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Jonathan Higgins

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  1. Jonathan Higgins

    Game of the Year 2020: Jonathan's Picks

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

    Jonathan's Review/Editorial Images

    All the images from anything I review/write about in one place!
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  10. Moon: A Remix RPG Adventure has very few contemporaries. You’ll hear people describe some of its mechanics as being similar to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask or Chibi-Robo! Plug Into Adventure, but it predates them both. After some brief exposition that mostly serves as a parody of the genre, it’s an RPG where there’s no combat to be found. Its opening hours managed to successfully transport me back to the late ‘90s—and all the feelings that came with. I'll share just some of those feelings now: When I was about eleven years old, in 1998, I played Yoshi’s Story for the Nintendo 64. It’s one of the most innocuous narratives Nintendo’s ever penned: some newborn Yoshis set out to rescue the Super Happy Tree from Baby Bowser by... eating lots of fruit and having fun. The page turns, the Yoshis grow happier. Happiness was... 'the point.' I was enamored. I totally put together a picture book that told the story of the game after I beat it—like I said, enamored. As I played it over and over again, I eventually wanted to learn its secrets. And that’s how I came across the two “hidden Yoshis” you have to save—a black one and a white one. Saving the white Yoshi egg from its bubbly prison and carrying it to safety proved difficult for Little Me. And that’s how an eleven year-old boy wound up crying to his father in frustration. “Because I’m not good enough, that cute Yoshi’s gonna be trapped and sad forever.” Fortunately, my dad was empathetic and just encouraged me to keep trying, instead of scolding me for crying. But... that’s how it’s always been, with me. Video games played a part in teaching me empathy from a young age. Whenever I play Super Mario World, I always take Yoshi with me—he deserves to help rescue his friends. If I reach a point in the level where Mario has to go it alone, I still quietly say, “Bye Yoshi,” to whatever screen I’m staring at. It’s the same with Kirby whenever he greets me, interacting with my innumerable Pokémon, or any video game friend I come across: I primarily engage with video games because it’s a way to make these fictional characters and worlds happier than they were before. In case it wasn’t obvious by now, I’m a pacifist. Violence is only ever a last resort for me, and seeing even cartoonish “blood & guts” tends to weird me out, let alone how... um, over the top Mortal Kombat’s gotten as of late. I’m always thinking critically about the kinds of games I engage with. Characters like Mario make me happy, because the enemies you best aren’t really killed. Turn the same corner, and they’re back where they were, like you were never there. The robots Sonic destroys have cute animals inside—he’s just out to free his friends. Monsters in Dragon Quest V offer to join your party specifically after you defeat them... so you’re probably not murdering everything that crosses your path, so much as “making them faint” like Pokémon. This is the part where I mention Undertale, an RPG where you don’t have to kill anyone. It was the first RPG I’ve ever played where I felt comfortable enough to be myself—basically running from everyone with my tail between my legs. It’s pretty much my go-to example these days when I’m referencing games that can be empathetic. In the context of that world, the monsters you fight—or don’t fight—have hearts. You’re absolutely encouraged not to kill them, and you’re pretty severely challenged (and punished) if you do. So when the creator of Undertale brought up Moon as a game that inspired it, the quirky PS1 “anti-RPG” from the late nineties certainly had my attention. It was ported to Nintendo Switch and localized in regions outside Japan this year for the first time ever, two decades after its initial release. In Moon, you play as a little boy who gets sucked into the world of the RPG he was playing by way of his TV. The boy quickly learns the hero he played as is actually a freaking jerk—just a nuisance in general, plus he runs around killing monsters that were just minding their own business and doing no harm. It definitely has all the trappings of a pacifist game. Instead of killing enemies to gain experience points like the hero, the little boy saves the souls of dearly departed monsters by just catching them, gaining Love instead. He never hurts anyone. The player is acting against the typical RPG hero; the goal is just to hang around various locales in the world, getting to know and helping everyone you see. You gain Love that’s quantified in the game, and hopefully the kind of love that goes beyond it. “Bye, Yoshi.” In order to get to the heart of why I’ve sat down to write all this out, I have to spoil the endings of both Moon and Undertale. Stop reading if you’d rather not know what happens, then come back when you do. Here’s a scene from the former's ending. The little boy has helped build a rocket, and he actually blasts off to the moon. He needs to eventually be the one to open “The Door to the Light”, and thwart that murdering jerk of a hero once and for all with the power of his Love. When you arrive, the fifty souls of monster friends you’ve saved are waiting for you. It’s a scene that’s extremely similar to what Undertale’s title screen becomes if you don’t hurt anything—there are lots of happy friends. Moon absolutely sets you up like you’re about to see a happy ending. The quantifiable Love you earned should work hand in hand