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TalkBack / Guardians of the Galaxy - Cloud Version (Switch) Review
« on: November 02, 2021, 05:00:00 AM »

Get off of my Cloud.

The Nintendo Switch clearly isn’t the most powerful console on the market right now. While we know that Nintendo’s first party offerings make the most efficient use of the system’s architecture, it’s obvious that some other developers are unable to release their titles without making some compromises at this point. One of these compromises has resulted in certain games receiving a cloud version. When Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced, I was beyond excited seeing that a Switch version was coming as well, before being rudely awakened by the news that this would only be through the power of the cloud. Having had a great experience while playing The Forgotten City - Cloud Version last month, I went in with an optimistic mindset on Guardians of the Galaxy for Switch. The good news is that I was enjoying everything about the game. The bad news is that all that enjoyment was going down the drain thanks to it being a cloud version.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a third-person action game in which you play as Marvel’s titular group of space heroes. While focusing on playing as Star-Lord (aka Peter Quill), you control the Guardians through extensive set-pieces with sharply written humor and a phenomenal ‘80s inspired soundtrack, similar to the movies that made these characters mainstays of the Marvel Universe. While it’s clearly going for its own style and story, separate from the two theatrical films and its depiction of these characters, you will still thoroughly enjoy the Guardians and their banter while playing. The writing is very sharp and sets the tone for a great and comedic intergalactic story.

Gameplay is focused mainly on exploring all sorts of weird alien planets and science-fiction locations. While you control Star-Lord at all times, you can give the other Guardians directions on what to do or how to aid you during combat or exploration. Rocket can hack into specific devices, Drax can move heavy objects, Gamora can reach high places, and Groot uses his vines to create new paths. This also reflects in combat. As Star-Lord you can shoot your elemental guns to damage and stun enemies, but the other guardians can also deal high damage, stagger, or even trap enemies. Combat is a ton of fun and even has little character beats as well, with Rocket, for example, even making a game out of whoever can defeat the most enemies. Overall, it definitely feels more like a traditional linear exploration experience, but it's these characters that truly give the game its unique flavor.  When charging the Guardians meter, you can huddle together to give the group a pep-talk, after which the licensed soundtrack turns on and all the characters gain an enormous attack boost. There’s a lot of attention to detail, and I’m sure that die-hard Marvel fans will eat their heart out for the references. I mean, heck, Fin Fang Foom is referenced in the opening chapter and honestly that’s just scratching the surface of how deep the love for the comics goes.

While all of this applies to the game as a whole, I have to admit that playing it on Switch with the Cloud Version was quite literally a drag. For this review, I used both my Switch OLED with a permanent wired connection to my high-speed internet as well as using it on my own Wi-Fi network. You’d think that a cloud version would at the very least bypass some of the more frequent problems with games that cannot run natively on the Nintendo Switch. But unfortunately, I was still disappointed with the final visual result of the game. There’s a surprising amount of pop-in, low quality models, loading times, and even framerate drops and inconsistencies while playing the Cloud Version. I was expecting the game to use the hardware that it was actually running on to show off a similar version to current and last-gen consoles, but even here it seems that the Switch version is undercooked. Worst of all is that the feel of the game can’t be described in any other way than sluggish. All the time while moving, whether it was in combat or during exploration, it felt like Star-Lord was walking through Jell-O. I couldn’t fully determine what caused this to be the case, though the slight input lag that is usually present in cloud-based offerings, definitely didn’t help. It all made the game feel so much slower than it's designed to be, especially alongside the upbeat characters and the pace at which the game moves along.

Compare this official screenshot to this one I captured on the Switch and there's a clear visual difference, even though it should be running on similar/superior hardware

I genuinely enjoyed my time with Guardians of the Galaxy, but I couldn’t bring myself to continue playing the mess that it is on Switch. While my high-speed internet connection should be easily able to run this game smoothly, it is clear that this version was an afterthought. The characters, story, music, and gameplay are all completely up my alley, but having to play the game in this sluggish way—and of course having to play via an internet connection—made for quite a miserable experience. I’m 100% I will pick up Guardians of the Galaxy somewhere down the road, but the Cloud Version should be skipped by anyone even remotely interested in what’s on offer here.

TalkBack / DUSK (Switch) Review
« on: October 26, 2021, 01:19:02 PM »

Shooting till dawn

Everything old is new again. At least, that's what the current wave of retro-inspired indie games would have you believe. While a lot of games have released over the last ten years that have completely embraced the visual aesthetics of the ‘80s with gorgeous 8, 16, and 32-bit graphics, it was surprising to me that the era of the leap to 3D still remained somewhat untouched. But of course, the thirty-year cycle shall spin forevermore, and it seems like it's the dawn of a new retro revival era. It turns out that DUSK's attempt to resurrect traditional DOOM and Quake is one that deserves to be noticed and played. The Switch version certainly doesn't underperform here, making DUSK the October highlight of this year.

DUSK consists of three campaign chapters that follow the story of a lone figure fighting a satanic cult. While story beats are not obviously spelled out, the setup allows for a lot of creative weapons, enemies, obstacles, and areas to battle hordes of cultists in. The game looks and plays like a classic 3D shooter such as Quake, with fast movement and the ability to shoot and jump at the same time. The art style looks like a PSX or ‘90s 3D Windows PC game that gives it a fresh look compared to modern shooters. You can even adjust the pixel density making it almost look like an N64 or pixelated Game Boy title.

While its levels are large and give you plenty of incentives to find secrets or kill all enemies, it's the movement that feels just fantastic. Classic skills like bunny hopping work great and give you a good sense of flow that rewards getting up close and personal with enemies. Blasting with shotguns, shooting exploding grenades, or going to town with double sickles, each weapon feels good to use and you're encouraged to swap weapons often by finding specific ammo types or power-ups. From being able to scale walls infinitely or unleash a non-stop wave of bullets, I found myself hooked on the experience again and again, even when a run didn't end particularly well for me. The absolutely phenomenal score only supplements this feeling. The slow tension rising in the soundtrack explodes with heavy guitars and metal rock to a crescendo that goes so well with blowing up baddies.

The best part might just be that the Switch is absolutely nailing performance here. It almost made me consider that the developers used an actual blood sacrifice to get it to work, because the Switch port does not disappoint: from its locked 60FPS in both handheld and docked mode to its plethora of options. There's a field of view slider that goes up to 150 and support for motion aiming that can be toggled and adjusted in many ways; HD rumble also helps a lot here. Loading times are fast and I didn't encounter any crashes or issues while playing. It's an outlier in this regard and a standard I hope other indie games will try to follow.

If there's one negative about DUSK, it's that the core structure and type of gameplay does become rather repetitive over time. It's still a classic FPS "boomer shooter" in that sense. You’ll be picking up keys and accessing certain doors after having killed a number of enemies. I'd honestly advise players to tackle the game a few levels per night since it can be a lot of the same if played in one go. Even so, blasting through the game is still a ton of fun and for the true hardcore players out there, the increased difficulty modes are a good way of testing all your skills.

DUSK’s arrival on Switch has been a long time coming. But I'm honestly relieved that the creator took his time sanding down and sharpening every little corner of DUSK for its Switch debut. It feels like a game that was meant to be played on Nintendo’s console and uses its retro inspirations to pump new life into this particular genre of games. If you ask me, it's the beginning of a new dawn.

TalkBack / Tetris Effect: Connected (Switch) Review
« on: October 08, 2021, 08:00:00 AM »


From the outset it is hard to argue why Tetris Effect: Connected connected (no pun intended) with me so much. I can understand that for most people Tetris Effect in general is “just another Tetris game”. Tetris is now almost forty years old and I’d wager pretty much anyone looking at the review has played a game of Tetris in their life. Be it on the original Nintendo Game Boy or its many great iterations with the likes of Tetris DS and Tetris 99, just to name a few of the over 200+ ports that exist of this game. But that legacy not only carries weight, but also a sort of pressure. How can you T-spin Tetris in a new direction after so many variants and versions have come before. Resonair found a quite simple answer with the original Tetris Effect: emphasise the immersive and entrancing natures of the game with a vibrant, ever-changing visual style and music. Tetris Effect: Connected has to compromise these visuals a little bit, but in the end feels like the best way to play Tetris on your Nintendo Switch.

Tetris Effect: Connected is indeed Tetris. Big shock. You flip and rotate pieces consisting of blocks to form lines. Once a line is formed, it is removed from the board and the cycle continues. Points are kept and the game is over when your stack of blocks hits the top of the board. What makes Tetris Effect stand out however is its use of a magnificent soundtrack, sound-effects and visuals to create a truly immersive experience. This is best experienced in the main single player campaign called “Journey mode”. As you traverse through different soundscapes, landscapes, locations and abstract visuals you will find yourself getting sucked into stacking and twisting these blocks. Each time a block is rotated or placed, the soundtrack and sound effects are adapted into making your actions fit the beat of the song that is played. Once you’ve cleared enough lines, more visuals come on screen and the song advances. Needless to say that Resonair used their experience developing REZ: infinite and Lumines to create another fantastic soundtrack that almost feels as if you are composing it while playing. All this fits together like a glove and turns Journey mode into an almost meditative experience.

There’s an emotional core to making your way through all these levels and feeling the human connection behind it all. You are no longer just simply playing a game, but are feeling the ways in which art, music and culture have shaped the world. Using Tetris, a game almost everyone has played or recognizes, to connect you to other cultures with music and visuals feels almost ethereal at times. Yes, it all comes across as if I’ve taken some good LSD and started playing Tetris, but honestly Tetris Effect excels at making the experience of placing blocks give off a feeling of relief. It gets me into a very specific zone while playing and that makes it last for far longer than any other game of Tetris I’ve ever played before or since.

This is not to say that Tetris Effect: Connected has no gameplay tricks of its own. One of the key features is the Zone-mechanic. When you’ve filled up a meter you can perform this move to make time freeze. This allows you to clear up lines that are then removed from the bottom of the board. This gives you some great versatility when you are stuck in a bind and nearing the top of the playing field. I especially like the fact that you can actually create multiple Tetris-clears this way, allowing you to achieve an Octoris (8 lines), Dodecatris (12-15 lines), Perfectris (18-19), Impossibilitris (22 lines) and even higher scores.

The Connected part in Tetris Effect: Connected comes from its multiplayer additions that have been added to other versions over time. These multiplayer modes worked great in my experience and bring some much needed variety to the game. Unlike Tetris 99, where competition is key, in Connected-mode, you play together with other players against a mysterious piece in the middle of a universe. You each have your own boards and try to rack up a score, while this piece throws obstacles and hindrances at you and the other players. Once you’ve filled up the zone-meter, you get connected with the other two players. This is where each individual board turns into a single combined board and players take turns in dropping blocks to remove lines. The more lines removed, the more damage is being done to the mysterious piece. Gameplay is super solid in this mode and I’ve found it a lot of fun because unlike other Tetris competitive modes, you actually feel as if you are working together. If there’s a game over, players can be revived to keep playing. The other multiplayer modes are a bit more classic. Such as a score attack and zone mode, which transfers all the lines cleared when using Zone to the other player as an obstacle. Resonair has also been keeping up with weekly events, allowing players to unlock special avatars to use in competitions and show off online. The game also fully supports crossplay with all other versions, so you can even play Connected together with friends on Xbox, PlayStation, Oculus and PC.

