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TalkBack / Road 96 (Switch) Review
« on: August 16, 2021, 06:28:50 AM »

Freedom. Nothing is more important.

I just can’t imagine why I would possibly think a game like Road 96, coming to us from French studio DigixArt, might feel timely and just a bit too real. With themes like changing an untrustworthy electoral system, the complicated mess that is the protest vs revolt debate, or the pessimism around whether or not a broken country can be fixed, this first-person adventure game has a lot more to say than I had initially figured it might. The main question from there is how well does the game handle these rather sensitive subjects? Does it have a valuable perspective or does it fall on its face?

In Road 96, the player is put in control of various teenagers attempting to leave the fictional country of Petria in 1996. The current president of Petria, a totalitarian named Tyrak, has been shipping teens who disagree with his policies into work camps in order to keep them from exercising their right to vote. As a result, the country’s youth are trying to cross the border as quickly as they can, facing numerous difficulties along the way. A runaway teen runs the risk of being arrested or killed over the course of their journey, and the rising tensions of an upcoming presidential election have only served to make their ordeal even harder. All the while, each teen has the potential to run into a cast of recurring characters, such as the trucker John, the police officer Fanny, or the unhinged taxi driver Jarod.

At the beginning of each episode, the player is given a choice between three randomly generated teens, all differing in ages, starting energy levels, distance from the border, and the amount of money they start their journey with. From there, the player will experience a series of vignettes that are procedurally generated and chosen as they go. Sometimes these vignettes will involve a simple minigame that can range from acting as a TV camera operator to playing soccer with a very drunk John. All of these games are simple and relatively interesting, with none of them really overstaying their welcome, and failing the games does not interfere with your story. As you talk to the people of Petria, you will sometimes be given a choice between things to say that will alter the direction the country starts to roll, and whether the election ends with Tyrak maintaining power, Florres winning the election and arresting Tyrak for crimes against humanity, or if Petria is engulfed in a violent revolution. Once one teen’s story ends, the next episode will have you picking another teen and making the trek to the border once more.

Each vignette also ends with a choice on how you can proceed towards your destination. You can take a taxi, hitchhike, steal a car, or even just walk. These each come with their own pros and cons. A taxi or bus would cost money, which can be quite hard to come by, and taxis themselves also pose more of a risk. Hitchhiking has the possibility of being picked up by an unsavory individual or potentially nobody at all. Walking is the safest option, but it also costs the most energy. Your energy levels are displayed in the top left, and if they hit zero you will collapse and be found by the police. This energy can be regained by sleeping, eating, or drinking. You’ll also have the opportunity to gain new skills, items, and abilities as you go, such as a lockpick from the robbers Stan and Mitch that allows you to open any locked door in the game. These abilities carry over to future episodes, meaning future teen refugees may find themselves having an easier time as a result. However, if you happen to make it to the border and attempt to cross, the method you used will become even harder for those making the journey in the future, such as when I got caught trying to stow away in a truck and security around truck crossings was upped to the point of making it no longer a viable option for others, an aspect that added to the tension down the line.

Unfortunately, Road 96 does have its fair share of technical issues and shortcomings. While the environments in the game are generally quite nice looking, the render distance for things like grass and brush is woefully small, meaning you’ll see it come into existence right in front of you quite often. The game also has the occasional frame rate dip that can be quite noticeable. Another issue is that characters, as memorable as they might be in terms of interaction, look rough with animations that are just a bit off. There are of course exceptions, such as the intentionally off-putting Jarod. Some of the voice acting can feel a bit stilted at times as well, but it was never so bad as to pull me out. While none of these problems hamper the experience too much, they can sometimes be hard to ignore if it’s something that bothers you. What did irk me quite regularly was the very long load times between each scene, sometimes lasting around 20 seconds or so every single time.

Luckily these issues do not detract from what I consider to be a fascinating narrative, with characters who are deeply conflicted and troubled that are a joy to interact with. Whether I was being threatened by Jarod, having deep personal conversations with John, or being made audience to the circus that is Stan and Mitch, I found myself continuing to go back for more over and over with Road 96. If you want a deeply political and sometimes downright scary experience, this is the place to be. Add to that a fantastic soundtrack of both folk style music and electronic synthwave that really hits the ‘90s vibe, and Road 96 is an experience you will not soon forget.

TalkBack / Mundaun (Switch) Review
« on: June 19, 2021, 02:13:50 PM »

Pencil shaded horror that continues to make me ask “Hey Europe, are you okay?”

Sometimes it feels like every visual aesthetic under the sun has already been done in one game or another, but every time I start that particular line of thinking, a game like Mundaun shows up at my door to prove me completely wrong. Mundaun is a horror game from Hidden Fields, an indie developer out of Switzerland. It’s gotten a lot of attention since release mainly for its very unique pencil-shaded art style, and this combined with the fact that more obscure European horror can be a gold mine that isn’t taken advantage of nearly enough had me heavily interested in the game. Was I right to be interested, or did it turn out to be a dud?

In Mundaun, you play as a young man named Curdin who receives a letter telling him that his grandfather has perished in a barn fire. When the letter, written to him by the village priest, goes out of its way to point out that his grandfather is already buried and therefore there is no reason for Curdin to travel to the village in order to visit him, Curdin of course gets suspicious that there’s something else going on here. He travels to the small village of Mundaun to investigate, finding that his grandfather’s supposed grave is empty and his charred corpse appears to have fused with the burnt remains of his barn. This investigation leads Curdin to learn about the history of Mundaun, and the dark forces now at play within the village as a result.

Mundaun is a first-person horror adventure game that doesn’t really do anything groundbreaking in terms of gameplay; you can walk around the mountain collecting various items in order to solve puzzles or open doors that gain you access to new areas. These items can be things like keys or story-based items requested by the townspeople, but you can also find items that can increase Curdin’s stats. Curdin can make coffee to increase his resistance to the fear effect that monsters can inflict, bread can be eaten to increase the amount of health he has, and rifle manuals can be found that improve his ability to shoot. These skills will become absolutely necessary as you encounter the monsters of Mundaun, the earliest of which is an admittedly goofy but still quite threatening hay-covered creature that kills you by smothering you in hay. Monsters can be fought with a rifle or pitchfork, but it’s more likely you’ll find yourself sneaking around them seeing as Curdin is not a soldier and combat is intentionally quite clunky.

All of these creatures and characters are depicted using Mundaun’s greatest asset: its visual art style. Every texture in Mundaun was hand drawn using pencil on paper before being scanned into the game, and this makes Mundaun one of the most visually unique games I have ever played. This paired with memorable character designs and locations make Mundaun a place worth visiting. Unfortunately, the usual problems of porting a game to the Switch rear their ugly heads to take you out of the experience somewhat. The render distance for small objects around the environment is incredibly short, and you’ll often see things like posters or road signs pop into existence just a few feet in front of you. This problem also affects when shadows appear, which actually makes one of the first puzzles in the game a bit more difficult as it requires you to find an item underneath the town chapel’s shadow, which goes away when you get too far from the building. It should, however, be noted that this was only really a problem in that puzzle, and even then the puzzle is very simple to figure out; past that, the render distance issues are less a problem and more an annoyance.

There are a few other issues with the game itself worth noting that likely are not exclusive to the Switch version. The story is rather on rails, with the game often not letting you progress to a new area if you still haven’t done everything you need to do in the area you’re in. This does successfully keep the player from wandering too far from their goal and getting lost, but sometimes it did feel as though the game was actively discouraging exploration. Another minor annoyance I came across often is the fact that interaction ranges for objects is almost always either too big or too specific, causing me to constantly close doors instead of pick up the item next to the door or set an item in a storage location and be unable to pick it back up because I had an issue finding the exact area it wanted me to be in again. These issues are small, but they did build up. Not enough to ruin the experience, but enough to be a bit frustrating.

Overall, Mundaun is a very worthwhile horror title, even if it may be a little rough around the edges in some areas. The compelling story mixed with the game’s unique aesthetic is enough to create a memorable experience that fans of spooky things are sure to enjoy. That being said, I’m not entirely sure I can recommend the Switch be your vehicle to explore the town of Mundaun. The short render distance and constant shadow pop-in can be very distracting and does detract from the game’s atmosphere; a brief period with the game’s PC release seemed to indicate that these issues are unique to the Switch. If you’re really dead set for a portable version of Mundaun, the rest of the game is still very good tech issues aside, but I would recommend looking into other platforms if those seem like something that would bother you.

TalkBack / Sumire (Switch) Review
« on: June 06, 2021, 10:56:10 AM »

Show me a wonderful day!

When I was 16 years old my great grandmother passed away of natural causes. It was my first experience with losing a family member I felt close to. It’s a harrowing emotional experience, one that can be all the more impactful if it happens when you’re still a teenager. Losing somebody like that when you’re already having to deal with a world and life that is also rapidly changing around you can be extremely difficult. Looking back, maybe that’s what drew me to Sumire upon watching the trailer for the first time. I am always looking for games that can get an emotional rise out of me and Sumire seemed like it might fit the bill, and boy does it feel like I made a good judgement call on that one.

In Sumire you take control of a young girl named Sumire, whose home life has been thrown into disarray by the death of her grandmother and her parents’ recent separation. As a result she has become depressed, lost, and emotionally distant from her friends in the rural Japanese community in which she lives. One night she awakes with a start, having dreamt of her grandma trying to whisper something in her ear. When she gets up to check on her grandma’s memorial a glowing seed flies through her window. Curious, Sumire plants the seed and falls asleep at the table. When she awakens the seed has sprouted into a flower, and that flower is somehow talking. Flower reveals that he has one day to live in the human world, and he will have to return to his world at sunset. All he asks is for Sumire to show him the perfect day. So, Sumire makes a list of things she’d like to do that could potentially change her life with the potential promise that she may be able to see her grandmother one more time.

