Lego Worlds Review

Before its big release, everyone was talking of how Lego Worlds could be a better and upgraded version of Minecraft. Would Minecraft be relevant anymore? Personally, I don’t think Mojang should be scared at all, instead they can sit nicely in their office knowing Lego Worlds is not really a competitor to Minecraft at all.

Lego Worlds does try to bring something different and tries not to be a clone of Minecraft. The quest system adds a storyline to the game. The game begins with you as an astronaut, your spaceship crashing onto a Pirate Island after being hit by several meteorites. There are three gold bricks on this island which you need to repair and power your spaceship so that you can travel to the next planet. The next few planets will introduce you to various tools include a Paint Tool – which allows you to paint anything and everything with whatever colour you want. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly a precise tool, more of a paintball sort gun that will throw paint over a large area. The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of a real multiplayer mode. You can only play co-op with someone next to you or another player in your friends list. I was looking forward to racing some Lego elephants with random players.

The lack of a proper free mode is a real disappointment. The fact that I need to unlock several bricks to be able to use them properly is a put off. What if I don’t want to waste my time on boring repetitive quests to unlock different items? The game also has quite a few bugs and flaws on the console version. The draw distance is appalling and there are inconsistent frame rates. But this is to be expected from a game that costs about £20 to be honest. If you really do want this game then wait a few months, I’m sure the price will hit rock bottom sooner or later. The whole game feels a bit rushed to be honest. I feel like Traveller’s Tales got bored halfway through developing the game and just decided to put it on the market because they knew how powerful the Lego marketing was going to be.

There are some good things about the game. It’s a great educational game for the younger generation. The quests will require some thinking for younger brains and solutions aren’t always easy to find. If you have a young child who is addicted to Lego then give them this game. The unlimited bricks will keep them entertained for a while and is probably cheaper than buying real Lego sets for them.

It’s a decent game for it’s price tag but don’t expect anything amazing. It’s a game that you will play a few times and then chuck it somewhere in your house and never use it again. Unlike Minecraft it won’t have a large adult player community. Maybe Traveller’s Tales knew that and that’s why they didn’t try as hard. If done correctly, Lego Worlds could have been an amazing game but for the moment it’s just not there.

Super Mario Run; A Decent Though Slow Mobile App

Earlier today, Nintendo finally released their second in-house mobile app, namely Super Mario Run. It’s been worked on for months, advertised like the second coming on the iTunes app store and had legions of analysts act like it’ll be the best selling, most successful mobile app of all time. Basically, expectations have been through the roof.

But does it really live up to the hype? Is Super Mario Run really as good as it’s made out to be? Well, let’s find out, in Gaming Reinvented’s exclusive review of Super Mario Run!

Let’s start with the graphics!

Graphics

Which for the most part, are traditional New Super Mario Bros styled. Indeed, most of the graphics are straight from New Super Mario Bros U, albeit toned down a bit to work on smartphones.

So yeah, not much to say there really.

Music

And the same applies with the music too. Why? Because again, it’s mostly New Super Mario Bros U songs. Yeah, you have a few new ones (mostly in Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder), but for the most part it’s all the tunes you’ll recognise from New Super Mario Bros U or Super Mario Maker in pretty much the same level of quality as they were then.

So nothing much to say there either. But how about the gameplay? Is that good?

Gameplay

Well to put it simply:

Yes

Super Mario Run is a fun game.

And what’s more, it’s quite a varied one too. Because unlike New Super Mario Bros, it comes with three modes:

  • Kingdom Tour
  • Toad Rally
  • And Kingdom Builder

The first of these… is basically the story mode from a typical 2D Mario platformer. You control Mario as he races through 6 worlds of levels to defeat Bowser and save Princess Peach.

It’s the same old stuff you’re used to (complete with traditional Mario themes), except with one major difference:
Mario runs automatically to the right.

This means all you need to bother with is jumping. Which is done by tapping anywhere on the screen.

It’s a simple setup for sure.

However, here’s the key: It works

There are no delays when Mario jumps. There are no fidgety virtual D-Pads to mess around with to change your directions. Basically, Mario does what you tell him to without fail.

And that makes it a massive improvement over 99% of platformers on smartphones. Because Nintendo actually bothered to think about what the system was capable of rather than trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.

It’s a key example of the old adage ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ working perfectly.

But Kingdom Tour isn’t the only good part of the game.

Oh no, Toad Rally is quite good too. This mode (which is like NSMB 2’s Coin Rush) has two players compete to gather as many Toad followers and coins as possible, with the winner keeping everything collected by both participants.

And these collectables then get sent to our last mode. Kingdom Builder.

Which in a nutshell, is basically Sim City, Mario edition.

Well okay, maybe not Sim City. FarmVille Mario edition?

Eh, probably not. It’s pretty simple and limited. You have the ability to set up bonus games, pipes to extra levels and houses that unlock secret characters for Kingdom Tour (like Luigi, Peach, Yoshi and Toadette) and maybe a few decorations on the side. That’s it.

But it’s still quite fun to mess around with and unlock items for. Much better than a boring achievement screen either way.

However, not all of Super Mario Run is all that good.

For example, it’s ridiculously slow to start.

What do I mean by this?

