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TalkBack / Pinball FX3: The Williams Collection Volume 5
« on: December 20, 2019, 03:01:32 PM »

This trio of classic machines is pretty funny.

Ah, the Williams collection. I was kind of lukewarm on the first wave of these classic pinball tables and hoped that they weren’t indicative of the collection as a whole, given how much praise the Williams tables generally receive. It sounds like David Lloyd enjoyed the second pack, however, and I’m happy to report that all three tables in the fifth pack are excellent.

My favorite is Tales of the Arabian Nights, which features a blue genie character and a lamp that spins around when you hit it. Your goal is to collect several “gems” and rescue a princess, and to do so you activate quests and then hit various objects or lanes to complete them. There’s some interaction with the dot-matrix screen here, where you select your rewards for completing quests. The music, voice samples, and general aesthetic of this table are fantastic, and all three challenge modes (One-Ball, 5-Minute, and Survival) are all perfectly doable. The Pinball FX3 overlay is also not as intrusive as I’d feared, and I generally preferred to play it that way.

I initially didn’t like No Good Gofers, which was apparently the company’s last pinball game. It’s quite ramp-heavy, and in fact one of the table’s most famous features is a “slam ramp” that contains one of the most difficult shots (“hole-in-one”) in pinball history. I don’t think I’ve made this shot yet. This is the only table of the three that contains a third flipper (upper right). My initial distaste was largely a result of thinking it relied too heavily on ramps, and while that’s true, there’s more depth here than I originally thought. It is, however, prone to more gutter balls than I’d like. I find that the Survival and 5-Minute challenges are pretty fun, but the one-ball challenge is tough due to the prevalence of gutter balls. As in Arabian Nights, the FX3 overlay is unobtrusive.

Another one of Williams’ final pinball machines is Cirqus Voltaire. It features a magnet that diverts the ball into the locks and a giant green “ringmaster” head that rises up and must be pummeled. It also moves the dot-matrix display from the backboard to inside the table itself, where it forms the back wall. This table features a whopping EIGHT multiball modes, although most of them are two-ball affairs. You can also stack multiball modes, but the highest number of balls in play will be four. This is my second-favorite table in the pack. It’s a large table with plenty to do and what ramps do exist have interesting tracks. All three challenge modes are quite enjoyable. Oh, and like Arabian Nights, I keep the FX3 overlay on here, too.

I’ve also discovered the joys of playing Pinball FX3 on my Flip Grip, which is actually preferable to playing on my TV. Definitely worth a try if you have that wonderful accessory.

All three of these tables are enjoyable, so I can heartily recommend this collection if you’re a fan of real pinball tables or previous Williams Collections.

TalkBack / Shovel Knight: King of Cards (Switch) Review
« on: December 09, 2019, 01:43:00 AM »

King Knight's got an ace up his sleeve.

Five years after its launch, Shovel Knight, the gift that keeps on giving, comes to a close. I was incredibly impressed with its maiden voyage, now called Shovel of Hope, in 2014. The expansions to that story, Plague of Shadows and Specter of Torment, were each impressive in different ways. This week sees the release of Shovel Knight’s final two addendums: King of Cards and the multiplayer brawler Showdown. This review will cover the former, but I can’t really do justice to the latter without experiencing it in a multiplayer context as it was meant to be played. That review will come soon.

In King of Cards, you take control of—surprise, surprise—King Knight as he goes on a journey to be the best Joustus player that ever was. To do so, he must travel across the realm, defeating the three Joustus Judges and building up his Joustus deck by winning matches of the card game in pubs during his quest. While previous Shovel Knight campaigns featured relatively long, Mega Man-esque levels that ended with a boss fight, King Knight’s campaign features a map filled with bite-sized stages which often only contain a single checkpoint. Despite their short length, many of these stages can be quite challenging, as several include alternate exits that are tougher to get to. In between these stages, King Knight can visit mini-stages that teach him new moves (like a roll) or incorporate a new Heirloom (aka subweapon). There are treasure rooms and optional boss fights. He can also visit his “home base,” a giant airship where he and his increasing number of companions stay. The map also includes pubs where Joustus is played.

As with previous Shovel Knight characters, King Knight has a unique moveset based on dashing forward (a bit like Wario). If he dashes into a character or a wall, King Knight will bounce upward and twirl back down. If he hits another enemy or certain objects with this twirl, he will bounce back up, and can then do another dash forward and repeat the whole process. Rolling involves double-tapping the attack button, which produces a forward tackle without the bounce/twirl. I found King Knight’s moveset harder to get used to than Specter Knight, but easier than Plague Knight. The short stages and overall lack of boss fights make King of Cards feel like a series of obstacle courses, which I appreciated as an interesting change to the established formula. While most stages take place in established Order of No Quarter-themed tilesets, there are some new places, such as Trouple Pond, that offer their own hazards.

King Knight makes use of several Heirlooms that I found myself making use of more often than I did in other Shovel Knight campaigns, not because King Knight’s default attack is weak, but because the obstacles he is faced with force you to think creatively/ Yacht Club has done an excellent job of crafting stages to make good use of specific Heirlooms.

Joustus, the card game introduced in this campaign, is not something I’m crazy about. It is less a card game than a strategy game, and involves laying and “pushing” cards onto gemstones on a grid. A typical grid is 2x2 or 3x3, and each side will have two or three spaces on the outside for pushing cards into. Your deck of 16 cards consists of pictures of various Shovel Knight characters with one or more arrows along their borders. For example, a card with a slime enemy has an arrow pointing down. The arrow means that another card with an arrow in the opposite direction (up) cannot push the slime card in that direction (up). It can still shove the slime card left, right, or down.

The point is to strategically lay your cards down so that you can push your own cards into gem spaces (you can’t lay a card directly on a gem) while pushing your opponent’s cards away from gems and/or blocking your opponent from pushing your cards away. The game ends when the central tiles are filled or when no other moves are available. I find the base game challenging enough, but Joustus constantly adds wrinkles to the formula, like cards with double arrows, bomb arrows, opponents with unique abilities (damn you, Black Knight), etc. Some Joustus clubs utilize strange boards: the one in Mole Knight’s area includes large boulders blocking tile spaces that can be destroyed with bomb arrow cards. The winner of a round gets to take one of his opponent’s cards for each gem space he took, so you can either win or lose between one and three cards. While I initially felt this was a very harsh punishment (goodbye forever, good cards?), I was relieved to find that your taken cards can be re-bought on the airship between stages. Thankfully, Joustus itself does seem largely optional, although skipping it will rob you of some prizes.

Joustus aside, I do have one beef with King of Cards: while level design is generally excellent, the difficulty ramps up significantly towards the back half of the game. This normally wouldn’t bother me, but I must confess to still not being 100% used to King Knight’s movement patterns. His speed, spacing, and stringing tackle-bounce combos together competently is something my brain just can’t solidify. It’s a more complicated standard moveset than Shovel Knight or Specter Knight. While I could fall into a rhythm with both of those characters and seamlessly move through a stage, I still have trouble doing so with King Knight. I wonder if the game’s shorter stages are a subtle acknowledgement of this difference. Oddly enough, though, I find that the more standard boss fights against others of the Order of No Quarter quite fun, where King Knight’s dash-and-twirl are excellent tools.

Despite my misgivings with our royal protagonist’s moveset, King of Cards is an excellent cap on what’s become a downright amazing collection of games. Players who already own Treasure Trove get this one for free, and if you’ve ever been on the fence about buying it, I really can’t recommend it highly enough, and keep an eye out for our review of the multiplayer component, Shovel Knight: Showdown, before too long.

TalkBack / Close to the Sun (Switch eShop) Review
« on: October 29, 2019, 08:29:08 AM »

Technical issues continuously threaten to sink this otherwise well-built ship.

My initial abstract was more of an homage to Andrew Ryan’s signature phrase, “Is man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?” from BioShock, a game that Close to the Sun will undoubtedly draw comparisons to. I decided against that, however, because Close to the Sun is a very different kind of game; there are no splicers, no combat, no Circus of Value. Instead, this game takes more inspiration from something like SOMA in terms of both gameplay and atmosphere.

You play as Rose Archer, an investigative journalist who arrives onboard a massive ship called the Helios after receiving a letter from her sister, Ada, asking for help. The Helios is a city-sized cruise ship built by Nikola Telsa, who in this universe beat Edison and is the richest man in the world. He employs a multitude of scientists to develop new theories and inventions, the latest of which threatens life on the Helios. When Rose climbs aboard, she’s one of the only people left alive on the ship.

A bit like BioShock and SOMA, you explore the Helios from a first-person perspective while various people chat in your earpiece giving you information and directions. Much of the Helio’s tragic backstory is told through, you guessed it, letters and documents left around the ship. At first, you’re just talking with Ada, trying to figure out where to meet, but before too long you’ll be getting help from Aubrey, a scientist who’s holed up somewhere and needs to be rescued, and eventually Mr. Tesla himself.

Games like this live or die based on their settings, and I can assure you that the Helios is an amazing piece of digital architecture. Like the benthic city of Rapture, a pervasive art deco theme dominates the public spaces, but the more industrial parts of the ship, like the laboratories and freight tunnels, have a contrasting industrial efficiency that I appreciated. Of course, Rose’s path is never straightforward, with requisite trips through dangerous areas in order to bypass blocked paths or broken equipment. Close to the Sun does, however, feature an intensely creepy atmosphere and there are a few jump scares and moments of real tension throughout.

Pretty though the game may be, this port suffers from some very unfortunate technical issues. First and foremost, Close to the Sun’s framerate is extremely variable, especially in large areas. This is confounding to me, because for 95% of the game, there is no action; you’re simply exploring the ship. If the framerate chugs while turning around, that’s a real problem. Aliasing is also rampant in areas with poor lighting. In fact, the game is often way too dark, and I kept wishing that Rose had a flashlight. Adjusting the game’s brightness settings don’t seem to offer much relief, either. Small objects often pop into existence as you approach them, as do many of the game’s textures—you can look at a blurry sign on the wall and after a couple seconds it will POP into focus. Do not play this game in Handheld mode.

