Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “November, 2016”

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

I enjoyed the first Witcher collection very much and found it’s loose, fairy tale focused approach quite charming. The Sword of Destiny is a much tighter collection and for the first time I really felt that this was the same world I was so familiar with from the games. Sword of Destiny is a wonderful collection of stories which both stand alone but also set up the following novel series.

The first story is The Bounds of Reason, which sees Geralt caught up in a dragon hunt alongside a range of other characters seeking its treasure. Dragons are sentient creatures who largely ignore humans, so Geralt does not view them as monsters in need of slaying. On the journey Geralt comes back into contact with Yennefer, with their tempestuous relationship currently at a low point. The Bounds of Reason takes a while to get going, with the exploration of Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship being the most appealing part of the story for me. The following story, A Shard of Ice is focused entirely on Geralt and Yennefer, with the two reunited and staying in the city of Aedd Gynvael. Yennefer has ongoing business in the city, but Geralt is anxious to leave causing the two to clash and it isn’t long before a rival for Yennefer’s affections complicate matters further. Where previous Yennefer stories focus on the magnetism and chemistry which inexorably draw her and Geralt together, A Shard of Ice concerns itself with the ways in which their lifestyles are incompatible. Yennefer is entirely selfish, but this is something almost inherent to someone as powerful as she, and entirely unwilling to meet Geralt’s needs. Geralt is restless, constantly needing to be on the move and an inability to articulate his emotions leading to simmering resentments. A Shard of Ice is a focused story with a smaller scale, but one which I really liked for what it revealed about a relationship which is increasingly seeming to be one of the core pillars of the series.

Eternal Flame isn’t one of the best stories in the collection, but it’s a generally lighter and funnier tale, with Dandelion playing a central role. It’s setting is one immediately familiar to players of The Witcher 3; Novigrad. I’ve spent a fair bit of time prowling those virtual streets so this setting was immediately appealing to me. It’s not the only element which eventually reappeared in The Witcher 3: Eternal Flame is about dopplers; shape shifting creatures who are hated and feared by most humans but are generally harmless. Dudu, the doppler at the centre of the story, played a role in the story of the game. Eternal Flame is a fun, but not particularly memorable story overall. The following story, A Little Sacrifice, wasn’t a favourite either. This story sees Geralt and Dandelion desperate and hungry, struggling for work. Geralt has wound up as the middle man in a love affair between a local noble and a mermaid, neither of which speak the same language. This whole element is a quite funny pastiche of The Little Mermaid, but the main plot interested me less. It involved a strange, love at first sight relationship between Geralt and a young bard mentee of Dandelion’s, Essi Daven. I found the whole thing a bit disconcerting, particularly in regarding the age gap. I mean, I’m definitely adjusted to seeing Geralt with younger looking women, but at least they’re normally sorceresses who are actually much older. Some people find this story very moving, but it really didn’t land for me. Still, the mermaid stuff was really fun so that made up for it.

The final two stories of the collection were definitely my favourites.  The title story of the collection, Sword of Destiny, sees Geralt heading into Brokilon, a forest home to the mysterious dryads. The local princeling seeks to take Brokilon for its lumber and real estate and this is fiercely resisted by the dryads, with whom Geralt has had previous encounters. It is not long into his journey that he encounters a young girl who claims to be a princess, hiding from her prospective marriage match. This young woman is named Ciri and anyone who has played The Witcher 3 will know how important she is. The bond between Geralt and Ciri is hugely touching in the game and it was wonderful to see the origin of this relationship here. The sword referred to in the title is metaphorical, with ‘destiny’ being the major theme of this story and the one following it. Issues of predestination and free will come to the surface of this story and the risks and virtues of flying in the face of destiny and forging your own path are core to Geralt’s character. The final story, Something More, is a rather strange one. The story opens with Geralt saving a merchant from an attack on his wagon but becoming badly wounded in the process. The merchant takes care of him and brings him towards his home in CIntra whilst Geralt heals, with the story frequently lurching into flashbacks whilst Geralt recovers in a feverish daze. This story follows the fall of Cinta to Nilfgaard and features plenty of returning faces in the flashbacks, such as Yennefer and Dandelion. Something More picks up plot threads from several previous stories, most notably the immediately previous Sword of Destiny but also from stories way back in The Last Wish. It feels like a transition story between the short story structure of these first two books and the novels which follow. It’s probably the most moving bit of writing I’ve read from Sapkowski so far and digs deeper into Geralt’s surprising emotional depth than we have previously.

