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Messages - John Rairdin

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Once more unto the maze.

When Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord released for the Apple II back in 1981, it became a primary influence in the creation of RPGs as a genre of video games. Alongside Akalabeth (released in 1979), Wizardry was one of the earliest attempts to convert the pen and paper gameplay of Dungeons & Dragons into a video game. It is generally credited with being the first party-based RPG ever made, and alongside the Ultima series, it would go on to inspire games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. As a western RPG fan, Dungeons & Dragons fan, and just a fan of weirdly ambitious games of the past, I’m ashamed to say that I’d never played Wizardry. So I was curious if this updated version from Digital Eclipse would hold up for me in 2024.

Wizardry is a first-person dungeon crawler (another sub-genre of RPG that it helped originate). You control a party of six characters that you can either custom build, or recruit from randomly generated presets. You’ll spend most of your time exploring and mapping a large multi-floor dungeon. Throughout the dungeon you’ll look for secrets and loot, and engage in turn-based combat via random encounters. Combat is based around the basic idea of having three melee fighters up front, supported by three magic users in the back. You can alter this formation but it is generally a good idea to stick with this basic layout. Beyond attacking, characters can also investigate their opponent to attempt to learn more about them. Learning about your opponent can reveal their weaknesses, resistances, and additional stat information.

You’ll want to periodically make your way back out of the dungeon and to the surrounding village to heal and resupply. Here you’ll find a shop for purchasing and selling items, an inn to heal and level up, a temple to revive downed party members, and various facilities for creating and recruiting party members. This was all represented as a text based menu in the original game, but here you get actual buildings to select with dedicated UI elements for each one.

This modern version of Wizardry has been updated in almost every way. The dungeon, in which you’ll spend most of your time, has been rebuilt in true 3D as opposed to the simple line drawings of the original version. A variety of quality of life options have been added to slightly alter the way the game plays. However, I feel it is worth noting that none of these options would constitute any sort of easy mode. You can’t make enemies easier, or make yourself invincible. Though elements have been modernized, at its core that underlying difficulty balance has remained. And much of that is because deep down, this version of Wizardry is running on the same source code as the original. To the extent that you have the option at any point, to see the game exactly as it was running alongside the modern version. I tended to leave this in a small window off to the side as constantly having that point of comparison is fascinating.

The RPG systems borrow heavily from first edition Dungeons & Dragons. This is the biggest hurdle that yet remains in Wizardry: understanding how to play it. Even this updated version doesn’t really give you a rulebook for how things work. Even my existing experience with Dungeons & Dragons couldn’t help me with everything as core mechanics of the game were very different in that first edition. For example, in Wizardry, like 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, the lower your armor rating, the better your armor is. While pretty counterintuitive to any modern RPG, that's how Dungeons & Dragons did it up until 3rd Edition so that's how Wizardry does it, too. The rules aren’t terribly complicated, but there are times where age has rendered them somewhat counterintuitive for a modern player, and this version doesn’t offer any help in that department. Don’t feel like a fraud if you need to search the internet for how these mechanics work.

Your enjoyment of Wizardry in 2024 is going to depend a lot on the amount you’re willing to put into it. I quickly became obsessed with taking a quick run into a new corner of the dungeon every night before going to bed. But a lot of that was built on an existing interest in old western RPGs, an understanding of Dungeons & Dragons mechanics, and a willingness to look up the older rules. The game itself isn’t really interested in helping you with any of that. Instead, they’ve made some smart adjustments to smooth out some of the aging gameplay while still staying very true to the original. It is also worth noting that every quality-of-life change can be toggled on or off, so if you want this to play exactly like it did in 1981, that is an option. You can even swap to the dungeon layouts from the later console ports. This is an extremely faithful update of an important game. And if you’re willing to give it the opportunity, you find it is just as addictive today as it was forty years ago.

TalkBack / Biomutant (Switch) Review
« on: May 13, 2024, 05:00:00 AM »

If I had a "Rairdin 7.5" stamp, I'd put it on this game.

Anyone who has followed my reviews for a while will know that I often praise a good 7.5/10. I find that games that sit around that score do so because they tried some weird new ideas. Generally, not all those ideas work flawlessly, but I love a game that is willing to try something fresh and different. Biomutant is one of those games. I originally picked it up on Xbox Series X back in 2021. Yes it was rough around the edges, but it also felt like a game out of time. A game from an era where you could take a risk rather than ensuring that every release be a major blockbuster. Now it is coming Nintendo Switch. It looks a little uglier, and there are no shortage of graphical downgrades, but in the end this is still very much that perfect flavor of 7.5.

Biomutant is a post apocalyptic game, but not in the general sense. The world ended a long time ago, but you’ve sorta moved on. The world isn’t gray and dead as the genre so often is. Instead it's bright and colorful. Wildlife has been left to mutate in strange ways, and new cultures have sprung up as a result. However this newest cycle of life now faces its own apocalypse. You play as a wandering ronin, orphaned from his family after his village was attacked when he was a child. Your journey will ultimately see you deciding between trying to save the world, or letting it burn away. All of this factors into a morality system that will affect the way in which you engage with the world.

The story of Biomutant is balanced between several different primary quest lines. One sees you hunting down four World-Eaters. These World-Eaters are giant creatures who are feeding on the World Tree, causing it to die. To reach them you’ll journey across the expansive open-world, making use of different vehicles and tools you’ll unlock along the way. Another primary quest focuses on uniting the divided tribes of the world under a single banner. To do this, you’ll align yourself with a tribe of your choosing, then work with them to claim the territory of the others. Scattered across all of this is no shortage of side quests and activities as well, ensuring you stay pretty busy. Though you’re generally free to focus your attention wherever you find most interesting. The story itself is told in an unique way. Every character speaks in a garbled language, which is then translated for you by the narrator. Your attachment to the narrator will determine whether this is charming or grating, but for myself I really enjoy this element of storytelling.

