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Messages - NWR_Neal

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TalkBack / Picross S5 Hits Switch Next Week
« on: November 18, 2020, 05:24:53 AM »

Catch up on past Picross S games as well with a sale on the Switch and 3DS.

Picross S5 is coming to Nintendo Switch on November 26, according to developer Jupiter.

Priced at $9.99, the latest entry in the series includes more than 300 puzzles, including a handful of Color Picross puzzles and a few large puzzles. The Picross S series has been a mainstay on Switch, with the last entry coming out earlier in 2020. One of Jupiter's first Picross games, Mario's Super Picross, is playable on Nintendo Switch Online (albeit in Japanese).

Additionally, the past Picross S games on Switch are all 20% off while the 3DS Picross e series is 50% off as of November 19.

TalkBack / Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (Switch) Review
« on: November 18, 2020, 04:01:18 AM »

A Zelda spinoff that successfully deepens the lore and focuses on action.

When Hyrule Warriors launched on Wii U, Nintendo and Zelda weren’t in the best of places. Back in 2014, the company was in the midst of one of their worst financial stretches ever while The Legend of Zelda series existed primarily in a state of remakes and delays following Skyward Sword’s mixed reception. Hyrule Warriors didn’t save the Wii U or Zelda, but it was an enjoyable combat-heavy romp that relied heavily on nostalgia as it blended the style of Koei Tecmo’s Musou games with Zelda series staples. In 2020, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity is launching in a much different world. The Switch has been the best-selling console in America for almost two full years and after The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Zelda franchise is arguably at its cultural peak. Age of Calamity is a marked improvement over the original Hyrule Warriors, baking in refinements and a more streamlined design to craft an excellent Zelda Musou game that does a great job of serving as a borderline-necessary companion piece to Breath of the Wild.

The reason for that tie to Breath of the Wild is because Age of Calamity is a prequel of sorts. It kicks off 100 years before the start of the 2017 Switch classic, dropping you in as Link fighting on a pre-calamity Hyrule Field. It’s revealed very early on that some timey-wimey chicanery is at play to make this story not a direct prequel, though. While some of us might have wanted it, this is not the Rogue One to Breath of the Wild’s A New Hope. That might be for the best, though, because the alternate timeline makes for a much greater variety of action. Going too deep into parts of the story would spoil some aspects, but it’s truly enjoyable to spend much more time with memorable characters from Breath of the Wild while getting some fun bits of series lore peppered throughout.

While the amount of voiced cutscenes is almost dizzying, the true focus is on the gameplay, which involves a heavy dose of smashing the crap out of bokoblins, lizalfos, and moblins. Most of your action involves stringing together combos of light and strong attacks, but the way the Breath of the Wild elements are integrated into the combat makes it more fresh. Each of the four runes comes into play, so you can, for example, swing around metal crates with Magnesis and stop foes in their tracks with Stasis. The runes are also used regularly to counter-attack bigger enemies. Every character also has a special attack that gives them a unique feel, with examples including Link firing off a volley of arrows, Revali flying around the map to use different attacks, and Urbosa shooting lightning mid-combo. I definitely have favorites—Urbosa is incredible—but the fact that every character is so distinct makes them all fun to play at a minimum. When compared to the original Hyrule Warriors, some of the character abilities are a little less ridiculous—you don’t have a regular combo where you chuck the moon from Majora’s Mask at foes, for example—but some of the moves you can pull off retain that goofiness. Age of Calamity takes itself more seriously than the lunacy of the prior game.

The missions you take all these characters on are varied enough to not get stale, even if they are reductively almost exactly what’d you would expect from this type of game. You’ll fight a ton of generic enemies in huge waves while trying to get to objectives on the map so you can fight a boss, save a hero, or capture an outpost patrolled by foes. It’s at its best when you have three or four characters to control on the map because you can seamlessly switch between them. Additionally, much like the later versions of the original Hyrule Warriors, you can give characters orders to go to a certain point, so you can beat up a Wizzrobe with Link while Daruk makes his way to save a Zora Captain. While this is part and parcel for the style, the story missions get incredibly long in the back half. The moment-to-moment gameplay is fun, but maybe don’t make those moments an hour long at a time. Additionally, a few recurring moments didn’t land with me at all. Periodically, you control one of the four Divine Beasts in rail shooter-styled levels where you use a few special attacks to level hundreds of enemies with the giant mech’s immense firepower. These are mostly clumsy missions with a novelty that wears thin fast. Revali’s Vah Medoh is by far the best because at least those bird levels have an interesting air-based component.

Missions are laid out over the world map from Breath of the Wild, which is a nice touch made better by the fact that some of the maps you explore are very clearly modeled after the post-calamity ruins you explored in the earlier adventure. This sometimes leads to some tight spaces where the camera doesn’t give you a great view of the action. Also on the world map are a wealth of other optional missions and content. Various challenge missions give you more bite-sized combat scenarios to fight through while upgrades for individual characters and unlockable shops help you strengthen your team. All of the upgrades require resources, which are found by killing enemies, exploring levels, and buying them at shops. It captures some of Breath of the Wild’s resource-collection focus, though the more random loot drops here are less enjoyable. You also collect a lot of weapons and while they’re not breakable (thankfully), sorting through all the duplicates you get and trying to figure out the best upgrade path for your different heroes is cumbersome. In spite of those minor quibbles, I adore the challenge missions, mostly because of some of the clever time-limited designs that make you focus on different elements of combat compared to in the narrative missions. It’s very possible to just steamroll through the story, but I found that I had more fun with the game when I stopped to smell the roses and do the side missions.

Part of the fun in Age of Calamity is how much it directly ties to Breath of the Wild. The sound design is pitch perfect and the soundtrack is fuller, building well off of memorable melodies. It’s not visually identical to its inspiration, but it captures that specific art style very well. Unfortunately, the frame rate isn’t consistent. When the action gets frantic, slowdown is frequent. The only saving grace is that this seems to be at its worst during special attacks, where you’re not controlling characters. The slowdown is workable, but it’s unseemly at best and gameplay-affecting at worst. I reached a point where I just knew when to brace for slowdown and tried to roll with the punches, but it’s not ideal.

Humorously, aside from the technical issues, a lot of my problems with Age of Calamity echo the ones I had with Breath of the Wild. The Divine Beasts are solidly the weakest part of the campaign and the inventory is a little clumsy to manage. That all being said, the totality of this Musou game is soundly enjoyable. The confidence on display in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity echoes the earned success Nintendo has found after Breath of the Wild and the Switch. This is a refined and tight action-packed experience that delivers an excellent mix of Zelda lore and creatively ridiculous brawler gameplay.

TalkBack / Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 (Switch) Hands-on Preview
« on: November 16, 2020, 11:33:07 AM »

Wacky puzzle fusion returns to Switch with a neat new mode.

Back in 2017 when the Switch launched, I had one launch window release circled as a must-play: Puyo Puyo Tetris. Previously exclusive to Japan, the mixture of Tetris and Puyo (aka Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine aka Kirby’s Avalanche) had grown to mythological cult status. And then it came out on Switch and was, as expected, very good. In the intervening years, Sega has made a concerted effort to get more Puyo puzzle games out worldwide. We’ve seen the online multiplayer-focused Puyo Puyo Champions, the SEGA AGES release of not one but two different entries in the series, and even a previously Japan-only release on the Super Nintendo portion of Nintendo Switch Online. Sega is clearly trying to make Puyo Puyo happen. We’ve now rotated around the globe more than three times in this Puyo world and Sega’s back with a direct follow-up to the game, the myth, the legend Puyo Puyo Tetris. Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 is due out on December 8 and in my early moments playing the final game on Switch, it feels just as fun as the original.

The setup of the sequel contains the usual suspects of modes. You got your solo and multiplayer play with various modes featuring Puyo, Tetris, and the fusion of the two. Online play with various competitive and casual subsections are present. The Adventure mode brings about another preposterous story that I admire the fact that it exists, but outside of the character designs that brim with anime-fueled personality, I can’t say I’m invested. That being said, the Adventure mode is a great way to experience the various modes and styles - and it’s also key to unlocking characters and additional content.

The biggest new addition is Skill Battles. You pick a team of three and make use of MP to use special abilities that do things like clear junk tiles from your screen, up your defense, or heal your health. These battles end when one team knocks out the HP of the other one. You actually don’t die when your screen fills up, which is weird and against what I’ve learned in puzzle games. Skill Battles are neat because they require a slightly different strategy. You’re trying to knock out hit points, not fill your opponent’s screen. Strategic use of abilities is the pathway to victory. Deepening Skill Battles are Item Cards, which are basically just randomized equipment. You get truckloads of them by playing and they can upgrade your stats as well as earning you some other perks like increased damage for Tetrises and T-Spins.

I did find Skill Battles confusing at first, but then I found the secret best part of Puyo Puyo Tetris: the really smart Lessons feature. I reviewed Puyo Puyo Champions and while it was a fine Puyo game (the online ran well!), one of my biggest issues was that it didn’t really educate newcomers. Lessons mostly solves that, simply explaining rules and strategies while also engaging in detailing high-level play. If you want to learn these games, it’s a good resource.

