Hades Review

Developed and Published by: Supergiant Games
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), PC
Release Date: Out Now


They’ve done it again; and got me, too, coming back again and again. In Hades, Supergiant Games have crafted a masterful take on the roguelike that blends the brutal yet rewarding appeal of said genre with the immaculate, characterful art and music direction the developer is known for. I have never played a roguelike that encourages you on in such a way; not only are you seeking to better yourself on skill, but you’re motivated to find out more on the richly developed characters as well. If I was making a list of my top ten developers, Supergiant would probably be in there, and Hades is another example of why (again, a great idea for a list article there… I should start doing those)!


Going Rogue

The story premise, whilst deeply layered within the Greek Mythology it employs, is quite straightforward in the goal set out to you. You play as Zagreus, son of Hades – the God of the Dead – and having grown tired of your constrained life within the Underworld, you set about trying to escape to discover more about your family. This means fighting through multiple areas, including Tartarus and Asphodel, in order to reach the surface and the secrets that await you there. It’s set out in familiar roguelike format; you battle through consecutive, randomised chambers of enemies and traps, with boss fights capping each of the sections; as well as this, there are surprise interludes; this includes fountains to restore health, and a shop run by Charon, Ferryman of the Underworld. If you die, you are kicked back to your starting point of The House of Hades, where you regroup (more on that below) before setting off again, undeterred.

Controls are deceptively simple; you play from a dynamic isometric perspective – it is reminiscent of previous Supergiant games, in particular Transistor – and this means that whilst Zagreus maneuvers around a open area with a sense of depth, it is in a 2D style (see the screenshots in this review). There is more surrounding space compared to roguelikes such as Rogue Legacy or Dead Cells, which are strictly from-the-side 2D and often claustrophobic – arguably to a fault. In contrast, Hades has a bit more freedom that is delightful to operate within; the game goes a long way to balancing out this extra space by throwing a barrage of enemies at you. Still, this approach does supply slight breathing room for the player, and I found it much less daunting – and, overall, easier (though not easy) – than other roguelikes, especially once you settle into the rhythm.

The start of another quest for the surface!

You have an attack and a special that are determined by your choice of Infernal Arms – there are 6 strains of weapon, from your starting sword to a spear, bow, and more. They each handle very differently and cater to different playstyles. Finding your preferred weapon (shock, I mainly go for archery) provides a sense of personal customisation to your repeated escape campaigns, especially as you unlock different Aspects to further fine-tune your loadout. Furthermore, you have a ranged cast attack, and in terms of movement, your dash is crucial to keep up momentum and avoid the smorgasbord of threats coming your way; the frenetic pace of the action means that mastering this is very important to being successful in Hades. There is then an extra ultimate-style move named a Call that you can only get as an offering from one of the Olympian Gods.

Which is a great way to segway into the Boons themselves. Another way that Hades brings distinct personality to the familiar roguelike set-up is with the way it portrays the Greek Mythology, especially the characters within it. You see, as you progress through an escape attempt, the Olympian Gods attempt to help you out; you will come across offerings from them – Lady Artemis (my favourite character in Hades), Lord Zeus, and Lady Athena, to name three – granting you Boons that affect the nature of your abilities. This may be a refinement of one of your attacks or your dash, or perhaps a passive improvement such as increased move speed. Two examples: Lady Artemis grants perks that focus on critical hits and pinpoint damage, whilst Lord Poseidon applies wave splash damage that pushes enemies aside and away from their trajectory. Utilisation and combination of these specific effects is the source of much possibility within Hades; experimenting to see the sets that work best for you is the source of long-lasting fun.

Be wary on all sides…

That fresh feeling on each attempt is supported by other elements too. Completing each chamber gives a reward: this could be a Boon, but also could be an increase to your Max Health that run, a modifier for your current choice of weapon, or another besides. You often get a choice of path at the end of each chamber, where you can see the next rewards on offer, again putting the initiative in your hands. Enemies along the way challenge you in different ways; at one moment you’re avoiding the close-range swipes of a skeleton, the next you’re dashing your way around incoming butterflies (no, really). It ensures that whichever set-up of skills you’re going with, you feel thoroughly tested. A subsequent pace to proceedings prevents encounters from getting stale – skipping from weapon to weapon, trialing different Boons, seeing how they work together in complimentary combos… It’s so, so enjoyable.


Home Comforts

Importantly, this variety and sense of character is present whenever you go back to The House of Hades. Effectively a hub area that you visit before your next try, it is packed full of customisation, character interaction, and overriding charm. After appearing from the Styx, you’ll happen upon Hypnos and his sleepy demeanour as you approach the seat of Hades, who finds time away from judging the souls in front of him to berate you for one act or another – it’s not always the most healthy father-son relationship. Beside Hades is Cerberus, complete with petting option, and on the other is the House Contractor. The latter is the source of much longevity, as the resources you gather through your skirmishes can be exchanged here for a multitude of unlockables – some cosmetic, some very much gameplay-oriented.

Communication is important for a healthy relationship…

From here you can explore more of the House; the Wretched Broker offers further options for currency exchange, fish you catch can be swapped with the chef, and Dusa – a Gorgon Head taking care of the House – is adorable. The more you progress in your escapes, the more facilities and conversations are available here, and this creates an air of anticipation for the content awaiting you here even when your fights don’t go as planned – there is a constant sense of progression that hooks you in for that one-more-go feeling. When the character interactions are so intrinsic to the feeling of reward, it means that the game needs to pack a lot in, as that approach could quickly fall apart if you started encountering repeat dialogue and repetitive systems. This, though, is where Supergiant has shined before, and that has translated to Hades in spectacular fashion.

Seriously, it is so impressive how much content is in this game. Even where I am now – post-credits and very much in the endgame – I still get surprises pop up in conversation and gameplay, and could perhaps count on one hand the amount of times I have run into repeated dialogue in well over 50 hours. Staggering detail is within Hades and goes towards maintaining the motivation to keep trying new escapes. The Darkness you gather can additionally be put towards new permanent perks, courtesy of Nyx, that affect every run – not just the one you are on at that moment. Therefore, your proficiency constantly rises and helps you to make more progress. Beyond this, from gifting Nectar to characters, you get Keepsakes in exchange that have traits of their own. You may be able to tell by this point that there are many ways to alter your experience and tactics in Hades, and well, you’d be right!

This floating battlefield gets intense

Ultimately, the narrative and the gameplay interweave beautifully to produce a story that feels as though it is always pushing on, just as you are always pushing gradually further in your escapes. At the heart of Hades is a touching story on family, and there are even multiple side quests where Zagreus is a driving force for improving the existence of others around him. If somehow that isn’t enough, the Fates’ Prophecies act as tracking for your advancement in different departments, whether that be acquiring every Boon from each God or getting two characters to reunite. There are sections later on I’m not going into due to spoilers, too! With engrossing combat and an expansive suite of progression, Hades has plenty to hold your attention.


Super Style

Supergiant have really found their trademark style that makes their games distinctively theirs even as they hop across genres. It’s not a surprise at this point – Hades has artistic flair that takes all that which I have mentioned and presents it in a strikingly inviting manner. Stunning character artwork exudes eminent personality, even when static; and the models in motion are fluid and, as aforementioned, wonderful to control. The use of colour and stroke to make the world so vibrant allows the player to fall in with ease and start soaking the lore in. That clarity of art direction lends itself to the fast-paced roguelike genre too, as even when lots is happening on screen, it doesn’t descend into an undecipherable cacophony.

That art though

As much as visuals are a strength of Supergiant, so is audio design, and wowzas, the soundtrack is superb. Compared to the more dulcet tones of Transistor and Pyre, Hades is a slight departure in the more rock-oriented vibe. It’s as though the awesome Thrash Pack tune from Pyre has been expanded into a full soundtrack! Continuing on another Supergiant theme is the inclusion of heartfelt lyrical, voiced tracks, – this is another vinyl purchase to add to the collection… Similarly, the voice work throughout is another piece of the puzzle that gives Hades cohesive character, with the specific traits of everyone coming through as much in the speech as in the text itself, from the booming and often condescending tones of Hades to the endearingly sarcastic and witty Lady Artemis.

The energy of the audio suits the relentless nature of the game, and itself escalates to a peak as you get to the final fights. One endgame track is perhaps the pinnacle of this… Speaking of boss fights, they’re integral to the pace I have been talking about. They punctuate the different areas of the Underworld nicely, and include characters that impact the non-combat side of the game too; that is to say, referential and dynamic dialogue carries into these too. As instances where narrative and gameplay cross over, they’re exceptional examples of the strengths of Hades. Oh, and they’re very tough, so prepare yourself for that!

Tartarus, the first step on your way to the surface

As I near the end of this review, a word on the way this game evolves with playtime. The roguelike nature is one the game stays committed to, but the way that your goal changes is part of how Hades regularly shakes itself up. Just be aware that the roguelike framework won’t disappear, even if your in-game position alters. Hades does a fantastic job of keeping this going, though to make another ever-so-slight criticism, the level at which it succeeds on that does fluctuate – never to the point of dissuading me from playing, but there was one section around mid-way where the main task felt slightly more repetitive than at other times.


Final Thoughts

The idea of a new Supergiant Games release is one that excites me, and I eagerly followed the route of Hades from Early Access to the recent 1.0 launch on Switch and PC. It’s remarkable that, even still, they surprise me as they glide seemingly seamlessly from genre to genre, maintaining their high quality and distinctive style as they go. With Hades, they have dived into the roguelike genre and put a new and unique spin on it to phenomenal success, not only nailing the gameplay cycle but giving it a personable and character-fueled element; it is currently the main contender to Resident Evil 3 as my Game of the Year. Is it my favourite Supergiant game? For me personally, no – the grace and precision of Transistor just edges it. A wonderful aspect of Supergiant is that it feels as though their releases form a lineage of evidence for how the studio has developed over time. Perhaps the greatest praise I can give Hades is that it fits into that emphatic aplomb.

9.5/10

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

10 Hours With… Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Y’know, on occasions, games just don’t click with you. Earlier this year, the latest entry in the Animal Crossing franchise, subtitled New Horizons, was launched to enthusiastic praise and stratospheric sales, providing enjoyment to many that was especially poignant during the beginning phases of the COVID-19 lockdown. Whilst I wouldn’t say Animal Crossing is my favourite franchise, I’ve put many hours in across DS, Wii, and 3DS, but for some reason I just did not forge a connection with the Nintendo Switch-exclusive New Horizons. However, I did put around 10 hours in, enough to give an opinion on my experience, but not necessarily to justify a score. In this case, the 10 Hours With… article series that has been dormant on this site since early 2018 (!) is an apt way to put down my thoughts.


Home Away From Home

Initially, for context that applies later on, a run-through of my history with the series. My first game was Wild World (the original on GameCube is admittedly a gap in my knowledge) on the DS, which broke Animal Crossing through into the mainstream. The mixture of life simulation combined with the distinctly charming world of animal residents (you’re the only human… what sort of dystopia is this?) was so inviting, subsequently keeping you playing whether it be to upgrade your house or to complete your collections of bugs, fish, fossils, and more. The young, unaware me then traded Wild World in… Why, me? WHY? Ahem… My next game was Let’s Go To The City on Wii, again one I played regularly; I often visited my town daily and the new features such as being able to visit a City centre introduced new shops and characters, which is actually an area in which I found New Horizons to be lacking.

