Pokémon X Nuzlocke Episode #2: Team-Building Exercises

Who would’ve thought a freaking Furfrou would end up being my nastiest opponent so far?

When we last left our intrepid Octoling Oliver, he was working through the training-wheels portion of Pokémon X, laying waste to rivals and Gym leaders alike on his way to his first badge. The team was solid thus far, but it had the potential to be much better, and our second week through the game saw Ollie’s team realize that potential…and then promptly squander it. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here; let’s start with the good times…

Hakuna Matata

After crushing Viola for the Bug Badge, Ollie’s first stop was a return to Route 22 to pick up the potential Pokémon partner I had put off during my previous peruse of the area. I had no idea what was available here, but I hoped I would get something good…

…and I got it.

A Fire-type monster would complement Patty and my Bulbasaur-to-be-named-later perfectly, and Litleo was one of those monsters that had intrigued me in the past, but I’d just never gotten the opportunity to really use one. That opportunity was now, and “Nala” soon became the 5th member of Oliver’s party.

While grinding to get Nala up to the same level as her new teammates, I found Nala to be very similar to Patty and Birdo: Fairly quick to level up, packed a solid punch (especially when she learned Headbutt), and possessed a well-rounded moveset (Work Up and Noble Roar provided decent support for her offensive moves). Once she was ready, it was on to greener pastures and bigger towns!

Sharing Is Caring

Before leaving Santalune City, however, the Gym leader’s sister gave Oliver a parting gift that prompted an existential crisis: The Exp. Share item, which had been buffed from previous generations to now award experience points to all party Pokémon instead of just one. It’s a handy way to cut down on grinding time, but in the context of a Nuzlocke run, did it now make the game too easy?

I had used the Exp. Share in my Ultra Sun Nuzlocke without giving it a second thought, but it was certainly fair to consider if it provided an unfair advantage to a mode that eschewed such things. Since I wasn’t sure what to do (and I abhor making decisions of any sort), I decided to leave the question to chance, and flipped a coin: Heads I could use the Exp. Share, tails I couldn’t.

In the end, the universe decided it owed Oliver a favor after sticking him with back-to-back Nozzlenoses in a recent Splatoon 2 randomizer challenge, so it let me use the Exp. Share. I figure it will help keep these posts coming out on time (putting them together takes longer than you’d think!) and if it does feel like the game is losing its edge, I can turn it off later.

The main problem I have with the Exp. Share is that if you’re focused on keeping everyone at a consistent level like I am, you end up only using slower-leveling monsters (in this case, Reese and Thumper) while faster-growing creatures like Patty become Frogadiers without ever coming out of their Poké Ball.

Hey Cinderella, She’s Back!

Route 4 ended up being fairly uneventful: The only thing I could catch that wasn’t on my blocked list was a Combee, so “Luke Combee” (because of course Mr. “Beer Never Broke My Heart” should be represented here; why should the Pokémon universe be exempt from his power?) became the temporary sixth member of my party, and I quickly mowed down the available Trainers and hurried over to meet Sina and Dexio and enter the massive metropolis that is Lumiose City.

Hey, it looks kind of dark out. Is there a Splatfest going on?

Unfortunately, a cyberattack carried out by the Sinnoh government had knocked out much of the power in the city, so nearly every street was blocked by a stern-faced utility worker trying to keep the scene clear. (Where’s Michael Locasto when you need him?) Like every good plot boulder, the grid workers funneled Oliver over to Professor Sycamore’s lab, where the professor…immediately challenged him to a battle? Thankfully, when Prof. Sycamore said he wasn’t very good, he meant it, and Ollie’s team rolled over his team of Kanto starters without any trouble.

A true Pokémon professor would know better than to step to the protagonist.
But hey, at least I got an evolution out of the deal.

Finally, the moment I had been waiting for arrived: I threatened to report Prof. Sycamore to the authorities for attempted abuse of a minor, and successfully blackmailed him into giving up one of his Kanto starters. Choosing the Bulbasaur was a fait accompli, so the only question was its sex:

To be honest, I probably would have used the same name regardless. Hey, if Johnny Cash could have “A Boy Named Sue,” I could have a male Bulbasaur named Suzy.

Suzy was back, and when I dropped back to Route 4 for more grinding, she was an awesome as ever. Leech Seed kept her alive until her Vine Whip got strong enough to crush her foes, and eventually Sleep Powder gave her a stalling option if the situation called for it. While I refused to call any top-six with Beedrill on it a “dream team,” this team was pretty darn close.

And then she evolved and became even more awesome. 🙂

Wait…who’s my rival again?

Before I left the lab, Serena had mentioned that she wanted to meet me at a nearby cafe for a private chat. I had been waiting for a challenge from her for some time, and knowing that her Chespin had a type advantage over Patty, I wanted to make sure I was ready for a potentially-tough battle. Even after doubling down on Fire types with Birdo and Nala, I spent a little extra time on Route 4 after getting Suzy II level parity with her peers just to be on the safe side.

The meeting, however, turned out to be little more than some plot dialogue, foreshadowing Lysandre and Diantha’s roles in the fight to come and confirming that Serena did, in fact, want to be my rival. Confused, Ollie made his way over to Route 5, where he was immediately challenged by…Tierno?

Apparently the dude wanted to see some cool moves, so I let him watch Thumper kick the living snot out of his team. He seemed less than inspired when it was all over:

Thumper, on the other hand, was moved enough to evolve into Diggersby and finally give me an Electric-type counter to protect Patty and Birdo.

With Tierno tossed aside, I went back to searching for a new Pokémon to start building out my bench. I was hoping for a Skiddo, but…

…Well, this was a bit of a letdown.

I think so much of Gulpins that it couldn’t even dislodge Reese from her spot on the top six. I named it “Hamilton” after the bumbling prosecutor I keep seeing on Perry Mason reruns, stuffed it in a Box, and thought nothing more about it.

Kingside Castling

Camphrier Town wasn’t much more exciting than Vaniville was, but at least it had a Pokémon Center and a small, sparsely-furnished castle going for it. The proprietor of the place was immediately called out to Route 7 to deal with a problem, which turned out to be yet another Snorlax blocking a path in a Pokémon game. Oliver offered to call Mr. Fuji from Lavender Town on his cell phone, but the first responders on scene declined the offer and lamented that their own Poké Flute had been repossessed by a man in a lavish castle at the end of Route 6. Since Ollie had loads of experience retrieving “thangs” stashed in faraway areas, he and Shauna agreed to storm the castle and retrieve the instrument.

It was a decision we would all come to regret.

First Blood

On the surface, Route 6 doesn’t look like much, consisting of a straight path with some tall grassy areas on each side that aren’t immediately accessible. Getting to the opulent castle at the end of the road wasn’t a problem, but my OCD demanded that I clear the entire route of Trainers and secrets before moving on, so once I reached the end of the road, I turned around and started to explore the leftmost grassy area.

Immediately I was confronted by a pair of Trainers offering a Double Battle against a pair of Lv. 14 Furfrou. They didn’t look like much, but neither Reese nor Suzy could do much damage to them, and their STAB Headbutts packed a serious punch. They lulled me into a false sense of security by splitting their attacks between my monsters, but about three turns in, they suddenly focused their fire on Suzy, dropping her from over half health to…wait, zero?!

Things happened too fast in real time to get a picture, but this was the end result.

To say I was salty about this would be an understatement. You mean to tell me that after waiting a whole year for Bulbasaur redemption, Suzy’s second act was already over?! And I lost her instead of Reese, who’d I been complaining about since I caught her?

I immediately switched to Patty and Birdo and slaughtered the vile dogs that had brought down my Ivysaur, but the damage was done. The “almost dream team” was already history, and at the hand of a random Double Battle instead of a fight that actually mattered. I took a deep breath, hoped that Reese’s near-death experience would propel her to an Earl-like run of success, and dragged Hamilton out of his PC box to fill the open slot. (To add insult to injury, Thumper ended up one-shotting the Sentret that popped up right after the Furfrou battle, costing me a shot at adding another team member on this route.)

Oliver hadn’t been this angry since he’d gotten kicked around in a Splatoon 2 Rainmaker rotation a few months ago, and he treated the rest of Route 6 the way he treated the Splat Zones maps that had immediately followed: He showed no mercy to anyone, and rage-rolled his way through the objective and into the ornate castle that housed the flute.

1,000?! Just for that, I hope Bernie Sanders wins the next election and taxes the living heck out of your employer’s sorry butt.

Fox Dog On The Run

I was expecting some serious action once Ollie got inside the castle, but instead he and Shauna were confronted with a frantic one-percenter who was looking for his Furfrou. Being the conniving-but-helpful people that they were, the pair agreed to search the premises for the missing pooch, including the ginormous garden out behind the house. The castle felt empty even with the many tourists walking around (money can’t buy you love, after all), and after turning up nothing but an Amulet Coin in the house, Shauna and Ollie headed for the garden and tag-teamed to capture the wayward Furfrou.

