Cotton Reboot Review (Nintendo Switch)

It’s 100% cotton! The classic cute ’em up is back for a new generation of players.

When referring to videogames, the term “cult classic” gets thrown around a lot. This phrase is often used to represent a game that was largely unsuccessful but managed to gain a dedicated and passionate following. Few genres achieve cult status quite as frequently as the humble shoot ’em up, a simple style of game that cemented itself as an arcade and home console staple throughout the 80s and 90s, and continues to remain relevant decades on thanks to committed fans and developers. Within the library of shmups is a sub-genre commonly referred to the “cute-em-up” – these feature the typical bullet-blasting gameplay but instead with adorable characters and enemies, colourful visuals, and often eccentric and unusual designs.

The perfect example of a cult classic cute ’em up is none other than the classic, Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams, released originally in 1991 for Japanese arcades. The game shot to popularity after its port to the X68000, a home computer released by Sharp and sold exclusively in Japan. Since this release it has remained an iconic shoot-em-up and is frequently praised by fans of the genre. Now available on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, Cotton Reboot! brings this classic game into the modern age. Are updated visuals and new game modes enough to revive Cotton for a new generation of gamers? Grab your broom and let’s find out!

Story

Shmups aren’t particularly known for their deep stories, and Cotton is no exception. The story is paper thin and the game definitely knows it! The player is introduced to a brilliant young witch by the name of Nata de Cotton, who just so happens to have quite a sweet tooth. Every witch needs a familiar, and to accompany her on the adventure is a fairy called Silk, who’s as sassy as she is adorable.

Cotton has an addiction to sugar and the only cure is more sugar.

So what’s Cotton’s motivation for heading out on an epic quest? To track down delicious candy of course! She’s on a mission to find “Willows“, delicious sugary spheres to satisfy her cravings. Silk though has other ideas, as collecting them instead of eating them will lead to a legendary confectionary far greater than any others! And so the magical pair set off, with each level rewarding them with a tasty new Willow for their efforts.

Gameplay

You’ve played one shmup, you’ve played them all. Well, almost. Cotton is a pretty typical side-scrolling cute ’em up with simple yet addictive gameplay. The game takes place over several side-scrolling (and occasionally vertical-scrolling) levels, each with a mid-boss and final boss at the end of the levels. Enemies come in waves, launch a plethora of projectiles, and can be easily dispatched by Cotton’s onslaught of magical bullets. It’s very straightforward gameplay and is mostly very forgiving, allowing the game to be enjoyed by players of all skill levels.

Fighting Death itself. That’s cute, right?

Upgrades can be obtained throughout each level in one of three ways: collecting fairies that fight alongside you, destroying enemies to gain experience and level up, or collecting coloured crystals that are occasionally dropped by enemies. Once a crystal appears, the player can choose to continuously attack it, which changes the crystal’s colour and its elemental attack. Those aiming for the top of the scoreboards will need to keep firing at the crystals until they turn black, giving the most points especially when chained together.

Once fully upgraded, you’re going to feel ridiculously overpowered. It’s great!

Each level is fast-paced and frantic, lasting only 5 – 10 minutes. The same goes for the bosses, as these can be defeated quickly especially when learning their attack patterns. Though the speed at which the game can be completed seems almost to be a perk of Cotton, as it’s the ideal game to pick up and smash out when you’re not in the mood to commit hours to a time-consuming ordeal. I found myself regularly playing this on lunch breaks, taking advantage of the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode, which suits the game perfectly.

Visuals

Whether playing in handheld or docked mode, the colourful and detailed updated visuals of Cotton Reboot look excellent against its dynamic backgrounds. Players can choose between faithful X68000 mode, which replicates the visuals from the original game to pixel perfection, or the brand new Arrange mode, with its redesigned graphics, 3D backgrounds, and 16:9 widescreen resolution. So if you’re a series veteran who prefers retro design, or more recently delving into the shmup genre and enjoying the sleek visuals of modern titles, there’s something in the Reboot to please every player.

The retro pixel art feels so ’90s but still looks excellent.

Admittedly there is a downside to playing with the game’s updated visuals. While the game runs smoothly and undeniably looks excellent, the “bonus multipliers” that regularly appear on-screen are massive and will frequently obscure the player’s view. When faced with a tight situation surrounded by hundreds of projectiles, being able to know your exact position is imperative, which becomes near impossible when the screen is covered in multipliers. It looks neat, but is mostly a hinderance.

The screen becomes absurdly crowded when activating the multiplier bonus.

Audio

No shmup would be complete without a banging soundtrack, often as frantic and fast-paced as the gameplay itself. Having been released almost 30 years ago, the music of Cotton is well and truly rooted in retro synth and early PC music, with the original composer Kenichi Hirata once again returning to oversee the music for the Reboot. Original songs have been rearranged with live instruments, face-melting guitar riffs, and funky bass riffs to create a more modern feel for these retro tracks.

Even the main menu theme is a banger.
Many of the game’s songs are super high tempo and have a magical vibe.

If you’re a fan of the Touhou series, other classic shmups, or just retro game music in general, chances are you’re going to thoroughly enjoy the music in Cotton. The game also includes all the tracks from the original release when playing in X68000 mode, which is quite interesting to hear the songs that the arranged versions have been based off.

Extras

Once the main story mode has been finished to completion, players will unlock new main characters and also a “time-attack” mode. Between the Arrange mode, X68000 mode, and time-attack, there’s a decent amount of replayability and reason enough to play through the game a few times. Though the game caters primarily to those who are proficient enough to rack up massive scores, as these are uploaded automatically to a global leaderboard. Let’s just say I’d be scrolling for a couple hours to try find mine…

Aside from these additions, there’s not much extra content to keep you coming back for more Cotton. Optional unlockables or an art gallery would have been a nice touch, but sadly nothing of the sort is available, as it overall feels like it’s lacking incentive for players who aren’t obsessed with high scores.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Cotton has truly cemented itself as one of the most beloved cult shmups of the ’90s and is revered by fans of the genre. Thankfully, Cotton Reboot is not only the best way to experience this classic cute ’em up, but also happens to be the most accessible and affordable! With fresh, detailed graphics, easily approachable gameplay, and a stellar arranged soundtrack, this is certainly a good place to start for players wanting to experience a historic piece of the genre. Although extra content is lacking, the game remains true to the original and offers an updated experience that will please both series veterans and newcomers alike.

So, why should you play it?

  • Consider yourself a shmup fan? This one’s a no brainer.
  • Vibrant updated visuals with optional classic mode.
  • Forgiving and easy for newcomers.
  • Can easily be finished in a single sitting.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • New visuals can be distracting and obscure gameplay.
  • Short gameplay might not appeal for those wanting a more in-depth shooter.
  • Don’t like silly? You probably won’t like Cotton.
  • Story about as deep as a wading pool.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

NEO: The World Ends With You Review (Nintendo Switch)

It’s time to step back onto the streets of Shibuya in a brand new Reaper’s Game.

Way back in 2007 (it feels weird to say that) was a moment in time where the Nintendo DS was in full swing. Nintendo’s double screen console was truly dominating the handheld market thanks to its impressive library of games featuring the likes of Pokemon Diamond/Pearl, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and numerous Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest remakes and spin-offs. However, its most impressive game at the time was not a title in a pre-existing series but a brand new IP from Square Enix; an obscure JRPG set in Tokyo that became an overnight cult classic, universally acclaimed by both critics and players alike. That game was called The World Ends With You.

Designed by Tetsuya Nomura, the graphic director responsible for Final Fantasy VI and director of the dearly beloved Kingdom Hearts series, TWEWY (as it’s often referred to), was a stylish DS game like none other. Taking place on the streets of Shibuya, a bustling shopping district in downtown Tokyo, players assumed the role of Neku Sakuraba, an edgy and moody teenager trapped in a game of death known as the Reaper’s Game. By combining a heavy influence of street fashion, intuitive and creative combat, and one of the most impressive soundtracks of the era, TWEWY is still today regarded by many as one of the best JRPGs ever made.

The World Ends With You DS Screenshots Title Screen Neku
The original TWEWY on Nintendo DS, with protagonist, Neku Sakuraba.

Thousands of fans were left eagerly awaiting a sequel which was obviously hinted at the end of the game, but sadly over a decade passed and any hope for a true successor seemed as miniscule as a zeptogram. Remakes and ports of the original appeared on iOS and Nintendo Switch, and a TWEWY-themed level even appeared in Kingdom Hearts, but a true sequel seemed more and more like an urban myth…

…until now! The true sequel to this cult classic is finally available in NEO: The World Ends With You, a direct continuation of the Reaper’s Game available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and planned for a PC release in the near future. After nearly 14 years, we’re finally back on the streets of Shibuya. Does this sequel feel just as fresh and stylish as the original, or have the newest gaming trends left it feeling dated like last season’s clothing? It’s time to start the new Reaper’s Game and find out.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Characters Banner

Story

Once again thrust into the streets of Shibuya without any recollection as to why, the Reaper’s Game begins anew, set three years after the events of the original. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a game of death where teams of players are trapped in the Underground, an alternate reality corrupted by the thoughts and doubts of those on the other side. Each day in the game presents a new task and the opportunity to earn points against the other teams in order to ascend the ladder – those on the lowest rung at the end of the week will face erasure and be removed from existence. Only by defeating the other teams and overcoming the challenges set by the nefarious Reapers will players have the hope of returning to the Realground to regain their lives.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Shibuya 104 Building
The Shibuya Underground, complete with real life Tokyo locations.

However, not all is as it seems in this new version of the Reaper’s Game. Discerning allies from foes proves to be a difficult task for the newest players, Kanade Rindo and “Fret” Furesawa. The pair form a new team known as the Wicked Twisters with the help of a game veteran and ex-Reaper known as Sho Minamimoto, who has been tasked with finding an incredibly powerful player by the name of Neku. The rookie team must face off each day against Noise (evil spirits that create negative emotions), the Reapers, and even their fellow players if they have any hope of survival.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Shiba Miyakaze Reaper villain

Shiba is the Game Master and leader of the Reapers, but still can’t afford to buy a shirt.

What might seem like a simple narrative becomes increasingly gripping and involved thanks to the intricacies of player relationships. Erasure is the ultimate punishment, and players must choose to co-operate, deceive, and even betray in order to survive. The same goes for the powerful Reapers who are pulling the strings, as the original Shibuya Reapers returning from the original game must learn to co-exist with the new Shinjuku Reapers who have invaded their territory. Plot twists are plenty and the story of NEO will keep players hooked from beginning to end.

Gameplay

Each day begins with a new task – fail and face erasure. Shibuya is split into 15 distinct locales, occupied by players, deadly Noise, and the living inhabitants who are completely unaware of their surroundings. The Reapers will determine your mission for the day and each team must rush to complete the assigned task before the others. This can be as simple as finding a certain location or item hidden within the bustling streets, or as difficult as facing off against every other team member in the city.

NEO TWEWY Shibuya Visuals City The World Ends With You
You’ll get to know Shibuya like the back of your hand.

