Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon review: Minor Evolution

It seems like just a few months ago that I was last wandering through the islands of Alola, feeding beans to my Meganium and reading my friends’ responses in Festival Plaza. Compared to the usual Pokémon formula of releasing a third version well after the release of a new generation, it feels surreal to already be playing a new Pokémon title only a year after the release of the originals. Given their naming scheme, you might be expecting Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon to be a sequel title similar to Black and White 2, though they’re more of a ‘remix’ of the originals, akin to Pokémon Emerald and Platinum. As a result, the games fit into a strange place compared to the rest of the series, with several changes that aren’t bad but certainly don’t feel like a necessity.

Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon introduce new features to the Alola experience, such as the simple yet enjoyable Mantine Surf and the Alola Photo Club, which is effectively a virtual photo booth for you and your Pokémon. Even though they don’t add anything to the core gameplay, showing off your Photo Booth pictures to friends is heaps of fun, and Mantine Surf provides a new way to obtain Battle Points for rare items. Totem Stickers invite the player on a fun and challenging scavenger hunt across Alola’s multiple islands, allowing you to receive Totem Pokémon: Larger, stronger variations of the ‘boss’ Pokémon you fight at the end of each Island Trial.

The mechanics of Pokémon catching and battling haven’t changed, but new encounter rates and appearances mean that there are a lot of fun opportunities to make a new team as you go. One of the things I found most enjoyable in Ultra Sun was catching and raising a team of Pokémon I’d never even thought about using before, thanks the addition of some unusual Pokémon available at the start of the game (like Smoochum and Delibird, two Pokémon that I doubt anybody would be excited about except me). The difficulty of trainer battles is roughly the same as Sun and Moon, so not overly demanding; though if you’re looking for a challenge, I enjoyed the added difficulty of playing with the EXP Share turned off entirely.

Like in Sun and Moon, your character sets out on an adventure through Alola to complete the Island Trial, helping friends and catching new Pokémon along the way. In the Ultra versions though, the start of your journey is sped up a bit, and you receive your first Pokémon sooner than you did in Sun and Moon. This is an especially welcome change for fans who didn’t enjoy the pacing of Sun and Moon’s introduction, though the linear progression of story and tutorial cutscenes still makes the overall pace of the game feel very slow to start. The more subtle differences to the game’s story help to keep it interesting enough, with characters appearing at different times and story events taking place differently, culminating in a significantly different ending (but I won’t spoil any of that here!). Other differences include dialogue changes and side quests, which were the two things I liked the most; they added freshness to a region where I felt that I’d already done and seen everything.

Unfortunately, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon still don’t address a number of Sun and Moon’s significant issues, namely the linear nature of the game’s plot and the lack of postgame story. Aside from breeding competitive Pokémon and filling the Pokedex, I was disappointed in how little there was left to do in a region that had so much potential, especially when compared to the Delta Episode in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire and the Battle Frontier in Emerald. I loved the bizarre designs of Alolan Pokémon such as Dugtrio and Persian, and it’s a shame we didn’t receive more new forms in the Ultra versions.

I felt that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon missed an opportunity to become the definitive versions of this generation, instead falling short of what they could have achieved as either third versions or sequels. Though an improved third version is what Pokémon players have come to expect over the years, it’s hard to justify two fully-priced, new titles for additions that felt like they could have been DLC. While similar remakes such as Platinum and Emerald were acceptable even five or ten years ago, the possibilities of today’s downloadable content mean that a lot of gamers would expect more for the price point, including myself. I also felt that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon should have been consolidated into one version; four games for a single region feels seriously excessive, especially since there are no groundbreaking differences between them. Despite all this, the core gameplay is still enjoyable, whether you’ll be battling, catching or spending hours prodding and feeding them in the Poke Amie function (not that a serious trainer like myself would ever spend their time doing that).

If you really enjoyed the original Alola experience, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon provides an an opportunity to go through the adventure again, and it will tide you over until the series’ inevitable Switch entry arrives. If you weren’t a fan, the minor changes to gameplay and story don’t warrant enough of a difference to replay the story. Otherwise, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are a pleasant, if inessential, way to experience Alola again from a new perspective.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions Review: Star Children

On my recent plane flights to and from Japan, I had a lot of spare time to play Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions for the 3DS, a remake of the original Gameboy Advance game. Originally released in 2003, Superstar Saga was released to high praise from critics and fans, cementing itself as a classic in the Gameboy Advance’s repertoire. Given the game’s success and popularity, the 3DS version has some big shoes to fill. Does the remake maintain the unique appeal of the original, whilst also finding ways to update the game for a modern audience? Is it a good way to experience Superstar Saga if you’ve never played it before? My answer to both is a resounding yes.

Contrary to the usual, Princess Peach hasn’t been kidnapped. Instead she’s had her voice stolen by Cackletta, a witch from the Beanbean Kingdom. Mario and Luigi find themselves taking a trip to Beanbean Kingdom and its many locales, battling enemies and solving puzzles on a journey to get Peach’s voice back. The dialogue and characters are appreciably strange and unique — Fawful’s broken dialogue is iconic for a reason — and the visual gags involving Mario and Luigi’s reception by Beanbean’s residents never ceased to amuse.

This version of Superstar Saga offers modern, 3D graphics and high quality renditions of classic tracks, including the battle theme that’s been stuck in my head for weeks. If you played the original Superstar Saga, you’ll recognise most things as being the same, aside from some small graphical and quality of life changes. If you’re curious, you can find a full list of the changes online.

