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Messages - John Rairdin

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Switch VS Wii

How has Skyward Sword been adapted to HD? Is it more than the game just running in an emulator? Let's take a look!

TalkBack / Quality of Life Updates Announced for Skyward Sword
« on: July 02, 2021, 05:24:18 AM »

Yes, it includes the items thing.

In a short trailer on Twitter today Nintendo announced a series of quality of life updates for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD. Some of these were already known but a few are known. Here's a quick breakdown.

  • Optional help from Fi (unclear if Fi can be entirely turned off)
  • Button Only Controls (already known)
  • Enhanced frame rate
  • Dialogue fast-forwarding
  • Skippable cutscenes
  • Items no longer display descriptions if picked up again after loading from a saved game

You can see the full trailer below.

TalkBack / LEGO Builder's Journey (Switch) Review
« on: June 22, 2021, 07:01:23 AM »

Wait, this was an option for how LEGO games could work?

It is hard to know where to start with LEGO Builder’s Journey, but perhaps the most important prerequisite is to let go of any concept you have of LEGO games. Whether that is the modern 3rd-person action games, or LEGO Island, LEGO Builder’s Journey is nothing like any of them, beyond its inclusion of colored building pieces. This is of course what makes it so interesting. Were it not for the LEGO branding on every brick, it would likely be regarded as a high concept indie game that seeks to explore the human condition. Statements like that are why I say that before we begin, we need to let go of what a LEGO game normally represents.

LEGO Builder’s Journey is a puzzle platformer of sorts that most easily draws comparisons to Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, or perhaps the classic Lemmings. You’re presented with a small three-dimensional playspace and must create a path for your character to reach a set end point. As the story progresses some stages become more about completing an objective than reaching a specific point. Regardless,  you’ll accomplish all of this by placing LEGO pieces. Sometimes they’ll just be strewn about the stage; other times they’ll come floating down a river or even be generated by the player using blocks that link and duplicate as you place them.

The act of picking up and placing LEGO is arguably the most accurately represented it ever has been in a game. There are no specific structures you have to build, no instructions to follow, just a goal to be accomplished. Pieces are varied and can all be freely rotated and placed anywhere. While the freeform gameplay is absolutely a plus, it is often hard to tell exactly where a brick is going to attach as you float it above the playspace. Bricks also have a habit of snapping to specific points, likely in an effort to mitigate some perspective issues, but half the time I found myself fighting with this feature to put the piece where I actually wanted it rather than where it thought I did. A simple indicator that marks the spot below a piece where it will attach would have made a huge difference. In the end though, the building mechanics here remain more satisfying than they ever have been.

LEGO Builder’s Journey is only about two hours long, easily experienced in a single sitting. In fact, I’d strongly recommend that be how you play it. What impressed me most was how engaged I became with the faceless, voiceless characters it employs. Unlike the typical LEGO minifigures usually seen in these games, the characters here are simple LEGO creations themselves. That being said they’re excellently animated and provide quietly emotive actors throughout the story. The plot itself is, on its surface, a simple story about a child wanting to spend time with their parents. Within the subtext, however, are much more complex concepts of the differences between doing something for fun and for work, and the effects our lives have on those around us.

The LEGO branding on LEGO Builder’s Journey is simultaneously its greatest asset, and highest hurdle. The LEGO bricks themselves are the perfect tool to tell this story, and factor in heavily to its themes of play versus work. However, the name LEGO also runs the risk of obscuring this quietly beautiful adventure, simply due to the type of game we’d generally associate with the brand. This is a wonderful game that is likely to hit a little deeper than you expect. If this represents a future direction for how LEGO treats their games, LEGO Builder’s Journey is a sign of very good things to come.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 277: Buck Bumble Murdered Neal
« on: June 18, 2021, 07:24:08 AM »

Editor Alex de Freitas joins John to talk Nintendo's surprisingly good E3 showing.

Neal is out fighting a war he cannot possibly hope to win against an army with superior numbers. Meanwhile Alex and John get real hyped for Metroid Dread, Breath of the Wild 2, Advance Wars, and WarioWare. We also check in to see if Alex has bought a copy of Star X yet for his GBA collection.

TalkBack / The History of Sylux
« on: June 18, 2021, 05:07:21 AM »

Everything you need to know about Sylux before Metroid Prime 4

The man, the myth, the post credits scene, Sylux. Who or what is he and what is next for him in Metroid Prime 4?


John digs into the sequel to the first trailer for the seqeul to The Legend of Zelda: Beath of the Wild which is now in development for the Nintendo Switch family of systems.

As required by law in several states, I found things to try and translate in the new Zelda trailer.


We sit down with the developers to learn more about this LEGO themed puzzler.

LEGO Builder's Journey was announced for Switch today having previously released on Apple Arcade. If you think you know what to expect from a LEGO game you'll likely be surprised by this one. Unlike the traditional action platformers one would normally associate with LEGO, LEGO Builder's Journey looks a bit more like Captain Toad meets Lemmings.

We had an opportunity to chat with the team behind LEGO Builder's Journey about the game and this interesting new direction for LEGO games in general.

NWR: This looks unlike any other Lego game I've seen, how did this get started? Was this always a Lego game?

Karsten Lund – Game Director, Light Brick Studio: This game started as an experiment to prove that the core experience of LEGO brick building could work as a game mechanic. When the early prototypes showed potential we decided to turn it into a full game experience, and that became LEGO Builder’s Journey. The response from the audience has been very positive, so we hope the Switch audience will find it interesting as well.

NWR: I noticed that even the player character isn't a traditional Lego person, was there an intention behind that?

Lund: Yes, we felt that the LEGO brick needed to be the star of this experience rather than the Minifigure, and since we’re building everything on a smaller scale, we needed smaller characters. I think there is a very poetic feel to the characters that we ended up with in the game. I am especially fond of the beach scenes.

NWR: Are you influenced in particular by any other games? Any artistic influences?

Lund: We were inspired by poetic and artistic games that use game mechanics to convey emotions. But the greatest inspiration came from actual LEGO bricks and seeing what master LEGO builders of the world can make with them - the LEGO brick has so many possibilities within it.

NWR: How big is the team working on the game?

