The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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).

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Tokyo Mirage Sessions

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.

FreezeME

FreezeME

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.

Paper Mario: Color Splash

Paper Mario Color Splash

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.

Dropsy

Dropsy

I can’t remember the last game that affected me this much emotionally. Dropsy was a roller coaster. It was weirdly touching, sad, and inspirational. And that makes the ending all the more bittersweet, because I really didn’t like the direction the story went. The ending kind of trivializes your hard work throughout the game, about Dropsy going around town, trying to make people like him. I love how Dropsy is so creepy and grotesque but is quite possibly the most heartwarming character of any video game. Watching him hug various animals and strangers always made me smile. The fact that he only had nightmares when he slept in his own bed was also a nice touch.

I didn’t care for the day/night cycle, though, since it was often pure luck for me to stumble across certain situations at certain times of the day. For the most part, however, the point-and-click gameplay made sense. The whole thing is played without any dialogue, which is an impressive feat, but that means there are no instructions whatsoever, not even labels for the UI buttons. Saving your game for the first time is pretty much guesswork. But I can’t stress enough how cool this game is, right down to the clownish yet melancholy jazz soundtrack. I ended up buying the soundtrack, and whenever I listen to it, I’m nearly moved to tears. How often does a game stick with you that much?

The Promised Land

Promised Land

I think this was one of the most casual games I’ve ever played. There really isn’t much room for error, since the game holds your hand through just about every step, and you have no freedom over where to build things. It’s a very light resource management sim where much of the game boils down to you watching your people work and then selling the fruits of their labor. In fact, way too much time is spent waiting around for the laboratory to finish with its research tasks. I hated how slow that laboratory was, even with 5-10 people stationed at it.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This did end up being a fun experience. I kind of needed something that didn’t require a lot of thought, and this worked out perfectly. I enjoyed juggling the different people to figure out the most efficient way to keep food supplies up, and there was some care involved in making sure those who hated chopping wood didn’t have to chop wood. However, the random, pirate-themed Angry Bird mini-games didn’t fit at all. Sure, in a way, I appreciated how they broke up the sim game repetition, but seriously… Angry Birds? You couldn’t have ripped off something better?