Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (Switch): COMPLETED!

Half-Genie, Half-Dressed

I do like a good platformer with blue skies and fun gimmicks. Which is why I’ve enjoyed all the other Shantae games in the series. Half-Genie Hero is, essentially, more of the same – but it streamlines things, ramps up the gorgeousness of the graphics, and is a bit easier.

The last of these points has been the most obvious change through the series. The first Shantae game, on the Game Boy was incredibly difficult, whereas Half-Genie Hero is a complete walkover. Well, apart from one bit right near the end when it becomes Flappy Bird for some reason.

I’m a tiny flopping blobfish

Streamlining means no arduous back and forth to get to each world (you simply fly there), or to get through each world (if you have the right item, you can warp from section to section). Dances, in order to transform into other creatures, is much simplified too, so doing so is much quicker and less fiddly.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Shantae game without all the same characters, very similar level themes, and most of the bosses from previous games once more. It doesn’t really matter because it’s still all new to play. There are a number of new transformations too, giving new ways to access areas. One of these, the mouse, makes what you previously thought was just platform design into an actual maze, which blows your mind when you realise.

Up on the roof

Importantly, it plays fantastically and is never (well, Flappy Bird aside, perhaps) anything less than the best fun. So much fun that after completing it I immediately went back into the game to collect all the items I’d been missing in order to get 100%. And then, I tried out a few of the extra game modes.

These modes are mostly the same, playing as arcady versions of the main levels only with different skills for Shantae. In Beach Mode, she has a beach ball weapon but needs to collect suncream constantly or she burns up. In Jammies Mode, she attacks with sheep and takes more damage, and in another mode she plays like the character from Mighty Switch Force, and so on. There’s also a mode where you play slightly remixed versions of the levels only instead of playing as Shantae (it takes place during part of the main game) you’re swapping between Sky, Rottytops and Bolos who each have different skills. Basically, there’s still loads to play.

Which is just as well as there aren’t any Shantae games left for me to play now.

Phantasy Star II (Switch): COMPLETED!

Phantasy Star II was never my favourite game in the series. It’s the one I’ve played the least, the one I struggled with the most, and the one which has the worst dungeons ever. But I still really like it.

Compared to the original, despite appearing on more powerful hardware, this sequel seems such a step backwards in many ways. The dungeons are no longer rendered in 3D, which is the biggest change, instead being the more usual JRPG “almost overhead” view. This would make them easier to navigate if it wasn’t for the fact many, especially those later on, are a total nightmare. Convoluted mazes with many stairs up and down and pits to fall in which are trial and error.

Dezolians are a bit weird and don’t even understand you unless you’re wearing a Magic Cap or a Mogic Cap. Yes, a Mogic Cap. It’s the same as a Magic one, only you pay twice as much in shops if you’re wearing a Magic one.

The plot is fine but the things you’re asked to do are boring. Oh, a dam to explore. And another one. And another one. And another one. Now search all four of these dungeons for all the “nei” weapons, several of which you’ll never need to use but you can’t progress until you’ve found them. Rubbish.

Then there’s the fact that (spoilers), the entire planet of Palm (neé Palma) is blown up. You’d think there’d be more panic and outcry from the residents of Mota(via) and Dezo(lis), but no – barely a mention from anyone. In some ways it feels like it was cut from the game rather then specifically destroyed. You spend far too long on Mota before you’re able to travel to Dezo and once on Dezo there’s little point returning. In Phantasy Star, you were planet hopping all the time and had jumped from Palma to Motavia very early on.

Unlike the first game, you have a choice of party members here. Several of them seem completely unnecessary, but Shir is fun as she can nick stuff from shops. Randomly, unfortunately, and the things she steals are from a set list of items rather than what the shop may actually sell, but still – it’s a good way to make some money. Hugh and Kain though? Nobody cares.

Oh, it’s Dark Force again. I bumped into it accidentally (it hides in a chest) when I wasn’t on a hight enough level and he killed me. Some grinding later and he was a walkover.

But despite these issues, I must stress that Phantasy Star II is still great. There are improvements, such as each character having their own inventory, far more magic types (now called “techniques”), no annoying going into the inventory to get your ice digger or land rover or whatever all the time, and the dialogue translation is far better. I enjoyed the references to the original too, with shared place names, the main character’s recurring dreams about Alis, and the “is Lutz the same guy as Noah but Noah was a girl and does that mean Lutz is or was it a mistranslation?” thing.

