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Review: Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon

Nov 27 // Ben Davis
Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon (3DS)Developer: Spike ChunsoftPublisher: NintendoMSRP: $39.99Released: November 20, 2015 To start things off in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, the player will take a short personality test. The test determines which of the 20 starter Pokémon they will become; it also chooses their partner. However, the results can be overruled if the player is unhappy with their chosen 'mon. The game picked Mudkip for me, with Torchic as my parter, so I just went with it. The story of Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon revolves around a human who has been turned into a Pokémon and has lost their memory. The Pokéhuman wakes up in confusion to find that they're being attacked by a group of Beheeyem, but they're quickly led to safety by a kind Nuzleaf with a southern accent who shows them the ropes and brings them into town. Once in town, the player will make some new friends, meet up with their destined partner, and begin going on expeditions into mystery dungeons. From here, the main storyline will begin to reveal itself in bits and pieces. There are whispers of Pokémon around the world mysteriously being turned to stone, the Beheeyem are still following the player, and their memory of being a human refuses to return to them. Eventually, everything will start to fall into place and a grand adventure of world-ending proportions will unfold. But before all of that happens, there are dungeons to explore. These make up the core gameplay, of course. Mystery dungeons are made up of randomly generated grid-based floors filled with enemy Pokémon, items, and traps. Enemies only move when the player moves, so sometimes it's best to take things one step at a time so as to avoid suddenly becoming overwhelmed with foes. [embed]322769:61271:0[/embed] To attack, just hold down the left bumper to open up a menu of four possible moves, then select an action. It's also possible to combo moves with other team members by tapping the right bumper, which activates an "Alliance" to hit an enemy with multiple moves at once. Strategy is key to winning battles. Sometimes the best course of action is to waste a turn so that the enemy might move closer, opening up the possibility to land the first strike. Or, maybe it would be safer to switch positions with another teammate so they can take a blow and allow others to heal. Perhaps a liberal use of items will get the player out of a jam. A lot of planning and foresight is necessary in order to survive most confrontations, so simply spamming attacks is not going to cut it for the most part. Moving around dungeons will slowly heal injured Pokémon, but it will also decrease a hunger gauge as well, and if hunger reaches zero then the Pokémon's health will slowly begin to deplete. On top of that, there are status effects to worry about, such as poison or burns, which will stop Pokémon from regenerating health and will hurt them. Other effects, like confusion, can mess with a Pokémon's movement or ability to act. This can prove to be very annoying and potentially dangerous, so it's always a good idea to have the proper items available. Actually, a big part of mystery dungeon navigation involves managing items effectively. Only a certain amount can be held at once, but items will be scattered about all over the place and will quickly fill up the bag. It's a good idea to figure out which are the most important and plan accordingly. Some of the more important ones are oran berries and reviver seeds which are necessary for healing, elixirs which replenish the PP of moves, apples which stave off hunger, and wands and orbs that keep enemies at bay or help with dungeon navigation. There are also "Looplets" which act as the sole source of accessory. These can be upgraded with "Emeras" or gems which provide a wide array of different effects to help with combat and navigation (some may even cause a Mega Evolution!), but the Emeras will disappear upon exiting a dungeon. If the player fails a dungeon, they will lose all the items and money currently being held, unless they opt to wait for a rescue mission. These can be arranged on Pelipper Island, where the player can request help from other players via passwords, QR codes, local wireless, or IR connection. Alternatively, the player can simply return to their old save in order to retain items and money, but of course progress might be lost. Helper Pokémon can also be sent out from Pelipper Island for streetpass purposes, although I haven't encountered any yet. While story dungeons will force the player to use specific teams of Pokémon, normal dungeons will allow the player to choose any three Pokémon they wish to use. More Pokémon can be recruited by completing expeditions or simply chatting with folks around town, so the pool of possible allies will continue to grow larger and larger. All 720 Pokémon are available to be recruited, including legendaries, gender variations, all forms of Unown, and more. Using Pokémon in dungeons will allow them to level up and and learn new moves. I don't believe they can evolve, but since their evolutions can also be recruited, it doesn't really matter too much. Normal expeditions are where Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon really shines, but unfortunately they are few and far between until the main story has been completed. Free play finally opens up in the epilogue, but players are looking at about 20+ hours of gameplay and cutscenes before that happens. Aside from that, my only real complaints are the lack of skippable cutscenes and the fact that some story missions don't provide much opportunity for preparation. Even though it often allows the player to choose the items they want to take along and check out the shops beforehand, I still occasionally found myself woefully unprepared for story missions and ended up getting stuck with lousy equipment. The game also tends to save before long cutscenes right before boss fights, so I was forced to rewatch the same scenes over and over again whenever I died. The one before the final boss was particularly frustrating; it was so long! I'd have to say my favorite part of Super Mystery Dungeon is the way the Pokémon are portrayed. In most games and in the anime, the Pokémon simply say their own names and their personalities, if they have one at all, can only be implied. The main cast of characters in Super Mystery Dungeon consists of a good mix of Pokémon from each generation, and they're all given their own voice, each with different quirks, opinions, personalities, and sometimes even accents. It's really fun to learn about these guys in a new light. Some that I liked before I ended up hating this time around (like Pancham and Shelmet, those jerks!), while others that I may have ignored in previous games quickly became some of my favorites (like Espurr!). The cutscenes may have been long and the story may have been a little over-the-top, but I'd say it was worth it in the end just to get to know some of the Pokémon a bit better. Having never played any of the previous entries in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, I can't really compare it to the earlier games. However, for my first foray into Pokémon roguelikes, I had a great time! The difficulty seemed to ramp up considerably in some places, but between items, Emeras, and the random elements, I was generally able to figure out a strategy that worked well enough for me to just barely make it through. But if that doesn't work for some players, there are always the rescue missions to fall back on in case of an emergency. If you're like me and you haven't tried a Mystery Dungeon game yet, this one comes highly recommended. I'm fairly confident fans of the series will not be disappointed either. On its own, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon is a quirky, light-hearted spin-off with well-developed dungeon crawling gameplay that provides a satisfying level of difficulty and gives the player plenty of room to develop their own strategies, all the while offering tons of customization options with a huge roster of potential allies and moves. It's a solid entry in the Pokémon franchise. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Super Mystery Dungeon photo
Like Magic(karp)
The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon spin-off series transports the colorful cast of pocket monsters from the role-playing games into the challenging world of a roguelike dungeon crawler. Super Mystery Dungeon retains the charm...

Review: Stella Glow

Nov 13 // Chris Carter
Stella Glow (3DS)Developer: ImageepochPublisher: AtlusMSRP: $49.99Release Date: November 17, 2015 Our journey begins with Alto, a young man who (surprise) has amnesia, and is found by a girl named Risette, who takes him into her mother's house. Three years later Alto encounters Hilda, a "sort of good sort of bad" witch, who is commonly referred to as "The Witch of Disaster" -- with a name like that, who wouldn't be inclined to be bad sometimes? Risette then unlocks an ancient power from one of Alto's artifacts, and becomes a witch herself -- then it's off to the royal palace, where they are tasked with hunting Hilda by recruiting more witches. You can probably guess where it goes from here. Alto is a country boy of sorts, but accepts to call to become a reluctant "aw shucks" shonen sword master. The rest of the party runs the gamut of anime tropes, and while they can occasionally get annoying, the cast is memorable enough and all sport a great set of designs. There are a few nuanced storylines peppered in, like the tale of a misunderstood witch who was doomed to live as an outcast. Another character hides her face in a cardboard box because she's shy, but wears revealing clothing. The cast is massive, and since there's no "job" switching in Stella Glow, all of them act unique both in and out of combat. Speaking of combat, much like the Arc series, it's still a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics. Utilizing chibi characters on a grid-like format, players can move about the battlefield, use items or skills, and choose to "wait" in a specific direction to guard against directional attacks. A lot of games still use the grid style because it works, even to this day. There's a certain order to it that warrants a respect beyond relegating it to "old school nostalgia," and planning out party movements and attacks is never a chore. When you're actually engaged with an enemy an Advanced Wars style miniature cutscene will play, and as expected, some characters have counter-attacks available. As previously stated, the cast really makes a different here, as some party members have access to special abilities like guarding characters they're adjacent to, which makes placement paramount. Don't expect a whole lot of depth and customization though (stats are applied instantly, and equipment management isn't all that difficult, even accounting for the materia-like socket system). [embed]320467:61085:0[/embed] Really, the game isn't all that tough in general. I feel like it will be challenging enough for those of you who don't keep up with the genre, but for veterans, you'll rarely find a taxing quest until later in the storyline. This is partially due to the fact that the AI isn't overly aggressive, and tends to hang back more, waiting for a better opportunity to strike. On the flipside, that means that there's no frustrating fake difficulty spikes for the sake of it. Like most SRPGs, Stella is hella long. There's at least 40 hours of gameplay here if you only opt for the story, and leveling up characters, locating the additional endings (over 10), completing sidequests and sidestories will likely elevate it to double that. Like most games with a billion endings, your mileage may vary depending on your affinity towards a specific character, but the ones I saw ranged from unsatisfying to sufficient. For those you are wondering, the voicework is in English, and the songs, which are heavily woven into the game's narrative, are performed in Japanese. In many ways, Stella Glow is a by-the-numbers strategy RPG, but it does have a partially interesting cast, some unique storylines, and a working combat system. Imageepoch has had some ups and downs in their lengthy career, but thankfully they can at least end on somewhat of a high note. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Stella Glow photo
Imageepoch's swan song
That's all she wrote for Imageepoch. The developer responsible for the Luminos Arc series and Arc Rise Fantasia filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and it seems like they're out of the industry entirely with the laun...

Review: Rodea the Sky Soldier

Nov 09 // Chris Carter
Rodea the Sky Soldier (3DS, Wii, Wii U [reviewed])Developer: Kadokawa Games, PropePublisher: Kadokawa Shoten, NISMSRP: $39.99 (3DS) / $59.99 (Wii U with Wii edition for first-print copies)Released: April 2, 2015 (Japan), November 10, 2015 (US) Rodea is a strange, strange game. While the Wii version uses IR movement and is more in line with the creator's original vision, and the 3DS edition has even more differences, this assessment deals directly with the Wii U. This is a traditional single-player action game with RPG elements, most of which remind me of the golden age of JRPGs. You have your shonen hero (Rodea), a robot who has been stricken with amnesia at the start of the game, and must stop the evil Naga empire from taking over. Oh, there's one catch: his princess gave him an actual heart, so he's not a soulless machine. If you end up choosing the Japanese audio option, the narrative, while cheesy, is watchable. Where Rodea really spreads its wings is the open-ended flight gameplay, similar to Nights into Dreams. Within the confines of each semi-open level, Rodea can move around on foot, jump, hover, boost attack enemies, and blast off into the sky. The gist is that he has a limited flight time (it's actually rather generous), and once his meter is expended, he must either pivot off of a solid object, or land on the ground and start a new flight pattern. It's jarring at first, but it's easy to get the hang of after about 30 minutes, and you have a huge degree of freedom. Some of it is even automated (grabbing pickups, grinding wires), but never to the extreme degree of the 3D Sonic titles. Although the GamePad does support off-screen play, there's no need to even look at it, as the controls are entirely traditional on Wii U. The open design works both for and against Rodea. While it's amazing to look into the horizon at times and see areas you can readily explore, the draw distance is often so poor that it's tough to plot out a full course. Additionally, a lot of zones tend to blend together, with entire areas that have nothing more than empty plains seemingly unfinished. Rodea also starts to falter when it adds more elements to the mix beyond its core conceit. While the boost attack is fairly foolproof (it's a lot like the 3D Sonic games' homing attack), gunplay is shoehorned in. It isn't fun at all. The fact that the controls feel dated isn't entirely the player's fault, as the entire game feels like something out of last generation, and possibly even a generation before that. That's not to say Rodea doesn't sport a beautiful art style -- because it does -- just that occurrences like slowdown, pop-in, and occasional glitches are present more than they should be. Individual missions can get boring, but flying is always a joy, and bosses are often the highlight. They'll range from humanoid fights to giant hulking monstrosities, and both varieties are a blast while they last. This is a decently long affair, with over 25 levels, upgrades to purchase, and even a secret shop with extras like an additional mode. You can expect anywhere from 15-30 hours once everything is said and done. You rarely see things like this outside of DLC, so it's refreshing that the game feels so feature complete, even if it technically has three different versions in the end. Rodea the Sky Soldier really hits that sweet spot when it comes to evoking the wonder of flight, but the troubled developmental process is tangible in the final build. For those of you who can stomach older experiences however, you'll likely overlook some of its issues and find a lot to love. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Rodea review photo
A rusted robot with a heart
The history of Rodea the Sky Soldier is one muddled with platform changes and developmental issues galore. Originally slated as a Wii game in 2010, producer Yuji Naka ran into publishing troubles, and the project was ess...

