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Messages - NWR_Neal

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TalkBack / Megaton Musashi W: Wired (Switch) Review
« on: July 01, 2024, 05:17:15 AM »

Level-5 returns with an enjoyable narrative-heavy mech adventure with okay combat.

Nintendo fans from the DS and 3DS era likely remember Level-5. The Japanese developer has been around since 1998, but they cemented their place on my radar the moment Professor Layton and the Curious Village came out on Nintendo DS in 2007. They followed that game up with countless sequels and also introduced the world to a variety of other games, including Yokai Watch, Fantasy Life, and Inazuma Eleven. They were quiet for a long time though, with most games barely even making it out in Japan. However, their first major release in the west in a long time can catch you up on a lot of their work over the past few years. Three years after its Japanese release, Megaton Musashi W: Wired hit Nintendo Switch earlier in 2024. It’s an extremely novel game that looks beautiful and is packed with content, though it leans a lot further into the story than I expected.

It takes a while before you can truly sink into some mech combat in Megaton Musashi W: Wired. First, you need to be introduced to its Matrix-esque premise. Playing as the volatile teen Yamato, you go about your seemingly idyllic normal life until the veil is torn down and the memories of the alien Draktors destroying humanity resurface. After being informed of the meager surviving government’s attempt to fight back the Draktors while letting the rest of humanity live in a simulation, Yamato hops behind the wheel of a Rogue, a giant mech that is used to fight back against the Draktors. The animation in cut scenes is fantastic and even moving around the world is pleasant thanks to the sharp art style that pops on the Switch, especially in handheld. The story is relatively long, but stays interesting throughout with plenty of twists and turns. Soon enough, maybe you’ll start feeling some sympathy for the aliens.

As I said, I was surprised by how much the story was the main draw here. I expected a lot more focus on fighting stuff with a giant mech. That is a key part of the game, but it’s also one of the weaker parts. First off, after how sharp the visuals are outside of battle, the graphics when you’re fighting look worse. Beyond that, the combat is generally just hack and slash. That’s not a death knell, but it makes that aspect of the game get stale over time. The difficulty does eventually ramp up, but it takes quite a while for it to be more engaging. You can fiddle with customizing your mech as well with an overwhelming amount of options. A lot of it feels superfluous, though. It’s hard to feel the minute differences between weapons when a lot of the combat is just working your way through hordes of foes. That all being said, it’s still fun to move around and fight robots in the same way it’s enjoyable to romp through an arcade beat-’em-up.

I walked away from Megaton Musashi W: Wired feeling very optimistic for the forthcoming onslaught of Level-5 games due out in the near future, but it was also a reminder of their strengths and weaknesses. The presentation is incredible, complete with a compelling story and charming characters. The action-oriented parts lag behind, though. The mech battling is totally fine hack-and-slash fun, but it rarely exceeds that. If you’re looking for a fun mechs-vs.aliens narrative to enjoy on your Switch, Megaton Musashi W: Wired absolutely rocks. But if you’re here solely for robot combat, you’re best looking elsewhere.

TalkBack / Monster Hunter Stories (Switch) Review
« on: June 13, 2024, 07:00:00 AM »

A visually impressive 3DS game comes to Switch and, well, it looks like a 3DS game.

Monster Hunter Stories was a novel spinoff to Capcom’s Monster Hunter series when it hit Nintendo 3DS in 2016 (2017 outside of Japan), though it came out near the end of the console’s lifespan. Ironically, the first Stories is being ported to Nintendo Switch near the end of that console’s life, but it’s in a vastly different place for Monster Hunter and Nintendo in the west. Monster Hunter World’s 2018 release helped to make the franchise more prominent than ever, spawning more support on Switch in the form of Monster Hunter Rise and Monster Hunter Stories 2. Now anyone curious about the Stories sub-series 3DS origins can check it out in this fine port.

Broadly, this is Pokemon by way of Monster Hunter. It’s not quite 1:1 with Pokemon’s setup, but the basics are that it’s a monster-collecting RPG where you find and raise your own crew of Monsties to uncover the mystery behind the blight that is poisoning the world. The story is told well, often feeling like a Saturday morning cartoon in a good way. How it filters the Pokemon hook through the Monster Hunter lens in how it’s structured. Much like how you accept quests in mainline Monster Hunter games, you’re doing a lot of that here. Some of them devolve into fetch quests, but they’re always good reasons to venture out into the world and explore more of the various areas.

The monster variety isn’t quite as vibrant as Pokemon, as the Monstie count here is only in the mid-double-digits, but it’s soundly good enough. What was the laggard part of the game back in 2017 still remains that same part here: the battle system. It’s serviceable but it’s heavily built on a rock/paper/scissors mechanic that bounces between random and stale. More complexities are added over time, especially as your Monstie lineup deepens and your weapon selection increases, but the same basic strategies rule the day. Counter the enemy character’s primary attack type and go nuts. I appreciate you can speed up the battles so some of the potential monotony is lessened, but this is the crucial part of the game that drags it down, especially since some of the technical triumphs of the 3DS game are rendered moot by the port. Though for as much as I - someone who has played these types of games for multiple decades - am let down by the battle system, I do think it’s a nice level of depth for kids. The lower entry level of the battle system helps to make it a good entry level RPG in a way that I don’t think most modern Pokemon games do a great job of.

I don’t mean this negatively as much as I mean it matter-of-factly: this Switch version of a 3DS game indeed does look like it was a 3DS game. This was a good-looking 3DS game for its time and while the overall art design is still strong, it still very much looks like it used to be a handheld game. It’s felt most prominently in the open world areas that are very sparse. As long as you know what you’re getting into, the visuals aren’t a big detractor, especially because otherwise the game runs fine aside from some load times here and there. It also helps that this isn’t being launched at full price.

The game itself is more or less unchanged from the original 3DS release (more than likely this is an adaptation of the 2018 iOS/Android port). The biggest addition is fully voiced English and Japanese dialogue, so you can switch to your preference. A Museum Mode with concept art and music is also brand new. This does come with all of the post-launch content added to the original release in Japan, including a wealth of new monsters and even postgame challenges. If you still have Monster Hunter amiibo, you can also break them out here as well to unlock what you could in the original. The online multiplayer battles are also available here, though go back up to my thoughts about the battle system and you can see that my interest in them is not high. I’m happy they exist though and my experiences with them were that it ran fine.

As someone who enjoyed Monster Hunter Stories when it came out on 3DS seven years ago, I’m happy it has a new home on Switch, even if it’s not a full remake. It’s well worth diving into if you missed it the first time around, especially since the relative simplicity makes it a decent entrypoint for a younger audience into this world and genre (especially since it has so much voice acting). If you are looking for something more complex, you can always try Monster Hunter Stories 2 or just go on hunts in one of the many other available Monster Hunters.

Podcast Discussion / Announcing the Connectivity Game Club
« on: June 11, 2024, 05:13:00 PM »

We're back kinda.

While John and Neal take a break from weekly Connectivity episodes, we've decided to pivot to a new format inspired by our popular Game Club episodes. Starting in July we'll be posting monthly (hopefully) episodes of a brand new Game Club. But this time, rather than basing games around a specific franchise, each member of the cast will choose a game to make everyone else play through.

We'll be recording our first episode based on Melanie's pick, Outer Wilds in mid July. Pick up the game on your platform of Choice and play along with us!

TalkBack / SaGa: Emerald Beyond (Switch) Review
« on: April 24, 2024, 04:00:00 AM »

A witch, a vampire king, and a singing robot walk into a bar in an RPG and produce a tedious story.

