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Podcast Discussion / Episode 304: A Brand New Game Club
« on: January 14, 2022, 01:17:42 PM »

Featuring extensive crossbow training!

Recorded just hours after Nintendo announced a launch date for Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Neal and John talk Kirby before moving on to a big announcement. In the second part of the show the guys formally announce our next game club. Join us as we spend the next year working our way through every 3D Zelda game (including Link's Crossbow Training) as we anticipate the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

TalkBack / LEGO's Sonic the Hedgehog Set is Charming and Teasing
« on: January 13, 2022, 09:56:43 AM »

Building around at the speed of sound.

After how proprietary elements of the LEGO Mario sets have become, I was looking forward to diving into the straightforward and old-fashioned stylings of the recently released LEGO Ideas Sonic the Hedgehog Green Hill Zone Set. Coming from the LEGO Ideas subset, this is a project that started from a fan submission and seemingly had to go through many hoops and hurdles to finally come out. The end result is a delightfully nostalgic multi-hour build that is modeled after the original Green Hill Zone and comes with a Sonic mini-figure and a hulking Dr. Eggman monolith figure.

The 1,125-piece set takes shape as a 2D platformer display, where you build modular parts that connect together, featuring a bridge, loop-de-loop, and bounce pad that are blockier versions of the old Genesis pixels. Putting together the surface-level obstacles is fun; I especially liked how the loop is engineered. The biggest pain is the fact that a lot of ground tiles alternate between shades of brown and require a lot of painstaking stacking of small bricks. This part of the process is monotonous, but thankfully the whole project ends with a fun Eggman contraption that is more distinct than endless shades of brown.

I was initially worried that the set featured stickers, but the actual implementation isn’t as meddlesome as I feared. They’re not that obnoxious to place and they actually pay off for some clever displays, like the Sonic life counter sticker that goes on the lower left of the level. I would prefer there weren’t any stickers and instead this was all printed-on-the-bricks LEGO, but the outcome here is acceptable.

By the time I reached the end of the build, I had a chunk of Green Hill Zone laid out on my table alongside Sonic, Crabmeat, Moto Bug, and Eggman. The end of the level had connectors for more, but alas, there are no more Sonic sets announced at this time. I am unsure of how the LEGO Ideas concept works overall, but it would be neat to see this theming continue on into other Sonic levels. Toss in a Tails mini-figure with Emerald Hill or Casino Night. Break out the Knuckles fun for some other level themes. Sonic has a cadre of friends that you could tenuously tie to retro level themes. Go nuts.

With rumors of more fleshed out LEGO video game sets, hopefully this Sonic the Hedgehog set is the first of many that hit that video game nostalgic sweet spot. LEGO Mario is wondrous in its own right, but I hope we see more of these more traditional sets. On the Sega slant, more Sonic sets seem most likely, though I would do terrible things for more off-the-beaten-path properties. Maybe the success of a Phantasy Star set could convince Square Enix to give us Final Fantasy LEGO? Super Monkey Ball or Jet Set Radio would make a great set as well. Heck, toss in Yakuza. Whatever Sega or Square or Capcom or Nintendo properties can fit into a LEGO design should happen. That sounds fun.

TalkBack / Kirby and the Forgotten Land New Trailer - Deep Dive
« on: January 13, 2022, 05:05:39 AM »

Gameplay and tech analysis preview.

Neal and John discuss the latest trailer for Kirby and the Forgotten Land.


Commence the argument of which Aladdin is better: Genesis or SNES.

Two years after Disney partnered with Nighthawk Interactive and Digital Eclipse to bring 1990s releases of The Lion King and Aladdin to Switch, the trio figured out a way to resuscitate the Capcom-developed Super Nintendo version of Aladdin, as well as unearth the Jungle Book game that was made in tandem with the Genesis version of Aladdin. These new additions can be bought as DLC for the original release or as a whole package including all of the Lion King, Aladdin, and Jungle Book games and bonus content.

I covered the original release and truly, the DLC just expands on what worked and didn’t work from the original collection. While my nostalgia still settles on the side of Genesis Aladdin, the Super Nintendo version of Aladdin is an excellent game. Having the ability to look at both versions next to each other is extremely cool because they’re both so different but are pulling from the same source material. The SNES version is focused more on acrobatics and platforming, whereas the Genesis one is more action-centric and buoyed by its tremendous animation.

The Jungle Book game is similar to Lion King in the sense that it looks nice but isn’t that much fun to play. The Jungle Book is the weakest-playing game in the entire package, paying middling homage to classic platformers like Pitfall. The novelty lies in the art as well as the differences in execution between the Super Nintendo and Genesis versions that are both included. The Game Boy version is also here, but that’s honestly all I have to say about that. Glad it’s here for completionist’s sake, but it’s not very good.

All of the new games feature Digital Eclipse’s staple watch-along functionality where you can just watch a playthrough of every game. Concept art and fun facts about the new games are also added, which provide much-needed context as to why these games are notable. This is something a lot of retro collections ignore, and I appreciate the nuggets in the museum section. The best museum addition is the hopelessly cheesy VHS tape rip of an Aladdin promo video that does a good job of setting the tone for what kid-centric advertising was during the 1990s. I can only hope this Aladdin promo video encourages Nintendo to re-release their bonkers, gonzo Nintendo Power promo tapes from the same era.

As far as if this DLC is worthwhile, it is if you want to play Super Nintendo Aladdin or have fond memories of the Jungle Book game. Aladdin holds up as a great platformer of the era, but Jungle Book simply does not. All of the museum extras are incredible, but might not be as worthwhile unless you’re interested in the history and legacy of these games. Combine this DLC with the original content and it’s an excellent historical collection that paints a cel-animated picture of a specific era of Disney video games during a time when adaptations of animated movies were much bigger events.


And then whenever Breath of the Wild 2 actually comes out.

Editor Alex joins John and Neal to go over their favorite titles of 2021. They take a quick break for listener mail in which Neal makes some digs at Mario Sunshine, John makes some digs at 3D World, and Alex takes a nap. Next they turn their eyes to the future and lay down their hopes for 2022. Will Breath of the Wild 2 actually release? Is Xenoblade 3 somehow more likely despite not yet having been announced? And just how many of these games do John and Neal have financial ties to?

TalkBack / Picross S7 (Switch) Review
« on: December 29, 2021, 09:36:47 AM »

At long last, touchscreen support comes to Picross S.

At this point, I’ve reviewed a half-dozen Jupiter-made Picross games on Switch. In likely every single one, I’ve pointed out how the lack of touchscreen controls is disappointing. With the release of Picross S7 on Switch (in December 2021 or January 2022, depending on your region), that changes. With that glaring omission rectified, this is easily the best of Jupiter’s Picross S output.

If you’re new to the Picross scene, these games are a collection of nonogram puzzles where you use numerical clues on a grid to figure out where to shade in tiles. At puzzle completion, you unlock a pixelated rendition of an object. If this isn’t clear in my attempt to succinctly explain it, Picross S7 has the same good tutorials that all recent Jupiter-made Picross games have had. If you’re the kind of person like me who has played these games rapturously since the 3DS, you can easily skip these tutorials. While the overall format hasn’t changed in the past few entries, it’s hard to argue with a steady onslaught of well-designed puzzles split into a few different styles. You have 300 traditional Picross and Mega Picross puzzles, 150 Clip Picross puzzles, 30 Color Picross puzzles, and five extra puzzles (some only unlocked with save data from Picross S4, S5, and S6). This is what’s to be expected from Picross S games and while it might not be that thrilling, it’s still great.

Touchscreen support comes in two forms: Touch Hold and Touch Toggle. Touch Hold makes it so the touchscreen only works when holding a button or stick, while Touch Toggle makes it toggled on and off when you touch a button or stick. I found myself preferring Toggle, it works very well in spite of not being as elegant as it was on DS and 3DS due to the form factor and lack of a built-in stylus. Larger puzzles are a little harder depending on the size of your fingers, but switching between filling in a square or crossing it out is simple and easy. It’s also functional for left-handed folks (like me) as well.

After all these years, I’m still a zealot for the Picross S (and its predecessors) even if innovation and evolution is slow paced. Seeing touchscreen support added after more than four years of Switch releases is great to see, and hopefully more upgrades and updates will come to Picross S8 and more in the future. Until then, here’s almost 500 new puzzles that are at the same solid level of execution as the thousands Jupiter has made in the past.

TalkBack / Neal’s Top 25 for 2021 and More
« on: December 28, 2021, 11:21:00 AM »

This got out of hand.

For the past five or so years, I’ve kept a running list ranking my favorite games of the year. I add new games as I play them, idly tinker with it once every month or two, and sometimes make big swings when a game turns sour over time or I find myself returning to it more than I expected. It’s a fun exercise that sometimes shows up in content form here on Nintendo World Report. As 2021 comes to a close (my first with two kids), I’m accepting that there are more good games than I have time to play, so what follows will be a variety of lists: My Top 25, My Top Ports, and My Top 10 “Games I Wish I Played.”

Let’s start with ports...

Top 5 Switch Ports of 2021

5. NeoGeo Pocket Color Selection

I don’t have any nostalgia for NeoGeo Pocket or the fighting games that are everywhere on it, but I’m including this because the golf game is real fun. Also, from a less pithy place, I’m happy to be able to experience these games from a console that was never really attainable for me. I love seeing collections like this because it gives me a chance to experience games and platforms I never have been able to before.

4. Pokemon Shining Pearl

Playing through Pokemon Shining Pearl makes it seem like developer ILCA had like four weeks to put together a remake. Before the crucial day-one patch, this game was a mess and even with bandages plastered on, it’s still janky. Crucially, that almost made it more nostalgic for me. I would prefer my Pokemon remakes be more ambitious than this, but Shining Pearl just felt achingly like I remembered it on Nintendo DS. The momentary hitch before you enter any battle is likely not intentional, but the fact that this seems to be put together with duct tape and a glue gun an hour before the project was due reminded me a lot of the memorable jank of the original Pokemon games. I devoured Pokemon Red and Blue as a kid not because they were smooth, bug-free experiences; but because they were deliriously fun in spite of how broken they were. This remake will not sit near the top of my favorite Pokemon games, but I loved it for the woebegone husk that it is.

3. Castlevania Advance Collection

Things I learned about the Castlevania GBA games:

  • 1. Aria of Sorrow rocks
  • 2. Circle of the Moon is okay
  • 3. Harmony of Dissonance is not
  • 4. Making the music not tinny GBA garbage was a great call
  • 5. I appreciate the few gaming soul embers at Konami makes these collections happen.
  • 6. DS games next, please

2. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD

I adored Skyward Sword when it came out on Wii. I still stand by my 10/10 score. It was a masterclass in Wii design and has a lot of genuinely superb moments. 10 years can tweak your perspective a lot though and I was surprised to find that playing Skyward Sword HD - for the first time since 2011 - didn’t really alter my opinion of the game at all. I’m a harsher critic than I was in my youth so it wasn’t a slam-dunk 10/10, but from a personal level, this game still rocks and the changes they made for the Switch version with button controls, visuals, and design cleanup here and there just solidified a memorable experience for me. Also it’s another opportunity to geek out at how fascinating the trajectory and evolution of 3D Zelda games has been. And after Breath of the Wild, it was nice to be reminded that that team can make some killer, epic dungeons.