Sword of Destiny is a fantastic collection, even stronger than The Last Wish. By this point I absolutely get why this franchise became so huge in its native Poland. As much as I love the games, I hope that the stories which started it all aren’t forgotten. These two collections really are great and if they’re anything to do by, the following novels will be too.

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Minecraft: Story Mode for PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, OS X, iOS and Android

So…this was a weird one. I have no particular love for the Minecraft brand; I’ve dabbled and I have huge respect for it as a game and learning tool, but it’s just not for me. Telltale’s brand of narrative games are almost as far from the huge freedom of Minecraft that you can get, but I fancied a narrative game to play over 5 episodes and thought what the hell. I bit off a bit more than I could chew because it wasn’t long until the series was extended to 8. Last year I was surprised to find myself enjoying Tales from the Borderlands much more than Game of Thrones despite massively preferring the latter franchise and this year I’ve been surprised to find myself enjoying Minecraft: Story Mode far more than Telltale’s Batman.

Minecraft: Story Mode is split into two distinct arcs across the first and final halves of the season. The protagonist is Jesse, male or female, who alongside his friends and trusty pet/bestie Reuben (a pig) enters a building competition in his home town. It isn’t long before Jesse is pulled into world changing events as maniacal genius Ivor releases a ‘Wither Storm’, a huge creature which grows continuingly, destroying the land. Jesse and his friends set forth to find the Order of the Stone, legendary warriors who slew the Ender Dragon many years earlier for their help in stopping the Wither Storm. The second half sees Jesse and his friends expelled from their world and unable to find their way back, wandering between a series of strange alternate worlds on their quest back home.

Recent Telltale games have struggled with openings and Minecraft: Story Mode is no exception. The tone is oddly dark and portentous; I had been expecting a lighter and breezier affair. The whole Wither Storm arc doesn’t really work; the general aesthetic doesn’t match a bizarre sense of impending doom the game aims for and the characters are too broad to carry this sort of emotional range needed to support this kind of story. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the characters, but most never get beyond that point of likeability into being something more interesting. There’s a general feeling that things just aren’t as funny as they should be. There are some heartfelt moments towards the end of the first arc when I realised I was genuinely invested in what was going on, but it just takes too long to get there. There are some great moments in this first arc, but it is in the second that the potential for this series comes into its own. Seeing Jesse and his friends travelling to a new world each episode opens up the range of scenarios that can be explored and the most interesting moments can be found here. From a murder mystery pastiche in a mansion to a rogue AI to a Hunger Games style tournament, there’s a feeling of looseness and fun in the final four episodes somewhat lacking in the earlier ones. If Telltale choose to do a second season (and I would be surprised if they didn’t) I hope that this is the approach they stick with.

Minecraft: Story Mode is a Telltale game and plays as such. There are some nods towards the normal Minecraft experience; there are crafting tables and you will sometimes have to…y’know, craft things, but this is very limited. You are essentially just arranging the items you will have picked up automatically to advance the game in a particular order. There’s nothing more to it than that. There are hints towards a more full-fledged combat system than the usual QTEs, but it’s not particularly fun and drops off towards the end. If ever there was a time to get out of the comfort zone and open up the experience a bit, it was here, but Telltale played it safe and stuck with the formula. It’s one that worked well, but it’s hard not to feel that diminishing returns are setting in, or perhaps already had set in a while ago.

The blocky look of Minecraft works surprisingly well, particularly in the character models which are much more expressive than you would expect. The voice acting is to a high standard as it has to be for this sort of game. I normally choose female characters in games, but I had to go for the male this time so I could hear Patton Oswalt, who I’m very fond of, as Jesse. He does a great job and the supporting cast do too although I struggle to think of any truly stand out performances. Telltale games are often unforgivably janky, with low framerates and dodgy textures. Minecraft: Story Mode doesn’t really have this problem, probably due to the simpler art style and runs as well as a game like this should. The music was surprisingly good too, with lots of keyboard and synths making action scenes genuinely exciting.

