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TalkBack / Aeolis Tournament (Switch) Review
« on: August 16, 2020, 05:13:21 PM »

Grab your portable cannon and destroy basically anything that moves.

The art of a strong multiplayer game can be hard to convey. The Nintendo Switch offers games of all shapes and sizes, and finding one that does the multiplayer trick isn't easy. Aeolis Tournament gets a lot of fundamentals right like simple controls, a nice selection of modes, and very goofy characters. That being said, it lacks the variety needed to make it a truly outstanding game.

In Aeolis Tournament, players control a variety of goofy characters that include pirates and two-legged animals. You will hold an air cannon that acts differently each time, depending on the event you are playing. For example, the player will find themself in a Snowball Battle, shooting at your foes with full power. This is really where the power of Aeolis Tournament shows itself. You move around, see what the gun does this time and start playing. Particularly with people who play smaller games, you will find that they quickly adapt to the play style. With support for up to eight people and a Joy-Con at the ready, Aeolis Tournament knows how to make a first impression.

The game has six events in total, with half being solo and the others being team based. It isn't hard to quickly find a favorite. For me, I got heavily into ''Sportsball,'' which is basically Soccer/Football. Another positive was ''Marble Thief,'' where you collect as many marbles as possible and place them into your own goal. As unique as these options are, the same simple gun mechanic is stretched real thin. Even though some smaller things do change, the primary action alters very little. If the air cannon's ideas were further apart, I don't think anyone would've noticed. However, you press the same buttons and the steps don't change at all. That is where Aeolis Tournament could've stood out more.

The game tries to keep players locked in with power-ups and goals to shoot for, which is neat at least. With the goals, players are tasked with shooting a number of players or not even shooting at all. I mostly found myself going for these goals as they kept me on the edge of my seat. The power-ups really depend on the game you are playing. More range and faster movements can be nice, but it can really screw up your path to victory, particularly in moments where precision is a requirement.

Aeolis Tournament can be played both locally and online, with easy to set up options on both ends. With the matches being short, you can easily get a good number of rounds in. The game threw everything it had in an afternoon, which isn't particularly bad. It ran fine overall, with characters and environments having a simple look. Frankly, I don't remember the soundtrack even one bit, simply because the tunes weren't that exciting to begin with.

Aeolis Tournament is a fine multiplayer outing. While the modes could've been more diverse, I did enjoy playing the game with friends. You got your rounds in pretty fast, particularly since there is barely a learning curve. Aeolis Tournament, in that sense, is for those in need of something simple and direct. Naturally, you can go for additional goals and power-ups, but the core works well enough for an hour or two. Frankly, I can't see myself keeping it long in my rotation, but the game works well for how long it lasts.

TalkBack / Sudoku Relax 5: Full Bloom (Switch) Review
« on: August 10, 2020, 05:03:29 AM »

Crunching the numbers in about 300 ways.

Everybody has a game series they are known for. Take Jupiter for example. They are mostly known as the guys that make Picross, a craft that they nailed to perfection. In the Nintendo Switch space, you have more developers with that same approach. Rucky Games is perhaps a name you haven't heard before, but they have a puzzle series to call their own. Over the last year and change, they have developed five Sudoku Relax titles. Each of them gives you instant access to 300 puzzles, spread across three difficulties. Every game takes on a different theme with music and effects to boot. The result, a surprising amount of value for money.

Sudoku is a puzzle form that is extremely relaxing for me. It is something you can put on, finish a bunch in rapid succession and feel completely satisfied. It is about making it click in your head and ensuring that all the numbers line up. Sudoku Relax encourages that style of game, giving you the tools to look over the puzzle at a glance. The player can quickly select the number with the shoulder buttons, see what has been filled in and go from there. The whole set-up is effective, leaving you always two steps ahead.

With 300 puzzles, you will always have to wonder if the quality of the brainbusters hold true. What I found with Sudoku Relax 5 is that the curve is quite elegant. The game kicks off with puzzles that can be completed in two hours, and quickly gives you less clues over time. Even a novice at Sudoku can pick up on the signs and learn as they go. The puzzles have variety, which is always a concern when theming remains the same throughout.

That is perhaps the biggest negative when it comes to Sudoku Relax. The theming is nice, though quite underplayed. It remains the same pinkish background, with more effects and music becoming available over time. The synth music isn't half-bad, though the effects can be a bit overbearing sometimes. The game becomes active every time you fill in a line, wrap a number or complete a block. Particularly at the end of a puzzle, too much happens in quick succession. Sadly, there is no option to turn them off.

Sudoku Relax 5 Full Bloom offers a lot of value. With 300 puzzles, players will be engaged for quite a while and have simple fun throughout. The controls are quite solid, though the effects in the background can be a bit too much. What's worse is that you can't turn them off. I find that quite an oversight, particularly how much the effects play a role in all of this. Still though, if you love some Sudoku, this game can do no wrong.

TalkBack / KUUKIYOMI 2: Consider It More! - New Era (Switch) Review
« on: August 06, 2020, 05:00:56 PM »

100 Japanese scenarios, two players and a lot of consideration.

G-Mode is known for releasing some of the weirder Nintendo Switch eShop titles. Some don't make a lot of sense, but that is also the fun part here. The games are so distinctly Japanese that you can't help but smile. Case in point, KUUKIYOMI. The original was a fast paced 100 round challenge in which you tried to be considerate to other people. There wasn't a wrong way to play the game, though you would be rated on your experiences. Now, the developers return with the same concept in KUUKIYOMI 2: Consider It More! - New Era. An oddity that somehow managed to be stranger than what came before.

In short, KUUKIYOMI is about assessing your surroundings and acting the way you see fit. In your first playthrough, you go from situation to situation and act with no prior knowledge of what is going to happen. Just like the first game, there are 100 situations where there are different controls and a limited time frame. There is no fail state, so regardless of what you do, you will move on to the next ordeal. After every five minigames, the game rates you on how considerate you are. To be honest, I’m not sure what calculates the metric, so I just smile and move on.

The situations are quite Japanese, so the way you have to act might throw you off. The way you hold up signs, portray yourself to others or respond might leave you questioning things. This confusion carries on when you reach the end and get a gigantic report card of everything you've done in this hour and a half run. KUUKIYOMI 2 is bewildering for the time that it lasts. At the end of the day, I think that is the beauty of it all. There is, however, little that will drive you to actually try and be competitive in some way.

That being said, what is there to do beyond the brief campaign mode? Well, you can showcase the game to your friend with the Quick Consider It option, which randomly selects ten games. Once they are used to the absurdity, you can work together in the Consider It Together mode, where brand new two player situations await you. You will also unlock Extras, Chapter Mode and Secrets by finishing the main campaign. All of this iterates on what happens in the main course, but there is at least a little bit of replay value. Extras in particular gives you access to two endless minigames that are surprisingly fun.

KUUKIYOMI 2: Consider It More! - New Era is an oddity. You are placed in very Japanese situations, and it is up to you to react. There isn't a real incentive for you to try hard as there is no fail state during your journey. That being said, I did smile throughout my time with the game and that counts for something. I can't imagine that many players will stick around long after the campaign concludes, but there are at least a few reasons to return now and again. All in all, this is made for the audience that can eat anything Japanese and those will adore what this thing does.

TalkBack / Madoris R (Switch) Review
« on: August 05, 2020, 10:56:28 AM »

The smallest surprises come in square shaped packages.

The name Madoris R really doesn't give you much to chew on. In Japanese, “Madori” translates to “house layout,” which is what this game is all about. You are a new employee at an architect firm, placing your layout across the playing field. Madoris R is a quest for survival: keep looking ahead and clearing lines until you end up stuck. It is a simple, endless puzzler that immediately knows how to grab the player.

Like I said in the opener, you place house rooms within a gigantic square puzzle environment. By lining the rooms up horizontally or vertically on the playing field, the lines will start to disappear and points will be earned. Madoris R is all about finding the correct placement, which might sound difficult from the outset. Luckily, you aren't completely on your own as the game does give you bombs. These allow you to make a last ditch effort, and bust out those game- ending moments.

The more you play, the more ranks and points you earn. The game doesn't have a distinct end goal, so you keep going until you run out of space. You can rotate blocks and quickly clear lines that way, or keep placing them in quick succession to create a grander challenge. Madoris R judges you all the same, and it all comes down to preference. Developer Caerux relies on this one mode to carry the game, and they managed to do so very well.

That being said, my only real problem with Madoris R is that there are no online leaderboards. Local scores will be saved, allowing you to better your runs, but you can't compare your score with others. This limits the amount of fun you can have as you don't feel inclined to keep setting new high scores. Online functionality would've made this one note puzzler a much better deal.

As it stands though, Madoris R is a very fun endless puzzler. The game has a great hook that challenges players to think inside and outside the box. I was constantly rotating rooms, and giving them enough space to account for the weirder patterns. Those, together with a great soundtrack, really give off that ''one more try'' feel. It’s just a shame about the lack of online leaderboards, huh?

TalkBack / Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia (Switch) Review
« on: August 04, 2020, 03:21:57 AM »

Now and again, you have to take some Risks to prevail.

There is no shortage of tactical Role Playing Games on Nintendo systems. Many are familiar with the Fire Emblem games, but there are far more obscure offerings that are worth your time. Case in point, Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia, which is a follow-up to an original PlayStation classic. The game takes cues from the board game Risk, and does so to some surprising heights.

The kicker with Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is that the story isn't all that deep. The continent of Runersia is uneasy due to the Brigandines, relics that bestow incredible powers on their wielders. Six nations are trying to take control of the relics, other territories, and ultimately the world. With you controlling one of the six, it is up to you to bring harmory back to Runersia. During your conquest, you will take over land and receive details between missions. The information is kept remarkably brief, and the player is left to fill in the blanks with their own interpretation of events. At minimum, you will get an understanding of why everybody is fighting, but nothing goes beyond that.

Like I said up front, the game can be compared to Risk and that is frankly a good thing. The goal is to take over enemy territories. The tactical RPG uses a hex grid, allowing you to see it all from a glance. The battles can take fairly long, taking multiple units attacks and level ups into account. In addition, there are goals you have to meet like destroying every enemy commander or taking over the opponent's base. Despite the length of missions, I was engaged by the details. Commanders bring their creatures into battles, adding effects like buffs. It is also possible to exploit your opponent's moves by learning their strategies, which have been kept on approachable loops.

With every nation having their own campaign, you will need to work within the limitations of each one. Between missions, the commander can take on some quests or training. This will net you additional experience needed for level-ups or class changes. Of course, you could always move on to the next base and see how things go from there. By taking over a base, players get access to new monsters to summon for their causes and gain additional mana. The mana is a necessity to maintain the strength among your troops. All of these smaller benefits together can easily make or break your progress, so you constantly need to stay ahead.

The presentation is good, but not overly strong. The drawn art and UI elements are superb and deserve all the praise they can possibly get. The models, found on the battlefield, are somewhat underwhelming. While colorful, it feels like the models come from a few generations back and they don't change much throughout. The audio, on the other hand, is fantastic. Every nation has their own pieces of music that really fit the theming of each one. There is also great Japanese voice acting that genuinely makes this style of RPG tick.

Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is a really fun game. The Risk-like strategy gameplay is quite enjoyable and makes sitting through the six campaigns a breeze. Both on and off the battlefield, there is a lot to tinker with, giving you the freedom to play the game by your design. The battles can take a little long, though it never really bothered me. That being said, the models and story could definitely be a bit better. Nothing reaches below par, but some polish would've made this adventure even more memorable.

TalkBack / Death Come True (Switch) Review
« on: August 03, 2020, 09:25:00 PM »

A gripping story, one choice at a time.

Death Come True is the latest game from Danganronpa creator Kazutaka Kodaka. Instead of traditional game design, however, the lad went for a full length FMV movie. And when I say FMV movie, it is one of the most eccentric found within the genre. While western versions rely on their campiness, this Japanese drama throws you from one abstract point to the next. It makes for compelling content, despite its length only warranting two playthroughs.

I really want to refrain myself from telling you too many plot details. Not only will it give the progression away, but it also ruins some of the magic. Here is what you need to know. The player steps into the shoes of Makoto Karaki, who wakes suddenly in a hotel room. From here, he will need to make a series of choices that will have instant consequences. Why is he in the hotel room, and what is unfolding in the world around him? That's up to you to find out.

Simply put, I really enjoyed the performances in Death Come True. The characters are believable, despite the odd stuff that you come across. Makoto Karaki is constantly unsure of himself, trying to piece everything together. In that sense, he is the perfect protagonist for this story. The player can project the unknowns onto him as you figure out what happens next together.

The controls are quite simple, too. You are provided two or more choices that will send you off in somewhat different directions. Even when you screw up, though, you’re always learning a new side of the characters that you didn't know before. You are even encouraged to follow these paths on two or more playthroughs. It is near impossible to see everything the game throws at you on your first runthrough.

In total, I spent roughly four hours with everything Death Come True has on offer. In addition to the two playthroughs I did, there is bonus material if you meet certain conditions. This includes some behind-the-scenes stuff as well as some additional goodies. That being said, with everything the game threw at me, I felt like I'd seen everything in an afternoon. Personally, I don't feel compelled to return as the experience really feels like a one-and-done deal.

The movie's quality and various UI elements are quite well done. You won't get lost or confused, and the game knows how to push the action along. Add to that a gripping soundtrack and you get something that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Death Come True is a great FMV game from a creative mind. The characters and choices you make are really interesting, and everything is wrapped up quite nicely. I don't think players will have anything to return to in the long term, but the experience is enjoyable while it lasts. Hop into a strange hotel and let the journey take care of you.


You won't believe what this pen can do!

In an interview with the eShop Action Committee podcast, Jens Andersson  discusses the reasoning behind the Colors Live Kickstarter and tech behind the Colors SonarPen.

The Kickstarter, which launched May 13, sees a new version of the popular Nintendo 3DS application coming to Nintendo Switch. At the time of writing, the software is over 700% funded, ensuring that the it will launch later this summer.

In this interview, Andersson claims that the software will be send off to Nintendo soon for inspection. We have two longer quotes for you below, with more information being offered in the full audio interview.

Daan Koopman: You are bringing Colors to the Nintendo Switch. How did that idea come about, and what lead you to the creation of the Kickstarter?

Jens Andersson: It was a fairly long journey. So, because the 3DS community is still active, there is always this constant like ''oh we should bring this to the Switch''. Which kind of makes sense, because it was both a critical and commercial hit on the 3DS.

But, there is no stylus on the Switch. It would still make sense financially and everything, but it is no fun working on something that wouldn't be better than the previous incarnation. I needed to find something to either add as a feature that made it stand out or solve the fundamental issue that there was no stylus.

One of the guys that we worked with on the 3DS version manufactures styluses. He contacted me, saying that ''Okay, I have a new stylus that I've been working on. It is a little more complex than the previous, which was pretty much a plastic mold.'' He wanted me to add support for it, for the Colors software on iOS and Android.

It was this really interesting idea of a very simple stylus, but still have pressure sensitivity by jacking it into the audio jack. It basically communicates with the stylus through the audio jack and you get pressure sensitivity out of it. I said: ''Sure, I could add to iOS and Android, but it solves my problems for the Switch so maybe we can do something here.''

Suddenly that opened up the possibility of making a better version of Colors on the Switch than there had been on any previous device. Bringing back pressure sensitivity, and having a really nice painting tool. Suddenly the project was viable in my mind.

After that the issue was the eShop, because: "how can I sell this?". It is software, but it is also hardware. I talked to Nintendo. I went to them with the idea to sell it as an in-app purchase. People would download the software but they would also pay for the stylus (a big Buy Stylus button) and we ship it to them. But they looked at me blankly asking: ''You wanna sell hardware in the eShop?'' They did not like that. And I can totally understand their objections in terms of warranty, who is responsible for things, and all that. Nintendo is often conservative, and this is a very small product. Nothing like triple-A games or stuff like that. They wouldn't change the store to accommodate me. I get that.

But they did help us with trying to find a solution. We talked about physical goods publishers and other ways. In the end they told me: ''You can sell the stylus, that is not a problem. And we can sort of find the balance on how that should work.'' I talked to physical good publishers about doing a physical version of Colors and there was some interest, but it was still a risky proposition. We are an unproven thing.

Daan Koopman: You wouldn't say its unproven, considering your track record, but...

Jens Andersson: Yeah, but you'd be surprised how little track record means in terms of...

Daan Koopman: That's a bummer.

Jens Andersson:  It's okay! It is kind of fair. You still need a good product and everyone makes bad things once in a while. [laughs] That's part of making good things. You make lots of stupid stuff and then you find something that works and finish that. That's the idea, right.