Well, before the game begins proper, there are a TON of pointless confirmation and notification screens to go through. I mean seriously, here’s the whole process for starting Super Mario Run:

  1. Open app
  2. Choose your control
  3. Click through the terms and conditions
  4. Decide whether you want to tie in a My Nintendo account
  5. Set up your name and avatar
  6. (the above might be in a different order, but the point is the same)

  7. Watch the game’s first intro
  8. Complete a pretty long tutorial level with lots of pop up hints and no ‘learn through playing the game’ type level design
  9. Download the rest of the game (which might take about 5 minutes)
  10. Watch a second intro
  11. Click through into Kingdom Tour
  12. Select a level from the map
  13. Actually begin the bloody level.

That’s ridiculous. What’s more, it actually hurts the chances of this game making Nintendo a lot of money.
Why?

Because the first chance anyone has to give them money is after level 1-3. So for a player to pay Nintendo for Super Mario Run, they have to go through a 12 step intro/tutorial sequence, beat three fairly long levels and then decide to buy the ‘upgrade’ at level 1-4.

Yeah, I don’t see that happening anywhere near as often as Nintendo is hoping, at least not with this tutorial/confirmation/infodump shoved in the player’s face seconds after starting the app.

Other than that, I don’t have any real complaints about this title as far as gameplay goes. It’s not as good as say, New Super Mario Bros on console, but it’s competently done and plays fine.

So onto something else now. Like say, the game’s length and replay value

Game Length/Replay Value

Because this is both the best and worst part of Super Mario Run.

What do I mean by this, you might ask?

Well, depending on how you play it, Super Mario Run will either last you about 30 minutes or around 2 weeks.

So the negative side first. If you’re playing this for a single player Mario platformer experience… then this will be over in a flash.

Why?

Because Super Mario Run’s ‘main’ single player story is ridiculously short and easy. Like, seriously so. The 24 levels you have to play last about 60 seconds apiece and are going to be blasted through by anyone with even the slightest level of skill when it comes to playing Mario games.

Indeed, from starting til beating Bowser, I had been playing… about 30 minutes, with a total of about 3 level retries being needed along the way.

And there are numerous reasons for this. Like say, the fact the enemy variety is fairly small, with only basic enemies to dodge in most of the levels. Yeah, you’ve got Ninjis, Rocky Wrenches, Grinders and rings of fire, but all these things are only in one or two levels each. The rest of the time? Mostly just Goombas, Koopas and their flying counterparts. In wide open, easy to run through stages where getting hit is more of a matter of being careless than something you’ll do on a regular basis.

What’s more, even when you DO get hit, you merely get put in a bubble and taken back a short distance. This is useful for collecting coins (since it can be used to rewind the level and try again), but absolutely trivialises the main game due to how pointless it makes dying. Heck, even falling in a pit only puts you in a bubble!

Admittedly, this is mitigated somewhat by the limited number of bubbles you get per level. Die three times in a level? Then you’ll have to try again from the beginning. So there’s somewhat of a penalty for death if you keep messing up, though the fact you only go back as far as the beginning of the level does mean consequences are still mostly non existent.

Either way, if you’re looking for a New Super Mario Bros style experience, then Super Mario Run isn’t it.

But wait! There is more to the game than just that!

Such as the whole coin system in the levels. Basically, each level will give you the task of collecting six coins as well as finishing the level. These coins come in three colours (pink, purple and black), with each set then increasing in difficulty along the way.

Oh, and they unlock a super secret course if you get all of each type in all 24 levels of the game.

So yeah, there’s that to deal with, which could add another 8 hours or so of playtime if you’re not great at the game.

As well as the other modes.

Because as I mentioned before, Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder do have a significant amount of content in them. Like say, special buildings to unlock for bonus games, extra characters that can be used for Kingdom Tour (Luigi, Peach, Yoshi and Toadette).

Okay, it’s still not perfect (Kingdom Builder only gives you a very limited amount of space for objects in your kingdom), but for completionists, there’s definitely a fair bit of value in Super Mario Run. Perhaps even enough to kill a few weeks of on/off play too.

Just… don’t expect a full Mario platformer from it, or you’ll be disappointed.

Conclusion

Super Mario Run is a fun attempt at making a 2D Mario platformer for smartphones. It’s not perfect (and it’s very slow start really hurts the game’s fun factor), but it’s well suited for the system and provides a decent bit of value for people willing to put the time in.

It’s a good game for Mario fans or Nintendo die hards, but not one which will become the next Pokemon GO.

But what do you think? Do you agree with my review of Super Mario Run? Or do you think I was a bit harsh on Nintendo’s new mobile game?

Pokemon Sun and Moon; Great Games With a Slight Linearity Problem

It’s been about a week since Pokemon Sun and Moon have been released for the 3DS. And boy have they done well in that time frame. They’ve scored 87% on Metacritic. Boosted 3DS sales in all regions by a significant level. Heck, they’ve even managed to become Nintendo’s biggest ever UK launch successes, with their sales in the first two days being higher than Wii Fit’s in its first two WEEKS.

But how good are these games really? Are they better than the previous Pokemon titles in the series? Can they make Pokemon X and Y look like crap by comparison? Will they inspire Pokemon GO players to try out the full titles?