Minecraft: Story Mode does very much feel like Telltale on autopilot but is a decent enough experience despite all that. I enjoyed the hour or so a week I played with my fiancé, an approach which perhaps softens some of the flaws. This is far from the best Telltale game and doesn’t come close to The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us or Tales from the Borderlands, but it’s still likeable enough anyway.

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Titanfall 2 for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I didn’t play the first Titanfall for two reasons; first of all, it was multiplayer only and I really do need some kind of campaign to enjoy this kind of game. Second, and perhaps more significantly, it was Xbox and PC exclusive and I do not have either of those things. Still, it definitely appealed to me a lot more than other similar games and I was happy to give Titanfall 2 a go, available on PS4 and with a campaign.

I very rarely spend much time in multiplayer games, but I’ve played a fair bit of Titanfall 2 and plan to play a fair bit more. The Titanfall series has two main gameplay attractions which are both brilliant. The first, and most immediately obvious, are the eponymous Titans, massive mechs which can be summoned from the sky and controlled, delivering destruction as you go. The feeling of power when you’re in one of these things is palpable and unlocking access to your Titan during a match never stops being exciting. The other core mechanic is even better; the movement. I think I’ll struggle to go back to other online FPS games after Titanfall. Movement is everything in this game, from wall runs to double jumps to grappling hooks. Zipping around the map at remarkable speed is hugely thrilling and I felt even more fun than the Titan battling. I’ve tried a lot of tactical shooters, your Rainbow Six or your Ghost Recon or your Counter Strike and I’ve dabbled in class based shooters like Overwatch and Team Fortress 2. In the end though, there’s only one kind of online shooter I really enjoy; good ol’ fashioned twitchy run and gun. I like sprinting through levels, reacting in an instant to get a kill. Running and traversal is at the core of Titanfall’s design philosophy and it’s lovely to see my personal favourite gameplay style be encouraged.

There are lots of different modes, like standard deathmatches and variations of King of the Hill and all that stuff. One concern is the low player base; it’s not hard to get games in the main modes, but even something like Capture the Flag is fairly depopulated. The actual matches themselves are frantic, fun and quick. There’s a pretty big range of customisation, both for your Pilot and your Titan. All round, I’m not a fan of loadouts in FPSs and never have been. I like FPS games where everyone starts out with the same equipment and picks up new weapons throughout the levels, which creates interesting choke points in the maps. Loadouts obviously completely obliterate this element. This isn’t really a problem with Titanfall 2; this is just what online FPS games do now, but I still don’t like it. I’ve yet to be persuaded that they exist for any reason other than providing an artificial sense of progression or a vehicle for microtransactions. Despite this quibble, I’ve been having the most fun with an online PvP FPS since…Halo 3 maybe? Damn. As much as I am enjoying the multiplayer, I’m not very good at talking about it as it simply isn’t my area of expertise, so I’ll move over to a highlight which I think no one saw coming; the campaign.

Titanfall 2’s story is so unbelievably bland I can’t even remember what happened and I finished the campaign about two days ago. There’s something about space mercenaries working for some evil business creating a superweapon and you need to stop it, or something? The main character has the most hilariously generic white guy name I’ve ever heard…wait for it; Jack Cooper. Jack. Cooper. This is a name so generic that it is almost ascends to art and the character fulfils those expectations exactly. Despite the actual plot being paper thin and, frankly, rubbish, I was still invested for one big reason. Early in the game Jack becomes linked with a Titan named BT and the two work together throughout the story, which follows a rough structure of having the two be separated and then join together again repeatedly. The relationship between Jack and BT is something we’ve all seen done before loads of times, but it is genuinely heartfelt and I can’t deny that it plucked at my very easily plucked heartstrings. I don’t know why human/giant robot is a relationship I find so compelling, but there it is. Blame Iron Giant.

