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Messages - John Rairdin

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TalkBack / Hindsight 20/20: Wrath of the Raakshasa (Switch) Review
« on: September 08, 2021, 06:31:57 AM »

I spent so long typing that title I didn’t have time to write a good subheader.

Hindsight 20/20 - Wrath of the Raakshasa has about as much ambition as it does words in its title. This brawler meets morality tale seeks to uphold that age old promise that we’ve seen so often in video games, to have your decisions matter. While the systems are certainly in place to deliver, can the moment to moment gameplay stack up to those lofty goals?

You play as a one armed hero, returning to his hometown some time after the death of his father. The world is being taken over by a sickness that causes people to turn into zombie-like Raakshasa. Much of the game’s morality system will hinge upon how you choose to deal with the infected. As so often happens, you're chosen as the only hero capable of dealing with the Raakshasa threat once and for all.

Hindsight pitches itself as an action RPG, but it could more appropriately be described as a hack and slash, not so dissimilar from God of War or Bayonetta. While early on you’ll have a town to explore, most of the gameplay involves killing enemies, picking up colored keys, and solving very rudimentary puzzles. It is oddly similar to classic FPS titles like Doom in its progression. Some of these stages are more dungeon-like than others, but most feel very linear with only the occasional branching path to go pick up a key before returning to the main path. I should also note that the only thing differentiating most keys are their color and there are quite a few of them, resulting in very similar colors. My fellow colorblind gamers should be aware that you’ll likely confidently approach the wrong door a few times. Enemies are almost always fought in large, square kill-rooms that, at best, may have a hazard or two scattered about. The repetition and blandness of Hindsight’s level design is the greatest point against it. While the surrounding environment may change, the bulk of the experience never amounts to much more than walking between a series of near identical arenas to fight a swarm of the same few enemy types. Even boss types are oftentimes re-used with slight pattern modifications.

The unique hook of Hindsight is that every combat situation gives you the choice between lethal and non-lethal weapons. The way you treat your opponents will have lasting effects on how other opponents will treat you in the future. This can even result in forcing or avoiding a fight based on your prior actions. While lethal combat is often quicker, non-lethal combat tends to work out to the player’s advantage in the story. As a result, while it would be easy to brute force your way through the game, the results likely wouldn’t turn out as well. Occasionally you’ll also have decision points outside of combat that will also sway the course of events in one direction or another. While the morality system is essentially binary, the reaction of the world around you is quite satisfying and recognizably a direct result of your choices.

Combat in Hindsight is fast paced and satisfying. It is easy to pick up but with plenty of intricacies to master. I particularly appreciate the differences between lethal and non-lethal weapons.  I found that lethal combat was usually a bit easier as it is less reliant on combos and most fights could be easily button mashed through. Meanwhile, being non-lethal requires more strategy and finesse as you combo between multiple enemies to build up to stronger and stronger attacks.

Hindsight takes on an appearance very reminiscent of Gamecube era titles in terms of its cell shaded art design. It looks sharp both on the television and handheld in addition to running excellently. While it is releasing for every major platform, it feels perfectly optimized for Switch in a way that multiplatform titles rarely do. I can’t speak quite as positively about the art design itself. In a word it feels messy. The player, environments, NPCs, and enemies often all feel like they’re from entirely different games with no real consistent design between them. Even the different classes of enemy all feel as if they’re from entirely different universes. This isn’t to say that any of the designs are outright bad, merely that they feel kitbashed together by an art team that was given no real direction. The writing is similarly awkward though it does at least do a good job of reflecting your choices throughout the journey. Music on the other hand fares much better with a classic Hollywood adventure vibe underpinning the entire game.

Hindsight 20/20 - Wrath of the Raakshasa largely meets its goal of meaningful choice, which is impressive. However its ability to hold your interest while it does so is up for debate. There are a lot of good ingredients here, but they aren’t always mixed together in the most interesting way. Ultimately the mechanism whereby you experience the best of what Hindsight has to offer, is extremely repetitive and not very interesting. The combat system itself is good and the difference in playstyle between lethal and non-lethal is excellent, but it rarely does anything significant with encounters. If you can put up with what feels like the same fight over and over again, there’s something cool here, but that repetition can be a bit of a hurdle, and then another, and another.

