Pokémon Rumble World Review: I should hope it’s obvious I don’t really work at Nintendo

Hello, everyone. I’m Reece Real-Employee from Nintendo with a very special message for you about Pokémon Rumble World. It’s a brand new game, available right now on the Nintendo 3DS e-Shop, and it has everything you want in a game!

You want bare-bones gameplay? Pokémon Rumble World has that. You want microtransactions? It has those, too. You want cheap, one-hit kills that will force you to pay real-world money to avoid wasting your own time? You better believe it has that. Welcome to the Video Game New World Order, where every game will have a timer on every activity and, for the low, low price of two cents (every time it happens, and it will happen a lot… I mean, like, way more than however much you’re thinking), you can hop right back into the action instead of waiting 2 hours for your turn!

“But, Reece, how are these obviously exciting things possible?” Glad you asked, me. This is possible because of a resource that you can acquire at an agonizingly slow rate in-game called “Poké Diamonds.” We couldn’t be bothered to give them a more interesting name or even think to call them by the same name as an existing resource from the franchise because we were too busy reading this copy of “How To Make a Mobile Game that Looks and Works Exactly Like Every Other Bullshit Free-to-Play Game and Rob a Small Handful of People Who Literally Cannot Help Themselves Blind in the Process!” which we got from the same store that we got “How To Use as Little of the Power at Your Fingertips as Possible When Developing Video Games.” And it worked! This game looks like absolute shit compared to most of the rest of what’s available for the 3DS, and no amount of Poké Diamonds can improve it. Poké Diamonds are used for almost every common action in the game, and drop rates are kept conveniently low so you have more opportunities to buy them at roughly a penny apiece in the e-Shop! It’s a win/win! For us!

Sound appealing? You can show us at Nintendo how much this appeals to you RIGHT NOW by downloading Pokémon Rumble World and spending hundreds of dollars on gems to buy backgrounds that match your shittily-rendered, barely animated Pokémon so you can take EXTREMELY EXCITING pictures of them! Have a Voltorb you particularly like? Spend a dollar on a soccer background so you can pretend you’re kicking the shit out of him! Love Audino, but frustrated that they’re never in Pokémon centers where their healing asses belong? Buy a hospital background and pretend that that’s a solution! With so many Pokémon and classy-ass backgrounds available, the options are nearly limitless.

“But, Reece, it only seems as though there are roughly enough items to buy to add up to about fifteen or twenty dollars, and that seems like just a reasonable price for a download-only 3DS game. Why didn’t you call it good there and charge us twenty dollars so we don’t have to buy everything piecemeal?” Well, Valued Consumer, if we’d done that, then we couldn’t charge you two cents every time you died or, heaven forbid, wanted to actually play the fucking game you paid for. Now, we can view it as still being our game, since you didn’t pay for it, and that makes it easier for us to rationalize charging admission! No, idiot, there is so much more that you will have to pay for in this game. Died? Two cents to pick a new Pokémon and keep going. If you don’t pay, you lose everything and go back to town and you can’t do that level again for two hours. “But, Reece, what if I want to play the level again, now, instead of waiting two hours, because, you know, this is a video game, not a trip to the DMV?” An excellent and on-point question, imaginary audience member, and the answer bolsters my excitement for this game as well as the point I was making, anyway! You can pay another two cents to eliminate the artificial timer and play the game you’ve been trying to play this whole time! CONVENIENT!

Yes, finally, a Pokémon game for people who are too dumb for Pokémon games. Here at Nintendo, we heard what our fans asked for and we gave it to them. Here is list of concerns that we addressed with Pokémon Rumble World:

“Choosing just six Pokémon for my party is too overwhelming!” Here, scroll through a list of hundreds of Pokémon every time one gets low on health! That sounds way easier, right?

“Four moves is confusing. Can you maybe slim it down to just two moves per Pokémon?” Shit, we’ll do you one better and make half of them show up with only one move!

“My Mii is getting pretty lonely. He should be able to stand next to a fucking store and do nothing while weird-looking Pokémon do even more nothing near him.” WE DID EXACTLY THAT, JUST FOR YOU, VALUED CUSTOMER!

“I love making divine entities do embarrassing things, but Pokémon-amie only gives me like seven or eight options for mortifying the Pokémon Gods of space, time, life, death, etc. If only there was a game designed specifically for my stupid face.”

WELL, IDIOT, THERE IS. It’s called Pokémon Rumble Blast, and it has so many pointless animations that you won’t even think about Pokémon-amie any more. Who needs cupcakes when you can watch the world’s shortest game of hide-and-seek any time you want? No one, that’s who. Fuck cupcakes.

We know that you’re already done with Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and hungry for more, but it’s getting harder and harder to write games with negligible stories, so, rather than strain ourselves, we’ve hired a studio called Ambrella to make another game that you’ll play because you’re a weirdly co-dependent dumbass who can’t go more than an hour without taking care of some sort of digital pet. They’re the studio that made “Hey You, Pikachu!” a game about yelling at your Nintendo 64, so this game is guaranteed to be a hit! It’s all the fun and social aspects of Farmville, but with a Pokémon motif instead of something you can play without having to be afraid that hoodlums will view you as the weakest target, as well as resource-management that can be bypassed with your hard-earned money!

We here at Nintendo sincerely believe that you don’t know how to play video games, so we made this game even easier to play than the previous Pokémon Rumble games! Having trouble pushing the A button? Great! This game defaults to a setting called “auto-attack,” which makes your Pokémon attack whatever your palsy-stricken fingers happen to randomly point the analog stick toward all by itself, so you won’t miss out on one second of giving us your money, even if you are differently-abled!

“But, Reece, can I pay real-world money to unlock content that should have been available in the first place?” Of fucking course you can. We only started you off with three levels, so you better believe you can get in on all the content-purchasing action as soon as you load up the game for the first time! We’ll even give you the first gems for free then slowly increase the price over time, to really make it sink in that we are the pusher and you are the addict. Honestly, this moral position is really liberating! As long as we keep thinking of you as dirty fucking addicts, we don’t have to feel bad about these predatory business practices that prey primarily, not on the addicts I mentioned (that’s you, in case you forgot, you fucking addict), but on children, instead. It’s just like the drug war!


