Category Archives: Nintendo Switch

Robonauts Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

Robonauts is certainly one of the more ambitious indie titles to hit the Nintendo Switch’s Eshop. With an opening cinematic that looks like a theatrical CG animated film, 3D graphics, and an electrifying techno soundtrack, Robonauts certainly feels a lot bigger than many other titles released under the same umbrella. But while Robonauts has a lot going for it in many respects – including some inventive level design – there are a number of more frustrating elements that end up holding the game back.

One could say that Robonauts is something of a run-and-gun platformer, but with the twist that its stages are based around spherical planetoids a la Super Mario Galaxy.  The player controls a robot who is equipped with a primary and secondary weapon, who has to blast his way through hordes of enemies and jump from planet to planet to make his way through the game’s twelve stages.

Despite only having such a handful of levels, Robonauts manages to find a good range of variety in its objectives. Most stages have you destroying enemy nests before an exit opens up, but others will have you activating lasers, escorting a hacking robot, or are simply platforming gauntlets, where you have to navigate the spherical worlds, avoiding deathtraps in the process. During stages, you can pick up different power-ups, which change the capabilities of your weapons, and can grab small green blobs called “Gloobs” to refill health.

While the spherical level design can be fun, and the alternate objectives bring out the best in them, the stages that simply have you destroying enemies quickly grow redundant, and the sheer amount of enemy spawns will grow frustrating even in levels with more unique objectives. Enemies will repeatedly spawn from their nests until destroyed, which makes sense. But there are too many instances where the enemy hordes just get out of control, to the point where you get lost in all the commotion. Robonauts almost seems to treat its stages as though they’re in the bullet hell genre, but the player character doesn’t have the means to justify such bombardments of enemies.

Very few of the weapons effectively defeat multiple enemies at once, and those that do have very limited uses before you go back to your default weapons. Not to mention your character automatically aims for the closest enemy, so if a more dangerous enemy is just a little further away from a less worrisome one, you won’t be able to attack it until you either move closer to it or destroy the weaker enemy. Considering there are some enemies who can drain your health in seconds (and there are no checkpoints, so every loss takes you back to the beginning of a stage), it all becomes incredibly tiresome.

There is some fun to be had with Robonauts. It has some good stage design, a pretty impressive presentation, and you can even play local multiplayer with cooperative and competitive modes. But even though the developers had a decent go at adding some variety into the mix, the game is just too short to fully capitalize off it, and the senseless hordes of enemies often feel like a cheap means to add more difficulty to the game (especially once you play the levels that are strictly platforming, and see how much more enjoyable they are).

There is a good game at the heart of Robonauts, but its shortcomings are ultimately too prominent for the game to leave much of an impression. Perhaps a sequel could fine-tune things a bit, and add a bit more to the experience. As it is, Robonauts is okay in the fun department, but doesn’t quite hit the mark it could have.

 

 

5.5

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Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

The falling block puzzle game is one of gaming’s most reliable genres. Though they tend to be simple on the surface, the gameplay of the genre that Tetris built tends to be deeper and more complex than it at first appears, making for immense replay value and pure, unadulterated gaming fun.

One of the more popular falling block puzzlers of the early 90s was the arcade title Soldam, which has found its way onto the Nintendo Switch with updated graphics while still maintaining its classic charm. Though Soldam (now boasting the subtitle of “Drop, Connect, Erase”) may not be one of the best block puzzlers out there, its simple twist on the genre is another reminder why these types of games will always be fun.

The basic premise of Soldam is the same as any other title in the genre: blocks fall from the top of the screen, and threaten to fill up every last space. You need to match up the blocks by their respective colors to eliminate them. The more you manage to eliminate, the higher your score. But should the blocks make it to the top of the screen, it’s game over.

Soldam comes with a twist, however. Instead of falling blocks, it’s fruit that falls down from the heavens (called “Soldam fruit,” in case you were wondering where the strange title comes from). The fruit always comes in groups of four, thus still technically making a block. You can rotate each quartet of fruit in order to match the colored fruits up with other fruits of their corresponding color, with an entire row needing to be made the same color in order to eliminate it.

