Tag Archives: Nintendo 3DS

Video Game Awards 2018: Best Handheld Game

Once upon a time, the convenience of being able to take a game on the go also meant sacrificing much of its quality. Sure, there were some exceptions – with Link’s Awakening and the early Pokemon titles being early examples of well-regarded handheld titles – but it would be hard to argue that the Gameboy boasted the same quality or timeless appeal as the SNES games that were being released at the same time.

The early 2000s saw handheld gaming take major steps towards sharing the same level of quality as their console counterparts. More recent years have really brought handheld gaming to another level. Now, with the Nintendo Switch combining a handheld with a home console, the line between the two is more blurred than ever.

On the downside, that also means that traditional handhelds as we know them are becoming a thing of the past. It’s even hard to imagine Nintendo giving the 3DS a successor when they can do more on the Switch anyway.

As such, I think naming the best handheld title of the upcoming years may be a different beast than it’s been in the past (considering handheld games are now quite literally the same as home console titles). If I choose to continue this category in the future, it may seem like a superfluous additional token to a Switch game or the like. Because of that, I’ve decided to omit Switch games from this category for 2017 (because how could Super Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild not win?). Think of it to give a “last hoorah” of sorts to handheld gaming as we once knew it.

 

Winner: Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon

I have a complicated history with Pokemon. As much as I love the overall idea of the games (and their many wonderful creatures), I’ve often felt it’s the most unchanging of Nintendo’s major franchises (which is particularly ironic, given its emphasis on evolving creatures). For every Pokemon I’ve got to level 100, I have a game unfinished.

Thankfully, the 3DS entries have been heading the series in the proper direction. Finally shedding their 2D skins for 3D graphics, the X and Y versions felt like they brought the series more up-to-date, while Sun and Moon felt like a rightful step forward. They may not have reinvented the formula, but they added some much needed alterations to it.

Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (the “Yellow versions” to Sun and Moon’s “Red and Blue) continue this trend, bulking up what its preceding versions built while also adding in some tweaks of its own (including a weird story involving alternate dimensions and the long-overdue return of Giovanni and Team Rocket, who will hopefully be back in Pokemon Switch seeing as all subsequent Pokemon baddies felt like their bargain bin equivalent).

The new “Ultra” versions of Sun and Moon allow you to obtain almost every legendary Pokemon from the series’ history, which feels like a great way to pay homage to the series’ heritage. While aspects such as those may play up the nostalgia card, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon also bring about enough of their own changes to the established formula to ensure that the future continues to look bright for Pokemon.

 

Runner-up: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions

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Metroid: Samus Returns Review

Metroid: Samus Returns serves two primary purposes: the first is to remake Metroid II: Return of Samus, originally released on the Nintendo Gameboy in 1991, and bring it up-to-date for a modern age. The second, and more important purpose, is to bring Metroid back on track, after the last decade has soiled the series’ once nearly-flawless track record. After Metroid: Other M delivered an all-time stinker on Nintendo’s part, the series laid dormant for a few years before the mediocre Metroid Prime: Federation Force polarized fans. While Metroid: Samus Returns is definitely a step in the right direction to get the series back to its former glory, its far from the franchise revival the series really needs at this point.

On the plus side to things, Samus Returns resurrects the 2D, sidescrolling ‘Metroidvania’ gameplay that the series pioneered, which is definitely a return to form as far as structure is concerned. Improvements have been made to the outdated Gameboy title, however, as Samus can now fire her weapons in any direction, and many features that didn’t arrive in the series until well after Metroid II’s original release (such as the Super Missiles and Grapple Beams) are now part of Samus’ arsenal. Additionally, Samus now has a melee counterattack she can use on enemies for critical damage, which is a nice – if maybe a bit overused – addition to the gameplay. To add a touch of RPG mechanics into the mix, Samus can now also learn “Aeion abilities,” which are performed with the usage of an energy gauge, akin to the magic points of an RPG.

