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  1. Anyone notice that Nintendo has essentially repeated the year 2014 with Switch releases this year? Bayonetta 2, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Hyrule Warriors…there's even going to be another Super Smash Bros. game later this year! I suppose we can cut them some slack though, since all of those were excellent games on the Wii U and they're still fantastic on the Switch. Hyrule Warriors in particular benefits from a number of improvements introduced in the 3DS version of the game, and Switch owners don't even have to pay extra for the extensive amount of content that was originally paid DLC. The subtitle here is no exaggeration—if you want the full Hyrule Warriors experience, look no further than Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition. This is literally the third time I've written a review for Hyrule Warriors so let's just quickly run through the essential details: it's a Musou game meaning you cut through thousands of enemies on each map and battle powerful bosses big and small. Each level throws dozens of key targets and objectives at you and you'll have to work quickly to complete everything with the time and characters you're given. Hyrule Warriors draws upon some of the most memorable characters from the Zelda franchise (as well as a few oddball choices) and makes them playable in this hack 'n' slash adventure. The entire game is a trip down memory lane, including remixed/reimagined locations and music from past Zelda titles. This game definitely leverages your nostalgia for the Zelda series but at its core it's also a really fun, frantic, and addictive action game. As the Definitive Edition this includes all of the DLC on the cartridge as well as all of the features that the 3DS version added, including Linkle's Tale, the Wind Waker content, all of the adventure maps, etc. When you look at it all it almost feels like an endless supply of content: 32 levels in story mode (each of which can be pretty long) plus 9 adventure maps which are made up of dozens of short challenges. Although all of the DLC characters are present here you still need to unlock them, as well as unlock new weapons, costumes, fairies—there really is a ridiculous amount of content here if you choose to play it all, and in this version you can play it on the TV or in handheld mode, solo or with a friend. Much like the Switch itself this Definitive Edition takes the best of both worlds from the Wii U and 3DS versions. One of the few new features is the ability to buy item cards on adventure maps after you've unlocked that item at least once. In order to unlock everything on an adventure map you sometimes need to use items to uncover secrets: burn a bush, bomb a wall, push a statue—all standard Zelda adventurer's fare. You earn items by completing adventure map stages but previously you'd have to replay stages to have enough items to cover all of the secrets on a map (especially if you make mistakes and waste items). Now you can just spend a few rupees, so the process is much less repetitive. On the downside, some aspects of Hyrule Warriors are definitely beginning to show their age. After last year's Fire Emblem Warriors some features feel outdated, or just don't work as smoothly as you might like. Specifically, giving your ally characters orders is less robust than in FEW. The AI allies have never been particularly powerful in these games but at least in FEW you could specify actions better. Also, if you tell an ally to move to an area, they never "forget" that command. If you take control of them and move them somewhere else, they'll still follow the previous command and return to that point. It's just inconvenient to have to babysit ally commands so much. Hyrule Warriors looks great on the TV, which shouldn't be any surprise, but it also runs pretty well in handheld mode. There are definitely some dips in frame rate while undocked, which is most noticeable during the intro/outro animations of characters and stages, but rarely do the frame rate dips interfere with the gameplay. Otherwise this Definitive Edition retains the stylish art design and infectious, remixed soundtrack of the original game, both of which can be a treat for longtime Zelda fans. Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition is mostly the same game we saw in 2014 and in 2016, but the combination of features offers everything you could want from the game in one handy, portable Switch title. If you've only played the Wii U version, you're getting the benefit of all of the DLC and Legends add-ons. If you've played the 3DS version, you're getting the benefit of a higher quality resolution plus features like co-op. If you've played both you're probably a huge Zelda fan and will want to buy this one anyway. Regardless of your familiarity with Hyrule Warriors, the Definitive Edition is a wonderfully addictive action game and remains a delightful love letter to Zelda's storied history. Rating: 8 out of 10 Rupees
  2. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was one of the best games on the Wii U, so it's great to see it get a new, funkier life on the Switch. Just like their previous work on Donkey Kong Country Returns, Retro Studios did an absolutely amazing job of capturing the core concepts that made Donkey Kong Country such a blast on the SNES while also injecting a wealth of new content, all amidst an absolutely gorgeous setting and soundtrack. The only thing that might hold back this Switch version is the fact that there isn't a ton of new content if you already played the Wii U version, But the game is good enough that you'll likely enjoy a second playthrough regardless. Tropical Freeze on the Switch doesn't change anything about the story or core gameplay. As in the Wii U original the villainous Snowmad vikings invade Donkey Kong's home, freezing the entire island using a magic horn, completely ruining DK's birthday party. Understandably the Kongs set out for revenge, traversing multiple islands to reach the Snowmads' magic flying ship at the peak of DK island. It's pretty much the quintessential platformer setup—short, sweet, and gives a good reason to travel to multiple locations. In case you haven't played the original or have merely forgotten, Tropical Freeze is a tough platformer. It's not that there are swarms of enemies—though there are a few levels where you have to keep moving to avoid hazards—it's that the level design often requires perfect jumps, made all the more difficult by DK's unique movements. When he's not running DK is actually pretty slow and lumbersome. Build up a little momentum with a roll though, and DK will fly across gaps. The controls can be tricky at first but there's a fantastic sense of rhythm to DKC games which makes them challenging but not completely frustrating. Instead, when you complete a level, there's only a sense of satisfying accomplishment. And in the case of Tropical Freeze, there are some fantastic designs throughout the adventure. The game trades level count with level intricacy—each island only has a handful of stages but they're long and elaborate, packed with collectibles and perfect for the time attack option that opens up after you complete the level once. There is a wealth of content to enjoy here, and you can even bring a friend along for some frantic co-op fun. Now we come to the star of the show, and the main addition to Tropical Freeze on the Switch: Funky Kong! The most tubular member of the DK crew functions as an easy mode thanks to his extended health and extra-durable surfboard which protects him from hazards like spikes. He can also perform a short double jump in the air and ride his surfboard for a slow, gradual landing, making tricky jumps easy to complete. Funky is definitely easier to use in a lot of ways but if you get used to using the other Kongs Funky can feel a little hard to use in some instances. Funky's abilities make him good at everything but there are some instances where Dixie or Cranky are better—they have more specialized abilities while Funky is all-around effective, so you might not necessarily want to rely on him for everything. He's still a great addition for novice players though, especially considering Tropical Freeze's difficulty on some levels. The only downside though is that Funky is restricted to his own easy mode, so if you start a game in normal mode you can't just swap to him. It's understandable to separate him for online leaderboard/time attack purposes but it's still kind of a bummer that you have to commit to easy mode if you want to try him out. Tropical Freeze looks every bit as good as it did on the Wii U—better even, thanks to some slight boosts to the resolution. Regardless of the technical aspects though it's the bright, lively art design that makes the visuals pop, even when playing in handheld mode on the Switch's screen. The background artwork is so rich at times that it's almost worth replaying the game just to take in all of the visuals. And the soundtrack by David Wise is every bit as captivating as it was in the original game—Grassland Groove remains a personal favorite of mine. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is another worthy port to the Switch's library. Its main addition, Funky Kong, is somewhat restricted as a separate easy mode, but fans of the game will still appreciate experimenting with a new way to play the game, and the new possibilities he offers for speedrunning. The real draw for this Switch game is everything that made the Wii U game great: incredible level design, a wealth of challenging collectibles to uncover, gorgeous visuals, and a truly stellar soundtrack. Tropical Freeze may not be new for some players, but it's well worth another playthrough all the same. Rating: 9 out of 10 Bananas
  3. Eliwood8

    FRAMED Collection Review

    Plenty of games offer a time-traveling mechanic to correct mistakes, but what if you could completely rearrange events to reach your goal? FRAMED Collection from developer Loveshack Entertainment and publisher Surprise Attack Games brings to the Switch both FRAMED and its sequel FRAMED 2, both of which are based around the simple, central puzzle mechanic of moving comic book frames to transform an unfortunate capture into a timely escape. Originally created for mobile devices, the FRAMED games are a natural fit on the Switch thanks to the touch screen, but even if you play with a controller you can expect plenty of clever puzzles set against a delightful noir backdrop. The only area FRAMED disappoints is the all too short length. Both FRAMED games are absolutely bursting with style: black silhouette characters have only the smallest white highlights in a colorful, 50s noir-style world. In this visually arresting setting the developers manage to tell an engaging spy story without a single word of text or dialogue. The graphics alone—particularly the delightfully expressive animation—do a fantastic job of conveying the story, even if large parts of it are simple cat-and-mouse chases between our criminal protagonists and the police. Still, it's enough to pull you into the intrigue of this crime caper with its twists and turns as each side gains an advantage over the other in turns, culminating in a surprise ending for each game, one that is particularly shocking in FRAMED 2 after you experience the events of the original. The FRAMED games do a fantastic job of iterating on a simple, core puzzle concept: rearrange comic book panels to change the outcome of a scene. For example, you can move helpful items into place before the protagonists run into a hazard or police officer waiting to arrest them—a well placed ladder is the difference between escape and capture. It's the kind of puzzle design that is so perfectly intuitive that anyone will immediately grasp the idea after just a few seconds with the game, but the concept is also malleable enough to be put into a variety of puzzle scenarios, some of which can be quite challenging. In short, it's the perfect puzzle system: easy to learn, but with enough variety to tickle the player's brain when you have to keep track of numerous elements. Even better, the FRAMED games largely avoid the frustrations of extra-difficult puzzle design, particularly because there are ultimately only so many combinations you can make with the panels given to you. That's not to say the games are too easy either. FRAMED introduces a few wrinkles that increase the complexity of the puzzle design without making it overwhelming, such as rotating panels instead of just moving them, and FRAMED 2 adds another layer when you have multiple characters to keep track of from panel to panel. Even if the basic premise looks the same from one puzzle scenario to the next, the game does a good job of keeping you engaged with new challenges that always feel smart, never cheap. One of the only minor complaints with the FRAMED games on the Switch is the way the controls work with a controller. Instead of being able to swap two frames you actually select one frame and drag it through the others, essentially moving every frame one space. It's a little inconvenient to shuffle every frame when you need to make just one adjustment. If you're playing on the Switch's touch screen you can simply select two frames and swap them—since the games were originally built for a touch screen it makes sense that the controls are a bit better suited for it. It's hardly a real issue to play with a controller though; at most this is a minor inconvenience since you never have to move frames super quickly anyway. As already mentioned the game's graphics are delightfully stylish—this is definitely the type of game that you have to see in motion to fully appreciate the smooth animation. It is perhaps not surprising to learn the artwork was hand-crafted—only that kind of care would yield such fluid, expressive animation that makes every scene of the adventure a delight to watch unfold. And in case you thought only the visuals were painstakingly designed, rest assured, the soundtrack shows every bit as much love and care with an original live jazz soundtrack. You couldn't ask for a more perfect musical accompaniment to the noir setting of both FRAMED games. The music sets just the right tone for an adventure that is in turns tense and light-hearted, bouncing between nail-biting escapes and clever, sometimes comedic puzzle solutions. Truly, the only disappointing aspect of the FRAMED Collection is how quickly you'll play through it. Even with the game's mix of puzzle designs—some easier, some a little harder—each game can be finished in just a couple of hours at most. In both cases it can feel like the game is over all too soon, and as puzzle games there's no in-game incentive to replay them (other than to enjoy the art and music all over again). It's a shame since the puzzle design could have lent itself to an even longer game, for both FRAMED and FRAMED 2, but for now we'll just have to hold out hope for a FRAMED 3. FRAMED Collection brings together two whole games, both packed with clever puzzle design and wonderfully charming visuals and music, and you'll still likely walk away eager for even more puzzle action. The core gameplay mechanic is refreshingly clever and perfectly poised for a whole variety of challenges, and even though FRAMED Collection ends all to quickly the developers crafted a wonderful variety of challenges, complemented by a captivating noir story and setting. Puzzle fans won't want to miss this intriguing addition to the Switch's library. Rating: 8 out of 10 Frames Review copy provided by publisher FRAMED Collection is available now on the Switch eShop for $9.99.
  4. Eliwood8

    The End is Nigh Review

    What's a game streamer to do when the world ends? Apparently the answer is build a new friend from the scraps of society. The End is Nigh, from the twisted minds of Edmund McMillen and Tyler Glaiel, puts players through a gauntlet of hundreds of precision platforming challenges, the kind where you start to pull your hair out around attempt #48 but finally everything clicks and you pass the level on attempt #73. You can expect tons of unforgiving level design in The End is Nigh, but for players that enjoy the challenge this game is a treasure trove of extra-difficult platforming. You play as Ash, a small black blob that has survived the end of the world. To cope with the loneliness he sets out to build a friend, and from there the game throws you into a whole slew of platforming challenges. There aren't a ton of cutscenes or much dialogue in The End is Nigh but when there's a bit of text you can expect McMillen's distinctly macabre sense of humor, the kind seen in Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac. Because even the end of the world could use a little comedy. Also in the same vein of Super Meat Boy is the platformer level design. There are over six hundred levels here, each one rife with hazards, and one false move will turn your little black blob into a slightly less animated black blob. The controls are also quite simple in The End is Nigh—move, jump, hang on ledges—so the focus is really on just timing your jumps correctly. As insanely frustrating as these kinds of games can be, it's worth noting that The End is Nigh is never cheap. It never actively tries to trick the player—though sometimes there are unexpected hazards like falling blocks. The level design is actually really fair and balanced, it's just very difficult to master, but highly rewarding when you do. Even with over six hundred levels The End is Nigh keeps things interesting with a lot of different hazards and plenty of collectibles. On just about every screen there's a tumor you can collect (there's that McMillen humor) and there are secret paths hidden throughout the game which might reward you with bonus tumors or a game cartridge which you can take back to your home base to play a mini-game. Exploration doesn't seem like it'd be a major aspect in this sub-genre but it's pretty neat that the game rewards poking around a bit, especially since it can be such a risk when one false step will lead to death. Okay, I do have to backtrack a tiny bit on something I said, because one aspect of the game is a bit unfair in its difficulty. About halfway through the game the difficulty ramps up wildly just because you now have a limit on lives. In the first half of the game you can die and retry as much as you need to, which is good because you're likely to die a ton on pretty much every level. But in the second half of the game all of the tumors you've collected become your lives counter, and when your lives are up it's game over. It almost seems antithetical to a super challenging platformer like this to impose a lives limit. It adds a dark cloud over everything, and honestly once you're aware of the limit you might actually mess up more often because suddenly the stakes are much higher. Your lives are restored every time you complete a "world," but it's still a pretty harsh limit. This kind of feature might have been nice as an optional difficulty setting but in the main game it puts a damper on the whole experience. The visuals are just what you'd expect of McMillen as well—slightly grotesque, but in an oddly charming way. There aren't any fancy visual effects at play here, but for as simple as the graphics are there's still something stylish about the limited color palettes. The music isn't quite as unique since it remixes a lot of classical songs, which doesn't give The End is Nigh a strong musical identity. The soundtrack isn't bad but it's pretty forgettable when you're concentrating on landing a jump just right. The End is Nigh is a suitable successor to Super Meat Boy. It's every bit as challenging, with hundreds of precise platformer stages full of hazards, the kinds that will make your head spin but you still have to appreciate the effort that went into the stage design. The latter half of the game ends up feeling a bit too cruel, even for this type of platformer, but fans of extra-difficult platformers will appreciate the high stakes challenges. Rating: 7 out of 10 Tumors
  5. Eliwood8

