Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge (Wii U/3DS) Review

Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge (Wii U/3DS) Review

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Buy More amiibo!

Nintendo created amiibo, figurines of Nintendo characters that can be scanned into games to unlock features, to compete with other “toys-to-life” games such as Skylanders and Disney Infinity.  While amiibo are nice collectibles, they are rarely used in an engrossing way.  Nintendo’s first game requiring amiibo, amiibo tap: Nintendo’s Greatest Bits, was nothing more than glorified game demos.  Its second foray was Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, which merely used the figures as board game pawns.  Neither of these titles even came close to matching the thrill of competitors’ games in which scanning a toy allowed you to play as that character throughout the game.  Finally, Mini Mario & Friends amiibo Challenge arrived onto the Wii U and 3DS as a third attempt at being an amiibo-required game as well as a sequel to the long-running Mario vs. Donkey Kong series.

Gameplay

Although Mini Mario & Friends amiibo Challenge plays similarly to previous entries in the MvDK series, the catch is that this game requires amiibo to play as certain characters.  In fact, until you scan an amiibo, you can’t even get past the title screen.  Upon starting the game, you are greeted with the character whom you’ve unlocked through your amiibo.  If you use a compatible character, which includes 10 Mario and Donkey Kong series characters (sorry Wario fans!), then a robotic Mini version of him or her comes to life.  If you scan any other amiibo aside from these choices, you instead activate Mini Spek, a plain robot who doesn’t unlock any exclusive content.  Note that any version of a character’s amiibo should work.  For instance, Yarn Yoshi, Skylanders Hammer Slam Bowser, and 25th Anniversary Mario unlock their corresponding Minis.

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Use amiibo to unlock your favorite characters. Mini Mario can wall-jump!

Regardless of which character you’ve chosen, core gameplay is similar: Guide Minis to their destination using the touch screen.  The Minis move on their own, and you can’t actually control them aside from tapping them to give them a speed boost.  Instead, you control elements within the stage by touching them with your stylus.  For example, you can make platforms and walls by connecting two ends of a girder.  You can also tap objects to activate or deactivate them, which may look like rearranging springs to help bounce Minis upwards or configuring where pipes lead Minis.  Resources are limited, so you will have to deactivate some objects before you can activate others, or collect more girders/springs along the way.  Minis are always on the move, so the challenge is in solving the stage’s puzzles while ensuring that your Minis are always on a safe and correct path.  Each of the dozen base game stages introduces a new element that you must learn how to effectively use.  However, none of these core elements are novel for anyone who has played any previous game in the franchise.  The uninspired gameplay will do little to impress series veterans.

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The core game’s stages include elements familiar to series veterans, from girders to pink blocks.

Amiibo Exclusives

The real fun comes in using the special amiibo characters.  Each character (except Mini Spek) has a unique ability.  For example, Yoshi can eat enemies, Mario performs wall-jumps, Bowser can do a butt-stomp, and Bowser Jr. can travel on spikes using his Clown Car.  During normal stages, these abilities will only really help you get collectible amiibo cards.  Each card can only be collected by the character who’s pictured on it, so it’s usually obvious where you can use your special moves.  It makes these unique attributes feel like afterthoughts as opposed to true game changers, at least during the base game.  This decision is a result of requiring that any character can beat every level.  I would have liked it if they had instead implemented multiple routes, making characters stand out while still allowing completion with any character.  However, this game instead opts to present a simpler stage layout with one equally accessible path.  Besides gathering cards, amiibo characters can also go through doors with their picture displayed.  These doors take you to the most exciting part of the game, the exclusive character worlds.

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A view of the world map – Notice the themed character worlds.

Each door takes a character to a set of four levels that only he or she can enter.  Although these levels are gated off unless you have certain amiibo, they lead to the most entertaining moments in the game.  These exclusive stages incorporate characters’ abilities more seamlessly than in regular levels.  Not only that, but each exclusive world introduces brand new stage elements that are only found within its 4 levels.  These new features are fresh and exciting, changing up gameplay drastically.  They also fit within the world’s theme, usually referencing the character and the games they hail from.  For instance, Yoshi’s (Island) World has eggs that can be fired and ricocheted off walls, Luigi’s (Mansion) World includes Boos and blocks that can be made transparent by lighting or blowing out candles, and Rosalina’s (Galaxy) World features Pull Stars that bring her into their gravitational pulls when activated.  Even Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong borrow mechanics from the Donkey Kong Country series such as Blast Barrels and Mine Carts.  Each stage builds upon its own mechanics as well as the elements established in the base game for some of the most clever gameplay seen in the series yet.  Although I’m not the biggest fan of Minis games, I had genuine fun learning these new mechanics and integrating them with characters’ abilities.

