Hyrule Warriors Legends (3DS) Review

The Legendary Warriors are Back!

The original Hyrule Warriors was released on the Wii U as a Koei-Tecmo and Nintendo collaboration, developed by Team Ninja (Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive) and Omega Force (Dynasty Warriors).  Given its pedigree, this game had similar gameplay to the Warriors series, only with characters and places from the Zelda universe.  It was a fun, flashy game that served as a love letter to Zelda fans despite not being a mainline title.  A couple of years after the original’s release, the same team has ported the game to the 3DS, with the new branding of Hyrule Warriors Legends.  While bringing a Wii U game to the less powerful 3DS seems like a lofty goal, the developers do justice in carrying over its frantic hack-and-slash gameplay.  Though graphics understandably suffer through the transfer, the game makes up for it content-wise, providing nearly all the DLC from the original as well as new characters and maps.  The content is so plentiful and the new features are so game-changing that owners of the original Wii U version may want to consider double-dipping.

Story

Since this game is a port, the story is identical to the original Hyrule Warriors.  The sorceress Cia seeks to conquer Hyrule through a largely ridiculous plot that involves converging the worlds of different games from the Legend of Zelda series.  The hero, Link, must join forces with Princess Zelda, the brand-new character Lana, and heroes from other eras to stop Cia’s nefarious plan.  The story doesn’t ever get too deep during this romp through Hyrule, but it’s still an interesting way to bring the infamous Legend of Zelda timeline together.  Hyrule Warriors Legends includes DLC chapters from the original game as well as two brand-new exclusive stories: Linkle’s Tale and the Wind Waker Tale.  Linkle’s Tale is sprinkled throughout the main campaign and features Linkle, an adventurous girl who looks much like Link, but who is very much her own unique character.  The Wind Waker chapters tell its own story that includes new characters and locales from the iconic cel-shaded classic.  Neither story is very long, but both are worthwhile inclusions.

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The new Wind Waker Tale

Gameplay

Hyrule Warriors Legends is co-developed by Omega Force, creators of the Warriors games, so it should stand as no surprise that this feels very similar to that genre.  You can pick your character from a stable of beloved (and questionably beloved) Zelda characters such as Link and Impa.  The number of characters is fairly sizable, and each plays quite differently from one another.  Each character wields a weapon, for instance, Link’s Hylian Sword.  Some characters can use different weapons, essentially making them feel like alternate characters.  Characters are further customizable in a couple of ways.  Materials looted from foes can be used to create badges that improve a character’s performance on the battlefield.  Weapons can also be augmented with skills that give its wielder advantages and special abilities.

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Many characters join the battle, including Princess Zelda herself.

Controls are the same per character but lead to completely different movesets.  There are two styles of control: a button input similar to other Warriors games and another more attuned to players familiar with Zelda.  You can also customize controls however you want, which is very useful.  Either way, you can use a combination of weak and strong attacks to string together combos.  Some combos are good for taking down hordes of enemies while others excel at focusing on a single foe.  Some characters even have unique attributes such as making shields and charging up energy.  Since characters differ so much, it will take some time to master each one, which is fine considering you have to level up each warrior separately.  You can also build up a special gauge to perform powerful attacks to take down lots of enemies.  Finally, filling up the magic gauge allows you to enter Focus Spirit, a strength power-up that yields bonuses for defeating numerous foes.  The simple controls and strong attacks make you feel powerful on the battlefield.

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Take out hordes of enemies using combos!

The game usually pits you against hundreds of weak enemies, and being able to beat them all up with flashy attacks is a very fun, cathartic experience.  Unfortunately, the game is sometimes limited in how many characters it can render, leading to less enemies on the screen at once compared to the Wii U version.  This can make a difference since building up KOs is one of the requirements for A-Ranks.  A bigger problem is that sometimes enemies will be there, but their graphics or attacks won’t actually display, making it feel like a cheap invisible attack.  These problems don’t happen too often, but it can cause unnecessary frustration when they do.  In addition to mobs of weaker enemies, commanders are stronger opponents that require more hits and exploitation of weak spots.  Larger, classic bosses may appear as well to further challenge players with their strong attacks and high HP bars.  Luckily, there are subweapons like bombs and boomerangs at your disposal to gain the upper hand on these behemoths.  Taking them down feels just as good as fighting multiple weaker enemies, making for a satisfying battle experience.

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Take down big bosses with the power of teamwork.

The game is not just mindless fighting, however.  There are lots of factors to keep track of while playing.  There are main missions, side-missions, allies to save, keeps to defend, captains to defeat, and Cuccos that show up occasionally.  Many of these events occur concurrently, forcing you to multitask and determine how to most efficiently tackle the overwhelming situation.  It provides a good type of pressure that balances the cathartic eradication of enemies.  Unfortunately, the computer-controlled allies are as helpless as ever, requiring constant aid and doing little in return to support your cause.  You must always be on the alert to help them.  The map on the bottom screen is very helpful for analyzing the situation and locating the areas most in need.  This actually works better than on the Wii U version, which only had a tiny map in the corner of the TV screen as opposed to having a devoted map screen.

As you play, you will eventually gain the muscle memory to achieve management efficiency.  However, as you get better, the game may feel more tedious, especially in the Adventure Mode where multiple maps have similar objectives.  By this point, playing the game while doing something else in the background (like listening to podcasts) may become a preferred way to play.

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This game will make you feel powerful.

Modes

There are three main modes: Legend Mode, Free Mode, and Adventure Mode.  Legend Mode is the main campaign that goes through the aforementioned story.  Each chapter teaches you the mechanics as you complete numerous missions.  Free Mode allows you to play any chapter that you have already beaten.

You will likely spend the majority of your time in Adventure Mode, which lets you travel on a gigantic grid-based overworld map divided into tiles.  Each tile represents a battle in which you must complete a mission.  Adventure battles usually involve one main objective as well as defeating a stronger enemy commander.  Challenge battles change up the gameplay by engaging you in battle quizzes, enemy rushes, and keep-defense missions.  Each victory nets you battle rewards and unlocks surrounding tiles on the map.  Thanks to rewards providing instant gratification for each battle and a wonderful sense of progression from constant map unlocks, Adventure Mode can be very addictive.  You may find yourself playing “just one more” battle every time you play.