For a game launching alongside the Nintendo Switch OLED, Tetris Effect: Connected couldn't be a better choice to show off the new OLED screen on the system. The game looks jaw-dropping on this big screen and helps so much with the immersion. Both the colors pop vibrantly and make the game look much more alive during the levels in journey mode. It truly is the best showcase for what makes the OLED screen stand out from the other Nintendo Switch systems. Graphically the game has definitely needed some compromises to run as smoothly as it does on the Nintendo Switch. While I encountered no slowdown and had a stable 60FPS in both online and offline modes, the visuals definitely aren’t as crisp as they are on other versions. That honestly is a bit of a bummer, but for me personally having Tetris Effect: Connected on the go is an absolute win in my book. Yes, there’s no VR support and these visuals lose a few of their particle effects, but the music still rules and the gameplay is probably some of the best Tetris you can play on any system. This easily beats both Tetris 99 and Puyo Puyo Tetris for me as the best Tetris game on the Nintendo Switch and I can’t honestly give it more praise than that.

So yes, Tetris Effect: Connected is still Tetris at its core, but I believe it's so much more than that. It’s a bold visual statement. Its focus on culture and the ability for humans to bond over artificial things such as art, music, science and games shines throughout each of the levels in Journey mode. It elevates Tetris to a level beyond a mere puzzle game for on the train or as a piece of software that sold an old grey handheld system. It understands that Tetris is everywhere and that it is a part of culture. It understands that videogames are a part of our world and shared experiences and tries to communicate this through abstract worlds and ethereal music. While the gameplay of Tetris is still brilliant after all these years, Tetris Effect: Connected shows us how much video games have grown as an art form. From abstract blocks falling down a void on a Elektronika 60 computer to this all encompassing recognizable piece of art. I love Tetris Effect: Connected because it keeps reminding me why I love video games. There’s really nothing else quite like it. If you think this is just another game of Tetris, I urge you especially to give this game a try. Who knows? It may even change your life.

TalkBack / Lost in Random (Switch) Review
« on: September 24, 2021, 11:46:00 PM »

It's all a roll of the dice

When I previewed Lost in Random a month or so ago, I was cautiously optimistic. Its unique design and world-building made for an engaging combination of a strong narrative story and its own blend of card-gameplay. Returning to finish the game on Switch proved to be somewhat of a reality-check as it was clear that this version wasn’t on the same power-level as the PC. However, after spending more time it’s clear that a graphical downgrade isn’t what hinders Lost in Random under the hood.

Lost in Random follows the story of the sisters Even and Odd who live in a town called Onecroft. On her 12th birthday, Odd rolls the Queen’s magical dice and is taken away to live in the palace of Sixtopia under the guidance of the queen. However, one night Even is awoken by a strange specter that she decides to follow. Along the way she meets her new friend Dicey, another living magical dice that helps Even unlock strange new powers using her special cards. From there the story twists and turns through the wonderful world of Random. Going through some spectacular locations like the twofold Two-Town and the warzone that has become the glorious kingdom of Threedom. As Even edges closer towards her goal, you also see glimpses in visions of what Odd is going through with the Queen in Sixtopia.

The world design of Lost in Random is truly marvelous. Each location has its own unique flavor and cast of characters that look as if they walked straight out of a boardgame designed for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Its signature warped stop-motion-like look makes Lost in Random almost always a feast to behold, Even if the occasional graphical glitch and lower resolution crops up on the Nintendo Switch. What I love about this world are all these little details. Domino-pieces lining the streets, giant pawns that are used to break down barriers and playing cards as spawn points for enemies. Everything in the game is designed to be reflective of the wonderful random nature that the queen aspires to. While I wouldn’t say that the story is mind blowing, there’s some great and fun characters along the way with some expertly crafted voice acting. While playing at a friend’s house I often found them watching along as I played, as if they were looking at a movie like Coraline or Paranorman.

Maybe that strong visual and narrative identity is exactly what helps Lost in Random, because while the game looks like nothing I’ve played before, its gameplay does get quite repetitive over time. Once you enter specific arenas, combat starts and Even needs to defend herself from all sorts of mechanical monsters. At first you have no way to attack them, unless you knock off crystals with your catapult. If you have your companion Dicey collect this energy you can energize cards from your deck. Once your hand of cards is fully energized you can roll Dicey to get energy points. When Dicey is thrown, time stops and you are able to spend the points on particular cards to use their effects. The selection of cards is quite varied. From the standard healing items and attacks, to traps and hazards that can easily take care of larger crowds. As the game progresses you can easily swap out cards in your deck for new playstyles which does add a bit of variety to the game. I liked creating time bubbles for enemies to get stuck in, poisoning my weapons for additional tick damage and hit them with all I got once time starts moving again. There’s a lot of strategy available and unlike other more traditional card fighters, the game takes place in the third person as an action-game. Meaning you won’t be looking passively as the attacks play out, but are always engaging in attacking, dodging and sprinting across these combat scenarios.

The biggest hurdle in Lost in Random is the pacing of the game. It frequently drags out quests and missions to a point where it can feel simply tedious to walk all the way across the town again to find a specific item. The worst offenders however are the battles themselves. Enemies start almost immediately by respawning frequently and combat doesn’t end until all enemies are defeated. It doesn’t help that combat feels slower paced because it's all a juggling act between getting energy as quickly as possible to fill up your hand, while at the same time wasting all the energy if you draw a bad hand or have an unlucky roll of the dice. There’s plenty of ways to mitigate this problem, but combat goes on and on for what feels like forever. Combat is also unavoidable and feels rather pointless, since the only reward after are coins to spend at the card store, which can easily be found by just exploring the overworld.

It was all these factors that made me sort of lose interest in Lost in Random after the third world. There’s definitely some attempts at variety here, like a combat scenario where you move a giant pawn across the battlefield to reach the end. But even these started to feel tedious as the same enemies kept coming back. The game became a matter of dodging until I had enough energy to throw dicey and repeat the process. It’s pacing just simply became too much of a drag to find myself fully invested in experimenting with different decks, playing styles or different approaches.

Performance on Switch is fine enough. The game aims at a stable 30fps, but doesn’t always reach it. The graphical style has taken a hard hit with its transition to Nintendo’s portable, but honestly, that was always inevitable for me personally, coming from the PC preview build I played. All things considered, Lost in Random looks and plays great on Switch.

It’s hard to fully sum up my feelings on Lost in Random. I’m almost certain that most players will have a great time exploring and playing through the game. Its visual design, story and characters are engaging and tell a fantastic tale that’s both dark and completely its own. Then again, playing the game and going through that world feels almost like a hurdle race. Each time you make some good progress, the game throws in a combat scenario that just takes all the wind out of your sails. It made me actively want to play the game in slower chunks, just not to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of these combat segments. Lost in Random definitely can hold its own against other titles and feels like a premium experience, but on it’s way there the balance between randomness and thought out design may have gotten a bit lost.

TalkBack / The Forgotten City - Cloud Version (Switch) Review
« on: September 29, 2021, 05:00:00 AM »

Instantly Classic

The Forgotten City is the near perfect blend of everything that sets games apart from other media. Using one of the best premises I’ve seen in quite some time, it combines a gripping narrative with memorable and unique characters that shows off its unique world and gameplay mechanics. While I definitely am avoiding any and all spoilers in this review, I would even like to encourage you to stop reading this review once I’ve explained the pitch. Going blind into The Forgotten City elevates its twists and turns to near perfection. While the Switch port of this game is a cloud-version, it may just be the precise game to show what value cloud versions of Switch titles may have. Like an endless loop, The Forgotten City has been on my mind every day since I’ve started playing it and even after I’ve seen all it has to offer, I am still ecstatic about the experience.

The premise of The Forgotten City is pretty simple. You wake up on a riverbank and are asked to help your friend who has entered an ancient Roman temple. This temple leads to an underground city where you find yourself being transported back about 2000 years in the past to an actual Roman civilization. This Roman city is terrorized by an unexplained and unpredictable curse as scribed within the walls of the city: “The many shall suffer for the sins of the one”. From here on you set out to find out what is going on within the city, if there is even a way to escape this place and how this place came to be cursed. There’s a large cast of characters to meet, who each have their own perspective on the matter and follow a particular cycle through town. As you slowly unravel the mysteries you start to find out that this city and its inhabitants are hiding more than they are willing to tell you. If this sounds appealing to you, then I urge you to read no further, because this game is brilliant in both it’s narrative approach and gameplay to engage you into its beautiful and accurate world.

For those of you who are still around, the main gameplay mechanic of The Forgotten City follows a time loop story. Similar to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, you are able to return to the beginning of the day with your previously gained knowledge and can try and change the outcome of the curse and the destiny of the citizens. This is mostly done through talking with the characters in the game, learning their patterns and personalities and using that information to unlock new information that can aid you in finding hidden objects or keys. All with the final goal of solving the mystery of the curse and understanding what has been going on in this forgotten city. Gameplay feels mostly like a first person narrative adventure, but there is some incidental combat and simple puzzle solving as well. Mainly in the form of learning how to traverse the city, where to find specific objects and how to persuade others to trust you with their knowledge.

What I especially adored about The Forgotten City is it’s sheer attention to detail and historical accuracy. That’s not just found in the city itself, with its historical architecture and culture, but also in it’s small design elements. You can actually argue with these Roman citizens about their worldview and politics and they answer as if they’re still the greatest civilization the world has ever known. They try to actively engage in the discussion with the player and show them that while you are from an age far beyond theirs, it’s perhaps not that different from theirs. It offers some unique insights into the questions of how cultures are raised, what makes a civilization truly its own and how beliefs are reinforced throughout the centuries. A small example is that one of the characters is part of a cultist group that is convinced that there’s only one God to answer to. They don’t talk about their beliefs in public, because they fear retribution from the others, but it gives the cast of characters some great variety. Even if you only end up talking to certain people once or twice, their voice-acting leaves a marvellous impression of their character. I could relate to some of these folks, even though I definitely didn’t agree with their points of view. The game is not necessarily about proving whether one philosophy or idea is correct, but rather trying to make you, the player, think about the way our world, history and culture is preserved and presented. It’s something that could simply not be achieved in this way in another medium and I love the game for that. It’s also not always too serious and I found that debating memes with a Roman priestess was quite a delight to break up the seriousness of the curse itself.

As for the biggest downside, it’s that the Switch version of The Forgotten City is a cloud-service. While I expected a sluggish performance on my Switch over at a friends place where a WiFi connection was shared between four people and multiple devices, the game did run fine nearly 95% of the time. There was some incidental stuttering and a delay with the input of my controls, but these happened very few times and far between to never truly make the game unplayable. See, what’s so smart about making The Forgotten City a cloud version is that the game is a narrative driven title. You don’t need precise inputs and timing. You can easily just take your time with the game, hear the voice-acting and read the dialogue options. It’s perfectly suitable for a cloud-version and while playing both docked and in handheld mode, I’ve had a great time. My biggest gripe is the other complication that these cloud-versions bring, over capacitated servers. This happened to me about four times and generally annoyed me most of all. I wanted to sit down, play the game and just get lost in the world again, but after the rather long loading opening screen I was greeted with the message that I was placed in the queue due to over-capacity on the server side. This is probably the most frustrating thing about the Switch version. There’s nothing more tedious than genuinely loving a game, having it right in front of you, but being told that there’s no way to play it right now. Waiting in the queue always took a very long time and I just decided to try again at a later time.

