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Messages - riskman64

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TalkBack / B.ARK (Switch) Review
« on: July 28, 2021, 06:00:00 AM »

A colorful co-op shooter that’s heavy on charm but light on substance.

While certainly not an impossibly challenging bullet hell shoot-’em-up, B.ARK manages to bring a vibrant presentation and solid co-op play to a genre that is filled with arcade classics, purist mainstays, and more recently (it would seem) multiplayer party-like experiences. Personally, I love seeing more four-person horizontal and vertical shooters come to Switch, especially ones where the adjustable difficulty and rudimentary gameplay mean my pre-school age son can get in on the fun. There’s a joke in here about its bark being worse than its bite, but at the end of the day, the real question is whether the slim amount of content on offer is worth your time.

A diabolical group known as the Dark Tide have taken over Earth and other planets in the solar system, and it’s up to the members of the Bio-Interstellar Ark (yes, the letter “B” is really pulling its weight in the acronym) to save the galaxy a legion of robotic fish. The four primary animal characters each come with their own ship, unique weapon, and special ability. More than that, you can also find a hidden item in each stage that unlocks a special cutscene to shed light on each animal. Marv, a rabbit, has a homing shot that seeks out nearby targets; Lucio, a bear, fires projectiles that explode on impact, doing extra damage.

The seven or so stages are themed around the different planets of the Milky Way. The mission on Jupiter sees your team head to the planet’s infamous Great Red Spot, and so you have to contend with storms and lightning strikes in addition to waves of enemies. Every stage has one or more mini-bosses before an end-stage boss, and defeating the minis functions as a checkpoint, which is a welcome feature even if the levels aren’t that long. Many stages also feature an enjoyable mix of horizontal (left to right), vertical, and even reverse (right to left) scrolling. Before starting each planet, you can choose between Normal and Hard difficulty modes, with a third higher option unlocked through gameplay. One noticeable difference is that you start out with less health as the difficulty goes up.

B.ARK’s focus on multiplayer is obvious but welcome. Even before reaching the main start screen, the Switch console prompts you to connect one or more controllers. Each player can create a three-letter profile that really only functions as a way of indicating which person has the high school for the stages on offer. There are no online leaderboards, unfortunately; local co-op is the name of the game. To that end, all of the stages record a high score for single and multiplayer. When playing with a group, you’ll only experience a game over when all of your ships are downed at the same time. If one person loses all their health, they can be scooped up by another player to greatly reduce their death timer, from 30 seconds to about 10. If only one person remains, they can play it safe until their partners get back in the fight. It’s an interesting feature that emphasizes teamwork and opens up the experience to newer or younger players.

In addition to a special ability that charges up over time, each character’s personalized weapon also powers up through item pick ups. Certain items can boost you to maximum firepower right away; otherwise, you can collect plutonium from defeated enemies to gradually raise the strength of your weapon. As you might expect, taking a hit or two will bring your weapon level down, but the stages are filled with not only health-restoring items but also firepower upgrades.

The presentation and art style of B.ARK really help it stand out from the crowd. The cartoon visuals and hand-animated characters add levity to a genre filled with destruction and gunfire. Bullets stand out well against the vibrant backgrounds of each planet, and the overall look is just really clean and attractive. Again, even though the aesthetic clearly skews towards a younger demographic, there’s definitely room for less serious shoot-’em-up fare on the eShop given the wealth of arcade staples and never-before-localized relics.

As a delightful space shooter that I can enjoy with the family, B.ARK gets two furry thumbs up from me. However, it’s not really for hardcore shmup fans looking for a more challenging and classic experience; much of its charm comes from passing out a few Joy-Con and shooting down giant mechanized starfish. Solid performance and good controls are pluses, even if a playthrough won’t take you all that long. Those who are generally looking for a more laidback, multiplayer focused title won’t be barking up the wrong tree if they give this one a spin.

TalkBack / Samurai Warriors 5 (Switch) Review
« on: July 26, 2021, 03:01:00 PM »

Hacking and slashing through feudal Japan

Musou games can provide a wonderful reprieve from more methodical and intense experiences. They don't require the patience and timing of Dark Souls, nor do they feature any real puzzle solving or brain-teasing strategy. You're basically just running around and jamming buttons to make hordes of bad guys go flying. Sometimes, you just need a musou to serve as a palette cleanser, and Samurai Warriors 5 definitely fits the bill, with surprisingly decent performance on Switch even portably. Although Japanese history enthusiasts may get more from it, the story isn't overly captivating, but a robust cast, dozens of missions, and lots of upgrades to unlock provide numerous ways to while away mindless hours of action.

Samurai Warriors 5 offers two primary forms of play: Musou Mode and Citadel Mode. The former follows the story of Nobunaga Oda, which plays out over six chapters and about 20 individual missions, some of which are optional. A couple chapters in, a parallel storyline involving Mitsuhide Akechi unlocks that lets you see Nobunaga's quest to unite Japan from another perspective. The narrative is dense with historical details and names from Japan in the late 1500s, which can be a little daunting. Fortunately, the more heavily animated cutscenes are quite nice on the eyes and represent a welcome break from the very repetitive gameplay.

Anyone who has played a "Warriors" game before will know what they're in for: slashing, spearing, and smashing thousands of mostly inconsequential enemies, dozens of slightly more powerful officers, and a handful of challenging bosses. Samurai Warriors 5 does little to divert from that tried and true formula. In addition to its 37-character roster, skill trees and weapons can be developed to empower each of your fighters. New allies join your cause regularly, and completed missions can be replayed with any of them to earn more experience points, gold, and building materials. For each character, you can improve their aptitude with different weapons, strengthen their mount, and even assign new special attacks to the four face buttons.

That said, each mission basically plays out the same as the one before it. You'll complete a series of objectives, some of which are optional, until a final boss appears. Said objectives are never much more than eliminating either one or more specific opponents or about 100 regular enemies, sometimes with a super move called a Musou Attack. On Normal difficulty, I never failed a single mission or really even saw my health drop below half, so veterans looking to test their hack-and-slash mettle should probably bump up the difficulty level. While some objectives are timed, these ones usually aren't required for the mission to succeed. When you aren't raining down sword blows on your foes, you're running back and forth across the map to tackle the next objective. Overall, the gameplay variety is very much lacking, but I suppose that's also built into the genre.

The other mode I mentioned earlier offers a bit of a departure from the story-focused Musou mode. In Citadel mode, you take on standalone missions while trying to score as many points as possible. The missions here are much shorter, with only three or so objectives to complete. Their primary function is to supply you with materials that can be spent on upgrading buildings from the main menu, such as the Dojo and Blacksmith where you can develop your characters and strengthen their weapons. The brevity of the missions in Citadel Mode make them great for shorter play sessions.

The most impressive technical aspect of Samurai Warriors 5 is that the framerate is mostly stable, even when fighting through the most abundant hordes of enemies. Compared with something like Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, it runs like a dream. Not every facet of its performance is laudable, though. Enemy pop in can be particularly egregious, with groups of foes, even ones that are specific targets for competing objectives, not showing up until you're basically within striking distance of them. Still, the overall experience on Switch, both handheld and docked, is perfectly serviceable.

It's undeniable the amount of content that Samurai Warriors 5 boasts. Completing Nobunaga's campaign unlocks even more missions, and that's in addition to all of Mitsuhide's and assorted side missions not required to reach the end credits. While mission variety and challenge felt lacking, there are reasons to replay stages to complete every objective and shoot for S rankings, which are actually tied to opening up some of the post-game content. Ultimately, there's a type of mindlessness to playing a game like this that serves as both a nice break from more mentally demanding ones and also a reminder that musou games are still quite niche, and perhaps for good reason. If you enjoy breezy, repetitive gameplay with hours and hours of missions to play and stuff to unlock, Samurai Warriors 5 will do just fine. However, I can't see it doing enough to bring new fans into the series.

TalkBack / Cris Tales (Switch) Review In-Progress
« on: July 19, 2021, 02:00:00 PM »

A gorgeous papercraft RPG with time manipulation at its core.

As much as I enjoy rushing through RPGs to see how the story unfolds, certain titles are meant to be savored like a fine red potion. Cris Tales would definitely fall into that category. With multiple endings, interesting narrative choices, and methodical combat, it stands to reason that players would want to take their time (pun intended) with this whimsical experience. We're calling this a review in progress, so it won't have a final score just yet, but after about 15 hours, I can certainly share some detailed impressions.

Demo progress doesn't carry over, so Cris Tales begins in full tutorial mode. After a few turn-based battles that show off the game's timed attacking and defending, you'll reach a seemingly unbeatable boss fight. At this point, the story backtracks to the town of Nadim where the heroine Crisbell gains her time manipulation powers. Her abilities prove useful inside and outside of combat, but her story involves a journey to discover and awaken her abilities, while also sussing out the plot of an antagonist known as the Empress, who seems to be manipulating certain figures in each town towards nefarious ends.

A number of RPG mainstays are present here. Shops, inns, townsfolk, and side quests are all part of the experience, but the lattermost of that group is worth focusing on. Helping people with their requests can have real consequences for their homes and lives, with the game providing a brief glimpse into the future you create by completing the tasks given to you. In this way, each city stands alone to an extent with its own main story objectives and an assortment of smaller goals to work towards, if you're so inclined.

At nearly all times when walking through a town, the screen will be divided into three segments, with a triangle shaped slice in the middle representing the present, a sliver on the right the future, and the same on the left for the past. It's a unique and fascinating presentation that really drives home the theme of time and change that runs through the story. In addition to treasure chests and quest objects, conversations and points of interest within the past and future can be accessed by hopping back or forward in time with your frog guide, Matias. So far, the exploration and investigation of the towns, coupled with the ability to see immediately the changes brought about by your actions and choices is a clear standout of Cris Tales.

One noticeable weakness, on the other hand, is frequent loading screens. Moving to a new area or new room leads to a white loading screen of 8 to 10 seconds, but worse is the loading times that bookend the random battles found in dungeons. Combat itself isn't overly fast-paced, and this combined with the loading screens makes exploring the dungeons thoroughly a bit of a chore.

The battles themselves are enjoyable and emphasize timed button presses to increase damage doled out or reduce damage incoming. Much like in Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario before it, Cris Tales can really reward or punish players for failing to connect on these button inputs. Fortunately, the timing is fairly generous; however, the lack of tactile feedback when successfully making an effective strike or block is noticeably absent. Since new abilities are learned regularly, it's quite important not to skip too many random encounters, and because some of the bosses can put a serious hurt on your three-person party, you want to be leveled up and equipped with good gear as well.

One final note on the battle system is the importance of Crisbell's time manipulation powers. While fights take place on the present timeline, enemies can be thrust into the past or future to varying effects. An enemy situated in the past might take more damage, while activating a future slice of time against an enemy can cause them to grow old and perish. Paired with your teammates' abilities, status effects like poison can have all of the damage they would do over four turns occur on a single turn. You're rewarded for experimenting, but brute force can usually get the job done, too.

Aesthetically, Cris Tales is genuinely sublime. The music features piano-heavy traveling themes and an upbeat and catchy battle track, but the visuals are on another level. The papercraft art style gives every background a pop-up book style to it, reminiscent of Bravely Default and the Paper Mario series. Even though none of the animations are all that flashy, strolling through the different areas of each town and seeing the three timelines at once is truly special.

I still have a lot more to see and do in Cris Tales, but the strengths heavily outweigh the weaknesses so far. There's no getting around the frustrating load times, but these are primarily disruptive during dungeons. The lack of an autosave function is a curious omission, forcing you to save frequently lest you fall in battle and have to replay a particular segment. Fortunately, you can save anywhere on the overworld map and save spots in towns and dungeons are numerous. I'm excited to see how it all comes together, so please look forward to the full review posting soon, I suppose in a future slice of time.

