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Messages - riskman64

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TalkBack / qomp2 (Switch) Review
« on: February 19, 2024, 12:09:04 PM »

The Pong sequel you never knew you needed.

Like many of you, I was once quite unaware that qomp2 is a sequel to Pong; in fact, it's actually a follow-up to the original qomp from 2021 that only came to PC. If you can imagine Pong mechanics across a series of multi-screen puzzles, you'll have a decent grasp of what qomp2 brings to the table. The types of obstacles change regularly across each of the game's four worlds, and even if the fairly basic presentation and aesthetic aren't that enticing, the unique challenge of qomp2 manages to shine through.

Through a total of 30 stages, you guide a singular ball through lightly labyrinthine segments that will test your patience and timing. At your disposal are a mere two moves: a charge that propels you ball forward quickly in the direction it’s traveling, and a switch in orientation that allows you to shift from moving diagonally up to moving diagonally down and vice versa. The only way to swap from moving right to left is by bouncing off a wall or other surface. What this means is that you can spend a lot of time waiting for your ball to travel to its destination, especially if you miss a button press and send your ball careening back to a previous screen.

Some levels are as simple as tasking you with avoid spikes on walls or constantly spinning buzzsaws, like Super Meat Boy, but each new world throws a new wrinkle at you. Eventually, you'll come across waterlogged screens that mess with the physics you've become accustomed to. Other stages feature shark like enemies that chase you until they find another target to munch on. One of my favorite obstacles were doors that required you to play a game of Snake, wherein your ball left a solid trail behind it that would spell death if you happened to touch it–the margin for error here became even slimmer. That qomp2 constantly throws new problems at you to solve makes it perfect for that pick-up-and-play experience. Finishing a couple levels every night became part of my bedtime routine for a good week or so.

Where qomp2 stumbles (or whatever verb better suits a Pong ball) is in its lack of style and its boring environments. While the simplicity of the gameplay fits the plain-looking stages, the drabness is hard to ignore as you make your way from world to world. There are brief punctuations of color that indicate blocks that can be broken or shifted or targets that you need to destroy, but it would have been a very welcome shift to see at least a new color palette somewhere. Similarly, the very faint soundtrack is only notable for the way it allows the generic sound effects to stand out, which isn't a strength.

Even if it won't win any style points for its visuals or sound, qomp2 is an enjoyable and light experience that boils video games down to their essence. Bouncing a ball off paddles, through corridors, and around danger makes for a two or three-hour runtime that doesn't overstay its welcome and manages to hold your attention throughout. There's a familiarity to the proceedings that's deceptively comfortable, and therein lies qomp2’s greatest trick: it feels like something you've played, but you haven't. And while I don't have a problem with going back to Pong for a few rounds, I was happy to invest significantly more time than that in this oddly-named psuedo-sequel.

TalkBack / Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy (Switch) Review
« on: January 22, 2024, 05:00:00 AM »

It’s hard to object to more investigation and courtroom goodness.

It's been about a decade since the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy came to 3DS, which was actually two years after first debuting on mobile. We've been waiting patiently for another courtroom collection from Capcom, and the release of Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy is finally upon us. It contains Apollo Justice, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies, and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice, the lattermost of which was never released physically outside of Japan. If you played and enjoyed the original trilogy, there's even more investigating and lawyer-ing awaiting you in this follow up, with some interesting twists on the familiar Ace Attorney gameplay. A robust suite of extras and museum content make Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy even easier to defend in a court of law.

For those who've never investigated an Ace Attorney game, there are enough optional tutorials here to get new players up to speed or remind veterans of the basics. Most people would probably recommend starting with the original trilogy (consisting of the first three Phoenix Wright games), but I think you can still enjoy the gameplay and character moments even if you start with Apollo Justice. If you do prefer to go back to the first three games before tackling these next three, Capcom pretty regularly puts them on sale.

Diving into the Apollo Justice trilogy of games themselves, each one is broken into four or five episodes, each with a handful of chapters to move through. The first and final chapters generally take place in the courtroom, where Apollo or Phoenix needs to prove their client's innocence; these are the most compelling segments of each episode. The sound effects, twists and turns, theatrics, and humor all blend wonderfully to create a unique experience that few visual novel-adjacent titles can match. This series really does have a special touch that is worth trying at least once, even for those who might prefer picture books to text-filled ones.

While some of the investigation sequences drag on a bit long, careful sleuths will take note of the finer details presented during these moments to help them during the courtroom exchanges. To move the plot forward, you need to be thorough, and that means examining every nook and cranny of the vicinities you can visit. It's fun to see returning characters from earlier episodes pop up again as they–and even folks who only show up one time–have entertaining mannerisms and quirks that make them memorable. The snack-fiend Ema Skye reappears frequently in Apollo Justice, and it's hilarious to see her whip out a bag of treats with regularity, stopping to munch one of them in between every couple words of dialogue.

The three games vary up the gameplay slightly in terms of unique mechanics during the courtroom segments in particular. Apollo wears a bracelet that allows him to notice when a witness is feeling nervous; activating the bracelet puts a magnifying lens on the witness so that you can try to find the minute tick that reveals their true feelings. In Dual Destinies, a new character (Athena) can analyze a witness’ emotions to find a discrepancy between their testimony and their feelings. Spirit of Justice features the Divination Seance, which allows the participants to see through the deceased victim's eyes to glean insight about the crime that took place. As an aside, it's worth noting that Apollo Justice originally came to DS, while the other two games were 3DS entries, so there's a noticeable upgrade in terms of presentation and cinematics with Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice.

Given the sheer volume of reading, it can take 15 to 25 hours to roll credits on Apollo Justice alone. The other two games are even longer and include bonus episodes that were originally DLC. The Trilogy also throws in extra costumes, six additional languages, the music gallery Orchestra Hall, Art Library, Animation Studio, and even a Story Mode that will play the games automatically if you just want to kick up your heels for a bit. There are upgrades and features in this second trilogy that aren’t present in the prior one, and it’s always great to see that type of treatment given to a collection of games. Far from being a simple rom dump, this compilation is absolutely the best way to experience these courtroom dramedies.

Even if you don't get into any of the bonus materials included in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Trilogy, there's still well over 60 hours of whodunnit goodness and crime scene evidence to sift through. If you already finished the Phoenix trilogy and have been eager for more, don’t hesitate to dive into the Apollo trilogy. For some, the petition to get the two Ace Attorney Investigations titles and the Phoenix Wright crossover with Professor Layton will now begin in earnest. For me, I’m still trying to find times in my everyday life where I can shout “OBJECTION!”

TalkBack / Turnip Boy Robs A Bank (Switch) Review
« on: January 18, 2024, 03:00:00 AM »

The crime spree continues, but does a change in genre pay off?

In 2021, I reviewed Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion based on a quick glance at screenshots and its eccentric title. Three years later, the garden-dwelling ragamuffin returns to perpetrate a bank heist. The life of crime continues in Turnip Boy Robs A Bank, but the action-adventure trappings of the original game have been swapped for more of a roguelite experience. Does this vegetable-filled sequel deliver the goods or get caught red-handed?

The premise is a simple one: Turnip Boy is tasked with assisting a bank robbery, alongside a team of thieves who furnish him with tools to pull off the deed. As it turns out, this heist is one that will only be completed in bits and pieces as you need to spend the money you collect on each run through the bank to purchase items that open up new areas of the bank or improve Turnip Boy's stats, like health and melee damage. Once you become accustomed to the new gameplay loop of the sequel, it's a mostly fun romp through museum-like halls, office spaces, a darkened underground, and more. Early difficulty spikes can be overcome by picking up upgrades back at your hideout or finding better weapons to dispatch the security forces trying to halt your progress.

Turnip Boy moves quite speedily–especially for a member of the mustard family–and he can carry only two different weapons at a time. You'll need to decide which ones to bring with you, but you can return new weapons to a fellow in your hideout to research new permanent weapons for your arsenal; these are available to choose at the start of every run. Quick scores can be a good strategy early on and when you get stuck since it's easy (and advisable) to bring back the cash and treasure you find so that you can spend it before losing it to a failed run. There's also a timer on each trip through the bank, starting at 3 minutes, that can be upgraded to add a few additional minutes. I'm still amazed at how much of a departure Turnip Boy Robs A Bank is over Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion, but the change is largely an effective one.

What's less effective is the finale of Robs A Bank, which requires a Herculean amount of skill and effort. There's a stark contrast between the shorter runs and relatively lighter challenge of the first three-quarters of the game with the sequence of tasks needed to successfully complete the heist. Once you’ve maxed out all the upgrades, there’s really no other way to make the finale more palatable either. Repetition, preparation, and luck are needed to overcome the final challenges, and for the most part these end-game moments are more frustrating than fun.

Returning from the first game is a variety of characters with funny dialogue and charming personalities. Many of them offer sidequests to complete and while it’s nice to have more objectives to complete, the reward for these is often just a new hat to adorn Turnip Boy’s leafy scalp. Whereas the world of the first game felt a bit more engaging, the gun-shooting and sword-slashing gameplay of the sequel take center stage, and so it does still feel like there’s something missing. A better amalgamation of the two games might yield a more complete and satisfying overall experience.

Turnip Boy Robs A Bank offers a lighthearted roguelite romp in the pursuit of Stinky’s riches, hidden within the bowels of the Botanical Bank. The gameplay loop is pretty fun, and finding new weapons to dispatch the security flora and fauna standing in the way of your heist manages to entertain, at least up until the final parts of the game. The performance on Switch also leaves something to be desired, with more detailed areas of the bank leading to noticeable frame drops.  If you wanted a bit more action from your Turnip Boy escapades, this follow up might be the serving of veggies you’re craving. That said, it doesn’t quite do enough to rise to the upper echelons of roguelites already available on the eShop.

