Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee! Review

When the Pokemon Let’s Go! titles were first revealed, I among many other fans dismissed it as a spin-off title whose purpose was to hold fans over until the next core title due out in 2019. The Pokemon Go catching mechanic combined with the removal of Pokemon abilities and other aspects that have been staples for years surely meant that this wasn’t a “true” Pokemon title right?

As I played through Let’s Go, Eevee!, it became increasingly apparent that not only is this game not a spin-off, but a title that is worthy of fans’ time and attention.

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I forget too

Let’s Go ditches the traditional course of running into caves or tall grass to spawn Pokemon via random encounters in favor of Pokemon appearing in the overworld ready to be caught. While it’s purposefully emulating Pokemon Go to help ease new or returning players back into a core RPG title, I was surprised at how much I did not miss running into Zubats every ten seconds whilst exploring caves and scavenging for items. Pokemon walking around different routes in the game gave the area more personality and made the world feel like it was actually inhabited by Pokemon. Pokemon look lively and are animated thoughtfully, rounding out the core encountering experience nicely.

Speaking of catching, Let’s Go introduces a brand new controller peripheral called the Pokeball Plus. Built and shaped as a small Pokeball, it acts as a motion controller to simulate a more immersive catching experience. Additionally it’s equipped with a joystick and cancel button so that the entire game can be played with it. Catching a Pokemon prompts the controller to light up and vibrate just like a Pokeball in the show or game, and the signature screech of the Pokemon sounds off when they become caught. The motion controls while fun, can be inaccurate, and mapping the confirm button to clicking the joystick can cause some mistaken inputs. Motion controls certainly aren’t the main attraction of the game, and I did find myself playing in handheld mode for the majority of my playtime, but the Pokeball Plus controller was just another in a wealth of pleasant surprises that the game had in store for me.

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That could have been you, Eevee

Outside of a few minor differences Let’s Go, Eevee! plays largely like any main Pokemon title before it. Kanto is still a pleasure to explore and a Pokedex of only 153 (instead of 800+) motivated me to catch as many as I could. Team Rocket’s Jesse and James are finally included as antagonists in the story with Blue helping out you and your rival along the way. Throw in Pokemon following you (or riding on top of them if they are big enough) and traveling becomes even more fun. An even more impressive traveling mechanic awaits trainers who best the Elite Four.

Let’s Go also allows players to access their PC box from the main menu rather than forcing them to run to a Pokemon Center. This was the most profound and welcome change that I didn’t realize I wanted. This along with Pokemon following the player are mechanics that I hope become staples moving forward.

Rather than roam the Safari Zone, players now have the option to transfer their Kanto region Pokemon from Pokemon Go to this title. It’s not the most intuitive feature as it took me a few tries to connect my smartphone with my Switch, but it was nice to use what little I had in Pokemon Go and put it towards my Pokedex.

Eevee or Pikachu are the main attractions in the game, and they serve as a powerful and adorable companion throughout your journey. You can feed them, dress them up, use them in battle, or utilize them to affect the overworld with what were previously HMs. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t evolve my starter Eevee, but with the character being so integral to the game’s mechanics and especially the cutscenes, it made sense that the option did not exist.

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Certain Pokemon will require a battle before they can be caught

The game is not without its flaws, however minor. Your Pokemon journey won’t be immensely challenging by any means, though swapping out most of my team midway through did increase the difficulty significantly while I was leveling them up to par. The post-game content also isn’t very expansive. The Master Trainers are a very fun inclusion, but outside of challenging them and catching them all , there isn’t too much more to do. If you’ve played through Kanto countless times before, a fresh coat of paint and mechanics may or may not be enough to warrant a return for all players, but I was more than happy to be back.

The Verdict:

Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee is one of my biggest surprises of the year. It’s previous features that I originally perceived as shortcomings ended up being some of the aspects of it I enjoyed the most. This entry is a standout title in the series that reminds me that Pokemon isn’t defined by it’s random encounters or competitive battling but by the characters themselves and their presentation. I still have a Pokedex to complete and Master Trainers to challenge, so it’s safe to say my 25 hours spent with the game so far are only going to increase.

9/10

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“Do you have Fortnite?” A Parent’s Guide to Buying Video Games

The holiday shopping season is here and similar to last year, your child’s wish list is full of brand new expensive video games that only you can obtain for them. Unlike last year though, you’re prepared. You have pictures on your phone of exactly what you need, you know exactly what video game console they play on and your list is tucked into your pocket.

