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Messages - NWR_Neal

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1
Podcast Discussion / Episode 299: Pokemon Infinite Masochism
« on: November 19, 2021, 10:54:29 AM »

Star Wars, Halo, Pokemon, and other kinks.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/connectivity/58980/episode-299-pokemon-infinite-masochism

After a brief distraction caused by Neal mentioning Star Wars, the fellas dive into Pokemon BDSM... sorry BDSP. Is the remaster living up to Neal's memories of the original? John's been spending some time with the newly released Halo Infinite multiplayer but also a new Switch game called Grow: Song of the Evertree from the creators of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. Finally they round the show off with a listener mail discussion of how Nintendo could attempt to keep Metroid relavent as we wait for Prime 4.


2
Podcast Discussion / The Year the Falcon Flew
« on: November 12, 2021, 08:20:53 AM »

And other lesser releases.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/connectivity/58932/the-year-the-falcon-flew

With Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and The Grand Theft Auto Trilogy arriving on a Nintendo platform for the first time this week, Neal and John take a trip back to a simpler time. A time where licensed games were sometimes good. A time where there were three vastly different Star Wars games released in the same year. A time known simply as 2003. Oh, and also some listener mail.


3
TalkBack / A Boy And His Blob (Switch) Review
« on: November 09, 2021, 06:49:01 AM »

The boy might be in his 20s now, but his time with his blob is worth a return trip.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/58913/a-boy-and-his-blob-switch-review

12 years have passed since A Boy And His Blob came out on Wii and since then, the picturesque puzzle game has aged gracefully. A lot of that comes from the excellent art design, with hand drawn animation that stands tall among developer WayForward’s best even more than a decade later. While it began life on the standard-definition Wii, the bump to HD has been kind to this gorgeous video game. The visuals and overall presentation are still great, while the gameplay rarely stumbles.

The slow pace is deliberate as you control the titular boy and trot around a variety of side-scrolling levels with his titular blob. The levels are largely straightforward as you make use of the specific set of blob-power-granting jellybeans at your disposal to move the duo around the level, avoiding enemies and collecting optional treasure chests. The jellybeans turn the blob into a variety of useful tools and objects, including a trampoline, bowling ball, and even a rocket. The 40 levels spread among multiple areas all stay fresh. This was my third time playing this game and even with memories flooding back, I was rarely bored or frustrated.

The lack of frustration might be a bone of contention for some because this game definitely does have a difficulty level that skews younger, with a lot of hand-holding signs specifically dictating what jellybeans to use. I don’t view that as a bad thing, as this is a game I’m fine with being largely a pleasurable romp as opposed to a brain-wrinkling arduous challenge (though some of the 40 unlockable challenge levels up the ante a bit). The hard parts are more because of precision than puzzles, but thankfully checkpoints are lenient. The forgiving nature is actually part of the appeal. Well, that and the hug button that you can press whenever the boy and the blob are next to each other and they can reassuringly embrace. It’s charming and a good display of how this presentation is eternally winning.

The Switch port appears to be more or less the same as other HD ports, essentially just taking the Wii game and making it work on a new platform and match up to the visual standards. While I’d love to see the veritable all-star team of developers (some are still at WayForward; others went to found Yacht Club Games and Tic Toc Games) that worked on the original Wii release come back for more Blob content, I’m happy that a great Wii game still lives on modern consoles. Whether you first played this on Wii in 2009 or have never touched it before, A Boy And His Blob is well worth checking out. Just remember to press the hug button to brighten your day when needed.


4

We delve into the floors of the dungeon and discuss RPG difficulty, Ito's design theory (and how it's like sports), and just how Ito landed in the director's chair again after 15 years.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/interview/58911/talking-dungeon-encounters-with-square-enixs-hiroyuki-ito-and-hiroaki-kato

In late September, Square Enix revealed Dungeon Encounters, a new RPG from Final Fantasy developer Hiroyuki Ito, best known for his work creating the series trademark Active Time Battle (ATB) system as well as directing Final Fantasy VI, IX, and XII. Now, for the first time in 15 years, Ito is directing Dungeon Encounters, which came out on Switch in October. We had the opportunity to ask Ito and the game's producer Hiroaki Kato a few questions about the development and thought process that went into making Dungeon Encounters.


Nintendo World Report (NWR): You both worked on Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age together before Dungeon Encounters. How did the battle system and design of Zodiac Age inspire what you created in Dungeon Encounters?

Hiroyuki Ito: The basic design for battles is something that allows a player to do the following, repeatedly: “information (information is seen on the screen)” → prediction (‘if I do that, maybe I’ll be able to clear it’) → execution (the player tests the strategy they came up with) → results (if all goes well, things turn out OK, and if not, they can rethink the strategy).” Both titles were created based on this, so they don’t have a causal relationship where one inspired the other.

Hiroaki Kato: The gambit system in FINAL FANTASY XII THE ZODIAC AGE incorporated the fun of thinking about how efficiently you could build gambits, in order to fight as advantageously as possible in a given battle situation. It wasn’t so much that we were inspired by THE ZODIAC AGE; rather, we wanted to capture the fun of thinking, which is a core element of games, through a different approach (compared to THE ZODIAC AGE) in DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS. That desire drove us to start developing this game.

NWR:Tabletop games seem to be a big inspiration for Dungeon Encounters. Are there any specific tabletop games that inspired it?

Ito: I don’t have knowledge about tabletop games, so there was no influence from them. However, if tracing the history of RPGs ultimately leads back to tabletop games, then I suppose that would mean a universal way to play lies here as well.

Kato: As Ito-san commented, it wasn’t inspired by tabletop games. However, during playtests, there were times I felt that the gameplay style of “thinking is fun,” which is also what is so appealing about DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS, has similarities to the universal fun that lies at the core of tabletop games, which are the forefathers of RPGs.

NWR: You've often compared your battle systems to sports (like ATB drawing inspiration from Formula One). Was there any sport influence on the design of Dungeon Encounters and what was it?

Ito: The “information → prediction → execution → results” flow that I mentioned earlier is applicable to all sports. Among them, I use the NFL as reference while coming up with plans.

As a side note, ATB wasn’t actually inspired from F1. Rather, taking players who were used to turn-based battles and suddenly throwing them into real-time battles would have been difficult. So, as a way to make it more accessible for them, I drew hints from the F1 semi-automatic transmission system at the time. Being in between turn-based and real-time would make it easier to play, and I thought it could allow players to experience something that was in the style of real-time.

NWR: With so much of your past experience being with Final Fantasy, why is Dungeon Encounters part of its own world and not part of Final Fantasy?

Ito: I think that since we created this game while prioritizing the game system, the resulting world ended up being based on that.

Kato: The FINAL FANTASY series has an element in which gameplay is moved forward in order to enjoy the story or the world and its lore. DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS doesn’t have a set story that’s followed; how a player proceeds in order to survive is entirely up to them, and the game is designed so that players can enjoy the game system itself. It takes an approach that’s different from the FINAL FANTASY series, and accordingly, it constructs a new world.

NWR: Dungeon Encounters is your first director credit in 15 years. Why step into that role again for Dungeon Encounters and are there more director roles in your future?

Ito: The producer kindly picked it up, and by sheer luck, we were allowed to create this game. I had the idea for this type of game from long ago, so I brought it up. There are many more ideas that I would love to make happen, but I’m a company employee and I’m approaching retirement age.

Kato: Several years ago, when Hiroyuki Ito showed me a proposal for “an RPG that has an overall simple design in everything from story to effects, where the fun lies in the system mechanics itself,” my feedback was, “if the system is what’s fun, then maybe the game would sell better if we were to design it elaborately?” (laughs).

From there, we spent time discussing on several occasions, and in the process, our thoughts shifted towards the idea that “this looks like it’ll be a gameplay experience that’s never quite existed, where the process of thinking is what’s fun.” It could be a game in which the simplicity of the design is what makes it easier to see the situation you’re in, and players can use information in the game as hints while going through trial and error to figure out how to progress.

Thus, under Ito-san’s direction, we completed DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS. The foundation of a game system in which thinking is fun was completed in this title, so we are also considering providing more gameplay experiences that flesh out the story and visuals, implementing new ideas while preserving the existing appeal.

NWR: The difficulty in Dungeon Encounters is high. Was there ever a thought to adding in difficulty options? Why or why not?

Ito: I’ve never once thought about difficulty options until now. If we were to create that option, I think it might be good to release it as its own title, similar to FINAL FANTASY IV.

Kato: After the SNES version of FINAL FANTASY IV was released, FINAL FANTASY IV EASY TYPE was released with a lower difficulty level. This is what Ito-san is referencing in his comment.

Ito: I think that maybe players want to play a game fully, without missing anything.

Kato: When players play this game for the first time, I think there are times when they might feel bewildered at the traps that have been set and the encounters they have with overwhelmingly strong monsters, but the game is designed so that players can gather their own experience points and skills for survival as they continue playing. In particular, the difficulty of getting through a dungeon changes vastly through the usage of abilities as well, so players are bound to make various discoveries as they continue to think about how to survive and how to proceed as efficiently as possible. Having players enjoy this sort of gameplay experience was in our minds, so we did not include options to select difficulty levels.

NWR: It's possible to have so much gold stolen from you that you go into debt. What was the thinking behind this mechanic?

Ito: In this game, some abilities are able to prevent a predicament before it happens. To increase the value of those abilities, we need to have a situation arise that is commensurate to them. We set the amount for the enemy attack “Remittance (debt)” based on that. Additionally, this game is set up so that no matter how difficult a situation may be, it can still be broken through and cleared. If a player goes into debt, it’s perfectly fine if they pay it back, and it’s also perfectly fine if they proceed deeper without paying any mind to it; I think it’s fine as long as the story that unfolds is the player’s very own.


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TalkBack / Unpacking (Switch) Review
« on: November 01, 2021, 09:00:00 AM »

Unpack your personal items but be sure to factor in touch controls on a small screen or clumsy analog stick controls everywhere.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/58849/unpacking-switch-review

Unpacking oozes charm, with an endearing art style and a distinct hook. Each level consists of unpacking boxes and then setting up clothes, kitchen supplies, knickknacks, and more - all in the face of a subtle yet impactful background story. It aspires to be a meditative and zen puzzle game as you figure out the best way to lay out and store all your items while also keeping an eye out for secret achievements and more. The concept is wonderful, but the execution on Switch left me feeling like I never wanted to move again.