The last decade of SaGa ports and remakes have been illuminating in the west, shining a bright light on a series that has never been at the top of the list of Square Enix’s famed franchises. The last brand new entry in the SaGa series predates the Switch (the Japan-only 2016 Vita release SaGa Scarlet Grace) and now, eight years later, comes SaGa Emerald Beyond - the first brand new SaGa game on Switch after more than a half dozen other re-releases on the system. Unfortunately, the wait might not have been worth it because Emerald Beyond is an uneven, oft boring game buoyed by a solid combat system.

Much like any entry in the series this century, Emerald Beyond features a nonlinear structure where player choice guides you in different directions for each story. You pick between five different characters, ranging from aspiring witch Ameya Aisling to the singing robot Diva No. 5, and then choose between a few different options to explore different worlds leading to an open-ended narrative conclusion that then encourages you to play with a different character or replay one of the characters you have already completed. In my experience, each playthrough took around five hours (give or take), but the deeper I got into each replay, the more bored I became. The playthroughs do build up an overarching story and are filled with enough different areas to visit and things to do that aren’t just identical runs, but the overlap in gameplay and presentation start to blur all the worlds together, turning it into a veritable soup of an RPG quest.

The character variety is wacky, as in addition to the aforementioned teen witch and singing robot, you also have a vampire king, a magical puppeteer, and a pair of rookie cops. To be able to go from vampire battles to cops investigating a murder should be thrilling, but in execution, it’s just bland. A lot of this comes from the flat presentation, both in how the 3D characters are presented in the 2D overworld but also in the dialogue itself. Everything is overwrought and overlong, a far cry from the strong localization in SaGa Scarlet Grace that was one of my favorite aspects of the game. Sadly, the dialogue in Emerald Beyond unfolds with an almost eerily logical precision, lacking the natural hesitations of human conversation. Also would it kill someone to explain to the Western audience what a kugutsu is (for the record they’re easily summed up as demon puppets, which is maybe what they could have been called in game or even just described as in game).

While Emerald Beyond boasts 17 different worlds to explore and plot threads that connect together in the background, the moment-to-moment gameplay in each world is very similar. You enter a new area, press a button to automatically scan for points of interest, pick between one of a few points of interest, sit through slow, long dialogue, and occasionally fight a battle. Rinse and repeat. One time I collected logs found by wandering the overworld. Another time I looked for cats. All of it is just point-to-point wandering around flat areas. Also, every now and then you have to solve a simple tangram puzzle. That’s basically the game.

Some of that setup is similar to how Scarlet Grace operated, but it’s streamlined to the point of obsolescence. Scarlet Grace had towns and blacksmiths to break up the flow. In Emerald Beyond, you just upgrade your weapons through the main menu. This simplifies the process but also makes it so the game is narrow-minded. A lot of my complaints about past SaGa games are that they can be too inscrutable for their own good, but after playing Emerald Beyond, I’m coming to the realization that these games are based on layers of inscrutability. Making it easier to understand alters the alchemy that makes these games fun and interesting.

All that being said, the combat’s enjoyable. The turn-based battles are built off of the bones of Scarlet Grace’s very good combat system with a lot of smart tweaks that make it a little more friendly, but still adequately inscrutable as like past games, there are no experience points and depending on your character’s race, you earn new abilities semi-randomly. As far as the new tweaks, characters can equip two different weapon types now, combos are easier to pull off, and different character types make for a lot more party-building variety. The combat quite frankly saved this game for me.

It’s a shame that SaGa Emerald Beyond doesn’t stick the landing outside of the enjoyable turn-based combat because it’s still a fascinating and distinct series. I wish I was more engaged in the story, because the potential of bouncing between 17 worlds and criss-crossing replayed stories sounds cool. It just doesn’t coalesce into something all that fun. Maybe the SaGa series is something best left to ports and remakes.

TalkBack / TMNT: Wrath of the Mutants (Switch) Review
« on: April 23, 2024, 06:00:00 AM »

An arcade port comes home to a house full of other turtles.

Having stumbled upon the Raw Thrills-developed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game a few times, I was looking forward to the home release of the game in the form of TMNT: Wrath of the Mutants. The original 2017 release is a decently enjoyable modern arcade game that does not rival the Konami classics but is a fine pastiche. On Nintendo Switch, removed from the colorful arcade cabinet you potentially found in a bowling alley or bar, that enjoyment starts to fade away.

The best part of Wrath of the Mutants is the source material, pulling from the extremely good 2012 TMNT cartoon, featuring the great voice cast of Rob Paulsen, Seth Green, Sean Astin, and Greg Cipes as the title characters. All of the levels, including the new ones added to the Switch version, pull from the cartoon show’s entire run, complete with some winks and nods to older versions of the characters. The Switch version runs fine but doesn’t look that great overall, especially in handheld mode. While I personally like the look of the show it’s based on, I don’t think that art style translates well to this type of video game.

Levels are longer than you expect, complete with multiple stages, mid-bosses, and a final boss. The four playable characters are most separated by their available Turtle Power, which is a bonus move that can be pulled off when a meter is charged. Mikey uses his nunchucks to hit enemies with pizza slices, Donnie electrocutes baddies, Leo spins in a sword tornado, and Raph gets angry and makes fire appear. You also have assist characters, such as Leatherhead and Metalhead, that you can occasionally get to drop in and help out battling the hordes.

In a world where the Switch is filthy with TMNT arcade games across the Cowabunga Collection and Shredder’s Revenge, Wrath of the Mutants is a distant third place. It’s fine in the sense that if you get three buddies to play through it with you, you’ll probably have a good time. But beyond that camaraderie, this is a middling port of an okay game.

TalkBack / Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review-In-Progress
« on: April 24, 2024, 04:35:00 PM »

The shaman from Kenzera will assuredly challenge the prince from Persia in 2024.

Typically when I play Metroidvanias, I’m not focusing on the story. I love Metroid and I have geeked out over Chozo lore, but at the end of the day, as long as I’ve got some atmosphere amidst the labyrinths, I’m good to go. The strength of Tales of Kenzera: Zau is in its story, which is intertwined through the gameplay, told in a manner that makes the game better by its emotional impact. The quasi-abstract story of loss and grief is the foundation that the tight platforming, great sense of movement, and enjoyable combat funnels all build from. In the process, developer Surgent Studios has made one of the best games of its type in recent memory.

The majority of the game focuses on a young shaman named Zau who recently lost his father. He goes to Kalunga, the God of Death, to try to revive his dad, which takes him on a quest throughout the land of Kenzera to defeat the three great spirits. Each spirit has its parable about death and loss, delivering powerful emotional beats regularly. I did not expect to be near tears during boss fights during this game. While the story is a focus, it doesn’t interrupt gameplay, with most of the cut scenes told economically on the back of incredible writing. Zau also has recurring dialogue with Kalunga while he’s running and jumping around the world.

The platforming and action that accompanies the story is mostly fantastic, as Zau’s maneuverability starts great and gets even better as you unlock more abilities. The combination of a double jump, wall jump, and dash makes platforming quick and fun in an almost rhythmic pattern. While the game holds secret paths and unlockables, it’s largely straightforward for the duration of the plot. Even still, I had a good time jumping around areas I’ve already gone through.

