My Reaction to the Splatoon 3 Direct

(Editor’s Note: This week’s regularly-scheduled Pulse post has been pushed to Friday.)

We’re about a month away from the Sept. 9 release of Splatoon 3, and up to now information about the game had been fairly sparse, limited to a bunch of Twitter posts and a few minutes of previous Direct space. The dearth of information had brought to mind a quote I half-remember from an old PSA, something along the lines of “People tend to assume the worst if you don’t tell them you really care,” because the hot topic in the Splatoon community for the last month has been concerned hand-wringing. It started with tons of people asking “Is there something wrong with Splatoon 3? Is it just going to be the same as Splatoon 2? Is Nintendo going to turn it into the next Call Of Duty?”, followed by the usual counter-content saying that everything would be fine and people were just silly for worrying. The whole mess felt manufactured and overly-dramatic to me, but such is life in the age of the 24-hour news cycle.

My initial thought was that a) we wouldn’t get a dedicated Splatoon direct at all, and b) we didn’t actually need a Splatoon Direct anyway. The Directs for the first two games focused mostly on the basics: What the game was, how to play different modes, what the shops in the plaza were, and so on. It made sense for Splatoon because the series was new, and it made sense for Splatoon 2 because nobody bought a Wii U and thus the game was still relatively unknown, but after selling over 111 million Switches and over 13 million copies of Splatoon 2, I didn’t think a Direct for S3 was necessary. We know what Inklings are (they’re Smash Bros. fighters, obviously), we know what this franchise is, and we know how the game works—do we really need another guided tour through the hat and shoe shops?

However, after seeing all the knee-jerk reactions online, I decided that we did need a Splatoon Direct, less for the information it contained and more to calm the frayed nerves of the community and assure folks that everything was going to be okay. (Given the state of pretty much everything in the world right now, people can be forgiven for wanting a little extra reassurance.) Finally, Nintendo announced a dedicated Splatoon 3 Direct earlier this week, and then dropped the video this morning (and apparently almost dropped it yesterday). So what did we get?

…Well, we got what the game was, how to play different modes, what the shops in the plaza were, and so on. What else did you expect? Still, there were enough new details, surprises, and quality-of-life upgrades to get the hype and analysis machines cranked back up for the franchise, so I’d say the presentation served its purpose. Let’s dig in!

You know you’ve been playing this game for too long when you watch the intro sequence and your first thought is “wait, did they increase the shot RNG of the Splattershot Jr.?”

The presentation started with the Turf War basics: Teams, objectives, ink traversal and consumption, etc. The new Squid Surge and Squid Roll movement options were shown off, but details remained a bit vague: For example, the surge seemed to take a moment to charge—does this happen every time, or can the user decide how long to hold it, and can you get bigger surges with longer charges? For the Squid Roll, when the announcer says it “slightly repels ink” while it’s glowing, exactly what does that mean? Are you fully invincible when you roll, or is damage just reduced and a powerful enough shot can still get you? (This would be a great way to make a niche for the Goo Tuber: Maybe a Splat Charger/Squiffer/E-Liter couldn’t one-shot through a Squid Roll, but a fully-charged Goo Tuber could.) Overall this section felt a little lackluster: Either we were told something we already knew, or we weren’t told enough about what we didn’t know.

As far as the announced stages, we only got a few glimpses of the new ones, so there isn’t a ton to say about them except that generally they look really large and fairly open. I’m curious to see how this impacts general gameplay: Splatoon 2 took a lot of heat for its special-spamming meta, and ProChara cited larger map sizes as a reason for why more specials were being deployed. Continuing the supersizing trend could lead to similar issues in S3, and while there are a ton of ways to balance special weapons besides map size, it remains a cause for concern. On the returning stage front, we got a number of confirmations for S1 maps that didn’t appear in S2: Museum D’Alfonsino we knew about, but Hammerhead Bridge and Mahi-Mahi Resort are coming back as well, and there was also a teaser for an unnamed stage coming post-launch…

Yeah, that’s definitely Flounder Heights, a stage I’ve been begging the Splatoon devs to bring back for years. (S2 maps Inkblot Art Academy, Sturgeon Shipyard, MakoMart, and Wahoo World were also confirmed as well.)

I can’t complain about anything I saw here: I was at least neutral on most of the returning maps, and the only one I truly detested (Hammerhead Bridge) appears to have been completely redesigned (the bridge is finally finished now!), so I’m curious to see how it plays. One thing I didn’t see, however, was Moray Towers, and I’m a little surprised about this given how popular that map was in S1. However, it seemed to lose its luster for a lot of people in S2, and if Flounder Heights is coming back to bring some verticality to the party, perhaps Moray will sit this game out.

In addition to all of the existing weapons classes, Splatoon 3 will feature two new weapon types from the start: “Stringers” (the bows we’ve been drooling over for over a year), and “Splatanas” (giant windshield wipers that have more range than brushes, but don’t seem to paint or move as well). While I’m sure these classes will shake up the game, I’m not all that interested in them personally: Stringers seem to play a lot like chargers (which means they require far more aim than I have), and Splatanas look like the sort of ZR-spam, RMI-causing weapons that I tend to avoid. That said, I just completed a “100 wins with 100 weapons” challenge in S2, and I know darn well I’m going to destroy myself trying to hit triple-digits with both the bows and the wipers. (It helps make the pain of Dustin Lynch reviews seem less severe in comparison.)

On the special weapon front, we’ve got a lot more returning S2 specials than I expected: Tenta Missiles, Inkjet, Ink Storm, Ultra Stamp, and the Booyah Bomb will all be coming back without any noticeable modifications (as opposed to the remixed S1 specials that were shown off such as the Tri-zooka and Killer Wait 5.1). The Tentacooler, which provides temporary stat boosts to any player who stops by the machine, likely means we won’t see Ink Armor make a return, and the Reefslider (which travels in a straight line to a specific area and then explodes) looks to be replacing Baller. Wave Breaker is a confusing one to me: It send out pulses that mark opponents and can even splat them is enough pulses connect, but I feel like Ink Storm kinda-sorta serves the same “clear out of an area or else” purpose, so are they distinct enough to convince people to try out both of them?

Sub weapons were never explicitly mentioned in the presentation, but we’ve seen most of them passing through this and other presentations. Splat Bombs, Suction Bombs, Splat Walls, Toxic Mist, and the new Angle Shooter were off in the Turf War video a while back, and Torpedos and Sprinklers made brief cameos during this presentation. I imagine some of the other bomb varieties from S2 will be coming back (Curling Bombs, Autobombs), but will have to wait and see.

The usual shops are back (hats, clothing, gear, and weapons) and a whole new set of proprietors are running them (Sheldon’s still here though; no one else wants his job). Gear abilities don’t appear to have changed too much (Bomb Resistance Up DX seems to have been replaced with a more-general Sub Resistance Up), but there’s a new Intensify Action ability which appears to provide a Quick Super Jump-like boost for the new Squid Surge/Roll abilities (although no footage was shown of a boosted Squid Roll). Murch from S2 has gotten a boost as well: He can replace gear main abilities as well as sub abilities, as well as apparently boost ‘star power’ for a weapon. Star power appears to be tied to weapon acquisition, as using weapons and gaining star power grants you ‘Sheldon Licenses’ which are then used to buy new weapons. I’m not sure how I feel about this (it seems like it makes getting new weapons more difficult and complicated), but we’ll have to see it in action to know for sure.

Remember all that speculation about apartments in S3? I’m sad to report that shrinkflation has hit the Splatlands…but happy to report that at least we now have lockers! Lockers are customizable areas that you can customize with items, gear, photos, and stickers, and there’s a new shop “Hotlantis” where you can pick up some of these items. You can also customize a “splashtag” that will display your name and title at the start and end of battle, and even set your victory animation!

…Okay, this one’s going to be divisive.

Seasonal in-game catalogs will be available to order special items/gear/moves/tags/etc., so make sure to get all the stuff you want before it’s gone!

All three ranked modes from S2 are now officially confirmed (*sigh* okay, Clam Blitz is here too), but the structure of Ranked Battles seems to have been changed. Now, solo queue appears to be split into ‘Anarchy Battles,’ where you can either play a best-of-five ‘series’ against other players or play ‘open’ battles that allow you to team up with friends. This raises so many questions: Is ‘open’ the unranked ranked mode I’ve been asking for? I recall ThatSRB2Dude a while back talking about how playing a series of battles would be a more-accurate ranking system—is series mode what he was talking about? (An ‘X Mode’ was also teased as a post-launch update—will this be an extension of the ranking system?) The one headscratching choice that I saw was that League Battles won’t be in the game to start, so this means that a) they’re hoping ‘open’ Anarchy Battles will serve the same purpose initially, or b) they’re just making a bad decision (league seems like a pretty important option to me…). Private Battles are back, but they appear to be unchanged from their S2 iteration, so I don’t know if lobby codes or any of the community’s other requested QoL upgrades are present.

There are, however, some really cool QoL upgrades that made it into the game, starting with the improved Test Range. Not only is it larger and it appears to have more-varied targets to splat, you can also enter the test range while waiting for matches to start, so you’re not stuck staring at a glorified loading screen for minutes on end. You can also form teams for Turf War battles, view replays of past battles (perfect for players who want to review their gameplay to improve), and at long last be able to skip the long news updates when you start up the game. Players that are new to the series won’t realize how privileged they are!

Gosh, I can’t wait to use my Diamond Dynasty cards in table turf battles! …Wait, that’s not how it works?

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what to say and Table Turf battles. It’s a new mode that appears to be a turn-based Turf War that plays out on a Tetris-like grid, where each player uses a custom deck of cards to claim spaces and out-paint their opponents. Is this supposed to be a full-blown competitive game mode like Salmon Run, or a neat little diversion like B n’ D in Bravely Default II? I guess only time will tell.

Salmon Run was mostly fleshed out in a prior presentation, but some big new pieces were revealed today, such as some new bosses (Slammin’ Lids, Big Shots), the arrival of King Salmonids (the Cohozuna was teased at the very end of the old SR trailer) which appear as extra ways at the end of some battles and can be defeated using normal methods or by launching Golden Eggs at them, and the announcement of Big Runs, where Salmonids invade the Splatlands and battles take places on standard ink battle maps. In other words, SR will be expanding a lot in S3, perhaps in recognition of the vibrant sub-community that has sprung up around it in S2. The big unanswered questions: Is it still going to be available only periodically and randomly, or can we play it anytime we want in S3? Here’s hoping for the latter…

Surprisingly, the single-player mode didn’t get a lot of screen time here, and few new details were revealed. You’re Agent 3 again as in S1, but what you’re doing and why you’re doing it remains a mystery for the moment. Callie, Marie, Original Agent 3, Captain Cuttlefish, and DJ Octavio all appear to be returning, and the brief video snippets indicate that some stage design inspiration has drawn from S2 Octo Expansion DLC levels. (The gear-loss cutscene also suggests you’ll be in a Metroid Prime situation to start, and will have to regain all your tools as your play through the mode.)

The end of the “official” trailer focused on features pertaining to the plaza and the NSO app. Most of this stuff is minor (custom art posts are back, SplatNet 3 appears to work about the same as SplatNet 2, amiibos give you gear and let you save certain loadouts), and the one potentially-interesting feature (Photo Mode) felt a bit underwhelming because there didn’t seem to be a way to pose for the picture (if Animal Crossing can do it, why can’t Splatoon?). Some new S3 amiibo were also announced…

…and while they look great, I never felt like amiibo had much utility in S2 as compared to S1, so it’s hard to justify buying them for the in-game functionality.

In terms of updates, the game is slated for free content updates like the catologs for at least two years, and apparently plans for “large-scale paid DLC” are in the works (silhouettes of Pearl and Marina were teased here, so they likely won’t be seen in the base game). Oh, and speaking of idols…

From left to right: Shiver, Big Man, and Frye.

Meet Deep Cut, the official hosts of Splatoon 3. They’ll be taking over for Pearl and Marina and announcing the current stages and modes (if you don’t skip them, that is). There are three of them this time, which means there’s a big change to the other mode they host…

This track is fire, and would probably make my year-end best single list if it were released to country radio.

