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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (2022)

In the late 1980s the arcade scene in the US was still going strong. Classic style arcade games like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man were being overtaken by a new genre of quarter-munching pain: the brawler. Or the beat-em-up. If you’ve played one, then you can picture what I’m talking about. It was usually a one to four player experience where each player would take control of an avatar and battle hordes of enemies all while gradually moving to the right with the goal to reach a boss encounter by the end. These games were often very simple, usually requiring just two buttons and a joystick, and most all played the same: you punch, you jump, you unleash a special move that consumes a portion of your health, and you die. A lot. Most games required the player to pump in another quarter upon a final death, usually giving them 10 seconds to do so, which would allow the player to re-spawn immediately. This made completing the game quite manageable, provided one had enough quarters because these games were designed to beat the player down. There was often just too many enemies onscreen for even the most accomplished player to dispatch in a flawless fashion. The character the player controlled just wasn’t equipped with enough maneuvers to avoid hits while simultaneously dishing out punishment. Plus, the games weren’t above getting cheap by having players get attacked by unseen enemies or by having boss characters just shrug off all damage. Actually having a story and an ending made them unique at the time since the goal wasn’t to just play as long as possible and get the highest score, which also made them addicting. Yeah, I want to see the X-Men defeat Mangeto, I need to know if the Simpson family rescues Maggie, and I have enough money to do it!

One of the developers who best exemplefied excellence in the field of the beat-em-up was Konami, and two of their biggest hits belonged to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The other part of this genre that appealed to players was they looked lovely. As video game technology advanced rapidly in the 80s, the home consoles could not keep up with the arcade. That’s why it was the arcade where you could find a brawler with beautiful, large, sprites that truly resembled what they were supposed to. It made this genre a magnet for licensed properties and developers could even sneak in some soundbites if the property was from television or a movie. And for a franchise like TMNT, it made creating a game that actually looked like the mega popular cartoon show a feasible thing. The home Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the Nintendo Entertainment System sort of looked like the property. I knew I was looking at the turtles when I played it, even if they didn’t exactly look like the characters from the show. And the enemies were pretty damn confusing as well, and not always for technological reasons. With the arcade game that released the same year, there was none of that. It felt like playing an episode of the show and was a delight to my kid-brain. My strongest memory of that title was playing it at my cousin’s birthday party which was held at a roller skating rink. We were there, confronting Shredder, after spending who knows how many quarters to get there, when a kid who had been watching for most of the time accidentally stepped on the power cord. My cousin, the birthday boy, went ballistic on the poor kid while my aunt tried to calm him down. At the time, I was initially disappointed to not see the end of the game, but I think I felt worse for the kid. My aunt had been trying to corral us anyway for cake and ice cream so she wasn’t disappointed. Maybe she actually did it and blamed the kid!

The heroes in a half-shell are back in a fun, sleek, retro package!

That initial offering from Konami looked great, and the pacing was a lot of fun, but it was very much a basic game design. When the developer came back for the sequel, Turtles in Time, it did more than just put a shine on the experience. Special moves were added, the kind that take away health to execute, and some additional maneuvers were added to freshen up the experience. By far, the biggest new addition, and the flashiest, was the ability for the player to toss enemies at the screen which was highlighted during the attract mode setting and certainly worked to get attention. And when that game was brought to the Super Nintendo, it was a near perfect port. Some animations and sound clips had to be removed, but the game made up for it by adding new boss encounters and levels making it the superior experience. And it was beatable at home, with the ability to adjust the amount of lives players had and toggle the game’s difficulty. It was a terrific experience for kids in the early 90s into the franchise and it’s a shared experience for men my age (and probably a fair amount of women too) and one most remember quite fondly.

Because of the popularity of those two games, developer Tribute Games returned to it for 2022 with Shredder’s Revenge. The turtles never actually left the brawler genre, more were made into the 2000s including a re-make of Turtles in Time, but none managed to capture the attention of fans like Turtles in Time did. Tribute seemed hell-bent on changing that as Shredder’s Revenge was revealed well ahead of the launch and it was immediately clear that the game was after adults who grew up with those old school games. It’s a 2D, sprite-based, brawler that incorporates a lot of what Turtles in Time did, plus it adds a dash of something new. Yes, it’s still limited by its genre and it’s not out to reinvent the wheel or reexamine what this genre is capable of, but it does provide for some depth. Mostly, it’s designed to take players on a trip through an enhanced episode of the classic cartoon series and returns the original voice cast for the turtles. And because we’re now in the year 2022, the experience has been enhanced to include up to 6 players either via the couch or online and it’s no longer limited to those who own a Super Nintendo.

This time, you and five of your friends can take it to Shredder all at the same time.

Shredder’s Revenge presents two main game modes out of the gate: Story and Arcade. Story mode is self-explanatory, while Arcade is basically just the story mode without the interludes and map and is intended to be more challenging. From the get-go, players have access to six playable characters: the four turtles (Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael) plus their master, Splitner, and main ally April O’Neil. All of the characters differentiate themselves via three attributes: Range, Speed, and Power. Leonardo is intended to be the most balanced, while the other characters all lean towards something such as Donatello having the best range and Raph hitting the hardest. The characters also handle slightly differently with Mikey being able to bounce off of foes while Leonardo has a wide-ranging jump attack. As you progress through story mode, characters earn experience and progressively get better via enhancements to their special move so it pays to replay with different characters.

Yes, you can still throw Foot Soldiers at the screen.

The actual gameplay should feel rather familiar to those who played Turtles in Time. The face buttons on the controller all do something different with one being attack, jump, parry, and special. Special moves no longer consume health and instead have their own meter that gradually fills as you dish out damage. Most special moves are designed to clear the screen, or at least a portion of it, and are best used when undier siege by a lot of enemies. As characters accumulate experience, the special move meter expands and a special dive attack can be unlocked as well as a ninja master mode that’s like a temporary buff in place of just one, singular, attack. Jumping and attacking the standard way should feel pretty familiar as well, while the parry button is where the backflip is basically mapped to now. Players can also still grab enemies by simply walking into them which opens up the bash attack where the player slams the enemy to either side in a comical fashion and the screen-toss is still present, and just like the SNES game, plays a role in one boss encounter. There’s also a taunt button which allows the player to earn special move power without fighting and in co-op mode there’s a button dedicated to assisting allies via a high-five which transfers health from one player to the other. Each player has a set amount of lives at the beginning, but beating back enemies can earn extra lives. Pizzas still restore health and are scattered about the levels and new to this game is a massive pie that will restore the health of all active player characters, so no fighting over that one. There’s also still power-up pizzas which make the player momentarily invincible and places them in a spinning attack to smack away all foes. There’s also a new one that just enables the player to spam their special move too. In short, it’s all rather familiar, but there’s enough new wrinkles to please old school fans and nothing added breaks or ruins the experience. It’s all for the better.

As was the case in past games, boss characters tend to be presented oversized relative to their toon counterpart.

Where the game really shines is in the presentation. There’s a great intro done in a hand-drawn style with a new arrangement of the theme song (sung by Faith No More’s Mike Patton) to accompany it and really set the mood. The sprite work is bright and vibrant, and while the characters seem a little small relative to their environment in this one, it all fits well on the screen. The art style is obviously based on the cartoon, but it also has it’s own thing going for it. Foot Soldiers have more of a squat appearance with oversized heads while the sizing on the boss characters fluctuates quite wildly. Bebop and Rocksteady are huge, while Rat King is fairly petite. All of the enemy deisgns are also based on the show, so you’ll see Triceratons that look removed from their lone experience and Slash has his very toon specific look. All of the bosses from Turtles in Time return for this one, but there’s also some new ones that I won’t spoil. I would consider at least one a true deep cut from the show, but if you’re as into collecting NECA’s action figures as I am then none will appear that deep. You also get the returning cast from the show so you have Cam Clarke (Leonardo, Rocksteady), Rob Paulsen (Raphael), Barry Gordon (Donatello, Bebop) and Townsend Coleman (Michelangelo, Rat King, Rahzar). Unfortunately, they’re the only ones brought back so someone like Pat Fraley is missed, but if you’re only going to bring back four cast members from the show at least it’s the turtles. Most of the characters are one and done battles, but like the original game, you’ll chase Bebop and Rocksteady around a bit. Levels in story mode are laid out on a map of New York that are accessed by driving the Turtle Van around which feels like a nod to the original NES game, though you never get to drive the van in a level which feels like a missed opportunity. There are still surfing and hoverboard levels, and in story mode there are collectibles scattered across levels that can be uncovered for an experience bonus, but they’re not very compelling. The story itself is also mostly non-existant and of little importance. Shredder is still interested in the Statue of Liberty for some reason and most of the game involves the turtles trying to prevent the bad guys from re-assembling Krang’s body.