Unpacking for Nintendo Switch

The problems on Switch aren’t technical, which is seemingly a rarity for some ports to the system these days. Unpacking runs totally fine, but the problem is one of control. This is clearly a game made best for PC as your basic interaction involves pointing and clicking a cursor to move around objects. On Switch, this never feels natural. Using an analog stick to move items around was never ideal and while touchscreen controls are present in handheld mode, the screen real estate makes them less ideal. Even playing on the OLED model (which has the biggest screen as of posting), I could never find the right zoom level to make touchscreen controls work comfortably while still being able to tell what items were supposed to be. The zoom issue doesn’t factor into docked mode (unless you have a tiny TV), but since no touchscreen option exists, either primary way to play Unpacking on Switch is flawed.

Those controls are a bummer because the game is cute and clever. The story arc is largely in the background as you follow characters from house to house, slowly piecing together what happened over the years between moves. It’s touching and emotional at times, which makes the control issues stand out because over the course of the game, my dominant thoughts were about how annoying it was to try to move a pair of socks from the packing box to the dresser drawer.

Unpacking on Switch doesn’t quite stick the landing of the zen experience it aspires to be, but if you can tolerate some frustrating interfaces and controls, this is still a game worth exploring. Just maybe consider playing it on PC since that experience should be much stronger without the control caveats.


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Podcast Discussion / Episode 296: The Great Texture Debacle of 2021
« on: October 29, 2021, 09:59:09 AM »

Emulation is hard.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/connectivity/58806/episode-296-the-great-texture-debacle-of-2021

Alex joins John and Neal to talk about the release of the Expansion Pack for Nintendo Switch Online. But first, Neal has a sneak peek at Shin Megami Tensei V. How is this long awaited Switch exclusive shaping up? Then the guys discuss their initial impressions of the Nintendo 64 games available on Switch, Ocarina of Time's emulation problems, and how great Winback is.


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TalkBack / Dungeon Encounters (Switch) Review
« on: October 28, 2021, 09:52:25 AM »

Who needs a story when you have exploration and combat this enjoyable.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/58795/dungeon-encounters-switch-review

The presentation of Dungeon Encounters doesn’t scream modern Square Enix. This dungeon-crawling RPG wears its tabletop inspirations on its sleeve with a relatively straightforward visual design. That is deliberate according to the game’s director, Final Fantasy luminary Hiroyuki Ito, as the intention of this Switch RPG is to focus on exploration and combat. While some aspects might frustrate, Dungeon Encounters thoroughly succeeds at both replicating the look and feel of a tabletop RPG and crafting a mechanics-focused game that feels like it’s two shakes away from the Etrian Odyssey series.

The world is presented in a grid, with your party leader represented by a static play piece. You move them around each spot on the gridded map, exploring every nook and cranny, looking for secrets, and encountering enemies. You have your choice from a handful of characters at the start, but all the differences are mostly in presentation. Just pick the characters you think look the coolest that you want to roleplay as. All you have to go on is a brief story setup for each hero and a portrait. More characters can be found as you explore the 100 dungeon floors, usually requiring puzzling to find and rescue.

Exploring floors can take time, but it’s enthralling to navigate the grids and try to figure out the different riddles that surface. Battles are frequent and are almost nakedly inspired by Final Fantasy, even borrowing the Active Time Battle system by name. Your party of four all have two weapon slots, split across physical and magical attacks. All enemies and heroes have physical and magical defense. You have to whittle away one or the other to get to a foe’s hit points. These battles all fall into numbers games as you strategize ways to efficiently reduce enemy defenses so you can kill them all. Twists arrive frequently, so relying on one strategy for the whole game is not possible. Enemies might petrify you or reflect magic attacks. It’s a learning experience that gets tougher and more tense as you make your way through the floors.

You aren’t truly encouraged to switch up your party, which can sometimes put you into a bind when the more-frequent-than-you’d-like overpowered boss encounters crop up to threaten you with a total party kill. Those moments are deflating, as your party remains trapped on the tile where they were killed. As long as you still have party members alive, you can try to rescue them, but therein lies another troublesome wrinkle. You have four party members, but you need to take at least one character to go rescue them. And then you can’t have more than four party members at a time, so someone has to stay behind or you need to run a convoluted ferrying system to get the gang back to home base. Later abilities make this process less cumbersome, but it’s especially punishing in the early goings.

Furthermore, the game auto-saves after every movement, so you can’t even revert to an earlier save if something awful happens to your party. On one hand, the commitment to living with the consequences of your risks and gambles is endearing, but on the other, it can almost totally ruin a game you’ve put hours and hours into. Clearing all 100 floors is 20-30 hours of gametime at a minimum, so it’s not like restarting after your party gets annihilated on floor 50 is appealing.

The economy in this world is also peculiar, so much so that a fight with the wrong gold-stealing enemy could leave you in debt. As long as you avoid that enemy’s thievery, gold accrual generally outpaces the amount of useful items to spend gold on. Running into shops is infrequent in the dungeon and the shop’s stock is tied to enemy encounters in a way that doesn't replenish frequently enough with strong enough items to be worthwhile. It turns the experience into being more reliant on treasure and enemy drops, which I actually enjoyed a lot. Sometimes I’d come across an immensely powerful weapon, whether it’s the Cutlery Set that helps you potentially eat enemies or the urn that banishes enemies to another dimension. A reliable strategy is to just give every character a physical attack and a magic attack with different target types and ranges, and have at it, but you can also roll the dice on using some wilder moves to improve your enemy-killing efficiency. All of the structure and rules are straightforward, but the way you can play in this space is incredibly alluring. I started off playing it safe, but the deeper my inventory got, the more I started toying around with unique items and builds.

The presentation, which at first looks a little drab, became something I was unbothered by as I got deeper. The only place where the simplicity stuck out was in the music, which is adequate but not quite as memorable as I’d hoped coming from Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. It’s just a lot of rock guitar riffs on classical songs and it’s just merely okay.

Dungeon Encounters is rough around the edges, but that’s part of the reason why I’m having so much with it. Ito’s past with the Gambit System in Final Fantasy XII and the job system in Final Fantasy V seem to be on full display here because once you learn how to toy with the mechanics and launch some effective attack and ability synergies, you can mow down enemies with flair. I’m addicted to the rewarding feeling of getting my ass kicked by some flying critter, only to line up two shots with gun attacks and take that dumb thing out of the world or, if I bust out that urn, send them to another dimension. If you’re looking for an epic, grand story with a vibrant presentation, you won’t find that here. But if you just want raw and engrossing exploration and turn-based combat, Dungeon Encounters delivers in spades.


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TalkBack / Top 50 Nintendo Switch Online Retro Games
« on: October 24, 2021, 08:09:25 AM »

Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis are (nearly) here, so it is time to rank these games.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/editorial/58790/top-50-nintendo-switch-online-retro-games

With the launch of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games on October 25, the world of Nintendo Switch Online’s retro games libraries just got way bigger and, with the addition of Expansion Pack, a little more complicated. As of now, you can pay a little bit of money for NES and Super Nintendo games as well as some online features - or you can pay a lot of money for all of the above plus Nintendo 64 and Genesis games and some Animal Crossing DLC. I’m not here to go deep on the value disparity and if it’s good or not. I’m just here to needlessly rank the games included on Nintendo Switch Online across the four retro platforms.

This will be hopefully an evolving list, potentially updated every time new games are added to the library. I’m not ranking every single game on Nintendo Switch Online. It’s going to be a Top 50. If you’re upset that a game missed the list, make a case in the comments and when it comes time to do an update, I’ll reevaluate. Listen, Jelly Boy missed the Top 50 but I didn’t think I’d like Jelly Boy until I played it. Sometimes all you need is a little poke to give a game a second chance.

That’s enough preamble, we got 50 games to go through!

  • 50. WinBack (N64)
  • 49. Strider (Genesis)

50 and 49 are essentially placeholders. I have fond memories of both from playing them in the past but I have not played WinBack in something like 20 years so even if I remember it being surprisingly good, who knows if it’ll be fun on Switch. Strider is arguably the best non-fighting game Strider appearance ever. It is well worth checking out on Genesis.

  • 48. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)

Zelda II with save states and rewind takes what I think is a game with good ideas and obvious dated flaws in execution and turns it into a game where you can make the flaws less prominent and enjoy the good ideas. If you’ve been turned off by Zelda II in the past, it might be worth trying it out on Switch with a guide and liberal use of rewind and save states.

  • 47. Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)

Super Mario All-Stars collects Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3 in an upgraded visual style for Super Nintendo. But the physics are a little off so that’s weird. Also every game featured is also available in NES form and with save states and the NES games are better in every way except maybe the visuals. It’s cool this is here, but if I’m going back to play old Super Mario Bros. games, I’ll hit up the NES versions.

  • 46. NES Open Tournament Golf (NES)

One of the best golf games of its era, NES Open Tournament Golf is the first golf game to actually star Mario. He’s here with Luigi as player two and Peach and Daisy as caddies. And Donkey Kong as....an accountant?

  • 45. Super Mario Kart (SNES)

Online play definitely makes this franchise-starting Super Nintendo game more appealing on Nintendo Switch Online, but being limited to just two players makes it more of a nostalgia trip than anything substantial. Still, considering the legacy this game has in starting Mario Kart, it’s important to at least check out.

  • 44. Kirby's Dream Course (SNES)

A Kirby spinoff that settles nicely into the weird territory as it’s a mini-golf game with Kirby flourishes. Rewind might be your friend for some of the precision hits, but regardless, Kirby’s Dream Course is a unique game that is fun after all these years, and also a two-player game if you want to go online.

  • 43. Ice Hockey (NES)

An early Nintendo sports classic, Ice Hockey is one of the most novel online multiplayer additions of the NES library. The simple and classic gameplay has endured over decades and while a lot of this ranking is based solely on the multiplayer potential, it’s still a fun game to mess around with by yourself.