The DS and Wii entries are probably the ones I have put the most time into, each having their own strengths, be it the portability on the DS or the improved visuals on Wii. Following on from these, the 3DS entry New Leaf arrived. In certain areas, it was a step up from the games prior, bringing back convenience of portability and combining that with a visual jump from the DS as well as more in-depth customisation. Though, even then, the very similar core gameplay began to cause me fatigue for the series; I stopped playing much sooner than on DS and Wii. Until New Horizons this year, New Leaf served as the most recent main series entry, whilst Wii U got a bizarre stop-gap board-game in amiibo Festival, and then there were additional spin-offs: the decoration-focused Happy Home Designer on 3DS, and the mobile game Pocket Camp as Nintendo started bringing their IP to new platforms. So, the anticipation for a new main series entry on Switch, where the portability and home console advantages were set to meet, was high.

Everything is fine…

Leading on from this, now we get to New Horizons (only took me several paragraphs). There criticisms I have of the game, but in many ways it does deliver on expectations; visually it is remarkably crisp and vibrant, the soundtrack is soothing, and it has multiple quality-of-life improvements to streamline the gameplay. This time, instead of setting up an inland town, Tom Nook brings you to an island, where you and a handful of other residents – but, y’know, mainly you – set about kitting out the place from the humble beginnings of your tent. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, though; whilst Tom Nook may have a disarmingly pleasant demeanour this time around, he’s still very much after your Bells.

As I say, there have been many refinements to the core mechanics of Animal Crossing in New Horizons. These range from smaller changes, such as more storage space and an equipment selection wheel, to more prominent alterations such as finally being able to cross natural waterways, either with a pole vault or by making a bridge. There have also been extensive revamps on how much you can shape your island – you can unlock the ability to sculpt it square by square how you see fit, adjusting water, hillsides… essentially any part! This side of New Horizons has a vibe of the freedom and utter control in the Creative Mode of Minecraft, especially now you can place furniture outside your home! If you also consider the custom outfit and floor designs, New Horizons has more creative leeway than any previous Animal Crossing before it.

You know what, though, and this may sound strange, but that may be part of why I struggled to get into New Horizons. There are so many positive tweaks, solving issues that irked in previous games, but all this, and the new wrapping of the island getaway, disguise that there isn’t actually much deviation in the central goal. Once again, you are working to pay off the amounts Tom Nook asks of you for each house expansion, which means gathering and selling fruit, seashells, and other items. You can spend time away from that decorating or collecting, again, similar to before. The presentation is refreshing, but the gameplay itself is not quite so, with many of the same characters and targets involved. The Switch has hosted many a series revolution, from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but in this case I found that Animal Crossing: New Horizons was disappointing in that regard. I’m very appreciative that it goes for evolution not revolution, but for me personally, I was really hoping for more of a shake-up beyond the literal Bells and whistles.


Do It Yourself (Because Tom Nook Ain’t Gonna)

Let me express that I don’t take pleasure from the disappointment; I was cautiously optimistic about New Horizons, but my concerns of it being a newly packaged edition of a similar experience were founded. In my 10-ish hours of playing, the game ran me through tutorials that were all-too-familiar; on the other hand, there is one new feature that is a marked departure for the gameplay side of Animal Crossing, in the form of the crafting system, which again brought Minecraft to mind. You can now gather materials by, for example, chopping down trees and picking up stones, and then take them to a workbench – either near Tom Nook, or one you have built yourself – to craft equipment and furniture. It’s a noticeable focus early on, and I am glad that it is there to slightly mix up the gameplay.

You can now disrupt nature in all kinds of new ways!

Therefore, if there are particular items you are after, you can attempt to collect the various materials needed; there is initial novelty in this, with endearing animations of Tom Nook and co. applauding you for, well, doing their work for them, I guess? Yet, I quite quickly got tired of it, and found myself drawn to speeding up the process by buying the equipment outright from shops when I could. It gets to the point where Tom Nook asks you to collect the materials required to set up three houses with the correct furniture for new island-goers, and the idea of gradually going through the lists and getting each item wasn’t one that particularly sparked excitement in me. Not to mention that Tom Nook is committing fraud, as this happens because he *mistakenly* sells these houses to people as if they are already built, then asks you to build them for him! The audacity.

I imagine that if there was end reward for this type of task that wasn’t so similar to past games, I would not mind as much. But bringing in new villagers isn’t – in the scope of the series – an innovation, so making the way to do it more complex just felt a roundabout way of doing the same activities. This is an issue elsewhere; as much as Blathers is awesome, a celebration of him arriving and setting up a museum isn’t that thrilling when there have been museums in these games before. I enjoy meeting characters again, but there is such a reliance on them, with not that many new faces so far. Where this is done better is the villagers that can move onto your island, as the way different islands get different residents encourages that feeling of your game being unique. Furthermore, the dialogue is frequently hilarious – the localisation is impressive in the inherent wit and sense of personality.

Villagers are wonderfully quirky

At this point, the awareness that I may have sounded quite grumpy at times in this post is hitting me, but I shall put emphasis on how I suspect the problems I have with New Horizons are due to my own taste in games and experience with the series – not necessarily the fault of the game itself. Firstly, the way New Horizons leans towards the more open, limitless creative potential of your island isn’t a direction that directly appeals to me; I prefer to play within set rules. For comparison, I am more drawn to the design vision of New Super Mario Bros. U than I am the creative blank canvas of Super Mario Maker. Secondly, the sheer amount of Animal Crossing I have played over the years has led to the appeal of the repeated set-up wearing off, and said set-up is mostly unchanged in New Horizons.

If you are a fan of detailed customisation and/or are new to the series, it’s a game that could offer you hours upon hours of fun. Which, clearly, it has this year, going by how well it has done critically and commercially. Multiplayer should be mentioned too. I tried out the functionality of visiting a friend to walk around their island – which was much more organised than mine – and it worked well. There are wisely barriers in place to decide who can do what when they arrive on your island, and the connectivity was proficient, so I have no complaints. Just wandering around a new island has a certain positive energy to it!

To reiterate, let me again say how glad I am that people found joy in Animal Crossing: New Horizons this year. During such turbulent times, for a game to be there as a delightful source of entertainment is incredibly valuable. I’m disappointed I personally wasn’t able to click with the game as much as others, but we don’t all have the same opinions on every game, and that is part of why it is so fun to read alternate takes! I am glad I gave New Horizons 10 hours, but in the end it isn’t a game I envisage myself soon going back to.


Did you play Animal Crossing: New Horizons? If so, feel free to put your personal opinion on the game in the comments below! This article series is suited to games where I start them and have thoughts to put down on this site, yet have hours and hours left until I can finish them and be in the position to review them with a score (see: Persona 5). Until next time – have a great day!

Spellbreak Review

Developed and Published by: Proletariat
Platforms: Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Out Now


Am I accidentally getting into Battle Royale games? If I am, it’s partly due to my friends. After their suggestions, I have recently played Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout and now Spellbreak, a new take on the genre that brings fresh ideas to the table. Whilst it undeniably relies on certain traits of previous Battle Royale games, there is a physics-based, magical spin that does serve to set it apart. So, how does Spellbreak stack up against PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, Apex Legends, and so on? Well, read on…


I Call It Magic

Upon first entering the game, an aspect that struck me was the art style and accompanying slightly melodramatic, grand notes of the audio. This may be a random connection, but it stirred memories of the rousing Spider-Man 2 theme but with a fantasy, medieval edge. Spellbreak is set in Primdal, a world of mages and mystery, and visually has a vibrant sheen not far removed from Fortnite but with a bit more detail and intrigue to it. The aesthetic is reminiscent of Western animation – proportions are quite realistic, but they maintain clear segments of colour interspersed with signs and symbols to add that extra sense of lore.

To me, the style resides somewhere in that space from Fortnite to Apex Legends. Furthermore, the different types of magic flying around in-game creates a palette of colour spattering the surroundings, complimented by reverberating sounds of impact to keep the tension raised. As clarification before going any further; I played the Switch and PlayStation 4 versions of the game. The PS4 version is unsurprisingly more technically proficient; there are crisper lines and the game runs smoother, compared to the Switch edition which is a bit more blurry and can suffer slowdown when there is a lot happening on screen at once. It isn’t awful though, just a tad behind the PS4. It certainly isn’t enough to, ahem, break the spell.

The mix-ups of elemental attacks create some energetic scenes

Let’s get into that, then. Spellbreak starts, wisely, with a tutorial to get you accustomed to the basics of the controls. You play as a mage, and choose one of six different specialisms: Frostborn (Ice), Stoneshaper (Stone), Toxicologist (Acid), Tempest (Wind), Pyromancer (Fire), and Conduit (Lightning). The option you settle on decides your primary Gauntlet on the right side of your HUD; this, logically, takes up one of your arms, leaving space for a secondary Gauntlet on your other arm if/when you find one within the world map in-game. As you play, you start to get more accustomed to how each one works, and find combos that work for you as a player.

Each Gauntlet has two attacks, with varying effects and cooldown rates which at launch are impressively well-balanced, with no one Gauntlet being overpowered. Combined with your Rune, another pick-up item that can give you varying effects such as invisibility, dashes, and the ability to see enemies through walls, it creates a menu of actions at the bottom of your screen that reminded of the real-time combat in JRPGs such as Xenoblade Chronicles (see below). As far as I know, this is a new mash-up within the Battle Royale space, and is perhaps the defining element of Spellbreak.

Using the Ice Gauntlet, which can be held to zoom in for a sniper shot

The tutorial is actually really well put together, explaining all of this plus various other gameplay mechanics. To sum up other elements of the HUD: you find Scrolls in the world that improve one of your three custom Talents that have subtle effects on your character; Potions and Armour to bolster your ability to take hits; Belts to increase your capacity to carry Armour; Boots to up your Run Speed; and Amulets to increase your Mana supply. When you do enter the scary world of the Battle Royale proper with up to 49 others, finding these items and sufficiently preparing yourself for encounters with opposing players is – as with other Battle Royales – crucial. However, I will say that because of the added depth of the range of HUD options here, it does result in a more complex set of mechanics – particularly because of the mix of elemental Gauntlets.


Mix ‘n’ Match

This is because the game, and those Gauntlets, have a very clever, interweaving physics system based on their differing properties – a system that isn’t just about combat, but traversal too. Each of them are singularly fun; to take the Ice Gauntlet as an example, the trails of Ice it creates can be skated on for increased speed and mobility (Frozone in The Incredibles anyone?), and the Wind Gauntlet can spring you into the air for an improvised vantage point. The initial phase of Spellbreak where you are experimenting with these different Gauntlets is brilliant, as you discover how they all work and affect the space around you.

Whilst your character runs and crouches as you may expect, the jump has a hover function that allows you to float, further tying into the Mage idea and supplying a vertical dimension to the gameplay; skating on ice and then transitioning into a speedy hover over a gap is joyous, almost making you forget you need to keep an eye out for other players! There’s a decent skating game hidden in here, you know. Where Spellbreak really excels, though, is in the detail of how the Gauntlets interact with each other, whether it be with other members of your up-to-3-person Squad or the Mages you fight.

So, say your opponent puts up a wall of fire with the Fire Gauntlet, but you have the Ice Gauntlet; a shot from the Ice Gauntlet can cut through the fire with the Ice dousing a safe path. In the other direction, though, the fire melts your ice path quicker, limiting your skating. Moreso, if a player with the Thunder Gauntlet strikes that water, they can create a new barrier of electrified water! Another case: The Toxic Gauntlet can cause a cloud of poisonous gas, but then the Ice Gauntlet can freeze that, and another element – perhaps the Stone Gauntlet – can smash that gas away to clear the space.

Ice and fire meet again

These are just a few of the examples of this wonderful physics system that delivers surprise moments. It reminded me a lot of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the way physics played such a part in that game, especially as the art styles aren’t that far apart – and also the hood and cape you can wear reminded me of the one Link can wear in Breath of the Wild, aha! Developer/Publisher Proletariat could have had the Gauntlets work individually and left it at that, but instead they have gone beyond and thought about the way they act in contact with one another, emphatically adding to the enjoyment of playing.