What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately quite a bit. Let’s go over three small details that your child may have overlooked when giving you shopping instructions.

#1 Special Editions

We’ve parked the car and walk inside the mall on a mission to obtain Pokemon: Let’s Go, Eevee! Easy right? You walk up to the cashier and request the game, only to be asked a simple question, “Were we needing the Pokeball Plus Controller with our game today?”

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Don’t forget your controller!

Poke-what? What controller could little Johnny possibly need? He’s already got four. There’s now a $49.99 controller that works only for this game? Is that something he wanted?

It’s important to remember that some games will come with extra accessories designed to coincide with a specific design aspect that the game advertises. Additionally, games may come in packaging that include these bonus items, or additional digital-only bonuses that add more content to their game.

 

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Don’t forget to ask which version they want!

#2 Digital Only

Alright now that we’ve figured out all this special edition nonsense the next item on the list is something they never stop talking about. Fortnite is on the list but the shelves seem to be barren of any copies. We’re pretty sure that Fortnite is one of the biggest games around, but we can’t find it? And we know Johnny is already playing it all the time, why is this on the list? Upon further inquiry with a store associate we find out that there’s something new for Fortnite, the “Deep Freeze” bundle.

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There is no game cartridge or disc inside these physical cases

 

What Johnny is really wanting is the new digital content for the game, even though this “physical” package will suffice. It has a code within the box to grant access to all the new costumes and digital money they want. This can also be obtained via digital gift cards, but perhaps this will be more appropriate to wrap up so it can be opened during the holidays.

Remember that any season pass, or other digital packages are obtainable with digital gift cards. Not everything will have a pseudo physical package like Fortnite.

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Digital-only content (DLC) released over several weeks or months

#3 Pre-Orders

We’ve weathered the special edition minutiae, deciphered the digital pass enigma and we’re down to the final item on our list. Before we even have a chance to approach a sales associate with a question, we see a poster for just the item we seek!

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Release date: December 7th

There’s only one problem. Johnny’s most wanted item has not released yet. We could come back on that day, or we can see if the retailer takes reservations on games. It’s not the end of the world if we don’t reserve it. In fact, we may be able to come right into the store on the release day and pick it up without any issue. But the possibility exists that this is the battle plan of every other parent, and grandparent, and aunt, and uncle, and maybe everyone’s in-laws are trying to do this too. And apparently the location already has over 150 copies reserved for eager gamers?

Sometimes the biggest titles release in the very midst of the holiday season. It never hurts to double check when games are going to be available for purchase. Don’t forget to actually pick up the game as soon as it comes out! They won’t be held forever!

There are other oddities and details that can put a wrinkle in your holiday shopping adventures when it comes to gaming, but these are what I feel are the most common aspects that may confuse people. Happy shopping, and may the store’s inventory be in your favor.

 

Spider-Man: Turf Wars Review

(Warning: Some Spoilers)

The very first moments of Spider-Man’s second DLC pack “Turf Wars” immediately set a much darker tone for the story than what we’ve previously come to expect. Black Cat’s meddling with the gangs of New York have created a, well, turf war that involves notorious villain Hammerhead and the fight to stop them from acquiring the Sable tech that has been left throughout the city.

Upon infiltrating Hammerhead’s hideout, police captain Yuri Watanabe fails to stop Hammerhead before he kills her entire squad with Spider-Man arriving just a few moments too late.

Rather than tell more of Spider-Man’s story, “Turf Wars” is very much about a grieving Watanabe and the lengths she goes to for revenge on Hammerhead. Hammerhead hideouts act as a sidequest as we’ve grown accustomed to and clearing them prompts the help of Mary Jane to uncover the surprising past that Watanabe has with Hammerhead. Her reasons for revenge become clearer after finishing each hideout, and her motives are more complex than we’re originally led to believe.

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Darker in tone, darker in color palette

“Turf Wars” makes it a point to delve more into Miles Morales’ story as well. We discover that he’s still trying to become Spider-Miles in his own way as Peter tries to make up excuses to not train him, worrying about the dangers it could lead Miles in to. Miles’ also acts as a comic relief foil to the revenge story we’re plunged into with most of his phone calls to Peter involve him doing something silly. Jumping off a bridge in Queens and breaking his toe definitely isn’t one of his smartest moments.  Just the Facts with J.J. helps bridge the gap between downtime in the story, but no information on Harry Osborn or Black Cat was a bit frustrating, if not understandable.