Lund: At the moment, we are 14 people in the studio working on various experiences, LEGO Builder’s Journey being one of them. Right now a subset of the team is finalizing the release for new platforms.

NWR: Do you think there's potential for other Lego games to branch off like this?

Murray Andrews, Head of Publishing, LEGO Games Publishing: We have lots of exciting plans for LEGO Games Publishing. We want to explore fresh ideas that have not yet been explored in LEGO games, and bring our brand of digital play to new platforms and audiences.

NWR: We've seen largely great conversions from Apple Arcade to Switch on a technical level? Are the two platforms naturally compatible? Or have we just had good luck?

Lund: I cannot speak for other studios, but we feel that Builder’s Journey is a perfect fit for the Switch. We have updated the game with more content, fresh mechanics, and made sure that both touch controls and joy-cons work to make it feel great on the platform.

LEGO Builder's Journey will arrive on Switch on June 22. 2021. Keep an eye out for our full review.

TalkBack / Beautiful Desolation (Switch) Review
« on: May 28, 2021, 05:25:09 AM »

Impressive visuals with controls that really miss the mark.

Beautiful Desolation makes a pretty incredible first impression, though it isn’t immediately clear just what that is. Its top-down perspective and detailed, pre-rendered backgrounds give off the impression of early CRPGs like Diablo or the original Fallout. In reality, however, Beautiful Desolation has more in common with a point-and-click adventure. In fact, on PC that's exactly what it is. On consoles, though, while the structure remains exactly the same, the pointing and clicking is replaced with direct control, and the results aren’t exactly ideal.

Set in an alternate timeline of South Africa, Beautiful Desolation’s story kicks off with a mysterious, triangular-shaped object appearing in the skies. The Penrose, as it is called, ultimately transports our hero and his brother far into the future. From there, they’ll need to find their footing in a strange new world and search for a way back to their own time. The story is told primarily through dialogue with the other inhabitants of the world. Conversations take place via lightly animated 3D-character portraits that will once again feel very familiar to classic CRPG fans. Throughout these encounters, you’ll be presented with dialogue options that can change the course of conversation. The voice acting is very hit and miss, but the writing is generally good and the underlying world and plot is compelling enough.

Beautiful Desolation’s world is spread across a huge number of maps. Some of these can simply be walked between, while others will require a ship or even a teleportation device to reach. Each of these maps is primarily a pre-rendered backdrop which is punctuated by a few real time elements such as blowing trees in addition to your character and NPCs. The visual style and presentation of these pre-rendered environments are, on the whole, very impressive. I did note that the difference in quality and resolution between the real-time and pre-rendered objects is very stark, which breaks the illusion somewhat. Within each of these environments you’ll explore, solve puzzles, pick up items, and slowly work your way through a somewhat intimidating list of quest objectives. You’ll regularly need to hop between different parts of the map, and this is where some of Beautiful Desolation’s technical limitations really start to hit. Loading times are very lengthy, and you’ll often need to move between multiple loading zones to get where you’re going. It turns an already slow gameplay style into a downright trudge. It causes the “Aha!” moment of realizing you have a puzzle solution come with a sense of dread at going where you need to go to actually complete it, which is a shame as the puzzles are generally interesting and well thought out.

That said, the real challenge that Beautiful Desolation faces is its controls and general navigation. Rather than the point-and-click interface present on the PC version, on Switch you control your character with the analogue stick. However, the maps and movement animations were clearly meant to be handled by AI pathfinding and not the player. Your character will slow down and speed up in different spots on the map which looks great and perfectly natural in a point and click but feels strange when you have direct control. On PC, if you hover over a spot you can’t go to, the mouse icon will change; on Switch you’re just constantly running up against invisible walls. I found myself constantly missing key things because I couldn’t figure out how to reach a certain area. Whereas on PC I would simply click it and watch my character go there, on Switch I had to deftly navigate an invisible labyrinth and take only the exact path the game wanted me to walk along. This all makes it virtually impossible to feel totally confident you’ve explored an area fully. Even on the overworld I’d find myself running up against invisible walls and thinking I’d reached the edge of the map, only to later come at it from a slightly different angle and realize there was plenty more map to go.

Beautiful Desolation seems like the type of game that would play well on PC. The puzzles are well structured and the story engaging, barring some rough voice acting. Regrettably, the Switch port just isn’t up to par. Between long loading and controls that border on unusable, playing it is ultimately frustrating. While I appreciate the effort to adapt from PC to console, in this instance the change just doesn’t work with the existing structure.

TalkBack / 10+ Games for Space Combat Sim Fans on Switch
« on: May 18, 2021, 11:14:43 AM »

pew pew

John breaks down a total of 12 games that fans of 3D space combat will want to try out on Switch.

TalkBack / Space Commander: War and Trade (Switch) Review
« on: May 13, 2021, 04:38:26 AM »

An inventive Space RPG with some extra baggage.

Space Commander: War and Trade makes the jump from a free-to-play mobile game to a traditionally priced eShop title. We’ve seen a few previously mobile space sims make their way to Switch over the last few years with varying degrees of success. However Space Commander brings along a fair amount of actual innovation that may help it stand out from the crowd.  

Space Commander is a 3D Space shooter with a strong focus on economy, trade, and building your own personal squadron of fighters. At the outset you’ll be given a very basic fighter, and be tasked with a few different quest types to get a hang of the gameplay loop. The world is broken up into bespoke 3D environments which are traveled between using a map. Some of these are deep space, while others are on the surface of planets. The majority of selectable areas on the map will also include a station where you can repair your ship, buy and sell various goods, refuel, and pick up jobs. Flying anywhere uses up fuel. You can fly slower and use up less fuel, but plotting a course that will take you longer than fifteen hours will increase your chances of being intercepted by pirates, who you’ll have to fight off before you can move on. Unless you come out of this fight perfectly unscathed, you’ll wind up needing to repair your ship at the next stop in addition to refueling it.