TalkBack / Sci-fi Roguelite Crying Suns Gets an eShop Demo
« on: July 15, 2021, 09:00:00 AM »

A discount will also be available for the full game.

After launching on Switch in May, narrative-tactical game Crying Suns is getting a free demo today, which can be found by accessing its eShop listing. Until July 22, the full game will also be discounted by 20%, so if a free sample of the game tickles your fancy, you can go ahead and pick up Crying Suns on the cheap.


Can we negotiate with a demon to move this release date up?

A new story trailer just dropped for the upcoming demon-fusing RPG, Shin Megami Tensei V. A number of features for the game we're also listed, some of which will be very familiar to fans of the series:

- Unfold an allusive story filled with tragic choices, make sacrifices to uphold your ideals as you pursue light or covet darkness to discover your role in the new world

- Fight through a demon-infested wasteland with the Press Turn Battle System, pinpoint enemy weaknesses so you can perform consecutive actions but make one mistake and it may be your last

- Turn formidable foes into worthy allies by recruiting them via negotiations, then fuse them to create demons customized to fit your playstyle

- Explore the expansive world of post-apocalyptic Tokyo, fully rendered in stunning 3D utilizing Unreal Engine 4, a first for the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series

Check out the latest trailer for the game below, and let us know in the comments if you'll be picking up SMT V when it launches on November 12.

TalkBack / Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol (Switch) Review
« on: July 08, 2021, 11:13:48 AM »

Zombies should have eaten the ghouls as well.

The package of Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Ghoul Patrol makes a very good case for why it’s okay to keep clamoring for more games like these to be added to the Nintendo Switch Online service. If they had been released there, players would have access to multiple save slots, a rewind feature, and even online play. None of these benefits are part of the recent dual-release published by Disney Interactive and originally developed by LucasArts. While Zombies Ate My Neighbors still holds up today, with its Hollywood-monster slaying, great level names, and catchy soundtrack, Ghoul Patrol is still very much a dud of a sequel.

In Zombies, players navigate more than 40 top-down levels in pursuit of various neighbors who must be saved before they are turned into mince meat by werewolves, chainsaw-wielding maniacs, or tiny dolls of death. Boss stages pop up every so often, and almost every level has a new theme and set of enemies to destroy with your arsenal of weapons or sprint past. Your default water pistol takes down the basic zombies with a single squirt, but other creatures, like a green one from a certain lagoon, are weak to other tools, like a six pack of soda that explodes upon hitting the ground. Moving and shooting are quick and still feel really good, even 28 years after originally launching on the SNES and Sega Genesis. The cool, cartoonish monster designs remain a standout, and without question this is the better game of the two.

Ghoul Patrol, on the other hand, feels like a bad licensed version of Zombies Ate My Neighbors. The same two characters, Zeke and Julie, are tasked with saving even more civilians (not just neighbors), but this time from a more demonic horde of foes. The enemy variety is nice, but the charming enemy design of the first game is lost here. Worse than that, the addition of a jump and slide actually make Ghoul Patrol more cumbersome, and movement in general feels sticky and sluggish. Another culprit is the addition of a sprint ability, mapped to the same button as your primary weapon. The number of keys to collect and locked doors to open also seems like overkill. With fewer than 20 stages, the lack of content is both a blessing and a curse: it won’t take you long to finish it, but that also means that a bad game doesn’t drag on too long.

From the opening menu, you can start up Zombies Ate My Neighbors or Ghoul Patrol, and each title has its own Museum section. Both are pretty barren, however, unless you just want to see the EU and NA game manuals, a handful of concept art, and the same player and monster animations from the games themselves. A developer interview is the highlight here, but it’s only for Zombies. The two games share a list of achievements but have separate online leaderboards, adding value to the package. Local co-op play is present, as it was in the original, and a single save slot is available for each game. All in all, the extras included in this two-pack definitely leave something to be desired.

As someone who loves Zombies Ate My Neighbors, it’s disappointing to see it brought to Switch in this way. I can happily recommend that game to top-down arcade-action fans, but the weighty ball-and-chain that is Ghoul Patrol really isn’t worth anyone’s time. Once you’ve played Zombies, Ghoul Patrol is only a letdown from there, and I still find myself wishing these titles had simply been dropped onto the NSO service considering how little has been added to this compilation.

TalkBack / Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (Switch) Review
« on: July 05, 2021, 09:00:25 AM »

Another solid and familiar Ys adventure with a dash of acrobatics thrown in.

Ys IX Monstrum Nox brings the total number of Ys games on Switch to three, and while much of it feels similar to its predecessor, Lacrimosa of Dana, there are enough new tricks and a unique setting to keep the proceedings fresh. A mysterious prison, interesting movement and exploration mechanics, and loads of side quests add lots of flavor to the city of Balduq, where most of the game takes place. While Ys IX is another stand-out action RPG in its own right, the Switch version does make a fair few compromises that are hard to overlook.

The story begins with series-staple protagonist, the red-headed Adol, and his pal Dogi showing up at the gates of Balduq as intrepid adventurers looking for their next jaunt. It isn't long before Adol is surrounded by city guards and locked away, at least temporarily. Shortly after escaping his cell, he meets a mysterious woman named Aprillis who inflicts him with a curse that gives him the power to transform into a Monstrum, a powered up, almost demonic, version of himself with special abilities. However, he's not the only one cursed in this way. Adol ends up as part of a group tasked with entering an ethereal space known as the Grimwald Nox and defeating monsters called Lemures. In addition to the summons of Aprillis, Adol also has his own quest to discover what exactly is happening underneath Balduq Prison, and along the way he'll befriend and recruit followers to his cause. These individuals take shelter in an abandoned building turned tavern dubbed Dandelion, which serves as a base of operations. Even up to the final chapters of the game, new patrons make their way to the pub, often bringing with them a new benefit to the cause.

Across more than eight chapters, Adol will go on side quests, take advantage of the services offered by newcomers and familiar faces at Dandelion, and work with his fellow Monstrums to clean up the city and dig up the skeletons in its guard-patrolled closet. Most chapters follow a familiar formula of exploring the city and helping out its scores of citizens followed by a raid battle or two to open up new locations in the city. After that, Adol and his companions will head into an extended dungeon that usually leads to a new segment of the Balduq Prison. Two or more boss fights close out each chapter.

For those who like to stop and smell the roses, ore, and animal parts used in crafting, there are dozens of merchants to discover and collectibles to seek out. Special landmarks function as fast travel points once you mark them on your map, and even just exploring and mapping out the city can yield bonuses upon returning to Dandelion and visiting with specific characters. The concept of building up your stable of allies is alive and well, even if Dandelion doesn't feel as compelling a home as Ys VIII's Castaway Village. Even the pursuit of new Dandelion patrons feels more incidental compared to how deliberate it was in Lacrimosa of Dana. Still, the cast of playable and non-playable characters is quite likeable, and it's hard not to become fond of them as you learn more about their lives in Balduq.

A new and exciting mechanic unique to Monstrum Nox is the Monstrum "gifts" that act as special traversal abilities. Adol has a hook shot-like move that lets him fly over to designated ledges and outcroppings, but as the different Monstrums join his party, he acquires their specialties, such as Hawk's winged gliding and White Cat's vertical wall scaling. The gifts are used throughout the city and its dungeons to add verticality, making exploration a more involved affair. One sore spot, though, is how enemies encountered in the city will fall off buildings, requiring you to pursue them and perhaps setting you back a bit in your travels. Later dungeons force you to make effective use of each gift, so they don't really come off as gimmicky.

Touching on combat, it's dungeons and the aforementioned raid battles where most of the fighting takes place. Raid battles become available after filling up the Nox meter, which opens up a portal filled with enemies. Completing these segments takes down a barrier blocking off a particular section of the city. Combat itself is really fast-paced and probably a little too easy on the standard Normal difficulty setting, so consider pumping it up for more of a challenge. Adol and his companions have a basic attack, a dash, a block, and a double jump, in addition to special moves that are activated by holding R and pressing one of the four face buttons. These moves level up when you use them and cost SP, which regenerates in a few different ways. Another meter that fills up as you land hits can be spent on flashy super moves that are worth their weight in gold when fighting larger mobs and bosses.

The city of Balduq and the surrounding areas are filled with objectives to tackle, many of which are unavailable or impossible to reach until you gain the right Monstrum gift. Not including side quests, each segment of the city has its own checklist of treasure chests, special locations, and other collectibles, which is sure to please completionists. That said, it's hard not to feel like you're just seeing the same cityscape in each chapter, even if different quarters have their own distinct buildings. Because essentially every chapter starts you back at Dandelion with a handful of tasks to complete within the city limits, you can't avoid the repetition that comes from passing by the same shops, landmarks, and NPCs. The tropical island of Ys VIII provided more of a visual spectacle compared to the relative drabness of Balduq.

An incredible soundtrack, filled with entirely new tracks and ones reminiscent of other Ys titles, makes Adol's journey even more memorable. Something I'd like to forget, however, is the small, non adjustable font size. Subtitles also feature a black, transparent bar that stays on screen even when no dialogue is present, which seems an odd and distracting choice.

With Ys IX launching on Switch a few months after coming to PlayStation 4, many people interested in it may have been waiting to see if the ability to play portably is worth the sacrifice in fidelity. If you were to play on a PS5, you'll likely get 60 FPS as a target, but on the PS4 consoles the range is all over the place. That same inconsistency has made it into the Switch port as well. Frame drops during combat and city exploration are a very common occurrence. Some of the late game boss fights may as well just be PowerPoint presentations. Having played the demo on PS5, it was a very rude awakening to hop into Ys IX on Switch in handheld mode. Most of my playthrough took place portably, and it's generally serviceable, but object pop in, awkward shifts in lighting during cutscenes, and muddy visuals are hard to ignore across the 30+ hour runtime. I don't remember these issues being as pronounced in Lacrimosa of Dana, nor did they distract as much in the two Cold Steel games as they do in Monstrum Nox.

All in all, Ys IX is an excellent entry in the series with interesting new combat and traversal mechanics. Battles are fast paced and fun as hell; there's also no shortage of things to do, even if unlocking the city isn't quite as satisfying as opening up new island paths in the previous game. The Switch certainly isn't the best place to experience Adol's latest exploits, though, so unless portability is a must, I'd advise looking into other versions, if that's an option. Darker in tone, Monstrum Nox is largely a strong step forward, and Ys fans aren't likely to walk away disappointed. I, for one, am excited to see where Adol the Red's next book takes him.

TalkBack / Mario Golf: Super Rush (Switch) Review
« on: June 29, 2021, 07:00:00 AM »

A scratch golfer in some ways, but the lack of polish and content pushes it out of bounds.

Mario and his pals somehow find the time in between their normal adventures for a wide variety of sports and competitions. Mario Golf: Super Rush marks the latest in the series that formally debuted on the Nintendo 64, and it attempts to straddle the line between offering a robust single-player campaign and a smattering of multiplayer options. Ditching familiar swing and strike mechanics make for a puzzling twist, and the lack of overall content is very hard to ignore. Even though the online experience can be another tee shot rolled into the middle of a bunker, the retooled RPG mode of Golf Adventure is fun while it lasts. So how many fairways does Super Rush actually manage to hit?

