an even-more-retro looking mini game called "Galf." I know a lot of folks really seemed to enjoy that minigame, but it just felt like a mediocre NES game to me. Like, why would I want to play a bad golf game within a good golf game? I'd rather just keep playing the good golf game. But hey, it's there if subpar minigames are your cup of tea. The music is a really nice touch, though. It's lively and cheerful in the bright courses, foreboding on the haunted themed course, and intense when you're trying to sink a putt on the green. The whole soundtrack sounds great and perfectly fits the action and atmosphere of the game. The game has a couple of bugs, most noticeably an issue I encountered a couple times (mainly on the last course) where my ball would land on what was clearly a bridge or fairway but splash as if it had hit water and count as if I had landed in a water hazard. Super annoying on a course that's already REALLY tough, but it wasn't a common issue, so it's workable.
Golf Story was a definite surprise hit for me. From the reviews, I knew it would be good, but since I'm not a sports person in general and ESPECIALLY not a golf person, I really wasn't sure how I'd feel about it going in. I found myself unable to put down the controller, though, as I had to see what the next course would be like, who the next opponent would be, how difficult the next challenge would be. If you're into golf games or a Switch enthusiast, you NEED to check this game out given that it's exclusive to Nintendo's console/handheld hybrid juggernaut, but even if you're just somewhat curious about a story driven sports game like I was, it's totally worth checking out. I promise that you won't regret it.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Fire Emblem: Archanean War Chronicles, more commonly known simply as "BS Fire Emblem," was a short series of four maps taking place in the two years preceding the events of the first Fire Emblem game that were available only via the Satellaview satellite download service in Japan. Because of the limited time workings of the Satellaview broadcasts, it's a serious pain in the ass to find a working ROM of these four maps, but with enough stubborn determination, it can be done. If you don't feel like dealing with that stubborn determination, however, you can also play them on the (sadly Japan exclusive) Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem on DS.
Because these were intended as bonus challenge maps, they're significantly more difficult than your normal Fire Emblem maps. These are basically late game challenge right from the get go. Compound that with the fact that you don't have the benefit of having a whole game to train up characters' experience and stockpile some better weapons, and yeah, you're in for some challenge. Patience, careful strategy, and the favor of the RNG gods are absolutely required for success here. Visually, they look pretty much exactly like the other three Fire Emblem games that saw release on the Super Nintendo, so expect that level of sprite detail.
The first map has you play as Princess Nyna and a small handful of loyal knights as they struggle to escape from Archanea Palace when it falls to Dolhr's troops. The second map sees Minerva team up with her enemy, Hardin, and save a village near Aurelis from attacking bandits (although Minerva doesn't know that the man she's working with is Hardin). In the third map, Lena and Rickard, accompany by Castor and Navarre, sneak past Dolhr's soldiers into Archanea's palace and look what treasure they can. The fourth and final map show Nyna's escape into Aurelis with the help of Grust's famed General Camus just prior to the events of the first game.
BS Fire Emblem is a nice ride if you want a good challenge that really pushes you to plan carefully (but mainly be freakishly lucky), but unless you're a hardcore Fire Emblem fan, there's nothing here really worth seeking out. If you want a brutal challenge, just play Fire Emblem: Fates - Conquest. If you want to flex your SNES muscles, play the cheap and easy to find Mystery of the Emblem or Genealogy of the Holy War. With how much of a pain it is just to find a working ROM let alone one in English, if you REALLY want to play through these maps, you're way better of playing the versions included with New Mystery of the Emblem. It's a solid little map pack, but there just isn't a whole lot if incentive to jump through the hoops required to play it on original hardware or a SNES emulator.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Xbox, Xbox One, and Windows
Metal Wolf Chaos is a bit of an odd story in the history of gaming. It's a game that was released fairly late in the life of the original Xbox - a system that only really saw success in the United States - about an American vice president who ousts the president in a coup, it takes place almost exclusively in the United States, it's voice entirely in English, and yet was only released in Japan. Everything about this game screams "American release" if not a release exclusive to North America, but it never saw a release outside of Japan....UNTIL NOW.
The game starts with you, playing as the president of the United States, fleeing a large coup force from the White House. Fortunately, the president has his own personal mecha mobile armor, Metal Wolf complete with the presidential seal and massive armament of weaponry. You have to fight your way through the White House lawn, into an underground escape tunnel, and to Air Force One to escape to the west coast where you begin your one-man war to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. It's weird how much the coup forces and treasonous vice president remind me of Trump. You know, if Trump were at all competent or even moderately intelligent. They describe Metal Wolf and the budding resistance as a "great evil" and a threat to American freedom and justice. It's eerie.
The game plays as an admittedly rather clunky third person shooter. You have a SUPER limited boost ability (technically it lasts a good while, but it starts draining your health after a couple seconds), but other than that, you're pretty much just trudging through the levels on foot. You can have two weapons equipped at a time unless you're using a sniper cannon or multimissile launcher as those require both hands. There is a part or two that require a little bit of platforming above some instant-death pits, and since there are no checkpoints, death means doing the entire level over again (as I found out when I got knocked into a pit with the boss of a level almost dead), and the controls are NOT conducive of platforming, so that's not tight at all, but by and large, the controls are workable, and the game's campy tongue-in-cheek humor makes it worth playing through.
With its visuals as with its controls, Metal Wolf Chaos shows its age. This is not a remake or a remaster; this is a straight re-release with no real changes made aside from translated menus and upscaling to modern resolutions. The textures are the same, and the frame rate is still 30 fps. Personally, I'd have liked to see a bit of polish on the aging textures and polygons or at least a frame rate bump to 60 fps, but the game is still perfectly playable and enjoyable, and at $30, it's a fair asking price.
Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a game that Americans (or at least a few of us...the weird ones) have been wanting to play for fifteen years, but aside from emulation or importing (and then bypassing the Xbox's region lock), it's been out of our reach. At long last, we have available to us a game that truly does let us MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, and this time without the concentration camps or catastrophic tariffs! Truthfully, Metal Wolf Chaos isn't an amazing game especially by today's standards, but it's a solid game for those who just want a fun, goofy robot blasting time. I'd recommend giving it a play for sure.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem is a remake of the second half of the SNES game, Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, which itself was a combined remake and sequel to the original Fire Emblem on NES. It's a companion game of sorts to Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon on DS as Shadow Dragon remade the events of the original and the first half of Mystery of the Emblem whereas this game remade the events of Mystery that took place after the events of the first game. To give a little more incentive to buy this game, though, it also bundles the four maps from the Satellaview streaming exclusive BS Fire Emblem: Archanean War Chronicles which aren't (legitimately) playable any longer outside of this DS release.
The story picks up where Shadow Dragon left off. The Dark Pontiff Gharnef has been defeated and evil shadow dragon has been banished from this world. A new threat has emerged, however, as Hardin, the new emperor of the mighty Archanean Empire, has begun to act extremely out of character, ruling his realm with an iron fist and mercilessly crushing any dissent. It quickly becomes apparent that while the shadow dragon's body was defeated, the evil of its soul continues to persist, casting a new cloud of darkness over the continent. It once again falls to Marth to muster his allies and face down this evil with swords, magic, and waifus.
The most significant change to the Fire Emblem formula that New Mystery of the Emblem introduced was the addition of Casual Mode. To some folks, this forever ruined Fire Emblem by making it approachable to casual players, but I disagree. I would call Casual Mode the single most significant addition to the series since the weapon triangle for that very reason - it makes accessible to less skilled or less patient players an incredible series. For that, I have a lot of respect for Mystery of the Emblem. The character portraits and battle sprites look absolutely fantastic for the DS. The DS was perfectly capable of decent looking 3D games, but New Mystery of the Emblem perfectly demonstrates how exceptional the DS is as a 2D system.
Everything about New Mystery of the Emblem has been streamlined since the SNES game it remakes. The menu system between battles is simple and intuitive, the conversations between characters that flesh out their characters have been expanded to show more of their personalities and interactions with one another, and the control in battle is simple to use and free of any waste. The screens are perfectly used to keep the focus on the action. The bottom screen always displays the battlefield while the top screen can be used to display either unit formation (hit points, items, etc) or a mini-map with the force strength of each side.
Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem is everything a classic Fire Emblem game should be. It takes everything that made Shadow Dragon great and improves it, and it takes most of the flaws Shadow Dragon had and fixes them. It's a shame that this game never saw a Western release, but fortunately, an excellent fan translation exists if you can find a working ROM and a good DS emulator (or, like I did, load the patched ROM onto a micro SD card and play it on a real DS with an R4 card). The inclusion of the BS Fire Emblem maps are my favorite "extra" from any Fire Emblem game just because how difficult it is to find a working ROM of those maps in general let alone a ROM patched into English. For Fire Emblem fans, this game is an absolute must even if you have to use some dubious means to play it in English.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Switch, PlayStation 4, and Windows
Wolfenstein Youngblood is a pretty big departure for the rebooted Wolfenstein series in a number of ways, and that's been pretty divisive among fans. In a lot of ways, it's still Wolfenstein - you still run around killing countless Nazis with a massive arsenal of weapons - but make no mistake about Youngblood. It's not the Wolfenstein that I've come to know and love with New Order, Old Blood, and New Colossus.
The first major issue I had with the game - and the pettiest - is that the protagonist twins aren't as gruff and badass as BJ. Don't get me wrong, Soph and Jess are total badasses in their own way, but I've come to adore the gruff badassery of BJ. The aloofness of Soph and Jess, while entertaining at first, just didn't sit as well with me as BJ's darker, quieter demeanor. On the topic of the two protagonists, the use of multiplayer not just as an optional inclusion but as a core gameplay mechanic felt odd and out of place for Wolfenstein. This is a game that, just a few years ago, prided itself on being a strictly single player experience. I have nothing against multiplayer shooters - Left4Dead and Borderlands both proved how amazing they can be even beyond the dudebro Call of Dutys and prepubescent Fortnites - but it just feels foreign for this series.