That’s right, Splatfests are back! But with three idols comes three teams to choose from, and battles are now broken into two stages: A regular 1v1, 4v4 turf war, and a chaotic 4v2v2 Tri-Color Turf War where the winning team from the first stage has to hold on against both of the other teams. I have no idea how this is going to work, but a special pre-release Splatfest has been announced for August 27th, so I guess we’ll all find out together!

Okay…deep breaths…deep breaths…

So what did we really get from all this? While little we saw was really necessary and could have been left as a release-day surprise, I liked a lot of what I saw here, and bringing it all together in this sort of package amplified the hype levels and put Splatoon 3 front and center in the minds of both the Splatoon and wider Nintendo communities. Splatoon has felt stagnant for a while now, but Twitter and YouTube (and yes, even WordPress) are already starting to light up with reactions, analyses, and hot takes, and this train is going to keep building up steam until the game drops next month. People are finally excited for this franchise again, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

See you in the Splatlands!

Live A Live: Early Impressions

I have to say, this is a masterclass in how NOT to make a demo for a video game.

The Nintendo Switch has officially assumed the title as the console for folks who enjoy role-playing games (Bravely Default II, Octopath Traveler, Xenoblade Chronicles 1-3, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Miitopia, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, approximately 14 Dragon Quest titles, another 14 Pokémon titles, etc.), and after wrapping up what might be the best of them all in Triangle Strategy, I was on the lookout for the console’s next great RPG. Enter Live A Live, an SNES-era game that had never gotten an official release outside of Japan, and was now being re-made using the same 2D-HD art style featured in Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy. Much like OT, Live A Live follows separate storylines for each character in the game (there are seven altogether), although this time they are spread out across the timeline rather than existing in the same era. The game promised interesting combat mechanics and unique scenario gimmicks, and I couldn’t resist taking a closer look.

The game appears to be only $50 compared to the usual $60 price tag (a surprising revelation given the current state of inflation), but for folks who prefer to try before they buy, a demo showcasing three of the LAL storylines was released on the Nintendo eShop, so I decided to give it a shot. What I found, however, was more akin to a current mainstream country song than a Square Enix RPG: A bland, uncompelling experience that made me less interested in the game rather than more. The most bizarre part was that this result didn’t really seem like the game’s fault—the three stories hinted at the deep motives and dark secrets within, but the bare-bones demo simply didn’t give them enough room to breathe, and it was over before the player could really engage with the tales, or even know what the heck was going on.

The three options presented by the demo were the Imperial China, Twilight of Edo Japan, and The Distant Future timelines. I chose to play Imperial China first, which was a mistake because it’s easily the worst-executed presentation of the three. You play the role as an aging martial arts master looking for disciples to pass down your skills, but this search boiled down to aimlessly wandering the map hoping to stumble onto something interesting. Such an exploratory approach might work if the map was worth exploring, but the areas available to you are small and linear, and the encounters with your eventual disciples felt a bit forced. Combat here is limited to a few canned battles and some wild animals in a sparsely-populated forest (all enemies are visible here, so there aren’t any random encounters), so you don’t really get a chance to mess about with the vaunted grid mechanics, and the area-of-effect of your attacks are so spread out and random that I was mostly focused on finding a spot on the board to land the attack at all than searching for the optimum launch point. Finally, there didn’t seem to be an overarching goal for the story, and right before your team starts training in earnest…the demo ends and you’re tossed back into the timeline select menu. The presentation never gave you a good reason to get invested in the story or the combat, and was a really disappointing way to start the game.

Next up was The Distant Future, where you play as a sentient bot brought to life by a crew member aboard a giant spaceship. This scenario was slightly better than Imperial China: We got some more characters and a few glimpses into their personalities, the map felt more open with more nooks and crannies to explore, and the story progression and ending cliffhanger did a much better job of drawing the player into the world. Outside of a video game within the game, however, combat was nonexistent here, and much of the map wasn’t really used in the demo and thus exploration (though encouraged by the other characters) was a pointless time-waster. In the end, there just wasn’t a lot to do here: You wandered around, you talked to some people, you watched a cutscene or two, and then it was over. There simply wasn’t enough here to get players to invest themselves in the game and see what happened next.

Finally, I tried out the Edo Japan storyline, and while it turned out to be the best of the three stories, it still didn’t live up to my expectations. In this scenario, you are a ninja trainee tasked with rescuing someone from an evil wannabe-ruler (who you rescue and why you rescue them are never explained), and have to make your way through the evil fiend’s compound. Here, you’re given a choice: You can use stealth to avoid all combat (you’re given a technique that immediately renders you invisible in the overworld), or you can strike down all who stand against you in your quest. (There’s also an interesting password mechanic that changes whenever a bell tolls, which would have been a neat challenge…if the game didn’t immediately tell you “Oh, I should say this now” every time Clarence got his wings.)The map is big and ripe for exploring (you can even traverse the rooftops!), but you don’t really gain anything from it: Items are sparse (and not useful for the stealth route), every NPC I encountered wanted your head on a pike (aside from a few looking for said password), and the conversations you eavesdropped on in passing rarely had any bearing on the story. Worst of all, you never even get the chance to complete the first objective: There are a few references to a locked storehouse door, but the moment you finally find the key, the demo ends. It’s as if the developers were covering for not telling you much about your mission by simply blocking you from completing it, and the abrupt ending left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Frankly, I have no idea why Square Enix released a demo for Live A Live in the first place. There might have been a good game here, but the company was too afraid to show it to us, and instead gave us a halfhearted, half-finished teaser that fails to explain why we should bother playing the full game. After enjoying the demos for Octopath Traveler and Triangle Strategy, I was surprised and disappointed to discover how bad this demo was, and with both Splatoon 3 and a really busy schedule on the horizon, I’m not interested in pursuing this avenue any further. If you’re interested in playing Live A Live, skip the demo and seek out reviews from outlets who’ve gotten to play the full game, because you won’t learn anything from the free trial.

I can’t tell you that Live A Live is worth buying, but I can say that this demo isn’t worth the nothing you pay for it.

What Can Splatoon Learn From MLB The Show?

I haven’t written about MLB Ths Show 22 that much on the blog, but if you’ve been following my Twitter feed, you’ve seen that I’ve been absolutely obsessed with the game for the last few months. As someone who’s played a lot of sports titles over the years, having baseball return to Nintendo hardware has been a dream come true, and I’ve been enjoying every minute of the game, even if my online record proves that I’m terrible at it (hey, hitting is hard!).

However, the game that has dominated my free time (and my blog) for the last few years in Splatoon 2, and it just so happens that we’re getting a new version of the true squid game this September. Back when Splatoon 2 was just a fever dream, I wrote a post on what the game could take away from the popular shooter Overwatch, and while Nintendo didn’t end up doing any of what I suggested, it was still an interesting thought exercise. Given the amount of time I’ve sunk into MLB The Show 22 that I would have otherwise thrown at Splatoon 2, is there anything here that could be “borrowed” from baseball to improve Splatoon 3?

Before you start screaming at your monitor: Yes, I’m fully aware that baseball and ink battles are two very different things. Splatoon games are short, fast-paced affairs with only four positions to fill per side, while baseball is much slower (a single Show match will run you 30-45 minutes), features a lot more specialized roles, and each player is unique is some way (some hit better, some run better, some field better, some have weird arm angles that mess with your opponent’s head). Splatoon isn’t going to learn a lot from baseball (in truth, baseball could probably take some lessons from Splatoon), but there are two things that The Show uses to drive player engagement that I think Splatoon could take advantage of: Moments/Missions and Programs.

  • Moments & Missions: In MLB The Show, players are presented with a list of situations in which they have to successfully perform some task (say, hit a home run with a certain player over the course of a game, or pitch an inning with a certain player while striking out two, not giving up a hit, and not using the letter ‘e’). These ‘Moments’ serve as a counterbalance to the game’s longer/slower modes, and are rolled out on a periodic basis (sometimes daily!) so that player always have something new to try.

In contrast, ‘Missions’ are goals that a player tries to reach in the process of playing regular games. For example, the game recently challenged players to earn 3,000 ‘parallel XP’ and hit 15 home runs with players on the Boston Red Sox, in honor of David Ortiz’s recent induction into the Hall of Fame. This incentivizes players to include different players in their lineups and gives them a taste of the strengths and weaknesses of each one (seriously, Ryan Brasier would never have gotten close to my bullpen otherwise).

So how would this work in Splatoon? I see a couple of ideas:

  • Moments: Back in Splatoon for the Wii U, using an amiibo would unlock special single-player challanges, forcing to to play through levels with different weapons or abilities. I think a Moment system in Splatoon 3 could work in a similar way: Pick a level (we’ll have three games and the octo expansion DLC to choose from), pick a weapon or ability, place some restrictions on the player if needed (limited time, limited ink, etc.), and let people bang their heads against it until they succeed.
  • Missions: These could be used to encourage players to try different options in Turf Wars or Ranke Battles. For example, the game could ask them to get 20,000 points with an Aerospray, or 10 splats using bombs, or 20 Ink Armor assists, or 30 splats while wearing Rockenberg gear! These could be time-limited or open-ended depending on the setup, and the goals could be tweaked so that players don’t reach them too quickly or too slowly. If rolled out over time, they could serve as a reason for players to keep playing the game and have them experiment to keep things fresh.

While Moments and Missions are one-off challenges, Programs are what motivate MLB The Show players to try them out by tying them all together. There are two types of Programs in the game (those that are time-limited, and those that are always available), and each ones comes with a stack of Mission, Moments, and other assorted things (card collections and exchanges, challenges in other game modes, etc.) that you can complete to earn points towards a certain goal (for example, in the Ortiz HOF program you can get a Diamond 99-rated Ortiz card for your lineup, which would look really nice inserted between your 95-rated Rafael Devers and 94-rated Jim Rice…) By offering cards, currency, and customization options for your trouble, Programs are what push players out of their comfort zones by trying to make it worth their while.

So how might a Program work in Splatoon 3? In truth, we’ve already got a Program-like system instituted for the Salmon Run game mode, where players progress through matches to earn special gear, gear ability chunks, and other assorted items. All we’d have to do in S3 is extend this concept to ink battles and sweeten the prize pools a bit. Given how much of a pain customizing gear is in Splatoon 2, Programs could alleviate some of this pain by making gear, ability chunks, and even Super Sea Snails more plentiful, especially for players who aren’t that into Salmon Run. If the apartments rumor turns out to be true, giving out items that could be used to decorate and customize said spaces would be a great addition as well.

Splatoon 2 has been a great game, but I think one of its shortcomings is that unless you’re really taken in by ink battles, there comes a point where it feels like you’ve inked and splatted it all, and once the special Splatfest events stop, it can be tough to convince yourself to keep playing. Having more ways to keep players engaged would go a long way towards making Splatoon 3 a more-fulfilling experience and perhaps keep a large community around for a longer period of time. These sorts of quick-win, goal-progressing experiences are something that MLB The Show really excels at, and I think incorporating a similar system more deeply into Splatoon 3 would help keep players interested and thus help keep the game relevant longer.

So You Want To Beat The Jet Squelcher…

I’ve talked a lot about individual metas, but across every topic and discipline, there’s one rule that always holds: Range rules, and whoever has it will carry the day.

Having the range and power to hit someone before they can hit you is a huge advantage, and Splatoon 2 ink battles are no exception. One of the three major weapon categories in the game is “anchor” or “backline” weapons, which basically means that you’ve got the range to engage your opponent from a long distance, helping you more-safely control territory and provide cover and support to your “slayer” and “support” teammates. In general, these weapons are slower and less effective and inking turf, but if used and positioned well, they can be an absolute nightmare to play against.

Not all anchor weapons are created equally, however, and over time a lot of players—and thus the meta—have drifted towards the lone shooter in the category: The Jet Squelcher. (Unlike many weapons in this series, the kit that you use doesn’t make that big of a difference: Both the vanilla and custom versions of the Jet Squelcher are popular, although the map and mode might influence which one you choose.) So how did this happen, and what can we do to counter such a threat if you meet one in battle?

Why Is The Jet Squelcher So Good?

The answer to this question can be broken into two parts:

Part I: Anchor Superiority. We’ve already established that if you can hit shots from the parking lot, it’s going to be really hard to defend against you no matter what you’re doing. In the case of Splatoon 2, range can help you in two ways:

  • You can engage opponents long before they can engage you.
  • Any territory you can reach is territory you can ink, so you can help with map control by covering territory that your shorter-range teammates can’t get to.

