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  2. Developer: Falcom Publisher: NIS America Platform: Switch, PS4, and PC Release Date: June 30, 2020 ESRB: T for Teen One would think school days were behind The Legend of Heroes series after just about everyone graduated at the end of Trails of Cold Steel II. Yet, sure enough, Thor's Military Academy is back in session. With a new set of students as well as branch campus location Trails of Cold Steel III attempts to blend familiar and foreign ground all at once for returning players. Which makes sense as the long running role playing game series finally makes the long overdue shift to modern hardware with its newest port being on the Nintendo Switch. Just like the previous Cold Steel games it places the main character mantle on Rean Schwarzer once more. Rather than him being a student this time around, however, he has quickly decided to become a teacher in spite of the war hero moniker "Ashen Chevalier" that he obtained just a year beforehand. Also, because of his teacher position this time around, Rean makes it clear that he is more of a guiding hand for the new faces of Class VII rather than the primary focal point of it, at least initially. Despite being the third entry the title does a surprisingly good job at initiating would-be newcomers to the series rich history. It also take its' time to develop the plucky new students of Class VII through meaningful arcs to slowly reintroducing many familiar faces that have mostly already gone through their own. The Switch release even attempts to go the extra step by having exclusive chapter by chapter recaps of the previous Cold Steel entries right on the title screen. Regardless of one's established familiarity though, many of the game's best moments are through the countless interpersonal exchanges in Cold Steel III. Be it optional bonding events, or deliberate main story scenes, it is a treat to see someone like the incredibly haughty punk Ash start to show his genuine compassion over time, in his own awkward foul-mouthed way, and plenty others see a similar level of earnest growth over time including instructor Rean himself. Of course, this measured character-focused approach most certainly comes at the huge price of downright glacial main narrative pacing for many returning Trails players. At times coming across in a way that seems to actively avoid addressing important story threads that have been lingering across multiple games and subseries (some dating as far back as the Trails in the Sky entries), even when certain important elements are almost literally staring the player in the face. It is all the more frustrating when the story finally goes into a no holds barred state of narrative escalation only to abruptly end on more or less the most fiendish cliffhanger in the entire series, which admittedly already had a fairly high bar. The only real solace to the cliffhanger being that, well, Trails of Cold Steel IV is being released so soon after. With all that said, it is easy to forgot that there is, well, traditional role playing gameplay. Even amid the often hours long gaps between questionably paced story beats or interpersonal exchanges that enriches it cast. For instance, a somewhat understated strength in all Cold Steel releases are its rock-solid and rewarding combat system. Placing an engaging emphasis on cleverly interrupting enemy attacks or manipulating the turn-order. The third entry improves the formula even more by the entirely new feature called "Brave Orders" that is centered around activating strong player buffs at key times to really change the flow of a fight. While Brave Orders are certainly an enjoyable strategic addition it is far from a balanced one, unfortunately. Certain order combinations are so overpowered that it becomes quite easy to stunlock late game bosses into no more than a single turn total. Making it somewhat temping to dabble with higher difficulties for that reason alone. What Trails of Cold Steel III brings the most to its gameplay systems are actually in the form of huge quality of life additions than outright new elements, however. Though originally introduced in the excellent PC ports of Trails of Cold Steel, the tremendously welcome "high-speed mode" speeds up anything from combat, on-foot traversal, to the occasional cutscene animation that is just a little too slow is one of the most obvious inclusions. But even then, returning players are likely to quickly notice the more subtle, but welcome, aspects more relationship building events that don't require the precious usage of limited bonding points or the slick UI interface in and out of battle. One would be remiss to not make the direct comparison to its PS4 counterpart, however. Which, admittedly, if one is only looking for a PS4 vs Switch pure technical comparison then there is not not much room for discussion. The PS4 release is easily better with nearly doubled frame rate fidelity, smoother textures, or superior audio quality. If one is transitioning directly from the PS3 and Vita releases of Cold Steel I and II, then the Switch port becomes far more impressive in comparison improving not only visuals but dramatically improved load times as well. It is just a shame that in docked mode that a lot of visuals are noticeably more blurry compared to its portable friendly form. Yet, even being fully aware of the compromises it makes for portable convenience what truly makes any Cold Steel III Switch port recommendation far more murky is its tendency to outright crash a random points. If it only happened once or twice it would not be really mentioned at all, but because it happened several dozen times from start to finish the Switch port becomes far harder to consider for even the most tolerant of players. The only rhyme or reason I could find behind its straight up crashing problem is that it seemingly only really happened in bigger towns and not in dungeons. Plus, without a single patch in sight months after its release, it becomes far less of a passive warning to "save very often" and more of a big cautionary tale of being fully aware of the Switch port's near game-breaking problem during the course of a tremendously long RPG experience, almost regardless of the quality of the game itself. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is both forward-moving in various quality of life enhancements for the series in terms of gameplay and also somewhat clumsy in its attempt to create room for its new setting and cast during its massive campaign. With a main narrative pacing in particular that occasionally borderlines a glacially paced seminar only to randomly slap the player with sporadic moments of character and world-building brilliance. It becomes a tricky RPG proposition to recommend for anybody that is not already more than knee-deep in Trails fandom that already know that they want to see the sub-series story arc to completion, especially with its fiendish cliffhanger. But, for however much one may want to talk about the game itself, the discussion is almost completely supersede by the necessity to point out the dodgy Switch port itself. For its disconcerting frequency to outright crash at random points can easily be a deal breaker for even for the most staunch fans of portability, especially with no patch in sight several months after release. Unless one is a Trails fan that simply has not gotten a PS4, or capable enough PC, Trails of Cold Steel III on Switch can easily ignored by its far more reliable counterparts on other hardware. Pros + Great interpersonal moments that either fleshes out its new cast of characters well or puts a welcome new perspective on the many returning ones + Fairly noticeable visual and interface step up from the previous two games + 'Orders' add a fresh strategic dynamic to what was an already rock solid combat system + Very portable friendly in handheld mode (unlike some recent first party Nintendo games...) Cons - Glacial main narrative pacing and absurd completion time that struggles to earn the player's patience level it demands - Clear technical compromises compared to the PS4 version with a surprisingly high chance of random crashing in certain areas that are unique problems to the Switch release - Certain 'Orders' can wholly trivialize a lot of the game's bosses - Visuals do not quite upscale well in docked mode and look rather blurry Overall Score: 6.0 (out of 10) Decent The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III on Switch quickly warps the discussion of a forward-moving, but very frustratingly paced, RPG entry in the series into an almost easy skip on the system entirely due to unpredictable technical problems that make it prone to crashing at any time unlike its PS4 counterpart Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Switch code provided by the publisher.