TalkBack / Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown (Switch) Review
« on: January 11, 2024, 07:00:00 AM »

The King is Dead. Long Live the Prince!

In 2020, an announcement for a remake of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time garnered excitement for a franchise that had seen a very busy stretch from 2000 to 2010 but offered little since then. After an indefinite delay of that remake, fans were left wondering when, if ever, we would see another entry in the series. Embracing its 2D roots, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is an incredible return to form that leans heavily into Metroidvania trappings with an emphasis on swift movement, an expansive map, and challenging platforming. The constantly evolving combat and expanding arsenal of acrobatic moves make The Lost Crown nearly impossible to put down.

You play as nimble, dual blade-wielding Sargon, a member of the legendary Immortals, who are tasked with safeguarding Persia from enemy forces. As it turns out, the threat in this adventure actually comes from within, and Sargon must venture into the mountain of Qaf to uncover its secrets and rescue the kidnapped Prince Ghassan. Within Qaf, players will discover a series of interconnected spaces that are constantly opening up as you explore deeper into the mountain, purchase area maps, and acquire new movement abilities. While some of the map regions are a bit similar aesthetically, they offer unique enemies and puzzles, those that require manual dexterity and those that require a keen mind–and sometimes both.

At the outset, Sargon is relatively weak compared to the stout, speedy warrior he will become by the end of the 10 to 20-hour main story, which plays out across a series of primary quests. In addition to these, you’ll meet an eclectic cast of characters who offer side quests or assist you on your journey. In one of the central hub areas, there’s a shopkeeper who sells potion upgrades to restore your health and amulets that provide general buffs, a blacksmith goddess who will bolster your weapons and amulets–for a price–and a friend from the palace who teaches you the finer points of combat and lets you earn time crystals (your currency) for doing it. Each map region houses one or more friendly faces to help guide you towards your next goal, including a young boy who sells you maps that make navigation easier. The Lost Crown doesn’t offer the same type of isolation felt in games like Super Metroid, but its superb forms of progression and more overt storytelling are among the strongest in the genre.

By the time I had rolled credits, I was flying around the map like a Cirque du Soleil performer on steroids. The end of most major story quests yields a new movement-related ability, like the familiar mid-air dash and double jump, but also others like the ability to create a mirror image that you can teleport back to. While most of the map is tailored to make excellent use of these newfound powers, there was at least one late-game ability I never used; it may be one better suited to exploring 100 percent of the map. Nonetheless, I love the way Sargon becomes stronger as he overcomes trials and unravels the mysteries of Qaf. The main story becomes more intriguing as the adventure progresses, and there are collectible items to pick up that enrich the lore of this world, but it’s Sargon himself whose growth and developing perception of his reality that truly punctuate this Prince of Persia for a modern audience.

There’s a great balance between combat and exploration/platforming that persists throughout the experience. You’ll encounter a series of rooms where you need to avoid poison pits and acid falling from the floor, and then the next might have an enemy gauntlet, forcing you to take on a few waves of lesser opponents (who might end up being quite deadly if you’re not careful). Death isn’t overly punishing, fortunately, costing only a pittance of time crystals and generally taking you back to the last Wak Wak tree (health/save point). During boss fights, if you fail, you can simply restart the fight rather than having to trek back to it. Combat itself is an intricate dance, a ballet of swords, parries, and well-timed dodges. A meter that charges up as you dole out and take damage allows Sargon to execute different levels of super moves depending on how far the meter has charged. These put out massive damage, empower your offense and defense, or even create a temporary healing zone.

Another standout from an already strong package is the numerous cutscenes that run when Sargon encounters a major character. The ones surrounding the boss fights are particularly impressive, especially in how the ones pre-fight seamlessly transition into actual combat. The Switch performance is also impeccable, with decently short load times, attractive visuals, and stable 60 FPS framerate. Even though I wasn’t terribly invested in the lore or background of this world, it was impossible not to root for Sargon and fall in love with his determination and perseverance. Another incredible detail was how his character would actually show the scars of the encounters he survived throughout Mount Qaf; truly, the experience leaves a literal mark on him, and it’s pretty safe to say that it does for the player, too.

During the opening hour, I had the attitude of not wanting to really get into a Metroidvania longer than 10 or 15 hours, but that initial hesitation melted away like ice cream in the desert heat. There’s an absolute treat of a game in Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, and the ways in which it reminds me of Hollow Knight, Metroid Dread, and of course the original Prince of Persia from 1989 are palpable. The almost-Spider-Man-like traipsing around ruined temples, a frozen sea, and majestic historical cityscapes only got better and better as Sargon’s repertoire of moves grew, and even if some of the mid-to-late game bosses ramp up the difficulty a fair bit, there’s more than enough fun in returning to exploration to bolster your stats and capabilities. The Lost Crown is a title that I hope people remember at the end of the year when recalling the standout video games of 2024 because there’s no doubt this should be among them.

TalkBack / Arcadian Atlas (Switch) Review
« on: November 30, 2023, 07:00:00 AM »

A tactics RPG with decent combat but little else.

The tactics-style RPG popularized by games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Ogre Battle is seldom imitated and rarely duplicated (perhaps for that very reason). When I came across Arcadian Atlas at PAX West in 2022, I could see that it had promise, with a character-driven plot and some player choice in terms of how the story unfolded. Fast forward more than a year later, and the game is arriving on Switch and other consoles a few months after its summer debut on Steam. Unfortunately, Arcadian Atlas is another isometric tactical RPG that fails to hang with–let alone live up to–the standouts in the genre. Poor Switch performance, unsatisfying aesthetic, and odd pacing make it tough to push through even the 10-20 hours required to roll credits.

In Arcadia, a political conflict is brewing, threatening a war that could destroy the nation and those who call it home. Queen Venezia has ascended the throne as her husband the king ails on his deathbed, and to protect the power she has seized, she exiles the two princesses, Lucretia and Annalise. Much of the plot revolves around two warring factions, each led by one of a pair of siblings, Desmond and Vashti. While initially the two fight together, the fact that they end up on either side of the war makes for some intriguing and emotional story beats. The first two chapters focus on the conflict between Venezia and Lucretia, with the former pursuing the latter throughout the country, but the final chapter does an about-face and delves more into the fantastical, and it’s difficult to reconcile with the way in which the political aspect of the narrative falls by the wayside so suddenly.

Gameplay sees you move across nodes on a map to enter cutscenes, engage in battles, shop for gear to outfit your soldiers, recruit new comrades, or take on side missions. On the standard difficulty, it’s pretty important that you do sign up for extra jobs at the tavern as each successful mission raises the level of the participating party members by one, increasing their stats and awarding a skill point to be spent on each character’s skill tree. The progression is fairly straightforward, but the fact that the leveling up happens off screen is a bit of a letdown–you miss out on the satisfaction of seeing numbers go up. The skill trees are different for each of the game’s four basic classes: cavalier, ranger, warmancer, and apothecary (warrior, archer, mage, and healer, essentially). The warmancer can choose to spend points to become more proficient with fire, ice, or lightning, while the apothecary can wield both restorative and destructive potions on the battlefield. At level 18, advanced classes open up that offer a few more options for customizing your party.

While some parts of the story are a clear highlight of Arcadian Atlas, the combat is where you’ll spend more of your playtime, and fortunately it’s fairly solid. These turn-based affairs feature a timeline at the bottom of the screen to indicate who’s next to act, and your group of five or six characters will often be fighting against seven or eight opponents. This means that you’ll generally need sound strategy and a properly outfitted team to win the day. Checking the shops regularly for new gear is a must, as are assigning earned skill points and having a well balanced squad. I learned pretty quickly of the importance of bringing an apothecary with me at all times, given their ability to heal and even revive downed teammates. If one of your party members has their health reduced to zero, there is a three-turn window where either they can be revived or you can win the fight and not lose them.

Where Arcadian Atlas stumbles is in terms of its presentation and overall aesthetic. It leans heavily on a jazzy soundtrack that clashes with the gravity of its story and the tension of its combat. Worse is the constant hitching of the Switch version, with inputs not recognized immediately and characters simply freezing for seconds at a time, leaving me wondering whether the game itself had frozen completely. Battles also play out very slowly and awkwardly, with no option to speed up the proceedings or even rotate your view around the battlefield, let alone zoom in or out. During cutscenes, the intentionally zoomed-in perspective makes it difficult to appreciate the surroundings and situations the characters face. While the character sprites themselves are fine, the art used in dialogue exchanges isn’t as attractive, and it’s hard not to feel put off by the visual experience of the game as a whole.

Arcadian Atlas makes a tactical misstep in terms of its soundtrack and overall performance on Switch. Even aside from its technical and artistic weaknesses, there isn’t an abundance of strength in its story pacing, even if a few beats do land fairly well. The activity you’ll spend most of your time with, the turn-based battles, are pretty good but feature little in the way of variety. If you’re a diehard tactics fan, Arcadian Atlas may be worth looking up on another platform if the performance is better there, but games like Triangle Strategy and Tactics Ogre Reborn are much stronger options if you’ve yet to play them.

TalkBack / In Stars and Time (Switch) Review
« on: November 20, 2023, 05:00:00 AM »

In search of lost time loops.

