Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch) Review

Everyone is Here!

What better word is there than “ultimate” to describe a massive video game crossover that includes every single character and then some from the long-running Super Smash Bros. series? It’s hard to imagine that we have a franchise where so many iconic gaming characters duke it out. Here we are with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a game that celebrates Nintendo and other major video game publishers that have brought joy to many people around the world.

 

Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!

Continue reading “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch) Review”

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Panda’s Picks: 10 Anticipated Switch Games

Joy-Cons to the World!

The time has come! The Nintendo Switch will finally launch this Friday, and gamers worldwide will soon play with their shiny new console/handheld hybrid. I’ve already detailed why I’m excited for the Switch as well as my impressions from Nintendo’s January presentation. Now I’m turning my attention to the most important part of any console: the games. Here are my top 10 most anticipated Switch games!

10. Arms

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Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.

I wasn’t initially keen on Nintendo’s upcoming motion controlled fighting game, Arms. But the more I learned about it, the more I wanted the game in my… arms. This game may look like Wii Boxing, but the characters’ arms extend to hit their opponents, similarly to Mr. Fantastic. Consequently, it’s more reliant on solid punches rather than frantic arm-waving. Although I’m not the biggest fan of motion control, I’m interested in seeing how the Joy-Cons’ improved gyro affect Arms’ gameplay. I’m also intrigued by the controller’s HD Rumble functionality, which allows for sensations within the Joy-Con.

9. Runner3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nindies Showcase announced a hefty lineup of indie games launching this year for the Switch. Among those, one title that caught my eye was Choice Provision’s Switch-exclusive Runner3. The first two autorunner games were the best parts of the Bit.Trip series, and I enjoyed them more than Super Mario Run. Funnily enough, the voice of Mario, Charles Martinet, contributed his vocal talent to the second entry. Nevertheless, Runner3 will surpass those on the graphical level with its incredible dynamic camera angles and jaw-dropping artstyles. Runner3 looks to be a visual tour de force, and I’m looking forward to hopping to the beat with Commander Video soon.

8. Splatoon 2

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Stay fresh!

I enjoyed the ink-splatting turf wars of Wii U’s Splatoon, but I didn’t get the GamePad’s motion controls. Though that was the way to play, I felt they were unresponsive and instead played with the analog controls. Splatoon 2 promises better gyro aiming thanks to its upgraded Joy-Con and Pro Controllers, and that has built up my desire to play the sequel. If Nintendo can deliver lots of fresh content, then I’m on board to being a squid again! I mean, being a kid again?

7. Super Bomberman R

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I love the art for this game!

My hype for Super Bomberman R may be mistaken for mere excitement that the adorable bomb-dropping mascot is alive. But I’m sincerely excited for classic 8-player bomb battles and a cooperative 2-player story mode. I’ve never played the series online, so I’m also looking forward to the mayhem that will ensue. It will be a blast (pun intended) to play when it launches this Friday.

6. Yooka-Laylee

 

 

 

 

 

I grew up in the heyday of Rare’s 3D collectathon platformers like Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. The talented creators of these classic games have opened a new studio to bring that experience back to the forefront. The team at Playtonic Games have been hard at work on Yooka-Laylee since 2015, and the finished product will be joining the Switch’s ever-growing lineup in April. As a huge fan of the genre, I wasn’t sure that we’d ever see the return of the classic 3D collectathon. But here we are, mere weeks away from experiencing the misadventures of a chameleon and bat pair as they collect pagies throughout open sandbox worlds. In typical Rare fashion, the game will include trademark googly eyes and mine cart levels. I’d be excited for Yooka-Laylee regardless of platform, but now that it has a Switch release, I know how I’ll be playing it!

5. Snipperclips: Cut it Out, Together!

 

 

 

What is Snipperclips anyway? It’s as hard to explain both what it is and why I’m excited for it. The Treehouse Live video does a great job showing where the potential fun lies, so that would be a great start. Essentially, it’s a cooperative game in which each player uses a Joy-Con to control a cartoonish bullet-shaped creature with legs. If one player stands directly in front of the other, he can clip off a segment of his partner, completely altering his shape. For instance, you can erase your partner’s bullet-shaped tip to create a scooper, which you’ll need to pick up a basketball.