Moment to moment gameplay takes the form of an open-world, action RPG. As you explore the world you’ll engage in both ranged and melee combat. Your exact loadout of weapons and style of combat is up to you. I generally found that melee combat felt pretty loose, as enemies don’t suffer appropriate knockback when hit. It's unfortunate as it feels like Biomutant wants you to engage with its martial arts inspired melee combat system, but it just isn’t very good. As a result I focused more on ranged combat. Here I opted for dual wielding two pistols. As you progress you’ll not only find new weapons, but new components to modify them, or to just build your own. The same goes for armor components which can be modified with the scraps you find throughout the map.

The world is covered in hidden caves to explore, villages to rescue from attack, and people to help. That said, the rewards for most of these activities are generally comparable to what you’ll get in random loot drops. I found this made side quests less compelling, as I rarely got anything particularly useful out of them that I couldn’t find by just wandering around. Though I do like that each named area in the game comes with a checklist for every major loot cache to find in it. This makes it very easy to tell when you’ve finished clearing out an area.

As for the Switch port itself, it isn’t the prettiest, but it is solid from a performance standpoint. The Switch targets thirty frames-per-second and generally maintains this goal. The exception being brief traversal stutters when moving quickly through the open-world. This appears to be caused by chunks of the world loading in, but it's never for more than a brief moment. I was also occasionally able to get some slowdown in large combat encounters, but for the most part, even these held up well. All that being said, the cutbacks are pretty aggressive to achieve this. The original release of Biomutant is actually a pretty nice looking game. The Switch version looks pretty rough by comparison. Foliage has been pulled back hugely, which has a significant effect on the look of the open-world. Screen-space reflections are missing from large bodies of water. The depth of field effect is missing from combat encounters. Perhaps most of all, texture resolution is pretty bad. None of the environmental textures hold up to inspection. On the other hand, there are some nice features that have been preserved. A well implemented pass of temporal anti-aliasing ensures a clean and reasonably sharp image. This is helped along by a sharpening filter which can be freely adjusted in the options menu. Screen-space ambient occlusion is still in effect which really helps in more enclosed areas to fill in corners with shade. Speaking of shade, real time dynamic shadows from the sun and moon are still active, albeit at a low resolution. Most importantly, fur shades are still present on every character. They aren’t as high quality as they are on other systems, but they still generally look nice, and have a huge effect on the visual identity of the game.

Biomutant is one of those games that isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Even the people like me who enjoy it, won’t argue that it's flawless. But it is an ambitious game, developed by a small team that is happy to try new things and take risks. Biomutant is one of those AA games you would have picked up on the Playstation 2 and absolutely loved as a kid. When you return to it as an adult, it may not hold up that well, but the underlying things you loved about it would shine through. This is that sort of low budget experiment that we so rarely see these days, and I can’t help but enjoy it. Beneath its flaws is an interesting open-world action RPG that manages to hold up fairly well on Switch.

TalkBack / Endless Ocean Luminous Tech and Gameplay Impressions
« on: May 02, 2024, 07:59:04 AM »

A refocused Endless Ocean for the modern age.

Possibly Nintendo’s biggest surprise announcement of the year is here in the form of Endless Ocean Luminous. It has been 14 years since the second Endless Ocean game released on the Nintendo Wii, and I was curious to see how this format would hold up outside of that more casual Wii market, and how it could be modernized for 2024. Now we didn’t receive early code for this one so these will be some early technical and gameplay impressions based on my first few hours with the game.

Right off the bat I can say this game is going to be divisive. It's extremely slow paced, you’re never in danger, and the challenge comes simply from exploring and finding everything. Its also structured in such a way that you can’t just rush through the story. Chapters are gated behind documenting a certain number of fish so you’ll need to take breaks from the story to just sorta go wander around.

Something I do really appreciate about this entry and a way in which they’ve modernized the formula, is in the use of procedural environments for your dives. Whether you’re playing solo or online, when you start a dive the area you’ll dive into is generated randomly on the fly. These environments aren’t incredibly ambitious but given how much time you’ll need to spend going on dives, this does ensure some freshness each time. These dives do really seem to be better when playing online, as the areas are huge and documenting everything solo will take you a very long time. My experiences online have obviously been limited so far, but it will be interesting to see how populated these servers stay long term. For the sake of this video I have focused on single player dives, primarily just because I wanted to bum around looking at technical stuff like texture detail, lighting, and of course resolution. But all of my findings in single player carry over to multiplayer as well.

Endless Ocean Luminous is a very clean looking game, and I think this is both an artistic choice as well as a utilitarian one. When playing single player the game can look a little bland, however it does ensure that performance keeps up fine in multiplayer, at least in my experiences thus far. And that's not to say the game is devoid of nice visual touches. Fish are well detailed overall, though some do hold up better to scrutiny than others. Divers, though simple, are stylistically distinct and stand out nicely against the gloom. The surface of the water above you just makes use of a simple cube map for reflections but it looks very attractive. When diving at night or heading into a dark area, a flashlight kicks on to illuminate the area ahead of you. It interacts nicely with the simple but effective texture work on fish and the environment. Though I would have liked to see more dynamic shadows cast by the sun and by your flashlight. The game only targets 30fps and seems to have no trouble hitting it. Once again I assume this modest target is built around the demands of multiplayer. That being said, this is a very slow paced game, so 30fps was just fine with me. Resolution looks sharp hitting a full 1080p docked and 720p handheld. I haven’t seen evidence of either of these being dynamic so at least in the resolution department, we’re getting everything we could ask for. The image isn’t anti-aliased at all so depending on your TV resolution, you may notice some harsh edges when docked, but when in handheld mode, you’re at least getting a perfect native resolution, even if the image is very raw.