To address the concern from fans of the GBA game, yes, this version of Superstar Saga does have an easy mode; however, it’s completely optional, so don’t worry about the game being too simplistic. The default version still presents the same challenge, with even regular enemies having varying and often unpredictable attack patterns that’ll keep you on your toes — you will still need to time your attack inputs just right for maximum efficiency.

If, like me, this is your first time with Superstar Saga, this is the definitive version of the game thanks to changes to the ease of control, such as the way your abilities are accessed and the fact that you can now press X to make both brothers jump at once, making ledges a breeze. You can access a mini map on the bottom screen as well, and use pins to remind yourself of bean spots and other notable locations.

The second part of the Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions title refers to the new game mode included for the 3DS version, ‘Minion’s Quest: The Search for Bowser’. The story focuses on what Bowser’s minions are doing while Mario and Luigi are adventuring, providing a refreshing and amusing shift of perspective from the main narrative. It plays out like a simple tactics RPG, which sounds good on paper, but is surprisingly tedious to actually play. There’s little input required in battles, and I found myself getting bored. I didn’t feel it was worth sitting through an uninteresting battle mode to experience an otherwise entertaining story. Compared to Superstar Saga’s main story, Bowser’s Minions fails to stand out as a worthwhile addition to the game. It’s completely optional though, so even though I didn’t enjoy it much, it didn’t have any impact on how much sheer fun I had playing Superstar Saga overall.

Given how critically acclaimed the GBA version was, you might wonder if it’s possible — or worth trying — to improve on perfection. Some of the changes mean the game doesn’t present a 1:1 experience to the original, but that definitely shouldn’t discredit its merit as a standalone game. The story, locations and puzzles are all the same, and it’s a great way to experience a classic Mario RPG game that’s hard to access because of its platform and age. As it becomes harder to get a hold of older classic titles, Nintendo has done an excellent job in making the Superstar Saga experience available for a modern generation of gamers; though it’s a remake that wasn’t urgently needed, it’s certainly a welcome addition to the Mario RPG series.

Monster Hunter Stories review: Gotta Hunt ‘Em All

When I was young, I was a massive fan of monsters, dinosaurs, and other cool-looking spiky creatures; basically, anything that looked tough and cool. Though my enthusiasm for wicked dragons and weird creatures has waned a bit over the years, I felt a resurgence of childhood glee when I discovered the premise of Monster Hunter Stories.

Your personalised character is a fledgling Rider, hailing from a small village where monsters aren’t hunted but instead befriended, trained and used to defend in combat. It’s a significant departure from other Monster Hunter titles, although you’ll recognise monsters (referred to as ‘Monsties’ here), names and other references.

If you were expecting a classic Monster Hunter game, the change might be a shock Stories opts for a turn-based RPG combat system, and instead of tracking and hunting monsters for loot, your goal is to collect their eggs to raise as your own. It also carries a more lighthearted tone, reflected in its colourful, comical character designs and (slightly cheesy) dialogue.

The story itself is fairly straightforward: After a mysterious force referred to as the Black Blight attacks your village, you set out on an adventure to find new Monsties and discover what is causing the Blight to possess creatures and parts of the land. On your way you’ll discover plenty of cute and comedic characters too, such as the clever Felynes and poor, lost Poogies.

Monster Hunter Stories features an open world through which you can ride on your chosen Monstie. The overworld is littered with plants, rocks, bones and other materials which you can collect (if you’re like me, your compulsive need to loot all of them will definitely slow you down). Different Monsties have skills such as jumping and swimming to allow you to traverse different obstacles, adding an aspect of replayability to many areas. I personally love it, but if you’re not a fan of backtracking, it might prove a bit tedious. You’ll also discover randomly-spawned Monster Dens, which is where you’ll be stealing your brand new eggs from; but you’ll have to do so without waking up their owner unless you want to be clawed and bitten to a pulp.

The egg and Monstie collecting system is where Monster Hunter Stories shines. You can hatch eggs at your stable to reveal a brand new Monstie for your party, and similar to Pokémon they have varying starting stats, so the more serious RPG players will enjoy grinding out for the perfect baby. You can have a party of six in battle, and they all gain experience equally, which is a fantastic catch-up mechanic for when you want to use new Monsties later in the game. You can also use discovered Egg Fragments to create new eggs, allowing you to further customise the skills and genes of your baby Monsties — if you’re willing to put the effort into obtaining them. Many of the most powerful Eggs and fragments are rare and can only be found in locations that will challenge even the most dedicated player.

Combat in Monster Hunter Stories isn’t overly challenging, with the exception of some boss battles. You don’t choose what your Monstie does; instead, you choose your own moves based on what your Monstie is doing. For example, if it’s going to charge in, you might choose to buff it, or do a double-up attack together. In combination with some Monsties’ skills and enemies with unpredictable patterns, combat can become surprisingly complex and involving, though you won’t need to seriously strategise too often. In combat you possess three Hearts, and each time you or your Monstie reaches zero health, you lose one. Once they’re gone, you get sent back to the last save point. As they don’t reset until you rest or leave an area, the Heart system is a mechanic that ensures you don’t recklessly enter fights you can’t win. If you want even more of a challenge, you can go online to fight other players one-on-one.

Generally, Monster Hunter Stories is a very enjoyable game to play, though it isn’t without flaws. The gameplay itself takes a while to get going, which turned me off a bit; don’t expect to have finished the entire tutorial segment until at least an hour in (it definitely improves afterwards). I found the game’s dialogue fairly cringe-worthily at some points, though I can’t say whether that’s the fault of the translation or the original writing. As long as you’re not expecting in-depth character development and innovative writing, it’s not a big issue.