There’s another major twist in the usual puzzle gameplay in the form of “flanking,” which ends up being Soldam’s biggest draw. You see, even if you run into a tight spot and need to place mismatched colors in an otherwise consistent row, you can still rectify it by placing the proper color on top of (or to the side of, or diagonally from) the misplaced color, which will then “flank” the misplaced color, and change it to the desired color.

For example, if you have a row that consists of mostly red fruit, but contains one or two yellow fruit, just place more red fruit over the yellow fruit in such a way that makes the yellow fruit a “bridge” between red fruit. Once the yellow fruit becomes sandwiched by the red fruit, it will become red, thus completing the row.

Of course, you’ll have to be extra careful as the game goes on, because if you make too many mistakes, it will be all the more difficult to try and flank them. And as a match goes on, additional colors will be added (you start with only two). And you can only flank through one color. If a blue fruit gets in the way of the yellow, the red fruit can’t flank through it.

It’s a really simple concept, but it proves to be a lot of fun the more you play it. It may not turn the genre on its head like Tetris Attack or Tetris Battle Gaiden, but Soldam is nonetheless addicting and mentally stimulating, as any self-respecting puzzle game should be.

On the downside of things, Soldam doesn’t boast a whole lot of variety.  Along with the traditional mode of trying to get a high score, there’s also an “endless mode,” two-player versus matches, and challenge mode, which puts you into a series of quick objectives (eliminate so many rows within a set number of turns, destroy several rows at the same time, etc.). There’s definitely fun to be had here, but none of the additional modes add a whole lot to the experience.

Soldam may not rank as one of the best falling block titles I’ve played, but its simple mechanic of flanking proves to be a very engaging concept, and the game is complimented by cute visuals and characters, as well as a catchy soundtrack. Soldam may not be the perfect puzzler, but it makes for a fine addition to any collection for fans of the genre.

 

7.0

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Review

You really can’t judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, a game by its concept. When news leaked in late 2016 that Ubisoft was making a crossover title between their Rabbids characters and Nintendo’s Super Mario franchsie – one that was rumored to involve guns – gamers were a bit skeptical (to put it lightly). With nothing to go by but those rumors, the entire concept sounded like some batty fanfiction. But now here we are in 2017, and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a reality. And it’s a damn good game. Yes, it’s as strange as it sounds, but it’s also one of the freshest – and best – Mario games in recent years, and one of the best titles on the Nintendo Switch.

Mario + Rabbids really is unlike anything else bearing the Mario name. Though Mario’s world has always been one of surrealism, here it is the more sane of the game’s two clashing worlds. The Rabbids have run amok in the Mushroom Kingdom, bringing with them a sense of irreverence (and toilet humor) that would normally seem out-of-place in Mario’s usual fairy tale world.

The story goes like this: a genius inventor from our world, who also happens to be a Mario Bros. fangirl, has created the “Supamerge,” a device that can combine two objects together. While she’s away, a group of Rabbids arrive in her room/workplace in their inter-dimensional, time-traveling washing machine, and start chaotically playing with all the Mario memorabilia. One Rabbid, however, starts messing around with the Supamerge, and accidentally begins merging his fellow Rabbids with the objects around them. The Rabbid then hits the time washing machine with the Supermerge which, combined with all the Mario-themed items scattered about, inexplicably teleports the Rabbids – along with the genius’ robot assistant Beep-0 – to the Mushroom Kingdom.

From there, the Rabbid who stole the Supamerge accidentally ends up merging with the machine itself, thus giving himself the ability to combine objects. This Rabbid is found by Bowser Jr., who decides to use this Rabbid’s newfound ability to create a mutant Rabbid army and take over the Mushroom Kingdom while Bowser is away on vacation. Naturally, it’s up to Mario to save the day, but he’ll be getting some help from some of his usual friends, as well as a group of Rabbids who were cosplaying as Mario characters when they were merged, thus adopting those characters’ heroic traits.