    Garage Review

    Garage, from developer Zombie Dynamics and publisher tinyBuild Games takes its cues from VHS era B-movies: zombies and monsters created by a mad scientist, and lots of bloody action as you kill hordes of undead. This top-down shooter definitely scratches an itch for a bit of visceral zombie-killing action, but ultimately doesn't do anything particularly new or novel with the genre. Instead the main thing that stands out in Garage is the high difficulty level for the wrong reasons. You play as an ex-drug dealer named Butch; as the game begins you wake up in the trunk of a car and bust out only to discover complete chaos. There isn't anyone in sight until you stumble upon your first zombie enemy. The mystery of the situation sets up a decent bit of intrigue, and as the game progresses you'll gradually piece together details about the zombie apocalypse and Butch's backstory. It seems like the B-movie influence also means that the writing isn't well fleshed out though, and not in a fun, campy way, more of a generic uninteresting way. Even with a small cast of characters there just isn't much development to keep you engaged. The game does end with a decent little twist at least, but it just feels like setup for a sequel. Garage is a top-down, twin-sticks shooter: move with the left stick, aim with the right, and blow away every undead monster you come across. The game provides the standard selection of zombie-killing weapons: pistol, shotgun, rifle, even a fire ax. There's definitely something satisfying about landing a solid headshot and dropping one zombie after another, especially when you're on your last bullet and won't have time to reload. If nothing else Garage offers plenty of these intense, hair-raising moments when you breathe a sigh of relief as the final enemy falls. What makes Garage frustrating is that it feels like the difficulty comes from clumsy controls or just plain strange game mechanics. First and foremost: you can't see enemies at a distance if they are behind a corner or in another room. That sort of makes sense, especially not seeing enemies in a room you haven't entered yet, but it becomes insanely annoying because of how easily zombies swarm over you and how easily enemies with guns home in on you—clearly they can see you no matter where you're hiding. The most ridiculous instance of this has to be when you are required to stealthily move around armed guards but you can't see them until you're near by. Enemies with guns are by far the most frustrating aspect of Garage because of their preternatural ability to hit you from any distance. The best strategy is to just be ridiculously careful by peeking out of cover to land one shot then dodging away again. It's not a fun system, especially when the rest of the gameplay is geared toward fast-paced, up-close combat. A big part of that is also just down to the controls which can make it hard to aim precisely—which seems counter-intuitive to a twin-stick shooter. But when armed enemies can snipe you from so far away and undead enemies rush you it's pretty hard to land consistent shots. Thankfully you can dodge roll away from zombies at least, though there's a hidden stamina bar that prevents you from rolling constantly. Shockingly one of the more difficult enemies in the game is the simple rat, one of the first enemies you face. They're small targets so they're hard to shoot, but melee attacks, for some reason, have a very narrow range of effect, so it's incredibly easy to miss a small target. Garage throws a lot of hazards at you and many of them are pretty difficult to deal with given the game's controls and line of sight system. Continuing the B-movie influence, Garage literally looks like it is played on an old VHS. Granted, a top-down viewpoint doesn't lend itself to an incredible amount of depth or variety, especially with a pixelated art style, but Garage still feels a bit bland, visually. The horror setting doesn't help either—dark corridors are great for making you nervous about what is up ahead, but they also make every area of the game kind of feel the same. And although the music can be energetic at times mostly it comes off as forgettable background noise. The game takes a seven or eight hours to complete—assuming you don't get stuck retrying sections of the game over and over. It's a decent length for what the game is but Garage offers few replay incentives. There are different difficulty levels and there are hidden reports you can find that flesh out the story a little more but they're pretty minor additions. If you make it through the game you probably wouldn't be compelled to do it all again just to see a few extra lines of text. Garage offers the basics of a top-down zombie shooter but little other depth to make the experience feel unique. There will always be something fun about blasting away undead monsters but too much of Garage is overshadowed by the frequently frustrating moments of unfair difficulty that tend to grind the gameplay to a halt as you carefully inch your way through these tedious sections. Ultimately those annoying moments stand out far more than any fun or thrilling moments of zombie killing. Rating: 5 out of 10 Zombies Review copy provided by publisher Garage will be available on the Switch eShop on May 10th for $14.99.
  6. You've journeyed far from your homeland, defeated one monster after another and overcame countless obstacles to reach the final boss…now if only you could remember why you're here. The Longest 5 Minutes takes place entirely in the last five minutes of an RPG when, during the final battle with the Demon Lord, the hero loses his memories and is unable to fight. In these precious five minutes he has to remember all of the details of his journey in order to battle effectively. The Longest 5 Minutes gets high marks for originality, but its RPG label might be a bit misleading since the RPG elements are the weakest aspect of the game. As you remember more and more details of your journey you actually play through the events, so essentially the bulk of the game happens as a flashback that jumps from one key moment of the quest to another. Can you think of a more original premise for a game's story? It's like the Memento of video games. There are cute characters and plenty of funny dialogue—in fact there is a ton of dialogue, even by RPG standards—so it's worth taking the time to engage with every NPC and really explore the game. However, The Longest 5 Minutes really does rely upon some tired story tropes, even outside of the protagonist with amnesia. The characters are still likeable enough but don't expect anything you haven't seen dozens of times before. As you remember more details about your quest you'll keep jumping back in time. It's mostly linear—your first memory is the start of the quest—but there are times when you'll bounce around the timeline as well. It's a really neat concept for a game but it comes at the expense of the RPG gameplay. The game offers a sort of disclaimer that your precise memories might be a little off which is why you start each memory with a different level or different equipment, but in practice this is eliminating two key aspects of RPGs. There are even times when you start a new memory that picks up immediately where the previous memory left off but you have different equipment—so what's the point of even buying items from a store, or seeking out treasure chests? It's hard to feel engaged by the gameplay when you know that basically nothing you do matters in the long run. Maybe, since the developers knew that this constant rearrangement of stats and equipment would wreck havoc with the game's difficulty curve, they purposely made the game absurdly easy. The Longest 5 Minutes gives you a full four character party with physical attackers and magic users, but all you need to do is use physical attacks on every single enemy. That's it—and maybe heal occasionally during boss fights. There is zero strategy or depth to the combat here, and normal battles quickly become mind-numbing. To be fair is it possible to raise levels that carry over between memories but the stat gains you get from this are so small that you might as well just use Repel to avoid random encounters entirely. They just end up feeling like a waste of time. At the very least The Longest 5 Minutes features a decent amount of variety in the locations you visit and the obstacles you face. In fact, it kind of feels like the game just covers familiar RPG tropes to populate the game—there's a casino, a prison sequence where you lose your equipment and have to explore to get it back, etc. It almost feels like the game just relies upon popular themes and situations to fill out the game, and it lends credence to the idea that this isn't really an RPG at all. It's more of a visual novel presented in the guise of an RPG. The final battle with the Demon Lord even plays like a visual novel, with tons of text and quick decisions to make throughout the battle. It might have made more sense for the game to fully embrace the visual novel aspects instead of relying on poor imitations of RPG gameplay. The pixel art graphics also seem like a relic of classic RPGs, and although the game doesn't do anything particularly unique or noteworthy with the art style it still has its charms. The huge zoomed in pixels can be a bit much to look at sometimes, though. The music is also decent, and perhaps does the best job of capturing the feel of a classic RPG. It's pretty catchy in parts, and even if the gameplay isn't up to snuff the music at least has those epic moments of exploration and combat tunes. Obviously the game's title doesn't mean the game is only five minutes long—in fact it lasts a good eight hours or so, with a few additional features that can stretch it out a little more. For one thing, most memories have bonus objectives, or side quests. Oftentimes they are simply a matter of talking with all of the NPCs around you and completing some small task. You'll be rewarded with extra experience points but since your level is pretty inconsequential there's not much incentive to go out of your way for these side quests. Additionally, there are branching paths at certain points that open up different memories. It can be a little tedious to go through every possibility but these include another ending to the game so completionists might want to try every path they can. The Longest 5 Minutes boasts a really clever concept but fails to deliver a competent RPG as well, despite featuring all of the basic elements of one. As unique as the story is at first, the lack of compelling, original characters or scenarios only makes the weak gameplay elements sting even more. If you go into the game expecting more of a visual novel than an RPG you might be satisfied with The Longest 5 Minutes, but the game clearly could have been so much more. Rating: 5 out of 10 Minutes
  7. Well here we are again folks. It's time for another LEGO adventure game, this time returning to the expansive library of Marvel super heroes that made the previous game such a blast in its open-world environment. LEGO: Marvel Super Heroes 2 carries on that torch (though sadly there is no Human Torch here). This is yet another in a long line of LEGO games: charming writing, kid-friendly puzzle-solving and butt-kicking, and a metric ton of content to dive into across multiple environments. It may feel like the same game we've been playing for years but it's still a pretty fun game. The villain of the day for Marvel Super Heroes 2 is Kang the Conqueror who is wreaking havoc across space and time by transporting pieces of cities and connecting them into his giant hub city of Chronopolis. Worlds and universes collide, prompting the Avengers to set things right and return everything to its proper dimension. Marvel movie fans may be happy to learn that this game focuses primarily on heroes found in the past ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so there are a lot of familiar faces. The downside is that this excludes other Marvel mainstays like the Fantastic Four or the X-Men since they aren't a part of the MCU. Still, there are more than enough characters here as it is, especially when each stage of the game is more or less set up as its own mini-adventure: there's always some other villain that needs stopping, whether they're working with or against Kang. And of course you can expect the usual LEGO humor throughout the game. It's mostly slapstick comedy but it's still charming in its own way. In terms of gameplay Marvel Super Heroes 2 doesn't do much new. This really is just more of the same that fans have enjoyed in previous games: in each stage you solve simple puzzles usually by destroying everything in the environment to build new items, and then there are fight sequences that are largely just button-mashing as you break apart one enemy after another. Some objects can only be used by specific characters, so for example you might need to switch to Thor to use his lightning to power up a generator. Some of the annoying qualities of the series are preserved as well—it's still way too easy to slip off a ledge since the perspective of the camera makes it hard to tell where you are—but there aren't any gamebreaking problems. Is the gameplay pretty mindless? Yes. Is it fun? Yes, mostly. That mindless quality means you can sometimes space out while playing and miss nothing of value, but sometimes a mindless game isn't a bad way to kills a few hours. The other big draw to both this and the previous Marvel Super Heroes game is the sheer size. Marvel Super Heroes 2 features twenty levels, which is a pretty good amount of content, but if you try to collect and do everything, there's a lot to enjoy. The LEGO games in general have somewhat sacrificed quality for quantity, both in terms of the number of releases each year and the kinds of side activities you can find in each game, but messing around in the varied environments of Marvel Super Heroes 2 can be fun in its own way. And if, somehow, you manage to run out of content in the base game there is paid DLC which adds new levels. Adding more to this game might be overkill but the option is there if you just can't get enough LEGOs. And of course little has changed in the presentation as well—what are they going to do, redesign LEGOs? Like the writing the LEGO brick art style is still endearing, especially when this game throws in so many different environments (including some odd choices like an Old West area or an ancient Egypt area). Nothing in the game's visuals or even music is likely to surprise you, but that might be what these LEGO games are best played for: something familiar, simple, but enjoyable on a Saturday afternoon. The only downside is that the game's framerate does stutter at times, even in cutscenes, surprisingly, but it never actually interfered with gameplay. There's not much else to say about LEGO: Marvel Super Heroes 2 that hasn't been said about almost every LEGO game since their inception over ten years ago. The mechanics are largely unchanged, but maybe that speaks to their timeless, simple appeal. LEGO games are great when you just want to mess around a bit in a video game, not have to face anything too challenging or complex, and maybe enjoy seeing your favorite super hero, or even meet an obscure one. LEGO: Marvel Super Heroes 2 is another serviceable adventure game, even if it doesn't stand out for any truly unique or shining aspects. Rating: 7 out of 10 Marvels
  8. Eliwood8