My primary issue with what I’ve seen of Endless Ocean Luminous so far is that it seems somewhat simplified compared to the two previous entries. Multiplayer was clearly the focus here but a lot of the expanded gameplay of the previous games just isn’t here. The only voiced character seems to be your companion AI, while the occasional other diver you meet in the story only speaks to you via text boxes. There is no above water area so while characters will refer to sending an artifact back to HQ, you never actually seem to see it. Contrast this with the second game where you had an actual base of operations you could visit between dives, and characters you’d interact with. Luminous feels like a simplified experience by comparison.

It isn’t exactly a hot take to say this game isn’t going to be for everyone. Unfortunately I feel like even some existing Endless Ocean fans may feel like this one is missing something. At the same time, procedural environments and online multiplayer can add a lot to the experience. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore it and see if any of these issues resolve themselves later on, or perhaps new things will be introduced to replace them entirely. Regardless, Endless Ocean Luminous seems to be a technically conservative game that ultimately results in a very reliable and solid technical outcome that isn’t showy at the cost of performance. A lot will hinge on the online community for this game, hopefully there is enough here to draw enough divers to fill the sea.


Put on your angel hunting jeans Enoch!

Originally released for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in 2011, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is a visually bold and narratively confusing third person action game that manages to remain compelling more than a decade later. The game is very loosely based on The Book of Enoch, a non-canon book in both Jewish and Christian scripture. Like that book it centers around a group of fallen angels called the Watchers. You play as Enoch, deployed to bring these fallen angels to justice, all while inexplicably adorned in what one can only assume are Heaven’s most holy pair of Levi’s Jeans.

El Shaddai’s gameplay is split between 3D and 2D segments. The 3D segments play out as straightforward hack and slash levels. You’ll move through a generally linear environment with some light platforming challenges before being periodically stopped to fight off a few waves of enemies. Your moveset is fairly limited, but what makes combat more interesting is a focus on stealing weapons from enemies. Different weapons have different strengths and weaknesses. Being effective in combat will often require you to swap out weapons multiple times in a single encounter to deal with different enemy types. It winds up being pretty fun if admittedly somewhat repetitive.

2D levels on the other hand tend to focus much more on platforming. Combat in these sections is limited to fending off very weak enemies that are more interested in hampering your platforming than actually killing you. I found these segments significantly less interesting than the 3D segments and the platforming physics really just aren’t strong enough to support these stages. Your jumps are stiff and your movement feels awkward when confined to a flat plane. They reminded me a bit of the platforming-focused single player stages in many of the Super Smash Bros. games. Not unplayable by any means, but a very obvious weak point.

Where El Shaddai stands out and goes from a passable action game to something much more impactful is in its art design. Everything in El Shaddai is represented in a deeply abstract manner. Some stages look like a comic book or a Japanese painting. You may be on a series of platforms high above a strange cityscape or wandering through bonelike cave structures in a void of pure white. What keeps you coming back to El Shaddai after each level isn’t the scattered bits of story, the combat, or the platforming; it's the absolutely enthralling world. I wondered going in whether these visuals would still feel impressive 13 years later and they absolutely do. To this day, I’ve never played another game that looks quite like El Shaddai.

If you come in looking for an exciting third-person action title, you’ll find a passable game here. If you’re just into vaguely Biblical video game fan fictions and want something with slightly less “dude bro” energy than Dante’s Inferno or Darksiders, this is probably up your alley. But if you just want a bizarre fever dream to show off the incredibly beautiful yet abstractly unsettling worlds a video game can create, El Shaddai is absolutely your game.


A Nintendo World Report Time Capsule

Journey back with us 20 years to 2004 and the launch of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door!

TalkBack / Star Wars: Battlefront Classic Collection (Switch) Review
« on: March 21, 2024, 12:40:00 PM »

These people need to be stopped.

I had every intention of writing a very normal review for Star Wars: Battlefront Classic Collection. When I first booted it up during the pre-launch period to just play some Galactic Conquest, I was actually pretty positive about it. Performance held up well, image quality was good, all of the nice per-pixel effects from the Xbox version were preserved (something I’ve learned can’t be counted on in Aspyr Star Wars ports), and in general this seemed like a solid version of the game. Then I played online and found it borderline unplayable. I was alerted by another NWR staff member to check out the single player mode in Battlefront 2 where sure enough, half the cutscenes were just randomly missing. In the days that followed we’d find out some of the new features in the game were actually pulled directly from a mod with no credit to their creator. Even the little voice in my head that said “surely they’ll fix it” was shot down by memories of the promised but never delivered Sith Lords Restored update for Knights of the Old Republic 2.

To be blunt, I’ve personally reviewed half of the Star Wars ports Aspyr has released on Switch, and I’ve purchased all of the rest. Their work has ranged from just adequate to well below expectations, but after Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Battlefront Classic Collection, I think it's time for Star Wars and Aspyr to part ways. These games deserve better than this. Today I’d just like to work my way through the Battlefront Classic Collection, highlight the issues, give credit in the few places it is legitimately due, then leave it up to you. I will not be giving the game a score because frankly that would require a fully playable product to review, and I don’t believe Aspyr has delivered that.