The Jet Squelcher not only has the most range of any shooter in the game, it’s one of the ten longest-ranged weapons in the game, and is outranged only by chargers, specialized splatlings, and the dynamo roller’s vertical swing. If that’s not enough for you, you can always use the Main Power Up (MPU) gear ability to add up to 8.5% more range to the weapon, as well as improve you shot accuracy when firing on the ground. With this kind of reach and map coverage at your disposal, you’ll begin any engagement with an opponent with a huge advantage.

However, simply engaging someone and actually taking them down are two very different things, and much like the Foil Squeezer, the Jet Squelcher is far from optimal as a slayer. With a ceiling of 32 damage per shot and a floor of 16 damage, the weapon is a four-hit kill at best and a seven-hit kill at worst, making it a less-than-reliable option for confirming kills. The squelcher is also decidedly mediocre in other offensive categories, as its fire rate (8 frames per shot when firing continuously) and ink consumption (1.6% of a tank per shot) pale in comparison to most other shooters.

So if the squelcher doesn’t compare well to other shooters, why is it so dang popular in the current meta? It’s because the weapon isn’t meant to replace other shooters, but instead to replace other anchor weapons, a class in which the squelcher compares much more favorably. You would never pick a Jet Squelcher to replace, say, a .52 Gal or Splash-o-matic, but you would absolutely use it to replace a Heavy Splatling or Splat Charger due to the squelcher’s improved versatility.

One of the great things about a shooter weapon is the speed and ease with which it can be used. In general, these weapons are quick to fire, quick to move, and quick to transition from firing to swimming and vice versa. This allows the player to be extremely flexible with their playstyle, and they can quickly react to events on the battlefield and either engage an opponent is close-range combat or reposition themselves to continue fighting at a distance.

In contrast, this sort of speed and versatility is not something you’ll find with other anchor weapons:

  • The most noticeable difference is that most anchor weapons require the weapon to be charged before firing, and while these charges can be stopped and fired prematurely, they won’t last as long or do as much damage when this occurs. While a Splat Charger takes 1 second (60 frames) to charge and Heavy Splatling takes 1.25 seconds (75 frames), the Jet Squelcher takes eleven frames to start shooting from squid/octo form and only three if you’re already in human form. This means that if you’re caught in a surprise attack and have suddenly have an opponent in your face, you can quickly return fire without having to wait around for your weapon.
  • The longest of the longest-range anchors (E-Liter 4K, Hydra Splatling) are considered heavyweight weapons, which means that they reduce your run speed by 8.3% and your swim speed by 10%. This means you’re either dealing with reduced speed while using the weapon or using a lot of gear ability slots on Run/Swim Speed Up to compensate.

Putting it all together, we find that the Jet Squelcher’s range allows it to provide long-range support as an anchor weapon without having to deal with the usual shortcomings of weapons in this class. The weapon can do most everything that a splatling or charger can do, while also being able to respond effectively in situations that would put other anchors in a real bind, regardless of whether that response is fight or flight.

Part II: Kit Synergy. Of course, there’s more than a weapon kit than the main weapon, and the second part of the Jet Squelcher’s strength is that both of its kits allow the weapon to respond to every kind of situation.

Let’s consider the three categories of opponents a squelcher might face:

  1. Opponents that the Jet Squelcher can reach but that can’t reach the Squelcher itself. This is the base case, and the main weapon can take care of them without much trouble.
  2. Opponents that the Jet Squelcher can reach, but who can also reach the Squelcher themselves. This means that the opponents have gotten close enough to the squelcher to exploit its weaker damage and slower fire rate. In this case, the squelcher would benefit from a bit more time and damage to take care of its foe, and its available sub weapons are more than up to the task. The vanilla Jet Squelcher can use Toxic Mist to slow the enemy’s advance (while also draining their ink tank) and make them an easier target, while the Custom Jet Squelcher’s Burst Bombs provide quick and easy chip damage to help take the opponent down (and their relatively cheap ink cost lets you throw two in quick succession with a full tank).
  3. Opponents outside the range of the Jet Squelcher. Just because the squelcher can’t reach an opponent doesn’t mean they can’t still threaten them. Both Squelcher kits contain infinite-range special weapons that can hit an opponent anywhere on the map: The vanilla Jet Squelcher’s Tenta Missiles can both locate and target multiple targets no matter where they’re hiding, while the Custom Jet Squelcher’s Stingray is a more focused weapon that can reach through walls to damage their target.

Special weapons are meant to be occasional attacks and have to be charged before use, but the Jet Squelcher is one of the best at farming for their specials, as they combine decent inking power with obscenely-low charging thresholds: The Custom Jet Squelcher’s Stingray can be quickly earned at 190 points, and the Jet Squelcher’s Tenta Missiles can be absolutely farmed at 180. Special weapon output is a major emphasis of the current meta, and the squelcher can spam their specials with the best of them.

In other words, the Jet Squelcher offers a way to deal with any opponent with any weapon in any situation: Short-range splooshes, long-range chargers, buckets on snipe, brellas in your court, in a box, with a fox, near, far, wherever you are…the Jet Squelcher and its various kits can deal with it all better than any anchor in the game.

Names obscured to protect the guilty.

So What Can We Do About It?

The Jet Squelcher offers a way to deal with any opponent with any weapon in any situation…but that doesn’t mean it offers a great way to deal with any situation. There are a few holes in the squelcher’s game that we can exploit with the approach, and it starts with our choice of main weapon:

  • Range: The Jet Squelcher outranges most of the weapons in the game, but not all of them, so a few chargers and splatlings have a window in which they can safely engage a squelcher without it being able to return fire. These weapons require a fair bit of skill and timing to use effectively, but if you’re good, you can dial the squelcher long distance without fear of a return call.
  • Power: So what do you do if you have to get in the squelcher’s face to take them down? It turns out that it’s not as hopeless an endeavor as you might think. With its variable damage and slow firing rate, it’s going to take a second for the squelcher to actually splat you, meaning that you’ll have the opportunity to make a move even if you step right into the squelcher’s line of fire. If you’re running a weapon that can KO in a single hit (squiffer, blaster) or potentially in two hits (MPU bamboozler, MPU splattershot pro), you’ll have a chance to get your shot off and splat the Jet Squelcher before it can splat you.

But what do you do if you don’t quite have the range or power that you need? This may be a job for…

  • Main Power Up: MPU offers different buffs for different weapons, but improved per-shot damage is a common buff for rollers, dualies, and even some shooters and splatlings, while E-liters (which already sport the best range in the game) gain a range buff. It’s generally not a massive boost unless you’re running a ton of Main Power Up on your gear, but it might be enough to make the difference between you KOing the squelcher or the squelcher KOing you.

Some other gear perks will come in handy as well:

  • Swim Speed Up/Ink Resistance: Just like with the Foil Squeezer, your best bet is to try to get in the Jet Squelcher’s face and force it to fight a sub-optimal melee battle, and just like the squeezer, the squelcher is going to use its range to take up strategic positions that make it really hard to get to it. That means you’re going to have very little time to close the gap and confront the squelcher, and you’ll likely have to go through contested territory to do it. Both of these abilities will be a big help here, as Swim Speed Up will let you traverse through your own ink quickly while Ink Resistance will let you pass through small traces of enemy ink without losing much speed or taking much damage. There’s an added bonus here: The Vanilla Jet Squelcher will likely use its Toxic Mist to slow you down even further, so every little bit of extra speed will count if you find yourself caught in the mist and needing to escape.
  • Bomb Defense Up DX: This is specific to the Custom Jet Squelcher, which will try to weaken you with its Burst Bombs before you can approach it. An unprotected opponent can be splatted via two direct Burst Bomb hits, but landing a “direct” hit with a Burst Bomb can be tricky, and while indirect hits will still take down an opponent eventually (indirects are broken down even further into “near” or “far” hits, depending on close it lands to the opponent), even a single sub of Bomb Defense Up DX will increase the number of indirect hits required (and if you equip enough of this ability, even the number of direct hits can be bumped up from two to three). Against the Custom Jet Squelcher, you’ll want to include two sub slots worth of Bomb Defense UP DX to give you improved protection against both near and far indirect bombs.

Now let’s consider the sub weapons we have at our disposal. In terms of the weapons we’ve covered so far, the Jet Squelcher falls somewhere in-between the Foil Squeezer and the Kensa .52 Gal. It’s not rooted to a specific spot the way the Kensa .52 is with its Splash Wall, but it’s not going to be moving around as much as the Foil Squeezer would. Squelchers are generally going to be seeking out specific spots on the map (usually higher ground) where they have clear sight lines to make the best use of their range, so if we can’t splat them, we want to at least move them off of their preferred spots.

With this mindset, we’re going to be targeting the position as much as we’re targeting the player, so in terms of the bombs in our arsenal, we’ll want to stick to the basics:

  • Splat/Suction Bombs: Splat Bombs will explode shortly after hitting the ground, while Suction Bombs trade a longer countdown timer for the ability to stick to whatever surface they contact first (floors, walls, ceilings). Other more-specialized bombs aren’t as useful in this scenario: Curling Bombs are hard-to-impossible to deploy on higher ground, Autobombs chase their target and thus can be lured away from a key position, Burst Bombs and Torpedos lack one-hit splat potential, and Fizzy Bombs bounce around too much to get KOs reliably.
  • Related Gear Ability: Sub Power Up. For most bombs, this increases its speed as it travels through the air, and thus increases the distance that it covers when thrown. This ability allows you to poke at a squelcher without having to get quite as close to it.

A Splash Wall can also come in handy against a Jet Squelcher, as it can provide you with some cover as you attempt to get close enough the engage the weapon directly.

Now, let’s talk special weapons. A Jet Squelcher might have infinite-range specials, but two can play at this game!

  • Tenta Missiles: When in Rome, do as the Romans do…and when in Inkopolis, spam Tenta Missiles until the trigger falls off your weapon. Tenta Missiles can hunt down a Jet Squelcher no matter where they are on the map, and the squelcher will either move to a less-advantageous position or be splatted where they stand. This can also distract the squelcher long enough for you to move in with your own main or sub weapon to finish them off.
  • Stingray: Stingrays are not as effective as slaying squelchers (the per-frame damage is low, the beam is narrow, and you can’t use your main or sub weapon until the special finishes), but they are very effective at distracting enemies and displacing them from their preferred spot, so it’s best used in tandem with a teammate who can go after the squelcher while it’s trying to dodge your ray.
  • Booyah Bomb: The Booyah Bomb doesn’t have infinite range, but it’s got enough for you to engage the Squelcher from a relatively-safe distance, and will displace your opponent at least as well as a Splat or Suction Bomb. Even if the bomb is activated up close, the Jet Squelcher’s iffy damage means that while you may technically be vulnerable while charging the bomb, you’ll get your shot off long before the Squelcher can break through the special’s armor. (However, if multiple opponents are nearby and can focus their fire on you, you’ll want to choose your charging spot more carefully.)

If you live in an area where coronavirus restrictions have been lifted and your boss demands that you do you work in-person, there’s an option for this as well:

  • Baller: The Baller encases your Inkling in a plastic hamster ball that can roll around on the map and eventually be detonated in an inky explosion (this happens automatically after about six seconds, but can be triggered earlier by the user). The ball can be broken without exploding if the opposing team does enough damage to it, but the user will be invulnerable until the Baller explodes or is broken.

Ballers present a big problem for the Jet Squelcher for the same reason that Charizards have trouble taking on Blastoises: Their attacks simply aren’t effective against it. Not only does the Jet Squelcher not do a ton of damage to start, but it’s been specifically nerfed to do even less damage to Baller shields, and while the Jet Squelcher still has a few more potential options than its custom counterpart (Toxic Mist will at least slow the Baller down, and Tenta Missiles got a damage buff to Ballers early in their lifespan while Stingrays have seen their Baller damage decrease as of late), these are slow stopgap measures at best, and the squelcher will have little choice but to abandon ship and stay as far away from the Baller as possible. (In truth, the map is usually the squelcher’s best friend against the Baller, as they can take up positions that are extremely hard for the Baller to reach.) The explosive hamster ball will give you a chance to get up close and personal with the opposing squelcher, and even after it explodes, you’ll likely be close enough to engage the squelcher with the rest of your kit.

