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Messages - John Rairdin

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TalkBack / Epic Mickey: Rebrushed - Intro Cutscene Comparison
« on: Yesterday at 11:35:56 AM »

Wii VS Switch

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

TalkBack / Grounded and Pentiment Switch Tech Preview
« on: Yesterday at 10:07:27 AM »

They run at 60fps?

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

TalkBack / Promenade (Switch) Review Mini
« on: February 20, 2024, 04:25:17 AM »

Like Banjo Kazooie but flat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love letter or quick cash grab?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting some old favorites.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost perfect on Switch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The weirdest end of year ranking you'll hear.

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


Found after 30 years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The robots yearn for the mines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's like reading the showcase but faster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planet of Lana - Spring 2024 - Cinematic puzzle platformer.

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

The Gecko Gods - Spring 2024 - Gecko based platformer.

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

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

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

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

TalkBack / Outer Wilds Gets Switch Release Date
« on: November 14, 2023, 07:35:00 AM »

A long overdue arrival.

Having been announced way back in February 2021, the Switch port of Outer Wilds finally has a release date on Switch. The critically acclaimed indie title will launch on Switch on December 7, 2024. The Switch release will also include the Echoes of the Eye expansion. A physical version was also announced 2024. No specific date was given on the physical version.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 387: Average Tuesday Night Zelda Announcement
« on: November 10, 2023, 09:55:59 AM »

How'd you like to make a quick morbillion?

Neal is lost in the desert and chaos has broken loose. Matt's talking about Fortnite, John is playing JRPGs, Link is a real boy, and Alex... well Alex played Shadow of the Colossus which is honestly pretty great.

TalkBack / Legend of Zelda Movie Discussion
« on: November 09, 2023, 03:56:51 AM »

Can Live Action Zelda Work?

In this segment from the NWR Connectivity podcast, John Rairdin, Matt Zawodniak, and Alex De Freitas sit down to discuss the recent news of a live action Legend of Zelda movie. Is live action the right choice for Zelda? When lessons can Nintendo learn from the MCU. Will it make a morbillion dollars?

TalkBack / Air Twister (Switch) Review Mini
« on: November 06, 2023, 04:16:29 AM »

It's a prog-rock rail shooter from the Shenmue guy? Sure okay.

I went into Air Twister fairly blind. Despite its release last year on Apple Arcade, all I knew was that it was a rail shooter from game designer Yu Suzuki. That alone was enough to garner some interest. Suzuki’s Space Harrier is generally regarded as one of the early progenitors of the third person rail shooter genre. Once I actually booted up Air Twister, I was hit with surprise after surprise. While it stumbles plenty along the way, I couldn’t help but enjoy the bizarre insanity it presents at every turn.

At its core, Air Twister very much feels like a spiritual sequel to Space Harrier. You play as an inexplicably floating woman with a laser blasting crossbow. Holding down the A button allows you to lock onto multiple enemies before firing a series of homing shots with ZR, while a quick press of the ZR button will fire a single unguided shot straight ahead. If you’ve played classic Sega sprite-scaling rail shooters you’ll feel right at home here. The flying and shooting both feel good, if extremely basic. That’s probably the greatest knock against Air Twister. From a purely gameplay focused perspective, it doesn’t evolve much beyond its inspirations.

This doesn’t mean Air Twister is completely devoid of any depth, it is just found outside of the primary gameplay experience. After your first game over you’ll be kicked back to a menu jam packed with content. The most crucial thing on this menu is the Adventure Map which acts as a sort of skill tree. Here you’ll spend points earned from downing enemies to increase your maximum hit points, unlock special perks, and fill out your wardrobe for customizing the protagonist. To be clear, you don’t need to upgrade your character to finish the game. This is a true arcade rail shooter at its core, not an RPG, so skill is king. That being said, exploring this truly massive upgrade tree does make even a failed run feel like progress. Beyond the upgrades are also a variety of other bonus modes, detailed lore entries, and more. What you won't find is a level select or continue option should you fall in battle. A game over means starting over from stage one, granted you’ll have any new upgrades you’ve bought in the interim. By modern standards I suppose you could call it a roguelite.

