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
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Shenmue is one of those legendary cult classic games that only comes along once in a generation. It is, however, a controversial game among gamers. It's a lot like the Hillary Clinton of Dreamcast games; people pretty much either love it or hate it with very little in-between. It saw a sequel release on Dreamcast, as well (unless you're an uncultured American like me who only had an Xbox release), but it was always intended to be a trilogy. With the untimely demise of the legendary Dreamcast at the hands of the woefully inferior Lamestation 2 (yeah, I said it. Come at me, bro), however, that trilogy would go forever unfinished...or would it? Due for release in late 2019 on PlayStation 4 and Windows, the saga will be brought to a conclusion at long last. In an effort to build some more excitement for the release, Sega released an upscaled HD collection of Shenmue and Shenmue II on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows, giving a new generation of gamers the opportunity to experience this timeless classic.
Visually, Shenmue is fairly astounding if you consider the specs of the hardware it was designed to run on. The Dreamcast, while a very competent machine, was not a powerhouse especially by today's standards 20 years down the line. Despite that, though, the visuals in the game hold up remarkably well. The HD releases on PS4 and Xbox One especially highlight this since the textures aren't really changed at all. The only real graphical changes made in the rerelease was upping the resolution from 480p to 1080p. The fact that the textures still hold up fairly well with minimal polish is a testament to how well made the game was back during the Dreamcast's lifespan.
Having played through Shenmue on both Dreamcast and PlayStation 4, I can assure fans that almost nothing is changed in the HD release. The visuals are polished up a bit ("a bit" being the operative phrase), and the content that relied on the online-connected Passport Disc in the Dreamcast original are automatically included, and you naturally don't have breaks for disc changes, but the actual game itself it exactly the same. You play as Ryo Hazuki on his quest to track down the Chinese mobster Lan Di and avenge his father's murder. This first game in the trilogy sees Ryo try to find clues to the identity of his father's killer, uncover the greater plot surrounding his father's death, and secure passage to Hong Kong to confront the wicked Lan Di. To do this, Ryo must gather information in what at the time of Shenmue's original release was hands down the deepest and most detailed open world that had yet appeared in a video game.
The gameplay consist mostly of walking around the city, talking to NPCs, and gathering clues. You do have a time limit, but it's a LOOOOOONG time limit. Like, the game starts on December 3, and you have until the middle of April to finish before you auto fail. Even in my very first playthrough without a guide, I don't think I took into January. There are a handful of fights in the game, but those are definitely a fairly few and far between affair (until the end of the game, anyway), and I honestly wasn't particularly fond of the fighting. The controls felt stiff and awkward to me, and I ended up having more difficulty with the timing, the positioning, and the overall handling in the fights than I feel like I should have. The part of gameplay that seems most divisive, however, is the forklift section. Towards the end of the game, you get a job at a harbor driving a forklift. Every day during this section of the game follows the same basic format - complete a three lap forklift race, spend your day moving crates with the forklift, then investigate and try to find information about Lan Di. People seem to find the forklift work to be either cathartic and relaxing or painfully and frustratingly boring. I'm the former camp. The forklifts are honestly one of my favorite parts of the game. I can definitely understand how some might end up screaming "GET ON WITH IT" throughout this segment of the game.
In addition to the actual main game, there are a few minigames that you can play in Shenmue. There are Space Harrier and Outrun machines that you can play, but there's also my personal favorite minigame (and the one that most players tend to hate), ExciteQTE. It's literally just a QTE game where you see how many QTE prompts you can get through without messing up three times. Most people hate QTEs, but for some reason, I've always enjoyed them. I'm not particularly good at them, per se, but something about them always just scratched an itch for me. ExciteQTE does serve an important purpose, though. There aren't too many mandatory QTEs in the game, but there are a few, and they pick up a lot in frequency towards the end of the game. If you're not particularly good at QTEs, then it might be worth playing a few rounds of ExciteQTE to get a feel for the game's QTEs inputs and the timing.
Shenmue is not a game for everyone. I'd hazard a guess that the majority of gamers won't be particularly ensnared by the game's relatively slow pace and methodical investigation-driven storytelling. It is, however, an absolutely legendary game that is to be respected and revered even if not personally enjoyed. I absolutely love Shenmue and am proud to say that I was one of the Shenmue III backers who helped crashed Kickstarter within five minutes of Sony's announcement several years ago, and I pre-ordered the HD collection of the first two games on PlayStation 4 as soon as it was announced. Very few games, especially at the turn of the century, told stories quite the way that Shenmue does, and while there are certainly aspects of the game that have aged poorly and feel odd and out of place with modern gaming conventions, it's still a game that I have absolutely no problem recommending to people at least to try.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Earth Defense Force is a series that has a VERY special place in my heart. It's like the SyFy movie of video games; it's completely ridiculous from premise to execution, and you have no idea how they make enough money to break even let alone justify an entire series, and yet lo and behold, game after game comes out. At its core, every EDF game is pretty much the same. They're all third person shooters in which you play as a generic soldier with mercifully unlimited ammo as you massacre thousands of giant insects sent by an alien force to invader the conquer the Earth. Not only is the concept the same throughout the series, but like half of the games are just remakes of each other anyway. Has that ever stopped me from buying every single one my greedy little eyes behold? Not a chance.