TalkBack / Cursed to Golf Announced for Switch
« on: August 30, 2021, 08:40:00 AM »

A roguelite golf adventure.

Chuhai Labs has today announced their next title, Cursed to Golf, will be coming to Switch along with PC via Steam in 2022. This 2D golf game tasks the player with escaping from Golf Purgatory in your quest to become a golfing legend. All while avoiding deadly traps and hazards.

Chuhai Labs previously released Halloween Forever on Nintendo Switch, and Carve Snowboarding (a spiritual sequel to 1080 Snowboarding) on the Oculus Quest.

TalkBack / Win a Signed Copy of Star Fox Command!
« on: August 30, 2021, 06:56:00 AM »

We've teamed up with Q-Games to celebrate their 15th Anniversary of Star Fox Command!

Q-Games is a developer that should be well known to most Nintendo fans. From Star Fox to Pixeljunk, they've left quite an impression in the libraries of many a Nintendo game. This week they're celebrating their 20th anniversary as a company as well as the 15th anniversary of Star Fox Command, and they've teamed up with us here at Nintendo World Report to help get the festivities in motion.

Q-Games will be giving away three signed copies of Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS, covered in the autographs of its developers, including Dylan Cuthbert, one of the original programmers behind the Star Fox franchise.

Here's the best part, you can get an entry into this contest simply by checking out our recent documentary on the development of Star Fox Command! That's right, just visiting our YouTube channel will get you an entry. But don't stop with just that, there are plenty of other easy ways to get extra entries so take a look at the full contest below.

Win a Signed Copy of Star Fox Command

TalkBack / The History and Development of Star Fox Command
« on: August 28, 2021, 05:00:00 AM »

As told by the original developers at Q-Games.

The story of how a small studio was tasked with creating the most open-ended Star Fox of all time. In this full length documentary, John Rairdin sits down with many of the original developers from Q-Games along with NWR staff members to uncover brand new information about the development of Star Fox Command. This is the history of Star Fox Command told by the people who made it.

TalkBack / King's Bounty II (Switch) Review
« on: August 23, 2021, 08:15:08 AM »

An unpolished but potential filled tactics RPG.

Over three decades after the release of the original King’s Bounty on DOS, King’s Bounty II arrives on a multitude of systems including the Nintendo Switch. Like the original it combines the various tropes of western RPGs with deep, tactical, turn based combat. But in the more than thirty years since the original release, both western RPGs and tactics games have evolved significantly. King’s Bounty II takes some giant steps towards modernization, but gets tripped up in several places along the way.

Upon starting a new file you’ll choose from three characters, each with different abilities, advantages, and disadvantages. To some degree altering your equipment and leveling up your character in different ways can negate some of these predetermined attributes. But, especially early on, your choice of character will have a pretty big effect on combat. At its most basic level, King’s Bounty II can be divided into two primary forms of gameplay. The story, exploration, gathering of quests, and trading of items, takes place in a large third person overworld. Meanwhile combat encounters, denoted by a large highlighted area on the overworld, play out in turn based combat. While much of the exploration clearly takes cues from franchises like The Witcher or Dragon Age, combat rides a line somewhere between Civilization and Fire Emblem.

Exploring the world, talking to people, and picking up quests was by far my favorite portion of King’s Bounty II. The voice acting can be a little rough, your character moves somewhat slowly, and the Switch resolution leaves a lot to be desired, but the world begs to be explored. Even at a low resolution the world is rich, full of details, and seemingly random side quests play out in interesting and engaging ways. This is one of those games where I quickly lost track of what the primary questline even is, because I so immediately became distracted by everything around me. Quests also cause you to engage in the Morality system which affects how quests play out, along with what abilities you’ll ultimately have access to.

