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TalkBack / Smashterpieces Podcast Episode 35: Animal Crossing
« on: July 28, 2021, 09:15:44 AM »

I'm so tired of hearing about adorable nieces who want a fish.

Welcome to the first and likely final meeting of this HOA, we’re glad you’ve taken the time out of your busy schedule to be with us today. We don’t want to keep you here for too long so let’s just go ahead and jump into it, shall we?

Presented by Anonymous Dinosaur and Nintendo World Report, this is Smashterpieces - a casual walk through the history of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Roster. On this show, hosts Joe DeVader and Matt Zawodniak are playing one game for every fighter in the newest Super Smash Bros. game, from 1984's Duck Hunt to 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Each game will be live-streamed by both of us, and then we'll convene to talk about it on the podcast.

Today’s agenda is a collection of neighborhood complaints from the town of Smash that have been combined to form what we’re calling Smashterpiece #35: Animal Crossing. All parties involved have decided to remain anonymous out of fear for their safety. Complaint #1: One resident of Smash, hereby known only as “K”, grifted the town salesman out of roughly 50% more paper than she would ever need, he didn’t appreciate it. Complaint #2: Another resident, now known as “B”, was seen walking along the beach in the dark with what a neighbor described as “a look of murderous intent” and went fishing for several consecutive hours. Complaint #3: Multiple instances of people taking things out of the lost and found that is not there. We’re going to jump to our panel of experts now so they can talk about their month in the town of Smash, so I guess please enjoy that.

Join us next time as we totally win a completely free and non-haunted mansion in Smashterpiece #36: Luigi’s Mansion

You can find previous episodes at Anonymous Dinosaur's website!

Our list of games can be found here!

You can watch Matt and Joe stream these games on the NWR Twitch channel!


I have missed the feeling of a new Ace Attorney game.

It took so long for The Great Ace Attorney to finally come to the West that I still instinctively call it by its Japanese title “Dai Gyakuten Saiban” from time to time. With half a decade’s time between its original Japanese release on 3DS and the announcement of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles earlier this year, I’d almost lost hope that we’d ever see a localized release at all. Thankfully those worries have been proven wrong, and I’m happy to say that Great Ace Attorney may not only be worth the wait but also be better off for it in the end.

For those unfamiliar with the Ace Attorney franchise, it’s a visual novel adventure series where you play the part of a defense attorney in a court trial. Throughout the multiple cases you’ll take in the adventure, you’ll need to investigate crime scenes, talk to witnesses, and ultimately present your case in court in an attempt to prove your client innocent. It’s essentially a whodunnit story where you actually need to solve the mystery yourself in order to keep reading.

Let’s take care of the elephant in the room right away: the reason Great Ace Attorney took so long to be released in English, according to the franchise’s localization director, is because of its nature as a period piece. The game stars Ryunosuke Naruhodo, the ancestor of Ace Attorney’s regular protagonist Phoenix Wright, who is on a cultural exchange visit to London around the turn of the century. The game is a melting pot of references to both Meiji-era Japan and late Victorian-era England, all of which have been perfectly preserved with all the authenticity and charm you’d expect from an Ace Attorney game.

Dialogue is carefully written so that every character has a distinct voice that not only represents the wide variety of accents and dialogues in London, but also the linguistic idiosyncrasies of the Japanese main characters. Ryunosuke will often speak privately with his assistant Susato, and even though this dialogue is presented in English for the benefit of the audience there’s a noticeable change in their speech patterns that implies they’re speaking Japanese. The biggest giveaway is whether or not they’re using English or Japanese honorifics (Mr. Naruhodo vs. Naruhodo-san).

The culture and history of turn-of-the-century London is also a huge appeal of the setting. A lot of work clearly went into researching the time period to accurately portray not only the way people lived at the time but also the social and political climate. A running thread through the game’s plot is a friendship treaty between Japan and Great Britain—a real historical event that marked a big change in Japan’s foreign relations. There are also smaller things that have an impact on the story such as the lasting consequences of the British window tax that led to many homes in London filling in their windows with bricks. I could write a whole review just about how well The Great Ace Attorney presents its historical setting, but suffice it to say it is handled spectacularly.The only weakness of the story is one that’s inadvertently fixed by the long delay it took us to receive it. The first game in the collection doesn’t feel like a complete Ace Attorney adventure; in addition to the fact that it just feels shorter, the game ends with a lot of mysteries totally unresolved. If I had played this game on 3DS back in 2015 I would’ve been left a little disappointed at how much was held back in order to get me to buy a sequel. But now, in 2021, both games are featured in the same package. As soon as the credits ended on the first game I was able to immediately start playing the second and continue the story. The combined package turns two games that feel a little lacking into one game that feels packed to the brim.

In terms of gameplay, The Great Ace Attorney features all of the typical mechanics of the franchise and then some. Gameplay is split between two phases: investigations and trials. While investigating, you’ll interview witnesses and explore crime scenes looking for evidence or key pieces of testimony. Afterwards you’ll take what you’ve learned to the courtroom to defend your client. In trials, a witness will be called to the stand to testify and you’ll be given the opportunity to press their statements until you find something that contradicts the facts of the case. Once you’ve found a contradiction, you’ll present evidence to prove that the witness is lying or mistaken.

A new twist on the trial phase is the addition of a jury. Six jurors are present in every trial to pass judgement on the accused, and in typical Ace Attorney fashion all proper legal procedure has been thrown out the window for the sake of our entertainment. The jurors are colorful characters in their own right who give commentary on the proceedings, but eventually they may declare a guilty verdict in the middle of the trial. This isn’t the end, however, as you’ll then enter into a Summation Examination where you will effectively cross-examine the jury themselves in order to pit them against each other to break their consensus and force the trial to continue. From a legal standpoint it makes absolutely no sense, but it’s an entertaining way to add the opportunity to solve a cross-examination simply by putting two statements made in a testimony against each other.

The investigation phase has also been spiced up with the presence of the legendary Sherlock Holmes. Oh, sorry—he’s Herlock Sholmes, presumably the literary character created by Maurice Leblanc for the Arsene Lupin novels. His name is a clever callback to avoid legal issues, but it’s clear from how many obvious references are totally intact that this man is meant to be the great detective himself. During an investigation you’ll occasionally be thrust into “Herlock Sholmes’ Logic and Reasoning Spectacular” where the detective will present his deductions on the events of the case in a flashy and over-the-top spectacle.The twist is that each of Sholmes’ deductions has a mistake, and it’s up to Ryunosuke to correct it. Rather than present evidence, this is an opportunity to observe the finer details of the scene in order to make your own observations. These interludes are fun ways to spice up what is normally the less interesting half of an Ace Attorney game, and they do a surprisingly good job of capturing the spirit of Sherlock Holmes in gameplay.

The only problem with the gameplay is how it often allows the story to get in the way a little bit. This is a weird thing to say about a game that’s largely a visual novel, but it can make the process of unraveling the game’s mysteries feel a little frustrating. I can’t go too into detail for fear of spoilers, but one trial in particular feels a lot like the player is being strung along receiving new information that comes at convenient and unsatisfying times.

This is kind of the point of that part of the story since it’s literally the exact same thing that’s happening to the main characters, and therefore it does a good job of making you feel exactly what you should be feeling. Unfortunately since solving the whodunnit is effectively the only gameplay, it does leave a good chunk of the game feeling like you didn’t really get to play the game. The writers made a bold choice to instill in the player the same frustration as the characters, and while I respect that decision it definitely added to the feeling that the first game in the collection was a bit lacking.

Since the Great Ace Attorney games had never received a western release before, Capcom could’ve easily put the two games on a Switch cartridge with nothing more than a main menu to choose between them and no one would’ve complained. In reality, they took the extra step to really make this collection feel worthwhile to people who might have already played the original through the inclusion of some excellent bonus features. Eight “escapade” mini-episodes have been added to give a little extra screen time to the characters, and a gallery with concept art and a sound test round out the package. The gallery and sound test specifically are a huge appeal to me, since they feature commentary by the character artists and composers that give insight on the game’s development. These are exactly the kinds of bonus features that collections like this often lack, and they go a long way to add value to this package that could’ve easily gotten away with far less.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is simply a fantastic package that feels great to finally be able to play. Despite a few struggles with the franchise’s constant challenge of toeing the line between its story and gameplay, Great Ace Attorney feels like a series highlight. Ace Attorney as a whole feels like it’s in limbo now since we’re now four years past a brand new game being released in any territory, but hopefully this long-awaited localization is a sign of things to come. The Great Ace Attorney may not technically be a new game, but it’s still just as good as I would expect a brand new Ace Attorney to be after half a decade’s wait.

TalkBack / A sneak peek at Skyward Sword tonight on Twitch!
« on: July 14, 2021, 07:45:00 AM »

Get a quick early look at the game live!