Well, let’s find out for ourselves, in our exclusive review of Pokemon Sun and Moon for the 3DS!

Graphics

So let’s start out with the graphics. How good are they in this title?

Pretty fantastic actually. Seriously, look at this and tell me it doesn’t look a million times better than the games you used to play on the original Game Boy:

Heck, it even puts the recent 3DS Pokemon games to shame too! X and Y? Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire? God, those look almost prehistoric by comparison.

And there are a few reasons for this.

For one thing, note the camera is a lot ‘lower’ in these games. Whereas old Pokemon games had a top down view, these ones have the camera pointing downwards on a slant behind the main character instead. This change in perspective makes the world look much more three dimensional than the past titles, as well as less like a series of grids pasted together.

There’s also the more realistic art style in general. I mean yeah, the Pokemon have traditional designs, sure. But the people themselves look more like normal humans rather chibi dolls/Game Boy sprites, and the environments look like 3D places with rounded edges and curved paths rather than a bland series of grids. This in turn makes things look more lifelike than it did before, and the Alola region feel like a real place with normal looking humans.

And the small background details help too. Like say, the trainers actually sticking around in battles to give orders to their Pokemon!

Yep, you heard me right. Now when you battle an opponent, both you and the other trainer are visible at all times. You even see them give orders to their Pokemon in regards to what attacks they should use when fighting!

It’s only a minor touch, but it helps make the games a great deal more immersive, and removes the awkward separation between the overworld and trainer battles that the older games had.

Which in itself seems to be a goal with Pokemon Sun and Moon. They’re trying to remove the ‘gap’ between what the game says is happening and what’s being shown on screen. For example, Ride Pokemon (more on that later in the review) are actually shown pushing blocks, flying or surfing on water instead of it being implied by a simple animation. Trainers don’t always stand still on the map, instead often walking or swimming around to look for opponents. And while most Pokemon encounters are still in tall grass, that’s not the only way they’re presented here.

Oh no, you can sometimes get ambushed by Pokemon flying above (complete with shadows underneath), them visibly moving in the grass (as a black shadow that homes in on your location) or even doing things like jumping out of trees or berries when you least expect it.

Yeah, they’re all minor things in the bigger picture, but they make the world look a whole lot more ‘alive’ than it did previously.

Unfortunately, all this detail comes at a price.

Namely, the games run terribly on a normal 3DS. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, here’s a comparison between the same games on a normal 3DS and a New Nintendo 3DS:

As you can see, it takes about 10 seconds longer to even boot the game on the older system. You have to wait for the system to reboot to quit out of the game and shut down.

And that’s still not the worst of it. Oh no, that ‘honour’ goes to the game’s performance in double and totem battles. There, the frame rate literally drops in half immediately. Like, to the point it’s sometimes in the single digits. Where animations outright freeze for a few seconds while the game tries to keep up.

That’s unacceptable for a 3DS title like this. I mean yeah, it’d make sense for a complex 3D title with hundreds of things on screen (like Luigi’s Mansion 2 with its Paranormal Chaos mission), but not here. Pokemon Sun and Moon look nice, but there’s nothing there that really should be straining the 3DS this much.

So yeah, it’s good as far as graphics go, but perhaps one best played on a New Nintendo 3DS given the crippling technical faults that come up on older hardware. But how does that soundtrack hold up here?

Music

Well, it holds up really well to be honest. Because damn, Pokemon Sun and Moon has a great soundtrack.

Now admittedly, that’s not exactly too unexpected by this point. After all, every single Nintendo game on the 3DS in the last five years or so has sounded incredible, as have most of their titles on the Wii U. It’s like the 2000s and 2010s are Nintendo’s glory years as far as video game music is concerned.

But even with all the fantastic competition, Pokemon Sun and Moon’s soundtrack is one to remember. You’ve got all those catchy area and town themes, which perfectly fit the mood of a tropical vacation:

As well as the numerous catchy battle themes:

And many more besides. Of special note are the themes for the two villain groups of the game (Team Skull and the secret other team):

Which in the case of the former, are… ‘interesting’ attempts at hip hop music with a Pokemon flavour to it. The latter? Well, yeah, just hear for yourself:

Oh, you didn’t think the Aether Foundation were evil? Well, there’s not really much point hiding it now. After all, the game kind of hints at them being evil all of five seconds into the opening cutscene and practically the entire internet had figured it out long before the games were released.

And hey, they’ve got some catchy songs, so that’s something to consider too. Either way, it’s a good soundtrack, and one that’s actually quite epic for the series it’s being used in.

However, does the gameplay itself stack up?

Gameplay

Cause at the end of the day, even the nicest graphics and music would be irrelevant if the gameplay was poorly done.

Fortunately though, Pokemon Sun and Moon is still as fun to play as any other game in the series. The battle system is solid, with the setup being mostly identical to that in X and Y. The basics of the overworld design are still as great as they always were, with interesting places to explore, items to find and Pokemon to encounter in the tall grass. And there’s the obligatory online system that lets you fight or trade with others from all round the world.

Yet as good as the normal mechanics are, they’re not really why Sun and Moon shine. After all, X and Y were seen by many people by rather disappointing, yet they nailed the battle system and overworld exploration just fine.