Oh and I suppose I should mention that Air Twister has the soundtrack of a prog-rock-opera. It caught me a little off guard as I started the first level only to be met with an original soundtrack by Dutch prog-rock artist Valensia. It takes some getting used to but Air Twister just commits to this strange vibe that feels very old school Sega. The only downside is that several of the songs get used multiple times, which lessens the impact of the otherwise constantly changing stage variety, and gives the game a somewhat deceptive feeling of repetition.

At the end of the day, Air Twister is not a particularly long or difficult rail shooter. It took me three runs to reach the end of its 12 stages. The upgrade system does make replaying through old stages easier and easier with each attempt. Still I felt as though I ran out of game long before I’d unlocked even half of the upgrades. It is almost as if Air Twister has a lot of secondary depth in its systems that isn’t really supported by its short simple campaign. That being said, even while being highly aware of these flaws I still had a really good time playing through it. Everything about Air Twister is bizarre and often flawed, but I can’t say it isn’t fun.

TalkBack / Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch) Review
« on: November 02, 2023, 05:28:32 AM »

Let the past die, kill it if you have to.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder represents a major shift in Nintendo’s approach to 2D Mario. For nearly two decades, 2D Mario has been developed with a goal of living up to what came before. The entirety of the New Super Mario Bros. series which spanned from 2006 to 2012 (barring a Switch port of the final game in 2019) spent its entire run desperately clawing its way to the level of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. While that branch of 2D Mario certainly improved over its four games, I’d argue that it never really did hit that goal. Throughout all of this, each game struggled to find its own identity. The New Super Mario Bros. series existed entirely as an echo of what had come before, rarely branching out with new ideas. So why does all this matter? Because what Super Mario Bros. Wonder does that makes it so much better than anything in the last twenty years of 2D Mario, isn’t to be more like Super Mario World, but rather to stop trying.

The first thing you’ll notice about Super Mario Bros. Wonder is an increased focus on narrative. This isn’t to say that Wonder is full of long cutscenes, but rather that it is constantly providing the player with motivation beyond the initial call to action of Bowser causing a problem. Each world you explore will generally feature a somewhat self contained narrative arc. For example when you arrive in a desert area, it isn’t simply a question of playing through all the levels on the way to a castle, rather an inhabitant of this area explains that Bowser Jr. has stolen their water supply and they need you to defeat him and get it back. Then after traveling the desert and arriving at Bowser Jr's castle, you find him swimming in a giant pool of water, the only water you’ll encounter in any of these levels. Other worlds may not even have a final boss in any traditional sense. Rather levels will simply play out in a way that satisfies the narrative hook of that area. While I don’t expect most of us are playing 2D Mario for the plot, this is a change that alters the player perspective of the gauntlet of levels presented to them. Entering a world isn’t just a question of playing levels with a new theme, it's a new story that will play out across the next series of stages. It makes the entire game feel like a consistently evolving adventure. It is a concept that calls to mind the more NPC filled worlds of the 3D Mario series that have been absent from the 2D franchise all along.

When starting a game you’ll be able to choose from twelve characters. Of these twelve, the four Yoshis and Nabbit are all invulnerable to damage but cannot pick up powerups. It is a great option, especially for younger or inexperienced players to have, but much like its implementation in New Super Mario Bros U, or Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze I’m disappointed that this feature remains locked to specific characters rather than simply being a toggle. Watching my nephews disappointedly switch back to Yoshi because a level is too hard for them to play as the character they actually want is disheartening. The worst part is other games like Yoshi’s Crafted World had already solved this with their Mellow Mode option. On the bright side, players no longer have collisions with each other when in multiplayer. That means you can spend more time focusing on playing the level, and less time accidentally bouncing off each other. The camera only following one player without offering propper split-screen is still a problem, especially for those playing with younger children, but it is overall still an improved experience over the New Super Mario Bros. games. The game does also offer an online mode in which you can see ghost images of other players, but in my opinion this added little to the game other than visual clutter, and ultimately took away from the experience of exploring a level. Still the option is there for those who want a more social experience.