In case you'd like to see Skyward Sword HD in action ahead of its Friday release, we'll be doing a quick bonus stream of it tonight!

Join us at 6:45pm eastern / 3:45pm pacific for over a half an hour of Skyward Sword HD live on Twitch channel! You can hang out in the chat and ask questions—or just hang out with everyone!

Be sure to stick around afterwards as Joe DeVader continues his ongoing adventures in Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy!

TalkBack / Smashterpieces Podcast BONUS - New Pokémon Snap
« on: June 14, 2021, 08:02:09 AM »

It's time.

Hello and welcome, we’re delighted that you have chosen to join us on the Smashterpieces Pokémon Photo Safari Extravaganza. Presented by Anonymous Dinosaur and Nintendo World Report, this is Smashterpieces - a casual walk through the history of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Roster. On this show, hosts Joe DeVader and Matt Zawodniak are playing one game for every fighter in the newest Super Smash Bros. game, from 1984's Duck Hunt to 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Each game will be live-streamed by both of us, and then we'll convene to talk about it on the podcast.

Please remember to keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times, Smashterpieces will not be held responsible for any loss of limb or other bodily harm you may sustain during your time spent with us. Each of you has been provided with three tools, all of them of vital importance to your journey. First of all there’s the illumina orbs, it can make the Pokémon glow and sometimes they jump higher, or at least that’s what the script says I have to say.

Then you have your apples, those are mostly gonna come in handy when we enter the volcano portion of our tour. There may or may not be a Tyrantrum that appears, he will want you dead. What you’re gonna do in that case is throw the apple at him and he maybe won’t charge at you. If I’m being honest you got about a 50/50 shot on that one,  I’m sure you’ll be fine.

You also have a music player, it’s just there for tax reasons, it doesn’t do anything. Anyways if you’ve signed your liability waivers and have your cameras ready, we hope you enjoy your safari. In the meantime please enjoy this bonus episode on New Pokémon Snap, a game we brought into existence with our weird reality bending curse. Good luck!

We’ll return with Animal Crossing soon!

You can find previous episodes at Anonymous Dinosaur's website!

Our list of games can be found here!


Five years after launch (and nearly two years after the Switch release), Overwatch is joining all of its players together.

With the game's fifth anniversary event recently concluding and a sequel on the horizon, Overwatch will be receiving cross-play support soon.

In a developer update released on the official Overwatch YouTube Channel, game director Aaron Keller announced today that they will soon be allowing players to play the competitive online shooter with friends on other platforms (and yes, PlayStation is included). No specific date was given for when the feature will be enabled but an FAQ post on the game's website promised it would be "soon," with all players who launch the game between the feature's release and the end of 2021 receiving a free in-game loot box to celebrate. Keller was careful to clarify that cross-progression—the ability to sync your account progress across different platforms—would not be included in the update, though he said it would be "something that the Overwatch team is excited to work on in the future."

There are some restrictions included with cross-play, such as console players being required to link their accounts. Additionally, the game's ranked competitive mode will not allow PC players to play with console players, though all console players will still be able to group up across platforms. Console players will also be given the option to disable cross-play if they so choose.

There was no mention of whether cross-play will also be featured in Overwatch 2, which they've said in the past will have all of its multiplayer upgrades backported into the original game for existing players to enjoy.

TalkBack / Smashterpieces Podcast Episode 34: Dr. Mario 64
« on: May 27, 2021, 07:03:29 AM »

Mad Scienstein is so stubborn. He won't return the vitamins!

All rise for the honorable Judge Toadsworth. Today we find ourselves at the trial of one of history’s greatest monsters. This sick individual took advantage of the tired and weary at the worst possible moment, sick and desperate they clung to his lab coat begging for a cure he knew he did not have, and yet… he persisted. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this individual calls himself Dr. Mario, but he is no doctor!

Presented by Anonymous Dinosaur and Nintendo World Report, this is Smashterpieces - a casual walk through the history of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Roster. On this show, hosts Joe DeVader and Matt Zawodniak are playing one game for every fighter in the newest Super Smash Bros. game, from 1984's Duck Hunt to 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Each game will be live-streamed by both of us, and then we'll convene to talk about it on the podcast.

As evidence of this malicious malpractice, we present Smashterpiece #34: Dr. Mario 64! How does the jury feel about this falling block puzzle game? What does this game do impressively, and what does it do very unimpressively? Does the soundtrack sure exist? All that and more in today’s trial! … I mean episode!

Join us next time as we spend a month of cohabitation in an animal filled town in Smashterpiece #35: Animal Crossing

You can find previous episodes at Anonymous Dinosaur's website!

Our list of games can be found here!

You can watch Matt and Joe stream these games on the NWR Twitch channel!

TalkBack / Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (Switch) Review
« on: May 18, 2021, 06:00:00 AM »

One more god rejected.

Playing Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne on Nintendo Switch feels a bit like coming home. Although Nocturne was the first Shin Megami Tensei game to be localized into English, it was the only numbered game in the series not to have been released on a Nintendo platform—a fact only made more unusual when its sequel, Shin Megami Tensei IV, was exclusively released on 3DS. After nearly 20 years this missed connection has finally been rectified in the form of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster, though there have been a couple of bumps in the road on the way to the Switch.

Nocturne begins with the end of the world, as Tokyo literally folds in on itself and humanity is decimated in an event called “the Conception”. Now demons roam the Earth and have replaced humans as the dominant species, building a new society in the ruins left behind. You play as the Demi-Fiend, one of the few survivors of the apocalypse who has been gifted the power of a demon. From there many questions are raised, such as why you were granted these powers and what happened to the humans who caused the Conception, and few answers are given for a long while. Nocturne’s narrative is more interested in selling you on the atmosphere rather than its plot; while there are eventually answers to these questions you won’t be getting them quickly.

Thankfully that atmosphere is incredibly compelling, as the demons that have replaced humanity wasted no time in setting up their own society with its own conflicts and troubles. The politics and mysteries of demon society are slowly revealed as you progress through the story, which lends a feeling of discovery and exploration to the backdrop of a very real and familiar city. Strange and unique sights like a sea monster guarding the exit to a hospital, a race of sewer people that have never seen money before, and a spanish skeleton that appears from thin air and inevitably punches you into the game over screen all do a fantastic job of feeding your curiosity, compelling you to want to see more as the story slowly drops more breadcrumbs about what’s going on behind the scenes.

If you’ve ever played a JRPG, you’ll probably be familiar with the structure of Nocturne’s gameplay outside of battle. You’ll explore the world and meet various people who will tell you their stories and give hints on where you’re supposed to go. This will lead you into areas that could be described as dungeons where you’ll have to navigate through a gauntlet of enemies to reach your goal.

Progression in Nocturne is in line with many other classic JRPGs that were released in The Good Old Days™ when players weren’t given a firm direction on where exactly they were supposed to be going. You’ll need to pay close attention to what NPCs have to say about events occurring in the world, and since some hints are more cryptic than others you will occasionally need to do some exploring in order to stumble into the story. I rarely ran into a situation where I couldn’t at least come up with a good guess as to what I had to do next, but the rare time that I was completely stumped made me pretty thankful this game is old enough and popular enough to have some pretty comprehensive guides online.

Meanwhile Nocturne’s combat is what really sets it apart from other games of its era. The game features a complex system of elemental strengths and weaknesses that work in tandem with a unique turn order system that lets you control the flow of battle. Each action in your turn is kind of like a consumable resource represented by turn icons in the corner of the screen. At the start of your turn you’ll usually have as many turn icons as you do party members with each action consuming one turn icon. Once you’re out of turn icons, control passes to the enemy demons.  Successfully hitting an enemy’s weakness will only consume half of a turn icon, so you can effectively double your number of actions before the enemy’s next turn. Poor outcomes such as missing an attack or hitting an enemy with an element that they’re strong against will instead double the number of turn icons consumed, returning control to the opponent faster.

Enemy demons also play by the same rules with their own turn icons, so you’ll need to pay attention to your team’s strengths and weaknesses in order to get the most out of your turns while trying to prevent the opponent from getting the chance to steamroll you. There are a wide range of skills that you and your allied demons can learn in order to come up with varied strategies to take on any opponent. If you don’t have a solid team with a comprehensive plan then many of the game’s tougher fights will be over before they even start.

This sounds difficult and maybe a bit scary, but it’s one of Nocturne’s greatest strengths since it means that you’ll rarely have to mindlessly grind EXP in order to beat a boss by simply raising your level. Whenever I ran into an opponent that could hilariously curbstomp me I was almost always able to turn it around in a few attempts by just figuring out the right team of allies to mitigate its strengths and hammer in its weaknesses. However, that’s not to say you’ll never be grinding at all since the simple act of getting that team together can be easier said than done.

