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Jonathan Higgins

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Jonathan Higgins last won the day on March 28 2017

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About Jonathan Higgins

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    GP Managing Editor
  • Birthday 12/09/1987

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    2062-9148-9873
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    Tallahassee, FL
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    Living, loving, writing and gaming.

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  1. Game of the Year 2017: Jonathan's Picks

    “2017 in video games” is probably the most I’ve felt like a kid in a candy store since I'd actually been one. There’s so much greatness, I didn’t even get to everything I wanted to. Games like Giga Wrecker, Pyre, and Hollow Knight are on my to-do list rather than my Top 10 list. But, c'est la vie! The sheer volume of games I could’ve included absolutely makes up for last year when I stopped at 9. Before I get things rolling, here are my usual precautions and caveats: You won’t find Breath of the Wild on this list. While I’m happy I took a chance on it and saw it through, it absolutely brought me more anxiety than joy. Still, it’s what’s chiefly responsible for me finally beating Majora’s Mask for the first time ever — so, in many ways, I’m grateful. I think this whole “Jonathan feels drained by large-scale games with complex systems” sentiment is what caused me to... not finish every main ending of Nier Automata in time to submit this list, for example. I hereby give every fan of that game permission to publicly shame me, ‘cause I should probably be among you. Related: I didn’t even bother picking up Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and it’s taking me longer than I’d like to mash through Dragon Quest Heroes II — another game that might’ve made this list in some form. Finally: I’m not omitting Pokémon Ultra Sun from my list because of some “rule” like previous years. I enjoyed it — it’s definitely what Sun & Moon should’ve been in the first place, it has its endearing moments, the post-game is phenomenal — but there are a good number of games released this year that are better than it. Is that controversial, coming from me? Without further ado... 10) Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap My first favorite game of 2017... is a remaster of a game from 1989. While some of you may fight me on this, I feel like Lizardcube set a new standard for the “retro remake” fare. Every piece and part of the original release...including cheat codes that are almost thirty years old...is present and accounted for. You can switch between past and present audio and visuals with the press of a button, or adjust individual aspects of these as you see fit in the pause menu. Want a full-blown orchestra behind graphics built for the Master System? That’s your prerogative, friend. The thing that gets me about the “new” Dragon’s Trap is that nothing about the original game was really tampered with. They’ve added a playable lady character and extra flair here and there, but it’s so faithful to the original that mashing that “retro button” would give you the full 1989 experience if you wanted it. Not sure how many remasters out there feel bold enough to have so much faith in the original text that they’d fully include it within modern wrappings. While Lizardcube’s endeavors may not be the first of their kind...they’re definitely a first for a smaller crew, without Scrooge McDuck’s money bin or Square-Enix’s notoriety. See also: - Blaster Master Zero: This is another take on “remaster done right”. It modernizes NES gem Blaster Master in every conceivable way: there are many more types of weapons, less restrictive controls, save points galore, an expanded story, and... gosh, the DLC is great. It's got Shovel Knight, y'all. 9) Slime-san Four colors are all developer Fabraz chose to work with. I think the aesthetic choice might turn a handful of folks away, but...there’s definitely more to this arcade-style platformer than meets the eye. You won’t get any Game Overs, but you’ll die & retry ten-thousand times. There’s never any “death screen” or fade-out to distract from the action. If you mess up, the game just plops you at the last “checkpoint” and the action keeps going. The game’s 100 levels are typically divided into about three very quick-paced sections. Bounce your way to the goal before your timer runs out and...intestinal fluids from the giant worm you’re inside catch up to you. Use your...slime powers...to slow down time and make precise jumps, or slurp up a few carefully placed walls. You’ve definitely seen “trial-and-error” style platforming like this before, but… Slime-san’s world and layers of customization are what set it apart from contemporaries. Entire towns filled with...celebrity bird parodies like 'Macawly Culkin', off-shoot arcade games that you use well-hidden coins to purchase, and more...are all trapped inside the worm with you. You can put a bow on your slime or their bird companion if you like, or handfuls of other innocuous costumes. You can even play as one of Slime-san’s family members that alter mechanics in various ways. One lets you jump a lot higher for more air coverage, but you can’t dash as far. Another lets you dash twice, but you can’t jump. There are numerous options available, and the game doesn’t punish you for choosing to play in a particular way. If you give this one a chance, it’s one endearing, weird adventure. See also: - Kirby Blowout Blast: It’s a modernized Kirby’s Dream Land, but arcadey in a different way. There are no Copy Abilities... just handfuls of levels [directly lifted from 1992] built for Kirby to inhale enemies and spit them out in ways that hit multiple other enemies in front of him to stack combos and get the highest scores possible. 8) Yono & the Celestial Elephants I’ve called this one “Elephant Zelda” since I first saw it. Instead of a sword and shield, Yono is armed with just his trunk... and whatever quirky objects he can pick up, drink up, or spit out on his foes. Mechanically, this Switch exclusive is cut from the simplest cloth. Puzzles are tried and true, if not a bit repetitive, and no singular aspect is built for anyone above entry-level to video games as a medium. In terms of its engine and execution, Yono’s journey is short, sweet and relaxed. Despite my five-hour-long run-time, though... there’s plenty of extra stuff to do and find. You can change up Yono’s looks, or dig into the lore of a complex world hidden underneath such a simple game. Niklas Hallin’s writing should not be underestimated. Some of the lines NPCs just casually drop, because Yono comes from a line of creatures celebrated as deities, will definitely make you think. If the cute aesthetics and sense of whimsy don’t reel you in, the depth of the game’s characters and plot absolutely should. For not knowing this game even existed until close to the end of this year, Yono’s journey sure did everything it possibly could to stay fresh in my mind. Plus... I mean, who doesn’t like carrying around a cute hedgehog on your back through an entire dungeon, just because you can? See also: - Blossom Tales: Coming to the Nintendo Switch before this year is over, this Zelda-like from the creators of Rex Rocket is the closest thing you’ll get to A Link to the Past on the newest Nintendo system. While the script isn’t as strong as Yono, the ambiance definitely is — and it’s much closer to traditional Zelda fare. 7) Finding Paradise Both To the Moon and its newly released sequel are story-driven experiences that focus on two doctors... traveling through a dying man's memories, with intent to artificially fulfill his last wish. The former... absolutely wrecked me, like the first ten minutes of Disney Pixar’s Up, or the very end of WALL-E. Soon as I found out Finding Paradise was coming out just days before I was meant to submit my list, I insisted on delaying until I’d played through to the credits. I’m very glad I did. As far as its premise, make no mistake: this is absolutely “To the Moon 2”. But the execution this time around is very different. Tip-toeing around such tiny scripts [this one lasted me no more than five hours] without spoiling is difficult, so pardon my vagueness. To the Moon resonated with me because it made me think critically about the important ways my most cherished loved ones influenced my life, particularly when navigating trauma. Finding Paradise resonates with me because I’m still thinking critically about myself, how I shape my own memories, and the profound ways an active imagination and isolation can play tricks on the mind. You’re still playing as the same two doctors from the first game — but the folks who’ve enlisted them, Johnny and Colin, are two completely different types of people. The strength of both scripts will appeal to different players in many completely different ways. See also: - Rakuen: Bring your tissues, if you’re down for an emotional journey that blends the harsh reality of being a hospital-bound young boy with a world of fantasy, like from a story you might read your own kids. Rakuen was created entirely in RPG Maker, like Finding Paradise. There isn’t any combat to speak of — the primary focus here is on exploration, solving puzzles, and storytelling. The plot expands upon real-world problems of the people around the boy and his mom, through vignettes told in a fantasy world the two can freely travel to and from. Everything is colorful, charming, and... eventually impactful, even heart-breaking. Rakuen is absolutely the most emotional experience I’ve had this year in games. 6) Persona 5 In terms of style, Persona 5 is without peer. You’re not going to find a user-interface quite like it. Menus, scripts, battle animations — everything is wonderfully woven to create the ultimate campy comic book aesthetic that resonated with millions and made this particular Persona title the most successful yet. While I wasn’t so much a fan of being a “Phantom Thief”— the 80 hours I spent absorbing the world was a wholly worthwhile endeavor. And hey — ATLUS continues to be “God-tier” about delivering the best kinds of difficulty options. Safety Mode made the entire game feel the closest to a simple visual novel as it’s ever been, rewarding heaps upon heaps of extra experience points and money, removing all sense of “difficulty” from my journey. But, I had a lot of problems with the game’s writing, particularly regarding both pacing and plot. I’d have put this game a bit higher on the list, for how much I enjoyed the characters, soundtrack, and other things it’s done incredibly well. Constantly flashing back from the point that happens at the game’s opening got tired very quickly. The script didn’t respect players’ intelligence as much as the previous game — whose true ending and villains were hidden underneath a mystery that was up to the player to solve, rather than automatically executed (or painfully obvious). I just think the writing — which is what made me fall in love with Persona 4 Golden when I finally gave it proper time and attention — wasn’t nearly as strong as it could’ve been. If you’re willing to overlook things I’m hesitant to, however, Persona 5 comes highly recommended from me. 5) Chicken Wiggle Official GP Review Of all the games Jools Watsham has his name on, this one’s the most criminally underrated. I feel like the folks at Atooi put everything they’d learned from Mutant Mudds, Xeodrifter, and every other gem in their library into creating what is single-handedly their most refined work. I’ve said it time and time again: Mutant Mudds is one of my favorite games ever. While the mechanics felt a little samey to some, I never had a dull moment. Chicken Wiggle could’ve easily chosen to follow that same philosophy across its 54 story levels, but...instead, it’s chocked full of as many power-ups and level-bending options as anything in Super Mario’s early outings. I’d say a strong argument could be made for every two levels introducing a new type of challenge — whether that takes the form of a suit for the titular chicken-worm duo to wear, something for them to ride in, or some obstacle to overcome. Watsham definitely addressed my one main criticism of Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, that things felt like “more of the same.” This experience is anything but. And there are hundreds of user-made levels to prove it. I think crafting an experience with user-creation in mind actually helped Atooi to stay on its proverbial toes, making sure there was always an opportunity to teach players to look at the creative process of level design in new ways. Having spent hours with Super Mario Maker on Wii U, I can absolutely argue that Chicken Wiggle dares to be comparable. There are a handful of different ways to play, and infinite value in doing so as long as Atooi continues to check up on the community from time to time. The game might not be a huge commercial success for Atooi. But to me, it’s their finest hour. 4) Miitopia Official GP Review This one definitely reminds me of my inclusion of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past on my list last year. Miitopia is absolutely not a game I can recommend to everyone. It’s got its fair share of flaws (best discussed in my review), but...I’m still playing through it trying for the last handful of particularly cruel achievements. At 103:34 according to my 3DS Activity Log, it bests my total time spent with Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, and Pokémon Ultra Sun so far. Even after I’m done, I’m still going to remember it as one of my most positive experiences on Nintendo 3DS, simply because I got to see a very long story -- with its share of humor, twists, and turns -- play out while starring people I like a whole lot. The value you’ll draw from Miitopia correlates with how personal you decide to make the experience. It is truly the ultimate realization of what the Mii “brand” is capable of—telling a story where the identity of every character, major or minor, is entirely up to the player’s whim. I shared many endearing moments or twists from the plot with my friends in real life, whose Miis I’d cast in various roles. Everyone does this with new games as they all play through them together, on Social Media or otherwise. But few will feel as personal to me... as my fictional journey with friends I don’t get to see too often in the real world. 