We’ll have more on Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 as we get closer to the December launch, but so far so good. This seems like a fine new batch of the excellent puzzle content mixed in with some potentially greater online modes, better tutorials, and an interesting new mode in Skill Battle.

TalkBack / Oh The Places You'll Go With a Mario Fanny Pack
« on: November 14, 2020, 03:46:00 PM »

Let's celebrate the Mario Game & Watch with the sad, cold reality of the world right now. Happy 35th!

While pre-orders seemed to have been confusing, the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch has arrived. Best of luck trying to find out when your retailer of choice tosses them up for pre-order online. Please be safe in your travels to do in-store or curbside pick-up. Wear a mask. Do your thing.

Nintendo sent us a Game & Watch package that includes the neat little curio. We’ll have a fuller review of the collectible soon. Sure enough, it certainly plays Super Mario Bros. 1 and what we Americans know as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (aka Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan). Ball, a game I know best from the Game Boy Camera but has origins tied to the Game & Watch products of the ‘80s, is also playable. It’s a cute little thing. The ticking of the watch part of the Game & Watch is going on behind me as I type. As of this writing, my toddler son hasn’t seen it. Not sure if he will be down with playing Ball or start to find more words and tell me this is old and lame.

Part of Nintendo’s press kit for the Game & Watch included some other fun swag - there’s a shirt and a reusable bottle - but I’m here writing for one reason. Nintendo sent me a Game & Watch-themed fanny pack. Naturally, I tossed this sumbitch on around my waist the minute I saw it. If wearing a gold-tinged Mario-emblazoned fanny pack is wrong, I don’t want to be right. A wave of sadness struck me though as I wore it: where the hell am I going to wear this thing?

I know it’s a point of consternation as to whether or not we the game-reviewing populace should reference the way the world is in articles. Honestly, I could sum up this Game & Watch as a decently affordable collectible that seems really sharp. I could just be like “listen, you probably already know if you want this. Just get it. You’ll have fun playing through the game once and having it around as a conversation piece when friends can come over your house again later this decade.”

So in advance of our fuler Game & Watch coverage, here’s a list of places I would like to go with this silly fanny pack:

  • A friend’s house: Listen I won’t be picky. Eight months into this world-altering pandemic and I think I briefly opened a friend’s door to let him know I dropped off a tool for him to borrow. Are we friends? I’ll wear this fanny pack into your house when it’s safe.
  • PAX East or South 20XX: Being at PAX East 2020 (aka the last in-person gaming event known to man) was surreal. It’s a miracle that the famous illness-spreading convention wasn’t a super-spreader event. Anyway, the next time I can go to a PAX, I’ll wear this fanny pack. Maybe if we get to do another game show panel at an event like this, I’ll give it away.
  • A city: I live near New York City and Philadelphia and while I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of hanging out in cities, it’d be fun to go visit one again. Remember Broadway? Will Broadway even exist after this? I hope so. I saw that Spider-Man musical in previews on Broadway and it was real weird. I’d totally wear this Mario fanny pack to the Spider-Man musical.
  • Lambeau Field: This might come as a shock to some people, but Nintendo World Report is a site founded by a Green Bay Packers fan (Hi Billy!) and currently owned by a Green Bay Packers fan (that’s me!). This is a Pro Packer Nintendo website. Apologies to those who cheer for other teams. Anyway, I’ll wear this alongside some Packer gear. The gold color vaguely sort of works with Packers colors, I guess.
  • Picking up a next-gen console: I got an Xbox Series X in the mail this week and once I got through the harrowing pre-order process, it was pleasant. I do miss actually going to launch events and waiting in lines with people to get things we're excited about, though. So, when the Switch Pro or the PS5 Slim or the Nintendo 4DS come out in the future, I'd love to rock this fanny pack to my local store (if those still exist post-pandemic) to pick one up.
  • The movies: In an alternate reality, we are all talking about Marvel’s Eternals and what cosmic chicanery that set up for Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But we’re not. Instead we’re nervously excited for WandaVision when it debuts in January and hopefully doesn’t get delayed further to account for the film industry likely still being in shambles in 2021. Anyway, the last movie I saw in theaters was nearly a year ago and someday, I’d like to go to the movies again. I would wear the Mario fanny pack to the movies.
  • Large family gathering: Most of my family would raise an eyebrow at me wearing a fanny pack, but whatever. I’d happily celebrate a birthday or a holiday with my extended family when it’s safe to do so.
  • Super Nintendo World: The best place, naturally, to rock a Mario fanny pack is at the future Universal Studios Super Nintendo World that was supposed to launch in the summer of 2020 in Japan and hit the USA sometime after. I was waiting for more specific details to be announced for the Florida iteration of the park, but that's currently indefinitely delayed and well, I ain't exactly hungry to go in large crowds these days. But I'll keep this fanny pack safe so I can one day go to Super Nintendo World and wear it. Worse case, I'll will it to my child on the condition that he has to wear it to the Mario theme park.

TalkBack / Seven Knights - Time Wanderer (Switch) Review
« on: November 13, 2020, 12:08:51 PM »

When mobile and console worlds collide.

Mobile publisher Netmarble’s Switch debut, Seven Knights - Time Wanderer, captured my attention because, from afar, it just seemed like a neat-looking JRPG. A spinoff of the Seven Knights gacha-focused mobile game, it is essentially just that: a neat-looking JRPG. The balance between its mobile origins and home console aspirations is noticeable; don’t worry, the gacha nonsense isn’t present here. But straddling two worlds makes this a plodding adventure with minimal exploration and a battle system that, while enjoyable, can’t hold together the whole experience.

Time Wanderer stars Vanessa, a relatively new character in the world of Seven Knights who falls through a time portal and winds up traveling through different worlds. The worlds are split into acts that have extremely linear maps to explore. Actually, calling it exploration isn’t that fair as most of the time, you’re just walking in a straight line. Secrets can be found in each area, but nothing’s cleverly hidden. All you have to do is travel to every node on the map.

Better than the exploration is the battle system, which is passive but enjoyable. Each character has a few skills they can use, and on your turn, which is time-limited, you queue up one of them. When time runs out, the attack or ability is used and then an enemy fights back. It’s all focused on lining up the right attacks while being mindful of how long certain skills take to cool down. When you fill out a party with five characters, the tactical aspect of this battle system shines a tiny bit, but it never evolves into anything all that compelling. It feels like the battles have some potential, but it’s not found in this game.

Characters can have skills and weapons upgraded over time, and because the mobile game monetization can’t fully be killed, you can buy optional costumes for your heroes. In addition to the main story, two other modes provide some added depth. One is a series of progressively harder battles that showcases this acceptable battle system at its best. The other is a story-focused side mode that adds more depth to the various characters. Time Wanderer packs in a lot of story and while I wasn’t lost for not having experience with Seven Knights, nothing in the main quest or the side stories made me care about this world or this characters. The writing is fine and the Japanese voice acting is great, but there’s nothing memorable here.

Seven Knights - Time Wanderer lands close to being a good streamlined JRPG, but the threadbare exploration and passable battle system aren’t enough to make it stand out among the crowd. If you’re a fan of the Seven Knights universe, it’s likely a must play, but if you don’t have that affinity, there isn’t much for you here.

TalkBack / Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity Preview + New Gameplay
« on: November 09, 2020, 04:56:00 AM »

We played the first two chapters!

Neal and John talk through their initial impressions after playing through the first two chapters of Age of Calamity.

Here's ten minutes of fresh new gameplay, including footage of all four champions!

TalkBack / Floppy Physics Dog Game PHOGS! Dated for December
« on: November 05, 2020, 08:00:00 AM »

Take your duo of dogs for a walk in single player, local co-op, or online co-op.

PHOGS! is coming to Nintendo Switch on December 3 for the price of $24.99 USD.

Published by Coatsink and developed by Bit Loom Games, the game stars a pair of pups who control in CatDog fashion as the dogs are links together. Colorful cartoon worlds feature puzzles and secrets that can be found in single-player or co-op - both locally and online.

Appearing in an Indie World showcase in 2019, PHOGS was initially set to come out earlier in 2020, but was delayed primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to Switch, the game is also coming out on virtually everything (Xbox, Steam, Stadia, and PlayStation 4) and will be on Xbox Game Pass for Console and PC.

TalkBack / Pixel Puzzle Makeout League (Switch) Review
« on: October 30, 2020, 04:00:00 AM »

If you’re looking to take your relationship with Picross to the next level, why not date a puzzle piece?

Pixel Puzzle Makeout League has been on my radar since playing a demo at PAX East 2020. The concept of blending the stylings of nonogram puzzles (or to most of us: Picross) with a dating sim seemed weird but potentially great. After playing the final version, this game lives up to the promise by leaning hard on the joke. The puzzles are fantastic, with potentially one of the best Picross feature sets on Switch, and the daffy premise of a puzzle-centric superhero league that is trying to save a city while the main heroine tries to date her teammates is just stupid enough to stay amusing and compelling.