Oh no, it’s the new stuff that’s really interesting in Sun and Moon.

Like the Z-Moves. These are super powerful Pokemon moves with flashy effects that can be used once per battle. Like this:

As you can guess, these are usually a one hit kill on whatever doesn’t resist them. Or in the case of the status move variants, a massive boost in power to the point a single Pokemon can clear out whole teams.

And this adds a decent amount more strategy to the battles than you’d expect. Why? Because you never know how the opponent will set them up. They might go for one right off the bat, aiming for a quick KO at the expense of leaving the team vulnerable later. They might save them, as a last ditch trump card to change the tide of battle. Or they might just bring ‘em out to take down a certain Pokemon on your team, like a ‘wall-breaker’ in the competitive scene.

It’s a neat battle mechanic, and adds a surprising amount of depth to the system. But the game’s features get more interesting still.

Like say, the new movement system. Remember how in past games, you had to walk in straight lines?

Well that’s gone now. You can simply walk wherever you like, similar to in a 2D Zelda game. So yeah, basic movement now feels a lot more fluid than before, with the awkward tank controls being a thing of the past.

But that’s not the only old school system getting an overhaul.

Oh no, the gyms are too.

Why?

Because this game has no gyms at all! The whole system has been ripped out, gym leaders, badges and all.

In their place, you get the Island Challenge. What’s this? Well to put it simply, you travel around solving ‘trials’ to become a better trainer. To some degree, these trials are structured a bit like gyms. You’ve got a trial captain leading them, complete with a unique personality and design similar to a gym leader. There’s a special totem Pokemon you fight at the end, with boosted stats (which kind of acts like the gym leader battle from earlier games). And beating them gives you certain Z-Moves and items, like how beating gyms gave you badges and TMs in previous titles.

Kiawe

Heck, you even have another boss after all trials on an island are done. This is a fight with the ‘kahuna’ (ruler) of the island, who acts like an even tougher gym leader analogue.

But here’s the thing:

Island trials are not combat focused. Instead, the actual task varies significantly based on who’s running it and what their interests are. So you’ll be exploring a jungle looking for cooking ingredients, watching dance moves from a trio of Marowaks, completing an audio quiz to lure the totem Pokemon to your destination… and much more besides that. It’s a nice change of pace to the otherwise stale gym formula that’s remained a fixture for the first 6 generations.

That said, island trials aren’t the only change the series has received with Sun and Moon.

Oh no. There are also no HMs (Hidden Machines) in Pokemon Sun and Moon.

Instead, we get a system called the Poke Ride. This lets you register special Pokemon for moving around the overworld and solving puzzles, like a Lapras to surf on or a Charizard to fly between areas.

Poke Ride

And it makes the game far, far much more enjoyable to play than the old system ever did.

Why? Because for one thing, you don’t end up with a limited team because of it. I mean, think about what you needed to have to get around the old regions. A flying type to use Fly, a water type to use moves like Surf, Waterfall, Whirlpool and Dive, a bulky physically orientated Pokemon for strength… basically, your options were limited by the HMs you had to use.

Want an all fire type team? Tough luck kiddo, you need something that cross the ocean or go underwater. Don’t like birds? Eh, you can only usually teach Fly to them or certain dragons. So you were seriously limited there too.

Now in theory, a lot of players found another way to solve this. They called it a ‘HM slave’, where some mostly useless Pokemon would be given the task of solving overworld puzzles in order to spare the rest of the team from having the movesets wrecked. But it was one step forward and two steps back really; the extra Pokemon would be nothing more than on a millstone you had to put up with simply to get around. As well as a liability if you ever got into a battle and ran out of other useful Pokemon (since most ‘HM slaves’ are useless in combat). Add the obvious awkward implications (you’re using a Pokemon as a simple tool rather than a companion), and again, it didn’t really work.

But with Poke Ride, all this is now gone. No worrying about losing attack slots to worthless HM moves. No limits on who can choose for your team. Basically, it’s Pokemon the way people wanted to play it all along, a system without unnecessary compromises and other bullshit.

It gets better too. You know all those puzzles you had to solve on the overworld with these HMs?

Well, most of those are gone too. You don’t have to cut any trees down, there are no caves to light up or remove fog from. No rocks to smash in the middle of routes. Heck, even the stuff that does remain here (like pushing boulders) is drastically simplified from the olden days.

This makes for a world that’s altogether less of a chore to navigate, and feels like it isn’t wasting your time with pointless filler content.

And that’s a key strength of Pokemon Sun and Moon in general. The game doesn’t waste your time any more. Instead, you’ve got a game that’s been simplified and fixed as to be playable by people with a lack of free time.

For example, now you:

  1. Don’t have to use a PC to take out a newly caught Pokemon. You can just swap it into your party the moment you catch it.
  2. Only watch the credits once after beating the champion, with future playthroughs just putting you outside the Pokemon League instead of playing all those long cutscenes again.
  3. Can use multiple copies of a single item in a row, by just clicking on Pokemon names in a list multiple times.
  4. Can use Poke Balls in battle by pressing a single button to open the right pocket, rather than scrolling through a big list of irrelevant items.
  5. Set up EXP Share so every Pokemon in the party gets full experience for any battle.
  6. Increase a Pokemon’s EVs and IVs without endless breeding or battles.
  7. And heck, even get more EXP for catching Pokemon now too! So someone filling out the Pokedex isn’t being penalised for simply focusing on their collection rather than trainer fights.

