So You Want To Beat The Kensa .52…

If you’ve played Splatoon 2 recently (especially in higher-level ranked modes), you’ve probably noticed that matches have been filling with a tacky-yet-powerful shooter, a weapon that Nintendo can’t seem to figure out how to balance: The Kensa .52 Gal. The weapons has been kicking around the game for three years now, but it’s gotten a steady stream of buffs ever since it was introduced, and the last few finally pushed it past its competition and turned it into an unstoppable, ever-present force, a weapon that excels both offensively and defensively and is darn now impossible to move once it stakes out a position. Even after the Splatoon developers finally realized their mistake and tried to rein in the Kensa .52, the weapon laughed off its weak painting nerf and special point increase and continued its reign of terror across Inkopolis, claiming any and all territory as its own.

If Nintendo won’t fix its weapon, then it’s up to us to figure out how to work around the weapon and find a way to neutralize its powers. So how do we beat a Kensa .52 Gal?

Why Is the Kensa .52 Gal So Good?

A wise man once said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles,” so let’s start with the first part of that statement. What makes the Kensa .52 so powerful?

  • Slaying Power: Each shot from the .52 Gal has a base damage of 52 (huh, I wonder where the name came from), making the weapon a) a two-shot kill and b) one of the most-effective slaying weapons in the game. It ranks only behind its larger cousin the .96 Gal in terms of per-shot damage among shooters, and is outranked only by classic one-shot kill weapons (chargers, rollers, blasters) and a couple of sloshers.
  • Range & Efficiency: Of course, the Tri-Slosher also does 52 damage per shot and doesn’t suffer from falloff issues (i.e., the Tri-Slosher does 52 damage no matter how it hits, while .52 shots weaken to a minimum of 30 damage after they reach the maximum edge of their range). So why is the .52 preferred over our favorite green bucket of death? It’s because the .52 gives you more opportunities for slaying: It has a slight range advantage over the Tri-Slosher, and is way more efficient per shot (a full ink tank gives you 76 shots with a .52, but only 16 with a Tri-Slosher). The Tri-Slosher may be easier to aim, but the .52 lets you take more shots from farther away. This also means you’ve got more shots to chip in with painting and map control as well.
  • Main Power Up Buff: Of course, extra range and awesome power doesn’t help a whole lot if your shot don’t go where they tell them to. The .52 Gal is incredibly inaccurate, quickly going from a 2% to a 25% chance of being off-target (a number that jumps to 40% the moment you jump while firing). However, this weakness is partially mitigated by the Main Power Up gear perk, which can increase “shot accuracy when firing while jumping by up to 50%,” and can improve “accuracy while on the ground by up to 25%.” Naturally, if you look at the .52 builds of competitive players, most of them count at least two sub slots of MPU among their gear in order to counter the weapon’s biggest disadvantage.

So the .52 Gal features exceptional power, solid ink efficiency, decent range, and a shortcoming that can be covered by gear perks. This explains why the .52 is so popular…except that there are three variants of the weapon, so why is the Kensa .52 Gal everywhere while the vanilla and deco .52 variants barely appear in Top 500 matches at all? The issue is that while the weapon provides the offense, the Kensa kit provides the defense:

  • The Kensa .52’s Splash Wall puts an impenetrable barrier between the .52 and the opposition for up to seven seconds, and while you can attack the wall to shorten its lifetime, the .52’s two-shot power means that if your weapon can’t chew through the wall fast enough, it’s essentially impossible to challenge the .52 when it’s deployed.
  • The Kensa .52’s Booyah Bomb is a classic crowd-control attack that can be deployed at nearly any range and presents anyone within a fair radius of its landing point with a simple choice: Move or die. This special gives the Kensa .52 an option for dealing with nearly any weapon, as it can be tossed at a far-off sniping point to dislodge a pesky backline weapon, or simply thrown at a user’s feet to push back a Sploosh-o-matic or Splattershot (the user also gains a significant shield that absorbs damage as they float in the air while the bomb is charging, although some weapons get significant damage multipliers against it). Using the special also refills the user’s ink tank, which means a Kensa .52 can throw out another Splash Wall the moment they launch the bomb and hit the ground.

With this kit, the Kensa .52 Gal is able to take and hold whatever ground they please without fear, using the weapon’s offensive power to punish anyone who dares test them. Neither of the other .52 kits can match its ability to move from unstoppable force to immovable object in an instant.

So What Can We Do About It?

To take on a Kensa .52 Gal, we have to adopt the same mindset of an NFL defense taking on Tom Brady: We have to find a way to move them off their spot in the pocket without getting torched by all their weapons. So how do we do it?

  • Superior Range: The .52 Gal may be a two-hit kill, but it can’t kill what it can’t reach. There are plenty of weapons (from the Tetra Dualies to the E-Liter 4K) that outrange the .52, allowing you to safely challenge it without fear of getting splatted (or at the very least forcing the .52 to use its Booyah Bomb to go after you).
  • Object Shredder: Of course, pinning down a .52 with superior range and forcing them to sit behind a Splash Wall all day may not be enough—we may need to dislodge them from a key area and push them back. The most direct way to the Kensa .52 is through their Splash Wall, and Object Shredder will help you take it down faster through its 125% damage boost. (The gear perk also grants a small damage bonus against the Booyah Bomb’s armor as well.) Combined with superior range, we can keep the Kensa .52 from feeling too secure in any location.
  • Autobombs: Another possibility is to force a ‘move or die’ decision onto the Kensa .52 from a safe distance by launching our sub weapon over and behind the Splash Wall. Bombs of any sort can be used for this purpose, but Auto Bombs protect against the possibility of an errant throw by hunting down their target before exploding, so these are your best choice for the task if you’re unsure about your aim.
  • Torpedos: Torpedos feature the same auto-targeting functionality as Autobombs, but they lack one-hit kill power of the Autobombs and can be shot down before impact. Still, they can be a potential option to distract an opponent and potentially convince them to move.
  • Toxic Mist: Could the least effective sub weapon in Splatoon 2 actually come in handy here? Believe it or not, it can: Toxic Mist reduces the movement speed and drains the ink tank of anyone within its radius, and its radius is surprisingly large: Even when smashed against a Splash Wall, the effect will beyond and behind it and force the .52 user to move back. (The weapon may have the ink efficiency to sustain the mist for a short while, but since a Splash Wall requires 60% of the Kensa .52’s ink tank to throw, staying in the mist means they won’t have another wall handy when their current one fails.)
  • Tenta Missiles: This is probably the best counter to the Kensa .52, so much so that missiles are the main reason a number of weapons (such as N-Zap ’89) are seeing a fair bit of use in the current meta. Tenta Missiles can deal with the entire Kensa .52 kit: They can be launched from anywhere on the map, they travel over the Splash Wall to strike targets behind it, they have enough power to take down anyone who doesn’t move to avoid them, and they can even take down an armored Booyah Bomb user if they hesitate in the face of a missile strike. If you’re looking for a foolproof way to go after a Kensa .52, Tenta Missiles are a great choice.
  • Booyah Bomb: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. The initial Booyah Bomb throw can be blocked by a Splash Wall, but the resulting explosion will go right through it, forcing the .52 to at least temporarily abandon its position.
  • Ink Storm: The Ink Storm is a slow-killing special, but it can be set off from a safe distance,it can completely ignore the Splash Wall, and it will knock out any opponents that dare to sit in the storm for too long. You won’t get many KOs with this special, but you will get people moving.
  • Stingray: Stingrays have infinite range and laugh at walls of any sort, so using on against a Kensa .52 will force it to abandon its position, although it can be hard to track opponents when firing the ray and it’s not a terribly fast kill against someone using a Booyah Bomb.
  • Ultra Stamp: The Ultra Stamp can easily smash its way through a Splash Wall and Booyah Bomb armor, and while the .52 has more than enough mobility to flank the weapon and attack the user, the weapons can still serve as an opening salvo, breaking through the line and allowing teammates to follow up.

In other weapons, through careful planning and the right kit, we can give ourselves several options to approaching and moving a Kensa .52 user.

What Weapons Are Best To Use?

Now let’s consider the “know thyself” portion of Sun Tzu’s quote. Any weapon that provides one or two of the above options can be somewhat effective against the Kensa .52 Gal, but there are a couple of choices that give use the most tools and the best chance for success:

  • Jet Squelcher: This weapon might be the perfect counter to the Kensa .52 Gal. It outranges the main weapon by a wide margin, it can apply pressure over the top with its Tenta Missiles (which they absolutely farm at 180 points), and even Toxic Mist provides some utility by helping to push the Kensa .52 back. This weapon also complements the Kensa .52 Gal as a teammate, so it’s an excellent when you’re stuck in a Turf War or Ranked solo queue lobby. Also consider: Custom Jet Squelcher.
  • N-Zap ’89: Not confident in your aim at long distances? The orange zapper might be right up your alley. You’ve still got Autobombs to force opponents to move, you’ve got Tent Missiles at a reasonable 190 points to charge, and it’s only slightly under-ranged when taking on the .52 head-to-head. This has been my go-to weapon for missile spam in ranked battles, and the .52 has to account for your entire kit. Also consider: Kensa Splattershot, N-Zap ’83.
  • Kensa Splattershot Pro: Once upon a time, the Kensa Pro was the weapon dominating the meta and drawing all the complaints. In a head-to-head matchup, however, this weapon still presents a challenge for its .52 counterpart: It’s got Splat Bombs for poking, it’s got longer range and better accuracy, and it can match the .52 Booyah Bomb for Booyah Bomb (although at 210 points and mediocre paint output, you won’t have it as often). It may not be the weapon du jour, but it can still get the job done. Also consider: Splattershot Pro.
  • Custom Dualie Squelchers: The vanilla Dual Squelchers have Tenta Missiles available (and aren’t a terrible pick), but the CDS features good range, a workable bomb, and a special (Ink Storm) that can still provide pressure on a dug-in .52, even if it’s not on the level of Tenta Missiles. Also consider: Dualie Squelchers, Custom Splattershot Jr.
  • Sloshing Machine: How about a pick out of left field? The sloshing machine is kind of an awkward kit on balance (it has the same problem as the .52 Gal Deco in that it’s a frontline weapon with a backline special), but all the pieces are there: A useful sub in the Autobomb, a workable special in Stingray, and a weapon that not only outranges the .52, but features the sloshing machine that can go over the wall and still land hits on the other side. If you can find the room to use your special, this one has some .52-countering potential. Also consider: Tri-Slosher Nouveau, Dapple Dualies Nouveau.

The Kensa .52 Gal is a powerful weapon with a kit that complements it perfectly, and it’s earned its prominent place in the Splatoon 2 meta. It’s not invincible, however, and there are weapons with the ability to counter and mitigate the impact of the polka-dotted menace. With the right tools and the right gameplan, you have the chance to defy the meta, fight through the .52 Gal, and find victory.

My Reaction To Nintendo’s Animal Crossing Direct

How does an update feel like so much and yet so little at the same time?

Animal Crossing: New Horizons exploded out of the gate when it was released in early 2020 and is currently the second-best-selling game on the Switch (ranked only behind perennial powerhouse Mario Kart 8 Deluxe), but at some point, you simply run out of things to do on your island: Scour the world for your dream villagers, remade your island in your image, max out your house size…and then what? There are only so many fish you can catch or villager photos you can get before things start to get a bit repetitive.

