Disney’s REAL Edgiest Animated Feature: Treasure Planet Retrospective

The turn of the 21st Century wasn’t the worst era of the Walt Disney Company’s history, but it sure was one of the strangest. Following their Renaissance Era in the 1990s, they did some weird stuff. First off, they made a lot of cash-grabby, low-budget sequels to existing I.P.s that nobody asked for. In addition to that, any new I.P.s were serious departures from their classic formula, and it wouldn’t be until Princess and the Frog that they went back to the way things were. That era came with cult classics like Atlantis: The Lost Empire (which I covered on its twentieth anniversary last year), The Emperor’s New Groove (which I’d do a retrospective on if I didn’t have it memorized), and… an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island. For the latter, they changed the genre to science fiction, and named it Treasure Planet, which I had not seen in over fifteen years until watching it for this post. Oh, and by the way, being someone who doesn’t read classic literature, I never read Treasure Island, so don’t expect any intellectuality whatsoever here.

Just in case you’ve somehow never heard of Treasure Island, allow me to give you a run-down. A boy named Jim Hawkins finds a map and is like, “Wow! Treasure Island!” He goes on a pirate expedition to find the place. And since the novel is super-old, the product description now spoils that one of the pirates, Long John Silver, is secretly the main antagonist. Treasure Planet is pretty much the same, except he has no dad, and his house burns down because it’s Disney (oh, and it’s in space).

There ended up being a lot more to say about Treasure Planet than I thought initially going into it, and it’s pretty much impossible for my train of thought to not go all over the place. What immediately stands out is that this is probably the edgiest core animated feature Disney has ever put out, even more so than Big Hero 6. This was the early 2000s, and everyone—even Disney—was embracing full edge culture. And as we discuss the various components of the movie, you’ll see just how edgy it is.

One thing I do remember as a kid is how much the setting blew my mind, which isn’t saying much, of course. To be honest, though, Disney was pretty creative with a lot of aspects of the movie. One example is a spaceport that’s literally in the shape of a crescent moon. Also, in trying to blend the pirate and science fiction themes, they ended up inadvertently predicting NASA’s Lightsail project. Just keep in mind that they do some things that require major suspension of disbelief, like when they survive a supernova and escape a black hole from well within the event horizon. The movie has some intense action sequences, in case you couldn’t tell from the aforementioned supernova and black hole. They are some of the most violent in Disney’s animated films, more so than in Atlantis.

Again, I have no idea what Treasure Island was like, but Treasure Planet definitely has some of those beloved Disney clichés. One of the worst is the case of Jim Hawkins’ father, who isn’t dead, but missing. It’s definitely different from Disney’s usual emotional hook of killing the parents, but it feels half-assed here. For starters, his dad doesn’t appear at all at the beginning when Hawkins is a toddler (before he left), so it’s kind of just thrown at you when he turns into an angsty teen. They also never explain what happens, which can technically be construed as something to leave up to interpretation. It’s possible that he tried to go to Treasure Planet on his own, or that Long John Silver could be his father. Since I don’t like to psycho-analyze and retcon Disney movies, it’s one of those things that has to be glossed over. There’s also some other silly hiccups, such as the death of this one red-shirt guy. He’s murdered by a lobster dude, and they pin it on Hawkins, which is later just overlooked (it’s as if that guy was killed for shock value). Lobster guy gets away with the crime, leaving Hawkins to have an abnormally easy time getting over what he thinks is him committing involuntary manslaughter. Other than that, Treasure Planet is pretty straightforward. They go to the titular planet, find the treasure, escape before it blows up, and learn that the real treasure is the friends they made along the way. That last part is quite literal, because the bread and butter of this movie is the relationship between Hawkins and Silver. Due to how I like to do things, we’ll get to that when we discuss the characters.

