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Found 142 results

  1. Eliwood8

    Mimpi Dreams Review

    Originally released for PC and mobile devices back in 2016, Mimpi Dreams from developer/publisher Dreadlocks Ltd makes its way to the Switch this week and brings with it a delightfully charming take on puzzle/platforming gameplay. It may not be the most complex game on the eShop, but its approachable, simple design makes it a fun, if brief, adventure. You play as Mimpi, a small dog who, when he sleeps, has big dreams of adventures. From forests and medieval castles to adventures on Mars, Mimpi's dreams always take him to places where nightmares need to be defeated and the locals need rescuing. Mimpi Dreams is ridiculously cute—Mimpi even dresses up in little themed outfits you can find in each stage—and the fact that its story points are all told visually makes it an ideal game for kids. You're not going to get much elaborate storytelling here, but Mimpi's charming heroics, reminiscent of classic platformer games, works well enough for this plot. The gameplay is a mix of puzzle/platformer: your goal is to reach the end of each level, but along the way you'll encounter all manner of obstacles that will hinder your progress. Sometimes it's a simple matter of knocking over a tree to make a bridge, while other times you need to solve something a little more involved to open the path forward. Mimpi Dreams does a solid job of throwing a variety of puzzles at the player, enough that it never feels like you're just doing the same things over and over. There are plenty of clever challenges as well, but generally the puzzles aren't too complicated. If you do need a helping hand though, there's a built-in hint system to help. There's a limit on how many hints you can use but it's possible to unlock more as you play, so even novice players can pretty comfortably progress through Mimpi Dreams. What makes the puzzle-solving a little more unique is that you're able to interact with a lot of the scenery in the environment. In addition to moving Mimpi you also have a cursor that can touch anything on screen, and this is typically your main way of solving a puzzle—oftentimes the biggest challenge is just figuring out what in the scenery you can actually interact with. With a traditional controller you move the cursor with the right stick and hit ZR to interact with things, which feels a little clumsy compared to the original touch controls on mobile or keyboard/mouse on PC. The good news is no puzzle requires such precise timing that you'll fumble it just because of the slow controls, so even though the controls don't quite feel ideal it won't inhibit the experience. Mimpi Dreams also supports motion control with the Joy-Cons, though trying to interact with puzzles this way has its own set of problems. The movement never quite feels as precise as you need it to be, and oftentimes will slow you down even more than trying to use the control stick. Of course, with the Switch you can also just go undocked and use the touch screen, which definitely feels more comfortable with certain puzzles. You'll have to keep your hands on the controls anyway to move and jump as Mimpi, but the trade off might be worth it at times. With a dog's mind as its setting Mimpi Dreams comes up with plenty of bizarre, surreal set pieces, and paired with the game's clean, crisp art style the visuals are a lot of fun. It's cute and cartoony, and the game's unique sense of style helps set it apart, even when Mimpi is traveling through more traditional video game locales like a forest or castle. And although the game can be a little light on background music at times, the main theme is catchy enough—and loops often enough—that it's sure to get stuck in your head. Just like the game's art the song is cute and charming, and helps lull you into the relaxed gameplay. There are only seven levels in the game but they get progressively longer and more complicated, culminating in an adventure on Mars that tests all of the skills the player has cultivated up until that point. Still, Mimpi Dreams isn't a long game, and the average player will most likely finish the whole thing in just a few hours. But completionists may enjoy finding all of the collectible bones in each level as well as tackling the challenge mode which tasks you with getting through as much of the game as you can with only one life. Even this isn't too hard with a little bit of caution, but it's still a decent way to challenge yourself. With engaging puzzles, a cute sense of style, and an adorable protagonist, Mimpi Dreams is an utterly endearing game, one that proves to be engaging even if not particularly complex. Despite minor control quirks Mimpi Dreams offers an adorable adventure for inexperienced players or anyone looking for a more relaxed game. Rating: 7 out of 10 Bones Review copy provided by the publisher Mimpi Dreams is available now on the Switch eShop for $9.99.
  2. The Yo-kai Watch franchise must be hitting the big leagues if they're putting out not just sequels but spin-offs as well. Unlike the main games Yo-kai Watch Blasters does away with the human protagonists and focuses just on the ghostly creatures as they band together in Blaster teams to keep the peace in the spirit world. Just like Yo-kai Watch 2, Blasters comes in two flavors, Red Cat Corps and White Dog Squad (for this review I played the former). The change in gameplay focus helps alleviate some of the nagging little problems found in the previous two mainline games, but it's not enough to completely cover the sense of repetition that weighs down the experience. Yo-kai Watch Blasters may not be a dungeon-crawler but it still feels extremely similar to the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, mostly because you don't play as a human character controlling and collecting Yo-kai but as the Yo-kai themselves. In this game Yo-kai band together to form Blaster teams who keep the peace by battling unruly ghosts. Just like the main games there's a distinct Saturday morning cartoon vibe to the storytelling—the game is even divided into chapters that play out like individual episodes. As such the writing isn't exactly hardhitting or even that original but it's cute and charming enough for what it is. Besides, as you'll quickly discover while playing, Yo-kai Watch Blasters is more concerned with gameplay grind than storytelling. Rather than control a human character collecting Yo-kai, you play as a Yo-kai yourself and can engage in battles in real time while running around the city. This actually isn't the first time players have seen this style of gameplay as Blasters was a side mode in Yo-kai Watch 2. The formula has been refined a bit but the basic idea is the same, with strategy being somewhat less of a concern as your team of four Yo-kai battle enemies. Just like the main game there are hundreds of Yo-kai to collect and use in battle (you still befriend Yo-kai through a semi-random system after defeating them in battle) plus every ghost is given one of four classes: fighter, tank, healer, or ranger. A good Blasters team will balance out all four classes, though it's entirely up to you how to assemble and use your team. The battle system itself is decently fun—for a little while. Even with so many Yo-kai there really isn't much variety to combat and the game quickly turns into a game of repetition. Even fighting against different Yo-kai doesn't feel unique, though boss ghosts at least pose a more unique challenge. What quickly becomes apparent is that the entire game is built to be a grind. You can use whatever Yo-kai you want since it's easy to use Oni orbs to level them up, but collecting the necessary amount of orbs to build up more than four Yo-kai requires a lot of grinding. Oni orbs are also used for various other game mechanics (purchasing equipment, evolving Yo-kai, etc.) so the game really is made for grinding. It wouldn't be so bad if the gameplay itself was a little more exciting, but even when battles get tougher the combat system of Yo-kai Watch Blasters just isn't that interesting, and it seems almost endless when you look at the amount of Oni orbs necessary to level up each Yo-kai, or the random chance of getting unique upgrade materials from bosses. One way the game tries to liven things up is the multiplayer system that allows four players to team up on missions. Much like the Monster Hunter games the monotony of grinding should be more fun with other players, right? Well, not quite. Playing with friends doesn't really change the fact that every battle feels like it plays out exactly the same as the last one, and there are few opportunities to really coordinate on team attacks. And although Blasters supports both local and online multiplayer, the online community isn't exactly bustling so you're better off grouping up with friends to get a multiplayer game going. The controls in the game are pretty straightforward at least, and the bottom screen serves as a handy map that you can even zoom in/out to get a better idea of where you need to go next. The one minor problem is that there are also icons on the touch screen that you need to tap to use items or activate your Soultimate move, but the placement/size of these buttons could have been a little more convenient. Just like Yo-kai Watch 2, Blasters recycles a ton of material from the original Yo-kai game. The environments are largely the same cities seen in the main games, and obviously the Yo-kai themselves are largely the same. The art design in these games is certainly charming but three games of it is pretty boring—the series could definitely use a fresh look. The soundtrack meanwhile isn't bad. It's fast-paced and fun, with plenty of clever inspirations from other familiar tunes, but still manages to feel unique to Yo-kai Watch. There's nothing that stands out once you're finished playing but it's a solid background soundtrack nonetheless. As mentioned the core of Blasters is grinding, so if you really want to see everything the game has to offer you'll be putting in a lot of hours into the game. The story is relatively direct and only lasts around ten hours or so (assuming you don't spend too much time grinding to level up other Yo-kai), but the post-game content that opens up afterward can last for hundreds of hours—if you're willing to sit through the grind of it all. Yo-kai Watch Blasters offers a decent spin-off to the Yo-kai Watch formula, one that isn't too different but still feels unique enough to work as its own game. For better or for worse Blasters retains all of the same humor and style of the main games, one that feels right at home in the kids' cartoon universe that Level-5 has built. But it's the seemingly endless grind of Blasters that just highlights how shallow the gameplay actually is, and will leave you questioning whether putting hours and hours of playtime into leveling up Yo-kai is actually worth it, even if you're spending those hours in multiplayer. Yo-kai Watch Blasters is fine in a short amount, but it lacks the spark to keep you coming back for hours on end. Rating: 6 out of 10 Yo-kai
  3. Eliwood8

    WarioWare Gold Review

    Wario is back in another get-rich-quick scheme, this time taking advantage of the lucrative world of video game development. WarioWare Gold collects some of the best microgames from the franchise's history as well as brand new ones that take advantage of the varied control inputs of the 3DS. For fans of the series, this is a great trip down memory lane with a fresh look at some of the favorite microgames of the past, and for new players this is a perfect introduction to the fast-paced microgame action of WarioWare. The game opens with Wario stealing a golden pot from a neighboring city and returning home only to realize he's out of cash. In order to make a little money he organizes a video game tournament, wrangling all of the familiar WarioWare faces into making games for the competition while he reaps the benefits. It may not be very complex but what more could we want from a WarioWare story? There's plenty of humor to enjoy as each character has their own skit to introduce them, and as a first for the series the story scenes are all voice acted which is a nice touch. A bit of comedy and some solid voice work is about the best one could expect from WarioWare, and it's plenty charming here. For those that may not know, WarioWare games are compilations of microgames, which are super short mini-games that generally challenge you to react quickly to a simple command, like catching a ball or avoiding a hazard. You only have a few seconds to register what you need to do and then accomplish it, and you never know what the next microgame will be. These microgames are simple reflex tests, but when they're thrown at you in rapid succession there's an addictive challenge in passing as many as you can without failing. In story mode you'll game over if you fail four times, and there are additional challenge modes that have even stricter parameters—players will enjoy coming back for more again and again to earn an even better score. Gold features over 300 microgames, some of which are brand new and many of which are taken from previous games in the franchise, which also means that this game takes advantage of all of the 3DS's control inputs. Some games require the D-pad and A button, some use gyroscopic motion, some the touch screen, and there are even a few that use the microphone. There's a great sense of variety to the microgame selection in Gold, especially if you're playing one of the game modes that mixes it up and throws all different control types at you randomly. Much like pretty much every WarioWare game there are a handful of microgames that are just a little too obtuse and confusing in the few seconds you have to understand them, but it's really only a problem the first time you see the microgame. After that you can always practice in the index so you won't be caught unawares again. Just playing the story mode won't make for a long game, especially since you probably won't even see every microgame by just playing the story once. WarioWare games are built upon replay value, and it definitely is addictive to replay these microgames over and over to challenge your own high scores. Additionally there are tons of knickknacks to collect including soundtrack samples, character descriptions, and even bonus mini-games. You'll unlock these randomly by using the game's gacha/capsule machine, so there's more incentive to play as much as possible to improve your odds of getting interesting items. Even if you aren't meticulously collecting these items, Gold has a great variety of content that makes it easy to keep playing long past the brief story mode. And if you have a friend with their own copy of the game you can play a little local head-to-head challenge, last player standing wins. It's a bit of a shame that this multiplayer mode is limited to local play and requires two copies of the game but if you can make it happen Gold is a fun game to challenge a friend for some quick competitive play. WarioWare's charmingly bizarre art style is still on full display in Gold, plus you get to enjoy the characters in a cute variety of cutscenes during their introductions in story mode. Otherwise there isn't much to be said for the graphics, but then again that's not the point of a WarioWare game—a lot of the visuals are quirky and weird and that suits Wario just fine. On the music side of things though there's plenty to enjoy. The song selection has just about as much variety as the microgame list, and sometimes it's fun to just listen to these bubbly tunes if you've unlocked them from the capsule machine. WarioWare Gold may not wow you with a wildly new take on the series, but as a "greatest hits" or "ultimate edition" of WarioWare it offers a fantastic collection of the kind of quirky, challenging, and surprisingly addictive microgames that define the franchise. The story mode offers a great selection of charming, oddball humor without detracting from the core gameplay, and the variety of microgames, challenge modes, and bonus collectibles make the game perfect for a quick play session every so often. Old fans and new will enjoy the challenge of perfecting high scores in WarioWare Gold. Rating: 8 out of 10 Mini-games
  4. After letting Mario lead the way for each new console's release, Nintendo raised some eyebrows when the GameCube's launch Mario game wasn't a Mario game at all. This time it was the plumber in green's time to shine, though to be fair his story still revolves around finding a missing Mario. Still, Luigi's Mansion was a breath of fresh air and an utterly charming GameCube game to boot. The game became not only a cult classic but helped shape Luigi's personality in future titles. Seventeen years later, players have a chance to enjoy the entire adventure all over again on the 3DS with a few new bells and whistles, but mostly the same enjoyable ghost-catching gameplay. It's Luigi's lucky day when he wins a mansion in a contest, despite never having entered one in the first place. Still, not one to look a gift house in the mouth, Luigi travels to the mansion to check it out, planning to meet up with Mario there. But Mario is nowhere to be found, and the mysterious mansion is haunted by hundreds of terrifying—though mostly adorable—ghosts. With the help of Professor E. Gadd, Luigi braves the mansion with the Poltergust 3000 to round up the ghosts and find his brother. It may not be the deepest story but it's still a lot of fun to see Luigi shine in the spotlight, diving into danger despite his fears. Aside from simply exploring the mansion the crux of the gameplay lies with the Poltergust 3000. This modified vacuum allows Luigi to capture ghosts, but it can also be used to solve simple puzzles (or even dust off the mansion a bit). The process of capturing ghosts is fairly simple—for normal ghosts you need to shine your flashlight on them to temporarily freeze them, then wrangle them with the Poltergust while they struggle to escape. It's simple but still incredibly satisfying to capture ghosts—it helps that each one enters the Poltergust with a satisfying pop. By clearing a room of ghosts you'll open the way to a new one somewhere in the mansion, and the journey continues in a somewhat repetitive but still entertaining fashion. Occasionally the capture process becomes a little more involved. Some ghosts require using an elemental attack to weaken them first, and some are Portrait Ghosts that are more like mini-boss fights. These ghosts usually require solving a simple puzzle to make them vulnerable to the Poltergust, and if you need a hint Luigi has a Game Boy Horror to scan ghosts and dispense tips. Then there are the actual boss fights that are much more involved. Both Portrait Ghosts and bosses add a nice break from the normal pace of the game, plus they add a good bit of challenge. The game still errs on the easy side for the most part, but that doesn't mean you can drop your guard entirely, especially if you want to earn a high score. The hardest part of the game is actually just keeping a handle on the controls. The game has a fixed camera angle but Luigi is able to move in any direction and aim the Poltergust up or down to capture ghosts high and low. The result is a control scheme that never quite feels right. It's hard to keep your bearings, and sometimes you'll think you're aiming straight at a ghost but in reality your aim is a little off and it slips away. It's a bit frustrating, especially with some of the more agile ghosts, and this 3DS remake doesn't really fix the issue. New 3DS owners can use the C-stick nub to aim but it still comes off clumsy, while other 3DS players have to use motion controls which opens other a whole other can of control worms for a game like this. The clumsy controls aren't insurmountable but it's a shame more couldn't be done for this remake. Speaking of which, the remake adds a handful of new features, though nothing that significantly changes the game. Aside from the control differences there's also a 2-player mode where another player controls a gooey green doppelganger of Luigi called Gooigi. It's fun to have a friend along for the ride, and even if you only have one copy of the game you can play the more limited challenges with a friend, though the game is still built for only one player so adding another generally only further trivializes the game's challenges. Additionally you can use amiibo if you need a boost, and you can now use the Strobulb, a flashlight originally seen in Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon which emits a powerful blast of light after charging up for a few seconds. Again the game doesn't have any new ghosts that require this feature but it can make a fun change of pace all the same. After seventeen years it is, perhaps, easy to forget what the original GameCube game looked like originally, and while this 3DS version obviously doesn't have the latest HD quality graphics it's still a marked improvement over the original. At the same time the game retains all of the charm found in the little touches of the GameCube game as well, from Luigi's nervous shuffling to the cartoony ghosts that are more quirky than spooky and give the entire game a fun, light-hearted feeling. And although it has become a surprisingly rare feature for 3DS games, Luigi's Mansion includes stereoscopic 3D which does look pretty cool—though unfortunately still isn't that helpful with aiming. And naturally the game features a spooky, cartoonish soundtrack as well with a main theme that is just as catchy today as it was in 2001. For those of us that haven't played the game in over a decade it may be easy to forget that it's actually quite a short adventure. Only six hours or so will see you through the entire adventure, assuming you don't get too lost while rounding up the hidden Boos needed to reach the final boss. Like the original there is a second quest of sorts called The Hidden Mansion that is available after finishing the game once, plus you can challenge yourself with earning a high score by taking down Portrait Ghosts as efficiently as possible. Even if the breadth of content is relatively light, there's enough replay value to keep you entertained. On the 3DS, Luigi's Mansion remains a delightfully charming Nintendo-take on the horror genre, where more dramatic scares are traded for theme park-esque thrills. This remake may only add superficial features and retains many of the small annoyances of the original, but the adventure is still well worth replaying, especially with a friend. The fun of exploring a creepy mansion will keep you hooked for the game's short length and will no doubt whet your appetite for the upcoming Luigi's Mansion for Switch. Rating: 8 out of 10 Ghosts
  5. Eliwood8