with your love for all your new fictional friends & the world. The quirky characters kept me going, despite rather dated frustrations. But then... once the little boy learns he can’t open the door at all, and the hero has snuck on board his rocket... my gosh, do things take a turn. Scenes of the “hero” slicing through the souls of every single monster I saved were genuinely tough to watch. The camera forces you to see the hero’s point of view for almost the first time in the entire story, going out of its way to show him erasing all those friendly monsters from existence. All the while, three guiding characters that have been around for my entire adventure were constantly saying, “Because you failed to open the door, because your Love wasn’t strong enough, we meet a tragic end.” They said, “goodbye, jon,” before the “hero” sliced them to literal bits in front of me—bits of data. Oh, that’s the chilliest part of all. See: in Undertale, if you do kill a monster, you see its pixelated heart break in two. It’s meant to have a soul—to feel real. Moon, by contrast, depicts dead monsters as what they are to folks who don’t feel like I do—just data. Cold, empty, meaningless husks of data. If you think of the hundreds of data chips piled on the ground between “JON” the hero and “jon” the boy as corpses, this ending screen of Moon is downright terrifying. “Please, jon. Maybe there’s another reality out there where you do open the door.” Your wizard friend’s parting words still ring in your ears as...the little boy’s mother manages to pull him out of the TV’s trance and tells him to go to bed. Faced with this screen & fresh memories of friendly characters getting unceremoniously murdered specifically because you failed everyone... you’re given a choice. If you select YES when prompted to continue, the boy gets sucked back into the world inside the TV and “END” appears on the bottom right of your screen. All you’re left with is an empty bedroom. Wanting to go back and correct your failures as a player—wanting to save your monster friends this time is... the wrong choice to make, in Moon. As you move the cursor to select NO, the camera pans to highlight the boy’s door. If you do select it, the boy puts down his controller and opens the door to his room, leaving the game behind. The ending shows all kinds of doors opening up after he does this… including the “Door to the Light” you failed to open in the game moments before. You watch the surviving human NPCs go through it, as if that’s supposed to make everything better. Does the ending expect me to forget that I’ve left these other characters for dead? I feel like Moon doesn’t believe that Love can or should be quantified in video games. I’m not really sure it believes video games should be empathetic at all. It would rather you learn to love the real world instead—because the monsters and people you met as you played through everything are just bits of data, after all. There’s no way to save them from meeting their tragic end... except to stop playing, and choose “NO” even when you know you’ve failed. Most of the deep connections that people feel to fiction are beneficial. Make-believe characters are so much more powerful than just actors on TV, or bits of data callously murdered on screen. I watched Moon’s ending on YouTube after I rolled credits on my Switch, because I was convinced I really had done something wrong and failed. People in the comments sung its praises as an example of games as art. But I feel like the whole thing’s very cynical—like the developers see video games as a product & their characters as just... marketing tools. It seems like they’re criticizing the medium by saying that Love will never work as a variable that can be measured, like “experience points” or a high score. But Undertale begs to differ. God, my experiences as a player beg to differ. I’m very much aware that Pokémon aren’t real. But my connections to them are. I’ve got a Pikachu hanging out in Pokémon Shield that’s been my friend for fifteen years, “traveling across time and space” to be with me since we met in Pokémon LeafGreen. How I feel about that li’l Pikachu is absolutely quantified, game after game. I’ve genuinely never felt more disappointed with a video game than I have when I finished Moon. In how the story chooses to end, it undoes every bit of empathy I gained from learning about its world. I just wanted to sit down and communicate why a game whose playable character literally gains Love... instead may make you hurt by the end.
  11. Jonathan Higgins

    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 people, 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. for 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 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, let's 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 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.) 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. 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, it's all going to grow very stale and get very repetitive. 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 begets 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 would 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 are left: The adventure plays out with you and nine other partied-up allies. But... for over half the game, you only 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. What can be deal-breakers for a majority of you, no doubt, I've overlooked or let slide. Why? The answer is simple: I got to see a very long story...with its share of humor, twists and turns...play out starring 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 will only 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, "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.