Iron Rain is a little bit different from other EDF games, and I attribute that largely to the fact that this is the first game in the series to be developed by Yuke's. Iron Rain is, in a lot of ways, like a reboot for the EDF series. It changes up a lot of the gameplay mechanics to make things feel more customizable, more modern, and more accessible while still keeping it feeling distinctly EDF. It's still a third person shooter, but it's a very different feeling EDF. First and foremost, there are a TON of customization options with your player character. You can choose between male or female, obviously, but you can also tweak certain aspects of the appearance beyond that - height, bust, etc. There are a variety of hair styles and voices from which to choose as well as a TON of outfits. Want your avatar in standard EDF military fatigues? No problem. Want your avatar in a cleavage-heavy blouse and mini skirt? This is your game. Want your avatar in Daisy Dukes and a tight fitting tshirt? Look no further. It doesn't stop there, though; not only do you have a lot of variety in the types of outfits your character can rock, but they all have eight different color patterns so that you can mix and match to your heart's desire.
Continuing with the "It's basically a reboot" theme, the story of Iron Rain is unrelated to the previous games, essentially taking place in a separate universe. Rather than being based around an attack in 2017 and another attack in 2025, Iron Rain is set seven years after an initial attack between which there was tense period of relative stillness wherein the Aggressors (the giant insects) were present on Earth but seemingly holding the territory they'd taken rather than actively expanding. The other thing that sets the story apart (aside from the obvious fact of being an alternate universe) is that it takes itself a lot more serious than most EDF games. That's not to say that the game totally takes itself seriously - after all, you're still fighting thirty foot tall spiders - but the character dialogue and the way the story's told maintain a more serious tone throughout, the few comic relief moments notwithstanding.
Stylistically, the game is most similar to Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon with its plot unrelated to the main series and more serious tone. It manages to avoid one of the common complaints with Insect Armageddon, though - the length. Insect Armageddon only had 15 levels - a far cry from the series norm of having five or six dozen levels. Iron Rain, on the other hand, has 52 levels - still a little shorter than most EDF games but a respectable length nonetheless. The game's campaign can, of course, be played multiplayer in addition to a few specifically multiplayer game modes. Each of the game's missions has multiple difficulty settings which affect the quality of the weapons you can unlock, giving the game a large amount of replayability.
Earth Defense Force has, from the first mission I played in Earth Defense Force 2017 years ago, been one of my favorite game series, and Iron Rain takes that formula and almost perfects it. It's definitely the best game in the series so far, and I don't think I've ever seen so wholly satisfied with an arcade-y game as I am with this one. It's the best performing game in the series with only a couple of mild frame rate drops (whereas most games in the series are known for the truly abysmal frame rates), it looks great considering the series's low-budget origins, and most importantly, it's fun and addicting to play. "One more mission" usually turned into three, four, or five more before I realized what had happened. The series rarely gets much attention in the West in gaming discussions, but if any game in series deserves attention worldwide, it's this one. If you have a PlayStation 4 and like a fun, goofy good time, you need to look into Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation Vita, Linux, OSX, and Windows
Timespinner is a game I've had a handful of friends urging me to play for a good while. I'm normally not the biggest fan of Metroidvania style games, but I have to admit, this one is truly fantastic. I've never had a problem with Metroidvania games, but as a style, it just doesn't usually do it for me. Timespinner, however, is just a brilliant game from start to finish.
You play as this top-tier waifu chick with blue hair name Lunais who's part of a clan that guards a chronomantic relic called the Timespinner. This clan trains people called Time Messengers whose job is to use the Timespinner to travel to the past to warn the clan about some catastrophe so that they might avoid it. As tensions with a stellar empire attempting to colonize their planet further deteriorate, these Time Messengers have become more and more important, and at the game's start, your character is officially named the newest Time Messenger. Then plot progression happens, and you set off on a quest to kill the emperor all by yourself to avenge your slain clan.
Timespinner is actually set over two time periods. It takes places in the same area but partly around the same time as the prologue and partly a millennium in the past. Once you reach a certain point in the game, you travel between the two time periods from portals scattered throughout the world. During your adventure, you're armed with two weapons, a pair of close range orbs for bashing enemies and a magic attack based on your orb for foes at longer range. As you explore, you help a stranded raiding party trapped behind enemy lines 1000 years in the past as well as a library in the imperial capital in the present as you investigate what happened in the past and what changed in the present as a result of your actions in the past.