Spider-Bot makes a return in arguably its most fun mission yet. The newest DLC finally gives us a mission that is interesting, plot related, and not disarming bombs. I hope to see more clever implementation of our robot companion in the next pack.

Although this expansion manages to avoid the horrendous repetition of the puzzles found in the last DLC and the main story, our live streaming amateur terrorist Screwball returns as the supplementary side missions to the Hammerhead hideouts spread throughout New York City, and it’s a huge disappointment. Apart from being annoying, this side mission feels thrown in, and her inclusion a second time in a row makes me wonder if we couldn’t have used a new character or even gave an old one a second appearance. I had almost no motivation to pursue her challenges, and unless you need the tokens, I would probably just skip it.

The length of the DLC may be a bit short once again, but the darker storyline kept me more engaged than I expected, especially with how impressive Black Cat’s implementation was in the previous expansion. We saw Watanabe and Spider-Man grow close and watched their friendship evolve in the campaign, which makes Watanabe’s dark turn so much more interesting to see.

Spider-Man’s greatest strength continues to be how well it understands the relationships in the spider-verse, both for friends and foes alike. Those who enjoyed Spidey’s relationship with Watanabe in the main story shouldn’t skip this expansion, even if it may be light on content.

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No Symbiote suit yet

The Verdict:

Turf Wars doesn’t answer lingering questions from the last expansion or seem to move things forward, but that’s not its purpose or it’s main attraction. Though we’ve seen revenge stories like this before, Insomniac understands exactly how to craft compelling stories between Spider-Man and his closest friends. A much more brutal and darker tone accents a DLC that is both worth your time and attention, even if that only amounts to a handful of hours.

8.0/10

Spider-Man: The Heist Review

(Warning: full spoilers below)

Spider-Man’s first DLC pack “The Heist” doesn’t answer the burning questions left by the end of the main campaign, or bring us any further to a costumed Miles Morales. But after playing through it, I found that it doesn’t need to.

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She’s got a point

“The Heist” begins with Spider-Man intercepting a robbery at a museum where he encounters ex-girlfriend Felicia Hardy, better known as the Black Cat. Cunning, deceptive, and flirtatious, Black Cat has some of the best chemistry and scenes with Spider-Man of anything that was even in the main game. Their cryptic past is investigated through bits of dialogue whilst chasing, tracking down, and even fighting alongside each other. This is blast from Peter’s past is further complicated by the inclusion of Mary Jane, who assists Spider-Man by tracking down leads and making hilarious remarks and inquiries regarding their old relationship.

Mary Jane also receives her own segment in the DLC. While central to the Heist’s plot, it felt too familiar to her previous missions from the main story, and was not very fun as a result. Hiding behind boxes and sneaking around gang members in order to get from point A to point B is a disappointment and I hope that the next two DLC packs give MJ expanded gameplay options and scenarios that aren’t stealth-based.

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Easter eggs abound

While we don’t play as or see Miles here, we do get a conversation with him calling Peter to ask for Spider-Man lessons. While not the tag team duo setup that some may be hoping for, it still continues where the two left off if only a little bit. If anything it may foreshadow a larger role for Miles down the line.

Challenge missions make a return featuring annoying F-list villain Screwball and her burning desire for likes and views on her social platforms. While some new challenges are fun such as being limited to combining two gadgets to take down hordes of enemies, others are borrowed from the main campaign and make it repetitive as a result.

Similar to the backpack tracking in the main story, Spider-Man can embark on a quest to track down Black Cat’s father’s old stolen items, which further expands on her backstory. I wish that the Screwball missions would have been replaced by something that further complemented the DLC plot like this mission, as every conversation that took place between Spider-Man and the soon to be retired police officer who tasks Spidey with this was interesting and gave me a new perspective on who this version of Black Cat is.

Just the Facts with J.J. returns as you patrol the city and his commentary on everything from kids’ social media usage to Spider-Man’s alleged romance with Black Cat is just as entertaining as ever and serves as a welcome return.

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Goodnight

Completing all the new challenges plus the main mission took me just over two and a half hours. “The Heist” doesn’t win any points for brevity but makes up for it with a fantastic final fight that has Spider-Man and Black Cat fight side-by-side and ends with a heavy cliffhanger.