  12. For those of you who don't know, or haven't read my review, Pokémon ORAS has a super-expansive, Super Secret Base experience. These are cool little spots to decorate, battle, collect stuff and more. And you can head online to visit friends' Secret Bases, pass folks via StreetPass, and...yes indeed, generate QR Codes for your bases to send to others. That's what this thread is for! Share yours as well! You can obtain them by creating a Secret Base, then using your PC inside the base to find the appropriate option. All your base are belong to us!
  13. Jonathan Higgins

    Game of the Year 2019: Jonathan's Picks

    All that glitters is gold. And after this year, I’ve no choice but to believe that all my gaming wishes come true. No, seriously — I wanted Kirby’s animal friends to come back; they did. I wanted Phantasy Star Online 2 to be localized, and now I owe Barrel a kingdom. STREETS OF RAGE 4 is gonna be a thing next year and Adam Hunter’s finally playable again. I didn’t even know how badly I wanted Sonic Mania or Super Mario Odyssey until the moment I saw them. But nothing will ever hold a candle to how viscerally I reacted during the last few minutes of the February 13th Nintendo Direct this year. Anyone who I consider a friend knows how this Game of the Year list is going to end. But hey, it’s more about the journey than the destination, right? Here are ten-ish... gaming-related things released in North America this year that I enjoyed the most. That sweeping statement ought to cover my bases and let me get away with a technicality or two, huh? 10) Kingdom Hearts III This pick echoes how I feel about Persona 5. So much style, I’m tempted to use the phrase “practically peerless” yet again. It was enjoyable to actually play, barring a few rough edges. The soundtrack is the real mark of mastery. Gosh, though—the writing leaves a lot to be desired. This isn’t your generic, “Lol, the plot of Kingdom Hearts is labyrinthine and hard to understand,” take — I understood everything pretty darn well. It’s just... the script constantly does wrong by the women of the series. The localization changed meaningful dialogue between characters in unsatisfactory ways, too. Nomura and friends scored use of a major IP in Frozen, but Sora, Donald and Goofy absolutely do not belong when they wander around in Arendelle. You get to see the iconic “Let It Go” song being sung by Elsa’s proper voice actress — and the Kingdom Hearts characters are just kind of standing off to the side like, “Oooh, pretty.” I’ve been able to suspend my disbelief with “Square-Enix’s take on Disney worlds” over the years. So much style, I’m tempted to use the phrase “practically peerless” yet again. But III was the first time where the properties used were so big that Nomura probably wasn’t given a whole lot of wiggle room to make his prized original characters feel like they actually belonged in the stories they were pushing forward. Kingdom Hearts III is truly “AAA” in terms of budget and Disney’s involvement... and the writing suffers for it. Everything else, though, is so ridiculously cool and over-the-top that it managed to squeeze onto my list... despite me feeling more bitter than sweet. If I had a list of personal criticisms regarding mechanics in past Kingdom Hearts titles, III addresses every single one of them. It has more than just nostalgia going for it — the team has learned a lot since around 2001 when all this stuff started. I have such a love/hate relationship here. But it still deserves this spot as one of the more memorable parts of my gaming year. 9) Trials of Mana Seiken Densetsu 3 may have come out in 1995, but it didn't make its way to North America until this past summer. What we now know as Trials of Mana isn’t just a stellar SNES title — it’s the Mana series at its finest hour. Final Fantasy Adventure is lovely, and Secret of Mana will always have a nostalgic place in my heart. But I’d pay $40 for Trials of Mana all by itself, much less the full Collection of Mana package. The mechanics that help make Secret of Mana a timeless classic to many have been refined here. Hit detection is much better overall, and you don’t have to level up a character’s magic spell or preferred weapon by using them hundreds of times. Rather than sticking with a small cast like the previous two Mana titles, there are six characters the player can mix and match to form a party of three. The story, final boss, and endings will vary depending upon who leads your crew and who joins them, adding a degree of replay value. ...Trials of Mana isn’t just a stellar SNES title — it’s the Mana series at its finest hour. That said, nothing really holds a candle to Trials of Mana’s character class customization. I’ve genuinely never needed a dedicated healer (as is oft a trope of Japanese action RPGs). My most recent team of Hawkeye, Riesz, and Angela were powerful enough to steamroll entire groups of enemies & bosses while only needing to rely on consumable items to get the job done. Very few action-RPGs of its day can claim to be as balanced as Trials of Mana. It was a blast to play the fan translation on my PC multiple decades back...but it is a privilege to finally be able to pay for it and play it on the big screen. Truly, no entry in the Mana series has matched its overall quality, before or since. 