Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “wii u”

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero for Switch, Wii U, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One and PC

I’ve never played a Shantae game before, but I’ve been aware of the series ticking over on a range of Nintendo consoles. Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has an abundance of charm, but ultimately lacks the depth or the tightness of controls needed in the best platformers.

Shantae is, as the title suggests, a half-genie, who protects her town from a range of menaces, most prominently her pirate nemesis Risky Boots. This game focuses on Shantae helping her uncle build a strange machine, as well as uncover some of the secrets of her origin. Half-Genie Hero is a soft reboot and entirely understandable if you haven’t played the previous games. The writing is very self-aware and quippy in a way which treads a very fine line between irritating and endearing. It just about landed on endearing for me, but I suspect lots of people would feel differently. Expect lots of jokes about the game industry and DLC, but it’s the simple but likeable supporting characters that made Shantae’s story a bit more engaging.

Half-Genie Hero, for all its charm, somewhat stumbles out of the gate. The core platforming is pretty unsatisfying, awkwardly floaty with pretty straightforward level design. There are people out there who can tell you exactly what constitute tight controls and strong platformer design and I am not one of those people, but I know it when I see it. The lack of ingenuity in the level design is masked by the charm and style of the environments as well as the range of transformations Shantae can perform. By the end of the game, Shantae had access to eight different transformations with different abilities. Examples include a monkey which can climb walls, an elephant which can smash blocks and a crab which can scuttle around underwater. Transforming to get around is fun and I liked the surprising range of abilities available to Shantae, but I’d prefer fewer transformations and better platforming. One element I did really like were the boss battles; which were generally clever and epic and an area where the game really excelled.

The basic structure of the game annoyed me. You regularly return to a core hub town, where you can purchase upgrades and talk to the locals. Between the levels you will usually need to take part in a Zelda style trading quest, with the items you need usually hidden in previously beaten levels with areas which can now be accessed with new transformations, adding a light element of Metroidvania to the proceedings. I do love a good trading quest, but this felt more like padding than anything else. There aren’t actually that many levels in the game, so Half-Genie Hero seems to feel the need to extend the run time artificially. When returning to the levels you are rarely given a new or fun challenge, it’s more likely going to be crabbing around on the sea floor picking up collectibles, or climbing a tower and elephant stomping on flowers to pick up collectibles and blah blah blah. Games for which the genre are named, Super Metroid and some of the latter Castlevania games, take place in a singular world and the approach doesn’t work nearly so well in discreet, linear levels.

For all I’m complaining, Shantae really is a lovely looking game. The art style is bright and clean and the characters are full of life, constantly moving and jiggling around. My favourite was the zombie girl Rottytops, who seems to never stop dancing. The music is very good too and adds a sense of grandeur, with scatterings of likeable voice acting too. There’s a rather pervasive feeling of style over substance here, but I’d rather have that than neither.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero is not a bad game, but it lacks the cleverness and tightness of level design the best platformers need. It may not be a bad choice if it goes on sale, but it’s not exactly a classic.

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Lego Dimensions: The Lego Batman Movie Story Pack for PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

The Lego Dimensions story pack for The Lego Batman Movie is the last currently announced and, fittingly, it’s easily the best. The Ghostbusters 2016 and Fantastic Beasts packs were good, but the transfer from their respective franchises into Lego, at times, felt a bit weird. Lego Batman is, well, already Lego, so the transfer of franchises is essentially seamless, presenting one of my favourite Lego Dimensions experiences yet, and definitely the strongest in Phase 2 since Adventure Time.

Unsurprisingly, this is a fairly straightforward adaption of the movie, which sees a lonely Batman find a family in adopted orphan Robin, Barbara Gordon and even, oddly enough, in his rivalry with The Joker. I liked the movie a lot and the game adapts it well, with a lot of the best gags landing jut as well here. There are a handful of changes to keep things moving at a better pace, but generally this is as faithful a game version of the movie you could ask for.

This is a Lego game, so you know what to expect. In the box you receive a cool Bat-computer template for portal, the Batwing and, pleasantly, two new characters unlike the one in the other packs. Robin is athletic and can squeeze through vents and Batgirl is essentially Batman, but she can use some special computers. Batman himself, using the model from the Starter Pack, can now activate certain detective skills to find clues. It never amounts to much from the usual hit shiny things, build thing, watch thing do its thing and progress, but, for whatever reason it’s something I don’t seem to stop finding fun.