Both of these games were originally released at a time where online gaming on home consoles was very young. So whether you consider these games to be predominantly built around online or offline play will just depend on where you were at in terms of online gaming at the time they were released. But it's fair to say that objectively, the expanded online multiplayer is a huge draw for this collection. At launch, it didn’t work. Only a few dedicated servers, supporting 64 players apiece, were available to the thousands of players who logged on. You could also play on user hosted servers but performance took a huge hit while using these servers even if the host's internet was fast and reliable. Since launch some new dedicated servers have come online but the active player base has dropped to under 100 active players last time I checked (on a Friday night). On the bright side, the servers are much more capable of supporting this, and I had some reasonably well performing matches during that time, but at no point did I play with a full lobby. The closest I ever got was about 50 players at which point the game became laggy until enough people left. Good luck finding the 64 player matches the game was sold on.

Now let’s focus on some of the new content. Another major selling point of this release were new heroes and villains to play as, and the ability to play Heroes VS Villains on any map. When this was revealed in the initial Nintendo Direct trailer the fan community noticed that the work of modder iamashaymin appeared to be present in the collection. Aspyr clarified that this had been a mistake and the modded code would not be present in the final version. A little data mining by iamashaymin evidently revealed their mod was very much still in the game.

By far the weirdest issue I’ve seen is the missing cutscenes in Star Wars Battlefront 2. Before and after each level of the single player campaign you’re supposed to be treated to a pre-rendered cutscene narrated by Temuera Morrison who played Jango Fett, Boba Fett, and about 200,000 clone troopers with a million more well on the way. The intro cutscenes are present and accounted for but the cutscenes at the end of each level just aren’t there. As you’d expect this leaves about half the story completely untold and makes for some fun narrative timeskips.

But here’s the thing, beyond that single player bug in Battlefront 2, if you’re playing offline the game is largely fine. I’ve seen some posts online indicating major graphical bugs but I’ve never been able to recreate these, at least in the Switch version running on real hardware. I have noticed some very minor graphical touches like bloom (which were likely tied to resolution in the original release) feel quite weak as a result in this version. But recent patch notes lead me to believe this is already being actively dealt with. The default aim sensitivity is quite high in Battlefront 1, even as someone who plays plenty of competitive shooters. But a quick visit to the options menu can fix that. Meanwhile Battlefront 2’s default sensitivity is far too low. All of the nice bump mapping and effects from the Xbox version are here, and for my money the game generally looks better overall than any previous version, including the PC release. And actual native widescreen support on a console version of these games is always a win.

Unfortunately this does mean that they’ve bloated what should realistically take up about 10GB to over 30GB on Nintendo Switch. Meanwhile the other consoles somehow take up an outrageous 70GB of space. For reference I still have the original two Battlefront games installed on my Xbox Series X and they take up a total of 7GB between the two of them. Even with upscaled textures that is a remarkable amount of bloat that is honestly hard to justify for what you’re getting.

At the end of the day, if you plan to only play offline in Galactic Conquest mode, you’ll probably have a decent time. If you engage with any other part of this release, you will encounter some sort of issue. I wish I could say that I was shocked that these games would be released in this state but I’ve been covering Aspyr’s Star Wars ports for too long to be surprised anymore. A lot of very separate, very bad decisions needed to all happen at once to allow this product to exist. It is ultimately a culmination of everything Aspyr has gotten wrong in their Star Wars ports for the last five years. How they have maintained the rights and how Dark Forces somehow escaped to Nightdive instead (thank the maker) I’ll never know. It is time to put more care into re-releasing these games. These games are iconic, oftentimes genre shifting, and they deserve better than this.

TalkBack / Kingdom Come: Deliverance Switch Port Tech Review
« on: March 15, 2024, 04:07:11 AM »

The latest massive open-world RPG to go handheld.

Open-world RPG Kingdom Come Deliverance has arrived on Nintendo Switch? Has it made the jump to handheld smoothly? Let's take a look.

TalkBack / Highwater (Switch) Review Mini
« on: March 14, 2024, 05:00:00 AM »

An oddly cozy end of the world.

Highwater is a unique and charming narrative adventure. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic, flooded world. What is left of humanity is relegated to small islands. The rich elites live in a place called Alphaville and until recently, were sending out aid to the rest of the world. But now it appears that the citizens of Alphaville are intending to leave Earth altogether. Outside of their walls, insurgent militia are forming in the wake of food and supply shortages. Our hero, Nikos, has decided that he needs to journey to Alphaville, find a way inside, and escape with them from a world that is clearly on its last legs.

Most of Highwater’s gameplay is what you’d expect from a narrative adventure. You sail your small boat from island to island, talking to people, completing quests, and occasionally branching off the linear story to explore some optional areas. Sprinkled on top of that, however, are some very light tactical RPG elements.

When faced with an enemy, you’ll enter into turn-based, tactical combat. There is no real leveling system or skill trees, so combat isn’t particularly grindy. Rather each encounter feels like a very intentional puzzle. The linear, scripted nature of the game means that each encounter is well thought out and balanced based on the party you have. Your one bit of wiggle room is in optional weapons and buffs you can equip to your characters. These are largely found by exploring side areas. Most of the time, though, it's just about effectively managing your very set resources and making use of environmental hazards to take out foes effectively. Combat is fun, if a little slow to move between turns. That being said, I did notice that the equipment screen is devoid of any sort of control guide. Navigating it and switching between weapons and buffs is vague and often requires some random button pushing. The game does tell you the controls once, the first time you open the menu, so you better be paying attention because they won’t tell you again.