8. Cadence of Hyrule Rogue-likes — the genre that houses some of my favorites like Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon & Azure Dreams — are a guilty pleasure of mine. Crypt of the Necrodancer takes those mechanics and combines them with elements of a rhythm game. Every enemy, piece & part of the environment only moves when you move — but you have to move in sync with the beat of the song playing, or you’re penalized. Cadence of Hyrule is this exact same premise, but with all the trappings of your typical top-down Zelda (spoilers, but you’ll see the best example of that elsewhere on this list). You can play as either Link or Zelda (finally!) & freely explore a randomly generated Hyrule, moving to the beat of the music… ...or not! Holy Toledo, the Fixed-Beat Mode baked into Cadence of Hyrule turned it from something I’d have to regrettably pass on (I am not the biggest fan of rhythm-based mechanics — there are valid reasons I’ll never “git gud” enough to keep up) into one of my favorites this year. Utilizing this mode turns the whole experience into “Zelda Mystery Dungeon” & nothing more... which I am absolutely, positively here for. Brace Yourself Games has shown everyone that these unique indie collaborations should be a new standard for Nintendo. I’m so happy Nintendo essentially licensed out The Legend of Zelda to a small group of talented fans. The custom art feels like a natural evolution of The Minish Cap. From a design standpoint, these folks took weapons & other mechanics from all the great top-down Zeldas and blended them into a short, sweet, infinitely replayable (due to almost every aspect being randomly generated) package. Brace Yourself Games has shown everyone that these unique indie collaborations should be a new standard for Nintendo. I hope it’s the first of many, to be frank. The old dogs at Tokyo EAD could absolutely learn some new tricks by allowing these one-of-a-kind spin-offs to elevate their most popular franchises. 7) Knights & Bikes EarthBound, The Goonies, Moonrise Kingdom — a handful of titles across multiple forms of media come to mind when I think of adventures starring children that genuinely capture the whimsy of being a kid. Knights & Bikes is another example I can happily add to this list, headed up by the Lead Creator of Tearaway, and one of the programmers of titles like LittleBigPlanet and Ratchet & Clank. Two little ladies (Demelza & Nessa) and their pet goose (an endearing fellow named Captain Honkers, the true Best Goose of 2019) explore the coasts of Penfurzy island on their bikes, looking for treasure & adventure. If you’re looking for fun without giant swords and guns, their weapons of choice to take down baddies are things like frisbees, water-balloons, something pretty heavily inspired by the Power Glove for the NES, and a boom-box. Their tale is the kind of coming-of-age story that’s spun literal children’s books. Themes can get fairly glum, and tensions can run fairly high towards the end — but this is truly an experience meant for the whole family. It’s inclusive... genuinely fun to explore, and an absolute visual treat. You can pretty much immediately tell this is from some of the minds who melded Tearaway and other Media Molecule-headed romps. It’s inclusive — to the point where you can pick whether or not Nessa’s a vegetarian & have Demelza alter a story she’s telling to reflect that choice — genuinely fun to explore, and an absolute visual treat. Knights & Bikes is a short, sweet adventure that left me hoping this single Kickstarted game gives way to an entire new transmedia franchise that brings new books, console entrees, and shows alike. 6) The Sega Genesis Mini Y’all, this is the finest “nostalgic tiny console with a compilation of games” ever released. 42 games ported over by M2, the legendary developers behind the SEGA Ages titles, that turn everything they touch into the definitive versions of each game. While the SEGA Mini doesn’t quite elevate examples like Monster World IV or Sonic Spinball into the modern era with exclusive features that’d be present if they were all SEGA Ages titles — they are flawless ports. And the library features stuff you thought you’d never see released digitally again, like Mega Man: The Wily Wars, Dynamite Headdy, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, and a good 10 other truly “deep cuts” from SEGA’s legacy. ...the finest “nostalgic tiny console with a compilation of games” ever released. Rounding out my bottom five game-things of 2019 with something I can only spend a paragraph explaining (without going into each and every title offered, anyway) feels kind of odd. But while my SNES Mini will wind up collecting dust now that Yoshi’s Island is a part of Nintendo Switch Online, I feel like the SEGA Mini will take up one of my HDMI ports for many years to come. 5) Luigi’s Mansion 3 I’ve always been a bigger fan of Mario’s eternal understudy. Luigi is the closest thing you’d find resembling me in the Mushroom Kingdom — he’s a giant dork, way more timid & afraid than heroic, but ultimately motivated to do what’s right by his friends. Luigi’s Mansion 3 releasing on Halloween was poetry. This series is really my only comfort food