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TalkBack / Double Dragon Neon (Switch eShop) Review
« on: January 17, 2021, 02:10:00 PM »

Double the Dragon, double the fun.

The brawler genre has seen an uptick in popularity these last few years, the most notable examples (in my opinion) being the absolutely superb River City Girls from WayForward & Arc Systems Works and Streets of Rage 4 from Dotemu and Lizardcube. Both sequels updated the graphics and gameplay, while maintaining the spirit of their respective franchises. It’s a tough needle to thread, but I think both efforts were successful. Back in 2012, which seems like a different geological era now, WayForward partnered with Majesco Entertainment on a similar modernized reboot of the forgotten Double Dragon series: Double Dragon Neon. That game never came to the Wii U, but has now hit the Switch. How do Billy and Jimmy Lee stack up against their newer compatriots? Pretty well, in fact, as long as they’re both in the mix.

There’s a lot to love about Double Dragon Neon, maybe nothing moreso than the overwhelming ‘80s aesthetic, from the brother’s high-fiving buffs to the early detour into space and the game’s big bad, Skullmageddon, who bears more than a passing similarity to a certain cartoony Eternian overlord. There’s even a boss fight that reminds me of the multi-part Technodrome battle from the original NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. Unlike typical coin-op brawlers, Neon tries to keep you more engaged with dodge and duck moves (but no dips or dives) that, when timed correctly, refill your special meter and give you very temporary boosts to your attack power. When both brothers are brawling, they can initiate high-fives to cause various buffs or debuffs (don’t leave a bro hanging, dudes).

Additionally, enemies will often drop mixtapes, of which there are several varieties divided into two main types: stat effects (stronger defense, quicker stuns, e.g.) and special attacks (fireball, super powerful short-range punch, a dragon spirit, e.g.). One of each can be equipped at any time. Collecting multiple copies of a given tape strengthens it, up to ten copies. But wait, defeating bosses will net you Mythril, which can be used to pay a “Tapesmith” to further increase your tape limit. Players are encouraged to revisit previous stages to stock up on mixtapes and Mythril, and I can attest that is a great idea.

The brawling itself is fairly simplistic: Billy & Jimmy have punch and kick combos, including jumping attacks and crouching attacks. Stunning enemies allows an uppercut, and following that up with a ground-pound defeats most standard foes. You’ll also find weapons (which quickly break) and barrels to throw. Soda pop and batteries recharge your health and special meters, respectively. The trick here is that Double Dragon Neon almost requires you to get really good at dodging and ducking. Even low-level baddies can take off surprisingly hefty chunks of your health, so evasion is critical for success. I had a hard time getting the timing down on dodging—the window for a successful dodge is quite brief, so expect to take some hard knocks while you learn the technique.

Dodging complaints aside, Double Dragon Neon is great fun for two players (locally), especially if you and a friend really enjoyed those other two brawlers I raved about. As in River City Girls, if one bro dies, the other has a decent amount of time to revive him (using a patented ‘80s maneuver) before anyone loses a life. You can also stock up on extra lives (fairly cheaply) at shops--although you can only buy so many. I suspect, though, that two-player mode may be the only way to really enjoy Double Dragon Neon, as I found the game more frustrating than fun by my lonesome. It’s easy to get ganged up on by yourself, and boss fights especially become wars of attrition. Powering up your mixtapes definitely helps (I would argue it’s required for solo play), but that just means you spend most of your time grinding for mixtapes, Mythril, and moolah in already-completed stages and dumping a lot of money on extra lives.

The game looks fine, although you’ll see a lot of palette-swapped enemies. Personally, I prefer the pixel art of River City Girls or the amazing hard-drawn art of Streets of Rage 4, but the 3D models of Neon are clean and animate well. I’d also be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention the soundtrack by Jake Kaufman; there are some real toe-tappers in here, and a real departure from his Shantae and Mighty Switch Force tunes.

If you can get a friend on the couch with you, Double Dragon Neon is a big, dumb, fun dose of 80’s nostalgia.

TalkBack / Fatal Fury: First Contact (Switch eShop) Review Mini
« on: January 05, 2021, 02:43:19 PM »

There were other NeoGeo Pocket Color games, right?

Back in its day, the NeoGeo Pocket Color received portable versions of all of SNK’s flagship fighting franchises, including King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, and The Last Blade. It even got a cute spin-off, Gals Fighter. The first of these portable adaptations, though, was Fatal Fury: First Contact, and it’s the theme of today’s NeoGeo Pocket Color port for Switch. To be clear, it’s very cool that any of these games are getting Switch ports at all—the NGPC is not a system that was widely adopted in any territory, but especially in the West, because it was competing with the Game Boy Color. However, as we’ve already seen a handful of NGPC games on Switch, it has to be said that First Contact doesn’t live up to its predecessors.

I say “predecessors” somewhat ironically, because while First Contact predated its cousins on the NGPC, it was somehow pushed to the back of the line on Switch, and thus many of the fun extras we’ve seen in King of Fighters R-2, The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny, and SNK Gals Fighter are missing here. Granted, there are a couple of unlockable characters but nothing beyond that. It's single player fights, two-player fights, and options.

The cast has some new faces compared to Gals Fighter and KOF R-2, though, drawn in the same charming Chibi style that we’ve become accustomed to. I’m again impressed by how well these games control, although I found super moves and “Evasion Attacks” unusually hard to pull off. Evasion Attacks appear to be Fatal Fury’s attempt at a parry, though, and I appreciate the chance to change up the usual fighting gameplay. One major difference from “past” titles is that each single-player run takes much longer, as you fight every other character. I’m oddly impressed by the backgrounds in this game, although they’ve been great in all of these NGPC fighters (especially The Last Blade).

The usual overlay features are still here, as is the single-system two-player mode. There still isn’t an on-screen moves list, although even a passing familiarity with the usual SNK fighter directional combos will serve you well here. Otherwise, there’s a big beautiful scan of the game’s manual for you to consult (just write everything down somewhere). While I remain tickled that these NGPC ports even exist, though, I am beginning to long for different things, especially since these fighters all look more or less like the same game.

TalkBack / Re: Super Meat Boy Forever (Switch eShop) Review
« on: December 30, 2020, 11:25:47 PM »
I'm glad you do! I go to this format when a traditional writeup isn't coming together.

TalkBack / Super Meat Boy Forever (Switch eShop) Review
« on: December 30, 2020, 01:31:00 PM »

Wear a helmet.

I was struggling to draft this as a traditional review, which usually means the FAQ format is a better fit; it is, so here we go.

Hey, oh my gosh, is Super Meat Boy Forever finally out?

First of all, hello. Second, I can hardly believe it either, but yes, the long-awaited sequel to Super Meat Boy Forever is finally here. As you may or may not know, it was announced way back in 2014 and began its life as a mobile version of Super Meat Boy, but after Edmund McMillen left Team Meat to pursue other projects, the game was kind of in limbo until 2017, when development restarted. And now, at the bitter end of 2020, it’s ready for prime-time.

You liked the first game, right?

Man, I love the first game to death. I reviewed it when it splattered onto the Switch back in 2018 and I still revisit it from time to time to try and beat stages that I couldn’t back then. Super Meat Boy is agonizingly hard at times, but it’s always fair, and the mechanics are perfectly splendid.

...was that a Haunting of Bly Manor reference?

Yeah, sorry, my wife says it all the time now.

Is the sequel just the same game, but new levels?

In fact, it’s quite different. You can tell the game had mobile roots, because it’s an auto-runner.

Let me stop you right there.


You mean like Robot Unicorn Attack and Jetpack Joyride?

I do.

Oh god.

No no, it’s not that kind of auto-runner. This one has more things to do than just jump or move up and down to avoid obstacles. Sometimes you have to wall jump or punch things or slide. And this one has actual level design! Of a sort.

What do you mean by that?

The levels are procedurally generated.

Oh come on.

Hey, I was skeptical too, but you’d be shocked at how well the components slot together. Each stage is clearly loaded with specific “chunks” that are strewn together, so each individual chunk works exactly as intended. You’re never going to come across a random buzzsaw menagerie that’s cobbled together in such a way that it’s impossible to get through. It’s not that kind of procedural generation. This is actually really cool and super impressive. Plus, although any given Forever stage is much longer than a typical SMB 1.0 stage, there’s a checkpoint before every “chunk” of that stage, so when you inevitably die, you won’t be sent back very far. That said, there are certain chunks that last a bit too long and repeating them dozens of times can get frustrating.

How do Meat Boy’s new moves factor into this?

Super Meat Boy--and Bandage Girl, who is playable from the start--have the jump and wall-slide from the first game, but can now do an air-punch/dash, a crouch/slide, and a dive. The air punch extends the length of your jump and can also punch enemies, the crouch/slide lets you duck beneath obstacles and knock out ground-based enemies, and the dive lets you navigate tight downward paths. Often, all of these abilities will be combined to create some impressive feats of platforming prowess.


And that’s not all--most stages have at least one new mechanic to tinker with, from movable walls to items that let you air-dash backwards, or dimension-hopping warp portals. Most of the new things are one-and-done, so they don’t overstay their welcome. And then there are the boss fights.

Ooh, I remember the boss fights being hard but pretty doable in Super Meat Boy 1.0.

They’re tougher overall here. For the most part, they rely on your ability to (1) figure out how to do anything; and (2) get into a set rhythm and never screw up, which is a tall order as some of these boss fights go on quite a while. The final boss (before the credits, anyway) almost made me quit the game; it required such precision and perfect timing that I was just worn out by the end. Usually, defeating a difficult boss gives you a great sense of accomplishment, but I just felt like Team Meat was being mean-spirited here. I died 284 times on the final boss.

Uh...git gud?

No man, screw that. I subscribe to the Jonny Metts theory of game difficulty: there’s a difference between dying but learning something and dying because you didn’t press the buttons in an incredibly specific sequence with unreasonably good timing. If the player, who is usually very good at Meat Boy, is dying 284 times on your final boss, something’s wrong. Furthermore, so many of these challenge chunks throw the sort of “gotcha” crap at the very end that they become insulting. I just survived a ridiculous platform sequence with amazing timing and then I’m killed because you throw an unexpected enemy or buzzsaw at the very end? Basically, go back and read my review of Runner 3--it was written pre-patch, and that game had many of the same issues that Super Meat Boy Forever does. Despite the inventive procedural generation and good (overall) play mechanics, this game is just exhausting. It doesn’t respect your time.


It’s going to come down to how much patience you have for these sort of “masochism” platformers.

Are there a wealth of unlockable indy characters?

There’s a wealth of unlockable characters, but they’re all Meat Boy-specific, and they require you to collect pacifiers in addition to completing specific warp zones, sometimes by hitting certain goals, few of which are spelled out. Although to the surprise of nobody, the Internet already has tutorials about unlocking characters. And from what I’ve seen, none of the characters have unique abilities; there is no Forever version of Ogma, the double-jumping character in Super Meat Boy 1.0. I suspect that’s because unique abilities would screw up the tightly-designed obstacle courses that Team Meat has put together, so if you want to play as Dr. Fetus (spoiler?), go nuts, but it’s just an aesthetic choice.

You’re harshin’ my Meat Boy mellow, man.

I will say that when you do manage to find warp zones (watch for glitchy effects during a stage--it's nearby), they’re typically extremely inventive and surprising. They’re not just Meat Boy levels with retro graphics; they’re entirely different games, or plays on existing games, like a certain digitized fighting game or Mode 7 racing game. Similarly, the cutscenes in Super Meat Boy Forever are wonderful, well-animated, and often quite funny. Each level has an intro cutscene that is a parody of something--the intro cutscene is a parody of Super Mario RPG.

Is there still a Light World and a Dark World?

Yep, and the Dark World is still harder (and tends to have more pacifiers, of course).


This is definitely one of those “your mileage may vary” kind of reviews; your enjoyment of Super Meat Boy Forever will be determined entirely by your particular enjoyment of masochistic platformers. If you played Super Meat Boy 1.0 and thought “man, I wish this were way harder,” Forever may be just what you’re looking for.

TalkBack / Jurassic World Evolution: Complete Edition (Switch) Review
« on: December 01, 2020, 02:27:00 PM »

They're moving in herds. They DO move in herds.

I don’t think it will surprise too many of you to know that my favorite movie is Jurassic Park. I saw that tour de force at the tender age of 10 with my aunt and that experience has largely guided my life decisions forever after. It’s a shame that no sequels were ever produced! Of course, Jurassic Park is no stranger to the video game realm, and while most of them have disappointing, a few standouts do exist (anyone remember "Trespasser?"). This, dear readers, is perhaps the purest realization of the Jurassic Park concept: building a dinosaur theme park. As somebody who normally gets bored to tears playing city/park management sims, I found Jurassic World: Evolution charming and engaging, thanks in no small part to the subject attractions, which will drive kids out of their minds.

