Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (Switch): COMPLETED!

As a massive fan of the original Hyrule Warriors (I own four copies and across them have put in over 900 hours of play), I was really excited to start on this and it was a rare situation where I pre-ordered a digital game such was my need to have it immediately. But, I was worried it might not live up to my hype. Did it?

Well, when I realised that the real “meat” of the first game, that is to say, Adventure Mode, didn’t exist in Age of Calamity, I was immediately worried. The story mode in Hyrule Warriors was good, but very short and made up only about 5% of the game time. To not have it here – at all – concerned me. Thankfully, it sort of is.

You see, Adventure Mode contained a number of maps with each square on the map being some sort of challenge. Defeat X enemies in Y minutes. Defend some character. Fight with a handicap. Take over the forts before something happens. Lots of that sort of thing. In Age of Calamity, these types of challenges are actually integrated into the map on Story Mode. They’re optional in terms of story progression, but essential if you want decent weapons, to level up, or to unlock more characters.

My 40 hours on the game so far did take me to the end, but about 25 hours of that was spent on side missions and I can see there are a good 20-odd more hours to go if the “percentage complete” is anything to go by. Still a good deal shorter than the original game, but not the 15 hours I was expecting.

Gameplay is more or less the same as before, but everything is Breath of the Wild themed. In fact, this game acts as a prequel to that game, telling the story of how Hyrule fell 100 years ago, only not quite – which I won’t expand upon for spoiler reasons. The bow, bombs and hookshot from the first game have been replaced with the stasis, magnesis and other powers of the Sheikah Slate, and of course the characters are those from Breath of the Wild rather than, well, Every Other Zelda Game. You also have some missions where you pilot the massive Guardians and wipe out thousands of enemies with them.

So it looks amazing, and plays amazing, but is it better than one of the best games of all time (i.e. its predecessor)? In theory, yes. It’s less repetitive, had a more coherent and fitting plot, more balanced and varied across characters, the weapon and skill levelling up is much improved and far less grindy, and some of those are perhaps reasons why it’s a shorter game – much of Adventure Mode was grind. Enjoyable grind, but grind nonetheless. That said, I don’t think it’s quite as good. It’s close, but you never forget your first even if it’s technically inferior.

Hidden Folks (Mac): COMPLETED!

It’s Where’s Wally? on hard mode! Level after level with minute characters and things hidden behind other things and the occasional puzzle, where you have to find stuff from a list with sometime cryptic clues as to where they might be. Click on everything just in case!

It might sound easy, because Where’s Wally? is easy (and the Mega Drive game based on it is probably the easiest game I’ve ever played), but this is not. Things aren’t static like in the books either, so sometimes you’re hunting a moving target.

It’s a pretty big game, with the version I have including several extra levels over the original release. Only bad thing I have to say about it, is it made my laptop run incredibly hot for some reason.

Yes, it has toilets.

Castlevania (Switch): COMPLETED!

Yes, the original NES game, here in the Castlevania Collection on the Switch. And oh my was it harder than I remember. Mainly the medusa heads in the later levels.

It’s still a great game, and having played other NES platformers this year so many of them just don’t play well these days – and they’re all the bloody same. But not this one!

Paratopic (Switch): COMPLETED!

Paratopic is a narrative discovery game with what seems like a number of characters with related stories and jump-cuts between them. Think of Virginia and Thirty Flights of Loving, with a PS1 graphics aesthetic.

It has a story that I can’t really share because the story is the reason for playing games like this and it’d be a big spoiler, but I will say that that there’s someone transporting illegal videotapes which appear to be like drugs and/or The Ring, and a photographer who stumbles across something in the woods.

And several long sections where you drive a car and listen to almost-Simlish on the radio.

It’s an unusual thing to play, but I can’t say it wasn’t worth doing. It sort of messes with your head a bit and I suspect a second, or third playthrough might help. It’s only an hour or so long anyway.

Abzû (Switch): COMPLETED!

Back when i originally played Journey, I was a bit unkind. I didn’t really get it and felt there was no actual game. Later, I came to realise that wasn’t really the point.