My problems with the use of multiplayer don't stop at its mere existence. The implementation left a lot to be desired, too. The game utilizes those obnoxious multiplayer gimmicks - doors that can only be opened with two players, chests that can only be opened with two players, etc. While the AI was competent enough for the most part to make playing the game solo a decent experience, there were some issues. One of the cooler team mechanics was the ability to revive the other protagonist if done quickly enough after going down. The problem here was that my AI partner would randomly decide that she just didn't want to move. At all. Like, she literally just stood there shooting and taking every bullet flying her way. I'd half-dead crawl my way over to her and be like "Hey, sis, kinda dying of blood loss here. Halp plz," and she'd be like "WHAT?? I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE SOUND OF ALL THESE BULLETS PIERCING MY BODY BECAUSE I REFUSE TO MOVE." And then I'd die and have to respawn by which point she'd need to be revived because she refused to move. Fortunately that little bug seemed to go away after I revived her, but it happened probably half a dozen times throughout my playthrough and seemed most severe in the last quarter of the game.
Visually, aurally, and mechanically, the game the largely identical to New Colossus. The only major mechanic changes worth noting are the RPG-esque leveling up that's used to unlock new abilities and the tedious coin grind to upgrade your weapons. I don't have a problem with either of these in principle, and the level up system really wasn't that bad, but the silver coins needed to upgrade your weapons just got annoying. Your weapons also get upgraded by using them and "ranking" them up, but the improvements that these silver coins buy are more substantial (so it makes sense that it takes more effort) and can shift the gun's focus towards accuracy, magazine capacity, and damage. It's less HOW you acquire these upgrades that bother me and more the fact that a large part of your coin supply is found just lying around in the world, making it a mundane Easter egg hunt.
The game's story - something I've always loved about Wolfenstein - is...okay. And that's sad because it's been ten years since Wolfenstein has been just okay. The New Order, the Old Blood, and the New Colossus were all absolutely fantastic, but Youngblood is just mediocre. The story starts off interesting enough - BJ has vanished, and his twin daughters take it upon themselves to travel to his last known location in Nazi-controlled Paris and find him themselves. Far fetched, sure, but considering that the guy they're looking for is just a head on a synthetic body, suspension of disbelief is kind of a must as it is. The problem is that, beyond that premise, the story just falls flat. Aside from Soph, Jess, and Abby Walker, none of the characters are even remotely interesting. There are only four "main" missions in the game - attack Brother 1, attack Brother 2, attack Brother 3, and attack Lab X - and until you do find BJ, it never feels compelling.
Wolfenstein Youngblood isn't a bad game. It's just a terribly disappointing game. It takes a series that's always been known for badass Nazi killing and turns that into okay Nazi killing. At the end of the day, you're still slaughtering hundreds and hundreds of Nazis, so that's always a good thing, but it doesn't have the charm or personality that other Wolfenstein games have. I can see this being a pretty good time if you have a friend to play through the campaign with, but as a single player experience, it's fully functional, but there just isn't any real draw when you could just replay one of the far superior recent Wolfenstein games.
My Rating - 3 Neps
The prospect of writing a review for Fire Emblem: Three Houses has been a bit intimidating for me this week. It's one of those games that just got so much so right. No matter what I say about it, I know that I'll forget to mention some amazing aspect, and since Fire Emblem is a series so near and dear to my heart - my all-time favorite Nintendo IP and quite possibly my favorite video game series - I really want to do it justice. Three Houses, especially, is an exceptional game. It might have surpassed Awakening for my title of "best Fire Emblem game." It's definitely the most approachable Fire Emblem game for newcomers.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses has you assume the role of Byleth (or, as I named her in my playthrough, Atra), a mercenary-turned-teacher at the Officers' Academy at the monastery of Garreg Mach. You are given the choice to lead one of the three houses of the Academy - Blue Lions, the house for students from the Kingdom; Golden Deer, the house for students from the Alliance; and Black Eagles, the house for students from the Empire. Each house is more inclined to one combat style or another, but it's important to note that you have a LOT of leeway over how you guide each character's development, and you can change classes at will provided that skill requirements are met. Black Eagle has more magically-inclined students, Blue Lions has more physically-inclined students, and Golden Deer has more archery-focused students. Each of the houses has units of all types, so go with whatever characters speak to you most. Each house is led by its respective country's heir; Claude is the heir to the ruling house of the Alliance, Dimitiri is the crown prince of the Kingdom, and Edelgard is next in line to the imperial throne. Obviously, Black Eagles is the only correct choice because Edelgard is bae (or, as the #SwitchCorps group DM on Twitter and I took to calling her, Baedelgard).
Three Houses made a lot of changes to the traditional Fire Emblem formula both in and out of battle. First and foremost, you'll feel like you're playing a Persona game if persona were an SRPG instead of a JRPG. Each chapter takes place during the course of a month, and in the month before that chapter's story battle, you can spend time exploring campus and building your relationships with your students, you can host seminars that your students can attend to develop skills, you can engage in extra battles - paralogues and side quests and such, or you can just rest. At the start of each week, you set up your week's lecture. You can set what skills each student focuses on developing and work one-on-one with certain students to develop their skills further provided that they have enough motivation.
The biggest change in combat come with how support levels work and to magic. Magic was the most surprising change for me, so I'll start there. In previous Fire Emblem games, magic tomes have been items that equip and degrade just like weapons. After a certain amount of use, your tome breaks, and you have to buy another one. Magic is totally different in Three Houses. As you level up your two magic skills - Reason for black magic and Faith for white magic - you unlock new combat skills. Each spell has a certain number of charges to denote how many times that spell can be used in battle. When you deplete those charges, you can no longer use that spell just like in previous games, but rather than being a tome that breaks, your spells' charges are all replenished at the start of the next battle. I was unsure about this change at first, but the farther I got into the game, the more I loved it. This absolutely should be how Fire Emblem does magic going forward.
The support levels aren't as pronounced in Three Houses as they were in previous Fire Emblem games. You still get a slight combat boost to accuracy and evasion when adjacent to a unit with which you have good support, but more important than that are the effects to the battalions and gambits. Every unit can equip a battalion like an item, and the battalions give a stat boost and a bonus ability called a gambit depending on the battalion type and level. When you have multiple units adjacent to an enemy, they all join in on your gambit, strengthening your attack. Likewise, you can get a boost if you have allied units within attack range of an enemy unit that you're attacking. The support effects may be less openly pronounced than in previous games, but I'd argue that they're actually more important and a lot deeper than in previous games as far as strategy applications go.
The game's story revolves around a mysterious threat to the monastery in the game's first part, but I'm not going to mention anything about the game's second part because it's hard to say anything about it without going into straight spoilers, and this game is just too dang good to risk that. I will say, though, that there are four distinct paths you can choose in the game, but that's as much as I'm going to say. The story is pretty standard Fire Emblem stuff, but it's so exceptionally well told (as is usually the case with Fire Emblem) that I found myself unable to pull away from the game most of the time. The artstyle is absolutely gorgeous, the sound design is completely perfect, and the characters all feel real and distinct from one another. My only complaint with any of that is that some of the environmental textures - especially the floors in the monastery - are frankly garbage. They're super low resolution and just look ugly compared to the otherwise gorgeous character models.
I'm sure there's a lot that I should have said and didn't, but really, I doubt any review could really do justice to this game. I am, admittedly, a bit biased because I love Fire Emblem SO much and am such a huge fan of the Switch, but this truly is a spectacular game and right up there with Awakening as a prime example of what a strategy RPG should be. If you have a Switch, you absolutely owe it to yourself to add this game to your collection. If you don't have a Switch, this game alone is reason enough to buy one. I can't heap enough praise onto Fire Emblem: Three Houses. It's kind of a masterpiece, guys.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Windows
My Girlfriend is a Mermaid!? was an impulse buy for me. Being a visual novel with cute anime girls, how could I possibly say no? For the most part, it's exactly like you'd expect from a visual novel - a cute story with likable characters and a handful of different endings depending on what choices you made at certain junction points throughout the game. While sticking to the formula isn't a bad thing when it's a solid tried-and-true formula, the other side of that safe route is that it also doesn't really stand out from the crowd too much.
The game's story revolves around the main character returning to his childhood hometown during a summer break from college to get away from the city and relax in the quiet countryside. While hiking in the mountains, he is reunited with a dear childhood friend...who has, at some point, transformed into a mermaid. Naturally, he is quite perplexed. This confusion grows when he encounters a younger (and much more cognitively challenged) mermaid later on. From there, the story focuses on his interpersonal relationships with the two mermaids as well as his attempts to understand just what the hell is going on and what mermaid ecology and psychology is like especially compared to that of humans. It's a cute tale that does suck you in, but it pretty much follows the visual novel how-to roadmap right down to the token tsundere and yandere characters and the obligatory "totally unexpected" plot twist.
The ambient background sounds and voice acting are pretty par for the course although having the choice between Japanese and Korean voice acting was a nice surprise as I was only expecting Japanese voices. The artstyle, however, is very well done. Each of the characters are beautifully drawn, and the facial expressions each has really add to the story and illustrate the emotion behind each line of dialogue pretty well. There are a few exceptions, of course, and there are only a handful of facial expressions that get recycled, but what is there is extremely well done. The backgrounds, as well, really stood out to me as something special because they're not just photographs with character images pasted over them; they have an almost oil painting look to them, and while I suspect they might be photographs that have been digitally edited, they are nonetheless gorgeous.
My Girlfriend is a Mermaid!? is a bit of an odd game for me when it comes to either recommending it or not because it's such a niche product. Most people are not going to be interested in a video game that's 99.9% reading especially when the story is about cute anime half-fish girls. If that IS your cup of tea, however, then while it's not treading new ground in the genre, it does the genre quite well. If you're a #SwitchCorps collector or just fond of cute anime visuals novels, then yeah, for sure check this one out. If you're just a casual visual novel fan, maybe keep an eye out for a sale on Steam, but truthfully, there isn't anything here that the average Switch gamer is likely to find particularly interesting.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Tizen
Dynamite Fishing really helps me connect with my heritage. I don’t mean my French heritage or my German heritage but rather by Southern white trash heritage, floating down a river in a bathtub and blowing up fish with sticks of dynamite. Seriously though, it’s a dumb game, and it’s a simple game, but it’s an oddly addicting game once you get into it.