In Evolution, you will eventually manage several distinct parks on five islands in the Muertes Archipelago. Each park has its own challenges, and you won’t be able to access them all right away. You’ll start on Isla Matanceros, and once you prove you can manage a successful park, you’ll get to take on Isla Muerta, and so on. As you unlock new islands, you’ll also gain access to more dig sites, building types, and research projects. Because of this, the game moves fairly slowly, but in a manageable way—you’re never overwhelmed, and there’s really only so much you can do on each island until you move on.

Effective park building involves balancing three essential assets: guest services, operations, and science. When you’re first spinning up a park, you’ll want to focus on cloning some interesting dinosaurs and building up some shops nearby to start getting pulling income. Once that’s done, you can build expedition and fossil centers, which will allow you to travel to real world dig sites to find more Dino DNA for more viable clones. Your research division can start looking at ways to improve your existing infrastructure or new facilities, or new genetic cocktails and medications for diseases. You’ll have to make sure you have enough power, which means setting up substations and pylons.

The dinosaurs themselves take some familiarity as well—each species has its own environmental preferences, as well as social needs. Struthiomimus, for existence, loves to live in as large a flock as possible, but while Dracorex also prefers conspecifics, it will become stressed out if it’s sharing a pen with too many other animals. Duckbill dinosaurs, like Maiasaura and Edmontosaurus, prefer wetlands while Triceratops likes grasslands. Ceratosaurus, a carnivore, likes grassland too, but requires a lot of territory to survey. In one of my parks, my Ceratosaurus pair occupies a pen that’s more than half the size of my “large herbivore” pen, which itself includes three Triceratops, five Edmontosaurus, and three Huayangosaurus, and they’re all perfectly happy.

Some dinosaurs simply don’t like living together—Velociraptor and Dilophosaurus, I learned, will attack each other immediately. Stressed dinosaurs have a tendency to break through their fences and go rampaging through your park, at which point you’ll have to tranquilize and transport them back to their pens…maybe after making improvements to it. One of your more important guest facilities is the Emergency Shelter, which you should activate whenever one of your assets gets loose. Some dinosaurs get stressed sooner than others, so it’s important to check in on your clones once and awhile—you never know if somebody is about to snap.

In addition to simply setting up your parks, you’ll have to contend with missions (“contracts”) supplied by InGen’s science, security, and guest services divisions. These missions range from extremely simple (collect a small herbivore fossil from a dig site) to long-term (get the Ankylosaurus genome up to 75%) to ridiculous (let a Huayangosaurus kill a Ceratosaurus). You can accept or decline missions as they come up, but getting in good with each division is the only way to unlock certain aspects of your park, be it new dinosaurs, new buildings and upgrades, or more research projects.

One way I was able to game the system a bit was by letting my most successful park do all the research whenever new research was available since they had money to burn.

Each park has a variety of challenges. While Isla Matanceros, your starter island, has a lot of real estate to play with, Isla Muerta is a bit more boxed-in, with a steep slope descending from the monorail entrance and lot of jungle to clear. I’ve been tempted several times to simply bulldoze the entire infrastructure and build it back up in a way that makes sense. Isla Tacano asks you to basically do just that—it’s the site of a failed park that you’re tasked with restructuring after starting in debt. There’s always some crisis that needs fixing. Some of the DLC is separate from the “main” game, accessible from the main menu, including “Claire’s Sanctuary” and “Return to Jurassic Park,” which have unique dinosaurs and missions and do not overlap with the main story.

Evolution has a helpful “Manager View” where you can see various aspects of the park in terms of popularity or need. Where would your guests like to have a bathroom, or something to drink? Do you have a building that’s simply not getting any foot traffic? Need to increase the staffing at your facilities to serve more customers? It’s very helpful, although there were times I felt like the island’s layout tied my hands.

There are a couple things I genuinely do not like about this game—unless you meticulously plan your power needs, it’s very easy to start overlapping your substations by accident, and I can’t figure out for the life of me if one substation routed to two separate power stations share the load. On Isla Muerta especially, where real estate is at a premium, figuring out the maze of power lines was a huge headache, and the game simply doesn’t do a good job of telling you exactly what each power station is powering exclusive of the others.

Similarly, I wish I could see a “grid view” of the island, which probably misses the point to some degree, but it would make infrastructure planning easier. The rate at which you unlock new things, and dinosaurs in particular, is a little on the slow side, especially when you consider that it takes multiple trips into the field and multiple fossils of varying quality to successfully clone a new dinosaur. On the cloning side, it’s unfortunate that adding various genetic cocktails often results in lower embryo viability, and that most cocktails require you to meet certain percentage benchmarks for a given dinosaur.

And how about those dinosaurs? You knew this was coming, so if you don’t care about dinosaur accuracy, maybe skip the next section (click those links for relevant papers)!

The Good

1. Almost all major dinosaur groups get fantastic representation, and include both popular (Tyrannosaurus) and obscure (Proceratosaurus) members.

2. Most of the herbivorous dinosaurs look great and are surprisingly accurate to what we think (in 2020) they really looked like. I was especially impressed by the shovel-beak and soft-tissue crest on Edmontosaurus, the massive crest on Tsintaosaurus, and the mere presence of Olorotitan.

3. I was also happy to see Torosaurus and Triceratops as separate animals, and the inclusion of relative newcomer Nasutoceratops, as well as classic ceratopsids Chasmosaurus and Pentaceratops.

4. There are lots of thyreophorans, including “Crichtonsaurus” (even if it should’ve been called Crichtonpelta), and Gigantspinosaurus, with its impossibly large shoulder spines. Ankylosaurus looks a little more generic than I’d like, but the surprisingly accurate Euoplocephalus makes up for it.

4. They even included two relatively new sauropods, the Cretaceous lawnmower Nigersaurus and the impossibly large titanosaur Dreadnoughtus, both of which are good choices given how completely-known they are.

5. The large theropods generally look good, and I was psyched to see Carnotaurus (my favorite dinosaur) and its one-horned cousin, Majungasaurus, included. You could argue that tyrannosaurs are under-represented, but the non-Tyrannosaurus tyrannosaurs, Albertosaurus and Proceratosaurus, both look great even if the latter should have downy feathers.

6. I was also generally happy with how well-scaled the dinosaurs were. Tyrannosaurus is significantly larger than Ceratosaurus, for instance, and Dreadnoughtus dwarfs everybody else except maybe Brachiosaurus.

The Bad

1. For the most part, the small theropods look awkward without the feathers we know they should have. I understand this is a Jurassic Park trope, but "Troodon" just looks weird without them. Similarly, the theropods should have medially-facing palms, not bunny hands—theropods could hold a basketball, but couldn’t dribble.

2. Some of the dinosaurs suffered from looking to similar to each other, for example Baryonyx and Suchomimus, Carcharodontosaurus and Giganotosaurus, or Chungkingosaurus and Huayangosaurus. Of course, each pair is from the same family, so it’s sort of understandable.

3. I had to chuckle that, while Triceratops and Torosaurus are kept separate—instead of one being a growth stage of the other—the same was not applied to the bone-headed pachycephalosaurs. Here, we have Dracorex, Stygimoloch, and Pachycephalosaurus as distinct animals when in reality, they probably form a growth series of the latter.

4. You’re all going to groan, but the dinosaurs that appear in the Jurassic Park/World films are those who suffer the most—now that we know that Spinosaurus was a semi-aquatic, newt-tailed, corgi-legged monstrosity, it’s hard to see the Jurassic Park 3 version as anything but silly. Sinoceratops, a horned dinosaur who you may remember from Fallen Kingdom and Camp Cretaceous, has holes in the frill that are visible externally. This would not be true of the real animal. This game's version if the famous Deinonychus gives it bizarre soft-tissue crests (it looks like a bipedal basilisk lizard) in an effort to differentiate it from Velociraptor.

5. It’s also a real shame that the only animal you can fill your aviary with is the godawful Jurassic Park 3 version of Pteranodon (which was, in fact, one of most fascinating giant pterosaurs). Pterosaurs are treated poorly in the Jurassic Park/Wold films generally, but it would’ve been interesting to see more pterosaurs in this game generally. Some of them were really weird, like filter-feeding Pterodaustro and antler-crested Nyctosaurus!

Jurassic World Evolution looks great on my TV, and while it’s perfectly serviceable in handheld mode, there’s definitely a graphical hit—everything looks much fuzzier. Depending on what scenario you’re playing in, you’ll hear some famous legacy voices, most notably Jeff Goldblum introducing the game and chiming in every now and then to give a warning about whatever the project division heads are suggesting. I really enjoy Jurassic World Evolution, despite my historical distaste for city/park sims. I’m sure this is mostly due to the dinosaurs themselves, but it’s also not overly complicated.

TalkBack / Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin (Switch) Review
« on: November 09, 2020, 09:09:35 AM »

Reap what you sow.

As we come to the end of 2020 (thank god), any gamer’s thoughts turn to their Game of the Year contenders. While it’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to knock Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 off the throne, Sakuna: Of Rice & Ruin, is, at least, a close second (Tony Hawk also isn't on Switch). When I first heard of this game, it looked like a lovely combination of Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Harvest Moon. As it turns out, that’s not too far from the truth, and let me tell you--it works.

Princess Sakuna is a spoiled goddess who lives in the Mihashira Capital of the Lofty Realm with her friends with her fellow immortals. She gets in trouble with her mother, Lady Kamuhitsuki, when she allows a group of mortals from the Lowly Realm into the Lofty Realm, she is banished (along with the band of humans) to Hinoe Island and is charged with making a dent in the demon population and learning humility and responsibility by caring for her human charges.

The game is structured in terms of days and seasons, and Sakuna must balance exploring Hinoe Island, collecting food and other resources from each stage, and coming home to farm rice and feed her adopted family. In stages, Sakuna runs through side-scrolling areas of various sizes, finding things like manure, wood, copper ore, etc. and killing animals, which will drop meat and various other resources. Combat has a decidedly Muramasa flavor to it, with lots of combo-heavy swordplay. Sakuna has a hookshot-like Divine Raiment that can be used to maneuver between enemies, pull them towards you, debuff your quarries, and various other uses, which open up as the game goes on.

In addition to light and heavy normal attacks, Sakuna can assign special attacks to the A button (plus a direction), which can be powered up the more they’re used. One of her best tools is an attack that lets her smash enemies into other enemies, which can be chained together, creating a lovely domino effect. Overall, combat is simplistic but satisfying--the Muramasa comparison is apt--and it gets better over time as Sakuna gains new special attacks and Raiment abilities. Further, her compatriots will eventually learn to craft new clothing and tools that will improve Sakuna’s combat prowess. Different weapons have their own buffs, and you can attach new jewels found as you explore that will further buff your equipment. Even the buffs can be upgraded by fulfilling certain conditions.

Each stage has a number of goals to achieve, some of which are weirdly ambiguous or chance-based, and doing so will increase your “exploration” rate, which is how you unlock new stages to explore. That is, you won’t necessarily move forward by getting to the end of a stage, which takes some getting used to.

When you’re not killing rabbits, boars, and flying fish, you’ll master the fine art of rice farming. I was surprised by not just how fun the rice farming is, but also by how deep it goes. Sakuna will perform all sorts of farmyard tasks, including tilling the soil at the end of winter, planting rice seeds the correct distance apart in the spring, actively growing the ears in the spring and summer, then reaping the harvest, drying the rice, and threshing the seeds before winter. In addition to this, you’ll slowly learn how to maximize your field’s yield, catch and release helpful animals (like spiders and frogs), and--if necessary--watch the health of your crop. The more farming Sakuna does the better she gets at it, and she’ll eventually find ways to make the process easier. After each season, you’ll get a summary of how you did, which suggests ways to improve next year’s crop. In addition, Sakuna’s human friend Tauemon will give advice on how to effectively grow rice, and Sakuna can offer Amber to Lady Kamuhitsuki to bring more favorable weather.

As enjoyable as the farming is, the game doesn’t adequately cover fertilizing, which is a critical component of the whole process. It provides nutrients for the soil but can also provide big bonuses to your yield and the bonuses provided by the rice crop. While base components are easy to come by in every stage (generally manure, beast hooves, and fallen leaves), Sakuna can add a huge array of components that will boost various aspects of the rice. One of the problems with fertilizing is that it only lasts a day, and since rice only grows while the sun is up, you have to prep your fertilizer the day before and let it marinate overnight, which is something I often forgot to do.

Food prep is another aspect of Sakuna: Of Rice & Ruin that I enjoyed but always felt like I was missing something. Bringing home rabbit and boar meat isn’t enough--you have to get with another of your human friends--Myrthe--to prepare the food before it spoils and combine different components into meals. You’ll do the majority of food prep after harvesting your rice. You can also choose the menu every night, which is helpful for when you have a specific goal in mind for the next day, because various dishes will provide temporary stat bonuses.

