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Sonic Forces Review

Oh, Sonic.

To say that Sonic the Hedgehog has had a rough history ever since he made the transition into 3D is more than a little bit of an understatement. From games that were decent in their day but aged horribly (Sonic Adventure) to flat-out stinkers (Sonic Boom: The Rise of Lyric), Sonic has become something of a joke.

It finally seemed like Sonic the Hedgehog would make his triumphant return to greatness in 2017. Not only did the series receive a new, 16-bit sidescroller in the form of Sonic Mania, but it also received something of a follow-up to 2011’s Sonic Generations, one the few 3D entries the series could be proud of.

When Sonic Mania was released during the Summer, it really seemed like this was to be the year of the hedgehog, as Sonic Mania captured the very essence of Sonic’s best outings and created a fun and creative successor to the Genesis titles we’ve all waited over two decades for. But alas, despite being the “fastest thing alive,” Sonic just can’t seem to keep his momentum. All the good will established through Mania has seemingly run straight into a brick wall with Sonic Forces, a title whose potential seems continuously squandered through a rushed, unpolished execution.

Like Generations, Sonic Forces looks to combine both 2D and 3D Sonic gameplay. As in the 2011 game, players take control of either pot-bellied “Classic Sonic” whose stages are strictly 2D, or the trying-way-too-hard-to-be-cool Modern Sonic, whose stages switch between a 2D and 3D perspective.

Modern Sonic is equipped with a homing attack, which really only makes things feel like mindless button-mashing, since you just have to repeatedly hit the button to blast through enemies who can’t do anything against it. What really hurts Modern Sonic’s stages, however, are the sections that have Sonic blasting through a stage in 3D perspectives, largely because you can’t make out what’s in front of you until you crash into it. You’d be surprised just how often you slam into a robot and lose rings because you thought it was a speed booster, and many of the deaths you’ll encounter feel more attributed to an inability to see what’s ahead, as opposed to player error.

It should come as no surprise that Classic Sonic’s stages are the highlight of the game. Classic Sonic retains the “drop dash” from Sonic Mania, though he doesn’t control as smoothly as his recent 16-bit counterpart. Classic Sonic’s stages benefit from the 2D perspective and actually being able to see what’s in Sonic’s path, but better still is that you actually feel like you’re doing something more than pushing forward and spamming the homing attack. The Classic Sonic stages may not stack up to anything from Sonic Mania (or even Generations, for that matter), but at least they actually feel like there’s something to them.

“I tried to make an old-timey cartoon character, but it ended up looking like something far more sinister.”

But wait a minute, a third playable character joins the Sonics this time around, in the form of the player’s own created avatar. Yes, it appears as though Sega has been paying attention to the countless, eye-rolling Sonic OCs on Deviantart, and has given players the ability to make their characters (somewhat) canon. You can choose a species for your avatar (including hedgehogs, dogs, cats, wolves, and others), select different eyes, gloves, shoes, etc. The character customization is somewhat limited, but you gain more customizable items by performing well in the stages and meeting certain requirements.

“Some levels have your created character teaming up with Sonic, fulfilling the second biggest fantasy of the Sonic fanbase.”

Though the prospect of playing as your own character actually had some potential to add a new twist to Sonic gameplay, the levels in which you play as your avatar are perhaps the weakest of the lot. Instead of customizing abilities to make your avatar actually feel like a Sonic character, your avatar is instead equipped with a grappling hook and a weapon, the latter of which can be swapped out in between levels with any other weapons you’ve managed to unlock.

This is where things start to go off the rails. These abilities just aren’t fun. The hook basically works like a stiffer version of Modern Sonic’s homing attack, while all the weapons are just overpowered moves that you can just spam on mindless enemies who stand in place and pose no real threat.

“Where the hell is my character?!”

The avatar stages play closer to Modern Sonic’s, which means they also suffer from annoying perspectives in 3D sections. What’s all the worse is that even the 2D sections with the avatar get muddled with how small your character often ends up on the screen. And when clunky wall-jumping mechanics are suddenly introduced late in the game, it brings whatever fun the avatar stages had to a dead stop.

