I expected this game to be a lot bigger than it actually was. I know people who have put 100+ hours into it, and the size of the map suggests that’s entirely justifiable. The map is deceiving, though. Most of it is purposefully unreachable with the game taking place on just a handful of the same roads. This isn’t like Breath of the Wild where you’ll travel from a desert to a jungle to a snowy mountain. Everything stays consistently “rocks ‘n trees” here, and you’ll get sick of fighting the same flying harpies over and over regardless of which mission you’re currently on.
The combat can be pretty fun, though, when you’re up against bigger monsters. Taking down a chimera or cyclops is always a rewarding experience. In fact, I think my favorite part of Dragon’s Dogma was the final chapter where you are sent to explore a dungeon full of harder monsters. There’s also a superfluous bonus dungeon called Bitterblack Isle that’s probably pretty similar, and I’m guessing that’s where players are racking up these 100+ hours of gameplay. But I never bothered to visit Bitterblack Isle, because, frankly, the main game didn’t captivate me enough to warrant staying after that really weird ending.
The story of Dragon’s Dogma isn’t very memorable, anyway, but it does hit some rather strange beats. For instance, there’s a mission that ends with the duke throwing you in prison, but when you escape, everyone’s friends with you again. The game tries to make you think your choices matter, but they ultimately don’t. And all of the story-related missions are just as fetch-questy as the actual side quests, which cheapens their impact. I feel like they could have scrapped the story entirely and just focused on designing a better variety of monsters and dungeons. Maybe that’s the whole point of Bitterblack Isle, and I’m missing out on the best the game has to offer. But then why wasn’t the main story the best?
There aren’t enough co-op tower defense games in the world. So if you’re anything like me and are constantly craving more, then Toy Soldiers: Complete should be right up your alley. The “Complete” version is required, though, since Toy Soldiers 1 didn’t originally have co-op and has been reconfigured here to support it. But that also means this version of the game ended up being a somewhat crummy port. Enemies are constantly falling through the map and dying or failing to reveal themselves, making it impossible to finish the level.
Fortunately, once you get into the Cold War levels, the bugs go away for the most part. And Cold War is a more challenging and intense campaign, anyway. But both campaigns are fun, especially when tackled co-op. One player can focus on keeping the towers upgraded and repaired while another player can hop in a tank to attack the enemies head-on. That’s the best part about Toy Soldiers: being able to directly control a tower or vehicle. It’s not as hands on as, say, Dungeon Defenders, but it does make the tower defense gameplay that much more action-oriented.
Breath of the Wild is such a huge shift from the typical Nintendo formula that it doesn’t even feel like a Zelda game anymore. There are a few familiar jingles and the same goofy character designs for NPCs, but that’s about it. The gameplay is something else entirely. I wouldn’t necessarily call it original, though, because even the Wii U’s previous Xenoblade Chronicles X accomplished a lot of the same sense of exploration and adventure. But, man, I’m a sucker for adventure, and I had a lot of fun exploring such a huge map. It’s nice to be rewarded for veering off the main path. It’s not like you’re under any kind of pressure to find and beat the dungeons, either. There’s not even much guidance on which order to do them in, which is great.
That does mean the story plays out in very disjointed parts, though. But the story’s pretty lame, anyway. How many times now has a hero emerged 100 years later to defeat Ganon? I promise, if you only focus on the story-related missions, you’re gonna be disappointed. Breath of the Wild has so much more to offer. I just wish they’d found a better way to balance the difficulty with the openness. In order to keep the game from suddenly becoming too easy, most enemies do a huge amount of damage. I friggin’ hated how many monsters had that stupid laser lock-on attack. Combined with the fact that swords and shields can break and disappear forever, it was often easier to just run past enemies than stop and fight.
This isn’t a perfect game, then, so I’m surprised by all of the 10/10 love. Maybe critics have been so eager for Nintendo to make a game like this that they’re much more willing to overlook its flaws than I am. Hell, the controls alone knocked it down several pegs for me. I struggled with the button mapping for the entirety of the game. Nintendo invented the concept of “press A to jump,” so why the hell is the A button not the jump button here?! Certain areas in the game also suffer from noticeable framerate drops, and the stamina meter can be annoyingly limiting in the first few hours. I definitely hold Xenoblade Chronicles X more dear to my heart, but Breath of the Wild was still a great follow-up and the perfect way to say goodbye to the Wii U (or say hello to the Nintendo Switch, I guess).
