Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Review

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Mario and Rabbids together at last. In an XCOM styled game as well. What a pleasant and bizarre surprise announcement that was. I was immediately curious and seeing it was well received, I had every intention to pick it up. But since it was an Ubisoft game, I chose to bide my time and await a sale.

There were only four kingdoms in the Ubisoft strategy title but I was ready for the credits heading into the fire kingdom. I thoroughly enjoy the battles for their inventive situations, gimmicks, and boss battles. But everything else in-between said battles became a chore. 

It was initially charming to roam around these worlds checking out the random hijinx the other Rabbids were up to. I even enjoyed the simple puzzles and light exploration at first. All these innocuous activities wore out their welcome through repetition and lack of diversity. They could have made it worthwhile by including worthwhile treasures but instead I picked up a lot of artwork that will go untouched.

I felt Mario + Rabbids had a very solid gameplay foundation. The simplified take on turn-based strategy worked very well and it didn’t result in me uttering curses because a high percentage shot missed. Having 0%, 50%, and 100% be the only three shot percentages made for a quicker paced game. The combination play between the different characters was unique and sparked the desire for strategic thinking. I wasn’t particularly keen on the restrictions of a Rabbid party member at first but after spending some time with them, their silly personalities won me over. 

Without taking into account turn restrictions, Mario + Rabbids is an extremely easy game. However, adding turn limits into the equation gave this game a puzzle element. It became a game of ability examinations, build combos, and efficient movement. Unfortunately for me, I decided to go for the high marks and restarted the battle any time I took a misstep. I tried to run through every battle as efficiently as possible which resulted with me restarting battles over and over again. I focused on the high marks to a fault and willingly interrupted the flow of the game repeatedly.

To my pleasant surprise, the Rabbids were fun. Peach Rabbid and the rest of the Rabbid variants brought quirky fun to the classic Nintendo characters that we wouldn’t have ever seen from Nintendo proper. I was also pleasantly surprised by the the aesthetics. That Snowdrop Engine produced some very impressive visuals for the Nintendo Switch. I would have liked to see it run at 60FPS for the “running around” moments but seeing how simplistic those parts were, it wasn’t a deal breaker.

I was far more impressed with the musical score brought in by the the great Grant Kirkhope. It’s very him and it didn’t take me long to realize that he was bringing his iconic touch to this game. I distinctly recall thinking: “This music is far too good for your typical Ubisoft title. It reminds me of Donkey Kong Country.”

Whoever came up with the idea of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a genius. But whoever managed to successfully pitch this idea to Nintendo was the true hero of Ubisoft because I cannot believe Nintendo green lit this unorthodox pairing. I guess all the Red Steels and ZombiUs of the last decade or so finally paid off. Some issues aside, I felt Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was a success and I look forward to the next iteration of this unlikely collaboration. 

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

 

Checkpoint: Phantom of the Opera 2018 Edition

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Canada Day 2018 is upon us. This is the first year that I will be spending portions of it in different cities. I’m currently in Toronto but will be heading back home on the big day.

We headed into Toronto earlier for my first ever theatre musical experience. Cameron Mackintosh’s take of Phantom of the Opera was an amazing spectacle. But despite the fact that I never saw a theatre musical like this, I knew this was a production that was meant to woo newcomers and modern simpletons like myself. It was a mesmerizing experience filled with elaborate stage transitions, loud music, and over the top acting. I felt the production communicated the tone and setting more than the actors which is fine for folks like myself but I can certainly see why veterans of the musical would prefer that the actors and actresses were the highlights. 

I didn’t come away discussing the drama that unfolded. I came away praising the set pieces, the production, the organized chaos, and wondering how they pulled off such a show. The people involved were captivating but I wasn’t drawn into to any of their performances like I was with the production itself.

We paid just over $110 per ticket and I thought it was well worth the price of admission. Now I’m wondering how i can transition to another theatre experience without being immediately disappointed by it. I want a fun auditory and visual experience but I also know it’s not fair to expect all musicals to be like this. 

