Review of Pokémon Let’s Go

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I wasn’t always a big fan of Pokemon. Back when the original game came out in Europe I was close to twenty years of age. Based off clips I had seen, of the wholesome cartoon series, I dismissed Pokemon as being something that was just for kids. Twelve months later Final Fantasy IX awakened my passion for RPGs. Eager to try other titles in the genre, I decided to be less close-minded and give Pokemon Blue a chance. Turns out that the series, developed by Game Freak, can be enjoyed by youngsters and adults alike. At the time of writing I am fast approaching forty and have just beaten the twenty three hour story mode of Pokemon Let’s Go.

OVERVIEW

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this release is because it is set in the Kanto region – the same setting as the above mentioned Pokemon Blue. When it comes to Pokemon, just like Transformers, I am most familiar with generation one. It was a simpler time, when completing a Pokedex only required that you catch 151 critters. These days I hear that the species list of Pokemon surpasses over eight hundred! Some of the new Pokemon look cool, but others suffer from uninspired designs. When a developer starts to create Pokemon that resemble ice cream cones and key chains you know they are running low on ideas.

Technically speaking Let’s Go is a remake of Pokemon Yellow. Were the two differ is the manner in which you catch Pokemon. Yellow had players capturing Pokemon by weakening them first in combat. Let’s Go adopts a simpler approach, inspired by the mobile game it is named after. Catching a Pokemon is just like nabbing a woman. You throw your balls at them and hope they don’t run away. I personally liked the new system, as it spared me from suffering the frustration of accidentally killing Pokemon I was trying to recruit. My opinion would be different though, were I not someone who plays handheld mode exclusively. Switch owners who play docked on the TV will have to catch Pokemon with fiddly motion controls, rather than buttons. Nintendo thinks it is cute to simulate the action of hurling a Pokeball. If you prefer a traditional controller or are disabled tough luck.

GOT TO CATCH EM ALL

What makes capturing Pokemon in Let’s Go a blast is that you can see the buggers roaming through the bushes (like a creepy stalker). Gone are the days of random encounters. Yay! I no longer have the patience to battle Zubats every time I take a step forward. Should you spot a Pokemon that you want to add to your collection just walk up to them. If you have no desire to tangle with yet another Rattata, give them a wide berth. The option of targeting Pokemon by sight allows trainers to build up combos. Catching several Pokemon, of the same type, in a row rewards you with increased odds of finding rare Pokemon and Shinies (mutant Pokemon who have been born with a different pigmentation). Some Twitch channels make an income by streaming hunts for Shinies, which amounts to trapping the same Pokemon, over and over, for hours at a time. Man, I think I am in the wrong line of work.

For those of you worrying that Pokemon Let’s Go only involves throwing spheres at woodland creatures fear not. Turn based battles still exist in this game. In order to finish the story players need to defeat eight gym leaders, the Elite Four and any other trainers/children/fishermen who get in your way. Winning a Pokemon duel rewards you with cash and experience. When a Pokemon accumulates enough experience they level up, which may cause them to unlock new abilities or evolve into a new form. Another way of powering up your team is to exchange duplicate Pokemon for stat boosting candy. Yes, that is right. Candy makes you stronger. Those doctors who warned you that sweets will rot your teeth are liars. Devour confectionery and one day you too shall bulk up like The Rock.

VERDICT

My rating for Pokemon Let’s Go is a four out of five. Some hardcore fans won’t approve of how Let’s Go dumbs things down, by removing features found in other modern Pokemon titles. For a casual player, such as myself, the game is however fun. Many people have commented that Let’s Go is a tad easy, which I would have to agree. That said, I did lose a few matches during the course of my adventure. My losses were mostly due to my terrible sense of direction, rather than the opponents being tough. Somehow I ended up facing the Sixth Gym Leader, before beating the fourth and fifth one, as I took a detour leading to the wrong town. Oops! Perhaps I can also blame the losses on buying the Pikachu edition? I hear that the Eevee version is a bit easier, as the adorable pup has a better move set. As a superhero fan I couldn’t resist going on a journey with Pikachu though. He sounds a lot like Deadpool after all.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Red Metal’s extensive coverage of the Zelda series has convinced me to give Breath of the Wild another chance. It will be nice to go on another adventure with Link, after all these years. Back in the day I had a grand time completing Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker. In recent years however I have shunned the series due to its use of clunky stylus/motion controls.

