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Messages - TedHazell

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TalkBack / Golazo! 2 (Switch) Review Mini
« on: September 08, 2022, 11:35:55 PM »

Oh, what an (own) goal!

Golazo 2 is a return to the classic ‘90s football (yes, it's football, not soccer!) formula and moves away from the modern, more realistic football simulation we see today. At first, I anticipated this to be a fun and fresh take on some good old-fashioned football, without the need to worry too much about tactics, formations, substitutions, offsides, etc. Man, was I wrong...

Golazo offers three modes that are split into two types of football matches. You have quick matches, a world league and an international cup mode. When it comes to the actual matches, you can choose to play an international match on the usual, albeit sometimes strangely coloured, football pitch. You can also choose to play a street match, which I thought would add some fun mechanics. However, this is just the same but with very odd teams to choose from and a 3v3 format.

Given its arcade feel, the look and design of Golazo 2 can be a little more creative and wacky—maybe a little too wacky. Each player looks as though you entered a character creation and hit random over and over again until you found something truly horrifying. Far too many players have a green goatee with dreadlocks that are white at the tips but red everywhere else... and that's one of the more tamer designs! In contrast, the designs for the international kits are truly amazing. Each nation's kits pay homage to some real-world counterparts. One of my favourite homages being the Spain 1994-96 home shirt, a true beauty. Sadly, it's not worn by Pep Guardiola or José Luis Caminero, it's worn by some dude with an orange afro and a bleached white moustache.

If you’ve ever gone back to an old FIFA title from the late 90s or early 2000s, you’ll wonder how you managed to play so smoothly compared to how modern games feel. The controls are sticky, and movement is delayed and unresponsive. Passes need to be inch perfect, otherwise you’ll boot it out or pass it to the other team. It makes for a very frustrating experience, even with the nostalgia attached. Golazo 2 is exactly like this, but with no nostalgia attached to it. The controls are incredibly janky and it feels like they are sometimes playing against you, especially when you are trying to defend. It’s even more frustrating when the opposition - even on the easiest difficulty - have no issue slide tackling you and immediately smashing a goal in top bins.

Golazo 2 is very different from modern football games - and that isn’t a compliment. It brings back the stiff and awkward controls, giving the impression that you’re playing on a very muddy pitch. The CPU, even on the easiest difficulty, feels one-sided at times. I imagine this being a fun pick up and play with a friend, but the poor controls and bizarre aesthetic aren’t making it easy for me to want to even try.

TalkBack / River City Saga: Three Kingdoms (Switch) Review
« on: August 31, 2022, 07:33:29 AM »

Kick, kick, punch, punch... kick.

The River City franchise is one I am not too familiar with, but always admired. The latest release appears to be taking on a new suit of armor and adding some light RPG elements to spice up the franchise. River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is a side-scrolling beat-'em-up, the newest installment of the River City Ransom (Kunio-kun) franchise. However, this time, the main characters aren't strolling the modern streets beating up street gangs. Instead, they are thrown into the final years of the Eastern Han Dynasty and live out one of China’s greatest novelizations in "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," which is fairly often used in games.

Three Kingdoms almost feels unique in its look and design. The visuals offer a slightly polished version of the original River City Ransom game, with the 8-bit character models popping in contrast to the washed out background. The backgrounds themselves are a more modern 2.5D, allowing you to move the character up and down, adding depth to the screen in classic side-scrolling beat-em-up fashion. When in dialogue, the characters are far more detailed and full of life, emotion, and color. These are expertly drawn and contribute charm and personality to the otherwise flat 2D models that kick, punch, and kick again.

Not having as much experience with brawlers as some, I was interested to see how much fun the controls and gameplay would be. Beat-’em-ups come across as chaotic and button-mash-heavy, drop kicking four enemies at once while waves upon waves come into view. My expectations were met… partially. Whilst River City Saga is chaotic, especially when the screen is flooded with enemies for you to beat down, this chaos does not equate to fun. This is mostly due to the very clunky controls and depth of field being almost impossible to be 100% accurate with as the models just sit on the screen like paper cutouts. The repetitive button mashing style is also quite messy, and when I wanted to take my time and focus on a small handful of enemies, moving around them and attacking them in a "prettier way" would usually end up with me getting knocked down. This led me back to just spamming the attack buttons and almost mindlessly running around kicking and punching whatever falls in my path.  

Compared with past installments of this franchise, the control scheme and gameplay seem almost identical. There is a new feature called "Hot-Blooded Dance," which makes your character’s moves much stronger and more impactful, with some more unique moves thrown in temporarily. Still, I feel veterans of this series and style will be very comfortable with how River City Saga: Three Kingdoms plays, whereas newer players, like me, will need a little time to become familiar.

Beat-’em-ups tend to be quite chaotic and violent. I mean, the genre is called "beat 'em up"! This is why the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story serves as an excellent setting for a game of this style. There are lots of battles, with bandits, armies, and more to thwart in large numbers, which is perfect for a non-stop brawl. Within River City Saga, Kunio, the main character in many of the franchise's games, takes on the role of Guan Yu, the hero of this story. Given that Kunio’s name is still present in brackets, it makes the whole narrative appear as a play, or that the River City crew are all dressed up and LARPing, or something. A potentially fun and interesting twist, it keeps the more serious elements of the story lighter and more fun.

As you begin your adventure as Guan Yu, the gameplay can be quite challenging. However, as you unlock more moves—namely the dropkick—fights become a lot easier. If you are playing on moderate difficulty, you’ll have almost no issues once you're past the earlier chapters. As the leveling system is very kind to you, you’ll find yourself overleveled and breezing past almost everyone. It's not that the enemies are necessarily easy to beat; they just go down quite quickly. Outside of the minute-to-minute flights, you can purchase items to help you in scraps, explore towns, and complete side missions, in addition to taking on some very frustrating platformer sections. These platforming sections are stifling at times, as the aforementioned poor depth of field means you need to be jump-perfect, something this game is not designed to be. You’ll be missing ledges and boxes often, which can be frustrating.

River City Saga: Three Kingdoms feels like an incredibly nostalgia-driven game, aimed specifically at those who hold classic beat-’em-ups, the River City games in particular, close to their hearts. And for that audience, I think they’ll be very satisfied with what River City Saga has to offer. For people like me, who have less nostalgia for the franchise, they may struggle to understand the repetitive nature and overall appeal of River City Saga: Three Kingdoms.

TalkBack / My Friend Peppa Pig (Switch) Review
« on: August 08, 2022, 09:07:49 AM »

Peppa was right, everything is on a hill

Like me, if you have a child who is around the age of five, it is likely that you have endured many, many hours of Peppa Pig: one of the most popular and successful children shows of the last 10-15 years. To say my daughter is obsessed is truly an understatement, and being the stellar parent that I am (and to cheekily and slowly begin to introduce my daughter to video gaming), I took it upon myself to not only play but also 100% complete My Friend Peppa Pig, a game you really do need to complete for one specific reason.

It’s important to stress how every inch of this game was designed for young children that LOVE Peppa Pig. If you have a young child who doesn’t watch Peppa Pig, they’ll have zero interest, and if you’re an adult—again, with no interest in Peppa Pig—steer clear. I’ve yet to see my daughter more excited to grab a Switch controller than when I loaded up My Friend Peppa Pig, and her excitement didn’t stop there.

My Friend Peppa Pig allows players to live out their fantasy of being a part of Peppa’s world. As you begin a new game, you are prompted to create your own character with a plethora of animals to represent you best, clothing colour options and accessories should you wish to add some. The animals include a dog, wolf, horse, rabbit, fox, sheep, mole and mouse. We opted for a sheep, as she wanted to be Suzy Sheep. She was very disappointed to meet Suzy in-game and insisted on refusing to interact with this “copy-cat”!

An initial concern of mine was the gameplay element. Thankfully, My Friend Peppa Pig is incredibly user friendly and introduces the super simple controls well. To move your character, you use the left stick, and interacting with almost anything uses the A button. That’s pretty much it for the bulk of the game. Things that are interactable will display the button to press, ensuring that gaming novices don’t miss out on a new interaction, and yes, you can jump in muddy puddles as often as you like!

Outside of the muddy puddle jumping, there is plenty to do with Peppa and co. As your unique character, you arrive at Peppa’s house and from there on, you dictate where you go and what you do. You want to go to school? Jump in the car with Mummy and Daddy Pig and head left. You want to go skiing? Go right from Peppa’s home and hop in Miss Rabbit’s hot air balloon! You want to visit Grandma and Grandpa Pig and head to the beach with them? You can! All of the locations you can find in Peppa Pig are here. From Peppa’s bedroom to the museum: the possibilities are truly endless for a young fan.

Alongside the exploration of My Friend Peppa Pig, events will trigger when certain actions are taken, and you’ll be tasked with simple puzzles that you and Peppa must solve together. Keep in mind that this game is tailored for a very young audience; a character in the scene will usually state what needs to be done. For example, when Tiddles the Turtle was stuck in a tree, we were told to speak with Madame Gazelle, she then told us to find a ladder, to which Peppa responds that she remembers seeing one outside of the school.

My Friend Peppa Pig, is less of a game and more of an interactive experience, and in all honesty, that’s all it needs to be. My daughter was responding to the characters in the game with things like, “Okay, let’s get the ladder!” and, “Follow me, Peppa!” For anyone who has seen Peppa Pig, it’s a rare sight to see Peppa so consistently obedient.

Whilst you can essentially go anywhere in the Peppa Pig world, there is one area that is so hyped up beyond belief, the moment it was mentioned, my daughter was transfixed on going there: Potato City. This is where the problems arise. We searched far and wide, encountering newer places and triggering even more events, like the hugely not annoying at all Bing Bing Song, yet we could not find Potato City. This was the first time my daughter had experienced a video gamer’s rage—and it was not pretty.

My Friend Peppa Pig holds the player’s hand in terms of gameplay and puzzle solving, but in terms of direction and how to get to a specific location, the handholding is almost non-existent. After spending way too long visiting the same locations over and over, we looked online for the route to Potato City. As it turns out, to unlock Potato City, you must see every location and complete every single event that exists in My Friend Peppa Pig. Only then, will you have the ability to unlock Potato City, where you must still complete a specific action to access the cut scene that takes you there. Without looking online, or with my help, my daughter would still be sitting on the sofa in an endless cycle of muddy puddles, Bing Bong Songs, and hot-air balloon riding.

As explained, this game is geared toward very young children, which is why some mechanics—or lack thereof—don’t make sense. The pacing is very, very slow, and text cannot be skipped due to the voice acting and it all playing out as your own TV special. A fast travel option would have been an excellent inclusion; maybe talking to Mummy or Daddy Pig could present a map where you can choose where to go. A way to tally where you have and haven’t been would have been great when we began our Potato City quest. What's more frustrating is if you are in the middle of an event or puzzle, and you accidentally go right instead of left, or vice versa, taking you to a new area, that entire puzzle or event disappears and you need to repeat previous actions to unlock it again. A great example of this is when we were on our final puzzle before Potato City would become available, and we had to help George find his dinosaur (Dinosaur… Grrr!). We couldn’t reach it and needed an adult's help. My daughter recalled that Mummy Pig is sometimes in the field to the left, we went left and she was there, but she wasn’t the correct adult. Upon returning, the dinosaur toy had vanished and was back in George’s hands. Turns out, we needed to ask Daddy Pig who was back at the house, so we returned to the place where the event triggered, and did it all over again. Thankfully, I convinced my daughter that George had just lost it again (silly George), and she had the idea to check where it was last time.

Finally, Potato City was ours, and oh boy was it… fine? My daughter spent less than four minutes in Potato City, before leaving, running around other places for a bit, and then politely requesting me to get her Play-Doh out. My Friend Peppa Pig has not been played by her since.

For review purposes alone (I promise), I dove back in with my own character and experienced areas my daughter had on her own, and, yeah, it’s 100% not targeted at someone like me, or many gamers. I had achieved my own 100% completion, in just under an hour, with very little desire to replay any areas. Experiencing My Friend Peppa Pig solo, did make me appreciate specific areas of the game more, namely the controls and the visuals.

An issue that many child friendly games have is the “cheap-ness” they can often display, because some would assume that graphics aren’t too important to younger audiences. My Friend Peppa Pig doesn’t have this issue at all. The game is identical to the television show, visually identical. I say visually, because the moment Miss Rabbit opened her mouth, my daughter exclaimed, “That isn’t Miss Rabbit!” - and she was right! But aside from that oddly on-point spot, many of the show's voice actors are present, literally putting you in Peppa’s world.

For those parents that don’t really want to be sat with their children monitoring how long they spend playing My Friend Peppa Pig, there is a parental control in the settings menu. When switched on, Peppa will, around that time, say it’s time for bed and just go home and sleep. A very neat addition.

My Friend Peppa Pig is not a game for the masses. Instead, it carefully caters its gameplay, visuals, story and controls to those they know will play it most. However, without my assistance and some online help, Potato City would have only ever been a dream for my daughter, and I imagine many other children around her age. And in all honesty, it isn’t worth the trouble! Aside from this gripe, it is an impressive looking game with easy controls that puts the individual in their own episode with one of their most beloved characters, Peppa Pig.

TalkBack / Digimon Survive (Switch) Review
« on: August 05, 2022, 06:54:02 AM »

Digimon, Digital-Novel.

Celebrating Digimon’s 25th anniversary in style, BANDAI NAMCO has released Digimon Survive, a somewhat reboot and re-styling of the usual Digimon video game formula. This time around, changing up the genre to a hybrid of a visual novel with tactical RPG elements throughout. A new direction, which at first seemed strange considering the nature of Digimon, typically being a monster-collecting and turn-based battle style, that takes a risk with a different approach. At first, I was slightly disappointed to hear that the bulk of Digimon Survive would be mostly a visual novel - as this isn’t a genre I generally gravitate towards - but at the same time, highly intrigued to see how this would play out…

Right off the bat, from the title screen, promotional material, and character designs, this is a much more mature outing for Digimon. The language used, visuals and story themes such as death (yes, actual death!) are much darker than in previous instalments. Digimon has always been seen by some as an edgier Pokémon, however, it still had a childish charm and target audience. Whereas with Digimon Survive, whilst there are still many funny and childish moments, it is definitely aimed at those who have grown up with the franchise and more mature audiences.

You play as Takuma Momozuka, who is on a school trip with his classmates. He and a group of other students and locals get lost and find themselves transported to a world similar to their own, but the big difference is that there are now these ferocious creatures - both good and bad - that we know as Digimon. It's important to highlight that Agumon and co. are not referred to as Digimon or Digital Monsters at all throughout Digimon Survive. There are no Digivices for these you would assume ‘Digi-destined’ to use. The Digimon in this world are as real as Takuma and his friends are.

How Digimon Survive sets itself up, makes this one of, if not, the most accessible Digimon game to date for newcomers to the franchise or those who have never heard of Digimon. You needn’t know anything about Digimon itself to be immersed in this story and characters. For Digimon veterans and fans of the series, you’ll be happy to know that virtually all of the season one originals such as Agumon, Tentomon, Patamon, etc. are all present and obtainable in some way or another. However, some of the popular second season/movie Digimon are not - most notably Veemon and Terriermon.