Safely Inside

On the other hand, not all of Spellbreak is so praiseworthy. The gameplay systems may have a new twist, but the world they are encased in has an admittedly generic Battle Royale infrastructure. It’s all-too-familiar for players who have experienced Fortnite, Apex Legends, et al: you land in a set map (this time without even the illusion of any vehicle dropping you in) with up to 2 others on your team. From there, you collect the aforementioned resources to kit yourself out, whilst being wary of other players around you. Then the “Storm” closes in, shrinking the circle of play smaller and smaller and closing the remaining players up until eventually only one Squad or player is left victorious. Put that way, it sounds very unoriginal, and well, it is, but as I say, those gameplay quirks are where the appeal lies.

Side note: I find it kind of amusing how each game has to find their own terms for their games: so, in this case, you don’t go down, you are “disrupted”, and you you don’t bleed out, you are “exiled”. One day we are going to run out of words! The first and currently only map, the Hollow Lands, is your typical fantasy world, with a dystopian tone again making me compare it to Breath of the Wild. It’s lots of green and brown punctuated by crumbling castles, but there are some welcome contrasts, whether they be an intricate maze or a misty, swampy section. We aren’t savvy to a lot of the lore of Primdal or the Hollow Lands yet, but the destroyed sites you encounter – including one that seems to have been a Colosseum or auditorium – do pique my intrigue. Narrative content is on the way for the future – the “Chapters” menu is currently grayed out – and I may do a further article at a later date to see how these affect the game.

Going back to the set-up of the game, I will note that as the game progresses and the circle – sorry, the “Storm” – gets smaller, the more the distinctive magical actions make their mark, as you’re naturally forced into deploying them once hiding becomes less of an option. Not that I’m hiding… Erm… next point! Early on, when you’re on the Battle Royale collecting merry-go-round, it’s a very similar cycle to other games of this type, but when you encounter others, that’s when the game really comes alive. Desperately maneuvering around as spells fly past your face, with ice, fire, acid, and more suddenly appearing around you, is a frantic and utterly fun form of chaos that legitimately gets the heart pumping, especially when you get down to the final few players. Staying on the move is so important in this game to make yourself harder to hit and to remain aware of those around you.

In-air fights are a regular occurrence

I tried playing Spellbreak with friends and without, and had engaging experiences with each approach. With friends you can discuss strategy on the go, but in a way it is also easier to get distracted and give away your position, aha; I am very appreciative of Proletariat incorporating cross-play, making the process of putting together a group of friends more efficient. When playing by myself in Solo it brought out that lone wolf determination, and then when in Squads with unknown people, there ended up being in-game camaraderie despite no voice chat! The inclusion of the pinging system that was so well done in Apex Legends – so, again, this isn’t a new idea – is helpful for co-operating without dialogue, too, letting you point out where you are headed, items you have found, and opponents you spot.


Running the Gauntlet

Free-to-play games such as Spellbreak can be made or broken by their progression systems and the way that the dreaded real-money payments are integrated. If we start with just the in-game side: each Gauntlet has a separate Class Rank, which as it improves unlocks new ways to optimise it – take the Ice Gauntlet, which is the one I have used the most. As that has gone up in Rank, I have acquired the possibility of it being able to temporarily highlight players I target, making them easier to keep track of. Being able to commit to one Gauntlet and feel as though you are mastering it is very satisfying! Similarly, there are separate “Mastery” stat tracking menus for each class, allowing you to see your record with each playstyle. As well as this, you have an overall Mage Rank that you get progression on whichever Gauntlet you are using, and the increase of this is the main in-game way to earn Gold for the Shop.

Okay, so the monetisation. It’s not great… The frequency at which you earn the Gold isn’t necessarily the problem, but the amount you earn, 50 each time? When items range from around 400-1200 in the shop? By Level 10 I had around 450, which gave me the option to purchase one item, but if I did that then I would be back to around 0 and even further away from those more expensive items. When you”re in the scenario of only being able to afford a “bored” emote, you know the system has gone awry!

It just seems as though for items in the Shop, realistically, they’re set up for you to pay real money for them. Spellbreak is free-to-play, so not as egregious as, say, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, but it still isn’t an ideal situation for the player. To counteract this, the item unlocks in-game are decent, with fun designs for your Badge, Card, and more, solely from your level going up. Therefore, if you ignore the Shop, you’ll still get a decent variety to customise yourself from. I also have hopes that as they add new features, they open up new ways to earn Gold to make the Shop more viable for those not spending real money.

There are multiple ways to stylise your character

In terms of those prospects for the future, there is that aforementioned story-based content on the way which sounds promising, and there have already been updates, such as the addition of a Solo mode that I touched on earlier for those who would prefer to go it alone. It’s awesome to see how aware the game is of the community – take the very active Discord server as an example, where players are constantly teaming up. I’m very confident that this game has legs, and in my mind there are opportunities for ideas such as new elements being introduced to shake up the meta. A dedicated Water Gauntlet, perhaps? For now, though- as with Fall Guys – I can only review the game they have presented to us at launch, so my score is based on that, not what might happen.


Final Thoughts

For a game I tried out with friends as a potential way for us to spend some fun time together, I was pleasantly surprised with Spellbreak. Within the generic trappings of Battle Royale conventions it employs, it manages to create an identity for itself through inviting presentation and, most of all, the smart Gauntlet system and clashing of elements. This is a fantastic base from which Proletariat can work from, and I am especially excited to see how the story side of the game evolves into the future. Spellbreak may not do much to redefine the Battle Royale, but it does have enough new ideas to carve out a place in that genre in which to shine.

7.5/10

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Beyond the Hashtag: Pokémon Masters EX Update Pairs Style & Substance

Let’s get it out of the way: yes, the online hashtag for Pokémon Masters EX was a misjudgment (don’t make me write it down). However, if that is the main takeaway from this substantial update, it would be a great shame, as developers DeNA have brought a lot to the table here in terms of new content and mechanical refinements. It’s a fantastic way to mark the one year Anniversary of the game, and so for those who perhaps don’t know much about the update, and for those who do and would like to know my thoughts, I’m going to run through what has changed and how that affects the overall package. To read more of my thoughts on the game prior to this, then you can click here for my post on why Pokémon Masters is my favourite mobile game ever!

Firstly, whilst there are clear improvements to the game, it’s important to say that DeNA have not made drastic changes to the core 3-on-3 gameplay of Pokémon Masters that has been there since launch. You’re still choosing combinations of Sync Pairs to make a team to go into battle; much of the alterations have been to the surrounding framework of the game. This is to say that, if you were particularly fond of or against the gameplay of Pokémon Masters before this, the update won’t necessarily do much to alter that. However, if you perhaps thought that the game had potential not realised, this could be the time to jump back in.

Throughout this article, as I am going in-depth into some of the changes, I have included more videos than I do in some other articles to try and give you glimpses into the update. So, if intrigued, I recommend viewing them as you go along for extra clarity!

Right; one of the major changes is one that actually happened in the days leading up to the Anniversary, and whilst it may not be the change most prominent in the marketing, it is a very crucial one that directly affects how you play the game: the addition of Stamina. Every time you play certain matches (not all), it takes up part of your Stamina – this goes up to 999, and generally is taken in increments of 20 for each entry. Adding this in may seem at first to be a way to limit gameplay in the cynical way seen in many mobile games, and I am not going to say I am entirely in favour of a system that does have monetary transactions behind it. You get Stamina when you log in each day, and I have found I have plentiful amounts – but if you do run out, that is when the option to buy more intrudes.

On the other hand, I shall express my personal finding, which is that the addition of Stamina also has the opposite effect. See, arriving in tandem with it are Skip Tickets. These can be used to play out a battle instantly and automatically, sending you directly to the results screen. Your resources of Stamina are still used, but it allows you to cycle through the same battle multiple times at a faster pace. This gets you to rewards faster – and if this sounds as though it is short-cutting gameplay, then do not fret, as in order to be able to use a Skip Ticket on a battle you have to have not only completed it, but have finished with all 3 of your Sync Pairs not fainting; perhaps, you might say that you have to master (aha) the stage. In a way, the presence of Stamina provides a form of balance, making you more cautious about when and where you use your Stamina and Skip Tickets. The monetisation side is there, though, and again I shall emphasise that I do not welcome that.

An example of the new Stamina and Skip Ticket system in action is the recent New World Dilemma event that focused on Cynthia and Cyrus; by battling, you earned a currency that could be exchanged for rewards from a Prize Box (similar to the way the Scouts work for Sync Pairs), including unlocking further parts of the story. In this situation, the time investment of playing the same battle repeatedly to earn the currency is reduced significantly when you use Skip Tickets. It is a scenario that motivated me to play more of the game, because I knew that by using more of my Stamina and Skip Tickets I could get the prizes I am after without spending money.

With that context, now onto the additions for the Anniversary day itself. The reason why the game has EX added onto the name now – and that subsequent hashtag happened – is the new 6 EX Sync Pairs; previously, Sync Pairs each had a star rating from 1 to 5, but now particular pairs can go to the new 6 EX and get new outfits with that. The first Sync Pairs to get 6 EX are the following Kanto trainers and their Pokémon: 6 EX Sygna Suit Leaf & Venusaur, Red & Charizard, and Blue & Blastoise, all being capable of Mega Evolution (only Mega Charizard X for this, not Mega Charizard Y). New Sync Moves, with more power and new animations, arrive with them. The visual spectacle is fantastic, and I hope more new 6 EX and/or Sygna Suit designs continue to be rolled out in the future. I mean, we recently got to witness Sygna Suit Cynthia & Kommo-O. That hair! Seeing these new appearances and lore continues the way that Pokémon Masters excels at building on the Pokémon franchise.

Furthermore, to continue the Kanto theme, a brand new feature – one that gets a comparable screen space to the Main Story in the Explore menu – is the Champion Stadium. This is an area where you face the Indigo Elite Four and Champion: Lorelei, Bruno, Agatha, Lance, and Blue. From battle to battle, you are required to use different Sync Pairs. Careful consideration of the type dynamics is crucial, especially on the Hard difficulty; on Normal, I found working through the battles relatively straightforward, but on Hard preparing the right team is a puzzle in of itself. It’s great to see the challenge being supplied for players, as well as rewards for different skill levels. This is a mode that is going to be added to, with the appearances of the Pokémon League from different regions, an exciting prospect that provides longevity for the future.

Perhaps less prominent in the marketing is another new feature, Type Skills. These are new abilities that can be activated when your team of Sync Pairs is made up of Pairs of the same type, another new way to tailor your approach. It coincides with the way that DeNA have altered the Training Area, too. As well as the options that were there previously, such as the Level-Up area, there are new battles for getting items for unlocking Level Caps – which now go up to 125 – and the Type Skill of Sync Pairs. The Training Area is comprehensive, and a reliable way to get the items you need for your next personal target without needing to spend money on the game. Be prepared though, as these aren’t easy to complete!

At the moment, there are multiple ongoing events in Pokémon Masters EX, including the latest one, the Grass-, Fire-, and Water-Type Egg Event where you can hatch Kanto starters Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. As well as this, the Training with Legends event offers up resources you can trade for other items, in a similar vein to the New World Dilemma event – it’s a Skip Ticket candidate! How about the immediate future, you ask? On September 9th, the new Family Ties story event arrives, revolving around characters from Alola: Lillie, Lusamine, and Gladion. The idea of them having to improve their co-operation as a team of Sync Pairs works wonderfully with their stories in Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon. My prediction is that there shall soon be news of 6 EX Sygna Suit Lillie & Clefairy to go with this, considering the event and their appearance in the new cinematic trailer for Pokémon Masters EX (see the video near the end of this post).