So now I’ve played Abzû, I’m wary of doing the same thing. There’s no game, sure, and again, that’s missing the point. But the point is even less of a point than it was with Journey. Like that game, you travel a world with a lore uncovered through statues and cave paintings. Instead of a scarf, you swim with fish. Instead of puzzles you have… er… nothing. And instead of the second player who shares your journey but you can’t communicate with, you have a shark that appears sometimes.

The fish are pretty, and you can touch them all, but it’s no Endless Ocean. The history you uncover is interesting but it’s no Journey. The acrobatics as you swim are great but pointless, and it’s no Ecco the Dolphin.

Activating a couple of things which are “just there” (like this chain) is about the extent of the puzzle aspect of the game.

I completed it, having explored everywhere and done everything I could think of doing (which, frankly, was very little) and came away thinking… is that it? It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, just I was expecting more. More exposition, more puzzles, more varied events rather than just find a seadoo to open a door and avoid the mines (which explode but you can’t actually die so don’t bother avoiding them?). Just something more. But no.

Horace (Switch): COMPLETED!

I previously started playing Horace on the iPad via a Steam Link from Windows on my Mac, but although I persevered using this setup for the whole of Lair of the Clockwork God, Horace’s tricky platforming needed something a bit more so a couple of hours in I stopped playing. Not that I hadn’t enjoyed it, just I thought I’d wait for a console version.

And here it is!

Firstly, let me get one thing out of the way. On the PC, Horace was rated as a 16 certificate. I’d not come across much to justify that on my brief time with that version, but I was a little surprised the Switch version was a PEGI 7. Imagine how horrified I was to find that this cute little platformer with retro pixel graphics contained All The Big Swears (Even the Worst One), gore, and execution-style murderings. In a PEGI 7 game. Sure, some (but not all!) of the swearing is bleeped, but it’s only a small part of the word bleeped so it’s clear what is being said. Now, I’ve nothing against this sort of thing in a game, but here 1) it’s mostly unnecessary, but worse, 2) it’s a PEGI 7. Which my daughter was watching me play. Not good.

Aside from that (and if it was a PEGI 16 I’d not have an issue), it’s good. Very, very good. Through the story of Horace the Sentient Robot, who lives with a well-to-do family until The Event and then what happens to him afterwards, there’s gravity twisting platforming galore with All of the Referenced to Other Things. Characters right out of 70s sitcoms, soaps, other video games, music references, film parodies – there’s a reference in almost every scene somewhere and spotting them becomes a game in itself.

The platforming, with stick-to-walls-and-ceilings shoes that rotate the whole room as you flip surface makes up the majority of the gameplay, but there’s some exploring, the middle third of the game is almost a Metroidvania (complete with automap), and there are what appear at first to be impossible bosses but once you get their patterns they’re pretty easy – the best sort of bosses.

There are also plenty of minigames, with more references, both as part of the story and as sideshows. There’s an arcade with games like a Ferris Bueller-themed Out Run clone, Space Invaders where each level the baddies are dancers from such things as Thriller and Fame, and a Ghostbusters/Pac-man mash-up. There are also rhythm games where you can earn money.

As well as the main story (which eventually becomes Save The World), Horace has a Quest given to him – clean one million things. In true Jet Set Willy fashion, the whole world is filled with junk and Horace gets a better ending if he manages to collect at least this many items of it. You also sell the junk for big wads of cash to buy upgrades from the shopkeeper from Mr Benn. No, really.

If all this wasn’t enough, then let me tell you just how damn big the game is. It took me 13 hours to complete, which sure, isn’t Assassin’s Creed Origins money, but this is a retro style 2D platformer and just imagine Chuckie Egg 2 being 13 hours long!

Horace is outstanding, and even more so when you realise the entire game was developed by only 3 or 4 people. There are so many ideas, so many minigames, and such variety, comedy and ideas that it’s hard to see how that is possible. Probably one of the best platformers I’ve ever played, in fact.

Lonely Mountains: Downhill (Switch): COMPLETED!

After being exposed to many people saying how much fun and how relaxing this game was, it isn’t a surprise that I bought it for the Switch. Also, all those people were right.

You’re given a mountain, and a route to the bottom filled with twists, turns, jumps and cliff edges, and have to ride to the finish as quickly as you can with as few crashes as possible. There are many shortcuts, some of which are obvious, some are off the beaten track, and in some cases – once you’ve unlocked a suitable bike – are hairy trips down sheer drops or leaps into the unknown.