In other words, it’s a more convenient Pokemon game. One that’s actually going to be enjoyable for the Pokemon GO generation.

And that’s a great thing. Old school Pokemon wasn’t bad, it was just very, very time consuming. The UI just made everything feel as drawn out as possible.

Pokemon Sun and Moon fixes that, and is a thousand times better for it.

However, the biggest change/improvement in these games isn’t about ride Pokemon or trials. No, it’s about the story and general tone.

Because as you can see from the thousands of articles about it online, the games have took a rather… dark turn with Pokemon Sun and Moon.

Seriously. Imagine if I said there was a new game that had abusive parents, eldritch abominations, mind control, the end of the world, kids being kidnapped, gangs taking over cities and a conspiracy involving an ‘animal rights’ group being a terrorism front. You’d probably think I was talking about an ‘adult’ RPG on the PlayStation or Xbox. It’s certainly a far cry from what you’d see in Pokemon, right?

Well no. That’s basically the story outline for Pokemon Sun and Moon. It gets absolutely and utterly insane sure, but that’s pretty much how the story goes here. Heck, just walking through Po Town or Aether Paradise makes you think ‘this is a Pokemon game?’ in just how jarringly different the locations are from the norm.

And this darker storyline is always there, front and centre. For example, the entirety of the game’s third island onwards is dedicated to the storyline. You’ve got the Aether House, where it turns out the Team Skull admins have stolen a preschooler’s pet and have take it away to their base. Their whole base of operations in Po Town, which looks like a war zone filled with barricades, broken down houses, grunts standing on vehicles complete with the team leader’s wrecked and heavily fortified mansion at the end of the street. And that’s only the beginning!

Basically, it’s a bit of a crazy thrill ride that emphasises the evil team’s plans over the typical ‘get better and become the champion’ element, and it works wonderfully for.

Of course, it also helps here that the characters have some semblance of a personality this time around. After all, does anyone remember who the rivals were in generation 3 onwards? No?

Me neither. Because they didn’t do anything. They showed up every so often, gave you a few words or a quick battle and then kind of fell by the wayside when the endgame started.
They were cardboard cut-outs that completely failed to give you a reason to care about them.

That’s not the case here. Oh no, now the rivals and friend characters (in this case Hau, Gladion and Lillie) actually have goals throughout the game and pop up on a regular basis as you’re exploring the region. They complete trials, try out the activities in various towns and cities, challenge you to battles every few hours or so (at least the first two). Heck, the former two guys even go as far to support you when raiding the supervillain lair the main antagonists operate out of, trying to fight bad guys and supporting you in double battles all the while.

hau

And this characterisation isn’t just limited to your close friends and rivals. Oh no. Professor Kukui shows up fairly often whenever the plot requires for it, and has a far deeper connection to the Pokemon League that any professor before him. The kahunas and trial captains actually do things outside of standing around in their home towns and waiting for challengers (like say, taking on legendary Pokemon that appear from nowhere or visiting each other’s trials to see how things and going.

Heck, even the villains are generally interesting personality with actual characterisation this time around. Lusamine has a lot of secrets that are extremely important to the storyline (though giving them away would be spoil about half the plot), the Team Skull grunts actually have an excuse for their evil ways (coming from broken homes and failing in life before joining as a last resort), and even their blatantly evil leader Guzma has an excuse (of sorts) for his own selfishness and poor behaviour throughout the game.

guzma

Basically, it makes you want to succeed. To go on an adventure with people you almost consider as friends.

That said, there are still a few issues here. Most notably?

The linearity and restrictions on where you can go at any time.

Because like a lot of Nintendo games in recent years (Mario & Luigi Dream Team, most Zelda games before A Link Between Worlds and Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon), Pokemon Sun and Moon just loves to throw tutorials and dialogue and mandatory events in your face every six seconds. Arrived at a new city? Well, time to meet up with the rival and Lillie and the professor and whoever else to talk about whatever the heck’s supposed to happen next.

Just completed a trial? Well then, the very next area you need to go will open up as if by magic. Oh, you didn’t want to go there?

Well, tough luck kid. There’s an angry Tauros blocking the path. Or wet paint on the gate. Or a literal roadblock across half the route, complete with a trial helper saying ‘you have to have beaten the last trial to pass this barricade’.

Now, I know what you’re gonna say. Isn’t this like the rest of the series?

Well, kind of. Yeah, you need to get the flute to wake up Snorlax, beat the Pewter City gym to get that annoying kid out of the way and buy some lemonade to have the Saffron City guards let you in. To some degree, Pokemon games have always been a fairly poorly disguised sequence of linear events that try and filter you down the ‘most convenient’ path from the home town to the Elite Four. I get it.

But it’s just ridiculous in these games. It’s like they’re not even trying to hide how linear the games out, almost to the point of self parody. Heck, you’ve even got a little flag icon marking your next location, in case you somehow missed the hint that ‘suddenly open side area’ is the next stop on your storyline tour of the Alola region.