There are two ways to gain new demon allies to fight alongside you in battle. The first is through negotiation. During combat instead of attacking an opponent you can choose to talk to them in hopes to persuade them to join you. From here they’ll ask you to give them money or items and then maybe ask you a question about your personality. Unfortunately your chance of success in negotiation is more or less random; while there are some tried and true methods that can definitely make it more likely you’ll succeed (like only talking to the last enemy alive or only attempting negotiations during the full moon), every demon negotiation may as well come down to a coin flip. Demons will happily take your entire life savings and simply walk away leaving you with nothing.

The second (and much more reliable) method of gaining new allies is through fusion. Allied demons can be freely fused together in order to create new, more powerful creatures. Fusion lets you get a guaranteed result that can be carefully planned out in advance, making it far more satisfying than the random happenstance of negotiation. Demons formed through fusion will actually be inherently more powerful than their wild counterparts since they are able to inherit skills from the previous demons that created them, so you’ll want to fuse new demons pretty regularly.

Unfortunately due to the nature of fusing two demons into one, you’ll have to replenish your stock of fusion fodder pretty often. You can buy previous demons back from a compendium at any time, but since money is tough to get ahold of you won’t be able to do this without getting into a lot of fights for more cash. The result—either banging your head against the negotiation wall or endlessly fighting demons for pocket change—sure starts to feel like grinding after a while. It’s not as frustrating as actual level grinding since you have a clear and defined goal that you’re trying to achieve rather than just hoping your numbers will be high enough to finally overcome a hurdle, but it can still lead to a lot of time on the battle screen with auto battle turned on.

As for the remaster itself, Nocturne HD has some pretty big highs and lows. The game’s entire script has been re-localized with dialogue rewritten to have a bit more personality. This combines well with the brand new voice acting which is not only unique to the remaster but also fully dubbed in English. The whole cast is simply fantastic, and their excellent performances lend a lot of flair and drama to every scene.

Far less impressive is the game’s technical performance. The framerate is capped at 30fps, and sometimes it struggles to hit that. Cutscenes tend to be jittery, and although the ethereal after-image effect baked into the art style is a good band-aid solution, occasionally the effects are simply too intense for the system. At worst the game can drop into the single digits, and slowdown is noticeable in battle pretty often. It never drops for very long and the turn based nature of the game means it rarely has any effect on gameplay, but it’s disappointing—and frankly a bit bewildering—that the Switch can’t even manage to keep a consistent 30fps on a game that’s nearly twenty years old.

Meanwhile what I would not call acceptable is the horrific quality of much of the game’s music. Nocturne’s fantastic soundtrack was heavily compressed in order to fit on the original PlayStation 2 disc, and that compression has not been undone in the remaster. I truly can’t think of any game on Switch with audio that sounds quite this bad, and the worst part is that it’s not even consistent across the game. Two songs that play right next to each other can have wildly different bitrates, and music will clash with the pristinely recorded voice acting and sound effects. The end result is distracting, and it is nothing short of a shame that Atlus’ own sound engineers couldn’t match up to the quality of some of the soundtrack rips that have been on YouTube longer than some people who will be buying this remaster have been alive.

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne is a beloved game that stands as a core pillar of its franchise history. The wildly popular Persona franchise likely wouldn’t be what it is today without Nocturne’s influence, and as a fan of both series I’m incredibly excited to see this classic title be rediscovered by a new generation. I can’t help but feel let down by the poor audio compression for the soundtrack, but ultimately that was just as much of a problem in 2003 as it is now. This is the best way to play Nocturne, and I think any fan of classic JRPGs owes it to themself to do exactly that.

TalkBack / Smashterpieces Podcast Episode 33: Pokémon Stadium 2
« on: April 21, 2021, 10:47:05 AM »

They're eyeing each other warily!

The crowd cheers, the combatants face each other. Here come the pokéballs, the battle is about to begin in earnest! Oh, it’s Alakazam! Oh, it’s Wooper! This does not seem like a fair fight, but let’s see how it plays out. Well, that Alakazam was knocked out before I even had a chance to blink, what an amazing battle this has been.

Presented by Anonymous Dinosaur and Nintendo World Report, this is Smashterpieces - a casual walk through the history of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Roster. On this show, hosts Joe DeVader and Matt Zawodniak are playing one game for every fighter in the newest Super Smash Bros. game, from 1984's Duck Hunt to 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Each game will be live-streamed by both of us, and then we'll convene to talk about it on the podcast.

While we wait for the next Pokémon to emerge, let’s take a second to tell the folks at home that this is the episode representing Fighter #19: Pichu, it’s the 2000 Nintendo 64 game Pokémon Stadium 2. What makes this game such an interesting piece of video game and Pokémon history? Why does it feel like the RNG seems unfairly against you in certain situations? What do we think of the minigames? And why does it feel like the soundtrack is overall such a dud? All this and more in today’s episode!

Join us next time when we get our medical licenses revoked in Smashterpiece #34: Dr. Mario 64

You can find previous episodes at Anonymous Dinosaur's website!

Our list of games can be found here!

You can watch Matt and Joe stream these games on the NWR Twitch channel!


The best way to play a legendary game, but maybe not the best it could have been.

I was shocked and excited when an HD remaster of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne was announced last summer in a Nintendo Partner Showcase; despite being a fan of SMT and its spin-off subseries,I never had the opportunity to play the original PlayStation 2 game back in the day. Nearly 20 years later Nocturne has finally made its way to Nintendo systems, and Atlus hasn’t sacrificed any of the game’s uniquely bleak themes or incredible difficulty to make it happen—although a relaxed “merciful” difficulty has been added for the sake of those who just want to see the story. This classic JRPG has been faithfully ported to Switch with minimal changes, but unfortunately some of the hardware limitations of the PS2 have come along for the ride as well.

Nocturne wastes no time in establishing its tone, as the apocalyptic end of the world known as the Conception occurs within the game’s first half hour. Tokyo has folded in on itself to become a concave sphere, and demons now roam the land in place of humans. You are one of the few survivors of the Conception and have been granted arcane powers that transform you into a being known as the Demi-Fiend. My preview time with the game was limited—we were only allowed to cover the first two and a half hours of gameplay—so I have no idea where the story goes from there. But I do know that it somehow features Dante from the Devil May Cry series (or, if you haven’t purchased the Maniax DLC, Raidou Kuzunoha from SMT: Devil Summoner).The majority of the game’s opening is spent in Shinjuku Medical Center, which fills the role of a dungeon. The only objective given to you is to leave the hospital, which is easier said than done due to the presence of a powerful demon called Forneus who is guarding the only exit. Simply getting to Forneus is a challenging task in itself since you need to navigate the hospital and explore its multiple floors in order to find security passes to let you through locked doors and navigate through an underground facility with no clear direction. It’s easy to get lost and turned around with so much of the dungeon looking the same, but the inclusion of a comprehensive map on the pause menu makes it easy to tell where you have and have not been. If you’re not sure where to go, then an unexplored section of the map is a good place to start.

Simply getting to Forneus is only half the battle though, since you will have to literally do battle with him and countless other demons along the way in order to secure your safety. Combat is turn-based and heavily influenced by an elemental weakness system. If you’ve never played an SMT game before it kind of works like Pokémon, with enemies being weak or strong against certain elements (although there’s no firm consistency; being strong against ice doesn’t necessarily make you weak to fire). This will obviously affect the damage being dealt in a fight, but it also affects the turn order, which is probably more important in a fight than your raw damage output.

Turn order in Nocturne works off of a system called “Turn Press”, where actions are kind of like a consumable resource represented by turn icons in the corner of the screen. At the start of your turn you’ll usually have as many turn icons as you do party members with each action consuming one turn icon. Once you’re out of turn icons control passes to the enemy demons.  Successfully hitting an enemy’s weakness will only consume half of a turn icon, so you can effectively double your number of actions before the enemy’s next turn. Poor outcomes such as missing an attack or hitting an enemy with an element that they’re strong against will instead double the number of turn icons consumed, returning control to the opponent faster. Enemy demons also play by the same rules with their own turn icons, so you’ll need to pay attention to your team’s strengths and weaknesses in order to get the most out of your turns while trying to prevent the opponent from getting the chance to steamroll you.

Nocturne’s greatest weakness is probably how unfriendly it is to new players. It effectively has no tutorial, throwing you directly into the action and giving you a real fight (which can and probably will defeat you on harder difficulty levels). Key mechanics like how to convince demons to join you or the phases-of-the-moon system that affects enemy demon strength are only explained by missable nameless NPCs who only explain the surface-level details of the mechanics. I didn’t really feel like this was a problem since Nocturne is nearly two decades old, so there are plenty of resources online that can explain the game’s systems in detail, but this is something that newcomers will need to be aware of from the start of the game. To truly understand what you’re doing you’ll either have to do some independent studying online or a lot of trial and error.As for the experience of playing the remaster on Switch, it is certainly an improvement from the PS2 original but I am left pretty disappointed by some of the things they chose not to improve. Major story scenes are now fully voice-acted, which is a welcome addition alongside a touched-up localization that’s gone over the game’s entire script to give dialogue more personality. Demon fusion has also been improved with the ability to manually select skills to be inherited instead of them being randomly chosen, but since fusion is only unlocked a couple minutes before the preview cut-off I didn’t get a chance to really experiment with it.