Monster Hunter Stories has something for every type of RPG fan: Customisation, collection, turn based combat, real time action, exploration, and heaps more. In a lot of ways, it’s the monster raising game I’ve always wanted, and a great entry-point into the world of the Monster Hunter series.
If you’re still on the fence about it, there’s a demo on the Nintendo eShop that lets you try the entire first section of the game for free, then transfer up your progress if you buy the full game. It’s worth a go; you might even become attached to that baby Velocidrome, and find yourself hunting for just one more egg… and maybe another… and suddenly find yourself, like me, engrossed in your adventures as a Monster Rider.

Super Mario Odyssey preview: Cappy-Bearer

Thanks to Nintendo Australia, I had the chance to play Super Mario Odyssey, the newest 3D Mario platformer and his first ‘solo’ outing onto the Switch, and I was pleasantly surprised with what I got my hands on. Odyssey definitely has its own style, but it still feels familiar to an experienced 3D Mario gamer. I quickly found myself long jumping and ground pounding easily on the Joy-Con. While I don’t actually own a Switch, Odyssey is really making me question how much I have in my wallet (plus with Xenoblade Chronicles 2 coming, I’m gonna have to buy one soon, aren’t I?).

The demo dropped me straight into Cap Kingdom, a dark, moody, black and white tutorial level filled to the brim with hats (by the way, CAPS ARE FRONT ONLY, THEY AREN’T CAPS…but that was in caps). While many other platformers lock away some maneuvering options like wall jumping and double/triple jumping, Mario has always given you full reign from the beginning, and even the cool hat jump is usable straight away. Also given to you here is the ability to throw Cappy, your new talking hat, to take over control of enemies. This is one of the major mechanics that you’ll find yourself using in Odyssey to grab those pesky sta…Moon shar…Power Moons.

After capturing a frog and leaping into the end of Cap Kingdom, I was shifted to a much more vibrant place: The Luncheon Kingdom. Each Kingdom has it’s own fitting style with surprisingly pleasing graphics, and the Luncheon Kingdom is no different, filled with fruit and animate forks. A lot of the Kingdom was locked away, driving you to complete some of the main quests first. Map design is amazing, with multiple paths for whether you want to go capless or jump into a Fireball conveniently placed in range for a cap throw and swim through the lava. Manually aiming cap throws was a bit janky, sometimes Cappy just didn’t go exactly where you wanted it, but the homing properties on motion controlled cap throws (when shaken repetitively) assisted in these issues.

Before too long, it was time for a beach getaway, and Nintendo had the place. The first thing I did after hopping into the Seaside Kingdom was to go to the costume shop and throw Mario into some snappy boardshorts. After completing a few quick platforming puzzles, Mario was thrown into a boss fight, and this is where the game really starts. From what I played, the boss mechanics were varied and challenging in their own ways, yet the game eases you into these battles by teaching you throughout the levels; master these and you’re on your way to getting those sta…POWER MOONS.

Super Mario Odyssey feels comfortable to a Mario fan and the new mechanics are interesting and easy to pick up, but potentially hard to master. From what I played, the difficulty is a little hard for a younger inexperienced audience but for a Nintendo enthusiast, it’s right where it needs to be. Hopefully the full Super Mario Odyssey experience maintains this quality on display, and even if it may not end up go down as Mario’s greatest odyssey, it’ll definitely be up there as a big reason to grab a Switch.

PS. Hopefully it spawns a Luigi’s Mansion-esque game where Mario gets trapped in a Boo or something. Or is this just terrible fan fiction?

Hey! Pikmin review: Pik-Pocket

When it was first announced that Hey! Pikmin would be a drastic departure from the Pikmin series’ regular, 3D puzzle-strategy gameplay, many fans felt some trepidation over how it would turn out. I can confidently assure you there’s nothing to worry about here; though different from the previous instalments’ gameplay style, Hey Pikmin manages to develop and bring its own unique character to the Pikmin franchise. If you’ve never played a Pikmin game before, don’t stress: The plot is straightforward and simple enough for even newcomers to enjoy the premise, and being a spin-off, the game itself is fairly standalone.

Hey Pikmin begins with Captain Olimar finding himself yet again stuck on a foreign planet with the goal of collecting Sparklium to enable his trip back home. He quickly finds out he’s not alone, as he discovers familiar-looking Pikmin and other not-so-friendly creatures. Olimar is able to use his whistle to collect the Pikmin, who have different passive abilities depending on their colour, then throw them onto platforms and enemies to solve puzzles. This control set up felt a bit awkward (you move Olimar with the circle pad whilst controlling Pikmin with the touch screen) but it was easy to get used to once I started playing through more of the levels.

The majority of the game’s puzzles don’t require an enormous amount of thought thanks to the game’s gradual difficulty curve; generally,. Most of the puzzles are a combination of throwing Pikmin onto platforms to collect an item or turn a switch, using the whistle at the right time to ensure your Pikmin’s safety, manoeuvring around elemental hazards, and using Olimar’s jetpack to scale small ledges. These puzzles won’t prove drastically challenging once you’ve grasped the basics, but the combination of these mechanics can make the levels significantly more challenging if you’re going for full completion.

Each level has three collection objectives to fully clear it: Finishing the level, finding all three key objects, and not losing a single Pikmin. I only had one gripe with this aspect of the game: If you’re aiming to complete every map objective, it can get frustrating having to restart after losing a single Pikmin accidentally. Otherwise, the difficulty curve is smooth, and it’s very easy to understand and grasp the mechanics. The Pikmin that you collect at the end of each level then get moved into Pikmin Park, where you can set different types of Pikmin to overcome map challenges and win you more Sparklium and treasure. Although you unfortunately can’t do a lot with Pikmin Park, it’s mesmerising to watch the cute little guys picking grass blades or running in circles.