The biggest issue facing Space Commander is its economy. It is, simply, too harsh. Just taking a little damage on your ships will often negate whatever payoff you get from completing the job. Heaven forbid you actually lose a ship or two or need to fill up your missiles, then you may find yourself in debt to a repair shop, which will require you to pay double. Space Commander’s economy feels like it was designed to be a pay to win game, because it was. Most of the time I notice this when a game overcorrects its economy and gives you too much money. In Space Commander’s case it feels like they took away the option to buy my way out with real world money but didn’t replace it with an in-game option. Ultimately this left me relying on the most boring part of the game, simply buying and selling goods from one station to another to make a profit that hopefully outweighed my fuel cost. It makes taking on contracts from the job board an actively bad idea.

On the flip side, if you can scrounge up enough spare change, Space Commanders most interesting and unique mechanic is the way it handles owning multiple ships. Where in other space sims, buying a new ship either swaps out your old one or puts your old one in a garage, in Space Commander your new ship is just added to your squadron. You can have up to four ships actively in your squadron and switch between them freely during combat. When you’re not directly in control of a ship it will be piloted automatically and can even be given basic orders to prioritize certain targets and use certain weapons. Building up and upgrading your squadron is by far the best part of the experience. It takes space combat and gives you a party to control a bit like an action RPG.

Combat itself is passable if somewhat simple. This isn’t a full 6-degrees of movement style space sim like Rebel Galaxy Outlaw or Everspace, think instead of all range mode in Star Fox. You can move in all directions but you can’t pull up to the point of flying inverted in the opposite direction. When close enough to any enemy you can lock onto them which automatically pilots your ship to tail them. This almost feels unfair as the enemy AI isn’t good enough to shake you or even accelerate and come back around straight at you. Unless they have a tail gun you’re pretty safe and can take your time shooting them down. Enemy capital ships are a bit more interesting and the lock allows you to target various points across the larger ships. Combat overall isn’t bad but after a few hours it starts to feel very repetitive with only the large capital ships posing much of a challenge.

Outside of the economy, the various mechanics that make up Space Commander range from passable to genuinely inventive. All the pieces are here for an excellent entry level space sim but the horrible economy just drags the entire experience to a halt and makes it feel like much more of a grind than it ought to be. With some very small changes Space Commander could be excellent. As is, it will have some appeal to enthusiasts like myself, but for most there will be other space sims on Switch that will scratch the same itch much better.

TalkBack / Subnautica Graphics Comparison
« on: May 11, 2021, 08:33:37 AM »

Switch VS Xbox One

How well does this huge survival game hold up on Switch?

TalkBack / Subnautica (Switch) Review
« on: May 11, 2021, 08:15:42 AM »

The terror of the ocean can follow you wherever you go.

Despite only being a few years old, having officially left various early access programs in 2018, Subnautica has already proven a hugely influential game in the survival genre. Its blend of crafting, survival, a vast laberythian open world, freeform progression, and gripping story truly outdid anything that came before. On its journey, it has also proven difficult to run on powerful consoles and even PCs simply due to the scale and complexity of its world. Given the lackluster incarnation of similar games on Switch, such as ARK Survival Evolved, Subnautica seems an imposing port. Luckily it arrives on Switch better than one might have expected.

Subnautica opens with a crash landing on an uncharted, ocean planet. The reason for the crash and the nature of this world are, at the outset, totally unknown. From the moment you open the hatch of your lifepod the world is open to you. Ocean stretches as far as the eye can see but as long as you have clean water and food, there’s really nothing stopping you from setting off in whatever direction you choose. And while there are some mysteries to uncover on the surface, the vast majority of Subnautica’s gameplay lies waiting beneath your kicking legs. The only thing stopping you is breathable air, and your own bravery. Many, myself included, will find the world of Subnautica a blend of serene beauty and ever-lurking horror. There is a constant feeling that below you, far into the dark, more and more terrifying creatures lurk. Beyond the ocean floor lie deep tunnels that may span the entire map, and dig ever closer to the core of this world. What lies beyond the darkness is the source of Subnautica’s intrigue.

Upon starting a new game, you’ll be able to choose from four different difficulties. The default in which you’ll manage air, food, and water, a simpler mode that removes the food and water meters, a survival mode with only one life, and a creative mode which disables the story but lets you build and explore freely with no oxygen limits at all. I found the option to remove the food and water meters a particularly nice addition as it makes the experience more approachable to players not as familiar with survival games, without negatively impacting the experience.

The core of Subnautica’s gameplay loop lies in crafting. You’ll dive beneath the ocean’s surface and harvest materials from the seafloor. At first your oxygen won’t last long, so you’ll need to stick to the shallow reefs near your lifepod. You can return to your lifepod in order to craft supplies, materials, and equipment. Eventually you’ll find ways to extend your oxygen supply, to swim faster, even build a base on the ocean floor. While Subnautica almost never tells you exactly what to do, it does constantly urge you to push deeper. Signals from other lifepods will draw you out farther from your own where you’ll find information and blueprints to be crafted. The crafting menu itself is one of the best implementations I’ve seen on a console. Rather than a giant grid, craftable items are separated into a few simple categories. Within each of these are a couple subcategories, and within these can be found individual items to be crafted. It is quick, intuitive, and easy to use. It makes what can so often be a cumbersome experience to navigate with a controller a simple non-intimidating part of the experience.

The Switch version itself arrives mostly unscathed. Compromises are of course present, but most of the experience translates smoothly. Textures and materials in general take a significant downgrade. Pop in, which in all honesty was never Subnautica’s strongpoint, occurs very close to the camera at times. Fog also seems thicker. It isn’t a huge difference but it does make exploring certain areas slightly more difficult. All that being said, the image it presents is clean and reasonably sharp. Especially in handheld mode, Subnautica looks excellent. The water itself, which is probably one of the most visually striking elements of Subnautica’s presentation, is preserved remarkably well on Switch. The light rays present on other platforms are missing here, but otherwise the water looks beautiful. It is clear that this was a priority, which makes sense. The sound design is also excellently translated and an entirely engrossing experience especially with headphones in handheld mode. Subnautica features an excellent soundtrack that reminds me of the Metroid Prime series, and haunting soundscapes that can go from soothing to bone chilling in an instant. You almost always hear a creature looming in the depths before you see it and the effect is incredible. I did notice pretty regular hitches whenever a new segment of the map loaded in, there were also some prolonged framerate drops in some areas that I won’t talk about too much for spoiler reasons. That being said they were areas where I was never in any danger so it didn’t damage the experience too much.