The bulk of your time with Digimon Survive is with its visual novel side, with the split to be around 70/30 in favour of the visual novel, there is a lot to read and a really great story and excellent characters to immerse yourself with. The opening hour or so is completely text-based and establishes the main characters and relationships, builds the world and the catalyst to the story you will then spend the next 25+ hours in. Each character in Digimon Survive is unique and interesting, all with their own quirks and personalities. You can tell that a lot of thought went into each and great writers were on staff, as not a single character feels two dimensional, or left out of the plot. Each and every one experiences some form of character development and you grow to genuinely care about them all - which makes those darker moments mentioned that much harder to deal with.

The story is split into 12 chapters which will branch off around three-quarters of the way through depending on your karma rating - moral, wrathful and harmony. Meaning that there are three different endings for you to play through, as well as a secret fourth route that can be unlocked once one of the three prior paths has been completed. That turns this 25+ hour run into a far longer one should you wish to see it all!

Your narrative choices don't only affect your karma, it also affects your affinity and relationships with the other characters in Digimon Survive. This is important because the higher you can increase your affinity, the higher boosts you can get in battle from them and their partner Digimon. Your karma also plays a part in defining what your partner Digimon, Agumon, evolves into - so every choice you make matters in more ways than one.

A huge concern of mine was the pacing, given that the split between reading and battling seemed so far and few between, the opening hour or so does feel a lot longer than it actually is. For some, this will be a deterrent and usually, the action of Digimon Survive is saved for the latter stages of each chapter. Meaning that most of the tactical gameplay is bunched towards the end for the climactic fights.

When you aren’t reading or listening to the dialogue and story of Digimon Survive, you’ll find yourself in battles against Digimon foes. The battle system takes place on an isometric grid, where at the start of each battle you choose your party - this usually includes a specific member of your team by default (whoever the current plot is focused on) and whoever you choose to include up to a certain amount dictated at the start. On this grid, you can do several actions with each Digimon, with the fastest on the battlefield going first - which can sometimes be your enemy!

Your choice of actions when battling includes move, attack, item, talk, evolve, and end turn. Each Digimon, depending on their movement attribute, can move a certain number of spaces. Naturally, the higher the attribute, the further they can travel in a single turn. All Digimon have a basic attack and a special attack. Each special attack will cost SP, so you have to be careful when and when not to use these special moves, such as Agumon's Pepper Breath. I never found myself running out of SP due to move usage. I did however come close to running out due to the way evolution works. With evolution (again, the game does not refer to this as Digivolution), partner Digimon are always in their base Rookie form and you must physically choose what they evolve into during battle. The higher level you evolve them to (Champion, Ultimate, Mega) the more SP that is drained each turn as a result of the action. You can de-evolve during another turn should you wish to reserve some SP. This adds a nice tactical layer, as you may want to save your stronger form for when it really matters. Digimon in your party that are not partnered with a human require an item to evolve, which means that they will remain in their higher form and unable to de-evolve, so make sure you are 100% sure when digivol- I mean, evolving them.

The talk function is the most interesting and useful action in Digimon Survive. Certain allies have special abilities that can increase stats, max out movement, and also heal other Digimon. When you talk to each other, or even your own partner Digimon, these benefits will affect them and usually, these buffs will stay for the entirety of the battle! Takuma, who you play as, can hype up a Digimon, and boost all of their stats. Conversely, if you talk to selected opposing Digimon, you can “woo them over” and use this to convince them to join your party! Make sure to answer those questions correctly, otherwise, this will anger them and then their stats will all increase. This feature is great as it gives all Digimon, even those that can be seen as minor grunts, a personality - especially given that all Digimon do have personalities and almost all are able to talk (sorry Kunemon!).

The battle system overall is great. I feel as though it’s a little light on the ‘tactical’ side, and wish that there were some deeper mechanics involved. On top of this, the battle animations are very slow, but thankfully this can be sped up by holding A or sped up permanently in the settings menu.

During the moments between the core narrative and battling, you’ll be able to explore your current surroundings to help progress the story and interact with characters, where you can strengthen your affinity. Whilst in this explore mode, each area also has a Free Battle location. This area will place you in a battle with random opponents, where you can grind your team and level them up, or recruit foes to bolster your unit number. Quick tip - max out your battle speed in the settings, and select auto-battle in the start menu during Free Battle should you wish to grind quicker. The Free Battle Digimon are usually considerably weaker so this poses no risk to your team.

Sometimes in this explore mode, you’ll be prompted to use your smartphone camera to uncover invisible items or clues. These are represented as glitches - similar to when you have a poor signal on a video call. These glitches feel like the only remains of the ‘digital’ aspect of Digimon and are typically used to uncover useful items or progress the story.

As most of your time is spent with the visual novel side of this game, I was initially concerned that visually, this may be quite dull and repetitive. I couldn’t have been further from the truth! Both the character design and Digimon sprites are designed beautifully. Each and every character has an abundance of different expressions and reactions and they are all so full of life and fitting to the dialogue. They transition between each other seamlessly, and although my visual novel experience is lighter than some, if all visual novel characters were designed as crisp, thorough and unique as Takuma and co. I might give more a try!

On the other hand, I was slightly disappointed by the design of the sprites in the tactical battles. They look fine, and are chibi-esque versions of the characters and Digimon, but there is some missed opportunity for better visuals and animations. I mean, there is HD art of everything in the game already - when hitting a final move or evolving to a Mega form, or if there is a critical hit, an additional HD animation or even a cutscene would be nice. It just feels a little bland at times, which is odd, because I wouldn’t have guessed it would be the other way round.

Scattered throughout Digimon Survive are fully animated cutscenes, and these look as if they have been taken from a high-budget anime. The standard of anime nowadays is high, and these animations are on par with the best. If the characters and narrative of Digimon Survive were adapted into a full series or movie, I’d be one of the first in line. If that does become a reality, they already have a masterful composer in Tomoki Miyoshi, who created a stunning and dark atmosphere, pairing perfectly with the narrative.

Digimon Survive took a risk in its gameplay, presentation and narrative, and for me, it paid off. It genuinely feels like a new era of Digimon is upon us. A more mature, dark, and ferocious Digimon that could see the start of a truly great visual novel RPG hybrid series. This won’t be for everyone, and I completely understand if you pass on it, however, if Digimon is your jam or visual novels are, and you have plenty of time to sit and soak in this wonderfully written narrative - you’re likely to strike gold with Digimon Survive.

TalkBack / MADiSON (Switch) Review
« on: August 01, 2022, 05:23:00 AM »

Shake it like a polaroid picture

Within the first couple hours of MADiSON, I knew that developers BLOODIOUS GAMES had built a truly frightening first-person horror game, and I am here for it. Taking heavy inspiration from Hideo Kojima’s P.T., with its incredibly tense hallway horror and changing surroundings, MADiSON is an impressive albeit unsettling and sometimes frustrating horror experience.

In MADiSON, you play as Luca, a young man who wakes up locked in a room, hands covered in blood, with his dad kicking the life out of the door Luca is locked behind. Your objective from here on out is classic horror game fuel: find out what the heck is going on, and get out alive! The former is more simple to achieve than the latter (naturally). The bulk of the narrative is told through cassette tapes, photographs, and scribblings littered about your derelict surroundings and through Luca’s own commentary. Each character revealed and mentioned has their own dark and disturbing story, which adds many more layers to the lore than I thought there would be.

Luca’s commentary and reactions to many aspects of MADiSON can become… annoying. He tends to point out the obvious in a pretty dramatic tone of voice; why exclaim something horrifying so loudly when you know you’re being stalked? Whisper, my dude! Funnily enough, during loading screens, one of the tips is that you can mute Luca’s voice and simply have subtitles, something I imagine many people will do.

The story and lore of MADiSON are great. I was sucked into the game and only wanted to dig deeper from the first cassette tape. In spite of the strong narrative being told, though, there is little direction in what needs to be done next to help the story progress. The only hints of where to go next are when Luca gets headaches and then sketches a location or hint in his notebook. Outside of this, you’ll need to explore and figure out the sometimes frustrating puzzles.

MADiSON is really puzzle-heavy. Like many psychological horrors where you have no real weapon, puzzle solving is your ticket out of Luca’s nightmare. I found it really frustrating trying to figure out what to do or how to solve half of the game’s puzzles. After the first handful of tricky ones, I decided to start making notes of any numbers and codes I saw, or the location of safes, clocks, and doors that were locked. This minimised the backtracking, and trust me, there is a lot of backtracking.

It’s important to note that the answers to your puzzles are unique to your story. After I had completed the campaign, I took to social media to see others' thoughts on the puzzles and it turns out that although the method to complete the puzzles is the same, the numbers, codes, and sometimes the order of key items are random across each person's journey. This, alongside the random scares, adds a fun layer of replayability so you can re-immerse yourself in this terrifying game.

With many puzzles or obstacles, you’ll need certain items or tools in your inventory. Your inventory is limited to eight slots, and this includes your camera and stack of photos, so you only have six slots free. There are safes in certain locations where you can store and take items; however, this can become annoying—especially when you drop an item off, thinking you won't need it anytime soon, only to have to turn around and run back to grab it. Overall, the inventory management is poor and my biggest gripe about MADiSON.

Soon after escaping the opening room, you come to another room with a gift in the centre. This gift contains a polaroid camera, which will end up being your best friend. If you ever feel lost or stuck in an area, whip this bad boy out and snap at anything that seems interesting or strange. This mystical camera will sometimes warp your surroundings, or the polaroid that you must manually shake with the R button will reveal a creepy clue or a critical piece of information.

Whilst the puzzles are sometimes frustrating and there is a lot of backtracking involved, neither issue detracts from the unsettling atmosphere. For starters, Luca is a very slow walker, which only adds to the anticipation of just getting to the required destination as quickly as possible. You can run, however the jump scares hit that much harder, that I decided to run only when essential. Coupled with this is the incredible sound design used in each setting. There are always footsteps, doors creaking, thunder, and other noises constantly happening, forever reminding you that you’re not alone. There are also random encounters with demons and statues that stalk you, appearing in corners of rooms or sliding down corridors and then disappearing the second you look away. Again, this addition adds to the replayability, not knowing when certain spooks are coming, keeping you on red alert for the next fright.

Before getting my hands on a copy of MADiSON, an area that I was highly impressed with based on Switch promotional material was the visuals. The dark, creepy visuals looked crisp and the brief instances where the demon was shown were horrifying and I was very excited to get stuck in. This excitement was dampened by the actual in-game visuals of MADiSON on the Switch. I was sad to see the difference in quality when comparing the reveal and launch trailer for the Nintendo Switch and the actual gameplay. Conversely, these slightly muddy and outdated visuals did somehow add to the terror of MADiSON.

MADiSON is a genuinely terrifying psychological horror game and does its job very well, making it stand out in the genre on Nintendo’s hybrid platform. Unfortunately, this is dragged down by the poor inventory system and unclear puzzle direction, causing far too much backtracking. Aside from these gripes, MADiSON expertly uses every tool at its disposal to unsettle you and create a horrifying experience I am keen to return to again.

TalkBack / Bright Memory: Infinite (Switch) Review
« on: July 20, 2022, 06:36:05 AM »


The Nintendo Switch has a gigantic library of games, spanning all genres of the medium; however, one area that I feel is slightly lacking in comparison is the FPS genre. Developed by FYQD Studios, Bright Memory: Infinite is an action-packed shooter that relies on its fast-paced gameplay to create some excellent and visually impressive combos.

Throughout Bright Memory: Infinite you play as Shelia, who is tasked by the Supernatural Science Research Organisation to investigate a phenomenon that is raising ancient warriors from the dead. Your role is to uncover the mystery and single-handedly stop any evil forces at hand. During your campaign, you will be located in various regions, many of which are based on real locations in China. I found the storyline pretty confusing or hardly there at all. There was definitely something big happening, but the game didn’t do a great job of making your objective feel all that important; as long as you “gun and slice” everything in front of you, you’re golden.

One of the most impressive, yet underwhelming areas of Bright Memory: Infinite is the visuals. The cut scenes use the in-game visuals, which blend into the gameplay; however, these slower, more character-focused graphics highlight the poor quality of some textures and character models. Aspects such as Shelia’s hair and facial expressions, splashes of water, and background textures popping in through the fog hamper the tone and overall experience. In contrast, the gameplay taken on its own is actually fairly attractive.

Figuring out how to play the game doesn’t take too much effort. Shelia controls well, and the guns and blades you use look crisp at all times. The enemies and settings stand out and the environments are well crafted. The combat looks smooth—explosions, strikes and colors are bright and anarchic—provided motion blur is set to low or off; otherwise, you’re in for a high octane, blurry fight! It’s a real shame, because when you are in the thick of combat, Bright Memory is quite visually impressive, likened to the Crysis games remastered for Switch.

However, when looking at the crop of current-generation consoles, you can’t help but be underwhelmed with the visual hand you have been dealt with this Switch version, which is a real shame. Bright Memory on Switch underscores the gap in power and performance between Nintendo’s platform and other home consoles.

Bright Memory: Infinite is a fairly unique FPS, in that you have your standard variety of guns (assault rifle, shotgun, sniper, pistol), but you also wield a katana, which can be used to slice enemies up and deflect bullets, missiles, you name it! What’s more, Shelia has supernatural abilities akin to a Jedi’s, where she can use “force-like” powers to push energy at opponents that can sometimes cause them to be torn apart. She can also use this ability to pull enemies closer and even suspend them in the air, allowing for the opportunity to put together some killer combos. All these forms of offense take a different button on the controller and can be a little jarring at first, but the game steadily introduces the mechanics through the first few missions, despite many being available from the get-go. There were times when I would mix up the button combination, and use the force-like push, instead of parrying with my katana, which resulted in more than a few chunks being taken off my health bar.

Your goal is mostly mission and objective-based, and the maps and locations are mostly linear. Some sections will test you with very basic puzzle-like elements, such as, “find a way around,” with there being only one clear way or some form of graffiti in the shape of an arrow. Thankfully the combat makes up for any lulls Bright Memory throws at you. It’s fast-paced, controls well seamlessly transitions between blade, supernatural powers and guns. Once mastered, you can make any enemy quake before you.

Before starting a campaign, you have some customizability options available to you. You can amend the color and wraps of your guns, change the look of your katana, and also choose from several skins that Shelia can wear (and yes, there is a bikini option). I love it when cosmetics allow you to change how the protagonist to suit your preference; however, with Bright Memory: Infinite being primarily in first-person, minus the cutscenes, you won’t see your customization job all that much. One thing you will see plenty of is the plain black loading screen, especially if you die or fail your mission often. The load times in Bright Memory are very, very long and should your last checkpoint include a cutscene, whether you’ve seen it or not, it’s unskippable. Be prepared to sit back and watch Shelia’s hair have a mind of its own over and over again until you get past that one boss you are struggling with!

