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SlowPokemon

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Re: Slow Reviews Games: A NinSheetMusic Column
« Reply #60 on: February 02, 2016, 02:34:48 AM »

Game Review: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
System: Nintendo 3DS
ESRB: E (Mild Cartoon Violence)


As vast as the world of Super Mario is, there have only been a handful of RPGs set within it--that is, Super Mario RPG and the two series that spawned from it, Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi. Now, after separately making their debuts on the Nintendo 3DS with Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team respectively, AlphaDream (the company who develops the Mario & Luigi series) has concocted a crossover between the two in the charming, laughably-titled Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. Read on to find out how it holds up, not only as a standalone title, but as a title in each series it represents.

Unfortunately for fans who are looking for the next Paper Mario experience, this isn’t really it. This is strictly a Mario & Luigi game guest-starring the characters of the Paper Mario franchise, and most elements of the game reflect that. The locales and charmingly blurry “pixelated 3D models” are straight out of Dream Team, with only some cardboard set pieces as well as the paper characters themselves being elements of the other series. In addition, AlphaDream was in charge of almost every aspect of development, with even series composer Yoko Shimomura handling all music.

Thankfully for fans of the Mario & Luigi franchise, this is a well-put together game, arguably much tighter and more polished than Dream Team in several regards. Over the course of the series, AlphaDream has shown a nagging tendency to oversaturate the games with long-winded and intrusive tutorials and unnecessarily detailed explanations. This hit its breaking point in Dream Team, where even 35 hours in the hand-holding was in full stride and served only to patronize players and mess with the already-iffy pacing of the game. Luckily, AlphaDream seems to have realized how irritating this was and has designated a Guide feature in the game’s menu to hold those ridiculously thorough tutorials, meaning that the player can choose whether or not to view them. For the purposes of this review, I played through a couple of them, and as I suspected, they’re almost entirely frivolous and patronizing. The only players who would benefit from them are the ones who are too young to be playing this game in the first place. It seems ridiculous that this can’t be taken for granted, but I felt overjoyed at several points to have to think my way through some puzzles rather than have the answers spelled out for me.

In fact, Paper Jam overall can be a delightfully challenging game, especially in the tried-and-true turn-based battle system that AlphaDream has been perfecting since the series’ debut, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. Though Dream Team had the player controlling only the titular bros, Paper Jam adds Paper Mario to the mix, and his mechanics are completely foreign to the series, adding an intriguing challenge to battles. In addition, for every enemy that you’ll encounter in the overworld, you’ll also run into its paper version, whose attacks are similar but never identical, with enough twists and differences that you’ll be able to take a lot of enjoyment in figuring out each enemy’s “tell” and attack style. This is taken up to eleven in the game’s boss fights, most of which are worth the price of the game alone. Less great are the giant papercraft battles that follow in the style of the giant Bowser fights and giant Luigi fights from entries past. These sections have never been entirely compelling, but they really feel dull here since any JRPG element is taken out of the running--you’re tasked with moving around and attacking the giant papercrafts of Bowser and his minions several times throughout the adventure, and though the fights never last very long, they always feel like a chore.

The pacing overall is very hit-and-miss, unfortunately. While AlphaDream has tactfully cut back on the overall length of each area, they really misfired here with the addition of “Paper Toad” rescue missions, small quests completely unrelated to the main storyline that task the player with finding a certain number of Paper Toads who have been overwhelmed with fear and hidden themselves. If these were optional, a la the “Pi’illo folk” rescue missions in Dream Team, I’d consider them a hefty bonus, but AlphaDream has unfortunately installed several Professor Layton-esque “You must have solved X number of puzzles to proceed” checkpoints in the game, requiring the player to halt their progress and complete sometimes as many as four or five Paper Toad quests, which can take upwards of an hour in the more extreme cases. Though some of the quests are clever little puzzles, most of them are complete slogs, tasking the player with completing a nitpicky or fickle action such as chasing down Paper Toads within a time limit or catch Paper Toads who are swirling down from the sky without missing more than three. Making these quests mandatory for completion of the game is almost disgraceful, especially in a JRPG, and it feels like a cheap way to squeeze more runtime from a game that wouldn’t otherwise outstay its welcome. Indeed, the world is significantly smaller than the last couple Mario & Luigi titles, and the way the game is set up, the player will have to traverse each of the game’s five areas twice to reach the end. This isn’t as annoying as it might sound, as the areas change and repopulate with new enemies, but combined with the nuisance of having to complete the Paper Toad missions, the pacing overall left a bad taste in my mouth, and I couldn’t help but feel at the end that the 30 hours I spent with the game could have been a much tighter, smoother 25 or even 20.