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Mini Luigi’s stages have a Luigi’s Mansion theme, featuring Boos and candles.

All of this fun comes at a price, however.  Although the game is technically free-to-download, you must have the appropriate amiibo to play with particular characters.  One Mario series character will unlock a dozen levels in the base game as well as his or her exclusive world.  After beating everything, you technically don’t need to enter any level you’ve previously completed aside from collecting amiibo cards and going through character-specific doorways.  This means that each amiibo from here on out will only unlock 4 levels.  Although they’re fun levels, the low amount of content you unlock with each figure hardly justifies their purchase.  Additionally, you have to manually scan in an amiibo every time you want to switch characters.  This tedious action prevents you from just borrowing an amiibo to unlock stages once.  You essentially have to own the amiibo or persuade an extremely nice collector to lend you their precious figurines.   This makes the price to value ratio utterly ridiculous considering how expensive they can get.

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Even Blast Barrels from the Donkey Kong Country series make an appearance here!

It would have been preferable if this game had a standard eShop price that included all levels.  At the very least, it would have been nice if the base game was included as a free-to-play demo with amiibo unlocking the more interesting features.  As it stands, this game is simply not accessible for many people who don’t have the required amiibo, which is a shame considering how entertaining it can be.

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Mini Toad’s levels feature mushroom springs. Time for adventure!

Graphics and Sound

The game has a simple 2D artstyle that looks very similar to previous MvDK games.  In fact, this game doesn’t look that much nicer than its DS entries.  Both Wii U and 3DS versions have similar graphics with Wii U producing only slightly better graphics.  In both versions, you can see the whole screen on the top screen (or TV in Wii U’s case), but it can end up looking very tiny depending on how big the stage is.

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A view of the TV screen on the Wii U version – The aesthetics of each level resemble the source material, in this case, Super Mario Galaxy.

The music is similar to previous affairs as well, with reused tunes making up the base game’s soundtrack.  The real treat lies in the character exclusive stages, where remixes of popular songs play from Super Mario Bros. 2, Luigi’s Mansion, Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong Country, and other Mario series games.  Sound effects are all appropriate as well, with plenty of mechanic and robotic noises.

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Hear remixes of your favorite tunes, including Peach’s Castle from Super Mario 64!

Replayability

The base game, not taking into account amiibo exclusive stages, is only about an hour or two long.  Each character-exclusive world adds another 20-30 minutes or so to the overall time.  Stages are meant to be replayed for high scores and gold trophies, which ask players to collect all the coins and beat the stage in the fastest possible time.  You will have to revisit stages with certain characters to collect amiibo cards to get 100%.  Depending on how many of these cards you collect, you may also find some hidden bonuses that extend the life of this game and utilize the exclusive stage mechanics in even more novel ways.  Overall, this game is fairly short, even with every stage unlocked.

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See you at the goal!

Conclusion

Mini Mario & Friends amiibo Challenge is an interesting amiibo-requiring installment that ultimately fails to live up to fans’ expectations of what an “amiibo game” should be.  As its most positive aspect, the stages that amiibo characters unlock contain some of the most engaging mechanics seen in any Mario vs. Donkey Kong game.  However, as fun as the exclusive stages are, this experience is hardly in the same domain as games like Skylanders that truly incorporate its toys in a compelling way.  Instead, this game is merely pay-walled by these pricey figures yet offers so little in return.  If you don’t have any amiibo, there’s no need to even download this game.  If you have at least one of the amiibo, you can play the simple base game, more so if you have a compatible character.  However, getting more figurines for this game alone is hardly a justifiable purchase.  Those who already have a complete compatible bundle of amiibo will find a decently fun game that acts as more of a bonus for having such a hefty collection.

Score: 6.5/10

What are your thoughts on Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge?  What do you think about the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series in general?  How do you feel about this game requiring amiibo?  What are your thoughts on amiibo and what should Nintendo do with them?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Note: The copies used for this review were the Wii U and 3DS versions.  Every compatible amiibo was used for this review.

Fire Emblem Fates (3DS) Review

Fire Emblem Fates (3DS) Review

A Strategy Epic Worth Playing Thrice

Following the success of Fire Emblem Awakening, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems were poised to make another new installment in the turn-based strategy RPG series.  The question was what direction to take the next game.  They could either continue the more casual-friendly Awakening style of gameplay, or they could bring the series back to its more difficult roots found in its classic titles.  In a stroke of genius, Intelligent Systems came up with creating two full-length games, presenting different gameplay styles and telling two sides of the same story.  They did not stop there, eventually offering a third campaign as DLC intended to finish the story.  The end result is a game spanning three 40-hour journeys, gameplay that appeals to a variety of players, and an experience worth playing thrice.