  • 42. Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

I know I know I know. I take full responsibility for this list but I will remind you that I am open to lobbying. Anyway, Donkey Kong Country is a foundational platformer that basically won the early ‘90s console wars for Nintendo. I personally think it’s a flawed game with an incredible soundtrack, but I’m aware there are people out there that hold this as a nostalgic stone-cold classic.

  • 41. StarTropics (NES)

Some racist tropes aside, I have a soft spot for the Americanized Zelda styling of StarTropics. The soundtrack is infectious and the adventure is an enjoyable mix of overworld exploration and puzzling dungeons. It’s not quite as out there as the time-traveling sequel, which is surprisingly not on Nintendo Switch Online yet, but the gameplay is much more solid.

  • 40. Breath of Fire II (SNES)

Breath of Fire II is a great RPG with a legendarily bad localization. I’d recommend keeping an eye out on a guide to salvage some of the rougher edges of this Super Nintendo RPG, but considering the amount of RPGs of that era are few and far between on this service, it might be worth slogging through if you’ve got the itch for turn-based battles.

  • 39. The Legend of Zelda (NES)

If you’re playing the NES Zelda game for the first time, you might have a bad time. It’s from a different era. It’s not friendly. However, there’s a reason why Nintendo invoked the original game so much during the marketing for Breath of the Wild. It really is an open adventure that lets you explore more or less however you want. It’s a puzzle in and of itself to just find dungeons! Rewind and save states are also pleasant here.

  • 38. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble (SNES)

Yes - I think Donkey Kong Country 3 is better than the first one, Kiddy Kong be damned. This does go overboard with collectables and bafomdads and everything, but it’s a really well made platformer with a lot of weird Rare heart.

  • 37. Adventures of Lolo (NES)

I have a big soft spot for this puzzle series so I’ll admit it’s probably ranked higher than most normal people would place it, but Lolo is still a great puzzle game with straightforward ideas that are teased and twisted around throughout tons of levels.

  • 36. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES)

Are you still here after Donkey Kong Country? Well, here’s another one that might be less than the average consensus. Just listen to the Baby Mario cry on loop and tell me a game with that as a central mechanic is good. The visuals are awesome. It does a lot of good things, but I also don’t like how this game wired my brain to not accept less than 100% completion in a level and how frustrating it can be to do that here.

  • 35. Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (Genesis)

Puyo Puyo with a Sonic cartoon story. Sure, let’s go. This gets bonus points for appearing in Sonic Mania during a boss fight. Also it’s just a really good Puyo game. There are other Puyo games on Nintendo Switch Online, but this is the one that introduced me to Puyo so it holds a special place in my heart. If one of those is soundly better, I’m open to moving things, but Mean Bean Machine still rules.

  • 34. Kirby's Dream Land 3 (SNES)

Kirby’s criminally overlooked late Super Nintendo game is a little on the slow-paced side, but the visuals are still incredible and the music might be even better. I always wrote this game off until years after its launch and I’m glad I discovered it.

  • 33. Tecmo Bowl (NES)

Multiplayer bonus points are at play here because while the single-player march through Tecmo Bowl is fun, it’s always better to absolutely terrorize your friends with Bo Jackson.

  • 32. Kirby's Adventure

Another late console Kirby release, but this one is one everyone has played. Kirby’s Adventure taxes the crap out of the NES, but it’s the game that set into motion the good elements of the Kirby series going forward and it remarkably still holds up.

  • 31. Contra: Hard Corps (Genesis)

I don’t have as much experience with all the Genesis games so they could be movers on this list in the future. However, Contra: Hard Corps is an incredibly crunchy metal-as-hell Genesis game. Contra III on Super Nintendo isn’t on Nintendo Switch Online yet, but it doesn’t matter. Hard Corps has you play as humans and also a hovering robot and wolfman. There’s branching paths. It’s incredible.

  • 30. Wario's Woods (NES)

I love Wario’s Woods and y’all are lucky this isn’t in the top 10. It’s a puzzle game with platforming elements and boss battles and Purple Wario and Toad and Birdo. A lot of people don’t like this game. I am not one of those people. Viva la Wario’s Woods.

  • 29. Shining Force (Genesis)

Super Nintendo RPGs are in short supply but Genesis’ launch lineup has got you. Shining Force is a dated yet endearing tactical RPG from the developers of Golden Sun and Mario Golf Super Rush. Camelot hasn’t gone down the RPG well in a long time, but they used to do it all the time. This isn’t quite Fire Emblem, but if you enjoyed any old Fire Emblem games, you might be at home here. I’ll offer the caveat that this could be a fast riser because I haven’t played this game in a long time and it might hold up better than I remembered.

  • 28. Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis)

Much like Contra: Hard Corps, Castlevania: Bloodlines is the less heralded Genesis release in a Konami franchise. Bloodlines has two different playable characters that feel unique. Also it’s just a great action platformer.

  • 27. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)

Diddy and Dixie are the peak Kong pair in these games and Donkey Kong Country 2 is the best of the series on Super Nintendo.

  • 26. Mario Tennis 64 (N64)

I’ve always been more of a golf guy than a tennis guy, but the prospect of online Mario Tennis 64 is exciting, even if Mario Tennis Aces exists and is actually a really strong online game. I could argue that the Nintendo 64 game offers a more pure tennis experience whereas Aces is more like a fighting game with some of the new elements. It’s nice to have options and with Mario Golf 64 promised for the future, we’ll have more Mario sports options than we have in a long time.

  • 25. Mario's Super Picross (SNES)

I love Picross, so seeing a Japan-only Super Famicom game come over to America on Nintendo Switch Online is thrilling. This is definitely a dated Picross game, but the Mario flourishes are very enjoyable. Because of the language barrier, I can’t recommend Picross newbies to start here, but good news if you’re a Picross newbie: there’s a ton of good Picross games on Switch to start with.

  • 24. Yoshi's Story (N64)

I’m aware Yoshi’s Story above Yoshi’s Island is sure to start a war, but I sincerely love this game and since nostalgia plays heavily into all of these retro games, it does help that I first played this when I was 10 years old. Still, the nonlinearity is neat, especially with how exploration heavy levels get as you seek out all the melons and different routes. Maybe this was disappointing as a full-priced Nintendo 64 game for some, but as a part of Nintendo Switch Online, it’s awesome.

  • 23. Ninja Gaiden (NES)

A brutally hard NES platformer with a banger of a soundtrack and a glimpse at early video game storytelling. This might not be a game for everyone, but this is one of those hard games that always clicked for me. Though replaying it now, I’ve noticed my skills have atrophied as I usually tail off about two-thirds in.

  • 22. Demon's Crest (SNES)

Demon’s Crest definitely settles into the role of being one of the better Super Nintendo games you probably never played. It stars Firebrand - a Ghosts ‘n Goblins enemy who previously starred in Gargoyle’s Quest 1 and 2 - and is a strong action platformer with a lot of world map exploration and even some RPG elements. This is a really good Capcom game that seemingly isn’t talked about that much, but it’s very good.

  • 21. Star Fox (SNES)

If you’re sensitive to framerate, just skip to the next game, but if you can handle early 3D jank, the original Star Fox is a delight. The style is off the charts, especially with the stellar soundtrack and distinctive polygonal visuals. This is just an extremely creative and fun rail shooter that kicked off a franchise that may or may not still have multiple entries higher on this list.

  • 20. Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)

While Mike Tyson’s name was never on the Super Nintendo Punch-Out game, gorgeous visuals more in line with the arcade games make this a great entry in the rhythm boxing genre. The characters are large and expressive and the thrill of the fight is ever present. Save states and rewind can be your friend if you’re just learning the ropes.

  • 19. Panel de Pon (SNES)

You might know this game as Tetris Attack, but licensing means Nintendo can’t re-release a non-Tetris game with Tetris in the title. In lieu, we get Panel de Pon, the Japanese version. You get to see the origins of Lip, a character who has an item in Smash Bros. You also get supremely awesome puzzle gameplay, including a story mode and great two-player.

  • 18. Star Fox 2 (SNES)

Star Fox 2 is now available to more than just the Super Nintendo Classic owners and the same caveat about being sensitive to framerates applies here because this game pushes the Super Nintendo to its absolute limits. But it also has big, bold ideas about the structure of a Star Fox game. This is a borderline roguelike and I still contend that if this game actually came out in the 1990s, our view of Star Fox would be forever altered.

  • 17. Mario Kart 64 (N64)

Mario Kart 64 is extremely important to me even though, over time, I’ve come to recognize it as one of the lesser Mario Kart games. That being said, I’m giddy at the prospect of playing this game online with friends. A lot of the foundation for modern Mario Kart comes from this game and it’s exciting to be able to switch online between this 1997 classic and the Switch game that was released 20 years later.

  • 16. Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)

Super Mario Bros. 2 is one of the better black sheep games of Nintendo franchises. It changes up the formula of Super Mario Bros. significantly, but the slowed-down pace, multiple characters, and overall quirkiness make it a very strong game nonetheless.

  • 15. Punch-Out!! (NES)

The gap between the NES Punch-Out and Super Punch-Out isn’t wide, but I’ll give the edge to the first one because of how memorable and iconic it is. The more rampant Rocky references are amazing and the training sequences add a lot to the feel. The fights themselves are tense puzzles that require creativity and rhythm, even if Mr. Dream is a pain in the butt.

  • 14. Super Mario Bros. (NES)

The game that cemented Nintendo back in the NES days still fundamentally holds up extremely well. The jump feels perfect. The controls are great. It’s a little bit no-nonsense, but considering it essentially wrote the book for platformers, that’s not a complaint. This is well worth playing through if you’ve never done it before. Rewind and save states deserve no shame here.

  • 13. Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 4 was one of the best beat-’em-ups in recent memory and that’s partially because the original games on Sega Genesis were incredible. The Yuzo Koshiro soundtrack is amazing and it offers some of the best beat-’em-up gameplay of its time. Absolutely snag a pal and romp through this online.

  • 12. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis)

My favorite old Sonic game, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 does a good job of actually balancing the thoughtful platforming with a need for speed. It still has those classic Sonic gotcha moments, but there’s a lot more creativity here. Also, it’s got a memorable soundtrack and for you online players, two player multiplayer.