The worst part of the movie is probably the soundtrack. I don’t remember a single song in the movie, and that’s saying something for Disney. What stands out in Treasure Planet’s soundtrack is its one musical number. Remember ‘Immortal’ from Big Hero 6? That wasn’t the first edgy alt-rock song by a hired band for a core Disney movie, but the second. They have a montage/backstory for Hawkins, and just like everything in the early 2000s, it’s a sad and moan-heavy punk rock ballad that doesn’t fit at all with Disney, even more so than ‘Immortal’. Whatever this song is called, it’s now my least favorite Disney musical number of all time. 

Treasure Planet has a rather wild cast of characters; and unfortunately, a lot of them are now my least favorite Disney characters of all time. Jim Hawkins, for example, has become one of my least favorite—if not, straight-up least favorite—lead protagonists the company has ever put out. He’s brash, whiny, gullible, has no shortage of sarcastic comments, and has a frat-boy’s dream hairstyle. Disney tried way too hard to make an edgy teen protagonist, and I didn’t like him whatsoever. At the very least, one unique quality is that he’s a lead protagonist who gets no romance.

However, that doesn’t mean there is no romance in Treasure Planet at all. This movie’s lucky bachelor is a scientist named Dillbert who is stupid rich and associated with the Hawkins family for some reason. The fact that he’s rich means that he could’ve paid to have Mrs. Hawkins’ inn rebuilt, but he really wanted an excuse to go to Treasure Planet. Thankfully, Dillbert ended up being the best character in the movie. He comes off as the hoity-toity type, but he’s got an unexpectedly large amount of character that made him more fun than the actual comic relief characters (more on those two later). 

His wife ends up being… er… Look, I did a good job remembering the cast of Atlantis last year, but they literally use the lead female protagonist’s name once in the whole movie. And that’s because she’s the captain of the ship, and insists on being referred to as Captain or Ma’am. Whoever she is, imagine Mary Poppins as a pirate and that’s basically Captain Ma’am in a nutshell. On another note, she has either become more or less controversial over the years (I honestly don’t know which) because she’s a cat-girl. So uh yeah, if you’re offended by that kind of stuff, then this movie is not for you. 

Usually, Disney has a good track record of making cute characters who exist for gags, but Treasure Planet has two of my least favorites in that category. The first one is a blob named Morph. Imagine Figment but ten times more annoying. He shapeshifts and stuff, but that’s about it. Most of his attempts at being funny come off as incredibly annoying, and if I had ever found him funny as a kid, then shame on my house and my cow. 

Additionally, there’s B.E.N…. who isn’t much better. Fun Fact: for all this time, I had thought that this guy was voiced by Robin Williams. He has a spastic, spontaneous personality, much like the characters that Williams has played. However, B.E.N. is actually voiced by Martin Short, which was a huge mind-f*** for me. I must say… as much as I like Short, he was pretty screwed with this role. B.E.N. is just very boring. I don’t know, but none of his lines felt funny, even though Short tries his damndest to make them funny. One standout thing is that B.E.N. is a fully CG character among a cast of hand-drawn ones. For 2002, he moved better than something like RWBY, which is both impressive and sad. 

The problem with both Morph and B.E.N. is that they do that thing where they inadvertently work against the protagonists simply because they’re stupid. Well, the former was technically working with Silver, but it’s the same basic idea. Morph constantly busts Hawkins’ chops and steals the MacGuffin, while B.E.N. constantly gets the bad guys aggroing on Hawkins. I can’t really say anything else about them. They just really suck by Disney standards. 

At the very least, they have one of the most subversive—but tragically forgotten—Disney villains of all time: Long John Silver. I have no idea how Silver’s character arc is in the source novel, but Treasure Planet’s Silver is (I presume) the one Disney villain with a redemption arc. He pretends to give a crap about Hawkins, but then actually gives a crap about Hawkins, and years later, someone (probably) writes a long article about how the two are secretly gay for each other. Silver isn’t particularly interesting, and only stands out when compared to Disney villains. As a small side note, if this was how Silver’s character arc originally was, then I hate him because that probably makes him responsible for the whole “villains must be complex no matter what” stigma that everyone thinks is an absolute rule in storytelling. Thanks, Stevenson!