Story mode will probably only take you a few hours to complete, but there are additional challenges that can keep you coming back for a little while.

Completing all of the levels in story mode will unlock one additional character: Casey Jones. Depending on who you beat the game with will also influence the ending you receive in a small way so there is some encouragement to replay the mode with different characters. Not only will they get stronger, but you’ll get a little bonus postscript for the ending. You can also replay any level at any time throughout story mode and the game will keep track of what you accomplished, or did not, for each one. There are cameos hidden throughout the game in addition to other collectibles. None of them are particularly difficult to find, it just requires the player to bash away at all destructable objects in a given level. There are also additional challenges for each one that range in difficulty. Some will require the player to just avoid a certain obstacle or maneuver an enemy in the level posseses, while others just task you with not taking damage. The difficulty can be toggled as well and playing on the normal setting presents a modest challenge. I haven’t tackled the game on hard yet, and I don’t know when I will since I tend to play with my kids, but I will probably try it at some point.

Shredder’s Revenge is available on all of the major consoles out there. It was first made available digitally, but physical copies have been made availble via Limited Run Games. There’s a standard version available now which is how I purchased the game for the Nintendo Switch, but more robust collector versions were also available. While it was tempting to go for the version that came in a VHS styled box, I ultimately didn’t want to pay the extra money or endure the longer wait to get it. All physical versions come with a Pizza Hut coupon like the NES version of the arcade game back in the day, which is certainly a fun inclusion that I assume most owners would prefer to keep over actually exchanging it for a personal pan pizza. And that inlcudes me. All physical versions also come with a fairly robust manual and some stickers which is pretty cool. As for the Switch version, the performance is great. I didn’t notice any slowdown or frame rate hiccups and it was easy to add players to the mix. I haven’t tried it online, but I hope to whenever my buddy who did go for one of the fancier packages finally gets his.

It’s pretty cool to have these guys back in my game console.

I don’t want to oversell Shredder’s Revenge. It is, at its heart, a humble beat-em-up that doesn’t require numerous amounts of quarters to get through. It is a fun experience though and is especially so for those who grew up on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the games from Konami. And even if you didn’t, my son is proof that it can appeal to the kids of today as well as he’s had his nose buried deep in this one since I got it despite us beating it in a mere two play sessions. It doesn’t do anything to elevate the genre, but it does do enough that I feel it’s easily the best beat-em-up I’ve ever played. There’s enough variety in the characters to make it worthwhile to experiment with them all and the player has enough control over the characters to make it possible to actually get really good at the game. Turtles in Time had some of that going for it, but mostly getting good at that game just involved managing the amount of enemies on screen in the most economical fashion possible and knowing when it wasn’t worth it to try and damage a boss. Some of the bosses in Shredder’s Revenge can feel a tad cheap at times, but for the most part, it’s also easy to see how to tackle each one and for the most part it’s pretty fun too. I think I only dislike one boss fight, Rat King, as it’s just too long and mostly involves the player dodging swarms of rats. Other than that, the other fights are fine and there’s a fair amount of variety in the encounters as well. I don’t think I’ll sink 60 hours into this game or anything, but it’s a good time and I feel motivated to at least power up all of the playable characters. If you grew up on this stuff, then this game is a no-brainer.


The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III

Rean is back and he’s got some new friends this time.

I knew it had been a long time since I reviewed The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, but I was surprised when I went back and looked and saw that I posted that entry almost 5 years ago. The Trails of Cold Steel series was planned to be 4 games and I basically went from the first game right to the second, so having to wait for the third part was a bit of an adjustment. And the main driver of that was the switch from the PlayStation 3 era to the PlayStation 4 one. I experienced the first two games on the Vita, but that wasn’t going to be an option going forward. Enter the Nintendo Switch which was essentially my replacement for the Vita. Trails of Cold Steel III was released on the PS4 in October 2019, but I had to wait until June of 2020 to pickup the Switch version and now, more than 100 in-game hours later, I can actually talk about it.

The Trails of Cold Steel series of games is a property of long-time Japanese game developer Nihon Falcom and its The Legend of Heroes franchise traces all the way back to the pre-8-bit era of gaming. It’s one of the longest running franchises in the medium, though it’s never been particularly popular in the west. It would seem this game helped to get it more recognition as it arrived on the PS4 during the console’s natural life-cycle as opposed to the first two games. The switch to the new platform meant this entry lost the ability to import data from the prior games so, in a way, it was like a fresh start. And the four games do feel like two stories in a lot of ways. The first game ends with an abrupt cliffhanger while the second has more of an ending. It does still setup another game though and, spoiler alert, the third entry ends in the most abrupt cliffhanger yet.

The story of these games centers on Rean Schwarzer. In the first two games, Rean is a student at Thors Military Academy, but by the end of the second game he’s more like a full-fledged soldier of the Erebonian Empire. He’s an orphan, and come the end of the second game his parentage is out in the open. A seemingly morose Rean is then used as a tool of the Empire to help annex the nation of Crossbell with the help of Altina, the Black Rabbit, and his divine knight Valimar, which is essentially a mobile suit or mech. When the third game begins, Rean has been appointed an instructor of Thors Military Academy’s branch campus overseeing a new Class VII, which is the class he belonged to as a student. The student is now the teacher, but tensions amongst the surrounding nations cast a shadow over Erebonia. The sense the game gives off is that Rean has been stashed at this lesser school just to bide time until war breaks out when his skills and divine knight will be needed to crush a rebellion. Rean has to figure out how he fits into everything and just how far he’ll go in his service to the Empire, despite openly voicing his opposition to many of the choices made by the ruling class.

The cast of playable characters is quite massive in this one, though the game is crafted in such a way that everyone is almost never available to utilize all at once.

The story is very much about Rean, but it integrates new characters as well. Rean’s new Class VII begins small as it features the returning Altina, who previously was a non-player character and even a villain of sorts, along with newcomers Juna and Kurt. Juna is a young woman from Crossbell who has a lot of mixed emotions about being taught by Rean whom she views as an enemy of her homeland. Kurt is the second son of a noble trying to find his own way who declined an invitation to the main campus and instead took a position at the less prestigious academy. The game begins as the previous two in a cold open fashion as the player will be in control of a party of Class VII from a point in the game that won’t be seen for many hours, so I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that two additions are made to Class VII during the course of the game because they’re a part of that opening. One of which is a noble girl named Musse who has an unquenchable thirst for her instructor. The other is Ash, a fellow orphan with a brash personality who has an open disgust for Rean. Of the new additions, Juna and Ash are the most interesting as there’s a lot of conflict stemming from them which is refreshing in a game where the characters, otherwise, get along too well. Kurt is rather bland and too similar to Jusis from the previous games, even looking similar, while Altina is intentionally wooden as she needs to develop emotions and a personality throughout the game.

If you’re missing the past members of Class VII, worry not, as they do return and in a playable capacity. They’re just not a main attraction and much of the focus is on the new characters. The old ones are used like guest characters, which isn’t a new thing for the series as it did the same with the Bracers in the second game, who bounce in and out of the playable party throughout the game and never stick around very long. It’s kind of needed though as those characters had two games to build up their strength while the new ones start from scratch. Rean does not, though he intentionally holds back during the early parts of the game which is how the game depowers him. Even with that, he’s still pretty powerful compared to the other characters and anchors the party throughout the game.

In order to give the game added challenge and bring the new characters up to speed, Rean’s powers are severely restricted in the early going.