    Detective Pikachu Review

    Finally, the answer to the question we've all been asking ourselves for two decades: what if Pikachu was a no-nonsense private eye? It shouldn't surprise anyone that Detective Pikachu is an incredibly silly spin-off for the Pokémon series, but it has its charms as well—not least of which is Pikachu's little deerstalker hat. Make no mistake though, this is a game for young audiences. A lot of the game feels like a simplified version of Phoenix Wright, which isn't necessarily bad but makes it difficult to feel invested in the story or gameplay. Like any good detective story the game opens with several bits of intrigue: Detective Pikachu is an intelligent Pokémon that can speak, but only Tim Goodman is able to understand him. Pikachu used to be the partner Pokémon of Tim's father Harry, but Harry went missing two months ago while working a case. Now Tim and Pikachu are teaming up to unravel the mysterious circumstances of his disappearance. Not a bad start to the game's story, but remember that this game is pretty clearly aimed at young audiences, so each new mystery you encounter isn't all that elaborate. The game also falls into the same annoying habit as Phoenix Wright of forcing you to walk through each detail even when you've already realized what the solution is. The writing is definitely cute but maybe not quite cute enough to justify these somewhat tedious moments of slow plot development. And ultimately the game ends on a disappointing cliffhanger, one that fails to actually resolve any of the big mysteries presented in the game. It's understandable that they'd want to keep some threads open for a possible sequel but the lack of a strong resolution means the game ends on more of a whimper than a bang. The core gameplay in Detective Pikachu is pretty much exactly what you'd expect: collect evidence, talk to witnesses, then pieces together the clues to uncover the truth. There's always something satisfying about picking up new bits of information in games like this, though there is a fair bit of repetitive action at times as you learn one new detail then run back to a previous witness to check what they know about it, then run back to the previous screen, etc. And don't worry if detective work isn't your strong suit—you basically can't fail in Detective Pikachu, and the game throws hints or suggestions at you constantly to keep you on track. In fact it's pretty annoying at times how much the game doesn't expect you to remember basic details that you just went over. You might hear new testimony from a witness, and then immediately afterward Pikachu will chime in reminding you of what you learned. There's helping novice players and then there's just not trusting players to understand your game, and Detective Pikachu too often falls into the latter category. Occasionally you do get a few action scenes when things get hairy. These play out as quick-time events, and again there's little penalty for messing anything up. The developers may have wanted to keep things exciting for the player but quick-time events are just about the laziest way to do it—nothing of value would be lost if they were dropped entirely. The game's mysteries take you to a variety of locations but there's not that much interesting design in the visual department. Detective Pikachu draws from quite a variety of Pokémon to fill the cast—it's nice to see that it's not just limited to one or two generations—but the art style is just so bland. It may not be realistic to expect anything elaborate from a spin-off Pokémon game but the generic scenery is kind of a bummer. The same can be said for the music, which isn't necessarily bad but it just doesn't excite any emotion or reaction. The one saving grace of the presentation and arguably the entire game is every interaction with Detective Pikachu. It may be a silly twist but his gruff voice really is funny to hear from everyone's favorite Pokémon, and over the course of the game you can watch dozens of little skits with Pikachu. It's not like the writing is any more elaborate with these short cutscenes but they're charming in a child-like way. You can expect Detective Pikachu to last around ten hours or so—not a bad length, but since it's a mystery game there's basically zero replay value. The only things that might keep you coming back to the game are the aforementioned skits which are missable in each chapter. However, if you have the Detective Pikachu amiibo, you can unlock all of them for whatever chapter you have progressed to—pretty handy if you don't want to sift through each chapter to find them. Detective Pikachu is a cute spin-off that features an amusingly bizarre take on the most recognizable Pokémon in the world, but so much of the game feels simplified. It's possible to make a game that appeals to children and adults alike, is accessible but still engaging and rewarding, but Detective Pikachu isn't that kind of game. Instead it focuses on making everything as easy as possible for a very young audience, which might leave other players feeling somewhat left out. Pokémon fans will still enjoy seeing a new side of human-Pokémon interactions, but be prepared for a basic detective story. Rating: 6 out of 10 Pikachus As long as you're looking for Detective Pikachu content check out Kirbymeister2's video review here.
  9. Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon brings hack-n-slash action-RPG gameplay to the Switch, along with a distinctly anime sense of style and storytelling. Don't worry if you haven't played the first game—this isn't a direct sequel, so anyone can jump right into the action with Bride of the New Moon. Anime fans may enjoy the cliché story and characters but anyone else will likely quickly grow bored of the repetitive combat. In the world of Bride of the New Moon demons—known as Fiends—roam the world under the cover of night. The only hope of curtailing their rampage is to sacrifice a priestess to the Moon Queen, leader of the demons, in order to seal her power away for a bit longer. You play as Aluche, a knight assigned to guard and escort the latest sacrifice, until you learn that she is actually your childhood friend, Liliana. You hardly have time to come to terms with this information before you are attacked and defeated by a powerful demon. The only hope of saving Aluche's life is to turn her into a half-demon. With newfound power Aluche tries to save Liliana from her fate. It's actually a pretty good premise for a story: there's a bit of intrigue between different factions who disagree on whether sacrificing a priestess to the Moon Queen is actually a good idea, and as a half-demon there's plenty of potential for Aluche to have a unique perspective on things. Sadly, none of that is developed as well as it could be. Instead the story largely focuses on Aluche befriending various allies and marching off to fight evil. All of the potential of the setting feels wasted in Bride of the New Moon. It's also incredibly difficult to care about any of the characters—few are given any decent level of character development, especially Aluche and Liliana, who mostly just repeat the fact that they are good childhood friends. Aluche can build affinity with each of the side characters which adds a bit of depth to their stories, but oftentimes the process doesn't feel worth the effort. Bride of the New Moon is an action-RPG: you battle demons in real time and at the end of each mission you can spend any experience points you gained to level up. The game gives you a decent amount of variety in how you can approach combat. Aluche always uses a sword but by befriending Servans—basically friendly demons—you can use their power in battle to equip different weapons or use elemental attacks. Aluche can also bring a friend along into battle such as Liliana or any of the other girls you recruit to your cause throughout the game; these are called Lilies. You don't directly control the Lily but they will fight beside you and you are able to use powerful combo attacks. Each Lily fights a little differently, so by combining different Lilies and Servans there are a number of ways you can approach battles. These options don't alleviate the incredible monotony of combat in Bride of the New Moon, though. The truth is you don't need to experiment much or learn any fancy attacks, because on normal difficulty most demons don't pose much of a threat. You end up just mowing them down one after another over and over with no need to ever change tactics. It doesn't help that the game has a mission structure, so each mission you go out to one of the seven locations in the game to fight a boss or find something, fighting the same demons along the way each and every time. Add in all of the side quests which are largely the same thing (kill a specific demon, clear an area of demons, find an object, etc.) and pretty soon it feels like you're doing the same thing for nearly fifteen hours of play time. The only reason to really bother with all of the side quests is to raise affinity with every Lily, but you'll most likely grow bored long before that point. Bride of the New Moon also has a rather strange time limit system. You only have a certain number of days until the Moon Queen regains her full power, and each time you go out on a mission you spend one day. You are also limited on how much time you can spend on a mission—you start at ten minutes but can increase the number as you progress—so you can't just go out and grind experience points endlessly. Defeating bosses extends you day limit, giving you more time to explore new areas and take on side quests. It's kind of weird though that the game throws so many time wasting side quests at you while imposing this kind of limit. Unless you play particularly poorly you'll have plenty of days to complete everything, so in the end the time limit seems a little pointless. One of the only ways in which it really affects your gameplay is through Servans. In addition to combat Servans can also be used to break barriers leading to treasure chests or shortcuts. You can only have two Servans with you at any time though, and barriers are element-specific (i.e. you need a Servan that uses fire to burn down thorny brambles blocking your path). In order to collect everything you'll have to return to these barriers with the right Servan to disable it—the whole process is just a little more tedious than it needs to be, especially without any indication on the map of where these barriers are. For the most part the controls are easy to pick up, but there is one odd quirk which makes it clear that Bride of the New Moon was hastily ported from PS4/PSVita: A and B are switched, so B is used to confirm and A is used to cancel. It kind of reveals the laziness of this port but it's an easy enough aspect of the controls to remember. What is really odd though is that A is also used to interact with objects—opening chests, talking to people, etc.—which doesn't make any sense. It's like the developers got halfway through changing these button configurations and then just stopped. It shouldn't be any surprise then that Bride of the New Moon has its share of little bugs as well. A word to the wise: save often, because the game crashed on me repeatedly early on in my playthrough. In the presentation department Bride of the New Moon is interested in fan service and little else. Most all of the characters wear clothing that is completely nonsensical for fighting, and there's a pool at your base of operations where you can change everyone into equally nonsensical bathing suits. Outside of these aspects the visuals in Bride of the New Moon are disappointingly bland. There are only a handful of different locations in the game and all of them feature repetitive, flat environmental design. Even by the time you get to the Moon Queen's fortress the scenery design is just completely uninspired. The music isn't much better. It may not be as disappointingly repetitive but it's just as forgettable. And as a side note there is no English voice acting in the game—not a huge issue but it would have been nice to have the option. Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon is a serviceable and fan-servicey action-RPG, but it lacks any depth to make it stand out against other games in the same genre. Too often combat feels like a mindless mashing of buttons instead of a complex battle, which makes many of the options and strategies offered in the game feel pointless. Running through the same handful of environments over and over to carry out missions that are so similar to one another is draining, and doesn't really encourage the kind of grinding that the game expects you to do. Ultimately Bride of the New Moon feels like a completely forgettable action-RPG grind. Rating: 5 out of 10 Moons
  10. Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is a remake of the 1989 title Wonder Boy III, though you could almost call it a port considering how faithfully the developers have preserved the game across nearly thirty years. Now, I never played the original game on the Sega Master System, but it's not hard to recognize all of the little touches of 80s side-scroller game design. If you've ever played this type of game as a child you'll still get that wave of nostalgia for jumping, slashing, and discovering secrets in suspicious corners. The Dragon's Trap makes for a great trip down memory lane, but a few more modern touches might have helped smooth out the game's annoying quirks. You play as a young hero who, after battling the fearsome Meka-Dragon, is turned into an anthropomorphic lizard. Now you're on a quest to revert back to human form by defeating the other dragon bosses of the land. This new edition of the game adds no other details or depth to the story, but shoehorning in more plot development so many years later would no doubt have been clumsy. It may not be an elaborate narrative but it's enough to get the game in motion. The Dragon's Trap plays like many classic side-scrollers: Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, Zelda II, etc. Don't worry though, this game is nowhere near as difficult as those examples. It has its share of old fashioned design quirks but overall the game is far more accessible than other old school games, and it helps that everything just looks so adorable, even the enemies. That's not the say the game is entirely easy though. In particular, it is very easy to lose track of where you should be going in the latter half of the game, once you have access to a couple of abilities. The game world isn't that big at least, so a little wandering won't put you back for hours and hours, but any degree of direction might have been nice. The game also has an odd approach to taking damage: it's actually possible to get stunlocked by some enemies and bosses, but after the initial hit you're still in an invincible state and won't take further damage. It's one of the strange ways that The Dragon's Trap has the unforgiving design of classic games but won't actually frustrate the player too badly. At its core the gameplay is classic side-scrolling action but what makes The Dragon's Trap unique is the way our protagonist transforms into different monsters, each with its own abilities. For example, as a mouse you can climb up checkered tiles and even walk across the ceiling. Every time you defeat a dragon you are transformed into a new form, and with your new abilities you can reach different areas. It's a little strange that the game doesn't give you the ability to swap between your forms at will (though there is a hidden item that allows you to do this) but this is just another quirk of 80s game design. It's still a blast to test out what you can do with each form, and even if you are required to be on a certain track for most of the game there's still some freedom in exploration. And of course, taking advantage of that freedom often rewards you with bonus items. There is a fair bit of hidden content in The Dragon's Trap, to the point where it really is surprising that the game gives you no hint or direction for much of it. Oftentimes these hidden rooms reward you with special, powerful equipment, and this is another instance where the game might have held on to the old fashioned design a little too much. There are a lot of weapons and armor to find or purchase, but when you get one with a special effect the game doesn't explain what the effect is. It's great to see this much variety in the game but just a little more description or hint would have made the game much clearer. The least surprising but most awkward aspect that wasn't better updated is the controls. Your movements are sluggish in The Dragon's Trap—it will most likely throw you off for the first hour or so of the game. A lot of old games had somewhat clumsy controls, and thankfully it doesn't really hurt the gameplay here, but it still feels like you're being weighed down for no reason. It can also make attacking enemies a little awkward, since most of your monster forms only have short ranged attacks. A little more fluidity would have gone a long way. The game's presentation is simultaneously the most and least updated aspect of the game, since you can toggle between the new graphics and the classic 8-bit style at any time. It's fun to see the pixel art of old but the new artwork is so gorgeous that it'd be a crime not to give it the attention it deserves. The animation is beautifully fluid and, especially when compared to the original art style, the new designs have a wonderful cartoonish charm to them. The developers clearly put a lot of care into re-imagining the game with modern design tools. And the same goes for the music, which is brought to life with stunning in-studio performances. If nothing else give the soundtrack a listen, it alone might be worth the price of admission. And just like the graphics you can toggle between the original chiptune music and the new arrangements at any time, if you care to hear what a difference thirty years makes in sound design. One aspect that definitely could have used an upgrade: the length. The Dragon's Trap can easily be finished in just a few hours—maybe a little more if you can't figure out where to go, but certainly under five hours. There are hidden extras you can try to collect but it still isn't going to expand the game's length by much. There isn't much replay value to enjoy here either. You can try a different difficulty level but it changes little about how the game is played. On the brightside the game's short length keeps everything snappy—there's no grind or slog, outside of maybe wandering a bit when lost—but finishing the entire game in one sitting may disappoint some players. Amidst the many revivals and remakes of 80s video game properties we've seen, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap stands as a delightful re-imagining, clearly made possible by the love the developers have for the original. The core gameplay is well preserved and the new art and music give the game an incredible make over while staying true to the game's roots. As is often the case in these remakes there's a bit of a blurred line between where the game should have done more to modernize the gameplay and not just preserve it, but ultimately The Dragon's Trap is a short yet eminently enjoyable experience, old fashioned quirks and all. Rating: 7 out of 10 Wonders
  11. Eliwood8