  • 11. Gunstar Heroes (Genesis)

One of Treasure’s best games (from an array of great games) is Gunstar Heroes, a vibrant and creative run-and-gun action game with stupidly quirky and cool levels, an excellent soundtrack, and an overall great feel. I only first played this game on Wii Virtual Console and it was impressive even more than a decade after launch.

  • 10. Kirby Super Star (SNES)

Looking back, seeing how kitchen sink some of the Smash Bros. games felt shouldn’t have been a surprise after Masahiro Sakurai led the development of Kirby Super Star. This is a Kirby game that features multiple games and modes all with different play styles and themes. You can romp through an easy game, ride through a cinematic Meta Knight-featuring mode, and even explore a big cave and look for treasures. There’s so much variety.

  • 9. Sin and Punishment (N64)

Sin and Punishment never made it out of Japan until the Wii Virtual Console and it wound up being very playable even if you’re not a native Japanese reader. This is just an incredible shooter that does wonderful things on the N64 hardware and is also just a dynamite experience overall.

  • 8. Super Mario 64 (N64)

Here’s a weird one: Super Mario 64 is already available in probably a better form on Switch with 2020’s Super Mario 3D All-Stars. Also, that game is technically not available for purchase anymore. Super Mario 64 is still a foundational game with an incredible first half. It also may have aged a little poorly in the back half. Still, it’s a great way well worth exploring.

  • 7. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

Link to the Past wrote the book for Zelda games for 25 years and still stands tall as one of the best games in the series and, to some, one of the best games ever made. Being as I have it as 7th on this list, I might not agree with the last part, but it’s definitely an incredible game that should be borderline mandatory for every Nintendo fan to play.

  • 6. Phantasy Star IV (Genesis)

Lament the absence of Final Fantasy on this service all you want, but if you’re sad you can’t play Final Fantasy 4, 5, or 6, you should just drop everything you’re doing and play Phantasy Star IV. It’s a game I personally have never played all the way through but it is widely considered one of the best RPGs of its era. If you like ‘90s RPGs, play this game.

  • 5. Star Fox 64 (N64)

If you’re familiar with Nintendo World Report of the past few years, you might know our director John Rairdin. He loves Star Fox. A lot. By law, I can’t put Star Fox 64 that low on the list. It’s also a good thing I agree that Star Fox 64 absolutely rules, holding up very well to this day. The fact you can play multiplayer online is a major plus, too.

  • 4. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
  • 3. Super Mario World (SNES)

I’ll lump Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World together because it’s a razor thin margin separating them. I’ve settled on preferring World more, but I have no qualms with anyone wanting to bump 3 over World. They’re both enduring masterpieces that play to different strengths. Super Mario Bros. 3 has a slew of quick levels with a variety of fun power-ups. World has a more engaging overworld and Yoshi. Both are incredible.

  • 2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

Ocarina of Time is such a hugely important game that even if the original 1998 release is more than two decades old, it’s still worth playing. Maybe we’re on the verge of getting a Zelda 3D All-Stars Collection with a better version for a limited time, but even still, Ocarina of Time is amazing and like Link to the Past did for the Zelda series, Ocarina of Time did for 3D adventure games. Z targeting changed my life.

  • 1. Super Metroid (SNES)

With Metroid Dread out recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and replaying 2D Metroid games. Through replaying all of them, one game still stood above the rest: Super Metroid. I also learned that people disagree with this, and that’s fine. I encourage you to make your own Top 50 list of Nintendo Switch Online games. I love this game and find even with janky platforming and some dated gameplay, Super Metroid endures. The environmental storytelling is untouched. The sound design and music is sublime. The boss fights, while tough, lead to some great payoffs. Just a really great game that, to me, is the class of Nintendo Switch Online’s lineup.

Once again, I’ll remind everyone that this list is, first off, my opinion and takes, and second off, subject to change as games are added. I’m also willing to contemplate some movement and adding games not on the list. Nintendo Switch Online has triple digits in game count and it’s a lot to sort through, but spend some time here and you can play some ‘80s and ‘90s masterpieces. And also some junk that is endearing in its own right.


9
Podcast Discussion / Episode 295: Giving Credit to Quest 64
« on: October 22, 2021, 08:01:18 AM »

It might be better than Crysis.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/connectivity/58732/episode-295-giving-credit-to-quest-64

Fresh off two giant Metroid Game Club episodes, Neal and John happily return to a smaller one hour format. But before we get to listener mail or what we've played recently we need to talk about the inevitably reality that is Quest 64 on NSO. Afterwords we discuss the realities of video game credits before diving into discussions of Dungeon Encounters, Actraiser Renessaince, and the Crysis Remastered Trilogy.


10
TalkBack / Mon Amour (Switch) Review
« on: October 18, 2021, 10:42:44 AM »

Whether you compare it to Flappy Bird or Balloon Trip, Mon Amour is zany arcade fun.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/58718/mon-amour-switch-review

Let’s get right to the point: Mon Amour is a weird game. That’s no surprise as it comes from developer Onion Games, who you might know from their other Switch games, the hauntingly beautiful Fantasy Zone-inspired Blackbird, the brilliant anti-RPG Moon Remix RPG Adventure, and the bizarre roguelite puzzle RPG Dandy Dungeon. They have crafted a distinct style that Mon Amour exemplifies well with its simplistic gameplay, madcap style, and hidden depth.

The gameplay is simply single-screen Balloon Trip (or more modernly, Flappy Bird) as you have to continually tap a button to keep your hero from hitting the top or bottom of the screen. Every level features a woman waiting at the end to be kissed and rescued. If that sounds offbeat, well, it is. The goal is to take your mustachioed lover boy hero through dozens of levels to try to kiss and rescue every captured character from evil witches. It’s hard—the developers boast that 99% of playtesters died immediately. I can vouch that I did die immediately, as the game just starts without telling you much of anything. There’s a discovery process here where you get into the rhythm of the button presses and try to carry your increasingly long trail of amours intact as you reach a castle level to save all of your collected characters.

The saved characters also double as extra hit points, as getting hit by an enemy or obstacle knocks one away until your hero is all alone and one final hit ends your run. The scoring gets deeper once you start paying attention to how multipliers and more are implemented. Ideally, you want to avoid getting hit as the longer a chain you have, the more points you accrue when reaching a castle. There’s also the matter of the angle you approach the captured character at the end of the level, which shoots hearts across the stage. When hearts hit other hearts, they increase in size and point value. The goal then becomes to make giant hearts that you avoid touching until they’re big enough for you to cash in the maximum amount of points. This is all largely unexplained in the game, making part of the fun puzzling out the mechanics. Certain characters also seem to either randomly appear or only show up in certain conditions, usually accompanied by their own unique level design. There is quite literally a Flappy Bird level.

Once you encounter a character, you can start over from their level, which is helpful because death is frequent. The game logs all the different characters and that allows something other than a high score to strive for. High score chasing is where the true length of Mon Amour comes from, but having the goal of saving everyone makes for something attainable for the less high score savvy players. It’s a straightforward game without a lot of meat on its bones, but what’s there is enjoyable, amped up by the “death note” system that shows you when other players died online and on what level. It’s a clever way to make the online rankings a little more engaging.

Mon Amour is straight to the point. It’s a bunch of Flappy Bird-like single-screen levels where you try to survive and kiss people while aiming for a high score. I enjoyed my time with it, even if the chase for the leaderboards didn’t grab me. This is a wild and wacky arcade game worth checking out if you’re seeking an afternoon of fun.


11
Podcast Discussion / Episode 294: Metroid Dread Spoilercast
« on: October 15, 2021, 08:19:59 AM »

Part 5 of the Metroid Game Club

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/connectivity/58673/episode-294-metroid-dread-spoilercast

In which we spoil Metroid Dread. Don't listen to this if you don't want us to spoil Metroid Dread. No really.


12
TalkBack / Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl Preview
« on: October 13, 2021, 05:00:00 AM »

Nintendo showed us around Sinnoh's new look and so far so good.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/preview/58665/pokemon-brilliant-diamond-and-shining-pearl-preview

A lot can be said about everyone’s personal preferences about different Pokemon generations, but regardless of any sort of ranking, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl hold a special place in my video game-playing heart. Debuting in 2007, my purchase of Pokemon Pearl on DS was the first time I was there at launch for a mainline Pokemon game since the originals. Of course, the timing could have been better for my scholastic career. They came out in April in North America and I bought it the week it came out as I was just about to embark on final exams for my college semester. I do not have a strong memory of whatever paper I wrote or exam I didn’t study hard enough, but I get a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings thinking about my Pokemon journey with my Chimchar during that spring and summer.

14 years later, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl are getting the remake treatment on Nintendo Switch with Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. I had the chance to watch a gameplay demo and I came away excited to go back to Sinnoh, mostly because the new games seem to do a good job of taking the signature aspects of this generation and bring it in line with modern niceties. It’s most evident in the visuals, which might not look as flashy as Pokemon Legends but are pleasant recreations of the 2D spritework of the originals. Seeing parts of Route 208 have cloudy visual effects and nice looking water just takes the layout of the old DS games and gives it a modern look. Another aspect of the visuals that is noticeable is the fact that your player character can be customized with different outfits and most importantly, different skin tones. Non-playable characters (NPCs) also feature more variety in their skin tones, which is nice to see for a series that used to not have any options in the past.

Beyond the visuals are a wealth of gameplay enhancements. Most importantly, you no longer need to carry a Bidoof to the end game because of their HM abilities. Instead, you just use the Poketch - your fancy monochrome Pokemon Watch - to call upon a wild Pokemon to smash rocks, surf, or fly for you. The Poketch is a holdover from the original Diamond and Pearl and I love how it’s just the same janky looking digital watch that looks like it could be part of the Game & Watch line. It has a clock, a calculator, and a step counter, because sure, why not. While the clock and calculator seem charmingly useless, the built-in memo pad can actually be drawn on using the touch screen, so that has some amount of purpose.

The most notable addition to Sinnoh is likely Pokemon Hideaways and the Grand Underground. If you recall from the originals, the Underground was a series of tunnels underneath Sinnoh where you could use a bunch of DS features to dig for treasure. The spirit of that returns with the new Grand Underground. The map is wholly new and you can still use sledgehammers and pickaxes to dig for fossils and more. You can also find statues to decorate your very own Secret Base. That’s where Pokemon Hideaways come into play.