Pokémon MOTHERFUCKING RUMBLE BLAST: Because, here at Nintendo, we think all of our customers are goddamn morons.






Oh, man, I can not keep that up any more, and the sarcasm doesn’t play for what I have to say last, in summation. But, don’t worry, I’m still very fucking angry.

Nintendo, get it together. Sure, it’s cheaper than most games this malicious, but that doesn’t mean there is no malice in its design. You’re robbing people in the present at the expense of your future and you don’t seem to see it. You were supposed to be the good guys. You were supposed to be a bastion of quality standing against a sea of day-one patches and shitty download-only titles. You were supposed to be the ones who didn’t nickel and dime us with paid content like every other fucking developer. You were supposed to be the immovable wall between us and the money-grubbing shovelware enthusiasts at Treyarch and Ubisoft Montreal and DICE, but you’re becoming just like them. Worse, even, you have a full-on freemium game going on, here, and one that uses all of the nastiest tricks in the freemium book to part people with their money.

I did purchase gems from the store, using the two “introductory” packages or whatever they’re called. They are the same as two of the cheapest packs of gems, and they are half-off one time only. I paid less than two dollars, I was able to buy access to about two-thirds of the levels, and I even had about seventy cents worth of normally-priced gems left. But, they didn’t last long. One could try to carefully ration them, but many bosses will leap across stages and do lethal amounts of unexpected damage. Very few people would be able to make the choice to lose everything they’d just earned instead of paying the two cents to keep going. It’s even easier than actually spending two cents, though, because you paid for the gems long before you spent them, ideally. That gap in time creates a sort of disconnect, where the money doesn’t really feel like money, any more. It’s been Poké Diamonds for so long, you’ve forgotten that it was ever money at all, or that this is the twentieth time you’ve paid to stay alive in a game where you already had to pay for the individual fucking levels, and that makes forty cents worth of staying alive, which means that that miserable minute and a half you spent at work getting yelled at by your boss today was a complete waste because you spent that money on dying in a freemium game on your beloved portable gaming system.

There is little to no playing this game without spending money on it. Poké Diamonds are quite rare in the game and the timer on levels means that, if you try to earn them without buying them, you will either be completely enslaved to a schedule revolving around your 3DS, or it will take you months to be able to afford the later levels. This is the worst kind of game, and Nintendo, you should be ashamed to put your name on it. It’s not even trying to pretend to be a real game. It is unabashedly a phone game, and I want my two dollars back.

Zero out of ten. Like, negative twelve hundred out of ten. It’s not fun. It’s hardly even a game. It’s just a gaping hole for you to endlessly throw your money into, two cents at a time.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Review: Kitty Cat Battle Royale

The Monster Hunter games are pretty polarizing. I performed an experiment while writing this review, and asked all of my gamer friends what they thought of the franchise. The results were this: everybody hates it (or is indifferent toward, or unaware of, its existence) except for the slim handful who are actually right and love it. No, really. Only the opinions of those select few are right.

Not one person falls in the middle in my circle of friends. No one says, “Yeah, I play it every once in a while;” it’s either all-out, ravenous fandom, or it isn’t on their radar at all. Those who do like it also tend to like Demon’s Souls and its ilk, so there’s an easy correlation. The Souls games are equally as polarizing and difficult to get into. However, I think that Monster Hunter 4 will be the iteration to break the cycle. That’s what we’re focusing on, today. Rather than looking at this game on its own, we’re gonna talk more about what sets it apart from previous entries, and why someone who didn’t like the older games might like this one.

Let’s jump right into it.

Monster Hunter is a game. You hunt monsters. That’s pretty much all there is to it. At least, that’s all there is to it when I have to bottom-line the game. The devil’s in the details, though, and Monster Hunter doesn’t fuck around as far as its details go. You play as a hunter-gatherer in a village whose greatest technological advancement is being able to roast two steaks over a campfire at the same time. Their biggest exports are grass and bugs, and their political system is based entirely around who has the largest animal skull in his or her hut. Impressive stuff, right? This setting provides the context. Sure, you could still set a game about hunting giant monsters in a technologically-advanced world, but you’d have to dig pretty deep in your bag of plot to give me a compelling reason to root around in piles of mushrooms all day.

If this sounds appealing to you, you’re probably correct. This game is all about the survival, and we’ve had a lot of opportunities recently to play games that have taught us just how fun survival can be. Forget to eat, and you won’t have any energy to run around. Forget to pick flowers, and you won’t have enough potions to carry you through the next quest. Every action you take is a small step toward surviving just one more monster. This feeling dissipates as the game progresses and you gain new and interesting ways to acquire materials, but the beginning of the game sets the tone for the rest, and that tone boils down to surviving.

Here is what should interest you if you aren’t compelled, already: Multiplayer, plot, and tutorials.

If you’ve played any Monster Hunter games, you know that multiplayer has always been the primary driving force for the game, and the other two concepts are weirdly missing. We’re gonna take a serious look at these three things to see if maybe you’ll finally try out a Monster Hunter game and pick up 4 Ultimate.

First, multiplayer. Suffice to say that if you have a friend who you regularly play games with and they want you to play it with them, you will probably enjoy it. My fiancée finally started playing with me, and she is clearly getting some kind of emotional high from it. She’ll correct me if I’m wrong once she reads this, but she always has a very strong reaction to seeing a new monster for the first time. That reaction is something like, “WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING KILL IT KILL IT KILL IT HOW DO WE KILL IT OH GOD WE’RE GONNA DIE.” The first few monsters are unnervingly large on their own, but by the time you defeat three or four, the rest are downright terrifying to behold. The Tetsucabra is the first truly large monster you have to face in MH4U, and it is easily five times the size of the next largest monster you’ve gone up against before facing it. The shock factor is very real and it never stops. I’ve gotten through most of the single-player story at this point, and one monster in particular, the Najarala, is so large that I am still afraid of it.

