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

LTTP: Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

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I don’t know why I was compelled to finish Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. I finished it in approximately 60 hours and enjoyed – at most — a quarter of that. I played the majority of the game while watching sports or listening to podcasts; I just used to keep my hands busy.

My MMORPG experience consists of Guild Wars, small stints with a few Korean free to play online RPG equivalents and listening to enough World of Warcraft stories to last a lifetime. I haven’t experienced an MMORPG first hand but, by all accounts, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is what I imagine an MMORPG would look like if it was taken offline.

Everything from the vast empty spaces, paper thin fetch quests, to the battle system and even the way the characters jump reminds me of an MMORPG.

By now it’s obvious that I use the term “MMORPG” as a derogatory term and I mean it. There is depth, complexities and joy within certain MMORPGs but there’s no denying that there’s a dearth of shallow experiences full of meaningless grinding.

Nintendo and Monolith pulled off quite the feat squeezing this huge open world into the New Nintendo 3DS. I was genuinely impressed with how big the world was and how well it ran considering the size. I braced for frequent slowdowns in the open world but was relieved to discover that wasn’t the case at all. The most severe performance issues arose when there were several large enemies on screen at once. Those moments occurred more than I would like but they were not game breakers.

Judging by the quality of the visuals, it’s obvious how Monolith and Nintendo managed to get the game to run as well as it did. I’m not kidding when I say it’s one of the ugliest games I’ve played in recent memory. The visuals did have a PlayStation era charm to them though. The character models were stylized enough to convey their intent but not quite enough to deliver the gravity of dire situations.

I was fascinated by the lore of Xenoblade Chronicles. Two titans frozen in battle with life flourishing on the surface of them after some time. What if the Earth was a living creature? The idea that I was traversing across the back or leg of the titan, Bionis, was an amazing spectacle. However by the time I made it across to the other titan, Mechonis, I was no longer wowed by this idea.

I was tired of running across giant expanses by foot. Fast traveling eased some of the boredom but only between known destinations. Every area was largely the same; it was vast, filled with blue orbs representing some nonsensically named collectible and full of the same handful of enemy types.

Every so often, I would encounter a town and the hopes for a break in monotony would be renewed. I slowly discovered that these towns fell into their own cycle of repetition as well. Outside of the big story beat, I expected numerous fetch quests and monster hunts. The reasons behind them were unsubstantial and did very little with regards to world building. I was better off tapping through the gibberish and just getting down to what I had to gather and moved on. Eventually, my quest log was filled with so much junk quests that I stopped tracking them down. If I happen to finish a quest, so be it. If I had to go back to town to turn it in? Who cares. I would have found or crafted a better reward by then anyways.

Early on, I found the cast of characters endearing but the more screen time each of them got, the less I liked them. The protagonist, Shulk, grew to be irritatingly selfish with his visions and worries. He had the power to see the future but for some reason he wouldn’t share what he witnessed despite others around him imploring he did so. I thought Reyn, Shulk’s hometown friend, would develop into more than just a meathead with good intentions. There were moments where characters like him and Sharla showed they were more than caricatures but those moments were too infrequent and were dwarfed by the blatant fan service.

Did I mentioned that I found the Moogle knock offs, the Nopons, annoying as well? I was particularly perturbed by their speech patterns and the party member, Riki’s, was undoubtedly the most irritating because he reminded me of Jar Jar Binks.

The threat based battle system was a surprise to me because I thought it would be the one aspect of the game that I would wear thin the quickest. I operated with the standard tank/healer/fighter lineup and stuck with it all the way through. I experimented with other setups but I was most content maneuvering Shulk for optimal attacks. I was waiting to see if this simple setup would fail me but it didn’t. I played the exact same way from beginning to end with just a small degree of variation in skills.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a game of quantity; there’s a whole lot of stuff to do in this game. There are dozens upon dozens of checkboxes to tick off and a giant world to explore. But I didn’t want to do any of it because it wore out its welcome at least twice over. The world was huge but it was mainly empty space. There were a lot of quests but nearly every single one them were frivolous fetch quests.

Towards the end of the game, I entered a town with two rows of computer terminals. The town was uninhabited, overrun by rogue robots. There were no NPCs to interact with but there were the terminals. There was a store terminal which contained useless equipment. As for the other terminals? They dispensed the same set of quests that I’d been given for each and every town up to this point. I was literally being given quests by terminals. Even though there was context, it was like they had given up but it was also the very essence of everything I disliked about this game distilled into one town.

Verdict:
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

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It’s been nearly a decade since I poured any significant time or effort into a rhythm game. I wasn’t into Guitar Hero or Rock Band and since they stopped making Dance Dance Revolution games, rhythm games dried up for me. I witnessed fervour for Hatsune Miku and other anime related rhythm titles but none of those interested me. I believe the last rhythm game I played with serious zest was Rhythm Heaven for the Nintendo DS.

I recall the original Theatrhythm Final Fantasy title being very intriguing in Giant Bomb’s Quick Look. So when I saw the sequel, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, hit the $15 price point, I couldn’t resist checking it out for myself.

It’s a given but being a fan of Final Fantasy franchise increased my enjoyment of Curtain Call tremendously. Playing through the classic songs of all the old Final Fantasy titles was like running through those games without the fuss of actually playing them. The accompanying backgrounds triggered memories of running through the fields of Final Fantasy VII or duking it out against L’Cie in Final Fantasy XIII.

I’m sure wrapping a rhythm game with a battle system isn’t an original idea but I found Theatrhythm’s implementation it was very clever. Levelling up characters, equipping the appropriate skills and items gave this game a level of strategy that I didn’t expect. Higher level characters and skills helped mitigate the damage dealt when I missed a music note or helped dish out additional damage to defeat enemies for loot.

It took me an hour or so before I clicked with the rhythm mechanics. It’s not a complicated system but there were tricky notes that tripped me up for quite some time. Slowly ramping up through the “Quests”, which were nothing more than a series of songs placed on a world map, helped me tremendously. I’m still not playing through songs at the highest difficulty levels but that doesn’t diminish my enjoyment.

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy: Curtain Call was a pleasant surprise. It was a fun and easy way to inject Final Fantasy nostalgia but at the same time, it was also a great way to expose the soundtrack of Final Fantasy properties that I never played before. I’m not done with it and I don’t think I will ever be. It’s one of those timeless classics that I can see myself revisit time and time again.

Verdict:
I love it

 

Checkpoint: British Voices Edition

I somehow ended up starting two games with heavy doses of British voice acting. After putting Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call on pause, I decided to use my recently acquired New Nintendo 3DS XL’s added power and start Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. I didn’t realize the English localization was performed by Nintendo of Europe. I’m not sure why but It was weird at first to hear so much British-isms in a JRPG. I feel like most of my exposure to British voice acting was restricted to the Assassin’s Creed and Professor Layton titles for a long time. I didn’t think I’ll enjoy the game after the first hour but after that opening “moment”, I was invested.

After wrapping up Halo 5: Guardians, I wanted to check out Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. I picked it up because it was cheap and as a fan of Dear Esther. Again, I didn’t realize it was set in a small English village with some of very talented voice work. It’s unfortunate that I enjoyed everything but the interactions with the game which is a problem for a game. Moving at a snail’s pace doesn’t help this game’s momentum at all.

I’m sure if Lara Croft Go featured voice acting, I would be hearing her English accent. It didn’t need it though. I had high expectations for this title and Square Enix Montreal exceeded them. It was a short game but it was very very sweet.

 

 

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