That’s really the only sin committed here, because I love The Forgotten City. Its story and characters are thought-provoking and make you engage with the game in a multitude of ways. It actively pursued me to go for different endings, something I don’t often tend to do in video games. I really wanted to see all the ways in which the story unfolded and what that would mean for this hidden civilization. The endings left me all very satisfied and felt truly different from one another. While there definitely is a singular true ending, the game really gives most of its characters the time to shine. Especially once you unravel some of the mysteries and the picture of what is truly going on starts to form in your mind. While the Switch version is not the perfect way to play The Forgotten City, I was impressed by how well the technology performed during my time with the game. Yes, over-capacity for the servers is one hell of a downer when wanting to play a game you’ve been thinking about all day, but once you are able to play, the server has no issues keeping up. The Forgotten City in that regard is a perfect choice for a cloud version on Switch. Its narrative driven focus gives it time to breathe and even during combat segments I never felt like I was playing anything less than a full game that was looking exceptionally pretty on my Switch’s screen. I have no problem recommending the Cloud-version of The Forgotten City, but as with any streaming version your mileage may vary. What will probably not vary is your enjoyment of this game, because as far as narrative driven adventures are considered, The Forgotten City absolutely deserves to be remembered for a very long time.

TalkBack / ISLANDERS: Console Edition (Switch) Review
« on: August 13, 2021, 01:55:00 PM »

No need to bring anything else to a deserted island.

I may not be the most enthusiastic city builder player out there, but the minimalistic design of ISLANDERS: Console Edition striked me during last week’s Indie World Showcase. Building small island civilizations seemed great for pick up and play sessions.  While it may not have much meat to its bones, ISLANDERS: Console Edition is addictive in its simplicity, even though it’s slightly hampered by its controls on the Nintendo Switch.

Unlike most Civilization-esque building games, the objective in ISLANDERS is not building a complex and intertwined city on several islands, but rather getting high scores by building structures in the most advantageous places. On every island you start out with nothing except a singular choice between two packs. These packs are all themed and contain structures that can be placed all over the island. The farmer pack for instance, contains a mill, some fields and maybe even a house. Each building has an area of effect, indicated by a sphere surrounding the building when you are deciding where to place it. In the beginning these spheres only indicate small points, like a windmill, that gains more points once it's placed near fields. Fields for their part only give points when placed near other fields. Points can be greatly multiplied by chaining together types of structures that boost one another. For example, houses can be placed next to each other for points, but gain more points if they are placed nearby fountains, city centers, mansions or parks. However, points are subtracted from their base score if they are located near walls or masons. Circuses for example gain a lot of points if they are constructed near houses, but lose a lot of points if placed near mansions. Slowly this city builder turns into both a puzzle game and an impressionist painting. The islands fill up over time as resources like locations for fields or mines stay occupied by earlier placed structures. The catch is that structures can never be removed or replaced once they’ve been put down. The only way to proceed when you’ve filled up an entire island is to leave the current one behind and move on to a completely randomly generated new one.

This is where ISLANDERS can either make or break your experience with the game. It can be quite devastating having put a lot of thought and effort into constructing your little island to the brim with all sorts of buildings only to have to leave it behind once the final house has been built. Thankfully, this is also where the score system comes into play. You need to cross a certain score threshold in order to receive two new packs. If you perform really well, you can unlock packs while still determining where to place your current buildings, giving you a strategic edge. However, once an island is filled up, you start completely new and have to work with new packs that are adjusted to the resources on the new island. I went from an island where lumber and stone were the primary resources, to one dominated by fishing and seaweed. It keeps the game fresh, especially because each island is accompanied by its own set of pastel-colors, making it easy to differentiate your progress. The score is carried over between islands so you can always aim for a higher score on fresh soil. Be sure to score high enough however, since a new island only becomes available if you reach another score threshold.

It’s this combination of abandoning near perfect cities and starting fresh every ten to twenty minutes that kept me hooked on ISLANDERS. It’s similar to a story I once heard about a vase maker. Each day he would practice and make an entirely new vase to hone his skills. But once finished, he would throw it to the ground and destroy it entirely. Even if the vase was the best he ever made, it would be destroyed so that the focus would always be on improving and honing his skills. Thankfully, ISLANDERS isn’t quite that drastic and there is always a fair bit of randomness involved with the packs you gain, but this ebb and flow of progress and renewal feels really fresh for a puzzle game that keeps a sense of linearity about it, thanks to its score system. While I didn’t really try to aim for the highest scores, I found myself understanding the game’s mechanics better over time which led me to approach the gameplay more strategically, like placing the fields first to give the windmills a bigger score increase. Unlocking packs as soon as they came available and building cities from multiple sides to make sure I wouldn’t keep relying on a singular source of points. I found it a great time to unwind after I’ve had a stressful moment. Knowing that whatever I built it really didn’t matter in the end but did provide me in the moment with a sense of direction and purpose. I can’t say that for many other puzzle games I’ve played.

That being said, the controls on the Nintendo Switch version did take quite some time getting used to. You control the placement of the structures with the right stick, but camera movement is being done with the left stick. Generally I found myself ditching the right stick altogether and focus on using the zoom, camera rotation and rotation to place buildings, because it can be quite difficult to place buildings in between elevated terrain or in very specific places. Since scoring is determined by the spherical area of influence, placement is critical in ISLANDERS. Most often I found myself just gently nudging the left stick to precisely place a building in a specific spot, just to get that difference between 21 and 22 points. Since points are critical for progress it can be quite a chore to get structures in the perfect place. It also has to be said that the game really lacks a good manual for certain types of buildings. While the scoring system for a particular building is always visible in the top right corner, where you can actually place the building is an entirely different matter. Some are obvious, like fisheries can only be located near the edge of a body of water and seaweed farms only in the water itself. But masons can be placed on flat surfaces, as well as in the sides of mountains or even on plateaus that hover above water. Sometimes I was just confused by how to optimally place a building and since there is no grid or indication where a structure can be placed, I found myself dragging it all over the map until I found a good spot for it. Of course this knowledge carries over to new islanders, but since the packs with building types are random, it can take quite a while before you can place the same type of structure again.

While ISLANDERS: Console Edition can sometimes feel like a slightly frustrating experience with both its core mechanic of abandoning progress and irritating controls, I’ve still found myself returning to it again and again on Switch. It’s a relaxing little puzzle game that just put me in a fantastic zenlike mood and let my brains focus on finding simple solutions to achieve my own goals. I think that it works wonders for short pick up and play sessions and as something to just keep installed on your Switch to return to over time. I wish the controls were a bit more refined and that some buildings came with a few more tips on where to place them. But for this small package, it has quite a lot of content that kept me satisfied. If you were to send me off to a deserted island and I could only bring one game, this one would certainly be on my list of choices.

TalkBack / Unboxing the Skyward Sword HD Special Joy-Con Set
« on: July 16, 2021, 02:00:00 AM »

Hopefully it won't drift skyward.

With the release of Skyward Sword HD there's also the shiny new Joy-Con controllers with the colors of the Master Sword. We've unboxed the set to show you the colors right on camera. Check out the video below!

TalkBack / Cyber Hook (Switch) Review
« on: July 08, 2021, 04:55:00 AM »

Hooked on a feeling

Ever since reviewing Ghostrunner last year I’ve been on the lookout for more unique first-person platformers. What games like Mirror’s Edge and Ghostrunner do so well is putting you fully in control of your own actions, where every jump, dash and wallrun make you feel like an actual Spider-Man. Cyber Hook seems to follow in their footsteps, with a first-person platformer that gives you a hookshot-like device that enables you to quickly attach and detach yourself from platforms. What seems like a deceptively simple concept feels so incredibly tight woven with freeform arcadey gameplay that Cyber Hook surprised me on every step along the way.

The plot in Cyber Hook feels reminiscent of titles like Superhot. You control a character from the first-person perspective while guiding yourself through a series of detached levels in order to escape a cyberspace-like environment. Along the way you encounter a robotic companion that warns you to definitely keep on the move to avoid ‘them’. While the story setup is few and far between, it provides a good background for exploring the vaporwave-y levels and designs in Cyber Hook.

At its core, the hook of Cyber Hook, is well... its hook. At all times you carry a hookshot like device on your right arm, which enables you to attach to specific colored platforms. The hookshot has a very specific range, but what makes it interesting compared to other hookshots is that you have to manually detach yourself from the attached point. This enables you to precisely decide how much force and height you need in order to launch yourself across gaps. Each level is a series of disconnected blocks that form a parkour to travel as fast as possible to a gate at the end. The game rates you on a three-star scale for your time, so it’s up to you to decide your route through the level. This is truly where the game ascends from a simple platformer to a free form exploration game. The hookshot is so versatile that it enables you to attach to all sorts of platforms that at glance are only used to running across. I found that oftentimes I’d just jump into the void, shoot the hook up to the platform and swing my way across levels to pick up speed. It’s this free form nature of the game that made me replay levels again and again to find the best route.

Thankfully, Cyber Hook uses more gameplay mechanics to spice up its levels. After the opening stages you gain access to different abilities. One of them is a way to fire at green colored blocks in order to break them and open up different passages. The other one allows you to slow down time to more precisely aim your hook at different ledges and platforms. Its the combination of all these elements in later levels that make you feel like a speedrunner by simply playing the game. Dashing from a starting position, shooting at a few green blocks to open up a platform that can be hit with the hook, swinging yourself across a large gap and using a double jump into a wall run never starts to feel old. It feels so satisfying to ignore a laid out path of blocks to find your own way to the exit in a way that the designers definitely had in mind, seeing the time required for a three-star rating, but that feels like only you could have discovered.

One of my biggest gripes with Ghostrunner last year was it's compromise in the graphical aspect. A game that definitely ran smooth enough, but had to cut corners to get it to work properly on the Switch back then. Cyber Hook doesn’t have this problem thanks to its minimalistic art-design. Levels consist of a beautiful VHS / Vaporwave-like background and all the simple colored blocks. The properties of the blocks are communicated through their color and design. Shaded blocks aren’t solid, but can be shot by the hook. Purple blocks will reset you if you swing into them, Red blocks are also a instant game over and cannot be shot and Yellow blocks cannot be shot at all. These mechanics are never explained to you, but you will catch on quickly when trying to make your way to the exits. Running is also a key mechanic here and always looks awesome. You build up speed very quickly, causing for a lot of motion blur that still looks fantastic on the Switch in both handheld and docked mode. Even HD-rumble is optimally supported and if you fail a stage the rumble is finetuned so that it plays a little tune. Resetting a stage or level is almost instantaneous and feels just as fluid and smooth as the gameplay on its own. It’s obvious that the developers took a lot of time and effort to make Cyber Hook optimized on the Nintendo Switch. I have played a lot of smaller independent games on the Nintendo Switch, but it’s so rare to see a game this well optimized on the platform.

The integrated online leaderboards for each level is also great. You can both see how well you’ve placed on the leaderboard after completing each stage for both the worldwide rankings and the rankings in your own country. Watch out fellow Dutchies, I’m in the top percentage of players for nearly 1/5th of all the levels. It’s all these little additions that made me want to return again and again to the world of Cyber Hook and perfect my scores and find new routes throughout the levels.

I simply cannot overstate how much I had a blast while playing Cyber Hook. Its short levels are perfect for pick up and play moments at any time during the day. The performance is absolutely optimized for the Nintendo Switch and makes the game a joy to play from beginning to end. Its free form but open level-design makes exploration fun and gives me such a satisfying feeling after completing each level to sometimes retry them again and again to optimize my route and get that three-star rating. If you want a game that is easy to learn, emphasizes arcade-like replayability and just feels great to play on Switch, Cyber Hook should definitely be on your radar. I can’t say anything else except that I’m completely hooked on this one.

TalkBack / Wave Break (Switch) Review
« on: June 26, 2021, 12:47:26 AM »

Shallow Skateboating.