3) Night in the Woods I know a text has influenced me in profound ways when I find it more difficult to talk about than the rest. When certain emotions swell in me, it's easy for me to reconcile with and transfer to the page: Kirby games make me feel as colorful and bright as they are; a game like Axiom Verge makes me feel pretty unsettled. Night in the Woods... kind of punched me in the gut. I never expected to feel such real emotions from a surreal cast, like this. Everyone involved with the creation of Possum Springs and the vibrant folks that populate it is... so absolutely in-tune with what life is like for small-town folks. This is a story that highlights the almost mundane simplicity of everyday life in a place that doesn't move much, that almost feels isolated from the rest of the world. It's a story that stresses the importance of friendships — every shared moment or shared slices of pizza can have meaning, if you let it. But most importantly: as the story unfolds, and you get to know Mae and everyone around her as each day passes... you start to see how broken everyone is, or feels. And that not everything in such a dullsville town is as it seems. The music, the visuals, the strength of the script... because I found so much I could personally relate to, everything grabbed me. And it’s all honestly yet to let go. If you've had a tough year, or if you've ever felt uncertain about where you are in life... maybe this experience will grab you, too. Maybe the right words for me to say are... that the echoes of Mae’s struggles and everyone around her... make me want to hold onto my loved ones even tighter, next time I see them. 2) Super Mario Odyssey “If Breath of the Wild intimidates you so, how the [redacted] is an open-world Mario so friggin’ high on your list?” While the Kingdoms of Mario Odyssey are indeed large in scale... the systems that guide both Mario and Cappy are anything but complex. Mario doesn’t have to eat fresh meat to survive. Rain doesn’t inhibit Mario’s ability to jump or climb. With the exception of the giant dinosaur... Mario’s abilities don’t degrade or run out. The first few hours of “Breath of the Wild” were something I had to overcome to enjoy. Mario, though? Within minutes...I was right at home. The same muscles I’ve trained since Super Mario 64 were getting their usual workout again. Mechanically, Breath of the Wild set out to reinvent and refresh Zelda. But Odyssey wasn’t out to reinvent anything. Even the capture mechanic is just a modernized means of acquiring something like a fire flower or tanooki suit. It all made me feel comfortable and welcome in every Kingdom that came my way, like I was a tourist. Everything about the full package was indeed utterly refreshing — no hub worlds, no being kicked out of a level back to the start with every moon you’ve acquired, sometimes being able to grab hundreds in one go, etc. But one of my favorite parts about Mario Odyssey is its familiarity. Still, the brand new “worlds” brought about emotions I’ve never felt in a Mario game before. The “New Donk City Festival” totally made the room a little dusty. And the entire endgame is probably one of my personal top 10 moments in all of video games, much less Mario as a series. I was messaging friends in all caps, insisting they let me know whenever they reached a particular moment in the story or the post-game so we could all squeal about it. There is so much to love—lots familiar and nostalgic, lots more brand new and exciting. Odyssey proves that Mario doesn’t need to completely “reinvent the wheel” to feel revolutionary. 1) Sonic Mania Official GP Review I still fight myself on whether or not Christian Whitehead and company actually managed to surpass Sonic 3 & Knuckles, my second favorite game of all time. I think they may have — and just the fact that I’m contemplating this speaks to how strongly I feel about Sonic Mania. Since the Dreamcast era, Sega themselves have always been ultra-concerned with trying to reinvent Sonic in ways—appearance, mechanics, whichever. Sonic Mania proves that going back to the basics is what it takes to make Sonic critically and commercially successful as a brand again. And this group of fans, known in the “Sonic fan-game scene” for a good decade or so, have proven that students can surpass those who inspired them. I was initially a bit concerned when SEGA indicated that it’d be filled with more old levels than brand new ones. But Whitehead and company knew exactly how to mess with players' expectations for both types of Zones. Each and every second “Act” of an old level turns familiar environments on their heads. One of my groomsman and I, who met thanks to a Sonic the Hedgehog 2 message board on GameFAQs (methinks I’m showing my age a bit), stayed up until super late when the game came out, exchanging texts back and forth about the various ways the Sonic Mania team masterfully pulled off its first few zones. There’s just so much care and attention put into the idea of not just creating a good Sonic game, but throwing in things that appeal to longtime or lapsed fans finally making a comeback. Within the first week, I went from having no idea what was in Sonic Mania... to playing so much, so often, that I was able to complete a “No Save file” without breaking a sweat. Every old level subverts expectations. Every new level has brand new surprises that long-time fans will find both fun and captivating. Both old and new work together to create the ultimate “modernization of Classic Sonic” — the 'Genesis feel' that’s so fast, you feel like Sonic’s going to break the game he’s confined in, without any need for a “boost” button. Fully completing the new Mario is held back by troublesome Power Moons, like the infamous jump rope challenge... various bits that feel redundant... almost like padding. The reason I chose to marginally place Mania over Odyssey... is because I’m going to wear this game out. Super Mario Odyssey is a game I’ll replay whenever I feel like taking a trip to new and familiar worlds. Sonic Mania is absolutely going to be a part of my routine — something I mash as much, as often, as Mutant Mudds, Shovel Knight, Cave Story, and the other games in the Jonathan “canon”.
  2. Jonathan's Review/Editorial Images

    All the images from anything I review/write about in one place!
  3. Review: Miitopia

    Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Nintendo 3DS Release Date: July 28th, 2017 ESRB: E for Everyone Since I was small, and the manual for The Legend of Zelda on NES dictated, “YOU ARE LINK”, I’ve always named the main characters in RPGs after myself and friends. That extra layer of immersion — that probably bounces right off a lot of folks, then and now — has always brought a smile to my face. Even if I’ll never actually be Link, something about it just makes the whole journey that much more meaningful, to me. Miitopia is built for anyone who grew up putting themselves in video games and other adventures in media. Ever since I created my first Mii, I knew they’d become as versatile as they have over more than a decade. Whether we’re talking about the way Mario Kart Wii incorporated Miis into the settings of race courses, or when they’ve actually been playable characters in everything from Wii Sports up to Super Smash Bros. on 3DS & Wii U... an RPG where you can alter every single NPC and party member to suit your own imagination was always on my mind. Every character in this story, no matter how major or minor the role, is whoever you want them to be. My journey to save the world from the clutches of the Dark Lord Gaston (with love to @Nintendo_Legend) is one littered with personal touches. I put as much care and attention as I could to casting every towns-person in ways that were meaningful to me. Every denizen of Greenhorne Castle was a 1MoreCastle alumni, ruled over by king a handful of you might recognize. With a few button presses from the menu, you can change the identities of any character you’ve met on a whim. If the prospect of selecting or creating the identities of over 50 non-playable characters overwhelms you, you can always leave the casting decisions up to fate. Maybe the king of your Greenhorne Castle will be Shigeru Miyamoto, President Obama, or whoever some of the folks playing with SpotPass turned on chose. That’s the beauty of it all! If the appeal of Miis is completely lost on you, I don’t think you’re going to have much fun. Before I deal praise too excessively here, it’s necessary to discuss Miitopia’s inner-workings: If I had to describe the way battling works, early Dragon Quest comes to mind. After you’ve created or chosen your main character, you assign them with one of six jobs, at first. You’ve got the usual fare in RPGs, like “Warrior” and “Cleric”, plus some oddball choices like “Pop Star” and “Chef”. As the plot develops, the number of jobs available to you grows to over fifteen, and each new job is more obtuse than the last. Got someone in your life who really likes being a cat? Grab their Mii through a QR Code on Miitomo, your Tomodachi Life save file, or your 3DS Friends list... and boy howdy, put them in a cat suit for a while. Princesses in your party will behave like royalty should: using a fan of money as their primary weapon in battle, or maybe restoring everyone’s MP with a spot of tea. Someone given the job of a “Flower” or a “Tank”...will actually dress up like one. But you won’t be able to directly control a single action of your party for the entire adventure, besides the main character. Philosophically, this game would rather you watch these Miis interact with each other in battle based on their personalities (you can select from up to seven when you create your allies as they join up with you). Your role as the player is far more omniscient than directive. I never found battling to be too meddlesome. It’s the simplest of simple fares. Even healing is more dependent on you (literally) sprinkling HP, MP, and other fun battle effects on your Miis moreso than your party’s Clerics or Mages performing duties specific to them. No job is really too inferior for the main story. Miitopia wants battles to be more fun than strategic; that’s my biggest takeaway there. If you want direct control, complexity, or a way of battling where your finger won’t be on the fast forward button a lot of the time, your experience is going to be varying degrees of flawed or frustrating. When you’re not fighting to reclaim faces from enemies — like this aptly named “Twerky” or over 250 other monsters — control isn’t any more direct. Exploring a dungeon isn’t a matter of freely moving your characters around; it’s watching your party run from one area to the next down linear paths, occasionally picking which forks they’ll take when things diverge. You can go back to previous areas after you’ve run down one path to select the next. And yes, if you’re not the patient type and you’d rather quickly go from one room to the next, advancing the plot as quickly as possible instead of taking your leisurely time is going to grow very stale and get very repetitive, and fast. Even purchasing equipment for your Miis can sometimes go wrong — they may bring back a snack instead of the item they want. You’ll still get your hard-earned gold back though, so their indecisiveness isn’t truly inconveniencing. What little control you do have in Miitopia boils down to stat and relationship growth. The former is done by getting food from enemies in battle and feeding your Mii characters whatever you like when they arrive at an inn. The latter is far more integral to the entire journey, and bears further explanation. In Tomodachi Life (another game based around Miis that was released a few years back), a major draw to keep playing was watching your Miis get married and raise little ones together. There was drama, romance, and the like. Miitopia is far more centered around friendship, or so it’d have you believe. Two of my lady party members are actually maxed out at the "max level relationship" of 99. They’re “Soul Mates” — and they show off for each other, avenge one another, team up for attacks, or in general kick a lot more monster tail in battle. All you’ve got to do is pick which Miis room together when you arrive at the inn. If you took issue with how Tomodachi Life handled relationships in the past, I think your concerns have been addressed in a meaningful way. One last thing about lack of control and Miitopia’s choices that might turn away most of you who’re left: The adventure plays out with you and nine other partied-up allies. But... for over half the game, you have access to three of them at one time. Arbitrarily and without warning, the three friends you travel with for one segment of the story will get... spirited away. And the powers of the job your main character had at the time will be “sealed”, forcing you to start back at Level 1 with a brand new job of your choosing (so that three more allies who join you will be on a level playing field, no doubt). If you, like me, chose to make your first three allies... say, your wife and two close friends? Them’s the breaks, until you get them back a good 10-15 hours later. Even after all your allies have been reunited, you’ll still get thrown a curve-ball or two: In later areas, one of your party members can randomly “fall down a hole” and be lost to you for the rest of the journey, until you find an inn. Furthermore, random Miis will “feel under the weather” and be unable to set out in a dungeon with you until you’ve set out with other Miis at your inn a few times. In a game with a myriad of customization options that has simplicity at its core, this is the one choice made that kind of gives me pause. If you’re still with me after all this: I found the story so endearing that most of these flaws I’ve spent time warning about... felt like minor gripes, to me. What can be deal-breakers for a majority of you, no doubt, I’ve overlooked or let slide. Why? The answer’s simple: I got to see a very long story...with its share of humor, twists and turns...play out staring people I like a whole lot. As I was adventuring, I was often sharing screenshots with my Miis’ real-life counterparts. “Look what you did!” or “Look what happened next.” Even if the mechanisms behind the journey are extremely divisive, a goofy smile never left my face. The reason I feel so compelled to tell people about Miitopia, flaws and all, is because its value is something that’s precious to me, specifically. There are nine large parts of the world to explore, each with individual areas — caves, forests, towers, coasts, fairy lands that border on the abstract — that make them unique, plus two more islands that unlock after you’ve trounced the final boss. Each new place is a genuine treat to see! The title screen music will change depending on where you are when you last saved. And speaking of the soundtrack — there are 204 unique melodies to accompany battle, story beats... anything you can think of. As you journey onward, you’ll learn about amiibo compatibility to get special costumes, maybe subject yourself to some mini-games to earn currency, food, or travel tickets that can be used to rapidly grow relationships, plus more. The post-game is so ludicrous that it grants you the ability to create up to 90 additional Miis besides the main story’s 10 (or recruit former NPCs to be your actual party members) to accompany you as you mash daily quests, unlock even more jobs, and continue your adventures after the credits roll. I’ve spent over 40 hours with the game from start to finish, and that time’s only gonna grow long after this review is published. Even though Miitopia was a genuinely enjoyable experience to me, I know one person’s happy satisfaction is another’s, “I guess wait for a sale.” There’s no shortage of content and charm to justify the fact that this is indeed a full retail package. But whether or not that content bounces right off you due to some questionable choices, or you find it as delightful as I did, isn’t really up to me. Pros + The story itself isn't customizable, but the characters in it are. Every Mii you meet can be whoever you want them to be. + Hundreds of medals to collect, costumes to wear, foods to eat, places to explore, and Miis to meet. If you want Miitopia to last forever, it can and will. + The game's mechanics may be divisive, but its presentation is not: music and visuals are pretty and plentiful. Cons - If you'd rather control and strategize things in your RPG, this more omniscient game is not for you. The "RPG" part of Miitopia feels like it belongs on the NES. It's a bit too repetitive, even with a fast-forward button. - In a game that prides itself on customization, taking your allies away from you no less than three times [plus more slightly restrictive limits placed on you later] feels jarring. Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Miitopia is built for anyone who puts a little bit of themselves into the RPGs they play. Its repetitive mechanics will be divisive at best, but the beauty is in how personal you can make your adventure. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a digital copy of the game purchased by the author.