Breath of the Wild is very different to the Zelda titles of yore. It’s a big open world with a big emphasis on survival. Gone are the days when money would literally grow on trees (um bushes.) Foraging is required to make an income and health restorative meals. Wish me luck guys. I don’t have a good track record of finishing open world games. Often I’ll neglect the story in favour of exploration… something I am sure Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim fans can relate to.

Extra Life

Introduction

Though Skyward Sword was released to a positive reception, certain players voiced their displeasure over the sheer amount of filler present and the hand-holding nature of the game. The latter aspect was especially ironic given the challenging nature of Skyward Sword. Series producer Eiji Aonuma, though mostly satisfied with what he and his team created, ended up agreeing with these reservations. The series’ next installment, A Link Between Worlds, seemed to openly defy the design choices behind Skyward Sword, featuring a terse narrative and a largely non-linear design. In an era when gaming placed a great emphasis on storytelling, A Link Between Worlds would have been a sleeper hit had not been part of a famous franchise. Emboldened by this installment’s success, he and his team sought to “rethink the conventions of Zelda” for the series’ next console installment. He made their intent known at…

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Review of Kirby Star Allies

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The only person more gluttonous than myself is Kirby. Nintendo’s pink puffball devours enemies akin to me scarfing down Easter Eggs. The only difference is that Kirby’s overeating is beneficial, as it allows him to mimic the powers of the foe he consumed. I on the other hand only suffer a trip to the loo, whenever chocolate overindulgence takes its toll. Sitting on the can, with indigestion, isn’t so bad though. Thanks to handhelds I can still game whilst in the restroom. Years ago I would play Kirby’s Dreamland on the Gameboy. Nowadays I repeat the stomachache ritual with Kirby Star Allies on the Nintendo Switch.

OVERVIEW

Kirby Star Allies begins with a hooded figure performing an occult ceremony, which causes dark hearts to rain down from the sky. Anyone who comes into contact with these black organs becomes evil… or eviler as is the case when King Dedede and Meta Knight get corrupted by their influence. Kirby, the adorable protector of Pop Star, sets off to free his rivals from the shackles of dark heart possession. Hampering his progress are three generals (Francisca, Flamberge, and Zan Partizanne) who command elemental magic. This wicked trio are stockpiling the hearts, with the aims of using them to resurrect their dark lord.

If you seek respite from hardcore games, which revel in violence and difficulty, Kirby Star Allies is a good choice. The cute graphics and cheerful soundtrack are the antithesis of something like Dark Souls. Its casual gameplay differentiates it from other platformers, such as Super Meat Boy, which punish those who lack superhuman reflexes. Even an inept player such as myself was able to best Star Allies within six hours. I attribute my success to Kirby’s floatation gifts that allow him to soar over pitfalls. By hurling hearts at an opponent, Kirby can also convert adversaries into loyal bodyguards. This significantly lowers the challenge, as your companions can do much of the work when it comes to combat.

VERDICT

My rating for Kirby Star Allies is a three and a half out of five. Although it is far from Kirby’s greatest adventure it is still a lot of fun to play. What most people will criticise Star Allies for is its longevity. Kirby games are known for being short, but even so it is disappointing that developer HAL Laboratory didn’t use the Switch’s beefier hardware to include some more content. Aside from the story mode you can tackle a couple of mini-games. Once the end credits roll a boss rush mode is unlocked. You’ll also get the option of playing through the story again with different characters.