There are also numerous hinderances along the way that make progression difficult for the Wicked Twisters. Reapers will block off certain pathways, Noise will swarm and overwhelm the players, and other teams can backstab and double cross the protagonist at any moment. In these situations, Rindo must be aware of his surroundings, as all players have the abilities to read the minds of those living in the Realground. These can provide valuable hints, help the team achieve their task, and even be influenced to change their surroundings in the UG.

NEO TWEWY Mind Reading Hot Guys The World Ends With You
Sometimes reading minds reveals thoughts that are best kept private.

Thankfully, every player in the Wicked Twisters has a unique ability known as their Psyche. As the team expands, these psyches come in handy to perceive and influence the surrounding environments, unlocking additional ways to solve puzzles and climb the ladder in the Reaper’s Game. The most powerful psyche belongs to Rindo, who possesses the unique ability to travel back in time. This becomes an important gameplay mechanic, as players will frequently travel back to earlier points in the day to change the future and avoid erasure.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Nagi Dive Animation
Nagi has the power to dive into player’s minds to change their actions.

NEO: TWEWY offers an unusual way of upgrading characters’ stats, and is far from conventional methods found in other JRPGs. Players still level up based on experience as per usual and wear outfits that provide added bonuses, however eating regularly is the only way to gain permanent stat boosts. Each area of Shibuya features a different restaurant, and by dining-in and trying out new delicacies, players will be given a permanent stat boost. But just like real life, you can only fit so much in your stomach (unless it’s dessert). The player’s Fullness Meter must be emptied by working up a hunger – and how do you do that? By fighting, of course!

Combat

Controlling six individual characters at once seems like a pretty difficult task, right? It was hard enough during the original game trying to control two during fast-paced combat let alone an entire team. Through its simple mechanics and pin-based action, the battles of NEO: TWEWY will have you doing just that. It’s a combat system with a slow burn, starting off repetitive and simple, and eventually reaching an epic climax when the team is at its full potential. So let me explain.

NEO TWEWY Combat Review The World Ends With You
Combat starts off simple with only a few players on your team.

Each character can equip a pin assigned to a single button (X/Y/L/R/ZL/ZR) – these act as weapons, requiring the button to be tapped or held in order to unleash an attack. Chaining together “Beatdrop combos” of different pins will increase your Groove, which can be used to unleash powerful attacks. The key to success during combat comes down to equipping a combination of pins that complement each other, as some will unleash a barrage of swift attacks, damage all enemies in a certain area, or let loose a heavy hit but take time to recharge. Having a balance of pins as well as covering different elements to exploit enemy weakness makes combat enjoyable and engaging.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Combat GIF Dynamic

Becoming more proficient in combat all comes down to the pins, of which there are 333 to unlock, each giving a completely unique attack. These pins can be levelled up to increase their damage, evolved into more advanced versions, or even “mutated” to unlock secret attacks that are particularly powerful. Obtaining them can be done through simple story progression, purchasing them from shops, or mostly from defeating enemies who have a percentage chance to drop a certain pin. Increasing the difficulty or lowering your level (which can be done on the fly) increases the chance for rare pins to drop, but makes combat far more punishing. It’s a trade-off that can be fine-tuned based on your skill.

NEO TWEWY Pins Menu
You’ll spend lots of time trying out different pin combinations.

Overall, the combat is simple and engaging, feeling like a slightly more advanced beat ’em up. Once the entire team is assembled with literally hundreds of pins to choose, the possibilities are actually endless. It’s a thrilling experience that feels fluid and intuitive despite initial repetition. Playing on hard difficulty for the most part was a breeze, but certain foes and bosses become insane difficulty spikes that will force the player to turn down the challenge in order to progress.

Visuals

Transitioning the aesthetic of a 2D handheld game with detailed pixel sprites and thick line art to a home console with a modern audience isn’t easy. Thankfully, NEO manages to retain all the style of the original while giving the game a much-needed graphical revamp and a fully 3D world. With its use of thick lines, low-poly buildings, vibrant colours, and detailed player models, NEO: TWEWY’s visual style looks excellent both on the big screen and when in handheld mode. Exploring the suburb of Shibuya is visually pleasing and accurately replicates real-life areas of this stylish, bustling hub of Tokyo.

NEO TWEWY Shibuya Animation GIF Streets Scramble Crossing The World Ends With You
Probably the closest you’re going to get to Shibuya for the next year or two.

Combat too looks just as stylish, with colourful enemy designs, numerous animations for the player’s attacks, and a dynamic camera that tracks enemy movements. When the entire team are launching attacks all at once, the screen tends to get incredibly busy and the Switch occasionally struggles to keep up with all the action. There are some framerate drops when this happens, which are obvious, but do not compromise the flow of the combat. Boss fights in particular are when the visuals really come alive, with detailed enemies that can take up the entire screen.

NEO TWEWY Beat VS Minamimoto Boss Fight The World Ends With You
This shady character is one of the game’s bosses. No, not the guy in the hoodie.

When you’re not immersed in the busy ‘Buya streets or fending off nasty Noise, the rest of the game is presented as manga-style panels, with the occasional pre-rendered CGI cutscene thrown in. This style is a direct adaptation from the original and has a very similar feel, which is visually quite basic but works well during character interactions. There is a lot of dialogue throughout the game and you’ll spend hours watching characters converse in this comic book format. It’s just stylish enough to keep you engaged, but personally I would have hoped for more animated cutscenes, as these are far more visually-impressive than the rest of the game.

Audio

Talk to any fan of the original TWEWY and no doubt they will let you know that the music was one of its best aspects. An incredibly impressive soundtrack for a handheld that spanned genres from J-Pop and Hip-Hop all the way through to Funk and Heavy Metal. Well, my tiny mind was blown when I heard the music of NEO: TWEWY, which somehow improves upon a soundtrack that I already thought was completely perfect. Not only are there brand new tracks as catchy as any from the DS version, but there are an entire slew of remixes and re-recordings of classic songs from our first romp through the streets of Shibuya.

Here are a couple of my favourite original tracks from NEO:

“World is Yours”, a fast-paced heavy metal boss track.
“Hustle and Bustle” is one of the best electronic songs in the game.

And here are two of the best remixes of original TWEWY tracks:

Somehow the NEO Mix makes “Three Minutes Clapping” even better.
The NEO Mix of one of my favourite original tracks, “Owari-Hajimari.”

As a huge fan of videogame music and soundtracks in general, I would go so far as to say that the music from NEO: TWEWY is some of the best I’ve ever heard. The sheer variety, production value and quality make it feel as if you’re listening not to a game soundtrack, but to an entire library of music produced specifically for the heart of Tokyo. It’s the exact kind of music I can imagine listening to while exploring the stylish streets of Shibuya. And yes, the “Gimme, gimme chance!” song is still here.

Though in my obsession for the music I can’t forget to mention the voice acting, which is a significant part of NEO’s audio quality. Most lines between characters are now fully-voiced with the option to swap between English and Japanese voiceovers at any point. Having played entirely in Japanese (which seems fitting considering it’s set entirely in Shibuya), each character feels distinct and recognisable, especially those who have quirky delivery, intentionally exaggerated accents, or incorporate heavy use of street slang.

Extras

Just in case a ~50 hour main campaign and a bonus chapter wasn’t enough to keep you satisfied, there’s a tonne of added content in NEO to keep players in the Reaper’s Game for weeks. Completionists will be delighted to know that there are hundreds of unlockables to be found across Shibuya, with exclusive pins, new clothing, and even unique noise to encounter. Hidden “Pig Noise” can be found tucked away in obscure areas each day and once defeated drop special items that are otherwise impossible to obtain. Pins can then be levelled up, mastered and transformed to complete the pin library.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Pin Collection Menu
More pins than a biscuit tin sewing kit!

Players can also complete their Social Network by helping out the citizens of Shibuya with their requests, each of whom will provide unlockable abilities both during combat and exploration. And finally, as an added bonus to encourage you to keep playing, there are also achievements in the form of special graffiti that is unlocked once certain requirements are fulfilled.

Conclusion

With great satisfaction I can say that NEO is a worthy sequel that manages to retain the sense of style of the original while effectively modernising all other elements of the game. Throughout the journey it becomes increasingly obvious that this is a game catered almost entirely towards series fans, who will be truly overjoyed, particularly with its references to the original and familiar characters making appearances. Playing NEO before exploring the events of the original Reaper’s Game would be doing oneself a disservice, though that’s not to say players can’t enjoy this sequel as a newcomer.

With a vibrant and delightful city to explore, intriguing story with a colossal cast of characters both new and old, heavily-stylised visual aesthetic, and a soundtrack like none other, NEO: TWEWY is an essential JRPG that has certainly been worth the wait.

NEO TWEWY The World Ends With You Character Banner

So, why should you play it?

  • Fan of the original game? You’d be mad to pass this up.
  • Stylish JRPGs are your sort of game.
  • Real life Tokyo setting that’s more convenient than visiting.
  • Massive amount of content for completionists.
  • Truly incredible soundtrack spanning numerous genres.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Not played the first game? This isn’t the best place to start.
  • Combat can be repetitive in early stages.
  • Backtracking during time travel can be tedious.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Cris Tales Review (Nintendo Switch)

If I could tuuuurn back tiiiiiime…

The best video game of all time, in any genre, on any system, is the classic Super Nintendo Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) Chrono Trigger. This is not up for argument, or even civilised discussion – it is just fact. I could talk about the amazing time-travelling adventures of Crono and his friends for hours on end. In fact, if you have never played Chrono Trigger before, just close your browser and go play it right now because it truly is a masterpiece.

This review is not for Chrono Trigger though, this is a review for a new JRPG with time travel elements known as Cris Tales. Well, the style is ‘JRPG’ but the developers Dreams Uncorporated and Syck are both actually based in South America. Can this modern take on one of the oldest genres of video games live up to the legacy of a legendary title like Chrono Trigger?

Plot

The plot of Cris Tales is typical JRPG fare to the point of cliché. The main character, Crisbell, is an innocent teenage girl, and an orphan no less, who is awoken at the start of the game with a strange vision. She sets out on a seemingly innocuous fetch-quest before a strange turn of events thrusts her into the role of world saviour.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Character Crisbell
Rosy cheeks and huge eyes = innocent.

We learn that the evil Time Empress is amassing an army to conquer the world and apparently a young girl is the only person with enough free time to bother doing something about it. Fortunately for Crisbell, she discovers that she has the magical abilities of a ‘time mage‘ after coming across a magical sword that seems destined for her and her alone.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Antagonist Time Empress
Surely her plan can’t be THAT evil…right?

Crisbell makes her way around the world helping the residents of the towns she visits. Only one with the power of a time mage can solve the predicaments that these people find themselves in. Along the way Crisbell is joined by a varied team that matches the typical JRPG crew. It is difficult to go into more detail here without risking some spoilers. I don’t think there was anything mind blowing here – at least nothing particularly new for JRPG or anime fans. The story is solid and wanting to know the secrets of the Time Empress and the mysteries of Crisbell’s past is more than enough to keep you pushing through the game to its satisfying conclusion.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Key Art Style
The crew.