Sumire is a 2.5D adventure game that doesn’t necessarily do anything special in terms of gameplay. You control Sumire herself as she explores the area around her, she can speak to people, animals, or objects - something the overall clever writing makes sure you know that she could not do before. I mean it when I say she can now talk to objects, whether it be a plant in her house or a scarecrow, and these things can also give her side quests that usually lead to a small minigame of sorts. For instance, the scarecrow is having a problem with the crows whispering hurtful comments into its ears, and Sumire helps him by playing a game in which she has to flip parts of encouraging comments around to complete them and counter the crows. Most of these games are rather simple, but every once in a awhile the game throws a surprisingly interesting one such as a trading card game you can play with one of Sumire’s fellow students. This keeps the gameplay relatively fresh for the two to three hours a full playthrough will take you, though admittedly the game is overall still a lot of revisiting places you’ve already been over and over.

Throughout the game’s narrative you will be faced with making choices for how Sumire will act towards certain people, such as her former best friend Chie. These are usually pretty binary options, are you mean to them or are you nice, but these choices almost always have the potential to change the opportunities or choices you will have to make later on in the story. All of this is wrapped up in what I consider to be Sumire’s most impressive feature: the gorgeous artwork that portrays this small Japanese town. Every character and environment is rendered in a way that makes this game one of the most visually striking experiences I have had so far this year. This beautiful art is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack full of acoustic guitar and piano, and even features a vocal piece at one point, already having potentially earned a spot on my favorite soundtracks of the year.

All of this, the emotional narrative, the beautiful art, and the memorable soundtrack, comes together into a package that I am not sure I’m going to forget for a while. If I had to nitpick for issues, some areas of the game take a little long to load which can potentially take you out of the experience. Likewise there are also a few typos here and there in the game’s localization (I guess I should go get that frog a “juice fly”) which I found distracting, but these problems are few and far between. Even then I found myself sitting on the title screen after the credits rolled, listening to the music for a good twenty minutes before I finally turned off my Switch, spending that entire time processing the story I had just experienced. When a game can do that to me, I know that it’s an experience I want to recommend. If you enjoy emotional stories with admittedly shallow gameplay, you absolutely should be giving Sumire a try.

TalkBack / Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir (Switch) Review
« on: May 25, 2021, 01:28:05 PM »

Oh no, did I leave the heir at that rest stop!?

A few years ago while looking into things relating to Smash characters that didn’t make the cut, I came across the name Ayumi Tachibana and her series Famicom Detective Club. She was originally considered for a spot on Super Smash Bros. Melee’s roster, but was ultimately cut because the team rightfully didn’t believe she had enough recognition to warrant her inclusion. From that point on I found myself incredibly curious with the Famicom Detective Club games, none of which had ever left Japan. When remakes of both titles were announced in Japan I had some hope that maybe we would see them released in the West, but still did not believe they actually would. Cut to around a year later when they announced that both would in fact be making their way to the rest of the world, and I was reasonably excited to see what they were like. Did they live up to expectations or fall flat? Let’s solve this mystery together.

Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is a remake of the first game in the series, even though it canonically takes place after its sequel. The player takes control of a young man having suffered an accident that has left him with amnesia. Instead of doing what a reasonable person would do and go to a hospital, he begins to try and figure out who he is and how his accident took place. He quickly learns that he is an investigator at the Utsugi Detective Agency, and was specifically working a case having to do with one of the most prominent families in Japan, the Ayashiros. When the matron of the family, Kiku Ayashiro, dies suddenly of heart failure, the family’s butler Zenzou hires the Utsugi Detective Agency to look into the suspicious circumstances of her death. This throws our detective into a web of deceit and murder as he investigates not only the death of Kiku but the mysterious circumstances of her immediate heir.

At first glance you would not be blamed if you figured this game was just a run of the mill visual novel, but that is not entirely the case. In practice, it plays more like one of its successors, Ace Attorney, though even that is not entirely accurate. During Famicom Detective Club you will find yourself in a sequence usually involving one to three locations you can travel between. During these sequences you will be able to look around the scene or talk to the people who are present, asking them for alibis and information. There is also an option to remember, in case something’s presence at the scene may unlodge a lost memory for the protagonist. The unfortunate part is that this is still a Famicom game at heart, with seemingly very few changes made to the overall gameplay.

Generally in Famicom Detective Club, your time will be spent trying to find the one menu option that opens the way to the next sequence. Sometimes while talking to a character, the game will expect one very specific command in one specific place, sometimes multiple times, in order to make the next scene’s location available. It’s not always logical at first glance what the game wants you to do, and sometimes it feels very much like something that should have been fixed as a quality of life improvement. For example, at one point in the game your character is given a flashlight before he walks into a dark area, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get him to actually use it. After a while I realized I had to hit the “Remember” button so that he would remember he had been given a flashlight not two minutes ago and pull it out. Sometimes it will require you to examine a specific thing to trigger a flag, sometimes you’ll need to ask a character about a subject multiple times, sometimes you’ll need to ask a question and then immediately examine the person, sometimes you just have to shout out for somebody multiple times. The game generally doesn’t do a great job of communicating these, and the logic never quite felt consistent. While I’m sure these mechanics were kept intact in order to make this a faithful remake, there does come a point where the game very much would have been better off with more quality of life improvements overall.

Nonetheless, The Missing Heir is still an enjoyable experience, filled with characters that are bursting with personality using what seem to be Live2D animated models, a type of character model often employed by vtubers. Characters like your fellow investigator Ayumi or the town doctor Kumada are incredibly memorable, and I had a genuinely good time speaking to them as the story moved forward. The mystery itself is nothing special, full of familiar detective story tropes and twists that admittedly aren’t all that difficult to see coming. Strangely, however, that only seems to add to its charm. It’s a story out of time, the video game equivalent of a pulpy detective novella that you’d pick up on a discount rack, but in a good way. If you enjoy stories like this, you’re likely going to walk away from The Missing Heir happy.

Overall, Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is a rather dated game both in terms of mechanics and story, but it somehow manages to use both of these largely to its advantage to create a rather charming, if cheesy, experience. There are also other small features that I appreciated, such as the ability to turn off the Japanese voice acting for every character or just for the protagonist, which I made use of because while I liked hearing the other characters’ voices, for some reason the protagonist’s was oddly distracting. I also very much appreciated the ability to switch back and forth between the new arranged soundtrack and the original Famicom chiptunes, as I found myself constantly flipping back and forth just to hear the differences. If you like yourself a fun junk-food mystery, or you’re just curious about this game finally hitting western shores after 33 years, you will probably be happy spending your time with Ayumi and company.

TalkBack / Mundaun Pencils in a May 27th Release Date for Switch
« on: May 19, 2021, 09:15:59 AM »

Why are so many goats appearing in horror games this year?

Ethan Winters is not the only person journeying into a village based den of terrible horrors, and I'm starting to worry about the people in Europe.

Mundaun is a horror game developed by Hidden Fields and published by MWM Interactive that was released for PC, Xbox devices, and PlayStation 4/5 back in March of 2021. Earlier today it was officially announced that Mundaun will land on Switch on May 27th, 2021.

Mundaun has gained a lot of buzz since release due to its incredibly unique art style, with textures drawn entirely in pencil. It's always nice to see more horror games land on the Switch, especially one that's been talked about as much as this one.

TalkBack / What Comes After (Switch) Review
« on: March 19, 2021, 07:25:45 AM »

Live life to the fullest

The afterlife is a subject that humans are pretty much obsessed with as a whole. What actually happens when we die? Do we just shut off and fade to black, or is there a place for us to go afterwards and see the loved ones who came before us? I tend to be a sucker for games that deal with questions like these, especially ones that seek to tear at your heartstrings at any given opportunity. This is what initially drew me to What Comes After, a game that attempts to discuss this question in a very intimate manner. I do think it succeeds in elevating this conversation overall, but the gameplay leaves a little to be desired.

In What Comes After, you play as Vivi, a young woman who barely manages to board the train on her way home. After she successfully finds a seat, Vivi accidentally falls asleep. When she wakes up, she finds herself still on the train, but everything feels and looks just a little different. While exploring the train car ahead of her, she learns that she is on a train full of ghosts on their way to "what comes after." At first, she believes she is dead but is quickly assured that's not the case. The conductor promises to take her back to the land of the living after the train drops off its current passengers, and Vivi is left to kill time until then, deciding to do so by talking to the passengers who have passed on.

There's not really a ton to talk about when it comes to gameplay in What Comes After, as pretty much the entire experience is spent in one side-scrolling corridor filled with NPCs you can talk to. There is no variation on this whatsoever, meaning the game as a whole suffers from a fair bit of tedium, and what will determine whether you can put up with that is largely going to be based on your personal taste in games. What Comes After is a narrative game through and through, and makes no effort to pretend it's anything else.

The writing is actually this game's biggest strength, though. As Vivi explores the train and has an opportunity to talk to the souls of those who pass, every NPC feels unique, even when most of them are not all that visually distinct. Every person has their own story and even their own outlook on the fact that they’re dead. Some are angry that this has happened to them, some are glad the suffering they've endured is finally over, and some are even pleading with the universe to undo their death. Subjects like suicide and grief are handled very respectfully throughout, and for that reason the game did resonate with me personally. However, some of this wisdom is hamstrung by a spotty translation at certain points. It is never so bad that you can't figure out what the character was trying to say, but I would frequently encounter sentences where tenses had been mixed up or certain words were just wrong, throwing a small wrench into the works of the story.

In terms of visuals, What Comes After isn't sporting any kind of unique art style, but for what it is the game looks overall interesting and memorable. While the first half of the game is made up of regular train cars full of ghosts of different people, eventually Vivi can wander into the section of the train where the non-human souls go, changing up the visuals in a colorful and fun way. Some of the later designs of these creatures and the stories they tell form the most interesting section of What Comes After, as they provide some points of view that are often missing from stories about the afterlife.