Ollie really wanted to drop a Booyah Bomb on the Furfrou’s head in retaliation for Suzy’s death, but Shauna managed to stall him until the castle owner showed up.

Finding the dog brought a reward of a superfluous fireworks show and a temporary borrowing of the Poké Flute to move the Snorlax out of Route 7. I immediately returned to the scene of the snooze, let the Camphrier castle proprietor play his song, temporarily suspended the Nuzlocke rules so I could catch the Snorlax (officially it was blocked by my FireRed run, but you never pass up a chance to catch a Snorlax, so I stuck it next to Suzy and declared it ineligible for the rest of the run), and then snuck into the grass beyond the Snorlax for my actual catch for the route…

What in the name of Bluefin Depot is that thing?

I recalled seeing Slurpuffs occasionally in G6 and G7 games, but I had no idea the darn thing had a pre-evolution as well. I ended up catching “Gertrude” (I didn’t have any justification for the name; I just thought it suited her), and while her Fairy typing and moveset was intriguing, the fact that she required a trade to evolve (and I had only 1 3DS) limited her long-term usefulness, so I left Hamilton in the #6 slot for now and made a mental note to visit my brother in a few weeks to see if I could swing a deal to borrow his system. (I now have an Ivysaur I can let go cheap, I guess…)

Conclusions

While the run ended on a low note, if I’m calm and rational about the whole ordeal, Nala’s presence alone means that my team is better than it was before. (The Amaura that’s coming later will likely fill Suzy’s slot, although I’d rather it fill Reese’s…) I’m a little concerned about the type balance right now, however, as Water-types will wreck Birdo, Nala, Thumper, and the fossil-to-be-named-later, while also resisting Patty’s primary attacks. Thankfully, Grass types are a dime a dozen in Pokémon games (I’ve already seen both Skiddos and Oddishes), and the cave ahead is known for its Zubats (Bram II, anyone?), so there’s plenty of time to sort things out before Ollie’s second Gym challenge.

Tune in next week for caves, Gyms, and more unexpected antics from the “Bulbasaur-minus-Bulbasaur Revenge Nuzlocke Run!”

Pokémon X Nuzlocke Episode #1: The Argument Against Recycling

 

Conventional wisdom dictates that “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” However, it offers no guidance as to what you should when you do succeed.

Last summer, I embarked on a Nuzlocke run in Pokémon FireRed that ended with Ophilia, The Sacred Flame, and Luna “The Hammer” Hypno triumphing over the Elite 4 of Kanto and our insufferable rival Cyrus. The run served as redemption for my failed Ultra Sun Nuzlocke, and put to rest whatever minor demons a simple 3DS game could summon. Despite the satisfying result, I was left with one lingering question: Now what?

With Pokémon Let’s Go! Eevee being less than impressive, Pokémon Sword and Shield being at least several months away, and the blog being taken over by country music, I decided that the time was right to revisit the world of Pokémon and make another run at Nuzlocke glory. Although I was sick of the Kanto region after eight separate trips through it, there were plenty of other cool regions to explore, so why not take one last detour through Pokémon’s past before booking my ticket to Galar?

(For those who are unfamiliar with Pokémon Nuzlocke challenges, Adventure Rules provides a nice summary of the challenge and its numerous variations here.)

My opponent this time will be Pokémon X, an introduction to the sixth generation of Pokémon and the series’s first (and thus far only) visit to the Kalos region. Challenging this game made sense for two reasons:

  • While I’ve pretty much memorized Kanto after so many trips through it, my past experience with Kalos is limited to a single trip through Pokémon Y five years ago, and frankly, I don’t remember a whole lot about the place or its inhabitants. Playing through X should offer a lot more surprises compared to FireRed, along with the opportunity to mess around with lots of different Pokémon (especially the G5 and G6 monster I barely encountered and/or mostly forgot).
  • One of the major lessons I’ve learned with Nuzlocke challenges is that if you don’t have your type matchups down pat, you’re asking for trouble. In FireRed, this was not a problem: I sunk over a thousand hours into Pokémon Pearl alone, so the original G1 types and the G2 additions of Dark and Steel are not a problem. G6, however, introduced the Fairy type to the game, and retrofit a number of older monsters with this type (wait, what do you mean Jigglypuff isn’t just a Normal-type anymore?). My knowledge of Fairy-type Pokémon is considerably weaker than other types, and that came back to bite me several times in my Ultra Sun playthrough. Of course, upping the challenge level of Pokémon is kind of the point of a Nuzlocke run, so this will add an extra degree of difficulty and force me to become more familiar with Fairy Pokémon.

The rules for this game will be the same as before:

  • Permadeath: If a Pokémon faints, it must either be released or permanently boxed, and can no longer be used in battles.
  • One-and-done, Part I: The only Pokémon you can catch in any specific area is the first one you meet.
  • One-and-done, Part II: Item use is capped at a single item per battle.
  • Double Jeopardy: Pokémon used as part of a winning team in any previously-played Pokémon game are ineligible for capture and use. With both my FireRed and Let’s Go! Eevee teams added to my already-extensive block list, this means I am restricted from capturing/using a whopping 225 monsters spanning 103 evolutionary strains. Still, those numbers are heavily concentrated in the earlier generations, so that shouldn’t be that much of a problem in G6…right? (Spoiler alert: It was.)

But that’s enough pregame pageantry for one post. Fold up the flag and get the cheerleaders off of the field—it’s game time!

Pokémon X: Octo Expansion

The first big decision, of course, is naming (and kinda-sorta designing) your avatar for the journey. I based my FireRed protagonist off of a character from a game I had been playing a lot at the time (Octopath Traveler), but I’ve been playing Splatoon 2 almost exclusively for the last few months, so that trick won’t work again…or will it? This is Pokémon X after all, and I just earned my first X rank in Splatoon 2, so…perhaps my canon Octoling character is looking for a new challenge?

…Okay, we really need more character customization options in Pokémon.

I’ve never actually given “OctoKyle” a proper name, but my personal headcanon is that Octoling society is fairly conservative and that Octo families prefer names that start with ‘O’. After a quick scan of several baby name websites (which means I’ll be seeing ads for formula and strollers in Firefox for the next twelve months), I christened my character “Oliver” and made my way to Vaniville Town.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Pokémon X came out less than a year after the Wii U, and we were all still holding out hope that the console would succeed.

Nothing To Do Town

Apparently Vaniville Town was the inspiration for Dylan Scott’s latest single,  because without even a major research facility to explore, this place is more dead than Pallet Town! The game opens by leading you by the nose through the opening steps: Get dressed, talk to mom, go outside…but wait, where’s the cool starter Pokémon I was promised?

While Oliver was important enough to entrust with the job of completing a Pokédex, he apparently wasn’t important enough for Professor Sycamore to deliver the news and equipment himself. (Then again, if he was stuck with the same teaching load that I had this spring, I don’t blame him—those assignments aren’t going to grade themselves!) Instead, we are greeted by Serena and Shauna, our “rivals” and the first members of our eventual posse. The pair directed Ollie to a real town (Aquacorde) via a not-real route (Route 1 has no monsters at all? Seriously?), where he would be further briefed on his mission and allowed to choose a starter Pokémon. With few other options, Oliver eventually made his way north to “Aqua-Vegas” to see what the fuss was all about.

Ocean’s Oliver’s Five

This is our crew? How are we supposed to knock over a casino with these jokers?

Once in Aquacorde Town, we were formally introduced to the two other members of Ollie’s entourage:

  • Tierno, an impulsive ball of energy more who’s more interested in dancing than battling.
  • Trevor, a reticent, diminutive scientist-wannabe who keeps his statements brief and to the point.

I didn’t pay them much attention, as a) I don’t recall them having a huge role in the story in Y, and b) I’m more focused on the big decision here: Which starter Pokémon should I choose?

Unlike in FireRed, I actually have a choice this time around: Only Fennekin is blocked by my Y playthrough, so both Froakie and Chespin are possible options. However, my choice was actually made in Saffron City last year:

This hurt. A lot.

Suzy was a pillar of my FireRed team until her untimely demise at Silph Co., and I would have killed for a second chance with a Bulbasaur…and if there’s one thing I remember about Pokémon Y, it’s that I got a chance to select a Kanto starter for my team sometime in the first half of the journey. I was getting another Bulbasaur (Squirtle and Charmander were still off-limits anyway), and it was getting a slot on my top line, making a Grass-type like Chespin redundant. In other words…

I don’t care if Oliver is water-soluable. Gimme the goldarned frog.

Next came the question of the Pokémon’s sex: Every starter I’d gotten before Pokémon Moon had been male, but every starter I’d gotten since had been female, with Eva the Eevee extending my streak to four in a row. Would Froakie make it five?

The streak lives on!

As for the name, I decided to stick with the same convention as FireRed and name Froakie after one of my favorite female country singers. (My apologies to Patty Loveless.)

With no other business, the meeting adjourned and Oliver headed back home to bid his mother farewell…until Shauna stopped him and demanded the customary “I just got a Pokémon, I need to have someone bash its brains in” opening battle.