From the start menu, players can select from three different play options in addition to Golf Guide, which offers tips and instructions. Solo Experience allows you to compete against yourself in stroke play to shoot for the lowest score, or timed play to see how quickly you can get through a given course. Golf Adventure is this game’s single-player RPG, and it takes you through the six total courses (mountains, desert, rainswept, etc.) with a light through narrative, side challenges, and a few boss encounters. While certainly distinct from the RPG modes of Mario Golf on GBC and GBA, it manages to stay engaging for a good eight or so hours until the credits roll. The Play Golf option is where you can set up local wireless matches and join or make online lobbies. There are some decent customization options in terms of creating shorter rounds of maybe three or six holes, turning off special shots, and starting on a designated hole within each course.

Even if there isn’t a shortage of ways to play, the additions of Speed Golf and Battle Golf might actually cancel each other out. With four players (its max number), Battle Golf is a neat and compelling mini-golf-like experience. In an oval-shaped arena, nine holes are up for grabs and the first player to sink a ball in one wins that flag, with three flags needed for victory. Items, super shots, and other hazards (like items raining down from above with Super Rush) can be the difference between winning and losing, and the hectic and quick-paced nature of Battle Golf make it a standout feature. Speed Golf, on the other hand, is an interesting gimmick that begins to wear thin after a few rounds. It involves running to your ball, potentially knocking out other players along the way, watching your stamina meter, and finishing the hole as fast as possible. In Golf Adventure, this form of play is pretty miserable and actually slower than just playing a standard round since you aren’t just focusing on the shots you’re taking. In multiplayer, the shine wears off almost immediately, but younger players may get more mileage from it.

Returning to Golf Adventure, we actually posted a fairly in-depth feature on it already, so I’ll just touch on a few key takeaways. It very much feels like Nintendo is trying to appeal to a younger demographic with it, while also throwing in enough that should appease longtime fans hoping for a return to RPG glory. Leveling up and choosing which stats to boost feels satisfying, and the benefits are noticeable. The mini-game challenges teach and hone more minor areas of the game. Ultimately, though, a lot of what is introduced is quickly left behind. New techniques are practiced and then used once. Characters you seem poised to bond and interact with throughout your rise from rookie to pro are discarded, some quite early on. NPCs have some funny dialogue, but most just mention the current state of the area you find them in. Is there really a need for three different Shy Guys to tell me the local course is temporarily shut down? The story is simple and accessible, with a few boss fights adding welcome variety, but the six total courses seem a meager offering at launch; even Mario Golf 64 had eight courses! Yes, we know that more content is coming as verified during Nintendo’s E3 presentation, and what Mario Golf: Super Rush ends up becoming may be a very full and enticing value proposition, but that can’t be said at present.

The actual golf mechanics are very different here, too. Gone is the triple-button press system that has been ubiquitous in video game versions of the sport, where one press starts your swing, a second press sets the power, and a third determines accuracy or direction. It’s been replaced with a simplified system that exchanges skill and timing for randomness and cautious play, and even once you get the hang of it, it’s hard not to wish at least for an option to use the former controls. Now, a single press starts your meter, with a second determining power, but that second press has to try and avoid going for a full power at the top of your swing, lest you risk firing a wild shot through random chance. A perfect blast of a golf swing used to be a matter of timing your presses well; with Super Rush, players are forced to pull back on the throttle, which just seems a baffling choice. Perhaps in service of upping the tempo, curve, ball height, and spin are all determined during the swing now, when before these choices were generally decided upon prior to starting your swing. This is another reason why Speed Golf seems to bring down the pure golf content of the game.

The overall presentation shows off just how unpolished the product really is. If anything, maybe the game’s subtitle should have been “Super Rushed,” because the typically high level of Nintendo sheen simply isn’t present. The courses look fine, but there isn’t much attention to detail. The crowd of Mushroom Kingdom spectators is laughably dull and appear as if they were just plopped onto the side of a particular hole. Even during solo play, camera angles obscure shots or fail to capture dramatic moments and close calls. On the putting green, characters will often be shown in the foreground shooting towards the background, meaning that you can’t always see if your ball is even heading towards the hole. I noticed, even in Golf Adventure, characters flickering between their transparent models and their fully animated ones. I’ll only make one comment about the music and sound: why can’t I taunt the loser until Wario’s throat is sore?

Online play seems like it might be okay, and one of the fortunate things about getting to review the game post rather than pre-launch is that we have a better idea of what the community of Super Rush might look like. Playing with a couple friends, I experienced one major disconnection that ended a session before settling in for just under a dozen short rounds. A bit of lag here and there was the only noticeable issue, but we still had fun with it. By myself, I played with a handful of online groups, usually consisting of four players. Again, even though a bit of lag cropped up from time to time, no further disconnection issues came up after that initial one. Multiplayer will definitely add some life to a game that definitely needs it, but a lack of online leaderboards and rankings is another obvious oversight. A lesser one is that you can’t change game modes online without leaving your created lobby and starting a new one, kicking out any players who may have joined you. I should note that half of my online play was on TV while the rest was portable, and even while docked, I was still relying on a wireless connection.

Mario Golf: Super Rush is filled with potential; it’s a decent game that I’m going to enjoy for what it is. That said, I can’t help but lament what could have been. More options, polish, and content would make this the definitive Mario Golf experience. It’s entirely possible that in the next year or two, just like with Mario Tennis Aces, (free) DLC adds not only characters and costumes, but also full courses and maybe even a little something to Golf Adventure. Despite its short-comings, Golf Adventure is a wonderful iteration of past Mario sports RPG modes, and it stands as a definite highlight within a mediocre golf bag of lie-filled scorecards and broken tees. Mario Golf: Super Rush takes years of practice at the driving range and blasts a tee shot into the air, only to see it curve far to the right and into an unsuspecting water hazard. It should have been a culmination of the home and handheld versions of Mario Golf, and instead it largely squanders that potential. Only time will tell if content drops for the game will bring it up to par. For now, you’ll have to play it as it lies.

TalkBack / Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights (Switch) Review
« on: June 24, 2021, 08:51:02 AM »

An enjoyable and beautiful, if unoriginal, action-exploration experience.

You can't spend more than a few seconds browsing the eShop without finding a Metroidvania, a genre that's exploded in popularity, particularly when it comes to indie games. It would seem that so many developers want to follow up on the success of titles like Hollow Knight with their own take on the dark, melancholic adventure, spread out across a sprawling map filled with secrets to be uncovered. Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights will feel very familiar to anyone who has played Momodora, Minoria, or the aforementioned Hollow Knight, while also sharing similarities with Dark Souls, especially in terms of combat. It's hard not to feel somewhat fatigued after playing through so many similar titles, but Ender Lilies is well-designed and fun enough over its 10-hour runtime to firmly hold your attention.

The story unfolds gradually as you move through the game's various environments, but the world of Land's End has essentially been tainted and destroyed by a mysterious (and literal) Rain of Death. This advent has caused all living creatures into monstrous forms known as Blighted, and one of your objectives, as the young girl Lily, is to purify the souls of these denizens and release them from their grotesque existence. Much of the world's lore comes in the form of notes and letters scattered about, so intrepid explorers and readers will be rewarded with interesting backstory. The other major story beats arrive at the end of boss fights, as their purification reveals their purpose and who they were before the Rain came.

Mechanically, Ender Lilies does have a unique and engaging combat element that helps it stand out a bit from its peers. Defeated bosses and mini-bosses grant spirit abilities that can be equipped and improved over the course of the game. At rest spots that function as save, healing, and fast travel points, you can equip two different loadouts of up to three spirits and spend in-game currency to power them up. You begin with a standard sword slash attack, but more than 20 spirits can be obtained and equipped, including one that lays down a poisonous gas, one that summons a bird minion to attack enemies, and one that shields Lily from melee attacks. Boss spirits, in addition to their combat abilities, also unlock non-combat moves, such as ground pound or mid-air dash, that open up traversal of Land's End.

Much like other dark fantasy action RPGs, combat is brutal and challenging; engaging even basic enemies can be deadly. I'm not ashamed to admit that a few of the bosses too me well over a dozen attempts, and of course that frustration is matched by the relief that washes over you after finally finding success. Defeating enemies does bestow experience points and Lily levels up regularly, but the downside is that only her attack power grows, and very incrementally at that. Health meter upgrades must be found in the world, so a balance of not avoiding too much combat while also searching carefully for HP boosts is required. Your sword attack an exception, other spirit attacks have a limited number of uses, but relics found throughout the different areas can be equipped to provide more charges or boost your defenses. It's frustrating, however, that you also need to pick up items to give you more relic slots. It would have been welcome to see progression tied a little more to level ups than item discovery.

There's no denying the haunting beauty and atmosphere of Ender Lilies. The desolation and dilapidated structures strewn about each new segment of Land's End tell of its post-apocalyptic state. Lily's stark white appearance stands in direct contrast to the darkness and grime all around her. The backgrounds are incredibly detailed, and the visual contrast between them and the foreground yields a captivating layering effect. All of this is tied together by lilting piano themes and other subtle instrumentations that allow the action and exploration to breathe. The aesthetic experience to be had here is a profound and memorable one.

It's difficult to shake the feeling that I've already played this game before. It borrows so much from other Metroidvanias, albeit elements that make these games fun, and as a result it fails to wholly craft a distinct identity. From screenshots, I would have sworn it was a spiritual sequel to Momodora and Minoria (like the latter to the former). After playing through it, I still haven't been able to shake that feeling. Nonetheless, Ender Lilies plays well and provides ample challenge for fans of these types of games. Multiple endings will likely compel you to keep exploring every untravelled path, but the final sections of the game will test players to their limits. Ender Lilies may not stand out in a crowd, but those who pledge to cleanse its world of Blighted will be well rewarded.

TalkBack / Mushihimesama (Switch) Review
« on: June 23, 2021, 12:59:10 PM »

An unearthed vertical shooter relic.

If you're really well-versed in the shoot-'em-up genre, it's possible that you've heard of Mushihimesama. For more casual players, that name might simply sound like something Goku would say on Dragon Ball Z. Originally developed by Cave and released in Japanese arcades, it's a bug-themed vertical shooter that definitely qualifies as a "bullet hell." The Switch release bundles in Novice, Normal, Arrange, and 1.5 versions with their own slight and major changes, but ultimately it feels like a package much better suited to dedicated fans and collectors.

I say that because there are only five stages in total and little to speak of in the way of narrative. Each stage features a wide variety of bug creatures, some of which err more on the side of realism, while others take on more of a mechanical appearance. Mini-bosses generally appear halfway through each level, and fortunately no individual area feels lacking in terms of length.

Presentation represents all the highs and lows of Mushihimesama. Bullets and gunfire are easy to identify, with all enemy shots taking on a purple hue. The music is fairly decent, with the boss encounter themes really standing out from the rest of the tunes. The menu fonts could be a little larger, but there are a fair number of customization options. Players can change screen orientation, backgrounds, number of windows displayed (which is oddly superfluous), difficulty, and number of lives per continue. There doesn't seem to be a limit on how many continues you can use, either. Noticeable slowdown occurs when bullets and loot fill the screen, which happens fairly often but doesn't totally disrupt the experience.

Visually, Mushihimesama has a very clean look and provides a sense of depth as you scroll through each stage. Even though all bullets are on the same plane, bugs appearing from different places on screen may seem to be coming from below, which adds to the spectacle. Most of the bosses fill the top half of the screen, and then load the rest of the screen with a tidal wave or purple bullets, with only the smallest slivers of safety to escape to. Power-ups, point crystals, and basically everything on screen is easy to identify.