The only Phase 2 Adventure World I’ve liked has been Adventure Time’s, with most simply being dull cities and Sonic the Hedgehogs making me, quite literally, feel physically sick. Gotham is another city, and whilst it has more personality than lots of the others, it still wound up being the least interesting part of the package.
Lego games don’t vary in quality much, but insomuch as this means anything, the Lego Batman Story Pack is one of the better ones.

 

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment DLC for Switch, Wii U, 3DS, PS4, PS3, PS Vita, Xbox One, PC, OS X and Linux

The third Shovel Knight campaign was the second game I ducked into on the Switch after Breath of the Wild. It was a good choice; after the sprawling grandeur of Zelda, a nice, tight platforming campaign was exactly what I needed and jumping back into the world of Shovel Knight seemed the best way to do so.

Specter of Torment tells the story of how Specter Knight came to be the ghostly presence we see in the main campaign, as well as how he first recruited the Order of No-Quarter for the Enchantress. Yet again, Yacht Club provide a masterclass in how to include story in this kind of games. It’s light, it never gets in the way, but there’s enough to add an extras layer of engagement to the rock solid platforming gameplay.

Ah yes, and speaking of the gameplay, Specter Knight is just as fun to control as Shovel and Plague Knights before him. Just as with Plague of Shadows, Specter of Torment reuses the same locations and boss fights from the base game. Although I certainly hope we get some truly new levels down the line, the subtle alterations that are made to each level make them feel distinct. Alongside Shovel Knight’s bouncing shovel and Plague Knights bombs, Specter Knight has some interesting, fun traversal mechanics. One is the ability to slash towards enemies and certain objects, launching you across the screen. This can be combed to cover large gaps, with close timing being frequently required. Less commonly, you can also grind on your scythe along rails, which is fun but perhaps a little underused.

There’s a lot of joy in catapulting yourself around the areas and the boss fights are as fun as ever, even if Specter Knight’s abilities make them a little too easy. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of an overworld this time around, with Specter of Torment instead simply containing a level select screen inside a small version of the Enchantress’ castle. It doesn’t quite feel as fully formed as Plague of Shadows, but it’s still a really fun, challenging experience.

By this point, the base game for Shovel Knight is bloody good value, with three excellent campaigns. Specter Knight is distinct and fun to play as, although I do hope that Yacht Club begin to move beyond the original campaign as their basis.

 

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Switch and Wii U

I don’t even know how to go about reviewing this game. Zelda is my favourite game series, but it’s hard to deny that it’s been stuck in a rut. I think the last genuine classic is almost 15 years old; Wind Waker. The following games have been good, even great, but have not captured me as much as the games that preceded it. There were two major transformative moments in the series prior to this year; 1991’s SNES classic A Link to the Past and the seminal 1997 Ocarina of Time on the N64. Since then, the series has stayed roughly within the established formula. Now, almost 20 years later, the third transformative moment for the series has arrived with Breath of the Wild. It’s not perfect, there are definite roughs around the edges, but Breath of the Wild is a game changer both for the series and open world game design in general.

I think Breath of the Wild has the greatest open world ever made because it is truly open. Even in GTA you can’t enter all the buildings, but if everything you see in Breath of the Wild is attainable, everything is reachable, everything is tangible. There was a moment I headed towards a shrine which had popped up on my sensor. I later realised that the story would have taken me to its location eventually, outside a gate near one of the main villages. Instead, I climbed up a mountain and down again to my destination, seeing a glimpse of strange ruins I would come to later. On my way up the mountain I came to a plateau upon which I had a perfect view of Death Mountain, Hyrule laid out before it. I’m not ashamed to say I got a bit teary; this was the Zelda game I dreamed about as a child, the game I wanted Twilight Princess to be and it never could. The plateau I was on served no real purpose, it wasn’t how you were clearly intended to reach this shine, but it was there and it was gorgeous and I think Nintendo put it there on purpose. The world is massive, but still feels handcrafted. I don’t think Nintendo have even heard the word procedural generation. This is the Nintendo difference, this is why I will always love this company, for all they can be infuriating.