I’ve beaten 20 different mainline Pokémon games. You’re basically challenging Steph Curry to a game of H-O-R-S-E.

Unfortunately for Shauna, she was cast in the Dawn/Bianca/Hau “inferior” rival role, putting her Fennekin at a type disadvantage against my Froakie…and unlike Suzy, Patty knew an elemental move (Bubble) from the start. You can probably guess the rest.

I suggest equipping some Main Power Up gear for the next time around.

R U SRS?!

After a quick trip back home to talk to Mom and a quicker trip to the store for some Poké Balls, I stepped onto Route 2 ready for some action. There were some cool G6 Pokémon just waiting to be caught, and Ollie was just the Octoling to catch them!

However, there was a flip side to playing a G6 game: Sure, there were G6 monsters to catch, but there were also five generations worth of monsters that could be recycled and repurposed (hence the title of this post), and my enthusiasm was quickly tempered the long parade of Pidgeys and Zigzagoons that kept crossing my path. (I saw a lot of Scatterbugs too, but those were blocked by my Vivillon from Y.) Thankfully, I had already used these monsters in past games (heck, Pidgeot has made my top six on three separate occasions), so eventually I had to see a cool G6 monster, right?

Ugh, a Weedle? …Wait, this is from my last Nuzlocke run, let me upload the right picture.
It’s still here. WHY IS IT STILL HERE.

Really?! Seven-hundred-plus monsters to choose from, and the RNG gods stick me with this POS?

Those who remember my last Nuzlocke might also remember Reed the Beedrill (I obviously didn’t, because I thought I called it “Reese” and decided the name was gender-neutral enough to reuse) and how much I griped about it how weak it was, how long it took to make it gain a level, etc. I shed few tears when Reed met his end in Cerulean City, but some bigwig in the universe decided the whole thing was funny enough to order a sequel, and Ophilia’s curse was now Oliver’s as well. Just luckin’ fovely.

(Oh, and when a Fletchling appeared in the very next battle…let’s just say it’s a good thing that neither Splatoon 2 nor Pokémon X has voice chat.)

You can STILL go jump in a lake.

Unfortunately, “one-and-done” means “one-and-done,” and just like in FireRed, I really didn’t have any option but to keep the stupid thing on the top line, and…ugh. Beedrills may have gotten a slight buff since G3 (+10 base attack, access to Poison Jab and some decent TMs) and Poison as a type got an indirect buff by being strong against Fairy-types, but Weedle and Kakuna were as weak and slow to level up as ever, and I grumbled about Reese all the way to Santalune Forest.

Easy Mode Activated

A common complain about later Pokémon generations is that they do a lot more hand-holding than early games and reduce the challenge even further, and nowhere is that more apparent that the player’s first trip through Santalune Forest. Shauna meets you at the entrance and ends up traveling with you throughout the area, offering to heal your Pokémon on demand and pretty much eliminating any chance of your monsters actually dying here. Patty didn’t really need the help, but it was a godsend for Reese, who could only go one or two battles without needing to be restored. It also saved me a lot of time running back to the Aquacorde Pokémon Center, so what the heck, I’m in favor of increased efficiency.

While there were a ton of off-limits recycled monsters here as well (Pikachus, Caterpies, Weedles, Pansears, and Panpours), the universe decided to do me a solid after getting a laugh out of my Weedle reaction, and tossed me the Fletchling I missed before.

I guess delayed gratification is better than none at all.

Unlike Reese, “Birdo” (yeah, I know, very original) came out firing from the start, wailing on Bug- and Grass-type monsters even before it learned a Flying-type move and gaining levels much faster than Reese could ever dream of. With a pocket Mercy Shauna keeping everyone their feet, Ollie quickly bumped up his entire trio to Lv. 10 (giving him both Peck and a Beedrill in case Serena and Chespin decided to step to his team) and sped through the forest with great haste.

Hey, I got a copy of Robert’s blog!

Route 3…well, it was pretty much the same story: Lots of recycled monsters  I couldn’t catch (Pidgeys, Fletchlings, and now Bidoofs), and few threats to the well-being of my team. I did, however, find another useful addition to Ollie’s growing squad:

That’s not a Buneary…

I was hoping to find a Ground-type that would counter the Pikachus that made Patty and Birdo nervous, but while “Thumper” ended up being a Normal-type, he was still a solid upgrade over Reese, even if it took a while for him to gain enough strength to actually thump the competition. (He also struggled on defense quite a bit, despite it being one of his higher stats.) After a little grinding and a lot of complaining about Burmy and its Protect-only moveset, I soon had four that were Lv. 10 or higher and ready to take on the game’s first big challenge.

From N-Zap to Bug-Zap

By the time Ollie reached Santalune City, I was getting a little restless over the seemingly-slow pace of the game. The town didn’t really offer much more than its predecessors: I healed my team, picked up a new hat and a set of roller skates, and…that’s about it. After a quick scouting of Route 22 (I decided to save the next Pokémon reveal for episode #2 and avoided the tall grass entirely) and a harrowing moment or two (that Lv. 9 Riolu scared me for a moment, but Patty avoided it Counters by bubbling it to death), I stepped into the Santalune Gym and demanded an audience with Viola, the gym’s leader.

While Nuzlocke runs are meant to inject added suspense and excitement into a generally-relaxed game, most of the time it just incentivizes people to play Pokémon like they’re Mitch McConnell (i.e., as conservatively as possible). I took no chances in Viola’s gym: While I let Thumper handle most of her underlings, I switched in Birdo the moment things even remotely looked dicey (that Lv. 10 Spewpa was a real pain), and even burned a few Potions when I couldn’t find a way to exit the Gym and heal before facing Viola (a wise move in hindsight). With the team at full strength, I stepped up and called out Viola for my first Badge.

Despite Viola having near-parity with the level of Ollie’s monsters, the outcome of the battle was never really in doubt. Reese quickly ground Surskit into dust, and Birdo shook off several Infestations to knock Vivillon out of the air. Ollie went through the entire Gym without even cracking Patty’s Poké Ball open, and earned a shiny Bug Badge to distract attention away from his terrible Clam Blitz rank.

Conclusions

Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot to see her: I caught a few monsters, whined about all the reused Pokémon, and never faced a significant challenge, even in the first Gym. While I’m still salty about Reese and don’t foresee them holding a spot in my top six long-term, I’ve been pretty happy with everyone else’s performance (Patty and Birdo are definitely keepers, and Thumper held his own after a while). Although I hope my future captures swing towards the newer Pokémon generations as the game goes along (I know a Zubat is coming, but at least Bram was useful in FireRed, and they won’t be restricted from becoming a Crobat this time), the law of averages says that I should end up with at least some interesting new monsters to mess around with, and at this point, that’s all I can ask for.

Tune in next week for…well, I actually have no idea what’s coming next week! Professor Sycamore will likely appear and Serena will probably want to battle, but I’m going to try to avoid spoilers beyond what I can remember from Pokémon Y, and enjoy the surprises along with the challenges.

(…but seriously, no more Weedles, okay?)

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from Nintendo Everything

Time changes everything, but it hasn’t softened my opinion of this game.

I was a little wary of Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn in my initial sessions with the game, but I held out hope that things might grow on me over time. Instead, the opposite happened, and I got more and more frustrated with the game’s flaws and “features” as I kept going. While Extra Epic Yarn is technically a spin-off title rather than a mainline game like Triple Deluxe or Planet Robobot, the 3DS games are the most convenient comparison here, and this game just doesn’t measure to its predec…er, its successors.

Let’s start with the control scheme, which seemed to introduce more and more quirks to irritate me as the game went on. Forget about the lack of common Kirby mechanics like flying and copying for a second; I’d just settle for tighter controls and a better physics engine. Trying to use the Control Stick to control Kirby is a royal pain in the neck, as the same motion might make him walk normally one time and start dashing/driving the next, which made controlling the puffball’s momentum nearly impossible. In addition, the amount of bounceback Kirby got from hitting the wall (unlike, say, 2D Mario games, where the protagonist sticks to the wall) made it unnecessarily hard to fall through small gaps and kept ricocheting me back into enemies. I’d like to say the transformations were an improvement, but many were not: The UFO was painfully slow to maneuver, the giant robot and surfing character were equal parts slow and “meh,” and trying to use the fire engine was an absolute nightmare (a slight tap of L or R would send the hose flying in one direction or another, making aiming the darn thing as fun as pulling your own teeth). The game felt better when it was faster (race car transformation, DeDeDe GoGoGo), but in general this title is a master class in how not to make a platformer control.

The repetition of the levels started to take a toll after a while as well, which is a big problem because repetition is a huge part of the “extra” in Extra Epic Yarn. You play through a level on Normal mode to get the gold medal, you play through it again on Devilish mode to get all the star pieces, and then you might play through it again in a hide-and-seek or gem-finding minigame…I’m torn between my OCD need for collectibles and my utter boredom of getting dragged through the same darn level so many times. The same issue crops up in DeDeDe GoGoGo and Meta Knight’s Slash And Bead: If you want those coveted S medals, you’ll be playing those stages over and over and over until you pull off a flawless run (and then you discover that’s there only four stages in each mode). That not to say that the modes aren’t fun and the stages aren’t well-designed; rather, they aren’t much fun after the third or fifth or twentieth time through them, and the charm of the stages wears off a lot quicker than you might think.

