Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy (Mobile) Review

Lady Layton Takes the Case!

The puzzle-loving Professor Layton first appeared on the Nintendo DS in 2007, where he unraveled the mystery of a curious village. Since then, Level-5 released new installments on an almost yearly basis before coming to a halt after the sixth game. At last, the time has come to pass the mantle to Katrielle Layton, the peppy daughter of the esteemed professor who has since been missing in action. Although Katrielle’s tenure launched as a budget price mobile game (with the Nintendo 3DS version coming later), Layton’s Mystery Journey is every bit a full Layton game, with a few caveats.

Check out the video version for more puzzles and accents!

Continue reading “Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy (Mobile) Review”

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Fire Emblem Heroes (Mobile) Review

Small-Scale Strategy

Hot on the heels of Super Mario Run and Miitomo, Fire Emblem Heroes is Nintendo’s third big mobile offering. The Fire Emblem franchise has come a long way to earn this spot. Though the first entry shipped on the Famicom back in 1990, the first Western release was 2003’s Fire Emblem (a.k.a. The Blazing Blade), the seventh game. Thanks to the success of Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates, the series has gained acclaim both inside and outside Japan. Fire Emblem Heroes is an attempt to capitalize on FE’s growing popularity, and it does so with simplified turn-based strategy and a costly hero-summoning system.

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No Fire Emblem crossover game would be complete without Marth.

Unlike other Fire Emblem games, FEH is light on story. Prince Alfonse and Princess Sharena of the Askr Kingdom must fight against the opposing Emblian Empire. Along the way, they visit different worlds from the series’ universe and battle their armies. Each chapter consists of the same premise: the world’s characters oppose you, then recognize your strength after you defeat them. It’s a far cry from the series’ intricate storylines and character development, which are usually what compel me to finish these games. As it is, this story is forgettable fluff. As an upside, the tale doesn’t appear to be complete as of this review, so perhaps the story could improve in updated chapters.

At least the classic turn-based strategy gameplay returns in FEH—sort of. The game’s mechanics are simplified for the mobile platform. You take turns moving your heroes on a grid to attack the opposing army’s units, just on a much smaller scale. Instead of large maps filled with dozens of enemies, FEH features two armies of four dueling on 6×8 grids. Missions end within minutes, which is perfect for the on-the-go phone gamer. Each unit is limited to two spaces of travel. Skillfully outmaneuvering enemies and navigating around map obstacles can prove tricky, especially if you’re outnumbered. Once your unit reaches an enemy, you can see how much damage each character will inflict, then decide if you wish to carry out the assault. This continues until one army is completely defeated.

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Good old strategy RPG gameplay

The iconic weapon triangle is also in full-force here. Red units (swords, red tome magic users, etc.) have an advantage over green units (axes, etc.), who outdo blue (lances, etc.), who in turn do well against red. Meanwhile, colorless units have no weaknesses or strengths. Ranged fighters, flying opponents, and enemy counterattacks are also important to consider. Essentially, the series’ core parts survived the transition to mobile.

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Multiple gigantic swords – unofficial strongest in the weapon triangle.

There are numerous missing elements from the main games, for better or for worse. Paired units? No. Support between units? Nope. Items? Nada. You can’t choose where each unit starts on the map. Even critical hits and misses are absent, though you could argue that removal of random elements is a good thing. There is one mechanic that I’m glad is gone, especially since heroes are hard to come by: the series’ notorious permanent death. If your units fall in battle, they won’t keep any experience points, but they thankfully won’t disappear forever. Between the smaller maps and the removal of certain mechanics, FEH serves its mobile audience and provides a fun, accessible entry point into the series. But in the process, the game has been stripped of the parts that made it unique. As a result, the gameplay becomes stale after the initial high.

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Here’s why Lon’qu was so desirable in the Nintendo Direct.

There are a few modes outside the main story. You can play practice maps in the Training Tower to level up your heroes or attempt a continuously changing array of Special Maps to earn rewards. In particular, the latter features some difficult challenges in which you cannot let anyone fall in battle. By far, the most interesting mode is the Arena, in which you face off against computer-controlled versions of real players’ teams. The drawback is that you’re limited to dueling three times a day. Additionally, the unbalanced power between units is quite apparent here. For instance, the character Takumi is notorious for being an overpowered bow-user who can counter at both far- and close-range. If you want to do well in the rankings, you’ll need teams that specifically counter these prevalent units. Due to these unfair advantages, winning boils down to having a strong team as opposed to playing strategically.