Lengthy load screens aside, the game plays pretty smoothly. That said, I did come across some buggy enemies, and this happened one too many times for me to not mention it in this review. In one of the early boss fights, the enemy lunged toward me and I side-stepped to avoid the attack. What resulted was the enemy being frozen mid-attack, until I knocked their health down to the next stage of their assault. After this, they would focus their attack on where I was standing, not where I currently was. This only happened with one boss fight, but during objectives, random enemies would act the same, or they would get trapped, trying to run through trees, rocks, or walls. This made for a mixed experience: when these buggy moments weren’t happening, I was truly having a blast with this game. The second I noticed such issues, it completely knocked out any momentum or adrenaline I had.

I will admit, despite the faults and gripes mentioned above, I had a blast playing Bright Memory: Infinite and during my second session I was ready to commit and play through a large chunk of the campaign, only to find there wasn’t as much as I hoped. I reckon for a more seasoned player, they could run through the entire story in an afternoon. This is disappointing because what’s here is great; there’s just nowhere near enough of it.

Bright Memory: Infinite is a solid FPS and the kind of game the Nintendo Switch needs more of. Despite the few technical and graphical issues, the action, controls, and epic, high-octane combos make for a truly enjoyable, yet frustrating short experience. If you are craving a solid FPS action game on your Nintendo Switch, you can’t go wrong with Bright Memory: Infinite for the time being. Just make sure you’re here for a good time, not a long time.

TalkBack / Endling - Extinction is Forever (Switch) Review
« on: July 19, 2022, 08:58:03 AM »

Protect fox cubs at all costs!

From the title alone, you can tell that you aren’t in for a happy-go-lucky, cheerful time with Endling - Extinction is Forever. It opens in the midst of a pretty serious situation: a forest fire. From the start, the tone is set and that tone is truly emotional, and pretty difficult to experience at times, layered with a bunch of social commentary on real-world environmental issues.

You take on the role of a mother fox, who is the last of her kind, doing her best to survive in an environment that has been torn apart and destroyed by humans. On top of this, you have a skulk of foxes that rely on you to feed them, protect them, and raise them. There is clear message espoused by Endling, highlighting how humanity is destroying and polluting natural environments, and the impacts that this has on wildlife and nature. None of what occurs or happens to the mother fox or the cubs feels forced into the game’s narrative, which only enhances the heartbreaking moments that do happen in real life.

Survival is key to Endling. The game plays out one night at a time, with you leaving your base to hunt, scavenge for food, and ultimately survive. Throughout these sessions, you’ll encounter a variety of contraptions and traps, such as bear traps used to catch and hurt you. At times, other wild animals will target you and your cubs. Endling portrays a truly sad existence, where everything seems to be out to get you. It’s made clear early on that you must return to your base before nightfall ends, as you and your cubs need both food and rest to continue to the next day.

Hunting for food and feeding your cubs is vital to their survival. If you don’t sniff out food, which can be executed with the L button, your cubs and yourself will be at risk of starvation. On-screen, you have a meter and indicator on the number of cubs you have left (how morbid!), and this depletes the longer you take to forage for food. What’s more, you have the opportunity to customise how your cubs look at the beginning, and I spent way too much time giving them matching patches on their forehead, only to spend the next however many hours fighting to keep them alive by fending off badgers, evading death traps, chasing mice, and pouncing for fish!

Developer Herobeat Studios has managed to build an incredibly simple story that carries so much emotional weight, through a dialogue-free narrative and expert sound design. What is especially heartbreaking is the whimpers and howls of your cubs when danger arises or during harrowing cutscenes. For some, these scenes may be difficult to sit through. But as touched on earlier, everything that occurs is something that is very real and very likely a part of the animal kingdom. The music used in Endling is incredibly impactful, too. For the most part, it is low-key and minimal; however, when the devs want to really tug on your heartstrings, they use their own strings to convey sadness, loss, and desperation.

Whilst the life of a mother fox fighting for survival is challenging, as the player, it can be at times repetitive and a little mundane. When peak parts of the narrative aren’t at play, the evenings where you are simply scavenging can become pretty dull and unvaried. Yes, there will be traps and hazards to fend off that you need to be wary off—no sprinting around the woods, or it’s game over for one of your legs—I wish the environment would change up a little more. That said, I can understand the realism of having a nest/base and rinse and repeating a very similar cycle to survive; such as the animal way of life. I guess there is beauty in the monotonous at times, but as a video game, seeing the same forest paths, under the same moonlight and blanket of snow, each day, can lessen the experience.

The art style and direction in Endling - Extinction is Forever is easily one of the high points. It is incredibly simple and clean and captures a playfulness that contrasts well against the game’s tone. This contrast is highly effective when those emotionally hard-hitting moments occur, whereas, on the other end of the scale, there are some very cute moments that are only enhanced by the visuals. The way in which you can interact with your cubs and the way they interact with one another is adorable and feels genuine, which makes those times when they are suffering and whimpering so much more cutting and hard to watch. The mixture of the aforementioned sound design and the simple, yet masterful visuals amplifies the emotions at play.

Endling - Extinction is Forever tells a sad story that is guaranteed to suck you in and trigger any maternal/paternal instincts you may have. Herobeat Studios has done a great job conveying an environmentally conscious story through the eyes of the lives affected most, and seriously delivers a brutally honest view of how humankind is harming the environment and natural ecosystem. Despite the repetitive nature of the gameplay, Endling is a powerful tale with a lasting, dare I say “forever,” effect.


Total Concentration… Review Breathing, First Form: A Great Game!!

If there was ever to be an anime to follow in the footsteps of series such as Dragon Ball Z, and Naruto to make the transition to video games, it would be Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba. Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles is the first video game based on the successful anime, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba and follows the story of Tanjiro Kamado. Already available on other platforms, this 3D anime fighter has finally made its way to the Nintendo Switch, and oh boy, am I pumped for this!

Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles has your usual slew of game modes available that you’ll typically find in an anime-inspired fighter game. You have the Story Mode, which follows the narrative of the anime Demon Slayer - beginning from the very start of the series, up to the end of the Mugen Train Arc. You then have the self-explanatory Versus Mode, where you can play online or offline.

Next, you have the Rewards area. This is similar to the boards in the Smash Bros. series, where you unlock areas of a large image and each piece of the image contains a reward. Rewards spans from profile images to use on your online profile, to stages, fighters, and battle attires. These pieces are generally unlocked via missions in Story Mode or Versus Mode – or you can spend Kimetsu points, which can be earned via special missions or by progressing through Story Mode. To get the very most out of Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles, it is strongly recommended you play through the Story Mode. The final area of the game of note is the Archive. This allows you to view battle attires, profile photos, quotes, and music tracks. A great way to keep track of what you have unlocked and to see what is left over.

As mentioned, the main mode in which you’ll spend most of your time - at least at first - is the Story Mode. This mode is incredibly faithful to the animated series it is based on and follows Tanjiro’s story all the way through to the Mugen Train Arc. Each story is broken into chapters with a boss at the end, that you must defeat. Within each chapter, you’ll experience cut scenes, unique in-game scenes, stellar voice acting and areas that you can explore to complete mini-missions and progress the story. The overworld areas you can explore look great, especially Asakusa, which is so full of life via NPCs and gorgeous set design, and the use of the map will help you navigate these areas. In certain chapters you’ll find random demon encounters that help break up some long-winded areas to explore - these are usually pretty easy and a great way to practice with a new character you may be in the story, or to work on some killer combos! One small gripe I have with the Story Mode is the stop-start nature of it at times. One area will have a long load time only to drop you in a corridor where you simply run to the end for a few seconds, to be hit with another loading screen. As I have said prior, the story mode is very faithful to the series, but some scenes could have been covered in a cut scene or some narration.

Aside from the minor gripe, the Story Mode is truly excellent. The character models are impressive, and emotions, reactions, and actions are wonderful in conveying the story. This mode is great for those who wish to relive every battle and every moment (because they’re all here!) and even for those who aren’t familiar with the story because you will be after playing through this!

If you are finished up with the Story Mode and want some more action, or simply want to jump into some Demon Slayer dream fights, you can head straight into the Versus Mode. Versus Mode is essentially what it says on the tin – it’s you, versus someone else, whether that be someone online, the CPU, or someone in the same room as you. If you haven’t dipped into Story Mode, you’ll be very limited on the number of playable fighters, but if you’ve completed that mode, you’ll have 24 fighters to choose from, ranging from heroes like Tanjiro, Nezuko, and Rengoku to villainous demons like Akaza, Susamaru, and Enmu. In this mode, you choose two fighters, where one will be your primary and the other a support. The support character can jump in and attack for you or even pull you out of an attack, you can also swap between them should you wish to - some pairings can trigger unique support moves, which is always fun to discover! Demons aren’t allowed support characters but instead have access to blood demon arts which can make them more powerful and even heal them!

The combat in Story Mode and Versus Mode is the same. You’ll find yourself in fully 3D battlefields, allowing you to run in any and all directions. Following your standard anime-style fighting games, you have light and heavy attacks at your disposal as well as three unique special attacks for each fighter, plus your ultimate move which can be used once enough energy is stored. My goodness, those ultimate moves are a thing of beauty. I am truly blown away by how epic the graphical effects are in Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles and each character’s move set is unique, so you’ll have tons of fun trying everyone out and stringing gorgeous combos together.

As a fan of many anime series, and an avid player of many anime-based video games, I can confidently say that Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles is the best looking 3D anime fighter on the Nintendo Switch. The colours and visuals, especially when using breathing techniques are spectacular, I noticed very little or no frame drops when stringing insane combos and going all out on a demon, keeping controls smooth and responsive throughout. Some areas in Story Mode were a little basic or a little unclean, but the character models and use of these are faultless. Alongside this, the music is epic and taken straight from the series, all characters are expertly voice acted which adds so much more depth and value instead of reading dialogue.

If you couldn’t tell, I am a big fan of this series, and admittedly was a little disappointed that the most recent arc, the Entertainment District Arc is not included in this game, as I would love to have played as Daki (if you know, you know). However, fear not, DLC has been confirmed for Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles and that DLC will include characters of the Entertainment District Arc, such as the main villainous demons of this arc, new versions of the main characters, and of course, the Sound Hashira himself, Uzui. Very flashy!

Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles is an incredibly impressive anime-inspired fighter. Visually, it surpasses my expectations of how I imagined it would play on the Nintendo Switch. If you are a fan of the series, this is a must-buy. If you aren’t but a fan of anime-related fighters, you’ll definitely enjoy this for the combat alone, and the Story Mode is deep enough for you to understand the characters, their relationships, and the journey they have been on. This is the first Demon Slayer video game, and developers CyberConnect2 have knocked it out of the park. I am very excited about the DLC and any possible further instalments.

TalkBack / Vesper: Zero Light Edition (Switch) Review
« on: May 14, 2022, 03:15:37 AM »

Let there be light… so I can reload my gun!

When the Nintendo Switch OLED was released, there were several games that people were screaming about looking stunning on the OLED. If you have an OLED, you need to experience this game on there for the bold colors and sheer beauty. Well, you can certainly add Vesper: Zero Light Edition to that list.

Vesper: Zero Light Edition is a platform-adventure game set in a world that has been torn apart by war. This world is full of platforming puzzles and stealth challenges to survive as you work your way through deciding the fate of your entire race. You play as Seven, an android who has become lost. You begin Vesper with no weapons, no abilities, and no powers. The opening first chapters are incredibly tense and dangerous. Your only options are running, jumping, and hiding as you are hunted down by robotic beasts and soldiers. When being chased, the frantic atmosphere requires you to read the layout and make split-second decisions to solve the puzzle before you are caught and immediately destroyed. Yes, some parts allow you to take your time and hide as you figure out your next steps, but there is nothing to do but run the moment you are spotted. That is until you receive the Drive Gun.

The Drive Gun isn’t your usual weapon. This weapon absorbs light and shoots it into machinery to help solve puzzles and take over enemies to allow you to manipulate and control them for a certain amount of time. Some enemies can be used to help solve puzzles; others, you can just run off a cliff. Either way, the moment you receive this weapon, it opens up a world of possibilities when traversing the game’s barren wasteland and eases the previous tension there was in your sole purpose: surviving.

Vesper: Zero Light Edition successfully creates a dark and tense atmosphere that pits you against its world. This helps drive you forward in the search for answers to what happened in the form of documents that Seven can encrypt once collected across this land. These are scarce and usually off the main path, so they can easily be missed if you aren’t exploring every avenue or specifically seeking these documents out. You’ll miss the profound lore and narrative that Cordens Interactive has created.

It would be criminal to not shout out developers, Matteo Marzorati and Tommaso Loiacono. They have created one of the most visually unique platformers in recent times. Vesper: Zero Light Edition has been crafted to near visual perfection. The use of color is bold, atmospheric, and beautiful. As stated prior, Vesper is a perfect fit for the OLED screen on full brightness – and most certainly best viewed at night or in a dark room. You’ll be instantly drawn in by the deep reds, greens, blues and, at times, purple when the colors bleed into one another. The contrast of the black silhouettes makes those colors pop that much more. The outstanding art design and use of color are paired with a cinematic soundtrack from Francesco Gagliardi. When these elements are paired together, you genuinely become consumed in the world of Vesper: Zero Light Edition and like Seven, it feels like there is no escape from its clutches.

Vesper: Zero Light Edition offers a challenge for veteran gamers without it being too complex or inaccessible for new gamers of this genre. When and if you are caught and destroyed, you will usually respawn just before whatever puzzle or stage you were working on last time; there are also many autosaves which allow you to jump out and jump in almost from anywhere in the game. This “one life” that you have can become highly rewarding if you manage to seamlessly string multiple platforming puzzles together, avoiding the robotic beats and enemies or utilizing your Drive Gun to the best of its abilities for the first time. Thankfully, there is plenty of downtime between more extensive stretches. Although, sometimes, it feels like there is one too many slow periods.

Whilst the quiet and slow periods were appreciated at times, there were a few lulls throughout Vector: Zero Light Edition. Usually, at the beginning of a new chapter or just after a more challenging puzzle, there will be a long stretch of just running, or sometimes forced walking. This is usually accompanied by some stunning visuals but can still harm the pacing that the prior levels had created and built. Ultimately, this doesn’t detract from the overall gameplay too much, but it is a minor gripe.

Vesper: Zero Light Edition is a tense, stunning, and cinematic platform-adventure game that any genre fans should add to their collection. Wait till the sun goes down, or whip out your own Drive Gun to absorb the light in your room, boot up your Switch on the big screen or undock your OLED and immerse yourself in the gorgeous colors, sublime sound design, and cleverly haunting world of Vesper: Zero Light Edition.

TalkBack / THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD: Remake (Switch) Review
« on: April 06, 2022, 02:07:49 AM »


Raise your hand if you have fond memories of hitting up your local arcade, sliding your choice of currency into THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD machine, unholstering the blue or pink plastic gun, and taking aim at the 'START' option, ready to unleash chaos on zombies and monsters. Everyone's hand is raised, right? Well, with THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD: Remake, you can do almost all of this from the comfort of your own home – minus the pink and blue guns, of course…

Developed by MegaPixel Studio, THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD: Remake is an incredibly faithful remade version of the 1997 arcade game of the same name. This classic rail-shooter ticks all the boxes of the original and then layers on so much more to accommodate the modern gamer and their expectations. Updates include enhanced graphics, achievements, new characters, horde mode, and different control options – yes, including gyro controls. You can use your Joy-Con or Pro Controller as a gun to aim and shoot!

While THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD is known for its chaotic rail-shooting goodness, a story is woven in among the mayhem. Players receive a call from Sophie, Agent Thomas' fiancée, stating that Dr. Curien's mansion is overrun by undead monsters because of an experiment gone wrong by the mad doctor. It is up to you to defeat the creatures, stop Dr. Curien, and save Sophie. In all honesty, the story is pretty bare-bones, but you’re not going to purchase THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD for its narrative.

One of the great things about THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD: Remake is its accessible controls. As this is a rail-shooter, you needn't worry about moving your character around. You have three controls to learn, which depend on how you like to play. Two consistent controls are the shoot and reload buttons: the A button shoots, and the B button reloads. You can turn auto-reload on in the settings and even adjust the time it takes to reload – so if you're having a tough time, slap that auto-reload on at 0.1 seconds! Keep in mind that the voiceover shouting, "reload!" every time you need to reload does not stop even when auto-reload is turned on. You'll be hearing this man every few seconds, which can be very annoying, but you'll be so focused on not missing your shots that it'll just fade into the background.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD: Remake is just as fast-paced and action-packed as it feels when in the arcade, but this time when you lose, you can just pick back up where you left off without spending more coins. If you’re so inclined, the option of unlimited credits can be turned off, and you can treat your playthroughs as if you're at the arcade. One of the main drawbacks of this version is the painfully long load times when starting or continuing a save file. These occur between chapters and take much longer than they should; however, the entire ride is smooth, fluid, and hectic once you are loaded into each chapter.

The main story mode isn't the only option that THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD: Remake has to offer on Switch. You can select horde mode if you want an extra challenge, which brings even more chaos than the original arcade version. This mode essentially turns one creature into seven creatures, and even on the easiest difficulty, you will suffer. Horde mode is definitely saved for veteran shooters or for some co-op chaos with a partner, which is how I enjoyed this mode the most. Outside of the main game modes, you can also access your personal statistics and check out leaderboards of your completed campaigns (a great way to see how awful your aim is!). The final area outside of the settings is the Gallery. The Gallery takes you into the home of Dr. Curien, where you can view collectibles, information on killed creatures, and your completed achievements. This is a nice space to view further details on the creatures, who mostly have regular names – my favorite being Sam, the most common creature you encounter (it's always a Sam…).

As a remake, the graphics have definitely been upscaled and look great. You're in for a bold and fierce-looking shooter, especially in handheld mode (on the OLED) and using gyro controls. Couple this with the rocking and heavy soundtrack, moans, groans, and cries of the creatures, shattering glass, walls crashing down, bullets flying everywhere, and the voice shouting “reload,” and you're in for complete sensory pandemonium – in the best way possible.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD: Remake is precisely that, a remake of one of the most iconic and best rail-shooters of all time. In terms of core gameplay and story, there isn’t much; however, the touch-ups are all that was needed for a perfect refresh. To add to this, the gyro controls are surprisingly great and the best way to play. Grab yourself a joy-con and a willing partner, and shoot your way through bullet-hell in THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD.

TalkBack / Crystar (Switch) Review
« on: March 25, 2022, 11:56:26 PM »

Ah, the crying makes sense…

Originally released on PlayStation 4 and PC in 2019, Action RPG Cystar has made its way to the Nintendo Switch. From publishers NIS America, Crystar follows the tale of Rei, a schoolgirl. She is transported to Purgatory, where she accidentally kills her sister, Mirai. To atone for her sin, she must fight her way through Purgatory as an executor for Mephis and Pheles, the demons who oversee this world, to collect 'Idea' that will help restore the soul of her sister.

Crystar doesn't hold anything back in its opening section. It touches on a wide range of sensitive subjects you might not usually see in video games, most of which are based on mental health – and handled quite well. Couple this with the expert voice acting, and it really hits you in the chest at times. Despite the cutesy-looking characters, the dialogue and story are most definitely not for children.

Speaking of cutesy-looking characters, that's basically everyone in this game. Rei, the protagonist, is hella adorable, as is her sister Mirai – which makes it that much sadder what happens in the opening scene. On top of that, the antagonist and various demons you encounter are also all cute anime girls. I, for one, am a fan of this and a sucker for anime girls in any context, so well done, Crystar. Unfortunately, cute anime girls sometimes aren't enough.

The main thing you'll be doing in Crystar is fighting enemies in dungeons. The battle system is very basic and one of the sore points of Crystar, which is frustrating as it's something you'll be doing a lot. In combat, you use the X button for a light attack and Y for a heavy attack. Holding the R button and pressing one of the face buttons allows you to employ a special move that uses your limited Skill Power (SP). The moves at your disposal are pretty limited. Although a chain combo meter pops up to show how many consecutive hits you have, they don't feel like combos. What I mean by that is the combat is very hack-and-slash-heavy, and it's hard to string more than four or five moves together without Rei having to pause before you start the same moves again. Due to this, combat becomes stale quite quickly.

What's more, the dungeons you get to perform this stale combat in are very lengthy. Emphasis on very. Each dungeon consists of multiple levels joined together by warp tiles that take you to the next floor. Don't get me wrong; visually, Purgatory and the dungeons look great – they're full of colour, floating steps, cracked buildings, all very distorted. However, you get sick of this almost immediately when you endlessly run from section to section, spamming X and Y, and then repeating this process for 80% of your time in Crystar.

The other area where you'll spend the rest of your time is Rei's bedroom. This acts as the central hub where you can do various things before starting your next 'mission' in Purgatory. In her room, you can change outfits, some of which are definitely 'fan servicey' like school girl outfits and swimming costumes, that Rei will wear in Purgatory instead of her default outfit. You can also look at any artwork you have unlocked, in addition to being able to refer to a glossary of terms and characters you have encountered where you can learn more about them. There is also a music section where you can sit back and vibe to the various songs you've heard on your adventure, some of which are actually pretty great! Lastly, and most importantly, you can play with Thelema, who is your pet dog. Yes, you can play with the dog – the ultimate distraction for when you accidentally murder your sister and then have to fight through Purgatory to rescue her soul.

As mentioned prior, Purgatory looks excellent, as do the character designs. In particular, the character portraits during dialogue and how they change depending on the character's emotion is terrific and adds to the already fantastic voice acting. Unfortunately, the in-game models do not look as great. I did want to blame it for being an 'older' game, but it’s only around three years removed from its initial release on PlayStation and PC. It's not awful, but when you're sucked into the dialogue and character portraits, to then return to the expressionless in-game models, it really impacts the previous mood that was set.

I would like to just give a massive shout out to the heavy metal, anime opening MV for this game that plays after the prologue. Given that the story of Crystar is made for an anime, I would be incredibly down for this to become an animated series, with the art style used in the opening cinematic. The concept is excellent, the story is deep (albeit it doesn't play as deep as it could have), and the anime demon girls are fantastic. Sign me up! Unfortunately, I am not reviewing just the animated cinematic; I'm also reviewing everything around that.

Crystar is an excellent story wedged between way too much repetitive and meaningless combat inside gorgeous yet long-winded dungeons. The non-stop button mashing fights add no value or depth to the story except for the simple reason to progress. Unfortunately, what initially started with a shocking plot and opening unfolded quickly into a tedious gaming experience.

TalkBack / Bus Driver Simulator Countryside (Switch) Review
« on: March 14, 2022, 03:42:46 AM »

Is your bus running late? Well, it’s probably being controlled by this game…

In all honesty, I’m unsure what I was expecting from Bus Driver Simulator Countryside. I mean, of course, I was expecting a simulator game in which you play as a bus driver, and I thought it was going to be… fun? It was not. And that isn’t because being a bus driver isn’t fun, because I imagine it can be. When the game just feels broken, it kind of saps any fun or playability from the game.

Bus Driver Simulator Countryside is set in Murom, one of the oldest towns in Russia. Through your varied bus routes, you’ll travel around Murom as well as a bunch of villages surrounding the town. This information doesn’t add any value to the game, as there is no narrative, story or dialogue that adds any more depth than, “You are a bus driver. Do your job.”

There are three modes in Bus Driver Simulator Countryside: tutorial, career, and scenarios. I cannot stress this enough, do the tutorial! There is no way you will be able to just figure out how to play this without it, and even still, the controls are a bit of a mess. To begin with, you need to press Y to open the dashboard menu and then navigate that menu with L and R to either start the engine, turn the windscreen wipers, or turn the radio on. Once you have turned the engine on or whatever action you take, you need to press B to close that menu. The X button opens your lights menu. This allows you to turn on your headlights, cabin lights, and hazard lights. Again, once you’ve turned whatever you need on, select B to close this menu (there's a reason why I'm diving into the minutiae). The B button also puts your parking brake on or off. Many times, the game was either unresponsive or lagged in these menus, where I would press B more than once as the first press hadn’t registered. The game then caught up with my button presses and would aggressively remove and use the parking brake until it had finally caught up.

Don’t get me started on the actual driving. I have never driven a bus, but it only felt and looked like you were controlling Bambi on ice. I was just skidding side to side, trying to manoeuvre the eerily quiet streets of Murom. Also, can somebody confirm how tall the curbs are in Murom? Because during the tutorial (yes, the tutorial), I skidded up onto the curb - only a little bit - and the bus awkwardly balanced on the curb so that neither the front nor back wheels would move. My only option was to quit the game and begin again. This happened to me four too many times (possibly more) in all three modes.

The career mode of Bus Driver Simulator Countryside is precisely what it says on the box. You begin your career as a bus driver. It opens Need for Speed style, where you have a pot of cash and can purchase your starter vehicle, which is wholly pointless as you start with 5000₽ and the cheapest bus you can afford is 5000₽. From here, you select from one of a handful of routes, start times and whether you want the winter option on, and then you start your day of work. The funds you earn from your bus driving can go towards new buses and upgrades like curtains for your existing bus.

When your routes are long, straight roads such as the Drachevo route, you can see the charm that some will enjoy; however, the only enjoyment I got was from not needing to turn, which shows there is a real problem.

You then have the scenarios mode, which will throw you in unique situations a bus driver might find themselves in, such as having to strip all the seats outside of your bus and deliver potatoes instead - earning points by succeeding in the task as well as smaller objectives like reaching certain stops on time, as you lose points for being late, and you also lose points for being too early.  

Graphically, Bus Driver Simulator Countryside is as basic and simple as it gets. It looks like an old PC game, but I guess you don’t need stellar HD graphics for games as straightforward as this. Sections of the town in the background will pop in, such as trees, buildings and upcoming bus stops, which if it weren’t for the minimap helping out, I’d have blitzed straight past. In all honesty, the most aesthetically pleasing thing about this game is the dancing, ‘body-popping’ bus driver character you see in the background of the game’s main menu.

Bus Driver Simulator Countryside is, put simply, not good. If you can nail the long-winded button scheme and control the bus any better than I can, you might get something out of it. But even still, there's still not much. It’s slow-paced, laggy, and the environment just isn’t friendly to you. The curbs will just stop you in your tracks, and the other vehicles will just keep going as if you don’t exist. Everything is against you in Bus Driver Simulator Countryside, and in turn, I am against Bus Driver Simulator Countryside.

TalkBack / The Cruel King and the Great Hero (Switch) Review
« on: March 10, 2022, 09:50:24 AM »

Yuu can do it!! (as long as your Dragon King Dad is around)

The RPG genre is flooded with so many top-class games it can sometimes be hard for new games to stand out among those big names or classic go-to’s. Nowadays, you have to do something different to really make your RPG mark. The Cruel King and the Great Hero accomplishes this via its incredibly endearing art style. Described as a living storybook, The Cruel King and the Great Hero is delivered via a crayon drawn aesthetic, with transitions between scenes and battles being flips of pages, which only adds to the cute charm scattered throughout.

From NIS America, You play as Yuu, a young girl who wishes to walk in her father's footsteps, by becoming a great hero. You are raised by a Dragon King that you call Dad. Your 'Dad' follows you throughout your journey, protecting you where possible (or needed). With his blessing, you set out on an adventure to live up to the tales you have been told of your father—who again isn't the Dragon King, even though she calls him Dad.

The Cruel King and the Great Hero follows your typical turn-based RPG battle system. Yuu and her companions that she teams up with throughout her journey can select between attack, skill (which uses up energy), item, defend, or flee. Attack will use a basic attack to a single enemy, whereas skill can activate a more powerful move that can sometimes hit multiple enemies or buff yourself and allies, or even debuff your enemies. The rest are pretty self-explanatory in what they do.

As mentioned above, your energy is what allows you to use skills. Skills are essential to end the battle quickly and progress much faster without relying on healing items. The only caveat to this is that you do not have a lot of energy at all, which means you must be selective when you use these skills. To add to this, you only regain one skill point per turn, meaning for the most basic of valuable skills, you would need to wait for four turns to use it again should you be at zero. You can use items to boost your energy, but this costs you a turn, so you'll have to think about when and when not to use these skills. This is especially challenging in boss battles.

Outside of boss battles and story-driven encounters, all other battles are random and can spring on you at any time. These random encounters are OK at first, but they quickly become very annoying, due in large part to the battles being very slow-paced. Not using your skills—which reduces your already limited energy—can make these battles feel long. You're probably wondering, "why don't you just use the flee option?" Well, that's because if you are outnumbered by the enemy, which is possible because you can only ever have a maximum party of two, it's nearly impossible to successfully escape.

Due to the inability to escape often, I fainted in The Cruel King and the Great Hero a decent number of times. When you do faint in battle, it does not respawn you at the last checkpoint with full health and energy, no. It takes you to the title screen, in which you then select your most recent save file to return to, which is likely the last time the game auto-saved. This became frustrating at times because, more often than not, The Cruel King and the Great Hero auto-saved when my health wasn't very high or when I had no items to help with low energy.

The dungeons and maps you navigate are side-scrolling levels that are interconnected. One excellent addition when back-tracking to help with the naturally slow pace is the run option. This is only available to you when you are significantly stronger than the enemy monsters in the area. This led me to spend a long time in the early game just grinding in previous areas so that I could progress faster in the game and be able to move faster than the default walk, which is painfully slow! Sometimes the dungeons are long, so running in certain areas is much needed to prevent those levels from feeling genuinely unending.

Going back to the game's aesthetic, this is the true selling point of The Cruel King and the Great Hero. The hand-drawn art style is adorable. When my daughter came in to see what I was playing, she immediately took an interest as it is a similar style to some reading books she has. Even though The Cruel King and the Great Hero is full of monsters, none look too ferocious and many are layered with some cuteness or goofiness. The visuals are very captivating, as is the soundtrack. The joyous tunes of the peaceful villages you encounter are enough to bring a smile to your face.

While The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a beautiful game and aesthetically unique compared to other RPGs, it's the core gameplay and super slow pacing that stops this from being something I'd recommend over more standard RPGs that do almost everything else better. I'm sorry, Yuu, you're probably one of the most adorable protagonists I've ever played as, but that just isn't enough!