The framerate problem really cripples the occasional chase sequences that you’re forced to endure. Sometimes, Rose is set upon by a crazy dude with a steak knife or an otherworldly horror (it’s not all petri dishes and Bunsen burners on the Helios, kids) and must FLEE by holding down a shoulder button and hoping she goes the right way. Because the game tends to have a seizure during these moments, it’s incredibly easy to miss your turn, hit a wall, or simply not dodge around objects fast enough to avoid being repeatedly stabbed. There is very little room for error here, so expect to die a lot before you find the right path and get to the end of it (one hint—if you see an “interact” icon some short distance away, start hammering that Y button while running towards it because that seems to suck you towards the thing you’re supposed to vault over).

Aside from that, the darkness, coupled with a few very large environments, make it easy to get lost. There’s an apartment complex area that had me cursing the game under my breath. It really needed a map or, at the very least, much better lighting, so I could easily differentiate the different quadrants of the two-story area. Most of the game is fairly linear, but when it asks you to wander around huge spaces, Close to the Sun is its own worst enemy.

The tragedy of what befell the Helios is uneven in execution, occasionally sigh-inducing (the Langoliers stuff), and I still had a lot of unanswered questions by the end. The game’s final third is pretty exciting, but overstays its welcome. The closest I got to a science-based explanation for what went down on the Helios was a brief mention of the “One Electron” theory, which really is a thing, but does not, by itself, seem to have much bearing on the overall adventure, so that was kind of disappointing (your mileage may vary).

Overall, I have pretty mixed feelings about Close to the Sun. I love the setting and the atmosphere, but the technical problems, chase sequences, and lack of story cohesion ultimately left me wanting.

TalkBack / Jet Kave Adventure (Switch eShop) Review
« on: October 21, 2019, 06:50:07 AM »

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

If you replaced Jet Kave Adventure’s Cro-Magnon man and his alien jetpack with a gorilla and a monkey, you’d wind up with a pretty good attempt by developer 7Levels to ape the Donkey Kong Country Returns formula. This is an enjoyable romp with some unfortunate design choices that ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied. Part of this may be due to my own negative feelings towards DKCR, but a larger part is that Jet Kave Adventure doesn’t really evolve the formula and plays things extremely safe.

You take on the role of Kave, the former chief of his tribe who’s been banished for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense. He comes across a crashed alien spacecraft and its pilot, who is attempting to repair it but needs an energy source. The alien sees a volcano in the distance and, naturally, believes that liquid-hot magma is the answer to his problems. He jets off into the distance while Kave finds his own jetpack in the wreckage and becomes prehistory’s first flight-capable human.

As you might expect, the jetpack’s main function is to extend your jump height and distance, a bit like Diddy Kong’s barrel backpack, although Kave’s jetpack has an extendable, replenishable fuel source that improves on Diddy’s version. However, its secondary function is just as important: by holding down the R button, time briefly slows while you pick a direction to boost Kave in. This ability is put to good use throughout the game, including breaking walls, activating switches, and reaching secret areas. While this isn’t really mentioned, the boost can also be used to pass through certain energy attacks unharmed.

Kave speaks softly and carries a big club, which you can power-up. He quickly obtains a rock sling as well, good for attacking from a distance, and this can also be upgraded. In each stage, Kave can find lots of seashells, which function as currency, and then use them between stages to improve his arsenal. This includes longer clubs, better slings, and more jet fuel. You can also buy more HP and food storage.

Most of the game’s stages are fairly by-the-numbers platforming ventures that are fun, if not particularly challenging. However, this wouldn’t be a DKCR homage without my favorite (read: least favorite) parts from that game: awkward vehicular segments and forced-scrolling chase sequences. The former are broken up into hang-gliding (never fun) and horizontal or vertical jetpack obstacle courses (your mileage may vary). The latter are frustrating because one wrong move and you’re dead and have to restart the sequence. I’m not sure why developers think these are fun. Somebody must like them because they keep turning up in platformers, but my god, enough.

I will say the game looks good, with a cartoony vibe and an interesting mix of prehistoric flora and fauna that try, in equal measure, to ruin Kave’s day. There are dinosaurs present, but I was impressed by the game’s opening disclaimer regarding them.

While Jet Kave Adventure does manage to be enjoyable for the most part, it never really hooked me; the formula rarely changes and the gameplay never evolves. Each of the game’s four levels is divided into nine stages, and by the time I reached stage nine, I was more than ready to move on to something else. Shorter levels with more variety would’ve alleviated this problem. There’s a good game here, but it’s best experienced in short bursts. If you keep hoping that Retro Studios would make a third Donkey Kong Country Returns game, you are probably the target audience for Jet Kave Adventure.

TalkBack / The Call of Cthulhu (Switch eShop) Review
« on: October 09, 2019, 05:45:57 AM »

Maybe don't buy any painting by Sarah Hawkins.

I can’t say I’ve played too many games like The Call of Cthulhu and, for the most part, I enjoyed doing so. This is a game that combines adventure-style investigation, stealth, puzzle-solving, and RPG stat management, all from a first-person perspective. While not all of the various aspects are successful, it does manage to weave a sufficiently Lovecraftian yarn that I was eager to see through to the end.

You play as Edward Pierce, a down-on-his-luck private investigator who accepts a case into the disappearance of a woman, Sarah Hawkins, and her husband and son who allegedly died in a fire at their estate on Darkwater Island. Her father suspects a cover-up and Pierce accepts the case, taking a charter to the obviously-cursed isle where his investigation begins. As Pierce, you wander around large environments looking for clues, which are highlighted, and interview suspects and witnesses, all rudimentary adventure game activities. However, Pierce has several character stats including Find Objects, Psychology, Investigation, Eloquence, Strength, Medical Knowledge, and Occult Knowledge. As you progress through the story, Pierce gains Character Points that you can spend to increase many of these stats. Medical and Occult Knowledge, however, are improved by finding medical and occult books or objects in the world.

The result of these stats are subtle but generally take the form of finding additional clues in the environment, unlocking new lines of questioning during interviews, forcing doors, picking locks, or seeing connections that you might not otherwise. While you will be able to max out most of your stats over the course of the game, it’s a slow build. The Call of Cthulhu is a lengthy affair and Character Points are doled out fairly evenly.

Certain decisions that Pierce makes will “affect his destiny,” by which I mean the flow of the story. However, it’s not as immediate or as obvious as in something like Until Dawn—my suspicion is that these destiny-changing decisions mostly affect the endgame.

Searching environments and questioning people is extremely enjoyable, made better when I discovered that using Pierce’s lighter and, later, oil lamp to illuminate darker corners often resulted in more clues to find. You’ll occasionally go into a mode where Pierce reconstructs a crime scene, and these feel a bit like the Detective Vision sequences in the Batman Arkham games. You’ll also inhabit a couple different characters over the course of the game, though the gameplay remains the same. Occasionally, you have to go through some stealth sequences or solve some vaguely defined environmental puzzle without the aid of a map. These bits are not particularly enjoyable but never last all that long. For the stealth stuff at least, the game doesn’t always auto-save in ways that make sense, so I found myself repeating areas and completing tasks that I felt should have auto-saved already—but did not.

The game also experiments with some more action-oriented episodes, including escaping a rampaging monster (twice) and some almost hilariously basic gunplay during a late-game sequence. Again, these attempts at changing up the core gameplay are more middling than engaging, but are over quickly. As I said, the game is at its strongest when you’re walking around finding clues and talking to witnesses.

Call of Cthulhu has a distinctive look. The environments are really fantastic, and exploring every nook and cranny is rewarding and enjoyable. The human characters, however, look weird and unfinished. I think this is partially because the Unreal Engine (which this game runs on) doesn’t do human characters very well. In fact, the humans look worse in cutscenes, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. During interviews, characters shift around and use their hands a little bit too much (bringing to mind Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby), coming off as awkward and unnatural. At least every character looks distinctive, though; you’re never going to mistake the sea captain for Sarah Hawkins’ husband, or Sarah Hawkins from Cat, the island’s crime boss.

My annoyances at the sections which are not looking at pretty environments and questioning people don’t detract too much from my overall enjoyment of Call of Cthulhu. Sure, some sequences run a little too long and not every part of the plot makes sense (where do all those cultists live?) but this is a worthy yarn for fans of the Cthulhu Mythos. I will emphasize that, like Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (a 2005 Xbox game), the title is a mere formality, and the plot itself has little to do with Lovecraft’s most familiar Old One until the bitter end. Nor, I find, is it a retelling of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," which is Lovecraft’s most oft-adapted story. While I appreciate that this game is very much doing its own thing, the Deep Ones from Innsmouth may have been a better fit for the character models. The writing is consistently excellent, worthy of the genre and every line is voiced.

My main complaints, I suppose, are that the load times between chapters are woefully long and there doesn’t appear to be a way to save your game manually; you must rely on the autosave function, which doesn’t activate very frequently.

If you are a fan of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, The Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game (apparently its full title) will hold some appeal to you. While familiarity with the source material is not required, it probably helps, but I can safely recommend this game to any fan of the cosmic horror genre. There are some rough edges, sure, but it’s well worth the journey overall, especially around this time of year.


Darkwater Island needs better PR.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever espoused my enthusiasm for the cosmic horror genre or the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft on this website, but I suppose I just did. Lovecraft’s body of weird tales is full of antediluvian terrors threatening humanity from afar, often causing the protagonists to go mad once they’ve seen beyond the veil. While Lovecraft’s most iconic work is undoubtedly The Call of Cthulhu, there are plenty of other famous stories like The Shadow Over Innsmouth, At the Mountains of Madness, and The Dunwich Horror, and I highly recommend them all.

The “Cthulhu Mythos,” as they’ve been termed by Lovecraft’s literary successor, August Derleth, are no stranger to video game adaptations: the earliest seems to be Infocom’s The Lurking Horror in 1987, but there are many others. I remember briefly enjoying 2005’s Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth back on the original Xbox, which was really more of an adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, but the Cthulhu name is more familiar.

And now we have Cyanide’s Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game, a first-person adventure game with RPG and stealth elements, inspired by an old tabletop RPG from 1981 of the same name and published by Chaosium. You play the role of world-weary private investigator Edward Pierce, who is hired to investigate the deaths of a family in a fire at their mansion on…Darkwater Island. First of all, nothing good can ever happen on an isolated landmass called Darkwater Island. And once Pierce arrives, you can bet that crazy stuff starts happening.