  • Related Ability: Special Power Up. Oh, you say you want more power in your hamster ball? Try adding some Special Power Up to your gear, as it will increase both the durability of the ball against enemy damage and the size of the explosion once it detonates. Now that’s a spicy meatball!

The Jet Squelcher may conceivably have a plan for any situation, but as a famous pidgeon lover and ear biter once said, “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.” The key to success against a squelcher is to never give it a moment’s peace: Get in its face, flush it from the pocket, and everything in your toolbox to take it down. With the right approach and the right abilities, you can mount an effective defense against either squelcher and minimize its impact on the match.

What Weapons Are Best To Use?

So what weapons will give us the best chance for success against a Jet Squelcher? Ideally we want a weapon that can deliver a punch from a safe distance, but at the very least we want something that move in and KO the squelcher quickly while also providing some options for when moving in isn’t possible. Here are some weapons that fit the bill:

  1. Splatterscope. Truthfully, if chargers were easier to use, you’d never see a Jet Squelcher in competitive play ever again, because nearly every long-range charger (and even some of the shorter-range ones) outclasses the squelcher with its kit. The Splatterscope gets top billing here simply because it checks all the boxes: It outranges the squelcher by a sizeable margin, its one-hit KO power means that it doesn’t need much of a window to neutralize an opponent (squelcher or otherwise), it’s got Splat Bombs for poking at squelchers hiding behind cover, and it’s got Stingray for those moments when it says “F*** this, that squelcher doesn’t have to go home, but it ain’t staying there.” The scoped version of the charger adds some extra range in exchange for its near-field awareness, but in this case we’re probably not worried about the squelcher coming out of the booth and rushing us down. If you’ve got steady aim and ice water in your veins, no squelcher will stand against you with this thing in your hands. Also consider: Splat Charger, Firefin Splatterscope, Kensa Splatterscope, New Squiffer, Bamboozler 14 Mk I.
  2. Squeezer. The Foil Squeezer might have the stronger and more-meta kit on balance, but the regular Squeezer matches up a little better against the Jet Squelcher directly. Its range is not that much less than the squelcher (although its damage is just as unreliable), and it can easily close this gap with the help of its Splash Wall, giving it a barrier to afford it the time and space needed to do its job. If it finds that it just can’t get close enough to the squelcher to do its business, it can simply use its Stingray and conduct its business remotely. This kit may not outclass the Jet Squelcher the way that the Splatterscope does, but it’s got enough tools available to make things happen. Also consider: Foil Squeezer, Kensa Splattershot Pro.
  3. Kensa Splattershot. Both the Splatterscope and the burst-firing Squeezer require a lot of mechanical skill to use effectively, so if you find that your aim isn’t where it needs to be, the Kensa Splattershot can be a decent alternative. It’s going to need to get dangerously close to the squelcher to properly engage it, but with Suction Bombs and Tenta Missiles, it’s kit provides you with plenty of ways to distract your opponent while you close in to make your move, as well as enough power to make the move a successful one. It’s an easy weapon to pick up and play, so it’s not a bad place to start when you’re looking for a squelcher counter. Also consider: Slosher, .52 Gal, Splooch-o-matic 7.
  4. Foil Flingza Roller. Can a roller really be an effective counter to a squelcher? In the case of the Foil Flingza (which has become fairly meta itself lately), the answer is a solid “Yes.” The Flingza’s secret sauce is its impressive vertical flick: Its speed may be slow and its damage unreliable, but its long range stacks up fairly well against the squelcher (and is actually more than a burst-firing Squeezer). On top of this, its kit (Splat Bombs, farmable Tenta Missiles at 180 points) is incredibly effective for poking at squelchers and forcing them to move. It may seem like an unconvential choice at first, but this roller’s got more than enough power to make a squelcher’s life miserable. Also consider: Flingza Roller.
  5. Undercover Sorella Brella. Yes, I’m aware my Brella bias is showing, but hear me out. The USB kit actually matches up pretty well against the jet squelcher, and it starts with the main weapon: While the Brella is even slower and less reliable at slaying than the squelcher, its shield gives it additional time to land enough shots to KO its opponent, and neither squelcher kit has an effective counter to it (the main weapon takes a while to chew through the shield, and unlike other weapons Burst Bombs can’t destroy it in one hit). Splat Bombs allow you to bother the squelcher from a distance, while Baller gives you a quick and easy way to get in the squelcher’s grill and disrupt their gameplan. More people need to be paying attention to the USB, and its effectiveness against the Jet Squelcher is a good reason why. Also consider: Bloblobber, Kensa Splat Dualies, Glooga Dualies Deco.

Conclusion

The Jet Squelcher’s fusion of anchor range with shooter versatility makes it one of the most popular and powerful weapons in the Splatoon 2 competitive scene. With its ability to engage and neutralize opponents at any distance, the Jet Squelcher gives a player a viable path forward no matter the time, place, or odds. However, the weapons still has some blind spots, and with the right tools and the proper preparation, you have the chance to defy the meta, defeat the squelcher, and earn a well-deserved victory.

Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes: Early Impressions

Image from Digital Trends.

Did we necessarily need more Fire Emblem: Three Houses content? Probably not. Am I glad we got it anyway? Well, I’ll answer that the only way I know how.

Indeed, it is.

Granted, one could either see Fire Emblem: Three Hopes as just that – an extension to the base tactical RPG game. Or they might see it as the next entry in Omega Force’s hack-and-slash-focused Warriors series. Either way, you start by controlling a mercenary that has the ability communicate with a spiritual entity and somehow runs into three house lords … and OK, this is starting to sound familiar.

So, then, what the heck is Three Hopes? In a nutshell, it’s an alternative retelling of Three Houses, where instead of the stoic Byleth character running into Edelgard, Dimitri, and Claude, we’re introduced to Shez, who, thanks to … well, reasons, encounters the three house lords first. And the events that unfold afterward are emblematic of the butterfly effect (Byleth is still involved, however). As far as the story is concerned, it’s the same kind of different – the three houses go from being classmates to fighting each other in a big ol’ war – but there have been plenty of interesting twists along the way thus far to keep things exciting and fresh, too, speaking as someone who’s played every Three Houses route twice and probably needs to get out more.

Granted, this is, at the end of the day, a Warriors game, meaning that instead of fighting your battles on a grid-based battlefield and being methodical with your choices, you’re thrown into the same hack-and-slash frenzy that’s characterized every Warriors game thus far (and, in truth, probably depicts the actual Fire Emblem battles better than the slower-paced affairs of the base game). It’s crazy, it’s frantic … it’s just plain fun. Like the base game, you pick a house to ally yourself with (I picked the Black Eagle house in honor of Billy Kametz’s recent passing, who voiced “I am Ferdinand von Aegir”), and pick your fighting roster from the students you get (Indeed, Bernadetta, it is so your time to shine).

And despite a slow start with the onslaught of tutorials thrown at you, if you’re familiar with typical Fire Emblem conventions, it’s an easy game to process. On one hand, this gives this particular Warriors title a more distinctive feel compared to past games, especially when, speaking as someone who’s only other experience with the franchise is Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, everything feels streamlined to make things more efficient as far as battle preparations and planning are concerned. On the other hand, this also feels like a game to pick up only if you’re either A.) familiar with typical Fire Emblem conventions (if you know to use your archers against flying units, for example, you’ll likely be fine), or, and perhaps more importantly, B.) acquainted with the base game this draws inspiration from, because I wouldn’t call it a beginner-friendly entry from a plot standpoint.

The Black Eagle house features Linhardt, Bernadetta, and Ferdinand, so it’s impossible to be disappointed.

For those familiar with that game, however, this is an absolute treat of a time, blending that aforementioned frenzied gameplay with the same team-building aspects that characterized Three Houses. You won’t spend much time at Garreg Mach Monastery this time around, but you will bond with your team over the course of the game the same way you did before, and it’s that little feeling of every activity contributing to some sort of in-game progress that keeps this game easy to return to and meaningful when that hard work pays off on the battlefield. Unlike the base game, you won’t send every unit into battle – even recruitment of other units this time around works much differently and is more difficult to pull off – so it’s important to strengthen the units you feel are best … but also important not to let your other fighters fall behind either. Like Fire Emblem proper, the key to success is balance, ensuring that you’ve got a well-rounded team able to overcome basically any opponent, especially if you’re playing with permadeath on – a tried-and-true component of Fire Emblem games that carries over here and one I’m too chicken to actually use.

The combat isn’t too complex compared to other Warriors entries – you have to mash those Y and X buttons to pull off various combinations just like before and press the B button at just the right time to dodge an opponent’s onslaught. And chances are your one fighter is somehow going to blow away 100 opponents in front of them and send them flying (chances are Petra is just going to destroy everything in her path). But like with the base game, the treat here is the ability to customize your units. I absolutely love the quick optimization system that automatically outfits your units in a way the game feels is best for them (I don’t know why my game thinks Bernadetta would do better with Iron Gauntlets over her usual Bow, but hey). And because it’s Fire Emblem, there’s a wide variety of classes to fit your units into and weapons to use that will determine your various advantages and disadvantages on the battlefield. It’s a great streamlined system that I think would even benefit the base games moving forward.

Basically, it’s a big game with a ton of variety thrown in to ensure that there’s way to play for everyone. With each chapter, you’ll encounter a pretty familiar formula reminiscent of Three Houses. You’ll have your big mission to tackle to complete the chapter that will inevitably ask a lot of you and your team, but in between you’ll take place in smaller battles that will allow you to properly gauge your team’s progress, with a rewards system in place designed to offer more depending on how you fare and how far you want to go (for example, every battle will have its main objectives, but if you come across a side objective, chances are it’s worth your while to take a detour and complete it). I’m glad that, thus far, this isn’t as grind-heavy of an experience as Hyrule Warriors tended to get after some time, as it encourages players to push further in a way that feels fair and rewarding, rather than repetitive.

At the end of the day, though, Fire Emblem: Three Hopes may not be the Fire Emblem title players should jump into for their first time, but if this is your first experience with a Warriors game, you really can’t pick a better starting point than this. It’s an adrenaline rush of an experience that will nevertheless bring you back down to Earth by reminding you of the actual stakes behind your choices made and why you’re fighting in the first place. Like Kyle said when he reviewed Three Houses, the biggest compliment I can give this game is that it was hard to pull myself away from the action long enough to write this short impressions post. Again, it’s a big game with a lot to take in, but it’s worth the effort and time to really sink your teeth into – if you’re even remotely a fan of either franchise, you likely won’t be disappointed.

MLB The Show 22: Is It Worth Buying?

Alternate title: “The Search for the Flyin’ Hawaiian: Was It Worth It?”

Back when I discussed my early impressions of MLB The Show 22, my impressions were almost universally positive, including with the game’s primary online mode Diamond Dynasty. I had played a few matches and found the mode fun, but matches felt very one-sided, with most opponents sporting entire lineups full of diamond-rated players (and me sporting…well, Luke Maile and Luis Guillorme). With a vibrant (and high-priced) marketplace for top-tier players, the game’s M.O. seemed pretty obvious: Drive gamers to acquire better players using in-game currency, and in turn acquire in-game currency using actual currency. Microtransactions were (and are) the name of the game in modern sports titles, and I was determined not to spend a dime over the $60 I paid for the cartridge, even if it meant limping around with bronze-tier cards.

Then I discovered a special program being run by the game…and in turn, one player I really wanted to add to my squad:

I was a huge fan of Shane Victorino’s game in his heyday, and I just happened to have a massive hole in my lineup in center field (the game had given me Daulton Varsho, who was apparently actually a catcher). The bigger revelation, however, was this: The Victorino card could be earned through the special limited-time ‘Halladay and Friends’ online program, although it took 110,000 experience points to do so.

Thus, the question was raised: Could I add Victorino to my lineup at a cost of nothing but time, and would the game be fun enough to support earning 110,000 XP? I decided to spend a few days on the hard grind to find out. What I found was that the Diamond Dynasty mode was much deeper and richer than I had originally thought, with plenty of modes and rewards to keep players engaged and push them deeper into the game.