With more than 250 puzzles, the amount of Picross to play here is significant, though it’s worth pointing out that if you’re just here for the puzzles, it takes a while to get access to just puzzles. Most are found along the way in the story with a maze introduced early that is the only way to mainline Picross. The flexibility and layout of the puzzles is top notch, however. The gold standard for Picross is Jupiter’s Picross S series. Many have come at the throne; most have missed. The developers at Rude Ghost are rivaling the throne, at least by besting them in control options. Pixel Puzzle Makeout League features touchscreen controls - something that hasn’t been present in a Jupiter-made Switch release. Those controls are well implemented here, though I ultimately prefer button controls, which are as good as ever. On top of the control options, the difficulty can also be customized. If time pressures worry you, you can take the timer away. You can toggle hints on and off. You can have rows auto-fill in when you fill in squares. These can be changed easily and do a fantastic job of making the game more approachable or less forgiving, depending on your preference.

The puzzles are good, but what about the dating sim wrapper? It’s incredibly tongue-in-cheek, laden with silly gags and references. You control Pixel Girl, a new superhero who joins the Puzzle League. The other heroes are shy gamer Sudoku, the methodical leader Chess, the stoic Crossword, and the horrific mutant alien puzzle piece Piecea. Through a retro-styled world map, you pick which character you want to spend time with and a handful of date sequences sprout up as you work your way through a relatively straightforward story. There’s a mysterious Villain who has ties to Pixel Girl and then a giant Puzzle Tower starts reigning terror and, well, it’s a whole ridiculous thing. While dating is indeed something that happens in this game, it’s much more a charming and cute narrative that you occasionally diverge on a side quest of sorts with specific characters.

The story here is enjoyable. It manages to thread the needle of being incredibly bizarre and borderline preposterous while still having enough of a warm, beating heart. The inane scenarios regularly claw at human emotions in a way that elevates the text just enough to not be a total joke. But aside from the solid writing, the story also works because it does a great job of integrating Picross puzzles as your engagement with the world. It’s noticeable that the plot drags when it’s a long stretch of dialogue without puzzles. Picross is the inflection point that makes this whole crazy adventure work. Thankfully, the puzzles usually come at a regular clip and don’t necessarily follow a linear progression of difficulty. They often reflect the scenario in the world. Is Pixel Girl dealing with a life-threatening situation? Well, that’s going to be a tough 15x15 grid. Is Pixel Girl ordering a sandwich? That’s likely going to be a quick 5x5 cakewalk. The story has multiple paths and a lot of secrets that I won’t spoil other than saying sometimes the gameplay changes in weird ways. You have to go through the dating scenarios with all four suitors to get the true ending, which is well worth doing for both the story and the puzzles. Sorting through what you have and haven’t completed is a tiny bit clumsy, as it involves jostling around different maps, but it’s easy enough to just run through where the story branches. By the end of my first playthrough, I was struck by how much I actually wanted to see what happened with the other character stories. Some of it is because concepts like a giant puzzle piece you can date are absurd, but it’s also because I enjoyed the world a lot.

Pixel Puzzle Makeout League does one of the best jobs I’ve seen of fusing Picross with another genre. The puzzles are awesome, the world is wild, and the story is engrossing. I only have the faintest critique for this game, as there are a few stretches where the story drags, but it’s likely I felt that way because the Picross on display here is well-designed with some of the best usability features the puzzle style has ever seen. This is a great example of a peanut butter/chocolate-esque genre fusion that works better than the joke idea it seems like from afar.

TalkBack / Seven Knights - Time Wanderer (Switch) Preview
« on: October 30, 2020, 12:11:06 PM »

A potentially neat RPG coming to Switch soon.

Ever since Nintendo stated their intentions to enter the mobile games space, I’ve kept more of an eye on the different mobile games out there. South Korean publisher Netmarble is one of the bigger players in the mobile games space. On November 5, they’re branching out to Nintendo Switch by bringing out an RPG based on the Seven Knights mobile game called Seven Knights - Time Wanderer.

Seven Knights has been around since 2014, with a full global launch in 2015. The Switch game focuses on Vanessa, a relatively new addition to the series. She’s the newest member of the titular knights and winds up falling into a time portal at the start of the game, taking her through different areas that reference the world of Seven Knights. The exploration through the eight different acts isn’t wide open, but secrets are hidden through the maps.

The most interesting aspect of Time Wanderer is the battle system. The way it works (and granted I only saw it from a distance through a Zoom call; I didn’t have any direct hands-on) is that you have limited time to pick out your attack from a variety of skills for each of your heroes. You queue your skill and when time runs out, the attack plays out. You alternate turns with enemies, always needing to keep an eye on your next move. I’m intrigued to see how the battle system builds in strategy as you can have five-member parties, meaning you can pick through a variety of different skills, trying to figure out synergies and abusing elemental advantages over specific foes.

When you’re done exploring and battling, your party returns to a home base, the Room of Sand. You can buy items, change your equipment, and level up your party here. Costumes appear to be available for real-life money on the eShop, but don’t worry: this isn’t a gacha console game. You can build up a roster of 15 other heroes, all memorable characters from the mobile game, but they’re all found in the game at no extra cost.

Later in the story, you unlock access to two additional modes: the Lunanyx and the Egonyx. The Lunanyx lets you take on challenging battles that feature different modifiers, such as magic attacks doing more or less damage to enemies. The Egonyx is perfect for anyone wanting to know more about the world of Seven Knights as you can use Arcana Cards (hidden through the main game) to make Ego Stones that show off some background stories for characters. Depending on the choices you make in these dialogue segments, you can earn rare power-up materials that can make your party stronger.

It won’t be long before Seven Knights - Time Wanderer comes out. It’s mere days away from launch (currently digital only with no plans (for now) for a physical release). It’ll be interesting to see how this mobile game translates to a console RPG, but the fact this isn’t just a port or repurposing of the mobile game is encouraging. This might be an earnest RPG with some novel ideas and mechanics.

TalkBack / Pikmin 3 Deluxe (Switch) Review
« on: October 28, 2020, 05:01:46 AM »

Smart accessibility additions and nice gameplay tweaks help this Wii U port stay great on Switch.

As of Pikmin 3 Deluxe’s release, Nintendo has ported or remastered almost every notable Wii U game to the Nintendo Switch. In the grand scheme of things, that’s good—the Wii U had a lot of gems despite its lack of overall sales success, and seeing them thrive on the Switch is great. Pikmin 3 is most certainly a gem, arguably one of the best Nintendo games on the Wii U. In its Deluxe form, it flirts with being the slam-dunk definitive version of the 2013 sequel. Some minor stumbles hold it back, but regardless, Pikmin 3 is a fantastic game.

For those who missed out on the original release, the story kicks off with Alph, Brittany, and Charlie—three intrepid travelers from the Planet Koppai—crash-landing on PNF-404, which they think is an unknown planet. Trying to get back home, they explore the planet to find their warp drive and along the way, uncover Pikmin, collect fruit, and battle sizable enemies. As it was in 2013, Pikmin 3’s story is a blast to play. The Nintendo take on real-time strategy is as endearing as ever and the ability to multi-task with three captains while making use of five different types of Pikmin to find new areas and solve puzzles is excellent. In addition to the main narrative, there are two other modes: Mission Mode, which features a variety of timed challenges to collect fruit or fight enemies, and Bingo Battle, an intense competitive multiplayer mode.

So those are the basics of Pikmin 3. Now let’s focus on what’s new in the Deluxe version. The major new content addition is found in Side Stories, which takes the form of a prologue and an epilogue to the story featuring Olimar and Louie—the stars of the first two Pikmin games. While there isn’t much brand new story content, it’s neat how these do provide a bit more context for the main narrative. The disappointing part of these new levels is that they’re basically just new versions of the Mission Mode, so they are all timed challenges where you have to collect as much fruit as possible before the clock runs out. These aren’t new areas to explore; it’s just different variations of levels you have already seen. These are fine, it’s still nice to have a little bit more Pikmin to play, but it’s ultimately not all that compelling.

The other Deluxe aspects are better, though, even if they aren’t brand new levels. It’s a lot of quality of life stuff, like three save slots instead of one. Now, three difficulty settings are available: Normal, Hard, and Ultra-Spicy. Ultra-Spicy is indeed challenging, while Normal is a much more leisurely stroll. In addition to these welcomely nuanced difficulties, there’s an optional hint system that more or less tells you exactly where to go if you’re stuck. It’s a fantastic addition, almost tossing a strategy guide in the middle of the video game. Overall, I enjoy how Pikmin 3 Deluxe goes in both directions, making the game both more challenging and more approachable depending on your preference.

