Luigi’s Mansion (3DS) review: Handheld Horrors

Luigi’s Mansion is, for various reasons, one of my favourite games of all time. I’ve finished it at least six or seven times since its 2001 release, including an almost-complete gold portrait run, and I’ll jump at any chance to replay it (though not as much as a friend of mine, who’s finished the game 31 times). The trailer for the 3DS version filled me with equal parts excitement and apprehension: It’s now accessible for a new generation, but how can you improve on the original game’s simple perfection? Once again, I picked up the flashlight and ventured into Luigi’s Mansion.

The central game, plot, and locations are untouched from the original. Our hero Luigi discovers he’s won a mansion in a competition he doesn’t remember eantering, and asks his brother Mario to come visit it with him. When he gets there everythiang is a lot more bizarre than expected, especially the sinister mansion itself, and Mario is nowhere to be found. Luigi’s Mansion sees the player wielding the ‘Poltergust’ ghost-vacuuming device to clear the mansion of ghosts, grab as much moolah as possible, and find out where Mario’s gone. Using a flashlight and your trusty vacuum, you’ll solve environmental puzzles and suck up enemy ghosts to progress. It’s a short game, which can be fully completed in six or so hours if you know what you’re doing, but its simple concept and highly refined gameplay make it a treat to play.

In order to make a fair comparison, I dusted off the GameCube and took this review as an excuse to also play through the original for probably the eighth time (I will literally take almost any opportunity to replay this game). There are certainly a number of notable changes in the 3DS version, for better or for worse.

Model upgrades mean that the game’s textures are a lot more detailed and easy on the eyes, though it’s a bit harder to appreciate them on a smaller screen. The map now occupies the bottom screen, which is a great addition that saves time having to navigate menus.The addition of 3D mode is nice; though it’s surprising to see 3D used in a game produced late in the 3DS’ life cycle, it works particularly well with Luigi’s Mansion’s environments, and I found it a useful addition to help with depth perception on a smaller screen.

The portrait gallery, a room displaying pictures of the ghosts you’ve beaten, has also been completely overhauled, and you now have the option to individually replay portrait ghosts for a better score. This makes it easier than ever to do a full gold-portrait run, but I’m personally still nostalgic for the time when you had to either save scum or get it right the first time.

The port also, unfortunately, presents a number of issues. They’re not significant enough to make it unplayable, but enough to prevent it from replacing the GameCube version as the ‘definitive’ version to play. One immediate difference is its framerate, which stays largely the same during normal gameplay but drops enormously during cutscenes. It affects the impact of some cutscenes and is likely to elicit a groan from fans of the original game. Luigi’s Mansion also has loading screens now; a small difference, but they do detract somewhat from the game’s original seamlessness. Control locations are changed fairly significantly, which might take a while to get used to, but controlling the Poltergust feels pretty smooth once you get over the initial hurdle.

The worst thing, by far, is using the 3DS’ C-Stick to aim the Poltergust up and down. Compared to how easy and intuitive the GameCube’s C-Stick feels, the aiming on the 3DS version is imprecise and slow at best, making boss fights slow and money ghosts easy to miss. If your console has a C-Stick that’s even slightly problematic, you’re either going to have to be very patient or use gyro controls for the whole game. On an amusing note, Luigi’s Mansion is Circle Pad Pro compatible, in case you still have one lying around from the Monster Hunter days (I got so frustrated I actually ended up using one to finish the game). You can also now choose to use the Strobulb from Luigi’s Mansion 2, if you prefer that over the original game’s flashlight.

And how could I forget to mention the new two-player mode? A friend can now join your adventure through the mansion as Gooigi, who’s identical to Luigi but made from green goo (what were you expecting?). The second player can also suck up ghosts and money that will go towards your totals. When I tried it with a friend, it did make portrait ghosts a lot quicker to capture, but that’s about as far as its novelty reached. As you may expect, the framerate absolutely tanks in two player mode; if it’s cringeworthy during cutscenes, it’s unplayable with poor Gooigi. We were also disconnected a minute in while trying to open a door, though it’s hard to say whether this is a problem with the game or the 3DS itself. Our second attempt was more successful, but very slow, and left us wondering if the game really needs a second player at all (hint: it doesn’t, but the option is there for you if you want to try it). Two-player mode would have been a lot more functional on stronger hardware, which makes me wish even more that they’d ported Luigi’s Mansion to Switch instead.

So, is it worth it? The 3DS port is good if you’ve never played it before, or you don’t want to have to go through the hassle of finding an original copy to set up and play. For seasoned ghost hunters, it’s a great opportunity to replay with some quality-of-life changes that make a full-completion run easier than ever. I still vastly prefer the comfy controls on the GameCube version, and playing it on the big screen makes it easier to appreciate a lot of environmental details. Overall, the differences mean that neither version is really better than the other – as long as you aren’t expecting an amazing, high definition remaster, the 3DS port is essentially the same lovable Luigi’s Mansion experience as before.

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.

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.

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.

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.