As you play you will encounter a few new power-ups in addition to the new badge system. The elephant power-up turns Mario (or whichever playable character you’re using) into an elephant twice Mario’s usual size. While in this form Mario can use his trunk to smash blocks and enemies horizontally, a bit like the cape spin from Super Mario World but with a lot more power. This form can also take in water which can be used to feed dying plants, or cool flaming objects. Drill Mario evolves on an idea first seen in the Super Mario Galaxy series allowing Mario to drill down into the floor or ceiling. This allows him to circumvent certain obstacles and defeat otherwise armored enemies. Finally, Bubble Mario is largely useless in most situations. The real meat and potatoes of Mario’s new powers however, come in the form of badges. Badges grant Mario a permanent ability, regardless of his form. Only one badge can be worn at a time, so you’ll have to choose your preferred ability carefully. For myself, an early favorite was a badge that allowed for an extra vertical wall jump. Another that I picked up in one of the later worlds replaced this, but I won’t spoil that for those who haven’t found it yet.

The biggest weak point in what is largely an excellent game, is its boss battles. There are only three bosses throughout the entire game, and you’ll fight two of them over and over again. Each fight includes only minor variations to the environment and no changes to enemy attack patterns. It is a step back from New Super Mario Bros. U which featured thirteen unique boss fights, or even Super Mario World which featured six plus some variants. The last Mario game to have this few boss types was actually Super Mario 3D Land.

However, speaking of Super Mario 3D Land, while I think Wonder may have inherited its worst element in its boss variety, it also inherited its creativity. That expands beyond 3D Land as well and into 3D Mario in general. The entire time I was playing Super Mario Bros. Wonder I couldn’t help but feel less reminded of any 2D Mario and more reminded of Super Mario 3D Land, or 3D World. The non-linear approach to level order, the progression based on collectibles, even just the visual design of the overworld, all of these call to mind Mario’s 3D adventures. Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the first 2D Mario game to feel like it is looking forward from 1990 rather than back. A quick look at the credits reveals that Koichi Hayashida, who was the director of Super Mario 3D World and worked on every 3D Mario game since Mario Sunshine, just so happened to serve as a game designer on Wonder. The influence of the lessons learned from decades of 3D Mario are felt everywhere in Wonder, and are a huge part of why this feels like the first truly new 2D Mario experience since the early 90’s.

It is hard not to be absolutely blown away by Super Mario Bros. Wonder. It is easily the best 2D Mario in over thirty years. It does this by not trying so hard to match the past, and instead focus on new ideas and learn from how Mario has evolved in other dimensions since then. That being said, it does make the areas where Wonder gets tripped up feel all the more egregious. Not because there are issues to be solved, but because none of them are inherent to any of the new ideas. Gating difficulty options behind certain characters, the locked-in multiplayer camera, and the extreme lack of boss variety are all issues that have been with Mario for years. It is one thing when bold new design brings up new challenges, but these are just old complaints that don’t really have an excuse for not being fixed by now. Of course that doesn’t take away from the excellence of this title, but they do stand out. However, even with these blemishes, at the end of the day Super Mario Bros. Wonder is an incredible breath of fresh air overall. It has reaffirmed that 2D Mario has the potential to be more than just good, it can be incredible. It sweeps away any concerns I had that my love of the best games in the series isn’t just nostalgia and that a truly original 2D Mario absolutely has the potential to stand alongside Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World. While Super Mario Bros. Wonder isn’t quite perfect, it is a gleaming star we can hopefully follow into a new era for 2D Mario.

TalkBack / Song of Nunu (Switch) Review Mini
« on: October 30, 2023, 05:50:23 AM »

I have no idea who these people are but I like them.

Song of Nunu is the latest in a series of spinoffs from the highly successful League of Legends. Like the rest, the goal is to expand the world and characters while also appealing to an entirely new audience. As part of that new audience, I can say that’s working pretty well. Song of Nunu caught my attention due to its developer, Tequila Works, who also developed a personal favorite of mine, Rime.

Song of Nunu is very much in the same vein as Rime, though with a more straightforward story. This is a narrative driven, adventure game sprinkled with light platforming, puzzle solving, and combat. You play as a young boy named Nunu who is joined by a large friendly yeti named Willump. Together you’ll travel a frozen and beautiful landscape in search of Nunu’s mother. Along the way you’ll stumble into a threat from a mysterious dark ice that is slowly covering and infecting the world. The relationship between Nunu and Willump is really the star of the show. They constantly chatter back and forth with each other cracking jokes and helping each other out. You’ll seamlessly move from controlling Nunu to Willump as he picks up Nunu to navigate through more platforming focused areas of the environment.