My favourite thing about the game, much to my surprise, was the soundtrack. Each level and overworld has a theme that fits the ‘alien world’ theme to a T, with a mixture of active and more ambient tracks that are all relaxing (except for the boss themes). It’s definitely a game to play with the volume up, just so you can get the full ‘eerie but somehow peaceful foreign planet’ experience. The log of items you’ve collected and seen is also surprisingly fascinating, with Olimar’s curious and amusing commentary on Earth’s household items contributing to the game’s universe lore.

Hey Pikmin is a solidly enjoyable game that’s very cute and satisfying to play. Though I didn’t find any significant gameplay flaws, the game itself isn’t hugely innovative or fresh like its predecessors; it provides fun puzzles and collection goals, but that’s about as far as the gameplay goes. If you’re a fan of the Pikmin series or you enjoy 2D puzzle platformers that aren’t too strenuous, I think you’ll definitely get some good play time out of Hey Pikmin for 3DS, even if you’ve never played a Pikmin game before; and if you are a fan of the series, this little gem will satisfy your need for Pikmin action until we see the eventual release of Pikmin 4.

Miitopia review: Swords With Friends

Miitopia is a new addition to Nintendo’s line of games featuring its Mii avatars. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s never made a Mii before, whether on their own console or playing Wii Sports on the family Wii over a decade ago (feel old yet?). Most recently on the 3DS, the Miis appeared in Tomodachi Life, which offered the opportunity to put the Miis of real and fictional people into hilarious and unexpected situations together; Miitopia follows on from this. Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to put four of your best friends together as characters in an RPG? Perhaps even your favourite cartoon characters, or maybe you’ve wondered what it’d be like to party up with celebrities to kill an evil overlord? If so, Miitopia could be right up your alley.

Miitopia begins with a basic fantasy plot with a bizarre twist. It’s your job to defeat the Dark Lord, who has been using magic to steal the facial features from citizens all over the land, putting them on dangerous monsters. As the hero of your story, you (or whichever Mii you decide to make the main character) must kill these monsters in turn-based RPG combat to restore the facial features to their rightful owners. In case you couldn’t already tell, the game itself is a fairly light-hearted take on the fantasy RPG genre, making it enjoyable for both younger players and older gamers looking for a fun — and frequently silly — experience.

The customisation of characters in Miitopia is where the game’s charm lies. Assigning a variety of Miis to roles, as if casting roles in a play, can lead to some hilarious and bizarre narrative implications. While you play, you could have the Great Sage Kanye West watching over you, working together to defeat the Dark Lord Michelin Man, provided you’re able to make the Miis for such an absurd situation. If you’re more creative, you could even use your own original characters, making the experience your own personal fantasy narrative. As you can imagine, the possibilities for a wacky RPG adventure are significant, which I thought was a pretty cool premise – after all, it’s rare to find a game that will let you do what Miitopia does.

In terms of gameplay, Miitopia is simple and straightforward. The map exploration itself reminded me very much of Streetpass Quest; in fact, if Streetpass Quest and Tomodachi Life had a child, this game is what would result. In the overworld, you can choose a section of the map to advance through, after which exploration starts. Your party moves through the map automatically, chat bubbles appearing over their heads to show you what they’re talking about; true to life, my own Mii wouldn’t stop talking about how hungry and tired she always was. If you’re not happy with the Miis in your game, or just want to add your own, don’t stress. You can change the Miis of townspeople and story characters in the menu at any time.

Eventually you’ll run into random encounters where you can control your Mii in simple turn-based combat. You learn new skills and abilities over time, though combat strategy is nowhere near as involved as larger turn-based RPGs such as the Final Fantasy series. Towards the end of maps, you can find inns, where you can rest up, feed your party food to increase their stats (as in Tomodachi Life, Miis have set likes and dislikes, which can prove frustrating when your cleric will only eat attack-boosting Goblin Ham). They can also rest to boost their relationships, causing them to perform better in combat together, and you can spend your hard-earned gold on new items and food. Afterwards, it’s back to adventuring.

After a while, combat and exploration can become somewhat repetitive; there’s nothing you can really control during map exploration until you hit a random encounter, and you can’t control party members during combat outside of your own character. Thankfully, the party AI isn’t bad, and it’s unlikely that your characters will pass out from your cleric or chef not doing their job, but it does remove a layer of complexity that would make combat skills more relevant. The auto battle feature is great for times when you want to play while doing something else, but also makes the game feel unchallenging; over the many hours I played, I didn’t lose a single auto-battle, making me feel like there wasn’t much point to even turning it off. Then again, it’s hard to lose when your only combat choices are to attack or use restoration items. The game’s lack of complexity is both a benefit and a drawback; though easy to get into and play, especially for a younger audience, it lacks gameplay depth that would help to prevent it from stagnating. Also, as a lot of the game’s novelty relies on having Miis you’ll find fun to play with, it’s easy to imagine Miitopia’s appeal being lost on those who haven’t opted in to the Mii phenomenon.

For what it is, Miitopia does a great job. If you’re looking for an expansive, grand RPG adventure that wants you to min-max stats and equipment, this might not be the game for you. If you’re looking for a cute, fun and lighthearted game with a lot of amusing, fourth-wall-breaking dialogue, you’ll find an enjoyable experience in Miitopia. I couldn’t stop smiling every time I picked it up to play for one reason or another, and my other friends who played it really enjoyed sharing their screenshots of some of the amusing situations our Miis ended up in. As long as you’re not expecting a grand adventure with considerable gameplay depth, Miitopia is a colourful addition to the 3DS lineup that’s worth checking out.