Unfortunately, Sakuna’s secondary energy meter (Fullness) drains slowly over the course of the next day, and when it runs out, any stat bonuses or abilities go with it. This essentially means you only have so much time to explore with relative safety, although as you get farther in the game and your equipment and attack abilities improve, that becomes less of a concern. When night rolls around, demons become significantly more dangerous, but certain resources and goals only appear at night.

Sakuna: Of Rice & Ruin is ultimately about balance. You have to balance your exploration and item collection with farming. You have to balance your exploration with your food choices. You have to balance your resource usage with your fertilizer needs. You have to balance goal-driven exploration with resource-gathering exploration. Sakuna herself has to balance her mother’s goal of driving the demons from Hinoe Island with her charge of providing for her human family.

I don’t have many complaints about Sakuna: Rice & Ruin, but here they are. I already said that fertilizer isn’t adequately explained, but other things get the short shrift, too. For example, I can’t understand why so many weeds pop up in my rice field when I fill it with water, even when my fertilizer is chock-full of buffs. Combat is not as deep as it needs to be early on, and boss fights can be agonizing if you’re not properly prepared with good meals and equipment (it pays to grind for the materials that your smith needs to upgrade your weapons).

The game features a good amount of cutscenes, and every character is voiced. I particularly enjoy their dinnertime conversations, which often revolve around the mythology of the Lofty and Lowly Realms. Despite that, it took me a very long time to warm to Sakuna herself, who spends a lot of her time being--and sounding like--a spoiled brat. Similarly, one of the children, Kinta, despite being your weaponsmith, is, you know, terrible throughout.

It looks damn good, though, with a cel-shaded aesthetic that bursts with color. The way the sun filters through your rice ears is always lovely. Various environments look more or less interesting--I was rarely a fan of the rock-encrusted areas, but forests and river systems are wonderful. There’s a dearth of enemy types, and bosses and minibosses tend to be--but are not always--larger version of standard foes. The music is catchy, if a bit repetitious. All of the voice actors do well in their roles, as well.

All that is small potatoes, though, compared to the fun combat and surprisingly enjoyable farming. It turns out the farming might be my favorite part of Sakuna: Of Rice & Ruin, though, despite my issues with fertilizer. I didn’t think a video game could give me such an understanding and appreciation of rice farming, but this game did. Rice farming is as much an art as a science, it’s beautiful, and it’s calming. Sakuna and I were both learning the value of hard work and an appreciation for doing it well. Now if only I could catch more frogs...

It'd be nice if SNK would release NGPC games that aren't fighting games (do those exist?). Apart from the individual bells and whistles, these three games feel very similar, and not having a moves list is...becoming increasingly frustrating. I'm glad I'm able to experience a handheld that I completely missed, but maybe there just wasn't much variety?

TalkBack / The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny (Switch eShop) Review Mini
« on: November 06, 2020, 02:28:25 PM »

The Neo Geo Pocket Color party continues.

This is the fourth Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC) game to arrive on Switch after Gals Fighter, Samurai Shodown(!) 2, and King of Fighters R-2. I didn’t play—or review—the Samurai Shodown entry because that series requires a degree of precision that I’m not fond of. Interestingly, this new entry, The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny, occupies something of a middle ground between the free-wheeling improv of KOF and the precision of Shodown. It’s a good time, although these Neo Geo Pocket Color fighters are starting to blend together.

The Last Blade is a weapons-based fighter with a strong emphasis on parries, although they’re not as important as the instruction manual would lead you to believe. This game isn’t as fast as something like KOF or Gals Fighter, and you have to be a bit more cognizant of your attack ranges. I’m most impressed by how different every character feels. As such, every one takes a little bit of getting used to, but that’s what the Training Mode is for. Characters can choose between two “builds:” Speed and Power, which determines the kinds of attacks and specials you can pull off. Speed is more combo-friendly, and allows you to build to larger specials while Power gives you more attack power overall but fewer options.

I found Speed builds harder to use, as the Switch’s stick and d-pad are a little looser than I’d like. As in KOF-R2, lightly tapping a button vs. holding the button down results in different attacks, but in the heat of the moment, it’s not a perfect system. I would have preferred that “light” and “heavy” attacks utilized different buttons on the Switch, so all four face buttons would be in play (a la Primal Rage), but maybe that’s more than this emulator is capable of achieving.

You’ll notice that winning matches bestows points that can be spent on “scrolls” from the main menu’s “Gallery” option. Most of the scrolls are filler material, like character profiles and endings, but occasionally you’ll unlock new characters (try buying both of each character’s ending scrolls), and there are also two weird minigames to try and a code you can enter (the Internet exists) to unlock a third build type.

With all the unlocks, The Last Blade provides a more robust experience than Gals Fighter or KOF R-2, but you have to want it: grinding through the story mode repeatedly in order to earn currency to buy scrolls. I found the game more forgiving (or at least “less cheap”) on normal difficulty than either of its predecessors. Story Mode is also quite short, perhaps because they expect you to run through it so often.

The usual bells and whistles are here, including a digitized manual, different NGPC skins, and a rewind feature. As in the previous games, there’s a distinct lack of a moves list, so you’ll have to resort to repeatedly opening the manual, writing things down, or going to GameFAQs. Being able to play with a friend on a single system is nice, though, although The Last Blade won’t give you the multiplayer mileage than Smash Bros. does. The Last Blade is fun, and another good NGPC game to add to your list.

TalkBack / Ranking Igavanias
« on: November 01, 2020, 12:03:19 PM »

Looking for a good Igavania game? Check out Zach's ranked list!

(Author's Note: I meant to post this in the days leading up to Halloween, which means I'm exactly one day late, so that's why I have a few Halloween references in this article, but I already recorded the audio so I'm reluctant to rewrite it!)

Love or hate the term, “Metroidvania” games have exploded in popularity. Once regaled to a subset of 2D platforming games, this sort of level design has infiltrated almost every major genre. Control and the Batman Arkham games are 3D Metroidvanias, Hollow Knight is a 2D Metroidvania with strong Dark Souls elements, and even the Pokémon RPGs, with their HMs conferring Metroid-like ways to access previously-blocked areas, scratch that itch. As most of you know, of course, “Metroidvania” is a (often maligned) term coined to describe the level progression of games like Metroid and the Koji Igarashi Castlevania series. These “Igavania” games, which started with Symphony of the Night, are almost all excellent Metroid-likes in their own right. What with the vampires and werewolves, October seems like a perfect month to share my own personal list of the “Igavania” games, from worst to best.

Honorable Mention: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

Available on: Wii, PS4, Xbox One, PSP, TurboGrafix-16/PC Engine Mini

Now this isn’t technically an Igavania game. In fact, Igarashi didn’t work on this one at all (but his wife did). However, it is a direct prequel to Symphony of the Night, and in fact that game begins at the end of Rondo of Blood. This is also where a great many boss and enemy sprites originate that would be brought forward to future Igavania titles. In addition, it’s where the series started experimenting with level progression. Richter Belmont can find alternate paths through each level which result in different bosses and minibosses. The original game is fantastic and probably represents the best of the “traditional” 2D Castlevania games. Dracula X, an SNES version that’s available on Wii U Virtual Console, is a terrible “demake” that’s just ridiculously hard and should be avoided at all costs. The PSP remake (Dracula X Chronicles) is ostensibly a 2.5D remake of Rondo of Blood but also includes the original PC Engine version as an unlockable (Symphony, too). Sadly, since the PSP store has gone the way of the dinosaur, you’ll have to try and find a physical copy…and a working PSP.

8. Harmony of Dissonance

Available on GBA & Wii U

The funny thing is that Harmony of Dissonance was Igarashi’s attempt to recreate Symphony of the Night on the Game Boy Advance. This is understandable; Harmony was his first Castlevania game after Symphony, and he did not appreciate the dark colors of Circle of the Moon (none of us did). Thus, his first order of business was to make everything neon. The protagonist, Juste Belmont, wears a bright red coat and has a bright blue shadow following his every move. Every background and enemy is a garish tone; it’s an ugly game. Harmony does manage a gaming impression of Symphony, even including a poorly-implemented second castle (though not inverted). There are a lot of things holding Harmony back, including an unusually obtuse map, disappointing soundtrack, and some bizarre equipment decisions, like having to equip certain items to unlock doors (a carryover from Symphony). Thankfully, Igarashi must have learned from this experience, because his very next Castlevania game is much higher on my list.

7. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

Available on DS

One of the hallmarks of Igavanias is that they try to recycle sprites from past games whenever possible. Portrait of Ruin, however, actually recycles its own assets. Interestingly, Portrait is a sequel to Castlevania: Bloodlines (on the Genesis) and stars two characters—Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin—who the player controls simultaneously. Jonathan is a physical fighter who has inherited the Vampire Killer whip, while Charlotte is a magic-based mage. They explore a large, open castle that contains many paintings which are portals to smaller individual levels a la Super Mario 64. Each tileset is used twice, but palette swapped. Since you’re dealing with two characters, you wind up spending a lot more time in the equipment screen, which is a pain, and this game just generally seems to be going through the motions. It’s also unusually ugly considering it follows Dawn of Sorrow, which is beautiful. Instead, Portrait of Ruin looks more like a cancelled GBA game. Order of Eccelsia would greatly improve Portrait’s level progression.

6. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Available on Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Windows

It may not have the name Castlevania on the box, but make no mistake, Bloodstained is an Igavania game through and through. After he was let go from Konami, Igarashi launched a Kickstarter that broke records and resulted in this lovely game. With a plot and gameplay mechanics that are something of a fusion of Aria of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia, Bloodstained always feels perfectly familiar. Even the protagonist, a woman named Meriam, may as well be Shanoa. Bloodstained features a large map, though not as large as you might hope, and even more focus on crafting than was in Dawn of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia, perhaps to the game’s detriment, although I enjoyed it. The Switch version suffers from longer load times and downgraded graphics compared to its Xbox One and PS4 counterparts, but is still worth a gander. You might find some wayward Castlevania characters—with assumed names, of course—if you explore well enough.

5. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

Available on GBA & Wii U

The one Igavania game that did not actually involve Igarashi, Circle of the Moon was a launch game for the Game Boy Advance—the original Game Boy Advance, without a backlight. And so, unless you were sitting directly under a light source, you weren’t going to have a good time with Circle of the Moon. Gorgeous though it was (with amazingly spritwork and enormous areas), the subdued color palette made Circle difficult to enjoy. It did have a wonderful soundtrack going for it, and an interesting, if unnecessarily complex magic system that involved praying that enemies would drop random Tarot cards and then hoping they did something when you equipped them (many did not tell you how to activate the effect). The game is much more approachable on the GBA SP, of course, and on the Wii U. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth checking out. You don’t actually need the spells to win.

4. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

Available on DS

This would turn out to be Igarashi’s final Castlevania title, and thankfully it’s extremely good. The immediate warning, though, is that it’s also extremely hard. Players control a woman named Shanoa who can perform magic attacks by absorbing “glyphs” from enemies and the environment. The trick here is that Aria’s magic system has been upgraded to include basic weapons, as well. There’s also a larger focus on the equipment crafting systems from Dawn of Sorrow. Order’s level progression is also very different—the game’s first half involves exploring distinct levels which, after Shanoa finds various movement glyphs, open up to more exploration (a bit like Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse). The game’s second half takes place in an enormous, traditional Castlevania castle. Ecclesia’s difficulty and magic system aren’t for everyone, and the final boss is a bit of a letdown, but it’s gorgeous and definitely worth a shot if you have the means, although I’ve heard it’s hard to find these days.

3. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Available on DS

This game, the first of the Igavania series on the DS and a direct sequel to the GBA’s Aria of Sorrow, is very nearly my favorite Igavania game. It’s more or less Aria of Sorrow with better graphics—big, beautiful sprites and great effects—and a killer soundtrack. The level progression is suspiciously similar to Aria of Sorrow but there are several new areas. In addition, an extra unlockable mode lets you take a Castlevania III approach to the game, with Julius Belmont, Yoko Belnades, and the Symphony version of Alucard as they race to defeat the new incarnation of Dracula. Dawn has a bigger emphasis on grinding, as most enemy souls can be leveled up by obtaining multiple copies, and Soma can craft new equipment by combining specific souls and specific weapons. Additionally, because it was a DS launch game, Dawn incorporates some unfortunate touch-screen nonsense: certain blocks can only be destroyed by tapping them, and every single boss must be “sealed” by drawing an increasingly-complex sigil on the screen extremely quickly. Apart from those minor headaches, Dawn of Sorrow is a top-tier Igavania.