Because of Subnautica’s incredibly freeform gameplay, it is hard to go too deep in without running into something that someone might consider a spoiler. What I found in my first 20 minutes may not be seen by another player for three hours. At the same time I think that’s what makes Subnautica so compelling: every discovery feels real, not some scripted event. Players will unravel the story in an entirely different order and as a result, find their own twists as revelations hit. Subnautica is a survival and narrative experience that stands as a benchmark for the genre. The Switch version itself certainly has its drawbacks, but not enough to weigh down the experience too much. Some of them do admittedly affect gameplay mildly, but the strength of Subnautica still pushes through.

TalkBack / New Pokémon Snap (Switch) Review
« on: April 28, 2021, 05:00:00 AM »

Exactly what you asked for.

When questioned about sequels to many of their dormant franchises, the various voices at Nintendo have often been quoted saying something to the extent of not revisiting a game until they have a fresh new idea for it. Fans often respond saying they’d be perfectly happy with merely an updated version of what they already love. No major innovations, just new content that feels like the game they already enjoy. With New Pokemon Snap, releasing over two decades after the original, Nintendo is trying exactly that. New Pokemon Snap is successful at being more Pokemon Snap. Whatever personal inferences you derive from that statement are more than likely true, for better and for worse.

You arrive in the Lental region, fresh, young, parentless, and ready to pledge your life to the first Pokemon-related scientist you can find. You encounter Professor Mirror (which is definitely a real name and not an alias) who you’re pleasantly surprised to find has already taken in another like-minded orphan. Here you’ll join up with the team at the Laboratory of Ecology and Natural Sciences to help them research Pokemon through the magic of photography and fruit-based animal abuse. With camera in hand you set off to catalogue the islands of Lental.

At its core, New Pokemon Snap is a 360-degree rail-shooter. The player rides along a set course snapping pictures of Pokemon in their natural habitat. Courses are explored both during day and night and often have hidden alternate routes that can be found and traversed. More courses unlock as you progress, totalling a number that significantly outdoes that of the original game. You’ll also level up each course as you turn in more and more pictures. Playing the same course at a higher level changes up the patterns of Pokemon and allows the environment within a level to evolve somewhat. One early level sees Bidoofs building a dam which gradually works its way to completion as you play the stage at progressively higher levels. It adds some nice variety to replays, though I’d still love to see a few more random elements introduced rather than largely seeing the same scripted events play out the same every time.

Each course is beautifully rendered. New Pokemon Snap is, by a monumental margin, the best looking Pokemon game to be released. The world is excellently realized with wonderful attention to detail. A low resolution texture can be spotted in cutscenes now and then, which will no doubt have a certain corner of the fanbase comparing various trees again, but the overall presentation is excellent. The coastal and underwater stages are easily my favorite. Whether playing on the television or handheld, New Pokemon Snap is a showpiece for the system.

At the end of each course you’ll turn in one photograph of each Pokemon you snapped a picture of. These pictures are given a score and also separated into four tiers. The goal of the course is to fill your Photodex with not only every Pokemon in the region, but with a photo from each tier of every Pokemon in the region. Given that you can only turn in one photo of each Pokemon per run, this means you’ll be replaying each stage a lot. Progression through your Photodex and leveling up in each stage also factor into unlocking new stages and nighttime variants, though it's usually not clear exactly what you need to do in order to unlock the next stage. So you just keep playing. This is not a game you can play quickly, and I don’t mean that it's a particularly long game, merely that it’s slow moving. The average playthrough will last around nine hours, give or take depending on your playstyle. But a lot of that time will be spent sitting through photo ratings, and replaying the same stages. It is very similar to the original in this regard, but the experience feels very padded out despite the comparatively larger amount of content as compared to the first game. This is also a highly tutorialized game, so you’ll spend an obnoxiously long time being taught how to press a button to throw fruit.

In terms of elements that make New Pokemon Snap feel legitimately new, the pickings are rather slim. Fans of the original will recognize the fruit that you’re more likely to accidentally pelt Pokemon with than gently lure them with. You can also play a little tune that wakes up some Pokemon and causes others to dance. The Illumina Orbs are a new addition, but they largely just serve to get new actions out of Pokemon who are stationed near enough to specific crystals hidden throughout each stage. Arguably the largest change comes in the form of a scanner. The scanner can be used to highlight Pokemon, but will also point out investigation points. Searching these points can lead to clues about achieving a rare Pokemon sighting or even unlock an alternate route through the course. An icon appears on screen when there is something important to scan, making it pretty obvious when you should do it, but it does add some variety to each course and keeps you on your toes. Motion controls are also available this time around, which are particularly appropriate when playing handheld. They allow you to use your Switch like an actual camera, moving it around you to take pictures. It is a natural addition and one that works perfectly. It also allows you to move much faster than even the max turn speed available with traditional controls.

New Pokemon Snap is exactly what the name implies. It is a new Pokemon Snap and that’s it. It doesn’t reinvent the gameplay, nor does it add to it or even clean it up. Quality of life issues that were present in 1999 stand proudly untouched in 2021. That being said, if you just wanted another Pokemon Snap, this is exactly that. It is significantly bigger than the original, and photo editing options in combination with Twitter and Facebook integration make it a somewhat more social experience. While it is easy to say this is the definitive Pokemon Snap experience, I can’t help but find myself wanting something that truly feels new rather than simply more. New Pokemon Snap is a loyal-to-a-fault sequel, that hopefully harkens to something a bit more adventurous down the line.

TalkBack / Breathedge (Switch) Review
« on: April 27, 2021, 05:13:00 AM »

A charming parody that struggles to stand on its own.

Breathedge strives to be that ideal form of parody in that it pokes fun at a genre, whilst existing as a solid entry in the genre itself. Taking heavy influence from titles like Subnautica, Breathedge tasks a player with surviving alone after their ship explodes in deep space. But is a shattered fourth wall enough to bring freshness into this increasingly populated genre?