The gameplay consists entirely of picking some trashy character, getting in some gaudy makeshift boat, and floating down a river while you carry out a horrible genocide on the river’s underwater denizens. You’ll have a CPU opponent whose final score you have to try to beat, but honestly, if you just go around chucking dynamite everywhere, you’ll probably win no problem. Not entirely unlike the fishing minigames in the Legend of Zelda games, it’s a super simple concept that shouldn’t be all that alluring but that, nonetheless, ends up being pretty hard to put down. Granted, even with that, I’d be hard pressed to spent more than twenty or thirty minutes at a time playing this game, but for those periods of time that I did play, I actually found myself having a lot more fun than I expected.
The cast of characters are interesting enough although they’re pretty much all caricatures and stereotypes from the white trash in overalls, a trucker cap, with eternal five o'clock shadow to the black guy with gold chains all over the place. Given that the entire game is a caricature of a ridiculous premise, it’s fitting, but I can’t help but ponder the troublesome effects of perpetuating social and racial stereotypes for the sake of humor. The gameplay itself is fun, though, and I guess at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing for a game to have. Dynamite Fishing is FAR from a must-have game, but if you see it on sale on the eShop for a dollar or less, I’d say go ahead and give it a download.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on Windows
Bouncy Bob is a hyper simplistic physics based game that would be a hard sell even at the sale price I paid of $0.01. I mean, yeah, it was only a penny, but that’s a sliver of storage space that could be spent on something way more useful like a funny screenshot. In all seriousness, though, it really is a disappointing game that’s not good for much more than a few minutes of mindless entertainment here and there. I personally found it to be much less entertaining than Solitaire, and that’s been a standard pack-in game on Windows for like a quarter of a century.
The basic point of the game is that you hold a button to charge up a jump and use the control stick to steer your character in the air. Zombies will spawn, and you have to try to land on them to kill them or collect one of the occasional arrow power-ups that sends arrows flying down and try to hit them with an arrow. When you reach a certain score, the exit portal opens. That’s it. That’s a whole game. There’s a little bit of variety with the stage layout, but the actual gameplay stays pretty much the same.
The game’s visuals are pretty mediocre. The titular character is just a black blob with a goofy face and some appendages. There’s absolutely nothing particularly memorable about the sound design, and the enemies are as bland looking at the player character. The backgrounds look nice for what they are, but as the game largely went for a fairly silhouette art style, there just isn’t a lot of detail. It’s not an unplayable game by any means, but I don’t know why anyone would want to play it. It’s just boring.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Mac OS, MS-DOS, and Windows
Command and Conquer is a name almost synonymous with the real time strategy genre, and the original game is one of the absolute classic PC games of the mid 1990s. Originally releasing in 1995 for MS-DOS and Mac OS before being ported to Windows, Saturn, and PlayStation in 1996 and Nintendo 64 in 1999, the original Command and Conquer remains an extremely fun and playable if rather dated strategy experience, and while RTS is not known as a genre that makes the conversion to console particularly well, the Saturn did a surprisingly good job of it.
The basic story of Command and Conquer is pretty similar to the real world Cold War scenario that took place before this fictional setting; there are two main powers, the UN-backed Global Defense Initiative and the enigmatic and cult-like Brotherhood of Nod, and the majority of the world's powers back one of the two. The unofficial subtitle for this first Command and Conquer game is Tiberian Dawn, and it marks the start of the Tiberian series, one of the main series within the Command and Conquer franchise. This naming scheme is because of a new extraterrestrial resource that appeared around this time called Tiberium with the military conflicts between Nod and the GDI being in large part resource wars. There are two campaigns each with 15 missions. In one of these, you play as the GDI trying to wrestle control of Eastern Europe away from Nod. In the other, you play as the Brotherhood of Nod in an attempt to solidify your control over pro-GDI sections of Africa.
What makes most RTS conversions for consoles stumble is the controls as RTS really needs a mouse and keyboard to work truly well. That hasn't really changed here, but the Saturn pad does do a surprisingly good job once you get a feel for it. It never felt quite as natural as a mouse, but I had no trouble whatsoever controlling my units. As for content, while the Windows version certainly looks a bit nicer, and the Nintendo 64 version had some cool looking 3D models (despite lacking cut scenes), the Saturn version is a virtually perfect port of the DOS original. No content has been cut from the original DOS release, and while the Saturn version does lack the extra 15 missions from the Covert Operations expansion that PC got (it was included in the PlayStation release, as well, although that version ran a bit slower and had lower quality audio), the fact that the audio is virtually identical to the PC release and the game runs smoothly with no slowdown that I noticed makes this the version to play if you are (for whatever reason) not going to play on PC. I played on Saturn because I wanted to see how it held up, but I did play through the Covert Operations missions on PC to compare. Those are just random scenarios, though, and aren't related to the storyline, so I didn't really care that much about those.
Although the game is most known for being a pioneer of modern RTS gaming, that gameplay actually isn't the highlight; the FMV cut scenes and soundtrack are. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic with a style of rock you just don't hear these days. The cut scenes are 100% pure mid 90s cheese, and it's absolutely amazing. They're absolutely shameless and a perfect example of "so bad it's good," and that's something the series has become somewhat known for. It's honestly worth playing through for the music and FMV scenes alone even if you're not a fan of the gameplay.
Command and Conquer has not aged well, but it's still quite playable and an absolute classic. If your options are wide open, I'd definitely recommend the PC version, but it's really remarkable how well the controls hold up on Saturn once you've spent a mission or two getting a feel for it. Being nearly 25 years old, it doesn't look as impressive it probably did once upon a time, but the music is just as awesome as ever and truly the most unforgettable part of the game. Regardless of what version you play be it PC, N64, PS1, or Saturn, Command and Conquer is definite must for strategy game enthusiasts.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Switch and Windows
One of the first things that people learn about me when they get to know me as a gamer is that I'm a MASSIVE Neptunia superfan. One of my long term goals is to get the platinum trophy in every Neptunia game (which is the only reason I played this on PS4 instead of Switch despite having pre-ordered both versions). Being such a huge Neptunia fan, I've played the whole series, and I'll be the first to admit that some entries are a lot better than others. Super Neptunia RPG, unfortunately, falls on the "not so good" end of that spectrum, but that's not to say that it's a downright terrible game. It's not as good as most of the other Neptunia games, but it's not without its merits. After all, at least it's not Producing Perfection or Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune vs. Zombies.
Super Neptunia RPG was a lot of firsts for the series. The first 2D platforming style game. The first game released on a Nintendo system (or a non-Sony console at all since I don't count PC). The first game produced by a Western studio. That last one is what had me the most uneasy, and that's what I pin most of the game's problems on. There are a number of issues, but honestly, the writing is what bothered me most. It's clear that Idea Factory and Compile Heart either trusted Artisan Studios too much or dropped the ball on oversight. Neptunia has never been a magnum opus series for writing, but Super Neptunia RPG just sounds like a bad fanfiction. The dialogue feels forced and just doesn't flow like it should. This is a more minor complaint, but the characters' representations also feel less fleshed out than usual. It's really clear what most characters are supposed personify. Planeptune is Sega, Plutia is the cancelled Sega Pluto prototype Saturn redesign, Uzume is the Dreamcast, Neptune is the cancelled Sega Neptune console, and Nepgear is the Game Gear. Lastation is Sony, Noire is the Playstation, and Uni is the PSP. Lowee is Nintendo, Blanc is the Wii, and Rom and Ram represent the DS. Leanbox is Microsoft, and Vert is Xbox. Eden is NEC, and Peashy is the PC-Engine. Tari is Atari, and Rei Ryghts is the Atari 2600. Some of the characters in this game, however, are just...I don't know what they represent. I don't even know if Artisan knows what they're supposed to represent. IMMERSION BROKEN.
Most people probably won't be as put off by the meh writing as I was. The biggest problem for most people is going to be the performance. I don't know how it stacks up against the Steam and Switch versions, and I don't know how it performs on base PS4, but I was playing on PS4 Pro, and I still had a LOT of apparent performance issues. Menus were as sluggish as the Xbox One dashboard at launch, loading sometimes felt like a Wii U or Sega CD game, and there were a lot of quality of life things that were just unusually absent. There were no options to sort your items. Yeah, there was a "Sort" button, but I still have no idea what criterion the game used to sort them, and there were no options. Just "Sort." Some menus - most noticeably the menu to use an item in battle - had both X and O confirm the item use even though O was clearly balled "Back." Speaking of items, the Berry, an early game healing item, bizarrely had its icon turn from a berry to a plain white box about halfway through my game and never turn back. Sometimes Neptune would make an endlessly falling animation when changing rooms even though she was standing in place on the ground. Inputs would lag especially in menus. It was just...bizarre. I don't remember the last game I played that had performance that bad in menus. If you used the fast forward option in battles to get through grinding faster, the game would go faster than it could load, so it would sometimes just stutter in the middle of the fight. It's a 2D game; how does it even have that much data for a PS4 Pro to load that it stutters? All around, this just seems like a mechanically flawed game.
Now that I've thoroughly crapped on the game, let me point out some of its redeeming qualities. The equipment, while super clunky in the menu, is pretty varied and has abilities and attacks tied to it. Until you've "mastered" that ability by winning a certain number of battles with the item equipped, you can only use that ability or attack when you've got that item equipped. Once you've mastered it, you can use it even when something else is equipped. This gives a real incentive to use a bunch of different weapons and accessories even if the pure stats of the item aren't necessarily the greatest. Rarely does a game give me a reason to use a weapon other than the one with the best stats. That's something I can appreciate. The dungeons were also pretty enjoyable to explore with areas initially blocked off until you progress far enough in the game to unlock jumping upgrades. Unfortunately, aside from those two aspects, nothing else is really exceptional. The rest of the game ranges from "Okay" to "Are we sure this isn't still in beta?"