One of the worst aspects of Sonic Forces is its plot. Somehow, Dr. Eggman from the Modern Sonic dimension has found the Phantom Ruby from Sonic Mania, and has used its power to create a super being called Infinite. The ruby – and subsequently, Infinite – possesses the ability to alter reality, being able to create replicas of past Sonic villains Shadow the hedgehog, Metal Sonic, Chaos and Zavok (and no one else apparently, as Infinite just keeps recycling those four).

Anyway, Infinite defeats Sonic the Hedgehog in battle, and the famous blue hedgehog is believed to be dead by his friends (before his survival is unceremoniously revealed on the map screen…yeah). Turns out Sonic’s been captured, and in is absence, Dr. Eggman has finally succeeded in taking over the world. Knuckles now leads the resistance against Dr. Eggman, and has recruited the small army of goofy animal characters that have been introduced to the series over the years (not that most of these characters even matter, seeing as they only ever seem to show up to, well, show up). The player’s avatar is the “rookie” of the resistance, and Classic Sonic shows up after being sucked into a wormhole in Sonic Mania. Together, the resistance plans to rescue Sonic, defeat Eggman’s forces, stop Infinite, and bring freedom back to their planet.

The plot is just far too serious for its own good. There was a time when Sonic games being more story heavy was at least a novel concept, but the plots of the series have become something of a bad joke with how cheesy and forced they are, and Sonic Forces might be one of the worst offenders. I don’t have a problem with serious storylines, but considering this is a series about a cartoon hedgehog who runs really fast and fights robots, seeing it trying to be so serious and edgy really just makes it feel silly. It is possible to make meaningful stories with cartoony characters, but trying to turn Sonic the Hedgehog into something so dramatic just doesn’t work.

“Not creepy at all…”

Sonic Forces isn’t all bad, however. Along with the Classic Sonic stages bringing some fun to the table (though also reminding you that you could be playing Sonic Mania), the game looks great visually, and its musical score is actually quite good (just turn the volume down a bit when it comes to the vocal tracks). But whenever Sonic Forces starts to look like it’s getting better, it ends up stumbling and wasting its potential. Along with all the gameplay fumbles, the level design is nothing special, and the boss fights are particularly unmemorable (just catch up to them and spam that homing attack some more).

Sonic has certainly been in worse games than this. But Sonic Forces showcases many of the attributes that have lead to the series’ drastic fall from grace. And seeing as it’s coming off the heels of the exceptional Sonic Mania, the shortcomings of Forces are only magnified all the more.

If given some extra development time and polish, Sonic Forces could have been pretty good. As it is, well… it’s a 3D Sonic game.

 

5.5

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Ittle Dew 2 Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

Ittle Dew 2+ is a pleasant surprise. Originally released in 2016, Ittle Dew 2+ makes its way to the Nintendo Switch, and brings with it a fun homage and parody of the classic 2D Legend of Zelda titles, with a unique sense of charm and humor to boot.

The top-down, dungeon-crawling adventures that Link popularized on the NES and SNES are made anew in Ittle Dew 2+, but with a few twists. Instead of the high fantasy setting like Hyrule, Ittle Dew 2+ takes place in a more contemporary, lighthearted setting. The hero is a young girl named Ittle, who is accompanied by her flying dog Tippsie. The two “crash” onto a strange island filled with dungeons and loot. Stranded on the island, the duo has to adventure through eight dungeons in order to get pieces for a new raft to get off the island (Tippsie makes a joke as to why they can’t simply make a raft from one of the many nearby trees).

It’s a cute and silly premise, given all the more personality by the fact that the game’s world seems to mostly take place in a kid’s imagination (whether or not it’s literally supposed to be Ittle’s own fantasy world, I’m not quite sure). The first dungeon takes place in a pillow fort, while the second is a giant sand castle. Even a junkyard becomes a menacing dungeon in Ittle Dew 2+.

I say “first” and “second,” but the truth is all but the eighth dungeon can be done in whatever order the player chooses. It has a level of freedom similar to the Zelda games that inspired it, and finding every new dungeon or location is fun in itself.

Ittle starts her adventure armed with little more than a stick, but along the adventure, you pick up new weapons and items like the Force Wand (which pushes objects from a distance and deflects enemy projectiles), dynamite to destroy blocks, and eventually upgrade your stick to better weapons like a flaming sword.