Overall, your mileage is going to vary in What Comes After. It is a very short experience, clocking in at just around an hour long, so even if you find the gameplay to be a tad tedious, the game at the very least does not overstay its welcome. If you're more interested in narrative as opposed to gameplay, you will likely find some enjoyment here, but those who are more interested in gameplay should probably steer clear. What Comes After has a lot to say, and even if a shoddy translation takes the impact down a bit, it's still worth a look if its premise has caught your eye.

TalkBack / Heaven's Vault (Switch) Review
« on: January 28, 2021, 01:03:17 PM »

What can the past tell us about the future?

Have you ever thought about the fact that there are countless languages that have just been completely lost in the span of human history? Languages that nobody speaks or writes anymore, no room for anybody to learn them and pass them on. It’s an interesting concept to consider, and it’s one of the main aspects that initially drew me into wanting to play Heaven’s Vault, a game that has been on PS4 and PC for almost two years but has finally hit the Switch. This game has a loop that honestly fits perfectly on the system, though there are admittedly a few hangups here and there.

In Heaven’s Vault you take control of a young archaeologist named Aliyah. When a friend of Aliyah’s mentor and adopted mother goes missing, Aliyah is assigned to go out and figure out what has become of him. Joining her on the adventure is a robot that Aliyah names “Six”, a robot who was built long ago and recently unearthed. In the process of investigating this disappearance Aliyah and Six find themselves drawn into a mystery involving the Ioxian Empire, an empire that fell over three hundred years before the game’s events. She also begins the process of deciphering their long lost language, and is even warned by an unlikely source that a great danger might be approaching to threaten the nebula in which they reside, kicking off a very interesting narrative about whether or not the past can tell us more about the future.

The main draw to Heaven’s Vault on a mechanical level is for sure its language deciphering aspect. As you explore the various moons of the nebula you will discover artifacts, structures, and scrolls featuring writings in the hieroglyphic style ancient script. When you discover writings, you will then be tasked with making an educated guess as to what each word means, with the game providing three options per word. In order to make the best guess you can you must take stock of context clues such as what object the writing is on or various symbols the word shares with other words you’ve previously figured out. As you discover more writings Aliyah will be able to figure out if your guesses are right or wrong, and will inform you either way. This aspect of the game is incredibly unique and is honestly by far the most interesting part.

That is not to say the overall narrative isn’t also interesting. The moons and cities of Aliyah’s nebula are well fleshed out and easily distinguished from one another, from the hoity toity Iox to the poverty ridden city of Elboreth, every area has its own distinct personality and points of interest. One issue the narrative does run into is the dialogue, while there are brief moments of voice acting in Heaven’s Vault, most of the dialogue is presented in text only. This is a bit of an issue because conversations can begin out of the blue and there is no sound to accompany them, and this becomes a bit of an issue when paired with the fact that all dialogue automatically moves on without any input from the player meaning that if you were to look away from the screen to look at your phone or your cat for even a brief second, you run the risk of having missed one or two lines of dialogue with no way to look back at what you missed. The speed at which the dialogue advances can be altered to be faster or slower, but I personally found the default speed to be far too fast for me to read every bit.

In order to travel between the moons the player must navigate the “rivers” of the nebula using Aliyah’s ship. This is the weakest part of Heaven’s Vault by far. After plotting a course the ship is controlled by pressing ZL or ZR to control the left and right sails separately. As you sail arrows and dialogue from Six will tell you which way to turn at forks in the river. After a while this mechanic starts to feel a bit mindless and repetitive, and dialogue is a bit hard to read while you’re focused on not missing the turn you need to take, and there are quite a few conversations that occur during these sections. While these sections are very pretty, once you’ve seen one you’ve essentially seen them all. I had at least one occurrence where the game gave me the option to let Six pilot the ship instead, but it never seemed to trigger again and I couldn’t figure out why it had triggered in the first place. While these sections are overall inoffensive and short, they do take a bit away from what is overall a very well put together game.

The other unique feature of Heaven’s Vault is its distinct art direction, putting 2D characters amongst 3D environments. This can be a bit jarring at times, but overall succeeds at giving the game a memorable aesthetic. In terms of technical issues, the only one I ran into was that the game tends to hang every once and awhile, both docked and undocked. It wasn’t frequent enough to ruin the experience, but was frequent enough to be noticeable. The game also features a bit of a branching narrative depending on what kind of personality you feel Aliyah has in terms of responding to the people around her. I was most impressed with this as I am usually a goody-two-shoes in games like this (social anxiety keeps me from being mean even in games), Aliyah’s backstory gave her such a compelling reason for her to be cold to most people around her that it became the route I tended to go, it just made sense.

Overall Heaven’s Vault is a very interesting and unique game that you should consider giving a try, especially if you have any interest in linguistics. While issues with the dialogue and a less than stellar space flight mechanic hold the game back from being truly great, there is enough good here to make it well worth your time. The relationship between Aliyah and Six is realistic and fun to see where it goes, and the environments and world building featured are top notch. If any of this caught your attention that may be a sign that you should be heading out to do some archaeology amongst the stardust.

TalkBack / Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory (Switch) Review
« on: November 12, 2020, 02:35:09 AM »

Keys, music, and I guess maybe a little bit of story, too.

Kingdom Hearts is a truly bizarre piece of the gaming landscape; on paper, this series about anime teenagers visiting worlds from various Disney films really shouldn’t exist. Yet, surprisingly, it does, and even more surprisingly it has some of the best selections of music in video games, largely composed by industry legend Yoko Shimomura. Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest had already gotten the rhythm game treatment in the form of the Theatrhythm series, and many had been asking for years when Kingdom Hearts would get its turn. Enter Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory, the first game in the franchise to be on Switch and exactly what fans of Shimomura’s work had been asking for for years. Was it worth the wait? I certainly think it was.

Melody of Memory is a rhythm game built around a library of music from throughout the series history, from 2002’s Kingdom Hearts to 2019’s Kingdom Hearts III. Gameplay is split into three types of levels, with the most common being field levels. While playing a field level, the three members of your team will walk along a path as enemies appear in front of them. Pressing A, L, or R will make one of your characters attack the enemy, and sometimes you’ll have to hit two or even all three buttons at once to defeat a group. As you walk you will run into ability crystals, activated by pressing X. You will also encounter arrows informing you that you are about to have to jump with B, with red arrows indicating you have to jump over an attack, blue arrows indicating you have to jump to hit an airborne enemy, and green arrows indicating you are entering a gliding section. You can glide by holding B and using the left stick to collect green musical notes along a track. It’s a good thing that this is the most common type of level, because it’s honestly the most fun to play.

The other two types of level are boss battles and “Memory Dives,” which both play similarly. All the same controls apply as with field levels, with the addition of directional notes that require you to flick the left or right stick (sometimes both) in a certain direction. In boss battles, the notes will come in from the side as your team fights in the background. At certain points in the song, notes with a dark aura will begin to appear, meaning the boss is about to perform a special attack. How much of this attack your team will dodge is based on how well you hit these notes. I personally found boss battles to be entertaining, but not nearly as fun as field levels. Memory Dives are similar to boss battles, but the differences between the two are enough to make Memory Dives by far the weakest level type. Controls are completely identical, but instead of coming from the side notes come from in front of you, with a camera angle that not only is constantly shifting but also makes it hard to gauge timing. These levels are accompanied by a pre-rendered video that plays in the background, and sometimes these videos cause the notes to blend in with the background, making it even harder to see what’s happening.

The standout feature of Melody of Memory is obviously the musical selection, containing tracks from Kingdom Hearts, Re:Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts II, 358/2 Days, Re:Coded, Birth by Sleep, Dream Drop Distance, and even the recently released Kingdom Hearts III. Songs can be unlocked for free play either by completing the World Tour mode or by creating them through the synthesis menu. For the most part, the tracklist hits all of the right beats, but there are some notable omissions. For instance, there is a complete lack of anything from the worlds based on Tarzan or Pirates of the Caribbean. Each world in the game has a normal track and battle track associated with it, sometimes multiple, with the exception being the selection from Kingdom Hearts III, which I can only describe as disappointing. Not only is there only one song from each world, but a majority of them are Memory Dive levels, implying the team simply didn’t have time to put together the assets to let you play these songs in field mode. Bizarrely enough, one of the songs missing is even Face My Fears, the opening of KH III, despite the fact that the other games’ openings and even III’s credits theme, Don’t Think Twice, are in the game.

There are four teams you can play as, with each playing identically: Team Classic (Sora, Donald, Goofy), Team Days (Roxas, Axel, Xion), Team 3D (Riku, Dream Eaters), and Team BBS (Aqua, Terra, Ventus). One of the missed opportunities lies in their appearances, as there are no alternate costumes to be found in Melody of Memory. Sora is stuck in his KH1 costume, Riku is stuck in his Dream Drop costume, and Roxas never leaves his Organization cloak. Even when going to worlds where traditionally a costume change occurs (such as Halloween Town or The Pride Lands), those default appearances still stay the same. I feel like alternate costumes would have added to the game’s charm, and I’m not sure why they’re not in there considering a bulk of the game is reused assets in the first place and especially since the teams are already cosmetic in nature. The last small disappointment is the story content, which is potentially a big factor on fans’ minds. I regret to inform you that the amount of new story is negligible, clocking in at maybe 25 minutes, and even getting to see any of it requires you to spend upwards of 9 hours in the World Tour mode. If you’re planning on buying this game just for the story, you should probably give it a pass.

All that being said, despite those small disappointments, Melody of Memory is a fantastic rhythm game that is heavily bolstered if you already have a love for these soundtracks. Not only that, there are two types of multiplayer. VS can be played locally between two Switches, online, or against a CPU, but this mode is honestly not that fun. The co-op mode more than makes up for this, however, featuring levels custom made for local two-player action that is incredibly well implemented. If you like Kingdom Hearts, and you like the music of Yoko Shimomura, I would personally call Melody of Memory a must buy. Just don’t expect to find a blowout story reveal buried in this title, and you should find yourself bopping along to the rhythm and having fun in no time.