2D RPG In Stars and Time is a genuinely unique blend of genres, feeling something like a cross between Undertale and Minit. It features a turn-based combat system, heavy amounts of dialogue (especially for its slight world), an almost roguelike time loop mechanic, and a smallish four-floor dungeon at its center. What it lacks in breadth it makes up for with charming characters and dialogue, but the in-baked repetition does start to wear thin about halfway through its 10 to 15-hour runtime.

The game opens in a field, with protagonist Siffrin struggling to wake up from a nap. The story sees Siffrin and his friends–Mirabelle, Odile, Bonnie, and Isabeau–near the end of their journey to defeat The King, a villain who has been freezing time for nearby citizens. The in medias res narrative allows the soon-to-be introduced time loop mechanic to take center stage, with the heroes spending one final night sleeping over at the nearby clock tower before entering the King's lair.

The four-floor house contains enemies to engage, locked doors to open, and items to collect. You can generally avoid most basic enemies by skirting around them in the hallways, but encounters with mini-bosses and bosses cannot be avoided. One of the first events you encounter involves a giant boulder falling from the ceiling and crushing Siffrin, and it's at that point that the time looping comes into play. Each trap you trigger in the dungeon gives you information about how to avoid it in future runs. You'll learn the location of keys so that you can immediately retrieve them and continue on your way towards the final battle. Eventually, you'll access the ability to open all doors of a floor before looping back there, which cuts down on backtracking. An unfortunate aspect of the time manipulation is that there’s a currency involved with skipping ahead in later runs, and accumulating more of it feels like a chore.

A creature known as Loop plays the role of handler, guiding you through the game and offering hints about what to do next. You can find them in the town area at the beginning of the game, but later on you'll be able to call them from a distance. There are ways to reduce the amount of looping (and thus saving a fair bit of in-game time) by just saving your game before choosing from the forks in your path. You're meant to succeed through some trial and error, but having to push through all the dialogue and even the tutorial battle that come with looping back to the very start of the game is fairly tedious.

What helps with the repetition built into a game of this type is that you do gradually open up new dialogue options with your party members. One of your first objectives is to inform your comrades in town of the sleepover to come that night, and it's during this sequence that Siffrin is able to use some of their previously acquired knowledge to ask different questions and get to know their mates a little bit better. The townsfolk can also offer hints and information to assist you with obstacles encountered in the dungeon, too. That said, In Stars and Time does sometimes feel like a larger game trapped in a smaller one, and so there's a disconnect between what you need to do to reach the end and what optional tasks you can take on. It doesn’t help that the second half of the adventure forces you to juggle multiple objectives without really giving the progression or record-keeping tools to manage them.

The turn-based combat uses rock-paper-scissors (RPS) as a replacement for elements or typing. Rock attacks are strong against scissor enemies but ineffective against paper foes, and so on. The enemy designs are abstract but forgettable, aside from needing to spot a part of their body that indicates their RPS type, often their hands. Noticing that a foe's mitts are in the shape of a pair of scissors means you'll want to use Isabeau's rock attacks or Odile's rock spells. You can level up, albeit slowly, to earn an extra ability or two over the four or five you start the game with, and given the challenging final boss fight, it's worth stockpiling items and not avoiding too many combat encounters.

I'm torn when it comes to the cast and dialogue of In Stars and Time. As individuals and as a group, I like how different they are and how they express their personalities. However, even searching basic elements of a room, like a closet or a bookshelf, can result in lengthy discussions amongst the party. These interactions go on longer than they need to, and there are so many of them that I stopped searching locations thoroughly to avoid the overlong conversations that would undoubtedly ensue. A better balance between gameplay elements and dialogue would have likely resulted in a more enjoyable experience overall.

While it doesn't persist throughout the entire playthrough, there's an unmistakable uniqueness to In Stars and Time. Its parts may be stronger than it ends up as a whole, but there's humor and heart pouring from its cast. While the back half features some interesting twists, with them come more repetition and occasional frustration with how character and area progression occurs. Even though it's a little too verbose, the overall experience of In Stars and Time is a worthwhile one, especially for fans of Undertale and other offbeat RPGs.

TalkBack / Re: Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster (Switch) Review-in-Progress
« on: November 18, 2023, 04:11:32 AM »
Is this going to get a score?

It only took seven months, but the review finally has a score! Thanks for your (incredible) patience!

TalkBack / Video Game Memoir A Game In The Life Now Available
« on: November 16, 2023, 04:00:00 AM »

NWR Reviews Editor's debut book releases today.

Jordan Rudek has spent the last three years working on his first book, A Game In The Life: A Personal Journey Through Timeless Video Games. After many hours of editing, polishing, and reworking, the book is finally releasing today, November 16. It's currently available as an eBook, but a physical version is in the works as well. The snazzy cover was done by none other than Site Director John Rairdin and his wife Kaytee.

You can find store links where you can purchase A Game In The Life here.

TalkBack / Cobalt Core (Switch) Review
« on: November 08, 2023, 07:00:00 AM »

A space-themed roguelike with cute animals and staying power.

After having the chance to go hands-on with Cobalt Core’s PC build at PAX West earlier this year, I was practically salivating while waiting for a review code for the full game. Little did I know, the Steam version and Switch versions would both be releasing on the same day, and after having spent time with both, I’m happy to report that the experience is great whether you’re sitting at your desktop or playing Switch in bed. This charming deckbuilder is as addictive as it is approachable, and there haven’t been many days since I’ve had access to it that I haven’t booted it up for a run or two.

The premise of Cobalt Core is that you play as a squad of three animal pilots (Starfox-y vibes?) who have gotten trapped in a time loop and must retrieve their memories to understand how and why they became stuck. Completing a run allows you to unlock a single memory from one of the three participants. In total, there are three unlockable characters to build out your pool to six, and then two additional hidden ones as well, for a total of eight. Story beats spill out over the course of a run, but it’s the unlocked memories that are won from clearing all three maps that offer the most satisfying–and humorous–dialogue exchanges.

As you might expect with most roguelike games, the gameplay is where most of the focus lies, and fortunately the loop of Cobalt Core offers a healthy amount of customization and variety to keep dozens of runs feeling fresh. Across a map filled with branching paths and about a dozen nodes that are required to pass through, you’ll take on enemy ships in one-on-one turn-based combat. During your turn, you can see what the enemy will do on theirs, and so you can spend your three energy points to attack, raise your shields, evade enemy fire, or apply different buffs and debuffs. The cards in front of you represent your possible moves for that turn, and each one has a different energy cost, with more powerful or useful cards costing two, three, or even four energy to play.

As you win battles and visit different map nodes, you’ll be able to add new cards to your deck, upgrade the cards you like, and even remove ones you don’t. You also pick up artifacts along the way that add permanent buffs to your squad, such as being able to start each battle with one shield and one evade move or being able to fire at enemy missiles to turn them towards your opponent. Mini-boss map nodes can generally be avoided, but the rewards are greater if you’re willing to risk those encounters. Completing each map adds to your ship’s maximum hull rating (hit points) and also refills a portion of your missing hull, setting you up for success in the next map. Other events you’ll encounter offer chances to rearrange the layout of your ship or rescue a friendly pilot whose missile systems have gone haywire. Even though subsequent runs eventually start to feel more and more familiar, you can increase the difficulty, try out newly unlocked ships and pilots, and discover new cards and artifacts each time you play. After more than 15 hours with Cobalt Core, I’m still discovering things I hadn’t seen before, and I’m excited to keep digging.

Even though Cobalt Core does feel a bit better suited to using a mouse, the Switch controls are a perfectly fine way to experience the game. The added portability of Handheld mode lends itself incredibly well to almost any roguelike, especially this one. I walked away impressed by the PAX demo of Cobalt Core, and the full game lives up to that hype. It’s a wonderful run-based title that I expect to revisit for years to come, just as I’ve done with other roguelike standouts like Into the Breach. Although it’s somehow not yet on Switch, FTL: Faster than Light is another obvious comparable for Cobalt Core, and if you enjoyed the former, you’ll almost certainly want to sink your furry paws into the latter. This is one time loop I’m happy to never see the end of.

TalkBack / Gargoyles Remastered (Switch) Review
« on: October 19, 2023, 05:00:00 AM »

Some stones should stay unturned.

It wasn’t uncommon for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis to receive slightly different versions of the same game; Mortal Kombat is a famous example of this. In other cases, like that of Disney’s Aladdin, the two versions were actually quite different, with one focusing more on combat and the other on platforming and movement. In some cases, like with the Lion King, the two games were essentially the same. Another Disney property was also going to see two entries come to the predominant 16-bit platforms of the ‘90s (no offense, Bonk), but it’s not hard to see why it ended up only hitting the Genesis. Based on the Gargoyles cartoon, Gargoyles Remastered is a short, frustrating, and unsatisfying video game, and while it includes the Genesis game packed in, neither the remaster nor the original are worth your time.

Across five stages with smaller individual areas within them, you guide Gargoyles protagonist Goliath through a castle, across rooftops, and into the depths of a subway. There’s a combination of horizontal and vertical spaces to navigate through and a smattering of enemies to take out along the way. The first two stages have about three different types of basic enemies and then a boss fight at the end, the second of which is laughably easy if you just stand beside them and mash the attack button. What makes the levels so frustrating is the combination of awkward combat and the way in which you’re constantly knocked down when scaling walls or jumping across gaps and pits.