1. Tony Tetris Effect Connected

There’s an alternate timeline where I had to wrestle with whether or not to cover Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 HD on Switch because of the horrific allegations of workplace abuse at Activision Blizzard. I reviewed the game unaware of the depths of the horror that was going on at that company. If I had to go back to it, I just wouldn’t have covered it, which is an easy thing to say in hindsight but that’s also what we as a website did with Diablo II on Switch post-allegations so I think someone would be around to make sure I didn’t get soft for my fave skateboarding series. Either way, my review of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 HD is out there if you want to know why this would have been my top port of 2021. Or you can just ignore it and go check out Tetris Effect Connected, which is a really excellent game with a Switch port that had a lot of thought and care put into it. And I’ve got my fingers crossed that there are no skeletons in the closet for the developer.

Top 25 Games of 2021

I’ll cut out the pretense and just get to it. Here’s my top 25 games of 2021. I had a second kid in June and spent a lot of the year in some state of anxiety, so the amount of games I played is probably overall down from past years. Also the fact my 3-year-old has an interest in games means he has some say in what we play. It’s usually old games. Or Mario stuff. Let that be your bias guide. (Note: all games are played on Switch unless otherwise noted)

25. Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain

Call it recency bias or whatever, but the new Big Brain Academy is really chill. Since finishing my review, I’ve gone back to it more than I expected, messing around with the mini-games and the online play. As my kids get older, I can see breaking this one out for local multiplayer. Maybe it’s overpriced at its initial $30 asking price, but this is a cute little thing.

24. Sokobond

First of many disclosures: friend of the site Syrenne McNulty worked on this game. Also it’s a brain-bending puzzle where you combine elements from the periodic table. I have retained nothing from chemistry classes, but this is still a very enjoyable and challenging collection of puzzles.

23. Mario Golf Super Rush

Mario Golf sneaks onto my list mainly because I just kept playing it. At launch, this was one of my most disappointing games in recent memory (WarioWare: Get It Together helped pull it back from being the most disappointing game for me in recent memory), but that’s largely because the single-player adventure is terrible and the controls and mechanics were starkly different from the veritable perfection of old Mario Golf games. Then something happened: I found joy in the new mechanics. I don’t think it’s 100% what I want out of a golf game, but it suited the experience of Super Rush well. Also playable Chargin’ Chuck rules, my 3-year-old son loved messing with the game, and the three free post-launch updates filled out the initially stark selection of courses.

22. Fly Together

Northplay is a developer that I believe doesn’t get enough credit or notoriety. Their 2018 release Conduct Together is an electric and maddening arcadey train management game that felt like Flight Control but for trains. In 2021, they went and made Flight Control for planes, which is, well, just basically Flight Control. But there’s a style Fly Together employs that is deliriously goofy. From the moment you hear the silly vocals of the theme song to the first time you play with the pointer controls in multiplayer, Fly Together is wildly fun. I just wish it didn’t come out during COVID because eight-player multiplayer sounds wonderful.

21. Hatsune Miku Logic Paint S

I feel like a Picross game has to make my list every year and while I dug the Sega Picross game from the OGs at Jupiter, the Hatsune Miku Picross game is an unheralded marvel. When I played it, it was a little janky and buggy, but it combined a lot of the modern niceties (such as automatically filling in rows when completed) into a pleasant package. I have no real affinity for Hatsune Miku, but this stole dozens of hours of my life away.

20. Spelunky 2

I wasn’t as blown away by Spelunky 2 as I was the original, but it’s a fantastic sequel to one of the most brilliantly designed indie games. Seeing all the meta twists and turns is super cool and while I don’t expect to see every element of it because I’m mediocre at the game and lack the time to invest in getting better, it keeps up the magic of the original by still being very fun even in continual death.

19. Cosmic Express

The second Syrenne McNulty disclosure callout of this list (and not the last!) is for Cosmic Express, another diabolical puzzle game where you try to lay down tracks in a way to pick up passengers and drop them off while not overlapping and also reaching the exit. The difficulty picks up quickly, but once you start speaking the puzzle language, you have a remarkable amount of flexibility of what direction to go into. When you’re stuck on one puzzle, you can just bounce to another.

18. Sky: Children of Light

Guys - they made Journey but it’s free to play. Yes, that means there are some caveats and maybe it’s a little less magical when you are pushed to buy some cosmetics and junk, but it’s still a free-to-play Journey. Check it out!

17. Mario Party Superstars

I was skeptical of Mario Party Superstars at first and maybe repackaged HD nostalgia for full-price is worth digging into further but for now, I’ll just relish the fact that this is the first Mario Party in more than a decade that I just enjoyed without caveats. Some of that is because I played it with my kid, but also the fact that this removes most of the game gimmicks and just trots out classic Nintendo 64-era boards means it’s a no-nonsense party. Or at least a no-nonsense as a random, frustrating, dopey-ass hootenanny can be. Also I think I’m over motion minigames in Mario Party. Just do buttons from now on.

16. Clap Hanz Golf (played on iPad)

My Apple Arcade affair ended after Fantasian came out, but Clap Hanz Golf was one of the more delightful surprises to come out of it. Made by the company behind Sony’s Hot Shots Golf/Everybody’s Golf series, Clap Hanz Golf is the straightforward arcade golf game I wanted initially from Mario Golf Super Rush. The controls are a little different because it’s on iPhones and iPads, but it works very similar to the tried-and-true three-click methods of the past. Also the progression for the single-player is great.

15. Cyber Shadow

I’ll be real: I played Cyber Shadow so long ago that I had to go back and re-read my review to remember how I felt about it. So, let’s cut out the middleman. Cyber Shadow does a great job of harkening back to old NES action platformers, and when it came out, I said this: “Through it all, Cyber Shadow knows why people have fond memories of NES-era action platformers, whether it’s the thoughtful level layouts, unforgettable boss battles, or eye-catching visual embellishments. This is not a game for the faint of heart, but more for the persistent. I came away from this retro romp satisfied, primarily because it harkens back to the classics while still carving out a distinctive game that rightfully deserves to enter the pantheon of stellar 2D ninja games that includes the likes of Ninja Gaiden and The Messenger.” (Note: I used “harken back” in this write-up before realizing I used the same phrasing in my review. At least I’m consistent?)

14. Alba: A Wildlife Adventure

This is a slight cheat to my personal rule of “only count games I played for the first time in the year” for my list. I technically played an hour or two of Alba on iPad in 2020, but I played much more after it came to Switch. This is a charming and delightful open-world exploration game that feels kind of like if Breath of the Wild was a game about environmental preservation in the real world as opposed to navigating the wilds of a post-apocalyptic fantasy realm. It’s incredibly fun and playful and also probably the best open-world game for kids I’ve ever seen.

13. A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build

The third (but not final) disclosure that friend of the site Syrenne McNulty worked on this game on my list. A Good Snowman is a joyous puzzle game where you have to go from room to room rolling snowballs in such a way that you make snowpeople. You can hug the snowpeople after you make them. They all have names. Sometimes there are two snowpeople. It’s incredible. Also, after you make all the snowpeople, there’s even more game hidden away. It rules.

12. Fantasian (played on iPad)

I have not finished Fantasian, but still my time with Fantasian is worthy of placing it this high on the list because from what I’ve played, it’s what I wish JRPGs have evolved into. From Final Fantasy creator Hironobou Sakaguchi, this is a vintage turn-based RPG with multiple party members, level ups, skill trees, and strategic magic attacks. It also introduces things like the Dimengeon, where you can send random encounters in a world into a different realm so you don’t have to be constantly interrupted while exploring. And then you take on all of the banked battles at once for bonuses and crazy fights. Also the world is made up of real life dioramas and it’s visually astounding. Man, I should find time to finish Fantasian.

11. Loop Hero

A recent addition to the list after I played through it on Switch, Loop Hero is so smart and clever. It takes the loop of a roguelike and turns it into an idle clicker in a way that is still extremely engaging and rewarding. It’s more like a roguelike management sim than it is an actual RPG as you’re just watching numbers rise and fall as you try to survive another loop and get more resources to upgrade your town.

10. Actraiser Renaissance

During the Nintendo Direct when this was revealed, I immediately shriveled up and died when I saw the look of this remake of an all-timer Super Nintendo game. It looked terrible. Nevertheless, I dove in and played through it and it turns out that the visuals were the only thing about the game I didn’t like (and even they grew on me over time). The dynamic fusion of light SimCity elements and middling action platformer combat that worked so well in the original is deliciously present here with some modern enhancements. The SimCity stuff gets a little more tower defense-y, but not in a way that sucks like Sol Seraph. Instead, the nagging little imperfections of Renaissance feel like the original game. It’s not perfect, but it’s the right balance of unique ideas and electrically amazing Yuzo Koshiro music to be enjoyable from start to finish.

9. Dungeon Encounters

Dungeon Encounters was announced almost in silence weeks before its release but it might be my favorite thing to come out of Square Enix this year. It reminds me of Etrian Odyssey, which is always a good thing, but best of all it’s just pure turn-based RPG battling delight. Directed by Final Fantasy luminary Hiroyuki Ito, this is a dungeon crawling game that takes place on a gridded map. You run into battles and events that are all numbered and can basically be plotted out in advance. The overall abstraction works so well because of how compelling the battling, the exploring, the loot accumulation, and challenge is. This is an RPG that makes you solve a puzzle for hidden treasure that’s a numerical logic puzzle multiple times. It’s not for everyone, but it sure as hell is for me.

8. Overboard

Overboard oozes style, with its lavish visuals, immaculate hook, and multi-threaded narrative. You control a woman on a cruise ship who just pushed her husband overboard and you have to work your through the ship talking with the others on the boat to clear your name, frame someone else for the murder, and get away without anyone the wiser. You do this by exploring different narrative threads and finding out secrets about everyone on the boat. Aided by a hint progression system that points you in the right direction, this just flows gloriously from start to finish.

7. A Monster’s Expedition

The final game I need to caveat by saying that Syrenne McNulty is a friend of NWR and thus I’m technically compromised but like whatever A Monster’s Expedition rules regardless of who I know. This is a gorgeous, thoughtful game where you go from island to island, solving puzzles in an expansive world that keeps iterating and evolving as you progress. I was stumped many times, but part of the joy of this game is that sense of challenge that erodes as you learn the lay of the land. On top of the raw puzzle mechanics is a charming narrative conceit of a monster exploring human trinkets as if it were a museum made by monsters.