2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PSOne, PS4, PSP, Android, and iOS

Note that this game is, frustratingly, not available on Switch (yet, anyway). Symphony is the game that transformed the Castlevania series, and it remains an excellent game. Dracula’s castle here is as much a playground as a goal-oriented map to be explored. Alucard can find all manner of equipment, items, magic spells, areas, and Easter eggs, many of which are superfluous, to the game’s credit and detriment. Symphony’s castle is huge—a bit too large for my tastes—and the way equipment is handled is pretty terrible considering how every other Igavania game handles it (except Harmony). Getting around the imposing castle is a bit of a bear considering its size, even with warp rooms, but it’s hard to stop playing Symphony once you start. The PSP version, from the Dracula X Chronicles, is generally considered the best, and was carried forward to the Castlevania Requiem collection for Xbox One and PS4.

1. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

Available on GBA & Wii U

Of all the Igavania titles, I feel this is the pinnacle. It incorporates everything that made Symphony so refreshing, but trimmed all the fat. Aria puts you in the shoes of Soma Cruz, a young man who finds himself transported to Dracula’s castle during an eclipse, who must find his way through the castle and defeat a new iteration of the Count. The game utilizes an interesting magic system in which Soma can absorb the “souls” of the castle’s monsters, each of which confers a different attack/buff/movement upgrade, three of which can be equipped at once. You do spend a good amount of time in the equipment/spell subscreens, but I never felt like it was a pain. Clearly a lot of you did, though, and Igarashi included the ability to hotswap between different builds in every subsequent game. Aria features gorgeous sprite art and a castle that’s large but not too large. The music is also some of the best in the series, although Dawn is no slouch in that regard. Some form of this Aria’s magic system would continue on through the rest of Igarashi’s Castlevania games. If you only play one Igavania game on this list, make it Aria of Sorrow.

Writing this list made me a little bit sad. Konami has largely faded from the video game sphere, although I hope to see an Igavania Collection after the success of The Castlevania Collection. It took a very long time for Bloodstained to be developed, and I believe they’re still working on DLC for it. For his part, Igarashi hopes to continue Bloodstained as a franchise, so I have some hope that Igavania games will continue. What about you, dear readers (and viewers)? What’s your favorite Castlevania game? Let us know in the comments and have (or hope you had) a spooktacular Halloween.

TalkBack / Shantae: Risky's Revenge (Switch eShop) Review
« on: October 12, 2020, 09:58:10 AM »

You can't go home again.

Soon, dear readers, you’ll be able to play the entire Shantae series on your Nintendo Switch (the original is reportedly appearing imminently). While the original game cemented the spunky little half genie in my mind, this DSiWare sequel was my first real foray into the series. It’s relieving to go back to that decade-old review and recognize that my issues with it in 2020 are essentially the same as they were in 2010. Matt West reviewed the Wii U version and liked it there. Risky’s Revenge is, overall, a good game, but playing it now, after playing its three sequels, is a bit like stepping back into Plato’s cave. The improvements WayForward has made to the Shantae series—especially in Seven Sirens—have made the back-catalogue titles less rosy than they once were.

I would like to underline what makes Risky’s Revenge lovely, though, especially with the gift of hindsight. It was, in 2010, easily the prettiest game available on the DSiWare service and probably the most robust. The character art has a charming “western anime” look to it, but all of the characters would evolve into their final forms in the next game, Pirate’s Curse. While it is a bit strange to see the movement of every pixel in 4:3 on a modern television, you can’t really fault the animation or spritework. Jake Kaufman’s score remains peppy throughout, as well.

While there are only two proper dungeons, they are both wonderfully designed. Risky’s Revenge also introduces series mainstays Hypno Baron, Ammo Baron, and one of my lowkey favorite characters, Barracuda Joe, who has a bigger role in Pirate’s Curse. The writing is always entertaining, although it’s definitely taken up a notch in subsequent titles.

As I said, my biggest complaints in 2020 are the same as they were in 2010: this version of Sequin Land is difficult to navigate for two reasons: the overall map is awkwardly structured and while this Director’s Cut vastly improves the warp system, there’s still no easy way to get to, say, Scuttle Town without going through at least one other area. Sequin Land is also littered with challenge caves—which made a comeback in Seven Sirens—and as in that game, they are not marked on the map, so you have to more or less draw something by hand, indicating where each cave is and what abilities you will need to complete it.

The game’s critical path is very straightforward, but going for 100% item completion will require detailed notes and a lot of irritating re-traversal. In general, I don’t like going back to the far end of the map (or into completed dungeons) to grab one item with the Mermaid Bubble. I’m also sad to say that this Director's Cut does not have a menu option for “win screens,” which means that once you achieve the “Shantae in a bikini” screen, well,  you’d better hit that screenshot button.

The big new feature in Director’s Cut is the addition of Magic Mode, which is unlocked after beating the game. Magic Mode puts Shantae in an Egyptian outfit (which Pirate’s Curse players might recognize) and gives her a much higher magic meter at the cost of reduced defense. It’s a fun challenge, and if you didn’t find too much reason to utilize magic spells before, you definitely will here. It’s a touch disappointing that you don’t get a unique win screen for completing Magic Mode, though.

Risky’s Revenge is very much the Australopithecus of the Shantae series—something of a transitional form between the GBC game and Pirate’s Curse. It’s fun to play if you’re a fan of the series, but I’ll say that the next three games easily eclipse it.

TalkBack / Hotshot Racing (Switch eShop) Review
« on: September 14, 2020, 11:39:00 AM »

As in life, hell is other drivers.

When I first got wind of Hotshot Racing, I incorrectly assumed that it would be similar to Horizon Chase Turbo, being a throwback racing game and all. That’s not the case, and Hotshot Racing may be better for it. This game has more in common with actual arcade racing games like Sega Rally with a low-poly look that reminded me a bit of Virtua Racing. It’s a fun time, great for multiplayer sessions, but requires a bit of a learning curve.

The game’s main stage is, of course, Grand Prix mode, in which you select a driver and a vehicle (generally organized into four categories based on handling), then go for gold by winning points over the course of four races. To win, you must maneuver around the other aggressive drivers and hit checkpoints in a certain amount of time--just like in the old arcade racers of yore. Once you start earning big bucks on the circuit (by winning), you can spend your moolah on different racing suits for the drivers and various body options for the cars. There are also three difficulty levels which modify the checkpoint time requirements and how aggressive the other drivers are.

There is a big hurdle, however: Winning races depends on your ability to learn and master the art of drifting. The closest analogue that I can think of is Mario Kart 8, but you’re not holding a “drift” button down. Rather, you tap the brake while going into a turn, which sends your car’s back end swerving. You can then widen or tighten your turn with the left stick before getting back to straight. This is tougher than it sounds, and different cars have wildly different handling. Some turn too tightly while others slide too far, but you’ll eventually find the cars that work for you. Drifting (and drafting--staying behind another car) refills your boost meter, which becomes more important as the difficulty increases. I was having a bad time with Hotshot Racing until I figured out drifting, so understand that there may be a learning period.

It would be helpful it Hotshot Racing had included a brief tutorial, but there’s not one, so my best advice is to hit a relatively easy Time Trial track (which can go on forever) to learn the ins and outs of this game’s physics without worrying about a gold trophy. Once you can get around a given track without sliding into a wall, go to another track with a different layout. Repeat until you know what you’re doing. The game offers several different viewpoints, which you toggle with the X button (at any time), and if you really want to capture that arcade experience, yes, there is a driver’s-eye-view mode.

The game also incentivizes learning how to drive each car competently. Each one has a list of achievements to work towards, like boosting so many times or drifting for so long. Hitting these goals allows you to unlock more body options for that car, be it paint jobs or various parts, like spoilers and headlights. I should note here that parts will not improve a car’s performance--they’re purely decorative. I did not find these incentives to be all that fulfilling and continued to lean on the cars I felt comfortable driving.

Despite the Grand Prix mode, the overall focus of Hotshot Racing is in multiplayer, which you can tackle in any mode, even Time Trials to some extent via ghosts (staff or downloadable). You can race with four players locally or eight players online. You can even use your Mario Kart 8 Joy-Con wheels, because Hotshot Racing supports motion controls. During my time on the review, I was never able to get in a functioning online room, either a quick match or joining a game. There is an option to play only with friends, which is appreciated. In addition to a standard race, two other multiplayer options exist: Cops & Robbers and Drive or Explode. In the former, some players are robbers trying to evade the fuzz while other players are cops. Robber cars have HP and will eventually explode after being rammed by cop cars. Drive or Explode is basically an arcade version of the movie Speed, except it’s not a city bus. If you go below a certain speed, your car starts taking damage and will eventually explode--it’s a last-man standing kind of game.

Aside from my previous comment about wishing for a training mode, I don’t have much to say in the negative about Hotshot Racing. There are only sixteen tracks, which is kind of a bummer and you’ll start cycling through them pretty quickly in multiplayer bouts. Your driver is a chatterbox during races, and they just don’t have many things to say, but the soundtrack and sound effects are great. Strangely there were a few times where I could not go back in the menus, which forced me to restart the game a handful of times. Finally, if the new body options for your cars doesn’t excite you, then playing by your lonesome might get old rather quickly (as it did for me).

Once I got the hang of drifting, I really started enjoying Hotshot Racing, but it will not sustain me as a solo player for long. Its utility (for me) will be multiplayer shenanigans, which is just fine.

TalkBack / Adventures of Pip (Switch eShop) Review Mini
« on: September 09, 2020, 05:41:23 PM »

Pip has remained the same; only I have changed.

Back when I reviewed Adventures of Pip for the Wii U, back in 2015, I thought it was a fun, charming little platformer with an interesting gameplay mechanic whereupon our pixelated hero moved between three distinct forms (a single pixel, an 8-bit hero, and a 16-bit hero) to move through each level. This Switch release has not changed significantly apart from some quality-of-life improvements. I find myself less impressed this time around. I’m older and crankier in 2020, and I don’t really have the patience for some of Pip’s idiosyncrasies.

I won’t rehash my 2015 review--that link at the top should bring you up to speed on my overall opinion. I’ll merely go over the things I appreciate more and appreciate less.

From what I can tell, a couple of new features have streamlined the game somewhat. First, Pip starts out with the pixel money (zenni) attractor, although its range isn’t very impressive. Second, you can go right from the map screen to the town now, and this is useful for purchasing new items without having to move across the entire map. Unfortunately, shop items still cost too much for how much zenni you acquire during any given stage, and you’ll find yourself at the final boss’ doorstep before you can buy everything--you’ll have to grind for money if you want to buy everything (which you do not need to do to beat it). The game’s difficulty spikes when you get to the lava level, to the point that the final level is a cakewalk by comparison. Despite that, there are a couple sequences in the final level that made my teeth grind. There’s a certain amount of jank in the level design in these later areas that I was more forgiving of five years ago.

I wish there was more to do in the town besides buy things from two shops and talk to the villagers you rescue, as they don't have much to say.

Pip features a number of audio cue issues that I don’t remember being there before: At times where sound effects would overlap, some are simply cut out or overridden, which is unusual. The boss music in the lava level failed to initiate, which made that boss fight somewhat less epic than was probably intended. Boss fights, I should mention, are a highlight of Adventures of Pip. Similarly, Jake Kaufman’s score is as wonderful as ever, a bit more subdued than his Shantae or Switch Force tunes, as is appropriate here.

Adventures of Pip is still enjoyable and inventive, but I’m less forgiving of its quirks now than I was in 2015. I still recommend it, though--the gameplay hook is lovely and the writing is charming.

TalkBack / Niche: A Genetics Survival Game (Switch eShop) Review FAQ
« on: September 04, 2020, 01:15:00 PM »

It's a better science lesson than game.

Have you ever played the tabletop game “Evolution?” It’s a compelling, if overcomplicated, lesson in evolutionary theory through the discovery and retention of genetic mutations that confer advantages and disadvantages on the player’s population of animals. Niche: A Genetics Survival Game, is a 2016 indie Kickstarter with a surprisingly enthusiastic Steam community that has now landed on the Switch. I figured this was a good time to pull out the Review FAQ format so that I can explain the lessons it’s trying to teach.

Hey look, you’re using the FAQ format on a non-fanservice game.

Had to happen eventually.

So tell me about Niche: A Genetics Survival Game.

It’s a population genetics sim by Stray Fawn Studios that aims to teach players about population genetics through what’s basically a virtual board game. The devs cite Creatures, Spore, and Don’t Starve as inspirations. While I can definitely see aspects of all of those here, I think it bears a closer resemblance to North Star Games’ “Evolution” tabletop game.

I haven’t played that.