Goliath can perform a swiping attack, a throw, a downward stomp, and a double jump. None of these feel particularly good; there’s a stickiness to the controls and a lack of feedback when it comes to your blows landing on their target. The Genesis version is a little bit better in this regard but not by much. I spent my first run of the game swiping dozens of times at one particular enemy before realizing I could defeat them easily by simply picking up and tossing them. Later stages require incredible precision and timing with your jumping, and Goliath’s jump and double jump don’t work nearly well enough for the types of obstacles and challenges you need to overcome. Fortunately, one of the few highlights of the Remaster is an added rewind button (although even that isn’t implemented well), and I can’t imagine rolling credits on this game without it. The final stage is laughably tough, and that’s only compounded by collision glitches and falling through solid walls and floors.

Both the Remaster and the original offer three difficulty modes, and gluttons for punishment might opt for anything other than the easiest one. Goliath has a weird life meter that can be restored in miniscule amounts by collecting the items left behind by defeated enemies. Other than that, there are rare extra lives to snag and (very) temporary invulnerability pick-ups. While you do have a handful of lives depending on the difficulty, the number of continues is limited. It's great that losing a life or continuing basically starts you off at the same place where you died, but I'll reiterate just how hard it is to finish either version without extensive practice or skill, or just making ample use of the rewind feature.

The Remaster deserves credit for how its visual design brings the game more in line with the cartoon. That said, there are still too many moments where it's not readily apparent how to progress; destructible walls blend in too well, air pumps to be smashed don't stand out from the background, and even objects to cling to aren't obvious enough. The sound effects range from ear-splitting to inaudible, and little about the music is at all memorable. It's clear that there was an effort made to bring Gargoyles to modern platforms, but I'm at a loss as to the reasoning for why.

One of the pretty clear indications that Gargoyles Remastered is a failure is in its lack of achievements, a feature promised by its eShop listing. Another broken promise is that of seamlessly toggling between graphics styles; you can either select the original Genesis game or the Remaster, but there's no switching between them unless you go back to the main menu and start over. Worse than any promises unfulfilled is that the game just isn't very good at all, and it's mired by bugs, lacks basic options and tutorials, and only spans five total stages. Gargoyles is a relic that should have remained set in 16-bit stone, sealed away never to return. I'm normally very supportive of the effort to bring back old and forgotten games, but even superfans of the TV series shouldn't be tortured by this unnecessary re-release.

TalkBack / Born of Bread Hands-on Preview
« on: October 18, 2023, 04:00:00 AM »

Paper Mario-style gameplay starring an oven-baked hero.

I recently had the opportunity to play a Steam demo of Adventure RPG Born of Bread, and from the opening moments, the Paper Mario inspiration is unmistakable. The 1 to 2-hour demo took me through the start of the game and up until the completion of the  first major mission, rescuing Papa Baker, the man responsible for bringing protagonist flour golem Loaf to life. The world is full of color and characters to interact with, in addition to sidequests to undertake and secrets to uncover. In my brief time with the game, it’s hard to deny the appeal, and fans of Mario-themed RPGs and indies like Bug Fables should keep their eyes squarely locked on Born of Bread.

After emerging from an oven in the Royal Castle, Loaf meets the man responsible for baking him to life and then has free reign to explore the kitchen and other parts of the castle. Shortly after, a group looking set to function as the primary villains show up to snatch a treasure known as the Sunshard, and the result is Papa Baker and Loaf being blown out of the castle only to land in a nearby forest. Making their way back allows Loaf to learn the ins and outs of combat in addition to meeting your first companion character, Lint. After being accused of causing the castle explosion, Papa Baker is apprehended and the first major story quest unfolds, with Loaf needing to prove his father’s innocence. There’s an effective sense of pacing early on, and a helpful notebook in the menus that shows what objective(s) you’re working towards.

Born of Bread employs an effective sense of humor and a vibrant color palette to make both the heavily populated and more solitary spaces both feel enjoyable to explore and interact with. Light platforming is required to traverse the different environments, including a mine, a crystal cavern, a forest village, and a dark, water-filled passageway, but most of these places were fairly straightforward with just a few treasures and collectables off the beaten path. Enemies you come across will attempt to run into you to initiate combat, but you can also smack them with your ladle to get an extra bit of damage in before the fight starts. In the town area surrounding the castle, you encounter an office filled with heroes, and a misfit among their rank ends up joining your party as a “Saver,” who has the job of recording your progress (and even pops out at save points to facilitate this).

The turn-based combat features timed attacking and defending, with Loaf and his companion (Lint for this demo) taking their turns before each of the opponents had a chance to act. Besides a basic attack, Loaf could perform a slicing sickle move to the first enemy in the row or toss a pickaxe at any enemy on the battlefield. The pickaxe was particularly effective against rock-like enemies, but it was costly to use in terms of weapon points (WP). The timing component for many of the attacks involved starting and stopping a meter at a particular spot, and it’s also possible to miss entirely if you fail completely in your timing. Loaf also has a move to bolster his defense (which requires spending from another meter, RP), and it’s funny and a bit weird to see enemies attack you as part of the move, with its effectiveness based on how well you time your defending of these blows. The combat felt a little bit slow until I unlocked a move with Lint that could hit every enemy in a row, and stat gains only seem to come in the form of increasing health, WP, or RP after a level up. You can equip weapons you find to give you new moves and slot in objects called Boons to raise your stats, but I didn’t come across any to reduce damage received or improve my damage output, at least in the demo.

What impressed me the most about Born of Bread was the way in which the explorable areas had a lot of depth to them. Instead of being dominated by west-to-east movement and flatter rooms and environments, the interior spaces in particular had a lot of north-to-south navigation room. Tying into this is just how detailed and bright all of the objects and backgrounds look, almost like a cartoon that’s come to life. There’s less of a sense of a book or pop-up book flipping pages and more one of fully realized 3D spaces, making exploration and traversal more engaging. I’m really eager to see more of this world and encounter more of its citizens in the full game.

Born of Bread doesn’t yet have a release date, but it is coming to Switch soon and we’ll find out exactly when budding bakers will be able to get their oven mitts on the game shortly, as we've been assured it's still on track for a 2023 release. So far, I’m intrigued by the environments and characters I encountered and hoping the Switch version holds up enough to make for an enjoyable experience.

TalkBack / River City: Rival Showdown (Switch) Review
« on: October 11, 2023, 08:00:00 PM »

A 3DS remaster of an NES classic makes its way to Switch.

River City: Rival Showdown is an overhauled version of River City Ransom, one of my favorite NES titles. It originally came to the 3DS in 2016 and now sees new life on Switch. While it may be advertised as a remaster, there’s actually quite a bit that’s changed in Rival Showdown compared to the original River City Ransom. A day-night cycle, experience points and leveling, and a whole lot more story beats make for an interesting departure for this 2D side-scrolling brawler. It’s a little rough around the edges in some spots, but there’s enough meat on this beat-’em-up bone to make for a fairly satisfying experience.

Rival Showdown stars high school student Kunio, a self-confident but delinquent teenager who’d rather spend his time strolling the streets or sitting at an arcade cabinet than at a school desk. One of the primary narrative threads that you follow involves gangs at rival schools wanting to assert their dominance, which eventually culminates in a massive brawl outside of Kunio’s Nekketsu High School. Across three separate days, you work towards uncovering secrets, plots, and rumors about what’s going on in River City, and on the fourth day it’s basically the Royal Rumble in front of the Nekketsu gates. You can use your map to see which events are happening in which part of the city, but you need to carefully plan your moves and keep your ears to the ground to unlock the game’s true ending. Fortunately, there are a few other endings you can earn as well.

The gameplay loop sees Kunio running around River City as a clock at the top of the screen displays the time. Days are divided into three segments–Day, Evening, and Night–and different events will occur during different segments, sometimes even at specific times. There are dozens of events to encounter across the separate time periods, and it’s likely you won’t see all of them on your first few playthroughs. Listening to what folks about town have to say and checking your map routinely will allow you to find out about most of what’s happening in River City. As you make your way from screen to screen, you’ll encounter a variety of NPCs to talk to and all sorts of gang members dressed in different suits depending on their affiliation. It’s never clear at a glance how powerful your opponents are until the first blows land, and the beginning of a new save file (where you start at Level 0) can offer a rude awakening as most of the foes you encounter have the capacity to clean your clock in no time flat.

Gradually, you’ll start to level up and distribute stat gains to different attributes, like Punch, Kick, and Endurance (whatever suits your playstyle). Equipping different pieces of clothing and accessories can also yield significant boosts to your stats, but you may not find gear right away. If that’s the case, you can use the hard-earned currency you pick up from defeated enemies to purchase consumable food to restore health, specific gear for different body parts, or even books that can teach new skills, such as my River City Ransom staple, Dragon Feet. One of the most helpful aspects of leveling up is that your health and stamina are restored, allowing you to stay in the fight and keep unleashing devastating special moves.

I'm a bit torn in terms of the aesthetics and presentation for Rival Showdown. Visually, the combination of retro-looking sprites against a more detailed background really works well for breathing new life into the game on Switch. The way menus, attacks, and different areas of the city look is really eye-catching. On the flip side, the updated soundtrack is an ineffective facsimile of the NES version. I kept it on for my first couple playthroughs before throwing in the towel and switching to the original, which is a very welcome feature given how well the NES music holds up today.

Rolling credits for the first time unlocks a library of character and skill info, in addition to a sound test. There are also three difficulty options to unlock, coupled with an extra sub-story that tells part of the narrative from a different character's perspective. I do wish that a medium difficulty was available from the hop, but there is something fun about restarting your save file with all of your experience, stats, and abilities and being a total badass on Day 1. It was also neat to see a playable fighting game called Double Dragon Duel, which is part of the in-game world, as an option from the main menu.