I suspect the game would have been more enjoyable for me had I opted to play co-op with friends, rather than depend on AI partners. Alas, it is awkward to invite friends over for a multiplayer session when I am playing Kirby in the bathroom (curse that painful belly and those delicious Easter treats.) What I liked best about Kirby Star Allies is copying powers to defeat enemies and solve puzzles. There are close to thirty powers on offer and some of them can be combined. Kirby can pretend to be Link with the sword skill, masquerade as Ness with the ESP ability or role-play a woman courtesy of the cook and cleaning powers. I kid! I kid! Please don’t flame me too hard in the comments section 🙂

Review of Super Mario Odyssey

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Bowser has once again kidnapped Princess Peach. Despite the best efforts of Anita Sarkeesian, the video game trope of damsels in distress is very much alive and well. King Koopa plans to force the monarch into an unwilling marriage, which I don’t understand. Given the choice, I would rather be wed to the sexier Rosalina. Anyways, when royalty needs rescuing who do you call? If you answered Special Forces you would be mistaken. Time to hire a plumber me thinks. Mario sets off on a globe trotting adventure to save Peach and joining him for the ride is a sentient piece of headgear named Cappy.

OVERVIEW

Gone are the days when Mario would dress like a racoon and devour mushrooms to acquire special powers. Mario Odyssey sees Nintendo’s mascot steal Kirby’s talent of mimicking enemies, which he accomplishes by placing his hat on their noggin. There are tons of foes that Mario can possess with this new mechanic. Some examples that stood out during my play through include giant dinosaurs, yellow taxicabs, amphibians that ribbit and turtles armed with frying pans. Cappy can also be tossed to grab out of reach coins or to destroy objects from a distance. Wreck stuff by hurling a hat? Bond villain Oddjob would approve.

In terms of gameplay Odyssey reminds me most of Sunshine and Mario 64. Thankfully the abovementioned Cappy is a better companion than that detestable FLUDD. Levels are open world affairs where you hunt down Moons, which are the power source of the craft that transports you across kingdoms. As expected from a Mario title the platforming is solid thanks to the responsive controls. I was however a tad miffed that certain moves cannot be activated in handheld mode. Said advanced abilities require that you shake the Joycons. A decade since the Wii’s launch and Nintendo are still pressuring players to strain their wrists with unwanted motion interfaces.

VERDICT

My rating for Super Mario Odyssey is a five out of five. In a weird way the game reminds me of Bloodborne. Both titles are games that I had little interest in playing, only tried because they came bundled with the console and ended up loving anyway. That’s a surprise because I am no Nintendo fan boy. My dad bought me a Megadrive, during the height of the 16-bit wars, so I was conditioned at an early age to revile Mario. Not even adolescent brainwashing can make me dislike a game with such creative stages though. Adding to the charm are the colourful graphics, which prove that the Switch doesn’t have to be a technological powerhouse to rival its competitors in the visual department.

The soundtrack is top notch too, with my favourite tune being Jump Up Superstar sung by Kate Davis. I estimate that it took me around twelve hours to complete the main story. That may not sound like much content, but fear not because there are plenty of collectibles to discover in the post game. If exploration isn’t your thing don’t worry because Toad is willing to point you in the right direction in exchange for some gold. Super Mario Odyssey is a title that every Switch owner should add to his or her library. Good job Nintendo. I tip my hat (or should that be Cappy) to you.

Review of Fire Emblem Warriors

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Musou games have come a long way since the days when they were confined to Romance of the Three Kingdoms. In recent times the Warriors franchise has migrated from China to outer space (Dynasty Warriors: Gundam) and even Zelda’s stomping grounds, in 2014’s Hyrule Warriors. Three years after Link’s game took the Wii U by storm we are once again treated to another Warriors title on a Nintendo machine. On this occasion Omega Force have decided to turn tactical Fire Emblem into an action packed button basher. Why bother with strategy when one guy can fell an entire army on their lonesome?

OVERVIEW

Fire Emblem Warriors is similar to Heroes, in that it stars characters from various games in the series. Set in the kingdom of Aytolis, which is under siege by monsters from another dimension, players take control of twin royals Rowan and Lianna. In order to save their country, the blonde duo trek across the region recruiting the aid of well known Fire Emblem soldiers. The roster of playable characters is dominated by personalities from the recent 3DS games. Marth makes an appearance too. I guess he was included as most people recognize him from Smash Bros. He’s the swordfighter who is less broken than Meta Knight.