It’s a game where each player has a population of animals in a given environment, competing for resources. Your animals draw “mutations” from a deck of cards, and those mutations can help your animals get food or avoid predators. It gets very complicated very quickly, and there are a few expansions. I played it with the old NWR Newscast crew at PAX South, it was fun but became overwhelming quickly.


Well, your mileage may vary. The point is that Niche does similar things, and I think does them better, but also isn’t much fun to play. It’s a sim/survival game where you’re not just maintaining a population of animals, you’re ensuring their survival in a variety of environments. You start the game’s Story mode with a single cat-like animal and, over the course of several turns, learn how to move, eat, mate, and incorporate mutations into your genes. You’ll have to forage for various kinds of food—all of which require certain traits—and defend against illness and predators. Each map is structured like a giant game board with individual hexagonal spaces, and your animals and everything you interact with are “pieces” that are moved around this board.


Your goal is to maintain a stable population of animals and eventually return to your original island (the original cat creature is dropped on a new island by a bird). This will inevitably lead to a “Planet of the Apes” style ending where your animals will look nothing like the animals they descended from, which is kind of cool. Throughout your journey, you’ll learn about science!

Explain it, as you would a child.

Each animal in your group has heritable traits, like “nimble fingers” or “short snout.” Each trait confers certain advantages in the environment. Animals with nimble fingers, for example, can pick more berries. Animals with shorter snouts can smell things in a wider range than other animals. You can give each animal two mutations (or one mutation twice) that may be passed to their offspring. The chances of passing those mutations along are greater if that animal’s mate also has that mutation. When you add new animals to your population, they may bring along new traits or mutations for your gene pool.

Hey that’s microevolution.

Indeed it is. At the most basic level, evolution is just a change in a gene’s frequency over time within a population. Because animal populations are set (by predators, environmental factors, etc.), passing mutations through that population’s descendants is just a statistical inevitability, especially if some outside factor confers a big advantage on specific mutations. For example, sea ice is becoming increasingly scarce due to climate change, so animals that rely on that sea ice to hunt (polar bears) or rest (walruses) will have a tougher time surviving.

How does Niche portray that?

Your group will eventually need to move to new islands (it’s not required, but the game becomes incredibly dull if you just maintain a stable population on one island forever), and each island has its own challenges. Food sources that were plentiful on one island—like berries—might be hard to find on others, and your pack will need to exploit new resources, like clams or termite nests. You also have to avoid—as much as possible—inbreeding. You do this by recruiting new “tribe” members and ensuring that breeding pairs don’t have the same immunity genes.

So what happens when you get to an island with different resources? Does everyone just die?

Each individual animal has a set lifespan, and during that lifespan, they can breed. Since you can choose two mutations per animal, you can in some way direct the evolution of the descendants, which is how you adapt to a new environment—just like real evolutionary change. Of course, in real life, if local conditions change faster than the fauna or flora can breed, you get extinction events. If all your animals die in Niche, you’re kicked back to the beginning and you have to start again.

So it’s a roguelike?

Sort of. You can choose to keep all the mutations you’ve unlocked for your next run.

Well, how’s the gameplay? Is it all menus?

Pretty much. There’s not even any animation.


The board game analogy is tragically accurate: you choose an animal, then either select another space to move it to (where it does, statically) or you choose from two or three available options in an adjacent space, like clearing grass, digging, or simply moving there. The most exciting thing that happens is that activating your group’s senses turns everything grey except the things that are “visible” to their senses of smell or hearing. When non-player animals in the environment move, they slide from space to space like…pieces on a board game.

Oh…kay. How does it look?

Frankly, it looks bad. Most of the animals look like generic mammals but different mutations give them a variety of features, like quills or long toes or different colored coats. Males and females are differentiated based on who has a mane, but that’s not always super clear. Luckily, you can identify which sex is which when you “click on” a given animal. Some of the animals you’ll come across are mind-flaying nightmare monsters who can somehow still breed with your animals. But even if you’re charmed by the variety of different “morphs” of animals (I kind of am), I find the whole game looks incredibly generic, and at times downright uninteresting. The game also doesn’t really tell you how to play beyond “here’s how to eat, breed, and choose mutations.” I had to go to the game’s Steam community to learn how to do basic things. By the way, the game’s Steam community is very informative, with lots of excellent guides.

However, it’s very apparent that to get the most out of the game, you have to spend a LOT of time with it, and if the core gameplay loop doesn’t click with you after many hours, it’s not going to get more fun. It might get more interesting, but it never really got more fun for me.

Did you feel like you had to rely on the Steam guides to be successful?

That is a resounding yes.


And although it’s charming that the character models can change so radically based on an individual animal’s unique set of traits, it’s also very clear that animals are made of “pieces,” a bit like Spore, that takes a lot of the naturalism out of the experience. It’s also strange to me that so many animals you find on islands can breed with your animals. In the wild, the biological species concept is largely not a rule (individual species cross-breed all the damn time) but you wouldn’t expect to see a squirrel mate with a housecat and have fertile offspring. But in Niche, you can basically cross-breed animals from radically different taxonomic classes and be okay!

The important thing, to me, is that it gets population genetics, genetic drift, mutation, and environmental stresses on adaptation rates down pretty accurately.

But it’s not fun to play.

Important caveat: I, personally, did not find it enjoyable. There are a boatload of Steam users who think it’s the bee’s knees. If you’re big on sim or survival games, this might suit your fancy. Just don’t expect a lot of sizzle on this steak, aesthetically speaking. There’s a lot of micromanagement here. But also, there are a range of technical or gameplay problems.

The game was clearly made for PC, because menus tell you to “mouse over” icons to see what they do. Well, I’m using a controller. Control is awkward because you’re using the left stick for some menu actions and the D-pad for others. I would have appreciated some degree of control customization. You really have to manhandle the camera to get a good view of your surroundings and you never really have a comfortable vantage point. Map icons aren’t tied to specific spaces, but to the camera angle, so moving the camera will sometimes put icons in places that don’t make sense, or don’t make it clear what space they apply to. Animals cannot move across areas with tall grass, they can only move into a space with tall grass, and a lot of maps are filled with tall grass, so movement always seems restricted (until you start putting your animals to work cutting the grass down).

Okay, okay, you don’t like it. Anything else?

In addition to Story mode, there’s a “Sandbox” mode where you can set a bunch of parameters from the get-go, including the win condition. I toyed around with it but seems like it’s best suited to people who already know what they’re doing. If you’re wondering whether you’ll like Niche, you should probably watch some YouTube videos first. As a science lesson, it’s pretty nifty. As a game, I didn’t care for it.

Last question. Do you have strong feelings about the pronunciation of “Niche?”

Of course I do. It rhymes with “sheesh” or “yeesh,” not “switch” or “witch.”

TalkBack / Metroid's Untold Stories
« on: August 25, 2020, 08:51:47 AM »

Three New Metroid Games We Need!

There is still so much we don't know about Samus. Zach takes us through three blank spots in Metroid lore to try and guess where a new Metroid could take place.

TalkBack / Re: Inmost (Switch eShop) Review
« on: August 24, 2020, 02:21:44 AM »
Potentially upsetting topics:

Child endangerment, suicide, kidnapping, maybe a bit of child abuse.

TalkBack / Inmost (Switch eShop) Review
« on: August 23, 2020, 03:46:44 PM »

A lovely, but sometimes disturbing platformer.

I wasn’t completely sure what to think of Inmost when it was briefly shown in the recent Indie World presentation, but whatever I thought did not prepare me for what it turned out to be. Inmost is a side-scrolling platformer at heart, but it tells a dark and tragic story that at times had me sympathetic, anxious, scared, and even a little teary-eyed by the end.

You play as three different characters, each in their own setting: a middle-aged man in a maze-like area, a knight in lonely landscapes, and a young girl in her home. While their stories do eventually intertwine, they all play very differently: the man’s gameplay is similar to something like Limbo, where he must use items, tools, and some basic platforming to move forward. His area has a bit of a Metroidvania undercurrent, as every item or tool the man finds can be utilized throughout the maze. The man can also find collectible small white crystals that can be traded to an NPC for more background on the story.

The knight is combat-oriented, fighting hordes of blob-like enemies and using a grapple to travel across gaps. The knight serves a foreboding-looking entity who collects “pain,” embodied as small white crystals--but they seem to have a different meaning from the man's crystals. The combat is satisfying, if a bit rote, but there’s a dodge roll and a combo attack to keep things interesting. It helps that the knight’s sequences don’t overstay their welcome.

The little girl’s gameplay is similar to that of the man. She’s wandering around her house, having adventures with her stuffed rabbit, who has imaginary conversations with her. Her sequences largely involve finding items and pushing or pulling chairs and boxes around in order to climb to higher areas, like a high shelf or the attic. The little girl walks slowly and her while her segments tend to take too long, her story is the most immediately anxiety-inducing and give context to the man and the knight.

I can’t say much more without edging into spoiler territory, but I’ll say that Inmost is one of the darkest and most emotional games I’ve played in a long time. It tackles a lot of difficult, tragic subject matter and I was surprised by how invested I became as the three storylines began to coalesce. If you’ve seen the 1980 film Ordinary People, that’s the road this game is going down, although it takes things further than that movie did.

It’s a short game, barely clocking in at four hours, but uses its runtime well. The man’s gameplay was the most satisfying for me; however, much like Limbo, you’ll often be killed by things you don’t see coming or by puzzles you have a hard time figuring out; thankfully, death doesn’t set you back very far. That said, I don’t know what purpose death—in the man’s and knight’s stories—even accomplished, and Inmost might be a better game if that gameplay concept had been abandoned (a la Wario Land 2). The pixel art is incredibly beautiful, especially the backgrounds, and the developers pull amazingly emotive performances from the simplistic pixelated characters. Where narration occurs, it’s generally good, but...

Just as you begin to see how all the storylines intertwine, Inmost goes into an extended final cutscene where a narrator tells you explicitly what’s going on, which I didn’t love. I had already put together much of the puzzle myself, and I would have much preferred to watch that cutscene without the voiceover. Despite that, Inmost more or less sticks the landing, and just when you think things can’t get more tragic, there’s a ray of hope as the credits roll that brought warmth to my cold, cold heart. Though the gameplay may have some imperfections, Inmost is greater than the sum of its parts by way of its narrative, and for that reason alone, I highly recommend it.

I'll include a list of the topics this game delves into in the Talkback thread, as I suspect it may be upsetting to some folks.

TalkBack / King of Fighters R-2 (Switch eShop) Review
« on: August 19, 2020, 01:40:40 PM »

Are you okay?

After playing and enjoying SNK Gals Fighter for Switch a few months ago, I was hoping that SNK would continue to bring ports of NeoGeo Pocket Color games to the platform, as that’s a system I’d never experienced. Turns out somebody up there likes me, and two more SNK handheld fighters have been released: King of Fighters R-2 and Samurai Shodown! 2. Since my knowledge of the latter is rudimentary at best, I was more excited to try the former.

At its core, King of Fighters R-2 is essentially similar to Gals Fighter, although it feels like a more fully-formed experience. Here, there are fourteen characters to choose from arranged in four teams (the two last characters can be recruited to a custom team). You can unlock alternate versions of most of the fighters, as well—although they don’t differ strongly in terms of spritework or moveset. I will note right off the bat that unlocks are randomized but seem to happen with greater frequency than they do in Gals Fighter, a game that doesn’t seem to understand when characters are unlocked.

King of Fighters R-2 gives you two different arcade mode options: one-on-one or three-person team. Both are quite fun, although I found the multiple combatant excursions ultimately more enjoyable. Interestingly, there are two modes, “Extra” and “Advanced,” which really just delineates how your power meter is built up and spent. Despite its name, I felt that “Advanced,” which gives you more options, was the way to go.

Controls are a little finicky, as they were in Gals Fighter, but I feel like they’re better here overall. There’s still not a moves list, so you’ll have to pull up GameFaqs to see everyone’s attacks, which is a bummer but probably can’t be helped. I’m not sure if this feature was present in Gals Fighter, but in R-2, SNK made up for the lack of four attack buttons by differentiating between button taps and longer presses, so each fighter actually has four basic attacks, which is cool. For special attacks, holding down the final directional input while pressing A or B is also helpful.

King of Fighters R-2 introduces “Skills,” and these are unlocked through random chance and can be applied to a chosen character in “Maker” mode, which is essentially R-2’s version of a “Create a Character.” You then take that character through a traditional arcade mode. You’ll have to turn the difficulty up to Normal or Hard to actually unlock any skills, however. Doing so, however, will activate the typical SNK final boss cheapness, so you’ll be thanking your lucky stars for the ability to rewind when the boss starts reading your inputs.