The variety of new features and refinements have an impressive balance of style and substance; there are the visual wows of the new outfits and Sync Moves, as well as an under-riding improvement to the game on a mechanical level with the Stamina/Skip Ticket system and other new features such as Type Skills. If one side or the other was not present, this could have been an underwhelming update, but as a combo it produces a cohesive overhaul that maintains the core appeal of the game. Key to success is that they keep up this frequency and quality of update; going on recent evidence, that is going to happen!

For me, there are no glaring weaknesses in the game or a particular area that needs more focus. As far as I am concerned, DeNA should put their attention on that which they are getting right, without falling into the trap of drifting towards the realm where some mobile games feel as though they are pressuring you into spending money.

I am confident that there is a bright future for Pokémon Masters EX, as the people behind it seem to be aware of why the game works so well. Playing with the Pokémon continuity is so fun – the game consistently makes me smile. DeNA seem to be leaning into this with the way the Champion Stadium is set up, the increasing frequency of 6 EX Sygna Suit designs, and the story content; the recent New World Dilemma and Summer Superstars events contained new lore on characters and new Sygna Suit and Seasonal designs. It’s great to see a developer responding to feedback in this way – consider me very excited about future possibilities.

There is so much potential for the avenues Pokémon Masters EX can go. The gameplay is reliably enjoyable, and the pace at which the game is adding to the foundations that have been built is very impressive. New updates have a distinct creativity and energy that have me excited to log into the game each day. The game, and the Anniversary update, are in my opinion a clear success!

Do you play Pokémon Masters? What do you make of the changes and additions? Who would you be most excited to see a Sygna Suit for? Whoever thought up the idea of creating costumes inspired by Pokémon is a genius. As for me, I’m going back to that 6 EX Sygna Suit Leaf Sync Pair Scout!

Seriously, though. That hashtag. How does that even happen?

Let’s Chat: 3D Mario Games are Coming to Switch, but Where is Galaxy 2?!

Nintendo suddenly released a Direct today for the 35th Anniversary of Mario, and, well… there’s exciting announcements and confusing decisions, as is often the case with Nintendo news! Ashley Harrison and I discussed it in the immediate aftermath, so read on for our thoughts. I do mean immediate; as you’ll see, we’re literally finding out updates and getting our orders in as this goes, keeping us on our toes!


William Robinson: Okay, so Ash, I was minding my own business and then Nintendo decided to just out of the blue drop the Super Mario Bros. 35th Anniversary Direct. Where were you when it happened, haha?

Ashley Harrison: Hopefully, like everyone, I was sat on the sofa at home playing Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, completely oblivious to the bombshell Nintendo were about to drop. Thankfully I usually always have Twitter open, so as soon as I saw the Tweet from the verified Nintendo UK account, I quit out of the round instantly and started watching the Direct.

WR: I thought there would be Mario news at some point, but not this sudden or soon! Took me by surprise, so much so that I wasn’t even sure of my expectations going in.

AH: It seems like such a huge announcement to shadow-drop with zero buildup, but thinking about it logically then I guess it makes sense. Thanks to VGC leaking the info months ago about these games coming to Switch as part of a 35th Anniversary Collection, we probably should’ve guessed it’d drop today on the actual 35th Anniversary itself.

WR: It makes sense when you put it that way! Other than a collection, were there any other hopes you had beforehand? You know me, I was hoping for Captain Toad representation, and we got that!

AH: My one big hope was something that was sadly conspicuous in its absence – Super Mario Galaxy 2. Whilst obviously there was no mention of Galaxy 2 being included as part of the leaks, I was really hoping to see it there in some form because in my opinion, it’s the pinnacle of the Mario series as a whole, so I’d love to play through it again in HD.

WR: That’s a point we’re going to get to, be sure of that! As the announcement of the collection was at the end, though, let’s slow down and go through those initial announcements. The first reveal was of Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros., which plays Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, and a Mario version of the Game & Watch Ball game! This is a neat product, even if I reckon I won’t personally be getting it. Out on November 13th, it could be a great Christmas idea.

It’s a Game… AND a Watch?!

AH: It’s definitely something I’m going to keep my eye on and see if I can work it into my monthly budget. I’ve never owned a Game & Watch before to be straight up honest with you, so this definitely looks a great one to start with. As you say, there’s 3 games included as well as the fact it also doubles as a clock like all Game & Watch devices do, so really now it just comes down to the price point. It’s a gorgeous looking console too, the colour scheme goes so well together.

WR: I can tell the clock feature is the one swaying you to the purchase there! I have a Zelda Game & Watch, but as I say I may pass on this – depends on the price too, though. I agree the aesthetic is awesome, as a timepiece it is one I can see becoming very rare in the future. Next up was an announcement I am SO happy about; Super Mario 3D World is going to be on Switch on 21st February 2021! Which means more Captain Toad content on Switch! A great day.

AH: Can never have enough clocks that function as something else if you ask me, haha! Imagine someone asking you for the time whilst you’re stood at the bus stop, and rather than pulling out your phone like they’d expect, you pull out that bad boy. Honestly, you’re going to hate me for this, but I’m really not a fan of 3D World. The mesh between the 3D style, but 2D linearity and having a timer to complete the level really put me off both 3D Land and 3D World, so it’s a miss for me. Seeing Captain Toad is cool though!

Yet another Wii U game is going to find a new audience

WR: That’s fine, you’re allowed to be wrong. It isn’t Galaxy level for me, but it’s close, and the Captain Toad levels are fantastic, forming the basis for the solo spin-off Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Also the jazz soundtrack is immense! It’s nice to have it on Switch, as it felt missing from the group of games that have been crossing over from the Wii U. The added bonus of DLC is intriguing too; there wasn’t much indication about it, but with a name such as Bowser’s Fury, I’m excited! Maybe a DLC of Captain Toad facing off against Bowser? Maybe?

AH: It’s crazy to me just how obsolete of a system now Nintendo have made the Wii U, basically every single one of its top games has been ported to the Switch, and honestly I don’t blame them in the slightest. Think there’s only Xenoblade Chronicles X that needs to make the generational jump and that’s it, Wii U is a completely dead system. I’m interested in what the DLC side-story will be too, even if I’m not actually interested in the game. It seems something of a common trend now across Nintendo remasters that they have new side-stories, haha!

WR: Xenoblade Chronicles X is so great, I really hope it goes to Switch; my favourite Xenoblade game yet. Oh, also, I am hearing that there is online multiplayer for 3D World, a nice bonus!

AH: 3D World has online multiplayer though? That’s actually dope that. Given how integral multiplayer is into the game, it’d be crazy not to in my opinion; genuinely surprised it wasn’t an option in the Wii U version.

We don’t yet have much info about the new expansion

WR: Next up was, well, perhaps inevitable; it’s happened, we have a Battle Royale game for Mario now in the form of Super Mario Bros. 35, which reminds me of Tetris 99 in the layout and idea. In this, you are playing Super Mario Bros. on your screen, with the other 34 players pictured around you, and the relative success of each player can impact the others. It’s out on October 1st, in a digital-only format and only for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers – and strangely is disappearing on March 31st 2021?

AH: It’s such a dumb decision that I really can’t understand. It’s such a cool concept for a game, it makes zero sense for it to be available only for like half a year. Can you honestly work your head around it?

WR: No, not really. Unless they at some time announce that it is extended? There are quite a few odd decisions in this Direct, though! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Mario has a Battle Royale… is any series safe?

Are you able to out-platform the rest?

AH: Honestly I’d much rather play this Battle Royale than most of the others already out there. At least Super Mario Bros. 35 doesn’t just look like a carbon copy of every other Battle Royale available already (shoutout to Fall Guys, that game is cool as hell too) and is based purely on skill more than anything else. If they’re going to extend it though, why announce a set end date? Maybe after Super Mario Bros. 35 is done with the first Mario game come March, it’ll move onto Super Mario Bros. 2?

WR: We were actually going to talk about Fall Guys before this Direct happened (that’s on the way, though)! Yeah, I am confident it is going to be well-made, even if I doubt I’ll play much of it. The following announcement was probably my least favourite of the Direct – Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, 16th October. It’s essentially Augmented Reality (AR) Mario Kart, where you buy the physical toy karts to drive around through your Switch. So, the camera on the toy picks up the environment and makes that the background, with the arches you place around the room forming the track. This got me excited about making our own tracks, but that’s an idea I’d prefer in the traditional Mario Kart framework… I imagine this is going to be clumsy in terms of driving.

-at this point in the conversation, pre-orders for Super Mario 3D All-Stars went live on the Nintendo Official UK Store and we proceed to frantically get our orders in in time-

There is so much possibility for creativity with AR Mario Kart

AH: AR Mario Kart was your least favourite reveal of the Direct? Damn. Honestly it was my favourite behind only the 35th Anniversary collection. It looks genuinely incredible and whilst it’s obviously marketed towards those who have a larger room to be able to play it in properly, I’m 100% sold on the idea of being able to make my own custom tracks and the like from my house! Wonder if I can make my Axolotl tank a tunnel you have to drive through somehow?

WR: Don’t get me wrong, the concept is awesome, and replicating F1 tracks would be great fun, but the actual gameplay in AR just seems it wouldn’t feel as great as other Mario Kart games. Give me Mario Kart Maker please. Also: Ash, the Game & Watch just went up and is £44.99, thoughts on the price? You going for it?

AH: At £44.99, honestly I think I’ll pass, as cool as the device itself is. It’s a steep investment to be able to play 2 games I already own multiple times over, as do I assume most Nintendo fans.

WR: Similar for me; I don’t particularly collect Game & Watch devices, and I need to stop buying stuff… though there is just so much cool stuff in the world to buy! Ah, such a dilemma. Last on Mario Kart: have you planned a house track yet?

The toys themselves, with one of the arches in the background

AH: Yeah, I need to stop buying stuff too haha, supposed to be moving out by Christmas and I’ve just ordered that, Tony Hawk comes out tomorrow, then there’s Cyberpunk 2077 and Watch Dogs Legion, and Xbox Series X in November. Jeez. As for a house track, I’m not gonna lie, I started brainstorming one as soon as it was revealed. It’s going to be a bit hard though, because the toys definitely look like something my Greyhound would chase around and try to attack for the hell of it…

WR: The next section went through upcoming Mario-themed events from now to the date of March 2021. There’s a new event on September 9th for Mario Kart Tour on mobile, and lots of tempting Mario merchandise (speaking of buying… ) from plushes to T-shirts. Also, a nostalgic course is being added to Super Mario Maker 2, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is getting a Super Mario series online tourney. Oh wait, not done yet (breathes): January 2021 has a Splatfest for inky third-person shooter Splatoon 2 with teams for Super Mushroom and Super Star (Team Mushroom!), AND there are Mario Splatfest T-shirts and keychains. Animal Crossing is going to get Super Mario furniture. Then they went through other products out there; Super Mario Monopoly, Super Mario LEGO, the Super Mario LEGO NES, Super Mario Kinder Joy. BLIMEY. I did it! Which of those stand out for you?

AH: Honestly, it’s the Animal Crossing crossover, and Monopoly for me realistically in terms of what I’d be able to afford. I’d kill for that LEGO NES, but it’s so damn expensive sadly. Honestly, the rest of the stuff I really couldn’t care about.