    Kirby Star Allies Review

    The last Kirby spin-off is only a couple of months old and we've already got an entirely new platformer to enjoy with Kirby Star Allies. The gameplay here is very much a return to Kirby's roots—copy abilities, battle iconic bosses, and you can even bring a few friends along for the adventure, just like several other previous Kirby games. Everything fans expect out of Kirby is on full display here, though the lack of compelling new features leaves the whole experience feeling a bit uninspired. It's another pleasant day on planet Pop Star when Kirby's home world is suddenly bombarded with shadowy hearts, transforming characters into darker versions of themselves. Kirby investigates and, using the power of friendship (and whatever ability he's recently absorbed) overcomes one trial after another until he reaches the source of the trouble on planet Jambastion. In pretty typical Kirby fashion there's no fancy storytelling happening here, and even though the new characters are a little interesting they're given very little time to develop or even really show off any degree of depth. Star Allies is a game you play for the easy-going action/platforming, not the narrative. Kirby is back to doing what he does best: 2D platforming with plenty of abilities to absorb from enemies. Even moreso than other long-running franchises there's something comforting about playing a Kirby game—the core gameplay has changed extraordinarily little since Kirby's Adventure, and the low-difficulty of the series means it's easy to jump right back into the swing of things no matter what level of gamer you might be. Even if it doesn't feel particularly new the gameplay in Star Allies is still perfect for a bit of charming, light-hearted action. It is surprising though how little Star Allies really adds to the Kirby franchise. Most other Kirby games, main series or spin-off, add some sort of gimmick or twist. In Star Allies the twist is essentially what we've seen in previous Kirby games: AI companions or local co-op with up to four players. Two characters can combine abilities—for example, if Kirby is using a sword and an ally is using fire, the ally can give Kirby's sword a fire effect for extra damage—but there aren't actually that many combinations in the game. At the very least, there are few interesting or surprising combos, which feels like a huge wasted opportunity. Furthermore, having four characters on screen at once makes Star Allies almost laughably easy, and Kirby isn't a particularly difficult franchise to begin with. You'll likely never feel compelled to use combo abilities in battle since enemies fall so quickly anyway—even when you're playing solo the game doesn't throw many huge challenges at you. It's useful to have spare abilities on hand at any time, but if you need a specific ability to solve a puzzle the game always gives you the ability anyway. The allies system makes for a decent bit of co-op fun but it also just makes an already easy game even easier. While Kirby games have never been about speed there's something oddly slow about Kirby's movements in Star Allies. It almost feels like he has a weight tied to him at all times. The somewhat subdued flow of the gameplay can take a bit of getting used to, and still doesn't feel totally comfortable by the end. As you might expect Star Allies is almost too adorable when it comes to visual design. All of the usual Kirby friends and foes are found here, all in vibrant, colorful environments like grasslands, caves, volcanoes, etc. Much like the gameplay as a whole the art design is pleasant but doesn't seem to bring anything new to the table. There isn't any particular standout location that feels new and exciting even though all of it still looks good. The soundtrack is in a similar position: there wasn't any particular track that made me stand up and take notice, but the music as a whole was still well done and charming. The main game is fairly short, only around six hours or so, but it wouldn't be a Kirby game if there weren't side modes as well. There are a couple of mini-games which can be fun for a minute or two before you jump back into the campaign, and there's the requisite boss rush Arena mode. There's also Guest Star mode which is essentially a time trial mode of the main game's levels where you stick with one ability throughout the entire run. Despite adding a few new quirks Guest Star just feels like a way to draw out the game with somewhat repetitive content. And speaking of which you can replay levels in order to earn puzzle pieces to complete bonus pictures—a cute idea but it really is just padding the game's length. Kirby Star Allies is another solid entry in a long-running series that prides itself on cute design and accessible gameplay. Whether you're playing alone or with a few friends it's easy to jump right into the action and enjoy some good ol' fashioned 2D platforming, complete with ability swapping and hidden rooms. However, the fact that this game sticks so closely to familiar gameplay design may be an indication that it's time for something new. You won't walk away from Star Allies disappointed, but you may be left with a feeling that the Kirby series should do more. Rating: 7 out of 10 Warp Stars It's a Kirby game, so you know Kirbymeister2 weighs in. Check out his review here.
  12. UPDATE: The latest patch (version 1.4.201) corrects the crashing glitch on level 49. I've left the details in the review with a strikethrough to maintain context but the rating has been changed to reflect the now bug-free version of the game. Combine the head-spinning physics puzzles of Bridge Constructor with the sardonic commentary of GLaDOS and you've got Bridge Constructor Portal from developer ClockStone and publisher Headup Games. This mash-up feels like a no-brainer: both series challenge the player with wild puzzles that you often only complete by the skin of your teeth. Adding portals, turrets, and weighted companion cubes to the makeshift construction challenges of Bridge Constructor adds a welcome new dimension to the gameplay. Puzzle fans should enjoy the variety of challenges that Bridge Constructor Portal offers from the first simple construction to the final nail-biting test. You play as a new recruit to the Aperture Science test lab where you build bridges to transport test vehicles from start to goal across sixty levels. As you might expect if you've played Portal, GLaDOS oversees the test procedure and often begins the level with her unique brand of deadpan humor. Fans of Portal will love to hear from everyone's favorite homicidal AI, and she is once again voiced by Ellen McLain. Obviously the puzzle structure of Bridge Constructor Portal doesn't lend itself to much storytelling depth but the quips from GLaDOS and a few little skits at the beginning of each section of the game add just the right touch of dark humor to the game. If you haven't played a Bridge Constructor title before they are physics-based puzzle games. At the simplest level your goal is to guide a vehicle from the starting point to the goal by building a bridge/roadway. Bridges have to be supported properly—a single line stretched across a large chasm will simply collapse—so there's some degree to which you have to take weight and balance into account. Bridge Constructor Portal eases you into the gameplay with plenty of tutorial levels and even includes a best practices guide that offers helpful tips on keeping your bridges supported. Even with just the standard bridge elements there are numerous ways for the game to challenge you, and oftentimes you'll be staring at the screen with your fingers crossed, willing the bridge to stay up long enough for the test vehicle to make it to the end. When you add Portal elements to the mix, things start to get crazier. With portals you have to be extra-thoughtful of a vehicle's speed; with turrets you need to find a way to disable them before the vehicle rolls into their line of sight; with weighted companion cubes you have to love them for all of the assistance they offer. Pretty soon your vehicles will be sailing through the air from one portal to another, briefly landing on your makeshift bridge construction before rolling into the goal. Like any good puzzle game solving these extra-difficult levels is hugely satisfying—and, for more sadistic players, the inventive ways you can crash vehicles or send them hurtling into pits of acid is awfully entertaining. And the brightside to Bridge Constructor Portal's gameplay is the wiggle room afforded to the player. Generally there is a method to solving a puzzle, but you don't have to be perfectly exact—there's some leeway in terms of how you get there. This is only further evidenced by the extra challenge of each level: getting multiple test vehicles to the exit. Sometimes your bridge is only good enough to get one vehicle to the goal, but to get an entire convoy of ten cars safely to the exit your design has to be sturdy. These convoy challenges aren't needed to progress in the game but finishing them does add an extra layer of difficulty, and proves your mastery of the game's physics. There's also a pseudo third layer of difficulty: to complete a level with the least number of bridge components, thereby keeping construction costs to a minimum. I say pseudo because the game doesn't actually offer any kind of benchmark for construction costs, but you can see how much you spent at the end of each level and know for yourself whether you were efficient or wasteful. With sixty levels Bridge Constructor Portal offers plenty of intense challenges. You may feel like you're breezing through the early levels but soon enough each puzzle can take what feels like an hour to finish as you first plot out what needs to happen then carefully adjust with trial-and-error tests. Since you have to finish each puzzle to move on to the next it's easy to feel stymied at times, especially as you test a bridge over and over. Some constructions can take a good sixty seconds to complete, and watching everything play out only for one error at the end which means you have to make a small adjustment and run the whole thing again—it can be tiresome at times. But the game rewards patient and persistent players. If you're prepared to overcome the game's plentiful challenges there's a lot for a puzzle fan to enjoy here. The game's controls also leave something to be desired at times, but thankfully the gameplay never requires fast movement. Moving with the left control stick can be a bit stiff—it's not hard to see that the game was originally designed for mouse and keyboard—but since you aren't building in real-time there's no penalty for just taking your time. This Switch version of the game also offers touch controls, but in this case you're sacrificing precision for speed. Even if it can be a little clunky at times it makes more sense to stick with the control stick and buttons. UPDATE: Patch 1.4.201 fixes the crashing glitch on level 49. I've left the text below for context on the original review but this no longer affects the game's rating. Unfortunately we've come to the elephant in the room that I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Every time I finished level 49 the game would crash, bringing me back to the Switch's main menu, and forcing me to restart the game at the beginning of level 49. Having to restart one of these puzzles even once would be pretty annoying since it can take so long to figure out the perfect configuration of bridges and ropes to reach the goal, but when the game crashes every single time I try to progress that's a flat out game breaking bug. I can't say how prevalent this bug is but it left a pretty large stain on my experience with the game and means I can't recommend the game whole-heartedly, even if the rest of the gameplay was solid. Bridge Constructor Portal offers plenty of unique physics puzzles that manage to find the fine balance between challenging and engaging. Your grasp of simple physics/bridge construction will be tested, but the satisfaction of each level completed is a strong motivator—that, and GLaDOS's mocking commentary. Be sure you've updated the game to the most recent version to avoid any bugs. Otherwise, get ready for a mind-boggling puzzle adventure across bridges, over pits of acid, and through portals. Rating: 8 out of 10 Bridges Review copy provided by publisher Bridge Constructor Portal is available now on the Switch eShop for $14.99.
  13. Eliwood8

    Clustertruck Review

    What happens when Mad Max gets a little too insane? You'd probably end up with something like Clustertruck from developer Landfall Games and publisher tinyBuild. In this physics based "truckformer" players are sent hurtling from one truck to another in a death defying race to the goal line. With a variety of special abilities to help you'll leap from one truck to another, sometimes mid-air, as the game throws hazard after hazard at you. The gameplay makes for a decent pick-up-and-play platformer, but some of the clunky controls and frequent freezes put a damper on the high octane fun. This may come as a shock, but storytelling isn't big in Clustertruck. In fact, it's nonexistent. This is straight up classic platformer gameplay: select a level, dive right into the action, and move on to the next. As barebones as that may seem Clustertruck would probably only be even more ridiculous if it tried to add some sort of overarching narrative. Though it would be nice to know where all these trucks came from. The basic gameplay is pretty simple: jump from one truck to the next in order to reach the goal. On the first level this is pretty straightforward with plenty of trucks around you, all heading toward the goal point, but pretty soon you'll encounter insane level designs that challenge your ability to stay afloat in a sea of crashing and exploding trucks. There's an impressive variety of challenges across the 100+ levels in the game, from simple hazards like logs strewn across your path to insane dangers like leaping high into the air in order to reach another truck on a different path. Players that love these kinds of twitch-reflex games will get a big kick out of Clustertruck. Additionally, you can spice up the gameplay by selecting up to two abilities to use in each level. Many of these abilities make the game easier, such as an ability to slow time which helps with aiming your landing on a truck, and there are even a couple of abilities strictly for the sake of messing around and making the gameplay even crazier. You need to unlock abilities by spending style points, which you'll earn by playing, so you won't have access to these features immediately, but you'll be glad you have them once the level design gets intense. As fun as the chaos of jumping from one truck to another can be, it is also pretty frustrating at times. For one thing your movement is a bit more stiff than you would imagine for a fast-paced physics platformer like this, particularly when you're trying to make slight adjustments to the left and right. It doesn't help that jumping is mapped to the A button, which makes it a little hard to smoothly jump and keep your bearings by looking around with the right control stick. The momentum of your movements can also be a little inconsistent. Managing you momentum is incredibly important in Clustertruck, but sometimes it seems to send you careening off with no control over your speed. If you touch anything other than the trucks you fail the level—which includes being hit by things like flying debris and lasers—so most of the time you'll end up playing a level over and over before you get one successful run. Perhaps even more confounding is the way the trucks move a little differently every time you play a level. It adds a little variety to the game, but when you're trying to perfect your run through a stage it can lead to a maddening level of trial-and-error as you keep replaying until you reach an attempt where the stars align. The trial-and-error gameplay wouldn't be as tedious if it weren't for the fact that Clustertruck is terribly buggy at times. It seems to affect specific levels, but there were points where the game would freeze every time I failed a level, and sometimes even when I completed the level. For the most part I was able to turn off the game, reload it, and try again, but the frustration of this process came to a climax on the final level of the campaign where the game would not only freeze when I died but also failed to save the fact that I had beaten the previous level, meaning every time I attempted the final level I would have to go through the second-to-last level as well. The final level is challenging enough on its own, but adding in the frustration of restarting the game every few minutes and it almost feels like the game is actively encouraging you to stop playing. Note: The developers are working on a patch; as of posting the game is still buggy Clustertruck on Switch is also oddly lacking in some features that you would just assume would be part of the package in a game like this. For a game centered on perfecting your ability to fly through a level and earning style points while doing so, it is honestly shocking that there's no scoreboard. And not just an online leaderboard: the game doesn't record your best score or time on any level at all. It seems like an obvious feature for this type of game, and it really doesn't make any sense not to include it. Much like how Clustertruck isn't big on storytelling, it is also not too concerned with complex graphics or music. To be fair there's nothing wrong with the visuals or audio, both are perfectly serviceable, and there's even a certain charm to the no-frills visual design, but when you're seeing the same barren landscapes and repetitive background music on one stage after another, from one failed attempt to another, the presentation ends up feeling pretty bland. Clustertruck is an absurd but entertaining chaotic platformer, the kind of game where you can't help but be impressed at times, even if you end up failing a stage. There's a decent amount of variety to the level design, even if it feels repetitive thanks to how often you'll likely end up replaying each stage just to finish it once, and the optional abilities not only make the game more manageable but also add a nice degree of customization. Unfortunately, Clustertruck on Switch also shows a lack of polish, and the frequent game freezes only heighten the sense of tedium and frustration that comes from failing a level fifty times in a row. With the game as unstable as it is right now there's little incentive in investing in Clustertruck's unique brand of physics mayhem. Rating: 4 out of 10 Trucks Review copy provided by publisher Clustertruck is now available on the Switch eShop for $14.99.
  14. The Flame in the Flood from developer The Molasses Flood began as a Kickstarter back in 2014, originally planned only for PC and Mac. But with the help of publisher Curve Digital this unique title made it to the Switch eShop last year, and anyone that gives it a try will be treated to a charming take on the survival game genre. Our protagonist, Scout, takes a page from Huckleberry Finn and rides a makeshift raft in search of a better life, but only finds new dangers that require careful planning and resource management to overcome. The quirks of survival games aren't for everyone, but then neither is braving the great outdoors on a rickety wooden raft. The Flame in the Flood opens on a macabre scene: the bones of another camper/traveler, where only his backpack has survived. His canine companion, Aesop, takes up the bag and brings it to Scout, a young girl alone in an abandoned camping ground. With Aesop's help Scout finds a raft, and so begins her journey through a post-societal America. There's very little direct storytelling in The Flame in the Flood, but what you glean from your surroundings speaks volumes: camp after camp, building after building, there's no one in sight. Clearly something terrible has happened, and Scout travels in the hopes of making contact with any other survivor. It would have been nice if the game dove a little further into the few details you uncover, but the intrigue helps propel the game once you fall into a steady rhythm of exploring, scavenging, and running from wolves. The name of the game here is survival: Scout has separate meters for hunger, thirst, temperature, and fatigue. You'll need to keep an eye on all four to keep Scout healthy as you progress down the river and hopefully find civilization. You'll board your raft and travel across turbulent waters to find landing points where you can disembark and scrounge for supplies. There are a lot of items to collect, and gradually you'll be able to craft new equipment to help you survive—you'll be able to kill animals to harvest food and sew new clothes to keep warm, you'll upgrade your raft to make it more durable, or even craft medicine in case you get sick. Like all survival games there's a fantastic sense of tension in just about every moment of The Flame in the Flood, particularly early in the game when you have so few supplies. The thrill of finding something valuable, disappointment when you don't, and panic when you're injured with no medical supplies will keep you absolutely enraptured. The steady progress of moving from one landing point to the next also gives the game a great sense of pacing; you'll always want to explore one more area. Maybe you'll find something great there. Maybe not. But it's worth the risk. And even though The Flame in the Flood isn't as fiendishly difficult as other survival games, it still doesn't take it easy on you. You won't necessarily be sabotaged by elements outside of your control and just by being a little careful you can avoid many maladies, but since parts of the game are procedurally generated you can't rely upon anything consistent. It's what makes the game exciting in its early moments when you're barely surviving from one scavenge point to another, but it may frustrate some players, especially since it is easy to die early on. The Flame in the Flood does feature a sort of safety net though: you can store items in Aesop's pack, and if you die and have to start a new playthrough those items will carry over. This can be a big help in the early parts of the game, or you may even purposefully save a few valuable items and sacrifice your current playthrough. When you're first starting out it feels like there's no end of interesting ares to explore and items to collect, which brings us to one of the annoying necessities of survival games: micromanaging your inventory. Scout can only carry so much, and even when storing extra items with Aesop or on the raft you'll constantly be juggling what items to keep, which to leave behind, and organizing multiples of an item into convenient stacks. It can be a bit tedious at times but it keeps you on your toes. The main downside in The Flame in the Flood is just that the interface seems clearly made for a computer screen. Some of the text is tiny, and even distinguishing between item symbols can be hard to make out on the TV. As is often the case in these kinds of resource management games though, the bulk of the game's excitement is early in the game when you have so little to work with. Once you've built up a solid inventory and are mostly prepared to deal with any hazards the game falls into a bit of a repetitive routine. There's still something satisfying about exploring and collecting items—there's something ingrained in gamers to always pick up everything possible—but the game's variety loses a bit of steam by the last third or so, when you can simply run from dangers without worrying about restocking your supplies. The game could have done more to maintain some level of danger throughout the journey. Additionally, a lot of best practices in the game aren't explained, and even some basic elements can be confusing at first. Naturally in this type of game you're meant to experiment a little until you find effective means to survive, but some of the basic strategies could have been explained better. The raft in particular may seem completely unwieldy when you begin, and if it takes too much damage it'll be destroyed and end your game, which can easily discourage new players. Stick with it though—and upgrade the raft's rudder as soon as possible—and you'll gradually find the rhythm of the gameplay. The Flame in the Flood's simple but stylish art design does a fantastic job of painting an ominous, decrepit American countryside. The game balances on a fine line between eerie and beautiful when you're exploring scenic locations but run into wolves and a few scattered remains of society. The graphics, like the gameplay, can feel a bit repetitive after a while but there's a certain charm here nonetheless. The music, however, is phenomenal, and there should have been even more of it. Oftentimes while you're exploring you'll only hear atmospheric sounds—audio cues can be quite helpful if there's a dangerous animal nearby—but every now and then you'll be treated to an excellent song from the game's soundtrack, written and performed by Chuck Ragan. Ragan's alt-country, somewhat folksy sound couldn't be more appropriate for The Flame in the Flood—it perfectly captures the backwater Americana atmosphere, and best of all they're really catchy songs. Every time a song comes up it's almost worth it to take a break and just enjoy the music. The campaign mode in The Flame in the Flood lasts a good eight to ten hours or so—long enough that you really get to enjoy everything the game has to offer without the scavenging gameplay overstaying its welcome for too long. As mentioned parts of the game are procedurally generated so you could start a second playthrough and progress in a slightly different way. In the end there's not that much variety though. There are only so many animals, so many hazards, combined in so many ways. However, Endless mode can be a nice challenge once you mastered the basics of the gameplay, and you can even turn on Developer's Commentary to gain some insights into the game's creation. The Flame in the Flood finds a satisfying balance between challenging survival gameplay and accessibility. That's not to say it's perfect, and if you're not prepared for a fair amount of trial and error, item juggling, and repetition the game might not fully capture your interest, but there's a great deal of charm in this river-riding journey. It's stylish art design and fantastic soundtrack will pull you in, and the thrill of surviving day by day will keep you enthralled from the first moment you step onto the raft to the last moment you step off. Rating: 8 out of 10 Flames The Flame in the Flood is available on the Switch eShop for $14.99.
  15. Eliwood8