The campaign isn’t particularly long, perhaps about five hours, but they are five of the most intensely fun and creative five hours I’ve ever played. Titanfall 2 shows a Nintendo style design philosophy; new ideas, which other studios would use for entire games, are introduced and abandoned in almost every chapter. Yes, Titanfall 2 is a rock solid shooter with hugely satisfying mechanics, but then again most shooters are these days; the standard for general gunplay is as high as it’s ever been. To stand out you must do something different and the real strength of this campaign is in the wonderful level design. The incredible traversal mechanics aren’t quite used to their full potential in the multiplayer, as wallrunning and launching off every platform in sight isn’t actual particularly effective. The campaign is the area where the sheer joy of movement can be harnessed; Titanfall 2 is the best first person platformer I’ve ever played, even better than games that weren’t also very solid shooters. The campaign is quite regularly breathtakingly exciting, with set pieces which don’t just feel like a beautiful skybox for you to blast enemies in. There’s something tactile about this world which is so lacking in many other linear shooter campaigns. There’s one section which reminded me of Portal. I remember back when Half Life 2: Episode 3 was still looking like a thing that would exist and people were wondering if the Portal gun could be incorporated into gunplay as a crossover. I said it wouldn’t work, puzzle based mechanics and shooter based mechanics will never be able to mesh. Well, Respawn have proven me very wrong. I won’t go into detail about specific mechanics as I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Lots of games have been abandoning campaigns lately, but Titanfall 2 shows just how good they can be when approached with love and attention. It may be short, but Titanfall 2’s campaign is pure concentrated joy. I’ll put it this way, I enjoyed my 5 hours with Titanfall 2’s campaign far more than my 25 or so with Rise of the Tomb Raider.

It helps that the game looks lovely, with a vibrant and colourful world. The muted colours of other FPSs are absent here, with Titanfall 2’s alien planet being a beautiful, vibrant place. I could maybe have done with it being a bit weirder, in the vein of Halo. The Titans are easily the best visual marvel of the game, particularly when you’re outside of one in a multiplayer match. Zipping around on foot whilst massive robots rain each other with ordinance in stunning. More than once I’d duck into the open, find myself in the path of a Titan’s chaingun and then take part in a thrilling chase back into cover. They’re awe inspiring and never stop being cool. The music is nothing special and neither is the voice acting, but the general sound design elsewhere is good, particularly the satisfying clanking of the Titans.

Titanfall 2 is better than I think anyone expected it to be but has unfortunately been a bit lost, launching as it did between Battlefield and Call of Duty. I hope this game gets a new lease on life because it really is excellent and I want to keep playing online for a long time, without it drying up into a playerless wasteland. I particularly hope a third game happens, hopefully with a better story because I want to see what those genius level designers over at Respawn can come up with.

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Heroes Die by Matthew Stover

I’ve been wanting to read this series for a while and now I have a Kindle I finally can. The Acts of Caine series has been out of print for a very long time (and with cover art like the one seen below it’s hardly surprising) but has had a resurgence of attention of late. I’m shocked it wasn’t a bigger success because it really is very good, perhaps somewhat ahead of its time. As a wonderful example, and critique of, grimdark fantasy, the current fantasy market is a very sensible place for this series to do very well.

Acts of Caine takes place in two parallel worlds; one is the future Earth, which has become a rigidly caste based society controlled by the Social Police who keep the populace in line. The opiate of the masses are Adventures put out by a series of studios. Many years before the beginning of the book, an ability to travel between parallel universes was discovered. Most are too hostile and alien to support human life, but one, known as Overworld, resembles a world out of fantasy, complete with a form of magic known as flow. The studios send Actors from Earth to Overworld where they livestream their Adventures to a rapt audience. Overworld is a real place and the actions of the Actors on Earth have real consequences.