The biggest downside in the remaster is the heavy audio compression that’s wreaked havoc on the game’s battle music. Nocturne’s soundtrack was significantly degraded in order to save space on the original PS2 disc, and this has sadly not been improved in the remaster. The result is a horrific clash of quality as the pristinely recorded voice acting leads into music that sounds like it was crunched down to fit on an N64 cartridge. It’s baffling and incredibly disappointing that this was considered acceptable for a 2021 release on modern hardware since you can pull up a rip of the OST that was uploaded to YouTube before the Obama administration and it’ll still be a better audio quality than this remaster. Every battle track in the game seems to be affected, so this problem is extremely pervasive over the course of a long JRPG.

Given the game’s greath length, I can tell that my time so far has barely scratched the surface. I’ve hardly had time to really experiment with the gameplay mechanics, and I don’t have much of an idea at all as to where the story will take me from here. Despite this I’m incredibly excited to see more; with deep combat mechanics and an intriguing and twisted world to explore I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen so far a lot. Nocturne is a beloved JRPG with a fantastic pedigree, so I only expect it to get even better from here.

TalkBack / Smashterpieces Podcast Episode AF21: Halo: Combat Evolved
« on: April 01, 2021, 06:55:48 AM »

Your environment suit should serve you well when the Flood begins to alter the atmosphere. You are a good planner.

Let us look back, far into the past (roughly around 2001, so basically ancient). In the wondrous land of “Bun-Jee” a small single celled organism called “combat” enjoyed a carefree existence. But one day combat found itself in the shadow of a larger being called a MICROSOFT. At first it was afraid, but eventually the two formed a symbiotic relationship, and thus combat… evolved. Yes, I am aware the previous sentences sound like the rantings of a madman but to be honest you should know what you signed up for by now.

Presented by Anonymous Dinosaur and Nintendo World Report, this is Smashterpieces - a casual walk through the history of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Roster. On this show, hosts Joe DeVader and Matt Zawodniak are playing one game for every fighter in the newest Super Smash Bros. game, from 1984's Duck Hunt to 1984's Duck Hunt. Each game will be live-streamed by both of us, and then we'll convene to talk about it on the podcast.

Today’s episode is about the game representing fighter #458, Master Chief, it’s the one and only Halo: Combat Evolved. How did it feel playing this game in co-op, and how did this affect Joe’s first time playing in general? What is the fascinating development history behind this game? How is that music so damn good? All that and more in today’s episode!

Join us next time as we probably don’t travel into the mushroom forest.

You can find previous episodes at Anonymous Dinosaur's website!

Our list of games can be found here!

You can watch Matt and Joe stream these games on the NWR Twitch channel!

TalkBack / Smashterpieces Podcast Episode 32: Pokémon Puzzle League
« on: March 04, 2021, 11:04:51 AM »

When you're hot, you're hot!

Hello, we’re back once agaI’M GONNA WIN! … We are here to talk abouYOU’VE HAD IT! … Can I please just get a full sentence out beCAN’T WIN ‘EM ALL! … This is seriously gratiYOU’RE WASTING MY TIME! I beg of you, just let me… oh, they’re done. Cool.

Presented by Anonymous Dinosaur and Nintendo World Report, this is Smashterpieces - a casual walk through the history of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Roster. On this show, hosts Joe DeVader and Matt Zawodniak are playing one game for every fighter in the newest Super Smash Bros. game, from 1984's Duck Hunt to 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Each game will be live-streamed by both of us, and then we'll convene to talk about it on the podcast.

Today’s discussion is about Smashterpiece #32: Pokémon Puzzle League, a reskin of Tetris Attack which in itself was a reskin of Panel de Pon. Why did we initially think this game would be a mistake, and how deep did we go into the game itself? Why does Joe describe the game’s sound design as “a nightmare”? Why is the soundtrack a weird one to discuss? And is Ash truly going to win? All that and more in today’s episode!

Join us next time as we battle our way up Gym Leader Castle in Smashterpiece #33: Pokémon Stadium 2!

You can find previous episodes at Anonymous Dinosaur's website!

Our list of games can be found here!

You can watch Matt and Joe stream these games on the NWR Twitch channel!

TalkBack / Wii U System Update Released; Yes, in 2021
« on: March 01, 2021, 02:28:00 PM »

The Wii U is approaching maximum stability.

After two and a half years, the Wii U has received a system update.

We're only two days away from its successor's fourth anniversary, but Nintendo seems to still remember the Wii U enough to make small changes after all these years. A new firmware update was quietly released today, bringing the system up to version 5.5.5 (skipping 5.5.4 for unknown reasons). Unsurprisingly, the update's official patch notes merely say that "improvements to overall system stability and other minor adjustments have been made to enhance the user experience."

It's not clear why Nintendo chose to push out an update to the Wii U now, but the patch comes only four weeks before the day of reckoning where several of their limited-edition games will be delisted from the Switch eShop. Alongside the removal of these titles, the online features for the Wii U version of Super Mario Maker will be reduced on the same day, permanently disabling the ability for players to upload new levels to the game's online collection.

TalkBack / Smashterpieces Podcast BONUS - Sonic Adventure 2
« on: February 22, 2021, 12:20:52 PM »

Is that what Chaos Control is?

We’ve heard the words of many a wise guide throughout our years, a mentor or simply a person on the street trying to give us words to uplift us in a time of struggle. Sometimes however these beings of great knowledge instead ask us questions, ones meant to help us come up with our own wisdom that we too can pass on to those who come after. So we pass the question we were asked to you: Can you feel life moving through your mind? Can you feel time slipping down your spine?

Presented by Anonymous Dinosaur and Nintendo World Report, this is Smashterpieces - a casual walk through the history of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Roster. On this show, hosts Joe DeVader and Matt Zawodniak are playing one game for every fighter in the newest Super Smash Bros. game, from 1984's Duck Hunt to 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Each game will be live-streamed by both of us, and then we'll convene to talk about it on the podcast.

Basically what I’m saying is we played Sonic Adventure 2 for this bonus episode. While Matt was hanging on to the edge of tomorrow, Joe did not enjoy this opportunity to live and learn from the works of yesterday. What does this game do well? Why is it seemingly responsible for the divide between generations of Sonic fans? How great is that music? Why does the dialogue all bleed intAnd why does Joe have such a beef with the level design? All that and more in this bonus episode.

We’ll be back soon for our final discussion on Pokemon Puzzle League!

You can find previous episodes at Anonymous Dinosaur's website!

Our list of games can be found here!


Sorry, Rex. Looks like you'll get your chance another day.

Xenoblade fans rejoice! The next fighter coming to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will be Pyra and Mythra from Xenoblade Chronicles 2.

Announced in today's Nintendo Direct, Pyra and Mythra will be a combo character where you swap between the characters mid-battle. Rex will appear as part of their Final Smash. For their stage, fighters will duke it out on the back of Azurda, Rex's titan companion from Xenoblade 2.

Pyra and Mythra are set to release in March. Presumably, game director Masahiro Sakurai will host a presentation going over the fighters' details before then, but nothing has been announced yet.

TalkBack / Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout Is Tumbling To Switch
« on: February 17, 2021, 12:12:00 PM »

Time to start the show!

Announced at today's Nintendo Direct, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout will be releasing on Nintendo Switch this summer.

Originally released in August of last year, Fall Guys is an online multiplayer game where 60 players compete to be the last bean standing. The game is a 3D platformer styled after the Battle Royale genre of games, with a chunk of players being eliminated in each round of wacky challenges. No further details were announced, but the timing makes it likely that the release will coincide with the game's fifth season.

TalkBack / Persona 5 Strikers (Switch) Review
« on: February 09, 2021, 05:00:00 AM »

A game that makes me want to replay Persona 5, and not always in a good way.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Persona 5 Strikers before playing it; my feelings swung back and forth several times between its original announcement nearly two years ago and the first time I finally got my hands on it. When the game released in Japan and we learned that it was going to be more of an action-RPG and less of a Musou game, I was actually disappointed, since I was fairly excited at the idea of Persona 5 getting the same treatment that The Legend of Zelda did with Hyrule Warriors. I steeled myself for a game that I didn’t really enjoy playing that I would power through in order to see the first canonical sequel to one of my favorite video games. Having finished the game, I now feel the opposite about it from how I expected. Persona 5 Strikers’ gameplay was an absolute blast and I had a ton of fun with it. Ironically, the story ended up being the biggest obstacle to recommending this game rather than the selling point.