The personality and charm of Ittle Dew 2+ is prominent at every turn, whether it’s the weapons and items, or the nature of the dungeons themselves, Ittle Dew 2+ is a game that oozes charm. Even the equivalent of Zelda’s heart pieces are boxes of crayons. How charming is that?

It’s those aforementioned dungeons that steal the show. Though the dungeons are on the short side, the puzzles they house are some of the most fun in recent memory. Each dungeon contains numerous puzzles, some of which can be decently head-scratching. Some of the best ones even have multiple means of figuring them out, and will leave the player to get creative to solve them.

Unfortunately, combat against enemies and bosses isn’t quite as joyful. Later dungeons include many instances in which enemies swarm the player, which isn’t so bad in certain instances, but other times, these enemies might have contradicting patterns (one may only be able to take damage from behind, while another might require you to back them against a wall and attack from the front). When you get into situations that throw multiple different enemy types at you all at once, it can get a little hectic.

Similarly, the boss fights have a considerable leap in difficulty from the rest of the dungeons that they’re featured in. While each boss has their own pattern that you can figure out in a few tries, they tend to do massive damage, meaning they often end up being trial-and-error affairs. The boss fights are never bad, but given that the dungeons themselves aren’t particularly difficult, the boss encounters may become off-putting to some players with their difficulty spikes.

One other minor complaint is that the load times can be notably lengthy. They’re far from the longest load times I’ve seen, but they can take a decent chunk of time just to load a single-room cave.

Still, it’s hard to complain too much about how much Ittle Dew 2+ gets right. Ittle controls just as smoothly as Link ever did in his 2D adventures, while the cel-shaded visuals only add to the game’s bountiful charm, and the musical score is as whimsical as anything else in the game.

Ittle Dew 2+ may be over quickly if you only seek to finish Ittle’s raft, with each of the dungeons only taking a short amount of time to complete, with the next in line being displayed on your map at any time. But Ittle Dew 2+ has some good staying power with its sidequests. The world is littered with optional caves that contain secret items, and there’s even a dream world that can be visited for a more expansive detour. And the fact that Ittle Dew 2 leaves the first seven dungeons and side content to be done in whatever order the player chooses, the pace of the adventure can be as quick or as leisurely as the player sees fit.

Ittle Dew 2 is a lot of fun. It pays both beautiful homage and hilarious tribute to The Legend of Zelda, while also having a standout personality that’s all its own. It may be a little on the short side, and some of the combat sections leave a bit to be desired. But its inventive puzzles, smooth gameplay and oodles of charm help elevate it to a real delight.

 

7.5

Super Mario Odyssey Review

Reach for the moon…

The Super Mario series requires no introduction; to say that it is synonymous with the video game medium would be an immense understatement. Its cadence to this unanimous praise is heavily warranted as the Super Mario series is game development at its finest. One staple and undisputed fact that has remained a constant of sorts for the legendary series is its profound sense of unadulterated fun; no other series is able to emit an equivalent sense of elation or wonder. However, Mario’s strongest backbone and alluring element is its ability to adapt and evolve.  The core ingenious structure has remained intact for over three decades, with innovative ideas and constructs implemented into each new iteration of Mario. It’s a successful formula that rightfully acknowledges and respects the past, but also leaves way for innovation and improvement, encompassing a disposition for unpredictability and audacity. Super Mario Odyssey is a prime example of Nintendo’s pristine ability to take the familiar and beautifully mold it into something brilliantly exotic. In a lot of ways, Super Mario Odyssey is a renascence of the 3D sandbox platformer, however this magical adventure is far more than the sum of its parts. It redefines the structure of the series in terms of its gameplay variance, level design, and progression structure, while paying homage to its roots and acting as a celebration of sorts for the beloved franchise. It’s a delicious adventure that is equally parts exploration and platforming, and is chockful of enticing secrets and goodies to discover. Super Mario Odyssey is an amalgamation of each minute element that validates the series’ perfect standing; this foundation is enhanced considerably through Nintendo’s ingenious use of inventive concepts and implementations, crafting an experience that is constantly evolving in surprisingly brilliant ways. It’s an unabashed masterpiece that surpasses the insurmountable standards set by the Mario franchise. Super Mario Odyssey is the definition of perfection and is a glorified testament to Nintendo’s unparalleled sense of creativity and innovation.