The differences between the four primary versions of Mushihimesama on offer are subtle, and it's likely that only more dedicated shooter fans will really appreciate them. Arrange mode features a new point-multiplier system and starts your ship off at maximum power. Version 1.5 gives you a choice of starting at regular power or max and utilizes a remixed soundtrack, in addition to a few other minor alterations. For most players, I think it will be difficult to extract more value from what generally amounts to small variations on the same five stages. Even the game's three ships, in spite of unique main guns, all use the same bomb. Co-op for two players, a score attack, a novice mode, and online leaderboards round out the package, but it’s not entirely clear how to unlock the latter or whether it will just be available at a later date.

There's no denying that Mushihimesama has had an interesting release history, most of which seems to exclude the West. It's always great to see hidden genre gems emerge on the eShop, but this one is a little more rough than diamond. That might sound more dismissive than I intend; Mushihimesama is a fine shoot-'em-up, but the content on offer does feel limited. Unless you're into playing every obscure arcade shooter, it's likely you'll find more to love from other Switch library offerings. Still, blasting a bounty of neat-looking bugs provides a fun enough time while it lasts.

TalkBack / New Shin Megami Tensei V Trailer and Physical Pre-Orders
« on: June 21, 2021, 08:10:48 AM »

You have a few demon-slaying options if you opt for going physical.

Today, ATLUS showed off a new gameplay trailer for Shin Megami Tensei V, which is coming to Nintendo Switch on November 12. They also revealed two different physical versions of the game coming to retail: the Standard Edition or Fall of Man Premium Edition. The former comes with a steelbook case and the game cartridge, while the latter adds a sling bag, demon handbook, two-disc soundtrack, and a collectible box. Retailers mentioned in the press release include Amazon, Best Buy, and Gamestop, with the standard version going for $59.99 and the premium edition at $119.99 (both USD).

You can find images of each version below in addition to the trailer mentioned earlier. Is anyone else seriously tempted by the Fall of Man set? Let us know in the comments below.

TalkBack / World's End Club (Switch) Review
« on: June 07, 2021, 09:26:45 AM »

This world definitely goes out with a whimper, not a bang.

Given the pedigree of the team at Too Kyo Games, with individuals who played major roles in the Danganonpa and Zero Escape games, it was easy to get excited about World's End Club when it was first announced for Switch during a February 2021 Nintendo Direct. While the chibi-style anime presentation seemed to indicate a title aimed at a younger or less experienced audience, it wasn't clear to this reviewer how true that would be until I got my hands on the game. The most disappointing thing is that World's End Club fails not only to live up to the heights of any of the aforementioned games, but it also squanders an entertaining premise from its opening hours. If you've only played the demo, you've already played the best part.

The opening of World's End Club sees a group of 12 students, the Go-Getters Club, wake up in a creepy underwater amusement park after their school bus trip goes off the rails. They are introduced to a robotic clown character named Pielope, who forces them to play the Game of Fate, an event that feels very similar to similar situations presented in Danganonpa and Zero Escape. The kids are pitted against one another and have to cooperate and contest each other in an effort to emerge safe and sound from Pielope's challenge. It's a satisfying combination of lighthearted, tense, and dark, but after successfully navigating this first segment of the game, nothing that follows ever reaches this initial peak.

The rest of the story plays out across effectively two timelines, with choose-your-own-adventure options at a handful of branches along the way. The basic premise is that the group is trying to get back to Tokyo to discover what's happened to the world, as humans seem to have disappeared entirely. Each point on the timeline invokes either a story segment with just dialogue and maybe a final decision, an action segment with light platforming and some action events, or a camp segment, where you can speak to the members of the group and see some brief interactions among them. The primary point of view is that of Reycho, a silent protagonist, and it's a little funny to see him pop into scenes to deliver a quick thumbs up or some other simple gesture.

The main issue with World's End Club is that it doesn't have a defined identity. It feels like a Frankenstein monster of disparate game elements that never coalesce into anything meaningful. The main story is fine, but it leaves questions unanswered, concludes in a fairly unsatisfying way, and so often leaves what could be entertaining scenes and situations to play out off-screen. For example, when a member of the group is bit by a rat and needs an antibiotic; the collecting and administering of said medicine aren't shown at all. The mission goes from a defeated boss to the injured character appearing as good as new. The action segments are incredibly basic and lack any real challenge; a game over is more often the result of an enemy or hazard suddenly appearing from off camera, or the characters all controlling a bit differently.

In most action segments, different members of the crew will take over as protagonist, allowing them to show off a unique power they've been imbued with. Reycho can throw objects, Kansai can summon and swing a powerful baseball bat, and Pai can create a bubble shield to repel enemies and other dangers. The powers are one-note and rarely used in creative ways, making these levels more of a slog between story beats.

The Go-Getters themselves are interesting enough and have their own personalities and connections to other members of the group. The voice work is solid, and the writing serviceable, but there's no getting around the fact that everything lacks a seriousness and gravitas that would befit the actual end of the world. The characters are much more concerned with trivial squabbles, sight-seeing, and their own connections to each city than they are with the state of humanity. It's a struggle to reconcile the disconnect between the game's world and the actions and thoughts of its cast.

With two endings reached and nearly all collectibles acquired, my playtime came in at under 10 hours. There isn't much of a reason to return to the game after unlocking both endings either. The final two hours mark a drastic shift from the opening of World's End Club, as they drag on and force backtracking until you've basically gone through each branching path option you didn't explore. It just feels forced and nullifies the impact of your previous decisions.

It's disappointing that more of what made games like Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors didn't make its way into World's End Club. The murder mystery and puzzle elements of those earlier titles are basically absent in this new adventure, and the moniker of baby's first visual novel is both apt and unable to fully capture its conflicted essence. My recommendation, if you really must play this game, is to finish the demo and then know that it's downhill from there. Ultimately, this mishmash of genres fails to conjure up the magic of its forebears or carve out a space for its own limited bag of tricks.

TalkBack / Mighty Goose (Switch) Review
« on: June 04, 2021, 06:00:00 AM »

What’s good for the gander isn’t always good for the goose, no matter how mighty.

Arcade-action title Mighty Goose may immediately call to mind the Metal Slug series. With bullets flying everywhere, various guns to pick up, and even a smattering of vehicles to commandeer, the explosions of robotic and insect parts alike makes a good first impression. The thing about impressions is that they are always fleeting, and it’s up to a game to find new and exciting ways to keep any momentum it generates; this is where Mighty Goose has its wings clipped.

Chasing a villain known as the Void King through the galaxy, Mighty Goose and his handler Vark move from area to area across a world map, with the ability to revisit earlier levels to improve your performance and earn a higher ranking. As you run and gun through each area, you collect coins that can be spent instantly via an in-menu shop, with a handful of limited use weapons and even a vehicle for when the going gets tough. Unfortunately, for more veteran players, the difficulty doesn’t ramp up that much, and the abundance of weapon drops from enemies mean you’ll seldom need the coins outside of purchasing a vehicle for some particularly tough encounters. Annoyingly, health pick-ups seem to come in bunches, and it’s not always clear when you’ve reached a checkpoint. Most stages end with a boss fight, and the ones that don’t feel like a let down, given that the bosses are quite fun to take down.

In addition to a standard gun, Goose can pick up a machine gun, a tesla coil, a shotgun, and a rocket launcher. Each of these has a limited amount of ammo, and even if you collect multiple pick-ups, the total ammo for these special guns is capped. A jump, dodge roll, and a special attack round out your arsenal. New special attacks unlock regularly, and range from calling down a beam from the sky or summoning skeleton-like minions, to a buff that instantly fills your Mighty Meter. This meter builds up as you rain fire on enemies, and when full can be activated to put Goose into a temporary super state where they gain invulnerability and a massive firepower boost.

The stages scroll primarily from left to right with some verticality thrown in on occasion. Certain areas task you with activating a switch or lever to open a door or raise a platform, but these sections don't really add much to the experience. One of the main issues with Mighty Goose is that it’s over too quickly. You can roll credits in under two hours, and doing so unlocks upgraded versions of most of the stages you already completed. I was looking forward to some interesting twists in these “plus” stages, but they play basically the exact same way, and the challenge wasn’t noticeably greater. There’s apparently a reward for completing all the plus stages, but the game doesn’t offer enough to make replaying them all over again a worthwhile endeavor.

Unlockable buffs, special attacks, and even partner characters aren’t enough to justify the “Mighty” moniker. While fun for a little while, the repetitive gameplay, short main campaign, and lacking arsenal make Mighty Goose a tough recommendation. The pixel art, soundtrack, and performance are all solid, and the menus and base where you choose your loadout are presented well. There’s also something funny about Goose’s random honks and certain moments when the action slows down and a giant goose pops up in the corner of the screen. If you absolutely need more Metal Slug in your life, then I would say wing it, but otherwise maybe let sleeping geese lie.

TalkBack / Astalon: Tears of the Earth (Switch) Review
« on: June 03, 2021, 09:00:00 AM »

A time-worn formula with solid gameplay and an interesting twist.

The beginning of 2D action-platformer Astalon opens in very nondescript fashion: three adventures enter a dark tower after a trek through the desert. There's a noticeable combo of gravitas and humor to the brief dialogue interaction among them before you're given control of the blue knight, Arias. The tutorial area allows you to become familiar with the simple controls for movement, jumping, and attacking, but it also demonstrates the game's most interesting mechanic: switching between the three heroes to take advantage of their unique skills and capabilities. It didn't take long for Astalon to sink its teeth into me, and the blend of old-school Castlevania feel with RPG mechanics and modern sensibilities makes for a winning combination.

The Tower of Serpents, which acts as the setting, makes for an impressive specimen. A variety of different areas contain not only unique enemies but scores of secrets for the intrepid explorer. There are nearly as many items that are required to progress through the tower as there are those that simply make your characters stronger and more adept. Hidden passages, tricky jumps, and dangerous enemies are all part of the experience, but the way in which return trips through the various rooms can reveal something new and never before seen that truly helps the tower come alive. Different forms of fast travel can be unlocked as well, ensuring that you're never too far away from where you want to be after a death, and with such an expansive map (with new areas I was finding even after rolling credits), it’s nice to be able to warp around a bit easier.

I've mentioned the blue knight, who wields a sword that can slash opponents quickly at melee range. He also gains a dash and the ability to reflect certain projectiles, and his sword is the only weapon that can cut down certain vine-shaped barriers. The wizard Algus is the one I prefer to use; his staff shoots a fireball with decent range and attack speed, but it also activates switches and can penetrate walls. You may eventually come across a cloak that allows him to jump and then float down to the ground, making it easier to avoid spike pits and ground-based enemies. The final member of the trio is Kyuli, a rogue. With her trusty bow, she can launch arrows all the way across the screen, making short work of the Cyclops-type monsters you encounter regularly. Her unique talent allows her to scale higher walls and platforms by jumping off them, starting off with a single extra jump and later acquiring unlimited jumps through the Griffon Claw item. Taking different characters down familiar paths often leads to finding secrets or shortcuts, and the frequent feeling of discovery tied to swapping characters is very satisfying. And just as you start getting frustrated by only being able to swap characters out in specific campfire rooms, you'll uncover an object that lets you switch between them at will.

The challenge level of Astalon remains steady throughout, as new areas ramp up the enemy hit points and damage, particularly some of the end-game rooms. Greater risks, of course, often yield greater rewards, and such is the case here as well. Defeated enemies drop orbs that function as a currency to purchase character upgrades, temporary buffs, and special items. The amount of freedom ensures that different players can customize the party to their liking. As mentioned earlier, the wizard was my go-to party member, so I maxed his stats in lieu of raising the strength and defense of my other characters. Others might want to grow the stats of the party more equally so that they don't face as much of a risk when forced to use the knight for his sword or the rogue for her climbing.