  4. Review: Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King

    Developer: Castle Pixel, FDG Entertainment Publisher: FDG Entertainment Platform: PC/Steam Release Date: March 28th, 2017 ESRB: Not rated (E recommended) Castle Pixel really impressed me with Rex Rocket in 2014. They seemed to know exactly what fans of classic action games like Mega Man and Super Metroid would look for, and they delivered on most counts — from perceived difficulty level... to an altogether charming set-piece, with characters and an ambiance presented in a way that seemed geared towards a more mature crowd. In the same year that gave us Shovel Knight... I also look back on Rex’s venture fondly. Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King offers these folks’ take on an entirely different genre. Instead of running and gunning like Mega Man, it seems like their primary inspiration here was A Link to the Past. And, ultimately... while I still feel the experience delivered overall... it genuinely surprised me how much the tone and intended audience differed from one game to the next. The game begins with a grandfather sitting down with his two grandchildren to tell the story. The opening scene alone should explain what you’re getting into here: it’s a fairy tale that’s being told as you play. Meaning — you’re going to see a fair bit of authorial intrusion. And that’s often employed in clever ways, like the children picking whether or not you fight a group of bandits or bowmen at one point during the tale (the player ultimately makes the choice), or deciding one of the puzzles you solved was “too easy” so it needed to be a pinch more difficult & done again. When you find a weapon in a treasure chest, the grandfather is the otherwise omniscient voice in Zelda games that explains its uses. Outside of that — and I believe, in part, due to the game’s intended audience— the story is very basic. The kingdom of Blossom is peaceful, until a king’s wicked wizard brother reaches his breaking point and puts the poor guy to sleep. It’s up to Lily — a hero who shares the same name as the granddaughter who’s hearing the tale — to gather up three ingredients to break the spell, then mash the “Wizard King” and save the day. It’s whimsical and charming, certainly entertaining enough to push most players along...but it might feel one-dimensional, to those who aren’t young or young-at-heart. To shift the focus onto something uniformly positive: if you have a “list of things to expect when you sit down and play a 2D Zelda[-like]”... I can confidently say your needs will be met with Blossom Tales. From bombs and bows, to a world map that you chart on your own, to a wide variety of overworld locations & dungeons that have Lily forging all the elements, to even a sword that eventually shoots beams when you’re at full health... it’s all here. Environments are lush and colorful. Bones have a satisfying crunch when they’re blasted apart. It may be a different tone from Rex Rocket overall, but the artistry is consistent & should exceed expectations. The soundtrack has a few stand-out moments as well — I really liked the final overworld piece in particular. It’s all catchy, and it offers some unique melodies as well as ones that lift thematically from A Link to the Past. The dressing is often just as important as the mechanics, in Zelda-likes, and I feel like all their efforts to make Lily’s world stand out will leave most folks with a consistent smile on their face. Movement, menus, and all the bells and whistles on the inside and out are consistent as well. I would’ve preferred for Lily to be a little more animated as a character overall — for instance, she does things like tap her foot if you idle for too long, and you see her skeleton if she’s electrocuted... but she maintains the same blank face regardless of the actions she’s performing. But her actions are varied enough! When wielding your sword, you can perform the expected spin-attack... as well as a vertical jump-slice that sends you crashing down on the foe in front of you for massive damage in the same stroke. The weapons you obtain can be upgraded with collectibles you gather from defeated enemies, putting a greater emphasis on combat. Exploration is rewarded too... with plenty of heart-pieces and means to fill up your magic meter (there’s no limit to the amount of bombs or arrows you carry...it’s all tied to that magic meter). Side-quests are mostly tied to the enemy collectibles you find, but there are some other surprises littered throughout. Currency is ample too, with no restrictions on the ole wallet, and plenty of things to buy. Fast-travelling is made possible early-on, and the warp points are ample and where you’d expect. There’s even a “log” in the list of menu options, where you can pull up text you’ve previously read during the same play session. Some things I feel a little less positive about: puzzles aren’t as varied as they could be. Rather than employ a certain type of puzzle, and leave it unique to a specific dungeon or part of the world map... you’ll see lots of the same types of puzzles throughout the entire game. Hope you’re a fan those puzzles where you touch every tile in a set space when moving from a specific start & end point. There are lots of variations of that same formula! Same goes for rushing across a room as platforms fall when you walk on them. Thankfully, the game controls well enough to not leave you feeling frustrated when precision movement like that is required. One particular programming bit I’m both hot and cold on: the game is modern enough to never let your currency or collectibles “blink away and vanish” like older games would... but it insists on dropping you back at the start of a room when you fall down a hole... even a particularly long room, with a lot of potential pitfalls. I know most modern 2D Zelda adventures drop you on the last piece of solid ground you touched rather than at the start of the room — there were a bunch of times I wish this game did the same. I’m still conflicted as to whether or not I prefer the grizzled, tough-as-nails fare of Rex Rocket, or Blossom Tales’ relative ease that’s extremely friendly to newcomers of the genre, and ultimately feels targeted towards the completely opposite end of the gaming spectrum. But the fact that these two titles from the same developers are so wildly different from each other leaves me impressed with Castle Pixel’s versatility, and happy I spent time with it overall. Their endeavors this time around are hardly revolutionary. But what I played was good, clean fun with no glaring flaws... and it’ll keep me coming back to grab every last collectible, too. You really can’t go wrong with Blossom Tales if you’re looking for a reasonably priced, short & sweet alternative to your favorite 2D Legend of Zelda. Pros + Tons of things to do and collect. All the various currencies are ample, never limited, and offer their just rewards for the effort it takes to seek them out. + Art direction is consistent and charming. + Much like Rex Rocket, this endeavor feels like it satisfies all or most standards set by the games that inspired it. Cons - The same types of puzles are scattered throughout all the dungeons and caves. While the environments offered plenty of variety, the problem-solving didn't. - For as much as some parts of the game-design feel modern, other aspects feel more dated. I can't decide if this was done purposefully, to keep the game grounded in the past, or not. Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is all kinds of fun, with no glaring flaws. It makes a good alternative to your favorite top-down Legend of Zelda game. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a downloadable code provided by the publisher
  5. Game of the Year 2016: Jonathan's Picks

    We’ll be six months into next year before I fully come to terms with the fact that 2016 happened. But here’s a list of cool video games I played — one that slightly differs from my normal protocol, at that. For the first time, I’m going to include a Pokémon game in a prominent spot... if only to make a point. And... instead of ten unique games, I’m really going to start at nine. I hate to say it, but I didn’t put forth my due diligence to play “current games” in this current year. I’d love to say I could speak highly enough about Miitomo and Pokémon GO to put them on here. But despite spending a ton of time with them, and the latter reigniting a cultural phenomenon... I don’t consider either to be worthy of my personal praise. I mean, it was fun answering questions as part of my morning routine for several months. And I still find redeeming value from Miitomo when I get to... dress up my Mii character in Kirby clothes. But don’t even get me started on GO. I’m still a daily user, but... it’s gotten me outside less and less over time, especially considering the fact that it reduces background audio (like music & Podcasts) by 50% while the dang app is open. What’s up with that, anyway? There are also games I started but didn’t finish that would vie for my #10 spot. I know several people reading will give me flack for not seeing the credits of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. I’m genuinely surprised I didn’t complete Dragon Quest Builders either, despite a fondness for the series. I guess my distaste for Minecraft-style games as a genre was too strong, in the end. Maybe I’ll surprise myself and finish it before the year’s done. And then there’s Oxenfree, a game I grabbed around Thanksgiving. It definitely seems like it’ll impress me, but there’s no way I’d get to the end it in time to give it the consideration it probably deserves. So without further ado, here are the games I feel confident enough giving time to shine: 9) Pocket Card Jockey I have a wild grudge against card games. I just... don’t like them. No, really. So how is it that one ended up being an exception? “It’s because you like Game Freak, and all that glitters from them is gold.” I’m not going to sit here and pretend I don’t have a little bias against the company. Honestly, my “Game of the Year lists” have started to follow a bit of a pattern. TEMBO made the cut last year. If Giga Wrecker ends up being of a similar quality, it might make the cut in 2017. I might feel like I’m in a daze most of the time, but I’m not too asleep to notice that I truly enjoy Game Freak’s non-Pokémon endeavors. Pocket Card Jockey... one part horse-racing, one part solitaire... makes its mark for its addictive qualities. It’s not a perfect game by any means — you’ve got to breed horses to even stand a chance at higher stakes races, making even perfect solitaire runs useless at times. But even if some races are an exercise in nihilism, I still felt the need to push forward. Maybe I’m motivated by the cute horsies? The models are very simple & easy to love... kind of similar to other things I like. If you don’t mind some minor timed elements tied to your solitaire gaming, you should give it a chance! There’s a demo to sink your teeth into, still, and the price has always been right. 8) BOXBOXBOY Official GP Review Speaking of my yearly lists following a pattern... HAL Laboratory knows how to create a fun, smaller project and keep it that way. There’s even a third game confirmed for next year in Japan! So it’ll be interesting to see if BOXBOXBOXBOY, or whatever they end up calling the third game when it ventures West, appeals to me as one of 2017’s greatest games. With the release of the Switch, Final Fantasy’s 30 Year Anniversary, and tons more coming... it’d have to endure against a lot of competition. The premise behind Qbby’s quests are simple, minimalist fun. Rather than revolutionize the mechanics of the first game, I think HAL just set out to convince everyone that “just more BOXBOY” is never a bad thing. I suppose they achieved their goal of convincing more people than just me, if Qbby’s coming back for one last hurrah! Hopefully they continue to embrace the sentiment behind carrying earned costumes and content from the first game to the second; that really was a nice touch. BOXBOXBOY is a game to remember because it’s consistent fun that’s easy to recommend for everyone. 