Super Neptunia RPG, despite being the latest entry in my favorite game series, is not a game that I can readily recommend. It's not terrible, but it's not "good" either. It's a solidly okay platformer RPG, and I really think the big mistake here was letting a Canadian company handle the development. Nothing against Canadians, but Artisan Studio clearly wasn't up to the task. Considering that IF is the mascot for Idea Factory and a Neptunia character (along with Compa, a personification of Compile Heart), they really should have either kept this one in-house or at least outsourced development to a studio with a proven track record. WayForward could have done a stellar job with this. If you want a cute and fairly mindless 2D RPG, then sure, you can do worse than this one provided you can find it on sale down the line for less than $25, but honestly, while I say I overall enjoyed my time with it, and it was an easy platinum trophy, it's a hard sell to someone who's not already a passionate Nep fan.
And here's a bonus image so I can show off.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Super Mario Maker was one of the most unexpected gems in the Wii U's library, and when the Switch was announced, we all knew that a Super Mario Maker would make its way to the system in some form given the relative success of Super Mario Maker on Wii U and 3DS. Thankfully for fans, Super Mario Maker 2 is a full fledged sequel rather than an enhanced port complete with loads of new features and changes.
In addition to the four styles included in the original Super Mario Maker - Super Mario Bros (NES), Super Mario Bros 3 (NES), Super Mario World (SNES), and New Super Mario Bros U (Wii U) - a new style, Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) is also included. The game also makes a number of highly anticipated additions besides the new style including slopes (something so simple but so anticipated), the Angry Sun, snake blocks, and special level clear conditions to name a few. Unfortunately, there were a few changes I feel are negatives, as well. The hilarious bizarre "weird Mario" power-up was removed from the original as was all amiibo functionality and the plethora of awesome costumes that they allowed in the Wii U Mario Maker. The omission of amiibo support is an especially big blow for me as those costumes were my favorite part of Super Mario Maker (also I've spent an ungodly amount of money I don't have maintaining a complete amiibo collection).
Setting aside the tragic lack of amiibo support, the audio and visual design in Super Mario Maker 2 are every bit as high quality as one would expect from Nintendo. The mechanics are great and fluid, and while the game naturally doesn't control exactly like the originals on which the styles are based (it has been almost 35 years since Super Mario Bros released on NES, after all), they're modernized and homogenized in a way that balances playability with relative faithfulness to the original source material. The creation tools are all easy to learn and simple to use, and while I do personally miss the use of the Wii U gamepad, the Switch's control options work just fine in its absence.
There is one major addition to Super Mario Maker 2 that I've neglected to mention so far - story mode. Honestly - and this is one of the VERY few times I'll ever say this about a game - I don't think a single player story mode was really necessary here. That's not to say that it isn't welcome - it's a fun experience and serves as an excellent example of some of the level creation options to be found in the game - but I'm just not sure that a game all about level creation and sharing really needs a single player story. Sure, the original game had the 100 Mario challenge, but this is an actual story mode complete with plot, Toad characters, overarching objective, and even a couple cut scenes. It's very well done, mind you, and a welcome addition. It just wasn't an expected addition.
While there are a couple of changes from the original Super Mario Maker that leave a very sour taste in my mouth, the overall package in Super Mario Maker 2 is absolutely incredible and a definite must-own for all Switch gamers. If you want to practice your Mario skills with some easy levels, put your skills to the test with the ultimate brutal levels, or just get a good giggle with a good auto-Mario style level, someone has made or will soon make the perfect level for you. With the enthusiastic Mario Maker community online, the problem of "I wish I had new Mario levels to play" is forever a thing of the past, and Super Mario Maker is a great party game as well. Some folks might say that $60 is a bit steep for a make-your-own-levels game, but I'd argue that it's a downright bargain for that very reason. You've got virtually limitless possibilities with Super Mario Maker 2, and while some of the levels you'll find online are definite crap, some of those levels far surpass even Nintendo's most well designed levels. If you own a Switch (or maybe plan to get one later this year with the newly announced Switch Lite), you absolutely owe it to yourself to check out Super Mario Maker 2.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4
Super Robot Wars T is a massive crossover of roughly two dozen mecha game and anime series many of which are quite obscure in the West in one massive strategy RPG experience. Due to difficulties with licensing issues, only a small handful of games in Super Robot Wars series have been released in the West despite the series including more than six dozen entries if you include spin-offs and the like. Technically, this wasn't released in the West, either, but fortunately for me and like-minded English speaking gamers, the Southeast Asia release of Super Robot Wars T included English subtitles on both Switch and PS4.
Given that this was my first SRW experience, I wasn't sure what to expect going in aside from an SRPG. That alone didn't tell me the whole story; would it be like Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, Golden Sun, SD Gundam, or something entirely different? In the end, what the game offers is a cross of SD Gundam and Fire Emblem; the gameplay feels almost identical to the recent SD Gundam G Generation Genesis with more of a Fire Emblem-esque focus on characters rather than using in-game currency to assemble your own mobile suit army. Fortunately (or I suppose perhaps unfortunately depending on your perspective and taste), the game omits Fire Emblem's permadeath; unless that unit was a key part of that chapter's story, any destroyed units will be right back in your roster for the next chapter.
So what IS the story of Super Robot Wars T? That's...complicated. Because it tries to blend so many series that take place in completely separate universes - a feat it pulls of brilliantly, all things considered - the story is SUPER convoluted and all over the place. It makes sense for the most part, but it's definitely not easy to follow. Basically, your avatar/protagonist works for a company called VTX Union and is working on manufacturing a prototype mobile suit to pitch to the Earth Federation Forces for adoption as the EFF's new mass produced suit. Then, as if straight out of the Bush administration, terrorists attack! Your workgroup, VTX's Special Section 3, end up working with the EFF to weed out these terrorists and end up discovering a sinister plot to disrupt the stability of the Earth's government. Actually, you end up discovering like six or seven different plots, each more sinister than the last, that are all being put in motion all at once. Not only do you have to contend with terrorists, but you also have to battle Neo Zeon, the Martian Successors, the Jupiter Empire, the Jovian Federation, the 31 Machine Primevals, space monsters, Dr. Hell, some probably-a-pedophile priest-looking dude with a claw, whatever Rita Repulsa-looking hoe is the antagonist in Magic Knight Rayearth, some aliens from God knows what galaxy called the UND, and probably a couple other groups of bad guys I forgot about it. Yeah, it's a wild ride, but for the most part, the game's pacing and storytelling (with an admitted flawed translation in places) manage to keep the plethora of plot threads going smoothly with minimal narrative confusion.
While various Gundam series only make up about 1/3 of the units in the game, I'm a gigantic Gundam slut, so aside from Spike's Swordfish from Cowboy Bebop and two Super Robot Wars original units that I took a liking to (one of which is my protag), my entire team consisted of Gundams. There's nothing quite like going up against space monsters with Zeta Gundam, ZZ Gundam, Gundam Mk-II, Nu Gundam, HiNu Gundam, two different Crossbone Gundams, two mass production Gundam F91s, Burning Gundam, Dragon Gundam, Bolt Gundam, and Noble Gundam. GUNDAM GUNDAM GUNDAM. I mean, I COULD have used Rayearth, GaoGaiGar, Mazinger Z, Brownie, or Dann of Thursday, but those are Gundams and therefore are inferior. The variety is fantastic, however; you end up with something like three as many units as you can even field, so there's an enormous about of unit variety. Between missions, you can spend accrued funds to upgrade suits, use special training to give pilots an XP boost, attach extra parts to enhance mobile suits, and even juggle your pilots around to different suits within a series. For example, I had Elle from ZZ Gundam piloting Nu Gundam, and I had Fa from Zeta Gundam piloting a Jegan.
Visually, the game looks fantastic. The animations are crisp, clear, and fluid, and the character models all look superb. The characters keep a roughly homogeneous look so as to appear to be from the same universe for the most part while still maintaining the essence of each series' unique art styles. Magic Knight Rayearth characters, being guilty of the super stereotypical 90s anime gigantic eyes, stand out the most in terms of appearance, but other than them, pretty much everyone looks like they all fit in together. The same is true of the mobile suits. Gundams still look distinct from Armored Troopers and the Brave Express robots, but none of them look out of place from one another. That's quite the accomplishment for the game's art designers to have pulled off in my opinion. The battle animations - which are literally the most amazing battle animations I've ever seen in an SRPG - are just the icing on the cake. They can be rather lengthy, so I ended up skipping most of them, but they're freaking amazing and arguably the most badass thing about the entire game.
The game's soundtrack is also almost perfect. As one would expect, it incorporates iconic music from each of the various series, and my one and only complaint with how this is done is that the transitions are jarring. Whenever you use a unit, the game plays the music from that unit's series. The only problem is that in the span of two or three minutes, you could go from Cowboy Bebop's high energy jazz to Gundam's more orchestral battle music to GaoGaiGar's...whatever rock/jazz/vocal spasm genre that is. Individually, they're all pretty great and fit the tone, but the transitions are a bit rough. It also would have been nice to be able to disable certain series' music as the theme from Magic Knight Rayearth makes me want to pierce my eardrums with an ice pick. It is, however, a small price to pay for Cowboy Bebop.
I truly cannot overstate how much I loved this game. The just over 60 hours I spent with it were an absolute blast, and I can absolutely see myself replaying the game in a few years after I've seen more of the series that lent characters and units to it. The fact that so many different series with such drastically different styles and characters were so relatively seamlessly blended together into a single game with a single continuous story still astounds me and in my opinion, really blows a hole in the "Infinity War is the most ambitious crossover" claim. When you've got Spike, Amuro, Van, Guy, Harlock, and Koji all on the same battlefield, THAT is the most gloriously ambitious crossover hands down. If you're not a fan of mecha anime or strategy RPGs, then there's probably not much here for you, but if that is your jam, then you absolutely owe it to yourself to check this game out. SE Asian English imports aren't the cheapest things in the world, I know, but this one is absolutely worth the expense if you're able to spare the cash.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I had a very love/hate relationship with the first Persona Q game, and my feelings about Persona Q2 are quite similar. On the one hand, it brings together the protagonists from three of the best JRPGs of the past two decades - Persona 3, Persona 4, and Persona 5 - into a single game. It also provides a pretty interesting dungeon crawling experience. On the other hand, the game is just way too damn long for what it is. It just feels like it drags on and on and on, and regardless of the actual time spent playing, if it a player ever finds himself or herself thinking "How much longer? I'm just ready for this game to be over," then the game has some pacing issues. That was the case in Persona Q, and unfortunately but unsurprisingly, it's also the case in Persona Q2.