This fear, though, only lasts for so long in multiplayer play. Since the game is split between the single and multiplayer experiences, one player will almost always have more time spent on the game than the others, and it’s difficult to be too terribly afraid of the giant rattlesnake attacking you when your more confident friend is riding its back and stabbing it in the neck. This split in experiences is one of Monster Hunter’s big draws, from my point of view. No village upgrades are gained in multiplayer, which keeps you playing the solo campaign, and all of the biggest fights are missing from the campaign, which keeps you playing multiplayer quests. Each method of play rewards you in different ways. Great design, all around. The long and short of it is that the multiplayer hasn’t changed at all. If you’ve played these games before, you know that’s a good thing, and if you haven’t, take our word for it. Best of all, as has been the case in the past, if you’re really confident in your gear and skills, you can even tackle the multiplayer quests on your own, providing an extra layer of challenge to an already challenging game.

The challenge of the game leads us to my next point: tutorials. Those of you who have played prior Monster Hunter games without playing the new one are probably pretty confused, right now. “Reece,” you’d say, I’m sure, “tutorials have no place in a Monster Hunter game,” and you’d be right. In the past, you had to essentially run your own tutorials and learn how the game worked through trial and error. In Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, though, you can learn so fucking much about the weapons and the world you live in. The first tier of quests is entirely comprised of tutorial quests, from how to make potions, to how to grill steaks, to how each of the weapons work. This is good, because the already complicated combat became even more complicated this time around. I chose the Insect Glaive as my primary weapon, because I heard it allowed one to pole-vault and that sounded pretty awesome. I can now confirm that pole-vaulting is, in fact, extremely awesome, but I couldn’t sort out how to do it on my own right away, and had to resort to playing the Insect Glaive tutorial mission to figure it out. Not only did it teach me the skills needed to effectively use the weapon, it also let me put those skills to the test against a very weak monster, and it didn’t make me fight for a terribly long time once I’d figured it out. Within minutes, it was over, and I was quite grateful for the fast-track book-learnin’ I’d acquired.

So, the multiplayer, the most important part of the game, is intact, and tutorials abound where they did not, before. This is good news, but the biggest complaint I hear from detractors is that Monster Hunter doesn’t do it for them from a story standpoint. And, to be perfectly honest, I can agree with them. Lucky for everyone, then, that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has more story than any previous game in the series. Nearly every other improvement we’ll be talking about falls into this category, so brace yourself for just an absolute shitload of words. We have much to discuss.

Those of us who love this franchise have certain expectations about the dialogue. We expect that it will be well-written, but ultimately needless and forgettable. As with Fantasy Life, which I reviewed, previously, you wouldn’t be missing much if you mashed buttons to skip past the dialogue, but you’d enjoy it if you took the time to read it.

MH4U is still like this to some extent, but after the first several cutscenes, you will actually be interested in what’s happening and invested in your character. Your hunter still has no dialogue at all; spoken lines will be handled by the much more fleshed-out supporting characters in your caravan. However, almost all of the cutscenes are done in the game engine, so it is your hunter who will appear, along with your weapons and armor. This allows for something new, as far as your hunter is concerned: characterization. For the first time, I find myself wondering who my hunter is. Even though the hunter does not speak, you will still get something of a feel for his or her personality. This is primarily communicated non-verbally, obviously, with your hunter’s posture and actions communicating a very capable, yet cautious personality. These characterizing cutscenes primarily occur when encountering a new monster for the first time, and your hunter acts quite rationally. No fear is evident, but you also won’t see him or her blindly running at a monster, sword raised to the heavens. He or she is right in the middle. Your hunter values careful observation over improvisation and courage over heroics. Let’s face it, the Palicoes provide the heroics, here.

I’m gonna piss off a lot of people when I say this, but Palicoes were fucking worthless before this game. I know they were around, before, and they had most of the same function, but holy shit, they function so much better, now. Not only has their AI been improved, there are also so many of them, now, and they have so many fucking outfits. I spend at least 30 minutes playing dress-up with my cats every time I turn the game on, and I love every second of it.

Palicoes are just what they sound like: calico cats that are your pals. They can come along with you on hunts, providing extra damage, healing, support, or all three while you fight, as well as picking up extra loot for you. More importantly, though, they provide the majority of the compelling story. When you reach the third city (yeah, more than one city to live in; I know, it’s a lot to handle), a Palico will approach you and ask for your help in protecting the Palico village. You do so, and gain the ability to hire additional Palicoes who your main Palico can take under his wing and teach the ways of the cat. These kitties live on Sunsnug Isle when they aren’t palling around with you, and Sunsnug Isle is the single most important location in the game.

To illustrate this, I’m gonna take you through my thought process, which means we’re gonna have to look back at another game I’ve reviewed previously with a similar mechanic: Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag. Black Flag has this odd little system tacked on to it in which you build a fleet. You send these ships out to earn resources that can only be used on upgrading these theoretical, only-seen-on-paper ships, so they can be better at going out and earning Paper Ship Dollars, so you can upgrade more ships to go out and earn more Big Ship Bucks to upgrade your ships. I could go on for hours. And so could the armada minigame in Black Flag. And both would have just as much point.

Monster Hunter 4 has a minigame that initially feels similar, called goddamn (no lie) Meownster Hunters. This “minigame” (and I use the term very loosely) allows you to send up to five of your gotta-catch-‘em-all Palicoes on adorable little hunts acted out with adorable little puppets so they can get adorable little loot drops to make adorable little weapons and armor. Initially, this feels a bit like the armada bullshit from Black Flag, since this system is almost entirely self-contained, until you realize that these weapons and armor have stats and they don’t just look adorable (which, let me be clear, they definitely do), they also improve the combat prowess of your furry friends. This is particularly awesome because you can take up to two of the Palicoes with you on quests. If we take this comparison to its logical conclusion, that’s like Black Flag’s Edward taking two pirate ships along with him into the house where his next assassination target waits. The power boost from two well-equipped Palicoes isn’t quite that overwhelming, but it is noticeable. And, in case I haven’t been one hundred percent clear, the Palico weapons and armor are so adorable that you absolutely will baby-talk your 3DS. I’m talkin’ little wizard hats and monster costumes and tiny versions of armor your hunter can wear. Yes, that means you and your cat friends can match. Absoloutely incredible. Kitty-Cat Dress-Up Simulator is worth the forty bucks, alone.