Gameplay

If you have played a JRPG before, then you know what to expect here: visiting towns, completing quests, recruiting party members, solving puzzles, random encounters and crazy boss battles. The standard JRPG package is here with elements of time travel interwoven through almost everything we do.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Quests characters
Let’s go and help some people. Surely the teenage girl can solve the problem the giant armoured knight can’t fix.

A strong and engaging battle system is essential for a JRPG, as typically this is the thing we will spend most of our playtime doing. The basics of classic JRPG turn-based battles are here with some elements borrowed from other games that are welcome quality of life additions. At the top of the screen the turn order is easily seen (similar to Final Fantasy X, Grandia, and other titles) and this order will change in real time if enemies are slowed, or our team is hasted. Furthermore, for almost every physical or magical attack (either dealt by or to our team) if the attack button is pressed at the right time additional damage will be done (or prevented if we are on the receiving end of the attack) – you may remember this from Final Fantasy VIII or Super Mario RPG.

Over the early part of the game one of our crew members, Wilhelm (another time mage), teaches us how we can use our abilities of time manipulation to swing difficult battles in our favour. We can change the scope of time for the enemies on the left side of the screen to the past, or those on the right side to the future. Each enemy type will have a ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’ version with different stats and sometimes different strengths and weaknesses. We can also use the passage of time in tandem with skills for additional effect – like poisoning an enemy in the present and then sending them to the future where the poison damage will be significantly multiplied. This is an interesting mechanic, but its usage is very limited to specific situations and it feels like they really didn’t make the most of this interesting idea.

Outside of battle, a froggy friend shows us the ways that manipulating time in the towns we visit can progress our adventure. Yes, Cris Tales also copies Chrono Trigger’s idea of featuring a talking frog as a main character. Matias is not a fighting party member though. He plays the role of our guide as we learn the ways of a time mage, just like Navi from Ocarina of Time except for the fact he is a green frog, with a cute top hat. Similar to battles, our screen view in towns often switches to a triplicate view, where the left side of the screen is the past, the middle is the present, and the right shows us what will befall the town citizens in the future if we do not intervene. A great example is one town that appears to be completely flooded and underwater.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Environment Time Travel
I hope you brought your swimsuit.

It is not us that jumps across the time barriers though, we only have the power to send Matias forward and back in time to speak to people or access items that don’t actually exist in the present. It is a cute system that throws a curveball at the typical puzzles and fetch quests.

Whilst the above does generally sound positive, there are some frustrations here that I need to mention. There is a ‘quest log’ in the pause menu that keeps track of the tasks we are doing (that’s good). However, there is no labelling of towns throughout the game, and the only way that you know the name of a person is by talking to them – the quest log won’t actually tell you where to find them (that’s bad).

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Rojo Character
This is Rojo, I hope you remember where you met him.

Presentation

Where gameplay is somewhat lacking, strong audio-visual presentation is even more important. Fortunately, Cris Tales has excellent and unique presentation that give it a wow factor, particularly when entering new vistas for the first time.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Art style Gorgeous
It looks…magnificent.

The art and graphics are done in a hand drawn style that is like flash animation come anime – I guess anime as seen through the lens of the South American development team. I haven’t seen another game that looks exactly like this before and it is gorgeously striking, particularly during the few ‘cut-scenes’ that play out to expedite the story through our adventure.

Supporting the great visuals is a similarly great quality audio presentation throughout the game. All of the games background music is orchestrated and excellent. I never got bored of the soundtrack, including the battle music which with Cris Tales being a JRPG we hear very often. Cris Tales is also fully voiced, and the voice actors here did an excellent job bringing the traditional and somewhat cliché script to life. The look and sound of the game definitely do a great job in making us want to come back and experience more of the game, even when the gameplay itself starts to drag late into the game.

The main battle theme – you’ll be hearing this one a lot!

One thing that really frustrated me was the god-awful loading times. It is possible that these issues are not present on other versions of the game that are played on more powerful hardware (PC or PS5), however, I found that for the Switch version every screen transition dragged on WAY too long. Given this is a JRPG you will be transitioning screens A LOT. Going into and out of random battles, entering different areas on the world map, and even moving between rooms in buildings and dungeons causes a loading screen wait of 5-10 seconds. Maybe I’ve just been getting too used to the power and insane loading speeds of the PS5, but this was extremely frustrating for me – particularly on return trips to areas I had visited before and entering random encounters that were about as difficult as putting on your underpants in the morning. More than being frustrating, it simply just breaks up the flow of game play.

Another issue that I came across on three occasions over around 30 hours of gameplay was the game actually crashing and forcing a system restart. This happened to me on three separate occasions (completely different areas) through my playthrough, and a cursory read of other journalists work shows that I was not the only person that encountered this issue. For a JRPG that does NOT use an auto-save feature, a bug that can cause the loss of more than 1 hour of gameplay is just not acceptable.

Cris Tales Review Nintendo Switch Main Save Point
Accio savepoint!

Conclusion

Cris Tales is a game that is wonderfully presented. It also brings some new and unique gameplay ideas to the table, but then makes poor decisions in how to flesh these out over a 30+ hour adventure. This is a game that definitely looks and sounds great, but the cracks in the gameplay and functional stability of the game itself create drawbacks that may cause some people to give it up before seeing it through to an exciting, if not somewhat predictable conclusion.

Overall, I did enjoy my time with Cris Tales despite the frustrations that held it back from being considered to be near the top echelon of its JRPG genre. It is definitely no Chrono Trigger, but then again no other game has ever reached those lofty heights.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for the work that these devs release in the future.

So, why should you play it?

  • You want to the ability to fix the mistakes of your past.
  • Looking for some JRPG battles with an interesting new mechanic? It’s right here.
  • Cracking soundtrack and voice acting enjoy while you save the world with your friends.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • JRPGs aren’t your cup of time-travelling tea.
  • The art style in the pictures above rubs you the wrong way for some reason.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.

The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures Review (Nintendo Switch)

No OBJECTIONS here – Ace Attorney is back, and it’s greater than ever!

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Objection

I’m willing to bet you just heard that in your head. It’s quite impressive that a single word can become so closely associated with a particular videogame series, though that has been the case for almost 20 years. Ever since the very first appearance of the titular spiky-haired rookie lawyer in 2001, the word “OBJECTION!” almost always brings to mind an image of Phoenix Wright with an outstretched arm.

It wasn’t until a remake on the Nintendo DS in 2005 that the series first made its way to Western shores, gaining cult status thanks to its clever courtroom combat, plentiful puns, and colourful cast of characters. Ever since, there has been no denying the important role that Ace Attorney has played as an integral part of videogame subculture.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Phoenix Wright DS
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Nintendo DS, 2005)

However, in 2015, the series took a big step backwards… in time!

A series once set in modern day Japan America (ramen burgers, anyone?) would instead change its setting drastically to 19th century Victorian-era London at the turn of the century. This was an era where modern day law was beginning to come to fruition; political ties between the East and the West were new-founded and unsteady. Of course, a new setting called for a new protagonist, a young man by the name of Ryunosuke Naruhodo, also known as The Great Ace Attorney.

This new direction for the series eluded players in the West for many years, having been available only in Japan since its launch on the 3DS. Thankfully, fans from all over the world finally have the opportunity to experience this new courtroom adventure for the very first time in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC. This new release is technically a remaster and translation of the 3DS games, including both the original and its sequel in a single package and directed by the legendary Shu Takumi, creator of the original trilogy.

So now the debate: is the game great and worth the wait, or is it riddled with imperfections worthy of your objections? Well, court is now in session, so as a member of the gallery please sit quietly and observe as we begin the trial of The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Naruhodo Van Zieks Reaper

Plot

This is Ace Attorney but not as you know it – wind the clock back just over 100 years to the turn of the 19th century in Japan. Recent treaties formed between the Empire of Japan and the powerful force of Great Britain are built on unsteady ground, with the influence of England’s judicial system slowly affecting its allied countries. Slowly finding his feet in an advancing landscape is a young law student by the name of Kazuma Asogi, a valiant samurai of the law who in only his second year of study is widely recognised as a prodigy. Having earned a scholarship to study law abroad in Great Britain, Kazuma’s illustrious career awaits him on distant shores.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Kazuma Asogi Ryunosuke Naruhodo
Unfortunately the protagonist is on the right. The phoenix right.

However, his closest friend and fellow student, Ryunosuke Naruhodo, has found himself in a difficult situation. Having been accused of the murder of a British scholar, Naruhodo has no choice but to defend himself in court with the aid of his close friend, Kazuma. The fate of this case will decide Kazuma’s future and even impact the newly-established relationship between these two great nations.

Fast forward two months and Naruhodo now finds himself living in the sprawling industrial metropolis of London, investigating mysteries as they unravel around him. After a chance encounter with a legendary detective by the name of Herlock Sholmes, the Lord Chief Justice of London tasks the young Japanese student with a murder case of his very own. A trial by fire against esteemed prosecutor, Barok van Zieks, known across the city as the Reaper of the Bailey. And so this young attorney’s journey begins.

Gameplay

Those familiar with the objection-flinging gameplay of Ace Attorney will feel right at home on the streets of London and within the great halls of its prestigious courtroom, The Old Bailey. This investigative visual novel is the exact style of game of its predecessors, and even after 20 years manages to deliver an experience as polished as a Londoner’s boot that’s been shined by a street cretin. Newcomers will have no trouble at all diving right into this standalone title, which is divided into three distinct styles of gameplay: Investigation, Deduction and Trials.

Investigation sequences are a key aspect of the game’s storytelling, as the player takes control of Ryunosuke Naruhodo prior to his courtroom appearances. Vital information must be obtained through several different means: closely analysing crime scenes, discussing events with witnesses and other key persons, and obtaining key evidence to be presented in court. This is most similar to a point & click game, where hovering over an area of interest will trigger a sequence of dialogue and further the investigation. Players must converse with a colourful cast of characters, some of whom are tight-lipped and unwilling to part with their valuable information. That is, until, you confront them with logic & reasoning spectacular!

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Susato
Investigation sequences are served with an accompaniment of interesting dialogue.

Deduction is a new gameplay element introduced in The Great Ace Attorney, all thanks to the legendary detective Herlock Sholmes, who is famous for his series of investigative novels. Sadly, his wit does not match his fame, as he is prone to making numerous mistakes in his deductions. During these short sequences, the player watches Sholmes create theories as they fall apart around him. It is the task of Naruhodo to patch these theories back together to form a logical deduction. This is achieved through key observations, whereby the player must pay close attention to aspects of each character and their environment. These segments are incredibly amusing, and help to cleverly piece together each crime scene.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Herlock Sholmes Deduction Gif
Sholmes may be a sham, but Naruhodo can help him get back on track.

Trials, as most of you are aware, are the real meat and potatoes of an Ace Attorney game. These dramatised courtroom sequences are thrilling battles of wit where the player must face off head-to-head against a terrifying prosecutor who is armed to the teeth with evidence. Close attention must be paid to every line of dialogue and each character’s action, as every snippet of information can be used in defence. Five chances are given to Naruhodo as even the finest lawyers make mistakes; once these chances are exhausted, a guilty verdict is reached.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Jury
Your client’s fate is in the hands of the jury.