To reiterate what I said in my preview from last month, Persona 5 Strikers is not a Musou game, but it’s also not quite a Persona game either. The basic combat mechanics are lifted directly from the Warriors games, featuring real-time action with each character having a unique moveset based on branching combo trees. Light attacks chain together into unique heavy attacks that finish your combo in different ways based on when you use them, and you can cancel out of your combo to dodge at any moment. That is pretty much where the similarity to the Musou franchise ends, since the remainder of the game is built around full-on JRPG dungeon crawling. Though battles take place on the dungeon map, combat and exploration are two distinct game states—just like Persona. As you explore the dungeons you’ll solve puzzles, find chests, and even go a little out of your way to seek out extra objectives in order to complete sidequests.

Even the combat, copy-pasted as it is from Warriors games, features plenty of elements lifted straight from Persona 5. Each character has their own persona (with Joker himself still having access to more than one) with elemental spells, status effects, and stat buffs. Time freezes when you’re using your persona’s abilities, breaking up the non-stop action and giving you the chance to methodically consider the current state of battle. Most enemies have elemental strengths and weaknesses that can be targeted by your persona’s abilities, and striking an opponent with the right spell will allow you to take advantage of follow-up moves and All-Out Attacks. As you start to understand the mechanics, you’ll get into an exciting and tense rhythm, pummeling enemies with basic attacks until you’re in the right position to hit opponents with just the right spell to deal massive damage.

Outside of battle, the dungeon crawling is made fast and dynamic through the placement of cover points that you leap to with the press of a button. While in cover you can ambush enemies to start battles with an advantage, or you can choose to speed away from danger when you’re not interested in fighting. Cover points can also add verticality to an area, granting you access to a vantage point where you can safely scan your surroundings. These flashy moves fit into the stylish world of Persona perfectly, and they make the act of simply walking around a large dungeon feel oddly exciting. This verticality does occasionally lead to some bad platforming sections though, and jumping from one rooftop to another without a cover point to handle the jump for you can be awfully frustrating. This platforming is thankfully rare, but whenever it does pop up you may almost wish that the game never added a jump button in the first place.

Although action within the dungeons feels like a perfect adaptation of Persona 5’s gameplay, things out in the real world are anything but. The Persona series is famous for balancing supernatural adventures with the mundane pressures of a social life, and the social side of things is more or less absent in Strikers. Your time in the real world will almost entirely be spent going from shop to shop to stock up on items or watching cutscenes that advance the main story. The closest thing there is to a social link is the “Bond” system, which is framed as the Phantom Thieves’ affinity to each other but is really just a glorified EXP meter to unlock party-wide upgrades. The real world cities you visit end up feeling more like filler keeping you from the next dungeon than an opportunity to make friends and immerse yourself in the culture of Japan.

And those main story cutscenes aren’t as enticing as I’d like them to be either. The most successful piece of the story is a new character, Zenkichi Hasegawa. Zenkichi is a detective for Public Security who sees the Phantom Thieves as the prime suspects for a new Change of Heart epidemic that’s been sweeping Japan. He doesn’t believe that they’re really responsible though, so he makes a deal to provide information to them in exchange for their cooperation in catching the true culprit. Zenkichi is the one thing from Strikers’ story that feels truly new, as he’s an adult character in a series that typically focuses on teenagers. His personal struggles balancing his career and his family while also searching for his personal sense of justice is a breath of fresh air rarely seen in a main cast member of a Persona game.

I felt I had to highlight Zenkichi specifically because he’s the only part of the story that really compelled me, and the rest of the story feels more like a direct-to-DVD Disney sequel than a whole new Persona adventure. The overall plot is largely the same as the original Persona 5, just with a couple proper nouns changed and circumstances adjusted to make it less obvious. Jails are just Palaces, the virtual assistant EMMA is the Metanav, and there are even more similarities I can’t talk about for fear of spoilers. The Phantom Thieves are still as great as ever and I enjoyed the chance to see them on screen getting into brand new antics. I laughed when Yusuke celebrated his newfound wealth from a successful painting, when a baffled Morgana refused to be called a raccoon, and when Haru cheerfully talked about her disdain for the police. But these moments of fanservice are really the only appeal the story had. Even though I enjoyed being reminded of everything I loved about Persona 5, it was disappointing to see that all Strikers’ story could do was retread old ground. At one point near the end of the game a character even remarked on how similar the events of the game are to everything that had happened a year earlier.

An unoriginal story doesn’t have to be a problem in a spin-off game. After all, no one’s complaining that the plots of the dancing games are weak. The problem is that Strikers devotes way too much of its runtime to the story to just dismiss it as a thin excuse for gameplay. Cutscenes are just as long as Persona 5 with entire hours passing between the end of one dungeon and the beginning of the next. It’s fine for a side game to have more spectacle than substance (and some of the spectacle in Strikers is really fun!) but fleeting moments of spectacle every couple of hours can’t pull the weight of so many cutscenes that just make you wish you were replaying Persona 5 instead.

As for performance, I’m just as impressed with Strikers’ Switch port now as I was when I wrote my preview, and my feelings largely haven’t changed. The resolution is low and the framerate is capped at 30fps, but the signature style Persona 5 is known for has not been compromised to run on a handheld—although a low draw distance for object pop-in and LOD changes is pretty noticeable. The game rarely stutters and that 30fps stays pretty consistent all the way to the end of the game, so the experience is pretty good if you can put up with the silly draw distance. The one weird thing I’d say can make or break the port is that the Switch version doesn’t have volume settings—a feature that the PC port does have. I don’t have access to the PS4 version but based on what I’ve seen other reviewers say on Twitter, it doesn’t have volume settings either. This may sound like a nitpick, but voice acting frequently gets drowned out by sound effects in battle, so if you’re not prepared to be staring at the dialogue boxes in the top right corner of the screen during the fast-paced action of a boss battle, it may be worth considering picking up the PC version if you have an option.

I rarely feel as conflicted about a video game as I do about Persona 5 Strikers. The story is just kind of a letdown, and as a result the cutscenes feel more intrusive than Persona 5’s. Despite that I can’t deny how much fun I had with the gameplay, and I’m probably going to end up replaying it on PC for the chance to enjoy it in surround sound (another feature the Switch version weirdly lacks). For as much as the story disappointed me it just wouldn’t be true to say I don’t like Persona 5 Strikers. I like it a lot, and I felt really happy with it when I finally finished it. It’s a game that I want to recommend, but that recommendation has to come with a big caveat: if you’re a Persona fan that loves the Phantom Thieves but you’re just not interested in the gameplay, it may be more worth your time to just play Persona 5 again.

TalkBack / Smashterpieces Podcast Episode 31: Banjo-Tooie
« on: January 19, 2021, 07:10:00 AM »

We worked really hard for you. Any chance of another jiggy?

Look, all I’m saying is that we were all sitting around, minding our own business, playin’ a nice friendly game of poker. Then BOOM. A witch blows up our house, does that seem fair to you? Really should’ve paid extra for that witch insurance… also probably should have taken out a life insurance policy on Bottles. Hindsight is 20/20, I guess.

Presented by Anonymous Dinosaur and Nintendo World Report, this is Smashterpieces - a casual walk through the history of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Roster. On this show, hosts Joe DeVader and Matt Zawodniak are playing one game for every fighter in the newest Super Smash Bros. game, from 1984's Duck Hunt to 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Each game will be live-streamed by both of us, and then we'll convene to talk about it on the podcast.

Today’s episode is about Smashterpiece #31: Banjo-Tooie, our final game developed by the legendary Rare and the second outing for the famous bear and bird trio! Our friend Pat joins us to discuss the adventure through the Isle O’ Hags in order to collect shiny golden puzzle pieces. Why do we think this game generally does not hold up as well as the first entry? What’s our favorite and least favorite levels? What problems arose specifically due to us playing the XBox 360 remaster? And why are the levels so damn big? All this and more in today’s episode!

Join us next time as we swap blocks and regret all the decisions that brought us to this point in Smashterpiece #32: Pokémon Puzzle League!

You can find previous episodes at Anonymous Dinosaur's website!

Our list of games can be found here!

You can watch Matt and Joe stream these games on the NWR Twitch channel!

TalkBack / Persona 5 Strikers (Switch) Hands-On Preview
« on: January 15, 2021, 05:00:00 AM »

Like Persona 5, but with a lot less going to bed.

The long wait for Persona 5 Strikers is nearly over, and with over a full year between its Japanese and English release dates, fans have built up a lot of expectations for the first ever canonical sequel to Persona 5. That’s not the only milestone this game is reaching though; it’s also the first Persona game to be released on Switch. Naturally this raises a lot of questions, both about what Persona fans should expect from the story and also about what Switch players should expect from the performance. We’ve had the opportunity to play the first major story arc of the game, and thankfully a lot of those questions have been answered, and I’m looking forward to playing the rest of Strikers more than ever before.