The story for the game is fine, though this is a game that gets too wordy and doesn’t respect the player’s time. As I said in the first paragraph, I spent over 100 hours with this game on just a single playthrough, 115 to be exact. And a lot of that is due to the scenes just dragging and tons of dialogue where nothing of substance is relayed. Characters too eagerly explain every emotion they’re going through and there are a lot of clumsy moments. Few of these emotions are complex or even unique to the character and too often you’ll just watch characters act overly modest and compliment each other back and forth. Other times you’ll experience the game’s perversions which is usually sophomoric in nature. Most of the female characters are well-endowed and other characters (often fellow women) draw attention to that. And then there’s Musse who openly lusts for Rean which is uncomfortable, but I suppose better than the other way around. There’s also still a few instances of the thirsty lesbian character who hits on underage girls which is pretty gross and there are no gay male characters represented at all, which seems weird. This just means there are lots of moments where I rolled my eyes, but there’s also some genuinely humorous moments here and there which are welcomed.

Where this game, and this series, excels is just in the gameplay mechanics. Going through the motions is fairly linear and not particularly of interest, but when the game shifts to combat it’s a lot of fun. The battle system from the prior two games returns, only with the dropping of the Overdrive function which is something I do miss. Battles are like a tactical version of the Final Fantasy X combat as it’s all order based and the player is aware of which character’s turn is next at all times. And a lot of the battle system is manipulating that as certain actions require more time to recover while others inflict “Delay” on the enemy and can push their actions back. Character positioning on the battlefield matters, but only in a sense that players grouped together are more easily attacked at once. Most actions occur in a sphere or on a line and others will actually suck characters into a spot which is handy for follow-up actions. Like most JRPGs, characters can attack, use items, cast spells (Arts), and also make use of crafts which are unique abilities that draw from a third resource called CP. The game also makes use of the link system which means characters are “linked” in battle and the higher their link rating the more support they provide each other. This takes on the from of follow-up attacks, temporary buffs, and restorative actions. It also translates to Battle Points, or BP, which are used to cast “Orders” or additional follow-up attacks. Basically, when a character lands a critical hit, a prompt pops-up allowing for either a follow-up attack that will result in 1 BP earned, or BP can be spent for massive attacks. Up to 5 BP can be accumulated at once, and each character has Brave Orders that also consume BP that can be initiated by any active character on their turn. These orders usually apply a buff of some kind or augment things like casting time. They’re often very important for boss fights, but for the garden variety villains encountered they’re superfluous.

A large portion of the combat requires successful manipulation of the turn order (presented on the right) as all actions require a cooldown of some kind that pushes the character back. There are also buffs and debuffs that will pop-up on the turn order that you’ll either want to avoid or make sure your opponent doesn’t benefit from.

The other wrinkle Trails of Cold Steel II introduced that the third game continues are the mech battles. Rean has his divine knight, but the some of the other students also have their own suits to pilot referred to as Panzer Soldats. They’re utilized infrequently, probably too infrequently, but the mechanics of battle change when they’re brought in. It’s a lot like Xenogears as you basically have to manage your character’s vitals along with their CP and each character will be given a support character who can do things like restore health or EP, which is your mana or magic points. In addition to that, the support characters also can cast Arts so there’s often a risk/reward element at play – do I use this turn to heal or do I use this awesome spell? Enemies also take on a different form as they have multiple hit areas, one of which is weak and will often result in a critical hit if you can figure it out. To make it harder, the enemies will change stances throughout a battle resetting which spot is the weak point. Orders are removed, but Brave Points are still needed to unleash ultimate attacks. It’s a fun system which is why I wanted to see more of it, but at least by making these battles a rarity they feel a little more special when they do take place.

Beyond the battle system, the rest of the mechanics are fairly ordinary, but with a lot of depth. Characters accumulate experience and level-up and learn new abilities along the way. Spells, or Arts, are equipped via quartz in a manner similar to Final Fantasy VII’s Materia system. The frame they’re equipped to, called an Arcus, can be upgraded to allow for more slots as the game progresses. The player can also combine quartz to create stronger versions so often a simple spell will at first just give access to that spell, but when upgraded will also apply a stat boost. Each character also has what’s called a Master Quartz which accumulates experience as well. It’s this Master Quartz that influences most how that character should be utilized – are they a support character? Attacker? Tank? Characters can be equipped with two types of armor plus a weapon, the style of which is unique to each character. Two additional accessory slots are available to cycle through items that usually provide protection from some status effects or apply bonuses to stats. What’s a bit of a bummer, is most equipment is just bought at stores throughout the game. There’s little or no opportunities to get a cool item via an optional quest as that’s basically reserved only for each character’s best weapon.

Trails of Cold Steel III also returns the bonding system. Throughout the game, Rean will have opportunities to spend Bonding Points to strengthen his relationship with the rest of the cast. Most of these are fellow Class VII members, but a few are not. There’s a finite amount of points and opportunities and it’s designed in such a way that a player can’t see everything in one playthrough. If you get to a max bonding level with a character you’re treated to a scene that basically features a heart-to-heart between Rean and said character resulting in a permanent status boost to the characters. Unlike past games, only 3 romance options are available to Rean this time and they basically feel tacked on. It obviously doesn’t matter who Rean picked in the prior two games, and they can be undone in the sequel so don’t put too much stock in whatever choice you make here.

The character models in this game look pretty good, especially if you enjoy buxom women, but the environments are rather bland. This isn’t a game that will impress with its visuals.

Trails of Cold Steel III, being the first developed for the PS4, looks noticeably better than its predecessors. I played the game on the Switch and found the character models were a marked improvement, but scenery was still pretty basic and bland. This isn’t a game that will impress in that area, but the sound design is just fine. The soundtrack isn’t what I would call memorable, but it’s suitable while the voice acting is plenty capable. Unfortunately, the Switch version is not the most stable and I had more game crashes here than I have since Skyrim on the PS3. On one occasion, the game kept crashing during a scene and I was worried I’d never get through it. I probably had to attempt it half a dozen times before I finally made it through. The game did seem to run a little better docked, but still not perfect. And since the fourth game is already out it would seem Falcom is unlikely to release any additional patches. I got the Switch version because I wanted the portable experience that I had with the Vita, but in light of the challenges faced, I would recommend against it if you have a PS4 and plan to mostly play from your couch.

This is a game that is relies on its systems and story to get by and it’s a good thing that both are really quite good.

Trails of Cold Steel III is ultimately more of the same. Very little is changed from II to III, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The “new” largely resides in the cast and not the systems and I’m sure there will be some who prefer the more familiar Class VII to this one. I warmed up to the new characters, for the most part, and found the smaller cast a bit more tidy and refined. There’s little redundancy now and almost everyone has a semi-interesting arc. Except Kurt who remains pretty boring for the entire duration. And that’s the other thing that will determine how you feel about this game – just how much time are you willing to spend with these characters? I definitely was growing sick of them by the end as 115 hours is just too damn long. There’s not even much in the way of “extras” aside from a fishing minigame and a card game that will take up maybe 2 hours of time all together. There’s just a lot of reading, a lot of fetch quests, just a lot! It could be more streamlined, and hopefully the finale that is Trails of Cold Steel IV is an improvement. I just started it, so I can’t say for sure, but I have nearly 300 hours invested in this series so of course I’m going to see it through. If you’re thinking of jumping in, you could start here if you wanted to, but obviously it’s better to start at the beginning (and this series is a sister one to Trails in the Sky if you really want to go nuts). There are recaps for the past games available in this one for newcomers to peruse, but it’s obviously a different experience from actually playing through it (and if you didn’t 100% the second game, you may want to look at this too as there’s a scene in that game only available to those who finish everything that’s actually pretty important to the story). For JRPG fans, this is about as good as it gets these days for a modern title so I definitely recommend it from that standpoint. If you’ve never liked JRPGs though this won’t change your mind.


Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! or Baby’s First Pokémon

lets go pikachu boxI was four years old when I got my first video game. Like probably many individuals my age, that game was Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Prior to that, I do not know where my exposure to video games came from. Most likely it was via television commercials and older cousins, though i have no specific memories. I certainly was a consumer of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, but that arrived a year later. No matter, I was more or less hooked when I got my first game, and while games had a lot to compete with in my early years, eventually it became my number one hobby by the time I was 9 or 10.

