The Swords of Ditto review: Familiar, But Not Too Familiar

If I told you to imagine a game where you smash pots and whack baddies with your sword, what would you think of? How about a game where you use items to solve dungeon puzzles, and collect all sorts of goodies along the way? Well, it’s not the game you’re thinking of…probably. It’s something a bit more off-beat, with more ‘rainbow’ than ‘bow and arrow’: It’s The Swords of Ditto, a roguelike action-adventure RPG developed by Onebitbeyond.

Your game begins with you being awakened on the beach (strong Link’s Awakening vibes here) by Puku, a mysterious beetle-like creature. There’s no character select screen here; rather than being a set character with a set name or appearance, you are resurrected with randomly generated features. Where your adventure goes from there is fairly straightforward: You must retrieve the Sword of Ditto and train towards defeating the evil witch Mormo, whose influence curses the whole region. Your character will need to seek the Toys of Legend to defeat Mormo’s Anchors and loosen her grip over the town.

The Zelda vibes don’t stop at the introduction. The game’s core gameplay revolves around running about, whacking enemies with your sword and solving dungeon puzzles. You’ll also collect Stickers and new items along the way to power you up. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, but the game’s combat and controls are well-refined, if slightly monotonous. Small details like the animations and screen-shake when you hit an enemy are super satisfying, and there’s no fault to be found in the tight graphical style.

Thematically, the game is very colorful and youthful, with quirky items like kazoos and foam-bullet guns sitting alongside the traditional RPG torches and bombs. It’s a nice blend of traditional RPG fantasy and childlike fun, which – in my opinion – is the game’s greatest strength, as well as its wonderfully relaxing soundtrack.

The fact that the overworld’s layout changes with each new file is fun and adds some variety to a story that would otherwise get quickly repetitive. In terms of narrative, the game’s potential is limited by its randomly generated nature, and the dialogue can be a bit cheesy at times. While The Swords of Ditto provides a fascinating take on the usual character design process, it’s a bit disjointed in the sense that because you don’t grow to develop a strong sense of character, or attachment to your avatar. Each time you die, only your level and currency carries through to your next character, which can feel disappointing if you’ve gone through a very strong run only to die because you couldn’t heal in time. Though generally, this aspect of the game gets easier, and the game’s progression opens up more with each ‘story’ you play through. Your character’s journey begins in almost the same way, which gets a bit repetitive; however, it gets you back into the action quickly, and after a few times you’ll know exactly where to go to continue your adventure.

Though I played through it by myself, The Swords of Ditto is a game that’s very well-adapted to co-op play. Unfortunately, the only two-player mode you’ll find here is local, which is a shame given how perfect the game would be for online multiplayer sessions. Although the game’s user interface is designed around controller use, I discovered that the game detected the keyboard automatically as a second player. I found myself having to manually drop out as one ‘player’, often several times in a play session. It’s a hassle that takes away from an otherwise smooth and pleasant control system, and an odd issue given the emphasis on controller optimisation. Some players have also reported that the game’s randomly generated maps can make it almost impossible to complete some dungeons, though this wasn’t something I personally encountered in my playthrough.

Despite some small technical flaws and gameplay that’s prone to repetition, The Swords of Ditto is a genuinely enjoyable little game with great aesthetics. It’s easy to pick up and play, especially with a friend. Even though it’s not at the pinnacle of its genre, it’s a cute and fresh experience. The price point might be a bit high for some, hovering around US$20 at time of writing, which isn’t far off the price of some blockbuster titles that offer a much bigger experience. All in all, it’s an excellent debut effort from Onebitbeyond.

58.8% Smash: A Recap of the E3 2018 Nintendo Direct.

After some great and not so impressive conferences at this year’s E3, Nintendo was highly anticipated to bring us some juicy news. With the potential for some much wanted first-party titles for Switch, I stayed up until past 2am with high hopes for news on Pokémon, Animal Crossing, and more. With caffeine and sugar in my system, my body was ready.

Like previous years, this year’s presentation followed the Nintendo Direct format,. The show began starting on a less colourful note with Demon X Machina, a mecha game for the Switch. Following this was Xenoblade 2 Story DLC ‘Torna – The Golden Country’, starting off strong with some footage of the DLC’s gameplay as well as a release date of September 2018.

Shortly after, we were invited back into Reggie’s living room, a familiar place for those who follow Nintendo’s E3 presentation each year. What did the big man have in store for us? What funky peripheral was he here to sell us now?

Say hello to Pokémon: Let’s Go and the Pokéball Plus Controller. You can play the whole game with it alone, not requiring a second controller unless you want to play co-op. We were told Nintendo doesn’t want to ship the Pokéball Plus ‘empty’, which I thought was a very cute inclusion for the younger players, allowing them to experience the excitement of taking a Pokémon home to put it in your game. However, the Pokémon that comes with the controller is Mew, an exclusive legendary. So far this seems like the only way to get Mew in your game, which won’t make the paywall haters happy.