Mechanically, the game is superb. The controls, both for movement and attack, feel crisp at responsive at all times. The platforming is sublime with only one instance I found to be more annoying than fun. There are numerous orbs that can be collected for use in combat, and each of those orbs can be upgraded to improve their combat ability, crafted into rings for passive benefits, or crafted into necklaces to unlock new magical attacks. The variety of loadout options as well as the relatively short playthrough time and multiple endings in the game create a good bit of replay value. If you find the game too easy, there's a hard difficulty, and if you're fond of speedruns, there's a speedrun mode so you can try to beat your best time. All things said, there's pretty much something for everyone here.
Timespinner is a fantastic game with a compelling narrative, a beautifully crafted world, and addicting gameplay. The story, revolving mainly around imperialism and the moral ambiguity of independence movements and despotism, is somewhat slow to get going, but once the world building starts to unfold, it's an intriguing plot. The game's cast of characters are wonderfully diverse, but unlike most games, they don't really make a big deal of it. Some characters are gay, and you just find that out in passing dialogue. They're not like J.K. Rowling on Twitter going "HEY GUYS, DID YOU KNOW THAT THIS CHARACTER IS GAY?!?" They do the same with an asexual character, a transgender character, etc. With the importance of representation in games so paramount as time goes on, that kind of thing gets some major props from me even though I'm a white cisgender straight male, the most over-represented demographic there is in gaming. Long story short, this is one of those games that comes along once every few years that really does stand out as something special, and y'all are doing yourselves a major disservice by skipping out on it.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Also available on Xbox One and Windows
Battlefield V was a controversial game upon release to say the least. Fans of multiplayer criticized the game for focusing too much on the single player. Fans of single player criticized the game for focusing too much on multiplayer. History buffs criticized the game for being inaccurate. Misogynists criticized the game for featuring women on the battlefield. With all of that, I wasn't too sure what to expect when I started Battlefield V, but fortunately for me, I don't really agree with much of the criticism at all and ended up having a fantastic time.
If I were going to agree with any of the criticism, it would be that the game DOES have some historical inaccuracies. For the most part, however, these inaccuracies are creative decisions. The whole point of Battlefield V's campaign is the "untold stories" of World War II. One of the missions has you assume the role of a young Norwegian woman in the Resistance. One has you play as Senegalese soldier fighting for France and encountering European racism for the first time. One - and my personal favorite - has you assume control of a German Tiger commander at the end of the war struggling between his obligation to carry out his duty and the knowledge that the war is lost and his country has committed unforgivable sins. When I first saw that you played as a German commander, I was a bit uneasy. Are they going to try to portray the Germans as somehow less guilty of horrific war crimes? Are they going to just have the player do horrible things to reinforce the point that Nazis are history's shittiest people? Fortunately, however, they didn't do either. They managed to humanize the Germans without sanitizing them. The four characters in the campaign each represent the major archetypes of soldiers. Your character, the commander, is, as I said, struggling with doing his duty despite knowing his country is wrong. The driver is jaded and disillusioned, bitter from the horrific things his people have done in a war they can't win. The gunner is the patriotic party-line toting loyalist who executes traitors without mercy and never questions Germany's righteousness. The loader is the terrified, young recruit who doesn't know what to do, who to believe, or what to trust. They never try to suggest that Germany was right in this war, though, and that's a relief.
My biggest complaint with the game as far as historical inaccuracies go is their refusal to use the swastika. They make mention of the swastika as a metaphor for German control, but they never use it actually in-game. Everything from uniforms to tanks to symbols on banners in Germany all uses the Iron Cross; there's not a swastika to be seen. Obviously the use of the Iron Cross isn't a problem; it was still a symbol wide used throughout Germany during the war. The problem is the use of the Iron Cross to the total exclusion of the swastika because that is a big point of historical inaccuracy. The Nazis put the swastika up all over Germany. That probably wouldn't bother most people, but as a history teacher, that kind of erasure REALLY irks me.
I never played the multiplayer as it's just not a feature that really interests me that much, but as for the gameplay in the single player, I was pretty satisfied. I've read that there were a lot of complaints about the accuracy of the weapon models in the game, but while I am a history major, I'm not a gun nut, so I can't speak for how accurate and appropriate the weapon models are. The aiming seemed pretty well polished and responsive, weapons were well detailed, and the firing sound effects are full bodied and satisfying. The vehicular combat, while fairly limited in most of the single player, is extremely gratifying.
Battlefield V is definitely not one of the better efforts in the series, but it's still a good bit of fun if you're a fan of World War II shooters. It's definitely not as good as Battlefield 1 was, and it's certainly not the WW2 glory of yesteryear's Battlefield 1942, but the single player is a good experience, and it tells stories that you're not likely to see told elsewhere. That alone won the game some major points in my book considering that I play games for the stories they tell and the experiences they provide. I wouldn't pay any more than $20 for Battlefield V, but if you can find it for that price or less, definitely give it a play.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is actually an enhanced re-release of Capcom's original title in the IP, Dragon's Dogma. Joshua Michael French, founder the venerable #SwitchCorps, took it upon himself to serve essentially as an unpaid one-man marketing army for the Switch port of Dragon's Dogma by plugging the game HARD on his Twitter, encouraging other Switch enthusiasts to buy it, and even starting a pretty massive DM group on Twitter for those of us playing through the game on Switch.