There has been a rigid Zelda formula since A Link to the Past. You explore a bit, you do a dungeon, you get an item, you beat a boss, you explore a bit, you do a dungeon, you get an item, you beat a boss etc. There’s usually a major focus shift a bit of the way through, like A Link to the Past’s Dark World or Ocarina of Time’s 7 year timeline jump, and then you do the same thing. It’s not a bad structure by any stretch, but the spirit of adventure of the original NES game was missing. Breath of the Wild abandons the formula almost entirely. Dungeons don’t really exist anymore and are replaced with Shrines scattered around the map. There are 120 in total and most contain some kind of puzzle. Some a very brief and some are like mini-dungeons and each give you an item which can either put towards giving yourself a Heart Container or expanding your stamina wheel. There are four larger dungeon-like areas, the nature of which I will not spoil, but they never reach the scale of the previous games’ dungeons. The puzzles themselves work very differently; you no longer have a set of equipable items you use to solve a dungeon’s puzzles. That design locks you into a particular path and you can tackle Breath of the Wild’s challenges in any order you like. Instead, you are given almost all of your tools in the first hour and sent out into the world. These powers are linked to your mythical Shiekah Slate and can do things like manipulate metal objects, pause time for a moving object, freeze ice and others. The puzzles are much more physics based and designed differently to traditional Zelda puzzles, often with multiple solutions, reminding me more of something like Portal or The Talos Principle.

Zelda games have long had a clear divide between exploration and puzzling, with the two halves of the games kept distinct through the dungeon structure. Breath of the Wild unifies the two, with a little and often approach to puzzling rather than dense and lengthy challenges. Initially I saw this an entirely positive thing; some of the puzzles are truly brilliant, but as time went on my opinion shifted somewhat. There may be 120 shrines (and the four mini-dungeons), but many of these shrines (too many) are combat focused and for a lot finding the shrine itself is the puzzle. All shrines have the same visual design and music, meaning that by the end I was feeling a bit like I’d seen it all before. A few fewer shrines and more themed and expansive dungeons may have been a better approach and I hope this is what they do with the sequel. The shift to shrines from a few massive dungeons is a good thing, but I think a slightly better balance could have been struck.

Link is the most manoeuvrable and fun to control he’s even been in 3D. Almost any surface is climbable, limited only by your upgradable stamina wheel, and any height can be used as a platform to glide from with your sailcloth. This is the most tangible open world since Metal Gear Solid V. Since I finished Zelda I’ve started playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, and whilst I’m enjoying it, it feels limited after Breath of the Wild. Breath of the Wild is entirely laissez-faire about how you approach its world. If you want to climb over the mountain in front of you rather than following a path wending round it, feel free. Many open world games use mountains and rivers to guide and block your exploration, to provide barriers, but Zelda simply places them as another challenge. Exploration is almost always rewarded, maybe with a shrine or with a Korok seed which you use to expand your inventory. If you see an interesting looking spot and wonder if there’s something cool up there, there almost always is. I love exploring in games, but many open world games are unwilling to remove the leash. Even games I love like The Witcher 3 would be very hard to play without waypoints, with a world designed in such a way that you need a map to get around. Early in the game, you will be sent to go through a valley between two mountains and then get directions. You don’t need a glowing marker to show you where to go, you can just look at the key landmark. There are more HUD options if you want them, but I played very minimalist, navigating by directions from passers-by and environmental clues. The last game I bothered to do this with is Morrowind.