Review: Yo-Kai Watch

Nov 04 // Chris Carter
Yo-Kai Watch (3DS)Developer: Level-5Publisher: NintendoMSRP: $39.99Released: July 11, 2013 (Japan), November 6, 2015 (US), TBA 2016 (EU) For those of you who have never heard of Yo-Kai Watch, its premise is actually quite easy to explain. The gist is that a boy named Nate (or a girl named Katie, if you opt for the female lead), unleashes a mysterious Yo-Kai butler out into the world (Whisper) after an innocent stroll in the woods. As a result, Nate gains access to a special watch that allows him to interact with other Yo-Kai, which are part of actual Japanese folklore, and are a mix of sorts between a spirit and a gremlin. From there, you'll embark upon a "catch 'em all" style journey with a loose storyline woven in for good measure. Everything, from the tone down to the gameplay, is a lot more lighthearted than your average RPG. Instead of catching characters and forcing them into tiny living spaces, you'll obtain "friendship tokens," which allow you to summon them at a moment's notice. They still lead their own lives, and you'll often find them roaming around town at their leisure. The fact that the voice cast consists of the same talent from the TV show really adds to the game's charm, and I adore the dynamic between the protagonist and Whisper -- it makes for some surprisingly funny dialogue. Yo-Kai Watch doesn't technically take place in Japan (it's even called Springdale in the international version), but said country's personality is most definitely a core element of the adventure. Even little things like shoes being left at the door of every house you enter, temples and shrines with stray cats, and vending machines on every street corner constantly remind you of Japanese culture. Having visited Tokyo recently for the first time, I really resonated with it, and I was surprised at how alive Level-5's rendition felt. It's done in such a way where anyone can pick up the game and not get confused, and the localization did a great job of not neutering the content for a western audience. It's one of the best balancing acts I've seen as of late, actually -- when a team keeps in dancing toweled men in a bathhouse boss fight, you know they did the right thing. [embed]317946:60945:0[/embed] Do note that this is a game from 2013 however, so while the art still holds up, the engine is very dated, and despite the spot-on 3D, it looks like a DS game. You'll quickly get over that fact as the presentation as a whole is delightful, with bright, vivid colors galore and a catchy soundtrack. I also started to get attached to a lot of the characters in a way that I haven't before in similar games, mostly due to their infectious personalities and engaging personal storylines -- like Jibanyan, a cat that was ran over by a car and is constantly trying to prove his worth to his former master in death. As for combat itself, it's a very odd mix of classic JRPG tendencies and touchscreen-based minigames. The operative word here is "odd," because while combat is real-time, your party members will attack automatically. Players can control item management, choose targets, and queue up occasional special abilities (by tapping balls on the screen or tracing specific patterns), but your party members will still attack at their own leisure. It sounds overly simplistic, but there's a lot of nuance to it particularly when it comes to party management. For starters, you can have six Yo-Kai in your active team, but only three can fight at a time. As a result, you'll have access to a wheel of sorts where players can cycle new combatants in, and spin old ones out. Since each character has a type (similar to Pokémon's fire and grass elements, for example), and similar types power each other up when they're in combat together, this mechanic can get really tricky both in and out of fights. Also, a lot of character's specials (which again, you can engage manually) have unique status effects, like poison, so choosing when to act is key. Where I got most of my enjoyment out of Yo-Kai Watch however is exploration. It really reminds me of the best parts of Mega Man Battle Network when it comes to roaming around town, and it's so easy to just walk around and hunt Yo-Kai at any time. To find them, you don't need to walk around in grass patches, as they're openly located around the world. There's a perpetual "hot and cold" radar up on the screen at all times, leading you to locations like trees and underneath cars where you can search for companions or battles. Additionally, dungeons display enemies front and center on the screen -- yep, there's no random battles to sift through. There's no barriers to entry for recruiting party members either, as you don't need a specific capture item, though there is still a random chance of befriending them after the battle is concluded, so success isn't always guaranteed. There's also tons of fun, rewarding sidequests to participate in (that often bestow good rewards like new characters or shops), secret areas, fishing and bug catching minigames, special Yo-Kai to catch, post-game quests, and hidden items. There is a multiplayer battle component but it's very limited, and doesn't feature online play (that ability is reserved for the sequel and beyond). Yo-Kai Watch isn't the second coming of Pokémon, and that's perfectly okay. If you love to sit by the fire and train your Pokémon for hours, perfecting their EV and IV levels so you can be the very best, you likely won't find the same depth in Yo-Kai. Its world and philosophy is much simpler than that. But as a result, none of it feels frustrating or like work, and I'm constantly tempted to jump back into my adventures with Nate and Whisper. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Yo-Kai Watch review photo
Gera Gera Po
Over the course of the last month, I've gone from knowing next to nothing about Yo-Kai Watch to falling in love with it. My wife and I watch the localized version of the show, I have the theme song stuck in my head perpe...

Review: The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes

Oct 21 // Chris Carter
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (3DS)Developer: Nintendo EPD, GrezzoPublisher: NintendoMSRP: $39.99Released: October 23, 2015 This time around, Tri Force takes place in the kingdom of Hytopia, bordering the desolate Drablands, home of an evil witch. Said witch is jealous of the princess' beauty, so she casts a spell on her to hide it forever, with a skin-tight suit that won't come off. Only chosen heroes can enter the Drablands and break the curse, which is obviously where you come in. It's not the most original setup, but I like it. The new setting and cast of characters (including the depressed king) help make Tri Force more interesting. Although the general setup of the game involves level-based dungeon crawling for loot, there is a hub world, and bits of story woven in along the way. The town hosts a costume shop (more on that later), a daily chest-picking minigame, a Miiverse gallery, and a few extra NPCs to talk to as well as several secrets. It will only take you a few minutes to trod through, but it has enough character to get by. Link (or more appropriately, the "hero") has a few abilities at his disposal right away -- dashing, swordplay, and picking up items. The rest will have to be acquired by way of dungeon items (such as traditional arrows and bombs) or costumes. The latter will grant you special abilities, mostly in the form of boosting items or powers, and can be crafted at the aforementioned shop. It's important to note that this is the basis for the entire game, which is provided in a Skinner box fashion similar to MMOs or other dungeon crawlers. The multiplayer element adds new mechanics entirely, most notably the "totem" system. Here, you'll be able to pick up one or two Links (or in turn, get picked up), which will allow players to access greater heights, or slash their sword and use items at the top. Often times you'll have to create a stack of just two Links while the other player hits a switch, and so on, leading to some interesting puzzles that have the mark of a classic Zelda game, with the obvious Tri Force teamwork twist. [embed]315403:60732:0[/embed] Your loop will consist of entering dungeons, besting them, and then choosing from a selection of chests at the end. You'll be granted materials, which can be pieced together to create new costumes, and thus, a new strategy with which to approach each level. You can of course "beat the game" straight through and not experiment, but the spirit of Tri Force is decidedly Diablo-like in nature, leading players to return to levels constantly -- if you dislike that type of gameplay, I'm warning you now. Strangely, the online component is very advanced for a Nintendo game. Online play is available with full matchmaking capabilities, as well as friend-specific lobbies, and a robust offline component that allows for download play. Hell, there's even a blacklist function so you can block people online who ruin games. There's no voice chat of course, but the emote system and intuitive nature of the dungeons don't require it in the slightest. In fact I actually prefer some of the cuter emotes, like the cheerleader dance that gets progressively larger on-screen the faster you tap it. I had the chance to play online numerous times with strangers, and it was a pleasurable experience to say the least. The game often allows players to shine individually, but divvies out unique items to everyone, forcing all members to work in tandem. For instance, one game I was the only person with a bow, so I had to hit far away switches and enemies while my teammates carried me to the appropriate height. Meanwhile, they had to clear blocks with bombs so I could reach those switches and back them up with my sword. It was a rush, and that feeling didn't really let up through the entire campaign as I played through it with teammates. Bosses are even more fun, as they provide for an array of different strategies that involve anything from splitting up to working as a totemic unit. Each zone mixes up the theme and new mechanics just enough to keep you interested, especially if you're learning all of these concepts for the very first time with two other people. Plus, it feels good to save the day with a new costume you just picked up earlier that afternoon. Solo play however isn't nearly as fun. Whereas Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures had plenty of concessions for those who decided to play by themselves, Tri Force Heroes is the exact opposite. Here, you'll have to deal with "Doppels," which are copies of your character -- they emulate the other two players. To transfer your essence into another Doppel, you'll have to tap their portrait on the touch screen. It's not only a pain to have to do this manually without a button shortcut, but it essentially amounts to doing each level three times over as you'll have to get to a location, select another Doppel, and repeat. Very early on you'll learn that picking up Doppels in a totem formation and moving as a group is a way to go, but puzzles are often so complex that you need to break up frequently, and thus, control the Doppels individually again. It's puzzling why Nintendo didn't create a new campaign just for single-player folk. I mean, to play by yourself you have to enter a completely different room in the castle, so it already had the groundwork to be its own game type. I would outright suggest that you avoid Tri Force Heroes if you plan on going at it alone. The good news is that the online portion works wonderfully, and with download play, you can get a local three-person game running up in no time. If you don't fit that criteria though, you can probably pass on Link's newest adventure. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Zelda review photo
It's dangerous to go alone
People often say Zelda never innovates, but I'd argue that they haven't been paying attention to the many unique games in the series. Titles like Minish Cap feel completely different while maintaining the class...