Dark Arisen places you in the role of the Arisen, a man (or woman) killed by an eldritch dragon when it plucks the beating heart from your chest. You're allowed a chance to live, however, and have a chance at revenge and reclaiming your stolen heart. To slay the dragon, reclaim your life, and save the realm, you'll need the help of powerful allies. To this end, you gain the services of the Pawns, a group of beings from another realm with no real will or motivations of their own aside from serving the Arisen. With Pawns at your side, you set off on your journey to slay the dragon and, along the way, help the people of Gransys though quests as superficial as bringing medicinal herbs to help an overconfident explorer to quests as dire as uncovering and thwarting the plot of a treasonous doomsday cult. What you won't experience in Dragon's Dogma, however, is a feeling of having nothing to do.
The world the game creates is probably its greatest strength. The interaction with NPCs, the Pawns wandering throughout the fields, and monsters and human NPC foes that you can encounter in the field all give the game world a truly lived in feel. The game's main quest is compelling enough, but the side quests that shed light on the corruption within the capital of Gran Soren and the political intrigue going on throughout the duchy in spite of the threat from the dragon are what really set Dragon's Dogma apart of the multitude of "generic fantasy setting" games. The game does have some flaws, though. The biggest flaw in my opinion is that the pop-in with NPCs and environmental features is egregious. You'll be running through the field and watching trees and bushes endlessly pop into existence in front of you. Part of this is, of course, due to the limitations of the Switch hardware, but even so, pop in to this degree is something I never once encountered in Skyrim or Breath of the Wild. The controls, as well, could stand some improvement as they end up feeling a little clunky although not to the extent that some practice can't overcome. The game also includes a lot of escort quests. Fortunately these are all optional, and your ward will typically find you no matter how far ahead you get, but the AI for these escorts is abysmal. If you're walking through the field and encounter a dragon, rather than run the opposite direction like a rational unarmed townswoman, your ward will instead just kind of stand there as if inviting the dragon to tea.
Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen looks at first glance like just another generic fantasy game, but those willing to put in the time will discover that it's actually a strong and compelling experience in its own right. Playing a cross between Dark Souls, Monster Hunter, and The Witcher, Dragon's Dogma feels simultaneously both familiar and new, a balance that few games these days manage to strike efficiently. A couple different difficulty settings are available to make the game approachable to players of different skill levels, and if a challenge seems insurmountable, some level grinding, equipment upgrading, or Pawn team changes is all that's needed to gain an edge in battle. I have to admit that I was skeptical when I began, but what I found once I got into the game, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
Every now and then, a game comes along that defies all of your expectations. Wargroove is one such game for me. This game hits three items on my "Shit That Makes A Game Great" checklist - a strong female protagonist, solid strategy gameplay, and a dog. The last one, obviously, is the most important; at no point has there ever been a game featuring a dog that I didn't love. Not only does Wargroove have a dog, but the dog is a general who inspires his troops to feats of valor and justice with this stalwart bravery and his floofy charisma. Truly Caesar exemplifies the best that pupperkind has to offer.
If you've ever played Advance Wars or Famicom Wars, then you basically know how Wargroove plays already. I've seen a lot of people draw comparisons online with Fire Emblem, and that makes sense given that Fire Emblem is more popular than Advance Wars in the West these days, but Fire Emblem is really not the best comparison because it's not an SRPG. Your units don't level up, and aside from the commanders, they don't have unique names or personalities. You do, however, get to build up resources every turn and create new units and take cities and shit like Advance Wars. The way I've described Wargroove to friends is the gameplay of Advance Wars crossed with the basic setting of Fire Emblem crossed with the humor of slapstick comedy.
There are a couple different of game modes in Wargroove. In addition to the campaign, you've got the standard multiplayer as well as a sort of survival thing called "arcade mode" where you have to pick a commander and clear five random maps in a row. The last game mode is a puzzle mode where you're given one turn to complete a certain objective - usually either defeat an enemy commander or get a specific unit to a specific spot on the map. Puzzle mode proved more frustrating than fun for me although I can definitely see how folks fonder of problem-solving type games would love that game mode. With the multiplayer mode, however, there is a map editor so you can create your own scenarios. It actually reminds me a lot of the scenario creator in Age of Empires II from way back in the day.
The story of the game isn't really the highlight here as it's pretty standard. The main character is the princess of this kingdom called Cherrystone, and then this skeleton army invades, and the whole story from there is pretty much exactly what you'd expect - run away, meet up with allies, counter-attack, discover plot device, save the world, etc, etc. What keeps the story interesting isn't the story itself but rather the characters and how they're developed over the course of the story. I can't say that I loved all of the characters in Wargroove's cast, but I definitely found the vast majority to be quite likable and endearing. Especially Caesar. 15/10 best boy.