The difficulty is otherwise easier than traditional FE games for the most part. In Normal and Hard difficulties, the computer’s AI is somewhat predictable and lured fairly easily. Once you reach Lunatic difficulty, you may hit a wall. If your maximum level units can’t even dent your opponents’ armor, you may have no other choice but to rebuild your team. This is much easier said than done, since FEH is also a “gacha” game.

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Gacha catch ’em all!

“Gacha” refers to a game style prevalent in Japan where you pay in-game currency to receive a randomized prize. In FEH, you pay orbs to get playable units that are categorized by colors (weapon type) and stars (strength potential). When you decide to summon a hero, you are presented with five random colors. You can choose which color to summon from, but you have no control over which character or what star ranking you receive. You’ll likely want to pull someone from the highest ranking five-star pool, but they have a very low chance of appearing. Even then, not all five-star heroes are created equal. And though four-star units can be strong, they may not carry you through the toughest maps.

The problem lies in how you get the orbs. Early on, in what could be called the “honeymoon phase,” you can earn over a hundred orbs by completing story chapters. The game also offers free orbs upon daily log-in. However, aside from a few special maps and rare rewards, orbs quickly become scarce. There is one option left: you can purchase orbs with real-world money. While it’s unsurprising for the game to ask for your money, the gacha system rarely pays off. It costs five orbs for one summon, though that number goes down for subsequent summons performed in the same session. The minimum 20 orbs for a full five-hero-summoning session costs roughly US$13, and you are essentially gambling for random prizes. It’s exciting to get lucky and pull your favorite characters, but it’s frustrating when you sacrifice hard-earned orbs, only to receive mediocre units.

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Though I’m critical of the gacha system, I got pretty lucky here!

At the very least, summoning isn’t necessary to beat the game if you put some work into enhancing your own units. You can boost a unit’s strength regardless of its star ranking. By defeating enemies, your character level up their stats and skill points (SP), which can be used to upgrade weapons and learn unique game-changing skills. You even have the opportunity to unlock a unit’s potential and increase its star ranking, though the cost is astronomical. To upgrade a four-star into a five-star unit, you must pay a separate in-game currency – 20,000 feathers. Putting it in perspective, the easiest way to gain feathers is through winning in the arena, which only pays a couple thousand each week.

As if the gacha system weren’t enough, FEH has a stamina meter that just screams mobile game. You have a total of 50 stamina points, which deplete when you play a map. Your stamina continually recharges every five minutes, so early maps that cost one or two stamina won’t be a hassle. During the early honeymoon period, you can easily plow through multiple chapters of five maps each. But once you get to later chapters on higher difficulties, the game screeches to a halt. You might blow almost half of your stamina on one difficult map. If you can’t beat it within two tries, you’ll have to wait another few hours just to attempt it again.

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As maps get harder, stamina becomes an issue.

At the end of it all, despite my criticisms, the app itself is rather solid. While I’m not a fan of the gacha mechanics, FEH is admittedly cheap compared to the competition. As far as mobile games go, FEH is comparatively polished. I didn’t experience any bugs. The menus load quickly, and the user interface is intuitive. The app’s castle area is a great hub for reading announcements and talking to your friends’ heroes. Since you’ll likely be playing in short, intermittent bursts, FEH is fair in terms of using data and battery life. Though be aware that you need to be connected online to play. Completing specific missions, such as beating a certain level with a bow-user, adds replayability and offers good rewards. The game is fairly generous with items that boost your playtime, though it’s easy to hit a wall hours in. By that point, even if you stopped playing, it’s a solid several hours of a free game with traditional Fire Emblem mechanics.

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Special abilities are a treat to watch!

The visuals are eye candy, especially if you are a fan of the franchise’s anime artstyle. The designs are inconsistent due to different artists, but most of the characters’ reimaginings look good. There are multiple portraits for each character based on their attack and critical condition stances. On the map, units are represented with cute in-game spritework, and the super-deformed battle animations are appealing to the eye. The music is top-notch, borrowing from the mainline entries’ wonderful soundtracks. Finally, each character has a small repertoire of voice samples. While they sound great, get used to hearing a lot of “Ready,” “Yes,” and “On it” during a single play session.

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Settle it in Fire Emblem!