Still, that really is the game’s biggest shortcoming, and it’s hard to complain about more of a good thing when the good thing is Paper Jam at its best. AlphaDream has got the length between boss battles down to a science--each section of overworld is the perfect length to where the player isn’t sick of it, but is itching for a boss fight by the end, and the buildup for each fight is great. The narrative is stepped up a bit from the fluff (no pun intended) that was the breezy plot of Dream Team, and it becomes amusing and adorable in equal turns to see characters like Peach, Bowser Jr., and Kamek interact with their paper selves. The scenes are also more frequent than they are in Dream Team, and seeing these scenes almost becomes a reward for battling and advancing through the Mushroom Kingdom. This game also sees the debut of several characters who hadn’t played any role in previous Mario & Luigi titles, such as Toadette and Bowser Jr., as well as some who have skipped the last couple, such as the Koopalings (whose boss fights are a few true highlights of the game). When the writing is as sharp, subversive, and downright funny as it is here, seeing how these characters interact is really quite a fun time.

Overall, Paper Jam is a fun and rewarding experience, and even though the pacing is frustratingly uneven at times, it’s still a step up from previous titles in both series, and players who enjoy either the Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi games will have no problem seeing this one through to the end.

Graphics: 6.5/10
The art style really doesn’t feel very inspired this time around, and it seems like the clunky textures of Dream Team have somehow gotten even clunkier since that game. Overall, not a title that’s incredibly aesthetically appealing, even for the 3DS.

Sound: 8.0/10
Yoko Shimomura is a goddess in the world of video game music, but it almost feels like she’s going through the motions for this series at this point. The main theme is perky and omnipresent, and there’s some great bit of comedic underscore and a few standout area themes, but there’s nothing here that compares to the mastery on display in Dream Team.

Gameplay: 8.5/10
Smoother and more compelling than the gameplay of the previous entries of either series, but still with a few flaws, especially in pacing.

Plot: 8.0/10
Up to series par--there’s a lot to laugh about here, and the characters are as bright and well-accented as ever.

Overall: 8.5/10

You’ll like: Seeing Mario, Peach, Bowser, and your other favorite characters of the Mushroom Kingdom interact with thinner, flatter versions of themselves.
You’ll dislike: The tedious Paper Toad missions, which bog down an otherwise smooth main quest.
You’ll love: The boss battles, each of which provides a unique, exciting experience for the player.
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SlowPokemon

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Re: Slow Reviews Games: A NinSheetMusic Column
« Reply #61 on: December 31, 2016, 02:41:07 AM »

SlowPokemon’s Best of Video Games 2016

   After taking a year off from this tradition, I’m back! Here are some of the best games I played this year.

BEST MULTIPLAYER
Spoiler
Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon

I played hardly any multiplayer games this year, but even if I had, I’m not sure how much better you can get than the multiplayer options of the new Pokémon games. Similar to X & Y and Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, Sun & Moon’s Festival Plaza option, handily available from the X menu, lets you instantly connect with infinite numbers of other Trainers who are also online. You can challenge passersby to battles, propose trades, or even check out their outfit or see if they have a Festival Plaza attraction that you’d like to install in your own plaza. And if no one in your Friends List is online, or you don’t feel like staying in the plaza itself, you can always head to the Battle Spot to be matched with a random Trainer. Likewise, a Wonder Trade will have you trade one of your Pokémon for another random Trainer’s, and the GTS functions better than ever thanks to the incredible option to filter the trade offers by Trainers who are requesting Pokémon that you have, or, perhaps even better, ignoring offers that are requesting a Legendary or Mythical Pokémon. Nintendo may not be known for its online multiplayer in all franchises, but Pokémon’s got a great thing going on.

Honorable mention: none
[close]

BEST DLC
Spoiler
Animal Crossing: New Leaf – “Welcome amiibo” update

Nintendo really must have had a great year if they can hook me on an Animal Crossing game that I’ve already played for nearly 200 cumulative hours. But New Leaf’s free(!) "Welcome amiibo" update this autumn did just that, easing me back into daily life in my lovely village of Koriko by automatically removing all of the town’s weeds and adding several neat new features such as the campground, where special NPCs can hang out and offer their exclusive furniture up for order; an objectives system which lets you gain MEOW coupons to order said items; touch controls for decorating that are carried over from Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer; a couple new minigames in the form of the New Nintendo 3DS and Wii U items (the New Nintendo 3DS lets you play a new Tetris-style puzzler while the Wii U offers a port of the Island Escape game from Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival); and, as the update’s title suggests, amiibo support. Finally, I have a use for those [number redacted for reputation purposes] cards I’ve collected and admired—scanning an amiibo or amiibo card will allow the ghost Wisp to take the form of the scanned character, and you can choose to have the character he turns into visit your campground, give you an item, or even move into your village! That’s a pretty substantial update, especially considering it’s completely free. Overall, it gave me a very pleasant reason to revisit this classic game.