It’s…it’s insane. Though it seems weird for a Mario game to be so meta as to present itself as a video game in its own story, it does seem a bit less inappropriate due to the outright insane idea behind the game itself. After all, this is a title in which Yoshi wields a machine gun. It’s not exactly the usual Mario fare.

“Depending on positioning, enemies can have 0, 50 or 100 percent cover from fire.”

Gameplay-wise, Mario + Rabbids is a tactical RPG in the vein of XCOM. The game is played in a somewhat isometric perspective, with the segments in between battles featuring some exploration and puzzle-solving elements. Players technically control Beep-0, who guides Mario and friends throughout the exploration segments. Meanwhile, the game features eight playable characters for battles, with players being able to select three of them at a time for their team.

Mario is of course mandatory to be in your party at all times, as is the case in every Mario RPG up to this point. But along the way, Mario will be joined by Luigi, Princess Peach and Yoshi, as well as four Rabbids dressed as those characters (aptly named Rabbid Mario, Rabbid Peach, etc.). Battles take place in grid-like environments, where characters take turns performing their actions. Each character is allowed three actions per turn (movement, attack, and using an ability), with the best part being that, for deeper strategy, you can swap between characters during individual actions, instead of having to blast through all of a character’s actions at a time.

These actions aren’t as simple as just making a move and attacking, however. Character placement is key to victory, and you want to be moving your character somewhere where they can cover from enemy fire, while also having enemies in their line of sight. Additionally, during the movement phase, a character can “dash” into an enemy for some extra damage, and can select a nearby teammate to perform a “team jump” to cover even more distance.

Each character has their own role to play, with everyone having their own combinations of weapons and abilities. Luigi, for example, is a bit of a glass canon; being able to deal great damage from a distance with his sniper-like weaponry, but has the least hit points of all the characters. Meanwhile, Princess Peach is something of a tank, having a large number of hit points, a shotgun-like weapon that deals close range damage, and a shield ability that let’s her soak up half of the damage enemies do to whoever she’s protecting. Rabbid Luigi specializes in debuffing enemies, while Rabbid Peach heals allies.

Even the abilities everyone shares, such as the dashes and team jumps, have unique features depending on the individual character. Mario can, of course, damage enemies by jumping on them with a team jump, while Luigi is the only character who can team jump twice in a row, and Peach’s team jump heals allies nearby to her landing position. While the Mario characters get the better jumping benefits, the Rabbids have the more varied dashing abilities. Rabbid Peach can dash into multiple enemies, while Rabbid Mario’s dash explodes as to damage other nearby foes.

Between every character’s primary weapon, secondary weapon, and special abilities, there’s a wide range of gameplay and strategy options available for every battle. Better still, you gradually unlock more character abilities (or improve those you already have) by upgrading a character’s skill tree. By winning battles and completing certain tasks, you are awarded with Power Orbs, which are essentially experience points, and are used to customize a character’s skill trees to however the player sees fit. You can even respec the characters at any given time.

Power Orbs, as well as coins for buying weapons, come in greater numbers depending on your performance in battle. Should you keep all of your characters alive and finish off enemies within a certain amount of turns, you’ll be given a better grade and better rewards, thus giving you more incentive to thoroughly think through your strategies.

“The game pays homage not only to core Mario titles, but its expanded universe as well, including Donkey Kong Country.”

I can’t compliment the battle system enough. The battles will constantly keep you on your toes and scratching your head wondering how to best tackle the enemies and their tactics, as well as how to use the environment to your advantage. There are even some types of battles that change up the rules – such as escorting Toad or getting a character to a certain point – that add a whole other layer to the battle system’s depth and complexity.

If there’s one downside to battles, it’s that your team options are more limited than you’d like. It’s understandable that Mario has to be in your team, but on top of that, you must also have a Rabbid on your team at any given time. I can understand Ubisoft wanting players to use their characters (who wouldn’t pick all Mario characters if given the option?), but if that needed to be the case, then maybe the team size should have been expanded to four characters instead of three. There were multiple occasions where I knew I would have a battle down pat if I could have both Peach and Luigi on my team. But I couldn’t do that simply because I then wouldn’t have a Rabbid in battle. And when you consider that Princess Peach and Rabbid Peach are the only characters with healing abilities (and there are no healing items in battle), you’ll likely feel the need to have at least one of them on your team at all times. While the battle system itself is insanely fun mechanically, the team limitations can be a bit disappointing at times.