Conclusion

If you’ve always wanted to try out Fire Emblem, this free, streamlined version is a great start. You’ll probably be less inclined to gamble your money away for units if you’re not familiar with the characters. It’s a harder sell for hardcore Fire Emblem veterans who may not like the simplified strategy mechanics, unbalanced units, low pay-off summoning system, or lackluster story. To the game’s credit, the very basic strategy gameplay is still intact, and the quick skirmishes work well for phone gamers. As with Super Mario Run, Nintendo did a good job translating core tenets of Fire Emblem to the mobile market. With continual updates, Nintendo can potentially continue to improve the experience for both early adopters and newcomers.

Score: 7/10

Note: Version 1.0.0 on the iPhone was used for this review.

What are your thoughts on Fire Emblem Heroes? Are you a fan of the Fire Emblem series? Who are your favorite and most-used units? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section below! Thank you for reading!

Super Mario Run (Mobile) Review

Mario’s Mobile Marvel

When Apple held its iPhone 7 event in September 2016, nobody could have guessed that Nintendo’s own Shigeru Miyamoto would come on stage to debut a new Mario game for smartphones. While Miitomo, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Niantic’s Pokémon GO signify visible steps for Nintendo’s mobile movement, witnessing the company’s most popular mascot grace the iPhone screen is still astonishing. Yet here we are with Super Mario Run, Mario’s take on the automatic runner genre.

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Run Mario Run

If you’ve played an auto-run platformer before, you’ll understand the gameplay immediately. Mario automatically runs through the level, and you tap the screen to make him jump. You can tap multiple times to jump off walls or perform spin-jumps to give Mario extra air time. Otherwise, Mario independently chugs along on his own. Speed-altering blocks spice the game up, and unstompable deathtraps like Fire Bars prevent it from becoming a cakewalk. However, your role is simply to facilitate Mario on his tour to the flagpole. Fans of other sidescroller games may be hesitant based on that description, and their fears are merited. Super Mario Run is not a traditional Mario game in the slightest. If you go into it expecting Super Mario World, you may be disappointed. It’s better to think of it as an arcade game that utilizes traditional Mario elements to guide its direction.

As a huge 2D Mario fan, there were times when I felt that the game missed the mark. While auto-running is the main gameplay tenet, the lack of control is frustrating, especially when you want to go back and explore. There’s an option to go into a bubble to float backwards, but it uses up one of your limited “lives.” Equally disappointing is Mario’s momentum. Although you are always “running,” the pace is slower than a typical Mario title. This game doesn’t have to be Sonic fast, but the exhilarating sense of swiftness is lost here. As a result. Mario veterans may find the game a bit dull. Another unsettling discrepancy is that Mario automatically vaults over enemies when you get close. If you tap while he’s over the enemy, he stomps it and gains air. This design feels counterintuitive because you must resist the natural urge to jump before reaching an enemy.

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Wall Kicks Will Work.

You get the picture. This isn’t the traditional experience, but there is beauty to be found in the game’s unmistakable Mario elements. Negatives aside, this is a decent representation of what Mario should feel like on a controller-less platform. The jump physics are familiar and polished. Each hop feels satisfying and bouncing on baddies in succession is oh-so-gratifying. The level design is spot on for this new control style. Stages are more compact, so there’s a lot going on in each screen. There’s also a good variety of level mechanics, such as hitting P-Switches to produce a block path or navigating your way through the puzzling Ghost Houses. The game even somehow fits in vertical levels, a rarity for the auto-runner genre. Part of the series’ appeal comes from making precise movements, and Super Mario Run is all about timing. Making it unscathed through the carefully placed enemies is tougher than it seems. While I ragged on the game’s speed, I praise it for its flow. Mario must have practiced parkour because he hurdles over blocks and grabs ledges like a pro. These alterations to standard Mario mechanics show that the developers understood how to transition to automatic platforming.

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Jumping’s just as fun in an auto-run.

Just as the game ramps up, it suddenly ends. With a scant 24 levels, the main World Tour mode doesn’t last long… unless you collect the special coins. Like the series’ Star/Dragon Coins, there are five pink coins hidden in each stage. You have to search carefully and choose the correct paths to find the collectibles, which can be annoying considering you can’t go backwards (without using up a bubble). Nevertheless, collecting the coins in one run provides a great challenge, and it’s interesting to see how your gameplay changes as a result. Your reward for obtaining every coin is doing it all over again with new coin placements, and then again after that. While I would have preferred more stages to playing each one thrice, the progressively difficult coin challenges were sufficiently entertaining.