Ranked seasons are the primary draw of Diamond Dynasty, but a full 9-inning game is a long affair that doesn’t have the “one more game” magic that shorter games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Splatoon 2 have. However, the game also features a whole bunch of special programs, most of which are not time-limited and most of which offer packs or specific players as rewards. The programs offer bite-size games called Moments, where you take control of a player or team to reach a simple goal (multiple hits, one home run, five strikeouts, etc.) within a small window of time (a few innings, or a game’s worth of at-bats for one player). For a relatively untrained eye like mine, this takes about 15-20 minutes at most (I thought Adam Dunn was supposed to be a power hitter!), and credits you a couple thousand experience points (or a few of whatever tokens you’re trying to earn) towards your current goal. This is where the “one more game” magic finally kicked in: You could play several of these games in quick succession, make substantial progress towards whatever player you wanted in a short amount of time, and have a ton of fun doing it!

In addition to your normal Diamond Dynasty team, you can also play Showdowns, where you draft a team from an initial set of players, then go through a series of challenges to gain players, abilities, and even progress towards a final objective, where you face down a boss character and have to beat them within a specified number of outs. (You can pull a Breath of the Wild and face the final boss immediately with your initial team, but it’s a steeper climb.) I didn’t find this mode quite as compelling between you don’t keep your team between showdowns (and you also have to pay an entry fee, although they’re not steep), but it’s another option that allows you to earn rewards that can upgrade your DD team.

Finally, one of the best things about active programs is that experience points can be earned through any mode, whether it’s related to Diamond Dynasty or not. Even if your Internet connection can’t support a full game, you can play game against the CPU using your DD team (or even an existing team roster!) and still make progress towards your goals. Making money might be the game’s main goal, but goal #2 is to keep you as engaged with the game as possible, and is willing to part with really good cards to do it.

So after five days of grinding, not only did I have my precious Victorino card, I had darn near an entire team of top players: Chase Utley, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Howard, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, two players from other active programs (Babe Ruth, Bret Saberhagen), and two diamond players from the dozens of random card packs earned along the way (Ryne Sandberg, Kevin Gausman). Suddenly, I had a solid roster that could go toe-to-toe with other teams, and I hadn’t spent a cent over the game’s initial asking price.

The grinding also provided more insight into the game’s other aspects. For example:

  • The graphics continued to impress and held up fairly well, but there were some moments with noticeable frame rate drops (cornfield closeups at the Field of Dreams were consistently slow), and some stadiums (*cough* Coors Field *cough*) would constantly glitch during scene transitions. Overall, however, the Switch continues to hold up well under the game’s pressure.
  • Even with slowdown (and surprisingly, even in the face of online lag), the general gameplay went off without a hitch. Even if the game froze temporarily, the game still allowed you to execute at the plate and in the field without affecting the competition. As much as I’d like to blame my terrible hitting on the connection, the truth is that hitting a baseball in-game is just as hard as hitting a major-league pitch in real life (the difference between my online and offline stats is minimal, and you face harder/meta pitchers online).

In other words, I tip my hat to the Sony San Diego crew: They found a way to keep players playing without the experience wearing thin or getting old. In fact, it motivates players to seek out cards that they want, determine how to get them, and work towards earning whatever is necessary to do it. As an Orioles fan, I’m now eyeing cards for Jim Palmer, Brian Roberts, and Cal Ripken Jr., trying to figure out how to get them and diving into the modes that will make it happen. (I’m even thinking of making a DD meme team of players only named Kyle…) The game remains fun even though I’m still not very good at it, there are plenty of modes (short and long, online and offline) to keep things fresh, and there’s a path to competitive success online that doesn’t involve selling your soul for Shohei Ohtani.

So after all this rambling, is MLB The Show 22 officially worth buying? If you’re a baseball fan (and especially a longstanding baseball fan), I think you’ll find a lot to like here, and even if you want to be the best player on the planet, you can do it without significant financial investment, and while the time investment may large, you’ll still enjoy yourself along the way. Realistic sports games remain a weakness on the Switch, but games like this make me believe closing the gap with other consoles is possible, and I hope the relevant parties take the next steps to accomplish this.

As for me…honestly, I’m still having trouble pulling Maile and Guillorme out of the lineup. I mean, how can I pass up having Maile’s defense and Guillorme’s beard in the lineup? Sometimes it’s just about winning with you people you want on your squad, whether or not they’re considered any good.

Celebrating 5 Years Of The Switch: What Are Our Favorite Games?

Image from Nintendo

As someone whose childhood gaming experiences started with the Game Boy Advance and proceeded to include the Nintendo DS, Wii, and 3DS, I can safely say that magic somehow left my system when the Wii U arrived in 2012. And despite the notorious failure of that console, I don’t blame it for putting me in something of a gaming blackout period for most of the 2010s. I grew older, and other priorities started taking hold. I suddenly just didn’t have time to explore new games at length. When I did sit down to play something, it was usually just an old favorite.

And then, it happened. I finally got a Switch in late 2019, and the thrill was back. I caught up with the latest entries of my favorite series I had, admittedly, neglected for far too long, and now, much like Nintendo, I feel I’m back on top of the world, creating new, magical, and purely unforgettable experiences I thought I couldn’t do at an older age.

And now, it’s time to celebrate its first five years of life with Kyle, my fellow Switch enthusiast and friend. One caveat I’d like to make with this list is that, because I arrived to the system slightly late to the party, I’m still playing catch-up with some of the most beloved entries in the console’s library thus far. And yes, there are two games on my list that are not Switch exclusives – I’d like to think of this more as a list of favorite experiences we’ve had with the Switch, more than anything else. With that in mind, let’s start the countdown! – Zack

Zack’s #5: Pokémon Legends: Arceus

Image from NME

The opening slot on any list is the most contentious one, and for my money, this slot could have easily gone to Metroid Dread, or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, or Luigi’s Mansion 3 or … well, you get it. And even despite my initial glowing review of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, I will admit it’s probably the toughest Pokémon game to jump back into once everything is completed, which is a weird criticism for a franchise traditionally known for its otherwise addictive and easily replayable gameplay loop.

But man, what a gameplay loop it is, allowing players to catch Pokémon in real time like they had always dreamed. Despite the simplistic environments, this is a game that’s just oozing with charm in its various survival-oriented mechanics, story, and the town-building aspect that I still think is an underrated part of the experience. It’s the Pokémon game that fans have been begging for for far too long, and thankfully, GameFreak seems to be taking notes from its success ahead of Pokémon Scarlet & Violet.

(Kyle says: I haven’t gotten the chance to try this one out yet, but I applaud The Pokémon Company for finally taking steps to expand on their formula! …But they’re still getting a nasty letter from me for only letting me catch store-brand Caterpies.)

Kyle’s #5: Dragon Quest Builders 2

I didn’t realize how RPG-heavy my Switch library was until I started working on this list. Bravely Default II, Octopath Traveler, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Pokémon Sword, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and the original Dragon Quest Builders were all contenders for my Top 10, but it’s the DQB sequel that earns the prestigious spot here.

Was the DQB series a blatant and obvious attempt by Square Enix to shoehorn an existing IP into a Minecraft-style world to tap into the lucrative market of sandbox games? Absolutely, but the move was executed so perfectly that it didn’t matter. The characters were compelling, the story was unafraid to venture into deeper and darker territory, and even the visuals were a clear upgrade over the games it was copying from. DQB2 perfected the original formula, making NPCs more active and lively, expanding your home base to a massive island ripe for construction, and upping the ante in the story to the point where…okay, I won’t spoil it for you, but those of you who have seen The Matrix might notice some parallels…

RPGs, like plastic water bottles, are generally single-use: You play through them once, you beat the final boss, and you move on to the next game. The building mechanic of DQB, however, invites the player to continue putting together their dream world of the Isle of Awakening, whether by discovering/Googling building recipes or throwing out the script and constructing something unexpected. After the boss was felled, I stuck around for many hours afterwards building farms, resorts, and baseball stadiums, not to mention enough transportation infrastructure to make Joe Biden proud. It was that extended lifespan that elevated DQB2 to #5, and while I haven’t played the game in a while now, there are still a few construction projects I’d like to get to someday…

(Zack says: Ironically enough, I’m actually playing through Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes Of An Elusive Age right now and loving my time with it, but I know plenty got into the series proper with this particular entry and sing its praises as an unsung hero of the franchise. And with an opening statement as long as that aforementioned game’s title now concluded, I will say I want to try this ASAP – as you’ll see from a certain entry of mine below, I like oddly relaxing RPGs that shouldn’t make sense but do.)

Zack’s #4: Stardew Valley

Image from ArrPeeGeez

This game is six years old, the Switch version is five years old, and I just played this game for the first time last month and am hopelessly addicted – understood? Good, because I’ll also say that I sort of stumbled upon this game by accident. I usually gravitate toward games that place a big emphasis on storytelling and world-building – and all with a clear end goal in mind. It’s one reason why I just never picked up games like Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon.

So, I don’t know what compelled me to be in the mood for a game like this, but it’s one of those games where I picked it up and couldn’t put it down. In essence, Stardew Valley is a farming simulator, but it’s really more like a life simulator. You can farm, raise animals, go fishing, fight slime monsters down in the mine, get married, have kids … there’s really not a ton you can’t do in this game. And the beauty is that, if you want that grand, big adventure, it’s right there for you, but you’re also free to really just do whatever you want in the game and enjoy it at your own pace. With a town full of characters that are so memorable and charming, it looks like I got that world-building game I wanted originally anyway; I just got to relax and have fun with it, too. And I can’t say that nearly as much as I’d like to these days.

(Kyle says: This one is on my list of games to try as well! I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons owes a great debt to Stardew Valley; SV went mainstream in a way Harvest Moon never did, and crafting and farming are now key features of AC:NH.)

Kyle’s #4: Among Us

So how can Among Us be so high on my “best Switch games” list when I’m on record saying that the Switch isn’t even the best way to play it?

Well, there’s a reason this game caught fire at the end of 2020: It’s just so darn addictive! As a crewmate, your job is to finish your tasks and figure out who the killers are before they cut down the entire crew; as the imposter, it’s your job to…well, cut down the entire crew. The gameplay is simple and accessible, but it’s the meeting activities that drive the action: You’ve got to decide who to trust, who to vote, and who you can sway to your side before the meeting ends. It’s got that “one more round” factor that the best games always have (especially when you haven’t been imposter for an hour and want one more killer game before you stop).

The human interactions are what make the game so compelling: You’re never quite sure what other people are going to do, you’re constantly thinking about who’s around you and what your alibi should be, and debriefing chat after the match can be quite funny. Of course, the human interactions can be the worst part of the game as well if free text chat is enabled (which it usually is, since trying to communicate with the game’s canned statements is a bit clunky), and you’re constantly reminded that your allies and enemies are a) young, b) stupid, c) bigoted, d) trolls, e) not paying attention, or f) all of the above. If you can find a good group that sticks around for a few matches (or better yet, organize a group beforehand to play), this is the best way to experience the game. Even in “solo queue,” however, I’ve had enough fun (and sabotage victories) to put this game on my list.

(Zack says: This, sadly, is another game I haven’t tried yet but have certainly heard of before. I love the fact that the gameplay completely shifts depending on your perspective, and the strategic element added into its decision-making process means it’s another game I’ll have to try soon. Hopefully before Breath of the Wild 2.)

Zack’s #3: Super Mario Odyssey

I know, shocker that this is here, right? Bet you won’t ever guess that my eventual No. 1 selection is Pokémon Brilliant Dia-justkiddingit’sBreathoftheWild. In all seriousness, I actually didn’t really love Super Mario Odyssey at first. I still maintain that there could have been a few more worlds to pad out the entire experience, and that the ginormous amount of moons to collect isn’t always as satisfying as the more tightly defined missions and hunts for stars of yesteryear in past Mario titles.

Two things happened that changed my perspective completely on this game. For one, I made it to New Donk City, and despite that being the only world where I’ve collected every Power Moon not counting that stupid jump-roping one, I could easily play around in it for hours on end and never get bored. And then the pandemic happened. I played this game properly for a second run … and it just clicked. That childlike sense of wonder and adventure is something I found yet again at a time when I, along with the rest of the world, really needed it most. Mario controls like a dream thanks to Cappy, and the open-world, sandbox style of gameplay that I didn’t explore nearly as well as I should have the first time became a needed escape for me. It’s one of those Switch games you expect to see on lists like these, but I don’t think there’s a game that cemented my return to the thrill of gaming quite like this one did.