Honorable mention: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice – special episode “Turnabout Time Traveler”
[close]

BEST GRAPHICS
Spoiler
[close]

BEST USE OF 3D (NINTENDO 3DS)
Spoiler
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
This is the year that it seems we wave a fond goodbye to the stereoscopic 3D feature on Nintendo’s current gen handheld. Though games up to this year have used the feature in very cool and exciting ways, it has gotten to the point where developers are only using it in the same ways, if they use it at all. The year’s biggest release on the Nintendo 3DS, Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon, didn’t even include stereoscopic 3D support except for the Poké Finder sequences, and even then it slowed down the frame rate noticeably. That being said, the newest Ace Attorney features a reliably immersive 3D aesthetic that glues the text to the screen while the courtroom and overworld scenes extend into the background. Though nothing really new is done with the feature, it is seamless throughout, including during the 2D animated cutscenes, and it seems like the game was designed to be played with the 3D turned on. Most of all, it really makes all of the new, ultra-expressive character models pop.

Honorable mention: none
[close]

BEST SOUND DESIGN
Spoiler
Corpse Party

Yes, Corpse Party is technically an older PSP game that’s only been remade for the Nintendo 3DS, but it’s a surprisingly ambitious remake, featuring higher quality character art and the addition of several extra episodes. And playing with headphones is a must, because this game’s audio was all recorded for a surround sound effect, meaning that character’s dialogue and ambient sound effects can unnerve and frighten the player by showing up from all directions. A notable highlight is a scene in which three characters are brutally murdered while the player’s vision is pitch-black; the sound design really sells the horror and makes it arguably the most memorable moment of the game.

Honorable mention: INSIDE, Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma
[close]

BEST MUSIC
Spoiler
Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon – Minako Adachi, Go Ichinose, Hideaki Kuroda, Jun’ichi Masuda, Tomoaki Oga, & Hitomi Sato

Pokémon has always been a franchise that puts a lot of effort into its sound design, with massive soundtracks and unique distinctive cries for each of the 800-odd Pokémon. And though the famous Pokémon tracks such as the main theme and the Pokémon Center music are arranged in each entry, the majority of any new title’s music is completely new and original, produced by a team of several composers. Though X & Y faltered a bit in this reviewer’s opinion, producing what could be seen as a blander sound in many of the tracks, Sun & Moon more than makes up for its predecessor’s shortcomings. Minako Adachi takes over as lead composer this time, after composing and arranging for X & Y and Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, and her themes are in equal turns catchy, complex, exciting, and thoughtful, fitting in wonderfully with the Pokémon sound we’ve come to expect. Hitomi Sato likewise lends her bubbly, scattered techniques to several tracks, and Jun’ichi Masuda even contributes much of the battle music, as is tradition. However, maybe most excitingly, this game marks the return of veteran composer Go Ichinose, who took a hiatus from the games beginning with X & Y and whose composition style has been sorely missed. This is easily the best soundtrack to come of this series since Black & White, and it’s available on iTunes for those of you who want to add it to your library.

Honorable mention: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam – Yoko Shimomura, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice – Toshihiko Horiyama, Noriyuki Iwadare, & Masami Onodera
[close]
BEST REMAKE
Spoiler
Corpse Party

Since the Nintendo 3DS edition of the game was my first experience with the Corpse Party franchise, I assumed that not much had changed from the initial version. I thought that what I was playing was a simple port, a way to bring the game to a new audience by putting it on a new console. However, after viewing screens and footage of the original PSP version, and then of the PC version that followed that, I was shocked at how much effort went into recreating this game for the 3DS. Characters are drawn in a more realistic, less cartoonish style, in a way that really gives the game a more serious feeling, and several of the extra episodes are new to this edition of the game. Though I may have been playing it for the first time, Corpse Party for Nintendo 3DS does exactly what a remake should do: deliver a definitive way to experience the game, while adding significant new content for fans of the original.

Honorable mention: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney for iOS and Android
[close]

BEST STORY
Spoiler
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice

To absolutely no one’s surprise, the latest Ace Attorney game walks away with my most coveted of awards. Being a text-heavy adventure game, bordering on visual novel status, games in this series really live or die based on their narratives, and thankfully Spirit of Justice delivers a noticeably higher quality story than did its predecessor, 2013’s Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies. This is the game in which longtime underdog Apollo Justice finally gets a compelling end to his character arc that began years ago in 2007’s Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney and has been largely ignored by Capcom ever since. While Dual Destinies made its name merely by hitting all of the beats of your average Ace Attorney game, at times playing like a “greatest hits” album of sorts, Spirit of Justice does a lot that’s legitimately new and interesting. This is in part a result of half the game being set in the fictional Kingdom of Khura’in, a country of mysticism and spirituality where everyone is deeply religious and lawyers are seen as the lowest of the low. While Phoenix has always been the underdog, this is the first time that we see him as a figure who is absolutely hated by nearly everyone in the courtroom, and it creates quite an interesting and compelling dynamic. There are a few stumbles throughout the game: notably, the third case is somewhat overlong and the fourth case seems largely unnecessary and irrelevant. However, when all is said and done, we’re left with the most satisfying entry the series has had since the ending of the original Phoenix Wright trilogy.