Anyway, all those things lead to the Kickstarter. Because it really solved the issue of selling the software and hardware in a bundle. I could do it in way that people could understand. It is a Kickstarter and it is is sort of like pre-ordering as well as supporting an idea. Luckily we had this amazing community  so we could reach out to them. It just seemed like a good idea and we made it happen!

Daan Koopman: So, you need to explain some stuff about that pressure sensitive pen. It plugs in to the headphone jack, correct? Explain that to me.

Jens Andersson: Correct. It is a half meter cable that plugs into the audio jack, and technically it pretends to be a headset. So, in Colors, I actually plays a tone through the audio. A tone of about 8000 hertz goes through the cable to the tip of the pen. There is a resistor in there as well that dampens the tone depending on the amount of pressure that is applied to the tip of the pen. This vibration goes back to the Switch through the  internal microphone of the pen, which measures the volume of the sound. That calculates the pressure used on the screen. So the touch is recorded by the screen as normal, but the pressure goes through that thing. It is an ingenious idea. It sound weird explaining it, but it really works. Elton, the person who created this is really clever and the pen works really well. The precision you get out of it is basically analogue. The levels of precision makes it feel very much like a Wacom pen. It's so cool and there are no batteries in there either. It is durable and fairly cheap to produce. Especially compared to the Apple Pen which is almost a hundred bucks. We sell the software and hardware together for 39 on the Kickstarter. It's so much fun. I've never done hardware before, so this is exciting.

Be sure to listen to the complete interview over on the eShop Action Committee podcast. Let us know if you backed the Kickstarter for Colors Live!

TalkBack / 51 Worldwide Games (Switch) Review
« on: June 07, 2020, 07:00:00 AM »

Multiple people may not find their fix, but these 51 games are perfect for one-on-one action. UPDATED: Now with a score!

51 Worldwide Games, known in America as Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics, is one incredible prospect. With 51 classic games in a singular package, there is a lot on offer for those who play well with others. While not every single game is an instant hit, there is a lot of good to be found in this massive collection from around the world. Sports, board games, card games and fun oddities are all present for some long nights of fun!

Let's begin with addressing what is the biggest flaw of this game: the overall lack of 3- and 4-player games on a singular system. Honestly, it is completely understandable that some may find that hard to swallow. With a mere three options (Ludo, Blackjack and Chinese Checkers), your whole experience basically comes down to taking turns. When playing with others using multiple Nintendo Switch systems, being it locally or online, that side of things becomes a lot more palpable. Still, though, Nintendo and developer NDCube certainly could have expanded the offerings here.

However, outside of that specific bubble, I can't ignore how much fun I had with 51 Worldwide Games. The selection of games is inspired with a little something for everyone. All but the four single-player games can be enjoyed with a friend, allowing for some long multiplayer sessions. With a family member at the ready, we found that at least half of the games resonated with us. Some games work better with others, but there is overall little annoyance or dissatisfaction. The biggest hit in our circles were the Toy sports games. Toy Baseball made us lose our minds against impossible odds, while Toy Football/Soccer proved to have more depth than a regular foosball table.

In addition, I discovered many games for the first time, which made me even happier. Thanks to Clubhouse Games, I finally got the hang of Hanafuda. Well, more specifically the game ''Koi Koi''. The title does a great job explaining the various aspects of some of the more obscure games. The explanations within Hanafuda and Shogi made me actively a better player, even if it took some trial and error. Speaking of learning, most games offer cheat sheets or assist functions to help guide you through unknown waters. The developers wanted to make it as welcoming as possible, which they pulled off to great effect.

The only major game that didn't click with us was Ludo. For the many rule sets and options that these games have, Ludo felt awfully slow. This is not a board game problem as games like Chinese Checkers, Chess and Shogi work perfectly in most situations. Most of the games allow you to tweak rules, change winning conditions and in some rare cases change up the design. Ludo's failure is that you can't speed up the process when playing with others, making for a game that takes forever to get going. In the same respects, Darts didn't grab me personally. While others in my family enjoyed it, I simply couldn't get the control scheme down.

Outside of the many multiplayer offerings, there is a decent amount to do as a single-player. Every game offers specific goals for you to shoot for, which translates in fun facts and a more completed medal chart. The medals and records are even represented on your profile, allowing you to brag and challenge your friends even further. This makes the lack of more global leaderboards a slight bummer. That being said, it is remarkably rewarding to beat the AI on every difficulty level. The highest CPU difficulty, Impossible, has a chance of making you cry. When you make one mistake in say Matching, the AI is relentless and finishes you off right away. As mentioned before, there are some single-player games as well. Sliding Puzzle, Mahjong Solitaire, Klondike Solitaire and Spider Solitaire are almost endlessly replayable. They are a fun companion when you're looking to play something quick, or waiting for your next online match.

Speaking of which, let us talk about the wireless and online multiplayer options. With multiple copies of the game, nearly most of the games can be enjoyed across multiple Nintendo Switch units. That being said, there is a free Guest Edition available for seven games that can't be enjoyed on a singular system. Most of the card games and Riichi Mahjong would be completely pointless otherwise. This way, you can still do almost everything, regardless of how you want to play. When it comes to online, I mostly had positive experiences. No matter if I played internationally or with someone in Europe, the connection was mostly able to keep up. There were a number circumstances where the gameplay suffered from heavy lag, but that didn't stop me having from fun. This didn't happen often enough to hamper my overall experience.

51 Worldwide Games has a quite a clean look. Players can select their games from a globe with game guides, a row with detailed information or a screen filled with icons. Regardless of how you play, it is easy to hop into a game and go. Every game comes with a little introduction from a family, who give you a general overview of the game you're about to play. The four characters will sneak in some hints, and help you give the first important pointers. The games themselves look very lively, with nice backgrounds and effects. Some might call it realistic, but overall, Clubhouse Games does look real crisp. There is some great background music as well. The Four-in-a-Row, globe and introduction/credits songs immediately come to mind.

51 Worldwide Games really came as a surprise. With 51 games to choose from, I wasn't lacking in choice. More than half of the games I kept playing almost every day, with others being picked up ever so often. Naturally, there could've been more 3- or 4-player offerings for you to play, but that doesn't diminish the fun we had. What helps is that the games are well represented, offer small tweaks and offer crucial information for newcomers. In a multiplayer setting, be it locally or far away, this game is one of the better offerings on Nintendo Switch to date. This is where many will get the most mileage out of this new Clubhouse entry.

TalkBack / Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition (Switch) Review
« on: May 27, 2020, 02:00:00 AM »

A RPG classic has finally found its true home on Nintendo Switch.

Xenoblade Chronicles has always been one of those games that I adored. From its initial release in Japan until now, I've been raving about the many things the game did right. Even then, however, the adventure did have its fair share of faults, like menus that proved challenging. In 2020, the Definitive Edition makes me remember how it felt playing the original Xenoblade: those first moments on the Gaur Plain, Shulk's lovable personality, and a battle system that I truly adore. It is only when you take a closer peek that the changes made become clear. You get all the positives from before, plus the knowledge Monolith Soft has obtained over the last decade. The result is a game that flew by in the blink of an eye.

The journey of Xenoblade Chronicles can be described in one word: hope. After an attack on his village, Colony 9, the main character Shulk sets off to find out why the robotic Mechon have grown hostile. This will take Shulk all over the two gigantic landmasses, trying to understand what is happening in the world around him. His attitude is something to be admired; he’s trying to see the best in people and ensure that everything turns out okay. The sword he wields, the Monado, lets him see into the future, and that is used heavily throughout the plot. Along the way, he meets other likeable characters that really make the adventure stand out. Everyone gets their moments to shine, but Melia is likely my favorite out of the bunch. Her arc is filled with conflict, resentment, and the feeling of belonging somewhere. It’s incredibly gripping.

The British voice acting is one of my absolute highlights surrounding Xenoblade Chronicles. It doesn't matter if you're meeting simple NPCs or hard-hitting foes, the voice tracks get me pumped every time. Shulk's best buddy Reyn chews the scenery a lot, and the game is all the better for it. At the same time, Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't overdo it and has for the most part believable performances that are a joy to behold. Sharla's arc, which emphasizes the harsh realities of the Mechon war, creates some intriguing moments very early on. The harmony of performance and story can't be overstated and makes for a plot that never comes to a standstill. For a while, it may seem that the journey takes a straight line to the end, but the twists and turns make for a top-tier RPG experience.

When it comes to gameplay, you can basically split everything up into three parts: exploring, questing, and battling. At the center of Xenoblade Chronicles lies a game with an open-world blueprint. You can head off in any direction you like, with a day and night cycle being the deciding factor on who or what you will encounter. I found myself going back to locations multiple times as quests, monsters, and people work on this clock system. The power of discovering those details is what drives Xenoblade's experience as you complete quests and collect items. It wasn't hard to find something to do and this serves as a great breather from the main story line. Everything you do is rewarding, which makes that step away from the main path so worthwhile.

The majority of my playing time was spent playing through quests. These range from defeating monsters, collecting specific materials, or interacting with non-player characters. In the Nintendo Wii version of Xenoblade Chronicles, this required a lot of effort as information wasn't well presented. In addition, you were left to your own devices in terms of finding the locations you needed to visit. The Definitive Edition changes everything, and brings the quest system more in line with other entries in the series. You can choose which quest you want to shoot for, make that your active quest, and follow instructions to where you need to go. If the item or person is unavailable, the menu will let you know that, too, ensuring that you won't waste any time in your journey. This is such a big improvement over the original, with the Quest Log just being two button clicks away.

The battle system is simple in its design principles, which make them not too hard to learn. The player moves around the enemy, and your character automatically attacks throughout the process. The urgency comes not only from placing your character right, but throwing in the bigger moves at the exact right moment. Each character available will gradually get access to a variety of offensive and defensive Battle Arts abilities that will change the way you play. Everything comes down to how you want to approach battles, though finding a balance in the Arts is crucial. Shulk's Monado attacks are critical in most situations, while Sharla can heal anybody in an instant with her rifle. These two are likely the characters I got the most usage out of in general.

Outside of its fun gameplay quirks, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is defined by its changes. The way that the various menus were set up on Wii and New Nintendo 3DS was less than desirable. As someone who prefers to get upgrading and changes done quickly, it took a while to get everything sorted. The new main menu brings everything together in an accessible place, allowing me to swap between screens on a whim. You can clearly see this with the ''Change Equipment'' screen, where details and options are better presented. The player can quickly swap gear, see the effects of gems and armor, and make that snap decision to keep trucking. The upgraded Affinity Chart gives you more information on the location as well as what items NPCs are currently offering to trade. In addition, you can track individuals, allowing you to find them much easier for the crucial matters at hand.

The battle screens also reaffirm the changes the developers made. Critical information, like the health of your allies, has been made smaller. This makes it take up less of the screen, allowing you to see the battlefield with less overall clutter. Just like the other Xenoblade games, the enemy information is now at the top of the screen. While there are smaller status bars and icons for everybody within the battle radius, they overlap less and are much easier to read in the heat of the moment. I lost battles in the original due to visual overload, but that happens way less this time around. The game's fast travel is snappier as well, allowing you to move back and forth quickly. I found myself using the feature a lot more as it helped me to finish off quests in a hurry. Finally, you can change your difficulty, with Casual and Expert options being offered. Now, you will still have to battle skillfully no matter the difficulty, but it will lessen or boost the grind you might be accustomed to.

In addition to the game that we know and love, there is an epilogue included called Future Connected. This 12-hour journey sees Shulk and Melia hop on the long lost Bionis' Shoulder to find out what happened to Melia's homeland Alcamoth. The story basically continues Melia's arc, though Shulk does get some thoughts in as well. There isn't as much story as I would've liked, but it builds on the part you would expect. The scenes, found in the main quest line as well as special Quiet Moments, are all completely voiced and bring back the original cast. In addition, the new Nopon characters Kino and Nene add charm to this new world and are an absolute joy. The adventure is brisk and compact, but made with those who adore the original in mind. The Bionis' Shoulder isn't a massive landmass, but there are many unique attributes that make exploring every nook and cranny fun.

Mechnically, it is mostly the same as the main adventure, but there is one crucial difference: the Ponspectors. These special Nopon surveyors come in three variations: Red (offensive), Blue (healing), and Yellow (debuffing) teams. By completing the quests, they will join your cause and join up in a conga line behind you. When you get them into a High Tension state, they will keep fighting without taking breaks in between. When you get members from each team together, you unlock what replaces the chain attacks in Future Connected. Ponspector Union Strikes are special coordinated attacks that use up all three bars of your Party Gauge, and deal damage to enemies on a wide scale. They are a ton of fun and make the journey of enlisting the Ponspectors very much worth the effort.

When it comes to the overall presentation of Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, I consider it to be in the realm of okay to fine. The locales don't look half bad, but don't expect a major overhaul. Locations like Satorl Marsh and Eryth Sea certainly look nicer, particularly at night, but ground textures have only been updated slightly. You can see similar results when you look at the water, grass, and other small graphical elements. On the other end of the spectrum, the character models are fantastic in every sense of the word. They are much more in line with the rest of the series, and the emotion of characters is much more palpable. The interactions feel more alive in cutscenes, making for a more dynamic journey. The game offers both the original and the newly-arranged soundtrack, and the differences are clear as day. The instrumentation has clearly been produced from the ground up, with the songs only being the same in the theming alone. Classics like Colony 9 and Frontier Village really shine brightly with the new musical underlining!

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is the best way to experience a true classic. Many elements have been changed for the better, allowing for a smooth journey through and through. I found myself more entertained by the quest system and adored the set-up of the menus, and the mechanical tweaks make it a joy to play. Xenoblade Chronicles on Nintendo Switch is enjoyable for much longer, which made me fly through the adventure this time around. Sure, there were likely some expecting a grander visual overhaul, but that doesn't take away from the care put into the package. There is even an additional dozen-hour epilogue if you're in the mood for more Xenoblade. All in all, I am just happy that the game still grips me as much as before. Definitive Edition makes me remember why I love Shulk, his world, and all the wonders that come along for the ride.

TalkBack / 51 Worldwide Games (Switch) Hands-on Preview
« on: May 21, 2020, 02:00:00 AM »

51 games, four players, three ways to play and an endless string of fun.

42 All-Time Classics is one of my favorite Nintendo DS games ever made. It was a rather classy collection with various board games, tiny versions of sports and a rather flawlessly multiplayer system. 51 Worldwide Games, known in America as Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics, promises a broader selection and a bigger focus on playing together. So far, it seems to pull off that fairly well, though there are a few concerns as we inch closer to its release.

The foundation of 51 Worldwide Classics is simply impressive. The 51 games offer experiences with different types of groups, particularly a two player setting will be the most out of the package. All but four games can be played with a friend, allowing for some long nights of local and online multiplayer fun. When I had a family member around, we found ourselves getting into Takoyaki wars and Toy Baseball showdowns. The games are simple to understand, and make for some excellent back and forth action. We discovered board games we've never played before and now always want to return to.

The selection of three or four player games are less well rounded, with card and board games being your main way for playing with a larger group. You also have to take into account that some of the games require additional Nintendo Switch consoles, plus a special downloadable app, to get rolling. Blackjack and Chinese Checkers are perfectly well suited for one console, though Ludo proved a little stale in the grand scheme of things. Even with the options to make the games pass by faster, it felt like one of the weaker offerings included. Personally, I think that Nintendo and NDCube could've gained by including games for bigger groups.

Overall though, the selection of games is frankly quite nice. There is a solid selection of all-time favorites, some unknowns and some fairly entertaining surprises. For my family members, the Toy sports as well as the one-versus-one board games proved an instant hit. Toy Baseball offers a surprising amount of depth and we screamed from the top of our lungs with every hit. On the other end of the spectrum, the room would grow silent as rounds of Draughts/Checkers grew intense. There is a fine line of action, strategy and exciting moments that really makes the package a fun one.

The one game that I fell in love with during my playing sessions is Hanafuda. It offers a version of Koi Koi that helps you understand all of its parts. The card game offers cheat sheets for all the combinations that you can make, and the steps you need to take to get there. Another favorite is Chinese Checkers. When lining up the pieces a certain way, you can cross the terrain and make some incredible plays. Every time I nailed a move, I got pumped all over again. That game, more than anything else, is all about thinking your moves carefully through. The action in between is a means to an end.

Outside of Ludo, I didn't like Darts very much. The motion controls felt off most of the time, which is strange as Bowling and Shooting Gallery are perfectly fine. Maybe it has something to do with the control scheme, which is an accurate representation of real-life, but it never felt quite right to me. Speaking of Bowling, I got straight up Wii Sports vibes, which is never a bad thing. The way you position yourself is actually way better than in Wii Sports, though some of the magic isn't exactly there. The Shooting Gallery is a bit short, but the sections will remix every time, ensuring that not one run is the same.