    Mulaka Review

    There are plenty of games based on cultural mythologies—Greek, Roman, Norse, and of course numerous Japanese games draw from Japanese folklore. So why not one based on Native American beliefs and culture? Mulaka from developer Lienzo is one part action/adventure game and one part anthropological study thanks to the authentic details that tell the story of the Tarahumara people, a culture from northern Mexico that still exists today. Don't think this is some dry edutainment game though—Mulaka does a fantastic job of emulating the greats of the action/adventure genre and puts its own spin on exploration and combat. Best of all, you'll learn a thing or two about a culture you probably haven't even heard of. All of the storytelling and world-building details in the game draw from Tarahumara culture, but it's totally possible to play Mulaka as any other adventure game. You begin by learning something is amiss with the land, and as a shaman—or Sukurúame—it's your job to commune with the local demigods and put things right. That broad narrative may not be anything particularly unique in video games, but knowing that all of the details about the gods, people, monsters, and beliefs are authentic reflections of the Tarahumara people gives all of the writing in the game a whole other intriguing dimension. This is definitely the type of game where you'll want to talk to everyone and read every description—you may even want to check out Lienzo's behind the scenes videos detailing their journey to faithfully represent and Tarahumara, they're worth watching. Plus the side characters you meet in Mulaka are pretty dang adorable; the style and tone of the game is very reminiscent of Okami (perhaps appropriately, since Okami draws so heavily from Japanese Shinto mythology). It's even more fitting that both Okami and Mulaka are action/adventure games, though this game relies upon a pretty standard formatting from one region to the next: in each area you explore to find three stones that unlock the gate to the boss. Of course, there's a bit more to it than that since there are different tasks you might need to complete to find a stone, and Mulaka does a great job of making the environments interesting and engaging. Every time you enter a new area you'll be raring to go exploring, especially since the game gives you a sort of radar ability that lets you know where collectibles or items of note are. When you start a level and see all of those icons just enticing you, you'll be ready to run immediately (one of the fun facts you'll learn about the Tarahumara in Mulaka, they are excellent runners). The one downside to exploration is the lack of any kind of map. The regions aren't very big but a map or mini-map still would have gone a long way toward keeping yourself oriented in the game world. And even if each region follows the same "find three keys" pattern the game gives you new tools in each area to mix things up. You can collect herbs to create potions which can heal or grant useful abilities to progress, and when you meet a new demigod you earn a piece of their power and can briefly transform into an animal. Both potions and transformations allow you to explore in new ways, so it's always exciting to see what new nooks and crannies open up to you with each ability. The transformations are a lot of fun, even if it's a bit of a shame that their use is limited by your magic meter, but this just creates more gameplay opportunities to challenge your exploration abilities. Herb-gathering though can be little bit tedious. You need to collect multiple herbs to make a single potion—for example, three aloe plants make one healing potion—and you have to collect plants one at a time. Thankfully they grow together in little batches, but that really just makes the process seem more unnecessary: if three aloe plants almost always grow together anyway, why make the player pick three to make one potion? It's not terribly difficult but it seems like a pointless extra step. More annoying though is the way plants seem to grow randomly. Sometimes I was low on healing potions and could not find aloe anywhere, but then returning to that same level later I found plenty. Thankfully I was never in danger of completely running out or dying from a lack of healing potions, but the inconsistency was still a bit obnoxious. The action half of this action/adventure is the combat system. Mulaka wields a spear and right from the beginning you have a decent set of options for fighting the various monsters and malevolent spirits in the game. The best and worst aspect of combat is how fluid it is—it's easy to strike out at opponents and quickly move or dodge around them, but it's just as easy to overshoot your movements and stab right past them, especially small enemies. Mulaka features a slight auto-aiming system that lets you focus on one enemy but the game desperately needs a more solid lock-on system. Without it combat feels too chaotic half of the time, especially once you encounter trickier enemies like those with ranged attacks. It's a shame too since there are plenty of great monster designs here but the loose combat doesn't give them an opportunity to really shine. On the brightside boss fights manage to be epic and intense even without lock-on, and all of them present a unique, engaging challenge. Additionally, the game features a sort of experience points system. You earn points by defeating enemies and opening treasure chests, and by visiting a helpful old woman in the second region of the game you can upgrade various abilities such as magic regen speed, attack strength, or defense. Don't think that makes this an action RPG though—grinding experience points off of enemies is a painfully slow business so you're better off just gathering them naturally and not worrying too much about it. The upgrades are useful but there's little sense going out of your way for them. As mentioned the controls are in dire need of a lock-on button and the auto-aim can be a little too slippery, but otherwise the controls are pretty easy to pick up. In addition to swinging his spear Mulaka can throw it, and here the awkward aiming can be a bit hard to deal with as well. On one hand you can use motion controls which can be useful for more precise throws, but on the other hand enemies rarely give you a window of opportunity to really aim, so a quick lock-on throw would have been much more preferable. Mulaka's unique low-poly art style helps give the game a visual flair all its own. It's simple, but combined with the sprawling environments and small bursts of color from people, plants, and monsters the art style becomes beautifully eye-catching. The simple design probably helps give the game that sense of fluidity as well, which extends to the charming—sometimes bordering on goofy—animation. The soundtrack is delightful as well, and also draws influence from authentic Tarahumara and regional music. Regardless of the source it adds a perfect backdrop for a great action/adventure: catchy, energetic, at times mysterious, but always driving you forward to keep exploring. All that said, the game could have used another round of polishing just to work out a few kinks—nothing gamebreaking thankfully, but there are various typos found throughout the game, and at one point I fell straight through the ground while attacking (the game eventually corrected itself). Even with the variety of locales to explore though Mulaka isn't a long game, especially if you don't take your time exploring. Each area of the game has a number of hidden collectibles which add to the story of the Tarahumara people, and they're definitely worth finding. Beyond that though there are no real replay incentives. Mulaka is a great experience while it lasts but it'll be over before you know it—the game could have been twice as long and just as engaging. The developers at Lienzo have clearly treated the Tarahumara culture and their mythology with a great deal of love and respect, and in turn their culture has inspired a fantastic game. Mulaka is a delightful and all-too-short action/adventure that leads players through beautiful vistas and introduces them to fascinating bits of lore peppered throughout stylish environments. Not all of the gameplay is perfect, with the floaty combat as a particularly awkward aspect of the game, but the artwork, music, and unique storytelling will easily pull you into the engaging world of Mulaka, and the world of the Tarahumara people. Rating: 8 out of 10 Shamans Mulaka is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.98.
  16. Eliwood8

    Kirby Battle Royale Review

    With so many experimental spin-offs under his belt (pinball, racing, touch-screen-platforming) I suppose it's only fitting that Kirby would finally make his way to the mini-game compilation format. Kirby Battle Royale draws from the style of Mario Party but ignores the board game system and instead just focuses on a handful of game modes that offer quick, bite-sized competitions—a decent idea for a Kirby spin-off, but lacking in execution. Although fun in short bursts you'll be left wanting more after only a few rounds of Battle Royale's mini-games. The focus may be in the multiplayer but Battle Royale also features a short story mode. Kirby is invited to King Dedede's castle to compete in a battle royale, with a delicious cake as the prize. Naturally the pink puffball can't turn down that kind of incentive, and you'll need to battle through five competitive leagues to work your way up to the grand prize. It's a cute, brief adventure and serves as a nice introduction to the various mini-games that make up Battle Royale. There are ten battle modes on offer here, from standard modes like Battle Arena where you just fight opponents to more objective-based battles like Crazy Theater, which features a sequence of WarioWare-esque mini-games and the first to a certain number of points wins. Ultimately ten feels like a small selection though, especially since some mini-games feel pretty similar. Every game seems like it could have been taken straight out of Mario Party: matches are just a minute or two long and often include some sort of balancing that allows the losing players to catch up suddenly in the last few seconds (annoying when you're already winning, but satisfying when you manage a come-from-behind victory). There's even an option to award bonus points at the end of a match. Furthermore, there's a clear emphasis on intuitive gameplay—every mode is very easy to pick up quickly, and for the most part any level of player can jump right into the game. It's a perfect system for quickly diving in and just having a quick bit of competitive multiplayer fun in a 3DS game. As an accessible party game, Battle Royale does well. The problem is that the games are also pretty shallow. Many of them feature just one stage to play on, and it quickly feels like you're just going through the same motions over and over. And the combat-oriented games feel too similar to one another, even if the ultimate goal is slightly different in each one. There really isn't a ton of room for strategy in most mini-games, so you'll very quickly feel like you're just doing the same thing in every match. On the brightside, there are a variety of different Kirby abilities you can select from (as well as a few free DLC abilities that are still being added) as well as boost orbs you can equip that make the gameplay feel slightly different, but not quite different enough. It's particularly disappointing that the story mode didn't take better advantage of adding a little more variety. Some of the later story matches add extra objectives or challenges that do a nice job of spicing things up, especially considering how repetitive the game can be while playing solo, but these twists aren't available in multiplayer. Playing for even just half an hour feels like a long time when battle after battle starts to feel the same. Battle Royale's biggest flaw is simply a lack of depth to the gameplay. Of course, playing against other human players adds a bit more variety to the gameplay, and in Battle Royale you can play locally and online. With some caveats. Playing locally works just fine and you can even use Download Play if the other players don't have copies of the game (with some limitations of course). If you can wrangle up three friends this local multiplayer option can be a blast, for a little while at least. Online though, you're limited to playing exclusively without friends. The online mode is limited to Ranked matches, where wins earn you points and, at least theoretically, you compete against players of a similar rank. The fact that you can't link up with friends online though is just plain weird. It feels like a pointless restriction to only offer these anonymous matches and not include any kind of friend room mode. Thankfully at least, in my experience, there's a decent amount of players online. You might end up waiting for a little while to find a match but I always ended up finding one, at various times of day. The downside is that lag, particularly button lag, is an issue at times, which can be killer in the combat-focused game modes, and can easily put you off Ranked matches entirely. The visuals and music are more or less what you'd expect to find in a Kirby game. It's colorful, charming, and really not pushing the style of the franchise forward in any way—which is also a shame since a spin-off would be the ideal time to get experimental. Battle Royale doesn't even feature stereoscopic 3D, though with how uncommon 3D has been in recent 3DS releases it's debatable how significant this really is. The audio is similarly unremarkable. It's cute, and fits right in for a Kirby game, but lacks any real zest. Kirby Battle Royale feels like a side mode that was elevated to separate game status without actually fleshing out the core mechanics of the game. The gameplay is fun for a bit but there just isn't enough depth to keep the game interesting after a few hours, and players might feel a bit burned by the full $40 price tag—the game definitely feels like it should have been a more modestly priced eShop title rather than a full retail game. If you have a few friends to play with locally there's some fun to be had in Battle Royale, just don't expect it to last. Rating: 5 out of 10 Warp Stars (And if you're looking for a second opinion check out Kirbymeister2's video review of Kirby Battle Royale here)
  17. Eliwood8

    The Final Station Review

    The Final Station from developer Do My Best and publisher tinyBuild drops you into a post-apocalyptic setting where you'll need to scavenge to survive, all while making sure your train stays on schedule. It's an unusual combination of gameplay elements but ultimately makes sense: you aren't just struggling for your own survival, you need to keep your passengers alive as well. Add in an intriguing storyline rife with mystery and charming pixel graphics and you've got one of the Switch eShop's more bizarre but compelling games. The story in The Final Station is pretty difficult to pick up at first, but one thing is clear: things are not good for humanity. Everywhere you go is derelict and covered in rubble, and soon enough you start encountering strange shadowy creatures that attack on sight. Amidst all of this you are still doing your job as a train conductor, ferrying people and valuable equipment from one station to another. The game does a great job of building up the mystery of the backstory, but it never quite pays off, at least not as concretely as you might hope. You meet mysterious characters who seem to be plotting things both for and against humanity, you see unexplainable phenomena on your travels, and you find cryptic notes and missives that add pieces to the story, but by the time the credits roll you're probably going to be pretty confused about what really happened. For as much as the developers nail the mystery/sci-fi theme, the actual plot leaves something to be desired. And the script could have used a second pass just for basic editing as well—you'll find plenty of typos throughout the game. The train management and survival aspects of the game play out in different phases. While you're on the train you'll need to make sure all of your equipment is functioning correctly (there's always something that could use a little elbow grease) and you need to take care of your passengers by passing out food or med kits as needed. The train also offers a bit of a respite—you can craft ammo and med kits, and even listen to your passengers talk among themselves to hear a bit more of the story. In fact, it's a shame that you can't just listen in on their conversations the entire time—if you're in a different compartment you can't hear them—it might have helped flesh out the story a bit. Regardless, you want to keep your passengers alive because once you reach a safe station you'll earn rewards for each person on the train. At times you really have to stretch your food and med kit supplies, so this helps emphasize the survival aspect of the game, and keeps the story feeling like a communal crisis. The other and larger aspect of the gameplay is when you disembark in derelict train stations to find supplies and unlock the gate to allow your train to move on. This is classic survival gameplay in 2D pixel format: you have a gun with limited ammo, med kits that are often best reserved for your passengers, and you'll need to scour buildings and bunkers filled with hostile shadowy monsters. It's a tense experience when you wrestle with whether you should go left or right, use up your ammo or save it, hunt out a few more supplies or just escape while you can. It's classic risk/reward gameplay and The Final Station finds a great balance of keeping things tense and exciting without being overwhelming. In fact, if anything the game is a little too lenient. A key aspect of survival games is managing your remaining supplies, which often means limited or infrequent saves. That's not the case with The Final Station. The game actually autosaves quite frequently, so if you accidentally walk into a room packed with enemies and die you don't actually lose much progress. The game isn't so open-ended that you can avoid such rooms entirely so usually you have to try again anyway, but having that safety net eases a lot of the tension—you might even let yourself die if you decide you wasted too much ammo in a single battle. Furthermore, you are healed to the maximum every time you complete a scavenge run and make it back to your train, which is only another reason to save your med kits for passengers and not use them on yourself. With these kinds of concessions The Final Station might be too forgiving for a typical survival game. The controls are pretty easy to pick up—aiming takes a bit of getting used to but it's worth it to land headshots and save a little ammo—but there's one quirk that is a bit annoying: the game's interface is clearly built for PC. When you're interacting with machines on the train the buttons aren't clearly labeled or even that intuitive; you have to play around a bit to figure out exactly what you're supposed to do. The crafting menu is also hard to read because the icons are large but very lightly highlighted—these are UI aspects that aren't a problem with a mouse and keyboard, but without a cursor on screen it's hard to tell what you're actually clicking on. Ultimately these annoyances have little effect on the gameplay but a bit more care in the porting process would have been useful. The visuals and audio in The Final Station are pretty simple, but still manage to say a lot about the condition of humanity in this post-apocalyptic setting. The charming pixel art design makes for a rather interesting disparity with the dire environment as you scavenge for supplies just to keep your passengers alive. And the music is mostly light, atmospheric ambiance, perfect for the oftentimes hopeless scenes you come across as you move from one station to another. Even if it isn't the fanciest design on a technological level the game's presentation has a way of pulling you into the setting. The Final Station isn't too long of a game: a good five hours or so should see you through the entire adventure. However, this Switch release comes bundled with the DLC The Only Traitor, which adds a good bit to the game's length. The DLC's story follows a different character and actually proceeds concurrently with the main game's story, and helps flesh out the overall narrative (though some points are still pretty confusing). Additionally, the gameplay is a bit reworked for the DLC. The new character doesn't have a train but does have a car, and in each level must scavenge for food, water, and gasoline to progress. You can keep one passenger in your car who can craft items for you or heal you—you're no longer healed to the maximum between levels—and each person you meet has different crafting/healing stats, so you need to decide whom you want to keep around. There are also less frequent checkpoints, which makes the DLC overall less forgiving and a bit more intense. It's a great addition not just for the slight change of pace but for just having more content in the world of The Final Station. The Final Station takes a unique approach to survival gameplay and builds an experience that is both tense and thrilling and fairly accessible thanks to frequent checkpoints. The story lacks a bit in execution but the setting is engaging enough that you'll be interested from start to finish anyway, even if large parts of the game remain a mystery once the credits roll. Add in the game's DLC with its slightly different but just as compelling gameplay style and The Final Station on Switch is another quality indie title in the eShop library. Rating: 8 out of 10 Stations Review copy provided by publisher The Final Station is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  18. Eliwood8