This past April, my own son turned 4. It felt like a good time to properly introduce the boy to video games. Unlike me, he’s grown up with video games in his house since day one. Despite my rarely playing them when he’s awake, he’s still seen them and has always wanted to play them as well. And he has. Mostly he just plays Disney Infinity where he can run around in the Toy Box mode and is free to swap characters in and out. On occasion he also plays classic games as I’ve steered him towards old Sesame Street titles on the NES since they’re easy for him to understand and he learns something too. Sometimes he’ll want something else and he’ll struggle to make it more than a few screens in something like Rescue Rangers or The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, but he still insists he’s having fun and rarely wants to put the controller down.

lets go versions

Pokémon Let’s Go is available in four versions: Let’s Go, Pikachu!, Let’s Go, Eevee!, and versions of each that come with the Pokéball Plus controller.

Seeing his enthusiasm for video games made me want to find something he could play and succeed at. I also wanted it to be a shared experience as I’m not ready for him to go close himself off to the world and get lost in a video game. That’s how Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! ended up on my radar. My son had already been exposed to Pokémon at a young age. He knew who Pikachu was and had messed around on my Pokémon Go! app. I had no reservations about the material, but just needed to make sure it was a game we could enjoy together. After doing some research, I was convinced the title would work and for his fourth birthday my son got his very first video game.

My experience with Pokémon goes all the way back to 1998 when the original Red and Blue titles made their way to US shores. They were the games that finally convinced me to pick up a GameBoy and I ended up with both versions of the title, beating both more than once. It was a fun, addicting, light role-playing-game and I stuck with the franchise into the Gold and Silver era, but after that I was mostly done. I checked out Pokémon Pearl for the DS, but never finished it. After a few years on the market, I eventually grabbed Pokémon Y to see how the franchise had changed over the years and mostly enjoyed it. And I was a day one downloader of the Go! app and I still play it today. I was pretty confident I could navigate my son though Let’s Go, Pikachu! which is basically a remake of the original games with some of the elements from Pokémon Go! integrated.

pikachu interact

My son could probably play with virtual Pikachu for hours if I let him.

I opted to get the version of Let’s Go, Pikachu! that comes bundled with a Pokéball Plus controller, figuring my son would get a kick out of it. Getting it up and running was a tad tricky. Like most games now, Let’s Go, Pikachu! does not come with formal instructions and you basically have to wing it. This caused confusion when I initially booted it up with Pro controller in hand. The game won’t even recognize a Pro controller though because it wants you to play with just a single Joycon. After messing around, I figured that out and was taken to the controller select screen. It displays both Joycons, a docked Switch, and the Pokéball controller and you have to press a button on the controller you wish to use. I always go with the Right Joycon because it has a Home button on it. Had Game Freak just included a little message that said “Pro controller not supported” when I tried to use it that would have saved me some time.

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The Pokémon now appear on the screen. It’s a beautiful thing.

From there, I was further confused at how I could bring my son into the fold. I could not find options for 2 player, and when I would activate the Pokéball accessory it would de-activate my Joycon. Frustrated, I started the game and we went through all of the usual junk until you get to actually play. I don’t know how we ended up figuring it out, but in order to play with a second player they need to activate a controller while playing just by pressing a button, or in the case of the Pokéball, by shaking it. Then a second player, a gender-swapped version of the character you created, appears. When you encounter a wild Pokémon, two Pokéballs will appear and you can both throw to your heart’s content. In battle, the second player will deploy the Pokémon in the second position on your party screen effectively giving you two actions to your enemy’s one.

After finally figuring all of that out, things were mostly smooth. Let’s Go, Pikachu! is a 3D game that seems to share assets with Pokémon Go! It’s very much presented like modern Pokémon titles with the only differences being in how you interact with wild Pokémon. They now appear on the screen and you’re free to engage them or try to avoid them as you please removing random encounters. This has apparently been a controversial move in the Pokémon community as some prioritize the excitement of what wild Pokémon has been encountered. Personally, I never want to play another Pokémon title with random encounters again. Good riddance!

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Catching is just like in Go! only now you physically “throw” the ball. Landing the ball within the shrinking ring will earn you a bonus.

When you do come into contact with a wild Pokémon, you no longer battle them. This is where the Go! influence comes in as you now just throw Pokéballs until the creature is caught. And since this is Nintendo Switch, you literally make a throwing motion with the controller in hand to throw balls. It works fine, though I find the Pokéball Plus to be a tad more accurate. The rings from Go! are present as are the various items that can make catching a Pokémon easier. What’s gone is the curveball, but replacing it is the dual ball. My son and I didn’t even catch onto this until way late into our adventure, but if both players simultaneously hit a Pokémon with a ball then a special animation plays where the balls essentially combine into one. This makes the throw more likely to be successful and also adds extra experience to the encounter. That’s right. Catching Pokémon is now your primary method of accumulating experience so your Pokémon level-up and become stronger. Thankfully, since you’ll be catching a lot of Pokémon there is no longer a computer storage system. You simply possess a box that can store your extra Pokémon and you can access it at anytime.

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Battles are largely unchanged. Each Pokémon is limited to four moves and each can only be used a set amount of times before needing to be recharged with an item or at a Pokécenter. Only difference from the classic games is that everything is now animated.

Battles are still largely the same as before, though they do take on greater importance now that you literally have to keep catching ’em all if you want your Pokémon to get stronger. Battles allow you to earn experience, but also money. And you’ll need a lot of money so you can continue to buy more Pokéballs. The only wrinkle with battling is the inclusion of the second player that I mentioned earlier. This allows you to attack enemies 2 on 1. It does forfeit the free substitution between matches that you would normally get, but that’s a small price to pay. Strangely, on the rare occasion you find yourself in a 2 on 2 battle the second controller will be disabled and Player 1 will control both battlers. That was frustrating for my son. Ultimately though, because of the 2 on 1 nature 99% of the encounters in the game are much easier to breeze through, but that isn’t the only thing making Let’s Go, Pikachu! an easy experience.

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Pikachu now learns all of the HMs for you. Here’s surfing Pikachu!

Game Freak has finally done away with those annoying Hidden Machines. Instead, Pikachu (or Eevee if you got the other version of the game) learns Secret Techniques that function the same way. Yes, even Fly which causes Pikachu to pull out a bunch of balloons to fly around with. These moves only work on the field of play and not in battle so they don’t affect Pikachu’s move set at all. No longer do you need to drag around a Pokémon just for HM access.

In addition to those techniques, your Pikachu will also have the option to learn new moves from a move tutor throughout the game. These moves really help to make Pikachu a well-rounded attacker, and frankly, he’s way over-powered. One of these moves is Zippy Zap, which is basically an electrified Quick Attack that always scores a critical hit. He’ll also be able to learn Splishy Splash, an electrified water attack so ground enemies are no longer an issue. He also now learns Double Kick just thru his basic leveling-up which is quite useful at parts. He can even learn an electric flying move too, though I opted to not add that. Basically, there was rarely a reason to pull Pikachu from battle and only the compulsion to mix things up provoked me and my son to do so.

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A new Pokémon was created for this game, but you’ll need to catch him in Pokémon Go! if you want to use him in this game and complete your Pokédex.

The game is largely a remake of the originals, but there are some twists. The bicycle and fishing rod are gone and instead replaced with Pokémon actions. Pikachu can learn a Surf maneuver and when surfing you’ll encounter the many water Pokémon out in the wild. You can also ride on certain Pokémon to increase your movement speed on the field of play. And once you beat the Elite Four, you can even fly freely on the back of a Charizard or Dragonite. The Safari Zone is also no more and has been replaced by the Go Park, a place where you can import Pokémon from Pokémon Go! This is very useful for filling out the Pokédex as there are still Pokémon unique to each version of the game and some evolutions that still require trading (which you can bypass in Go!). There’s also a new Pokémon that can only be found in Pokémon Go! and it and its evolution can be transferred to Let’s Go, Pikachu!

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No bike? No problem.

This is a solid Pokémon experience for me, but what about the boy I bought it for? Turns out, it’s pretty fantastic to him. He loves catching Pokémon, so much so that battles get boring fast for him. It’s a bit of a problem at times because there are points where you need to battle, especially since the kid flies through Pokéballs since he wants to catch everything he sees. He knows it’s a necessary evil though and trudges through the battles like a good soldier. It also stunk for him when we had to traverse water as that’s only one-player, but at least that didn’t take up vast sections of the game. I could even hand him the controller to catch anything I encountered too. He’s not great at moving the player in the field, but at least he mostly never had to since his job was to catch Pokémon. The other difficult part with a young kid playing is he has no interest in talking to non-player characters. This is a bit of a problem because you need to talk to everyone in this game because some give you important special moves and some might even give you a free Pokémon. His unwillingness to talk to people caused me to miss a few things that we eventually had to backtrack for. And any “dungeon” that didn’t contain wild Pokémon for him to catch was a real drag.