God of War PS4 Review

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God of War put Sony’s Santa Monica Studio on the map during the PlayStation 2 days. While their PlayStation 3 output wasn’t a barn burner like Naughty Dog’s Uncharted and The Last of Us titles, they were still a force to be reckoned with. I loved God of War III but felt God of War: Ascension was superfluous at best. It’s been 5 years their last big title and was very curious how they were going to make their mark on the PlayStation 4.

When I first laid eyes on this reinvented God of War, I didn’t know what to make of it. On one hand, it looks like they threw out everything but Kratos, the name, and reinvented with modern sensibilities. On the other hand, they threw out all the memorable and distinctly amazing qualities of the old games as well – primarily the scale and gravitas. I was very curious how this game would turn out and I was going to find out on day one.

God of War was a long game. I don’t know my hour count but I played it on a regular basis for over a month. My total playtime was inflated due to my decision to play on Hard difficulty but despite that wrinkle, there’s a lot of game here. I’m sure a significant percentage of that game is spent traversing via row boat but since they weaved in fun little Norse mythology related stories during these moments, I still felt it was worthwhile content. Even though they built in the ability to interrupt and resume boat stories, I still took the time to just sit in my boat and listen to Mimir’s tales.

We’ve heard intentions for Kratos to move from his Greek stomping grounds for what seemed like ages now. The idea of Kratos moving into the Norse realms seemed absurd to me. How were they going to justify pitting this angry Spartan against Odin and his ilk? Apparently the answer was: Kratos just wanted to get away. Portraying this world where different mythologies occupied different regions of the world made a lot of sense — it’s how it is in the real world, why wouldn’t it be like that in God of War’s version of Earth?

I loved how Kratos was ashamed of his past life in Sparta. He slew numerous Gods, Titans, and mortals alike during his quest to take down Zeus. Moving to Midgaard and starting a new family was the last thing I expected Kratos to do but here we are. He has moved on from avenging Calliope to raising Atreus. Kratos was learning to become a father in function and not just in name. While we saw Kratos interact with Calliope in God of War: Chains of Olympus, the relationship was never explored like this.

I loved seeing Kratos and Atreus’ relationship develop. They weren’t complete strangers in the beginning of the tale, but Kratos did not know much about his son. He knew of the basics (like the audience), but we got to know Atreus and his relationship with his mother and Norse mythology throughout the course of the journey. Watching Atreus grow angry, petulant, brave, cocky, and confident was captivating. When a game manages to evoke frustration towards a boy whom I grew to trust and rely on, there’s nothing to say but: kudos.

God of War showed an aged Kratos but an evolving one as well. He didn’t become a great father by the time the credits rolled. However, his relationship with his son did improve, albeit at an accelerated pace. Atreus learned a lot about himself and his father throughout the course of their journey to scatter his late mother’s ashes. He handled it in a believable manner but I felt he processed it in an unconvincing timeline.

Kratos and I also learned a lot about Norse mythology via Atreus and our traveling companion, Mimir. I enjoyed Mimir’s presence and found the game increasingly more engaging after he “stepped” onto the stage. Brok and Sindri were very helpful and added levity to many of the game’s proceedings but they didn’t give the context and flavor that I needed. I wanted to know more about the Aesir, the Valkyries, the Giants, and the realms that Kratos and Atreus found themselves in. Mimir filled the role I wanted and then some.

Mimir was not only helpful narratively, he also served as the literal eyes behind Kratos’ back. The unwritten rule in many third person over the shoulder games like this is to not attack the player from the behind. God of War didn’t care for those conventions and routinely strikes at Kratos from his blind spot. On screen indicators, and shouts from Atreus and Mimir give me a sense of where dangers are coming from. In theory this should be enough but when I’m in the thick of carving undead with Kratos’ magical axes, a single warning sign may not be enough. This was especially true early on.