Honorable mention: INSIDE, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma
[close]

BEST GAMEPLAY
Spoiler
Super Mario Run

This is a first, and probably a last: a mobile game is getting my pick for best gameplay. But then again, it’s the tried-and-true Mario who stars in this game, so maybe it’s not as surprising as it might initially seem. Controlling Mario is the closest thing you can get to pure euphoria in a video game; he’s so easy to maneuver, you might think you’re controlling him with your thoughts. And Super Mario Run gives you a key twist to the traditional formula: Mario runs automatically, so all you have to do is jump. Sounds simple? Think again—to make up for the lack of input, Nintendo has designed a set of twenty-seven courses that are easy enough to just get to the end of, but require intensive planning and precise technique if you want to get those coveted pink, purple, and black coins. You might initially feel like the game is too easy, but the extra coin collections are at times reminiscent of New Super Luigi U, the devilishly tricky challenge mode for New Super Mario Bros. U, especially because of the time limits, which are surprisingly strict and to which I fell victim more than once.

Honorable mention: INSIDE, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Picross 3D: Round 2, Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon
[close]

BEST GAME OF 2016
Spoiler
Pokémon Sun & Pokémon Moon

Though Capcom’s psychic lawyers captivated me for the sixth time, and Alpha-Dream’s zany fifth take on Nintendo’s famous plumbers had me honing my A, B, and Y presses down to an almost scientific level of precision, it was ultimately Game Freak’s irresistible catalogue of creatures that sank its claws into me and pulled me in for a whopping 140 hours and counting. Yeah, the game came out six weeks ago. We’re not judging. Even though Pokémon was my first gaming love, there’s always a part of me that wonders when I’ll outgrow the series—it’s fun and cute, but I’ve got to get bored of it at some point, right? I can’t go on playing Pokémon forever. Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but if I’m ever going to stop playing the franchise altogether, it won’t be Sun & Moon that makes me hit the breaking point. I’ve been going through the motions since I was seven years old, and catching creatures, raising them to battle other Trainers, and trading them to fill a Pokédex still hasn’t gone stale. The new Pokémon designs are wonderfully quirky, from the laughably odd Alolan Exeggutor and the strangely adorable Pyukumuku all the way to the creepy-cute Mimikyu and the downright bizarre group of Ultra Beasts. I’ve already finished my Alola Pokédex, but I want to do more than just collect this time around. I’ll be raising all of these strange new monsters for battle, and nothing can get in my way! Here’s hoping Pokémon can only keep getting better as the years pass.

Honorable mention: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
[close]

Note: There are several games released in 2016 which I have not yet played to completion, but which I plan to play and which could potentially qualify for this list. These games include:

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
Root Letter
Steins;Gate 0
The Witness
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SlowPokemon

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Re: Slow Reviews Games: A NinSheetMusic Column
« Reply #62 on: January 27, 2017, 09:11:59 PM »

Game Review & Retrospective: Hotel Dusk: Room 215
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB: T (Mild Language, Mild Violence, Use of Alchohol)

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 celebrated its tenth anniversary this past week (on January 22, 2007, to be precise), and as it is a game in the Nintendo DS canon that tends to be overlooked, I thought I’d write up a little feature on it. Hotel Dusk was developed by an independent and now-defunct studio called Cing, and published by Nintendo internationally. Cing also produced the Trace Memory series (also known as Another Code), and produced a sequel to Hotel Dusk called Last Window: The Secret of Cape West which was not released outside of Japan and Europe. Last Window ended up being their last title; shortly after the game’s release in early 2010, Cing filed for bankruptcy. Despite being treated as a first-party Nintendo title, even inspiring a couple of trophies in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Hotel Dusk did not receive a large amount of press and did not sell terribly well; I myself did not play the title until 2014.

So why should you care about it? Well, for starters, it’s really good. Developed as a kind of hybrid point-and-click adventure game and visual novel, Hotel Dusk is one of those essential adventure games on the Nintendo DS that spins an interesting narrative, employs highly unique presentation, and makes unusually inventive use of the hardware.

The game puts the player in the role of gruff salesman Kyle Hyde following his resignation from the police force. Kyle’s occupation is also a cover for a more discreet job searching for lost items, and the plot concerns a night he spends at the titular hotel, recovering a couple of items a client left there. Over the course of the narrative, Kyle meets the hotel’s staff and guests, and little by little connects the dots from details in each character’s backstory to both a larger puzzle concerning the history of the hotel and his own troubled past. It’s a tantalizing setup that holds the player’s interest throughout the ten lengthy chapters, each of which tells a somewhat self-contained smaller mystery and culminates in Kyle channeling his inner cop by interrogating another character.