TalkBack / FUSER (Switch) Review
« on: November 06, 2020, 06:09:00 AM »

The drums from Never Gonna Give You Up, the guitar from Jolene, the violins from Call Me Maybe, and the vocals from All-Star

Harmonix has a long and storied history with rhythm games. After their title Frequency in 2001 they would go on to dominate the world of music-based games with titles like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Central. Back in 2017 they took a brief detour from video games to produce their NFC music card game Dropmix, and while that game was really cool it unfortunately did not sell a whole lot. Even so, the technology was still there and it’d be a waste to just never use it again, and so now we have their latest title FUSER. Is FUSER as good a use of this tech as Dropmix was, and is it more worth your time now that it’s been disconnected from the plastic board and physical cards? Honestly, I’d say yes.

FUSER is a game all about mixing and mashing different parts of different songs and different genres to create a cool DJ set. Before you begin a set you will be able to put together a list of songs that you can work with. Many of these songs must be unlocked using currency, leveling up, or completing certain parts of the game’s campaign. Each set in the campaign will have certain songs that are required to be part of your list, but outside of that you largely have free reign in regards to what you bring. For instance I rarely did a set where I didn’t bring Smash Mouth’s All-Star (because I’m that guy), Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, and weirdly enough Dolly Parton’s Jolene. These, and honestly every song I’ve heard in the game thus far, all fuse together way better than you’d think considering their clashing genres.

When you go to put a record down on the turntable you will have an option of blue, red, purple, or yellow. Blue is percussion, red is often the lead instrument (whether that be guitar or trumpet or what have you), purple is often the bass part or whatever the song’s equivalent is, and yellow is the vocals. When a record is placed the game will alter it in some way, be it by changing the BPM or key signature, in order to have it mesh well with the other records that are already on the turntables. The technology for this feature was impressive when Dropmix came out, and it is no less impressive now. You’d think Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up wouldn’t mesh well with Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff but you would be wrong; the game makes it work near seamlessly. The results aren’t always a winner, but more often than not anything you make results in an absolute jam.

FUSER also prioritizes rhythm based gameplay by giving extra points for placing records on either a downbeat or a pickup. An indicator both above the turntable and below any record you have your cursor over will indicate when either of these are, and getting good at dropping records at the right moment is not only incredibly satisfying but basically a requirement if you want to do well. During a set there are three main things to keep track of. The first is the audience satisfaction, shown through a bar on the right side of the screen. If you keep your mix sitting for too long without changing it up, the audience will begin to get bored.If the bar depletes completely, your set will end in failure. Below that bar is where the game’s challenges will appear, usually telling you to place certain types or genres of record before time runs out. Above your turntable sometimes an audience member will make a request for a specific song or for a song from a specific era, and completing these challenges will also up your audience satisfaction.

There are a few criticisms that can be made of FUSER. I found that after a long play session gameplay began to feel slightly stagnant, and while the music and desire to experiment generally kept me going I do wish the gameplay had more room to evolve as you go on. I also felt that the speed at which you gain currency for buying songs was too slow, only earning enough for essentially one song whenever you level up, a process that is in itself rather slow as well. The game also has the occasional technical hiccup; every once and while I would notice the game hang for half a second and jerk back into action very suddenly. This never happened in a way that felt like it overly hurt the experience, but it was definitely noticeable. Some cutscenes during the campaign also seemed to be running at an inconsistent framerate, which made them a bit hard to watch at times.

Overall FUSER is a worthwhile game if you have an interest in music or just want to experience a unique entry into the rhythm genre. Its technology continues to impress me even if the gameplay has a tendency to get a bit stale after long play sessions. There is a Freeplay option that is a really fun way to mess with the game’s music library, and it may even be a cool thing to put on at a party to let guests mix and match songs at their leisure. Technical issues aside, the Switch seems to be the perfect place for this game, as it being easy to transport means the party can go wherever you go. I don’t think FUSER will set the world on fire quite the same way some of Harmonix’s earlier titles did, but I think it’s definitely a game worth looking at.

TalkBack / Re:Turn - One Way Trip (Switch) Review
« on: October 31, 2020, 03:19:30 PM »

An abandoned train car in the woods, what could possibly go wrong?

Earlier this year, I did a video on some of the standout demos I had played during one of the Steam Festivals, and one that caught my eye was a side-scrolling horror game that took place in a creepy abandoned train car. This game was Re:Turn - One Way Trip, which released earlier this month on various platforms including Switch. The demo had shown promise with its well crafted atmosphere and relatively interesting puzzles, and I was looking forward to seeing how the full game held up. While overall keeping the same sense that drew me to the game in the first place, Re:Turn begins to show some cracks fairly early on in some unfortunate ways.

In Re:Turn the player takes control of Saki, a young woman going on a camping trip to celebrate an upcoming graduation. She is joined on this trip by her fiance Sen and their friends Kanae, Yuuta, and Kazuki. After a misunderstanding causes a conflict within the group, they all agree to sleep it off. However, when Saki awakes in the middle of the night she finds her friends are gone. When she goes to look for them she discovers a group of abandoned train cars and, worried that her friends might be on board, enters the train to investigate. It turns out this train is crazy amounts of haunted, and Saki must find her friends while also unraveling the story of the train and the passengers who died on board.

Re:Turn is an adventure game played entirely on a 2D plane, with Saki able to find items to help her solve puzzles as she explores. These are usually pretty straightforward, such as finding a crowbar to break down some furniture blocking a door, or simply finding a key to a door. Every once in a while, a puzzle will require hints to be found around the environment, such as a poem about teru teru bozu that hinted at the combination for a lock, but even these are never really that obtuse. However, some puzzles can be a little more tedious, such as a chapter-long puzzle that required putting masks on doors in order to unlock them, which felt unnecessarily mindless in execution. All but one of the masks is found in the hallway where it was required, and leaving the area without placing it is impossible, making it barely a puzzle at all.

It's these puzzles that show the true major weakness of Re:Turn, one that is very difficult not to notice. Much of the game is built around walking back and forth between the same areas, and Saki's walk speed is dreadfully slow. Unlike most of its contemporaries, there is no run button in this game, meaning that Saki moves only as fast as she moves. It's not even that there is no animation for running, she runs in cutscenes all the time, it's just that you as a player are not allowed to. The lack of this feature unfortunately causes the game to drag its feet at a lot of points, making most actions take twice as long as they should.

My last big problem with the game is the fact that Saki as a character is one of the most dense horror protagonists I have ever experienced. She constantly fails to notice things that the player already has minutes prior, and some of her decisions are baffling in any context other than "if she doesn't do this, the game doesn't happen." It's not that she's unlikeable, but more that her characterization causes her to come off as incredibly dumb. Most of her friends also come off as jerks at times, discounting her experiences as just her exaggerating or being tired. Yuuta especially I found very grating, even if his chapter is probably the most well done section. Again, none of them are what I would call unlikeable, but their characterization sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

Despite these criticisms I still think Re:Turn is a competently made horror game with some very good atmosphere and an incredibly interesting premise. The sprite art and character designs, while in a way overly "anime", are still memorable and fun in a way a lot of anime style games like this aren't. The occasional tedious puzzle and slow movement speed are frustrating at times but never really felt like they fully broke the experience for me. It's not perfect nor is it what I would call great, but the things it excels at lift it slightly higher than your average 2D horror game. Just not much higher.

TalkBack / Clock Tower, the SNES's Best Horror Game
« on: October 27, 2020, 03:57:20 PM »

Don't cry, Jennifer...

Video games have come a long way in the past few decades, and I think there are few specific genres in games that have a more interesting history than horror. Last year I highlighted Sweet Home, a game sometimes credited with creating the building blocks for survival horror as a genre. If you didn’t watch that video, because very few people did, here’s a very brief summary:

Sweet Home is a horror RPG developed by Capcom and released for the Famicom in 1989. It is a licensed title based on the Japanese film of the same name and likely for this reason never left Japan. It was directed by Tokuro Fujiwara, who would go on a few years later to direct Resident Evil which was actually originally pitched as a 3D remake of Sweet Home before getting retooled into a more original concept that would end up revolutionizing horror games as we know them.

Got all that? Good. Today we’re gonna talk about a different retro horror game, yet another one that predates titles like Resident Evil, though this one isn’t really considered quite as historically significant. Our story takes us to a period a few years after Sweet Home made its debut, jumping from the age of the Famicom to one much more Super than that.

TalkBack / The Red Lantern (Switch) Review
« on: October 22, 2020, 03:36:21 PM »

Chow down, pups!

When I was growing up, I was a boy scout and my troop went on a camping trip every month. The first one I ever went on was to a shooting range in the middle of December, and it soured me on the idea of winter camping basically for the rest of my life. What I’m getting at is that I would rather die than go camping in the Alaskan wilderness, which kind of sucks because there’s a lot of beauty I’ll probably never explore. This is one of the main things that drew me to The Red Lantern, a resource-management game about taking a team of sled dogs through Alaska to find a new home. While a survival-style game with roguelike elements isn’t exactly what I had expected from the game’s initial reveal, I still found myself quite interested in where it was going.

In The Red Lantern, you play as a woman who has decided to leave her city life behind, adopt a team of dogs, and move out into the remote Alaskan wilderness to pursue her lifelong dream of competing in dog sled races. The game starts as you go to visit a selection of eight dogs with the intention of adopting five of them. Each dog has their own personality and skills that may trigger specific events or have specific uses on the trail. For example, Fin has a really good nose that can sometimes lead her to some good finds but also a penchant for sniffing out skunks, while Barkley has no problem defending his owner and getting into a fight even when that fight is with something he probably shouldn’t be fighting. The personalities of each pup shine through perfectly and you’ll likely find yourself attached to each member of your team to varying degrees.