Story

Fire Emblem is a series that is typically story- and character-driven, and Fates provides a compelling tale that is broken up throughout its three installments.  You play as an avatar character, who will be referred to here as Corrin.  Corrin, a noble of the Nohr family, finds himself in rival nation Hoshido following a mission.  There, he discovers that he is actually blood-related to the Hoshidans and that his adoptive father, King Garon, is not all that he seems.  He quickly gets involved in an incident that sets up the greater war, in which he encounters the Nohrian royal family, who are his siblings.  This leads to the pivotal game-changing moment in which Corrin must choose between his blood-related siblings of Hoshido, or the Nohrian family that he has grown up with.  This singular choice is the branching point that leads to the path of Birthright (Hoshido), Conquest (Nohr), or Revelation (siding with neither).

Fire Emblem Fates Corrin
When (s)he’s not busy smashing, Corrin is taking part in strategy RPGs.

As interesting as the premise is, the ensuing story falls flat through much of the actual game.  The overall plot is split into these three games, ensuring that you only get bits and pieces from each.  The payoff is huge if you play all three since everything fits together in such a neat package.  However, just playing one game means you are shut out from major plot elements.  In fact, Revelation, which is only recommended after you have played through both Birthright and Conquest, lives up to its name and offers a lot of exposition that brings clarity to the previous two games.  Each individual game also feels a little sluggish as a result of this thre-way split.  For most of each game, the cutscenes merely serve as explanations of why you are fighting a particular army.  The stories ramp up toward the end, but the whole middle of each could have almost been cut out.  From a story perspective, the game might have been better told just going through 3 shorter campaigns.  There are good gameplay reasons why this is not the case, but the story does suffer as a result.

Nevertheless, the story concept is extremely interesting to the point where it can be hard to decide which campaign to choose.  Fire Emblem Fates is a game that lives and dies, quite literally, through its characters.  This game is filled with plenty of interesting characters, from the lovable royals of each family to the humorous and quirky units who join you along the way.  Even Corrin, who is supposed to act as your avatar, is one of the most vocal, active members of the party.  Adjacent units participate in support conversations, adding to the characterization of your units and providing humorous banter throughout.

For a closer look at each individual story, it is now your turn to choose a side.  Will you choose Hoshido (Birthright), Nohr (Conquest), or neither (Revelation)?

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Hoshido or Nohr?  The choice is yours.

Birthright

In Birthright, you are choosing the side that is clearly “the good guys,” so this story is relatively easy to grasp.  That said, most of the game is just a romp towards Nohr.  There is even some backtracking towards Hoshido that reveals how difficult it is to make 1 world encompass 3 different stories.  Overall, this is a satisfying stand-alone story that could easily serve as an anime plotline.  The characters are decent, for the most part, but not as fun as their Nohrian counterparts.  Some standout characters include your Hoshidan brothers, and what is essentially a carbon copy of Awakening’s Tharja.

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Will you choose the family you were born into?

Conquest

Siding with Nohr is the more interesting option in theory.  After all, choosing the “bad” side is unique.  In addition, the Nohrian royals with whom you grew up are actually fun, nice people, despite it all.  However, the story stumbles in execution, leading to a Corrin who continuously makes poor decisions and doesn’t know what to do with himself.  Most of the story is told in a mission structure, with Corrin reluctantly accepting King Garon’s orders to invade neighboring tribes.  Luckily, the characters more than make up for it, with Conquest having the more interesting and quirky party members.  A superhero, a gentle giant, and a two-faced money grubbing woman are among your ranks.

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Will you choose the family you grew up with?

Revelation

Revelation is the most engaging storyline, provided you’ve played both Birthright and Conquest.  While all 3 stories harbor pieces of the puzzle, Revelation contains the majority of truths that will help you appreciate everything you’ve played and entice you to reach the conclusion.  Many of the truths reference the other 2 games, so their worth depends on your commitment to playing all three.  Nevertheless, its story is certainly the most engaging, and little time is wasted.  Character-wise, you will have a much larger selection to choose from.  Without spoiling anything, Revelation is the one that feels most complete.

Gameplay

Maps and Battles

The gameplay for Fire Emblem Fates is tried-and-true turn-based strategy, which has worked well for the series thus far.  In all three games, the aim is the same – take turns moving your units around the map to battle enemy units.  You must carefully plan out your turns and decide what each character should do.  Will you go on the offensive and try to take enemies down quickly or will you stick to the defensive and have opponents come to you?  The maps are all grid-based, so you can clearly tell how far each character can move and how close opposing units are.  Special bonuses can also be activated in a couple of ways.  Pairing two characters up as one combined unit gives you defensive boosts.  Alternatively, you can have characters remain separate but stick close together, and they will fight alongside each other when engaged in battle.  A new element in Fates, called Dragon Vein, allows certain characters to activate special powers when standing on a particular insignia on the map.  Dragon Vein powers can change the course of the battle in a variety of ways, such as filling rivers to make them impassable, directing lava flow to block your foes, or raising and lowering platforms.  All of these mechanics come together to make traversing each map an elaborate game of chess.