7) Creepy Castle Official GP Review Not too long ago, I had this bizarre itch to play The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls. I even went so far as to try and track down a reproduction cart that had the fan translation installed on it! I ended up not going through with it; money’s a little tighter than I’d like right now. Sad times, but at least I still own the Japanese version on my Nintendo 3DS LL. And then came Creepy Castle... the closest possible match to... that game I really wanted to play. To fall on that word I overused in my review, again... goodness, it’s a quirky adventure. It won me over because it happened to scratch an itch I would have never thought possible. But it’s stuck with me because it challenged me without being overly frustrating, it made me giggle at times, and it even taught me something. I’m not sure if Creepy Castle manages to surpass The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls, if I’m being honest. But it certainly manages to capture the same sense of unique charm, while offering some more modern takes on that game’s philosophy. Definitely give it a try, if quir-- I mean “weird”... is a thing that catches your eye. 6) Chronicles of Teddy: Harmony of Exidus Official GP Review The first thing that caught my eye was its aesthetic. Far too many games inhibit their artistic style by aiming to stay consistent with a certain “era”... be it 8- or 16-bit. Games like Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge are wonderful examples of design that can break free of these constraints, and Chronicles of Teddy joins them as far as I’m concerned. I contemplated if this game could even be qualified to make the cut, since “Finding Teddy 2” released on PC a ways back. But hey, I’m going to let Aksys Games have their moment in the sun for pushing it onto consoles with a bit of a rebranding; I’d have never known about it otherwise. Do you like Zelda II: The Adventures of Link? I can’t think of a better game for that crowd released this year. You’ll recognize the lady protagonist’s movements right away; the whole “couch to slash under an enemy’s shield” is a concept I mentioned in my review verbatim. The developers’ efforts to modernize Zelda II honestly left me with more respect for the NES classic than when I started. For being attracted to the game at first due to purely aesthetic reasons, I came away from it with a deeper knowledge as to what “Zelda II-likes” were capable of, and what fans of the NES game found appealing about it. I’m even pushed to try other contemporaries like Eliot Quest, now. Considering the absence of Breath of the Wild this year, Chronicles of Teddy ought to scratch a Legend of Zelda itch for you, and then some. 5) Owlboy I miss Disney Interactive. So much of what made their older games for Genesis and SNES resonate with me when I was littler, and the same reason something like the appeals to me now, has to do with how alive their characters feel. “Immersion” is a popular buzzword this year, especially with the rise of Virtual Reality. But those games proved to me a long time ago that I don’t need complex headwear, or even the world’s most realistic graphics, to truly connect with what I’m playing. Ori and the Blind Forest is a decent contemporary. Its cast of characters and world are definitely captivating and invoke similar sentiments. I’m even more attached to Otus, and felt more compelled to push forward, because of how out-of-their-way D-pad Studios went to put emphasis on small, otherwise unnoticed moments. When you’re walking past a graveyard for the first time... not only is Otus himself downtrodden, sullen... but your movement is very slow and restricted, to further the meaning behind this unique blend of sadness and respect. So much about what makes Owlboy worth experiencing isn’t in the mechanics, but in its cast and environments. You won’t feel triumphant in the end — it’ll be more like you just watched a really awesome Disney movie. The folks behind Owlboy put so much meticulous care into their work that it took nine years to make. The end result is absolutely worth your own time and attention. 4) Pokémon Sun Official GP Review Honestly, no one’s more shocked than me that the new Pokémon game, with my favorite region in the history of the series, didn’t make my “Top 3”. But, rereading my review from a short while ago, plus thinking critically about how I’ll feel about this game when “the next one” comes along... I just had too many personal qualms with the compromises made to make Sun what it is. Some encounter rates are ridiculously low, the Pokédex is smaller than I’d like, most people consider the changes to EVs to be a step backwards… What it boils down to is: my remaining three games didn’t have as many parts that either annoyed me or stressed me out. But getting the negative stuff out of the way is easy. Alola is an absolutely, positively phenomenal place. Choosing to construct a brand new “Island Trial” over the conventional four-walled path to the Pokémon League is, hands-down, my new favorite thing. I hope future games in the series abolish the “Gym Challenge” in favor of making each new region’s trials be... whatever they want to be. Alola’s challenges were versatile; I’ve never had as much fun with a main story in a mainline Pokémon game. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal; “The Battle At the Summit!” is probably Masuda and his team at their absolute best. Those who know my love of Pokémon music... know I don't say that lightly. Narrative direction? Superior, bested only by Black & White. Music, sounds, and general ambiance? Also top-tier. I may have my personal problems with these games, but Sun & Moon are easy to recommend to first-timers, or lapsed fans. That’s why I’m including it this time, if not to prove I liked a handful of more games this year... better than Pokémon. 3) Mutant Mudds Super Challenge Official GP Review Years after its initial release, I can still confidently say that Mutant Mudds is among my Top 5 favorite games on the Nintendo 3DS. And Max’s newest adventure picks up right where that one left off — in terms of design philosophy, more than anything. It really does feel like Renegade Kid’s take on “The Lost Levels”. Max doesn’t learn any new tricks, but anyone who plays it might have to adapt if they don’t want their death counter above 500. Every once and a while, I’ll pick it up and start a new file, trying for a No Death run. No such luck. Have y’all seen their for the game? Games six through nine on this list were pretty easy to write about and rank. But when you start getting up to the top five, or even top three... it’s been pretty difficult for me to determine what exactly it took for one game to rank above the previous one. What gives Super Challenge that “oomph” to best other games here? Here’s the deal: I argued whether or not certain choices that Renegade Kid made were “fair” or not in my review. But ultimately, it could go either way. I’ve thought critically about it; I really can’t recall any level in this newest venture where I thought, “Well, thank Heavens that’s over.” It’s quite the contrary. Even when I was cursing out loud at some cheap shot a Muddy or some friggin’ spikes would take at me... I knew I’d be back. I’m going to play over and over again, whether it’s on Nintendo systems or PlayStation, too. I know Renegade Kid is no more. But I’m genuinely happy that this turned out to be their finest hour as well as their final one. And I’m excited to see what Atooi does next with Mudds, sometime down the line. There is more than one allusion to Xeodrifter in the final levels of MMSC, after all. 2) Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past Official GP Review And here’s a game that’s definitely a “super challenge” in a completely different way. This tale of quite literal world-building is like no other in the Dragon Quest series: a very long, involved endurance test. It’s not a game I can honestly recommend to everyone; you probably gleaned that from my review. But it’s absolutely a game that I feel is best suited for me, in many ways. It's my new second favorite Dragon Quest, bested only by V (and here’s your disclaimer that I haven’t played VIII before & won’t until January 20th; I’m keeping an open mind). The only real “fault” I’d give my 80+ hour journey was the new encounter system. Besides that, the feelings it elicited when I saved a piece of the world — and the elation that beamed from me when I finally saw the credits, were more rewarding than any Final Fantasy I’ve played through since IX. DQVII isn’t this high up “just because it’s a Dragon Quest game”, while my bias is undeniable. I’m not spoiling anything beyond the first ten or so hours here but... there’s a whole town where every person has been turned into an animal & every animal into a person. I have never bought a weapon from a chicken, who clucked at me just like it was any other written dialect in an RPG... and then moseyed onto my next adventure inside a painting clearly inspired by Salvador Dali with my friend Ruff — the wolf cub who was turned into a boy & spends the entire game on his caretaker wolf’s back, riding it like a horse. Giant run-on sentence or not, I just can’t deny that level of obnoxious charm. It’s not something I can “demand that everyone play”, like last year’s runner-up Axiom Verge. I’m not going to be screaming from the rooftops about it for a long time to come. My “top 2” are here for very personal reasons. When I saw those credits roll, I definitely felt a sense of personal triumph. The helped. 1) Kirby: Planet Robobot Official GP Review I have not shut up about Robobot for quite some time. So many people could have easily predicted it’d take my #1 spot, months ago. Just take a look. For those keeping score beyond Twitter: I bought the game in both Japanese and English. My Import Review is actually more of a companion piece to an impressions thread, as well. I didn’t just beat the English version, I 100%ed it... which involved toppling the first True Arena I’ve ever toppled in Kirby History. I spent over nine hours of a random Saturday absolutely determined to prove to that game mode I was better than it... and I won, in the end. I have so many freaking stories about this game! It will fuel my love for Kirby well beyond his 25th anniversary; that celebration is already underway. It’s so delightfully over the top. If you dig the modern mechanics of familiar entries like Return to Dream Land or Triple Deluxe, this newest game stacks Robobot Armor... think “mechs”... on top of it. It’s the natural evolution of the “animal friends” from Dream Land 2 & 3, and it feels as essential to the evolution of Kirby’s movements and capabilities as the transition from Super Mario 3 to Super Mario World. It’s bigger, better, faster, stronger. And it’s filled with so many fan allusions that I could write a full-on spoiler post. There are so many surprise returns, or twists reminiscent of almost every game in the series. It’s goofy that we’re heading right into the 25th anniversary immediately after the release of a game that I think successfully celebrates everything Kirby is, in almost every way.
  6. Welcome to the ninetieth week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed last week's, check it out. Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday. Meloetta is being distributed via the Nintendo Network until December 24th. -------------------------------- Quick to Learn, Easy to Master It’s been a little bit! Let’s play catch-up, before I get to anything else today. With the distribution of Meloetta going live around a week ago, and Magearna’s QR code being out in the wild for most regions, there are officially 6th Gen or later variants of every single Mythical Pokémon currently known. If you’ve been diligent in grabbing all of them, you can definitely catch all 721 Pokémon in 6th Gen with just X or Y + Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire. The above notion is actually one of the things I’ve been thinking about since writing my review of Pokémon Sun & Moon. I’ve been a “card-carrying Pokémon Master” since Diamond & Pearl. Game Freak has offered many forms of rewards and recognition for players who do the unthinkable, in this regard. Since Black & White, the Shiny Charm has been the ultimate “thing” you can get for completing your National Pokédex. Not many people had it, because grabbing 721 critters is just... an intimidating endeavor, to be sure. Do the thing, and the Professor who introduced you to Sinnoh, Unova, or Kalos is kind of in awe of you. When you complete your Pokédex in Alola — a mere 300 strong, if we don’t include Magearna and maybe one other we don’t know about yet — you get your Shiny Charm and all the recognition that was formerly relegated to folks who caught everything, not just everything in a particular region. For the first time since Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald... they didn’t pass along a National Pokédex in the first bits of the post-game. I know one is confirmed for Bank, but... I’m genuinely doubtful we’ll see it patched into Sun & Moon. Granted, plenty of Ohmori’s changes have been unprecedented so far... maybe I should “never say never.” I think Game Freak recognizes that 802 is too high a number, though. Moving forward, I would not be surprised to see “8th Gen” start off in a new place with only a limited number of creatures attainable, like Alola. It makes sense for your Pokédex to ignore over half of the total roster, so that “catching ‘em all” is actually doable. I’m living proof it can be done in just 100 hours — I had no help from ORAS or any games that came before it. But I’m so conflicted, if this is the new direction for Pokémon. Is invalidating your most devoted, compulsive completionists in favor of making the Shiny Charm and other exclusive rewards more obtainable... really the answer? Here’s something else I’m thinking about. Data-miners (who are the reason we know no data for the National Pokédex currently exists in Sun & Moon) recently uncovered walking and running animations for all currently known Pokémon. You know... like HeartGold & SoulSilver had, because they let the leader of your team walk behind you, like Pikachu in Yellow Version. A painstaking amount of work has been put into something that was ultimately left on the cutting-room floor. Why would you put that amount of effort into something that would go unused? Unless Pokémon Stars, the rumored “third game” for the Nintendo Switch... a system that’s definitely more powerful than the entire Nintendo 3DS family... is where we’ll see this become reality. But hey, now I’m just putting on my Speculation Cap again. Anyway: if this feature was initially planned for Sun & Moon, I bet it had to be cut because the Old 3DS can’t handle the amount of power it would require. We’ll see if this juicy secret that data-miners uncovered makes itself known in future Pokémon games. Fans have certainly been clamoring for it to come back! I still have a lot to say, in my post-Alolan honeymoon. I’ll see y’all next week, to talk about why so many things about 6th Gen, in terms of mechanics and accessibility, best the games that came after.