But what about the story? In truth, Prince Fluff’s tale of woe and Yin-Yarn’s plot for Dream Land chaos just didn’t draw me in, which means I didn’t have a ton of motivation to keep fighting the controls and replaying the levels. The characters felt a bit flat (literally and figuratively), with Prince Fluff serving as an overqualified cheerleader, the shopkeepers and building owners lacked a ton of personality, and the mini Devils providing little more than an annoyance. Kirby’s stories tend to be pretty boilerplate until they peak with an epic ending, but with so much “meh” between here and the fun stuff, I just didn’t find the time investment to be worth the potential payoff. After all, I’ve got Splatoon gear to grind and Mario Kart races to win, darn it!

All of the above comes down to this: Do not buy Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, regardless of whether or not you missed the original Wii game. If you’re hankering for a 3DS Kirby fix, pick up Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot instead, as they’re much more fun and interesting to play. This game is disappointing enough that I’m starting to wonder if this was Nintendo’s plan all along, dropping a last-gasp mediocre title to signal that yes, the 3DS’s time has officially past. After eights years of loyal service to the Big N, however, the 3DS deserved a better sendoff than this.

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn: Early Impressions

Image from Nintendo of Europe

When is a Kirby game not a Kirby game anymore? Because this title really stretches what such a game can be.

I’m generally against double-dipping for a game you already own (see: my reviews for Super Mario Maker for the 3DSMario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions, etc.), but I missed out on Kirby’s Epic Yarn during the Nintendo Wii era, so I was genuinely curious how the game that appears to be the 3DS’s last stand measured up to its competition. I’ve always been a sucker for mainline games like Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot, so this would likely be a similar experience, right?

Well…maybe.

There are certainly elements of past Kirby games here, and this entry still showcases the same cutesy charm as its predecessors. At its core, however, there are some fundamental differences (and most seem to be for the worse) that make you question whether you’re really playing a Kirby title. After a couple of hours with the game, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will turn out okay, but some changes will take some time to get used to.

My specific thoughts on the game so far are as follows:

  • The biggest difference between Extra Epic Yarn and most mainline Kirby titles is the control scheme. At its core, Kirby distinguishes himself from other platformer protagonists through two things: His infinite flying ability, and his ability to steal powers from his enemies. Here, neither ability is included: Kirby can only float slowly downwards as a parachute, and he is limited to lassoing enemies and throwing them at other baddies Yoshi-style (he has to obtain special headgear to swing swords, throw bombs, etc.). Its the lack of flying that really throws veteran players for a loop: I don’t know how many pits I fell into because I didn’t realize I couldn’t fly out of them! Additionally, using the Control Stick makes Kirby turn into a car for fast ground movement, but the controls felt incredibly twitchy and hard to control (you could use the D-Pad to slowly walk along as usual, but then it takes you forever to finish the stage), and the amount of rebound you have when you hit a wall makes aiming and falling through smaller holes in the level way more frustrating than it should be. The result is that I just don’t have the tight, responsive controls I’ve come to expect from Kirby, and makes accidentally running into enemies far more common than it should be.
  • Besides the Control Stick issue above, Extra Epic Yarn makes a fairly smooth transition to the small screen of the 3DS. Unlike with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, I never felt constrained by the smaller form factor, and while the aesthetics don’t pop like they might on the Wii, the stages remain as bright and colorful as ever (and honestly, even when things pop like they do in Yoshi’s Crafted World, the novelty wears off quickly). In terms of enemy and stage design, this felt exactly like the Kirby games of yore, and after so much success with Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot, the 3DS just feels like a natural fit for the pink puffball.
  • Speaking of aesthetics: I now know why Kirby and Yoshi had to be released in different years, because they borrow a lot of elements from each other and can sometimes feel like the same darn game. Some of the sound effects here were straight-up copied by Yoshi’s Woolly World, and with their similar control schemes and loads of collectibles, this game actually feels like a better fit for Yoshi than Kirby.
  • There’s quite a bit to do here besides the main game (hide-and-seek minigames, room design/decoration that needs to be in Splatoon 3), but there are also a lot of post-Epic Yarn additions as well: A harder Devilish mode, a speedrunning DeDeDe mode, and a hack-and-slash Meta Knight Mode have all been included in the Extra portion of the game. (Some new transformations have been added as well.) Unlike the junk modes included with M + L: Superstar Saga and the excluded modes from games like Super Mario Maker for the Nintendo 3DS, this game actually feels like it’s got enough “extra” content to justify the title change. I didn’t find Devilish mode to be too compelling beyond the original Normal mode, however, so the amount of mileage you get out of all of this may vary.

I haven’t seen enough of the game to feel comfortable making a decision of whether it’s worth buying or not, but this one has more potential than some of the other 3DS ports I’ve seen. It’s about as un-Kirby a game as you could imagine (I’m hoping the controls grow on me rather than continually frustrate me), but there’s enough Kirby here to make me want to see how the whole thing turns out. For a 3DS swan song, I suppose you could do worse.

Is It Finally Time To Mothball The Nintendo 3DS?

There’s nothing new about this console anymore.

While it may not have the gaudy lifetime sales numbers of the Wii or DS, the Nintendo 3DS has carved out a nice little niche for itself in the annals of video game lore. Spanning the Wii, Wii U, and Switch eras, the plucky handheld overcame a rough debut to achieve the sort of longevity that most hardware only dreams of, amassing library of top-notch titles from Super Mario 3D Land to Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon, with many more greats in between.

All good things come to an end, however, and the recent software sales numbers coming out of Japan indicate that the end is nigh. Neither the recent Luigi’s Mansion remake nor the port of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story made much of a splash, leading the editors at Nintendo Life to declare that the time has come for Nintendo to set its aging handheld aside and go all-in on the Nintendo Switch. While I seem to be one of the few boosters of the 3DS left on the Internet, even I’m starting to wonder if the console’s clock has finally run out.

And yet…I’m not ready to go there yet.

When I discussed the 3DS’s future back in 2017, the main point I made was that the 3DS served as the perfect “gateway drug” into the Nintendo universe. The New Nintendo 2DS XL was half the price of the Switch, the hardware was hardened against the uncareful hands of small children, and the game library featured both quantity and quality, complete with solid entries from Nintendo’s biggest franchises from Mario and Zelda to Metroid and Pokémon. While the Switch was marketed as a ‘mature’ console for millenials that had grown up with Nintendo, the 3DS catered more to the company’s younger demographic, ensuring that Gen Z would have the same warm fuzzy feeling about Nintendo that their parents did.

Fast forward to 2019, and I still feel like these arguments hold a lot of water. While the economy itself seems to have improved, a general sense of economic anxiety still hovers over America like smog (especially now that some recession warning lights are starting to blink), making the price point argument from before feel even more poignant. (The resilience issue is no small matter either; who wants to shell out cash for a console that their kid will just break in two weeks?) Likewise, increased competition from smartphone games means that kids these days have lots of options, and if Nintendo doesn’t give them a cheap, easy way to experience their IPs, the company risks falling into the same trap as baseball and NASCAR, clinging to a shrinking, aging demographic while the next generation moves on to newer and more-exciting pursuits. The 3DS remains a great way to get Nintendo in front of peoples’ eyes in the wake of shrinking budgets and proliferating entertainment choices, and even if the sales numbers aren’t stellar, I would argue that the Switch’s success gives Nintendo enough leeway to keep lifeline to their future consumers open.

Okay Kyle, we get it: You’re a total 3DS homer. So what would it take for you to give up on the 3DS?

Well Mr. Anonymous Voice, apparently you weren’t listening! I just said that the “3DS served as the perfect ‘gateway drug’ into the Nintendo universe” and that it served as “a cheap, easy way to experience [Nintendo’s] IPs.” If the Big N found another way to do this, then I’d be perfectly okay with writing the 3DS’s eulogy. So how could Nintendo do it?

  • Release a 3DS-like version of the Switch. This quote from Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter (as reported by Nintendo Life) says it all:

    Nintendo will launch a fully handheld version of the Switch at $199.“I expect the device to have the same screen, but with Joy Cons built into the body and no docking station. Since it can’t “switch” from handheld to console, it’s hard to guess what they will call it, but let’s assume Game Boy (kidding).”

    $199 still feels a bit high, but it’s not too far off of the $169 number Nintendo initially had to drop the 3DS too to boost early sales. In any case, it’s a sizable drop from the Switch’s current $300 price tag. If such a Switch is built sturdily enough, it could fill the 3DS’s current role as a cheaper, more resilient way to play.