These are all fine additions to the game – as are the new 3D visuals and updated music – but at the same time, they only elevate the experience so far, as Samus herself doesn’t seem all that fun to control this time around. That’s not to say that the controls are bad per se, but Samus seems to move stiffer than she did in Super Metroid way back in 1994, and the flow of the game ultimately stumbles because of it.

The setting of the game – the Metroids’ homeworld of SR388, also doesn’t make for very captivating level design. Metroidvania titles are at their best when they have you return to previously-explored areas with new abilities, thus being able to uncover all new paths that you couldn’t during your initial visit. But Samus Returns seems to lack that sense of surprise and discovery. With Samus’ progression being dictated by exterminating the Metroids that appear on her radar, the experience feels hallowed out to simply being about going from one point to another to shoot something. Samus Returns lacks the ‘eureka moments’ of the genre’s more refined titles like Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

If you’re a diehard Metroid fan who has felt that Nintendo has left the series out to die in recent years, Samus Returns may serve up enough classic Metroid goodness to help ease the pain of Other M and Federation Force. But it also lacks the sense of depth and engagement that the series is known for with its best entries.

It’s one small step for Samus, but we’re still waiting for that next giant leap for Metroid-kind.

 

6.0

Culdcept Revolt Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

It isn’t all too often that you get to play a game that feels distinctly different, but that’s pretty much the case with Culdcept Revolt, which plays like a combination between a board game and a card game, with some light RPG elements thrown in for good measure. Although it boasts a somewhat tedious nature that will turn away some players, those who will fall in its niche will likely be hooked.

Truth be told, this isn’t the first Culdcept game, as the series saw some releases on the PS2 and Xbox 360 back in the day. But Revolt is the first entry in the series to make its way outside of Japan for nearly a decade, so even those who did manage to play the series during its “test run” era in the western world will likely feel a sense of newness when stepping into Culdcept Revolt’s unique setup.

The goal of Culdcept Revolt is to acquire a certain amount of magic (which varies depending on the board) and then make a lap around the game board while still holding on to the required amount of magic. As you may have guessed, you try to either prevent your opponent from gaining enough magic to win, or steal it from them when and if possible.

It works something like this: the game boards are comprised of five different types of spaces; fire (red), water (blue), wind (green) and earth (yellow) make up the majority of the boards, with the “gate” spaces being required to pass by in order to complete the aforementioned laps around the board.

At the start of each turn, the players are given a card; either monster, item or spell. The monsters are possibly the most important, and are placed on spaces to steal magic from the opposing players who happen to land on that same space. Either the enemy player pays the toll, or they attempt to battle the monster with one of their own. Should the defending player win the battle, the passerby must still pay the toll. But if the offender wins, they get to keep their magic.

Most monsters come in one of four types, corresponding with the elements of the board spaces, and receive bonuses if they’re placed on a space that shares their element; but there are also monsters that don’t have types, and are best used when you’re not in a position to gain the bonuses.

Should you enter a battle with a monster, both parties have the ability to equip their monster with an an item card (when applicable), which may increase their hit points or strength, or provide a different bonus, like a guaranteed first strike.

Finally, the spell cards are used outside of battle, and can be used to get a head start in a fight by damaging a monster, or provide you with extra magic, or even limit the number a player’s dice will land on in the next turn (which can potentially be used to help yourself or hinder an enemy).

Players gain additional magic every time they pass a gate space during a lap, and once they finish a lap, the monsters they placed on the board lose their “fatigue,” which essentially means you can then provide them with additional bonuses.

These bonuses mainly revolve around altering your conquered terrain. You can change the color of a space, swap the positions of monsters, and even increase the value of a space, thus increasing the toll enemy players need to pay.

The catch with all this is that playing most of your cards, and performing these territory actions, cost you some magic. So you can’t simply upgrade your territory and deploy monsters all willy nilly. There’s a sense of strategy to be had.

In terms of the core concepts, Culdcept Revolt has a lot of originality going for it. It feels like something like a crossover between Monopoly and the “Duel Mode” of Mario Party 3, but with fantasy monsters and anime characters.