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All of your units are arranged on a grid.

When two units are next to each other, they can battle.  Skirmishes are typically one-round fights in which one character initiates the attack, then the other counterattacks.  If a unit loses all of its HP, he or she dies.  In the Fire Emblem series, there is a mechanic known as permadeath in which any character who dies is permanently removed from the rest of the game.  There are easier modes that take this feature away, but classic mode retains it, leading to higher stakes and more frustration should a character meet an untimely end.  Although permadeath is very stressful, it is definitely to be respected, as it can make players more invested in the characters they love.  Losing characters along the way is painful, but it makes victory that much sweeter.

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When you engage in battle, the perspective switches to a more dynamic view.

Each battle has multiple factors that determine its final outcome.  For one, each unit’s stats are important to consider, as faster characters may be able to hit twice while inaccurate characters may miss.  Strength can also depend on a character’s weapons.  As in past Fire Emblem games, there is a rock-paper-scissors-like weapon triangle that gives one type of weapon an advantage over another.  For example, swords trump axes and axes beat lances, which in turn beat swords.  In this installment, magic, bows, and hidden weapons (such as shuriken) also factor into the effectiveness chart.  As a result, the expanded triangle becomes a little too confusing.  Despite this, it does give more importance to these other weapon types and mixes up the usual strategies.  A big change to weapons is a welcome one: you can now use the same weapon over and over again without fear of them breaking.  Eliminating this minor inconvenience complements the other new change of weapons: providing different bonuses or detriments depending on rank.  For instance, some higher-ranked weapons are stronger but will lower your stats, while lower-ranked weapons actually raise your stats.  Since weapons don’t break, you can now carry one of each type of weapon (as opposed to having to carry multiples of the same weapon out of fear that it may break).  These alterations to the battle system make the overall gameplay a little easier and are overall welcome additions.

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There is quite a bit to keep in mind when initiating a fight, like weapon advantage.

Units

As stated in the story section, Fire Emblem lives through its characters, and your army is filled with a variety of fun units.  All of them have predetermined classes that affect their stat growth, skills, and equippable weapons.  For example, cavaliers are strong attackers who use swords and lances on horseback, while archers are bow-wielding powerhouses who can only attack from a distance.  The variety of units allows each one to have a wholly different role on the battlefield.  The fun is in learning how to maximize each unit’s potential.  Units can be promoted at any point between level 10 and 20 (20 being the max).  Promoted units have better stats, better weapon usage, access to new skills, and the ability to gain more levels.  Of course, the beauty of Fates is that you are not required to limit units to their starting class.  Using a variety of special seals, units can switch over to other classes. They then inherit a new set of abilities while being able to keep old skills from their previous class.  Some class-exclusive skills are so useful that you may even consider changing to another class just to learn the skill, then immediately switch back with your new ability in tow.  By experimenting with classes, you can have a unique set of battlers that fit your playing style.

One of the most beloved features from Fire Emblem Awakening returns: marriage.  Most Fire Emblem games have a system in which two units who stick together, fight alongside the other, and pair up often will be able to participate in support conversations.  Certain characters can take support to the next level and actually get married (complete with cheesy and/or ridiculous proposals).  If that weren’t enough, they can also have kids, whom you can recruit for your army.  When the children first appear, they are already of age, having grown up in a magical realm of accelerated time.  Awakening has this same feature and weaves it in well into its story, whereas Fates’ explanation is contrived and leads to more questions than answers.  Regardless, the support system as a whole is an excellent way to keep players invested in the otherwise one-dimensional characters.  Each support conversation brings characterization, each marriage fosters a sense of togetherness, and each child represents a new unit customized accordingly to his or her parents.  It’s so engaging that it’s almost hard to imagine a future Fire Emblem installment without it.

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Support conversations and prospects of marriage bring the characters to life. By the way, it’s not like she likes you or anything…

Many Ways to Play

Perhaps the most notable aspect of Fates is the variant gameplay styles contained within.  There are already three different games, but there is also an additional matrix of difficulty that determines enemies’ strengths and how your units’ deaths are handled.