Some may lament that, at only four worlds long, the game may appear to be on the short side. And considering you don’t get Yoshi on your team until midway through the fourth world, he may come across as underutilized. But each of these four worlds are decently lengthy, consisting of nine “chapters” apiece, plus a secret chapter found in each that can only be accessed after the world is otherwise completed. Additionally, after you’ve conquered a world boss, you can replay the world and face a series of challenges which further change up the rules (finish a fight in a set number of turns, get everyone to a specific spot without dying, etc.). And there are a few “Ultimate challenges” that are only available post-game, so little Yoshi still has a lot to do, despite being a last minute addition to the story mode.

Mario + Rabbids is one of the best looking titles on the Nintendo Switch, with clean, colorful graphics that take advantage of the usual Mario aesthetics, combined with a bit more absurdity to compliment the Mushroom Kingdom’s current invaders. I did experience multiple freeze-ups during my playthrough, however. Nothing that affected gameplay, but still frequent enough to note.

The visuals are a definite standout, though there was a little bit of a missed opportunity in combining the Rabbids with traditional Mario enemies. While I enjoyed all the character designs, it does seem a bit weird that Chain Chomps and Boos are the only usual Mario baddies to show up, and even then, they show up as obstacles, not enemies. Not really a complaint, but should there be a sequel, I hope to see some Rabbids donning Koopa shells or riding Lakitu’s cloud, and maybe a Bob-omb with bunny ears.

Along with the battle system, Mario + Rabbids’ biggest highlight is its musical score. Composed by the great Grant Kirkhope, Mario + Rabbids captures a unique flair in the Mario series, but one that should stand alongside the series’ classic scores. From a handful of classic Mario tunes remixed, to the completely original tracks, Mario + Rabbids has a fantastic score that is distinctly Kirkhope. So on top of Mario, Rabbids and XCOM, the game may also bring Banjo-Kazooie to mind. And that’s just swell.

2017 has proven to be a banner year for the video game medium, with one great title being released after another. And Mario + Rabbids is a standout title among that lot. It’s a surprise no one really could have seen coming (even after information on it leaked). It combines two very different franchises, and mixes in some inspirations from others, to create something that feels completely original. It’s far and away the best Rabbids game ever made, and it’s also one of Mario’s best outings in recent memory.

 

9.0

Sonic Mania Review

Sonic the Hedgehog is back!

It feels so good to be able to say that again, but it’s finally happened. Sonic the Hedgehog now has a new title to his name that lives up to the series’ most iconic entries on the Sega Genesis! In fact, I might even go so far as to say that Sonic Mania outdoes them.

Back in 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog hit the gaming scene, and quickly became a video game icon. Sonic was to be Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario, and indeed, for a few years, Sonic was even more popular than Nintendo’s famous plumber.

But it was not to last. While Sonic’s first several outings on the Sega Genesis (and its add-ons) are still highly revered even today, what he’s done since then has been a little less consistent. Mario proved to be a jack of all trades, seamlessly making the jump to 3D with Super Mario 64, transitioning into other genres with the likes of Super Mario Kart and Super Mario RPG, and still producing some of the best titles in gaming decades later with the likes of Super Mario Galaxy. Sonic, on the other hand, felt lost in time.

Though Sonic initially looked poised to replicate Mario’s versatility, the series would soon lose its footing. There wasn’t a proper Sonic title to be had on the Sega Saturn (and that console’s would-be Mario Kart, Sonic R, was a bit of a disaster), and though the Sonic Adventure titles on the Dreamcast were praised in their day, time hasn’t been kind to them, exposing utterly chaotic camerawork and more than a few notable technical issues. After that, Sonic became a multiplatform series once Sega went the third-party route, and things didn’t ease up for the blue blur.