Depending on how you decorate your Secret Base, different types of Pokemon will appear in Hideaways. This can include Pokemon not found anywhere else in Sinnoh. Additionally, all of the wild Pokemon appear on the overworld in Hideaways, which is something that was in Let’s Go and Sword and Shield, but otherwise not present in this remake. It remains to be seen just how many Pokemon are added to the game through Hideaways, but this should at least add some type variety that was lacking in the original releases. Here’s hoping there are more than like three fire types now.

Like recent games in the series, the Box Anywhere feature returns, so you can seamlessly swap creatures in and out of your party no matter where you are on the map. This won’t be accessible right at the start, but apparently it shows up early on. Additionally, the Exp Share is back and while I personally enjoy having all of my party Pokemon getting some amount of experience in every battle, the Exp Share in this remake cannot be toggled on and off. An Auto-Save function can be toggled on and off, though, which will hopefully prevent any infrequent savers from losing progress.

As for the battles, they offer a nice cinematic presentation - a step up from the DS visuals of the originals. Once again, like recent games, you can see the effectiveness of attacks as you select them and you can also access Pokeballs without digging deep into your items. I’ve enjoyed this lengthy list of quality of life upgrades to Pokemon games over the past few years and it’s good to see they are largely all retained for this remake.

In the Pokedex you can view animated 3D models of every Pokemon. You can also compare the height and weight of Pokemon to your player character. This doesn’t serve any purpose other than being amusing, but it certainly is amusing. Walking with your Pokemon is similarly endearing and you can do that with any Pokemon in the overworld. You can also play with “cute” Pokemon in Amity Square. The cuteness comes out further in Super Contests, where you can feed your favorite Pokemon poffins and such to make them cute as heck and win rhythm game performance battles against other cute Pokemon. I’ll be honest: I never really touched this back in the day, but it’s cool you play it with four people here. More online functionality should be present throughout, especially in the Grand Underground, which was previously local-only back in the day.

I’ll admit that the original trailer for Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl didn’t look that interesting to me, but the more I see of this remake, the more I’m interested in returning to Sinnoh on Switch. It’s not quite Pokemon Let’s Go, but it’s also not like the typical remakes we’ve seen in the past. Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are going down a new road where they skew more faithful to the originals while not retaining the exact look and feel of the most recent generation of Pokemon. The new pair of Pokemon games is due out soon on November 19 and while I will not be playing these while taking college finals like I did the originals, I will assuredly spend my holiday season with Chimchar or Piplup. Sorry Turtwig. It’s nothing personal.


13
Podcast Discussion / Episode 293: Metroid Fusion and Other M
« on: October 08, 2021, 09:04:21 AM »

Part 4 of the Metroid Game Club

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/connectivity/58610/episode-293-metroid-fusion-and-other-m

As we celebrate the launch of Metroid Dread, the gang assembles what we thought would be the most divisive 2D Metroid. Turns out we all love it. Metroid Other M on the other hand...


14
TalkBack / Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania (Switch) Review
« on: September 29, 2021, 08:00:00 AM »

An enjoyable anniversary celebration that is good enough.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/58516/super-monkey-ball-banana-mania-switch-review

Super Monkey Ball is a series that has a checkered history. The GameCube originals were beloved when they came out, but from there, the magic and charm was lost along the way, reaching a sad nadir with Super Monkey Ball 3D. The 2019 Switch release of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD was a lukewarm step in the right direction, but the latest release, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania, is a much more confident return to form. It bakes in a lot of the content from Super Monkey Ball 1, 2, and Deluxe, but this is not a straightforward remake. Banana Mania is a celebration of the series’ best games that, for better or worse, changes things enough to possibly turn off those desiring a true return to form, but is largely a great game with a lot of depth and variety.

The centerpiece is the dozens and dozens of ball-rolling stages spread across a world-based story mode as well as challenge modes based on Monkey Ball 1 and 2’s stages. The challenge ramps up fast, but the levels are generally all clever and fun to play. It’s hard for the game to truly evoke the nostalgia I have for the GameCube games, but this clearly feels better than any Monkey Ball game I’ve played since the first two even if it’s not identical to how the GameCube games felt. It has a lot of assist options baked in as well. Helper mode lets you slow down time and shows an optimal route through the stage. You can even mark difficult levels as completed and move on. The friendliness and leniency is felt throughout, earnestly feeling like a celebration of Monkey Ball’s early days.

That extends to the unlockable characters, which include Sonic, Tails, Kazuma Kiryu (from Yakuza), and Beat (from Jet Set Radio) and many more as paid DLC. The characters are cosmetic, but it’s incredibly amusing to see Sonic and Tails roll around collecting rings instead of bananas. A variety of other unlockables are present too, all earned by accumulating in-game currency. More cosmetics to dress up the monkeys are the most prevalent unlocks, but a few modes are found here, usually offering up a steeper challenge or, if you want, adding a jump button. The unlocks by themselves are just okay, but as pieces of a whole, it provides a lot to strive for and play with.

Complementing the core experience are 12 party games, all pulled from earlier titles. However, it’s worth specifying that these are not straight ports of those old mini-games. They’re all “reimagined,” which for most of them are totally fine. Monkey Baseball, a game I played a lot back in the day, feels a lot different but it’s still fun. Monkey Target, one of the enduring favorites of the franchise, does not feel right. I can’t totally put my finger on it, but it does seem like there’s less manual control of how you launch off the ramp. That combined with the slightly different physics just made it a non-starter for me. I have, however, found a lot of joy in baseball, billiards, and soccer. Not every mode is a winner, but enough of them are good for game nights. They also feature some degree of single-player tournament modes so it even has something to do for the solo player.

Where Banana Mania thrives is in how varied it is. Do you want to race through stages, competing for a spot on a time trial online leaderboards? Go for it. Are you getting frustrated with some of the harder stages? Use helper mode for an assist. Do you want to plow through single-player content as the star of Yakuza grabbing power-up drinks? Do it up. Want to punch your friends in local multiplayer with a big boxing glove? Monkey Fight is right there, pal. This is not the straight port or remake of the original GameCube Monkey Ball I might have asked for, but it’s a great game in its own right that brings to light a lot of what I loved about those earlier entries in the franchise. This is a lively, amusing video game that is stuffed with challenging marble-rolling stages, good-natured multiplayer games, and a lot of charm.


15
TalkBack / SkateBIRD (Switch) Review
« on: September 15, 2021, 06:00:00 AM »

A charming little bird who skates off a cliff to a rollicking soundtrack.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/58349/skatebird-switch-review

Blending the majesty of Tony Hawk skateboarding games with the adorable charm of birds and good-natured humor should be an absolute slam dunk. As a person who counts Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games among my favorites, Glass Bottom Games’ SkateBird should be a game made for me. That’s what makes the end result so disappointing and frustrating. For every endearing moment and smart gameplay choice made, there’s a camera you regularly have to fight with and controls that constantly descend into maddening struggles. It’s a shame because the moments when it all clicks are enjoyable. It’s a rush taking your little designer bird around the handful of levels while rocking out to We Are The Union and other skate-appropriate tunes. SkateBird rules in those moments. That just happens way more fleetingly than I hoped.

The primary focus is on a campaign mode where you journey through different levels, completing missions to unlock the next one. A cute narrative drives everything forward, as your bird misses Big Friend (aka their human owner) and tries to figure out how to get them to come back home. The writing is good-natured and silly with a lot of humorous recurring characters. I appreciate the appearance of the avian Anthony Hawk. Finding missions in the world, however, is a chore. While the levels aren’t incredibly large and labyrinthian, they are big enough and the quest givers are small enough that it’s difficult to just spot them while skating around, especially when playing in handheld mode. A mini-map does exist, but only a small zoomed-out view of the whole level that is found on the pause screen. Quest markers are dotted there, but it’s clumsy to try to go between the menu and playing to figure out where to go next. It was better to just aimlessly skate around, even if that was still suboptimal.

Thankfully, aimlessly skating is fun. Until it isn’t. One of the key parts that makes other skateboarding games engaging and rewarding is tight controls that, once you learn them, let you do incredible tricks and combos. That’s true for arcadey experiences like Tony Hawk or more simulation-heavy ones like the Skate series. In SkateBird, the controls are flighty and loose, which might make sense because you’re a bird, but makes it incredibly frustrating to play. I regularly got stuck on in-game geometry and never felt like I had a good handle on how my bird moved and responded as I zoomed around levels trying to complete quests and keep up combos. Humor can be found in watching your bird bail and bounce around the level, but the imprecision stops being endearing at a point. You can tweak a lot of the settings for controls to a high degree, but no matter how I tweaked the speed or tricks, nothing ever felt right.

Adding to the controls frustration is the reliance on the Fancy meter, which increases your speed as you land tricks without bailing. Your bird won’t be able to skate up most hills if your Fancy meter isn’t at least partially filled, which means if you want to move around to different parts of a level, you have to make sure your meter is always filled. That gets worse when a chunk of missions are based on exploring levels to find different items, usually needing to trick off of certain ramps or rails to get them. A full Fancy meter is more or less required. Trial and error and tiresome repetition become way more drawn out because of how necessary the Fancy meter is to success.

For as disappointed as I am with SkateBird, the soundtrack is not disappointing at all, though the fact all the licensed music is locked behind collectables means it takes a while to reach the highest highs. Nathan Madsen’s chill lofi score fits the tone well, especially in the narrative segments, but I mostly enjoyed the moments when I could blast We Are The Union while playing. I was previously not aware of the other three bands featured (Illicit Nature, Grave Danger, and HolyWOW), but it’s delightful to see ska and punk being represented in video games, especially a skateboarding game. It just feels right.

SkateBird was a game I anticipated since I first heard about it. A whimsical bird-focused take on skateboarding seemed delightful, but in execution, frustration dominated my playtime, whether it was struggling to find missions or battling with the loose controls. Charm is the saving grace that led to me having short-lived enjoyment. Overall, SkateBird is way more reminiscent of the janky but sometimes enjoyable games that came out in the wake of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’s success than the original product itself.


