This game is, now bear with me, a pinball metroidvania adventure game set on an island where you’re an ant who also happens to be the new postman, and you collect fruit whilst taped to a ball. As soon as you arrive on the island, the god creature that oversees it is attacked and it’s up to you to find all the tribal elders who together can heal the god. Oh yes, and you’re armed with a party horn, and hoover up exploding slugs, and wear a little fish in order to swim.
So generally standard game stuff, really.
It’s a pretty looking 2D affair, with exploration broken up by caves and caverns that amazingly resemble pinball tables, and strangely convenient “flippers” dotted around the island to assist in getting you about by flicking you up trees and mountains and so on. I mean, it’s hardly a believable world, not least that all this pinball infrastructure only seems to benefit you and not the majority of the rabbits, rats, fish and various other creatures that you chat with.
It plays like a metroidvania game through out of reach areas becoming available due to abilities you unlock as the game progresses, which let you blow up certain rocks, swim, or fling yourself around buds, as appropriate.
Yoku’s Island Express is a relatively short game with a compact map, but you criss-cross it many times through various routes and shortcuts so it feels quite a bit bigger. It’s not especially difficult, not least because it appears to be impossible to die (it is possible to get stuck and have to restart from a – thankfully frequently placed – restart point though). Some of the trickier “shots” are frustrating however, and the knack for sucking up exploding slugs seems a little random and so a minor annoyance, but aside from that the only real difficulty is figuring how to get to the points marked on the map.
It’s fun while it lasts, and once completed there’s still a multitude of things to collect and deliveries to make (you’re a postman, remember), so completists will get even more value from this already cheap title. Yoku is definitely worth picking up.
It’s been a while. I’ve started Shenmue via emulators a number of times over the years but it’s been ten or more since I last completed it. I remember the plot, and the basic event timeline, but specifics were like coming to it anew. I was worried that one of my favourite ever games wasn’t going to stand up to scrutiny, especially since this is a pretty bare-bones HD remaster, but it turns out that it was fine. More than fine, actually – it’s still excellent.
Sure, it came from a different era, when developers didn’t have two analogue sticks and a pretty standard way of moving your character in third person in a 3D space. Many years of story based games have now shown what is necessary and what isn’t, when the player needs direction and when they don’t, when repetition is good and when it isn’t – but 18 years ago Shenmue was doing this for pretty much the first time. As such, you have to accept that being unable to skip time and having to talk to everyone after every plot progression is just of its day and move past that to the story.
Which, thankfully, is still excellent.
One thing, which I spoke about in much detail on episode 14 of the ugvm Podcast, is how much Shenmue feels like a precursor to the Yakuza series. It’s actually one of the reasons I got into Yakuza in the first place, but going back to it now it’s even more obvious. To add to my podcast comments, the 70 Man Battle at the end of Shenmue is yet another thing that feels very Yakuza – as each game I’ve played has a fight against a huge number of enemies near the end as well. There’s too many similarities between the two series for it to just be coincidence!
Now it’s on to Shenmue II, which I remember less well than the original as I only ever completed it once.
And another NES-game-onna-Switch, bus-based game completion. Gradius isn’t something I remember completing before but at the same time none of it seemed new to me. Which is odd because I don’t often play shooters like this.
Anyway, it was hard, especially the bit with the Easter Island heads, and the final boss was a complete walkover for some reason. All you have to do is stay in the right place and keep shooting – no dodging necessary!
I couldn’t wait one single day for the UK release of the original Sonic on the Switch, so bought it from the Japanese shop. And then completed the entire game with all the Chaos Emeralds. Without dying.
I may have completed this game a few times before, but never on the Switch although it is probably only the second time I’ve completed it on a bus. I also now have something like 25 copies of it. No, you have a problem.
It’s a great version, building on the 3DS version by M2 by adding some new challenge modes and stuff, and of course it’s huge and lovely on the Switch screen.
Yes, I’ve been playing games. I’ve not completed any recently so haven’t posted about them. And, all the games I’m playing are pretty long. With all that in mind, here’s an update on them!