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Toad Rally (a.k.a. New Super Mario Bros. 2 VS. Mode)

Toad Rally and Kingdom Builder round out the package but aren’t as fun or developed. In Toad Rally, you “compete” against random opponents or friends to collect coins in looping versions of the levels. I use “compete” loosely because you don’t actually play in real-time. Rather, you’re playing against an AI-controlled ghost of your opponent as you would in Mario Kart’s Time Trials. When you collect a certain threshold of coins, you enter Coin Rush, a blazing event in which many more coins suddenly appear for a limited time. By chaining enemy kills and stylishly navigating the level, you also gain support from Toads who cheer you on and give you more coins. Whomever obtains the most coins by the end wins and gains Toads.

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My Kingdom is stuck in a perpetual Christmas.

Toads are important for the game’s Kingdom Builder, in which you purchase and place buildings in your custom field. Some buildings offer great bonuses, like special levels and characters with desirable abilities. However, to get facilities, you must have a certain amount of coins and Toads, so winning Toad Rallies is crucial. This sounds like a fun loop until you realize how many Toads/coins you need. It’s not exorbitant, but with only 24 levels to choose from, you’ll be grinding the same levels over and over. Mario and grinding should never mix. It’s worth noting that you need tickets from the main game to attempt Toad Rally, though it’s easy to reach the maximum 99.

The graphics are fair, to say the least, reusing assets from the New Super Mario Bros. (NSMB) series. The music, on the other hand, consists of nicely remixed tunes from NSMB, which sound well-suited for a game in constant motion. As a final note, the app requires you to be online to play. It’s a bit silly, but as long as you have a connection, you should be fine.

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Poor Goomba… Even the game’s logo hurts him.

Super Mario Run is a pleasant surprise. It thankfully lacks the microtransactions that plague other mobile affairs, and instead has a fixed, fairly low price tag. The amount of content is somewhat low but justifies the cost as long as you don’t mind playing through levels repeatedly. It’s not the Mario you grew up with, but it’s a great example on how to translate a game that still relishes in its roots. If anything, Super Mario Run shows Nintendo’s ability to adapt one of its core franchises to a new genre and platform.

Score: 7/10

Note: The iOS Version 1.0.2 was used for this review.

What are your thoughts on Super Mario Run? What would you like to see in Nintendo’s mobile games? Please share what you think in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

Pokémon GO (Mobile) Review

The World is Your Safari Zone

Pokémon GO takes the evergreen Pokémon series and converts it into an accessible and addictive mobile game. The free-to-play app has already affected the world in such a unique way, bringing millions of people outside to capture creatures using their smartphones. Interesting news headlines have emerged detailing unusual events regarding Pokémon GO’s widespread popularity. Pictures and stories of trainers’ journeys have gone viral through social media. The app has even brought people together, with players meeting up to look for Pokémon and making new friends along the way. Pokémon GO is a special breed, and the big question is what about this game makes it work.

Gameplay

The premise of Pokémon GO is simple: travel across the land, searching far and wide for creatures known as Pokémon. Pokémon GO uses a smartphone’s GPS tracking functionality to locate where you are in the real world. Your character appears on a simplified map on your screen and walks wherever you go. Based on where you are, a Pokémon may appear, which you may touch to initiate an encounter.

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Catch all your favorite Pokemon, including Pikachu!

Catching Pokémon

Unlike in the main Pokémon games, you don’t battle a Pokémon to catch it. You flick a Pokéball towards a Pokémon using a simple upward swipe. When your Pokéball lands a hit, it sucks in the Pokémon and shakes a few times. If the Pokémon does not escape from the ball, then you have successfully captured it. If it breaks out, then you can try again with another Pokéball. For those familiar with mainline Pokémon games, the most similar comparison to these mechanics is the Safari Zone, which focuses on catching rather than battling.

This simplistic system works due to its intuitiveness. While Pokémon GO doesn’t tell you what to do with the ball, it’s easy to figure out. You don’t need to deal with any menus or health meters. Just flick the ball and hope it hits. As you catch more creatures and gain experience, you can perform more options. For example, you can feed Pokémon berries and use upgraded balls to increase capture rates. You can also perform curveballs and “excellent” throws with careful technique and timing.

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Flick a Pokeball towards a Pokemon to capture it.

What truly brings the Pokémon world to life are the GPS tracking and augmented reality functions. Pokémon GO follows you in the real world, and different Pokemon appear depending on your location. Water Pokémon appear more frequently around lakes and oceans, whereas Ground Pokémon are more common in drier climates. This distribution of Pokémon makes the game feel more authentic. Trainers may find themselves seeking out new locales near and far to find rare Pokémon. A handy tracker informs you on which Pokémon are nearby and how close they are.