In Nintendo’s recent Direct presentation, the company proclaimed that they had a big update in store for the game, so big that they needed a whole separate Direct to talk about it all. The rumor mill kicked into high gear: What sort of content would be added? Would it be new new, or just leftover features from New Leaf? Would the Froggy Chair finally make its triumphant return? And would all this be enough to be lapsed ACNH players like myself back into the fold?

The answer ended up being affirmative to all of the above (including the chair)…except maybe the last one.

Honestly, for all the features that were added, there didn’t seem to be a killer feature that made me say “I have got to play this game again.” Mostly, I found myself saying “Oh yeah, I remember this from New Leaf; it’s about time the game got feature parity,” and while it’s great that some of these features returned, there was nothing here that I felt I just had to try out. Instead of bringing in features that might re-expand the player base, this felt like an update that catered to the hardcore AC enthusiasts, i.e. the people who were still playing the game anyway. If you’d already felt like you’d seen and played it all like I did, you won’t find much here to entice you into picking the game back up.

My detailed thoughts on the update are as follows:

  • Honestly, I’ve never understood Brewster’s appeal. You walk in, you buy a cup of coffee, you drink it…and that’s pretty much it. Occasionally another character would be around to talk to (and the new amiibo card functionality lets you invite other characters in), but otherwise I found the whole thing to be a bit boring (although in fairness, I never actually unlocked the ‘work at the cafe’ feature back in the day). It’s a long-overdue addition, but not something I’m overly excited about.
  • I was excited to see Kapp’n and his bizarre sea shanties return…until I discovered that he doesn’t take you to an island where you could partake in challenges with friends like in New Leaf, but instead pretty much duplicates the mystery island feature of Dodo Airlines. For all the New Leaf functionality they brought back, this was the one thing I was hoping for, because it actually gave people something to do together when they visited an island. Alas, it’s pretty much the one thing we didn’t get.
  • The return of the shop plaza is a welcome sight, because it finally gives you consistent access to characters like Sahara and Kicks without having to wait for them to show up randomly on your island. You may have to pay for the shops to arrive, but let’s be honest: You’ve probably got several gazillion Bells sitting around from the game’s broken economic system, so it’s nice to have a reason to have them. I’d call this the best “new” addition to the game.
  • The developers went way back in the archives to bring back group stretching from the original Animal Crossing game, and while it seems like a feature that will get old quickly, allowing players to participate themselves using motion controls is a great way to make it more interactive and engaging (and making it available anytime means that people will actually do it instead of sleeping through it). Still, it’s a minor addition that doesn’t add a ton of replay value in my book.
  • The return of island ordinances is a long-overdue feature that will improve the accessibility of shops and villagers. Some people simply have limited time windows with which to play the game, and things like the Early Bird and Night Owl ordinances will help let people enjoy the game on their own schedule. Again, it’s a welcome return, but not enough to entice me to return with it.
  • More storage space and house exterior options are great, but despite my hoarding tendencies I never actually ran into the game’s original 1,600 item limit, and I changed my house exterior all of once during my time with the game. Being able to reach 5,000 items and having more facade choices is a nice feature for the completionists and perfectionists among us, but I don’t number among them.
  • Oh hey, the gyroids are back. To be honest, I didn’t find much use for them in New Leaf, and I wasn’t waiting with bated breath to see them come back, even with extra customization options.
  • Things like cooking, room lighting, accent walls, and player options like new hair and reactions feel like natural additions and will give folks a lot of interesting options, but I don’t see anyone beyond hardcore ACNH players jumping back in just to try them out. My house decor hasn’t changed in a year and I’m still satisfied with it, so changing things up just for the sake of change doesn’t seem like a good use of time.
  • The camera functionality is Nintendo’s games are getting better over time, and giving shutterbugs more options via the Handheld and Tripod modes really helps you get extreme closeups and more-expressive villagers than the default controls. It’s a great feature for those that took lots of pictures beforehand, but once again, it may not be enough bring lapsed photographers back into the fold.
  • The storage shed and ABD machine are great quality-of-life features that let you access money and items when and where you want to, but they’re not going to give you a reason to play if you don’t already have one. Same thing with the ladder kits and tight-space navigation option. (Do I sound like a broken record yet? Don’t worry, K.K. Slider has some new records to replace the broken ones.)

After going through the free stuff, Nintendo hit us with a twist: Happy Home Paradise, a paid DLC update that basically adds Happy Home Desinger to New Horizons and let you endlessly customize homes and yards for various AC residents. I like that the home requirements are fairly minimal, allowing players to go wild with the theme and make the design their own, and the lack of limitations (at least the trailer didn’t mention any) and being able to customize common spaces like schools and restaurants gives the game some surprising replay value for master designers. (Also, the ability to carry over new features like partition walls and polishing over to the main gate gives you even more options for your own island!) At $24.99, it’s a reasonable price for an expansion that lets people who enjoy the customization part of Animal Crossing show their stuff.

…But I’m not one of those people, so I’ll likely pass on the DLC. Much like the free update, it’s geared towards the AC power users rather than casual players, and if you already feel like the game is played out, none of this will change your mind.

In objective good/bad terms, I’d say this was a pretty good update all around, making Animal Crossing: New Horizons the premier AC experience for the franchise. If you’ve already tired of the bug-catching and furniture-placing grind, however, there just isn’t enough here to warrant a return trip to your neglected island. If this were an “is it worth buying?” post, I’d say that the value you get from all this directly correlates with how much you’re playing the game right now: If you’re already playing a lot, it’s great, and if you’re not, it’s mostly window-dressing. (If you’re thinking of buying Happy Home Paradise, I’d recommend buying it outright relying on the overpriced Expansion Pass for the mostly-worthless Nintendo Switch online service…but that’s a rant for another post.)

It’s nice to see Animal Crossing: New Horizons getting some attention from Nintendo after all this time. It’s just a shame that what we get isn’t enough to warrant giving more of your attention to the game.

My Reaction to Nintendo’s September 2021 Direct

So Nintendo took all this time to tell us…that they had something to tell us? And that what they eventually told us wouldn’t be what they told us they would tell us about? I’m confused.

While I heard some grumblings about how rarely Nintendo seems to release Direct presentations, it really hasn’t been that long since E3, where Nintendo laid out a whole bunch of plans for the rest of the year (which was their stated focus for this presentation as well). Sure, there were some genuine unknowns that needed clearing up (who would that last Super Smash Bros. Ultimate character be?), but this was a presentation primed for deeper dives, providing further details on games we knew were coming.

What we got, however, had a distinct focus on newer content and felt like it said more about 2022 than 2021. There was a surprising amount of important information that we didn’t get, and while the announcements were generally well-received (at least for the games; more on that later), this felt more like some of weaker material I’ve reviewed on the country music front, with its main failure being that it mostly didn’t justify its existence. This Direct seemed to be a few months too early, and really needed a bit more TLC to get its points across. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t all that interesting either.

My detailed thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • If you want a lesson in how not to start a presentation, look no further than the short Monster Hunter expansion that led off this year’s Direct, which just featured a CGI dragon running around and looking menacing and told us nothing about what was actually coming in the DLC (aside from the fact that it was coming in 2022, the first of many such announcements). If you’re not already a Monster Hunter fan, outside of a vague “massive expansion” statement you saw nothing that would entice you into picking up the DLC or even the base game. It was about as awful a tone-setter as you could find, especially since a lot of people were probably expecting the Smash character reveal right out of the gate.
  • Oh hey, I’d forgotten that Mario Party Superstars was even a thing. The game looks like a solid throwback to the earlier titles (still no Mario’s Rainbow Castle, though) and supports online play from Day 1, so it should satisfy longtime fans of this series. Personally though, I’ve kind of drifted away from the Party crowd, so it didn’t move the needle for me. The same statement goes double for Hyrule Warriors: Age Of Calamity: Fans will probably like it, I was mostly bored by it.
  • If Chocobo GP tells me one thing, it’s that Nintendo needs to start thinking about getting Mario Kart 9 out the door. Chocobo GP has all the hallmarks of a solid kart racer (the drifts, the customization, the Diddy Kong Racing-esque stackable power-ups), plus a few extra features as well (such as the 64-player tournament bracket). Square wouldn’t throw a game like this out there if they didn’t think there was a market for it, and with no new Mario Kart console release since 2014, I get the sense that the competition is smelling blood in the water. Chocobo GP looks fun, but it’s yet another 2022 release, so there’s still time for the Big N to reassert their dominance with a new game.
  • Finally it was time for the SSBU announcement! …But the announcement was that there wouldn’t be an announcement until October 5th, when Masahiro Sakurai would demo the character and show off their moves. Delaying the decision for two weeks was an odd decision to me, started a concerning pattern of Nintendo saying “We’ll talk about this late” or pointing to other resources for folks looking for more information (the Animal Crossing Direct next month, the Triangle Strategy and Metroid Dread websites, etc.) It gave me the impression that Nintendo wasn’t really ready for this Direct, and probably should have taken a few more weeks to put it together.
  • All right, let’s talk about some good stuff, and let’s start with the game that should have led off the Direct, Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Kirby games have had 3D graphics before, but never 3D movement, and the pink ball’s first foray into the third dimension looks great (the place is surprisingly bright and cheery for a post-apocalyptic setting). Unlike Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, Kirby seems to have all of his usual powers at his disposal, including consuming and spitting enemies, copying enemy powers, and flying (although I’m curious to see if Kirby’s flight is restricted at all in vertical levels). Nintendo seems to have mastered that arts of 3D games with titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, so I’ve got some seriously high hopes for this game, which is slated for arrival in the spring of 2022 (honestly, it feels like there aren’t any 2021 games in here at all).
  • Oh hey, it’s Animal Crossing! And apparently Nintendo has heard the Internet raging over the lack of Brewster for the last few months, because it’s the one thing they confirmed in their upcoming update for the game. (That overlay music sounded concerningly-sad, however…) Everything else has been pushed into a special Direct presentation next month, so we’ll have to wait and see what Nintendo has in store.
  • Another update for Mario Golf: Super Rush? Big deal: It’s two new characters and two new courses (one of which appears to be a desert—don’t we have one of those already?). I don’t see anything here that will drag me back onto the fairway. Next!
  • Triangle Strategy (yep, that’s the official title now) is back, but we didn’t get much information on the game besides a release date and a bunch of quality-of-life improvements that were based on demo feedback. My main concern back when I played the demo was that the game was realllllly slow, so hopefully some of the streamlining elements added since then will speed things up a bit. Otherwise, I’m still hyped for its eventual release next March.
  • If I have any concern about Metroid Dread, it’s that it’s starting to run afoul of my rule of thumb that more marketing I see about a game, the worse it ends up being in the end. I feel like we’ve heard a lot about this game since its release, but the good news is that nothing I’ve seen raises any red flags about the game itself (although it looked like King K. Rool was one of the boss fights in this trailer). I’m on the fence on this one, and given that my game backlog is starting to grow (I ordered WarioWare: Get It Together, but haven’t even taken the plastic off the box yet), I may end up passing on this adventure.
  • I had been thinking about writing a post about how useless the Nintendo Switch Online service has been and how it’s nothing more than a cheap cash grab for the Big N, but now that they’re releasing n64 and Sega Genesis games on the service…I still think it’s a useless cash grab. Nintendo has mostly neglected their NES and SNES game services, so I don’t hold out much hope for the N64 version being any different despite the strong launch lineup (NES and SNES had a decent launch lineup too; they’ve just barely gotten anything decent since). The fact that they have the gall to charge more for the new system games irritates me even more: The system wasn’t worth $20 a year before now; why the heck should I give you more money for it?! (Besides, my N64 library might be the biggest of all my consoles, and the hardware is still in good condition. I’ll stick with the games I already paid for, thank you very much.)
  • In a shocking turn of events, Shigeru Miyamoto crashed the party to announce the release date and major voice actors for the upcoming Super Mario Bros. movie that’s been in the works for some time. Based on what I’ve seen since, the reactions have ranged from confusion to mild amusement to outright disgust, especially surrounding the decision to cast Chris Pratt as Mario while leaving longtime Mario voice Charles Martinet in an undetermined set of cameo roles. Pratt is not stranger to this sort of role, and I really liked him as Emmet in The Lego Movie, but Emmet was a new character and no one had any preconceived notions about how he should sound. Mario, on the other hand, has several decades worth of baggage, and after Martinet’s fantastic turn in the role for all these years, replacing him with Pratt and Charlie Day (the movie voice for Luigi) feels like a slap in the face. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the film, so I will reserve judgement on the selections for now (depending on how the story is framed, having Mario with Pratt’s voice might end up making perfect sense), but this was a bombshell that Nintendo was hoping would blow up the Internet, and it ended up blowing up in their face.
  • I figured we’d get a a small helping of Splatoon 3 footage to appease the masses, but I didn’t expect the extended look we got into both the multi-player and single-player campaigns. I’m not quite sure what to make of the new special weapons shown off in the trailer, but there seems to be a heavy Overwatch influence here: That crab mech is basically Wrecking Ball, and something approximating Baptiste’s Invulnerability Field appeared in the trailer as well. The special that let you shoot strands of ink to travel to faraway walls just reminded me of Spider Man, but it’s worth noting that it enables ‘dive’ styles of play that you would see from Winston or Genji, whereas Splatoon 2 only allows you to attacks far-off enemies from…well, afar (Sting Ray, Tenta Missiles, etc.). While none of these are what I hoped Splatoon would take from Overwatch way back in the day, it seems to be that Splatoon 3 wants players to be in the center of the action rather than hiding on the periphery (so much for my missile-spam solo queue strategy), so the game is trying to do more to encourage head-to-head close combat. (On that note, the Undercover Brella was also confirmed, which makes sense given that the weapon encourages you to get in peoples’ faces.) The single-player trailer didn’t reveal a ton besides the mammalian focus and the return of Callie and Marie, but at least it appears that you’ll be visiting a wider variation of locales and climates during this campaign. (The Hero Shot looks a lot cooler this time around—in fact, I might prefer this design over the original Splatoon one.) I was already excited about Splatoon 3, but at least now the community can stop clamoring for more footage and spend their time overanalyzing this trailer instead.
  • Finally, we got a long overdue look at Bayonetta 3, a game announced back in 2017 but has been mostly out of sight since then. While I’m not personally interested in the game or franchise, it’s nice to know that series fans are finally getting some news, and given the amount of actual gameplay we got to see, I think the title has a good chance of making that 2022 release date. Now if only we could say the same about Metroid Prime 4