We then got our first look at Super Mario Party, which showed new mini-games and some fascinating ways of playing that utilise two Switches together. It will be released on 5th October.

Up next was Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the newest main line entry in the Fire Emblem series. Mostly showing off cutscenes of war, as well as some gameplay footage, it’s already far more reminiscent of the Gamecube/Wii Fire Emblem games than the recent 3DS ones, which a lot of fans will be pleased about. I’m still on the fence about it until I see more, but the trailer definitely made me curious, and gave me high hopes for the rest of the presentation. The game was given the loose release date of Spring 2019, so it’s still a while away.

The next section of the direct was dedicated to showing off the third party and indie games coming to Switch. Fortnite, which has already conquered every other gaming console and platform, is now readily available on the Switch. Most of the next titles we’d already heard about, either in announcements or leaks. Some of the more notable titles were Overcooked 2, Hollow Knight, and Killer Queen Black for the indies; Just Dance, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Sushi Striker, Minecraft, Arena of Valor and FIFA 19 and more titles are also being brought to the Switch. Regardless of what you want to say about the Switch, you can’t deny that Nintendo is really pushing to have a lot of games available on the system, which is very welcome.

Masahiro Sakurai then tagged in, with a new fancy shirt and looking younger than ever, to talk about the newest Smash game: Super Smash Bros Ultimate. This was a nostalgic dream, with the huge announcement that the game would contain every previous Smash character — yes, even Snake and Pichu. The character selection screen is probably going to be a wild experience to navigate. While it mostly looks and plays the same as Super Smash Bros for Wii U, the game boasts new graphics, character designs and stages. New outfits have been added and many characters have had their gameplay changes. It’s too much to write up here, but with “over 10,000 changes”, there’s something in this new version for everyone. Even Kirby gets a new skill for every character that’s been added; as we’re reminded, “the more characters, the harder Kirby becomes to develop.”

Notably, there are completely new Final Smashes and animations, making that final hit feel even more epic to land. Transformational Smashes have been completely reworked, mostly making them easier to use or giving them more utility. Clone characters have been officially dubbed Echo Fighters, such as Daisy, one of the newly announced characters and an echo of Peach. New and old stages are here, with all stages having Battlefield and Omega options, a welcome addition for more competitive players. Sakurai has also given us new techniques and mechanics including new dodge mechanics, perfect shield timing and damage increase for 1v1 battles.

Of course, the presentation wouldn’t be complete without a new peripheral. In this case it’s a new line of Smash GameCube controllers and adapter, without which the newest Smash wouldn’t be complete.

And… another who character? Who could it be…?

I watched in disbelief as the newest character came up on screen, and the internet was blown away. Yes, that’s Ridley, and yes, meme magic is real — he’s no longer too big for Smash! I guess it’s true that if the fans hassle Sakurai enough, he’ll finally give them what they want. Just don’t ask him for anything ever again. Super Smash Bros Ultimate will be coming out 7 December 2018.

Though the announcement of Ridley was an appropriately mind blowing moment to end the presentation on, it was unfortunate that there wasn’t any news on the next Pokémon RPG and Animal Crossing. Overall, the direct was a good way to recap some information we already knew and focus on Smash, but with more than half the presentation dedicated to Super Smash Bros Ultimate, it felt a bit skewed in terms of what I was expecting, and I feel sorry for any Nintendo fans who aren’t keen on it. I found this year’s E3 Direct a bit more disappointing and less creative than previous years, which is a shame, though it’s clear that Nintendo has cemented a strong lineup for the Switch going into 2019.

A Class of Its Own: A Recap of the E3 2018 PlayStation Showcase

In my first year of university, I saw a jock-looking dude walking around wearing his ‘Class of 2005’ high school top; nothing out of the ordinary, I was sure he was well beloved by his peers. In my final week of study, I saw that same guy wandering around the campus by himself, slumped shoulders still adorned by that very same top — this was in 2009. Sony’s E3 Showcase this year reminded me of that guy still clinging to the glory of past years.

This was most evident during the special presentation for The Last of Us Part II. This was Sony at its most self-indulgent. It gathered guests into a church, it brought in Last of Us composer Gustavo Santaolalla in to perform the theme on banjo, Sony Interactive Entertainment America CEO Shawn Layden even referred to the gathered crowd as his “congregation”. But looking at the game footage, it almost justified the pomp and circumstance.

Ellie is no longer the journeyer in the first game; her enemies refer to her as “Wolf”. Whilst the game has made improvements to its engine — the animation, in particular was impressively smooth — it looks to maintain an emphasis on human stories, stealth brutal, personal combat. The transition of Ellie kissing her girlfriend to her murdering an enemy is the Last Of Us ethos captured in one.