TalkBack / A Musical Story (Switch) Review
« on: March 03, 2022, 05:06:13 AM »

It’s all happening.

I find the rhythm game genre to be one of the hardest to nail. You have to strike a balance between solid gameplay yet be accessible and fun whilst also keeping the gameplay itself engaging and exciting. I might be jumping the gun here, but I think that independent French developers, Glee-Cheese Studio, have created one of the best rhythm games in recent memory with A Musical Story.

A Musical Story is a story (duh) told entirely through music (duh!) as we explore the memories of Gabriel, a young man coming to terms with issues he has faced through musical memory. The game opens with Gabriel in a hospital bed. We are then transported to the beginning of his band’s musical journey to Pinewood festival – the most legendary music festival in the ‘70s. We experience friendship, love, and his struggles with addiction through this journey – again, all through music. No words, just vibes… and boy are there vibes!

The music used is heavily influenced by Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. Many sections of the game treat us to the most addictive psychedelic, bluesy, progressive rock tunes you can imagine. You get so caught up in the music of this game as each chapter, level and tale just flows so perfectly from one another.

In terms of the gameplay, A Musical story is unique to all other rhythm games. There is no progress bar or distracting point gauges in sight. It’s just you, the music and a wheel indicating when to press the appropriate button. A Musical Story is played with two buttons: L and R. You can use other controls; for example, any face button on the right-hand side can replace R, and any on the left can replace L. These are indicated by circles with an arrow pointing left or right to highlight which button to press. Each circle signifies a beat, note, percussion, strum, you name it and requires you to hit every one perfectly to progress with the story. Your skill level is entirely based on your own rhythm and ability to feel the music, making for an incredibly enchanting and rewarding experience. I kid you not; at times when the screen overwhelmed me with the pattern changes or complicated button rhythms, I closed my eyes, felt the music, and completed that stage perfectly. I was one with the music – and I loved it.

There is an assist mode that you can turn on for those who struggle with their rhythm. This mode includes an indicator that moves along the ring to aid you when to press the buttons – but I urge you to try not to rely on this, and instead, your own senses.

If the music wasn’t enough, A Musical Story has the most stunning visuals. I recently purchased an OLED Switch, and the timing could not be better. The chalky art style and bold colours pop on the screen. I’m glad the OLED has increased internal memory because the sheer number of screenshots I have taken during my time with A Musical Story would have certainly filled up my old Switch! Every image and location you are presented with is done with purpose, providing insight into Gabriel’s story: his hardship, his travels – each palette differing from the last. This game is a work of art.

My only real criticism is that A Musical Story is too short for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, it still offers a healthy amount of content, with over 25 songs to play through. However, I was so entranced by it that I reached the end of the game in two sittings. That’s not to say I am done with this game. I will be returning to Gabriel’s story many more times and forcing anyone that comes into my house to give this wonder of a video game a go.

Glee-Cheese Studio’s motto is to develop innovative games with a strong artistic identity. With A Musical Story, they have done exactly this. It plays and looks like no other rhythm game out there and, to me, is close to faultless. I am very excited to see what they will produce next. Here’s hoping for an album release of the soundtrack on streaming services… Please!

TalkBack / Action Arcade Wrestling (Switch) Review
« on: February 15, 2022, 04:00:40 AM »

You’re a wrestling fan? Then I reckon you’ll dig it, suckaaa

Listen here, brother, this is AAW! A fast-paced, arcade wrestling game that will fill any modern or vintage wrestling fan with heaps of nostalgia! Developed by VICO Game Studio and published by Reverb Communications, Action Arcade Wrestling is precisely what it says on the tin – it’s full of action, it’s most definitely an arcade game, and you wrestle.

Within AAW, you have around 30 wrestlers at your disposal. None of these are based on real wrestlers, and not all of them are even from Earth - as again, this isn’t a wrestling simulator; it’s an arcade title. Due to this, some of the characters are wacky, and some of the moves are even more so. For example, certain wrestlers can shoot lasers from their eyes. Now that to me seems a little unrealistic, as, after all, wrestling is real, right?

As you begin AAW for the first time, you are prompted to embark on the tutorial. I advise you to do this, as the button layout is… interesting. They opt for a two-button system, meaning the L and R buttons have zero use in-game as well as your X and A buttons. This at first feels unnatural and awkward, but the tutorial is excellent in getting you accustomed to this control style and is easy to use and learn, making it highly accessible to all gamers.

AAW offers up one game mode, Exhibition Mode. Within this mode, you have a wide array of match types ranging from the classic 1-on-1, to elimination tag matches up to 5-on-5, and even Royal Rumble style matches. Unfortunately, there are no special match types such as ladder matches, cage matches, and the like. It is very disappointing that the only mode available to you is this one. It would have been nice to have had a story or career mode, where you can take one of the wrestlers on the roster or your own created wrestler from a nobody to world champion.

Despite the lack of game modes, there is a ton of depth elsewhere in the game - and that is the creation suite. This is where Action Arcade Wrestling shines. The sheer level of customisation is unreal. Do you want your wrestler to look like an alien? How about a robot? How about a hamburger? You can do it! But (and this is a big but) you cannot do this on your Nintendo Switch. You must download a companion app via Steam to create your wrestlers, which you can then save and download in-game. To add to the annoyance of this, if you are a Mac user, like me, you cannot access this companion app – as it is exclusive to Windows. I have, however, seen the ridiculously unique creations that the AAW community have made in the creation download centre in-game. Some of these are truly astounding, and with a daily download limit of 120, you can download all your favourite wrestlers because they’ve all pretty much been made by the community.

For many of us, we look back on the world of wrestling with heaps of nostalgia. Especially during the glamorous 80s and early 90s and the dawn of the Attitude Era – this game will scratch that nostalgic wrestling itch with its retro style cell-shaded, colourful graphics. These graphics are nothing to write about, but they don’t need to be amazing, given the arcade nature.

Action Arcade Wrestling is a fun pick-up-and-play arcade wrestling game to play with a friend. It won’t hold your attention for too long. Still, with the massive pool of customizability and readily available downloads from the AAW community, there is enough here to wet a wrestling fans’ appetite. If only it had the same depth with its available modes, it would have gone from a good game to a great one.

TalkBack / Bonfire Peaks (Switch) Review
« on: January 12, 2022, 06:03:00 AM »

Kum-BYE-ya my stuff, kum-bye-ya…

Bonfire Peaks is consistently coupled with the sound and light of a crackling campfire that immediately warms me as I nestle into my sofa for what I anticipate to be an incredibly relaxing 3D puzzle game. I was right, to a degree.

Published by Draknek and created by Corey Martin, Bonfire Peaks is a puzzle game all about closure. You play as an unnamed character who has seemingly left behind the life he used to live and is planning a refresh of some kind, and doing that, he must “burn his things.” This is the premise of each puzzle. You have a box of stuff, and you must navigate this box to the firepit in the level by overcoming the challenge ahead of you within that particular stage.

Each puzzle is selected by sitting beside a campfire. Once the puzzle has been completed, the campfire ignites, and you are rewarded with a box. These boxes are used in the overworld to assist in scaling the mountain that your character has found himself on. Yes, that’s right, the “puzzle select screen” is also a puzzle!

Each stage has a unique element and requires learning and remembering several mechanics. The only actions you have at your disposal are picking up boxes and putting them down. You can pivot and move forwards and backwards—no sidestepping. Sometimes obstacles will be in your path where you cannot pivot to one side while holding a box, so you’ll have to think of another way. The game does a great job of introducing and teaching these simple mechanics early on. However, as the game progresses to later and more challenging levels, some newer elements can become frustrating to pick up. For example, the game will teach you that long boxes can be used to build staircase bridges; however, on a level shortly after, these boxes aren’t used that way. Despite my many attempts to build a bridge, I admitted defeat before returning and eventually completing the level.

The controls are simple to pick up and remember. The A button picks up and drops boxes, B is used to undo, X to reset, and the directional buttons to move and pivot. The movement buttons are practical in theory, but they are overwhelmingly frustrating in practice. If you are facing down and press up, your character will walk backwards. This is the same if they are facing left and you press right—which does make sense—and don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of the controls, but I found myself inputting the wrong movements at some crucial times, which leads to a lot of frustration. Yes, there is an undo button, which I am thankful for, but I did not think I’d be using it this often.

Another gripe that I had during my time with Bonfire Peaks is the lack of hints when you are well and truly stumped on a puzzle. The PlayStation version has a built-in hints system; however, this is absent in the Nintendo Switch version. Of course, it is a much more rewarding experience to solve these levels independently. That said, a little nudge in the right direction or the option for help would have been nice.

One of the strongest aspects of Bonfire Peaks is the 3D pixel visuals and the feeling that it invokes the longer you spend time with the main character. When you don’t move for a short time or select A when not in front of a box, the unnamed character will sit down with his knees close to his chest. It’s oddly comforting to watch this, but also sad. This simple action coupled with nothing but the sound of a crackling fire highlights the loneliness and isolation of this character. Throughout the overworld, too, you are shown what looks to be memories of this man’s past—an old car, the remains of a party—and as he ascends the mountain, he leaves these memories behind. It’s so simple but wonderfully executed.

Bonfire Peaks is a stunning game that I feel will attract many for its aesthetic alone. A large portion of those will stay for the gameplay, but I can fully relate to players who become frustrated with the movement controls and difficulty spike later on. Aside from the gameplay grumps, the world in which Corey Martin has created tells an isolated yet beautiful tale of a man looking for closure by burning his things, and I am glad I got to experience this.

TalkBack / Super Impossible Road (Switch) Review
« on: December 10, 2021, 02:01:25 AM »

They see me rollin’

A spiritual successor to the mobile game, IMPOSSIBLE ROAD, Super Impossible Road takes everything great about its predecessor and cranks it all up to 11! Developed by Wonderful Lasers and Gunstone Studios, Super Impossible Road is set in the future where you are in control of a spherical vehicle competing in races across space and many other futuristic settings.  

The game's main tagline is ‘winning is cheating!’ and promotes going off the usual formula of sticking to the path given to you. In Super Impossible Road, you can knock opponents off the track into the void of space, or fly off the tracks yourself, strategically aiming for another piece of the rollercoaster-like track further ahead. Be careful though, if you miss or are airborne too long, you’ll be teleported back to where you last ran through a gate.  

The controls for Super Impossible Road are simple and easy to pick up. You accelerate automatically, rolling down the track with no way to break or slow down, you steer with the left stick, use the boost that you gain as you race with a single button, and via another button, you can manually reset back to the last checkpoint you passed. This is used when you fly off the track with no chance of landing back on it. The way that the tracks are laid out will quickly have you thinking of how you can cut corners and take advantage of the cascading layout. It is very much the case of high risk, higher reward. Taking a risky boost off the ledge and landing many turns ahead of an opponent or shaving those all-important seconds off a time trial feels so good and gives you the adrenaline boost the developers intended.  

All modes, tracks, and vehicles are available from the start in Super Impossible Road and the main mode available is the career mode. Career mode will have you go through several set races with different objectives you need to hit to progress to the next stage. These trials have three tiers of goals ranging from one-star goals that can be achieved quite easily, to three-star goals that will require you to think and race in a more unique way to reach these targets. These goals can range from time trials, reaching certain checkpoint numbers or flat out, crazy races against the CPU. The goals that are set in career mode are a great way to start the game and teach you the mechanics and ways to play. The first trial has you try to complete a track in less than 15 seconds, something that is impossible unless you boost your way off the track in one of the early turns to skip a large chunk.  Again, the game doesn’t tell you to do this, yet it is laid out in a great way for you to discover this yourself. The tracks are fixed and the same each time you re-attempt a trial, however with almost all other modes, the tracks will differ each time, keeping you on your toes and not knowing where those twists and turns will be.  

Other modes include multiplayer which can be up to four-player local split-screen or online with up to eight other racers. I couldn’t join any online races given the limited number of players that had a pre-release code. I did however take part in many co-op races with a friend, and it was both incredibly frustrating yet highly exhilarating, blistering down the procedurally generated tracks and flying off the appropriately named impossible roads many, many times. You also have daily challenges and endless mode. In these modes, your final scores are added to a live leader board where you will be ranked among both friends and the world’s Super Impossible Road’s players. Each mode is fun, and you get to play these your way - which is a real shining point of this game. You are given an end goal to reach but how you achieve it is completely up to you.  

For a racer that is at a breakneck speed from the word go with tight twists and turns, it must run incredibly smooth, and Super Impossible Road is one of the smoothest, cleanest looking games on the Switch. Yeah, the vehicle designs aren’t much to write home about, but the tracks and visuals to accompany them are stunningly gorgeous. Consistently running at 60 FPS in both docked and handheld, it’s up there with one of the most attractive racers on the Nintendo Switch. The futuristic, Tron-like (without an awkwardly CGI-ed Jeff Bridges) theme is partnered with an insanely vibey techno soundtrack that just gets your heart racing almost as fast as the vehicles do!  

The vehicles that you use to race with are spherical objects that can be customised and each area you cosmetically change comes with an impact on your vehicle’s stats such as handling, boost charging, weight, etc. Aside from the base colour you choose, the cosmetic differences aren’t that varied. Something I was a little disappointed with, but this isn’t a major concern at all when every other area of this game is as visually impressive as it is. Especially when you can race in the first person, so the design of your vehicle becomes redundant, and this new camera angle becomes an entirely new perspective and a highly adrenaline-fueled game.  

I feel that many racers start on a high and the more you play, the less fun the game becomes due to its repetitive nature. I don’t feel this at all with Super Impossible Road. It is a game that I will always say, “just one more race” and open when a friend is over. The better you become at finding those shortcuts and taking those leaps of faith off the track - and succeeding - the more fun you’ll be having with the tight controls in this action-packed, crazy, and striking space racer.

TalkBack / The Legend of Tianding (Switch) Review
« on: December 07, 2021, 04:00:29 AM »

Robin who-od?

The year is 1909, in the Dadaocheng area of Taiwan where Colonial Japanese authorities are running amok. You play as Liao Tian-Ding, a vigilante who has made it his purpose to rid his land of those who do not belong there, all whilst aiding the poor by stealing from the greedy and the rich. Through his efforts, he uncovers some dark secrets and evil schemes, and as any hero would, he takes it upon himself to thwart the villains and restore his beloved Taiwan back to how it was before.  

Dubbed Taiwan’s Robin Hood, Liao Tian-Ding is that and much more. The story is a clever mixture of a classic Robin Hood tale fused with your traditional kung-fu flicks of the ‘70s to create a hero with charm, humour and above all else, a heart of gold, who you can’t help but cheer for—and take great joy in playing as. It adds extra intrigue for me, knowing that this video game and most of its narrative is based on real events that are said to have occurred in early 20th century Taiwan.  