    Pinstripe Review

    What better time of year than October to take a quick trip through Hell? Pinstripe, created by Thomas Brush with developer Atmos Games and publisher Serenity Forge, takes players on a surreal adventure through the underworld, one that is haunting and eerie rather than filled with brimstone and fire. It's that atmosphere that makes Pinstripe special though, even if the gameplay challenges are light. In Pinstripe you play as Teddy, an ex-minister who, as the game begins, is traveling on a train with his three-year old daughter Bo. After meeting the perfectly creepy Mr. Pinstripe, Bo is kidnapped and whisked away to Hell, leaving Teddy to chase after them through eerie landscapes populated by despondent souls in the thrall of Pinstripe. If there's one thing this game does perfectly it's atmosphere. The entire adventure has an emotional, melancholy tone, and not just for the fact that a father is rescuing his daughter. In addition there's a bit of a mystery element to the game since nothing is explicitly explained to you, and the bizarre setting has a variety of strange quirks in it. It's enough to keep you completely enraptured by the game, and even if the game's themes of loss and despair end up feeling a little light by the end it's easy to be invested in the journey. The gameplay itself is something of a mix of adventure exploration and puzzle-solving, i.e. you may need a specific item to progress, but to find it you'll go through a variety of puzzles. It's a solid gameplay basis though tends to err on the easy side—this isn't the kind of game where you'll get stumped on a puzzle or lost for a good amount of time, everything is laid out before you pretty clearly. There are still a lot of fun little puzzles to enjoy in Pinstripe but ultimately it feels like the gameplay is just something to keep you busy while you're drinking in the atmosphere and story rather than the core of the game. The game also includes light combat, though generally enemy attacks are only a minor nuisance and you can easily dispatch them with your weapons. Aiming can feel a little clumsy at first, perhaps because the game was built for PC so dual-stick aiming feels a little off, but you never really have to aim and fire quickly so it's not much of a problem. The only other notable issue with Pinstripe is the loading times which are a little too long when you're moving between regions (within regions there's no loading). This can be particularly tiresome since you have to backtrack a few times throughout the game, and the loading screens spoil some of the game's momentum. Even if the puzzles and exploration are a bit light Pinstripe has an undeniably beautiful sense of style. The best description of it is simply atmospheric—the visual design does an incredible job of reinforcing the sense of loss and isolation that Teddy is going through, and also provides some beautifully eerie scenes. It's the kind of visual design that makes you pause to appreciate the small touches on every screen. All of this is matched with an equally fantastic soundtrack, one that perfectly captures the haunting atmosphere but also has a number of quirky and catchy tunes as well. It's eclectic, and yet somehow suits the somewhat surreal world of Pinstripe. If there's one other major complaint about Pinstripe it's simply that the game is so short. Especially with its simple puzzle design it's easy to run through the game in just a couple of hours—and that's not the say the game isn't enjoyable during that time, but both the environments and gameplay design feel like they could have been put toward an even longer game. There's also a new game+ option which allows you to explore a few more areas. These don't hold anything of crucial importance to the game's story or gameplay but it can be nice to replay the game and take in all of the little details it offers—it'd only take you a couple of hours after all. Pinstripe offers beautiful and haunting trip through a surreal Hell, where psychological abuse seems to weigh more heavily on its denizens than physical torture. All of that incredible atmosphere unfortunately isn't matched by the gameplay, which proves somewhat shallow, but even if the challenges are small there are still some fun puzzles to enjoy. Players looking for a thoughtful, emotional adventure would do well to give Pinstripe a try. Rating: 7 out of 10 Stripes Review copy provided by the publisher Pinstripe will be available on the Switch eShop on October 25th for $14.99. Pre-purchase the game now for a 20% discount.
  6. For a while there it looked like we weren't going to get this game in the West (originally called Monster Hunter XX in Japan), but Switch owners can rejoice: while other systems are playing Monster Hunter World we've got Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, the most jam-packed Monster Hunter game to date. This is an expansion of the 3DS game originally released in the West in 2016 so the basic premise will be familiar to many players (in fact, I'm reposting my review of that game below since it covers so much of this game as well), but a little similarity to previous entries has never stopped a true Monster Hunter fan. For those of us that are helplessly addicted to the hunt, Generations Ultimate is…well, the ultimate experience. First off, one of the nicest features in this game is simply the fact that you're able to transfer your progress from Generations on the 3DS to this Switch game. It's a quick, simple process and incredibly valuable for saving a lot of time building up an inventory of basic resources. Tackling every hunt can be a lot of fun in Monster Hunter but transferring data like this helps veteran hunters jump right to the new content. It's hard to know what to say about Generations Ultimate since it's basically an expansion of Generations for the 3DS. The core elements are the same but this game adds more monsters, more hunting styles, more maps—more everything! Generations Ultimate may not have a fancy new gameplay gimmick or monster type but the game doubles down on Generations' premise as a collection of Monster Hunter greatest hits. With even more monsters and maps from the franchise's history represented here, this truly is an almost all-encompassing representation of the series's rich hunting history. For fans of Monster Hunter it doesn't get much better than this—Generations Ultimate is everything you love, all packed into one Switch cartridge. And on the other hand, Generations Ultimate may not necessarily win over new players. Monster Hunter games have grown increasingly more accessible with each generation but there are still plenty of little aspects that players might find tedious, like collecting resources or the seemingly endless grind to earn rare item drops from monsters. If the game clicks for you you'll be hooked for literally hundreds of hours of playtime, but if not the gameplay might seem repetitive. Aside from just plain more monsters to fight, one of the more significant additions to Generations Ultimate is two new hunter styles, Valor and Alchemy. Valor isn't that dissimilar from the existing Adept style as both rely upon reading the monster perfectly to time your dodges, but Valor also gives the benefit of building up a Valor State that allows you to perform new attacks, depending upon what weapon you're using. It can be a risky style to use but also a fun change of pace for pros that want a little something new. Alchemy lets you craft items in the middle of a battle, some of which affect the whole hunting party, so it's useful for players that like playing support. It's also pretty complicated to learn since you basically have to learn all of the alchemy recipes and then remember which ones you want to use in battle, but with a bit of practice it's a nice addition to multiplayer hunts. Of course, possibly the best reason to get Generations Ultimate even if you played the 3DS game to death is the addition of G-rank, the highest difficulty rank in a Monster Hunter game where enemies hit even harder and add new attack patterns. One of the best things about Monster Hunter is the satisfaction of defeating a particularly troublesome beast, so adding another layer of difficulty to the game is perfect for players that enjoy a challenge. G-rank is a true test of skill, and rising to the challenge either alone or with friends is a blast. It's been a while since we've gotten to enjoy a Monster Hunter game on an HD system (well, an HD Nintendo system at any rate) and seeing all of the game's 93 monsters on the big screen is a real treat. Granted, Generations Ultimate still has its roots in the 3DS so the visuals are upscaled and still retain a certain grainy simplicity, notably in menus, but the graphics are still good—they're just not as great as they might have been if the game was built from the ground up for the Switch. The music isn't half bad either and helps give each hunt an epic tone—there's no better song to pump you up for hunting than the series's main theme. That "Ultimate" addition to the title isn't much of an exaggeration: Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate takes a game that was already made to be a compilation of the greatest hits from the franchise and packs in even more content with a quest list to make even the most seasoned hunter's head spin. The new features may be pretty minimal in the grand scheme but fans of the series won't mind. This isn't a game made to revolutionize the way Monster Hunter is played—it's a game for hardcore hunting fans that can't get enough of battling gigantic monsters, crafting weapons and armor, and doing it all again and again. Rating: 9 out of 10 Monsters Original review for Monster Hunter Generations (3DS):
  7. Eliwood8