The more cohesive story has also served to give the quests a better flow that draws you through the campaign more thoroughly than before. Each city has its own Big Bad for you to Take Care Of, which clears up the awkward situations we used to have, where we’d find ourselves fighting yet another monster that had supposedly somehow caused all of the village’s problems. In addition, most of the village upgrades have been relocated to side-quests, instead of the resource-burning Villager Requests of yesteryear. The Villager Requests are still around, but they are much fewer and further between and you won’t find them inconveniencing you like they did in the last game. Instead, most requests will be handled by fighting some new monster, and you’ll get to watch one of the stellar cutscenes while you do it, and you’ll feel much more rewarded than if you’d simply walked up and put all of your rarest rocks in a box.

The biggest draw for me is that there seem to be a lot more monsters to fight, this time around. And great strides were taken to ensure that at least the items that every monster drops are in the game. Sadly, many of them (particularly the aquatic monsters of Monster Hunter 3) do not appear in the game, partly because of the lack of underwater segments, but mostly (I assume) because there just isn’t enough damn space on the cartridge. I think everyone is impressed with the way they still managed to make the Plesioth appear, so I’ll try to avoid spoiling it, but if you really want to know, just google the same thing you googled to find this review and click any other link. I’m sure everyone else will tell you about how great the Plesioth is.

In case I glossed over that too much, there is no underwater combat in Monster Hunter 4. The third game was very focused on the underwater fighting, and I liked it a lot, but it has been replaced with real, honest-to-goodness vertical design and movement, and I like that a lot more. Climbing and jumping off things are more fun than they’ve ever been, and combat was smoothed out so that you can attack in midair and continue your combo once you hit the ground. This is the cornerstone of my favorite new mechanic: mounting. Much like Dragon’s Dogma or Shadow of the Colossus, you can climb on enemies and stab them in the back to bring them down. This is accomplished through leaping through the air, hitting the monster while airborne, then playing a very small minigame in which you must balance stabbing them until they fall with hanging on for dear life. If your friends hit you while you do this, they could knock you off the monster’s back, but many of these monsters are large enough that this is not an overly large risk. And the payout for success is staggering. Literally. It has always been possible to knock monsters over in previous games, and it can still be done in Monster Hunter 4 without mounting, but the length of time to beat the downed monster’s ass is significantly increased if you mount it to do so. A new weapon, called the Insect Glaive, was introduced to help facilitate this. If you are unsure which weapon to use when starting, pick this one. The Insect Glaive is a big-ass stick you hit things with and a big-ass bug that rests on your arm until you send him out to attack and buff your character. More importantly, though, the Insect Glaive allows you to pole-vault, which marks the first time that a Monster Hunter game has allowed us to jump at will. Why would you want to do this? To get on the monster’s back, dummy, and then beat them senseless. Even in multiplayer, when you have to announce to the group that you are mounting something so your friends don’t knock you the fuck off, everyone seems to recognize the power increase the glaive provides, and respectfully gives you the room you need to do it. The glaive isn’t entirely needed for this shenanigans, though it is very helpful. If you’re married to a certain type of weapon, you can always climb a wall and jump off to mount monsters, or your hammer-wielding buddy can launch you through the air with his base combo, or you can wait it out and hire a “Launching” Palico later on who will toss you around all you want.

So, that’s it. I could gush for a while about all of the changes I think have really improved the formula, but it wouldn’t serve to convince you, much. I hesitate to score this game, because some people will still have a difficult time figuring out the controls, and if you don’t have friends to play with, it simply won’t be the same. I’m gonna say it in caps, now, too, in case you skipped to the end to see the score, and why would you do that? Go back and read it. I probably said mean things about a game you like, and I’m one of those people who likes to see you squirm. Anyway, what I want to say is:


If, however, you’re willing to put up with that, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is a solid 9.5/10, in my book. We could still use a little more story, but it’s not an absolute must when the combat and crafting systems are exactly as robust as they’ve always been. This will definitely do, for now.

Fantasy Life Review: Really guys, I think it might be too much game

I should be playing and reviewing so many other things. I have dozens of games sitting there with maybe a few hours of time spent on them, but goddamn Fantasy Life keeps pulling me back in. Seriously, fuck this game.

I like three things in a game. I like to explore, I like to kill things, and I like to feel some sort of progression. It’s called an adventure. Look it up. I mean, I don’t really have to explain this to you, do I?

Some games do parts of these things well, or even all of them. But, even among the greats, certain things tend to be lacking. Bethesda knows their way around exploration and progression, as evidenced by Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls, but even these incredible games are somewhat lacking in quality combat. The Far Cry Franchise excels in exploration and combat, but the sense of progression could stand to maybe, I dunno… exist? I mean, apart from locking off whole combat mechanics, ala Far Cry 3, the series has very little sense of character growth. Borderlands, the game I should be writing about right now, has great gunplay, as well as character progression that puts most other games to shame (Pirate ship mode, guys. Am I right?), but the exploration is hurting so bad it might as well be dead.

These games are all great, no doubt about it, but they all suffer from a lack of one of these three qualities. Fantasy Life has, arguably, too much of all three. Seriously. There is way too much to do, and that is coming from someone who likes having a lot to do in a game. Give me something I can easily sink 60-70 hours into, and I will give you my money without hesitation. I am currently 40+ hours into this game, and I have barely even scratched the surface. (Update 3/19/15: My fiancée stole this game from me and held it hostage in her 3DS for a long-ass time. She hit 100 hours this week and I hit 85 after buying a second copy so I could play it again. Still haven’t done everything. And, bonus, since she likes it, your less-nerdy friends might like it, too. Nerd.)

