Metroid: Samus Returns Review

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Nintendo set the 2D Metroid bar very low with the release of Metroid: Other M seven years ago. All I wanted was a return to form; they didn’t need to dazzle me with something revolutionary. But when they billed Metroid: Samus Returns as a Nintendo 3DS remake of Metroid II developed by MercurySteam, the same studio who put out Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate on Nintendo 3DS. Needless to say, the announcement details alone were not enough to instill confidence. But once I saw it in action? I was sold. 

Having never played Metroid II (or the well regarded fan remake AM2R) I entered Samus Returns essentially blind. I knew of the Metroid baby from having played Super Metroid but I had no idea Metroid II was so different compared to the other Metroid games Other Metroid games featured the little energy sapping bugs and one or two boss encounters with those fanged blobs but this game was chalk full of Metroid hunting.

I got my ass handed to me every time I encountered a new type of Metroid but after a bit of study, I was able to make quick work of each and every one of them. I must admit that the latter Metroids were not as fearsome as the Alpha or Gamma Metroids. Part of it was due to the fact that latter Metroids were less mobile, Samus was considerably more powerful and I was more comfortable with the game’s mechanics.

MercurySteam added several new mechanics and refinements to the Metroid formula. The Aeion System gave Samus an additional resource for her new abilities to draw from. These abilities were woven into the fabric of the game’s progression and made for interesting twists. However, I was taken by the inclusion of the parry and 360 free aim that was introduced to Samus’ move set. I never got tired of smashing a rampaging enemy flyer away with Samus’ giant arm cannon and destroying it with a single shot afterwards. It wasn’t a particularly difficult skill to master but it enabled the game’s enemies to be more menacing. Giving fodder enemies the ability to charge at Samus made them appear more antagonistic and dangerous compared to the lackadaisical ones in other Metroid titles.  

The free aiming was surprisingly liberating. Samus was fixed in place in that mode but I felt more capable and in control of her because I had the ability to guide my shots. Samus always had the ability fire at fixed angles and this was just the natural extension of that capability. Now I wasn’t forced to hop about like an idiot trying to get shots in. 

Combining the two new moves and general refinements to Samus controls made for a very slick controlling game — for the most part. There were instances where physical limitations of the Nintendo 3DS were making it cumbersome to switch weapons or abilities on the fly but I powered through them. 

Hunting Metroids was a unique take on the Metroid formula for me but it wore out its welcome after a while. I grew bored of seeing the same Metroid bosses over and over. They mixed up each encounter with additional environmental hazards or obstacles but there was a lot of shooting missiles into Metroid faces. They did introduce other robotic bosses to break up the monotony of fighting Metroids but they only served as functional different and not aesthetically pleasing. I didn’t find the excavating robots remotely terrifying. 

I enjoyed playing Metroid: Samus Returns every time I picked it up but I also had to put it down frequently. Partly due to the fact that I was playing it exclusively on bus rides but also because the game was structurally monotonous. Find the Metroids, extract their DNA, and deposit it into these weird Chozo gates. Repeat until the end. Along the way, I entered familiar lava territory among others with their accompanying iconic themes.

Despite its pacing issues, Metroid: Samus Returns was enjoyable overall. It was very much the ideal blend of old and new. MercurySteam integrated new moves and ideas into the Metroid formula without it feeling shoehorned. I felt they understood what to do with the Metroid formula but were held back by the fact that they were developing a remake. If Nintendo decides to partner up with the Spanish developer again, I will give their next game my undivided attention. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a quality Metroid title let alone a quality sidescrolling one.

Verdict:
I like it

Ratings Guide 

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past Review

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I tried to play Dragon Quest VIII back in the PlayStation 2 days but the stark contrast between it and the flashier Final Fantasy titles made it tough for me to appreciate it. It wouldn’t be until Dragon Quest IX that I gave this Japanese roleplaying game juggernaut its fair shake. It turned out that I really enjoyed playing Dragon Quest on a handheld. I enjoyed the DQIX so much that I pre-ordered both Dragon Quest VII and Dragon Quest VIII releases on the Nintendo 3DS. I had an inkling what I was getting myself into but I really didn’t know.

It took me just over 85 hours to finish Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past. That’s a lot of time for a single player title. The last game role playing game that I invested that much time in was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt but that was broken up into two giant stints. The DQVII cart was permanently entrenched in my Nintendo 3DS for months as I gathered fragments and witnessed some of the most depressing scenarios in a JRPG.