The combat is simple at a glance but has a variety of layers, some of which can be low-key cheesed during certain combat situations. Zau has a sun mask and a moon mask that can be swapped between at will. The sun mask is more aggressive and melee-focused, offering light combos and when you unlock it, a special powerful ranged attack. The moon mask is more focused on defense, with an early stun add-on power as well as a basic ranged attack. Swapping between the two strategically is where the combat starts to take off. It feels great to lay out a mask-swapping plan and execute it to perfection. The only real issue with the combat is the few stretches of too many kill rooms in close proximity. They both slow the momentum down and show the cracks of the combat.

Visually, the art style is overall expressive and pleasant, running well enough on Switch. It's not the ideal place to play Tales of Kenzera, but if you just have access to Switch, it's good enough to experience the greatness this game has to offer. The game has auto-save, so it removes any need for save rooms. The checkpointing is mostly good, though it is hard to find out where the game will leave you when you quit the game. My biggest issue with the checkpointing is when there is a reaction-based platforming challenge. Some of those are side challenges, so the fact they’re meant to be difficult doesn’t bother me there, but when those are in the main story, I felt like I was being punished for not having preternatural knowledge of what was coming next. Lengthy trial-and-error segments were the lowest point of Tales of Kenzera.

Thankfully that low point is the outlier, but this is still overall a stellar video game. Lasting in the ballpark of 8-10 hours, Tales of Kenzera is a well-paced Metroidvania that is a blast to play, featuring novel unlockable abilities, a good challenge, and most of all, an incredible story. Just be ready to shed a tear or two, especially if you’re in my shoes of being a parent to a young kid because hoo boy - that whole father/son element is played to perfection. The story is a true triumph and the gameplay supports it perfectly.

TalkBack / Lorelei and the Laser Eyes (PC) Preview
« on: April 17, 2024, 08:18:00 AM »

Put pen to paper in this mesmerizing mystery.

Truth be told, there isn't a lot I can tell you specifically about Lorelei and the Laser Eyes. I've played a few hours of the game on my Steam Deck, where it's been enchanting and mesmerizing. The developer Simogo previously released the glorious music masterpiece Sayonara Wild Hearts on Switch in 2019, with their previous notable Nintendo appearance before then being the now-lost-media Wii U version of Year Walk. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes has been something I've wanted to spend time with since it was announced because Simogo doesn't miss.

So far so good. Lorelei and the Laser Eyes lives up to the hype. It's baffling at times, demanding your full attention and if you want to go full hog into it, a place to take notes. You control a woman who begins outside of a European hotel trying to solve a mystery. That mystery sometimes seems straightforward but it's anything but. You have to explore the areas around you to find whatever details you can muster to piece together the primary mystery and more, as everything is not as seemingly straightforward. It's daunting and I was especially tickled by Simogo's commentary in a press letter where the team admitted that they don't expect every player to finish it. That admission might seem bizarre, but it's refreshing to hear a developer say that in a world where most statistics say that the majority of players don't finish games.

The embargo prohibits me from going into too many details, so pardon if a focus on my feelings in a vague manner feels awkward. I haven't felt this way about a game since Fez, which was the last game where I primarily played it with a notebook next to me. The actual mechanics aren't comparable to the platforming in Fez, but the weird meta background elements have a lot in common with Lorelei. The amount of a-ha moments I've had in the early goings have been incredibly rewarding, connecting the arcane dots together and figuring out smaller solutions as part of the greater whole. I'm looking forward to diving deeper into this beguiling locale. Who knows if I'll buck Simogo's predictions and finish this game, but regardless I expect to be satisfied and entranced.

Now you all can feel my feelings and take the challenge of seeing if you can actually figure this game out as the release date is confirmed to be May 16. Get your pen and paper ready to figure out the mysterious machinations of Lorelei and the Laser Eyes.

TalkBack / Picross Logiart Grimoire (Switch) Review
« on: April 17, 2024, 03:54:02 AM »

The magic of fusion adds a new twist to classic Picross.

Game developer Jupiter has been putting out consistently good Picross games for ages across the 3DS and Switch. We’re talking about thousands of Picross puzzles from Jupiter available just on Switch, split between more than a dozen releases. Along the way, they’ve made a few experiments with the style, whether it was the anime tie-in Picross: Lord of the Nazarick or the fast-paced Picross X. Those didn’t really click with me in the same way the Picross S series does, but now, with their latest release Picross Logiart Grimoire, I believe Jupiter has found an exciting new aesthetic and presentation for Picross games.

Logiart Grimoire, which debuted on Steam in Early Access in 2023 (and was fueled by a Kickstarter campaign), takes the rock solid foundation of Jupiter’s other games and adds a novel new look and a pleasant change-of-pace puzzling way to unlock new nonograms. You play as Emil, a magician who is trying to restore the titular grimoire. Naturally you do that by solving boatloads of nonogram puzzles.

While like their recent games, you can skip basic tutorials, the structure here does not let you just skip to the high-level 20x20 puzzles right away. You have to follow the progression, knock out some easy 5x5 puzzles and level up your hero to gain more access to the pages of the grimoire. The salve for that for high-level Picross players is that there are numerous bonus puzzles (mostly created from Kickstarter backer requests) that are generally harder and accessible right away; when you do get deeper into the game, there are 40x30-size puzzles to feast on. The best thing I can say about the pace and flow is that the Switch version is my second time playing Logiart Grimoire (also played the Steam version) and I was relatively unbothered by the slower start, mostly due to the new presentation and the neat way you unlock puzzles.

Specifically, unlocking different puzzles requires you to use existing solved puzzles to form new ones. Through various different chapters in the book, you will get a prompt, like “It is collected from the ground and water is added to mold and shape it,” with the bolded words highlighted, cluing you in that those are the two items you need to fuse to make the puzzle playable. In the case of that puzzle, I selected soil and water from my Primordial puzzle list and selected those to fuse. It gets more complex from there as you unlock more items and sometimes need to fuse more than two items for success. It’s just enough of a brain teaser to break up the Picross play and keep everything more fresh. It can get overwhelming at times, but you level up by completing puzzles, which slowly unlocks more puzzles to find and fuse. It’s well paced in that regard.

Picross Logiart Grimoire is not a full-on replacement for Jupiter’s past Picross S games, but it’s a wonderful addition to their library. If you’ve been put off by the presentation of Picross S, this might be the entry to bring you back to Jupiter’s delightful world of nonogram magic. If you’re like me, a loyal soldier who shows up for every single one of these Picross games no matter what, the new presentation might seem like it’s just the same old with a new wizard hat, but this is one of the best Picross games that Jupiter has put out, largely because it feels new and has a nice sense of progression.

TalkBack / Let's! Revolution! (Switch) Review
« on: April 10, 2024, 07:00:00 AM »

Roguelike Minesweeper with spectacular animation.

Let’s! Revolution! is an exclamatory game that I hadn’t heard about until its Switch announcement, but it’s a very well regarded roguelike puzzle game that first debuted on PC in 2023. The basics are relatively straightforward in that it’s a gorgeously animated spin on Minesweeper with a lot of nuance and variety. The mechanics get convoluted in spots, but more often than not, this is a unique, brain-twisting game that you can get lost in for hours.

The art and animation are still the highlight though, which makes sense considering the game comes from BUCK, an animation studio that has been around for 20 years and has worked on numerous advertising and creative projects most notably and recently the opening sequence for Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse. Sometimes it’s just fun to see the way your player character interacts with the gridded environment or the way an enemy bounces around idly.