There are some elements of Astalon that would benefit from more clarity, polish, and transparency, starting with the upgrade screen. Whenever you die (which will no doubt be often), you meet the character to whom you can sell your orbs, but the items they sell don't have any description until after you buy them. This means early and mid-game decisions are made trickier by a lack of information, and so you'll have to blindly spend your money until you figure out what everything does. The map screen, while serviceable, can be a little hard to decipher at times, too. Finally, while not necessarily gamebreaking, the longer I played, the more I noticed strange bugs, like enemies not displaying properly and even a boss's second form showing up before I had even started fighting its first form. Without question, the good outweighs the bad here, but sour notes like these did impact the experience to an extent.

The presentation elements, the visuals especially, work to conjure up feelings of nostalgia for 80s and 90s titles like Castlevania III, The Adventure of Link, and I'll just say it: Milon's Secret Castle. The pixel art impresses throughout, and the use of color adds depth to the adventure. Admittedly, the music in certain areas can grow a tad stale, especially early on as you spend more time in just a few areas of the tower. Fortunately, as your mobility increases and you discover new places, the soundtrack starts to shine more brightly.

Astalon inserts itself into an ever-more-crowded genre that starts with "M" and ends with "vania," but it absolutely nails the joy of discovery and the satisfaction of progression, both through noticeable character improvement and the acquisition of unique items and powers. Underneath the solid gameplay lies an interesting story and premise, with neither trying to steal the spotlight from the action and exploration. A not-imposing set of achievements and unlockables, in addition to map and items found percentages push the longevity score even higher, and ultimately I just had an incredibly tough time putting this one down. Anyone who loved whipping through games like Bloodstained, Axiom Verge, and similar indies should do themselves a favor and delve into the amazing adventure that is Astalon.

TalkBack / Super Bomberman R Online (Switch) Review
« on: May 30, 2021, 01:48:44 PM »

64-person Bomber Royale.

A launch title for Nintendo Switch, Super Bomberman R stuck close to the tried-and-true explosive formula but didn’t manage to set the world on fire. One of the sore spots, at least for me, was a lag-filled online experience, a fatal flaw given the precision and timing involved in a Bomberman game. Fast forward more than four years later, and Konami is bringing a free-to-play battle royale style version of Super Bomberman R to Switch, less than a year after it came exclusively to Google’s Stadia platform. I’m happy to report that Bomberman makes the jump to online survival winner-take-all quite well, but progression can be slow for those who don’t purchase the optional battle pass.

For the uninitiated, Bomberman involves moving your choice of character around a top-down, 13x11 grid (at least that’s the size in this game) as you attempt to blow up the competition. Each area is filled with destructible blocks that can contain power-ups to increase your bomb’s blast radius, the number of bombs you can place at a time, and your movement speed. In Super Bomberman R Online’s Battle 64 mode, 64 players start out across 16 play areas with a timer counting down from 60 seconds. Once the timer hits zero, the play areas are gradually removed until only one remains, where any players still in the competition are left to duke it out until there’s just one Bomber standing.

Each player starts off with two hearts, which means you can take two hits before being eliminated. Occasionally, heart item pick-ups will show up, too, letting you replenish a missing one. The standard kick, punch, and grab items appear as well. Initially, only the eight different colored Bomber characters are available to play as, with each having slightly different attributes. White only starts out with one bomb, no speed ups, and two bomb radius, but he can go up to a maximum of eight in all three of those stats. Pink starts out with a total of five in each of the three primary stats, but she can’t go higher than that, and the punch and grab abilities are crossed out, so she can’t pick up those items. In terms of extra content, there are two additional free characters on rotation, from Konami franchises like Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania, and Contra, but the other 12 come with the Premium Pack DLC, which also allows for the creation of private matches with friends.

Another way that Super Bomberman R Online is monetized is through its two-tier Battle Pass. The silver tier is free and offers some minor rewards for regular play of the game. The gold tier covers a 90-day season and costs 800 Bomber Coins. This currency costs real money through the eShop, but it can be earned as a reward within the gold tier. Some of the other rewards include costumes, profile tags, poses, and even musical tracks. In each season, specific characters will also be up for purchase, with Old Snake Bomber (500 Bomber Coins) being available as part of Season 1, in addition to Bean Bomber (Free), as cross-promotion with Fall Guys. Bomb skins, taunts, and other cosmetics can also be picked up with Bomber Coins. There’s also a separate Start Pass that offers free rewards as you play. Each of the passes described here goes up to level 100.

Back to the business of bombing, how does the game actually play? Well, across dozens of matches I’ve encountered no noticeable lag. It doesn’t take too long to hop into a Quick Match, thanks to full crossplay, but I’ve experienced a few matches where the character selection screen countdown basically times out as soon as you reach that screen; fortunately, this wasn’t the case for most of my matches. In addition to the main field of play, all 16 areas are indicated in miniature on the borders, so you can see which areas are left and chart where your character is heading. The visuals are a little fuzzy, but all of the important elements are still easy to see. Regrettably, there only appears to be one standard environment, which Bomberman fans are sure to recognize. In private matches, there are eight arena types to choose from and other options to customize the experience. There are open spots in the menus that indicate new stages types may show up in private matches and in the standard Battle 64 mode, but we’ll have to wait and see on that.

Super Bomberman R Online is a welcome addition to the Switch library, and provides an engaging and lag-free online experience. The core Bomberman gameplay lends itself well to the battle royale format, and the fact that players can enjoy much of what the title has to offer without spending a dime is a nice bonus. Ranks, levels, and grades all provide incentives to shoot for, if you’re so inclined, but the grading for each season isn’t really explained anywhere. Another issue is that there’s no local co-op option; every player needs to have their own game and Switch console. Regardless, any Bomberman fan should be picking this one up. I can readily admit that I fall into that camp, and I’ve been having a blast.

TalkBack / Very Very Valet (Switch) Review
« on: May 25, 2021, 08:00:00 AM »

A new take on the chaotic, team-based co-op formula.

There are cooperative and competitive games on the Switch eShop that won’t even start if you have fewer than two players. With Very Very Valet, you can actually get about halfway through the stages playing solo, but eventually the demands of each stage become too much for one car-hop to manage. The premise is a simple one: help people park and store their cars and then retrieve the vehicles when they’re done. With each stage generally consisting of about 10-20 cars and a number of different obstacles to maneuver around, the action is brisk and the potential for hilarity high. Even if the mechanics lack depth and the controls feel imprecise at times, it’s pretty fun to play valet for a day when you don’t really need to be all that careful.

After a brief tutorial stage, you begin unlocking new stages up to a total of 20, with a few bonus stages thrown in the mix on occasion. With up to four players, you work together to pick up cars from outside of a restaurant, for example, as customers go inside for a bite to eat. In the meantime, you’ll need to drive their car to a parking lot or somewhere out of the way so that you can make room for more valet users and even just regular traffic. The early stages are fairly basic, perhaps with a straight road through the center of the level, a restaurant in the middle of it, and rooftop parking just above. Eventually, teleportation devices, trampolines, and even button-activated launchers will come into play as you create space and move cars around the stage. As your customers finish their business, they’ll form a queue near a designated drop off point, and this is when you’ll need to hop back in their car and shuttle it back over to them.

In addition to a rolling score meter at the bottom of the screen, an indicator at the top-left corner shows what phase of the stage you are in, usually culminating in phase 4. As customers roll in and leave their cars with you, they’ll often remark in a dialogue box about how long they expect to take: “I take FOREVER to eat” or maybe “BRB,” and these hints give you a bit of an idea of where you might want to park their car. Meters begin to fill up both when people are waiting to drop off their car and retrieve it, and if the meter stays full for too long, the vehicles end up getting beamed into the sky, a mystery that the bird-like manager of Very Very Valet seems intent on solving. In later stages, you’ll have less of a grace period as customers lose patience more quickly, and this is where you’ll need to rely on your co-op partners to be successful.

Up to three stars can be earned in each level, with each car beamed up (by Scotty?) subtracting from your potential total. Once three customers have reached their limit, you won’t earn any stars for completing the stage. Funny enough, it seems like you can actually get to the end of nearly every level without actually assisting anyone, but the final stage in each of the game’s four regions requires a set number of stars to unlock, so you’ll need to be a decent valet or valet team to see the whole game through.

Mechanically, the controls don’t always feel great. Movement, jumping, and even shoving actions are fine, but driving, which you’ll be doing most of the time, can be frustrating. Basically, the car moves in the direction in which you tilt the control stick, but to reverse you need to come to a full stop and then press in the opposite direction. A sharp turn can be activated, and with some practice used effectively, but it takes a long time for the basic driving to feel comfortable, and even then it leaves something to be desired. It would seem to be a fatal flaw in physics-based experiences like Very Very Valet where imperfect controls can be played for laughs but also inhibit the precision needed to accomplish what the game is asking for.

At the end of a long day of driving and parking cars, Very Very Valet is pretty, pretty good in terms of delivering a fresh co-op experience. It doesn’t directly relate to food prep, and that’s a definite plus in a genre filled with similar activities. Bonus stages in each area add some variety to the proceedings, tasking players with collecting garbage and tossing it or knocking over waves of bowling pins. High scores, fastest times, and even adjustable difficulty settings will accommodate players of all skill levels. Online leaderboards would have been a nice inclusion, and it’s hard not to feel like the basic premise of the game isn’t taken much further in later stages than earlier ones. Still, even playing alone I had a lot of fun shuttling cars around the different stages, and the potential for chaos and uproarious laughter in multiplayer is very, very high. Just be prepared to fight the driving controls as much as you fight for parking spaces.

TalkBack / Jetboard Joust (Switch) Review
« on: May 17, 2021, 06:00:00 AM »

A run-based mashup of classic arcade experiences that might let players off too easy.

Jetboard Joust joins the list of eShop titles looking to capitalize on nostalgia for classic arcade staples and the thirst for run-based experiences with staying power. The premise is simple: shoot down or slam your jetboard into waves of enemies attempting to abduct civilians on the ground below you before they take you down. Across five worlds, you complete 11 levels in each before taking on the boss of each world, and along the way you earn in-game cash to improve your character and your weapons. Something strange happened during my first run, though: I finished the whole thing.

It took a few hours, but my first run took me all the way from the beginning of World 1 to the end of World 5 and the game’s brief end credits. Does this mean Jetboard Joust is too easy? There were definitely some precarious moments where I saw my health fall to zero only to cash in an extra life I had earned. I may have been playing pretty well and picked up some powerful weapons, in addition to making smart upgrade decisions; however, I’m still scratching my head about what to make of this surprising turn of events.

The Jetboard rider materializes at the beginning of each level through a warp gate, and from there waves of enemies teleport into the space around you shooting all sorts of weapons and attempting to capture the citizens stationed on the ground. The stages wrap around, and a mini-map at the top indicates the position of enemies to make navigation and hunting easier. Along the way, you discover special weapons, such as the Gravity Hammer and Lightning Bolt, that have limited ammo, but ammo drops fairly regularly, as does health. Between levels you can choose your path to the next and also enter a shop to sell weapons, upgrade them, or improve your overall health and effectiveness of your board. The “Joust” from the game’s title is activated with the B button and launches you forward in a line, dealing massive damage to all foes in your path. Upgrading the Jetboard makes it faster and gives you more joust charges.