Full co-op is also added to the whole story mode, which is great if you have a person to play it through locally with. However, Pikmin 3 Deluxe adds no kind of online play, which is a big missed opportunity. That omission is felt tremendously in Bingo Battle, the virtuoso two-player competitive mode returning from the Wii U release. Bingo Battle throws two players on a map, racing to get fruit and items to complete a bingo card. It’s thrilling and exciting, but being tethered to local-only play kneecaps the potential of this mode. It’s tremendously disappointing the enjoyable multiplayer in Pikmin 3 can’t escape your living room.

On Wii U, this game made use of the Wii Remote and GamePad heavily. The transition to the Switch is mostly fantastic. I do think the optimal way to control this game is on the Wii U, but the tweaks made in this port close the gap between the great pointer and second-screen controls of the original. It’s primarily a lot of little things. Pointer controls can be done using the Joy-Con, which does an admirable job of replicating the Wii Remote. I actually preferred to play it with traditional controls. The lock-on system has been changed, adding in more places to lock onto as well as just making it easier to bounce between items and enemies. The charge system is mapped to a button, which actually makes it way more easy to execute. I found myself charging way more often than I did on Wii U. One secretly awesome change is now you can call all Pikmin back to the ship near the end of a day. They all still need time to travel back, but this saves the last-minute excursions to help an errant Pikmin across the world. Radar has also changed. Sadly, the cute top-down look that would happen on the TV while you looked at the GamePad is gone, but in its place is more flexibility in how you zoom in and out on the map. It’s not changed to the point that it feels like a whole new game, but the overall control and gameplay tweaks make it substantially different.

This is still a Wii U game, though, and several times throughout the 10-hour story, it was evident that I was playing a game made for the Wii Remote and GamePad. The pointer controls with the Joy-Con don’t totally compare and the lack of a second screen for the map is felt, especially in Mission Mode. The game is still great, but it does make me bummed out that it has been seven years since Pikmin 3 and we’re still seemingly nowhere close to Pikmin 4. And while it didn’t bother me during my playtime, it’s worth pointing out that this does not appear to be a major visual upgrade. It’s smoothed out—the rare bouts of slowdown in the original release seem to be gone—but resolution-wise, it seems to be not much different seven years later. Honestly? That’s fine; this game was a looker in 2013 and is still visually pleasing today.

That all being said, it’s very easy to recommend Pikmin 3 Deluxe, especially if you have never played the game before. I wish the new playable content was more substantial or there was online play, but the additions are still an overall positive. The variety of difficulty settings makes the game harder if you want it to be, while also making it far more approachable for gamers of all skill levels. The controls don’t quite match the elegant design of the Wii U, but the tweaks here approximate it well enough. I know for me, as someone who played and enjoyed Pikmin 3 on Wii U, revisiting this game again was well worth the time. Pikmin 3 Deluxe is very close to being the definitive version of a modern classic. Now please, bring me more Pikmin adventures. I would like to visit more areas with these little plant aliens.

TalkBack / Carto (Switch) Review
« on: October 26, 2020, 05:00:00 PM »

A charming map tile-shifting puzzle game with a memorable personality.

Carto is a new video game from Humble Games and Sunhead Games that is hard to explain. This narrative-driven single-player puzzle game involves moving around map tiles to help others and make your way through the world. While it’s by no means a board game, the interaction with the overworld reminded me of one of my favorite aspects of Carcassonne where you lay out map tiles to create a unique countryside. That playful, creative aspect of Carcassonne is on full display in Carto, as using the map tiles in clever ways is the focus of the gameplay. Pair that with enjoyably cute writing and you have yourself an enthralling and chill 5+-hour adventure.

Players control Carto, a young girl who is separated from her grandma and tries to make use of a unique power to move map tiles around to get back home. Moving these map tiles changes the very structure of the world, making new paths accessible, unlocking new areas, or leading characters back to where they belong. Essentially every area introduces a new mechanic or twist and then iterates on that idea in numerous crafty ways. These concepts range from laying out tiles in a way that a new one appears in an empty spot to rotating forest tiles to make your way out of a maze a la the Lost Woods in Zelda games. It’s all smartly laid out in a way that regularly stumped me but never frustrated me. The only sour spots are a few puzzles that felt a little too subtly hinted at in a way that felt like I had to randomly stumble upon the solution. Regardless, the game regularly encourages out-of-the-box thinking constantly and that makes Carto a blast to play.

To complement the dynamite puzzling gameplay is the gorgeous visual presentation. The hand-drawn art style is vibrant, making all the locales and characters memorable. The chill music helps to evoke the overall relaxed vibe. Yes, the drive is to figure out a way home, but Carto helps everyone out along the way. Each chapter plays out as a Dragon Quest-esque vignette, where you enter a new area, meet new characters, and help them out in a time of need. The characters are all endearing, with some of my favorites being the helpful bear in the forest and the Storytender running the Story Chalet, which is a place where everything you’ve done is weirdly being written as you do it. Credit goes to Nick Suttner, who also worked on the story for Celeste and Guacamelee 2, for the charming writing.

Carto’s creativity is constantly on display in ways that surprised and delighted me essentially at every turn. It’s a tightly packed shot of brilliance that manages the balancing act of spending just the right amount of time in an area and on an idea. I was left satisfied but still wanting more at the end of the adventure. The blend of soothing puzzle gameplay and optimistic story makes Carto both a top-shelf Switch indie and a welcome respite for this year.

TalkBack / The Jackbox Party Pack 7 (Switch) Review
« on: October 22, 2020, 09:41:44 AM »

Another year, another interesting and creative array of games from the team at Jackbox.

I graciously welcome the annual tradition of the Jackbox Party Pack and the seventh entry in this venerable series upholds the humor and creativity of its six predecessors. As per usual, the five games that make up the latest collection vary in quality, largely depending on your party size and personality. After spending a chunk of time with these new games - all socially distanced over the internet - I consider The Jackbox Party Pack 7 a solid entry in the franchise, but it falls short of some of the stronger packages and features some more bugs and crashes than I have come to expect from the series on Switch.

The most important part are the games, though, so let’s go run through all five. The headliner is Quiplash 3, the latest edition in the clever audience pleaser. Like other versions, each player is prompted to come up with funny answers to outrageous prompts and then the party votes on which of the two quips is the best. It’s an easy to explain game that allows ample time for tons of humor. The new version features a new final round (called Thriplash) where you submit three answers for one prompt. It adds to the comedic potential. Also, while you could make your own rounds before, the implementation of this is far better in the third edition, including Jackbox-made custom rounds.

I love the absolute chaos found in The Devil and the Details, a new game that reminds me of the kinetic social mayhem of Jackbox Party Pack 4’s Monster Seeking Monster. The hook here is you’re a family of demons trying to pretend to be a normal family doing normal family things. Players take on different roles (assigned at the beginning) of adult, teen, or child. Through lots of yelling, players have to work together to complete different household tasks, all executed easily on your phone that involve swiping or rotating an item on screen or finding where certain items are in the pantry. The devil of this game is in the details, because it gets complicated. Everyone needs to work together to survive over three days of pretending to be a normal family, but someone still earns the most points and wins at the end of the days. More points can be earned by doing selfish tasks, but that could also mess up the faulty premise of this being a lovely family of normal humans and cause everyone to stop being able to do anything for a few moments. The audience also takes the role of the family cat who can disrupt things as well. I love this game. It’s insane. That all being said, in the year 2020, this isn’t as much of an ideal big-group streaming game. It involves a lot of frantic yelling that can be difficult to sort out on a Zoom call. Once we can all safely hang out in person, I look forward to playing this game in what I believe is its optimal setting.

Champ’d Up combines the drawing charm of Tee K.O. with the voting insanity of Bracketeering. Considering those are two of my personal favorite Jackbox games, this pairing is awesome. Like Tee K.O., the early goings are slow as everyone has to draw two characters to enter into the contests. Once the voting gets started and the monstrosities everyone created are shown, the whole game takes off. What makes it even better is in the second round, you can swap out between your different creations. And if you play a few games with the same group, you can continue to pull from your past creations. This also does the thing that is most important for Jackbox’s drawing games, where even if you can’t draw, you can make something funny.

Talking Points is basically just an improv exercise in game form. Given a theme, you have to give a speech about the topic, but another player plays the role of your assistant, so they get to decide what text and images are shown to the masses to guide your presentation. You need some buy-in from your players; it doesn’t work as well if people don’t want to break out some improv skills. The rest of the field can thumbs up or thumbs down the presentation, which results in a final score split between the overall engagement and the positive reactions. That last bit is the funniest part of this game because it’s just like actual YouTube.

Now we get to the final game, which was both the most buggy and the least enjoyable. Blather ‘Round is a take on charades where each player has a pop culture-related prompt. You have limited words to give an initial clue and during the part where other players guess your prompt, you periodically can choose between a few teasing sentences to try to give them more hints. In practice, it’s a neat idea, but in execution, it didn’t quite work. A number of the words you could select from just didn’t display during my time with Blather ‘Round. So clues were shown as “Blanky Creature” as opposed to “Round Creature” (I had Pac-Man as a prompt!). Hopefully a future patch remedies this, but it held back this game from being that enjoyable.