Fantasy Life is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You live someone’s life in a fantasy game. It’s similar to games like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, and Rune Factory, in that the gameplay consists of waking up in the morning, doing your job, maybe talking to a couple of the other townsfolk, completing a few menial tasks, then going to sleep.

I have never been able to get into this style of game. I find Animal Crossing to be nauseatingly adorable while it demands that I only play an hour a day. Harvest moon was the opposite, and didn’t seem to want to charm me at all. And Rune Factory… It feels like Animal Crossing with simply the ability to go to bed and progress time added in. All of these games claim to be life simulators, but limit me to one, maybe two different types of lives to live, and they dictate what pace I must use. I really don’t like being told to play an RPG at a certain pace. It’s my adventure. Don’t tell me that I have to go to bed.

During all of my time with Fantasy Life so far, I think my character might have gone to bed roughly four times, and that was just because he was near his bed and low on health. There is a weird kind of bliss in keeping your character awake for weeks at a time in a life simulator. It’s absolutely cathartic. Makes me feel, like, a million times better about my own life. I might have a hard time getting comfortable enough to sleep for more than a few hours at a time, but at least I’m not so addicted to fishing and killing bears that I go a month or two between naps. Makes me feel like frickin’ Rip Van Winkle.

I voiced another complaint about the life simulator games earlier: lack of choices in the type of life I lead. Harvest Moon allows me to be a farmer, Rune Factory allows me to be a farmer and a warrior, and Animal Crossing allows me to be a… um, a… fucking… silent conversation partner/slave worker? I honestly don’t get Animal Crossing at all. I find its popularity mystifying. Fantasy Life, though, has a list of “Lives” I can live. I can choose any of those lives at, essentially, any time. It’s locked out while actively pursuing a main story quest, and possibly for a little while at the beginning? By the time I was ready to start learning about the other lives, I was able to change, so if it is locked off at all at the beginning of the game, it isn’t for long, and it’s probably just because you’re experiencing the main story.

I started as a Paladin. Swords and shields and piety, or so I thought. Instead, I got swords and shields and being a town guard. This is not as boring as it sounds, really. The dialogue is both charming and witty, and the characters are mostly distinct enough to be somewhat memorable. Once I started branching out into other lives, I encountered other characters who were eerily similar to characters I’d met before, but the plot is that perfect combination of well-written and forgettable that it has the right to get a little samey. If you take the time to actually read the dialogue, you’ll enjoy it every time, but it’s also not really needed after you have the base mechanics down. In fact, you have the option to skip the introductory quest for each life after your first, and there is generally special dialogue written that lets you know that there are gonna be people in town who you should have met during the quest you skipped, and you shouldn’t be surprised if they inexplicably seem to know you. It’s a nice touch, and it helps alleviate the strange sense of guilt I feel every time I skip some of the game’s carefully crafted script.

But, who gives a shit about the story? In this sort of game, i.e. one that doesn’t entirely rely on its story to carry it, like Bioshock Infinite or Telltale’s Walking Dead Series, we have to judge it mostly by the meat of the game, which is the gameplay. In the spirit of the introduction on this review, let’s break it down by the three qualities I mentioned.

First, we have exploration. Sweet, baby Jesus, do we ever have exploration. Think Skyrim, but segmented like a Zelda game. Portions of the world are locked off by the main story, and do not open up until specific tasks are complete, and fast travel can take even longer to unlock for a given area, but, for the first time in my life, I almost welcome this. The game’s map is massive, and even the small portion I currently have access to (maybe a third of it, tops?) is slightly overwhelming. To make matters worse, or better, depending on how you view it, each area is positively flooded with things to do. You want monsters to kill? Take ten goddamn steps in any direction outside of town. You want a quest to complete? Go back to town and, again, take ten steps in any direction. You want to gather crafting materials? Bitch, you have no idea what you’re getting into, there. Every single area, regardless of whether or not combat is possible, is riddled with resources to gather. In addition, smaller areas branch off from each map, lending it a size that can induce panic attacks in those not prepared for this game’s size. I seriously cannot emphasize this enough: this scope of this game is bonkers, especially for a handheld title.

On that note, let’s take a step back before we look at combat and progression. This is a fucking handheld game, and I am comparing it to an Elder Scrolls game, at least in terms of size. That sinking in for you? The Nintendo 3DS has a game that rivals a hardcore, open-world RPG for consoles and PCs. For those of us paying attention, though, this is what we have come to expect from Level-5. They brought us the Guild Collections, which I recommend googling, since I couldn’t possibly do the size of these collections justice in a single paragraph or two, and that’s all the space I want to dedicate to fellating these guys with my words. I talk a lot about “pedigree” when it comes to studios, and these guys are so full of pedigree you could show them off at the fucking Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. No shit. Look them up. You probably know several of their games if you play RPGs at all, and love them if you’ve played them. They came onto the scene in the year 2000, when they released Dark Cloud, one of the unsung heroes of the PS2. Dark Cloud 2 followed in 2002, then they hit the big-time, when Square Enix approached them to develop Dragon Quest VIII, which is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest games of all time, and quite possibly the single best old-school, turn-based RPG ever created. Even IGN ranks it at #39 on its list of the best games of all time, which is impressive when you assume that the 38 games above it probably bought their way into that list, to some extent, or, at the very least, were made by much larger studios. At the time that Dragon Quest was started, Level-5 was still considered to be a small startup company.

With the success of Dragon Quest 8, Level-5 was able to expand dramatically, hitting 150 employees by 2010. They released dozens of high-quality games, including Jeanne d’Arc, Ni no Kuni, Inazuma Eleven, Dragon Quest IX, and the Professor Layton games. If you move in gamer circles (and I assume you do, since you’re reading my bullshit), you know these games. Even if you haven’t played them, you’ve heard talk. No one has bad things to say about these games. In recent years, they have focused more on smaller (file-size-wise) games for handheld systems, but every single one has made their first game, Dark Cloud, which was universally praised, look like the work of amateurs.

