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Game Reviews

New Pokémon Snap Review

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch

Pokémon Snap is one of my favorite games on the N64. One of the most unique games in existence, it tasked players with using their problem solving skills and quick trigger finger to take the best pictures of Pokémon that they possibly could. To this day, I can’t think of a single other game that’s combined puzzle solving, first-person shooting, and quick reflexes all at once. Now, over two decades later, Nintendo has finally released a sequel, appropriately called New Pokémon Snap and it was absolutely worth the wait!

You play as a new research assistant, helping Professor Mirror and his band of generic anime characters in their efforts to learn more about the Lental region while hunting down the mysterious illumina Pokémon, previously tracked by a famous explorer. New Pokémon Snap is, at its core, identical to the N64 title in many ways. The main objective in each level is to ride through an environment on rails, taking the best pictures of Pokémon possible, with the professor scoring your images at the end based on factors like size, positioning, and pose. Aiding in this effort are the various tools unlocked along the way- food to attract Pokémon, a scanner to unlock new details about the environment, illumina orbs to activate special behaviors in the Pokémon, and the Pokéflute getting them to dance. The gameplay loop of going through levels, finding different Pokémon, and unlocking new types of poses with the tools is just as addicting as before.

There’s also a few new mechanics to keep things fresh. First is the addition of a star rating. Each Pokémon has 4 different star levels of pictures to take. Each of these is counted separately from one another and given its own score, so while getting a super-rare action shot of a Pokémon will net you four stars, a well-shot picture of the same Pokémon will usually be worth more points. This mechanic is novel, but it does take away some value from the tougher shots, so it might have been better for each star rating to automatically give higher scores, but also have higher thresholds for getting diamond stars. There’s also the addition of research levels, unlocking new Pokémon and routes in the same environment after getting enough points. It’s cool seeing how different setups in the same environments can change the gameplay, with a maxed out level often being seriously tricky to reach without the help of a guide.

However, there are some issues. While the game is beautiful overall, many of the textures in the environment can be GameCube-level resolution, standing out amongst the otherwise well-designed levels. And the pop-in and low framerate in some areas is really distracting. There’s also the addition of illumina spots, where players will need to figure out how to take pictures of gigantic Pokémon throughout a single level. While additional routes will have more Pokémon, the first run throughs are often incredibly long and boring since you can only show one picture per Pokémon to the professor at a time. Which brings me to the worst offender in the game- its pacing. The game really wants to convince players that they got their money’s worth out of their purchase, stretching what should have been a 6 to 8 hour campaign out to 12 or more. For one, players don’t unlock the speed boost until the very end, meaning that until then they’re stuck at the slowest speed on additional runs. And those runs will be necessary since each star rating still counts as a picture of a single Pokémon, meaning that at least 4 runs are needed to get every kind of shot. The game definitely should have allowed players to at least show the professor one star rating per Pokémon, but instead forces the player to replay the same levels over and over again.

With all of that said, New Pokémon Snap is still an absolute joy of a game on the whole. Despite the repetition, it’s guaranteed to have you coming back for more and making a new discovery is always worth the effort. I’m glad the series is back and can only hope that it doesn’t take another 20 years for the next game to arrive.

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Game Reviews

Speed Limit Review

(Speed Limit: Arcade Edition is available for Playstation 4/5, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One/X/S)

REVIEW KEY PROVIDED BY DEVS

When I hear the words “Speed Limit”, it becomes very difficult to not want to drop everything at that exact moment, book it to the nearest sources of movies in my vicinity, and request an immediate showing of the 1994 box-office hit, “Speed”. One could potentially think then, using the combined powers of deduction and assumption, that I would thoroughly enjoy a fast-paced, high-octane indie game with an ever-shifting set of genres working alongside one another.

That’s what one could potentially think, right? What if I told you that that theory was instead quickly thrown out the window shortly after my first experience with Speed Limit? Here’s my review.