Despite the freshness and charm, however, I’m afraid that Culdcept Revolt won’t be a game for everyone. Many of its matches will feel like they drag on and on. This is doubly true in the single player campaign, in which the enemy AI seems to take its sweet time in making decisions, and the characters often feel the need to bombard the player with dialogue at the start of their every turn. And frankly, the things the characters have to say aren’t particularly interesting, with a storyline that’s riddled in cliches, right down to the whole “main character with amnesia” trope that seems to follow anime-styled games like cuteness on a puppy.

Another downside comes in the form of the random elements of the game itself. Okay, so like any game where dice is a factor, there’s going to be a bit of randomness about it. But Culdcept Revolt feels like one of those games where computer players conveniently get consistently high rolls, while the human players are outright lucky if they manage to move more than two or three spaces in a turn. Not to mention that the cards you receive at the beginning of your turn are also completely random, which makes it hard to build a proper strategy from the outset. Sure, one could argue that the random cards are akin to an actual board game, but real board games usually provide you with different decks to choose from. At the very least, being able to pick whether you draw a monster, item or spell would help add to the strategizing.

Culdcept Revolt is a game that certainly showcases some fun and original ideas, and even includes the ability to save in the middle of a match to return to it later, which is perfect for a portable game given how lengthy the match-ups can be. But Revolt also isn’t a game for everyone, with its single player campaign teetering on the boring side. Thankfully, local and online multiplayer should have you and another player enjoying the game for what it is. If you have the patience for it, that is.

 

6.5

Bit Dungeon Plus Review

*This review first appeared at Miketendo64.com*

Bit Dungeon Plus looks to bring some old school challenge to the Nintendo 3DS, and while the concept does deliver on that to a degree, it ultimately suffers from a lack of polish and (in my case anyway) some notable technical issues.

Bit Dungeon Plus has an obvious inspiration in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It uses the same top-down perspective, and even utilizes 16-bit graphics. Players take control of a knight, who can obtain new weapons, armor and magic spells along their journey. After a set number of enemies are defeated, they can even gain levels like in an RPG. Upon gaining a level, players can choose to upgrade their maximum health, their attack power, or the strength of their critical strikes. Players can find health and magic restoring formulas by defeating certain enemies and breaking objects. Additionally, you can buy special upgrades and items by finding secret shops hidden inside of dungeons.

All of the action in the game takes place in these dungeons, which are randomly generated. What enemies and items you find in the dungeons will be different in every playthrough, and once you defeat a dungeon’s boss, you can move on to a more difficult dungeon.

Here’s the part of Bit Dungeon Plus that I found refreshing and original: when you die, you have to start all over, losing any levels you gained and increased stats you’ve acquired. However, any of the weapons and armor you’ve found can be equipped on your starting character in the next run through. So in each playthrough, you’re likely to find better weapons and armor to help you the next time around.

The core concept behind Bit Dungeon Plus is fun and may have you intrigued to keep playing for a while. Unfortunately, the game has some glaring rough edges.

For starters, close-range enemies are essentially a non-threat, as they move incredibly slowly (if they move at all), and never seem to attack. If a ranged enemy attacks with a fireball or arrow, you can easily defend from the damage by holding up your shield. But with the melee enemies, you basically don’t have to worry about taking damage. Just walk close enough and swing away.

There also could have been a bit more balance with the character progression. After increasing my attack power just a few times, I was able to take down bosses with three or four presses of the A button. As fun as the general idea behind the game is, the difficulty curve seems almost untested, as you can become close to unstoppable all-too soon.

In fact, when I did become this powerful, my play session only ended because the game crashed. In fact, Bit Dungeon Plus crashed on me on two different occasions! And I should add that I have never had a 3DS game crash on me in the past. I also experienced some graphical errors and freeze-ups during the game.

The core gameplay of Bit Dungeon Plus is fun, but the lack of polish and technical issues really detract from the experience. Bit Dungeon Plus is a well-intentioned, retro experience, but it definitely could have used some extra development time to work out the kinks.