Wargroove doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to turn-based strategy gameplay, but it still does the genre extremely well. The units are well balanced to counter one another, the characters in the story mode are likable and well developed, and the visuals are bright, colorful, and well detailed despite the pixel art style. Perhaps the best detail of the game, however, is its approachability. Wargroove's difficulty is fully customizable even beyond the handful of difficulty setting with sliders allowing players to set to their liking the rate of resource income, damage taken, and the speed at which the generals' special abilities charge. This means that the game can be enjoyed by those who've never played a game like this before as well those who've beaten every game the genre has to offer. In a time when most games seem to handle difficulty by making the whole thing mind-numbingly easy or brutally difficult, the extent of customization that Wargroove's difficulty settings provide is a welcome change of pace. Given the game's exclusivity to the Switch, this is a definite must-own for Switch gamers even if it is sadly only available digitally.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Linux, OSX, and Windows
It's often said that heroin, nicotine, and cocaine are the most addictive things in the world. Have no experience with those substances, I can only take recovered addicts at their word. I do, however, carry with me a strong suspicion based on personal experience that even as addictive as those drugs are, they pale in comparison to the highly addictive nature of Civilization. "Just one more turn, I swear" inevitably turns into 50 more turns. "Oh, it's only 9:15," you think as you glance at the clock. Five minutes later, it's 4 am, and you have to get ready for work in an hour. Oops. The only saving grace we had with Civ 6 before was that it was tied to PC meaning that one had to be at a computer in order to play or, if one had a laptop, survive having the heat of a thousand suns on one's lap as that poor laptop CPU tried desperately to keep up with everything going on. Then, out of a void in our hearts that we never knew needed to be filled, 2K says "Hey, what if we put this on Switch?" Thanks, figurative drug dealer, for enabling my addiction even further.
When I finally broke down and ordered Civilization VI on Switch, I was expecting it to be a lot like comparing Civilization V and Civilization Revolution - the same core Civilization gameplay but in a MUCH simplified form that works better on console. To my surprise, that's not at all what I got. What I got was Civilization VI. Not slimmed down, not condensed, not kinda-sorta-but-only-barely. It's legit Civilization VI. The only big differences between the Switch version and the PC version (aside from the obvious visual effects absent) are the lack of the two major expansions on PC and the lack of community mod support. Other than that, this is the complete Civilization VI package. Even the small expansions like the Nubian and Australian civilizations are present. The fact that they put that masterful PC game on what is frankly an underpowered tablet and got it to run beautifully is in itself an amazing feat in my book.
The game I played lasted (so far) about 700 turns since I'm the very definition of "methodical" in my Civilization games, and in all that time, I only experienced one crash. The only two complaints I have with the game are the solid five or six minutes it takes to load a game and the tenish seconds of hiccuping that happens between turns as the system processes what the AI opponents do during their turn. Those two things do definitely get annoying, but it's worth noting that Civilization VI isn't exactly a fast loading game on PC (unless you're rich and have an all SSD build with shit tons of RAM), and it's not at all uncommon to have some short lag between turns on PC, either. It's worth noting that the vent on the top of the Switch DOES sound a Boeing 747 during takeoff and pumps out enough heat to melt steel beams during gameplay, but the game volume usually drowned out the fan in my experience. Besides that, it's not like it could possibly be any louder than the Dreamcast's disc drive.
This all sounds great, right? A no compromises port of Civilization VI on Switch - what could be better? Well, buckle up, buttercup, 'cause it gets better. Not only is this a dream of a port job, but it supports cross platform cloud saves. Provided that you don't use expansions or mods unavailable on Switch, you can start a game on PC, play two or three hours, save, and as long as your 2K account is linked both on PC and on your Switch, you can download your PC save and keep playing on Switch. "One more turn" just became an even deadlier lie to tell yourself. It works the other way, too; if you're on a plane, let's say, and you start a game on Switch, but you're just 10 or 15 turns away from finally shutting up those damn French for good, you can save the game, boot up your PC at home, and keep playing from the comfort of your undoubtedly overpriced PC chair. It's a feature I never knew I wanted, but dear god, is it a nice feature to have.
I know that older Civilization games had been ported to consoles during the 90s, but having only been playing Civ for the past five or six years, I was admittedly unsure of how a console port would go. I've played Civilization V and Civilization VI on PC, and I've played Civilization Revolution and Civilization Revolution 2+ on 360 and Vita, respectively, so that's what I was expecting a console port of Civilization VI to be - stripped down and bare bones - and I suspect that other Civilization fans probably had similar concerns. Let me assure everyone, then, that this is not the case. Civilization VI on Switch is as full fledged and full featured a console port as possible, and absolutely no aspect of the game whatsoever has left me disappointed. I've read that sales of Civilization VI on Switch have far exceeded 2K's projections, too, so that makes me hopeful that the Rise and Fall and Gathering Storm DLC expansions will make their to way to Switch someday, as well. If you're a fan of disgustingly deep and addicting strategy games, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this game on Switch.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Yoshi's Crafted World was honestly probably the Switch game currently available for which I've been the most excited leading up to launch day. Yoshi's Woolly World is my absolute favorite first party game on Wii U, so when a follow up on Switch got announced, I was bursting at the seams (no pun intended) with excitement. Feel Good had already proven they knew how to make a fun, approachable, and cute platformer with Woolly World, and with them at the helm for Crafted World as well, I had full confidence that this would be an instant classic.