Though this is a video game so the visuals can only take you so far. The gameplay puts you in control of a character in a gridded environment that is primarily obscured. You leap from square to square trying to defeat enemies, find items and upgrades, and discover the villainous king. Enemies will only be present on a road, and if you’re not on a road, the amount of roads touching your square will be represented by a number on your square. Hence, the Minesweeper of it all as the roads are akin to the bombs in that classic. But not every road will be dangerous, which gives the whole thing a nice push and pull as you occasionally risk it by jumping into the unknown.

With the Minesweeper inspiration, it was sometimes frustrating that there wasn’t the pure logic reasoning present in that game. I felt too often that I was railroaded into making a blind decision. That does make the game more challenging and by virtue of that a little more chaotic and random. How you build up your character through items and upgrades can mitigate that randomness. I’d have some runs where I’d have a nigh-unbeatable set of skills and others where I was hanging on for dear life. Numerous character classes and abilities that you unlock over time give you a ton of variety to experiment with, consistently keeping the game evolving and changing. I appreciate how many different styles you get to experience, but some are more fun than others. I vastly prefer the more aggressive characters compared to the ones reliant on stealth, especially as some obnoxious enemy types make stealth a real pain in the butt.

If you’re looking for a fresh roguelike game with thoughtful puzzle stylings, Let’s! Revolution! is an excellent game to dive into. Even in the moments playing a character class I didn’t enjoy as much, I still had a good time, especially since most runs are far less than an hour. This game seems to recognize its kitchen sink gameplay concept approach and lets you fiddle with whatever aspects work best for you. Here’s hoping BUCK doesn’t just stick to animation in the future because their game design is rather intriguing.

TalkBack / Picross Logiart Grimoire Coming to Switch Next Week
« on: April 10, 2024, 06:00:00 AM »

Jupiter's early access Picross game is launching on Switch after its 1.0 release on PC.

Picross Logiart Grimoire, the latest game from Picross S developers Jupiter, is coming to Nintendo Switch on April 18.

The game, one of Jupiter's first games also released on PC, launched into Early Access on Steam in September 2023 and was released into 1.0 this past March. On Switch, it will release for $19.99.

Including 280 puzzles, the new twist is that in addition to all the nonogram puzzle solving, you also combine different items to create new puzzles. The aesthetics are also different than the normal sanitized Picross S look as it takes on the look of a magical book.

Alongside the launch, all Jupiter-published Switch Picross games will be 35% off until April 24.

TalkBack / Pepper Grinder (Switch) Review
« on: March 28, 2024, 08:00:00 AM »

A smart, concentrated blast of drill platforming glory.

Pepper Grinder is a game that fits into that special category of Nintendo console indie where it heavily evokes an old Nintendo game, except for once it isn’t just Metroid or Mario. This time it’s Drill Dozer, a Game Freak-developed Game Boy Advance game, but while that serves as a good shorthand for Pepper Grinder’s setup, the games themselves largely just share drills and a 2D perspective in common. Pepper Grinder is a level-based side-scroller where you dance across the screen driving your drill through the ground in enemies in a borderline balletic fashion.

Pepper Grinder makes it easy to sink into, as you dig your drill into the ground and wipe out enemies, collect coins, and seek out special pirate coins nestled in every level. While the overall experience only lasts a few hours, the game is consistently inventive, tossing out new twists and additions to the drilling gameplay, usually in the form of attaching your drill to a vehicle or item. Romping through the main path across four worlds is relatively straightforward, but even more fun can be had engaging in some speedrunning or scouring for the pirate coins in levels. Those special coins can unlock other levels that are usually a little harder than the norm.

The special sauce of Pepper Grinder is the style. Visuals and music combine into a distinctive look that gels with the gameplay perfectly. The pixel art is a little grungy and squiggly in a way that makes the drill movement look as good as it feels. Movement is joyful, especially as you start to make use of boosts and grapples and all sorts of mechanical embellishments.

While no difficulty setting exists, there’s enough challenge in here to not be a breeze, but enough help if you’re having trouble. Some of the bosses are quite challenging, but if you get stuck, you can use in-game currency to buy more health points. Even still, the bosses generally fall into the style of you have to avoid them for a while and wait for a very small opening to attack them. Sometimes that opening isn’t clear at first and you might have to wait for a lot of the same attack patterns to happen before you know what to do. It’s just personally not my favorite kind of boss fight style. Additionally, I ran into a bothersome glitch that made the final boss a bear, but to the developer’s credit, a fix is on the way (out on Steam but due to the patch pipeline on Switch, it isn’t live as of writing though it should be live around launch).

If you’re into unique and creative takes on platforming, Pepper Grinder is well worth jumping (or rather, drilling) into. I’m not the biggest fan of the boss fights (especially the one that currently glitches out), but overall, this is a good grind from start to finish. I’d love to see more takes on drill-based platforming along these lines, though the tight package developer Ahr Ech has put together is a concentrated blast of fun.

TalkBack / MLB The Show 24 (Switch) Review
« on: March 18, 2024, 03:50:39 AM »

A great baseball game marred by technical limitations.

Even after three years, it’s jarring seeing the PlayStation branding appear on Nintendo Switch courtesy of Sony San Diego’s long-running MLB The Show series. Back in 2022 when The Show first hit Switch, it was an impressive port, taking a deep, full-featured simulation baseball game and making it run well on Switch complete with crossplay on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. This is still an impressive port, but the sheen is starting to wear off as the Switch marches into its final days and some of the new content on The Show doesn’t look as nice downgraded to run on decade-old tech.

In spite of that, MLB The Show is still an incredible baseball game, especially in handheld mode. The gameplay on the field remains virtually unchanged, with some finetuning here and there. Hitting and pitching are still extremely nuanced and well balanced, with an array of smart options and variety. This year I got more into the PCI zone hitting option, which was added a few years ago. It’s a great embellishment on the classic timing-based swinging methods in baseball games, and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back at this point. Fielding feels a little snappier, likely thanks to the new animations added throughout the game.

In general, when the ball is pitched or hit into the field, The Show is great. It’s when you’re not doing that the Switch version starts shambling around. Load times were present before, but now it’s impacted my pace of play more often. That’s likely not being helped by the launch weekend server issues, but no matter what the true cause is, the menus in the game feel far more sluggish this year. Server issues are not guaranteed to level out, but the first days have been a debacle as I have regularly gotten bounced from online modes. Thankfully, the game seems to be smart about when it auto-saves because I have lost little meaningful progress when the servers crash. However, on top of the server problems, I just straight up had multiple game crashes in general, force-closing the game and making me restart from the Switch menu. Some of this could be bad luck since I’ve never had this happen in the past entries in the series, but it’s been sadly more frequent in MLB The Show 24.

Even as I wrestled with technical shortcomings, I still spent a lot of time in the Diamond Dynasty mode, which is this game’s card-based Ultimate Team-esque mode. Like recent outings, you do not need to spend much real money to field a competitive squad in the mode. You are granted a decent amount of packs at the start and there are easy ways to accumulate a decent roster. Early on, my outfield had Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, and Ken Griffey Jr; that’s an all-timer of an outfield. Diamond Dynasty didn’t get too many changes this year, with most of them being tweaks to the larger changes made last season.

The mode that seemingly got the most love this year was the Road to the Show mode, the create-a-player story where you take your player from the minors to the pros. The most noteworthy and awesome addition is that you can create a female player and take her on a history-making quest from the MLB Draft to the pros. I love the concept, but in execution, the narrative is told in a stale format regularly interrupted by some of the most compressed video of faux MLB Network sets I’ve ever seen. So much of this threadbare plot is told via clumsy text messages between your player and her friend or agent as you watch your created heroine awkwardly sit in a clubhouse. It’s a shame because the idea is so cool. You can see the kernels of an incredible mode in Road to the Show, but it’s sadly not ready for the big leagues, at least on Switch.