  3. Hailinel

    Game of the Year 2020: Justin's Picks

    Well. 2020 sure has been a year. With the pandemic having turned literally everything sideways, and so many awful, stressful other events of the past twelve months, I can definitely say that I have never been more eager for a calendar year to just end, already. I’m fortunate that, in this year of lockdowns and quarantines, video games have done a good job of keeping me occupied and entertained even at times when the entire world was seemingly on fire and there’s been little I could do but hold on for the ride. And certainly, this year has left a mark on the games I played, and what I chose to put on my top ten list. 10. Jump Rope Challenge In truth, I’ve only ever booted Jump Rope Challenge a couple of times since its surprise release on the Switch eShop this past summer, but it really did its job. A simple app that simulates jumping rope with Joy-Con controllers, I found out very quickly just how out of shape I was from spending several months doing little but staying in my own home. At a time when Ring Fit Adventure was constantly out of stock (and to be frank, I don’t have the space to play it regardless), Jump Rope Challenge provided some quick motivation to search for ways to keep in shape for the long haul of this year. So even though there’s not much to the game, it had a much bigger, definite impact on me in a physical sense than any other game on this list. 9. Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae is, to be fair, not a 2020 game. It originally released back in 2014, but I only played it at length this year. However, if The Game Awards can give the 2018 game Among Us accolades in 2020, a year in which the concept of time has lost all meaning, then I don’t think it’s unfair to give Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae some credit of its own. A breezy, independently-produced action game, MKH can be cleared in from start to finish in about an hour, with stages that are no more than wave upon wave of increasingly difficult enemy encounters, each punctuated with a boss. Character upgrades, including new attacks, techniques, and stat boosts can also be purchased with points in between levels. It’s a very straight-forward action game in its intent, with only the barest bones of a story, but it does remarkably well with what little there is to it. 8. Code Vein/Nioh 2 The Soulslike action subgenre is one I’ve always respected but have historically had a hard time getting into. I bounced off of From Software’s original Demon’s Souls, and bounced even harder off of Bloodborne. Though in the past year, I’ve come to realize that maybe it’s just the case that From Software’s Souls games and the specifics of their gameplay and concepts just don’t gel with me. Both Code Vein and Nioh 2 are games that I tried in the early part of this year, and had the world been a different place, I might have had the energy to stay with longer. But the time that I did put into them, I greatly enjoyed. Code Vein stands out as the first Soulslike that caught me in its hooks enough that I could put up with its punishing aspects and learn my way around it, while Nioh 2’s feudal Japan setting and polished gameplay kept me at it in a similar fashion. If I had to give one game or the other the edge, it might end up being Code Vein today, or Nioh 2 tomorrow. Either way, it’s a coin flip, but both sides are a winner. 7. Sakura Wars As awful as 2020 has been, it did finally bring us the first Sega-published localization of a Sakura Wars title! It’s also a very different game from any previous entry, serving as a soft reboot that follows a new Sakura and trades away the turn-based strategy combat mechanics for hack-and-slash action reminiscent of a Musou title. Those admittedly stark differences aside, the new Sakura Wars is very much worthy of the name. Part mecha action, part romance visual novel, the game puts players in the role of Seijuro Kamiyama, the newly appointed captain of the Imperial Combat Revue’s Flower Division, tasked with rebuilding it from near scratch with the aid of the earnest Sakura Amamiya. The cast of colorful and eclectic performers lift the presentation, and with a premise that looks to a new future for the series while fully embracing its past. 6. Super Mario Bros. 35 If Tetris 99 were the realization of the once-joke idea of Tetris becoming a battle royale, Super Mario Bros. 35 is a reprise of the same notion. Take a game that’s very much not a battle royale, and turn it into a quality multiplayer experience of genre chaos in which dozens of players battle against each other, and in which only one is left standing. For a couple of reasons, Super Mario Bros. 35 is more my speed than Tetris 99, or Fortnite, or any of the other BR titles that have released in the past several years. The first is that my record is simply better. While I have yet to win a single round of Tetris 99 against armies of Tetris masters, and I only ever eked out one win in Fortnite by sheer dumb luck, I have a respectable number of wins in Super Mario Bros. 35 that I always feel can grow larger. The skill floor remains accessible even months after launch, when in the same time span Fall Guys both launched and became competitively impenetrable within the span of a few weeks. Super Mario Bros. 35 makes perfect sense in practice, as it follows the same basic rules of Tetris 99. Enemies you kill are sent to the games of other players, populating the levels in ways that can surprise and confound them. And of course, the other players can do the same thing to you. In all my years of playing the original Super Mario Bros., I have never seen such surreal chaos as a gauntlet of multiple Bowsers guarding the path to the actual Bowser encounter at the end of a castle, or being assaulted by a dozen Lakitus at once, all raining Spiney hell down on me. It’s good, chaotic fun. (Fall Guys is a terrible game living off a zeitgeist. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.) 5. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Mega Mix Mega Mix serves the distinction of being the first Project Diva on a Nintendo console, and it remains as fun as ever! With a new cel-shaded art style, the classic song videos have received a fresh coat of cel-shaded paint, and the collection of tracks, while not nearly the total of what Future Tone brought to the PS4, is still a fantastic package. Had 2020 not gone the way it has, I’d have attended a Miku Expo concert this year. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be, as the concert was delayed, and ultimately cancelled. But Project Diva Mega Mix has been a wonderful dosage of Miku to sate me for the year. And, just as Miku Expo will continue next year in a new digital concert form, hopefully there will be more Project Diva in the future. 4. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition It’s kind of hard to believe at this point, but once upon a time, North American RPG fans had to essentially beg in tearful supplication for Nintendo of America to release the original Xenoblade Chronicles in their region. To this day, I have no idea what it was that made NOA so remarkably hesitant to publish the game, even after its European localization, but it’s safe to say that those days of recalcitrance are over. Not only has the original Xenoblade Chronicles been followed by two new games released worldwide without drama, but it has now been released on both the 3DS and, as of this year, the Switch. Definitive Edition is, from a visual perspective, everything I could have really wanted from a remaster or remake. While the original Wii title is well regarded for its sprawling landscapes and fantastic art direction, the technical side of the graphics were held back. This new release brings the graphics to a level on par with Xenoblade Choronicles 2, in addition to touch-ups to the gameplay and music. The only thing it’s really missing from past releases is the amiibo functionality of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, though that was so limited it’s hard to really miss that much. The biggest addition to the game, the Future Connected epilogue, isn’t what I would call essential. It provides some nice closure for threads that were left hanging at the end of the original release, but otherwise doesn’t flow as strongly or feel as realized as the original, main game. But being inessential doesn’t mean bad, and the lower points of Future Connected are easy to overlook when the rest of the package is made up of a modern classic given a new polish. 3. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity A release that caught a lot of people by surprise, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity takes the gameplay of the original Hyrule Warriors and, instead of focusing the story on a thinly plotted, festival-style crossover of Zelda characters and content, it centers specifically on the world of Breath of the Wild. Set during the era that ultimately gave rise to Calamity Ganon, it gives new attention to characters and events that only received brief screen time in Breath of the Wild due to its flashback method of storytelling. A refinement of everything that the original Hyrule Warriors introduced with some BotW-themed twists, Age of Calamity plays similarly to its predecessor, but stands out on its own. It takes the challenges of the original game’s Adventure Mode and merges them with the story mode, resulting in a game loaded with content that doesn’t feel segmented off. The game even lets you pilot the Divine Beasts in stages tailored to them, annihilating bokoblins and moblins by the hundreds with single attacks. And that’s without getting into the plot twists that make Age of Calamity more than just a prequel with an inevitably tragic end. 2. Final Fantasy VII Remake The mad lads at Square Enix did it. They actually did it! The first chapter in what is intended to be a multi-game series, Final Fantay VII Remake is, as the title would suggest, a remake of the original Final Fantasy VII. Or more specifically, a full-length RPG that reimagines the first eight hours of the original game set in the city of Midgar. The remake sets out to tackle the challenge of giving long-time fans what they want while also challenging those same fans with the presentation of something new and different. Remake takes what existed before, and fleshes those early hours of Final Fantasy VII out, giving life and color to characters and locales that were briefly only glimpsed. The Avalanche members Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie all have larger roles to play, and they all feel like proper characters this time around, as opposed to extras that are there to serve as a plot device. Locations like the Sector 7 slums feel like proper explorable towns rather than small, sparsely populated maps, giving off a better sense of scale to the city of Midgar. And the core cast of Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, and Barret all shine bright, staying true to their original selves while showing new, entertaining sides afforded by the more in-depth storytelling and top-notch voice acting. For me, Remake’s best moments are later in the game, in Wall Market. What appeared in the original game as a quirky, peculiar story quest with the goal of disguising Cloud as a woman to infiltrate the mansion of Don Corneo has become a lavish spectacle of colorful characters, sidequests, and events, with some variations that differ depending on dialogue choices made and actions taken (or not taken) throughout the game to that point. It even manages to insert one of the original Final Fantasy VII’s more abstract, absurd enemy encounters, the Hell House, as a showpiece story boss that’s also a surprising challenge. And the payoff for this entire sequence of events is chef’s-kiss fantastic. The only disappointment I really feel is the knowledge that it will be years before Remake Part 2 is released. 1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons If there is one game above all others that will define 2020 for me, it is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Released by sheer coincidence at the same time as the pandemic began the worst of its initial spread and lockdowns came into effect around the world, New Horizons is an escape. The world outside may be a hellscape that defies the laws of space-time, but the world Tom Nook and Isabelle is a constant, welcoming presence. And it doesn’t hurt at all that New Horizons may be the best Animal Crossing in the series thus far. No, it doesn’t have all of the furniture that appeared in New Leaf, and the Nooklings’ shop only has one upgrade at present. But the game offers the freedom to design the island you want, from the placement of villager houses and pathways to the layout of rivers and mountains. While there’s a limited selection of initial island landscapes to choose from, no two islands will ever be alike in the end. As the pandemic raged and it made it difficult to see my friends in person, New Horizons was there to pick up the slack. We’ve celebrated holidays and fireworks, commiserated at the scourge of Zipper and those damned eggs, and even celebrated a birthday with an elaborate and stylish party! We’ve screwed around with beach balls, given the side-eye to Redd, planted flowers everywhere, and marveled at Sherb. SHERB! Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the game that I needed this year, and it arrived at just the right time. It’s provided me with new routines when all of my old ones were thrown into disarray. It’s given me a chance to see an island grow from nothing into a bustling village in a year when I’ve only been able to see my friends face to face a handful of times. And finally, FINALLY, I have played an Animal Crossing where I managed to collect ever single fossil there is. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, RNG. While I don’t play New Horizons as fervently or at length as I did earlier in the year, I still manage to clock in a little time every day. There will likely come a time when I put it aside, but until that day comes, the villagers of my island remain a part of my life, and continue to keep me sane in the waning days of this nonsense garbage year that we all can’t wait to leave behind. 2021 may be around the corner, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons is without a doubt my game of 2020.
  4. Jonathan Higgins

    Game of the Year 2020: Jonathan's Picks

    I usually struggle to write the opening paragraph or two that sums up the year in order to lead into what I liked best, but... there is no “neatly summing up” 2020. As I write this, I’ve voluntarily reduced the hours I work to just 5 per week—I’m very much immunocompromised, and my grocery store job is far from the safest place I can be right now. I’m not struggling to put food on my table, and by the grace of a higher power I can even afford to pay my therapist. But I’ve bought -- maybe -- three full priced retail games since April. And we’ll be several years into “the next generation” before I even think about being able to afford jumping in. Heck, it would be irresponsible to bring up some 2020 titles that do genuinely make me happy, like Streets of Rage 4 or Murder by Numbers... without also mentioning that how police are depicted in video games simply has to change. Black lives matter. This year has done me... irreparable harm, to be frank. But I’m grateful to still be here near the end of it—so I’m going to talk about new-to-me titles that resonated the most during a very difficult time, whether they came out this year or not. And I’m not going to do so while closing my eyes to the turmoil around us, either. Just days before the pandemic hit us all in full force, I was... at my best friend’s wedding, in Australia. I’m not really a Picross guy — numbers in excess kind of put me to sleep — but I was absolutely enthralled as we made our way through Murder by Numbers together during downtime. It’s a visual novel that definitely seeks to emulate the charm of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney series, and in my opinion it’s very successful. Instead of settling cases and advancing the plot in the courtroom, though, you play as a hovering robot named S.C.O.U.T. that pieces together evidence by means of Picross puzzles. If Picross intimidates you as much as it does me, there’s an Easy Mode that essentially solves the puzzles for you, to just advance the plot. The strength of any visual novel relies on how well-developed its characters are and how sharp the writing is. I was definitely entertained. I do highly recommend it — but not without the caveat that it sticks to the status quo regarding how it portrays police work. It also goes without saying that I played through Murder by Numbers with one of my favorite people in the world, just days before everything went south & I was doomed to relative isolation and terror. It’s part of my most cherished memories from this year, so... maybe my glasses are a little rose-colored. She sent me home with her copy of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which currently sits in my top five most played software on Nintendo Switch. While it’s far from perfect, it’s absolutely the most satisfied I’ve been with the series since the one-two punch of Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. It kind of reminds me of Fire Emblem: Awakening in the sense that it’s tailored to both newcomers and series veterans alike. There are plenty of ways to make the experience as challenging or undemanding as you wish. Whether you’re in it for the strategic mechanics and cleverly moving your units around the battlefield like chess pieces in order to evolve as a tactician...or you’re just here to wander around the Church of Seiros and cry about the cute cats you can’t pet, or figure out what tea Dorothea likes best...there’s something there for everyone. It was worth the more than 100 hours I put into just a single route of the three available, excluding DLC. The writing is poignant, particularly when you’re coming to terms with the fact that war and principles can and will turn former friends against each other, resulting in... ample murder. It’s not ashamed to make players feel the full weight of their violent choices, to say the least. And it doesn’t need an M rating or gratuitous blood splatters to do it, like that Final Fantasy XVI trailer. Streets of Rage 2 is up there with games like Link’s Awakening and Sonic 3 & Knuckles that I call “cyclical” — I play it once a year, at least. Streets of Rage 4 evolves one of my favorites of all time in a way that gives me serious Sonic Mania vibes. The folks at DotEmu and Guard Crush knew exactly what they were doing when they set out to “revive one of the greats.” Rather than have me tell you how painstakingly the art direction tries to stick close to the ones that came before it while bringing the 90s visual philosophy into the modern era, this short video shows you. The music of Olivier Deriviere is eclectic, like something closer to Streets of Rage 3 than any of the others, but there’s the option to switch to a “retro soundtrack” too. Far more important