So does Crafted World stand up to the high bar set by Woolly World? Well, mostly. I think Woolly World was still a much better game overall, but that's not to detract from the exceptional experience that Good Feel crafted for Switch owners. You've got something like 50 levels and over 500 smiley flowers (basically this game's power stars) to collect. Some of those flowers are found as collectibles throughout the levels, but every level has one that's awarded for collecting 100 coins in that level, one that's awarded for finishing the level with all 20 hit points, and one awarded for finding all 20 red coins in that level. Each level also has a "flip side" with three flower-bearing Poochy pups to find. If you find all of that level's Poochy pups within a set time limit, you're awarded an additional smiley flower.
The levels themselves provide a ton of variety to keep things interesting, as well. Most levels are the standard designs you'd expect from a platformer - get to the end of the level, yay, you're the winner. Every now and then, however, they throw in a challenge level where half of the collectible smiley flowers are based on your performance. One, for example, has you pilot a giant Yoshi mech, and you have to rack up 9000 points - easier said than done - to get all three flowers. One is a race in solar powered cars, so you have to carefully change lanes both to keep out of the shade and to keep ahead of your AI opponents. One has you flying a plane from a horizontally scrolling perspective where you control the pitch of the plane. On top of that, there are a few boss levels scattered throughout the game as you seek out the five scattered magic dream meth crystals or whatever plot device they decided to use to justify the purpose of the game.
As was the case with Woolly World's yarn style, the use of a craft theme naturally lends itself to gorgeous visuals. I do, however, with Nintendo didn't seem to have this stubborn refusal to use adequate anti-aliasing. Yoshi's Crafted World looks great, but it would look downright stunning if the jagged edges were just smoothed. Despite the jagged lines, though, it's still a beautiful game with a fantastic art direction. The music, as well, is the same high quality that most Yoshi games bring to the table. It's not a perfect game, but it's still an exceptionally good 2D platformer and a definite must-have for any Switch owner. It started to get a little bit tedious towards the end, but it does provide a perfect way to relax and unwind at the end of a long and frustrating workday.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Have you ever been playing Pokemon and thought to yourself, "Man, I wish these adorable little creatures that I'm forcing to fight to the death were SUPER adorable little girls I could force to fight to the death"? If so, then you're in luck, because Moemon turns Pokemon Emerald into exactly that game. In terms of content and Pokemon included, it's exactly the same game as Pokemon Emerald. With the exception of Pokemon sprites, absolutely nothing is changed, but holy shit, these new sprites are impressive (and kawaii af).
All 386 Pokemon sprites have been completely replaced; every Pokemon sprite has been made into an adorable anime girl. From my experience with the game, a good chunk seem to have had their Pokedex data removed and replaced with just "X" presumably as a placeholder that, at least by the release of the version I have downloaded, never got replaced. Honestly, though, who actually reads the Pokedex entries? We're all here for the cute moe girl catching and the death battles, and in that respect, it delivers beautifully.
What this ROM hack doesn't provide, however, is a truly new Pokemon experience. The story, region, NPCs, etc are all 100% identical to the original Pokemon Emerald from what I could tell with the ONLY alterations made being the Pokemon sprites. To some folks, that's going to be disappointing, but to others, that might be a welcome thing. I, personally, like my Pokemon hacks to be as new and different as possible, but I know some folks are going to want to just experience a familiar with with a twist, and Moemon provides just that. If that return to familiarity is what you want AND you like cute 32- bit anime girls, then look no further. If you want an all new and original Pokemon adventure, however, then I'd probably direct you towards Pokemon Vega.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Also available on Wii U
One of the ironic things about the sixth Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, is that despite the fact that the inclusion of a character from the game - the protagonist, Roy - in Super Smash Bros. Melee is a big part of what got Westerners talking about Fire Emblem, it's never received an official English translation. Fortunately for SRPG aficionados likes me, Fire Emblem has a pretty dedicated fanbase which produced a high quality fan translation patch for the series's handheld debut.
The first game in the Fire Emblem series to get a Western release was the seventh game, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade (simply titled "Fire Emblem" in the West), but that was actually a prequel to this previous game. In Binding Blade, the game centers around Roy, the son of the seventh game's Lord Ephiram, as he sets out to discover why the nearby neighbor of Bern has launched a war of aggression and shattered the peace that the continent had worked so hard to maintain. Most Fire Emblem games follow a fairly similar story structure, but in typical Fire Emblem fashion, the quality of the storytelling and the absolutely fantastic character development make up for the relatively generic nature of the story itself.