It also doesn’t help that your movement (while fully 3D) is still really limited in these games. Want to drop down off a ledge? Tough luck kid, find a ramp or something. Is that slope anything less than perfect? Then you’re not climbing up it, regardless of how much you try. Small obstacle (like a picket fence) in your path? Well, looks like you’re not going this route today.

It gets very annoying on Poni Island, where the canyon areas are filled with shortcuts you should easily be able to take (assuming your thirteen year old avatar is in good shape) but somehow can’t for technical reasons. Or in the Shady House, where the only reason you need to find three passwords to reach Guzma is because someone left an anchor on the set of stairs that bypasses the blocked door.

Outside of path progression linearity issues, Pokemon Sun and Moon also have a few minor flaws that hinder the experience somewhat. Such as how some Pokemon are severely limited in when they can evolve.

What do I mean by this? Well, here’s Charjabug, along with Vikavolt. How do you think the former evolves into the latter?

vikavolt

Through levelling up, an evolutionary stone or trading, right?

Wrong! It has to level up in a certain area. That area? Great Poni Canyon.

But here’s the issue; Great Poni Canyon is on an island called Poni. This is the last area in the game you visit.

Meanwhile, Charjabug and its pre evolution are found on the first island.

See an issue here? Yeah, it’ll take you about 20 hours to get from the point you find some of these Pokemon to the point you can actually evolve them. And it’s not just limited to this family too. Magneton only evolves in Magnezone in Great Poni Canyon too. Again, about 20 hours of using an underpowered 1st evolution is needed before you can actually evolve it.

And yet it’s still nothing compared to Crabrawler and its evolved form. Why? Because you have to level him up in an area with SNOW.

Guess where the only area with snow is?

Victory Road. You know, the area right before the final boss. Keeping in mind the first form is found on the first island, that means you’ll have to keep a fairly weak Pokemon in your team for 30 whole hours before you can get something that’s moderately decent out of it.

Yeah, it’s a minor annoyance I know. But it’s still an annoyance that will affect a fair few players, and one I should point out now rather than never.

Either way, Pokemon Sun and Moon are generally great games overall. Perhaps a tad linear for a few, but still great in the gameplay department none the less.

Game Length/Replay Value

So now we know Pokemon Sun and Moon are good games, how long do they last? What’s the replay value like here in general?

Well for the former, my playtime clocks in it at about 20 hours from the intro to the final boss. So if you’re after a typical playthrough, you’re gonna get something roughly on par with the Mario & Luigi or Paper Mario franchise; not that long of an experience, but enough that it feels you’ve gotten your money’s worth.

However, here’s the key:

My playthrough, was done as quickly as possible in order to get my thoughts out sooner rather than later. I stuck with a single team through most of the game, avoided catching Pokemon I thought weren’t necessary, didn’t try many of the extra features and spent no time at all fighting people over wifi.

If you actually do those things?

Like, actually try out everything there is to do in this game?

Then trust me, your playthrough will take about twice the amount of time my one did. And that’s not all.

Oh no, you need to keep in mind that I’m also someone who’s played earlier games in the series. Someone who for the most part, is a bit of an expert at completing video games as quickly as possible.

And even then, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it’d be. Yes, the EXP Share removes some of the difficulty. It has to, the item/option is overpowered as all hell and has been since generation 6. Yes, the starters seem to be a bit more competitively viable than they were in the early generations. That all helps a tad.

But the trainers also often have an actual strategy in mind here. They’ll use status moves to waste your time while setting up their stat boosts. Moves that aggravate half the tournament scene (like Stealth Rock) are used by the elite four and champion to surprisingly decent effect. And heck, even the wild Pokemon can be moderately smart when they need to be.

Like say, the Tapu Guardians. These Pokemon are smart enough to realise that using Nature’s Madness (a move which always takes off exactly 50% of an enemy’s current health) is a good choice right after you heal with a Full Restore or Potion.

Or the totem Pokemon in general, who’s summoned help will either be good against its weakness, heal it on a regular basis or boost the power of its attacks through their ability.

wishiwashi school

So the difficulty has increased quite significantly over previous titles, likely adding another ten or so hours to playtime due to the mistakes you might be making in plot significant battles.

And that’s just the beginning. Why? Because like in every other game in the series, there is a significant amount of things to do after the final boss. These include:

  • An Ultra Beast hunting quest where you have to track down five species of dangerous extradimensional Pokemon on orders of the international police. This is surprisingly difficult, given the trainer battles necessary before every mission and the ability of the beasts in question.
  • The whole of Poni Gauntlet, which acts like a pseudo gym to an island trial captain you never face in the main story.
  • A hundred different Zygarde cores you have to collect across the game to assemble a certain powerful legendary Pokemon. Some of these are only found in the day or at night, so good luck finding them.
  • A whole plethora of bonus bosses, including a Game Freak employee, a rematch with the Team Skull leader and various trainers that only appear after you beat the game for the first time.

Along with the numerous online features, the Poke Finder (read, Pokemon Snap as a mini game), QR code scanning for rare Pokemon and the usual Pokedex of about 300 to capture in this region alone. Either way, you will never run out of things to do, with Pokemon Sun and Moon basically offering infinite replay value.