Published by Neon Doctrine, The Legend of Tianding is an action-adventure, side-scrolling kung-fu beat ‘em up, where you play as the legendary Tian-Ding. Throughout your journey, you are equipped with kung-fu skills, an upgradable blade, and a sash that can be used to tie up enemies or even steal their weapons! The combat in The Legend of Tianding is polished and can become combo heavy, enabling you to string regular attacks and fighting arts together, along with rolls and dodges making you feel like a true kung-fu master. Fighting arts, which are your signature moves, use up your stamina bars, so these should be saved for when they’re needed early on. The sash can be used on a vulnerable enemy to disarm them and steal their weapon, which Tian-Ding can use for a short period of time. This adds a unique layer to the already fun combat, as these weapons vary massively from swords and staffs to pistols and grenade launchers.

The Legend of Tianding includes several RPG elements to the game where you can effectively level up Tian-Ding and modify him to buff what you see most valuable. Throughout your campaign, you can  use specific items to increase your max health, upgrade your default weapon via the city’s blacksmith, add levels to your stamina bars, and increase the size of your purse, where you can equip a limited number of amulets to Tian-Ding. These amulets can be found after defeating certain enemies or given to you after completing optional side-quests. Once equipped, they will add certain effects onto Tian-Ding, allowing you to customise the way he plays. These effects can range from reducing the damage taken from certain hazards, allowing him to triple jump, or restore more health than usual when consuming buns. The amulets equipped can be amended at any time in the pause menu. The pause menu is also home to your list of objectives, your map of Taipei, and the collectables section. The collectables in this game are fascinating. They can be found almost anywhere and a large majority of them add buffs to specific weapons or the passive attributes to Tian-Ding. All the collectables are either relevant to the story, the setting, or the time. I would find myself scrolling through the extensive list and looking at the images and reading the brief descriptions of what they are. These collectables span from alcoholic drinks to food items, posters, matchboxes, board games, and many more miscellaneous items—a fascinating section, especially if this period of history is of any interest to you.  

The roughly five-hour runtime progresses via several chapters. Each chapter will start with a comic book style presentation to give you the rundown of what is happening and a tease of what’s in store for this section. When loading the game and continuing a save file, you have a small summary of the chapter you’re in as well as a character breakdown of the key people involved. This was a nice add-on to the appearance of what could have been a plain screen. The chapters are all varied, too. Some are very combat heavy, focusing on exploring hideouts and taking on countless enemies, whereas others are more objective-based: recovering items and exploring the city more, speaking with anyone and everyone. I feel the game balanced these quite nicely, as endlessly defeating grunts at times became tiresome, and the game knew when to switch it up, keeping me intrigued and focused on the story.  

During breaks in the action, panels similar to traditional Chinese manga will flash on-screen to provide more detail on who is talking or their given action at that time. This art style was one of the high points of this game, adding depth to some side characters and the bosses of that chapter. The developers did a fantastic job giving everyone a unique and attractive personality; I would genuinely sit and read a full manga of The Legend of Tian-Ding if it was written and presented this way. Outside of these comic book panels, the setting and backdrops of the game also shine. Again, taking inspiration from East Asian art, the backgrounds of this game were a beautiful watercolour style, many of which I would happily have hung on my wall—especially the waterfall and cliffs of Mount Guanyin.

Although the streets are full of life and great to look at, running from place to place can become more than a little monotonous. You unlock a fast travel option quite early on, but again, these will only take you to specific locations in some areas that are quite large. Some objectives would force you to go from one side of the city to the other to collect food or cloth from a shop owner, to then run back to where you were with no combat or other events in between. Thankfully tasks like this didn’t happen too often, but I heaved a sigh when one popped up.  

If you ever get tired of the story or want a break from combat, you can sit down with some locals and play a game of Four Color Cards—a traditional style Taiwanese card game. Its rules are somehow both simple and complex; it plays kind of like rummy but also not. I didn’t quite understand how to play, but card games (unless it’s Yu-Gi-Oh!) are not my thing. I played it once for the tutorial and never returned, but it is a nice addition, and a fun way to teach some history of what people may have played during this period.  

Everything from the combat to just running around the streets runs ultra-smooth. One issue I found was that the load times between areas, new chapters, or returning to the game took a very long time. The long load screens are accompanied by a “wait a second” message which for some reason just makes the wait feel that much longer. It would have been nice to see some historical details provided during the load screens to make the time pass by a little faster.

The Legend of Tian-Ding is an action-packed, kung-fu tale with great writing and an even greater art style. The comic book depicting 1900s Taipei is glorious and such a gorgeous aesthetic to play through; Its use was well executed and added layers of humour, threat, and depth to all characters of this heroic tale. Tian-Ding is a fantastic indie hidden gem that I hope becomes, like Liao Tian-Ding, legendary.


A JRPG that is truly fit for a king.

Over three years after its initial release, the second video game set in the Ni no Kuni universe, Revenant Kingdom finally made its way to the Nintendo Switch this year. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is, on paper, a sequel to Wrath of the White Witch, but it is a stand-alone story from the first. This means you need no prior knowledge before diving into this JRPG. With the Nintendo Switch version, you are handed the PRINCE’S EDITION. With this version of the game, all prior DLC is included, which adds hours of additional gameplay and story to add to an already meaty tale.  

The story begins in a real-world like ours where an explosion goes off in a possible attempt to assassinate the president of this land. Instead of the president falling, he is transported to the world of Ni no Kuni in front of Evan - the should-be king of Ding Dong Dell. Roland, the president, arrives before Evan, where his kingdom is being taken over by an evil villain, Lord Mousinger. Roland helps Evan escape and the two of them set out on an epic adventure to found a new kingdom and to save his people from the evil that currently exists. The narrative of Revenant Kingdom isn’t anything truly special or unique, but it is the setting, the characters and the gameplay that turn this tale into a truly magnificent one. Evan is an incredible main character, I very rarely played as anyone else during my time. I adored him and wanted him to succeed in his quest. What a lad.  

The Revenant Kingdom is an epic adventure indeed. The cut scenes, which are fully voice acted and look stunning, transition seamlessly between the gameplay of Ni no Kuni. This makes you feel like you are the main character in a fantastical anime series. I couldn’t put this game down. Both Ni no Kuni games have a unique art style. You can always tell you are playing a Ni no Kuni game based purely on visuals. Whilst Studio Ghibli worked directly with Level-5 on Wrath of the White Witch, they did not for the second video game. They did however collaborate with character designer Yoshiyuki Momose who has worked on many Ghibli films in the past to ensure that Revenant Kingdom looks just as good - if not better - than the first game. Tie these visuals with the stunningly composed soundtrack and you do have an epic anime-inspired video game.  

I found almost no fault with the visuals and performance of Ni no Kuni. Load times were fast, the gameplay and cutscenes flowed perfectly and there were no issues with character models or settings bugging out. I did find that there were the odd framerate issues when I increased the camera movement speed a little. I found that turning corners or using the camera too quickly to survey the area caused some framerate drops, but they would quickly pick back up when stationary. This didn’t harm the overall experience or prevent me from falling deeply in love with the aesthetic and charm of Ni no Kuni.  

The visuals especially pop in combat, where I feel the game truly shines. When in an area where you are exploring, making contact with an enemy initiates the battle. Revenant Kingdom uses an action-based combat system, with one button for light attacks and another for heavy attacks. You also have a button for a ranged attack and the ability to dodge as well. As you progress through levels, you’ll unlock skills that can also be used in combat. Alongside your party, you have higgledies. These are cute, little creatures that you can collect through your journey who will assist you in battle. They can either boost your abilities or even deal huge damage to opponents, so are always handy to have around. The combat system is very simple, but that is not a bad thing at all. It’s easy to pick up, flexible in a way that you can attack how you wish to, and super fun no matter your approach. I never grew tired of the repetitive wild enemy encounters on my journey and the boss battles were incredibly enjoyable.  

Whilst the combat is simple, many things can be done outside of the actual battles to add huge amounts of depth. In the pause menu alone, you can: change your party around, edit your party’s weapons, armour and skills, manage your higgledies, and also oversee your army for a true RPG experience. You can also use the Tactics Tweaker. With this tool, you can change the way you battle by adding boosts to certain areas for your team such as damage bonuses or experience/loot buffs, and you can also use a sliding scale to give yourself an advantage against certain types of enemies. This was a neat tool to play around with in between battles to see how this affected the following fights and use this to my advantage.  

Outside of combat and the main towns or key locations, you enter an overworld exploration mode, reminiscent of the older Dragon Quest games. Evan and your party will take on a Chibi art style as you travel from one location to another. I wasn’t keen on this art style at all; however, it can easily be forgiven, due to its brief nature. This art style is also used in scrimmages, which are larger scale battles where Evan leads an army against an enemy's battalion.

Possibly second to combat in Revenant Kingdom is the kingdom building. Once you have found a settled land to start your kingdom on, you will be tasked with literally building it from the ground up. What starts as a bunch of tents and wooden scaffolding, will soon (with a lot of time, money, and effort) become a grand kingdom, better than that of Ding Dong Dell! This was a positive change of pace from the combat, where you can take your time upgrading and creating your own ultimate kingdom for Evan. It was surprising to me how deep this area of the game went with the number of management options you have available.  

Like I imagine how Roland feels, you are constantly being handed information in this game. Whether it be lore, new characters, the way the world works, or new game mechanics, something new is always being presented to you throughout your playtime. Ni no Kuni delivers this in a hugely accessible way where you never feel overwhelmed, and the knowledge would just stick. I would find myself returning to my adventure a day or two after my last session, and easily recall how to do everything, which is great given the amount there is to do.  

As with most JRPGs, Revenant Kingdom is a grand, and long, adventure. If you are ignoring any side quests and avoid too much tinkering around, you can complete the story in roughly 40 hours. If you’re focusing on everything there is to offer, you’ll be in for almost double that time. A perfect game to get lost in.  

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom has an incredible amount to offer, and everything that it does is delivered and executed to the highest standard. The art style is undeniably gorgeous, and the gameplay will have you hooked from the moment you arrive in Ding Dong Dell. A charming adventure that I am so happy to have gone on. All hail King Evan!

TalkBack / Ayo the Clown (Switch) Review
« on: November 21, 2021, 06:32:17 AM »

Taking inspiration from some classic platformers, Ayo has some big (clown) shoes to fill!

I’ve never really understood why clowns inspire fear in so many people. I think they’re great. I understand coulrophobia is very real to many, especially with Pennywise being a thing and that time many years back when some people would walk the streets at night dressed as clowns. With Ayo the Clown, we have a super cute little clown boy who just wants to find his lost dog. And that’s where our story begins. Ayo wakes to find Bo, his dog, is missing and potentially dognapped. Immediately, he sets out on a unique platforming adventure to find his best friend.  

Developed and published by Cloud M1, Ayo the Clown is the first non-mobile game from the company whose motto is “Made with Love,” and you can feel the love in this game. At its core, Ayo the Clown is a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer that Cloud M1 has described as follows: “if Super Mario Bros., Yoshi, Kirby, and Little Big Planet had a child, this would be it.” And I couldn’t agree more. I saw a lot of inspiration from both Super Mario Bros. and Little Big Planet in Ayo the Clown’s roughly 8-hour playtime.  

With the core gameplay, the levels aren’t as linear and ”left to right” as most platformers are. There are several hidden areas, in which you are likely to find collectables and alternate routes; some would require you to backtrack as you need to pick up an item before you can progress or reach an objective. On many levels, you’ll come across NPCs and townsfolk, who will give you side quests to complete within the level which usually have a narrated cut-scene, adding more personality to the characters. An example of this is helping a momma bear find her baby bear, who you discover is playing with a bees nest whose swarm ends up chasing you! This begins a chase sequence that requires you to essentially free run until the bees give up, making for a fun change of pace from the usual platforming.  

Running and jumping aren’t the only means of traversal in Ayo the Clown. In some levels, you are required to ride tanks and fly toy helicopters; others are purely vertical where you are tied to a balloon and need to ascend, avoiding hazards while locating collectables. Throwing in these mechanics and completely flipping the script with those vertical levels keeps Ayo the Clown feeling fresh, adding its own fun spin on the genre.  

You have three hearts each level, and once these are gone you will restart at the latest checkpoint. Although there aren’t any real power-ups, like a super mushroom or fire flower, you can pick up several weapons to use temporarily. These include a balloon sword, water balloons, and toy hammers, keeping up with the clownish theme. I’ve yet to work out when and why they disappear as it seems quite random when they do. Another fun mechanic that sets Ayo apart from other standard platformers is instead of a double jump, Ayo whips out a balloon to add some height onto his jump, again, staying faithful to the circus backdrop which I genuinely love seeing.  

The boss encounters in Ayo the Clown are heavily influenced by Super Mario Bros. games. They follow the tried and tested formula of pattern-based boss movements, that ramp up each time the bosses take damage, usually falling after the third round of patterns. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess!  

The controls are what you would expect from a platformer. One button mapping choice that I hated, and never became accustomed to, was that the B button was mapped as the select/accept option. This was from the start screen onwards, meaning to start the game, I had to press B. If I accidentally went to start the wrong load game, my brain would subconsciously select B to go back, and I’d then be met with the load screen taking me into that save file I didn’t want. The in-game controls were fine for the most part, but sometimes unresponsive or inconsistent. This occurred most often with jumps. I found that some jumps wouldn’t respond immediately, meaning that poor little Ayo would just run off a ledge to his death, where you’d hear his faint, echoed scream…something I want to hear less of please, Cloud M1.  

One thing I’d like to hear more of is the adorable soundtrack. Cloud M1 really did make sure that every aspect of this game complements the setting of a child clown. The music is playful and childlike, enhancing the true innocence of Ayo’s character. The world is also bright, colourful, and playful, too;  however, the character models are a little rough around the edges, which is but a slight knock on the game.  

Outside of the platforming levels is the town. In this area are the NPCs you have helped along your journey, and it’s also where you can upgrade your balloon height or number of hearts with gems that are collected throughout your journey. To me, this area was kind of pointless. Outside of the purchasable upgrades, the dialogue options never changed so one visit was enough. Also, these upgrades are ridiculously expensive! By the time I had enough to upgrade I was too far into the game to even remember to go back to the town and didn’t purchase them. I imagine on higher difficulty levels these would be needed, but on easy and normal, upgrades didn’t feel necessary.  

Ayo the Clown is visually adorable and full of so much charm that you can’t help but love the little guy and the world that Cloud M1 has created. I am looking forward to what else they can create; I wonder if Ayo the Clown 2 could be on the horizon? With a little polishing of controls, character models and the town function, who knows what heights Ayo could float to.

TalkBack / BLUE REFLECTION: Second Light (Switch) Review
« on: November 09, 2021, 04:02:25 AM »

Ao, you get a scythe! Kokoro, here’s a rifle! Rena, have this… hula hoop?

Developed by Gust Co. Ltd. and published by KOEI TECMO, BLUE REFLECTION: Second Light is a Japanese role-playing game with a focus on identity, relationships, and highlighting how important and impactful memories can have on a person. You also exclusively play as high school girls.