6. Shin Megami Tensei V

Listeners of the NWR podcast Connectivity have heard me wrestle with what I termed “the Atlus Line” - a concept where I’ve realized I’m having difficulty grappling with the fact I like a lot of Atlus games but am regularly turned off by some questionable content or subject matter. Just go read anything critical about the game Catherine for examples. I was worried about Shin Megami Tensei V for that reason. Would the content in Shin Megami Tensei V overwhelm my appreciation of the demon-negotiating and hard-as-nails battles? Well, it’s in my Top 10 for the year so clearly it didn’t. The latest in the long-running series retains everything I enjoyed about the 3DS entries while also expanding on in largely good open world areas and a flexible difficulty system (and one of the better introductory tutorials in the whole series). Time will tell if this is truly the breakthrough for the MegaTen side of the Atlus coin, but I walked away from this one thoroughly content.

5. Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon

One of the later additions to this list, Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon is an electric combination of puzzle game and roguelike elements. It’s hard to wrap your head around at first, but once you start learning the ebb and flow of moving around the Wario’s Woods-y screen, it’s easy to get lost in runs. You start off as Shovel Knight, but just playing the game will net you many more playable characters that all have unique skills that can totally change how you approach levels. This is just such a finely tuned puzzle game that adds so much through secrets, alternate routes, and wildly different characters. I look forward to what the DLC brings.

4. Dodgeball Academia

Dodgeball is cool. I always dug the Kunio-kun dodgeball games over the years. I also like whimsical RPGs. Dodgeball Academia fuses the two together as dodgeball becomes your primary battle system is a school-based RPG that is pure joy from start to finish. This was a game I didn’t know even existed three months before it came out and it wound up being one of the sincerest delights of the year.

3. Axiom Verge 2

I was on board for the first Axiom Verge once it seemed like a loving ode to vintage Metroid, but underneath the grungy pixels was a multi-faceted throwback to a plethora of NES-era games (my elevator pitch has been Metroid mixed with Contra) tossed in with some truly novel additions and twists. When Axiom Verge 2 was announced and looked so wildly different in execution, it immediately became one of my most anticipated games. I was struck by how fundamentally different the sequel was, as it tosses out the combat-heavy boss battle focus of the original and makes it all about exploration and discovery. Guns were your weapon of choice in the first game, but melee was the combat du jour for the sequel. Where it wasn’t different from its predecessor is how it still took familiar tropes and mechanics and joyously twisted them in a way that made you take old gameplay tools and use them in thrilling new ways. I know Axiom Verge 3 will probably take another 5 or so years to show up, but I can’t wait, especially if it carries forth the fusion of creativity and retro appeal.

2. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury

I dug Super Mario 3D World on Wii U, but shortly after it came out, I sorted it out as one of my lower-tiered Mario games. So when the Switch port was announced, I filed it away as a thing I’d play with my child (since the multiplayer is great) but didn’t think I’d go that wild over it. Then Nintendo revealed Bowser’s Fury - the substantial piece of new content added to this game. Bowser’s Fury is maybe my favorite 3D Mario game as it’s a focused, 5-ish hour adventure with playfulness, creativity, and challenge. The way the developers took the feel of 3D World and turned it into a more traditional 3D Mario is incredible. It’s just a joy to play in that world, whether it’s climbing around as Cat Mario or riding the seas on Plessie’s back. Thanks to my kid, I’ve replayed chunks of Bowser’s Fury numerous times in 2021 and I’m nowhere near close to tired of it. The unexpected effect of all this is I honestly think 3D World might be one of the best Mario games now. Call it Stockholm Syndrome because of living with a kid who loves “kitty Mario” during the pandemic or whatever, but 3D World is incredible. What a comeback after I found faults in every 3D Mario when replaying them in 2020. I can’t wait to see what the next 3D Mario game is.

1. Metroid Dread

Metroid Dread exists and it lived up to every impossible expectation for me. I already had a good feeling about how it would feel after loving how Mercury Steam made Samus control in Samus Returns, but I had my reservations as to the labyrinthian map and new additions like the E.M.M.I. robots. All of that washed away as the robots brought the titular dread when you went into any of their sparsely sounding lairs and the map criss-crossed in a natural way that also allowed for plenty of exploration and sequence breaking, but also rarely left you totally stranded. There’s also some big picture stuff in the limited but effective plot that landed very well for me. While I hope this isn’t the last of Samus’ 2D adventures, I felt a great sense of closure to the overall saga that started on NES. I feel like I don’t have much more to say about this aside from muttering “they actually freaking did it” over and over again as I cross my fingers and hope I feel the same way about Metroid Prime 4 when it comes out in 2025.

Top 10 Games I Wish I Played in 2021

To wrap this up, here’s a list of the 10 games I wished I had time to play. I usually have the ability to do some year-end clean-up for my top games list, or at least don’t miss as many throughout the year. That, uh, did not happen for me in 2021 for a variety of reasons so I’ve reached a point where my list of games that came out in 2021 I want to play is dauntingly long. I had to make cuts to fit in just 10 because it was starting to get out of hand.

10. Griftlands

Klei makes very good video games, like Invisible Inc. and Mark of the Ninja (both also on Switch), and the way this deckbuilding roguelike makes encounters out of conversations as well as combat seemed fascinating. I recently picked this up during a Black Friday sale, but as you’ll notice is a trend on this list, I have not even booted it up.

9. Monster Hunter Rise

I appreciate Monster Hunter a lot and have gotten into approximately two of them (Monster Hunter Tri on Wii and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on 3DS). I enjoyed what I played of Rise when I played the demo but just knew dedicating 40 bajillion hours to this game wasn’t in the cards for me as I was about to welcome a second child into the world. Still, it’s there. Waiting for me. Demanding I grind out new armor sets and play all the cute Capcom DLC crap.

8. The Great Ace Attorney

I played the first case of The Great Ace Attorney and loved it. That’s it. I have no other excuse. This game seems rad. It’s just a lot of game and it’s intimidating.

7. Toem

Another Black Friday purchase, I’ve heard nothing but incredible things about this adorable black-and-white photography adventure. This might be the candidate for game I should have just sat down for a day and played.

6. Umurangi Generation

Speaking of photography games, here’s one that’s less chill than Toem but has every bit of the great reputation. Maybe someday...

5. NEO The Worlds Ends With You

Listen TWEWY stans, I did my part. I bought this damn thing when it came out. The physical copy is currently unwrapped next to my other Switch games.

4. The Gunk

I hold no guilt over not playing The Gunk since it came out less than two weeks before I wrote this, but I still really want to play it.

3. Beast Breaker

Beast Breaker unfortunately came out the same day as a Nintendo Direct. I feel bad for the fine unionized folks at Vodeo Games, and as such, I super bought this game and then, uh, turned it on once. Listen, it’s been a rough year. Also full disclosure: friend of the site Syrenne McNulty worked on this game.

2. The Wild at Heart

I played an hour or so of The Wild at Heart on Xbox when it came out earlier in the year there, but never played further, through no fault of the game. It’s a 2D adventure game that has major Pikmin vibes and low-key Luigi’s Mansion vibes. I should get back to this one.

1. Chicory

The Indie World shadowdrop to close out the year was also the next game from the developer of Wandersong - an unsung masterpiece that’s also available on Switch. I gleefully played a demo of this at the last gaming convention in normal times (PAX East 2020) and was hoping it would come to Switch eventually. It came out on PlayStation and PC earlier this year and the response was immaculate. I’m thrilled this is now out on Switch so I can play it sometime soon. Everything I’ve heard is that it should live up to the hype.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 302: Raw Uncut Gunk In Your Pocket
« on: December 23, 2021, 03:25:11 PM »

Everyone is on Christmas break including the editors.

Merry Christmas! With no editor available John and Neal opt for a relaxed unedited format. The awkward pauses are long, the cross talk occasional, and the flubs everpresent, but hey it's an episode. Neal leads things off discussing his recent aquisition of an Analogue Pocket and renewed interest in obscure Game Boy games. John fresh of Halo's campain has turned to another Xbox exclusive, The Gunk, from the minds behind the Nindie favorite Steamworld series. The fellas wrap things up with a discussion of John's recent interest in hunting down handheld Star Wars game's he's never played.

TalkBack / Clockwork Aquario (Switch) Review
« on: December 15, 2021, 05:28:03 AM »

A canceled arcade game returns from the dead.

The fact Clockwork Aquario is a video game releasing in 2021 is a miracle. The game first started development in the early ‘90s, meant to be one of the final arcade games from Wonder Boy/Monster World developer Westone. However, it was canceled during development and thought to be gone forever. 30 years later, ININ Games and Strictly Limited worked together with some of the original team to finish Clockwork Aquario and release it, finally. The end result is fascinating, showcasing a gorgeous 2D platformer that was never meant to be. It only has five levels, but with three playable characters and a good deal of challenge, it’s worth experiencing.

You can play as one of three different characters: a boy named Huck Rondo, a girl named Elle Moon, or a robot named Gash. I don’t know why those are their names, but they’re great. It’s a straightforward platformer with a decent jump. Enemies are primarily defeated by stomping on top of them, but you can also stomp on an enemy and then pick it up to toss as a projectile. If you play in two-player co-op, you can even throw each other around. The stages aren’t super long and are split into two segments, with the first one culminating in a mini-boss and the second one ending in a big set-piece boss battle.

It’s a hard game, mostly because of the fact all it takes is two hits and you’re dead. You only have a limited amount of continues in every difficulty except for the training mode, which only includes the first two levels. The interface is confusing, making it a little hard to find out how to even start the game. For some modes, you have to enter the sub-screen and hold down the + button to play. It’s weird. Regardless of the interface, the game is a visual delight. It’s evident how this game was going to push arcade cabinets of the day in its 2D sprite-based splendor. This is a visual feast, topped off with some awesome boss battles.

The best thing about Clockwork Aquario is that it exists today. The story of how the source code was found and pieced together and filled in with help from the original team is incredible.  As it stands, the game is just very short. The five stages have a high score element, but if you’re in it to explore the levels, beat the difficulty modes, and romp around it all with a friend, there’s still not a lot to do here. I’m happy I can say I played Clockwork Aquario, but outside of supporting game preservation, I can’t say it’s something you need to drop everything and play. It’s cute and fun, but more as a curiosity than a game to keep coming back to.

TalkBack / Picross S7 Launching Soon, Finally Adds Touchscreen Support
« on: December 15, 2021, 05:01:50 AM »

Celebrate the holidays solving nonograms on a touchscreen.

Picross S7 is coming out in most regions on December 27 and adds touchscreen controls for the first time on Switch.

Available for $9.99 (or local equivalent), the game will launch in European and Australian eShops on December 27 with a North American release following on January 10.

The touchscreen support comes in two different methods: Touch Hold or Touch Toggle. Touch Hold is activated while holding down a button, while the touch controls will be toggled on and off at the press of a button with Touch Toggle. Picross S7 features the standard slates of puzzles, with 300 Picross and Mega Picross puzzles, 150 Clip Picross puzzles, 30 Color Picross puzzles, and 5 extra puzzles. If you have play data from Picross S4, S5, or S6, you can unlock three 40x30 extra puzzles.