By far Highwater’s greatest strength is in its story. The plot is told through a combination of character interactions, along with regular radio broadcasts that give you a sense of what's going on in the wider world. The whole story has a great, albeit grim, sense of humor. Satire abounds both in the plot and in random bits of newspapers and other things you can find lying around. The world feels inevitably doomed and yet the game itself is not dark or depressing. The visuals are bright and upbeat and the soundtrack is chill. It feels as though there is an unspoken theme of finding good people doing their best in spite of the world falling apart around them.

Highwater's well told story, and surprisingly deep gameplay, made it hard to put down. It's not quite like any other narrative adventure game I’ve ever played. Combat and menu design can be a little clunky, but ultimately every encounter serves as a deliberate and well crafted puzzle. This is a very fresh take on a post apocalyptic story that oozes with satire, dark humor, and some oddly cozy end of the world vibes.


Surely it will work this time, right?

2022's trio of Pokémon games had some great ideas but weren't exactly winning any awards for their technical stability and graphical fidelity. So, what's different about Legends Z - A that has us excited and cautiously optimistic?

TalkBack / Star Wars: Dark Forces Remaster (Switch) Review
« on: February 28, 2024, 03:00:00 AM »

A classic FPS gets the remaster it deserves.

Star Wars Dark Forces marked the start of one of the most substantial Star Wars video game series in the franchise's history. You may know it better as the Jedi Knight series. It was the first appearance of Kyle Katarn, who is often considered an inspiration for the modern canon’s Cassian Andor. The series has previously appeared on Switch via Aspyr’s ports of Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. But now, this remaster of the inaugural title in the series from Nightdive Studios gives us an incredible way to re-experience this iconic first person shooter.

From a gameplay standpoint, Star Wars Dark Forces falls in line with what you’d expect from early ‘90s first person shooters. Levels are labyrinthian and often rely on players finding ways to unlock paths then backtracking to progress further in the level. Dark Forces does a better job than many games of this era of shaking off the colored key system that had held the genre in a stranglehold. There are, of course, still keys here and there, but Dark Forces focuses more on hidden switches and some light puzzle solving than many other similar games of the era. For example, you may need to find various pieces of a code to enter into a computer to open a locked door, or perhaps find out which code of several goes to the door you need to open. Much of the design of Dark Forces would become a staple for later Star Wars games and even served as a huge influence for games that weren’t officially part of the Dark Forces series, such as Shadows of the Empire. In fact, all the grunts you hear Dash Rendar make as he runs and leaps through that Nintendo 64 classic have their roots right here.

Star Wars Dark Forces was originally released in 1995 and made use of the proprietary Jedi engine built by LucasArts. On a technical level, it has quite a lot in common with the Build engine that powered games like Duke Nukem. It could present what was for the time quite complex, overlapping level geometry with a fair amount of detail. The remaster moves to Nightdive’s KEX Engine and gains many of the expected enhancements. Textures are updated, vertical camera movements no longer distort geometry, and optional effects like bloom can have a transformative effect on some of the art. All of these features are individually toggleable. This means you can play the game as it was in 1995, as it is nearly thirty years later, or mix and match to land somewhere in between.

The true strength of this remaster is in its understanding of its core assets. While Dark Forces Remastered gives you the ability to use higher resolution environmental textures and enemy sprites, these new assets still fit into the inherently retro aesthetic of the simple level geometry. Yes, textures are higher resolution but they still look somewhat retro. They’re not swapping out these assets for totally modern ones, they're updating the original art without breaking it. It stands in stark contrast to some other recent remasters of a similar era and shows exactly how this sort of thing ought to be done. Dark Forces Remastered also comes with quite a bit of bonus content, including concept art, design documents, reference footage filmed for cutscene animation, and even a fully playable prototype level.

That doesn’t mean the package is flawless, however. Some basic quality of life features such as a mid-level save system are missing. This is consistent with the original release but feels like an obvious functionality to include in a remaster. Some of the later missions get pretty long, and having to make sure to leave the game suspended the entire time can be frustrating. I’d also have liked to see the soundtrack from the PlayStation version of the game included, in addition to the original and modern midi versions. There is nothing wrong with the soundtracks present–I tend to stick with the original version–but it would have been nice to provide a complete version.

From a performance perspective, Dark Forces Remastered is exactly what you should be able to expect: sharp image quality, smooth frame rate, and excellently modernized controls. Speaking of controls, you can even go in and manually set up a hotkey to toggle between the retro and modern engines, allowing you to quickly compare changes on the fly. It really lets you appreciate how every surface has been updated, while never losing the artistic intent of the original art.

Star Wars Dark Forces Remastered is an excellent and faithful remaster that honors the original while touching it up just enough for modern platforms. While there are a couple areas where I feel they could have done just a little more, I can’t deny that this is the best way to play an excellent first person shooter. Whether you’re returning to it after three decades, or playing for the first time, there has never been a better version of Star Wars Dark Forces.

TalkBack / Epic Mickey: Rebrushed - Intro Cutscene Comparison
« on: February 21, 2024, 11:35:56 AM »

Wii VS Switch

We didn't expect them to re-animate the entire intro.

TalkBack / Grounded and Pentiment Switch Tech Preview
« on: February 21, 2024, 10:07:27 AM »

They run at 60fps?

Xbox is bringing two more games to Nintendo Switch. And they might surprise you. Lets tech a quick technical look at the trailers for Pentiment and Grounded.

TalkBack / Promenade (Switch) Review Mini
« on: February 20, 2024, 04:25:00 AM »

Like Banjo Kazooie but flat.