    Mega Man 11 Review

    It's almost hard to believe we were once seeing new Mega Man games just about every year, but then waited over a decade between Mega Man 8 and 9, and now eight years between 10 and 11. Even though Capcom likes to keep its fans in constant suspense over the future of its franchises they've produced some outstanding titles recently, including Mega Man 11. With a perfect blend of old school difficulty with new visuals and gameplay features, Mega Man 11 finds a fantastic balance between retro charm and modern flair. This may shock longtime Mega Man fans, but the plot of this game involves Dr. Wily using eight robot masters to try to take over the world. Shocking, I know. Even though Wily is up to his same old tricks he's got a new gadget to get the job done: the Double Gear, a piece of technology he created in his younger days to make robots stronger and faster. To defeat him this time Mega Man makes use of the same tech. Mega Man 11 isn't about to win any writing awards but the game does add a little to the backstories of Wily and Dr. Light, and the use of voice actors helps make the intro and ending cutscenes a little more fun the watch. Despite the facelift to 2.5D graphics, the gameplay here is classic Mega Man. You have eight robot masters to defeat, each with a themed level and a weapon you'll receive upon beating them, and Mega Man has his standard arsenal of tools: Mega Buster, charged shot, sliding, Rush Coil and Jet, etc. Mega Man 11 is everything players love about the franchise and feels right at home alongside the other main numbered entries. The robot masters don't have the same charm as past bosses, nor quite the same challenges, but the formula of defeating one to use its weapon against another remains an engaging one. The one egregious missing element, though, is the fact that Mega Man does not freeze when jumping through boss room doors. How dare Capcom overlook the most important aspect of the Blue Bomber. Mega Man 11 also has a classic sense of difficulty. It's not quite as completely cutthroat as the original NES games but it gets pretty close at times, from spike traps to tricky jumps where wind is pushing you in one direction or the other. As usual there are checkpoints throughout each stage but losing all of your lives sends you back to the beginning. Fans of the series know that some of this repetition is just par for the course though, and the challenge of perfecting your skills throughout the early portions of each stage is far more satisfying than it is stifling. Plus Mega Man 11 makes things easier on the player with a generous items system that allows you to buy extra lives, energy tanks, and permanent upgrades that can be invaluable if you're struggling. This game captures that classic sense of difficulty without the same sense of frustration thanks to these concessions to the player. In addition to all of the classic elements of Mega Man that have returned there is an important new feature: the double gear. This ability lets you temporarily increase your speed or power, perfect for getting around a tricky enemy or taking down a robot master quickly. The double gear feels right at home in the series: it's a valuable tool but doesn't feel like an uncomfortably different play style from classic Mega Man since it only enhances his abilities rather than create new features to learn (although I often forgot to use it, being used to classic Mega Man gameplay as is). Since you can only use it for a limited time before it overheats and reduces Mega Man's power it's also nicely balanced—it'll help you get through some tricky moments but you can't just rely on it constantly, you still need to hone your platforming skills. Mega Man 11 clocks in at a respectable five hours or so—it feels like the right length for a Mega Man game, though admittedly a significant chunk of that time is spent on the first few levels, dying and retrying before you have enough bolts to purchase extra lives and upgrades. If you can't get enough of the Blue Bomber though there are different difficulty levels you can tackle plus a variety of challenges that give you specific goals, from simple time trials to finishing a level while jumping as little as possible. The game's power up system also makes it easy to set your own challenges—playing the game without power ups or purchasing extra lives is a lot more difficult but some players might appreciate the classic feel it offers. Unlike the classic pixel art of the original NES games or even the more detailed pixel art of some of the later entries, Mega Man 11 features 2.5D graphics which gives a pseudo-3D effect while still retaining basic side-scrolling gameplay. The effect is great and feels like an appropriate modernization of Mega Man. You get some beautiful background artwork and a few flashy visuals without betraying the familiar, somewhat cartoonish design of classic enemies and of course Mega Man himself. The soundtrack also does a fine job of capturing the nostalgic charm of past music tracks while still feeling fresh and new. Not all of the songs quite live up to the franchise's history but to be fair those are some big shoes to fill. Just like Mega Men 9 and 10, Mega Man 11 is a love letter to the Blue Bomber, recreating all of the best—and some of the more challenging—elements of the franchise. Unlike the other games though, this one also does a fantastic job of establishing new gameplay elements that feel fresh and valuable without betraying any of the classic difficulty or game design of the series. Longtime fans will love having another Mega Man adventure to play through, and new players will enjoy the fact that, while still challenging, Mega Man 11's item system makes the adventure much more manageable. Rating: 8 out of 10 Robot Masters
  8. It may not have the star power of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest but the Ys series been around just about as long as those two RPG franchises, and continues to put out new content with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, originally released in Japan in 2016 and recently ported to the Switch. Don't worry if you haven't been keeping up though; Ys VIII acts as a standalone title that anyone can jump straight into, and RPG fans will want to give the game a look for its fast-paced combat and large, engaging environments to explore. Each game in the Ys series follows the same protagonist, Adol Christin, adventurer extraordinaire, who seems to have a knack for stumbling into the right place at the right time. As the game begins Adol and his pal Dogi have found work aboard a passenger ship, but when a ferocious sea monster attacks Adol wakes up shipwrecked on the deserted island of Seiren. Strange rumors surround the island though, and it's up to Adol to get to the bottom of them while also rescuing other castaways and finding a way off the island. Ys VIII does a fine job of keeping the player engaged as you gradually find more survivors and uncover more strange happenings on the island. There are, however, some cliché plot points and one subplot in particular that feels completely out of left-field and oddly melodramatic—some parts of the writing definitely could have been tightened up. Also, despite a patch to address the more egregious typos and text errors, there are still a handful of noticeable typos throughout the game. But there's still a lot of charm in the writing thanks to a large and likeable cast of characters, as well as the mystery at the heart of the story. One of the defining traits of the Ys series is its action-based combat. Rather than turn-based or even combat-mode battles of similar JRPGs, Ys VIII lets you run right up to an enemy and smack it with Adol's sword. Monsters are scattered everywhere on the island and thanks to the seamless fluidity of attacking or fleeing from them Ys VIII has a great sense of fast-paced combat. You're free to move about while attacking and you have both dodging and blocking mechanics that give battles a satisfying intensity. Plus the game finds an excellent balance of difficulty. There may be an emphasis on dodging to avoid attacks but you're not going to be overwhelmed if you're not the type of player with perfect timing. This isn't a full-on action game where you need to pick your moments precisely—there's enough freedom that you can just go all out on an enemy, you'll just do a little better for dodging and blocking effectively. It makes the combat feel vibrant without bogging the player down in learning every monster's attack pattern. There are also a couple of other important aspects of combat. Most monsters have an attack-type weakness (slash, pierce, or strike) and each member of your party uses a different attack-type, so to play most effectively you'll want to switch between your three active party members (naturally, as an action-RPG, you can only control one at a time). Additionally, every character has unique skills for dealing more damage, and the party shares one SP meter. With these other elements in mind, combat in Ys VIII has a satisfying blend of both strategy and fast-paced action—there's something incredibly rewarding about demolishing a monster by using the right attack-type to break its defenses then using flashy special attacks to defeat it. And again, Ys VIII never bogs the player down with little details. You don't have to worry much about managing your SP meter since it recovers pretty quickly as you attack. The members you're not actively controlling still attack for a small amount of damage, but on the plus side they'll take little damage as well so you don't have to babysit them. The only minor annoyance here is that status effects can be hard to notice sometimes, but you can pause the battle at any moment to use a recovery item, so once again Ys VIII makes it easy to just enjoy the combat without punishing the player for not playing perfectly. The other core aspect of the game is exploration. It's only one island but Seiren is a big environment to explore, although it's mostly linear thanks to specific checkpoints that require special items or plot progression. Also each area is divided up into smaller regions, so the island isn't quite seamless (and even with these subdivisions distant objects sometimes pop into view with a jittering low framerate). Still, exploring is pretty fun in Ys VIII, partially thanks to the item collection/crafting system that encourages you to explore every nook and cranny. The materials you find or pick up from defeated monsters can be used to upgrade weapons or craft new armor and items, so it behooves you to pick up everything you can. This kind of item collection can be tedious in other games but Ys VIII makes it pretty simple, especially because you can also trade materials for others, so if you're missing just one piece of ore to upgrade your sword you don't have to run around fighting monsters until you find it. The only problem with exploration is the odd use of adventuring gear. These are items you need to progress further, such as gloves that let you climb vines. What's odd is that the game forces you to equip these in special adventure gear slots, which feels like a pointless restriction when these are simple necessities for exploration. It's not hard to swap out these items on the fly but it still feels like an unnecessary quirk of the game. Control-wise Ys VIII isn't too hard to pick up, but if you do have any trouble with them the game features full button customization. For example I swapped L for ZL and R for ZR which felt more comfortable for dodging and blocking. The game makes it easy to find the right fit for you. The visuals in Ys VIII feel like somewhat of a mixed bag. The graphics are by no means bad—characters have a charming anime look that is bright and colorful, and the animation is nice and smooth—but overall the art style never truly impresses. The environments are fine for what they are but there aren't any scenes that feel particularly stunning or stylish, plus there's a grainy, low-res look to some of the textures. As mentioned the draw distance can get a little funky at times as distant enemies stutter through low framerate movements. None of these are problems that will spoil the experience at all, but it does feel like the graphics are the one area of Ys VIII that truly lacks polish. On the other hand, the game does boast a pretty excellent soundtrack, one that is just as fun and catchy when it's playing for a momentous boss battle scene as when it's just adding ambiance to exploration. There are plenty of great songs to enjoy throughout the adventure. With it's large island teeming with monsters and treasures, Ys VIII clocks in at a pretty respectable 40 hours or so, assuming you don't waste too much time just exploring. But the game also features a number of side quests, courtesy of the other castaways you rescue. You're able to help them and raise their affinity which aids in another side adventure, fortifying your base of operations from monster attacks. Plus there are also optional areas to explore, and if you decide the gameplay isn't challenging enough you can up the difficulty. And finally once you finish the game you can start again with new game+ and carry over certain features. For RPG fans there's plenty to enjoy here. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana feels like it has a good chance of completely flying under the radar thanks to other high profile recent RPG releases on the Switch, but RPG fans would be doing themselves a disservice by overlooking this one. With its appealing story, fast-paced combat system, satisfying exploration, and stellar soundtrack, Ys VIII offers a lengthy, engrossing adventure. A few rough edges in the plot and visuals shouldn't deter anyone looking for an engaging action-RPG on the Switch. Rating: 8 out of 10 Castaways
  9. Eliwood8

    Flinthook Review

    In a galaxy full of scoundrels, one small pirate is ready to rise up and steal his share of the treasure. Flinthook is a roguelike action/platformer built around a handful of simple actions that are put to the test through a variety of randomly generated challenges, pushing the player to perfect the core mechanics of the game to prepare for anything the game can throw at them. Although the gameplay is solid, the roguelike elements prove to be more draining than entertaining. The storytelling in Flinthook is pretty minimal, especially since the main story is told without any text or dialogue, but an opening cutscene reveals a space pirate heist and you, as Flinthook, set off to stop the pirates and collect a little treasure for yourself. That's mostly all you get for plot in this game since the focus is on replaying runs over and over, but you can also find bits of lore hidden in pirate ships which flesh out the game's world a little more. It's a shame since the space pirate concept seems like a fun idea to build on, but the light story ultimately doesn't detract too much from the gameplay. Armed with a pistol, a grappling hook, and the ability to slow down time, Flinthook takes on all manner of challenges as he boards one pirate ship after another, leading up to a climactic boss fight at the end of each run. At its core the gameplay in Flinthook is a blast: swinging around on the grappling hook feels great and although you don't have a lot of variety in your attacks (aside from your gun you can hold one subweapon, such as a bomb) it's still satisfying to hone your skills to dodge and shoot your way through each ship. Flinthook does a great job of focusing on a couple of interesting game mechanics and building out fun challenges around them. The only problem I have with the game is just the fact that it's a roguelike, meaning that the game expects you to try, fail, and retry constantly while stumbling through procedurally generated levels. When you die you lose all progress in that run, and having that sword hanging over your head the entire time can be pretty discouraging, especially when the randomly generated levels start tossing out frustrating and sometimes even downright unfair rooms—more than once I entered a room and immediately took damage from a trap, which is pretty obnoxious, needless to say. The limits on healing may make the game more challenging but it mars the fun freedom of using the grappling hook as you end up often playing super defensively which feels at odds with the fluidity of the grapple movements. On the brightside Flinthook does allow you to purchase permanent upgrades and equip perks to boost your skills, so even failed runs can yield some degree of progress. The game doesn't make earning these upgrades easy though, and you essentially have to grind for quite a bit of time to earn enough currency to purchase them, which brings the gameplay right back to the repetitive trial and error formula that makes roguelikes great for replay value but also incredibly tedious and downright disheartening at times. Like any other roguelike you have to approach Flinthook with an abundance of patience and the understanding that progress comes slow. As for controls Flinthook feels pretty intuitive from the moment you pick it up, with just a couple of small issues. One, aiming with the left stick—the same stick you're using to move around—makes for a pretty challenging experience since it's hard to be precise with your aim or dodge away while still firing. Using your slow-motion ability alleviates a lot of that awkwardness though, plus the game has other control options that might feel more comfortable. Two, some enemies have a bubble shield that you need to pop with your grappling hook before you can damage them. If a bubbled enemy is next to a hook though it can be hard to hit them as the grappling hook might automatically attach to the hook—especially problematic if you're dodging incoming attacks at the same time. Although Flinthook's controls are overall pretty satisfying to use, there are these occasional instances that can frustrate, which is only amplified by the high stakes of each run. The pixel art aesthetic sure is common in indie games but it almost always manages to look great, and Flinthook is no exception. The game gives off a classic SNES era vibe with beautiful backgrounds and charming character/enemy designs. The downside is that the scenery occasionally feels a bit too busy while you're trying to focus on dodging attacks, but overall the style still looks beautiful. The soundtrack also has a nice classic feel to it. The music can feel a little repetitive at times, mostly because you're constantly exploring one pirate ship after another with similar tunes guiding you along, but there's still a great fun sense of energy to the audio that helps propel you along the adventure. Flinthook's charming aesthetics and focus on simple but satisfying 2D action/platforming mechanics makes for a great side-scrolling adventure, as long as you're prepared to handle the repetitive nature of a roguelike title, including the occasionally clumsy or unfair challenges that arise from randomly generated levels. It would have been great to see the same mechanics used in a more structured game, but as it is the roguelike gameplay at least guarantees plenty of unique challenges as you shoot and grapple your way across the galaxy. Rating: 7 out of 10 Hooks
  10. Eliwood8

    Hollow Knight Review

    In an subterranean world of insects, a kingdom lies in ruins with only a handful of residents still eking out a living in the derelict halls. Hollow Knight paints a grand setting for a game that is essentially about a community of bugs, but regardless it probably isn't the story that will pull you in initially with this game. It's the elaborate Metroidvania gameplay, challenging combat, and wealth of subtle options that makes Hollow Knight a uniquely compelling adventure. Hollow Knight doesn't spoon-feed anything to the player, and unfortunately that includes the story. If you're playing normally you'll likely be confused about what the exact details of the plot are, especially since you have so much freedom in exploration that there isn't a linear path of story beats/checkpoints to follow. It's kind of a shame because there's a lot of interesting backstory here—the developers have done a fine job of building this little world of insects and establishing both the rise and fall of its society, but for the most part the player only sees this through scattered bits of lore. It's still easy to immerse yourself in the underground world of Hollow Knight but just a little more clarity—for example, a journal to keep track of plot elements that you find—would have been invaluable. In true Metroidvania fashion you'll explore a vast, inter-connected environment that gradually opens up to you as you gain more abilities and can explore further. The game's map feels huge (and not just because you play as a bug) and a bit daunting but compelling as it's easy to just wander around discovering new little bits of the game. Hollow Knight doesn't make this easy though, as you'll have to find a map maker in each region and purchase a map before you can actually keep track of where you are which can be a bit frustrating at first. Backtracking isn't easy either, even when you do open up stations that act as warp points, and if you're playing without any kind of guide you're probably going to be wandering and backtracking a lot. The game is full of little touches like this, features that make the game a little more challenging but also frankly rather annoying as well. Combat, in particular, skirts a fine line between fun and frustrating. First off I'll say that your actual attacks feel great—the Knight has a fairly short range weapon but there's a satisfying weight to it when you strike, and you gradually pick up useful dodging options like dashing and double jumping. It's easy to pick up as you fight normal enemies but once you get to the bosses that's where things get challenging. Boss fights are really about pattern recognition and you generally want to play defensively as your healing options are limited—you can use a spell that costs mana to use, but it also needs to be charged, leaving you vulnerable. As such these fights can be incredibly demanding. They're not necessarily unfair, but they can be rather tedious especially because, when you die, you're bumped back to your last save point and also lose whatever currency you have (but you can recover it by returning to the spot you died and defeating a shade version of yourself). In that regard Hollow Knight is a pretty punishing game, one that is already built upon combat mechanics that require careful consideration of enemy attacks and sharp dexterity. To help alleviate a bit of the difficulty the game includes a charms system where you can equip a wide variety of charms that give beneficial effects. For example, one might increase the range of your attacks, or another might make it easier to collect mana for your healing and offensive spells. There's a huge amount of customization available here so you can tailor your approach however you like. There's a limit on how many charms you can equip though, and like most things in this game there's no direction given on how to expand your charm slots to equip more, but if you keep exploring you'll eventually find ways to increase your strength. Additionally you can also power-up your weapon and learn new combat skills, though even with a well equipped arsenal of charms and abilities the game's difficulty never lets up. The base game of Hollow Knight is already a pretty formidable adventure, one that can last a good twenty hours at least, which doesn't even necessarily include finding and collecting all of the game's many secrets (and optional bosses). This Switch edition also includes all of the additional content that has been released, offering even greater challenges. All told, there is a ton of content to enjoy in Hollow Knight, even if too much of the game's playtime ends up being dedicated to retrying and backtracking over and over. With its hand-drawn art and traditionally animated 2D graphics, Hollow Knight is simply gorgeous. There's also a brilliant balance between the cartoony art style of the characters and the sinister, creepy atmosphere of the game, which only adds to the somewhat mournful tone of the ruined kingdom. The environments are great as well, though at times it feels like the game leans too heavily on the shadow and darkness motif. Granted it suits the game both as a subterranean world and as a city in disrepair, but oftentimes I just wanted to take in the visuals more clearly. The music is fantastic as well, perfect for the epic yet sorrowful tone of the adventure. Beautifully animated and scored, Hollow Knight takes players on a gripping adventure through tunnels and ruined structures in a hauntingly atmospheric setting. However, the game's staunch difficulty and refusal to make things clear for the player, including not just where to go next but basic plot points, can make the experience feel overly demanding. The excitement of tackling challenging bosses is tempered somewhat by the game's tedious backtracking elements that almost seem to discourage the frequent try-and-retry structure that the game is built around. Still, for players up to the challenge, Hollow Knight offers satisfying Metroidvania exploration and sharp combat features that reward patience and perseverance. Rating: 8 out of 10 Knights
  11. Eliwood8