This openness extends to the combat, which is another significant departure from previous games. In previous games you would generally have one sword, two at most, with which to fight. I mean, sure you could whack things with the Biggoron Hammer in Ocarina of Time, but why would you when the Master Sword is better and quicker? Breath of the Wild has an aggressive weapon durability system, which has been controversial. I totally get why people would hate it: I thought I would and sort of did myself at first. Your weapons are ridiculously brittle, with many weapons barely surviving a single protracted encounter before they literally shatter, never to be seen again. Breath of the Wild isn’t a game about acquiring loot and becoming more powerful; the difficulty curve instead fluctuates. There will be moments where you are powerful, fully buffed from food, quiver filled with arrows, powerful weapon at your side when you can take on the world. There will be times when you are low on health, depleted and with no weapon of any value. Breath of the Wild nudges you away from playing one particular way, from simply approaching each encounter by charging in with a sword. You don’t want to waste your finite resource of the weapon for no reason. You are instead encouraged to be clever, using the environment or stealth to clear areas. There’s something of Metal Gear Solid V’s vast toolbox of tricks in Breath of the Wild’s design. Some may find this nudging oppressive; if I want to charge in and just use a sword than why should the game stop me having fun? I see their point, but I don’t think I would have experimented as much as I did if I didn’t have to by necessity. Other games would teach you these mechanics through pop up or tutorials, Breath of the Wild teaches you to play smart by necessity. The actual melee combat itself is pretty basic, and feels like a step backwards from Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, although the game is more about encouraging you to approach enemies in a variety of ways. Using the bow feels better in Breath of the Wild than it ever has before.

The biggest issue with the combat is a lack of enemy variety compared to previous games, with creatures like Re-Deads, Darknuts and Dodongos missing, with the world populated almost entirely with Bokobins, Moblins and Lizfalos.

One element I was very dubious of before release were the crafting and survival mechanics. I generally hate these in most games, but there’s a tactile charm to everything which makes even these irksome mechanics somehow delightful. Rather than collecting hearts from chopping grass, you heal from meals that you cook over a fire, which can also provide other buffs. Most games would just do this through a menu, with the outcome of your cooking clear based on your ingredients. Zelda is cheerfully chaotic, with cooking literally done by holding up to five items, dropping them in a pot and taking what comes out. Experimentation is rewarded and the buffs are considerable. There are areas which are too warm or cold for Link to survive, so these can be alleviated with particular outfits or foods. Zelda did something impossible; it actually made me enjoy crafting and survival. It’s essential that you take these mechanics seriously too because this game can be hard. It’s the hardest Zelda game since…Link’s Awakening maybe? It’s never cruel or capricious however and generous with autosaves.

Breath of the Wild doesn’t have the protracted opening for which most 3D Zelda games are guilty. Link awakens in a strange chamber and emerges into a Hyrule devastated by the arrival of Calamity Ganon. No clear timeline placement is offered, but the implication is that Breath of the Wild may be late in the timeline, as Ganon has abandoned any vestige of humanity or intelligence as Ganondorf, descending instead into as primal force of sheer evil. 100 years before, Hyrule had been overrun when Calamity Ganon turned the kingdom’s own highly advanced defensive Guardians against their masters. Link must piece together what happened 100 years ago and put an end to Calamity Ganon as it lurks in the ruins of Hyrule Castle.

Zelda has never had complex plots, but at their best they tap into a sense of epic destiny. Breath of the Wild is, in many ways, post-apocalyptic, and there’s a sense of melancholy and loss which pervades the whole thing. I had worried before release that Breath of the Wild would be a barren wasteland and would lack the loveable cast of weirdos which help make the series so special. Happily, this is not the case, with a cast as entertaining and eccentric as we’ve come to expect. Standouts include the charmingly positive Zora Prince Sidon and the intimidating Gerudo warrior Urbosa. The minor cast has some real stars too; I’m glad to see that the proud Zelda tradition of ridiculously effeminate carpenters is alive and well. Still, the actual plot is a bit underwhelming. We’re introduced to a key supporting player in each of the game’s four main dungeon locations, with their own subquests attached and I had been expecting, and hoping, that the game would return to them in the conclusion. The open structure and ability to approach the goals in any order make a story which feels more like a series of vignettes than an epic adventure. Nothing much can really change or grow. The lack of a true villain doesn’t help, with the mindless fury of Calamity Ganon never making anywhere near as much as an impact as Ocarina of Time or Wind Waker’s Ganondorf, or the titular Majora’s Mask.