Related to the technical issues, I had a few game crashes on Switch. Your mileage may vary and as of this writing, Jackbox is rolling out updates to other platforms, but this seems rougher around the edges than past games in my experience. Maybe it’s just 2020, but it happened enough to warrant mentioning.

Party Pack 7 does add a wealth of moderation options, which is great. For example, a moderator can approve Quiplash entries before they’re even shown. More accessibility options are included, too. Subtitles were brought in with last year’s release but they return here. There’s even a way to have the room code read aloud. It’s great to see accessibility be a priority as this series closes in on the double digits.

The Jackbox Party Pack 7 might not be the best entry I’ve played, but it’s still a great collection of fun, innovative party games. The degree of customization and accessibility is fantastic. Sure, some technical issues might be plaguing the Switch version right now, but even with some speed bumps, the likes of Quiplash 3, The Devil and the Details, and Champ’d Up are likely to become new game night staples. Hopefully they won’t have to be on Discord and Zoom for the rest of time.

TalkBack / A Clever Mario Toy For A Weird Halloween
« on: October 20, 2020, 01:37:00 PM »

Jakks Pacific offers a COVID-friendly Halloween toy.

As we get closer to Halloween in America, it still hasn’t hit me how weird this year will be for the holiday. With COVID-19 numbers surging throughout the country, not even the fact that Halloween is on a Saturday this year will prevent it from being limited, dangerous, or non-existent. That’s why Jakks Pacific’s Super Mario Treats at Home Halloween toy set is awesome. Essentially, it’s a Halloween advent calendar that comes with a handful of figurines and accessories as well as a few Halloween postcards, all emphasizing the virtual aspect of this year’s Halloween. In line with that, Jakks Pacific is also working with The Halloween and Costume Association (complete with an interactive COVID risk level map from the Harvard Global Health Institute) to showcase a better, safer way to Halloween in 2020.

I went through the experience of treating this like an advent calendar with my child. He was really into seeing what Mario figure was hiding behind each door of the haunted house. The figures themselves are of decent quality and range from Mario, Luigi, and Peach to Bone Piranha and Boos. Luigi does require an included stand to stay upright and the included Dry Bones fall apart on me after some relatively light play. It’s extremely meta that Dry Bones - the Mario enemy that falls apart and eventually goes back together - is the toy that fell apart. I was able to put Dry Bones back together again, but I do worry that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put Dry Bones back together again somewhere down the line.

A little of a warning to any prospective parents buying this toy: take the plastic tray that all the figures come in out of the box and cut the plastic holding all of them in place. I did that about halfway through after realizing I needed scissors to cut the plastic chains keeping these toys from falling out or being stolen in stores. I understand this might be the most elegant way to package this toy, but it’s something to be wary of when playing with a kid.

The included Halloween invitations are neat as well. 10 are included and can be sent to your child’s friends and family members, inviting them to a virtual Halloween experience. All together, this is a super charming toy that I appreciate as someone who mildly hyperventilates at the thought of going out trick or treating in a busy town and also misses how much fun Halloween was in the past.

TalkBack / The Fall and Rise of the Nintendo 3DS in 2011
« on: October 20, 2020, 08:47:13 AM »

Way back in 2010, Nintendo revealed the 3DS. The rest, as they say, is history, complete with failure and success.

The Nintendo 3DS was an important stepping stone in Nintendo’s history. Its early struggles might have foretold potential problems with the Wii U. Its eventual stability and success might have staved off complete decimation during Nintendo’s most trying times. The 3DS helped pave the way for the success of the Switch. And now it’s dead.

Personally, the 3DS is a hugely impactful system for me. I started covering Nintendo shortly before its announcement started being rumored and I was in the building when Nintendo announced it at E3 2010. I was there for the platform’s entire life, enjoying its games, reviewing a ton of them, and holding onto its potential even when it was destined for succession.

Out of a desire to document both the platform’s history and to let any inquiring minds know what games are worth going back to, it’s my goal to go through each year or era of the 3DS’ life to recap what came out and what happened while also giving you a list of awesome games to maybe go play.

There’s a chance the 3DS could be the final dedicated handheld Nintendo ever makes and with a long, oftentimes weird eight-year life, it’s amassed a giant library made up of brilliant exclusives, impressive ports, and a legion of novel retro releases. I’m here to be your guide in this ride through the history of the Nintendo 3DS.

So let’s start with the easiest entry point: the beginning. Check out the following video for the history of the 3DS in 2010 and 2011.

If you enjoyed this, please let us know. It will help fuel the fire for future entries in this series.

TalkBack / Petal Crash (Switch) Review
« on: October 12, 2020, 06:07:44 AM »

A smart, flexible action puzzle game that evokes Neo Geo but stays wonderfully modern.

Thanks to the Arcade Archives games on Switch, I’ve had the chance to play puzzle games from the Neo Geo like Money Puzzle Exchanger and Magical Drop. Those games have been revelatory as they are awesome ones that I missed out on for years. I reference completely different games leading up to my review of puzzle game Petal Crash from Freedom Planet publisher GalaxyTrail because this Kickstarter success feels like it evokes the feeling and style of those ‘90s Neo Geo action puzzle games. At the same time, it’s a nicely full-featured package with a strong tutorial, flexible difficulty, and plenty of modes.

Petal Crash should look familiar to anyone with puzzle game experience, with blocks populating a grid similar to many puzzle games, but it has an intriguing twist. You push blocks around the board, and if the block hits one of the same color, it matches and clears. When blocks clear, they force nearby blocks to push out. As you move blocks around the board, new ones spawn over time. Land successful chains and you can do damage or dump garbage blocks onto your enemy’s board. The concept is easy to grasp, but many layers of strategy crop up almost instantly; you can set up your board to craft ridiculous chains. Once again, some of the tactical concepts remind me ever-so-slightly of Puyo Puyo, but with a much gentler edge.

Of the many modes, a few stood out as the best parts of Petal Crash. First is the Story Mode, which lets you pick one of the seven characters (with more to unlock) and go through their adorable, well-written quest to collect the seven Sacred Blossoms and get the chance to make their dreams come true. The cuteness and retro aesthetic goes a long way here, especially since each character brims with personality. An electric soundtrack also keeps the action lively and bouncy. This is a fun way to romp through some CPU puzzle battles, made better by the flexible difficulty that operates in a Smash Bros-esque point system. You can choose initially between one through seven, and with each win or loss your difficulty goes up a few tenths (e.g., winning at 1.0 increases the next match to 1.4). It’s a great way to let people just enjoy the game at whatever difficulty works for them while still encouraging increasing the challenge.

The Puzzle Mode is also neat, featuring a designed set of move-limited puzzles to solve for each character. Some of them help to enforce some basic concepts, while others are brain-wrinkling teasers. You can even make your own puzzles. Layers of customization are nestled inside this game. In addition to puzzle creation, you can make your own modes as well, tweaking everything from win conditions to how quickly or slowly garbage blocks appear. Local-only versus can be played with a few defined modes, in addition to the custom one. Solo-only time trial and turn limit modes are also available.

The only knock on these extraneous modes is the lack of online play, leaderboards, and puzzle sharing; these omissions really negate the longevity. If you can find someone in your household that you can throw down some petal crashing with, this can get furious, but if not, your main mileage is in the story and puzzles. But honestly? Petal Crash is excellent even just on the strength of that content. The Story Mode is strong in its relative simplicity, and the pre-designed puzzles are enjoyable even when they get delightfully maddening. Here’s hoping that, like some of the ‘90s-era action puzzle games that inspired it, someone will take the concept of Petal Crash and add all sorts of online updates and doodads. That’s really the only thing holding this back from being one of the best of its kind on Switch.

TalkBack / I Am Dead (Switch) Review
« on: October 07, 2020, 08:00:00 AM »

An eclectic blend of puzzle game and visual novel that is a delight to play.

The way that I Am Dead—the new game from the creator of Wilmot’s Warehouse—combines two different styles of games into one makes it a joy to experience. At its core, this is a charming visual novel, but it also has the designs of an experimental puzzle game. You play as Morris Lupton, a recently deceased museum curator on the island of Shelmerston. Along with his late dog Sparky, he has to journey to different parts of the island to talk with other ghosts about the impending volcanic doom that might befall the area. While I can appreciate a good heartwarming story, if this was just a cut-and-dry visual novel, it wouldn’t have worked for me.

The secret sauce in I Am Dead is how you interact with the world. As a ghost, Morris has a sort of x-ray vision. This translates into the game as you go from room to room with the ability to select an object and zoom in on it in a way that lets you see inside of it. For example, you can point and click your way to a house, then focus on the kitchen, then hone in on a cup of juice, and then zoom in so you can see the interior of the cup and find out that inside of the juice is actually a rare penny or something. The depth of how many objects you can play with in this manner is frankly absurd. The level of detail makes the quaint village a blast to explore because even aside from the main story, there’s so many little details to discover.