What’s clever about the progression is you generally unlock new routes (and mountains, and bike parts) by either a low-crash run, or a fast run. You can of course try both together, but if you’re not good enough you can concentrate on one or the other. Crashes don’t cause time penalties (and many times I crashed on purpose to redo a run – there’s even a “crash” button) either.

I’ve unlocked and beaten all of the routes on at least Medium (or whatever the middle difficulty is) and unlocked what I consider the best bike – Geronimo. It’s slow, the acceleration is pants, but you can drop miles off cliffs and cut loads of time off that way, so it’s well worth it!

Overall, it is indeed a fun, relaxing and untaxing arcady title.

Code of Princess EX (Switch): COMPLETED!

I was a big fan of the 3DS original version of this, what with it basically being a new Guardian Heroes game and all. A while back, the Switch HD remaster was cheap on the eShop, so I picked it up.

Since then, I’ve dipped in and out every so often. It’s a bit grindy once you get about halfway through, which isn’t a problem as the fighting is great, but it doesn’t real lend itself to long periods of playing. Besides, other games kept getting in the way.

But, I finally reached the end today. After a very difficult level, around three from that point, the boss was actually pretty easy. That said, I had ground (grinded?) one hell of a lot to get past the difficult level so was probably well overpowered after that.

Code of Princess is just fun. It has the smacking enjoyment of Golden Axe but with far more moves and with actual almost-RPG progression, and everyone knows what a draw the Numbers Go Up game is. Plus there’s the stupid dialogue which makes me laugh, although I don’t know if it’s good-bad intentionally or not…

Hypnospace Outlaw (Switch): COMPLETED!

Imagine Geocities was a place you visited via a headset while you sleep, and you’ve been made a mod and have to stamp out crimes like piracy, copyright theft and scams. That’s Hypnospace Outlaw.

Surf webpages like you did in 1999, and complete tasks sent to you by the system maintainers. Download virtual pets and desktop toys! Read about conspiracies! Traverse fora about teen angst and musician worship! Get sucked in by Squisherz which definitely aren’t anything like Pokémon! Solve a real actual murder!

No really,

I’m not sure what I was expecting from the game, and it’s very hard to progress at times, but the AOL-meets-Phoenix Wright gameplay and the whole “world” is compelling enough to keep you going. It’s not perfect, and I had a couple of crashes (one of which I’m pretty sure is intentional), but if you see it cheap and want something completely different – yes, it’s even different to the two other superficially similar games I’ve played this year: A Normal Lost Phone and Secret Little Haven – then it’s recommended.

Super Mario Sunshine (Switch): COMPLETED!

I have always maintained that Super Mario Sunshine is an excellent game. I know many, many people complain about the camera – in particular on the ferris wheel – but to those people I’ve always said: Just control the camera yourself. I never had a problem with it.

So it was with some trepidation that I would turn out to be wrong that I went into Super Mario Sunshine on the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection on the Switch. And you know what? I was right. The level in question was easy. The camera was not a problem. In fact, at no point in the game was the camera a problem at all. Other complaints people had about various things, such as the sand bird level being impossible or there being loads of fall-through-the-floor bugs or the hotel level having an unusable camera all turned out to be nonsense too. These issues simply don’t exist.

No, instead, Super Mario Sunshine is a complete joy from start to finish. Sure, it’s not quite as good as Super Mario 64 but then very little is, and they did remove Mario’s long jump, but it’s still one of the best games ever made.

I managed about 90 Shines before I decided to walk up to Bowser and beat him, and now I’m moving on to Super Mario Galaxy, but I’ll be back!

Super Mario Galaxy (Switch): COMPLETED!

I’ve said before that although Super Mario Galaxy is a fantastic game, it isn’t as good as Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. I was never able to really put my finger on why, though, until this playthrough.

There’s three main things – it’s a bit disjointed, in that each world is very small and there are so many of them so it doesn’t feel like you get to spend much time learning them like you do in the other two games. There’s fewer “goals” in each too. The other thing is that there’s not much actual platforming and most of what there is, is jumping over voids and holes rather than the acrobatics of the previous games. There’s hardly any wall jumping, for instance. Finally, it’s very easy. Yes, I know the difficulty is in getting all the stars, but unlike 64 and Sunshine you can reach the end of the game and beat Bowser with no difficulty whatsoever.