During these years, Sega would try all kinds of experiments with their mascot. Some of these experiments worked to a degree, while others were all-time lows for the series. In many cases, it seemed like the Sonic franchise just leached its way onto anything, and that the developers at Sega would rather be making something else entirely (quite literally in the case of the infamous “Sonic the Hedgehog ’06”).

Whatever Sonic games that did shine during this time were those that played closest to the Genesis playbook, with Sonic Colors and Generations becoming fan favorites. Though sometimes Sega could get carried away with the nostalgia card, with the two episodes of “Sonic the Hedgehog 4” feeling like watered down, clunky versions of the classic template.

But now, we have Sonic Mania, and it’s a thing of beauty.

“Sonic Mania even includes an anime-style opening a la Sonic CD.”

Released as part of an extended 25th anniversary celebration to the franchise, Sonic Mania is perhaps a better gift to the series and its fans than they could have even asked for. Sonic Mania is everything Sonic should be.

Though Sonic Mania is published by Sega, its development team consists of notable members of the Sonic fan-game community. The game was helmed by Christian Whitehead, who was famously recruited by Sega to port a number of the classic Sonic titles to mobile platforms, and teamed by PagodaWest and Headcanon, who have a few Sonic fan-games to their resume.

I’m not sure whether it’s poetic or ironic that it literally took the fans to create the best Sonic game in over two decades, but the end results prove that Sonic Mania truly is a labor of love by people who love the franchise, for people who love the franchise.

First there are the obvious connections to the Genesis classics; the 16-bit visuals and character sprites make the game feel like a proud follow-up to Sonic’s initial outings, albeit taking advantage of modern hardware to make for some dazzling effects that weren’t possible back in the day. Additionally, the majority of Sonic Mania’s “Zones” are new versions of those found in Sonics 1, 2 and 3, Sonic & Knuckles, and Sonic CD. Some such “remixed” Zones even use the templates of their original forms, but with some new additions and tweaks, so that even when Sonic Mania is at its most comfortably familiar, it’s still full of surprises.

“Here’s the final boss from Sonic 2 in the first level of Sonic 1.”

For example, the game begins in Sonic the Hedgehog’s Green Hill Zone. While that first-ever level of the franchise has been countlessly recreated in recent years, it’s never been done so poetically as it is here. The Green Hill Zone begins almost identically to how it did back in 1991, until suddenly you notice one of Sonic 3’s magnetic shields in place of Sonic 1’s standard force field, and the corkscrew loops from Sonic 2’s Emerald Hill Zone are at play. Alterations such as this are just the tip of the ice burg, as Sonic Mania is constantly finding ways to reinvent what we know about Sonic’s past.

That’s not to say Sonic Mania is simply falling back on nostalgia, however, as it also includes level design that is entirely its own. Along with a few brand new Zones unique to Mania, the second “act” within the returning zones are less remixed, and more built from the ground up. Sonic Mania really is the perfect marriage of the old and the new for the franchise.

The gameplay is, once again, Sonic at its purest (and best) form. Players can select Sonic, Tails or Knuckles, each with their own abilities (Sonic is fastest and now has a “Drop Dash” move to keep momentum after jumping, while Tails can temporarily fly and Knuckles being able to glide and climb up walls). You’ll run through stages collecting rings, which once again work as a kind of health system (get hit and you lose your rings, get hit without rings and you’re dead). You can collect the aforementioned force fields and shields from Sonic 3 (magnet shields pull in rings and grant a double jump, fire shields give a charging attack and can burn through certain obstacles, and bubble shields allow you to breath under water and jump higher). There’s also a new power-up in the form of blue rings, which are something like a ‘ring insurance.’ The blue rings will make sure that, the next time Sonic gets hit, he can still reclaim every last ring he held by clumping them together in a few giant rings. The blue ring may not sound like much, but in those times when you make a little mistake that would have otherwise cost you hundreds of rings, it becomes a godsend.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a 16-bit Sonic title without some 3D bonus stages. If you can reach a checkpoint with twenty-five rings secured, you can jump into a halo above said checkpoint and play a new version of Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s famous Blue Sphere mini-games (and yes, they’re as hard as ever). Should you complete a Blue Sphere mini-game, you are rewarded with bonuses such as new game modes and unlockable content.