Pierce has attributes for investigative skills, psychology skills, eloquence, strength, and how good he is at finding clues. Every now and then, you will earn Character Points that can be sunk into these categories. Two other attributes, Occultism and Medical Knowledge, are increased by finding occult objects/symbols and medical tomes in the game. You’ll spend the majority of your time wandering around fairly large areas, talking to people and finding things germane to the case. In dark areas, he can bring out a lighter or, later on, an oil lamp. Your attributes manifest in interesting ways: often, you’ll simply be offered more options when questioning people, but there are real-world consequences, too, such as whether you can pick locks or notice subtle things about the environment. Every now and then you’ll be able to “reconstruct a scene,” which means finding clues in a restricted area so that Pierce can visualize what happened, a bit like Batman’s Detective Vision in the Arkham games. Some dialogue choices you make will affect how the story moves along, which is cool.

I’m all about the exploration and questioning. The environments are generally gorgeous, though I can’t say the same for most of the human characters, who all look just a tad off, especially in their movements. I love that every line of dialogue is voiced. The game stumbles a bit, however, when you’re asked to do anything that’s not directly related to investigating. There’s a fairly long section a few chapters in where you are tasked with escaping from an asylum, and here comes the stealth gameplay. While not unbearable, the pace of the game came to an absolute crawl as I navigated Pierce through a map-less facility to try and find components necessary to overload a machine, causing a distraction, and then escaping in the confusion.

Getting caught by a guard sends you back to the last checkpoint, of course, so I had to repeat the same area quite often. Pierce really needed a map or at least some form of the Metal Gear Solid radar. I’m just past that area now, thankfully, and have come face to face with my first otherworldly monster.

The game really is quite fun when I’m not forced to sneak around and find things while avoiding detection. Hopefully there’s not TOO much of that in the game, but so far I’m enjoying The Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game. Be on the lookout for my review before too long, assuming I don’t wind up like so many of Lovecraft’s doomed protagonists.

TalkBack / River City Girls (Switch) Review
« on: September 05, 2019, 10:29:04 AM »

They're painting the town black & blue.

I’ll admit up front that my knowledge of 1989’s River City Ransom (which you can play on the Switch NES app) is pretty insubstantial. It’s one of those NES games that I played for fifteen minutes, created a save state, and moved on to something else. There’s a sequel—River City: Tokyo Rumble—that I have not played but now kind of want to. In 2019, WayForward and Arc System Works have collaborated on a sequel-of-sorts, a sort of gender-swapped version of River City Ransom in which series regulars Kunio and Riki are the ones who need rescuing, and it’s up to their girlfriends—Kyoko and Misako—to save them.

Either solo or with a buddy, you take to the streets of River City tracking down clues and beating up half the population. Kyoko and Misako play very differently, but they both kick equal amounts of ass. The girls travel through a large interconnected city, although it’s divided into distinct sections, each of which culminates in a boss fight. In general, your job is to receive some sort of quest, go find the components, then return to the quest-giver in order to move on to the boss fight. For example, the girls want to question a rock star, Noize, about Kunio & Riki. However, Noize’s bouncer won’t let them pass unless they can prove they’re superfans. Thus, Kyoko & Misako go looking for NPCs who will tell them about Noize. Once they have three tidbits, they return to the bouncer, who lets them move on.

A game like this lives or dies based on how fun the brawling is, because you will be brawling 90% of the time. Thankfully, WayForward implemented several wrinkles to the formula that make things interesting. First, Kyoko & Misako can both level up, increasing their HP and stats, and (to a certain level) learning new attacks. They can purchase additional techniques at dojos. They both have an almost overwhelming number of moves that all involve the X, Y, A, and directional buttons (or left stick). You can grab stunned enemies and do several different things to them. You can pick up downed enemies, hoist their bodies over your head, and use their bodies as blunt instruments. You can grab one of a menagerie of available weapons that happen to be lying around and use them until they break.

Seriously, there are a ton of weapons: trash cans, park benches, baseball bats, yo-yos, wrenches, tuna fish, and many more. Each weapon has its own hit count, after which it breaks. In many cases, fortunately, new weapons are within easy reach. On occasion, the screen is “locked” and forces Kyoko & Misako to fight a number of enemies before being able to move on; these kill rooms are usually tied to quests. Another handy option is to recruit enemies. Once you clear the room of all but one goon, they’ll beg for mercy, at which point you can recruit them to your cause, calling them in to use a single, typically powerful, attack by pressing the L button (think Marvel vs. Capcom or, dare I say, Project X Zone). However, these allies can also take damage and will eventually be knocked out.

The girls can also equip two accessories, your collection of which will balloon as things progress. They typically offer small and weirdly-specific buffs (do 5% more damage to students). I found myself sticking to three or four accessories and ignoring the rest, as I didn’t want to go into the accessory menu every time a certain enemy or weapon appeared. There are a large number of shops in River City, mostly restaurants, but also accessory and video game stores. Buying food generally refills your HP and may give you a stat boost, and you can save the food you buy for later (like during boss fights). Weirdly, you won’t know a specific item’s effect until you eat (or use) it. Also, you will never know an item’s stat buff, even after you eat it. It just doesn’t appear on the item description, which I didn’t like.

Playing solo unfortunately means you pretty much have to pick Kyoko or Misako and stick with them for the entire game, as leveling one up does not level up the other. You always have the option, upon restarting your save file, of picking either girl. However, since enemies level up along with you (which kind of defeats the purpose of leveling), whoever you’re not playing as may wind up being severely underpowered. The solution is to play co-op with a friend and try to keep both girls around the same level. Co-op, by the way, features a “friendly fire” toggle, which is appreciated. Co-op with just the Joy-Cons works surprisingly well, although I prefer directional buttons when pulling off some of the attacks.

As tends to be the case with WayForward games, River City Girls looks great, featuring a semi-retro pixelated look and an impressive amount of wonderful animations (Kyoko’s forward-Y attack borders on the ridiculous) and big, beautiful backgrounds. Enemies are surprisingly diverse, with a healthy number of characters and several palette swaps of those characters (gotta recruit ‘em all!). Bosses are full of personality and tend to have supernatural abilities that are fun to see. The music, which features a number of different artists and includes some actual songs, is snappy and varied; my only issue with it is that the music tends to change or reset when you enter a new screen (I can’t tell if it’s randomized), which is somewhat jarring.

River City Girls is a great brawler, and though I wouldn’t say it rises above its genre, it’s still an excellent example of one. Either solo or with a friend, you’ll have a good time.

TalkBack / Re: Turok 2: Seeds of Evil Remastered (Switch eShop) Review
« on: August 14, 2019, 09:32:42 AM »
There is! Unlike Dinosaur Hunter Remastered, you can save any time you want here; super nice to have.

TalkBack / Turok 2: Seeds of Evil Remastered (Switch eShop) Review
« on: August 12, 2019, 04:34:51 AM »

This sequel cranks up the sci-fi and modernizes the gameplay but it's not all wine and roses.

As you may have read in my recent-ish review of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter Remastered, Acclaim announced this sequel, and development actually began, prior to the release of the N64 original. One wonders what would have happened if Turok had failed to blow up the charts. Seeds of Evil was developed by the same team, which swelled in size as development progressed, and it’s easy to see why: Turok 2 presents a huge expansion of the original concept. It also included support for the Expansion Pak (which allowed a resolution of 640x640; huge at the time) and an impressive four-player multiplayer mode. Night Dive Studios remastered the original and released it on Steam a few years ago, which is where I played it originally. Now it’s on Switch—but how does it stack up?

With Dinosaur Hunter so fresh in my mind, it’s impressive how divergent Turok 2 is. The core loop—finding keys in enormous levels in order to open portals to the next level—is still intact, but while the original took place in largely homogeneous jungle environments, this game includes six wildly different locations and a whole host of non-human enemies. Essentially foregoing tight continuity with its predecessor, the story in Turok 2 posits that a massive alien, the Primagen, who has been stranded in his spaceship for an unclear period of time, has awoken from hibernation and has ordered the destruction of five “Energy Totems,” which the Lost Land’s governing body, the Lazarus Concordance (sigh) erected to keep him imprisoned. Bad things will happen if he escapes, I guess.

And so, an alien woman named Adon gives Turok a summary of each level and its denizens and asks him to complete certain missions before finding the exit and briefly engaging in tower defense. The game’s second half also involves some pretty impressive boss fights.

While the gunplay is essentially identical to Dinosaur Hunter, Turok 2 does introduce some quality-of-life improvements: some weapons have a sniper sight, allowing for more precise attacks. When you pick up explosive ammo, you can freely switch between it and your normal ammo. Most enemies are now vulnerable to headshots. The game features two non-lethal weapons: the tranquilizer gun, which may as well be an empty slot in your inventory, and the charge dart, which is unbelievably useful. Turok 2’s piece de resistance, however, is the Cerebral Bore. If you know nothing else about Turok 2, you know about the Cerebral Bore. Introduced fairly late in level 4, the Bore fires head-seeking missiles that burrow into an enemy’s head before exploding.

Turok 2 also introduces Sacred Eagle Feathers and warp portals. Sacred Eagle Feathers, when brought to the correct warp portal, give Turok special abilities which, in theory, can be used to access hidden parts of each previous level’s map. While this is true, the game doesn’t dress up the fact that these abilities are essentially keys used to get other Feathers or Primagen Keys (six of which are needed to fight the Primagen). The backtracking can be a bit of a drag, too, because Turok 2’s biggest issue is the level design.

I’ve gone on record as saying that Dinosaur Hunter’s level design was ahead of its time, taking huge environments and smartly incorporating alternate paths that eventually double back to the main path—you are never far from where you need to be. That’s not the case here; Turok 2 is much more of a corridor shooter, and heavy use of the auto map is not just encouraged, but practically required. While each level is impressively unique, problems within each level abound when one corridor looks dreadfully similar to every other corridor. Navigating through the River of Souls (level 2) and Lair of the Blind Ones (level 4) is an exercise in frustration—the latter especially ranks up there with the worst first-person shooter level design I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing. Night Dive Studios did what they could, though, incorporating icons signifying important switches, items, and keys that you might very well pass up otherwise. The best levels are the ones that are a bit more linear—Port of Adia (level 1) and the Death Swamps (level 3) are probably the best examples. Hive of the Mantids (level 5) and Primagen’s Lightship (level 6) are somewhere in the middle.