It’s something that we haven’t seen before, and that breath of originality is what we need in this era of sequels and remakes. Working together with a friend to accomplish goals like sharpening a pencil is bound to cause limitless hilarious outcomes. Combined with the charmingly silly faces, this game will likely be a riot at get-togethers. We don’t have to wait long for it either, since Nintendo is releasing Snipperclips at launch this Friday! Snip!

4. Xenoblade Chronicles 2

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I’m really feeling it!

Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles X was one of my favorite games on Wii U. Its hybrid turn-based action battle system easily won my RPG-loving heart. However, it didn’t have the heartfelt character-driven story of the first Xenoblade Chronicles. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will be a sequel to that original game. We don’t know too much beyond the initial reveal trailer. But if the other games in the series are any indication, we will be treated to a gorgeous world where if you can see it, you can reach it. Hopefully, the Switch’s more powerful hardware will allow XBC2 to live up to the lofty standards that the humongous predecessors have set. The release is currently scheduled for 2017, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers needed more time to create this expansive RPG. Either way, I’m ready to set dozens of hours into it when it launches.

3. Fire Emblem Warriors

 

 

Fire Emblem has been gaining so much traction these past few years, thanks to the success of Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates. In fact, a FE-focused Nintendo Direct revealed an upcoming mainline title for Switch. But I’m currently more excited about the forthcoming Fire Emblem Warriors, the spinoff that combines the hack-and-slash gameplay of Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors with the likable characters and wartorn countries of Fire Emblem. The FE series had a previous Wii U crossover with Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, but Fire Emblem Warriors is poised to service the fans more with direct references to the franchise proper. My wife and I enjoyed playing Hyrule Warriors together because of its fun gameplay and nods to the beloved series. Now that she’s suddenly become a huge FE fan thanks to Fire Emblem Heroes, we will be sure to enjoy Warriors when it ships later this year.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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Breathtaking

I’ve written quite a bit about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ever since its unveiling from E3 2016. There’s so much more I could say about this exciting open-world title that takes the series to its humble adventurous roots. Of course, the game is more than humble, promising a massive continent to explore and hundreds of puzzle-filled shrines. BotW offers unique tools and a gigantic playground to experiment on. But I’m most excited about having my own personalized journey through this new land. Based on the freedom within the first area alone, no two playthroughs will be identical. Much like the first Legend of Zelda, BotW will allow you to explore at your leisure, letting your curiosity be your guide. And that’s exactly all I could have asked for from the newest entry in the Zelda series. I’ll be looking forward to diving into this long-awaited epic this Friday!

1. Super Mario Odyssey

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I hope Mario catches his hat.

Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of Super Mario 64, so much that I’ve been playing it profusely to prepare for an upcoming passion project. The Super Mario Odyssey reveal trailer showed us that the game will be a return to form; it’ll hearken back to the large 3D sandbox worlds of SM64 and Super Mario Sunshine, and that has me thrilled to bits! Although Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D World were stellar games in their own right, they were distinctly more linear than their Nintendo 64 and GameCube predecessors. After Sunshine, I’ve been yearning for a new Mario experience where I could traverse a huge hub, jump into new worlds, and hunt for stars hidden across the map. Based on what we know so far, Super Mario Odyssey looks like it will replicate that nostalgic experience. The theme of the game is literally “jumping to an unknown world.” Coupled with dazzling visuals, strikingly juxtaposed areas, and new mechanics emphasizing Mario’s iconic cap, Super Mario Odyssey has the potential to be a game that defines the Switch. And that’s why it narrowly edges out Breath of the Wild as my most anticipated game.

nintendo-switch
Switch it up soon!

Conclusion

There are more games that I’m looking forward to, but but these are my ten most anticipated titles. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much depth the Switch’s first year will have, from the most beloved Nintendo franchises to an armful of new IPs. We’re truly entering a new age of Nintendo consoles, and I hope that the company delivers an experience surpassing the Wii U’s. We’ll see once the Switch finally launches on March 3!

What are your most anticipated Switch games? Will you be getting the Switch at launch? What games would you like to see most on the console/handheld hybrid? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below! Thanks for reading!

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.

fireemblemheroes_summon
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!

Nintendo’s Switch Presentation: My Roller Coaster of Highlights

Merry Switchmas

Nintendo finally held its long awaited press conference for its upcoming console/handheld hybrid, the Nintendo Switch. The company revealed the system’s $299.99 price tag and its March 3 release date. Nintendo also announced quite a few games. Here are my strongest positive and negative reactions to the Switch Presentation.