No Man’s Sky (PS4)
Having not played the game for almost two years, I started it again. Why? Because Hello Games have effectively turned the original game into a sequel over a series of updates I’d never even looked at since then. And since many people have found bugs and other issues when migrating an old save to the new version, I thought it best to begin again.
It’s certainly different, that’s for sure. I go into a lot more detail on the ugvm Podcast, but in short, I don’t really like most of the changes. The base building is, in itself, fine but it’s not what I want in my No Man’s Sky. Some of the Quality of Life changes, like stacking inventory items and easier ways to make money are appreciated, though, and the new Artemis storyline gives me a new thing to do, so I’m still enjoying it. So much so I’m already 40 or so hours in. Again.
Sanrio Characters Picross (3DS)
Yes of course I was going to buy this. Because I love Hello K–uh picross games. It’s huge, and I’m probably only 15% done so far.
Oh my. Who’d have thought this day would come? A re-release of Shenmue (and Shenmue II!) for a new console? Over the last few years I’ve been trying to find a nice way to play the original Dreamcast games on something more modern, eventually running it in an emulator on a PC streamed to my TV with a Steam Link… only that was a mess and fiddly and didn’t happen. I toyed with a handheld device like the GPD Win, but couldn’t justify the expense. But now – it’s on the PS4 and it’s excellent.
So far in the story, I’ve spent all my money on capsule toys, played with a cat a lot, found some sailors, not found Charlie, and have made it into the wrong Warehouse 8. And I’m loving it.
Hollow Knight (Switch)
When I was trying to find reasons not to buy this, because I already have too many Switch games, I settled on “I don’t like the art style”. Then it was on the eShop for cheap and I bought it anyway. I Am Not Strong.
But I’m glad I did, because it’s amazing.
It’s a Metroidvania, where you play as some sort of beetle with a nail for a sword, fighting other bugs and exploring a ruined world. It’s beautiful, challenging and really very well designed, and after about twelve hours in I thought I’d seen most of the map and then opened up three entirely new areas. It’s big.
I was never not going to buy a game called Bomb Chicken. Especially when I saw it in action.
You’re a chicken, and you lay bombs. You can kick them when you’ve laid them, but other than that and moving left and right, you’ve no other moves or abilities. Using this somewhat limited array of skills, you have to navigate platforms, kill baddies, hit switches and generally avoid touching anything.
Having no jump button is the main enemy you have to contend with, however. You can stack your bombs to gain height, or bounce on some baddies, so simply getting around the levels is different to pretty much every other platformer, and the basis for many puzzles.
It’s not a massive game, but there are some really difficult levels near the end, as well as some bosses, but it’s really rather good. The artwork is great and the animation – especially on your chicken – is really nice. The gameplay is also top notch although I hit a couple of minor bugs (bats you have to bounce on sometimes don’t respawn if you die).
Bomb Chicken is fun, unusual and cheap, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Even when I had to redo level 27 some twelventythousand times.
There’s a hell of a lot of content in Yakuza 0. So many side missions, attractions, events and time wasting opportunities. Most of these are introduced as the story plays out, such as the slot car racing, the arcades and the underground female wrestling. Or Kiryu’s real estate empire building or Majima’s Cabaret Club improvements. Or what about blackjack or pachinko? Karaoke? Shogi? So many different things to do.
I barely touched any of them.
Sure, I played a bit of Outrun, bought a few upgrades for my toy car, and even collected a fair few telephone cards. But 95% of my time was spent progressing the story and oh my what a story.
Like other Yakuza games, there’s more turns than a slalom skier. The bad guy is the good guy and the good guy is the bad guy and sometimes they’re both and neither and that other guy? Well, he’s that guy. Backstabbing and oneupmanship are the order of the day here. There are rarely friends, more enemies with aligned goals or people with shared respect. Every chapter brings a new “what the?” moment, where often everything you knew is wrong.