There are some really sophisticated designs

WR: I just thought I should at least mention it all in passing. There are some merch items I am possibly going to get – the pink T-shirt design is great! Not enough Captain Toad merchandise though. Then, before the final reveal, they informed us that Super Mario All-Stars is releasing on SNES Online today, which is a nice touch, though perhaps overshadowed by the next announcement…

AH: I never got to play the Wii re-release of Super Mario All-Stars when that got released, so I’m actually looking forward to playing it once I’m finished with this article. Honestly any excuse to play Super Mario Bros. 3 is a great one to me, and with the All-Stars version having graphical upgrades and the like over the already-available NES version, that’s as much of an excuse as I need. I do feel sorry for the placement of this within the Direct though, like you said, it was completely over-shadowed by the next collection announcement…

WR: Let’s get to it then: the not-well-kept secret of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a combination pack of the following 3D Mario games: Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 – oh, wait, no, the last one is inexplicably not there. Um, what? Even so, these three games being available together in HD on 18th September is such an awesome announcement, especially given how Nintendo may have been able to make more money selling them separately (as with 3D World). This seems really pro-consumer – except from Galaxy 2 not being there.

A line-up of classic games!

AH: I really can’t understand the absence of Mario Galaxy 2, but either way, I’ve gotten my preorder in ready for it to release in a couple of weeks. Very much looking forward to playing through Sunshine and Galaxy again, although I’m interested to see how both actually play. Whilst Super Mario 64 is more of a traditional platformer, Sunshine relied very much upon the GameCube’s analog triggers to operate the FLUDD, and Mario Galaxy obviously has a decent amount of usage of motion controls. The Joy-Con do have gyroscopes built-in, but they’re not anywhere near as responsive as the Wii Remote was, so I’m hoping it’s possible to play the game in handheld mode, which is my preferred method of playing on my Switch. The lack of analog triggers is a huge omission from a gameplay perspective for Sunshine though, so I hope the game isn’t too affected on Switch as a result and Nintendo have found a way to work around this.

WR: I am hearing that co-op play on Galaxy requires Joy-Cons, so if you have a Switch Lite then that may be tricky. It’s a valid point about the triggers; I wonder if there is any compensation for that… I am slightly concerned about whether I have to play Galaxy on the TV for the controls to feel at their best, as flicking the Joy-Con detached in handheld may be awkward. These are concerns, but to focus on the positives, they’re amazing games being brought to HD; I am especially excited to replay Galaxy and Galaxy 2 – oh, no. Yes, I am being salty, but no, I shall not stop. Galaxy 2 exists! It exists… right?

AH: People play local co-op nowadays? That’s news to me, haha. If it requires motion controls though and you only have a Switch Lite anyway… Y I K E S. Galaxy 2 does still exist though, yeah, and it’s still the best Mario game yet. Give us Mario Galaxy 2 on Switch ASAP Nintendo, you cowards!

Just the one, though

WR: Why do you imagine it isn’t there? Could it be future DLC? I am baffled.

AH: My only hope is that it isn’t ready to be released and Nintendo didn’t want to miss the 35th Anniversary by delaying the game, so instead it’ll be released next year, either as DLC or a solo physical release. I’ll buy it either way.

WR: Maybe COVID-19 delayed it somehow? Also, with the resolution for Sunshine and Galaxy being 1080p docked instead of 720p handheld, I guess that is going to push us towards playing docked. Ideally it’d work with the Pro Controller.

AH: I really need to get around to investing in a Pro Controller honestly, I really wish Nintendo would bundle them with the console itself. But yeah, I’m definitely thinking it’s a COVID-19 related delay, we’ve seen a lot already this year and I think we’re still gonna see more yet. I hate to be the guy who complains about resolution but I’ll mostly always take the best looking way to play a game. I mean, I bought a 4K monitor solely to play The Last of Us Part II, haha. I just really, really hope all 3 games run at 60FPS more than anything.

The HD sheen is noticeable; Galaxy in particular seems visually polished

WR: The idea of Galaxy in 1080p HD in 60FPS, official from Nintendo, is so exciting! Of the 3, Sunshine is the one I did not finish on GameCube; I enjoyed it, but for some reason never finished the story. Time to amend that! Is Galaxy your most anticipated of the three?

AH: Galaxy is the one I’m most looking forward to playing through once again, yeah, but I don’t know if I’d call it my most anticipated one. That’d go to Sunshine because it’s the only one of the three I haven’t played before, although I have seen a ton of speed runs of the game, so I’m looking forward to being able to play through it for myself for the first time.

WR: It seems we are in a similar position then. I may not actually play much of 64, it is the other two I am most intrigued to go back to. By the way, the listings for the two separate Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit packs (Mario and Luigi) have appeared… they are £99.99 each. Ouch.

AH: A hundred quid each? Nintendo have to be joking right? I wouldn’t for a second even consider paying that much for them. Basically need to spend £200 to be able to use them, then the £200/£280 cost of a Switch. That actually takes the piss.

Super Mario Sunshine is back!

WR: I repeat: Ouch. Yeah, especially as a gift for younger gamers, that’s a high price barrier. So is the house track idea, well, off track now?

AH: Well, well, WELL off the track now, yeah. Stuff that, way too expensive. Or, to get a Mario joke in there, it’s so far off the track Lakitu just appeared.

WR: Aha! Nice. As a whole, this Direct was great, but I have gotta say that for me, the lack of Galaxy 2 really stings. If Galaxy 2 was included, then this’d be superb, but it just leaves a gap for me. As a presentation of Mario content, though, there’s lots there for us fans.

AH: It’s a Nintendo Direct where I actually want to play every game that was revealed; that’s crazy to me.

WR: I’d like to play them all, and another game not in the Direct…

There are a variety of level types in Super Mario Sunshine to enjoy

AH: Hmm, what’s that other game? The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD? Hey, Nintendo, give us that next year, you cowards.

WR: Oh Ash, that’s a whole other debate, haha! Maybe then people can realise they are wrong when they criticise Skyward Sword. At this point, do you reckon we are going to get a non-specific Nintendo Direct this year? Going by recent evidence, it seems as though they are splitting up the announcements.

AH: Next Let’s Chat: Why Skyward Sword is the best Zelda game. Honestly, given everything that’s happened this year, I’d be surprised if we got a general Nintendo Direct in 2020 at all. I honestly think that’s not going to happen until next year, and you know what? I’m okay with that. If only because it gives me an excuse to skip Directs if I know there’s gonna be nothing that interests me.

WR: Woah, not going that far. It’s not Twilight Princess. I reckon maybe one late on, perhaps December, but I can also see the wait being until 2021. We are probably going to get those Mini ones, which are nice updates; with Super Mario 3D All-Stars, though, Nintendo has a safe seller for 2020. To reiterate: this is out on September 18th! 14 days away! As if it is so close!

We’re nearly there… you’ll soon be able to play Super Mario 64 on your Switch!

AH: Honestly that’s the most surprising thing of all of the Direct to me – just how close it is to release. Is this the closest Nintendo have ever announced a major series game before its release? I’d be willing to bet that it is. Might have to take a couple of weeks off work and use up some holiday hours that I’ve been accumulating.

WR: That there sounds as though it could be an awesome plan! Get that Gusty Garden Galaxy going (woah alliteration). I had to remind myself how close it was, usually when I order Nintendo games there are months (or years) to go.

AH: MATE. Gusty Garden Galaxy’s OST. My God. It’s so good. I’m so glad there’s a music player included for all 3 games in 3D All-Stars, I’m gonna be using that feature so much.

WR: Right? I have used the one in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate so much too. The Galaxy games have such amazing music. We’ve been asking for so long, and we’re getting these games! With this and the recent release of Paper Mario: The Origami King back in July, it’s a great year for Mario. I reckon an Odyssey sequel ain’t far off either…

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is packaged with a handy music player

AH: If it isn’t that far off, please change nothing Nintendo, Odyssey was incredible. But please, for the love of all that’s holy, give us more Kingdoms with less Moons in each this time around.

WR: Were there any announcements – other than you-know-which – particularly missing for you from the Direct, or are you satisfied?

AH: I’ve got one that I know you’ll agree with because we’ve spoken about it before. Mario Strikers HD when Nintendo? I’m begging you.

WR: Oh, that’s such a great pick, why that series has been gone for so long… one day, right? Also, can I just say how much Nintendo has power over us with the use of one word: limited. The frantic pre-ordering because of how the stock is restricted for the physical edition of Super Mario 3D All-Stars is ridiculous, and yes I am aware we fell for it too.

AH: I was always going to be a day one buyer of the game, so was always going to pre-order anyway. But for Nintendo to make it purposely limited, even the digital version? It’s absolutely disgusting from Nintendo, and there’s no reason for it. If it were a small, unproven test game that was a limited retail release and left up digitally forever then I’d understand it. However, Mario games are pretty much always in the UK charts in a decent position, no matter how long it’s been since they released. I mean, look at Mario Kart DS/Wii, those were always number 1 on their respective console sales tables, and also held decent positions in the general sales chart. I’d imagine the same happens elsewhere, but I’m not gonna say for certain as I’ve never seen enough data from other regions to back that up. I’m seeing a good amount of people saying the same on social media, but imagine if like Activision or someone pulled this, and not Nintendo. There’d be WAY more uproar than there currently is. Nintendo absolutely need to be called out on this practice.

WR: It’s probably going to end up near Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Mario Odyssey on the best-selling games list. I get the criticism, and Nintendo has done this strategy before. It creates demand, but isn’t the most consumer-friendly way to go about it and actually causes stress from trying to make sure you successfully get your order through. Fear of Missing Out right? The digital restriction is an extra step they’ve taken here that really isn’t necessary or justified.

AH: Six months is a really short time for it to be available, too. I understand why games with licensed soundtracks, etc. get pulled from stores after a while, but even those are up for a decent amount of time before being pulled!

WR: Still, we’re gonna buy and play this game, but bear in mind how we do recognise the issues around the methods of distribution Nintendo is using. As for Mario Kart, I guess we’re gonna have to go to Japan and try those ones you can drive on the road?

Do you know where to find Galaxy 2?

AH: Honestly, dream holiday that. I’ve not been go-karting since I was like 10 on holiday in Scarborough, so to do it in actual real life Mario Karts on the road in Japan? Sign me up for that, no questions asked.

WR: That seems a positive, hopeful note to end on. Unless you have any other particular thoughts, we’ll wrap it up there. I was not expecting this drop of news today!

AH: Other than repeating that I want Mario Strikers HD, I’ve nothing more to say. I think we’ve covered everything now.

WR: Then my last note shall be: this was a day of more Captain Toad. Rejoice! See ya, Ash!

AH: In a bit!


There you have it: our reaction to the Direct. You can let us know your thoughts below; do you have any concerns about the way Nintendo is handling these releases? Are you excited to play these updated games? Also, for more from Ashley and I you can go through our other Let’s Chat articles here, including a review of Super Mario Odyssey! Until next time!

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Review

Developed and Published by: Capcom
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: Out Now


After the successes of Revelations, a sequel is a welcome addition to the Resident Evil series, informing us further about the events that transpire in the gaps between the numbered entries. Whilst the initial Revelations game focused on Jill Valentine (in particular) and Chris Redfield in the gap from Resident Evil 4 to 5, Revelations 2 has a story set during the days from 5 to 6. It is built around returning characters Claire Redfield (Yûko Kaida/James Baker) and Barry Burton (Yûsaku Yara/Geoffrey Chalmers), giving them new backstory and development that is really intriguing to experience. Other than some familiar locations and names, there isn’t that much direct connection to that first Revelations game, but the episodic format, effort at introducing new gameplay ideas, and atmospheric vibe are carried across, even if it isn’t quite as neatly packaged. I am reviewing the 2017 Switch release here, with the original roll-out on other consoles in 2015.