than presentation though in a genre like this, a beat ‘em up should be designed to have staying power. If it doesn’t feel right, the repetitive nature is going to cause most players to bounce quick. If you’re even mildly interested in the genre, I genuinely feel like you’ll keep coming back. Each new character you can play as feels unique — they all have strengths and weaknesses. Strong but very slow Floyd can handle himself much better than similar characters in the series: He just effortlessly picks up enemies when he walks up to them; he tosses multiple bodies around, clunking their heads together like we’re Looney Tunes. Since I’m a big fan of speed, I dreaded playing as him at first — but it didn’t take more than five minutes for him to grow into one of my favorites. As an added bonus, there are twelve old versions of characters you can play as too — like a pixel perfect version of Skate, plucked right out of Streets of Rage 2. He plays exactly like he does on the Genesis, emulating physics and special moves down to a tee. You won’t be bored if you give Streets of Rage 4 a spin. But I’ll rephrase what I said about Murder by Numbers — playing it while George Floyd was in the news and there continues to be global protests against police brutality... made me uncomfortable. It’s something I’ll have to come to terms with every time I pick it, or anything Streets of Rage, up. Before I get into what I consider to be my personal “Top 3”, I want to spend time talking about some honorable mentions. The Pokémon Shield Expansion Pass helped to breathe new life into an already great experience. Opinions will vary about the narrative, characters, and locales — but the reason it has staying power for me is due to this one character hanging out at the Battle Tower. His purpose is to take any Pokémon from any other “generation” going all the way back to the Game Boy Advance and make them able to participate in Ranked Battles. My fifteen year-old Pikachu can not only participate in official tournaments — but I can alter her stats with the use of Mints, change her innate ability to her Hidden one, give her exclusive moves without needing to hatch a brand new Pokémon from an egg... you understand. Thanks to the Expansion Pass and what was already available in the Galar region, no two of the same Pokémon will ever be inferior to each other if you’re willing to do the work. The folks at HAL Laboratory have also kept me very entertained this year. Both Kirby Fighters 2 and Part Time UFO were “shadow-drops”, meaning they just... showed up out of the blue, typically right around the time I wondered what they were up to. I’ve already praised Part Time UFO’s mobile origins during a previous list, but — the Switch port is pretty phenomenal. They’ve added a co-op mode, four brand new levels, a “Hard Mode” that alters every single level, “Feats of Glory” that are basically achievements to make you approach certain tasks in certain ways, and even two brand new mini-games separate from the levels themselves that can add multiple hours onto your experience. It’s kind of the new gold standard of HAL ports, so I felt it deserves special recognition. Last but not least — the big “Super Mario 35th” celebration has inspired me to play through every single “main” Mario title before March of next year. I’ve mashed everything in Super Mario All-Stars when they released it on the Nintendo Switch Online service, went back to the SNES and Super Mario Land era by way of my 3DS, gotten all 120 stars in everything on the Super Mario 3D All-Stars cart — the only ones I have left before Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury comes out are Super Mario Galaxy 2 and New Super Mario Bros. 2. While no traditional Mario title has really stood out this year, like Super Mario Odyssey in 2017 — Nintendo’s mascot has made for some good company during dark times. Without further ado: 3) Animal Crossing: New Horizons & Spiritfarer I’ve played Animal Crossing: New Horizons for “625 or more” hours since March, per my Switch Profile. Honestly though, I struggle to find its mechanical loop more satisfying than a game like Spiritfarer. Both of them are sort of “cozy town management sims”: you build a space into your own from nothing and run around completing tasks for cute characters (or yourself) like crafting items, altering clothes, or wishing on stars. Nothing’s timed; it’s all a super relaxed atmosphere. But Spiritfarer absolutely eclipses Animal Crossing in terms of how versatile the tasks themselves can be. In Animal Crossing, you just wish on stars if they happen to show up on your island, then maybe find star fragments washed on your beach the next day. In Spiritfarer, you catch their essence in-hand as they blast down from the night sky with brilliant color, like fireworks. The former has iron and gold — the latter has over 10 different kinds of metals that you more or less earn by exploring the world around you. The villagers in Animal Crossing all tend to say the same things over and over — but Spiritfarer’s characters all contribute unique vignettes to an overall plot... that comes to an end. That’s why Animal Crossing ultimately wins out over the two, to me. Spiritfarer has a very meaningful, very clear end-point. It impacted me emotionally in a way that few things have this year, because it forced me to confront mortality. That’s its message — imagine if you were saying goodbye to your cute New Horizons islander by sending them off to the afterlife because their spirit was finally at peace. It’s really all about letting go. Meanwhile — my adventures on the island of Dream Land have no defined end in sight. I keep coming back to it because it’s one of a few things I can have absolute control over, when reality is all but chaotic. It’s something I can open up every single day for some much needed structure, during a time when even reporting to work regularly is kind of up in the air. It’s also been a means to interact with and see cherished friends I otherwise can’t. It’s done a lot to help cope with the isolation that comes with not leaving my apartment for reasons other than work. During any other year, I feel like I’d only be talking about only one of them here. Thunder Lotus should be applauded for managing to pry me away from my island for a while. But both of them deserve this spot, for how they’ve impacted me in different ways. 2) Chibi-Robo! Plug into Adventure The news that Skip Ltd is essentially fading away inspired me to play through the entire Chibi-Robo! series, rather than just Zip-Lash where I started. While Park Patrol and Okaeri! Chibi-Robo! Happy Richie Ōsōji! (also known as Chibi-Robo! Clean Sweep) were super fun, especially relative to Zip-Lash — nothing quite holds a candle to the Nintendo GameCube original. It’s so difficult to describe why I found it so special — it’s like Chibi-Robo on GameCube has that “Nintendo magic.” I want you to picture the movie Toy Story, where the cast of characters are a bunch of quirky toys brought to life. But you have free reign to explore Andy’s whole house as you work to clean it, get to know the family that brought you home, make friends with the toys and learn their history with the family, and... in general, just try to make everyone around you happy. It genuinely saddens me knowing that one of my personal favorites from this year is on the verge of being lost to time. Whether you buy a ridiculously expensive copy second-hand or you find other means to play it — it’s got to be one of my favorite things Nintendo has ever published, full stop. Skip Ltd — who also created things I still play like Art Style: PICTOBITS — is likely no more, but Chibi-Robo will absolutely stick with me. Happiness endures. 1) Ikenfell Ikenfell should be helpful for anyone who feels alienated by Harry Potter as of late. This is a story that “follows its big gay heart,” whose creators unabashedly believe that trans rights are human rights, that inclusivity and sensitivity are hugely important & can evolve any artistic work to its best form. You play as Maritte, an ordinary girl who stumbles into magical powers on her journey to Ikenfell, a magic school, looking for her sister Safina. Her quest to find her sister has her path cross with the most inclusive cast I’ve seen in an RPG in at least the past decade. A handful of playable characters are nonbinary, much of the cast are people of color, and all of their struggles (ones independent of gender or sexuality) and personal stories are given equal weight in the script. Ikenfell is, perhaps, one of the best examples for how much a sensitivity reader or diversity consultant can strengthen your work as a whole. From start to finish, it absolutely oozes empathy. And I’m not just talking about the narrative or the presentation. Two of Ikenfell’s composers also scored Steven Universe, so I hesitate to just gloss over how great it all looks, sounds, and feels. But this is something that plays like Paper Mario: The Origami King, yet has options to specifically lessen the impact of timed commands in battle — or even skip battles entirely with an “Instant Victory” button. It includes the option to toggle content warnings in the script, which is an example all video games should follow. It’s not just about this being a game I thoroughly enjoyed, you know? Of everything I’ve played this year, Ikenfell feels the most like it should establish new paradigms both in the RPG genre and very much beyond it. Empathy must prevail.
  5. Jonathan Higgins

    Jonathan's Review/Editorial Images

    All the images from anything I review/write about in one place!