The maps hold some secrets that can be unlocked by using classic Zelda items (earned as battle rewards).  For instance, the first Adventure Map is a faithful recreation of the overworld from the first Legend of Zelda for the NES.  The same secrets hold true for this map, so using bombs on specific walls will uncover special rewards that you can earn by completing the accompanying mission.  One point of criticism for Adventure Mode is that you are occasionally gated off by A-Rank conditions which require you to get a certain number of KOs, avoid taking too much damage, and complete the mission within a time limit.  The numerical thresholds for each condition are not explicitly stated, though they are possible to figure out or look up.  Regardless, getting below a threshold of damage can be a little too challenging, as there are quite a few missions where one enemy hit will reduce your health to only a quarter heart.  This happens no matter how many heart containers you have, which makes gaining heart containers as battle rewards seem moot.  Aside from that setback, it is still incredibly enjoyable to take on each square, collecting the treasures within and unlocking the path to the final boss.

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Adventure Mode is an addictive experience filled with plentiful rewards and unlockables.

Network Links can appear via online and StreetPass, randomly taking your friends’ “Links” and placing them on an adventure mode tile that you have already beaten.  By accepting these bonus missions, you can earn valuable prizes.  The only drawback is they sometimes annoyingly appear on tiles where you have not yet earned the rewards.  Until you beat the Network Link or refresh the following day, they will be stuck there taunting you and preventing you from obtaining the original rewards from that tile.

New Features

Hyrule Warriors Legends comes with its own bells and whistles to entice veterans to come back for a second round.  Nearly all of HW’s DLC is included in the base game, which adds 3 whole adventure maps and a handful of characters (only the original’s Boss Mode DLC is left out).  To account for multiple adventure maps as opposed to the original base game’s singular one, maps have been rebalanced so that you can beat them at a lower average level, making the progression feel more steady and fair.  Brand new warriors for this release include Linkle, Skull Kid, and Wind Waker characters.  There are also a couple of novel stages based on The Wind Waker.  The characters are fun to use, but the highlight is definitely the stages, which come with its own unique challenges.  Additionally, there are new chapters for Legend Mode and a new map based on the Great Sea from Wind Waker in Adventure Mode, ensuring you never run out of things to do.

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Linkle joins the fray as a new Hyrule Warrior!

You can also now control multiple characters in battle and switch between them on the fly.  Having multiple playstyles in one battle keeps the action fresh and allows you to maintain control of different areas at the same time.  Through the new command function, you can tell other warriors to go to a certain area, then switch to them as soon as they arrive.  This essentially creates a form of warping.  It doesn’t stop there, as HWL also has a built-in warp mechanic in the form of Owl Statues.  By playing the Ocarina, you can warp to any Owl Statue you have already activated throughout the map.  These new mechanics make missions more efficient and can alleviate the stress of having to run halfway around the field.  The game responds appropriately by ramping up the amount of events that occur within a mission and occasionally gating off some of your characters, forcing you to utilize these new mechanics effectively.  Through these changes, the game somehow becomes even more fast-paced, yet just as manageable, improving the original’s gameplay twofold.

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The ability to warp using Owl Statues is a game-changer.

The other major feature, My Fairy, allows you to raise a fairy and bring it with you in battles.  Akin to a virtual pet, you can raise a fairy by dressing her up to increase her power and giving her food to raise her skills.  A fairy’s skills can be activated during battle to give you an edge, with abilities such as reviving you when you die and continuously filling your special gauge.  By using some of your magic, you can also perform a “fairy nuke,” a blast obliterating waves of enemies, even those that haven’t spawned yet.  This attack actually provides a solution to the issue that fewer onscreen enemies appear at a time.  Fairy nukes will also spawn barriers according to the elements of your fairies and may cause enemies to gradually lose HP or speed.  My Fairy can change the flow of battle, so this mode provides a lot of incentives to raise a good fairy and collect plenty of food and clothing for her.  That said, it would have been nice if the game explained this feature better.  I honestly had no clue how to raise, much less obtain, a fairy and had to figure this all out with outside help. Many players are likely to have the same difficulties.  This is a shame as it is one of the major selling points.

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Take care of your own fairy by feeding her and dressing her up.

Graphics and Sound

New 3DS: The New 3DS is fundamentally weaker than the Wii U, so it should it come as no surprise that the graphics aren’t as good.  Edges are rough and characters don’t look as clean or shiny.  Many flashy moves were removed and replaced by generic animations.  Nevertheless, it is impressive that this game still manages to run at a smooth framerate given the number of monsters that appear at once.  Any instances of slowdown are rare, unless you turn the 3D slider up.  There are occasional issues with enemies “popping in” which can affect gameplay.  In other words, the enemies are there, but some graphics don’t render in time.  As a result, you may not be able to see some enemies may get unfairly hit by seemingly invisible attacks.  This wasn’t a terribly huge problem during my playthrough, but it’s something to watch out for.  Some full motion video cutscenes even appear, albeit with less quality, than the Wii U GamePad’s screen.

Original 3DS: The original 3DS is weaker, which results in an overall slower framerate that appears to chug at times.  There is more pop-in of enemies than when playing on the New 3DS, which can make it difficult to know where enemies are.  Additionally, there is no 3D functionality, and controlling the camera is more difficult without the New 3DS’ C-nub.  All things considered, the game is still very much playable on the original.  Having played on both systems, it is much more preferable to play on the new one, but the old one shouldn’t give too much trouble aside from some stuttering.  If you only have an original 3DS, these issues are not deal breakers.

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Graphics Comparison: Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)
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Graphics Comparison: Hyrule Warriors Legends (3DS)

Sound: Most of the music consists of butt-rock versions of classic Zelda tunes from the different eras they represent.  They all sound well-remixed and fit very well with the dynamic gameplay of HWL.  Memorable jingles will occasionally play too, such as the “you uncovered a secret” and “opening a treasure chest” jingles that Zelda fans know and love.  There is no voice acting (aside from a narrator), but each character grunts and yells just like in the actual Zelda games.  They can sometimes get annoying since you hear them constantly.  Actual voice acting would have provided more immersion since dialogue text boxes appear often, but Zelda games are usually known for lacking voices, which is unfortunate.