Overall there isn’t much control given to the player in The Red Lantern. Once you get on the trail your dogs will pull the sled on their own and you’ll occasionally tell them whether to go left or right at forks. Every time you pass a trail marker the dogs’ energy will deplete by one, and if you pass a trail marker while they have no energy that run is over. Sometimes you will come across animals that you can try to hunt or small bits of supplies in the wild, but interacting with these events costs hunger and if you keep going for too long on an empty stomach your character will starve and freeze to death. Both meters can be refilled by camping and consuming food. Dogs can eat any meat you have raw and gain one bar of energy back for each piece given to them, but as humans can’t really eat raw meat in order to refill your hunger meter you have to start a fire and cook that food, with each piece restoring two bars. Your and your dogs’ maximum energy values can also decrease as time goes on if you don’t sleep every once and awhile while you camp, though sleeping costs one hunger as well.

At its core, The Red Lantern is entirely about resource management, as you have to keep track of and be cautious with your supply of bullets for your rifle, food, fire starters, and med kits. Your first run leaves you with a very small number of each of these things, leaving you needing to find more as you go. For this reason your first run will probably be unsuccessful, but once a run has failed you are sent back to your van and the whole thing is framed as you imagining the worst case scenario. This morbid daydream will lead to your character making herself more prepared, raising the number of survival tools she brings with her on the next run. You can also find tools such as an axe or a flint and steel while on the trail, which make surviving far easier. Once you’ve found these items out in the wild you will then have “remembered” to bring them with you from the start for any future runs.

For the most part this all comes together pretty satisfyingly, but there’s no escaping the fact that in a lot of ways The Red Lantern leaves your fate almost entirely up to the cruel mistress of RNG. Several of my runs ended in failure not because I had messed up and used too many resources but simply because I just hadn’t been lucky enough to encounter an animal to hunt or any birch to start a fire before I had starved or the dogs had gotten too tired. While this is realistic, the Alaskan wilderness is a dangerous place where survival has a lot to do with luck and preparedness, it still had me slightly frustrated for the first hour or so. More than a few times I felt like I had lost through no fault of my own, and that left a sour taste in my mouth for much of the beginning. Couple this with the fact that the game frequently experiences graphical glitches, such as the few times it had spawned me off the trail and the sled clipped through hills and snow dunes galore, and Red Lantern’s first impressions leave a bit to be desired.

Nevertheless, Red Lantern is still a relatively good game. There are worse ways to spend your time than on the trail with some good dogs, and the game is honestly a perfect fit for the Switch’s portability. The length of an average run is pretty perfect for pulling the game out of your bag on a lunch break, and outside of the graphical hiccups the game still runs very well in handheld mode. The main character, played by Ashly Burch, is incredibly relatable and is yet another great role for the esteemed voice actress. I got my first successful run after about three hours of playtime, which depending on what kind of player you are could be seen as a good thing or a bad thing, though personally it felt a tad too short to me. Overall The Red Lantern is worth your time if you have an interest in the outdoors, a lust for adventure in the unknown, or just want to pet some fluffy sled dogs.

TalkBack / 10 Scary Games to Play on Switch
« on: October 01, 2020, 02:53:00 PM »

Just because the parties are cancelled doesn't mean you can't treat yourself to a bone chilling night!

Ah, October… When the leaves have changed colors and the jack-o-lanterns find their way onto doorsteps. Everybody’s getting their costumes ready and gearing up for the onslaught of trick or treaters, because at the end of the month the sacred holiday of Halloween shall soon be upon us! … Or at least that’s how it would normally go, but 2020 has been weird and bad and that likely means that for most of us Halloween is gonna look completely different this year. While it’s genuinely not a good idea to go out and watch horror movies with your friends and attend cool costume parties like usual, that doesn’t mean the spooky fun of the season has to be lost!

Being a fan of horror games is, in a lot of ways, a double edged sword. Horror is one of the hardest genres to get right because getting just one design detail even slightly wrong will inevitably cause your game’s scariness to give way to either hilarity or frustration, neither of which are really ideal for a game that’s trying to invoke fear. For this reason many smaller studios that jump on horror don’t exactly stick the landing. But don’t worry! I’m here to tell you about ten horror or horror-adjacent games on the Switch that you might not have given a shot, and can potentially liven up your cold October nights with some much needed anxiety!

TalkBack / Hades (Switch) Review
« on: September 24, 2020, 11:57:51 AM »

The House of Lord Hades provides abundant shelter for those both new and old to the likes-of-rogue

I’m not personally a big fan of roguelikes, I tend to not have the patience to throw myself at a game over and over again. I prefer games that you play once and are done with, and I’m mentioning this upfront because I think it adds context to the fact that I consider it impressive just how deep Hades has gotten its claws in me. The latest game from developer Supergiant Games, most well known for titles like Bastion, Transistor, and Pyre, Hades is their first foray into the roguelike genre and for the reasons previously stated I was quite hesitant about it. However it turns out that I had nothing to fear, because quite frankly they seriously brought their “A” game. Hades is their best work yet, by a wide margin.

In Hades you take control of Prince Zagreus, son of the lord of the Underworld himself, who has decided that living in said Underworld actually kind of sucks. He wishes to be with the rest of his family on Mount Olympus, as well as search for his now absent mother Persephone in the mortal realm. The only issue with this plan is that the Underworld is specifically designed to make sure nobody ever leaves, Zagreus included. He must make his way from the deepest levels of Tartarus all the way up to the mouth of the River Styx, fighting the shades and monsters that make up the Underworld’s defenses on his way. Along the way he can gain the assistance of his various relatives on Olympus in the form of boons, but if he dies on his journey he will find himself back in the home of his father with any boons he had acquired washed away with his blood.

As with any roguelike Hades is a game built around attempting different runs, and the amount to which each run can feel different is astonishing. Zagreus has multiple weapons he can choose from that all function completely different from one another, such as a sword or a bow at the most basic. My personal favorite weapon is an aegis shield that can be thrown Captain America style, ricocheting between enemies in a super satisfying manner. You’ll also eventually unlock the ability to upgrade these weapons, which can even unlock slight variations for even more new ways to fight. Hades heavily incentivizes players to switch up weapons for their runs in multiple ways. Sometimes when you go to pick a weapon you may notice one giving off a black aura, meaning that if you do your next run with that weapon you will receive extra Nyx Droplets, the currency used to purchase permanent skill upgrades at the mirror in Zagreus’s room.

As you go through the different realms of the Underworld you will encounter an assortment of boons as a reward for clearing each room, giving you a choice between multiple options to build your strategy around. These boons are provided by the various Olympian gods and learning what each god tends to give you is integral to a successful run. For instance Zeus will pretty much always add a lightning aspect to something of your choosing, while Hermes will usually up the speed of your movement or attacks. Many of these boons will add the ability to inflict status effects on enemies, or can even give you the ability to call upon the god in question for a massive special attack. Of course, since this is a roguelike, these boons are temporary and are lost upon death.

Every area in Hades ends with a major boss fight, each with its own special reward for beating it. For example the first area’s boss, the Fury Megaera, will provide you with a globule of Titan Blood upon her defeat, but only if you’ve never previously beaten her with your current weapon. These items are used to upgrade your weapons later on, and are yet another reason to always switch up the weapons you’re using. Speaking of bosses every single one of them is distinct from the last, truly helping each one feel more and more like a milestone. The world around Zagreus is rich and incredibly fleshed out, with every single character being fully voiced and likeable (except Hypnos, who is voiced but not likeable).

Most importantly of all Hades feels like it is a roguelike designed to be somebody’s first experience with the genre. The game manages to be challenging and varied while also not building the skill or luck based brick wall that many of its peers do. If you do find the game to be too difficult for your liking but want to continue experiencing the world and the story, Hades comes equipped with a God Mode that can be toggled on at any time and makes the game considerably easier. If you find yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum and think the game is too easy, starting a new save file gives you the option to turn on a Hell Mode which does quite the opposite. It really does feel like a package that can provide you whatever you’re looking for, no matter who you are.

I mean it when I say that I think Hades is Supergiant’s best game yet. When I’m not playing it I find myself itching to go play it, and despite my usual lack of patience with games like this I have yet to find myself succumbing to anything even remotely resembling frustration. I am not done putting hours into Hades, not by a long shot, and as somebody who is not usually a fan of this genre I really do think that says something. Add to this yet another incredible soundtrack for Supergiant’s catalogue and some of the best character designs these mythological figures have ever seen, and Hades is seriously a game that you should not miss. If you like the genre, this is an absolute must buy, and if you don’t it may still be worth it to give Hades a look.

TalkBack / Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 (Switch) Review
« on: September 24, 2020, 07:41:56 AM »

Teleport with me, back to the age old days of 2004! It sure was 2004, back then.

When I was a young lad in the late 90s/early 2000s, the Tycoon games were the talk of the house as my sister and I poured hours into the original Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon specifically. In 2004 I used some of my allowance to pick up Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, this seemed like a no brainer since I loved the first one so much and this one had offered the promise of actually being able to ride my roller coaster creations. In the end this was probably my first experience with feeling let down by a game, as I found the third entry to be far less enjoyable than the first. So imagine my surprise when 16 years later I find out that Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 is heading to Switch, and to be quite honest I’m still not entirely sure why.

The concept behind Roller Coaster Tycoon is simple: you are in charge of a theme park. This not only includes managing the building of rides but also all of the other park operations that come with it. You have to make sure to put plenty of stalls for people to buy food, drinks, and souvenirs, that there are enough bathrooms and trash cans, ensure the park is adequately staffed - it’s actually a lot of responsibility. As you add attractions to your park more people will begin to attend, earning more money but also causing a spike in the things you have to keep track of. If you don’t stay on top of things you’ll find your profits begin to tank when your rides break down, your paths are covered in trash, and your staff has all quit. The game offers two modes of play, first being a career mode where you’re given an already started park and a set of objectives to meet, and a sandbox mode where you’re basically left to do whatever you want and build your dream park.

