Black Skylands: My First Early Access Experience

The idea of playing games in Early Access was always interesting to me. If you don’t know what Early Access is, allow me to define it: basically, you pay to play a partially finished game, and support it as it develops over time. Of course, the biggest risk is the possibility of the game having to be abandoned for whatever reason. One such thing apparently happened last November with Among Trees. However, there are a lot of popular Early Access games, such as Raft, Death Trash, and Satisfactory. There are also some that are more off the beaten path, such as Black Skylands.

In Black Skylands, you have your usual race of humanoids who live on sky islands (or skylands, hence the title drop). This world, known as Aspya, has been plagued by the Swarm (a common noun turned into a proper noun, as is tradition). The main protagonist is a girl named Eva, and her dad is captain of the Earners. He has a crackpot plan to journey into the Eternal Storm because he thinks the solution to beat back the swarm is there. However, when scientists bring back a sample of a Swarm creature, everything falls apart. Seven years later, Eva has to fix everything herself.

It’s easy to impulsively buy Black Skylands because it is gorgeous. I’ve grown to love pixel-art, and how deceptively versatile it is for conveying different artstyles. This game is vibrant, and full of color. As you sail on your skyship, you’ll see creatures of all sizes that are just there for cosmetics; from flying manta rays above you, to massive behemoths that thankfully hang at much lower altitudes. Unfortunately, the nature of the game’s top-down perspective can make characters look the same in the overworld. That’s why they have their portraits during dialogue.

The weakest part of the game is no doubt the story. A lot is thrown at you very fast, and the worst part is the catalyst of all of it: the aforementioned incident regarding the Swarm creature. In its aftermath, this dude named Kain turns into a maniacal sociopath, whose faction, the Falconers, pillage and murder the people of Aspya in some twisted sense of justice. It’s your usual “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and the worst part is why. He gets mad because his bird died in the incident. While I can’t imagine the grief from losing a pet animal, I don’t exactly think it’s a reason to form a dystopian government.

Fortunately, Black Skylands shows fantastic potential even in Early Access. In fact, I’ve played finished games that were worse. There’s a ton of stuff to do in the overworld, most of which is on the various skylands. These are full of resources, treasures, quests, and more. By defeating all enemies on a skyland, you reclaim it from the Falconers. Doing this rescues the population, who for some reason, act as a currency to enable special passive upgrades. Islands can be retaken, but it doesn’t happen that often, and the game at least shows a time limit on the HUD (something I’m pretty sure other games with similar mechanics don’t do).

Inventory management can be an issue. Your skyship can only hold twenty items at first, and they don’t stack. Quest-relevant NPCs you need to transport are stored in crates and count toward that inventory, which is admittedly pretty funny. The rub is that essentials for your ship to not go derelict, such as fuel canisters, repair kits, and ammo boxes, take up this space as well. 

There’s a lot to do in your main base of operations, the Fathership, as well. This place has seen better days, and it’s up to you to fix all of it from the ground up. Like in many games of this kind, you consume resources to build facilities that produce more important resources.

The best part is customization. There are a ton of weapon types and playstyles to pick from. Most weapons can have mods installed, which can be crafted or found in mod crates scattered across the world. Your skyships also have a wide variety of components to equip. Unfortunately, equipment tends to become useless fast, since you can level up facilities faster than you can get all the resources necessary to craft every piece of equipment, allowing you to get the next tier of equipment.  

Yes, I said skyships just now. Once you build the ship workshop, you can buy new types of ships and new parts for them and modify literally every aspect of them. As of this review, they only have four types of ships. From what I can tell, there are no cases where you need the little lightweight ship to fit into a narrow passage (although there are some really narrow passages that I have NO IDEA how to get through). 

There are also artifacts. By solving puzzles scattered throughout the world, you obtain crystals that grant you and your ship cool abilities. These are very helpful, and naturally, they can’t be spammed. Eva’s artifacts have a cooldown period, and the ship consumes energy, the latter of which can be replenished by destroying the many asteroids scattered throughout the world, or flying enemies. It doesn’t regenerate over time or when you take it to the shipyard, which kind of sucks, because I don’t think the asteroids respawn either.

Combat is where things get interesting. Black Skylands has a fun mix of range and melee combat. You have your arsenal of guns at your disposal, but it’s encouraged to use your grappling hook for sneak attacks, or to yeet people off of cliffs. Your only source of healing is medkits, but refills tend to be common enough.

Speaking of the grappling hook, you better learn that thing fast. It’s your main source of movement over the vast skies below. Fortunately, if you fall, you don’t immediately die. For some reason, you can somehow try to grapple the nearest grabbable ledge and save yourself. It’s really nice, especially when you’re learning to use the darn thing.

Skyship flying can be difficult at times. They seem to have so much momentum that once they hit top speed, I could let go of the gas and it would move forward perpetually until I hit the brakes. Also, the cannons on them are… interesting. They point at different angles depending on the ship, which makes combat a bit weird. Also, the controls are kind of bizarre; you can only shoot just the right cannon or all cannons. The Annihilator Beam artifact helps because it is a head-on frontal attack. 

So far, Black Skylands is surprisingly difficult for a chill sandbox game. Once you’re asked to go to the ice region, the game really starts to test your grappling and fighting abilities. Fortunately, dying has virtually no penalty… not that I would know that from experience, of course *sweating emoji*.

One thing that can end up being a downer is that fast travel costs money relative to the distance from point A to point B. This sucks because you need money for a lot of things. It’s plentiful enough in the overworld, but it’s amazing how fast you can empty your pockets. One protip that you’re never taught is that cabbage, the cheapest crop to grow, sells for an obscene amount of money for such a common resource. As far as I know, cabbage isn’t used for anything else, so they probably intended for them to be your main source of income.

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Current Verdict: 8.75/10

Black Skylands could become one of this year’s most underrated games once it’s complete. Hopefully, that’ll actually happen, considering that this isn’t as popular as the aforementioned Early Access titles. As fun as it is, the lack of many facilities, among other small things, betrays its incomplete state. If the game gets cancelled, I’ll update this post with that information. Otherwise, I highly recommend you give it a try if it strikes your fancy, and support its development by doing so.

Spiritfarer: The Ultimate Casual Game

I’ve definitely been getting a bit more into indie games lately (mostly because they’re relatively cheap), but most of the ones I’ve played are very much in the raw gameplay category. Of course, indie games are just as well known for being more “video” than “game”; as in, they fall into the realm of artistic and emotional experiences that have definitely turned the meaning of the word “videogame” on its head. From Journey, to What Remains of Edith Finch, Gris, and more, a lot of these are highly acclaimed and have brought tons of gamers to tears. I’ve watched people play a lot of the aforementioned titles, mostly from StephenPlays and his wife, Mal. While those games definitely presented themselves really well, I never cried over them. And honestly, it does kind of make me self-deprecate when I’m literally watching people break down in sobs and I… don’t. Basically, the crux of this long-winded preface is me thinking “What if it’s because I’m not playing these games myself? What if I need to be the one moving the character and pushing the buttons and looking at them from my own TV?” This is what’s led me to trying one of the latest emotional indie games, Spiritfarer. Well, that and the fact that you get to construct a cool boat in it.

In Spiritfarer, a girl named Stella suddenly awakens in the River Styx (or something). This creepy hooded guy named Charon looms above her, and says that he’s retiring from his job as the Spiritfarer. Stella, and her cat Daffodil, are given Everlights, which make them the new Spiritfarers. Their task is to find any spirit who isn’t ready to pass on and help them to pass on (which, in terms of gameplay, is to spoil them rotten until they’re happy). When they’re ready, she is to take them to the Everdoor, where they will finally join Prince in the afterworld, a place of never-ending happiness, where the sun shines both day and night. 

Normally, I discuss story, gameplay, and audio-visuals in that order. However, because of how Spiritfarer is, I’m actually going to discuss it in reverse, mostly because I want you to writhe in suspense over whether or not I—as the heartless machine I am—cried over the game’s story. For reasons I’ll get to throughout the review, the gameplay and story rely on how the game looks and sounds.

At a glance, Spiritfarer seems just alright visually. Indie games with hand-drawn art styles are nothing new, and this one looks no better than an American graphic novel (and if you’ve read my review of The Witch Boy, you’ll know how much I don’t care for that artstyle). However, you can’t truly appreciate Spiritfarer’s visuals without actually playing the darn thing, and lemme tell you… this ended up being one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever looked at. The colors are striking and vibrant, with beautiful lighting effects. The character design is fantastic, with every person having a unique and creative look. What really surprised me was the animation. Like I said, games done in hand-drawn style are nothing new, but I daresay that Spiritfarer has phenomenal animation. They know that good animation comes down to subtle mannerisms and minute details. And despite being a silent protagonist, Stella dynamically reacts to dialogue, which helps make her feel alive as well. Word of warning, though. Remember how old videogames loved giving you seizures? Something similar occurs in this game during specific scenes, such as when you welcome a new character to your boat.