Every level has two or three Checkpoint Portals, from which you can secure health and ammo (once per portal) and, more importantly, warp to any other Checkpoint Portal in the game. On the N64, you could only warp between portals within a single level, but here, perhaps in an attempt to smooth out the backtracking, Night Dive has allowed you to warp to any other Checkpoint Portal. This is extremely helpful. However, as you will have forgotten where each portal is within a given level, expect a lot of trial and error.

As I said, there are no human enemies this time around, and every encounter demands smart gunplay, which I appreciate. Early on, you’ll be fighting hulking “dinosoids” and graceful dromaeosaurs (thankfully lacking the bizarre nasal horn of their Dinosaur Hunter cousins) but giant spiders, subterranean goblins, various insectoids, undead meatsacks, and cybernetic soldiers all await. I was always surprised and delighted by the menagerie on display. My favorite enemies are the Flesh Eaters, who you find in “fake” warp portals and their truly bizarre “Mother,” one of the last bosses in the game.

Back on the N64, Turok 2 featured a lauded multiplayer mode. I’m disappointed to say that mode simply isn’t included in this Switch port for reasons that remain unknown. Perhaps it will be added in a forthcoming patch, but Night Dive isn’t saying.

Finally, I’d be remiss in failing to mention the wealth of options that Night Dive has incorporated into this game. You can toggle just about everything imaginable, including which soundtrack version is playing. For the most part, the options are similar to those found in the original game, although I struggled somewhat with the “Bindings” because I’m not a PC gamer.

Is Turok 2 better than Dinosaur Hunter? I don’t know if I’d call it better, but it’s certainly different. Personally, I prefer the original game but I appreciate how different this sequel is, even if I’m not a huge fan of every single point of divergence. Certainly, the level design leaves something to be desired, and while Turok wields a healthy armament by game’s end, there’s a cruel practicality to virtually every weapon. The Cerebral Bore is great, but it’s a one-enemy gun. Dinosaur Hunter had the Particle Accelerator and Fusion Cannon, both of which wiped out entire landscapes of enemies. This may be a consideration for Turok 2’s more closed, corridor-heavy environments, which is another thing I don’t love about it. However, the enemy designs and overall uniqueness of the environments really is special.

Just don’t be surprised if you need to take a break or two during the Lair of the Blind Ones.

TalkBack / Mighty Switch Force Collection (Switch) Review
« on: July 29, 2019, 01:45:05 AM »

You’re Safe!

It seems like every other day, a new collection of something comes out on Switch. It can be tough to keep track of them all, but one you should be paying attention to is WayForward’s Mighty Switch Force Collection. It includes four of the five existing games in the Mighty Switch Force series, which is a charming franchise of puzzle platformers that revolve around switching whether certain blocks are things you can land on. The game encourages speed-running every stage to hit a “par time,” which is far easier to do after completing each stage normally. Mastering the mechanics while being as efficient as possible becomes the ultimate goal, for me, anyway.

The original Mighty Switch Force was a 2011 3DS eShop game; I reviewed it back then (Review), as well as the short expansion. Nothing has changed aside from the visual clarity of the menu and tally screens, the original pixelated aesthetic remains in tact. It’s still a fantastic game by today’s standards, and the soundtrack, by Jake Kaufman, is radical.

Mighty Switch Force 2 came out two years later on the 3DS, and they’ve switched up the gameplay significantly—Patricia Wagon is a firefighter now, and hoses things down while rescuing (rather than arresting) the Hooligan Sisters. I enjoyed the game when it came out (Review)  and my opinion hasn’t changed, although there’s a lot less block-switching than I remember. Also of note, Mighty Switch Force 2 has maybe the best end-credits music I’ve ever heard in a video game.

If you’d like to replay Mighty Switch Force with a different, but not necessarily better, art style, check out 2012’s Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition, which was a Wii U launch game (Review). Time has not been particularly kind to this remake’s HD art style, as the characters lack personality compared to their pixelated counterparts. This game does offer up some new content in the form of harder versions of every stage (which unlock once you finish them all once) and a new unlockable look for Patty. Really, I’m just happy to see this game rescued from the Wii U, which now lives in a dark bedroom closet where it belongs.

New to me is Mighty Switch Force Academy, a multiplayer-focused version of the original game, where you can solo the whole thing or bring three friends along. The gameplay doesn’t really differ from its predecessor, but the entire level is shown, so don’t play this in Handheld or Tabletop Mode because your eyes will start to bleed. There are plenty of unique stages, and five were brought over from the original game. One caveat is that all available players can block-switch, meaning your own progress will inevitably screw one of your compatriots. There’s also a Vs. Mode, where resentment build up through normal multiplayer can be released. Given its limitations, Academy is the weakest game in this package, but given the shallow learning curve, it can be a fun multiplayer diversion.

And since Academy is here, I’m confused as to why Hose It Down, the follow-up to Mighty Switch Force 2, is missing from this collection. This is a mobile game that only appeared on iOS (and Steam) and involves you solving block puzzles so that Patty can get her stream of hose water to the fire and thereby rescue one of the Hooligan Sisters. It’s more Pipe Dream than Switch Force, but it’s a fun concept that I wouldn’t mind trying.

Even if you’ve played these games before, I’d say this collection is absolutely worth picking up. It’s wonderful to have them all on Switch since they were spread between three platforms originally (3DS, Wii U, Steam), and the Mighty Switch Force games are just plain fun and full of personality. I would like to have seen a collection of concept art a la the SNK and Street Fighter collections because Digital Eclipse has spoiled me forever with that kind of bonus content, but that doesn’t take away from the experience, and I will never, ever get sick of kicking that ugly baby.

TalkBack / Hyperlight Ultimate (Switch eShop) Review Mini
« on: July 23, 2019, 09:04:27 AM »

Bye bye, 3DS version.

Way back in 2016, I reviewed a fun Geometry Wars-like shooter called Hyperlight EX for 3DS. Developer CatfishBlues Games recently released it on the Switch eShop with a bunch of improvements, making it the ideal version to play. If you’d like to read a short explainer on the original, check out my old review. Fundamentally, the game has not changed, but it’s definitely improved thanks to the addition of several quality-of-life features.

First and foremost, Hyperlight Ultimate looks great. It looked good on 3DS already, but now it really shines on a competent display. I actually prefer to play it on my TV, where the beautiful, colorful chaos really gets an opportunity to shine. Oh, it looks great on the Switch itself, but this is a game I’d classify as one for the big screen. Arcade Mode now gives you three lives per stage instead of one, so it’s more approachable. Even with that buffer, bosses are still lengthy affairs that will probably require multiple attempts.

You can now use most weapons when you want to, rather than being deployed as soon as you hit their icon. For bombs especially, this is a huge advantage. Additionally, using a weapon actually gives you a small FTL bump, although it’s no replacement for just going and picking up fuel icons. Endless Mode and Panic Mode have also been retained from the 3DS original, and I really do wonder if there are any Hyperlight EX players who really got into Panic Mode because I just can’t do it. One of my main complaints about Hyperlight EX was that the leaderboards weren’t online—that has been rectified here, thankfully, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I’m not terrible at it.

One nice new feature is that Arcade, Endless, and Panic Modes can all be played with a friend (couch co-op). This is fun but also ratchets up the “chaos” factor quite a bit, especially considering you share the FTL meter. A multiplayer deathmatch mode allows up to four players to try and annihilate each other using a combination of weapons and FTL ramming. It’s a pretty good time, if a little bare-bones.

Hyperlight Ultimate is still a great game, and now that it’s on a modern console you should definitely play it.

TalkBack / Senran Kagura: Peach Ball (Switch) Review
« on: July 09, 2019, 03:36:41 AM »

This pinball game is fun, but extremely light on content.

I think I have to do these Review FAQs for every Senran Kagura game now since I did it for Reflexions.

Hey, weird voice in my head, I got a new game to review. Want to hear about it?

Sure, though I’m still going through Super Neptunia RPG.

It’s fun, right?

Yeah it is. Very charming. But okay: what’cha playin’?

Oh, just a little Switch game called Senran Kagura: Peach Ball.

Oh god. I still have nightmares about that “little sister” crap in Reflexions.

So do I. Thankfully, Peach Ball is not nearly as creepy; it’s a pinball game, and I have a long history of enjoying video game pinball.

Well that’s good. So is it like Elvira and the Party Monsters and/or Elvira: Scared Stiff?*

Kind of. So there’s a paper-thin story about Haruka accidentally exposing five of the Senran girls (who, coincidentally, I’m sure, were already featured in Reflexions) to a potion that makes them transform into animals. In reality, this means they’re wearing animal-themed outfits. The only way to change them back is apparently to stick them inside a giant pinball machine and paddle them with balls while trying to score (please send help).

How long has THAT joke been bouncing around your head?

I actually just came up with it; pretty proud of myself.

Okay, just describe how the tables work.

You may have read Donald’s E3 preview of this game a few weeks ago. He was able to sample two tables, but what he didn’t know was that he actually sampled the entire game. There are only two tables in Peach Ball.


Yes, two tables. Oh, but you can pretend there are MORE tables because each of the two tables has different selectable lighting based on time of day or season.

Two tables seems pretty bare-bones.

That’s because it is.

You get three tables in a typical Pinball FX3 DLC pack, and those cost maybe $10.


Metroid Prime Pinball has seven tables (note: one is multiplayer-only).

I’m aware.

Well, okay, um…are they GOOD tables?


Are they? Are they, though?

I mean, they are unusually proportioned tables which makes hitting certain targets surprisingly difficult and, like Donald, I also had a tough time finding an ideal camera angle. There’s no TATE mode, which I’m genuinely surprised at, especially because the game recommends playing with the Joy-Cons detached for, I guess, HD Rumble stuff. The two tables have similar layouts. The second table has way more to do, including a lot of “mini-tables” where you try to hit specific targets. However, its layout is the most confounding. Part of the problem is the gigantic girl sitting in the top-center of each table.

Isn’t she sort of the point?