    The Gardens Between Review

    Where else but in the realm of indie gaming could you find a game that so beautifully leverages a unique puzzle concept with a serene yet emotional story? The Gardens Between, created and published by Australian developer The Voxel Agents, sends players on a touching journey into the shared memories of its two protagonists where, instead of controlling the characters directly, you manipulate time, moving forward and backward to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles. This intriguing mechanic and beautifully surreal world make The Gardens Between a wonderfully entrancing puzzle experience. The Gardens Between follows Arina and Frendt, neighbors and childhood friends who are swept into a dreamlike world made up of their memories of spending time together. The story is told entirely through the game's gorgeous visuals but even without any text or dialogue the game does a fantastic job of gradually revealing the bonds of these two characters, which is also reflected in the gameplay as you need both of them to solve puzzles. The theme of friendship, particularly childhood friendship which represents a certain ease and simplicity that is reminiscent of lazy summer days and an abundance of free time, is an easy emotional anchor for any player to relate to in order to care about these characters, making the story's conclusion quite affecting. It's a touching journey, one that is handled beautifully through the game's aesthetic and style. The gameplay is, at its heart, a puzzle game with the goal of reaching the end of each level, but the time manipulation mechanic makes things a little more unique in The Gardens Between. By moving time forward our protagonists will walk forward toward the goal, but in order to overcome obstacles you'll need to rewind a bit, sometimes changing the scenery to make a clear path. In addition to just reaching the goal you'll need to ensure Arina is carrying a light in her lamp, which can be snuffed out by obstacles that you'll need to avoid by rewinding time and making new paths. Successfully solving each stage means carefully observing how your time manipulations affect the environment and create opportunities for you to bring our protagonists and a lit lamp to the summit of each level. This description may make the game sound more complicated than it is, but one of the beautiful things about The Gardens Between is how easy it is to pick up. The controls are essentially limited to moving time forward or backward or interacting with specific highlighted objects, so it's easy for any player to jump right into the game. That doesn't mean that the game is overly simplified, though. There are plenty of good challenges to enjoy here, puzzles that are genuinely clever—more than once I found myself, after finding the correct solution, charmed by a clever puzzle that puts the game's time manipulation mechanics to great use. There's something delightfully satisfying about seeing all of the pieces of a puzzle come together, and The Gardens Between captures that feeling perfectly when you see your time manipulations create a perfect chain of cause and effect that leads to the goal. Time mechanics in a puzzle game can offer a huge variety of puzzles and can easily fall into overly complicated tedium, but The Gardens Between finds the right balance of clever concepts that challenge the player without overwhelming them. Part of this is due to the fact that each stage is relatively short and often includes checkpoints that you can't go back through, so even when you're lost there is only a small range of options and tools to work with which guides the player into examining the scenery carefully. By focusing on just a couple of gameplay mechanics in short stage sections The Gardens Between lets you focus on the problem at hand. This gameplay philosophy makes it easy to progress through the game—perhaps even too quickly, as soon enough you'll reach the end of the game, and it'll feel like you only just began! In fact, if there's any issue with the game at all its the short length of the adventure, which can be finished in a single afternoon (assuming you don't get too stuck on puzzles). To be fair the game doesn't feel artificially short, rather the game is so engaging that it's a shame it isn't longer, and the time manipulation puzzle mechanics are so clever that they could easily be used in even more puzzles. As it is though, The Gardens Between is still a decent-length game—you'll just be eager for more even as it ends. From start to finish The Gardens Between is a beautiful looking game, which might seem a little surprising considering each stage takes place on a self-contained island. But the storybook-style scenery with its surreal objects is absolutely gorgeous, combining a simple style with eye-catching details and a color palette that perfectly captures the dreamy quality of this journey through memories. The art in this game is just completely charming and the perfect setting for a game that offers a heartfelt exploration of friendship in a relaxed puzzle setting. Of course, a big part of establishing that atmosphere comes from the soundtrack, which is also a spot-on choice for the dreamlike visuals and story. It's a soft ambiance soundtrack that sets the right mood for a thoughtful puzzle adventure—ideal background music for this game. And be sure to stick around during the credits for the closing song, which puts a touching cap on the end of this game. The Gardens Between is an unmissable puzzle adventure, one that blends clever gameplay mechanics, a heartfelt story, and beautiful art and music into an emotionally affecting game. Players will no doubt be drawn in by the game's charming aesthetic and stick around for the delightfully unique time manipulation puzzles, but it's the game's visual storytelling that is the heart and soul of the adventure. Although the game ends all too soon, The Gardens Between is a beautifully thoughtful experience, the likes of which you won't find anywhere else. Rating: 8 out of 10 Gardens Review copy provided by the publisher The Gardens Between will be available on the Switch eShop on September 20th for $19.99.
  12. Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles distills the normally big-budget studio open-world adventure experience into a more modestly priced indie game. The game's world has all of the item collecting and exploration you'd expect from the genre, as well as plenty of side quests and items to craft, but the one thing it doesn't have is any combat elements. Instead, Yonder is a more friendly, easy-going adventure, one that proves just as compelling even if some of its mechanics make exploration a little more repetitive than it ought to be. Yonder takes place in the land of Gemea, a vibrant island that is currently plagued by patches of dark energy called Murk. Your customizable character is journeying to Gemea for the first time, but the ship crashes on the island, leaving you alone to explore the scenery and meet the island's inhabitants. You're able to communicate with the fairy-like Sprites of the island so it falls to you to save the land from its current downfall. The overarching story's set-up isn't bad but there isn't much payoff as the plot continues, leading to a fairly abrupt ending. Still, the other characters you encounter are cute and offer plenty of little side stories, even if none of them feel particularly deep. Like the game as a whole, the story and writing in Yonder is more concerned with making a friendly world to explore rather than a complex or challenging experience. Like a lot of open-world, sandbox games, the basic gameplay principle in Yonder boils down to: explore. You're dropped into the middle of a large environment (with almost no restrictions on where to go) and are free to just wander about, occasionally interacting with things, such as picking up every stone and stick you come across or talking with villagers to help out with whatever side quest they need. There's not a lot of urgency to the main story so Yonder really is a relaxing adventure, one that offers a break from more intense, action-oriented games. Of course, a completely directionless game would get boring pretty quickly, so in Yonder you can work toward perfecting your crafting skills, building farms, and completing side quests. There are several "schools" of crafting and you can join each one, thereby gaining access to recipes to craft bigger and better items. It's always fun to create things in games, and Yonder gives you plenty of opportunity to seek out materials and craft the items villagers need. There are also several farms in Gemea that you can take over in order to grow crops and raise animals. Thankfully you don't have to watch over farms super carefully—they'll mostly take care of themselves, and you can hire a helper to manage each farm—so it's not like you're constantly cut off from exploring to go home and tend the crops. With eight regions of Gemea to explore there are plenty of villagers to meet, materials to collect, and side quests to tackle—it always feels like there's something to do in Yonder, something to keep you moving forward. On the other hand though, Yonder's gameplay doesn't always feel super rewarding. Collecting materials gets pretty repetitive, and it happens pretty quickly when many materials are just found on the ground and all you do is walk up to them and pick them up. Even when materials require a bit more work, such as mining ore or fishing, the gameplay still feels a bit basic. You never gain new equipment so these tasks never feel different from the start to the end of the game. The biggest issue, though, is the limited inventory. You can hold a lot of materials but when you pick up everything you find you'll end up running out of space, and running back to one of your farms to store extra items isn't very convenient. Worse yet, you may find that you put away the one item you need for a side quest, which means returning to the farm, grabbing the item, then returning to the quest giver. The inventory cap ends up being pretty inconvenient if you're meticulous about collecting materials and completing quests. Exploration has its downsides as well. As beautiful as the game's world is it does get old to run from one location to the next. There are a couple of fast travel options but both have their limitations. Option one: you can find and activate sage stones throughout Gemea, which act as portals to each other. There's a simple quest attached to each one but their locations aren't always quite where you'd ideally like them to be. Option two: you can craft a traveler's knot which allows you to instantly travel to any farm you own. It's the same problem here: farms aren't always close to villages, which feels like the obvious choice for a fast travel point. It may sound like a minor point but walking everywhere ends up being a little tedious when you just want to complete a specific task, not wander over yonder. Yonder's colorful graphics and simple art design is almost aggressively cute. Much like the gameplay there's a nice simplicity to the artwork that makes it accessible to any player, and animals in particular look adorable. At the same time the simplicity of the art can feel a little bland at times, and within each region it would've been nice to see a little more variety, but the towns and special events like the Halloween event look great. And although there are no long loading screens which makes the game world pretty seamless, there are occasional frame rate dips which is a little annoying to see. Yonder isn't the kind of game you want to rush through, partially because it's a sandbox-esque game but also because that's just not what the game's inherent pacing is all about. Still, if you only focused on story missions you could finish the game in just a few hours—it'll still require a decent amount of exploration though. Beyond the main quest there are plenty of side quests to tackle and small points of interest to explore in Gemea. Granted it's not going to be as much as you might see in other open-world games, the ones that typically come from huge, expensive studios, but if you take the time to just wander about and enjoy Yonder you'll find the adventure lasts a good length of time. For anyone that wants the freedom and exploration of an open-world game without any of the stress of combat, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles fills the niche nicely. The game's overwhelmingly cute and friendly style, combined with the general low difficulty, makes it ideal for first-time players or anyone looking for a relaxing game. The sense of freedom in collecting items, crafting new ones, and taking on dozens of quests is undercut a bit by some of the game's mechanics which can end up feeling a little repetitive or at least time-consuming, but at its core Yonder provides a charming, simple adventure, perfect for a relaxing afternoon. Rating: 7 out of 10 Clouds
  13. Dust: An Elysian Tail first entered the public eye nearly a decade ago when it won Microsoft's Dream.Build.Play competition, earning it a publishing deal on Xbox Live Arcade. After releasing in 2012 and hopping from one console to another over the years, the beautifully traditionally-animated Metroidvania title is now available on Nintendo's console/portable hybrid. Fans of side-scrolling action/adventure games will want to take note: Dust: An Elysian Tail hits all the right notes for a classic action game with light RPG elements, and does it all while looking gorgeous. After a brief prologue our protagonist, Dust, wakes up in a forest clearing with no memory of who he is, but he's holding a mysterious sword that is able to speak to him. With the aid of the sword and Fidget, the blade's fairy-like guardian, Dust travels to a nearby town in the hopes of finding out who he is and why he was in the forest. Clearly An Elysian Tail leverages some classic tropes for its plot—the amnesiac protagonist is well-trod territory—and throughout the game there are a handful of plot points that feel a little too trope-y, but the story still proves to be engaging. Dust and Fidget's banter is charming and the cast of anthropomorphic animals is cute, helping make the game's relatively small world an interesting place to explore. And by the time the big questions of the plot are answered, late in the game, you'll be plenty invested in Dust's adventure. The gameplay is based around classic Metroidvania elements: you have a large, side-scrolling environment to explore with a number of secrets to find, and as you progress you'll gain access to new abilities which allow you to explore further. No matter how many games use the same basic premise the formula remains satisfyingly engaging, and An Elysian Tail finds a nice balance of difficulty in finding the many hidden items and treasure chests scattered throughout the environment. The map will actually tell you if there's a hidden item somewhere in your immediate area, but finding them is still challenging and keeps the player interested in searching every corner of the screen. The game finds the sweet spot of accessibility: easy for anyone to play, but still challenging enough to satisfy more experienced players. Aside from exploration the real heart of An Elysian Tail is the combat system, which is similarly simple to learn but still engaging. Not surprisingly, Dust uses his mystery sword to attack, and there are a handful of different attacks and combos you can execute (Fidget can even join in for some slightly weaker elemental projectiles). There's a decent amount of depth to the game, such that you aren't just button mashing, but you won't be overwhelmed with options either. Dust's movements are also incredibly fluid so it's a lot of fun to roll around the screen, dodging attacks and striking back quickly. In fact Dust's movements might be a little too fluid at times, which can make some of the platforming moments feel a little slippery, but it's easy enough to work around. Overall combat tends to skew on the easy side, and even boss fights don't pose too much of a challenge, but it's still fun to rack up a large combo of attacks and decimate the monsters on screen. And finally, An Elysian Tail has some RPG elements as well. Dust earns EXP in battle but rather than boosting all of his stats every time he levels up you can choose which stat to increase—maybe you feel like you've been taking too much damage, so you boost defense, or maybe you want to use Fidget's projectiles more, so you boost that stat instead. You aren't allowed to focus exclusively on one category (like maximizing attack power without upgrading anything else) but it still adds a little bit of customization to the game. In addition, you can find, buy, or craft equipment to further prepare yourself for battle. Monsters drop items which can be used to craft, but the nice thing in An Elysian Tail is that, after selling the item to a merchant, you'll be able to buy that item from the store in the future, so you don't have to rely upon tedious item farming. That's one of the best things about the game: much like Dust's quick attacks there's a satisfying sense of momentum in the game, and the player is never bogged down by quibbling details. I should mention that An Elysian Tail was almost entirely created by one person, Dean Dodrill, who single-handedly illustrated and programmed the game, which makes the strikingly hand-crafted art style all the more impressive. The hand-drawn artwork looks beautiful and is truly refreshing to see in a game, and the traditional animation gives the entire game the feeling of a classic cartoon, which is utterly charming. The environments and backgrounds in particular deserve special mention for their beautiful, painting-esque art style. The visuals are matched by a fun, lively soundtrack and a voice cast that feels suitably cartoony—not all of the voices feel quite right but their energy still brings the unique cast of characters to life. At around twelve hours or so An Elysian Tail feels like just the right length: enough to make a decently varied game with unique locales and environments, but not so long that the side-scrolling exploration wears out its welcome. However, if you do want to get the most out of the game there are side quests to tackle, optional challenge rooms where you can perfect your skills, and different difficulty levels if you want to up the ante for yourself. Either way there's a solid amount of content here. Dust: An Elysian Tail is not only an impressive feat from a one-man developer, it's a well-polished Metroidvania adventure whose fluid gameplay and charming presentation will keep players glued to the screen from the first step of the adventure to the last. Despite a few storytelling tropes and a sense of difficulty that leans on the easy side, An Elysian Tail proves to be an engrossing action/adventure title, one that leaves you eager to keep exploring one more screen, battle one more monster, and find one more treasure. Rating: 8 out of 10 Tails Review copy provided by the publisher Dust: An Elysian Tail is available today on the Switch eShop for $14.99.
  14. It's been two years since the game was first released, but Nintendo-owners finally have a chance to experience the intensely challenging gameplay and beautiful presentation of Hyper Light Drifter. Originally developed by Heart Machine and brought to the Switch as a Special Edition by Abylight Studios, this version of the game adds a couple of new bells and whistles to an adventure already jam-packed with secrets to uncover. And the good news is the intervening years have done nothing to diminish the mesmerizing quality of this 2D action-adventure. Normally I start reviews by talking about the story to establish the game's setting, but that's going to be a little difficult with Hyper Light Drifter. Not because the game is completely without a narrative, but because the story is told only through visuals and images, to the point that even by the end of the game you might not have a strong idea of what exactly happened. This isn't necessarily a negative for the game, though. Even if the story is a bit obtuse the atmosphere and style of the game speak volumes. You may not get specific details as you play but Hyper Light Drifter is still rife with emotion, from your character's pained movements to the ominous ruins you find in all corners of the world. Far from souring the experience it only makes you want to dive further into the game's lore, and that magnetism is something the game accomplishes masterfully: from start to finish it's hard to look away from Hyper Light Drifter. It's fitting that Hyper Light Drifter has finally landed on a Nintendo platform, as the inspirations from Zelda are clear: as the adventure begins you're dropped into the middle of a world and left to your own devices to explore and battle monsters. The environment is divided into four regions that you can explore freely, and each region ends in a boss battle that paves the way to the final challenge of the game. Much like in the game's narrative the lack of direction while exploring only serves to increase your appetite as you progress and gradually understand some of the game's nuances. There are also a ton of secrets to uncover, some of which are required to progress while others are used for upgrades. In one of the rare acts of mercy in this game there are actually small hints you can find to nudge you in the right direction toward a hidden item, which helps keep you engaged and scanning the screen for any little hint. Don't worry though, it's still plenty challenging to find everything, so it's not like the game just guides you to these secrets every time. And speaking of difficulty, the combat in Hyper Light Drifter offers up some of the most intense 2D sword-fighting you'll find in any game. But the great thing here is that the challenge doesn't come from complexity or memorizing attack patterns (though that certainly helps during boss fights). The difficulty is largely in managing your own attacks—you can't just swing away at everything because every attack can leave you open, and enemies have a knack for catching you when you're vulnerable. It's also easy to get stun-locked or chain-hit by enemies, so you really need to pick your moment to attack. That may sound tedious in this description but in-game it adds a little thrill to every enemy encounter, and a certain thoughtfulness to the way you fight. You end up focusing on the fluidity of your attacks and movements with this level of difficulty, which is wonderfully satisfying when executed well. Boss fights are definitely the culmination of this combat philosophy, especially due to their fast, devastating attacks, but even if you die repeatedly in Hyper Light Drifter the game never feels unfair, and there's always an excitement in trying again. Plus, when you do die, you lose very little progress (only as far as the last auto-save, which is no further than the start of the immediate area you're in), so the game finds a fair balance between challenging and discouraging. Additionally, the more you play the more combat options you'll unlock, from attack and movement upgrades to new guns which can be invaluable for softening up enemies from a distance. Even though there isn't a huge list of attack patterns or combos to use, there's still enough variety to find your own preferred combat style. And finally the game is pretty liberal with health packs, so even when you do take damage you can always rely upon a nearby pick-me-up. So what makes this version of the game a Special Edition? Well, to give the Switch version a little extra value the developers have added a few exclusive features, including two new sub-weapons, an outfit, and the Tower Climb challenge, a miniature gauntlet of enemy encounters. If you've already mastered all of Hyper Light Drifter's challenges on a different system these make for a nice incentive to double dip, but ultimately they're bonus content—nothing that fundamentally changes the game, but a nice inclusion all the same. Through both visuals and audio Hyper Light Drifter creates one of the most beautiful and haunting environments you'll see in a game. The pixel artwork is simply gorgeous, and the use of colors makes every scene of the game pop beautifully. These colors, contrasted with the ominous ruins and decrepit technological remains, gives the game an amazing otherworldly quality, perhaps made all the more intriguing by the lack of text or dialogue to explain anything. There's an emotional weight to this game's visuals, which is incredible considering it's a classic pixel art style. Whatever the secret formula to it all is, the final product is unforgettably striking, and all the moreso in motion. All of that beautiful atmosphere building isn't just on the visuals either—the music does an incredible job of adding to the slightly eerie tone of the game. The music isn't what you'd conventionally think of as catchy but it has the perfect haunting-techno sound that you'd associate with sci-fi or cyberpunk to give the world a unique, alluring, yet unsettling vibe. Even considering the challenging gameplay—which will likely cost you more than a few retries—Hyper Light Drifter isn't too long of a game, but at the same time it feels like just the right length. There are enough things to collect and secrets to uncover that exploration is rewarding and the game's world feels full and engaging in every minute that you play. Plus there are plenty of extras to enjoy if you can't get enough Hyper Light Drifter. There are two New Game+ options, both of which add an extra challenge. There's a boss rush mode if you want to perfect your skills. The secrets that you find can unlock new outfits, which can also augment the way you play. In short, there's plenty to keep you busy in this game. There's a good reason Hyper Light Drifter has made a name for itself on the indie scene. In addition to sporting some of the most beautiful pixel art around, complemented by an equally impressive and haunting soundtrack, the game takes the classic 2D action-adventure format and executes it perfectly. It's a perfect example of building challenges that aren't about wasting the player's time or tediously collecting MacGuffins to become stronger, but about examining the tools and limitations the game provides and honing your skills with them. Hyper Light Drifter offers a wonderfully engaging and eminently satisfying challenge to tackle, and this Special Edition just makes an already excellent game a little better. Rating: 9 out of 10 Drifters Review copy provided by the publisher Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  15. Eliwood8