On the flipside, the Storylines section from last year returns with more fascinating history from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. 10 players get a feature this year, with four available at launch, including legendary home-run hitter Hank Aaron and the first professional woman player Toni Stone. The rest will be released throughout the year. Similarly, Yankee legend Derek Jeter gets his own Storyline as well. At launch, the first few seasons of his lengthy career are covered, which include the majority of his World Series wins. The rest of his career will be covered in content drops throughout the year as well. Storylines are such an incredible way to present sports history in an interactive and engaging manner. I hope The Show keeps adding to this in the form of long ago and recent history. These are so clever and polished that it makes the failing of the narrative in the Road to the Show mode stand out even more.

I remain happy that MLB The Show 24 is on Switch since it brings a quality simulation baseball game with current rosters to a Nintendo platform, something that has not been the norm in the past 20 years. While the Switch version is showing its technical limitations and age, it’s still a fine way to play through the bountiful content spread across the game. Optimally it’s best played in handheld, but no matter how you play it, the gameplay is rock solid. Additionally, the way it treats baseball history with the Storylines mode is incredible. Now if only the video wasn’t so compressed and I didn’t have to worry about the game or server crashing at any point.


We don't know what, but they cleared a space.

John and Neal return after a month off with a new, somehow even less structured, podcast format. Nintendo has announced release dates for all of their confirmed 2024 games and they cut off in June. Nintendo has something unanounced happening this fall. Could it be Metroid? Mario Party? Hyrule Warriors?

TalkBack / The Legend of Legacy HD Remastered (Switch) Review
« on: March 15, 2024, 05:29:22 AM »

A late-gen Switch remaster of a late-gen 3DS RPG.

The Legend of Legacy first came out in the west nearly a decade ago on 3DS courtesy of publisher Atlus. I reviewed it back then and while the difficulty spikes and minimalist story dragged it down, I walked away with positive memories of my time with the FuRyu-developed RPG. Revisiting it on Switch in the upgraded port published by NIS America–dubbed The Legend of Legacy HD Remastered–rekindles those fond memories. With the recent SaGa series explosion from Square Enix, the novelty of The Legend of Legacy’s combat system is less impactful, but it’s still an enchanting RPG in spite of the same threadbare story and difficulty spikes.

The focus of the adventure is more on exploration as opposed to combat, as after you pick one of the seven playable characters you set out to explore the various regions on the island of Avalon. Roaming around each area and filling out the map is the goal, with various battles and bosses along the way. The combat is heavily inspired by the SaGa series as your characters don’t traditionally level up with experience points. Instead, the more you use certain abilities, the more the stats related to them improve and you randomly unlock more abilities tied to that weapon or item. It’s relatively straightforward and approachable, but the element of RNG can make certain boss fights or even stronger regular enemy fights frustrating.

The visuals and music make those obstacles more enjoyable though. The soundtrack from Masashi Hamauzu (who most recently worked on the soundtrack for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth) is incredible, made better by not being output on 3DS speakers. The visuals also translated better to Switch than I expected, looking especially stylish on the handheld screen.

But if you already played this game on 3DS, there isn’t much in the way of new features in this release. Some quality of life features make this obtuse game a little more manageable, essentially including instruction manual-esque detail in menus. The way they changed the StreetPass trading game to work without the notable 3DS feature is cute, even if it just makes it a simple side thing where you send off a character to get items as opposed to the fun real-world traveling aspect of StreetPass in the original.

The Legend of Legacy HD Remastered is a solid port of an interesting but flawed game. If you want to explore some dungeon-like areas, rock some SaGa-like combat, and listen to some beautiful music, then it’s worth journeying through Avalon. Otherwise, this remains a game I think is neat but wouldn’t necessarily emphatically recommend to most aside from the specific group I just described.


A new Shiren for a new generation.

Roguelikes are a dime a dozen in video games these days, but that wasn’t always the case. A handful of games drove the popularity of the style more than a decade ago, but I remember my first wondrous experience was with Spelunky when it came to Xbox 360 in 2012. I was shocked to see that Shiren the Wanderer - Japan’s preeminent ‘90s Rogue-inspired series - hadn’t had a new entry designed since the modern day roguelike explosion, as Shiren 5 (subtitled in the West as The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate) came out initially in 2010, though with an upgraded Switch release in 2020. That game is great, but the sixth and latest entry in the nearly 30-year-old series, dubbed Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, is an even bigger step forward, improving on some novel online features and expanding the fun and complexity of the awesome and oft punishing franchise.

The visuals are the most apparent change in Shiren 6, as the franchise sheds its pixel art roots for 3D visuals. I was hesitant at first, but the implementation of the new art style fits the series wonderfully. Characters and enemies are expressive and the game overall looks sharp on the Nintendo Switch. I wouldn’t call the 3D visuals head and shoulders better than 2D pixel art, but it ultimately feels closer to six of one, half-dozen of another when it comes down to it.

The gameplay is refined but generally unchanged from the Mystery Dungeon style. Through a novel narrative conceit where the titular wanderer is destroyed by the eventual final boss and awakens back in the starting town with no memory, Shiren sets off to solve the mystery dungeon of Serpentcoil Island. Floors of the randomly generated dungeon are all grid-based and each move or action you make is a turn. When you take a turn, other enemies and NPCs across the floor also take an action. The emphasis is on thoughtful strategy, making use of the items and scrolls you find to navigate traps and defeat increasingly difficult hordes of enemies. When you lose all your hit points, you start back at the first floor with none of your items or gear.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t progression. You can uncover alternate paths and explore different side quests as you likely fail numerous runs. The progression isn’t found in level-ups or gear, but in knowledge. You’ll learn the weaknesses of different enemies and the effectiveness of different items. You’ll learn when to get the hell out of a dungeon and when you can hang back and pick off foes. While I sometimes wished there was an easier difficulty setting, I had a blast trying to make use of my inventory to stay alive in the deadly mystery dungeon.

When you do inevitably die, you can make use of the rescue system. Originally introduced back in Shiren the Wanderer on Wii, the rescue system is an ingenious online component where, when you fail, you can request a rescue from an online player. When you attempt rescues online, you also earn Aid Points, which can be used to make your future rescues easier, letting you start at a higher level or with more health. Even if you’re offline, you can rescue yourself (though you don’t get Aid Points that way). During the review period, I primarily rescued myself, which was a fun and unique challenge in and of itself. While you can only be rescued three times over the course of a run, it’s a nice option to have for when you get pantsed deep into the dungeon.

Rescue isn’t the only neat online feature. You can also let other players try your current run while using Parallel Play, which creates a save point mid-dungeon that you can share with others to see who can do the best. That, combined with some of the stream-friendly UI options, makes Shiren more an online experience than I ever would have expected when I was getting my ass kicked by punishing dungeons back in the 2000s.

Even if you’re not dabbling in the worldwide mystery dungeon web, Shiren 6 is still a beefy game that holds a wealth of secrets. The main dungeon is only 30 floors, but by progressing through the game, you can unlock various shortcuts and side dungeons that usually come with a greater challenge and an even greater reward. This is a flavor of game that might not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a thoughtful, challenging game that constantly evolves and builds, Shiren’s journey to the mysterious Serpentcoil Island might be perfect for you.

TalkBack / Picross S+ (Switch) Review
« on: February 28, 2024, 05:16:21 PM »

Preserving the 3DS’ library via a truckload of Picross.