  • Expand on the company’s current mobile offerings. Right now, Nintendo’s smartphone lineup consists of PokémonMarioFire EmblemAnimal Crossing, and a new RPG called Dragalia Lost. That’s not bad, but even if we include the announced mobile version of Mario Kart, there’s still a lot of room for expansion here (Zelda, KirbyMetroid, etc.). If Nintendo were to ramp up their game releases for iOS and Android and keep prices at a reasonable level, smartphones are ubiquitous enough that they could serve as a kinda-sorta stand-in for the 3DS.

As of right now, however, I still believe the 3DS has a place in Nintendo’s  business plan, as it provides a way for the youngest among us to be entranced by Nintendo’s magic. The Game Boy and DS hold a special place in many gamers’ hearts today, and until Nintendo can find something else to fill this role, they’re better off keeping the 3DS around to do the job.

Which Games Should Nintendo Remake Port Next?

Image From Nintendo Life

You know you’re running out of ideas when you think “Hey, I should write about this!” and discover that you thought the exact same thing at the exact same time last year.

Since my predictive foray into all of Nintendo’s classic series last year, the company has shown that porting old games to new systems is a major part of their release strategy going forward. While this is especially true for the 3DS (few developers are interested in targeting the other Nintendo handheld for new games while the new, shiny Switch is sitting out there), even the remake trend for the Switch has lasted far longer than I expected (who ever imagined that New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe was coming?). With the idea of a Virtual Console seemingly dead, Nintendo is banking on full-fledged releases of specific games to fill that void.

So which games would give Nintendo’s 2019 lineup the biggest boost? Here are my ideas:

Image From Polygon

Pokémon Diamond/Pearl

  • Last seen: Nintendo DS, 2007
  • Should come back on: Nintendo 3DS

People have been clamoring for a Diamond/Pearl remake for years now, so the fact that it’s on my list is no surprise. Putting it on the 3DS, however, might seem like an odd decision: Why would we subject people to a cramped, creaky old handheld system when we could experience Sinnoh in glorious HD on the Switch?

Here’s the thing: Between Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee! and the upcoming G8 Pokémon title, the Switch is about to hit the Pokémon saturation point, and thus we probably won’t need another game in that series on that system until at least 2020. The 3DS, however, will be just as starved for content in 2019 as it is now (and probably more so), and if Nintendo is really serious about maintaining 3DS support, a Pokémon game is probably the best way to do it.

Pokémon has always functioned well as an “entry-level” series that could be picked up by players of any skill level, and with its lower price tag and fairly durable construction, the 3DS is the perfect entry-level system for younger gamers and people who can’t afford to drop several hundred dollars on a new console. It’s been a perfect marriage of game and system in the past, and bringing Diamond and Pearl to the 3DS is a great way to both signal “yes, we’re serious about keeping this console around, so go ahead and buy it!” and let players who can’t experience Pokémon any other way enjoy the franchise.

Image from Moby Games

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

  • Last seen on: Nintendo GameCube, 2004
  • Should come back on: Nintendo Switch

This feels like another no-brainer: People have asking for a port of this game for years, we’re roughly two years out from Paper Mario: Color Splash, and the one thing that people agreed was great about Color Splash (the graphics) wil look even better on the Switch! This feels like a great title to fill a gap in the 2019 lineup, and with Mario & Luigi getting some love on the 3DS, it would be awesome to see this franchise return as well.

Image from Nintendo UK

Super Metroid

  • Last seen on: Super Nintendo, 1994
  • Should come back on: Nintendo 3DS

Metroid: Samus Returns was such a well-received remake that Nintendo would be foolish not to dip their toes in this water again. With Metroid Prime 4 eventually coming to the Switch, however, bringing another older installment of the series to the 3DS makes more sense in the short term.

Super Metroid isn’t just a great Metroid game; it’s considered one of the best games period. Give it the same treatment as Metroid II (updated visuals, dual-screen enhancements, a few more weapon and attack options, etc.), and this thing would sell like hotcakes, even on an aging platform like the 3DS. Do it sooner rather than later, and it helps build more hype for Prime 4 whenever it reaches store shelves.

Image from Easy Allies

Donkey Kong 64

  • Last seen on: Nintendo 64, 1999
  • Should come back on: Nintendo Switch

DK’s already got a 2D port on the Switch with Tropical Freeze, but that’s like saying New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe should keep Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World off the Switch. Those games are obviated by Super Mario Odyssey, but there’s no 3D equivalent blocking everyone’s favorite Kong.

The platforming action from DK64 still holds up today, and it offers a few things that even Odyssey lacks (multiple playable characters, to start). Most of the characters here aren’t exactly household names, but more-famous characters could be swapped in if necessary (Dixie for Tiny, for example). The excitement over K. Rool’s inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate indicates that there’s a market for more Donkey Kong material, and giving it the standard port treatment (improved visuals, extra levels, etc.) gives the Switch another high-quality 3D platformer just as Odyssey fades into history.

Image from Nintendo Life

Wii Music

  • Last seen on: Wii, 2008
  • Should come back on: Switch

It’s high time Nintendo made use of all that Joy-Con tech. Nintendo Labo and Super Mario Party are a start, but Wii Music would be another big step.

I really enjoyed this game back in the day, and with the return of Wii Remote-like controllers for the Switch, the time seems ripe for bringing it back for an encore. The core gameplay wouldn’t require many changes (the Joy-Cons could support all the existing instruments and might even enable the use of other ones), it’s got great local multiplayer potential, and the song list could be expanded with more classic and Nintendo-centric tunes (Splatoon tracks, anyone?). Things like the IR camera could also enable some new twists: Could how far your mouth is away from the Joy-Con change the sound of the instrument being played?

If Nintendo’s approach is really “to do things differently” (even when it makes zero sense), then bringing back some of their Wii-era gimmicks would fit the console perfectly, and Wii Music was (IMHO) one of the best tricks of that era.

My Reactions To The 9/13 Nintendo Direct

Days like this are when I wonder if I’m capable of feeling excitement anymore.

Yesterday, Nintendo dropped a long-awaited Direct to explain its plans for the rest of the year and fill in its game lineup for 2019. Going through it evoked a roller coaster of emotions, and honestly, on the whole I was not really impressed with what I saw. I’m happy to see the 3DS continue to get some love, but while some of the Switch announcements were interesting, most of them were not (and the Switch Online stuff just made me angry). All in all, I feel like 2018 is a bit of a down year for Nintendo’s flagship console, and I don’t see a lot of evidence suggesting that will change until next year.

My thoughts on individual games are as follows:

  • Luigi’s Mansion 3: Thank goodness they put this game on the Nintendo Switch. My main complaint with Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon was that it felt cramped on the 3DS and required longer play sessions that didn’t fit the ‘play anywhere anytime’ mentality of a portable console. Granted, the Switch is portable as well, but it at least gives players the options to play on larger screens and dedicate more time to each level.
  • Kirby’s Epic Extra Yarn: Kirby’s no stranger to the Nintendo 3DS, so this should fit a lot better on the system than Luigi’s Mansion. This feels like a Nintendo port done right: It’s not a Wii U game (so it’s been a while and the game is not readily available anymore), it’s a different experience from other recent games (no robots or hearts), and it’s got a fair bit of extra stuff thrown in (new abilities, Devilish Mode, minigames with other characters). I’m in favor of this.
  • Mario + Luigi Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey: This, on the other hand, feels like a port done less right. The whole “Bowser’s Minions” gameplay has never impressed me, and beyond that the game has nothing more than updated visuals to sell it. I was lukewarm on this game the first time around, and I’m not planning to revisit it.
  • Luigi’s Mansion: I’m not thrilled that this is a 3DS game after my experience with Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon, and the new co-op modes and amiibo compatibility don’t impress me much. Still, I enjoyed Dark Moon a lot more than M+L Bowser’s Inside Story, so I’m more willing to take a shot at this game.
  • Yo-Kai Watch Blasters + Moon Rabbit Squad: The Yo-Kai series is basically a 3DS stalwart at this point, and while I’ve never tried it out myself (I tend to stick with Pokémon), it looks like a interesting combination of role-playing and strategy. The Moon Rabbit update sounds sort of like a Pokémon Yellow-type game that expands the original story, but it’s hard to get a sense of how much it adds just from the trailer. Still, as a free update it’s worth taking a peek at if you decide to buy the original.
  • Splatoon 2 Version 4: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the trailer here. It was vague, it didn’t make good use of its time, and it forced people to go to the official Tumblr page to actually learn what was in the update (and even then, it doesn’t have all the details: What about the new map they showed off?) Most of the changes concern Splatfest tweaks and special 10x and 100x battles, none of which excite me all that much. I’ll take any sort of new gear that I can get, but otherwise I thought this was kind of a dud.
  • Mega Man 11: I’ve never actually played a Mega Man game, but this looks like a nice marraige of classic gameplay with some new twists (sort of like Sonic Mania, although I hope it’s a lot better than that game). I probably won’t bite on it, but I know plenty of Mega Man fans who will.
  • Mario Tennis Aces Version 2: Honestly, I’d mostly forgotten about this game, and as neat as some of the new characters look, I’m still not interested in it. (Co-op mode didn’t look all that exciting either). This title’s shaping up to be the ARMS of 2018.
  • Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle: This is targeted towards a small niche, but the people in said niche get a lot for their money: Seven classic beat-’em-up games (including two never before seen on home consoles), with both four-player and online functionality (let’s hope you don’t have to pay for the online stuff, though). With all these retro games, the Switch is well on its way to being “the one console to rule them all.”
  • New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe: Really Nintendo? You decided to port this game to the Switch? This feels like something that should have been used to bolster the 3DS lineup instead. Adding Nabbit and Toadette/Peachette (?) is not nearly enough to interest me in re-playing this one.
  • Katamari Damacy Reroll: Umm…I have no idea what to say about this one. I’m sure fans of the series will enjoy it, but just rolling things around doesn’t sound that interesting to me.
  • Nintendo Switch Online Service: *sigh* I’ve ranted quite a bit about how arbitrary and unnecessary this service is, but I’ve been holding my tongue recently because I’ve been waiting for more information about exactly what’s included. Well, we finally got a definitive answer (as well as a 9/18 launch date), and I can say with full confidence that the Switch’s online service is one of the most boneheaded, irritating decisions Nintendo could have ever made.Yes, I’m aware that other consoles charge a lot more for similar service, but given that the Switch has enjoyed free online service for 18 months now, it just feels like Nintendo is charging for the privilege just because they can, which is really infuriating to me. I’m unmoved by the NES online functionality and game selection, cloud saving doesn’t work for the game I really care about (and it’s not like Nintendo’s done a great job of preventing cheating up to now anyway), Nintendo’s online app is basically an inferior version of Skype or Discord (and even game-specific stuff like SplatNet hasn’t impressed me much), and who knows how special the special offers will really be?