However, unlike most Ace Attorney games, this time the scales of justice may be tipped by members of the jury. This group of six individuals must be persuaded, as it is their verdict that decides the innocence or guilt of the accused. Evidence is carefully presented, witnesses cross-examined to reveal contradictions and unravel lies, and members of the jury even pitted against one-another. This is the most satisfying, nail-biting aspect of any Ace Attorney game, and is certainly still the case in this entry. Nothing can match the thrill of cleverly unravelling a testimony, solving the mystery of a key piece of evidence, and then flinging it in the face of the prosecution as “OBJECTION!” echoes throughout the courtroom.

Visuals

Though its visual style is distinct, Ace Attorney has never been a series known for its ground-breaking or technically-impressive graphics. In fact, most of the visuals of each game focuses on the characters around which each case revolves. While the static backgrounds and courtrooms of London might appear simple and plain, the people you’ll encounter and work alongside are anything but! Each character is distinct, with particular comical attributes that make them easily noticeable and give away details about their underlying interests or background.

Stereotypes are heavily incorporated into the game’s character design. While it is true that racial stereotypes are often controversial, no series portrays them with better visual humour than Ace Attorney. Take for example the characters hailing from Japan, who have a distinct Eastern flare, sporting traditional dress like kimono or hakama and wield katana at their sides. In contrast, characters from the European regions are adorned with dapper suits, well-groomed moustaches, or might go about their daily business while wielding a cone of fish & chips instead.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Russian
Don’t go Russian to any conclusions!

There is, however, one important aspect of the Great Ace Attorney where its visuals truly are eye-catching: the animations. Where the series began with sprites and static animations, Great Ace Attorney has fully-animated characters from beginning to end to capture their unique personalities and ridiculous antics. And it’s not just pointing fingers and slamming on desks either! Some of the most amusing and impressive animations are those of the supporting cast, and help to emphasise their absurd character designs all while looping seamlessly.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Barok Van Zieks Wine Bottle throw Gif
Scenes like this are normal in Ace Attorney’s courtrooms.

Worth noting too that there are occasional animated cutscenes throughout the Adventure, which either appear in an anime style, or unfold like an animated Sherlock Holmes picture book. Each of these are stylish and a pleasure to watch, but are sadly few and far between.

Audio

Like the game’s visuals, its music too is divided between the East and the West, and at times even blends these vastly different cultures. For court cases that take place in Japan or characters with ties to the country, their themes often utilise traditional instruments like koto and shamisen, accompanied by the iconic rhythms of the taiko drum. Here’s an example of one of the most Japan-influenced songs in the game, the theme for a samurai of the courtroom.

“Kazuma Asogi – Samurai On a Mission”

These cultural differences in music are made even more obvious when Naruhodo is plunged into the midst of London, a bustling city at the forefront of global development. Instead of sounds of his familiar home, songs feature orchestras of emotive strings, twanging harpsichord, and melodic accordion. It’s a phenomenal soundtrack full of variety with style in every single track. I’d happily discuss the entire discography here, but instead here’s the one theme everyone wants to hear in an Ace Attorney game: the Objection theme!

“Ryunosuke Naruhodo – Objection!”

Where the soundtrack truly shines though, the voiceovers are a slight disappointment. Although the player can easily swap between English/Japanese audio at any time, voiced cutscenes are rare. Most of the dialogue is presented as a series of beeps, which has been the case since the very first game in the series. Despite being tradition among Ace Attorney games, I can’t help but think this is outdated and would have loved to hear more voiced dialogue other than an interjection of “OBJECTION!” or “HOLD IT!” every now and then.

Extras

In addition to the five episodes available as part of the first game, players are also rewarded with a vast assortment of extra content which can be accessed at any time. This ranges from character concept art (with notes from the designers), to additional stories and court cases, a full audio library of music with notes on each song (and even songs that were unused in the final game), and even DLC outfits that can be used in the sequel. There are numerous hours of extra content here for fans to explore, which is a welcome addition and feels like perusing an interactive artbook.

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Bonus Extra gallery
There’s plenty of bonus content to explore in the gallery!

Despite being played on a Nintendo console, there are also an array of achievements that players can unlock throughout progression of the game. These can be as simple as triggering certain optional dialogue scenes, or even completing a court case and coming out unscathed! Completionists out there may use this as motivation to play through each episode multiple times.

Conclusion

In case you haven’t realised already, I’m a bit of an Ace Attorney fan, having followed the series from its inception. That is why I can say with confidence that The Great Ace Attorney is undoubtedly one of the finest entries in this iconic series. Series veterans will be awash with nostalgia through every creative court case, especially thanks to the return of the brilliant mind of Shu Takumi, who is responsible for the creation of Phoenix Wright.

Despite being a new game in a pre-established series, newcomers will not at all feel out of place in the courtroom as this is an entirely standalone experience and can be enjoyed without any need to play previous games. Over the course of this 30+ hour journey, players will piece together a fascinating story, meet many memorable characters, and put their wit to the test in the name of justice. So TAKE THAT Nintendo Switch, HOLD IT, and get The Great Ace Attorney downloading post-haste. The game is afoot!

The Great Ace Attorney Nintendo Switch Review Credits Characters

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of previous Ace Attorney games.
  • Murder and investigations are up your alley.
  • Looking for a game with a great sense of humour? Look no further.
  • Excellent presentation, setting, and memorable characters.
  • Standalone experience that is welcoming to newcomers.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Very dialogue heavy. If you don’t like reading, you won’t like this.
  • Requires constant thought and attention.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin Review (Nintendo Switch)

Maybe the real friends were the monsties we met along the way.

Every popular videogame series deserves a spin-off, there are almost no exceptions. Take for example platforming games like Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Crash Bandicoot. What do these four all have in common? They’ve all had spin-offs popular enough to become series of their own. While these are some of the most popular examples, other games end up as quite odd alternatives to their source material. Pokémon has Pokémon Pinball (among hundreds of others), Persona has the Persona Dancing games, Dragon Quest has Dragon Quest: Monsters. The list could go on forever!

So what about Monster Hunter? The series once massively popular only in Japan is now finally finding its footing in the West. Well, there are actually a tonne of Monster Hunter spin-offs, most of which you’ve probably never heard of! There’s the Monster Hunter Diary series for PSP and 3DS which follows Felyne characters on their own journeys, Monster Hunter: Phantom Island Voyage and Monster Hunter Explore for iOS/Android, and even an arcade card game called Monster Hunter Spirits. And the commonality between all of these games? We didn’t get a single one in the West!

However, that all changed in 2016 with the worldwide release of a game by the name of Monster Hunter Stories for Nintendo 3DS and mobile. This cute, approachable spin-off combined many iconic monsters with simple combat mechanics and a monster-collecting/battling style of gameplay that was unashamedly similar to Pokémon. Its emphasis on storytelling and forgiving difficulty allowed it to stand out dramatically from the rest of the Monster Hunter games, and was an enjoyable experience for series veterans and newcomers alike.

Five years later, the next chapter in the story unfolds on Nintendo Switch and PC, with the sequel, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin. Featuring a multitude of monsters, crisp animated visuals, and a deep story of ruin and redemption surrounding a loveable cast of characters, is this the Monster Hunter spin-off we’ve been patiently waiting for all this time? Well, don’t be quick to judge this story by its cutesy cover, because Wings of Ruin is possibly the most engaging storytelling experience the entire series has to offer.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Razewing Rathalos Baby

Plot

On the isle of Hakolo, its peaceful inhabitants who live and work alongside monsters all know of the prophecy referring to the Wings of Ruin, an ancient tale that speaks of calamity leading to widespread destruction. The legend tells the story of the Razewing Rathalos, whose incredible power when unlocked has the ability to bring about the destruction of the entire world. Even the beating of its wings is enough to level entire cities – a true weapon of mass destruction in monster form.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Razewing Rathalos Mural Art
The Razewing Rathalos, as depicted in ancient murals.

Mysteriously, the mass exodus of the Rathalos species across the continent has led to the disappearance of this once powerful king of the skies. For a century not a single Rathalos has been seen, believed to possibly even be extinct. That is until the legend begins to unfold when the grandchild of a legendary rider known across the lands as Red, stumbles across what is believed to be the last Rathalos egg in existence. Word quickly spreads of the egg – hunters and riders from all corners of the continent are in pursuit not to make an epic omelette, but to hatch the egg and use the monster for their own nefarious means.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Razewing Rathalos Egg
Everybody wants this egg. Maybe it’s a legendary triple-yolker?

Thankfully, the protagonist is not alone in their pursuit for the truth behind the mysterious egg and the Rathalos’ disappearance. Befriended by a Wyverian girl known as Ena, who once worked alongside the legendary Red, she shares her deep knowledge of Rider culture and believes that the grandchild of Red possesses the power to prevent the impending Calamity. Gifting the player with Red’s “Kinship Stone“, this heirloom holds within it the secret to forming bonds with monsties and controlling their incredible power.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Ena Art
Ena, who has pursued the truth of the Razewing Rathalos her entire life.

On their journey together, Ena and the player alongside comic relief, Navirou, travel to ancient civilisations, remote villages, and vast cities to unravel the secrets behind the Wings of Ruin and mysterious luminous pits appearing across the continent. Each area is home to new companions, who accompany the player and share their own stories and insights into the Calamity and the history that surrounds it. It’s an impressive, engaging story that unfolds and outshines all others in the series.

Gameplay

If you’re going into Monster Hunter Stories 2 expecting a traditional Monster Hunter game, you’re in for quite a shock. Although it incorporates many mechanics from the series like gathering materials, crafting weapons/armour, and of course, fighting monsters, this spin-off is more like Pokémon than its source material. However, the player isn’t throwing balls at monsters to capture them but rather raiding their nests and stealing their eggs instead!

Scattered throughout the overworld are Monster Dens – randomised dungeons that contain a nest, harvesting spots and treasure chests, and are home to as variety of monsters. These dens come in various forms: some appear at random, others with gold or silver designs that house rare monster species, or “Everdens” that remain permanently but change with each visit. Once an egg has been obtained (stolen), it can be taken back to the hatchery and potentially added to your team of 6 monsters that fight alongside the player. The hatchery also has the ability to perform a “Rite of Channeling” which transfers skills across monsters but requires one to be sacrificed in the process. How barbaric.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Hatching Animation Tigrex

Monsters are divided into three broad categories: power, technical, and speed. These determine the main proficiency of the monster and how they fare not only in combat, but in exploration. Certain monsters who are swift will be able to leap across gaps to access new areas, others with brute strength can smash down boulders that impede progress, and eventually some will learn new skills that allow even further exploration. While these are incredibly similar to the “HMs” that have been a staple of Pokémon, they are rarely necessary in order to progress the story.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Lagiacrus Rite of Channeling
Make sure to show your Monstiepedia to Professor Oak when you’re done.