In addition to the new game, select Jupiter-made Picross games will be on sale starting on December 16 until January 5, 2022.

TalkBack / Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon (Switch) Review
« on: December 12, 2021, 04:00:00 AM »

Shovel Knight’s Wario’s Woods.

Puzzle games have, for better or worse, settled into being assumed to be lower-tier, cheaper games. That’s not to knock the quality of the genre, but oftentimes they skew towards being free-to-play mobile titles or no-frills and no-nonsense console affairs. Whenever there is some expansive puzzle game, usually Tetris has to be involved to make it happen. That’s why I was blown away by how deep and intricate Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon is. Yacht Club Games and Vine basically came together to make a puzzle game as expansive as the platformer it’s spun off from, and the results are magnificent.

The basic gameplay reminds me a ton of the ‘90s Nintendo puzzler Wario’s Woods. You control a character on a falling-block puzzle grid and move around to try to chain together blocks of the same type to avoid the stage from filling up. The twist is that the blocks are, for the most part, all enemies; instead of moving them around as Toad in Wario’s Woods, you fight them as characters from Shovel Knight. It takes some getting used to because when you run into an enemy, you do damage to each other. By default, Shovel Knight does one damage to the group of enemies he runs into, and typically, most enemies do one damage in return. Thankfully, the grid also has potions strewn about, and running into them can restore the health you lose from combat. Losing all your hearts results in dropping some of your gems, much like when you die in Shovel Knight proper.

The going gets tough very quickly, as new enemies are introduced every level and boss battles show up throughout the game. Bosses still all take place on a grid, but they have unique mechanics and patterns and usually some kind of larger set piece. The overall structure is a run-based design evocative of roguelikes. By default, you go through a set of levels similar to the basic narrative of the original Shovel Knight and can pick at the outset to play it in roguelike style, where one death kicks you back to the beginning, or puzzle style, where you can die as many times as you like but will have to restart if the puzzle board fills up. Each style is challenging, but that isn’t where the difficulty customization ends. You can tweak how many lives you have, change how many hit points you start with, and also the damage enemies do to you. It’s extremely flexible even if it’s potentially harsh when you first boot it up.

Even on a run-by-run basis, you can boost your abilities with Relics that give your hero more hit points or different abilities or buffs. Keys can be found frequently, which in turn unlock treasure chests on the puzzle board so you can trigger screen-clearing bombs or powerful limited-use items that increase your offense or defense. The variety in runs is vast, especially since you can earn gems every run to purchase more Relics for the future. If you want to get wild, you can even make it so the order of the stages is randomized, which can sometimes get diabolical as starting with the later stages is a bear.

All of this is already fulfilling before you get to the fact that Pocket Dungeon has many more playable characters than just Shovel Knight. You begin with the title character, but as you beat bosses and uncover other secrets, you can unlock more than 10 other playable characters, including Shield Knight and familiar foes from the Order of No Quarter. All of them control the same, but they each have their own unique abilities that can completely alter your strategies. For a lot of my initial runs, I mained Shovel Knight, but after reaching the credits for the first time, I started experimenting more with other characters and realized how ridiculously you can bend the rules of the game.

For example, Specter Knight earns two hit points every time he slays an enemy, but potions do damage to him, so you often play keepaway from potions while trying to time your combos more deliberately to regain health. Mole Knight can burrow around the map, swapping locations quickly and giving you much more mobility. Treasure Knight inflicts more damage on enemies from below, so you’re encouraged to hang out more near the bottom of the board. Those are just some of the ones you encounter relatively early on. It gets wilder as you get deeper.

Some people might be satisfied by reaching the credits once, which will only take you a few hours depending on your abilities. However, Pocket Dungeon is littered with secrets as you can try to find items that unlock a different ending and work your way through the game with every character. I’ve spent a dozen hours and counting with the game and I’m still finding new twists and striving to unlock and defeat everything.

In addition to the main adventure, Pocket Dungeon also has a few extra modes. The Daily Challenge is a good way to compete with online rankings and see how long you can last on a single life. The Vs. mode is something I haven’t been able to get too deep into, but my time with it has given me a rush of promising competitive puzzle game vibes. On top of all of this, Yacht Club is set to release three DLC packs in the future. Who knows what, when, and how much that will all be, but if you get into this style, you should be set for a long time.

The soundtrack, from series mainstay Jake Kaufman, is incredible, building on the now-classic themes from the past games and adding excellent new jams. This is also a visually beautiful pixel art game that definitely is in the same ballpark as the source material, but is distinct enough to feel like its own world. Humorously, the fact it’s like that is even commented on in the overall narrative, which isn’t as powerful as the original but still is well-written and enjoyable.

I came into Pocket Dungeon with high hopes. I am one of the few people who adores Wario’s Woods. What I found in the final package was something bigger and bolder than I anticipated. You might be able to draw a dotted line back to the retro puzzler, but at the end of the day, Yacht Club and Vine just went and took the idea and ethos of Shovel Knight and paired it with the puzzle style that would make for the deepest experience. This isn’t a square peg fitting into a round hole like some puzzle game spin-offs. Instead, Shovel Knight: Pocket Dungeon just feels like an extension of the original game. Much like the inspiration, it’s challenging, but it’s also forgiving enough to not dissuade frustrated players. I didn’t think I’d see the day when someone did Wario’s Woods as a conceptual idea justice, but dang, they did it. Pocket Dungeon is incredible.

TalkBack / Loop Hero (Switch) Review
« on: December 09, 2021, 04:00:00 AM »

A genre pastiche that goes round and round and round.

You can throw a rock and hit a dozen games touting “deck-building” and “roguelike” elements. I’m at a point where, even though I’ve enjoyed a ton of games in those styles, I’m leery of what another game in that wheelhouse can do that hasn’t been done before. In comes Devolver Digital and Four Quarters Team’s Loop Hero, a game that takes roguelike and deck-building elements and turns it into something that almost resembles an idle clicker. It’s equal parts wildly engrossing and inscrutable, succeeding by making each run feel unique and ensuring progress is moving ever forward.

Split up into four chapters, you loosely guide an adventurer trying to put the world back together. A run in a chapter begins with a randomly generated looping path appearing on the screen. Your hero starts from a camp space and when you’re ready to adventure, proceeds to journey through the loop, automatically fighting enemies as they show up. As you win battles, you earn loot in the form of equipable items and cards. The items can improve your hero’s stats while the cards can be placed on and around the looping path to alter the landscape or boost your stats. Some early cards include rocks and mountains that can be placed far outside the path and increase your defense, as well as a spider’s nest that spawns a spider on the path every so often. The ferocity of the enemies increases as you complete more loops around the map, and eventually a final boss for the chapter will appear, forcing you to fight.

Failure is a regularity, as you’re liable to get your hero’s face pounded in if you try to just blaze through to the end. Knowing when to fold your run is important as in addition to the items and cards, you earn resources that you bring back to your village base after a run. These can be used to upgrade the area, resulting in starting buffs, new cards, and other player classes. Depending on how you exit a run, you can bring back somewhere between 30% and 100% of your resources back, and then feed that into the village to make your next run start from a stronger place.

Repetition is at play throughout all of Loop Hero, but it becomes addictively endearing because of how intertwined all the various looping elements are. Building your card deck and playing your hand in certain ways can unlock different synergies that can give you an advantage or benefit on a run. Unlocking the two other classes can tweak your character-building focus on a subsequent play. The constant risk vs. reward feeling makes every decision you make have a consequence. You could lay out a ton of enemies on the path so you can get better loot, but if you don’t make it back to the camp, you run the risk of dying and losing the majority of your resources. The way the game keeps building on top of all these systems is delightful, adding new wrinkles to tinker with and new aspects to discover.

All that depth is where, for better or worse, the aforementioned inscrutability comes into play. The basics are explained well, but the game does a so-so job of shining a light on its depth. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk because part of the enjoyment is that discovery and exploration, but I won’t lie: it took me thumbing through a few guides and posts about Loop Hero online before the whole game clicked for me. It’s low-key oppressive at first until you understand how the systems and looping works together. Once you have that “a-ha” moment (which might be at far different times for different players), Loop Hero is electric.

The Switch port is soundly great, letting you effortlessly bounce between button and touch controls. I preferred to use buttons for some actions and touch for others. The way both options are just present at all times is great. The interface is clearly meant for PC, which sometimes makes it unclear how to navigate the interface, but aside from a few “right-click” mentions that don’t make any sense, it’s nothing more than a gentle reminder that this is a port of a PC game.

In order to reach the ending of Loop Hero, you will have to roll through dozens upon dozens of loops, but the way new concepts layer over the basics keeps it fun as you strategize to plan out your challenging loop that will earn you the best loot while ensuring your survival. With new elements dropping in consistently as you grow your village, it rarely stays staid for long. Some of the finer points might require some dumb luck or an assist from a guide, but if you’re ready to just poke at a rock solid concept until it cracks and bends to your will, Loop Hero is amazing.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 300: Funky Kong's Questionable Immunity
« on: December 03, 2021, 03:16:25 PM »

Old friends join in to celebrate the 300th episode of the show!

Classic Connectivity hosts Nick Bray and Scott Thompson join Neal and John on the 300th episode (and the 50th episode of the Neal and John era). The fellas journey back through the history of the show and its perspective on Nintendo.

TalkBack / Braining is Good: A Brief History of Brain Age
« on: December 02, 2021, 05:01:00 AM »

Just remember: the brain ages are fake and the points don’t matter.

Nintendo in the early 2000s was going through immense change. In 2002, Hiroshi Yamauchi retired as President of the company, a title he held for more than 50 years. In his stead stepped Satoru Iwata, a developer-turned-manager who was born a decade after Yamauchi took over Nintendo. Iwata was handed the reins during a tumultuous time. While the company still had the handheld market cornered with the Game Boy Advance, they were firmly in third place in the home console space. Sony, who came onto the scene in the 1990s amidst the fallout of a doomed relationship with Nintendo, was leading the market with the runaway success of the PlayStation 2. That wasn’t as shocking, but the emergence of the Xbox from industry newcomer Microsoft was potentially more concerning. For as beloved as the GameCube was among a sect of Nintendo fans, it just wasn’t working in the mainstream. For the first time in their video game life, Nintendo faced the very real and present danger of losing their place in the industry, especially after Sega departed from the hardware business after the failure of the Dreamcast.

Now we all know how this ends. Iwata led the charge of the Nintendo DS and Wii, and the company came roaring back only to face even worse losses with the Wii U before finding unprecedented success with the Switch. But there’s a sidebar to that big picture that was arguably instrumental to the mid-2000s turnaround: brain games.

A part of Iwata’s mission as he ran Nintendo was to expand the gaming audience -  a central focus of the “blue ocean” strategy that fed into the intuitive touch controls of the DS and the motion controls of the Wii. Iwata’s first console launch was the DS and on the day the handheld launched, he met with Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, the author behind Train Your Brain, a multi-million-selling book all about how regular calculations and mental exercises could improve your smarts. After that meeting, Iwata had Dr. Kawashima’s approval to make a video game based on his ideas.