Conclusion

Pokemon Sun and Moon are great games, and make for fine additions to the Pokemon series. They’re not perfect (especially in regards to linearity and technical issues on older 3DS models), but they’re definitely worth buying if you’re a fan of Nintendo, Pokemon or RPGs in general.

Super Mario 64: Last Impact; A Genuinely Great Mod of a Classic Game

Two weeks ago, a technically impressive mod called Super Mario 64: Last Impact was released. Developed by a guy called Kaze Emanuar and featuring a ton of custom content, the game quickly became a massive phenomenon on the internet and was covered by all manner of sites. Like GoNintendo. Or My Nintendo News or Nintendo Life. Heck, the latter even made a video of it!

Indeed, it got so much hype, some people said it’s the best Mario 64 hack of all time.

But how good is it really? How does Kaze’s work compare with an official game?

Does it make the same mistakes as 90% of ROM hacks and fan games? By featuring a difficulty curve that’s simply broken to hell? An killing players through tricky jumps right off the bat?

Well, no. As the review shows, Super Mario 64: Last Impact may actually be one of the better designed, more ‘fair’ ROM hacks I’ve ever played. It’s not as easy as the original, sure, but it’s also not broken as most of the other mods for the title out there either.

But let’s look a bit closer, in the official Gaming Reinvented review of Super Mario 64: Last Impact!

Graphics

Starting with one of the aspects the game does far better than its source material; the graphics. Put simply Super Mario 64: Last Impact’s graphics are ten times better than those in the original Super Mario 64, and honestly about on par with some of Rare’s games from the era. Indeed, if it was released in the N64 days, this game would have gotten a ton of acclaim for its visuals.

So why does it look so good? Well, three reasons really:

  1. It uses art from later games. Like say, ledges and tileset graphics from the likes of Mario Kart and the Legend of Zelda The Wind Waker. Even compressed to N64 standards, these look a ton better than the equivalents from the original time period.
  2. The themes are interesting and varied enough to stand out. Oh sure, you’ve got a few grasslands, a desert and a beach world, but that’s only the boring stuff here. In addition to that, you then have a space station, a world made of food, a casino and even Rainbow Road from Mario Kart as explorable worlds.

    They’re just more visually interesting and unique locations than say, yet another ice world or yet another volcano world.

  3. Character models seem a lot more rounded and detailed than those in most actual Nintendo 64 games. Yeah, the ones from the original Mario 64 didn’t change much, with Mario and Bowser being about the same as they always were. But the new enemies like the giant Piranha Plants, the space aliens and the Blarggs feel much better modelled than most characters from the olden days.

Either way, it’s impressive, especially for a fan made game.

But the graphics aren’t the only great thing here. Oh no, the soundtrack is pretty good too…

Music

Because damn, the mix of ported songs and original compositions both sound excellent and fit the levels absolutely perfectly.

On the ported front, you have some really impressive renditions of songs from the likes of the Zelda and Final Fantasy series. What’s stranger, these actually fit some of Last Impact’s worlds at least as well as they did their source game. Forested Temple may have been composed for Final Fantasy VII, but it fits Last Impact just as well:

Deep Castle from Mario & Luigi Bowser’s Inside story works well in Big Beast’s Belly:

And Mario Party’s ‘danger’ theme works just as well in Last Impact’s mini games as it does in the actual game’s ones:

But as good as the ports sound, it’s the original music where Last Impact really shines. Because you see, this game doesn’t just use music from other titles. Oh no, it comes up with many of its own songs, and those are absolutely incredible.

Like say, the two final boss themes from the game, which are brand new for this ROM hack:

Or the Dusky Doomed Dales theme, which really does sound appropriate for a middle ages village in the middle of a witch hunt:

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Paper Mario Color Splash; A Decent Game Stuck Between Worlds

As you probably know by this point, I’ve not exactly been the biggest Paper Mario Color Splash fan since it was announced. I’ve tweeted comics about how Miyamoto killed the Paper Mario series. I’ve posted on the Paper Mario subreddit lamenting the franchise’s direction. Heck, I even used to constantly tweet under the hashtag #MakePaperMarioGreatAgain and wonder whether people should be boycotting the game.

But then, I decided to give the game a chance. After all, no point in complaining about games you didn’t play, right?

So after many hours of playing Paper Mario Color Splash, here it is. My review of the game, from the perspective of an old school Paper Mario fan!

Graphics

Starting on a positive note, the graphics in this game are definitely one of its strongest points. The paper theming shines through in every level, with absolutely everything feeling like it’s physically made out of paper and cardboard. Add such interesting themes as a military base, an old school steakhouse and an archaeological dig site, and you’ve also got environments that are both different from the norm and brought to life brilliantly by the paper art style. Basically, it’s to Sticker Star what Mario 3D World was to 3D Land; a huge graphical step up with more interesting themes and visuals perfectly suited for the Wii U.

starlight cape

The Things look good too. Totally unlike everything else, definitely, but really well animated and (at least initially) really funny to watch as well. It’s like a Family Guy cut out gag or Simpsons title sequence down well.

However, there is one graphical issue here that really hampers the game.

And that’s the character design. Put simply, the general character design is atrocious.