There’s training mode as well, and a few options available to tweak your experience. The NeoGeo Pocket Color overlay is still present and remains charming. You can still access Versus mode on a single Switch, which is great. Back in 1999, R-2 players could connect their NeoGeo Pocket Color to King of Fighters: Dream Match ’99 on Dreamcast to unlock a picture gallery in the latter. It would’ve been cool to see that picture gallery here, but that’s probably outside the scope of this particular Virtual Console.I enjoyed King of Fighters R-2, mostly for historical purposes. It’s interesting to see KOF gameplay shrunken down and still very playable, and the Chibi aesthetic works, somehow. Samurai Shodown isn’t for me, but I sure hope that this series continues.

TalkBack / Megadimension Neptunia VII (Switch) Review
« on: July 28, 2020, 06:45:00 AM »

Is it a good game, or a good Nep-Nep game?

I’m going back to the Review FAQ format for this one, as I did with this game’s predecessor, Superdimension Neptunia RPG. Check that link if you’re not familiar with the back-and-forth style, but I think that a meta-analysis of a game known for its meta-humor is appropriate.

Well, you were right about Neptune games coming to Switch.

Of course I was. This series, which blossomed—for better or for worse—on the PlayStation Vita had to find a new home after the death of that handheld, and I predicted that they’d land on the Nintendo Switch. Once Superdimension Neptunia RPG hit, I knew it was only a matter of time before the back-catalogue found its way here, and so we now have Megadimension Neptunia VII, which came out on the PS4 back in 2016.

Okay, so what is Megadimension Neptunia VII?

Here’s a little history lesson. Megadimension Neptunia VII is a sequel to Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory (and so is pronounced “V-II,” not “7”), a PS3 game from 2012 that was remastered for the PS Vita and renamed Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 3: V Generation in 2015. Thus, Megadimension Neptunia VII is one of the “core” Nep-Nep games and very different from Superdimension Neptunia RPG.

I’m so confused.

This series is nothing if not convoluted. Just go with it.

And that previous game…V Generation…is not on the Switch? How will I know what’s going on?

None of the previous Hyperdimension games are on the Switch, but I would welcome (to some degree) the Re;Birth remasters. That said, you probably won’t be too confused, as Megadimension is a self-contained story that actually does a pretty decent job of reintroducing all the major characters. If you’ve already played Superdimension Neptunia RPG, you’ll already have a pretty good understanding of heroines Neptune, Noire, Blanc, and Vert. Here, you’re joined by their siblings, Nepgear, Uni, and Rem & Rom. Vert doesn’t have a sibling (since she represents the Xbox).


Remember? The Hyperdimension games take place in a world called Gameindustri, which contain four areas: Planeptune (Sega), Lastastion (Playstation), Lowee (Nintendo), and Leanbox (Microsoft). They’re filled with meta-references to games, characters, and hardware—a lot of it doesn’t land, but it’s half the fun of this series.

How many words has your word processor marked as “misspelled” so far?

A lot.

How does Megadimension differ from Superdimension?

The gameplay is completely different. The one thing that’s similar is that half the game is a visual novel, and a large percentage of the visual novel portion is fully voiced. In terms of gameplay, your party (the makeup of which changes constantly) explores 3D dungeon-like environments, fighting enemies, finding items, and usually battling a boss or two. As in Superdimension, you can jump and swing your sword. Attacking enemies in the field with your sword before they attack you gives you the first turn in the ensuing battle. During battles, you can position your characters to a limited extent but you generally want to be in a position that lets you hit the enemies with melee attacks, or close to other characters to heal/buff them.

Do you rotate characters into formations, as in Superdimension?

There is a rotate mechanic, but it’s much more limited and doesn’t come into play until much, much later in the game: you can pair with another character, and that pairing results in a stat boost. You can swap characters on the battlefield but they can’t both be out at the same time. But like I said, you won’t get to that until very far in. In general, your characters have “attack zones” in front of them that are dictated by their equipped weapons, and once that zone is positioned over an enemy, you attack them with the face buttons.

That’s it?!

There’s some strategy here. As your characters level up, they learn new “combo” moves, which can be set in the menu. There are three kinds of attacks—Rush, Power, and Standard. Different weapons allow different attack patterns. You select moves from a list and slot them into the pattern slots. Your goal is generally to use patterns that result in combos, which increases that pattern’s power. It sounds abstract, but you’ll understand it pretty quickly once you get into the system. I liked it, and it’s much more fluid than previous Hyperdimension games.

Are there still magic attacks and HDD transformations?

Yes, magic attacks are “Skills,” which cost SP to use. HDD transformations are not always available (they’re heavily scenario-dependent) but—when they are—can be activated by draining one bar of your EXE meter, which replenishes as you attack enemies (for best results, use Rush attacks). New to the series are Formation Attacks that require one or more bars of your EXE meter and certain positioning of your characters around a target. Much later in the game, the four main characters will get upgraded (“NEXT”) transformations that look pretty badass.


The unfortunate thing about Formation Attacks is that everyone has to be in the same transformation state to use them. Early in the game, you’ll be joined by a “grown-up” version of Neptune who can’t transform, so if you want to use a cooperative attack, Nepgear and Uzume have to de-power to use a cooperative attack. This is largely in service of the story, which is, in a word, bananapants.

I think you said before that the Nep-Nep games are notable not for their gameplay, but for their localizations.

That is absolutely true, although I really did like the combat in Superdimension. The story in Megadimension is a lot of fun, if overly convoluted and filled with stereotypical anime characters and tropes. The game’s second part at least does something interesting with the four main characters and their younger siblings. Nep games are lighthearted and typically humorous, and the voice cast (especially Neptune) has a good handle on the characters. I still love it whenever Neptune jumps and says "Like a kangaroo!"

But the gameplay?

I’m not as big a fan here, for a lot of reasons. You have to crowd around enemies to attack them, which leaves you wide open for retribution. Encounters can have a seemingly randomized number of enemies in them. Some have one or two while others may have eight, and if it’s a tougher area, you might get punched in the gut by high-level grunts and drain your resources trying to survive (PROTIP: do some grinding, try to get your characters up to Lv. 30 in the second part of the game). Thankfully, enemies in older areas don’t level up with you, so backtracking—which will happen often—is a walk in the park. I still can’t figure out how attack order is orchestrated. Skills or standard weapons that can target multiple enemies are extremely rare, so fights tend to go on longer than they should.

I should also say that putting even a short amount of time into grinding often results in you dominating your opponents, although there’s still the occasional difficulty spike. If you grind your characters into the low 20's in the first part of the game, you'll dominate the opposition. Additionally, the second section gives you access to “Scouts,” which will patrol dungeons on their own and, once you have a decent group of them, automate much of the loot grinding. Also, should you limp all the way to New Game+, subsequent playthroughs are MUCH more enjoyable.

How does it look?

The story sequences look fine but pretty cheap; each character portrait has three or four different poses that are repeated forever. Backgrounds are similarly economical and sometimes don’t really match what’s being discussed. Every once and awhile you’ll hit an illustration that’s pure fanservice, and given how old (or young) some of the characters are, they can be great or borderline creepy. You’ll at least meet a bunch of new characters, including C-Sha (Capcom), S-Sha (Square-Enix), B-Sha (Bandai-Namco), and K-Sha (Konami). Character models look clean but pretty simplistic, and you’ll see a lot of recycled enemies and bosses.

And the gameplay sections?

They generally look bad, and in fact were initially so choppy that I got seasick. That’s not a joke. The solution was to go into the system menu and turn off as many graphical “effects” as I could, which at least got the framerate to a place where I wasn’t feeling ill. For some reason it performs better in Handheld mode than docked, so I played it that way most of the time. Even so, Megadimension looks rough. We’re talking PS2-era environments and textures, lots of invisible walls, and a good amount of jank when trying to navigate certain structures (all you have is a jump). Character models look okay but nothing that I hadn’t already seen on the Vita. If anything, everything in the Vita series looks better and runs smoother than Megadimension. On more thing I’ll mention--it’s extremely easy to get turned around in the dungeons. It happened to me way too often.


The game is also divided into three distinct sections, complete with title screens. The first third could be called a tutorial, but it goes on way too long, and the second part introduces so many new mechanics it’s a little overwhelming (although Hyperdimension veterans will have an easier time). The final third is where everything comes together, but by the time you get there, you’ll be so burned out on the gameplay that you’ll probably just watch a YouTube video of the story segments and say good riddance.Part of the issue is that you essentially play the second third of the game four times—once with each of the main characters.

Oh come on.

It’s not great, Bob.

Sounds like you’re pretty down on this game.

It’s not my favorite Nep-Nep game, that’s for sure. The combat isn’t interesting enough to sustain a game this long, it’s pretty abysmal from a technical perspective, and I can’t shake the feeling that there was no budget. The story is typical Neptunia fluff, and if you liked previous adventures in this series, it’s enjoyable. It’s just a shame you can’t skip the gameplay parts and watch the story sequences by themselves.

I mean you probably can on YouTube or something.

That’s true. At the very least, wait for a sale. Superdimension is the better Nep Nep game. Now, all of that said, I actually can't stop playing Megadimension. I don't know why. It's the Nep Nep fan in me.

In the Superneptunia review, you said you didn't have any Neptunia figures. Do you have any Neptunia dakis?

No. My one daki is from Freezing, thank you very much. I'll let you guess who it is.

Is it Bridget?


TalkBack / Panzer Paladin (Switch) Review
« on: July 21, 2020, 02:00:00 AM »

This loving Tribute tribute wears its inspirations on its sleeves but manages to find its own identity.

Once I found out that Panzer Paladin was developed by Tribute Games, who were also responsible for my beloved Mercenary Kings, I figured I’d be in for a good time, and indeed, it does not disappoint. Here, players take control of a rescue android named Flame who pilots a big mech called GRIT. The game’s story mimics an anime from the ‘80s—including sometimes questionable English—and concerns a massive hoard of demonic invaders intent on taking over Earth, and it’s up to Flame and GRIT to kick their asses. The story—told through cutscenes—is entirely too brief and I wound up wishing there was more, but it’s always charming.

To give you some idea of what Panzer Paladin is like, take the level selection and general level design of Mega Man, the sword combat of Zelda II, and the dual role of Blaster Master. That’s the basic recipe, but like the Darksiders series, Panzer Paladin successfully weaves these inspirations into something unique. Our daring duo travel to countries all over the world to halt the demonic threat, each of which is lorded over by a boss. GRIT doesn’t have a gun of any kind, but attacks with comically large melee weapons which are dropped by enemies or found in each level. There are a dizzying array of armaments, many of which reflect the areas they’re found in. Hockey sticks in Canada, katanas in Japan, macuahuitl clubs in Mexico, etc. You’ll also find frying pans, chainsaws, and massive skull maces. When you defeat a boss, they’ll drop their unique weapons, too.

Every weapon, however, has a durability rating—hitting enemies or breaking walls slowly decreases that durability, and the weapon will eventually break. The twist is that voluntarily breaking a weapon before it’s destroyed (by holding ZL + ZR) will cast a spell that will temporarily benefit you in some way. There are fourteen spells total, and every weapon has one. Some of these spells are passive buffs, but others can heal you, improve your next weapon’s durability, allow you to fire a Zelda-like energy ball from your next weapon, or even give you wings!

These spells are important for your survival, especially the healing spells, because enemies don’t drop health pickups. You can find health-restoring energy tanks in each stage, but they’re very rare and must be utilized by Flame while outside of GRIT.

In addition, GRIT’s swordfighting style is similar to Link’s in Zelda II. GRIT has an omnipresent shield which will repel many attacks, but you have to match your enemy’s high or low gambits. It’s unfortunately not always clear—I found some enemy telegraphing animations to be a bit too similar, but it’s not a big deal. Most enemies who engage in swordfighting also have a shield, and GRIT will also have to attack high or low to deal with them. GRIT can also use an upward jab and a down-thrust. The upward jab is also functionally your double jump. I was having a tough time with some of the platforming until I realized this. GRIT’s standard jump has about the same range and required precision as the old-style Castlevania games, but using the upward jab is a huge help.

Finally, Flame will occasionally have to eject from GRIT to explore areas that GRIT cannot fit through. Luckily, she’ll always eventually come across a teleportation pad that will summon GRIT to her. Despite her small stature, Flame is no slouch. She can jump just as high as GRIT, has her own health bar, and wields a long-range energy whip that doubles as a grappling hook. If GRIT is disabled via enemy or boss attacks, Flame will pop out and try to avenge her fallen comrade. I’ve finished off three bosses using Flame! Her Achilles’ heel is spikes, which merely damage GRIT but kill Flame outright.