After an awkward intermission where everyone was shuffled to a second theatre, we got our first look at Ghost of Tsushima, Sucker Punch’s open-world take on Feudal Japan. The studio must have worn down its tapes of samurai films, because it is very clear where the game takes its inspirations from. The colour palate, movement of the environment, even the dramatic lighting are straight out the Kurosawa playbook. Even the combat encounters are exactly what you would imagine even if you’ve never seen a samurai film. The only major diversion is that the Japanese characters are speaking in English; it hasn’t been confirmed if audio options will be available at launch.We have no release window yet for Ghost of Tsushima.

Amidst the trailers were Destiny 2’s new expansion Forsaken, Kingdom Hearts III (including a limited edition Playstation 4 Pro), Trevor Saves the Universe (a Justin Roiland ass Justin Roiland game), and the remake of Resident Evil 2, first announced in 2015. We were also introduced to Nioh 2 and Control, the new telekinetic shooter from Remedy Entertainment.

Yes, we have now seen eight more minutes of Death Stranding. No, I still can’t tell you exactly what it is. Amongst the scenes on offer were Norman Reedus walking across deserts, rivers and mountains seemingly on a quest to deliver…something. We saw a new character played by Léa Seydoux. In the closest thing to gameplay, we saw Norman trying to sneak past the invisible enemies that seem to rule this land by using his chest-foetus to power a shoulder-light to illuminate them. We have just enough new context to keep Death Stranding in our radars, but Hideo Kojima is still playing his cards frustratingly close to his chest.

To close the show, Sony showed off more of the upcoming Insomniac-developed Spider-Man game. This year’s demo puts Spidey in the middle of a prison riot, taking out enemies with aerial combos and web-slinging alongside the conventional superhero melee. Over the course of the demo, more and more villains are introduced, including Electro, Rhino, Scorpion, Vulture and Negative Man; yes, that’s five villains all beating down on Spidey by the end of the trailer. We’ll find out whether Spider-Man can get himself out of that predicament on 7 September.

Sony didn’t come to E3 with any mic-dropping announcements like with E3 2015, and it didn’t need to, but by golly did the company try to evoke that mood. To Sony’s credit, it did provide the one thing the other presentations did not: Extended gameplay. These eight-ten minute stretches of footage provided so much more context and interest than all the well-edited mood trailer in the world ever could. If only these weren’t caught in the middle of some school hall showmanship. But hey, at least we didn’t have to sit through another Days Gone trailer.

Being Earnest: A Recap of the Ubisoft E3 2018 Conference

Ubisoft is one of the few gaming monoliths that can still surprise us. Who would’ve thought that Assassin’s Creed: Origins would mark the franchise’s return to form? Who could’ve predicted  the critical successes of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle? This was reflected in previous years through Ubisoft’s E3 presentations, which were always the most interesting and unpredictable, backed by an sincerity unmatched by any other company. It’s curious, then, to see Ubisoft pump the brakes with this year’s showing.

Beyond Good and Evil 2 closed off last year’s show, so it’s fitting that it first on deck this year…well, first after the obligatory Just Dance choreographed sequence. Set before the events of the first BG&E, this instalment will feature the characters from last year’s debut trailer as well as the original’s Pey’j and a (possibly evil) Jade. What little gameplay we did see appeared to mimic the story’s space opera sensibilities, ranging from on the ground melee to space combat.

Inexplicably, the game will also be collaborating with Joseph Gordon Levitt’s HitRecord to allow people to submit artwork and music to potentially be used in the game. If an entry is selected, its creator will be allocated a portion of a US$50,000 pool . If that reads like crowdsourcing for a AAA game from a company that made just under €1.5 billion in revenue last year, you’re not wrong.

Trials Rising then literally crashed onto the stage, with creative director Antti Ilvessuo riding a dirtbike into the theatre before pratfalling through some on-stage furniture. The game appears to be a return to the Trials Evolution aesthetic, with the added benefit of tutorials created by Australia’s Own Brad ‘FatShady’ Hill. Trials Rising will be released in February 2019 alongside almost every other video game ever.

Ubisoft has formed the habit of providing support and roadmaps for its multiplayer titles, and we got a look at some of those plans today. The Division 2, fresh off its debut on the Microsoft stage, will be receiving three DLC episodes in its first year — all free. The medieval mashup For Honor will introduce Ancient Chinese fighters with the Marching Fire expansion, as well as a castle siege mode called Breach. And Rainbow 6 Siege, the poster child of Ubisoft’s game as a service approach, will have marquee competitive tournaments added to the currently scheduled Majors.

Last year’s Ubisoft show introduced us to a trio of titles which we’ve heard little more about until today. If you’re a Yale graduate, you would’ve left the room during the Skull and Bones presentation. Expanding on what was teased last year, you will be sailing the seas in a shared online world; you can take on rival ships or group up to take down a warship. The RPG elements are very present, with levelling and the ability to customise your ship and weapons loadout. No release date was confirmed.