Oddly, there seemed to be a handful of technical issues with this DLC as my game actually crashed during a Screwball mission. This was accompanied by multiple framerate dips when the fights that had multiple new enemies on screen at once. I played this on a PS4 Pro, so I was surprised to see these make their way into the final product.

The Verdict:

A short but entertaining return to Marvel’s Spider-Man introduces one of the best new characters to this game’s universe. Challenge missions are repetitive and the infamous analysis puzzles make a return, but it’s not enough to deter me from enjoying an ever evolving world that may yet answer the biggest questions that the story left us with. I’m eager to play the second DLC “Turf Wars” next month.

7.5/10

Review: Marvel’s Spider-Man

When I played Spider-Man for the first time at San Diego Comic Con this year, I walked away with questions that made me worry about the final product. I knew that they had nailed the swinging. Mere minutes with the game assured me of that. I knew that Yuri Lowenthal had nailed the snarky quips that Spider-Man is known for. I knew that I would be able to go almost anywhere in New York that I wanted, and tackle objectives as I saw fit. But other Spider-Man games before this have accomplished these without being very fun or memorable. What I did not know was if these unknown factors would be able to complete the package and make the final product live up to what everyone was hoping for.

Would the story be engrossing and engaging? Would Miles Morales and Mary Jane share the spotlight alongside Spider-Man? Will the combat be interesting?

The answer, which I arrived at well before eagerly completing  nearly every task, mission, and side mission the game has to offer was a resounding yes.

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It definitely did not take me 10 minutes to get this shot.

Peter Parker’s relationships with his friends are pivotal in transforming a generic New York City into one that feels like the Marvel universe. We see him struggle with changing careers with being on time to his commitments. We watch as he attempts to reconcile things with Mary Jane, and see Peter help strangers in his community. Combat may make some “feel” like Spider-Man, though I would argue that all of Peter’s relationships with the main cast make me feel like I’m “with” him throughout everything. I found my main motivation to keep playing and completing every quest the game threw at me was just to build and explore character interactions and watch Peter become a greater Spider-Man as a result.

Miles Morales and Mary Jane are not only central to the game’s story, but playable as well. Although they cannot engage in combat, they are creatively implemented to explore sequences and gameplay that really wouldn’t make a ton of sense if I was in control of Spider-Man.

Perhaps drawing inspiration from the Batman Arkham series, Spider-Man has hacked into the city’s radios, and as a result can listen in on J. Jonah Jameson’s conspiracy theory show where he talks to his listeners and brings people on so that he can trash talk Spider-Man, which changes depending on where you are in the game. This sort of touch made the world much more engrossing, and gave me an idea of how the world at large was reacting to the events around me.

NYPD captain Yuri Watanabe is in constant communication with Spider-Man and the two’s banter together quickly made their dialogue moments some of my favorite in the game and showcased just how much care went into the voice-over for the game.

A sizable rogues gallery is also on display and features some of Spidey’s most famous villains along with a new one made for the game.

Combat is something that ended up being more than my initial hands-on led me to believe. Just as the game is free roaming, so too is the combat. You are only limited by your imagination as you punch, kick, web, launch enemies into the air, dodge rocket launchers and then send them flying back at enemies. The possibilities are seemingly endless but it’s never overwhelming nor does it ever come across as unbalanced. I never felt that I was at a disadvantage for running out of ammo for a specific web gadget or if I did not have a full focus meter to activate my suit’s special power. I was only ever limited by my imagination. As cliche as that may sound, I truly believe that Insomniac created a fine tuned system that other developers can learn from.

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Like combat, photo mode is limited only by your imagination.

While there are many things that Insomniac has done right, there are a few annoyances. Though Spider-Man is an action game, many sequences require a puzzle to be solved in order to progress. The puzzles themselves aren’t difficult or boring, but there are only two kinds and we see them ad nauseam . The tediousness quickly became a negative and I hope that the upcoming DLC forgoes them altogether.

Another annoyance is stealth. Spider-Man is able to use high ground and distance to dispatch foes quietly with one button press. At any time I can see if my stealth take-down is “unsafe” and will alert enemies. However, once you clear everyone out, the game automatically triggers the next wave, who are already on alert and run straight for you. It’s strange that there’s little reward outside of fewer enemies to punch, and this made enemy hideouts a huge chore to clear out.