The game plays like any other Musou title. For the most part you dash across the map securing forts whilst slaying anyone who gets in your way. It’s easy to decimate thousands of troops, because the regular grunts don’t pose much of a threat. Their commanding officers do however put up more of a fight. In order to best the mightier foes it’s advised that you take advantage of the Fire Emblem weapon triangle. For those who don’t know – swords are effective against axes, lances are strong versus swords and axes trump lances. Also be aware that archers deal bonus damage to flying units and magic can bypass armour (or summon rabbits out of top hats.)

One feature that I like about Fire Emblem Warriors is that during a battle you can swap between four characters. That’s different from other Musou games, which limit you to just one guy per skirmish. Characters not under your control will act on their own initiative, although you do have the option of issuing them with orders via the map screen. That’s probably for the best as the AI is dimmer than an abode that hasn’t paid its electric bill. If you run across an ally, on the battlefield, it’s possible to pair up with them. Your partner will occasionally block incoming damage and will assist when you unleash a special attack.

VERDICT

My rating for Fire Emblem Warriors is four stars. Right now it’s the game I have played the most on my Switch. The story only took me ten hours to complete, but since then I have been repeating chapters on higher difficulties. Once I am done with that I have the History Mode challenges to look forward to. Despite the simplistic combat system I have yet to tire of the game. There’s just something so satisfying about seeing your characters grow stronger with each passing level up (I call that RPG addiction.) Once a mission is over you can beef up your army even further by using loot to forge mightier weapons and unlock new abilities.

My only real complaint with Fire Emblem Warriors is the character selection. Twenty plus playable heroes is a respectable lineup, but alas not all of my favourite waifus made the cut. Why can’t we have clumsy maid Felicia or snarky tsundere Severa instead of that dullard Frederick? Another notable omission is racy sorceress Tharja. Where is she? Included in an upcoming DLC bundle that you have to pay for apparently. Nintendo may censor fan service in their games, but they aren’t above using titillation to blackmail consumers into spending their shekels. Cough up the dough or you get no SexyWITCH on your SWITCH.

Review of Miitopia

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I’m not the biggest fan of Nintendo’s design philosophy (friend codes and the Switch’s messy way of connecting online both suck for example) but one thing the company has got right are Miis. Compared to other digital avatars, I am impressed by how charming and customizable they are. Believe it or not, the Mii Maker has more depth than some RPGs when it comes to character creation. Ironic then that Miitopia happens to be a role playing game populated with the big-headed folks who made their debut back when the Wii was all the rage. Ah, memories. It feels like only yesterday that my granddad was thrashing everyone on Wii Sports bowling.

OVERVIEW

The kingdom of Miitopia is in trouble! A wicked spectre, dubbed The Dark Lord, is nabbing everyone’s faces and transplanting them on monsters. In order to save the day, players are tasked with assembling a party of Miis and leading them on a quest for justice. Standard fantasy fare perhaps, but it feels fresh given that the entire cast comprise of adorable Miis. I imagine most people will form a band of heroes made up of family/acquaintances, but since I have no friends my roster contained a rich smattering of celebrities. Watch out Dark Lord! If you don’t cease your theft of facial features a group whose ranks include Batman, Bayonetta, Homer Simpson and Donald Trump will punish you.

When creating Miis players need to select the character’s personality and class. Personality will determine how the adventurer behaves in certain situations. A kind Mii for example will share their healing items with a hurt buddy, whilst an airhead sometimes forgets whom they should be targeting in combat. Classes include DnD staples such as warrior and cleric, along with some less conventional jobs. Those wishing to construct a more unique party could recruit a healer who dresses like a flower or an imp, who encourages allies to attack by stabbing their pals in the posterior. Anime fans that have a fetish for cat girls will be pleased to learn that there is even a feline looking DPS class.

VERDICT

My rating for Miitopia is four stars. It’s funny and casual, so I would recommend it to RPG newbies. The game’s lack of interactivity may however put off hardcore gamers, who like to micromanage strategy. Miitopia’s turn based combat only permits players to directly control one character. The protagonist’s companions act however the AI decrees. You can however influence the flow of battle by buffing the team with sprinkles and transferring injured fighters to a safe spot, where they can recuperate away from danger. Just like combat, exploration is rather simplistic. Players pick where the party should travel and then watch the team traipse through levels that are more linear than a FF 13 dungeon.