Elijah Wood came on stage to remind us of Transference, the psychological thriller collaboration between Ubisoft and Woods’ SpectreVision studio. We then got another look at the space adventure Starlink: The Battle for Atlas. The game carries a Saturday-morning cartoon vibe, aided by a toys-to-life component. The game will be released on all consoles on 26 October, though the Switch version will exclusively feature a cameo from none other than Starfox. Naturally, Shigeru Miyamoto was present to receive a present from the Starlink development team.

Finally, to nobody’s surprise, Ubisoft showed off Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Set in Ancient Greece, the game will allow you to play as one of two protagonists: Alexios or Kassandra. Expanding on the template laid out by Assassin’s Creed Origins, the gameplay demo showed off larger scale combat, more dialogue choices and even romance options. And of course there’s the 300 Sparta Kick. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey will come out on 5 October.

Thus marked the end of a surprisingly sedate Ubisoft E3 conference. Though pre-E3 leaks spoiled some of the surprise, this was a show that played it safe, relying on the foundations set by the games announced last year and released before that. That said, this year’s showing wasn’t completely divorced from that of Ubisoft past: Developers still presented their projects with a deep passion (and whooped backstage, unaware their microphones were still on) and we know the company will back these games for years to come. The trademark Ubisoft earnestness is still present, just not in the shape it took in previous years.

Fallout Boy: A Recap of the Bethesda E3 2018 Showcase

Bethesda had an interesting 2017. Despite a lacklustre trip to Bethesdaland and reports that several of its games didn’t meet sales targets, the company was still the number one publisher on Metacritic, a fact proudly claimed by Senior VP of Global Marketing Pete Hines. Though if this year’s E3 press conference is any indication, 2018 and beyond are going to be very big and important years for the publisher.

The show kicked off quite literally with a bang as inspirational speaker Andrew W.K. and his band introduced us to to the recently unveiled Rage 2, as well as endless shots of audience members not understanding that they were in the presence of a Party God. We got a deeper look at the game, which seems to be the marriage between Avalanche Studios’ open world game design and the combat sensibilities of id Software’s Doom, with the aesthetic of a fever dream. Expect to rage again sometime in 2019.

As for id Software proper, Marty Stratton and Hugo Martin made a brief appearance to announce Doom Eternal. While we didn’t get any gameplay, we got plenty of teases: A more powerful Doom Slayer, more demons to kill and even a look at Hell on Earth. No date was announced, but more will be shown at QuakeCon in August.

While Arkane Austin may have had some Mimic problems, the studio was able to quell them in time to announce some significant updates coming to Prey. A major update hitting the game as you read this will include a Story Mode difficulty setting, a New Game Plus mode, and a Survival mode. It’s also getting two DLC packs: the newly available Moon Crash, a survival mode where every run through the mode is never the same twice; and Typhon Hunter, a 5v1 multiplayer mode which will employ bold teamwork strategies as one soldier goes up against five players who have the powers of a Mimic.

Typhon Hunter will also be coming to VR as part of Bethesda’s initiative to support the fledgling platform; as will a brand new Wolfenstein title, as part of Bethesda’s initiative to spread the message of “Fuck Nazis” to every platform possible. Speaking of which, MachineGames made a brief on-stage appearance to announce a brand new title. Wolfenstein Youngblood will be set in Nazi-occupied Paris in the 1980s. You’ll be playing as BJ Blazkowicz’s twin daughters, either solo or in co-op, as they proceed to carry the family tradition of brutal Nazi murder alive. No further details were mentioned, aside from a 2019 release window.

If the first half of the show was a standard affair for E3 press conferences, things kicked into overdrive when it became time to talk about the upcoming work of Bethesda Game Studios. Our guide through this period of delirium was none other than Todd Howard, the patron saint of the New Game Plus Discord, who charismatically and effortlessly weaved his way through massive announcements, timing miscues and audience interjection.

First off, Fallout 76, which will see you rebuilding the world after the War — with actual humans! Fallout 76 will be always online, but Bethesda is going out of its way to ensure that it won’t be as brutal an experience as similar survival games. You’ll be connected with a dozen players at any time, death will not be punishing, and your progress carries with you when you connect with other players. Though if the notion of online Fallout with other people worries you, this is still a Bethesda game, so there’s still a quest and and you can play the game solo.

As for the game itself, it’ll be set in West Virginia, with a massive visual and technical improvement over Fallout 4. It’s a world that’s still somewhat lush, and Bethesda has taken folklore of the area as inspiration for the game. You’ll be able to build wherever you want in the world, and move your buildings anywhere. And if things break down to the point where a nuclear option is necessary, there are several nuclear missile sites in the game world. While a beta will be coming soonish, you’ll be able to rebuild the world from 14 November this year. If you’re after a Fallout experience right now, Fallout Shelter, which just celebrated its third anniversary, has just been released on the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

Todd Howard also announced another major Bethesda franchise is going mobile. The Elder Scrolls: Blades is a free to play Elder Scrolls experience that aims to bring an entire Bethesda RPG onto your phone, either in portrait or landscape mode. It’s coming with hand crafted and procedurally generated dungeons, as well as a town building system in which you can see what your friends have built. It’s not quite Skyrim for phones, but Bethesda is at least aware that game is everywhere, even on Amazon Echo devices.