Ever since Super Mario 64, there has been an invisible line between traditional 2D platformers, and collectathon-based 3D platformers. Promenade proudly plants a foot on each side of that line, and what results is a remarkably unique platformer that manages to squish a 3D collectathon into two dimensions–all while looking absolutely beautiful with rich, detailed animation work for players and enemies alike.

You play as Nemo, who is rescued from drowning by a tiny octopus. There is an almost a Boy and His Blob-esque nature to their friendship and it is consistently endearing. Leaving the cave you've been living in, you travel to the great elevator, where some dark entity emerges from Nemo and shatters the gears that power the elevator. So naturally, it's up to you to fix it and unravel the nature of this mysterious figure.

Gameplay centers around working your way up this elevator. At each stop you’ll find entrances to unique worlds full of fractured gears to be reassembled. Each world contains a series of challenges that are never overtly stated to the player. Instead you’ll generally stumble into them naturally through engaging with smart level design. Complete a challenge; get a piece of a gear. Within a stage, it is also possible to find a journal that lists the names of each challenge along with a checklist for completion. This can help you hunt down any missing challenges as each name is also a hint regarding the nature or location of the challenge itself. Unfortunately, world maps feel like a somewhat obvious omission as some of these stages get quite large and some even have their own substages.

Movement throughout these worlds is built heavily upon the use of your little octopus buddy as a sort of grappling hook. At the outset, you’re able to throw him to pick up enemies. Once picked up, enemies can be thrown as weapons, or chucked straight down to propel you upwards. You’ll soon unlock the ability to latch onto specific grapple points as well. Platforming puzzles in Promenade often center around making perfectly timed leaps from grapple points, grabbing enemies out of mid air, and using them to boost to unreachable areas. It's a simple mechanic but one that is used very well. All that being said, platforming can at times be a little awkward, with hitboxes not always lining up with your expectations. Still the unique way in which mechanics are employed largely smooths over these issues.

Promenade’s visual charm and unique take on the genre make it an immediately impactful title that's hard not to be drawn in by. Each world offers new challenges and the experience feels constantly fresh. It’s noticeable how some of the platforming can be a little stiff, making certain precise platforming challenges a little more frustrating than they should be. However, at the end of the day Promenade is an absolute gem that will appeal to any kind of platforming fan. Don’t let this one sneak past you.

TalkBack / Tomb Raider I-III Remastered (Switch) Review
« on: February 13, 2024, 08:26:58 AM »

Love letter or quick cash grab?

The original Tomb Raider trilogy, especially the first title, is one of those games that has to be viewed in the context of its time. 3D games on home consoles were still relatively young and the first generation of systems built with 3D in mind had only recently been released. One of these was the Sega Saturn, onto which Tomb Raider arrived in 1996 before being released to both the original PlayStation and MS-DOS. That MS-DOS version was the first way I played Tomb Raider as a kid and despite its chunky environments, it felt remarkably immersive at the time. Nearly thirty years later, those first three Tomb Raider games arrive on modern platforms as Tomb Raider I-III Remastered, featuring updated graphics and modernized controls. But do these remasters do enough to shake off the early 3D dust covering these increasingly ancient relics.

In terms of early 3D adventure games, it is important to keep in mind that Tomb Raider serves as a predecessor to later benchmarks such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. As such, it lacks much of the niceties that would become standard in the genre as it went on. The game places a heavy focus on combat and platforming, in addition to puzzle solving. This remastered version largely improves on all of these aspects by offering modern controls in addition to the regular tank controls. These greatly improve the playability of the trilogy in most regards, though they do create a few issues. Namely that Lara’s collision logic is still bound by those original rigid controls, so getting her to line up perfectly with the gridlike geometry when using modern controls can be a bit tricky. I’d often have to make multiple approaches to a ledge before she’d line up with it just right in order to climb up. Other moves, such as the running long jump, are significantly more difficult to trigger while using modern controls. As a result, at times I’d wind up switching back and forth mid stage. All that being said, I found that combat was hugely improved by modern controls; Lara now feels as agile as her foes making combat much more enjoyable.

In my technical preview that I released a few days ago, I broke down how this remaster makes use of much of the same underlying geometry as the original games for its level design. By doing this, the remaster is able to offer seamless swapping between the original version and the remastered version of each game, thanks to collision meshes on the environment being 1:1. The downside is that this low-polygon geometry stands out quite starkly against the much more modern model for Lara and various enemies.

This contrast isn’t helped by the extremely simple, and at times questionable, HD textures used to modernize the geometry. The first game fares the best, with most textures being a flawless match for their low-resolution counterparts. I’m not sure if these were derived from the original source textures that the initial art was sampled from or if they’re recreations, but regardless they convey the original visuals very well at a higher resolution. On the other end of the spectrum are textures that look nothing like those seen in the original games. One rock wall in Tomb Raider II features a picture of real rocks that look totally different from the original texture but the problem runs far deeper than that. To start, the surface photographed is at an angle, rather than head on, so the texture doesn’t like up with the perspective of the surface. Furthermore the photograph is taken under harsh sunlight which is casting hard shadows across the surface of the rock, but this texture is often used in dark caves out of direct sunlight. Textures like these remind me of YouTube videos of Nintendo 64 games remastered in Unreal Engine that simply slap high resolution textures onto the original geometry with no regard for what that geometry was intended to represent. To be blunt, it looks awful. Other textures simply misrepresent what the original game was trying to convey. In one stage, a fast-flowing river texture is replaced with the generic standing water texture completely removing the intended indication to the player that they will be swept up in the current. The first stage of the third game has an animated mud texture that has lost its animation in the remaster. This animation was intended to show the player where they could safely walk, without it the player simply has to guess. All of these textures are simple color textures. None of them feature any modern per-pixel material properties such as bump or normal maps to help them react to the new lighting. I’d have also liked to see parallax or displacement maps to help alleviate the low resolution geometry with some perceived depth without upsetting the original collision mesh. The closest thing I saw were some puddles that featured a basic cube map.