Super Mario Odyssey

Imagine a modern urban setting with your typical skyscraper, a theater, a store called “Crazy Cap,” and a street sign for Dixie St. The only indication of which game world you’re in are the words, “New Donk City.” Pan down to the streets where a taxi passes by. Suddenly, a manhole cover begins to shake and out pops… Mario? This is how the new Super Mario Odyssey trailer started, and I love it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The game will feature an large open sandbox world akin to Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. I adore Super Mario Galaxy and its inventive worlds and mechanics. However, most levels were distinctly more linear than the rich, explorative areas of the former two. Super Mario Odyssey is a return to form, and it looks more amazing than I could have imagined based on the initial Switch video. The theme is “jumping to an unknown world,” and the world looks spectacular. I wanted to roll around in that Mexican-themed town, run across magical leaves that form in midair, ride a lion through an inverse-pyramid desert expanse, and dance with robots in a lush jungle. I’d even cook myself in that giant crystallized vegetable soup area. The world looks somewhat parallel to our own, yet it oozes with such creativity.

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I hope I’m invited!

New Donk City, an area with realistic humans walking about, will be a fitting playground for our Brooklyn-born plumber. In the trailer, Mario triple-jumps on a cab, spins on a traffic pole, and wall-jumps up skyscrapers. Sure, it’s odd to see Mario in a city setting with regularly-proportioned people, but Sonic did it in his first 3D adventure… Actually, that’s probably not the best example. Sorry, Sonic! Regardless, it’s endearing to see Mario jump rope with two ladies in a park. Even Bowser is dressed for the occasion, looking more debonair than ever before in his white top hat and suave suit. Seriously, Peach, give him a chance!

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That hair though.

The last major point changes up the gameplay significantly. Mario can throw his signature red cap as a boomerang. While the hat is in midair, Mario can then bounce on it, leading to what will likely be a huge platforming game-changer. Nintendo even borrowed a page from Rare’s old-school collectathons like Banjo-Kazooie and put googly eyes on the hat. Super Mario 64 is one of my favorite games of all time, and if SMO can replicate and improve upon that style, then I will have a fantastic time next holiday season. There are other great games to come to the Switch, but Super Mario Odyssey was quite easily my game of the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zelda: Breath of the Wild at Launch

The latest trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is gorgeous. Watch it if you haven’t already. I fell in love with the new open-air gameplay that Nintendo showed off during their 2016 E3 presentation, and the newest trailer cements it as my most anticipated game this year. Zelda herself looks like she jumped out of a Ghibli movie, and I adore the personality she displays this time around. It’s especially powerful when she cries into Link’s arms. To that point, Nintendo is really making an effort to finally use voice acting to its finest. With what appears to be a fascinating cast of characters and an intriguing plot with 100 years of history, Breath of the Wild will hopefully be one of the finest titles to grace the Switch. And the best part? It’s a launch game, coming out on the same day as the Switch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire Emblem Warriors

I spent over a hundred hours playing the content-rich Hyrule Warriors Legends, and Fire Emblem Fates was one of my favorite games of 2016. Enter Fire Emblem Warriors, a fusion of the Fire Emblem franchise and Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors gameplay. Excuse me while I salivate. The very prospect of running around the field slicing and dicing enemies as Marth, Ike, Lucina, and Corrin has me giddy inside. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much and can’t tell exactly who will be in the game. But if it’s anything like the fanservice celebrations of Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes (which is now coming to Switch!), we will have a star-studded cast of the series’ lords.

 

 

 

 

 

RPGs

Next to platfomers, one of my favorite genres is the role-playing game, particularly Japanese ones (JRPGs). The Wii U unfortunately lacked RPGs, only having a few (great ones!) near the end of its life cycle. During the presentation, Nintendo announced a handful of RPGs. If they all came out within the next year, I’d be set until their next system. I’m most hyped for Xenoblade Chronicles 2, which appears to be a truer sequel to the Wii original than Wii U’s Xenoblade Chronicles X was. The game looks great so far, with stunning visuals, a vast world, and cute anime characters. That game on its own would be meaty enough, but there were more surprises during the show. Atlus teased a new Shin Megami Tensei, a classic RPG series that has since spun off into Persona and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Square Enix also revealed a new “Project Octopath Traveler,” made by the same team who worked on (and named) the Bravely Default games. Though we didn’t see much, the game had a distinct Super Nintendo or early PlayStation sprite artstyle, which speaks to the 16-bit lover in me. Finally, we got announcements of Dragon Quest X and XI, though it’s up in the air whether those will make it to the West.