I always discuss visuals last for some reason, and the visuals in Treasure Planet are stunning. This thing has CG everywhere, and it’s aged pretty well. It doesn’t look as jarring as you’d think for something that turns twenty this year (eighteen as of when I actually watched it for the post). And as you’d expect, the characters have that Disney attention to detail which makes them feel alive, even if none of them are particularly interesting.

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After All These Years: 8.6/10

Other than a few dumb plot contrivances (and lackluster soundtrack), Treasure Planet is a tragically underrated Disney movie that deserves a bit more love. If you’re one of those people who only follows Disney because they own Star Wars and Marvel (which Disney didn’t ruin, because they were already ruined well before being bought out OOOOH SNAP), then Treasure Planet is an easy recommendation. Just don’t think you can use it to write a book report on Treasure Island without reading it.

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.

Iron Widow: To Make a Great YA Novel, Just Add Anime

There is no shortage of Feminist power fantasies these days. In fact, I read one such novel back before COVID broke out: part one of Suzanne Young’s Girls With Sharp Sticks trilogy. It was good, but it was so generic and predictable, I’d rather not spend my time finishing it, because I figured a better Feminist power fantasy would come up. Sure enough, that happened in 2021, when Xiran Jay Zhao published their debut novel: Iron Widow.

In Iron Widow, we are taken to an alternate version of China, set hundreds of years in the past but with futuristic technology (what is this, Star Wars?). The alien menace known as the Hundun threatens the nation of Huaxia. Fight fire with fire, as they say, and by “fire”, I mean they build Gundams out of defeated Hundun. These mechs, known as Chrysalis, must be piloted by a male and female team. However, unlike those anime where the mech is powered by sex, the Chrysalises are powered by sexism, and the woman pilot more-often-than-not can’t handle the strain of her husband’s qi. Wu Zetian’s older sister was killed, not in battle, but murdered by her husband Yang Guang. Naturally, Zetian voluntarily sells herself to him just for an opportunity to murder him. What could possibly go wrong?

Unlike Blood Like Magic, the disclaimer at the beginning is fully needed. No, that’s an understatement. The only other book this viscerally brutal that I read was Legendborn, and even then, the searing social commentary was only prevalent like 60% of the time. In Iron Widow, every page is a reminder of the twisted world in the book, not too different from the twisted world that men created. I won’t spoil anything more about this aspect of Iron Widow’s worldbuilding, but just know it’s beyond brutal.

The main draw with Iron Widow is the very anime-inspired SF world, versus Girls With Sharp Sticks’ nothing. Zhao did their homework with this one, that’s for sure. The terms are easy to follow, and there isn’t an overabundance of Things That Have Common Nouns With Capital Letters As Their Names. I admit that I was enthralled by the mechs, especially Guang’s, which is a kyubi; Zhao knows the fastest way to a weeb’s heart is to make a yokai Gundam. 

The writing is great to boot. I had a great sense of 3D space and what stuff looked like. Plus the battles were spectacular, with no shortage of anime flair. Like I said before, the portrayal of sexism is unrelenting and bludgeoning, written with exquisite and tormented poetry. The only problem I had is that I couldn’t quite picture the Hundun. They seemed to be a generic robot menace, though. 

Anyway, how’s the plot? Well, it’s a YA novel, so it’s predictable. However, Iron Widow manages to be one of the best YA novels of 2021 all the same. Like in Wings of Ebony, the book cuts out the fat to get to the good stuff. Exactly seventy pages in, Zetian successfully murders Guang during the first major battle. She then becomes the rare instance of an Iron Widow (title drop), which is something that is—naturally—covered up. In order to maintain control of her, she is paired with the strongest guy they got: Li Shimin, who happens to be a convicted felon. The bulk of the story is her building a relationship with Shimin, while trying to survive the system that’s so jerry-rigged against her.