The opening moments of Speed Limit reminded me of the classic flash games of yesteryear. Where you’re given minimal context to anything at all, feeling like a deer caught in the headlights of a plot-free semi-truck barreling right at you. Upon start-up, we’re greeted by a scene of a train ride, with our main character just being a train passenger, passengering about. Moments later, some disheveled, shady as heck looking dude makes their way onto the frame… before keeling over dead. They drop a gun into your lap as they slowly become “aliven’t”, and now you’re the most wanted criminal to ever exist. Better get to running.

What follows is an hour long journey through a variety of different gameplay styles, accompanied by a constant climb in both speed and difficulty. While the game starts you off on foot, pushing you through train-car after train-car at an infuriatingly slow pace (seriously, this guy moves at a snail’s pace), the speed picks up considerably every few minutes. You’ll go from running around in the comfort of your Shoe-baru’s (ha ha) to driving a convertible, to piloting a helicopter, to manning a fighter jet, etc etc. It only keeps going from there.

Now, I’ll be honest with you: On paper, all of this stuff sounds really, really cool. I can’t think of anyone who would argue otherwise. (Maybe an old person, but they’re old so their opinions don’t matter.) Upon execution however, I think a few major missteps were taken, and the end result suffers greatly because of it.

Speed Limit‘s first short-coming became apparent almost immediately after start-up. The second after we’re shown the plot set-up and assume control of the protagonist, it becomes rather obvious that our character moves at an infuriatingly slow speed. Now, maybe this is simply a design choice. It could feel painfully slow as a way to further drive home that feeling of the metaphorical speedometer constantly climbing during one’s playthrough. Sadly, I don’t think it actually works all too well within the confines of the game.

If that wasn’t enough to get me feeling like this wasn’t a good start to the experience, Speed Limit‘s controls in it’s opening moments certainly did the trick. Testing the game on both keyboard/mouse and an Xbox One controller, I found the controls to be pretty hit or miss. I struggled to clear the first area simply because my character would begin to look up while I pressed right for him to go forward. This is an issue because having the character look upward slows him down to an even slower pace than he was already going, making you a near effortless target to take out.

That frustration is taken to an even higher level upon reaching the second phase of the first area. After a short period of running from train-car to train-car, we’re moved to the top of the train where we now have to contend with killer platforms (in addition to the enemies who were already shooting at us). Navigating this area was a nightmare, as the game repeatedly refused to take my inputs into account, smashing me into walls or causing an untimely make-out session with a barrage of bullets.

To top off this cake of conundrums, we have my final gripe with Speed Limit: it’s cameras. Some of the camera positioning in this game is… fine, even great at times. But that’s only sometimes. Outside of those moments, the camera is the worst thing about this game. Having to redo sections of a game due to control issues is something I can tolerate, to an extent. I cannot, however, tolerate a camera that’s been set-up to make me fail.

The first time this becomes apparent is during a chase scene across a waterway, with arches you have to fly through to avoid colliding and, you know, dying. The space you have to clear is pretty small, and you have to be nearly pixel perfect with your movements in order to avoid scraping the walls of the arches. I love pixel perfect movements in games, but only when I can see them. If I can’t see what I’m doing, and have to rely solely on assumptions and luck, that’s a bad thing in my opinion.

This isn’t the only time the camera is an issue either. A later section in the game asks you to control a fighter jet, which I thought would be freaking awesome! It wasn’t. It was nausea-inducing. It’s use of a tunnel-like rotating camera set-up brought upon immediate motion sickness. Bad enough to get me to “nope” the heck out of the game and look away from my monitor. That rarely ever happens.

I went back to revisit Speed Limit a few days after my initial experience, to see if these issues still persisted or if I was being a bit overly-critical in my analysis of the game. The issues still persisted, and they were even harder to overlook on my second playthrough. Maybe it was because I had tried the “normal” difficulty instead of “easy” like I did the first time, but my patience for Speed Limit‘s short-comings was practically non-existent. Which sucks because I love the premise of the game, and was really hoping to enjoy the experience. The pixel art graphics are full of character and charm. The soundtrack had me tapping my foot along to it the entire time. So…

One could potentially think then, using the combined powers of deduction and assumption, that as a fan of both arcade games and genre bending works of programming, I would recommend Speed Limit as a product. However, contrary to potential belief, this is one I cannot suggest based off of my personal experience. As much as it pains me to do this (as it always does), I’ll be giving Speed Limit a verdict of DEFINITELY NOT WORTH ANY PRICE.