I will say that even on Normal difficulty, Panzer Paladin is a tough game, especially early when your health has not been upgraded. In between levels, you can sacrifice saved weapons in a laboratory to enhance GRIT’s health. Until you start doing that, however, expect to rely heavily on healing spells, especially during boss fights. You can, however, toggle the difficulty on the stage select screen. The bosses are wonderfully diverse, deliciously metal, and each battle is completely unique, but expect some to put up a tougher fight than others. I also want to highlight the game’s music, which is generally excellent and, for some reason, brings to mind the score from Bionic Command: Elite Forces.

Outside of the game proper, Panzer Paladin offers some interesting bonuses. You can toggle a screen filter that mimics a CRT display, and even a curved CRT display, which is actually how I prefer to play it. There’s a super cool Blacksmith mode where you can design your own weapons which will then be found during the game. There’s a Speedrun mode, in which each level has its own leaderboard (you can even activate a ghost). Beating the story unlocks an interesting version of New Game+ in which the levels designs change pretty significantly, and Tournament Mode, which is essentially a leaderboard-leaning Boss Rush.

I was extremely taken by Panzer Paladin, but I do have some minor gripes. My biggest issue is that the game’s camera occasionally forces you to make some blind drops, a couple of which turned out be bottomless pits. The first part of the final area is the biggest offender here, but there were several times where I just wasn’t sure where I could and could not safely jump. I wish more folks would adopt WayFoward’s Shantae solution for bottomless pits, but here we are. Finally, each level is quite long and while that’s not a bad thing in itself, I wish there were more checkpoints. Checkpoints, by the way, are completely optional (you have to sacrifice a weapon). Each level has one main checkpoint and another one right before the boss fight. It’s always a kick in the teeth to fall in a pit right before the boss fight and have to go all the way back to the checkpoint.

Overall, though, Panzer Paladin is a charming, satisfying platformer that I enjoyed immensely. It even manages to do the impossible: make at least one aspect of Zelda II enjoyable.

TalkBack / Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 (Switch) Review
« on: July 10, 2020, 05:05:00 AM »

The gang's all here!

I was a big fan of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon when it came out in 2018. Back then, it was a stretch goal for the Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Kickstarter and we all assumed it would be a fun little one-off game. It must have sold pretty well, because Inti Creates has now released a sequel that takes the original game’s formula and adds a few surprising layers. Mysterious swordsman Zangetsu teams up with allies new and old as they continue to explore a world informed by the pre-Iga Castlevania games.

As before, Zangetsu will find and team up with several new characters, each with different abilities. First is spear-wielder Dominique, who you may remember from Ritual of the Night. She has the highest jump of the four initial team members, and can attack enemies above and below her. Her down-thrust has the ability to bounce off enemies or candles, so if you get creative, you can combo towards certain doors. Her subweapons are spells, including one that can heal the party.

Next up is Robert, an old friend of Zangetsu. Of the three new characters, he has the most limited utility. He attacks with a rifle, and while his shots can cross the entire screen, it’s not a particularly powerful attack. However, he can lay down while firing, which gives him some advantage, and crawl forward through certain paths. His subweapons include an overhead lance (which makes him more useful), a grenade, and a mid-range energy weapon. Robert’s biggest problem is his extremely low health.

Finally, the objectively best new character is Hachi, who might be a winking reference to Gato Roboto. He’s a big tinker-bot mech...piloted by an adorable corgi. Hachi presents a big target, but has high health to make up for it. His melee attack has extremely short range, but he has a very useful hover jump and in lieu of subweapons, he can turn invincible (although it quickly drains your MP). Hachi is who I used most often thanks to his high health and hover jump.

As before, as you pick up these allies, Zangetsu (who plays the same as he did before) can switch to the other characters with the L or R buttons. Subweapons are mapped to the X button by default, but I found that awkward, and I was happy to see an option to remap the buttons (go with ZL or ZR). Having all four characters gives you lots of options, and your top priority will be making sure everyone has enough health. The maps are large, with tons of alternate routes, some of which will hide upgrades to your party’s health, MP, attack power, and defense. You’ll also see plenty of paths you cannot reach, at least when you first play through the stages.

Like its predecessor, Curse of the Moon 2 has several chapters that play out in different ways. Something happens at the end of the first chapter that forces you back to the beginning without one of your allies, and the boss fights in round two are much tougher. If you find certain items during your second run, you can save them from the final boss. Once you do that, the game really opens up in the final chapter, because in a post-credits scene of the second run, Zangetsu and his new pals get a real Avengers: Endgame moment (and then, later in the 3rd run, things get weird--in a good way).

Curse of the Moon 2 is harder than the original, which is evident in the Veteran difficulty option that limits your lives and brings back the classic Castlevania knockback. It’s brutal, but the other option, Casual removes the knockback and gives you unlimited lives so you always have the option to retry from the last checkpoint with your entire party healed up, so stupid mistakes can be undone. If one of your allies dies, you’ll go back to the last checkpoint anyway, but without that character for the rest of the level. Is there any advantage to this? Sort of--if you lose a character during a boss fight, continuing on without them preserves the boss’ health when you died, so if the boss was on death’s door when you lost, say, Robert, maybe you can take it out in one or two hits once you get back. In all other situations, it’s better to simply retry from the pause menu.

Curse of the Moon 2 also introduces couch co-op, which is...there, I guess? Unless both players are good at Castlevania-style platformers, you’ll probably be more frustrated than anything else. I will say that the game is surprisingly playable on a single Joy-Con. Might be worth a shot if two people are big fans, but otherwise this game is best tackled solo.

I really enjoyed Curse of the Moon 2, especially once things opened up in the third run. And don’t take that the wrong way--I also had fun with the first two runs--but the game really turns into something ridiculously wonderful in that third run. In general, I didn’t like the boss fights, especially during the second run, because they started to exhibit Inti Creates’ bad habits when it comes to bosses--to avoid damage, you have to be be extremely precise, and I just don’t think the Curse of the Moon controls and physics are really up to that demand. And you know what I really love? Final, incredibly-hard-to-avoid gambits once you kill a boss. Switch to whichever character will survive the hit and pray!

Overall, though? Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is a great game that pays loving homage to the classic old-school Castlevania games. Here’s hoping this does well enough so Inti Creates can go even bigger with a third entry.

TalkBack / Outbuddies DX (Switch eShop) Review
« on: June 29, 2020, 09:22:00 AM »

Not good now, but maybe later.

I got the review codes for Outbuddies DX and Ruiner at the same time. Never did I think that I’d wind up loving the isometric shooter and despising the Metroid-like. Outbuddies DX is the kind of game that you dread playing more of, and it’s also not the kind of game you can write a fun review of afterward, like Liberated. This is going to be a short review, kids. Right at the top, I’ll give you my recommendation: don’t bother.

In Outbuddies DX, you play as a scientist in a dive suit and his hovering robotic friend, who I'll call "Buddy." Your goal is to explore a massive subterranean area that is nonlinear in the traditional Metroid way, where finding new weapons or movement abilities allows you to explore more areas, with a healthy amount of backtracking. I found the game’s art design ugly, with bubble-covered tilesets that don’t always accurately reflect the boundaries of the area, and enemies that seem to be missing several frames of animation. Background objects will occasionally pepper a given room, but they're often awkwardly juxtaposed with "foreground" elements. Your initial moveset involves jumping, dodge rolling, shooting your ray gun, and running. You’re given some limited tutorials, and they’re communicated via little gifs that, while clever, are not immediately appreciable. You know what I’d prefer over cleverness? Clarity. You’ll also quickly learn how to pilot Buddy, which is awkward.

Buddy can be controlled by you or by a couch co-op friend. It can use a tractor beam to drag certain objects around, although it is finicky and frustrating to use, occasionally demanding some level of precision. It can scan walls to look for breakable tiles, but it can also scan enemies and environmental objects and give you icons that are sometimes self-explanatory, but other times, aren't. Sometimes it will show you a switch that isn't actually there. Within the first hour or so (assuming you’ve found three items), Buddy will be able to “hack” enemies. Remember the hacking gun in Axiom Verge? It’s kind of like that, except poorly done. Since Buddy can float around an area without taking damage, he could easily hack enemies by hovering over them and pressing a button. But no, he has to charge up a “seed,” and then slingshot that “seed” towards the enemy he wants to hack. And while every enemy type could be hacked in Axiom Verge to different effect, that’s not the case here. Instead, rather than limit hacking to specific enemy types, certain individual enemies can or can't be hacked in a given room. What this means is that you may have been able to hack a school of piranha fish in one area, this other identical school of fish in a different area cannot be hacked. There is no consistency, which means that you wind up having to scan every enemy in a given room every time.

What I just described for Buddy, where nothing is intuitive or user-friendly, is a philosophy that extends to the entire game. For another example, the subscreens are almost completely useless. The map is an unhelpful parody of a map you’d find in literally any other Metroid-like: rooms have checkmarks that look like “down” symbols and sideways “Ps” that are missing a critical pixel to indicate that one or more items were found in that room. Neither of these symbols hover over the spot where that object was found (the map's rooms are too small), but rather to the side of the room, which means they often hover over doorways, which doesn’t even make sense. You can’t zoom in on the map. You have a minimap on the top right of your screen during gameplay, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the room’s actual layout, and it uses icons that I can’t figure out. Your other sunscreen options are looking at icons of your suit upgrades and the weapons you have, but there is no text or explanations. If you forget how to do something, you could look a the game's Wiki but it's nonfunctional. You can also activate co-op, which you shouldn’t force upon your friends.

Gameplay is tediously slow, especially when you consider how many rooms are flooded. Combat feels like a chore, as you have few options and lack the mobility of something like Metroid to escape damage or get a better bead on your opponents. Scanning every room with Buddy immediately becomes a living nightmare comparable to surveying every room in Metroid II with the Spider Ball. At one point, I found myself in a large area that I couldn’t get out of, repeatedly going back and forth until I realized I lacked the firepower to beat the boss and the abilities required to escape, so I had to restart the game. Every facet of Outbuddies DX is either too simplistic or more complicated than it needs to be which results in a slow grind that will have you frequently sighing in frustration. In short, it’s just not fun to play. Granted, Metroid-likes are hard to get right, but it's not really the map that's lacking here, it's getting around the map. Interactions with non-player characters (Jawa-like creatures) don't give you the kind of guidance that you might find in something like Cave Story, which is probably Outbuddies DX's closest spiritual cousin.

If you look at the game’s Steam forums, you’ll see that Outbuddies DX is being updated continually (I suspect it was updated at least once since release), so I have some hope that it will, at some point, be a better game. Today, however, is not that day. If you’re itching for a Metroid-like, I did review an excellent one just recently. Without Outbuddies, I feel like the skeleton is there, but the meat needs some more time in the oven.

TalkBack / Ruiner (Switch) Review
« on: June 24, 2020, 06:26:00 AM »

Kill boss. Save brother. Shoot dudes.

Sometimes it takes a little time for a game to click, and Ruiner is one of those games for me. Granted, the intro level is too punishing and doesn’t do a good job of introducing you to the gameplay loop: dash around, shoot dudes, dash some more, land some melee kills, dash some more. There are some complications, some alternate weapons, and some environmental hazards, but overall, this game is about shooting a lot of dudes in a stylish manner.

You play as an unnamed, faceless mercenary in an Akira or Ghost in the Shell-type cyberpunk future, out to kill the big boss of the Heaven megacorporation. You go through bounty hunters, security details, cyborgs, and laser-spewing machinery, all in an effort to rescue your brother from Heaven’s clutches. Your base of operations is Rengkok South, where your hacking group sends you on various missions to take out high-level targets. It’s a quick game, with just three major areas (each divided into several sub-levels). Other quests also pop up in Rengkok, like finding and hacking robotic cats or giving collectible coins to a fortune-teller.

When out on a mission, survival is the name of the game. Our nameless protagonist (nicknamed “Puppy” by his hacker friends) gets by with his Ruiner machine gun and a melee sword, but both can be swapped for weapons found in the field. A LOT of guns can be found with a lot of different effects, and a similar number of blades. Even if you find favorites, guns run out of ammo and blades deteriorate over time, so you’re required to make do with what you find. Puppy’s main abilities are his gun, sword, a recharging dash (you can awkwardly chain several dashes together), and a handy personal shield that cannot be active while Puppy is attacking.

Skill points are earned/found and can be used to upgrade these core abilities as well as unlock and enhance several others, like stun grenades and an immobile energy shield. You can upgrade how Puppy handles his weapons as well as how much health and energy he has. The best part is that you’re never locked to a specific path; if you find you don’t care for the stun grenades, you can get those skill points back and sink them into something else. Experimentation pays off, although I suspect most players will wind up with similar "builds" towards the end.