To close out the show, we got a look at the future of Bethesda Game Studios with two quick teases. Starfield, the first new Bethesda IP in 25 years, was unveiled with a logo reveal. But for those wanting something a bit less sci-fi, there was the tease for the next game after that: The Elder Scrolls VI.

If last year leaned far too hard into the kitschy Bethesdaland setting in lieu of major announcements or humanity, this year traded it for significant reveals and developer presence. We got a better look at Bethesda’s future, and what it showed was exciting. Who would have thought all you needed to make a better show was Todd Howard?

(And just in case you were craving another way of playing Skyrim, you can actually play the Very Special Edition on Amazon Echo. Thanks Todd.)

The Sun Rises: A Recap of the Xbox E3 2018 Briefing

The Xbox One has arguably provided the better experience in recent years. Its Backwards Compatibility program has given new life to old games, and the Xbox Game Pass has given users a healthy library of legacy titles. However, the console is behind in one regard: New games. In order to furnish its seemingly lacking game library, Microsoft is looking outward, including to places we wouldn’t normally expect.

The common criticism was that Microsoft isn’t producing first party games to the same extent that Sony is. To address this, Xbox lead Phil Spencer dedicated three or so minutes to announcing the company’s recent studio acquisitions: Undead Labs (State of Decay), Playground Games (Forza Horizon), Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), Compulsion Games (We Happy Few) and the newly-formed The Initiative, headed by Crystal Dynamics’ Darrell Gallagher.

Speaking of Playground Games, it’s 2018 which means it’s Horizon’s turn to sit behind the Forza driver’s seat. Forza Horizon 4 will be set in an idyllic version of Historic Britain, right down to dynamically changing seasons. It will also introduce a “shared open world”, meaning your game will be populated be real players; no word on whether collision detection will be present. Forza Horizon 4 will come out on 22 October 2018.

We have to talk about the Gears block. I mean that literally because the first piece of Gears (not Gears of War, just Gears) footage we saw was of a Funko Pop-ed Marcus Fenix. Yes, Funko Pop, the herpes of pop culture merchandise, is being immortalised in a video game with Gears Pop. May God have mercy on our souls. We also got introduced to Gears Tactics, a very XCOM-looking take on the Gears universe, as well as Gears 5, which will follow Kate from the last game as she deals with the Locust thread coming from within her. These will all come out in 2019.

From Microsoft’s other first party developers and those that have exclusive deals for the Xbox, we also saw footage for Halo Infinite (There is always a lighthouse, there’s always a Chief, there’s always a city), Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Crackdown 3, DLC for Cuphead and Sea of Thieves, Session (because EA isn’t going to make a new Skate game), Tunic, and Battletoads — yes, a brand new Battletoads game in 2019 with “Broad non-specific feature declarations”

As important as first party games are, third party games are the bread and butter of a console, and Microsoft was eager to show off a few on its stage. We got a look at The Division 2 (now set in Washington but still featuring Ubisoft’s patented fake multiplayer banter), Metro Exodus (which is coming out 22 February 2019 alongside literally every other video game) and the usual array of [email protected] titles (literally 22 games are featured in this montage)

We also got a look at Dying Light 2, courtesy of famed game writer Chris Avellone, who will be involved in this project. Dying Light 2 will introduce factions and moral choices to the parkour-based zombie shooter. In the example given, the player is given a choice to either eliminate water smugglers or make a deal with them; either choice will have material consequences on the world and gameplay.

As successful as the Xbox 360 was, the console gained almost zero traction in Japan, which makes the presence of so many Japanese games at Microsoft’s show all the more surprising. We got trailers for Nier Automata: Become As Gods Edition and an Xbox One port of Tales of Vesperia. In terms of debuts, Microsoft showed off Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the new game by From Software set in Ancient Japan (everything has come full circle); and Jump Force, a crossover fighter which will include characters from Naruto, One Piece, Death Note and Dragon Ball Z.

Microsoft even brought Hideaki Itsuno onto the stage to announce Devil May Cry 5, a direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4 (everyone seems to have disregarded DmC: Devil May Cry) which will bring back both Nero and Dante, as well as Itsuno as game director. Devil May Five will come out Autumn 2019.

The strongest Eastern showing, though, was the growing relationship between Microsoft and the Japanese publisher Square Enix. The company used Microsoft’s stage to give us a first look at Shadow of the Tomb Raider (out 14 September 2018) and The Awesome Adventure of Captain Spirit (Dontnod’s next title set in the Life is Strange universe available 26 June). Most surprisingly, Kingdom Hearts III will be coming to the Xbox One, featuring Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled and a healthy helping of the Sora angst that has kept that franchise going for 15-plus years.