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Review: Nioh

Video review can be found here.

(Nioh is available for PS4, PS5, and Windows.)

So let’s start off with the story of Nioh. Wait, actually, where do I even begin with this story? Well for one, it’s quite the difficult tale to follow along with. Nioh sees you starring in the main role as William, the first westerner turned samurai, on his quest to take back what is rightfully his from some rude guy who decided he can take whatever he wants. William’s journey takes him to 16th century Japan, where he quickly forges an alliance with some locals who agree to help him find what was  taken from him. In exchange for their help in finding the man responsible for taking William’s childhood friend and gold finder, William agrees to lend a hand in fighting  the evergrowing Yokai menace. The story found in Nioh, is certainly entertaining, but I can’t say that it’s anything groundbreaking on memorable. If anything, the plot here is nothing more than a means to travel to new locations, and fight newer, bigger, and badder demons. The story can be a bit jumbled up, and difficult to follow at times, but it’s by no means a mess or convoluted. It seems like there were chunks of cutscenes or dialogue missing from the game. I can’t recall any moments of story progression where I blanked out and absorbed nothing, yet I still found myself a bit lost as to who some of the people were and what was going on in certain cutscenes. All-in-all, the plot here in Nioh is average. It’s ultimately forgettable, but it’s still a fun ride throughout.

Presentationwise, however, this game is far less forgettable. The locations you visit are quite varied, for one. Throughout your adventures through Japan, you’ll explore caves, mines, forests, burning villages, foggy graveyards, and more. Every level has it’s own variance in design, and they’re all a complete treat to look at and explore. The lighting in Nioh is something I found to be especially noteworthy. Sun rays reflect through peeling and cracked boards of wood that make up abandoned buildings. Torches illuminate the ore mines you descend into. Some light sources can even be knocked over, which can lead to some very intense fights deep below the surface. Attacks are also beautifully choreographed, full of particle effects and slashing, swinging streaks of light. And the same goes for enemies movements as well. As far as the music and sound are concerned, they aren’t as good as the graphics here, but they’re still well done nonetheless. Musically, there really isn’t anything too memorable going on. As I wrote the script for this review, I actually found it rather difficult to recall any stand out tracks that I hear along my journey. I couldn’t think of one background song that really stuck with me, and I think that says a lot about a game’s soundtrack. None of it was necessarily annoying or poorly written, per se, but it was overall a bit unmemorable. Soundwise, the game does a hell of a lot better. The sounds of blades bouncing off of metal armor, or arrows whizzing by your face, just barely missing your skull by an inch, are common sounds you’ll hear throughout. And they all hit with the same intensity and grittiness throughout the game. Hearing your weapon cut into flesh, crack  through bone, and cripple your opponent is consistently satisfying, and gives you great feedback on whether or not your attack actually landed. It’s a difficult thing  for many melee oriented games to get right, but Team Ninja absolutely nailed it here. Not just the weapons and combat sound great, either. This whole damn game is just one big old sweet sound designed treat. Voice acting is also found here, but it isn’t anything special or unique. You have both English and Japanese being spoken throughout the game, which I though was a nice added touch of realism. Not everyone here is automatically speaking English, just for the sake of making it more approachable for people who are too lazy to read subtitles. It added a refreshing dose of believability to a game that sits submerged deep in a hot spring of fantasy. All in all, the presentation found in Nioh is very well done.