The bulk of the gameplay is made up of conversations with the various characters, and the game keeps the constant exchanges interesting with some incredible localization work. Each character has a distinct personality that comes through brilliantly in the writing, with different inflections and styles of speech that always feel realistic and further immerse the player in the game’s world. Though the game is a period piece, set in December 1979, the only effect that really has is a somewhat retro setting viewed through a fondly nostalgic lens; the characters’ speech and actions amusingly recall film noir of the 1950s more than anything of the 1970s.

Adding to this retro feeling is the game’s spectacular presentation, which is part of the reason that the game is so timeless. Hotel Dusk is played while holding the Nintendo DS system sideways like a book, with characters showing up on each of the two screens to speak face to face. It’s fascinating and sells the “interactive crime novel” aspect of the game, and it’s greatly enhanced by the absolutely beautiful character portraits. Rather than detailed sprite work employed by similar games such as Professor Layton and Ace Attorney, Hotel Dusk shows each of its characters as hand-drawn, black-and-white pencil sketches that move in slightly shaky, imperfect animations. Some rotoscoping effects were employed in the drawing of the characters, and as a result the designs effectively walk the line between cartoonish and realistic, and the movements always come across as lifelike. The disarmingly gorgeous presentation of the character portraits is only slightly diminished when moving throughout the hotel, which uses Nintendo DS-era blocky textures and looks a little obsolete even for 2007.

The game’s sound design and score by Satoshi Okubo is extraordinarily appropriate, employing a substantial original soundtrack of dark jazz and swing pieces that again recall crime films of the 1950s and give Kyle’s adventure a very nostalgic, detective-novel aesthetic. The tracks used vary quite a bit, and while the style is often consistent from one track to the next, each piece is distinctive and compositionally interesting.

As an intentionally old-school adventure game, there are some unavoidably obtuse puzzles to solve here, most of which require having the right item in your inventory at the right time. Others that require extremely unintuitive logic skills can be frustrating or nigh-impossible without a guide, even for the most meticulous players. Be prepared to think outside the box to solve some of these problems, and expect to use the Nintendo DS in unusual ways to do so, utilizing the touch screen in nontraditional ways and even including the microphone and sleep mode features in your available tools. And it’s hard not to feel a little on edge while playing, since even the slightest miscalculation on the player’s part can result in an immediate “Game Over” screen and set back the clock to the most recent checkpoint, meaning you have to redo the last twenty minutes or so of gameplay before you can try again. And, of course, if you want a perfect run of the game with no game overs (which is required for the best ending), you’ll simply have to restart from the last save, which could entail replaying the last hour. While the seemingly infinite game over possibilities instills in the player a high-stakes feeling that is lacking from similar games such as the Zero Escape series, it can become tedious and frustrating to be making decent progress and suddenly run into a bad end that was not telegraphed at all, simply because you entered the wrong door or forgot to remove an item from your inventory. The good news is that most of these endings make it fairly clear what the player did that caused it, meaning that very little trial-and-error will be necessary in progressing further, but it still can elicit more annoyance than anything.

Still, that annoyance and occasional tedium is hardly unforgivable when the narrative is so enjoyable. The first couple of chapters can admittedly drag quite a bit, especially for those who aren’t used to games with so much dialogue; however, the mystery and excitement grows with each successive chapter, and the lengthy exposition actually works in the game’s favor because it allows the player to get to know each character early on--in some cases long before they become important to the story. It’s hard not to get attached to Louis, a groovy, laidback bellhop; Rosa, a sharp and gossipy maid; Melissa, a young girl staying in the hotel who often pesters Kyle and ends up bringing out his sweeter side; or Helen, a kindly old woman with an eyepatch. And at the center of these dozen or so side characters is Kyle himself, a largely gruff, blunt, and unpersonable man who nevertheless reveals a more sensitive side that renders him sympathetic and lovable in spite of, and often because of, his flaws.

If you like text-heavy experiences, or have an urge for an old-school adventure game, it’s hard to go wrong here. The game’s biggest strength is in its ability to unexpectedly touch the player’s emotions and really make the player care about Kyle’s journey. It’s a shame that Cing couldn’t sell enough copies to stay in business, but if you can find a copy of this game, playing it would be a great way to honor its tenth anniversary.

Graphics: 10/10
The art style employed by director Taisuke Kanasaki is exceptionally striking and unique, rendering the presentation truly unforgettable. Subpar 3D textures in the environments can’t diminish the effectiveness of the rest of the experience.

Sound: 8.5/10
Satoshi Okubo’s score includes a relatively large selection of tracks for a fairly short (15-ish hours) experience, traversing several different styles and including some memorable jazz melodies.