Honestly, Wave Break wasn’t really on my radar until last week’s Summer Games Fest. During a performance from the band Weezer, this weird ‘90s neon colored Wave Race-like game popped up in the background. My curiosity was peaked, especially when flashes of gunfights on boats were also shown. So I fired up the engine, stepped into my boat, and sailed straight off into Wave Break. Unfortunately, the only thing that broke by the end was me.

Now to be fair, I probably should have done a little bit more digging before I decided to jump on board. Wave Break is touted by the developers as a Skateboating game, where you perform tricks, jumps, stunts, grinds, and twists to score points and complete objectives. Meanwhile, you are also playing against other players and are able to take them out by shooting them with your gun. Perform enough tricks and you build up a meter that enables you to slow down time for a short period and unload your clip onto opponents.

On paper, this setup sounds like a great twist on the Tony Hawk-style skateboarding gameplay. But from the word go, something just felt incredibly off about Wave Break. There’s barely any time to get used to its weird mechanics. I’ll admit, it’s been years since I’ve played a skateboarding game, but even so Wave Break immediately felt wrong. On top of a skateboard, you actively control the movement of the skateboard via the character; in Wave Break, the game controls like Mario Kart. You don’t move the stick in combination with where you want to go, but instead accelerate your boat and immediately get off to an insanely high top speed. This makes controlling the boat itself incredibly difficult. I kept spinning out, being unable to dictate precisely where I wanted to steer towards. I got stuck in the ramps for half a minute before being able to make my way out. It doesn’t help that the general tutorial and first stage are awful at teaching you the game. Only later, when in freemode, did I find a way to play on a different map, and I finally managed to grasp some of the more precise movements, but even then, screwing up was a consistent part of the experience.

In the singleplayer campaign, you try and complete objectives like scoring a certain number of points, collecting all the B-R-E-A-K letters, and stringing combos together: pretty standard stuff for a skateboarding game. Surprisingly, there’s also a story mode on offer, too. You can interact with a character on the map and get an additional goal to perform. The core issue here is that these story-requests are tied to the same timer as the regular objectives in the game. There’s only three minutes for you to complete your goals and if you fail, you have to restart the entire level. Now I understand that this is leftover from the arcade-like approach to games such as Tony Hawk and Crazy Taxi, but doing this with a story mode, having a mere three minutes at a time to familiarize myself with the controls, was absolutely awful. It’s a restriction that feels like it exists purely to recreate that feeling of the Tony Hawk series, rather than thinking about what a new player would want. In my opinion, story modes are the ideal way to teach a player the main mechanics, which they then can apply to a score attack or even multiplayer mode. But this roadblock was simply impossible for me to overcome. I couldn’t get past the second mission of the main story mode because I lacked both the skill and time to understand the challenges presented to me.

So okay then, storymode is a no-go, but how about that multiplayer mode then? Shooting opponents while grinding on rails with a speedboat still could make for a fun experience. And yes, I’m sure it would, if I even got a chance to play the online multiplayer. I’ve checked multiple times per day to play an online match, but I simply never managed to find even a single other player to play the game with. I can go online with Kid Icarus:Uprising in 2021 and still play the online modes with other folks, but this newly launched game that got a showcase at a highly watched gaming event has no other players? Well, it certainly seems that way. I wish I could really go more in-depth here, but the disappointing campaign, lack of a proper tutorial and not even a single online soul in sight really put me out of my depth. It just made the game a drag to play and even while playing I felt a sense of disappointment and pointlessness wash over me. I can believe this game has potential, but seemingly no-one else on Nintendo Switch Online feels the same.

Are there any redeeming qualities? Well, I liked the aesthetic quite a bit. It’s colorful, has some cool animal character designs, and really harkens back to that ‘90s vibe that is slowly creeping back up in popularity. These characters are also very customizable for the multiplayer mode, which I’m sure is very neat. Finally, I do want to call out the music: a lovely soundtrack that works like a jukebox plays during the game and has some good upbeat tracks and even some more ambient lo-fi vaporwave-style tunes. It’s honestly the best part of this game and fitting that that was the aspect that overshadowed the game at Summer Games Fest.

It feels pretty disappointing to have to review Wave Break because honestly, it just broke me after a few hours. The gameplay was lacking in variety, there were no other people to play online with (I even double checked to see if the game was live at all, which it was, but nope, everything should be working). It just doesn’t feel like either a Wave Race game, a good skateboarding game, or even a good online multiplayer game. If this was a free-to-play title, I may even be a bit more lenient with it, but at half the price of a full retail game, I honestly can’t even recommend it for a laugh. I’m calling it. It’s time to abandon ship.


The company clarified details on the announcement in an official response.

Following the announcement on Friday that notable physical indie games publisher Super Rare Games would begin publishing a series of limited physical-only Nintendo Switch games under a new label called Super Rare Shorts, today the company released a statement responding to backlash over the past weekend. The criticism after the announcement focused mainly on the fact that these titles would not be available in any other form aside from a limited physical release.

In a post on their social media accounts, the company responded to several critiques from both fans and people within the games industry. In the statement, Super Rare Games acknowledges that mistakes where made in both the communication and release of the announcement stating that: "We rushed out the announcement earlier than originally planned, and in doing so we failed to communicate our plans properly + embarrassingly overlooked some important issues that we genuinely care about and should have addressed beforehand." Super Rare Games claims that their intention with the physical-only release was to help developers get funding for unique, riskier titles that would not exist without this additional funding.

According to the statement several changes will be made for the indie titles releasing under the Super Rare Shorts label. All the games will now be released in a digital form on the PC storefront about six months after the initial Switch physical game releases. The initial preorder window for the exclusive Switch Physical version of the games will also be extended from four weeks to six. As originally planned, Super Rare Games plans to print as many Switch copies of these titles as they receive orders for.

Additionally, Super Rare Games promises extensive coverage of each game beforehand so that customers "won't be going in blind" when it comes time to preorder. This will include a livestream of Super Rare Games playing the game, a Q&A with the developer during the preorder window, and reviewers receiving early copies to provide unbiased opinions.

Furthermore, the Switch games released physically will be "content complete" and only updated with bug-fixes if necessary. There will be no collector's editions or physical rewards with these releases to make sure that Super Rare Games collectors won't be missing out on additional goodies like trading cards. Currently the company only aims to release three to four Super Rare Shorts per year to prevent overwhelming interested consumers.

Finally, Super Rare Games will also make sure to continue to work with archivists and their usual museum to preserve these titles forever. The statement closes out with an apology about the original announcement and that the first title of Super Rare Shorts will be revealed in a few months time.

You can read the entire statement here. If you're curious about the initial announcement of Super Rare Shorts and what this precisely means, you can read our original news story here.


How will Ubisoft move forward from this?

Nintendo seemed to have uploaded the page for the-yet unannounced sequel to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle early (Update: The page has since been taken down). The sequel will be called Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope and releases in 2022. The game is published by Ubisoft and seems to feature new Rabbidfied versions of classic Mario characters like Rosalina and even a Rabbid Luma. The description on the page reads as follows:

Team up with Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Rabbid Peach, Rabbid Luigi, and their friends on a galactic journey to defeat a malevolent entity and save your Spark companions. Explore planets throughout the galaxy as you uncover mysterious secrets and compelling quests!- Build your dream team with three heroes from an eclectic roster of nine.- Take down all new bosses, along with some familiar enemies throughout the galaxy. - Rescue the adorable Sparks throughout the galaxy, who provide distinct powers that will help you in battle. - Unleash your heroes' skills but be strategic as you dash your enemies, team jump on your allies, and hide behind covers.

The game will presumably be revealed officially later today during the Ubisoft Forward presentation. We've archived the images from the website down below.

UPDATE (10:20am ET): The link goes to Nintendo's standard 404 page now.

TalkBack / Super Rare Games Will Begin Publishing Original Titles
« on: June 11, 2021, 09:00:00 AM »

Super duper rare games

UPDATE: Super Rare Games released a statement changing their approach to Super Rare Shorts on June 14th 2021 after criticism on the original announcement. You can read the changes and that statement here.

Super Rare Games announced today that the company will start with publishing exclusive titles for the Nintendo Switch in physical formats. Under the label of Super Rare Shorts these games will be exclusively released on a physical cartridge. That means these original games will only be available for the Nintendo Switch and won't be available as a digital release later on. These games will remain exclusive for the Nintendo Switch and won't be published on other platforms.

The first title from Super Rare Shorts is from the developer Glass Revolver, who released ITTA last year, which our reviewer Jordan quite liked. This new game from Glass Revolver has yet-to-be-announced, but Super Rare Shorts confirmed that it be available for preorder later this year. Since the game is only available in this format, the company has stated that 5000 initial copies will be printed and that there's a month-long preorder window.

There are currently multiple Super Rare Shorts games in development, according to Super Rare Games. These titles can be very different from the usual indie releases that the company publishes. "Shorts can be anything from entirely from-the-ground-up original titles by up-and-coming or veteran indie developers, finished versions of promising prototypes or smaller-scope games, vastly different and more definitive versions of promising titles that struggled to get the spotlight, or even expanded jam games from larger internal studios.". Their main aim is to support indie developers with Super Rare Shorts, stating that these sales of smaller games can help developers support and fund their future projects or highlight their visibility.

TalkBack / Long Shutter Speed - Over 20 years of photo modes in games.
« on: April 28, 2021, 03:00:00 AM »

Snap invented the genre, but can its sequel redefine it for the next generation?

Earlier this week we posted an overview of how Pokémon Snap was created with “Know Your Developers: Pokémon Snap Series”. The Snap series clearly started out as a creative experiment from the team at HAL laboratory where they aimed to create a photography game. Initially, according to the Ask Iwata book, the project lacked a motivation for players to take photos, until Iwata suggested that the subjects in question should be Pokémon. Now I don’t want to retread Neal’s video above, though you should definitely check it out if you haven’t already, but where he focused on how the team came together and created the original Snap, I’d like to take a broader look at how photography in games has evolved over time.

Arguably, Pokémon Snap did introduce the masses to what a photo mode could be in a game, despite being very minimalistic. Since the game was already a photography-focused title, it made sense that you could view your shots again in the gallery. This even allowed you to print the photos using a Pokémon Snap Station where you would enter your cartridge into the Station (at least in North America, Japan and Australia; Europe wasn’t so lucky). This idea of printing and sharing photos is nowadays so common we don’t stop and think about how novel the idea of communicating in images is. Every day, we see thousands of images and visuals everywhere, but back in 1999 having an actual printout from a photo you took in a video game was revolutionary. The only way you’d probably see or share screenshots at that time was through print magazines, basic online websites, and commercials. Giving that creativity and power to players does more than just adding a fun side-mode; it creates a community.

Case in point, in titles like Halo 3, a user-generated content option called the Theatre made it possible for players to share their favorite moments from clips and matches that you could access at any time. By using these systems, developer Bungie managed to create a true community around their games, where sharing photos was part of the online experience. User-generated content breeds both creativity and promotion, even though only a small percentage of players will end up using these tools. I’ve always found these systems to be fascinating because most of them allow you to detach the camera from its fixed positions, giving you the ability to freely observe the stunning details that developers have created in their games.