Playtime/Replayability

This game is long.  While Legend Mode takes an average of 20 hours to complete, Adventure Mode multiplies that number nearly tenfold.  To fully complete everything in Adventure Mode can take hundreds of hours, since there are over a hundred missions in one map alone.  Then, factor in that there are 5 maps in the base game (not including the additional DLC maps sold separately).  In addition, every stage is littered with collectibles like Heart Containers, weapons, costumes, fairy food, and hidden Skulltulas.  Finally, you must achieve A-Rank on many of these missions to claim the rewards, and some missions are character-specific.  This means you will have to build a well-leveled-up stable of Hyrule Warriors to tackle this all.

As this is a 3DS port, there are some limitations affecting replayability.  Unlike the original, there is no cooperative 2-player nor any multiplayer for that matter.  This is an understandable choice but disappointing nonetheless.  Additionally, from the standpoint of someone who played a good chunk of the original version, it is unfortunate that you cannot sync the 3DS and Wii U games.  These are definitely 2 different games, so some of it wouldn’t transfer anyway, but at least being able to sync high-leveled characters (and adjusting for level caps) and powerful weapons (again adjusted for power level) would have been very welcome.  There are many like myself who put in a lot of time perfecting the Wii U version and losing all that progress can be disheartening.  Such people might not feel the urge to dive back into HWL.  For those who have never experienced HW or are willing to start over, this game has more than enough content to justify keeping it in your 3DS for months to come.

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Set forth, legendary Hyrule Warrior!

Conclusion

Hyrule Warriors Legends is a fully-featured content-rich game that has the intensely satisfying hack-and-slash action that Warriors games are known for.  Novel characters and maps will entice HW veterans, and new mechanics like switching characters and My Fairy keep skirmishes fresh.  By including all of the DLC adventure maps from the original and adding more on top of that, HWL is well-worth the value, even for veterans of the original HW.  This game is nothing short of a marathon and provides addictive, gratifying gameplay that will keep players glued to their screens.  Between the 3DS and Wii U versions, there is no perfect version.  If you want better graphics, higher performance, and a 2-player cooperative mode, then the Wii U version might be a better option.  If you want a game with a seemingly endless abundance of content that you can play on-the-go, then Hyrule Warriors Legends is an excellent choice.

Score: 8.5/10

What are your thoughts on Hyrule Warriors Legends?  How is your progress on the game so far?  Do you prefer playing the 3DS or Wii U version?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Miitomo (Mobile) Review

Welcome to the Mii Social Network

In March 2015, Nintendo announced a partnership with DeNA to bring games to mobile phones.  Miitomo is the first app to be released under this deal.  At first glance, Miitomo resembles Tomodachi Life, a 3DS game that lets you play, dress up, and interact with Nintendo’s iconic Mii avatars.  However, upon further inspection, Miitomo represents a new kind of social network that happens to utilize Miis.

Gameplay

Miis

As implied by the title, Miitomo allows you to use your Mii as your avatar.  You have a great number of ways to customize your Mii, from looks to voice to personality.  While appearance and voice serve to distinguish your Mii from others, personality equates to a small profile that is displayed for your Mii and not much else.  If your Nintendo ID is linked, you can even import your Mii.

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Start out by making your Mii.

You can dress up your Mii with a myriad of clothing options.  However, clothes cost coins, so you are always limited by how much you can afford.  As clothes are pricey and earning coins is a slow process, you will likely have to be picky with what you want to buy.  In addition to that, there is a special shop that changes its stock everyday, so you may want to save up in the hopes of finding something good.  Although it can be frustrating to come up short of affording that new cool shirt, this process works to bring you back constantly, enticing you with new gear and encouraging you to earn more coins.  For those who absolutely must have a particular clothing set, Miitomo does support in-app purchases to use real money to buy in-game coins.  Luckily, the process is so unintrusive that most people might never realize it’s there.  Unlike Tomodachi Life, you can’t customize any other aspect such as your Mii’s room, hobbies, or love interests.  Although it’s disappointing, it isn’t a big deal considering that the point of the app is the social function.

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There are lots of options for dressing up, including pirate and hot dog…

The Social Network

The real meat of this app is the social aspect.  Unlike other social networks, which are usually more freeform and allow users to talk about anything, Miitomo guides conversations with questions.  It begins with your Mii asking you questions such as “What did you do last weekend?”  Questions are usually personal, but rarely deeply revealing.  They could be thought of more as ice-breakers.  Many questions are simple and ask what your favorite foods, colors, and TV shows are.  Some are more conversational and ask about your relationships, hobbies, and jobs.  On the deeper end of the spectrum are questions that ask what has moved you deeply in life, what the difference between beauty and cuteness is, and what you would say if you could travel back in time and meet your past self.  There are unfortunately some oddly translated questions with a distinctly Japanese connotation.  For instance, there is a weird question that asks how many flowers you can see blooming in your mind’s eye.  What this question means is how many people you think you will date in your lifetime.  This is most likely not what you intended to say!

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You can sometimes see your Miis conversing too.

You can answer questions however you want, provided you stay within the fairly generous nearly 200 character limit.  Your answers could be short or detailed, serious or humorous, personal or vague.  You could even answer completely off-topic or in another language.  There are no rules dictating what you can and can’t post. In fact, unlike Nintendo’s practices when it comes to its own systems, you can say profanities and it will remain uncensored.  However, keep in mind that anyone you are friends with will be able to read your answers.  So if you are discussing your secret crush who happens to be on Miitomo, know that the conversation may take an awkward turn.