But it is nowhere NEAR as well done as the gameplay, which is the real highlight of the show, erm, game, here. Now I know we live in 2017, and many people like to refer to any challenging game in a genre is the Soulslike of said genre and we’re tired of hearing that shitty, dried out sales pitch, but I have no choice but to refer to the souls series while talking about Nioh. At least Nioh sits in the same genre as Dark Souls, unlike something like Cuphead, or even CRASH FUCKING BANDICOOT. Wait, Crash Bandicoot? Hold on, somebody actually had the audacity to make the claim that Crash Bandicoot is the Soulslike of platformers? No, no, nononono. Im not sure if you’re aware, but Crash came out a whole 13 YEARS before the first souls game was released. So based on this logic then, we’d have to say that, if anything, Dark Souls is the Crash Bandicootlike of action RPGS. Ahem. Sorry, that was an irrelevant point to make. Shall we continue? Nioh, the Crash Bandicootlike of Action RPGs in 2017. A game about collecting amrita (not souls), praying at shrines (not bonfires), and finding shortcuts. More importantly though, it’s a game about fighting giant ass bosses that’ll decimate you in one blow. It’s a game about calculated strikes, and reading your opponent’s next move. It’s a game about exploration, grinding, and making progress, only to lose all of that progress because of one poorly timed sword strike. This is a game of patience and  opportunity. It’s about slowly learning your way through an intimidating boss, and going from feeling helpless to feeling accomplished and better than you were three hours earlier. In order to achieve these things though, you’re going to have to be ready to deal with some heavy doses of menus and text. There’s a lot to learn about the mechanics of Nioh, and that applies to more than just the melee combat. Talking about the melee combat’s depth alone is already complex enough. Not only do you have a light and heavy attack, but you also have three different stances for each weapon: high, mid, and low. Each stance has it’s own pros and cons, and you have to constantly be reading your opponent and changing up your stance in order to defeat them. This is especially vital during boss fights, which the game has a heaping helping of.  Outside of the combat, you have a looting system with it’s own rarity scale. A blacksmith, who will allow you to purchase new items, melt down old ones for materials, build new gear, and level up old gear. A overworld map where you can take on side quests, main missions, and extra challenging quests. An in depth skill branch for 5 of the game’s 8 weapon types. A dojo to refine and hone your skills. A multiplayer section that I didn’t check out because I don’t have enough friends to play games with. The list goes on.

There’s a lot of stuff to do here. Like, a lot a lot. If Nioh was a house, it would be classified as a hoarder’s house. The amount of content you get here for the price the game is sold at is more than worth your money. The game can easily run you about thirty hours or so, just in the main story alone. That is, if you’re good at these kinds of games. If you’re someone like me, however, who isn’t good at these Soulslike (Crash Bandicootlike) games, then you could very well be looking at a significantly longer playtime. And that isn’t even mentioning the side quests, DLC, and new game plus modes. There’s plenty of meaty, chunky, gory goodness to be had in Nioh. And investing both your time and money into this title will lead you to find one of the most rewarding abiet frustrating experiences you will have in gaming for quit some time to come. Nioh can be a bit overwhelming at times, and to be honest, that’s a bit of an understatement, but stick with it and you’ll find yourself completely immersed in a game that I’d say is: Definitely worth full price.

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Game Reviews

Two Cent Review: Cuphead

Video review can be found here.

(Cuphead is available for PS4, Switch, Xbox One, Windows & Mac.)

Imagine an alternate universe, where 1930’s Disney cartoons have access to a time machine. They take that time machine, climb aboard, and head for the 80′s. The 1980′s. Upon arrival, they meet this cool video game named Contra. Contra, Steamboat Willie and friends quickly become best pals and decide to do acid one day together. In their LSD soaked haze, they end up sleeping together and have such an odd looking baby by the end of this completely realistic scenario that everyone who sees it cant help but be intrigued. That baby would be Cuphead. A game about two anthropomorphic cups named Cuphead and Mugman. The two walking, talking, living, breathing ceramic coffee containers end up signing a contract with the devil (not like in a record contract sort of way, but more of like a “sell your soul” kind of way). In the contract, they agree that in exchange for keeping their souls, Cupdude and Mugman must collect the souls of others who have made a similar deal with the devil and didn’t pay up.