 

5.0

RPG Maker Fes Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

The RPG Maker series has had an interesting history. Though it began in the mid-1990s as something of a game-creation game, the series later became a more overt tool for game creation. Though RPG Maker isn’t the most complex program for game-creation, it has lead to a few critically-acclaimed commercial releases, such as To the Moon. Though RPG Maker Fes’ status as a 3DS title brings the franchise back to its more humble roots and limitations, it still brings a decently robust set of tools for hopeful game designers to practice their skills.

As stated, being a Nintendo 3DS title, RPG Maker Fes is a lot simpler than its PC/Mac supported contemporaries, but that also means it’s relatively more accessible.

RPG Maker Fes, as the franchise-name implies, allows you to create your own RPG titles. The game is grounded in a 16-bit aesthetic, but that’s fine by me, seeing as that generation was the genre’s heyday. Visuals aside, you might even be surprised by how much you’re able to do and make on a tiny 3DS cartridge.

You can create characters, character classes, items, weapons, spells and enemy monsters. You can set their graphics, sprites, statistics. You can build the world map and dungeons via the touchscreen, and create story events and write dialogue. You have pretty much the essentials at your disposal. Perhaps not enough to make the RPG of your dreams, but certainly enough to make a fun, short RPG that can give you a better understanding of how to get started on the RPG of your dreams. As someone who hopes to one day make video games, RPG Maker Fes serves as a nice introductory tool.

Of course, there is a notable caveat in that there are no tutorials or instructions to really tell you how to get started. Now, most game making programs don’t have such things, but seeing as this is a pick-up-and-play, 3DS entry, you kind of wish there could be a few adjustments made to ease players in.

The biggest downside to RPG Maker Fes, however, are the unfortunate limitations that come with the hardware. As mentioned, RPG Maker has always been more simple than programs like GameMaker or Unity – with set visual and audio aesthetics for starters – but if you were clever enough with it, you could make something that was more your own than the program initially suggests. People have often made their own sprites, imported their own music, and even tampered with the RPG gameplay.

Don’t expect that same level of freedom here. Your stuck with whatever graphics, sprites and music the game displays for you, and though you may find some clever ways to change up the designated gameplay, I don’t think Fes is capable of the same kind of liberation of other RPG Maker programs.

This is all the more of a downside when you realize just how limited things like the graphics, music and sprites are. The game is limited to a rather generic anime art style, and the packaged game only comes with the typical fantasy settings and materials to work with. Other themes are planned for DLC releases, but it feels kind of cheap to not have more variety from the get-go (strangely, some graphics for guns and don’t-call-them-lightsabers exist, despite the fantasy-themed limitation. That could add some creative fuel to the fire, but it would also be nice to place swords and sorcery in a futuristic sci-fi setting and the like).

Further problems will arise with the limited number of graphics you have to work with for characters, monsters, weapons and items. Each category only has a handful of sprites and objects to work with, which you might find yourself exhausting pretty quickly when creating your game’s assets. Each sprite and graphic features four different colors, but such simple palette-swapping is a pretty iffy means to add variety.

With all of these complaints and limitations said, RPG Maker Fes is still surprisingly deep with what it allows you to do with its tools. After all, a good story and fun dialogue can make even the most basic sprite liven up, and good world design and gameplay can make up for a predictable setting. If the player is inventive enough, and has the patience for it, they can make an engaging (albeit short) RPG, and hopefully develop a wider understanding of game design.

Better still, you can share your creations with others, and download the creations of others in return. Meaning that – good or bad – you can experience what other players have dedicated their time to making, and they can experience the same from you.

It certainly has enough limitations to hold it back, but if you hope to one day make video games, RPG Maker Fes is a decent place to start. I’m still a long way off from releasing my first dream game, but after playing RPG Maker Fes, I do feel a step closer. If you give it a whirl, you could be too.

 

7.0

Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop Review

*This Review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

The Cooking Mama series has been around for a while now, and has largely endured thanks to its simple (and often addictive) gameplay, and it’s cute, often irresistible charm. The series’ newest entry, Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop on the Nintendo 3DS, puts an emphasis on players opening their own bakery, and trying to make the best sugary sweets to attract customers.

Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop continues the series’ mini-game-based gameplay and, following in the series’ long history on consoles such as the Wii and Nintendo DS, makes good use of the 3DS’ hardware. Unfortunately, those who are familiar with the series may not find a whole lot of newness in Sweet Shop, and while some of the mini-games are fun and accessible, others are a bit harder to figure out.

As stated, the goal of Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop is to make the best sweets around, and gradually build-up your bakery to gain more and more customers. Along the way, the player is aided by Cooking Mama, the adorable, cartoonish namesake of the series.

In order to create the baked goods, players need to complete a short series of mini-games, which each use the touchscreen and mic of the 3DS in unique ways.

Some mini-games may have you swiping the touchscreen to spread chocolate on a cannoli, while others will have you pouring flour in a dish by tapping its side, while taking a break every time the wind blows in from an open window (if this happens, you’ll have to blow into the 3DS mic to clear the screen of flour). Other games may have you dropping ingredients into a bowl and stirring them, followed up by placing them in an oven and getting the temperature right to make cookies.

For the most part, the mini-games are simple and fun, and it’s great that you have to go through a series of them in order to make a single dessert (earning medals for your performance in each mini-game). The more desserts you make, the more new desserts you unlock, some of which may share a few mini-games with others, making the game something of a test of memory as well reflexes.

On the downside of things, there were a few mini-games that I simply couldn’t figure out. You only get brief descriptions of each mini-game beforehand, and due to the general simplicity of the games, that’s usually enough. But there were a number of mini-games that are slightly more complex (having to act fast and perform specific actions for different ingredients in succession). And in these cases, the short descriptions just weren’t very helpful, making the games themselves cryptic and confusing.

On the bright side, such games are in the minority, but it does make it jarring when you go through a number of simple, easy mini-games, and then end up doing one you can’t get right because you can’t figure out what to do.

Still, once you start making a series of sweets and your shop starts stocking up, it’s fun to see more and more customers coming in. And the more customers you gain, the more you can customize the shop itself.

It’s really simple stuff, but Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop is fun, and it’s one of the more charming mini-game compilations to come around in the post-Wii generations.

Aesthetically, the graphics are simple but colorful, and the sounds are cute (I especially like Cooking Mama’s thick Japanese accent, which somehow makes the game even cuter). Though they also don’t really look much different than any of the Cooking Mama games that came before.

Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop is good, simple fun, if maybe not anything you haven’t seen before from the series, and when the mini-games don’t work, it feels entirely conflicting from the game’s otherwise accessible nature. But if you’re new to the series or just can’t get enough Cooking Mama, then Sweet Shop at the very least provides some entertaining mini-games and some addicting customization elements.

6.0

Pokemon Moon Review

Pokemon Moon

When Pokemon Sun and Moon versions were released on the 3DS towards the end of 2016, they became the fastest-selling titles in Nintendo’s long history. New entries in the mainline Pokemon series are always a big deal, but it seemed more of a big deal than ever with Sun and Moon. Perhaps due in part to the (long overdue) changes the games made to the formula, and maybe partly due to the wild success of Pokemon Go earlier in the year, and maybe a little bit due to them being some of the last major 3DS titles before the Switch takes over Nintendo’s priorities. Whatever the case, Pokemon Sun and Moon were big. But did they live up to the hype?

In a lot of ways, Pokemon Sun and Moon were the breath of fresh air the series sorely needed for a long time. Despite Pokemon being a series that’s all about fantastic creatures and their evolutions, it has been – ironically enough – Nintendo’s most un-evolving series. Mario and Zelda have continuously changed up their formulas, but Pokemon was always content with going through the motions, and simply adding a new roster of creatures and some minor tweaks to the gameplay.