Boy-o-boy, the cast is… something. Zetian is so manufactured it’s almost funny; but you know what, women get so much crap, I’m not even mad. She is as uncompromising and fierce as it gets. Nothing—and I mean NOTHING—breaks her. She’ll slander anyone who disagrees with her, and has no remorse when she murders Guang. Most of the men are one-dimensional sleazes, but like in Girls With Sharp Sticks, there’s that one likable guy. And it’s Shimin of all people. Whoda thought that the guy who’s hyped up to be a monster… isn’t? I never predicted that exact thing as soon as his name came up for the first time. Another predictable thing is Gao Yizhi. He’s the childhood friend, who spends a good portion of the book abandoned by Zetian so she can pursue her goal. However, he uses money to get into the camp, and exists as the good boy to contrast Shimin’s naughty boy. This sounds like the start of a cringy relationship, but to my pleasant surprise, these three protagonists’ relationships with one another ended up being one of the best takes of the love triangle trope I have ever seen.

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Final Verdict: 9.8/10

Xiran Jay Zhao has single-handedly made me give a crap about YA novels again. Iron Widow puts them in my book as one of the most promising new writers going into this decade. My butt’s already clenched waiting for the sequel, and more importantly, the possibility that Zhao can actually follow-up. If only they would write a middle-grade novel to tide me over… oh wait, they are, and it’s coming out later this year. Anyway, Iron Widow is my favorite YA novel of 2021 (too bad it isn’t 2021 anymore so no one cares), and I highly recommend it.

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).

Weeb Reads Monthly: October and November 2021

Ugh, light novels. As you might’ve read in my “There’s Too Much” post, I’ve been getting burnt hardcore by these things. I’ve even dreaded the ones I truly enjoy and really want to finish. Every time I go through the Pre-Orders at BookWalker, I feel sick to my stomach at all the stuff I have to veto (also, I’ve become way less tolerable toward ecchi and hentai, so now I have a better moral compass I guess). I should probably make use of the BookWalker notifications. Anyway, let’s see if it’s colored how I read these newest volumes, consisting of ONLY favorites… and Re:ZERO.


Cautious Hero Volume 7

This volume continues the Warped Gaeabrande Arc! And it begins with Seiya being controversial as usual. He trains Rosalie, but is extremely abusive to her, his justification being that she isn’t real. Of course, this won’t stop Rista (or you) from being triggered. Hooray, antiheroes!

However, if you’ve somehow managed to put up with him for this long, then you’ll finally get your reward. This volume is where Seiya and Rista’s values come to a head, and it’s actually quite powerful. He actually learns a lesson for once! Seriously, every time I think this series is going to get stale, something crazy happens. Hopefully, it can stay that way.

Verdict: 9.15/10


Re:ZERO Volume 17

Okay, so what happened last time? Without context, it looked like the mummy-cult-person kidnapped a child, and used her powers to make people happy at the fact that she threw said child off of a skyscraper. And as soon as the kid died, everyone in the crowd exploded. Literally. And Subaru’s checkpoint is only minutes from that mess, meaning that he doesn’t have much time to think (not that he’s ever figured any of these plot points out on his own before).

With next to no time to plan things out, the volume had some of the tightest pacing in a while. In addition to that, some of the previously introduced Archbishops make an appearance as well. But as far as the newcomer, Sirius, is concerned, I’d say she’s one of the better villains. She’s cartoonishly evil as expected for an isekai, but that personality coupled with her mummy-like look will probably make her pretty iconic if this arc ever got animated. Also introduced is Capella, the Archbishop of Lust. She’s also very cartoonishly evil, with no shortage of personality as lewd as her character design.

This arc is off to a great start! The fights are still kind of meh, but at least they go faster than they did before. For the first time in a while, I actually find myself excited for the next volume.

Verdict: 8.5/10


Konosuba Volume 15

The main conflict of this volume is to deal with Seresdina, a dark priestess under orders from the Demon King. She has an uncanny ability to control people, and gains a large number of followers… including Kazuma! However, due to Kazuma being Kazuma, Seresdina ends up regretting her life choices.