Hari Michaelson is the most popular actor in the world, known in Overworld as Caine. He is loved for his brutality and propensity for sudden, shocking violence. He has been in semi-retirement since his assassination of the ruler of Ankhara destabilised the Empire and plunged it into a bloody war of succession. When Hari is told that his estranged ex-wife Shanna, another actor known in Overworld as Pallas Ril, is in danger, he agrees to head back into Overworld to save her. The studio wants him to assassinate Mael’koth, the new ruler of Ankhara, a hugely powerful magician and charismatic leader. The studio wants to do so as he has launched a pogrom against Aktir, demons who invade from another world to disrupt theirs. Sound familiar? Caine’s motivations diverge further and further from the studio as he makes enemies in both worlds.

The whole science fiction/fantasy crossover thing is something I’m very fond of. A good example would be Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern books, which gradually revealed that what looked like fantasy was actually science fiction. I also loved the old adventure game The Longest Journey, which saw its heroine travel between the sci-fi dystopia of Stark and the magical realm of Arcadia. Hell, Iain Banks played with this concept more than a few times! Heroes Die is possibly the best expression of this idea I’ve ever read. I was worried that the framing narrative of our Earth would make the Overworld adventures feel inconsequential, but Stover sidesteps this by making it very clear that there are real consequences for the residents of this world by giving us a handful of Overworld natives’ PoVs. Heroes Die is a fast paced, action packed story which takes place in a tight time frame, only six days, and pretty much entirely in one setting. This limited focus is a good idea; presenting us a sci-fi future and a whole new fantasy realm could have been overwhelming but this is, fundamentally, an intimate story with a relatively small cast of characters. The grudges are personal, not lofty. In fact, the more epic moments towards the conclusion are arguably far less engaging than the closer relationships within. It also has one of the most satisfying and breathtakingly exciting conclusions I’ve ever read.

Heroes Die is a violent, unpleasant book, but that’s sort of the point. Caine’s audience back on Earth are bloodthirsty; when he attempts to use non-violent means early on his bosses at the Studio are furious. Caine is the most popular Actor in the world because of his brutality. There’s a grim humour to much of the violence; it’s so ridiculously horrible sometimes you can’t help but laugh. Joe Abercrombie is good at the same trick. The book is mostly in the third person, with Caine/Hari as the lead but with several other PoVs as well. However, there are several 1st person passages which represent Caine’s ‘soliloquy’, his internal monologue which is beamed back to the audiences on Earth. Watching him get more and more subversive, much to the fury of the social police back on Earth, is a joy, as is his growing contempt for his bloodthirsty audience.

Hari/Caine is a brilliant protagonist, brutal and horrifying but hard not to like. The supporting cast in general is a lot of fun, such as Count Berne, an old enemy of Caine’s who is so utterly and irredeemably awful it’s hard not to kind of like him. The hatred between Berne and Caine is one of my favourite parts of the book. My favourite character was Mael’koth, the all-powerful Emperor of Ankhara, who despite a fair bit of brutality is actually a rather good Emperor with the best interests of his subjects at heart. We’ve seen egotistical sorcerers seeking to ascend to Godhood before, but seeing one actually doing a pretty good job is a nice twist. He’s an intimidating, frightening and bizarrely likeable figure. A good mirror to the impressive majesty of Mael’koth is the simpering and pathetic Administrator Kollberg over on Earth, Caine’s boss who has tired of his insubordination.

Heroes Die is a tremendously fun, witty and self-aware bit of genre fiction. It’s not self-aware in an irritating ‘winking at the audience’ sort of way, but explores the tropes of its genres whilst also exemplifying them. Even without the frame Earth narrative, Caine’s adventures in Overworld would still be pretty fun. I’m very much looking forward to continuing with the series.

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Paper Mario: Colour Splash for Wii U

Paper Mario: Colour Splash is a game so infuriating that if made by any company other than Nintendo it would be unplayable. The core combat mechanics are utterly miserable, but this game is just so damn charming.

Colour Splash opens with Princess Peach coming to Mario’s home with a strange letter; a letter made from the body of a Toad which has been drained of its colour telling her and Mario to head to Prism Island, a land obsessed with colour. Mario and Princess Peach set out to the island, to find the main city of Port Prisma drained of colour. Mario awakens an anthropomorphic talking paint bucket named Huey who tells him that the Six Paint Stars which…I dunno, do something good for the island, have been scattered by an evil force and he and Mario must set forth to gather them and save the island.