So was it a good Direct or a bad one? I would call it a middle-of-the-road one, a presentation whose best offerings are still a long ways off and that didn’t have a lot to share on some important games (seriously, I’m still baffled by the delayed SSBU character release). Outside of the Kirby announcement, there wasn’t anything here I was super excited to hear (even Splatoon 3 and Triangle Strategy were mostly known/assumed quantities at this point). Additionally, a few games that I expected to more about (such as Advance Wars Re-Boot Camp) didn’t make an appearance at all, even though we know they’re coming by the end of the year. Something just felt off about this Direct, as if Nintendo held the event just to say they held it, and I’m hoping the company is a bit more prepared to dish on important details the next time it steps up to the podium.

Rising From The Ashes: A Defense Of The Tri-Slosher

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into ink battles…

I like to mess around with a lot of weapons in Splatoon 2, but if there’s one group of weapons that I simply cannot stand, it’s what I call “ZR-spam weapons,” or weapons where the player must quickly and continuously mash the ZR trigger to fire. This category contains four types of weapons:

  • Nozzlenoses (and kinda-sorta Squeezers, but Squeezers at least have an auto-fire mode)
  • Splat Brellas
  • Any and all Brushes
  • Any and all Sloshers (except the Explosher; their fire rate is so slow that I tend to group them with chargers and splatlings)

To me, these accursed weapons are repetitive motion injuries just waiting to happen, and thus they are pure evil.

Unfortunately, over the last year or so I’ve been working on what I call “The 100-Win Challenge,” where I attempt to earn 100 ink battle wins with every weapon in Splatoon 2. This quest put me on a direct collision course with these blasted ZR-spam weapons, and while I’ve mostly avoided them to up to this point, last month a fellow Discord member suggested that I finally bite the bullet (bucket?) and dive into the Slosher class, starting with the Tri-Slosher.

For players who’ve been slinging ink since the start of Splatoon 2, just the mere mention of the weapon will bring back a host of bad memories. When Splatoon 2 launched, the Tri-Slosher (despite officially being slightly nerfed from the original game) quickly established itself as the best close-range weapon in the game, sporting an unmatched combination of power, accuracy, painting power, and kit utility (Burst Bombs and Ink Armor were also strong in the early days of the game). The weapon quickly took over the competitive scene, and became the bane of every player who didn’t immediate swap to it.

The backlash to this movement was swift and fierce, and Nintendo reacted with a series of balance patches over the first two months to bring the Tri-Slosher back to earth:

  • The maximum amount of damage per slosh was cut from 62 to 52, putting it on par with the .52 Gal (a strong slaying weapon in its own right, but nowhere near as reliable as the infernal bucket).
  • The range of the weapon was reduced by 9%, bringing it down from slightly beyond the .52’s reach to slightly within it (at least according to this page; Inkipedia’s official range page shows a much bigger range number for the .52)
  • The number of points required to charge Ink Armor jumped 30 points (a massive amount by Splatoon standards) from a potentially-spammable 180 to an impossible-to-spam 210.

The changes succeeded in knocking the Tri-Slosher from its lofty perch, and while it’s settled into a nice niche in the meta, it’s not the do-it-all nightmare it was back in the day (ironically, that title currently belongs to the .52 Gal!) The community could rest easy knowing that the bucket beast had been slain.

Much like Jaws, however, the threat of the Tri-Slosher never truly want away. You see, Nintendo has a bit of a secret: While the rest of us weren’t watching, the Splatoon team started quietly buffing the bucket again, reversing many of the old nerfs and even adding a few new powers to its arsenal:

  • A movement speed nerf that was applied when the game launched was partially restored, and the weapon was re-classified as lightweight rather than middleweight (which increased the player’s running and swimming speed).
  • The maximum damage of the weapon was restored to its original 62.
  • The points needed to charge Ink Armor were cut to 190.
  • The max fire rate was increased to let players slosh faster, and the gaps between the hit boxes of the weapon’s three shots were reduced.

A new kit was also introduced in the form of the Tri-Slosher Nouveau, and while it hasn’t seen the widespread use in high-level play that the original Tri-Slosher did, it’s a very powerful set in its own right.

In other words, the Tri-Slosher is nearly as powerful as it was back in its glory days, and remains a great option in both a slaying and supporting role. If you’re looking for a short-range weapon that’s flexible enough to handle nearly any situation (and you aren’t afraid of carpal tunnel), the Tri-Slosher should be on your radar.

The Details

As a weapon, the Tri-Slosher is defined by several key attributes:

  • Phenomenal Cosmic Power!: Simply put, this thing can rack up splats like nobody’s business. The weapon flings three primary bursts of ink per shot (one forwards, and one on each side of the forward shot), and these shots are not only fairly wide, but they’re all capable of applying the weapon’s max damage. Damage falloff is only applied when the weapon has a height advantage (depending on how high above the opponent you are, the damage can drop to a minimum of 35 per shot), so as long as you’re on even footing with or below your target, you’ll apply 62 damage with every slosh. Additionally, unlike many shooters like the .52 Gal, jumping while shooting does not decrease the weapon’s accuracy, allowing you to make defensive maneuvers without sacrificing your slaying power. Put this all together (and don’t forget the Slosher’s signature trick of throwing ink over walls to splat unseen opponents), and you’ve got a dependable two-shot-kill weapon that’s easy to pick up and barely requires any accuracy at all (if you’re in the ballpark with your shot, the enemy is going down; hence the “no aim, no brain” mantra that a lot of players throw around regarding this weapon).
  • Itty Bitty Living Space: Most of this bucket’s early nerfs have been at least partially restored, but the one that wasn’t (the 9% range reduction) is a big one. This thing has an effective killing range of about six inches, and most players are going to approach you by not approaching you, and instead try to maintain proper social distance and lean on their superior range. Therefore, success with the Tri-Slosher will depend on how effectively you can close these gaps and neutralize your opponents.
  • A Zapper Clone?: I praised the N-Zap ’85 for its flexibility, but the Tri-Slosher can be just as handy in these same situations:
    • If you need to slay, the Tri-Slosher isn’t that far off from the N-Zap’s range, and it requires none of the accuracy! (The N-Zap has some serious shot RNG when jumping, while the Slosher has none.)
    • If you need map control, the Tri-Slosher’s wider three-shot design gives it solid painting power, and lets you retake an area relatively quickly.
    • If you need bombs, both Tri-Slosher kits have them available.
    • If you need Ink Armor to give your team some extra defensive bulk, the Tri-Slosher has that too!

If you’re worried about the chaotic mess that is ranked solo queue, the Tri-Slosher can be a safe choice to handle whatever comes your way.

  • There’s A Hole In My Bucket: Given its power and flexibility, it’s easy to a adopt a ‘they who sloshes fastest wins’ mindset with this weapon. However, at 6% of your ink tank per shot, you’ll find that you go through your tank a lot quicker than you expect, especially if you’re doing a lot of painting or leaning on your sub weapon. Besides the range issue, ink management will likely be your biggest concern with the Tri-Slosher, so depending on the role you’re trying to fill, you’ll want to either be more judicious with your shots or run enough efficiency perks to keep your tank as full as possible.

What all this means is that the Tri-Slosher can do just about anything you want it to, provided you a) get close enough to do it, and b) have enough ink left to do it when you get there. These can be significant caveats, but they’re not as hard to work around as you might think.

The Flavors

Your options for the Tri-Slosher are as follows:

  • Tri-Slosher (Burst Bomb/Ink Armor): This is the OG version that terrorized the ink battle scene back when the game launched, and even if we set aside the power of the main weapon for a moment, it’s not hard to see why this weapon was so powerful. Ink Armor was, is, and likely will always be a top-tier special in Splatoon 2, as it gives every living teammate a shield that can absorb 30 HP of cumulative damage and will completely block a single attack that exceeds that number (Splashdown, Baller, etc.). At 190 points, the Tri-Slosher can technically spam armor as fast as the .96 Gal can, although being closer to the action with a bucket means you’re likely going to get splatted more, and thus you’ll lose a lot more special charge and not activate as many armors over the course of a match. Burst Bombs have seen their share of nerfs since the game launched (most notably having their ink consumption boosted from 25% to 40% of your ink tank), but they’ve also gotten some slight damage and painting buffs since then, and they’ve got some solid synergy with the Tri-Slosher itself (as ThatSrb2Dude shows in his video above, a direct Burst Bomb hit plus a single slosh might be the fastest way to splat someone in the game).