The game clocks in at just over 20 hours depending on how many extra missions you choose to accept and how quickly you can speed through everything. Overall the game feels short, but not to a fault.

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Is it cliche to describe the game as “Amazing” if it’s true?

The Verdict:

Spider-Man is a triumph by developer Insomniac Games and unsurprisingly earned the accolade of being the fastest selling PlayStation 4 title of all time. While there are occasionally small annoyances, the game is an absolute joy to play regardless of how much you enjoy superheroes movies or comic book stories. The combat and narrative alone make it among the most polished titles in the vast PlayStation library. I eagerly await the upcoming DLC missions.

Score: 9/10

 

SDCC 2018 Hands-On Impressions: Resident Evil 2

Resident Evil 2 is an anxiety-sustaining, panic inducing, stress producing terror simulator that immediately reminded me how awful I am with the survival horror genre. Make no mistake, this is not the action packed boulder punch of a game that Resident Evil 5 was nor is it similar to Resident Evil 6. Fans of Resident Evil 7 and the slower,  more methodical gameplay found in Reisdent Evil 4 and, to some degree, Resident Evil Revelations will find themselves right at home.

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Of course the demo would lead attendees into a literal dark room. Of course.

My demo begins with Leon utilizing his sense of duty to walk straight into the absolute disaster that is Raccoon City.  But we can’t just leave and get to safety, we have to walk through flaming cars and screams of citizens being eaten so we can save our fellow officers at the police station.

So we get to the police station, and the lights are off, and the headphones that are supplied for the demo let me hear literally every creaking board and potential lurking threat in my vicinity. I’m armed with what I can only assume is a standard issue handgun and Leon’s sense of justice to explore a police station that I know is teeming with zombies.

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We could go into the scary police station, or you know, we could just not.

I round a corner and I hear a shrill demand in the form of a scream, “Unlock the door!” I make my way over and attempt to pry my fellow officer from the bottom of a gated doorway only to listen to him die as zombies on the other side devour him from the bottom up. Nice.

Naturally this isn’t anywhere near enough to deter Leon from leaving and never coming back, so it’s time to return to the main room.  The dimly-lit hallway we just made our way through is now filled with zombies. Try as I might to mow them down with my underwhelming weaponry, I take two huge hits before I make a break for the other side.

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Our way out of Raccoon City was sitting in front of us the whole time.

Finally we make our way to the police lieutenant who has also sustained injuries from our undead pals.  He tasks Leon with utilizing a notebook we found earlier to solve a series of puzzles that will open up a door to make our way further into the station. In my inventory box that reminded me largely of Resident Evil 7, I’m able to shuffle my items on a grid, combine or use my herbs and double check my ammo. My key items are also on display and I can use the notebook’s hints to find the medallions needed for the unlock. Sadly my demo fades to black and a “Thank you for playing” screen informs me my 20 minutes are up.

My time with Resident Evil 2 assured me that it will be following in the footsteps of Resident Evil 7 and will be a true survival horror game, rather than go back to the action genre that some of the past titles adopted. If you like being terrified out of your mind and constantly worried that zombies are about to take a bite out of you from behind, Resident Evil 2 will be available on January 25, 2019.

SDCC 2018 Hands-On Impressions: Kingdom Hearts III

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I purposefully skipped cutscenes to maximize my playtime

After more than a decade of waiting, Kingdom Hearts III is not only real, but playable and on its way early next year. After happily stumbling upon a ticket to come back and play the game, I was ready to team up with Sora in the Toy Story world to kick the Heartless out of Andy’s room.

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Souveneir

Kingdom Hearts games have been plentiful on handheld devices that, while good games in their own right, lacked the technical power present in the current XBOX One and PlayStation 4 consoles.  The visual fidelity was overly striking and Andy’s room looked just the same if not as good as the Pixar film itself. Seeing Sora’s jacket rustle as I moved and Goofy’s ears flop about while spinning around with his shield showed just how far the presentation had evolved from the past entries.