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Super Mario Odyssey Review

Much has been said of how Super Mario Odyssey is the return to the “sandbox style” of Mario game found in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. But the truth is it’s much more than that. This is the latest evolution in a series that is no stranger to evolving, as it feels like a  culmination of everything Mario has learned up to this point, all tied together with a bag of tricks that are entirely its own. World ensured Mario was an icon to endure past the 8-bit NES, 64 brought Mario into the third dimension and changed the way platformers are played, and Galaxy turned the very nature of the series on its head (often literally). Odyssey is the latest continuation of Mario’s progression, as it contorts and redefines the very foundations of gaming’s greatest icon.

From the get-go, it’s easy to tell that Odyssey is something special. Though the story is the tale as old as time – with the fiendish Bowser absconding with Princess Peach in an attempt to force her to be his bride – there are new twists here that make things feel fresh. The first, and most apparent, is the new cinematic quality given to the game’s events. The story this time around  begins with what would be the end of another Mario adventure, with the mustachioed hero coming face-to-face with the King Koopa to rescue Princess Peach.

Bowser, now decked out in a wedding tux, has hired a band of evil bunny wedding planners called the Broodals to aide him in his schemes, which all revolve around the forced nuptials. Bowser manages to get the upper hand in the scuffle, and soon Mario is sent plummeting from Bowser’s airship. Mario awakes not in the sunshine covered grassy hills that would signify the first level of virtually every previous Mario title, but in the Nightmare Before Christmas-esque world of the Cap Kingdom, which is inhabited by spectral hats.

Bowser is traveling the world, stealing different items from various kingdoms to ensure his ceremony is perfect: Flowers from the Wooded Kingdom, sparkling water from the Seaside Kingdom, and a mystic wedding ring from the Sand Kingdom, to name a few of the objects Bowser has apprehended. One of these items happens to be a sentient tiara from the Cap Kingdom (aptly named Tiara), whose brother Cappy is on a mission to rescue her. Mario and Cappy join forces, and soon the duo set off on a globetrotting adventure to save the day.

“Even more esoteric Mario characters, such as Pauline from the original Donkey Kong, show up during the adventure.”

Being a Mario title, of course the plot is simple stuff, but its cinematic presentation is a new high for the series, with many moments feeling like extravagant set pieces ripped out of Uncharted. And though it’s minimal, a travel brochure that serves as the player’s map contributes a bit of world building, with each kingdom getting some little details given to their environment, citizens, and local industries. Odyssey’s world may never pull at the heartstrings like Rosalina’s storybook, but Mario’s world has never felt more alive.

This is perhaps a bit ironic, because Mario’s world has also never been weirder. The realistically-proportioned humans of New Donk City (the Metro Kingdom) have already gained internet infamy for how they hilariously clash with Mario’s cartoonish self. But that’s far from the end of it, with Odyssey seemingly having a ball implementing whatever art directions and world themes tickle its fancy. The Sand Kingdom is home to sugar skull people inspired by Dia de los Muertos, while the Cascade Kingdom houses a T-rex that looks like it was ripped out of Jurassic Park. There are many other wonderful diversities in Odyssey’s visuals, including one boss who – along with its world – looks more like something from Dark Souls or Skyrim than Super Mario.

Of course, with Mario, it’s the gameplay that always comes first, and that’s as true here as ever. The best part is Odyssey’s distinct sense of weirdness is found even in its gameplay.

Describing the gameplay as weird certainly isn’t a knock on the game’s controls – Odyssey is as much a sequel to the Galaxy duo as it is to 64, as Mario himself retains all his classic acrobatics from those games, and controls just as fluidly as he did in his space ventures – but this weirdness is found in the form of Odyssey’s key new feature: the capture mechanic.

By throwing Cappy, Mario can effectively possess creatures and his classic enemies via his ghostly headwear (think of it like Oddjob from Goldfinger meets Bob from Twin Peaks), with each capture-able character bringing its own gameplay.