  6. barrel

    Review: Judgement

    Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4 Release Date: June 25, 2019 ESRB: M for Mature Sega has given an immense amount of love to the Yakuza series on the Playstation 4. From the stunning prequel that is Yakuza 0 to a fitting finale to the series' beloved lead that is Kiryu Kazama in Yakuza 6 players are left with no shortage of avenues to play the series from start to end. Heck, to further cement the PS4's Yakuza entry point status, Sega even most recently announced a collection of the formerly PS3 exclusive Yakuza titles 3-5 now making every mainline Yakuza entry accessible on the same system. But there a chance one wants to try something somewhat different. Maybe one is getting little weary of seeing Kiryu's mug in the main character slot for so long (how dare you), or perhaps newcomers that are Yakuza-curious are looking for an entry point without the commitment anxiety of a long-running series. Well, good news for either of you hypothetical individuals, because Sega has constructed a spin-off game seemingly with that perspective in mind though the PS4-exclusive title Judgment--A title that is more or less the textbook example of a Yakuza game in nearly way except name and direct narrative ties. Of course, Judgment certainly attempts to illustrate its own distinct take on crime -focused action game series in various forms. For one, the lead character mantle goes to a new face to the series by name of Yagami Takayuki (who looks identical to the incredibly popular Japanese actor who plays him), who was once an attorney but now plays the part of a detective. The reason for this drastic career shift is due to Yagami deeply regretting helping a convicted murderer free only for them to go and kill their girlfriend shortly afterwards. Which, for those that don't already know, Japan has a 99.9% acquittal rate for murder cases, so it is incredibly rare for the defense to win any court cases making it all the more tragic for the fallen from grace lead Yagami. Still, despite some broken spirits Yagami tries to make due with his noticeably worse paying gig of detective work. And this is where a good majority of the newer gameplay elements come into play, at least compared to the studio's long-running contemporary Yakuza. Like your typical Yakuza game, however, lead character Yagami has more than his share actiony street brawls. Yagami himself being more nimble than Kiryu like being able to jump off walls to attack and he himself being more inclined to kick foes in the faces of foes more often, which makes for a refreshing contrast to the fisticuff focused Kiryu. Even though... series fans may be more than a little weary of seeing the highly familiar streets of Kamurocho for the umpteenth time during these frequent combat confrontations. Where the standard gameplay flow takes a turn specifically for Judgment is how it chooses to handle various mini games. In mainline Yakuza entries elements like mini-games are generally buried among the sidelines to be played at one's pace, while Judgment conversely makes a lot of them much less optional and not necessarily for the better. Though interesting from a world-building perspective, mandatory mini-games such as tailing a suspicious individual, lock-picking various doors, chasing a fleeing individual, controlling a drone, or analyzing environments for clues are not all that enjoyable in actual practice. It is also more than tempting to use skill points that one would normally use to make Yagami's combat prowess more entertaining to instead make things like the most dreaded tailing missions less annoying when the pop up during the main story, which is a bad trade-off. In spite of the many annoyances that crop up from attempting to change up the standard gameplay, a lot of the studio's strengths still shine through in spite of it. For instance, even though the main story takes its sweet time for setup, perhaps too long when addressing the primary story thread about a certain elusive murderer that is referred to as "the mole", Judgment is actually one of the best crime-centered stories the developer has written (and perhaps the most grounded) and with next to no direct dies to mainline Yakuza titles makes it also quite possibly the most approachable story-wise too. Plus, as usual, the sharp localization punctuates this even more from serious story scenes to hilarious sidequests. Curiously enough, this title is also the first one by the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio to feature both English and Japanese voice acting. Though a solid English dub is surprising enough for a Japanese game, which Judgment thankfully has, the most intriguing aspect about it is that the script is actually slightly different based on the voice acting language one chooses, with the Japanese one being more inclined to maintain certain Japan-specific idiosyncrasies while the English one favoring a more natural conversational flow. And to be frank, I have not seen this approach to localization in a game since Sakura Wars: So Long my Love on PS2, so it an appreciated addition regardless. To add one more praise to the audio, the soundtrack is also quite well done with certain catchy battle themes being the primary treat among the compositions. Yet, the strongest component of Judgment, aside from the pretty visuals lifted from "Dragon Engine" introduced in Yakuza 6, is actually within its seemingly innocuous sidequests. While one can certainly spend plenty of time playing classic Sega arcade games, like Virtua Fighter 5 or Puyo Puyo, as well as light gun-ish game that slightly pokes fun at Yakuza: Dead Souls, the real star is actually the many character focused sidequests. From taking up optional detective cases, helping random strangers on the street, to even pursuing certain oddly in-depth dating options there is a surprising sense of community that develops as Yagami helps countless people out with their troubles and it is quite rewarding from both a storytelling and eventually a gameplay standpoint as well. Judgment tip-toes the line from being a very welcome spin-off alternative to mainline Yakuza games to also one that has several glaring annoyances that make it stop just shy of unbridled greatness on its own merits. As refreshing as the shift in lead protagonists, various combat and quality of life gameplay changes, and eventually its focus on setting/storytelling, it is often at odds with the many poorly implemented mandatory mini games that discordantly get in the way of its strong storytelling in particular. Yet, in spite of all of its shortcoming, Judgment can more than testify it being worth playing in the long haul by either long-standing Yakuza fans or would-be curious individuals in general due to its remarkable character and storytelling moments. Pros + One of the strongest main narratives from the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio + Often great character-focused sidequests + Sharp localization that finally features a well-done English dub as well + Welcome changes to combat and traversing around the city (when compared to Yakuza titles) Cons - Search and tailing missions in particular break up pacing in an awkward, tedious way - Yakuza series fans might be more than a little tired of the familiar city Kamurocho by now... - Narrative takes its sweet time addressing the primary story threads Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Judgment is a solid attempt at freshening up the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio's very familiar gameplay formula. Though it does not always succeed from a gameplay front with the questionable quality of certain mandatory mini games, it does manage to succeed in spite of it with many great character and story moments interlaced throughout its main tale Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  7. Moon: A Remix RPG Adventure has very few contemporaries. You’ll hear people describe some of its mechanics as being similar to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask or Chibi-Robo! Plug Into Adventure, but it predates them both. After some brief exposition that mostly serves as a parody of the genre, it’s an RPG where there’s no combat to be found. Its opening hours managed to successfully transport me back to the late ‘90s—and all the feelings that came with. I'll share just some of those feelings now: When I was about eleven years old, in 1998, I played Yoshi’s Story for the Nintendo 64. It’s one of the most innocuous narratives Nintendo’s ever penned: some newborn Yoshis set out to rescue the Super Happy Tree from Baby Bowser by... eating lots of fruit and having fun. The page turns, the Yoshis grow happier. Happiness was... 