River City: Rival Showdown is an enjoyable departure from the NES title it derives from. It's received an obvious visual upgrade over the 3DS release, and has added online play, too. It can be frustrating to get stuck with unwinnable event battles, but the penalty of losing an in-game hour isn't devastating. There's definitely a bit more of a learning curve for anyone who's only played River City Ransom, but the overall package is a solid one for Kunio-kun and brawler fans alike, provided you don't mind a bit of detective work.

TalkBack / CounterAttack: Uprising (Switch) Review
« on: October 09, 2023, 01:14:24 PM »

Gradius-like upgrades and lots of unlockable content elevate this 'shump.

CounterAttack: Uprising is a horizontal shooter in the vein of classics like R-Type and Gradius, and it even features a power-up system that functions as in the latter. While its art style and presentation are less appealing parts of the package, the hundreds of unlockable ship attachments and over 30 stages add plenty of staying power to another entry in this well represented genre on Switch.

The story is a familiar one, with Earth needing to be defended against an onslaught of sentient machines. Across single player, local multiplayer, and online co-op, you'll blast your way through a chain of maps to get to the final stage, typically unlocking new map nodes or starting points along the way. You can opt for a random ship or select from eight different pilots who have their own unique spacecraft with its own capabilities and weapons.

Customization is the name of the game in CounterAttack, going so far as allowing you to choose the color of your ship. From there, you can equip up to three modules that you gradually unlock through gameplay. These include speed upgrades, the ability to convert ultimate charges to extra lives, and extra drones, among many others. There's also the opportunity to chose up to three weapons, with these options also growing in number over time. It's actually pretty astounding just how much you can tailor your ship to your liking, and this feature helps the game standout from its peers.

From there, you'll need to land on either Casual, Arcade, and Hardcore mode, with the former allowing you to save your game and the latter offering a higher unlock rate for attachments (at the cost of having zero extra lives). There are four difficulty levels as well, and even a survival mode where you try to last as long as possible. Every game mode appears to have an online leaderboard, adding to the already fairly high replay value.

The levels themselves are largely fine, but they can drag on a bit without a ton of enemy variety. Another gripe is that the dull look can make it difficult to discern some forms of enemy fire from the background or from your own bullets. The boss fights that conclude each area are a bit lackluster, too. What works in CounterAttack's favor is the way in which you have a robust upgrade tree that constantly asks you to consider implementing an earlier power-up like speed or waiting for a stronger primary laser; you can even save up for an extra life. One odd omission from the playing screen is your current score, which you only get to see at the end of each stage.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get into an online match during my time with CounterAttack, but it's nice to have the option should more players populate this mode. The local co-op is solid, with power-ups alternating between participants, regardless of who picked them up (ideal when playing with a younger or less experienced shipmate). Switch performance was steady throughout my entire experience, and loading times and screens were both minimal.

CounterAttack: Uprising is a content-laden shoot-'em-up that offers some excellent customization and multiplayer options. There are even level and campaign editors for the creatively inclined. The aesthetic, including the level design and the art style, wasn't overly appealing to me, but my son and I still had a wonderful time trying to see how far we could get across the different game modes. While it's not quite in must-play territory, CounterAttack is well worth a look for fans of the genre, particularly those who embrace playing starship mechanic.


Endless garbage, by any other name.

Dragon Quest has spun-off into dozens of exciting, unique, and enjoyable titles over the years. Among these, Dragon Quest Builders and its sequel, both Minecraft-like games with RPG features, are two of my personal favorites. The Dragon Quest brand carries with it a cachet and charm that often infuse the non-mainline releases with that same joy that games like Dragon Quest V and Dragon Quest XI bring. It's fitting, perhaps, that the latest side project doesn't actually begin with Dragon Quest in title; it's the furthest thing from the typical quality of the franchise and even further away from being a good time.

Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest The Adventure of Dai is an action-RPG based on the manga and anime starring the titular character. Except, it plays more like a visual novel for half of its runtime and features nothing in the way of exploration or adventuring. There is very little redeeming about the experience outside of some flashy ultimate attack animations, and after rolling credits I'm left wondering why the game exists at all, if only to attempt to cash in on the recent anime series from 2020. The story largely focuses on Dai's journey to become a hero, but the medium of delivery for that narrative just doesn't fit with the musou-style combat. A couple of the characters earn new job classes, but these changes come far too late in the story to really matter.

Across seven chapters, you access tiny map nodes of three different types. Most of these involve a voiced but still cutscene a minute or two in length. The second most common scenario is a boss fight, and bafflingly the majority of them are one-on-one bouts. There are also a smattering of small stages where you’ll have multiple characters and waves of enemies to take out. Your party reaches a maximum of four, but only a handful of stages in the main story involve fighting with your teammates, and so there’s a disconnect between all the work you do in raising up their levels and outfitting them with specific attribute boosts that feels undone by the structure of the game. The word for it might be discordant; there’s no sense of harmony or flow to how The Adventure of Dai plays out. Moving from node to node becomes a tedious chore that’s occasionally punctuated by a seldom enjoyable boss fight. I say “seldom” because if you’re underleveled, the standard difficulty mode may prove an immense challenge, while the easier mode (and there are only two options) is basically child’s play.

Progression comes in the form of standard RPG level-ups through the combat stages, and you can return to previously completed levels to grind for experience and materials to improve your skills. As the game so often likes to remind you, there’s also a roguelike dungeon called the Temple of Recollection, and here you can earn Bond Memories to equip on your characters to boost their attack, defense, magic, etc.  Bond Memories themselves can also be bolstered with materials acquired in the Temple. Every visit to this location starts you back at square one, both in terms of character level and the literal floor of the dungeon. None of your experience gains carry forward outside of the Temple, and dying at any point in your run forfeits all of the items gained to that point. This roguelike element is a cruel way to punish players for trying to make the story mode a little easier, and it does feel like a necessary feature given the way bosses scale up outside of the Temple of Recollection. You basically need the benefits that come from finishing a few floors within the roguelike space, but if you don’t exit the dungeon before it becomes too tough, you lose everything.

While you’re given a variety of healing and stat-buffing items for every combat encounter, you have none of these in the Temple of Recollection (outside of a few you can purchase on certain floors). It’s also not possible to revive fallen comrades, so you need to be very careful to conserve HP or make ample use of your healer, Maam’s, curative spells. Moving from one strata to the next can represent a major leap in enemy strength, and if you haven’t built up your character’s levels and stats enough by moving through the earlier floors, you can be in for a rude awakening when your foes start pounding you like a hammer.

The plot of Infinity Strash isn’t boring or uninteresting, but its delivery is one of the poorest I’ve seen in a game of this size and style. The world of Dragon Quest is full of endearing characters, enemies, and spaces, but all of those elements are sapped of their potency through the narrative structure employed here. Accessing multiple map nodes in a row that serve only to push the story along just isn’t very compelling, and the repeated one v. one battles against the same bosses is another form of repetition that drags down the experience. The few interactive elements of The Adventure of Dai aren’t rewarded with meaningful, well-told exposition, and the constant switching between rote combat encounters and visual novel cutscenes represents a death knell for this mediocre game.

If there’s a worse Dragon Quest side game out there, I haven’t played it. The only group who is likely to derive any satisfaction from Infinity Strash: Dragon Quest The Adventure of Dai would have to be megafans of the manga or anime and want to see the events therein retold in a different medium. Baffling design choices like splitting up the party, forcing players to make use of the punishing roguelike area, having lack of action map nodes, and delivering the story through still cutscenes work in tandem to kill any joy that this experience might have elicited. Ultimately, Infinity Strash is a lifeless husk of a video game that can’t be redeemed by an added post-game difficulty or the dozens of simplified and random stages of the Temple of Recollections. Spend your time and money on anything else with the “Dragon Quest” name on it instead, and leave this one in the Strash bin.

TalkBack / Wargroove 2 (Switch) Review
« on: October 05, 2023, 05:00:00 AM »

The roguelike Conquest mode is this strategy sequel’s hidden gem.

In January of 2019, I proclaimed in my glowing review of Chucklefish’s Wargroove that the title gave Advance Wars fans “what they’ve been clamoring for,” and while 2023 did see the return of Nintendo’s beloved strategy series with Re-Boot Camp, that effort didn’t completely hit the mark. Unlike its predecessor, Wargroove 2 left only a handful of months between its reveal earlier this year and its October release, a pleasant and unexpected surprise to be sure given the two years separating the announcement and launch of the original. Given the similarity in the gameplay, I’ll refer you to my review of Wargroove for a breakdown of its mechanics and instead focus below on what’s new in the sequel, including one addition in particular that really knocks it out of the park.

Within story mode, there are three new campaigns involving the returning factions–including the Outlaws from the Double Trouble DLC–and a brand new faction in the mouse-like Faahri. The campaigns are varied and offer bonus objectives to complete for an added challenge. In addition to new Commanders, each one also has an enhanced Groove ability that allows you to change up to a second tier for a more potent effect. The stages of the campaigns offer a range of objectives, but most of the time you’re winning by either defeating the enemy Commander or destroying the opposing side’s Stronghold. While there’s an array of ways to adjust the difficulty, veterans of the turn-based strategy will likely find the base settings to offer a fairly robust challenge on their own.

Wargroove 2’s most compelling new feature is the roguelike Conquest mode, which features its own unlockable maps, bonuses, and characters. Across another four mini-campaigns (Conquests), you proceed through a series of nodes and forks to reach a final boss fight at the end of each campaign. At the outset, you get to choose from three random Commanders and three sets of starting units (each with its own starting gold amount). Most of the nodes involve a regular battle wherein you need to defeat all enemies present to advance, but the trick is that any damage or losses you sustain carry forward to the next node. There are also spaces where you can recruit more units with money earned from felling enemies, purchase special items, heal either your units or your Commander, or even encounter a special event (which may be harmful or beneficial).