Combat will feel instantly familiar to anyone who has played a previous Kingdom Hearts game. The command list lets you attack, consume an item, or cast magical abilities at your foes. Sora is still an acrobatic maniac with flashy keyblade strikes and combos that last for days at a time. My AI pals Donald, Goofy, Buzz and Woody however, definitely did their fair share of fighting and were much more helpful than companions in past games. Partner moves are still a main attraction in fighting in tandem with Disney legends. Running up to Buzz had him equip Sora with a giant toy hammer that let me pound into my foes at a surprising speed. It was both silly and immensely satisfying laying into the Heartless and a welcome change of pace from Keyblade strikes. I was also able to ride a rocket with Buzz and Woody, where we could take flight and then lock onto a grounded enemy and unleash the rocket straight at them. This was very reminiscent of the climax of the first film where Buzz and Woddy are trying to get back to Andy’s car whilst “falling in style.” It was a great addition and I cannot wait to see this sort of homage implemented into the other worlds in the game.

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Needs more Randy Newman

Another welcome addition that I discovered while playing was the sheer freedom I had in Andy’s room and in the locations that followed. Kingdom Hearts games in the past have had very fragmented worlds with many “rooms” with short loading times in between. I was able to traverse Andy’s room in any way I chose. I could jump on his bed and weave through his trinkets that were on top of his dresser. Kingdom Hearts has had  large areas previously, but this was definitely a different feel than what had previously been done.

After dismantling the Heartless, Buzz told us that we had to go down the street to the toy store. So I jumped out of the window in Andy’s room, fought more enemies on the rooftop, jumped down onto the front lawn, and fought my way to the toy store all with zero loading screens or separated areas in between.

Finally at our destination, Sora took command of a toy robot where I entered a first person point of view and could run, shoot, and punch my way through opposing toy robots. The pace of combat was very quick and frantic and there was never a lack of action on screen. Should my robot be defeated, I could attack an enemy and steal their robot to get right back into the fray. It was very plain to see that with combat being very familiar, the environment was tuned to make encounters diverse and more distinctive than before.

The other part of the demo included a portion of Olympus, but my time ran out just as I began playing.

I was originally hoping that the eagerly and long awaited Kingdom Hearts III was going to live up to fan’s expectations, but I’m now confident that it will. January 29th isn’t soon, but it definitely promises what has the potential to be the best game in the series.

 

SDCC 2018 Hands-On Impressions: Shadow of the Tomb Raider

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XBOX one version

Having not personally played the previous two entries in the series that lead up to the events in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. My 20 minute demo took me into a Day of the Dead celebration where Lara encounters the organization Trinity, and it’s up to us to find their objective before they do.

I immediately find myself in a tomb where my platforming and puzzle-solving skills are put to the test. Lara is equipped with an array of tools to help her navigate areas such as these as I use my bow to tether ropes to climb across bottomless caverns and my rappelling gear to gain traction on rocky surfaces. These tools combined with moving platforms and crumbling surfaces make for tense moments and require precision timing. Quick-time events popped up to help myself balance on platforms should my jump fall short but never lessened the importance of correct platforming.

Most of the puzzles involved tethering my ropes to mine carts and having them roll into blocked paths so that I could move forward. It’s safe to say that the full game will have a larger variety of puzzles, especially as this was an area from the opening sequence of the game. Clever traps and deadly spikes also shoot out from walls that require a timely dodge-roll to avoid being skewered instantly. Underwater portions were also on display in the tomb, which came as welcome breaks to the dark corners and rocky cliffs that are typically traversed, especially when underwater life tries to hinder your progress.

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Worth the wait

After maneuvering through the tomb Lara finally discovers an ancient dagger that Trinity is so keen to get their hands on. Removing it from its pedastal, however, triggers a collapse of the tomb and the action immediately picks up. Trinity’s men are on guard and Lara’s experience she gained from the previous entries is on full display. From the shadows of tall grass and wall vines I’m able to stealthily aim my bow and dispatch of enemies silently or trigger a take-down with my dagger should they pass close to me.

Stealth wasn’t the only aspect of combat however, as more reinforcements arrived I pillaged a machine gun off of one of Trinity’s goons and forced myself forward.

After mowing down Trinity’s men a cutscene showed Trinity getting the jump on Lara and retrieving the dagger from her. Strangely, they’re angry at Lara for taking it and now feel responsible to end the apocalypse that she’s brought on.

The final sequence of the demo tasked Lara with jumping through flooded streets and ruined buildings in order to get to higher ground where it’s safe. Along the way a boy is trapped on a ledge and Lara watches him plummet to his doom, as she is unable to save him in time.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider promises to tell a poignant story where Lara has to deal with the consequences of her actions and to live with the major decisions that she’s made thus far and will make moving forward. Although I didn’t walk away overly impressed with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the phenomenal motion capture, voice-over talent, and setting kept me engaged and interested in this upcoming chapter of Lara’s story. Shadow of the Tomb Raider launches for PS4 and XBOX One on September 14th.