Review: Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden

Oct 15 // Laura Kate Dale
Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden (3DS)Developer: Arc System WorksPublisher: Bandai Namco GamesReleased: October 16, 2015 (Europe), October 20, 2015 (North America)MSRP: £22.99 / $29.99 So, let’s get the core info out the way. Extreme Butoden is a 2D sprite brawler for 3DS set in the world of Dragon Ball Z. All playable characters have the same core controls, similar to games like Smash Bros. where the inputs don’t vary, but the moves produced do. Dashes double as teleports into counter positions if timed correctly, while characters string together basic combo strings, ranged projectiles, and launchers. You fight each match with a team of characters, built up of mains and non-playable assists, with the player able to switch between team fighters at any time. Characters mainly vary in terms of plot-specific special attacks, power, and speed. If all this sounds a bit dry and by the numbers, it’s because that’s how it feels in game. It’s by no means an incompetent fighting game, far from it, but it just plays everything too close to the chest. There’s nothing about the combat that feels particularly new for fighting game fans, or particularly exciting for Dragon Ball Z fans. Visually, Extreme Butoden has turned out pretty nicely. While not the peak of 2D sprite work, they certainly hold their own with some of the better examples of 2D sprites on the system. Sprites are crisp, expressive, and fluid in their animations, which leaves little room for complaint. It is worth noting that with 3D on the system switched on, some of the special attacks do look rather spectacular, with a lot of work clearly put into effective 3D layering. In terms of a story mode, Extreme Butoden’s initially available story mode sees you playing through a truncated version of the events of Dragon Ball Z. Events are skipped over and dialogue is shortened in such a way that a lot of the drama, emotion, and investment is stripped away. Much of the engagement with Dragon Ball comes from the long, drawn-out exposition screams, and that isn’t really replicated here. Imagine the plot, heavily abridged, and told through mostly still character portraits, lifeless dialogue text, and the occasional brief plot-related battle that doesn’t go on nearly long enough to justify its build up. It’s a bit of a disappointment. After completing the main story, you do unlock some alternative storylines to play through that offer interesting spins on the narrative, as well as an additional adventure mode that sees Goku face off against many of the enemies from the main story in a slightly contrived narrative. It’s fun to do fight bosses in new combinations, but the overarching story attempting to string that together feels like an afterthought developed to excuse the gameplay content. One of the more disappointing aspects for me was the limited playable roster. While many of your bigger-name characters are playable, most of the supporting cast of fighters is relegated to support assist roles. Past Dragon Ball Z games have allowed a very wide selection of characters, down to some of the most useless, to be playable, so this feels like an unfortunate step back. Unlocking these additional assist characters is also a bit of a lengthy chore, as they have to be unlocked by attaining high ranks throughout other modes. Many of these character unlock requirements do not feel like the reward unlocked is really worth the effort put in. Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden does feature a local multiplayer mode, but unfortunately no online multiplayer. If you couldn’t tell from my less-than-enthused review, I really couldn’t muster up feelings either way on this game. It’s a competent fighter with nice sprite work, but it also does very little interesting with narrative presentation, combat mechanics, or gameplay modes. It all feels very safe, and I didn’t really feel much by the time I was done. Time to scratch my Dragon Ball Z itch with some Budokai Tenkaichi 3. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Dragon Ball Z photo
Competent, but not excitingly so
When it comes to Dragon Ball Z fighting games, I am one of those people who loves them for the over-the-top spectacle more than the technical fighting specifics involved. I know when a fighting game feels responsive and plays...

Review: Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash

Oct 08 // Ben Davis
Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash (3DS)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoReleased: October 9, 2015MSRP: $29.99 In Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash, pint-sized aliens have invaded Earth, stealing resources along with everyone's favorite snacks, and it's up to Chibi-Robo and his partner Telly (who is now shaped like a computer) to save the day. Chibi-Robo will travel the globe, putting a stop to the aliens' plans and rescuing any snacks he might come across (all based on real name-brand snacks and candies from around the world). To navigate the areas around him, Chibi-Robo uses his plug as a whip to destroy enemies, collect items, grapple onto certain surfaces, or helicopter across pits. The plug can ricochet off of walls as well, opening up a lot of possibilities for interesting platforming as the player tries to angle the perfect shot in order to reach distant objects. The cord starts off rather short at a measly 6 inches at the beginning of each level, but it can be lengthened up to 120 inches by collecting blue orbs. [embed]314129:60631:0[/embed] Aside from the plug mechanics, there are plenty of jumping sections, puzzles to solve, enemy hordes to destroy, items to collect, and even a few levels which have Chibi-Robo skateboarding, wakeboarding, and traveling by balloon to reach the end. There are also some pretty cool boss fights to round out each world. Just looking at the platforming mechanics alone, Zip Lash is a perfectly competent entry to the genre. Each world changes things up with new ideas and interesting layouts, so that the gameplay doesn't become stale too quickly. Once again, Chibi-Robo's health is indicated by his power supply, which slowly depletes as he's moving around and decreases significantly if he falls into a pit or gets hit by an enemy. He can recharge at any outlet by inserting his plug, which will cost a few watts (watts are earned by recycling trash). He can also buy spare batteries as a backup. For the completionist gamers out there, each level is filled with several hidden collectibles to find, including the aforementioned name-brand snacks, special medallions, Chibi-Tots playing hide-and-seek, toys to talk to, and trash to clean up and convert into energy. If something is missed the first time through, levels can be replayed in order to search more thoroughly, but only after certain conditions are met. Which brings me to my least favorite aspect of Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash. Most platforming games like this feature a map with each level laid out on a path, which are then played sequentially. Zip Lash tries to subvert this common feature by implementing the "Destination Wheel." After each level, Chibi-Robo will spin the wheel to select a number. This number determines the amount of spaces he'll move on the map, which in turn determines the next level to play even if it's not the next level in the sequence. Once every level on a map has been discovered and beaten, the player can then proceed to the next map. Basically, this means that most people will be playing the levels out of order, which could have been a neat idea. The problem, however, is that maps are laid out in a circle, and if the player loops around and lands on a level they have already played, they will be forced to play it over again in order to proceed and pick another level. Because of this, this one simple idea of the Destination Wheel single-handedly demolished my excitement for Zip Lash. Being forced to replay levels due to bad luck is not a fun mechanic. The only reason I can think of for this to exist in its current state would be to artificially extend the game's length, and that's not something I can get behind. They even included a separate wheel to spin for boss levels, which is completely pointless and a waste of time as there's only one space on the entire wheel. The Boss Wheel might have been a funny joke if the Destination Wheel wasn't already such an annoyance. Granted, there are ways to sort of bypass the wheel. Wheel numbers can be purchased with moolah (the in-game currency) so that the player will be more likely to land on a number they want. It's also possible to get more than one spin, assuming the player was skilled enough to hit the gold or silver flying saucers at the end of the last level. Finally, once every level has been beaten and the world has been cleared, players will no longer have to spin the wheel for that world and can freely select whichever level they wish. If only it were possible to do that from the start... Unfortunately, the Destination Wheel wasn't the only problem I had with Zip Lash. As if being forced to replay levels due to poor spinning wasn't enough, certain areas of each level will only become accessible after the levels have been completed. These areas are totally optional and are only used for the chance to obtain costumes for Chibi-Robo (which can also be obtained by finding codes posted on Miiverse), but it still sucks to have to replay every level again, possibly for a third time or more if the player is really unlucky, just to find everything. I also had some problems with the lack of checkpoints during the skateboard/wakeboard segments, but that seems like a comparatively small issue next to everything else. All that wheel nonsense sadly soured Zip Lash for me, which is a huge shame because almost everything else about the game is fun and charming. The new platforming mechanics work well, the boss fights are exciting, and Chibi-Robo himself is as cute as always. I would have been content with this game had it not been for the awful Destination Wheel. If you're a die-hard Chibi-Robo! fan, or if the possibility of having to replay the same levels over and over again doesn't bother you too much, then Zip Lash might be for you. Unfortunately, it's tough for me to give this game a good recommendation after the frustrating time I had with it. I still love you, Chibi-Robo, but this was not your best effort! [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Chibi-Robo review photo
Poor little robot...
I've been a fan of Chibi-Robo! ever since the original was released for the GameCube back in 2006. It was a weird, adorable adventure game with a tiny robot who was tasked with cleaning up an enormous house, with happy musica...

Review: Skylanders: SuperChargers

Sep 28 // Chris Carter
Skylanders SuperChargers (3DS, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed], Wii U)Developer: Vicarious VisionsPublisher: ActivisionReleased: September 20, 2015MSRP: $74.99 (Starter pack, two characters, vehicle, base, game) To be frank, I was worried about the state of Skylanders after Trap Team. I mean, sure, it was a great action game and still had its charms, but I was starting to think that Activision had been scraping the bottom of the barrel with its newest gimmick. With the vehicular-based focus however, Vicarious Visions has turned the formula on its head again, going back to basics with old-school, sensible tendencies. The focus here is vehicles, and not just cars. Land, sea, and air-based transportation is at the crux of the experience, with the Starter Pack providing the former. To be clear, there are elemental gates for ancillary content (forcing players to use certain toys to access some areas), but the fact that the entire core game can be completed with one land vehicle, and the vast majority of sidequests are accessible with just one sea and air toy respectively is a massive step up from past titles. Yes, you will have to spend a bit of extra cash to get everything, but I was completely satisfied with the main campaign on its own terms. Speaking of the toys themselves, they're still at the top of their game. All of the vehicles sport moving parts, and take me back to my Micro Machines days, racing cars across a table with glee. There are fewer new characters this time around in favor of the vehicles, which is fine in my book, as they're much easier to wrap your head around with three distinct varieties. Just like before, two players can play together on the same console with two different Skylanders -- here, a vehicle can be added to the mix with the new portal. Yes, that's one vehicle. While I initially thought it was a limitation, it actually feels like a more deliberate design choice, as sharing a ride is much more fun as a co-op experience. [embed]312286:60536:0[/embed] One person drives, and the other shoots -- it's that simple. With the touch of a button you can switch roles, should someone else want to take the driver's seat. Movement is intuitive, as the driver is only focusing on traversal, and the shooting bits cleverly make use of a reticle to avoid the need for the driver to always be in sync with their partner. In short, it allows everyone a ton of freedom, but it isn't too overwhelming of a prospect to hop from car to car. The story this time around doesn't require any prior knowledge of the series, which simultaneously works in its favor and hurts the setup. Once again, Kaos (who is still charming as "Not Invader Zim," but is getting a bit old at this point) reigns supreme, it's just that this time he's taken the noble Eon captive, leaving your ragtag team of Patrick Warburton and company to save the day. It's a plot that belongs in a Saturday morning cartoon, but the sleek visuals and upbeat performances sell it well enough. During the 10-hour campaign, you'll find plenty of variety when it comes to mission types, enemy patterns, themes, and gameplay. One moment you might be diving underwater in an obstacle course of sorts with a submarine, and the next, you're up in the air dogfighting, Star Fox style (yes, you can barrel roll). The pacing is excellent, and boss fights are seen in a whole new light as vehicular confrontations. But this time you'll have Mario Kart-esque races as a distraction as well, which are easily the best pieces of side content yet for the series. The entire affair feels thoroughly integrated into the game itself, without feeling like a tacked-on "me too" mode. One race for instance features a level populated by two giant dragons, who constantly are visible throughout the track, and occasionally pop out to cause havoc for the participants. Each level feels like it was given a sufficient amount of love, to the point where I'd put many of them on par with classics like Diddy Kong Racing and some of the best Mario Kart games. That's not to say that it completely measures up to its contemporaries. The item system feels limited, and the combat system in general (all cars can use their standard attacks during races) is disjointed, as some elements from the campaign don't quite work in this gametype. Plus, you'll need to buy a certain number of toys to access every track. No, it's not perfect, but again, as a side mode, it does its job and then some. Online play for the campaign and racing modes also don't hurt its case, on top of the revamped Triple Triad-like Skystones mini-game. I'm utterly surprised that Activision hasn't run this franchise into the ground yet. Skylanders: SuperChargers reinvigorates my interest in the series, and I'd go so far as to say that I wouldn't mind a full-on SuperChargers racing spin-off in the same vein as a proper Mario Kart game (note that the Wii and 3DS editions are racing games, essentially). After all, a little competition never hurt anyone -- maybe they can put that Crash Bandicoot license to good use. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. The Starter Pack and a few additional toys were provided as well.]
Skylanders review photo
Back to business
Year after year, I can generally count on the Skylanders games. I had zero hope for Spyro's return back in 2011, but every single iteration has been a competent brawler. While Activision can be accused of running franchi...