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Saying “cry” makes Miis sad

The public nature of these answers allows conversations to start between you and your friends.  Your friends can like and comment on them, similarly to other social networks.  The only difference is that in Miitomo, everyone’s Miis read aloud their own comments.  This added charm makes social media feel more real as you are not just reading comments but also listening to these quirky Mii characters respond.  Pronunciation may not always be correct, but Miis in general will say things correctly.  Miis will even emote according to what words they say.  For instance, saying “love” will cause hearts to sprout above a Mii and saying “cat” will give them a cat face.  The discussions that ensue will depend on the relationships you have and the personalities of your friends.  They can agree, debate, laugh about answers, or derail into memes and inside jokes.  One of the best conversations I’ve ever had on Miitomo sprouted from simple answers like what my favorite lyrics are to a bunch of Miis singing the Pokémon Theme Song.  Other highlights included sharing nostalgic memories of growing up with classic Nintendo systems and a bittersweet memory of leaving Japan somehow leading to a goofy conversation about how the main character of The Legend of Zelda was “Lonk.”

Fun with Friends

As with any other social network, mileage will vary depending on how often you and your friends use it and how interested you are in learning more about your friends.  To get the most out of this app, I recommend that you limit it to friends who you know in real life or at least know closely online.  Aside from answering questions, the app is also about listening to others’ answers and responding to them.  If you are not interested in your random acquaintance’s favorite type of shoes, don’t add just anyone.  You don’t get to choose what answers you get in your feed or in what order you receive them.  Miitomo will decide for you.  With a small number of close friends, you not only have to listen to fewer answers, but you are also more likely to be invested in each one.  If you had the maximum number of 1,000 Miitomo friends and only 50 of them were your actual friends, you could go a whole day without a relevant response.  In addition, you would have to sit through each question as it slowly loads and reads itself aloud.  It is possible to use candy (which are prizes for logging in daily) to access specific answers to questions.  However, instead of wasting a limited resource to hear from specific friends, it would be easier to just limit the app to those friends.  It is generally the more entertaining way to experience this so long as they use it somewhat often.  Plus, you will probably get to learn more about your friends since many of these questions do not come up in everyday conversation.  And you will probably find more enjoyment in inside jokes and personal stories.

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Real friends would care how I like my steak cooked.

As previously said, mileage will vary and not everyone has the same feelings about limiting it to personal friends.  Additionally, not everyone will have friends who will use Miitomo often or at all.  If you do enjoy hearing about people you don’t know, then you can still use Miitomo as a sort of social message board of random topics.  Miitomo could then function as a way to network, meet friends, and just spend time.  Miitomo is great in allowing you to use the social network as you see fit, whether with personal friends or an expanded world of new acquaintances.  Whatever your personal preference, Miitomo depends on the effort that people put in to keep it alive.

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You can share pictures and status updates through Miitomo.

A small criticism is that you can only add people with whom you are friends on Facebook or Twitter.  A third option is adding someone in the same room as you, but you are more likely to depend on the former two options.  This is probably Nintendo’s way of saying you really should be friends with the people you’re adding (which makes sense given the personal uncensored information shared).  However, when adding random people, giving them access to your other social network profiles allows others to see a personal side of you that you may not have wanted to share.  Considering all you wanted to do was play a social app where you answer questions, needing to be connected in this way is perhaps a bit much.  Interestingly enough, you cannot use your Nintendo Network ID or friend codes to add others, likely because people who you play with online may not be your close friends.

Miifoto

Miifoto is a fun little part of Miitomo that could have been its own separate smartphone app.  Through it, you can make photos with up to 5 Miis using any background from your phone or a set of stock photos.  You can animate your Mii, and you can also include any mix of outfits, expressions, stamps, and text in your photos.  Overlaying Miis onto real-life pictures can lead to creative and funny situations.  Being able to instantly share a Miifoto on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or via text message allows Miis to be an engaging way to share media.  The ability to create and share these silly photos is likely to be the lasting feature of this app.

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There are many fun options when making Miifotos.

Miitomo Drop

Finally, Miitomo Drop presents an alternate way to earn clothes in a pachinko-like minigame.  By using in-game tickets or coins (earned from logging in daily and answering questions), you can take a shot at dropping a Mii from a claw and hoping that it lands on a platform with the clothes you want.  The boards are tricky and filled with obstacles that try to prevent you from earning those clothes.  However, if you win, you will be treated to a limited-edition, specially themed set.  Miitomo Drop is an interesting way to collect unique prizes, but it is otherwise frustrating and not that entertaining on its own.

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Drop your friends’ Miis to win prizes!
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At least the Miis seem happy

Graphics and Sound

The graphics are simplistic and use the same Miis that you’ve seen before on other Nintendo systems.  It certainly looks acceptable for a smartphone app.  Miis are as cute as ever, expressively making faces and displaying other special reactions when saying key words.  Nevertheless, the graphics and interface are simple and user-friendly.

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Even the menu is pretty easy to navigate.

The music follows the Nintendo trend of easy-listening menu music.  While you may not even notice it while playing, there are unique tracks for different menus.  Calm tunes play as you answer questions, and a different samba song plays when a Mii is visiting your Mii’s room.  The Mii voices depend on each user’s customized settings, but they generally have the computerized voices from Tomodachi Life.  Overall, the sound design of Miitomo has that Nintendo polish that shows the care that went into this app.

Replayabiity

How often you come back to Miitomo is entirely dependent on how much you and your friends put into it.  If you put more into it and it’s reciprocated by friends, then this app will have lasting power.  If you have friends who regularly answer questions and you find them interesting, then you will have lots to look forward to every time you log in.  By continuing conversations through responding, each answer can become a new forum topic.  It can get old when questions are repeated or the app runs out of interesting questions.  Also, you may not be compelled to play for long periods at a time, but you can at least find enjoyment from breaks or lulls throughout the day.  At the very least, trying to get good outfits from the daily shops and taking silly Miifotos extends the life of this app.  Finally, by linking the game to a My Nintendo account, you can earn bonuses for doing daily missions, such as responding to comments, having answers liked by others, and changing your clothes.  These can lead to real-life prizes so playing the minimum amount daily has some worth.

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The fun and lasting value of Miitomo will depend on how much you and your friends put into it.