SDCC 2018 Hands-On Impressions: Super Smash Bros Ultimate

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Demo units were Switch Pro Controllers only

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate immediately felt distinctive from Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Matches were timed with 4 players and items on. I was able to play close to 25 matches and each one taught me that the new mechanics changes like directional air dodging or the added recovery to consecutive dodge rolling would be brutally punishing if I play without strategic thought. The offstage game is especially different now that air dodging has been changed. Battles are still chaotically frantic in when playing with 4 people and items tend to K.O. you at a surprising rate.

I am not an expert on frame-data or every single combo available to each character but as someone with a significant amount of hours on these characters over multiple years, I will do my best to describe what, if any changes I noticed to each character I played.

I was able to try out the following characters:

marth

Marth was very reminiscent of his Brawl incarnation with his new side special that unleashes a very swift flurry of slashes, unlike the slow and methodical side special from the WiiU version. His animations and moves were the same for the most part (if there were slight changes I didn’t notice) and his tipper mechanic seemed as strong as ever. He was very quick and it is possible that his aerial moves and jabs have less recovery on them now. I want to say that his forward air has been buffed but perhaps that was just a placebo effect I was feeling while having too much fun.  I hope that Lucina is equally strong.

corrin

Corrin seemed almost unchanged. The pro controller layout was so incredibly jarring and against my Gamecube controller muscle memory that I couldn’t consistently insta-pin with side special to test if it had changed at all. I want to say that their forward smash has less recovery on it than before and that up air has been strengthened to some degree as well, but Corrin largely seemed familiar in every aspect.

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Sheik also felt familiar and once again the rubix cube of a layout on the pro controller kept me from testing combos that I’m assuming do still work based off of what I was able to achieve after numerous trials and errors. Her up air felt much more powerful in terms of how the game registers hits and feedback but I don’t think it has changed percentage wise. Needles felt unchanged and I’m hoping that needles into bouncing fish still work. Sheik’s throw trajectories may have been altered a bit as forward throw to bouncing fish seemed to whiff at low percentages, making me think that combo may be character dependent now.

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Ganondorf was an absolute joy to play and he feels as powerful as the Gerudo King should be. There is a very keen swiftness to his neutral air and it has the damage to boot. His sword is a bit quicker than Ike’s but just as strong. The armor on warlock punch is no joke and I imagine players will be taken by surprise by it in the beginning when they go for a punish that isn’t optimal. His down smash is very reminiscent of Cloud’s and is powerful as well. I want to say that warlock kick has been sped up but I can’t confirm it. Ganondorf is easily one of the characters that excited me the most from the demo and I think he has the potential to be the strongest he’s ever been before in a Smash title.

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Ike, like Ganondorf, has a few noticeable and deserved changes. His up air is now a quick and powerful swipe that feels much more intuitive and gratifying than the awkward circular attack from the past games. He seems to be less of a heavy broad-swordsman and more of a slower version of Roy that hits harder. I wasn’t able to test his throw combos to any conclusive results as far as follow-ups were concerned but I think Ike mains have a lot to look forward to.

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Ridley. Wow. Ridley is an absolute monster who you should not underestimate under any circumstance. Ridley has speed that rivals Marth and power that would make Bowser look weak. All of their moves felt powerful and satisfying to land, with the side special that drags you across the screen being an absolutely hilarious (or frustrating for the opponent) move that launches you a comical distance even at zero percent. Down air is actually very similar to a ground pound and while slow, hits as hard as you would expect. Neutral air reminds me of Charizard’s and Ridley absolutely has the speed and aerials to make grab mix-ups a central part of Ridley’s neutral game. I think we can expect quite a few adjustments to make it into the final build but I expect to see a lot of this character in competitive play.

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Bayonetta doesn’t seem to have lost much of her steam in Ultimate. Witch twist combos felt intact, throw setups were all working and witch time still demands respect. Honestly I don’t know that she was changed for this demo build but I’m sure that hardcore Bayonetta mains with more hands on time would disagree with me. Regardless she’s still an awesome character and it’s good to have her back.