The show ended with our first look at Cyberpunk 2077, the CD Projekt Red role-playing game first announced five years ago. In a subliminal flash, the game was described as “an alternative version of the future where America is in pieces, megacorporations control all aspects of civilised life, and gangs rule the rest.” CD Projekt Red was quick to reassure players that despite the flashy trailer, the game is a “true single player, story-driven RPG” and that it will have no microtransactions. No release date was announced.

With this year’s E3 briefing, Microsoft seems to at least be making gestures towards addressing the apparent dearth of titles for the Xbox One. The studio acquisitions will at least give it some breathing room, but it’s the push into Japan which is the most interesting move. These briefings have always promised games without necessarily following through; the hope is that 2018 is the year this finally changes.

Unboxing Video: EA Play at E3 2018

2017 was a disastrous year for EA, including a laughably bad E3 presentation and the Star Wars Battlefront 2 loot box debacle. The company has spent much of this year apologising for these decisions, and this formed a recurring theme during EA Play. Gone were the Influencers and Game Changers, the phrase “Creative Cave” was uttered precisely zero times and EA CEO Andrew Wilson was limited to two appearances, one of which was to effectively apologise for the company’s actions. This year, EA delved extensively into sci-fi, shooters and sports and, with a couple of exceptions, provided a conservative showcase of the year ahead.

The show kicked off proper with a brief look at Battlefield V. Coming off its reveal last month, DICE’s Oskar Gabrielson and Lars Gustavsson talked about how Battlefield V will feature the ability to dive and smash through windows, the return of full scale destruction, the ability to move defensive weaponry, and in a series first, the ability to visually customise your character and weapon — all without loot boxes and no premium pass!

After a quick pitch on the returning War Stories campaign, we got the biggest reveal yet: Battle Royale is coming to Battlefield V as a post-launch update. DICE described the concept as being reimagined for Battlefield, focusing on the core of what makes that game unique: team play and vehicles.

FIFA 19 was next up, and this year’s big feature is the inclusion of the UEFA Champions League, the biggest international club football championship in the world. The UCL will permeate every facet of the game, from Career Modes, to content in FIFA Ultimate Team, and it will be the focus of Alex Hunter’s story in The Journey: Champions.

Fans of NBA Live and Madden will be happy to know their games got some stage time. NBA Live 19 got a quick trailer to showcase the more worldly version of their single player mode, The One. Madden NFL 19 got its usual trailer of Frostbite-powered NFL action, but was bizarrely introduced with Pittsburgh Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster interviewing Madden NFL 18 Bowl winner Shay “YoungKiv” Kivlen about his rise to Madden esports prominence. It went about as well as you expect.

Speaking of Madden, it will be making its return to the PC this year after a long absence, and will be a part of EA’s newest subscription service: Origin Access Premier. It’s the next tier up from the already existing Origin Access, but instead of merely getting early access to trials of full games, you’ll receive early access to the full games in addition to access to the already existing titles in the Origin Access Vault. Pricing is $19.99 AUD per month, or $129.99 per year, and will launch later this year.

Arguably the highlight of the show was the EA Originals block. We were treated to two new games from two passionate European developers. Unravel Two showed off a second Yarny (in-game, no yarn people on stage) who’ll be your constant companion throughout the game, even if you’re playing solo. While I could tell you all about the much more action packed levels or how the two Yarnys have impacted puzzle design, you can experience it for yourself as the game is out right now!

The second game announced as part of this block was Sea of Solitude, by Berlin-based Jo-Mei Games. Sea of Solitude is a game about loneliness, and how it transforms people into monsters. Kay, the player character, is a young girl whose loneliness has transformed her into a literal monster, and is searching for a cure to his ailment. Not much was revealed about the game aside from its striking look, but it’ll certainly be one to look forward to.

Fresh off the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, we got our first taste of EA’s next big Star Wars game courtesy of developer (and recent EA acquiree) Respawn Games. Titled Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, you’ll be playing as a Jedi during in the 30 year gap between Episodes III and IV. It will come out during Holiday 2019.

EA then took the time to unveil the return of one of its classic franchises with Command & Conquer Rivals, a competitive 1v1 strategy game designed for mobile devices. The game might not be the return people would be expecting, and the excruciatingly long on stage demo isn’t going to do the game any favours (editor’s note: it was only four and a half minutes, but it dragged so hard I wish Albert Einstein used his time machine to put an early end to the segment).

After being announced at last year’s EA Play, we finally got our first proper look at Anthem. While it does follow in some familiar footsteps, Bioware was quick to point out the differences . Narrative will be a big focus here, and the team is aiming to bring the stories Bioware is known for to this genre.