(Kyle says: Darn it Zack, did you have to remind me about that jump-roping moon? I had just finally stopped having nightmares about that one…)

Kyle’s #3: Triangle Strategy

I feel like there’s a lot of untapped meme potential in this game. I mean, can Serenoa make any decision without those blasted scales? (McDonalds image from MemeGenerator)

What can I say about this game that I haven’t said already? Its story is deep and detailed, its characters are superb and woven perfectly into the story, and the combat is easy to pick up and feels super rewarding when you pull off a nice move. The Conviction system is an interesting mechanic, although I kind of prefer it in later playthroughs when your stats are built up and you have free rein to make whatever decision you want. The game grabbed me in a way that no other tactical RPG had, and I’m in the middle of my third playthrough (something I haven’t truly done with a game since the late 1990s) exploring the different available paths.

I guess I can talk about why this game was released on schedule when a similar game (Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp) was delayed after Russia invaded Ukraine. Both games feature nations at war, but Advance Wars treated the idea much too lightly, with its bright, colorful atmosphere and silly, fun cast of characters clashing badly with the grim images and somber reality we see in Eastern Europe. Triangle Strategy handles the topic of international conflict with the seriousness it demands, and is always reminding you of the weights you bear and the costs your choices may incur. Your success on the battlefield can wind up being a Pyrrhic victory, and as the lord of your house you’re charged with doing whatever it takes to preserve your demense, whether it be war, diplomacy, or making the hard choice to evict a person or an entire population. When meeting with the Wolffort war council, I imagine that world leaders like Joe Biden or Volodymyr Zelensky go through a similar process: Lay out the options, debate the various pros and cons of each one, and then come together and make a decision.

War is hell, and TS acknowledged this truth while AW ignored it. That’s why TS was released, and part of the reason why it’s here on my list.

(Zack says: Kyle has convinced me numerous times before that I need to pick this up and try it yesterday, especially given that I just broke into the strategy-centered RPG genre this year (which you’ll see below). And since Kyle’s description of the game reminds me of a certain entry you’ll see from me, know that I absolutely echo his sentiment regarding the contrast between games that view war as a lighthearted game, and ones that treat it as the cold, uncaring monster it is.)

Zack’s #2: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

This … is another game I only picked up this year; I told you I was busy playing catch-up! Suffice it to say, then, this was my first Fire Emblem game, and while I understand that the series at this point has heavily divided its fan-base and that this particular game is a different beast all in its own right, I loved every minute of my (multiple) experience(s). The game throws you right in the fold immediately with its combat system, which always looked intimidating from afar with its chess-like mechanics, but is surprisingly addicting in action.

And from there, the story unfolds and lets you take action of which road you want to go down, turning you from a mercenary into a professor (it makes a lot more sense in the game … kind of!) and letting you take charge of a class of characters that you bond with and understand on a deep level. Never in my life have I cared this much for people who don’t exist. I’ll admit that it’s not the best-looking title in the console’s library, and if you want the true experience with this game, you’ll have to sink a lot of time into it. But don’t let that distract you from a game brimming with an overall excellent story at its core. I went from finishing one route to wanting to experience the next one immediately, enough to where I’ve completed every route there is to complete and have sank 150 hours into this game … which, apparently, is considered a rushed experience! I may be a Fire Emblem newbie who is not a “true” fan of this series (I like playing with permadeath off – and I’m not sorry), but I’m going to follow along starting now, and you can’t stop me.

(Kyle says: Pound for pound, I think FE:3H actually has better and more-interesting characters than Triangle Strategy, and my recent experience with TS makes me think I need to go back and try a second run through this game. Also, I agree: Permadeath can go jump in a lake.)

Kyle’s #2: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Back when I reviewed this game, I labeled it “downright Seinfeldian” in that the game had no true endgame and consisted of indefinite meandering on a remote island. Yet I still enjoyed the game, and have enjoyed the game so much that it wound up as my runner-up on this list. Why?

  • While there’s no overarching endgame to AC:NH, the game constantly presents you with a list of mini-tasks that you can complete for dopamine hits. For example, when I played today, I made sure to find and talk to all my villagers, dig up any fossils I found, get the fossils appraised, get the recipes from the crafting villager and the washed-up bottle, sell said recipes and fossils for Bells, check the shops for any interesting items (Model kits and new glasses? Take my money!), plant a $10K money tree (300% ROI, baby!), find the day’s special visitor (meh, I don’t feel like fishing for CJ today), sit down for a cup with Brewster…and then run around the museum collecting stamps because International Museum Day was a week ago. Back in my “hardcore” days, I was also hitting all the rocks for iron and gold, hitting all the trees for wood, shaking all the trees for hidden items (and getting stung by bees at least twice in the process), watering flowers, catching fish, swimming around the ocean…there’s always a ton to do, and it’s easy to see how time slips away!
  • New Horizons takes this series to its logical conclusion: You’re essentially a god on your island, and while you don’t quite have the crafting power you do in Dragon Quest Builders 2, you’re not that far away from it either! You can terraform the entire island to bend the rivers and cliffs to your will, you can arrange furniture outside to create intricate scenes, you can create custom designs for surfaces and clothes (I can run around on my basketball court in a Steve Young jersey!), you can create paths that your villagers will actually follow (they’ll interact without outdoor items as well), and of course you can customize your house and choose which of your “dreamy” villagers will share your paradise with you! In turn, this feeds into your list of mini-goals: Now, you can be looking for specific items to complete specific areas, and come up with the best ways to utilize the space you have.

With the way it feels like a) the world is falling apart every time you look out the window, and b) we have almost no control or say in the matter, Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides both the distraction and the control we crave to give our lives some semblance of calm and routine. If only more country singers would give up drinking their problems away and use AC:NH to ignore them instead…

(Zack says: With Stardew Valley now standing as one of those games I go back to every, well, week or so, perhaps it’s time I finally take the deep-dive into Animal Crossing, because a peacefully relaxing game where you play on an island and interest with adorable NPCs … man, why didn’t this sound like a good idea to me before?!? At a time when games are getting bigger – often to the point of being bloated – I appreciate that there are still casual experiences like this out there that can appeal to anyone, so long as they give it, oh, a minute or so of their time to hook them.)

Zack’s #1: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Image from Pocket-Lint

Hey, one of us had to be basic.

In all seriousness, though, I actually get those who say this isn’t their favorite Switch game or even their favorite Zelda game, provided one can even call it that, given how much it breaks traditional conventions of the established formula. But that’s the thing – by pulling influence from the very first game in the series, Breath of the Wild draws a connecting line between it and that game while forming its own blueprint along the way. What else can I say about a huge open world that brims with personality and feels like it’s operating as just that – a world of its own. An escape. A terrifying yet exciting treasure trove of secrets waiting to be unearthed. A place where you can find little green beings scattered across the land that say “yeah, huh, huh” when you find them and are just the cutest things ever. It’s certainly not perfect in everything it goes for, but I think for many it’s perfect enough for them, and as someone who bought his Switch in late 2019, this became another game alongside Super Mario Odyssey I lost myself in during the pandemic. It was one of the first games for the Switch, and technically it’s more of a Wii U game than anything else. But even now, five years later, it’s still my pick for the best of the bunch out there.

(Kyle says: This one didn’t qualify for my list because I played it on the Wii U, but this game’s scope and sense of exploration remained unmatched by any title that’s come along since. The only question now is whether or not we’re going to get the sequel before 2024…)

Kyle’s #1: Splatoon 2

You all knew this was coming. You’ve seen my Twitter feed, you’ve seen my blog posts on using and beating different weapons, and you might have even seen me try to convince people that the Undercover Brella is the best weapon ever. Heck, I’ve used my ‘Octo-sona’ so much that I’m starting to wonder if I qualify as a furry.

I have sunk nearly 2,900 hours into this game, and have done nearly everything you can do in it. I’ve completed all the levels in the original single-player mode and Octo Expansion DLC, I’ve reached X rank in all three ranked multiplayer modes (I’ve got the X in Clam Blitz as well, I just refuse to acknowledge it as a game mode), I’ve reached the Profreshional rank in Salmon Run, and I’ve been working on a long-term project to amass 100 wins with every weapon in the game (I’m up to 98 out of 139 as of this writing). This isn’t just my favorite Switch game, it’s right up there with Super Mario RPG and Pokémon Pearl as one of my favorite games of all-time.

Shooters are not a genre I consider myself a fan of (back in the day it was mostly platformers, RPGs, and sports titles), so why did Splatoon (another 800+ hours there) and Splatoon 2 resonate the way they did? Part of it was the timing (every grad student goes through a midlife mid-thesis crisis when they feel like they’ll never escape and/or accomplish anything), part of it was the Nintendo factor (you couldn’t really play Call of Duty on a Wii U), part of it was the “one more game” magic (matches are really short compared to other games, so the sting of defeat washes away fairly quick), and part of it was something I keep harping on country artists to do: Find a way to make your work distinct! Splatoon brought a cartoonish and colorful aesthetic to a genre normally steeped in gritty realism (its quirky and unrealistic presentation allowed it to succeed where Advance Wars didn’t), Turf War changed both the typical objectives and mechanics of the game (you don’t kill to win, you paint the floor! And swimming through ink makes movement as important as aim!), and the use of motion controls (and they were used well for a change) enabled a whole new way to experience and play the game.

It’s been a long time since a game captured my attention like this one, and that’s what puts Splatoon 2 at the top of my list. However, it begs the obvious question: What about a certain “three-quel” coming this fall?

Image from Nintendo Life

It’s hard to say where Splatoon 3 will eventually wind up. The circumstances are very different now, and the older I get, the more all this adult responsibility stuff I’ve been running from catches up with me. If I’m honest, I don’t think I’m going to find another 2,900 hours lying around to devote to more squidkid shenanigans.

Still, I found that time once before, and I regret nothing. Splatoon 2 is a fantastic game, and I consider all those hours I put into it, as Brad Paisley might put it, to be time well wasted.

(Zack says: First of all, I’d like to say that I actually did play Call of Duty, though on the DS. And I don’t recommend it. Second of all, Kyle’s love for this series has been an infectious joy to read about for years now, and it’s part of why I’m a bit sad I missed out on the initial hype with Splatoon as a whole. With the third entry on the way soon, I just may join my friend from the ground up this time around, and I can’t wait for that.)

The Top 10 Triangle Strategy Characters (#1 Won’t Shock You At All)

Back when I started playing Triangle Strategy, I declared that I wasn’t going to record any of the gameplay—this game was for me, and I wasn’t going to worry about farming it for content. 100+ hours later, despite adhering to this pledge, I’ve probably gotten more posts out of this game than anything else (game, song, or otherwise) on the blog!

As I’ve previously discussed, TS goes to great lengths to make each playable character distinct enough to convince the player to try them all out, since the lack of permadeath means that once you recruit a character, you’ll always* have them available. (*Certain characters may leave your team temporarily depending on your decisions. Terms and conditions apply. See store for details.) However, “distinct” and “useful” are two very different things, and as the miles and battle scars pile up you’ll start to see a meta develop within the game that favors certain characters over others. Some characters are no-brainer selections regardless of the circumstances, some characters are only/most valuable in certain situations, some are best deployed in groups to take advantage of their synergy, and some will be glued to the bench save for the occasional mock battle. (Seriously, I recruited Piccoletta fairly early in my first playthrough, and I’ve yet to use her in a main story battle…and she’s still more useful than Giovanna.)

So which characters should you target to optimize your squad against all comers? Here are the ten Triangle Strategy characters that I’ve squeezed the most value out of in my time with the game.

(Disclaimer: I have yet to recruit four of the available characters to my squad, and while I’m pretty sure Travis and Milo wouldn’t make this list anyway, I think Avlora and potentially Cordelia could force me to update these rankings in the future. But hey, at this point what’s another Triangle Strategy post?)

#10: Narve

How To Obtain: Increase your Morality score above 110 and Liberty score above 275.