When playing on a singular console with friends, you will be forced into using Joy-Con controllers. From a certain point of view, this does make sense as the simple button inputs allow everyone to understand the rules quicker. That being said, I weep a bit as I have multiple Pro Controllers always already to go when a family member wants to play for the long haul. For those quicker sessions, where we are almost always with two players, it is nice to take the controllers from either side and start playing right away. Even better is that some can be played on the Nintendo Switch screen itself. A select number of games support touch inputs, making the entry level low enough for anyone.

In addition to single and multi Switch multiplayer, there is naturally online as well. It is actually straightforward, even more so than other Nintendo offerings. If you want to play with random people, you can select three one to three games and find people with the same interests as you. You can even select games that are being heavily played, which are marked with an orange icon. This means that you will be able to jump into a game right away without hesitation. If you aren't sure what to play, there is a random option, which throws you into the first game that is available.

With playing with friends, the online mode offers a lobby system where up to four people can join together. The leader of the lobby will be able to choose the game, so that you can keep playing basically non-stop. Sadly, the connection was a bit over the place. While most European connections presented no problems, there were some less than glamorous moments when playing internationally. Naturally, it is still early days when it comes to 51 Worldwide Games, so I have to see how things develop in the coming weeks.

Outside of online, what is there exactly to do for the solo player? Actually, there is quite more than you would actually think. Every game offers specific goals for you to shoot for, which translates in fun facts and a more completed medal chart. It is actually quite a journey to finish every possible goal as the AI isn't phoning it in. The Amazing and Impossible CPU opponents make such near perfect plays, and luck could be the only thing that can save you. I am having a blast being challenged while I unwind and have something on in the background. There are some exclusive single-player games as well. Sliding Puzzle, Mahjong Solitaire, Klondike Solitaire and Spider Solitaire are almost endlessly replayable. They are a fun companion when you're looking to play something quick.

51 Worldwide Games has a fairly clean look. Players can select their games from a globe with game guides, a row with detailed information or a screen filled with icons. Regardless of how you play, it is easy to hop into a game and go. Every game comes with a little introduction from a family, who give you a general overview of the game you're about to play. The four characters will sneak in some hints, and help you give the first important pointers. The games offer handy How to Play guides and assist functions as well. Most games are lovingly presented with fun details just outside the playing area. There is nothing deep about it, but everything looks nice. The music is fairly catchy as well, bringing you in the right atmosphere to play.

51 Worldwide Games leaves a fairly strong impression. There are some reservations I have, but the overall package offers a lot of value. The games are well represented, offering tons of information for the newcomers. The game seems to focus a lot on one-on-one action, which might be a slight bummer for some. Personally, however, I've been impressed how my family has grasped on to it. The boardgames as well as Toy versions of sports are getting mileage, creating some grand moments in the process. Another thing we have to keep tabs with is online, though the first indications are good. With a clean look and some cool playing options, this new Clubhouse is leaving us smiling.


The war between the Bionis and Mechonis finds a newly, improved home.

While 2011 may feel like a lifetime ago, I remember it fondly for a couple of reasons. The big one, in my humble opinion, was Xenoblade Chronicles. It was a Role Playing Game that immediately struck a chord with me. The battle system offered many variables with both fun offensive and defensive offerings. The localisation was British to a tee, which made everything a lot more campy and entertaining. I will freely admit that the menus weren't the best, but for the breadth and depth offered, I was willing to overlook a lot. Now, nine years later, the game returns with the Definitive Edition moniker. The result is actually far more exciting than it sounds on paper.

If you have never played Xenoblade Chronicles before, you are in for a treat. In a world filled with a never ending ocean, two titans are standing and giving life to inhabitants of two separate worlds. There is Bionis, home to organic life, and Mechonis where robots and the humanoids Machina live their days. The player will follow the antics of Shulk, a young Homs (humans) with a knack for machines and weaponry. After an attack on this village, Colony 9, he sets off to find out why Mechon have grown hostile. With a special sword at the ready, the Monado, Shulk is ready to take on the luring threat with everything he has. His journey takes him all across the Bionis, where he meets up with new friends and foes alike.

Explaining what makes Xenoblade Chronicles so great goes hand-in-hand with its characters. Despite the dark clouds hanging over them, the constant theme is hope. Shulk's character is trying to see the best in people and ensuring that everything turns out okay. The Monado lets him see into the future, which he uses to great effect during the journey. Luckily, he doesn't stand alone as he has a growing band of pals he can rely on. The journey starts out with only him and his bulky friend Reyn, but it doesn't take long to see all walks of life come together. Melia, a High Entia princess, is one of my favorites as she is very much conflicted during her arc. The tension felt within the family and higher ranked officials gave me a lot to digest. Sharla, another character you meet early on, has already the harsh reality of the Mechon war and you have to aid in a rough quest.

Speaking of war, let's talk about gameplay. Xenoblade Chronicles is very much an action Role Playing Game, where you move a party of three across various environments. Xenoblade Chronicles' world allows you to go where you please as it opts for an open world blueprint. To go hand-in-hand with this open design, there is a day and night cycle as well as various weather conditions. These impact the people, monsters and options you have at your disposal. For me, it mostly meant that I returned to every location multiple times to witness every little detail. The power of exploring those details is what drives Xenoblade's experience as you complete quests and collect items. It wasn't hard to find something to do and serves as a great breather from the main story line. Everything you do is rewarding, which makes that step away worth it.

Most of my time was spent completing quests. These range from defeating monsters, collecting specific materials or interacting with non-player characters. With the Wii version, this required a lot of effort as information wasn't always well presented. In addition, you were left to your devices in finding the locations you needed. The Definitive Edition changes everything, and brings the quest system more in line with the other entries. The quest menu can be accessed by pressing ZR and then down, allowing you to scroll through your options in an instant. You can choose which quest you want to shoot for, make them your active quest and follow instructions to where you need to be. If the item or person is unavailable, the menu will let you know that too, ensuring that you won't waste any time in your journey. As there are time sensitive quests, I found these tools crucial to get the most out of Xenoblade Chronicles. The fact that I can click in the stick and view the map for quest related icons makes the game flow much nicer.

The changes don't stop there either. The way that the game had its menu set up, both on Wii and New Nintendo 3DS, was rather curious. Instead of a main menu, allowing you to scroll through the options, there was a bar where you would access everything from. While it was manageable, I always prefer to get my maintenance done in one big swoop. My prayers were heard as that is exactly what the developers have changed. The glow-up on the ''Change Equipment'' screen in particular deserves a ton of praise. They have swapped the details around, allowing you to look at everything in a much richer way. On the left, you can see everything is equipped with details presented if you hover over a specific one. The benefits are much more clear to you without making it hard to read. There is also a new submenu, allowing you to rebuild your character from scratch or remove specific parts from a character's outfit. You can lock elements as your favorites, make your appearance separate from the gear you equip and see the impact on stats right away.

Another important set of changes can be found within the Affinity Chart. I can't overstate how crucial this element is to get the most out of the game. Not only will you be building up compassion between the various party members, but also with the bigger world  around you. By interacting with villagers and completing quests, the selection of available quests grows at five specific locations. The playable characters will give you benefits as well. As the affinity grows, you can get trades going and get more items you need to clear out specific quests down the line. In the upgraded Affinity Chart, you will get more information on the location in a specific area as well as what items they are currently offering to trade. In addition, you can track them, allowing you to find them much easier for the crucial matters at hand. Of course, other information like their availability of time is still available as well.

I could, honestly, be talking about the menus forever. That being said, there are a few more things I want to highlight before moving on. The Collectopaedia, one of my favorite side quests in the original Xenoblade, has had a visual upgrade that makes it look far nicer than before. Every page features more color, photos of various locales and a clear indication of everything that has been collected. There are photos surrounding the book, allowing you to find your favorite locations even quicker than before. For every row or page completed, you get items, which makes going for a fully completed book much more fun. In a similar sense, I really like what they've done with the Achievements menu.  You can easily see what is required, how much experience you will earn and how difficult the task at hand is. Finally, there is now a dedicated system menu, which can be entered by pressing the +-button. It is here that you save, load, look at tutorials or tinker around with the options. You can change displays, adjust dialogue speed and choose between the original and the newly arranged soundtrack.

When it comes to the battle system, the least has changed I feel. That being said, that really isn't a knock against it. The player moves around the enemy, and your character automatically attacks throughout the process. The urgency comes not only from placing your character right, but throwing in the bigger moves at the right exact moment. Each character available will gradually get access to a variety of offensive and defensive Battle Arts attacks that will change the way you play. Reyn, for example, uses a big shield-gunlance that is suitable for a variety of situations. His Sword Drive attack can do a massive amount of damage, while Guard Shift is used to shield others from impact. The Arts can't be used endlessly, and some need to be charged first, but it is beneficial to use various attacks anyway.

Regardless of set-up, I am finding myself having Shulk and Sharla in my party most of the time. Shulk's Monado attacks are crucial in most situations, while Sharla can heal anybody in an instant with her gun. Obviously, it comes down to how you want to play, but striking that balance is incredibly important to me. I think that is why I like the battle system in the Xenoblade games so much: freedom. Despite not having complete control over each move a character makes, you can force their hand to adjust to your playing style. By performing well, you can fill up a special Party Gauge and work together in flashy chain attacks. These are absolute highlights as you string together your favorite attacks both for damage as well as status effects.

While there aren't many mechanical changes, the battle screens reaffirm that freedom you now have. The critical information, like the health of your allies, has been made smaller. This makes it take up less of the screen, allowing you to see the battlefield with less overall clutter. Just like the other Xenoblade games, the enemy information is now at the top of the screen. Once again, this is done to have less of a sensory overload, and focus on the task at hand. While there are smaller status bars and icons for everybody within the battle radius, they overlap less and are much easier to read in the heat of the moment. I lost battles in the original due to oversight, but that has happened way less this time around. I had reservations when I noticed that they removed the additional colors for Arts and character information, but that is totally unfounded looking back at it. In fact, the changes made it hard to ever look back at the original Wii version of Xenoblade Chronicles.

Like I mentioned before, Xenoblade Chronicles has a world where you can freely go and explore. To me, the world is just as important a character as anything else in this game. It is entertaining to visit the various landmarks, finding the Secret Areas and looking for those crannies that offer the game's unique aspects. With the Definitive Edition, the load between areas feels much lighter even if monsters don't appear until you move closer. The game's fast travel is snappier, allowing you to move back and forth quickly for specific quests. It was much more compelling to keep playing longer as Xenoblade's overall flow has been impacted positively. Because I did a lot of story upfront, I found myself going back to Colony 9 when I made a significant process. I basically was able to do a bunch of quests under an hour, thanks to continuous fast traveling and the new quest options.

In terms of visual prowess, you can clearly see that they put a lot of time into updating the character designs. The original game on Wii gave the characters this weird realistic look, mostly due to the limitations they were working with. With the Definitive Edition, the models feel much more in line with the other games in the series. The more fantastical style brings the characters much more alive in cutscenes and general interactions. The emotion is much paupable, once again forcing me into playing that teensy bit longer. While the locales don't look half bad, they aren't the clean up that some are expecting. Locales like Satorl Marsh and Eryth Sea certainly look nicer, particularly at night, but elements like the ground textures have only been updated slightly. You can see similar results when you look at the water, grass and other small graphical elements. This isn't the end of the world, but it’s worth mentioning at least.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition offers both the original and the new arranged soundtrack. Are there key differences between both? Absolutely. You see, the instrumentation has clearly been made from the ground up. It uses the original soundtrack as a blueprint, but the new version adds additional tones that didn't leave me cold. One of the most recognizable songs is Gaur Plain, which I'm going to use as the example here. The music is a bit boombastic, highering up the lower ends of the song. In other instances throughout the song, instruments heard in the background have been changed altogether. The result is that the songs are the same in theming alone. Personally, I think there is a place for both, which makes it great that both options are available. From all the songs I heard, I've been pleasantly surprised how they were updated and didn't feel like I was clamoring for the originals. The updated versions from Colony 9, Frontier Village and Satorl Marsh have really surprised me so far.

The new version of Xenoblade Chronicles is certainly ''Definitive'', at least what I played of it. The many changes made benefit how the game is played, bringing a more well rounded experience to the Nintendo Switch. The menus, quests and mechanical changes make it more in line with the other games in the series. I am finding the game more enjoyable in longer chunks, particularly as I can keep going to complete tasks. While the visuals may not be the overhaul some are expecting, the character models and cutscenes are genuinely nice looking. There is more feel to them, making the story that much more gripping. The remastered soundtrack is different as well, mostly down to the changes in instrumentation. There is a different approach to the music, but the soul hasn't been lost. All in all, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition promises a grand journey for both newcomers and veterans alike.


Shulk and Melia head off for one unique adventure on the lost shoulder.

Xenoblade Chronicles is a long and tremendous engrossing journey that takes many hours to complete. With the many changes made in the Definitive Edition, there wouldn’t have been a better time to revisit Shulk's character and the world he has left behind. Monolith Software likely thought so too as they are introducing a new piece of content with Future Connected. This epilogue, which takes place one year after the main game concludes, takes us to the never before seen Bionis' shoulder. A new adventure for both Shulk and the High Entia princess Melia awaits. Just a warning: a few elements won’t make sense if you haven’t played the game a decent way through!

Future Connected opens with recapping a couple of crucial moments at the end of the main game. Shulk, piloting the Machina ship Junks, is flying towards the Bionis' shoulder as well as the remains of Alcamoth. The city is the imperial capital of High Entia, but due to circumstances, it was impossible to return. Melia and Shulk seize the opportunity, but quickly find their ship damaged causing them to crash land on the floating landmass that is the shoulder. We see some gripping shots of our new surroundings, after which the two discuss their next steps. They are completely in the dark about this new situation, and their Junk ship can no longer fly until they have the right parts. Not long after they discover that two Nopon children, Kino and Nene, are in trouble. After a short battle, they band together to find out what is going on.

The story of Future Connected seems to focus on Melia, mostly down to the fact that you begin the epilogue playing as her. Personally, I found myself flipping back to Shulk, who has a mechanical replica of the Monado at the ready. Melia and Shulk retain most of their attacks from the main game, starting the player out at Level 60. Obviously, Shulk can't no longer look into the future and see attacks coming during battle. This requires a more careful approach in combat right from the get go, but that isn't something you can't come to terms with. Outside of that, his special Monado Arts are still in play, with some doing their duty in these new surroundings. The Cyclone ability remains a steady favorite, which comes in handy as enemies attack from all corners.

Kino and Nene are the new characters that come along with you for the ride. They help to make the battles more well rounded as they fill in the roles of Sharla and Reyn respectively. Kino focuses a lot on recovering health, removing debuffs and raising tension of the party. The number of offensive moves he has are powerful, but those are not the main reason you would use him in your party. Nene is unmistakingly the strong character within your crew. Most of her attacks are designed to do massive damage to your opponents or inflict them with status effects. Together with Shulk's all-round scala and Melia's magic, there are a lot of neat combinations possible within the battle system.

That battle system has some crucial changes as well. Chain attacks are no longer an option in Future Connected, forcing you to rely on your Arts as is. It requires more skillful play than before as there isn't a real safety net. This dynamic changes rapidly, however, when the Ponspectors come into the picture. These special Nopon surveyors come in three variations: Red (offensive), Blue (healing) and Yellow (debuffing) teams. By completing the quests, they will join your cause and join up in a conga line behind you. When you get them into a High Tension state, they will keep fighting without taking breaks in between. In those instances, you become unstoppable as three fixed party members and up to twelve Nopon friends fight against formidable foes.

When you get members from each team together, you unlock what replaces the chain attacks in Future Connected. Ponspector Union Strikes are special coordinated attacks that use up all three bars of your Party Gauge, and deal damage to enemies on a wide scale. The Red Comet attack does major damage to a singular enemy, which is particularly handy when fighting bosses or unique enemies. With the Blue Caress, you are instantly healed and receive both Regen and Debuff protection. Yellow Chaos, which is the one I found the most handy on a whim, will force Daze and Strength Down on all the enemies in your direct area. While there are moments where I missed the chain attacks, I do think that these create some wonderful silly moments. Silly is something I am all for, frankly.

The world of the Future Connected is the Bionis' Shoulder and Alcamoth. I haven't had any indication that you will travel anywhere else, or will explore beyond those two segments. That being said, there is certainly variety found on the shoulder. There are a couple of towns, secret areas, caves and different environments to make the experience stand out. The world isn't large, but it does evolve with the same day and night cycle, allowing you to find different enemies and obstacles to face. The side quests, which remain a big part of the experience, will force you to see all the nooks that make up the Bionis' remains. It is important to learn those surroundings when the story enters its next gear.