The location dependency’s downside is you may not find much beyond the most common creatures such as Pidgey or Rattata. In a smart move, the app rewards you for catching repeats of Pokémon. Every time you capture a Pokémon, you receive candy exclusive to that species. By amassing enough candy, you can evolve your Pokémon into stronger creatures. While some Pokémon like Pidgey take only 12 candies to evolve, a Magikarp requires a whopping 400 candies. Through this clever evolution mechanic, the developers have turned the flaw of too many repeated creatures into a strength.

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Nearby Pokemon Tracker – Water Pokemon are more common near bodies of water.

Pokémon GO also takes advantage of augmented reality (AR) by using your smartphone’s camera to superimpose the Pokémon onto real-world backdrops. You can take pictures of your AR Pokemon and share them online via social media. This small feature doesn’t affect the game and can be turned off, yet it goes such a long way in bringing Pokémon to life. With most of the original 150 Pokémon available for capture, this app will appease nostalgic fans.

Pokéstops and Microtransactions

Though you may be tempted to catch every Pokémon you see, Pokéballs are in limited supply. Running out can be devastating, especially when you see a rare creature nearby. Luckily, there are some features that make it easy to restock these commodities. One option is to travel to Pokéstops, which are located at areas of interest, such as churches, museums, and train stations. You can refill on Pokéballs and other items by spinning the medal at the Pokéstop. Although you only get a few items at a time, you can respin the Pokéstop after about five minutes.

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The cubes in the distance as well as the nearby Pokemon medal represent Pokestops.

You may also receive Pokémon eggs at Pokéstops, which you can hatch by walking a certain distance (2, 5, or 10 km). This is a smart move that encourages exercise by taking advantage of the app’s portable nature and your desire to search for Pokémon.

If you are unable to get to a Pokéstop, you have the option to buy Pokécoins with real world money. These coins are used to buy any of several items, including Pokéballs, Lure Modules that attract uncommon Pokémon to a Pokéstop, and incubators for hatching more eggs. This fare is typical for microtransactions, with slight discounts offered for bulk purchases. Buyer beware: most items for sale only increase opportunities for catching Pokémon but do not guarantee capture.

Leveling Up and Gyms

For every important action you take, such as catching or evolving Pokémon, your character gains experience points. By leveling up, you can find Pokémon with higher Combat Power (CP). CP is an indicator of strength and factors in a Pokémon’s health, attack, and defense. A Pokémon’s CP can be increased using candy and stardust, both gained by capturing Pokémon. The higher your trainer level, the stronger the Pokemon you can obtain. Strong Pokémon matter for a key feature of Pokémon GO: Gyms.

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The flashy stadium tower is a Gym.

Upon reaching level 5, you choose one of three teams to join: Instinct (yellow), Mystic (blue), or Valor (red). These teams act like factions, introducing a competitive multiplayer aspect. The goal of each team is to claim gyms, which are scattered around the world, usually at places of interest. Claiming a gym is as easy as depositing a Pokémon into it. However, if a gym is already claimed, it becomes trickier.

In order to take another team’s gym, you must battle the Pokémon deposited there. Much like catching, battling is simple and intuitive. Tap the screen to attack, and swipe to the left or right to make your Pokémon dodge. Unlike mainline Pokémon games, your Pokémon only has two attacks. The first is your basic attack, activated by tapping. This builds up a gauge for your second stronger attack, unleashed by holding your finger on the screen. The battle system isn’t as satisfying as in traditional Pokémon games, but it fits the mobile platform well. If you defeat every Pokémon, the gym’s power level, known as prestige, decreases. If you win enough times and lower the gym’s prestige to zero, the gym becomes unclaimed, and you can place your Pokémon in the gym. You can increase your own team’s gym prestige by challenging it. If you raise the gym’s prestige enough, your teammates can add their Pokémon to the gym’s ranks, building up its defense. You also gain bonuses for having Pokémon at gyms such as valuable Pokécoins, so the incentive is huge.

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The simple battle mechanics suit the touchscreen.

This engaging gym warfare is made possible through the developer Niantic, who previously made the multiplayer location-based game, Ingress. By adding this competitive element, Niantic has made a game that can keep going even after you’ve caught ‘em all. When many people are playing nearby, you may unfortunately find that gyms switch owners within minutes. Keeping Pokémon at a gym can be difficult unless you are actively building up your gym’s prestige. Nevertheless, gyms make for exciting showdowns between teams and is a welcome addition to the already addicting catching aspect.