Metroidvania Returns: Hands On With Metroid: Samus Returns

Samus Aran’s place in the Nintendo lexicon is well known: the protagonist of the Metroid  series has appeared in many genres, but basically invented the side scrolling exploration platformer. While in later years we saw her appear in first person and whatever Other M counts as, there’s a reason “Metroidvania” is still used as a descriptor for many games released even today. So with that in mind, it was an interesting experience to play Metroid: Samus Returns, the ground up remake of the overlooked GameBoy sequel to the NES classic.

Firstly, let’s just clear up what you want to know: it plays very much like a “traditional” Metroid game. It is a side-scrolling “Metroidvania” exploration platformer, which will be a welcome return for a lot of fans. The setting and design, while rendered in 3D, capture the feel of the series very well, however with a few additions from the later 2D outings. Ledge grabbing from Fusion makes an appearance, wall jumps from Super are in and 360 free aim is available while holding L, removing a lot of the frustrations of the early games. The touchscreen acts as a quick toggle for weapons and Morph Ball, and Samus handles well on the 3DS’s stick, albeit a little looser than you might be used to on a D-Pad.

As mentioned above, the visuals in this one are rendered in 3D, a departure from the sprites of the other side scrolling titles in the series. While it definitely lacks the “charm” of the older artstyles, it does a decent job at reimagining it in a new way. The enemies look familiar, Samus herself moves with fluidity and the Chozo artifacts all maintain their own style. In the version we played, even the 3D movies looked impressive, though as per usual my eyes could only take 3D for a limited time. Either way, you can sense the effort that has been taken to realise the game in the frame of the series: Yoshio Sakamoto, a core influence to the Metroid series, was absent from Metroid 2’s original release, and seems to have taken great pains to bring his unique take on the series to this remake.

The only concerns with the game are somewhat obtuse and easy to dismiss. The game now has a “Scan” ability, tied to an expendable energy bar. With it, all “hidden” blocks in a certain range are highlighted, making the “exploration” a little more straightforward. Of course, it is entirely optional on whether to use it, and it still requires you to have the instinct to know where to look and how to access said secret. The more concerning point is around amiibo functionality: the new Samus and existing Smash Samus figurines will unlock an energy tank and concept art, so no great loss. However, the Metroid amiibo unlocks “Fusion” mode, a more difficult version of the existing game with Samus donning her suit from the Fusion game. While the game ships with a “Hard” difficulty setting, effectively paywalling the Fusion mode purchase behind a limited physical item is a very slippery slope to look down.

Those concerns aside, everything about Metroid: Samus Returns seems to be a great addition to the series. While a simple re-release of the Game Boy original would have been welcomed on Virtual Console, the effort that Nintendo have put into bringing Samus Returns into the modern franchise is noticeable, and leaves a good impression that an important chapter in the canon will be treated with enough care to make it worth a look come September.

Ever Oasis review: Wondercrawl

Ever Oasis is an action-adventure RPG game developed by Japanese developers Grezzo for the Nintendo 3DS. You may or may not have heard of Grezzo, but they’re the people responsible for developing several notable titles for 3DS, including the Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Ocarina of Time remakes for 3DS, as well as the more recent title Triforce Heroes. Ever Oasis is a brand new IP from the developers, led by director/producer Koichi Ishii, creator of the legendary Mana series. Ever Oasis is firmly rooted in the action-RPG genre, but with added life-sim elements. You, a Seedling with the magical power to create an Oasis, must attract residents to your Oasis, encourage them to set up shops and keep them happy to ensure the wellbeing of the desert’s residents. A significant portion of the game’s themes explore the importance of friendship, teamwork and cooperation, with the action itself taking place in a lush, Egyptian-themed fantasy world, with sprawling deserts and unique inhabitants.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect, though I had been anticipating this title since the first reveal trailer at E3 2016. I’m a sucker for RPGs and life-sim games, and this seemed to have both of those things wrapped up in a gorgeous, cute art style. I was especially impressed to note that there was some character customisation at the start: The player can choose their gender, as well as change some minor aspects of the player model such as skin and eye colour. Though the options are not particularly comprehensive, it was still a welcome surprise, given that much of the pre-launch material only featured the male character. There are even two save file slots, so you can share your game with another person or start again if you feel like it.

Right from the opening cutscene, it’s apparent that a lot of love has been put into this game’s universe, inviting the player to understand the world that they are about to journey into. You are then forced out of your Oasis into the desert, where you’re tasked with making your own Oasis as a sanctuary for the desert’s residents from the effects of the evil Chaos, a force that threatens to destroy or corrupt all life in the area. However, you’re not without friends; you’ll meet some colourful types fairly quickly, and begin your quest with their help (if a company ever makes plush toys of the Noots, I’ll buy at least ten).