16
TalkBack / Outright Games Could Make Kid Licenses on Switch Fun
« on: September 27, 2021, 07:18:36 AM »

With a focus on younger kids, Outright’s bringing spirited takes on Peppa Pig, PJ Masks, and more to Switch.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/feature/58510/outright-games-could-make-kid-licenses-on-switch-fun

Something that has been lacking in the world of console video games are the inspired attempts at taking children’s licenses and making great games out of them. I’m talking DuckTales on NES or that Ronald McDonald game from Treasure on Sega Genesis. I’m also talking about the garbage that comes out of these situations, like Superman 64, but this is a core part of my childhood memories of video games that’s mostly gone to free-to-play mobile games. In comes Outright Games, the family-friendly video game publisher that is trying to bring this joy back to consoles.

Outright Games has been active on Switch, with some highlights being Transformers Battlegrounds and Ice Age: Scrat’s Nutty Adventure. In 2021, they have a sizable lineup, ranging from Peppa Pig and PJ Masks games to The Addams Family and Fast & Furious. Their goal is to make games for the younger audience, and their 2021 lineup runs the gamut from toddler-focused adventures to, well, a Fast & Furious racing game.

Unbeknownst to those without kids, a well-made animated version of Fast & Furious has been on Netflix for years. This year, that cartoony brand of car racing adventures is making the leap to video games and from what we saw from a hands-off demo, it seems like a solid racer bringing about elements that blend street racing with a cartoony Mario Kart vibe. 3DClouds is behind the development, a studio behind the interesting pirate game King of Seas and a wealth of other racing games. The foundation is laid for something that looks like it’ll add some depth to the racing games available on Switch, especially if you have a kid with an interest in the show.

Fast & Furious Spy Racers: Rise of Shif3r, due out on November 5, aspires to take the fundamentals of a kart racer and then change the skin to resemble something closer to Dirt or Forza Horizon. 3DClouds pulled from their own past as well as other classics, like the first Need for Speed and criminally underrated Blur. I look forward to getting my hands on the final game to see if all these wonderful inspirations come together, because the promise is good.

The game features 17 tracks spread across five locations. Four of the locales are based on real world areas and the final one is in a Tron-like computer environment. It aims for a stable 30 frames per second on Switch and will feature two-player split-screen multiplayer as well as online for up to six players. Sadly, there will be no crossplay.

Fast & Furious isn’t the only racer 3DClouds is making with Outright Games this year, though. Another children’s property - Nickelodeon’s Blaze and the Monster Machines - is coming to Switch on October 1 with Blaze and the Monster Machines: Axle City Racers. This skews a little younger than Fast & Furious, but seems to be carrying a lot of the same spirit of taking the kart racer and changing the skin for a different demographic. If we’ve learned anything from the legacy of Mario Kart, it’s that a good kart racer can appeal to virtually everyone. Blaze and the Monster Machines might not supplant Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch, but it certainly could complement it well, especially since it has helpful assist controls for younger players.

3DClouds isn’t the only developer working with Outright. Petoon Studios (the indie developers behind the upcoming “ratroidvania” Curse of the Sea Rats) is working on PJ Masks: Heroes of the Night for an October 29 release and this one speaks more to my interests, largely because I have a 3-year-old kid who enjoys himself some PJ Masks. It’s a 3D side-scroller that has the potential to be a smart entry-level action game for fans of the series. I can vouch that while my kid is shockingly good at several Mario games, it’s always nice to see a game that has a design philosophy focused specifically for him. From what I’ve seen of the game so far, it looks like it draws on some fundamentals of the genre, focusing on the PJ Masks heroes trademark abilities in ways that seasoned video game players can likely imagine how it can translate to platformers, with speed (Catboy), flight (Owlette), and strength (Gekko). Lost Vikings this ain’t, but the premise shares a little in common.

One of the Outright Games’ projects that most interested me is My Friend Peppa Pig, which veers more into storytelling in a way that seems to really align with the source material. I love that you just make your own character in the style of the show and just basically hang out with Peppa Pig. It seems inordinately chill and legitimately seems like a chance for your kid (or you, if you really want to) to be a part of the show. Watching the trailer, it just looks like the TV show. I would not have expected to be excited for a Peppa Pig game before I had kids, but here we are. This actually looks brilliant in a way I didn’t anticipate.

As a parent, I’m truly excited for this lineup from Outright Games. I hope they can thread the needle of making these games true to the licenses but also enjoyable to play, both for the kids playing the games as well as the parents playing with them. Who knows: maybe my kid will be writing about how memorable My Friend Peppa Pig was to him in 30 years as he longs for games for his children return to that level of fun and quality.


17
Podcast Discussion / Episode 291: Directs of Future's Past
« on: September 24, 2021, 09:47:55 AM »

The news of two days ago, today.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/connectivity/58457/episode-291-directs-of-futures-past

Our favorite News Editor joins us to chat about our recent game pickups before moving on to theorizing about the direct that just happened. We record on Wednesdays for our episodes that post on Fridays. The Direct happened on Thursday. I'm sure you see the problem. Laugh at our horrible mistakes while being moderately impressed by things we got right.


18
TalkBack / NBA 2K22 (Switch) Review
« on: September 20, 2021, 04:12:24 AM »

This game’s championship window on Switch is closing.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/58411/nba-2k22-switch-review

The NBA 2K series is one that teeters on the balance of incredible and greedy, garnering a legacy of incredible basketball gameplay and options that is regularly marred by always-online modes and a reliance on microtransactions. The consistency of this over the iterations released on Nintendo Switch has been impressive, to say the least. The ports beginning with NBA 2K18 and continuing into this year’s NBA 2K22 - the fifth in the franchise on Switch - have been solid across the board, packing in a good-playing replica of the versions on more powerful hardware. They haven’t been without their faults, namely some visual compromises and long load times, but if you’re looking for a realistic game of basketball on your portable system that has all the modes of other consoles, NBA 2K delivers. That remains the status quo for the latest version, which is more of a full upgrade than last year’s pandemic-affected half-measure. Though at this point, the Switch version is starting to not be able to hold up as it gets older.

The actual basketball playing is the best it’s ever been on Switch, most likely because this year actually feels like a substantial upgrade. At the center of that is the refined shot meter. If you played NBA 2K21, you might remember the shot meter was reworked there and was, at launch, abysmal. It was patched into a workable state, but right out of the gate in 2K22, the shot meter feels great. You either press and hold a button down or flick the analog stick to start your shot. Then, you have to release it with timing to have a good chance of making the shot. In my experience, the updated shooting toes the line of being challenging and lenient, so you have to work to make hard shots but lay-ups and uncontested dunks require much less precision. In addition to the shooting, dribbling has also seen improvements as the right analog stick can be flicked in different directions while handling the ball to execute all sorts of crossovers and anklebreakers.

This is harder to explain, but the players around me also just seemed a little bit smarter. It’s subtle but noticeable as the computer-controlled AI is more realistic. That’s shown in your own teammates not getting faked out comically too often and also in the computer not falling for the same old tricks when you’re on offense. This game demands more strategy and focus in most of the modes (aside from some of the goofier playground exhibition ones). In addition, the difficulty levels seem more even. In years past, jumping from Pro to All-Star felt like a gigantic leap. This year, it actually feels attainable to move up a level.

The story-driven MyCareer mode returns but this might be my least favorite narrative of any 2K story mode I’ve played. Your created character is a social media star who seemingly just also happens to play basketball. Part of the goal for this story is build your Personal Brand, which leans more into the marketing dystopia that sports is on the verge of becoming. It’s definitely more light-hearted, but it just pales in comparison to some of the shockingly engrossing stories in the past. The writing is still alright, but it’s overall disappointing.

MyCareer is also tied into the Neighborhood, which takes the form of a cruise ship in this year’s game. You can wander around the boat to participate in various events and upgrade your character. Unfortunately, microtransactions are available here and you can pay to increase your created character’s prowess. For what it’s worth, I believe about $30-40 worth of currency will make your player a superstar. You can earn currency without paying, but naturally that’s easier to do when your player is better.

Even worse, MyCareer - this game’s story-driven narrative mode - is only playable online. The mere existence of microtransactions doesn’t make this game bad, but the inclusion of them in what is primarily a single-player experience is annually discomforting. This mode is also where some of the feature disparity among versions of the game comes into play. I have not played the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series version, but that touts having the City in lieu of the Neighborhood. If you have seen any of the Jake from State Farm bits online, that’s all in the City. There is a chance that Jake from State Farm is next-gen only.

This mode also highlights some of the technical issues. My created character was unable to actually generate any hair. The facial hair is there, but no matter what set his haircut to, it just loaded in flat, looking like my bald basketball player just painted his head. The fact the online modes run without much of an issue on Switch is great, but with the occasional oddity elsewhere, the game seems like it’s outpacing what the Switch can actually handle.

The rest of the suite of modes is the same as it ever was. MyTeam, 2K’s card-collecting online mode, is still there to try to whittle away more microtransactions from you by teasing new cards and packs. It’s generous enough if you want to dive in that it’s not egregious, but I can’t say these variations on Ultimate Team ever appealed to me.

What’s frustrating is that after last year’s disappointing release, MyGM, MyLeague, and the WNBA integration is just basically the same. I loved the charming jankiness of MyGM when it got a sizable refresh two years ago. It’s essentially been the same experience three games in a row. I have yet to find the same Frasier joke from NBA 2K20, but every other deliciously hacky conversation still remains. I love the personality pleasing and goal management in MyGM. I wish it got the same love the microtransaction-heavy modes got too. As for the WNBA content, I’m still so happy the teams are in the NBA 2K games and it’s great the Chicago Sky’s Candace Parker is on a cover variant, but I wish it was more than an afterthought. Maybe it’s something about the marketability of the WNBA vs. the NBA, but if the story mode this year can be about a social media star working on his Personal Brand, maybe that social media star could be a male or a female.

If you’re coming to NBA 2K22 to play some basketball, it’s a tremendous game on Switch. The shooting and dribbling are both reworked in positive ways and games are more realistic and approachable than ever. Outside of regular seasons, though, the modes you play that basketball in are trending downward in quality. Unless you’re ready to live your life one pack of virtual cards at a time, there isn’t much of value in MyCareer, MyGM, or MyLeague. Here’s hoping NBA 2K23 takes the refined gameplay and brings about more exciting variation in the modes.