As the name suggests, Yakuza 0 is set before all the other main series titles. Back before Kiryu became the Dragon of Dojima, before he met Haruka, before Daigo and while Kazama, Kiryu’s mentor was still alive. Kiryu is, as he always is, dragged into a yakuza power struggle. This time, it’s over a seemingly worthless patch of land in Kamurocho – The Empty Lot.
Kiryu, a fresh faced yakuza newbie in the Dojima Family, is framed for a murder on it, and while trying to clear his name discovers the significance of this tiny piece of land and how owning it could give a huge amount of power and influence to any one of the players vying for a higher spot in the Tojo Clan. Or even in other rival groups.
Every chapter brings a new “what the?” moment, where often everything you knew is wrong.
Meanwhile, a seemingly unconnected story involves Majima running a lavish and elite hostess club in Sotenbori, Osaka. Turns out he’s essentially being held prisoner until he manages to raise enough money from his endeavours to pay off his “captor”. Until he’s offered the chance to cancel his debt with just one simple murder…
Every couple of chapters the game switches between Kiryu and Majima and soon you realise there might be something linking the two events, until it’s made conclusive around two thirds of the way in. But are the two protagonists fighting for the same outcome, or at odds?
If you’ve played any other game in the series, or even – to a lesser extent – the similar precursor to the series (Shenmue), you’ll recognise the Deadly Serious Main Game coupled with the Utter Nonsense that goes alongside it. For every attempted mugging on the street (and there’s a lot of it – Kiryu must just have that sort of face), there’s a side story about a girl who wants you to use the crane games to win her toys or a man who can’t walk across a bridge because of the jacket he’s wearing. For every solemn chat about being an orphan or the stress of leadership, there’s a pretend punk rocker who needs help being macho or an almost naked man called Mr Libido who wants to teach you how to get the girls.
You’d think one would totally grate against the other, but somehow, it all works. Even the cringe-worthy bits, like visiting a “Telephone Club” (spoiler: it’s a sexy chatline) or Hardened Gangsters Kiryu and Nishikiyama singing J-Pop, somehow fit in this world.
If you’re new to the Yakuza, 0 is the perfect place to jump in. Not least because it’s on a modern console, but also because it’s both chronologically first and also easier to get in to. There are excellent “in-story” tutorials for all the fighting moves and styles, the character upgrade system is now based on money earned rather than XP gained, and the loading times (I’ve recently come from Yakuza 5 on the PS3, remember) are much less obtrusive. Having only two characters to play as – and no forced Idol Mode – helps too.
Some of the minor complaints from the series are still here, such as the slightly annoying camera (especially during fights), NPCs just appearing and disappearing in the streets, and too many muggings (is Japan really like that?), but the good – the fun, the weight of the story and the realised setting – far offset these. And, if you’re someone who wants to do everything there is to do, then there’s even more everything here. It’s the best Yakuza game I’ve played, and although I’ve still Kiwami 1 and 2, and then 6 to do, I’m finding it hard to think how they could improve in this.
Aha! Take that Nintendo! I completed your IAP’d up game without paying a single penny!
Although I should temper that with two things: 1) I never saw the need to pay any money, and 2) where do you even pay money anyway? It was, however, a bit of a grind for the last two worlds due to me not having any decent psychic or electric pokémon.
I think I probably spent around two-thirds of the entire time I played just trying the final few levels on worlds 9 and 10 over and over, slowly levelling up and gaining slightly better power stones, whilst making meals to coax more pokémon into my garden just to use them up in training.
After finally beating those levels, the final boss was actually a walkover taking just three attempts, and then that was it.
Now I’ve some sort of NG+ unlocked, but I don’t think I can be bothered with it. Pokémon Quest started out fun but if it wasn’t for the fact I could stick it on Auto and let it pretty much play itself I’d have given up on it quite some time ago. Even with that, I’ve had enough now.
A lot of people say a lot of things about the Nintendo Switch, but I bet not many of them say this: it’s the console with my highest bought:completed ratio ever. Almost every game I buy for it, I complete. So that’s something.