The soundtrack is just as deceptively fantastic. As one of the few people who actually loved Zelda Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack, Spiritfarer’s was just as enchanting. It’s super chill (except at certain points, which I’ll cover later) and soothing. But unlike Breath of the Wild with having one overworld theme and then the final dungeon theme, Spiritfarer has several different themes. Sometimes, I’ll play as inefficient as possible just as an excuse to chill (that, and the fact that I’m never efficient in these kinds of games).

Regardless of what I end up thinking of the story, what made me more invested than anything was Spiritfarer’s gameplay, which will be discussed at length. In essence, Spiritfarer plays like a 2-D Raft, where you collect resources through various methods in order to craft facilities and structures for your boat. The system is pretty simple and intuitive, and you can place buildings anywhere within your boat’s space, since it’ll auto-construct ladders. The tricky part, especially early-game, is wrestling with the boat’s size. The various facilities come in wild shapes and sizes, and it’s as fun as it is frustrating to try and clutter it all together. Fortunately, there is an edit feature where you can freely move the buildings without having to dismantle and rebuild them. 

There’s also plenty of upgrades for your rig. You can go to Al’s Shipyard to increase the boat’s size, unlock new facilities, and a host of other things. One of the best aspects of this is that your quest menu will actually list the next upgrades, showing you what you need without having to go to Al’s just because you forgot what was required. You can also upgrade individual facilities, but you need to unlock those upgrades as they come. Stella herself also has upgrades. You earn Obols as payment from newly welcomed spirits, and by donating those to various shrines found throughout the world, you can give her improved mobility and whatnot. It gives the game a sort of metroidvania vibe, even though it really isn’t. 

So how do you get resources? Well, the main way is to visit various islands. Your map starts out pretty small, but expands as you explore further. And while you could theoretically shoot in the dark for a new island (especially on repeat playthroughs if you know where they are), you can also receive quests and random messages in a bottle that will mark out those otherwise darkened areas. Like Wind Waker, your boat actually needs to sail to it. And honestly, I think the sailing in Spiritfarer is better than in Wind Waker by a long shot. Once you start getting new facilities, you can kill the long sailing times by doing tasks (more on that later), fishing, or just straight-up relaxing. The ship cannot move at night, but that can be remedied by going to bed. Just remember to ring the bell just outside of your room to wake your guests (and also remember to never ring it unless the time display on the HUD has the bell symbol, especially not while they’re supposed to be asleep). 

Also unlike Wind Waker, there are a lot of resource gathering areas that regularly respawn en route (although you can and should go out of your way for them if you don’t have a straight shot to your next island). THESE are where things get fun. Despite the game not having any stakes or feeling of death, these special respawning zones (with the exception of collecting drifting crates) make resource collecting fun and exhilarating. From jumping around to collide with space jellyfish that live in random rifts in space-time, to letting yourself get struck by lightning to capture it in empty bottles, Spiritfarer somehow makes an adrenaline-pumping experience even though you can’t die. The soundtrack ramps up during these sections to make it even more fun. One of the best parts is that despite how “casual” Spiritfarer is, you are still rewarded for having intrinsic platforming skills, since you get more resources that way.

That philosophy extends to the facilities in the boat. Normally, the loom or the furnace are used like normal crafting tables, except you sometimes have to wait a minute for results. Here, you have to make them yourself. From playing a rhythm game to speed up plant growth to precisely cutting logs into planks, there are different mechanics for making various resources. Again, you are not straight-up punished for doing bad, but doing good gets you a bonus increase in results. They really keep you busy while the boat is moving. If you can’t stand the long journey (or don’t have any speed upgrades), you can sail to a bus stop (once unlocked) to fast travel around the world.

Cooking is done really well in Spiritfarer. At first glance, it seems like the usual “put ingredients in, get a thing, and slam your head against the wall trying every possible combination in order to get all the recipes”, but it’s a bit more than that. One thing I learned was that you could insert up to five of the same ingredient to get five that dish at once with the cost of more cooking time. Furthermore, your kitchen is a deceptively good source of coal because the sawdust you obtain from cutting logs can be cooked into it. There are also treasures that contain recipes so you don’t always have to brute force them.

SO… all of that covers what you can do on your way to a given island. How about when you GET to an island?! Sadly, the islands are hit-or-miss. Some are just flat albeit lovely plains, while others have a fair share of nooks and crannies. In any case, you will regularly need to visit these places to replenish your basic resources. Fortunately, the preview of it on your map will indicate if resources have respawned, which is a really nice touch. 

As expected from a resource collecting game, the platinum trophy is tied to obtaining at least one of every item in the game. These are presented to a lovely walrus named Susan, who is probably one of the best collector-type characters I have seen in any videogame. At certain milestones, you will get some great rewards, so stop by often.

Anyway, I’ve just talked about the faring part of Spiritfarer for about ten years but not the spirit part. Basically, you find wayward souls on various islands. A lot of people are dead in this world (for some reason), but the ones you want will have a silhouette over their heads. When recruited, they will begin to make the ship their own. As previously discussed, you need to make them happy.

The main way of doing this is to complete quests. This ranges from building new facilities (like their own private quarters) to going to particular areas of story relevance to them. You also have to worry about their moods. You’ll have to feed them regularly, keeping their individual tastes in mind. One of my gripes with the game is that the feed menu itself doesn’t show you their preferences, but honestly you just need to regularly look at their favorites (in the Mood tab) BEFORE you select feed. Unfortunately, they also fail to show what you’ve fed them already, making it an incredible grind to find their favorite dish. As far as I know, there is no trophy for finding everyone’s favorite food (and if there was then I missed it).

You also need to make sure you talk to them whenever an exclamation point or a random text box appears. Usually, it’s just a reminder that they’re hungry or have a quest; but sometimes, you get random tidbits of their backstory. You should pay attention to what they say, because if they talk about an unpleasant memory, it will decrease their mood, and you should respond appropriately by giving them a hug (yes that’s a thing in this game).

So, we’re finally onto the story. The story that many have said is emotional, heart-rending, and powerful. I’ll admit that I was impressed. The writing is phenomenal, with a lot of dry humor that somehow fits in well with the more emotional stuff. All of the characters have basic personalities, but are given more life by the excellent writing and emotive expressions. The game is great at building anticipation for releasing them, and the actual cinematics when that happens are breathtaking. 

And yet, I didn’t shed a tear.

There are some reasons that can be blamed on the game. While the writing is really good, a lot of the more nuanced aspects of the spirits’ character arcs are very loose. Heck, you won’t even be explicitly told exactly how they died. Also, you could literally just be checking on them while you make your rounds, and they’ll suddenly be like: “Let me share with you this traumatic memory!” I tried to pay attention for the most part, but it’s hard to pay attention while you’re trying to make sure everyone (including assorted farm animals) are fed, your windmill is actually rotating, your plants are watered, while also squeezing time to smelt ores or use the loom. This game was something that had to be left up to interpretation, but the Lily Update that came out early 2021 straight up tells you Stella’s backstory and each spirit’s role in the overarching story.

However, the blame still rests on me, and it probably has to do with my autism. I say that the characters are loose and interpretive, but that could easily be my inability to understand people. There are some aspects of the brain that completely elude our best neurologists to this day, which are part of some sense of “understanding” that I do not have. Most neurotypical people can probably read the lines of these spirits as it is, and piece together exactly what happened to them—down to their cause of death—with no problem. In fact, based on one of the patch notes I read, the fans knew more about one character than the devs themselves! Honestly, I feel jealous. Games like this are part of why I question if I like having autism. 

Regardless of what the exact backstories of these characters are, with Spiritfarer being a slice-of-life, they’re all going to amount to being a normal, realistic, human issue of some kind. People and critics seem to think that those are the most objectively and unequivocally fascinating narrative themes, but I don’t. I suppose you can blame my autism again.

Also, my impression has sort of been colored by the content updates. It’s not really the content of the updates, but the fact that they were announced when I was in position to beat the game. Since I wanted to play those first, I ended up waiting months for them. And as a result, a lot of the plot was lost to me. My clearest memories are the above passages that you just read, written while they were fresh in my mind (this review, consequently, took over a year to write to completion).

Beyond all I’ve discussed, there are still a couple of flaws with Spiritfarer. It’s nothing game-breaking, but I don’t want to sound like that guy who glosses over issues just to sound “right”. First off, while the game appears to be pretty open world, progress is deceptively linear. Usually, these kinds of games gate you from certain progression by just not giving you certain resources, and having you craft what you can in order to gradually find those resources. Spiritfarer is a lot more strict than that. The resource collection events, such as lightning and stuff, are tied to a specific character, requiring you to have them on your boat before you can obtain the resource. Also, certain regions of the game are locked behind specific boat upgrades. Those upgrades require a Spirit Flower, which is only obtained by releasing a spirit, making the game even more linear. This also, sadly, can make you look forward to releasing a spirit, which kind of kills the emotional value of the sequences. Other than that, some chests require blind leaps of faith to reach. There’s no punishment for missing, of course, but the lack of bottomless pits doesn’t make that kind of level design any less annoying.