I’ve played my fair share of From Software’s Bloodborne, so I’ve been conditioned to expect a certain pace for melee combat. I struggled with the combat for the first three hours or so. I died a lot. Some of it had to do with the fact that I played on hard difficulty but a lot of it was the relatively foreign nature of the combat. But once I got the hang of it, began upgrading equipment, and unlocking new abilities, the game clicked. I still died but it wasn’t’ a struggle like early on. There was only one battle where I struggled mightily and it was optional.

God of War reshaped my expectations for long running and successful modern franchises. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End made strides to evolve their character narratively but it didn’t make a drastic in gameplay. We need more games like this; the Breath of the Wilds and Metroid: Primes of the world. I’m happy to see developers of these franchises toss out the playbook and re-evaluate everything when it feels right. I don’t expect next God of War title to reinvent the wheel again but they should feel welcomed to do so the next time the franchise hits a rut. The pay offs can be tremendous.

Verdict:
I love it

Checkpoint: E3 2018 Edition

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E3 2018’s press conferences are finally over. I actually liked that the big publishers and platform holders got out of the way of each other and spread out a bit.

It gave me more time to digest it all and meant I was spending less time binging on the barrage of news and announcements that didn’t leak beforehand.

There were many leaks this year including one from Walmart Canada that spoiled so many publisher’s fun. It didn’t spoil my fun though, knowing a game’s existence isn’t the same as seeing the titles in action.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts I had on the press conferences that I watched since Saturday, June 9th.

I graded them with entertainment, news, and games shown in mind. Was it a fun watch? Despite leaks, did they shed light on anything interesting? Did they show games that I wanted to play?

Electronic Arts

Electronic Arts’ press conference was awkward. It was good to see Anthem in action but they took such a long time fluffing it up.

The Battlefield V was a looker but I have very little desire to revisit realistic World War II shooters like Battlefield V or Call of Duty: WW2. Maybe I’ll give it a go when a multiplayer beta hits but as of right now? It’s a non-starter for me.

No one is expecting Electronic Arts to make a real-time strategy game in 2018. So what can EA do? A MOBA? They tried in 2014 with Dawngate. So seeing Command & Conquer Rivals in action makes a lot of sense to me and it was the big surprise coming out of EA’s event. And that’s disappointing.

The reveal of Origin Access Premier and a peculiar interview with Vince Zampella about his team’s upcoming Star Wars game does not make up for the fact that EA’s offerings were poor this year.

D-

Microsoft

Microsoft brought it this year. They’ve been refining their formula for the last couple of E3’s but I felt they nailed it when came to reassuring people that Microsoft is committed to the Xbox brand. I don’t know if announcing sequels to familiar first party properties is enough to sell people on the idea of buying an Xbox One but their future looks brighter with their recent studio acquisitions.

But if you ignore hardware sales angle and focus on reasons to subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, I think Microsoft did a bang up job.

Forza Horizon 4 looks like a spiritual successor to Test Drive Unlimited which is very intriguing. Gears 5 looks to continue the strong start of Gears 4. Crackdown 3 looks like dumb fun. And Ori and the Will of the Wisps is shaping up to be a fantastic sequel to one of my favorite games of the generation.

There will be another Halo game named Halo: Infinite. Not much else to say about that trailer besides that it looks pretty. Gears Tactics (title pending) looks like a match made in heaven; combining Gears of War with XCOM style gameplay sounds phenomenal.

Although they weren’t exclusives, the reveal of Devil May Cry 5, Cyberpunk 2077, The Division 2 and longer looks at titles like Kingdom Hearts III made for a very entertaining showcase.

They showed games and lots of them!

A

Bethesda

Bethesda sold me on RAGE 2 which I didn’t think was possible after the weird reveal. Did we need another post-apocalyptic title? Well, it turns out the answer is “yes” if they’re invoking the frantic pace of Doom (2016).

Teasing the existence of Doom: Eternal was welcomed and so was the reveal that they’re bringing out more Wolfenstein content with Wolfenstein: Young Blood. They also reminded me that I haven’t played Wolfenstein: The New Colossus yet which is shameful of me.