This is the kit that sees a lot more use in competitive play, and with its base slaying power and Ink Armor assists, this thing will stack bodies like cordwood and regularly rack up double-digit splat counts eve in Turf Wars. However, I actually found this version to be the least powerful of the two versions, and is more comfortable serving in a supporting role than trying to take over a game. If you want real power, you’ll want to make it rain.

  • Tri-Slosher Nouveau (Splat Bomb/Ink Storm): When I started messing with the Tri-Slosher, I was 100% convinced that the nouveau kit would be the weaker of the two. I couldn’t have been more wrong: My splat counts were generally higher with the original bucket, but my win rate was much higher with the nouveau version. This thing ended up being the more aggressive of the two kits: Splat Bombs are generally considered the best sub weapon in the game thanks to their power and versatility, and Ink Storm (a raincloud of ink that deserves far more credit than it gets) suddenly gives you an option against opponents trying to beat you with their range. At 170 points, Ink Storm is quick to charge even in the most trying of circumstances, and serves as a great way to knock opponents off their spot and divert their attention long enough for you to move in for the kill. This weapon wasn’t just the more aggressive of the Tri-Sloshers—it would flat-out dominate matches and even entire lobbies at time, so much so that even a Slosher-hater like me had to respect its authority.

The original Tri-Slosher may fit better into the current competitive meta, but I’d argue that the Tri-Slosher Nouveau has more than enough juice to force its way into that conversation. These buckets have slightly different superpowers, but in the end you can’t go wrong with using either version.

The Gear

In putting together this guide, the thing that struck me the most was how different the gearset I eventually settled on while using the Tri-Slosher was from the sets used by high-level competitive players. The differences primarily stem from the role the player is trying to fill: In top-level competitive play, the Tri-Slosher is a slaying weapon first and foremost, whereas I (whose only top-level competitive experience is watching leagues/tournaments on Twitch) prioritize flexibility and tend to gravitate towards supporting roles. The choice you make about what type of player you want to be will in turn drive your gear ability choices.

(Surprisingly, despite the differences between my gear and the gear of the pros, we all seem to run roughly the same gear regardless of the Tri-Slosher version we’re using.)

If you choose to be a cold-blooded slayer, your goal is to be in your opponents’ faces as much as possible, pushing them back and eliminating them if possible. Any time you spend not engaging your enemies is ultimately time wasted, and while you accept that the constant combat will lead to a higher death count, you want to do everything in your power to a) shorten the time between the last battle and the next one, and b) ensure that the deck is stacked in your favor when a fight breaks out. So what abilities should you use?

  • Quick Respawn: This tends to be the ability that people stack the most on aggressive Tri-Slosher builds (although part of that is because so many favorable Tri-Slosher abilities are special non-stackable ones). Quick Respawn shortens the time it takes you to respawn after getting killed, and while it isn’t the super ability that it was in Splatoon (Splatoon 2 requires you to have not splatted an enemy between your previous death and your current death for it to take effect), it’s a good failsafe if you find yourself getting crushed repeatedly (two mains will cut off about a quarter of your respawn time, assuming Respawn Punisher isn’t in play). Tri-Sloshers, much like NFL cornerbacks, have to have short memories when they get beat, and Quick Respawn keeps you from paying too heavy a price for your loss.
  • Swim Speed Up: If there’s one thing both I and top players agree on, it’s that quick movement is key to effectively using a Tri-Slosher. Your window to either put an opponent in your killing range or get the heck out of theirs may be small, and Swim Speed Up helps let you get back to the battle or out of trouble a lot faster. This doesn’t seem to be stacked as much as Quick Respawn, but one main of SSU will make you about 6% faster, which sometimes can be all the difference.
  • Comeback: Comeback can be huge at the right moment, as it gives you the equivalent of one main ability of (deep breath) Ink Saver Main, Ink Saver Sub, Ink Recovery Up, Run Speed Up, Swin Speed Up, and Special Charge Up for 20 seconds after someone splats you! Nearly all of these abilities are super important to Tri-Sloshers (they make you faster, give you more shots or bombs, and help you spam your special), which means that when you get back to the fight, you can turn the tide of battle in a hurry.
  • Ninja Squid/Stealth Jump: We’ll talk about this more a bit later, but stealth can be a major part for a Tri-Slosher’s game (after all, it’s a lot easier to lure people into your killing range when they don’t realize you’re there!). Ninja Squid will make it harder for opponents to track your movements while you’re swimming, while Stealth Jump will hide your Super Jump landing point from far-away opponents and (hopefully) keep them from camping your jump. You’ll sacrifice a bit of speed with both perks, but this can be countered with additional Swim Speed Up or Quick Super Jump abilities.
  • Last-Ditch Effort: If your back is against the wall, Last-Ditch Effort will make you even more scary: If certain conditions are met (either it’s late in the game or you opponents are closing to knocking you out in a ranked game), you get the equivalent of 1.5 main abilities of Ink Saver Main, Ink Saver Sub, Ink Recovery Up, and Quick Respawn. (Just imagine for a moment how much power you obtain when LDE gets stacked on top of Comeback. You’re basically a super-squid for 20 seconds!) It’s a bit of a “save for a rainy day” perk, but when it rains, you pour on the pain.
  • “The Three Four Subs”: I subscribe to at least part of ThatSRB2Dude’s “5 Subs” theory, so including one sub ability apiece of Quick Super Jump, Bomb Defense Up DX, and Ink Resistance is useful regardless of what weapon you’re running. Top competitive players tend to include the fourth sub ability (Special Saver) in their builds to mitigate special loss from dying, especially if they have Ink Armor. (The last sub Ink Recovery Up shows up occasionally, but doesn’t seem to be quite as prevalent.)

If you’re more of a support player, your internal calculus changes slightly: You expect to use your weapon more (for painting), but you expect to die less (you’re not engaging the enemy as much because you’re not the primary slayer). In turn, you expect you have your special available more often, but you can’t rely on perks like Quick Respawn or Comeback to come into play very often. This led me to use the following abilities:

  • Swim Speed Up: Just like with the slayer set, movement remains a critical part of your game, but…
  • Ink Resistance: I found that having unhindered movement was really critical, as you’ll often find yourself pushing up against the limits of your map control. One sub of IR didn’t seem to do the trick, so I ended up going with three subs to maintain my swim speed even in adverse conditions. (This perk has some serious synergy with Ink Storm, allowing you move quickly through the rain’s aftermath despite its less-than-perfect coverage.)
  • Ink Saver Main: After about the millionth time I got caught right next to an enemy with zero ink, I started running this ability to try to be a sitting duck less often. The first three subs you add will each give you an extra slosh (note that four/five subs won’t give your four/five shots, but one main and one/two subs will), and with a weapon this powerful, having a few extra shots can sometimes make all the difference.
  • Ink Recovery Up: You don’t always have a lot of time to rest while you’re busy sloshing, so having some IRU on hand helps you recharge ink faster and make the most of your down time. I tended to roll with three subs/one main, but you could get away with less depending on your playstyle.
  • Special Charge Up: I tend to run at least one main of Special Charge Up with an Ink Armor weapon like the Tri-Slosher (it cuts the point threshold fro 190 to 175), and while it’s not strictly necessary on the Tri-Slosher Nouveau, cutting its 170 point threshold to 156 really lets you make it rain.
  • Special Saver: This is mostly for conserving your special gauge for Ink Armor. I used one main of this ability, but you could potentially cut this to one or two sub abilities. It’s not necessary at all for the Tri-Slosher Nouveau—the weapon recharges Ink Storm fast enough as it is, and there are more important things to use your ability slots for.
  • “The Zero Subs?”: I subscribe to at least part of ThatSRB2Dude’s “5 Subs” theory, but with the Tri-Slosher I ended up turning my personal “3 Subs” theory on its head, dumping Quick Super Jump and Bomb Defense Up DX entirely and rolling with full main abilities of Special Saver, Ink Recovery Up, and Ink Resistance. (For the Tri-Slosher Nouveau, I dumped the Special Saver for my usual three subs, although with better gear management you could dump the extra Ink Resistance sub for something else.) I was a bit nervous about the change, but the extra efficiency focus made the Tri-Slosher much more successful in the end, even in ranked matches.

In the end, the abilities you’ll need to be successful will depend on how you decide to use the weapon. If you’re not sure what the best playstyle is for you, try the weapon out with a basic slayer or support set, see what your personal pain points are, and adjust your gear as needed to address the problem. As the old saying goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, tri, tri again.”

The Playstyle

The awesome power of the Tri-Slosher gives you a lot of flexibility in dealing with any scenario, so the first rule of thumb with the weapon is “stay busy.” You may have a primary focus on slaying or supporting, but if you’ve got a free moment and a need, pitch in and make use of that flexibility, whether it be helping secure map control, jumping in to help a teammate in a fight, or even helping with the objective. Here are a few ideas that can help you find success:

  • Think like Jaws, or at least a carbon roller. Sharking isn’t the most well-liked tactic in the world and will draw angry taunts from your opponents when they find you, but it’s one of the most effective ways for a weapon like the Tri-Slosher to neutralize someone’s range advantage and take out opponents. While you’ll want to stay mindful of the big picture (a teammate may need help, the objective might need to be moved, etc.), if you’ve got the chance, find a good hiding spot and wait for opposing players to come into your house.
  • When stuck in a pitched battle, take some advice from House of Pain.

Jumping while attacking is an effective defensive maneuver with any weapon, but it’s especially useful with a Tri-Slosher because you don’t lose any shot accuracy while doing so. (The wall of ink you’re throwing out may further obscure your movement.) I find that jumping slightly closer or farther away when flinging ink can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing a 1v1 with a weapon whose range resembles yours.

  • When facing an opponent with superior range, use your entire kit to keep them off balance. While discretion may be the better part of valor, sometimes an opponent is holding a key defensive position and it falls to you to deal with them. If your can’t reach someone safely with your main weapon, keep the rest of your arsenal in mind. Bombs are great at pressuring weapons with longer charge times, and leading with Ink Storm forces your foe to move or die (and the ensuing chaos might get you close enough for a few sloshes). While Ink Armor is primarily a supportive special for your teammates, you can also call your own number and use the extra HP to rush your opponent and try to get them before they get you.
  • Be judicious with your sloshes. While more sloshing is generally better (it lets you claim turf and charge your special), try to keep a few sloshes handy for when the unexpected occurs. Even with all the ink efficiency perks I run, I still run out of ink far more times than I’d like to admit, and an empty bucket is usually a dead bucket. (On the flip side, the Tri-Slosher is also well equipped to handle surprises provided it has the ammunition: If an ambushing opponent gets too close and misses that first shot or two, you can quickly wheel around and squash them.)
  • Keep track of your opponents and try to anticipate their next move. Maintaining situational awareness is key no matter what weapon you’re using, but the Tri-Slosher’s mobility gives you a better chance to react to what you’re seeing, even if the opponent is already in position. The moment you get an inkling (or octoling?) of where an enemy is and where they’re going, try to beat them to the spot. Getting somewhere quickly enough will give you time to find a good hiding spot to ambush your foes, but even without the element of surprise, sometimes just knowing you’re around is enough to slow down an opponent and force them to think about their approach.

Despite its “no aim, no brain” reputation, it’s your mental game that will determine the success you find with the Tri-Slosher. Having a higher level of mechanical skill won’t automatically make you a better Tri-Slosher player—instead, it’s your decision-making skills that will make the difference as you decide when and how to engage the enemy team.