However, doing side quests may highlight King’s Bounty II’s more egregious issues. This is a punishing game, particularly once you actually get into combat. In order to level up your character, earn money, and procure new gear you’re pretty much required to break from the primary storyline. Unfortunately there is no real way to know if any given side quest is at your ability level until you enter whatever combat it may entail. Most quests follow the general formula of having you run around doing things in the overworld for a while before eventually engaging in combat. I quickly built up a list of unfinished quests where I had done everything except the final fight after realizing it was well above my current level.

Combat in King’s Bounty II is deep and complex but also brutally punishing and poorly tutorialized. The in game tutorial amounts to moving units, selecting a target, and not a whole lot else. Is there a height advantage during combat? How does the unit morale system work? How do my stats affect my units’ stats? As I said this is a gloriously deep combat system, and I’m sure post launch there will be plenty of wikis detailing its operation, but in the isolation of the review period, I found myself stumbling through early encounters. What makes this go from annoying to an actual problem is that King’s Bounty II makes use of unit permadeath. Units are composed of multiple soldiers. If a few die you can quickly replenish them after a battle, however if an entire unit is killed you’ll need to recruit an entirely new one. All the experience and bonuses gained by that unit from battles fought will be gone. This causes King’s Bounty II to fall into the classic game design paradigm of the game actually making itself more difficult, unless you’re already good at it. This caused me to be extremely apprehensive about going into any battle I wasn’t completely sure I could win. Luckily there is a manual save option which I made use of quite liberally.

I want to be clear that the combat mechanics themselves are not bad. As I grew to understand them through trial and error combat became much more enjoyable. As units gain experience they’ll become stronger, but as your character grows you’ll also be able to include more soldiers in a given unit. Your character will gain abilities over the course of the story that will allow them to take part in battles beyond simply commanding units. The sorcerer character for example can cast spells anywhere on the field allowing her to damage, heal, or buff units from the sideline.

The one problem King’s Bounty II faces that is exclusive to the Switch version is that of performance. While loading times are short and the frame rate only really struggles in the larger towns, resolution and image quality are both very poor. The resolution is workable during standard exploration, but when zoomed out in combat, it becomes very difficult to identify different unit types. A very rough temporal anti-aliasing implementation put in place to help with the low resolution also causes extremely noticeable ghosting artifacts along the edges of moving characters and objects. All of this is heightened when playing portably where combat relies almost entirely on reading unit names rather than identifying them by sight.

King’s Bounty II is an incredibly ambitious game that seeks to leapfrog the last thirty years of genre evolution. From a certain perspective it is impressive they’ve managed to get this far while still keeping the gameplay recognizably close to its source material. On the other hand there are just too many obvious quality of life issues to ignore. Too often exploring the world becomes a game of walking in a direction until you realize you’re not supposed to have gone that way due to high level enemies. Too often combat results in re-loading a manual save as you trial and error your way through various unexplained mechanics. There is a good game deep beneath the surface, but it lacks a lot of polish that it would need to be truly great.

TalkBack / Heart Chain Kitty (Switch) Review
« on: August 20, 2021, 08:46:24 AM »

Alright so maybe graphics matter a little.

Heart Chain Kitty is a 3D platformer that pitches itself as a collectathon in the same vein as Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario Sunshine. However, collecting the various macguffins scattered throughout its levels will be the least of your worries, especially if you’re playing the Switch version. Heart Chain Kitty is fascinating, though more so in its unbroken string of poor choices rather than its game design.

The premise around Heart Chain Kitty is simple enough. Wander across a surprisingly large world taking on smaller stages along the way. At key points you’ll earn abilities that will allow you to navigate to new areas of the world. The protagonist Kittey (not Kitty) starts with nothing more than the ability to jump on enemies' heads. Strangely, enemies are damage sponges meaning they’ll all take multiple hits to bring down. An odd choice for a simple 3D platformer. Early on Kittey will gain a glove that allows him to punch, which can also destroy certain blocks opening up new areas. A gliding ability can also be purchased from a shop early on which is virtually essential but is easily missed. In fact, much of Heart Chain Kitty is easily missed. As already mentioned the areas you’re exploring are often large and oddly labyrinthian. A map is viewable in the lower left corner of the screen that's covered in icons that are never explained and is impossibly small especially in handheld mode. Not to mention that whether playing in docked or handheld configuration this is one of the blurriest games I’ve ever played on Switch (and that is saying something).