Been Here Before

The game kicks off with a cinematic depicting a Terra Save work event where Claire Redfield and Moira Burton (Ayumi Fujimura/Marcella Mazde) are ambushed and taken away by a mysterious group. Next they know, they find themselves in a gruesome and enclosed facility where they have to work together to find their way out past the monstrosities known as the Afflicted – only to discover that they are on an unknown island and very much not out of trouble yet. Immediately, the environment design is of a different tone to that of the Queen Zenobia cruise ship of Revelations; whilst the cramped feel is present, Revelations 2 is much more grimy and evidently unclean, with spiked traps, prison cells of enemies, and dirty, blood-splattered floors to unsettle you. This goes some way to masking the rough edges in the visuals as they blend into that look, but is unrefined in places with quite frequent flat textures and blurriness. It reminded me a lot of Saw and that style of horror, and that continues on with the way the plot plays out.

Each episode of the story has both a section playing as Claire/Moira and also one as Barry with a new character, a child named Natalia Korda (Aoi Yûki/Gabrielle Pastore). They sync up to a degree, being in slightly different times but connecting as each duo makes their journey through Sejm Island. Barry Burton is going there in search of Moira – his missing daughter – and when he gets there discovers the lost Natalia, who seems to have some link to events that she herself is not yet aware of. It’s very much an even split of game time, in contrast to how the Jill sections were clearly most prominent in Revelations; there is a nice balance struck of making both sides of the narrative feel sufficiently developed. Whilst the environments can leave improvement to be desired visually, the characters models are proficient; furthermore, the cutscenes are fantastic, brimming with a self-aware, slightly over-the-top drama similar to Resident Evil 5.

Natalia and Barry on Sejm Island

Switching from one pair to the other also changes the way you approach scenarios; each has one character that is more orientated towards direct damage, and another who can help with that but is more focused on exploration. Claire and Barry are the ones best at dishing out the firepower through the solid and satisfying gunplay of shotguns, machine guns, and more, whilst Moira and Natalia are able to spot hidden items in the environment. This method of finding items essentially replaces the Genesis scanner device in the prior game – personally I found the Genesis more satisfying, as in that case I didn’t have to switch characters in solo in order to find items; yes, you have the choice to either play the campaign solo or with a friend! It must be noted that this is only for local multiplayer, as online play is not supported. That is a slightly disappointing drawback, but considering Revelations had no campaign multiplayer at all, it’s tough to complain, and I’m glad this was added in.

Keeping inventories stocked is crucial, so it isn’t an area of the game to ignore – whether they’re ranged weapons, or the medical items for healing, stopping bleeding, or wiping off gunk. These latter two both decrease your vision on-screen, with visual effects that up the tension dramatically; the other character is able to help you out with those items, encouraging that teamwork. This is the case when playing either solo or co-op, as you can manage both inventories when solo. I spent most of my playtime as Claire/Barry, but the different skillsets led to each duo feeling as though they were a team, instead of one being dragged around by the other.

It’s fine, Claire has this covered

Additionally, Moira has a crowbar to attack and open new routes, and Natalia can throw bricks to compromise enemies. Natalia has the ability to see enemies that others cannot whilst crouching; she can locate enemies through walls, and there are even some that Barry just cannot see, but Natalia can point out for him. This in particular is a thought-provoking inclusion, as it stops you running in and makes you be more considered in your approach if you don’t want to accidentally run into a fatal encounter. On the other hand, there are a bunch of other concepts that aren’t that original or even used much – for example, finding drills to take down the occasional blocked path, or as aforementioned, needing Moira to open certain doors. There are quite a lot of new ideas here, and it may have served the game better to cut some of them and better flesh out others.


Family Matters

As the story progresses, Claire and Moira meet up with a bunch of other survivors who have been fitted with bracelets similar to theirs, that change colour depending on the level of fear they are experiencing and allow the enigmatic Overseer to contact them. This is what is producing the Afflicted; people are being overtaken by the fear experiments. At this point it’s got that slasher movie vibe, especially as some characters are picked off one by one – the game didn’t do much to invest me in most of this new group, though, which limits the impact felt. After this sequence, the game quite quickly reverts back to a more expected Resident Evil approach of corridors and monsters – this is fine, but after the initial set-up it seemed to be going for a very different approach akin to torturous horror. For my nerves it may be helpful that it didn’t go that way, but it is also disappointing that they didn’t follow through.

Please don’t touch me

Despite this, as you’d expect from a game with the Revelations name, there are many dramatic moments interspersed through the episodes to hold your attention. The father/daughter dynamic between Barry and Moira sets this game apart in the series too, and is a developing bond that – whilst not a masterpiece of storytelling – certainly got me invested in hoping they would not only survive but also be able to resolve their differences. At first it seemed that Natalia may be the child you have to look after and slow down for, but actually she has a fascinating plot of her own and contributes to their survival. Natalia helps Barry realise aspects about the way he has handled being a father – again, this isn’t superbly layered stuff, but it is there.

The island setting has a decent amount of variety too, which prevents encounters from becoming too samey. People definitively used to live here, and the mix of rural and urban areas shows this, as well as some documents you find along the way that explain more about the downhill path that led to this. An eye-catching tower in the centre of the island signifies an action-packed ending, too! Without spoiling it, there are links to other Resident Evil games here that are welcome moments of continuity referencing. The game gathers momentum as it progresses and motivated me to see how it would play out in the ultimately cinematic finale. As with the first Revelations, the episodes are presented in a TV-style way, with recaps of previous events at the start of each and teases of the next episode at the end. This is such a great structure that lends itself to the way this series, and the Revelations games especially, use gameplay to build up to story beats.


Around Every Corner

That build-up inevitably means making your way past many infected opposition, and it’s praiseworthy that the new vein of enemy design is quite distinctive to this game. The underground style incorporates unsettling combinations of metal and organic elements; you will also go up against monsters made up of multiple parts of bodies that move in creepy, alternate ways. Having a variety prevents the fights from becoming samey – from insect creatures to infected that fire off ranged bomb attacks (seriously), you’re kept on your toes. Emphasising this is the previously mentioned way different characters tackle different situations. Furthermore, the boss fights are frenetic fun; even when not on the hardest difficulty, they’re a challenge, and supply that desperate sense of survival as you work out how to take them down.

Moira and Claire form a great partnership

It’s a shame that the puzzle design isn’t quite as inspired. It’s okay, but straightforward in comparison to some of the new combat ideas. I’d describe it as serviceable; not bad, but it felt as if I was just working through those areas in order to get to the thrills elsewhere. When the puzzles were combined with that aesthetic of being in a labyrinthine set of traps, there was at least that suspenseful setting to make them stand out more. Further hurting them, though, was that occasionally the solutions were not always clear, which breaks the flow of the game. It isn’t fun to fail and not really know why or how you were supposed to act in the situation. In a way, the best puzzles are in that combat – finding the enemies, deciding whether to sneak past or take them out, discovering their weak points.

Contributing to the quieter stealth approach is being able to hear Afflicted wandering around, and there are plenty of groans and shuffles to prick up your ears. The Revelations games are great at ambient sound, informing you through audio at which type of area you are in through the way surrounding noises are reverberating. They’re often combined with neat visual effects, such as the way that the screen and sound distorts when you go near an enemy you cannot see, letting you know to get out of there and find another way to judge the way forward. If this game had just had a bit more polish, particularly in the environment design, it could’ve reached another level of presentation and made the whole experience feel more cohesive.


Avid Collectors

One area of presentation where Revelations 2 does excel, though, is in the amount of extras on offer. The Switch release includes the two DLC episodes that focus on Moira and Natalia respectively, and they’re a mixed experience. Firstly, The Struggle has an intriguing premise where there is permadeath depending on the items you collect, and provides more details on a character from the campaign. However, it relies a lot on areas from said campaign and has an uninspired feeling as a result. After this, the Little Miss episode gives more backstory to Natalia and delves into her psyche; it’s short and isn’t the most refined example of stealth, but I much preferred this DLC as the gameplay better matches the story being told, and the soft mist applied to the spaces separates them from other parts of Revelations 2.

Two Natalias? What could be happening here…

Beyond this, there is a vast quantity of game modifiers, figurines, pieces of concept art, costumes, and more to unlock that provide incentive to continue on after finishing the campaign. The points you earn from playing the game can go towards either these, or to new skills and then improving those skills. Additionally, there is a selection of collectibles in the campaign that go towards the unlock progression. Resident Evil games are great at giving this plethora of challenges, and this is a substantial example of that!

The most substantial of all may be the Raid Mode, a returning feature from the first Revelations. If you are not aware, this is where you compete in specific stages to complete the objective (often defeating all the enemies) in as efficient a way as possible. You can customise your character, choosing from a roster including returning faces not seen in the campaign, and then kit yourself out from a selection of skills, weapons, and more. This mode has the option of co-op, but differing from the campaign, it can be either local or online! With a really generous selection of stages that can be played in multiple difficulty modes, as well as Daily Missions, there is a fun experience to have here.

Oh hi there

Intriguingly, quite a few of the levels I played through in Raid Mode had settings from Resident Evil 6 (which I am currently playing through!), reflecting how 6 chronologically is after Revelations 2 in the continuity. After Revelations used areas from the campaign in that Raid Mode, this is actually a refreshing change, providing a markedly different set of places to fight through. I find myself returning to these two games to play their Raid Modes as they’re such robust offerings with great characters to play as!


Final Thoughts

If I had to pick my preferred Revelations game, I would go for the first as it has a slightly more focused feel, and, well, I’m a Jill Valentine fan! Yet, Revelations 2 continues the interstitial series’ penchant for satisfying gameplay and thoroughly enjoyable storytelling. The ambition to incorporate different characters and several new gameplay ideas is to be praised, flaws and all; however, it may have been better to practice restraint on certain game mechanics and side characters. Backing it up is the fantastic Raid Mode and superb longevity, an emerging trait of the Revelations games. I really hope there are more Revelations games in the future, as it is awesome to discover more about where these characters go when we aren’t with them in the numbered series entries.

7.5/10

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Paper Mario: The Origami King Review

Developed by: Intelligent Systems
Published by: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Release Date: Out Now


There aren’t that many games that make me laugh out loud, but this one? I was frequently chuckling to myself whilst playing Paper Mario: The Origami King, to the point where it glossed over some of the major issues with this game – not to the point where they weren’t noticeable, but enough to make my 25-ish hours with the main story go by in an enjoyable way. In a year where Nintendo is being understandably more reserved about their first-party plans, it’s important to note that we are getting quality releases from them such as this and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Yes, I know a lot of you are anticipating a Nintendo Direct… but there is a smorgasbord of amazing games on Switch to play whilst you wait (woo, I got to use the word “smorgasbord”)!


Creased Up

It isn’t often that the star of a Mario game is the story, but that’s exactly the case here – though not necessarily in the actual main set-up. During the Origami Festival, King Olly steals away Princess Peach and the Castle with her, leaving Mario with the task of unwrapping the streamers blocking the way and also amending the trail of destruction left behind. Said in that way, it sounds rather straightforward and not unlike other Mario plots, but the assortment of wittily written characters you meet make the difference. The standout for me is Olivia, the sister of King Olly, who you encounter early on and accompanies you for your journey. Her design is wonderfully expressive, putting across a range of emotions with subtle movements of her eyes, arms, and head, and her dialogue effectively portrays a determined but also adorably innocent perspective.

Near the start of the game, with Olivia and Bowser (yes, that is Bowser)

Starting out around Toad Town, the adventure takes you to a nice variety of locales, including a theme park themed around Japan and the secret-laden Scorching Sandpaper Desert. Each area introduces its own group of quirky characters; one highlight being said desert and Professor Toad, an expert on the mystery of Khap’taan Teeowed (alas, no appearance of the main man himself, THE Captain Toad). The rough structure each area takes is reminiscent of some Zelda games; enter a new area, complete some overworld activities, then get to the dungeon and boss of that area to remove the streamer, before moving to the next area. Variations on that structure, plus that aforementioned humour, keep it from becoming too formulaic.