    Fe Review

    Fe from developer Zoink Games marks the beginning of EA's indie games program, EA Originals, but it also marks a change for Zoink's style. Their previous original games, Stick It to the Man and Zombie Vikings, as well as their upcoming title Flipping Death, all have a distinctly comical tone and outrageous but distinctive character design. But with Fe they're trying something new, something more sober, something more emotional. Fe relies upon simpler themes and classic adventure/platforming design to provide a beautiful, serene experience. Outside of a scant few tutorial directions Fe is completely devoid of text or dialogue, but the visuals alone are enough to establish the setting and basic premise: a magical forest filled with giant flora and unusual fauna is in danger of being destroyed by alien/robotic creatures. You play as a diminutive animal of some sort—it looks something like a fantastical take on a wolf cub—who is able to sing to interact with other animals and plants. It may sound weird when written down but this is the kind of game where you just kind of go with the flow of the experience, and if you do you'll be treated to a beautiful little journey about preserving life and nature. I'll be honest though: by the end of the game I wasn't quite sure what happened in the story. Specifically, the motivations and actions of the antagonists, the Silent Ones, is a little confusing after everything is said and done. But Fe isn't a game about telling a specific story so much as it is about eliciting emotions and broad themes, and in that regard the game accomplishes what it set out to do. Even if I wasn't positive exactly why everything happened in the game, I was still moved by the game's concluding moments. The basic gameplay in Fe is pretty intuitive: you're plopped down into the middle of a magical forest where you can run, jump, and explore. What makes Fe unique is the singing mechanic where you can essentially resonate with other animals and plants in order to explore further—for example, in order to jump across purple flowers you may need to enlist the help of ferret-like creatures that can activate the flowers. You actually have to tune your voice when singing by moving the Joy-Cons up and down in order to match the song of other creatures, which is a neat touch (you can also turn off motion controls but it's a pretty easy motion here). Gradually, you unlock new songs and new abilities that allow you to explore further and help rescue other forest animals from the influence of the Silent Ones. It's definitely a unique way to interact with a game world, and the more you play the more it feels like a natural interaction. The developers have done a great job of making the world feel large, with lots to discover, without making it feel overwhelming. Every time you gain a new song you'll be eager to go out and see what it unlocks, what new paths or collectibles you'll discover. Once you get started Fe can be hard to put down. There's also something just plain fun about climbing trees to glide from one platform to the next. There's a lot of freedom in Fe that encourages looking around and being aware of your environment, especially since there are so many collectibles to find. First off, you can collect pink crystals that add new abilities, some of which are required but the last few are purely for making exploration a little easier and more fun. You can also find memory orbs that flesh out the story a little from the perspective of the Silent Ones, and you can sing next to shimmering rocks to reveal murals, which also adds to the game's narrative. The murals offer vague hints to the game's story though, so don't feel like you're missing out on a ton for skipping over them. They're great ways to spend a bit more time with the game—which is otherwise around six or seven hours long—but finding everything can be a bit more challenge than it's worth. Our petite protagonist only has the power of song at his command so there's no combat element to Fe. When you do encounter Silent Ones you'll need to rely upon stealth to avoid capture. And there isn't any kind of elaborate stealth system at play here: you can hide in tall grass or oftentimes just run when the enemy is looking in the other direction. For the most part these stealth sections are pretty easy, and even if you do get captured the game reloads quickly, but there's still something satisfying about sneaking around enemies and escaping unscathed. A big part of what makes exploration in Fe such a joy is the visual and audio design. The graphics aren't flashy, high-end, detailed technological wonders. Instead it's the art design that really sells the beauty, mystery, and serenity of the world of Fe. The visual identity comes down to a fairly simple interplay between light and shadow. A lot of the scenery is dark, with rough shapes, but then when the light hits it there are blooms of color that are just gorgeous. Each area of the game has it's own dominant color and the effect creates plenty of beautiful vistas. The only downside is that the framerate can be a little choppy at times—not enough to spoil any of this lovely art design, but still noticeable. And as you might expect for a game that involves singing, the soundtrack is wonderful as well. Much like the simple art design the music doesn't rely upon anything too elaborate, but the tunes mesh perfectly with the heavy emphasis on nature—soothing sounds when you're just exploring, more intensity when you encounter enemies, and perhaps most important of all the soundtrack knows when to hold back and just let the visual design speak for itself. The sense of nature that Fe so perfectly captures—serene, yet full of life—can't truly be done justice in these screenshots and descriptions. Zoink took a step out of its comfort zone with Fe and stretched itself to create a game completely unlike its most recent releases, and the result is an absolutely beautiful game. The gameplay mechanics make the world of Fe fun to explore, from forest to waterfall to rocky cliff face, but it's the game's tranquility that pulls you in. The game isn't particularly long but if you take your time to drink in the scenery you'll enjoy every minute of it. This stylish journey into nature is one Switch platformer that shouldn't be missed. Rating: 8 out of 10 Songs Fe is available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.
  19. Eliwood8

    Old Man's Journey Review

    Video games are so often focused on epic quests to save the world, or at the very least have a defined antagonist for the hero to struggle against. But sometimes a thoughtful, emotional story is made, the kind that gives you a few quiet moments to reflect upon grounded, real-life joys and sorrows. Old Man's Journey by developer Broken Rules is a meditative game that dwells on the ups and downs of life, reflected in the rolling hills of the game's colorful countryside. It may not be a long or particularly elaborate puzzle game, but Old Man's Journey will have an undeniable effect on anyone that plays it. Old Man's Journey begins with the eponymous Old Man alone in his little seaside house when he receives a letter. There isn't any dialogue or text in the game at all, but through the emotive and adorable animation it's clear that he is surprised by the contents of the letter, which moves him to set off on his journey. What follows is a fantastic example of visual storytelling as the player slowly sees glimpses of the Old Man's life through memories stirred by the objects and people around him. I don't want to reveal too much since a big part of the game's appeal is just in seeing the Old Man's life unfold before you, but I will say it's one of the more emotional games I've played in a long time, largely because of its reliance upon simple human truths. There's no grandiose storytelling happening here; Old Man's Journey is an honest, emotional look at life, and it's all the more powerful for it. Of course, this is still a video game, so what exactly is the gameplay in Old Man's Journey? In a way it's almost a reverse platformer—instead of running and jumping from one platform to another, you actually move the ground to accommodate the Old Man. Your goal is simply to keep the journey moving forward, so in order to get around a hill or a gap you actually pull, push, and move the landscape in order to create paths which allow our protagonist to move into the foreground or background. It's a simple puzzle structure but it works well. This isn't the kind of game to throw complicated and challenging puzzles at you; this is the kind of game where you just get to enjoy the scenery and story, so don't expect anything too difficult in the gameplay. But while it may be pretty simple there are a few curveballs thrown into the mix—sometimes stone walls or sheep block the Old Man's way—and there's something amusing about imaging the hills themselves bending and contorting to accommodate one old traveler. Although the goal is to help the Old Man along on his journey there are a number of little touches that bring the scenery to life. Tap on a closed door and it might pop open, revealing a short scene of a child playing with a toy. Tap on a radio and it might spring to life with a quick little tune. These little aspects are completely optional but they're delightfully charming and worth seeking out. You're encouraged to poke around a bit and see what you can find, which feels like a fitting philosophy for the game's unassuming and undemanding adventure. And you'll enjoy whiling away a bit of time thanks to the game's absolutely gorgeous artwork and music. The hand-drawn art and animation is just enchanting—almost every scene of the game could be a beautiful illustration on its own, but then seeing the animation bring it to life is truly delightful, especially around the houses and towns the Old Man passes through. You'll want to run off to the European countryside to find these kinds of lovely landscapes yourself after playing this game. And the music manages to perfectly sum up the emotions of every scene. Buoyant and jolly when our hero is passing through colorful towns, somber as he reminisces upon his life and the choices he's made, but always with just the right balance of sweet and melancholy sounds. The Switch version of Old Man's Journey includes a few unique features. For one thing, you can choose from three control methods: control stick, motion, or touch. The game was originally designed for the touch interface of tablets and mobile devices and it remains the most natural way to play on the Switch, though of course you'll miss out on seeing the gorgeous artwork full-sized on your TV (although the game still looks fantastic on the Switch screen). But since this is a fairly relaxed puzzle game it's perfectly playable with the other control methods as well, just maybe not quite as smooth. The Switch version also includes a two-player mode. No, a second old man doesn't appear. Instead there's just a second cursor on the screen that works exactly the same as the first player: move the landscape, interact with scenery, etc. None of the puzzles have been redesigned with two players in mind so there's no actual need to involve a second player, but it's kind of a nice touch to bring someone else along for the journey, especially once you delve deeper into the narrative and see more of the man's choices in life. I should mention that, as charming as the adventure is, Old Man's Journey is a surprisingly short game. A good 90 minutes can see you through the entire trip, which might make the $9.99 price point seem like a bit much. If you wanted to judge the game solely upon the length and depth of gameplay then sure, the short length might be a knock against it. But the Old Man's story and the beautiful presentation make this a journey well worth taking. Old Man's Journey doesn't set some kind of grand quest to save the world or give you a time limit to earn the most points possible. There isn't a demon, demigod, or monster to defeat. There isn't even a line of dialogue in the game. This is simply a glimpse into the life of one man, with the kinds of dreams, choices, and burdens that can be found in any person's journey through life. It's a quiet, beautiful, and melancholic expedition into memories both joyful and sorrowful, and a good reminder to take a moment to appreciate not just the scenery but the people around you. Old Man's Journey isn't a game about being a hero. It's a game about being human. Rating: 8 out of 10 Journeys Review copy provided by the developer Old Man's Journey is available to download today, February 20th,on the Switch eShop for $9.99.
  20. In 2014 developer Over the Moon released The Fall, an engaging adventure/puzzle game with a compelling sci-fi story. There was one big problem though: the game was only part one of a larger narrative. Fans of the first game have had to wait almost four years for the next installment in the series, but the wait was worth it. The Fall Part 2: Unbound continues the first game's story and puzzle structure and adds several new features to create a longer and more varied adventure. Not all of the new aspects are well fleshed out but the puzzles are just as fun and the story is just as gripping. The story picks up immediately after the events of the first game and even includes a handy recap to bring you back up to speed about what happened to the Artificial Intelligence system A.R.I.D. Her AI has been disconnected from her body and she is now driven by the singular goal of finding and stopping "the User" in order to save herself. To do so A.R.I.D. possess several other AIs, who all offer new perspectives on robotics and human-AI interactions. I wouldn't want to spoil any other details—like the first game a big part of Unbound's appeal is its sci-fi storytelling that tackles concepts like AI freedom and self-determination. And like the first game, it's refreshing to see a story that delves into some heady sci-fi ideas rather than just shooting aliens. A.R.I.D. is changing, adapting even, and seeing her interactions with other AIs makes for a fascinating journey. The only downside is that once again the game ends on a cliffhanger—not quite as massive as the first game's, but you'll still finish Unbound with an itch to see where else the story goes. Hopefully we won't have to wait another four years for the next installment of The Fall. The gameplay in Unbound follows the same adventure game puzzle-solving as the first game but mixes in a few new features that help keep the gameplay feeling fresh from beginning to end. When A.R.I.D. first connects to the cyber network she enters a sort of Metroid-style world, complete with doors that you shoot to open. Exploration here is fairly basic though. As the game progresses you gain access to different areas but it's not nearly as complex as other Metroidvania games that require significant backtracking. You only gain a couple of new abilities throughout the game and even the way A.R.I.D. moves is somewhat stiff. Ultimately these forays into the digital world are more like interludes and lack the same draw as the main puzzle-solving gameplay. Additionally, there are light combat elements in cyberspace. Combat in Unbound is both an improvement over the original game's shoot-outs and yet still not totally comfortable. The repetitive cover mechanic of the first game is gone; in Unbound you have more freedom to move, jump, shoot, and dodge enemy attacks. But the stiff movement never really gives you the sense of fluidity you want in a shootout. Battles tend to be rather rote: wait for enemy to attack, jump, then shoot back. Even with a couple of new combat abilities throughout the game the combat just fails to excite. Plus there's one strange aspect to fighting: both gunshots and jumping are tied to an energy meter—run out of energy and you can't shoot or jump. This only encourages you to play as mechanically as possible to conserve energy, and tying your main dodge ability (jumping) to an energy bar just feels a little odd. But puzzle-solving is really the heart of the game, and where you'll be spending most of your time. A.R.I.D. inhabits multiple AIs in her quest to save herself, and each AI has its own mechanics and habits that you need to break. For example, the first AI you encounter, a robotic butler, adheres to a strict schedule of taking care of his human masters, and you need to find ways to break his routine in order to let you explore the house. Unbound does a great job of throwing different scenarios like this at the player—each AI you encounter feels unique, and so do the puzzles you face. The developers have also done a fine job of keeping the difficulty of the puzzles balanced. Solutions are rarely obtuse—if you're stuck you'll generally find that you merely overlooked an object that you can interact with. In that regard you have to play Unbound like a classic adventure game: click on everything you see and make sure you keep a mental note of what seems important. And in an adventure-puzzle game, examining everything has the added benefit of fleshing out the story of the game's world. Unbound also keeps its environments fairly small and segmented. Aside from the game's finale you are generally kept to small areas where it's easy to examine everything and keep track of where things are and even test out items on each object if you need to. The only downside in the gameplay comes from the controls, which have the same stiff movement/looking system of the first game. In order to interact with an object you need to look at it by shining your flashlight on it. Sometimes this means you can be standing right next to an object but because your light beam passes over it you can't actually touch/examine it. Aiming is pretty slow and stiff as well, so even shining your light on the exact spot you want can be a bit clumsy. Thankfully no puzzles have a time limit so the slow aiming system doesn't hamper the gameplay too much (and in combat you can lock-on to enemies), but it still feels a bit awkward, and certainly something that could have been changed between the first game and Unbound. Visually Unbound retains the same style as the first game, but thanks to a far greater variety in environments there's more of a visual identity to each section of the game—each new area with a new AI has a different color palette that helps set the atmosphere. The mood of the game isn't quite as focused on eerie, unknown threats like the first game, but there's still a heavy reliance upon shadows that give the game a somewhat menacing feel. They're not the most complex or detailed graphics you'll see on the Switch but it suits the story and atmosphere of the game perfectly. There is also a lot of great voice work that helps bring the story to (artificial) life. Voicing an AI undergoing an existential crisis is actually a pretty tall order, and the actors do an excellent job of skirting the line between robotic and emotive voices. Unbound is longer than its predecessor but it's still a relatively short to mid-length game, depending upon how quick you are with the puzzles. A good six or seven hours should see you through the entire game, and since it's largely a puzzle game there isn't a lot of replay value here. However, just like the original, replaying Unbound to re-examine the story with a new perspective can be a worthwhile pursuit. The Fall Part 2: Unbound builds upon all of the best parts of its predecessor for a larger, more engaging game. Not all of the new features are ideal but just by expanding the characters and setting Unbound is building up a fantastic sci-fi universe. This continuation of the story is everything fans could hope for: deeper exploration of robot and AI concepts, which seems to be setting up for a killer third and final act. Now it's back to the long wait for the next installment. Rating: 8 out of 10 AIs The Fall Part 2: Unbound is available now on the Switch eShop for $16.99.
  21. Eliwood8