Pool Panic is now added to that list, obviously, hence this post.
Imagine the balls from Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker. You know how they sort of come to life when you leave the controls alone? Well, now imagine each colour has a different personality, with some scared of the cue ball, and others chasing it, or jumping over it. Then, imagine that each level is a further deviation from a standard snooker or pool table. That’s Pool Panic.
The first couple of levels resemble standard pool. A green rectangular table with pockets, and you pot all the coloured balls before going for the black. But then, things get stranger. Some of the balls are dogs. Or spiders. Or zombies. The table becomes a scout camp-out or the line for ice cream. Pool is ditched almost entirely for crazy golf. Giant fish eat the balls. There are pirates and monsters and knights and aside from the basic premise – pot the colours, then the black – the game becomes very little like pool at all.
And it’s great. It’s funny, varied and nonsensical, and unlike pretty much any other game you’ve ever played.
And yet another Lego game beaten. This one was pretty good fun, focussing mainly on Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy and a lot of less well known heroes (and foes). The plot is stupid and has Kang taking various different Marvel locations, universes and time zones and creating Chronopolis by smashing them all together.
What that means is there’s a lot of variety in the levels, with some really geeky references to the comics. Other than that, there’s the whole of Chronopolis to wander round just as you could Manhattan in the original game, with a daunting number of gold bricks to find.
Not sure what else there is to say. There’s little new in the game, but that has never mattered before. The graphics have that same odd light sourcing that Lego Ninjago The Movie also did making some levels very dark and others look a bit strange, but it’s not as bad here as it was there. I wonder if it’s only the way the engine runs on the Switch? Or that I’m only playing in 720p? Who knows.
One stealth section too many – ah ha ha! Two stealth sections too many – ah ha ha! etc.
I’d been eying this up for a while and it being on sale right now twisted my arm. And, well. it’s not as good as I hoped.
To be fair, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. It looked like a more puzzle based Zelda type game, when in fact there are very few puzzles and instead it’s a talk-to-people game with some annoying stealth sections.
Now, I dislike stealth sections at the best of times, but these are made worst by the random nature of the creatures you have to hide from and get past. Sometimes they see you. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they wander aimlessly, in circles or into corners where they seem to get stuck. It’s like there’s no pathfinding AI at all.
That aside, the rest of the game is fine. It’s a Grimm style fairytale of a 10 year old boy who leaves home to find his fortune, ends up in a cursed castle, and has to find the name of a weird kobold by solving rooms to obtain the letters and then put them in the right order.
There’s a wonderfully bizarre collection of characters, like a man who is a pig and a goatherder who is decapitated by his own bloodthirsty goats, but the main gameplay is hide and seek and far too simple item manipulation so the quality isn’t consistent.
It’s a shame. It looks great, and the whispering of the “servants” who try to grab you is superbly creepy, but half the game wasn’t really for me. There are multiple endings, of which I think I’ve seen the best two, but I won’t be returning for the others.
Although I went into this knowing it wasn’t a true Chibi-Robo game, I had to buy it because it was cheap and came with a Chibi-Robo Amiibo and actually, it was pretty good when I played the demo. That was a while back though. Not sure why I picked it up, finally, this week.
A brief overview would be this: it’s a better than average platformer with a decent gimmick (the “zip lash” of the title) and a few utterly baffling but thankfully not game-ruining design choices. And it’s cute and twee and stuff.
The zip lash, and the similar whip lash, are moves where Chibi-Robo flings out his cable, to attack baddies, grab items, smash blocks, or anchor on ledges and use them to climb up. He can also swing from marked ceilings, and after extending the length of his cable, use the zip lash to bounce the plug off walls and reach items and other hidden areas.
Six worlds, with six levels in each, and there’s the usual platforming array of themes – grass, sand, ice, fire, and so on. They’re fun though, and varied in that Nintendo way of having hundreds of great ideas that are infrequently used. A couple of levels have you on a skateboard, some more hanging from a bunch of balloons, and some that take the form of a jetski obstacle course. A traditional boss at the end of each world, plus a final end boss, and that’s your game. Pretty short, mostly very easy, but enjoyable nonetheless.