The Brain Age series launched in Japan in 2005 and the rest of the world starting in 2006. It wasn’t a runaway success in Japan, but positive word of mouth led to worldwide sales of nearly 20 million units, making it one of the best-selling games on the DS. A sequel followed that notched almost 15 million units.

While Brain Age was the headliner, it wasn’t the only brain-centric game from Nintendo at the time. Shortly after the launch of Brain Age, Big Brain Academy launched on DS. Separate from Dr. Kawashima’s concepts, Big Brain Academy was more light-hearted, starring a bizarre-looking creature named Dr. Lobe and in lieu of the purported science-based research from Dr. Kawashima, it worked with a more aloof concept of your “brain mass” being the measure of how smart you are.

Big Brain Academy was followed by a Wii sequel in 2007 that retained a lot of the single-player concepts but expanded to some amusing multiplayer modes. After that, the series went dormant until 2021 when Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain came to Nintendo Switch. Once again, it used a lot of the same material as the older entries, but employed engaging local and online multiplayer to make it more of a party game than Brain Age ever was.

Meanwhile, Brain Age was the more consistent series for a while. When the DSi launched in 2008 with DSiWare, a lot of the modes from Brain Age were split into downloadable games. Beginning in 2012, Brain Age: Concentration Training came out on Nintendo 3DS in most places, and then in 2019, Brain Age came out on Nintendo Switch in everywhere but America. And that’s where things get weird for Dr. Kawashima’s Nintendo series.

The 3DS iteration of Brain Age wound up not coming out in PAL regions until 2017 — after the Switch launched. Why did it get delayed? Naturally, Nintendo never really said. There was some speculation that the devilish design of Dr. Kawashima in the game was part of the reason why it was hung up in some regions. The game eventually did release though, so assumedly that issue was resolved.

The bigger question mark is what happened to the Switch version in North America. Since it never had an American release, I guess I have to refer to it by it’s name in other regions: Dr Kawashima's Brain Training for Nintendo Switch (I vastly prefer Brain Age as a moniker). The Switch edition wasn’t my favorite in the series; while there was a stylus you could get, I don’t think stylus-centric gameplay is ideal for the Switch and using your finger for precision time-based activities is suboptimal. But still, it’s bizarre it never launched in America. To date, Nintendo has never given a reason why. It’s a mystery.

The most likely reason why Brain Age has been MIA in America is the fact that another brain training program, Lumosity, was sued by the Federal Trade Commission in 2016, under the auspices of falsely advertising how their mini-games could help players keep their brain from aging as quickly (as well as preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s). Lumosity was ordered to pay $2 million to settle the issue and it’s likely that Nintendo saw this play out and merely noped out of trying to figure out how Brain Age could work in America in this day and age.

Compounding on that is the stylus that is essentially required for optimal Brain Training play on Switch. In Japan and Europe, the physical release came bundled with a stylus. Meanwhile in America, Nintendo passed on including a stylus with Super Mario Maker 2, a game with a wider appeal at the time of launch. This comes up whenever smaller regions get cooler physical packaging for games, but it’s always worth noting that the cost of shipping larger physical bundles in a region as spread out as North America is far different than doing the same in a smaller region like Japan.

With the launch of Big Brain Academy on Switch, it’s likely the hope for Brain Age for Switch coming to America might be dead, or at best on life support. That's largely in part to Big Brain Academy not making any kind of real world health benefit claim. It's just a lighthearted party game that wrinkles your brain. I appreciate that Nintendo is still letting their DS-era success live on, even if I would eat my hat if an entry in their brain games genre threatened 20 million unit sales again.

TalkBack / Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain (Switch) Review
« on: December 01, 2021, 04:00:00 AM »

Somehow Dr. Lobe has returned.

Back in the days of Nintendo DS and Wii, Nintendo’s brain training games were a huge success. While the Brain Age games’ achievements were greater, the two Big Brain Academy games that hit the systems were quirky and fun, aiming more for lighthearted brain wrinkling than more directed training. After more than a decade of inactivity, the sizable smarts school is back on Nintendo Switch with Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain. The time away hasn’t changed all that much about how the game is played, but enjoyable local multiplayer and smart use of passive online modes makes this an enjoyable if fleeting game.

20 different brain-teasing games are the focus, split into five different categories: Identify, Memorize, Analyze, Compute, and Visualize. The easiest way to engage with these games is in Practice mode, which challenges you to try to get high scores by replaying each game. By playing this way, the lack of offline longevity for a solo player is on full display. The variety is nice, but the depth isn’t quite there. It’s just repetition in the name of earning coins to unlock meager cosmetics.

Brain vs. Brain excels in the versus elements. Local multiplayer can be a gas, in either two-player tabletop play or up to four-player TV battles. Everything’s frenetic and fun while still remaining challenging. Flexible difficulties for every player also makes it more friendly for children and parents. A young kid can hang around the Sprout difficulty level while their (hopefully) smarter parent can challenge themselves to Expert difficulty. Between every game, those levels can be adjusted so you strive for parity. I found the tabletop head-to-head mode the most fun, largely because the touch screen controls are the best way to play. Playing on the TV is fine, though, especially since the playing field is level because everyone has to use buttons.

Online rankings are also present, so you can compare your Practice high scores with friends, but the strongest online element is Ghost Clash, where you take on the pre-recorded ghost data of online players. Pre-release, this mode wasn’t completely stocked, but even with a limited pool of players (including some that are clearly computer-generated), these ghost matches were enjoyable. Some of it can be a cakewalk early on, but once you start contending with fiercer ghosts, this quickly becomes the more engaging and replayable way to interact with Big Brain Academy by yourself.

While the increasing difficulty of the games is welcome, Big Brain Academy does not have a lot of meat on its bones. Spending just an hour or two will make you intimately familiar with all the included games. The joy is found in the multiplayer, be it with those in the same room as you or those you’re competing with asynchronously online. As you play any aspect of this game, you unlock more goofy costumes for your academy student avatar as well as sayings and catchphrases that range from smug to asinine.

On one hand, I wish Big Brain Academy spent the past decade focusing on all of its game design lobes, but on the other, the focused and relatively meager assortment are enjoyable in the proper context. I won’t find the nigh-endless Sudoku comfort of Brain Age games or the nuanced breadth of a full party game here, but the end result is still welcome and enjoyable. Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain might not be the 2021 valedictorian on Switch, but it certainly earns its passing grade.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 299: Pokemon Infinite Masochism
« on: November 19, 2021, 10:54:29 AM »

Star Wars, Halo, Pokemon, and other kinks.

After a brief distraction caused by Neal mentioning Star Wars, the fellas dive into Pokemon BDSM... sorry BDSP. Is the remaster living up to Neal's memories of the original? John's been spending some time with the newly released Halo Infinite multiplayer but also a new Switch game called Grow: Song of the Evertree from the creators of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. Finally they round the show off with a listener mail discussion of how Nintendo could attempt to keep Metroid relavent as we wait for Prime 4.

Podcast Discussion / The Year the Falcon Flew
« on: November 12, 2021, 08:20:53 AM »

And other lesser releases.

With Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and The Grand Theft Auto Trilogy arriving on a Nintendo platform for the first time this week, Neal and John take a trip back to a simpler time. A time where licensed games were sometimes good. A time where there were three vastly different Star Wars games released in the same year. A time known simply as 2003. Oh, and also some listener mail.

TalkBack / A Boy And His Blob (Switch) Review
« on: November 09, 2021, 06:49:01 AM »

The boy might be in his 20s now, but his time with his blob is worth a return trip.

12 years have passed since A Boy And His Blob came out on Wii and since then, the picturesque puzzle game has aged gracefully. A lot of that comes from the excellent art design, with hand drawn animation that stands tall among developer WayForward’s best even more than a decade later. While it began life on the standard-definition Wii, the bump to HD has been kind to this gorgeous video game. The visuals and overall presentation are still great, while the gameplay rarely stumbles.

The slow pace is deliberate as you control the titular boy and trot around a variety of side-scrolling levels with his titular blob. The levels are largely straightforward as you make use of the specific set of blob-power-granting jellybeans at your disposal to move the duo around the level, avoiding enemies and collecting optional treasure chests. The jellybeans turn the blob into a variety of useful tools and objects, including a trampoline, bowling ball, and even a rocket. The 40 levels spread among multiple areas all stay fresh. This was my third time playing this game and even with memories flooding back, I was rarely bored or frustrated.

The lack of frustration might be a bone of contention for some because this game definitely does have a difficulty level that skews younger, with a lot of hand-holding signs specifically dictating what jellybeans to use. I don’t view that as a bad thing, as this is a game I’m fine with being largely a pleasurable romp as opposed to a brain-wrinkling arduous challenge (though some of the 40 unlockable challenge levels up the ante a bit). The hard parts are more because of precision than puzzles, but thankfully checkpoints are lenient. The forgiving nature is actually part of the appeal. Well, that and the hug button that you can press whenever the boy and the blob are next to each other and they can reassuringly embrace. It’s charming and a good display of how this presentation is eternally winning.

The Switch port appears to be more or less the same as other HD ports, essentially just taking the Wii game and making it work on a new platform and match up to the visual standards. While I’d love to see the veritable all-star team of developers (some are still at WayForward; others went to found Yacht Club Games and Tic Toc Games) that worked on the original Wii release come back for more Blob content, I’m happy that a great Wii game still lives on modern consoles. Whether you first played this on Wii in 2009 or have never touched it before, A Boy And His Blob is well worth checking out. Just remember to press the hug button to brighten your day when needed.


We delve into the floors of the dungeon and discuss RPG difficulty, Ito's design theory (and how it's like sports), and just how Ito landed in the director's chair again after 15 years.

In late September, Square Enix revealed Dungeon Encounters, a new RPG from Final Fantasy developer Hiroyuki Ito, best known for his work creating the series trademark Active Time Battle (ATB) system as well as directing Final Fantasy VI, IX, and XII. Now, for the first time in 15 years, Ito is directing Dungeon Encounters, which came out on Switch in October. We had the opportunity to ask Ito and the game's producer Hiroaki Kato a few questions about the development and thought process that went into making Dungeon Encounters.

Nintendo World Report (NWR): You both worked on Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age together before Dungeon Encounters. How did the battle system and design of Zodiac Age inspire what you created in Dungeon Encounters?

Hiroyuki Ito: The basic design for battles is something that allows a player to do the following, repeatedly: “information (information is seen on the screen)” → prediction (‘if I do that, maybe I’ll be able to clear it’) → execution (the player tests the strategy they came up with) → results (if all goes well, things turn out OK, and if not, they can rethink the strategy).” Both titles were created based on this, so they don’t have a causal relationship where one inspired the other.