Your first question when it comes to this PC game coming to console is probably how gracefully the controls transferred over from mouse and keyboard, and I’m unfortunately here to tell you that they really didn’t. While the controls are usable they’re still incredibly clunky and sometimes straight up unpredictable. The zoom in and out feature that would regularly be the job of a scroll wheel is moved to ZL and ZR, which work fine enough. The right stick controls the camera’s rotation and panning, an act that moves quite slowly except at seemingly random intervals when it flung me at hyper speed across the map. The left stick controls the cursor, which once again moves quite slowly and yet manages to be slightly too sensitive, with the slightest nudge taking you past if you’re trying to select a small object. By far the worst part of the console controls is the radial menus in the lower left and right corners, which can only be controlled by holding down L or R (depending on which corner the one you want to use is in) and rotating the left stick, a process that is far more cumbersome than it sounds.

One of the biggest selling points when this game originally released was the promise that you would be able to ride your rides, which admittedly at the time was a very impressive idea. You can in fact still do that in this rerelease, but you’re probably going to find out very quickly that it’s not nearly as exciting as you remember. One thing that really got to me as I played was that if you want a ride to play any kind of music whatsoever you need to set it to do so, otherwise the ride defaults to complete silence. Going in to ride cam for the bumper cars and watching the 2004 era models with eerily soulless smiles ride around in silence was a moment that had me almost wondering if I was having some sort of fever dream. Some of the music you can put in the rides is actually pretty alright, but it’s bizarre that even rides like the Merry Go Round default to having no sound at all.

At the end of the day I don’t know if I can think of any reason to buy Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 on Switch outside of if you are just really that desperate to get your nostalgia trip in. In a world where games like Planet Coaster exist as a more modern take on the exact same formula with many of the same features, I don’t even know if nostalgia is a justifiable position on this one. If all you’re really interested in is the idea of a portable park management sim this one is still a pretty alright entry into the genre, but it definitely still feels and looks like a game that came out in 2004. Add to that the clunky gamepad controls and I can say for sure that if you’re dead set on buying Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, the Switch is probably not the place to do it.


Trust me: A person who willingly watched Tales from Earthsea

Spiritfarer is a game that is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea; it is made up of a lot of busywork mixed with a good amount of waiting around. If I had to come up with a comparison to other games I’ve played, it feels very similar to what would happen if you smashed together Stardew Valley and Wind Waker, but as you’ve probably guessed by now, I think it’s also the closest we’ve ever gotten to a playable Studio Ghibli film.

TalkBack / AVICII Invector Encore Edition (Switch) Review
« on: September 08, 2020, 09:09:52 AM »

Why would I want to change that perfect view? What would I change it to?

I was not very familiar with the work of Avicii before playing AVICII Invector for the first time back in March, but after a significant amount of time with it now I know that I knew way more of his music than I thought. AVICII Invector is a rhythm game developed by Hello There Games and published by Wired Productions that brings a setlist of the late DJ’s best tracks into the world of rhythm games, placing the player in the cockpit of a spaceship that doesn’t really seem to care what its destination is. From the outside the game is oozing with style, but the real question with any rhythm game is how exactly does it feel to play, and does the music make as much of an impact as everything else?

Gameplay in AVICII Invector is split into three different phases. The first finds the player’s ship flying through a triangular tunnel that they can rotate as they fly using the left analog stick. The second puts them on a series of disconnected tracks and gives them the ability to move left and right between different lanes. Both of these phases play very similarly in terms of button inputs, of which there are two types: glowing bars that signal the player to press L when you cross them, usually set to the song’s kick drum, and arrow icons that signal the player to press one of the face buttons when you reach them. What face buttons are required depends on the difficulty the song is being played on, with easy requiring B and Y, medium adding A into the mix, and hard completing the set with X. The third phase is the easiest, with the ship taking off from its track into a free flying mode where the player must navigate through rings that appear before them. This phase is usually during a quieter part of a song, giving the player a decent amount of time to take a breath before it ramps up again.

All three phases are incredibly fun in their own way, with the hard bass hits reverberating through every aspect of play and the entire game feeling incredibly responsive from minute one. The game’s difficulty balance is also very well done, with easy being approachable but not boring and hard being a massive challenge that should give even the most seasoned rhythm fan a run for their money. This balance is something I’ve noticed a lot of rhythm games tend to have a problem successfully managing, but AVICII Invector has nailed it. If I had to give it one small criticism overall it would be that on harder difficulties it has the potential to become a sensory overload to some players, but those same players will likely do just fine on easy or medium. Icons are always very clear to see, never blending into the game’s neon particles and moving backgrounds. It also makes an effort to help struggling players if they get thrown off by a mistake, with labels appearing to remind them what button they should be hitting once they’ve missed an input of that type, and going away once they seem to have gotten back on track.

There’s really not much more to say about AVICII Invector, being a rhythm game means there’s really not a lot to cover. The game feels good to play, has good difficulty balance, and the music is fantastic, that really covers most of what you need to know. There are a total of 35 tracks to be found in the game, with 10 of them being brand new for the Switch release. The neon graphics and landscapes you fly around are beautiful if you have time to look at them, and the short cutscenes that make up the game’s scant story manage to tell a heartwarming tale despite lasting maybe ten minutes in total. I may not have been very familiar with the work of Avicii before playing this game, but I think I can honestly call myself a fan now. If you like his music or just like rhythm games in general AVICII Invector is a game you absolutely should check out on the Switch.

TalkBack / No Straight Roads (Switch) Review
« on: August 29, 2020, 02:15:05 PM »

It can still play a good chord, but it suffers from a broken string or two.

As somebody that enjoys video game music a great deal, games with an emphasis on the musical aspect are always going to be the way to my heart. This was what originally drew me to No Straight Roads, the debut title of Malaysian studio Metronomilk founded by developers who had previously worked on games like Final Fantasy XV and Street Fighter V. No Straight Roads is an action-adventure game that seeks to put the genres of rock and EDM into a literal battle of the bands, fusing the clashing styles into a unique adventure all its own. The question is whether or not it nails its solo or if it might be playing a few notes off key.

In No Straight Roads, you take control of Mayday and Zuke, two indie rock artists who form the duo Bunk Bed Junction. The duo resides in Vinyl City, a city that has invented the technology to convert music into electricity. In order to recruit talent to power the city, the ruling record label NSR puts on an audition called Lights Up, which Bunk Bed Junction takes part in. Despite their impressive performance they are rejected by NSR due to the label’s bias towards EDM and distaste for rock. Angry at the injustice that has befallen them, Mayday and Zuke set out to topple NSR’s rule of the city and bring rock back to the forefront of Vinyl City.

No Straight Roads can be played single player or in co-op with up to three players, with both characters having their own signature way of playing. Mayday is more of a heavy hitter, with her strikes needing a bit more wind up but doing more damage, whereas Zuke is more combo based, with quick strikes that are easier to cancel out of but don’t do as much damage. Playing as either character feels good, with hits giving you a solid sense of impact when they land. Both characters can also play music to transform various props in the level, with Mayday usually creating ones meant for offense and Zuke tending to create defensive things like walls to hide behind. Each has their own skill tree through which they can unlock new abilities based on your number of fans, who serve as the game’s version of EXP. Fans are gained by defeating bosses or repairing various objects on the overworld.

In single player, you can swap between Mayday and Zuke at any time, but if one of the characters dies it’s an instant game over even if the other is at full health. In co-op, if you die you are given a brief window of time in which your partner can revive you, but if they fail to do so it is once again a game over. Health pickups can be found throughout levels, but often they only bring back a sliver of health, it rarely felt like the game was providing enough resources to truly make it through the marathon runs that are the boss fights. Even later on when I unlocked abilities that allowed me to heal mid battle, they always required me to stand still for a few seconds which was never really a good idea during any boss. And that’s the main draw of No Straight Roads: the boss fights. Each one has its own visually distinct arena, their own over-the-top personality, and their own unique method of fighting. The music is incredible in each and every fight, and they all manage to be spectacles that are truly impressive, which is what makes this next part slightly heartbreaking.

While the boss fights are all incredible visual exhibitions, they’re kind of too much so at certain points. In later phases, bosses felt like they were throwing far too much at us at once, making it very difficult to see what was happening. It looks nice, but often so many attacks and scenery changes were being tossed around that health bars began to melt and I couldn’t figure out how or what I was supposed to be dodging. This would be forgivable if not for the other problem that becomes far more prominent because of it: bosses have no checkpoints, and like I mentioned earlier they are very long. It is incredibly easy to game over because you couldn’t really tell what was happening in the late phase of a boss encounter, and once you do game over, you’re sent all the way back to do the whole boss over again. Checkpoints between phases would do a whole lot to relieve my main issues with the game, and I do hope this is something that gets addressed in a patch later on down the line.

Regardless of my qualms with it, it is undeniable that No Straight Roads is overflowing with heart and ambition. Many of the issues are things that could potentially be fixed with a patch, and I honestly hope they are because I want to enjoy this game way more than I do. Its soundtrack is potentially one of my favorites of the year, the writing is genuinely funny, and the character and boss designs are honestly top notch, but this is unfortunately not enough to counteract the many problems I have with how the gameplay itself pans out. There is a diamond trapped within this rock, and I truly hope the team at Metronomilk is able to polish it to the full potential that is so clearly there. For now, though, its problems are too hard for me to ignore and make what could be a great game into a game that’s just alright.


All you need is a free demo and a twitter account!