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In addition to the original 151 Pokémon, Mega Evolutions have also been added.

Shortcomings aside, the game largely did what I wanted it to do. It gave me something I could play with my son and we were both able to enjoy it. I’m not sure what we’re going to do now as we have already defeated the Elite Four and even captured Mewtwo. There’s still some slots on the Pokédex to fill out, but I wonder when my son will become bored with catching the same old Pokémon. There is some additional post game content, but it’s mostly battling related which isn’t very interesting for him, but we’ll see. We also have yet to utilize the external functions of the Pokéball controller. Like a Tamagotchi, you can load a Pokémon onto it and carry it around with you. It will earn experience and I think you can press a button on the ball to hear the critter chirp or something. The noises the Pokémon make are still the same as they were over 20 years ago, save for Pikachu and Eevee who have vocalizations from the anime. Nostalgia is nice, but it would have been neat if they went through and did the same for all of the Pokémon. And for that matter, how about some spoken dialog instead of text? I got sick of reading it aloud to my son and he seemed to as well.

Nonetheless, the game has been a big enough hit in my house to make my son a full-fledged Pokémaniac. He’s now watched all of season one of the anime on Netflix and loves watching YouTube videos on the subject. He’ll often tell anyone within earshot random Pokémon facts (“Hey mama! Did you know Haunter evolves into Gengar?!”) and I rarely see him without his Charmander plush. My daughter, who is only 2, has some-what embraced it as well. She loves Pikachu, and after we took the both of them to see Detective Pikachu in theaters (her first movie in a theater) she’s become a Psyduck fan as well. Eventually, I envision the two of them playing this game or a similar one together. In my dreams they’re enjoying themselves, though in reality there will probably be lots of fighting and arguing. That’s an issue for another day, for now, I’ve got a son who’s crazy about Pokémon and just beat his first video game (with some help from dad) which puts him way ahead of where I was at his age. Hopefully, a sequel is on the way that we can enjoy together in a similar manner. If it rights some of the few wrongs present here, then all the better.


Switch Thoughts Part II (and more Zelda)

Nintendo-20161123-ZeldaWhen I first posted my reactions to the Nintendo Switch I had only owned the console/portable hybrid for a few hours, many of which were spent asleep. It’s now been more than a week since then and I’ve been able to spend a considerable amount of time with the latest from Nintendo and I wanted to post some additional thoughts.

The Switch is both an under-powered console and an over-powered (if there is such a thing) handheld. The point is driven home each time I use my Switch. As a handheld, the battery life when playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild is around the two and a half hours Nintendo cited in the build-up to the Switch’s release. We don’t know if that will hold true for all titles, but I do wonder if that performance will represent the best Switch can do. After all, Zelda is a Wii U title ported to Switch and it’s reasonable to conclude it’s not fully utilizing the power of the console. Perhaps more demanding titles will drain the battery faster, or the opposite could be true if the games are better optimized for the Switch. Needless to say, the battery life isn’t very good and I’ll be curious to see how Super Mario Odyssey runs when it’s released later this year. The portable also runs pretty warm, and I guess that’s to be expected considering the tech underneath. The Switch is very thin, but it’s pretty well ventilated so I’m not worried about over-heating. The button layout is definitely not perfect. It’s so thin that the triggers aren’t particularly satisfying and they’re very close to the front shoulder buttons as well. The right analog stick is in an awkward position, as is the phony d-pad on the left. The small face buttons don’t really bother me at all though, perhaps because I’ve spent many hours with my 3DS, though the small plus and minus buttons can be tricky to find.

As a console, the Switch definitely struggles some with Zelda. I had read about framerate drops and can say they’re very real, and very noticeable. Sometimes the game gets really jittery, and it’s definitely not a good way to showcase the console. The transition from portable to television mode is indeed seamless, so at least that much works. I’ve played the game, and it’s still my only game, with both the joy con shell and a pro controller. I have never had the left joy con completely de-sync, as others have reported, but it still wasn’t seamless. Sometimes Link would keep running after I had stopped pushing a direction on the analog stick, and it did cause me to die at least once. Nintendo’s suggestions for people having the sync issue are pretty much a load of bullshit, wanting you to reduce interference from other wireless devices and so on. Most people probably have a bunch of connected devices at one time, be it game consoles, smart TVs, computers, tablets, etc and just reducing that type of noise is no longer realistic in 2017. The Switch also seems to struggle with its wireless connection to the internet at times, while other devices in my home experience no such issues. It would have been nice if Nintendo had included an ethernet port on the dock for a dedicated wired connection, but I assume they felt that would mess up with the quick turn-around from TV mode to portable mode. They still could have allowed the user to make that call themselves though if a wired connection was their preference.

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Somewhat to my surprise, the joy con shell makes for an adequate, albeit small, controller.

Aside from the input lag I experienced with the joy con shell, I was mostly content with how the “controller” felt in my hands. I was some-what skeptical going in, but if it’s performance was perfect it’s possible I would have had some minor buyer’s remorse about the pro controller I picked up. Since I did experience such lag though, I’m naturally happy with my purchase of the pro controller. It’s still too expensive, but it at least works well. The layout is definitely far better than what’s present with the joy con setup, and it’s more or less an Xbox controller. I do wish the D-pad was more comfortable to use, as I suspect fighting games will feel awkward with it. It still takes some getting used to, being a new console and all, and I found myself having to look down at it to find the plus and minus buttons since they’re grouped in the middle with the capture and home buttons as well. And since the controller is all black, the buttons could be hard to find in low-light settings. I was accidentally snapping pictures instead of bringing up the map screen in Zelda on my first go-around with the pro. Since then I’ve grown used to it, though because of the framerate issues (and also partly because the 2 and a half hour battery life helps to remind me to stop playing and go to bed) playing the Switch in portable mode has been my preferred method. If the performance on television was better I’d likely prefer TV mode with the pro controller.

The Switch is fairly large, though thin, making it a cumbersome handheld for actual on the go play. I still haven’t taken it out for my usual commute, as Gamestop has yet to produce the case I pre-ordered in January (apparently I arbitrarily selected the case that would appear in the lowest numbers, or they all got ear-marked for bundles. Some retailers list it as being in stock next week so I’m hopeful for the same), but it’s clear this will be the hardest portable to lug around, though not impossible. I carry a messenger bag and I’m sure I’ll be able to make room for it. I can already do so with a Vita in a case, and it only becomes challenging if I’m carrying a laptop and a tupperware or pyrex dish with my lunch in it. It gets a little cozy in there, but I find a way. I find myself comparing the Switch to the Vita often as I play either one. There’s no comparison with the 3DS. While the older Nintendo handheld is definitely the most portable of the three devices, it’s also the least impressive with its low-res screen. I have an original launch Vita, and its OLED screen is still the best I’ve seen on any handheld, but the Switch’s compares quite well. And like the Vita, the Switch feels like a high quality device where as most Nintendo handhelds feel more like a toy. If the Switch can attract JRPGs like the Vita has then it will definitely become my go-to portable even with the poor battery life (the Vita at 3 to 3 1/2 hours isn’t much better).

Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been a fun experience thus far. I’m not sure how many hours I’ve been able to sink into it, but it’s been a lot and yet I don’t feel I’m at all close to being done with the game. I’ve probably found around 30 shrines so far, but I’ve only completed one out of the four mythical beast dungeons and uncovered maybe half of the game’s gigantic map. That’s definitely been the one aspect of the game that was not oversold:  it’s massive and it’s time consumingly so.

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The vastness of Zelda’s world is imposing and its best feature. I just wish the Switch could keep up with it and reduce all of the pop-in present.