Okay, so the Tri-Slosher won’t solve every problem…but Ink Storm would at least give them some shade for a while.

The Conclusion

The Tri-Slosher put quite a scare in the Splatoon 2 crowd when the game launched, and it’s powers have mostly been restored since it was vanquished back in 2017. So why isn’t it a bigger part of the current meta, and why is the Tri-Slosher Nouveau relegated to the fringes of competitive play? Part of it is that the game has changed a fair bit since then: For example, the .52 Gal didn’t have a Kensa version back in the day, and neither Main Power Up (which improves .52 accuracy) nor the Booyah Bomb (which will clear out an area a lot faster than an Ink Storm) existed until late in 2018. The meta has gotten more range-focused and shooter-heavy over time, and while the original, almost-restored Tri-Slosher has still found a role on certain modes, it’s simply not the do-it-all behemoth it used to be.

However, these buckets remains a powerful force in the right hands, and I’d argue that the Tri-Slosher (and especially the Tri-Slosher Nouveau) deserve another look from the Splatoon community. With solid slaying and support abilities and strong kits, these weapons can kick tails, take names, and win games in any mode you put them in.

…Just be sure to put some money away in your health savings account before you start using them. You’ll want it for your hand surgery in a few years.

My Reaction to the August 2021 Pokémon Presentation

Nintendo may have a few more big titles set to launch this year (WarioWare: Get It Together, Metroid Dread), but the Pokémon series has more clout, name recognition, and money-printing capabilities than most of Nintendo’s other franchises, so naturally its 4th-generation Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl remakes are the games that got the all-important late-November holiday shopping season slot this year. The franchise also has a much-anticipated open-world series debuting next year, and while the original announcement for Pokémon Legends was intriguing, the quality of the first trailer (or more appropriately, it’s lack of quality) made players more than a little concerned about how the game would turn out. Long story short, The Pokémon Company had a lot of questions to address, and this week’s Pokémon Presents video was the time to answer them.

So how were their answers this time around? Honestly, I can’t complain: The titles they showed off (most notably Pokémon Legends: Arceus) looked much improved from what we saw back in February, and while the 4th generation remakes are far from revolutionary, there were a couple of neat additions from other games that will be fun to mess around with. For a series whose presentations tend to provoke as many negative reactions as positive ones (if not more), I couldn’t see any reasons to not be excited about the games (at least, there were no new reasons to not be excited).

My detailed thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • Pokémon Unite: I know this is technically a spin-off game (and one I’m not particularly interested in playing myself), but given the massive success and popularity of games like DotA and League Of Legends, I think this could wind up being a bigger deal globally than the mainline series, especially with its expansion onto mobile devices next month. (I’m not ready to say this could eclipse Pokémon Go, but the potential is there.) The main problem/obstacle here is that Nintendo is notoriously bad at maintaining competitive balance in its games, especially early in their lifecycle (anyone remember the unstoppable Tri-Slosher in Splatoon 2?). There have already been complaints about monsters like Gengar and Cinderace being broken, and the late-game Zapdos appearance has gotten a lot of flak for making the game a bit too volatile (even a team’s that gets destroyed for most of the game can steal a win if they take Zapdos down, even if it’s just a single lucky shot after the opponents has worn them down). While it’s inevitable that some characters will wind up being more useful than others over time, with new characters (and potentially new legendary battles) being added so rapidly, I have my doubts that Nintendo will be able to keep the playing field level (especially with the ‘pay to win’ issue raised by items being upgradable via real money). Ultimately, I think this game is an intriguing idea with a huge upside for The Pokémon Company, but there’s a pretty good chance they wind up shooting themselves in the foot in the end.
  • Pokémon Cafe Remix, Pokémon Masters EX, Pokémon Go: I’m not terribly interested in any of them and the updates don’t look that major (even despite Pokémon Cafe’s change from Mix to Remix), but it’s worth noting that outside of Mario Kart Tour, these are the only mobile games out of Nintendo that seem to have any sustained buzz/momentum (and look for Tour to fizzle out when the inevitable Mario Kart 9 announcement arrives). Given Pokémon‘s ability to reach beyond the borders of Nintendo’s consoles, this franchise is probably the most important one in Nintendo’s stable, even over heavyweights like Mario and Zelda.
Image from Kotaku
  • Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl: Now we’re talking! The major takeaway from this presentation is that the game is going to remain steadfastly true to the original Diamond/Pearl stories, so if you’re not excited to replay those games or weren’t sold on the chibi art style being used, there’s nothing here that will be interesting enough to sway you. However, If you’re excited about the upcoming remakes, there were a couple of nice touches that were shown off here:
    • Returning from HeartGold/SoulSilver and the Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee games was the ability for your partner Pokémon to follow you around outside of battle! It doesn’t have any gameplay impact, but I always enjoyed being able to see and interact with your monsters outside of battle (playing with Pokémon in Sword/Shield camps was fun; making curry not so much).
    • I did a fair bit with the underground area back in the day, but outside of mining for items and and decorating my base, there wasn’t a whole lot to do if your friends didn’t play the game. Now, however, the developers are bringing a touch of the Wild Area from Sword/Shield by including Pokémon Hideaways, where monsters roam freely in the environment and can be challenged at your leisure. This seems like a good way to introduce Pokémon into the game that weren’t available in G4 originally, and since which monsters you encounter can be determined by the layout of your secret base, the encounter possibilities are theoretically endless. (However, given the decision to trim down the Pokédex for Sword/Shield, the question of which monsters will actually be included in the game remains open. I think G1-G4 monsters will be included, but I’m less confident about G5 and beyond.)
    • I wasn’t a huge fan of contests back in the day (and I may not mess with them much in the remake), but it’s nice to see that the presentation has been revamped to be a bit more dynamic. The same thing goes for the Poké Ball decorations: Didn’t use them before, but happy to see them brought back and made a bit more animated.
    • Character customization is now present in the game, but it seems pretty limited to me, as you can only change ‘outfits’ rather than mixing and matching items. I really would have liked to see them go farther here, but I suppose the art style would have made any changes less noticeable (exchanging one hat for another would really only be visible in battle).
    • The Union Room features have been expanded for full online play, but at this point that’s a requirement for games like this. There’s not much to say here without getting some hands-on time with the game.
    • The one notable omission I noticed was the Pokétch, but I doubt it will impact the game all that watch. It really required the second screen to be noticeable, and all I ever used it for was to watch for when my Pachirisu picked up an item (I barely even remember the other features). I think it gets left behind, and no one will care that it’s gone.
  • Pokémon Legends: Arceus: This was the big question mark going into the presentation—after the rough state of the game in the original trailer, how would things look this time around? The short answer is “much better”: Not only have the character model frame rates improved significantly, but the environments appear a bit more lifelike (and we actually saw NPCs in town this time!). The mission structure of the game seems straightforward enough, and I like how the game answers the age-old question “what if a Pokémon attacked you instead of your Pokémon partner?” You’ve got limited health and are vulnerable to wild Pokémon attacks outside of formal battles, so you’ve got to be sneaky and/or agile to avoid damage. Different wild monsters will react to you in different ways, so you’ll have to plan your approach carefully if you want to capture them. The Speed stat of a creature comes into play a lot more than in mainstream titles as well, as faster monsters may be able to attack multiple times in a row (different battle styles also allow you to trade off between having more power or more speed), which should make battling in the game much more interesting and strategy-focused. The new monsters look well-designed (and you can use some of them to travel around faster), the Pokédex now includes more information and incentivizes you to engage with monsters multiple times…I’ll be honest, I can’t find anything at all to complain about here. This really looks like the sort of Pokémon re-imagining that people have been asking about for a long time, and I’m really excited to see if it lives up to our lofty expectation next year.

After being disappointed by Mario Golf: Super Rush, not getting a ton of replay value out of Pokémon Sword, and really being worried by that initial Legends trailer, I really needed to see a presentation like this to have my faith renewed in the franchise and the companies involved. Both of the mainline games shown off here made a respectable showing, and I’m looking forward to grabbing both games when they’re released. (Yes, I know I just said we should be taking a “wait and see” approach with Nintendo, but this blog’s unofficial motto is “I suffer so you don’t have to,” regardless of whether it’s Pokémon or Brantley Gilbert.) With their time-tested formula, Pokémon games seem to have a floor that limits how much pain they put you through, and with all of the potential changes here looking positive, I think Pokémon fans both new and old will find something to enjoy here. I had a lot of fun in the the region formerly know as Hisui back in the day, and I’m hoping the eventual return trips will bring more of the same.

When Should You Buy A Switch Game From Nintendo?

Vending machine image from the Edmonton Journal

When buying a game from Nintendo these days, you have to channel your inner Dirty Harry and “ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?”

Back in the day, when large, clunky cartridges were all the rage and much of the world had yet to discover the Internet, games had to be finished products before they were shipped out the door, or the company would be stuck with an inferior product and the backlash it engendered. As Shigeru Miyamoto put it, “a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”

Once companies adapted to the Internet’s rise, however, the calculus changed: A delayed game might eventually be good, but a rushed game could be first to market, and barring a complete meltdown on the level of Cyberpunk 2077, a company could patch and update their way to respectability. More recently, Nintendo (as well as other companies) have conceded the inevitability of game updates, and instead tried to turn them into a selling point by marketing the “free DLC” and streams of new content their games would receive.

It’s an intriguing approach to game releases, but the problem is that additional content is an unknown and unguaranteed entity, and it complicates the decision-making process behind buying a new game: What will the title have at launch? What might be added later, and at what point will the developer stop adding content? Will this new content be any good, and if they are, will anyone still be playing the game when it arrives? It’s turned video games (especially ones that are reliant on online multiplayer functionality) the equivalent of $59.99 lottery tickets, where consumers take on the risk and hope that the eventual payoff is worth it.

Lately, Nintendo’s track record in this regard has been a bit mixed at best. Consider Mario Golf: Super Rush, which was released a mere month-and-a-half ago. I found the game to be surprising underwhelming (which ended up being the general consensus online), and had barely picked it back up since completing the Adventure Mode. (It wasn’t quite the buyer’s remorse I felt with NBA 2K18, but it was close.) Despite strong sales numbers, the game felt like it was dead on arrival, so Nintendo quickly pushed out a massive new DLC update, with a new character, a new course, and a new online ranked mode. Even this, however, felt rushed and uninteresting: Sure, I was happy to see my Mario Kart 8 main Toadette make an appearance, but the much-hyped New Donk City course was nothing but a endless grind of par-3 holes that felt like a half-finished near-pin challenge, and the ranking system classifies players by quantity of play rather than quality, making it a pointless, self-defeating system (and adding different-colored Yoshi skins doesn’t seem like much of a reward). I played a round with Toadette, a second round on New Donk City, and returned the game to the back of the closet where I’d left it.

Unfortunately, this incident isn’t an isolated one, as Nintendo can’t seem to get the balance right between quantity and quality. For example, Super Mario Maker 2 (a game that I enjoyed for a while, but wore out its welcome really quickly) got several major updates that incorporated elements from The Legend Of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 2, but the Big N ended updates less than a year after its release, leaving both a frustrating online multiplayer experience in place and a ton of unrealized potential on the table. Super Mario Party was released with extremely limited online play…and then got a surprise update two and a half years later adding online play to the main boardgame option. Even Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a game that has received a consistent stream of updates since releasing last year, still takes a lot of flack for failing to add a fair bit of content available in previous titles such as AC: New Leaf, an issue more rooted in consumer expectations than anything else. (The company has had better luck with paid DLC options, such as the Cindered Shadows story of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the Octo Expansion of Splatoon 2, and of course the fighter passes of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.)