  7. Review: Pokémon Sun and Moon

    Developer: Game Freak Publisher: The Pokémon Company Platform: Nintendo 3DS Release Date: November 18th, 2016 ESRB: E for Everyone Note: This review is based on a playthrough of Pokemon Sun, though Pokemon Moon is largely the same game with minor differences, such as its own exclusive Pokemon and the clock being twelve hours ahead. Many people call me many different things. But — without a doubt — I am “the Pokémon guy” of my friend circle. My long-running feature articulates my love, minor compulsions, and many criticisms of the series in a way that what I’m about to write... must concentrate into something much shorter, more concise. As I’m sitting down to write this, I’ve spent over a hundred hours with the game. I’ve absorbed everything the main story and the plot-driven portions of the post-game have to offer. My Alolan Pokédex is even 100% complete. It’s probably the furthest I’ve ever sunk into a game before sitting down to review it, if I’m being honest. Brevity has never been my strong-suit, in both playing Pokémon and attempting to analyze it. But without further ado, let me say this: Above all, I am very conflicted about Sun & Moon. The newest games actually have a brand new director behind them, Shigeru Ohmori. A different pair of eyes overseeing all aspects of development is likely one of the key reasons that Alola, the new region... feels like the most refreshing thing to happen to Pokémon since fan-favorites Gold & Silver. Anyone who’s been playing these games forever will likely sing praises of major and minor adjustments to “the Pokémon formula,” as it were. That’s where I’ll start. Moves called Hidden Machines used to force players who wanted to fully explore the world to build their Pokémon team around them. Want to cut obtrusive bushes that block the way to hidden items? Better raise a Grass Type Pokémon with you that can learn “Cut,” or you won’t be able to proceed. Want to fast-travel from one town to the next? Put a Flying Type Pokémon and “Fly” on your team, lest you be inconvenienced. Sun & Moon finally make HMs obsolete with Riding Pokémon. Folks who want to fast-travel can use their nifty Ride Pager to call up a Charizard on a whim, who’s happy to take you wherever you need to go. Want to Surf? Eventually you’ll get a Lapras to call on, even if you never put a single Water Type Pokémon on your team. Pokémon games used to be about collecting eight Gym Badges, then taking on the Pokémon League and becoming the Champion. It was that way from 1996 to 2013 — always the same song and dance, no matter where you were or what system you were playing on. Alola introduces something else brand new: the Island Challenge. While this concept serves a very similar purpose to the one Gyms used to... it knocks down the archetypes of four walls and eight people being the biggest trials you’ll ever overcome. I’ve personally found Gyms to be the biggest reason why each new Pokémon region and game amounted to predictable fodder at best. Their removal meant me approaching Alola itself... and the game’s story... with unpredictability and wonder. Instead of conquering gyms, I was doing things like... exploring a haunted shopping mall, taking pictures of Ghost Pokémon with my PokéFinder before they discovered me and challenged me to a battle. Instead of Gym Leaders, the biggest challenge of each Island Trial was its “Totem Pokémon” — a big, burly boss with buffed up stats. This boss could call underlings in what I would soon learn was called an “S.O.S. Battle.” More on those, which extend far beyond Island Trials, in a bit. After clearing each and every Island Trial of a particular Island I was on... I would take on its “kahuna”... a leader figure to each island that serves more like a mayor, or a defender of justice, than a mere “Gym Leader.” Riding Pokémon and the Island Trial are the two biggest changes to what longtime fans know. They’re what you’ll see in every single review, and probably what’s on the back of the box (I can’t verify since I went digital). But there are several minor adjustments that I’ve been waiting for someone, somewhere to implement too. I’ve already blabbed about the evolved GUI for the length of a full review. I could probably double that with the new things I’ve learned about it since playing. Suffice to say: if you’re brand new to Pokémon... and most of what I’ve been saying sounds like complete gibberish? The game wants to help you. It’ll tell you how effective a particular move you want to use will be against a foe, once you’ve seen for yourself what type of Pokémon it is. If you’re carrying the maximum six Pokémon you can take with you and catch another... the game will ask you whether you want your new friend to join your party, or be sent off to the PC. It lets you see a full summary of the Pokémon’s moves and Nature, as well as the ones currently with you, before you ever leave the capture screen! There’s just so much. Sweeping and small mechanical changes are just half of what makes Alola so refreshing, to me. I loved the characters and “world” more than any other Pokémon game, so far. Hau, your rival... completes every island trial after you do, is brimming with optimism almost to a fault, and deeply cares about Pokémon and the people around him. He reminds me of Pokémon Trainer Red from the Game Boy days. He’s always happy lagging behind someone more experienced, with a Pikachu no less... but with seemingly great potential, too. Lille is a character who’s got a bit of mystery around her, and undergoes the most evolution and development in the story. The Pokémon Professor Kukui, the kahunas and the trial captains, the bad folks (Team Skull), and every other major character in Alola... all help communicate this idea that Alola is a truly unique place in the world of Pokémon. If creating something refreshing and new, that feels welcoming to new and returning players alike, was what Director Ohmori endeavored to do... I’d say he achieved his goal. It’s just a shame that I feel so many compromises were made in the process. In 2013, Pokémon X&Y introduced players to the Kalos region. With it, the total Pokémon count went from 649 to 721. Of the 721 known Pokémon at the time, 450 of them were available to catch with just Pokémon X or Pokémon Y. Each time you visited a new part of Kalos, you were given a new piece of the “Regional Pokédex” that had 150 or so brand new critters to find, to help make up that total. There was never any overlap. You could never really run out of things to catch or evolve, unless you were the compulsive type like me. And therein lies my biggest problem with Sun & Moon: the Alolan Pokédex is tiny! With these games, the total Pokémon count goes from 721 to 802. The DexNav from Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire helped catalog the tons of Pokémon you could find in any given area. I suppose that feature was removed in Alola because... there aren’t nearly as many to worry about. In order to make Sun & Moon less intimidating on newcomers, it seems, the total catchable critters in the game is only 300. That’s less than the Kalos region, and less than half of the total Pokémon out there. Alola is a region of four islands. Each island has its own “Regional Pokédex”, similar to Kalos. This time, though, there is definite overlap. Upon arriving to the game’s final island... I’d already completed over 50% of its Regional Pokédex... indicating that I’d see most of the same critters I’d already been seeing, over and over again, despite being in a brand new place. Alola’s environments are refreshing and new... but its fauna doesn’t boast the same qualities. There’s not even a “National Pokédex.” For the first time in 12 years: the 300 Pokémon currently native to the Alola Region are all that will ever be recorded in your game’s Pokédex, as far as I can tell. It encourages newcomers to “catch ‘em all” and be card-carrying Pokémon Masters... by actively ignoring over half of the Pokémon that aren’t in these games. But see: that’s just something I personally don’t see eye-to-eye with. The fauna of Alola, and one’s Pokédex progress, could bounce off a whole lot of you. And that’s fine. But let me get into properly explaining what’s so flawed about the concept behind S.O.S. Battles. After completing the first Island Trial of the game... normal Wild Pokémon can call for help in the same way the Totem Pokémon do. If you’re trying like heck to catch a Pikachu... you’ll have to put off catching him if he calls one of his buddies at the end of your turn. Over and over again, until the “help doesn’t appear” or it decides not to. I was trying to catch a Cubone... and I had to knock out 16 other Cubones to get to him. That’s just cumbersome, no matter how you slice it. I get trying to add an extra layer of challenge to catching Pokémon. But I think S.O.S. Battles take things a little too far sometimes. Of the 300 Pokémon available to catch in Alola, 39 of them are “S.O.S. Battle Exclusive.” This means that they only appear in the wild if a friend calls them for help... and their appearance is typically hinged on a 10% or 5% chance, if not lower. That... is how you take “a little too far” even farther, to the point where I’ve relied on trading online to complete my Pokédex more than ever before. Even outside of S.O.S. Battles — there are several Pokémon with a 1% encounter rate by normal means. Some evolution items, like Sneasel’s Razor Claw, can only be found being held by Wild Pokémon. You have a 5% chance of encountering a Wild Jangmo-o in a certain place... and said Jangmo-o has a 5% chance of holding onto the Razor Claw you need. That’s a problem! Your only solution is to have absolutely incredible luck, or to spend forever having Jangmo-o call for help in an “S.O.S. Chain” until one shows up that’s holding the item. The concept of a “rare Pokémon” or “rare item” is taken to absolutely obscene levels in Alola... making most not worth the effort to seek out without online intervention. And hey: if you experience a communication error while trading or battling online, you will be unable to use those features for “a while” — anywhere from fifteen minutes to up to 72 hours. There really is a lot to love about Pokémon Sun & Moon. I didn’t even address some of the other stuff I enjoyed: like how Poké Pelago is going to be worth investing time into for the unique items and rewards it yields, with minimal effort. Trainer customization is back, too; you can style your character in heaps and handfuls of different ways. And the soundtrack, which I consider to be the best they’ve ever produced, by a long-shot. There’s at least one major “dislike” I didn’t get to either... because mentioning the changes to Effort Values and competitive play would keep me here forever. To most, the Alola Region, and these games, are probably going to be widely hailed as the finest hour for the franchise so far. And I’d agree with them... but only to a point. I love that Alola is the most refreshing place I’ve had the pleasure to explore in my twenty-year Pokémon journey. I’m vexed that handfuls of Sun & Moon’s more obtuse mechanical changes, and artificial means to make “rare stuff” all the rarer, make me miss the games that came before. Pros + Several long-awaited mechanical changes help to make this the most refreshing, and somewhat unpredictable Pokémon game you'll play so far. + The region of Alola is expertly crafted, with a strong sense of individuality and community that extends far beyond the narrative, to even influencing the GUI and altering traditional sound-effects. + I didn't run into a single new Pokémon I don't like...and hey, Pokémon you might know, like Raichu, have new appearances and battle styles! Cons - The Alolan Pokédex is the smallest compendium of creatures since Pokémon Diamond & Pearl, which released almost ten years ago. - The concept of a "rare Pokémon" or "rare item" has been stretched to levels border-lining the obscene. More than one Pokémon has a 1% encounter rate by normal means, Almost forty others are hidden behind "S.O.S. Battles" - "S.O.S. Battles" are extremely tedious to work with, outside of the Island Trials. If you want to catch a Pokémon, you'd better be ready to take down 2-6 of its buddies, minimum. Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great The Alola region of Pokémon Sun & Moon is probably the most refreshing place to hit Pokémon games in sixteen years. But some oddball design decisions may make some longtime fans miss how certain things used to be.
  8. Welcome to the eighty-ninth week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed last week's, check it out. Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday. Genesect is being distributed at GameStop until November 24th. Every single Mythical Pokémon will be distributed during a specific month for the remainder of this year. Now may be your only chance for a really long time, to actually catch them all! -------------------------------- The Wait Is Over As you’re reading my final thoughts before sitting down to play Pokémon Sun...I’m probably curled up somewhere, making my way through it. The rolled out this week, too. The end of it, which showed off a collection of all the “big moments” as they were revealed to us since February, definitely made the cogs in my head turn a little. Over the next few weeks, my brain will shift from speculative to critical...since I’ll be reviewing the game. It’s been over 85 weeks since I started this Individual Values feature, on the cusp of Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire. Time and time again, Game Freak has made me think critically about this goofy series with psychic surfing, purple ghosts and Popplio...and where my life [and future wife] are now because of it. I’ve chronicled all my thoughts over tens of thousands of words, making sure to leave no stone unturned. We’ve been fed tiny trailer bits for almost nine months that all seem to indicate, “Things are different this time! Better than ever before! There’s so much to do, and so much to see.” They’ve had an unprecedented bolster in sales expectations, likely due to the success of Pokémon GO—another thing I would have never seen coming, at the start of all this. All of Shigeru Ohmori’s proverbial [Psy]ducks are in a row. There’s never been a better opportunity to release a brand new Pokémon game, especially one that mixes up long-established series conventions. And that’s why...I’m going to be among its harshest critics. I’ve been around and in love with the series for most of its major marketing shifts. The last time Game Freak tried to do something “different” was Black 2 & White 2—my least favorite games in the entire franchise. I know these are fundamentally different times and approaches. But rest assured, even if I never get around to properly elaborating on what exactly I dislike about B2&W2, I will not gush about Sun & Moon just because they're different. One thing I’ll note in particular, speaking of Unova. The Festival Plaza seems like a refresh of Join Avenue, from those games. Now that they’ve taken an entire generation to improve upon Pokémon’s online communications, I’ll be interested to see just how much the basic concept has evolved since 2012. There are multiple parallels to be drawn from the franchise’s entire history...and I suppose that’s fitting, for the “major anniversary games”. I wonder how hard I’ll be fighting with myself to write a review that doesn’t sound like a glorified list of “same vs. different”. I suppose there’s not much left to say, other than that. Let’s all see and judge for ourselves, starting today! I’m not sure what the next few Individual Values pieces will focus on, but you can at least expect a full review, another “The Year in Pokémon”, and...one heck of a send-off to Pokémon’s 20th anniversary from me, at least.