One company that is supporting this growing fandom is Sony Worldwide Studios and nearly every single one of the first-party PlayStation developers. Titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, Days Gone, and God of War have stunning photo modes that allow you to not only change the position of the camera, the angle of the shot and the exposure but even give you tools to change the world in front of your eyes. These photo modes are astonishing, letting you set the time of day, determine the weather effects, and pose or express characters in specific ways. I’ve spent an absurd amount of time in these games just playing around with the photo mode and enjoying the gorgeous sights of the fantastical worlds on screen. The cream of the crop is without a doubt 2019’s Ghost of Tsushima, where it’s possible to keep the natural world in motion by controlling the angle and force of the wind itself. You can even create a short movie by stringing together multiple shots like a slow-motion scene from a Zack Snyder film. It’s truly the best photo mode I’ve ever seen put to screen.

And you don’t need to be a triple-A video game to have a proper photo mode. More and more indie titles also come with a photo mode that gives you space to explore the world at your own pace. I cannot tell you how incredibly excited I am for Umurangi Generation, which launches later this year on the Nintendo Switch. It is a full-on photography game where the goals allow you to tackle any photo request with an enormous amount of creativity, while also telling a very heavy-themed story. Even smaller titles like A Hat in Time, Blue Fire, and Hellblade give you full control over the camera in photo mode to explore to your heart's content.

That unfortunately brings me to Nintendo’s output of photo modes. Now to be fair, it’s been getting a little bit better. The one in Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is pretty decent, giving you access to a variety of options like filters, stickers and also full rotation and position for the characters. It’s a slightly more elaborate photo mode than what was included in Super Mario Odyssey, but it does the job pretty well.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is on the opposite side of this spectrum. The Sheikah Slate is a terrible camera, only allowing you to take photos as viewed from a device; instead of giving players a full range of options, you can only statically zoom in and out and take a landscape or a regular shot. All the while the view is framed through an ugly border that is the Sheikah Slate itself. It’s honestly a blemish on a world that begs to be shot in a variety of ways. Imagine the community that could form around wildlife photography in Breath of the Wild, especially with how well the NPCs and enemies interact with one another. This may be one of the things I’m desperately hoping will be fixed in the sequel. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is fine, but unfortunately here you are also stuck on the same perspective as you are while playing the game itself. Sure it gives a slightly new viewing angle to play around with, but honestly it leaves much to be desired. Astral Chain apparently has an incredible photo mode that is even tied to quests and uses options like aperture and different lenses; you can even give the camera to your Legion to have it take photos of you. I haven’t played the game myself much, but reading this while doing research for this article almost makes me want to go back and check it out again.

So what do I want out of New Pokémon Snap? Well the problem here is that Pokémon Snap started the photography game genre back in 1999. It may have helped people get into photography as a hobby or career, let alone video game photography. The world of Pokémon is begging to be explored with a camera, especially because of the fantastical nature of all the creatures that interact with one another. The Pokémon Company has revealed that New Pokémon Snap will have a so-called “re-snap feature” that seems to hint at a more modern take on the photo mode. We don’t know yet what the full capabilities of this function are, but I’m secretly hoping that it will allow us to fully detach the camera and get up close and personal with the Pokémon. Having the options to adjust contrast, brightness, exposure, blur and depth of field are minimum requirements for a proper photo mode. New Pokémon Snap is the perfect candidate to show how far photo modes have come. I understand that this should be a separate mode from the main game, after all it would kind of break the game if I could make the perfect shot every time right on the spot. But using the re-snap mode as a basis, it can allow for people to really get more attached to their favorite creatures. There’s a zen-like quality to photography, especially for me when I’m playing a video game and already familiar with the world presented to me, applying functions and details wherever I go to truly create the perfect shot. Over the last 20 years, the photo mode has seen an incredible development, while still somehow remaining a very specific niche. My hope is that New Pokémon Snap provides players and fans with the tools to take this further. Like Iwata said back when they were developing the original Pokémon Snap: “I think it’s Pokémon, that is what people really want to photograph.” Frankly, I couldn’t agree more.


Someone arrived late to the party.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Super Mario Party has received update version 1.1.0. This new update allows for the Mario Party, Partner Party and Free Play modes to be played online with friends. The online play is restricted to having an Nintendo Switch Online subscription and excludes ten minigames from the total. These are: Strike It Rich, Time to Shine, Take a Stab, All-Star Swingers, Rhythm and Bruise, Pep Rally, Wiped Out, Fiddler on the Hoof, Clearing the Table, Baton and On.

You can play with friends online or you can create a private game with passwords where you can play with anyone from around the world. The new update also supports up to 2 players per system for the online modes. Additionally, if you haven't fully completed the game, you're in luck. In online mode you pick from any of the maps or characters in the game without needing to unlock them or your actual in-game progress.

The Super Mario Party 1.1.0 update is available for download now via the Nintendo Switch. Below you can find an overview trailer posted by the official Nintendo of Europe twitter account.


Someone please hide my wallet

Konami announced today that it will release Yu-Gi-Oh Rush Duel: Saikyou Battle Royale!! (say that three times fast) in Japan on August 12, 2021. This game will be based on a format of the trading card game that has not been released outside of Japan yet called Rush Duels. These cards are similar to the original TCG, however are played in a faster pace that allow for faster summoning of monsters. This format is different from the earlier released Speed Duel style of play and the popular Duel Links mobile game.

Additionally, Siliconera reports that the game will also see the release of various Yu-Gi-Oh! amiibo cards in Japan that are compatible with the game. Three (regular) cards will be included as a first-print bonus, and an amiibo card is offered as a pre-order bonus. Presumably these amiibo cards can be scanned using the NFC features of the Nintendo Switch to unlock additional cards and content in the game. It is unkown at this time how many Amiibo cards will be released, how these will look and how much they will cost.


Meet the Wicked Twisters

Square Enix announced today that NEO: The World Ends With You, the sequel to the beloved Nintendo DS cult classic, will be releasing on the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 on July 27th 2021. The game will also see a release on PC via the Epic Games Store. Accompanying this news a new trailer was shown that provides a look at the title's extensive voice cast and some new gameplay.

Unlike the DS original, this game takes place in a full 3D environment and will feature team battles, in which the teams competing in the Reapers' Game will have to duke it out to not get erased. Features like clothing equipment and psych powers seems to make their return as show in the trailer. The story is a direct follow-up of the original title's Anime, which is set to begin airing  later today in Japan.

You can view the new trailer below. The game can be pre-ordered at Square Enix official site.

TalkBack / New Details About Pokémon Snap Revealed
« on: March 24, 2021, 02:15:00 PM »

Time to book Your tickets to the Lental Region

Earlier today multiple outlets posted previews for the upcoming New Pokémon Snap. While the demo was only viewed by reporters and not playable, their previews did outline a ton of new features for the new title. We've taken the liberty of noting some of the more notable additions to the game down below.

  • There will be no new Pokémon exclusively added to the Lental region, but there are mentions that there will be more than 200 Pokémon to shoot pictures of. These Pokémon are from all different kinds of Pokémon regions and interact with one another in unique ways.

  • Every track has both a daytime and a nighttime level with additional routes that can be taken after reaching a higher expedition grade. You gain points at the end of every expedition based on your photos for the professor. The rating of the photos goes up to a maximum of four stars.

  • There's several items to use on the Pokémon again. The Fluffruit can be tossed at the wild Pokémon to lure them in specific poses or positions like in the original N64 version. The Pokéflute can also be used to perform music and watch Pokémon dance or perform.

  • Every photo taken in game can be edited afterwards with the re-snap feature. Here you can add stamps, change lighting options and adjust other aspects of the photo. Worthy to note here is that the professor will only grade your 'raw' photo shot during the expedition. So editing is completely optional and photos edited this way can be added to a seperate re-snapped photo album to be shared later.

New Pokémon Snap launches exclusively on the Nintendo Switch on April 30th.

TalkBack / Root Film (Switch) Review
« on: March 20, 2021, 11:00:00 AM »

I’d have preferred a director’s cut

I was surprised when reading about Root Film last month, a game about a director and his crew working on a thriller film project in the Japanese province of Shimane. Rarely in games do we experience the point of view from filmmakers, since gamemakers like to emphasize their own medium over film to avoid comparisons. However, with Root Film I found it impossible to avoid a singular thought over and over again: “Why is this a videogame and not a miniseries?” Because while the core story being told in Root Film is pretty engaging, the entire experience falls short when giving control to the player.

Root Film is a visual novel to its core, but sprinkled with what I can best describe as “Ace Attorney-lite.” You follow Studio Yagumo, led by the main protagonist Rintaro, who is signed on as one of three directors to help with a reboot of a strange cancelled mystery drama series. The original series was shut down ten years ago and all parties involved disappeared, leaving no record or footage of what happened during production. While Studio Yagumo prepares for production on this new series, Rintaro finds out more and more about what happened a decade earlier. Along the way he is aided by his assistant Aine Magari, his cameraman Kanade, and their actress Hitoha. However, Rintaro is not the only protagonist in Root Film. You’ll also play as Riho, an up-and-coming actress who stumbles across her own murder mysteries with her manager Manabe. While these stories are presented separately, they are connected in more ways than you might expect.

The story in Root Film is actually pretty solid. While the mysteries aren’t mind boggling, the twists along the way really kept me engaged in the story. The game is a visual novel, meaning that most of the game you’ll be looking at portraits of the characters in a variety of backgrounds. While visually I didn’t find this to be anything special, they did help set the tone of voice and present the characters in their surroundings. The game is completely voiced in Japanese and the cast does a good job of expressing a wide array of emotions. While I have little to no understanding of Japanese speech, I could clearly understand how these characters felt at all times. The leads of Rintaro, Hitoha, and Magari are really endearing and have a good chemistry and dynamic going on. I enjoyed being part of their conversations and seeing the roles play out.

Unfortunately, the story and the characters were really all that kept me returning to Root Film because the gameplay is rough to say the least. I made the Ace Attorney comparison earlier, but that would be giving Root Film too much credit. You travel around the Shimane prefecture to collect information from witnesses about the different cases; certain keyphrases may light up and become part of your evidence to confront suspects about their actions. Presenting the right information will get you close to the truth, but presenting the wrong information may lead you astray. Whereas the mysteries of the Ace Attorney series keep evolving due to finding new clues during investigation and during the courtroom battles, Root Film is laughably easy during these segments. I never once felt like I didn’t know what I needed to present and the game, pretty clearly, never even presents other possible suspects or outcomes. It’s a shame because this is one of the few times where there is actual gameplay and the chapters reach their climax. For most of the game you are selecting places to visit on a map and deciding whom to talk to. Often you need to talk to the same person, on the same screen, multiple times to advance the dialogue, which becomes tedious and repetitive very quickly. Add to that a dull and minimalistic soundtrack and there is very little to distract you while pressing the A-button to advance dialogue boxes.

The lack of polish really was what killed my enjoyment with Root Film. You’d think a visual novel where you only incidentally make a choice wouldn’t have bad controls, but the selection buttons are so precise it’s almost impossible to select a specific place to visit or a spot to investigate. Half the time my cursor missed the right, pre-selected, square and I was forced to read repeating dialogue. This lack of attention was even worse when I stumbled upon multiple spelling errors in the text and at one point even found a bit of Japanese text that was supposed to explain to me that I needed to play another chapter before proceeding with the main storyline. Moments like these broke my immersion and left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s already hard to stare at static screens for hours on end, but when the core text is full of errors it’s even harder to focus on the story. It almost feels like the creators really wanted this story to be either a manga or an animated series. The potential is absolutely there in the story but from a gameplay perspective I never felt like I was discovering information or confronting a criminal with hard evidence.