Lutz is definitely a boy. Or a very rude girl.

So, it’s not as good, but it is still definitely worth a play.

Into the Breach (Switch): COMPLETED!

I’m not sure following Mario + Rabbids with another, but totally different, turn based strategy game was necessarily the best way to get started with Into the Breach. For starters, moves are done in the opposite order (baddies first) and baddie attacks are “locked” in that they’ll still attack the same direction and number of spaces away even when moved during your turn. This is a core gameplay mechanic, and is pretty clever, as you can force them to fire upon their own side, or on your units instead of the buildings you’re protecting.

Maps are tiny, you can’t fire then move (in Mario + Rabbids you can do it in either order), levels are randomly generated, and it was very confusing. That’s not a problem with the game, however!

Levels also have a number of optional objectives for more bonuses.

Something I did have an issue with which is down to the game, however, is the time travelling gimmick. If you die, or as I found when accidentally choosing the “restart timeline” option when looking for a “restart level” (which doesn’t exist), you start the entire game again. From the start. One of your three mech pilots is sent back in time, along with a little of their experience so they’re slightly better than when you actually started the game, but everything else is reset.

I realise that’s mostly the point of the game, being a TBS with a roguelike element, but it doesn’t work for me. Let me take more of my skills or unlocked stuff back, or genuinely restart the game again. As it is, it’s almost completely pointless.

That aside, the gameplay is great and I did enjoy it. It’s just my own fault I played it when I did as I found it harder than I would have if I’d not being getting constantly confused with Mario + Rabbids rules!

Environmental effects, like lava, tidal waves and earthquakes affect both you and your enemies.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Switch): COMPLETED!

No, I didn’t think a crossover between the worlds of Mario and the Rabbids would work either, but somehow, it does. Perhaps it’s partly because the gameplay doesn’t borrow from either party, and Mario + Rabbids becomes its own thing. Instead of precision platforming or nonsensical minigames, this game provides a fun turn based strategy game interspersed with some puzzles (mainly of the switch pressing or block pushing variety).

It’s not quite Xcom or Ubisoft’s earlier Nintendo title Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (which was excellent), as it takes that gameplay but twists it. As well as moving your units (a collection of Mushroom Kingdom regulars and Rabbid-ised versions of Mushroom Kingdom regulars), each move you can perform sliding tackles, jumps (which can let you move further, heal status effects, and allow stomp attacks). There’s also two special powers each character has that have cooldown timers and can be triggered in addition to moving and attacking. These vary from defensive shields to attack boosts, to “movement sensors”, where when an enemy moves either during their turn or as a side-effect of another attack, your character gets a free shot.

Each character is different too, with different move limits, skills like being able to jump on two heads in succession, able to slide tackle up to three enemies per move, and weapons. Some weapons have a “damage cone” whereby the further away from the source you go, the wider the blast goes but the less damage it does. Some weapons can destroy cover blocks, and others fire over blocks, set fire to characters, or stop them from attacking, moving or using special skills.

Then there’s environmental stuff to take into account. Some levels have raised areas that give you an attack bonus if you’re shooting lower-down enemies. Pipes let you travel to other parts of the area and add a bonus set of movement spaces when you emerge – some levels you can zip around really quickly as a result. On other levels, lava rains down on certain spots every so often, and sometimes hidden in cover blocks are crates that, when hit, cause negative status effects on anyone stood next to them.

What they don’t realise is I’m about to kill them all in one hit.

There’s a lot to take in, and considering the blue skies and silliness that coats Mario + Rabbids, there’s a surprising amount of strategy. Having to take into account how some enemies react to attacks, or can only be damaged from behind, or will take advantage of your three team members being bunched up together, plus there’s needing to remember that your shots could damage your own team (particularly important when setting up for a “movement sensor” attack) and how some enemies can heal or teleport.

That said, it isn’t especially difficult. Apart from having to try again, you lose nothing for failing a mission. You’re given bonus awards if all three of your chosen team remain alive at the end (after which they’re revived anyway) and if you’ve won in under a certain number of moves, but again, there’s no major penalty for not managing this besides getting fewer coins with which to buy better weapons. Coins are everywhere, however, so you won’t go short.

It’s a block-pushing, switch hitting puzzle section!

Outside of the main levels, you explore each of the four worlds and solve little puzzles, look behind scenery, and so on in order to get more coins, unlockable art and music, and – most importantly – skill upgrade tokens. Yes, each character has a skill tree, and these skill tokens are spent adding movement distance, damage, HP and skill cooldown timer buffs.