The tutorial is comprehensive and takes you through the first few days with guided quests that explain the UI and Oasis building system along the way. The ‘tutorial’ part of the game does go on for a fair while; four or five hours in, I had only just begun to build my party and explore more independently. This may frustrate some players, but it is done in a way that is not excessively limiting or hand-holding. Your Oasis expands to fit new shops and visitors as you progress and find more residents; the list of Oasis residents is impressively long, and will provide quite the challenge if you intend to find them all, as some are located in remote areas or require certain prerequisites to recruit. The game also has a day and night cycle, which affects the times you can enter your shops and when the day resets (you can sleep until the next day, or stay up three days straight in a dungeon, and not too much will change, with the exception of your garden growing and shop stock). Eventually you can craft new healing items, combat weapons, clothing and more using things you pick up in dungeons. Keeping your shop owners happy by delivering materials you find on your explorations is a necessity; your Oasis’ general happiness provides combat and health bonuses, without which the game’s dungeons can become very punishing. Eventually you can also delegate residents to do tasks such as go on explorations and tend the garden, adding another layer of complexity to the resident system.

Although this game was mainly pitched for its oasis-building gameplay, it became immediately apparent to me that the dungeons and exploration is where this game really shines. I was a huge fan of Fantasy Life, and given their similar aesthetics, I assumed it’d be the same type of basic combat — I was wrong. Behind the colourful exterior and chibi-style models, the combat and gameplay is engaging, intuitive and even punishing at times. Combat happens in real-time, with the player having to use weapon combos (unlocked over time) and dodge rolls to defeat enemies, all of whom have unique attack patterns and weaknesses. I learned the hard way that this isn’t a game you can expect to just mash buttons through. The first time I went in the desert, I got killed in two hits by one of the weakest enemies in the game because I failed to dodge and heal. This wouldn’t be as bad if not for the fact that you need to reload your save when you are defeated — save as frequently as you can! The combat becomes even more complex when you recruit party members, whom you can switch between in real-time to use individual abilities and weapons. To top it all off, the controls are seamless and fluid (remember you can also switch party members using the ZR button if you have a New 3DS; you’ll thank me later).

As for the dungeons themselves, if you’ve ever played Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask, you’ll recognise some layouts, puzzles and enemy mechanics right off the bat. Despite this, Ever Oasis manages to avoid feeling derivative. Instead of using different items to activate environmental puzzles, you use different party member skills. You might need to find a member who can plant vines to reach far-away ledges or leap across gaps, or a character to smash boulders. As you collect more party members, you can return to old dungeons to collect all the chests, giving a lot of the game’s areas excellent replayability. The areas outside the dungeons are massive, and it may take you some time to walk from one end to the other. Keep your eyes open along the way, in case you spot a harvestable plant or a hidden doorway submerged in the sand. And be careful when you go out at night; monsters are different, and stronger. Small details like this make Ever Oasis’ universe come to life with many hours of content to explore and conquer.

Ever Oasis is filled with lush, orchestral soundscapes that really enhance the atmosphere of your surroundings, with surprisingly ‘mature’ compositions that feel like they could belong in a Final Fantasy or Xenoblade title. Make sure you play this game with the sound on. An unfortunate downside is the lack of voice acting, even for cutscenes. There are some babble or voice effects in combat and conversation, but it can ruin the immersion in some cutscenes where communication is done with character lip flap and subtitles; the game would benefit from having even a handful of lines voiced, or more consistent voice effects.

Just as disappointing are the complete lack of communication features and multiplayer, which is surprising given how well the game’s concept and gameplay would work in a multiplayer context. Being able to visit other Oases through Streetpass or partying up for huge bosses in the overworld would have been a brilliant addition, but unfortunately, we may have to wait for an Ever Oasis sequel to see those features. I would also have enjoyed more complexity to the Oasis building sections, and customisation features for your Oasis and character’s appearances.

Despite its flaws, Ever Oasis is a game that doesn’t disappoint. Its engaging puzzles and immensely satisfying combat system alone make it worth playing, with the Oasis-building element adding some fun for those who like a bit of simulation in their RPGs. Although there isn’t any multiplayer, there are still many hours of content here to sink your teeth into, and the game will hit a sweet spot for both casual and more dedicated gamers alike. It’s a charming and enjoyable addition to the 3DS lineup, and definitely isn’t one to be overlooked.
If you do pick it up, don’t forget to check the game’s digital manual for a special message from director Koichi Ishii himself.

Rise Of The Tomb Raider – Dermie’s (Pile Of) Shame

I finally finished Rise Of The Tomb Raider. It took me a while to get into the game but by the end I’d say it is up there with the recent Deus Ex games for quality and experience.

Being spoilt by Human Revolution and Mankind Divided, I would have liked more stealth in the most recent Tomb Raider games. I think that would suit the character better. Lara would be ridiculously strong from all that climbing but she is still up against paid mercenaries so hand to hand or close combat should be a last resort. Dragging guys into the bushes and killing them was fun but made me miss the way Human Revolution lets you take out enemies and hide their bodies so other guards are not alerted.

Sniping had the same problem as Fallout 4 where the moment you shoot somebody, everybody else runs straight at you. I would understand if I was using a loud gun and my location was easier to guess, but a bow and arrow is silent so they should not notice me so quick. It meant I could not circle camps and pick people off while they search for me. When it turns into FPS style shooting it is pretty good and plays well. Unless you are being attacked by a bear because then you get rekt.

As a cinematic experience this game is superb. It looks amazing and plays smooth as you jump around and climb insanely high towers. The classic Tomb Raider climbing is back. The challenge tombs and crypts are more like the original games.

Everything is a definite improvement over the last Tomb Raider game which was already extremely good, even if the end battle is still a pair of quicktime events. These comments aside, play this game. Rise Of The Tomb Raider is definitely worth your time. The story is standard Tomb Raider fare and interesting enough to care about without being mind-blowing like a Deus Ex game.

I recommend Rise Of The Tomb Raider for anybody who liked the original games and is not afraid of heights.