Root Film is a story first and foremost. Admittedly, this is a pretty good story with fun twists and some memorable characters. I would have loved to have experienced it in literally any form other than a video game. The gameplay is dull and rarely gives the player any urgency or control over what’s happening. Visually the game is fine but rarely does it do anything that makes it truly stand out. Animating the characters or key scenes would’ve worked wonders, especially with the filmmaking theme. But combined with the frustrating controls and repetitive music, Root Film becomes a drag to play through. I sincerely hope that this story will be adapted into other forms, because there is a lot of potential here. A video game simply shouldn’t have made the cut.


A Breath of Fresh Air But Not A Breath of the Wild

Like many of my fellow Pokémon fanatics, I was beyond surprised last week to see the first footage of what seems to be the next step for the mainline Pokémon franchise in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. The Pokémon Company (TPC) has been slowly but steadily making incremental movements into the direction of creating an open-world-esque Pokémon game. One could argue that Pokémon GO was the first open-world Pokémon game, but I’d like to avoid opening up that can of worms. Especially with Let’s GO’s roaming Pokémon and Pokémon Sword and Shield’s Wild Areas, TPC has clearly tried to embrace more of a modern approach to Japanese RPGs. In particular titles like Dragon Quest 11 S, the Xenoblade Chronicles series, and Final Fantasy XV have all embraced the open world while retaining the feel of their traditional turn-based RPG roots. It’s been a gradual process, but it’s hard to claim that Pokémon is reinventing the wheel here, based on the first trailer.

But the internet being the internet couldn’t help themselves but shout that there was only one clear comparison to be made with Legends and another famous series involving one particular Legend. Especially when talking about Nintendo exclusive titles, it’s hard to avoid the impact that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has had both creatively and critically. Acclaimed for ‘reinventing’ the conventions of Zelda games, Breath of the Wild has seen plenty of games looking to follow in its footsteps. Titles like Genshin Impact and Immortals: Fenyx Rising, while clearly having their own identity and strengths, have been influenced by and compared to Breath of the Wild numerous times in reviews, articles, and trailers. It’s almost hard nowadays to reveal or show an open world game and not have people immediately grab their copies of Breath of the Wild and point at the screen in bewilderment: a good game *checks notes* has influenced the gaming landscape.

Now a very specific vocal minority of so-called hardcore Pokémon fans have already made up their minds about how terrible the game is going to be and frankly there is no point in arguing with these folks. They have an imaginary version of Pokémon in their mind that simply will never exist and everything that doesn’t even come close to that is tossed straight into the bin. However, what surprised me more is that many people online called Pokémon Legends: Arceus the “Breath of the Wild” of Pokémon games based on this first trailer. It was made clear that Legends’ aim is to also challenge the conventions of the Pokémon series. A fully open world to explore and catch Pokémon in, more movement options for the main character, while retaining the turn-based combat between Pokémon: all of this sounds like a dream come true. This approach in game design and its artstyle immediately reminded me and many others of another game that challenged the conventions of its series history by creating a large open world with a painterly aesthetic. Yes, upon first glance I can understand and see the comparison between Pokemon Legends: Arceus and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But this could be a very dangerous comparison to make this early on, especially when dealing with that vocal minority of Pokémon fans I mentioned earlier.

Breath of the Wild is a good game and truly did rethink the conventions of the Zelda series. The reason why I feel it succeeded at challenging those conventions is because Breath of the Wild is not just about exploration, but also the creativity that players can use for that exploration. The Sheikah Slate is Breath of the Wild’s secret weapon, allowing players to challenge any obstacle in a variety of ways. Need to cross a large body of water? You can swim, use the Cryonis, Stasis or even the Bombs to launch yourself across the lake in a variety of ways. This is truly how Breath of the Wild’s approach to the Zelda-series changed the game. No rules or restrictions keep players from tackling any problem they face in a variety of ways. Everything in Breath of the Wild is simply an extension of how a player wishes to approach the world and puzzles. But within the framework of the Zelda-series, Breath of the Wild is still recognizable as a Zelda game through its dungeon design, combat system, and general aesthetic.

By claiming that Legends: Arceus is the Breath of the Wild of the Pokémon series, a player is setting expectations unreasonably high. TPC and GameFreak simply have never attempted this type of game before and their track record of working on longer projects simply do not mirror the development of a Zelda game. From its first trailer I also find it hard to gauge exactly what conventions Pokémon Legends is trying to reinvent. So far, you are still catching wild Pokémon, battling in turn-based systems and exploring a large world filled with towns and people. Sure the camera seems more dynamic and there is at least one new form of movement, but there was nothing in this first trailer that indicates any convention being challenged. Now, granted, as Alex pointed out in his reaction to the Pokémon Presents, the original Breath of the Wild gameplay video also didn’t really show us much outside of the world, except for the apparent lack of linearity. I really wouldn’t argue that the lack of linearity is what challenged the conventions of Zelda, but with Legends: Arceus, I’m seeing even less of an new approach. The world is a large wild area, we’ve seen that in the Crown Tundra and Isle of Armor DLC for Pokémon Sword and Shield. The UI and dynamic camera are interesting, but are we really calling a perspective shift a challenge to the conventions of Pokémon. I’m pretty sure that Pokémon X and Y did this first, but I’d hardly call those games revolutionary in their approach. Even the starters, while being shuffled around, still follow the basic fire, water, grass line.

So far, it doesn’t seem to be about the player’s creativity to traverse this open world. By comparing Legends to Breath of the Wild already, players may be setting themselves up for disappointment.  I feel that if fans and journalists alike proclaim Legends: Arceus as a Breath of the Wild clone / type of game, it seriously diminishes the way we can objectively look at this game once we know more about it.

Now, am I even excited for Pokémon Legends: Acreus? Well yeah, because there is a glimmer of hope here. While the trailer is still a prototype of the idea they are going for, Pokémon has a secret ace up its sleeve if this game plays its cards right. Because while Cryonis, Stasis, the bombs and Magnesis were creative powers to play around with, Pokémon inherently have an incredibly diverse movepool at their disposal. While I absolutely despise HM moves, the idea of Pokémon using their natural capabilities to remove obstacles in the overworld would be the best way to implement a sense of creativity in their open world. Want to cross a large gap? Well, if you were to catch a Pidgeot, you could fly over it. Or try and find a Weedle to create a bridge using String Shot. Maybe if you can spot an Alolan Vulpix you can Ice Beam yourself a passage. That way, the Pokémon you catch would become more than party members; they would represent traversal tools in and of themselves.

But let’s be fair, considering the scope of Pokémon and the way Game Freak have been designing these games, I’m not even considering this to be a reality. The variables with different Pokémon are too large and the game needs to retain its accessibility for a younger audience, which is still its core target demographic. I also don’t think I need to present a solution here for a problem that literally does not exist, because in truth, we know barely anything about the game so far. While the first trailer of Legends: Arceus did a remarkable job in surprising fans, it’s hard to argue that it’s anywhere close to a Breath of the Wild for Pokémon. Frankly, we should avoid that comparison all together if we wish to avoid another tidal wave of anger and disappointment for something that never existed in the first place.


Time to take the plunge

Unknown Worlds announced today that the oceanic adventure Subnautica and it's sequel Subnautica: Below Zero will launch on the Nintendo Switch on May 14th. While Subnautica: Below Zero has been in early access for quite some time, both it and its predecessor were revealed to be coming to Switch during an Indie World presentation last year. The game sees players exploring a near endless ocean on a distant alien planet that is brimming with lifeforms and a mysterious story. Its sequel is set on the frozen planet 4546B, full of new creatures and other deep-sea terrors to challenge your exploration. The Switch version will support HD rumble in Below Zero and may become available in Subnautica too at a later point.In addition, BANDAI NAMCO will release a physical bundle containing both games for the Nintendo Switch which will be available on the date of its release. This retail version will cost $59,99 and will have both games on a singular cartridge. There is no need for additional downloads besides patches and updates. Both games can also be purchased individually from the eShop each for $29,99.

TalkBack / HC2+ Stereo Gaming Headset (Switch) Review
« on: February 18, 2021, 04:32:12 AM »

Back to the basic of basics

I was very enthusiastic about the Gioteck WX4 wireless controller. It’s an affordable controller with a simple design that really does well what it’s designed to do, being a cheap but durable alternative to the Switch Pro Controller. Now along with the WX4, Gioteck was kind enough to also send a headset with the controller. At first I was hesitant, because I’m very harsh when it comes to audio quality but I also hadn’t had the chance to review any Switch audio hardware in the last four years. After my time with their pretty good controller I was hopeful for the HC2+ gaming headset. Unfortunately, it seems like lightning doesn't strike twice.

It’s basic. There really isn’t that much I can say about the HC2+ headset other than that it is very basic. Its design tries to go for this professional look, but the glossy finish and the stiffness of the headset itself was where most of my issues began. Everything is made of either a thick plastic or hard cushions that really don’t make the headset that attractive to look at. While I’m all for function over style it did feel like there was something off about this headset. The headset uses a wired, undetachable, cable that is one of those flat thin connectors that I always am afraid to snap just by touching it. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but the cable did get tangled nearly all the time after using it. Along the cable you’ll find a volume control box and a mute button for the microphone. This box has a clip-on but I don’t think you’ll find much use of it while using your Nintendo Switch, since the console doesn’t support microphone input. The microphone itself is a simple plug-in jack that goes into the base of the headset, but again, since the Switch does not support this, I didn’t feel the need to keep it plugged in. A good thing to note is that the microphone is not bendable and can only move horizontally.

Headsets live however by their audio-quality and unfortunately the HC2+ has nearly nothing going on for it in this department. To describe the audio quality in one word I’d use the word hollow. Sounds seem to come from far away, filtered through what feels like an echo chamber. The timbre is abysmal to say the least, making music sound actively worse than if I were to listen to it through my speakers. The bass is notable, but has little to no added value that makes bass-heavy numbers stand out. You might think this headset is designed for games, so listening to music is a bad comparison, but honestly games might be even worse off. There is no dynamic range going on and due to the earlier mentioned hollowness of the audio, it’s hard to perceive where sounds are coming from while playing. Everything sounds flat and unpolished. Especially on the higher notes it’s clear that the headset cannot keep pace and simply gives up. The sound has barely any fidelity and it makes the headset a hard sell.

While being blasted with mediocre sound quality, it’s not only your eardrums that get to suffer, but your head as well. Now I’d never categorize myself as someone with a big head per se, so you may have to take this with a grain of salt, but the design flaws are apparent when actively using the headset. It’s incredibly tight around the head, making for an uncomfortable experience. Especially on the ears, since the cups themselves have these hard cushions and these get pressed down hard on the sides of your head. I honestly disliked the headset so much while using it that I couldn’t wait to take it off after testing. It’s too clamped and frankly it made an already unappealing design even less enticing.

Finally, while the idea of using a headset is appealing to many users, the Switch really isn’t made for a wired headset of this size. A wired connection is perfect for handheld mode, since you will be holding the device relatively near the headset. But when using a headset in docked mode you are tethered to the top headphone jack on the console itself. While this works when you need to use wired speakers, for a headset this is really uncomfortable. The cable is maybe about a meter in length and that is simply too short to be using in docked mode while watching TV for most modern households. I guess it would be usable if you were using the Nintendo Switch Online app for voice chat but let’s be fair here, until I mentioned it you had probably forgotten that there was a Nintendo Switch Online app. If the Pro Controller had an audio input, it might’ve been interesting, but it’s clear that this headset is only compatible with the Switch in the sense that it can plug into the device.