Players are designated as Freelancers, with classes not set by choices at the start of the game, but what mech suit (known as Javelins) they choose. You’re free to choose what Javelin you wish, and you’ll be able to customise them as such. Like every other title as part of EA’s Apology Tour, you can’t pay for power, and the contents of any microtransactions will be very clear up front. You’ll have plenty of time to save up for those EVA Unit-01 colours, because Anthem is coming on 22 February 2019.

EA’s press conference was understated compared to previous years. A few surprises, but otherwise, pretty safe with minimal cringe. It made for a duller show, but given the last twelve months, it was probably a better move. Last year, my one hope was EA would tone down the influencer prominence, and the company certainly did that this year. For next year, I’d be happy to suffer a hundred bad demos of mobile Command & Conquer games for something, anything about a certain skateboarding franchise that needs to return. But maybe that’s just me.

Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey Redux review: Don’t Stop, My Demon

Over the years, I’ve had the Shin Megami Tensei series recommended to me a lot by my friends. I’m weak for an in-depth game with a good challenge, and I’m (shamefully) partial to grinding in RPGs. I’d played through a few of the Persona games and enjoyed them immensely, so I was curious to see how I would enjoy the gameplay of a mainline Shin Megami Tensei title. Maybe I also wanted the opportunity to hang out with Jack Frost and Mothman, the most adorable demons, but that’s another story for another day. Regardless of the reason, it was time for me to finally play a real Shin Megami Tensei game.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux is a remastered version of the Nintendo DS title released in 2009. This version features updated graphics and character art (all beautifully upscaled to fit the 3DS), a new ‘casual’ difficulty, a new dungeon with story and ending content, more save points and additional demon slots.

The story, which remains mostly unchanged, revolves around team of researchers and soldiers and soldiers sent to Antarctica to investigate the Schwartzvelt, a spatial anomaly that threatens to engulf the Earth. Upon reaching their destination, the crews find themselves shipwrecked in a bizarre, foreign world populated by demons who prove to be both friends and foes in the crew’s journey back to Earth. Isolated with virtually no human contact, the crew find their moral judgement, decision making and mental fortitude challenged. In case you couldn’t tell, the story is dark in tone, so there’s not too many happy times to be found here.

You will be recruiting these demons, each with their own unique skills and abilities and using them to fight in dungeon battles. You can then fuse them together to create even more powerful demons, transferring skills through fusions to create an unstoppable team. I know there’ll be some SMT fans out there who will be disappointed to see me make this comparison, but it really does reminds me a lot of Pokémon. Instead of Pikachu you can use a henchman of Satan, or a ball of hair with an enormous nose, or any combination of other bizarre and entertaining characters.

The fusion and combat system it is easily one of the most engrossing parts of the game. It adds an enormous amount of depth and potential to gameplay. Given the difficulty, you’ll need to be aware of how to use the fusion system to overcome enemy weaknesses and maximise your team’s potential. Most of your time outside of exploring is dedicated to micromanaging your demons and their abilities, so thankfully the game provides you with an ample amount of tutorials and guidance through the process. It’s a lot of fun, and super satisfying when you finally get the right fusions to wreck your way through enemy mobs.

On top of the fusion system, my favourite part of Strange Journey is these demons themselves, most of whom make repeat appearances in the SMT and Persona franchises. The personalities and variety of design help to offset the overall gloomy tone, injecting some wacky personality and humour into some areas which can become quickly repetitive. The dialogue choices and responses during demon recruitment are entertaining, and the demon dialogue after they level up works to help develop a connection with your allies. Though each type of demon has a shared pool of responses, there’s enough diversity to ensure that talking to the demons doesn’t get boring after dozens of recruits. Often you’ll think you’ve finally figured out how to impress a demon through dialogue choices, only to discover it’ll turn around the attack you anyway; this is often frustrating but ensures you won’t always know what will happen next.

As for the dungeons themselves, the game utilises a first-person exploration system on a grid-based map. As someone who hadn’t played many games with a similar control scheme before, I found it very jarring initially, especially after being so used to free-roam controls. Though once I got used to it it made sense; it works well in the context of the encounters and exploration, as the progress of time and enemy encounters are determined by how many squares forward you move on the map. Narrow corridors and map hazards help to really achieve a claustrophobic feel in each of the dungeons, though I found that each one became repetitive and exhausting after the first few hours, true to dungeon crawling fashion. It didn’t take long before I found myself navigating almost exclusively using the map on the bottom screen, because there wasn’t much of the dungeon I hadn’t already seen.

I was a bit disappointed to find that the game didn’t have much to offer outside of dungeon crawling. When you return to the main hub to turn in a mission, you can’t do much except heal, manage your party and buy new equipment. This is where I felt that the later Persona games offered a great balance, with other activities and social links to complete to help unwind from a tense session of grinding and exploring. There’s still enough breathing room between dungeons for back-to-back grinding to not feel too exhausting, and the game encourages you to take plenty of breaks to heal and gear up during missions.