The underlying mechanics of Heart Chain Kitty are largely mediocre. But the Switch port itself is an altogether different beast. It is worth noting that the screenshots present on the eShop listing are not from the Switch version, and while they do convey some questionable design choices, they fail to show off the rendering resolution. I’ve played some very blurry Switch games, but this is the first one to ever give me a headache, the first one to cause me to squint, the first one to earnestly make me reach for my glasses only to realize I’m already wearing them. It isn’t all down to resolution either, the visual makeup of Heart Chain Kitty is a perfect storm. Beyond the resolution itself is a heavy anti-aliasing filter intended to smooth out the rough edges of a lower resolution. However at a resolution this low, it simply turns the image to a soupy, ill defined mush. I struggled with it while playing docked and honestly had to put my Switch down and take some painkillers after I tried to play in handheld mode. But wait there’s more.

Adding to the lackluster technical performance is art design that, while well intentioned, just results in what can only be described as the lifeless rotting corpse of a rainbow left out in the rain. The entire game is heavily themed around dreams and the art design tries to convey that with a psychedelic color pallet with no regard for the simplest elements of color theory. Every surface in the game is also bizarrely shiny, making the whole world hard to differentiate. Whether you’re looking at a tree, a rock, the grass, a house, or a couch, it all takes on the same specular properties. What results looks like the aftermath of a wild party with an incontinent unicorn. And yes to some degree this oddness is intentional. The writing has a strange subversive humor to it and it's clear that the visuals are attempting to do the same. The difference is that the writing was chuckle worthy at best and skippable at worst, meanwhile the visual presentation caused me to just stop playing on multiple occasions.

Heart Chain Kitty on Switch is a very rough port of a pretty rough game. What results is just uncomfortable to play. It would be one thing if the underlying experience of Heart Chain Kitty outside this Switch version was some sort of hidden gem, but it isn’t. Heart Chain Kitty is technically a fully functional 3D platformer, but not one you’ll actually enjoy.

TalkBack / Quake 64 Remastered
« on: August 20, 2021, 05:07:33 AM »

The weird bonus remaster hidden within the Quake remaster.

The version of Quake that launched on Switch yesterday quietly includes a new version of Quake 64, and it's weirdly wonderful.


Or using literally any Amiibo for anything ever.

I'm not even sure if this is satire or just an autobiography.

Not pictured: the time spent navigating Fi menus to actually get to the Amiibo scan screen.

TalkBack / The Falconeer: Warrior Edition (Switch) Review
« on: August 02, 2021, 05:09:45 AM »

An Open World Air Combat Adventure

The Falconeer was the first game I downloaded on my Xbox Series X. It was a game I had followed throughout its development and its blend of fantasy and flight combat was instantly appealing. I deeply enjoyed it on Xbox Series X, but with a flurry of other things I was eager to try on the new system, I never took the time to fully invest in The Falconeer. Then came its surprise announcement on Nintendo Switch, followed by a very early review code. Unlike most reviews where I have to play quickly to get a review in by embargo, this was a rare instance where I could simply sink into the game, and that's exactly what I did. The Falconeer may have been a factor in my purchase of the Xbox Series X, but the Switch release has been the version that clicked.

The Falconeer combines aerial combat, a piratic, fantasy setting, and a vast open sea and sky to create something wholly unique. You play as a pilot attop a warbird. From your mount you’ll fly across the Ursee, a vast ocean world dotted with small islands. The campaign is split into multiple chapters that can be freely jumped between and replayed. Different chapters position you as a pilot in service of different factions. The lore of each faction and the world at large is surprisingly dense, but you’re free to take it all in or simply skip to shooting stuff. That being said as I got my sea legs under me, I found myself highly invested in the storylines gradually developing across the various factions.