    Octopath Traveler Review

    When Octopath Traveler was first revealed in the Switch game showcase back in 2017, before the system was even released, it could not have been more surprising. Not only was this a huge show of support from Square Enix as an exclusive third-party title, but the striking "HD-2D" art style was gorgeously unique. Even while playing other fantastic Switch releases, this has been one of my most anticipated titles as everything feels almost tailor made for my interests: a blend of new and classic RPG mechanics that clearly takes inspiration from the golden era of SNES RPGs, leveraging nostalgia in just the right way. For the past year and a half RPG fans have been eagerly anticipating the game's release with a couple of bite-sized demos to tide them over, and in July players finally had a chance to step into this incredible adventure—RPG fans couldn't have asked for more. As the game begins you choose which of the eight characters to start with on your journey, then you can explore the world to recruit the other seven. It's a bold approach to video game storytelling, as so often there's only one main character with a handful of side stories/helpers along the journey, but in Octopath Traveler there are essentially eight main characters, each with their own unique story to follow. What's truly impressive is the fact that all eight of these stories are compelling in their own way, whether it's Primrose's quest for revenge or H'aanit's search for her missing hunting master. Each character gets a chance to shine and show off their unique characteristics and abilities. Sure you'll see some tropes, and some stories have similar broad elements, but the variety of storylines is still impressive and helps build this world in an organic way. You don't feel like these towns and peoples exist only for our heroes to pass through—this feels like a living world with varied locales, and our heroes have interconnected reasons for journeying to them. With eight fleshed out stories the world feels alive and vibrant, which makes it exciting to explore. Is it weird that, despite traveling together, our characters don't really interact with each other much, and don't appear in each other's story quests? Maybe that might make our group feel a little disconnected, but at the same time it's somewhat refreshing that this isn't a ragtag group of heroes that band together to fight some ancient evil. These are just eight travelers that happen to encounter one another and decide to work together—it's almost more true to life that way, in that oftentimes people come together out of happenstance but still contribute to each other's journeys. I will say that the optional travel banter you can read at points is a lot of fun, and it's a shame it isn't easier to see them all; you need to have specific characters in your party to trigger these dialogues but there's no indication of who, so they're easy to miss, unfortunately. The gameplay in Octopath Traveler is an impressive marriage of classic RPG mechanics and new ideas, all of which results in perfectly addictive RPG goodness. There's always more to do, more quests to take on, more levels to raise, and pretty soon the hours will be flying by. After recruiting all eight of the characters, you're given mostly free rein to explore the game's world—each region has a recommended level, and battles will definitely be difficult if you try to enter a level 30 area with characters that are only level 20, but still, the choice is there for those brave souls ready for a challenge, and sometimes just wandering around a bit, taking in the game's scenery, is a fun way to spend an hour or two. And the battle system is plenty engaging, even for normal fights. Combat here is turn-based with the battle order shown at the top of the screen, so planning your attacks is obviously an important tactic. The unique hook of Octopath Traveler's battles is the break system: enemies have a specific "shield" level, and in order to bring down the shield you need to hit them with attacks they're weak against, such as swords, daggers, fire, ice, etc. Once you break all shields the enemy is stunned for one turn and takes additional damage, so combat is really based around planning your attacks to efficiently break shields and set up strong attacks afterward (and don't worry, once you've uncovered an enemy's weakness it'll always appear on screen, so you don't have to try to remember them all). Even by the end of the game there's something fun and exciting about having the small goal of breaking shields in every battle—it's perfect for keeping the player's attention in every fight. Additionally, Octopath Traveler has a Boost Point system, not unlike Bravely Default's Brave system: each character earns a boost point on each turn, and you can use boost points to…well, boost your attacks, making offensive skills stronger or effect skills last longer. Boosting is useful for breaking shields and taking out normal enemies quickly, but ultimately boost point management is primarily a concern in long boss fights, where it gives you a chance to strategize and set up your team to deliver devastating attacks once the boss's shields are broken. Breaking shields and boosting are both simple ways to make battles more engaging than just mashing the attack button every time your characters' turns come up, and it's incredibly satisfying when your plans come together and crush a boss efficiently. You're also given quite a bit of freedom in how you approach battles. Aside from your main character who has to stay in your party at all times (which is frankly a really odd choice for a game like this, but oh well), you can mix and match characters by giving them different secondary jobs, opening up a wide array of possibilities. Want to focus on physical attacks? Magical damage? Want to rely upon buffs/debuffs for every fight? There are tons of options in Octopath Traveler, and whether you want to stick to one or two reliable strategies or branch out, it's a blast to put the game's battle system through its paces. The game does a fantastic job of giving you an interesting set of tools to use in battle, then letting you experiment with them. Another unique feature in Octopath Traveler is each character's Path Ability, which is used to interact with NPCs you meet. This is a fun way of making town exploration more interesting than just hearing NPCs spout off a line or two of dialogue, plus you can gain valuable items or effects from using Path Abilities. For example, Therion, the thief, can steal powerful items from NPCs, or Primrose, the dancer, can allure townsfolk to follow your party and then call upon them in battle to act as a bonus party member. With Path Abilities, entering a new town can be a fun pursuit as you try to see what you can learn, steal, and use from each NPC. Path Abilities are also used to complete most side quests, and like any good RPG there is a ton of side content to enjoy in Octopath Traveler, with plenty of valuable rewards to be gained. The side quests here also add a lot to the game's world-building, but it is a little annoying that the game doesn't make it easier to keep track of the side quests you've encountered. You can check your journal for a quick reminder of each one, but there's only vague hints toward solutions, and worse yet you may have already found the solution in a different town but simply don't remember, so completing some side quests becomes a tedious quest of revisiting previous areas. Still, the side quests offer a nice bit of storytelling, they just could have been organized better. Octopath Traveler's HD-2D art style combines SNES-style sprites with polygonal environments and HD visual effects, and the result is simply stunning. These screenshots alone don't do it justice, as it's the constantly moving lighting and particle effects that truly bring these environments to life in a beautiful way—the water effects in particular are gorgeous, and I often found myself just watching the water any time I was near it. For anyone that grew up on SNES era RPGs, it's just awesome to see that art style brought back in a fresh, modern way. Granted, at times the ambient effects can be a bit much—there are a lot of sparkling particles, sun flares, and light bloom in every environment—but overall the style is still beautiful. And to match such a wonderful art style there's a fantastic soundtrack full of catchy songs that set the perfect background for the adventure and give each town its own personality. The music is beautifully emotive and has a charming sense of excitement for adventure, but is still varied enough to give the more dramatic moments their weight. The character themes in particular are excellent, as each one is distinctive and memorable and helps cement each character's individual journey. Technically you could complete the game with only one character, never recruiting the others, but I'll assume most players will go through the game normally, exploring each character's path, leading to around 60 hours of game time, at least. That's counting only a percentage of the side content available. Plus, if you aren't satisfied with the eight individual stories, there's a bonus end-game dungeon that ties them together somewhat into an overarching narrative. In fact, I only describe it as a bonus because it can be a little hard to unlock as it requires completing two seemingly innocuous side quests—it is, otherwise, essentially the conclusion of the game's long background narrative that ties into each character's journey. Regardless, whether you pursue the extra difficult final battle or not, there is an absolute wealth of content to enjoy here. In many ways Octopath Traveler is an RPG made for fans of the SNES era of RPGs, but it doesn't just rely upon that nostalgia. There are also some excellent, compelling gameplay elements that make battles engaging and bosses in particular a thrilling balance of shield breaking and skill boosting. The hook of having eight individual character stories is executed wonderfully, allowing the player to learn about and care about each character's journey. Topping it all off is one of the most gorgeous and unique art styles we've seen in years, with a beautiful soundtrack to match, making Octopath Traveler a game that absolutely no RPG fan should miss. Rating: 8 out of 8 Travelers
  16. Eliwood8