  9. Review: Creepy Castle

    Developer: Dopterra Publisher: Nicalis Platform: PC Release Date: October 31, 2016 ESRB: Not rated (Everyone recommended) As I make my way through a game for review, my mind can’t help but draw comparisons. It’s folly, I admit; and I’ve spent most of my years in the industry trying to suppress these initial instincts. Every once and awhile, I run into something whose contemporaries are so few, that I find myself grasping at straws... using words like “quirky” and “obtuse” to describe mechanics and premises therein. When a game’s Kickstarter used buzzwords like “one-of-a-kind” to describe itself, I figured it’d make a conscious effort to be different. I never imagined the list of contemporaries I’d come up with to describe what something “feels like” overall would be... a list of just one. And what’s more, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru — known as “The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls” in English — isn’t exactly familiar to the masses. But, that’s the way it goes sometimes. I suppose Creepy Castle really is “quirky” if the only real contemporary it has is something only found on a Japanese Game Boy. I typically layer my writing, addressing presentation-related fodder first and foremost. But I think it’s important to follow calling a game “quirky” with describing precisely how. So it goes: Have you ever played a side-scrolling game that doesn’t have a jump button? The fundamental level design treats gaps or spaces elevated by just a single square as obstacles that must be conquered through further exploration. You’ll see a thing that’s just out of your reach, and have to go around and try to approach it from another side or angle. Getting to the end of most scenarios involves a fairly linear progression. But there’s some degree of puzzle-solving in the environments you traverse, even before we get to battling proper. See those hearts and the different battle styles in the screenshots above? In my mind, Creepy Castle lifts the concept of “dueling” from The Frog For Whom the Bell Tolls. If it were made twenty years ago, the player character would just approach his or her enemy, mash a button to swat at it and take away one of its hearts, then usually get a heart taken away on their side in retaliation. Use food to recover your health after a duel... then rinse and repeat until the game is won. The Game Boy game I’ve drawn comparison to focuses far more on its writing and level design than its combat. But Creepy Castle takes things a step further, in an effort to highlight battling just as much as its writing and levels. Indeed, you’ll have several instances where you’ll just mindlessly swat each other back and forth. But many passing turns feature reflex-based instances to spice up fighting a bit. There are numerous types of duels (and optional, readable tutorials describe each of them in detail, as you come across them). The player might gain the upper-hand in battle by pressing the action button at precisely the right time, when prompted. Some turns may have you press a specific sequence of buttons as shown. There are even duels against mechanized or robotic foes that make you solve brief, timed “pipe puzzles” during your turn, where you rotate bits of a path to make things connect. There’s a lot of variance to combat; that helps things feel a little less repetitive overall. As I use the word “quirky” for the last time: Creepy Castle’s fundamentals amount to somewhat linear, puzzle-focused side-scrolling exploration plus a myriad of reflex-dependent combat styles. Apply these two elements to a basic turn-based RPG structure where experience is found in dungeons instead of gained through fighting, and you have... a quirky thing that could keep the interest a good handful of you, but may turn away folks who prefer movement and exploration in general to feel less restricted. There are four main “scenarios” that focus on specific characters. You'll start off with just “Creepy Castle”, the main story that teaches you — a wandering moth warrior — everything you need to know about the various types of duels and exploring you’ll be up to. Finish that, and you’ll get a sort of Part II in “Ghostly Mystery”. Apart from the main story are two side-bits that intertwine with the plot. “The Depths” is a sort of Great Cave Offensive contrast to the first mode’s linear approach. It even warns that maps are so big, additional loading time may be required, and it definitely stretches your brain a whole lot more than the two scenarios before it! Lastly, there is “Due Exaltation,” where design philosophy borrows a page from Xeodrifter and has you piloting a spaceship to explore multiple planets. Each beaten scenario unlocks “Free Play” where you can go through them as any character you like, without story or constraints — Special Guest Characters are numerous. And consistent with other Nicalis games like 1,001 Spikes, the roster borrows from their own library of published games, and well outside of it, too. On top of all that, there’s a Bestiary, a place to see every piece of gathered “Lore” you’ve read throughout each journey, Achievements, and lots more. For its relatively simple aesthetic and execution, Creepy Castle is definitely packed full of content. Last but absolutely not least — if you lack the reflexes required for intense dueling... there is an “Accessibility Mode” that you can toggle on and off at your leisure from the title screen. It’s not an Easy Mode or something hand-holdy, so much as it’s designed to make everything reflex-oriented about the whole package less physically demanding, for players who might lack (or not prefer) a quick reaction time. Your experience will not suffer as a result of turning this mode on or off. As refreshing as these multiple modes and additional content collectively feel, Creepy Castle is not without is flaws. I may be a dunce... but I saw no means to sort the items you collect throughout the game, so scrolling to the one I needed got kind of vexing a time or two. And while a map function exists, it felt more limiting than it should have been in my opinion — especially in “The Depths.” A means to see where unopened chests, doors, and other relevant things on the map are would have made a decent romp even better, or less frustrating. The biggest gripe I have, though, involves “Ghostly Mystery.” You play it from start to finish as one character, and then you unlock a second part of it... which forces you to retread the exact same dungeons and re-fight the exact same enemies and bosses as a different character, before ultimately seeing through to a new ending. In a game that otherwise doesn’t feel too repetitive, that was definitely jarring. My time with Creepy Castle was consistent with the overall tone it elicits: fun, humorous and adventurous, with occasional dark bits. Its cast of characters is charming, its music and sounds are excellent accents to the experience. Its environments are perplexing in (mostly) the best ways, and... there are heaps of content and customization options to make the experience feel more personalized to you, too. If its premise appeals to you, know that this is a good game made great by the level of care and attention put into it. You may have some gripes like I did, and maybe some bits of dialogue or stylistic choices might bounce right off you. But if you give it a chance, I’m confident you’ll have fun overall. Pros + You don't see this type of combat in an RPG every day. Rather than mindlessly mashing buttons, your reflexes will often be tested + Multiple modes most multiple types of level design. You can explore creepy castles at your leisure, or go to other planets, or explore wide open spaces. + There's an "Accessibility Mode" that accommodates players of all skill levels, allowing anyone to enjoy the full experience. Cons - A whole section of the game amounts to repeating entire levels, even fighting the same enemies and bosses..for additional content tacked onto the end. Definite misstep. - The map and inventory are arguably hard to manage, without minor annoyances. Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Creepy Castle features combat that's more reflex-based than mundane, and level design that's more puzzle-focused than action-oriented. Collectively, it may offer something unique to traditional RPG fans. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  10. Welcome to the eighty-eighth week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed last week's, check it out. Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday. Genesect is being distributed at GameStop until November 24th. Every single Mythical Pokémon will be distributed during a specific month for the remainder of this year. Now may be your only chance for a really long time, to actually catch them all! -------------------------------- Feelings on Spoilers Since February 26th, when the game was first announced, there have been 22 short videos sharing information and gameplay footage of Pokémon Sun & Moon released in North America alone. I did some rough math; all the game's videos on the Pokémon YouTube channel add up to about 50 minutes total. That doesn’t even include the special E3 bit, which would double that to almost 2 hours of recorded pre-release gameplay. Told you that to ask you this: [For you all,] How much is too much, when it comes to “spoiling” a Pokémon game’s content? Everything I’ve discussed on Individual Values since the game’s announcement has kept in line with the information revealed in the trailers thus far. We’ve seen brand new critters, we understand that old critters can take on new appearances and typings in Alola, and there are a myriad of brand new features making their debut in Sun & Moon...from Z-Moves, to an indirect return to Pokémon Snap. If you’ve never watched a single Sun & Moon trailer, though...and your first exposure to the game was playing the Special Demo Version when it released on the eShop last month...you got to see Riding Pokémon, Z-Moves, and even the Poké Finder for yourself, organically...without a specially curated trailer. If you scour the demo enough, you’d even get to see things like Alolan Dugtrio for yourself...recognizing that familiar Pokémon take on new forms in the game. With all that in mind--is it better to be in the dark? Would you rather see for yourself how much a paradigm shift the Sun & Moon games are shaping up to be, instead of being fed bits of information by an admittedly massive marketing machine? Are you completely indifferent, and you've already looked up the entire Alolan Pokédex and more thanks to leaks? For the first time since February, I’m going to reveal a potential “spoiler” about the post-game [??] of Sun & Moon...because the October 27th trailer did so. Skip to the next paragraph, if you're on "Media Blackout". I think knowing what the final evolutions of the Alolan starters are isn’t that big of a deal. And revealing new Pokémon isn’t really harmful to the experience, since there are a good number of them. But: telling me that Pokémon Trainer Red and Gary Oa--I mean Blue, are in the game and you get to fight them in a new place called the “Battle Tree” that lets you face Champions from other regions...might be taking it a bit too far, in my opinion. It kind of makes me wonder: if Gold, Silver & Crystal Version had been new releases in this day and age, would we know about the Kanto region being included in the game prior to taking our first step there? How many potential spoilers like that one are marketable and would help a game get talked about on Social Media? Is it ever going to be possible to experience a Pokémon game “like it used to be” anymore? Is knowing what starter you’ll choose plus the various bells and whistles a game has in advance...the most viable option for the modern and newly introduced Pokémon fan? I have more questions than revelations this week, so I’m certainly interested to hear your thoughts regarding any of the questions I’ve asked. But by golly, let me state for the record: I am ecstatic about what Popplio, Rowlet and Litten will turn out to be. Ye ole fire-cat is probably my least favorite of the three, but it’s not Fire/Fighting, so it’s good enough for me!
  11. Welcome to the eighty-seventh week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed last week's, check it out. Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday. Volcanion is being distributed at GameStop until this coming Monday,October 31st. Every single Mythical Pokémon will be distributed during a specific month for the remainder of this year. Now may be your only chance for a really long time, to actually catch them all! -------------------------------- Crossovers and Oddities Just as a disclaimer: I’m sitting down to write this prior to the October 27th reveal. If anything earth-shattering happens, I suppose I’ll get to it next week! As you’re reading this, I’m either in the air or on the ground in Nashville, attending a friend’s wedding. Anyway, I digress: Have you all heard of the Costume Pikachu line of plushies? This one is probably the most well-known of the bunch. But... we’ve seen Pikachu dress up as other Pokémon, in raincoats or graduation caps, and more. Its “cosplay” is so popular in Japan that there’s even a Monthly Pikachu/Pikachu Pair subscription service in Japan, where you get a new costumed plush each month. I’m not that dedicated, but... I will admit I may have a problem. Told you that to tell you this: Alas, the artwork you see isn’t a spin-off game or mini-game in Pokémon Sun & Moon (yet?), but rather a special Costume Pikachu line celebrating both Pokémon and Mario. I’ve paired it with the original Famicom art for Super Mario Bros. so you can see how outstanding of a tribute it really is. Take a look at the official site to make grabby hands at all the available merchandise to import, if that’s your thing. This line begs the question though. You know, the one I asked way back in IV 20: Why haven’t The Pokémon Company created a platforming game starring Pikachu and others? This special Costume Pikachu certainly seems like a logical first step. There are a handful of interviews out there about Sun & Moon, like these from Game Informer and USGamer. They’re great reads, and there’s plenty of info to glean from them. You can learn why the Alolan Forms we’ve seen are all of Kanto Pokémon in particular, why Soaring won’t be returning in Pokémon Sun & Moon, and even figure out if there’s going to be something special associated with transferring Pokémon from the eShop releases of Red/Blue/Yellow/Green to Sun & Moon. There’s also this bit I picked up from Twitter. To save you a click: It seems HMs will still be present in Sun & Moon, despite the existence and overall purpose of Poké Ride. To reaffirm a bit: the ability to Fly using Charizard, Rock Smash using Tauros, Surf using Lapras, etc — that’s all to negate the need of catching a Bidoof or a Pidgey and putting them on your team with the explicit purpose of making all four moves they learn HMs. I think they could have been more straightforward with what Poké Ride is philosophically made to do by doing away with the concept of HMs entirely, in favor of making field moves like Cut into TMs. But I guess I can properly address this criticism when I get the final game in my hands. Just a few small tidbits this week! Don’t forget: this weekend is your last chance to nab Volcanion at GameStop; it's bound to not be available again for a while. Next month, you’ll need to return there in order to grab Genesect — again, that’s from November 1st through 24th. We’re getting closer and closer to the release of Sun & Moon! I’ll see you guys next week to discuss today’s news and more. But, seriously, I never knew I needed a Pikachu dressed as Luigi until I saw one.