I know that Nintendo enjoys surprising its players, but there’s a lot of room between fans knowing nothing and fans knowing everything, and with the company trending towards the former state with its DLC plans, they’ve introduced an unnecessary level of uncertainty to their games, making people wonder if a) a title will have sufficient content from the beginning, and b) if the answer to a) is “no,” will that be rectified with DLC sooner, later, or not at all?

I’d like to see the company take a more-structured approach to their DLC rollouts, be a bit more upfront about their longer-term plans for each title, and at the very least frontload their releases with enough modes to satisfy players during the wait. SSBU and its Fighters Passes are a great example of this idea: They provided the framework for what folks could expect without giving away the individual surprises, gave people a sense of the relative timeline (the pandemic may have slowed down the new fighter rollout, but players still knew what would be coming eventually), and oh yeah, there were over seventy characters and a whole bunch of different game modes ready on Day 1. Imagine how the reaction to a game like SMM2 would have changed if they had known how much different functionality was coming, or how Mario Golf: Super Rush might have been received if a decent ranking system and a rough estimate of the number of additional characters were available out of the box (or at least a Day 1 patch). Having this kind of information would at least give consumers a better sense of what their money would get them in the end, and thus allow them to make more-informed decisions about how to spend their money. It’s not guaranteed protection against making a bad decision (what/how much you get doesn’t matter if it isn’t implemented well), but it helps make game purchases feel a bit less like scratch tickets.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Nintendo adopting such a strategy (they’ve never listened to me before; why would they start now?), so the consumer’s only recourse is patience: As much fun as it can be to get in on the release-day hype, it might be best to adopt a wait-and-see approach when buying new games. Sure, you may be able to make some reasonable assumption about a game if you’re familiar with the series, but those assumptions would have led you astray on a game like Mario Golf: Super Rush. Take your time, gather as much information as you can from the company, media outlets, and other players, and don’t rush in just because the game will be all over the Internet for a week or two. It’s advice that can be applied to any game, but it’s especially true when DLC and rushed releases leave the Day 1 details a bit murky.

When should you buy a game (especially a first-party title from Nintendo)? Only when you’re reasonably sure you know what you’re paying for.

Celeste: Is It Worth Buying?

(Editor’s Note: This is the post that was SUPPOSED to be released on Friday, but it wasn’t because apparently Kyle doesn’t know how WordPress works.)

Do you like your platformers with a side of pain? Do you hate that Mario games are so darn easy? Are you looking for a real challenge? Because if so, I’ve got the game for you.

Admittedly I’m a bit late to this party: Celeste was released back in 2018, and has already been declared by many to be one of the best games of that year, as well as of the entire decade. Despite my long history with Super Mario Maker and my general affinity for all things platforming, it took both a recommendation from a friend and a 75% discount on the Nintendo eShop for me to finally take the plunge and start scaling Celeste mountain. I expected a challenge based on what I’d seen and read, but I was not ready for the game to keep raising the bar and pushing my atrophied platforming skills to their limit.

Modern Mario games are often denigrated for their lack of difficulty, and tougher Super Mario Maker levels often derive their difficulty from poor/unclear level designs. Celeste tries to stay in the sweet spot where levels are fair, well-designed, and do a nice job introducing different mechanics and iterating on them until they reach their logical (and teeth-gnashing) conclusion, and for the most part they succeed in their endeavor. If you’re tired of searching for random hidden blocks in Mario Maker Super Expert levels, Celeste is definitely worth checking out.

My specific thoughts on the game are as follows:

  • Madeline (the protagonist) isn’t quite the jumper that Mario is, but she’s got a couple of other tricks in her arsenal that open up a world of possibilities: The ability to temporary grab onto walls and climb up them, and a dash that can be used in the air to propel her in any of the eight cardinal/ordinal directions. These sorts of options could be game-breaking if not implemented well, but the levels are expertly crafted with this in mind, and force you to carefully consider your path through each set piece: Where should you use your dash, at what point in the jump should you activate it, and what direction will give you the necessary height or distance? Which walls should you grab, and how quickly do you need to move to reach a safe spot before your arms give out? This means you’ll end up performing some breathtaking (and breath-holding) maneuvers to overcome each challenge, and if I have one major complaint about the game, it’s that the Switch hardware doesn’t seem to be sensitive enough to really support Madeline’e movement options (I swear, at least a quarter of my deaths in this game is me tilting the control stick in one direction and then dashing in a different direction despite my input…).
  • Climbing and dashing can only get you so far, so the game periodically introduces some new objects and hazards that make the environments a bit more dynamic: Moving platforms that can increase the hang time of your jump, platforms that move but can be steered if you stand on/hold the right side, gems that reset your dash ability if you’ve already used it, bubbles that shoot you off in a user-chosen direction while also replenishing your dash, wind of varying speeds that messes with your trajectory, and on and on. The levels do a good job ramping up slowly with each object, giving you a chance to become familiar with it before throwing you into the deep end. (They’re often chained together, which makes you plot out the best place to use your dash and look for ways to reset it.) These objects expend your options when thinking about attacking each obstacle, and forces you to be very precise and decisive on the controls (which again, the controller doesn’t always go along with).
  • Each of the levels here is broken down into a series of individual rooms, most of which require you to execute a perfect sequence of jumps and dashes to proceed. While you’re sometimes able to view the entire room and plan your entire approach, oftentimes this means you fall into an iterative trial-an-error loop, progressively discovering both the level and the best path through it. This approach means that you’re going to die a lot, but the game recognizes this and has optimized the turnaround time from death to respawn (sometimes it’s so quick you don’t have enough time to swear at yourself for your failure), which allows you to quickly get back on the horse and try it again.
  • For as much as I’ve talked up the level design so far, there’s one thing that bothers me: Sometimes platforms are so small and blend so well into the background that you don’t see them as you’re going through the level. (There was one notable example where I only saw a platform after watching a Ryukahr playthrough that would have made that section sooooo much easier.)
  • I’d like to talk about the 8-bit graphical style and the soundtrack, but…honestly, the platforming is so tough and requires such precision that your focus gets locked in on your actions and you barely notice anything else. However, the story (yes, there can be a story beyond “save a kidnapping victim” in platformers) gets some room to breathe in the form of cutscenes that run the gamut from amusing to heartwarming to downright scary, and it’s a thought-provoking/relatable tale of overcoming personal demons and accepting who you are. (Seriously, there are professional country music artists who are incapable of making a character this likable and sympathetic. Walker Hayes, are you taking notes?) It’s the sort of story that helps drive the game forward, and each scene makes going through the challenge of the base levels feel worthwhile.
  • Speaking of the challenge…The base levels (there are 7 chapters to start with) are tough in their own right, but they can get downright nasty if you’re looking to crank up the difficulty. First, there’s the issue of the collectibles: Each chapter contains a bunch of strawberries that require even more precise execution (along with a little exploration) to collect each one, as well as a blue heart that’s generally hidden in the most obscure ways. (Honestly, I think the game goes a little overboard when hiding the blue hearts, relying on untaught mechanics or even obscure game knowledge. The Chapter 4 heart is a prime example: It was easy for me because I bought a Super Mario Bros. 3 strategy guide thirty years ago, but if you don’t know the reference, you’re stuck consulting Professor Google to figure it out.) There are also cassette tapes hidden between alternating-platform puzzles (think the red/blue alternating blocks from Super Mario 3D World) that unlock “B-side” levels for each chapter. The B-sides run you through even nastier rooms that make full use of the mechanics and hazards from the A-side, with the goal of collecting a red heart at the very end of the level. These sadistic creations amp up both the challenge and the amount of profanity you’ll shout, and if you manage to beat them all, you’ll unlock “C-sides”, and oh yeah, there are also hidden chapters, Golden Strawberries for deathless B-side runs, and probably lots of other things that I will never be able to collect. No one will accuse this game of going too easy on anyone, and if you’re going to 100% this game, you’ll need to be a platforming master.

In some sense, Celeste is as hard or as long as you want it to be: The base game is a challenge in itself, but the extra collectables and unlockables can turn this thing into the hardest darn game you’ve ever played. Although the overall number of levels doesn’t compare with a Mario game, each level is Bravely Default II long and include a bunch of extra things to find and collect, so it’s still a good value at $20 (and it was an absolute steal at $5). The controls felt a bit iffy on Switch, but in the end the game is still fun and charming, and the care and effort that the developers put into it radiates through every jump and dash. While folks with little platforming experience may want to start with some Mario titles before jumping into Celeste, fans of the genre owe it to themselves to give this game a try. It may be hard, but like Madeline, perhaps climbing this mountain will also force you to overcome your own inner doubts and discover strength and skill that you never imagined you had.

Mario Golf: Super Rush: Is It Worth Buying?

Sports games have been a huge hole in Nintendo’s lineup for over a decade now. Electronic Arts has mostly avoided the company’s hardware since the Wii U era (Madden and NHL haven’t seen the light of day of Nintendo gear in forever), and we’ve been waiting since late 2019 for MLB The Show to arrive on the console, leaving limited-feature FIFA and 2K Sports’s basketball series as the only major sports titles on the console (with apologies to R.B.I. Baseball). This issue has left Nintendo to try and fill this hole itself, and to its credit it’s done a credible job with its various Mario sports franchises, including Golf, Tennis, Baseball, and Strikers (soccer).

The runaway success of the Switch hasn’t yet convinced the major players in this genre to support the console and fill this hole, so Nintendo is once again stepping into the void, first with Mario Tennis Aces and now with Mario Golf: Super Rush. The golf series has been missing from the world for a while (the last entry came in 2014 for the 3DS), but the series has charmed a number of fans over its lifespan for its ability to produce a fun, faithful golf experience while also sprinkling in the usual Mario charm (I’m still a big fan of Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour from the GameCube era). The question we aim to answer here: Does Super Rush follow in its predecessors’ footsteps and clear the bar they have set?

Truthfully, I look at Mario Golf: Super Rush the way I look at the more-recent entries in the Pokémon series: The game still captures the essence of the series and in fun to play, but I’d call it a lateral move compared to Toadstool Tour: It’s not better or worse, just different. The game takes some chances to inject some energy and chaos into the series, but they often ran counter to the sort of game I was looking to play, and to me it didn’t really advance the series in any way. There’s something for both new players and veterans of the series to enjoy, but there are also some glaring omissions and decisions that leave you scratching your head. It’s a decent game, but I can’t help but feel like it could have been a lot better.

My detailed thoughts on the game are as follows:

  • After going through the technical issues of Bravely Default II, Mario Golf: Super Rush has a much cleaner and crisper presentation. While there are some moments where it takes a strangely-long amount of time before the game will allow button presses to register, load times are generally reasonable, and transitions and animations during a match are fairly smooth (even during online play, which features a few stutters and frame drops but nothing that would disrupt the game). The presentation features the typical Nintendo polish, and allows you to fully immerse yourself in the game.
  • Speaking of the game: There are four main modes here, including Standard Golf, Speed Golf, Battle Golf, and Golf Adventure. Standard Golf is the classic golf experience: You try to complete holes with the fewest number of shots or most points, either by yourself or competing with 1-3 other players. What’s missing, however, is the ability to play courses as a tournament against a large number of virtual players, which was honestly my favorite mode from Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour. Playing with a handful of players can approximate the same experience, but be sure to choose to let people play ‘all at once,’ as letting people take turns means you’re sitting through a bunch of shots that really don’t concern you.