It’s another straightforward volume, with a lot more drama than laughs. I admit I’m getting burnt out with Konosuba, which is a shame since I’ve loved it for such a long time. I’ll try to make a push for the remaining two volumes, but I’m not making any promises.

Verdict: 8.25/10


Infinite Dendrogram Volume 15

This volume is set at the same time as the previous volume. In case you forgot, another war against Altar has broken out, with the summit and Altar itself being attacked at the same time. We finally get to know what happened with the latter in this volume!

For the most part, this is a pretty standard Dendro volume. Not to say it’s bad of course; there is no shortage of high-octane battles and even more ridiculous Embryo abilities, in addition to a great fight where Tian soldiers take on a Superior player. The most important thing in this volume is that we establish, of all things, the final boss of the series. It’s a very unexpected twist, however, it’s a very light novel-y twist. To say it in the least spoiler-y way possible, the final boss is in a dormant state, which basically means the author can pad out Dendro as long as they want. Hooray… Overall, it’s a great volume.

Verdict: 8.75/10


Otherside Picnic Volume 6

This volume starts with the tired trope of amnesia. Fortunately, Otherside Picnic doesn’t sell out like that. Sorawo’s amnesia ends pretty quickly, but this volume is about dealing with the guy who caused it: a boy who calls himself Templeborn. 

With only one big chapter, this is the most focused volume thus far. While it sounds like bad pacing to spend the entire volume hunting down one guy, don’t worry; Otherside Picnic does it right. There are plenty of twists and turns, ending off in a climax that meets the series standard. Every time I finish a volume, I want the next volume immediately!

Verdict: 9.45/10


Conclusion

Light novels are hard. But somehow, I managed to work in these volumes. One pro-tip is that it’s a lot less stressful when you handpick only the ones you actually care about. I am aware that I failed to notice the impending release of The Executioner and Her Way of Life Vol. 3, so I’ll have to cover that later. With all said and done, see you next month!

Magistellus Bad Trip Volume 1: SAO Meets GTA Meets Monopoly Meets Ready Player One

I hate myself so much. I swore off all light novel series I haven’t read (and some I haven’t finished), yet this one—Magistellus Bad Trip—beckoned me into its world. It wasn’t even the cover art that got me, but the premise. It was something so inherently appealing that it couldn’t possibly suck. Despite having read a lot of LNs with fool-proof premises that end up sucking, I took the plunge once more.

In Magistellus Bad Trip, Suou Kaname is filthy rich in the world of Money (Game) Master, a VRMMO where your worth is measured in stonks and bonds. As good as he is, however, he’s not satisfied with his currents setup. No, he wants to track down the Legacies, which are ridiculously OP equipment left behind by a legendary player. Can he do it? Probably. It’s just a matter of when.

What immediately makes Magistellus Bad Trip appealing is its setting, Money (Game) Master. It is an open-world sandbox game where you buy properties, and make bank by utilizing the world’s wildly fluctuating stonk market. Of course, you can blow up in-game facilities and other players to give yourself an edge. But since every VRMMO series is morally bound to have some allegory to our actual society, the in-game currency in Money (Game) Master has ramifications in the real world. And with the Legacies in hand, one can effectively rule over all mankind.

However, the real world isn’t much better. In Magistellus Bad Trip, A.I are on their way to assuming full control of the world. And while low-income families are funded by these A.I., this effectively makes them slaves until their debts can be paid somehow.

Of course, good writing and storytelling matters the most. Fortunately, this is one of the better-written light novels I have read. There is a lot of thought put into the nuance of the world and its logic. Plus, there is no shortage of over-the-top action, which can be compared to the spectacle of Platinum Games.

And, for once, the characters aren’t completely unremarkable! Kaname is the best character for sure. While his uncanny sense of danger comes off as an overpowered protagonist trait, the stuff he does fits within the logic of the game world. Oh, and by the way, every player has an A.I. partner, the titular Magistellus. His is a succubus named Tsileka. And while her character design is what you’d expect, she actually has a fun relationship with Kaname that isn’t at all sexual. Unfortunately, that’s about it. The other plot-relevant characters are pretty meh, especially Midori, the sister of the legendary player that created the Legacies, who fulfills the role of waifu that needs protecc-tion.