    Dandara Review

    Dandara from developer Long Hat House and publisher Raw Fury turns Metroidvania exploration on its head—somewhat literally. Instead of running from room to room the eponymous heroine leaps from floor to ceiling to wall, rotating your perspective on your surroundings. You'll explore a labyrinthine world full of enemies and power-ups to collect using only these short range jumps. Dandara is delightfully original and a blast once you get a handle on the unique movement system, but some obnoxious aspects of the game make the adventure a little more tedious than it ought to be. The game takes place in the world of Salt, a peaceful land of creativity and creation that is being oppressed by a group called the Eldarian Army. Our heroine, Dandara, is born form the Crib of Creation to defeat the Eldarians and bring peace back to Salt. The story is pretty minimal in this game, which is kind of a shame since it's clearly a very surreal world that the developers have created. There are plenty of eye-catching details in the scenery but as far as the plotline is concerned you're just exploring and fighting enemies. The most interesting aspects of the narrative come from researching the development of the game and seeing how much of it is drawn from Brazilian history or culture, including the main character Dandara, named after a 17th century Afro-Brazilian freedom fighter. It would have been difficult to integrate some of the real life history seamlessly into the flow of the game, but it's worth researching on your own. As is, the game itself ends up feeling like just another good-vs-evil adventure. Dandara's unusual movement system might seem complicated at a glance, but surprisingly it's pretty easy to grasp quickly. You aim with the left control stick and jump with A—pretty simple. Zipping from floor to ceiling in order to move down a hallway is a lot of fun, and the game does a great job of giving you a solid sense of speed and fluidity. Despite being tethered to the walls, floors, and ceilings—you can leap to anything with a white surface—Dandara has a surprising sense of freedom and exploration that makes it fun to simply bounce around. It's only when you need to be more precise with your jumps that the controls start to feel clumsy, especially when you're being bombarded with enemy attacks. In this regard boss battles can feel like entirely new challenges since you can kind of skate by against normal enemies by sticking to a slow, careful approach which doesn't work in boss fights. Furthermore, when there are more than a couple enemies on screen you can easily get overwhelmed. Worse still, when you take damage you end up floating a bit off of the surface you were on, which has a way of throwing off your rhythm with jumping/dodging (eventually you get a shield ability but for much of the game you'll need to be quick to dodge enemy attacks). While floating you can still take damage which leads to a pretty vicious cycle of getting trapped by multiple enemy attacks. Like I said, slow and steady is oftentimes the best approach. Oddly enough, for as much as the movement system encourages a certain style of speed and fluidity, your attacks are quite slow and limited in the early parts of the game. Dandara can shoot out a sort of shotgun blast of projectiles, but they're short range and you need to charge up in order to fire. The idea of charging attacks really feels at odds with the fast-paced movement, especially when getting hit interrupts your charge. Once you hone your leaping skills the charged up attack system almost feels like a weight upon you, as if the developers were worried you'd end up being too powerful if you could both move and shoot quickly. Trying to find a free second to charge up a shot adds plenty of challenge to the game but it can also make even basic enemies quite frustrating. On the brightside, there is an RPG-like system that gives you experience points when you defeat enemies (you can also find XP in treasure chests). When you find a save point, you can spend your XP on upgrading Dandara's skills—maximum health, maximum special weapon ammo, and health/ammo potion efficacy. Enemies respawn when you use a save point, so technically you can grind to make yourself stronger, though it's a pretty slow process up until the last area of the game where enemies give decent XP. However, there's also a looming shadow over the entire XP system: you lose your XP if you die, like the Dark Souls series. You can recover your XP if you get back to the place where you died, but really, any time this Dark Souls system is used in a game it seems primarily to be there to frustrate the player. You're already sent back to your last save point when you die—a sufficient penalty in an exploration game, especially with how few save points there are in Dandara—so losing XP too is just kicking the player when he's down. Even if the stakes are high though, simple exploration can be a lot of fun in Dandara. The tone of the game is classic Metroidvania: there's little direction on where to go, but when you run into barriers that require special items or weapons you gradually learn where the game is funneling you. The maps themselves are pretty well designed too. They're intricate, but not so complicated that you lose track of yourself every five seconds—although the game would have benefited from some sort of mini-map on-screen just for quick reference instead of pulling up the entire map screen. Just seeing the screen flip around when you move between doors so you can orient yourself is a neat touch. And even if you're not running and jumping in a traditional sense there are some solid platformer challenges in Dandara, many of which revolve around avoiding enemy attacks while still moving forward. I suppose I should also mention that Dandara includes touch screen controls as well, but I only bring them up to say: don't even bother. It may seem intuitive to flick on the screen in the direction you want to leap, but the touch controls are never fast or accurate enough to compete with the normal control stick/buttons. All of those moments when the game throws tons of obstacles at you at once would only be made completely frustrating if you try to handle them with touch controls. It wouldn't be classic platformer/exploration design without classic visuals to match, would it? Dandara features some gorgeous pixel art that would be right at home on a classic system but still feels fresh and interesting. As already mentioned the backgrounds are peppered with some great visual details, some of which references famous Brazilian art, and the result is satisfyingly surreal. Plus the soundtrack is outstanding—a perfect match for the otherworldly vibe of the game. It's just the right blend of driving rhythmic beats as you explore and battle enemies and slightly eerie melodies as you stumble through bizarre environments. Dandara isn't a terribly long game but it doesn't feel all that short either. There are actually only a handful of areas to explore but with the backtracking and probable deaths/retries the game still comes out to a decent nine or ten hours. There are also plenty of hidden secrets to find, as well as the possibility of grinding XP until you reach maximum power, so it's possible to stretch the game out a bit as well. Additionally, Dandara seems like a prime candidate for speed-running, just like Metroid games, since most upgrades are optional. Overall it's a decent amount of content for your fifteen bucks. Dandara's unique movement puts a whole new spin on Metroidvania exploration while still staying true to the classic structure of the genre. With a bit of practice the ability to jump from surface to surface is a lot of fun, and being able to find something new and entertaining about just moving around the screen speaks to the creativity of the developers. As strong as the concept is though, the execution has some notable faults, mostly with regard to combat that too often feels punishing and somewhat at odds with the fast-paced fluidity of leaping from wall to wall. If you're prepared to stomach the challenges—and fairly frequent deaths/retries—Dandara is a delightful take on a familiar genre. Rating: 8 out of 10 Salts Dandara is available now on the Switch eShop for $14.99
  22. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is available on a Nintendo system. Even after having played through the game I still find this kind of shocking. It was obvious back in 2011, when the game was originally released on other systems, that it wouldn't have worked on the Wii, but more than just hardware limitations there was a sense that a game like Skyrim, a Western developed massive open-world game, just didn't seem to gel with Nintendo's style. There was a certain difference in design philosophy between the two, which also kept a lot of other third-party games at arm's length from Nintendo's systems. But the times, they are a-changin', and when Nintendo officially revealed the Switch in 2016, one of the first games shown in the trailer was Skyrim. And let's be fair, the game is several years old now which represents quite a leap in hardware design, but it's still pretty incredible to see one of the most lauded games of the past decade finally find its way to a Nintendo system. Best of all, it's still a really fun game. There's a good chance that you've already played Skyrim, or at least know the premise, but here's a quick recap: you play as the Dragonborn, an individual with the unique ability to absorb dragons' powers. Your arrival in Skyrim seems destined as the land is plagued with dragon attacks, and only you can stop them. That's just the main story though. The incredible thing about Skyrim is its sheer size, not just in physical locations but in the hundreds of side stories that the game's inhabitants live out. In any open-world sandbox game it's easy to lose yourself in the game's world since there's so much to do, and that's never been more true than in Skyrim. There are a multitude of combat options—even if combat feels a little stiff and repetitive at times—and a whole host of non-combat activities to busy yourself with. The degree of freedom and opportunities for side quests is staggering, and not a little intimidating, but when you throw yourself into Skyrim you'll find yourself engrossed in the game's world for literally hundreds of hours. The base game is still a wonderfully compelling adventure, and this Switch release includes all of the DLC that was added to the game post-release. Additionally, the developers have thrown in a few minor Nintendo touches. Skyrim on Switch supports amiibo, which drops a treasure chest in front of you with a random assortment of goodies. Since you're constantly collecting and hording stuff in Skyrim it can be a nice boost early in the game but after a few hours you'll probably move beyond the need for random goodie bags dropping from the sky. If you use Zelda amiibo you might receive special Zelda equipment—Master Sword, Hylian Shield, and Link's Champion's Tunic from Breath of the Wild. Again, these are pretty useful early on, plus it's just fun to see a lizard man running around with the Master Sword in hand. And don't worry if you don't collect amiibo; the Zelda equipment can also be found by visiting an important location in the main story. This Switch edition of Skyrim also adds motion controls, so you can swing a Joy-Con to swing your sword into your fearsome dragon foes. You can also aim bows or magic spells with the Joy-Cons' motion controls, and even pick locks by rotating the Joy-Cons. But since the game wasn't originally designed for motion controls, swinging the controllers around isn't very comfortable in Skyrim. It's fun for messing around a bit, but playing through the entire game like this would get pretty tiring quickly, and not just physically. Of course, as a Switch game, Skyrim can also be played in handheld mode, which is easily the biggest addition to this version of Skyrim. This is the kind of game that can take over your life while you're playing it, so squeezing in a bit of extra playtime on the bus or even just in the kitchen is a great feature. The game also runs quite well in handheld mode. Obviously everything is a bit smoother when you have the system docked, and dark shadows become even more difficult to see through when playing in handheld mode, but overall the game is perfectly playable on-the-go. I should mention though, as compelling as Skryim still is it also still has plenty of little bugs and glitches, some of which can be pretty problematic if you haven't saved recently (although you can save anywhere, so just remember to save as often as possible). Additionally, Skyrim is really showing its age as an over six-year-old game. Some of the animation is looking pretty stiff these days, and character models are looking rough. Still, the overall aesthetic of the game holds up well, especially since the game is simply so large and transitions between areas pretty smoothly. Even six years after the game's original release it's not hard to see why Skyrim was so highly praised. It remains an incredibly engrossing adventure, one that can last for hundreds of hours, and this Switch version has the benefit of both handheld mode and all of the game's DLC packed in. The other additions for this edition may not be particularly exciting, but the base game has enough content and appeal to keep you glued to your Switch all the same. If you've never taken a trip through this game's snowy landscapes and deadly dungeons this Switch version is a perfect time to do so, and even if you already have you'll probably still enjoy once again exploring every detail Skyrim has to offer. Rating: 9 out of 10 Dovahkiins
  23. Eliwood8