The majesty of the open world would be nothing if it didn’t look incredible, but it really does. This is the best looking Zelda since Wind Waker, with an art style which falls somewhere between Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. I played it on the Switch and it looks amazing both on the TV and on the little screen, with beautiful bright colours and truly stunning art direction. The characters are also brilliantly expressive and funny, with charming animations. The music is minimalistic but wonderful. This isn’t a triumphant soundtrack I’ll listen to over and over again like Wind Waker and I don’t think it’s going to inspire complex tributes like Majora’s Mask, but it’s the perfect soundtrack for the game it is. A booming orchestral score would feel out of place in this Hyrule, but there are some lovely tunes in a lot of the towns and villages. Some are entirely new and some are truly stunning re-workings of songs from previous games. There are some problems; Breath of the Wild introduces voice acting to the series for the first time and the result is…mixed. Some supporting characters, particularly in the Gorons and Gerudo sound perfectly fine, but a few too many major characters are very stilted. I hated Zelda’s voice, which was breathy and a bit pathetic sounding. There are also regular framerate drops, particularly in chaotic scenes and when docked in TV mode. It’s not awful and anyone who tells you it ruins the game is an idiot who doesn’t deserve videogames, but it would undeniably be better if the framerate was more solid.

So, in summary. Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect, because no game is. What it does do is transcend its flaws, offering something which feels truly new whilst respecting the storied past of this great series. It’s a wonderful experience and Nintendo’s best game since Super Mario Galaxy. People may knock the Switch line up for only having one big game, but if you must launch a console with only one game it might as well be one of the greatest of all time.

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Lego Dimensions: The Simpsons Level Pack for PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

Ok, this will be the last Lego Dimensions review for a while, I promise! I skipped out on buying this one as the lack of new voice acting put me off, but I saw it on sale so picked it up anyway. Through excellent animation and the already brilliant vocal performance from the show itself, the lack of new voice acting mattered less than I’d expected, at least in the main level.

The level included in an adaption of the classic episode ‘The Mysterious Voyage of Homer’, which sees Homer eat several powerful chillies, hallucinate a strange desert landscape and seek his soulmate. It’s a great episode, one of the most visually experimental episodes with a heartfelt conclusion which shows Simpsons at its best. Lego Dimensions can’t really claim the credit for how entertaining this is, but it certainly does the episode justice.

The actual level felt a bit on the short side as these things go, but it’s certainly fun enough. The level pack gives you Homer Simpson himself, his iconic pink car and, oddly, the TV set which explodes when removed from the portal. It was a smart choice to adapt this episode, as the trippy chilli induced dream scape offers something more visually interesting than Springfield itself. There’s not much to this pack at all, but it’s certainly a fun curio for any Simpsons fan.

The Adventure World is extensive and fun to explore, but here the lack of new voice acting became a much bigger problem for me. Springfield is only such a great setting because of the characters in it and that element is pretty much missing, aside from a few archival recordings from major characters. Considering how much the Simpsons cast costs these days I understand why this wasn’t possible, but it undeniably lessens the experience.

Still, Springfield and its characters are charmingly rendered in Lego. The lack of music from the show is disappointing too, with a grating theme song ‘sound-a-like’ replacing the main tune. I can’t help but compare it to the vastly superior Adventure Time pack, which had much greater attention to detail to things like music and voice than this one.

It’s not a terrible pack all around, but I’m glad I didn’t pay full price for it. It sits above the Sonic the Hedgehog pack because this one is actually fun to play, but it sits below pretty much every other one I’ve played too.

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Lego Dimensions: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Story Pack for PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

This is the second of the more extensive ‘Story Packs’ for Lego Dimensions, after 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. My feelings towards Fantastic Beasts as a movie is very similar to my feelings towards Ghostbusters; somewhere between lukewarm and positive. I’m a big Harry Potter fan but Fantastic Beasts as a movie just didn’t quite land for me; nonetheless, I liked it enough that I was happy to receive this pack as a Christmas present.

Just as with the Ghostbusters pack, this is essentially a straightforward retelling of the story of the movie. There are some funny asides and visual gags from other franchises, but nothing side-splittingly hilarious. The presentation is held back by the use of a lot of archive sound from the movie, with more subdued delivery which made sense in the movie just coming off as weird here. The newer voice acting from some of the cast is much better.

As ever, the Fantastic Beasts story pack doesn’t do anything new in terms of gameplay. The pack gives you Newt Scamander and the Niffler. Newt doesn’t offer anything unique; in fact, he has essentially the same move set as Gandalf from the starter pack and the Niffler simply allows you to use dig spots. Playing through the six story missions will take you a couple of enjoyable hours. The same enjoyably structured if entirely uncreative general unfolding of the environments which makes these games so mindlessly satisfying is in full force here and it is lacking the over-abundance of irritating boss fights which can slightly hamstring these games.