But those don’t make it a bad game, just not quite as good as the other games. It’s still a torrent of ideas that Nintendo bombard you with, it’s still clever, it’s still amazing to look at. The point control replacement (when using a Pro Controller at least) is slightly off, but it doesn’t really matter.

I beat Bowser with around 80 stars. and yes, like the other games I intend in returning for the rest!

Macbat 64 (Switch): COMPLETED!

This was sold to me as a Mario 64-like game and you can tell from the screenshots it definitely seems to be aiming for that. Since it was about a pound, I bought it and… it isn’t like Mario 64 in any real way aside from the graphics.

In fact, even in that respect it looks (and sounds) much more like Banjo-Kazooie as there’s a more than a bit of Rare DNA in the characters and music. But still, it doesn’t play much like those.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Yoshi’s Story

For a start, you can’t attack. And you have no moves aside from jump, and jump more (as in, limited flight). What you do have, though, is some fetching, exploring, and puzzle solving. Each level is tiny but well formed, and it’s all jolly and certainly feels like an N64 game should (in a good way!), and there are a number of secrets to find and a whole bonus game – which is even more like a Rare title – to unlock.

You can’t complain for the generous price, just don’t expect the depth of similar looking original N64 games!

Super Mario 64 (Switch): COMPLETED!

Yes, I have played and completed this before. A fair few times too. But! This is the Switch version, on the Super Mario 3D All-Stars pack that recently came out, where the game is (slightly) upscaled, (slightly) less blurry, and with a nicer looking HUD and font.

I’ve said before that Super Mario 64 is one of the best games ever made. It sits comfortably in my Top 5, and was probably at Number Two (after Run Baby Run of course!) until HYRULE WARRIORS appeared. But it’s the Best Mario. And it’s still The Best Mario and it’s still perfect.

Some will moan they haven’t made it widescreen. Some will complain there are camera issues. Some will suggest that a handful of star locations have far too cryptic clues. Some people are wrong. None of these things matter when you’re flinging Mario around some of the best designed 3D worlds in any video game, not just Mario games. It’s fun, it’s clever, it’s inventive and it’s going to be the best title on this collection even though I’ve not (re)played Sunshine or Galaxy yet.

I have about 80 stars, I’ve beaten Bowser, and I will return for the rest but for now, I’m moving on to Sunshine…

Lego The Incredibles (PS4): COMPLETED!

I bought this at the same time as Lego DC Super-Villains, as it was cheap to get them both together. And we started playing soon after we’d 100%ed that. Despite both being Lego superhero themed games, they’re actually pretty different.

Of course, this is based on the two The Incredibles films – although you play through the second film before the first – rather than DC properties, but the hub world in particular is quite different. There’s a whole city, split into districts. One of them will be the scene for a crimewave, and you pop over and deal with the crimes: bank robberies, bombs to defuse, goons to beat up, and so on. Once you’ve cleaned up, another area gets hit but also you unlock a special thing to build and the locations of all the collectables in that region are unveiled.

Toilets in Video Games

The story mode is as good as ever, but doesn’t really differ from other Lego games. Unlike other recent Lego games there’s quite a low number of unlockable characters, as although there seems to be hundreds, most are just reskins of the main Incredibles family and associates. You can unlock guest characters from other Pixar films though, like Dory, Lightning McQueen and the kid from Up.

So it’s the same, only different. And very short – we 100%ed it in less time than it took to do just story mode in DC Super-Villains – but that’s OK as we enjoyed it anyway.

Super Mario Bros 3 (Switch): COMPLETED!

This too was the All-Stars version of the game, and like the All-Stars version of the original Super Mario Bros, it still looks fantastic today.

I used some warp pipes, but did play through more levels than just the bare minimum. I got lost a lot on World 8 and seemed to go round in circles on the map, so I obviously don’t remember it as well as I thought I did.

Bowser was a lot easier than I remember as well. I was sure there was more to him after you make him fall through the floor but apparently not. It makes him one of the easiest bosses in the game! Except Boom-Boom but then that’s because you have to fight him over a million times.