    Flipping Death Review

    Can you imagine how rarely Death must get a vacation? The work seemingly never stops piling up for that guy, not to mention all the restless spirits trying to complete their unfinished business on Earth. Thank goodness Penny Doewood, recently deceased, is available to take on the role of death-temp while the big guy gets some much needed R&R. Flipping Death from Zoink Games returns to the quirky style of their earlier titles like Stick It to The Man, with all of the goofy humor, clever puzzles, and charmingly cartoonish graphics found in that game. Fans of that Wii U title will feel right at home with Flipping Death's offbeat style and engaging gameplay. It was just an average day for Penny Doewood, dressing up like a devil to attract customers to the funeral parlor she works in, until a fateful fall separates her spirit from her body. Now adrift in the afterlife, Penny becomes Death's replacement temp and, armed with his scythe, is able to possess the living to help ghosts resolve their unfinished business and move on to the great beyond. Despite its macabre premise, Flipping Death doesn't take itself seriously at all and is packed full of weird, quirky characters with plenty of genuinely hilarious dialogue. Penny's abilities includes mind-reading when she possesses a living body, and it's absolutely worth taking the time to hear all of the dialogue that it entails. As fun as the puzzles are and as beautifully weird as the art is, the absolute highlight of Flipping Death is in its sense of humor and the multitude of visual gags, puns, and general silliness that ensues. Although there are some light platforming elements here, the crux of the gameplay is on puzzle-solving by flipping between the afterworld and the land of the living. In the former, Penny can talk to ghosts and find living beings to possess. Once back in the land of the living, Penny can control the person's body and use some unique ability that the person might have—for example, a little girl with giant braces has a knack for biting things. As you'd expect from the game's humor there are some wild abilities that Penny can commandeer. All of these are put to good use for clever solutions to puzzles, and it's great to see that the game finds a good balance of difficulty. There are some inventive solutions required but rarely is the game completely obtuse—it helps that the game is divided into chapters and each chapter isn't too long, so even if you're a bit lost you can easily walk around, re-examining everything for inspiration. Plus, if you are truly stumped, the game includes an optional hint system to steer you back onto the right track. And if you find the main story's puzzles a little too simple or just want to explore more of the game, each chapter includes optional challenges—achievements, essentially. You're only given a vague title to the challenge to figure out what to do but just like the main puzzles they're inventive without being too confusing. And for each challenge you complete you're rewarded with a character card with more of the game's hilariously oddball writing to enjoy. Most players will probably want to take the time to pursue these challenges regardless though, as Flipping Death is a pretty short game, so spending a little extra time in the game's world, pursuing challenges, is a welcome feature. Just like in Stick It to The Man the controls in Flipping Death are somewhat floaty and loose. In the afterlife this is less of a problem since Penny jumps pretty easily and can teleport short distances with her scythe, but in the real world, while possessing a character, it does make the game feel a little cumbersome at times. Additionally, Flipping Death does seem to have some buggy issues, including mission details not updating correctly, characters clipping through walls, and at one point Penny got stuck while falling and couldn't jump. Thankfully none of this breaks the game, but it is a little annoying to have to cope with these small issues. Zoink's art style is incredibly distinctive: it's exaggerated and cartoonish, with a cardboard-like aesthetic that is only further emphasized when you're flipping between the lands of the living and the dead. The art has the feel of a 90s cartoon which fits perfectly with the comedic tone of the game. The graphics may seem a bit busy at times but it's a lot of fun to just take a moment to look at everything in the scenery and on screen—there's a beautiful amount of detail to enjoy in Flipping Death. The music is excellent as well with a fun, jazzy sound to it, and the wealth of voice acting does a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life (or undeath, as it were). Just like the art style, the voice work is big and exaggerated, and it suits the game's humor and style perfectly. Even though the gameplay structure is a little different, Flipping Death feels like a perfect follow up to Stick It to The Man—it has more beautifully offbeat art, excellent voice acting, clever puzzles, and of course plenty of humor. Puzzle fans looking for a delightfully quirky new game should absolutely play Flipping Death and try their hand at wielding a scythe and possessing the living, because remember: even Death needs a vacation. Rating: 8 out of 10 Ghosts
  17. Nintendo continues its streak of porting 2014 Wii U games this year with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, the puzzle-platformer that was originally a spin-off of Super Mario 3D World. If you already played this game on the Wii U you'll find very little different here, but this budget-priced title remains a charming, if brief, adventure. One day Captain Toad is out tracking down treasures alongside Toadette, but just as the pair find a star conveniently resting atop a hill, a massive bird swoops down to steal the prize, and Toadette with it. The captain then sets off on a quest to rescue his partner (while still picking up plenty of treasure along the way). It's a totally basic premise for a game but even so it's hard to dislike the adorable little Toads and their oversized backpacks. Treasure Tracker is a platformer with one twist: Captain Toad can't jump, so even small ledges present a more complicated obstacle than simply bounding over them like everyone's favorite mustachioed hero. Instead, the levels in Treasure Tracker play out more like puzzles you need to solve—i.e., to reach the goal you may need to find the right switch to create a path. Each stage is fairly small but you can see almost everything from a distant, diorama view, which allows you to look around corners to find the correct path to your next goal. Finding the way forward is often more complicated than simply looking around for a bit, though. This perspective creates a clever camera mechanic that fits nicely between the fixed camera of 2D platformers and the freedom of 3D, and it encourages you to hunt down the small indications of where to go next. Ultimately the gameplay is Treasure Tracker is surprisingly addictive, and even if the game poses few serious challenges it's an engaging experience from start to finish. For those that would like a bit more challenge out of the game, Treasure Tracker includes a few extra game modes and objectives that give the game more depth. First off, each level has three gems to collect, and naturally they're hidden in nooks and crannies. Gems are only semi-optional, though—you'll need at least a few to unlock new levels at regular checkpoints throughout the game. Next there is the bonus objective on each stage, which might be to collect a certain number of coins or defeat every enemy in the stage. Some of these objectives are pretty easy but many of them will give you at least a little extra challenge. For the pro gamers there are also time trial challenges which will only unlock after you've collected all gems and completed all bonus objectives in one episode. Time trials might actually be a little too difficult given the somewhat slow—and at times clumsy—controls in Treasure Tracker, but it's another challenge to check off for completionists. And finally, the Wii U game received an update in 2015 to add amiibo support and, if you scanned the Toad amiibo, you'd unlock another bonus mode, pixel Toad hide-and-seek. For the Switch version this mode is included from the beginning—you don't even need an amiibo! Hide-and-seek is another cute side mode that never really offers much depth, but since you don't need an amiibo now there's no reason not to at least give it a try. Speaking of amiibo, their new function in the Switch version is less special but still handy if you have them. The Toad amiibo will give you an invincible mushroom, other amiibo will give you extra lives, and the Super Mario Odyssey amiibo will unlock the Odyssey levels early (otherwise these levels unlock upon finishing the main levels). Treasure Tracker is generally so easy that extra lives or invincibility aren't really needed anyway, though. And as long as we're on the subject I'll say it's great that this new version of the game added levels based on Odyssey, but it's weird that they removed the levels based on 3D World—that trade-off definitely wasn't necessary, given the short length of the game. And finally, one of the only changes from the Wii U version that has much of an impact is in the controls. The original game used the Gamepad in a variety of ways, but the Switch version now maps actions like touching the screen to move platforms to the ZR button, while aiming with the controller's gyroscope. I won't lie, this is a pretty awkward control set-up, especially as you're still trying to move the captain with the left control stick, but there aren't really any instances where you need quick and precise movements, so even if the control changes feel a little clumsy they don't interfere with the gameplay much. And of course you can always play undocked and use the Switch's touch screen to move these platforms. You'll miss out on the bigger visuals on the TV screen but if you find yourself struggling with the controls it might be a worthwhile switch. The visuals and audio are little changed from the Wii U original, aside from being a bit cleaner on the Switch. Treasure Tracker's art style doesn't need super detailed graphics of course, and the visuals are still utterly cute and charming here. Plus it's kind of neat to look back on the art style found in 3D World. The music is in the same boat: a lot of fun, catchy songs, and the intervening years since 3D World help them feel a little less repetitive of that game. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was an unsung gem on the Wii U: a simple game to be sure, but one that didn't pretend to be anything more given its low price compared to other games. Treasure Tracker's cute style and satisfying but never too challenging sense of difficulty make it perfect for younger players, or anyone that's just interested in spending a bit of relaxing puzzle-platforming time in a Mario setting. There's little reason for anyone that already bought the Wii U version to double dip on this Switch version, but new players might enjoy this charming spin-off. Rating: 8 out of 10 Treasures
  18. Eliwood8

    Mario Tennis Aces Review

    It wouldn't be a Nintendo system with a Mario sports title, now would it? Mario Tennis Aces leads the sports spin-offs on the Switch with all of our Mushroom Kingdom favorites taking to the court for a friendly match or two. Aces comes with the standard bells and whistles of local and online multiplayer, as well as a variety of new features to liven up the game and a return to single-player story mode. This game has a lot to prove after the rather disappointingly bare-boned Ultra Smash on the Wii U, but thankfully Nintendo and Camelot managed to avoid a double fault of Mario tennis games. Aces brings an adventure mode back to a Mario sports game, something we haven't seen for quite a few games now. The story involves an ancient powerful tennis racket taking over Luigi's body, so Mario has to collect the five infinity stones power stones before the possessed Luigi gets them and regains the full power of the legendary racket. It's not a super original story and even by Mario game standards feels pretty flat, but adventure mode does offer a nice single-player option that is perfect for training. In addition to normal matches adventure mode has several optional challenges that are essentially tutorials for practicing aim and the new zone mechanics in Aces. Plus there are boss battles which, while a little tedious at times with some of their hazards, offer plenty of practice for blocking powerful zone shots. Even if the story is super short, these challenges offer a nice bit of practice before you dive into a tournament or an online match. Obviously Aces is, at its core, a classic tennis game, with a decent variety of characters (each with their own styles) and courts (each with their own hazards). The big additions to Aces revolve around the new energy meter, which charges as you play. When a star appears on the court you can spend some of your energy to activate a powerful zone shot to aim at a specific spot on the court. These extra-fast shots are particularly difficult to return, but the defending player can use their own energy to activate zone speed to slow down time, making it easier to reach the ball. It might take a few matches to really get a handle on how to use these abilities effectively but they're a wonderfully balanced way of adding challenge without overwhelming one player since, even if your opponent uses a lot of zone shots, you can always rely on your own zone speed to keep up. And it's nice to have these new abilities that aren't wildly out of character for tennis—essentially they just power up your offensive and defensive abilities. With a fully charged meter you can also execute an even more powerful special shot, the main advantage of which is breaking your opponent's racket. Rackets have a limited durability in Aces; if a player fails to block a zone shot the racket takes partial damage while a special shot will fully break the racket—if all of a player's rackets break it's an instant loss. Although it's neat to have another way to win and another aspect to consider as you play, the concept of breaking rackets feels a little out of place, especially when practiced players can learn to block damage from these powerful shots anyway. In a way it just feels like it's punishing new players rather than adding a deep or rewarding twist to the gameplay. Another new feature that is tricky to master—and may be a little discouraging for new players—is trick shots, which allow you to quickly dash toward the ball to return it. The catch here is that you really have to be precise with your timing to use trick shots effectively, often to the point of reading your opponent before the ball is even over the net, so it can be a risky maneuver. However, the reward for using trick shots is significant. Not only can it help you reach out-of-the-way shots, you'll gain energy for well-timed trick shots, making them feel like a more unbalanced feature than zone shots or speed—it's just not fun at all to play against someone that constantly uses trick shots. As a side mode Aces also includes a motion-controlled option called Swing mode. Anyone that played Wii Sports Tennis should remember the basic mechanics here, and although swinging the Joy-Con around like a racket is a fun novelty, Swing mode might be best used as a party mode with friends that don't play as much rather than a mode with much real depth. Naturally the multiplayer options are a big part of Aces, and you can play locally or online to face off with tennis players near and far. In addition to simple quick matches against random opponents, Aces offers a tournament mode that lets you compete for points and the glory of earning high marks each month. The concept is great, and perhaps this is more of a problem with the size or variety of the online community but you'll most likely find some wildly inconsistent match-ups as you play, swinging back and forth between opponents that you easily crush and others that you can't seem to score a single point on. On the bright side I never waited long for an opponent, but the balancing of skill levels left me rather disinterested in taking tournaments seriously. The visuals and audio have all of the colorful, familiar Mario and friends design you'd expect out of a Mario sports game. There's little that will surprise you if you've played virtually any other Mario sports title but even so, Aces looks great on the Switch, both on the TV and handheld. And even if the music rarely has a chance to shine through during intense rallies, there are some fun compositions here as well. Mario Tennis Aces adds some fun new features to the familiar tennis rally, as well as some more advanced techniques that are a bit obnoxious unless you put in the time to fully master their effects, which is only made more difficult by the inconsistent matchmaking while playing online. Still, Aces offers all the standard tennis gameplay for fans to enjoy, and if you do put in the effort to learn all of the more advanced aspects of the game there's a decent amount of depth to enjoy here. Rating: 7 out of 10 Rackets
  19. Eliwood8

    Road to Ballhalla Review

    One part Marble Madness, one part rhythm game, and just a pinch of silly humor, Road to Ballhalla from developer Torched Hill and publisher tinyBuild Games manages to combine several disparate elements into one cohesive game, one that is simple enough to be easily accessible but with enough depth to keep more hardcore players engaged. Even if you're looking to play through the campaign once though and not master all of the game's challenges, Road to Ballhalla offers a fun little experience with arcade-style challenges backed up by a killer soundtrack. Road to Ballhalla isn't a story driven game but I have to give special mention to the game's sense of humor. Scattered throughout each level is cheeky commentary, including pointed barbs at the player when you fail and some silly puns/references, and the jokes land far more often than not. It's like having a friend watching you play and giving you a good-natured ribbing, and it's nice to see a developer just having fun with their game. The best part might be the meta humor—be sure to check out the easy mode option in the game's settings. In Road to Ballhalla you control a ball (surprise surprise) and ultimately your goal is to simply reach the end of the stage by rolling past all variety of hazards. The catch here that makes the game a bit more unique is that it's essentially a rhythm game—hazards appear on a rhythmic beat so you want to get into the groove to roll through a level smoothly. Like a lot of rhythmic games it's incredibly satisfying to find that perfect flow. In Ballhalla, every time you reach a new checkpoint feels like a nice accomplishment. It helps that the game isn't incredibly difficult. There are challenges to be sure, and you're sure to die a few times on each level, but maybe it's the focus on rhythmic gameplay that makes the game engaging from one attempt to the next rather than stressful and tense. And Road to Ballhalla definitely takes it easy on the player in a couple of respects. One, not all hazards are instant death, so even if you're a little off the beat and take some damage it's not the end of the world. Granted, not all hazards are so kind, but it's still nice to have that wiggle room. Two, there are generous checkpoints throughout each level, and checkpoints restore your health. Even if you do die you'll never lose too much progress. And finally, rather than featuring a time limit or high score, each level has two requirements for full marks: collect all of the yellow orbs and die five times or fewer. For completionists these add a nice extra challenge but aren't overwhelming—the yellow orbs are generally laid out across the most efficient path anyway and dying isn't so common that five or fewer is an insurmountable challenge. It feels like the game isn't out to punish you needlessly, which is a nice change of pace for an arcade-style action game. The one downside is that there are only 24 levels, short enough that you could conceivably finish the entire game in just one sitting. On the other hand, with a relatively modest number of levels each one can offer unique challenges, so there aren't any pointlessly repeated concepts or hazards. Each level feels new and engaging, and the game's rhythm makes it easy to keep playing one level after another. Plus, if you are a completionist, there are actually quite a few more challenges to tackle. The main levels may not have a time limit but you can also play Rush versions which are time trials: beat the level under a specific amount of time. This is definitely a lot more challenging but given the rhythm-driven gameplay it still feels fairly natural, and even casual players might want to give it a try. Once you've had your fill of that too you can try to tackle the game's special scavenger hunt, which gives you cryptic clues for one hidden exit after another. The downside is you'll need to replay levels to get to them but it's a nice extra touch for players who've mastered everything else. Given the rhythm focus of the gameplay it should be no surprise that the music in Road to Ballhalla is excellent. More than just getting you into the groove, the soundtrack has an almost hypnotic beat to it, one that is almost relaxing if you weren't focused on dodging lasers and pitfalls. It's truly a mark of care and quality that each song feels so well tailored to the level it appears in. The visual side of the presentation is decidedly more minimalist, but even if the game is mostly just a bunch of colored grids with your ball rolling along it's still rather charming. And again there's something ironically relaxing about the game's simple graphics and groovy soundtrack—maybe that's what makes it so easy to keep playing even when you've died a dozen times in the same spot. At a glance Road to Ballhalla may look like the kind of game you've played plenty of times, but the game distinguishes itself with some important differences that keep it engaging and entertaining from the first note to the last. The rhythmic gameplay makes it easy to dive right into the game and keep playing level after level as the music keeps you entranced and the challenging yet fair level design leaves you eager to tackle each new stage. It's a shame that the main game is relatively short, but if you're willing to take on the more difficult time trials Road to Ballhalla will keep you rolling and grooving for hours. Rating: 8 out of 10 Balls Review copy provided by the publisher Road to Ballhalla is available now on the Switch eShop for $14.99.
  20. Originally released in 2017, four years after the first game, The Inner World - The Last Wind Monk from developer Studio Fizbin and publisher Headup Games brings players back to the land of Asposia where, despite Robert's heroic feats in the first game, a new danger threatens to unravel Asposian society. With new elaborate puzzles, detailed environments, and of course plenty of humor, The Last Wind Monk provides a satisfying follow-up for the point-and-click adventure fans of the first game. The Last Wind Monk picks up three years after the first game, and even after Robert's heroic efforts, all is not well in Asposia. Although Robert successfully overthrew the former tyrannical ruler, the despot's supporters insist on reinstating him and paint Robert as an enemy of the state. Now Robert and Laura need the help of the last wind monk to save Asposia once again. The Last Wind Monk benefits from a stronger overarching plot—the first game had plenty of charming scenes but the first half of the game didn't have a very urgent mission. This game, however, starts off with a more serious goal right off the bat, and with established characters too. The game's political message is also rather timely for today's society. But that's not to say The Last Wind Monk is all serious business. The writing has the same blend of humor and charm as the first game, bringing the strange world of Asposia to life. This game retains all of the adventure game point-and-click mechanics of the first: in each area of the game you're going to explore, examine everything on screen, pick up items, and use them to solve puzzles. But while the first game was a bit more forgiving with its puzzle design, The Last Wind Monk ratchets up the difficulty with more elaborate puzzles. On the one hand, elaborate puzzles can be a lot of fun—they're more engaging and more rewarding once you figure out the solution, and there is also a character swapping mechanic in this game which gives even more variety to how you approach puzzles. On the other hand though, this game slips into that frustrating territory so many adventure games do: ridiculous puzzle solutions. There are far more puzzles in The Last Wind Monk that seem to necessitate just trial and error gameplay because there's little logic behind the solution, or at the very least only obscure hints. The environments in general are just bigger in this game as well, which makes experimentation a little more difficult. It's great that The Last Wind Monk ups the ante for players already familiar with the first game's brand of puzzle solving, but it might have been a step too far. Thankfully though the game still has the step-by-step hint system, so at least when you get stuck, the game can nudge you in the right direction. One of the bigger annoyances of the first game has been addressed—at least somewhat. The controls remain a bit clunky when you're playing with a controller since it's awkward to select objects to examine and scroll through them. However, if you play in handheld mode you can use the Switch's touch screen which is so much more convenient for quickly looking around and using/combining items. It's still possible to miss noticing what you can interact with but at least it's easier to select items and points of interest. The visuals and audio in the game are much the same as its predecessor—quirky character design in a fantastical world full of bizarre creatures and environments. It does feel like The Last Wind Monk is bigger and more refined than the first game though. As mentioned the environments are a bit bigger and more elaborate, meaning the puzzles are more challenging but also that there are more fun details to spot as you play. And the choppy animation of the first game, while distinctive in its own way, has been smoothed out here so the visuals seem to flow a bit better. On the downside loading times seem noticeably longer, which is especially unfortunate given how every region of the game is made up of several screens, necessitating a lot of load time as you frequently move between screens. The music, meanwhile, is largely the same in variety and quality as the first game: a decent soundtrack, but overshadowed by the variety of charming voice acting, from Robert and Laura to the various weird characters you meet along the journey. The Last Wind Monk is a bit longer than the first game, and as mentioned the puzzles are distinctly more elaborate and challenging, so you'll probably spend more time trying to figure things out. And once again there isn't much replay incentive since it's an adventure/puzzle game, but fans of the genre will still feel like they've gotten their money's worth here. The Inner World - The Last Wind Monk offers only a few new frills on top of the classic point-and-click adventure gameplay of the first game, but for fans of the quirky characters and humor of Asposia it should still offer a satisfying sequel. Although some of the new, more complex puzzles drift into frustrating territory, the built-in hint system means you're never completely without a lifeline should you find yourself completely stuck, and the touch screen controls while playing undocked is a welcome addition. If you haven't had your fill of Robert and the flute noses after the first game, The Last Wind Monk offers another charming dip into the strange but endearing universe of The Inner World. Rating: 8 out of 10 Monks Review copy provided by the publisher The Inner World - The Last Wind Monk is available now on the Switch eShop for $14.99.
  21. Eliwood8