From what I've read about the game's development, Intelligent Systems tried to make Binding Blade more forgiving than the previous entry in the series, the Super Famicom's Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. That alone makes me terrified to play Thracia 776 eventually as Binding Blade already had more than its share of challenges. The game's overall difficulty was tough but fair, but there were a few bosses and individual levels that were absolutely brutal if you didn't have a weapon that could exploit a specific weakness. I appear not to be alone in that opinion as Blazing Blade and the 8th game in the series, Sacred Stones, both saw the overall difficulty toned down a bit.
Binding Blade had an interesting development cycle having started its life as Fire Emblem: The Maiden of Darkness on Nintendo 64 before being virtually completely scrapped and moved to Game Boy Advance with only the protagonist, Roy, and a swordmaster character, Karel. Beyond the scrapped development of Maiden of Darkness, though, Binding Blade ended up introducing its own new spins on the series. First and foremost was the introduction of the magic triangle. Since the Super Famicom era, Fire Emblem games have had a weapon triangle; sword beats axe, axe beats lance, and lance beats sword. Binding Blade expanded that mechanic to magic in a system where anima (elemental magic) beats light magic, light magic beats dark magic, and dark magic beats anima. Binding blade wasn't technically the first game in the series to have this sort of advantage system - that would be Genealogy of the Holy War, the fourth game - but whereas Genealogy only had the dis/advantage affect accuracy, Binding Blade expanded that to have an effect on both accuracy and damage, making it much more crucial to the development of effective strategies.
All things considered, Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade made about as impressive a debut on the handheld scene for the series as one could want. The game isn't perfect as there are some minor quality of life things that I found annoying - the inability to use non-combat items like Speedwings and Hero Crests from the pre-battle prep screen, for example - but those are nit picks at best. The only real complaint I have is that the game's balance could have used a little bit of tweaking, but at no point does it feel unbalanced to the point of being broken. I'm not willing to say that Binding Blade is the best game in the Fire Emblem series, but it definitely is the best of the first six games that saw retail release.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Nintendo DS, OSX, and Windows
Call of Duty 4 was the first game in the series that feels truly modern not just in setting but in overall design. Being one of the most popular games in the series, it's since been remastered for the current generation of consoles which is the version that I played most recently. Before I get into the actual review, since it has nothing to do with the game itself but rather the idiots who name these games and the dudebro fuckboys playing them, let me just vent for a moment. Everyone these days seems to assume that when I say "Modern Warfare," I mean Black Ops IIII. Like, bitch, no. If I meant Black Ops 4, I'd have said Black Ops 4. There's only game that was titled "Call of Duty 4." Don't blame me for the fact that you're too stupid to tell the difference between a title and a subtitle. Furthermore, does no one at Activision have any understanding of the most basic Roman numerals? "IIII" isn't a thing. Yes, symmetry for cover art, I get it. That doesn't make it any less stupid than saying that the number after ten is "zeroteen." The Roman numeral for "4" is "IV," not friggin' "IIII." Seriously guys, it's not that hard. It's one thing if you don't know Roman numerals for some number like 5372, but 4? Seriously? You can't even figure that one out? Sorry - actually, nevermind, I'm not sorry - but shit like that pisses me off.
Okay, so here's where the unpopular opinions come into play. I don't think Modern Warfare is the best campaign in the series, and I don't think it's even close to the best multiplayer in the series. It's a good campaign, but it falls way short of all three Black Ops games (since the Black Ops 4, in addition to screwing up basic Roman numerals, went the way of the fuckboi and omitted the campaign entirely in favor of just-another-Fortnite-slash-PUBG-rip-off battle royale), Advanced Warfare, Infinite Warfare, Call of Duty, and Call of Duty 2. As for the multiplayer, again, it's good, but doesn't come close to Black Ops III, Ghosts (oof, there's a really unpopular thing - saying literally anything positive about Ghosts), or WWII even with the modern remaster. The campaign, however, is definitely the part of the game with which I have the biggest issues since most of my issues with the multiplayer are super subjective and rather vague since I don't usually waste my time on FPS multiplayer.
Okay, let's dig into my plethora of problems with the campaign. First off, everyone knows (or should know) that the golden rule of writing is "Show, don't tell." That's not quite applicable to writing a script for a video game, at least not in the same way. When you're doing something as basic as establishing the setting for your game, yes, you need to show, but you also need to tell. Don't just have a map quickly zoom in on what geographically-savvy people know is Oaxaca, Mexico and then proceed to spend the entire game just calling it "Central America" and having every character be short, overweight, wear a massive sombrero, and eat tacos throughout every mission. That's basically what Modern Warfare does. They may zoom in on what some folks know is Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Iran in the second or two of world-map visible in the loading screens, but they never call the setting anything other than "Middle East," and every single enemy is a walking caricature of stereotypes that Americans hold about Arabs. And it's not like this was a stylistic choice - in the other part of the game, they not only say "Hey guys, the country you're fighting in is Russia," but they sometimes specify regions of Russia. Like, whose sales are you afraid of losing? Do you really have that many customers in Yemen, Iran, and Oman? I get it, we're all terrified of anger the desert boogymen (/s), but seriously, this is not acceptable when it's something as fundamental as your story's setting. And maybe I just missed something - I was drunk through a chunk of my playthrough - but I'm still not 100% sure why the Russian ultranationalists and the people from Nonamestan were allies. Did they just want to make the Russians and the Muslims work together for the sake of putting the two groups Americans are the most irrationally terrified of in the same game? Regardless of the "why," Modern Warfare is a prime example of bad narrative set-up.