'the point.' I was enamored. I totally put together a picture book that told the story of the game after I beat it—like I said, enamored. As I played it over and over again, I eventually wanted to learn its secrets. And that’s how I came across the two “hidden Yoshis” you have to save—a black one and a white one. Saving the white Yoshi egg from its bubbly prison and carrying it to safety proved difficult for Little Me. And that’s how an eleven year-old boy wound up crying to his father in frustration. “Because I’m not good enough, that cute Yoshi’s gonna be trapped and sad forever.” Fortunately, my dad was empathetic and just encouraged me to keep trying, instead of scolding me for crying. But... that’s how it’s always been, with me. Video games played a part in teaching me empathy from a young age. Whenever I play Super Mario World, I always take Yoshi with me—he deserves to help rescue his friends. If I reach a point in the level where Mario has to go it alone, I still quietly say, “Bye Yoshi,” to whatever screen I’m staring at. It’s the same with Kirby whenever he greets me, interacting with my innumerable Pokémon, or any video game friend I come across: I primarily engage with video games because it’s a way to make these fictional characters and worlds happier than they were before. In case it wasn’t obvious by now, I’m a pacifist. Violence is only ever a last resort for me, and seeing even cartoonish “blood & guts” tends to weird me out, let alone how... um, over the top Mortal Kombat’s gotten as of late. I’m always thinking critically about the kinds of games I engage with. Characters like Mario make me happy, because the enemies you best aren’t really killed. Turn the same corner, and they’re back where they were, like you were never there. The robots Sonic destroys have cute animals inside—he’s just out to free his friends. Monsters in Dragon Quest V offer to join your party specifically after you defeat them... so you’re probably not murdering everything that crosses your path, so much as “making them faint” like Pokémon. This is the part where I mention Undertale, an RPG where you don’t have to kill anyone. It was the first RPG I’ve ever played where I felt comfortable enough to be myself—basically running from everyone with my tail between my legs. It’s pretty much my go-to example these days when I’m referencing games that can be empathetic. In the context of that world, the monsters you fight—or don’t fight—have hearts. You’re absolutely encouraged not to kill them, and you’re pretty severely challenged (and punished) if you do. So when the creator of Undertale brought up Moon as a game that inspired it, the quirky PS1 “anti-RPG” from the late nineties certainly had my attention. It was ported to Nintendo Switch and localized in regions outside Japan this year for the first time ever, two decades after its initial release. In Moon, you play as a little boy who gets sucked into the world of the RPG he was playing by way of his TV. The boy quickly learns the hero he played as is actually a freaking jerk—just a nuisance in general, plus he runs around killing monsters that were just minding their own business and doing no harm. It definitely has all the trappings of a pacifist game. Instead of killing enemies to gain experience points like the hero, the little boy saves the souls of dearly departed monsters by just catching them, gaining Love instead. He never hurts anyone. The player is acting against the typical RPG hero; the goal is just to hang around various locales in the world, getting to know and helping everyone you see. You gain Love that’s quantified in the game, and hopefully the kind of love that goes beyond it. “Bye, Yoshi.” In order to get to the heart of why I’ve sat down to write all this out, I have to spoil the endings of both Moon and Undertale. Stop reading if you’d rather not know what happens, then come back when you do. Here’s a scene from the former's ending. The little boy has helped build a rocket, and he actually blasts off to the moon. He needs to eventually be the one to open “The Door to the Light”, and thwart that murdering jerk of a hero once and for all with the power of his Love. When you arrive, the fifty souls of monster friends you’ve saved are waiting for you. It’s a scene that’s extremely similar to what Undertale’s title screen becomes if you don’t hurt anything—there are lots of happy friends. Moon absolutely sets you up like you’re about to see a happy ending. The quantifiable Love you earned should work hand in hand with your love for all your new fictional friends & the world. The quirky characters kept me going, despite rather dated frustrations. But then... once the little boy learns he can’t open the door at all, and the hero has snuck on board his rocket... my gosh, do things take a turn. Scenes of the “hero” slicing through the souls of every single monster I saved were genuinely tough to watch. The camera forces you to see the hero’s point of view for almost the first time in the entire story, going out of its way to show him erasing all those friendly monsters from existence. All the while, three guiding characters that have been around for my entire adventure were constantly saying, “Because you failed to open the door, because your Love wasn’t strong enough, we meet a tragic end.” They said, “goodbye, jon,” before the “hero” sliced them to literal bits in front of me—bits of data. Oh, that’s the chilliest part of all. See: in Undertale, if you do kill a monster, you see its pixelated heart break in two. It’s meant to have a soul—to feel real. Moon, by contrast, depicts dead monsters as what they are to folks who don’t feel like I do—just data. Cold, empty, meaningless husks of data. If you think of the hundreds of data chips piled on the ground between “JON” the hero and “jon” the boy as corpses, this ending screen of Moon is downright terrifying. “Please, jon. Maybe there’s another reality out there where you do open the door.” Your wizard friend’s parting words still ring in your ears as...the little boy’s mother manages to pull him out of the TV’s trance and tells him to go to bed. Faced with this screen & fresh memories of friendly characters getting unceremoniously murdered specifically because you failed everyone... you’re given a choice. If you select YES when prompted to continue, the boy gets sucked back into the world inside the TV and “END” appears on the bottom right of your screen. All you’re left with is an empty bedroom. Wanting to go back and correct your failures as a player—wanting to save your monster friends this time is... the wrong choice to make, in Moon. As you move the cursor to select NO, the camera pans to highlight the boy’s door. If you do select it, the boy puts down his controller and opens the door to his room, leaving the game behind. The ending shows all kinds of doors opening up after he does this… including the “Door to the Light” you failed to open in the game moments before. You watch the surviving human NPCs go through it, as if that’s supposed to make everything better. Does the ending expect me to forget that I’ve left these other characters for dead? I feel like Moon doesn’t believe that Love can or should be quantified in video games. I’m not really sure it believes video games should be empathetic at all. It would rather you learn to love the real world instead—because the monsters and people you met as you played through everything are just bits of data, after all. There’s no way to save them from meeting their tragic end... except to stop playing, and choose “NO” even when you know you’ve failed. Most of the deep connections that people feel to fiction are beneficial. Make-believe characters are so much more powerful than just actors on TV, or bits of data callously murdered on screen. I watched Moon’s ending on YouTube after I rolled credits on my Switch, because I was convinced I really had done something wrong and failed. People in the comments sung its praises as an example of games as art. But I feel like the whole thing’s very cynical—like the developers see video games as a product & their characters as just... marketing tools. It seems like they’re criticizing the medium by saying that Love will never work as a variable that can be measured, like “experience points” or a high score. But Undertale begs to differ. God, my experiences as a player beg to differ. I’m very much aware that Pokémon aren’t real. But my connections to them are. I’ve got a Pikachu hanging out in Pokémon Shield that’s been my friend for fifteen years, “traveling across time and space” to be with me since we met in Pokémon LeafGreen. How I feel about that li’l Pikachu is absolutely quantified, game after game. I’ve genuinely never felt more disappointed with a video game than I have when I finished Moon. In how the story chooses to end, it undoes every bit of empathy I gained from learning about its world. I just wanted to sit down and communicate why a game whose playable character literally gains Love... instead may make you hurt by the end.
  8. Have you ever stopped at a traffic light and wondered if someone somewhere was responsible for controlling the flow of traffic by changing the color of the lights? Well, the bad news is they're generally automated in real life, but don't let that stop you from dreaming about it because, in Baltoro Games' upcoming puzzle/arcade/simulator, Urban Flow, that's exactly what you get to do. In over 100 levels, you'll be in charge of traffic lights to help control the flow of traffic and avoid accidents between low-poly cars as they go about their business. To help make things a bit more difficult, you'll also need to help assist special vehicles such as ambulances, trains, and even... tanks?? Outside of the lengthy campaign you can tackle the score-based Endless Mode or even take it easy by playing Chill mode, letting you play at your own speed. Want to play with friends? You can, with drop-in, drop-out local co-op, letting up to four players experience the madness/fun. Oh, and it also features support for touch controls and pro controllers in addition to joy-cons. Urban Flow is set to rush onto Nintendo Switch digitally on June 26 for $14.99.