Strikers takes place half a year after the events of the original Persona 5—specifically during the summer vacation of Joker’s senior year of high school. The Phantom Thieves have reunited for a trip to Kyoto, but their plans are thrown off-track when they once again find themselves in the mysterious otherworld of the Metaverse. There they meet a brand new character: an AI named Sophia who introduces herself as “humanity’s companion”. Sophia’s origins are a mystery even to her, but through her own strange powers she’s able to create something similar to a persona, which she uses to fight alongside the Phantom Thieves as an ally.

The antagonist of the first arc is Alice, a fashion artist who is able to use the Metaverse to manipulate the populace into following her with a religious zeal. Alice’s Shadow is the ruler of a Jail; a location in the Metaverse similar to a Palace where she keeps the stolen Desires of her victims. Since Alice’s powers are similar to a change of heart, the Phantom Thieves find themselves under suspicion from law enforcement once again, and are forced to strike a deal with Zenkichi Hasegawa, an investigator with Public Security. Zenkichi offers to give them information on Alice in exchange for promising to help him solve the mystery and force Alice to atone for her crimes.

For those curious, none of the events added in Persona 5 Royal were mentioned during my playtime, and Royal-exclusive characters like Kasumi Yoshizawa and Takuto Maruki never appeared. If you’ve only played the original version of Persona 5, then you already know everything you need to know about the Phantom Thieves.

Since it was made by Warriors Series developer Omega Force, it’s easy to assume that Strikers is a full hack-and-slash spin-off in the likes of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. This is backed up by the fact that the combat mechanics are pulled directly from other Musou games, but that is where the comparison ends. With its full-fledged dungeons, lengthy cutscenes, and complex persona fusion system, Persona 5 Strikers is certainly not a Musou game. But it’s also not quite a Persona game either.

Although you spend some time in the real world gathering intel on Alice and talking to friends, the social simulation side of the Persona franchise was almost entirely missing from the first arc of the game. You don’t go to school except for one scene that happens to take place at Shujin Academy, and you won’t be deciding whether you should play darts with friends or hang out with a monk in a dance club each day. The in-game calendar only advances with story events that are triggered by your actions in the Jail, shifting the game’s focus away from Joker’s student life and more towards his antics as a Phantom Thief.

Thankfully fighting shadows and exploring the Metaverse is just as fun in an action game as it was in a turn-based RPG. Gameplay in the Jails is pretty much exactly what you’d imagine from putting Musou combat directly into Persona 5, and the ability to leap into the air between vantage points adds a level of verticality that the Warriors series has rarely explored. The simple addition of a jump button adds a lot to the flow of battle, and the elemental weakness system from traditional Persona games has been incorporated perfectly. The option to stop time in order to select your personas’ skills helps keep the frantic chaos of battle manageable, and the ability to immediately jump onto a weakened enemy with an All-Out Attack is the perfect hook to get right back into the fast-paced action after a slow, deliberate choice.

The only downside to combat is that it’s easy to run out of SP much quicker in an action game than a turn-based RPG, and with SP-restoring items as scarce in Strikers’ first arc as they are at the beginning of the original Persona 5, you’ll find yourself locked out of your persona’s abilities pretty often. This never turned into a huge problem since leaving the Metaverse via one of the many checkpoints in the Jail fully restores your HP and SP, but the need to regularly stop the action and sit through loading screens of going back and forth between the Metaverse and the real world can kill the game’s flow on a macro level pretty easily.

As for the Switch version’s performance, I’m incredibly impressed with how Persona 5 Strikers runs on Nintendo’s hybrid handheld. Though the framerate is capped at 30fps and the resolution is noticeably lower than PS4 and PC, the overall game experience is shockingly consistent. I rarely noticed any frame drops during even the most chaotic battles, and the aesthetic flair Persona 5 is known for has not been compromised to run on Switch. It’s surprising that a multiplatform game can run so much better than a Switch exclusive like Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, which was developed by the same studio and released half a year later in Japan than Strikers was.

When I heard from impressions of the Japanese version that Persona 5 Strikers was more of a story-driven RPG than a musou game, I was a bit worried that the game would be a half-measure between two genres. I’m excited to be wrong about that, as Omega Force has done a great job merging two disparate genres together into an entirely new experience. It’s not quite a Musou game or a Persona game, but it’s tapped into my love of both franchises to create something that I’m looking forward to seeing more of.

TalkBack / Immortals: Fenyx Rising (Switch) Review
« on: November 30, 2020, 07:00:00 AM »

Fenyx may have been able to rise, but the Switch version has flown too close to the sun.

Immortals: Fenyx Rising takes a lot of cues from Breath of the Wild. You explore a wide open world where you can travel anywhere and do quests in any order. You climb up to a high place when you arrive in a new area and fill out your map, gliding down to visit points of interest and clear out miniature dungeons full of puzzles and bonus treasures. As you clear the main story and free the four gods, you’ll even receive blessings from them that boost your power and provide new abilities. Hell, Aphrodite’s first blessing is literally just Mipha’s Grace, restoring your health automatically when you fall in battle once every 20 minutes. I don’t like directly comparing two games in a review, but since Immortals is one of the first major releases in this emerging “Wildlike” subgenre, it would be tough not to put it up against Breath of the Wild. The similarities are plentiful, but the differences between them are substantial enough to make Immortals a distinct experience that can either fall short of Zelda or surpass it entirely depending on what exactly it is you wanted from Link’s latest adventure. Immortals takes place in the world of Greek mythology, featuring all of its gods and monsters as major characters and creatures roaming the world. The monstrous Typhon has escaped from his prison beneath Mount Etna and vowed revenge on the gods of Olympus, reducing them to shadows of their former selves and letting the monsters of Tartaros roam the lands. Fenyx, the only mortal who survived Typhon’s wrath, is tasked by the messenger god Hermes to restore the gods to their full power and gather them together to close the gates of Tartaros. Along the way, the story is narrated by Zeus and Prometheus, who have bet on whether or not a mortal would be able to defeat Typhon. The bickering between the two narrators is the highlight of the game’s writing, with Zeus’ inflated ego and tendency to be a complete bastard to everyone in Olympus making for a reliable source of comedy. There’s also a non-stop torrent of references to Greek mythology that often veer into deep cuts that the average person probably wouldn’t recognize, which should be an absolute joy for anyone interested in the Greek pantheon.

Exploration in Immortals is one of its greatest weaknesses. After climbing up to a high vantage point, you won’t be looking around the map to find something that catches your eye. Instead you’ll be scanning the terrain for spots that make your reticle light up and your controller rumble, at which point you’ll press a button to automatically add an icon to your map. The result is Ubisoft’s tried and true icon-based exploration with extra steps. I’d honestly rather the icons automatically filled in on the map, since the slow process of waving the camera around trying to find exact spots in the entire vertical space around you takes much longer to effectively reach the same end. You don’t even need to be at a vantage point; you can mark icons from ground level through walls with no regard for what you’d realistically be able to see. It may even be easier to do so, since the range on the y-axis you’ll need to search for icons is substantially smaller this way.

This cumbersome icon hunt will undoubtedly turn off a lot of Breath of the Wild’s fans, but while it may be the game’s greatest flaw in my eyes, it’s also fairly unique in that regard. Everything else in Immortals feels like an improvement on Zelda’s formula. Combat is one of the biggest improvements, with a number of abilities that grant you a wide range of options in a fight. You can launch into the air while raising spikes out of the ground and use a magical grappling hook to pull yourself towards enemies, striking them with a mix of light and heavy attacks to keep your combo going, which will increase your damage output as your combo meter increases. Attacks can be parried, which increases an opponent’s stun gauge, and this sends them into a daze and lowers their defenses when filled. Finding the right mix of moves for every monster so that you can extend combos and fill the stun gauge as quickly as possible is exhilarating, and it allows you to take on even the strongest opponents at any time if you have enough skill.

Your combat prowess is enhanced by the game’s smart equipment system. Instead of equipment having stat values that raise your defense or offense stats, each weapon or piece of armor in Immortals has its own unique buff that gives you a new passive ability in battle, with stat upgrades done through crafting that applies to all equipment of that type equally. One armor plate may increase your maximum health, while another may refill your stamina bar with each hit you land on an enemy. With this setup, every piece of equipment is equally viable through the entire game, which makes exploring the world to find treasure more worthwhile. Every new sword or helmet you find comes with something new, and while I didn’t often switch off the buffs I was comfortable with, it still felt much better than opening a chest and finding a sword that was totally outclassed by the one I was already using.