Review: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Sep 22 // Ben Davis
Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (3DS)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoRelease Date: September 25, 2015MSRP: $39.99 Happy Home Designer puts the player in the role of interior decorator as an employee of the Happy Home Academy. It's your job to listen to clients' requests, fulfill their needs, and add your own bit of flair to their home designs. There are more than 300 villagers in need of decorating advice, and Isabelle will visit with requests to design public facilities around town. Each villager request will have a special theme to follow pertaining to their vision of an ideal home, such as "a tropical resort," "a forest of books," or "a bamboo playground." They'll bring along a few pieces of their favorite furniture which must be used in the design, but the rest is up to you. Design their yards, the exterior of their homes, and of course the inside as well, and try to fit the theme to make the clients happy. Isabelle will also drop by occasionally with requests to design larger public spaces, such as restaurants, schools, hospitals, and more. Many of these buildings have multiple rooms to decorate, each with their own set of requirements. These were the most fun for me, because I got to use items which I never wanted to use in my own home in previous Animal Crossing games, and the layouts were a lot different than what I was used to working with, so everything felt new to me. [embed]311329:60430:0[/embed] Every new request adds new items to the catalog of furniture at your disposal. Any of these new items are sure to make the client happy, although ultimately it really doesn't matter too much. They will be pleased as long as the furniture they brought along is used, and it's actually not possible to say that the house is finished until those items have been placed, so there's really no way to make any of the clients unhappy. This was the most disappointing thing about the game to me. I was hoping to be graded on my designs, with the ability to make clients happier with more thoughtful interior decorating skills or upset if their house turned out to be a disaster. In reality, they'll be just as happy if you take time designing a beautiful house as they will be if you walk in, unpack their boxes, and say that everything is finished without adding or moving anything at all. It's terribly unsatisfying, but I suppose it does give players the freedom to play however they like without the fear of upsetting any of the villagers. Fortunately, your designs can be graded by other players if you choose to upload them to the Internet via the Happy Home Network. Houses and public facilities can be rated by four different categories: cuteness, coolness, uniqueness, and the "I'd live here!" factor. If you find an interesting design online, you can visit that person's house to walk around and check it out before giving an assessment. It's a pretty neat feature and a good way to get some feedback, but it's not quite the same as having the game score your designs. That being said, designing rooms is still super fun, and easier than ever to do. Just drag, drop, and rotate furniture with the touch screen, add more items from the catalog, duplicate items with the L and R buttons, drag unwanted stuff to the trash can, and voila! No more slowly pushing and pulling furniture into place (but you can do that too if you want). Also, there are no bells to worry about, so the only limit to the amount of items which can be added to a room is the space afforded by the floor plan. Decorating rooms in Animal Crossing has never been simpler. There are also options to add ceiling fixtures, create your own custom designs, have Cyrus refurbish stuff, add background noise other than music, and more which can all be unlocked with Play Coins. Once a house or public space is finished, you're free to go back and visit it whenever to hang out with the residents or offer a remodel (although public spaces can only be remodeled after they have all been built). Villagers who have been helped already can be found walking around town, and new potential clients can also be found wandering around with thought bubbles above their heads. Finished public spaces will also be used by villagers, and their roles within the buildings can be chosen by the player (meaning you can decide which villagers are customers or employees). Happy Home Designer features support for amiibo cards. The game includes one amiibo card to start with, and more can be bought in packs for $5.99. The cards can be used to design homes for special villagers who wouldn't normally come by as clients. I got Lyle's card, for example, a higher-up at the Happy Home Academy, so I got to decorate my coworker's home. The cards can also be used to summon villagers to public spaces, so the town can be populated by all of your favorite villagers. That's essentially all there is to Happy Home Designer. Just design homes and admire the finished projects. But even for such a simple idea, I still find myself going back in to see which villagers are looking for a new home and how interesting their theme sounds. It's strangely addicting, and designing homes for some of the more offbeat villagers like the mad scientists, wrestling fanatics, and criminal masterminds is really fun. I just wish they had built in some kind of grading rhetoric for how well your designs resonated with the clients. There has always been a grading mechanic for your own homes in previous Animal Crossing games, where the Happy Home Academy would award points based on how well the furniture fit together, how everything was arranged, and so forth. It's strange they would scrap that idea for a game built entirely around the Happy Home Academy, but that's the way it is. I would recommend Happy Home Designer for anyone who really enjoys designing and decorating virtual spaces. If finding the perfect furniture for your house in Animal Crossing was your favorite part of the series, then you'll surely get some enjoyment out of this game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Animal Crossing review photo
Comfortable living
Animal Crossing's home design feature was actually the thing that got me hooked on the series in the first place. Back when I was addicted to building houses in The Sims, one of my friends came over for a visit and broug...

Review: Mega Man Legacy Collection

Aug 25 // Chris Carter
Mega Man Legacy Collection (3DS, PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Digital Eclipse, CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease Date: August 25, 2015 (Digital - PC, PS4, Xbox One) / TBA 2016 (3DS, physical sets)MSRP: $14.99 (Digital) / $29.99 (Physical) So what exactly is the Legacy Collection? Well, it's a package that includes the six original NES games, as well as a few other extras, and a challenge mode -- it's that simple. Every game has the option of three aspect ratios (original, wide, and full), as well as two additional visual filters meant to replicate old TVs and monitors. That's basically all you get in terms of mixing up the games from the way they were originally presented. The key mantra from Digital Eclipse is "if it ain't broke don't fix it," which is going to be a polarizing choice for many gamers out there. Personally, having grown up with the NES, I'm completely okay with things like slowdown effects and choppy, warped visuals. Yep, that's right -- the developers have opted to retain the original look and feel of the games, for better or for worse. You also won't find any quality of life improvements, such as the ability to switch between subweapons with the triggers -- a feature from the PSOne Classic re-releases a few generations ago. In case you're wondering, yes, the Elec-Man subweapon pause glitch still works. There are some nice extras though, like a music player that features every original track from all six games, and a hefty database mode, which showcases artwork and concept art for every enemy in the game. It's all old archive material that exists in some artbook somewhere, but it's still nice to be able to flip through it all in one centralized location. One really cool feature of the archive is the ability to instantly fight any Robot Master at will from the menu screen, with every weapon from that game at your disposal. [embed]304980:60114:0[/embed] Ok, so onto Mega Man 1-6 -- how do they hold up? Quite well, actually, from this gamer's point of view. You can peruse through some quick thoughts here on all six games, but I really think that each title deserves a spot in the collection. The original Mega Man is a bit rough at times with some haphazard level designs, the Blue Bomber seal of quality is immediately apparently upon progressing to the second game -- and of course, the third, which is my personal favorite of the original lineup. While I did feel the burn with Mega Man 5 due to a lack of innovation (as I always do), I enjoyed it all the same, and Mega Man 6 wowed me, again, with just how clean and interesting it is. My view on the stalwart commitment to the "originals" is mixed, but ultimately positive. While it would have been nice to possibly play a remixed edition separately with more modern options, every game is a classic in its on way, even when you're looking at it years later, free of the tint of nostalgia goggles. If you're feeling finicky and want to switch between games however, it takes seconds to do so with the highly responsive menus, and save states are available for each game (as well as old school password support, of course). So onto the big daddy feature -- 50 challenges, accessible by way of a standalone mode. This is likely the deciding factor for many of you out there, since they are technically the only thing new in Legacy Collection. While I was initially worried that they wouldn't do enough, I was pleasantly surprised after working my way through them, especially with the approach that they took. In recent years, we've seen a "remix" mentality for challenge modes, spearheaded by NES Remix. It's a trend that sees developers taking locations from multiple games and mashing them up, and it's a trend that I can get on board with. While Legacy Collection features standard challenges like timed boss rush modes, they also have remixes, which function like obstacle courses of sorts. The game will task you with getting through 15-30 second bite-sized pieces of existing levels, complete with a portal at the end, which brings you to another mini-section. It's addicting, as the game forces you to constantly rethink your strategy, and sometimes hilariously drops you into a sticky situation, like the beam section in Quick Man's stage. Even better, multi-game remixes are unlocked later on, which require you to deal with taking on successive areas from multiple games. It's crazy jumping from title to title, as I would often forget that certain experiences didn't have sliding or charged shot capabilities. Getting a respectable clear time will definitely test the mettle of even the most seasoned Mega Man vets out there. Thankfully, all of this comes complete with leaderboard support, so you can see how you rank up against your friends and the world. I've already started a friendly little competition with a few members of the press, and I think I'm going to get addicted to this feature all over again, just like I did with Mega Man 9. I'm interested to see the top times from players all around the world, and this is a truly great way to unite Mega Man fans old and new. After booting the game up I was inspired to beat all six games again and work on the challenges, so the Mega Man Legacy Collection did its job. I'd really like to see more Legacy packs down the line from Capcom -- perhaps with a bit more bravado in terms of extras and alternate modes of play. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Mega Man Legacy review photo
Legacy secure
If you've kept a close watch on the site for the last three years or so, you'd see that it's no secret that I love Mega Man. Despite the fact that Capcom hasn't given him any love in the past few years, it's still my favorite series, and one day, I'd like to see it return to glory. While the Mega Man Legacy Collection wasn't everything I was looking for, it'll do just fine for now.