It also gets grindy if you go for the platinum trophy. Fishing isn’t too bad if you can find the optional upgrade that allows you to catch even the most difficult fish in less than a minute. The problem is the cooking. If you don’t look up all the recipes, you’ll end up brute-forcing a lot of them. While most items take any of a given type of food, some are more specific. It didn’t make the game fun anymore, so I just gave up on it. Oh well, like Hudson Hornet said: “It’s just an empty digital cup.”

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Final Verdict: 9.65/10

Spiritfarer is one of the greatest casual gaming experiences of my life, and definitely one of my favorite indie games. It didn’t make me cry, but it’s something I will never forget. I’d try the other two games by this team, but they—in a stark contrast to this game—look rip-your-ass-off-difficult. Hopefully they’ll start working on a new project soon-ish? In any case, I recommend Spiritfarer if you like Stardew Valley and Edith Finch and stuff.

Pokemon BDSP: Gen 4 But it’s Playable

Of all the mainstream fandoms I’m actually a part of, it kinda sucks that Pokémon is one of them. I love the games, but a lot of fans are basically the Star Wars of the videogame world; full of people who are dead set on criticizing anything that comes out after the first three core installments. You do not need to go far to find ridiculously divided opinions on every game from Gen 4 onward. I do think Pokémon has had [many] ups and downs, but I’d pick Sun and Moon with slow text over some of the horrors I’ve heard from outfits like EA and Bethesda. Anyways, the newest punching bag, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are out, and I haven’t read any reviews besides my own. Based on my experiences on the Internet, I have a gut feeling that people hate this one. I want to prove them wrong, but I would have to actually disagree with them first! Without further ado, let’s jump back into Sinnoh, specifically the Shining Pearl version!

Before I start, I must state how significant this game is for me personally. The first Pokémon game I ever played was Pokémon Platinum, and I sucked hardcore at it. We all suck at our first Pokémon game, since it’s so different from most JRPGs. Once I got to the point where I knew all the series’ nuances, I always wanted to go back and whoop Platinum’s ass. The problem is that I lost my copy. As such, this remake is FINALLY my chance to redeem myself in Sinnoh!

In the fourth generation of Pokémon, your trainer is—as per usual—given a Pokédex and a free starter. Also as per usual, you have to complete the professor’s somehow empty Pokédex. However, you and your friends end up having a run-in with Team Galactic, led by Cyrus. He wants to rewrite the entire cosmos, so… Good luck with that.

I don’t know about most of the Internet, but when I first looked at the pics for these games, I didn’t exactly like how it appeared. They reverted back to the chibi style, and made it resemble the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening, but a lot more lifeless. However, after finally getting to play them, the visuals grew on me. It’s as vibrant and cozy as the Pokémon world always was, and the water graphics are particularly appealing. The updated soundtrack is really solid as well.

Let’s discuss Gen 4’s story once again… or lack thereof. Diamond and Pearl, being before Gen 5, really don’t try to be engaging whatsoever. It is the usual formula of “go get Gym Badges until the bad guys show up and you happen to be at the right place at the right time.” There really isn’t anything else to say about it.

I was never really a fan of the characters either; everyone was pretty one-dimensional to me. While the updated look gives some personality to their mannerisms, it’s pretty inconsistent how much stock is put into them; I’ve seen random Trainers get more love than plot-relevant characters. The Gym Leaders are their usual one-off, pre-Gen-5 selves, with Crasher Wake being the only memorable one to me.

If Sinnoh’s story did anything right, it made a big leap forward in Pokémon lore. Legendaries have always played a religious role in this world, but in Gen 4, we have literal gods. The box-art Legendaries, Dialga and Palkia, control the fabric of space-time itself, while a trio of three sprites who reside in Sinnoh’s great lakes, gave humans all the aspects of, well, humanity.

Being a remake, there are some necessary quality-of-life improvements. Pokémon summaries—for the first time ever—straight-up show an up and down arrow for affected stats in Natures. X items still raise stats by +2, and the Pokétch has an app which replaces the need for any HMs. And most importantly, EVERYTHING IS FASTER. Battles are at Gen 8 speeds, and Surfing isn’t garbage.

However, at what cost do these great improvements come? For starters, TMs are now back to being consumable items (although it’s somewhat alleviated by having TMs received by NPCs come in units of three). Marts and Pokémon Centers don’t share the same building either. What’s extra-damning is that Pokémon Centers don’t have free Move Reminders anymore. Oh, and random encounters are, well, random again; no Pokémon on the field other than statics.

One of the best new perks for true Pokémon gamers is a free Mythical Pokémon! As long as you have save data from Pokémon Sword or Shield, you get a free Jirachi in Floraroma Town. It’s the first time I’ve ever used Jirachi, so it basically felt like an entirely new Pokémon. Furthermore, early buyers obtain a Manaphy Egg (sorry if you’re reading this and you missed the window). It’s also my first time ever using Manaphy, and as such, I also had access to Phione via the Daycare Center. However, I used Manaphy since Phione is objectively weaker, despite being much more annoying to obtain. 

And you better make use of those Mythicals, because through these games, I learned—the hard way—just how good Platinum was. I was looking forward to the Rotom in the haunted house and the Togepi you get from Cynthia. It would be my first time ever using the former with its new Fairy typing. However, in Diamond and Pearl, they are post-game, whereas you get them much earlier in Platinum. The Eevee you would get at Hearthome City is post-game as well. Spiritomb is still impossible to obtain without at least one friend. 

Sadly, this means that they failed to fix many bad problems with Diamond and Pearl’s game design. Fantina’s Gym is still a math class, for starters. Also, the encounter variety is garbage. Sinnoh has some solid Pokémon, sure, but man… Gen 7 and onward has spoiled me in how much variety you get in encounters. For people who don’t know, allow me to sum up Sinnoh’s Pokémon variety: the Chimchar and Ponyta families are the ONLY Fire-Types in the game! Furthermore, routes tend to have the same encounters over and over, moreso than spamming the common pure-Normal and Normal-Flying-Type families of that Gen. I’ve seen Shellos, Ponyta, Geodudes, and more common Pokémon permeate the bulk of Sinnoh.

A mechanic I’m glad to see back is the Grand Underground. This rabbit hole of a side mode is a massive and intricate series of tunnels throughout Sinnoh. You can dig fossils and other really good items in an RNG-based, Battleship-like minigame. Basically, you just smack parts of the wall with a hammer to reveal items. You keep anything that’s fully revealed by the time you run out of guesses. There are also secret bases in the Grand Underground, and new to the remakes are rooms that have Pokémon actually physically roaming around which can be battled and caught at your leisure (while some of these offer a new alternative to annoying encounters, such as Munchlax, there isn’t much better variety here). Statues found in the digging minigame can be placed to affect the spawn of the aforementioned underground encounters. Unfortunately, you can only have one statue effect at a time, dictated by whatever Typing is the majority among your display. I think the biggest flaw is the grind for Spheres to upgrade your Secret Base. You need so many, just to expand it by so little. I think this could be fixed with the ability to trade statues for spheres, because they are much more common than what you can possibly contain within your Base.

Another rabbit hole is the Super Contest Hall. I never dabbled in it back in the old days, so I don’t know if anything has changed. In any case, it’s rhythm game meets brutally long and tedious min-maxing and prep work. Before you can even think of entering, you have to farm berries to make Poffins to feet your Pokémon and increase any of its five Contest attributes. You also have to figure out what the best move to bring into the show based on its Contest effect. That move is basically an ultimate move to use at the right time. Chain with other Pokémon moves to get an even stronger effect. Oh, and make sure you’re actually good at rhythm games. Want a Milotic? Then you gotta dabble in this crap, and that’s assuming you can find the miraculously rare Feebas in the first place. To find it, you need to get to a specific body of water in Mt. Coronet, and fish on one of four specific tiles, whose locations change every day in real time. And even if you manage to find the spot, Feebas still has a low spawn rate on its own tile. 

Gen 4 was pretty tough back in the day. Mars’ Purugly, Jupiter’s Skuntank, Cynthia’s everything… but in the remakes, it becomes almost excessively easy. The more balanced XP distribution from Gen 8 saves on grinding and keeping your team in check, but unlike Gen 8, it doesn’t reach that Goldilocks-zone challenge that I felt Gen 8 had. Even when skipping Trainers, you’ll be overleveled for most of the game. It doesn’t balance out until the Pokémon League, which proves to be about as tough as it was in the old days.