Puzzle solving is also a big focus in Fenyx Rising through the Vaults of Tartaros—Ubisoft’s answer to Breath of the Wild’s Ancient Shrines. Just like Shrines, Vaults can be found all over the world and lead you into a separate instance designed around a particular theme for puzzles. The Vaults ask you to use Fenyx’s powers in clever and skilled ways, and each one takes the time to really explore the concept it’s going for. There are no one-and-done Vaults; there will always be a basic introduction to an idea and multiple subsequent evolutions of that idea that increase in complexity. Even the rare Vaults that focus on combat will add in differing obstacles that need to be avoided while fighting a wave of opponents.

Sadly, the Switch version of Immortals is a seriously compromised port compared to even the PS4 and Xbox One. The graphics have taken a massive hit in order to get the game running on a handheld, to the point that landmarks and terrain in the distance are an unrecognizable soup of dull colors. At one point, I happened to hit a cutscene introducing me to a new area while it was foggy, and the fog was so thick that the area’s highlights being shown to me in sweeping camera motions weren’t visible at all. The graphical downgrade can even have a direct effect on gameplay. In one Vault, you’re tasked with gliding around a cloud of dark magic that instantly reduces your stamina, causing you to fall to the ground below. It’s a simple task that’s made near-impossible on Switch since the clouds are completely invisible due to the particle effects they’re made of being turned off.

Some of the downgrade may have been worth it if the performance made up for it, but it most certainly doesn’t. The framerate commonly drops below 30fps, making it difficult to judge timing in combat. Cutscenes look awful, with pixelation clearly visible on some textures as the art style completely breaks down. Across 20 hours of playtime, the game crashed to the home screen seven times, and once even crashed again immediately upon booting back up. All of this occurred with the 1.0.2 patch installed, which is as of this writing the most recent version available.

Immortals: Fenyx Rising is overall a great game that I’m excited to keep coming back to, but the Switch version is such a disappointment that I’m strongly considering starting my entire playthrough over on another platform. I love the setting based in Greek mythology, and I’ve been enjoying the adventure almost non-stop, only ever getting bored during the icon hunt whenever I reach a new area once every couple of hours. It’s a shame that Switch players will be getting such a compromised version, since I really feel like the weak port does a huge disservice to everything the game succeeds at. I think you should play Immortals: Fenyx Rising, but you should not do so on Switch if you can help it.

TalkBack / Re: Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia (Switch) Review
« on: November 03, 2020, 02:24:44 PM »
Wow. I'm surprised that with all the negative comments, the reviewer still felt this was the number 1 game on the Switch out of their top 10. Guess I'll have to get twenty copies.

It is without a doubt the best game I have reviewed in the last three months.

TalkBack / Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia (Switch) Review
« on: November 03, 2020, 04:00:00 AM »

It’s ironic that a game whose villains are motivated by capitalism was clearly made with nothing but a quick paycheck in mind.

For years, licensed video games based on popular franchises had a reputation for a near-universal lack of quality. Shovelware was the norm, and the dregs of Metacritic were filled with the likes of Charlie’s Angels, Superman 64, and a whole slate of Harry Potter video games. These low-effort rush jobs disappeared in the early 2010s as mobile gaming proved to be the better platform for them and budgets for console games grew larger, which makes Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia feel like a retro throwback to the good old days of cheap cash-ins. It feels out of place nowadays when games like Jedi Fallen Order, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and even Square-Enix’s Avengers are mediocre at worst and game of the year contenders at best. I struggle to imagine even the most hardcore Bakugan fans getting any satisfaction out of Champions of Vestroia.

The gameplay is a mess of contradictory systems that effectively boil down to playing whack-a-mole. Everything in battle revolves around a form of energy known as BakuCores. These appear randomly on the field and must be collected by running over them to pick them up and throw them at your Bakugan. The field is incredibly wide, so BakuCores regularly spawn off-screen and your AI opponent will always instantly know where they are as soon as they spawn. Theoretically you’re not entirely at the mercy of RNG since midway through the game you’ll be able to equip Brawler Abilities that are meant to give you an edge in battle. In practice, these Brawler Abilities only serve to make battles more tedious since your opponents also get access to them, and often the best counter to an opponent’s Brawler Ability is that same Brawler Ability. The crowd control abilities that stun and slow down opponents are beyond frustrating when you get hit by them since they can last for as much as 10 full seconds. The magnetic ability that greatly increases your pickup range only serves to make the AI’s prescience even worse.

Once you’ve got those BakuCores, you’re meant to spend your energy on your Bakugan’s abilities, which are pretty similar to the attacks and status-affecting moves you’ll find in a Pokémon game. The animations for these attacks greatly disrupt the action of collecting BakuCores and serve to make the already lengthy fights drag even more than they already did. Thankfully the optimal way to play is to completely ignore the abilities, since Champions of Vestroia negates their viability through the existence of the Team Attack.

The Team Attack is a near-guaranteed one-hit KO against the vast majority of opponents in the game; in my entire time playing, there were only four or five Bakugan that were able to withstand a hit from the Team Attack. It’s activated by maxing out the energy of all three Bakugan on your team and then spending it all at once in a huge burst of damage. Since every ability you can do during battle costs energy, it’s impossible to use the Team Attack unless you’re hyperfocusing on it, completely ignoring any other strategy. And you should be hyperfocusing on it! There’s no restriction on when you can use it, and once I started exclusively focusing on this strategy I never lost another fight for the remainder of my playthrough. I cannot imagine the logic that went into designing the Team Attack, since it invalidates all possible strategies that could come with the different abilities you can collect through the game.

The fights are long, boring, and practically pointless, but they still manage to be the most exciting part of the game given the barebones story and quests. The story is Saturday morning cartoon writing at its worst: a vague evil corporation is stealing energy from the Bakugan planet of Vestroia, and it’s up to a group of children to stop them. Dialogue never tells you anything except exactly what you need to know to continue the story, and sometimes it doesn’t even tell you that much. One main quest had me ask around town to see if anyone had information on the recent earthquakes that were rocking the city, and one of the mandatory NPCs I had to talk to just said “You hear that sound?” That’s it. That’s the entire conversation.

It gets even worse further into the game as the main story devolves into fetch quests that require you to trek all the way back to a previous area just to pick up a single item to deliver back to an NPC. Sidequests don’t fare much better, with such memorable tasks as “find all 40 coffee cups around town”, “talk to my three brothers who are all wearing red shirts,” and “play tag.” And just in case you were worried there would be some variety, just about every sidequest is repeated several times over the course of the game. Yes, even playing tag.

My Bakugan journey was ultimately cut short about eight hours in when I completed the Oldtown section. I was prompted to return back to HQ, but the metro line - the sole method of traveling between areas - would only let me go to Zydeco Beach. Once I got to the beach, the metro line still wouldn’t let me go anywhere else, and wouldn’t even let me return to Oldtown. My game had soft-locked, and I could no longer progress through the game. Since the game exclusively relies on autosaves, my entire playthrough had permanently come to an end.

There are many bad games where you can tell that there was passion and heart put into making something great, even if they didn’t ultimately succeed. Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia shows a distinct lack of passion not just from its poorly thought out gameplay and shoddily thrown together story, but also through its astounding lack of polish. Gameplay would frequently freeze before animations could play, key NPCs could be hidden behind level geometry, and you can even move around the map some 10 seconds before a loading screen finishes; I guess any speedrunners out there should take note of that. It all culminates in a game that feels like it was made as an excuse to put a box with the Bakugan name on a shelf in Wal-Mart. Champions of Vestroia is a total failure. If you’re not already a Bakugan fan, there is absolutely nothing for you here. If you are a Bakugan fan, then you deserve a game that respects your time and passion more than this.


Hopefully they've learned more from Daedalus than they have from Zeus lately.

Originally announced as Gods and Monsters, Immortals: Fenyx Rising has some obvious similarities to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It takes place in a wide open world where you climb anything and go anywhere. You’ll climb up to a high place to fill in your map, and then glide down to whatever you found interesting. You unlock magic powers that let you move objects around, and if you dodge at the right moment during a fight, time will slow down so you can wail on an enemy. Breath of the Wild made a strong impression with how significantly it changed the open world formula, and Ubisoft Quebec appears to have been taking notes. But Immortals: Fenyx Rising is more than just a copycat of Nintendo’s latest adventure; it takes the ideas that Breath of the Wild innovated on and refines them while adding new ideas into the areas where Zelda fell flat while taking advantage of its ancient Greek setting to tell a lighthearted tale with plenty of humor to flesh out its world and characters along the way.

After a brief introduction with narrators Zeus and Prometheus, Immortals begins with its main character Fenyx washed ashore after a shipwreck. Fenyx is fully customizable and can be either male or female and look however you want them to. Your first few tasks serve as a tutorial to the game’s mechanics, teaching you to climb, fight, and explore the world. Along the way you hear Zeus and Prometheus commenting on your adventure with some genuinely funny references to Greek mythology. Eventually you meet the messenger god Hermes who brings Fenyx to your home base, the Hall of the Gods, and the game opens up to let you explore the world.