Yeah, and it’s cute that she reacts to what’s going on around her, but she takes up a lot of real estate and, in my experience at least, kind of distracts from hitting the loops and targets you’re trying to hit. Bopping her with the ball is also not particularly score-boosting unless you’ve entered Fever Mode or Super Fever Mode or whatever other mode gets the lights flashing.

Are there pinball-style “missions?”

Yes. In Story Mode, you’re trying to get enough points to fill your “Peach Meter,” which I never really paid attention to. This triggers a “Sexy Challenge,” where you’re taken to a small table and asked to hit random-ass things with the ball, like rubber duckies or an ice-cream cart. Getting a high score there (which is hard not to accomplish) gets you closer to curing the girl. Your third Sexy Challenge is a “Super Sexy Challenge” (sigh) in which…you…



Come on, after Reflexions nothing can stun me anymore.

Good point. In the “Super Sexy Challenge,” your target is the girl’s bosom or posterior. And the more you bop them, the larger they get (closer to the flippers). And THEN you basically play a Reflexions game where you press the triggers in rhythm to multiply your score, and while this is happening, the Peach Ball is bouncing between the girl’s breasts or buns. After you do that for a while, the Peach Ball “cures” her by removing her animal clothes and she’s back to normal.

Great. Then what?

Then, assuming you’re still playing Story Mode, you move on to the next girl and repeat the whole process until all five are cured. This whole process takes roughly an hour.

Per girl?

No, total.


Now, there is some incentive to replay Story Mode using all five characters: each time you go through the game, playing “as” somebody (I assume the one using the pinball machine), you unlock an image of them at the end, and that image is a puzzle piece of a larger, five-piece picture. Also, throughout Story Mode, you’re constantly unlocking Dressing Room accessories and things to buy from the in-game shop. Unfortunately, the earned-moolah-to-store-pricing ratio is extremely wonky, so expect to replay Story Mode a bunch just to buy some stuff. Or, you know, retain your sanity and just play freeplay mode.

I was going to ask if there was a freeplay mode.

Yep, and it’s the best way to learn the intricacies of both tables.

Anything else?

Because this seems to be running on the Reflexions engine, you also get a dressing room and Intimacy Mode, which is the part of Reflexions where you’re bopping the girl’s boobs and colorful circles appear. You know, the part that’s super questionable. Now, there is one interesting thing about the dressing room. In the options menu, you can toggle whether a girl’s dressing room outfit shows up during pinball, so you’re not just limited to Asuka & Co. in animal costumes.

I guess that’s nice.

There’s also a store, and as in Refexions it’s divided between the in-game store and Nintendo eShop for DLC.

Are we getting any good DLC?

If you look at what the Japanese version got, it consists of costumes, accessories, diorama poses, and background music from previous games in the series that you’ve already paid for a bunch of times but doesn’t transfer over because god forbid. Typical Senran stuff.

But no additional tables.

Doesn’t look like it.


I find both pinball tables enjoyable, especially in freeplay mode, but it’s true that there’s not a lot of pinball action here; you’re showing up for the localization and general Senran silliness filtered through a pinball lens. I like it when I’m playing it, how about that?

Not a ringing endorsement.

It’s pretty clear that Honey Parade isn’t putting their A team on the Switch stuff. If you’re a Senran fanboy like myself, Peach Ball is probably worth it. If you just like video game pinball, there are better, more cost-effective options out there.

Anything else before I get back to Nep-Nep?

Haruka still doesn’t have a good figure and I don’t understand how that’s possible.

*These are actual Bally pinball tables that Zen Studios is too chicken to release for Pinball FX3.

TalkBack / Super Neptunia RPG (Switch) Review FAQ
« on: June 26, 2019, 03:02:00 AM »

The Deadpool of waifu games.

Since the Hyperdimension Neptunia series might be unfamiliar to those of you who don't own a PS Vita system (the output of which eventually amounted to nothing but Neptunia games), I thought a FAQ would be a good way to review the series' latest outing. For another example of this form, try this, and from there, other examples are found. Let's go!

What the heck is “Hyperdimension Neptunia?”

I’m glad you asked! Hyperdimension Neptunia is a weird franchise from Idea Factory and Compile Heart that purports to be a 3D JRPG series but has branched into so many other genres it’s hard to keep everything straight. And the name keeps changing: Hyperdimension and Megadimension and Cyberdimension and Superdimension and then, of course, MegaTagmension.

Okay but what are they? The Internet makes them look like waifu games.

They are absolutely waifu games. Really the only consistent thread through all of these games is the four main characters: Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert, who each rule a region/city called, respectively, Planeptune, Lastation, Lowee, and Leanbox. The world itself is called Gamindustri.

This can’t be real.

Oh, it is. The series is incredibly meta; each game pokes fun at the genre conventions of whatever genre it’s occupying while also throwing in parody versions of popular video game icons as enemies. The “core” games—and I won’t even get into what constitutes the “core” games—are typically 3D JRPGs in the tradition of something like the Tales series but with a weirdly complex, and some might say obtuse, battle system. But if that’s not your cup of tea, don’t worry, the series also has entries in the rhythm, dating sim, turn-based tactics, musou, character action, and now throwback 2D JRPG genres.

I’m so confused.

Most people make the assumption that the Hyperdimension games are nothing but fanservice, but I don’t think that’s true. While there is some fanservice, it’s not anything like Senran Kagura or (shudder) Gal*Gun. You play these games mostly for the excellent localization and meta-commentary.

Okay, let’s just…which of these are you actually reviewing?

I’ve been playing Super Neptunia RPG, from Canadian developer Artisan Studios, the first Nep-Nep game to be developed by a western studio. Remember how I said that the “core” Nep-Nep games are 3D JRPGs? This one is a more old-school 2D affair with some light platforming, lots of dungeon-crawling, and a heavy focus on fetch-quests. It also features an interesting combat system that takes some getting used to but winds up being surprisingly flexible.

Super Neptunia is a side-scroller where you control Neptune as she jumps and dashes through “dungeons,” which are just large maps connecting different areas of Gamindustri. Each area features a unique enemy pool, magic stones, and treasure boxes. You can look at the map at any time (unless you’re in a town or transitional area) with the Minus button. The map is handy in that it shows most, but maybe not all, treasure boxes and enemies, so you can plan your route accordingly. However, while running around, enemies are represented by Dogoos (the Nep-Nep version of Slimes), which are easily avoided. It never hurts to grind, but if your party needs to get to an Inn STAT, the game is happy to let you leap over danger. Some parts of the map will be inaccessible until you upgrade your jumping power.

That sounds super user-friendly.

For the most part, it is. My only issue is that the maps don’t label the exit points. In the Twin Mountains map, for example, there are five exits, but the map only shows you where the exits are (marked with arrows) so you’ll have to memorize where they actually go. This wound up bugging me a lot, and it might not bug you at all, but it just seems like a bizarre thing to leave out.

So aside from running around sidescrolling maps, what do you spend most of your time doing?

Like other Nep-Nep games, Super Neptunia RPG has a big focus on fetch quests. This guy wants you to find and bring him an Elixir, or this girl wants you to bring her 20 pieces of cat fur. Some quest lines require multiple steps and the rewards aren’t always worth the trouble. How the quests are written (in your quest log) is also inconsistent. Sometimes the description will tell you where to report back to the quest-giver, which is handy because there are a lot of quests given by a lot of people, but just as often it does not. It took way too much running around for me to refind the girl who asked for beauty cream ingredients because the description forgot to mention that she’s in Lastation Harbor.

It is, however, still supremely satisfying to complete quests and watch your quest log shrink in size.

You’ll also be doing a lot of combat. Combat is complicated.

Do you have typical RPG accoutrements like weapons, armor, and accessories?

You do, and they’re usually purchased at weapon shops in towns for increasingly impractical prices. Each character can equip a weapon, wrist brace/glove, and crown/belt. Most equipment can only be worn by one or two characters, which puts a welcome limit to my min/max tendencies. Most equipment comes with skills that unlock after a certain amount of experience points. That is, experience you earn from battles goes towards your character’s level and your equipment’s skills. Once a skill is “mastered,” it is retained by the character even if they’re no longer using that weapon.


Let’s say you equip Noire with a sword that has the “Auto Regen” skill, which requires 99 points to master.


Use that sword in battle until you get 99 experience points while using it, and you’ll “master” Auto Regen and can use it even once you’ve switched to a better sword.

Oh. That’s pretty cool.

Yes it is, and it encourages you to grind to get dem mad skills. Skills translate to passive skills you can equip to each character or new attacks that can be assigned to that character depending on their position in formations.


This is where Super Neptunia tries to differentiate itself from other RPGs, I think. Once you have more than one character in your party, you can start experimenting with Formations. Pressing L or R during battle swaps Formations, which really just means your characters change places. In the Formation menu outside of combat, you can assign everybody skills (attacks) based on their position. Formations also have “themes,” like melee attacks, magic attacks, etc. that limit a character’s skills in any given position. Neptune, for example, can use her ice-based attack when at the front of the party, but she’s limited to buffs or healing magic when she’s in other positions.

Sounds like it takes some getting used to.

It really does. You’ll want to get as diverse an attack selection as you possibly can since most enemies are weak to one or two attack types. One other wrinkle to combat is that your party spends “Action Points” to use attacks. You have this circular meter filling up during fights, from 1 to 12. Everybody shares the same AP pool, so if Blanc uses an attack that drains 4 AP, suddenly everyone else is limited to 8 AP (but AP is constantly going up). Hitting enemies with attack types that they’re weak against does not drain the AP gauge, which is why it’s important to have a diverse lineup of skills.

And then there are Break Attacks and Goddess Transformations…

No please stop.

This may all sound overwhelming but it eventually clicked with me. The biggest help is that when you switch Formations, little icons flash over each character’s face to remind you what kind of attack they’re set to use. One thing I will say is that once you create a Formation set for a given area’s unique enemy pool, you can zero in on weaknesses and grind for experience and equipment skills very easily. I found myself severely over-leveled in most situations thanks to this strategy. It’s pretty glorious.

How’s it look and sound?

Super Neptunia looks distinct from every other Nep-Nep game, and it looks good. Yeah, there are a lot of canned animations during cutscenes, but that’s more a genre trope than anything else. There’s a ton of voice acting, most of which is fantastic, and the music is subtle but enjoyable. I like the battle theme. Neptune sounds a lot of Quinn Morgendorffer (from Daria) which is probably unintentional but made me chuckle. Unfortunately, the game’s framerate starts to chug during battles involving a lot of animation and/or effects, to the point where input lag becomes a thing. Some of the scene transitions take a weirdly long time as well. Hopefully these things can be addressed in a patch.