The first notable distinction is whether you play the game on classic mode, which includes the aforementioned permadeath, in which your units die for good when they fall in battle.  You can take it down a notch to casual mode, where units are never permanently lost, but instead come back ready for battle the following chapter.  While this mode is controversial, it is an excellent way to bring in new fans as Awakening did before it.  It is also great for Fire Emblem veterans who just honestly did not like permadeath and would reset anyway if any character unexpectedly died.  Some casual mode players may abuse the system and employ a more reckless gameplay strategy since the stakes aren’t as high.  However, for those who still play the game trying to keep everyone alive but don’t want to experience the stress and pain of losing a unit by accident, consider casual mode as a way to enjoy Fire Emblem more.  There is yet another notch below casual, phoenix mode, in which characters who die immediately revive during the next turn.  This is a little too much, but those just in it for the story or novice players may appreciate this mode.

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Try not to let anyone die!

With any of these modes, you can also choose a difficulty setting of normal, hard, or lunatic.  Higher difficulties raise enemies’ stats and aggressive power.  The best part of this is that you can combine any mode with any difficulty.  For instance, you can play casual mode with a lunatic difficulty and classic mode with normal difficulty.  Also note that you can always lower difficulties if you get stuck, but you can never raise them.

The last element of this difficulty matrix is the actual three different games themselves.  So once more, it is time to choose between Hoshido (Birthright), Nohr (Conquest), or neither (Revelation).

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The choice you make affects the entire rest of your gameplay experience.

Birthright

Birthright is most similar to Awakening, in that it skews a little easier.  Maps are simpler and missions rarely deviate from defeating the boss or routing the enemy.  In this way, it does get a little tedious, as if the game doesn’t expect too much from you.  It can still get hard with higher difficulties, but the game also allows you to grind for levels and money on extra maps.  Those who abuse the system may find a game that has become too easy, however.

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Birthright is most similar to Awakening.

Conquest

Conquest takes a page out of classic Fire Emblem and constantly puts you in difficult situations on interesting maps.  There is typically a condition for each mission that makes the game just a little harder.  Examples include turn limits, stealth segments, and wind that blows units away.  These conditions make Conquest more interesting to play.  Adding to the difficulty, you cannot grind your units in Conquest.  Since your levels and resources are limited, you must strategize even more carefully to ensure long-term victory all the way to the finale.  If you play with permadeath and lose too many of your characters, you could potentially be stuck.  This added challenge may turn off some, but will likely appease a majority of hardcore strategy fans.

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Fans of classic Fire Emblem will flock to Conquest.

Revelation

Revelation is a mix of the two.  On the one hand, there are interesting conditions in some of the battles, and on the other, you can grind to ensure that you can take them on.  The difficulty is in-between, ensuring that players who only play one and go straight to this won’t feel too estranged.  The true appeal of Revelation is the story, so those looking for an extreme in either direction of gameplay style should look elsewhere.  Those seeking the conclusion after playing both games will find a balanced campaign with a huge cast of characters.

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It’s recommended that you play through Birthright and Conquest before tackling Revelation.

My Castle

Finally, between chapters, you will be able to spend time in your own customizable castle town.  My Castle does an excellent job of increasing replayability by allowing an array of social functionality and providing a myriad of customization options.  In this mode, you can build shops, facilities, and statues wherever you want.  You are then free to use them however you want to prepare for the next battle.   Your units will be placed throughout the town so you can talk to them, give them gifts, invite them over to your place for a special scene, and raise support levels.  Other players can also visit you through online and local wireless and see your customized castle town. In addition, visitors may fight your army in your town, so setting up a perfect defense of your units and obstacles is a fun diversion in itself.  As a reward for defeating another player on their home turf, you can recruit a unit from that player’s army or buy a skill for your characters at a discount.  Finally, some additional features that come with My Castle are StreetPass functionality which invites others into your castle plaza, amiibo support that makes special guests from older Fire Emblem games recruitable units, and DLC (sold separately) that add over a dozen playable maps.

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You are free to customize your castle however you like.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics on individual maps are decent.  Your units are represented by 2D sprites and the backgrounds themselves are simple 3D backdrops.  While engaged in battle, the camera zooms in on the action no matter where you are, and presents a high quality battle scene where units perform flashy moves on each other.  They are exciting to watch and can even be viewed from different angles.  The high quality cutscenes look like they could have come out of an anime.

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“You are the ocean’s gray waves.”

The music is well-done with many exciting orchestrated pieces interspersed with atmospheric songs.  The main theme, sung by one of the characters, is used well throughout, though it can be a bit grating at times.  Full voice acting is only used during cutscenes.  Otherwise, characters say one-liners and grunt during fights and non-cutscene conversations.  While the voices are good, it would have been nice to have more of them throughout.

Playtime/Replayability

Each game alone will take about 30-40 hours.  Grinding levels and maximizing supports extend the playtime by quite a bit.  In fact, trying to perfect Revelation could take over a hundred hours due to the sheer number of characters.  When taken together as one giant playtime experience, Fire Emblem Fates is replayable at least a couple of times.  Despite each title sharing similarities, the differences in story and gameplay are compelling enough to convince a fan of the genre to play them all.  Finally, the My Castle mode itself adds to the replayability through its endless social capabilities and customization.