Puzzles are a frequent occurrence while following the main quest line, and they appear to have a number of different solutions you can play around with. One puzzle early on involves finding a heavy object to throw into a cracked wall in order to break it open. Rather than do the sensible thing and find something nearby, my first instinct was to grab a boulder at the bottom of the nearby hill and throw it on rooftops, quickly climbing back up to grab it before it rolled back down just to see if I could. It was an appropriately Sisyphean task that took several minutes to pull off, but it felt great to eventually solve the puzzle my own way.

A lot of open-ended puzzles are found in the overworld like this, but Immortals also features more controlled puzzle-solving in its Vaults of Tartaros—an analog to Breath of the Wild’s shrines. The vaults are a bit longer featuring puzzles that get more complex over time, building on their concepts in ways that Zelda only ever did in its four major dungeons. I was only able to tackle three vaults in my limited time with Fenyx Rising, but the amount of challenge I got from those three alone may as well count for 10 shrines, with each vault feeling like a miniature dungeon in its own.

Combat is another area where Immortals manages to shine. In addition to their health bar, enemies also have a stun gauge that fills as they take damage, temporarily incapacitating them and making them more vulnerable to damage when it’s filled. Though Fenyx’s basic attacks are the easiest way to attack, the stun gauge can be filled faster by either parrying enemy attacks or using Fenyx’s alternate abilities like telekinesis and hammer strikes. The ability to grab something with telekinesis at any time forces you to consider your surroundings during a fight, and eventually you’ll gain the ability to grapple enemies at long range to close the distance and keep your combo going. The result feels reminiscent of a character action game like Devil May Cry, and it’s the part of the game I’m most looking forward to seeing more of.

Sadly I was only able to play a limited section of Immortals’ map for a couple hours, so it remains to be seen how well the exploration side of things holds up over the course of the full game. Ironically it’s the aspect of Fenyx Rising that’s most similar to Breath of the Wild that makes me the most worried about its long-term success; the map is undoubtedly smaller than Zelda’s was, and major areas feel cramped and disconnected due to the stark visual changes that separate them from each other. Since my time was so limited I avoided getting too distracted by the world’s features, so I won’t be able to say for sure if Ubisoft Quebec stuck the landing until I’ve had time to play the full game with no restrictions.

I walked away from Immortals: Fenyx Rising feeling hopeful. My worries about the world’s exploration are just that: worries. I didn’t play enough to get a good read on that aspect, but the parts that I did get to experience fully left me feeling good about the direction that things were heading. In the opening hours, Fenyx Rising directly improved upon what I felt were the two weakest aspects of Breath of the Wild: combat and puzzle-solving. If the rest of the game manages to keep up the momentum and deliver a solid open world to fully explore, then Ubisoft may have a real winner on their hands. Link may have walked so that Fenyx can run, but if Immortals can avoid flying too close to the sun, then it’s ready to soar.

TalkBack / Hands-On with Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia
« on: October 26, 2020, 05:00:00 AM »

With an overpowered team attack that seems to be the obvious solution to every battle, Bakugan's return to video games doesn't make a good first impression.

I didn’t know anything about Bakugan before getting my hands on the retail version of Champions of Vestroia, and now that I’ve had the chance to play the game’s prologue I still kind of don’t. The first Bakugan video game in nearly a decade makes absolutely no effort to introduce newcomers to the series with its complete lack of exposition. I’m sure there are some hardcore Bakugan fans out there that will not have this problem, but for the rest of you who saw this game as part of a Nintendo showcase and were curious about it, stick around because it only gets worse from here. I may have completely missed Bakugan when I was a kid, but Champions of Vestroia still made me feel nostalgic. It made me nostalgic for the licensed shovelware games based on beloved franchises that I played in my youth.

I won’t bother talking about the story too much because in addition to the lack of exposition, the game’s presentation is just kind of bad. To call the game’s opening sequence a ‘cutscene’ would be generous, and everything after that is some of the thinnest excuses to get you from Point A to Point B that I’ve ever seen. The first story quest is about traveling around a park to recover the torn pieces of a poster advertising the upcoming Bakugan tournament; a tedious mission due to the game’s total lack of overworld UI that forces you to frequently bring up the in-game map. After you’ve gotten that together you’ll fight a bully that’s blocking a shipment of ability cards from arriving at the local Bakugan shop and then finally enter the tournament yourself. That covers the entire story in the first two hours I was able to play for this preview, and while the very end of the preview hinted at something resembling a plot, unfortunately Champions of Vestroia has even bigger issues with its gameplay.

The actual Bakugan battles will take up the majority of your time in this game. You’ll go into battle with a team of three Bakugan, each equipped with four abilities and an elemental type. Each ability requires energy to be used, which is acquired by running around the battlefield and picking up glowing tiles called “BakuCores”. BakuCores appear randomly, and sometimes they’ll be obscured by the UI elements on screen, which effectively eliminate your peripheral vision. Off-screen BakuCores are indicated by an icon, but even these can be blocked by the UI, meaning the AI opponent that instantly knows where they are is always at an advantage—even though they'll occasionally handicap themselves by freezing in place while you’re collecting a BakuCore. Running around playing whack-a-mole may not have been so bad if there was a solid amount of strategic thinking to go into which abilities to use and when, but none of that matters. Abilities go totally out the window once the Team Attack is introduced.

The Team Attack can be used once you have a full squad of three Bakugan, which was about an hour into the game for me. To use a Team Attack, you must fully charge the energy of all three Bakugan, swapping between them to distribute the BakuCores among them. The reward is a massive burst of damage that results in a guaranteed one-hit-KO against any opposing Bakugan—or at least any Bakugan I encountered in the two hours I was able to play for this preview. Additionally there’s no limit to how many times you can use the Team Attack; as long as all three of your Bakugan are alive, you’re able to use it to completely sweep the battle.

The trade-off is that you must spend energy to use your abilities, meaning you’ll only ever be able to use a Team Attack effectively by laser focusing on grabbing BakuCores and doing nothing else. It is a worthwhile trade-off though, because I was able to steamroll through every single fight up to the end of the tournament with this strategy. The only time it didn’t win the match outright was when an opponent’s entire Bakugan team had an elemental advantage against one of my own, and even then by the time he’d defeated one of my own Bakugan he only had one left, giving me a strong 2v1 advantage. The Team Attack is so powerful that I can’t imagine using anything else. This came with one big downside though: running around the field collecting BakuCores was now the only meaningful gameplay in battle, and I’ve already explained why that isn’t a good thing.

I should reiterate that I was only able to play the first couple of hours of Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia for this preview. It’s possible that from here on the battles get more complex and the Team Attack becomes a less viable strategy. It’s possible that the story gets interesting and quests get more engaging. Unfortunately I can only judge it based on what I’ve played, and what I’ve played is awful. You can look forward to hearing more about the game in my full review. For now, if you find yourself getting hyped up for a new Bakugan adventure, I’d strongly recommend you wait until we find out if things get any better from here.


"The face under the mask... Is that... your true face?"

The clock tower bell chimes, the shadow of the moon looms close. A sense of despair fills the air. Surely this couldn’t actually happen, right? The sad truth is that it can, and it is. We have three days. Presented by Anonymous Dinosaur and Nintendo World Report, this is Smashterpieces - a casual walk through the history of the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Roster. On this show, hosts Joe DeVader and Matt Zawodniak are playing one game for every fighter in the newest Super Smash Bros. game, from 1984's Duck Hunt to 2019's Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Each game will be live-streamed by both of us, and then we'll convene to talk about it on the podcast.

Today’s episode is to discuss a game close to both of our hearts, Smashterpiece #30: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Why is it that we love this game so much? Is this potentially the best game on our entire list? Why is the world of Termina so impactful? What about that sweet sweet music? All this and more in today’s episode, including our plans for the latest character release.

Join us next time as we set off on an adventure through the Isle O’ Hags in Smashterpiece #31: Banjo-Tooie!

You can find previous episodes at Anonymous Dinosaur's website!

Our list of games can be found here!

You can watch Matt and Joe stream these games on the NWR Twitch channel!

Podcast Discussion / Re: RetroActive 48: Super Mario 64
« on: October 12, 2020, 02:15:59 PM »
I think Peach was voiced by someone who worked for Nintendo Power or something like that.

This is also 100% true, and as a fun fact Peach is voiced by a different person in each game in Mario 3D All Stars.

In Mario 64 she's voiced by Leslie Swan, who was the localization manager at Treehouse as well as Senior Editor for Nintendo Power. In Sunshine she's played by Jen Taylor, who you may also know as Cortana in Halo. Mario Galaxy introduced us to Samantha Kelly, an actress with no other major roles who's local to Washington where NoA is based.

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