Each region of the island you go to, whether it’s a lighthouse, a campsite, or a main street, is focused on figuring out how to contact one specific ghost. This is done by seeking out five people who have stories to tell about the individual. When you find one of them—it could be a human, a bird, or a slightly off-putting fish person—you then listen to a memory they had with the deceased. This and all of the dialogue is expertly voiced with great heart and personality. The way you engage with these memories is artistic in its own right even if it’s not difficult to do. You “zoom” in on their memory the same way you do with an object, but in this case, you have to linger on distinct images for a little bit to trigger the next part of their story. This dialogue easily could have just been spoken with no interaction, but the little bit of engagement there just brings this great holistic feel to the entire game.

After hearing the memories, you have to find objects related to them in the world. The memories themselves can offer hints, like when a bird talks of stealing a Rubik’s Cube for its nest so you know to look for the cube in a bird’s nest. Some objects are laughably easy to find while others are more tricky. In my estimation, a lot of these aren’t meant to be a challenge; it’s all about the experience of hearing the stories and interacting with this vibrant world. Finding all five objects in an area then kicks off the most action-packed part of I Am Dead, where you control Sparky the dog and float around the area trying to find ghostly wisps so you can complete whatever ritual you have to do to contact the ghost. These parts are probably the low point, but I appreciate the bit of gameplay variety. It’s more that, unlike the other interactions, these don’t have the same whimsical consistency of the memories and overall exploration and their focus on the novel zooming-in-to-objects mechanic. Finding all the wisps leads to Morris and Sparky talking to the ghost and furthering the story. Rinse and repeat a few times, and that’s I Am Dead.

Optional Grenkins are hidden throughout every area. These bizarre little cartoon gremlins can be found by looking at a hint image and figuring out what object zoomed in at a particular angle represents the image. Some of the hints are vague and devious, but brute forcing your way to a solution is possible. You’re told when you engage with the right object and well-tuned HD rumble teases you when you’re close to the right answer. Additionally, when you get very close to correct, the whole thing starts to automatically click into place. Finding Grenkins still isn’t a breeze, but at worst, it’s a gentle challenge.

That sums up the puzzle difficulty of I Am Dead. It’s all mostly a light challenge. In addition to the Grenkins, there are some optional riddles, but regardless, the flow of gameplay here is a pleasant ride. The story, while well written, is relatively predictable, but that isn’t the point. The point is the joy is found in interacting with the world and seeing how different objects are shown off, displayed, and hidden. This is a quirky, slice-of-life narrative with endearing design.

I loved my time with I Am Dead so much I wish there was a little bit more of it. Hanging with Morris and Sparky is a chill, relaxing time, even if there’s an undercurrent of the sad afterlife coursing through the world. It might be that juxtaposition between the reality of death mixed with the playfulness of the world that makes I Am Dead so memorable and fun.

TalkBack / Charterstone: Digital Edition (Switch) Review
« on: October 06, 2020, 05:00:00 AM »

A board game adaptation primarily for those who already know the board game.

The best thing I can say about Charterstone’s new digital Switch release is that I’d really like to play the board game it’s based on. Charterstone is a legacy board game, meaning the game changes and evolves as you play it. Unlike other legacy games, like the Risk and Pandemic variants, this one was built from the ground up to be a legacy game. That makes the translation to a digital format appealing, since all of the new tweaks and modifiers added over time are kept track of, making it easier to hop into a game mid-campaign. However, the Switch version of Charterstone has a clumsy UI and some sluggish inputs, making the overall experience tougher to get into.

Even with the technical drawbacks, those familiar with Charterstone will probably get more of a kick out of the digital version, which streamlines the play and speeds it all up. If you want to sit down and learn the game, though, have courage; it’s not well explained. I came into this game having an interest in the board game but never having played it. Starting a game, I was greeted with a wall of text and a confounding interface. I eventually made sense out of it, but that initial experience wasn’t fun. When I tried to get people in my household to play with me locally, they all bounced off of it hard; the barrier for entry was too high.

The multiplayer experience does warrant some celebration. Hot-seat local multiplayer is effective, working with up to six players. My few matches online ran fine, even working cross-platform with the already-released PC and mobile versions. But once again: if you’re not familiar with the game and its rules going in, it’s a high learning curve. Even when I had a handle on the clever twist of worker placement on display here, the experience was muddled. It’s the myriad of little things that add up, like the button for “confirm” changing between the A and R button constantly or AI-controlled character turns going so fast you have no idea what they’re even doing (which factors more into newcomers being lost). Even technically it leaves a little to be desired. I never experienced any crashes, but sometimes menus wouldn’t disappear (or would just randomly disappear). While the graphics are colorful, it’s not a pleasant interface. It’s never that intuitive as to how to access parts of the screen.

Chartstone is emblematic of too many digital board game adaptations. This is primarily for those who are already familiar with the game and its rules. Coming into this blind is a bad idea. Heck, playing this locally with newcomers is a challenge unless you have someone on hand to explain the game in detail. Charterstone appears to be a fun game that I someday look forward to playing in physical board game form. Maybe then, I’ll be able to revisit this digital incarnation with friends and enjoy it far more.

TalkBack / Devolver Digital's Disc Room Coming to Switch Later This Month
« on: October 05, 2020, 01:03:32 PM »

Avoid spinning spheres of doom in this game from some of the folks behind Minit and Sludge Life.

Disc Room is coming to Switch (and PC) on October 22, according to publisher Devolver Digital.

From developers Jan Willem Nijman, Kitty Calis, Terri Velmann, and Doseone, the game was first unveiled at PAX East 2020. Disc Room puts you in the suit of an astronaut trying to survive a dungeon filled with spinning saws and promises an overarching sci-fi narrative to match the dodge-heavy action. Each room features different challenges and riddles that when figured out or conquered, open up more rooms. You can also earn different abilities to help you survive.

For more info, check out hands-on preview from PAX East 2020.

TalkBack / Everyone Needs A Giant Ninja Kirby Plush
« on: September 30, 2020, 08:11:55 AM »

Maybe more thematically, go for the Sleepy Kirby for bedtime.

Having a kid has made me more cognizant of the important aspects of toys and plush. Mixture in some joyousness with comfort and cuteness and if all goes well, your kid will have a good time with it. When my son lovingly kissed his new Ninja Kirby plush on the head before he went to bed after the sizable comfy behemoth resided in his room for a few days, I knew it was something good. Not every stuffed toy gets that treatment and honestly, I was a little shocked: the Ninja Kirby has the angry Kirby eyes. I had concerns he might be scared, but alas, he wasn’t.

Just Toys has the Kirby license and from what I can gather, they’re putting out good stuff (full disclosure: they sent us a few items from their collection). In addition to the Ninja Kirby (which measures in at about 12”), they also feature large plush for Sword Kirby and Sleepy Kirby. They’re sturdier toys but still soft to hold. I’ve definitely seen squishier characters, but the build here isn’t bad.

In addition to their growing line of plush, Just Toys also has backpack hangers. Sure, the idea of a backpack hanger in our current world might seem weird, but having that little bit of Nintendo swag is fun. The smaller plastic characters on the hangers are well-made, mostly featuring different Kirby forms, including Cutter Kirby, Ice Kirby, and Fire Kirby. Bandana Waddle Dee and Meta Knight also make an appearance in the set, too. If you were to get these in stores, they’d likely be in a blind pack, but you can also order a full series box online if you just want all 10.

Returning to the theme of my kid cuddling with his new Ninja Kirby plush, my tactic with the selection of backpack hangers was to open one with him every few days. Sometimes he’d be super into it and carry the Kirby toy around with him all day. Others, he’d just not care. He’s a toddler. That’s normal. He did have a total meltdown night recently and he held one of the Kirby backpack hangers close. It wound up going into his bed with him, being treated like it was made of a soft material and not hard plastic.

So Just Toys’ Kirby products are kid-tested and parent-approved. They’re cute and comforting, ideal for Kirby fans of all ages.


Fans of Radio Free Nintendo might be familiar with developer Mommy's Best Games as they have some grappling history.

Shoot 1UP DX is coming to Nintendo Switch on October 15 for $5.99.

From Pig Eat Ball developer Mommy's Best Games, Shoot 1UP debuted on Xbox Live Indie Games in 2010. The main hook is that when you get an extra live, you don't just get another number, you get an actual ship on screen to control, with the potential for 30 ships on the screen at once. The DX version coming to Switch expands upon the original with two new levels, new bosses, and more.

After Shoot 1UP DX comes out, Mommy's Best Games will also port more of their past releases, including Explosionade and Weapon of Choice, with the help of developer Super Soul. No word yet on the criminally underrated Game Type yet. We all could use some more parkour.

TalkBack / Jackbox Party Pack Makes Its Annual Release in October
« on: September 28, 2020, 12:48:04 PM »

The Jackbox Party Pack 7 is due out soon with five new games, including Quiplash 3.

The Jackbox Party Pack 7 is coming to Nintendo Switch on October 15.