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Fate is in your hands.

Conclusion

Fire Emblem Fates is a worthwhile investment for fans of the turn-based strategy RPG genre.  Its three-game structure allows a variety of players to access its tale.  Fans of Awakening will enjoy Birthright, while Conquest will certainly appeal to the hardcore strategists.  Revelation is the culminating reward bestowed upon those who are ready to experience the conclusion.  Between the three games and a matrix of modes and difficulties, nearly everyone will find something that suits their playstyle.  No matter how you play, each game is filled with fun characters, solid tactics, and a tale that will leave you wanting to see what fate is ultimately in store for Corrin.

Scores:

Birthright: 8.5/10

Conquest: 9/10

Revelation: 9/10

Overall Score: 9/10

What do you think of Fire Emblem Fates?  Which version do/would you prefer: Birthright, Conquest, or Revelation?  Who are your favorite characters from either game?  Do you side with Hoshido or Nohr?  Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!

Note: The version used for this review was Fire Emblem Fates: Special Edition.

Pokémon Sun and Moon Analysis & Thoughts

Pokémon Sun and Moon Analysis & Thoughts

Information, Thoughts, & Analysis on Pokémon Sun and Moon

The Pokémon Company recently revealed a trailer for the upcoming games in the Pokémon series: Sun and Moon.  I will share my thoughts and analyses on what the trailer and official website had to offer, including information on starters, legendaries, gameplay, and region.  Please share any thoughts or excitement you may have about anything Generation VII in the comments below!

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Introducing the Pokemon Starters: Rowlet, Litten, and Popplio!

Rowlet: The Grass Starter

Rowlet is this generation’s grass starter and is actually a dual-type, Grass/Flying.  Its typing makes sense since it’s an owl Pokemon.  More notably, we haven’t seen a dual-type base starter since Bulbasaur’s Grass/Poison typing.  While this may seem to take away speculation regarding what types its evolutions will be, there has been precedence for Pokemon changing types upon evolving.  For instance, Scyther switches its secondary typing from Flying to Steel when it becomes Scizor, and Fletchling goes from Normal/Flying to Fire/Flying when it becomes Fletchinder.  I’d be fine if Rowlet remained Grass/Flying, which would hopefully make it a better version of Generation II’s Jumpluff or Generation III’s Tropius, but usable in official battles unlike the mythical legendary Pokemon Shaymin.

Rowlet
Introducing your Grass starter for Pokemon Sun and Moon, Rowlet!

The official site lists some interesting tidbits about Rowlet, likely from its Pokedex entries.  This excerpt from Rowlet’s page is particularly interesting:

Rowlet can attack without making a sound! It flies silently through the skies, drawing near to its opponent without being noticed, and then lashing out with powerful kicks. It can also attack from a distance using the razor-sharp leaves that form part of its feathers.

Pokédex entries are usually fluff entries that don’t actually describe what the Pokémon can do in game, but instead make up legends or tall tales about the Pokémon.  This entry is interesting because it makes Rowlet seem like a flying ninja.  While it’s probable that this excerpt doesn’t mean much, there is a chance that this predicts what kind of Pokemon Rowlet will evolve into, perhaps something along the lines of Greninja merged with a Sceptile and Noctowl.  Its other entry talks about it turning its head 180 degrees which further emphasizes its owl resemblance.  Rowlet actually does this as part of an animation in the trailer.  Its first Grass move, Leafage, is a brand new attack that appears to strike Pokémon with leaves, presumably made from its own feather quills.  Though this sounds like another established Grass move, Razor Leaf, the trailer shows that it more resembles several homed shots of leaves aimed towards the opponent as opposed to a barrage of leaves.  The other starter’s moves include Ember and Water Gun, which are both weaker moves with a base power of 40.  This suggests that Leafage may be the base power 40 version of Razor Leaf.

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Rowlet is too cute.

Rowlet’s name seems to be a pun of “owlet,” which is a name for a baby owl.  Its Japanese name, Mokuroh, is likely also a pun of “moku” (wood) and “fukurou” (owl).  Rowlet looks like a round baby owl with a leaf bowtie.  Although I don’t typically pick the grass starter, Rowlet might just be my first one due to its overwhelming cuteness and potential.  For fun, these are what come to mind when I look at Rowlet.

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Kikwi from Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Blathers.png
Blathers from Animal Crossing – He even has the same green bow tie!