Otherwise, I find it interesting how Zelda is both held to high standards by gaming critics, but also graded on a  curve at the same time. As the first open-world, or sandbox game, in the series it does a lot of interesting things, but also could do others better. There’s a day-night cycle, which isn’t new for Zelda, that also includes weather effects. Much of the game requires Link to scale mountains and sheer surfaces, but climbing in the rain is pretty much a no go. It makes sense, but as a gameplay device can be really frustrating when you’re in the middle of scaling a large mountain but you have to stop when rain strikes. There’s also a moon cycle, that so far feels random, but it’s possible that it’s not, where a blood moon will rise in the sky and resurrect all of the enemies Link has defeated. It probably exists as a device to keep the game populated with enemies to kill and providing an explanation for why a fort you may have cleared hours ago is suddenly overrun by enemies once again. I’m fine with that part of it, but every time this blood moon rises the game pauses and shows a cinematic. It can be skipped, but the loading time it creates is brutal. I’m not sure why the load time even exists given this isn’t a disc-based game, but maybe it has something to do with the game being a port. I had three “days” in a row while playing last night that ended with a blood moon and it drove me nuts. The cinematic was fine for the first instance, but I don’t know why the game plays it every damn time.

Weapon durability is new to Zelda, well, mostly new as there was a sword in Ocarina of Time that Link could break. Now though that durability applies to every weapon in the game, and they break pretty damn fast. It’s one of those gameplay mechanics that definitely adds something to the game, but I’m left feeling that Nintendo took it too far. There are numerous enemies I just bypass because I don’t want to “waste” my weapons on them, and that’s not really a fun way to play a Zelda game. Otherwise, I very much enjoy the weapon variety as well as the armor variety in the game. Since armor doesn’t deteriorate like weapons (except for shields), the new pieces you find kind of feel like the dungeon rewards from the past games. Some armor simply ups Link’s defense, but most will have some other benefit like heat resistance or stealth.

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While some have claimed to have made it through the game without cooking, it’s still pretty essential and pretty cumbersome in execution.

Cooking is another hyped gameplay element from Breath of the Wild that is present with mixed results. I like it on principle, and Link is able to craft health restoring items as well as status-altering elixirs from fruit, nuts, meat, and monster parts. The interface is poor though, requiring you to fumble through your inventory that’s not organized in any logical fashion and have Link hold the items he intends to cook. You then jump out of the menu to view Link holding everything and you have to drop it into a cooking pot, which can be found all over the place in the game. You will probably screw it up from time to time and Link will just drop everything on the ground, forcing you to pick it all up, go back into the menu, and re-find the ingredients once again. Once you cook something, it will be available in your inventory along with the recipe you used to craft it, but if you consume it that recipe is lost to you. I’m not sure why Nintendo didn’t just include a virtual recipe book along with the Adventure Log. While you’re limited to how many melee weapons, shields, and bows you can carry around, Link has unlimited space for ingredients which is both good and bad. Good because you’re free to pick up all of the spoils, bad because it makes finding what you want that much harder when sifting through your inventory.

A lot of what I just wrote about is what I don’t enjoy about the game, and part of that is a reaction to all of the perfect scores I’m seeing being handed out. And while I don’t view this game as perfect, I can say I am enjoying it quite a bit in spite of those above complaints. One thing I really like is how the elements play a role, specifically with heat and cold. If Link goes to the top of a snow-covered mountain in standard equipment, he will literally freeze to death. You have a variety of ways to get Link through these areas, and that’s something that adds realism to the game without detracting from the fun-factor (unlike the rain). Lightning is also one of your most formidable foes and it’s best to avoid trees and metal when a storm is raging, though you may also find it possible to use it to your advantage too. That’s the aspect of the game I like best, so far. There’s just a lot of things for Link to do, and multiple ways to solve a problem, and the game just lets you figure that out yourself. I saw a video online of a player tossing a chicken at a moblin while the moblin was attacking. It struck the chicken, which summoned a bunch of other chickens to attack just like what happens when Link gets abusive towards the farm animal. Link can also ride on shields, which the game doesn’t explicitly tell you about, and jump on the backs of large animals and ride them around.

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Link can sneak up on an unsuspecting horse, mount it, and tame it. Don’t be shy about trying the same on similar animals. You may be surprised to find out what can happen, or not, since I basically just gave it away.

Mostly, I like that Breath of the Wild is trying something new, and it’s a throwback to the original Legend of Zelda. In that game, you’re basically dropped onto the map and given a sword. After that, it’s figure it out on your own. Breath of the Wild is basically the same thing, though the first hour or so of the game is a tutorial of sorts, but it’s done in a way that’s less boring than usual. This game doesn’t hold your hand and it will kill you a lot. Thankfully, it’s generous auto-save feature means death isn’t as big of a deal as it could be. I’ll hopefully eventually do a proper review of the game when I’m done, but I have no idea how long that will take. I’m pretty confident it will at least crack my top five as far as Zelda games go. While it’s refreshing, and I want to see Nintendo do more with this format going forward, I do miss the dungeons and the many shrines in the game aren’t really up to par as replacements. The shrines are mostly just quick little puzzles. They’re usually not hard to figure out, but execution can be tricky. Which is kind of funny, because they feel like a gameplay component that would be right at home on a portable adventure, which Breath of the Wild became when it was ported to Switch.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with my Switch purchase, though it’s also a bit of a luxury item for me as well. I could have just as easily picked up Zelda on the Wii U, where it’s performance is probably a little better than it is on the Switch. The only thing the Switch has going for it over the Wii U where Zelda is concerned is that it is a true portable. Aside from Zelda, the software is quite lackluster and is likely to remain so even through summer. I currently have no idea what my second Switch game will even be. There’s no Virtual Console service at the moment, so I can’t even turn there for additional games. The two games I’m most interested in right now are Super Mario Odyssey and Skyrim, and both of them are set to arrive in Q4 of this year. In other words, I could have very easily held off on buying a Switch until the fall and probably would have been just as happy. It’s also possible that by the holidays Nintendo will have better addressed some of the hardware issues and maybe will even smarten up and make a game like 1-2 Switch a bundled game. I personally have no interest in buying that game, especially at full retail price, but I’d welcome it as a pack-in. By the end of the year, we will also likely have a clearer picture of who’s supporting the Switch and what’s Nintendo doing with the online and Virtual Console. We may also know if the Switch is unofficially replacing the 3DS. Right now, there are still 3DS exclusive games coming our way, but maybe by the holidays we’ll know if Switch versions are coming or if future games will be available for both. That’s all just a long-winded way of saying that while the Switch is nice to have, you shouldn’t be kicking yourself if you didn’t get one at launch and are struggling to find any in stock. Don’t give Gamestop a stupid amount of money for one of their bundles they’re currently selling either, unless you really want everything in the bundle. I would guess the Switch will start becoming readily available during the summer and into the fall, where it could very well become scarce again around the holidays if its performing well. And even come then, it’s possible the only other great game available is Mario. At worst, by then most people will know if the Switch is something they have to have.


Nintendo Switch or Nintendo More of the Same?

636198636477072652-nintendo-switchSwitch. If you took a shot each time someone said that word during Nintendo’s press conference unveiling the latest device in console/mobile gaming you’re probably hung over right now. It’s obviously not just a name for the console/handheld hybrid, but also a marketing strategy. Nintendo is changing with the times, switching it up if you will, and making a commitment to something new and exciting. If that’s the main take-away from the Switch’s coming out party last night, then why did I feel like this was the Wii all over again?

Nintendo first gave the public a glimpse at its newest device back in October. Since then, the company has been virtually silent on the subject until last night’s big unveiling. Most of the pressing questions were answered either during the conference or shortly there-after. We know when the Switch is arriving at retail (March 3rd), we know how much it will cost ($299), and we know what games will be available (Zelda!) and have some idea of what we’ll be playing by the end of 2017 (Mario! Skyrim!). A lot of the other lingering questions from the Switch’s first public display were answered like that the system does indeed boast a touch screen, the joy con controllers do feature shoulder buttons, and Nintendo is going with a pay-t0-play online service in the fall.

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Hey, yo! Get a load of my colors.

The Switch’s initial unveiling had me cautiously excited. I expressed my interest in a true portable home gaming device and I was receptive to a lot of the software teased in that video. Last night’s conference, however, muted that excitement. I should get it out of the way, I still placed a pre-order on the device (actually two, with the first being an online one just in case I couldn’t land a pre-order at a brick and mortar) so obviously I wasn’t dissuaded from purchasing the Switch, but it was with significantly less enthusiasm.