Skill tree.

Mario + Rabbids is a great looking, ridiculous concept which is far more fun than it deserves to be. It’s addictive, and although it’s easy there are loads of challenges that open up as you play with additional harder ones once you’ve finished. And even the Rabbids somehow fit.

Membrane (Switch): COMPLETED!

Membrane is an unusual platform puzzle game, where your controls are jump, shoot blocks, and shoot triangles. You can use the blocks, which stick together, to build bridges, act as conduit between electrical pads, become walls, barriers, ladders and so on. The triangles “break” these blocks and revert them to non-sticky blocks that you can collect back up – useful, since you’ve a limited amount.

The plot, such that it is, is you’re a sort of synapse in a body. A message from the eye, which has seen a fly land on you, along each level through the chest, arm and to the hand which you ultimately trigger to swat it. Of course, this has little relevance to the actual gameplay aside from body goo which appears in some levels.

Although it’s a pretty short game, Membrane is pretty taxing, especially if you’re aiming to collect the two orange ball things in each level. Invariably they’re placed in such a way as to vastly complicate the solution, or are dangerously close to a hazard. I haven’t managed to obtain all of them, but I’m just over 90% there. It seems they’re unnecessary to complete the game but I suspect there’s a different ending or some sort of bonus for nabbing the lot.

Speaking of bonuses, there are a couple of extra game modes. One requires you to set up a sort of slingshot with which to launch a ball as far as possible, and the other is a target practice type game where you have to carefully plan your shot rebounds in order to hit an increasingly hard to reach object.

Membrane is cheap, interesting, varied and different enough to most other games to definitely warrant a purchase. I certainly enjoyed it, but perhaps a few more levels would have been nice.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate: COMPLETED! (Switch)

It’s 2019, and the first game to be completed this year is Super Smash Bros. And by complete, I mean, the MASSIVE new single player mode – “World of Light”. In brief, this mode is a huge map with lots of fight events on it. Some are simple one-on-one brawls, some have quirks like gravity that randomly flips or after a few seconds one hit kills you, and others have a number of unusual fighters such as an army of mini Donkey Kongs or a giant metal Mario.

You can read more about how it all works, and the whole spirit system, in more detail elsewhere, but for the entire game I just stuck with Kirby, rarely had a difficult fight, and then got what appears to be the best ending. Well, OK. For the very final actual battle you have to choose three fighters and they can’t all be Kirby. I chose Sonic and Roy (as Roy was the best character in Super Smash Bros Brawl on the Gamecube), but Sonic is awful so I swapped him for the more Roy-like Marth and was much more successful then.

And it is an incredible game. So much to do, so many different fights, so many spirits to collect and power up – and I haven’t really even touched standard “Smash” mode, and I’ve only played online once (as Kirby: I won). Yet 30 hours of World of Light is more than enough for one game – all these other modes and extras are just bonuses, as far as I’m concerned.

Yeah, I’m saying that, just like with that other “online competitive game” Splatoon 2, single player is the best bit.

Ristar (Switch): COMPLETED!

I did have a longer post for this but the WordPress app swallowed it and I can’t be bothered repeating myself.

What I basically said, though, is that I’d unfairly maligned Ristar for years because I didn’t like it and it wasn’t Sonic, but actually giving it time it’s not that bad at all. It’s still no Sonic, but it’s a decent enough game in its own right.

Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island (Switch): COMPLETED!

Many times over the years I’ve tried to play this, and every time the slippery controls, wonky collision detection, and overuse of pressing diagonals have put me off before the first boss.

So what’s changed this time? Why did I play it completion? I’ve no idea.

It’s still awful. It’s six generically themed levels, with sound effects nicked from Sonic 3, and a badly realised Flicky collecting mechanic. It’s not Sonic, it’s not Flicky, and aside from being technically very clever it’s really not a very good game at all.

At least it’s not Sonic Forces though, eh?

Ninja Gaiden (Switch): COMPLETED!

I have to admit, I never really played any of the Ninja Gaiden games originally. I knew they were hard, but oh my word was this hard.

There’s no way in hell I’d ever get close to completing it without save states, and it is just that it is difficult – it’s a mess in terms of collision detection, and baddies that respawn if you back-track a single pixel. These two things often conspire against you, as you’re knocked back by one baddie into the path of another that just regenerated.