For example, roughly halfway into the game you discover a wide-open ocean space that reminded me of The Wind Waker; you get a map of the ocean, with islands to plot as you find them, and through your travels you unveil the way forward. This sort of exploration was where I had a lot of my most joyous experiences; wandering around, meeting new characters, and discovering secrets at my own pace. The characters that accompany you in each area add a unique flavour as well, and take the game to very emotional places. As well as joining you in battles (more on those in a sec), they have their own arcs that develop as you play – Bobby the Bob-omb is a particular example, really shocking me at the deep places the game went.

There is a really creative feel to the environment design

On your path to clearing each of the five streamers, there are holes in the world to patch up and Toads to save. For the former, you collect confetti through various means – defeating enemies, hitting various parts of the world with your hammer – and, frankly, it’s quite a straightforward mechanic that is a bare minimum of player engagement. Saving the Toads, which have been crumpled, hidden, and mistreated by King Olly, is a much more rewarding part of the game. The way they are hidden is much more varied, posing more of a challenge to the player. Plus, each one has their own reaction to being saved, often with hilarious one-liners that add a creative spark to each time this happens. I have so many screenshots on my Switch of the dialogue in this game, from meta jokes to brilliant wordplay to dancing Toads. Yep, really!


Going in Circles

It isn’t all humour, though, and this is where the most divisive part of Paper Mario: The Origami King arrives: the combat. For most enemy encounters, you are put into a turn-based system on a circular arena of concentric circles. You are in the centre, with the opposition in various segments surrounding you. In an allotted amount of ring moves, you have the options to either push them vertically inwards/outward, or rotate the entirety of one concentric ring. If you manage to organise them so that they are in either a straight line (for a jump) or a 2×2 block next to you (for a hammer blow), then not only can you strike more enemies with your attacks, but you get a damage bonus. Additionally there are items you can use (such as a Fire Flower), but they’re used within that framework. It means that every battle has these prelude sections where you plan your moves out, almost as if you are in a strategy game.

The comments from Toads watching on are amusing, even if they are repeated a lot

See, it’s a neat idea that makes you consider your attacks in a different way, but it also takes a lot of impetus and immediacy out of battles. Especially against enemy types that pop up frequently, it can get quite repetitive, to the point where I was, at times, less invested in solving the solution for the optimum line-up. More than once, I would settle for more of a mismatched layout just so I could get onto the move selection and get the battle going. That is a clear sign that I was not always enjoying the combat that much. Especially when you’re trying to relax with the game and have some laughs, you aren’t always in the mood to slow your progress with repeated, very similar, battle set-ups.

Improvements are in the more unique confrontations, in particular the boss battles, as you are given unique obstacles and board layouts to consider. In a way, I found some of these easier, as my mind was being engaged more compared to the more samey intermediary ones. Additionally, these fights are much more visually absorbing, with the one-off enemy designs and the ability to regularly use Vellumental attacks from Olivia that harness the elements. The whole battle system is very mixed for me – it’s certainly flawed, but also I must say it’s a neat concept that has clearly had a lot of thought go into it. Perhaps the amount of work that went into making the very distinctive layout work has also led to it becoming unwieldy and disconnected from other aspects of the game.


Get On Board

This isn’t the only type of combat in Paper Mario: The Origami King, with some real-time encounters thrown in too. Often, these take the form of real-time fights against paper-maché enemies – Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and more – which add a different, larger scale of proceedings. In terms of structure, they’re all quite similar; use the hammer to knock off a sticker to make them vulnerable, then proceed to hit them more until they disintegrate fully into confetti. Despite this, they remain refreshing breaks from the occasional monotony of the turn-based sequences. As you get stronger, you can also take out some enemies that would previously have been fought on the circular field, but not many. I actually would have appreciated a better balance of these fights, as the real-time ones are quite uncommon in comparison.

We’re gonna need a bigger hammer

With how this game tends to have new ideas and quirks throughout to play into the humourous feel, it is also hit-and-miss whether every departure of gameplay works. There are a lot of ideas going around in the overworld portions of this game, and whilst some were very entertaining, naturally I wasn’t as much of a fan of all of them. Later on in the game, as I was becoming more and more knowledgeable about the core gameplay mechanics, this became more of an issue for me, perhaps because I was becoming so accustomed to those main systems the game had taught me. Therefore, any sudden new ideas were especially jarring. A Shy Guy-related one later on in the final stages is an example; it’s an amusing set-up, but the brainteasers can be really tough (at least for me). If memory puzzles are challenging for you, then there are potential stumbling blocks later on that the game doesn’t do a great job at teaching you about.

More than once, my rhythm with the game was put on hold as a result of this; it’s as though this game isn’t entirely sure what it would like to be. On one side, it is a really joyful, funny, not especially lengthy RPG with clever writing and an energetic momentum to the story. On the other, it is a tough strategy/puzzle game that asks you to be more patient and calculated, being prepared to halt your progress and even retry certain parts in order to clear them. Neither is necessarily a bad approach to game design, but they don’t go together here very well. This game would have been a more focused experience if it committed more to one of the two styles.


A Fine Craft

Essential to mention, though, is the music. Oh wow, the music in this game. It’s amazing! It’s consistently impressive throughout, and really noticeable in the battle sequences when it kicks in with the intro screen. It mixes classic themes with modern arrangements really effectively, reminding me of the underrated Super Mario 3D World and the jazzy, contemporary tones of that game, and the numerous times I have been thrilled by the battle theme of a Pokémon game. There’s a wonderful variety too, with an example being the soft, mellow tones of Autumn Mountain early on. I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by the audio in this game, but that is what has happened.

Benches heal you, and also initiate more clever dialogue

So how about the art direction? It’s… fine. It’s Paper Mario, with the fresh introduction of the Origami characters and the different style they bring, but mainly it’s not that innovative. There’s a pleasant contrast of environments, and they’re colourful and bright, but it’s not breathtaking. Animations are charismatic, especially the way different emotions are shown with only a few different animations of the paper-made characters (as aforementioned, this is really apparent with Olivia), and this contributes to the expressive humour. It all works well, but it isn’t going to be in the top ten Switch games for visuals.

I didn’t find any performance issues, I am glad to say, as they have popped up in several Switch games over the years. However, I will say that the – optional, bear in mind – motion controls are quite dodgy, especially when playing handheld. They feel a bit unnecessary and gimmicky; this is mainly when using the 1,000 Fold Arms to reach somewhere, or when shaking the controller to hit an object or enemy. It isn’t always clear which direction you should be moving the controller, and it can end up being another barrier to the continuation of the narrative. Motion controls can be fun when purposefully incorporated into a game, but this sort of use is really under-baked. Again, though, this is optional, and can be turned off.


Final Thoughts

If Paper Mario: Origami King had dedicated itself to being either a super-strategic game or a less-involved RPG, it may have actually been more successful. As it is, it’s a slightly awkward amalgamation of the two, with many, many bright moments, but also strange decisions that hurt the experience. The overall meta, self-aware, and intelligent vibe of the story is my favourite part of the game, and as I said at the top, meant that even in those rougher moments I was motivated to not put the game down, and instead power through, because I knew more fun was waiting for me. It’s not a top-tier Switch game, but as a first-party Nintendo release to play in this current wilderness of announcements, it’s an enjoyable way to spend your time.

8/10

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Pokémon Café Mix Review

Developed by: Genius Sonority
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), Mobile
Release Date: Out Now


One of the many nice surprises out of the first of the two recent Pokémon Presents was the reveal of Pokémon Café Mix, a new mobile and Nintendo Switch puzzle game about running a Pokémon-themed Café where both the customers and the employees are Pokémon! Whilst built on a reasonably simple idea, there is a decent amount of depth and longevity to this game to match up to the charming aesthetic.


A Link to the Café

As I say, the set-up is quite straightforward; together with *the only other human you see* Leah (is this a Poké-apocalyptic world?!), you set up a new Pokémon Café. As you’d expect, at the start of the game, you are running quite a basic operation with limited supplies. The main section of the game is the 150 orders to complete, which took me around 10-15 hours to get through and into the postgame. New facilities are set up as you work your way through the orders, opening up new sections of the Café and enticing more Pokémon to visit and subsequently work with you.

Yeah, that’s great, Leah, but where are all the people?

First, though, you have to get through said orders! The core gameplay of Café Mix is essentially a refreshing Pokémon twist on the icon-matching so often found in puzzle games. Presented with a screen of icons of the different Pokémon currently in your game, you use the touch screen to connect them up in a way that will complete the conditions of your order. Once an icon is selected, you hold your finger on the screen and drag it around to connect it up with matching icons within a period of time; at the end of the timer, or if you release your touch, those icons then satisfyingly disappear (and can affect those surrounding it). You score increases as you link more icons together in one go. Furthermore, once you connect enough icons, the Café Skill of your Leader Pokémon is made available.

These Café Skills act as extra tools for clearing levels, and are essential for progressing through the game. Before tackling an order, you must select a Leader Pokémon, and this decides the Café Skill available, with different Pokémon having different Skills. As an example, if the order requires you to make a high number combo, then Togepi – who can make icons transform into those of the icon appearing the most at that point – is helpful to set you up. Before each order, the game does inform you of the most suitable Pokémon, though it is possible to power through with another if you do not have access to them. At moments such as these, I often used other resources to help me through.


Altaria Motive

As a game for both Switch and mobile, these resources are where the mobile influence is very noticeable. For starters, you have 5 Hearts, and every occasion that you retry an order uses one up. If you run out, you can no longer attempt the order; these refresh over time, or you can pay for another go through Golden Acorns. Whilst you do earn these – and the other seven items that can help you complete orders – through playing the game, you can also purchase them with actual money. As Café Mix is free-to-play, this is the way the game generates revenue; however, when it actively feels as though a pay wall is put up in front of you it leaves a negative vibe.

Look at Snubbull in their hat and apron… and how happy they are… c’mon, that’s adorable.

This was most intrusive to me when I didn’t have the Pokémon with the suggested Café Skill for the next order, and it felt as though I either had to wait, or purchase items that would enable me to push through. I did not pay in my time with the game, and this meant I had to wait at several points – sometimes, until the next day. More side modes where you can work towards getting Pokémon to join your staff would have helped this; there is only the once-daily party that gives you two orders with random Pokémon (you can refresh the two invited Pokémon once for free, and then with Golden Acorns). Pokémon Masters is a great example of how to have plentiful modes that give the player options.

A barrier to gameplay such as this suddenly stops your flow and can be very jarring. It doesn’t help that the game is all over the place in terms of the difficulty curve; through the 150 orders, most of my troubles came with specific orders around the 50 and 90-100 mark. When I finally cleared these problematic orders, I would find that the next 10 or so are a breeze in comparison, whereas you would expect a more gradual overall rise of difficulty from 1 to 150.


A Mixed Bag

Personally, I reckon a reason for this is that the game sort of resets whenever new Café facilities are introduced. For example, the Whipped-cream dispenser causes blobs of cream to appear that take several hits of nearby combos to complete; the Nut tree brings nuts that can only be cleared by Café Skills; and the Honey pot introduces blocks of honey that multiply unless you remove them quickly with nearby combos. With the new type of gameplay mechanic, levels suddenly feel easy before then jarringly returning to being challenging again. Café Mix doesn’t hit the right balance of teaching the player whilst also understanding your rising skill level.

Whipped cream in action! Don’t question the physics.

Pokémon Café Mix is entirely touch-controlled (and on Switch, this means handheld play only), and whilst the touch control is responsive, the occasional moments where you select the wrong Pokémon as a starting point, locking yourself into those icons for that move, are not ideal. With icons so close to each other, it is very easy to select the wrong one. Once you get to the trickier, more complicated orders, every move can be crucial; the general inaccuracy of moving icons around with touch can be counter-intuitive to that.