Gameplay: 7.0/10
The one area of the game that falls a little flat, actually playing the game can be somewhat tedious and lacks much innovation outside of the hardware-specific puzzles. Moving around is a tad clunkier than it ought to be, and the gameplay as a whole is intentionally unprogressive, serving as a callback to text adventures of an earlier era.

Plot: 9.5/10
The character work here is simply perfect, with not one overstaying his or her welcome, and each member of the cast is effectively developed. While the overall narrative does not contain any out-of-left-field shocking twists, it is still exceptionally written and provides a healthy dose of intrigue and, more importantly, human emotion.

Overall: 9.0/10

You’ll like: Solving the vast labyrinth of interconnected mysteries that Hotel Dusk offers.
You’ll dislike: Clicking through several minutes’ worth of conversation, only to be met with an impromptu game over because you forgot to put cash in your suitcase. Trust me, it will happen.
You’ll love: The fascinating aesthetic that Hotel Dusk has on display. It’s a truly unique presentation that no other game--on this system or any other--has ever used. Besides its sequel, that is.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2017, 06:04:48 PM by SlowPokemon »
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SlowPokemon

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Re: Slow Reviews Games: A NinSheetMusic Column
« Reply #63 on: July 30, 2017, 03:03:59 AM »

Game Review: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
System: Wii (played as a download from the Wii U eShop)
ESRB: E10+ (Animated Blood, Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence)

As a rather new fan of The Legend of Zelda, I’ve been tackling the various games in the series in a somwhat haphazard order. Skyward Sword is the fourth Zelda title I’ve played to completion, after Ocarina of Time 3D, Majora’s Mask 3D, and Breath of the Wild. I’ve also played roughly two-thirds of Twilight Princess HD. I admittedly disliked the latter quite a lot, and nineteen hours in I gave up on the game, to most likely never return.

Puzzled, even baffled by the heaping praise Zelda fans constantly cast upon Twilight Princess, I turned instead to what I understand to be the most divisive and even hated of the 3D games. Read on for my thoughts.

There are a lot of things I’d like to talk about, but the elephant in the room I need to address is certainly the motion controls. Requiring Wii MotionPlus (I bought a new Toad-themed Wii MotionPlus remote specifically to play this game), Skyward Sword quite literally puts Link’s sword at your fingertips, making the player’s physical dexterity the deciding factor as to how much fun the game is. This is not an overstatement, as virtually every task in the game is controlled with the Wii remote’s motion controls. This is the hardest Zelda game I’ve played, even including the brutal survive-a-thon that is this year’s Breath of the Wild, simply because there’s no trick to doing things. You either learn how to handle Link’s sword or you cannot progress. Luckily, contrary to what certain people would have me believe, the controls work astonishingly well and--for the most part--feel entirely natural. Even the beginning of the game, usually a comparatively gentle section of a Zelda adventure, is packed with Deku Babas that open their mouths only in certain directions, so to slice them in half you need to get a good feeling for how to handle your sword. Bokoblins, the main lesser enemy that you fight throughout the game, block your sword attempts and force you to think critically about your movements rather than just mashing the B button. Essentially, all of those physical nuances that Link automatically employed while slicing his sword in previous games now need to be handled manually by you.

In truth, I think it’s pretty terrific. For the first (and, likely, last) time in a Zelda game, you are personally sword fighting your enemies, each vibration of the Wii remote and orchestral cue after a successful hit feeling fully earned and something of an accomplishment. As I stated earlier, the controls are fully functional, with very few instances of unresponsive controls in my playthrough--the only thing I never quite understood is the “skydiving” mechanic, which seemed like poor game design at its worst, but luckily this is required only two or three times throughout the entire game. Long story short: even if the release of the Nintendo Switch confirms that fully immersive motion controls were only a passing craze, Skyward Sword may be the one piece of software that justifies its creation as a serious way to play video games.

Of course, great motion controls mean nothing in a bad game, but for the most part Skyward Sword hits its marks. It definitely belongs to a distinctly “pre-Breath of the Wild” era of Zelda games, following a linear path littered with puzzles only solvable with specific items. These items are withheld from the player until key points, and more of the map opens up as the narrative progresses. It’s a classic game style, really not that different from what was introduced in Ocarina of Time, and it serves its main purpose of keeping the player on track quite well. Even better, the awkward, shoehorned items from Twilight Princess such as the Spinner and Gale Boomerang have been done away with, giving Link a fresh set of gadgets that are much more organic and fun to use. My personal favorite of these was the Beetle, a nifty mechanical insect that you can pilot around like a drone, scouting out areas and later moving around bombs to drop on your enemies. A couple of the more niche items such as the Gust Bellows and Whip feel a bit superfluous, only really being used in the dungeons they first appear in, but on the whole it’s a nice collection of tools that Nintendo ensures remain relevant throughout.