Persona Q2 plays almost exactly like Atlus's Etrian Odyssey series. You pick a party of five characters from a list that, since it encompasses the three most recent Persona games, is quite extensive, and you explore and map dungeons from a first person perspective. As you explore and draw your map of the dungeon, you find switches, traps, gimmicks, etc. that introduce some challenges to your progression. When you encounter enemies, the battles are done from a first person-esque perspective in which your characters are not visible at all in a similar fashion to the original Dragon Quest games. In terms of gameplay and game mechanics like that, Persona Q2 is identical to Persona Q.
The story is also pretty similar to the first Persona Q - the three games' cast of characters all find themselves trapped in what appears to be a pocket dimension of sorts similar to the Velvet Room along with a couple of unique original characters. To find a way to escape, they cooperate with one another to explore their prison and discover its nature, purpose, and means of escape. What made Persona Q2 somewhat interesting was that despite throwing together the characters from three games, you actually had four protagonists; in addition to the protagonist from Persona 4, the protagonist from Persona 5, and the canon protagonist from Persona 3, you also got to play as the alternate universe Persona 3 protagonist that was introduced in the PSP port of the game, Persona 3 Portable. It was a fairly minor plot point that only popped up in the narrative from time to time, but it was cool to see Atlus give her an official and solid place in the Persona metaverse as being from a nearly identical but still distinct universe from the male Persona 3 protagonist from the game's original release.
Visually, the game is on par with its predecessor. It definitely looks better than most 3DS games, but I didn't find myself exceptionally impressed the way I was with a game like Resident Evil Revelations or Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. The sound, however, is exceptional, although gamers familiar with the Persona series would expect nothing less. The voice acting, while only in Japanese, is well done, but as is always the case with Persona, the soundtrack is what really steals the show. The game has some musical nods to the three source material games as well as truly great original battle music. The battle music especially hits a balance with which a lot of RPGs really struggle - maintaining a high level of energy without taking the focus away from the action. A lot of games will either have boring and forgettable background music or music that is so high energy that it steals the spotlight to a certain extent from the action. Persona Q2 not only finds that balance but strikes it perfectly. I had my fair share of gripes and letdowns with the game, but I have to give credit where credit is due; Atlus really knocked it out of the park with the sound design here.
My biggest complaint with Persona Q2 is the same primary complaint that I had with Persona Q - pacing. About halfway through, I was just ready for the game to be over. It's a good and enjoyable game, and it has an interesting story with characters that I went into the game already loving, but the game's pacing is just painfully slow. Each dungeon has between four and seven floors, and each floor is larger than the last save for the "boss" floor. While the game's five dungeons are all themed differently and each have their own gimmicks that set them apart from one another, within those dungeons, I found myself extremely bored after two floors, and with the giant ass dungeon with seven floors, I found myself pulling up YouTube videos to watch so that I could keep halfway entertained while I played just for the sake of seeing the game through to the end. For folks who LOVE dungeon crawlers or Etrian Odyssey super fans, the dungeons would probably be fine, but for me, the battles and gimmicks weren't nearly enough to break up the monotony of the dungeons' samey floors. Had each dungeon been half the length, it would have been fine for me, but a four floor dungeon felt like spending an hour playing FIFA '14, then playing an hour of FIFA '15, then playing an hour of FIFA '16, and then playing an hour of FIFA '17; they're all fine for what they were, but they're also all basically the exact same thing with some minor tweaks and differences.
Persona Q2 is absolutely a good game, but it's not a great game. In most ways, it's just more of the same as Persona Q, and that's not what I look for in a sequel. There were definitely improvements in some ways - the unique gimmicks that each dungeon had were definitely a nice touch, and the soundtrack was virtually perfect - but as an overall product, it just didn't expand on or add to the foundation of its predecessor the way that I think a good sequel should. It's not a sequel like Army Men to Army Men II, Resistance to Resistance 2, or Titanfall to Titanfall 2 were where major improvements and additions were made that affected big and positive changes to the gameplay and the overall experience. I would definitely consider it an essential part of a 3DS collector's library, but it's not necessarily a must play for 3DS owners in general. It's a high enough quality game to serve as a fitting swan song for the 3DS, but I'd be lying if I said I weren't a little bit disappointed.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Android, iOS, OSX, and Windows
When I first heard about Tiny Troopers coming to Switch, my immediate reaction was "Oh, another mobile game getting ported to Switch. Whatever." I totally slept on it. I then heard from Joshua French on Twitter that the North American physical Switch release was only going to be sold at Walmart and was limited to about 5000 copies. What's more is that it was retailing for $20. A Switch game for myself for $20 and a rare one to boot? Sure, I'll bite. So I went to a couple different Walmarts until I found one with a few in stock and picked up one. I figured it was going to be a stupid, crappy mobile game and that I'd probably try it once before putting it down and never picking it up again. I was quite mistaken.
If you've ever played Team17's Alien Breed, it plays a lot like that. You control between one and three soldiers in an overhead twin stick shooter. Each mission has a primary objective that much be completed, and most have a secondary objective that you can complete for some extra credits to upgrade your troopers between missions. The troopers on your team are randomly generated in both name and appearance, but there is some advantage to keeping them alive; they rank up and gain more hit points as they survive through mission after mission. The story is nonsensical; you're part of some country fighting some other country, and you're sent to kill bad guys and blow stuff up. Don't kill civilians, but if you do, it's okay because the only penalty is a very mild credit loss. That's pretty much it. There are three campaigns - the original Tiny Troopers campaign, the Spec Ops campaign from Tiny Troopers 2, and a very short zombie campaign. It's not fancy, the story is barebones as hell, and it's not complex, but it's a fun game.
Despite being a fairly good console conversion, the game's roots as a mobile game are still very apparent. Every mission feels very similar even with objectives that can range from kill everything to destroy everything to save prisoners. You walk around, you shoot bad guys, you blow up buildings and vehicles, you search for dog tags and medals, and then you go to the extraction point. There are variations from mission to mission, and it never gets so stale that it begins to bore, but every mission more or less follows that basic format. The visuals also show its mobile phone roots - they look fine, but they don't look great. This isn't a beautiful game like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 or a technical marvel of a game like Wolfenstein II. Then again, it's a budget game you could buy three times over for the price of either one of those two. The character models are what really show the game's roots - it's pretty clear that no major changes to models were made to accommodate console play on a large television. That's okay, though; the game may not look especially pretty, but it's fun, and that's really all that matters.
There's really not a whole lot to say about Tiny Troopers: Joint Ops XL. It's a simple game, but it's fun. It doesn't look especially great, but it runs well. It's good entertainment for 10 or 12 hours, and it's cheap, so I'm content with it. No one will remember it ten years down the line, but if you can find a copy at Walmart or see it on the eShop (especially if it's on sale), then I definitely recommend giving it a go. It's a fun little game, and it would probably be a really good choice for kids old enough to need some a little more than Babby's Furst Gaem but too young for something like Doom or Wolfenstein.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation VR, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of those games that even people who never play games have heard of. It took the gaming scene by storm when it released, and it's one of the most famous and well received games of the past two decades and for good reason. Many of us probably own multiple copies of the game; I personally own it on every system except Xbox One though I'm still not entirely clear how I reached that point in my sad, depressing little life...But regardless, Skyrim is a veritable juggernaut in the open world RPG arena even eight years after its original release.
I've played through Skyrim before, but this was my first time playing through the various side quest lines as well as my first time playing through the three DLC packs - Dawnguard, Hearthfire, and Dragonborn. I had it on PS4 before I got it on Switch, but I just never felt like devoting the time to it there. Getting it on Switch, though, added the factor of portability. Suddenly I could play Skyrim during my lunch breaks at work, while selling tickets at school soccer games, or while lying in bed at night. For such a seemingly minor factor, that portability really helped engross me in the game. I was blown away by having such a massive and deep fantasy world to explore right in the palm of my hands with no compromises or cuts made. In terms of official content, it's 100% identical to its PS4 and XB1 counterparts. All the Switch version lacks is the community mods which, while cool, I don't really care too much about on console anyway.
As most are familiar with Skyrim, I won't spend much time on the story, but the short short short version is that ancient dragons have suddenly returned to enslave the world, and your character awakens to his or her (in my case, an Imperial woman named Ke$ha) gift as the Dragonborn, one born with the blood and soul of a dragon and able to slay dragons and absorb their souls. You then set off on a quest to save the world of the dragon king Alduin and learn the ways of the Thu'um, the ancient dragon language of power. In the Dragonborn DLC, you investigate a nearby island that's not actually in Skyrim but in northwestern Morrowind and why people are falling under a mysterious spell and being forced to labor at building cryptic monuments of some kind. In Dawnguard, you assume the role of vampire hunter to stop an ancient prophecy from coming to fruition and turning the world into a vampires' playground. In Hearthfire...you don't actually do much questing. All that DLC pack really added was the ability to buy land, build a house, and adopt children who pester you endlessly for money, toys, and to play with them. Cool to build a mansion, yes, but not really a deep and compelling bit of added content.