 

 

 

The Return of Bomberman and Puyo Puyo Tetris

There was a sizzle reel at the end that showed nearly every other game publicly scheduled for the Switch. I saw some good-looking games in the reel such as Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, Ultra Street Fighter II, and Sonic Mania. But honestly, no other games caught my eye more than Super Bomberman R and Puyo Puyo Tetris. For Konami to actually release a new Hudson game, and for it to be Bomberman, is nothing short of amazing. I was actually moved by the Bomberman 33rd anniversary logo in the corner of the game box. Bomberman hasn’t had a proper console game in years, and yet here he is, gracing the Switch with his adorable presence. Playing eight-player local and online battles will probably be a launch highlight. I’m happy this beloved gaming mascot is back. Similarly, I’m excited for the return of Puyo Puyo Tetris and the chance to play two different puzzle games with cute anime characters. I wish these games had a bigger presence during the actual presentation rather than being relegated to bits in a sizzle reel and post-presentation YouTube uploads.

 

LOWS

Presentation

This brings me to my lowlights: The presentation itself wasn’t that great. Make no mistake. The games look fabulous, but perhaps the presenters could have spent more time showing them off, particularly the ones that actually had trailers. For instance, they could have easily talked about their new Mario Kart 8 Deluxe update which has a revamped Battle Mode and new characters and tracks from Splatoon. They could have also shown us why we should be interested in a game called Snipperclips, which I knew nothing about until Treehouse Live did a hilarious playthrough the following day. Instead, we had a long explanation about the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers. I understand that the mini Wiimote-like devices that snap onto a bigger controller deserve explanation. However, it was unnecessary to talk about them for a fourth of the conference, especially when they began showing off the Joy-Con’s ability to read hand signals.

It didn’t help that the first game they showed off was this eccentric party game called 1-2 Switch. I was fine with Wii Sports, stuck with Wii Play, and even enjoyed Nintendo Land. I’m not sure what the appeal of 1-2 Switch is. The game revolves around a series of minigames where two players face each other and perform random motion-controlled actions, completely ignoring the screen. The first example was “Quick Draw,” a wild-west style gun duel where the first one to pull their Joy-Con out on the mark wins. Other examples include mock-eating contests, air guitar, wizard duels, swordplay, and milking a cow. I suppose it allows you to reach into your imagination, but then why would you need a $300 machine to do it? Perhaps it’s for children, but it’s primarily an older crowd playing in the trailer. I’d understand if it were a launch game, in which case, I would certainly play it and would love to be pleasantly surprised. Otherwise, I’m not sure whom this game is for. I don’t generally hate on things either. I’m genuinely confused what’s fun about 1-2 Switch.

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Launch Lineup 2017

Launch Day Lineup

On launch day, we will at least have Breath of the Wild, Super Bomberman R, and 1-2 Switch. We also have Skylanders Imaginators and Just Dance at launch, with more games to come in the year. While Breath of the Wild will hopefully be enough as a launch game, it’s also coming out on Wii U the same day. As alluring as Bomberman is, Nintendo has an uphill battle to climb if they want to attract people to their system. To be fair, most consoles have had poor launch days. Even some of my favorite systems only had a single remarkable game. Although it’s still a low point that the launch is weak, the launch year looks like it will be strong overall, with hits like Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 coming soon.

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March 3, 2017

Conclusion

There were other assorted highs and lows during the presentation. I’m very excited about the system being region free, the HD rumble technology (as weird as that sounds), and the Switch’s capacitive touch screen – making it closer to a smartphone than a 3DS. I’m also glad that EA and Bethesda are supporting the Switch at this stage and hope that they stick with it. I’m not fond of the new paid online, though I hope this leads to a better online infrastructure. I’m fine with the system’s price, but don’t like the expensive costs of each additional controller and accessory. Overall, I’m still as excited as ever for the system. The excitement isn’t as mind-blowing yet, but there’s enough great games in the pipeline to have convinced me to preorder. This will be an interesting year for Nintendo, and I hope to cover my own journey with the Switch when it ships on March 3!

What did you think about the Nintendo Switch Presentation? What are your highlights and lowlights regarding the new system? What do you want to see for the system? Are you getting a Switch? Please share any thoughts in the comments section below! Thank you for reading!

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.