Over the course of the game, the gameplay proceeds in somewhat of a loop. Once arrived at a new location, the player will befriend a new “Battle Buddy” to assist in the adventure, complete several quests assigned by the leader of the village, and in doing so discover more about the Razewing Rathalos and the impending calamity. The additional loop of “exploration > den > battle > nest > hatch” repeats throughout each area and is simple but rarely tiresome. Grinding is seldom necessary and the pacing of the game is pleasant and does not at all feel padded or drawn out. It’s satisfying to unlock new monsters to add to your team and become more proficient in combat, which is one of the most important aspects of the game!

Combat

Scissors-paper-rock but with monsters” is likely how many players would label the combat of Monster Hunter Stories, but there’s far more depth to it than that. This is, however, a key element and is the foundation around which the rest build upon. Basic come in three forms: power, technical, and speed. Monsters can also be swapped out once per turn and will generally have a preference for using a particular type of attack unless ordered otherwise. By choosing the right option in each situation, the “Kinship Gauge” fills and can be used to perform skills, assign attacks to your chosen monster. Once completely filled, the gauge allows the player to ride their monster and unleash a devastating Kinship Skill. These special skills are the most satisfying aspect of the game thanks to their detailed and often amusing animations.

Here’s one of the funniest attacks in the game.

Thankfully, the simple combat draws upon many elements (see what I did there?) of combat that Monster Hunter fans will definitely appreciate. Weapon types feature heavily and each have advantages over particular monsters or become more effective when targeting certain parts. Unlike the original games, three weapons can be equipped at once and swapped out once per turn. The play styles of each reflects how the weapons can be utilised in different ways – hammers specialise in smashing monster parts, great swords charge up and hit with incredible force, even hunting horns can be used to buff yourself and the rest of the party.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Khezu Battle
Power attack always wins.

Items are also cleverly incorporated into the combat of Stories and reward the player when used at opportune moments. Knocking a flying monster out of the sky with a Flash Bomb, restraining a large monster in a Pitfall Trap, or unleashing an explosive barrel bomb are as satisfying as ever and add an extra level of depth to battles. Skilful manipulation of items will be second nature to series veterans, who will likely even be able to predict the types of attack that each monster will use.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Air Showdown

To make combat even more engaging, monsters may “face off” at any moment, which will trigger a short quick time sequence requiring specific inputs from the player. By mashing buttons or spinning analogue sticks, your monster will compete directly with the opponent and if successful deal extra damage and fill the Kinship Gauge rapidly. These sequences are repetitive and mostly very easy, but the visuals that accompany them are impressive and make the turn-based battles feel more dynamic.

Visuals

There’s no doubt that this is one of the best looking Monster Hunter games in the entire series, even when compared to the mainline games. This is not due to its attention-to-detail or graphical finesse, but mainly as a result of the unique art-style chosen to represent the characters and monsters in the game. Rather than trying to replicate the gritty, realistic style of Monster Hunter World or Rise, Stories instead opts for vibrant, crisp cel-shaded graphics. Although the environments can at times appear jagged and polygonal, character models look excellent in this style, and many of the cutscenes feel as if watching a CGI anime.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Navirou Expression Graphics
Characters’ exaggerated expressions work particularly well in this style.

Although the design of the Dens can at times be bland and repetitive, the unique village locations are particularly aesthetically pleasing, each with a distinct design appropriate to the locale. Playing both in handheld and docked mode, there were some moments where the framerate seemed inconsistent and jittery, though this did not detract from the overall experience. Additionally, as mentioned above, many impressive Kinship Skill animations feature during combat and keep the combat looking stylish enough to grab your attention.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Environment Graphics
Many of the villages are detailed and vibrant.

Audio

Monster Hunter is a series widely-respected for its music, as I’m sure many series veterans will agree. Facing off against a fearsome Zinogre, Bazelgeuse, or Elder Dragon wouldn’t be anywhere near as tense without an incredible score to accompany it. Thankfully Monster Hunter Stories is no exception! The soundtrack can be divided into two broad categories: large, epic orchestral pieces with sweeping strings and blaring brass for tense and triumphant moments, or fast-paced, tribal percussion with rhythmic melodies for the heat of battle. While you’ll hear some music that’s recurrent throughout the series, most of the tracks are unique to Wings of Ruin and seem fit with the gameplay perfectly. Here are two examples of these vastly different musical styles:

The game’s orchestral title track.
Tribal vibes – the regular battle theme is a banger.

With far more of a focus on story than most other Monster Hunter games, there’s a considerable amount of fully-voiced dialogue, which can be changed between English and Japanese audio at any time. Being the weeb that I am, Japanese voiceovers were my preference and made the entire experience feel authentically like an anime, particularly when paired with the visuals. Cutscenes are often tense and emotive, and the quality of the voice acting is among some of the best I’ve encountered.

The only criticism with regards to the audio relates to some of the sound effects during combat. When a monster is knocked down, the same audio snippet of a pained cry will play on loop until the monster is back on its feet again. When this grating noise repeats sometimes for even a minute or two, it’s tempting to turn the sound off until your eardrums are no longer being assaulted.

Extras

In addition to the main story, there’s plenty of optional content to keep players invested both during and after the single-player campaign. Postgame content features areas that were previously inaccessible and more powerful monsters to fight and hatch. Numerous side quests are available, most of which revolve around hunting a particular monster or procuring rare items – these will unlock new recipes and skills to reward the player. Monsties can also put their skills to the test in arena battles, where groups of enemies must be defeated within a set number of turns.

Monster Hunter Stories 2 Wings of Ruin Nintendo Switch Review Ena DLC Outfits
The Ena outfits will set you back almost $5 a pop. Just like real clothing!

Two online modes are also available, which include PvP where players can battle head-to-head, and even online co-op if wanting to team up and explore dens together. Though I only briefly touched on these gameplay modes, it’s a nice option for those wanting a more social experience from a game that has an emphasis on single player. Future DLC outlined in a recent roadmap plans to add extra content to the game, including rare monsties and exclusive co-op quests, so this might keep dedicated players coming back. Sadly most of the current DLC is lacklustre and not worth your hard-earned Zenny; it’s disappointing many of the game’s costumes for Ena and Navirou can only be accessed through an additional purchase.

Conclusion

Despite being so dissimilar to the series on which it is based, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin achieves a unique blend of gameplay and manages to deliver a relaxed, charming, and engaging plot-centric JRPG experience over a ~40 hour adventure. What may seem like a Pokémon game with a Monster Hunter skin on the surface is actually a standout spin-off with more than enough to set itself apart in the monster-battling genre. Long-term series fans will be familiar with many gameplay elements and no doubt enjoy seeing iconic monsters in new settings, where series newcomers will be able to experience this brilliant franchise in an approachable, forgiving way. This story is a page-turner and a fine addition to the already vast Monster Hunter library.

So, why should you play it?

  • Engaging story, loveable characters, and stylish presentation.
  • Plenty of gameplay elements taken from the main series.
  • An approachable way for newcomers to explore the series.
  • Are you a fan of Pokémon? You’re almost certain to enjoy this.
  • Amusing dialogue and dynamic monster animations.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Repetitive gameplay loop may lose some players’ interest.
  • Simple scissors/paper/rock style combat will not appeal to everyone.

A review code for Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.
All screenshots and gameplay footage were captured on Nintendo Switch.

Boomerang X Review: Nintendo Switch

But what if YOU were the Boomerang?

It must be extremely difficult to come up with a “new” idea for a video game. In an entertainment sector, and yes an art form, that has been around now for over 50 years and grown to be so huge internationally there is a truly massive catalogue of games dating way back to the glory days of dedicated home ‘Pong‘ consoles and PCs that ran on DOS.

This study estimates that there are about 50,000 different games in existence, while video game industry statistics reports that there are 25 new games released on Steam EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that I have played any meaningful fraction of all of the games that have ever been made. But I have certainly played a lot. And I can’t remember the last time that I played a game with a concept so simple, but so well executed as Boomerang X.

Plot

Boomerang X isn’t here to engage us with a deep story. In fact, there really isn’t a story here at all. Basically the game starts with a cut scene of our seafaring ship crashing on an unknown beach. We wander throughs a deserted village and chance upon a strange weapon… A Boomerang in the shape of an ‘X’.

How do you actually catch it without losing a finger?

From that stage of the game there is very little exposition. There are a few occurrences when some residents of the island appear between levels and provide a very small amount of information. However, by the end of the game I didn’t feel that there was any real benefit to these interactions. Certainly there is no real ‘mystery’ here. No real obvious goal other than to get to the next level and reach the end of the game.

This is a game that relies on its gameplay to keep you interested and pushing forward. Fortunately, the gameplay here is excellent.

Gameplay

What type of game is Boomerang X you ask? The game creators at studio Dang! describe it as a single player ‘first-person arena combat experience’.

The structure of the game is quite simple. We are thrown into an enclosed room where we must fight multiple waves of enemies. A certain number of enemies will appear with each wave, but there will be specific ‘target’ enemies that must be defeated to pass each wave. The other enemies can be ignored in the sense that they don’t need to be killed, but obviously they will try to attack you if you ignore them. Once the last wave has been defeated, the exit door is unlocked and we can move on to the next room. This process repeats until you complete the game.

We start our primary battle with only the eponymous Boomerang that can be used to defend ourselves in the first arena of the game. This first arena, as might be expected, is a very basic flat circular level with no obstacles. After each section of the game we are provided with some kind of upgrade. Either a shield buff that allows us to receive one additional hit before dying (up to a maximum of 7 by the end of the game), or a new skill or ability that will allow us to plow through the increasingly difficult waves of enemies that appear in the game’s weird and wonderful battle arenas.

Welcome to the ‘Grave of the Yoran Legion’, AKA the Lava Pit.

Overall there are 13 main arenas in which to do battle. Each of them is unique both in structure and style. They require use of different skills in particular ways to successfully complete the challenging waves of enemies that will appear.

The developers here have done an absolutely excellent job in regard to the progression in this game. Each new ability is earned in a specific order and we are given a basic ‘test’ in how to effectively use each ability in the next arena after it is received. Simple skills such as calling the boomerang immediately back to our hand become so intuitive that by the later levels of the game I found myself doing it after each throw without even thinking about it.

Where the game really shines is the genius concept of the ‘Slingshot’ ability. If the ‘throw’ button is pressed a second time before the boomerang returns to our hand, we BECOME the boomerang and are flung across the screen in the direction of the boomerang and it is immediately returned to our hand in the process. This ability creates a battle movement and positioning mechanic that is an pure joy to use. It is almost like having a single shot Portal gun that can throw you anywhere in the arena… with some decent aim. I was somewhat hesitant to use this ability early on due to the unpredictable nature of the boomerang when it bounces off walls and obstacles. However, as Boomerang X does so well, one of the next arenas shortly after receiving the Slingshot ability begs us to learn how to use this skill to its full potential. Where battles were previously completed on relatively small and flat coliseums, we are presented with a massive multilevel forest with platforms and bridges between the trees – think Kashyyyk from Star Wars, but less hairy. Soon after mastering this arena, the Slingshot became my main method of transition, dodging and surprise attack.