What most people are probably most curious about are the visuals. How does the Switch port stand up graphically considering that, at the end of the day, the Switch is really just a gaming tablet. Truthfully, it holds up much better than I expected. While it doesn't look as good as its PS4 or Xbox One counterparts, obviously, it does use the "Special Edition" assets from those versions albeit at a lower resolution, so it's a significant graphical improvement over the original PS3 and Xbox 360 releases. As for PC, that's a mixed bag with the wide array of graphical options and computer builds, but in general, I'd say it offers a slight improvement over the original PC release while obviously falling far short of the Special Edition PC version (as do the PS4 and XB1 versions as well). Again, though, considering the hardware it's on and its portability, the game looks remarkable. What you don't get on any of those versions, however, is the Master Sword, Hylian Shield, and Hero's Tunic. BEWARE THOUGH - only one Master Sword can exist in the game, and it's tied to your level at acquisition, so if you're an idiot like me and get the Master Sword at level 3 from an amiibo, it's pretty much useless throughout 90% of the game, but if you wait until you're like level 50, you'll have a beefy ass sword there. Same principle with the Hylian Shield and the tunic although I *think* those can be reacquired through rare amiibo drops. Being a Bethesda game, it obviously has a variety of interesting bugs and glitches, but considering that I only experienced five or six crashes during my roughly 150 hours with the game, I'd say it's pretty damn stable for a Bethesda release.
Given the portable nature of the Switch, one aspect of the game that warrants discussion here that isn't usually a consideration with other consoles is power use. Nintendo's official line is that the Switch boasts a battery life of between 2.5 and 6 hours depending on the demands of the game being played and other settings used (brightness, wifi, etc). I played with my brightness set somewhere between 10% and 15% and wifi on, and I got between two and two and a half hours out of it before needing to recharge. Granted, I didn't play from 100% to straight 0% dead, but I ran it until about 5% battery. With that said, I definitely wouldn't recommend having handheld mode as THE way to play Skyrim unless you have a beefy external power pack to use, but the battery is robust enough to allow handheld gameplay to supplement the docked experience with no issues. Given that this is a pretty taxing game on the Switch's hardware, though, it runs pretty hot after a while, so if you're worried about physically warping the system from overheating, that's something to consider. For what it's worth, though, it looks fantastic handheld with the small HD screen, and the fact that you can play something like this while you're pooping in a public restroom is like friggin' sci-fi stuff, man.
I don't think I need to tell anyone that Skyrim is one of the greatest open world games of all time, but in case I do, here it is plain as day - Skyrim is one of the greatest open world games of all time. Even next to open world fantasy games that I absolutely ADORE like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, no open world fantasy game has ever engrossed me and kept me saying "one more quest" or "one more dungeon" the way that The Elder Scrolls V did. It doesn't matter if this is your first time playing it or your 10th time playing it, Skyrim holds a once-in-a-generation adventure that every gamer owes it to himself or herself to experience at least once, and with the newer releases including all of the DLC for the game, there's never been a better time to explore Tamriel's frozen north. The Switch version holds up far better than I expected both graphically and in terms of performance, and having the ability to play the game on the go takes it to a whole new level. It may be almost a decade old by this point, but Skyrim remains a must-play for any gamer.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Dark Savior was sent to me as a gift from a wonderful friend of mine who produces questionable animal-based food products. Dark Savior is an action RPG with platforming sections and a terribly confused combat system. The whole game screams "I don't know what I am!" and it's a shame because the potential for a decent RPG is here. It's just potential that was completely missed.
Dark Savior isn't really sure what genre it wants to be. It's ostensibly an action RPG, but you don't accrue experience as one does in a traditional action RPG. Instead you get "points" from winning fights, and those points can be spent on level ups, but they can also be spent on health restoration or on hints. The fights themselves are really just extremely crude 2D fighting game style matches. You just wail on each other until one side's HP is depleted, and it's best two out of three. It is, as I said, though, extremely crude and rudimentary. There's not a whole lot of option in terms of "strategy" you can use. There's some absolutely, but by and large, the fights consist of staying out of range until you're attacking and then getting back out of range. There aren't major blocks, there aren't any real counters or anything. It's just a big let down. Couple all that with the fact that the dungeons are mostly EXCEPTIONALLY shitty platforming, and the whole game is just...meh. The isometric style view makes it nearly impossible to figure out where you're going or where you're going to land from a jump, and while you can rotate the camera somewhat, the control to do so is extremely clunky and awkward. No matter how you slice it, the platforming here is terrible.
There is one gameplay mechanic that I have to applaud, and that's the game's branching paths and multiple endings. There are, if memory serves, four different paths that the game can take with respective endings. Visually, the game is okay. All of the characters are 2D sprites, something the Saturn handles extremely well, but the environments, for the most part, feel rather uninspired. The dungeons are fairly linear with only a couple of exceptions. The music is...average. There aren't really any stand-out songs from the soundtrack, and the voice acting is downright atrocious although that's fairly par for the course for the mid 90s.
Dark Savior is not an unplayable game, but it's definitely not a good game. As an action RPG, it's somewhat subpar. As a platformer, it's straight awful. The storyline, revolving around a bounty hunter who's trying to recapture some eldritch evil, has some potential, but the terrible storytelling, the awful voice acting, and the boring gameplay kill that potential right out of the gate. This is one game that I really can't recommend to anyone. I really had to force myself to get through the second half of the game, and it's rarely a good game that the player has to force himself to finish. Dark Savior is definitely not a good game.
My Rating - 2 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows
I'm a sucker for Wii U. I'm a sucker for zombie games. With those things in mind, a zombie game on Wii U should be everything I want in a game, right? Yeah...that might be the case normally but not this time. I knew going into it that The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct had been pretty much universally panned as an unmitigated disaster of a game, but with my love of terrible games, I figured I could find something to like about it, and to some extent, I did, but it was a challenge to find any redeeming traits here. Like the zombies in the game, flaws pop up out of nowhere and without an end.
The first thing that players will notice is the graphics. This game looks like a hot mess. Aside from a couple of visual flourishes - and I mean "a couple" literally - this game looks like it would be right at home on the Wii or Xbox. Even those flourishes I mentioned give away the craptastic visual quality. When you're holding the crossbow but not aiming, you can see a reflection of the environment in the scope's glass lens, but you'll notice that the reflection doesn't move at all; it's just a static image that looks vaguely similar to that stage's environment. Yeah, it's a nicer touch than just a blank black lens, but it's an obvious crap job. As far as the zombies go, there are something like a dozen character models that are just used over and over again. I once killed a knifed a zombie that was eating an identical dead zombie right beside a third identical zombie. Obviously it would have been impractical to make hundreds of unique zombies for a low budget game, but at least design an algorithm that doesn't do that crap.
The story is...okay. It's a prequel to the AMC series that focuses on everyone's favorite character who wasn't named Glenn (RIP), Daryl Dixon. The game has you play as Daryl as he goes looking for his white trash brother, Merle, in the early days of the infection before the first episode of the show picks up (but, as far as I can tell, after the later developed Fear the Walking Dead series takes place). There isn't anything especially bad about the story although the voice acting sucks except for Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker, but the story is just boring. It feels like it was the last thing they decided on. "Okay, we've got this game about zombies and shit. Who's got a story we can haphazardly put over it?"
The game's biggest downfall is just its controls and performance. There really is a good game here, but its buried so deep under shitty performance, clunky controls, and annoying bugs that it's nearly impossible to find. The game targets 30 fps, but it usually runs somewhere in the 20s and, at times, dips to something like 10 fps. Considering that the Wii U was the most powerful of the three consoles that saw releases (I'm excluding PC, naturally, as it's not a console), this is egregious. With the game looking as sub-par as it does, it's inexcusable that it runs like shit, too. The controls also just feel unnecessarily cumbersome. Your inventory management is done with the gamepad's touchscreen, a feature utilization that I actually think deserves praise, but the game seems to have a hard time deciding if you REALLY wanted to switch to that item or weapon. If you just lightly tap it, it seems to consider that "incidental" and doesn't change your weapons. Normally, this is fine - just tap the screen again a little hard and a little longer - but if you're trying to change weapons while being cornered by a horde of zombies, that second or two could get you killed. The crossbow - ironically not acquired until more than halfway through the game despite being Daryl's whole thing - was my biggest point of frustration. Sometimes the arrows go exactly where they should. Sometimes the arrows hit a zombie's head despite clearly missing the zombie entirely. Sometimes you can watch an arrow go straight into a zombie's head but register as a shoulder hit. You're supposed to be able to retrieve arrows regardless of whether you hit or miss, but a lot of these arrows just seem to vanish into the ether. Even if you can see the object model of the arrow sticking out of a tree or a wall, it will occasionally not let you pick it up even if it's got a red outline to denote that it's an item that can picked up. All around, it's clear that QA was not on the priority list before rushing this game to market.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is an affront to fans of The Walking Dead, an affront to fans of the Wii U, and an affront to fans of zombie games in general. It's a shame, too, because the foundations of a really fun game are here. It stars a fan-favorite character, the survival and risk-vs-reward aspects could be a lot of fun, and the survivor companion management during missions is neat, but it's a "death by a thousand cuts" sort of situation here; there are just SO MANY problems with the game, that what few redeeming aspects it has just aren't worth the hassle. Unless you're going for a full set of games like I did for Wii U (or if you're going for it on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3), there's absolutely no reason to own this game. It's entertaining enough for a while as a "Haha, look how shitty this game is" party gag, but as an actual game, it's utter garbage.
My Rating - 1 Nep
Also available on OSX and Windows
If you look up "stylish" in an encyclopedia, you'll probably find screenshots of Katana Zero. Well, not literally, but it would be a totally apt example to use because this game absolutely oozes style. It takes Hotline Miami, mixes it with Shinobi, and throws in a pinch of Vindicators and Strider for good measure. In short, it is, as the young people would say, "Devolver Digital af," and if that doesn't convince you to download it, you need to reassess your gaming priorities.
Katana Zero has you play the role of an anachronistic samurai (or shitty cosplayer, depending on who you ask) with mysterious time-manipulation powers as you assassinate your way through the city at the commands of your psychiatrist. If that sounds bizarre, it is. The game makes absolutely no sense at first, and that's entirely by design. There IS a very well crafted and very well executed story to be found here, but the game's storytelling is like an onion; there are layers upon layers, and you don't start to see what's really going on until you peel back several layers. It's one of the most well delivered stories I've seen in a game like this in a good while, and it was that slowly blossoming story that kept me coming back for more level after level. Without spoiling the story, it involves vivid nightmares, a government conspiracy, and a enigmatic past war.