Nintendo’s Odyssey: A Recap of Nintendo’s E3 2017 Spotlight

Nintendo has traditionally taken up the final press conference slot, though its showcases have recently been anything but. In this spirit, we are going to mix things up this time and bring on TWO of our contributors, Christos and Katherine, to run you through this year’s announcements. 

Hey there everyone, my name’s Christos, or 8BitWalugi, a new member of New Game Plus team. Along with Katherine, or Kaphrin, also a new collaborator with the NG+ crew, we’re going to give you the lowdown on Nintendo’s E3 Spotlight and share our thoughts on some of the games showed off during the 25 minute showcase.

C: So at long last on our E3 adventure, we finish up with Nintendo. In the last few years Nintendo has ditched the traditional keynote-style presentation, and instead choose to stick with its Direct format. I think it’s worked wonders for them; in the past we’ve been presented with Robot Chicken and Jim Henson Muppets. I think it’s a great way to highlight the fun Nintendo aims to bring, and a way to differentiate the company from its competitors. What do you think, Katherine?
K: I think it’s pretty neat, and it gives them the creative space to structure their announcements in a unique way. We’ve had some classic moments from past Directs featuring Reggie, Bill, and other Nintendo staff. It was a bit more toned down this year. I kind of miss the Robot Chicken and Muppets segments, and the incredible short clips and images the internet made from them.
C: Yeah, I agree. I particularly liked the Robot Chicken skit (“Give us Mother 3!”).

Local multiplayer

So, time to jump into this year’s presentation. The scene opens with a gym, just a casual reminder of Arms which launches in the next few days on the Switch. Right after we cut to a car meetup and we get a silent reveal of Rocket League on the Switch! I feel like that’s a perfect match.
K: It’s clear that there’s a push for competitive local gaming, something that Nintendo hasn’t embraced as strongly in the recent past, with the exception of the Super Smash Brothers, Pokémon and Mario Kart franchises. I guess you could count the 3DS in that, but I feel that a lot of popular handheld games focus more on co-op. Given that portability is a key selling factor of the Switch, it’s great to see that Nintendo making a real effort to support local community gaming with these titles, even if Pokkén Tournament and Rocket League aren’t Switch exclusives.
C: Yeah Pokkén has already landed on Wii U, but now we got the ‘Deluxe’ version, the expanded re-release that couldn’t be made DLC for the Wii U either. We got a scene of Pokkén Tournament DX being played in a cafeteria, again highlighting the portability and features of the Switch. Splatoon 2 and FIFA 18 too, showed being played at home then switching to on the go. I don’t think I’ll be separated from the Switch for a while once it comes out, haha.
K: I really enjoy the way they’re marketing the Switch as a way of connecting with others in a world where a lot of our communication is done via distance, though I wouldn’t bring my Switch to the cafeteria or gym. Splatoon 2 looks pretty good, though I’m not a massive fan of the series like you. I’m happy that Splatoon fans now (hopefully) have a decent local multiplayer set-up compared to the first game, which I heard was very lacklustre.
C: The first game was great, but some of the network issues brought it down. Hopefully we can get some global servers instead of everyone having to connect to Japan’s.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2

C: And we have our first trailer for the night! Nintendo’s starting off strong with Xenoblade Chronicles 2! Personally, I loved the story of the first one so I can’t wait to see where this new game heads. I’m so glad they’re doing the English-accent voices again. Although, ‘The World Tree’? Is Xenoblade Chronicles 2 going to be inspired by Norse mythology? I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. We see our main character, Rex, meet a strange mystical looking girl. “You’re a blade?” I wonder what that means. It seems like the girl is a sword? This music is fantastic; Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles X both had fantastic soundtracks and it’s great to hear that’s staying.
K: I’m going to leave Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to you, because you know a lot more about the franchise than I do! Like the previous entry into the series, the environments are gorgeous and the British voices are as charming as ever. I do notice that the art style is distinctly more anime-oriented than in the past. I’m in agreement with the soundtracks being incredible.
C: Yeah, Xenoblade X previously on the Wii U had some gorgeous graphics, but some of it looked a bit… questionable at times. I’m loving the new art direction.

Kirby

C:  AI enemy partners are back, and co-op play too from the looks of it. And so is merging copy abilities too! It’s been years since we last saw those. It was just a short trailer, but it looks adorable already.
K: Again, I’m not invested enough in the Kirby series to make a detailed judgment on this one. But it definitely looks cute, and I’m not going to say no to more Kirby titles for the Switch. I think that fans of the series would be pretty pleased.

Pokémon Power Hour

C: Mr. Takahashi cuts in to talk to us about the success of the Switch, only to then cut over to Mr. Ishihara from Pokémon to talk to us about Pokkén and… a new mainline game!?
K: Finally! An announcement that’s a Switch seller for me, haha. A new Pokémon RPG for the Nintendo Switch hopefully means that the next main line entry will take advantage of what the console has to offer. I wonder if we’ll see elements of a Pokemon Colosseum-like overworld and gameplay style in this one. My dream come true would be a multi-region adventure, but my hopes aren’t too high for that. Maybe I should get Jamie to say it’ll never happen.
C: Jamie you know what you must do.

Metroid Prime 4

C: Continuing on now… Is it Pikmin? Is it… It is! It’s Metroid Prime 4! Oh my god! IT’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING!
K: Woah! I haven’t played the Metroid games and even I felt the super hype here. It almost makes you think there might be hope for a new F-Zero, right, Christos?
C: Please Nintendo give us F-Zero too! But for now, maybe I ought to go back for a replay of some of the Metroid games.