    The Inner World Review

    Originally released back in 2013, The Inner World from developer Studio Fizbin and publisher Headup Games takes players into a totally bizarre but charming world full of oddly animated people and flying monsters. At the center of it all is one boy who stumbles upon the truth behind his unusual flute-shaped nose, and the real reason that the world is running out of wind. In classic point-and-click adventure game fashion you'll scan everything on screen to find useful items to progress through this puzzle-filled and beautifully strange environments of The Inner World. In the quirky little world of Asposia, a land surrounded by soil that relies upon three wind fountains for air, lives young Robert, a boy under the tutelage of Conroy the wind monk. Robert is a naive but cheerful lad living a secluded life, but when a pigeon steals his master's prized pendant Robert leaves the confines of his temple and discovers the real Asposia. Also, Robert has a flute for a nose. The Inner World is beautifully imaginative, the kind of story that throws one silly idea after another at you and you just kind of go along with the ride. That's not to say the game is all nonsense—the fantastical elements are actually quite charming and the plot tells an engaging little story about Robert and the truth behind his past. There's also plenty of humor found in this bizarre little cast of characters—the highly aggressive hedgehog, though more of a visual gag, is definitely a highlight. There are some perhaps not wholly unpredictable twists in the story but from start to finish Asposia paints a fun little story set in a unique world. The Inner World is a classic adventure game: click on objects to investigate them, collect items, combine them in weird ways, and solve puzzles to progress. It's a familiar gameplay formula and while this game doesn't try anything too new with it the gameplay is still quite engaging throughout the adventure. In fact, it helps that, unlike a lot of other adventure games, The Inner World doesn't seem bent on completely stumping the player. Too often adventure games rely upon completely esoteric puzzles that only drag down the pacing and enjoyment of the game—that's not the case here. The Inner World still has its challenges (and sometimes combining items in a somewhat haphazard way will lead to some useful creations) but for the most part the puzzles don't feel overwhelmingly obtuse. It helps that each region of the game is relatively small and you rarely pick up more than a handful of items at once, so it's easy to focus just on what tools you have and their possible uses in the immediate vicinity. In this regard The Inner World makes a good adventure game for players new to the genre. And as an added bonus, the game has a built-in hint system if you do find yourself stuck—happens to the best of us when we accidentally overlook one small object that's the key to the puzzle. Rather than run to an online guide, you can use The Inner World's hint system which offers step by step hints for each of your current objectives, so you don't have to worry about spoiling any other solutions or details if you just need help with one specific scenario. Everyone needs a little nudge in the right direction now and then and it's great that the game offers a detailed hint system throughout the adventure. On the other hand, players probably wouldn't need as many hints if the controls were a little smoother. On the Switch the controls are frankly disappointing—you can really tell that the game was built for a mouse and keyboard and not a console controller. You can't just walk up to an object and interact with it, you need to highlight it by pressing L, R, or Y, then select an action like examine or interact. It's a clunky interface made even more annoying by the fact that you have to be near the object to even see if you can interact with it in the first place; at the very least the game ought to highlight everything on screen when you press Y to check. This also means it's extremely easy to overlook something, and just walking around the environment is more awkward than it needs to be. Possibly the worst aspect though is pressing L and R to cycle through the possible objects on screen—it's an awkward system that will often leave you accidentally pressing the wrong button. The controls really put a damper on the pacing and flow of the game as you're constantly struggling just to select the object you want to investigate. The Inner World's unique look comes from its hand-drawn animation. The art style alone is delightfully eccentric, with all the charm and personality of an experimental cartoon, which makes exploring this strange world quite the visual feast. More importantly the slightly choppy animation gives the characters' movements a unique pacing. It's a little hard to look at sometimes but it's undeniably eye-catching in its own way. The music is decent enough as an atmospheric background soundtrack, and being able to play Robert's nose is a fun touch, but the voice acting gets special mention for being just as quirky as the rest of the game. Robert's somewhat nasally voice and quiet way of speaking is perfect for his meek character—and, you know, the fact that he has a bunch of holes in his nose. All of the voice work is charming and helps bring the odd little world of Asposia to life. The Inner World isn't a particularly long adventure, unless you find yourself often stuck on puzzles and refuse to give the in-game hints a try. On average though you'll probably spend six or seven hours in the land of Asposia. The only downside is that, as an adventure game, there isn't a lot of inherent replay incentives since you'd just be solving the same puzzles again. Still, the goofy humor and unusual art style might be reason enough to enjoy the game more than once. Full of strange characters and even stranger puzzle solutions, The Inner World is a delightfully charming adventure game on the Switch, held back somewhat by a clunky control scheme that makes every simple task a little more annoying than it ought to be. If you can look past the controls though you'll be treated to a quirky little story full of clever—but not too clever—puzzles and one of the most unique visual styles you'll see on the Switch. Rating: 7 out of 10 Flute Noses Review copy provided by the publisher The Inner World is available now on the Switch eShop for $11.99. (Keep an eye out for my upcoming review of The Inner World: The Last Wind Monk, the game's sequel, also available on the eShop right now!)
  22. Eliwood8

    Iconoclasts Review

    A labor of love from a one-man developer, Iconoclasts has been in development in one form or another since 2009, going through a couple of different names but always retaining the same core concept. Fans have had to wait patiently until the game was released on other systems earlier this year, and just this week on Switch. I'm happy to say the final game is 100% worth the wait. Iconoclasts from developer Joakim "Konjak" Sandberg and publisher Bifrost Entertainment is one of the most inventive, engaging, and thoughtful Metroidvania side-scrollers you'll ever play, and the care and attention of its dedicated developer is evident throughout the adventure. In Iconoclasts you play as Robin, an unlicensed mechanic in a world ruled by a totalitarian religious regime called One Concern. Robin's mechanic activities are illegal and punishable by death, so she has to hide her activity from One Concern. As the game begins, the story feels like a fairly standard basis for an adventure game—unique in its details, but fundamentally along the same tracks as other games, i.e. a scrappy heroine fights against an oppressive power. Once you get a little deeper into the game though the story takes off. There's a lot more interesting world building in Iconoclasts than you might initially expect, and it's all woven quite naturally into the game. There are some long cutscenes but information seems to flow at a natural pace. It's also surprising how dark and introspective the game gets. Robin is your classic silent protagonist but along her journey the people she meets go through serious character development, fueled by Robin's tireless desire to help people, and the game ends up dipping into some interesting philosophical territory. I don't want to give the impression that the story is too dry—there are a lot of great comedic moments as well, especially given the limited pixel artwork, but the somewhat surprising depth of the story is a breath of fresh air in the video game landscape, and even if there are a lot of cutscenes you'll quickly find yourself enraptured by them. Iconoclasts is a side-scrolling action/adventure game in the style of Metroidvania: Robin has a wrench and a stun gun and uses both to defeat monsters and explore a vast, interconnected world, full of secrets to find. It's a classic game genre for a good reason—the basic gameplay is simple enough for players to dive in immediately but the gradual progression of new items that allow you to explore new areas (and retread older ones for hidden items) is still wonderfully addictive, making you want to explore just a bit more every time you reach a new region. Iconoclasts in particular strikes a fantastic balance between using this classic gameplay formula but still making it modern enough to feel relevant today. Few of the little annoyances of old side-scrollers are found here, leaving only a charming adventure with a satisfyingly fluid sense of progression and challenge. The environment and level design in particular perfectly sets the pace of the game: each region has unique and interesting minor platforming puzzles to overcome, so there's always something new and exciting to engage with. The only minor quibble surrounding exploration is just that it would have been slightly more convenient to have a mini-map on the screen at all times. Pressing pause (+) brings up the map easily enough, but a constant mini-map one small feature that would have been nice. Possibly the absolute highlight of Iconoclasts, though, is the variety of bosses. The game boasts of having over twenty bosses, but what's really impressive is the variety and scope of each one. No two are alike, but each one is an intense, exciting duel that often requires a strong grasp of all of Robin's combat skills, as well as, of course, careful attention to the boss's attack patterns. And yet the bosses never feel overwhelmingly difficult or unfair. Iconoclasts manages to have inventive boss challenges, some with multiple stages to the fight, but without devolving into overtly cruel or unforgiving battles. Every time you come upon a boss in Iconoclasts you'll be excited to see what new challenge awaits you. A big part of exploring is finding hidden treasure chests, and what are in those chests you ask? Crafting materials! Iconoclasts doesn't have a hugely elaborate crafting system but you can create tweaks at special workbenches and then equip up to three tweaks at a time. Tweaks grant small skill bonuses, such as moving a little faster or dealing more damage with Robin's wrench, so they're a great little way to customize your playthrough without bogging the player down in meticulous stat building. Additionally, when you get hit one of your tweaks will break—don't worry, you can collect energy from defeated enemies to recharge your tweaks—so there's an extra layer of balancing how you use tweaks: to make the most of them, you'll have to play carefully. It may sound small but it's a fun extra layer to the gameplay. The graphics and music in Iconoclasts are absolutely stunning. If you're a fan of pixel art you're going to love this game, and if you aren't a fan this may well convert you. Not only is the scenery beautifully designed with colorful details in every region you explore, the characters are just adorable. More than that though, they're impressively expressive, even when faces only have a few pixels-worth of detail. It really comes down to classic animation techniques, and Iconoclasts nails them. Comedic moments have a wonderful flourish to them, while dramatic moments feel intense, all while working within a simple but very striking art style. From start to finish, Iconoclasts is just a joy to look at. And the music isn't half bad either, from the bubbly upbeat background music that starts your adventure to the catchy theme songs for important characters, and on to the more somber tunes when the story takes a turn for the more serious. It's a wonderful soundtrack that will keep your head bobbing along throughout the game. And speaking of which, Iconoclasts clocks in at a pretty respectable ten hours or so—though thanks to the brisk pace of the adventure those hours will fly by and the game will be over before you want it to. Like any Metroidvania worth its salt though there are plenty of secrets to uncover, as well as some side quests to tackle. The game tracks your completion percentage on your save file so completionists will enjoy seeing everything Iconoclasts has to offer. If you're not done there though you can try replaying the game on a different difficulty level or in New Game+, carrying over your tweaks. There's also a boss rush mode if you want to relive all of those boss fights in a more fast-paced, thrilling context. From start to finish Iconoclasts is a game that will keep you captivated. First for its stylish and gorgeously designed art and music, then for its polished take on a classic gameplay formula, then finally for its gripping story that seamlessly transitions among adventure, comedy, and drama. It is frankly shocking that such a game could have come from a single developer, but those years of hard work have yielded one of the best games I've played this year. Despite whatever you may think on first look, you've never played a game quite like Iconoclasts, but it's a game that everyone absolutely ought to play. Rating: 9 out of 10 Icons Review copy provided by the publisher Iconoclasts is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  23. Eliwood8