  12. Welcome to the eighty-sixth week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed last week's, check it out. Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday. Keldeo is available via the Nintendo Network until this coming Monday, October 24th. Volcanion is being distributed at GameStop until October 31st. Every single Mythical Pokémon will be distributed during a specific month for the remainder of this year. Now may be your only chance for a really long time, to actually catch them all! -------------------------------- Demolition Switch ...I never would have imagined I’d be talking about the Pokémon Sun & Moon Demo and the revealed identity of Nintendo’s Codename “NX” in the same week. But here we are. Honestly, I’m a little overwhelmed. In the grand scheme of things, departing from the “Wii” and “DS” branding has be breathing the actual biggest sigh of relief. As soon as you see for the Nintendo Switch, you’ll see why this whole thing’s going to come back around to Pokémon in a little while. For now, let’s get a rather big “negative” out of the way. I put that in quotes, because depending on how much you care—this news could bounce right off you. As I feared, the demo for Pokémon Sun & Moon was data-mined within hours. I haven’t sought out spoilers and won’t...and you can rest assured that my Individual Values feature will remain spoiler-free and never discuss data-mined content prior to the game’s release. But for those curious, the entire 7th Generation Pokédex is out there for the world to see now, including every new Pokémon & many not-yet-officially-known Alolan Forms. I think even more info may be out there, but...I’m absolutely living up to the metaphor of putting my head in the ground, and have since the demo released. You all definitely don’t want to hear me waffle on about the Demo for 600 words, when you could just go grab it as we speak and see for yourself. But I’ll offer a few tid-bits in case you’re still on the fence: The Pokémon Sun & Moon Demo is a stand-alone experience that is separate from events in the main game. It has locations you’ll probably rediscover, but the tasks you perform will not be replicated. The story has you take a Greninja sent to you from a mysterious trainer who forgot to write his name, and participate in a quick Island Trial that primarily uses the Poké Finder. It’s got its fair share of battles, so you can see the new and improved UI in action. It’s almost inevitable that you’ll see your Greninja become Ash-Greninja through its Battle Bond Ability. And Professor Kukui lends you his Pikachu holding a Z-Crystal, so you’ll specifically get to see its Z-Move in action during the climax of the story. The unfolding story involves menial tasks, at best. “Go do the thing! Fight the thing!” After about twenty minutes or so of content, you’ll see the trailer for the game, signifying that the demo has come to a close. But: there’s still more to do! If you jump back in after the fact, you’ll unlock Poké Ride to play with a bit, be able to catch (but not keep) critters, discover plenty of items to bring over to the full game, and more. There’s plenty of content, and it’s going to be spread out through daily events. It gives you reason to keep coming back to your tiny piece of the Alola Region before the full game. A few things of note. The UI is even better seen in practice. You can view a Pokémon’s EVs and IVs from the conventional Summary screen for the first time in the main series, with a simple mash of the Y button. Longtime series jingles, like the “Item Get!” chime and the capture music...all have a very Hawaiian flair to them. Even beyond the graphical interface, you’ll notice right away that everything about how the game functions wants Alola to feel unique. There’s not much new in the way of music...it’s all stuff we’ve heard from the various trailers released up to this point. Team Skull isn’t evil...they’re just hard. I’d give the demo a solid eight out of ten, personally. It’s not going to break any ground with its content, but it does a decent job of showing what’s new and returned with the 7th Generation games. You really should give it a try, if you’re not chomping at the bit for Sun & Moon. If you are though, and you don’t really care about Ash-Greninja...I might suggest waiting a bit. Some of the features the demo offers [like Poké Ride for example] feel kind of shoe-horned in. It may be better to experience these things as the actual game’s story allows, with a team you can keep and raise for yourself, instead of just one Pokémon. Don’t let me deter you though! The Nintendo Switch seems like everything the Wii U should have been, in my opinion. Conceptually, it’s like if the Wii U and 3DS merged together to form a beautiful demi-god console & portable hybrid. As seen in the preview trailer, you can indeed play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the go...at the park, on a plane, or in the backseat of your car. If console and portable development have truly merged into one thanks to the Switch--it’s only natural to assume that, for the first time ever, we could see a mainline Pokémon game developed with both portable and TV play in mind. By the time we see an 8th Generation of games, if the Switch has a successful market...hoo, just imagine the possibilities! The Switch certainly seems like it’s ushering a new frontier for Nintendo Gaming. This may hold true for Game Freak and The Pokémon Company as well. Have you played the Sun & Moon Demo for yourself? How do we all feel about it? How did y’all react to the Switch reveal? I guess the “NX” is now the “NS”. Plenty to share, if you’re so inclined!
  13. Welcome to the eighty-fifth week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed last week's, check it out. Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday. Keldeo is available via the Nintendo Network until October 24th. Volcanion is being distributed at GameStop until October 31st. Every single Mythical Pokémon will be distributed during a specific month for the remainder of this year. Now may be your only chance for a really long time, to actually catch them all! -------------------------------- Rainbow Garbage and Synthetic Gods Yet another for Pokémon Sun & Moon was released earlier today. We’ve got some new evolved forms of Pokémon to discuss, as well as Alolan Grimer and Muk. And there were a handful of new characters shown off at the end that could drop some subtle hints of things to be revealed in the not-too-distant future. Honestly, I was expecting something a little “bigger” this week, considering we’re just four days away from the demo... and data-miners "spoiling" everything, ever. Oops, did I say that part out loud? The Pokémon that leaves the most room for discussion of all the ones revealed today is Silvally, the evolved form of Type: Null. When it “gains a partner it can trust,” it destroys the restraining mask on itself, as per the website. Its ability [RKS System] and unique move [Multi-Attack] work the same as Arceus’s Multitype & Judgement combination, if I’m understanding things properly. Its type will change in battle depending on the item it’s holding, and Multi-Attack’s type changes as a result. It’s almost like Type: Null and Silvally are, collectively, a synthetic Arceus. Remember the theory I dropped when Type: Null was first revealed? I still think it’d be really cool to have a MISSINGNO transferred from Pokémon RBY turn into Type: Null -- something that’s effectively a “false-god.” I think this Pokémon in particular is going to be important to Sun & Moon’s narrative, considering the special artwork of it and Gladion… and the fact that he seems to be the only Trainer in Alola who has one. Maybe certain events will unfold, and Gladion will entrust Silvally to the player? Or will there be a second one created for the player’s use? Speculating how one will obtain this very unique Pokémon could certainly lend to some interesting discussion. I liked on why Alolan Grimer has... a bit of a yellow beard going on. But as it turns out... it’s just that way because of crystallized garbage from the region...yuck! I think it’s pretty funny that the website pretty much openly admits that they brought Grimers from other regions to Alola to specifically eat the increased population’s garbage. It certainly piques my interest, that this “tropical vacation” destination seems to rely a little too much on using Pokémon as glorified tools. But I digress! Alolan Muk’s added... garbage layers... aren’t just limited to its mouth. When seeing it in action during the trailer, you can see that it almost has this... unique garbage rainbow hue going on about it, where its toxins are constantly in motion. As it turns out -- this... unique... part of it reduces the intense smell that regular Muks have. That’s a fun tid-bit! Now for some evolutions of new Pokémon. Hakamo-o & Kommo-o are the full line of Jangmo-o, Alola’s Dragon Pokémon. Each generation has had one so far, except Johto. There’s Dragonite, Salamence, Garchomp, Haxorus, and Goodra... but Kommo-o’s a little different! It’s got a unique typing of Dragon & Fighting...which stands a bit in contrast to the numerous Dragon/Flying Pokémon currently on the roster. This one’s definitely looking like it’ll end up on my team. Next: Steene and Tsareena are the full line of Bounsweet, that Pokémon that looks a lot like a tropical fruit. This Pokémon that kind of starts out terrified of everything because it looks so delicious... evolves into a Pokémon with a regal personality (and Ability, to boot). Said ability makes it so intimidating that priority moves (like Quick Attack) are banned! Tsareena doesn’t have a unique typing at all (just pure Grass), but that Ability is certainly something. And lastly, there’s Ribombee, the evolution of Cutiefly. There’s not a whole lot to say about this Pokémon in particular... especially when contemporaries like Beedrill, Butterfree, Beautifly, Vespiquen and more have been done to death at this point. But the typing of “Bug/Fairy” makes this critter unique, and it may be more advantageous than normal to keep Alola’s “beginner bug variation” on your team for a little longer than usual. I guess we’ll see! Last but not least, there were some new Trainers introduced! Olivia is the Kahuna of Akala Island, and specializes in Rock Pokémon. Now... when one of the new leaders made mention of using a Marowak, we got an Alolan Forme sometime later. Olivia used a Nosepass as her introductory Pokémon. Could this point towards an Alolan Probopass, maybe? Or will some other Rock Type out there get a new form to show off... like Geodude, Graveler or Golem, if we’re sticking with Kanto here? And then there’s Illima is a Trial Captain that specializes in Normal Types. Hopefully we won’t get a repeat of Whitney’s Miltank [and its Rollout], eh? Next week’s Individual Values is gonna be interesting, indeed. I’ll offer up my thoughts on the Pokémon Sun & Moon Special Demo... and kinda hoping against hope that most of the game stays under wraps, so we can discover things for ourselves. Until then: how do you all feel about the new Pokémon and people shown off today? Anyone else find Alolan Muk as unsettling as I do? Be sure to let us know!