Litten: The Fire Starter

Litten is a fire kitten starter with a black body and red whiskers, leg markings, and face markings.  It starts out as a plain Fire starter, but based on its color and general attitude, it looks like it may gain a secondary typing of Dark down the line.  This would also match the general color scheme of Pokémon like Gen II’s Houndoom and Gen IV’s Weavile.  We already have a dark wildcat in Gen V’s leopard-like Liepard but maybe we’ll see Litten evolve into a different wildcat like a dark tiger or even a liger.

Litten.png
Litten, the coolheaded Fire starter of Sun and Moon!

The official site characterizes Litten as a coolheaded Pokemon who doesn’t show its emotions.  It’s always nice to see Pokemon have such a defined personality just like with Gen V’s beloved smug grass starter, Snivy.  Litten starts with the move, Ember, which has been a common starting Fire move since Red and Blue.  The difference comes in how Litten produces fireballs, which the official site describes as flaming hairballs.  That’s right.  Litten actually licks its own fur and spits out hairballs as explosive projectiles, which is amazing.

Litten 2.png
Litten spits out fiery hairballs to attack.

Litten’s name most obviously derives from kitten, or baby cat.  The “Lit” part of its name likely refers to a fire or candle being lit.  The same “Lit” can be seen in the Fire lion cub Pokémon’s name, Litleo.  Litten’s Japanese name, Nyabby, also fits well.  “Nya” is the Japanese onomatopoeia for “Meow,” and can also be seen in Meowth’s Japanese name, “Nyasu.”  The “by” part of Nyabby’s name might be a pun off of the Japanese character (kanji) for fire 火.  Although that character is more commonly pronounced “hi,” it is changed to “bi” when following certain vowel sounds.  Finally, Nyabby rhymes with tabby, which is a breed of cat.

Its attitude and overall coolness makes Litten a good choice for a Fire starter.  I tend to lean towards the Fire starter ever since Charmander, and I’m glad that Litten doesn’t disappoint (as far as we know, right Fennekin?).  Litten reminds me of the following:

Grumpy Cat
Grumpy Cat, whose author I was recently able to meet!
Salem
Salem, from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, is also a dark cat with attitude.

Popplio: The Water Starter

Popplio, the sea lion Pokémon, is Generation VII’s water starter.  Its playful appearance, red clown nose, and jester-like neck suggest that it identifies itself with the circus or a water show like at a zoo or Sea World.  Its base form is a Water-type, but it may gain an ice-type for its final evolution, just like the other sea lion Pokémon, Gen I’s Dewgong.  It is also similar to Gen III’s Sealeo, who is a Water/Ice type Pokémon that evolves into Walrein.  Dewgong and Walrein resemble dugongs and walruses respectively, so maybe Popplio’s final form could be a dolphin?  In all 20 years of Pokémon, we have not yet seen an actual dolphin Pokémon, so this starter could become a series first.  Sure, it has whiskers, but even baby dolphins have whiskers on their upper jaws that fall off following birth.  Of course, it may just become another sea lion just as its Pokédex classification indicates.

Popplio
Popplio, the playful water starter!

Regardless of what kind of animal it resembles, Popplio is definitely a creature of the stage.  The official site states that Popplio can “snort out balloons made of water.”  It can then use the “elasticity of its balloons to perform acrobatic stunts and jumps.”  Even its image shows Popplio as a performer.  If this were Gen III or IV, it could have taken part in one of its renowned Pokémon Contests.  Perhaps Pokémon Contests may even return in Gen VII with Popplio being one of its big stars.  Popplio’s playful nature suggests that looks and style may have a role to play in some form.  Its first move is Water Gun, though I wonder if its bubble balloon technique could be the foundation of a brand new signature move.

Popplio 2
Popplio is like a circus performer that you’d find in an aquarium show.

Popplio seems to be a combination of pop and (sea) lion, referring to both its bubble ability as well as its classification.  Bulbagarden notes that “lio” may also come from Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, Hawaiian for monk seal, which makes sense considering the Hawaiian-based region.  Its Japanese name, Ashimari, may come from ashika meaning sea lion and temari which are Japanese silk hand balls.  These hand balls can be played with, similarly to how Popplio plays with its balloons.  Although I’m not terribly fond of Popplio, there is hope in where its final design will lead, especially since water starters have had a recent history of having superb final evolutions, such as Greninja.  Here is what Popplio makes me think of:

Jonathan
Jonathan, the seal from Kaleido Star, an anime about the circus
Stitch
Okay, Stitch is a stretch, but maybe I’ve been influenced by the Hawaiian-based region in this game.