Review: Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight

Jul 31 // Chris Carter
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight (3DS)Developer: AtlusPublisher: Curve DigitalRelease Date: August 4, 2015 (US) / February 12, 2016 (Europe)MSRP: $49.99 (Atlus tax) For those unaware, the Untold portion of the moniker denotes the inclusion of an all-new story mode, complete with preset characters and a new narrative. It sounds weird, but any Etrian fan knows that the series started off with dungeon-crawler roots, and thus, allowed players to basically create and customize whoever they wanted --with a loose story binding it all together. Thankfully, The Fafnir Knight includes both gametypes and multiple difficulty options for players of all backgrounds If you spring for the new setup, the tale starts off with low-key princess protection duty with your childhood friend Flavio, but quickly evolves into a grand tale of adventure to seek out the city at the bottom of the Yggdrasil Labyrinth. Early into the fray, your hero awakens their true power -- the Fafnir Knight class, capable of transformation. While the story itself isn't as memorable as a lot of recent JRPGs, it's still a fun enough narrative with a cast of likable characters. The dialog in particular isn't riveting stuff, nor is it laugh-out-loud funny; it's serviceable, which is essentially how I feel about Etrian in general. Dungeon crawling is basically the same as always (now with the enhanced 3D style), and with Fafnir Knight, you'll have the ability to manually map out your findings on the bottom screen. Or, if you're feeling a bit more conservative, it can automatically populate. FOEs have returned, which are basically giant superbosses present throughout the game. [embed]296957:59744:0[/embed] Like many JRPG superbosses, they aren't easy to best. You'll generally have to avoid them early on or risk instant death. Since they're visible on the screen, it's easy to see where they're coming from however, and you'll have to either deduce their patterns or use trap items to fool them. It's a nice little diversion, and returning later on to defeat a pesky FOE is a great feeling. Don't think that a more concise campaign implies that the formula has been dumbed down, as players will still be able to create an initial avatar and customize the classes of story characters. There is a caveat: you'll need to sacrifice five levels to switch classes. Additionally, you can't just call upon the guild to create new characters at will. To further muddy the waters, the Grimoire system seeks to mix things up a bit, as you can now equip party members with items that allow them to tap into additional classes. However, it feels extremely limited in nature, as most of them are a random drop, and it took me hours to find the few specific tomes I really wanted. It's an odd gambit by Atlus even in the confines of the Fafnir story, as the Etrian series has always prided itself on full customization. It's a bit easier to forgive once you dig into the new cooking mechanic, which has been expanded in an unprecedented manner. Now, you can customize ingredients and discover new recipes to craft as you cook your way to statistical bonuses for your adventures. Eventually, this diversion works its way more and more into the story. The Duke of the main town allows you to potentially earn a profit from the restaurant as you expand and re-invest in the town. It's a nice little meta-narrative and adds some lightheartedness to the game. Classic mode is of course, utterly different. It's a less limited tale featuring a mysterious labyrinth, and the experience is more about the journey than a real story. You can register new party members at will, and you're free to choose from over 10 classes at the start. It's very intimidating for non-RPG fans, so I recommend trying out story mode first. And really, that's what's so great about the Untold series -- it allows new players to acclimate without holding their hand too often, and still provides a way for hardcore fans to create limitless combinations of parties to their heart's content. Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is a remake that's perfectly timed and well crafted, despite the fact that the formula isn't quite as fresh as the wholly new Etrian IV (I really miss the more open-ended maps). Now all Atlus needs to do is remaster Etrian III, and it'll have all four core entries ready to play on the 3DS. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Etrian Odyssey 2 review photo
A worthwhile update
It sounds crazy, but 2008 was a long time ago. That's when Etrian Odyssey II was first released for the Nintendo DS, and seven years later, Atlus has decided to bring it to a new audience with The Fafnir Knight. While a few of the advancements from later games don't translate perfectly, it's still a worthwhile dungeon romp, and another great entry in this storied series.

New update and DLC out for Super Smash Bros., preview it here

Jul 31 // Jed Whitaker
Stages: Peach's Castle (64) Hyrule Castle (64)  The stages include their music and a few extra tracks as well.  Mii Outfits: Bear (Gunner) King K. Rool (Brawler) Flying Man (Brawler) Chrom (Swordfighter) Black Knight (Swordfighter) Lloyd (Swordfighter) Samus (Gunner) Hoodie w/ Smash Bros. logo (All) Also, I'm proud to announce an impromptu Super Smash Bros. Destructoid tournament for Wii U! The tournament is now live and joinable by searching for "" and is open up to 100 participants. You have until Sunday at 8:00pm ET to fight your way to the top, then I'll reveal the results on the site and give you a shoutout. Huzzah!  One last thing...
Smash Bros. Wii U tournament!
The new update for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS is out in the wild now, bringing with it new stages, Mii costumes, tournament mode, and balance changes. Included for free in the update is a K. K. Slider costume for th...

Review: Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3

Jun 30 // Chris Carter
Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 (3DS [reviewed], PS Vita)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Tecmo KoeiMSRP: $29.99Released: June 30, 2015 In a sense, although Chronicles 3 is a continuation of the existing Chronicles offshoot series, it actually ends up being bite-sized take on Warriors 4, but with a few twists in tow. Players will create their own warrior right off the bat and follow a more personalized story, putting them smack in the middle of famous figures like Takeda Shingen. It's a strategy fitting for a portable, even if it takes some liberties when it comes to gameplay. What this does is it allows Samurai newcomers to instantly acclimate themselves without having to know any background on the franchise whatsoever. Even with the last full iteration, it was tough to glean a lot of ancillary backstory about armies and characters unless you had kept up with the series. With Chronicles you can just jump right in, and it will assist you in filling in the blanks. There's a bit of choice involved in the pre-battle cutscenes, but it's mainly an illusion and more of an excuse to learn more about the cast. This goes double for the story, which doesn't really change, and is more of a predetermined narrative for your character. Having said that, the "bonding" system does allow you to unlock new scenes (and a few levels) the more you battle (or pay to drink tea) with fellow officers. [embed]295006:59270:0[/embed] For the most part, gameplay is roughly the same: there's your standard attacks and combo openers as well as supers. It's fast, and despite claims of being "repetitive," it's still a damn fun approach to beat-'em-ups. Chronicles 3 takes things a bit further though (as it has in the past) and allows you to swap between four characters in the battlefield at will, which is better than Samurai's recent two-character mechanic, and a great way to always keep you in the action. Instead of running back and forth constantly, you can just switch to someone else. The main storyline took me roughly 10 hours to complete, then it's off to individual battles while you grind up your character and earn gold to buy new outfits. Instead of a bunch of different bonus gametypes, you'll have a simple challenge mode at your disposal, which is basically a score attack on a timer. Most of your enjoyment will derive from grinding it out for rare weapons and fighting enemies across the span of the entire campaign all at once. It's fun, but its appeal is definitely limited and your mileage may vary. I would have preferred more modes. Sadly, the 3DS hardware has not been kind to Chronicles. The game looks incredibly generic, especially in comparison to the detail that was put into Samurai Warriors 4's new character models. You can't even make out faces for enemy soldiers a lot of the time, much less the set pieces in the background. As a reminder, this review is based off the 3DS version (the only one that was provided), which does have the added benefit of constantly displaying the map on the bottom screen. The 3D effect enhances the experience a bit, but sadly, also contributes to some slowdown. It's never unplayable, but it does make things worse and I don't recommend using it. Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 is held back by the switch to the 3DS, and I recommend just picking up the past core entry instead. In the meantime, I'll attempt to locate a Vita version to see how it compares to Warriors 4, which was also released on the Vita earlier this year. With some of the performance issues smoothed out, this personal story would be more worth telling. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Samurai Warriors review photo
Not quite as punchy on a portable
Samurai Warriors 4 was a noticeable advancement for the series, and added a number of interesting mechanics like instant character switching and more varied move sets for each character. It even solved a few common compl...

Review: Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure

Jun 18 // Chris Carter
Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure (3DS)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoMRSP: $8.99Release Date: June 11, 2015 Yep, this is pretty much the same Dr. Mario you know and love. Miracle Cure sports 10 training levels and 50 core stages for its "campaign," and mixes the classic gameplay of Mario with the newly-minted sub-franchise of Dr. Luigi, allowing both playstyles as a separate option. If you've never played a game in the series before, you're directing little pills on a screen, similar to Tetris, to eliminate viruses and clear the board. Each virus and pill has a respective color (blue, red, or yellow), and matching up four of a kind will clear that link. Dr. Mario features a standard pill shape with up to two colors, and Dr. Luigi makes things a bit more difficult with an "L" shape pill. That's the gist. Here in the newest 3D game there's a new mechanic though called the "Miracle Cure," which basically translates to "powerups." Leave it to Nintendo to barely iterate on a formula and still make a fun game, right? Said powerups include bombs, which blow up anything in their blast radius, and line-based explosions, which are more tactical in nature. For the most part, everything is the same as before, but the Miracle Cures do add a bit more nuance should you opt to turn them on. For instance, the pacing for individual levels is a bit faster since you can score a ton of bombs to blast out some mishaps you may have stacked up in a particular round. It's not mind-blowing, but it doesn't detract from the experience. In addition to the aforementioned preset puzzles, you can also play a custom mode that allows endless play, as well as the option to play directly with a CPU, head-to-head, racing to clear your board first. This versus mode also extends to both online play and local play, the latter of which thankfully supports a download play option, so only one person needs a copy. Honestly, the online experience was one of the smoothest of any recent Nintendo game, as I didn't have any lag of any kind playing a number of different people in Japan. It's all matchmaking based, mind. [embed]294288:59147:0[/embed] It also has this cool display method that shows your game on top and your opponent's on the bottom, both of which have been lag-free based on my testing. For all of these modes you can also opt for Dr. Mario- or Dr. Luigi-based modes, as well as the option to turn off Miracle Cures if you wish. My suggestion? Play with Miracle Cures online. It can be a radically different experience, looking up, then quickly looking down and realizing that your opponent has blasted away half their viruses with powerups. When all is said and done though, there really isn't a whole lot to Miracle Cure if you aren't going to play multiplayer with a friend who shares your passion. I really wish Nintendo showed a bit more effort when it comes to solo play, as the standard "missions" aren't cutting it. I would kill to see a new storyline (like Dr. Mario 64) incorporated into the franchise, one that unites both Mario and Luigi against a common foe. For now, there's only so much pill-dropping that I can take. If you're a Dr. Mario junkie, you can probably pull the trigger on Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure just to see what the fuss is about in regards to the power-ups. For everyone else, just stick with Dr. Luigi until Nintendo decides to overhaul the formula a bit more. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Dr. Mario review photo
The next game should be Nurse Toad
There's something to be said about preserving old games. As we move into the digital era and publishers start putting less and less emphasis on physical media, many classic games and pieces of hardware will cease to exist. Fo...

Roy's not quite our same boy in the new Super Smash Bros.

Jun 14 // Chris Carter
First off, it has to be said that Roy is even less similar to his Fire Emblem brethren in this game. He wields his sword backwards, which provides him with a unique set of animations, as well as different hitboxes for his attacks. Roy is a much more close-combat oriented fighter than Marth or Lucina, with nearly all of his attacks, including his neutral-B charge move, sporting a smaller distance. There's no tipping here -- Roy does most of his damage up close with the hilt, and feels completely different right off the bat. In addition to his neutral charge he also has his patented upwards slash, counter, and forward/backward sword combo. Don't dismiss him as a clone though, as all of these moves have different timings and animations to get used to. Take his Up-B -- it's a tad slower, but it hits multiple times, so you don't have to worry about executing it perfectly. Everything else is best used close-up, due to the lack of a tip-damage bonus. As a general rule, Roy is also speedier, so you won't be able to acclimate as a Marth or Lucina main immediately without getting a feel for how he moves. Oh, and his grabs are much better at setting up combos. Out of all of the Fire Emblem characters in the game, he likely has the most depth. While Ryu is a sexier brand new addition and Lucas is a fan favorite, I think Roy will end up being the best part of this DLC drop today as more veterans get their hands on them. Out of all three, he's my personal favorite. In fact, he really puts Lucina in an odd spot, as she feels less relevant when compared to both Marth and Roy's uniqueness. Yep, the crowd still chants "Roy's our boy" -- amazing.
Roy Smash photo
He's changed for the better
When playing Super Smash Bros. Melee, I always tended to side with Marth. I dug his aesthetic, his animations, and his moveset over Roy. But with the release of his DLC incarnation in the new Super Smash Bros., Roy is now my boy.