Gameplay in each chapter has one primary quest line but you are always free to take on additional quests from your home island or simply take off and search for adventure on your own. Most islands can be landed at and many include traders and their own set of optional quests. That said, the availability of these functions is dependent on your status and the status of your faction in relation to whomever controls a given island. Taking the time to venture off and seek out additional quests yields financial rewards along with experience points. Money can be used to buy equipment, and your level affects stats, which will carry over into later chapters. While the difficulty curve in Falconeer isn’t unfair, it is constantly rising, so taking on side quests is highly recommended.

The majority of quests, be they primary or secondary, take the form of combat encounters. Here is where Falconeer truly shines; your warbird legitimately feels like a living creature and not an airplane or spaceship. It has stamina that can be depleted by trying to quickly gain altitude or accelerating. It can also simply tuck its wings in and plummet quickly, which can be helpful for making a quick getaway. This all means that your position when entering a combat situation becomes the difference between victory and defeat. If you fly in low you’ll likely be staying low as the stamina cost to climb up and out of a crossfire is prohibitive. But if you enter from high up in the clouds you’ll have plenty of potential for quick dives, and an advantage on enemies below you. Because of these considerations The Falconeer takes some getting used to, even if you’re familiar with other aerial combat games. And it's worth getting used to, as combat is not only deep if given the chance, but also the bulk of the gameplay. While occasionally a side quest quest will involve delivering a package or some other alternative activity, they almost always ultimately result in a fight. I could definitely see an argument for this being too repetitive, but at the same time, this is a flight combat game at its core. Complaining that there is too much aerial combat feels a bit like saying Tetris has too many falling blocks.

As for the Switch port itself, I couldn’t really ask for anything better. In fact I probably would have settled for less. The entire game runs with no loading beyond the main menu even when fast traveling. It also maintains a constant 60 frames per second. That’s right, no 30 frames per second drop for this Switch port. I posted a full technical breakdown back in June that goes over all the changes that were made. The performance on Switch has actually been improved since then with better image quality than it had during that preview period. If you’re interested you can find a link to that video embeded below. All of this results in a game that plays fantastically both docked and handheld.

It has been odd returning to Falconeer to polish off this review after taking a break to play the recent remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. In a way The Falconeer feels a lot like how I would have liked the sky portions of that game to work. In another Zelda reference, the island hopping across an ocean world reminds me a bit of Wind Waker. Mix all of that with Crimson Skies and you’ve got a pretty good idea for what is on offer in The Falconeer. It is hard to describe simply because it is so unlike any other one thing. Even as someone who plays a lot of games that are theoretically in the same genre as The Falconeer, I have to say that I’ve never played anything quite like it. On top of all of that the Switch version itself is among the best Switch ports we’ve ever seen. This is a rare instance of a game that feels perfect on the go but also looks great on a big screen TV. Yes, the core gameplay loop is fairly simple, but The Falconeer never really pretends to be anything other than what it is and it excels wildly at it. If you’re a fan of aerial combat games and want to try something outside the usual realm of fighter jets and spaceships, I can strongly recommend trying out The Falconeer. While it may get repetitive for some, the core combat loop and lore filled world drew me in and I’ll likely be returning for more very soon.

TalkBack / The Long Gate (Switch) Review
« on: July 30, 2021, 08:58:02 AM »

An unforgiving port in more ways than one.

I tend to like first-person puzzle and adventure games. In general, I like to think I’m fairly good at them. The Long Gate may be the first time I’ve picked up one of these games and quickly thought to myself, I may not be smart enough for this. While now and then difficulty arose simply due to the Switch port itself, the vast majority of The Long Gate is just a very challenging, complex puzzle. That being said, it was always one I felt oddly compelled to solve.

At first glance, one might compare The Long Gate to something like Myst. But where Myst’s abstract world demands creative thinking, The Long Gate demands logic, mathematics, and a touch of basic engineering. It also operates on an assumption that you have a pretty darn good understanding of binary, to the point that I was very grateful I grew up with a computer programmer for a dad.