But as admirably I performed this time around, Gen 4 still gets the last laugh on me. For over ten years, I couldn’t do anything in the post-game, and here’s why: for the only time in the series, the pre-requisite for the National Pokédex is to complete the Regional Pokédex. It’s actually quite doable, as long as you fight every Trainer (which the game itself will point out), and talking to Cynthia’s grandma registers each games’ opposite box-art Legendary in your Pokédex, and after that, it’s just a matter of knowing to go after Uxie, Mesprit, and Azelf. Mesprit is a Roaming Legendary, which is annoying, but the initial encounter in its cave that triggers its Roaming status counts toward your Pokédex, so it really is no problem at all. I fought every Trainer, encountered all three lake spirits, and Dialga and Palkia in Platinum, so I have no idea how I failed to complete its Pokédex. Maybe I actually did, but since it was my first Pokémon game and didn’t know the difference between Regional and National Pokédex, I thought I had to literally see all Gen 1-4 Pokémon. But with my old cartridge lost, we’ll never know for sure.

Despite how easy it is to do, I still think it’s a pretty arbitrary prerequisite for the post-game, especially after one of the hardest final bosses in the series. With all that said and done, it’s time to experience the post-game in earnest! Whatever’s carried over seems to be the same, although I couldn’t really tell you that since I only ever experienced the post-game through Chuggaaconroy’s Platinum playthrough up until now. In any case, there’s a lot to do! You have an entire new region to explore, with Heatran slumbering at Stark Mountain. There is also a sidequest that nets you Cresselia, as well as an encounter with Rotom at night in a specific area. One thing I don’t remember is the ability to challenge every Gym Leader again, as well as fights with the Professor’s assistant and your friend that refresh daily.

Of course, the thing to be hype for is the new Ramanas Park. Here, you can catch every Legendary from Gens 1-3, including the Regis needed to get into the Snowpoint Temple to get Regigigas. Since everything has to have extra prerequisites in Sinnoh, it’s not that simple. To fight them, you need to trade Mysterious Shards for Slates that correspond to their room. These Shards are found—rarely, I might add—in the underground. It’s a grind to get all of them, because it’s not like you need one Slate to unlock each room; the cost is one Slate per encounter. That means you’ll need three small Mysterious Shard or one of the far rarer large Mysterious Shards for every Legendary from Gens 1-3. Good luck with that!

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Final Verdict: 9/10

I wish it had some of Platinum‘s perks, but nonetheless, these remakes of Diamond and Pearl really do Gen 4 justice. It makes a great entry point, since it doesn’t overwhelm you with massive amounts of encounters right at the beginning. I think there’s supposed to be DLC, but unless it’s a whole campaign like in Sword and Shield, I probably won’t dedicate a whole post to it.

Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity: A Relativily Short Beat ‘Em Up (Relativily Speaking)

So, long story with this game (and why this review is out such a long time after the game’s release). I had thought about buying Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, the prequel to my current favorite game of all time, at great length last year. I recalled how the original Hyrule Warriors was—and is still—the longest Zelda game of all time, with over 300 hours for a completionist run, according to the website How Long to Beat (or over a thousand according to Jirard the Completionist). I had made a lot of progress, just for the Definitive Edition to come out on Switch, which was a basic eff-you to all my hard work on the Wii U version. However, I got more incentive to play Age of Calamity when I asked how long it is on one of my old Facebook groups, and saw that it was a much more lenient (but still chunky) length. I resolved to get it as a Christmas present for myself… when my sister bought me One Piece Pirate Warriors 4. I was tied to playing through that game, and by the time I finished it, I decided I had no time for Age of Calamity. More recently, I decided to make a soulful decision to suck it up and MAKE time for games that I legitimately want. And so here we are… My third jump into a Warriors game.

In Age of Calamity, well… if you’ve played Breath of the Wild, you know the story. Ganon has become his most monstrous form yet: Calamity Ganon (and if you’ve beaten Breath of the Wild, you know how terrifying he is). Not only are there truckloads of Moblins, even the Guardians meant to defend Hyrule have been corrupted, and turned against the very kingdom they were meant to protect. Link, along with the most waifu-like Zelda of the series, and four Champions, have to unleash one heck of a butt-whooping to get out of this one!

This game gives a lot of context to Breath of the Wild‘s lack of a plot. Apparently, Link isn’t even the hero this time; instead, it’s a robot that time travels from the future to assist Link and Zelda. Confusing, right? Thing is, a Zelda game is a Zelda game. While it isn’t as simple as finding the Divine Beasts and the Master Sword, Age of Calamity is quite straightforward. 

The whole thing with this game was supposed to be getting to know the Champions better. But… there really isn’t much. These guys are more-or-less exactly how they’re seen in Breath of the Wild; even Rivali’s resentment of Link is just arbitrary. Zelda is the same waifu as ever, and Link is… Link. Fortunately, Zelda’s dad learns to eat his words after how strict he was to her.

THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS STORY SPOILERS. Okay, so… in terms of story, Age of Calamity is a massive let-down. Based on how things progress in the game, this is NOT Breath of the Wild’s prequel, but an alternate timeline of the events before Breath of the Wild. Like, seriously. When you complete the final stage, you actually beat Calamity Ganon successfully. None of Link’s memories from Breath of the Wild are reintroduced with their full context nor chronological order like I had hoped. The time travel mechanic, I felt, was done solely to bring in other characters from Breath of the Wild, since their roster was so limited. Kohga also joins in, which is cool, but not supposed to happen. Of course, all of this could be me not remembering Breath of the Wild. Chances are, Sidon might’ve said something like: “Hey, Link! Remember when I time traveled to the past and helped you fight stuff? Oh, you don’t? Ah well, that sucks” at some point in the game.

Gameplay-wise, Age of Calamity is typical Warriors stuff. You have your regular attacks, strong attacks, combos, midair attacks, special attacks, and a unique ability for every character. Like with Hyrule Warriors, strong enemies have weak point gauges that need to be depleted during openings to be able to execute a finishing move. Age of Calamity, however, mixes things up and utilizes the Shiekah Slate. Every character will have access to those lovely powerups such as Remote Bombs, and they are VERY helpful. The basic mechanics for them are pretty much unchanged from Breath of the Wild, but in this game, they can be used to disrupt specific enemy attacks.

The big learning curve, however, is with the characters’ abilities. There aren’t as many to play as in most Warriors games, but they make up for it with depth. While the game is nice enough to give you button prompts for abilities as you play as them, they are still very confusing. Link is a safe bet, since he’s your basic dude. But everyone else… geez. To make it more confusing, the Shiekah Slate powers have unique effects based on who’s using it! 

But if there’s one thing that doesn’t, it’s the Rods. These are your typical elemental Rods from the Zelda series. They have limited ammo, but can be refilled by beating elemental enemies and breaking some crates. Enemies with elemental attributes can easily be trivialized by Rods, but most enemies will at least suffer some effect from them.

One of my biggest concerns playing a Warriors game solo was what to do in the event of multiple urgent objectives happening at opposite points on the map. It never felt balanced except for co-op. However, Age of Calamity fixes that… to a point. You can change which ally you’re playing as at the push of a button. Also, you can pause the game and order the A.I. to go to a specific spot. One important thing that they don’t tell you is that you need to go to the menu and cancel the order once they arrive at the spot. I learned this the hard way, and found my allies doing a 180 and heading back to where I originally wanted them to go instead of forward.

Fortunately, stages aren’t as much of a mess this time around. There are some points where a ton of mobs appear, but it’s not constant. The reason is that they knew that you would need down time in these stages, as there is stuff to find per Zelda tradition. Any out of the way part of the map is likely to contain a special treasure chest. Oh, and guess what else you’ll have to look out for… Yep, those sumbitch Koroks are back (hang on, if this is the prequel, doesn’t that actually mean they’re here for the first time?), but there aren’t nine hundred this time around. 

Of course, fighting is only half the battle. One of the towers from Breath of the Wild serves as Link’s base of operation. Here, you can check equipment and select battles to embark on. You can also solve quests throughout Hyrule, which increases character abilities and increases a lovely Affinity gauge with the region. Later ones will require a LOT of materials, as expected from a Warriors game.

You also have the blacksmith, which allows for the fusion of weapons you pick up in battle. However, it’s kind of complicated in this game. In Hyrule Warriors, you just choose one weapon ability to transfer to the base weapon. But here, there are a whole bunch of nuances with stat bonuses, as well as an extra perk for abilities with matching shapes on their icon. One important thing that they don’t tell you (either that or I skipped it like an idiot) is that an ability slot is added every fifth weapon level up. Just like with Hyrule Warriors, it’s worth experimenting with this system to create something stupid powerful!