The gameplay shows its Hotline Miami DNA with its one-hit-you're-dead mechanics and the requisite careful planning for each step. Like Hotline Miami, you will die a LOT, but with each death comes new understanding of the obstacles that level presents and better equips you to overcome them. You'll fight the same dozen or so enemies repeatedly throughout the game, but because of the diversity with the level layouts and items you can find to help you overcome the game's challenges, this never once felt repetitive or monotonous for me. The game's colorful pixel sprites and the GRATUITOUS blood that covers the walls in your wake make for a visual presentation every bit as colorful and loud as Hotline Miami's, and that's a VERY positive thing.
Like the visuals, the game's soundtrack fires on all cylinders from start to finish. While there's a bit of stylistic diversity from track to track, it pretty much falls between house and drum 'n' bass, genres that fit the visual style perfectly. Devolver Digital strikes a difficult balance between musical energy and staying in the background with the soundtrack. It perfectly accents the action and colorful style of the game without distracting players from the action taking place on screen. One small but very nice touch that I absolutely loved was that the soundtrack was incorporated into the game's levels; at the start of each stage before you take control of him, your character puts in earbuds and turns on a walkman. What you hear is what he hears. It's a small touch that a lot of players probably wouldn't even notice or think about, but I absolutely love small flourishes like that.
Katana Zero is a top tier game in every way. The visuals, while simple, are colorful and oozing with style. The soundtrack is absolutely perfect for the game's visual style and tone. The levels are all unique, compelling, and challenging without being unfair. The story is riveting and revealed little by little over time, a piece here and there just often enough to keep you hooked. Almost everything about this game is superb. My only complaints are relatively short length of the game - my playthrough clocked in at about six hours - and the parts of the story and world that were only minimally explored. I've heard that there are a few secrets and an ending I haven't seen, so it's possible that my second complaint is actually addressed in content I just haven't seen yet, but still, regardless, it's an exceptional game. It's not a perfect game, but it's VERY close.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Windows
"Do you trust me?" It all started with a text. When I read it, I thought, "Yes, Colin, I trust you, but that question in isolation creeps me out...What do you want?" He then said "Download Gato Roboto on Switch. You'll love it." By this point in our friendship, he knows my gaming tastes pretty well, so I took his advice and immediately downloaded the game and fired it up. I was a bit put off my visual style at first - it looked like Undertale, and I loath that game from overexposure the same way I came to loath Five Nights at Freddy's - but I stuck with it because of the weight Colin's recommendations carry with me. I'm extremely glad I did, too, as the game turned out to be a short but extremely rewarding experience.
Gato Roboto is basically a bite sized Metroid clone...if Samus Aran were a small cat. Forewarning - I hate cats, and my specific word choice will reflect this prejudice. A space marine type dude was on a patrol mission and picked up a security signal from an abandoned research facility, so he went to investigate. Because cats suck, his pet cat steps on the control panel and causes the ship to crash, pinning the pilot and leaving him unable to perform his investigation. As any logical person would in this situation, he sends his pet cat - who has a radio in her collar, for some reason - to find a mech suit and complete the investigation in his place. From there, you play as the stupid ass cat in a dope ass mech suit and try to determine the source of the security signal.
When I say that this is a Metroid clone, I meant that in just about every way from gaining rockets to supplement your regular blaster down to having to shoot doors in order to open them. "Metroid clone" is not meant as a pejorative, though, as doinksoft took most of the things that made the original Metroid great and replicated it...but cuter. Gato Roboto is an extremely short game - my playthrough clocked in at just over three and a half hours, and that's with spending around 45 minutes on one boss - but holy crap, is it good. It's absolutely worth the price of admission. I downloaded it at the tail end of the release sale for just under $7, but even at the regular price of $8, it's totally worth the asking price.
Visually, the game is extremely simplistic. The visual style is monochrome pixel art reminiscent of 8-bit games from the 80s, but a nice touch is the ability to unlock additional color filters by finding cassettes hidden throughout the game. I never used any of these filters personally being rather partial to sharp contrast the black/white color scheme gives, but you can unlock filters like a softer grey/white, a bubblegum pink and white, a green and white, etc. It's nothing that changes anything other than the color, but it's definitely a nice little bit of customization and an incentive to explore a bit. Exploration is, after all, the bread and butter of Metroid style games.
The game's soundtrack is extremely fitting for the setting, keeping a somewhat but not overwhelmingly dark and ominous feel but staying in the background, never stealing the spotlight from the action. During the boss fights, I often completely blocked out the music despite having my sound bar turned on. That may sound like a criticism, but I mean it as high praise; a game's music should, in my opinion, be like garnish, there to accentuate the game's tone and action but never taking center stage, and the fact that I found myself blocking out the music entirely during high intensity scenes indicates that the balance was struck perfectly there. Be it in a boss battle or casual exploration, the focus is always kept on the gameplay with music to provide accompaniment and nothing more.
Gato Roboto is an extremely short experience, and while a three to four hour time to beat may seem unduly short to some and serve as a turn off, I must recommend that those people reconsider. Yes, it's a very short game, but it's also an extremely affordable game, and most importantly, it's an extremely enjoyable game. This is the perfect game to fire up and play through on a flight, a train ride, or a morning commute (assuming you're not driving on your commute; I do not condone playing Switch while driving). The game is fairly generous with save point placement, so dying and losing an hour of progress isn't a concern. The only frustration I found in that regard was having go through the dialogue for each and every boss attempt, but for that to be my biggest complaint is a pretty big accolade for the game. Whether you play on Steam or on Switch (pssssst, play on Switch), make sure you check out Gato Roboto. If you're a fan of old school Metroid, I can promise that you won't be disappointed.
My Rating - 4 Neps
After a little over a week of marathon gaming, I've finished the Xenosaga trilogy with the completion of Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra (which translates to "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," arguably Nietzsche's most well known book). In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzche describes the concept of the Übermensch which, while literally translating to "super man" or "above man," refers to mankind's outgrowing or going beyond traditional Judeo-Christian morals and ascending, for lack of a better word, to a higher morality. I don't know enough about Nietzsche's other works to know how fitting the previous games' subtitles were, but this one fits this game's theme and tone pretty well. I'd heard from a couple friends who've played the series that Episode III was hands down the best of the three games, and I whole heartedly agree with that assessment. It's still a very flawed game in a lot of ways, but unlike the first two games in the trilogy, I never found myself bored with the actual gameplay in Episode III.
Xenosaga III picks up a few months after the events of the second game, it's immediately clear that the developers put in the extra effort to make this game something good. The game's first environment hits you with catchy piano jazz background music and a fun and reinvigorated combat system that blended the polished mechanics of Episode II's combat with the relatively easy to understand combat system of Episode I. There are still some nuances to learn, but it's a marked improvement in both entertainment and lasting appeal over the previous two games' combat. That theme would continue throughout the game as far as quality is concerned; pretty much everything about Episode III took what was good about the first two games and capitalizes on that while shedding most (not all but most) of those games' biggest issues.
One of the things that's bothered me most about the Xenosaga trilogy is the storytelling, and while that was improved in this game along with everything else, it still leaves a lot to be desired. A huge amount of the story is just outright told in narration, and while that may not seem like a bad thing at first, the way it's done totally contradicts the writer's adage of "show, don't tell." I know that they had three games to tell a story they'd planned to stretch out over six or seven games, but still, the storytelling continues to leave a lot to be desired. This game does a better job of explaining lore concepts and filling in gaps than the previous two did, but it still leaves a lot either unexplained or only vaguely implied. Given that the story is always my primary motivation when playing a new game - especially with that game is an RPG - this continued to be a point of contention with me all the way up through the end of the trilogy.
One aspect of the storytelling for which I do need to give credit where credit is due is the character development. I still have some complaints with that, but this is the only one of the three games that really made me FEEL things for the characters outside of a couple of isolated incidents. I was sad for Canaan. I was happy for Virgil. I celebrated with Allen. I wanted to pimp slap the shit out of Shion. Regardless of what it was that I felt, I felt, and that's something the other games had never been particularly adept at making me do. Episode III still, of course, had the ungodly long cut scenes that were an absolute bore, but at least the characters felt more fleshed out this time around.
Xenosaga Episode III is absolutely the most competent game of the trilogy, and it's definitely the only one I'll look back on with any fond memories. That's not to say that the previous two games were bad, but damn, they were a slog to get through. Because of that, though, as good as parts of this game were, I'm not sure I can say that it's worth playing through the whole trilogy to get to. Yeah, on its own, Episode III is definitely a game worth playing, but most people aren't going to want to play the last third of a trilogy without the playing the first two parts, and the first two games are just okay and pretty decent, respectively, and I'm not sure the time commitment to get through those two are worth it just to play this one. If you do decide to go through the Xenosaga trilogy like I did, though, at least you can take some comfort in the knowledge that the trilogy ended well and actually did save the best for last unlike a certain other space RPG trilogy we all know (looking at you, Mass Effect 3).
My Rating - 4 Neps
Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse (which translates to "Beyond Good and Evil") is a direct sequel to the first Xenosaga game, and it picks up pretty much right where the original left off. Because of that, I won't go into the story itself at all in this review but rather focus on how this part of the story is told. It's immediately clear that Monolith took note of the things that were criticized in the previous game because there are some pretty major changes to some of the gameplay elements especially combat.
The combat in Xenosaga II makes some big changes from the first game. The flow of the combat feels a lot less monotonous first and foremost. Rather than being based on having enemies vulnerable either to energy attacks or physical attacks, Xenosaga II changes combat to focus around vulnerable "break" areas, and each enemy has their own target pattern to exploit. Basically, your attacks are broken up into three "ranges" - C attacks target low areas, B attacks target middle areas, and A attacks target high areas (these generally - but not always - correspond to Triangle, Square, and Circle, respectively). To exploit an enemy's weakness, you have to hit the right areas in the right order. One enemy might take three consecutive B hits to "break" and make vulnerable whereas another's pattern might take CBCB attacks in order to break. It's not groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it definitely requires a bit more strategy and planning than combat in the first game the end result of which is an overall less mundane fight system.