Waffling On

The highlight of Café Mix is the presentation of the game. The Café itself, and the artwork for the Pokémon, have a colourful and trendy artistic appeal that befits a game about a modern Café. The game has a really warm, welcoming tone, and seeing Pokémon happily spending time in a Café and then wearing adorable outfits as staff is wonderful. The music is not intrusive, yet provides an undercurrent of soothing background tunes. I also recommend spending time going over the details of the orders you serve up; there are some brilliant and creative designs, from the Nutty Buneary Frappé to the Combee Waffles with Honey and beyond. Mmm, this makes me hungry and thirsty!

Those Fluffy Eevee Pancakes look GREAT.

My main complaint would be that there isn’t that many Pokémon currently in the game, with 17 at launch and 19 currently; the additions of Scorbunny and Sobble (and you would guess Grookey) from Sword and Shield suggest that they may be adding more over time, which would be great to see. In addition, as of writing this, tomorrow more orders are being added to bolster the 150 in the game at this point, which is another sign of how there are plans to support this game.


Final Thoughts

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the amount of content within Pokémon Café Mix. A very unrefined difficulty curve and issues with how the game puts up pay walls are my main problems with it; yet, I can see myself loading this game up regularly into the future, especially if they continue to add new content. This is mainly due to the varied levels and the delightful look and feel the game has. The name of the game – Pokémon Café Mix – is suitable considered how mixed it is, but overall I would recommend putting time in and seeing if you enjoy it; especially for Pokémon fans!

7/10

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Old Man’s Journey Review

Developed by: Broken Rules
Published by: Broken Rules
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mobile
Release Date: Out Now


This is a game I had my eye on for a long time whilst browsing the Nintendo eShop, and when it was discounted from £8.99 to under £2… well, it’s such a great deal that it’s hard to resist! Having now played through Old Man’s Journey, I discovered a touching story, even if similar subject matter has been tackled by many other games before. As an interactive experience you can feasibly finish in one or two sessions, there is both a lot to appreciate and a lot that could have been developed more.


The Wanderer

Old Man’s Journey is about an elderly man who, with you controlling, traverses through many different 2D landscapes with his rucksack and walking stick as he reminisces about his life. You start off at his house on the cliffside, and are not told his name throughout the game – there is no text dialogue at all, actually. Instead, you are intuitively led from point to point; the end of each area often has you taking a rest, taking off your rucksack, and zooming in as you see a memory of his life. These images are stunningly drawn, with the emotion of the situations evidently emerging from the screen. As you see past moments of his wife, child, and more, a picture of how he got to where he is now starts to form.

The screenshot functionality of my Switch was in use!

To get to these moments, you have to make your way through the environments first. To move, you either touch the screen or move the cursor to where you would like to go, placing a marker to signify the destination. You can also occasionally affect other parts of the world; open or shut a window, turn on a lamp, to mention two examples. The touch control is much more suitable, as it allows you to make quick decisions and movements, whilst the analogue stick takes time to position the cursor where you would like to put it – there are also some situations where you need quite immediate responses, and touch control works much better for these. This isn’t really a criticism, more a recommendation of which way to play given the two options.


Rise and Fall

As an extension of this, you then have to use the same type of control to alter the areas around you into a position that the man can get through. Each natural layer of the world – imagine the foreground, background, and more of a landscape – can be adjusted up and down, revealing undulations that – when arranged correctly – can be situated in a way that connect and form a path to traverse. It is a clever idea, and suits the slow, quiet narrative being told, but in terms of gameplay it is never used to the maximum potential. Especially towards the end of the game, I was waiting for that moment where the mechanic had a really intelligent new twist or extra element (the way a 3D Mario game takes a concept and makes many different scenarios out of it), but it never really happened.

Here, you adjust the different sections of ground to get towards the person in the background

There are, however, some sections where you are in a vehicle and that alters the dynamic, but often the core of the gameplay is the same – just with a different movement style. They aren’t really adding much different to the central idea, even if the different visual aspects are welcome. Instead, there is a repetition of the same concept, which becomes noticeable and takes you out of the moment. Also, there was one section where the way I moved the world left me stuck and unable to continue, and I ended up starting the section again, which didn’t seem an intentional option for the player. This seemed an oversight.

In a similar way, the story of this man and the people he cares about – although undeniably powerful (I won’t say too much about it) – is shown in a very direct way for the player. I am a person who really values it when part of the story is left to your imagination, but I feel as though a bit more on the characters would have helped me to have my imagination run with it. Not necessarily how they got to this point, but who they are as people. In addition, the game took me around 2-3 hours to play through, and is perhaps a bit on the short side for the £8.99 price.


Picturesque

Now a word on the art direction. I have talked about the amazing artwork for the memories; furthermore, the 2D world is vibrant and has a slight paper-crafted aesthetic, which accentuates the way you interact with the separate layers of it. The clearly defined shapes that make up the character models and topography also give the game a certain quirky charm, as if you are viewing an arthouse animation short. It really matches up well with the types of surroundings you encounter, from quaint houses to scenic hillsides. Complimenting this is the tranquil soundtrack, the delicate tunes subtly encouraging you along.

The game has a lot of charm

The characters dotted around each have their own distinct visual vibes, too. As aforementioned, there is no spoken dialogue, but the sounds characters do make have an endearing quality that perhaps tells you a little more about their personalities; this only happens now and then, though.


Final Thoughts

Old Man’s Journey is a narrative-driven game that has a smart central gameplay mechanic it very much sticks to without pushing to the full potential. It left me wondering if puzzles could have been made more complex, and yet it also has a forgiving feeling that makes it a great game for relaxing with one evening on your Nintendo Switch – especially as the game is not very long. The story is affecting and the presentation is welcoming; just, perhaps, some of those ideas could have been built upon more.

6.5/10

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Review

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a vital launch game for the Wii that showed it could produce dark, adult, epic adventures all the way through it’s lifespan. For many people, it was the game of choice at launch – and it certainly didn’t disappoint. This is my favourite game of all time, and let me tell you why…


A Link of Two Forms

Twilight Princess tells a delicate, emotional story that is one of the most mature Nintendo has crafted. It is a wonderfully woven tale about light vanquishing an all-conquering evil that has fallen over Hyrule. You start as a villager who likes to see his friends, look after his horse Epona, and help the villagers. Of course, this quickly changes, and you soon encounter trouble as you are captured by beasts from the shadows…

Midna accompanies you for much of the game

At this point, you meet one of the most interesting new characters – Midna. Midna serves as your companion and guide, and your relationship with her is one of the most absorbing in the game. This isn’t the most light-hearted of encounters, however, as you have been transformed into a wolf and are trapped in a dark, gloomy prison cell. Escaping serves as a challenging tutorial of how to operate as a wolf, and it certainly introduces several different gameplay mechanics. As Wolf Link, you rely on your senses and physical ability instead of tools and weapons, which Link often relies upon so much.

Wolf Link is implemented well, and adds variety to the game. I found controlling Link to be much more enjoyable when not in Wolf form, so the fact that Wolf Link is not overused is vital. Each form of Link gets their chance to shine, and the contrast between the dark, shadowy Wolf Link sections and the other (usually) bright, inviting sections serves as an extension of the moral of the story Nintendo tells.


Point It Out

While Skyward Sword outdid the extent of Twilight Princess’ motion controls 5 years later, it had superior technology to help it. Considering the relative inaccuracy of the original Wii Remote, the motion controls implemented in Twilight Princess are a great achievement. It would have been easy to shoehorn in too much motion control and ruin the epic feel of the game. Instead, the motion control feels intuitive and makes Link feel like an extension of you (a lot like Mario in Super Mario Galaxy) – you barely realise you are flicking the Wii Remote to slash your sword or use your fishing rod.

The motion controls add an energetic element to the gameplay

The controls are very easy to get to grips with – the Nunchuk’s control stick controls Link’s movement, and the motion control controls the use of your equipment. The buttons on the Wii Remote and Nunchuk are used for equipping items, asking for advice from Midna, using the map… and so on. At no point do the controls feel gimmicky or forced – and this would have been very easy to do.


Through Any Obstacle

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess contains a lot of the series’ trademark: dungeons. Combined with the large amount of content in between these areas and the many side quests, this game will keep you going for a long time. This doesn’t mean that it’s quantity over quality, though – far from it. The dungeons are all fabulous designs that will challenge you in different ways with the puzzles they contain. People will differ in opinion about which are the best, but the general quality of the dungeons gets better as you progress through the game – you will find some unique and truly brilliant designs. In my opinion, Twilight Princess has the best dungeon design of any Zelda game.

This fight is in one of the later dungeons

When you aren’t being challenged in a dungeon, you are enjoying the diverse range of experiences waiting for you in the large overworld – and it is truly vast. This is an expansive version of Hyrule, and galloping across Hyrule Field on Epona is a stirring experience, even after you have done it countless times. The world is packed with secrets, with Heart Containers, shining bugs, armour, and more to collect.


Riding Through Twilight

While the Wii does lack the graphical grunt of the PS3 and Xbox 360 of the generation, Twilight Princess proves that the Wii can play games that are visually large and realistic. The graphics are the modern take on Ocarina’s visuals, and give Zelda fans the epic game that they wanted.

There are places where the textures look blurry and edges of objects look a bit rough – but these are mainly hidden in areas where you don’t often look, like corners of mountains and dark rooms. The graphics in important, enthralling cutscenes always look gorgeous, and this makes the game great visually. Character models all look fantastic and realise the well-known Zelda cast in this darker take on the franchise.

The overworld is gorgeous

The aforementioned massive overworld looks great in widescreen mode, with Death Mountain in the distance and the lush grass of Hyrule Field all around. This game is the realisation of many fans’ dream for an epic Zelda game with visuals of a more realistic vein.


Sounds of Hyrule

The Legend of Zelda is known for having great soundtracks, and Twilight Princess does not break this tradition. The music is emotional and always complimentary to the situation you are in, whether it is buying items from a shop or slaying shadow beasts. Twilight Princess’ soundtrack is one of the best in the Zelda series yet; you’ll find me listening to it even when not playing the game! The moment you load up the game, one of the best pieces of music from the game is the first thing that hits you. You see Link riding through Hyrule, with an emotional, epic soundtrack in the background. This opening cutscene assures you that you are about to start an amazing, rollercoaster ride through Hyrule (or continue it, I guess).


Place in History

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is, for me, the best Zelda game and my personal favourite game ever. It feels like a sequel to the classic Ocarina of Time, with it’s massive, scenic areas to explore, absorbing plotline, and characters you truly invest in. Ocarina of Time is still regarded as one of, if not the best, game ever made – so the quality of this game is shown when it feels just as good, if not better, to play.

There are many emotional moments in the story

If you are looking for a huge, emotional, gripping adventure that will hold you in for a good 40-60 hours (including side quests), Twilight Princess is brilliant in that regard. This game can be defined simply with one word that you may have noticed me using multiple times in this review: epic.


Final Thoughts

The truth is, I have barely scratched the surface of this game in this review. The plot is long and contains many unexpected twists and turns, but it never feels overworked – you always want to find out what will happen next. The dungeons and puzzles consistently challenge you throughout the game, forcing you to get better with your skills and improve as you play the game. There are many combat techniques to learn that add depth to the combat, and items that open up ways of solving problems you hadn’t even thought of. I haven’t said much about the plot on purpose – you really have to play this game first-hand, without any idea about the breathtaking moments that you will experience as you play. In short, this is a game that anyone with even a passing interest in games needs to have played – Twilight Princess this is truly breathtaking.

10/10

Rating: 10 out of 10.