As you find yourself alone aboard a mostly destroyed ship, you’ll have only an AI companion to help you survive. While the small surviving area of the ship is pressurized and has breathable air, you’ll need to venture into the cold dark of space to gather resources. At the outset you’ll be heavily restricted to the area immediately around your ship. However as you progress you’ll find a myriad of ways to extend your oxygen supply, but you’ll ultimately still be on a timer. This is the biggest difference between Breathedge and Subnautica, its most obvious inspiration. Where in Subnautica one can surface anywhere to get more oxygen, Breathedge is built around set points. As such exploration feels much more repetitive as, while you’ll gradually be able to go farther, you’re constantly retreading the same territory on each trip. Base building and faster travel options as the game progresses helps to break things up, but the underlying repetitive travel is still present.

As you explore you’ll find materials. Some are simply floating in space ready for harvest, while others will require a specific tool to acquire. Each material can be crafted at your base into other things such as tools, equipment, and sustenance. It is worth noting that the food and water meters feel entirely superfluous here and more a result of accurate parody than an understanding of the mechanic. Since lack of oxygen will always force you back to your base, food and water don't really affect the player other than being two more bars to fill. They are there simply because the genre demands it. On the bright side the materials for food and water are ample and even at the outset, it's never a problem staying fed.

The story plays out primarily through exploration and input from your AI companion. The writing is genuinely funny with plenty of self aware references. The fourth wall might as well not exist for all the time Breathedge spends breaking it.  The story is Breathedge’s strongest feature and does quite a bit to keep you moving forward through the repetitive, slow gameplay. It is also worth noting that a wide variety of play modes are supported ranging from hardcore survival down to pretty much just cruising through the story. Breathedge’s commitment to accessibility is commendable in this regard.

Based on the original PC release, the Switch port itself is largely quite good with one exception. The initial loading time to get into the game is extremely long. With well over a minute of waiting and no animation on screen, I managed to convince myself that the system had frozen everytime I started the game. Luckily reloading from death is very quick, so you only need to sit through it once per play session. The resolution is a little low but Breathedge still turns in a strong visual presentation and runs smoothly. The excellent and somewhat chunky art design helps with this and natural translates well to a lower resolution.

Breathedge doesn’t quite hit that Galaxy Quest level of parody that is on par with its subject, but it is still reasonably entertaining. Unfortunately the gameplay itself suffers from a few serious pacing and mechanical issues, but the story may be funny enough to push you through. Ultimately Breathedge is, at best, a mediocre survival game with a pretty good story. While I wouldn’t suggest this as your first survival game, if you’re a fan of the genre, specifically Subnautica, you’ll likely find some things to enjoy here.

TalkBack / Skate City Grinds Onto Switch This May
« on: April 15, 2021, 08:46:26 AM »

Apple Arcade exclusive makes the jump to Switch!

2.5D skateboarding game, Skate City will arrive on Switch (and other major platforms) on May 6. Skate City is the most recent title to leave Apple Arcade exclusivity.

Originally released on Apple Arcade at the end of 2019, Skate City has received positive reviews. Skate City features three playable cities with over 100 different challenges to complete. An Endless Skate mode is also included along with customization and upgrades for your gear and character.

TalkBack / Interview with Whisker Squadron Developer Aaron San Filippo
« on: April 08, 2021, 07:00:17 AM »

Ushering in a future if indie Star Fox.

Whisker Squadron is, in a nutshell a procedural take on the classic SNES Star Fox formula. Developed by Flippfly, the creators of Race the Sun and Evergarden, Whisker Squadron is currently drawing a lot of attention via its Kickstarter campaign.

I've been following Whisker Squadron since before it was called Whisker Squadron. It has been fascinating to watch it go from small experiment to Kickstarter darling. Along the way I've enjoyed chatting with Aaron and now finally we've had a chance to record one of these chats. Join us as Aaron gives some insights into the behind the scenes of Whisker Squadron's development, the indie Star Fox scene, and more. If you like what you see consider supporting Whisker Squadron on Kickstarter.

TalkBack / Star Wars Republic Commando (Switch) Review
« on: April 06, 2021, 07:35:00 AM »

The original Bad Batch is Back.

Star Wars: Republic Commando is one of the best, and most influential, titles in the pantheon of Star Wars games. It was originally released in 2005 for both Windows and the original Xbox. Its dark, gritty view of the Clone Wars reinvented the franchise, and undoubtedly served as a major inspiration for Dave Filoni’s Clone Wars and Bad Batch series. Even the term “clankers” for droids came from Republic Commando. Delta Squad themselves even made a brief appearance years later in the Clone Wars TV series. All this to say that Republic Commando, at its core, is a very good game. Now it arrives on Switch with a few more compromises than one would hope, but can that underlying quality shine through?

Republic Commando is a squad-based, tactical, first-person-shooter. It takes heavy influence from the Tom Clancy games of the era, along with mega hits like Halo. You command Delta Squadron, a group of highly trained commandos in the Republic army. Each member of your four man squad has an individual specialty. They can be given specific commands but are also capable of making intelligent decisions on their own. Revisiting Republic Commando sixteen years after its initial release, I was impressed with how well the AI of Delta Squad holds up. This is good, as Republic Commando pulls no punches. Even at standard difficulty, it presents a stiff challenge. You and your squad can revive each other, but poor choices will quickly result in a full squad wipe.

The entirety of Republic Commando only covers three missions, but each of these missions spans multiple interlinked levels and span several years across the entirety of the Clone Wars. Each environment is entirely unique though you’ll admittedly spend a long time in each one. That being said they all look great, and hold up well despite their age. Strangely the Switch version is missing a lot of the visual features and materials that made this game such a visual standout, but more on this later. Environments range from large outdoor environments to cramped, dark spaceship corridors. Missions will at times require your team to split up, making your own personal tactics more important than ever. Typical of the era, your health doesn’t recharge automatically, but will need to be refilled at bacta stations. Ammo is also somewhat scarce, and you’ll often find yourself with just enough to make it through a firefight. This forces you to make use of your full arsenal as having enough ammo to force your way through with the standard assault rifle is rarely the case. When with your squad, the choices you make in the heat of battle can be the difference between victory and defeat. Will you breach a door with charges or quietly hack your way in? Will you provide cover fire for a squadmate as they a slice a computer terminal or will you do it yourself? Learning how you and your squad can be most effective is a huge factor is the appeal of Republic Commando.