To be very blunt, there is no need for this headset. Even at its budget price point it offers barely anything of note that might interest someone looking for a headset for the Switch. A wired headset could be useful if it was optimized for handheld play, but frankly the terrible audio-quality and the lack of comfort even make that a hard sell. It’s just too bulky for its own good and feels dated in all the worst ways, as if a zombie gaming headset made its way back from the dead from the early 00’s. I’d advise you save yourself the purchase and instead invest it into a proper wireless headset. It’s a shame that the combination of design, functionality and budget didn’t come together here in the same way as for the WX4 controller. If you ask me it’s clear where Gioteck’s expertise lies and what path they should continue to pursue.

TalkBack / Blue Fire (Switch) Review
« on: February 12, 2021, 10:00:00 AM »

This 3D Platformer is Lit

It’s been said that we’re living through a true 3D platformer renaissance. Just like at the beginning of the 2010’s when people were clamoring for a return to 2D pixel art platformers, the 3D platformers have seen a true resurgence with the likes of Yooka-Laylee, A Hat in Time and of course Super Mario Odyssey. However, while these titles really did help revitalize the 3D platformer, they did not really revolutionize or improve upon its foundation. “Remember that thing you liked?” works really well as a kickstarter pitch, but as shown with Yooka-Laylee for example, it can backfire when trying to be more than it’s inspiration. Blue Fire feels like the first step towards a refinement of how 3D platformers could work in the modern age. Combining the exploration and combat of action focused titles like Hollow Knight and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker with 3D platforming from the likes of A Hat in Time and Super Mario Odyssey works out incredibly well for Blue Fire. While there are some kinks in the Switch version, Blue Fire has me fired up for more.

Blue Fire sees you traversing the Penumbra, a dark floating castle in the sky where you awaken as Umbra, a warrior that has been infused with both fire and shadow. Penumbra has been forsaken due to the war between five Gods and the Black Shadow, an entity that has corrupted most of the castle. When you awake, you are armed with nothing more than your dual blades and a mission to save the Penumbra. Purely from a design aspect, the Penumbra looks incredible. You might expect it to be just a confusing maze of corridors and chambers and while it does start out like that at first, the locations within the castle are incredibly varied. From molten rivers of lava deep beneath the castle to the serene Abandoned Path, there is a lot of visual creativity at play here. The soundtrack, while mostly being ambient, compliments the atmosphere very well. Threatening when facing the bosses, but also calming when visiting some of the small settlements scattered throughout the world. Speaking of the settlements, they have real charm to them thanks to the different NPC’s you meet along the way. These cute little fellows all have their own personalities and help you with side quests, discoveries and accepting your currency and collectibles. Upgrades, spirits and items cost you ore, which can be found nearly everywhere. I was surprised to find that there was always something to spend my ore on. Not only to buy weapons and items, but you also require ore to open up the Fire Shrines which function as respawn points where you can change spirits. Even late in the game I was still able to purchase upgrades and spend the countless ore I was collecting. These upgrades were definitely worth the price, since most give you an edge in both exploration and combat.

The best way to describe the gameplay in Blue Fire is if Hollow Knight and A Hat in Time had a baby. In the beginning the warrior, Umbra, only has access to a dash, jump and a basic attack. This makes Blue Fire incredibly difficult at first. Opponents deal quite a bit of damage and death is never far away in the opening hours. Thankfully you have access to fire essence, which can heal you if necessary. In case you do bite the dust you lose all your collected ore and return to the last visited Fire Shrine. But, like in Hollow Knight you can retrieve your ore if you can reach the place where you died to collect a soul. Combat relies on you reading your enemies movement and using their openings to strike fast and hard. Later on you also unlock a ranged blast, which helps keep enemies at bay, but it consumes your precious mana. The balance between keeping yourself alive by quickly jumping and dashing around and striking whenever possible keeps combat fast paced and engaging.

So far so good right? Well, Blue Fire has one more genius trick up its sleeve called the Voids. Voids are essentially incredibly difficult platforming challenges that truly test all your abilities. There is no combat in these zones, it’s just you trying to reach the end of a level and claim the reward, which increases your maximum health. Now even though they’ve made me nearly pull out my hair with frustration the voids have some of the most riveting gameplay in the entire game. I actively despised them at first, but later on they truly became an incredible test of my skill at the game. This is because there are no restrictions on the movement abilities you unlock in the game. There’s a great variety of movement options too, with double jumps, a spin attack that lifts you up in the air, wall run and much more. All these abilities can be improved upon by using spirits. These can be collected and equipped at fire shrines and give incredible boosts. I was quickly using a combination where my standard jumps gained altitude, my general movement speed was increased, fall damage was negated and I could perform an additional dash. At first I was pretty sure this would break the game, but in the voids these options opened up new paths that made me tackle the challenges in ways I couldn’t even conceive at first.

The sheer variety the combination of spirits and abilities brings to the table makes Blue Fire so satisfying to play. Segments of the game I struggled with at first became a joy to traverse and the developers cleverly have hidden chests, collectibles and additional challenges everywhere to make you feel rewarded for going the extra mile with exploring. The jumping, running, slashing and dashing just feels so good to perform. Especially when stringing them all together durings the void challenges or boss fights. Simply put, it’s these mechanics that actually pushed me over the edge to nearly 100% complete the game during the review period. I just didn’t want the experience to end. I felt rewarded in discovering all the secret paths, chests and purchasing everything I could get my hands on. By the end of my time with the game, a good 18 hours later, I felt like an invincible knight. Even with all the upgrades, the final boss was quite a challenge, but after the dust had settled, Blue Fire had segmented itself in my mind as one of the most fun surprises on the Switch I’ve had in quite some time.

That being said, Switch players should be warned that this experience feels compromised when taking performance into consideration. The game frequently slows down during exploration and combat. Frame rate stutters were inescapable and I even encountered quite a few crashes and game breaking glitches. Thankfully the autosave is rigorous and I never lost much progress after a crash. I really hope that the developers are able to polish up the experience on Switch, because it feels like they themselves aren’t quite ready to close the book on Blue Fire quite yet. Another thing I feel the need to mention is that Blue Fire does not have any map system in the slightest. While this really ticked me off at first, I quickly adapted to the whole situation because each location is so strikingly different and fairly easy to navigate. It may however be an annoyance if you are going for the full 100% completion, just because you might have missed a hidden chest or a specific unlock. Still, the dungeons and world are so well designed that I rarely got lost.

Blue Fire is everything I didn’t know I wanted out of a 3D platformer. Instead of consisting of just platforming challenges, the combat kept me engaged. Secrets and collectibles aren’t there to block off parts of the map, but make exploring a joy due to how well they interact with Umbra’s abilities. 3D Mario feels good to play, but at the end of the day you are most likely still rescuing a princess and collecting meaningless stars. Blue Fire gives you a narrative thread but leaves it up to you to decide how you want to explore the Penumbra. This metroidvania-like approach really clicked for me and made this 3D platformer feel special, which few others have over the past decade. While performance on Switch is definitely not fantastic, with constant suffering through crashes, I still wanted to go back every time to discover what else was hidden in this world. I certainly cannot wait to see what these developers have in store next, because Blue Fire has definitely awoken a burning passion in me to see what lies ahead.

TalkBack / NUTS (Switch) Review
« on: February 04, 2021, 06:00:00 AM »

Hide and Squeek

NUTS should line up perfectly with my personal interests. If you’ve read my previous reviews, then you know that I’m a big fan of odd, quirky, narrative-driven games. Some of my favorite narratives try to use their mechanics to engross you in a specific time, place, and setting to unfold the story. Usually, the narrative takes precedence over the gameplay in these titles. However, NUTS clearly has a very ambitious goal with its gameplay that unfortunately falls short on almost all fronts on the Nintendo Switch.

NUTS sees you playing as a researcher for the Viago University, which monitors the behaviour of squirrels in the Melmoth forest. This behaviour analysis of the endangered squirrels is critical, since the Panorama corporation wants to build a new construction within the forest. You are stationed within several locations of the forest and are given nothing more than a GPS, cameras and recording equipment. The goal is simple, try to observe the habitat of the squirrels by placing cameras during the day and checking the recorded footage by night. Print out photos of the locations and send them to the project director, Dr. Nina Scholz. Along the way you discover that not everything is what it seems in this natural environment.

I absolutely adored this premise. Your only hint as to where the squirrels live and hide at first is a marker on your GPS that shows the hiding space of their nest. From there on out it’s up to you to place the cameras and rewind and observe the footage closely in order to figure out their patterns, movement, and routes. The game uses a unique art-style that consists of three contrasting colors. This means that objects like your cameras and the squirrels stick out from the background of the footage. That doesn’t make it easier per se, but it does give you a good way to quickly gather information from a specific recording. The story is also very enjoyable. While you only interact with Dr. Nina Scholz via telephone, the voice acting is really convincing and draws you into her life as well. She used to be part of the same research team many years ago. As the plot thickens, her relationship with you is both reserved and intense especially when things get, well, nuts.

The issue, however, is that, as much as the story and gameplay mechanics are innovative, the Switch version suffers from a plethora of issues in terms of performance, graphics, and UI. I want to get the UI out of the way first. Since this game takes place in something that resembles the ‘90s, there is no digital equipment. This means that you have to use a VHS player and a television screen enhancer to observe the footage properly. This wouldn’t be such an issue, except that to use these things you have to use your controller to direct a cursor to hit the specific buttons. Rewinding, playing, fast-forwarding, reversing, for every action in your command center, you need to perfectly position your cursor on the button. This gets tedious and annoying very quickly. There are no button commands assigned to the controller, which would have instantly solved this problem. You might think: “Well, this game is perfect for handheld mode with the touch screen then.” But for some absurd reason, this game does not support touch or gyro controls of any kind. Meaning that you are stuck from beginning to end with rudimentary and annoying taps of the control stick to select items, shift camera angles, and adjust the recording. To make matters worse, while the graphical style is unique and really pleasant to look at, the UI has no separate color for your cursor. Meaning that I almost always lost my cursor at some point while scrubbing through the footage. There are little to no visual adjustment options to increase contrast or anything. The only option is to make the controls even more sensitive, which is something you do not want while scrubbing footage. The game is also divided into chapters, which you proceed through by playing the days and nights. However, the game only saves progress at the end of a chapter, meaning you have to finish a chapter before you’re allowed to save. This meant a lack of quick play sessions, which seriously diminished my enjoyment of the game.

While this game originally released on Apple Arcade, it feels like this Switch port was done pretty dirty. In later stages, there are frequent stutters and framerate drops when too many objects are on screen. Adjusting photos from your inventory takes quite a bit of getting used to because you pause the screen and then drag a photo out of your journal. All these little frustrations make for a pretty downer experience on Switch. I can imagine that if you were to play this game on PC, there would be no downside, since a mouse would be far more precise. On a final note, while the story did engross me and kept me playing, the payoff is a tad disappointing. Maybe I was expecting a bit more from a title called NUTS, but it felt pretty straightforward near the end.

Overall I really would recommend NUTS if you are into narrative-driven games with a solid and interesting game mechanic. However, I cannot in good conscience recommend the Switch version. The UI is very hard to manage without any touch controls. The visual design harms the experience, and there are frequent framerate stutters and hiccups while playing the later levels. I enjoyed the premise and the ideas the game presents, but within this context the Switch version does not do the game justice. There is nut much to be gained here.