Lucas goes big and goes home in Super Smash Bros. 4

Jun 14 // Jonathan Holmes
First, the cosmetic changes. Lucas now has alt shirts that feature his dog Boney, a baby drago, and even Mother 3 antagonist The Masked Man. Again, if you've played Mother 3, that will all mean a lot more to you. I don't want to spoil anything, but I think it's fair to say that seeing Lucas in that last shirt is a lot like seeing Luke Skywalker lounging around in a Darth Vader bath robe. It cool, but also a little creepy if you think about it for too long.  As for how Lucas plays, he seems to have all the same basic moves that he had in Brawl, but many have seen drastic changes. PK Magnet, his down B, is now much bigger, comes out a lot faster, does more damage, and can heal Lucas a lot more than before. Absorbing a fireball from Mario heals Lucas by about 12% now. It looks like he can only heal a total of 30% damage or so per stock, but more than that might be bordering on over powered, especially in light of how much more deadly this attack is as an offensive maneuver. Lucas's up smash also seems to have a larger hit box than it used to, traveling farther up and out than before. It's hard to say if that's just how it looks though, as Smash 4 is much more flashy than Brawl in general. We're also hearing that his rope snake throw/tether has longer reach than it used to, though he can't seem to use it to grab opponents in the air. It also looks like he can't combo for as many hits with his neutral air.  So that's a little about how Lucas looks in Smash Bros. 4. PK Magnet seems to have gotten the biggest buff in his arsenal so far, and the rest of his moves seem solid enough to keep him competitive. Sadly, he's already been banned from EVO, so we won't see how tournament level players handle him there, but I'm sure it won't be long before some professional Smash 4 player shows us more of what Lucas has to offer. 
Smash Bros. photo
It's hard out there for a PK imp
Lucas is one of those characters that people will play no matter how good or bad he is in a given Smash Bros. game. Mother/Earthbound fans are like that. Just look at the comments in the announcement post for Earthbound Begin...

Ryu is gunning for top tier in the new Super Smash Bros.

Jun 14 // Patrick Hancock
First, let's discuss Ryu's stage, Suzaku Castle. In short: it's wonderful and weird. The music is great and speeds up when things are getting down to the wire. The default mode will definitely not be tournament-legal, since it has a walk-off on the right side. For general entertaining play, however, it's superb. Strategies will change depending on the side the fight is happening on, and since there's a lot of open space on the left side, you can expect some serious ledge play at times. There are two platforms on the left, one on top and one on the bottom. The top one has no grabbable ledges, but the bottom one does. The ledges on the bottom platform are a bit wonky, as characters who come up towards the center of the platform will snap to a ledge that seems way too far to snap to. Players will also only snap in the way they are facing, it seems. Here's a GIF to demonstrate what I mean: As for the character, the first thing I did was take Ryu into the Training mode. He's got at least twice as many attacks as a standard character, and I need to know what they are and how they act before I go into a match. From here on out, I will refer to his light attacks as the attacks executing by tapping the button, and heavy attacks as the ones where the player has to hold the attack button. There's apparently a medium somewhere in the middle, but I'll be damned if I can pull it off intentionally. Holding the attack button doesn't even feel like truly "holding" it. I was worried that having to hold down a button for an attack would feel weird, but it is still very quickly executed. Now I'm worried that I'll "hold" the attack button for too long when I want to do a light attack! You really have to consciously tap the button to execute a light attack. In general, heavy attacks are the ones that come out for me when I'm not thinking. Ryu is definitely a thinking-man's character. Throwing out attacks isn't going to cut it. In each scenario, players must think "okay, light or heavy?" and then execute properly.  Let's start with the special moves. Hadoukens are a great way to cover an approach or force the opponent to make a move. You can not spam Hadoukens, as there can only be one out at a time. The Shakunetsu Hadouken can be activated by performing a half-circle forward motion and an attack button. This Hadouken is slightly stronger than holding the special button down (8% compared to 7%) and will carry the opponent with them over 5 hits. It's great for edge guarding since it takes the enemy for a ride. Shoryuken is a great recovery move and can be a kill move at high percents. It kills Mario at around 105% with no Rage, for example. Personally, this is my go-to kill move in combos, but I'll speak more on that later. Also, it's possible to input down-forward twice to execute this move, instead of doing the normal Dragon Punch motion of forward, down, down-forward. [embed]293924:58985:0[/embed] The Hurricane Kick, despite being called "hugely destructive" by Sakurai, is rather lackluster as an attack. It does less damage (9% if inputting the command) if the opponent is very close to Ryu, and more damage if they are hit during the spinning phase (13%). It pushes the enemy vertically, and doesn't kill Mario until around 130%, and that's with no Directional Influence. As a recovery move, however, the move is wonderful. Ryu can act after it, allowing him to Tatsumaki to gain horizontal ground, and then Shoryuken to go vertically. Finally, his Focus Attack. This is easily the most interesting special move Ryu has. While charging it Ryu has one hit of super armor. While charging, Ryu will flash twice, once for each increasing level. If the player hits the opponent before it flashes once, the opponent will be knocked back. If he hits them after it,  they go into a crumple state, just like Street Fighter IV. The second flash happens a split second before it is fully charged, which means it's a level 3 Focus Attack, which leads to a longer crumple. Also, if released in level 1 or 2, the Focus Attack will be absorbed by shields. Releasing a fully charged Focus Attack will still crumple a shielding opponent. Most importantly, Ryu can dash-cancel the focus attack while charging or after a hit. If an uncharged Focus Attack hits a shield, Ryu can also dash-cancel the lag. In Street Fighter IV, this was known as an "FADC," or Focus Attack Dash Cancel. This allows a guaranteed hit on crumpled opponents. It's super satisfying to pull off a FADC into a kill move like Shoryuken. It's also a good psych-out move to dash-cancel a charging Focus Attack, similar to how Sonic can cancel his Spin Dash. It's important to note that when inputting a Street Fighter command to perform a special move, it must be done in the direction Ryu is facing. If you wanted to do a Shakunetsu Hadouken backwards, for example, it would instead register as a Tatsumaki (quarter-circle back). It is not pleasant when you're expecting one move to come out and get another, so keep this in mind! Ryu's normals are incredibly varied thanks to his unique ability to have TWO OF EVERY TILT. Some of the more useful ones I've been using are his strong forward-tilt, Collarbone Breaker. It does not completely destroy a fresh shield, but it comes very close to doing so. His heavy up-tilt is also very useful and does 12%. Other than that, I've been using both version of his down-tilt a whole lot. The reason I use his down-tilt is because it can be cancelled into any of his special moves on hit. This is my go-to setup after a successful crumple, as well. Basically, I look for opportunities to FADC into a heavy down-tilt which I cancel into a Shoryuken. In case you forgot, I'm still talking about Super Smash Bros. here. As for some other notable moves: His forward smash is incredibly powerful (22% fully charged) and moves him forward, making it have a deceptively long range. His down air spikes, but only if Ryu is close to the opponent when it connects. His up smash and up air are good at keeping opponents airborne, but have short ranges. Literally all of his special moves help with his recovery. Both his Focus Attack and Hadouken give him a little vertical boost, so use them to surprise an opponent while recovering! So, what's Ryu's weakness? Well, other than the fact that players may flub inputs from time to time, I would say Ryu's biggest downside is his throw game. None of his throws are kill throws, and they don't seem to lead into any combo opportunities. Regardless, I think Ryu is going to be a very viable fighter at a higher level of play, and is a blast to experiment with no matter how good you are at the game. Also, always play as the pink Ryu to pretend like you're Dan Hibiki.
Ryu Smash Impressions photo
Watch as I Tastumaki to my death
Remember the first time you went online with Street Fighter IV with your favorite character, Hakan, and fought about 100 Ryus in a week? And they all spammed Hadoukens and always woke up with a Shoryuken? Wouldn't you like to...

SSB DLC photo
Dreamland 64, Splatoon Inkling and more!
[Update: Even more information has been extracted and leaked from the update file such as Ryu's alternate colors, Roy's alternate colors, Dreamland 64 stage for Wii U, pictures of each new character's special moves inclu...

Sonic Boom photo
From out of nowhere
Sonic Boom didn't do too well on 3DS and Wii U. They were two of the worst performing Sonic games in history, and were rated very poorly across both platforms. Despite that, the cartoon series is doing very well. Sonic B...

Lucas photo
Mark your calendars
Nintendo of Europe appears to be the gatekeeper of all Super Smash Bros. info, as it tends to announce everything first. Today, it has revealed that Lucas will make his way into Smash as 3DS and Wii U DLC on June 14...

Review: Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven

Jun 02 // Chris Carter
Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven (3DS)Developer: MarvelousPublisher: Marvelous (JP), XSEED (EU, US)Released: October 2, 2014 (JP) / June 2, 2015 (US) / June 4, 2015 (EU)MSRP: $39.99 Magna puts you in the shoes of a humble innkeeper (whose name can be customized at the start), who made a promise to his father to always keep his doors open and be the best proprietor he can be. One day on a standard trip to a cave to gather crystals (a precious resource in this world), he encounters a group of monsters. Fearing death, he retreats to a corner hosting a giant crystal, and summons a magical Spirit Girl named Charlotte (an "Artemis") who saves the day, and pledges her loyalty to him. It gets really goofy from here, in a good way. Maiden Heaven quite literally lays the last bit of its moniker on thick, as Charlotte has six other sisters who end up joining the fray over the course of the game. The narrative is framed as a shonen journey at its core, and the tone and even the presentation remind me of Lunar: The Silver Star, all the way up to and including the short, voiced anime cutscenes that intro new characters -- which is definitely a compliment. It's technically a harem anime setup, but the sexual tension is very light outside of a few scenes (most of which are optional and involve a bathhouse that buffs your party). Plus, you can readily fast-forward any story scene in the game if you wish. As you progress through the game, you'll start to realize that the story is tertiary to your interaction with the Artemis sisters. Think "Social Links" from Persona but much less detailed, and you'll have an idea of what to expect. By talking to characters at hub zones you'll be able to embark upon sidequests, which allow you to increase your affinity towards certain characters, and thus, power up your combat synergy with them. It's an interesting system, mostly because you cannot schmooze everyone in the game. You have to choose between them somewhat, as a handful of these quests will automatically cause the core story to continue. [embed]293142:58774:0[/embed] Magna has a really cool animation style that hosts chibi character models but is also insanely detailed, and for the most part, it works. Backgrounds are fairly stunning on the 3DS even without the 3D effect, and individual moving parts like a random Newton's cradle on a desk look great. The big problem with Magna though is that there is little to no exploration involved. It almost feels like at one point there were going to be massive hubs (you can see a few during quests), but they were cut for time. Instead, cutscenes are the only real way you're going to see Magna's sprawling kingdoms, and even the world map is a boring series of cutscenes. Speaking of cut for time, the English voice acting cast is great, but actual voicework is sparse, and mostly for combat actions and the first few bits of dialogue within a scene. It's unfortunate. Combat, on the other hand, is always a joy to play, and doesn't feel rushed in the slightest. It's a turn-based top-down strategic affair, but it's also grid-less, similar to Valkyria Chronicles. Instead, individual characters have a certain speed rating to determine their turn, and a movement radius. You can traverse anywhere within said radius, and then either defend, attack, or use an item. It's standard stuff, but the way combat actually plays out is just as over-the-top as its cast. The main goal with Magna's battles is to topple as many enemies as possible. Most baddies are grouped up in a formation, with a leader surrounded by tons of minions -- the former of which can summon more as long as he remains alive. For the most part, you'll want to run into these groups and hit an outside member to smash them into others, who fall over like bowling pins.  10-hit combos will grant you extra turns, so it's in your best interest to smash up piles of enemies in rapid succession. It's not the deepest system but it never gets old. Thankfully, individual scenarios have a decent amount of variety to them thanks to random items scattered about the battlefield, like explosive bombs and health potions. It might be turn-based but it doesn't really feel that way if you act quickly, and once you start acquiring more party members you'll have quite a bit of firepower to work with. The standard difficulty setting is spot-on, offering a decent enough challenge right out of the gate. You can also adjust the difficulty on the fly if you want. If you fail a level you can reform your party instantly and buy items before the battle, which is a really cool feature. Lord of Magna has seven endings in all, one for each sister. It's not an extremely lengthy JRPG though, as most of the replay value and extra content is hidden behind this gimmick. Since you can't see all of them in one playthrough it encourages you to do it all over again, but I'm not so sure a lot of folks out there will do that. Personally, I was happy enough with one completion, but years down the line I can see coming back for more. I enjoyed my time with Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven, despite the fact that it felt a tad unfinished at times. The combat system is fast-paced, the cast is likable, and the animation style looks excellent on Nintendo's newest portable. If you curb your expectations a bit, strategy-oriented JRPG fans will find a charming little flawed adventure in Magna. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Lord of Magna photo
Go go Harem Rangers
It's a miracle that Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven even exists. The project was unceremoniously halted after Rune Factory developer Neverland declared bankruptcy, and publisher Marvelous actually re-assembled part of the team t...