Hiroaki Kato: The gambit system in FINAL FANTASY XII THE ZODIAC AGE incorporated the fun of thinking about how efficiently you could build gambits, in order to fight as advantageously as possible in a given battle situation. It wasn’t so much that we were inspired by THE ZODIAC AGE; rather, we wanted to capture the fun of thinking, which is a core element of games, through a different approach (compared to THE ZODIAC AGE) in DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS. That desire drove us to start developing this game.

NWR:Tabletop games seem to be a big inspiration for Dungeon Encounters. Are there any specific tabletop games that inspired it?

Ito: I don’t have knowledge about tabletop games, so there was no influence from them. However, if tracing the history of RPGs ultimately leads back to tabletop games, then I suppose that would mean a universal way to play lies here as well.

Kato: As Ito-san commented, it wasn’t inspired by tabletop games. However, during playtests, there were times I felt that the gameplay style of “thinking is fun,” which is also what is so appealing about DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS, has similarities to the universal fun that lies at the core of tabletop games, which are the forefathers of RPGs.

NWR: You've often compared your battle systems to sports (like ATB drawing inspiration from Formula One). Was there any sport influence on the design of Dungeon Encounters and what was it?

Ito: The “information → prediction → execution → results” flow that I mentioned earlier is applicable to all sports. Among them, I use the NFL as reference while coming up with plans.

As a side note, ATB wasn’t actually inspired from F1. Rather, taking players who were used to turn-based battles and suddenly throwing them into real-time battles would have been difficult. So, as a way to make it more accessible for them, I drew hints from the F1 semi-automatic transmission system at the time. Being in between turn-based and real-time would make it easier to play, and I thought it could allow players to experience something that was in the style of real-time.

NWR: With so much of your past experience being with Final Fantasy, why is Dungeon Encounters part of its own world and not part of Final Fantasy?

Ito: I think that since we created this game while prioritizing the game system, the resulting world ended up being based on that.

Kato: The FINAL FANTASY series has an element in which gameplay is moved forward in order to enjoy the story or the world and its lore. DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS doesn’t have a set story that’s followed; how a player proceeds in order to survive is entirely up to them, and the game is designed so that players can enjoy the game system itself. It takes an approach that’s different from the FINAL FANTASY series, and accordingly, it constructs a new world.

NWR: Dungeon Encounters is your first director credit in 15 years. Why step into that role again for Dungeon Encounters and are there more director roles in your future?

Ito: The producer kindly picked it up, and by sheer luck, we were allowed to create this game. I had the idea for this type of game from long ago, so I brought it up. There are many more ideas that I would love to make happen, but I’m a company employee and I’m approaching retirement age.

Kato: Several years ago, when Hiroyuki Ito showed me a proposal for “an RPG that has an overall simple design in everything from story to effects, where the fun lies in the system mechanics itself,” my feedback was, “if the system is what’s fun, then maybe the game would sell better if we were to design it elaborately?” (laughs).

From there, we spent time discussing on several occasions, and in the process, our thoughts shifted towards the idea that “this looks like it’ll be a gameplay experience that’s never quite existed, where the process of thinking is what’s fun.” It could be a game in which the simplicity of the design is what makes it easier to see the situation you’re in, and players can use information in the game as hints while going through trial and error to figure out how to progress.

Thus, under Ito-san’s direction, we completed DUNGEON ENCOUNTERS. The foundation of a game system in which thinking is fun was completed in this title, so we are also considering providing more gameplay experiences that flesh out the story and visuals, implementing new ideas while preserving the existing appeal.

NWR: The difficulty in Dungeon Encounters is high. Was there ever a thought to adding in difficulty options? Why or why not?

Ito: I’ve never once thought about difficulty options until now. If we were to create that option, I think it might be good to release it as its own title, similar to FINAL FANTASY IV.

Kato: After the SNES version of FINAL FANTASY IV was released, FINAL FANTASY IV EASY TYPE was released with a lower difficulty level. This is what Ito-san is referencing in his comment.

Ito: I think that maybe players want to play a game fully, without missing anything.

Kato: When players play this game for the first time, I think there are times when they might feel bewildered at the traps that have been set and the encounters they have with overwhelmingly strong monsters, but the game is designed so that players can gather their own experience points and skills for survival as they continue playing. In particular, the difficulty of getting through a dungeon changes vastly through the usage of abilities as well, so players are bound to make various discoveries as they continue to think about how to survive and how to proceed as efficiently as possible. Having players enjoy this sort of gameplay experience was in our minds, so we did not include options to select difficulty levels.

NWR: It's possible to have so much gold stolen from you that you go into debt. What was the thinking behind this mechanic?

Ito: In this game, some abilities are able to prevent a predicament before it happens. To increase the value of those abilities, we need to have a situation arise that is commensurate to them. We set the amount for the enemy attack “Remittance (debt)” based on that. Additionally, this game is set up so that no matter how difficult a situation may be, it can still be broken through and cleared. If a player goes into debt, it’s perfectly fine if they pay it back, and it’s also perfectly fine if they proceed deeper without paying any mind to it; I think it’s fine as long as the story that unfolds is the player’s very own.

TalkBack / Unpacking (Switch) Review
« on: November 01, 2021, 09:00:00 AM »

Unpack your personal items but be sure to factor in touch controls on a small screen or clumsy analog stick controls everywhere.

Unpacking oozes charm, with an endearing art style and a distinct hook. Each level consists of unpacking boxes and then setting up clothes, kitchen supplies, knickknacks, and more - all in the face of a subtle yet impactful background story. It aspires to be a meditative and zen puzzle game as you figure out the best way to lay out and store all your items while also keeping an eye out for secret achievements and more. The concept is wonderful, but the execution on Switch left me feeling like I never wanted to move again.

Unpacking for Nintendo Switch

The problems on Switch aren’t technical, which is seemingly a rarity for some ports to the system these days. Unpacking runs totally fine, but the problem is one of control. This is clearly a game made best for PC as your basic interaction involves pointing and clicking a cursor to move around objects. On Switch, this never feels natural. Using an analog stick to move items around was never ideal and while touchscreen controls are present in handheld mode, the screen real estate makes them less ideal. Even playing on the OLED model (which has the biggest screen as of posting), I could never find the right zoom level to make touchscreen controls work comfortably while still being able to tell what items were supposed to be. The zoom issue doesn’t factor into docked mode (unless you have a tiny TV), but since no touchscreen option exists, either primary way to play Unpacking on Switch is flawed.

Those controls are a bummer because the game is cute and clever. The story arc is largely in the background as you follow characters from house to house, slowly piecing together what happened over the years between moves. It’s touching and emotional at times, which makes the control issues stand out because over the course of the game, my dominant thoughts were about how annoying it was to try to move a pair of socks from the packing box to the dresser drawer.

Unpacking on Switch doesn’t quite stick the landing of the zen experience it aspires to be, but if you can tolerate some frustrating interfaces and controls, this is still a game worth exploring. Just maybe consider playing it on PC since that experience should be much stronger without the control caveats.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 296: The Great Texture Debacle of 2021
« on: October 29, 2021, 09:59:09 AM »

Emulation is hard.

Alex joins John and Neal to talk about the release of the Expansion Pack for Nintendo Switch Online. But first, Neal has a sneak peek at Shin Megami Tensei V. How is this long awaited Switch exclusive shaping up? Then the guys discuss their initial impressions of the Nintendo 64 games available on Switch, Ocarina of Time's emulation problems, and how great Winback is.

TalkBack / Dungeon Encounters (Switch) Review
« on: October 28, 2021, 09:52:25 AM »

Who needs a story when you have exploration and combat this enjoyable.

The presentation of Dungeon Encounters doesn’t scream modern Square Enix. This dungeon-crawling RPG wears its tabletop inspirations on its sleeve with a relatively straightforward visual design. That is deliberate according to the game’s director, Final Fantasy luminary Hiroyuki Ito, as the intention of this Switch RPG is to focus on exploration and combat. While some aspects might frustrate, Dungeon Encounters thoroughly succeeds at both replicating the look and feel of a tabletop RPG and crafting a mechanics-focused game that feels like it’s two shakes away from the Etrian Odyssey series.

The world is presented in a grid, with your party leader represented by a static play piece. You move them around each spot on the gridded map, exploring every nook and cranny, looking for secrets, and encountering enemies. You have your choice from a handful of characters at the start, but all the differences are mostly in presentation. Just pick the characters you think look the coolest that you want to roleplay as. All you have to go on is a brief story setup for each hero and a portrait. More characters can be found as you explore the 100 dungeon floors, usually requiring puzzling to find and rescue.

Exploring floors can take time, but it’s enthralling to navigate the grids and try to figure out the different riddles that surface. Battles are frequent and are almost nakedly inspired by Final Fantasy, even borrowing the Active Time Battle system by name. Your party of four all have two weapon slots, split across physical and magical attacks. All enemies and heroes have physical and magical defense. You have to whittle away one or the other to get to a foe’s hit points. These battles all fall into numbers games as you strategize ways to efficiently reduce enemy defenses so you can kill them all. Twists arrive frequently, so relying on one strategy for the whole game is not possible. Enemies might petrify you or reflect magic attacks. It’s a learning experience that gets tougher and more tense as you make your way through the floors.

You aren’t truly encouraged to switch up your party, which can sometimes put you into a bind when the more-frequent-than-you’d-like overpowered boss encounters crop up to threaten you with a total party kill. Those moments are deflating, as your party remains trapped on the tile where they were killed. As long as you still have party members alive, you can try to rescue them, but therein lies another troublesome wrinkle. You have four party members, but you need to take at least one character to go rescue them. And then you can’t have more than four party members at a time, so someone has to stay behind or you need to run a convoluted ferrying system to get the gang back to home base. Later abilities make this process less cumbersome, but it’s especially punishing in the early goings.

Furthermore, the game auto-saves after every movement, so you can’t even revert to an earlier save if something awful happens to your party. On one hand, the commitment to living with the consequences of your risks and gambles is endearing, but on the other, it can almost totally ruin a game you’ve put hours and hours into. Clearing all 100 floors is 20-30 hours of gametime at a minimum, so it’s not like restarting after your party gets annihilated on floor 50 is appealing.

The economy in this world is also peculiar, so much so that a fight with the wrong gold-stealing enemy could leave you in debt. As long as you avoid that enemy’s thievery, gold accrual generally outpaces the amount of useful items to spend gold on. Running into shops is infrequent in the dungeon and the shop’s stock is tied to enemy encounters in a way that doesn't replenish frequently enough with strong enough items to be worthwhile. It turns the experience into being more reliant on treasure and enemy drops, which I actually enjoyed a lot. Sometimes I’d come across an immensely powerful weapon, whether it’s the Cutlery Set that helps you potentially eat enemies or the urn that banishes enemies to another dimension. A reliable strategy is to just give every character a physical attack and a magic attack with different target types and ranges, and have at it, but you can also roll the dice on using some wilder moves to improve your enemy-killing efficiency. All of the structure and rules are straightforward, but the way you can play in this space is incredibly alluring. I started off playing it safe, but the deeper my inventory got, the more I started toying around with unique items and builds.