In BLUE REFLECTION: Second Light, you play as Ao Hoshizaki, a high school girl who wakes up in a school that is surrounded by an endless ocean. At this school, there are three other students: Kokoro, Yuki, and Rena, who have been in this new world for three days and who have each lost their memory—having no clue why or how they ended up where they are. Each of these students woke with a mysterious ring on their finger, and these rings grant them the power to fight with reflector weapons, weapons that are summoned based on those characters’ emotions and feelings. These are the weapons you’ll use when fighting demons. Oh, did I forget to mention that these high school girls fight demons? Yeah, they encounter them when searching for their memories that can be found in mysterious worlds called Heartscapes, which appear when certain events are triggered.

As you uncover memories you unlock new characters, they will appear once certain memories that include them have been discovered. Like the girls that you begin the game with, they will also have no memory of what’s happened, and the hunt for their memories will begin, too! I found the concept and story to be a super interesting premise, and I was keen to uncover the lost memories of all the girls stuck in this strange world.  

Second Light is a sequel to BLUE REFLECTION; however, you don’t need to have played the previous game as there are no returning characters and the story is standalone. The core gameplay is like the previous title, but one area they have updated massively is the battle system. In the first game, the battle system was turn based, and had numerous steps to using your skills, attacking enemies, and monitoring charges, among other things. It all looked a little complicated and messy. In Second Light, the developers seem to have made the system much more accessible for those new to these types of games, and the in-game tutorials are easy to follow to ensure you are getting the most out of this revamped system.

The battle system works on a timeline, where your party members will progress along at different paces depending on their stats. You and your allies are on one end with the enemies on the other. When your character reaches a certain level in the timeline, they can then act and use a skill. Skills use Ether and each level on the timeline is 1000 Ether, so the amount of Ether needed for a skill will determine how far into the timeline you must go before you can act. The more Ether needed, the better the skill. It is important to find a balance between the less costly skills and the more expensive ones as you don’t want to wait too long since the enemy will then be able to act sooner. I really enjoyed the design and layout and having to strategize in real time, deciding when to use specific skills. This system shone in boss battles, as the timing of those Ether-intense moves was crucial to success—unlike in the basic encounters, where you could simply spam the level one skills and win with ease.  

Each time you use skills successfully in a single battle, you increase your gear level. When this gear level hits the desired level, your character will transform into a reflector. This is almost like an evolution to your character, in which you will have a costume change and increased stats alongside stronger skills. Your gear level resets after each battle. This was a nice addition to the battle mechanics and throws another level into those harder boss battles, especially when things may not be going your way. Your characters also level up by gaining experience points each battle, so don’t be skipping too many of those standard ones, as it will come back to haunt you!  

Aside from the main story where you are in the Heartscapes battling demons and hunting for your memories, there is plenty to keep you busy back at the school. The first thing you can do is get to know the other girls more. This can be done simply by chatting with them,  messaging them on your FreeSpace app, going on dates - purely platonic, and fulfilling requests. When you go on a date with one of the other girls, you go for a walk around the school and when you hit certain locations of interest, you’ll unlock unique cutscenes and conversations. These strengthen your bonds and earn those involved talent points (more on that soon). It’s important to highlight that every line of dialogue is fully voice acted—in Japanese, of course—so you’ll still need to do some reading if you don’t speak that language, but either way, voice acting is always welcome.

Fulfilling requests is also a great way to learn more about the girls, as their requests are usually based on their interests. For example, many of Yuki’s requests will be based on collecting food items for cooking. By completing requests, you earn talent points that characters can use to permanently increase their stats. This would include upping their defence, health, or natural speed on the timeline in battles, among other things. The requests are a welcome change of pace from the Heartscapes and battles, which can get repetitive quickly. All of the characters are likeable across the board, each with their own quirks, so it was great getting to know them all on a deeper level. This was especially true when their memories were slowly returning as certain personality traits that they displayed began to make more sense.

When in the Heartscapes, there are many items and resources that you pick up when exploring. These can vary from cloth and food ingredients to wood and other natural materials. These items are used in some requests, but the bulk of them are used in crafting and construction. The crafting and construction mechanics are simple: you can only make things that the girls remember how to make, so more are unlocked as you progress through the game. The ability to craft and construct can be accessed from a quick menu anywhere in the school area. The most common item you’ll likely craft is food. These can be brought into the Heartscapes and are usually your way of recovering health outside of skills. Constructing new areas and facilities around the school provides permanent stat boosts to those who benefit from the new structures, such as study desks, a small beach, mini bars, etc. Again, these two features are welcome additions, increasing the depth to the game as well as providing further insight to the characters around you, getting to know what they like, what they remember and how they could tie in with their life before ending up here.  

BLUE REFLECTION is a very pretty game. Its use of colours and light are bold and complement the typical anime-style JRPG visuals. There is an internal clock in the game, so you’ll see the sun setting and rising at times, and those sunsets are gorgeous! In fast paced battles, the visuals are great, but when there are too many things happening at once, I did notice slight lag or stutters to some of the characters’ actions, almost as if the game is trying to play catch up or skip frames to do so. This wasn’t a huge problem at all and happened rarely, but nonetheless, it’s worth noting. I also feel like some of the stutters were implemented on purpose. Early on you are given a boost to reach a high ledge, on the frame where Ao is at full stretch and her skirt isn’t hiding anything, the game paused for a moment, then continued. I thought this was odd, but each time she ever needed a boost in the future, that same lag happened at that exact moment. Little bit of fan service, I guess (not that this game needed anymore!).  

Although the visuals were stunning at times, and the settings were well built, there were a few more slight performance issues. Firstly, the game takes a long time to reach the start screen, which I found frustrating each time I booted up. Also, when in any setting, random objects in the background would be blurred and then pop into detail when you’re close enough. It didn’t massively affect my experience too much, fortunately, because those items were still identifiable, and the art style on the whole was bold and charming throughout.

If you’re like me and you love customisation and the ability to change outfits, BLUE REFLECTION has this in spades. Every character has alternate uniforms to change into once you unlock the Locker-room area. At first these are simple, usually just going from a school blazer to no blazer, but some characters have the option to completely change their outfit. Ao, the main character begins with a handful of options, half of them being swimsuits. There is also confirmation of many, many more outfits to come as paid DLC on the game’s release as well as future updates planned through to the new year, including photo mode, extra difficulty levels, and more swimsuits!  

BLUE REFLECTION: Second Light is a surprisingly deep JRPG, both mechanics and story wise, without overwhelming the player in either area. The cast of characters are all unique and likeable, and alongside the interesting story, the attachment you gain for the cast aids you in your pursuit for answers. The battle system is fun and boss battles are especially tense. Despite the repetitiveness of some enemies, and the overuse of cutscenes, this is a great game that I’ll be diving back into the confirmed higher difficulty when released later this year.

TalkBack / Stilstand (Switch) Review
« on: October 30, 2021, 05:07:11 AM »

She got that summertime, summertime sadness.

“Is it the end of the world? Or is it just me coming to an end?” These are some of the first words we read in Stilstand, an interactive graphic novel centred around mental health. For anyone who has had experience with anxiety, depression, nihilism, and the like, you will find this tale to be highly relatable from the start and be drawn into the main character’s deeply personal tale. Although the focus is on mental health and the difficulties those that suffer from this must try to overcome, there is hope, and I found this to be a huge takeaway from my time spent with Stilstand.  


Stilstand was written and created by Ida Hartmann in collaboration with Danish independent games studio, Niila Games. It follows the story of an unnamed woman in the middle of summer in Copenhagen. This woman is full of insecurities, anxiety, and nihilism, which has been severely affecting her as of late. We are given an intimate view of her struggles as we watch her force herself to go to parties, open herself up to dating, as well as try to confront and overcome her issues.  

From the get-go we are also introduced to a shadowy monster who sticks with the main character throughout. At first, I assumed this new character would have been a physical metaphor for the woman’s negative emotions, but it seemed to be the one trying to lift her spirits—an interesting juxtaposition. The shadowy monster feels like an extension of her, the emotions, and actions she wants to feel or do, but just can’t. It appears when she feels her lowest and will tag along on nights out to try and convince her to stay out or advise her that something may not be a good idea. Her own Jiminy Cricket.  


The woman is incredibly self-destructive, and you can’t really prevent this. All you can do is try to guide her as best you can through the various multiple-choice text messages you can send to her friends and guys that she matches with on dating apps, or prolong this behaviour through procrastination. Smoking endless cigarettes or scrolling through the channels on her television: all these actions highlight the solitude and loneliness she has.  


This all sounds very dreary, but the story is written with a lot of humour and is full of wit, especially in the conversations with the shadowy monster, and through the absurd ways in which the game shows us the woman’s emotions or current state. An example of this is in the first chapter, where you physically must drag her across the comic panels like a rag doll, knocking down and avoiding various obstacles to symbolize how drunk she has become. Littered throughout are mini-games that highlight the interactive part of this graphic novel—some of these include playing dress up, prior to your date, navigating a shout through your insides to the tip of your lips, and playing Stilstand’s version of Flappy Bird called “Crazy Cat Lady.” Some of these actions are repeated throughout, but this is used effectively to showcase the habits that we can fall into when in a state of depression and isolated.  


The game is incredibly short, clocking in at around 45 minutes to complete the three chapters it has to offer. I was disappointed by the length, as I really did want it to last longer and delve a little deeper into this woman’s summer. However, I do appreciate the short length and pace of the story. What it does focus on is impactful, really drawing you into the troubles that she is experiencing.  

The art style used appears to be signature to Ida Hartmann’s own style and looks “rough around the edges,” adopting a sketch book appearance. I felt that this approach matched the tone of the story. It all felt ugly, but also somehow remained beautiful. The audio, too, was perfectly matched to the narrative. When the game wanted to show the loneliness and isolation she felt, the musical tones became stressed and quiet, with gaps of silence. When there were glimpses of hope or fun, the music became livelier and even adopted techno beats when appropriate—the party music had some Euro house music vibes, and I am definitely here for that.


The feeling of being stuck emotionally and maybe favoring isolation is a common theme that many can relate to given the last 18 months we have all experienced. Tie that in with this slice of life being shared with us, and you have yourself an incredibly well written and truly unique experience. Stilstand is a brief, yet powerful story that is well worth taking the time to check out.  


It’s criminal that none of these are on the Nintendo Switch yet!

Arguably one of the most successful handheld consoles of all time, the Nintendo DS, and its successor, the Nintendo 3DS have a deep and truly exceptional library of games.  The dual screen was at first questioned, but soon seen as the potential future of Nintendo gaming - with the Wii U adopting a similar focus (but we won’t talk about that here). Now we have the Nintendo Switch, which I feel is already cemented as one of the best consoles ever produced with an ongoing legacy as we speak. The Switch is home to several remakes, remasters, and ports of games that were originally on Wii, Wii U, and even PlayStation and Xbox consoles. However, there are a slew of DS and 3DS franchises and games either yet to be ported or remastered to the Nintendo Switch - and boy, are there a handful of excellent ones! Some of which are yet to receive any kind of representation at all outside of a fighter in Smash Ultimate, which to me, is criminal (I’m looking at you Pit!).

These are personal  choices of games that I adore and would love to see ported in some way to the Nintendo Switch. I have tried to focus on games that have little or no Switch representation - game wise - however the final pick cannot be overlooked.

I don’t think I am alone in advocating a remaster, port or honestly a completely new game from the Kid Icarus franchise. Kid Icarus: Uprising was a huge game at the time of release that for many flew under the radar, and one of the few games that were released during this time that really boasted how powerful the handheld was and its potential for future games. It truly does feel like you are playing much more than just a 3DS game with the magnitude that it has on offer. The use of the touch screen in aiming and attacking (which was incredibly awkward at times), can easily be remapped to buttons on the Joy-Cons, and with the improved graphic capabilities of the Nintendo Switch, there really isn’t much needed aside from a graphical touch up.

For those that did play Kid Icarus: Uprising, they are aware of how truly incredible the game is. It really is criminal that Pit and co. are yet to receive a Kid Icarus game on Switch, when a remaster is literally staring them right in the face! C’mon Sakurai, do it!


Nintendo loves a good party game, especially when you can play it on the couch with a bunch of friends either against each other or taking turns. Given the recent success and hype of WarioWare: Get It Together! I see no reason why Rhythm Heaven wouldn’t be desired and succeed on the Nintendo Switch. The rhythm-based mini games are a perfect fit for the Nintendo system, and the weird and highly addictive series hasn’t seen any love in recent years aside from being spirits on Smash Bros. Ultimate.

This is a series that has had an ever-growing cult following in recent years - me included - and the creator and composer of the series, Mitsuo Terada has claimed to be more than interested in a Switch game of some kind in a response to a tweet last year.


I feel like this is kind of cheating, as Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D is a port of a PlayStation 2 game BUT I can’t help but voice my desire for a Metal Gear Solid game for Nintendo Switch. Looking at the types of games we never thought we would have on the system such as Bioshock, The Witcher, Skyrim, and Doom Eternal, I see no reason as to why Metal Gear Solid cannot make its return. This wouldn’t be the first time Metal Gear Solid would be present on a Nintendo home console, with Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes being released in 2004 on GameCube.

The only current MGS representation is (again) on Smash Bros. Ultimate, with Snake as a playable fighter. The voice actor for Snake, David Hayter, sparked some rumours in April, where he was quoted in a YouTube Interview saying this about a possible remake of the originals coming to Switch, “I thought it was just a rumour until the day before yesterday when I got a text from one of the insiders, saying they heard it might really be happening. I only had some confirmation that it might not be a rumour a couple of days ago, and even that was still a rumour… but now it’s an industry rumour, so that tends to be a little more accurate.” Again, the word rumour is used many times here, but we can dream, right?


Pushmo, or Pullblox in Europe, needs to be on Switch. I remember this being one of my first 3DS eShop purchases, as I wanted to see the 3D in full use, and I quickly became addicted. If you haven’t heard of or played this game, just look at our review for it, and see that it has a score of 9.5 . Yeah, it’s that good. It’s graphics are average; the premise is simple - you pull or push blocks to create a staircase or path to reach your goal - but it is just how excellent it is executed. The Bret Hart of puzzle games (see what I did there?”). Due to this simple yet perfectly executed game, I imagine it wouldn’t cause too much trouble for Intelligent Systems to port/remaster this.

I still play this to date due to its drop in and out feature and its addictiveness that can easily consume many, many hours when needed. I would love to add this to my collection of Picross games to play on my various commutes, to play as and when I can.


Don’t act like you never had Nintendogs (or Cats) when you were younger who you adored, or even had a Tamagotchi - because I sure did. And I know, we have Little Friends: Dogs & Cats on the Switch already, but it is not the same. Trust me. I bought it…

For many of those who were not allowed pets when they were younger, this pet simulation was the ultimate game for us to own a dog (or cat) without the real-life responsibility. You could play with, train, feed, and love your dog (or cat) of choice. With the Switch’s online capabilities and ‘portableness’, there would be so much potential in having play dates with friends or even having someone dog-sit for you whilst you’re away on holiday! Again, with the Smash mention, Nintendogs has its own stage in Ultimate and is also an assist trophy AND spirit - so why not just have its own Switch game!?