We are teaming up with Wired Productions to give you the opportunity to win a free copy of the upcoming AVICII Invector Encore Edition which launches on September 8th for the Nintendo Switch. Entering is simple, here's what you have to do:

  • Go to the Switch eShop and download the free AVICII Invector demo
  • Play the song The Nights - AVICII by AVICII Remix on Hard difficulty
  • Use the Switch's share button to take a screenshot of your score, and tweet it from your Switch using the hashtag #AVICIINWR. Make sure to tag us @Nintendo_NWR as well!

The entrant with the highest score submitted by 11:59PM on Friday, September 4th will win a free physical copy of the game.

Entries must be tweeted using the Switch's share feature to qualify.

AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game featuring the work of Swedish DJ Avicii that arrives on Nintendo Switch on September 8th, 2020. You can read our latest preview for the game here.

TalkBack / The Musical Artists Behind Cadence of Hyrule
« on: August 27, 2020, 12:28:00 PM »

The latest DLC pack brings in some familiar faces from Cadence's crypt dancing days

Over the years Nintendo has thrown a lot of unexpected bombshell announcements at us, but for my money the most exciting and unexpected of them all was the 2019 announcement of Cadence of Hyrule. As somebody who was already a big fan of Brace Yourself Games’ rhythm based rogue-like Crypt of the Necrodancer, the idea that Nintendo was handing them the keys to one of their most high profile IPs was absolutely mind blowing, and the fact that the game was one of the best releases on the platform in 2019 was simply a cherry on top. Two of the three DLC packs for Cadence are now out, with the second being a music pack full of remixes from other artists. With that in mind, I felt it would be appropriate to take a look at the artists behind the music that you can hear as you rhythmically bounce your way through Hyrule.

Danny Baranowsky

Danny Baranowsky’s original plan going into music was to compose for film, but in 2001 he found himself in the game music community through his contributions to the website OverClocked Remix. One of his first major claims to fame was writing the backing track for Canabalt, a game by Adam Saltsman that is generally credited with starting the endless runner craze back in the early 2000s. He would work with Saltsman again soon after when he was shown a preview of his next game, Gravity Hook. While Gravity Hook was originally planned not to involve music, Baranowsky responded to this preview by saying, and I quote: “F- you, I’m writing music anyway.”

It was through Gravity Hook that Baranowsky became acquainted with Edmund McMillen, who would eventually come looking for music to put in his game called Meat Boy. Eventually that project evolved into Super Meat Boy, one of the most influential indie platformers around, and this became one of Baranowsky’s first major mainstream hits for a soundtrack. From there, he would work with McMillen once again, this time to provide the music for his Zelda-inspired roguelike The Binding of Isaac. He would go on to work on a huge collection of other titles including stuff like Desktop Dungeons and Cave Story 3D, but in my opinion some of his best work can be found in the original Crypt of the Necrodancer.

Baranowsky working with Zelda music honestly still doesn’t feel real, but it is! He serves as the lead composer for Cadence of Hyrule, adding his signature rocking style to some classic tunes like the Main Theme and Gerudo Valley, and if I’m being completely honest, Cadence is almost worth the price of entry for his work on it alone. Luckily the rest of the game around it is also fantastic and seriously, if you’re reading this and still haven’t played it, come on! What are you waiting for?

With the lead composer out of the way, let’s look into the three artists who are serving as arrangers in Cadence of Hyrule’s Melody Pack DLC. Starting with...


Niamh Houston (aka Chipzel) discovered the chiptune community in 2006, being especially drawn to the work of artists like Sabrepulse. Through this discovery, she began to tinker with making music using a Game Boy and the software Little Sound DJ, publishing her first EP Judgement Day in 2009 and only a year later releasing her first album Disconnected in 2010. She would go on to perform at chiptune events, and eventually would gain the attention of VVVVVV developer Terry Cavanagh who was at the time working on a project called Hexagon for a game jam. He really liked her music and was hoping to get permission to use one of her tracks, which she agreed to.

Months later, after he had decided to extend it into a full title called Super Hexagon, Cavanagh once again approached Chipzel. This time not only was he asking for permission to use her music again but also for her to write a new track. Super Hexagon was so successful that Chipzel released another EP that year for free as thanks for all the support the games’ fans had provided. From here, she would begin to work on a variety of games such as Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom and Interstellaria.

She recently worked with Cavanagh once again, writing the soundtrack for his 2019 title Dicey Dungeons. 2019 also saw her contributing to the soundtrack of WayForward’s River City Girls, where she provided a majority of the boss music. She was brought in to cover the original Necrodancer soundtrack, with her version being included in the XBox One release of the game. Chipzel is a uber-talented chiptune artist, and she is probably the one I’m most excited to see what she does with the Zelda music in this DLC pack. Bringing Zelda back into the 8-bit style but with a modern twist sounds awesome, and in my opinion she is definitely the one most qualified to do it.


Jules Conroy (aka FamilyJules) is a YouTuber best known for his remixes of various gaming songs. He describes himself as being able to play multiple instruments, including the cello, keyboard, and even the ocarina. Above all else though, FamilyJules is a guitarist famous for his metal covers of music from games like Pokemon, Castlevania, and obviously the Legend of Zelda. In 2010, he challenged himself to put out one cover every week for a year, successfully ending in 2011 with a cover of the Super Mario 64 credits theme. This project netted him over 10,000 followers according to the bio on his website, and he has only grown from there.

He has since made it his goal to create music for video games, mainly indie titles, and has been given the opportunity to do so a few times. FamilyJules provided a guitar performance for the final boss theme of Baranowsky’s soundtrack for The Binding of Isaac, and would later be called back in 2015 to cover the entirety of Crypt of the Necrodancer’s music to be offered as an alternative soundtrack. He continues to perform covers on YouTube and even performs at conventions such as PAX and MAGfest with hopes to continue working on music for video games more in the future.

If you’ve never checked out any of FamilyJules’ work on YouTube, you are absolutely missing out; I myself first stumbled upon him due to his amazing cover of Wicked Child from Castlevania. His website mentions that he is a very big fan of The Legend of Zelda, and so the idea of him getting to jump in and do music for an officially licensed title in the series is nothing short of heartwarming and amazing. I seriously look forward to hearing what he brings to the table.


Alex Esquivel (aka A_Rival) is an electronic dance artist based out of Seattle. He’s a member of the EDM trio Super Square alongside DJ Jimmy Hits and vocalist Helen Eugene, with him serving as the group’s producer. In terms of game music, A_Rival is mainly known for his “chip-hop” style music, having previously done work in Nokia’s gaming division before it went the way of Nokia games. In 2012, he was responsible for the soundtrack of the fan project made official Street Fighter X Mega Man, remixing various famous songs from the fighting game franchise.

He currently headlines with Super Square at various clubs around Los Angeles and posts remixes of game music on YouTube, usually of music from Street Fighter as far as I can tell. Much like FamilyJules he also regularly performs at events like PAX and MAGfest, while also making a name for himself performing at various after parties at events like E3. He was yet another artist brought in to provide an alternative soundtrack for the original Crypt of the Necrodancer.

Of all these people, A_Rival is the one I knew the least about going in, but listening to some of his work in preparation for this feature has made me a fan. His chiptune work is fantastic and his EDM work is equally impressive, and I look forward to seeing what he does with the classic themes of The Legend of Zelda.

Are there any artists out there you think would be a good fit if they decided to do another music pack in this same fashion? Let us know in the comments! I know I can think of a few I’d love to see take a crack at Gerudo Valley. DLC #2, The Melody Pack, is now available for Cadence of Hyrule with pack #3, Symphony of the Mask, set to arrive some time in the coming months.

TalkBack / Enter to Win a Vinyl of the No Straight Roads OST!
« on: August 27, 2020, 07:12:36 AM »

An EDM and rock infused soundtrack to a literal battle of the bands could be yours!

We here at Nintendo World Report are partnering with No Straight Roads and Original Soundchat to give you the chance to win a copy of the game's soundtrack in vinyl or digital form!

First head to Twitter and make sure you're following Nintendo World Report (@Nintendo_NWR), No Straight Roads (@NoStraightRoads), and Original Soundchat (@soundchatost). After that, quote retweet this tweet telling us what your personal favorite video game soundtrack is:

Three lucky winners will be chosen at random to receive a copy of the No Straight Roads original soundtrack on vinyl, with three runners-up receiving a free digital code for the album. Entries will be accepted until 11:59 PM EDT on Thursday, September 3rd, with winners being decided shortly thereafter.

No Straight Roads, available now on Nintendo Switch, follows the adventures of Mayday and Zuke who form the indie rock band Bunk Bed Junction. When their home of Vinyl City is threatened by the evil EDM-based empire of NSR, it's up to them to rock out and take back the streets in this stylish music-based action adventure!


The cheat code of our ancestors lives on!

Avicii Invector is a rhythm game featuring a wide variety of tracks by the late Tim Bergling (aka Avicii) that's releasing on the Switch in early September, but a demo can be downloaded off of the eShop right now if you're interested in trying out. By default the demo comes with two songs, Pure Grinding and The Nights, but a secret third song is hiding among the heavy beats.

In order to unlock the hidden song SOS you must first complete the demo's calibration and tutorial section, after which you will make it to the main menu. Once on the main menu, perform this familiar set of inputs:


If successful you will hear a coin pickup sound effect, and the third bonus track should be available in your demo.

Avicii Invector is set to release on Nintendo Switch on September 8th, 2020. You can read our recent hands-on preview with the game here.


He said one day you'll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember.

I am not entirely familiar with the career of Avicii, but I sure have learned that a lot of songs I’ve heard on store radios in the past were by him thanks to my time with AVICII Invector, a game set to release for Switch on September 8th. I actually got a chance to play this game way back at PAX East back when it was running on a Switch but still using the UI of the PC version, and I remember being incredibly impressed even then. So when we were asked if we’d like to preview the game two months early I was more than ready to jump on it and see if it still held up, and it very much does.