Conclusion

In the end, Nintendo’s first mobile game actually turned out to be a social networking app.  Luckily, it is a well-made app that adds in the charm and quirkiness of Miis.  It also guides conversation well by asking questions that are designed to break the ice and garner interest from others.  Not everyone will find use out of it, and even people who use it much at first might fizzle out after some time.  Personal enjoyment will also depend on your own interest in others and the proportion of close friends you have using Miitomo.  Although I have tried experiencing it with both close friends and random people, I realized that my best Miitomo experiences were laughing and sharing inside jokes with an inner circle of friends.  If you are able to find a good group of friends who regularly use Miitomo, then you are set to enjoy a fun app that will leave you coming back everyday!

Score: 7.5/10

How has your experience with Miitomo been?  Have you had any particularly noteworthy moments with the app?  Do you have any fun responses or MIifotos to share?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Super Mario World (SNES) Review

What a Wonderful World

In 1991, Nintendo released Super Mario World, bundled with their brand new home console, the Super Nintendo.  It was heralded as a classic and further cemented Mario as the go-to franchise for Nintendo systems.  The game brought the world of Mario into 16-bit, accompanied by polished gameplay, visuals, and sound design.  It was amazing for its generation.  Decades later, Super Mario World is still the one game that I revisit at least once a year, and that is because it has withstood the test of time.

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Decades old and still fun to play

Gameplay

Super Mario World is a platformer like the NES Mario titles that came before it.  It excels in its genre through its exemplary level design, masterful controls, fun arsenal of power-ups, and expansive overworld.  While each of these elements had already appeared in many NES games, SMW expanded on each one to fill the scope of its new console.  The added bit of Nintendo polish helps everything come together to form a fresh cohesive experience.

Level Design

Each of the 70+ levels is well-designed, continuously introducing new mechanics that teach and test players.  Despite the high amount of stages, rarely do any 2 stages feel the same.  Most mechanics only show up in 1 or 2 levels, giving each new stage a sense of surprise and excitement.  SMW does an excellent job of introducing the stage element with low risk of death, then it ramps up the difficulty and enemy placement, testing your mastery of skill.  This basic tenet of level design worked before in Super Mario Bros. 3, and is improved upon thanks to the improved hardware of the SNES.  The stages in SMW are noticeably longer than its NES predecessors which allow for more time for each individual mechanic to shine.  Mid-level checkpoints also prevent these longer stages from feeling too burdensome.  Additionally, the SNES allowed for more enemies to appear and more action to occur in every level, increasing each level’s challenge.

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Each level is a fun new challenge.

Special levels that break away from the normal ground and underground stages also give this game an added flavor.  Ghost Houses, first introduced in this game, are tricky, non-linear puzzle mazes.  These spooky stages utilize P-Switches, hidden doors, and secret blocks to trap players in its Boo-infested halls.  Unlike other more straightforward levels, players must outwit the tricks in Ghost Houses to seek a way out.  Castle levels, on the other hand, showcase some of the most challenging elements, including rotating spike balls, moving blocks, and crushing spires.  These difficult levels culminate in a boss battle with one of the Koopa Kids, nemesis Bowser’s offspring.  Although some boss fights are repeated just using different kids, there is certainly more variety in these boss encounters than in either Super Mario Bros. or SMB3.

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Seek a way out.

Super Mario World has appropriately varied degrees of difficulty.  Earlier stages are certainly simpler, while the challenge ramps up during castle levels and the last few worlds.  Thanks to power-ups, the game is approachable for less experienced gamers.  Conversely, special difficult hidden stages provide some of the hardest challenges to be found in any Mario game.  It is important to note that you cannot save anytime you want.  You are only able to save after beating special stages such as Ghost Houses and Castles, which may make the game artificially harder for some.  More experienced gamers should have no problem with this small setback.

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The Koopa Kids are back!

Each level has an exit marked by a goal gate, similar in design to goalposts in American football.  Hitting the moving gate line results in higher scores and a chance at a 1-up minigame.  However, there are also secret exits in a good number of the levels, usually denoted by a keyhole, for which you must bring a key.  The existence of secret exits provides a depth of exploration that goes beyond finding invisible blocks or hidden clouds from previous games.  These hidden keyholes yield actual tangible rewards in the form of new stages and overworld expansion.

Controls

Mario controls with masterful momentum.  When Mario moves, speeds up, jumps, and stomps on enemies, everything feels natural.  The game’s system of speed and gravity just works.  Mario feels a little lighter than in previous titles, but it is a fun gravity-defying lightness that I prefer over the heavier Mario.  The sense of momentum makes speeding through Mario an absolute thrill, making running jumps exhilarating and successful platform landings feel gratifying.  A special new move is even added to Mario’s repertoire, taking advantage of the increased button count on the SNES controller.  Mario can now spin-jump, giving him the ability to break blocks and stomp on previously untouchable enemies.  This new move, along with the responsive button inputs, makes this game control like a winner.

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Mario has to be pretty athletic to take down American footballers Chargin’ Chucks

Power-Ups

Mario’s arsenal of power-ups grows with the addition of the high-flying Cape and the lovable gluttonous dinosaur mount, Yoshi.  They join the ranks of the Super Mushroom, the Fire-Flower, and the Invincibility Starman.  While some popular SMB3 power-ups such as the Frog Suit are removed, these new power-ups are exciting and worthy successors.  The Cape replaces the Raccoon Suit of SMB3 and also introduces a more complex flight system.  Mario can soar quickly into the air and instantly nosedive back down, slamming enemies.  An additional function of the Cape allows Mario to hover in the air through careful rhythmic button presses.  This is a tricky process that some players of SMW may never fully master, but it is an interesting mechanic that potentially allows Mario to have a lot of air time.  In fact, a small criticism of the Cape is that it is possible to completely skip some levels by simply flying over everything.  To do this, you would first have to master the Cape’s controls, and then be able to fly without hitting any of the numerous obstacles.  The most skilled players will certainly be able to breeze through levels with this, but these are the same players who would be able to beat the levels anyway.  It is just an option though, and many gamers will still want to play through stages as intended to experience the excellent level design.