    Will I buy it? Well, my Switch is basically a brick without it, so yes, I will kowtow to Nintendo’s demands. They’ll make a lot of money, sure, but the cost to their reputation makes this a net loss in my book.

  • Switch NES Controllers: I’m sure these are a bit more comfortable to use than the regular Joy-Cons, but $60 is flat-out highway robbery. If I have to pay for online service, I am not paying for this junk.
  • Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee!: So HMs and Ride Pokémon are replaced by Secret Techniques, and you can customize your partner Pokémon’s hairstyle? That’s…nice, I guess. I’m still not completely sold on this game, but at least the Switch bundle will satisfy consumers who were waiting for a Pokémon title before jumping on the Switch train.
  • Diablo III Eternal Collection: It’s another big third-party get for the Big N, but five years after its release on other consoles, I’m not sure there are a lot of people who will care enough to buy this. It looks good enough on the console, and you can dress up as Ganandorf if you want, but much like with Skyrim, it’s more interesting as a symbol of Nintendo’s third-party support than as a game.
  • Super Mario Party: I was intrigued by SMP‘s early reveals, and this trailer did nothing to dampen that enthusiasm. After some of the recent Mario Party disasters, this one looks like a whole bunch a classic (and occasionally rage-inducing) fun. This might be the late-2018 game I’m most interested in.
  • Town: Terrible working title aside, this looks like a game with some potential. I’m a sucker for most any sort of RPGs, but I need to see a bit more of the battle system and how the town can possibly contain an entire story within it before I can say much more about the game. Still, Game Freak’s got my attention for the moment, and that’s about all you can ask from an early reveal trailer.
  • Cities Skylines: So it’s basically a scaled-up SimCity? I’m sure there some audience for this game, but I’m not part of it.
  • Daemon X Machina: Wasn’t this the crazy robot game that kicked off the last Direct? Augmenting both your human and your robot is an unexpected twist, but honestly, without the flashy explosions and heart-pounding music of the past trailer, this game doesn’t have a lot of energy behind it. I’m probably going to pass on this one.
  • Yoshi’s Crafted World: Hey, the game’s coming after all! It’s bit over a year since we last saw this game in action, and the work put in since that time is really noticeable. The game does a lot more to play with your perspective now, flipping stages every which way to continue challenging the player. The visuals are nice, the usual collectables are everywhere, and the same lighthearted platforming from Yoshi’s Woolly World is still present.This game may be worth the wait after all!
  • Asmodee Tabletop Collection: I’m not much of a tabletop gamer anymore, but this three-pack (with more to come!) looks like a reasonable and fun way to experience these games. Robert Ian Shepard of Adventure Rules is the most active tabletop player I know, so I’m curious to hear his perspective on these titles.
  • Civilization VI: Oh man, I haven’t played Civilization in a really long time, but but I always enjoyed the earlier versions of it, so I’m sorely tempted to try this out in November. It looks like classic Civ, but I’ll need a little more information before I truly take the plunge.
  • Starlink Battle For Atlas: I really don’t know what this game is all about, but from the trailer it seems like a straightforward run-of-the-mill Star Fox game, complete with all the characters you know and love/hate. (I’m still the Wolf portion excited some people, but it was just kind of “meh” for me.) The Wikipedia page mentioned forming alliances and building a crew to defeat “the Forgotten Legion,” so I’d like to see more of the non-Star Fix gameplay before jumping to conclusions.
  • The World Ends With You: We’ve already gotten most of the information about this game, but hearing that there would also be some new content was was heartening, if not terribly exciting. I’m sure TWEWY fans are hyped for that, but I’m not really moved.
  • Xenoblades Chronicles 2 Torna ~ The Golden Country: So this is a prequel to XC2? Again, it looks like more of the same stuff I saw from the main game, so while fans will enjoy it, I’ll probably pass.
  • Rapid-Fire Montage of Games: Some of the games that got shoehorned into this piece surprised me (this is all the FIFA or NBA2K got?). I know time was starting to become an issue here, but the sports gamer in me would have liked to see more of some of these titles.
  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition: I remember playing this on the Gamecube years ago and not really being impressed by it. The remastered version looks good and adds some new stuff, but I’m not terribly interested in revisiting this story.
  • Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition HD: Um…what exactly is this supposed to be? The graphics from the original are so downgraded that it looks like an entirely different game, to the point where they aren’t even appealing. I know we’ll never get the full version of other consoles, but can’t it at least be a small upgrade over the smartphone edition?
  • World of Final Fantasy Maxima: The “Avatar Change” functionality made me wonder if this was a glorified Final Fantasy Heroes, but there actually seems to be a full story behind it. I like the art style a bit better than XV Pocket, but I’m not intrigued enough to dig into the game further.
  • Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Everybuddy!: This looks like a ripoff of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, so if you’re into that sort of thing that’s fine, but I won’t remember this thing exists by the time the Direct is over.
  • More Final Fantasy: Okay, I’m tired of breaking these out into separate sections. Even Final Fantasy VII doesn’t move me anymore. Could we move on please?
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Bundle: To be honest, I like the look of the Pikachu/Eevee bundle better. If this thing doesn’t come with a Gamecube-style controller, I don’t see why anyone would buy it.
  • Isabelle in Smash: This one was spoiled for me before I saw it, but even if it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have been terribly excited. In fact, my reaction would have been “Man, I’d rather have Animal Crossing on the Switch.”
  • Animal Crossing on Switch: Oh hey, it’s finally coming! It’s nothing more than a logo and a release year right now (and I still wouldn’t be surprised if it was just a Pocket Camp expansion), but Nintendo has set the Internet on fire with less (remember the Metroid Prime 4 logo?).

So…yeah. That Direct happened, and while I managed to stay awake for the whole thing, I’m not sure it was really worth it. I might take a chance on Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, but the online service might be the only Switch item I buy for the rest of the year (full disclosure: I pre-ordered the Octoling amiibos a while ago). Smash Bros., Pokémon Let’s Go, and even Super Mario Party just don’t push me over the ‘buy’ ledge yet, and Yoshi and Animal Crossing are still a long ways away.

Nintendo will probably have a good and prosperous rest of  the year, but I will likely stick with games that are already released rather than investing in new ones.

Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from My Nintendo News

What happens when you find the right game on the wrong platform?

I missed the original Luigi’s Mansion when it debuted back in 2001, and with a 3DS remake coming later this year, I decided to take a stab at the series and see what it was all about. As it so happened, my local Gamestop had one last copy of the LM sequel Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon on its shelves (and at the $20 Nintendo Select price, no less!), so I grabbed it, put a vacuum on my shoulder, and ventured forth into Evershade Valley. What I found there was a compelling tale filled with detailed locales and some truly inspired puzzle design, but also a game that seemed like a poor fit for a handheld console like the Nintendo 3DS.