“Sega Saturn FTW!”

But Sonic Mania once again goes beyond the call of duty by including a second such bonus stage, this one brand new (albeit inspired by Sonic CD). If you can find a giant ring hidden in a stage, you are transported to one of these new bonus stages, where Sonic (or Knuckles or Tails) have to catch up to a UFO to claim a Chaos Emerald. These bonus stages have you collecting blue spheres to pick up speed to reach the UFO, while also gathering rings to put more time on the clock, all while being presented in Sega Saturn-inspired visuals.

Another iconic attribute of the Sonic games were the soundtracks. And good heavens, does Sonic Mania deliver on that front. Once again the creation of a series fan (Tee Lopes, famous for covers of various Sonic tracks), the soundtrack to Sonic Mania includes stellar remixes from Sonic’s past (each returning zone gets a different remix for both of its acts), while the brand new tracks are more than worthy successors to the franchise’s legendary music. Though the soundtrack takes most of its cues from Sonic CD – which up to this point had the best soundtrack in the series, hands down – it also feels distinctly its own. It may even be my favorite gaming soundtrack of 2017 and, yes, it may even top Sonic CD for the title of “best Sonic music ever.”

If I had to nitpick anything about Sonic Mania (and you’d have to nitpick to have anything negative to say), it’s that some of the obstacles in the Flying Battery Zone feel a bit unruly and hard to predict, which lead to more than a few accidental fumbles; and the Hydrocity Zone can be a little on the confusing side. But again, any complaints to be had are minor.

“Old levels now feature new gimmicks, like these bouncing gels in the Chemical Plant Zone.”

Sonic Mania obviously plays the nostalgia card, it is so much more than simply a trip down Hedgehog memory lane. This is exactly the kind of sequel the franchise has been begging for for two decades, and the kind of Sonic experience Sega has tried to create themselves in the past, but couldn’t quite get right (Sonic Generations was probably their best attempt). This is the classic Sonic gameplay we all know and love, but it’s also smarter than the games that inspired it. The level designs – which contain so many alternate routes and introduce so many new gameplay gimmicks that they never lose a shred of their charm – are arguably the deepest in the series, and even have a Mario sense of exploration about them to track down their every last secret. And the boss fights are, bar none, the most consistently entertaining in the franchise. No matter how difficult (or easy) the boss fights got, they all provided something new and left their mark.

Sonic Mania is the game fans have waited ever so patiently for. It’s so lovingly crafted, and so well executed, that it may actually have you forgetting about Sonic’s missteps over the years and make you feel like the series never slowed down. From the obvious homages to the most esoteric of references, Sonic Mania oozes an unmistakeable love for all things Sonic (well, all the good things), and lives up to the very best games the blue hedgehog has ever starred in.

If Sonic Mania is anything to go by, then Sonic has finally returned, and in such fashion that it feels like he never left.

 

9.5

Splatoon 2 Review

When Splatoon was first revealed at E3 2014, it made quite the splash. Not only was it Nintendo’s first major new IP since Pikmin some thirteen years earlier, it was also the big N’s take on the shooter genre. When it was released in 2015, Splatoon was every bit the breath of fresh air we hoped it would be. By tossing away the usual violence, weaponry and “dark, gritty” nature that’s usually associated with shooters, and replacing them with squid/kid hybrids who shoot colored ink at each other in battles to determine which team can make the biggest mess, Nintendo made the most self-cannibalizing genre in gaming feel new again. Splatoon ended up being one of the few Wii U titles that would go on to become a Nintendo staple. But does Splatoon 2 – released a mere two years after the original – manage to replicate that sense of newness?

The short answer to that is yes. Though Splatoon 2 doesn’t radically change the experience, it adds enough new features to help give it some identity of its own. And the original Splatoon was fresh and original enough, that even when Splatoon 2 is veering in more familiar territory, it’s still not overly familiar.