Let’s get right to the price. Numbers had been thrown around leading up to the announcement last night with the consensus seeming to be for a $250 price point. On IGN’s pre-show, $199 was even floated as the “sweet spot” by one host which I thought was a pipe-dream. From the start, I had assumed $299 would be the price, but I still hoped for $250. I wasn’t really dismayed by the actual announcement on that front, but the price tags for the accessories is rather shocking. After the conference, Nintendo unveiled the price-point for many of these on its website. If you want a second set of joy con controllers, that will set you back $80! That’s the steepest investment of any standard controller I think I’ve ever seen. If for some reason you only desire a left or right joy con, that’s $50, but I can’t see much reason in doing that unless it’s to replace a broken unit. The two that come bundled with the system include wrist straps that have a plastic piece that thickens the controller itself and appears to make it more ergonomic. That’s not included with the stand-alone controllers so there’s another $20. If you prefer a traditional controller (what Nintendo refers to as its pro controllers) that will cost you $70. For comparison, a Dual Shock 4 costs $60, and Amazon routinely sells them for $50.

Extra docking stations, controller “shells,” and other such peripherals all carry pretty steep asking prices. Thankfully, the console supports standard memory cards since the included flash drive can only hold 32GB (purchasing the new Zelda title digitally will reportedly consume half of that), so I guess that’s one positive. All told though, you’re talking about having an entry price-point for the Switch at more than what it costs to get a PS4 or Xbox One, and those consoles both boast more robust software libraries and more raw processing power as well.

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Arms. Apparently we’re going back to the days of the NES when Nintendo titles were as bland as white bread. Can’t wait for Legs!

Nintendo unveiled two new IPs early in the conference: 1-2-Switch and Arms. Nintendo apparently felt the term “video” in “video games” was too burdensome so 1-2-Switch is a game designed to function without video input being a necessity. You basically waggle the joy con controllers amongst two-players in a Wii Sports sort of environment, just without the TV. They demonstrated two cowboys having a quick duel and I also saw people playing table tennis. The joy con controllers feature advanced rumble feedback and motion controls, and Nintendo is banking on those features being so intuitive that it can drive the fun factor for a game. 1-2-Switch sounds like a decent tech demo kind of game, like the previously referenced Wii Sports, but unlike its predecessor it’s not a pack-in title and is a full $60 MSRP game. I have zero interest in the game at that price point. Arms is essentially the next evolution of Wii Boxing, with more emphasis placed on being able to move the characters around with a more visually pleasing game. Each character has extendable, Inspector Gadget-like arms for punching. The input mechanics actually remind me more of Wii Bowling, with the twisting of the wrist to curve the punch being a central component, only now you’re striking an opponent instead of pins. Again though, this game would have made for an interesting pack-in game, but at full retail price it looks ludicrous. It’s also not available at launch and expected to arrive in April.

Nintendo also spent a considerable portion of the show bringing representatives from third party developers onto the stage to voice their support for the Switch. Unfortunately,  virtually none of them had anything interesting to say or even games to show. Bethesda was one of the few to actually show some gameplay, in this case for Skyrim. I’m excited to have a portable version of Skyrim, but an almost six year old game arriving in the fall isn’t going to move consoles or convince the consumer that third parties are all-in on the Switch. Right now, it very much resembled recent Nintendo launches where third parties are only willing to offer ports of previously released games, or in the case of EA, port an annual title to the Switch. And the sad part is, if these ports don’t sell then third party developers will use that as an excuse to continue the narrative that Nintendo consumers are only interested in Nintendo products, when really it could be that they just don’t want to re-buy games they already own!

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Sir, it’s not polite to stare.

Nintendo, for its part, showed some of its own games to a mostly positive reaction. We now have a title for the new Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey, and we know it’s coming at the end of the year. It’s a true 3D Mario adventure with some levels set in real-world settings. It also features a Minish Cap sort of gimmick where Mario’s hat is apparently sentient. Some of the visuals, like Mario interacting with reality-proportioned humans, were bizarre, but I have faith that Nintendo will deliver a special game with their mascot. Zelda: Breath of the Wild was also confirmed as a launch game and follows in the foot steps of Twilight Princess before it, being a game developed for the old hardware that is now debuting on the new hardware. It looks pretty great, and it’s the only title I reserved with my pre-order of the Switch.

The other games Nintendo unveiled either during the show or after were less impressive. I already mentioned 1-2-Switch and Arms, but Nintendo also unveiled Splatoon 2, which looked exactly like the first game. It’s coming in June. The Mario Kart game we saw in that first teaser back in October was confirmed to just be an enhanced version of Mario Kart 8. I suppose that’s great for those who skipped out on the Wii U, but not so great for those who already have it. Missing was the true knock-out punch from Nintendo, something to really wow gamers with either a new IP or an old classic. Outside of Mario, there isn’t much to look forward to after launch and I fear there will be a pretty long software drought just like there was for the Wii and Wii U.

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This pretty much sums up the third-party support issue quite nicely.

Truth be told, the Nintendo brand and the presence of Zelda are going to be enough for the Switch to have a successful launch, but let’s not forget that the Wii U did all right when it launched too. The holiday season will be a real barometer for what the public thinks of the Switch. The fact that the Wii U ended up fairing so poorly may help sell the Switch since a lot of people will want to play Zelda, and won’t already have a Wii U to play it on (it’s being released on both consoles). I think the mobile aspect of the console won’t be a big factor for most gamers, even if it’s something that I am really interested in. People already have their smart phones and most won’t want to haul the Switch around in a backpack, especially if the battery life comes in at the low end of Nintendo’s prediction of 2 1/2 to 6 hours (a pretty generous range, Nintendo). I think Nintendo will also find its online service to be a hard sell when gamers may already have an Xbox Live or PS Plus membership. As part of the Nintendo package, gamers will get access to free, classic games each month (I’m actually not sure on the plural aspect, it might be something like one NES game and one SNES game), which is smart of them because it leverages one of their strengths. I think they’re making a mistake though by making the free titles only playable for a month, after that it requires a purchase. They should follow their competitors leads and just make the games free for subscribers for as long as their membership is active. It also would have been nice to hear they’re making all of those Virtual Console purchases gamers made on the Wii U and other platforms will be carried over to the Switch. At least in the case of Wii U owners, it would have been a nice “thank you” to those fans who stuck with the company during its darkest period.

Last night’s conference ended up leaving me more concerned than before about the Switch’s prospects. That cautious optimism has mostly been replaced with cynicism and an expectation that the Switch will follow a similar path as the Wii U. The conference, more than anything, re-affirmed for me what Nintendo is which is becoming more of a niche product. I think it’s very possible that the Switch is Nintendo’s last console, or that it’s marking the start of an era where Nintendo only creates portable systems that can also plug into a television set. I hope I’m wrong, but at least I know I’m getting some Zelda and Mario action in the interim, because at the end of the day, that’s still Nintendo’s biggest asset for selling consoles. The Switch will answer whether or not that’s Nintendo’s only asset.


Ranking the Zelda Games – The Top 4

5caa2739-c222-443c-8d6a-dff6048064c4We’re down to the top four in our rankings for the best games in The Legend of Zelda franchise. As far as climaxes go, this one is probably fairly anti-climactic as there’s a pretty clear top two in this series that the majority of gamers agree on. Though, as these games collectively get older there is undoubtedly more affection for the more recent games as suddenly a title like The Wind Waker is a normal gateway for players in their teens and twenties. Nostalgia always plays a role in a subjective exercise such as this one, though I sincerely feel these four games are the most dense and most fun Zelda experiences that Nintendo has put out. And I’m also not beholden to them. I really hope the next game in the series dethrones our champ, or at least forces its way into the conversation. Time will tell.

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Link’s Awakening is the rare Gameboy game to utilize cut scenes.