  9. It's been nearly three and a half years since her last game but Shantae is ready for her big comeback with the serie's fifth entry, Shantae and the Seven Sirens, next week. Initially announced as an Apple Arcade title, Shantae and the Seven Sirens sees the return of fan-favorite characters such as Risky Boots, Rottytops, Sky, and Bolo in addition to a new cast which includes new half-genies and the titular seven sirens. And for the first time, you'll get to experience an interconnected world both above the sea and below. Also, new creature forms can be achieved using Fusion magic, in addition to other new mechanics such as Monster Cards, which you can use to power up the titular half-genie hero. Shantae and the Seven Sirens arrives on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on May 28 for $29.99. Check out the trailer below!
  10. If you've been hankering for a Paper Mario experience (even before the announcement of the upcoming Paper Mario: The Origami King last week), then you'll want to keep tabs on Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling, which makes its way to consoles next week. Developed by MoonSprout Games and published by Dangen Entertainment, Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling features the same paper-esque visuals and mechanics, except with a cast and world of bugs. You'll follow heroes Vi, Kabbu, and Leif as they search for treasure across Bugaria, including the titular Everlasting Sapling, which, according to legend, grants immortality. You'll participate in turn-based combat against various foes and solve puzzles in different environments (such as The Ant Kingdom, Snakemouth Den, the Bee Kingdom, and more) across seven chapters. Discover the treasures hidden in Bugaria when Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling lands on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on May 28. Check out the game's trailer below!
  11. LucasVoisy

    Watchu Buyin': February 2017 Edition

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  12. Our Drug Prices are 70% less than your local pharmacy Our online pharmacy is the leader in delivering medications throughout the world. Our goal is to provide medications at discount rates to everyone who is affected by expensive local prices. Our company is a professionally managed distributor of generic drugs. We provide high-quality service supplying drugs all over the world. link ---> http://tiny.cc/drugstore
  13. Things have been relatively quiet on the Nintendo front as far as their upcoming games slate has been concerned, with only games like the recently released smash hit, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition being the only known new games for 2020 for a while. However, that all changed on Thursday when Nintendo dropped the news out of nowhere that Paper Mario: The Origami King would be releasing in a few months. As the title teases, the plot in The Origami King revolves around a plot by an invading force to turn Paper Mario's world and its characters into origami. The accompanying trailer gives off a bit of a horror vibe initially, with a Peach that's presumably been the first to be turned to origami, and the rest of the main cast escaping just as Peach's castle is overtaken by the newest antagonist, King Olly. Luckily, Mario will be assisted by a new cast of characters, including King Olly's good-natured sister, Olivia. One new ability that's also showcased in the trailer is called '1000-Fold arms', which gives Mario super long arms that allow him to peel, pull, and stretch out the environment in different ways to reveal hidden items and locations as well as solve different puzzles. The game also features a new, ring-based battle system where lining up scattered enemies can help you maximize damage. Paper Mario: The Origami King is slated for release on July 17 on Nintendo Switch.
  14. Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Platform: Switch Release Date: May 15, 2020 ESRB: T for Teen The virtual vocaloid popstar Hatsune Miku continues unchallenged in her overwhelming popularity even a decade past her original inception. Be it live or digital concerts, absurd cross-promotions, or extending her influence into other mediums (such as surprisingly solid rhythm game releases) means there is no shortage of ways to stumble upon her enigmatic green-haired existence. Her newest debut in the video game space, however, comes in the form Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix for the Nintendo Switch. Serving as a first appearance not only for the Project Diva series on non-Sony hardware, it also makes for the first Hatsune Miku game on the Nintendo Switch outright. Thus, it begs the immediate question of whether or not Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix makes for a proper star studded debut on new gaming hardware as well as meet the expectations for existing Project Diva fans. Much of this newest Switch title bears a striking resemblance to the localized 2017 release of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone. Future Tone was not only noteworthy for being a well-crafted PS4 port of a former Japanese arcade game release, but also because it was dang near close to the definitive Project Diva game in terms of the massive amount of playable tracks that went well over two-hundred total songs. The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate of Hatsune Miku games, if you will. Now, before getting one's hopes up on the prospect of having over two hundred playable songs in a portable fashion, Mega Mix is unfortunately not quite exactly that same release on Switch, for better or for worse. "...there are several new features exclusive to the release of Mega Mix that are pleasant surprises." Before airing out grievances on what it lacks compared to its PS4 incarnation, there are several new features exclusive to the release of Mega Mix that are pleasant surprises. Some are straightforward enough, such as great new musical additions like 'Ooedo Julia-Night', which plays with Genroku-era inspired 2D animation yet injects it with a strong hip-hop flair to the track '39 Music' that more so showcases the 3D side of the hyperactive presentation (and also for some reason has Miku dab multiple times). To further expound on visual flourishes, there are of course many costumes/accessories for all the characters as well, and to go one step further for the Switch release, it allows creative types to outright make custom T-shirts in a way that is very similar to the Able Sisters in Animal Crossing. More understated additions, yet equally welcome, to Mega Mix are actually buried in the various controller and display options, however. One specific example is a pretty significant quality of life feature for former Sony players that allows them to straight up replace the Switch's displayed melody inputs to a potentially far more familiar layout of the Sony controller symbols instead (for people like me who has been playing these games for years on Sony systems). Beyond that, there are a surprising amount of different controller options in general such as docked, handheld mode, arcade controller, Pro controller, to even the joy-con motion controls that sports its own unique "Mix Mode" spin on songs too. Although, I will be honest and say that I could not get the joy-con motion controls to work anywhere close to consistently on my end. So, uh, mileage is likely to vary wildly with that last one. Yet, despite its generally nice new features, Mega Mix makes quite a few questionable compromises. The biggest elephant in the room is no doubt that there are nearly one hundred songs less total than the PS4 release of Future Tone. And while it still having roughly a hundred songs total is still no doubt a lot for a rhythm game, it is because Mega Mix is generally a port overall that it is difficult to not feel short changed to some degree when Future Tone set the bar so high already. Plus, to add some insult to injury, the returning songs that exist in Mega Mix are significantly less consistent in not only visual fidelity but frame rate as well. Though it is not surprising by any means that the visuals made some sacrifices compared to the PS4 release, what I found far more jarring is the significant video compression that makes several songs somehow look just plain worse than their Project Diva iterations on the Playstation Vita. "...significant video compression makes several songs somehow look just plain worse than their Project Diva iterations on the Playstation Vita." Of course, it is hard to hold too much of a grudge as the rhythm gameplay is still as enjoyable as ever. It proudly features an often eye-catching aesthetic that meshes well the satisfying timing of button presses. The main criticisms that one could level against its raw gameplay are pretty much the same ones as Future Tone; the primary offender being that the "Challenge Mode" portions at the end of songs can come off as rather clumsy at times. While thankfully one can not fail the song when reaching challenge mode parts, there is a certain degree of gameplay discordance to the rest of the song when it randomly decides to pretzel the player's hand all at once when the rest of the song gave no indication to that sort of playstyle and makes it feel a little less polished rhythmically compared to prior Project Diva F titles. Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix is somewhat an odd duck for the series. Those expecting it to one hundred percent replace the PS4 release of Future Tone due to pure portable factor may want to think twice before essentially double dipping due to the significant scale back on total songs. Still, for those without that prior frame of reference, it is hard to imagine that they will find nearly as much fault to its still impressive amount of total songs and delightful gameplay. This makes Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix somewhat difficult recommend to seasoned series dance partners, and at the same time a wholehearted one for curious Switch onlookers looking to just have a good time and play what is easily amongst the best rhythm games in its library. Pros + Huge song selection with several of the new ones in particular being much welcome additions + Multitude of cosmetic options for characters including the ability to draw custom t-shirts for more creative types + Rhythm gameplay is as entertaining as ever alongside the vibrant presentation + Surprisingly flexible controller and rhythm display options Cons - While still featuring an absurd amount of songs, Mega Mix cuts nearly half of the total songs that the PS4's Future Tone featured, which is rather disappointing - Aside from the few new songs, which look great, many older/returning tracks have rather noticeable video compression - Certain challenge mode held button inputs seemingly want you to pretzel your fingers even on the normal difficulty - Mileage will likely vary wildly for practical usage of joycon motion controls in "Mix Mode" Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good While Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Mega Mix makes for somewhat of a complicated recommendation for those that played Future Tone on PS4 and are expecting it to be comparable, it is difficult to imagine that curious Switch onlookers who just want to enjoy a fun rhythm game will leave Mega Mix anywhere close to disappointed. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Switch code provided by the publisher.