The other skill that I found myself using very often was the ‘Flux’ technique which temporarily slows down time. Flux can only be used for very short periods while charging up the boomerang for a long distance throw, but it CAN be used in mid-air. The combination of Slingshot and Flux in particular was one of the most fun experiences I have had in a game in a long time.

The remaining skills typically have a requirement to set them up – such as killing two enemies with the same boomerang throw, or killing three enemies while mid-air (without landing). These abilities when charged provide even more alternatives when charging your way through each arena.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzap!

The enemy design here is also excellent. Early in the game we fight simple bugs (spiders and flies) that require only one single hit delivered from any angle. As we progress through there are squid enemies from the Matrix, enemies that can only be hit from behind, the giant storm caller that shrouds the arena in a lightning storm and more. Once again progressing difficulty of enemies and the techniques that are required to defeat them are perfectly paced to provide the learning environment for your new skills early, and the exact level of challenge that you are looking for late in the game.

Is that the thing from Horizon Zero Dawn?

I have no hesitation here is saying that the gameplay here is just great. It is smooth, fast, and just plain fun.

Presentation

As you can see from the screenshots peppered through this review, the presentation of Boomerang X is quite unique. This simple uses a small number of specific colours over a wide and bright palette to bring each area and arena to life. Green forests, blue/white icy caverns and flowing red lava are able to give each region a unique identity. These bright colours are then offset by the jet black enemies that appear with each wave, making them both very easy to identify and quite menacing when up close at the same time.

Hope you aren’t scared of spider…shadow…things

The music in Boomerang X is again minimalistic but does well to match the aesthetic of the game. The combination of soft oriental strings and tribal percussion give an otherworldly or alien feel to the game, which does match the visuals quite well, but do not always give the fast-paced high intensity aerial battles the urgency they deserve. But there is enough here to provide a pleasing backdrop to the action. Sound effects provide good feedback to what is happening on screen

Conclusion

I do need to state that Boomerang X is not a long game. I completed my first playthrough of each area in one (long) sitting of about 4 hours. The game was a good level of challenge and I did die on multiple occasions throughout this first run. Each death did not feel ‘cheap’, and was clearly due to skill error of the player.

This game is clearly built with repeated plays and speed running in mind. In fact, the game comes with an individual arena and overall speed run timer built in. Each wave of each battle starts in the same way (enemies appearing in the same positions), so I can certainly see this game being popular in the speed run community as players try to find the most efficient pattern of mowing down the enemies as quickly as possible.

On completion of the first playthrough, the option of starting a ‘New Game +’ is provided. This allows the game to be started from the beginning with all of the shields and abilities in place at the start of the game. Other gameplay options are provided as well such as a ‘no shields’ mode for extra challenge, and a ‘no gravity’ mode which completely changes the way each arena can be tackled.

Boomerang X also comes with a number of accessibility options such as a ‘high contrast mode’, and an ‘extra-visible required enemies’ mode. I found playing with these options switched on as a completely different visual experience from the base game. Not a ‘better’ experience necessarily, but it does look cool.

Accessibility activated for aesthetic reasons.

I enjoyed my time with Boomerang X immensely. For me the fire burned brightly, but only for a short period of time. Others looking to invest more time into ‘perfecting’ the game, or even speed running it will definitely find something here to get their hands dirty. The art style and the Slingshot mechanic I feel are unique, and definitely worth the investment for gamers looking to experience something new.

So, why should you play it?

  • You want to experience a fresh single player arena ‘shooter’ with tight controls, an interesting art style and a unique mechanic.
  • My last article about speed running tickled your fancy and you want to dive head-first into a new game to get your name on the leaderboard early.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Fast-paced action isn’t really your cup of tea.
  • Games with no storyline leave you frustrated or uninterested in continuing on.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX Review (Nintendo Switch)

The cult classic SEGA platformer is back and isn’t kidding around.

It’s the year 1985 and videogame consoles have begun to infiltrate living rooms across the globe, marking the beginning of what many now refer to as the “Console Wars“. Nintendo was at the forefront of the industry and Super Mario was quickly becoming a common household name thanks to its simple yet addictive platforming gameplay. So what was rival SEGA to do? Give up entirely, or create an iconic platforming game of their own as competition? It wasn’t until 1991 when the Blue Blur first raced onto our screens, so who was responsible for keeping SEGA and their Master System relevant during this highly competitive period?

It was just some Kidd.
But not just any Kidd, Alex Kidd.

Whoever did the box art really must have a passion for graphic design.

His debut was in 1986 with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, a side-scrolling 2D platformer featuring an expansive world, brutal difficulty, and neat upgrades like motorbikes and helicopters. Did Mario have a motorbike? No? Didn’t think so. Thanks to the popularity of this initial game, 5 further Alex Kidd games were released for SEGA systems during the following 5 years. However, 1991 marked the birth of Sonic the Hedgehog and thus the death of Alex Kidd. SEGA had essentially killed off their own character by turning their focus to another.

Alex Kidd briefly appeared in a Sonic comic

Alex Kidd had sadly faded into obscurity. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Gaming history became legend. Legend became myth. And for 30 years, Alex Kidd passed out of all knowledge…

…until, when chance came, the Kidd ensnared a new developer.

Thanks to Merge Games and JanKenTeam, this classic platformer has been revived, revitalised, and re-released on almost every console currently available! But how does a 35 year old platformer hold up by today’s standards? Is it as thrilling as it was decades ago, or has your fondness for the game been clouded by nostalgia? I’ve never played the original, no kidding, so it’s about time I get stuck into Alex Kidd in Miracle World for the very first time!

Plot

Many centuries ago, on the planet Aries, there lived a boy named Alex Kidd. For seven years he lived on Mt. Eternal studying Shellcore, an ancient art that makes one strong enough to break rocks into pieces. Kidd would even put Mike Tyson to shame with his punches! One day, as he was leaving the mountain for his spiritual homeland, he encountered a dying man who told him that the peaceful city of Radaxian was in grave danger. Before taking his last breath, the man gave Alex a piece of a map and a medallion made of Sun Stone.

What is it about old men in caves sending little kids on quests?

Alex soon learns of an evil villain by the name of Janken the Great who has overthrown the king and captured the king’s son, Egle, and his fiancé, Princess Lora. The task of rescuing the kingdom from the wrath of Janken rests upon Alex’s fists, and so he ventures toward Radaxian to defeat the three Generals and overthrow Janken to end his tirade on the Kingdom.

There are plenty of interesting characters throughout Alex’s journey, and for an 80s platforming game, Alex Kidd has far more plot than I would expect – even more than most modern games in the genre!

Gameplay

You’ve played a platforming game, right? Surely you have by now, it’s been like 40 years. Well, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is quintessential retro platforming almost unchanged, and those who have played the original game will feel as if they’ve travelled through time.

The game is split into 17 separate levels, each with a distinct theme, environmental hazards, plenty of enemies, and even some puzzles to help keep Alex’s brain as big as his fists. Each level will see Alex running, jumping, and pummelling his way towards a delicious item of food at the end of the level (you can choose between Onigiri, Burger, Fish & Chips, or a Spanish Omelette). Alex is armed with a deadly punch, numerous upgrades, and added abilities which can be purchased along the way. He’s gonna need all the upgrades you can get too, because Alex can only take a single hit!

Scissors paper rock is the only way to settle a score.

Certain levels also feature special vehicles like a helicopter, motorbike, and plane, during which the game briefly turns into a basic side-scrolling shooter. Most levels also feature a traditional boss fight at the end, and others instead end in a best-of-3 match of Jan Ken Pon (that’s scissors paper rock for all you non-weebs out there). It’s simple and fun platforming gameplay for the most part, but with a major criticism…

Alex moves like he’s been coated in detergent.
He’s slippery, floaty, and just all around awkward to control.
Like a well-oiled machine that’s been oiled just a bit too much.

I’ve played many platformers in my time, hundreds even, from the most iconic like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Donkey Kong Country to the difficult and obscure like VVVVVV or Syobon Action. Never before have I encountered a platformer whose controls I loathed quite like Alex Kidd. When trying to make precise jumps over a chasm, or even just walk up to an enemy so you can wail on it, the sheer slipperiness of the controls can make this an unnecessarily frustrating ordeal. It’s just blatantly unenjoyable at times, and I couldn’t help but blame the game for many of my failed attempts.

You’re going to make Alex die. A lot.

But I did persist through the controls, and eventually became slightly accustomed to their awkwardness. Inevitably the game became more enjoyable, and by the very end I found myself overall happy and satisfied with the experience despite these drawbacks. However, many players who do not persist through the first few levels may find themselves quitting entirely out of sheer frustration.

Visuals

While I found myself at war with the gameplay on numerous occasions, it was the visuals that kept me coming back time and time again. Some players might fondly remember the basic 8-bit graphics of the original some 35 years ago. Well guess what? They look like complete trash now. So what have Merge Games done instead? Created a brand new, gorgeous, highly-detailed pixel art style that perfectly captures the charm of every single level, character, and detail throughout the entire game. It’s without a doubt one of the most attractive platformers you’ll ever encounter. This becomes even more apparent when swapping back and forth between the DX and original visuals, which can be done as easily as pressing a single button!

Hmm, I’m not sure I can see the difference…

Having played both in handheld mode and on a big ol’ 4K OLED TV, I can confidently say every single aspect of the game looks brilliant on either. Even the simple, vibrant cartoony design of the characters really pops and seems to suit the rest of the visuals perfectly. Honestly, I would recommend playing this simply based on visuals alone.

Audio

Like 8-bit visuals, chiptunes too are a thing of the past. While Alex Kidd DX has not done away with them entirely, the majority of the iconic tunes have been rearranged, recomposed, and performed acoustically by a freelance composer and sound designer by the name of Bibiki Garcia. His arrangements of the old chiptunes sound refreshing, vibrant, and incredibly upbeat. Using mostly acoustic instruments like guitar, ukelele and mandolin, as well as melodica and simple vocals to convey a pleasant, childish and carefree style, the soundtrack has been completely modernised and is an absolute pleasure to listen to.

The music for the first level, Mt. Eternal.

Interestingly, some parts of the game retain the chiptune audio aesthetic. Most boss fights and intense moments revert to traditional chiptunes with a modern touch of drum and bass added. It’s a nice homage to the original music, and contrasts with the lighter, more upbeat sound of the overworld.

So what’s new?

Of course some quality of life changes are needed for a 35 year old game – we’ve all become accustomed to things like save files, extra options, and accessibility over the last few decades. Thankfully there have been a number of changes in DX to bring Alex Kidd into the modern era.

Firstly, the option of infinite lives is available from the very beginning, a necessary feature for the vast majority of those wanting to complete the game. I tried several times to play without this turned on, but found myself needing to resort to it in order to progress through many difficult areas. It’s a lifeline that makes the game overall much more enjoyable. Each level also has numerous checkpoints and a save system whereby you can easily drop back in to the level where you’d left off, a luxury that was not available in the original for obvious reasons.