Difficulty-wise, Age of Calamity is about as tough as you can expect. It can be overwhelming to get used to the controls, but as you level up and gain more powerful weapons, it becomes a bit more manageable. However, some of the side missions can be a bit of a pain (plus some of the DLC ones can have large difficulty spikes). Some timed missions were incredibly sting twitch respawning mobs, resulting in some uncomfortably close shaves. Also, they have no-damage missions, which are my absolute weakness in Warriors games. Knowing Breath of the Wild mechanics is a great advantage, since most enemies have the same attack patterns (with some new ones thrown into the mix), and certain nuances are carried over.

Like with any Warriors game, Age of Calamity has a post-game. This spawns some of the usual extra quests and missions that are harder than the final boss. It also spawns a large quest chain, and completing it unlocks the time traveling Guardian as a playable character. Based on the character select grid, there’s one character I never figured out how to unlock. Knowing my luck, I would need to complete everything as a prerequisite, and since there are no damage challenges, that’s not gonna happen in my case!

The reason why it took me until almost the end of the year to put this review out is because of Age of Calamity’s Expansion Pass. Since this DLC isn’t involved enough to warrant a whole review, like with Pokémon Sword and Shield’s, I had to wait to discuss each of them here! The first wave of DLC unlocks Robbie and Purah’s Research Lab. This includes a whole extra set of requests, most of which require a new type of material called research papers, which are basically earned just by doing your usual thing. The rewards are REALLY good, and like a lot of Nintendo DLC, feel like something that would be a  middle finger to those who already beat the base game. Rewards also include a weapon for Link that’s literally two Guardian legs stitched together, the motorcycle from Breath of the Wild’s DLC for Zelda, and—the most important thing—a Guardian as a playable character. Unfortunately, the research requests can be very grindy, often requiring vast numbers of resources as well as defeating a specific number of enemies with specific items. This DLC also causes Vicious Monster encounters to spawn at random throughout the world. Each region’s fight is the same, with the exception of the Vicious Monster itself. The difficulty level for some of these can be well above what you should be at for the main story. You can still fight them, but they’re hard enough even when properly levelled. What makes these fights hard is that elemental enemies infinitely spawn, and you can get juggled between them. At the very least, this makes these stages great for grinding Rod ammo. 

The second set of DLC makes little-to-no sense to me. What it’s supposed to be is a series of hidden memories stored inside the time travelling Guardian. This starts with a short level from its perspective, which makes sense considering that they are its memories. However, after that is just a series of one-off fights, implied to have taken place during the second act of the story, that the Guardian isn’t even involved in (with the exception of the final mission). It makes no sense that everyone else wouldn’t have remembered these battles, and even less sense as to why the time traveller alone recalls them. 

In terms of gameplay, these missions are a bit of a pain. Each has a bonus objective, one of which is always hidden until you magically happen upon it. Beating these extra missions, along with the bonus objectives, nets you some powerful upgrades to the characters’ movepools. Finishing the campaign unlocks Robbie and Purah as a tag-team playable character, which is quite worth it if I do say so myself.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

For a bunch of cobbled together assets made to tide us over for the sequel that we actually care about, Age of Calamity isn’t just a great game; it’s the best Warriors experience I have ever played. It’s still grindy, however, but there’s no achievement system for getting everyone to max level (and other headaches like that). I recommend it to any Zelda fan who isn’t The Completionist (and if he’s already played Age of Calamity, at least it’s not as bad as Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition).

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles: I MISS THIS SERIES SO MUCH

PREFACE: I originally split this review into two parts, the first of which I recently deleted. The reason was that I wanted to jump in on the hype of Great Ace Attorney, but I couldn’t possibly beat both games in time. I’m sorry for not keeping my usual standards to heart. My second part of the review was so awful, I decided to shift gears to a full, proper review. I hope you enjoy it!


Time for a long story. While this is the first Ace Attorney game I’m covering on my blog, this is definitely NOT the first Ace Attorney game I’ve played. In fact, I’ve played through these games with my sister for years. Thing is, that was way before I had this blog. We played up through Spirit of Justice (with the exception of the Edgeworth games, but thankfully NintendoCaprisun had his videos of them for us), but that was five years ago. Now, we both have jobs. However, that didn’t stop us from squeezing what little time we had for a massive and unexpected adventure: an official U.S. release of The Great Ace Attorney spinoff series, with HD remasters for the Switch. 

In The Great Ace Attorney, we turn back the clock to the early 1900s, to Phoenix Wright’s ancestor, Ryunosuke Naruhodo. His lawyering career begins when he has to defend himself after a man is shot to death while he happens to be holding a gun found at the scene. Thus starts a saga that continues for generations.

The story structure will seem pretty familiar; episodic cases that build up to a bigger plot. And similar to the Edgeworth spinoffs, this one plays with your expectations. In fact, despite the lack of returning characters, The Great Ace Attorney felt very emotionally tense, considering its entirely new setting and cast. Some cases feature a jury (who actually exist this time, unlike Apollo’s game), and they change their minds a lot, making trials even more nerve-wracking when the scale leans toward guilt. While there are no straight-up bad cases, the third case is definitely where the game starts in earnest.

The writing in The Great Ace Attorney is great as always. From wry humor, to raw emotion, and spine-tingling suspense, Capcom once again demonstrates their writing prowess (if only that carried over to other games (*cough* Monster Hunter Stories 2 *cough*)). However, there are some big changes in the overall feel, more so due to this localization. And if I may write one more sentence, I’ll have an excuse to elaborate in a nice and organized new paragraph.

First off, the localization retcons the Ace Attorney universe. The main games have been set in an ambiguous country that could pass as just about anywhere, with the U.S. localization being set somewhere in California. However, The Great Ace Attorney universe doesn’t just scream Japan, but other countries as well. Fortunately, you aren’t required to know anything about old-timey world culture in order to solve a case, but Japanese honorifics are used without explanation.

Furthermore, the humor is very… hm, at times. It’s the 1900s, which means… racism. Ace Attorney has never held back on stereotypes, but it’s really nasty here. Foreigners act like Japan is a massive sh**hole, like an anime fan who hates ecchi. Their culture is even insulted right in the middle of their most supreme courtroom. You’re meant to chalk it up to English people being hotiy-toity, but I actually own a Japanese mythology research book, written at around that time, by an Englishman who fell in love with Japan, even shaming his own culture in one chapter. But when the story shifts to the U.K. itself, even our Japanese intrepid heroes act as if their own nation is a sh**hole. The U.K. definitely has the more advanced technology, but they even imply that the country has a richer history, which is a very subjective thing that’s neither right nor wrong (and is probably just meant to hype up London in the context of the story and I shouldn’t be reading into it this hard). 

ANYWAY, the characters, despite being all newcomers, stand within Ace Attorney’s cast as my favorite in any visual novel franchise. Ryunosuke is another new face, and I mean NEW. The first case isn’t just his first case as a lawyer, but he’s also had no experience in law whatsoever. He has a really unique arc where he gradually acquires the confident Ace Attorney animations we know and love over the course of the first case, and it’s wonderful to see. The Maya Fey of this game is a waifu named Susato, who is a bit of a kuudere; she’s condescending in a deadpan way, but some Maya-like qualities shine through at times (and she often proves herself a better lawyer than Ryunosuke). The Gumshoe is none other than Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I know the text says “Herlock Sholmes”, but if you play with Japanese audio, he is referred to as Sherlock Holmes. Based on this, I assume the reason for a lack of localization was a copyright thing, similar to the Stands in Jojo. In any case, he’s as confident as he is wrong about his deductions, i.e. he’s wrong a LOT but loves himself nonetheless. As much as I love Gumshoe, this guy grew on me very quickly. Screw it; he’s my favorite detective in the series, second only to Gumshoe (sorry Ema). Our prosecutor is Barok van Zieks. As one of the hunkiest antagonists thus far, he behaves like a scarier, more aggressive Klavier Gavin, where he’s sometimes willing to help the defense if things happen to go a certain way in the trial.

While the first game is great, the second game—Resolve—is truly a work of art. It’s the first linear sequel in the series, being a direct continuation from the first game, Great Ace Attorney Adventures. Resolve is easily as intense as Edgeworth 2 and Spirit of Justice. Resolve introduces the designated “case from a long time ago that started everything”, and this latest—or rather, first—incident is of a serial killer called The Professor.

Whenever I think they have run out of ways to play Ace Attorney, Capcom manages to surprise me. The Great Ace Attorney tries (no pun intended) fun new ideas both in and out of court. For instance, multiple witnesses can take the stand at once, and have their own testimonies. As a result, one person can have a reaction to what the other person says, and naturally, it’s a good idea to pursue that nervous tick. Unfortunately, this mechanic might be one of my least favorite gimmicks in the series. With one exception, each instance has a big “!” pop up, so it’s not even a case of having to know their poses enough. Also, it requires suspension of disbelief because the court itself proves to be the most braindead it has ever been. One example is when a witness is seen practically strangling another witness right on the stand. I know that Ryunosuke is supposed to have powers of observation, but you don’t need that power to notice these tells.