When the 3DS eShop shut down in 2023, a wealth of games were no longer easily and legally accessible. Some of the games that were lost to time were developer Jupiter’s dozen or so Picross games only available via download. While the likes of Pokemon Picross and My Nintendo Picross: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess are potentially lost to time, the nine entries in the Picross e series are getting new life on Nintendo Switch. Unless you recently replayed the Picross e games or have a photographic memory, these puzzles are basically brand new Picross puzzles to play for the first time or revisit after a decade. And unless you imported Picross e9, this is the first time that game will be playable outside of Japan.

The way these are being sold is interesting, however. The package is dubbed Picross S+ and you can buy it for $4.99 (or equivalent regional pricing). With that, you can play through the 300 puzzles of Picross e, split between regular Picross and the tweaked Mega Picross. All of the recent niceties added to the Picross S series are present here, including button or touch control options. Once you spend the initial $4.99, you can buy Picross e2 through e9 as a la carte DLC for $4.99 each. If you don’t want to break out your calculator, that means you would have to spend upwards of $44.91 to buy the content of all nine games, which amounts to 1,350 Picross puzzles and 565 Clip Picross puzzles. That’s a solid dollar-to-puzzle ratio, comparable with Jupiter’s other Picross S releases. In addition to all of the puzzles from the Picross e games, bonus puzzles are unlocked as you buy DLC, adding another 70 puzzles.

Much like the last several entries in the Picross S series on Switch, Picross S+ isn’t reinventing the wheel, but if you are hankering for more Picross, this is a great value and an excellent package. Jupiter remains the king of Picross, sitting on a throne filled with puzzles and a user interface that is evocative of the Switch’s home menu: straight to the point with a hint of whimsy.

TalkBack / Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On! (Switch) Review
« on: February 28, 2024, 04:41:53 PM »

One of the best sports games of all time comes to Switch.

Eight years ago, Pocket Card Jockey was released on 3DS outside of Japan, and it rocked my face off. Sincerely, Pocket Card Jockey is one of my favorite 3DS games ever, and I consider the 3DS one of my favorite systems ever. So when developer Game Freak (best known for Pokémon games and underrated Switch game Little Town Hero) brought back Pocket Card Jockey in an upgraded form, I was ecstatic. A year after its Apple Arcade debut, Pocket Card Jockey: Ride On is now on Nintendo Switch, carrying over the glory of the 3DS original with a handful of smart tweaks and a middling button control option.

The hook and progression of Pocket Card Jockey remains relatively unchanged from the 3DS game. You play as a horse jockey who isn’t very good at racing, but after being killed by a horse, you’re brought back to life and are now good at horse racing thanks to your ability to play a solitaire card game. The presentation echoes the insanity of the setup, with colorful cartoon characters and a rollicking soundtrack. The writing is charming, poking fun at the preposterous combination while staying engaging and amusing throughout with an evolving cast of quirky characters.

Races play out alternating between rounds of golf solitaire and positioning your horse on the track. Each race closes with a home stretch sprint, which is the only time you directly control your horse in real time. What makes this work is that everything feeds together and feels kinetic. Completing rounds of solitaire successfully will help give your horse more energy, while your positioning on the track at certain points will tweak your stamina. Collecting cards along the way can improve your horse’s happiness and boosts. Finally, all of these combine to power your horse to the finale at the finish line. What you do is far removed from the actual act of horse racing, but what has made this eclectic equestrian solitaire game so special is that it manages to capture the frantic immediacy of a race through unconventional means.

It’s still confusing at times, much like the 3DS release, but the altered and updated presentation helps to better communicate the nuances of races. Additionally, the tutorials are gentler, providing you a better intro and clearer reminders when you hit a wall. The upgraded visuals look sharp on the Switch’s screen and also translate well on a bigger TV. What doesn’t translate as well to TV is how the game controls. Artifacts of the 3DS design hold it back with full button controls. It’s workable but awkward to control fast-paced solitaire with an analog stick and buttons. The only part where buttons work best is in the final stretch. Otherwise, let me just sit back with the Switch in handheld mode and tap my cards away.

Even though this is more or less my third time playing through Pocket Card Jockey, the game is as enthralling as ever. The main thing holding it back is that it just doesn’t flow as well if you primarily play Switch on a TV. As a portable game, especially since the races are relatively quick and easy to pick-up-and-play, it excels. One of the unsung heroes of the 3DS is now on Switch, and at a minimum it should win, place, or show in the pantheon of Switch greats.


A plan 10 years in the making is still catching everyone off guard.

John and Neal provide the NWR podcast update on the Xbox Business Update. Ultimately it's pretty much all exactly in line with what Xbox (and John and Neal) have been saying they would do for the past decade.

TalkBack / More Xbox Games Might Be Coming to Nintendo Switch
« on: February 07, 2024, 05:15:03 AM »

What Does it Mean for Xbox & Nintendo?

John Rairdin and Neal Ronaghan discuss the effects of Xbox releasing more games on more platforms. Is this a change of direction for Xbox? What does it mean for Nintendo?


The Mushroom Kingdom brought to life, if life involved mobs of people at every turn.

I recently made the trip to California to go to Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood. I was prepared for crowds and obsessively researched the best tactics to make sure the trip for me, my wife, and our two kids (age 2 and 5) had the best time. Even with preparation, I wasn’t totally prepared for the magnitude of people crammed into a small area. I figured I’d impart some of my learned wisdom to anyone curious about Super Nintendo World in California, as well as sharing some weird quirks I came across.

Avoid Holidays and Weekends If You Can

I went on Thursday November 9 and Friday November 10. It was the way my trip overall worked out, but if I could turn back time, I’d avoid that Friday like the plague. That was the observed holiday for Veteran’s Day, so it was likely a busier than usual Friday in November to begin with. In comparison, Thursday was downright heavenly, even if it still was a little bit crowded. You might be in a spot like me where your trip might necessitate a holiday or a weekend. If that’s the case and you have limited options, consider splurging on either/or the Universal Express pass that gets you on a shorter line for every ride once (except Mario Kart) or the Super Nintendo World Early Access ticket that lets you get into just the Nintendo area an hour before the official park opening. It’s pricey, but on busy days you might risk not being able to do much of anything. On a Friday in November, the Mario Kart had waits of up to three hours, and overall there were long stretches where no ride at the park had less than a 30-minute wait.

Yoshi’s Island Had More Representation Than Expected

The first area of the lengthy queue for Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge has a lot of Yoshi’s Island pastels, complete with Yoshi popping up on a screen while you wait. It was adorable and somewhat unexpected. I was prepared for the Bowser’s Castle elements, packed with a lot of finer details referencing the Koopalings, but Yoshi’s Island getting some love was a surprise.

Get The Super Nintendo World Early Access

Just do it. It might be $20-30 per ticket, but if you’re going to Super Nintendo World in the near future, just do it. Get there early. Be ready to wait on a variety of lines. It will be worth it. My math that led me to have an extremely good morning.

The night before, we bought Power Bands at the Super Nintendo World store in Universal CityWalk (you have to pay for parking but it’s otherwise free to access). That allowed us to easily set up the Power Bands within the Universal Studios mobile app without a time crunch. If your trip does not permit you to swing by the night before, you do have opportunities to buy Power Bands while waiting in the morning or right as you access Super Nintendo World.