I love this studio, and I didn’t even know it. They have something like 3% of the Japanese game market on lock, which doesn’t sound like much, but, considering that they have less than a tenth of the staff of giants like Square Enix, that figure starts to become impressive. With a small market share like that, they don’t come up often in every day conversation, though, and that’s a fucking shame. Go download Bugs vs. Tanks for like $3.00 right now, and you’ll see what I mean. Nothing else at that price point approaches the level of quality these guys can pull off.

Anyway, Fantasy Life. It’s a game. We’ve already talked exploration, so let’s talk combat.

It’s… meh.

It kills me to say it, but that’s always the way with these games, right? Now, that is not to say that there isn’t a lot of combat, because it’s everywhere. I would even go so far as to say that much of the resource-gathering is combat, as well. When you approach a tree or an ore deposit that you would like to make yours, you press the A button, then swing at the tree or rock from different angles, trying to find the sweet spot that will let you deplete its health as quickly as possible, so you don’t get too tired to keep going. Really, the combat against inanimate objects might even be more compelling than combat against actual enemies. You have exactly one button for attacking that does a lunging hit when you move toward an enemy while swinging, and a multi-hit combo while standing still. If you have a shield, you can block, but it usually only shaves off a few points of damage, so just walking out of the way of attacks is preferred. If you are in a combat life that matches the weapon you are using, you get a special gauge that slowly fills and allows you to do an extremely overpowered attack. You cannot do a special move at all in combat if you’re in a non-combat life. It’s not like, the best thing ever, but it helps, when you have exactly two different attacks, otherwise.

This causes most of the hard decisions in the game. Playing as a Paladin is great, because it gives you a special move that does assloads of damage. But, if you’re in a combat life, it means you will have a harder time gathering resources. I spent most of my time playing as a miner, a woodcutter, or a fisherman, so that I could at least gather one type of resource with relative ease, because, again, trees and rocks and fish are the toughest enemies in the game. Many of these trees and rocks will be entirely skipped by you when first encountered, because you simply can’t damage them no matter how hard you try. There are a few trees I found that I still cannot damage 40 hours in, and I found them in hour ten.

Last, we have character progression. And holy shit, do we have a lot of it. There are experience points that increase your character level, giving you extra points to put toward stats of your choice upon leveling. There are stars, which can generally be earned in any Life, that increase the level of that particular life, from Fledgling, to Novice, all the way up to Master and, supposedly, Legend. It could go past Legend, I don’t know. I try not to look up stuff about games I haven’t finished. I’m right in the middle on all of my Lives, either an Adept or an Expert, and I have completed an awful lot of challenges. I can’t even wrap my brain around the amount of sushi I would need to make to become a Cooking Legend. There’s Bliss, which is earned by performing tasks to make you feel more connected to the world and its inhabitants, which can be spent to unlock larger inventory, pets, horses, and even better inventory for shops. The three crafting-type lives (Alchemist, Woodworker, and Smith) allow you to craft better gear for your character, which also adds to your sense of progression. One could feasibly do nothing but craft items to gain levels, and the crafting mini-game is just barely tolerable enough to make that a possibility. So, not only is there a fuckload of character progression, there are also nearly limitless options for accomplishing this. Sure, you could run around and murder things until you have enough money to buy gold armor, or you could buy the raw gold and craft your own, which could land you a higher-quality set of armor. Or, even better, you could mine your own gold ore, smelt it, and craft for the chance at better gear, gaining experience and stars every step of the way.

This game is remarkable, all things considered. The combat is bland, but is also mostly avoidable, and it is varied enough to make it at least more interesting than the combat in an Elder Scrolls game, if you decide to include fighting lives in your run through the game. I didn’t mention it above, but the graphics and music are also extremely pleasant. The music was all done by Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy soundtrack fame. Here’s a little taste, because, let’s face it, I could never describe a graphical style or sound well enough for you to understand it as well as this (It’s the trailer, so it starts off with a bit of cutscene, but gameplay starts right around the 25-second mark and continues for about a minute, and all of the music is from the game.):

All-around, I can recommend this game to anyone who enjoys life-simulators or lengthy RPGs. If you require gore and intense violence, you’ll probably be bored by this friendly little title, but in the current market that is flooded with realism I, personally, welcome any title that remembers that it is, in fact, a video game and not a real-life simulator.

Score time. Damn it. Either an 8.5 or a 9, depending on personal taste. The bland combat is all I can really fault it for, and I lean toward 9 simply because, if you don’t want to engage in the boring combat, you don’t have to. This is, however, the best life simulator I’ve ever played, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking about picking up this wonderful little title. That’s funny. “Little” is about as far from true as possible. We’ll call it a massive little game, at the very least. For a handheld title, it’s practically The Elder Scrolls VI.

Azure Striker Gunvolt Review: Fleep, Flop, Floobity Doop

The Nintendo 3DS has an awful lot of games launching every week in the e-shop. These download-only games are mostly made by companies no one has ever heard of, so the more discerning shopper might hesitate to buy them. I know this pain, and have put myself through it several times in the last few weeks so I can hopefully help you decide if you want to play some of them. We’re gonna start off with Mega Man X.

Shit, I mean… what’s it called? Right, title of the post. Azure Striker Gunvolt. I cannot imagine a worse name. Actually, I take it back. I can think of a lot of much worse names, but I wouldn’t put them on something I produced. Shut, that’s pretty mean of me. Now, to seem like less of a dick, I will give this review a terrible name, so Gunvolt doesn’t feel as bad. I guess the title doesn’t really matter, though, so let’s move on to the gameplay.

It’s Mega Man X. You like Mega Man X? You might like this game.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s not enough like Mega Man X to really draw the comparison. Where Mega Man X has upgrades squirreled away all over its levels, encouraging you to replay them several times, Gunvolt’s replay value comes in the form of “Challenges,” which just aren’t as good. Some of them are kind of interesting, but most are forced speedruns. Count. Me. Out.

I’m gonna make the Mega Man X comparison a lot. When you make a game that takes nearly all of its core mechanics from the Blue Bomber, you open yourself up to these comparisons. And Gunvolt fails just about every litmus test.