In trials with a jury present, you also have the power of the Summation Exam. Basically, when the jury unanimously votes guilty (which, in series tradition, will happen often), you get to hear their reasoning. At this juncture, you take a pair of statements from the jurors’ that contradict one another, and reveal said contradiction. Ryunosuke paces like a badass when tearing their reasoning apart, and it feels really good. The one dumb thing about it is that you’re warned not to press anyone during the tutorial, but you actually will need to press jurors for every solution after the first examination.

What’s extra super fun is the Deductions. Sherlock has a ridiculously over-the-top routine where he makes a wildly incorrect series of statements about an NPC, and it’s up to you to correct them by examining the NPC, the location, or by presenting evidence. These sequences kind of take a while, since you basically have to go through them twice, one to hear the initial take and two to correct it, but they’re awesome.

As a spinoff, Great Ace Attorney proves to be very difficult because it plays with your expectations of the series’ tropes. If there’s any pro-tip I feel like I should give, it’s to REALLY examine any new evidence as soon as you receive it. There aren’t many times where they’re like “If you didn’t examine any evidence you should do it now”, either. Also, dialogue in a specific case is actually affected by whether or not you examined a piece of evidence at the earliest opportunity. 

For a port made from the ground up during a thing-I-should-probably-not-bring-up-because-you’re-probably-sick-of-seeing-it-attributed-to-things-that-shouldn’t-have-anything-to-do-with-it, The Great Ace Attorney looks beautiful. The models are as on-point as always, but the environments are lovelier than ever, thanks to the Switch. They even have light sources flickering just like they would be in that time period. 

Unfortunately, this game probably has the weakest soundtrack I’ve heard in the whole series. Some of the character themes are good, but by keeping true to the time, I feel like they might’ve trapped themselves. And worst of all, the “Pursuit” theme shows up the least often in this game. Maybe that’s because of Ryunosuke’s character arc, but it still stinks.

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was a better duology than I could have ever imagined. And the worst part about it is that it’s over; no more Susato Takedown, and no more Holmes. And until the mysterious seventh core Ace Attorney game comes out, there’s no more of the series as a whole right now. But as much as I loved these games, finishing lifts a weight off me because of how much harder it is to schedule play sessions. Regardless, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a must for series veterans. That’s just elementary, my dear fellows.

TOEM: The Actual Cutest Game of 2021

I’ve had to rearrange my lifestyle in order to make room for more videogames, and also, to be in a better financial position. As I’ve stated, numerous times, light novels and manga (with the exception of Viz) have no subscription service. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on those things, and that’s with prices almost halved by getting digital versions. By filtering out the stuff I can live without, as hard as that is sometimes, I can spare the cash on little games like TOEM on Steam.

In TOEM, you are a little bird cartoon fellow who wants to take a picture of the titular TOEM, whatever that is. He sets off on a journey to find it, and that’s literally it for the plot. 

The story is simple and pure; perfect Escapism. The writing is pretty grounded for the most part, but there’s still enough humor for it to be charming without coming off as try-hard. 

What drives TOEM home is the presentation. The grayscale style gives it a cozy feel, and the areas are very ambient, provided you don’t pay any mind to the empty void that surrounds you outside the boundaries of the game world. The soundtrack is beautifully relaxing and atmospheric. Plus, a really nice detail is that the main character is actually listening to it through headphones, and you can freely manipulate what music is playing in the pause menu.

The gameplay of TOEM is very simple. You use your camera to take pictures. The game makes it clear when it’s acknowledging a subject of the photo by showing brackets around it. Of course, there are many different things you need photos of. The biggest thing is the Compendium, which is basically an encyclopedia of different animals. Anything for the Compendium is given a snail symbol, which also has a check mark to indicate that you got it already. Every area also has a landmark that can have a picture taken, so get snapping!

To advance through the game, you must collect stamps in each area. To do this, you solve light puzzles by either finding stuff or presenting a certain photo. It’s pretty simple to figure out, but the annoying thing is that some tasks need stuff from all four areas. There are some surprisingly clever puzzles, but if you’ve played Baba Is You, then there isn’t much to worry about.

Getting full completion can be a bit tricky, but don’t get too hung up on getting it before the credits roll; in fact, you can’t, since you need to bring a photo from the endgame area to an older area for an achievement. The hardest one is probably the Cosplayer Achievement, which requires you to wear every clothing item. There’s no real way to track if you have all the clothing items in an area, plus some are in gift boxes, while others are earned from NPCs. You also have to take some photos of specific NPCs, who are indicated by shojou-style sparkles. If you did it, the photo will pop up with a glittering frame and artwork that looks nothing like the picture you took.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

TOEM is a short, sweet little game that you can play when you don’t feel in the mood to play the latest iteration of The Dark Souls of Dark Souls. I recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Metroid Dread: SA-X Chase Sequences, the Game

Have you ever heard of the videogame protagonist Samus Aran? I spent the last decade thinking of her as only a Smash Bros. character. It wasn’t until this year’s E3 that I remembered: “Oh right, she has a franchise, and an important one at that!” You’ve seen tons of metroidvania games, right? Well, her game series—Metroid—is where the genre all started. You’d think that such a monumentally important Nintendo I.P. would have a consistent track record of new releases. But after the lukewarm reception of Metroid: Other M, there hasn’t been a single tried-and-true Metroid game… until now, with Metroid Dread for Nintendo Switch (and for the record I was being sarcastic at the beginning).

Metroid Dread picks up where Fusion left off. After dealing with the X, the Federation gets sent a little TikTok of an X Parasite alive on planet ZDR. They investigate, and of course, lose contact with mission control. Time for Samus to take care of business AGAIN. Of course, it doesn’t take long for some Power Rangers villain to show up and kick Samus’ ass, making her lose her power-ups AGAIN.

Metroid Dread has a pretty standard plot for the most part. They revisit the X, which is cool, and have what I think to be the first living Chozo in the entire series, which is even cooler. But other than that, it’s your typical “run around maze-like world and do stuff” Metroid experience. It goes from zero to a hundred at the end, though. Plus, Samus is the most bad-ass she has ever been in the series.

People wanted classic 2D Metroid gameplay to return, and that’s what they got. The controls should immediately be familiar to anyone who has knowledge of the series. They even brought back hidden blocks! However, there are plenty of new toys to play with as well; it would suck if we waited this long for “just” another 2D Metroid. In addition to new power-ups, Samus can parry enemy attacks by smacking them with her arm cannon.

As a follow-up to Fusion, Metroid Dread is very scary, and very difficult. While regular combat is pretty easy, things get spicy in the E.M.M.I. Zones. Each zone has an E.M.M.I. unit within, and they REALLY wanna give Samus a shot of that COVID vaccine. But apparently, the side effects include instant death! Unless you can master the ludicrously difficult parry timing to escape, getting caught is GG. Luckily, the game has plenty of checkpoints, so it’s not a time-waster, but that fact is kind of like putting a free 1-Up at the beginning of a tough Mario level; Nintendo knew they made something that was complete BS.

Death counts will easily go into the double digits if you’re a first-timer, and aren’t good at stealth. Pretty early on, you get an item that temporarily makes you invisible, which made me think, “Well that makes things much easier.” However, there were a ton of times where I would cloak up and wait for the robot to sneak by, just for it to casually stroll right where I was. Your computer friend tells you to study their pathing carefully, but sometimes you have to think fast, and if you’re not fast enough, it’s GG. Also, there is some sort of randomness. What I think is happening is that the robot is patrolling constantly even when you’re not in the room. I think this because there were times where I came in and found the robot there, and other times where it’s wasn’t.

Fortunately, you don’t have to deal with them forever. Finding the Central Unit in each E.M.M.I. Zone and defeating the miniboss there gives you a use of the Omega Blaster. A fully charged shot from these defeats the stupid vaccine-o-trons. However, the next battle becomes finding a proper space to charge it up from, and this gets straight-up tedious.

At the very least, the boss battles are fun. They’re more complicated than past games’ strategy of spamming missiles, and they also have parry-able attacks that allow you to earn a LOT of free hits. And for the sake of nostalgia, some old friends show up once again. Just keep in mind that you take a LOT of damage in this game. Expect some tougher enemies to take up to three Energy Tanks in one hit.

Of course, nothing is more universally hated in a metroidvania than a lack of nonlinear exploration. And… *sigh* Metroid Dread is a very linear Metroid game. Not only is it linear, but it very often gates you from backtracking when you get a new upgrade. At the very least, it doesn’t straight-up hold your hand when it comes to where to go. However, they have a tendency of sneakily hiding required paths in hidden blocks. If you’re knowledgeable of the series, you should have no problem spotting them. Oh, and here’s another caveat. As you know, metroidvanias are influenced by both Metroid, and the non-linear Castlevania games (ex. Symphony of the Night). The latter had fast travel points, while Metroid never had it… and still doesn’t have it in Dread. So yeah, if you do want to get everything, prepare to do a TON of walking.