My specific thoughts are as follows:

  • If you’ve never played a Luigi’s Mansion game, it can be hard to describe exactly what genre it falls under. At its heart, Dark Moon is a puzzle game, one that (sort of) encourages you to explore every nook and cranny of the level’s sandbox for treasure, monsters, and various items that move the story along. However, the occasional arena battles with ghosts give the game an action component, where Luigi must capture his foes (without getting knocked out himself) to progress further. The battles themselves are fairly easy (although dealing with 3+ ghosts in a pain to coordinate), but they add a bit more energy and break up the occasionally-slow pace of the puzzles.
  • If you’re worried about younger players getting nightmares, don’t worry: This game is more silly than scary. There aren’t any jumpscare moments, and while ghost battles will pop up unexpectedly at times, you’re always going to see what’s coming.
  • The levels themselves are well-designed and full of neat little details that distinguish each location. Even with the lack of lighting, it’s generally pretty obvious which set pieces are interactive and which ones might be hiding a stash of treasure or enemies behind it. There are times, however, when the player is able to backtrack a bit and explore areas that are a bit off the current path, and there were rarely enough rewards for doing so when it happened.
  • For each level, Luigi is run though a set of missions that require you to make your way through the area to achieve some objective (find an item, beat a ghost, etc.). This is mostly where my “wrong system” comment comes into play: The missions themselves are a bit longer than you’d expect (I averaged about a half-hour per level, with more-explorable areas routinely taken 45-50 minutes), and don’t sync with the 3DS’s goal of “sneak in some gaming anywhere” in the same way that Miitopia or Fire Emblem Fates did. These kind of longer, exploratory-based games are better suited to home consoles where players can block out longer chunks of time to play, and there’s just too much in do in Dark Moon to try and cram it into smaller time windows. (Also, the smaller screens feel very constraining when you’re looking around, even on my 3DS XL.)
  • I like the puzzle design better here than I do in Breath of the Wild, mostly because the control limitations keep the solution space small and the level layouts make the solutions feel intuitive. You’ve only got three tools at your disposal (normal light, Dark-Light, and the vacuum itself), so even if you’re at a complete loss as to what to do next (which I never felt like I was anyway), you can quickly explore the environment with your tools until you stumble onto the answer. There are also enough hints hidden in the background or the room design itself to signal the player’s next move (for example: Need to cross a gap? There’s probably a hidden platform that needs to be revealed).
  • A minor gripe: For such a simple control scheme, (R to vacuum, A for flashlight, Y for Dark-Light) I ran into a lot of trouble when trying to use them, and was forever hitting the wrong button in the heat of battle.  Most players will likely catch on quicker than I did, but it did get a little annoying when trying to execute the ‘flash-and vacuum’ ghost-capture sequence.
  • The enemy designs are pretty generic and lack diversity. For the most part, you fight Slimer ten times per level, with some larger red and purple ghosts tossed in occasionally to change things up. Their attack tactics are pretty similar: Slowly approach while invisible, and then appear next to Luigi to either scare or damage him. Dispatching a ghost is mostly a matter of blasting it with your light and them sucking it in before another ghost comes along to smack you, which means you have to be aware of your immediate surroundings at all times (Splatoon 2 training comes in very handy for larger battles). Boos are here as well, but for all the in-game talk about each one having a different personality, it boils down to “you fight them all the same way, but hey, they each have a unique opening text box!” All in all, outside of the rare unique ghost battle (for example, the Three Sisters), if you’ve fought one ghost, you’ve fought ’em all.
  • The boss battles are a mixed bag here, ranging from unimaginative but okay to inspired and well-executed. The first boss, for example, turned out to be a thoughtful puzzle involving webs and fire that really required the player to plot their strategy carefully (and gave them plenty of space to do so). The second boss, alas, was a generic quick-twitch encounter you’d find in any old platformer: Figure out the boss’s pattern, what for the weak point to appear, rock it with the Poltergust, repeat two more times, etc. They’re never bad, but having that first boss set a high bar early made other battles feel unremarkable in comparison.

While there’s certainly enough goodness in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon to recommend picking it up for the discounted $20 price, it feels like a game that should have been expanded onto the Wii U/Switch rather than dumped onto the 3DS. There are some definite selling points here, but it needs more enemy variety, more consistent boss encounters, and more reasons to fully explore the environments. I know the original game is coming back to the 3DS soon, but I’m wondering if digging up an original copy and breaking out my GameCube would be the more enjoyable experience.

Fire Emblem Fates Birthright: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from Kotaku

Hey look, a rare gaming post!

As good as Nintendo’s 2017 was, 2018 has been a bit underwhelming thus far, at least in terms of new Switch content. With neither Kirby Star Allies nor Nintendo Labo catching my interest, I find myself leaning more and more on the 3DS’s back catalog to fill the void. This is not a bad thing, however, as it’s allowed me to dive into some Nintendo franchises that I had been curious about in the past, but not actually had the time to try out.

The latest of these series has been Fire Emblem, a tactical RPG series that piggybacked on the success of Super Smash Brothers to expand its reach outside of Japan in the early 2000s. A quick scan of the Internet indicated that Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright was a good option for series beginners, so I went ahead and took the plunge. What I found was a fun, usually-interesting, sometimes-bizarre tactical JRPG with some stellar character development and some unconventional world-building options.

My specific thoughts are as follows:

  • Before Fire Emblem, my only experience with tactical RPGs was a brief stint playing Final Fantasy Tactics, but I found the extra geographical dimension quite refreshing coming off of standard RPG setups like Pokémon Ultra Sun and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. At its core, you and the enemy take turns moving your heroes around the map like chess pieces, engaging in pitched battles when opposing forces meet. While the fights themselves are quick and automated, choosing who, when, and where to battle is a complex question:
    • Should I charge the enemy lines, or wait and let them come to me?
    • What weapon should I use? (The game has a rock-scissors-paper weapon triad with a helpful Pokémon-style color-coding: Blue beats red, green beats blue, red beats green.)
    • Should I use a melée or ranged attack?
    • Should I send more beast-based units into battle, or rely on foot soldiers?
    • Should I place two units in adjacent squares for more offense, or should they pair up for a more-defensive stance?
    • Can Ryoma really take those three units on by himself? (The answer was usually “yes.” Seriously, that dude is super OP.)

The game gives you plenty of time and space to learn how best to battle, but don’t get too comfortable: The game has an annoying habit of one-shotting your units when you stretch your force too thin. (Also, you’d better enjoy the tactical combat setup, because that’s 90% of what you’ll do in the game.) All in all, it’s a decent challenge that never feels overwhelming.

  • The big twist of the FE Fates series is the choice of which side the player will actually fight on: Their Hoshidan blood relatives, or the Nohrians that raised them? It’s a weighty choice, and the game does a nice job making characters in both families interesting and sympathetic…but if you bought a physical copy of the game, the choice is already made for you: Birthright players are stuck with Hoshido, Conquest players are stuck with Nohr. (Apparently the digital copy actually lets you pick a side, and locks you into whichever version corresponds to your choice.) After all the buildup of the prologue, not actually having a choice is a letdown, so be sure you’re aware of that going in.
  • On the surface, the story is fairly boilerplate: Once you pick a side, you slowly cut a path through the opposing kingdom until you knock it over (or apparently take on the villain pulling the strings behind the scenes in Fire Emblem Fates Yellow…er, Revelation.) Things tend to progress is a more-or-less linear fashion, although there are “Challenge” options in between each chapter of the story that let you gain some extra XP and beat down some extra enemies.
  • If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my gaming preferences, it’s that character development is king…and these characters are fantastic. The most impressive feature of FE Fates is that despite having to create a zillion characters to fill up your roster, the vast majority of them are well-designed and unique enough to stand out from their peers. Even cooler, characters that interact on the battlefield often enough will form Miitopia-style relationships, capped off with some well-done vignettes that can be either touching, tense, or funny as all heck. (Watching Silas introduce super-serious Rinkah to a game of tag was the most I’d laughed in months.) Supposedly there are some battlefield benefits to these relationships as well, but I’ve never actually noticed them— I just like watching the characters interact. 🙂
  • Of course, having lots of characters is important if you’re going to end up losing them all the time. Fire Emblem‘s main calling card was basically being Nuzlocke before Nuzlocke was cool: At the default difficulty level, characters who die in battle are permanently lost from the game. I personally can’t stand this sort of thing, so I play only on Casual mode (fallen units return after the battle), but for those of you looking for an extra challenge, this option certainly raises the stakes and force you to play a bit more defensively.
  • In between battles, you have the opportunity to customize your own castle, where you can buy items, upgrade weapons, and talk to other characters. Where it never detracts from the gameplay, I never found that it added much either—since there’s no explorable world map, it’s just a convenient place to hang out in between battles.
  • The reason I used the phrase “sometimes-bizarre” early in the post is that at times, FE Fates comes off like a hypersexualized playable anime. Physical beauty seems to have been a huge part of many characters’ designs (some more than others…*cough* Camilla *cough*), and there’s a castle “hot springs” option you can build that seems to serve no purpose beyond letting you see characters in their underwear. (At least the game objectifies males and females equally: The men here are generally dreamboats and can be creeped on just as much as the women.) Character relationships can eventually bloom into full-fledged romances and marriages, and characters can even have children…who are shipped to another dimension for safekeeping…where they age faster than their parents…and eventually join your army? (I don’t get it either, but when the kid ends up kicking as much tail as Kana does, I’m cool with that.) While I wouldn’t say that any of this weirdness detracts from your enjoyment of this game, it’s certainly a jarring transition from something like Mario & Luigi.