The dungeon and overworld design is quite possibly a series highlight for me. Across the game’s six dungeons (the seventh’s qualifications as a dungeon are iffy at best), Nintendo has again proven that they are possibly the leading masters of level design in the industry, creating calculated maps that effectively test the player’s wits and endurance, but not in an unmanageable way. A personal favorite was the Ancient Cistern in Faron Woods, a somewhat ominous trek through an ancient building that takes you underwater to a hellish, zombie-infested underworld before sending you to the top of an enormous stone statue and pitting you against a fascinatingly bizarre six-armed Buddha-like entity. Of course, the dungeons aren’t entirely perfect. The major stumble in this area for me was Skyward Sword’s third dungeon, the Lanayru Mining Facility, which has Link constantly backtracking and switching between the past and the present through the use of Timeshift Stones. All of the electricity and wiring puzzles became tedious, and it’s the only dungeon that I felt went on for noticeably too long. Even so, the Timeshift Stones are in themselves an incredibly neat mechanic that’s used to impressive effect in the overworld of the Lanayru province. It’s one of those ideas that only Nintendo can give you, something that’s simple in concept and execution but borderline-breathtaking to experience. The first time you strike a Timeshift Stone and watch the drab wasteland around you revert to a prehistoric, thriving grassland, there’s a real sense of awe.

The game’s story also holds the player’s interest, giving Link a few (admittedly mundane) hours at the beginning with Princess Zelda before she’s whisked off for the rest of the game. The characterization between the two is as close to a romance as the series has gotten, and their playful and innocent relationship is a joy to watch. Skyloft, the hub area, has a plethora of quirky and memorable characters who keep the world feeling alive, and the gameplay areas introduce interesting new races of creatures rather than rely on established ones (my personal favorite were the Parella, a water-dwelling race whose members look like some odd marriage of seahorse and jellyfish). All of this not even mentioning the game’s villain, the Demon Lord Ghirahim, whose unsettlingly flamboyant behavior makes him easily rank among the series’ best characters. One of the game’s best moments is Ghirahim’s introductory scene, in which he speaks longingly of brutally torturing Link while repeatedly vanishing and reappearing. At one point he appears directly above Link’s shoulder and licks his lips creepily, sending actual shudders down my spine. Ghirahim’s appearances are usually linked with ominous tones and jump scares, and it doesn’t hurt that his accompanying music theme is the most gleefully wicked track to appear in a Zelda game since Majora’s Theme.

Speaking of music... um, this game has great music. Really. I mean, it’s a Zelda game. What did you expect? Even the Zelda games I don’t like have great music. Skyward Sword was the first Zelda title to use live recorded music, and it shines here as a stunning companion to the Super Mario Galaxy games, which similarly combined orchestral performances with electronic textures. There are also very neat things done with the music layering, such as the past and present Lanayru Desert areas having totally different musical implications that segue seamlessly as Link darts in and out of a Timeshift Stone’s radius. The Ballad of the Goddess, Skyward Sword’s main theme of sorts, is by now well-known to be Zelda’s Lullaby played in reverse, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t memorable or fun to hear. And the music in each area is really quite interesting, particularly the tracks for the various dungeons. But it’s the battle music that really shines for me, especially the revamped Ghirahim theme that plays when you fight the demon lord. Performed by a full orchestra, it perfectly highlights the unpredictable rhythms of his character in a way that the regular theme skips in favor of purely ominous atmosphere.

The graphics are also surprisingly good. It’s a Wii game, of course, and the 480p was obsolete even in 2011. But the colors! God, the colors. Twilight Princess bored and depressed me with its dull, drained hues of gray, but this game is even more vibrant than Wind Waker and features a lovely array of hues. The much-touted Impressionistic style is also wonderfully subtle, and suits the ancient, somewhat mystical vibe of the game very well. This game looks so good that occasionally I forgot I was playing a Wii game, and that’s a huge compliment.

So there’s obviously a lot to love here. Skyward Sword gives you a lot that you’ve never seen before even while it sticks to a well-worn Zelda structure. Throughout the opening stages of the game, as I wandered from area to area, collecting pieces of stone tablet and watching the hours tick by, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the game was so reviled by some, including friends who consider themselves Zelda fans. Unfortunately, I would eventually realize the game’s biggest shortcomings, which don’t come into play until later. There are a lot of factors I could go into, but it pretty much comes down to padding, filler, and especially backtracking, that bane of every gamer’s existence. Now, every Zelda game has backtracking. It’s a necessary evil and it’s often used to great effect, as in Skyward Sword when you revisit each area a second time and discover a second dungeon. I can overlook a lot in this department, as long as the game doesn’t take too long and gives you something new to work with. But Skyward Sword’s fatal flaw lies with the former. The game simply does not know when to end. It takes hours upon hours to accomplish anything in this game thanks to its multitudes of fetch quests and mandatory tedium. At one point I questioned my sanity when, on a quest to find three parts of an ancient song, one part of the song was split into seventeen smaller parts I had to gather. This happening 35 hours into a game that I was growing pretty weary of, having played little else for the better part of three weeks. Not long after, you’re thrust into a Bokoblin stronghold, rid of all your items, and are made to navigate the fortress, recovering all of your items before reaching your goal. It’s like the game doesn’t know where the limit of asking you to find just one more thing is, except it’s always at least three more things and usually more like five.