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Verdict: 8.75/10

I’m actually glad I gave Magistellus Bad Trip a chance. The series promises to be intricate and engaging; a rarity in the light novel market. It’s also one of the scariest cyberpunks I have read, since it expands upon stuff that already exists right now. Let’s just hope I can figure out how to juggle it with the rest of my life.

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.

Where Has This Band been All My Life?!: IOTUNN — Access All Worlds Album Review

One thing I’ve learned about extreme metal is that it’s become about as varied a subgenre of metal as non-extreme metal (the problem is that they tend to be overshadowed by classic death metal bands, who happen to have X-rated imagery and lyrics, but that’s a topic for another day). IOTUNN is one such extreme metal band that has a bit more novelty than, say, Cannibal Corpse. There are two reasons why I was drawn to their full-length debut, and the first is its cosmically awesome name: Access All Worlds.

The second reason is the album’s incredible artwork. I never thought I’d want to stare at a giant man bathing in a planet for so many minutes, and to be honest, I could stare at it all day. The artstyle itself is very appealing as well, since it reminds me of old-school science fiction book covers.

I’ve literally had to keep the band’s Facebook page open as I typed this paragraph in which I introduce the band members. That’s because they’re from Denmark, and have names where I need to insert a lot of special characters in order to spell them out properly. Rambling aside, IOTUNN consists of vocalist Jón Aldará, guitarists Jesper Gräs and Jens Nicolai Gräs, drummer Bjørn Wind Andersen, and bassist Eskil Rask.

Access All Worlds incorporates familiar elements of prog and extreme metal. Most of the tracks are incredibly long, as you can expect from the former. This might just be because the band is new, but I don’t find that to be a problem this time. When it comes to IOTUNN, it feels like they know how to intersperse singing and different instrumental sections in the right way to keep you on your toes (unlike some of the newer Iron Maiden tracks). The riffs are also very atmospheric, similar to bands like Sojourner, which makes the longer songs engaging in that same manner.

But despite me describing the music as “atmospheric”, IOTUNN is actually VERY loud. The guitars have a commanding presence, with crunchy roars that feel as heavy as vanilla death metal bands like Behemoth. The fact that such forceful music can also be described as atmospheric—scratch that, I’d call it spiritual—is really impressive, and show’s extreme music’s versatility. Of course, there’s no shortage of songs that go all-in, such as ‘Laihem’s Golden Pits.’

Also, is Aldará the one and only vocalist? Because it feels like there’s three different ones on this record. Throughout Access All Worlds, you’ll hear raw, throaty growls, gravelly shouts, and very operatic clean singing. With an echo effect to make them sound more cosmic, I was enthralled by all three of these performances. If it really is all one person, then I’ll be triply-impressed.

And of course, prog isn’t worth salt without strange and interesting lyrics, and IOTUNN delivers. If you watched the embedded MV, you’ll see that the theme of this album is sci-fi, but describing it as just that would be a disservice. They each tell a story, most of which involve space travellers or some such finding a strange planet and being like “WTH is this, bro?” And according to their bio on Metal Blade Records’ website, it’s up to you to interpret the chronological order of the tracks, as well as what they’re about in the first place. 

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

I would give Access All Worlds a perfect ten, but I didn’t want to set up an impossible standard for the band to follow-up with (also, I’d prefer to give their next album a higher rating than this one just for my own sake). While it’s not Wizardthrone’s nonsensical space opera death metal, IOTUNN has made something very special in its own right (and probably something I’ll grow to like more than Wizardthrone) that I feel deserves to be heralded as the best metal debut of the year. Anyway, I recommend Access All Worlds if you really wished there was a more extreme version of old-school prog bands like Yes.

PS: I’m going to Disney AGAIN! Will be back in early November!

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.