Nintendo Direct photo
A short 17-minute presentation
Nintendo had a pretty informative Japanese Direct session last weekend, but today, it dropped a brand new "Micro" session on us, with lots of news coming out of it. Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is confirmed for North America, a...

The great Wave 4 amiibo hunt is on today, and it's about what we expected

May 29 // Chris Carter
Here is the absolute worst part about the Wave 4 launch -- everything is coming out at the same time. Did you want Greninja and Jigglypuff, and missed the 15-minute online order window at 3AM EST? Tough. Unless you have a loving spouse or a family member to wait in line at another store, you have to choose between them. The same goes for Ness, an exclusive that you'll need to go to a GameStop location at opening to snag today. Silver Mario throws another wrench in the equation, as he was only officially announced roughly a week ago and tossed into the mix seemingly to watch consumers squirm. The GameStop I went to was completely sold out of everything but Pac-Man, Silver Mario, and the Splatoon amiibo when I arrived. In case you're wondering, the Splatoon series is looking exceedingly common. Charizard and Wario's rarity kind of jumps store-to-store, and I'd expect a Diddy-like situation in the future where they are rare at first, then become common. Pac-Man seems to be a confirmed common. Ness seems to be very rare, but I don't know if he's a unicorn just yet, unlike Shulk. Surprisingly, Silver Mario seems to be everywhere today, but who knows what his status will be next week. This is what the GameStop situation typically looks like elsewhere. Again, Robin and Lucina are as rare, if not rarer, than Marth at this point. Many stores didn't even have them, and my location only got two of each. I've been listening to testimonies all day, and the rub on Target is that although rumors circled that each store would get as many as 20 Jigglypuffs, most of them only obtained 4-10. One tip I've heard from the East coast crowd is that lots of folks are heading to Target, and not Toys"R"Us, so you might be able to sneak into a smaller line there. Though it must be said that the latter is not getting a lot of extra Greninja stock across the country, with most going to pre-orders -- call your store if possible first to avoid disappointment. For those of you who are in earlier timezones where retail locations haven't opened yet, the folks over at Amiibo News and Nintendo Inquirer have concocted a pretty killer shopping guide for today. If you're going out, good luck!
Wave 4 amiibo photo
Good luck
Today, Wave 4 of the amiibo shopping "experience" begins. We already assumed it was going to be hell on earth based on the pre-order process, and it turned out to be fairly uninspiring all around as shops opened across the US...

Review: Stretchmo

May 15 // Chris Carter
Stretchmo (3DS)Developers: Intelligent SystemsPublisher: NintendoReleased: May 14, 2015Price: Free-to-play with microtransactions ($9.99 for everything) The way Stretchmo's microtransaction setup works is very confusing at first glance. Initially, you'll have access to a select few intro puzzles. After that, there's one 100 level pack for $4.99, three 50 level packs for $2.99 each, and the option to buy all of them for $9.99 upfront. If you buy each add-on individually, there's a small discount for purchasing more. My guess is that the series didn't perform as well as Nintendo would have hoped outside of Japan, so they want to give international players a chance to "get a taste" for a few bucks. Whatever the case may be, it's not a bad idea as it basically functions as a demo, outside of the fact that there is no way to sample individual packs. As for the game itself, it's pretty much business as usual outside of one new addition. Our heroes will have to solve various block puzzles and reach a predetermined goal (usually at the top of the heap) by pulling and pushing them into submission to create new paths to jump and cross. In this edition you'll have the power to "stretch," blocks on the side, which actually adds quite a bit of depth to the proceedings. You'll soon learn that blocks can be manipulated in a multitude of different ways from every single angle, creating some of the most taxing puzzles yet. Intelligent Systems also brought back the convenient zoom feature, as well as the effective 3D technique, which makes it very easy to move about each creation. Beyond that one new mechanic Stretchmo's gimmick is found in its various level packs, which all have a different theme and character. The 100 core levels are hosted by Mallo, and are actually the easiest of the bunch -- some of which are even remedial. If you enjoy the core Pushmo experience, I'd recommend picking them up, but they aren't anything special. [embed]292153:58540:0[/embed] Poppy is next in line, with items that are themed after real-life objects. While her 50-stage gauntlet has a bit of charm to it it's only marginally more difficult than Mallo's adventure, and I wouldn't say that it's essential in any way. Corin on the other hand kills it with the Fortress of Fun. This add-on brings in more gadgets, including full-on enemy characters to deal with. They remind me of the Sackbots from the Little Big Planet series in that they're crudely designed and only sport a base-level AI, but they're probably the most innovative addition to the series yet, because nearly every level is crafted around avoiding them and jumping on their heads. It adds a degree of twitch action that wasn't really present before. Papa is the last pack in the bunch, and his theme is old NES classics. You'll find levels designed around retro art like an 8-bit Mario head, much like the maps that so many players have created and shared on their own. This add-on however has the benefit of being the most difficult set of levels in the game, and when you add in the stretch ability, I'd be comfortable with making the claim that they're actually some of the biggest challenges in the entire series. For those who are interested, yes, Stretchmo still has a creation studio (that's enabled after you make one purchase). It can read QR codes just like the old iterations, and your gadget unlocks are tied directly to your progress in each pack. In other words, if you want enemies you'll have to buy Corin's levels, and so on. [embed]292153:58557:0[/embed] While all of this is generally pretty great, there are a few downgrades in comparison to the previous version. In particular, the Pushmo World Fair feature from the Wii U release is sorely missed. Although the idea of socially sharing your QR codes with one another is cool, I loved the ability to instantly jump in and casually browse through online creations, even if I didn't play all of them. I also miss the screen real estate provided by the GamePad, which has since spoiled me. Still, the new concepts presented in two of the level packs (Fortress of Fun and NES Expo) make up for it. If you've never given Pushmo a fair shake before, trying out the free stages in Stretchmo is a great way to start. While I'd generally recommend going the full mile and buying the whole thing outright, you can also just spring for the Fortress of Fun for a few bucks and come out on top. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Strechmo review photo
Sure, I'll push some mo'
Nintendo has been silently crafting some killer franchises over the years. While he may not light up sales as much as Mario, after four years, I'd consider Pushmo's Mallo to be a fully-fledged Nintendo character. Now he's back in his fourth game on the 3DS in the form of Stretchmo, which adopts a rather odd free-to-play scheme that essentially functions as a demo.

Review: NERO

May 13 // Brett Makedonski
NERO (Xbox One [reviewed], PC, Wii U, 3DS)Developers: Storm in a TeacupPublisher: ID@XboxReleased: May 15, 2015 (Xbox One), TBA (PC, Wii U, 3DS)Price: $19.99 But to spend a little more time in NERO's world is a wondrous thing. The omnipresent phosphorescent set-dressing strikes a dissonant chord against the subject material, but works in an odd mutuality. When hope seems like it's sure to slip away forever, the aesthetic inspires in an underlying way. Hey, maybe things will turn out all right after all. As this is a foray through a child's mind who's going through uncertain realities, nothing about NERO is metaphorically black and white. The journey is paced however you see fit. Meandering about is enticing, as everything about it begs for exploration. Backtracking is likely to occur often, as you realize you've been staring at the lustrous sky for too long and forgot to pay attention to your surroundings. Every time this happens, you'll fall a little more in love with NERO. Wandering off the beaten path has its benefits beyond taking in more scenery. NERO is a first-person puzzle-solving game, but it can be very light on the latter if you so choose. The majority of the puzzles are tucked away in areas that aren't even necessary to venture to. Those who opt to complete these brain-teasers will be awarded with an extra slice of narrative. [embed]292028:58522:0[/embed] Honestly, those who take the quick and narrow path through NERO are robbing themselves -- not just of a few puzzles, but of the core experience. It's a game where you slowly figure out that aimless wandering is the aim. It's something that requires some marinating, soaking in the world to fully appreciate it. Approaching NERO with a destination in mind is a mindset that will result in disappointment. Likewise, those who appreciate clearly drawn lines will similarly feel frustration. NERO is intentionally ambiguous at all times about its narrative, but its tone is always striking. Different thematic accents constantly punctuate different scenes; the ones that don't happen to arch over the course of the entire journey. For all the discussion it's sure to raise regarding plot, it's undoubtedly a story of love and loss, grief and guilt, companionship and family, and coping when the world is so goddamn unfair. All that being said, NERO isn't perfect. Detractors will knock it for a short run-time, flat textures, frame rate stutters, and lack of puzzle variety. However, isolating those issues is akin to missing the forest for the trees. There's something greater at play here, and letting yourself become immersed in NERO will likely render those shortcomings moot. Even after finishing, it's difficult to pin NERO down to a concept or feeling that's easy to explain. It's a game that prioritizes emotion above all else, and it does so wonderfully. But as the boy at the heart of this tale learns, emotions are tough to understand, and thus NERO is tough to understand. You'll just know that you felt something, and that sensation alone is worth the journey.
NERO review photo
A strange and distant land
I don't know why I kept playing NERO. That's not a statement meant to express disdain. I literally don't know what -- but something -- drew me to keep trekking through this sad, enamoring world. Its gravitas has a gravity abo...