As conventional as the turn based combat was, the story and the long journey that accompanied it was anything but. The journey began with the son of a fisherman and a prince named Kiefer stumbling into an ancient temple that opened gateways into the past. Apparently the world was a much bigger place with islands and continents all over. The duo would eventually be joined by a local mayor’s daughter, Maribel, and together they gathered the necessary stone fragments to reassemble the lost islands. The assembled stone fragments opened portals to the past which inevitably enabled the trio to restore said islands in the present.

A  mysterious calamity in the past doomed each kingdom/island/continent and it was up to the trio to defeat the evil that was responsible make the world whole again. I found it to be a very novel and interesting means of gating access to the world without relying on traditional transportation barriers.

Each island/area was like a little vignette of woe. One island was plagued with terrible rains that turned people into stone. Another was essentially Groundhog Day. And one of the most depressing ones featured a cursed town that had newborn babes turn into demons and running away. As I solved each area’s problems, I learned more and more about the ultimate evil responsible which undoubtedly resulted in a confrontation with said baddie.

Dealing with the sad stories and disheartening circumstances in the past often produced positive results in the present but for a majority of the time they didn’t have real consequences for me or my crew. So when a party member chose to remain in the past and I lost access to him, I actually missed the brute. In fact, by the end of the game, it was possible for the protagonist to be the sole original member duking it out with the big bad Demon King. It was a very unorthodox experience because you just don’t see RPGs, let alone, JRPGs make drastic changes to its lineup part way through the journey. Maribel stepped away from the grand adventure to be with her ailing father for a while and, for the longest time, I was wondering if I would ever see the cross eyed ball buster again.

I accepted the introduction of the fourth character, Ruff, and I tolerated Mervyn’s inclusion into the lineup but the final character, Aishe, was handled poorly. I felt she was thrusted into the limelight because of her heritage and I was supposed to immediately connect with her for that reason alone.

Although I missed the original members for their personalities, I also missed them because I invested so much time developing their classes. Being forced to start a new classes with new characters whom I didn’t really connect with was a bit of a chore. It was doubly worse because I couldn’t easily change classes without warping to Alltrades Abbey and talk to this one specific NPC in the present day.

There weren’t random encounters (except for in this one specific area) but combat was primarily a breeze thanks to the inclusion of A.I behavior. It was like a Final Fantasy XII-lite where I set certain characters to focus on healing while others fought “wisely”. It made thumbing through normal battles easy as pie so I didn’t have to page through the countless abilities and spells that I’ve learned.

The victory lap after defeating the big bad Demon King captured my feelings of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of a Forgotten Past perfectly. It was charming, filled with warm fuzzy feelings and I wanted it to pick up the pace. And yet, at the same time, I was surprised by the fact that I was an active participant in this victory lap. Dragon Quest VII was a long journey and, in the end, it’s one that I won’t soon forget.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright Review

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I enjoyed Fire Emblem: Awakening enough to buy both Fire Emblem Fates titles, Birthright and Conquest, blind. I was content with gameplay loop in Awakening and was convinced they couldn’t muck it up. And since Birthright was supposed to follow the Awakening formula, I thought it was a good idea to play that first.

I was in over my head when I played Awakening. It was my first Fire Emblem game and I wandered in on hard difficulty and with permanent death on which resulted in me save scumming my way through the game. I thought: “I went into the deep end of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, how hard can this game be?”. It was difficult and I told myself that the next Fire Emblem game, I was going to play it on normal difficulty.

I didn’t learn my lesson.

I repeated the same process with Birthright but this time, I didn’t waste time banging my head against the final battle and lowered the difficulty so I could wrap the game up. I was nearing the 50 hour mark and the core gameplay wasn’t holding up against the torrent of grating thematic annoyances.

Birthright’s gameplay gimmick enabled dragon blooded characters to alter the battlefield at specific squares. The alterations swung between toggling passage ways and environmental hazards. I thought they underutilized these abilities because it never felt integral to the fabric of the game; they were integral to certain maps and missions but I was hoping to have more agency with this ability. It would have been interesting if I was given the ability to dynamically create a body of water, bridge or a wall of rock.

I was fed up with the relationship system, the base building and how the predictable narrative was unfolding. The increasingly straight forward battles didn’t do much to separate themselves from the random Challenge missions that I was grinding my characters through either. I wasn’t grinding for levels though. I paired my soldiers together in an effort to produce offspring. I didn’t dabble in the offspring aspect of Awakening so I decided to change that with Birthright. The first trio of children were interesting but it quickly became a time consuming chore and I was increasingly frustrated with how poorly they handled the accelerated growth of the offspring.