Pokemon MoonOf course, Pokemon Sun and Moon introduced a host of new Pokemon of their own, but here, even old school Pokemon were made new again. The games take place on the Alolan Islands, which are not-so-subtly based on Hawaii. Because of this, some familiar Pokemon have adapted and evolved differently in this region, which means not only do they have new character designs, but new types and movesets as well. Ratatas now boast villainous mustaches to go with their new Dark type, while Sandshrew’s shell looks like an igloo to match its new Ice type. Meanwhile, Exeggutor has become a palm tree, which somehow makes him Dragon type.

Pokemon MoonThis may not seem like a big deal, but it does add a good dose of freshness to the mix. Not only do you have a whole new array of Pokemon to catch, but now you have to learn about old favorites in a whole new light, which makes the entire lineup of Pokemon feel newer than they have in a number of generations for the series.

Additionally, the games now feature creatures known as “Ultra Beasts,” which are more or less alien Pokemon. Mega Evolutions also return from X and Y, allowing for certain Pokemon to reach temporary “mega” levels during battle. And now Pokemon can learn powerful Z-moves, which can only be used once per battle, but can greatly change the outcome of a fight.

Another useful change that helps streamline the experience are that HM abilities have been removed entirely. Some of the existing HMs have simply become TMs, while now instead of teaching specific Pokemon the “ride” ability, the player now has the option of “Poke Ride” which summons specific Pokemon to carry you across different terrains.

Other new features include Pokemon Refresh, which are simple uses of the 3DS’ touchscreen to pamper your Pokemon (by coming their fur, using a blowdryer to remove dirt, etc.) and help win them over to you. You also have more customizable options for your character, and now players have their own plazas to connect with other players to trade Pokemon and items, or do battle. You can even customize what kinds of special shops appear in your plaza.

Pokemon MoonPerhaps the change I most appreciate is that the actual structure of the series has been altered. No longer do you have to go through the usual eight gym leaders before moving on to the final section of the game. Now, you travel across the four Alolan Islands, and go through trials and build yourself up to take on each island’s Kahuna, a supreme Pokemon trainer who serves as the final obstacle of each island.

This is a greatly refreshing change of pace. Though I enjoy the Pokemon series, it was re-using the same format for so long that it became insanely predictable. While this change in structure doesn’t radically change things up, the fact that it’s changed at all makes it more enjoyable than the series has been in a long time. And the changes made to the Pokemon themselves help liven up the core elements of the game.

With that said, I do have reiterate that the changes aren’t anything radically new or different. Pokemon Sun and Moon add enough newness to make things feel fresh, but perhaps not quite enough if you’re among those who want a little something more from the series. This is still a deep gaming experience, but if you’ve been waiting for a reinvention of the series in the same vein as what Mario and Link have accomplished in the past, you may be a tad disappointed.

Aside from new moves, Pokemon battles really haven’t changed. Pokemon can still only learn four moves at a time, and the battles still use the same turn-based setup. Perhaps a little more interactive battles akin to the Mario RPGs of yesteryear might help make Pokemon battles more fun. As they are, they aren’t necessarily boring, but they are starting to feel dated.

Pokemon MoonAnother downside comes in the games excessive story and dialogue. I appreciate that Sun and Moon look to add more narrative to the series, and I like the story they have going on (especially the new villains, Team Skull, who act and talk like would-be hip hop artists), but things get so wordy and the cinematics can get so long, that you may find yourself skipping through as much of it as you can just so you can get back to the gameplay. Again, I enjoy the story, but maybe they could have told it with a few less dialogue boxes and some shorter cinematic moments.

Pokemon Sun and Moon are imperfect, then. But they’re still a whole lot of fun when they want to be. The fact that they’ve changed the formula up at all feels incredibly refreshing, and I greatly like the new Pokemon and the new spins on old ones. The graphics are an improvement over X and Y, and give the series a whole new visual life, and the music is enjoyable.

Pokemon Sun and Moon certainly serve as a fitting “final act” of the 3DS before the Switch takes away its spotlight, and they’ll satisfy Pokemon fans new and old. But hopefully by the time the next Pokemon generation rolls around, the series can double-up on that “newness” factor, and bring the series to a whole new level.

 

8.0