This game is firetruckin’, fingersuckin’, fistfuckin’ fantastic to look at. The A E S T H E T I C of it is so eye catching, so mystifying, you can’t help but look on in awe, and wonder “how does something like this exist? How have we not seen this sooner?”. The visuals invoked one of my favorite feelings a person who feels can feel: Nostalgia! It’s happy. It’s joyful. It’s warm and vibrant. It’s violent as hell and I didn’t realize until reviewing this game how graphic cartoons from that era actually were. Some of this shit is straight up nightmare fuel. Everything here is hand drawn, and you can tell that some serious TLC went into the art of this game. It certainly shows. Now lets talk about the music and sound for a second. Do you like brass? Huh? You like brass? You like jazz?! Well get ready for some bombastic brass blown by barotone boys. This game’s soundtrack is like a California hillside in the middle of August: Lit. Every track is bouncy, full of BRASS, energetic and fits the level associated it. Even going as far as to giving each individual boss it’s own epic showdown track. I like that shit. I love that shit! And I think you will as well. The sound here is somewhat harder to critique, however. I’m not sure if I like it all that much. I think I do, but the game weaves the sound effects in and out so well that sometimes they almost seem to disappear into the background music entirely. But I think that’s what they were going for, honestly. The game has this mono sound to it, remenicent of how games on the Gameboy sounded. It certainly fits the style of the game, and adds furthermore to the A E S T H E T I C that Cuphead practically oozes. All together the music and sound effects all come together quite nicely, and even though it may sound odd at times, it fits the game well. Therefore I’d have to say that the presentation here as a whole is pretty top notch. We’re talking about some hella primo stuff here. Careful: It’s Hot!

Cuphead is primarily a boss rush game, bit it has a few gun and run levels sprinkled throughout as well. There’s a central overworld you explore, which opens up more to the player as the stages presented are completed. This game is hard, too. Like Kakuna spamming Harden hard. We’re talking some grade A level diamonds hard. It took me upwards of an hour and a half to complete just one boss fight. Not all of them took me that long, but all of them did leave me with a feeling of tremendous accomplishment upon completion. And that, to me at least, is worth the patience and concentration that some of these levels require. You also have the option of playing with one or two players. I live alone in a hut far off the coast of Madagascar though, so I had nobody to co-op with. Therefore I won’t be commenting on that topic. The gameplay is smooth. It’s slick, and responsive. Some platformers perform like a rental car that’s been around more than your local corner prostitute. Others perform like a sweet, sexy new ride you just purchased off the lot. Cuphead falls into the latter here, most definitely. The controls are simple enough, although they’re layed out somewhat uncomfortably on the controller. You have a button to shoot, a button to dodge, a button for your super ability, and a button to jump. Both movement and aiming are bound to the left stick, which for me, took a bit of getting used to. Once I got it down though, the game played very well. I was able to react in time to most attacks, and the ones I couldn’t avoid were usually followed up by me realizing how easily that damage could have been prevented. The game allows for a bit of customization as well, which becomes practically essential once you reach the later stages. You can equip a primary attack, a secondary, as well as a charm that allows for things like instant parrying or momentary invincibility when dashing. This adds a nice layer of depth to the game that isn’t overly complex or gimmicky.

I love this game. Everything about it to me is what I never knew I wanted in a game. Since it was announced at E3 a few years ago, I’ve had my eye on it. And so have thousands of other people. Now that it’s finally out, I’m more than happy to say it was worth the wait. The guys, gals, and any fourth demensional beings that worked on this game should give themselves a pat on the back. What they have created is something quite close to a masterpiece. It’s rare that I play a game that makes me want to revisit it after completion. There’s something about the setting, the warm, nostalgic vibe it gives off, and the retro gameplay found in Cuphead that envokes the feeling of childhood in me. I’ve more than enjoyed my time with it, and I’m going to keep enjoying it after this review. There’s a good chuck of content to eat through, and it’s all more than reasonably priced at a mere $20. 

Would I recommend it? Would I recommend Cuphead? Oh most certainly. I’d even go so far as to say it’s: Definitely worth full price.