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 is now better than ever

May 04 // Kyle MacGregor
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker (3DS)Developer: AtlusPublisher: AtlusReleased: May 5, 2015 (NA), Fall 2015 (EU)MSRP: $49.99 Tokyo is in shambles. Earthquakes have ravaged the city, knocking out all lines of communication, derailing trains, and flattening entire buildings. There are fires, riots, refugee camps, oh, and an army of demons that threaten humanity's continued survival. Enter a band of plucky teens with demons of their own to save the day and stave off the apocalypse. That's the lead-in to the "Septentriones Arc," the main story from the original Devil Survivor 2, which is now accompanied by a second campaign called the "Triangulum Arc." The epilogue picks up right where the first part leaves off, leaving our heroes to deal with a new threat. The continuation isn't quite a full-blown sequel so much as it's a sizable expansion, one that should keep you busy for an extra couple dozen hours on top of the base game. Thankfully, the Triangulum Arc is available from the get-go; so if you've already played through the main story and just want to see the new content, you needn't start from square one. Of course, newcomers will want to begin with the Septentriones Arc. Despite including a quick refresher at the outset of the journey, the new campaign likely won't make much sense to neophytes jumping into the narrative in media res.  [embed]291439:58422:0[/embed] In addition to the new campaign, Atlus has put in the effort to upgrade the overall experience. After doing a side-by-side comparison with the original game, Record Breaker's music really caught my ear. The soundsmiths at Atlus really cleaned up the audio quality, making it sound way more crisp and clear while eliminating a scratchy, fuzzy quality that mars the DS release.  On top of the enhanced sound quality, the team at Atlus USA went ahead re-localized the entire script and kitted it out with full English voiceover, which is a massive improvement over the text-only original. Being able to hear the cast goes a long way to helping flesh out these characters, especially given how lively and rich many of their performances are. The visuals are also a shade nicer. Again, looking at the games side-by-side, I noticed Record Breaker looks a tad sharper and features slightly more vivid colors. The camera perspective in battle has also been pulled back, which make the sprites appear less chunky. One of the major complaints a lot of folks seemed to have with Devil Survivor 2 when it launched in 2012 was the difficulty. In our review, Dale North said "the first game's difficulty bar was already set pretty high, but Atlus has turned it up even higher in this sequel with battles that are so difficult that [he] came dangerously close to snapping [his] DS in half." This time around there are multiple difficulty settings, which hopefully should help you keep your system intact. At its core, Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker is still a satisfying fusion of classic "MegaTen" and strategy gameplay. And with the new story content and other additions and enhancements, this is definitely the best version of the game. Whether it's enough to warrant a second purchase is debatable, but given a choice between the two, this is without question the one to get.
Break Record impressions photo
Record Breaker is finally here, and it was worth the wait
If you've ever wanted to experience Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 or wondered what happened to its colorful cast of demon tamers after the credits rolled, now is the time. Atlus is about to unleash Record Breaker, a new version of the 2012 tactical role-playing game that not only improves the title, but expands upon it with a new arc that advances the story.

How to make Ryu an interesting character in Super Smash Bros.

Apr 19 // Patrick Hancock
Sprite GIFs used are all from the Street Fighter Wiki. Give him an EX meter and EX moves So, let's assume Ryu has his Hadoken, Shoryuken, Tatsumaki Senpukyaku, and some fourth move like a counter or his Joudan Sokutogeri. What would make Ryu unique isn't so much his actual set of moves, but what he can do with them. Give Ryu an EX meter, similar to Little Mac's KO meter, and allow him to build it up and use it. It could build just like it does in Street Fighter IV, by connecting with attacks or getting attacked. Spending this meter can work in a few ways. One would be double-tapping the B button to use an EX move instantly. Double-tapping is weird and I'm not sure it would work in Super Smash Bros., but it's an idea. Another option is to allow Ryu to consume an EX bar to make his next move an EX move. For example: when there's at least one bar of EX glowing, Ryu can hold B to drain it and store it, similar to how many characters store a charged up move. Then, the next special move Ryu executes will be an EX version of that move, with different properties.  If Nintendo really wants to get fancy, it could even work with Capcom to include Street Fighter V's mechanic of spending an entire EX meter to make a character "super-charged" until he is knocked down.  Art by DeviantArt user kupbot Make Ryu's alternate costumes like Bowser Jr.'s Whether Nintendo meant to or not, they set a precedent with Bowser Jr. and his alternate costumes. Ryu is a perfect candidate for this method of alternate costume since there are plenty of Shotokans for Nintendo to choose from. Since each character has seven alternate costumes, here is what I've come up with for Ryu's alternate costumes: Ken, Akuma, Dan, Sean, Gouken, Sakura, and Evil Ryu. Let's be honest, Ryu is boring. He's the "guy on the box." Sure, he's recognizable, but most people tend to gravitate to someone else in Street Fighter. He's a wonderful beginning character and incredibly important to the franchise, but I will be way more willing to use Ryu if I can actually play as Sean or Dan. Sure, it may only be an aesthetic change, but to some, aesthetics really matter. Speaking of which... Give Ryu custom moves from other Shotokans While it is incredibly disconcerting that Mewtwo does not have custom moves at the moment, I am still holding out hope that DLC characters will eventually come with or get their own custom moves. Considering it's one of the biggest new features in this entry of Smash Bros., it only makes sense to do so. Assuming Ryu does get some customs, why not take them from the characters that make up his alternate costumes? Here's some basic ideas: Hadoken custom move ideas: Dan's wimpy Gadoken Gouken's angled Hadoken Sean's basketball (I really like Sean, okay?) Fireball multi-hit Shakunetsu Hadouken Tatsu custom move ideas:Note: This is assuming Ryu's basic Tatsu moves him horizontally  Dan's multi-hit Dankukyaku Stationary Tatsu Vertical Rising Tatsu Shoryuken custom move ideas: Ken's fiery Shoryuken Sean's Dragon Smash The multi-hitting Shoryureppa Since the fourth move could be a multitude of things, I'll just stop here. I think the point is clear: there are a ton of variants on these moves, and it would be a shame to see them go to waste! Two different Final Smashes Luckily, Street Fighter's Ultras convert directly to Super Smash Bros.'s Final Smash. So why not give Ryu two of them? Everyone already expects the Shinku Hadoken to be his Final Smash, but what if, by hitting B and a direction, he could execute a different one? He could have the Shin Shoryuken or even the Shinku Tatsumaki Senpukyaku.  I honestly have no idea if this would be possible, but it sure would be cool! The bottom line is, Ryu is possibly going to be in Super Smash Bros., but without going the extra distance, he'll be a character not many people will be interested in playing. If Nintendo and Mr. Sakurai give Ryu the same care and attention I know they are capable of giving, Ryu could be a favorite character for many players. Roy on the other hand...
Ryu in Smash done right photo
Listen up, Nintendo!
Street Fighter's Ryu is currently rumored to be coming to Nintendo's newest entry into the Super Smash Bros. series, thanks to some hidden files in the most recent update to the game. It makes a lot of sense; Capcom...

Mewtwo in Smash Bros. for the Wii U and 3DS is on the juice

Apr 15 // Jonathan Holmes
Mewtwo has grown up a lot since his Melee days, where his design was largely based on his big-headed origin in Pokémon Red/Blue. Since then his legs have gotten bigger, his arms have gotten longer, and his head has gotten a lot less bulbous. In Melee, it seemed like a lot of his psychic attacks were there to compensate for his baby proportions. Now that he's become more physically formidable, that added psychic flair seems less like a necessity and more like a sassy style choice.  He's also a good head taller than Lucario, his former replacement. That's sure to make a lot of long-time Mewtwo fans happy. Seeing him tower over his crowd-pleasing, dog-faced protege feels appropriate, given his status as the original uber-Pokémon.  Mewtwo was only just released to the public today, so it will be a little while before we discover the details around his various moves and properties. From what I've played so far, he has two major changes in his normal move set. His neutral A combo now ends with a swipe that that sends enemies flying, and his down air A is now a down thrust punch that really packs a wallop. Both changes are quite fitting given his newly gained girth and stature.  [embed]290541:58195:0[/embed] As for his Smash Ball attack, he takes the form of Mega Mewtwo Y and dishes out some potential instant-kill damage with a fast-moving psychic shadowball. It's strange that his beefier Mega Mewtwo X form is nowhere to be seen here, but maybe I just haven't found him yet. If you've discovered anything else about Mewtwo, or any other aspect of the latest changes to Smash Bros. for the 3DS and Wii U, let us know in the comments. I heard Diddy got nerfed today, but I've been too busy having fun with Mewtwo to find out. 
Mewtwo in Smash photo
'It's what you do with the gift of life that makes you who you are'
A new era of Smash Bros. has arrived. Speculation about who's going to be next icon to join the all-star roster can become a daily part of our lives again. Starting today with the original uber-Pokémon Mewtwo, the age ...

Project X Zone 2 photo
A follow-up to Sega, Capcom, and Namco's mashup
Back in 2013, Capcom, Bandai Namco, and Sega teamed up to give us a healthy serving of fanservice in the form of Project X Zone for the 3DS. Our own Kyle MacGregor called it a "love letter from Japan," and I think that'...

Review: Pokemon Rumble World

Apr 07 // Chris Carter
Pokémon Rumble World (3DS)Developer: Ambrella, Nintendo SPDPublisher: NintendoReleased: April 8, 2015MSRP: Free Rumble World has a setup that's a bit more endearing than past Rumble titles. In a medieval realm of toys you serve the king, seeking to defeat evil wizards and vagabonds, and of course, catch 'em all for his pleasure -- and by "all," I mean all 719. Your Mii is heavily involved in the adventure which is a nice touch, and you can tell a lot of effort was put into it, borrowing from the adventure setup pioneered in Blast. You'll start off with one humble creature and progress across small levels comprised of multiple boards, hacking and slashing your way through hordes of Pokémon. On occasion, said Pokémon will drop to the ground instead of exploding into dust, allowing you to capture them and add them to your team. Players start off with just one attack at first, eventually earning two after capturing higher-level creatures. If one so chooses, switching Pokémon is as easy as selecting one from a menu and waiting a few seconds. Beyond a bit of nuance regarding the weakness chart, that's pretty much it. It's mindless, but the dungeon-crawling setup is far more engaging than the arena theme of the first game and Rumble U, especially since there are some side paths to explore and bosses to defeat. Every world is hosted by way of unique balloons (that run on timers; more on that in a second), which are themed after specific elements (fire, water, grass) or subfranchises (Kanto, Johto, all the way up to X & Y), so there's a lot of variety in store for players who keep forging on. [embed]289936:58081:0[/embed] Capturing more creatures is the main draw of the game, as it will increase your adventurer rank, opening up more shop purchases, quests, and balloon types. There's also a core storyline by way of daily challenge levels with extra optional objectives. The actual kingdom is very small, mostly consisting of just a balloon launching site and a store, but it will fill up with more Mii characters and Pokémon to spice things up over time. Thankfully, the rate at which capturing occurs feels fair, as you'll find new party members in nearly every level. Ok, so how does it work with the free-to-play model? Not bad, actually! The premium currency is Poké Diamonds, which can be used to insta-buy items, new balloons upgrades, continue after death, or inflate balloons early. 50 Diamonds for $1 is the going rate, and balloons sell for 10 to 100 Diamonds each. You can also earn Diamonds through normal gameplay. That's right, the game has timers, but it's done in a fair way that allows you to constantly play the game. For starters, those daily story quests are repeatable without having to ride balloons. You can't capture anything while playing them, but you can earn Diamonds and, of course, simply have fun without having to worry about energy or timers. On top of that, most of the early balloons inflate at a rate of 30-60 minutes (some are longer), and all of them have individual timers. It's not as bad as some other energy-based games as rounds tend to last more than 30 seconds (my average dungeon run is two to three minutes), and I had plenty of other activities to do while waiting like exhaust all of my other balloons, master additional challenge difficulties, and manage my party. Later in the game by the time you finish all of your timers, you'll cycle through several of them, allowing immediate repeat adventures. There's also some online and StreetPass functions, including the ability to invite other players to your kingdom, visit other realms, and earn Diamonds. I can't stress enough how mindless everything is, but I had a decent enough time jumping into each dungeon on a repeat basis, staring at the party screen as more and more creatures populated it. Pokémon Rumble World probably won't make as much money as Shuffle, but it feels a whole lot less scummy. It's fairly shallow but very fun in spurts, and the best part is that players can truly enjoy the game for more than a few minutes at a time without feeling like they aren't getting anywhere. I may have burnt out on the simplistic formula after roughly a week of play, but I still have a desire to return to the game on a casual basis. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Pokmon Rumble review photo
Free to actually play
Nintendo has been dipping its toes in the water of DLC and free-to-play with mixed results. Although it has done a great job creating worthwhile add-ons that don't feel like rushed day-one cash grabs, the whole amiibo situati...

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