While I already mentioned various elements that are different from the main game, there are some more worth discussing. The Affinity Chart and Skill Trees aren't present in Future Connected, and the Collectopaedia's role is rather limited with just two pages. Another factor is that you no longer get armour from defeating monsters. Armor can be purchased at the few shops that the shoulder has, with color variations available by completing quests. Weapons, however, can still be found everywhere with a bunch of different variations available. The gems, which give you different powers by attaching them to weapons or armor, can be earned by picking away at Ether Deposits. They are far easier to farm than in the main game, allowing you to set the team the way you personally like.

Future Connected seems to be a brisk and compact piece of content for those who love the main game. The adventure takes everything down to the essentials with the story focusing on Melia and Shulk. With the help of Kino and Nene, they set out on a journey that will bring new characters and interactions along for the ride. While I can't talk specifics, the hopeful theme of the main adventure continues in an unique matter. Shulk is still his carefree self, with Melia pondering the future a lot more. The special elements like the Ponspectors and Bionis' Shoulder make for one last ride that you will never forget.

TalkBack / Metro Redux (Switch) Review
« on: April 14, 2020, 06:00:00 AM »

Hellish landscapes and brutal action make for one highly entertaining romp!

The Metro games are some of the most harsh and brutal titles available. The player travels through the remnants of a society destroyed by radiation. The people hide in underground subway tunnels, the final reminder of better times. These titles, who have been released on many platforms before, finally made their way to Nintendo Switch. The results are stunning, proving that these survival horror titles can fit on a system like Nintendo's. Aside from a few setbacks, I was perfectly capable of having a great time here.

Metro Redux consists of two games: Metro 2033 and Metro Last Light. Both are based on the novels of one Dmitry Glukhovsky, ensuring that gripping horror tales await you. The player steps in the shoes of Artyom, who will need to find his way through a ravaged world. Beyond the terrible radiation, there is a lot you will have to deal with. Artyom will travel between settlements, requiring to venture both under and above the ground. You will stand face-to-face with evil creatures, everlasting snow and the feeling that you're always being watched.

The overall experience can be best described as tense. Similarly to say a Resident Evil, it comes down to survival in every corner of the map. The underground tunnels always left me feeling eerie, unsure of knowing if I'm doing the right thing. The various creatures attack you when you least expect it, making you rarely feel entirely safe. I relished the fact that I had to work for every bit of my adventure, making the end stations that much more rewarding in the process. There are a few moments to take in sights, but you are here to overcome the fight of your life.

Once arrived, the communities you interact with are equally as compelling. There is a lot of poverty, asking for money and simply trying to survive. At the same time, however, every NPC in these towns also has a schedule. You will find them hanging around with friends or simply walking around the settlements. By listening in on conversations, you will learn a lot about the world, even if you're not having a talk with them. A fun detail is that you barely catch a name of someone, continuing the mistrust people have in the underground areas.

At Metro's core lies its first-person shooter mechanics, which drive most of your adventure. Artyom can do the usual like sprinting, jumping and crouching to move across the landscape. The shooting portions are crucial, but more important is how effective you truly are. The resources that Metro throws at you are rather limited, and bullets are more than tools used in battle. The player is required to keep some at hand and trade with the local communities. It is the only way you can keep yourself alive for an extended amount of time.

Now sure, you can keep going through the game without trading, keeping all the bullets to yourself. You might even get decently far, but relying on blasting away at everything is fatal. There are segments where ammunition simply doesn't get replenished and where stealth becomes something you have to rely upon. Metro has designed its moments with different types of flow, forcing Artyom to use what he has in that very moment. The gun variety isn't anything mindblowing, but they do all use different ammo, allowing you to build up some kind of backup. I found it very important to do so, or else the journey would really become an uphill battle.

That being said, the most important resource worth managing is the gas mask. During his ventures on the surface, Artyom will need his mask to breathe. This tool will damage over time, decrease your field of vision and needs to be replaced eventually. The air filters become less effective over time, so using that time wisely is crucial. The wide and bold design choices of 2033 in particular requires you to think, and collect intel as quickly as you possibly can. You really can't take your time, causing a tension that is unprecedented.

There are different things I appreciate about both of the games. The story of the sequel, Last Light, isn't as memorable as 2033, but there are plenty of things that are done better. Last Light has overall better gunplay and the characters discuss the more political side of this universe. That being said, 2033 has the better atmosphere and guides you towards one ending that everyone can grasp. My only problem with Last Light is that it adds more variables, forcing you to play segments all over again for the best possible ending. It adds bulk that doesn't exactly have to be there, but the more varied tools are quite nice.

The games perform great on the Nintendo Switch. Due to the dark nature of Metro games, some detail might be lost in process, but this isn't something that can't be overcome. The package offers a steady framerate, beautiful environments and very little big compromises in terms of quality. The only major issue is that some levels may take a while to load, up to a minute overall. This only happens the first time you load in an environment, but it is annoying nonetheless.

Metro Redux offers up two solid ports for the price of one. The Metro games bring brutal experiences where pure horror awaits you around every corner. Between those breathtaking moments, the titles build a terrific world that I love exploring. There are little complaints on both ends, but none of them make the games uninteresting. That being said, there are long loading times afoot and games are a little on the darker side of things. If you have an eye for detail and are in for terrific time, then both 2033 and Last Night are journeys worth having.

TalkBack / Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX (Switch) Review
« on: March 31, 2020, 06:16:30 AM »

Pastel looking Pokemon carry you through the slow opening moments.

I feel I'm in an odd position to review this. While I tried some of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games, I never really completed one. For the last few weeks, I decided to take my time with the title and discover what the oh so important gameplay loop was all about. I'd call my experience with it ''surprising''. Surprising in the sense I quickly appreciated everything the game threw at me. Rescue Team DX is quite enjoyable, even if not all parts really hold their end of the bargain.

In Rescue Team DX, players partake in a roguelite adventure where they hop into mysterious dungeons. In these grid-based challenges, you will go from floor to floor and fulfill any mission to the best of your abilities. There are enemies to fight, traps to avoid and items to gather in a slew of missions that can keep you going for hours on end. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is forgiving in the sense that failure isn't punished too harshly. When your party falls, the only things you lose are the collected money and items, and there are ways to get those back. You can also ask help from another team online, or even use a backup team to finish the job you started.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon comes down to strategy. With the grid based nature of the dungeons, it is fun to plan out a way to the next floor. The battles are fast, quickly give experience and allow you to continue on without a care in the world. Obviously, your hit points need to be kept in check at all times, ensuring that you can continue your marathon runs further down the hole. It comes down to using items wisely and continuously moving. Every step replenishes a single HP, so avoiding enemies might sometimes be the better option. It has a very structured set of rules, which makes it easy to really get a knack for the journey. I will freely admit, however, that there is room to improve. For example, the item quests leave you in the dark quite a bit, and I wish they could give more helpful instructions sometimes.

Speaking of leaving you in the dark, what is up with bringing in new Pokemon for your party? When you defeat a pocket monster, they might ask you to join your rescue team. If you can keep the Pokemon alive from that point onward, you will be able to keep the Pokemon as your own.  There is another catch - you will need to have built the right Rescue Team Camp for them. There are different camps that need to be built over the course of the game, so it is extremely likely you will encounter a monster of which you don't have the camp. The initial rush of seeing a new Pokemon quickly deflates when you realize you can't use them for the long haul. It is a little frustrating. Oh, and just in case you're wondering, they only added a handful from later generations. They are mostly evolutions of Pokemon already included in the original game.

That being said, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX really isn't that hard of a game. Unless you like to go off the beaten path, it can be easily cleared without any massive roadblocks. Sure, you might lose a few times, but that is more down to the mistakes you've made. The game makes it easy to track what you're doing, giving you multiple attack and defense options, even in dire times. Outside of the opening hours, which go by too slow for my liking, I don't think that I'm terribly bothered by this. Now, the post-game on the other hand, that is where things really take a sharp turn. Rescue Team DX really starts throwing punches at you, and wants to see what you're made of. I found this the most thrilling moments I had with the game. There was an unparallelled challenge that took a lot out of me, and made for a brilliant thrill ride.

Personally, what I found the most baffling about this DX version is what they added. For all the praise I gave the gameplay loop, the developers found it needed to include an auto mode. This takes away control from the player, and makes the game do the moves for you. The only thing you personally do is attacking with the A-button, which really takes the fun out of the game and I'm not sure why they opted to include it. There is also a training dojo that trains your team within seconds. While it is super handy for the post-game content, I barely used it as the main game gives you more than enough experience.

Back on the positives, I think that the story is charming. While the monsters aren't overly animated, the interactions between the various creatures is great. You shouldn't expect anything too deep, but it builds up a world where Pokemon can clearly understand one another. Together with your rescue team, you’re off to make the world a better place and that is what matters. On equal footing, I think that the presentation is pretty nice looking. The pastel looking world may be a little stiff, but the set pieces are quite nice and built with the Nintendo Switch in mind. My favorite part is the soundtrack. The fair share of tunes available really blew me away and kept me excited throughout.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is an enjoyable game with its fair share of highs and lows. The gameplay loop is really entertaining, even if it only gets challenging in the post-game. The game may seem stiff, but the presentation in general is quite pleasant.  Every nice thing I have to say, there are a few things that don’t sit right with me. Overall though, the flow of the game knows how to stay on top and kept me hooked until the very end. The improvements are more or less throwaways, but the core adventure is still a solid one. That is what counts in the end.

TalkBack / Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch) Review
« on: March 23, 2020, 04:30:00 AM »

Confusing moments aside, this is the refresh that makes the franchise tick. UPDATED: review score and final verdict!

The Animal Crossing series is one of my absolute favorites. Ever since the west got the Nintendo GameCube version, I was totally engulfed by all the little things you could do. Wild World and New Leaf are games that I couldn't stop thinking about, even when I turned them off for the day. New Leaf felt like the series' logical end point, at least in its current form. Many of the systems that we already knew never felt better, creating a point of no return. The task ahead for the developers was to create something that took gameplay in a new direction, that both newcomers and veterans could get behind. The aptly named Animal Crossing: New Horizons manages to hit all those important notes, even if it does hit some snags along the way.

In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you take control of a player avatar who heads off for a deserted island. Tom Nook, who guides you through the game's opening days, is here to help with all your basic needs. With a tent and your brand new NookPhone at the ready, you are going to try and make the best of things. I quickly realized how fast the opening moments of New Horizons move along. The tutorial, which is more guided than previous entries, is swift and entertaining. You find places to live, collect materials and name your island.  The player and their new friends have a big celebration, and then the regular flow of time begins.

Your big first task, getting 5000 Nook Miles to pay off the Getaway Package, isn't as difficult as you might expect. The barriers have been left low, and help the player to ease in. The way you approach these Nook Miles tasks is left completely in your hands. You can catch a bunch of fish or bugs, interact with the islanders, learn DIY crafting and so much more. The space you can move about in is restricted until you get a true feel for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It does take a little while longer before you get access to the vaulting pole or a bridge. In the first number of days, you get tasks to complete that will broaden your horizons and make the island a far more enjoyable place. Even in those early moments, you are never left without something to rely upon.

I think that is what strikes me the most about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In the beginning there is always a task that you're made aware of. Whereas the second half of my time on the island is currently being spent raising the island's image. You do that by attracting new villagers through a campsite, selling land, building infrastructure and putting furniture items everywhere you can. The ones found within Nook Terminal at the Resident Services Buildings are particularly useful as they can be paid for with Nook Miles. Quickly, I found myself invested in creating zones flowers and fencing, which I hope is something others get invested in as well.

All of these proceedings created a different flow when it comes to the gameplay. Outside of the usual tasks like looking for fossils and talking to villagers, I found myself heavily invested in enriching the town itself. One way of doing that is clearing as many Nook Miles tasks as you possibly can. When you pay off the Getaway Package, you get access to Nook Miles+, which spits out five tasks at random. By completing one, another option gets added to the mixture. In the moments that I felt everything was done for the day, these tasks reeled me back in and made me easily play for another hour. They force you to take note of crafting, customization, or seeing what your animal friends are doing. You are never left without a purpose.

That being said, Animal Crossing: New Horizons doesn't explain everything. When it comes to upgrading your town or getting new services added, it leaves you in the dark a lot. For example, it took several visits at Mabel's tailor plaza shop until she brought up the idea of setting up a full Able Sisters shop. During my entire review period, I've only seen a handful of special characters and that is on two different save files. Saharah and Gulliver, for example, popped up two times in both saves. Celeste only appeared on my Northern, while CJ and Flick only made appearances on my Southern hemisphere save. Not for tournaments I might add, they were interested in purchasing bugs and fish from me for more than Nook's Cranny would pay. That was extremely handy to get my first house debt paid, but it came out of the blue without any announcements from Resident Services.

Another point of slight irritation is how often tools break. While I totally expected the flimsy tools to break quickly, I was surprised by how the regular tools are impacted as well. As I like to tend to flowers a lot, the moment my regular watering can broke, my mouth was locked into a blown away state. Outside of the ladder and vaulting pole, no tool is safe from eventual wear and tear. You will run into it quickly if you are hunting for a specific creature and constantly rely to catch as much as possible. Now this isn’t the end of the world as you can remake them, but I’d rather use those materials to enhance my town. I just became slightly bummed when something in my inventory broke down.

When it comes to Animal Crossing's day-to-day moments, I never stopped enjoying myself. Every day I would walk through town, talk to the villagers and look around for something to take care of. With the DIY recipes and the materials needed on that front, there was an urgency to collect as much as you possibly can. I would find myself using a Flimsy Axe for wood, hitting my shovel against rocks or removing potential weeds. Everything counted this time to a common goal, which made the collector inside of me go full on mental. Every time a DIY recipe was found or given to me, I wanted to go and make the item in question. Sometimes to hand something fun to a villager, other times to place it inside my house or town. While the system depends on what you want out of Animal Crossing, I was happy to keep my bells in my pocket and use them for the more serious matters.

I found myself bug catching and fishing in those empty moments. Not only was it a perfectly relaxing experience, but it served one of two purposes for me: preservation or making money. If the creature was new, it created an entry in the Critterpedia. At that point, I would be better to donate to the museum, which is totally worth it. The museum in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an absolutely highlight for me. Every section feels like a playground in itself, with spots to profoundly see creatures roaming about. The fossil side of things has bigger displays with dynamic camera angles to revel in every bit of the splendor. The breathing space in the rooms is super lovely, allowing you to really take in the sights.

When it comes to spending money, there is a larger selection of options from an early point in the game. You can purchase items in the Resident Services Building as well as through the Nook Terminal, which offer a variety of items, regardless of the stores that are in your town. Later on, however, the Able Sisters and Nook's Cranny join the mixture. I really appreciate the effort put into the Able Sisters. These tailors immediately give you more options right from the start, with full outfit options available at the left-hand side. There is also a dressing room at the right that allows you to go through all the options, and see how they suit your character. Nook's Cranny has a similar set-up, with a few items on display plus more available in a specific cabinet. Something I was very impressed by is that you have multiple wallpaper and flooring options to choose from. Sadly, I haven't really seen any Nintendo related items in the game so far, which is how I really want to pimp up my town.

The Island Designer application is likely my highlight of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Once you reach a certain point within the game, you are basically to do three things: creating waterways/land, laying down paths and removing or expanding cliffs. In my humble opinion, this is one of those crucial building blocks that will keep me playing for a long time. Every quickly after obtaining the functionality I found myself creating clusters where villagers could live, enjoy and breath in nature. I spent hours creating a full on tree park with multiple Nook Miles objects in the middle of it all. In addition, there grew a dumb smile on my face as I removed part of a river and moved it closer to the cliff. The only knock against Island Designer is that it takes time. You really have to go piece by piece, and slowly get the job done.

With Island Builder, creativity is well and truly alive in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In a couple of months time, I really look forward to seeing everybody’s islands and seeing how unique they are. People will completely flatten their islands, recreate their favorite video game map or theme it in a specific way. In that sense, I would love the Dream Suite feature from New Leaf to be back in this game. Even no one is on, I want to see what everybody is creating over the course of the next few weeks.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons looks absolutely stunning. The subtle things like the tree leaves moving in the wind, the weeds jittering ever so slightly, and the far more expressive characters all captured my attention. Everything about New Horizons is colorful and really pops right in front of you. Regardless of how you play and experience the title, it has an incredibly sharp eye for detail. The villagers in particular really made me smile as they have more animations, fun dialogues and roam more freely across the town. You can even see them doing aerobics, fishing or just enjoying their life on the island. They also have full on outfits now, which make them even more blend in. What blends in well too is the music. While in the opening days, the variety of music is limited, this increases once the game opens up. Hourly music slowly starts to return, and with music tracks being a purchasable item early on, you can have different zones with their own tracks.