Some creatures provide small changes, such as the Cheap Cheap allowing for faster swimming without the need to take a break for air, while Goombas can stack on top of each other to reach higher places. Others are a bit more drastic, with the notorious Hammer Bros. having their own sense of movement, and can rapidly throw projectiles to fell enemies and break objects.

“Mario can even become a tank, turning things into all-out warfare.”

The capture ability isn’t limited to Mario’s classic rogues gallery, however, and the former plumber can possess new creatures like the Gushen, a squid-like figure entrapped in a bubble of water which pays homage to Sunshine’s F.L.U.D.D. by means of using the water as a jetpack. The Tropical Wiggler can stretch like an accordion for some unique navigation, while the aforementioned T-rex proves to be an unstoppable behemoth. Mario can even capture some inanimate objects, like the poles of New Donk City, which fling Mario to great heights.

Being able to capture such a wide array of creatures and objects means that the gameplay is constantly changing, and Odyssey wisely incorporates the mechanic into a seemingly endless variety of objects both big and small. Traditional power-ups are nowhere to be found, but the capture ability is so robust and used so creatively that it’s a more than worthy alternative.

It’s all for the sake of collecting Power Moons, the new equivalent to Stars and Shines of 3D Marios past. These Power Moons are the energy source that fuels Mario and Cappy’s ship, the Odyssey, with more moons required to visit each subsequent kingdom.

“Power Moons come in different colors depending on the kingdom.”

Here’s where Super Mario Odyssey lives up to its monicker of an open-world Mario title more than 64 and Sunshine ever did. There is no hub world in Odyssey, instead, each stage is its own wide open sandbox. Without a hub to return to after a Moon is collected, Mario pulls a page out of Banjo-Kazooie’s playbook, and is free to comb through a stage finding as many Power Moons as he possibly can at the player’s own leisure. There is a small caveat in that Odyssey is slightly more story-dictated than other Mario titles, and most of the stages are unlocked in a subsequent order (with only a few instances of multiple levels opening up at once). This is ultimately minor, however, as each stage has so much to do at any given time – with more activities being unlocked as you progress through the adventure – that the sheer abundance of player choice is perhaps equalled solely by Breath of the Wild.

Odyssey’s stages can get pretty massive, but they never feel overwhelming. Checkpoint flags can be fast-traveled to on the map screen, and the capture ability often leads to faster means of exploration. Plus, there’s so much to do in any given space of Odyssey’s levels that you’ll never feel like your travels are for naught.

The story will take about fifteen hours to complete, but rest assured the game is far from over at that point, as postgame content opens the adventure up all the more, leaving every sandbox of a stage completely open for the player to traverse them like never before. With hundreds of Moons to acquire, there’s rarely ever an end in sight, unless the player so desires to move on.

There are other means in which Odyssey gleefully leaves the player in charge, with a host of different control options available. Though the motion controls may take a few minutes to get used to, once you do, they play like a dream, and I found myself actively wanting to play with a joycon in each hand. You can always dock the joycons or use a pro controller if you wish, but Nintendo really went all out in ensuring every control option feels so responsive.

Perhaps Odyssey’s most charming little customizable option is the ability to change Mario’s costume and hat. Coins play a larger role than ever, as they can be traded to a chain of shops known as the Crazy Cap to gain new costumes. Similarly, purple currency is different to each kingdom, and are used to unlock costumes based on or inspired by that region (often with ties to Mario’s past, such as New Donk City’s construction worker uniform being identical to that which Mario wore on the box art to Super Mario Maker).

For the most part, the costumes and hats are purely cosmetic, though there are a few instances of a particular costume set being required to enter specific doors or to get the proper reaction from an NPC. Though this may be Odyssey’s lone lacking element, as Mario is usually just granted a Moon for entering said doors or talking to said NPCs. It’s a minor quibble, but it would have been a bit more interesting if the sections that required specific costumes had more to them.

If one has to search really hard to find anything else to raise an eyebrow about, it’s simply that the penalty for defeat is a measly ten coins. Gone are 1-ups and game overs in an admittedly modernized approach. But seeing as coins are all over the place, and more prevalent than ever before, defeat seems to have very little consequence.

Another noteworthy aspect of Odyssey is its bombardment of memorable boss fights. Although the boss battles tend to be on the easy side, they deliver on the fronts of creativity which, for my money, is the more important area. The boss battles are varied and plentiful, with many of the best ones also taking advantage of different capture abilities.