The Adventure World is fine and has some nice missions, but I must say that I’m a bit over New York as an Adventure World setting. It’s definitely more exciting than the Ghostbusters one, but compared to the beauty of the Adventure Time world or the labyrinthine complexity of the Portal 2 world, it ends up coming off a bit bland. I think these worlds are better when they move away from cities; it forces the developers to be a bit more creative. The general look is great and the voice acting solid, with the excellent soundtrack from the movie helping to elevate the experience.

These packs are getting harder and harder review because generally I feel the same about all of them. There are some I’m more enthusiastic about (Adventure Time) and some I’m less (Sonic the Hedgehog), but in general they all operate at the level of decent. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is another decent Lego Dimensions entry and I think that’s all I’m really asking for.

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Lego Dimensions: Sonic the Hedgehog Level Pack for PS4, Ps3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

There aren’t many Lego games that you’d be able to call genuinely brilliant, but most operate comfortably at least around ‘good.’ Lego Dimensions has held on to that, with the entire experience operating at the boundary between good and great, which is fine, that’s where the series belongs. There hasn’t been much that I’ve actively disliked, until the Sonic the Hedgehog Level Pack for Lego Dimensions which is a rather miserable experience.

There isn’t much story apart from Sonic and pals fight to take down Eggman who has nefarious plans. That’s ok though and the writing is decent in that snarky self-aware way that recent Sonic games have fallen into. I’d always choose genuinely good writing, but Sonic is such a poisoned brand at this point that self-mockery does feel like the only real option left. Inside the pack you get Sonic himself, a pointless Sonic car and Tails’ plane.

The core story Level is a decent length and takes in a series of classic Sonic locations from a range of games, from Green Hill Zone through to the first level of Sonic Adventure with the whale. I’m no massive Sonic fan; in fact, I picked this up to play with a Sonic obsessed friend of mine (poor bastard) through the local co-op. I’ve played the first one and dabbled with some of the 3D ones from the early 2000s like Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic Heroes, then more recently Sonic Generations, but it’s not a series I consider to be a real classic. A lot of the locations went over my head, but my depraved Sonic chum seemed to enjoy visiting a bunch of classic locations, so good for him I guess.

Somewhat appropriately, the Sonic Lego pack holds essentially the exact same issues as the main series; controlling a character like Sonic at high speed through a 3D environment in unbearable. Mario transitioned to 3D perfectly because it was a game about precision and tight control, but Sonic’s speed just doesn’t translate. This level pack has the same problem, with some fun moments of speed (never as fun as a proper Sonic game mind) hampered by the simple ‘puzzle solving’ that you have in the Lego games. I find these incredibly simple puzzles oddly satisfying normally, but they are an infuriating break of gameplay flow here. I was shocked by how well they were able to transfer over Portal to the Lego format, but they really didn’t manage to pull of Sonic the Hedgehog quite so well.

The Adventure World looks pretty nice but made me feel physically sick. Like, actual motion sick. Now, this was admittedly because of the frame rate drop accompanying co-op play combined with the high speed and open world design but when I returned to the open world in solo play I didn’t like it that much either. The same issues that has always plagued Sonic open worlds are still present here; it’s just not fun or exciting to explore. These Adventure Worlds are rarely great, excepting the Adventure Time one, but this is easily my least favourite so far.

The overall look is good, with the Sonic characters translating over to the Lego form surprisingly well. The music not so much, with Sonic falling into the same problem of The Simpsons when it came to licencing music. You don’t get Green Hill Zone, you get something which sort of sounds like it but isn’t as good. This may sound like a minor thing, but when you’re releasing a product which is, let’s face it, primarily trying to capitalise nostalgia, these details matter.
I’m afraid that Sonic the Hedgehog is easily my least favourite of these so far. They made a good stab at converting Sonic into the Lego formula, but it’s hard to claim that they pulled it off. This one is only for the die-hard Sonic fans, although to be fair my die-hard Sonic fan mate thought even less of it than me, so make of that what you will.