A fun way to experience Animal Crossing is playing with others. New Horizons let’s you play locally and online with up to eight people. In all these different kinds of set-ups, I found the experience I had to be rather pleasant. Obviously, there might be a waiting line to enter buildings and the like, but this isn’t something you can overcome. That being said, my problem with the online is that you’re almost forced to start using Dodo Codes. This allows you, regardless if someone is on friends list or not, to visit someone on a whim.

When I had my gates open, people wouldn’t stop coming in. Every time someone enters or leaves, you are stuck in a cutscene that takes honestly forever. Now, not everyone will run into the same problems as myself, but the whole process still takes way too long. The game loads, saves and only then carries on where it left off. Considering how the rest of the game runs, I am a little surprised on this front.

With the recent update, it is also possible to use the Nintendo Switch Online application. This is the most novel usage I’ve seen of the thing, allowing you to use your touchscreen keyboard to chat. The in-game keyboard is sort of abysmal, so connecting an USB keyboard or this method are an absolute must. Sadly, you can’t use the phone keyboard to write letters to others, which I use to send gifts to my online friends. In addition, you can scan in QR designs that were created with the Nintendo 3DS games. The library of designs is available, so the fact that you can bring them in is rather incredible. In-game, you can share your new creations as well. Once you get hold of the Able Sisters store, there will be an online portal where you can search for creators and specific designs.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a whole new approach to the series. While it has created some downsides, I can't understate how great this game has come together. The overall flow has been expanded with Nook Miles goals, DIY projects, and very lively animal friends. What I'm impressed by is how I was never left without something to do, and how I could see the world improve around me. There are a few things that New Horizons could have explained better, but they are also part of the more free flowing future that the franchise wants. Even after all these years, there is a daily routine that I hold dear and makes me adore the various elements that glue this game together. It has been sharply dialed up to eleven, without disagrading any newcomers.

TalkBack / Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch) Hands-on Preview
« on: March 05, 2020, 01:00:00 AM »

Travel to New Horizons, one DIY tool at a time.

The wait for the new Animal Crossing game has been maddening. Ever since its announcement at E3 2019, it feels like Nintendo has taken us for a rollercoaster ride. New Horizons was barely discussed, with the September trailer basically repeating everything said during the Nintendo Treehouse E3 segment. As a new decade dawned, the company's attitude slowly started to change, with smaller bits of information slowly coming through the door. With a Nintendo Direct and PAX East in the rear view mirror, I was invited by Nintendo to check out the game and get my first taste of the island's green pastures.

The demo was split into three parts, with each highlighting some specific elements. The first save started us at a pretty early point in the game. The player is still in a tent, and wildlife still has a strong grasp of the island. Immediately when stepping out, there is a sense of wonder about your new home. In previous games, the environment already felt established, and you were basically molding the island just a teensy bit. New Horizons immediately gives the idea of a rural world that needs to be shaped. There are plenty of trees, weeds, and rocks to remind you of this fact. Even more so, there isn't much in the way of flowers right from the start. There are weird rock formations, no bridges, and places that are too high up to explore. This island is basically a massive playing ground for Animal Crossing fans and newcomers alike.

The second thing that really stood out is how absolutely stunning Animal Crossing: New Horizons looks. The subtle things like the tree leaves moving in the wind, the weeds jittering ever so slightly, and the far more expressive characters all captured my attention. But let’s pause on the characters for a second, shall we? For me, they are the series' most important feature, and that hasn't changed a bit here. Immediately after leaving the tent, I ran into Katt, who is one of the tougher cats within the Animal Crossing realm. In the previous games, it was showcased how she was a character who is very much into rock music. While we won't see Katt's house until way later in the game, the outfit she was wearing fit her to a tee. It was a rocker jacket with a red shirt and chain underneath. Most of the characters now have clothing that fits their personalities, which is such a lovely touch.

The various special characters play their part as well. During our demo, we got to chat with the Nook family as they make their start within the simple Resident Services tent. As the island grows larger, their newly obtained functions will slowly see them drift apart. Tom Nook will eventually bring in Isabelle, allowing you to make decisions about building and town affairs within Resident Services. Then there are the special characters that just wander in on random weekdays. Kicks the Skunk will sell you shoes and backpacks, while Gulliver will randomly arrive on your shores. Once you get him to wake up, you will have to help him fix his NookPhone in exchange for a nice reward. The number of guest characters is a question mark at the moment, but hopefully we will know more once the game releases.

There is a freedom to the gameplay, even more so than in past entries. In the previous games, the tasks and opportunities felt limited in the beginning. There was a gradual build up to the game, which ended up with you closing the game off for a spell and coming back the next day. In those immediate moments, I was kind of overwhelmed with what I wanted to do. My first instinct was to go to the DIY workbench and craft some stuff on the fly. The demo provided us with plenty of materials, so I just immediately went ham and crafted any tool my heart desired. The materials needed didn't seem to push the envelope in the first demo, but that might be where the build-up takes place. Your assortment of DIY recipes is also on the lighter side; I was only able to craft tools that easily break or wooden furniture. It’s clear that this task will require a lot of wood chopping work to get the ball rolling!

The second demo showed us what kind of DIY projects could end up in your menu. I was immediately attracted to a wooden-block stereo, of which the look was incredibly fun and charming. Interestingly, it requires you first to make the wooden-block toy on the same bench, before you can make the stereo. Even then, you aren't quite done as you can also customize your new stereo. Through Customization Kits, most of the furniture comes with five options to give your items a unique look. Immediately, I gave my stereo some fresh pastel colors and dropped it into the player's house. Now that is what we call style!

Another way in which the game shows its freedom is with Nook Miles. This programme gives you access to a variety of tasks to complete, which will grant you the necessary miles to pay off your debt or exchange for nifty rewards. I immediately, without fail, felt the appeal presented by these tasks. I can easily see myself hopping into them after my daily routine to see what I can do to get in another hour of playtime. This is even more once you get the Plus upgrade for the program, which gives you five tasks at a time in order to earn additional tickets. The first five will give you a multiplier bonus, but you can keep trucking way beyond that. Because of this, it never really seems that the rewards in the programme are out of reach. There are constant ways to keep earning miles that it simply becomes part of the gameplay loop.

From what we've seen within the Nook Miles terminal, the direction the menu will take is memorizing. There will be big DIY projects like fences, drinking fountains, robots, and so much more. In addition, you will be able to directly purchase furniture that will have immediate effects on how your town is going to look. Speaking of the terminal, this is how you will get some shopping in from an early point in the game. While the Resident Services Building and the dedicated Nook's Cranny stores do have options, the Nook Shopping network gives you a random assortment of items that can't be beat. A few pieces of furniture, clothing, and even a song can be purchased here every single day. These will take a bit to arrive, but in the end, it is a big help in the early stages of the game. When there are simply no services on the island, a little help is never a bad thing.

The shops and services reach the island eventually. Nook's Cranny, Able Sisters, and the Museum don't seem that hard to obtain. The services themselves are absolutely beautiful with updated buildings and a richer palette of options. The biggest of them all is clearly the Museum, which has never seen such a major overhaul. Every section feels like a playground in itself, with spots to profoundly see creatures roaming about. The fossil side of things has bigger displays with dynamic camera angles to revel in every bit of the splendor. The breathing space in the rooms is super lovely, allowing you to really take in the sights.

Speaking of fresh perspectives, I really appreciate the effort put into the Able Sisters. These tailors immediately give you more options right from the start, with full outfit options available at the left-hand side. You can pick up one item if you want, or snag them one by one to basically copy a look wholesale. Naturally, there is a wider selection on display as well, so you can freely mix and match. Finally, a dressing room at the right allows you to go through all the options, and see how they suit your character. Nook's Cranny has a similar set-up, with a few items on display plus more available in a specific cabinet. Something I was very impressed by is that you have multiple wallpaper and flooring options to choose from, which was far more limited in the previous games.

Another thing I was impressed by was the local multiplayer option. Before playing the build, this wasn't something I particularly cared about. Obviously, it is cool to split tasks between friends or family and get some work done, but I was wondering if I could get my loved ones into Animal Crossing. The free flow of the game, plus working together on a singular island, might be the ticket in making this all work out. While I do think that four players on one screen can be super chaotic, I can certainly see myself playing this when a friend is over. It would make tasks like collecting wood, or finding specific critters that much simpler and more refined. You are always tied together in some fashion, so you only need select tools to get a session going.

In the last demo, we got a sneak peek at the Island Builder elements in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. While we aren't sure when you obtain these tools, it would certainly take a while to obtain that oh-so-important license. Once available, there are three important things that you will be able to do: road building, terraforming, and river-sculpting. The road building is entertaining, but I wasn't a fan of how it felt. You have to go piece by piece, and it is extremely easy to do the same space twice. Once you do get the hang of it, the option really allows you to make the town your own. There are a lot of different materials to choose from, so you can customize the look of the island as you see fit.

The latter options are on a completely different level. Basically you can create rivers, land, and different land floors completely from scratch. You can form the town to your liking, and make the world flow your way. These are powerful tools that will enable players to create something outstanding. It took a bit to learn the ins and outs, mostly the river-sculpting, but the tools leave nothing up to chance. You also have to take into account that services and housing can be moved to make up the flavor up the week. While the land plans in my head can't be realized for quite a while, I have some great ideas for my eventual town layout, which is something I'm extremely keen on doing. This, and putting furniture everywhere across town, really gets my creative juices flowing.

There is so much more I can write about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but my point is this: this game is making some incredible plays. After the highs of New Leaf, the series needed a new direction, and it seems to have achieved just this. The free flowing aspects of the game make it an entertaining romp that is unparalleled by anything that came before. While it will be a while before the full potential can be realized, Animal Crossing fans can rejoice that the aspects they love are still here. There is indeed a daily routine with fishing, bug catching and exploring a burgeoning town. That daily routine has been sharply enhanced with Nook Miles and the ability to build up a new town as you so choose. New Horizons celebrates the strengths of the previous games, and brings them full circle. My bags are packed and I’m ready for my desert island adventure!

TalkBack / Vitamin Connection (Switch) Review
« on: February 19, 2020, 11:54:48 PM »

Who could've thought that exploring a body would be so adorable?

''This belongs on Switch!'' is something I hear about games all the time. This isn't done out of wanting to win a console war, but rather the desire to have as many quality experiences as possible on the platform. For me, however, Vitamin Connection evokes that other meaning of the phrase. There aren't many titles that feel made solely with the platform in mind, and this is exactly what WayForward's latest is shooting for. It brings back memories of the Nintendo Switch day one, where experimental ideas like Snipperclips flourished. Unlike that game, however, this is a game that can be enjoyed by most, regardless of their set-up.

Vitamin Connection sees you stepping into the roles of Vita-Boy and Mina-Girl, who have to move their Capsule Ship about and destroy viruses. These nasties have taken over vital segments of the body, and it is your job to clean house. Every level represents a member of the Sable family, who go through their own set of trials and tribulations. In the initial level, you will have to save a kid in time for a school trip. It is here that you learn the ropes of destroying bacteria and understand the intricacies of the level design.

The game immediately knows how to reel you in. Vitamin Collection has one of the most spectacular presentations I've seen in a Nintendo Switch eShop title. The cutscenes, characters, and overall design philosophy remind me of a saturday morning cartoon. Even within the gameplay, Vitamin Connection never skips a beat, which is honestly impressive. Furthermore, the music. Oh my goodness, the music. It elicits the sensibilities of Japanese radio shows with non-stop and constant reminders of what you're playing. Combine that with voice acting that makes everything come alive, and you’ve got a prescription for success.

Speaking of gameplay, you might be wondering what you will be doing in Vitamin Connection. Alone or with a buddy, players guide the Joy-Con looking ship through a maze-like environment. In co-op, one side moves and shoots the Vitamin Beam while the other player rotates and aims. In the solo mode, your actions are spread out over the controller, making it surprisingly doable. There are some trade-offs, and it will make a few sections harder, but I made it through both ways. Vitamin Collection asks a lot of you, with the Vitamin Beam only usable for a limited time. It doesn't particularly help that the body is full of dead ends and enemy traps, forcing you to backtrack a few times.

Along the way, you will come face-to-face with various enemies and obstacles that don't know when to stop. These will constantly keep you on your toes and require some specific moves to overcome. For example, there are strings that block your passageways. The strings consist of one color, and this dictates how you will need to approach them. In another scenario, you will have to tow obstacles in order to clear the road. Every segment in every level introduces new mechanics, which makes traversing the level even more spectacular. Some might require a learning curve—the claw is certainly one of them—but each level is incredibly well put together. I think what really sells Vitamin Connection to me is that I'm never bored while playing. Even at the low-key moments, the game showers you with enemies and trinkets to collect, making the journey through a fruitful one. You can fast forward if you really want to keep trucking, though I wouldn't recommend relying on it.

Between the flying segments, you will naturally reach the vital organs that need to be restored. You will face off against an organism that really doesn't know when to quit. They will challenge you to special sub-games that will test your coordination skills like never before. One favorite is a play on the buzz wire game, where both sides have to be brought into position to make it to the end. My co-op partner and I had to constantly adjust our movements and discuss every step we took. Another example is a dancing minigame where you will move, tilt, and clap along with the music. Every round, new icons are added to test your limits. These games can also be played separately from the main menu, allowing you to hop in for some quick fun. It gave me a strong Snipperclips vibe, which I very much appreciate. The main body levels take about 25 minutes, and you can't quit midway, making the sub-games a nice alternative.

Vitamin Connection offers a lot of content in my eyes. While the pool of levels may seem small at first, I found them highly replayable. There is a drive to improve your scores, perform better at the sub-games, and make your movements a bit tighter. After you wrap up the first journey, there is also a New Game+ mode with a new set of challenges. These made me excited all over again, and changed the story in a major way. I shouldn't give too much away, but honestly, it easily doubles the game's length. Finally, there are more obstacle courses for each of the minigames within Vitamin Connection. They almost become little games in themselves as you want to improve here as well.

All in all, Vitamin Connection is one of the best games on the Switch eShop, period. While there is a little backtracking to be done, the game just glides by and is a smooth experience all the way through. The levels are rich with fun obstacles and challenges that test your skills. In addition, the sub-games break up the gameplay in a non-intrusive way, making for fun surprises. Most importantly, however, I absolutely love the presentation. The whole look of the game made me grin constantly, with colorful characters and funky Japanese music taking charge. No matter if you're playing alone or with a pal, Vitamin Connection is made with this system in mind.

TalkBack / Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl - Gold (Switch) Review
« on: February 13, 2020, 12:00:00 AM »

Crawl through the frustration for some entertaining moments.

The concept of a dungeon crawler has always intrigued me. There is something nice about going from room to room, collecting treasure, and slaying a whole bunch of monsters. Snack World, a game from h.a.n.d. and Level-5, tries to elevate the genre with instantly switchable weapons and multiplayer functionality. There are some exciting moments to be had, but what Snack World lacks is a constant drive to push on. With a simple premise, Snack World knows how to reel you in, but really doesn't have enough to capitalize on those initial moments.

Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl - Gold takes place in the gloriously named Tutti-Frutti Kingdom. It is here that you, a playable avatar, is found all alone and hurt. The King Papaya and his daughter Melonia bring you into the fold and ask you to fulfill quests big and small. It really doesn't go further than skin deep. The initial dialogue is charming, but it gets really grating over the main course that is Snack World. The humor they decided to apply later in the adventure really didn't gel well with me. There is a lot that the localizers got away with, and bravo for that, but it didn't boost my confidence in the game. Even between the disappointing bits, there are moments that brush the negativity away, like a collection of flamboyant genies. Overall, though, the dialogue is very much a mixed bag.

The gameplay is very grindy. The player, alone or with buddies, will take on a large slew of missions that force you to keep looking ahead. The controls are pretty straightforward: there are light and strong attack buttons, plus the usual array of movement options. The overhead perspective makes it easy to figure out a direction at a glance. While it seems mostly like basic fare, Snack World does have a significant trick up its sleeve: the Jara weapons. These pocket- sized weapons glide into your pocket and can be pulled out at a moment's notice. As soon as one runs out of steam, you will swap around to keep attacking at the highest of levels. This is a crucial strategy, mostly as the most devastating attacks can only be used a limited amount.

In addition to the Jaras, there are also Snacks. These are creatures that you can team up with, be they enemies or special characters that hand you their calling card. As the majority of the adventure needs to be played solo, you quickly learn to rely on the human AI characters and the Snacks. They do a decent amount of attacking on their own, but I found myself providing most of the offense. For some reason, my friends were quick to perish, forcing me to revive them in less busy moments. This was barely possible as enemies are quick to group up on you.