This game was incredibly frustrating for the first few chapters, because typical JRPG tactics no longer worked. You can’t just grind, level up, and power your way through battles anymore. You really have to be aware of your characters’ strengths and weaknesses and frequently use buffs and debuffs. Otherwise, enemies will wipe you out in two hits. But once I understood that, the game became really fun. I didn’t think Tokyo Mirage Sessions would be that strategic, though, based on how cheesy and silly the story is.
I normally don’t care for JRPG stories, anyway, but this one in particular is pretty hokey. Your characters are all TV/music idols with the most superficial problems in the world… except when monsters periodically attack the city. Even in battle, the cheesiness is ever present, as characters will sometimes perform “ad-lib” attacks that involve singing, dancing, and dressing up in cat costumes. If you’re easily embarrassed by cutesy stuff, you may have a hard time getting through this game without some serious cringing.
Thankfully, special attack animations can be skipped, and you can fast-forward through every cutscene. I appreciate the fast-forward option over outright skipping scenes, because it allows me to still get a sense of what’s going on. I do feel bad about ignoring the hours of Japanese voice acting it took to make this game, though. The production value here is impressive. But when it comes to RPGs, I’m in it more for the dungeons, and the dungeon designs and intense battles are some of the most fun I’ve had in any JRPG to date.
I’m suddenly craving 3D platformers, and I really thought FreezeME was going to fit the bill. It channels the 3D Super Mario games so well, after all. Each level is very open with several goals to achieve, and you can finish these goals in any order at any time, much like Mario’s star system. I also liked how there were sub-tasks to find special green coins, which often boiled down to helping the various pig characters accomplish certain tasks. That’s when the game feels like it’s borrowing more from Banjo-Kazooie than Mario, but hey… if you’re gonna steal ideas, steal from the best, right?
Unfortunately, while FreezeME looks fantastic as a 3D platformer and has some really fun level designs (and occasionally clever puzzles), the game falls short where it counts the most. The controls are just… terrible. I haven’t yelled profanities at a game this much in a long time. Coupled with a wonky camera and some spotty ledge grabbing, it’s very easy to fall off obstacles and have to start your ascent all over. Navigating through the game’s water or ice sections will surely test even the most patient of players.
Several times, then, I was very close to giving up on the game altogether. I got so sick of trying to make the controls work. But everything else about the experience really tickled my nostalgia for 3D platformers, and I didn’t want to end on bad terms. So I stuck with it to the end boss, and I think I’m glad I did, but it’s hard to recommend the game when the controls required so much forgiveness. Apparently, several other 3D platformers are due out this year, which means FreezeME will finally have some competition. But until then, I guess you gotta make do with what you have.
The first few hours with this game felt like one of the most disappointing things Nintendo has ever put out. Like Super Paper Mario before it, this is a big departure from the original Paper Mario mechanics. I wouldn’t even call it an RPG anymore, even though it still has turn-based battles. And that’s the truly disappointing part. The battles are really clunky and ultimately pointless. I was about ready to give up on the game until I reached the first main boss. By then, the battle mode made a little more sense, but they really should have just removed random encounters altogether. The only battles I cared about were the mandatory ones.
Even the bosses can be annoying, though, if you failed to bring the correct battle card into the fight. And yet the game so heavily telegraphs which cards you need to have beforehand that it makes you wonder why the requirement is there in the first place. You’re pretty much getting punished for not following directions. In this case, you can’t beat the boss, but there are so many other “gotcha” moments, as well. For example, if you don’t solve a hotel’s mystery quickly enough, you have to restart the level. If you don’t answer all ten questions correctly in a game show, you get kicked back to the title screen. This makes Color Splash an oddly difficult experience.
Nonetheless, I was still hooked once I got past that first boss hurdle. It’s not like there are a lot other games like this, games that combine such a variety of different elements (turn-based battles, platforming, painting, card collecting, puzzle solving) into one solid adventure. That’s what’s special about Color Splash; it really feels like an adventure. It may have a “world map,” but the game isn’t strictly linear, and every level offers something new and extra reasons to go back into them. Taken as a whole, this is a fun, unique game with plenty of humor and interesting scenarios. You’ll just have to be more patient and forgiving of the game’s bad first impression and come to terms with the fact that the Paper Mario series is never going to be what it used to be.