Smash Ultimate gave me every reason to believe it has the potential to be the most fun Smash yet, and although I don’t plan on playing many item based or timed matches, the new stages were fun and creative and the old stages reminded me of why I’ve kept playing all these years. As a reminder, if you’re like me and don’t mesh with the pro controller, new Gamecube controllers and adapters are being made for Ultimate and will launch alongside the game on December 7th.

Review: Ni No Kuni II Revenant Kingdom

When Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch released in 2011, it promised the look and feel of a Studio Ghibli epic. While the characters were charming and the locales were impressive visually, the game was not fun to play.  Fast forward to 2018 and after suffering multiple delays, Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom manages to reinvigorate the series and delivers on its promise to feel like you’re playing inside a Studio Ghibli world to a significantly greater extent than the original PS3 title.

When I first played Ni No Kuni II at E3 2017, it’s commitment to have combat be unlike anything offered in the first game was immediately apparent.  The real time action mechanics are reminiscent of the Tales Of series, with special moves and companions named Higgledies added extra layers of depth to encounters.

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Gather your Higgledies and defeat your foes.

Moving from the E3 demo to the final product, Ni No Kuni’s combat feels smoother and clearly benefited from the delays.  Battles are more fleshed out with Higgldies being able to amplify spells, and your special moves gain special attributes when your weapon is fully charged.  Players also have access to multiple party members and can mix and match all 6 as they wish. While the combat may not be at the frantic pace of other JRPGs in recent years, it still feels fun and is by far one of Ni No Kuni II’s strongest points.

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Goldpaw is one of many kingdoms Evan will travel to on his journey.

The narrative in Ni No Kuni II takes place hundreds of years after the story of the previous title concluded.  While it does acknowledge the events of its predecessor, Ni No Kuni II’s story focuses largely on a new tale featuring protagonist Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum.  Evan’s kingdom was the victim of a coup, and now he must figure out how to reclaim his kingdom.  The story contains gorgeous cities and memorable characters who make the experience rich in personality and humor, even if it feels fairly formulaic.  Players will arrive at a new destination, acquire a new party member at said destination, defeat the boss, then move on and repeat.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there are an incredible amount of side quests and tasks to complete in the interim.  However, I found myself disappointed that not every new protagonist had more time in the limelight.  These characters travel with you everywhere, and yet some were definitely far more important to the overall plot than others.  There are your fair share of twists and turns, which does keep the tale interesting, and the ending is satisfying if not partially predictable.

Aside from its real-time combat system, Ni No Kuni II also features skirmishes with your kingdom’s army.  Unfortunately, these fights are quite bland and don’t add much to the already great combat system.  Fights are largely played out by ramming your army into your opponents so that your units fight with a weapon advantage over your opponent.  Take down structures and rout the enemy and victory is yours.

One of the biggest new features this time around is the ability to create and customize your new kingdom of Evermore.  Citizens can be recruited throughout the entire world via side quests and each bring certain strengths to your kingdom.  Everything from farms to weapon shops, to higgldie daycare centers can be staffed with citizens and leveled up to yield more items and equipment.  The amount of structures you can build is massive and the amount of micromanaging is almost dizzying.  That being said, you can get by without giving your kingdom an overwhelming amount of attention.  It’s definitely fun to manage everything and it’s rewarding to level up your kingdom, but outside of the essential shops much of it feels unnecessary.  Completionists will likely find a certain amount of nirvana in leveling and building every last structure, but I question just how many farms and mines one kingdom really needs.

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Evermore features an extensive amount of facilities to build and level up.

It would be remiss not to mention the phenomenal score that rounds out Ni No Kuni II’s stellar presentation.  Master composer Joe Hisaishi returns once more to breathe life into every aspect of the game.  Every main city has a memorable track, and I found myself humming along to my favorites every time I revisited an area.  His orchestral talent can be felt in every scene and truly gives the narrative the emotional gravity and genuine feeling it needs.  I can only hope he is brought on to do more video game music in the future.

The Verdict:

Overall Ni No Kuni II manages to outshine its predecessor in almost every way.  A fresh combat system and cast of characters flesh out a world that is packed with adventure and full of charm at every turn.  While it may be bogged down with some sidequests that feel like an elongated fetch quest or army skirmishes that lack any depth, let alone fun, it still manages to be a stand out JRPG that I think would be a mistake for anyone with any interest in it to miss.

Score: 8.5/10