The end result of each individual Conquest, whether successful or not, is that you come away with Shards that can be spent to unlock a variety of goodies within Conquest mode. Initially, only the Cherrystone Conquest is available, and so the Shards you earn there are spent flipping cards on a grid to eventually unlock the next Conquest of Felheim. Along the way, you can also flip cards that add new Commanders to the pool, new shops, new items, a larger starting army, and a greater starting sum of gold. The Shard cost increases steadily as you unlock more and more content, but you can replay all of the Conquests to earn more Shards, and doing so at a higher difficulty multiplies your earnings and awards a higher grade medal. There’s also the built-in replayability of being able to choose a different Commander and initial soldier squad, coupled with the randomness of the Conquest node layout. I ended up spending as much or more time with this game mode, and it alone ended up entertaining me as much as the first Wargroove did.

Other upgrades made their way into Wargroove 2 as well, such as improved map and campaign editing tools, but I do wish there was some kind of tutorial that introduced the section of the game. There are five new units as well, including Frogs that can use their tongue to reposition units and powerful Kraken that can entrap foes. The multiplayer modes from the original Wargroove return here: local play on a single system for two or four players, and online multiplayer (which I wasn’t able to test during the pre-launch period). One noticeable downgrade, however, is the sheer number of softlocks I encountered while playing any of the different game modes. It’s nice that the Story and Conquest modes appear to feature an auto-save that bookmarks your progress, but I had to close and restart the game multiple times due to this issue.

I was done shaking my Wargroove thing in 2019, but this sequel four years later has brought me right back to the colorful, medieval battlefield of Aurania, and I’m absolutely here for it. Much to my delight, the inclusion of a roguelike mode in Wargroove 2’s Conquest feature is the best reason to recommend this hearty sequel, particularly for anyone who enjoyed the original. The sequel is not only more of the same, but also presents a compelling new way to experience its tried-and-true strategy gameplay. While I do like the new Commanders that have made their way into the fold, I would love to see the individual factions have a bit more uniqueness in terms of how they played or their strengths and weaknesses; they’re only distinguished by their appearance and their units names (which can sometimes be confusing). Nonetheless, strategy fans should rejoice at the opportunity to spend more time with a wonderful series that puts a fantasy twist on Advance Wars.

TalkBack / Project Blue (Switch) Review Mini
« on: October 03, 2023, 08:21:01 AM »

I definitely Blue myself trying to make some of these jumps.

From publisher 8-Bit Legit comes another retro throwback, Project Blue, which is also releasing as a physical NES cartridge. It's faithful to its 1980s forebears–to a fault–but there's a satisfaction to its level design that rises about its simplistic gameplay and lack of a save or password feature. It won't be for everyone, but those looking to relive the highs and lows of Nintendo's first home console may find a worthwhile experience here.

Protagonist Blue escapes from laboratory captivity and it's your job to guide him to freedom. Equipped with only a jump and a basic projectile shot, you need to navigate tricky platforming challenges and a variety of machines and hazards set on halting you in your tracks. Pits, spikes, and acid pools spell instant doom, but otherwise you have a limited number of hearts that allow you to take a bit of damage before you succumb. Health pickups are quite rare and often involve putting yourself in peril to obtain; weapons and health upgrades are even less common and either have limited uses or go away upon death. The only other item to collect is red coins that grant an extra life if you acquire 100 of them, but it takes expert level play to gather enough of this sparse currency before losing it all to a game over.

The levels start out fairly easy but quickly rise in difficulty, with saws, turrets, and heat-seeking orbs all working towards your demise. At the end of every area is a boss battle, but most of these play out in a similar fashion. If you lose all three of your lives, you have unlimited continues to jump back into the action, and fairly generous checkpoints mean you aren't sent too far back if you fail. What's pretty frustrating, though, is that there's no save or password system, so if you turn the game off, all of your progress is gone. The music and visuals don't push the envelope too far, either, but the platforming and single-screen rooms are pretty enjoyable. Three difficulty options add to the challenge, but I found the normal mode harrowing enough on its own, and I'm fairly well versed in the genre.

I can definitely respect the endeavor of keeping the spirit of the NES alive in 2023, and while faithfulness often does come at the price of convenience or aesthetics, Project Blue definitely offers a fun experience for those who go in with the right expectations. It's a bit rough around the edges, but being a product of the '80s myself, I was able to while away a handful of satisfying (and at times painfully difficult) hours with this latest homage to classic titles like Metroid and Blaster Master. I can think of many worse ways to transport yourself back to 1988 for an evening, and this one doesn't even require a DeLorean.

TalkBack / Super Bomberman R 2 (Switch) Review
« on: September 22, 2023, 02:00:00 AM »

Not quite king of the Castle (mode).

I’m not sure that adding one new game mode and having the Story mode revolve around it is the right direction for Bomberman. For a series celebrating its 40th birthday in 2023, surely the titular hero deserves better than the meager offering that is Super Bomberman R 2. There’s just not enough of an upgrade to this package to justify the cost. The shutting down of free-to-play title Super Bomberman R Online obviously paved the way for the inclusion of its 64-player battle royale to be included in R 2, but it’s a shame that there was much better value in that now defunct option than there is in this half-measure of a sequel. Even though I’ve enjoyed Bomberman since I first got my mitts on the NES version (in all its rudimentary glory), Super Bomber Man R 2 feels like a dud.

It’s worth explaining the new Castle mode in some detail first because it’s the major difference between R 2 and its two immediate predecessors. In multiplayer, two teams face off with one defending a base and its treasure chests, and the other retrieving keys around the map to unlock those chests and win the match. The defenders have some special abilities, like a laser gun, that recharge over time, and matches generally last two minutes. The online Castle matches I entered were always won by the defender; in some cases, they had brought in a custom map that made assailing their base near impossible. In others, the sheer challenge of trying to avoid friendly fire from your fellow attackers is too much to bear.

The plot of Story mode centers on facing down a galaxy-wide threat while befriending and attempting to protect small, squishy creatures named Ellons. In Castle mode, Ellons aid the defending team in protecting their base, while in Story mode, you need to explore 15 map sections to find as many of them as you can, up to a total of 100 on each of three different planets. A handful of Ellons are scattered about each section, with some areas being locked behind a gate that requires you to have rescued a set number of Ellons. The map sections themselves are fairly lackluster, and the traditional Bomberman gameplay doesn’t quite mesh with the type of hide-and-seek Ellon retrieval task. There are enemies to defeat along the way, in addition to multiple Castle matches that have to be completed as the offense team before you can advance to the planet’s final boss. You’ll be forced to defend your own base at various times as the defender, too, and you can even customize your base before the match starts.

If you’re in it just for the multiplayer, there are a decent number of modes to choose from. These include the aforementioned Castle, Grand Prix (where two teams of 3 battle to collect the most crystals or explode the most opponents), Battle 64 (the battle royale mode), and Standard (the typical Bomberman last-person-standing experience–for up to 16 players). You can play in Graded Match to attain a higher rank, while also earning coins that can be spent on new characters, outfits, accessories, bomb skins, and more. There’s a fair bit to unlock if you’re trying to collect everything on offer. You can also create private matches and play offline locally, with the ability to customize rule sets to your heart’s content. Where online play becomes a bit of a drag is with the Graded Match being set to only one or two different modes per hour. If you’re hoping to play Battle 64 but it’s not one of the modes available, you’re going to just have to wait. Presumably this will ensure that it doesn’t take long to find a match, but it’s still a frustrating restriction to see.

The final main menu option is for Level Editor, which allows players to create their own stages for online or offline play. You start with one of 30 templates and add all manner of obstacles, traps, and conveyances as you see fit. There’s also sections where you can view popular stages that others have created, search for specific stages, or see ones you “liked” previously. Those with more creative juices will probably enjoy the tools on offer here, and it certainly does add some longevity to the package.

I’ll give credit where it’s due; I appreciate that Super Bomberman R 2 does try a few new things with its Story mode that we haven’t really seen in previous entries, including a progression system where you actually level up rather than just collecting the standard power-ups. Even though moving from area to area just to round up all the Ellons gets old pretty quick, it’s definitely novel for a Bomberman game. Unfortunately, what’s meant to be the star of the show, Castle mode, just isn’t a very compelling addition. Even for diehard fans, I’d find R 2 to be a difficult recommendation. I may break it out from time to time for a few online matches, but I doubt I’ll spend even a fraction of the time I did with Super Bomberman R Online on this latest game. It may just be time to re-invent Bomberman for the modern era, and while I’m eager to see what that might look like, unfortunately for now, your Bomberman is in another castle.

TalkBack / Rift of the NecroDancer Hands-on Preview
« on: September 19, 2023, 05:00:00 AM »

Rhythm-based spinoff series? I'll nod my head along to that.

Having only dabbled in Crypt of the NecroDancer and Cadence of Hyrule, I wasn’t sure how Rift of the NecroDancer was going to land for me. As more of a pure rhythm game, as opposed to an action or adventure one, Rift does fall more squarely into my wheelhouse. With segments that remind me of Rhythm Heaven, Everhood, and classic Guitar Hero, I’m definitely high on Rift of the NecroDancer as we await its early 2024 release.