Given that this is an RPG, how’s the story?

It doesn’t make a ton of sense but it has its moments.

So do you like it?

Yeah, it’s a cute RPG that’s not super demanding and can easily be played while you watch TV or lie in bed. There are a few places where it’s not super clear what you’re supposed to do next (find all the Mysterious Grasses before visiting the fairgrounds, kids, and those Grasses are all in the Twin Mountains) but overall it’s pretty straightforward. And there's swimsuit DLC coming in July, so that's cool.

One more question before I go. Do you have any Neptunia figures?

To my eternal shame, I do not.

TalkBack / Wonder Boy Returns Remix (Switch eShop) Review
« on: May 29, 2019, 01:10:55 PM »

They can't all be winners.

Wonder Boy Returns Remix (2019) is a remake of Wonder Boy Returns (2016), which itself is a remake of Wonder Boy (1986), the game which kicked off the whole convoluted Wonder Boy saga. North American players may know the game as Adventure Island, which is how I was introduced to it. Despite being a faithful graphical upgrade of the original 1986 arcade game, side-scrolling platformer Wonder Boy Returns Remix isn’t particularly fun and more often felt like work. I can’t quite recommend it.

Your goal is to survive eight levels which are made up of four stages apiece. As one of the three available characters (which translate into Easy, Normal, and Hard difficulties), you run through a stage collecting fruit and avoiding enemies and hazards. One hit from an enemy or hazard will send you back to the last checkpoint.

There’s an endless runner kind of feeling to Wonder Boy. Forward momentum is a big driver of the platforming, as pressing left or right while jumping allows you to jump higher and farther. The gameplay comes down to throwing axes continuously to take out enemies and running/jumping your way through hazards and platforming challenges to the end of each stage. You can hold down the attack button briefly to charge a “giant” axe that will fly right through several enemies, which helps but isn’t totally necessary. At the end of every fourth stage, you’ll encounter an extremely easy boss. It’s largely the same boss fight every time, but the boss has a different oversized head in each level, so enjoy that.

Continuously eating fruit (which isn’t hard) keeps your energy meter full. Various power-ups include axes, boomerangs, a skateboard, a poison mushroom, and temporary invincibility. On Easy Mode, you control Princess Tina on her scooter. She’s invincible and the only way to die is to fall in a pit. This is a good mode for getting the general lay of the land. Normal Mode is where you’ll probably wind up, controlling TomTom (Master Higgins to some of us). If you really want to frustrate yourself Hard Mode features a different character—some kind of demon guy—and you only have ten lives. Good luck!

Some Internet research suggests that Wonder Boy Returns Remix actually excludes some content that was included in Wonder Boy Returns, including unique boss fights and more varied environments. It would’ve been nice if these things had been included, because as it stands there are only very few distinct backdrops and no sense of level-based stage cohesion. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Wonder Boy Returns Remix was procedurally generated.

If you feel the need to revisit Wonder Boy or Adventure Island, which were ported to pretty much everything available in the late 80’s, you might give Wonder Boy Returns Remix a shot. For the rest of us, though, there are two much better Wonder Boy games on the Switch that you’ll probably enjoy a whole lot more.

TalkBack / Blades of Time (Switch eShop) Review
« on: May 23, 2019, 04:28:27 AM »

It's not clear why this game exists or why you should play it.

Blades of Time is a 2012 character action game from Gaijin Entertainment, a studio whose bread and butter seems to be military vehicle combat simulators. Why it’s been resurrected in 2019 for the Switch is confusing, especially since it runs so poorly and feels downright prehistoric in an era where character action games have come so far. Yes, it tries to do something different. No, that different thing isn’t implemented particularly well. Is Blades of Time is a Trojan Horse for a mobile-style multiplayer mode that apparently includes in-game purchases? Yes.

In Story mode, you control Ayumi, a bikini warrior who’s found her way to Dragonland in search of treasure primarily, but also her partner, Zero, who she brings up at every opportunity. It’s not clear how she and Zero arrived in Dragonland or why they were separated in the first place. In no time, Ayumi meets a spirit who lives in stone altars named (checks notes) “Altar,” as well as a spirit who looks like a ghostly dragon lady named (checks notes) “Spirit of the Dragon.” I would love to know what names the developers rejected in coming up with these.

Ayumi kills things with her twin swords for the most part, whipping together basic combos and building a “rage” meter that allows her to unleash magic attacks. Every time she comes across a new Alter statue, Ayumi can select a couple new magic attacks or buffs, which at least keeps combat fresh. She can dash away from danger with ZR, although it covers more ground than it probably needs to. There is no block or counter option, however, which is disappointing. Jumping is mapped to the X button, which is never intuitive, while magic is mapped to the B button. You cannot swap these inputs.

Where Blades of Time attempts to differentiate itself from other character action games is in its staggeringly poor performance. Wait, no, I’ve skipped ahead. I mean it’s time rewind feature. In the tradition of such genre classics as Catrap and Blinx: the Time Sweeper, Ayumi can rewind time for several seconds, which creates a ghostly red doppelganger. This doppelganger then duplicates her actions from the last several seconds. You can do this multiple times so that multiple replicas are parading around. The game encourages you to use this ability in switch and door puzzles (of course) but also in combat for certain enemy types or boss encounters; it is awkward and forces you to precisely choreograph your movement and attacks.

Can we talk about the performance issues now? Great. Virtually every time I played, I’d get an error message at some point that would close the game and send me back to the Switch menu. This usually happened in large areas with lots of moving parts and particle effects which occur with some regularity. I have yet to encounter a game-breaking save bug, but I know it’s out there. The framerate isn’t good to begin with, but the game really starts to chug when there’s a lot going on. Even using the time rewind comes with a few tense seconds of lag. It’s not uncommon to see some enemies get stuck on level geometry. Every time Ayumi has to ascend a vertical shaft via floating plants called “corals,” the camera has a seizure.

The camera is actually a persistent foe throughout the game and must be constantly struggled against.

Blades of Time has an uncommonly high number of cutscenes, all in-engine, which are prone to audio synching issues. The cutscenes also really show off the character models, which is not necessarily a good thing. It turns out that faces, especially, in the PS3/360 era have not aged gracefully. Ayumi talks a lot, both to other characters and, more concerningly, herself during gameplay. My working theory is that Gaijin Games just got the game running on Switch hardware, said “good enough, guys” and then focused on the multiplayer mode.

The multiplayer mode is called “Outbreak,” and it’s essentially a tower defense game. Your goal is to lead your troops toward enemy towers and then a spawn tree, which is where troops spawn. I’ve found that it’s rarely a good idea to attack the towers directly, as they send out energy pulses that quickly kill you. Instead, your goal is to help your troops kill enemy troops so that they can move forward, and then they’ll destroy the towers for you. You’ll be facing off against your enemies’ human-controlled captain, who may or may not focus on PvP. After you match ends, you’re given rewards to spend on equipment and character skins.

Now here’s where the mobile bullshit comes in. There’s a daily bonus for checking in. You need to reach a certain level to access most of the buyable weapons and accessories. You can upgrade or “reforge” previously-held weapons and accessories, but it’s really not explained well. Outbreak’s premium currency is “Gems,” which are used to buy new character skins and new characters. I could not tell you how gems are acquired. I think you earn an insultingly low number of them for winning matches. Given that Blades of Times’ eShop webpage warns of “In-game purchases,” I have to assume that you’ll eventually be able to spend money to buy Gems. Merely doing stuff like shooting so many enemies, opening so many treasure chests, or killing so many opponents grants Achievements, which all have small rewards like gold or potions.

However, the Outbreak store is currently riddled with error messages. There also doesn’t appear to be a way to equip consumables. If there is, there isn’t a tutorial telling me how. I don’t understand how the forge works. Keys are another potential money-grubber. You use keys to open treasure chests that spawn during matches, but each chest requires three keys to unlock, which seems high.Just like in Story mode, the camera is trying at every opportunity to get you killed. Outbreak is sort of a fun mode, but it does get old quickly, and everything surrounding it is unexplained or prone to error messages, and I can see it becoming kind of gross in a free-to-play way.

Blades of Time is bad, and you should not play it.

TalkBack / Smashing the Battle (Switch eShop) Review
« on: April 17, 2019, 04:54:45 AM »

How much did you like Pokemon Rumble?

Smashing the Battle is an incredibly repetitious brawler in which you take control of Sarah O’Connell, an impossibly voluptuous woman in ill-fitting battle armor, and beat the crap out of endlessly-spawning robots while dodging attacks and avoiding environmental hazards. This is essentially how the Pokémon Rumble games work as well if you substitute Pikachu for Sarah. I liked my time with Pokémon Rumble Blast, but it got old very quickly. It’s a similar situation here, although Smashing the Battle has just enough depth to keep me coming back for more. Well, it also has an impossibly voluptuous woman in ill-fitting battle armor.

There’s a paper-thin story in which Sarah becomes trapped in a subterranean facility and, thanks to the help of a similarly-endowed-but-obviously-hiding-something security chief, she acquires said ill-fitting battle armor and proceeds to beat the tar out of industrial robots. Every single one of the game’s thirty missions involves smashing droids. Sometimes there’s a time limit. Sometimes you have to survive several waves of enemies. Sometimes there’s a giant crusher thing threatening to turn Sarah into a pancake if she stays in one place too long. But your goal is always the same: smash dem robots.

Smashing the Battle began life as a VR game, which doesn’t even make sense, and was then ported to mobile, and you can kind of see its oversimplified roots on the Switch, with big on-screen icons for every skill attack. Sarah smashes things with her giant wrench, dodge-rolls, and can use four skills set to ZL, ZR, A, and X. You can also activate “Overdrive” mode, which is Smashing the Battle’s version of Frantic mode in Senran Kagura: Sarah’s armor is cast off, giving her an offensive boost but virtually no defense.