Splatoon 2 follows the same basic format as its predecessor: Players take control of an Inkling, which can use weapons to shoot ink in their humanoid form, and swim in ink colored surfaces for fast travel and reload in squid form. Players are immediately thrust into the city of Inkopolis, which serves as the game’s hub. In this hub players can purchase new weapons and clothing with the points they earn in online matches. Each weapon comes with a secondary weapon and a special weapon, the latter of which is slowly built up as you ink the ground during a match. Clothing, meanwhile, provide various passive bonuses (faster speed, secondary weapons use less ink, etc.).

Some may lament that every weapon is fixed with a specific secondary and special. But like the original game, it helps keep things balanced, with the less versatile primary weapons compensating with the more powerful secondaries and specials, and vice versa. Splatoon 2 wants players to try out different sets and see what works for them. More specifically, what works for them on different specific levels.

This brings us to one of Splatoon 2’s more questionable design choices, as it retains the first game’s already limited matchmaking options. Splatoon 2 features three primary modes of online play: Regular Battles for casual play, Ranked Battles to increase your rank, and League Battles, where you can team up with your friends.

Regular Battle sees two teams of four Inklings vying to paint more of the map their ink color than the opposing team in matches called Turf War. Ranked Battles work in rotation with three different match types: Splat Zones (essentially King of the Hill, where the team who can keep a designated spot their color the longest wins), Tower Control – where teams try to maintain control of a mobile tower to reach checkpoints – and Rainmaker, which is akin to capture the flag, and sees the team’s fighting over the titular Rainmaker weapon to take it to the opposing team’s base.

It’s already a bit of a bummer that Regular Battles are confined to Turf War, and that the different modes of Ranked Battle are dictated by rotation, but what makes the matchmaking even more limited is that the levels themselves are also on rotation; with two levels available to each mode for two hours’ time. It’s understandable that Nintendo wants players to choose their weapon set based on how they wish to play a given level, but it’s less understandable that the players don’t even get any say-so as to which  of the available levels they’ll play. Instead of player votes determining a stage, the map is randomly selected. And with only two available options at a time in any given mode, expect some repetition during play sessions.

There is a new co-operative mode included in Splatoon 2 called Salmon Run, in which players work together to fight off waves of enemies (called Salmonids). Salmon Run is a great addition to the Splatoon experience, but it comes with a glaring caveat: it’s only available at certain designated times! It’s a baffling limitation on what is otherwise a stellar new mode of play.

“The single-player campaign features surprisingly memorable boss fights.”

Like its predecessor, Splatoon 2 also features a single-player campaign, which takes the Splatoon gameplay, and throws it into something of a 3D platformer, complete with collectible goodies. The single-player mode is actually a lot of fun, and is an improvement over the campaign from the first game, with some clever level design, boss fights, and a stronger connection to the multiplayer modes, as you can now find items that may earn you double experience points or coins obtained during matches.

Aside from the game modes, the biggest difference between Splatoon 2 and the original game is that this sequel has a much larger array of weapons and clothing to purchase. That may not sound like a whole lot, but some of these items can change up the gameplay considerably (the “duel pistol” weapon type allows you to perform a rolling dodge, for example). With more weapon types and bonuses at play, Splatoon 2 keeps things feeling fresh, if maybe not surprising.

Splatoon 2 is an exceptionally fun game. It retains the addictive, unique gameplay of the original while adding a few tweaks and improvements. And to top it off, the game includes a rocking soundtrack and decent amount of 90s-style attitude that differentiates its tone from other Nintendo franchises. But Splatoon 2 also carries with it the baggage of the original, most notable of which being the extremely limited matchmaking options. And although the new weapons, items and modes definitely make Splatoon 2 stand out from its predecessor, they only do so to a certain degree.

Splatoon 2 is an improvement over the original, but more in a vein similar to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was to Mario Kart 8. That is to say that Splatoon 2 – great as it is – feels more like like an enhanced version of Splatoon, as opposed to a full-blown sequel. Though again, the uniqueness that Splatoon brought to its genre is still fresh enough that the similarities aren’t a major complaint.