Honestly, I’ve found FE Fates Birthright to be an engrossing game that suits the 3DS well, letting you squeeze in a few battles here and there as your schedule permits. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and raise an eyebrow at times, but it’s a well-executed design and concept, and a great way to introduce you to one of Nintendo’s slightly-less-heralded franchises.

My Thoughts On Nintendo’s March 2018 Direct

Sometimes a tweet is worth a thousand words:

Nintendo’s last direct felt a bit underwhelming, as it included very few games that piqued my interest and left out several important pieces of information. I declared the whole thing to be as sleep-inducing as Chris Young’s latest single, and implored Nintendo to put on a better show the next time around. Judging by the reactions I saw on Twitter yesterday (including my own), it’s safe to say Nintendo pulled it off.

My overall feeling is that yesterday’s direct was a success on a number of different levels. It featured a bunch of high-profile first-party announcements, included a number of prominent third-party releases, addressed the future of both the Switch and 3DS (and spoke volumes about Nintendo’s support strategy for its older handheld going forward), suggested how Wii U ports might be handled going forward, was structured perfectly to build momentum and excitement as it went on, and featured the big splash (two of them, really) at the end to bring down the house. It was a brilliant display of marketing and presentation skills, and it left quite an impression on the crowd.

Here are my specific thoughts broken down by game:

  • WarioWare Gold: I thought this was initially a port, but it’s actually a brand-new game in the series featuring both new and classic minigames to play. I’m not really interested in WarioWare, but it’s nice to see Nintendo placate another starving fanbase with a new game, and it feels like the sort of low-risk, quick-turnaround title that’s going to characterize 3DS games going forward.
  • Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers: This one piqued my interest more than I expected. It’s a strange fusion of Star Fox GuardMiitopia, and Mario Kart‘s battle mode where you and a collection of Mii-flavored helpers have to beat down enemies both on the battlefield and on the track. I’m not quite sold enough to buy the game right now, but I just might pick up the demo when it comes out in May.
  • Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey: This game, on the other hand, annoyed me more than I expected because it has no reason to exist. I thought the remake of M&L: Superstar Saga was pointless and unnecessary, but you could make the argument that as a Game Boy Advance game, at least you could finally play the game on the 3DS. As a DS title, Bowser’s Inside Story has no such excuse. (I know old copies of the game are selling for a mint on Amazon, but if that’s the main concern, why not just re-release the original game on the 3DS eShop? And if we’re really going down this road, can’t we at least go in order and get an M&L: Partners In Time remake first?) This game is arguably my least favorite entries in the series, and Bowser Jr.’s Journey looks like a copy of the pointless Bowser’s Minions mode from the M&L: SS remake. Nothing about this announcement makes me happy.
  • Detective Pikachu: Detective Pikachu’s character design is excellent, and I’m always in favor of exploring the complexities of people/Pokémon relationships. I’m not terribly excited by this game, but I can definitely see its charm, and wouldn’t begrudge people for trying it out. (An XL amiibo is not more useful than a regular one, though.)
  • Luigi’s Mansion: Hey, a remake I can actually get behind! I never played the original Gamecube version of this game, and have been mulling over buying its Dark Moon sequel for a while, so I might take a flyer on this one. Also, it looks like ports are going to be a central theme for the 3DS going forward.
  • Kirby Star Allies: I’m still on the fence about this game, but adding more capturable villians and bringing back some old friends from the past (Rick! Gooey!) is a brilliant move, and leaves the door open for even more fan favorites (Nago? Adeleine? Susie?).
  • Okami HD: I’ve never heard of this game and really don’t care about it, but one gameplay mechanic really caught my attention: The ability to mimic touchscreen controls simply by using the Joy-Con like a Wii Remote to draw things on the screen. At a high level, this means that more touchscreen-centered games are likely to appear on the Nintendo Switch. There’s one that stands out for me in particular: Super Mario Maker Switch. It’s totally coming, and my money’s on 2019.
  • Sushi Striker: The Way Of Sushido: Yeah, this one’s not my cup of tea. I prefer my puzzle battlers to be a bit more puzzle than battle. Still, the presentation is good, it’s the sort of off-the-wall concept that only Nintendo can bring to the table. (Also, it’s a dual Switch/3DS release, so more love for the two-screened wonder!)
  • Octopath Traveler: I’d mostly forgotten about this game after trying out the demo, but I’m still interested in how it takes shape. The two new travelers seem like solid additions to the cast, and I like the idea of heroes dual-classing into different occupations. With a July release date and no major first-party titles in that Q2/Q3 slot (yet), this could wind up being my game of the summer.
  • Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes: Wasn’t this franchise touted at the initial Switch reveal way back when? It looks a bit too Fire Emblem/Hyrule Warriors-esque for my taste, but with so many different game types, there’s probably at least one thing for everyone here.
  • Dark Souls: Remastered: Meh. I’m no more interested in this game than I was during the last Direct. Even amongst amiibo, the Solaire of Astora one stands out as seeming particularly useless.
  • Mario Tennis Aces: I’m torn on this one. I’ve never been particularly interested in Mario tennis games, but I’ve enjoyed different sports games in the past (golf, baseball, etc.) and Aces really stands out for its strategic depth. (Plus, the courts are way more varied than in Ultra Smash for the Wii U.) It’s a game that should really benefit from its pre-launch online tournament, giving it a chance to win over skeptical players like myself.
  • Captain Toad Treasure Tracker: I’m pleasantly surprised to see this here, as the original Wii U version deserved better than to be left on a forgotten system. More touchscreen simulation plus a dual Switch/3DS release means the ground-bound captain will finally get the attention he deserves. If you haven’t played the original, this one is definitely worth your time.
  • Undertale: This is when things started to get real. Undertale is a massive get for the Switch, even if it’s a few years late (and let’s hope “eventually” isn’t too long a wait). It’s a unique take on the RPG genre, and features some truly outstanding characters and mechanics.
  • Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy: For those of us old enough to remember the Mario/Sonic/Crash mascot wars of the 90s, finding them all on a single system is mind-blowing. The original Crash Bandicoot games had their flaws, but they were decent platformers that helped launch the Playstation into the stratosphere way back when. Aging Nintendo partisans now have the opportunity to try out all those games they boycotted decades ago, and that’s a good thing in my book.
  • Little Nightmares: Complete Edition: Meh. Looks like some decent puzzle/platform challenges, but the vibe’s a bit creepy for my tastes.
  • South Park: The Fractured But Whole: This is a game that I’ve heard a lot of buzz about, but didn’t really know anything about it until now. The battle system seems to be a cross between Fire Emblem and the Mario & Luigi series, incorporating both positioning and timing into attacks. It doesn’t quite piqe my interest enough to buy it, but it’s another cross-platform game to fill out the Switch’s third-party lineup.
  • Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition: I still don’t care about this franchise, but this should at least excite people who do.
  • ARMS Online Open and Testpunch: On one hand, I’m happy that Nintendo hasn’t given up this game, and is trying to overcome their mistake of shoehorning into its 2017 Switch lineup by trying to draw new players in and giving hardcore players a chance to show off their skills. On the other hand, nothing I saw here makes me any more interested in giving the game another try. Sorry ARMS, but you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
  • Splatoon 2 v3.0: I’m always happy to have new gear to buy, and while I was wrong about Piranha Pit and Camp Triggerfish not returning, I enjoyed them both (especially the Pit) and I’m happy to see them back. I don’t play ranked battles enough to care about the X rank, but I’ve heard some skilled players rave about breaking through the S+ logjam, and having Callie back in any capacity is a win. This would be a decent update by itself, but it didn’t come alone…
  • Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion: This was a stroke of financial genius on Nintendo’s part: People have been demanding playable Octolings for years, and most won’t bat an eyelash at dropping $20 for the privilege (especially given the amount of free content the game has gotten, and the fact that you get a full-fledged single-player Octoling campaign for the money). It’s a great opportunity to dig deeper into Splatoon lore, flesh out Pearl and Marina’s characters a bit more, and add even more replay value to the game. I was saying” Okay,this might be the big ending reveal, and I’m okay with that,” and then…
  • Super Smash Brothers + Inklings: Having SSB show up wasn’t a huge surprise (I’ve heard some chatter of about it being the game that launched alongside paid online services), but it’s always nice to have some confirmation. My Super Smash days are long behind me, but this is a huge tentpole franchise that will generate hype, get people talking, and be the final nail in the coffin of the Wii U.

Again, this was a strong presentation that did exactly what it needed to: It laid out the future of the 3DS (mostly low-effort ports from here on out), offered more evidence that third-party developers want in on this cash cow, provided some clarity for the Switch’s 2108 lineup (but where’s Yoshi?), and produced enough hype and excitement to get Nintendo out of the lull it started the year in. Its presentations can vary in quality from Direct to Direct, but the Big N did a really nice job this time around.

My only question now: What’s left for E3? (Metroid Prime 4 plz)