When you purchase Azure Striker Gunvolt from the e-shop, if you do so within the time limit, which is probably over because I took forever to play through it, you will also receive the fake first game in the series, called Mighty Gunvolt. It’s not a fake game, people, it’s a fake first game. It was not released that I can find before the release of its companion game. You know how I said Azure Striker Gunvolt is Mega Man X? Mighty Gunvolt is Mega Man.

It’s honestly not bad. It’s arguably a bit longer than the first Mega Man game, since there are three characters to play with, but from the bit I played with a second character after beating it, I think it was the same levels in a different order, so the length argument seems pretty flimsy.

It’s just… Mega Man. The first one. Each character has slight tweaks to make sure they don’t control quite the same as the man himself, like a double-jump, hovering, and… somersaults? But, their base movements and jumps are basically identical to Mega Man.

You know what I like about it, though? The story. It’s one of those stories that’s so vague, awful, and poorly-translated that it transcends to pure hilarity. I get the feeling it’s meant to be a pretty deep story with some real social commentary, but it… it doesn’t make sense. Like, for instance, the following excerpt from the intro:

“The other time, the other place: Experiments on humans started by massive media group ‘Sumeragi’ to audition for next ‘muse’ idol. Their magic hand even reached female schools. Female students vanished and no new couples formed. Love was in a danger.”

Wow… Love was in a fucking danger, indeed.

Every mistake I typed was directly from the source material. Honestly, what does that even say? It starts off talking about human experimentation, and ends lamenting the death of love? There is one more paragraph of explanation that makes a little more sense, but sheds no light at all on the paragraph above. The game itself also does nothing to explain its own plot. Guys show up, then they hold up swords and turn into super-powered robots. I have no idea what the auditions are that they mention, although I am fairly confident that I played a level in one of the fabled female schools, and I can attest to the fact that no new couples were being formed. I would like to point out, before we move on, that those are the first lines in the entire game. It’s brilliant! Confuse them right off the bat, then everything else makes sense in comparison!

Apart from this, I’m just a little worn out on Mega Man clones. The controls are tight, and the music is honestly great (like, really great and you should check it out if you’re into the 8-bit stuff), but it’s not enough to keep me interested. The levels are riddled with seemingly unavoidable damage, and it doesn’t feel fun. You learn the patterns, you jump exactly right, and you still get hit. It feels like a tax, not gameplay. Run to the right, take half your health worth of damage, grab a heal, climb a bit, run to the left, take another half of your health in damage, heal, repeat, repeat, repeat. Fuck taxes. They aren’t fun. Oh, boy! Gonna really tear into my damage tax return this year! I hear they passed a bill that’ll let me deduct every bullet I pull out of my leg! I’m gonna be the richest tax whiz on the block!

This annoyance ends when a boss appears. These guys definitely know their way around boss fights. They all still seem to have unavoidable tax-attacks, so they become a game of avoiding the attacks that actually can be dodged, to survive long enough to kill the boss, while trying to kill him fast enough to not have to deal with the unavoidable attack more than once. It’s almost like a puzzle. Most of the bosses will kill you several times before you succeed, and the feeling when beating one is pretty great. You feel like you earned it, and it didn’t feel quite as unfair as the run up to the boss.

So, the first game wasn’t much to get excited about. I think anyone could agree. The only people that Mighty Gunvolt may appeal to are those who wish there were more of the original Mega Man game. And it hurts to say that, you know? Right now, with the death of our favorite blue, shot-chargin’, left-to-right-runnin’ hero, I want more Mega Man games more than anything. I grew up on those games, you know?

It just doesn’t make sense to me. The members of the team making these games have made Mega Man games. Were they intentionally making Gunvolt less appealing? Check out their Wikipedia page. The studio is called Inti Creates. Seriously, pull it up. I can wait.

Look at that pedigree! Mega Man Zero, Battle Chip, even the upcoming Mighty Number Nine (the rebirth of Mega Man, in case you weren’t aware). I’m willing to admit that I might not be viewing the game in a completely objective manner, but I don’t think that’s the case. My current assumption is that they are focusing all of their resources on Mighty Number Nine. That’s how I have to justify it to avoid losing faith in the game I helped kickstart.

The other justification I use is that it’s a weird, artsy tech demo for, or maybe a preemptive homage to, the real game: Azure Striker Gunvolt. I have not yet finished this one, but that is something we’ll get to later. The only character playable in this one is the titular Gunvolt. He is nothing like he was in the first game. Or demo tape. Or parody. Whatever Mighty Gunvolt is. I have never had this much trouble figuring out what a game is and why it exists.

Shit, ummmmm, anyway… Azure Stirker Gunvolt. It’s not bad.

It’s definitely not for me. If I want a game in this style, I have the Mega Man Zero collection sitting in my 3DS. Azure Striker Gunvolt has just a little too much resource management for my taste. It feels like the rule set of Starcraft crammed into a left-to-right runner.

There’s never just one thing to worry about at a time with this game, and it can get overwhelming. You can’t just shoot bad guys with your darts; that takes too long, so you shoot them with darts and hurl lightning in their face. That’s cool and all, but the only button I remember the game telling me to push for that skill is under my right thumb, along with the jump button and the button for shooting darts. I can handle jumping and shooting. I’ve been jumping and shooting for as long as I can remember. I fucking grew up jumping and shooting. When you throw a third action in there, and that action involves a button that you have to hold down, it goes from second-nature to next-to-impossible. It’s like trying to pat your head, rub your belly, and drink a glass of water while making it seem like your dummy is singing The Star Spangled Banner at the same time. After an embarrassing amount of time, I accidentally pressed the right shoulder button, which also apparently shoots electricity. It made things infinitely better, but I’m still pretty mad that I wasn’t told about this at all. Clearly, since people enjoy Starcraft, there are probably a lot of people who enjoy managing several different resources on the fly, but I find it to be more similar to work, which is also pretty much exactly what I think of Starcraft. People can be good at it and even enjoy it if they dedicate themselves to learning everything about it, and I completely understand why people do enjoy it, but I’m not looking for that in a game. Not my style.