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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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Lego Dimensions: Ghostbusters 2016 Story Pack for PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox 360

Due to me being a SJW libtard feminazi cuck, I actually quite liked the new Ghostbusters movie. It’s no masterpiece, but it had plenty of laughs and I liked that it wasn’t a straight remake of the original, with new characters who didn’t simply feel like analogues for the original cast. In Lego Dimensions, Ghostbusters 2016 as I shall henceforth call it is the first ‘story pack’, a more substantial offering than the level packs, containing six levels along with a new buildable frame for the game portal.

This pack follows the story of the movie pretty closely, but doesn’t really work as a Lego-ified story. Part of the charm of the Lego games is seeing franchises which aren’t comedies, like Star Wars or DC, made silly and goofy when put through the Lego lens. Ghostbusters 2016 is a comedy, it already is silly and goofy, so this story pack ends up mostly feeling like a heavily abridged version of the actual movie, without the unique Lego spin which is so great elsewhere. Still, I liked that the core four Ghostbusters returned to record new dialogue; as with the movie, Kate McKinnon is the highlight. The best moments are where elements from other franchises bleed into the Ghostbusters world, with one particular scene involving giant balloons that I won’t spoil.
The six levels are strong so far as these Lego games go. Since there’s no real challenge in these games, a lot of the charm is following the clear instructions and seeing how everything comes together. It’s an oddly passive and relaxing game experience. People may knock it, but in the moment I can’t deny that I find it very satisfying. In the pack you get Abby from the movie, who predictably has a proton pack useful for busting ghosts as well as the new Ghostbusters van, which functions much like every other car in the game; badly.

The most disappointing element is the adventure world, which is bland, flat and dull. Coming off the awesome Ooo in the Adventure Time pack, the New York of Ghostbusters feels cramped and repetitive. This is the downside of adapting such a recent release, locations such as ‘the university that Kirsten Wiig is fired from’ and ‘that Chinese restaurant they use as a base for a bit’ don’t exactly feel iconic enough to be particularly exciting. The love that was pouring out of the Adventure Time world simply isn’t present here.

The first story pack for Lego Dimensions is certainly decent, with some very strong levels, but doesn’t quite justify its existence. All three story packs are tie in to new films, which makes me a bit nervous as I feel like that is what held back the Ghostbusters pack. Still, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours than busting your way through this pack.

 

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Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE for Wii U

I don’t think this was the game that anyone was expecting. I was quite excited when Nintendo announced a crossover between the Fire Emblem series, which I love, and the Shin Megami Tensei series which I’m less familiar with but have liked what I’ve played. I imagine that most of us were predicting a dark fantasy tale and not something based around JPop idols. Taking the weeaboo plunge, I went for it anyway and quite enjoyed it, although I did leave still feeling that the overall aesthetic definitely wasn’t for me.

Itsuki is a normal high school student in Tokyo whose best friend since childhood, Tsubasa, is trying out for a competition to become an ‘Idol’, an all round performer with a focus on singing. When the compare for the event is possessed by a sinister entity, Tsubasa is pulled into the ‘Idalosphere’, a dangerous parallel realm and Itsuki must head in to save her. Mysterious beings known as ‘Mirages’ have been attacking Toyko, with the most significant event being the mysterious vanishing of hundreds of people at an Opera House five years previously, including Tsubasa’s sister. These beings seek ‘Performa’, a mysterious force generated during performance for nefarious purposes. Itsuki, Tsubasa and a group of other young friends are bonded with friendly Mirages, who are familiar characters from Fire Emblem, to keep Tokyo safe from the mysterious threat. They are all performers themselves, working for the agency Fortuna Entertainment.
The plot for Tokyo Mirage Sessions is all fairly predictable, with little in the way of interesting plot twists or even a feeling a genuine peril. A lot of the story relies on comedy and, to be honest, the Japanese sense of humour has never really worked for me. That’s not to say that an odd smile wasn’t raised, but I personally found it more annoying than anything else. The main characters are likeable, but very broad with no complexity or depth. Some interesting ideas are touched upon; Eleanora is a party member of mixed race heritage, being half Japanese and half European. The effect of this heritage on her career in the entertainment industry is hinted at, but Tokyo Mirage Sessions doesn’t really have the courage to explore the bigotry she has experienced in any depth. Any potentially interesting moments are undercut with a need to keep everything light. That’s not to say that a JRPG can’t be light and comic; I love the humour of the Mario RPGs and Earthbound, but a lot of that is due to excellent translation but the Tokyo setting means that many of the cultural references flew over my head. If you are a full on weeaboo I think there may be more for you in the story of Tokyo Mirage Sessions. I actually love Japanese culture, but not this particular facet of it.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions is primarily a straight forward JRPG, with a really fun and stylish battle system. The elemental weaknesses of Shin Megami Tensei is paired with the weapon triangle from Fire Emblem to give each enemy a complex list of weaknesses and resistances to exploit. Where most Shin Megami Tensei games provide extra turns when a weakness is exploited, Tokyo Mirage Sessions triggers combos called ‘Sessions.’ For example, if a sword aspected attack is used on an enemy with that weakness, another member of the party can use a passive move which converts to another element or weapon, such as fire or axe, which then in turns converts into another. Initially you’re limited to combos of three with your party members, but later on party members held in the reserves can join in Sessions too, allowing you to chain together some pretty massive combos. It’s an inherently satisfying system, but one which doesn’t really involve a huge amount of player agency. Towards the final hours of this lengthy game I was desparate for the ability to skip watching these attacks and the stylishness of the presentation only got me so far. There are also random attacks which can trigger, called ‘ad lib’ performances which got me out of a few tricky boss fights. There are some really cool boss fights with some interesting mechanics, like shifting weaknesses and the like and it gets really tricky.