I would have less of a problem with this if the missions weren't rough on the player. Right from the get go, the game speeds up to 120 kilometers an hour and then leaves your side very fast. The missions always seem above your grade, asking you to do some heavy grinding. Leveling isn't a speedy process in the slightest. The same is true for upgrading clothing items and Jaras, which require three or four materials for a level upgrade. With the weapons, you require a copy of the exact same jara to make level ups happen. The whole set-up seems like a lot of effort for what basically comes down hacking and dungeon crawling.

The dungeon crawling aspect, at least, is enjoyable. Regardless of how many times you play, the layout changes. There is a fun element of surprise as traps, harsher enemies, and additional rewards await you at every turn. What Snack World does right is rewarding you for uncovering every corner of the map, which feels quite rare. It just felt right destroying opponents, and getting various materials, some important and others less so. The higher ranked materials get fun roulette wheels, and hidden rooms shower you with fun trinkets. The special Jaras I got in those instances are unlike anything else in Snack World. It made a really big difference as I worked towards completion. That being said, the dungeons can be a bit long, which all depends on pure luck.

The HUB area found in the middle of the Tutti-Frutti Kingdom is great as well. There are enough shops to prepare you for the next step in the adventure. There is a dedicated Weapon Parlor where you can purchase the exact Jaras you might need, a shop that hands you recipes for new outfits, and a Hero Mart with crucial consumables. Money is surprisingly hard to come by, making Snack World's economy a little wacky. If you play missions enough times, however, you should gather enough materials you will likely not need at the moment. You see, even as you fail over and over, the earned trinkets stay in your pocket.

Another thing that can be accessed from the HUB is the local and online multiplayer. When I noticed this feature, I was sincerely hoping that you could play the majority of the game with some pals. That—and I say this honestly—would have really improved my experience. There is a different flow when you play with another person, making the whole experience more of an equal playing field. Each character has their own specific strengths, making the missions more doable. The game is sadly split into different ranks, and only a handful per rank can be played with your friends. With every new target you hit, roughly five missions become available to play this way. Luckily, these aren't overly easy, but it would've been nicer to tackle main story bosses together. These bosses offer a unique behind the back perspective, forcing you to adopt somewhat of a different strategy. You still face them inside missions sometimes, but that certainly doesn't feel the same.

The presentation is certainly a nice upgrade over the Japanese Nintendo 3DS version. The character models are quite colorful and lively, particularly the mainstay characters. Level-5 is amazing when it comes to scaling an experience for different systems, and Snack World does this wonderfully. The game is quite fun to look at, with crisp movements and environments. Naturally, the music is usually of the utmost quality. The boss themes in Snack World are genuinely amazing, with some even featuring some very cheesy lyrics.

Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl - Gold is a journey with highs and lows. The gameplay itself is quite entertaining with cool weapons and slick movement. On the other end, it is also very grindy, with dialogue that can become real grating. Some of these problems fade away in multiplayer, which makes it such a missed opportunity to make that aspect a bigger focus. Snack World isn't a bad game, but it’s somewhat misguided in how it wants to present itself. If you can deal with the frustration, you will find that the dungeons themselves can be fairly entertaining.

TalkBack / Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore (Switch) Review
« on: January 15, 2020, 01:00:00 AM »

One of the most magical travels to Tokyo, now everywhere you go.

I can admit that I rushed through my Nintendo Switch playthrough of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore. Most of the elements presented weren't new for me as I have seen them through completion about three years ago. At the end, though, none of that actually mattered. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE remains one of the sharpest Role Playing Games out there, even more so now that it is on a new system. The game is a bold one and doesn't take no for an answer. With most RPGs, I do the stuff that I think is important and move on. In Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, the whole journey feels important, with very little downtime. The dialogue, quests, and battles make this adventure feel absolutely incredible.

The player steps into the shoes of Itsuki Aoi. This normal high school student in Tokyo gets his life turned upside down. One of his best friends, Tsubasa Oribe, enters the One of Millennium idol competition and things quickly take a turn for the worse. She gets dragged into an unknown parallel universe and creatures called Mirages start popping up everywhere. The Mirages are looking for the essence of human creativity, which is called Performa. The duo shove these magical orbs of light into the faces of two creatures, which starts a wonderful friendship with Chrom and Caeda from the Fire Emblem games. What follows is them and others entering parts of the Japanese entertainment industry, following the Mirages' every step.

Tsubasa, Itsuki, and the rest of the cast are part of Fortuna Entertainment and set out to stop the villainous Mirages. The party members quickly become friends, learn how to work together, and keep a talent firm running while saving the world. The amazing cast of characters makes the story fun as they try to unravel what exactly is happening. A truly evil mastermind is orchestrating all of this and ripping the two worlds apart, and a bunch of teens are the only ones capable of preventing disaster. One world is the game’s stylized version of Tokyo while the other is the Idolasphere, where all of the dungeon-crawling and battling occurs. The dueling worlds are wrapped up in an evolving mystery that rarely has a dull moment. The concept may seem silly, but within an hour it’s easy to understand the flow of Tokyo Mirage Sessions and enjoy the proceedings.

What works about the story in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE are its themes, particularly that of growth and overcoming adversity. Each chapter highlights a certain aspect of the Japanese entertainment industry and provides something for the characters to learn. One especially warm moment was seeing Tsubasa learn to sing with emotion in the first chapter. This scene set the tone for the way talent is unfurled and revealed in Tokyo Mirage Sessions. Tsubasa is forced into a situation where she has to perform with real emotion and learn something about herself in the process. Every part in the adventure has magical moments like this.

That glorious character development extends to the side stories as well. These are additional quests meant to deepen the relationship with the cast, both playable and NPC. One early quest has Kiria, an older Fortuna idol, searching for a lost doll from her youth. Here, Kiria wonders if it is okay to like cute things, and then she sings a song and gains a new ability as a result. Another sees Touma, who wants to become a Sentai-esque superhero, bettering his moves. Most of the side stories are character focused, but there are also quests that feature extra bosses in environments that you previously visited, adding more depth and personality to the charming world of Tokyo.

Speaking of charming, let's talk about the world and gameplay. Players will traverse through the various Tokyo areas seeking out new Idolasphere dungeons, talking to people, and completing quests. Shibuya is certainly the biggest and most important locale in #FE. The first two Idolaspheres take place in Shibuya, where most of the shops and side stories are found. The streets are mostly occupied by colorful shapes roaming the street, but this helps to clearly highlight points of interest. In that sense, it is hard to get lost or not know what the next step is supposed to be. A nice touch, particularly in that Shibuya landscape, is that posters and the music change as the story develops and your fledgling talent agency produces more hits. The areas of Tokyo can best be described as compact. You really wouldn't hang around them for too long, but they are nice to look at.

Most of your time in #FE will be spent in the Idolaspheres. Each of these dungeons reflect something found in the actual Tokyo area. An early example is Shibuya 106 (or 109 in real-life), which is a centerpiece in the Japanese fashion industry. This particular dungeon is decked out with gigantic headless dolls and mannequins. The mannequins must be pivoted and moved, simply so you can access higher or lower levels. Each dungeon has its own specific gimmick that is incredibly novel and doesn't overstay its welcome. In a later dungeon, you will be asked to write down a code and learn a route to the end of a maze. In addition to those intriguing obstacles, the Idolaspheres are also littered with enemies that drag you into the turn-based battle system.

That battle system, which I lovingly refer to as the ''true stage,'' is where the mixture of Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei really comes together. The game's turn-based combat sees players switching between attacking, skills, items, guarding and a variety of other options. As the characters take the spotlight, madness will unfold before your eyes in a rather colorful arena.  I mostly found myself toying around in the Skills menu, considering you have full control over how the battles play out. The names of the Skills are filled with references to various well known moves from both franchises. Names like Elthunder, Mediarama, and others will be instantly recognizable. If you happen to hit upon an enemy’s weakness and use an attack that exploits this, other characters will follow in what is called a ''Session.'' The flurries of offense that come from these spectacles aren't for the faint of heart. The ability to perform Sessions will be limited at first, but will become a focal point as you progress throughout the chapters.

In addition to the Sessions, there are various Performance Attacks that up the ante to the extreme. They come in three different varieties: Special, Ad-lib, and Duo Performances. Special Performances are selectable special attacks that do massive damage and create a weakness, regardless of what a Mirage is susceptible to. The other two happen randomly and are primarily unlocked through story progression. They are devastating and powerful attacks that provide major help as you go through the second half of the game and try to take down the harshest bosses. The attacks reference the songs and performances the Fortuna gang are laying down in the real world, so you wind up with gloriously nutty spectacles like a full-grown man in a bear suit protecting a little girl.

The last highlight is how Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE combines the weakness system of Shin Megami Tensei and the weapon triangle of Fire Emblem, and puts them right next to one another. The mixture creates a complex system where you will have to figure out what works the best again which Mirage. In time, it becomes trickier to perform optimally as the margin of error becomes slimmer. By watching the attack patterns, you can learn a thing or two, but that is still not a solid guarantee of success. This is particularly true with the bosses, who are based on various Fire Emblem baddies. The evil doers try to fully overtake a person in the real world, and you have to eliminate the boss to free them. An example, found in chapter two, is a possessed photographer who is overtaken by Gangrel of Fire Emblem Awakening fame.

New to the Nintendo Switch version are the EX Dungeons. These segments are three smaller 20 to 25-minute one-floor dungeons in which just a teensy bit of story plays out. The player will mostly see Itsuki, Tsubasa, and Kiria interact with each other and try to overcome a certain problem. The story here really isn't all that important, with the rewards being the true reason why you would want to play through these areas. The rewards offer up costumes for all playable characters, and special Jump-in Sessions Skills for Tiki, Barry and Maiko. The costumes are a mixture of the old Wii U downloadable content as well as some brand new ones. For example, there is a Joker costume for Itsuki while Eleonora can suit up as the main character of Etrian Odyssey Nexus. In addition, the three training dungeons that were included in the Wii U Special Edition are here as well.

As far as presentation on Nintendo Switch is concerned, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore looks as colorful as ever. The bright environments, battle arenas and cutscenes are a real joy to behold. The loading times are significantly better as the game loads faster in almost every instance. You can easily see this if you use the transport ability to bring you back to the Fortuna Entertainment offices. Within seconds, you are back to doing whatever is needed for the journey ahead. The only instance where it might be a teensy bit slower is in handheld mode, where it takes longer to start the game from boot-up. This really isn't a bad compromise, particularly when everything else is better. Even the TOPIC text chats, which is how you interact with characters remotely, can now be easily accessed with the + button. I had to get used to hopping in and out of the screen, but I didn't miss the Wii U GamePad at all honestly.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore remains one of the best Role Playing Games I've ever played. Everything from the characters to the battles has its own specific purpose, making for one meaningful adventure. Right from the get go, the game races at break-neck speed and really doesn't stop. Even as someone who played the game multiple times, I was charmed all over again by #FE's unique way of presenting the Japanese entertainment industry. What made it better are the improved loading times as well as the training dungeons, which slim down the potential grinding you have to do. As a result, you can focus on what actually matters: pop idols battling in funny outfits and destroying some mean-looking demons. Encore! Encore!

TalkBack / Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore (Switch) Hands-on Preview
« on: January 06, 2020, 01:00:00 AM »

Heading back into Tokyo, one Mirage at a time.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is one of the greatest games ever released on Wii U. I reviewed the game more than three years ago on this very website, and that opinion stands tall until this very day. Despite some localisation concerns, #FE was some of the most consistent fun I've ever had. The story, characters, worlds and gameplay perfectly complemented each other and made one heck of a ride. This presents, however, a problem I've never faced before: what new is there to say for this Encore hands-on? Instead of the nitty gritty that you can already find on this site, let us focus on the new stuff or the things that have changed.

First things first, we have to discuss the brand new EX Story content. These are seemingly smaller 20-25 minute segments in which just a teensy bit of story plays out. The player will mostly see Itsuki, Tsubasa, and Kiria interact with each other and try to overcome a certain problem. During the first segment, Tsubasa is moping about doing a cover of Reincarnation. She wants to have the same coolness factor of Kiria, but she doesn't know how to pull it off. It is said that these special mini one floor dungeons contain a remarkable item that can help them out, and give them inspiration. In the grand scheme of things, they don't add many wrinkles to the world of #FE. Outside the story bits at the beginning and ending, it is all about exploring the dungeon.

In the first dungeon, the paths are spread in various smaller directions where you pick up additional trinkets. These additional trinkets are the reason why you would want to go through the EX Story. First of all, plenty of additional costumes will be made available to you. The Atlus crossover costumes, which were DLC in the Wii U original, can be picked here and added to your battle wardrobe. So if you're keen on equipping the Princess Glory costume to Kiria, that is the place where you need to be. The downloadable content finds new life within these EX Stories, but there are some new offerings for you as well. Sadly, we are limited on what we can talk about in that department for now.

Another thing that you will earn in the EX Story dungeons are Jump-in Session Skills. When characters perform effective attacks, other cast members jump in to perform a string of attacks called Sessions. By getting the most out of this mechanic, you will have an easier time defeating enemies as well as earning additional items. With the new Jump-in Session skills, non-playable characters get their chance in the spotlight. Tiki, who helps you upgrade weapons and characters, will perform an attack called Magic-Fire. Important to note is that you don’t have any control over when these Jump-in Skills are activated. They happen out of the blue without warning, making a combo feel just that tiny bit more awesome.

Speaking of session battles, another important addition are the three training dungeons, which were included with the Wii U's special edition and available as paid content. Each of these dungeons sees you traveling through a hostile landscape where you pick up items and defeat enemies. The longer you stay in areas, or the more you defeat them, the more powerful they eventually become. The items you get by searching and defeating enemies depends on the quest you decided to enter. In EXPedition Hunter, you will get access to tons of the Tome item. By using two of these on an ally, they will be one experience point away from leveling up. Likewise, in Masterful Hunter, the Skill Book can be found by the buckets. By giving a Skill Book to a Carnage (the weapons that you equip), it will raise to the next level and give you a new skill. Finally, in Savage Hunter, players will be able to earn Detritus. By giving this to a specific character in the game, you will be able to learn a skill that allows you to open any closed treasure boxes. The road to get there, particularly the heavy hitting Savage enemies sitting there, isn't a particularly fun one.

I can't actively dislike the training dungeons being here. You see, it slims the overall grind of the game and allows all newcomers to have an easier time with the harsher challenges later on. At the same time, a smart player can stick around for a while and keep racking up items to basically bend the game to their will. As someone who is keen to see most of the Carnages completed and skills acquired, I didn't even blink twice to use these tools. It made the experience even quicker one as I was able to use superior skills when battling the various bosses. Depending on the type of player you are, your mileage may vary in this specific case. Personally, I used it in the knowledge that I've seen most of the game before.

As I use both the Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite these days, I constantly downloaded the cloud save between the two systems. In the long run, I did slightly prefer to play Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore on television with a Switch Pro Controller at hand. The TOPIC chats, which is how you interact with characters remote, can now be triggered with the +-button. I had to get used to hopping in and out of the screen, but it became second nature real fast. The loading times are significantly better than on the Wii U version. You can easily see this if you use the transport ability to bring you back to the Fortuna Entertainment offices. The game interrupted my current state with no issue, and within seconds I was back to Tiki to upgrade certain abilities that I needed. In handheld mode, it does a teensy bit longer after booting up your save file. This is something you can totally deal with, but it takes longer than I would personally like. Controlling the game with Joy-Con is perfectly do-able, and didn’t cause any issues. The performance, in either fashion, is without any problems as far as I can tell. It runs with a solid framerate without any noticeable dips, and the game looks as colorful as ever.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is a Wii U game getting a second lease on life. The thing is, this couldn't be happening to a more deserving game. While the new stuff isn't anything to particular shout about, this is still a fantastic game with a great sense of style. The battles are flashy and completely over the top, but something I can get completely behind. The real question is: are you going to help Itsuki and his friends to rise to stardom? You'd better, because you would be missing out on one of the best Atlus RPGs ever made. The road is long, but with highly entertaining interactions and songs, the hours will simply pass you by.


The itch for training my brain is back, and there are enough Sudoku puzzles to go around.

With Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training for Nintendo Switch, the series goes back to basics. Unlike Devilish Brain Training/Brain Age: Concentration Training, your working memory isn't the sole focus anymore. The big three tests of the original DS Brain Age/Brain Training are back: Self-Control, Processing Speed and Short-Term Memory. While it was sensory overload, you can't deny the game took a big step forward. The same was true of More Braining Training/Brain Age 2, where most of the previous training options were ditched for brand new ones. The new stuff in Brain Training Switch is solid, and there are even a few risks taken, but I just wish there was a teensy bit more.