Glitches

Pokémon GO is inherently fun, but it would be remiss to not mention the frequent glitches that plague this app. Servers tend to go down during big releases, and it was especially problematic when the app first launched. While servers have been better since then, this is an ongoing issue. Other problems that have afflicted the app include glitches where it is nearly impossible to reduce a Pokémon’s HP to zero during a gym battle and inaccuracy of the nearby Pokémon tracker. If you pay for anything using real money, be aware that any number of server issues or bugs may render certain purchases useless.

The Social Factor

There is a huge positivity that outweighs any negativity regarding this app. Pokémon GO is a highly social game that allows for unique experiences with people around you. This is one of the best outcomes of this app. Pokémon GO is a shared experience, meaning that people in the same area will encounter the same Pokémon. If ten people are looking for a Bulbasaur, they will eventually end up in the same place. Whether this was intended by developers, these people can then talk about the Bulbasaur they’re tracking and share leads on other nearby Pokémon. Because strategies for catching and fighting are only vaguely explained by the game, trainers can get together to share tips, similarly to how people shared Nintendo game secrets decades ago. Finally, the presence of teams leads to friendly competition, with people banding together to take down gyms and finding camaraderie. This app also lends itself to meetups, from small parties to citywide gatherings.

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Yes, everyone here is trying to catch that Bulbasaur.

Graphics and Sound

Each individual Pokémon’s design looks good, as if they were lifted from Pokémon Stadium-like games. The designs aren’t as beautiful as those of more recent titles. The map lacks details or labels, showing your character on a flat terrain with only a vague indication of where you are.

The music is catchy, with a fast tempo to get you pumped up to walk. The app has the same composer as the mainline Pokémon games, which leads to authentic music that is similar to the original’s tunes. Although it’s nice to have the song running as your personal walking theme song, it can get repetitive. Luckily, you can turn it off at any time. The iconic Pokémon cries are also authentic to the original.

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The Pokemon designs are simple and cute.

Playtime/Replayability

Pokémon GO has an addictive gameplay loop, encouraging players to catch them all. It is a time consuming but satisfying goal for anyone who has grown up with Pokémon. A medal achievement system provides incentives to catch many Pokémon of different types. Even though the game is entertaining, the drive to keep going will differ for each person. Your interest in the game may vary depending on which Pokémon are nearby. If you are in a densely populated area, you may find more Pokémon, Pokéstops, and gyms. If you are in a less-populated area, you may find less things to do overall.

Pokémon GO can also take a toll on your phone’s battery life. Possible solutions are to keep the brightness down, music off, and the handy Battery Saver mode turned on. Surprisingly, Pokémon GO doesn’t use a lot of data, which is great considering most of your adventures will likely take place outside of Wi-Fi zones. If Niantic can maintain a steady update schedule and keep players interested by adding more features and Pokémon, then this app is sure to have longevity.

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Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

Conclusion

No matter what you think of Pokémon or the app itself, it is undeniably clear that this game has the potential to make positive impacts on players’ physical and mental health. Pokémon GO encourages exercise and leads to meeting other players around you. Without social elements, Pokémon GO is still a highly addictive game, with the broad appeal of a popular franchise, intuitive mechanics that simplify traditional Pokémon gameplay, and the allure of rare Pokémon encouraging flocks of people to leave the comforts of their home. Server issues and glitches can impair the ability to play this game. Nevertheless, the addictive “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” gameplay loop warrants any Pokémon fan’s attention.

If you have even a passing interest in Pokémon, I highly recommend Pokémon GO.  The best time to get into the app is when others are also playing it. Pokémon GO creates communal experiences, where you can make new friends, travel with comrades conquering gyms, and share stories and pictures. Pokémon GO has the ability to bring very different kinds of people together. The best part is that everyone’s story is unique. The friends you make, the conversations you have, the pictures you take, the places you go; these are all parts of your personal Pokémon adventure. An app’s features can be rated, but your own personal experience throughout your journey is priceless.

Score: 8/10

What are your thoughts on Pokémon GO? How has your experience been so far? Do you have any fun stories to share about your Pokémon journey? Who are your favorite Pokémon that you’ve caught? What team are you on? Please share any thoughts in the comments section below!

Note: Please remember to always watch your surroundings when playing Pokémon GO. Please do not play while driving. Stay safe and remember that it’s all about having fun! Take care, Pokémon trainers!

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!