Visually speaking, Odyssey is the best looking game on the Switch. Along with the aforementioned abundance of art directions, the game as a whole is just a beauty to look at. Every texture, surface and liquid to be found in Mario’s world is given a new sheen, so even the most absurd of creatures and locations have a sense of realism. Better still are the tiny little details that are littered all over the place, like Mario getting covered in soot if he jumps over a chimney, or small animals scurrying in the distance. Although Mario’s world is more surreal than the land of Hyrule, Odyssey evokes the same sense of love for attention to detail as Breath of the Wild.

Of course, what would a Mario game be without a great soundtrack? This is another area in which Odyssey seemingly sets a new highpoint for the series, expanding on the orchestrated wonderment of Galaxy and making it into something even more grandiose, while still sounding distinctly Mario. Odyssey’s soundtrack is as fun and epic as any in Nintendo’s history, and is nothing short of a joy to listen to.

Super Mario Odyssey is a phenomenal game. It never stops piquing the player’s curiosity, and consistently rewarding it with one brilliant idea after another. There’s simply never a dull moment in Super Mario Odyssey, as it displays a constant stream of inventiveness that few games could match. Even a second player can join in on the action, and take control of Cappy while player one takes up Mario’s mantle.

Mario is one of gaming’s oldest icons, and yet he’s also proven to be the medium’s most consistent source of new ideas time and again. That concept has maybe never been more apparent than it is here in Odyssey, as it combines so many aspects of Mario’s greatest adventures while simultaneously rewriting them. It’s the next step in Mario’s evolution, while also being a loving homage to the series’ peerless history.

If I didn’t know any better, I might even say that Odyssey feels like a fitting conclusion to gaming’s most iconic franchise. It won’t be, of course, but Odyssey feels like the crescendo of all things Mario. There were more than a few instance in which Odyssey had me misty-eyed. Some instances were due to personal nostalgia, others were because of how beautifully Odyssey pays tribute to its entire lineage.

Fitting that Super Mario Odyssey should be released ten years after Galaxy. In 2007, Super Mario Galaxy seemed to encapsulate the Super Mario series, and brought it all to such newfound heights that many wondered where Mario could possibly go next. Now, Odyssey has pulled it off all over again. Its restless imagination, non-stop surprises, and pitch-perfect gameplay will leave anyone wondering what the future holds for Mario and company.

 

10

Super Mario Odyssey Impressions

*This post originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

I’ll just come outright and say it; Super Mario Odyssey is wonderful. I still have a way to go before I beat it and collect everything, but from what I’ve seen so far, every minute of Odyssey has been a joy.

Having played Odyssey back at E3 2017, it’s interesting to see what has changed. Namely, the motion-controls when playing with two joycons feels smoother than they did at E3 (though the E3 demo also didn’t explain the motion-controls in full detail, so maybe I just know what I’m doing now). It’s wonderful how well the game controls. Here I thought I was going to prefer using the joycons docked in the controller, but I actually think I enjoy the motion-controls more. It all feels so fluid.

“Although the bosses are a bit on the easy side, they are consistently inventive and fun.”

Then we have the capture abilities, which are constantly changing up the gameplay. It’s so much fun just to see how every last character and creature plays. So far, my favorites have been the Chomp, the T. Rex and the tank!

There’s just so much gameplay exuding from every corner of Odyssey, it’s astounding! And the whole game is riddled in little surprises in every detail. It’s very reminiscent of collecting the Korok seeds in Breath of the Wild, but even more playful with how it inspires curiosity in the player. It seems in every moment I’ve wanted to search every last corner of a stage to find secret moons!

It’s perhaps the level design that’s Odyssey’s biggest highlight, with ever level being vastly different than the one that came before. Not just in aesthetics and themes, but also the obstacles, capture abilities and, most importantly, ideas.

So far, there’s simply never been a dull moment in Super Mario Odyssey. It has that same level of polish and consistent inventiveness of the Galaxy games or Super Mario World. I still may have a way to go, but so far, Super Mario Odyssey has the potential to wrest Breath of the Wild’s crown for the title of best game of 2017.

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

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