Like any good arcade game or shoot-’em-up, earning points and improving your high score is paramount to the experience. Enemies drop coins and diamonds that add to your score and your money that can be spent after each stage. Money can also be used to revive your character after a game over. Destroying your opposition in quick succession will create a combo chain that boosts the loot that drops and drives your score even higher. The lack of online leaderboards is a noticeable omission, but there are over 100 achievements to shoot for, which is nice to see.

Admittedly, the gameplay does grow repetitive, with each stage playing basically the exact same as the one before it, save for the boss encounters. Most of the basic enemies consist of rival Jetboarders trying to make off with the civilians under your purview. Their health and weaponry can change from level to level, but they never seemed to pose too much of a threat. Other creatures such as fish, spiders, and insects of various types are also thrown into the mix, and I did appreciate seeing new threats all the way up the final stages of the game. Ultimately, what I’ve learned is that longer sessions of Jetboard Joust are simply less enjoyable given the simplicity and repetition of the gameplay.

That said, had the difficulty been higher, I would have had the opportunity to take advantage of one of the game’s key mechanics; namely, using keys earned throughout the different worlds to start subsequent runs using unlocked warp gates. Put simply, you can jump ahead to later worlds after reaching certain levels. I didn’t actually see this in action until I had rolled credits, after a single run, and went to restart the game. Again, I’m not sure if this is a knock against the game.

While I had fun playing Jetboard Joust, it might need some balance tweaking to make certain mechanics more meaningful. Every stage features a different five or six-color palette, which both helps and hurts longer sessions, by differentiating levels but also offering less visual stimulation. Compounding this is the lack of gameplay variety; the boss fights presented a fair challenge, but the levels leading up to them had a tendency to drag on. Even the optional treasure rooms that are unlocked by engaging in a final duel at the end of every stage fail to provide enough risk for their reward—I went for them on each level and never failed (Did that make me too powerful?). Although I’m filled with questions about the validity of Jetboard Joust’s roguelite status, it plays well enough and can likely provide solid entertainment in short bursts. Fans of classic arcade games may dig this new twist on the high-scoring chasing arcade shooter, but after one full run through, I’ve had “joust” about enough Jetboarding to last a lifetime.


Part high school sim, part RPG, all heart.

Atlus has been nothing short of prolific in their development of RPGs, especially those of the turn-based variety. None, however, have reached the heights of popularity like their Persona series, games featuring a protagonist who transfers to a new school, befriends a bunch of his or her classmates, and eventually enters a demon-filled netherworld. For some, that may have been their typical experience in high school, but it's uncanny how well Persona 4 simulates the life of a 16 or 17-year-old student. The combat, story, music, and gameplay are all excellent in their own right. But it's the cast and residents of Inaba, the game's setting, that truly make it Golden.

Golden, sure. Timeless, though? I had known since the original PlayStation 2 release of Persona 4 that it was a highly-regarded title. The PlayStation Vita remake that added "Golden" to the title, in addition to major content and gameplay changes, really put the game on my radar. I wouldn't play either version when they launched, but I did eventually pick up a second-hand Vita off Craigslist for the sole purpose of finally hopping not just into Persona 4 Golden, but Persona 3 and other RPGs I hadn't played in some time. Persona 4 really does feel like a perfect mix of simulation, story, and strategy, and each of those elements harmonizes elegantly with the other two. Taking time to cultivate relationships unlocks more plot points but also makes your characters and minions stronger. Do you choose to spend time in dungeons fighting enemies for experience and money, or do you visit your classmates and help with their problems? It turns out that both paths are viable.

The silent protagonist, who is named by the player at the outset, serves as a magnificent foil to the mostly voiced cast. Named Yu by default, he functions mostly as a blank slate, defined by the countless dialogue choices present throughout the adventure. However, his relative plainness amplifies the charm and effervescence of his circle of friends. Personally, no pun intended, I would argue that the entire playable cast, and even Yu's new found family in Dojima and his daughter Nanako, represent the true soul of Persona 4. Their presence makes the game a real joy to experience, and it's no easy task to say goodbye to them after spending over 60 hours at their side.

She may not join your party, but Nanako, who refers to the player throughout the game as Big Bro, is its beating heart. She has a tragic backstory, endears herself to everyone she meets, and carries herself with a blend of child-like wonder and experience beyond her years. Living without a mother, in some ways she's had to grow up too fast, especially with her father spending so many late nights at the office as a police detective. Her Social Link, which is essentially a series of cutscenes that are unlocked and contribute to a meter symbolizing your bond with her and every other character who has an S-Link, allows you an even deeper glimpse into the loneliness she feels, being somewhat held at a distance by Dojima. She is a person who has endured but can still take pleasure in the simple things, like trips to the neighborhood grocery store, Junes. I love her, and I can readily admit that replaying Persona 4 after becoming a father has made me even more sympathetic to her situation and galvanized towards making her happy.

Nanako doesn’t fight alongside you, though. Yosuke, your punching bag of a partner, does, and although he may not be a crowd favorite, his dedication to the team and to Yu is laudable. The next to join the team is the spunky, Kung Fu movie-loving Chie, whose toughness hides insecurities about her self-worth, constantly comparing herself to the next character. Yukiko, heiress to the Amagi Inn, is often reserved, but also has the propensity for fits of laughter at the slightest joke. Kanji arrives on the scene as an apparent bully or misfit, but his journey of self-discovery reveals an inner struggle between who he wants to be and how he will be perceived as a result. The penultimate member of the squad is former idol Rise, who has to come to terms with leaving the fame and spotlight while simultaneously attempting to fit in at a new school and avoid being recognized as her alter-ego Risette. And finally, there’s Naoto: both the Detective Prince and a walking paradox of mature and naive. Every one of these characters contributes to the overall narrative in meaningful ways while also bringing satisfying and engaging individual tales of their own.

If you’re thinking that I forgot about Teddie, I wouldn’t dream of it. Instead, I’m singling him out for being an impossible mixture of dopey, innocent, horny, and rambunctious. I absolutely adore him, and I actually feel disappointed when he doesn’t make what I would consider to be obvious bear-related puns. His attachment to Nanako, among the other characters, thoroughly humanizes him, and it’s hard to imagine Persona 4 having the one-two punch of emotional weight and weirdness it does without its mascot character, who Yosuke ironically turns into Junes’ own mascot.

It’s always a delight when the dialogue of a lengthy RPG is buoyed by voice acting, let alone the work of Persona 4’s superb cast. Each one seems an impeccable fit and unceasingly brings the town of Inaba and its inhabitants to life. The writing and localization further add to the realism, giving the actors a solid foundation to work with. And again, it’s the silence of the protagonist that allows the voices of his friends and family to resonate even more poignantly. Even though the player character’s dialogue is voiceless, the reactions to it are resounding: the emotion in Rise’s voice, the excitement in Chie’s, or the exuberance in Teddie’s. You’d be doing yourself a disservice to play the game without audio, and that brings me to my next topic…

The outstanding soundtrack! Persona 4’s music is among the best I’ve ever heard, and it’s incredibly well suited to listening outside of the game. Composed by series staple Shoji Meguro, among others, this soundtrack absolutely soars, and adds a flair and vitality to an experience already filled with both. The upbeat jazz and the memorable notes sung by vocalist Shihoko Hirata come together in a tidal wave of nostalgia-inducing harmony. I’m not lying when I say that the in-game winter season’s theme, Snowflakes, has the power to bring a tear to my eye, seemingly at any time of day; it’s beyond compare.

Leaving any real mention of the story and combat of Persona 4 to this point is not to be taken as a slight against either; instead, for me, they are just somewhat overshadowed (pun fully intended) by the elements I’ve already discussed. The mystery at the heart of it all is compelling, and will certainly catch players by surprise. The structure of weaving everyday school life with rescuing people from a nefarious world hidden inside a TV turns out to be a winning combination, even if the former seems to dominate much of the game’s runtime. Final exams take up multiple in-game days, with no option to explore or converse with classmates after each day’s academics are through. This seems an effective parallel to one’s real life school experience: exams can be draining, both mentally and physically. We don’t always feel like hanging out or playing sports after a day filled with essay writing and multiple-choice questions. Even after finishing the game multiple times, I continue to be impressed with the way in which Persona 4 has the power to transport me back to my own high school and college days. And few video games have taken a fully formed and comprehensive in-game calendar and made it so engaging. That is to say, at worst stress-inducing and at best a careful planner’s dream.

At last, we arrive at the combat, which on the surface is a standard turn-based affair where characters act according to a set order that doesn’t change during battles. On the plus side, this consistency allows for effective strategizing: of your four-member party, one can attack, one can cast a healing spell, one can use an item, one can guard to protect their weak spot from the enemy’s attack. While the dungeons are fairly simple, the core mechanic of Personas sees each character assigned a single demon that bestows powers upon them, with the main character able to acquire new ones after combat or through a demonic alchemy of sorts. All of this represents another layer of depth within an already multi-faceted game. Fusing Personas to create stronger ones actually connects with the aforementioned Social Link system; deeper bonds with specific characters imbue your newly-created demons (of the same affiliation) with greater power. If you know, you know; if this is unfamiliar but perhaps intriguing, find a way to experience all that Persona 4 has to offer as soon as possible.

With some video games, returning to them after time passes shines a brighter light on their strengths and the qualities that perhaps made you fall in love in the first place. With others, changes in your perspective that may have resulted from life experience or familiarity with new works in their genres can taint, to some extent, what once seemed beyond reproach. Completing Persona 4 Golden again has only intensified feelings that I had been tip-toeing around for some time. In a word, I think this just might be my favorite game. It invades my thoughts, what with its infectious tunes and unforgettable personalities. I’m not just sad when it’s over. I legitimately feel crushed that, at least for a time, the friends I’ve made in Inaba are moving on with their lives, just as I have to do with my own. That’s the message, right? A slice of life is just that, and we can cherish it and recall it with fondness, but eventually we’ll be on to the next adventure. And I’ve done that. I’ll continue to do it. However, I won’t stop wondering if Teddie’s still living with Yosuke or how Yukiko’s doing with the family business. It really did feel like I was a part of their world, and now these characters will always be a part of mine.

TalkBack / Subnautica: Below Zero (Switch) Review
« on: May 11, 2021, 08:00:00 AM »

Intrepid divers and explorers will find much to love here, but others might feel left out in the cold.

One could argue that open-world adventure games reached their peak with No Man’s Sky, which continues to add content and features to its impossibly-grand universe. Subnautica: Below Zero is much smaller and tighter in scope, but the feeling of diving into the unknown, the necessity of scavenging to survive, and the loneliness of the imposed isolation are shared by both. A follow up to the original Subnautica, which left early access in 2018, Below Zero returns to the setting of Planet 4546B, but this time in a more noticeably frosty region, where players must monitor their core temperature, in addition to health, hunger, thirst, and oxygen levels. While veterans of the expansive survival-adventure genre are well-served here, the gameplay elements that aim to heighten realism might be seen by newcomers as cold-blooded.

The opening sees protagonist Robin undocking from just above the planet’s surface and crash landing into a snowy valley. From there she can scrounge up some rations, water bottles, and flares before searching for her drop pod, whose location and distance are displayed on screen. Upon retrieval, we learn that the drop pod will function as Robin’s home base, and from here she can begin searching for her sister, Amy. Besides sporadic voiced monologues from Robin and instructions and warnings from her PDA suit, there isn’t much in the way of direction or story early on. Databank entries that unlock as you explore do fill in some of the background for Robin’s mission and Planet 4546B, but story beats largely arrive in fits and starts.