Why? TS doesn’t have a complex elemental strength/weakness system like Pokémon, but you’ll occasionally run into enemies that fear one type of magic more than others, and they also impact the terrain in different ways (freezing tiles, setting tiles ablaze, chaining attacks through water, etc.) Narve’s biggest strength is his flexibility: Most of the spell-slingers in this game specialize in one or two forms of magic, but Narve can use all of them, including a healing spell that can target multiple allies! Normally being a jack-of-all-trades means that you lack the raw firepower of an elemental specialist, but I found that the base elemental spells (especially Scorch and Icy Breath) were the ones I leaned on for the specialists as well, so Narve was either a) a feasible replacement for said specialist, or b) a great way to double down on a specific type of spell that suited the battlefield (for example, electricity if the field was stormy or featured a lot of traversable water tiles). Narve’s recruitment requirements are laughably low (he was the first freely-recruitable character that I got), so be sure to pick him up quickly, because he’s a solid choice as a primary mage and a great choice as a supplemental one.

#9: Corentin

How To Obtain: Choose to visit Hyzante in Chapter 3.

Why? Unlike Narve, Corentin is an ice man in the mold of George Gervin and Mr. Freeze, and I would argue he gets more out of this element than anyone else gets out of anything else. Sure, he’s got a hair more firepower than Narve and can choose to dial in on a specific enemy with Frosty Fetters instead of using the wider-but-weaker Icy Breath, but what puts Corentin on this list are the non-offensive capabilities provided by his kit. Icy Wall constructs a barrier that can seal off a narrow passageway or help protect an ailing unit, while Shield Of Ice will not only protect a unit from a single attack, but will also counterattack regardless of what that single attack was (in other words, it’s way better than Frederica’s Flame Shield). With Tactical Points (TP) being perhaps the most precious resource in the game, his ability to instantly gain a TP when beginning his turn on a frozen space can also be helpful, even if it doesn’t get activated much in practice (he’s usually freezing enemy squares with attacks, and his low physical defense and inherent ice resistance means enemies aren’t throwing ice attacks back at him). Visiting the Holy State early in the game is a must, because Corentin will come in very handy as the game rolls along…and going to Aesfrost only gets you Rudolph, i.e. the weakest archer in the game.

#8: Serenoa

How To Recruit: Buy the game!

Why? As the protagonist, using Serenoa is required for every story battle, so it’s a good thing he turns out to be so useful. Serenoa starts out as your typical swordfighter, and he’s outclassed by Roland early on in the game due to his comparatively-limited movement and attack range. However, as the game progressed it seemed that Roland got weaker (his lack of both physical defense and a true ranged attack meant he was usually the first character to fall every battle) while Serenoa got stronger (both his stats and his kit lent themselves to leading the vanguard). Serenoa may not be the guy setting the edge and drawing the battle line (that’s going to be a tankier character like Erador or Flanagan), but you’ll want him walking that line like Johnny Cash to maximize his value: He needs to be close enough to the enemy to use Hawk Dive, Counter Stance, and Sweeping Slash, but close enough to his allies to benefit from Strength In Numbers and use abilities like Shielding Stance and Under Conviction’s Banner. (Thankfully, his physical attack power allows him to both start and finish battles as necessary.) It may not be glamorous work, but Serenoa is a great choice to set the edge, draw the defense’s attention, and give DPS characters like Narve and Corentin the space to do their work.

#7: Medina

How To Obtain: Increase your Morality score above 500 and Liberty score above 400.

Why? This one even caught me by surprise, because up until I reached the final fateful decision in my first playthrough, Medina was a clear-cut C-tier character that showed up in story battles only slightly more than Piccoletta. The game’s decision to put strict limits on item availability (not to mention giving you few opportunities to earn enough money to actually buy the items) meant that Medina, whose kit was completely based on the effective use of buffing and healing items, didn’t get much of a chance to shine.

So what changed? Two things:

  • Eventually the floodgates opened for weaker healing items, allowing you to properly stock your inventory and spam such items, which weren’t really powerful enough to do anything…
  • …except that Medina finally learned the TP Physick ability, which granted a tactical point to any unit she used a healing item on. If she used an item that healed multiple characters, each one (even herself if she was in the item’s area-of-effect!) got a TP.

Suddenly, the vaunted armies of Hyzante were caught in a death spiral: Media would stand amongst TP-hungry units like Frederica and Corentin, use her Double Items ability, and drop healing items on the mages (even if they were at full health!), providing them TPs that allowed them to keep firing at the enemy without ever having to stop and recharge. Even better: If Medina used ranged HP recovery pellets and made sure they were also granting HP and TP to her, she could use Double Items on the next turn too, and the wheel kept turning until it had run over every bad guy on the battlefield. (I almost felt sorry for the final boss…)

Of, and one more thing: With a Single Swift Spice (and 2 TP), she can use her Fast-Acting Medication ability to let another character cut the line and act right after she does. Benedict who?

With her limited offensive and defensive abilities, Medina isn’t here because she can take over a game herself. She’s here because she can break the game just enough to let other characters take over the game for her. So yeah, recruit her, let her build up her powers in mock battles, and then watch the sparks fly.

#6: Julio

How To Obtain: Increase your Utility score above 110 and Morality score above 275.

Why? As an individual, Julio can only kinda-sorta stand on his own: His offensive and defensive capabilities are better than Medina’s (actually, he seems to deal more damage than Benedict), but they’re not nearly in the class of true standalone characters like Corentin or Serenoa. So why is Julio ranked higher than both of the characters I just mentioned? It’s because that much like Medina, Julio’s primary role is to power up characters and let them do their thing.

Julio is the equivalent of the Bravebearer job in Bravely Default II, and his job is to make sure that you’ve got enough TP to do your own job (and to a lesser extent, ensuring the enemy doesn’t have enough TP to do theirs). Most of his abilities boil down to the same thing, but each one can be useful depending on the situation:

  • Moment of Truth not only hands 1 TP to a unit, but ups their strength and magic attack as well, which is just unfair when you’re giving the TP to Frederica on a sunny day. The cost of the ability starts at 2 TP, but can be eventually lowered to 1 to let you use it on every turn.
  • Finish Them! is the least efficient of the abilities (it costs you 3 TP to give 2 TP to someone else), but it’s got the largest range of all the attacks, so you don’t have to be right next to someone to help them out.
  • Inheritor just gives all of your TP to someone else, which can turn a useless, recharging unit into a full-TP juggernaut that can rain destruction down on their foes.

Just like with Medina, Julio will do his best work behind the scenes, ensuring your best characters have what they need to turn the tide of battle. If only there were more civil servants like him (and less like, say, Patriatte) in Washington these days…

#5: Hughette

How To Obtain: Joins your team automatically in Chapter 2.

Why? In my experience, there are 3 things that define the meta of Triangle Strategy: Range, mobility, and TP efficiency. The TL;DR of this section is that Hughette checks all three boxes:

  • Her bow allows her to rain arrows down onto her foes from a safe distance, chipping in while tankier heroes hold the line.
  • Flugie (yes, that’s the name of her hawk) allows her to quickly and easily stake out the high ground on any map, which will increase both her damage and range. No other archer (and few other units in general) has this much effortless vertical mobility: Trish has to burn a turn and a TP using Leap, and Rudolph and Archibald will need help from characters like Jens or Quahaug.
  • Hughette may not have the multi-unit attacks that mages do, but she has some very useful tricks hidden in her quiver. For example, Blinding Arrow lowers the accuracy of its target (perfect for enemy archers trying to snipe your backline), and Shadowstitching Arrow immobilizes its target and locks them in place for a few turns (great for enemy frontliners who lack a ranged attack). These attacks are great for creating space for your teammates, letting them move about freely and helping them gain control of key areas.

In short, calling Hughette the best archer in the game isn’t much of a stretch (only Archibald can really make a viable counterargument). How nice of the developers to let you use her from the start!

#4: Geela

How To Obtain: Joins your team automatically in Chapter 1.

Why? Actually, the biggest solid the developers do you is letting you use Geela right from the start. There are plenty of effective healers in the game (we’ve already discussed a few here), but Geela stands above them for one reason: Her unmatched efficiency. Let’s break down the math:

  • Cure Wounds only costs 1 TP to use.
  • By default, any character not named Decimal gains 1 TP at the start of their turn.
  • Therefore, Geela is the Adrian (“All Day”) Peterson of Triangle Strategy, because all day is exactly how long she can cast healing spells.

Now let’s consider the competition:

  • Narve, Hossabara, and Cordelia require 2 TP for their base healing spells.
  • Giovanna requires 2 TP and a puddle to stand in for use her ability.
  • Medina can match Geela’s healing output, but you’d better have plenty of items stocked up, because once those run out, so does her usefulness.

Of course, it’s not all about efficiency…but then again, neither is Geela. If she needs to knuckle down and unleash more power, she’s got Sanctuary and Mend Wounds to do it. She can also remove status conditions using Heal What Ails You, and even channel her inner Link by using Miraculous Light to give someone a fairy in a bottle that will revive them if they fall. She’s not just the best healer in the game, she’s in the conversation for the best healer ever. I mean, could Rabbid Peach heal every turn? Could Mercedes from Fire Emblem: Three Houses hand characters an extra tank of HP and tell them to go wild? Could Mother Teresa raise the speed of her allies at will? I rest my case.

#3: Flanagan

How To Obtain: Increase your Utility score above 750 and Morality score above 1050.

Why? Look, I love Erador as much as the next guy, but he’s got one fatal flaw: Even with Sprint, the man is slow as molasses, and he slows down any push you make because he’s got to be at the front of the line. Flanagan is a combination of Erador and Flugie: His base movement isn’t any better than Erador, but his hawk allows him to scale walls and navigate uneven terrain without a hitch, and Aerial Assault (which is a decent attack option by itself) can double as a mobility booster by letting you move a few extra spaces in a turn.

Having this kind of mobility could be a problem if a unit strays to far from their healers (see: Roland), but Flanagan’s rock-hard physical defense means he can pretty much stake out any position he wants and dare the opponent to move him. Mages will have little trouble doing so, but non-magical troops comprise the bulk of most enemy forces, and they’ll generally have a lot of trouble bringing him down, even with follow-up attack combinations. If there’s an ally healer anywhere in the vicinity, Flanagan ain’t going anywhere (and if he’s got his Iron Stance skill, not even shield bashes will do the trick.

Flanagan’s this high on the list because he’s a safe and effective choice to be the first person into an area (fly him in first, stick Serenoa next to him, bring the mages up behind him, and profit). He’s not quite Erador in terms of drawing fire (Provoke is far better than Shield Bash, so if the battlefield is level Erador can be a better choice for keeping people away from your flimsier units), but for the most part Flanagan will be an automatic selection for your squad.

#2: Maxwell

How To Obtain: Increase your Morality score above 750 and Liberty score above 1050.

Why? As tough as Flanagan is, Ser Maxwell is hands-down the best melee unit in the game. The dude is basically Roland on steroids:

  • You want attack power? Maxwell’s spear can strike two units at once by default, or you can focus your power on a single foe using Triple Thrust (the cost of which can be reduced to 1 TP). His offensive prowess rivals that of Serenoa, allowing you to make quick work of anyone is your way.
  • You want mobility? Maxwell has decent movement range to start, and then can use Traverse to move a few more squares (ignoring walls and gaps) before launching their attack. His ultimate attack High Jump combines these two steps, effectively turning him into Super Mario (or would Genji be the better comparison, as it makes diving enemy backliners Maxwell’s speciality?).
  • You want survivability? His Revive ability automatically gives him a free tank of HP when he falls in battle, allowing Geela to save her powers for lesser units. It also means he can imitate Flanagan for a few turns if necessary, drawing fire away from other units.
  • You want range? Lance Hurl allows him to strike from a distance without getting up close and personal with the opponent, which is the one missing piece from Roland’s kit.

Maxwell is a must-pick for your team no matter the situation, and his power makes him worthy of his Dawnspear title. There’s only one character, however, who’s worthy of the title of best Triangle Strategy character, and that’s the Kensa .52 Gal herself.

#1: Frederica

How To Obtain: Joins your team automatically in Chapter 1.

Why? I struggled to find a suitable nickname for Frederica as she dominated my first TS playthrough…and then she two-shot all three of the supposedly high-powered horsemen in the final battle like she was carrying a certain meta-breaking polka-dotted weapon from Splatoon 2, and a new legend was born.