TalkBack / Haven (Switch) Review
« on: February 04, 2021, 04:29:54 AM »

A love story for the space ages

It’s very rare that a romance in games is done well. There are plenty of titles that feature optional relationships, meet cutes and have you following two characters that are literally designed to fall in love with each other. One of the downsides to this approach is that you as a player are responsible for making the romance work. Whether it’s through picking a specific set of dialogue options or presenting NPC’s with gifts, the player is the one who initiates the romantic interactions. Haven skips the gift giving, the stalking with messages and the making of romantic choices. In Haven, the relationship is not a feature, it’s the heart of the experience. The protagonists Yu and Kay are compassionate, funny, witty, resourceful and also really really horny for each other. It’s the perfect motivation you need to explore a gorgeous deserted planet and find a way to restore your spaceship to create a perfect little Haven. It’s a shame however, that while all these elements are present here, the Switch version is not the ideal way to experience this tale.

Haven starts in what is called ‘media res’, meaning that from the get go you don’t fully know who these two characters are, how they met, why they are on this weird planet, or what their goals are. You play as Yu and Kay, two lovers who have fled their civilization called The Apiary because of their disagreement with the Matchmaker that pairs up couples. It’s made clear through context clues that Yu had a wealthy upbringing, while Kay worked in some capacity for Yu’s mother. While they weren’t expecting to get away from the Apiary, they’ve managed to find the coordinates to a deserted planet called Source. Here it’s up to them to live out their lives, find food and reflect on what they’ve done. At least, that is until their ship, the Nest, gets demolished by an earthquake and they set out to explore the Islets of Source in order to salvage materials to repair the Nest. I really liked how Haven doesn’t tell you the complete backstory on both Yu and Kay. It’s storytelling is executed in a near perfect way, using mostly contextual clues and throwaway lines to hint at what has happened because the characters are fully aware what took place. There is no title crawl explaining the history of the Apiary or a montage where the two of them meet. You get to meet these characters while they’re already clearly committed to each other and follow their relationship along the way.

Simply put, this relationship puts many others I’ve seen in games, or other media for that matter, to shame. The writing is absolutely fantastic. Kay is a biologist and researcher, while Yu has had quite some experience working as a technician. This dynamic plays great off each other. They’re both charming but also witty and comedic in their dialogues. The voice cast sells their relationship incredibly well, with great performances from both leads. Players have the option to guide their conversations in several ways by selecting dialogue options. Some of these can make the characters feel more confident, which helps increase their bond. You might feel that without the meet cute (a term describing how two characters meet and fall in love in films or series), it’s hard to see what makes these two click. Thankfully there is still a lot of flirting going on between the two of them. Yu and Kay are also unashamed of their horniness for each other and I love it. They will definitely take moments out of their day to make love and it increases their relationship and with it, the accompanying stats. Seriously, if Yu and Kay are damaged and you leave them idle for a bit, they will kiss and regain some health. The relationship is the core that ties everything together at all times from both a narrative and gameplay viewpoint.

The way I’ve described this game so far makes it sound like it’s a visual novel but thankfully the heart of the actual moment to moment gameplay is solid as well. Yu and Kay can glide along the planet's surface using an energy source called flow. By following along flow threads you can collect more energy but also clear up patches of rust that have stained all of the Islets on Source. This gliding almost feels like skating, where you make rapid dashes to quickly move over the different Islets. You can drift to keep your momentum but also unlock new abilities later on that can ward off enemies or be used in combat. The game uses a gorgeous cell-shaded style that, when combined with the unique design of the Islets and Source itself, feels inviting and mysterious at the same time. The Nest embraces the idea of feeling like a cozy and safe home for the protagonists. You can explore The Nest at any time and interact with the different gizmos, tools and resources available. Everything oozes style and personality, similarly to the main characters.

The main goal of exploring Source is to find resources for consumption, fruits and vegetables or exploring the ruins of a previous civilization that inhabited the planet. Along the way you encounter creatures that are covered in Rust, which triggers combat sequences. These differ quite a bit from the normal exploration. You can give Yu and Kay directions to either defend, use a ranged attack, a melee attack or to pacify the creatures. By pacifying all the enemies you complete the combat encounter and gain more bond between the two characters, essentially allowing them to level up. Attacks are selected by holding and releasing the corresponding face buttons or using the joysticks. There are also duo attacks, which are far more powerful but require a charge from both characters. The downside I found with combat is that the game automatically decides which of the enemies it targets with an attack. It’s hard to understand the combat at first, especially when certain attack types do little to no damage to certain enemies without a clear indication why. Thankfully this is improved later on by crafting tonics that increase the output of damage and also allow you to heal. Combat can escalate quite quickly and while I wouldn’t really call the game hard, I did frequently go out of my way to find a camp to safely heal up. Items can only be consumed at The Nest or at a camp, so keeping track of these locations is essential. This might sound like a drag, but honestly, it was just another reason to have more dialogue options with Yu and Kay.

And it’s this relationship that kept me so invested into Haven. The combat could get a little bit frustrating and the exploration does feel repetitive sometimes, but thanks to these characters everything clicks into place. That being said, I unfortunately have to note that the Switch version does have trouble keeping the game up and running. While I can live with an occasional frame rate dip, I’ve had the game crash on me several times during play, both in combat sequences, but also while exploring or during dialogue segments. Audio and visual glitches are also quite common, sometimes just muting all sound effects or music entirely. While I was hopeful when a patch released during the review period that was supposed to fix these things, unfortunately both the crashes and glitches never went away. Thankfully, every time you travel to another Islet the game does an auto save, so I never lost more than about 5 minutes of progress. That being said, this means that there are a lot of loading screens. Traveling from one location to another is always accompanied by a loading screen. Now I didn’t mind these too much, since the loading screen has these great illustrations of Yu and Kay during their relationship, but the screens are incredibly frequent. It’s clear that the Switch version needs some more work and that makes it hard for me to recommend this particular version at this time. The fact a patch was released during the review period however, makes me hopeful that The Game Bakers will be able to fix a lot of the pressing issues over time. But right now I think that you may want to wait a bit longer before playing Haven on Switch.

I stuck with Haven, throughout the crashes, the glitches and the slightly repetitive exploration, because I really fell in love with these characters. I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed being in their presence. Hearing them talk about their feelings for each other, their choices, their background and their doubt about fleeing the Apiary just made me connect with them. It feels good to see a relationship that comes across as more mature and developed in a video game. Something that isn’t there to satisfy people that ship in-game characters or gives them additional stats, but two characters that live together and struggle together. They each have a complete personality and to see that flourish, to see them flourish together, is something I have rarely if ever experienced in a game. Haven is not perfect, certainly not on Switch, but I would follow these characters to the edge of space and beyond.


Scott Pilgrim makes his glorious return after defeating the most evil ex of all: licensing agreements

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the game - Complete Edition is the culmination of years of fan requests to get a re-release of this beloved beat ‘em up. Originally released in 2010 near the release of the comic book film adaptation of the same name, it became infamous for two reasons. First, upon its release it was considered one of the greatest licensed movie tie-in video games of all time. Perfectly capturing the style that the Scott Pilgrim comics were based on and invoking the feeling of classic arcade games like Double Dragon, Streets of Rage and River City Ransom. Nothing wrong so far, why the infamy? Well, likely due to the license expiring, the game was delisted from all digital stores in december of 2014 making it unavailable for purchase or download ever since. Ten years, and tons of fan requests later, and the game is now available again in a Complete Edition. Is this the return of a lost hidden gem, or has age caught up with Scott and his friends?

In case you haven’t read or watched the story of Scott Pilgrim, let me quickly fill you in. It’s about a love triangle between Scott Pilgrim, a bass guitar player from Toronto, his new girlfriend Knives Chau, a 17-year old high schooler, and a new mystery girl that just moved in from America named Ramona Flowers. In order to keep dating Ramona, Scott has to defeat her seven evil exes. The game takes after a beat ‘em up arcade title where you traverse stages based on locations from the comics. The game has most of the genre tropes covered. Standard attacks, heavy attacks, a jump, a block, a special attack and an assist attack form the basis behind the combat system. Where it gets interesting is that during combat you earn experience and gain the ability to level up. Leveling up unlocks new moves for your character to perform that can be used defensively or offensively. This means that the combat system deepens as you continue to make your way through the world of Scott Pilgrim.

Every stage stands out on its own. One moment you’re traversing the snowy streets of Toronto on your way to a concert, the next you make your way through several backlots from different film sets. There’s a lot of creativity on display and each level ends with an impressive boss fight against one of the exes. In between beating up thugs, goons, security guards and hipsters, you can collect coins. Coins can be spent at several different shops that are only accessible within the levels themselves. You can purchase food and drinks to regain HP or regain Gut Points. These Gut Points revive you if you fall in battle, but also act as a meter to perform special attacks. This ability to continuously visit shops with the collected coins from battles makes for a good break from the gameplay. I also found it to be necessary since levels are quite long and can suddenly spike in difficulty.

What makes Scott Pilgrim truly special is its magnificent pixel art style. The game is incredibly vibrant, colorful and flashy at almost all times. Characters are clearly visible on the different backgrounds and every punch, kick, throw or hit is sold by the expressive poses on the animation. For a game that is ten years old, it’s artstyle hasn’t aged a day, which I found to be impressive since we’ve had a true renaissance of pixel art games in the past decade. The soundtrack is another incredible highlight. Nearly every song in the soundtrack is an absolute banger. A fine tuned blend of arcade sound effects, mixed in with upbeat and high tempo songs, that never gets old. The boss battle tracks manage to tune the dial up to eleven and made me enjoy those fights even more. From a presentation standpoint Scott Pilgrim cannot be described as anything less than a masterpiece.

That being said, the game does have a few annoying quirks to it, that don’t reflect a lot of quality of life improvements that other releases from the past decade have seen. The menus are a bit cumbersome and slow to navigate and take away from the flow of combat. During combat I found myself sometimes struggling to pick up objects. Their position can be rather precise and since the game takes place on a flat 2D stage with depth, it can be annoying to position yourself just right to hit enemies or collect the variety of objects to hit them with. The character selection is pretty good, though the fan favourite newcomer Wallace Wells is nothing more than a palette swap of Stephen Stills. It is a shame that fighters are not swappable for each level. If you wish to play as another character you will have to replay every stage with that character, with very little to no changes. Leveling up is also done separately for each fighter, which means that you don’t have access to unlocked moves in these replayed levels even though all characters level up in the same way.

Multiplayer is where the game shines. You can play online with a friend or strangers at any time and choose from the story mode levels. It’s even possible to revive your teammates when they go down in this co-op mode. We did find that the difficulty was higher when playing with more players so that was very usefull. It is odd that the side modes, like the boss rush, dodgeball and survivor mode are not available for online play. These distractions would be great to take a break from the main game, though you can still play them locally with friends. Unfortunately, in order to access the “Network play” sessions, all players are required to have an Ubisoft account and be signed into the online service. This problem persists even when it comes to the new content. To unlock one of the new additions to the game, a playable version of Knives Chau, you are required to log into the Ubisoft services with an account in order to receive the character. This game is supposed to be the re-release of a game that was mostly infamous for being inaccessible thanks to it being a digital release. Locking free and new content behind another digital sign-in service is nothing but detestable from Ubisoft.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game - Complete Edition is still an incredibly polished and fun beat ‘em up that has truly stood the test of time. While it’s slightly annoying that playing with the other characters requires you to replay entire levels and that the online features and a full playable fighter are currently locked behind Ubisoft’s ridiculous server sign-in, in the end this is still a great title deserving of its re-release. The combat is quick and fluid, the soundtrack is truly incredible and the multiplayer mode with friends makes the game even more fun. In short, I’m not ashamed to say that yes, after all these years, I’m still in lesbians with this game.

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