Protagonist Cadence returns in visual novel style cutscenes and an overall gorgeous presentation. The characters bop along to the music and interject during rhythm sequences, and it’s nearly impossible not to nod your head along to the infectious soundtrack. With artists like Danny Baranowksky (who worked on the previous two titles), FamilyJules, and Alex Moukala, the audio experience is sure to be a legendary one.

The demo consisted of three Guitar Hero type stages (Rhythm Rifts), a Yoga studio-set Minigame, and a Boss Battle. While the first Rhythm Rift was fairly straightforward and saw me earning an A rank, the difficulty took a sizable leap forward with the next two. You have three lanes with their requisite button to press at the bottom, and a steady stream of slimes, skeletons, and bats pouring down each lane that have to be eliminated in time with the beat. Each monster requires a different technique to defeat, though. Green slimes only take one button press to defeat, but blue slimes take two; red bats will move to a different lane after you strike them the first time; and when all three lanes are occupied on the same beat, you need to press a fourth button to take them all out.

The Minigame was short but very reminiscent of those from the Rhythm Heaven series. In the Yoga one I played, I needed to match the movements of the instructor but only after the pair of characters stretching with me moved first. It was a welcome change of pace compared to the speedy Rhythm Rifts. Finally came the Boss Battle, where Cadence picks up a guitar and has to dodge attacks (almost like Punch-Out!!) before retaliating with her own music blasts to deal damage and whittle down the boss’ health. This particular opponent fired chess pieces at me, so I had to recognize their movement pattern in addition to considering the audio cues. I loved the variety of the gameplay and left the demo eager to spend more time with Rift of the NecroDancer.

Because I played on a keyboard, it’s a bit tricky to know exactly how the experience will translate to a controller, but given the level of quality seen in Crypt of the NecroDancer and Cadence of Hyrule, I’m not overly concerned at this point. While there is an overarching NecroDancer storyline, I only saw snippets of it in the demo, so it remains to be seen how and why Cadence is getting into some of these situations. Nonetheless, Rift of the NecroDancer filled my brain with world-class tunes and satisfying rhythm-based gameplay, and I’m excited to get my hands on the full version next year.

TalkBack / Curse Crackers: For Whom The Belle Tolls (Switch) Review
« on: September 18, 2023, 10:39:21 AM »

If you've been missing Game Boy style platformers, your prayers have been answered.

Curse Crackers: For Whom The Belle Tolls is a 2D action-platformer in the Game Boy style of Super Mario Land 2 and the Wario Land series. It stars an acrobatic clown named Belle and her throwable partner Chime, and the pair romp through dozens of stages and a charming overworld. Does this blast from the portable past fly high or does it fall off the tightrope?

The main story involves rival Bonnie kidnapping Belle's boyfriend while the two are out on a date, but as the plot unfolds, some interesting twists complicate matters significantly. As you progress across the game's five or so main areas, the color palettes and obstacles shift, making each hour of the Curse Crackers feel fresh. Along the way, the overworld has rest stops like an inn and a full town where you can find side objectives and many NPCs to interact with in different ways. There's a lot of life to this world, in addition to compelling gameplay.

Speaking of, Belle has the ability to run, slide, jump, and throw the ball-shaped Chime to various effects. You can toss Chime in eight directions to take out enemies, trip switches, or even propel Belle to higher heights. While the basic enemy variety is a little bit lacking, there are mini-bosses every three stages and then a final boss at the end of every world area, and these are a joy to engage with. Within the levels themselves, there are rings to grab onto, cannons to shoot out of, and even keys to pick up and unlock doors with.

What's really impressive about Curse Crackers is the sheer number of things to do and collect. Every stage has three roses to find, which function in a couple places as a way of opening up new areas, including near the end of the story. There are bonus rooms to complete that offer a platforming test and reward you with another collectable and a bunch of coins. The coins you pick up can be spent in town on items or mini-games, but you lose a portion of them when you die, unless you can retrieve your pouch in the spot where you failed. Other secrets are tied to in-game accomplishments and even post-game content. This rambunctious clown has more than a few tricks up her sleeve, and ultimately there's just much more than meets the eye at first glance.

The music is fairly catchy, and the retro-style art is really attractive, especially in the scores of characters and the little ways that Belle moves and sways. Given the zoomed-in screen display, there are some situations where you'll encounter a pit or other danger below without realizing it, but you can stop and press down on the stick or pad to scroll the screen down slightly. Another potential frustration is in controlling Belle, in that a lot of her jumping and sliding moves use similar button inputs, increasing the chance of pulling off the wrong move at the wrong time. Nonetheless, the presentation is a clear highlight of Curse Crackers, and it's a joy to look at and listen to across its brief but enjoyable main story.

Fans of the Game Boy Color days rejoice! Curse Crackers will have you feeling that nostalgia with its solid platforming, endearing world, and abundance of content. If you're up for uncovering all of its secrets and earning every achievement, there are dozens of hours to keep you busy, but an unlockable Arcade Mode and even just the overall level design lend themselves to leaping through every stage as fast as possible. However you choose to play it, Curse Crackers is an easy recommendation and a retro-fueled gem in the Switch library.

TalkBack / The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails (Switch) Review
« on: September 15, 2023, 05:58:02 AM »

Taking the Trails series down an action-RPG path.

Originally a Japan-only PSP game, The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails is a Nihon Falcom developed action-RPG that feels like an Ys game set in the Trails/Legend of Heroes universe. Those who enjoyed the deep turn-based RPG mechanics and sprawling world of Trails of Cold Steel 3 and 4 will find a much different experience in Boundless Trails, with level-based gameplay, platforming, and a significantly smaller scope. That said, there’s still that signature Falcom charm in the characters and interactions, in addition to challenging but fun gameplay and a graphical style that really shines on Switch.

At the outset, we meet protagonist Nayuta, a plucky researcher in-training who is back on Remnant Island for his summer break away from school. With his friend Cygna, he stops in on his sister Eartha before a massive tower crash lands beside the island, on which we meet two of the central villains and witness their stealing of a special gear from a fairy-like creature named Noi. Nayuta and Noi end up working together to recover this gear and others in Noi’s homeworld of Terra, and so the game ends up taking place on both Remnant Island–where most of the sidequests and characters reside–and Terra where the action-style gameplay occurs.

Speaking of action, Nayuta runs, jumps, double jumps, and slashes his way through 3D stages that offer both horizontal and vertical gameplay. Noi accompanies him and can cast magic spells, and as you make your way through the story you’ll earn additional spells of different elements, some as treasures in stages and others as rewards for defeating minibosses. Her spells work on a charge system, with charges replenishing over time, and you’ll need a mix of magic and sword attacks given that certain enemies are immune to one or the other; this includes bosses as well. There’s also a fair amount of platforming, especially in later or more vertical stages, so you’ll want to have an aptitude for that type of gameplay as well since pitfalls will drain your health meter in a hurry.

Across six or so chapters, you'll jump back and forth between worlds, completing tasks in one and then getting a bit of a respite in the other. At Nayuta's home, Eartha can prepare lunchboxes of food that you can take with you and use to restore your health and gain experience points. You'll want to head out with all your lunchbox slots filled, too, as enemies can pack a punch and health pick-ups are rare. Defeating enemies and destroying crates, barrels, and debris will yield ingredients for Eartha to cook with and bugs and other specimens for the museum to store (which rewards you with money and items). There's a really satisfying loop of playing a few stages, going back home to grab some lunch, upgrading your gear at the shops in town, and then teleporting yourself back into the action.

Terra is divided into five areas: a small story-centric hub and four different continents. The continents each have their own biome and consist of four or five stages to complete, but after progressing through each one, you gain the ability to switch their season, and this allows you to replay the stages in their new seasonal splendor. The suggested level increases with the season shift, and different enemies and treasures appear, so there’s good reason to return for another go. That said, Boundless Trails seems to place less emphasis on gaining experience points through the individual stages and enemies and instead balances it with the experience derived from consuming the food you prepare. The two systems complement each other quite well, leading to a light and breezy feeling that carries through the 15 to 20-hour experience.

Boss encounters at the end of each continent are tough and require specific strategies that you may not have employed as much in the individual levels. These bouts involve multiple stages and form changes, giving a nice sense of spectacle to the culmination of each major area of the game. It’s sound strategy to ensure your lunchbox slots are filled up with meals that will fully restore your health meter or raise your strength, for example, so you have an opportunity to recover from a few different attacks and deal more damage as you work out the best way to take down your opponent.

Even though the world of Boundless Trails isn’t particularly large, it undergoes enough small changes that it feels very much alive. In each chapter, townsfolk move to different locations and have different things to say; almost everyone will be involved in a sidequest or two during your playthrough. Remnant Island mostly stays the same from a visual standpoint, but as continents and seasons change, Terra starts to feel fuller and more fleshed out. You can earn up to three stars from each stage through finding every mira crystal (the local currency), completing a special objective–such as killing 40 enemies–and making it to the end goal, so there’s some replay value built in here. The stars can add up to milestones that award new sword techniques for Nayuta, taught by one of his mentors, Orbus. This is all in addition to dedicated in-game achievements. Falcom ends up squeezing a fair bit of juice out of what initially appears to be a more constrained island setting.

In terms of presentation and performance, the menus are really easy to navigate, and the whole game just looks and plays incredibly well on Switch. I was particularly impressed with the visual fidelity in Handheld mode. Even though the PSP roots do shine through in terms of how the characters, enemies, and objects look, there’s an effective use of color to distinguish between the seasonal changes that Terra undergoes. In terms of music, the soundtrack is a strong one, with a peaceful and serene theme for Remnant Island and some bumping, upbeat tracks for a number of the stages themselves.