The Switch version itself is where your personal mileage will vary significantly. While the Switch does provide a significant resolution boost over the original Xbox version, performance is very rough at points. The frame rate is comparable to the original version with intense firefights dragging things down. Additionally when background loading is occurring it can cause the game to lock up entirely for a moment. These issues usually come in waves and while it's arguably similar to its performance in 2005, the fact that the Switch can’t turn in a solid performance is upsetting. In addition to this is the fact that the Switch version, outside of resolution, is largely a downgrade from the Xbox version. Likely due to the fact that this version is built from the PC version, the optimisations present in the Xbox version to run advanced lighting and material effects are not present, or significantly pared back here. This results in a version of Republic Commando that while just as playable as it was 16 years ago, feels light on improvements.

As I said at the outset, Star Wars: Republic Commando is one of the single greatest Star Wars games ever made. While that largely holds true on Switch, it is unfortunate that it doesn’t really provide a definitive experience. At best you get a higher resolution but with pared back visuals and rough performance, it's somewhat difficult to justify outside of handheld mode against the original version. It is a shame that simply loading the original Xbox version disc into a Xbox Series X produces a better remaster than this official remaster. This is still an excellent game, and the Switch version doesn’t take that away, but issues present here significantly dull what ought to be a gleaming jewel.

TalkBack / Balan Wonderworld (Switch) Review
« on: March 31, 2021, 05:25:44 AM »

There are many things that I would like to say to you but I don't know how.

After many hours, Balan Wonderworld remains a mystery to me. It clearly has modern influences—most obviously Super Mario Odyssey in its ability swapping mechanics—and yet it either wildly misunderstands them or simply takes glee in ignoring key elements. It’s backed by the monolithic Square Enix and yet the Switch version in particular feels like a poorly funded indie title that is overstretching a lone developer. At times you’ll catch a glimpse of what seems remarkably close to a vision for the game, yet equally common is the nagging feeling you’ve fallen victim to a scam. The more I played the more I began to think the latter was the case.

Balan Wonderworld is a 3D platformer that has a plot of some sort. The opening cutscene reveals a child who is sad. They meet the titular Balan who is a strange, often-floating, top-hat-wearing, person. Together they set off on a quest that is occasionally theater themed and might be a musical. Balan gives you access to what I assume are the subconsciouses of people who have either been possessed by evil, murdered by a dolphin, or are just generally bummed. Across two levels and a boss fight you’ll save this person. As the game went on my wife and I began to suspect that the people you were rescuing were in fact dead, and Balan was some sort of guardian of Limbo. Your actions were then obviously intended to help these people move on. The girl who was murdered by her possessed dolphin is the most obvious evidence of this being the plot. When her dolphin murders her, it knocks off her scuba diving gear, thus the death. When you complete her levels you see her swimming under the ocean with the dolphin again but now she no longer needs a breathing apparatus, because she’s already dead. I dare anyone to tell me this isn’t the plot of Balan Wonderworld.

The primary hook (or harpoon, or whatever is the most threatening sharp device you don’t want to be hit by) of Balan Wonderworld is the costume system. Across each stage you’ll encounter costumes sealed in boxes that require a key to open. Each costume has an ability; and only one ability. Outside of pausing and switching costumes, every button on the controller does the same thing, whatever action is associated with your current costume. For some of them it may involve jumping; for others it will be something that super isn’t jumping. Occasionally you’ll find yourself in a position where you need to jump to move forward or back but have managed to be in possession of no costumes that can jump. Whoops, I guess you’d better go die. If you’re lucky you’ll be within range of a checkpoint where if you stand very still for a long time you’ll be given the option to switch to any of your other extra costumes. You’re never told you can do this however, and are most likely to find it as you take a moment standing on a checkpoint to weep softly as you question your life choices.

With a pedigree rich in Sega and Sonic the Hedgehog lineage, Balan Wonderworld does at least carry with it some of that 90’s Sega-style charm. Levels are varied thanks to the different costumes native to each and can visually be quite endearing. The music—outside of the fever dream musical numbers when you rescue a character—is quite good, and probably a highlight of the entire experience. Most of the level design itself is perfectly passable. The presentation might normally allow me to gloss over some otherwise rough edges, but unfortunately the Switch manages to run precisely none of it. Every time you switch costumes the frame rate stutters, and every time enemies spawn it freezes up entirely for a second or two. Just moving through the level can cause debilitating performance drops that have caused me to completely lose control of my character on multiple occasions.

Each level contains eight Balan statues. You’ll be able to get to a few on your first run through, but most require revisiting the stage with costumes from other stages. These aren’t open levels in the vein of 3D Mario either, but rather a linear point A to point B with statues hidden along the way. When you hit the point in the stage to get a statue, you need to already be fully equipped. At this point you’d better hope you’ve stumbled into the costume swap on checkpoints, otherwise some of these are borderline impossible to reach. But here’s the thing; even if you know exactly which costume you need and you have that costume unlocked, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to use it. In order to switch to a costume you need to have extras of it in your stockpile. For that to happen, the costume needs to get knocked off your list of up to three costumes that can be in your inventory at once by finding a new costume, sending it into your stockpile. If you don't already have the costumes you need stockpiled, then you literally have to grind for costumes. This requires you to go to a stage that contains the costume you want, get a key, unlock the costume box with the key, go back to the key, wait for the key to respawn, then take the key back to the box, wait for the box to respawn, and continue until you feel you have enough.

Across each level are various colored gems. After completing a level you bring these back to the Chao Garden esque hub world. Here you can use the colored gems to build up the Tower of Tims. What’s a Tim? I’m so glad you asked, and I wish I knew! Tims eat the gems, then go to the place where gems are turned in and deposit them for you. Oh you thought you could deposit the gems yourself? No, that would be ridiculous! You need to feed the Tims your gems from specific locations in the hub world that are all as far from the deposit point as possible. Each color of gem has specific points it can be fed to the Tims from, and if you thought you could just drop them and go you’d be wrong. The Tims take a long time to eat all the gems and if there are too many gems and not enough Tims then the gems will despawn, meaning you won’t be able to unlock another section of the Tower of Tims, and that would be a disaster! So you’ll need to wait at each drop off point, carefully monitoring the consumption of gems, picking back up any that are about to despawn, then putting them back out when the Tims are ready, before finally moving on to the next color.