As you progress you’ll encounter a variety of puzzles. These are generally solved by either throwing snowballs at various environmental weak points, or through the use of Nunu’s flute. The latter of these factors into some of the most interesting elements of Song of Nunu’s gameplay. While using the flute, the L, R, ZL, and ZR buttons each play a different note. Combining two buttons results in even more notes. Across the world you’ll find markings that indicate different notes and will quickly learn to sight read entire pieces of music without difficulty. Playing different songs or individual notes will then cause different elements of the environment to react. It's a bit like an entire puzzle mechanic built around the Ocarina from The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time.

Combat is Song of Nunu’s weakest element. It isn’t bad, it's merely bland. Combat amounts to very basic brawler encounters between Willump and a very limited selection of enemy types. Luckily these are by far the least common of the primary gameplay sections. The majority of the game is happy to let you explore, platform, and puzzle solve, which all feel great.

For the most part the Switch version runs quite well. You can definitely feel that the Switch was the primary target console during development as Song of Nunu is releasing as a Switch console exclusive. Image quality isn’t a full 1080p, but it remains sharp and good looking throughout the adventure. The frame rate also holds up most of the time. There are some harsh drops when transitioning from one large area to another, but in my experience these never cropped up while I was doing anything other than just walking from one point to another. They never interfered with combat or complex platforming. It's also worth noting that it runs significantly better than Rime did when it first launched on the Switch.

Song of Nunu is a cozy, charming, and endearing adventure game that by no means needs to be limited to fans of League of Legends. It is a largely smooth experience on Switch with great puzzles that are fun to solve, while not being overly challenging. The flute playing mechanics are legitimately unique and feel like something out of a lost Zelda game. If you like straightforward adventure games like Rime, Song of Nunu is an easy recommendation.


Definitely not a cloud version, we can say that.

Hogwarts Legacy releases on Nintendo Switch this November after successfull launches on PS5, PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series systems. It is a graphically demanding game so the Switch version has always been a bit of a question mark. Today, thanks to a new pre-order page on the eShop, we have our first look at the Switch version of the game. Take a look at the screenshots below.

TalkBack / Dementium: The Ward (Switch) Review
« on: October 11, 2023, 05:10:45 AM »

A DS classic returns but at what cost?

Dementium: The Ward is making its way to Nintendo Switch sixteen years after its initial release on Nintendo DS. That DS game is a somewhat iconic release for fans of the platform. It was the first game from developer Renegade Kid (now known as Atooi), and pulled off on DS what was usually limited to big first-party releases. Dementium was a fully 3D, first-person, survival horror game that ran at a buttery 60fps. It was a technical masterpiece on the DS and I myself quite enjoyed it. Its actual gameplay mechanics aren’t horribly deep, but it delivered an experience one couldn’t really find elsewhere on the system. Eight years later, a remastered version was released on 3DS. It made some great quality of life adjustments, updated the visuals to the level of the 3DS, and was overall a very solid remastering effort, especially for a small indie studio.

Now we come to the Switch version. It keeps all the quality of life changes from the 3DS remaster while removing the need for stylus controlled aiming or a Circle Pad Pro. Unfortunately, the move to Switch isn’t perfect and comes with some odd limitations and omissions.

Dementium sees you playing as a patient who wakes up in a deranged and horror-filled mental hospital. Strange zombie-like creatures roam the halls, giant leeches crawl from the ductwork, and powerful bosses lurk in the darkness. As you wake up in your room, you’ll quickly stumble into the first issue with this version of Dementium. In both previous versions, you could use the touch screen to scribble notes. This allowed you to track things like door codes, or hints for puzzles. The Switch version doesn’t let you do this, but for some reason you can still see the notebook in your inventory; it just doesn’t do anything. Yes, you can work around it by taking screenshots on the Switch instead, but it's a bizarre omission and I kept double checking to make sure I hadn’t simply missed a button, given that I could see the notebook sitting right there.

As you explore the hospital, you’ll find a flashlight, and slowly start acquiring weapons to fight off monsters. All of these handle much better in a traditional dual-stick setting than they ever did with stylus controls. It isn’t hard to argue that this is probably the best controlling version of Dementium. I actually found it made the entire experience feel significantly easier and decided to bump up the difficulty (another nice addition brought forward from the 3DS version).