From the first-person perspective, much of your time will be spent swimming under the ocean to discover materials, aquatic life, and the planet’s hidden secrets and stories. Constructing a scanner early on allows Robin to gather info on the different objects and plants she encounters, and scanning certain structures and pieces yields blueprints that allow you to put together new items. The early game can feel a little more plodding before you upgrade your oxygen tank and craft equipment and tools to improve your mobility. Through scanning vessel fragments, you’ll eventually be able to build a submarine so that you can travel faster and deeper underwater. Leading up to that point, expect to rinse and repeat regularly the cycle of hunting, scanning, and gathering.

Even though much of the experience does take place below sea level, there are a number of areas or biomes to encounter on solid, albeit frozen, ground. Underwater caverns and crevasses house all manner of plants and sea creatures, including mischievous sea monkeys who on multiple occasions snatched tools right out of my hands. I guess that’s what we get for keeping them in fish bowls for our own amusement. Out of the water, you’ll encounter a communications tower on a not-too-distant island and a robotics facility within a frigid basin. Even though white and blue make up the predominant shades of these landscapes, the day/night cycle brings some truly remarkable vistas, whether viewed from below or up on high. It’s nothing short of mesmerizing the first time the skyline burns with red and orange, adding a refreshing blast of color.

In terms of performance, it’s fairly impressive how well Subnautica: Below Zero runs on Switch. The framerate is largely consistent, except for a few instances when I was trapped in a blizzard with near-zero visibility. Underwater, though, it was smooth sailing, or scuba-ing? Something like that. The game holds up very well portably, too, and that ended up being my preferred method of play given how often I was spending my time diving for minerals and then floating back to the surface for air.

It’s important to realize that Below Zero can turn out to be a fairly slow and meandering experience. You don’t start out with any type of map, and the ones you do eventually access, in addition to a compass you can craft, still leave much to the imagination. If you aren’t one to enjoy the feeling of being lost or maybe you get frustrated when you don’t know where to go next, this probably isn’t the game for you. The freedom and openness of Subnautica is a selling point, but it’s also the thing most likely to alienate new players. Given that both games are only now coming to Switch for the first time, it’s worth considering what you’re in for before diving in.

Admittedly, Subnautica: Below Zero isn’t the type of game I generally gravitate towards, but I actually did find myself rather captivated by it, in some moments. I was also frustrated by it for stretches, where I didn’t know what I needed to do or I couldn’t immediately find the resources I was lacking. There’s an engaging and somewhat diabolical push-and-pull at work here: you have the discovery of improved capabilities and new areas to explore juxtaposed with the realism mechanics of needing oxygen, crafting materials, and sustenance. Fortunately, there are a few different options at the game’s start menu that make the experience somewhat customizable, like removing the hunger and thirst parameters. Ultimately, there is much to discover both below and above the waterline, including aliens, mysterious messages, and even a mech that can walk on the ocean floor. While those looking out for signposting and clear directions should probably keep their feet dry, those who enjoy a more laid-back, albeit grindy, experience can safely dip their toes in these waters.

TalkBack / Godstrike (Switch) Review
« on: April 25, 2021, 08:30:25 AM »

Nothing godly about this boss-rush bullet hell.

The action-shooter sub-genre of boss rush titles seems to be gaining more and more steam. Examples like Mechstermination Force and ITTA are a couple recent standouts that carve out a meaningful place on the Switch eShop. A top-down (with some 3D elements) bullet hell, Godstrike never reaches the heights of these two, nor does it really make much of a case at all for why it would be worth your time. A few neat tricks aren’t enough to keep Godstrike from going down swinging.

A variety of modes are on offer from the opening menu: Story Mode, Arena Mode, Daily Challenge, and Challenge Mode. As a reviewer is wont to do, I started with Story Mode, which begins with a battle against a rock monster known laughably as Tutoriaal. A little on the nose, to be sure. In almost no way does this foe live up to its moniker, however. It’s a brutal fight that requires dropping the creature’s full life meter down three times, with new attack patterns thrown at you each time. Neither is there much in the way of story, aside from a plodding string of dialogue and images that play out upon booting up the game. Things get off to a rocky start.

Leading up to the battle, a few of the key mechanics of Godstrike are introduced. The player’s life meter and a combat time limit are one and the same. Each boss in the game carries with it a set time limit in which it must be defeated, but taking damage from projectiles or collision with your opponent drains your time meter. If you start with only four minutes and lose 15 seconds every time you take a hit, it doesn’t take a mathematician to know the margin for error is razor sharp. The next aspect that adds variety to the proceedings is that you can choose to bring up to four buffs into each boss battle, with new ones unlocked over time in Story Mode. In other modes, all 40 buffs can be made available to you, while the Daily Challenge can literally only be played once per day and offers a single specific buff. In addition to these perks, you can also equip up to four abilities, such as a dive for avoiding damage, more powerful projectiles, or  homing fire. The abilities require energy crystals that drop periodically during fights, adding another layer to what is a fairly simple boss gauntlet.

The controls are in the camp of your traditional twin-stick shooter, with movement tied to the left stick and your primary weapon aimed and shot with the right stick (or the A button). Abilities are mapped to the four shoulder buttons, and unfortunately can’t be remapped. What’s worse is that there are no difficulty options and effectively no invincibility frames, even when using abilities that would lock you in place to use them. If you’re up for a major challenge and interested in competing for supremacy on Godstrike’s online leaderboards, by all means, but ultimately it’s a really tough sell.

The presentation does Godstrike absolutely no favors. Your character is incredibly generic and tiny compared to the oversized bosses, who themselves fail to stand out. “Cookie cutter” might be one way to describe them. The various arenas add some splashes of color, but even the different abilities lack visual flair. The music is drowned out by the sound of projectiles, too. A more pronounced and effective art style would help the game stand out from similar titles.

Godstrike surrounds its sole interesting mechanic with mediocrity, and there’s very little reason to recommend it at all. It controls fine and offers some replay value, but the steep initial difficulty curve, lackluster story, and middling presentation position this title well below others of its ilk. I do like how after the timer runs out you enter a “sudden death” situation, where the next hit will end your run, but that’s another small positive lost among the negatives. I’m eager to see further iteration on the boss rush-style action game, but I don’t need three strikes to call this one out.

TalkBack / Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion (Switch) Review
« on: April 21, 2021, 11:01:00 PM »

If it only takes this long to avoid paying taxes, I can see why so many corporations do it.

Full marks to developer Snoozy Kazoo for coming up with such a bizarre and intriguing title, an element that turns out to be one of their game’s high points. Ultimately, Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion doesn’t have all that much to do with criminality; it’s a brief and cute action-adventure in the veins of The Legend of Zelda. The titular hero is tasked with retrieving a handful of objects for the nefarious Mayor Onion, and the proceedings are very much straightforward and somewhat generic. The charming characters and environments are certain to elicit a smile if not a laugh, but the short runtime made me long for a cool glass of turnip juice.

At the outset, Turnip Boy is evicted from his house and forced to work off his tax debt to Mayor Onion by fetching specific objects, such as a fork and a laser pointer. Branded an outlaw, Turnip Boy will come across a couple dozen documents, including WANTED posters, that he can tear up over the course of the adventure. These papers function as a type of collectable and show up in a list in the pause menu as you come across and subsequently destroy them. Sub items are added to your arsenal and can be equipped and used with the A button: a watering can, a sword, and a portal-creation device. Other objects give a few special abilities, like not taking damage from fire or being able to kick bombs across the room. All in all, there just aren’t many usable objects at your disposal, making much of the action feel repetitive.

The items and new abilities that Turnip Boy acquires are used for combat and to solve fairly basic puzzles. The watering can is actually used even more regularly than the sword since bombs and moveable blocks initially appear as simple plants that need to be watered to activate their second form. Even the most taxing of its puzzles won’t present much of a challenge. Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion leans heavily into its light-hearted theme and humor rather than trying to stump the player or throw them into stressful combat situations. Single-step fetch quests are abundant, with some required to progress the story and others yielding documents to shred or hats to don.

It wouldn’t be a Zelda-lite without miniature dungeons, and there are about four or five depending on how you qualify them. Each one ends with a boss fight, with victory requiring a few well-kicked bombs or a dozen or so sword slashes. Turnip Boy has a heart-filled life meter that can grow over the course of the game, but you’ll rarely need more than the starting three to see the story to its conclusion.

While the music doesn’t really impress, it’s pleasant enough for the journey. The colorful areas, however few there are, and anthropomorphic fruits and veggies contribute a fair amount of charm to Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion. In addition, the writing is decently smart and both breaks the fourth wall and makes a few cultural references, too. It’s worth talking to everyone you meet, since many will have something for you to do or something funny to say.

The premise of Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion is a solid one, and it should be quirky and unique enough to stand out, but it’s hard not to feel let down by what’s on offer. The lack of depth and content are noticeable, and any kind of post-game or replay value—especially without a map—don’t contribute enough to make this a clear recommendation. I want to like this game more than I did, and while I enjoyed Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion well enough, the experience is over far too soon. It would seem that Turnip Boy got off light this time. Must have been for time served or good behavior.

TalkBack / The Timelessness of Arcade Donkey Kong
« on: April 20, 2021, 08:00:00 AM »

Nintendo’s savior still deserves the spotlight nearly 40 years after it first came to your local arcade.

Whatever your experience with video games, you probably have some knowledge of or spent some time with the arcade game, Donkey Kong. The premise and controls are simple but effective: save damsel in distress Pauline from the menacing Donkey Kong, a giant ape positioned at the top of the screen. Accomplish this goal by moving left and right, climbing ladders, jumping over barrels and flames, or even grabbing hammers to smash said obstacles. Like any good arcade staple, the real challenge was increasing your score as high as you could by collecting loot and clearing each stage as quickly as possible.

A documentary from 2007, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, even chronicled the back-and-forth high score battle for Donkey Kong supremacy, a contest that continues to this day. And not just with arcade games, but with console and PC games that have a defined endpoint: charity events like Awesome Games Done Quick bring together speedrunners from around the world to finish different games across different categories as quickly as possible. Ultimately, what these experiences have in common is a desire to be the very best at something, or perhaps just to improve one’s own personal best. Donkey Kong’s timelessness derives from the way it is still an incredible and challenging test to do just that.

Given that many arcade games only featured a joy-stick and one or two buttons, there weren’t all that many possible actions a player could take. What this meant is that many games would just remix the same stages over and over. Donkey Kong’s four unique single-screen stages, however, made it stand out from other cabinets of the time. They enabled it to unravel a more complex narrative across a variety of settings, each one throwing its own distinct obstacles at the player. In the case of the first stage, 25m, barrels are literally thrown at the player (Jumpman for the sake of simplicity) by Donkey Kong. The barrels can travel across the horizontal girders or even down ladders, meaning the player can’t always take the most direct route to the top of the stage. This opening screen is trickier than it looks, and surely it was responsible for a fair share of quarters regularly being jammed into the Donkey Kong cabinet.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Donkey Kong only had three stages, since a number of the console ports of the game took out what would be the second stage out of the original four: the cement/pie factory. The NES version, for instance, didn’t have the brief interstitial between stages to even tell you that you were climbing from 25m to 50m to 75m and so on. Here, a barrel of fire in the center of the stage continuously spits out flames that roam around and make the third and fourth floors particularly dangerous. The second and fourth floors are also conveyor belts that carry what look like, to my mind, pies in pie tins, and these present another obstacle to leap over or smash with a hammer, all while dealing with the push or pull of the conveyors.

The third stage in the original arcade version brings elevators into the equation, making gravity one of the most dangerous foes that Jumpman faces on this screen. Falling down or leaping from too high up will cause the player to lose a life, with one credit giving you three lives in total (although extra lives can be earned by collecting enough points). While each stage has a specific sound effect to distinguish it from the others, the repeating bloops and long screech of the springs that travel from left to right and then down the length of the screen lend a particularly stressful atmosphere to the 75m stage.