19
Podcast Discussion / Episode 290: We Found a Metroid II Fan
« on: September 17, 2021, 09:59:40 AM »

Turns out Justin Berube legitimately likes Metroid II.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/connectivity/58356/episode-290-we-found-a-metroid-ii-fan

Justin joins us to talk about his own playthrough of the 2D Metroid series and it turns out he really enjoys Return of Samus. Neal has been having a great time rolling around with monkeys but less fun skating with birds. And John is cleaning up his backlog of Darksiders save files so that he has more room for Darksiders save files. Finally we turn to some listener mail and discuss what obscure game systems we'd be down for trying out.


20

Find out what inspired this excellent Switch game and also what Pokémon team its main character would have.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/interview/58350/talking-shonen-anime-and-pokemon-with-dodgeball-academias-developers

Sometimes it's the unassuming games that catch you off guard. That's definitely what happened for me with Dodgeball Academia, a release from earlier this year that features great dodgeball combat, enjoyable RPG mechanics, and an endearing world and story. Humble Games published it on Switch, continuing their track record of excellence on the platform (Carto still rules). The developer was Pocket Trap, a Brazilian studio that previously released Ninjin: Clash of Carrots on Switch in 2018 (we thought it was good). For as enjoyable as Ninjin was, Dodgeball Academia blew it out of the water, delivering one of my personal favorite games of 2021 so far.

I had the opportunity to ask Pocket Trap's Henrique Alonso a few questions about Pocket Trap's history, inspiration, and more. I even snuck in some questions about Pokémon because, well, battles with kids in the school still remind me of Pokémon trainer battles and the infirmary is basically just a Pokémon Center!


Nintendo World Report (NWR): How did your experience with working on other games inform your thought process for Dodgeball Academia?

Henrique Alonso (HA): Dodgeball is our first experience with making a Sports game and an RPG game. Previously we launched Ninjin: Clash of Carrots, which was more like an arcade game that mixed shoot ‘em ups and beat ‘em ups. Dodgeball Academia is a completely different story. We have this background of working with action games, so I think it helped a lot with the dodgeball battles as well as the overall experience of knowing what to do and how the process works. It helped us know what we were doing and figuring out scheduling, for example. Our experience porting the game to other consoles like the Nintendo Switch was also very useful. We were much more prepared to port the game to the Nintendo Switch system then we were for our first game.

NWR: Dodgeball Academia definitely has a sports anime vibe. Were there any specific stories you aimed to capture?

HA: I think we were focusing on delivering a story that was kind of inspired by not only sports animes but also shonen animes overall - and also cartoons. We wanted it to feel cozy, like telling the local adventures of a school. Usually RPG’s tell these epic stories where the character starts small and by the end, he defeats the villain that is threatening the universe. For Dodgeball Academia, we wanted to focus the story on school situations like dealing with bullies and projects from the teachers, while also having the tournament arc. The tournament is a very important piece of the story to guide the character throughout the school year and for the player to feel the game’s progression.

We tried to bring many personal experiences to the game. For example, situations that we lived through when we were back in school. The whole project has a nostalgic vibe of being in school and practicing dodgeball with references to the sports anime that we grew up watching and loved.

NWR: I noticed while playing the game that the first few chapters gently ease in the player (going from 1 player to 2 players to 3 players to more chaos). How did you lend on that specific tutorial cadence for the game? Were there any other forms this opening took?

HA: We knew we wanted to have a sports RPG game where you play dodgeball battles, but dodgeball has some limitations and rules for what you can do inside dodgeball. We tried to bring in as much variety as we could, ranging from introducing new characters who feature different throws and abilities. I think it is important to not leave the player feeling too overwhelmed in the beginning. We wanted to build a journey where you start small and then begin gathering new students to join the team. Even though the core gameplay can get a little repetitive as you are always playing dodgeball, we wanted to make sure each episode brings something new to the table.

NWR: I'm a big fan of the Kunio Super Dodgeball games and this felt like one of the few games to nail the feel of those old games. What would you say is the key to how you were able to balance the throwing/catching/countering gameplay so that it stayed fun throughout the whole story?

HA: We also grew up playing those games - especially Super Dodgeball for the arcades, which was more of a fighting game. It was very challenging for us to adapt this game to a single player story focused RPG environment. We tried to bring as many different mechanics, throws and balls as we could into the game. We wanted to have even more actions, but some ended up being cut as we have a finite amount of resources and we have a schedule to follow. It was very important for us to allow the player to choose which character they like the most and build their specific team and have equipment bringing a decent variety in the game, where you can customize your party as you like. It was very important for us to bring the different ball ultimates and mechanics so you can customize your team and we could call the game an RPG.

NWR: The single-player story seems like the focus, but there's still local multiplayer here. Was there ever any plans for online multiplayer or perhaps a more fleshed out multiplayer component? Any reasons why it didn't happen?

HA: We would have loved to. The game kind of started by borrowing lots of inspiration from the Super Dodgeball games, which were focused mostly on multiplayer and versus. When we started developing the game we started with a versus mode before developing the AI, as we wanted to see how the game was working and how it was feeling. We also knew the focus of the game was to be this single player story RPG. As much as we would have loved to give a multiplayer focus, we kind of had to choose and we chose the single player path. When we were reaching the end of production, we actually decided to include the versus local mode as it was a very fun extra, at least for us. We wanted people to experience and have the chance to play as Boris, for example - which is a character that does not join your party. It also  kind of brings a nostalgic feel for unlocking characters as you play through the story. We used to play lots of games from the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 eras, which usually had this bonus local multiplayer and we wanted to bring this to the game.

Perhaps in the future we can bring an expansion where we have online multiplayer. I know lots of people would love to, but there is a lot of work involved as not all characters are balanced or work as intended when you bring them into a multiplayer involvement. Most were made for the AI to control them. It's a lot of work but you never know - maybe in the future.

NWR: Fighting random kids around the school grounds felt a lot like Pokemon trainer battles. Was that a deliberate decision? If so, are there any other specific Pokemon references (the infirmary feeling like a Pokecenter comes to mind!)?

HA: I love this question! Yes, I think it is evident that we love Pokemon and we love Nintendo as a whole. We grew up playing Paper Mario, and Pokemon is one of my favorite games of all time. I would not say it was really a deliberate decision. It was a more natural thing for us because at some point we needed to add more battles to the game and we did not want them to be random, so our solution was the students who are located around the school challenge you as they want to practice.

NWR: If Pokemon is indeed an influence/interest, what would Otto's ideal Pokemon roster be?

HA: Otto is inspired by the dog of the co-creator and art director of Dodgeball Academia, Ivan. So Otto definitely needs a fire type dog Pokemon. He would probably start with Growlithe or Arcanine as a starter Pokemon. I think he has an Ash Ketchum vibe, where he wants to adopt everyone and bring everyone to his team. I think he would have some Pokemon there that are not considered as useful or beloved like Luvdisc maybe. Luvdisc, Toxicroak who has that big chin… haha. In the game we have George who takes care of the school and has this huge chin and plenty of jokes are related to it, so Toxicroak would be in Otto’s team. Then another fire Pokemon like Victini...Voltorb as he is a ball Pokemon so Otto could practice some dangerous dodgeball with him. And maybe Ditto because Ditto has this possibility for jokes like making Ditto look like Balloony. That would probably be his party.  

NWR: Were there any characters in the game that you wanted to make playable but weren't able to in the final game?

HA: Yes there were. I really wanted Squid to be one of the playable characters but we ended up having to make her an opponent. We had some characters who never made the cut and maybe in the future they can come in and join the team. At some point I really wanted Vampy to join the team as she is a personal favorite. Overall though, I am really happy with the roster and Otto’s team.  

NWR: What Nintendo character would be the best at dodgeball and why?

HA: I would say probably Kirby, because he could absorb all the balls that are thrown at him and throw them back. Also maybe Yoshi because he could also eat the balls and throw them back (laughs). Donkey Kong would have the strongest throw ever. It could be a very fun game. If Nintendo wants to hire us to make a Super Mario Dodgeball game please feel free to invite us! We would love to work on it.


21
Podcast Discussion / Episode 288: The Gang Discovers the 90's
« on: September 06, 2021, 08:38:09 AM »

It's all about the games this week!

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/connectivity/58255/episode-288-the-gang-discovers-the-90s

Sorry for the late upload, we had some server issues to deal with before we could post.

Zach joins John and Neal to catch up on a bunch of games, both new and old. But first Neal and Zach chat with John about his recently released documentary on the development of Star Fox Command. John shares some stories from production and some additional insights from his interviews with the developers. After that Zach and John gush over how good Quake still is and get distracted by Halo. Neal and Zach dive deep into the world of Axiom Verge 2 and Zach looks forward to the possible revival of Bloodrayne. After a quick disclaimer, Neal pontificates on the difficulties inherent to building a snowman. John plays a new version of Myst as he does every year. Finally the gang  turns to some listener mail to finish off the show.


22
Podcast Discussion / Episode 287: Lowing Mawns
« on: August 27, 2021, 07:11:31 AM »

And other leisurely activities.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/connectivity/58188/episode-287-lowing-mawns

Sometimes a game can be great one moment and terrible the next. Matt discusses his time with No More Heroes 3 and John keeps the trend going by looking back on his review of King's Bounty II. Neal follows up with some more positive thoughts on Spelunky 2 and Boyfriend Dungeon. Next, the summer of Skyward Sword continues with some in depth listener mail.

Connectivity has joined Twitter, so be sure to follow @ConnectivityNWR to be up to date on any announcements. We are wanting more listener participation, so feel free to ask questions, they may show up in the show! Email us at Connectivity@NintendoWorldReport.com


23
TalkBack / Spelunky 2 (Switch) Review
« on: August 25, 2021, 04:00:00 AM »

A return trip that is bold and different.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/58174/spelunky-2-switch-review

Spelunky is a foundational game for a variety of reasons, whether it’s the ingenuity of its level design or its placement as a bellwether for the roguelike indie revolution. The original Xbox 360 release (also available on Switch) is almost a decade old (and even older if you count the Classic version). I view the original Spelunky as one of the finest games of its kind, even if a lot of my enjoyment has come from watching others find all the secrets as I make it through the main quest by the skin of my teeth. With how much I appreciated the first game, I’ve been waiting to play Spelunky 2 on Switch since it was announced, and I’m happy to say it doesn’t disappoint. Spelunky 2 basically takes everything from the first game and makes it a little bit different but largely better.