Unfortunately, I was immediately pulled out of my immersion once I got past the prologue by some rather jarring design choices. KOS-MOS, Shion, and MOMO all went through some fairly major character design changes (especially the latter two), and the voices for Shion and MOMO are radically different. I think MOMO's new voice is legitimately bad, but regardless of good or bad, how big the changes were made for a fairly abrupt shock for me, and I just wasn't feeling it. They did give MOMO a bow for combat in this game, though, so that's pretty dope. I'd still rather have her old voice and give up the bow, but if I have to deal with this terrible new voice, at least I get to shoot things with space arrows. To the game's credit, though, the visuals saw a nice improvement in the transition from the first game to this one. It's not a revolutionary change - it's still PlayStation 2, after all - but the game's visuals overall look more detailed, a bit sharper, and overall more refined.
Xenosaga II is a good bit shorter than the first game averaging around 20 hours rather than 30 hours, but what's only a little bit shorter are the cut scenes; from what I've been able to gather, the first game had somewhere between eight and nine hours of cut scenes, but despite being around 30% shorter, this game only has about an hour less in cut scenes, clocking in somewhere between seven and eight hours from what I've read. This leads to cut scenes' having a tendency to feel EXTREMELY long and, after a while, EXTREMELY boring. Yeah, there are some cool cut scenes, but good lord, guys, all things in moderation. The story itself feels even more chaotically told than what I saw in the first game. The Gnosis are barely mentioned in this game, and while it does mention U-DO more than the first game did, it only somewhat explains what, exactly, U-DO is. It talks about the URTVs, artificial people created specifically to fight U-DO, but again, it doesn't explain what it is that makes them different from Realians, the other artificially created people. As I told someone on Twitter, I feel like there's probably a really good story waiting to be told here, but it's told so haphazardly that I just end up getting irritated rather than intrigued.
Xenosaga Episode II is largely considered the black sheep of the trilogy, and I have to agree with that assessment. It had the potential to be an overall improvement - it looks a lot better, and the combat is significantly less mundane - but the questionable design changes and the storytelling that's just all over the place totally killed it for me. It was, mercifully, much shorter than the previous game, but all things considered, I'd say it's about on par with entertainment value. Like the first game, it's definitely not bad, but it definitely didn't do it for me. It's a competent follow-up, but it's not winning any awards for engrossing storytelling or innovative gameplay.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC
Team Sonic Racing is Sumo's third attempt at making a Sonic kart racer following Sonic and All Stars Racing and the incredible follow-up, Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed. Releasing a kart racer on PlayStation and Xbox is an obvious choice, but not many developers have the skills to take on Mario Kart on its home turf, and while I wouldn't say that Sumo was able to beat them, they definitely put up a good fight. Like Transformed before it, Team Sonic Racing manages to deliver a kart racer that is obviously inferior to Mario Kart but is, nonetheless, a fun and competent kart racer.
Just as the transforming karts and tracks were the main gimmick in Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed, the three person racing team mechanic is the main gimmick in Team Sonic Racing. Races consist of 12 racers broken into four teams of three. The main gameplay is like a standard individual race, but each place is assigned a certain amount of points. These points are tallied at the end of the race, and whatever team has the most points wins. You could, theoretically, win the race in the first place, but if your teammates finished 11th and 12th, respectively, your team would still lose. There are more subtle team aspects, too; the teammate in the highest position gets a glowing trail behind them that can give teammates a brief speed boost. You can also give held items that you don't need to teammates. Actions like these will fill your "Ultimate Team" gauge, and when it's full, you can activate your "Ultimate Team" power. This gives you and your two teammates a temporary speed boost and invulnerability. It's basically Star Power from Mario Kart.
As I said, while Team Sonic Racing is a lot of fun, it's far inferior to its main rival on the Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The main reasons for this, in my opinion, are the relatively limited track selection in comparison to Mario Kart 8, the relatively uninteresting tracks in comparison to Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed, and the fact that the controls and mechanics just, overall, don't feel as polished as Mario Kart 8. Granted, the game retails for $20 less than Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, so it's fair with that in mind, but it's definitely a step down from Mario's latest kart outing. The exclusion of non-Sonic Sega characters was also a let-down for me as I really enjoyed getting to race as Ulala and BD Joe, but at least they include the vast majority of the Sonic series's characters.
In terms of the game's visuals, it's a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Team Sonic Racing on Switch looks MUCH better than Sonic and All Stars Racing Transformed looked on Wii U. On the other hand, it doesn't look as good as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch. It also doesn't perform nearly well; Mario Kart 8 Deluxe keeps a rock solid 60 FPS whereas Team Sonic Racing keeps an average 30 FPS with the occasional dip into mid 20s. Those frame rate dips aren't bad enough to ruin the gameplay, but it is noticeable, and given that the target is half of what Mario Kart 8 Deluxe delivers, the end result is a product that feels markedly less polished and less skillfully developed than Nintendo's recent kart racing masterpiece.
The online play is...rough. I've heard that patches are in the works, but as it was at launch, it was a major challenge to get put into the same lobby as friends, it was nearly impossible to end up on the same team as friends if you did manage to get in the same lobby, and connection failures and disconnections were extremely common. The connection issues definitely seem to be decreasing in frequency, at least from my experience, but Sega definitely dropped the ball on the online play at launch, at least on Switch.
Team Sonic Racing is a fun and competent kart racer, and if you're playing on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, I'd recommend it would hesitation. On Switch, however, I don't really see much reason to buy Team Sonic Racing over Mario Kart 8. I mean, I bought both, and I can say pretty confidently that I'll almost never play Team Sonic Racing after this because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a thing that exists. On PC...I mean, it'a PC. Either play one of the ten billion racers for PC or use Dolphin to emulate Mario Kart Double Dash on Gamecube. And that's really the biggest downfall of Team Sonic Racing; it's a really fun game, but it's just not as good as the competition. As a result, there's just not much reason to play Team Sonic Racing over the other choices despite the legitimately high quality of this game. Nonetheless, however, judged on its own merits and not in comparison to other games of the genre, Sumo once again created an excellent kart racer that would make for a great multiplayer experience.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Xenosaga is the second game in the lengthy and fairly disjointed "Xeno" series after the PlayStation's Xenogears. The first Xenosaga game, subtitled "Der Wille zur Macht," is the first in the Xenosaga trilogy, each game in which is named after a book by German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche. "Der Wille zur Macht" translates to "The Will to Power," a concept Nietzsche described as the driving force behind humanity, the drive in humans to do more than simply subsist. It's clear that the game's director was influenced by Nietzsche's philosophical ideas, but the execution of translating those ideas into a video game is, like mankind itself, somewhat flawed.
The basic story of Xenosaga revolves around Shion, a brilliant young engineer with the Vector corporation, and her anti-Gnosis combat android, KOS-MOS. What are the Gnosis, you might ask? That's a good question, and one that the game never really answers. The best it tells you is that they're creatures from another dimension that are made almost entirely of salt, normally have a non-corporeal existence in our dimension, and that either turn victims into piles of salt or into Gnosis upon contact. The Gnosis serve as the primary antagonists in the game, but they're by no means the only antagonists. You'll also fight the U-TIC organization (again, they're not really explained very well), occasionally Galaxy Federation troops and mechs, and more bosses than you can shake a stick at. To clarify before I go further, the story here isn't bad. It's just badly told. The rule of thumb with good storytelling is "Show, don't tell," but Xenosaga tries to tell a whole lot and doesn't even do it particularly well. It reminds me of my experience reading Joseph Conrad's novella "The Heart of Darkness" back in high school. It's not badly written, but it's so dense that you have to pay close attention to have any hope of keeping track of what's going on. Passive viewing here won't cut it and will only leave you saying "Wait, what the hell is happening?"
Visually, the game is nice even if pretty standard for a 2003 release on the PlayStation 2. The PS2 in general has some pretty garbage video output and is atrocious in my opinion over composite video, but using YPbPr component cables usually cleans that up pretty nicely, and while there's still some text that can look a bit blurred, the game looks nice and clean over that superior A/V output. I actually found myself thinking "Man, I wish I had that early 2000s 480i skin." When was the last time you saw a blemish or pimple on the face of a PS2 JRPG character? Like the game's visuals, the game's soundtrack is quite nice and probably the best aspect of the game. The sound effects are well done, and the music composition is actually superb. Given the nice but largely par-for-the-course visuals and the overly convoluted story, I was expecting the music to sit solidly in "Okay" territory, but I found myself pleasantly surprised.
What people will most remember about Xenosaga is the cutscenes. Seriously like a third of the game is cutscenes. I didn't time it myself, but according to Reddit and GameFAQs, Xenosaga Episode I contains literally more than eight HOURS of cutscenes. I'm normally a big fan of cutscenes, but it just gets excessive here. I found myself seriously bored after a cutscene hit the ten minute mark, and a LOT of them (if not the majority of them) went well past that. Fortunately you can pause the cutscenes, so no worries about "Damn, I really have to poop, but I have another three hours in this cutscene," but unfortunately, there's no option to fast forward. You can just skip the cut scenes entirely, but since that's how like 90% of the story is delivered, that's not really an option for a first playthrough.
Xenosaga is definitely an interesting JRPG experience, and it's one I would recommend fans of the genre play through at least once, but it's definitely not one I can see myself replaying, and it's not one back on which I'll be looking particularly fondly down the line. It's dense, it's pedantic, it's poorly paced, the storytelling is dry, and while the combat is fun even if a bit simple, it's just a wholly average game all things considered. The pedantry and monolithic (no pun intended) cutscenes are the most memorable aspects of the game. It's worth playing for the experience, but I don't think it's worth replaying.
My Rating - 3 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.