  15. Developer: Gust Corporation Publisher: Koei-Tecmo Platform: PS4, Switch, and PC Release Date: May 21, 2019 ESRB: T for Teen It has become increasingly more difficult to know what exactly to expect from each new Atelier game. Sure, the easiest guess would be to expect some role-playing game with a heavy emphasis on item crafting at developer Gust's crazy pace of at least one mainline Atelier entry per year. However, be it due significant changes in gameplay systems, or even setting at times, adds plenty of room for confusion on a per game basis for what is generally supposed to be a lighthearted and crafting-centric series that never even brings up the typical RPG notion of saving the world. To further prove this very point, after nearly a decade of different Atelier trilogies (often categorized as either "Arland", "Dusk", or "Mysterious" by fans), Gust has decided to revisit what was formerly the most beloved 3D trilogy, Arland, by officially making a new fourth main entry by name of Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland. Does Atelier Lulua provide just the right combination of ingredients to satiate former fans with a worthwhile follow-up or does Atelier Lulua leave them wondering why they even bothered in the first place? What the title does do fairly quickly, however, is make a good first impression of its new lead heroine Lulua. Lulua herself is enthusiastic, very willing to help others, and just generally radiates positivity even as she stumbles plenty of times at her newfound alchemy craft. This is added weight not simply because the game takes its time re-introducing familiar Arland faces that fans already know they like, but also because the heroines of the previous game, Lydie & Suelle, were dang near insufferable in how obnoxious they were moment to moment. So, Lulua herself winds up being a breath of fresh air for more reasons than one on sheer charisma. While Lulua manages to avoid many of the poor mannerisms of the previous game in terms of character, the same level of charisma does not unfortunately carry over into the actual gameplay. For some reason, Atelier Lulua borrows a surprising amount of gameplay systems from the previous "Mysterious" trilogy. Which, despite the "Mysterious" trilogy improving the core crafting system in several ways, many Atelier fans, including myself, would more than argue is not the high point of the series due to many odd steps when it comes to actual gameplay progression, combat, or characters. Familiar grievances from the previous "Mysterious" trilogy come into play more or less as soon as they introduce "Alchemyriddle" system, or rather a magical journal that attempts to guide Lulua to various alchemy based solutions when needed. Except, just like the previous game's flawed "Ambition's Journal", all of the vital info for both story and alchemy progress is vague, hence, the riddle part of "Alchemyriddle". What this means is that the player can easily flounder around and being unable to progress because one of the alchemyriddle tasks may be as obtuse as to tell you make a specific item, but not the specific trait needed or quality level to mark it as complete. Or perhaps, even worse, alchemyriddle will tell you to gather an ingredient but not tell you where it is or that it's actually a rare drop. To say the alchemyriddle progression structure can be quite annoying at times, especially with some of the optional tasks (but not really), is putting it lightly. The fundamental issues with the disjointed alchemyriddle progression would be less glaring if Atelier Lulua excelled in different areas such as the combat, alchemy, nostalgic callbacks to the previous games, or dare I say it, even presentation to compensate for it. Alas, Atelier Lulua's never really latches onto any one specialty to be better than the sum or its parts. For instance, the turn-based combat system borrows bits and pieces from recent games, like item based follow-up attacks, and in doing so may very well have made the one with the least amount of change I've seen in a decade or so of playing the series. An eerily similar approach is applied to the crafting system where, while totally functional, lacks any addictive or unique hook to stand out from any of the previous games and can very much feel like one is going through the same motions just with a different heroine behind it. And because the gameplay is, pun intended, riddled with so many flaws, Atelier Lulua's last resort is more or less to coast on the charm of its characters and Arland setting. As stated before, however, Lulua is a genuinely likable to the point where she is a surprisingly natural fit even as iconic Arland characters like Rorona and Totori are on-screen at the same time. Where these often endearing interactions between her and the cast start to lose a lot of their luster is when the laughable contrived main story starts to go into effect which is roughly halfway through. Basically, without stating it directly, the game focuses heavily on one specific side character that ironically does not earn the narrative weight that is put forth upon them. To make the primary storytelling all the more silly (despite how straight-faced it presents it), the title straight hand waves things like time travel to abruptly resolve the conflict it introduces. Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland frequently feels like a title of mistaken identity. Sure, it has some likable character interactions and returns to the series fan-favorite setting of Arland once more, but nearly all other aspects of it as a game ring hollow. Whether it be borrowing questionable gameplay elements from recent Atelier games (rather than previous Arland ones), such as the frequent progression stopgap that is "alchemyriddle", to a discordant shift in storytelling halfway through that could not be more contrived, it may leave even the most seasoned Atelier fan scratching their head at times wondering who the game intends to please, because it certainly was not me. Pros + Very likable main heroine that generally radiates positivity + Makes a lot of nods towards previous Arland games from familiar aged up characters to neat musical remixes + Lack of any actual time limit (especially when compared to previous Arland titles) can make the gameplay fairly stress free overall Cons - "AlchemyRiddle" heavily restricts the game's pacing from story progress to alchemy recipe options which is quite annoying - Bland, lifeless environments - Main story gets laughably contrived right at the end - Some glaring playable character omissions (two or which are behind very expensive season passes) Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10) Average Atelier Lulua: The Scion of Arland revisits the old fan-favorite Arland setting with likable characters both old and new, but without the solid gameplay structure backbone to hold it up it can easily leave seasoned fans wondering why they even bothered in the first place Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  16. Have you ever wanted to experience the thrill of moving without actually having to do it in real life? Now you can with Team17's and SMG Studio's upcoming, zany, co-op focused game, Moving Out, which is set to release on April 28. Moving Out recalls the same fast and frantic vibes from games such as Overcooked, except, instead of cooking, you'll coordinate with one or more players as Furniture Arrangement & Relocation Technicians (or F.A.R.T.s for short) to help relocate different furnishings from different (and sometimes bizarre) locations. Simply find and determine the quickest route to get something like, say, a fridge to the bottom of a five-story building without breaking it. You can even smash through things like glass or throw things over railings if you can coordinate the receiving end well enough. And if that all sounds too difficult, developers SMG Studio and DevM Games have included a host of assist mode options that let you determine the difficulty or even let you skip levels altogether. Also, you'll have a slew of accessibility options, such as Dyslexia-friendly text, scalable user interface, remappable controls, and much more. Moving Out will be available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. As of this article's publication, a price has not been made public yet. Source: Press Release
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