The latest entry in the long-running series features five new multiplayer games that all require players to use their phone or tablet as a controller. Here's the list:

  • Quiplash 3: Taking the spot of the "venerable classic getting a sequel" in the pack, Quiplash 3 is a game for 3-8 players that challenges players to hit each other with their funniest quips.
  • The Devils and the Details: Dubbed a "collaborative chaos game," 3-8 players play as devils trying to make it in suburbia. This seems like it might be vaguely in the same vein as Monster Seeking Monster.
  • Champ'd Up: The token drawing game, Champ'd Up has 3-8 players making their own creations that compete for voting supremacy. It seems like the drawing game concept meets Bracketeering.
  • Talking Points: Akin to the recent wave of public speaking games in Jackbox Party Packs, Talking Points involves improv skills as a player tries to give a speech responding to slides they've never seen before. Playable with 3-8 players, another player can also pick what slides the speaker has to deal with.
  • Blather 'Round: The only game for two players (2-6 players, if you want exacts), Blather 'Round seems like a weird attempt at charades as you try to get players to guess your prompt using a limited vocab.

Well, writing all of that out got me very excited to check out The Jackbox Party Pack 7. Like past games, it requires an online connection and, for the most part, friends. However, Jackbox does a pretty good job of making the game streamable, so if you, like me, are sad about not being able to play with friends in the same room, you can try to figure out on Twitch.


Check out the Switch demo on the eShop today.

Check out the Switch eShop today for a free demo of Cake Bash - a frantic and fun new multiplayer-centric party game from Coatsink and High Tea Frog. It’s a wild game, inspired by the likes of Mario Party and Pokemon Stadium, where you try to make your cupcake the tastiest of them all across a variety of game modes and mini-games.

The origins were preheated in the oven at Ubisoft, as the two full-time developers at High Tea Frog, Laura Hutton and Clement Capart, refined their game-baking talents there, working on everything from The Division and Far Cry 4 to Grow Home and Atomega. In 2017, the pair decided to leave Ubisoft to make their own games, very much inspired by their quirkier Ubisoft work on the team that made Grow Home and Grow Up.

After some experimentation, they settled on making Cake Bash, a four-player party game with gameplay and strategy that calls to mind a wealth of vintage Nintendo games as well as games from their former employer’s past. Hutton detailed Pokemon Stadium as a core inspiration, primarily due to the simple button inputs of the Nintendo 64 game’s mini-games. The goal with Cake Bash was to keep it simple and approachable. Other games Hutton and Capart listed as inspirations include Mario Party, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Crash Bash, and Power Stone. From my brief time with Cake Bash, those all ring true. Sometimes the label “mini-game” can be pejorative, but Cake Bash does a great job of making that core mini-game experience very enjoyable for both its variety and the lunacy of the daffy concept.

A freshly announced mini-game is Wasp Attack, which provides a good example of how these mini-games play out. All four cupcakes wield spatula heads and run around a circular arena. It’s the aftermath of a picnic, so wasps are hovering around the sweet and salty leftovers. Each cake tries to time their swats to take down the wasps, with a bonus multiplier for successive swats. It’s cute and funny while still being fiercely competitive.

13 different mini-games and modes make up Cake Bash, with a standard arena combat mode as well the mini-game highlight: the delightfully ridiculous Fork Knife, which adapts Fortnite to the world of cupcakes as four cakes avoid flying cutlery on a shrinking cake.

Everything can be played locally, online, or with bots (at launch, there’s no cross-play, but that’s definitely something on the table for the future). It’s an expansive tableau with many different options, though Hutton and Capart always strove for simplicity. Cake Bash made its public debut in 2018 with only three modes. The feedback led to iteration that refined the recipe. Hutton gave the example of how players could be stunned during combat. They would have to wiggle with the analog stick to get out of a stun, but it wasn’t intuitive. Instead, the stun move just became a few moments of delay before the character was automatically controllable again. The core mechanics changed a lot during demos throughout various venues, whether it was in person at events like PAX or at-home during the Steam Games Festival. Interestingly, Hutton said she preferred the at-home demos, because the feedback was usually a lot more direct and helpful. When people play games at events, they often hold back because the developers are literally right next to them. Hutton said that being able to see blunter feedback helped a ton to make Cake Bash the best game it could be.

The final game, due out on October 15 everywhere but Switch (the Switch version hit some last-minute COVID-related delays; it shouldn’t be too much longer), is headlined by the Get Tasty mode, which features seven matches alternating between cake-bashing combat and mini-games. Mini-games are unlocked when played in Get Tasty, and that centerpiece mode also brings about new flavors of cakes (the pastry form of skins).

On the topic of cupcake skins and flavors, I asked Hutton and Capart about what Nintendo cameos they’d most desire. One of their answers wasn’t shocking: Kirby. Kirby eats a lot of sweets, so he’d be right at home in the world of Cake Bash. Maybe there’s some legs in a mode where players avoid being sucked up by a sizable pink puffball. The other answer was Piranha Plant, a cake that Hutton guessed would be like a carrot cake. There’s amiibo out there for both of those; open up the doors for more indies to use your amiibo, Nintendo.

Cake Bash certainly seems like an enjoyable party game, and thanks to online play and bots, it should have legs even in the weird stay-at-home times we are in. Hopefully Switch players won’t have to wait too much longer for the full game, but we can all enjoy the demo now at least.

TalkBack / Alwa's Legacy (Switch) Review
« on: September 28, 2020, 05:26:33 AM »

A great Metroidvania with clever puzzles and maybe just a little bit too much obtuseness.

The leap from developer Elden Pixels’ first game Alwa’s Awakening to its sequel Alwa’s Legacy is impressive. While I enjoyed Awakening, part of the charm was its mild slavishness to NES-style gameplay, some of which doesn’t totally age in the modern era despite the developer’s best efforts to polish it up. Their second game, Alwa’s Legacy, takes a lot of the charm and spirit of the first game but makes the graphics a generation fresher and mostly brings the gameplay up to modern standards. Alwa’s Legacy is generally an enjoyable Metroid-inspired adventure game with a great labyrinthine map, a slew of secrets, and a collection of creative puzzles. Some obtuse items and power-ups drag it down, but not enough to spoil the fun.

Players take control of heroine Zoe fresh off of losing her memory and waking up in the world of Alwa. A few power-ups and some NPC chats later, she’s off to best four boss demons and save the land. It does tie into the first game, but no worries if you missed out on it. While an overarching story is referenced, most of the writing is more focused on coloring the larger-than-life characters you come across on your journey. The map is sprawling, but also very approachable. An interesting warp system allows you to transform any save point into a warp point with a tear, an item that is limited but generally easy to find. However, that warp system reveals some of the issues of Alwa’s Legacy. It’s neat that you can make your own warp points, but also maybe just defining your own sensible warp points would make for a smoother experience. Part of the apparent mantra of the game is customization. You can focus on exploration or combat. You can toggle on and off numerous assists. It’s nice to have that flexibility, but in moments like with the warp points, it stumbles, especially since you can acquire tears before you’re even told what they do.

A variety of items can be found in the overworld, ranging from useful tools, like Zoe’s core trio of gemstones, to collectibles such as orbs, which can be used to power up those gems. You get the gems relatively early and they represent the foundation of your puzzle-solving gear. The green gem creates blocks, the blue gem creates rising bubbles, and the yellow fires off lightning. Using the orbs, you can also upgrade their abilities. For example, you mostly use the green gem’s blocks for simple platforming and puzzle solving, but you can also make it so the blocks sprout spikes that can hurt enemies. The many uses of these items make the puzzles and combat customizable and interesting, but some of the explanation leaves much to be desired. There’s an upgrade for the bubbles that involves dropping through the bubbles to change your character’s color, which took me researching online to realize what it even did. The gemstones are overall quite flexible, but weird limitations were more confusing. The yellow gem fires off lightning, which can be used to burn wooden barriers. However, an area you can discover very early in the game makes reference to needing a light source to be able to go through. Somehow, the item that literally lights another object on fire doesn’t work for that. Instead, you need to find another item: a necklace that lights torches. This feels nitpicky, but when so much of your time in Alwa is spent trying to figure out creative solutions to exploring dungeons and fighting enemies, not having items work logically sucks the fun out of it.

In addition to that torch-lighting necklace, numerous other items continue to round out Zoe’s arsenal. Nothing is ever as fundamental as the gemstones, but it’s a nice assortment that deepens your ability to explore as you go through the world and discover the five dungeons. While the map can be overwhelming at first, something that worked well over the course of the 8-10 hour adventure is how your new abilities made getting around easier. It also helps that revisiting past areas is almost always worthwhile because secrets are everywhere. A lot of games talk up their non-linear design, but Alwa’s Legacy actually nails that wandering feeling. There is a critical path and you mostly have to do the dungeons in a specific order, but with some gumption, sequence breaking is possible and you can always explore to the limits of your current gear. As a matter of fact, you’re rewarded when you do.