Balan Wonderworld will leave you with a sense of wonder. A nagging sort of wonder. The kind of wonder that makes you wonder. Wonder how a game could so masterfully miss literally every opportunity to treat its players with a modicum of respect. Wonder how a very well known publisher could stomach having it in their library. Wonder what in the world happened with the Switch version. Wonder where your $60 went.

TalkBack / Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning (Switch)
« on: March 15, 2021, 08:02:57 AM »

A relic of a simpler time.

Game design is an ever evolving art form. The pinnacle of a genre may a few years later become a quaint display of outdated philosophies. Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in the realm of open-worlds, where a benchmark like Skyrim can so instantaneously be pushed aside by Breath of the Wild. Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, the latest victim of THQ Nordic’s questionable remaster naming conventions, is perhaps the greatest example I’ve seen of this concept in a very long time. It is simultaneously a fantastic, open-world western RPG, whilst also displaying some of the most frustratingly dated game design the 7th generation has to offer.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning, a remaster of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, originally released on Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2012. With an all star cast of designers, Kingdoms of Amalur was one of many titles that went into development in the aftermath of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s reinvention of the genre. It offered an expansive world which would ultimately grow further with DLC, colorful visuals saturated with bloom typical of this generation, hack and slash style combat to draw in action fans, and more lore than most players would ever bother diving into. It launched to favorable reviews and was set to spawn a franchise before the development studio ultimately shut down due to bankruptcy and the rights passed to the taxpayers of Rhode Island. Listen, there’s a whole story there to dig into, but I’m trying to keep this concise. In 2018, THQ Nordic purchased the rights and released Kingdoms of Amalur Re-Reckoning on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in 2020. Now a year later, this version arrives on Switch.

You play as a mysterious hero, resurrected from the dead with no knowledge of your past. As someone who has already died, our hero is found to be able to modify the threads of fate and is the only hope the world has of holding back the evil Tuatha, a group of rogue elves bent on world domination. The plot is dense with lots of confusing names you’ll likely have trouble keeping track of. Luckily the bad guys wear black armor and glow red, so it's usually pretty obvious who needs a good stabbing. The general progression could be compared to the work of BioWare, with multiple dialogue options, and a dialogue wheel that's hard not to compare to Mass Effect.

Kingdoms of Amalur is somewhat open-world. The map opens up in multiple large regions, and once a region opens up you are free to explore it as you wish. Towns, dungeons, and sidequests are littered throughout each area. A huge amount of the content available in Kingdoms of Amalur is entirely optional. Pushing your way through the primary quest line will leave you missing most of it. Unfortunately, despite being a very late 7th generation game, the world is by no means seamless. Loading screens occur between each area, dungeon, and building. When held against something like Skyrim which originally released just a few months prior, Kingdoms of Amalur’s world feels restrained by comparison. That being said, the regions on offer are diverse, ranging from overgrown forests, to vast fields, and deserts.

Combat was one of Kingdoms of Amalur’s widest departures from genre norms at the time. Combat encounters feel more like a hack-and-slash brawler, rather than a traditional RPG. The design in general isn’t too far off from a modern action RPG. At any time you can equip two weapons, which will each be assigned to a different button. Weapon types range from multiple sword styles, to bows, knives, and magical staves. Changing weapons types has a huge effect on gameplay. Likewise, as you level up you’ll be able to unlock skills to increase your proficiency with various weapons and abilities. Spells can also be unlocked that can either add variety to combat, or be developed to the point of rendering weapons mostly useless. Character development in terms of combat is incredibly freeform. The only hitch in the combat is one that really can’t be chalked up to age, as it had been established two generations earlier. Kingdoms of Amalur doesn’t let you target an enemy. Instead, you constantly fight with the camera to keep your opponents in view as it seemingly intentionally swings around to face in the wrong direction. This wasn’t a new concept in 2012, and the absence of a targeting system is baffling. It also would have made an incredibly helpful addition to this remastered version.

The Re-Reckoning version of Kingdoms of Amalur was developed by Kaiko, who also created the Warmastered version of the first Darksiders game, and the Re-Mars-tered edition of Red Faction Guerrilla, both of which have excellent Switch versions. Kingdoms of Amalur on Switch appears to run at or near a full 1080x1920 docked and likely a native 720x1280 when handheld. Image quality in both configurations is outstanding, barring the occasional pre-rendered cutscene carried over from the original release. Performance is generally good when playing handheld though when playing docked I did have a few instances of prolonged frame rate drops. Unfortunately, unlike the above-mentioned Kaiko-developed remasters, Kingdoms of Amalur does not include both a graphics and performance mode on Switch. An option to drop the docked resolution in favor of a more stable performance would have been a great addition to this version of the game. As is, it’s entirely playable and looks great, but performance while docked does leave something to be desired. Similarly, sound quality is very highly compressed, which becomes very evident when playing on a TV with decent speakers. This is a shame as Grant Kirkhope’s excellent score deserves to be heard in its full glory as it’s honestly some of his best work.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning on Nintendo Switch is a decent remastering effort of a game that, while largely excellent for its time, hasn’t aged flawlessly. Some of this is the unavoidable battering of time, but other things, such as the lack of a target lock, feel like improvements that could have, and should have, been implemented. Approaching Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning from an entirely modern perspective, therefore, will likely lead to some frustration. However, if you can put yourself in the necessary headspace, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning is an enthralling, though flawed, adventure that perfectly encapsulates a very specific era in game design history.

TalkBack / Mail Mole (Switch) Review
« on: March 03, 2021, 04:29:42 AM »

Like if 3D World had a Monty Mole mode.

If you’ve ever sat around playing a 3D Mario game, thinking to yourself, “I sure do wish Monty Mole had his own game,” then Mail Mole might be for you. Mail Mole is a 3D platformer in much the same vein as Super Mario 3D World. We’ve seen a resurgence of 3D platformers of late featuring all manner of creatures and characters jumping from place to place. The big difference for Mail Mole is that playing as a mole has a real tangible effect on gameplay.