The day we were there, the early access began at 9 a.m. We arrived to park around 7:30 a.m. We parked in General Parking, which necessitated walking through CityWalk. If you’re running late or want to minimize walking, use Preferred or Front Gate Parking (both at an added cost). We got through security around 8 a.m. and waited in line at the front gate until a little after 8:30 a.m., where they let us in to then go wait inside of the park at another rope. After that, they led us down the four escalators (!!!) to the Lower Lot of the theme park, where they scanned our Early Access tickets. From there, it was the slow march into Super Nintendo World. It’s worth noting you can’t bring a stroller into Super Nintendo World, but there is the equivalent of a stroller parking lot outside of it.

While walking inside, there is a QR code to scan to get into the booking system for the Toadstool Cafe. It goes live when the park opens and if you want to eat in the cafe, you need to book ASAP. When I was there, it was fully booked shortly after the general park opening. Keep in mind that even after you get a time slot, you still have to wait in line to order. Lines, lines, lines.

Going With Kids? Take Advantage of Child Swap and Single Rider Lines

My 5-year-old could basically go on any ride (except Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and the Return of the Mummy) but my 2-year-old was just shy of being able to hit the coveted 40” height minimum for 80% of the rides. Universal Studios Hollywood offers Child Swap for every ride, whether your kid is too small or just scared. Most rides function like this: you all wait in the line together and at a certain point before boarding, the non-rider and a companion go to a separate area (either a specific room or the end of the ride) and are given a slip that essentially operates like a Universal Express pass for a rider and a guest. In an ideal world, my 2-year-old would have been tall enough to do everything, but this actually worked out great. My 5-year-old was able to ride Mario Kart and Jurassic World twice that way. With Mario Kart, we went there first thing during the early access period and basically walked on. And then my wife went with him a few hours later (and waited about 30 minutes even with the pass). For Jurassic World, we did it back-to-back, waiting only a few minutes in between.

Single-rider lines were very helpful for my wife and I both quickly riding the Harry Potter ride, but we were thwarted because the single rider line was closed for Return of the Mummy midday on Friday. There was no clear way this was signposted unless you were right in front of the ride, which was frustrating.

Super Nintendo World Technically Has One Ride But The Power Band Challenges Add A Lot

Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge is the showcase in Super Nintendo World, being the first place people rush into while also being a fascinating augmented reality dark ride experience. In Universal Studios Hollywood, it is the only ride, but there is much more to do, as long as you have one of the $40 Power Bands.

Yes, it’s another added cost, but if you’re going to Super Nintendo World, you’re not getting the full experience unless you have one of these wristbands. There are five primary games in Super Nintendo World where you need a Power Band. Three of them are visible out in the courtyard. There’s the Goomba crank, where you need to rapidly turn a crank to make a Goomba fall down. A Koopa Troopa one where you need to time hitting a POW Block to knock a shell into a block. My favorite of these three is the sleeping Piranha Plant one where you have to play a frantic game of whack-a-mole to not piss off a Piranha Plant. Nestled inside a cave is a Thwomp challenge where you have to frantically flip the colors of blocks in a time limit. Other ways to earn keys include finding a secret area in the park and hitting every block and finding all the 8-bit characters.

Earning three keys with any member of your party will let you challenge Bowser Jr. This is truly the most video game thing in the park where your silhouette is shown on a big screen (with up to 12 people total). You have to duck under Bullet Bills, swat away Bob-Ombs, and comically jump up to get power-ups. It’s a crazy amount of fun, even when your 2-year-old wanders over to you mid-game and you have to hold him as you duck, swat, and jump. My 5-year-old’s favorite thing in Super Nintendo World was the Bowser Jr. fight. It’s a good time.

Secret Upstairs Area Can Be An Oasis

So I mentioned the secret area and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this because that secret area wound up being a beautiful place in the shade that was chill to hang out during the peak of the day. My recommendation is keep an eye out for stairs. The stairs might take you to a magical place with more blocks to hit and nice views.

Aside from giving you a nice high-ground look at the whole park, this secret area also has a viewfinder that lets you look out at the grounds with some neat little AR additions. At first, I thought it was just a cool little touch, but I realized that it actually factored into all the fun Power Band stuff. The viewfinder assumes you have your Power Band on your wrist, so it automatically tracks that you’re engaging with it. In addition, there are different sparkles that randomly (I think) pop up on the screen. Zoom in on those and you can find secret views, such as Rosalina’s Observatory. This all ties into the 100+ stamps you can find by completing a variety of tasks and goals within the Super Nintendo World section of the Universal Studios Hollywood mobile app. It’s wild how much this helps to encourage repeat visitation and further exploration. I hope some amount of this also carries over to Universal Studios Florida and other Super Nintendo World locations, though my early guess is it might not (I don’t believe it does for Japan and Hollywood).

All in all, Super Nintendo World is incredible, though the current size of the area and the layout of Universal Studios Hollywood can make traversing the world a crowded pain. I do not expect to make the cross-country trip to go to Universal Studios again, especially when Super Nintendo World is slated to come to Orlando in 2025 with a bigger footprint and more room for expansion. When the park isn’t overcrowded, the hype is indeed very real. It blows my mind how cool this place is and I look forward to seeing how it develops and expands over the next decade.

TalkBack / Nintendo's 2024 Lineup Will Be Fine
« on: January 29, 2024, 05:32:18 AM »

Sure we only know about some ports, remakes, and a Peach game, but this is year 8 of a console and a new one is coming. Right?

This time last year, we only knew about five video games confirmed to be coming out from Nintendo on the Switch in 2023. Those comprised four games in the first five months and an unidentified Pikmin release. We had all sorts of chatter back then about nothing of importance hitting the Switch after the May release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Now that we’ve made it through 2023, we now know those concerns were absolute malarkey.

Beyond those five confirmed for 2023 games, we had around 10 more come out throughout the year. We had the shadowdrops of Metroid Prime Remastered, Pikmin 1+2, and F-Zero 99. We had the surprise Mario games in Super Mario Bros. Wonder and Super Mario RPG. We had a new WarioWare, the long-awaited Detective Pikachu sequel, and a 1-2-Switch sequel no one asked for. It was, by most accounts, a really solid year for Nintendo in what will likely be the waning days of the Switch.

And now we’re in 2024, looking ahead to a year that has similar unknowns. Much like 2023, we only know about five games that are publicly confirmed for 2024. Three of them have release dates, with Another Code Recollection in January, Mario vs. Donkey Kong in February, and Princess Peach: Showtime in March. Luigi’s Mansion 2 HD and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door are currently slated for release sometime this year, likely in spring and summer respectively. Beyond that, we have a lot of unknowns and some DLC in the form of Splatoon 3’s expansion. Metroid Prime 4 is still a specter, hanging out ominously in the background.

It is noticeable that of the five games known for 2024, four of them are ports and remakes, with Princess Peach’s latest adventure being the only wholly brand new game. Also, we are about to enter the Switch’s eighth year, so this is frankly just an unprecedented territory for Nintendo. But this year might be different because Nintendo might have a new console launch. So let’s dig into some past precedents to see if we can use those to divine what we might expect from 2024.

So for the Switch, we first officially found out about the system in October 2016 - five months before the system came out. We got the official rollout of launch date and details in January 2017 - less than two months before. As far as the official reveal of a system, the Switch was a wildly quick turnaround. The 3DS was known for nine months before launch. The Wii U was officially known for nearly 18 months before launch. But in both cases, the rollout of launch date and details was similar to the Switch, with the Wii U and 3DS getting their launch lineups confirmed about two months prior to launch.