Oh, there are some wrinkles. Skills have cooldowns but also cost Skill Points (SP) to use. Skill points slowly build back up over time, but you also get small SP boosts by dodging right before you’d take a hit. Sarah’s armor can actually break, leaving you temporarily skill-less, but eventually it reforms. There are pickups littered around every area that give you money, health, SP, or temporary stat boosts. You’re graded on every mission, from one to three stars, based on getting two “massive kills” (lots of bots killed at once), ten successful dodges, and a 20-kill combo. This is often more difficult than you’d think, especially during timed missions.

Getting a three-star rating nets you a key, which can also be (very rarely) dropped by boss robots. You can use keys to rescue the occasionally-encountered hostage or, more often, unlock lore documents and fan art—yes, fan art as opposed to concept art—from the main menu. You’ll use money and “scrap” to upgrade Sarah’s armor and/or buy new battle armor skins, each of which has its own unique buffs. Unfortunately, subsequent upgrades come at an ever-increasing cost, so you’ll want to grind early missions for money and three-star ratings, which can become kind of a chore. However, grinding is a virtual necessity as the robots get more dangerous and take more hits the further you get in the game.

The core gameplay is fine but repetitious. What I don’t appreciate is how the game stacks hazards in later stages. You’ll be fighting bots that spit fireballs and lasers in areas that are literally on fire while trying to avoid getting smashed from above and surviving electric shocks from generators which you have to find and destroy. Add the occasional time limit and certain missions become exercises in frustration. Bosses have unreasonably hard-to-avoid electrical attacks. The game's aesthetic also never changes—you stay in the same subterranean facility the entire time—not even a change in color scheme. Once in a blue moon you’ll be given a branching path, but the best you can hope for is finding a hostage to rescue on one or both paths. As far as I can tell, there are no camera control options. I like my X and Y-axis inverted for camera control, so when it’s “normal,” I have a tough time adjusting. Sarah’s attack rating, by default, is significantly lower than her HP, SP, and armor ratings, which is very clear when you’re playing the game, as many bots take a weirdly long time to kill but Sarah remains largely intact.

The graphics are just okay. The environment looks good but very basic, and the bots look kind of cheap. Sarah, as much as I’m a fan of her buxom figure and gratuitous idle animation, seems suspiciously low-poly on closer inspection. None of this really matters because the camera is zoomed out during missions, but it’s noticeable. I think there are maybe three musical tracks in the entire game, the best of which is from the main menu. Once you complete all thirty missions, you actually unlock a second character who plays much differently from Sarah, which is really cool, but you simply do the same thirty missions again and no, there isn’t two-player co-op. This game probably didn’t need thirty missions; maybe twenty would suffice.

I find the game is best in short bursts. I think we’ve all played 3D brawlers that outclass Smashing the Battle in virtually every category. Having said that, I do find myself enjoying the game. It’s not perfect, but it has heart. Well, that and an impossibly voluptuous woman in ill-fitting battle armor.

TalkBack / Azure Saga: Pathfinder (Switch eShop) Review
« on: April 01, 2019, 06:34:09 AM »

I feel like I've played this game before.

One of my favorite character action games of the last few years has been Darksiders (which just hit Switch and John Rairdin reviewed). I didn’t like the sequel quite as much and I have yet to try the latest entry, but Darksiders (which I reviewed on Wii U in 2017) is a real gem. However, I don’t pretend that its gameplay isn’t lifted directly from other, arguably better, franchises. It has the combat of God of War or Devil May Cry, the overworld and dungeons of Ocarina of Time, and a portal gun from Portal. But while the moment-to-moment gameplay is a portmanteau of other games, Darksiders features the amazing art direction and character design of Joe Madureira. Why am I talking about a character action game from 2010 in a review of a JRPG from 2018? Well, Azure Saga: Pathfinder is also a portmanteau of other, better, games but lacks that Joe Madureira spark that sets it apart. It’s not a bad game, it’s just not memorable.

Azure Saga: Pathfinder (even the name is generic) puts you in the role of Synch and his android associate Noid, who are traveling through space trying to find Synch’s father. They’re shot down for reasons I don’t recall and land on a planet inhabited by humans who you’d typically associate with a fantasy setting—knights and archers and kings and mages and whatnot. Lots of armor and cleavage. Synch and Noid need to find minerals that will help repair their ship, and of course these minerals are the subject of a skirmish between the local humans, deer people, and “Hollow” enemies. Hijinks ensue.

Story sequences are conveyed through character portraits with written dialogue. The pictures are quite lovely, although I could’ve done with more individual portraits per character to convey different emotions.

Overworld exploration is Super Mario RPG-esque: each distinct level is made up of an isometric map of varying size. The simplest of environmental puzzles—key finding, switch-pushing, and object-shoving—all feature heavily. Like the character portraits, I was impressed by the attention to detail and the art direction on display in each level, although there are a lot of things like flowers and barrels and whatnot scattered around that require circumvention, so sometimes even the simplest grid-based tile becomes an exercise in tedious pathfinding. I suspect it’s designed this way so as to increase the chances of landing a random encounter.Oh yes, there are random monster encounters in Azure Saga and I’m happy to say that the battle system is more robust than I initially anticipated. Even simple fights go on too long, but at least they’re never boring: You can have three characters per party, and everyone has the usual compliment of standard and special attacks. You can swap characters mid-fight without missing a turn, which is nice. There are three interesting wrinkles:

First, you can scan the enemies at any time, which gives you some introductory information about them. Second, if all three party members use specific special attacks in a single turn, they may form a “united” attack that does a lot of damage and usually inflicts status effects on one or more enemies. You’ll find “recipes” throughout the land, but experimentation can also yield results. The unfortunate thing about united attacks is that they tend to cost a lot of mana points per character, but hey, they’re an option. Third, as battles go on, each character slowly builds a “Fury” meter. When fully charged, they can unleash a pretty epic special move that can really turn the tide. Depending on their effects, it may be a good idea to pocket somebody’s Fury attack until you really need it; assuming you haven’t used them, Fury attacks don’t disappear when the battle ends.

Enemies are grouped by class, which includes things like “brute,” “amorphous,” “undead,” or “Hollow.” Each character generally has a Special that’s strong against one of these classes. Even low-level grunt enemies do a surprising amount of damage, which I found to be annoying: I consistently felt under-leveled even though my level was higher than my enemies’ levels. Another annoyance: you'll be seeing palette-swapped enemies constantly.

Part of the problem here is that the game features a very undercooked economy. Battles typically result in very little gold, and while you occasionally find additional gold by checking objects in the environment, it’s extremely rare. As a result, armor (which seems to consist entirely of accessories) becomes prohibitively expensive in the capital city, where you can buy it. Further, the game quickly introduces a crafting system but enemies so rarely drop useful materials that it’s almost a fool’s errand. Stranger still, many crafting recipes simply create other crafting recipes. You’ll be tempted to grind for gold and materials (or experience), but then we get back to the problem of fights taking too long.

And it’s a shame, because there’s one aspect of the equipment system I like: socketing jewels to augment a character’s stats. You can attach rarely-found jewels to a character’s equipped “armor” to give them a modification towards a specific enemy class. Different jewels produce different effects, so it allows, say, Synch—who is good against Hollow enemies—to also be effective against, say, undead monsters.

Azure Saga: Pathfinder is perfectly serviceable, and apart from my frustrations with the economy, there’s a lot to like here. It’s just not something I’m itching to go back to. If you need a JRPG fix for your Switch—and have already been through the boatload of them already available—Azure Saga might scratch that particular itch for you.

TalkBack / RICO (Switch eShop) Review
« on: March 21, 2019, 05:25:20 AM »

I hope you like shootin' dudes.

A review FAQ seems to be the best way to tackle this particular game. Previous examples of the format are here, here, and here. So I hear you’re reviewing a new action game.

I don’t know where you get your information, disembodied voice, but that’s correct. I’ve been spending the last week or so playing RICO, from Ground Shatter (hey check out Daan Koopman's preview for another perspective).


Yeah. The last time I heard the word “RICO” was Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The acronym stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It essentially allows the leaders of criminal organizations to be tried for the crimes they ordered underlings to perform so as to not escape justice.

Oh, so this is less an action game and more a…courtroom drama game?

No. According to this game, RICO means kicking down doors and shooting dudes in randomly-generated buildings.

Oh, that sounds kind of fun.

And it is. But, you know, there’s a disclaimer attached to that.


You’d damn well better have a second player on hand, because playing by yourself is an exercise in futility. Seriously, the game is built for two-player co-op. Solo play is given middling consideration.

What do you mean by that?

Are you an adult with a full-time job and maybe a family and a house to run?


Are your friends in similar places in their lives?


When was the last time you sat down with a friend to play couch co-op on your Switch?

Like two months ago, we played Puyo Puyo Tetris for 20 minutes while our wives chatted in the kitchen.

So would you say that finding a reliable IRL co-op partner is a challenge?

Yes, it’s virtually out of the question.

Well thankfully, RICO gives you the ability to play online with friends or, as I recently learned, random strangers.


There’s a caveat to playing online with friends, though: it would appear the game is region-locked. If your friend lives in, say, the Netherlands, even though you can see each other on the Switch friends list, you will not see each other up in RICO.

That’s stupid.

I know.

But otherwise, how’s it perform online?

It’s great, actually. I should note here that finding a random player is a strange process. I could never actually find another open lobby. Rather, I had to start a lobby with “open visibility,” then I just started playing CASE missions by myself. Once my second CASE mission ended, I suddenly had a partner to play with. We played for a long time, and while it would’ve been nice to have some method of voice communication, RICO is simple enough that we were able to clear missions with little difficulty. The game never stuttered or dropped connection; it was a good time.

That sounds great. But what if that second player never joins?

Well, let me tell you how RICO plays first. You primarily do two things in this game: kick down doors and shoot dudes. You have three options upon booting the game up: “QUICK,” “CASE,” and “DAILY.” QUICK lets you take on a CASE-like mission (see below), visit the training facility, or try your hand at a “Lockdown,” which is RICO’s Hoard Mode. QUICK games do not appear to give you experience or points towards new equipment (more on this in a second), so there’s little incentive to do a quick play.