The level design in this game was a huge disappointment to me. One level tried to do this thing with portals, but it only happened at scripted moments. There was no real control over when it happened, and not indicator to warn you, so it just felt out of control and tacked-on. And, apart from a couple exceptions, all of the levels were pretty samey. Two in particular do stand out in my mind as being different from the pack. One was annoyingly vertical with moving platforms, and one was on a cargo train that forced you to destroy boxes to progress, and neither of them were interesting at all. Apart from those slightly less boring levels, nothing really stood out, and even the levels that did were pretty annoying as a result.

You know what’s a shitty idea? Putting the checkpoint for a level before both a miniboss and a jumping section. Why not between them? I really, truly, do not want to fight the miniboss over again when I miss a jump on your blustery-ass platforms. The platforming is less than fun, and it all involves using your electricity to hover in a way that the game doesn’t do the best job of explaining.

I assume this lack of direction is a translation issue, though, since the plot actually makes even less sense than it did in Mighty Gunvolt. So far, I’ve decided the story is about a pop star clone who is possessed by… something? Not quite sure who or what has possessed her, yet, or if it’s even a literal possession. The translation seems much better in Azure Striker than it did in Mighty Gunvolt, so it weirds me out that the story still makes no sense. It’s just a device to put bosses in our way, though, much like the levels that lead up to them. And, just like the smaller game, the bosses are the real substance here, rather than the environments or the story.

When your story is nothing more than a device to justify gameplay, you should own that. Look at Sonic. The story there is, “Bad guy over there, some kind of gems can stop him.” Or Mario. “The princess is gone, let’s go look for her.” You can have a practically non-existent plot, and it doesn’t have to be a detriment to the game. When you half-ass it, though, it can be a serious detriment to the game. Here’s the plot you could have used: “8 bad guys have magic swords, and we need them.” Sound familiar? It’s almost the plot of every Mega Man game. Oh, but I suppose you would have a harder time resurrecting those bosses if that was the plot. Which brings me to my next point: boss recycling.

For a long time, I was stuck on the second-to-last level. I knew it was the second-to-last level because I was just fighting every single boss over again. In a row. I was “stuck” on the most obnoxious one. I was not actually stuck, since the boss was exactly the same as the first time I fought him, and I’d obviously beaten him once to get to that point. I was definitely capable of killing him. I just couldn’t work up the desire. Remember how I talked about “damage tax” before? That’s all this boss does. He fires a near-constant stream of damage through the entire bottom of the screen, where one would need to stand, since Gunvolt cannot fly. It can’t be avoided in full, so the fight becomes a race to kill him before he manages to kill you, and he will almost always kill you first, because the constant damage attack is pretty much all he does. THIS IS BAD DESIGN. You can’t design a boss whose strategy is “hope the AI is stupid enough to not do his infinite-damage-across-the-screen attack for the entire fight this time so you can beat him.” I shouldn’t be throwing attempts at the wall until one sticks, I should be devising a strategy. Even the other bosses with an unavoidable attack feel more fair than this one, since they are either rare and do a fixed amount of damage, or the attack is a one-shot kill, but it only happens if you take way too long to kill the boss. The worst part is that I couldn’t turn my DS off, or I’d have to fight the previous five bosses over again so I could just get stuck on that shield-bearing asshole one more time. None of them are a challenge. I’d killed them all before, and could defeat most of them on my first try, by then. It’s not fun, though, and I am of the opinion that a game should be fun. Weird, right?

After a week or so of trying maybe once a night before getting bored and hibernating the DS, I did manage to beat him, and was rewarded with the end of the level in moments. This brought me to the final boss.

I did not beat the final boss. There was no way. I could just barely beat his first form, but his second, more awful form could swat me aside, easily. I tried a bunch of times, but it was clear that either my reflexes or my character wasn’t good enough, and I play an awful lot of video games, so I feel like I probably have above-average reflexes. Please, let me remind you that the gear for your character is obtained by playing levels over again with odd restrictions in place, and most of the levels are uninspired enough that I have very little interest in playing them a second time. Saying that I couldn’t beat the boss due to lack of gear certainly aligns with my pride in a convenient way, so I’ll go with that. Once I was sufficiently bored with dying, I just searched for the boss fight and the final cutscene on youtube. I clicked on the first result I found, and the characters started talking in Japanese. That didn’t bother me, at first. I figured that the plot made no sense to me, anyway, so not being able to understand the dialogue wouldn’t make it any more boring. It bothered me an awful lot, though, when I realized that I was hearing full spoken dialogue when there was no spoken dialogue at all in the version I was playing, except for the odd moment when a Japanese voice-actor, as Japanese voice-actors are wont to do, speaks the occasional word of English while doing a special move. I understand why a small Japanese studio would avoid spoken English dialogue, but it’s still jarring to see. I didn’t even watch that much, anyway. People talked to Gunvolt for a while, and I can now scientifically say that the language barrier actually did make me even less interested in what was going on, so we learned something, too!

The parts of Azure Striker Gunvolt that I liked, I really liked. The running and jumping are precise and fun, and the boss fights are (for the most part) an absolute joy, and those are two of the most important things in run-jump-shoot games. I think this bodes well for Mighty Number Nine. This studio still has a knack for interesting theming, and I have to assume that a full retail release of their new flagship franchise will prompt them to step up the things I can complain about, like level design and repetition. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll finally make the 2D spiritual successor to Dark Souls I’ve been expecting from them for years. Give me something sprawling and merciless with constant character progression and fast-paced, deep combat, and I’ll give you my money for the rest of my life. Just sayin’.

Score time. I hate this part. Especially for this one. If Mighty Number Nine is better than this game, I could maybe go as high as a 6.5 or a 7. If it’s equal to or worse than this game, then Azure Striker Gunvolt dips down to a 4, tops. I like a game to be hard, but not if it makes me repeat the same boring shit over and over again to progress. I have to say, for what it is, which is a download-only game for the Nintendo 3DS, it’s pretty solid. I don’t resent my time spent playing it, but I will now be returning to the copy of the Mega Man Zero Collection I picked up a while back when I want my left-to-right runnin’ fix. Can’t beat the real deal, for now.