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Cape Mario

The green dinosaur Yoshi makes his first appearance in Super Mario World.  As the one who initially asks Mario to come save his island, Yoshi is one of the most integral characters both story- and gameplay-wise.  Unlike most power-ups, Yoshi acts as a mount, which any version of Mario can ride.  If you get hurt while on Yoshi, he merely runs away from Mario until you can safely get back on.  Because of this, it is actually quite hard to fully lose Yoshi, unless he runs into a pit.  Yoshi can eat enemies and stomp on some previously unkillable enemies.  He can also swallow specially colored Koopa shells to give himself unique powers such as spitting fireballs, pounding the ground, and flying with wings.  Yoshi makes the game substantially easier to the point where he does not even come into the more difficult Ghost Houses and Castle levels, preserving their challenge.  Regardless of how much easier Yoshi may make the game, he is still fun to use, which is what any good power-up should be.

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Yoshi is quite the versatile power-up

The strength of the power-ups lies in allowing gamers freedom in how they want to experience SMW.  Less experienced gamers can use power-ups to assist with getting through each level.  For the first time, power-ups can be stored and later used if you ever get hurt or need a boost.  Meanwhile, players who have mastered power-ups mechanics can utilize them to find new routes through levels.  Those seeking challenge can even ignore power-ups altogether.

Overworld

The overworld acts as your main hub and allows you to glance at nearly every world layout within the first hour.  Although you can see the last couple of worlds, the challenge is finding the route there.  Unlike in SMB3, you cannot see upcoming individual levels.  Rather, as you beat levels, the overworld undergoes radical changes (mountains start forming, rivers start flowing, pathways are made, etc.) that allow you to find the next level location.

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Super Mario OverWorld

Although the path through the overworld is mostly straightforward, secret exits unlock new alternate paths.  Some of these paths divert completely from the norm and take you to hidden areas. Some even allow you to skip worlds a la warp zones from the original SMB.  These secret exits and hidden shortcuts through the overworld add numerous layers of excitement.  The dynamic nature of the overworld makes it addictive to try and find every secret level just to see how it affects the world and changes your path.  There are even special block switch palaces that will alter stages themselves, filling in otherwise transparent blocks, potentially making new walkways to locate more secret exits.  The process is gratifying, which is why I am always compelled to complete every level and find every secret exit every time I play through Super Mario World.  However, that is not the only way to play.

In fact, what makes Super Mario World truly special is the fact that you can play it however you want.  All of the gameplay elements come together to make this a reality, with the open-ended design of the overworld acting as the crux that puts it all together.  It is liberating to be able to play the game in so many ways, whether playing normally, running the fastest route by finding efficient shortcuts, completing every exit, playing without power-ups, or locating the five Dragon Coin collectibles in each level.

Graphics and Sound

Sporting detailed 2D spritework and gorgeous colorful backgrounds, SMW is a beautiful game from start to finish.  This game established Mario’s 16-bit design, which is perhaps Mario’s best 2D look.  Thanks to the unique setting of Dinosaur Island, the game sets itself apart from older games, with brand new locales and enemies.  Each beautiful background is different from stage to stage, making each one feel fresh.  The artstyle is fun, with enemies providing more personality than ever before.  The new enemies particularly stand out, attacking in ways that could only be done with improved graphics of the SNES hardware.  Monty Moles dig through the ground and pop up on the surface, Chargin’ Chucks split up and charge straight at you all at once, and Banzai Bills act as gigantic bullets filling a quarter of the screen!

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A beautiful game with detailed enemies

SMW also has a classic soundtrack with a catchy, upbeat main theme.  Variations of this theme represent the majority of this soundtrack with a calm version of the theme playing during underwater levels, a faster version during exciting athletic levels, and an eerie variant in Ghost Houses.  As a nice touch, drum beats play whenever you are on Yoshi, showing the amount of Nintendo polish that was put into this game.  All the classic sound effects are represented as well, with coin and jump sounds being common.  The sound Yoshi makes is also a unique, record-scratching noise that is satisfying to hear upon landing on the green dino.

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Can you help Yoshi save Dinosaur Island?

Conclusion

Super Mario World is a content-rich game that will please players of all ages and skill levels.  First-timers may take anywhere between 5-10 hours to beat the game.  Getting every hidden exit may take longer depending on skill and ability to find the secrets.  Either way, the game is highly replayable, providing a variety of ways to play.  Novice players will enjoy the power-ups to help them through the game.  More skilled gamers will enjoy using power-ups to explore the boundaries of what can be accomplished in the game.  Speedrunners, secret hunters, and collectors will find plenty of value thanks to the rich dynamic overworld and its abundance of hidden elements.  Finally, any platforming fan will discover a wonderfully developed game with excellent level design, responsive controls, inventive power-ups, beautiful aesthetics, and hours of fun.

Score: 10/10

What do you think of Super Mario World?  Do you have any fond memories of this game?  What is your favorite 2D Mario sidescroller?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Collaboration with Miketendo64

I am happy to announce that I will be collaborating with the awesome site, Miketendo64.  Mike’s site is one of the very first blog sites I encountered since starting on WordPress, and I was very impressed by its quality Nintendo content.  My work will be published there as well as on this site, so you can still find all of my articles and reviews updated here.  I encourage you to also check out Miketendo64 for your gaming needs.  I am proud to be collaborating with such a great partner and look forward to writing more in the future!

You will also be able to find Miketendo64 as a link on my sidebar.  Please check it out!  And thank you all for your continued support of my site!

Yo-kai Watch (3DS) Review

Yo-kai is Why

In July 2013, the Yo-kai Watch franchise took Japan by storm.  Beginning with a hit 3DS game from developers of Level-5 (of Professor Layton and Inazuma Eleven fame), the series became a phenomenon.  The game was soon complemented by a hit anime series, a top-grossing movie, a trading card game, collectible medals from the game, and lots of toys and plushes in stores.  A sequel even came out a year later.  The most obvious parallel to this is the huge Pokémon craze back in the late-90s.  Level-5 is obviously hoping to cash in on the craze in the West as well.  Regardless of how the Yo-kai craze catches on, it remains clear that the first game is indeed a fun adventure.  There are clear inspirations from Pokémon in Yo-kai Watch, and it shows in the game.  However, Yo-kai Watch is also its own unique breed and does just enough to separate itself from the other monster-collecting behemoth series.