Using that, we can reasonably assume that Nintendo will give us a launch date and lineup about two months before a Switch’s successor’s release. They’ve been remarkably consistent about that for the past 20 years. I won’t quite call it a guarantee but I would be surprised if that doesn’t hold true.

But when will Nintendo officially acknowledge the existence of a new platform? I’d personally say as early as February, as that’s when Nintendo is next scheduled to address shareholders during their earnings release for the third quarter of this current fiscal year. Though more realistically we might not hear about anything until the spring or even summer. From there, it depends when this new platform comes out, as frankly Nintendo can pattern the release similarly to the Switch.

Using that as the guideline, let’s paint some potential reveal timelines.

Here’s what I’d say is the most likely: Nintendo formally announces the new console in June 2024, following that up with an exact release date and details in September in line for a November launch.

Of course there’s also the pessimistic view of something almost directly mapping to the Switch’s playbook. Maybe the new console doesn’t get the full reveal until October, lining up for a January 2025 launch date confirmation and a March 2025 release. Hey - it worked for the Switch!

But there’s also a more aggressive and dare I say exciting option. Nintendo could formally announce this sucker in April 2024, leading to a summer launch date details drop and a September or October launch. I’d favor that slightly more because Nintendo has been favoring putting out their marquee games earlier in the holidays than ever before. Nintendo’s biggest holiday title of 2023 came out in October in the form of Super Mario Wonder. You could even argue Tears of the Kingdom was Nintendo’s biggest 2023 holiday title and that was released months before the holiday season. In 2022, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet were November releases but The Pokemon Company sometimes marches to the beat of their own drum. Purely from Nintendo, Splatoon 3 was the biggest holiday title and that hit in September. 2021 was a similar story, with Pokemon’s Diamond and Pearl remakes taking the previously prime November period while Mario Party Superstars and Metroid Dread were both released in October, even if you could easily claim Mario Party and Metroid aren’t major releases.

At this point, it feels like October has taken over November for the highest concentration of marquee games. It extends beyond Nintendo, as Sony and Microsoft are releasing their major holiday games in September and October. Even your Ubisofts and EAs are putting out their biggest games in October instead. Call of Duty and Pokemon seem like the only two mainstays that hit consistently in November, and Call of Duty has had the occasional October release. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X both came out in November in 2020, but 2020 is also a unicorn year and I’m not sure how much we can divine from peak COVID entertainment launches.

To summarize, Nintendo’s 2024 will be fine, likely dominated by remakes and ports before we get closer to a new console launch. We still definitely have more games on Switch to look forward to, even if some of them might be cross-gen. Beyond that, we should probably find out about the next system by the summer. And also there’s probably a new Pokemon game in November. That just seems to happen every year unless there’s DLC, and we just had DLC in 2023’s holiday season.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 394: Games Take a While to Make
« on: January 26, 2024, 05:05:57 AM »

Unless of course you rip all your assets from Pokemon.

Some listener mail leads us down a discussion of the development of Metroid Prime 4 before turning our attention to some recent Microsoft news (We recorded this before they laid off 1.9k staff). Finally Neal revisits a classic Pokemon game and John expresses his thoughts on the recent Palworld controversy (We recorded this before the Pokemon Company put out a statement).


Made with 50% real Nintendo games.

Neal returns to join John for a countdown of the personal game of the year lists. But first, the fellas turn to some listener mail to discuss one of 2024's most mysterious upcoming games.

TalkBack / Super Mario RPG (Switch) Review
« on: December 18, 2023, 05:44:34 AM »

Mario's first RPG gets a loving remake.

I owe a lot to why I’m here at Nintendo World Report to Super Mario RPG. It was the game that took me from an average child interested in video games to an obsessed weirdo venturing out onto the internet to track Japan-only games, upcoming release dates, out-there theories, and Nintendo enthusiast websites. The game holds a special place in my heart and I used to replay it about once a year through the early 2000s. Since then, while Super Mario RPG has remained important to me, I’ve accepted it as a relic of its time with its awkward isometric platforming and modernly rough visuals. I never fathomed that nearly 30 years after release, Super Mario RPG would get a fresh coat of paint and cement itself once again as one of my personal favorite games of all time after a few years of doubt.

While the remake of Super Mario RPG on Nintendo Switch won’t convert everyone, it’s a fantastic update to a Super Nintendo classic. All of the off-brand weirdness and quirky characters are still present. The memorable moments and quotes are still there, even if some names have changed. Every little detail appears to be carried over from the original, often with a wink and a nod. If you’re new to the world of Super Mario RPG, this is a relatively basic traditional RPG originally made by Square Enix in the mid-1990s around the same time the company also made the likes of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. In a way, it’s more of a spiritual follow-up to the “My First RPG” ideas found in Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (even featuring some of the staff of that game) but laid out in a much more compelling and engaging way. It successfully marries classic turn-based combat with Mario elements, most commonly found in the action-oriented battles that feature timed button presses to do more or take less damage. Mario’s platforming also comes into play, but due to the isometric viewpoint, jumping with Mario does not lend itself to precision challenges. Those are few and far between here, but precise jumps are required just enough to make the isometric platforming frustrating. One of the troubles with being such a faithful remake.

In general, the challenge skews easy, though a first-timer might have some trouble with some tricky boss battles, especially if they aren’t experts at timed button presses. An easier difficulty is offered, which is perfect for the younger crowd. I can vouch it was very good for my 5-year-old. As someone who has played this game a whole lot, I lament the lack of a harder difficulty option. However, in lieu of that, the remake adds a sizable and charming post-game where you travel around to fight harder versions of bosses. These battles were a sheer delight with each focused on mastering a specific aspect of the combat.

In addition to the post-game, the remake tweaks some other aspects along the way, most notably in combat. Perfectly timed basic attacks now do splash damage to every enemy, quickening the pace of battles. Additionally, successfully completing timed button presses builds up a meter that, when full, can be spent to unleash a powerful attack or boost special to your three-person party. This deepens your bag of tricks in battle and like the splash damage, makes the game move a little bit faster. It’s wild how much faster the game plays on Switch compared to the original. I was finished with the entirety of the post game in around 12 hours whereas the SNES version generally hovers around the 15-20 hour range.

The visuals retain the feel of the original game but no longer have the dated pre-rendered muck of the ‘90s. The presentation perfectly nails the feeling of being what you remembered Super Mario RPG to look like, and even sounds like as it retained the original's memorable sound effectsl. The music features the original soundtrack from Yoko Shimomura as well as a fully remastered soundtrack also handled by Shimomura. You can switch between either during the game. I primarily stuck with the new soundtrack so I could continually be blown away by how Shimomura took her immaculate work from 1996 and made it even better today.

While the general simplicity might hold back some, Super Mario RPG still excels at what it intends to do: wax nostalgia and provide a gentle RPG experience. It’s a gorgeous adventure with tons of personality and a combat system that is often imitated but never fully duplicated. Even with Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi succeeding this game, they truly don’t make them like this wacky, bizarre game anymore. The playful vibe fits so well with the slightly off-brand Mario world that makes this game, with the grimy Wario-like Booster, goofy Axem Rangers, and evil wedding cake, unforgettable. Your mileage may vary with how much the straightforward adventure and unique brand of basic RPG works for you, but I walked away from this remake feeling like Super Mario RPG is solidly one of my favorite games ever.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 390: Words Mean Things Geoff
« on: December 07, 2023, 10:27:31 AM »

Cyberpunk is an indie game.

In this raw unedited episode, John and Neal give their predictions for the show that drives God ever further from His children, otherwise known as the Game Awards. But first, listener mail!

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