4. Link’s Awakening (Gameboy 1993) – Of the four titles I’m going to highlight in this post, Link’s Awakening is probably the one with the least tenable hold on its spot and the most fluid of the titles. I mentioned it in part two, but games six through three are really interchangeable. The order isn’t that important, but I chose to put Link’s Awakening in the four spot because it’s a very unique entry in the series, an important one, and it’s also a damn good game. Link’s Awakening is a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, which is probably why the cover art is almost indistinguishable from that of A Link to the Past. When it first came out, I actually thought it was just a Gameboy port, but I of course found out I was mistaken. It’s the first portable entry in the series and is quite easily the best game released for the Gameboy, and it’s color edition is the best on the Gameboy Color, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment. It laid the groundwork for all of the portable Zelda titles to follow establishing certain trends like the ability for Link to jump and equip any combination of any two items he wishes. Want to walk around with bombs and the bow? Go for it! You don’t need to just carry sword and shield everywhere. It also features a totally offbeat approach to world-building. This game is pretty wacky, and of particular delight are the numerous cameos from characters common in the Super Mario universe, in particular the US edition of Super Mario Bros. 2. There’s a lot of genuinely funny dialogue and the plot is very care-free and loose. The Gameboy hardware has some obvious limitations when it comes to handling a Zelda title, but it’s surprisingly capable here. The only aspect of the game where the hardware limitations persist is really in the two-button control setup. It does become rather tedious switching between items constantly. There’s no shortcut to do so forcing the player to pause the action and access the items from the game’s menu. It’s an inconvenience, but a necessary evil. That’s really the game’s only negative for me. It’s challenging, provides a lot of replay, and is pretty unique among the other games in the series. If you never played it, it’s available on the Virtual Console. Go for the DX version as it’s in color and has a bonus dungeon. It’s truly one of the best Zelda titles around.

BreathoftheWildFinalCover3. Breath of the Wild (Wii U/Switch 2017)

The newest entry in the series has forced me to update these rankings. What was once a post about the top three, is now about the top four, and Breath of the Wild has forced itself into the top three, nearly top two. What made me rank it behind Ocarina of Time? Well, I think start to finish Ocarina is just a little more fun. It’s the perfect Zelda experience, but in 3D. – finding dungeons, collecting new gear, defeating Ganon. Breath of the Wild ditches that old formula in favor of a more relaxed approach that leans heavily on its vast map. It’s a phenomenal game and that approach may lead to a newer, and better, standard for the Zelda franchise, but right now it feels like it’s just scratched the surface of what makes an open world game so special. If you want more thoughts from me on Breath of the Wild, I made a nearly 4,000 word post on the subject right here.

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Hyrule may not look as good now as it did then, but many games from this era have aged worse.

2. Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64 1998)  – Ocarina of Time has become perhaps the defining, and most popular, game in The Legend of Zelda series. Its use of three-dimensional polygons makes it modern, and since the game is almost twenty years old it’s become a popular introduction for many gamers to the franchise. It’s also a well-crafted, expertly paced, and visually impressive title for its era which has since been improved upon with a 3DS re-release.

Let’s go back to the mid 90’s for a minute and reminisce about the era defined by the Playstation and Nintendo 64. There was a battle for supremacy between those two consoles, and poor old Sega was left behind in the dust thanks to the Saturn. When Sega created the Saturn, they foolishly decided not to make the system natively capable of 3D graphics (it had no geometric processor and achieved 3D with the use of 2D sprites). It was a puzzling move since Sega had been at the forefront with such technology with titles like Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing. The Saturn was built to be a 2D powerhouse, and it was as it was the only title that could probably handle the Marvel VS series. Since it couldn’t do great 3D, consumers and game developers largely ignored it leaving Sony and Nintendo to duke it out for console supremacy. And when it came to 3D titles, Nintendo had an advantage with its more powerful hardware and analog control stick which Sony had to add years later. In this era, many popular 2D titles tried to make the move to 3D and fell hard. Eight and sixteen bit legends like Castlevania and Mega Man just couldn’t cut it in 3D, but Nintendo had great success with its properties. It started with Super Mario 64, one of the most well-received games in history, and it continued with Zelda.

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These guys were freaking terrifying in 1998.

Nintendo’s solution to making Zelda work in this new environment was to move the camera behind Link. The toughest challenge with any 3D game is the camera and getting it to be in the most optimal position, especially when negotiating jumps. Nintendo, realizing Zelda was never about platforming, decided to institute an auto-jump feature for Link. To attack enemies, the Z-trigger was used as a lock on mechanism where pressing the button would cause Link to lock onto an enemy. This was called Z-targeting, and once Link engaged an enemy no other enemies would pester him. As such, the combat was essentially a series of one on one affairs. While locked on, Link’s controls changed slightly allowing him to dodge left and right and hop away and towards enemies. This approach was called context sensitive actions, and it applied mostly to the A button on the N64 controller which was used for almost every action in the game. This all sounds elementary to anyone who grew up with the game, but at the time this was the kind of thing that stumped developers, but Nintendo figured it out.

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Another one of Ocarina of Time’s popular additions:  fishing.

Ocarina of Time’s defining trait, aside from the whole 3D thing, was the ability of Link to move back and forth through time. In the present he was just a kid, but in the alternate, dystopian future (does any other type of future exist in games?) he was an adult. The game didn’t require too much back and forth which helped keep it from getting stale. It also featured one of the better plots for a Zelda game that even saw the titular princess get her hands dirty. It introduced Ganondorf, the humanoid version of main villain Ganon, and even gave him a pretty interesting backstory. Gorons and Zoras also became more fleshed-out in Ocarina of Time and have largely remained unchanged since. The game has been so popular and so successful that every console edition of Zelda has basically played the same. That’s somewhat a weakness for newer games, but for Ocarina of Time I hardly consider it a weakness. Like the original Legend of Zelda, the game’s only real weakness is that it was limited by the technology of the time. The open fields of Hyrule are sparsely populated and pretty boring by today’s standards and it’s a damn shame the game was on a cartridge and not a CD as the score is too good for such compression. That’s all fairly trivial though. I’d tell you to go out and play the game if you haven’t already, but you probably already have numerous times.

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This world still looks beautiful to me.

1.A Link to the Past (Super Nintendo Japan 1991/North America 1992) – In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising A Link to the Past wasn’t titled Super Legend of Zelda, following basically every other naming convention of the time. It may not have received such a lazy title, but in many ways A Link to the Past is simply Super Zelda, because it feels like the game the original Legend of Zelda was trying to be. Not only does it look and sound much better, but it’s huge, boasting more items, more dungeons, and two whole maps! The Legend of Zelda felt like a beast of a game when it came out, and it’s crazy that in a relative short amount of time it could be bested and improved upon so completely. It makes me miss the days of old when a new console was clearly a new, and more powerful, entity.

A Link to the Past basically added everything that has become standard to the Zelda franchise. Running, tossing items, changing worlds, ocarinas, you name it – A Link to the Past has got it. The game also features a tighter narrative so gone are those cryptic messages and random puzzle switches. It might not be as hard, as a result, but it also isn’t an easy game. Be prepared to die and hear that horrid beeping sound when low on health as you try to make your way to the next dungeon. The path isn’t always clear, making the game feel like a true puzzle at times. Remember the shock of going to The Dark World for the first time and finding Link transformed into a rabbit? Or pulling the Master Sword out of the stone for the first time? A Link to the Past is full of classic moments and classic sounds. The score is legendary now and is probably still the best of the series, even if it’s not as grand in scope as the more recent entries due to limitations of the time. It’s also no less fun to play. I challenge anyone to play this game for an hour and not have a good time.

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One of the game’s many boss encounters.

A Link to the Past arrived early in the life cycle of the Super Nintendo. It wasn’t a launch title, but gamers only had to wait about a year for it. And since the console launched with Super Mario World they had plenty of time to kill before Zelda dropped. It was a must have title when it did, and my friends that got the game first became very popular overnight. Playing through it and completing it felt like a serious accomplishment, because games just weren’t routinely this big at the time. The same phenomenon would repeat itself with Final Fantasy II and III. It wasn’t that games like this were overly difficult, they just felt like serious tests of endurance. In truth, they just highlighted how much time average gamers spent playing video games. We probably spent as much time on Super Mario Bros. 3, we just weren’t as aware of it.

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Atta boy, Link!

A Link to the Past is the best Zelda game because almost everything in it has been carried over into the games that have followed it, even more than twenty years later. It also holds up in every respect. It may not be in 3D, but it’s still easy on the eyes and possesses a lot of visual charm. I already mentioned the fantastic soundtrack, and it’s suitably challenging and a bunch of fun to play. If I had to find a fault with it then I’d say its storyline isn’t very compelling, but that can be said of just about every Nintendo first-party title. They’re not storytellers at Nintendo, just game makers, and with A Link to the Past they may have created the greatest game ever made.


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