Every parent in the Birthright neglected their children and, unsurprisingly, their children found themselves in some kind of danger. They either escaped their time accelerated nursery (dubbed the “Deep Realm”) or enemies somehow found their way in. In the end, it was up to their parent and my avatar in this game, Elena (canonically named Corrin) to save them. Despite the ill conceived circumstances surrounding these rescue missions, their design and setups were often more interesting than every other mission in the game.

The awkward handling of offspring may have been present in Awakening but since I largely ignored that aspect of the game then, it was a non-factor. I tabbed through my share of conversations between characters in Awakening but I don’t recall them being so pandering — in fact, I felt Birthright was filled with creepy anime tropes.

I had weird face to face exchanges of one liners with characters that were all inexplicably flustered. I was asked to blow into the mic to cool off my significant other. I was asked to poke them in order to wake them up. I met a furry half breed which I thought was a big fat joke because I just witnessed one of many unsettling — and borderline incestuous — conversations between the main character’ and their adopted sister.

It didn’t matter where I looked, there was some kind of trope being played out. On one hand, they’re trying to make this war between Hoshido and Nohr a major ordeal but at the same time, they were undermining the gravity of the situation with anime bullshit.

I really hope the tone in Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is dramatically different from Birthright but I doubt it. I expect more pandering and I don’t think I can stomach anymore of it. I don’t know when I will get around to playing Conquest but I think I’m done with this franchise for the foreseeable future.

Verdict:
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Puzzles & Dragons: SMB Edition & Pokemon Picross

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No that’s not some kind of super combo back of Nintendo puzzle games. They’re two Nintendo published titles with free to play influences and mechanics.

Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros. Edition is actually two games in one. Puzzles & Dragons Z is the free-to-play Japanese mobile sensation stripped of its F2P annoyances and the Super Mario Bros. edition is as the name suggests: Puzzles & Dragons with a Mario flavor. The latter is apparently more user friendly for new comers like myself. I played that version.

Pokemon Picross is as straight forward as the name suggests: a Pokemon themed picture crossword game. It’s also completely free to play and equipped with the usual trappings of energy bars and currency to gather and unlock new areas.

I started Pokemon Picross first but was increasingly frustrated by the limitations. It was my first Picross title and so I was making mistakes and restarting puzzles frequently. I also wanted to accumulated Picrites to progress and unlock functionality early on but thanks to the energy restrictions, I was kept at bay.

Then Puzzles & Dragons went on sale and I decided to check it out after hearing the praise by Drew Scanlon of GiantBomb. Like him, I never played Puzzles & Dragons before and was curious.

Firstly, it turns out that I’ve played this kind of game before. Match 3 puzzle games like Puzzles & Dragons spawned many clones and I encountered one of them on FreeMyApps. I immediately saw the appeal of the game. The combos, the flashing colors and all the high damage numbers flying out was satisfying. All I had to do was manipulate a single orb, wave it around to setup other potential combos and then watch the resulting mayhem.

I enjoyed the collecting of monsters, powering them up by feeding weaker variations and evolving them with items. It was apparent that I needed to invest time in this area in order to make significant progress later on but there was something peculiar with the lack of item drops or collectible monsters early on. I thought the drop rate would start ramping up as I progressed but that wasn’t the case at all. No matter how many combos I was setting up, I hit a wall and needed to grind to level up my monsters. I was effectively done with Puzzles & Dragons at world five.

Even though my focus was on Puzzles & Dragons, I continued to check in and chip away at Pokemon Picross. I did the daily challenges and slowly upped my Picross game. Even though I was accumulating Picrites at an agonizingly slow rate, I felt I was making progress. I felt I was improving as a Picross player and working towards unlocking a new area.

Now, my opinion on both games have flipped. The game which I thought was going to be a fun romp without free to play mechanics turned into a meaningless grind and cutesy Picross title turned from aggressively frustrating to a nice little daily taste of puzzling. Perhaps I should approach Puzzles & Dragons with the same mindset as Pokemon Picross but why should I? It doesn’t have free to play mechanics impeding progress. I should be able to play as often as I want and make meaningful progress every time I do. Unfortunately that’s not the case and it’s the free to play riddled Pokemon Picross that I ultimately enjoy more.

Puzzles & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros. Edition Verdict:
I don’t like it

Pokemon Picross Verdict:
It’s okay

Ratings Guide

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