As I said at the top, Ruiner doesn’t explain itself very well. You should focus on finding a rhythm with dashing forward, landing hits, and dashing away to safety. Use cover whenever possible. Destroying environmental hazards should be your top priority. Stay out of any spotlights! There were plenty of times where I felt like I was being repeatedly trounced by fights I should’ve won quickly, but once I accepted that you can’t really “brute force” this game and submitted to the “dash-attack, dash-away” loop, I had an easier time. The toughest fights are those that involve powerful opponents and two or more hazards to keep track of. Part of the challenge is keeping track of multiple bogeys.

Killing dudes nets you experience (“Karma”), which you can also find by activating Weapon Grinders after every mission (that destroy excess weapons) and in treasure chests. You might also come across random Skill Point pickups and Coins, which you can take to Rengkok’s fortune teller.

My favorite aspect of Ruiner, however, is the wonderfully detailed environments. Puppy explores dilapidated parking structures that give way to abandoned factories, an automated weapons manufacturing plant, and an experimental tech plant that features some disturbing human-tech hybrids. The machine designs and architecture absolutely scream Akira and Ghost in the Shell, with lots of bulky, squared off components of automated machines, enormous umbilical power cords, and character art that’s as freaky as it is beautiful. Despite the game telling you that enemies in THIS sector look different from THAT sector, they very quickly blend together once the bullets start flying. Between firefights, you have plenty of opportunities to stop and gaze at the industrial beauty surrounding you—it seems like the art department had a blast designing these environments.

Ruiner is also quite short, clocking in at about 3.5 hours, although there are a couple extra game modes (including New Game+) if you want to keep the ball rolling. There’s also a good reason to go back through previous levels to get better scores and find loot you’d previously missed or had been locked behind a Rengkok quest.

It’s surprisingly fun. Just don’t play it in Handheld mode, where you’ll be struggling to see things (the Joy-Con sticks aren’t necessarily up to the task, either). I will say there’s a plot twist that could not have been more telegraphed, which was a little disappointing, but this isn’t a game you’re playing for depth of story. Ruiner is a good time and is definitely worth trying.

TalkBack / Shantae and the Seven Sirens Interview with Matt Bozon
« on: June 15, 2020, 06:37:00 PM »

WayForward's own Matt Bozon talks all things Shantae.

Fresh off our review of Shantae and the Seven Sirens (which you should totally play), Matt Bozon was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding my favorite half-genie hero. This is actually our second interview with Mr. Bozon, although the first in an official capacity. It was a pleasure, sir. I still have that sketch.

Zach Miller: First, I hope you and your family and colleagues have been safe through this crazy pandemic. Have you developed any new hobbies or interesting ways to pass the time?

Matt Bozon: Thanks! We’re all doing well, just working from home. I’ve had a lot of time to go through my old gaming paraphernalia and try to repair some of my aging hardware. I was able to fix my busted Virtual Boy thanks to the advice of a guy on YouTube, who suggested I iron it with some kind of airplane wing iron. That worked great, so next I’m tackling Game Gear repairs! Oh! I also had time to name all of the lizards in the backyard. Stumpy’s tail is growing back. Good stuff. I’m not stir crazy at all.    

ZM: Before diving into Seven Sirens, the previous Shantae game (Half-Genie Hero) was a Kickstarter project. Were you pretty happy with the experience? Was there any desire to go to Kickstarter for Seven Sirens?

MB: It was a great experience, yes. But we didn’t think it would be right to go back to the well for this one. Half-Genie Hero was developed only because fans generously funded it. The Kickstarter was very successful in our opinion. But since then, WayForward has tried out a few different funding models. There are some great business partners out there, and industry deals continue to evolve. These new models led to River City Girls, Seven Sirens, Vitamin Connection, and even a few other yet-to-be-announced titles. Running the Kickstarter campaign was a blast, but it is also time-consuming. For this one, we wanted to focus entirely on behind-the-scenes development as with Shantae 1, 2, and 3.

ZM: I know that the animated intro stretch goal for Half-Genie Hero didn't quite make it; is that more or less where the Studio Trigger collaboration came from for Seven Sirens? What was the process of finding and working with them like?

MB: Well, there’s no direct connection, other than we really hoped to do some 2D anime-style cutscenes at some point. This time around, Shantae creator Erin Bozon came on to produce the animated intro, and she had Studio TRIGGER at the top of our wish list. It seemed like a one-in-a-million chance, but it worked out! We had help making connections through Amuzio in Japan, and Lab Zero here in the states. Studio TRIGGER had just finished their first movie, Promare, and they had a nice Shantae-sized gap in their schedule. They reviewed past Shantae games, and were enthusiastic about contributing. Some folks at TRIGGER knew of Shantae already, and hid a little Squid Baron Easter egg in the video. As for the process, Erin would meet with TRIGGER Naoko Tsutsumi (producer of Little Witch Academia) after hours for us - early morning for them - to coordinate production. I’d do very loose drawings and time them to the music, send that over to TRIGGER, and they’d add their own ideas and designs, re-envisioning it through their own creative lens, and turn it into something completely amazing!  

ZM: After producing all that extra content for Half-Genie Hero and the Ultimate edition, did you guys take a (well-deserved) break from Shantae or did Seven Sirens follow pretty quickly afterward?

MB: No, in fact we’ve been in Shantae mode for 10 years solid with each game rolling straight into the next! Not to say we don’t take vacations. But momentum has been continuous since starting Pirate’s Curse for Nintendo 3DS.        

ZM: When Apple Arcade launched, I was immediately envious because I use Google phones. How did that relationship come about? How did you like working with them?

MB: This was our second time creating launch content with Apple. The first was Watch Quest: Heroes of Time for first-gen Apple Watch. That game featured Shantae and Bolo going on a side adventure. We really wanted to prove that a game could run on the “iWatch,” and we got our chance after showing a lot of passion for the tech. I think that’s why we were invited back to work on Apple Arcade. Helping to launch Apple Arcade was a ton of fun. They even added PlayStation and Xbox controller support, too! Personally, I was very happy to support an alternative to the common “compulsion loop” gaming model you see so often on mobile. If you have an iPad or other Apple product and haven’t tried it out yet, I’d highly recommend giving it a shot.    

ZM: Can you talk about the new gameplay elements in Seven Sirens compared to previous games?

MB: Sure! This time out we’ve got a huge, interconnected world to explore. Towns and labyrinths are back, so you’ve got some Zelda and Metroid elements mixing together. Shantae has all-new aquatic-themed transformations, and this time you can pull them off instantly - no dancing required. Belly dance is still there, and this time it’s used to change into a creature that represents the fusion of Shantae’s magic and the magic of another Half-Genie. For example, fuse magic with Vera, the “healer” Half-Genie, to receive the Refresh Dance, capable of transforming Shantae into a sort of tree-mermaid that showers the screen with life-giving magic. We also added a collectible called Monster Cards. Destroying a monster might cause it to drop a card. Every type of card grants Shantae a new ability, and players can equip three of them at a time. So if you like firing magical heat-seeking rockets, there’s a card that increases rocket damage, one that increases rocket speed, and another that lowers the MP cost for rockets. Players can try different “Shantae builds” and see which combinations suit their play style.    

ZM: Do you already have her next adventure planned or are you giving our favorite half genie some time off?

MB: I think we’re gluttons for punishment. We have a few different ways we might want to go, assuming that Shantae gets another outing. Our wheels are already turning, and we’re seeing a lot of ideas from fans.

ZM: Are there any other past WayForward projects (Mighty Switch Force? Mighty Flip Champs?) that you hope to revisit and make new entries for?

MB: We released Mighty Switch Force! Collection not long ago for all of your Switch Force needs. We’d love to bring Patricia, Alta, or Luna back sometime, too! But we also have a lot of other original titles recently released like Cat Girl Without Salad, Vitamin Connection, and River City Girls. It's just tough to find time!  

ZM: WayForward has a history of making licensed games. Have those relationships changed over the years? How much freedom do you have to make licensed games these days?

MB: Adam Tierney, who directed River City Girls (and many of our past titles) has been running business development for the last few years. He’s been pushing hard to find licenses that we’re especially passionate about. Over the last 30 years we’ve always had to take work to keep the lights on, but right now we’re in a wonderful place where we can chase our favorite licenses a lot more than we used to. That’s pretty awesome. And we owe that to a huge number of hard-working, talented folks who contributed over the years to help put WayForward on the map!

ZM: Outside of WayForward, are there any games out there that have caught your eye? Anything you're enjoying or anticipating?

MB: Animal Crossing for GameCube is probably my most played game of all time, so naturally I’m neck-deep in New Horizons. I’m also going through a Panel De Pon (Tetris Attack) renaissance and replaying every existing version of that game. Next up is Doom Eternal. I’m also happy to see Prinny making a comeback. I hope we’ll see a lot of new announcements soon, since this is typically E3 season.  

ZM: Last question: why pulled pork sandwiches?

MB: If you were to slay a tropical monster, I’d imagine it would either drop 1) a pulled pork sandwich, 2) a Maui burger with roasted pineapple and teriyaki sauce, 3) some kind of spicy honey-glazed prawns, or 4) a mahi taco. But because pulled pork sandwiches remind me of pork chop sandwiches, which remind me of G.I. Joe, which reminds me how much I like Shipwreck in the episode There’s No Place Like Springfield - well, the answer becomes obvious. Pulled pork.

Thanks to Mr. Bozon for the fun interview! Here's to many more years of hair-whipping adventures.

TalkBack / Liberated (Switch eShop) Review
« on: June 08, 2020, 09:09:52 AM »

Liberate me from this janky mess of a game.

Here’s a free box quote for Liberated, from developer Atomic Wolf:

“Liberated fails at everything it tries to do.”

Is that too harsh? Let me put it a different way.

“Liberated has interesting ideas but squanders them at every opportunity.”

Would you like to know more? Liberated is a slow-moving black-and-white motion comic with an art style that I simply didn’t care for (your mileage may vary) with brief but noticeable load times between every page. It tells a hard-boiled, but well-worn story about the Evil Surveillance State and the Rogue Group (Liberated) who are trying to Free The People. Every once and awhile, without warning, there are quick-time events (QTEs) that either result in an immediate retry or affect the narrative in some minor, but not lasting, way.

Some panels of the comic turn into actual gameplay segments, which is kind of cool because the art style mimics the illustrations. The gameplay itself is mind-numbingly rote: shoot bad guys, push crates around, flip switches, pick up items, and sometimes take a swim. These segments are hindered by several things:

The framerate struggles to maintain any sort of consistency, which affects your actions.

Platforming is prone to input lag, so jumping is a big gamble. You may die repeatedly from falling into pits because your character didn’t jump far enough, or didn’t jump at all.

Enemies can see you when they’re still off-screen, and can start shooting you before you can get a bead on them. My solution was to walk slowly and keep my gun trained at headshot level at all times, which I’m sure was the intent.

Stealth is encouraged, but is only effective when you have cover. Most areas do not have cover.

You’ll be asked to swim distances which exceed the character’s ability to hold their breath without taking damage.

There will be a lot of times where gunfights simply come down to luck—how quickly you can line your shots up vs. how quickly the enemies shoot you, what the framerate does, and how input lag hinders your performance. The exact same encounter can play  out in shockingly different ways from retry to retry.

An elevator shootout sequence is simply unforgivable. How Liberated left the gate without addressing this chunk of gameplay will be one of the great mysteries of our times, akin to “whatever happened to Amelia Earhart?” or “Who killed Tupac?” and “Why do  people believe in Nessie?”

The only truly enjoyable part of Liberated, from a gameplay perspective, are the times where you have to guess a passcode (using trial and error) or play a version of Pipe Dream to line up electrical circuits. The whole game could’ve been like this and I would’ve been okay with it. If you’re going to have gameplay in your video game, at least make sure it runs well and isn’t terrible.

You may still be interested in the storyline, but rest assured there is very little here you haven’t seen before, but done better, in other video games, graphic novels, TV shows, and movies. I think Ubisoft has an entire franchise built around mass surveillance, social media, and dangers they pose to society. I just saw this narrative play out in Season 3 of Westworld. I seem to recall V for Vendetta and Mr. Robot utilize characters in masks hacking into live TV feeds to spread a message of liberation. What, exactly, does Liberated have going for it?

There are better games out there, folks. I appreciate Liberated’s attempt to blend comic storytelling with action sequences, but hopefully somebody will take this baton and do it better.

TalkBack / Re: Shantae and the Seven Sirens (Switch) Review
« on: May 26, 2020, 06:31:12 PM »
First time through took about eight hours. Second run, knew what I was doing and where I was going, got 100% item completion in something like five hours. Third run, went for speed (any percentage), got it down to less than four hours, I think. Right around four hours.

Yeah, I have issues with Half-Genie Hero. It didn't really feel cohesive, and her bat and spider transformations were REALLY under-utilized.

To be fair, the character art of Pirate's Curse could ALSO be described as "Everyone's a Sexy Girl," especially when you take the 3DS' 3D into effect...

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