Yoshi

K: And after that excitement and messaging people about Metroid, I almost forgot to keep my eyes on the new Yoshi trailer. I loved Yoshi’s Island and Yoshi’s Story, but I haven’t played the recent games. It has a similar handicraft, cut-out style in places like Yoshi’s Woolly World (which, let me tell you, is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen), but with paper and cardboard rather than cloth and wool. So far, it looks like an enjoyable game with similar gameplay to other Yoshi game titles, making it great for kids and older series fans alike.
C: It’s like a diorama, I love it. “Yoshi’s Diorama Drama” is what I’m gonna call it for now.

Fire Emblem Warriors

C: Katherine, you’re the Fire Emblem fan out of the two of us, got any thoughts?
K: I may be a Fire Emblem fan, but I’m not really a Warriors fan, so I think I won’t be picking up this one. If you’re a fan of the Dynasty Warriors or Hyrule Warriors gameplay style, but also the Fire Emblem aesthetic, I have a feeling this will be a really enjoyable title. The models look really nice, and it’s great to see my husb…I mean, Fire Emblem units in such high quality. I’m more interested in the next main line FE game for Switch, hoping that they learn from the issues that Fates had and developing a concise story/complex strategy system.

Zelda (and friends)

C: Ooh it’s Eiji Aonuma now, here to talk about everyone’s favourite Zelda game, Skyrim.
K: Breath of the Wild’s new Skyrim DLC looks really good, right?! Ha ha! Wait, I can’t make that joke, because they’ve announced the actual Breath of the Wild DLC just now. And it actually does looks pretty good.
C: I loved this game, but after collecting all 900 Koroks I’m not too psyched to jump back in. The Trial of the Sword looks super neat, but that Champion DLC has my attention. I can’t wait to learn more about my fave, Mipha.
K: Anyone who knows me knows I love Koroks, so anything with more Koroks makes me happy. The fact that the Korok Mask is actually Makar’s face from Wind Waker made tears of joy well up in my eyes. I’d probably be crazy enough to collect them all for a terrible prize when I get around to playing Breath of the Wild. The Champion DLC looks like it’ll be a fascinating way to learn more about the characters and the universe of the game.
C: Oh no more amiibo. Nintendo please — my wallet can only take so much.
K: Keeping your local EB Games singlehandedly afloat with Amiibo pre orders.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

C: This has proven to be quite a divisive game. The developer’s hearts are in the right place but… why did it have to be Rabbids?
K: So I have some opinions about this one. As a disclaimer, I personally think the concept of Rabbids is awful, and I’ll forever be salty that we got them instead of Rayman 4. Though watching the Ubisoft conference announcement of this, it was clear that a lot of love and attention was put into the development of this game; it’s also the most personality we’ve seen out of the Mario cast in a long time. I’m willing to admit that I’m not the audience for this game, but I imagine that it’ll be a great game for kids: An engaging and colourful strategy game that’s refreshingly different to the Minecraft and Skylanders clones that seem to be saturating the market. Kids and Europeans will love it, I think. That probably sounds patronizing, but there’s no dismissing the popularity of Rabbids in Europe, especially France. I still think they’re butt-ugly.
C: They’re the Minions of videogames, love them or hate them.

Rocket League

C: The game is going to have new hats, customisation, local wireless multiplayer and amazingly, cross-network online multiplayer! Cross-network has been something of discussion lately. What do you think Katherine?
K: New! Hats! I think Rocket League is a great game to take advantage of what they’re aiming to achieve with Switch multiplayer, even if it’s not a new game. Cross-network gameplay between consoles is something I feel is very important to having a successful multiplayer community, and it’s pleasing to hear they’re adopting it.
C: Yeah, if it’s the same game on different platforms there’s no reason not to. Hopefully I can still wreck on the Switch version. Although it’s more likely I’ll get wrecked…

Super Mario Odyssey

C: Well the Spotlight seems to running out of time, so one last game…Oh, Super Mario Odyssey! I was wondering where you were! This music though, I love it!
K: Nice! It’s cool to see how much the game has evolved since its announcement. I think it’ll be a real Switch seller, and I feel like Nintendo has listened to the fans who want a more open world 3D Mario game. The possessing mechanic is fascinating too. Just from the gameplay we’ve seen, the worlds feel massive to me.
C: I would’ve never guessed this game’s gimmick would be possessing enemies. It looks incredible, in both the visual and gameplay department; back to the golden age of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine-style levels. And ah, we can see Pauline has finally been added into the mainline Mario games. Sneaky little nod there, Nintendo.
K: I’m definitely enjoying some of the references in Odyssey. I loved Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, so I’m hoping for that same level of Mario platforming gameplay.

C: And that about wraps up Nintendo’s E3 Spotlight. Honestly, this has been one of the best in ages. Big hitter announcements like Pokémon and Metroid Prime 4 on Switch, while also showing off more and giving release dates for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Super Mario Odyssey. Bravo Nintendo, you’ve outdone yourselves for the past few years of E3. A short, but very sweet presentation.
K: Short but sweet, for sure. Nintendo has revealed and given us a lot of information on new games from start to finish, it is hugely invested in the Switch as a gaming platform. The sheer amount of titles makes me far more confident about its direction compared to the Wii U, with new Mario, Metroid, Fire Emblem and other exclusive franchises giving it some solid footing amongst the competition. I feel we need now is Animal Crossing, Super Smash Brothers and Pikmin to have a powerful line-up of Nintendo exclusives. I wish there was more info on the new main line Fire Emblem, and I’ll always dream about more Rhythm Heaven news, but I felt like Nintendo has set itself up very well for the coming year.