It may not reinvent what Splatoon started, but Splatoon 2 proudly carries the torch of the series with meaningful additions and improvements, making for what is probably the best modern multiplayer shooter not called Overwatch.

 

8.5

Splatoon 2 Review

Ink-credibly off the hook!

The original Splatoon on Nintendo’s underappreciated Wii U, was a fresh coat of paint to the banal online shooter realm, and a remarkable testament to Nintendo’s ability to branch off from their established repertoire of success and comfortability. Its unadulterated addictive nature cultivated one of my favourite online experiences in recent memory and its easily accessible structure outweighed any notable limitation, especially since the Wii U was Nintendo’s inaugural foray into the online space of gaming. Nintendo’s sequel to the colourfully delightful shooter is arguably the most fun I’ve had with their hybrid console and is without a doubt the best online game I’ve played all year. Splatoon 2 might only implement incremental changes to the formula, but notable design contributions polish this exquisite sequel off to a pristine shine. The moment to moment gameplay is riveting and polished to a glorious T – evoking an imperative sense of cooperation and variance -, the gear system is revamped to accommodate idiosyncratic playstyles, its inherent addictive bite-sized nature is retained on all fronts, and it’s all wrapped up in a gorgeously vibrant world that is oozing with Nintendo’s renowned sense of charm. The newly introduced cooperative mode, Salmon Run, is a welcome addition to Splatoon’s addictive repertoire and is arguably the best mode in this glorified sequel. While Splatoon 2 has its fair share of notable and subtle improvements, it still manages to fumble every now in then, with similar discrepancies that hindered its predecessor. Seeing how the Nintendo Switch has been a prominent device that restores the remnants of local multiplayer goodness – as is such with the excellent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and ARMS – the absence of any form of split-screen multiplayer in Splatoon 2 is a tragic missed opportunity to say the least. Despite notable disappointments, Splatoon 2 is still an excellent sequel that embraces the fundamentals and success of the original, while adding a few variances here and there to spice up the formula. Splatoon 2 is easily one of the best games of 2017 and is undoubtedly the freshest online experience that Nintendo has cooked up.

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Five Kingdoms I’d Like to See in Super Mario Odyssey

It’s almost hard to believe that Super Mario Odyssey will be released in a few short months. The game was only properly revealed in January, and after a strong E3 showing in June, it will see its worldwide release in October. For a major Mario title, that’s a pretty quick time in between reveal and release. Yet, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the game. We know of its primary “capture” mechanic, which allows Mario to take control of enemies, objects and NPCs via his hat. We know that Mario is collecting Power Moons instead of Power Stars,  and that every stage also plays into the overarching plot of Bowser trying to force Princess Peach into marrying him. And we know that Mario will be traversing a wide variety of different worlds, from big cities inhabited by realistic humans to psychedelic food-themed worlds.

One other thing we know of is that Odyssey is playing up Mario’s history in a way that perhaps no Mario game has done before. Many of the hats and costumes Mario finds along his adventure are references to the plumbers more obscure appearances, and for the first time, Mario’s original girlfriend, Pauline, appears in a proper Super Mario adventure.

This got me to thinking of what other kinds of ‘Kingdoms’ (Odyssey’s name for its various worlds) could we see show up? The aforementioned big city (hilariously named “New Donk City”) is where Pauline serves as mayor, and where the shops and street names allude to the Donkey Kong series. But what if that’s just the tip of the iceberg? What if there are more Kingdoms in Odyssey that pay tribute to Mario’s long history in one way or another?

Here are five such kingdoms I’d like to see in Super Mario Odyssey. Now, I’m really just spitballing/geeking out here, so I don’t expect to see them show up. But it would be so awesome and – considering some of the Kingdoms already revealed – not entirely impossible for them to make an appearance in some form.

The following five Kingdoms all represent a part of Mario’s history (or even that of its spinoffs) to some degree. Though seeing them literally realized would be awesome beyond words, they could also simply be implied homages to the series’ history (like how New Donk City’s street names and shops reference Donkey Kong Country).

Anyway, before I ramble any longer, let’s get to the Kingdom ideas!


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