Speed Golf and Battle Golf shake up the traditional golf formula by injecting a bit more…well, speed into the game. Speed Golf makes you run after your ball after you hit it, forcing you to navigate the course while avoiding hazards, while also giving you the opportunity to interfere with your opponents as they chase down their own shots. Battle Golf raises the stakes considerably: The courses are smaller, all the holes are in play simultaneously (the first person to claim three wins), and there are even Bob-ombs you can hit like golf balls to thwart your opponents’ progress. In practice, however, the additions don’t add a whole lot to the game: With each shot adding thirty seconds to your time, the impact of being a few seconds slower than your opponent is negligible, and you can generally grab enough stamina hearts to spam your special dash across the course. Battle Golf turns up the chaos meter considerably, but it seemed you either got caught up in Mario Party-esque random events or would up on a completely different path and played the whole game by yourself. As someone who prefers to take their time to line up the perfect shot, I found Standard Golf to be the best of these three modes, and the new modes really didn’t measure up by comparison.

  • Previous Golf titles included role-playing elements that allowed you to build your own character and learn the game through a single-player campaign, and Super Rush brings this mode back to the series in the form of Golf Adventure, where your Mii character becomes a feared golfer and you get to learn some of the more technical aspects of the game. The best part about Golf Adventure were the practice challenges, which forced you to think long and hard about the wind, the terrain, the clubs, and the ball spin to find a way to get the ball to the required location. Other parts of the mode, however, were a bit lackluster: Your fellow rookies mostly disappeared after the first tournament, the pacing was very inconsistent (you didn’t face a boss battle until the fifth course, and then suddenly you had to face two almost back-to-back), and XC Golf was less fun and more of a headache to play than Speed or Battle Golf. The player progression was a bit unorthodox as well: Instead of continually progressing, your speed, control, and spin will regress if you don’t keep sinking points into those attributes. It’s an awkward balancing mechanism that feels like it could have been handled differently. Overall, the mode is fine, but it really didn’t add a whole lot to the game.
  • Hitting the ball is a relatively straightforward process, but I found the tools you’re given to gauge and measure your shots to be a downgrade from what we had on the GameCube. Setting the shot power and determining roughly where it will land is easy enough, but Toadstool Tour also allowed you to see the expected flight of the ball to help you avoid trees and other obstacles, and the range and elevation finder seem clunky and not as useful as the tools from Toadstool Tour. (I also prefer having the limited power shots that could be conserved with perfect execution over having to charge a special shot and only being able to use it every few holes. I understand that the old system may have unbalanced online play, but I’d still rather have it available.) Overall, I found the game a bit harder to control and a bit less satisfying to play than its predecessors,
  • As someone who’s gotten used to the online limitations of Splatoon 2, there’s a lot to like about what Super Rush offers for network play. There are no random lobbies to speak of; players have to either establish a lobby or search for one that’s already available. Rooms can be located via ID or searched for by a number of parameters (game mode, hole amount, rule choices, shot or character restrictions, etc.) and can be password-protected for further control. While I only tried out Standard Golf online, the mode works very well for network play because each player operates mostly as an independent entity (without special shots, you don’t interact with the other players at all). You may encounter more issues with Speed/Battle Golf since you come into direct contact with the competition, but the glitches I saw during Standard Golf were minimal enough that I think these two modes wouldn’t suffer too much.

So should you drop $60 on Mario Golf: Super Rush? I would say the game is only worth it if you’re a fan of the standard golf gameplay, because it’s still satisfying to execute the perfect shot and online play adds a new dimension of competitiveness. If you’re looking for something more from golf, however, this game won’t give it to you: Speed and Battle Golf are minimal diversions that get old quickly, and Golf Adventure is mostly useful as an extended tutorial. The game definitely had its moments, but it felt surprisingly limited and didn’t quite offer the level of excitement I expected. Nintendo announced that there would be online updates to the game in the future, but if you’re on the fence about Super Rush, I would wait to see exactly what you get (characters, courses, maybe another game mode or two?) before investing in the game. As it is, the game is merely okay, and if you’re not already a fan of the game or the series, you may want to find another game that resonates more with you.

My Reaction to Nintendo’s E3 2021 Direct

Can a post really be called a reaction if I didn’t actually have a reaction?

Coming off a blockbuster presentation in February and with rumors swirling everywhere about possible new software and hardware releases, there was a lot of hype surrounding Nintendo’s presentation for the 2021 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), although admittedly such a statement is like saying that water is wet or Thanos is popular. Would Zelda get a huge feature for its 35th anniversary? Would we see more about some of the games announced in February, or perhaps some new installments of long-forgotten franchises? Would the ‘Switch Pro’ make an appearance? Speculation was rampant, and everyone looked to the Big N to set the record straight.

So, was the Direct good or bad? After sitting through it, I’m honestly of two minds about the whole thing. On a personal level, few of the games the company showcased appealed to me, and I walked away unimpressed and even a little bored by the whole thing. From a more-objective perspective, however, the Direct was actually pretty good, with several major software announcements and some neglected franchises getting some much-deserved screen time. While I’m not excited about much of what was here, I know a lot of people will be, and just as Shinya Takahashi stated in the opener, you’ll probably find at least one announcement here that excites you.

My detailed thoughts on the Direct are as follows:

  • I’ll be honest: I know nothing about the Tekken series, and when Kazuya Mishima was announced as the newest fighter for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, my reaction was “Who?” However, as a long-retired Smash player, I can’t get too worked up over character announcements, and with a history and track record that rivals Mortal Kombat, Tekken is a series that deserves to be represented alongside Street Fighter and King of Fighters (Side note: I know MK has its own series to promote and wants to keep all its fighters to itself, but not having someone like Liu Kang or Scorpion in SSBU feels like a major roster hole). I like to to think of SSBU less as a game and more as a playable history of the industry and of fighting games in particular, so Kazuya seems like a sensible choice to me.
  • Super Monkey Ball is a series that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention over the last decade (it hasn’t had a new game released on a console since 2012), but for its 20th anniversary the developers decided to pull out all the stops and bring out a new addition to the…wait, Banana Mania is only a remastered collection of the first third titles? This isn’t the worst idea though, since more-recent Monkey Ball games haven’t been received terribly well, and the franchise has fallen into the same awkward state that Paper Mario lives in where people keep asking for the original game style but never getting it. While it’s not much of an anniversary celebration, introducing a new generation of players to the best parts of your series can hopefully invigorate the franchise and be a stepping stone for bigger things in the future.
  • Speaking of a franchise that’s been stuck in the doldrums…with Super Mario Party seemingly washing the bad taste of Mario Party 9 and 10 out of everyone’s mouth, Nintendo would like to remind you that the franchise was actually pretty good back in the day, and they’re doing so with Mario Party Superstars, a collection of remastered boards and minigames from days gone by (the trailer featured a lot of boards/games from the original Mario Party N64 title). The inclusion of online play for all game modes is a big deal, but beyond that this seems like a straightforward Mario Party experience, so I’m not sure how much it will expand the game’s player base. Still, if you like these sorts of games, this might be a worthwhile pickup this fall.
  • Speaking of a franchise that’s really been stuck in the doldrums…there was no word of the progress of Metroid Prime 4, but Nintendo tried to take the sting out of this non-announcement by bringing out Metroid Dread, the first new 2D Metroid game since Metroid Fusion back in 2002. The trailer plays up the atmospheric elements and horror-game influences, and while it’s an interesting direction for the series and helps distinguish it from other ‘Metroidvanias,’ the tension doesn’t seem as palpable in the moment-to-moment gameplay, even when the E.M.M.I. robots are chasing you. The biggest influence here is Metroid: Samus Returns, as many of the moves and quality-of-life upgrades return from the 2017 remake. Honestly, what impresses me most about this game is how smoothly the game goes from playable moments to cut scenes, a stark contrast to a game like Bravely Default II (perhaps the Switch Pro is real after all? More on this later). I’ve only briefly played Metroid Prime, but this looks like a solid entry in the franchise, and fans of this series have a good reason to be excited.
  • I enjoyed Cruis’n USA on the N64 way back in the way, but I (and likely most of the world) had forgotten about this series until I saw that Cruis’n Blast (an arcade-only game released in 2017) was coming to the Switch this fall. The original console games were straightforward, relatively-realistic runs along linear courses, but this one appeared to have a bit more Mario Kart mixed in, with boost ramps and nitrous oxide containers to amp up the speed (no items were shown, and they’ve never been a part of the series so I don’t expect to see them now). It’s not Mario Kart 9, but it might be worth a look if you’re looking for something a little different than Nintendo’s typical karting fare.
  • Given that Mario Golf: Super Rush is coming out in two weeks, I really expected to see more from this game in the Direct presentation (at least the Treehouse demo walked us through some of the main modes). There’s something for everyone here: Standard Golf is for those who like to take their time to line up the perfect shot (and the game gives you plenty of tools to let you determine the best course of action), Speed Golf is for folks who prefer a bit more action and chaos in their games, Adventure Golf lets people ease into the game while also adding some RPG-like character progression to allow you to customize your character (although just using standard Miis seems disappointing after seeing what Miitopia did with its extra customization features), and Battle Golf is…a shorter, more open version of Speed Golf. (Nintendo made a point of emphasizing that more updates will be released over time, but I think we all kind of assumed that given the company’s recent track record.) I’m not really sold on the faster modes, and I’m not sure the Big N did a whole lot to market the title here, but I enjoyed Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour back in the day, so I’ll probably give it a shot.
  • WarioWare has never interested me as a series (it’s basically Mario Party without the progression element of the board game), but shorter minigames definitely line up with the “pick up and play” ethos of the Switch, so I’m a little surprised we hadn’t seen a game like this on the Switch until now. WarioWare: Get It Together! is more of the same some everyone’s favorite Mario clone, with some additional features such as local co-op gameplay and unique character abilities that should only help makes things more fun. If you’re a fin of this series, grabbing this title seems like a no-brainer.
  • Remember when we all went “Huh?” when rumors surfaced about a crossover between Mario and the Rabbids franchise? Fast forward five years, and it’s clear that the move was a brilliant one, as Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle was received so well that the series now feels like a true part of Mario’s core franchises, and a second game Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope was announced during Ubisoft’s E3 presentation and set to release in 2022. This game is a bit different this time around (battles allow you to move freely rather than on a grid, indifferent Rabbid Luma has been added to the cast, Mario is apparently a dualie main, and…Master Hand is somehow involved now?), but the core of the game seems similar to its predecessor, so if you enjoyed Kingdom Battle (I did!) you’ll want to check out this one.
  • Despite arriving in North America 20 years ago, I had no idea Advance Wars even existed…which makes sense given that the franchise hasn’t seen a new release since 2008. That statement is actually still true today, as Advance Wars 1+2: Re-boot Camp, like Monkey Mania, is just a remaster of the original games in the series (in this case, the first two). The game consists of a number of tactical battle challenges similar to Mario + Rabbids or Ogre Battle (note that your units don’t gain experience), but with some additional options such as unit creation tossed in for good measure. Combat looks straightforward enough and presents some interesting strategic options, and the main characters seem to have some charm and personality behind them. Whether or not this is enough to move me to actually buy the game when it drops in December remains to be seen.
  • Alright, it’s to celebrate Zelda‘s 35th anniversary! …But having only a new Game & Watch device that plays some old NES and Game Boy titles feels like a bit of a cop-out, and even the HD remake of Skyward Sword doesn’t exactly clear the bar set by the 3D All-Stars collection we got for Mario‘s 35th. It’s another chance to experience some of the older games if you missed them, but it wasn’t enough to convince me to pick up either item. Breath of the Wild 2 got another small trailer that suggests we’ll be exploring the skies above Hyrule this time around, but it will be a while before we get to do it: Producer Eiji Aonuma declared that the company was simply “aiming” to release this in 2022, so given that the original game showed up four years after its announcement, it wouldn’t surprise me to see this get bumped to 2023. At this point, we know very little about the story and have only glimpses of certain mechanics, so it’s too early to tell whether or not it will measure up to its predecessor. All in all, I’d call this anniversary celebration a bit disappointing, and I hope they do better when Zelda turns 40 in 2026.
  • Okay, so we’ve talked about the things that were present at the Direct, but what about the things that didn’t show up? The most notable omission was the ‘Switch Pro,’ a new Switch hardware iteration which was heavily rumored by multiple outlets and seemed to be suggested by some of the games we’ve seen (Splatoon 3‘s graphics looked surprisingly sharp in February, and I have trouble believing those Metroid Dread transitions would have been this smooth on the current hardware). It wasn’t shown at all here, and as Polygon notes, Nintendo gave up announcing major hardware stuff at E3 a long time ago, after both the Wii U and the 3DS failed to launch in the early part of the decade. It’s probably still coming, but not until later in the summer. (The current microchip shortage has also been cited as a delaying factor, which would make sense given that every other industry has been grappling with this issue too.) Additionally, as someone who primarily plays Splatoon 2 and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I was sad to hear nothing about either franchise, and while we know Splatoon 3 is coming next year, ACNH‘s disappearance makes me think that the game’s end-of-life date is rapidly approaching (especially since Splatoon and Animal Crossing appear to share a development team, which means they’re probably focusing on Splatoon 3 right now). While leaving these series out made the Direct kind of a bummer for me, let’s be honest: There was a lot to talk about here, and something had to be cut to make room for it all. I think we’ll hear more about what wasn’t here in the not-so-distant future.