The presentation, which at first looks a little drab, became something I was unbothered by as I got deeper. The only place where the simplicity stuck out was in the music, which is adequate but not quite as memorable as I’d hoped coming from Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. It’s just a lot of rock guitar riffs on classical songs and it’s just merely okay.

Dungeon Encounters is rough around the edges, but that’s part of the reason why I’m having so much with it. Ito’s past with the Gambit System in Final Fantasy XII and the job system in Final Fantasy V seem to be on full display here because once you learn how to toy with the mechanics and launch some effective attack and ability synergies, you can mow down enemies with flair. I’m addicted to the rewarding feeling of getting my ass kicked by some flying critter, only to line up two shots with gun attacks and take that dumb thing out of the world or, if I bust out that urn, send them to another dimension. If you’re looking for an epic, grand story with a vibrant presentation, you won’t find that here. But if you just want raw and engrossing exploration and turn-based combat, Dungeon Encounters delivers in spades.

TalkBack / Top 50 Nintendo Switch Online Retro Games
« on: October 24, 2021, 08:09:25 AM »

Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis are (nearly) here, so it is time to rank these games.

With the launch of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games on October 25, the world of Nintendo Switch Online’s retro games libraries just got way bigger and, with the addition of Expansion Pack, a little more complicated. As of now, you can pay a little bit of money for NES and Super Nintendo games as well as some online features - or you can pay a lot of money for all of the above plus Nintendo 64 and Genesis games and some Animal Crossing DLC. I’m not here to go deep on the value disparity and if it’s good or not. I’m just here to needlessly rank the games included on Nintendo Switch Online across the four retro platforms.

This will be hopefully an evolving list, potentially updated every time new games are added to the library. I’m not ranking every single game on Nintendo Switch Online. It’s going to be a Top 50. If you’re upset that a game missed the list, make a case in the comments and when it comes time to do an update, I’ll reevaluate. Listen, Jelly Boy missed the Top 50 but I didn’t think I’d like Jelly Boy until I played it. Sometimes all you need is a little poke to give a game a second chance.

That’s enough preamble, we got 50 games to go through!

  • 50. WinBack (N64)
  • 49. Strider (Genesis)

50 and 49 are essentially placeholders. I have fond memories of both from playing them in the past but I have not played WinBack in something like 20 years so even if I remember it being surprisingly good, who knows if it’ll be fun on Switch. Strider is arguably the best non-fighting game Strider appearance ever. It is well worth checking out on Genesis.

  • 48. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)

Zelda II with save states and rewind takes what I think is a game with good ideas and obvious dated flaws in execution and turns it into a game where you can make the flaws less prominent and enjoy the good ideas. If you’ve been turned off by Zelda II in the past, it might be worth trying it out on Switch with a guide and liberal use of rewind and save states.

  • 47. Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)

Super Mario All-Stars collects Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3 in an upgraded visual style for Super Nintendo. But the physics are a little off so that’s weird. Also every game featured is also available in NES form and with save states and the NES games are better in every way except maybe the visuals. It’s cool this is here, but if I’m going back to play old Super Mario Bros. games, I’ll hit up the NES versions.

  • 46. NES Open Tournament Golf (NES)

One of the best golf games of its era, NES Open Tournament Golf is the first golf game to actually star Mario. He’s here with Luigi as player two and Peach and Daisy as caddies. And Donkey Kong accountant?

  • 45. Super Mario Kart (SNES)

Online play definitely makes this franchise-starting Super Nintendo game more appealing on Nintendo Switch Online, but being limited to just two players makes it more of a nostalgia trip than anything substantial. Still, considering the legacy this game has in starting Mario Kart, it’s important to at least check out.

  • 44. Kirby's Dream Course (SNES)

A Kirby spinoff that settles nicely into the weird territory as it’s a mini-golf game with Kirby flourishes. Rewind might be your friend for some of the precision hits, but regardless, Kirby’s Dream Course is a unique game that is fun after all these years, and also a two-player game if you want to go online.

  • 43. Ice Hockey (NES)

An early Nintendo sports classic, Ice Hockey is one of the most novel online multiplayer additions of the NES library. The simple and classic gameplay has endured over decades and while a lot of this ranking is based solely on the multiplayer potential, it’s still a fun game to mess around with by yourself.

  • 42. Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

I know I know I know. I take full responsibility for this list but I will remind you that I am open to lobbying. Anyway, Donkey Kong Country is a foundational platformer that basically won the early ‘90s console wars for Nintendo. I personally think it’s a flawed game with an incredible soundtrack, but I’m aware there are people out there that hold this as a nostalgic stone-cold classic.

  • 41. StarTropics (NES)

Some racist tropes aside, I have a soft spot for the Americanized Zelda styling of StarTropics. The soundtrack is infectious and the adventure is an enjoyable mix of overworld exploration and puzzling dungeons. It’s not quite as out there as the time-traveling sequel, which is surprisingly not on Nintendo Switch Online yet, but the gameplay is much more solid.

  • 40. Breath of Fire II (SNES)

Breath of Fire II is a great RPG with a legendarily bad localization. I’d recommend keeping an eye out on a guide to salvage some of the rougher edges of this Super Nintendo RPG, but considering the amount of RPGs of that era are few and far between on this service, it might be worth slogging through if you’ve got the itch for turn-based battles.

  • 39. The Legend of Zelda (NES)

If you’re playing the NES Zelda game for the first time, you might have a bad time. It’s from a different era. It’s not friendly. However, there’s a reason why Nintendo invoked the original game so much during the marketing for Breath of the Wild. It really is an open adventure that lets you explore more or less however you want. It’s a puzzle in and of itself to just find dungeons! Rewind and save states are also pleasant here.

  • 38. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble (SNES)

Yes - I think Donkey Kong Country 3 is better than the first one, Kiddy Kong be damned. This does go overboard with collectables and bafomdads and everything, but it’s a really well made platformer with a lot of weird Rare heart.

  • 37. Adventures of Lolo (NES)

I have a big soft spot for this puzzle series so I’ll admit it’s probably ranked higher than most normal people would place it, but Lolo is still a great puzzle game with straightforward ideas that are teased and twisted around throughout tons of levels.

  • 36. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES)

Are you still here after Donkey Kong Country? Well, here’s another one that might be less than the average consensus. Just listen to the Baby Mario cry on loop and tell me a game with that as a central mechanic is good. The visuals are awesome. It does a lot of good things, but I also don’t like how this game wired my brain to not accept less than 100% completion in a level and how frustrating it can be to do that here.

  • 35. Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (Genesis)

Puyo Puyo with a Sonic cartoon story. Sure, let’s go. This gets bonus points for appearing in Sonic Mania during a boss fight. Also it’s just a really good Puyo game. There are other Puyo games on Nintendo Switch Online, but this is the one that introduced me to Puyo so it holds a special place in my heart. If one of those is soundly better, I’m open to moving things, but Mean Bean Machine still rules.

  • 34. Kirby's Dream Land 3 (SNES)

Kirby’s criminally overlooked late Super Nintendo game is a little on the slow-paced side, but the visuals are still incredible and the music might be even better. I always wrote this game off until years after its launch and I’m glad I discovered it.

  • 33. Tecmo Bowl (NES)

Multiplayer bonus points are at play here because while the single-player march through Tecmo Bowl is fun, it’s always better to absolutely terrorize your friends with Bo Jackson.

  • 32. Kirby's Adventure

Another late console Kirby release, but this one is one everyone has played. Kirby’s Adventure taxes the crap out of the NES, but it’s the game that set into motion the good elements of the Kirby series going forward and it remarkably still holds up.

  • 31. Contra: Hard Corps (Genesis)

I don’t have as much experience with all the Genesis games so they could be movers on this list in the future. However, Contra: Hard Corps is an incredibly crunchy metal-as-hell Genesis game. Contra III on Super Nintendo isn’t on Nintendo Switch Online yet, but it doesn’t matter. Hard Corps has you play as humans and also a hovering robot and wolfman. There’s branching paths. It’s incredible.

  • 30. Wario's Woods (NES)

I love Wario’s Woods and y’all are lucky this isn’t in the top 10. It’s a puzzle game with platforming elements and boss battles and Purple Wario and Toad and Birdo. A lot of people don’t like this game. I am not one of those people. Viva la Wario’s Woods.

  • 29. Shining Force (Genesis)

Super Nintendo RPGs are in short supply but Genesis’ launch lineup has got you. Shining Force is a dated yet endearing tactical RPG from the developers of Golden Sun and Mario Golf Super Rush. Camelot hasn’t gone down the RPG well in a long time, but they used to do it all the time. This isn’t quite Fire Emblem, but if you enjoyed any old Fire Emblem games, you might be at home here. I’ll offer the caveat that this could be a fast riser because I haven’t played this game in a long time and it might hold up better than I remembered.

  • 28. Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis)

Much like Contra: Hard Corps, Castlevania: Bloodlines is the less heralded Genesis release in a Konami franchise. Bloodlines has two different playable characters that feel unique. Also it’s just a great action platformer.

  • 27. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)

Diddy and Dixie are the peak Kong pair in these games and Donkey Kong Country 2 is the best of the series on Super Nintendo.

  • 26. Mario Tennis 64 (N64)

I’ve always been more of a golf guy than a tennis guy, but the prospect of online Mario Tennis 64 is exciting, even if Mario Tennis Aces exists and is actually a really strong online game. I could argue that the Nintendo 64 game offers a more pure tennis experience whereas Aces is more like a fighting game with some of the new elements. It’s nice to have options and with Mario Golf 64 promised for the future, we’ll have more Mario sports options than we have in a long time.

  • 25. Mario's Super Picross (SNES)

I love Picross, so seeing a Japan-only Super Famicom game come over to America on Nintendo Switch Online is thrilling. This is definitely a dated Picross game, but the Mario flourishes are very enjoyable. Because of the language barrier, I can’t recommend Picross newbies to start here, but good news if you’re a Picross newbie: there’s a ton of good Picross games on Switch to start with.

  • 24. Yoshi's Story (N64)

I’m aware Yoshi’s Story above Yoshi’s Island is sure to start a war, but I sincerely love this game and since nostalgia plays heavily into all of these retro games, it does help that I first played this when I was 10 years old. Still, the nonlinearity is neat, especially with how exploration heavy levels get as you seek out all the melons and different routes. Maybe this was disappointing as a full-priced Nintendo 64 game for some, but as a part of Nintendo Switch Online, it’s awesome.

  • 23. Ninja Gaiden (NES)

A brutally hard NES platformer with a banger of a soundtrack and a glimpse at early video game storytelling. This might not be a game for everyone, but this is one of those hard games that always clicked for me. Though replaying it now, I’ve noticed my skills have atrophied as I usually tail off about two-thirds in.