Another rhythm game, and why not? Elite Beat Agents is truly that - Elite! This cult classic from the Nintendo DS is groovy and addicting from start to finish - with one of the greatest soundtracks to come from a handheld video game, covering some classic tunes such as YMCA by Village People, Sk8ter Boi by Avril Lavigne, The Anthem by Good Charlotte, and many more. The gameplay does focus on the touchscreen a lot, however this can easily be mapped to timed button pressing or even motion controls - with the option to go touchscreen when in handheld mode. Having the option to use the Elite Beat Divas from the start would also be great.

I am surprised that an Elite Beat Agent game hasn't even been rumoured really. With the Switch’s capabilities and much improved power, graphics and sound, Elite Beat Agents would be, well, even more Elite!


Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a game that I have only recently played. During early 2020, I went through a phase of building my DS and 3DS library (as many did, causing some insane price surges) and this was one that I saw in many articles, videos, etc. praising it as a hidden gem or top game for the system. Developed by Capcom, this adventure/puzzle/point and click has you play the ghost of a recently deceased man, where you are unsure of who you were when you were alive and how you died. You then play through the game looking for the answers.  If you can get your hands on it and love games like Ace Attorney, then this one's for you. At the time of writing though, it’s price has dramatically increased - the cheapest I have seen online is around $60-$70!

In 2013, in an interview with the games’ director, Shu Takumi, for Official Nintendo Magazine (rest in peace), he spoke of how he would love to ‘revive’ the character and potentially make a crossover with Phoenix Wright. Here is the below exchange:

ONM: "Could you imagine an Ace Attorney/Ghost Trick crossover? Any deaths that we couldn’t prevent by way of possession could then go to trial in a courtroom"

Takumi: "…or Phoenix Wright could be killed and Sissel (the lead in Ghost Trick) could prosecute his killer in court! Whatever form it might take, a crossover between these games is something I would love to see happen."

Hard to disagree with Takumi here...

The final game on my list and one I mention at least once each time a Nintendo or Pokémon Direct is announced, Pokémon Conquest. Pokémon Conquest merges two of my favourite things, Pokémon, and Tactical RPGs, with characters from Nobunaga's Ambition included. Set in the Ransei Region where warlords and samurais rule, you and your partner Pokémon must recruit Pokémon and warlords to take on and conquer the region, by initiating combat in a simplified Fire Emblem style.

For the Pokémon Company, this was a true breath of fresh air and much needed change of pace for them, and honestly, one of the best games on Nintendo DS. It truly is criminal that this has not been remastered, ported or even a sequel has been hinted at. We’ve had a Pokémon Snap sequel, a remake of Pokémon Mystery Dungeons, and a Pokémon MMO on the Switch - I think it’s time for Pokémon Conquest 2.


Let me know if you agree with any of the games mentioned above by myself, and if there are any that you would love to see remastered, ported, or remade to the Nintendo Switch.

TalkBack / UNSIGHTED (Switch) Review
« on: October 22, 2021, 09:52:17 AM »

UNSIGHTED? Kind of ironic when this is a must see!

Around an hour into UNSIGHTED, I realized that I wasn’t playing just any indie title. I was genuinely surprised by the depth that this multi-genre game has. I say multi-genre for a reason. This exploration heavy, story-driven, highly replayable, top-down action-RPG adventure (gasp) is fantastic and will have you hooked after the opening level.

Developed by Studio Pixel Punk, who as evidenced by their social media platforms are very excited and proud of this release, UNSIGHTED really is a project to be proud of. You really can see the passion and attention to detail in every aspect of its narrative and gameplay.

You play as Alma, who is an automaton (a robot that has become sentient due to “Anima”) that awakens in a lab to find that the world she just about remembers is now at war with humans. The Anima, which was once a rich resource for the automatons—and their life force—is now running out. Without it, Alma and her automaton friends are slowly becoming UNSIGHTED, which makes them non-sentient versions of themselves that essentially become killing machines. Every automaton has their own “time left,” which decreases in real time as you play, meaning that not only is your life at stake but almost everyone you care about, too. Alma takes on the task to locate five shards that harness the power to save all automatons from becoming UNSIGHTED. These shards are scattered across the world of Arcadia, each area they are located in very different from the last, and Alma must “collect” them. I use “collect” loosely because these are all protected by their own boss, each of which presents one heck of a challenge.

One aspect of the story that I would like to praise is that the bulk of the story and the characters are women (or at least female-looking automatons). The relationships, especially Alma and Roxanne's, is heavily hinted at being an LGBTQ+ one. Again, this is not told to us, but it’s how I saw it and I loved that. I wanted nothing more than to reunite Alma with Roxanne and save a huge number of other automatons that I had built a deep bond with as Alma. Having an LGBTQ+ narrative, as well as a mostly female cast is the kind of representation and diversity rarely seen in video games, but thankfully, it’s becoming more and more prevalent.

Knowing that your actions, decisions and basically any move you make can cost you and someone in this world to become UNSIGHTED is highly stressful. There are many moments as Alma, where you come across automatons mid-conversation or speaking to loved ones that have either become lost or are leaving to fight the humans. This adds a lot of depth to NPCs that you normally wouldn’t care too much about. At many points throughout the game, I was afraid to explore certain areas, instead of staying on task whilst playing, as one of the NPCs I recently encountered didn’t have long left and I wanted to save as many as I could. At the same time though, I was intrigued to see what happened if I did let them become UNSIGHTED and how this would impact the story — especially to important characters in the story, which is where the replayability would come in.

The gameplay is akin to Hyper Light Drifter and is much deeper than first anticipated. With UNSIGHTED, you have two weapon slots that can be changed at any time by pausing the game and switching them up in your main hub. These weapons vary from swords, guns, heavy axes, and more, with the ZR and ZL acting as the attack buttons during your campaign. These weapons can be gifted, found, and crafted (because of course there’s crafting). All weapons have different perks, speeds, and combos, so it’s fun to play around with different pairs to see what feels right or what is needed at a given moment. The combat seems simple enough but is difficult to truly master. Incorporating dashes and jumps and timing your actions to interrupt the enemies patterns is key to survival. There is a learning curve, especially when the controls could have been more polished. Movement feels fine, but when in combat, specifically when dealing with larger foes, the rigorous gameplay can feel stiff and stutter your movement at times. Although you also have a stamina gauge that depletes very quickly, you can alleviate this issue by adding a stamina chip to your unit. Chips are how you can upgrade and improve various stats—buffs such as more health, stronger attacks, and the oh-so-important stamina buffs can be added to Alma. Keep in mind, though, you only have a specific number of slots for the chips, so finding the right combination is key. You can increase your chip slots at Terminals, which is where you can also heal yourself and teleport to other locations you have previously explored. For a game in which you are against the clock of every automaton character’s lifespan, there is a lot to carefully plan, which makes for a highly stressful experience at times.

So far, I have only really scratched the surface on the customizability and things you can do alone when molding Alma into the best version you see fit. On top of the many weapon variations you can have, and the chip mechanic, you can also add cogs to Alma which are similar to chips but are temporary. An example of this could be using a cog that prevents stamina loss for a certain amount of time. You can also look over blueprints you have discovered for crafting and keep track of your inventory and key items. Another area that you can monitor at any time is your contacts. These contacts are the friends that you have made in the story. It will show your bond to that character through a number of hearts and also display their time left. This is a good way of also checking how long you have to save someone specific.

In the world of Arcadia, there is plenty to explore and find. The world can be viewed on a map at any time, which fills itself in as you enter new areas, Metroidvania style. When not in combat, there is always something or somewhere to explore, plenty of light puzzle elements, and often, more than one way to do things. For example, in the opening level, there are many ways to complete progress to the next area. You can collect the sword, locate the elevator code, and leave, or you can guess the elevator code and leave without the sword in which case you are gifted a different weapon later. Alternatively, after reading about the vents in a log that is left behind, you can seek out and then enter these vents to find unique items found nowhere else. This is only in the opening level before any story is presented to you or you even know the main character's name. With the world being so vast and me personally wanting to cover as much of it as possible, I felt at times I couldn’t do that due to the ticking clock of everyone’s life span. I found that I spent so long exploring the early game that a character mentioned to appear later in the game had already become UNSIGHTED by the time I got to them. I guess that’s where the replayability comes in.

One living organism that has not threatened the lives of these automatons are dogs. An automaton by the name of Tobias has even opened a pet shop because of their love of these creatures. On your travels you can find stray dogs, rescue them, and send them to Tobias’ pet shop, and yes, you can pet every single one of them. A nice little addition, to distract you from the entire automaton race relying on you!

Aside from the main story, which you can play in co-op, you can also play two additional modes. These are Dungeon Raid and Boss Rush. Dungeon Raid is where you will traverse through procedurally generated dungeons to defeat enemies, collect loot, and try to survive as long as possible. I found this mode quite fun, and more of a drop in-drop out mode to practice combat without the stress of knowing my favorite automaton was out there slowly dying. Boss Rush is as you might expect: select a loadout of weapons and chips, and then see how many of the game's bosses you can defeat in a row. These are both nice extensions to the main campaign and although they don’t necessarily spoil the story at all, they do spoil who the bosses are and any weapons, chips and items you may not have discovered yet.

One of the biggest stand outs to UNSIGHTED is its visuals and sound. The pixel art, cyberpunk style is colorful and gorgeous. Even in murky dungeons the colors pop due to the constant aura of light that follows Alma around and highlights common enemies. The music is a piano heavy, melodic tone that I would happily listen to all day when reading books or just straight up vibing.

Overall, UNSIGHTED is a game that I hope doesn’t fall into the “hidden gem” category. For the simple reason that it is a gem that should not be hidden and needs to be in the line of sight (get it?) of as many gamers as possible. Despite the stress of the lifespan gimmick, this unique element is what will keep you on your toes and panicking, worrying but ultimately loving your time as Alma. The narrative is beautiful, and characters are all full of life and loveable, making for a gaming journey that you will genuinely care about.

TalkBack / Evertried (Switch) Review
« on: October 20, 2021, 11:00:00 PM »

I assume the lift was broken?

Do you like chess, but wish that you only controlled one piece that is a scythe-wielding warrior’s soul, where you navigate across a board, fighting demons, and ascend countless floors to reach the peak of the tower? You do? Well, why haven’t you ever tried Evertried? In a nutshell, you could describe Evertried as this, but it is so much more than what I’ve described. Evertried is a tactical roguelike in which you are a lost soul who must ascend a mysterious tower in the afterlife through trials. These trials are set on an isometric chessboard floor, full of enemies and hazards trying to stop you. Your job is to climb up these floors, using skills and strategically planning your movements, dashes, skills, and attacks to reach the top. If you fall in battle, you are sent right back down to floor one, only keeping with you any mastered skills.

Evertried is a Kickstarter-funded game, developed by Lunic Games in partnership with Danilo Domingues, who is the lead programmer of Evertried. Some of the pledge tiers offered perks such as having your name in an item’s lore or being named as an NPC, alongside a special thanks in the credits no matter what tier you subscribe to. With a small development team who are passionate and a huge backing via Kickstarter, there is always some level of expectation, and you can really see the focus and attention to detail that has gone into this game. For anyone who pledged, the team delivered in spades.

With Evertried, you dictate the pace of the game, which plays out in a turn-based fashion where no enemies move or hazards act until you have moved. You can use this to your advantage by carefully planning out your next move or next three moves. Stringing several moves and attacks together in quick succession increases your focus level, which supplies you with more shards and adds charges to your weapon, which is how you use the skills that can be purchased with said shards. The need for charges adds an incentive to keep up the pace and action. I did find however that the penalty for taking your time doesn’t impact the speed in which you collect as much as you would have thought. Personally, it’s better to take your time and not fall than to make a false move and have to start from floor one again.

If you aren’t used to isometric strategy games, you may find the movement controls a little awkward at first, but these become second nature soon enough. Evertried begins by giving you the option of normal or inverted controls. To me, inverted looked more natural and that is how I played through the game. I also made use of the D-pad when moving the warrior to avoid any incorrect inputs, as any false move on any floor can be disastrous. The movement and gameplay are very fluid, and it looks and feels incredible when you can string several moves together in quick succession.. You attack by moving your directional button towards the enemy or selecting A. You can also utilise a dash function at any time. This is a highly useful mechanic to escape a predicament or chase down an enemy to keep your focus meter going.

Not every floor has enemies out to defeat you, though. At random times you may come across a shop floor. This is where you can spend the shards you’ve earned from defeating enemies. You can spend shards on healing yourself and purchasing skills and modifiers. Skills can be activated by pressing X, allowing you to perform actions such as shooting a harpoon across a floor, or randomly targeting a foe and defeating them, or tagging them for bonus damage. Employing skills uses up your charges that you collect by defeating enemies or simply moving. Modifiers are passive buffs that activate based on your focus level. Your focus level increases the quicker in succession you defeat enemies; some modifiers require higher focus than others and will light up on screen when their focus level has been reached. Examples of this include restoring your health by one after a certain number of enemies are defeated or on occasion leaving a trail of fire behind you when you dash. Modifiers are important to ascend further into the game, meaning they represent another incentive to get off to a strong start and build that focus meter with rapid gameplay. Choosing the right skills and modifiers could be the difference between ascension and failure. The other type of floor you can come across is a floor with other lost souls and warriors who are taking a break from the ascension. On such floors, you can speak to and interact with everyone there. Some will share their own personal backstory, pass on lore of the tower you are ascending, or help you discover more about your warrior’s story. Others will provide helpful tips, assist you with mastering skills, or even heal you. One part of these floors that I find really cool is that if you fall and start from floor one again, but then encounter an NPC you had met before, they remember you and your conversation with them deepens. It is important to note that these floors do not count towards your ascension to the top.  There are fifty floors in total with a boss level every ten floors. These boss levels vary from strategically chasing down and attacking your foe over and over to just flat out trying not to die whilst you chip away at their health. Being a roguelike, Evertried’s trials are different every time, with only the boss encounters remaining the same. I found that on some runs, I had died four floors in and then the next I was well into the teens before starting to struggle. This game is extremely difficult. At first, with no option to lower the difficulty, and no save points, I was frustrated and had to step away from the game, but upon returning I became addicted. I couldn’t put it down. Each time I fell, I knew it wasn’t the game’s fault. You learn from your mistakes and implement them into your next trial run. However, I do wish that a save point was implemented as ascending through all fifty floors in one sitting sometimes isn’t feasible. Maybe even a mechanic where that save state is removed once you do fall; it would have been nice to just pick up where I left off instead of leaving my Switch in sleep mode and the game open.

Evertried is visually kept simple, and this works to great effect, allowing the game to do all the talking. The colors are bold and every ten floors you are greeted with a new palette and new floor mechanics, which helps keep the game fresh and demonstrates the feeling of progression for the player. The game is especially pretty in handheld mode. One of my personal favorite aspects of Evertried is the music and sound design. The music was composed by Moonsailor, who created a low-key, melodic, dreamlike vibe that complements the timeless, retro-pixelated art style very well.

Despite its difficulty, Evertried is almost faultless in what it attempts to achieve. The gameplay is tight, the music and visuals are both fresh and nostalgic, and the roguelike tower aspect and difficulty will have you coming back for “just one more run” until you ascend to the top. And even when you do, this game will have you coming back for more as you attempt to better previous scores and times.

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