Legendaries: Solgaleo and Lunaala

The cover legendaries were also shown off in the trailer and the official website.  The names Solgaleo and Lunaala have not been confirmed but are heavily speculated names based on trademarks made by The Pokémon Company.  Sun’s legendary is a majestic white lion with hints of red and yellow on its mane.  The name of Solgaleo would be very fitting if true since “sol” is Latin for sun and “leo” is Latin for lion.  It resembles Gen VI’s fire lion, Pyroar.  In addition to this, the fiery background and nature of the sun imply a Fire typing at the very least for Solgaleo.  The sun emblem from the logo art appears on its forehead in the trailer.  A fire beam can be seen emanating from its forehead roughly 44 seconds into the Japanese commercial.

Legendaries.png
The cover legendaries for Pokemon Sun and Moon.  The lion Pokemon on the left may be named Solgaleo.  The bat Pokemon on the right may be named Lunaala.

Moon’s legendary is a large purple bat with two crescent wings and an upward-facing crescent moon on its head.  It resembles Noivern from the previous generation but somehow looks even more sinister.  An obvious dual-typing for this legendary would be Dark and Flying, though nothing has been said.  It looks like it generates a beam attack from its moon forehead, seen in both the trailer and commercial.  Its possible name, Lunaala, would fit since “luna” is Latin for moon and “ala” is Latin for wing.

Gameplay

The graphics during Pokémon battles look very similar to Pokémon X/Y, which is good since it had a very graphically impressive and dynamic battle style.  Outside of Pokémon battles, it seems that you will be able to move freely as opposed to the grid-based nature of previous entries in the series.  Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were grid-based but also allowed you to run anywhere if you wanted.  This seems to be an evolution of that style, perhaps taking away the grid entirely.  The camera angles are also different and employ more natural perspectives instead of a strictly bird’s eye view.  This should be exciting for those who want a Pokémon adventure that feels more like a full 3D game experience.

Pokemon Battle.png
Pokemon battles will look similar to Pokemon X and Y.
Pokemon City
Camera angles are more dynamic in this game, and hopefully unlike Lumiose City’s.

Hawaiian-Based Region

In the reveal trailer, we also get a glimpse of the new region of Alola.  The name Alola, most likely coming from Aloha – which means both “hello” and “goodbye” in Hawaiian – more or less confirms that this region is based on Hawaii.  In addition, the clothes, flora, fauna, volcanoes, and islands of the region resemble Hawaii.  My best guess of which Hawaiian island this is most like would be Oahu, which is also the most tourist-friendly island.  The volcano in the southeast might be part of Ko’olau, one of two shield volcanoes in Oahu.  The city is probably Waikiki, a well-known tourist destination most recognized for its city-like appearance and sparkling sandy beach.  The city/beach area shown on the map matches where Waikiki would be in the real world.  The big tower in the middle may then be based on Aloha Tower in Honolulu.  Also seen on the map is a tropical area just behind the big city which looks similar to what most of the rest of Oahu looks like.  If this truly is Oahu, there is likely another volcano area further to the northwest, a big surf area in the North Shore beaches, and Pearl Harbor.  I’m assuming that Pearl Harbor won’t be referenced in the game due to cultural reasons, but we’ll see.

Alola Region.png
The Alola Region resembles an island of Hawaii.

Another big sign that it is based on Hawaii comes from the Japanese commercial for Pokémon Sun and Moon.  During this sweet video, we see a young Japanese boy move to Hawaii and feel like he doesn’t belong.  That is, until he discovers the new Pokémon Sun and Moon games and makes friends with other kids through his love of Pokémon.  This beautiful commercial harkens back to the original reveal trailer for Sun and Moon in which people of many different languages and ages come together through Pokémon.  It also reminds me of the Pokémon 20th Anniversary Super Bowl Commercial in which many diverse people look towards the future and say, “I can do that.”  This, along with the worldwide push of Pokémon, seems to reflect The Pokémon Company’s recent theme of bringing people together and inspiring hope through a common interest.

Pokemon Tropical
There is a big tropical island theme in this game.

Regardless of where this region is based off of, one aspect is clear.  There will be much water.

Sun Moon Starters
Catch ’em All again on November 18, 2016!

Conclusion

Pokémon Sun and Moon looks like a solid continuation of how X and Y evolved the franchise on the 3DS.  The starters look pretty solid for the most part, and its evolutions will likely be guiding factors for the ultimate decision.  The legendaries look interesting and promote the titular sun and moon themes.  Finally, the Hawaiian region is a nice change of pace from the big city-based regions of past generations.  I’m looking forward to the advancements that this next generation will bring!  Pokémon Sun and Moon will be released worldwide for the Nintendo 3DS on November 18, 2016.

What did you think of the reveal trailer of Pokémon Sun and Moon?  Did it raise your hype for Generation VII?  Which starter Pokémon will you choose?  Which version are you going to pick up?  What do you think of the Alola region?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Source: Pokémon, Official Pokémon Youtube Channel, and Pokémon CoJP Youtube Channel