As mentioned above, the graphics can be reverted back to the original at any time with the press of a button, and though there’s no real gameplay advantage to this, it’s a nice touch for those who might have grown up playing the original. Once completing the game in full too, you’ll also unlock Classic Mode which is as close to playing the game on a Master System as you’ll get without blowing the dust off an old cartridge. Though strangely I feel like the controls in classic mode are more precise than DX.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that Merge Games have done a truly brilliant job in modernising this classic SEGA game and bringing it into the hands of a new generation of gamers. While those who played it all those years ago are bound to get a nostalgia kick out of DX, the decades I’ve spent playing polished platformers have spoiled me and as such there were many aspects of Alex Kidd’s gameplay that felt imprecise and tedious. Luckily, other aspects of the game such as its beautiful pixel art visuals and upbeat, rearranged soundtrack kept me hooked until the very end. While it’s not a perfect game, it’s a passion project that’s clearly been made with love for a game that is near and dear to those who grew up playing it.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve played the original and have nostalgia for it.
  • Gorgeous pixel art makes your eyes happy.
  • You’re always up for a challenge.
  • Need some upbeat music? Kidd’s got you covered.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Slippery, imprecise controls often become frustrating.
  • Feels unfairly difficult at times.
  • Many other better side-scrolling platformers available.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights Review (PC)

I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain (of death)?

Love it or hate it (and many do hate it!), the word “Metroidvania” is one that has become widely used across the videogame community. An amalgam of Metroid and Castlevania, this portmanteau describes a specific sub-genre of action/adventure videogames that feature 2D platforming, role-playing game elements, and vast interconnected locales that promote exploration and backtracking. Popularised by iconic genre-defining games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this style of gameplay has since become a staple of many modern games within the indie scene.

Though the origins of the genre arose in the ’80/90s, this group of games is now more popular than ever. Indie titles over the last decade have solidified the Metroidvania (sorry, I’ll stop using that word now) as one of the most prominent and admired: games like Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge, Dead Cells, Guacamelee!, and Ori and the Blind Forest just to name a few. Any self-respecting indie studio nowadays seems intent on releasing a game to compete with the ranks of these celebrated titles. And just when I thought I had seen them all, I discovered the most engrossing action/adventure game I’d encountered since I delved into Hallownest

Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights, published by Binary Haze Interactive, a new player in the indie scene, is a dark fantasy 2D action RPG releasing on PC, Nintendo Switch this month, and Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PS4 and PS5 later this year. At first glance this might just seem like another gloomy, gothic adventure inspired by the likes of those that have preceded it, but assuming that would be grossly underestimating the experience on offer in Ender Lilies. So how does a game so clearly inspired by others hold up against the source material, or sometimes even surpass it? Well, it’s time to dive into End’s Kingdom and the endless deluge that awaits…

Plot

In Land’s End lies a fragile young girl, lost and alone; a White Priestess awakens to discover the entire Kingdom has fallen and its inhabitants now afflicted and corrupted by a fowl Blight that has scoured the entire land. Greeted with the muted, soothing sounds of raindrops, the Priestess ventures further into a ruined cathedral to discover a downpour inundating and infecting all those that it touches: the Rain of Death. Though not truly alone in this ruined world, the Priestess is accompanied by the soul of one who in life strived to protect her, a valiant knight whose spirit joins her on this journey to unravel the mysteries that await.

It is the task of the lone Priestess to explore the source of the Blight, face those who have suffered from the ceaseless rain, and purify their souls so that they may find peace. Through the act of purification, the foes whom she faces may be redeemed and join her side to aide her quest. In the style of the Souls games, snippets of story are pieces together through character dialogue, depictions, and discarded notes that lay amongst the dilapidated ruins. What initially seems like a cliché gothic storybook evolves into an engrossing, entrancing setting that simply begs to be explored.

Gameplay

If you’ve ever played one of the games that belongs to this sub-genre, you’ll feel immediately familiar with the gameplay of Ender Lilies. Exploring an intricate, sprawling map with distinct locales, environmental puzzles and littered with secrets and collectibles feels as thrilling as the first time I ever played Symphony of the Night. Before you awaits a corrupted world divided into regions each featuring unique enemies, bosses, and blighted to purify, and feels as through you’re stepping into a 2D Kingdom of Lordran. In a style of game with such a heavy emphasis on platforming, the controls during running, jumping and dashing feel like second nature, and both the character and enemies have a distinct weight and momentum to their movement.

Google Maps isn’t going to help you here.

Throughout the Kingdom you’ll encounter the discarded corpses of those who have succumbed to the blight – some of whom may take you unaware in ambush, or others that lay menacingly in wait the end of foreboding arenas and hallways. Defeating these foes will allow the Priestess to purify them, and in turn their spirit will fight by your side. Collecting these souls will expand your repertoire of skills, adding elements like a double jump, dash, swimming, ground slam, all elements that will help unlock new areas that were previously inaccessible. It’s typical action/adventure fare that offers a means of player progress, but executed cleverly in a way this does not seem dry or uninspired.

Taking a moment to rest.

With systems that feel akin to Hollow Knight, the player may pause at benches and swap their equipped souls to ones that are more suited to particular area. Treasured trinkets may also be gathered on your adventures and equipped to enhance your abilities, though these will take up equipment slots that may be expanded by discovering necklaces scattered throughout the Kingdom. In another similarity, the player’s health can be restored by pausing in a solemn moment of prayer, which is useful when exploring but leaves the Priestess vulnerable. Prayers can be replenished not through combat, but by discovering white lilies that grow in even the most horrid, desolate environments.

Combat

It is truly difficult to put into words the flowing combat of Ender Lilies, which is some of the most responsive, intuitive, and enjoyable combat available in a game of this genre. What initially feels slow and awkward becomes a fluid combination of attacks, skills, dodges, and special moves that are easy to learn but difficult to master. An almost infinite repository of combat skills and attacks are on offer thanks to the spirits the Priestess purifies throughout the game, each of whom adds a new weapon to the arsenal. Whether you’re a player who prefers a swift onslaught of attacks, keeping your distance through ranged attacks, or a barrage of slow-but-heavy destructive moves, the combat can be customised to suit your liking.

If you want to survive in the blighted Kingdom, you’ll need to be observant, as each enemy has a distinct set of choreographed moves with tells that will alert the keen eye to the next incoming attack. By watching the movements you’ll be able to perform carefully-timed dodges and parries, allowing you to quickly counter and break the enemy. This becomes even more important through the inclusion of a stamina/stagger meter, which can be depleted through steady attacks on an enemy, leaving them wide open. Chaining together a series of uninterrupted attacks to tear down the stagger and then the health bar of a difficult boss is the ultimate feeling of satisfaction.

Wait a sec, I didn’t think this was a bullet hell game?

Although the environments and regular enemies can at times pose quite a challenge (especially when you are locked into arenas where blighted knights must be defeated before progressing), it is the game’s bosses that capture the true essence of Ender Lilies’ combat. The sheer variety of bosses and the skill required will put even seasoned players to the test, especially when the boss you thought you had just defeated transforms into a gargantuan, disgusting Eldritch abomination with twice as much health. There is no doubt that many of the foes you face will require numerous attempts, but the inevitable defeat of a boss is an experience that will have your heart racing by the end of the encounter.

Visuals

Combining the magnificent and the macabre, I do not exaggerate when I say that Ender Lilies is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous games I have encountered thanks to its detailed and distinct environmental art. While obvious nods to the likes of Castlevania and Hollow Knight appear throughout the Priestess’ journey, such as resting and saving at distinct benches scattered throughout the Kingdom, the game manages to create a truly beautiful, gothic-inspired art-style unlike any other game I’ve played. Each new region presents with it a unique visual aesthetic, while maintaining the overall art-style of the game which feels like playing a morbid fairy-tale.

Detailed environments, while bleak, are a pleasure to look at.

The visuals are at their best when elements of beauty can be found within even the darkest, most grotesque settings. While standing upon a mound of skulls, a serene light engulfs the scene and washes over the character. A darkened and lonely bedroom offers a brief respite and moment of comfort in an otherwise violent and dreadful deserted castle. Colossal cathedrals loom in the background and frame the boss fight occurring in the foreground – you’ll often be distracted to admire the sheer detail within all of these environments. Though enough of me trying to explain how beautiful the game can be, here’s some screenshots that speak more than words:

Audio

The music to Ender Lilies has been composed entirely by Japanese indie group, Mili, who have created songs that feature in anime like Goblin Slayer and Ghost in the Shell and rhythm games like Cytus and DEEMO. Few words are more fitting when describing the music of Ender Lilies than melancholy. The game’s sombre sounds of solo piano and haunting ethereal vocals echo throughout its disturbing environments, and sound as though they offer a fleeting glimmer of hope amongst the dark and daunting world. Songs will vary considerably based on your surroundings – heavy rain in open areas will dampen the track and remove its vocals, whereas the same song played indoors will be calming and detailed, adding extra layers of audio that were not previously present.

The theme of The White Parish area.

Overall the soundtrack features 50 tracks and a colossal 144 minutes of music, which is a massive amount for an indie game. There’s a lot to love about the music to Ender Lilies and I’ll likely be listening to it for weeks to months to come.

It’s also worth noting that the person responsible for the game’s sound effects is Keichi Sugiyama, who you might not know by name, but you’ll certainly recognise the games he is responsible, notably Rez, Daytona USA, and Rule of Rose. His experience in sound design is certainly reflected in the quality of the game’s audio, particularly in its frequent use of rain, water, and numerous audio cues that add to the overall experience.

Conclusion

Combining a bleak yet entrancing world with expansive exploration and seriously satisfying combat makes Ender Lilies one of the best in the genre, and in ways surpasses the games that have inspired it. Every moment throughout its 10 – 15 hour journey is captivating to say the least, and the game has taken me completely by surprise in what I can comfortably say has been one of the finest games I’ve played so far this year. If you consider yourself a fan of games like Symphony of the Night and Hollow Knight, you would be doing yourself an absolute disservice by not playing Ender Lilies. This is a game you must play.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’d consider yourself a fan of games in this genre.
  • Challenging and satisfying combat that never feels unfair.
  • Truly gorgeous art style, environments and soundtrack.
  • Interesting world that is intriguing to explore.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • You struggle with challenging combat and swift dodging.
  • Not a fan of platforming games.

A review code on PC was provided for the purpose of this review.
Find out more about Ender Lilies here: https://www.enderlilies.com/

Shantae (GameBoy Colour) Review: Nintendo Switch

How does the Half-Genie Hero’s debut hold up after almost 20 years?

WayForward, an independent videogame developer and publisher based in California, have certainly made reputation for themselves over the last decade. Though the company was founded in 1990, it’s not been until the last decade that they’ve become a common household name. Memorable titles like Ducktales: Remastered, Aliens: Infestation, and most recently River City Girls have well and truly proven the studio’s knack for creating modern side-scrolling games and keeping this retro genre alive.

River City Girls Nintendo Switch
Kyoko and Misako fight for their boyfriends in River City Girls (2019)

However, one WayForward series stands hips and shoulders above the rest. I’m of course talking about the entrancing, belly-dancing, eponymous Half-Genie Hero: Shantae. Conceptualised in the mid-’90s during the boom of Nintendo’s killer handheld, the Gameboy, it wasn’t until the end of the console’s life cycle that Shantae made her debut on the videogame stage. In a bold move, the game was developed entirely for the GameBoy Colour and released in 2002 after the launch of the GameBoy Advance, a choice that game director Matt Bozon says contributed to the game’s poor sales.