When it comes to brand new features, the Switch version really only has one. The game now allows you to swap between two video modes; Retro and Retro CRT. I found the absence of a third mode called Modern to be a little strange. I’d assumed from trailers that this would essentially be an HD port of the 3DS version, but that isn’t the case. From a graphical perspective, this is almost exactly the 3DS version. The game renders at a resolution of 426x240. That’s the same vertical resolution as the 3DS and only a horizontal boost of 26 pixels, owing to the difference in aspect ratio between the Switch and a 3DS. There is a pass of anti-aliasing (specifically FXAA), but at this resolution it does nothing to hide the underlying output. One can make the argument that this is an aesthetic choice, but I still find it extremely disappointing given that Dementium was a technical showpiece on DS and the 3DS version continued that trend. Seeing the Switch version simply be the 3DS version with a broken notebook and a CRT filter seems antithetical to the legacy of this game. I have to hammer home that texture resolution appears unchanged; there are no new graphical effects such as shadows from your flashlight, and rain outside windows is still just an animated texture right on the surface of the window that updates at quarter rate. All this with a shop listing that claims it was "Built from the ground up for Nintendo Switch." Even just running the exact copy of the game that I received as a review copy on 3DS back in 2015 on an emulator at a meager 900p, reveals a significantly better looking game.

I’m extremely disheartened by the evident lack of care that went into this Switch release. Even the most basic Switch conversions of classic games have included a resolution bump if not a full overhaul. Nintendo’s own N64 library on NSO, which also has its roots in 240p, manages to run at 720p on Switch. Add to that a broken element of the game's basic features and this version becomes much harder to justify. I like Dementium a lot. This and Renegade Kid’s next DS release Moon were staples of this era for me. While I appreciate that I can access it on a new platform, seeing it dumped here so unceremoniously without even an adjustment to the internal resolution is very disappointing.

TalkBack / Wartales (Switch) Review Mini
« on: September 26, 2023, 06:04:43 AM »

An impressive game, but can the Switch run it?

Wartales is an open-world, tactical RPG. In it, you’ll take control of a custom-built party of adventurers. At the start, you’ll select your party’s background, the class of each of your four characters, and do some light visual customization. From there you are dropped into an expansive world without really being told what your goal is. On the one hand I enjoy the complete freedom that Wartales offers its players, however, many complex systems are simply not explained. Rather, it is up to the player to stumble through their first hour or two figuring out systems through trial and error. A familiarity with tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons is certainly helpful, as several mechanics borrow heavily from it.

All that being said, once you do overcome that entry barrier, Wartales has a lot to offer. As you explore the world, you’ll slowly come to understand its various political and social issues. Most encounters can be solved in multiple ways as you align yourself with one side or another. Or you can simply kill everyone. Early on I encountered two men who were planning an attack on a group of passing refugees. I could fight them, join them, or give them some alcohol from my inventory and get them too drunk to remember what they were doing.

Combat will be fairly straightforward to tactical or tabletop RPG fans. Each unit has a set distance they can move based on their stats and the terrain. Once per turn a unit can use their basic attack, with additional bonus actions being available at the cost of valor points. These points come from a shared pool and can be regained by meeting specific conditions in battle, and by resting at an inn. There is a strong focus on drawing enemy attention with one unit then attacking from behind with another to do bonus damage. You’ll want to pay attention to which enemies you engage with, as disengaging and attacking a second enemy while the first still lives, can trigger an opportunity attack. It is a fun combat system that borrows just enough from other sources while putting its own spin on many mechanics.

On paper, I like Wartales a lot. It scratches that freeform western RPG itch and brings a lot of original ideas to the table. Unfortunately, the Switch really struggles to deliver on that ambition. I’ve experienced several crashes back to the Switch home screen, and a few softlocks that required me to exit the game and restart it. This is following some updates which aim to improve stability. Luckily the autosave has at worst made me repeat a single combat encounter. While exploring or in combat, the frame rate is constantly stuttering. This makes just wandering around the overworld feel awkward and unstable. The initial load into a save file is multiple minutes long and even just entering or exiting combat incurs a long wait on a black screen.

Wartales is a game that I very much want to like, and suspect I would, were I playing it on PC or presumably a more powerful console. I have plenty of positive things to say about it but at the end of the day, it just doesn’t run well on Switch. Wartales is a very interesting game, but between poor tutorialization and awful performance on Switch, it may be buried a bit too deep to be worth playing on this platform.

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