Story

The story of Yo-kai Watch plays out just like a Saturday morning cartoon.  The main character Nate (or Katie) encounters Whisper, a Yo-kai resembling a ghost butler, in the forest.  Whisper gives our hero the Yo-kai Watch, a special tool that allows its user to locate Yo-kai.  The Yo-kai are supernatural creatures that are the reasons behind ordinary people’s issues.  For instance, there are Yo-kai that force you to reveal secrets, that cause you to feel depressed, and that make you very hungry.  While it is an interesting take on folk tales and superstition, a bulk of the game feels like it is just you trying to solve these mundane problems.  You are not a superhero, nor are you trying to be the very best at something.  There are no rivals and actual villains are few and seem to come out of nowhere.  You are just there to react to odd phenomena and solve them.  As a result, it rarely feels like there is much at stake.

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It all began one day in the forest.

There are multiple chapters in the game, but they are not related to each other.  They act as episodic installments with each chapter featuring a different issue.  Due to lack of continuity, the build-up to the end feels rushed.  Likewise, while some of the individual chapters feel like complete anime episodes, some of them are 15-minute minigames that act as intermissions, making the game feel even shorter than it is.

Regardless, the game still manages to be humorous throughout.  It is not afraid to make fun of itself and make light of the silly situations.  Even if there is no epic plot or hero’s journey, the story still put a smile on my face with its zany characters, fun dialogue, and enjoyable world.  Quirkiness is the story’s greatest strength.

Yo-kai

The Yo-kai are the big draws to this game, so being familiar with them is paramount to understanding the game as a whole.  As previously discussed, Yo-kai are creatures that are behind ordinary problems.  In a sense, they may explain why some people act in certain ways.  If something is going on, there is probably a Yo-kai nearby.  However, unlike Pokémon, Yo-kai are invisible creatures that can only be seen using a special lens on the Yo-kai Watch.  This means that only the main character can see and interact with these creatures.  This is fine, because also unlike Pokémon, Yo-kai can talk.  In fact, the main Yo-kai partner, Whisper, actually serves as your chatty tutorial.  While being the only one who can see Yo-kai may seem lonely, it also invokes the feeling of discovering this special supernatural world that is exclusive to you.

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When something is awry, Yo-kai is why

The designs of Yo-kai have an inherently Japanese feel to them.  Many of them are based on actual Japanese ghosts and monsters of legend.  They still have a cartoonish feel, preventing them from looking too scary.  A good number of Yo-kai are quite cute, including one of the big mascots, the red cat Jibanyan.  Some Yo-kai are cool-looking and represent some of the more interesting parts of Japanese culture, including a foxlike creature, a kappa, and a ninja.  However, there are also a bunch of Yo-kai that are downright hideous or odd.  For instance, Tattletell is a frail, old woman; Snotsolong is a bird with enormous snot coming out of its beak, resembling a mustache; and Cheeksqueek literally has a butt for a face.  Parents, be warned: there is quite a bit of potty humor in some of the Yo-kai’s designs.

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Yo-kai battle… in the bathhouse?

There are indeed quite a few Yo-kai, and finding a good group of them to be your partners can be difficult.  There are over 200 creatures, already eclipsing the original Pokémon games’ bundle of 151.  However, some color palette swaps make up quite a few of the species.  Although the alternately colored Yo-kai have different stats, they do account for a good number, making the total Yo-kai count seem artificially high.  In addition, some Yo-kai evolve and become a stronger, bigger version of themselves. The mechanics of this will be explained in the gameplay section.

Yo-kai vary in terms of rank, element, and tribe.  Ranks go from E to S and define the relative strength of your Yo-kai.  Each Yo-kai has a specific rank, meaning that the game is very honest about how weak starting Yo-kai are compared to their higher-ranking brethren.  You will only be able to encounter lower-ranked Yo-kai in game, but you will gain the ability to find higher-ranked ones as the rank of your Yo-kai Watch goes up.  Elements are similar to types in Pokémon and include fire, ice, and lightning.  As one would expect from an element system, each element has a relative advantage and weakness. For example, fire is strong against ice but weak to water.  This adds a rock-paper-scissors factor when deciding which Yo-kai to send out.  Finally, Yo-kai belong to 1 of 8 tribes, with each tribe excelling in a different stat, such as the brave tribe consisting of strong attackers.  There is certainly a lot to look at when determining which Yo-kai to use, which means a lot of time could be spent just deciding which of these unique creatures should be on your team.

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Overall, Yo-kai are interesting and quirky, and the game itself makes fun of how some of them look.  Regardless, the unique Japanese-based monsters are appealing and likable, and do not detract from the overall package at all.

Gameplay

Upon getting your Yo-kai Watch, you are free to explore the big bustling town of Springdale.  In order to progress with the story, you must follow the objectives.  In doing so, most of the game involves sensing Yo-kai that are causing trouble, battling them, possibly befriending them, and fighting bigger bosses.  However, you are also free to explore.  Unlike other RPGs such as Pokémon, you are limited to one town. This is actually fine, as it is a huge town with plenty to do.  Each individual screen of the town is large, and you can walk into many of the buildings, alleyways, and caves.  You can also embark on a handful of sidequests asking you to investigate people’s problems and requests, usually involving pesky Yo-kai.  Having this much freedom gives the game a western-style, open-world feel.

Battling

Regardless of how you decide to spend your time in the game, you will undoubtedly spend a lot of that time battling other Yo-kai.  By using the lens on your watch, you can search for hidden Yo-kai.  Doing so engages a small minigame in which you must keep the Yo-kai in your sights for a certain amount of time.  Upon completing the minigame, you then battle the Yo-kai.