The sticking to walls is rubbish, as you’re a sitting duck. Often, you end up stuck to a wall you didn’t intend to stick to just because you jumped or fell vaguely near one. And then there’s the stringent level time limits, at least two of which I’m sure aren’t possible.

In all, it’s really not a very good game and I’m baffled by the high regard in which it seems to be held.

Phantasy Star (Switch): COMPLETED!

The Phantasy Star games are some of my very most favourite RPGs. Phantasy Star III was my first one, but I later played the original and, although it wasn’t quite the same, it was also excellent.

Since those days, I’ve completed the first game several times – on the Master System originally more than once, in an emulator, and in the Game Boy Advance Phantasy Star Collection. But, loading it up briefly aside, not for over a decade. Until today.

Considering I only started it three days ago, I think I’ve done pretty well! I’m amazed at myself for how much I remembered in terms of what needed to be done, if not the names of actual people or places. Or specific stuff like exact routes to take through dungeons, although that particular issue was helped greatly with the new automap feature.

There’s a new mode too, called Ages Mode, which I don’t remember starting but I suspect I may have done without realising. It supposedly reduces the number of random battles, but increases the amount of experience points and money you gain from the battles you do get. The reason I think I must have played through on this mode is because I found the game a lot less challenging than I remember it being. Sure, I mostly knew what I was doing, but that can’t be the only reason.

For those asking if a 30 year old JRPG like this still stands up today, then I can say yes, for sure. There’s some clunkiness, such as the tiny inventory, lack of space for full-length item names (a leftover due to the Japanese original needing fewer characters – many games have this “issue”, it’s a pain how you use and disembark your vehicles, and so on, but none of these are major issues. The translation isn’t great, but that doesn’t get in the way of the story or the game, and the battle mechanics are standard JRPG fare and even modern games are largely identical. Coming to this so soon after Pokémon, however, I did notice how there was no “speed” stat, which makes the “fight order” somewhat random.

It’s hard not to like the big chunky Master System graphics, and the 3D dungeons are still pretty impressive even now, so yeah, Phantasy Star is still one of the best games ever made.

ESWAT: City Under Siege (Switch): COMPLETED!

What does ESWAT stand for? Is it like SWAT only with an E like eBook and eLearning and eMail? Or are you supposed to say “es-what”? Who knows. But it’s certainly more interesting than the game.

Yes, friends, ESWAT is a proper stinker. A clunky platform shooter with rubbish weapon selection controls and boring levels. A game that suggests, from screenshots and the first level or so, it’s a bit like Rolling Thunder (which is a great game), but disappointingly, isn’t.

There are some positives, such as the very varied levels and a few impressive bosses, but your character is slow (both to move and respond), badly animated, and these issues make it difficult to avoid enemies. Later levels have you in a sort of power armour suit with more weapon options and a jetpack, but your weapons randomly disappear, and the jetpack is a nightmare to control.

I could say more but I’ve wasted long enough on this awful game already so I won’t.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (Switch): COMPLETED!

The first of what will hopefully be many games completed on the Sega Mega Drive Classics collection on the Switch. I was going to play Fatal Labyrinth, but the lack of a manual and the terrible video options (which don’t affect Alex Kidd so much) put me off for now. Instead, this.

The Mega Drive Alex Kidd game isn’t as good as the Master System “Miracle World” title. There. I said it. It looks prettier (although it’s still almost Master System quality graphics), and it’s one hell of a lot easier, but it’s lacking something. I don’t really know what exactly, since it’s very much closer to a remake than a sequel, but there’s something. Heart? Soul? Blocks with stars on them?

Just the two of us. Building castles in the sky.

What it is, then, is a mostly generic platformer starring half boy, half monkey Alex, who suffers from wonky physics syndrome. Alex must unintentionally slide, over compensationally jump, and input lag his way around a number of platforming levels, mostly avoiding enemies as trying to hit them is much harder than just going around them.

He can collect money from defeated baddies and from treasure chests, and then use this money to enter janken (scissors, paper, stone) matches with people for power-ups. You also use janken to defeat bosses. So yes, it’s random as to whether you’ll win or not.

Alex thinking about punching ratboy over there. Sorry Alex! You can only play janken.

Finally, you reach a castle where there is a bit of puzzling and more interesting platforming, before facing the final boss in more hand games and then an actual normal fight. After which, you “rescue” your Dad who hadn’t been captured after all making the entire game a colossal waste of everyone’s time.