Finishing Boundless Trails, I’m still reminded so much of Ys VIII and its island setting but also a little of Ys Origins as well; both of those titles feel, look, and play similar to The Legend of Nayuta, and so fans of them will likely enjoy this Trails game as well. Even in High Speed Mode, which I make a habit of turning on quite often, performance never faltered. I will, however, criticize the localization to a small extent, as the dialogue features some awkward vocabulary choices from time to time.

With a fairly enjoyable main narrative that plays second fiddle to engaging gameplay and effective presentation, The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails may be slight in terms of length when compared to other Trails games, but it’s a spinoff that matches them in quality and enjoyment. There’s something compelling about its relative simplicity and all of the small things you can do from moment to moment that all complement each other and help your character progress, both in terms of story and capability. With Ys and the Trails games typically being separated into action and turn-based combat, respectively, I’d love to see either series experiment with the other form given how well it comes off in Boundless Trails. Young Nayuta’s adventure is well worth experiencing for yourself; just don’t forget to pack a lunch.

TalkBack / Mario vs. Donkey Kong Remake Scampers onto Switch This February
« on: September 14, 2023, 07:07:47 AM »

The puzzle-platformer series that originated on Game Boy Advance arrives early in the new year.

One of the first announcements during today's Nintendo Direct was for a remake of the first Mario vs. Donkey Kong game, a series that originally debuted in 2004 on Game Boy Advance. 20 years later, Donkey Kong is back to his mischief-making ways and it's up to Mario to foil his plan to steal all of the Mini-Mario toys. In each stage, you'll need to run, climb, and avoid obstacles to retrieve the key and unlock the main door so that you can move on to the next level. The trailer showed off lava, jungle, and city-themed areas, and there's also a local co-op feature with the second player controlling Toad.

Pre-orders are available today on the eShop, with Mario vs. Donkey Kong arriving on February 16, 2024.

TalkBack / F-ZERO Returns Today as the Next 99-player Title
« on: September 14, 2023, 06:56:00 AM »

Classic SNES F-ZERO racing meets last-person standing gameplay.

During this morning's Nintendo Direct presentation, the next 99-player online game was revealed as F-ZERO 99, featuring SNES-style visuals. The game is exclusive to Nintendo Switch Online members, and it sees new gameplay mechanics added to enhance the experience. These include a Power Meter that not only represents your health but also can be used to offer a temporary boost of speed. Collisions between cars will generate Super Sparks that can be collected to create a path to the Skyway, a special shortcut above the track that can give you the time and space to get ahead of the pack.

F-ZERO 99 is launching today on the Switch eShop, but you may want to enjoy it while it lasts. As we've seen with Pac-Man 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35, these types of online games don't seem to have an overly long shelf life.

TalkBack / Gunbrella (Switch) Review
« on: September 13, 2023, 12:31:26 PM »

Now I want my own Gunbrella, ella-ella, ayy, ayy, ayy.

Doinksoft, makers of Gato Roboto, are back again with another Devolver published title in Gunbrella. You play a gruff, cloaked individual who totes the titular Gunbrella on a quest for revenge, after coming home to find his wife murdered in cold blood. The gritty, dark setting of the game works well for the detective noir-style story, and twists in the story make for a fairly exciting playthrough, even if the gunplay itself can be a little sparing. Solid gameplay overall, a variety of sidequests, and some humorous dialogue exchanges anchor the experience, but there are some frustrating softlock bugs that hinder enjoyment of the 6 to 8-hour playthrough.

As you pursue your wife’s killer, you’ll come across a cult, a group of scrappers, a variety of common folk, and a sect of religious zealots, all of whom function as friends or foes on your adventure. Many different people will offer you tasks to complete that can reward you with coins to spend on items, gears to upgrade your weapon, or even heart pieces to increase your health meter. The minute-to-minute gameplay blends adventure game trappings of completing sidequests while working towards the evolving main quest of learning more about the Gunbrella and discovering the culprit responsible for destroying your happy family. Dungeon-like spaces outside of the handful of towns offer platforming challenges and a smattering of minor enemies to blast into oblivions; on occasion, you’ll encounter tough boss fights that may require you to pull out different ammo types you can collect, such as rifle bullets and grenades, or quickly whip out consumable items like apples and bandages.

Movement in Gunbrella is a noticeable strength; in addition to walking and jumping, you can press the R button to open your Gunbrella for blocking projectiles or to perform a dash in any direction. The combination of wall jumping and dashing is used throughout the game to scale mine shafts, avoid acid pools, and leap from mountain ledge to mountain ledge. Throw in a dash of shooting at turrets, tentacles, and even supernatural entities, and you’ve got a recipe for a good time. That said, you shouldn’t expect Gunbrella (even with its title) to be heavy on the gunplay; there’s just as much talking to strangers and exploring 2D spaces as there are shotgun blasts. Fortunately, you have a lot of opportunities to make meaningful decisions; sparing someone’s life can lead to rewards down the road, so it’s best to think carefully before pulling the trigger with reckless abandon.

Speaking of 2D spaces, there’s a wonderful sense of layering to the backgrounds in Gunbrella, as you roam its dingy, almost post-apocalyptic environments, you’ll notice multiple elements in the background moving along with you. The detailed pixel art is attractive on its own, but the way in which foreground and back play off each other makes for a very pleasant aesthetic experience. The audio experience, on the other hand, is a bit lacking: the sound effects work well, but there’s almost nothing in the way of memorable music, unless you would classify foreboding and atmospheric silence as an earworm.

Unfortunately, my pre-launch playthrough was hampered by a variety of bugs. The worst among them was a softlock that occurred at the final boss, where its death animation never ended. I was happy to learn that a patch was released to fix this particular bug. Another such issue arose earlier on, but it was solved by simply restarting from my last save point, and thankfully there is a frequent auto-save in addition to a generous amount of manual, health-restoring rest points.

Having played both Gato Roboto and Gunbrella, I’d say that the former is the stronger overall experience, edging out the latter because of its progress-halting bugs (which may be mostly hammered out during the game's launch). The atmosphere and movement abilities of Gunbrella are excellent, but the lack of enemies and opportunities to use the titular weapon are a bit disappointing. If you prefer more of an adventure-game bent to your action-platformer, then Gunbrella is definitely worth a look, even if its rain-shielding, double-barreled frame could use a little more polish and a lot more target practice.

TalkBack / Cobalt Core - Our PAX West 2023 Game of the Show
« on: September 11, 2023, 05:00:00 AM »

Faster Than Light + deckbuilding = A run-based moonshot.

I pride myself on not announcing my “game of the show” too early, but in only my third appointment of the PAX West weekend, I loudly made that proclamation (and fortunately it stayed true). At the booth of publisher Brace Yourself Games, I had the pleasure of demoing a little game called Cobalt Core, and to that point I had seen almost nothing about it, outside of a few images attached to an email. Within minutes I knew that what I was experiencing was both unexpected and amazing. While it reminds me of FTL: Faster Than Light, I found Cobalt Core’s combat and well-explained mechanics a refreshing breath of run-based air.

The demo took me through an abbreviated map of about 15 destinations (which is less than the standard 20-30 spaces in the full game). At each one, there are events like combat encounters, item or treasure discoveries, or opportunities to heal your ship. The objective is to take your crew of three through a trio of maps to reach the end of a run. Along the way, you can unlock new characters (all of whom are cute animals with cuter names) and new ships that can be chosen in future sessions. Finishing a run unlocks a small amount of backstory for these amnesiac characters and their time-looping world, but there’s immense satisfaction to be had in just playing around with the different crew and craft permutations.

Each character has a different specialization that leads into the types of cards they bring into your deck. Combat encounters make use of these cards to function as your ship’s moves; shooting, dodging, and raising shields are all tied to specific cards that are drawn from your deck and splayed in front of you on each turn. You have three energy points to spend on cards, and you have the advantage of seeing what the opposing ship will be doing on their turn. This means you’ll know how you need to dodge to evade their fire or how many shield points you’ll need to negate it. In many situations you’ll be given the opportunity to expand your deck with new cards, and these offer more advanced abilities, like adding one attack power to every shot fired during that turn. In other spots, enemies will put garbage cards into your deck–you might even generate some of these yourself–and you’ll need to find ways of neutralizing such disadvantages to keep yourself in the fight.

There’s a comfort to the unfamiliar in Cobalt Core that other roguelike titles tend to stray from. While trial-and-error can be enjoyable to an extent, I myself get more out of being shown how things work and then acting upon that knowledge. Moving the cursor onto new cards, new visual effects, and different objects explains clearly what you’re looking at; there’s much less guess work going on, and I’m definitely here for it. There’s already so much mystery involved with the cards you’re dealt each round and the spaces you visit on the map, so it’s refreshing to see gameplay that stays away from the obtuse and embraces transparency.

Even though a full run of Cobalt Core can be completed in an hour or two, unlocking all of the story content will take upwards of 20 hours. Because of the variety of ways that each run can play out, though, there are hundreds of hours of new experiences waiting to be had here. It ultimately feels like a more approachable space-themed roguelike, with deckbuilding elements that feel like a natural complement rather than something that’s just shoe-horned in. With a Steam release coming first in November, those who want to get their furry paws on Cobalt Core as soon as possible can do so there. While there’s been no formal announcement of a Switch version just yet, it sure seems like a release on Nintendo’s hybrid device could be written in the stars.

It would have been nice if the version of Metal Gear Solid was the GameCube version (The Twin Snakes) since that had so many improvements.

Definitely. I think they went with the PSX version since they had already ported it with the previous HD and Legacy Collections.

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