Shantae Art Nintendo Switch
Shantae’s stylish character design definitely put WayForward on the (treasure) map.

Despite its poor sales performance, the original Shantae is widely-recognised as one of the best games released for the GameBoy, and it pushed the hardware to its limit. Additionally, gaining quite a cult following, it has become one of the most valuable games on the handheld, with original boxed copies occasionally going for upwards of $3000USD. Almost 20 years since its inception, WayForward’s flagship character now boasts five separate entries and over 3 million sales across the entire series. An incredibly impressive figure for a series that initially struggled for financial success!

Shantae Gameboy Color Colour Prices
Screw BitCoin, I’m going back in time to tell myself to invest in Shantae.

Now in collaboration with Limited Run Games and Modern Vintage Gamer, WayForward have revived the original Shantae title, republished, enhanced, and ready to dance on Nintendo Switch. This means that for the first time ever, all 5 games in the series can be played on a single console! So forget about taking out a personal loan to secure a copy of the original Shantae, because for a mere $10 it’s time to step back in time to one of the best GameBoy Colour games ever made.

Shantae Dancing Sprite Gif

Plot

Scuttle Town is a peaceful abode by the sea, bordered by a vast desert and inhabited by a cast of quirky characters. It’s also home to a mystical Half-Genie who lives not in a bottle, but in a lighthouse. However, that peace is soon interrupted by the nefarious lady-pirate, Risky Boots, who catches wind of a ancient technology recently unearthed in Scuttle Town: the Steam Engine. With the ability to produce an immense amount of power, Risky will stop at nothing to make this mystical invention her own, and whisks the dangerous device away for her own selfish plans.

Shantae Ret 2 Go Nintendo Switch
Shantae is always ret2-go!

As the self-appointed “Guardian Genie” of Scuttle Town, it’s up to Shantae to get Scuttle out of trouble! In order to thwart Risky’s plans, Shantae must recover the four Elemental Stones, each of which can be used to harness a unique power that can run the steam engine indefinitely. Spread out across Sequin Land and protected within ancient labyrinths, Shantae will need to uncover her hidden genie powers to obtain the mythical items and put an end to Risky’s escapades once and for all.

Gameplay

This initial entry in the series introduced a style of gameplay that has helped define all the other Shantae games that followed it. A unique blend of side-scrolling adventure, platforming, exploration and RPG elements combine with clever animal transformations making for a GameBoy experience unlike any other. I’d go so far as to say this is some of the most ambitious gameplay you’ll find on the console, and thanks to this it has aged incredibly well. The game takes place over three main areas: the overworld, dungeons, and towns, splitting the game into three distinct styles of gameplay.

Exploration: Spread across a sprawling map, there’s a vast world to explore in Sequin Land, which at times sometimes feels a bit overwhelming due to its impressive size for a GameBoy game. Each location has distinct enemies, platforming challenges, and environmental puzzles that you’ll need to overcome by using abilities that are acquired throughout the game. Using her hair as a weapon, Shantae will also need to fend off enemies spread throughout the overworld.

Shantae Overworld Gameboy color Colour Nintendo Switch

With a day-night cycle, numerous hidden collectibles, and expansive exploration, you’ll spend the majority of your time trekking the overworld in between its dungeons and towns. This can occasionally become bothersome, as the technical limitations of the GameBoy mean the screen is only capable of displaying a small portion of the area, and considering Shantae at times controls like a floating brick, you’ll often fall into obstacles that you have no way of predicting or avoiding.

Dungeons: Four major labyrinths appear during the game, each containing one of the four Elemental Stones. These are comparable to dungeons from early Zelda games, which feature a unique ability that will need to be utilised in order to progress. Through the mystical power of dance, Shantae can transform into one of four creatures: Monkey, Elephant, Spider, and Harpy. By rescuing the dungeon’s genie and unlocking a new transformation, you’ll be able to gain access to new areas and solve puzzles in order to progress. Then, at the end of each dungeon awaits a large boss that often also requires clever use of the transformation. These dungeons are entertaining, satisfying to solve, and in my opinion the overall highlight of the game.

Shantae Transformation Elephant Gif Nintendo Switch
Transforming into an elephant lets Shantae smash through obstacles.

Towns: These laid-back areas are the most entertaining aspect of Shantae, featuring colourful characters and incredibly amusing dialogue. By chatting with NPCs you’ll obtain not only snippets of information to aide Shantae on her quest, but also some legitimately hilarious conversation. Each town also contains a shop to purchase items like potions and weapons, a bath house to restore your health, a Warp Squid (for fast travel), and generally some form of optional minigame that can be played to accumulate currency. It’s a nice change of pace and some of the most unique presentation in a GameBoy game.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Color Colour Zombie Caravan Joke
The Zombie Caravan is my personal favourite and is packed full of hilarious dialogue.

Visuals

When playing Shantae, there’s one key fact to remember: this is a port of a GameBoy game. While the newer Shantae games feature gorgeous, vibrant, detailed graphics, the original somehow manages to achieve this despite the technical limitations of the hardware at the time. Character and enemy sprites and their animations are detailed, environments are colourful and packed full of detail, and the towns offer an impressive over-the-shoulder view unlike anything I’ve encountered in a game of this era.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art
The pixel art is particularly eye-catching.

WayForward managed to create a unique visual aesthetic drawing influence from both The Legend of Zelda, Aladdin, and real life Middle-Eastern Culture. This game’s visuals have formed the foundation of the series as a whole through its distinct art style and iconic character design. For players wanting to appreciate this further, there’s the inclusion of a bonus art gallery which features plenty of interesting concept art.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Art Gallery

Audio

At the time of its creation, the music of Shantae was composed by a mostly-unknown video game musician, who had actually dropped out of school to take up game music full-time. Having made soundtracks for only a handful GameBoy games, WayForward recruited the young musician and in doing so unknowingly helped create one of the most prolific VGM composers of all-time: the now legendary Jake Kaufman. Best known for his incredible music to Shovel Knight, Jake’s distinct chiptune style shines through every track of Shantae, which features many songs that have been used throughout the entire series.

Despite being a mixture of blips and bloops coming out of a Gameboy, the soundtrack has a distinct Middle-Eastern sound, as if being played by an 8-bit oud. It’s appropriate for the setting, catchy as heck, and honestly never gets old, which is important considering GameBoy tracks often have very short loops.

So what’s new?

Although the game is mostly unchanged, the Switch port makes several welcome improvements that help this near 20-year old game feel just a bit more modern. Save states are available, meaning that at any time the game can be paused and saved/loaded, which makes some frustrating areas much less tedious. I found myself not using it much, but it’s a welcome addition for those not accustomed to retro games. There are also several added visual options allowing the game to be played at a native resolution, with a sharp filter, or with an LCD screen effect layered on top.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Visuals Sharp LCD Filter
Sharp filter (left) and LCD filter (right).

The entire game now also includes the “GBA-enhanced” version, which features improved colour palettes and an additional “Tinkerbat” transformation that can be unlocked, allowing Shantae to fly. These all come as welcome additions, but do not add any massive enhancement to the overall gameplay.

Conclusion

Considering this piece of GameBoy history would have previously cost you almost $1000 to own and play legitimately, a mere $10 feels like a bargain to experience the first game in this brilliant series. Though the gameplay at times may feel clunky and frustrating to control, there is a wealth of enjoyable content in Shantae that ensure you forget any of its shortcomings. Not only is this an incredibly charming, amusing adventure introducing an iconic cast of characters, but it’s also a sheer technical marvel when you remember that it was designed solely for the GameBoy Colour. Although it might not be Shantae’s most outstanding performance, fans of the series and retro gaming alike would be foolish not to at least give this excellent Switch port a go.

Shantae Nintendo Switch Gameboy Colour Pixel Art Dancing Sprite

So, why should you play it?

  • You’re a fan of the Shantae series and want to explore its origins.
  • Retro platformers are up your alley.
  • Gorgeous pixel art and catchy chiptune soundtrack.
  • Satisfying dungeon design akin to older Zelda titles.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Dated gameplay compared to the rest of the series.
  • Controls are at times clunky and frustrating.
  • Won’t appeal to those not fond of retro games.

A review code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Announced for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch

You’re really gonna dig this game.

Strictly Limited Games brings an awesome and addictive platformer from the 80s – from legendary developer TOZAI – to PS4 and Nintendo Switch! Retro fans need to prepare themselves for a real challenge. Spelunker HD Deluxe will be available as Limited and Collector’s Edition for pre-order from Sunday, June 6th midnight (CEST) at the Strictly Limited Games Shop! The digital version for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 will follow in Q3 2021 by ININ Games. 

Dedicated retro game fans might remember the original game, which was first released for Atari 8bit computers back in 1983. Or also the PS award-winning “Spelunker HD” that was released for PS3. And now Strictly Limited Games proudly presents Spelunker HD Deluxe coming with awesome fresh graphics and a new game mode!

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

A variety of game modes and many different stages will provide players with a lot of challenges on their way to seek out the mystery that lies in the depths. All of the modes can be played as single player, but they are also supporting online multiplayer with up to six people and offline multiplayer with up to four people allowing the players to explore the caves together!

  • Adventure:
    Players can explore 100 stages by fighting and jumping their way through enemies and obstacles
  • Competition:
    The best cave explorer wins! In this mode, players can compete with their friends
  • Championship:
    The name says it all… This mode includes another 100 super-difficult, challenging stages that seek for real cave exploring experts
  • Endless Cave NEO:
    In this mode, players can compete and see how far they get in endless, randomly generated caves

Whilst exploring dark caves and avoiding getting beaten by the dangers that lurk in the depths, players can enjoy a fresh visual appeal with new 3D assets and a realistic cave atmosphere, accompanied by a catchy, memorable soundtrack. But those who prefer to keep it classic, will also get their money’s worth – the well-received “Classic Mode” that was also included in the PS3 version will still be available in Spelunker HD Deluxe. So retro fans can enjoy beautiful nostalgic pixel graphics and 8-bit sound for the original Spelunker experience like back in the early 80s.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

Players that are ready for a real challenge can get themselves an awesome limited Edition at the Strictly Limited Games Shop.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Limited Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Booklet
  • Individually Numbered

The Limited Edition is available for €29.99 and limited to 2700 copies for Nintendo Switch and 1500 copies for PlayStation 4.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Collector’s Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Collector’s Edition Box
  • Spelunker Figure
  • Glow-in-the-Dark Sticker
  • Flyer
  • Large Reversible Poster
  • Soundtrack
  • Level Guide
  • Booklet
  • Individually numbered

The Collector’s Edition is available for €59.99 and limited to 1300 copies for Nintendo Switch and 700 copies for PlayStation 4. If you’re wanting to secure a copy, before sure to keep an eye on this link for when the pre-orders go live, as they won’t last long: https://store.strictlylimitedgames.com/collections/spelunker