The final stage before Donkey Kong loops back to the beginning is called Rivets or 100m (insert your preferred title here). The overall objective changes significantly from the other screens; here, you need to walk over a series of rivets connecting the girders that make up each floor. Upon undoing all eight of them, Donkey Kong tumbles head first to the ground and Jumpman finally succeeds in rescuing Pauline. Making this screen particularly difficult are living fireballs that wander around each platform and can still climb ladders. Another danger is walking into the gap created by a removed rivet, sending Jumpman careening to his doom. If you’re successful, Jumpman warps to the top of the screen next to Pauline, with a large pink heart symbolizing the lovers’ reunion.

The color and sound of the Donkey Kong arcade game come together in perfect harmony, making it both ear and eye-catching to arcade patrons and their collection of unspent coins. Against a black background, the purple, orange and blue girders make the running and jumping actions easier since following Jumpman’s progress, as well as those of his would-be undoers, requires no strain of the eyes. The ladders, too, especially in the first, third, and fourth stages add an attractive contrast color that allows them to pop on screen. The sound effects, on the other hand, almost feel like part of the background with how they complement the looping tracks. This is true to a fault in the elevator stage as the sounds of the springs actually replace the music. Thanks to games like the Smash Bros. series, Jumpman’s iconic hammer theme, which plays when he leaps up and grabs a hammer item, has become nigh unforgettable. And it’s the sights and sounds of Donkey Kong, among other arcade classics and their explosions, flashes, bleeps, and buzzes, that makes the demise of the local arcade that much harder to stomach.

The first arcade I remember, and one I can still visualize to this day, was called Lazer Illusions, and it took up about half an Old Navy of real estate in one of the two local malls where I grew up. It had a handful of classic games like Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and Ms. Pac-Man, but it also housed a dozen or more ticket redemption games, like Skee-ball and one where alligators would shoot out of holes so that you could smash them with a foam-covered hammer, a swamp-style version of whack-a-mole. Co-operative brawlers like the X-men Arcade Game and The Simpsons were always popular. Even though it didn’t last all that long, I remember being pretty crushed to learn that it was shutting down, paving the way for a store filled with boring clothes, replacing fun with fashion.

My fondest memories of Lazer Illusions include chucking a few quarters into Donkey Kong or one of the space shooters like Galaga. My friends weren’t as interested in those games, but I had played other versions of these games on Atari and NES and felt like I could maybe get my name on the high score list, with a little luck. With larger groups, we tried to take over the six-person X-Men cabinet, with my friends and I each playing as a different character. I gravitated towards Colossus, but was happy to play as Wolverine, too. Almost every visit, I would spend some of my quarters trying to earn enough tickets to cash in for one of the major prizes, like a new console game or a huge stuffed animal. Without fail, however, I would only ever accumulate enough to pocket a pencil, an eraser, or maybe a cheap foam plane that would break after a couple of throws.

Whenever I would travel with my family—and we went to places like Hawaii, Disneyland, and even Disneyworld during summer vacations—the first place I would seek out in the hotel would be the on-location arcade. It seemed like every hotel would have one, no matter the size. Even if it just meant a handful of cabinets and maybe a pinball machine or two, scoping out these adolescent oases was a genuine thrill for me. Nowadays, you’re lucky to find a hotel with any semblance of an arcade, and those that do have one usually only have the newest games where a quarter won’t even buy you a single credit. That said, there seems to be somewhat of a resurgence in arcades as entrepreneurs stake their claim by combining arcade cabinets with alcohol. There don’t seem to be many so-called “bar-cades” near me yet, but I am learning about spaces decked out with arcade games and pinball machines that you can rent by the hour, and best of all? No quarters required. The phrase “free play” never sounded so sweet.

Donkey Kong was one of the first arcade games I played, but things moved fast in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. By that time, the great ape was already considered a classic, maybe even a relic, as more advanced games with flashier graphics arrived in arcades and homes around the world. While I may not be able to set any major high scores on that particular cabinet, hearing its memorable sounds and seeing those familiar purple girders and cascading brown barrels still fills me with joy. I’ll always miss the traditional coin-op arcade, even if modern incarnations give people the chance to relive their childhoods; you just can’t recapture perfectly the atmosphere and excitement of seeing a new cabinet or visiting an old friend. And to top it all off, though it only features a solitary ape, Donkey Kong is still more fun than a barrel full of monkeys. Just be sure to leap over or smash that barrel on the way down.

TalkBack / Sky: Children of the Light Soars onto Switch this Summer
« on: April 15, 2021, 09:24:27 AM »

The free-to-start "social adventure" game arrives in June.

Originally debuting on the Apple AppStore before also coming to Google Play, Sky: Children of the Light is coming to Switch this June. Developed by thatgamecompany, whose previous works include Journey, Flower, and Flow, their latest title will bring cross-play between mobile and console, with more details coming ahead of launch.

After winning multiple awards, Sky: Children of the Light is a welcome addition to the Switch eShop. A trailer for Sky's newest narrative arc, Season of Assembly, can be found below:

TalkBack / Narita Boy (Switch) Review
« on: March 29, 2021, 04:00:00 AM »

An emotional and cryptic adventure through a strange digital world.

Developed by Studio Koba and Published by Team17, Narita Boy is a retro-styled action adventure that takes place within a computerized space known as the Digital Kingdom. At its heart beats a tale of sadness and sorrow, but the narrative is filled with complex terminology and dialogue that requires careful reading and a fair bit of patience to fully absorb. The 2D perspective and backtracking lend it the feel of a Metroid game, but the NPC-filled areas and more pronounced story add a uniqueness to Narita Boy that make it hard to put down. Even if its easy to get lost in the details of his quest, the titular hero’s releasing of a tri-colored sword from its digital stone leads to a surprisingly enjoyable pixelated romp.

Any summation of the story I provide is likely to be an unworthy facsimile for what’s actually presented in game, but here’s what I was able to gather: as Narita Boy, a protocol activated to protect the Digital Kingdom, you need to repel an entity known as Him and his Stallions from destroying this kingdom. There’s also a human referred to as “The Creator,” whose memories you access throughout the story; Him is also attempting to delete these memories. The game obviously provides much more detail than I have, and those interested in more intricate, if at times confusing, narratives will enjoy what’s on offer here. I should clarify that it’s the technobabble and naming conventions that are what create confusion, not necessarily the plot itself. As the story moves along, more of its complexities are unraveled, culminating in a satisfying (albeit cliffhanging) conclusion.

Gameplay largely revolves around guiding Narita Boy left and right to new areas, collecting keys, entering doors, and engaging in combat sequences. Battles pop up somewhat randomly, with boss encounters often taking place just before uncovering and entering one of the Creator’s memory statues. Your arsenal starts off fairly basic, but new moves are added regularly to surmount obstacles and take town more dangerous enemies. Initially, you have a sword attack, a shotgun blast, and a powerful, concentrated laser; eventually, Narita Boy acquires an uppercut-like swing that allows him to reach new heights, in addition to various dashes and dodges. A life meter allows you to take a number of hits before you go offline, but frequent auto-saves mean that death is never all that punishing. Enemies are almost always encountered in waves, enclosed with a set space like an arena. Overall, the combat isn’t too challenging and ends up feeling less integral to the overall experience, despite being fairly enjoyable.

It might seem like the Digital Kingdom is ripe for exploration, but generally you complete a single section of the world and then move on. After an introductory segment, three Beams (yellow, blue, and red) take you to new areas, in that order: a desert, an onsen (a Japanese hot spring bath), and a city in ruins. Even though special traversal methods appear in each area that add a bit of gameplay variety, the overall visual style on offer is a bit on the drab and dreary side. In addition to the aforementioned primary color, you’re mostly seeing blacks, browns, and greys. This creates a distinct flavor for each area, but the impact does wear out its welcome about halfway through each area. Since most of the loop sees Narita Boy running from one end of an area to the next, key in hand to open the next locked door, a wider use of color or more unique visuals overall would have been welcome. It doesn’t help that acquiring some of the keys just feels like basic fetch-questing, with some trips literally taking you from one building to an adjacent one. Total trip time? Maybe a minute.

Narita Boy as a whole feels unlike anything I’ve really played before. It seems to borrow from titles like Hyper Light Drifter, Metroid, and even The Legend of Zelda, but the style, pacing, and story beats help it stand apart. While my overall impression after reaching the credits after about 10 hours is positive, I can’t say for sure that I loved my time in the Digital Kingdom. The experience was certainly an interesting one, and the steady clip of receiving new abilities worked well enough, but the way combat encounters pop up sporadically impacted the overall pacing. Many times, an NPC would tell me where to go or whom to seek out, and I would just chance upon my destination rather than know exactly where to go; the naming conventions at play don’t do the game any favors. Still, I’m leaving Narita Boy behind happy that I spent time in his world, and both captivated and a little miffed by how his story turns out. But sometimes that’s the mark of a tale worth hearing.

TalkBack / Barrage Fantasia (Switch) Review
« on: March 24, 2021, 04:00:00 AM »

A cute but challenging shoot-’em-up with some nice customization options.

In the age of digital storefronts and games of all shapes and sizes coming to the eShop, it’s easy for many titles to fly under my radar. First appearances can be deceiving, and with a genre like the vertical or horizontal shooter, it can be difficult to discern the overall quality from a few screenshots or a brief trailer. Given the chance to try out Barrage Fantasia, I came away largely satisfied with this light-hearted vertical shoot-’em-up that exchanges collectable power-ups for a range of loadouts you choose at the outset.

As with most entries in this genre, the story is effectively non-existent; gameplay reigns supreme, and it’s fairly decent here. Holding down Y fires your basic gun while holding Y and B together increases your firepower, but also slows down your ship. A bomb-like ability can be unleashed with the R button, and charges for them fill up over time. Your ship also has a heart meter in the bottom right corner of the screen that indicates how many hits you can take. It recharges over time as well, and occasionally you can collect heart items floating on screen to help fill the meter faster.

From the main menu, there are options for Arcade, Scoreboard, Short, Training, Config, and Manual. As you might be able to guess from choices like “Short,” there are segments in Barrage Fantasia that simply aren’t explained very well. “Short” is basically a mission select option, where you complete an individual stage of your choice rather than the Arcade’s five consecutive stages. The stages themselves don’t offer a lot of background variety, but the enemies and bosses are interesting enough. Most stages present multiple boss fights, and these imposing foes often have breakable pieces that are worth targeting in order to weaken their attack.

As you play more, you unlock extra challenge stages and new ships and bombs. I should clarify that you don’t actually get new ships, but new partner creatures and objects that float around your ship and offer support and added firepower. So far, I’ve unlocked eight different “servants” as they're called, from the powerful Dragon, to the homing-fire Bat, and the shotgun-like Arm. The next option is to choose a special attack: Bomber destroys enemy bullets and does damage, but it takes longer to charge up; Doll can function like a decoy or substitute to absorb all sorts of incoming projectiles. The final decision is almost like a difficulty slider, where you choose how many hit points you want to start with and how many special attack charges, with certain options provided quicker recovery or more powerful guns.

TATE mode, clean and cartoonish visuals, and some neat unlockables make Barrage Fantasia a fun, bite-sized shooter. The variety of loadouts make it a solid pick-up for veterans and newcomers, but the absence of online leaderboards and sometimes obtuse localization do hold it back to a degree. Sifting through the barrage of eShop entries in the genre, I would certainly put this in the upper half of shoot-’em-ups on Switch.

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