So now that we've established I have absolutely zero respect for the writing here, I guess I can address the actual gameplay in the campaign. It's good. Honestly, the gameplay in the campaign mode is more than half the reason I'm giving this game a good score at all. For as suck as the writing was, the gameplay direction was spot on. Most of the game is your standard FPS affair, but there's enough variety to keep anything from getting stale. Sometimes you've got a whole squad to back you up, and you're gunning your way through a town. Sometimes it's just you and your homie on a stealth missions DEEP behind enemy lines. Sometimes you're trying to get to a specific point as quickly as possible. One mission has you control the guns on an AC-130 and turn enemies on the ground into meat paste from long range. Some missions are long whereas some are super short and serve only to show story progression. Honestly, I have complaints with almost every aspect of the campaign, but the one aspect for which I have nothing but praise is the mission design and variety. It's an exemplar of what a modern military shooter's design should be.
I don't know how much of an improvement the game's visuals will be for most folks, but consider that my first playthrough was on Wii at 480i over composite, and this second playthrough was at 2160p over HDMI, it scarcely even looked like the same game to me. I never played COD4 in HD, so going from SD straight UHD was like putting on glasses for the first time. Everything looked so crisp, clear, and photorealistic. I'm not an audiophile, so didn't really notice a big improvement in sound, but that's just not the type of thing I'd typically notice. Regardless, though, Modern Warfare Remastered holds up as a model template of what a remaster should be - keep the game itself as unchanged as possible while polishing every aspect of it that you can.
Call of Duty 4 - be it the original release or the remaster - is definitely not even close to the best game in the series, but it is an excellent FPS title nonetheless. If you're not a fan of the genre, there's not a whole lot here - the writing is questionable, the multiplayer gets really stale really fast due to the repetitive nature of the genre - but the level design and mechanics of the game are really polished and well designed. I'm on the edge here with the score I'm giving it, but I'm going to err on the side of a higher score because of how truly well designed the single player missions are. If you're into shooters, I definitely recommend checking this one out.
My Rating - 4 Neps
Also available on Gamecube, Wii, Switch, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows
I first played Resident Evil 0 back on Gamecube, and it was actually one of my early Resident Evil experiences after the PlayStation original and Resident Evil 4 (which I played on Wii). Zero's release at the end of 2002 was the perfect accompaniment for the remake of Resident Evil that had come out in the beginning of 2002 as it takes place immediately before the first game not far from the infamous Umbrella mansion. It was originally a Gamecube exclusive before being ported to Wii and then remastered in HD for Microsoft's and Sony's 2000s HD systems, and while it does somewhat show its age as a 17 year old game, it still holds up as a pretty good game in 2019.
In Resident Evil Zero, a team of elite cops from Raccoon City - a sister squad to the STARS members that starred in the first game - is sent to investigate a series of cannibalistic murders in the forested mountains near Raccoon City. They quickly discover a crashed military police vehicle and two dead MPs who were apparently transporting a dangerous murderer named Billy Cohen. You start off playing as Rebecca, a rookie STARS medic, and are investigating a mysteriously stalled train while also searching for Cohen. Upon realizing that there's some cataclysmic outbreak going on, Rebecca realizes that the only hope for survival is to cooperate with Billy.
The game overall feels a lot like the original Resident Evil; most of it takes place in a mansion with zombies where you have to solve ridiculous puzzles that would never exist in the real world in order to proceed. It's really good overall, but there are a few stylistic choices that really kill it for me to some extent. The biggest issue is the inventory. Inventory space is extremely limited which, in and of itself, isn't a problem. The problem is that there's no item storage like in the original game, and some of the items take two spaces. The hookshot especially is a problem because it takes two slots, and you need it at various points through the game right up near the end, but it never tells you when you're done needing it. Like, I get it, scary horror spoopy games use limited inventory to make it spoopier, but this is just annoying.
Having gone from playing on Gamecube to playing PlayStation 4, the visuals were quite impressive given that it was just a simple upscale. The controls can feel a little archaic especially where the tank controls are concerned, but the game is much more playable in a modern context than 1, 2, 3, or Code Veronica are (although I still love those games). Resident Evil 0 does leave a bit to be desired in the details, but it's still. an extremely playable game. Whether you play it on the Gamecube, the Wii, or the PS4 or Xbox One, it's a fantastic experience.
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.