within the “horror” genre, because it’s more about comic relief & fun than actual jump-scares or grim gore. The first one was a fun, exploratory adventure that was honestly over too soon. The second rectified the former’s length problem, but was hindered by its attempts to break apart exploration into chunks with its “mission”-based structure that constantly sent you back to a sort of hub world just when things were getting interesting. ...it’s got a whimsy that outclasses even Super Mario Odyssey. Exploring each floor of The Last Resort hotel felt more like I was playing a Mario-style take on Disney’s Castle of Illusion than the usual horror-inspired romp. This hotel has... a whole freaking pyramid inside it, a coliseum inspired by the Middle Ages, a dinosaur museum... let’s just say it puts Las Vegas getaways to shame. Every new floor had me wondering what kind of wacky place I’d be thrown into next. You’re not constantly interrupted by “Mission Complete” screens, and gathering up every hidden gem & Boo to be found took me a little over fifteen hours— not less than five, like the first. The things that put Luigi’s Mansion 3 over the top for me personally concern Luigi himself, though. There are so many cute moments—his scaredy-cat nature is purposefully as exaggerated as it can possibly be, the bosses bring out the best parts of his personality... you can even pet the dog! It’s just good, clean fun. The line “it feels like a wholesome Saturday morning cartoon,” is the most overused cliche in the industry, but I’m using it here because it’s got a whimsy that outclasses even Super Mario Odyssey. 4) Gato Roboto First think of Metroid. No, not “Metroid-like” or “Metroidvania” — actual Metroid on the NES. Now, make Samus a tiny cat that’s not capable of much except jumping, climbing, and being really gosh darn cute...until she gets in her giant robot mech. This is the recipe for Gato Roboto, my favorite take on Me(ow)troid since Axiom Verge. While heading through space, a man and his cat end up marooned on an alien planet. Trapped, the man who would otherwise end up the hero of this story has no choice but to send his cat to explore in his stead. The good kitty winds up unfurling a devious plot of world domination at the hands of... a mouse that can talk?? ...my favorite take on Me(ow)troid since Axiom Verge. This is a romp that can be over as quickly as the original Metroid, but it’s also one of my most replayed games this year. Rather than evoke horror or a sense of unease like the series that inspired it, Gato Roboto chooses comedy and cute vibes. Level design has you piloting the mech most of the time, but often leaves kitty to its own devices. The robot armor can take its fair share of hits, but kitty can only be hit once before being kicked back to the last (very generous) checkpoint. There are plenty of ways developer Doinksoft chooses to mix things up mechanically — the robot armor isn’t the only thing the cat ends up piloting, for example. I’m hard-pressed to come up with a few hundred more words to explain why, but gosh this was some of the most fun I’ve had in the genre in years. It’s definitely priced like an NES title should be, too — I genuinely feel you can’t go wrong picking it up, if you’re a fan of the genre. 3) Pokémon Shield Half the reason why Pokémon Shield gripped me so hard was in how it was marketed. See, by the time the previous brand new entries, Sun & Moon, were out... over 80 of their brand new Pokémon were revealed publicly through trailers and other means. We knew what the starters were going to turn into, about most of the new “regional variants” — just a few Ultra Beasts and Mythical Pokémon were kept hidden. By contrast, before November 15th, Sword & Shield had officially revealed only 23. They went through pretty painstaking efforts to share as little information as possible before release. The intent behind the two generations is markedly different — this one wanted to surprise me. And boy howdy, it did. Give or take 70 Pokémon, including Galarian forms and evolutions, were brand new to me & revealed solely during my adventure. I haven’t been this won over by the ole clever marketing machine since I first played Pokémon back when I was single digits in the late 90s. I can genuinely say it may stay “my favorite Pokémon game of the last ten years.” The Wild Area helps the Galar region to feel more “connected” than any region before it. From a spot on Route 5, you can see the city of Hammerlocke—that you’ll arrive in much later on—waaay off in the distance. Early on in my adventure, because it happened to be raining where I was exploring there, I was able to take down a Lv30 Onix with my Drizzile while I was over ten levels lower than it. Max Raid Battles, despite some flawed aspects, are genuinely the most addicting multiplayer feature to hit the series in multiple decades. Both the new Dynamaxing feature & more limited Pokédex should do a lot to refresh competitive play. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, I’ll just say the story does a lot with a little. The Pokémon Company addresses a criticism of Sun & Moon being “too talky” by making characters say less, but hiding bits of character-specific backstory in their League Cards, which players collect as the story develops & can read at their own leisure. It has what amounts to my favorite endgame (the final few hours before the credits, and a bit after) since Black & White’s N sieges the Pokémon League. Overall, I feel more positively towards Pokémon Shield than any previous entry since 2009, when HeartGold pulled my nostalgia strings hard. There are definitely community-related aspects that need to be updated in a patch, but if they keep nurturing the experience rather than abandoning it, I can genuinely say it may stay “my favorite Pokémon game of the last ten years.” 2) Baba Is You Plenty of video games turn “breaking” them into a fun side thing you can do — like old debug mode cheats in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Very few — and only one I can think of in the puzzle genre — make breaking & redefining rules it puts in place the whole point. “You” is the player. And if the “Baba is You” text is on the screen, the player controls Baba. Other rules in place may be “Flag in Win” and “Wall is Stop” — where a wall in front of you would literally stop Baba from reaching the flag. If the word “Wall” can be moved, though, you might be able to push the Wall text down to replace “Baba”, making “Wall is You” and then literally reaching the flag as the wall that was formerly thwarting you in order to win. Here’s a trailer. Here’s an early example. Here’s an absolutely insane trick I pulled whose end result permanently turned a numbered level I cleared on the world map into a key — and into Baba (at which point I could freely move around the entire map, for funsies.) If I were reviewing it, I’d fight pretty hard for a 10/10. It’s quite simply the new paradigm in the puzzle genre. The amount of work it must’ve taken to create an engine that allows players to willingly break levels’ rules wide open, to the point where it has long-term effects on one’s save file, without everything falling apart is just staggering to think about. The brain-power it takes to solve Baba is You’s logic puzzles must pale in comparison to what it took to actually design them. I have no additional gushing regarding narrative, visuals, or the soundtrack, this time. The engine & entirely breakable mechanics truly speak for themselves. Baba is You Is Win — Arvi Teikari’s peers will be trying to emulate its cunning for a very, very long time. If I were reviewing it, I’d fight pretty hard for a 10/10. It’s quite simply the new paradigm in the puzzle genre. You don’t just follow the rules to win — you literally rewrite them. 1) Link’s Awakening I’ve played Link’s Awakening almost once a year, every year since 1993. It remains “the shining example that taught me how freaking amazing this medium could be”, the first one to make me cry, the one I’ve absolutely muscle-memorized. It is, quite simply, my favorite video game of all time. It’s hard to overstate just how badly I’ve wanted this exact thing to dream itself into existence. A Link Between Worlds was a phenomenal modernization of A Link to the Past (don’t tell anyone, but I find the original pretty middling at best) in the form of a sequel. This re-imagining of Koholint from the folks at Grezzo isn’t a sequel. It doesn’t really break any new ground — or change much of anything, from a narrative or level-design perspective. At the end of the day, admittedly, I prefer it this way. It reminds me a lot of how they handled Ocarina of Time 3D & Majora’s Mask 3D many moons ago: the Switch breathed new life into Link’s Awakening’s presentation — formerly stuck on the Game Boy — and allowed some mechanics (like being stuck with just two buttons for weapons) that age poorly about the original to be brought forward. Of course, while “uprezzed ports” could describe the 3D entries, Link’s Awakening on Switch dreams bigger. The whimsical, almost “storybook” art style & lack of a sweeping, orchestral soundtrack are polarizing to a few. But I recognize what both are trying to do, and I absolutely adore them for it. It's an elevated version of my favorite video game ever made. The new models for characters, monsters, and locales are an ideal way to keep the original’s proportions intact, and the new Koholint uses the colors from Link’s Awakening DX faithfully. The arrangements from Ryo Nagamatsu are definitely more subdued compared to A Link Between Worlds’ more “epic” feel — but the way he seamlessly blends the original’s chiptunes into his new takes are wonderful. Angler’s Tunnel was one of the tracks from GB Link’s Awakening that kind of struggled a bit—at the end of the day, it was just a sped up version of the “Cave Theme” from elsewhere in the adventure. Angler’s Tunnel on the Switch kicks off with slow harps at first, bringing in a new melody that feels more “underwater”. A few seconds later, the original GB melody plays in the background on top of it. That stuff right there happens a few times throughout the new old journey. Nagamatsu doesn’t reinvent the original soundtrack — he just does his due diligence to elevate it. That’s what Link’s Awakening is on Nintendo Switch. It’s an elevated version of my favorite video game ever made. Now, I just don’t know what else to wish for. Maybe, just maybe, Camelot will hear my plea.
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