There’s a lot of content to this game, with most of your time being spent in dungeons. Compared to a lot of JRPG dungeons, which are often essentially paths for you to travel down while fighting battles, each dungeon has a different puzzle mechanic. They’re not particularly clever or intricate, but they do a good job of making what is often the blandest element of the genre interesting. Between dungeons you’ll be wandering around a few areas of Tokyo buying items and accessories and taking part in side quests. These quests are quite interesting, with each focusing on different party members. Some are very straightforward and just involve wandering around Tokyo a bit and some are a bit more elaborate, but it’s here that the better storytelling is to be found. You’ll also be powering up and crafting new weapons with your spoils from battles and it is from these weapons, called ‘Carnage’ for some reason, that you gain new abilities for your party to use in battle. You can also develop passive abilities and eventually Fire Emblem style class changes. This is all fine if not for the fact that the only place you can do this is behind two loading screens. If you’re in a dungeon and your weapon maxes out and you want to go upgrade it or make a new one, you have to leave the dungeon, go into the Bloom Palace where the upgrades are made, make the upgrade, move back through Tokyo to the dungeon entrance, enter the dungeon and then warp to where you left from. I did this dozens of times as I was playing and it’s a bit infuriating to think of how much time I wasted. That’s an issue this game has overall; wasting the players time. A good JRPG should have a solid curve that removes the necessity of grinding. If you fight every battle offered you should be able to, with skilful play, fight any boss you come to. In Tokyo Mirage Sessions you will need to grind. In the 45 or so hours I spend with this game, I estimate that around 10 were from time wasting activities like this.

Appropriately considering that performance is the key theme of the game, the battles in Tokyo Mirage Sessions are really flashy and fun to watch. The combined visual design of JPop Idol culture and Fire Emblem high fantasy actually ends up working bizarrely well. Although the story never really lives up to the crossover potential, the overall design works very nicely. That said, the whole thing is very much 80% Shin Megami Tensei with 20% Fire Emblem sprinkled on top and I think I would have preferred it the other way around, but that’s likely just down to my own tastes. A strong area is the music; there are a few JPop tracks which are fairly catchy, although my favourite piece of music is a reworked version of the Fire Emblem theme which shows up fairly regularly. The voice acting is good and only in Japanese; this is a good shout as this is a story so heavily meshed into Japanese culture. It’s a miracle it was released here in the first place!
All said, Tokyo Mirage Sessions wasn’t quite my cup of tea. My love of Fire Emblem and desire to actually use my Wii U drove me to give it a go. I wouldn’t say that I regret my time with it, but I’d say that this is a game more for fans of Japanese Idol culture than for fans of Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei. It’s mechanically strong but with far too much time wasting, something which the best JRPGs manage to streamline away. If you’re desperate for a traditional JRPG on the Wii U you could do worse than Tokyo Mirage Sessions.

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