Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review

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Nintendo and Sega coming together to celebrate the Olympics during the heights of the Nintendo Wii and DS crazes yielded the very successful launch of an arcade sports franchise. It’s one of the most successful Nintendo exclusive franchises that I ignored until now. 

I’m a fan of Mario. I like the idea of Sonic. But I’m ambivalent to the Olympic Games. So it will take a bit more to convince me to check out one of these games. What sold me on Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 was the title itself. The Summer Games were headed to Tokyo next year and having just spent a wonderful time there in 2018, I thought it would be fun to revisit it virtually. I also figured it would be another fun party title.

I didn’t play any more events with the fiancée since the preview but I sank a good half hour into the Football event. It’s been a long time since I played Mario Strikers so I feasted on this little tease of a high definition Mario football. There was just enough depth to draw me in and keep me wanting.

The Story Mode and Quick Play modes gave a brief introduction to each event. Most events were easy enough to pick up and play while others offered “Advanced” techniques to liven things up a bit. Table Tennis offered different shot choices. Football had through passes and chip shots. Then there were Dream Events which took events like skateboarding and karate and turned them into competitive multiplayer events. Skateboarding Dream Event was essentially transformed into a Mario Kart-lite with usuable items and rings to collect.

I enjoyed the idea of the Story Mode. I liked the idea of Tokyo 1964 Olympics being represented in a 8-bit and 16-bit 2D style while 3D renditions were used to depict the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Interspersed between the two eras were trivia facts of the two Olympic Games, Tokyo, and tidbits about Nintendo and Sega’s iconic characters. I haven’t kept up with Sonic’s growing cast of characters — I didn’t even know Dr. Eggman Nega existed — so this was a solid primer. I learned lots which was not something I predicted going in.

I expected the story to serve as a framework to facilitate Olympic events and it succeeded in that regard. What I didn’t expect was how dialog heavy those story moments were. The pace wasn’t as plodding as Puyo Puyo Tetris’ but the down time between events were often longer than the events themselves.

I never owned an NES before but I felt the 2D events were appropriate for that era of console hardware. Pattern recognition and quick reflexes served as the requisite skillsets for both the 2D and 3D events with the 3D events requiring analog fine tuning for some mini-games. However, since all games can be played with a single Joy-con, controller complexity was kept at a minimum.

Having visited Tokyo late last year and loving it. I found the interactive map and sightseeing filled me with nostalgia. Like the Olympic events themselves, I found Sega captured the spirit and essence of each location and attraction well. I was hoping check out the highest point of the Tokyo Skytree’s observatory but alas they only rendered the grounds surrounding it.

Rounding out the offerings is a multiplayer mode that I found difficult to find matches for prior to release. Splitting 24 events into their own separate multiplayer hoppers on top of having ranked and unranked of those modes cannot possibly be conducive to finding opponents. When I finally found a match (it was the Football event), it was a sluggish experience with unresponsive controls. Needless to say, but this game may be best experienced locally.

Technical issues cropped up during the skateboarding Dream Event as well but every other event performed as I hoped; silky smooth.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a celebration of the Summer Olympics 2020 through the lenses of Tokyo, Sega, and Nintendo. It’s a collection of mini games that have will entertain not unlike a Mario Party title. I came away with it pleasantly surprised by the breadth on offer. The Olympic events themselves were well realized while other included mini-games like the Dream Events and Game Room games were iffy. I would love to see the Table Tennis, Rugby Sevens, and Football events flesh out more with more play options like tournaments but I know that’s a big ask. However, I figured asking for Sega to flex more of its arcade styled chops is never a bad thing.

Ratings Guide

Verdict:
I liked it

Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee

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Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee was made for people like me. People who only played the first couple of games and believe the original 151 are the most memorable Pokemon to date. I’ve tried Pokemon Sun/Moon but found it too slow and too talky for a Pokemon game. All I wanted to do was to drop in, set out, and catch Pokemon. Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee gave me that and then some. 

I felt it was a satisfying remake of the first generation Pokemon titles (Pokemon Yellow specifically), it evoked the classics while making smart improvements along the way. The most notable alteration was replacing the random wild Pokemon encounters with Pokemon Go styled catching. Catching them required me to run into them in the world, sedate them with berries before using the right Pokeball and throwing technique to catch them. Fortunately, there were still a handful of Pokemon which required the classic style of weaken before catching.  

I found the visuals to be simple but very charming. I don’t know if it was a conscious decision to not push the Switch to its limits but I and the Switch’s battery welcomed it. Playing the game in portable just felt right. It was nice to see the game hold up on the big screen but Pokemon will forever be a portable title first for me. It was also strange that the Pro controller wasn’t a viable option. I get the appeal of playing one handed with a single Joy-con but sometimes I just want to relax with a proper controller.  

New features like two on two battles, categorized bags, and expanded stat pages were welcomed additions. I don’t know if those were taken from the recent games but they didn’t overcomplicate or deviate too far Pokemon Yellow. It’s that smart blend of old and new that made Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee a joy to play.  

Verdict: 
I liked it 

Ratings Guide

Checkpoint: E3 2018 Edition

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.

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 

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