AVICII Invector is a rhythm game that takes full advantage of the late DJ’s library of incredibly catchy tunes. In the game the player takes control of a spaceship that is zooming along a track, and gameplay comes in three phases. The first and most common one has the player going through a triangle going through a tunnel, able to use the analog stick to rotate onto a different section of the wall. The second phase is roughly the same but instead of a tunnel you’re flying along a road, with the analog stick switching lanes left or right. Third and easiest of all is a free flying phase, where you have full control of the ship as you try to fly through rings that form in front of you. All three of these are switched between at varying frequency depending on the song you’re playing.

During the first two phases you will come across yellow lines on the ground, usually set to the bass drum in the song, and you must press L when you cross them. You’ll also encounter arrow icons that require you to hit their corresponding face buttons, though which ones depends on the difficulty you’re playing on. On easy you will only see B and Y, medium throws A into the mix, and hard completes the set by adding X. Lastly there are directional icons the player will encounter, which require them to use the analog stick to either switch lanes or rotate the stage as mentioned before. As the player racks up points they will also fill up a meter at the bottom, which once full can activate a boost mode. This will increase the amount of points each successful input nets them, but at the cost of speeding up the speed of the icons coming at you considerably, creating a rather neat risk/reward.

Our preview largely only covers the first “world”, with the songs included being “Can’t Catch Me”, “Pure Grinding”, “What Would I Change it to”, and my personal favorite “The Nights - Avicii By Avicii Remix”. All four of these songs are fantastic and incredibly varied, which has me excited to see what else the game has in store on its setlist. The game looks fantastic, with a neat sci-fi neon art style, and the sound design even outside of the music makes successfully performing inputs feel incredibly satisfying. Difficulty balance also feels very well done, with easy being pretty low key and good for zoning out, medium being a very decent challenge, and hard making my brain completely shut off, which is exactly what I want from a hard mode in a rhythm game.

The first bit of AVICII Invector has impressed me quite a bit, both with its varied setlist and its tight controls, and I look forward to diving into more and talking about the rest of the game in the future. There’s a whole multiplayer feature that I haven’t even had the chance to try, as it’s local only and circumstances have not given me a chance to play with it quite yet, which is something to look forward to in the full review closer to release.

AVICII Invector is currently set to release on Nintendo Switch on September 8th, 2020.


Is it really a Deadly Premonition game if it runs over 15 FPS?

2010’s Deadly Premonition is one of the most bizarre anomalies disguised as a video game I have ever played. Its cast is a crew of weirdos, the game runs and controls like complete garbage, and the graphics were ugly even back in its time. Yet that game holds one of the most fervent cult followings I have ever seen, hailing it as the perfect example of a B-movie in video game form, its fans love it not just in spite of but in a way because of its flaws. I am one of those people, to an extent. I truly believe that you could not make a game like Deadly Premonition on purpose, and so you can imagine my worry when the announcement of Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise came down the pipeline. I still don’t know if it’s proven me wrong, but it’s sure proven something.

Deadly Premonition 2 once again puts the player in control of FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan (but please, call him York) in a story that finds him in the small Louisiana town of Le Carré long before he’d ever heard the name Greenvale. When a young woman named Lise Clarkson is found dead and displayed on some sort of altar, a vacationing York decides to take it upon himself to investigate the murder with the help of the town sherrif, Melvin Woods, and his daughter Patti. Along the way he crosses paths with the interesting residents of Le Carré, including the rest of the Clarkson family who have their iron grip on the whole town. Who killed Lise Clarkson, and what connection could it have to other cases York has already solved?

The game is largely the same as the original: an open world mystery game with flashes of a third person shooter, survival-horror title. As York gets to know Le Carré, mainly with the help of Patti, an oracle appears to nudge him into going where he needs to go and when. Much like in the original game, Le Carré runs on a clock system where certain locations and events are only available within certain time frames, but there is no penalty for missing that time frame outside of just having to wait to try again the next day. However this does present my only really major problem with the game, being that it continuously gave me objectives only available in windows that were incredibly far away while not providing much to do to pass the time. You can sleep or smoke or camp out in order to pass time quickly, and this will usually solve the issue, but not always.

For the most egregious example of this, I was given an objective to go find a can of red beans. The game pointed me towards the local cafe in order to obtain one, but when I asked for it the chef told me that she only serves red beans on Mondays. It was Wednesday. It wasn’t that I had been taking my time and missed Monday, but that the game had started on a Monday and playing at a regular pace had taken me to Wednesday. So I figured I’d do the other objectives I’d been given, but those only passed about three hours of in game time. In the end my only option became to put York into a medically induced coma for five days, only waking him every 24 hours to shove a hot dog in his mouth and sometimes take a shower, getting charged $154 every time I woke up. In this process I even soft locked the game at one point when I had opened the menu while standing in front of the bed, which caused the game to access both things at once.

And therein lies the actual issue with Deadly Premonition 2. It’s not that the game runs at a broken frame rate at all times, or that the game can load for upwards of a full minute every time you walk out into the overworld, or that the render distance for objects is roughly ten feet in front of you... or even that the graphics and textures look straight out of a PS2 game; those can and will be overlooked by fans of the original because they’re honestly part of Deadly Premonition’s charm if you’re into that sort of thing. The issue is that Deadly Premonition 2 is a game filled with a lot of waiting around for the ability to move the plot along. There are mini games like bowling or skateboard courses that can be played to pass the time in real life, but the in game time does not pass when you’re not on the overworld so not even these can be used to kill time between objectives.

The hardest part about reviewing Deadly Premonition 2 is that in a lot of ways it’s exactly what fans of the first game wanted. It’s a broken mess that controls like a dog on roller blades that looks ugly and runs even worse, with the bizarrely charming writing that only somebody like Swery65 could bring to the table. Nobody in Le Carré feels quite Greenvale levels of weird, but they’re all a bunch of weirdos all the same. Well, except David, he’d fit in Greenvale pretty well. If you like the first Deadly Premonition you likely already know what you want and what you’re getting into, and you’ll likely be pretty happy with this sequel. Your everyday average player should probably weigh how much jank they’re willing to put up with before giving this game a shot, though.

TalkBack / Blair Witch (Switch) Review
« on: June 30, 2020, 08:43:00 AM »

More like Blair Switch, am I right? I’ll be here all week!

1999’s The Blair Witch Project is probably among the most influential horror films ever made, pioneering the “found footage” genre and freaking a ton of teenagers out when they thought it might be real. Since the film’s successful release, it has spawned multiple sequels, books, TV shows, and of course video games. The latest product based on the iconic IP is that of Layers of Fear developer Bloober Team. Simply titled Blair Witch, it is a first-person horror adventure game that originally released on other platforms in 2019 and has just recently landed on the Switch. Does Bloober Team’s effort match up with the large shoes they’re hoping to fill? Unfortunately, even aside from the Switch version’s specific issues, I really don’t think so.

In Blair Witch, the player takes control of Ellis, a man who is on his way to join a search party in the forest outside of Burkittsville two years after the events of the original film. A child named Peter Shannon has gone missing and Ellis believes that with the help of his dog Bullet the search will have a much better chance of successfully finding him. Those around Ellis appear to think it might not be the best idea for him to be out there, however, with many of them making reference to something in Ellis’s past that Peter may have some connection to. Regardless of their worries, Ellis and Bullet venture out into the forest, and once the sun goes down he witnesses first hand why the locals have so many superstitions surrounding said forest.

My main issue with Blair Witch is that overall, it’s just kind of boring. A large chunk of the game is simply wandering around in the woods. If you feel lost you can order Bullet to sniff around the area, which will usually cause him to lead you where the game actually wants you to be, but sometimes it also just leads to nothing. Bullet will lead you to items and clues in the world when they’re around, but at least a few times I had to reload my save because he would stand on top of the item I was supposed to be looking at, and therefore the game seemingly would not let me look at it at the same time. Other than that, the game seemingly expects you to just sort of wander in order to figure out where to go to trigger the next event in a forest that, like a real forest, looks largely the same no matter where you go. There are a few noticeable landmarks, such as a very unique tree, but otherwise it’s just a forest. I know that wandering around in the woods is one of the core parts of Blair Witch, but I don’t think it translates very well into exciting or even creepy gameplay.

There are interesting mechanics to be found in Blair Witch, though. Throughout the game, Ellis will receive texts or calls on his cell phone, sometimes providing hints but more often revealing more about Ellis and his past. He’ll also occasionally be contacted via radio by the rest of the search party, and the player can choose to respond to them or not, and what you decide will alter how some events later in the game play out. Eventually you’ll be given a camcorder, and from then on you will be able to find one of two types of video tape: blue tapes are just tapes that you watch to flesh out the story of what’s going on in these woods, while red tapes are vastly more interesting. Watching a red tape will alter the world around you in a specific way, for instance if there is a fallen tree in your way and you find a tape of the tree falling, pausing that tape before the tree falls will cause that tree to once again be standing. These tape puzzles are neat and the closest Blair Witch really got to fully capturing my interest.

In terms of how the Switch version itself stacks up, the graphical downgrade is unfortunately quite noticeable. Plants and leaves pop in to view ten feet in front of the player and overall texture quality has taken a huge hit, with some objects looking almost like they just walked out of a game on the PlayStation 2. This is unfortunate as it really detracts from one of the good things about walking around in a forest: the fact that forests are usually a rather nice looking place to be. Items that you can examine seem to be especially bad, with some notes being completely unreadable without the option to display the contents in plain text.

More than anything, the biggest disappointment with Blair Witch is that it somehow feels more like a game that had been made before having the IP applied to it. In the end, the story ends up being incredibly cliche and uninteresting, the setting is not all that fun or even all that frightening to walk around in, and the graphical downgrade is just another unfortunate brick in the wall that kept me from really enjoying my time with the game. If these things don’t sound like deal breakers to you, Blair Witch may still be worth your time to at least try out. Even then I don’t think I’d recommend the Switch be where you do so.

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