Another standout feature is that, for the first time in the entire series, the map is useful. It marks everything, from items, to types of doors, to discovered blocks, and even gives vague hints as to where an item is hidden. As nice as this is, you could argue that the charm of metroidvanias is having to decipher an intentionally unhelpful map. However, as accurate as this map is, it doesn’t give you the intrinsic skills needed to collect the items. This game has a number of obnoxious puzzles with the Shinespark, requiring mechanics new to the series that you have to figure out yourself, as well as killer reflexes.

Unfortunately, the audio and visuals leave much to be desired. While the characters look good enough, the environments are a bit bland. Nintendo’s always been better at cartoony styles, and Metroid isn’t like that. Also ,the music—other than remixes of classic tracks—is pretty forgettable. 

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I don’t quite know what to think of Metroid Dread. For all intents and purposes, it’s a great Metroid game, albeit with some annoying insta-death scenarios. I think the circumstances around its release have colored my impressions of it, as I initially feared it would. For being the first 2D Metroid in almost twenty years, the fact that it feels like “just another Metroid game” feels kind of like a disappointment. Plus, the $60 for a game that can easily be beaten in under fifteen hours 100% is kind of yikes. The biggest caveat is that the metroidvania subgenre has exploded in the indie scene, and considerably raised the bar (while lowering the price per product). Mechanics like fast travel are pretty much expected, plus we have Hollow Knight, which is objectively one of the most non-linear games of its kind, even moreso than Super Metroid. And as fun as this game was, it’s not one I can see myself playing again, due to its linearity and obnoxious Shinespark puzzles (even if there is probably a bonus ending if you beat it faster or something, but I’m going to play the ignorance is bliss card here (also I’m not gamer enough to beat it faster)). I can’t recommend Dread for newcomers, since it expects a lot of knowledge of the series to understand its game design. Thus, I recommend it only to devout Metroid fans.

One Piece Pirate Warriors 4: A Great Game… for Fans

Hoooooo-doggie! If you’re reading this, then I’ve either completed (or, more likely, gotten tired of completing) one of the latest of the grind-heavy Dynasty Warriors crossovers: One Piece Pirate Warriors 4. I had loved the third game (to a point), and a relative gave the newest installment to me for Christmas. So, after about eight hundred hours, here we go!

One Piece is my favorite manga of all time, so I naturally knew the story going into Pirate Warriors 4. And you better know too, because you are spoiled to death regarding everything from the beginning up to Whole Cake Island. The Wano portion is game original, but you will still be spoiled on where the climax of the actual manga arc takes place (I had luckily just started that part when I played the game).

Honestly, with the amount of One Piece videogames out there, you can almost tell that they’re tired of telling the same story over and over again. The Japanese voice actors are excellent, but they even seem more “oh boy this line again” than the previous game. The dialogue is stiff and awkward, but that could be because of the localization. The cutscenes are also half-assed, even reusing some pre-rendered cutscenes from Pirate Warriors 3. Fans buy this game for the gameplay.

All five thousand hours of it!

If you haven’t played a Dynasty Warriors game, the idea is simple: you vs. eight million enemies. Maps are pretty simple, split into different rooms. There’s your allied force, the enemy force, and an occasional rogue force. Every playable character has an elaborate combo system that can be expanded upon (and you will have to memorize every single one of them). One Piece is a series where the protagonists have gone head-to-head against entire armies by themselves, so the Dynasty Warriors system works perfectly. 

In addition to your usual combos, you have JUMPING. If you jump after landing a hit, you launch nearby foes into the air and can unleash an ENTIRE EXTRA SET of midair combos. These can get absolutely obscene if performed well, but you seriously gotta memorize the moves. There are also four different special moves you can equip at once for each character. There are many types of special moves beyond the ones that freeze time and have a cinematic cutscene. Ones that provide buffs (including transformations like Gear Two) are tied to this system. There is also a Power Dodge that sends you forward and deals damage, making it a good panic button; just be wary of stamina.

The game also introduces different “types” of characters, which honestly, makes it way more complicated than it should be. All the types are pretty self-explanatory, and since you’re expected to be familiar with these guys, it’s not really an important detail. The only stand-out is Sky-types. These characters specialize in air combos, and most importantly, their Power Dodge can be used in one constant burst until stamina runs out. This can be a lifesaver since Dynasty Warriors games tend to have important events take place at opposite ends of the stage.

Like most Warriors games in general, mooks are utter jokes that you can basically look at and kill instantly. Tougher enemies have an armor gauge that must be drained to get them into a temporary vulnerable state, where they glow purple and can be comboed more easily. Of course, actual bosses are even tougher. They can have a temporary “super-shield” that doesn’t drain. But honestly, you just have to do what you always do in these games: smack it a lot!

They pretty much abandon the XP system from Pirate Warriors 3 to introduce the Growth Maps. Each “island” on them needs a lot of Beris and Coins to give them stat boosts, new abilities, and more. There’s a beginner map that applies to all characters. It’s important to prioritize getting the big stat boosts here so that new unlocks aren’t insanely weak right off the bat. In addition to the beginner map, EVERY PLAYABLE CHARACTER has TWO unique Growth Maps! I prefer this change because getting everyone to Level 100 is a far worse undertaking than maxing out all the Growth Maps. Other than these changes, Pirate Warriors 4 runs pretty much the same as others.

The environments have never been the strong suit of these games, but they at least go to lengths to make them feel more organic. The layouts, for example, are no longer sectioned into square-shaped keeps, but territories. These function the same, but can be any shape and size. The most important aspect of this is that they can get pretty large, which makes capturing them easier. They also add the ability to destroy environmental objects, which can help make navigating easier since you won’t have crap in your way.

In terms of difficulty, Pirate Warriors 4 is a bit tougher than Pirate Warriors 3 for a number of reasons. You can get juggled a lot more easily, especially in Treasure Log where you’ll be fighting more boss characters simultaneously (especially against Ace and Law). I’ve also had less luck with healing item drops, even with the skill that allows little mooks to drop items. Fortunately, min-maxing the Growth Maps helps make things easier. The Indomitable Spirit skill is a lifesaver, and it can be obtained very early on in Treasure Log. What it does is cause health regeneration during a buff, and at max level, you can heal back to full from the brink of death. With Concentration to fill up the special gauge faster, you can basically never die, even on the toughest missions.

Sadly, that does not stop the bosses from being absolutely obnoxious to fight. It could be because I use this game to veg out, thus refusing to learn the nuances of the game, but it’s also a license tie-in, so… Anyway, when you destroy the armor gauge, the meter turns purple and slowly fills up. Obviously, you have until it’s full to combo them before it refills. However, when fighting bosses specifically, they have a completely random ability to use a shockwave attack which instantly frees them from your combos AND immediately recharges their armor. It’s stupid and you just have to deal with it (or, you know, actually know how the game works).

Pirate Warriors 4 has three modes, just like the previous game. Dramatic Log is the main campaign, which has all the stiff cutscenes and stuff (seriously, these games probably made us desensitized toward Ace’s death). The missions are shorter and more numerous, allowing for a more accurate experience of the story arcs as they actually happened. But sometimes, it gets a bit much. Why is there an entire stage just for the first battle against Sir Crocodile? The Free Log is the ability to replay story stages, but since they no longer have Treasure Events or that stupid grid thing (THANK GOD), there isn’t much of a point. S-Ranks are as easy as ever to obtain, and there’s no reward for playing on Hard Mode, except maybe a trophy in the PS4 version.

My personal favorite mode is Treasure Log. Similar to Pirate Warriors 3’s Dream Log, Treasure Log is a series of short, semi-random missions. I love it because there’s no boring cutscenes; just straight gameplay. Also, you get to live a number of impossible, fan-fic like scenarios, such as getting to beat the crap out of that sumbitch Akainu, or winning a 2-v-1 against Big Mom and Kaido as someone like Bartolomeo. It’s also a lot harder, doing crazy things like pitting you against the entire Straw Hat Crew at once. Unfortunately, you still need to progress in Dramatic Log to unlock the Straw Hats’ later move sets, like Gear Four and all that. But bizarrely enough, I actually look forward to these games for playing as anyone OTHER than the Straw Hats. I love the crew, but there’s a weird charm to being able to play as one of the villains, or characters with interesting abilities, such as Bege. Of course, if you want to get 100%, you’ll be playing as the Straw Hats in this mode a lot, along with everyone else. Just be wary of playing as Sanji in this mode, since female enemies can spawn in for random side missions even if it’s a stage that guarantees all male opponents.