The story in Colour Splash is a major improvement over Sticker Star, but it’s still very straightforward. Nintendo’s sad purging of their more subversive plot elements is in full force here; the goofy Bowser of the early Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games is back to being a generic villain and Princess Peach is back in full on damsel mode. I say this in every Mario RPG review, but I really miss the much improved characterisation for these characters from A Thousand Year Door. Miyamoto’s bizarre insistence on new Mario RPGs not adding new characters or elements is certainly a creative straightjacket, but this is not an excuse for the unplumbed areas of Mario history ignored in this game. Pretty much every supporting character is a Toad, but with so many weird characters in their back catalogue I can’t help but wonder why. Where are Paper Wario and Waluigi? Even Luigi, the best character in the Mario series, barely gets a look in. If the Paper Mario series must be pure nostalgia bait then so be it, but with such a deep pool of Mario history to draw from Colour Splash seems content to splash around in the shallows.

The thing is, as frustrating as this all is, the writing/localisation is actually really really good. Colour Splash is genuinely really funny. I don’t know whether more praise should be given to the original writers of the localisation team, but either way this is a consistently hilarious game. The Toads may be generic in design, but there are some amazing little characters which pop up along the way. My favourite was a very minor trainspotting Toad who follows you for a series of train based levels who slowly breaks down about how pathetic his life is. The writing also avoids becoming too laden with memes and internet references, which some Mario RPGs have been guilty of in the past. The inherent silliness of the Toads is explored to full comic potential. It can be oddly heartfelt at times too; I rolled my eyes when I first saw Huey, assuming that he’d be another in a long line of forgettable Mario RPG sidekicks, but I actually really liked him. Still, very solid writing can only get you so far when the core story frame it’s strapped over is so lacklustre. It seems silly to complain about story in a Mario game if they hadn’t done so much better in the past. What changed? Why won’t Nintendo tell an original story in the Mario universe anymore? I genuinely don’t understand and it makes me sad.

Colour Splash is mechanically very similar to Sticker Star, the worst Paper Mario game. You will be exploring a series of discreet, linear levels on a beautiful world map to pick up stars at the end. Outside of battles, Colour Splash is genuinely joyful to play. The mechanics aren’t complex or anything, but the world is beautiful and fun that it’s not at all a problem. The only real new mechanic is the ability to fill in spaces drained of colour with your hammer, but this is mostly optional thankfully. There is a wonderful variety in the levels; almost every single one brings in a new idea, with that wonderful refusal to sit on its laurels which is Nintendo’s trademark. In terms of puzzling the only main element is the acquiring of Things, objects from our real 3D world which Mario can use in his 2D paper world. For example, a fan can blow a damaged ship back to land or a hairdryer can melt a block of ice. These are pretty simple for the most part, but fun whenever they come about. Towards the end, Colour Splash becomes very obscure in how they expect the player to progress, which can be frustrating and puts a lot of arbitrary blocks in your path. Stuff that I expected to be boring side missions I could ignore latterly become vital to the main game, often hours and hours later leading to a maddening sense of trying to work out what you missed. There’s too much busywork and padding in this game, although the most egregious offender I have yet to even mention.

The combat in Colour Splash is boring, pointless and easy. Sticker Star’s stickers have become cards, but the principle is the same. Rather than a set of moves to choose from, Mario instead plays a card which activates a move, such as a jump or a hammer attack. At first you can only use one at a time although by the end you can use four. The combat itself isn’t fun; there’s no strategy beyond ‘don’t jump on the spiky thing’ and simply feels like a war of attrition. Experience points are still gone; there is no levelling up or tangible sense of progression. Turns out that the removal of the satisfaction of levelling up makes turn based battling pretty much unbearable. Even worse is that when the cards are used they’re gone, meaning that it in the player’s interest to avoid battles at all cost and that when you do end up battling it’s frustrating and annoying. This is the second game Nintendo have released with this system and it just doesn’t work. I actually get Nintendo’s reasoning behind stripping out the RPG elements from Paper Mario; with Mario & Luigi now their main RPG series it makes sense to send Paper Mario in a different direction. The thing is though, they already did that successfully in the underrated Super Paper Mario on the Wii. That game stripped out a lot of RPG elements and it was still great because it didn’t hamstring itself with random battles which clashed with everything else the game was about. If Super Paper Mario was the future of the series rather than The Thousand Year Door, I could live with that, but the fact that Sticker Star seems to be the path the series has set itself upon really sucks. This game would have been much better if it contained no battles, even if it was half the length.