  • 22. Demon's Crest (SNES)

Demon’s Crest definitely settles into the role of being one of the better Super Nintendo games you probably never played. It stars Firebrand - a Ghosts ‘n Goblins enemy who previously starred in Gargoyle’s Quest 1 and 2 - and is a strong action platformer with a lot of world map exploration and even some RPG elements. This is a really good Capcom game that seemingly isn’t talked about that much, but it’s very good.

  • 21. Star Fox (SNES)

If you’re sensitive to framerate, just skip to the next game, but if you can handle early 3D jank, the original Star Fox is a delight. The style is off the charts, especially with the stellar soundtrack and distinctive polygonal visuals. This is just an extremely creative and fun rail shooter that kicked off a franchise that may or may not still have multiple entries higher on this list.

  • 20. Super Punch-Out!! (SNES)

While Mike Tyson’s name was never on the Super Nintendo Punch-Out game, gorgeous visuals more in line with the arcade games make this a great entry in the rhythm boxing genre. The characters are large and expressive and the thrill of the fight is ever present. Save states and rewind can be your friend if you’re just learning the ropes.

  • 19. Panel de Pon (SNES)

You might know this game as Tetris Attack, but licensing means Nintendo can’t re-release a non-Tetris game with Tetris in the title. In lieu, we get Panel de Pon, the Japanese version. You get to see the origins of Lip, a character who has an item in Smash Bros. You also get supremely awesome puzzle gameplay, including a story mode and great two-player.

  • 18. Star Fox 2 (SNES)

Star Fox 2 is now available to more than just the Super Nintendo Classic owners and the same caveat about being sensitive to framerates applies here because this game pushes the Super Nintendo to its absolute limits. But it also has big, bold ideas about the structure of a Star Fox game. This is a borderline roguelike and I still contend that if this game actually came out in the 1990s, our view of Star Fox would be forever altered.

  • 17. Mario Kart 64 (N64)

Mario Kart 64 is extremely important to me even though, over time, I’ve come to recognize it as one of the lesser Mario Kart games. That being said, I’m giddy at the prospect of playing this game online with friends. A lot of the foundation for modern Mario Kart comes from this game and it’s exciting to be able to switch online between this 1997 classic and the Switch game that was released 20 years later.

  • 16. Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)

Super Mario Bros. 2 is one of the better black sheep games of Nintendo franchises. It changes up the formula of Super Mario Bros. significantly, but the slowed-down pace, multiple characters, and overall quirkiness make it a very strong game nonetheless.

  • 15. Punch-Out!! (NES)

The gap between the NES Punch-Out and Super Punch-Out isn’t wide, but I’ll give the edge to the first one because of how memorable and iconic it is. The more rampant Rocky references are amazing and the training sequences add a lot to the feel. The fights themselves are tense puzzles that require creativity and rhythm, even if Mr. Dream is a pain in the butt.

  • 14. Super Mario Bros. (NES)

The game that cemented Nintendo back in the NES days still fundamentally holds up extremely well. The jump feels perfect. The controls are great. It’s a little bit no-nonsense, but considering it essentially wrote the book for platformers, that’s not a complaint. This is well worth playing through if you’ve never done it before. Rewind and save states deserve no shame here.

  • 13. Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)

Streets of Rage 4 was one of the best beat-’em-ups in recent memory and that’s partially because the original games on Sega Genesis were incredible. The Yuzo Koshiro soundtrack is amazing and it offers some of the best beat-’em-up gameplay of its time. Absolutely snag a pal and romp through this online.

  • 12. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis)

My favorite old Sonic game, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 does a good job of actually balancing the thoughtful platforming with a need for speed. It still has those classic Sonic gotcha moments, but there’s a lot more creativity here. Also, it’s got a memorable soundtrack and for you online players, two player multiplayer.

  • 11. Gunstar Heroes (Genesis)

One of Treasure’s best games (from an array of great games) is Gunstar Heroes, a vibrant and creative run-and-gun action game with stupidly quirky and cool levels, an excellent soundtrack, and an overall great feel. I only first played this game on Wii Virtual Console and it was impressive even more than a decade after launch.

  • 10. Kirby Super Star (SNES)

Looking back, seeing how kitchen sink some of the Smash Bros. games felt shouldn’t have been a surprise after Masahiro Sakurai led the development of Kirby Super Star. This is a Kirby game that features multiple games and modes all with different play styles and themes. You can romp through an easy game, ride through a cinematic Meta Knight-featuring mode, and even explore a big cave and look for treasures. There’s so much variety.

  • 9. Sin and Punishment (N64)

Sin and Punishment never made it out of Japan until the Wii Virtual Console and it wound up being very playable even if you’re not a native Japanese reader. This is just an incredible shooter that does wonderful things on the N64 hardware and is also just a dynamite experience overall.

  • 8. Super Mario 64 (N64)

Here’s a weird one: Super Mario 64 is already available in probably a better form on Switch with 2020’s Super Mario 3D All-Stars. Also, that game is technically not available for purchase anymore. Super Mario 64 is still a foundational game with an incredible first half. It also may have aged a little poorly in the back half. Still, it’s a great way well worth exploring.

  • 7. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

Link to the Past wrote the book for Zelda games for 25 years and still stands tall as one of the best games in the series and, to some, one of the best games ever made. Being as I have it as 7th on this list, I might not agree with the last part, but it’s definitely an incredible game that should be borderline mandatory for every Nintendo fan to play.

  • 6. Phantasy Star IV (Genesis)

Lament the absence of Final Fantasy on this service all you want, but if you’re sad you can’t play Final Fantasy 4, 5, or 6, you should just drop everything you’re doing and play Phantasy Star IV. It’s a game I personally have never played all the way through but it is widely considered one of the best RPGs of its era. If you like ‘90s RPGs, play this game.

  • 5. Star Fox 64 (N64)

If you’re familiar with Nintendo World Report of the past few years, you might know our director John Rairdin. He loves Star Fox. A lot. By law, I can’t put Star Fox 64 that low on the list. It’s also a good thing I agree that Star Fox 64 absolutely rules, holding up very well to this day. The fact you can play multiplayer online is a major plus, too.

  • 4. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
  • 3. Super Mario World (SNES)

I’ll lump Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World together because it’s a razor thin margin separating them. I’ve settled on preferring World more, but I have no qualms with anyone wanting to bump 3 over World. They’re both enduring masterpieces that play to different strengths. Super Mario Bros. 3 has a slew of quick levels with a variety of fun power-ups. World has a more engaging overworld and Yoshi. Both are incredible.

  • 2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

Ocarina of Time is such a hugely important game that even if the original 1998 release is more than two decades old, it’s still worth playing. Maybe we’re on the verge of getting a Zelda 3D All-Stars Collection with a better version for a limited time, but even still, Ocarina of Time is amazing and like Link to the Past did for the Zelda series, Ocarina of Time did for 3D adventure games. Z targeting changed my life.

  • 1. Super Metroid (SNES)

With Metroid Dread out recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and replaying 2D Metroid games. Through replaying all of them, one game still stood above the rest: Super Metroid. I also learned that people disagree with this, and that’s fine. I encourage you to make your own Top 50 list of Nintendo Switch Online games. I love this game and find even with janky platforming and some dated gameplay, Super Metroid endures. The environmental storytelling is untouched. The sound design and music is sublime. The boss fights, while tough, lead to some great payoffs. Just a really great game that, to me, is the class of Nintendo Switch Online’s lineup.

Once again, I’ll remind everyone that this list is, first off, my opinion and takes, and second off, subject to change as games are added. I’m also willing to contemplate some movement and adding games not on the list. Nintendo Switch Online has triple digits in game count and it’s a lot to sort through, but spend some time here and you can play some ‘80s and ‘90s masterpieces. And also some junk that is endearing in its own right.

Podcast Discussion / Episode 295: Giving Credit to Quest 64
« on: October 22, 2021, 08:01:18 AM »

It might be better than Crysis.

Fresh off two giant Metroid Game Club episodes, Neal and John happily return to a smaller one hour format. But before we get to listener mail or what we've played recently we need to talk about the inevitably reality that is Quest 64 on NSO. Afterwords we discuss the realities of video game credits before diving into discussions of Dungeon Encounters, Actraiser Renessaince, and the Crysis Remastered Trilogy.

TalkBack / Mon Amour (Switch) Review
« on: October 18, 2021, 10:42:44 AM »

Whether you compare it to Flappy Bird or Balloon Trip, Mon Amour is zany arcade fun.

Let’s get right to the point: Mon Amour is a weird game. That’s no surprise as it comes from developer Onion Games, who you might know from their other Switch games, the hauntingly beautiful Fantasy Zone-inspired Blackbird, the brilliant anti-RPG Moon Remix RPG Adventure, and the bizarre roguelite puzzle RPG Dandy Dungeon. They have crafted a distinct style that Mon Amour exemplifies well with its simplistic gameplay, madcap style, and hidden depth.

The gameplay is simply single-screen Balloon Trip (or more modernly, Flappy Bird) as you have to continually tap a button to keep your hero from hitting the top or bottom of the screen. Every level features a woman waiting at the end to be kissed and rescued. If that sounds offbeat, well, it is. The goal is to take your mustachioed lover boy hero through dozens of levels to try to kiss and rescue every captured character from evil witches. It’s hard—the developers boast that 99% of playtesters died immediately. I can vouch that I did die immediately, as the game just starts without telling you much of anything. There’s a discovery process here where you get into the rhythm of the button presses and try to carry your increasingly long trail of amours intact as you reach a castle level to save all of your collected characters.

The saved characters also double as extra hit points, as getting hit by an enemy or obstacle knocks one away until your hero is all alone and one final hit ends your run. The scoring gets deeper once you start paying attention to how multipliers and more are implemented. Ideally, you want to avoid getting hit as the longer a chain you have, the more points you accrue when reaching a castle. There’s also the matter of the angle you approach the captured character at the end of the level, which shoots hearts across the stage. When hearts hit other hearts, they increase in size and point value. The goal then becomes to make giant hearts that you avoid touching until they’re big enough for you to cash in the maximum amount of points. This is all largely unexplained in the game, making part of the fun puzzling out the mechanics. Certain characters also seem to either randomly appear or only show up in certain conditions, usually accompanied by their own unique level design. There is quite literally a Flappy Bird level.

Once you encounter a character, you can start over from their level, which is helpful because death is frequent. The game logs all the different characters and that allows something other than a high score to strive for. High score chasing is where the true length of Mon Amour comes from, but having the goal of saving everyone makes for something attainable for the less high score savvy players. It’s a straightforward game without a lot of meat on its bones, but what’s there is enjoyable, amped up by the “death note” system that shows you when other players died online and on what level. It’s a clever way to make the online rankings a little more engaging.

Mon Amour is straight to the point. It’s a bunch of Flappy Bird-like single-screen levels where you try to survive and kiss people while aiming for a high score. I enjoyed my time with it, even if the chase for the leaderboards didn’t grab me. This is a wild and wacky arcade game worth checking out if you’re seeking an afternoon of fun.

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