If you enjoy moody JRPGs with a satisfying challenge, great story and a good grind, Strange Journey Redux delivers the goods. But if you’re averse to repetitive dungeons, backtracking and grinding, you might want to think twice before picking it up. The game is unforgiving — even on standard difficulty – but is hugely rewarding once you find your own personal strategy and team of demons. I’m usually not a huge fan of the sci-fi aesthetic in video games, but Strange Journey’s story and gameplay really grew on me. Strange Journey Redux is a solid game that will give you dozens of hours of grim demon collecting (And in those many hours, did I encounter a single Mothman or Jack Frost? I can proudly say I did – and I can happily say that made it all worth it!)

New Style Boutique 3: Styling Star review: That James Dean Daydream Look

In September 2017, during a particularly exciting Nintendo Direct (Super Mario Odyssey, anyone?), there was a title that you might not have noticed: That game was New Style Boutique 3: Styling Star for Nintendo 3DS. Known as Girls Mode in Japan and Style Savvy in North America, it’s understandable if you’re confused or you’ve never heard of this series before. Even the name may make you think of all the female-oriented shovelware games you see at EB, but the New Style Boutique games are an underrated gem; their longevity, and the fact that it’s a series that continues to get sequels, attests to this. With its origins spanning all the way back to the Nintendo DS, the New Style Boutique series generally revolves around owning a clothes store, picking outfits for your customers and managing your own boutique. New Style Boutique 3 brings some necessary changes while maintaining the core gameplay of the series.

When you begin your game, you’re put in charge of your very own boutique. You’ll buy stock, create and sell outfits based on criteria, and build your store and brand as you earn more money; it’s like an in depth fashion/dress up simulation game with light tycoon game elements. The game lets you experiment with an immense amount of clothing options, and create outfits based on requests. Astonishingly, there are over ten thousand unique items in the game, with men’s and women’s clothing (probably the only time in my life I’ll ever have such a vast wardrobe within my grasp). Not only is there a brand for every style – whether it’s basic, rock, girly, gothic, lolita, hippie, and so much more – you can dress up your own character and outfit however you like, which is a great way to spend hours of time without even realising it. Your customers aren’t the only characters who can have fun dressing up! Even if you’re not interested in fashion, the gameplay itself is refined and easy to grasp, giving you many search and help options to find the right outfit until you’re confident enough to do it on your own.

Buying stock and managing your boutique is an important part of the game. Although it’s not too complex – you can’t set the prices of your items, and store appearance doesn’t affect gameplay – you need to keep an eye on your stock levels or risk missing a particularly lucrative client. If a client comes in asking for Enid Chen brand pants and you don’t have any, you’d better go get some quick, or risk the day rolling over before you can fulfil her request. Although the store customisation options are a bit limited, it’s fun to play around with the music and layout of your shop; sometimes clients will comment on it, and it may even attract customers who like the style of your boutique.

As you fulfil store requests, you are given access to more buildings, brands and customers. I’ve always been impressed by the colourful and wide range of customers, with individual personalities and dialogue based on their style and design. It really does feel like you’re serving individual customers rather than NPCs. You might get a customer who wants to see what it’s like to dress as a punk, despite being a fan of girly clothes, or a girl who’s broken her shoes on the way to work and needs you to get her some heels ASAP. The characters and their reactions are full of personality, regardless of whether you’re talking to a client’s brother (who really can’t be bothered clothes shopping) or the local baker who can’t help but speak in bread puns. To me, this is one of New Style Boutique’s strongest points, and keeps the game interesting even after you’ve completed dozens of requests.

At its core, the game is standard New Style Boutique fare, and doesn’t really deviate from the established formula. However, it does have a couple of great quality-of-life changes. In the previous New Style Boutique games, I’ve always found that buying stock gets tedious after a while, as you have to choose individual items for each individual brand, which as your boutique grows becomes a chore. Much to my pleasure, this game has added an option to automatically choose a selection of stock for you, which eliminates the biggest issue I have with the series. However, you can’t adjust for budget, so this option isn’t as simple to use early on in the game, but you can choose to remove expensive stock items and it works fine.

New Style Boutique 3 is the most refined instalment in the series, and is a great game for veterans and newcomers alike. It’s a very relaxing game as the pace of progression is dictated by your play style. After a while you won’t be able to help but look at your own wardrobe and instantly think about whether your clothes are lively, chic, punk, or whatever else…and then feel wistful when you realise your wardrobe can’t magically procure hundreds of options for you. It made me more fashion conscious, and even if you’re not the biggest style fanatic it’s a really fun way to learn more about how clothing and style coordination works (creating a whole outfit in one colour doesn’t mean it’s coordinated… unless it’s black!). Even though it’s not a blockbuster title, there’s a reason we’re still getting Style Boutique games: They’re addictive, underrated fun. If you’re in doubt, give it a go — you never know whether a secret fashionista lies dormant within you.

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.