Despite the negative tone of the last bit, Colour Splash is a better game than Sticker Star. As bad as the battles are, pretty much everything else is lovely. Colour Splash is one of the most beautiful games ever made, which sounds like hyperbole, but it really is. The Paper Mario series has always been lovely, but the Wii U is the most powerful console the series has ever appeared on and it shows. The vibrancy of the colour and level of detail is a series best as is the variety of environments. The music is very good too, although the battle theme got pretty old by the end. There’s so much love and attention to detail in the visuals, the sound and the writing that it’s really sad that the same level of thought wasn’t given to the battles.

I don’t really know if Paper Mario has a future after Sticker Star; I hope it does, but Nintendo really don’t seem to know what to do with it. Paper Mario needs to decide whether it wants to be an RPG or not, because the RPG-lite approach just isn’t working.

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice: Turnabout Time Traveller DLC for Nintendo 3DS

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice: Turnabout Time Traveller DLC, to give it it’s full and most unwieldy name, is primarily an exercise in nostalgia for the original Phoenix Wright trilogy. Whilst it was nice to spend more time with familiar faces and in familiar scenarios, following the re-invention of Spirit of Justice this DLC feels a little bit lacking and low stakes.

The accused in Turnabout Time Traveller is Ellen Wyatt, a maid for the wealthy Sprocket family who was due to marry the heir to the fortune, Sorin Sprocket. When she is attacked on her wedding day by another servant, she is accused of killing him in self defense. She claims that, at the moment of her attack, she travelled back in time to before the wedding and the killing of the other servant. She is delivered to the Wright Law Offices by none other than Larry Butz, Phoenix’s childhood best friend and general idiot, and the case is prosecuted by the much loved Miles Edgeworth. Maya Fey, returned from her training, re-joins Phoenix once again as his assistant.

The best thing about this DLC, easily, is going up against Edgeworth for an entire case. There’s a reason that this is probably the most popular character of the series; he’s impossible not to like, particularly for long term fans who know him pretty well by this point. I was not so enamoured with the return of Larry Butz, who I didn’t find particularly funny in the original trilogy and I don’t find particularly funny now. It was very nice having Maya Fey along for the ride again, although on balance I still probably prefer the newer character Athena Cykes. The problem with this case is that, when not appealing to nostalgia, it’s just not that interesting. I was waiting for a mind-blowing or ridiculous twist in the classic Ace Attorney style and it simply never came. Compared to the silliness of the whale case DLC from Dual Destinies, Turnabout Time Traveller feels very safe, like a not particularly interesting filler case in a main game. The time travel element never gets as interesting as it should and I couldn’t find myself invested in this case’s story. Still, seeing Edgeworth back on the prosecutor’s bench was enough for me.

This case is a two investigations/two day trial type deal, but to be honest this feels like an attempt to make this DLC look more substantial than it is. In the main game each of these investigations and trials would have been a full day in its own right. There certainly isn’t the substance here needed for a case with this structure. I can’t help but compare it to the final case of the main game, which was so extensive that it was essentially two separate and complete cases in their own right. There’s not point really talking about the gameplay mechanics because it’s…well, an Ace Attorney game.

I like this series enough that even on autopilot I still have a good time, and there is an undeniable charm to returning to a trial against Edgeworth, with Maya Fey at your side. Still, after the interesting stops forward made in the Spirit of Justice this DLC feels like a bit of a step back. I think that if they were going to pull on the nostalgia strings they should have gone the whole hog, brought back Gumshoe, made the victim and defendant someone we know, things like that. If this DLC goes on sale it’s worth a look, but I don’t think it’s a great investment as it stands.

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