I’ve already laid out the case for Frederica being the best character here, but the thing that really cements her position is how her presence goes beyond succeeding in the meta and starts defining it, much like how the original Kensa .52 Gal turned Tenta Missiles into the ever-present force that they’ve become in Splatoon. Characters like Julio and Medina are on this list simply because they have incredible synergy with Frederica, giving her the HP and TP necessary to absolutely dominate the battlefield. (And I say this despite the fact that I’ve never bothered to unlock her ultimate attack Sunfall—I just Scorch my way to victory!) Her magical powers are unrivaled, and if you can spam them from the high ground, no army can stand against you.

Now, I will admit that her star hasn’t shone quite as brightly in my second playthrough thus far: We’ve run into more battles with inclement weather, and she has some serious negative synergy with Ezana (what do you mean you’re going to make it rain?!). Still, for the most part she’s been able to power through, play her game, and continue squashing her foes, and that’s more than enough to keep the top spot on this list.

Next question: Is Frederica the best tactical strategy character ever? Send word to Lysithea, Sakura, and Rabbid Luigi: The gauntlet has been thrown down.

Tormented Souls: Is It Worth Buying?

Image from Amazon

Well … yes, I think … or maybe no, depending on who you are, dear reader. But hey, let’s table that for  now and dive into the time machine.

As a Switch owner, I can only say I’ve played certain Resident Evil titles, and only up to 6, at that. What this means is that, until I finally have the means to experience 7 and 8, I’m stuck deciding between 4 and the remake of the first game for my favorite title in the series. The chronicles of Leon Kennedy in the former title have certainly provided the roadmap between adventure and horror that’s guided the series ever since its release, but there’s the part of me that’s a bit sad that we’ll never get games like the latter title again, when the controls were clunky, the camera angles were fixed, and we loved them just the same anyway.

Truth be told, though, that style of gameplay is something every horror series has moved on from, and to be fair, it’s probably for the better – especially when series like the aforementioned Resident Evil have found ways to modernize the horror experience without relying on past gimmicks. But for those missing that classic experience, the recent Switch release Tormented Souls should certainly satisfy that hunger, even if outright recommending it is trickier. Those familiar with the basic formula will probably jump right in even despite some beginning frustrations; others may view it as a clunky, outdated ripoff that’s hard to enjoy. And despite my disagreement with that assessment, I can’t say it’s completely unfair.

The basic gist is that you play as Caroline Walker, who receives an anonymous letter with only an address for the Wildberger Hospital/mansion/dungeon of doom, as well as a picture of two little girls that, for reasons unknown at first, give Walker headaches and nightmares. Because of this, she travels to the hospital, gets clunked on the head mere moments after entering the establishment, and wakes up in a bathtub somewhere else in the establishment hooked up to a ventilator. Oh, and she’s missing an eye … and then the game begins!

My initial thoughts when playing the game were that it felt like I was playing something from around 2002 or so, and while that statement could be used as a fair criticism, I saw it as an honest homage to the various series that inspired it, which goes beyond just the aforementioned Resident Evil to include Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill, as well. For as much as the developers wanted to bill this as a modernization of the formula, though, that’s not really accurate. The camera angles are fixed, the save points and mechanics to actually use them are limited, the voice acting is wonderfully cheesy as hell, and the controls … could be better. Again, mileage will vary on how well that classic formula will click with some, but even despite liking it myself, I do have some slight issues with it. For one, there are plenty of times where I’d have Walker walk somewhere, only for the angle to completely change and the controls fail to follow suit, prompting my control of Walker to wack out a bit and have her return to the same direction she just came from, which did not help when running from enemies.

Although, speaking of enemies, your main ones aren’t zombies; they’re mutated hospital patients that have transformed into monsters – your first one being a knife-wielding creature in a wheelchair that’s a comin’ for ya. And therein lies the appeal to this game – the atmosphere, layout, and enemy design. The character designs are definitely on the rougher side of quality, but Tormented Souls is all about building its plot through subtlety, just like those survival horror games from yesteryear. You’ll find documents scattered throughout the mansion that piece together the story, which gets better and more starkly depressing as it goes on, gradually revealing Walker’s own role in the overall plot.

Of course, there’s always that question when going through a survival horror game of just how cautious one should be. In my experience, while the game is never one to hold your hand, there are subtle clues and hints to guide the player along the way and never make it feel too unfair. Right at the beginning of the game you’ll get a warning to not enter the shadows, meaning that if you enter a darkened area without your trusty lighter and hang around for too long … well, something will get you (I found out the hard way). And as far as healing items and ammo are concerned, while resources are very scarce at first, the game eventually opens up and gives you more than enough to properly escape the nightmare.

The tricky part, then, comes through in its puzzle design, which is another homage to what came before it that feels brilliantly crafted … and also just downright frustrating at points (did anyone solve those combination door puzzles without a guide?!?). Unlike what came before it, Tormented Souls creatively allows and encourages players to solve the puzzles in real time and properly examine every object they come across, which leads to some really well-crafted puzzles and solutions (heck, I got stuck on the first room), the kind that feel challenging, but also make sense when actually solved and completed. The more frustrating elements come in the backtracking, where even if you’ve opened up a new room and received a new item, you might have to backtrack all the way to the other side of the mansion in some random little room you don’t really remember too well to use it. Granted, if the map system was a little more intuitive and less clunky, that would help, but, like with those survival horror games of yesteryear, the difficulty stems from figuring out the next move rather than how to take out the next enemy. And the overall game, while surprisingly short, will feel like a much more padded-out experience due to the player’s initial lack of understanding.

Despite my criticisms, though, is Tormented Souls worth your time? Well, yeah, I think so, but I would recommend playing it on another system if you can, mostly due to how rough the cutscenes look on it (everything else seemed to run fine for me, however), and I would reiterate that it’s a very niche experience that might not attract players who didn’t grow up with that classic survival horror experience. If you’re like me and did, then Tormented Souls provides an absolutely worthy and great addition to the genre’s library. The gameplay is dated but still fun, the story progresses at a great pace, the enemies and overall atmosphere provide that perfect sense of dread, and the puzzles, while challenging, are mostly always fair and definitely interesting and creative. Classic survival horror might not have received an update to its style here, but sometimes you don’t need to mess with what already works.

MLB The Show 22: Early Impressions

Image from Nintendo

Baseball is back on Nintendo hardware, and it is glorious.

Sports games were a staple of both Nintendo consoles and my childhood back in the day, but as games pushed the envelope and strove for graphical fidelity and realism, they drifted towards more powerful consoles like the Xbox and Playstation (and in truth, much of the player base migrated with them, leaving few diehard fans in the Nintendo-only camp). As the Switch started blowing up, however, my hope was that the console would become too lucrative an opportunity to ignore, and companies like EA and 2K Games would port over their annual cash cows and finally give those of us locked into the Nintendo ecosystem a chance to relive their glory days. That’s only kinda-sorta happened thus far (FIFA has been here from the start but has never achieved feature parity across consoles, and NBA 2K18 was…not a fun experience), but now a surprise combatant has entered the ring: Sony?!

Apparently Major League Baseball asked Sony to put The Show on non-Sony platforms (which would totally makes sense; MLB has been eclipsed by football and basketball and needs to find fans wherever it can), so at long last baseball has returned to Nintendo. Given the power difference between the Switch and other consoles, however, the move raised an important question: Could the Switch feasibly support a game that leaned so hard on a realistic presentation?

Honestly, I would say yes! MLB The Show 22 isn’t just playable on Switch, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable baseball experience that’s been missing on Nintendo’s hardware for quite some time. The game doesn’t quite have feature parity and the ultra-realistic graphics aren’t here, but the major modes are here (for better or worse), and the core gameplay is both solid and accessible. If you’ve been waiting for a major baseball title to return to Nintendo, the moment has arrived.

First, let’s address the elephants in the room:

  • How does it look? If you’re used to being able to count every bead of sweat dripping off the batter’s forehead, you won’t get that here (in truth, if I had one gripe about the graphics here, it’s that players look overly shiny/polished when they’re supposed to look wet). For someone like me (i.e., someone who hasn’t seen a true baseball simulation since MVP Baseball 2005, the graphics looks pretty darn good, even (especially?) when compared to the zombies we saw in NBA 2K18. The animations are fluid, the controls are smooth, and the presentation is solid enough to not break the immersion (perhaps they’re a bit too lifelike for MLB’s liking; the stadiums seem to have a lot of empty seats, just like actual baseball…).
  • How does it play? The game got a ton of bad press from its horrible tech test back in February, but things seemed to run pretty well when I played the game, at least in docked mode. Stutters in the game were rare, even when playing online matches, and while hitting proved to be a challenge, it felt like a fair one: I wasn’t missing the ball because it was teleporting, I was missing it because I couldn’t read the pitch fast enough and was swinging at a curveball in the dirt. Pitching and fielding was quick was pick up and satisfying to execute, and while load times could occasionally rival that of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there were no noticeable breaks in the action while you were in a game.

Now let’s talk about some of the things this game does really well:

  • Sports games have changed a lot since I’ve really played one (we’ll get to microtransactions eventually), so the big new addition to me was Road To The Show, an RPG-esque mode when your created player gets drafted and works their way up to the major leagues. I absolutely loved this mode: It provided bite-sized bits of gameplay that focused only on the plays your character was a part of (starting pitchers would have to go through longer stretches of gameplay), letting you quickly bounce back from a mistake or power your way through a hot streak. Now that two-way players are a feature, you can get the hitting and pitching experience in the same playthrough, even if you’re not in the lineup every day (which helps if you struggle at one of the modes; my player might struggle to reach the Mendoza line at the plate, but he’s the best blasted closer in Double-A). There are some small minigames you can play to bump up your stats, but for the most part the action takes place on the field (there hasn’t been any drama to speak of off the field, but my character tends to stick with bland answers. I save the controversial takes for Triangle Strategy decisions). The majors haven’t come calling yet, but I’m having a blast trying to get there.
  • I like how the game opens by letting you try and choose from the various control options that are available. I’m more of a “see ball, mash button” kind of guy and prefer to focus on timing and pitch recognition in the strike zone, but if you want a bit more control to aim for where the ball is thrown specifically, you can do it. Same thing on the mound: You can either work through a couple of gauges to execute every pitch optimally, or you can just aim the ball and throw it. Giving the player this much flexibility ensures that they can play the game the way they want to, which is all we can ask for from a game.

So after all this gushing, are there things to be concerned about?

  • First of all, know that the price of this game might not just be $60 for you, even if you swear off microtransactions like I do. The game requires a whopping 17 GB download when you first start (and you’ll have to sit through more downloads as roster updates are released), so you might be forced to spring for a new SD card for the game (or in my case, dump all of your kinda-sorta cool Splatoon 2 clips from 2019 to an external hard drive to make room).
  • In a surprise twist, I kind of wish there was a bit more handholding in some of the game modes, especially Road To The Show. Things just seemed to happen in the beginning that I didn’t expect (wait, what do you mean I have to manually aim my throws to first with the R stick?!), and you’ll get caught in some sticky situations until you figure out what the hack you’re doing (and it will still happen a few times even after you find your bearings). I wish the game was a bit more upfront at time with what it expects of you.
  • As a game mode, Diamond Dynasty is a pretty fun online experience, letting you take on players all over the globe in various levels of ranked matches. However, you’ll quickly notice that everyone you play has a stacked lineup of high-ranked players, and the only way to upgrade your own roster is to earn or purchase better player cards (and you know which one the game would prefer that you do). It didn’t seem like The Show explicitly pushed the microtransactions angle too much, but instead it leans on the fact that you’re constantly overmatched if you don’t sink enough time/money into the team. I could definitely see how trying to play this game competitively could lead to frustration and/or financial ruin.

Overall, however, I found MLB The Show 22 to be exactly the kind of sports simulation I had been craving to see return to a Nintendo platform. Longtime players may find that this doesn’t measure up to the Xbox and Playstation versions, but if you’re willing to concede hyper-realistic visuals and custom stadiums, you’ll find that there’s a fun and rewarding experience waiting for you here. The highest praise I can give this game is that after a few hours with it, I found myself saying “Kirby who?” When you can outshine a first-party Nintendo title, that’s saying something.

Now if only the NHL series would come back to Nintendo…Don’t make me perform a satanic ritual to summon the ghost of Paul Laus, EA. Make it happen.