On the bright side all three titles run flawlessly. Check out my technical preview for details but suffice it to say all three hit 1080p docked, 720p handheld, and 60fps pretty much the entire time. And that is worth something, for as much as I can complain about some of the remastering choices, these games all play as well as they possibly could without fundamentally rewriting how they work. That, at the end of the day, is the key factor. I can forgive the occasionally awkward controls, even when using the modern setting. They are that way in order to preserve the option to play these games exactly how they were. I can forgive re-use of the original primitive geometry because it allows you to switch between the remastered version and the original version seamlessly at any time. But the inconsistent, technically lackluster, and artistically questionable way the visuals have been remastered is a huge sticking point for me. Earlier I compared it to an ugly fan remaster of a Nintendo 64 game but in reality, that’s inaccurate as they generally use more complex modern material rendering than Tomb Raider I-III does. But the worst sin of all is that occasionally the remastering literally removes intentional game design choices made for the original game and becomes a worse experience as a result.

Your enjoyment of this collection will depend entirely on why you’re playing it. If you want to play using the original graphics, with optional modernized controls, at a high resolution, and with widescreen support, this is essentially perfect. But if you’re looking for a remastered experience, Tomb Raider I-III is both an artistic mess, and a remarkable misunderstanding of some of the original visual game design. So come for the genre-defining original trilogy, but I wouldn’t recommend staying for their remastered incarnations.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 395: The Best of Classic Literature on NES
« on: February 02, 2024, 05:01:41 AM »

Revisiting some old favorites.

A bit of listener mail sends John and Alex down a winding path of replaying games they've already finished. Alex is drawn in by the siren song of Earthbound. John decides to see if he can beat Star Fox Zero without motion controls (for science). Then the fellas turn their attention to listing off their most replayed games and things get oddly literary.

TalkBack / What Open-World Zelda Can Learn From Open-World Halo
« on: January 23, 2024, 04:58:10 AM »

Because I play my linear games turned open-world adventures for the plot.

Halo Infinite isn't generally seen as the incredible success that Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom were. And yet there is one key thing it does much better.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 393: Sell Me Your Games as NFTs Ubisoft
« on: January 19, 2024, 05:09:35 AM »

I want to own games, you want money, it's the perfect plan.

Alex joins John for a short episode as we enjoy the calm before the storm. 2024 gets off on the right foot with Prince of Persia. The NSO adds two games we hope we like as much as we remember. And finally Ace Combat is apparently making its way to Switch.

TalkBack / Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown Tech Performance Analysis
« on: January 11, 2024, 08:39:22 AM »

Almost perfect on Switch

It pays to have Switch in mind when making games for Switch. Who knew!

TalkBack / Nintendo World Report End of Year Awards 2023
« on: December 30, 2023, 08:36:37 AM »

Here are our picks for the best games on Switch this year.

2023 will likely go down in history as an incredible year for game releases across every platform. At the same time, as profits rise, we've also seen record numbers of layoffs from successful companies. As we celebrate the incredible work of developers from all corners of the industry, let us also remember to continue to push to make this industry we love so much better for the people who make our favorite games.

This year we have split our year-end awards into three categories: DLC, Re-Releases, and New Games. Often, we find that a game's status as a port or remaster of an older title lowers its standing in our final rankings, so by splitting the two we can simultaneously celebrate both old and new. In order for a game to be considered for the Ports and Classic Collections category, the original release of the game(s) had to be prior to 2023. Likewise, to be considered a new game, the initial release had to occur within 2023. The initial release did not have to be on Switch so long as both the original release and the Switch release both occurred in 2023.

Nominations were collected from NWR staff (five in each category) throughout the month of December. The staff then met shortly before Christmas to decide on the final list. The number of nominations a game received was taken into account but did not automatically determine a game's placement. Rather each individual game was argued for based on its own merits.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 391: The Fallen Switch Timeline
« on: December 29, 2023, 04:24:17 AM »

The weirdest end of year ranking you'll hear.

We're back from our December break! Matt and Alex join John to discuss what they've been playing the past few weeks before diving into a ranking of Switch release schedules. Don't forget if you're an NWR Patreon supporter you have a bonus episode of NWR Connectivity available now!


Found after 30 years.

Produced in collaboration with the Video Game History Foundation, John Rairdin is joined by Dylan Cuthbert and the staff of VGHF to tell the story of this incredible demo.

The Video Game History Foundation is currently running their Winter Fundraiser! If you'd like to donate to their cause of preserving the history of Video Games and the stories of their creators, consider donating here.

TalkBack / (Fixed) Jet Force Gemini Widescreen Mode is Broken on Switch
« on: December 01, 2023, 10:38:00 AM »

You can only future proof your game so long as the future is paying attention.

UPDATEAs of a patch on 2/21/2024 this issue has been resolved on Nintendo Switch.

UPDATEWith Jet Force Gemini now available in other regions, we've produced a more in depth video explaining the issues outlined in this article.

Jet Force Gemini is available on Nintendo Switch right now via the Japanese NSO app (the new 18+ one). However this release does have a very obvious bug that's a huge disappointment, especially in handheld mode. Jet Force Gemini was one of several Rare games of the era to support a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Goldeneye 007 offered this same feature, and the Switch release took advantage of this, making it the default display mode.