At a glance, Mail Mole may look fairly generic. Its bland, flat, art design doesn’t exactly draw the eye. But Mail Mole makes one important change to traditional 3D platforming that has a surprisingly large ripple across its gameplay. As a mole, Molty (the protagonist) spends most of the game underground. And I don’t mean in underground levels, I mean he’s literally burrowing around the level rather than running around on top. The only way you know where Molty is, is via the dirt he kicks up as he moves. This impacts the game in two ways: Molty’s freedom of movement and his jumping mechanics.

Because Molty is underground, he can very easily slip through small gaps. While it doesn’t seem like something you’d have trouble adjusting to, the level design regularly enjoys pointing it out by allowing Molty to slip into areas that wouldn’t be accessible were he to be standing above ground. Molty’s jumps take even more getting used to. Rather than simply pressing a button to jump and perhaps holding it longer to jump higher, Molty only jumps when you release the jump button. Keeping the button held down for longer allows a jump to charge up. Once again, this doesn’t seem like it would be a huge adjustment, until you realize that it means all significant jumps need to be planned. A quick tap of the jump button will barely cause Molty to leave the ground. This makes for a more thoughtful platforming experience than one commonly sees.

Outside of these mechanics, the basic structure of Mail Mole is very traditional. Worlds are accessed from a central hub with each world including four stages. Upon completion of all stages in a world, a race will be unlocked through one of those stages. I was a little worried at first as the early stages are painfully easy, but there is a nice slope up the difficulty curve once you make it a couple worlds in. The races at the end of each world in particular, generally offer a very real challenge. Every once in a while, a turtle pirate in a UFO will attack and you’ll need to fight him off. These boss fights do grow gradually more complicated, but it was a little disappointing to essentially see the exact same concept used over and over again with only mildly more complex layouts.

The one area of Mail Mole I struggled to get into was its visual design. Molty himself looks quite charming, but the world itself and the other characters don’t feel like they have the same amount of thought put into them. Now and then a stage would come along with a more ambitious visual identity; some of the ruins stages come to mind. However, overall Mail Mole is very plain on the visual front. On the bright side, it does run quite well and looks sharp both docked and handheld. The music is also fun and fits the tone well.

Mail Mole is a very interesting concept that is largely executed well. It forces the player to adjust their brain to a new kind of 3D platforming in a way few games do. Its only real failing is that these ideas could benefit from being pushed further. Repeated concepts with only minimal iteration can make the mid game a bit slow. That being said it still represents a surprisingly original 3D platformer whose concepts I’d love to see taken even further.

TalkBack / Override 2: Super Mech League (Switch) Review
« on: March 01, 2021, 02:07:00 PM »

Not quite as super as one would hope

When I first saw Override and by extension its sequel, Override 2, I was immediately interested. At a glance I saw something that looked like Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters but with some mech flair. Other great arena fighters like Custom Robo and Power Stone came to mind as well. This is a genre that, when done right, has provided me endless hours of fun, so I was excited to give Override 2 a shot.

Override 2 is a mech brawler featuring an assortment of diverse mechs, each with their own moveset. You’ll work your way through more and more difficult battles either offline or online in a variety of game modes. Fights range from one on one, all the way to four fighters in both free for all and team configurations. It is clear that the ideal way to play is online; however, in my playtime I never successfully found an online game and wound up playing exclusively against AI.

What makes Override 2 unique is its attack controls. Mechs are controlled using the triggers and bumpers of your controller. L and R control your mech’s left and right arms, respectively. Likewise ZL and ZR control the legs. This gives you specific control over each limb when it comes to combat. To be clear, movement is still handled with the left stick as one would expect. It is an interesting concept which does give the player a feeling of direct control over the mech. It feels a bit more like you’re actually piloting your giant robot rather than simply playing a fighting game. That being said, it is ultimately little more than a gimmick: charming but with little effect on gameplay. That is Override 2’s greatest flaw; while it's strong on charm, it doesn’t have much in the way of a unique hook. In the end it results in a distinctly average arena fighter. The gameplay is by no means bad, but if you’ve played any other arena fighter you know what you’re getting here.

Looking at Override 2 gameplay on other platforms, it is clear that it can look quite nice. Unfortunately, the Switch version goes beyond graphical downgrade and into the range of just being somewhat ugly. The art itself is very good, but the Switch version just doesn’t deliver it at a level that does justice to that art. As well, the performance in general is a little rough. Granted this isn’t an extremely fast-paced fighter to begin with given its kaiju inspirations, but the performance dips just add to the lackluster presentation.

As a game viewed independently from platform, Override 2 is a functional if not exceptional arena fighter that is brimming with charm and strong visual design. As a Switch game, it has a few too many rough edges to strongly recommend. It isn’t downright bad; this version just doesn’t carry with it any of Override 2’s strengths, leaving you with an ugly arena fighter that struggles to find originality or unique mechanics.

TalkBack / Panzer Dragoon II Zwei Remake Coming Later This Year
« on: February 26, 2021, 02:01:15 PM »


In a somewhat odd move, Forever Entertainment's official Panzer Dragoon twitter account seems to have confirmed a release window for Panzer Dragoon II Zwei Remake in the replies of another tweet. The reply confirms that the game is aiming for a release sometime this year.

The original Panzer Dragoon Remake released as a timed exclusive on Nintendo Switch last year, and has since come to other platforms. No platforms have currently been confirmed for the sequel. Panzer Dragoon II Zwei was originally released for the Sega Saturn and featured more diverse gameplay and significantly improved performance over the original game.

TalkBack / No More Heroes III Gets Long Awaited Release Date
« on: February 17, 2021, 01:13:00 PM »

And it's not too far away!

Switch owners will be able to check out the long awaited No More Heroes III later this year. Today's Nintendo Direct revealed that No More Heroes III will release on August 27th.


Don't worry, you don't have to use motion controls while riding the bus... but you could.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is on its way to Switch via The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD. Beyond being upped to high defenition, Skyward Sword HD also features new control options. Two Joy Cons can be used to emulated the original Wii motion controls. A new motion free control setup is also available. In this mode the player can use the right stick to manipulate Link's sword and other motion based items.

In addition to the game itself are a set of Skyward Sword Joy Cons designed to match the Master Sword and Link's wooden shield in Skyward Sword. These will launch alongside the game.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD is set to released July 16th.

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