However! There are two completely out of place parts to the game, both of which feel like this was supposed to be a free-to-play game with IAPs to fund it.
The first one is how you move on from each level. Normally, you’d expect after level 1-1 you’d go to 1-2, right? Here, at the end of a level you have to hit a copper, silver or gold UFO that are floating around. Hitting them get you 1, 2 or 3 (respectively) spins of a six segment wheel. Each segment has a number on it, and the number you land on is how many levels ahead you move – looping round from level 6 to level 1 if necessary. At first, this feels like a level skip bonus, but you have to complete all the levels in a world to move on, so why would you want a number other than 1? All it does it make it more likely you’ll need to repeat levels later. And here’s the first clue to ditched IAPs: You can buy, with in-game coins, segments for the wheel. You can pay to cover up all the 2s and 3s with 1s, guaranteeing you don’t need to replay completed levels.
Of course, repeating a level has its own worth – more coins, higher scores, find the rest of the missing big coins/sweets/mini Chibi-bots/baby aliens (all of which are optional), but being forced to do them because you span the wrong number? Why not pay to bypass that?
The second one is the coins themselves. They let you buy batteries (which refill your power bar if it runs out), a jetpack (to save you once if you fall off the bottom of the screen) and these wheel segments, but they’re incredibly cheap and mostly unnecessary. You can also feed coins into a gatcha machine which dispenses random figurines for you to collect. They serve no purpose, but gotta catch em all, I guess. So you rack up a few thousand coins, spend them on baubles because there’s nothing else, and then – just before the final boss – in order to save the world you have to buy “giant parts” for Chibi-Robo and these cost about 20,000 coins in total. Unless you’ve been saving them up for the whole of the rest of the game, you hit the end and then have to grind earlier levels for more.
Or… in app purchases? Well, it certainly looks like that was the purpose originally anyway. And what kind of world makes their hero pay for the upgrades necessary to save them from oblivion? Tch.
But those two things aside, I enjoyed the game and it’s well above your usual character platformer. I’d probably have enjoyed it even more if I’d not “wasted” my coins before then end. If you don’t do that, you’ll probably enjoy it too.
This is a game with a nice little story wrapped up with a “find the right dot in a load of dots” mechanic. You’re a robot, and your creator has tasked you with finding Earth, which involves a lot of looking at the galaxy through a telescope and zooming in on specific star systems.
To find these systems you’re sometimes given coordinates, or a direction to look in, or a particular region of space. Later on, the location descriptions become even more vague. Find the system specified, and you’re told how close to a match for Earth the planets there are, and then you move on. It felt a bit like a cut down No Man’s Sky in point-and-click adventure form.
It’s a basic premise, and very short. That’s probably for the best, though, as it’d become boring rather quickly otherwise. Thankfully, the scanning is punctuated with story exposition and really that’s what the purpose of the game’s existence is – explaining why they’re looking for Earth and finding out what happened to, well, I won’t ruin it.
OPUS: The Day We Found Earth is unusual, short, very easy and somewhat charming. Not an essential purchase at all, but it’s cheap (under £5, although I paid about £2.70 from the Japanese eShop) and certainly worth a play through.
I’d heard that this was a party game based diversion from the main Scribblenauts series, so wasn’t going to get it. But it was £10 and I thought, how bad can it be? Luckily, not as bad as I was expecting.
The party game mode is the main purpose it exists (and is actually pretty good, considering), but there’s also a “Sandbox” mode which is a simplistic approximation of the previous Scribblenauts games. A number of levels with ten tasks in each to do – make a helicopter fly, give the Buddha an offering, put the right animals in the zoo exhibits, etc. It’s this mode that I completed.
So it’s not as good as the earlier titles, but it’s OK. I suspect 5th Cell, the original developers, had very little to do with this and it shows. Shame.