In Jet Force Gemini however, turning on widescreen mode does not properly scale the image.

The 4:3 border does disappear, but the image is letterboxed rather than being properly stretched vertically to fill the screen. When playing docked you could conceivably adjust your picture settings to manually scale the image, but when playing handheld there is no way to display the image correctly. Below I've manually rescaled the image to show how it should display on the Switch screen.

Perhaps by the time this game makes it to the North American version of the NSO service, this bug will be resolved. For now I'd stick with 4:3 mode if you're playing the Japanese version.

TalkBack / SteamWorld Build (Switch) Review
« on: December 01, 2023, 04:16:10 AM »

The robots yearn for the mines.

SteamWorld Build looks to combine the classic, randomized excavation of SteamWorld Dig with a modern city-builder. Throw in some very light real-time-strategy elements for good measure and you’ve got the recipe for a fascinating and charming game. The question is, can SteamWorld Build effectively leverage the endless replayability of both their own SteamWorld Dig series, and any good city-builder?

Each map will start with you building up a settlement around a broken down train station. Your first goal will be to build up enough resources and workers to repair the train station. Once this is done, trains will start arriving with purchasable upgrades and can also be used to trade for more resources. In addition to resources needed for traditional construction (wood, metal, etc), you’ll also need to provide for the needs of your population with stores, repair shops, restaurants, and more. These service buildings will need to be in range of the population that needs them, so properly zoning your city is crucial.

At the start you’ll only be able to recruit basic workers, who will fill out simple jobs and provide some limited technology. As your population grows you’ll be able to upgrade your worker housing to engineer housing, opening up new technologies and jobs. Keep expanding and you’ll unlock more and more population types. The only problem is, because making new types of units is based on upgrading old ones, you’ll need to constantly make housing in an area that fulfills the needs of a worker, before upgrading it and moving the entire house to a different area that fits the engineer’s needs. No matter how many units you unlock, you’ll always need to upgrade them to every step along the way, making city layout management needlessly complicated. Being able to simply produce units from scratch or skip the incremental upgrades would significantly enhance the city-building element of SteamWorld Build.

Of course city-building is only half of the gameplay loop. Once you’ve built up a decent number of engineers, you’ll be able to repair your first mineshaft. Here you’ll be able to transition underground, where you’ll begin setting up homes for your mining staff and exploring the randomly generated depths. You can assign miners to dig through individual grids of the underground to find additional resources that can in turn be used to further develop your city. Conversely, as your city develops, you’ll gain access to more unit types underground. Unlike your above-ground city, your underground units do not require upgrading; rather, you can simply place homes for miners, prospectors, mechanics, etc. This makes the mining segment much more interesting and smooth to play while highlighting the problem above ground.

Your ultimate goal is to collect spaceship parts that will allow you to leave the planet behind. These are exclusively found underground and will require you to delve deeper and deeper, repairing new mineshafts to access more levels. Each level will prove gradually more dangerous requiring you to recruit guards and set up defenses against monsters. It isn’t a full real-time-strategy game by any means, but it adds a nice twist to the gameplay.

As I spent time with SteamWorld Build, I found myself hugely enjoying my time underground, while growing frustrated with the limits of the city-building. Ultimately the linear upgrade-based progression of the city-building removes most of your freedom in that segment of the game. Your city will always develop exactly the same way. You can’t focus more on one unit, or choose one strategy over another. You simply spawn workers, until you can spawn the next unit, and then the next, and then the next. And with each one of these you’ll be picking up buildings and moving them from one part of the city to another to meet that unit's specific needs. Once you make it underground, SteamWorld Build is a delight, but any time spent on the surface is filled with mild frustrations that slowly add up and leave me yearning for the mines. It should come as no surprise, I suppose, that SteamWorld is at its best when you’re digging.

TalkBack / Roundup: Indie World Showcase 11/14/2023
« on: November 14, 2023, 09:30:20 AM »

It's like reading the showcase but faster.

If you missed today's Indie World Showcase, here is everything that was revealed in a quick roundup.

Shantae Advance: Risky Revolution- 2024 - Long lost follow up to the original Shantae releasing after twenty years. Completed by its original developers

Outer Wilds: Archaeologist Edition - December 7, 2023 - Open-world, time looping, space adventure.

On Your Tail - 2024 (timed exclusive) - You're a crime solving cat person.

A Highland Song - December 5, 2023 - Narrative platformer based on the landscapes of Scottland.

Backpack Hero - Available Today - Deckbuilding roguelike with backpack management.

Howl - Available Today - Turn-based, tactical folktale about a plague that spreads via sound.

Blade Chimera - Spring 2024 (timed exclusive) - 2D, pixel art, action-platformer.

Death Trick: Double Blind - 2024 - Non-linear, detective, visual novel.

The Star Named EOS - Spring 2024 - First person puzzle adventure with lots of photography.

Moonstone Island - Spring 2024 (timed exclusive) - Procedural crafting, collecting, and deck-building game.

Core Keeper - Summer 2024 - Cooperative dungeon crawling life sim.

Planet of Lana - Spring 2024 - Cinematic puzzle platformer.

Enjoy the Diner - Available Today - Point and click, narrative adventure.

The Gecko Gods - Spring 2024 - Gecko based platformer.

Passpartout 2: The Lost Artist - Available Today - Painting based adventure game.

Braid: Anniversary Edition - April 30, 2024 - It's Braid.

Urban Myth Dissolution Center - 2024 - Mystery game about investigating urban myths.

Heavenly Bodies - February 2024 - Physics based puzzle game in space.

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