Brain Training for Switch consists of two parts: Quick Play and Daily Training. Quick Play consists of six exercises where you put the system in its regular landscape position. The first three games (Rock-Paper-Scissors Test, Finger Calculations and Finger Drills) make use of the right Joy-Con's IR motion camera, and all of them are incredibly fun. The Rock-Paper-Scissors Test is a quick brain age check, testing your reflexes and focus. At random intervals, you are asked to win or lose, constantly playing with your expectations. Finger Calculations sees you flashing a number of fingers into the IR motion camera. On screen, the numbers are showcased with hands too, forcing you to stay on your feet and think quickly. My favorite challenge in the IR games, however, is Finger Drills. With your hand, you’re asked to make various shapes in quick succession. From an open hand to a thumbs up, Finger Drills focuses on your hand eye coordination with pinpoint precision. The three exercises don't try to lose you and keep the instructions on screen at all times.

The IR exercises steal the show in my book. The games are some of the most novel uses I've seen of the motion camera, with them actually being implemented into actual gameplay. The previous uses were just mostly okay, with none giving you the tools to interact with the IR camera properly. I recognize that you have to get used to holding the Joy-Con a certain way, but it wasn't something out of reach. I did wonder how far my hand and the camera needed to be apart, and still screwed this up a number of times before I nailed it. What remains impressive is how it picks up shapes so incredibly well, and without any hassle.

The other three games in Quick Play (Birdwatching, Flag Raising and Box Counting) have a distinct two player focus. Birdwatching and Box Counting are similar, with both games focusing on counting what is on screen. Players press ZL or ZR to count something, and press the L or R buttons to confirm the amount. The biggest difference between the two is the speed at which they move. The boxes are visible for a limited amount of time on screen, while you can take your time with the birds. In Flag Raising, players have to copy the movement of a character on screen and move a flag in multiple directions. The minigame is like a far more complicated version of Simon Says with you having to follow the instructions exactly. You won't keep playing the multiplayer offerings for very long, but it was a nice distraction from the main course.

That main course is Daily Training. It is the part of the game where testing your brain matters, and progression will be saved after wrapping up exercises. In addition to the IR Motion Camera offerings I've mentioned, Daily Training offers a decent selection of old and new tests that you can dive into. Unlike Quick Play, players will hold the Nintendo Switch in Tate mode (vertically) and use the included stylus (retail release) to play Brain Training the classic way. The stylus' size is, simply put, just perfect. In comparison to the last few Nintendo 3DS models, you can easily wrap your hand around the Nintendo Switch one. You don't have to hold it in some weird or off putting position.

In total, it took 18 days to see every piece of content in the game. The main problem is that after a while, Brain Training for Switch just gives you one new exercise every two days. There are, not counting anything in the Brain Age test or Quick Play, just 13 exercises in total. This is just a bit more than the originals, with the majority being minigames that you already know. That being said, I do really like offerings that they have available. The minigames available are Calculations x25, Calculations x100, Low to High, Germ Buster, Dual Task, Photographic Memory, Head Count, Reading Aloud, Sudoku, Masterpiece Recital, Finger Calculations, Finger Drills and Word Scramble. In classic exercises, like Calculations, you still write your numbers on the screen in the hope that the game accepts your handwriting. Some other older offerings like Germ Buster and Sudoku sport a brand new look or new functions to support the new one screen set-up. They are just as straightforward as they used to be in the Nintendo DS days, so not as elaborate as Devilish Brain Training.

The new games in Brain Training for Nintendo Switch are a feast for the senses. In Dual Task, you will be performing two tasks at the same time. The little guy needs you help jumping over hurdles on top while you choose the highest number at the bottom. You really have to divide your attention, because screwing up at either end would incur a six second penalty. Photographic Memory requires you to remember a current photo and asks you about the photo you've seen before this. The exercise starts out extremely simple, but quickly starts to mess with you. Mirrored images will populate your field, and will completely throw you off your game. It is really intense, and forces you to take in details very quickly. Last but not least, we have Word Scramble. In this game, letters will float all across the screen. Your task is to find the words within the chaos, and quickly press on to the next screen.

You can't have Brain Training without the Brain Age test that the series is known for. The test focuses on three specific factors we've mentioned at the start. During my first run of the Brain Age test, I felt pushed to the limit. Round one was clicking on the highest numbers, while the second part was counting loudly from 1 to 120. In the final round, the player has to remember 25 numbers and fill the boxes from memory one by one. Every Brain Age test throws different exercises into the mixture. There will be moments where you might be required to do the Rock-Paper-Scissors game, connect numbers and letters with lines or keep subtracting from a certain number. The test is meant to be played back-to-back, so don't worry if you fail them. You really learn from your mistakes, and simply do better the next time around.

Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training for Nintendo Switch is a fine offering for the system. The game focuses on the principles of the Nintendo DS outings, and does so with grace. I think it is a shame that more games were not included in the total package. The new parts of the experience were rather good, but it would've been better if most of it was new. Still, I can't deny having a good time with challenging myself at the same mixture of minigames. Besides that, playing Brain Training is a great start to the day. It allows me to mentally reset, try some hard-hitting challenges and get on with my day. For now and then, the Nintendo Switch version is rather ideally made.

TalkBack / Daan's Top 30 Games for Attractive Woopers: 2019 Edition
« on: December 30, 2019, 10:00:00 PM »

2019 was the year of RPGs, some absurd great soundtracks and maddening concepts.

2019 was better than it had any right to be. At the beginning of last year, I had hopes and dreams, but I really didn't think that it would turn out to be so fun. Every month had enjoyable games that showcased what different developers could bring to Nintendo Switch. Whereas 2017 was positioned to be a very strong opening year, 2019 showed the most promise in its variety of software. Believe me, there were many games I wanted to include beyond my top 30, but I can't realistically write about 50-60 games here. According to my ratings, this has been the second highest year in the 15 years I've been writing about games. 2020, you will have a hard time coming even close to topping this.

Before we dive into the actual list, here are some games that didn't make the cut, but are still well worth your time: Pokémon Sword and Shield, Luigi's Mansion 3, Away: Journey to the Unexpected, Untitled Goose Game, WarGroove, Vectronom, Vortex Attack EX, Assault Android Cactus+, FutureGrind, Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX, Gato Roboto, Dandy Dungeon, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid, Slay the Spire, Blasphemous, Jamestown+, Tangle Tower, Plunge, Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns, Chime Sharp, The Stretchers, Cadence of Hyrule, BQM - BlockQuest Maker, Double Cross, and Dragon Quest Builders 2. You should also play Ori and the Blind Forest, Cuphead, and The Witcher 3 if you haven't already.  All right, with those out of the picture, let's really sink our teeth in.

30. Tiny Metal: Full Metal Rumble

Advance Wars-like games are hard to get right. Where the original Tiny Metal tried to make things friendlier, Full Metal Rumble goes way more into the deep-end. As a result, the game offers 39 campaign maps that really force you to look over everything twice. There are more units to play with, each commander has their own skills, and each scenario offers more checks and balances. In addition, the story is a lot nicer in general and offers an English voice cast that was noticeably lacking from the original. Together with sizeable Skirmish and Multiplayer modes, Fully Metal Rumble offers the perfect balance of strategy and intrigue.

29. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

While I do feel that the story can be disjointed, there is still plenty to like about 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The strategy gameplay is more palpable, with high stakes in every scenario. On the higher difficulties, having a sharp eye is key, but never did I feel that progression became too unfair to handle. Once you get in the groove, it isn't hard to see the hours just fly by. What helps Three Houses the most is its characters. When you keep the Support conversations in mind, these are some of the most well-presented party members in the series' history. Not everyone gets equal footing, but I do think that their motivations are explained quite well. And hey, exploring the monastery quickly becomes second nature!

28. Nintendo Labo Toy-Con 04 - VR Kit

The VR Kit managed to do something that the previous Nintendo Labo offerings could only dream of: it constantly made me excited. Nintendo's craft projects have always been fun, but they were seriously lacking when it came to the actual game portion. The VR Kit, in that sense, is a very different beast. It was absolutely fantastic to shoot aliens with the Blaster, fly between a flock of birds, or take photos underwater. From simple ideas in the VR Plaza to painting with an elephant, it mostly made me smile in a big way. While the VR offerings in other games came and went, the pure fun of mixing physical actions in the real world with the game world is why the fourth Toy-Con pack will remain in the back of my mind.

27. Hexagroove: Tactical DJ

The concept of Hexagroove seems simple from a distance: you manage a circle with various loops within it. Each loop represents an instrument and needs to be changed at specific points throughout your session. Where it gets fun is that along the way, players will be introduced to new instruments and get thrown off by sudden changes. On top of that, the public wants to see constant shifts in the song and will get unhappy when you don't play along. This will see you playing a couple of minigames that will elevate the loops, as you attempt to reach the most optimal position. By staying on top and earning that admiration, you will find yourself in different clubs all over the world. Hexagroove is a quirky blend of music and strategy games, and I'm oddly on board with that.

26. Baba Is You

Baba Is You is one of the most entertaining puzzlers I've ever played. The solutions of the puzzles come down to multiple words found in the level. For example, the words refer to an object (Wall), the verb ''is'' and then the action (Move). By using the words in this example, I can move around the walls at the same time as  Baba. This would allow me to reach the end flag and win. There is always a fantastic or over the top method for solving each puzzle. That is the strength of Baba's journey. The solution to a problem may not be apparent at first, but by using the tools provided, you will reach the end state required. The bliss of experimenting and eventually seeing that light bulb popping in your head... well, there is indeed something magical about that process.

25. GRID Autosport

Until this year, I had never played GRID Autosport, which is mostly down to its original release timing. That is a shame, because this is one of the finest racing games on the Switch today. What makes GRID Autosport such a beast is the sheer amount of racing disciplines players can choose from. Better yet, you can pick whatever you like and ignore the stuff you don't want to deal with. For example, want to participate on the street courses solely? No problem. Do you want to speed around more traditional racing circuits? Have at it. Furthermore, the Nintendo Switch includes a very novel control option, where you use the right stick to accelerate. Now, it’s hard to go back to other racing sims.

24. Cat Quest II

Cat Quest II is like Cat Quest, but way better. Okay, okay. Let me slow down just a teensy bit here. In this action-RPG, you do simple attacks and take on quests of various sizes. Everyone can understand the game and have a solid time. The new game adds various weapon types, a playable dog character and a map that is double the size of the original. As you explore this big world, you will come across dungeons and bosses to improve your skill set. The various characters are quite adorable. with fun flavor text and hilarious animal-based puns. Hours will melt away as go into towns and gather loot for the next section of the journey. Cat Quest II is nicely paced, allowing you to understand what makes it special in the blink of an eye.

23. Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition

Over the last number of years, I found myself slowly getting into the ''Tales of'' games. While I caught up on plenty of entries, Tales of Vesperia is one that alluded me for some time now. Vesperia is a fantastic journey from beginning to end, with likeable characters, an entertaining battle system, and graphics that hold up quite well. The story is spread across three acts and is allowed to build up over the many hours of the game. The waves of serious and comedic are what kept me hooked until the very end and helped me to not lose focus. As you continue on your quest, Tales of Vesperia gives you a lot to manage in the Linear Motion Battles, but this is something that any RPG player can overcome.

22. Monkey Barrels

Dual-stick shooters are one of my jams, and Monkey Barrels is one that fits the mold very nicely. In the game, you control a monkey that cleans up a machine-ridden environments. This isn't simple in the slightest as these enemies will put their focus on you once you come into the picture. Across the 22 stages available, it is important that you collect all the junk you see and find the hidden blueprint. These pieces of paper will make new weapons available, of which there are 98 different ones in total. Most of the weapons are great to use, and give you different strategies to use when entering levels. I had a blast trying out every single one, and teaming up a mate to take down the over-the-top bosses.

21. Star Wars Pinball

Pinball is a great pastime, and Zen Studios are masters when it comes to managing the ebb and flow of a table. Star Wars Pinball is the best one they have ever produced, with 18 Star Wars-themed offerings that are out of this world. Each of these tables comes with unique missions, moving attributes, and even special minigames to boot. The newly-added Career Mode sees you performing specific tasks on the tables, making this perfect for handheld play. Like usual, you can also shoot for highscores and learn about the tables as you play. The journey goes past the movies and gave me many warm feelings while playing. For a lazy few hours, Star Wars Pinball feels like a perfect companion.

20. Wilmot's Warehouse

In Wilmot's Warehouse, you are tasked with sorting various items and giving them a place in the facility. After the initial arrival period ends, you will end up grabbing items as the orders start to come in. By performing both tasks efficiently, you will earn stars that give you access to new abilities, like holding more boxes or a dash move. There is something incredibly relaxing about Wilmot's Warehouse. Even though the selection of items grows after every shift, it is all about you taking control. You need to learn the warehouse that you're building up yourself, alone or with a buddy. Either way, I can't believe how many hours I played this on the Nintendo Switch Lite. Way too many, but I’m not complaining.

19. The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince

One of the most charming stories that I got to experience in 2019 was The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince. The storybook style immediately stands out and hooks you in. The game, a narrative-driven platformer, sees you taking control of a wolf. This wolf blinds a young prince, who is following a beautiful singing voice. She feels responsible for how everything went down, so she makes a deal with a witch, allowing her to transform into a princess. You have to constantly switch between the wolf and princess to solve environmental puzzles and come closer to the solution you are looking for. The mechanics and intrigue grow over time, making for one really complete experience.

18. Katana Zero

A flashy, side-scrolling action title that really made me think was Katana Zero. In the opening moments, the combat really took me for a ride with snappy slice and dice moves. You had to zoom through the environment, immediately attack after making contact, and throw the baddies into complete disarray. That is only half of the story, however. During the story portions, you need to help the main character find inner peace and make some rough life choices. The scenarios can play out in a bunch of different ways, depending on how you approach your surroundings. The assassination missions, combined with the meds you swallow, might not go as smooth as you might expect, but expect heart-racing adventures throughout.


With over 270 puzzles to complete, BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! offers up the most complete package in the series yet. While I thought that the complete story was told in the last Nintendo 3DS game, they managed to take it in a completely different direction. Quby and his friends live a life with adorable children until disaster strikes, and now the action puzzle master is back. Every world feels different and employs unique mechanics and fun ways to use them. In addition to playing solo, you can also opt to play it with a pal. Each character will have their box limits, role in the puzzle, and ways to overcome the terrain. All this and more made BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! feel like it thinks more outside the box. Pun totally intended.

16. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

The original Link's Awakening is one of the first Zelda games that I completely finished from beginning to end. While I did need help from others, I was immediately charmed by the world and its story. Now, many years on, my nostalgia glasses can be turned off, as many changes have been implemented to make Link's Awakening a better game. Item management is simply a joy, and some items are now equipped by default. It makes for a brisk adventure where the time just flies by. I couldn't help but play the game two times in a row, and I'm now seriously considering a third run. The newly-added charm to the characters allows the world of Koholint Island really pop. Truly an experience that belongs on Nintendo Switch.

15. SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech

Combining RPG mechanics and card-based gameplay has been a consistent trend across 2019, but SteamWorld Quest brings it together in a rather interesting fashion. Quest focuses on the universe of SteamWorld and throws it for a curve. You play as a bunch of wannabe heroes that want to stop the evil Void army from taking over. To do so, you will travel across 2D landscapes and participate in card-based battles. If you manage to combine the cards and have the right amount of resources, you can pull off some incredible combos that leave you (and your opponents) stunned. I was mostly impressed by the deep strategy and wondrous characters that make this ride one to remember. The 19 chapters flew by before I knew it!

14. PikuNiku

PikuNiku is wonderfully strange, and the game doesn't do anything to hide that fact. The journey opens with eccentric Mr. Sunshine, who wants to give you free money in exchange for collecting all the junk. That junk, however, is all the resources the inhabitants need to enjoy their lives. As Piku, you must travel through a variety of environments and use a simple move set to save the world. I mostly found that you will be going from simple task to simple task, but that is the beauty of it, too. There is almost no downtime during the adventure, and events almost immediately follow one another. Now yes, some of the situations won't make a lick of sense, but the consistency matters more, I reckon. The presentation, however, is what makes me instantly love whatever PikuNiku stands for.

13. Super Mario Maker 2

Super Mario Maker 2 is one of those games that I will never stop playing across the Nintendo Switch's life. Every single day I start up the game and see whatever trends pop up on Course World that day. The ideas that the active creator base comes up with are amazing, and they keep improving on their skills on a weekly basis. Most of the ideas introduced at launch still find fun uses that weren't considered before. Even now with two updates under its belt, the game keeps impressing me, now with a strong influx of Link-based levels. They are a lot more puzzle based and open the door for even more diverse level types. It helps that you can finally play with your friends online, which is honestly some of the most fun I've had all year. Now, where is my 100 Mario Challenge or new game styles, Nintendo?