    Hello Neighbor Review

    We all have that one neighbor we're a little suspicious of—the one that's coming and going at odd hours, or you heard something that sounded like a scream from their house. We've seen the formula plenty of times in films like Rear Window and The 'Burbs, and now developer Dynamic Pixels and publisher tinyBuild Games have brought the trope to video games with the stealth/horror blend of Hello Neighbor. Originally announced a couple of years ago, Hello Neighbor built steam in the fan community thanks to the variety of puzzles seen in Alpha builds, quirky art style, and the neighbor's ability to adapt to your actions as you play. But despite having a great premise for a unique game, the final product is riddled with problems, from clunky controls to insanely obtuse puzzle design. In Hello Neighbor you play as a young boy, bouncing a ball down the road, when you get to your neighbor's house across the street from your own and hear a suspicious scream, then see the neighbor frantically locking up his basement. From there your quest becomes finding out what is actually going on in the man's strange house full of odd contraptions and bizarre constructions like a ladder that leads to the roof and into a bedroom upstairs. Throughout all of this the neighbor will chase you down and throw you out if he catches you. One thing that Hello Neighbor perfectly nails is the creepy ambiance. The game's world is colorful and cartoony but everything about the neighbor and his house is unsettling—it perfectly captures that feeling, especially as a kid, of suspecting something weird is going on but never actually seeing it confirmed first-hand. As the plot progresses there are elements that become a little hard to follow, including what appear to be flashbacks in the neighbor's life, which makes the finale not quite as satisfyingly concrete as I'd like it to be, but during the game the mystery helps fuel the eerie vibe of the neighbor and his house. Gameplay-wise, Hello Neighbor combines stealth and adventure-puzzle solving—for example, in Act 1 you need to get into the locked basement, so you have to explore the house to find the key, which really means overcoming a variety of other smaller puzzle challenges to reach the key. It's a solid concept that completely falls flat in execution. On one hand it's neat that you can interact with most anything in the game. You can pick up boxes, books, picture frames, etc. and try to figure out inventive ways to utilize them to explore. On the other hand, the sheer openness of this kind of gameplay makes playing Hello Neighbor a total slog as you flounder about trying to figure out what to do. The game very rarely gives any kind of hint toward a solution, and some of these puzzles are completely wild. Sure, some things are fairly obvious—if you find a shovel maybe investigate that suspicious patch of loose dirt in the backyard—but it feels like more often you'll encounter an object that offers no explanation of what it's even for, like a button that activates something elsewhere and then you have to find its effect. It's trial-and-error to a completely tedious degree. Which still wouldn't be that frustrating of a concept if not for the neighbor's relentless pursuit of you throughout the house. Here the stealth aspect of the game comes into play: when the neighbor spots you he'll chase you down in what is truly a frightening sight and grab you, then you'll respawn outside of the house. You only get a small warning when the neighbor is near so he has a way of sneaking up on you as you explore, plus there are really only two options to evade him: run outside of the house or try to hide inside a wardrobe. The kicker is that the neighbor will adapt to your habits, so for example if he saw you coming through the front door he'll place a bear trap there to catch you next time (which is maybe an extreme response to a kid wandering into your house). Again, this is a fun, clever concept that just isn't put to good use in Hello Neighbor. Not only do these traps quickly add up, turning the already tedious process of exploring the house into an even more grueling task, but there are only a couple of things the neighbor even does to stop you. The concept seems to want to make exploration feel more dynamic, i.e. you can't use the same paths every time, but ultimately the new traps just feel kind of bland. The final nail in the coffin of Hello Neighbor is the controls. The game was originally built for the PC so it's not too surprising that there would be some awkwardness in translating the game to a standard console controller, but that doesn't excuse the level of stiff, finnicky controls found here. Interacting with objects is way more awkward than it has any right to be—especially small objects when you need to get the screen's cursor perfectly over the item. And since there are no directions in the game sometimes it's hard to understand how an item is actually meant to be used. The game's physics means you can use items in dynamic ways, such as hitting a distant switch, but it also makes just placing an object on the ground way more difficult than it has any right to be—not to mention the times when you toss an object and the physics freak out, sending the item bouncing around the room. Solving puzzles in Hello Neighbor is difficult enough as it is, but the biggest hurdle is just maintaining a concrete grip on the controls. Hello Neighbor also has some technical issues which is particularly disappointing since the game originally came out last year and such problems probably should have been ironed out by now. The game's wonky physics are again a common culprit as I got stuck in the geometry a few times—sometimes I even saw the neighbor get similarly trapped in the scenery. The game also crashed or got stuck on a loading screen occasionally, necessitating a reload of an earlier save file. In a game that already has a problem with making simple tasks more tedious than they need to be, these crashes only add to the game's frustrating design. As already mentioned the game's cartoonish art style makes for a perfect contrast to the game's creepy content. There's a 50s cartoon vibe to everything, from the exaggerated shapes to the vivid colors, and it really does make for a fun environment for the stealth and horror elements of the game. On a technical level though the game looks pretty rough. There are jagged edges over every object that do kind of take away from the unique style of the artwork, and ultimately the scenery does get a little repetitive since it's always the interior of the neighbor's house. And on one note for the design: it'd be great if whatever object you're holding didn't cover a third of the screen—that's just silly visual design. The game is split up into a few different acts, and if you know what you're doing you could potentially breeze through the game in just an hour, or even less. If you're playing without a guide though you're going to end up wandering the neighbor's house completely lost for hours upon hours sorting through dead-end paths and obscure puzzles. Regardless of how quickly you make it through the game's puzzles, the $40 price tag for the Switch version is pretty hard to swallow. Hello Neighbor is built upon a brilliant idea, one that is wonderfully tense and unsettling when you can play the game smoothly. The only problem is so much of the game seems to be battling against that. The neighbor's prowling pursuit of the player throughout the labyrinthine house makes even simple exploration more of a chore than a challenge, despite the fact that obtuse puzzle design and awkward controls demand a slow and methodical approach to the game—not to mention the technical issues the game encounters. As a proof of concept Hello Neighbor promises a delightfully eerie and exciting game, but the average player most likely won't want to pay a premium price to play what is essentially a rough draft. Rating: 4 out of 10 Neighbors Review copy provided by the publisher Hello Neighbor is available now on the Switch eShop for $39.99.
  24. Back when the original Crash Bandicoot game released in 1996 for the PlayStation, it was at a unique nexus point. The 90s were rife with platformers, but with the PlayStation/Nintendo 64 generation came the advent of 3D visuals and gameplay, and games like Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot represented the bridge between one of the classic gameplay genres and a new dimension of gaming. But while Super Mario 64 set the standard for a lot of 3D platforming mechanics and remains a pretty solid entry in the Mario series, time hasn't been quite so kind to the early Crash Bandicoot games. Although an iconic gaming mascot of the late 90s, Crash feels incredibly dated in 2018, even in the remastered Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Let's start with the first game which introduces us to Crash, a bandicoot that has been mutated by the evil Dr. Neo Cortex using his Evolvo-Ray. Although Cortex wanted to make Crash into a powerful animal soldier, Crash escapes the lab, only to start a quest across the Wumpa islands to rescue the other animal captives. Despite its sleek polygonal looks the original Crash Bandicoot was more of a combination of 2D platformer gameplay with 3D visuals. Some levels are viewed from the side like classic 2D platformers but many have Crash running into the foreground or background. Amidst all this there are boss fights and collectibles—all the basic building blocks of an adventure/platformer. Now I'll say here that I never played these games when they were first released, and while I'm sure this sort of gameplay twist was impressive at the time it is kind of a mess now. In fact, the original Crash Bandicoot feels like a crash course in bad 3D game design. You have very little depth perception in these fore-/background running levels, with only Crash's shadow to tell you where you'll land during a jump. And there are some insanely difficult jumps in some of these levels. Crash's movements are also incredibly stiff since, when the game was first released, the PlayStation didn't have analog sticks, so players used a D-pad to control Crash in these semi-3D levels, and Crash's movements remain awkward. And finally, your main attack is spinning into enemies, which requires getting up close and personal with enemies who can kill you just by touching you. All of this makes the original Crash Bandicoot obnoxiously difficult. Stiff controls with an awkward camera angle and unforgiving level design means it's easy to die pretty much constantly. Although there are some clever level designs it's hard to get past how frustratingly clunky and outdated the game feels today. To be fair, some of the clumsy gameplay might be due to this remastering which required rebuilding the gameplay from scratch, so some elements might not have translated well, but anyone that is first playing Crash Bandicoot in 2018 is most likely going to feel like this game is simply a relic that doesn't quite belong on a modern game system. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is a marked improvement over the original game. Once again Crash is combating Dr. Cortex (though Cortex pretends to be asking Crash for help to collect powerful crystals) which leads Crash to a wide variety of different levels. There's much better stage variety in Crash 2, though Naughty Dog still loves the format of running into the foreground while something huge chases Crash. Still, Crash's movements are much smoother so it doesn't feel like you're fighting the controls throughout the whole game, and he also has a new attack: sliding. While playing these games back to back it's clear how much of an improvement it is to add even one new mechanic to Crash's repertoire. On the other hand Crash 2 also introduces some jetpack levels which, much like the entire first game, feel like an experiment in 3D game design that comes across as awkward and stiff today. But overall Crash 2 offers a more satisfying and diverse platformer adventure compared to the first game. The third game, Crash Bandicoot: Warped, is when Crash really hits his stride. The basic gameplay premise is the same as the first two (linear platformer levels that often have Crash running into the foreground or background) but the gameplay feels much more polished and, frankly, easier. But the lower difficulty is in part due to improvements to the game's mechanics. Crash moves more fluidly so it's easier to dodge obstacles. The level design is more varied and engaging, including race levels and flying levels. Over the course of the game Crash gains several new abilities, not all of which are always useful (and one of which, the gun, actually makes the game much, much easier) but the variety makes the gameplay feel more exciting from start to finish. There are fewer challenges that require super precise jumps and a lot more enemies that just stand around as obstacles rather than actively attack you, but even if the difficulty is toned down the gameplay is much more enjoyable. Each game contains around 25 levels, but to complete the games fully there's actually a lot of bonus material to cover. In each level of each game there are a number of crates you can break and, if you break all of the crates in a level, you'll be rewarded with a gem. You can also earn a gem from completing alternate paths within levels, which are unlocked by collecting gems in previous levels. In short, there's more replay value here than just blazing through each level once, and collecting every gem unlocks the true ending in each game—a fine reward for completionists. Gathering gems can be pretty tedious, especially in the first game, but it does give you more of a goal than just completing each game once. And finally there is a time trial mode to further pad out the games. There may only be a little over two dozen levels in each game but if you try to do everything you'll have plenty of Crash action here. Naturally this remastered trilogy comes with updated graphics and music, including cutscenes with voice actors from the more recent Crash games. Some of the level design still looks quite dated, which is more a product of the linear structure of each level, but overall the graphics look great on the Switch. The unique style of the Crash games is perfectly preserved while updating the artwork to something that feels more at home on a modern system. The updated music is well done as well, and has the right blend of atmospheric melodies and upbeat action. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy is a bit of a mixed bag. With the remaster of the first game, this trilogy proves that some games are better off left in the past, when repetitive level design and clunky controls might have been less noticeable thanks to the purely new appeal of 3D platformers. The other two games, however, are far less dated, and even if some of their mechanics still feel notably old-fashioned they're still enjoyable platformers today, particularly Warped. Nostalgic fans may love all three equally but new players might only enjoy the third game, making even the budget price on this trilogy a bit of a stretch. Rating: 7 out of 10 Wumpa Fruits
  25. Candle: The Power of the Flame, from developer Teku Studios and publisher Merge Studios, takes its cues from classic adventure/puzzle games, presented with beautiful hand-painted graphics. The game was successfully Kickstarted by the Spanish developer studio back in 2013 and since then they've painstakingly crafted every scene and puzzle throughout this unique little adventure. Players can expect plenty of satisfying puzzles, but be prepared for some frustrating ones as well. In Candle you play as Teku, apprentice to his tribe's shaman and wielder of the candle's power which allows him to carry a flame and use its light to reveal secrets or activate objects. When the evil Wakcha tribe attacks and kidnaps Teku's teacher, he embarks on a quest to rescue the shaman and the other members of the tribe that were kidnapped. Although most of the characters do not speak an intelligible language, the game features a narrator that explains what is happening. The best part of the story might just be exploring this bizarre and unique world, though. You don't get long-winded explanations of each locale but there's clearly a history to each that's communicated visually and it paints a fascinating picture of the game's world. Ultimately Candle isn't about Teku's journey so much as it is about the mythology of his world, which leads to some interesting revelations near the game's climax. The gameplay is based around classic adventure/puzzle gameplay in the vein of point-and-click adventure games. After a short tutorial to explain the kinds of things Teku can interact with, there's almost no explicit instruction on how to progress. Candle is a game that rewards careful examination of the scenery, experimentation, and ingenuity. Maybe there's a block of ice that looks like it could melt—how do you get close enough with your candle flame to melt it? Since Teku only has a few abilities (most actions are context sensitive so you'll see a prompt if you can interact with something, the only exception being Teku's shining light ability) you have to think critically about what to do and how to leverage your basic abilities. There are hints occasionally, oftentimes half-hidden in the artwork of the scenery, but for the most part Candle is a game about using a small set of tools in creative ways to overcome obstacles. In that respect it's incredibly rewarding when you find the right solution. And on the other hand it's also incredibly frustrating when you're stuck. There are a lot of clever puzzles in Candle but there are also plenty that just feel obnoxiously obtuse. The game's hints are few and far between, and oftentimes you have to try something new or creative with Teku's limited abilities to progress. That's a great basis for a puzzle game but without a little more context or nudge in the right direction you can end up completely lost, repeatedly. And even if you think you have the right solution you might just be frustrated with how much time it can take to retry when you fail. Thankfully, if you mess up and are killed you'll restart from a nearby checkpoint so you don't have to go all the way back to your last save file. However, it's still a slow process to try again. Teku does not move quickly, and oftentimes getting all of the pieces of a puzzle into the right place is just a little too slow. Sometimes it's difficult to even tell if you can stand on a ledge, leading to some leaps of faith that can have deadly results. Again, you'll restart nearby, but Teku's sluggish movement and the high difficulty level of Candle's puzzles can sometimes make progress feel agonizingly slow. At the very least, while you're traversing screen after screen, scanning for any small hint or interactive object that you might have missed, you'll be treated to absolutely gorgeous artwork. As mentioned the visuals do a fantastic job of establishing the history of the game's world. The graphics are beautifully atmospheric, with colorful, intricate hand-drawn and painted designs that are just lovely to see on the TV or on the Switch's screen. The animation is also incredibly charming—Teku may move a little too slowly for the gameplay but his plodding pace is adorable to see and has a striking sketch-like quality to it. The music is also top notch and adds a lot to the atmosphere as you explore these colorful environments. The game isn't actually that long, with only three main locations to explore. If you were able to breeze through the adventure, never getting stuck on a puzzle, the game would only last a few hours, but in reality you'll spend plenty of time working out each puzzle, running back and forth to ensure you've found all the items and hints you can. As a puzzle game there isn't much incentive to replay the adventure though, aside from seeing all of the game's gorgeous artwork again. Candle: The Power of the Flame features the kind of head-scratching puzzles that will leave you completely at a loss, sometimes to an annoying degree. But the game tempers some of that frustration with some of the most beautiful graphics you'll ever see in a game—colorful, unique, and utterly captivating. The visuals alone are enough to pull you into the world of Candle, and although the game caters more to hardcore puzzle fans, those puzzle pros will enjoy the creative challenges offered here. Rating: 7 out of 10 Candles Review copy provided by the publisher Candle: The Power of the Flame will be available on the Switch eShop on July 26th for $14.99.
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