    Sonic Forces Review

    Sonic's history in the world of 3D platforming has had more ups and downs than his iconic rollercoaster level design. At times it seems like the developers find the right balance of speed and platforming, and then there are some games that seem to completely miss what makes a Sonic game fun. Sonic Forces, unfortunately, is one of the low points. The inclusion of both classic 2D stages and an avatar character with unique, customizable abilities does little to balance out the game's fundamental lack of engaging gameplay. Sonic Forces' woes begin with its muddled storytelling. The game opens with Eggman once again harassing Sonic and friends, but this time he has a powerful new ally named Infinite who defeats Sonic and throws him in prison. The story then jumps forward six months, during which time Eggman basically conquers the world, which leads Knuckles, Tails, Amy, and other side characters into building a resistance force. In itself that's not a terrible premise, but the plot moves at such a lightning quick speed that nothing really seems to matter. Sonic is imprisoned, but after the time skip he immediately escapes and starts kicking Eggman butt once again. Knuckles and friends have built up this resistance that mostly lets Sonic deal with actually defeating Eggman's forces. The avatar character is a blank slate and feels completely pointless next to the huge cast of other side characters that could have filled the same role. At one point Sonic is sucked into a black hole trap and then escapes literally eight seconds later—none of the game's events have consequences, and it moves so quickly that it kind of feels like an outline that was shipped out as the final draft. That feeling of unfinished design carries over to the gameplay as well. It feels like the developers couldn't decide what direction to take the game, so they just threw everything into Sonic Forces. There are 3D levels with Sonic, 3D levels with the avatar character who is almost exactly the same as Sonic except he carries a weapon, and 2D levels with classic Sonic. The game suffers for having three different styles of gameplay where none of them feel polished. One of the trickiest aspects of designing a Sonic game is finding the right balance of speed for the hedgehog. He needs to feel fast but not uncontrollable. In Sonic Forces his sense of momentum feels completely off, even in the 2D levels which is particularly baffling considering Sonic's long history with 2D design. In either classic or modern style Sonic will go careening off ledges at the slightest touch, and jumping has a terrible weighty feel that destroys his sense of speed. The controls lack that crucial sense of natural movement—it's just not fun to control Sonic or the avatar in this game. The other aspects of the game don't fare much better. The level design is mixed at best. A few stages have the branching path designs of Sonic's best games, but there are just as many that feel like an almost automated sprint through the level—you might as well put the controller down at times, or just hold it to jump at specific moments. It doesn't help that the game features an online scoreboard that emphasizes speedruns, which makes many levels feel like they are supposed to be rushed through in just a couple of minutes. And the levels with the most significant replay incentives are the avatar levels since you can equip different Wispons which can give you access to different parts of the level. The downside is most of these Wispons are not fun to use at all—it's just another way in which the avatar feels like an unnecessary addition to Sonic's world. The boss design is all over the place as well, in terms of quality and difficulty. The majority of boss fights are so easy they're downright boring. Sonic Forces pits the blue hedgehog against some of his classic opponents from across the franchise's history, but the battles themselves are completely uninspired. Then there's the final boss fight which is pretty decent in design, certainly more complex than many of the early bosses, but is also super difficult, seemingly out of nowhere. Everything about Sonic Forces shows that the developers really didn't have a strong idea of where to take the game, and the result is a hodgepodge of half-baked game design. On a technical level, Sonic Forces does look good. The game runs well and the splashes of movement and action in the background makes the world look satisfyingly lively. However, those flashy background details too often take center stage. The visual design is so busy at times that you can hardly see yourself amidst all of the chaos happening on screen—and of course this is only made worse when you're traveling at top speed. And although the art design of the scenery is pretty good the character designs feel lacking. Sonic and friends all have iconic designs at this point so there's not going to be much variety there, but the avatar creation options all make the avatar look terribly flat and bland. Even with all of the pointless accessories you can unlock to dress up your avatar—and there is a ridiculous amount of unlockable accessories—the avatar's visual design sticks out as much as his pointless gameplay design. Even the soundtrack in Sonic Forces doesn't feel quite on the mark. Too often it feels like a poor imitation of Sonic music rather than an exciting new soundtrack. With such an emphasis on fast, speed run levels it shouldn't be a surprise that Sonic Forces is pretty short. A good four or five hours will see you through the story mode. On the bright side there are plenty of bonus stages, but they don't really improve the basic gameplay problems found in every level. There's also the aforementioned online leaderboard to compare your time with other players, and you can use other people's avatars within levels, despite the fact that there is very little different from one avatar to another. There may be a lot of opportunities to replay the game but you probably won't be compelled to do so. At best, Sonic Forces is a completely uninspired Sonic the Hedgehog game. It introduces nothing significant to the franchise aside from an avatar system that comes across as a half-hearted attempt at appealing to the fan base. At worst, Sonic Forces is a mess of a game, one that desperately tries to throw anything at the wall in the hopes that it'll stick, and in the process fails to even properly recreate classic Sonic elements. It's a shame that after so many years of game releases Sonic still stumbles so much in 3D game design. Rating: 4 out of 10 Hedgehogs
  24. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has a pretty big legacy to live up to. The previous two games in the series were lauded for the massive scope of each adventure, which promised hundreds of hours of gameplay in gorgeous RPG worlds. The original Xenoblade Chronicles in particular is fondly remembered for its surprising size and compelling narrative, whereas Xenoblade Chronicles X tried something a little different, more of a sci-fi adventure, though just as fun. And now, on the Switch, XC2 stands tall as another gigantic game with a detailed, engaging battle system, a unique setting, and beautiful environments to explore. Even though the core elements of the game are similar to the original XC, XC2 offers plenty of new features for players to lose themselves in for hours and hours. Not all of the game's new ideas are entirely positive, but this is still one adventure that RPG fans cannot miss. As far as the plot is concerned, XC2 hits a lot of familiar JRPG and adventure story tropes—plucky young character, Rex, becomes a hero when he meets a mysterious girl, etc. To simplify the entire story down to just that would be a disservice, though. Like the previous XC games the world building is what really draws the player in, and XC2 features a possibly even more inventive and unusual world structure than the original XC. People live on the backs of gargantuan, living titans that move around the ever-shifting cloud sea almost like celestial bodies—it's the kind of fantasy setting that perfectly tickles your imagination. And then there's the idea of Blades, living weapons that bond with a user (called Drivers). The whole mythology surrounding these concepts is fascinating, and XC2 does a good job of both explaining things and leaving certain details up to the player's imagination. So the story begins when Rex bonds with a Blade named Pyra, who is not just a Blade but one of the most powerful Blades in existence. Rex's journey then takes him all across the world as he learns more about a massive war hundreds of years ago, as well as the formation of the world. It's fascinating to just see all of that lore unfold, and I should mention that the characters are quite charming in their own right, even if many of them lean on tropes—and Nopons continue to skirt a very fine line between adorable side kicks and annoying creatures. Even if the main appeal of the game is still it's exploration, the story will keep you well engaged, particularly the last few chapters. Anyone that has played a previous XC game will probably also expect a rich, complicated real-time battle system. Thank goodness the game only gradually introduces its many combat features, since it's probably going to sound ridiculously complex as I try to explain it now. In battle you only control one character (a Driver), who attacks automatically when in range of a targeted enemy. Drivers' weapons are determined by what Blade they currently have equipped—eventually you can equip up to three at once—which also changes the element of your attacks and what Arts (special attacks) you can use. By chaining together Arts in certain elemental combos you can unleash powerful attacks. There are a lot more little details to the combat system but that covers the essentials, and once you're playing you understand a lot of these aspects better. The combat system is clearly geared toward longer battles since it can take some time to build up good combo chains, so combat tends to be more satisfying during boss fights when you really have to keep an eye on every aspect of the battle. What's more unique to XC2 is the way Blades change your approach to battle, especially in the way some Blades are geared toward attacking, defending, or healing. Blades also have their own skill trees that grow the more you use them, so mixing up your line-up can help you unlock each Blade's potential. In an almost Pokémon-style way it's pretty addictive to try out every Blade and see how they are best used in combat. And like past XC games it's possible to run into high-level enemies anywhere in the game. Battling a monster a few levels above you is also a good way to add some challenge and depth to the battle system, as long as they aren't too high leveled. XC2's combat is equal measures of planning and then reacting with a well timed strike or button press, and it's a lot of fun when everything comes together well. However, it seems like the developers realized that longer battles are a lot more fun than the quick ones, and as a result most enemies have a ton of health, which can be a bit of a drag when you're fighting a monster twenty levels below you but it still takes a long time to finish off. It can make some battles a bit tedious. So, Drivers equip Blades to use in battle, but where do you get Blades? This is another unfortunately tedious aspect of the game, one where the developers stretch things out in an already incredibly long game. Some Blades you'll earn through the story or through specific side quests, but the majority are unlocked randomly from items called Core Crystals. You'll collect Core Crystals throughout your adventure but you won't know what Blade is inside until you bond with it—it's a randomized, Gacha Game system. On one hand the random element means that two players can end up having significantly different playthroughs based on the Blades they unlock, especially early on, which is a really neat way of allowing players to discover their own preferred play styles. But on the other hand, having no control over the Blades you unlock gets tedious pretty quickly, and is made all the more annoying by the long animation that plays every time you "open" a Core Crystal. Over the course of the adventure you'll end up with hundreds of common Blades as you try over and over to find a more valuable rare Blade. By the end of the game, I guarantee you'll find the whole format completely obnoxious. Aside from the complex battle system the other key aspect of a XC game is massive environments. Exploration feels a bit more segmented in XC2 since you travel from one Titan to another as you progress through the game but even so, the scenery is huge and it's a blast to just wander out into it—just watch out for those high level monsters. All of those varied environments are complemented by tons of side quests to complete—rare Blades all have unique side quests attached to them as well—plus tons of items to collect and scavenge. Like so many games XC2 fosters that impulse to collect everything you can as you explore. Also, once you have a bunch of common Blades cluttering up your Blade menu, you can put them to work in Mercenary missions to earn some bonus money and items for you. As the game progresses you'll end up micromanaging a ton of stuff but there's always more to see and it's hard to say no to that call of adventure. And this is only tangentially related to the game's sense of exploration but I have to compliment the fast loading times for such a large game, and that includes fast-travel. It really does help make the game feel seamless. In a game as big as this, there are a handful of other small aspects that are pretty annoying as you play, even if they are fairly minor aspects of the overall adventure. For example, Blades can use field skills while you're exploring in order to reach hidden areas or unlock treasure chests. What can be a little annoying is that you need to have the appropriate Blade equipped to use its field skill, which leads to a lot of swapping Blades just to reach one platform or unlock one chest—not really a huge issue but an unnecessary aspect of the game. There's also a specific Blade that can only unlock new equipment by playing a mini-game over and over—again, needlessly repetitive. Or there's the complete lack of direction on finding specific collectibles or specific monsters needed to level up a Blade's skill tree. There are a lot of these little touches that can make the game irritating at times, but none of them really drag down the experience as a whole. The last key component for a XC game: beautiful visuals. A big part of what makes exploration so compelling is how gorgeous the environments are, especially in the way that they feel like living, breathing ecosystems and not just scenery for the game's narrative. One might argue that XC2 has fewer standout environments than its predecessors, but that doesn't mean the graphics are at all lacking. There are still a lot of gorgeous locales to lose yourself in, as well as a lot of fun character designs, especially with so may different Blades. The rare Blades that aren't key to the game's story were designed by a number of different artists and it's neat to see that variety in a single game. In addition to great visuals XC2 has a killer soundtrack as well, and thanks to the size of the game there is a ton of music to enjoy, from intense battle songs to adventurous exploration tunes. Although oddly there is still one annoying little issue that often happened in XCX: the music plays over the voice acting during some cutscenes. Overall the English voice acting is pretty solid too—some lines fall flat, though more often than not it's down to the awkwardness of pairing English words with animation designed for Japanese. Still, it's kind of fun to hear the variety of accents used in XC2. It helps add a little believability to the differences in the various Titan nations. Just finishing the story will last you probably at least sixty or seventy hours, but more likely your playtime will be far beyond that thanks to all of the side quests, Blade collecting, and just plain sheer size of XC2. Because of the way Blades work you technically have a pool of dozens of characters that can all individually be used, trained, equipped, and have special side quests attached to them. To 100% complete this game would be a pretty Herculean task, but the mark of a good game is that all of those hours spent fly by, and that's definitely true here. You can play for hours and not realize it, because there's always something else pulling you back into the game. And when you're in the middle of the adventure, you won't mind watching those hours melt away. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a game made for the fans that loved all of the combat elements and exploration of the first two games. At its core, this game is more of that winning formula, with new characters to adventure alongside and a new world to explore with its own rich backstory and secrets. The new Blades system offers up tons of gameplay variability and strategy depth, and contributes to the unbelievable length of the game, even if unlocking rare Blades is a more tedious than it should be. Still, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the kind of RPG that will keep you wholly engaged for weeks if not months, and RPG fans will love losing themselves in this adventure. Rating: 9 out of 10 Blades
  25. Eliwood8

    Doom Review

    Of all the games to release on the Switch in its first year, who could have predicted that Doom would grace Nintendo's portable/console hybrid? Not just for its M-rated content, but for its specific brand of brutal and bloody M-rated content that truly revels in its own gory combat. Doom is a unique brand of visceral action and, putting aside any comparisons to how the game might run on other hardware, Doom on the Switch delivers on all fronts. As the game begins you awaken in an empty room in a research facility on Mars. The Union Aerospace Corporation has opened a portal to Hell in order to draw power and solve Earth's energy crisis, but wouldn't you know it, demons have poured through the portal and are decimating the facility. It's up to you to stop the rampaging demons and send them back to Hell. For a Doom game, you might assume that's enough of a plotline, and for the most part that's all you really need to know, but there are still more details that make the game's infrequent cutscenes pretty interesting. The player character may not be terribly deep—though it is a nice nod to the series that you are once again playing the iconic Doomguy, this time called the Doom Slayer—but the game's universe is interesting and worth exploring. There's one thing you should always expect from a Doom game: tons of vicious, bloody action. This latest entry in the series doesn't disappoint on that front. In addition to the general mayhem of gunning down hordes of demons, Doom features brutal melee finishers called glory kills. You need to be up close and personal with a dazed demon to execute the attack, which can be dangerous, but in addition to just plain looking cool glory kills reward you with health, so they can be worthwhile attacks. They also speak to the fast-paced philosophy of this Doom game. This isn't the type of FPS where you hide behind cover and snipe your enemies from a distance. You need to be constantly on the move, gunning down monsters, punching them in face, and dodging their attacks. The rapid fluidity of battle can be disorienting at first—glory kills in particular can be a little rough on your eyes since, when the animation finishes, you often end up looking in a different direction than where you started—but after a bit of practice with it the hectic nature of the combat is actually quite satisfying. It's visceral action, and exciting to play from the first enemy encounter to the last. The bane of modern FPS games is corridor level design. Too many shooters put you on narrow paths where you dash from cover to cover, popping off shots between waiting for your health to regenerate. Doom has none of these weaknesses. The level design here is fantastically elaborate, with branching, interconnected paths and tons of secrets to find. You're never at a loss for things to investigate, which is an all too rare treat in FPS design anymore. The secrets are well-worth finding as well. Doom has quite an elaborate upgrade system, from weapon mods to health/armor boosters, and taking the time to survey your surroundings often rewards you with such upgrades. The only annoying aspect of Doom's exploration is that oftentimes there are points of no return with no warning, and with the auto-saving checkpoint system you can easily accidentally lock yourself out of sections of the map in each level. It's not a terrible hassle to replay a level but it is rather inconvenient. In addition to a pretty lengthy single-player campaign—which also has the added replay value of multiple difficulty settings and a score-chasing arcade mode—Doom offers online multiplayer. Many of the usual multiplayer game features are available here, including old standbys like Team Deathmatch and modern features like leveling up to unlock new equipment. There are also a few unique features as well, though these can be a little daunting to new players, such as the ability to transform into a demon during a match. However, the fast-paced action of Doom's gameplay makes for a somewhat rocky multiplayer system. Any slight delay between players can really make things rough on your aim when everyone is zipping around so quickly. Your mileage may vary depending upon your internet connection but in my experience the gameplay seemed to be too fast for the actual multiplayer infrastructure. Visually, Doom is everything you would expect. Several levels literally take place in Hell, and the landscape is suitably demonic, and the monsters themselves are delightfully horrific (though still clearly based on classic Doom enemies). Overall though the game's setting doesn't lend itself to a ton of variety in the visuals, which is a bit of a shame since what you do see looks pretty great. And of course the fast-paced action is complemented by a heart-pounding soundtrack—just the kind of intense music you want while tearing demons apart with a chainsaw. There is one huge problem with the presentation though, and it's a glitch that is still prevalent two months after the game's initial release. Occasionally the sound cuts out entirely, and other times you'll get a sharp blaring noise for a split second. These issues can pop up seemingly at random, and you'll have to restart a checkpoint to fix the audio when it goes silent. These glitches may not affect the gameplay but they are extremely distracting when they happen in the middle of a fight. Doom is everything you'd expect it to be: an intense FPS with brutal combat around every corner. What might be surprising though is how well that formula is used in this game. This is far from mindless action. The fast-paced gameplay is thrilling but it also changes the way you approach battles and encourages a true understanding of your surroundings. The level design makes exploration not only rewarding in terms of power-ups but engaging in its own right. The multiplayer system is somewhat less unique and exciting but it still scratches an itch for a bit of classic competitive gameplay. Aside from a few technical issues Doom on the Switch is an intense and intensely satisfying experience. Rating: 8 out of 10 Demons