12. Tetris 99

Tetris is my favorite puzzle game of all time. I'm the foolish person who purchased multiple copies of Puyo Puyo Tetris, simply because I'm that desperate. Luckily, Tetris 99 happens to be a game that is free for Nintendo Switch Online members. Now, sure, I did purchase all the additional content and took on the grind to net all the unlockable themes. That being said, however, I mostly keep playing the basic Battle Royale mode. The novelty of fighting against others around the world, and getting the highest end result possible is what keeps me trying. There is a constant rush of finding a strategy, sending garbage to the right people, and pushing yourself that much more to the top. Tetris 99 has easily become my daily driver, and nothing seems to make that feeling go away.

11. VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

The world is controlled by the corporations, and all life has been taken hold of by nanomachines. Enter VA-11 Hall-A, a bar where nothing seems the way it looks. While not a sizable location, it attracts interesting folk that will open up depending on the drinks you serve. The most important thing is to learn the clients, talk to them, and see where the intriguing story leads you.  VA-11 Hall-A's journey offers up plenty of branching paths, with outcomes that really kept me glued to the screen. Who knows? Maybe that one drink can change a patron’s life for good, and keep you second guessing as to their true intentions.

10. PictoQuest

Listen up. You surely have played many Picross titles before this, but the problem is that they aren’t as good as PictoQuest. This wonderfully crafted game involves taking on a world map filled with puzzles that you need to complete. What makes PictoQuest different from the games before it are the stakes. If you make a mistake or wait too long, a monster will attack and dish out some massive damage. These stakes create urgency in the proceedings, which is a rather unique step to take for a puzzler. Luckily, less skilled players will have access to a variety of helpful tools, which ensures that most players will reach the end. PictoQuest is an incredibly charming experience that you really shouldn’t miss out on.

9. Ring Fit Adventure

Ring Fit Adventure is the most entertaining fitness game I've played in years. While I spent a reasonable amount of time with the Wii Fit games, this is the first time that I could do most of what the game offered. The pure flexibility of the game allows any skill level to come in, and have a good time with what this fitness RPG offers. Every day, I went through the worlds, battled against enemies, explored a bunch of different environments, and felt extremely satisfied, not to mention exhausted. In addition, Quick Play offers even more things for you to do, making the package extremely wide in scope. All this said, Ring Fit Adventure never loses sight of its intentions and leaves no player behind to fight all by themselves. Lovely stuff!

8. River City Girls

WayForward are the kings and queens of reviving the feel of old games. The River City Ransom series, known as Kunio-kun in Japan, are some of the finest beat 'em up adventures around. The famed developer created a twist on the formula, and gave two female leads the starring role. These wondrous ladies are tasked with saving their guys, but have a lot of fun while doing so.  The results aren't just new opponents to face, but also tons of flashy new moves to go along with them. As you play, you're constantly expanding your arsenal and exploring the town area for additional activities. Pair that together with one outstanding synth-pop soundtrack, and you got one game that is absolutely the talk of River City.

7. Sayonara Wild Hearts

A pop album come to life. This is how Sayonara Wild Hearts is being billed, and that is 100% accurate in my humble opinion. The latest title from famed mobile developer Simogo feels like a musical journey flashing on your television screen. You will play through increasingly harder arcade-style stages, and see yourself reacting to what is happening. From riding magical deer to escaping a video game, Sayonara Wild Hearts keeps growing its ambitions. The excellent graphics, gameplay twists, and overall feel are absolutely spellbinding. Very skilled players may find themselves done a little quickly, only to dive deep and try to net every gold rank. For some reason, however, I kept starting over and immediately experiencing a new journey of love.

6. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair

Who thought that a Yooka-Laylee 2D adventure would be my favorite platformer of 2019? Well, the Impossible Lair manages to capture the feeling of a Donkey Kong Country game but gives the experience its own twists and turns. It instantly gave a huge grin as I went from rolling to sliding, followed by performing a big jump over a gap. The momentum-based gameplay just feels absolutely fantastic. The alternative levels, which you unlock by meeting specific requirements, add fun flavors to the mixture. In one level, you are now being chased by enemies unlike during the first go around; another level is completely covered in ice during your second trip their. Every level introduces obstacles that will make you a better player and reinforces the efforts made by the developer.

5. Astral Chain

The opening hour of Astral Chain throws a lot at you. From gameplay systems to world building, there is a lot to take in. If you allow yourself to get indulged and explore the wonders of the Ark, Astral Chain is sure to become one of the most genius games this year for you. The five different Legions, together with your skill moves, make for an incredible display of power and possibilities. In addition to action set pieces and stopping Chimera threats, there is just so much spectacle and wonder as you clear smaller tasks and find a fair share of collectibles. Every chapter in the game offers a lot to sink your teeth into, slowing building to one of the best finales this year. It goes full on anime, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

4. Blaster Master Zero 2

In Blaster Master Zero 2, it is your task to save Eve from the mutant cells corrupting her body. The brand new game directly follows up on the original, with the same great side-scrolling and top-down action. An instant change compared to the original are the many planets that you will visit. There are smaller environments that are densely packed, and ensure that you don't get lost. Blaster Master Zero 2 also offers plenty of gameplay innovations, which made me instantly fall in love. The new Gaia system gives you energy by falling from heights, allowing you to make usage of GAIA-SOPHIA's sub-weapon functions. Another great inclusion is Jason's ability to counterattack, making for some cracking boss fight moments!

3. Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout

Never in a million years would I ever have expected to put an Atelier game on my top games list. Atelier Ryza starts with a fresh pair of eyes, and does so for the better. The character of Ryza is a lot more adventurous, someone who wants to explore the world and is up for a little bit of danger. The unique perspective and the characters being more than just blank slates makes the whole flow rather different. Many of the systems, that have stayed the same forever, are now changed in favor of allowing new players to come in. Battles are no longer turn-based affairs, but very Active Time Battle-esque instead. The alchemy systems are a lot friendlier, and ensure that newcomers have no problem keeping up. Overall though, what works the most about Atelier Ryza is how easy-going and fun the whole journey is.

2. AI: The Somnium Files

Kotaro Uchikoshi is an absolute madman, and he fully embraces this side of himself with AI: The Somnium Files. The game sits in a unique position where only this game exists and nothing else. It is part research, puzzle solving and visual novel, and somehow it all gels together extremely well. You play as Date, a member of a special Japanese police force, and you hop into people's dreams like nobody's business. These dreams offer up their own branching paths, impacting the story that lies beyond that point.  Initially, it is not wrong to assume it will be a cut and dry murder mystery, but believe me when I say that it will go off the rails quicker than you might think. And honestly, when that happens, AI: The Somnium Files really starts to show its wonderful abstract colors.

1. Dragon Quest XI S

Dragon Quest XI S is, simply put, one of the finest RPGs ever put on Nintendo Switch. The game offers a battle system that is refined and inviting, while still feeling nostalgic at the same time. What made the game work for me is the sheer amount of content, and the quality of said content. The characters are well defined, most quests are entertaining, and every road leads to something new and exciting. The world of Dragon Quest XI S may not be open, but you quickly forget all about that once you start going deep into the story. The Nintendo Switch is the ultimate way to play, thanks to added stories and additional tweaks to the controls. The presentation is much improved as well, making this Dragon Quest entry the best one for newcomers and veterans alike.

TalkBack / Dauntless (Switch) Review
« on: December 30, 2019, 08:41:37 AM »

Despite a subpar presentation, this is the best introduction to hunting monsters ever.

It hurts to say, but Monster Hunter is a hard franchise to get into for newcomers. There are barriers with the various weapons, crafting, and mission structure that makes an introduction for newcomers far less from ideal. At the same time, once you get into the swing of things, it is one of the most strategic and fun action RPGs out there. That being said, there is always a drive to introduce newcomers, and that is where Phoenix Labs' Dauntless comes in. A title similar in the vein of Monster Hunter, Dauntless tries to remove obstacles and makes the experience instantly engaging and accessible. The result is a game I can easily recommend, coming with the benefit that it is also free-to-play.

Players will travel to the Shattered Isles, where various Behemoths roam the different environments. As a Slayer, it is up to you to destroy them with your flashy arsenal of weapons and moves. There’s also a story behind why these creatures are a threat to the islands. The Shattered Isles float up high into the sky and the Behemoths eat up all the Aether, which is the magical juice required to keep them there. Together with other Slayers, who gather in the town of Ramsgate, you will go on a variety of missions and improve constantly throughout your adventure.

Improving isn't done through the methods you might expect. Your Slayer won't grow with level ups, but instead through the equipment that they use. Similarly to Monster Hunter, you will have to loot the Behemoth's remains and use the important bits for new armor pieces and weapons. After wrapping up a mission and realizing I was missing something, I felt the need to go on another hunt straight away. That is how Dauntless gets you. You will see a goal in front of you, but you are just out of reach, so you continue the cycle for the satisfaction. Surely, there will be people who don't see that appeal, but it did enough to stop me from shutting down the game after accomplishing what I had set out to do. It was encouraging to constantly shoot for new goals, delaying the finish line by just a teensy bit each time.

What makes that process work is the brisk pace of all the missions available. Where other hunting games will waste your time by searching walled off environments and collecting additional resources, Dauntless allows you to just go wild after you touch down for a new mission. Each one is focused on defeating the Behemoth, and so you’re placed in their immediate proximity. The focus is solely on the fighting and looting, which makes for a loop that goes straight to the point. Depending on what you have on you, these fights could take a while, but I was never disappointed with how Dauntless sets these up.

I haven't even discussed the weapon variety, which is why the game never loses its touch. Dauntless offers something for many different playstyles, and I had a blast trying so many unique options. My personal go-to was the Chain Blades. These were smaller, compact blades that can both be used up close and from afar, ensuring that you always have a strong means of attack. Their light weight makes them perfect for hectic situations since you can dodge in a pinch. Another that I quite liked was the War Pike, which is absolutely fantastic to do huge piercing damage. The most important thing is finding what you personally enjoy. The Chain Blades require far more frantic play, while a  War Pike requires a specific strike at a monster's weak spot. The weapons all follow a basic blueprint, but finding what works for you is crucial to enjoying the game.

Most of the time I played Dauntless online, which proved the most fruitful way to play. While I had some communication problems with random people, it was an utter joy with friends. Each would use a different weapon and skill set to overcome what was ahead. Even better is that progression and friends carry over between a variety of platforms, thanks to an Epic Account. This way, I could call upon friends who have been playing Dauntless for months. I got to learn the workings of each Behemoth, who each act differently and move about in their own specific ways. Usually, you can get these details from NPCs in the HUB, but this process feels a bit all over the place. Dauntless thrives on its briskness.

While I loved most of Dauntless, there is a sticking point that I have to bring up: the presentation. Ramsgate's framerate was downright unacceptable on Nintendo Switch, floating roughly around 15 frames per second. The hunts were better, at 25-30 frames per second, but even then there were some dropped frames. Furthermore, there were some extremely long loading times that detract from the game’s fast pace. In all likelihood, the presentation will be improved over time, but right now it is just okay. The graphical style is, at the very least, quite nice and really deserves to be seen.

Dauntless is a great game dragged down by a subpar presentation. The loading and framerate could really use some work, with the hub town feeling like a slideshow now and again. Once you get hunting, however, Dauntless really comes into its own. The pure focus on hunting and looting monsters feels amazing, with fun missions and even better weapons. It thrives and pushes you constantly to completion, and slowly moves that completion goal further down the pipeline. As a free-to-play title, it is absolutely one of the nicer ones and makes for a great time with your friends.

TalkBack / StarBlox Inc. (Switch) Review
« on: December 30, 2019, 08:25:00 AM »

The fight for blocks may seem confusing, but it gets competitive rather fast!

The world of puzzle games is a diverse one, with options available for various player types. While I appreciate most of them, it is hard for me to see something new that makes me pay attention. StarBlox Inc. immediately broke the status quo with a mixture of battling and puzzling. The game looked complicated from a distance, but I gave it a fair shake anyway, despite some problems that could potentially pop up. Were these worries warranted? A tiny bit.

In principle alone, I do think that StarBlox Inc. is a great little game. You and another player fight against each other to take control of puzzle pieces. This is done in a platform fighter style fashion, which maybe isn't the most precise method, but it gets the job done. Once you obtain a block, you will twist it to your will and place it on the board. The way you complete lines is similar to Puyo Puyo, where having multiple blocks of the same color is important to score points. A very important thing is that a shape you pick up has to connect to a block of the same color. This forces you to multitask where you fight, what your board looks like, and how to place the pieces to the best of your ability. It can get overwhelming incredibly fast, particularly if you play with someone less experienced.

Gameplay gets more complicated when you realize that you can influence what the other person is doing. You can stop them from throwing blocks onto their grid, or throw the other play into an incinerator to instantly slow them down. The best way to win a match in StarBlox Inc. is to simply take control of the board, and get free pickings at the blocks you need. Once it clicks in your head, specific strategies will come very naturally to you, but it takes a while to get there. When the game manages to shift into second gear, it becomes a highly competitive affair that my more-savvy friends really got a kick out of. I think what bugs me the most is the tutorial. It was way too long and tried to play it for laughs. The jokes made during the tutorial weren't bad, but they dragged the whole learning experience down a lot.

As far as content is concerned, there is plenty to keep you going. There is Career Mode where you travel to different planets and take on the opponents there. In addition, there are competitive modes for up to four players and battles against CPUs for up to eight A.I. opponents. The most interesting feature, however, is the Guide to the Solar System. The option contains all kinds of fun information from NASA about asteroids, space elements, and planets. As you play more, StarBlox Inc. will open up more trinkets in this specific mode. It is a stark contrast compared to the rest of the game, but that doesn't mean I didn't appreciate it. There were highly entertaining reads throughout.

StarBlox Inc. is a neat game, but with a big problem when it comes to explaining things. The game's tutorial drags and for gaming novices, the mechanics and strategy will really not come naturally. There are many little things that you need to keep in mind to give you the edge in battle. Once you get the hang of the proceedings, though, it can become a highly competitive experience with each side fighting for total domination. The battle and puzzle combo is quite an adorable one that runs quite well on Nintendo Switch.

TalkBack / Ghost Parade (Switch) Review
« on: December 04, 2019, 02:41:49 PM »

The biggest ghost is the sadness we developed along the way.

Ghost Parade has a lot going for it. The unique art style instantly attracted me to the game with great character designs to boot. It seems like a decent platformer to sink your teeth into. The emphasis is on ''seems'', because in reality Ghost Parade is one of the most irritating games that I've played this year. It is a game with solid intentions, but far from sound ideas. In a sea of platformers, it managed to quickly get on my nerves and never truly recover from that.

Initially, I liked the set-up of Ghost Parade. You take control of Suri, a girl who just wants to get to school as quickly as possible. To do so, she decides to take a shortcut through the forest, where ghosts are suddenly waiting for her. These ghosts have one clear goal: stopping humans from destroying their beloved forest. It is a decent enough message, but my lord does it manage to say it in the most boring way possible. There is no character development, and the story mostly relishes in skits. This starts out cute, but that initial high slowly starts to sink deep. The jokes aren't exactly funny, and the game is filled to the brim with obvious grammatical errors.

The gameplay can be best described as bad. Ghost Parade is a platformer with some adventure thrown into the mix. Players can jump and attack while exploring the levels. While the melee attack works okay, I can't say the same for the jumps. I didn't feel in control at all as it lacked any kind of precision. The game became incredibly spotty when I used the double jump and had to land on a specific spot. The down movement was incredibly harsh, making the platforming in this platforming game really not fun. Oh, and you know what is even better? Giving the player no room to recover from an attack. Thanks, that’s really kind.

What doesn't exactly help matters is the level design. It seems designed for a title that should control a whole lot better. Even then, traps can be completely missed without any fault of your own. For some reason, Ghost Parade thought that it would be a great idea to include some backtracking. To get everything out of the story, the game requires you to do this. As the game feels more linear that it actually is, there doesn't feel all that much to see I'm afraid. Ghost Parade has a leveling system, and wants you to destroy enemies as much as possible. The problem is that none of the proceedings are actually fun to play.

Ghost Parade doesn't look all that fantastic either. The character models and backgrounds have a solid style to them, but the platforms feel very slapdash. By the way, the title runs absolutely dreadful on Nintendo Switch. The game has a lot of framerate dips, and loading times are truly all over the place. How this got published in this state is truly beyond me.

Ghost Parade has a few sound intentions, but the game's quality is well below par. The game runs dreadfully, and none of Ghost Parade's elements are exactly fun. There are passable moments found within the combat and story, but all of that feels few and far between. As a platformer, it fails to make even a slight impact. Not even on an ironic level can I say I had fun with the journey.

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