The Long Gate presents the player with an ever-evolving series of circuit board-like puzzles. One puzzle in an area almost never exists in isolation and ultimately feeds into the entire array. The general goal is usually to get power from one point to another. This is illustrated by a lit or unlit path on the ground. Along this path are small areas where you can rearrange components or manipulate devices in some way. Early on, many of these components will act as simple binary statements. For example feeding an unlit line into a “not” statement will cause it to light up. “And” and “or” statements allow you to combine multiple lines and the resulting output line will depend on the value of the input line. Later, you’ll mix and match eight digit binary sequences rather than simple on or off signals. Not only will you need to figure out exactly what sequences to combine to get the desired output, but simply creating those sequences requires the use of a large array that is a bit of a puzzle in and of itself. Do you know how to represent 55 in binary? You better figure it out! All of the things I just described occur within the first four puzzles.

The Long Gate’s greatest strength and weakness is that it trusts completely in the player already understanding the concepts needed to play. This goes beyond not tutorializing, The Long Gate just actively avoids being remotely inclusive. That being said, it is also the kind of game where you can look up elements of a puzzle without having any effect on your ability to solve it. There was definitely a time in my life when I knew how to convert base 10 numbers into binary but that time is well over a decade in the rearview mirror at this point. But me using the internet to convert between base 10 and binary never actually yielded a solution to a puzzle; it merely allowed me to know what pieces I would need before I could figure that out.

The Long Gate does include three difficulty modes: Engineer, Normal, and Extra Nudge. Engineer is the hardest and removes certain elements of the UI making components a bit more difficult to identify. Extra Nudge adds hints in various spots across each puzzle, but these hints by no means spell things out. Instead, they simply tell you what a given system is capable of doing. It's not that Engineer treats you as an engineer and Extra Nudge as someone who isn’t an engineer, but rather as the newest engineer on the team. Even with all that in mind, I still found myself pushing through one more puzzle. There is something to be said for a game that doesn’t treat you like an idiot (even if it should). The feeling that I should be able to solve this made me want to solve it more. It likely won’t work that way for everyone, but for a certain personality type, The Long Gate can be highly addictive.

While the difficulty is largely a matter of preference, the performance of the Switch port is a bit more objectively an issue. Both on the TV and in handheld, the Switch version is extremely blurry. This is disappointing as there isn’t anything particularly ambitious happening on screen. You’re generally in a small, dark room. The environment is simple and doesn’t feature any particularly complex lighting or simulations. What exactly is causing The Long Gate to run so poorly is a mystery. What's worse is it has a major effect on playability. You’re constantly reading small readouts of numbers, looking out across complex networks of components, and if playing on the easier mode, reading text on the ground. The already confusing puzzles become much more confusing when they’re hard to see. I regularly encountered instances of having to walk across the room to look at something even though I should have been able to see it just fine from where I was standing.

This is an engaging puzzle adventure game whilst also being one of the most daunting I’ve ever played. Would I champion a little bit more accessibility? Absolutely, as I feel there is the potential here for not only a great puzzle game but a real learning experience. At the same time, it is impossible to ignore that the Switch version itself is highly let down by this particular port. While I firmly believe that there is value in The Long Gate, it is hard to recommend the Switch be the place you play it. It's unfortunate as there doesn’t appear to be any reason the Switch version should run this badly. The Switch is an excellent platform for this type of game; unfortunately, the same engineering effort that went into the puzzle design doesn’t appear to have made it to the port itself.

TalkBack / Samurai Warriors 5 Graphics and Performance Test
« on: July 27, 2021, 07:12:58 AM »

Switch VS Xbox Series X

How does Samurai Warriors 5 hold up on Switch and can it improve on the lackluster technical performance of Age of Calamity?

TalkBack / A Defense of the Imprisoned Boss Fights in Skyward Sword
« on: July 16, 2021, 08:05:14 AM »

John digs into one of the most debated parts of The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword that isn't the controls.

While we can debate the effectiveness of the Imprisoned boss fights in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I think there is an argument to be made for them as an interesting storytelling tool.


Switch VS Wii

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

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

Yes, it includes the items thing.

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

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

You can see the full trailer below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything you need to know about Sylux before Metroid Prime 4

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressive visuals with controls that really miss the mark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

pew pew

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

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

An inventive Space RPG with some extra baggage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Switch VS Xbox One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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