I didn’t actually complete the game as far as maxing out everyone’s stats and doing every stage, but this game is pretty reasonable by comparison to others of its kind; it’s no Hyrule Warriors that’s for sure! As long as you have the Coin Collector and Cat Burglar skills and do the most of your grinding in the New World-tier Treasure Log stages, it doesn’t seem like it’d take that long. Maybe 100-odd hours, which is—yes—shorter than the previous Pirate Warriors, and WAY shorter than Hyrule Warriors (that goes to show you the standard that the Warriors games set). If you wanna complete one of these games, do this one!

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Final Verdict: 8.35/10 if you’re a fan

One Piece Pirate Warriors 4 feels great if you really love and understand the series. The combat is fun and over-the-top, and the way they handle special moves give it a lot of depth and customizability. In case I didn’t make this clear, ONLY play this if you’re a diehard fan of One Piece!

Baba Is You Is Fun And Insane

If you’re reading this, then I have managed to complete enough of this ludicrous indie puzzler to write a review of it. I had originally played Baba Is You on my Switch with my sister. However, time caught up to both of us, and since she got her own Switch with her data transferred to it (since we used to share mine), I could no longer play—or finish—Baba. Because I thought it was such a great puzzle game (with a LOT of bang for your buck), I had decided to get it on Steam, and play it over again (since we only got about less than a third of the stages done before). And, well, I both hate and love it to death.

There really isn’t a premise, nor plot to Baba Is You. Simply put, Baba is you. You is Baba. And Baba, who is You, wants to Win. That’s about it.

So, how does Baba, who is You, Win? It’s simple, really. Just touch the Flag, which is Win. However, some things get in the way, and sometimes, there isn’t Baba, nor a Flag. That’s fine, though, because that’s the whole point. Every level has an assortment of words that can be pushed like blocks, and… Okay, I should stop teasing since you probably read the description of this game already. Long overdue TL;DR: you form sentences that dictate the rules of every level.

This is definitely not the first game to be so meta, but Baba Is You is one of the best when it comes to this kind of gameplay. This simple idea branches out into an incredibly in-depth puzzle game that teaches you through level design. Every time you think you’ve seen everything, the game pulls something even crazier. 

The way to Win is for You to be touching the object that is Win. While Flag is most commonly Win, that can—and often has to be—changed. Baba doesn’t necessarily have to be You, either. You can be a rock, a crate, or the entire level, as long as the words are there to form that statement. Just be careful not to touch anything that is Defeat, or dislodge whatever statement dictates your existence, because that’s how you die in this game. Fortunately, a simple press of the X or Y button will begin to undo your actions, up to the very beginning of the level.

If the game sounds hard to you, that’s because it is. Word of warning, Baba Is You is NOT for people who have busy careers, unless you want to look at a guide. Figuring out puzzles on your own feels good, but that takes time, and we don’t have that much of it these days unless you’re a kid. In any case, Baba Is You’s puzzles are brutally mind-bending, and for the most part, ingeniously clever. The biggest battle is figuring out certain nuances with the game’s mechanics, such as what rules get priority when assigned to the same object; for example, something that is Defeat cannot kill you if it is Stop, Push, or Weak. The game also expects you to create some incredibly bizarre scenarios that completely disregard everything you understand about videogaming itself. Unfortunately, the difficulty is quite inconsistent. Either that, or it’s just a matter of how each individual thinks. I’ve had more trouble with some of the “normal” levels than some of the super-secret psychopath levels in the late-game!

Fortunately, the game is pleasing enough to look at to where it’s really hard to get mad. It has a very minimalistic pixel-art look that’s surreal and dreamy. Enabling the “wiggle” animations (or whatever they’re called) makes Baba Is You feel very cartoony and alive. The soundtrack is also very chill and atmospheric.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Baba Is You will probably be my favorite puzzle game of all time. I haven’t gotten 100% yet; thank the passage of time for that, but I at least beat it. Baba Is You gives you insane bang for your buck: 226 levels for 14.99 USD. If you like puzzle games, there’s no reason to not play Baba for that deal alone!

Copy Kitty: Megaman Meets Bullet Hell Meets Kawaii Neko-Chan

I owe 100% of my knowledge of this game to one of my favorite YouTuber/Streamers, ProtonJon. The game is VERY under-the-radar on Steam, but someone was able to donate for it during Jon’s 2020 BCRF Charity Stream. The game looked insanely fun, but brutally hard. I’ve played a number of games considered tough, but I have not bested them at their pinnacle. Copy Kitty may or may not cause me to hate myself.

In Copy Kitty, you are the kawaii cat-girl, Boki. She wants to be a superhero, but has to be content with the next best thing: a simulation game made by her uncle Savant. Only one thing left to do: blow up a LOT of robots.

This is a shooter-platformer, so the story is simple, really. But to be honest, who cares about the story in a game WHERE YOU BRING ABOUT CYBER-CARNAGE EVERYWHERE?! The thing with Copy Kitty is that Boki, well, copies the powers of defeated enemies, Megaman-style. Boki has limited ammo, but can replenish it by collecting more of the same drop from other enemies of that type. In addition to that, any of the three weapons you can have on-hand (with the exception of Solo Weapons) are automatically combined into another, more powerful weapon type. 

With this incessantly simple idea, Copy Kitty becomes one of the most intricate and insane shooters I’ve seen. The different weapon combos all have unique effects, all of which look ridiculously cool. Take time learning them because the game will require different combinations to get through certain stages. 

Of course, the thing I was worried about the most was the game’s difficulty level. The campaign is pretty balanced for the most part. However, the controls took getting used to for me. You’re locked into eight-directional aiming, and you cannot move and shoot at the same time. Even worse, your very helpful dodge ability cannot be used in midair. As someone who’s played a lot of games where you COULD do that, well… just be glad I don’t stream videogames.

But here’s the catch. What I described before was just the standard playthrough. Beating the game as Boki is just the beginning. After that, you unlock Hard Mode. It’s not just a harder version of the game, though; it might as well be a completely different game, continued directly after the main story. The stage layouts are the same, but enemies and bosses are way different. Hard Mode is, to put it lightly, push-you-to-your-limits-ridiculous. I haven’t even beaten it yet, and I probably never will.

And even if I did, I would have to do it again (along with Normal Mode) as Savant, who has his own unique playstyle! Seriously, the guy’s a savage! He has less health than Boki, but his perks more than make up for that little detail. First off, he can freely fly, which makes a lot of things (like a certain recurring miniboss) easier, plus his dodge is a lot better (even if it has a stamina meter). The problem is mastering his method of attack. Savant’s weapons fire out of a little window, which is manipulated by the player at the same time as Savant himself. Only two weapons can be combined, and it has to be done manually. To offset an otherwise lack of variety, the order in which weapons are combined produces different results. Depending on the weapon used, Savant’s window will either follow him, cling to walls, and more. Coordination (and a lot of mashing the B button to reset his window) is key to mastering Savant.

However, the game still isn’t done yet! There’s also Endless Mode, which is, actually, one of the more forgiving modes of its kind. Healing is pretty generous, and you can start from every five waves. There is a LOT to it, though. Each set of ten waves is contained within a specific biome, of which there are thirty-seven. Beat the biomes on Normal Endless Mode to unlock additional, harder variants with the other biomes. Also, try Pandemonium, where every enemy attack pattern is randomized. Plus, a rare enemy encountered only in this mode will unlock the secret 13th world in Story Mode.

If this game didn’t seem enough like capital punishment for completionists, then here’s more. There are also marathon and boss rush modes, which are self-explanatory enough. Also, every state of the campaign has a Target Damage limit, and not taking more than the indicated amount of damage gets you a gold star for the stage. Fortunately, this condition doesn’t exist whatsoever in Hard Mode, which still makes Copy Kitty more lenient than what you’d expect. And one more thing that I can’t dedicate to a new paragraph, the Steam Page implies there’s a level editor. I couldn’t find it; it’s probably locked behind some insanely hard prerequisite.

As far as looks are concerned, Copy Kitty is very appealing. Although the 3D textures look a bit bare-bone, the character designs are quite memorable. Plus, the sensory-overloading violence, especially if particle effects are set to the highest intensity, is extremely pretty. The backgrounds are very cool and cyber-y as well.

The soundtrack is very EDM-heavy, with some rock elements. Despite how little I care about either of those types of music, Copy Kitty’s soundtrack is solid, with good enough variance. The problem is that I consistently ran into a bug where the sound effects would just die, and I would have to lower the game audio to insanely low levels to barely hear them. And since I got so used to it like this, the occasion they came back on made the game feel really overwhelming and it was hard to concentrate. It’s a shame, since the sound effects are really satisfying. I’m new to PC gaming, so it might be a problem with my sound card (I know ProtonJon didn’t have that issue when he streamed this).

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Copy Kitty is a fantastic, replayable arcade shooter that’s well worth the money. Just keep in mind that, depending on how non-gamer you are, a lot of it could be above your paygrade.