The primary mechanics don’t change much. You’re still spelunking around different areas making use of a finely tuned jump, bombs, ropes, and other found or purchased weaponry. The story setup is a little different, as now you play the child of the original explorer, Ana Spelunky. After the events of the original game, Ana grew up and is now on the moon with fellow explorers trying to find her parents. What’s fun is so many of the characters are references or descendents to the cast from the original. You only start with four playable, but there are many to find in the caverns and dungeons you explore.

The variety of levels is also greatly increased, with a lot of less arcane divergent paths and more deliberate ones (though don’t worry: there are still some bonkers “how could a human ever do this?” secrets). A lot of the themes from the original are replicated, but usually expanded with some new enemies and twists. It’s been a while since I played the first game and I definitely had a sense of deja vu in some spots. There are enough new twists to make it not feel similar, though. A variety of NPCs appear throughout different levels, tasking you with various side quests as you work your way through the worlds.

In comparison to the original, Spelunky 2 is more inventive but also far more challenging. A lot of that comes from the open-ended nature. Spelunky 1 has a relatively linear path from beginning to end, whereas the sequel can hurtle you in various directions much sooner. If you reached the depths of the secrets of the original and craved more, Spelunky 2 is perfect for you. If you thought the original was too much, you might need to take more stock of what you’re looking for in a video game before I recommend this game to you.

Especially early on, Spelunky 2 features more running into a brick wall until you learn the rhythm and secrets. Bizarrely, the first world is one of the hardest of the first half, but if you can get through there, you can probably reach the first ending. That might, in turn, be your gateway to going off the deep end and doing the wild eggplant secrets. There is a lot to uncover throughout, whether it’s hidden characters or areas.

Online co-op is also present, complete with cross-play functionality. Even in the face of rampant death, the co-op is a ton of fun. For the times in my life when I more readily just hung out with friends and passed the controller in games, I wish I had this level of co-op play because it makes searching for secrets and making it to the various ends more enjoyable. It can get chaotic and messy, but that’s also part of the charm.

While Spelunky 2 is not quite the landmark the original game was, it carries with it the same spirit of exploration and challenge. Part of me wishes it was maybe a little more lenient, especially in the first area, but that’s also not necessarily what Spelunky is all about. This is an immaculately designed game dripping with secrets and traps. It might not be for the faint of heart, but at least now with the glory of online co-op, the faint of heart can be dragged kicking and screaming to the City of Gold.


24
TalkBack / Boyfriend Dungeon (Switch) Review
« on: August 23, 2021, 10:46:26 AM »

Date your weapons and then fight with them in this satirical and poignant game.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/58173/boyfriend-dungeon-switch-review

The concept of Boyfriend Dungeon is one of the better MadLibs-esque game ideas out there as it’s all about playing a dungeon crawler where you date your weapons. The setup is pure dating sim charm as your character is spending the summer in Verona Beach hoping to find “the one” despite never dating before the events of the game. The twist is that you’re mostly dating humans who can turn into weapons, and when they do, you journey into the dunj (the in-game world’s delightfully goofy slang term for dungeon) to slay monsters and make your romantic connection even stronger. Boyfriend Dungeon lands among being a jack of all trades and master of none, but it’s nevertheless an enjoyable experience from start to finish, even if it has a few noticeable misses.

The dating sim elements are straightforward and, most importantly, fun to toy around with. As you use your weapons, you increase an experience meter with individual ones. When the meters fill up, you go on a date with the human side. Every character you can date has an interesting story, though some are more fraught than others. Some of the early partners you find are the shady nightclub-owning Sunder, the daddy-issues financier Isaac, and the standoffish painter Valeria. While you’ll definitely pick favorites, you can romance them all if you want without multiple save files. Also there’s a cat that you can’t actually date but can still level up and bring inside as a weapon in the dunj.

The writing across all the dates is strong, alternating between tongue-in-cheek and sincere at a pleasant cadence. I often found myself chuckling at the absurdity of some situations while also nodding in recognition of noticing a relatable relationship dilemma. Some weighty emotional issues do come up and while some of the deployment of these issues can be off-putting, it’s handled well overall, especially through the use of in-game text messages. Speaking vaguely to not spoil much, the use of frequent texts and certain scenarios as a form of emotional manipulation is all too real. It might have drawn some ire for not being as clearly forewarned, but that seems to be mostly because it’s very good at what it’s trying to execute.

A few narrative threads basically go nowhere, likely being followed up on in post-launch updates. Currently, the specifics of those updates aren’t detailed. As such, it’s frustrating to see characters pop up and seem like they’re going to be recurring characters, only to see them just vanish for future DLC. Developer Kitfox Games did address that some of the Kickstarted stretch goals weren’t going to make launch because of both the development team’s mental health and the desire to actually have the game come out. I understand why some story elements feel unfinished, but it still stuck out like a sore thumb.

Dungeon crawling is easily the weakest aspect of the whole game, but it almost seems like the developers were aware of that. It feels very flighty and loose, often giving you ample reward for trudging through and also making sure you’re stocked with health refills and special abilities to press on. If the full game was just the hack-and-slash action, it’d be a bad time, but as a periodic respite from the dating scene, it fits just right. The deeper into the game you go, the more customization is available, whether it’s choosing between different skills for each weapon or crafting new “zines” that essentially function as magic abilities. Weapons feel different when you use them, and that kind of variety helps make what could be a drag on the whole experience stay engaging.

Bouncing between comical yet often heartfelt dating segments and double-entendre-laden dungeon crawling combat makes for a good genre fusion that stays enjoyable for the 5-10 hours it takes to complete. The action might not hold up to scrutiny and some aspects of the dating sim might not land well for you, but the sum of Boyfriend Dungeon’s parts is greater than its pieces. The elevator pitch of dating your weapons is still as silly and goofy now as it was when the game was first revealed.


25
TalkBack / Dodgeball Academia (Switch) Review
« on: August 04, 2021, 09:00:00 AM »

They made a veritable Dodgeball RPG Story.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/57982/dodgeball-academia-switch-review

Dodgeball historically feels like an underserved activity in video games. I have fond memories of Super Dodge Ball on the NES, but outside of that game’s sequels and the underrated indie game Stikbold, dodgeball hasn’t been that prevalent in gaming, at least until this year. EA and Velan Studios’ Knockout City brought dodgeball online, but Dodgeball Academia, published by Humble Games and developed by Pocket Trap, delivers the cartoony episodic anime RPG that I never knew the sport needed. It combines deep, strategic combat with charming characters and an incredible amount of polish to make a sports RPG that stands tall next to Golf Story and the fabled Game Boy Mario sports games.

Even beyond the sports facade, what makes Dodgeball Academia so good is that it’s just a killer RPG in and of itself. You star as tropey plucky protagonist Otto, a newcomer to the legendary academy. He puts together a dodgeball team and sets his sights at being the very best, like no one ever was. The game is broken into chapters, with the first one largely being a tutorial and the second chapter starting to unravel some of the regular rhythm of the game. Each of the eight chapters represents a day in the life at the academy. You explore the school grounds and surrounding areas to find treasures, fight random schoolkids, and complete story quests and side quests. Everything is extremely vibrant and intuitive. It is as enjoyable to look at the colorful animation and presentation as it is to easily use the in-game map and menus. The only snafus are that the load times are a little on the long side sometimes, but that sadly just seems unavoidable with the bulk of Switch versions at this point. (Note: if you do have an Xbox, it will be on Game Pass at launch)

Otto’s focus is primarily on winning the dodgeball tournament, but numerous other mishaps and adventures add to the goofy lore of the land and help to expand Otto’s team. For the first three chapters, your team grows from one to two to three, the latter of which is the most players you can have on the court at one time. The dodgeball itself is the main gameplay, as every match is presented like an action RPG battle. You control one of up to three characters at a time, trying to throw balls at your opponents while avoiding being hit. Every character is unique, but they all control relatively the same. Everyone has a regular and charged throw. Everyone can catch or counter an enemy throw. They all have special moves. Every character also learns new moves and buffs as they level up and their stats can be altered by various equippable items. The character customization is flexible but never daunting. Finding new party members across the adventure turns out to be even more fun because a new character means new twists on previously explained mechanics.

Building on basic mechanics is what makes the dodgeball itself so engrossing. At first, you’ll just play on normal courts under normal conditions. From there, you’ll be dodging bullet-hell special moves, weaving to the side of vehicles accosting the court, and dealing with balls with fire and ice elemental powers. The steady pace of these tweaks and challenges helps to make sure the gameplay is never dull. Even over the course of a roughly 10-to-15-hour adventure, there is a consistent slate of new ideas, areas, and mechanics. All the while the basic concepts of throwing and catching are always the foundation. This is a game that never loses sight of its fundamental strengths even as it gets crazier.

The narrative goes to some wild places, with the school itself being a source of great intrigue. Every character is absurd and larger than life and thanks to humorous writing and gorgeous artwork, a lot of them stand out. It’s very referential, most evident to me in how a lot of the non-story battles feel a lot like Pokemon trainer battles, down to the way they run over to you if you get in their line of sight and even the musical stinger when you enter the battle. The way everything comes together, from the animation to the soundtrack to the gameplay, is outrageously charming.

In addition to the story mode, there is also a two-player local multiplayer mode. It’s not quite as deep as the rest of the game, but it’s a totally fine addition. I don’t see myself spending a ton of time here, but in the right environment, I could see this being a competitive couch multiplayer game.

The best part of Dodgeball Academia though is when everything clicks as an RPG. It’s a joy to figure out the right strategy to win a tough fight. I love exploring the world and seeing what happens next in the goofy story. This isn’t just a great sports game, it’s also a superb RPG that, like the likes of Golf Story, should appeal to those who aren’t inclined to sport.


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