I doubt I’ll pick up Fallout 76 but seeing it in action was interesting. Were they going to ape other survival games? How much “traditional” Fallout are we going to see in this? It’s not going to be just another Fallout game which is intriguing for me but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The super early teasers for Bethesda Game Studio’s upcoming projects: Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI were a bit awkward. They sound very far off and I’m not sure why they needed to tease both of those titles so early.

C+

Ubisoft

Ubisoft knew how to have fun with their dance number for Just Dance. I thought that was a fun way to acknowledge that game’s existence.

I don’t know what to make of the Beyond Good & Evil 2 trailer. The CG trailer looks like a sales pitch to recruit the community to help generate assets for the game. I want to know how those assets are going to be used and if there’s a worthwhile game in there.

The Division 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey are known quantities. They look like newer and shinier versions of the games you may or may not like. I’m partial to The Division so more of it is okay with me. AC:O looks very pretty. Almost enough to entice me back.

I like seeing games continue receiving support but after Bethesda’s showcase, I was growing tired of seeing games I don’t play being trotted out again. I can’t say I’m particularly fond of seeing repeat appearances for games I like.

C

Square Enix

Speaking of known quantities, here’s Square-Enix showing off Kingdom Hearts III again. Little did we know, there would be three trailers shown across three press conferences. (Microsoft, Square, and Sony). I am not against this game but that’s a lot.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks like more of the same and since I haven’t even played Rise of the Tomb Raider yet, I don’t know if I want that. She looked like a ruthless killer though and a far cry from that reluctant heroine from Tomb Raider (2013).

Dragon Quest XI looks very pretty and it would be on my list of games to pre-order but I just started Dragon Quest VIII and barely put a dent in it.

Square Enix showed a lot of known quantities and while some resonated with me, I just didn’t see why they waited until E3 to reveal these.

C-

Sony

I missed the first half hour of Sony’s which meant I missed The Last of Us: Part II. That’s fine because I don’t need to be convinced to buy that game. I was already sold. Just like I was more or less already sold on Spider-man.

Ghosts of Tsushima was the big reveal and I thought Sucker Punch did one hell of a job with that demo. I was impressed with the reveal but I’m curious how it plays.

Death Stranding was weird and I’m sure it will abide with some internal logic that Kojima stitched together. I just hope this game is more than celebrity guest stars doing weird things.

Seeing Resident Evil 2 remake in action was eye opening because of how much effort Capcom is putting into this and seemingly nailing it.

Remedy Games are making another time manipulation third person shooter but this time it stars a red haired woman. I’m in. It reminds me of Quantum Break (which I haven’t played yet) but without all the bad TV science fiction.

In many ways, Sony followed Microsoft’s event but instead of showing new installment to the same old franchises. They showed off more of the same game that we’ve already seen. Death Stranding is just as weird as when we saw it last year. The Last of Us: Part II is still the Last of Us. And Spider-man is still Spider-man. They showed well and I will likely play them all but they’re still known quantities.

B-

Nintendo

Nintendo was the most disappointing only because it looks like their software lineup looks barren compared to last year’s. A new Fire Emblem, Super Mario Party, and another Smash Brothers with every single character should be enough for most folks but they’re not Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild.

Spending so much time on Smash Bros. Ultimate was exhausting. I can appreciate the changes they made but I don’t play Smash Bros. often enough to even notice. It seems like they were pitching to a very specific demographic of the Smash fanbase and that’s just a very weird thing to do on the “big stage”.

I will likely pick up Super Mario Party just to have a nice party game. And the same with Smash Bros. Ultimate but their lineup so far feels lacking from a first party perspective.

On the plus side, the release of Fortnite on Switch did out Sony for being scum bags on cross play.

C

A Decent E3

It was a decent showing as far as the press conferences are concerned. Lots of promising titles on the horizon and many of them debuting early next year. I doubt I will have time play all of them but this is a good problem to have.

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