In battles, you pit three of your Yo-kai at a time against up to three opposing Yo-kai.  You do not have direct control of your Yo-kai during battles.  Instead, they fight on their own, using one of their two possible attacks against whomever they decide to target.  After each attack, Yo-kai wait a short time before automatically performing another attack.  There are no menus to choose attacks or who should attack.  A target system does allow you to have Yo-kai aim at a specific enemy.  However, what they do is completely up to them.  As a result, battles feel passive, as if running on auto-play.  It would have been nice to at least have a simple menu of the Yo-kai’s normal attacks just to give the player some semblance of control.

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A look at the Yo-kai battle screen

That being said, there are some actions you can take to influence the battle.  They all involve the touch-screen which actually has a nice, detailed user interface.  Menu options for certain actions are presented in the corners with a large wheel of Yo-kai in the center.  You can spin the Yo-kai Watch wheel to change which creatures are in front.  If a certain Yo-kai in your team of six would do better, you can spin the wheel and instantly put it on the front lines.  However, you cannot change a Yo-kai’s position in relation to those surrounding it.  When you spin a Yo-kai to the front, you also spin the Yo-kai currently in front to the back.  Three Yo-kai are always out in front, even if they have already fainted or have a status condition.  Consequently, a Yo-kai’s position on your watch matters immensely.  This makes the process of selecting and placing Yo-kai half the battle.  You may consider putting a strong attacker next to status inducers or spreading healers between each attacker to balance out your team no matter the situation.  Finally, placing two Yo-kai of the same tribe next to each other can provide a bonus significant enough to influence the battle.  The continuous switching of Yo-kai can make battles more frenetic and strategic, even if half of the strategy is being prepared pre-battle.

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You must decide which Yo-kai are currently in front.

Additionally, by building a Yo-kai’s spirit gauge, you can manually trigger a Soultimate, or special move.  In order to activate the move, you play a quick minigame that involves either tapping buttons on the screen, tracing a design, or spinning a circle on the touch screen.  These minigames give you something to do during the battle, but can get tiring, considering how often you must perform them.

Engaging in all of these battles unfortunately gets tedious, considering the auto-battle nature and constant touch-screen engagement.  Luckily, boss battles spice it up.  These bigger battles feature Yo-kai that are larger than life, requiring different strategies than simply switching in Yo-kai and performing Soultimates.  Beating them requires smart use of the target system, aiming at specific parts of the boss to trigger openings. This is reminiscent of classic Zelda bosses in which you have to figure out how to defeat them and then mash away the moment you see a weak spot. Thus, boss battles are fresh, difficult experiences that break up the slog of normal battles.

Befriending and Evolving Yo-Kai

Befriending Yo-kai is unfortunately luck-based and somewhat difficult.  In a system more similar to games like Dragon Quest Monsters, you must throw food at Yo-kai in the hopes that they will decide to join you following the battle.  This is different from the Pokémon system in which you throw Pokéballs and receive instant feedback on whether you caught it or not.  Instead, you must first defeat the Yo-kai and pray that it will approach you after the battle.  If not, you will have to engage it again in another battle, using up more food and merely leaving it to luck.  Some Yo-kai prefer different types of food, but that not easy to figure out without looking at a guide.  Completionists beware: befriending Yo-kai takes a lot of time and effort to achieve.

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Jibanyan, one of the main mascots

Some Yo-kai can evolve as well.  Methods of evolution include leveling-up and fusing with other Yo-kai or items.  Fusion is an interesting function of evolution that is not dependent on level, but can result in some possible balance issues.  Although you can only find higher-rank Yo-kai as your watch itself ranks up, you can easily synthesize two lower-ranked monsters and create monsters of a much higher rank.  Abusing this system can break the game, assuming you were lucky enough to have the right fusion materials.

Multiplayer

Unfortunately, multiplayer is lacking as there is no online mode.  While you can do battles against others locally, the auto-battle nature of this game makes the game somewhat luck-based.  Nevertheless, having multiplayer at all is a good option in this game as it gives a reason to grind all your Yo-kai, provided you have someone to play against.  The game also supports StreetPass, which actually has some good functionality.  StreetPassing others allows you to fight and possibly recruit their Yo-kai (except for the higher ranked ones), which acts like a decent mini-multiiplayer battle.

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Play with friends locally, but not online.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics look wonderful for a 3DS game.  The town is very vibrant and colorful, immersing you into its bustling world.  A lot of detail is put into each character as well.  All of the creatures are animated beautifully in an anime-style, making each Yo-kai feel lively.  Soultimates also look particularly flashy and exciting.  In addition to cutscenes using in-game assets effectively, there are also full anime cutscenes that look as if they were lifted from the show itself.

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Jibanyan’s Soultimate

The music is upbeat and fits the cartoonish tone.  Some songs have an eerie, mysterious vibe, adding to the ghoulishness of the Yo-kai.  In particular, the battle music with its catchy tune and bass is fun to listen to.  The voice acting, which matches the anime, all sound appropriate and are never annoying.

Playtime/Replayability

The main story mode takes anywhere from 20-30 hours, depending on how many sidequests you complete.  Of course, like other games in its genre, the replay value is high as you could easily spend dozens more hours trying to get all 200+ Yo-kai, completing the 100+ quests, and grinding your team’s levels.  Doing this will depend on enjoyment and commitment to the game’s mechanics, but those who enjoy it will surely find many hours of entertainment.

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The Yo-kai Watch dance from the anime

Conclusion

Yo-Kai Watch is a fresh take on the monster-collecting genre popularized by Pokémon.  There are both good and bad deviations from the competition, but it is overall a fun experience that will please those looking for something similar to Pokémon.  The Yo-kai have a Japanese appeal that may not attract everyone, but their unique quirkiness may just win western fans over.  If the battle system and befriending mechanics were improved, it would leave a more positive overall impression.  As it stands, this first iteration of Yo-kai Watch is a well-crafted, fun experience that is a great choice for younger players and something to consider for gamers who love the monster-collecting RPG genre.

Score: 7/10

What do you think of Yo-kai Watch?  Who are your favorite Yo-kai?  Do you watch the anime or collect any of the real-life Yo-kai medals?  Are you interested in the phenomenon?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!