But actually, I really quite enjoyed it despite all the terrible flaws.

Katamari Damacy Reroll (Switch): COMPLETED!

This came out of nowhere when announced during a Nintendo Direct a while back. Not least in that we’ve not had a Katamari game on a Nintendo console before, and the series has been pretty much dead for ages.

You can start as small as a mouse but end up rolling up skyscrapers.

Reroll is a remake of the original Katamari Damacy game for the PS2, upping the resolution, reducing the slowdown, making everything look a bit prettier, and removing the loading breaks between certain size increases. The result, is pretty much just perfect Katamari. Sure, it’s more limited than later games in the series (there are only really three rolling locations, for example), and yes, it doesn’t have all the best music tracks or some of the more interesting modes (like “stay on fire” or “you’re always moving”), but that doesn’t take away from the fun there is here.

Yes, you have to collect girls in one of the levels. It was a different time!

It’s impossible to play Katamari without a massive grin, and even though it’s incredibly simple and very easy, it’s just amazing. Now I just have to go back and try and get a bigger cow. Who knew signs with cows on counted as actual cows?

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! (Switch): COMPLETED!

PETA’s favourite game returns for more family-friendly forced animal abuse.

Many, many years ago, I played a game called Pocket Monsters Green on my Personal Computer using a Game Boy Emulator.  I have now, essentially, just completed it.

Of course, this isn’t the same Pocket Monsters Green. It’s actually more Pocket Monsters Yellow, the modified version that came with Pikachu, only with the more familiar western “Pokémon” branding, and all the modern stylings and conveniences the yoof of today enjoy and appreciate. Yes, it’s many steps forward from the Game Boy title from last century, but it’s actually many steps back from more recent Pokémon games.

Lapras giving me the side-eye.

For starters, being a re-imagining of the first title in the series, there are only the original set of 151 monsters in your pocket. This also means it’s a straightforward and already known story. Then there’s the loss of actually catching them properly: Previously you’d battle a wild beastie until it was almost out of HP, then you’d use a pokeball on them. Now, the mechanic is borrowed from popular telephone distraction app Pokémon GO!, with a “throw” of the joycon approximating a finger swipe. But guess what?

High-fiving Dave, my eevee, is amazing.

It’s fine. It’s all fine. I only missed these things for about ten minutes, and once I had an eevee on my head I was won over. These changes, and others (like not needing a specific Pokémon for world-usable moves, such as surf) streamline the game and speed up the grind. Progress through the game is swift, and as a result I’d beaten the final trainer in under 27 hours. That’s quick, for a game in this series. I’m torn as to whether that in itself is a problem, because of course it’s short, but there’s a lot of post-game content to get through too that makes up for it. All the rest of the creatures to enslave, for one, and a load of new expert cockfighters have sprung up and need defeating too.

Elite Four? Wiped on the floor, more like.

Pokémon: Let’s Go! is a hybrid. It’s a simpler game than the “main” series, designed to pull users of the mobile game over (clearly proven by their close
interoperability – you can even pull your Pokémon over from your phone). It’s more in-depth and complex than the phone game though, adding a world, story and characters appropriated from the original Pokémon Yellow. It’s trying to be accessible to everyone without coming across as too cut-down for the full-fat game fans or too elaborate for the casual phone-prodders. Somehow, against the odds, I think it manages to occupy a sweetspot. Certainly, I could see what was “missing”, but I don’t miss it. I would have enjoyed a new story, but I’m not upset it’s a retelling. The lack of excitement for new areas and monsters discovery is tempered with reminiscence. Like someone remade your favourite slippers only now they have wheels and can toast bread.

Krusty the Clown’s decapitated head looks horrified as a dead Snorlax is found washed up.

King Oddball (Vita): COMPLETED

Imagine a cross between Peggle and Angry Birds. You can’t? Well just play King Oddball instead.

The aim (ha!) is to chuck rocks at tanks and helicopters, so as to destroy them all. Of course, there are more things to blow up than you have rocks, so you need to rebound them or make use of other objects to drop on them instead. If you manage to bounce a rock back at your head, or hit one than three baddies in one throw, you get a bonus rock.

That’s pretty much all there is to it. There’s some variety in levels, with different layouts, and sometimes tanks need two hits rather than one, but very few are taxing and those that are can mostly be fluked. Still, it was enjoyable in a Peggle-y sort of way.