One aspect that I love about Alwa’s Legacy is something that I wish wasn’t so hidden. An alternate Pacifist Mode is unlockable (by collecting petals in the game), which challenges you to beat the game without killing any enemies. It’s fascinating, because the game is mostly insanely playable by just avoiding combat. In the few spots where you absolutely have to kill enemies, you actually have to seek specific switches to remove certain enemies. Pacifist Mode is essentially a new game plus of sorts, but I almost wish I could have just played it from the start.

When everything clicks into place, Alwa’s Legacy soars. The exploration is filled with brain-teasing challenges backed by a great chiptune soundtrack. Hiccups along the way, mostly due to some obtuse item uses, can bring the experience back to Earth, but thankfully, more often than not, this is a super fun game to make your way through.

TalkBack / New Online Mode Coming to Super Mega Baseball 3 Next Week
« on: September 23, 2020, 06:22:45 AM »

Online Leagues allows cross-platform multiplayer in a friendly or competitive environment.

Online Leagues and Watch Mode are coming to Super Mega Baseball 3 on September 29 as part of the 2020 release's fourth update.

Online Leagues was first announced as Custom Pennant Race around the game's launch and lets players create custom leagues and invite friends from other platforms (Super Mega Baseball 3 is available on Switch, PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4). The new mode will have some flexibility. It can be a laidback experience where players in your league just play casually, or it can be a highly competitive mode with predefined schedules and matches. The leagues can have up to 32 teams, including custom teams. Game length and difficulty level can also be changed to whatever you want.

The second mode, Watch mode, lets players more dynamically view CPU games with different camera angles.

The update will hit Super Mega Baseball 3 on Nintendo Switch on September 29. If you want to join an NWR League, leave a comment because, well, we're probably going to make one.

TalkBack / Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Switch) Review
« on: September 16, 2020, 05:00:00 AM »

The stars are all here!

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is the first time Nintendo has released a collection of 3D Mario titles. While its naming convention follows in the footsteps of its SNES predecessor, Super Mario All-Stars, it lacks the obvious visual overhaul that made that collection stand out. This isn’t to say it is without its upgrades however, not the least of which is portability for two of these games for the first time. The question is, are these upgrades enough, and do these games still hold up all these years later?

Super Mario 64 by Neal Ronaghan

The phrase “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” comes to mind often when playing Super Mario 64. I’ve spent a lot of time since the original release in 1996 playing and thinking about this landmark achievement in video games. I was there back for Super Mario 64 DS, and I’ve picked it up on every Virtual Console it came to. For a long time, I always thought it was sublime perfection. After playing through it on the Switch in Super Mario 3D All-Stars, some of the shine has worn off, but dollars to doughnuts Super Mario 64 is still an immensely enjoyable game, almost as much so now as it was more than 20 years ago.

First off, Mario 64 might have the best glow-up in this collection. It’s not an overwhelmingly different upgrade, but it’s effective at nailing the ideal of looking not like it was, but how you remember it. Textures are improved. Text retains the charming font but looks cleaner and crisper. Sure, it’s not in widescreen, but it runs beautifully and looks as sharp as a Nintendo 64 game can look without more wholesale and widespread changes. In a perfect world, seeing Super Mario 64 be more intricately upgraded would be awesome, but, like I said to start this: It ain’t broke, so it didn’t need fixing.

The first handful of levels are still incredible. Bob-omb Battlefield and Whomp’s Fortress are incredible starting points. The variety on display through the ice, fire, and water worlds early on is great. A lot of the star challenges are clever and fun. Exploring the castle still has a charm to it, especially with the fantastic soundtrack. However, replaying it today leaves me with a few sour notes. Mostly, a number of late-game stages are rough. Tall Tall Mountain and Rainbow Ride are some of the worst offenders to me. Tall Tall Mountain is basically just several stars requiring you go up the mountain in almost the same fashion several times. Rainbow Ride is still whimsical and novel, but the structure of the level can get repetitive and punishing. It’s not all bad: a lot of the levels with dynamic changes like Tick Tock Clock and Tiny-Huge Island are still wildly enjoyable, but the farther the game went, the more frustrations I had.

Through it all, Super Mario 64 is still a great game, even in 2020. It’s almost impossible to separate the game from the importance and legacy, but whether you look at Mario’s 3D debut as a historical relic or a timeless masterpiece, it’s still a game worth revisiting today and Nintendo has never released a better version of it until Super Mario 3D All-Stars.

Super Mario Sunshine by John Rairdin

Super Mario 3D All-Stars represents the first official re-release of Super Mario Sunshine, likely the most oft debated title in the 3D Mario lineage. Of the three games included in this collection, Sunshine sees the most obvious visual improvements. Some of its underlying issues are still present, but on the whole, it's damn good to be back on Isle Delfino.

Apart from the obvious boost to HD that every game in the collection receives, Super Mario Sunshine is unique in that it gets brand new widescreen support. The hud has also been reformatted to fit this display and of course cleaned up for HD displays. Text and other 2D elements have also received an overhaul, but unlike Super Mario 64, all in game textures appear to be as they were at initial release. With that in mind I was absolutely baffled by just how good Super Mario Sunshine still looks. Remember that undulating, tropical, ocean water? Well it still looks incredible today. Apart from the occasional low resolution texture on the environment, Sunshine holds up remarkably well.

Super Mario Sunshine is largely built around usinging FLUDD, your water spewing backpack, to deftly navigate and clean up the environment. At the outset, FLUDD can act both as a water cannon and as a jetpack, enhancing Mario’s movement capabilities. The one major concern I had going into Super Mario Sunshine on Switch was how the GameCube’s analogue triggers would be mapped to the digital triggers of the Switch. On GameCube, a partial press of the right trigger would allow mario to spray water while moving. A full click would cause him to lock in place allowing the left stick to be used to aim the water spray instead. The solution for Switch however is simple and works perfectly. Clicking R reads as a full trigger click, while ZR registers as a partial press. It is quick, easy, and arguably works better than the original.

Outside of that, Super Mario Sunshine is largely unchanged. This is still the most difficult of all the 3D Mario’s, and that remains true here. Most of that is by design, but it's worth noting that the occasionally strange physics of the original are wholly intact in this release. This doesn’t quite feel like other 3D Mario titles, and while it's not too hard to get used to, new players should be ready for a bit of a learning curve. That being said, I had just as much, if not more, fun playing it again on Switch, as I did on Gamecube. Without a doubt, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is the definitive way to experience this tropical adventure.

Super Mario Galaxy by Jordan Rudek

Super Mario Galaxy makes the space jump from Wii to Switch as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, and the HD visuals and portability of Nintendo’s latest console make for a warm welcome to both new players and those familiar with the game. Galaxy mostly does away with the larger, contained spaces of its predecessors, 64 and Sunshine, and instead sees Mario launching from one planetoid to the next that each contain more minute platforming and exploration challenges. For the most part, the result of this design shift is that collecting stars (60 to roll credits, 121 in all), feels more like a test of endurance rather than a measure of running and jumping skill. The use of gravity and upside-down visual perspectives are stretched to their limit, which certainly adds to the challenge but also the repetition. That said, the typical Mario charm and whimsy are on full display, with a magnificent soundtrack and vibrant visuals to match.

On Switch, the Wii’s pointer controls have been replaced with motion controls in docked mode and touch controls in handheld mode. What this means is that if you’re using a Pro Controller, you can press R to bring up a star cursor that allows you to make menu selections and collect star bits by moving the controller or a Joy-Con. A Joy-Con can also be given to a second player for use in Co-Star mode, where a friend can help you gather up star bits and even give Mario extra height on his jump. When playing portably, you can only move and activate the star cursor on the touchscreen. While none of these options hinder the experience overall, they do feel a little inelegant compared to the original Wii controls, but considering that the game was obviously designed with those in mind, the Switch version still works just fine.

Discussion of controls aside, Super Mario Galaxy has aged incredibly well. The focused gameplay and memorable presentation combine to create an excellent platforming adventure that feels both very different from 64, Sunshine, and Odyssey but also quite similar at the same time. The Comet Observatory hubworld grants quick access to all of the galaxies Mario can visit, but it also provides flavor in the form of Rosalina’s storybook chapters, Captain Toad, and even letters from Luigi guiding you to his next hiding spot. Even though the power-ups generally aren’t as interesting as in other Mario titles, the objectives in each stage make up for that.  One of the most captivating elements of Super Mario Galaxy is how the galaxies change when you re-enter them in pursuit of a new star, and it’s this variety and variability that helps the game feel fresh every time you take a giant leap for Mario-kind.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is by no means a complete overhaul, nor is it as simple as a port. It’s not as straightforward as Super Mario 64’s virtual console release, or Super Mario Galaxy on Wii U, as the entries in this collection are indeed updates to the original games. Each game seems to have been treated as its own challenge, with different improvements and changes being put into each. Updated, sharper textures for Super Mario 64, widescreen support for Super Mario Sunshine, and diverse new control options for Super Mario Galaxy, each bring welcome additions to their respective games. While yes, the updates are restrained somewhat in their ambition, the end result is undeniable. Even if some elements show their age, this is without a doubt, the best, and most versatile release these three classic 3D platformers have ever received.

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