Overall, I think this was a decent Direct, and while it didn’t cater to my own interests much, there are still some games (Mario Golf: Super Rush, Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope) that I was excited to see. (The Treehouse presentations afterwards were useful showcases as well; I was at least marginally interested in games like Metroid Dread and Advance Wars 1+2: Re-boot Camp once I saw a bit more gameplay.) Switch Pro or no, I think the Switch is set up well for the remainder of 2021 (and 2022 looks really good), and with the eventual Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl remakes coming, this holiday season should be another strong one for Nintendo. (Put another way, I am way more optimistic about the future of Nintendo than I am about the future of country music.) The Switch is five years old now, and while console lifecycles may not generally be very long, with what I’m seeing here, it’ll be a while before this home/handheld hybrid is sent out to pasture.

Bravely Default II vs. Miitopia: Which One Is Worth Buying?

Hey, if this title card worked for Mortal Kombat: Equestria, it’ll work for this post.

2021 is shaping up to be a strong year for Nintendo titles, and as I mentioned back in February, the Nintendo Switch seems to have claimed the title of the RPG console now that the 3DS is officially history. Two of the more-prominent titles that have graced the console in recent months are Bravely Default II, the third game in the Bravely series (despite the II in the title), and Miitopia, a port of the 3DS title from 2017. As games go, these two may technically fall into the same genre, but they couldn’t be more different, and they cater to very different segments of the role-playing game fanbase.

I’ve already spoken about Miitopia in great detail, so I’ll be focusing on BD2 for the bulk of the ‘review’ portion of this post. The bigger question, however, is this: Which of these games better fits your preferences and experience? The answer depends on your personal preferences and RPG experience: Miitopia is a simple, fun experience that is best played in byte-sized chunks and is perfect for new or casual RPG fans, where Bravely Default II is a deep-cut title that is best suited for rabid/hardcore fans of the genre that are looking for something suitably epic and complex.

First, let’s discuss some of the revelations I’ve had since my discussion of the BD2 demo:

  • The game’s biggest surprise has nothing to do with the gameplay or story: This thing runs really badly on the Switch. Square Enix had better hope that all these “Switch Pro” rumors turn out to be true, because if any game could benefit from a hardware upgrade, it’s this one. Transitions between locations and into cut scenes are as slow or slower than Animcal Crossing: New Horizons, button presses can sometimes take a second or two to register (usually when entering a ‘Party Chat’ vignette), and combat animations will occasionally freeze and skip to the end of the action. (On one memorable occasion, an enemy teleported across the overworld screen to land on top of my party for a surprise attack! This is irritating but understandable in an online game like Splatoon 2; having it happen in a single-player game is simply inexcusable.) For all of the technical blemishes Miitopia had in its move to the Switch, they were nothing compared to the issues I encountered here, and the fat that neither game ran especially smooth makes me worry about some of the Switch titles currently in the pipeline, especially *gulp* Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  • The job/ability/battle mechanics seemed to fit together better the second time around. While I’m still not a fan of certain aspects of the game (*cough* the weight mechanic *cough*), the job and combat systems seemed to make a lot more sense when I started playing the game. I stuck with the default jobs the demo gave me originally, but with the way the job level system maxes out at Lv. 12, the game encourages you to continuously rotate jobs onto different characters in order to keep growing and receive certain useful perks (it reminded me a lot of how the “Superfresh” designation in Splatoon 2 encourages you to try out all sorts of weapons). In addition to your main job (which receives job points for each battle), you also have a sub-job that does not gain experience but still lets you access the perks you’ve unlocked, letting you grind new jobs without losing all the benefits of the old ones. (Experience points are a separate system that you receive regardless of the jobs you’re using.) While some of the jobs don’t strike me as all that useful, there are enough interesting ones that you can use to piece together abilities (which can be assigned at any time regardless of what job you’re using) to create the ultimate brawler/healer/magic user for wreaking havoc in boss battles.
  • Speaking of battles: The fights aren’t necessarily difficult, but they can drag on forevvvvvvvver. In the demo, you were encouraged to try different strategies and job combinations until you found one that proved successful. Given my tendency to over-level my characters while playing, however, boss battles boiled to down to giving each character their strongest job, figuring out what attacks would do the most damage, and then spamming said attacks until the enemy caved. (There doesn’t seem to be any feedback mechanism besides winning or losing fights, so unless you’re looking strategy guides up online, going in with your best team comp every time seemed to be the most effective way to win.) I didn’t lose any fights like I did in the demo (besides the fights you’re supposed to lose to further the story, and even then I ended up timing out some of those rather than actually losing), but it meant that tough battles were often 30-minute slogs that tested your patience more than your skill. (There are also super-hard enemies scattered around the map that you can take on in you want a tougher challenge, but after one took me an hour to complete, I decided the payoff just wasn’t worth it.) Random battles aren’t usually too bad (especially since you can swing your sword at the enemy in the overworld and bank a free Brave point at the start), but they can add up in the surprisingly numerous and expansive dungeons, forcing you to get creative with abilities and item use to sustain your squad (‘Solar/Lunar Powered’ and other regenerational perks are a must). In other words, traveling around the world is along and arduous process that is only recommended for those who are really invested in the story.
Lies, delusions, credulity, and isolation…and that’s just in the halls of Congress!
  • However, the story is really good and really easy to get invested in. The twist in the Savalon tale after the demo ends is worth the price of admission by itself, and while I feel like the Wiswaldian final boss could have been tied back to the story a bit more closely (they’re just some random person who didn’t get enough love from their parents as a child), the game does a great job making her a despicable villain that the player will enjoy smiting (it reminds me a lot of Helgenish from Primrose’s story in Octopath Traveler). Each of your travel companions (and even the protagonist Seth to an extent) is well-written and just bursting with personality (Adelle is my personal favorite), and they do a great job drawing you into the story and making you want to complete their quests and see their problems resolved. The many cut scenes and copious voice acting do slow the game down, but they make the game much more immersive and interesting, and they help inspire you to grind through the long, arduous processes from the prior point.

So after all this, would I recommend Bravely Default II to the general public, and more importantly, would I recommend it over the wild, irreverent, and enjoyable game that is Miitopia? The answer really depends on what you’re looking for out of an RPG:

  • Miitopia and Bravely Default II are polar opposites when it comes to combat: The latter gives you a smorgasbord of specific options for each character’s turn, while the former doesn’t even give you control over your entire party, limiting you to the actions of the protagonists and some general healing options in the form of sprinkles and the Safe Spot. In other words, Bravely Default II is for people who want to be overwhelmed with customization and strategic options, and Miitopia is a more straightforward experience that requires minimal experience or preparation on the part of the player.
  • Similarly, the depth of each story is dramatically different: BD2 provides a wealth of lore and backstory, and weaves together elaborate and serious plotlines for each chapter that leave the player guessing until the very end. Miitopia‘s story is longer than you might think at first, but there’s no real lore or depth behind anything, and it’s really not meant to be a serious tale (in fact, the less serious you take it, the more fun you’ll have). You won’t get the tragic tale of a lost kingdom and its stolen treasures in Miitopia, but you’ll never get to play as a language arts textbook in BD2 either.
  • Bravely Default II is a serious time investment every time to sit down to play, as you’ll be battling through dungeons and tackling marathon boss fights without an easy off-ramp. Miitopia, in contrast, actively asks you every couple of levels (which are shorter to begin with) whether you want to stop and take a break (and given the repetitive gameplay, it’s probably best to consume it in smaller bites), and is much more in line with the ‘pick up and play/put down and chill’ mantra of the 3DS (in contrast, I couldn’t make it out of one dungeon in BD2 without having to plug in my Switch charger!). Throw in the many cutscenes of BD2, and Miitopia winds up being the faster and more action-packed experience despite the levels being mostly on rails.

In other words, I see Miitopia as a gateway to the role-playing genre, a good first step for players who want to dip their toes into the water (maybe not as good a first RPG as Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars, but probably the best ‘starter RPG’ I’ve run into outside of the Pokémon series). It’s a game that you can take as seriously as you want, one that places you more in a managerial role when it comes to combat and doesn’t make you sweat the small stuff, and one that provides a bit more action in favor of slow, drawn-out attempts at world-building. If you’re into more active gametypes such as platformers, Miitopia is a good way to try on an RPG for size before committing to it.

Bravely Default II, in contrast, is a deep-cut game for RPG veterans, ones who want more exploration, more elaborate storylines, and more control. The game is longer and slower (and it may not run that well), and it will either overwhelm newer players with its battle strategies and or put them to sleep with it relative lack of action, but it also rewards those with the patience to sit through it with a engaging story, charming characters, and lots of ways to approach each and every fight. Longstanding RPG fans will really enjoy this game, and if you play through Miitopia and decide you’re looking for a game with more depth, than you might enjoy it too.

So if you’re curious about seeing what a role-playing game is all about, start by giving Miitopia a shot and seeing if it’s a genre you want to explore further. If so, you’ve got a lot of great options for diving deeper on the Switch, and Bravely Default II should definitely be on your radar. No matter your experience level, the Switch has an RPG that’s right for you.

Never change, Adelle.