CASE is this game’s attempt at a campaign: you are presented with a branching path of criminals and your goal is to slaughter your way up the ladder until you reach the big boss. Dying on one of these missions ends the case and it’s back to square one. Your first mission is always the training facility, which gets kind of old. Each mission features a randomly-generated environment, room layout, list of goals, pickups, and enemy types. Completing as many objectives as you can before leaving gets you a proportionate amount of experience and points towards new equipment. RICO has a Kid Icarus-like difficulty curve: early in a CASE, you have access to essentially a handgun, so getting through even early missions by yourself is kind of a gamble, but as you level up and gain points, your character earns perks (which must be toggled) and in addition to new weapons, you can also buy weapon modifications like suppressors or laser sights.

That actually sounds kind of cool.

Well, it is and it isn’t. You can leave missions at any time, say when your health is at critical, and your rewards will be more meager if you haven’t accomplished everything, so progress can be slow. It doesn’t help that your health stays the same, so if your character is one gunshot away from dying, you have to spend points in between missions on a health pack. And of course, missions are both more difficult and take longer with one person than two. It all comes down to how much this game clicks with you. It got repetitious pretty quickly for me, but even then, it’s absolutely better with a partner.

Wait, what’s “DAILY?”

The DAILY option gives you the same mission types as in QUICK, but you’re also given a randomized loadout (you can choose your loadout in the other two game types). DAILY missions do actually give you points towards a separate pool to use on weapon skins. Not the most glamorous reward, but it’s something. I guess. I didn’t care.

Anything else of note?

I like the graphics, what with the cel shading and the environments look nice. Unfortunately, after several hours with the game, I think I’ve seen every asset RICO is capable of showing me.

So it’s a good game with another player, not so great solo.


TalkBack / Nintendo News Report: The Cadence of Cuphead
« on: March 20, 2019, 11:02:51 AM »

Donald gets sick, and everything goes to hell.

Hey everyone! Join Donald, Zach, and Justin at 10:15 Eastern for the return of live Nintendo News Report! We'll be talking the Nindies Showcase featuring... a Zelda rhythm roguelike and Cuphead?, Konami rediscovering their past, what Xbox Live on Switch will be, and... if thou must, Google's OnLive resurrection.

Don't forget to grab the audio version of the show on iTunes,  Google Play or in your podcatcher of choice!

TalkBack / Re: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter Remastered (Switch eShop) Review
« on: March 15, 2019, 09:37:41 AM »
It should come as no surprise that I have it on Steam already.

And Xbox One.

The controls are great--I currently have it set to ZR for shooting, L & R for weapon cycling, and B for jumping. Y opens the map, but I rarely use the map because it's not super helpful most of the time. There is gyro control; you can tweak the sensitivity. I don't use it that much. I forgot that Turok features pretty generous hitboxes for incoming enemies.

TalkBack / Turok: Dinosaur Hunter Remastered (Switch eShop) Review
« on: March 14, 2019, 02:30:11 PM »

A multitude of options keep this fossilized shoot from feeling behind the times.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you dear readers to know that, back on the N64, I played Turok: Dinosaur Hunter all the damn time—though I’m a bit ashamed to admit I never beat it without resorting to the litany of cheat codes available through most reputable gaming periodicals. I think it’s instructive to useful to acknowledge the weight of the expectations put on Turok in 1997: it was Iguana’s first major game and they pushed the N64 to its graphical limits, including real-time lighting, particle effects, and even motion capture. But even more critically, Acclaim Entertainment was in dire financial straits and had bet the farm on Turok. The high price of N64 games and the fact that Turok was rated M meant that it was a real gamble.

Obviously, that gamble paid off. Turok was a huge success, not just because of the graphics and gunplay, but also the inventive level design and the first (to my knowledge) implementation of two-stick control in a console shooter. I remember this feature was widely touted in previews: players aimed with the Control Stick and moved with the C buttons. An awkward solution to the mouse-and-keyboard standard, sure, but it eventually felt natural. Reviewers criticized the oppressive fog (which was Iguana’s solution to prevent constant pop-in) and the platforming—Turok did a lot of jumping, and it wasn’t always enjoyable.

Night Dive Studios released a remastered version of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for Steam back in 2015 and on Xbox One in 2018. Now it’s been released on the Switch. How does it hold up?

Turok still manages to impress even as shooters have advanced in the—dear lord—twenty-two years since its N64 release. It’s not all nostalgia, either: Night Dive has loaded this remaster up with more options than you can shake a thagomizer at. Among many other things, you can turn the fog off entirely, change the color saturations and bloom lighting, customize the controls, change your depth of field, toggle whether or not Turok switches to guns as he picks them up, change the blood settings, tweak movement and aiming sensitivity, swap controller types mid-game, turn off the crosshair, etc. There’s a cheat code menu where you can toggle individual cheats on or off. Turok has achievements now, although using cheats disables them. The only thing it’s really missing is restore points, which would make certain areas far more tolerable.

The game looks just as blocky as it did back on the N64, but at least the blocks have hard edges now. Textures have been cleaned up. You’d think removing the fog would make the game significantly easier—maybe giving you the ability to pick off enemies from afar, but that’s not really the case: guys with guns will just shoot you from just about any distance now, so you could say removing the fog was a benefit to you and also your attackers.

Personally, I still think Turok is a joy to play. The level design is spectacular, featuring all sorts of branching paths (some of which aren’t on the map) that always lead to something useful and tend to loop back to where you’d initially left the main trail. Except for the weirdly-structured fourth area, each level is huge and easy to get lost in. The map isn’t as useful as you’d think, and its overlay structure unnecessarily competes for your attention. Your goal in each level is to find three or four keys that are used to access other levels in a central “hub” area. You’re generally left to your own devices in finding the keys—which can be a little frustrating sometimes—but if you explore thoroughly, you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

Your increasingly-ridiculous arsenal is fun to play with, and most guns are situationally useful. Even Turok’s giant knife remains the best way to kill beetles and giant dragonflies even into the final areas of the game. Ammo and health are never hard to find, usually sprinkled liberally around the perimeter of every area, within structures, or dropped by enemies. Rarely-found backpacks can double your ammo capacity. Each level has two unique obstacle courses accessed through blue portals that tend to dole out nice rewards. Ironically, in a game that gives you a minigun, energy rifle, grenade launcher, and something called a “fusion cannon,” it’s the lack of a sniper rifle that now gives me pause—now that the fog can be disabled, it would be super useful.

There are some things I genuinely dislike about Turok, and they all stem from its original design. I can’t stand that enemies continuously respawn, as It means that you can’t clear out an area and then explore at your leisure—you’re always engaged, wasting ammo, when all you want to do is find a switch or navigate a cave. Another source of frustration is that dart-blowing tribesman will hit you even if you move out of their way. Also, and this seems important, ALL FOUR BOSS FIGHTS ARE TERRIBLE. The final fight, especially, is a giant middle finger: if you manage to find all eight well-hidden pieces of the allegedly world-shattering Chronosceptor weapon (one per level) in the lead-up to your showdown with the Campaigner, it should kill him immediately. Spoiler alert: IT DOES NOT. It’s not even the most useful weapon that battle. Finally, save points are not nearly common enough. Checkpoints are, but I’d like to save my game more often than once or twice per gigantic level.

I should briefly touch on the jumping. Generally, the jumping feels good in normal, low-risk situations that don’t demand it, but when you’re trying to make a long jump or jump between columns, it’s not great. With long jumps especially, Turok is the 3D version of Castlevania: you have to jump pretty much immediately before you’d fall off the platform and hold down that button for dear life lest you come up short. As for column jumping, I’m not sure how the end of level 3 got through QA/QC. All that said, Turok and its sequels clearly paved the way for Samus’ excellent jumping in Metroid Prime.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter Remastered is the best possible way to experience this N64 classic, either on your TV or in Handheld/Tabletop Mode (where it performs flawlessly). Turok influenced a lot of first-person shooters that came after it, and it’s still very enjoyable in 2018—thanks in large part to Night Dive’s boatload of options. You don’t wind up hunting a lot of dinosaurs, but you do manage to fight a Dimetrodon that has a minigun strapped to its back, which makes up for a lot.

TalkBack / Nintendo News Report: Reggie Rides Into The Sunset
« on: February 21, 2019, 10:01:07 AM »

Good night sweet prince, and may the salty tears of James Charlton sing thee to thy rest.

Hey everyone! We figured it'd be an easy week - a little VR chat in light of last week's rumors, some sales numbers, and debriefing Justin on Toy Fair. But then Reggie had to announce his retirement. Join a full Nintendo News Report crew at about 10:15 pm ET as we break down what the ascension of (Doug) Bowser means and look back at the time Reggie literally roasted Chris Kohler for asking about Mother 3.

Don't forget to grab the audio version of the show on iTunes,  Google Play or in your podcatcher of choice!

TalkBack / Nintendo News Report: Smash Blows The Doors Off
« on: February 01, 2019, 07:30:30 AM »

More impressive stat: Nintendo making their predicted yearly profit in a quarter, or 5.82 copies shipped of Smash per SECOND? Answers on a postcard.

Hey everyone! Join us at about 10:15 Eastern tonight for a busy week's Nintendo News Report. Piranha Plant is out, we finally get to look into Metroid Prime 4's dev shakeup, Donald's nuking bananas in microwaves in a parallel universe travel experiment, and... oh yeah, Nintendo's holiday earnings are out and they made ALL OF THE MONEY.

Don't forget to grab the audio version of the show on iTunes,  Google Play or in your podcatcher of choice!


No Chibi Robo burned this week.

Hey everyone! Illness isn't stopping us from recording a live Nintendo News Report this week - join Donald, Zach, and (card subject to change) as we tell Tales and look at the week's Switch (and 3DS) announcements. Nintendo has laid out their March, while a bunch of RPGs are coming in April - maybe too many?

Don't forget to grab the audio version of the show on iTunes,  Google Play or in your podcatcher of choice!

TalkBack / Nintendo News Report: The Top Five Of 2018
« on: January 04, 2019, 10:28:57 AM »

Alternate title: "Gee, Oh Tee Why? Dot See X"

Hey everyone! Join us at about 10:30 ET for the first Nintendo News Report of 2019 - in which we look back at our top games of 2018 due to the holidays clamping down on the news bits. Donald, Justin, and a potentially late arriving Zach will probably mention the Smash Ultimate datamine and the fate of P5R anyway, though.

Don't forget to grab the audio version of the show on iTunes,  Google Play or in your podcatcher of choice!

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