Seriously, how many uniquely designed characters exist in this game? Huey, the Rescue Squads, the Rock Paper Wizard, the pirate Toads and (to a very loose degree) the Chosen Toads and Museum Curator. That’s literally every ‘new’ and ‘uniquely designed’ character outside of the typical Mario cast.

And it really hurts the visual variety here. Indeed, look at the places here, and about 90% could probably have fit well in the original or Thousand Year Door. So you’ve got a visually interesting, varied world to explore that’s worthy of the original titles.

But then it’s let down by the fact no one interesting lives in said world. It’s like a theme park made by a company not called Disney; a fantastic land staffed by employees who don’t actually dress to match the themes of the areas they work in. Except you know, with every employee replaced with a genetically engineered army of clones in slightly different colours.

It’s a good looking game, but one let down by the disappointing lack of unique designs.

Music

Music is where the game truly shines though. Why? Because Paper Mario Color Splash has an amazing soundtrack filled to the brim with great songs to listen to. You’ve got unique songs in every stage (all of which are catchy and fit the setting perfectly). There are songs unique to the Thing animations and cutscenes (the piggybank and battery ones are especially hilarious here) and then there’s the boss themes.

And it’s the latter which are the true highlight of the game. For example, the mini boss theme (named ‘A Fearsome Foe’ by the soundtrack) is amazingly catchy and enjoyable to listen to:

Whereas each of the Koopaling fights have an amazing tune that’s among the best in Paper Mario history. Like Wendy’s one, which is perhaps the best pirate themed song in a video game:
Or Iggy’s somewhat over the top ‘colosseum’ boss battle song:

Or even Ludwig’s somewhat techno sounding battleship song:

It even comes with a nice handy sound test that lets you listen to these songs whenever you want. It’s a little hard to get the songs for (since you have to fill in all the blank spots in the respective level), but it comes with absolutely everything on the soundtrack. The boss themes, the Thing themes, any mini game or cutscene music… heck, even the songs from ‘parallel dimensions’ are included here!

Either way, the soundtrack in this game is incredible, and it’s possibly the best part of the whole title. But as good as the music is, that’s not a reason to buy a game. It’s a reason to look it up on YouTube, but you don’t spend $60 for an interactive music CD. Oh no, what matters is the gameplay, and that’s when Paper Mario Color Splash gets a bit mixed in terms of quality…

Gameplay/General Design

Because on the one hand, the overworld gameplay is really good. Exploring levels is fun, with all the secrets to find and objects to paint around every corner, and the puzzles are really well thought out and enjoyable to solve. For example, how many games make you literally pull tape off the floor to unravel a bridge to a new area? Or paste cards into the background to do things like generate a huge tidal wave, activate a NES system or melt a giant block of ice in a steakhouse’s freezer?

So as far as exploration goes, it’s great. Perhaps even better than Thousand Year Door or Super Paper Mario.

And the humour is worth pointing out too, because damn, this game made me laugh quite a bit. You’ve got the Rescue Squads acting like idiots and saving people in the most unorthodox ways possible. You’ve got jokes about everything from Watergate to the Exorcist.

Heck you’ve even just plain amusing randomness like Mario fighting a steak to cook it:

Because of this, many parts of Color Splash really are fun to play (or in the case of humour, read).

What’s not so great however is the battle system.

Now okay, it’s technically a step up from Sticker Star in a lot of respects. You can attack multiple times with one card in a lot of cases. Cards don’t run out anywhere near as often as stickers, since you can have 99 at once (and they all use the same amount of space in the ‘deck’). And battles do give you actual rewards this time around (like hammer scraps to give you more ink to use in battle), which act like a pseudo exp system.

But it also has serious problems too.

For example, it’s really slow to use. Just to do one attack, you need to:

  1. Search the entire list of cards (in one endless row) til you find the one you need
  2. Move it to the card slots above
  3. Press on the card for a few seconds to paint it
  4. Then finally flick the card to the top screen to actually use it.

That’s four steps before you’re even using any action commands. And that’s on ‘advanced’ settings.

Not using advanced? Well, then the process becomes:

  1. Search the card list
  2. Move cards to slots above
  3. Select ready
  4. Paint cards on a separate screen
  5. Select done
  6. Then flick them up to the top screen to play them.

That’s ridiculous. What’s more, that’s just for one basic attack. Want to use multiple attacks? Then you need to select each card from the deck separately, then paint them all separately on top of all this. So a fight that should take about 30 seconds now takes about 2 or 3 minutes because of the time spent selecting and using attacks.

It’s also got the same ‘Thing puzzle’ bosses from Sticker Star too, which makes it a bit worse. Okay, they’re improved now (most of the battle involves using normal attacks, with the Thing card only being needed for a single specific step), and you do usually now come prepared (the necessary Thing is usually found in the same level as the boss), but it’s still frustrating for anyone who doesn’t know the ‘strategy’ needed in advance. I mean, why should I need the Bone to break Iggy’s chariot? Pretty much every ‘Thing’ hits everyone on the field, so surely they should all work fine here, right? But no. Apparently he manages to dodge an electric fan the size of a planet or a giant fire extinguisher, but not a rolling Chain Chomp going after a giant bone. Makes sense!

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