At its best, Skyward Sword is a fun but slow-paced adventure through neat concepts, clever puzzles, charming and memorable characters, and exciting combat. But at its worst, the game is a downright slog that feels like a chore to play. There’s a really terrific 25- or 30-hour game trapped inside Skyward Sword, hidden beneath hours and hours of frustratingly drawn-out fetch quests that take nearly all of the urgency out of the story. It reminds me in more ways than one of that other fatally flawed Nintendo adventure game, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, a game with a charming story and combat system that overstays its welcome and makes the player revisit each of its areas late in the game when it really should be time for the final boss. Both games prove that fundamental rule: there is such a thing as too much of a great thing.

Of course, this is my biggest complaint with the game, and Skyward Sword really is great. My other complaints are pretty negligible, relatively speaking. Fi, the spirit of the sword you carry, makes for a pretty bland partner character. She speaks like a computer, constantly spouting percentages and technical data, and pops up to explain things that the player can usually piece together on their own. The autotune-esque voice she uses is neat, though, and by the end of the game I had grown rather fond of her. There’s just no comparison, though, to characters like Midna and Tatl, whose sarcastic mocking of Link provided a breath of fresh air, or even to Navi, who was similarly didactic but had more of a personality and usually had the good sense to stay hidden until you called on her. Another complaint I have is that while the motion controls are overall really excellent, there are points (mostly toward the end of the game) where the game asked too much of me and my wrist ached for a while after I turned off my Wii U. You know the parts I’m talking about:

Read at your own risk
Namely, that awful swarm of Bokoblins Ghirahim unleashes on you before the final fight against him, which was hell to brute-force my way through; and of course the final fight against Demise, which according to ZeldaDungeon requires that you hit him a whopping 28 times before the second phase begins. This wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to swing your sword against his a minimum of three times before you could inflict damage, and if the fight wasn’t so damn hard that I had to do it about six times. Ugh.
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Really, though, that’s it. So in short, Skyward Sword is a great game that’s hampered by its iffy plot structure and stubborn refusal to let the player progress.

Graphics
As stated above, the Impressionistic style is beautiful and the game occasionally looks so good that you forget you’re playing a 2011 Wii game. Still, the 480p shows its ugly head on more than one occasion.

Sound
Beautiful music, memorable compositions, and live performances make for an amazing Zelda soundtrack. Sound effects are clear and effective, with character voices also serving their purpose.

Gameplay
Excellent sword fighting combat, devious puzzles, and delightful dungeon design. What more can you want?

Plot
As a prequel to the entire franchise, Skyward Sword does its job beautifully. The new characters, especially Ghirahim, are really great.

You’ll like: Those amazing dungeons, the music, and the beats of the plot--when they hit.
You’ll dislike: Backtracking, fetch quests, and unnecessary padding.
You’ll love: A truly frightening new villain who really deserves to be heard from again.
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NocturneOfShadow

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Re: Slow Reviews Games: A NinSheetMusic Column
« Reply #64 on: July 30, 2017, 06:37:14 AM »

ok what about


what about the imprisoned

thoughts on that
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SlowPokemon

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Re: Slow Reviews Games: A NinSheetMusic Column
« Reply #65 on: July 30, 2017, 07:04:58 AM »

The Imprisoned was super easy all three times, it was just annoying that you had to fight it more than once
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Dudeman

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Re: Slow Reviews Games: A NinSheetMusic Column
« Reply #66 on: July 30, 2017, 06:53:53 PM »

I'm really really happy you enjoyed Skyward Sword so much; even though it's started to gain a reputation of being a bad Zelda game, I can't deny that those moments in the first half of the game really overpower the feelings of boredom in the second half when you look at the game as a whole.

Now that SS is out of the way, do you have plans for your next game, Zelda or no? (If you're aiming for Zelda again any time soon, I'd suggest A Link to the Past; up to this point you've been playing the 3D titles and the 2D titles have a charm and flavor all their own.)
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SlowPokemon

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Re: Slow Reviews Games: A NinSheetMusic Column
« Reply #67 on: July 31, 2017, 02:46:42 AM »

I'm replaying Ocarina of Time 3D, lmao. I'm on a bit of a Zelda kick. I have Link to the Past on my New 3DS, I'll definitely do it when I feel like a classic 2D game.
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