  14. Welcome to the eighty-fourth week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed last week's, check it out. Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday. Keldeo is available via the Nintendo Network until October 24th. Volcanion, will be distributed at GameStop starting on October 10th. You you have a second chance to get Hoopa by using the code 2016HOOPA until this Sunday, so act fast. No idea when the second-chance Darkrai ends, but that code is Darkrai20. Every single Mythical Pokémon will be distributed during a specific month for the remainder of this year. Now may be your only chance for a really long time, to actually catch them all! -------------------------------- Secondary Forms and Festivals I’m not even sure where to begin this week. has a wide variety of talking points, many of which could afford to take up their own “spots” in a weekly feature. But I’ll take things little by little, and certainly try my best. We got to see the secondary evolutions of the Alola Starters: Dartrix, Torracat, and Brionne. There’s the debut of a brand new area to the series called the “Festival Plaza”. Poké Pelago is a “paradise for Pokémon in your PC”. Mega Evolution is confirmed to return. And last but certainly not least--a Special Demo Version of the game will be available on October 18th--and it’ll feature Ash-Greninja. The website detailed changes coming to the Pokémon Global Link as well, and people discovered a new Evolution Stone along the way, too. Let’s start with the starters, shall we? I imagine some of you have seen the “Dartrix = Miles Edgeworth” memes circulating, as well as other playful jabs at its hair and personality. Torracat remains quadrupedal and sticks with just the Fire type...although I don’t think it’ll remain that way. And Brionne seems to take Popplio in a bit of a more feminine direction, much to certain corners of the Internet’s dismay. (Never mind the heaps of other examples, going all the way back to Jigglypuff & Clefairy...to the much more recent Delphox line.) I’m not going to post the image here on the article, in case of potential spoilers. But for those curious: these secondary evolutions seem in-line with a piece of supposed concept art that’s been floating around for a long time depicting each starter’s final evolution. According to this image: Rowlett’s final form kind of takes on the appearance of a hooded archer, like Green Arrow. Litten’s final form has it standing on two feet, and kind of reminds me of the old SWAT KATS cartoon from the nineties, if I’m being honest. And Popplio takes on the appearance of a sort of mermaid--certainly in line with the feminine-looking Brionne, if I do say so. Nothing is confirmed or denied as of yet, but I’m certainly more convinced of this image’s authenticity after seeing the new trailer. The Festival Plaza seems to imply changes in how the games handle online communication since XY & ORAS. The website mentions that this will be the specific place to go in order to trade and battle with players from around the world. I guess that means you won’t be able to trade Pokémon from anywhere you stand anymore? I suppose the developers considered many ways XY & ORAS Trainers could take advantage of the “go online anywhere” features--like getting all the starters immediately, and so on. Benefits attached to the Festival Plaza seem to point towards cosmetic things [like using its currency to purchase dye that will alter the colors of clothes you’re currently wearing], as well as battle-related things. It mentions being able to grab “bouncy houses for your Pokémon to train in”, and I see Pokémon’s stats--presumably IVs--going up in the trailer. Could this also be a new approach to purchasing Battle Items like Leftovers & Choice Specs, in lui of something like the Battle Maison from Generation 6? That part’s just me speculating, but it would certainly be a decent alternative to “battle tower hax”. Finally, Pokémon in your PC will be given something to do besides sit in cyber-space collecting dust. Poké Pelago seems to be an interesting way to encourage interacting with critters you wouldn’t normally use while advancing the story, kind of like the PokéWalker and other accessories or mini-games from games past. The trailer showed off gathering beans for use in the new Grooming portion of the game, as well as a means to obtain Evolution Stones. It really seems as useful as it does fun. I think Game Freak is attempting to address the criticism that stones/Evolution Items/Battle Items are tough to obtain for non-competitive players due to the “hardcore” nature of things like the Battle Maison...by introducing mini-games to play, rather than battles to fight. And then there’s the demo. As “hyped” as plenty of people are--I offer a bit of caution, in the coming weeks. The Special Demo Version for Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire was data-mined to oblivion shortly after its release, spoiling a great many new details about the game. I have little doubt hackers will dissect the Sun & Moon demo with an unrelenting fervor, bringing about leaks that will likely be impossible to avoid on Social Media in the month before the game releases. Be careful out there, if you don’t want to be spoiled! But hey, Ash-Greninja is a thing in the games! It’ll probably be like the Notch-Eared Pichu from HG/SS, and forever stuck in the 7th Generation. But I’m interested to see how the demo ties in the appearance of this character from the anime in the new games, for sure. Ultimately, I’m immensely satisfied with this trailer in particular. They always reveal just enough to make me feel like I know something, but also want to hear way more about newly revealed features and mechanics. We won’t be waiting long, as more news is coming on October 14th...just a few days before the release of the demo. How do you all feel about some of the things introduced in the newest trailer? Have you changed your mind about what starter you’ll choose? Be sure to let us know!
  15. Developer: Square-Enix, ArtePiazza Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Nintendo 3DS Release Date: September 16th, 2016 ESRB: E10+ Dragon Quest must seem like a weird series to look in on from the outside. If you were to travel to Japan, there’d be no arguing its relevance there. The main theme plays on trains today, Dragon Quest III made kids and adults go crazy a few decades back... It’s certainly safe to say that it’s as recognizable there as something like Final Fantasy is in the West. Fans here are much harder to come by. But they are legion, so to speak — often having to form campaigns or move proverbial mountains to convince Nintendo and Square-Enix that the franchise still has a place in the West, outside of quirky spin-offs and mobile ports. As history is known to repeat itself, the two 3DS Dragon Quest games that die-hard fans have been clamoring for since at least 2012...were finally confirmed for release outside Japan, last year. Dragon Quest VIII is the only entry left in the main series that I’ve yet to play. From what I hear...it’s bold & beautiful, it’s very character-driven, it’s newcomer friendly, and it’s one of only a few examples of Dragon Quest feeling “modern”. Dragon Warrior VII, as the West knew it in the days of the original PlayStation... is none of those things. As you can tell from the graphics alone, there was little separating it from the Super Nintendo entries that came before it. It’s been harped on for its obscene length — some saying it took over 100 hours to see the credits roll. Even die-hard fans could list numerous flaws, without so much as a second to think about it. Enter: Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past on Nintendo 3DS, a remake of the PlayStation game many once knew... that rebuilt everything from the ground up, including fully 3D-rendered graphics, a fully orchestrated soundtrack in Japan, and a brand new script for the West. There are a few out there to tell you what exactly has changed between the original game and its remake. But I'm not one of them. This was my very first time with VII. I can’t really tell you how things were, but I can certainly tell you plainly how things are. And that’s why — before I say anything else — I have to give caution where it’s due. If you are brand new to Dragon Quest, I promise that VII on 3DS is not the place to start. It took me 80 hours to reach the credits, and I’d guess anyone who touches the game will average a minimum of 72-75. Its length alone is incredibly daunting! Again: the original game was over 100 hours; the developers consider 80 hours to be that journey at its most trimmed down... and I genuinely feel they’re right. I can’t confidently say that any substantial part of the narrative or world deserved to be cut in transition from PlayStation to 3DS. Everything I ever did felt worthwhile, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with some mechanics or choices made. And that’s the other point I’ve got to hammer in. Many of my contemporaries have or will harp on Dragon Quest VII for being “stuck in the past”. Don’t get me wrong: I love that about these games. But the voices of dissent are absolutely correct. You can’t select a single enemy to target out of a group of them. There’s inventory management: characters in your party are only able to hold up to a certain number of items, while a Bag you pull things in and out of takes care of the rest. Permanent saving can only be done in towns, often making dungeons harder [or at least more of an endurance test] than they should be. There are numerous caveats about Dragon Quest games in general that most hobbyists will call “archaic” and “poorly aged”, at best. If you are intimidated by a super long Japanese RPG that’s the equivalent of a stubborn old man, in terms of its mechanics, I implore you to wait for the port of Dragon Quest VIII on 3DS instead. That game was much more beloved in its time, and it definitely seems like an easier pill to swallow. ...If I still have your attention after that, then the rest of what I have to say is mostly smooth sailing. Let’s keep coasting along, shall we? Fragments of the Forgotten Past is, at its core, a tale of world-building... literally. The world starts out as just a single island. You play as a fisherman’s son, who begins his day running a series of mundane errands that automatically try your patience right from the start. But if you stick with it past that first 90 minutes or so, you’ll wind up in a mysterious land with your best friend the prince and the mayor’s daughter... as the very first monster you’ve ever seen, a Slime, draws near. As the story slowly unfolds, you’ll set out to find 130 strange fragments... whose purpose is to literally piece together the 18 major civilizations of the world. Whether one set of fragments takes you to a tiny village, or another has you traversing an entire continent... this wide, wild world is handled in brilliantly strung together vignettes. The fisherman’s son is destined to become a hero, and figure out why the whole world became so small in the first place... by saving one island at a time. Each major location has a history... and you’ll often get to experience and change its history for the better, first-hand! There’s not a whole lot of character development in the party, if I’m being honest. Your cast of playable characters is certainly unique (and they typically have something funny, helpful or honest to contribute to the unfolding story, if you press the “Party Chat” button right as a crucial plot point happens), but the people they meet are of much more importance to the narrative as a whole. The “world” of Dragon Quest VII is absolutely my favorite part of the game, by far. It scratches a personal itch for me that games like Golden Sun managed in the past. And — consistent with the rest of the series — it’s filled to the brim with puns, strong accents, and allusions to real world places and endeavors. Certain aspects of the game are arguable, but its script and story are absolutely wonderful. Before I start to pick things apart, here’s just a few more high notes. The visuals were practically peerless when the game first came out almost four years ago, and they’ll still impress today. Nobody brings a monster to life quite like [character designer Akira] Toriyama does! Battle scenes are consistent with the dungeons you’re exploring in, often going out of their way to reflect precise detail that goes above and beyond most generic battle backdrops. Characters themselves are perhaps the most animated I have ever seen in my 25 years as a Dragon Quest faithful. When the king is mad at your foolhardy best friend, the camera pans as he slowly looks you both in the eye, and strums his fingers impatiently along the side of his chair, tapping and waiting for the prince’s latest excuse. While the music isn’t fully orchestrated here in the West, it’s definitely a few steps up in quality from the PlayStation MIDIs of the year 2000. Its arranged expertly enough to fool an untrained ear, at times. The level of care and attention I've seen here far exceeds series standards. Even when the game would test my patience, the ludicrous degree of polish is what kept me pushing forward. And gosh, does Dragon Quest VII test your patience. Its stubbornness is among its biggest flaws. Here’s an example: One part of my quest took me to an island with a tiny village called Providence. There’s a mountain right outside the village that leads up to a church, and... I must have climbed up and down that mountain five separate times in order to advance the story, and only one of them had the place rid of monsters. The concepts of backtracking or retreading old ground is something Dragon Quest VII takes pride in, for goodness sake. You may think you left the fiery volcano you journeyed down around Hour 15 behind — but you’ll be coming back around to it around Hour 65! Sure... there are new enemies, and a brief bit of a new location inside your retreading... but that aged, stubborn concept is what’s going to make even the most patient RPG fan or Dragon Quest veteran scratch their head. One bit that is unique to the remake is the act of initiating battles. The PlayStation original featured random battles, where enemies could not be seen. The remake generates enemies you come in contact with to prompt a battle. While this concept worked fine in Dragon Quest IX... the level design in VII has you going down a bunch of tiny corridors where encounters are often impossible to avoid. It’s easy to dodge a big, fat dragon on the world map as you’re going from one town to the next. But that same dragon will probably take up your whole bit of walking space, if you’re packed into a tiny hallway after some treasure. And because the enemies are randomly generated and not set….you could kill a dragon in front of the chest, take about 5 seconds to open it up, and have another dragon spawn right behind you where you just were. It didn’t grate on me too much, but... goodness, is this an example of a time where a balanced random battle system is sometimes superior to an unbalanced enemy encounter system. Fragments of the Forgotten Past is, at its core, an endurance test. If you can endure the first 90 minutes without a fight... things pick up, and I feel most players will genuinely appreciate where you are & how you got there. If you can endure the more rugged parts the entire 80 hour journey... you’ll probably walk away with a smile on your face, as I feel this world is among the best Dragon Quest as a series has to offer. I've had a blast, and I’m going to push my time with the game beyond what’s required and go explore some post-game dungeons, recruit some monsters, and even create Traveler's Tablets to StreetPass with. But this isn’t a game where I can say, “Everyone should try this! Everyone will love it!” For all of the above reasons and more, Dragon Quest VII is an incredibly nuanced experience. It’s a great game that’s targeted at a very specific crowd of people — I just happen to be one of those people! If anything I’ve said appeals to you, especially if you’re familiar with how Dragon Quest as a series “works,” I don’t think you’ll regret giving this one a try. Pros + Herein lies a spectacular example of world-building as a plot device. The story is told in a series of vignettes that capture a range of emotions. + Dragon Quest mechanics are tried and true. If traditional turn-based battles and bosses that test endurance versus a certain gimmick are your cup of tea, you'll fare all right. + For being such a long game, there is adequate signposting every step of the way. Easily playable in small bursts. Cons - The game is stubborn to a fault, often forcing backtracking and dungeon retreading to hammer in the idea of hardship. - The encounter system does not mesh well with the dungeon design. Small corridors lead to many a forced fight. - Length could work against the experience here, if you're not patient with some antiquated game mechanics. Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great The remake of Dragon Quest VII will test your patience. But if you endure, you'll come away knowing (and probably enjoying) one of the best worlds that Dragon Quest has to offer.
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