Despite the repetitive gameplay and dearth of complexity I had a good time playing through Miitopia’s 30-hour story. The humorous skits kept me invested, as did the character progression. Miis can increase their strength by purchasing new gear, consuming snacks and improving their relationship with others, which unlocks new abilities. One thing that I disliked about the game though was how it prompted me to take a break every fifteen minutes or so. Damn it Nintendo, once again your design philosophy drives me up the wall. I am a grown man who can make my own decisions. Who are you to scold me for partaking in lengthy gaming marathons? It’s not like I can play for many hours anyway, as the 3DS battery life is crap. Evidently those dual screens consume a lot of juice.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

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It looks like Fire Emblem is no longer Nintendo’s most neglected franchise (that dishonour has now been passed down to Metroid.) There was a time when the strategy RPG’s days seemed numbered, but the popularity of Awakening changed all that. In recent times we got three different versions of Fire Emblem Fates and Heroes brought the fantasy series over to mobile devices. It’s barely been a year since the last 3DS game came out in Europe and we already get a new instalment to play in the form of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.

NORTH AND SOUTH DIVIDE

Shadows of Valentia is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden, a nineties NES title that never got a western release. Players take control of two armies led by childhood friends Alm (country bumpkin turned warrior) and Celica (a crimson haired priestess.) During the five-act campaign, which runs for around thirty hours, our teenage heroes march their troops across the war torn continent of Valentia. The region is currently in the midst of a North versus South feud akin to the current Korean conflict, only with less nukes and more dragons.

Like in past titles, battles are turned based affairs fought on grid-based maps. On one side are the human forces and on the other hostile AI minions consisting of soldiers/undead. The game’s mechanics are similar to other Fire Emblem titles, with a few minor differences. Firstly the infamous weapon triangle (swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords) is absent from this instalment, which does reduce the level of strategy somewhat. Archers still inflict bonus damage to aerial units though and it’s possible to gain an edge over cavalry/armoured knights by learning special skills from weapons picked up during your travels.

NOW THAT’S GOOD EATING

Another change of note is that spell casters need to sacrifice a portion of their health in order to activate their magical abilities. I guess the penalty is in place to curtail the destructive power of sorcerers, who are by far the mightiest class in the game. Thankfully vitality can be replenished by calling upon the services of a healer or snacking on the grub found on village floors and musky dungeons. Gross. What’s the deal with these unsanitary video game diets? This reminds me of my Streets of Rage days, were players ate chicken found inside garbage cans.

One feature that I miss from this remake is the option of playing matchmaker with your militia. It’s still possible to build up the relationships between certain characters, via bonus boosting support conversations, but you sadly have no influence over what friendships lead to marriage. That may be for the best though, as the romance in Echoes is flat out bizarre. Alm and Celica are smitten with each other for example, despite only knowing each other briefly during their prepubescent days. The game also stars a yandere villager named Faye and a vestal who has a thing for older men.

VERDICT

My rating for Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a four out of five. It’s my least favourite of the 3DS Fire Emblems, but a fine handheld strategy game all the same. I suspect Echoes would have been more to my liking were it not for the pesky summoners, who annoyingly flood certain levels with endless waves of monsters. The low hit rate of my fighters was frustrating too and I also despised how enemy witches would sometimes warp behind my front line, leading to unexpected casualties. Thankfully it’s possible to negate friendly losses by disabling perma-death or rewinding back the action via a feature dubbed Mila’s Wheel.

As far as Fire Emblem remakes go Echoes is far superior to 2009’s Shadow Dragon. Intelligent Systems have put a lot more work into this project, as evidenced by the inclusion of gorgeous 3D cut scenes and voice acting. The developer also added some third person dungeon crawling to the mix, which is a nice change of pace from the constant tactical warfare. Exploring the labyrinths may unearth treasure chests containing weapons, accessories and shields. Coinage can also be procured by smashing the jars found in the catacombs. First we had Zelda and now Fire Emblem. Nintendo seem to have a thing for storing valuables in pottery. What’s wrong with using a good old-fashioned piggy bank?