10 Reviews liked by catface

I can not believe that the only PS5 game is a tombstone for Japan Studio. How sad! The platformer's pretty fun for what it is though and has some fun mechanics, showing off things like the Dualsense's Gamer Massage capabilities. I didn't even know it could do that. Thing can also simulate propulsion too, or at least, that's what those trigger pots should be used for, exclusively. Needless to say, I may have had a Rainbow Sponge Dee's moment of enthusiasm initially. Which, is nice to have in a very Mario-esque game.
I also didn't know what an "Astro" was before playing this, but he has many cheery robot fans and a funny scream. Clearly I have been missing out. The boatload of Sony-related references were cool as well, especially the tech demo ones. All good fun, seeing as how the ancient art of the pack-in title is not completely lost with this game's existence, but it is definitely the most tech-demo-with-game-built-around-it game I've played. Nevertheless, I am very happy to not own a PS5.

In an effort to convince a good friend to play Zelda 2, I got bamboozled into playing this as part of the deal. But considering this is an hour-long movie tie-in made for small humans (the children), whereas Zelda 2 is a challenge, he bamboozled himself. My knowledge of My Little Pony was absolute zero (-273.15 °C) before playing this, and it did not go up by much after playing. Crazy huh? Gamers usually go silly for horsies. This was not unlike my knowledge of the similarly pervasive JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. But as of a few weeks ago, I have been baptized by the Church of Araki, so it's all good.
I do love me a hidden gem of a licensed game, but what's here is extremely basic; simple fetch quests and minigames. A bit boring, but neat looking at least. I'm rather impressed by Webfoot's audio engine though. I'm not sure what they did here, but it sounds really clean and quite different from MusicPlayer2000 (and the uber cool Rhythm Heaven engine). I'll probably give those Legacy of Goku games they made a shot at some point if only for that alone.

The second entries in a lot of series get a bit experimental, but usually they're not too big of a departure from what the first one does. I usually lump this game in with Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) and Fire Emblem Gaiden since they're all NES games by Nintendo that do this. But Zelda 2's so different that I would not blame someone for outright saying it's not a Zelda game. The game design has a completely different foundation, what with it being developed by a near-completely fresh team save for three members (Miyamoto, Tezuka, and Nakago). So, players picking it up later on after playing a number of the other Zelda games (themselves much more uniform with each other) likely don't agree with its very unusual structure. But hey, it was rather popular when it initially came out. It apparently sold out in many stores across the US, and critics ate it up too; praising the unique action-RPG elements. Everyone was happy then I suppose. But now, flashforward some number of years, no more than 36, and no one is happy. Zelda 2 is spooky, and Death Mountain makes everyone wet their beds. But now that I've played through it twice thrice actually, it's a little addicting, I can say for sure that I have a lot of appreciation for this game.
Said "unusual structure" does refer to a handful of things. For one, while the game does use an overworld map, it switches to 2D platformer movement for enemy encounters, towns, palaces, and the like. Just about any time you need to act on something. It's a simple idea that I don't think has really been played with in the same way outside of one of Wayforward's Adventure Time games and a few others I'm forgetting. But, it's fun! Link also has movement mechanics that manage a nice balance of technicality and simplicity. Just like in his Smash Bros. appearances, he can block most projectiles with his shield simply by facing the direction of the attack; with the option to block low by crouching on top of that. His sword doesn't have the most range to it, but the timing for the animation always feels nice and snappy. Couple that with a midair downward and upward strike you can get later on, and I'd say that the mileage from Link's melee kit is surprisingly fleshed out. This is helped by a rather hefty number of enemies with distinct and intricate movement patterns, and often, a variety of strategies needed to approach defeating them. I seem to recall Shiggy Miyamoto referring to a methodology he had once in an old interview that describes a good hand-eye-coordination feeling between what you see on the screen and controller inputs that feel natural with them. This game is awesome at doing that.
There are eight town on the map, mostly filled with numerous NPCs to give hints, but also with residents to restore Link's life and magic. The handiest thing to keep in mind is that each town has a wise elder that will teach Link a spell. Some of the spells aren't a must, like Fire, which is mostly used to kill a few enemies, but most of them can help in a pinch or be useful with some prior planning. Shield and Life are more self-explanatory, but weirder ones like Fairy turn Link into one, and let him fly freely around the screen. It's required in some parts, but also lets you fly through locked doors. Not to mention that it gives some handy bacon-saving utility if you cast it right before falling into water or lava. I say a lot of the spells are nifty in this sense since skilled and careful play lets you be very economical with them. Understandably, like health, magic is limited and though grinding refill potions from enemies is doable, it's rather time-consuming.
The leveling system is also really cool. Link gets experience points for defeating enemies, and upon leveling up has the choice to either spend them on one of his stats, or holding off the upgrade to save up for the next tier. By the end of the game, you'll likely be maxed out on levels (after which any additional levels will give you an extra life), but it's nice to have the option of prioritizing health, magic, or attack power. Especially since the former two of those refill their respective meters; good in a pinch. The implementation of this system is also a nice improvement over the original Japanese version. There are a few small regional differences between the games overall, some more jarring than others. However, leveling up was completely revised. You're able to choose whichever stat to upgrade, although when you get a game over (yes, the game has lives like-a Mario), your stats are reset to whichever the least upgraded one was, rather than being permanent upgrades. For example, ATK-8, MAG-8, and LIFE-2 would become level 2 for everything. I find this takes a lot of the strategy away in favor of a riskier format with less payoff.
I think the biggest hurdle this game has in its design is with finding out what to do at times. Yes, the game does manage to fix a lot of the cryptic nature seen in the first by making progression much more linear. Many key items are required to make progress, for example. And yes, it does also confine clues dropped to the word of NPCs found across the eight towns on the map. Though, I do think some things are left slightly obtuse. It could be worse though; I found the mirror needed to get the Life spell by accident during exploration (didn't remember it being there), and I could very easily see that being something completely confounding another player. Biggest offender of this is the whereabouts of Bagu's house I would say. But yes, seeing as how you get tips for every required item, spell, and even several magic and heart containers, it's not bad at all. The only things that are fully unguided secrets are the Link dolls which act as single-use 1-UPs that don't respawn (leave them where they are until you go to the last palace!). So, given it is a nearly forty-year-old game, I'd say patience is needed. The same can be said for combat. Most encounters require you to stop and focus on the enemy. I think this is cool in a way, but at times when I'm trying to run somewhere quickly, it requires me to mentally shift gears. Especially the case with flying fish and the wolf heads, which are plain annoying.
This is not to also mention the difficulty, which is pretty high even if you know the location of everything. A big reason for this is due to the game sending you back to North Castle (the starting location) after getting a game over. The exception to this is the last dungeon, Great Palace, which is good at least. This is definitely a symptom of the era this game was made in, and arguably the biggest justification for any sort of remake. Though, if you were just able to start back up at the room you game over-ed in, it would make the game way too easy and short in my opinion. It would also encourage more brute-force approaches to overcoming its challenges instead of having to adopt strategies to better player skill and timing. So, at the very least, game overs probably should have let you restart from palaces when you die in them. Getting back to one isn't the hard part; it just becomes a hassle after dying enough times. But again, it's a product of its time. Besides that though, palaces are rather easy to traverse. I never got lost in any of them despite the tricks they threw. Their layouts are more like tree diagrams and rarely have crossing paths and cyclical routes. Just remember that there's always an item to find outside of fighting the palace guardian.
And though this game is very linear, I do think it still encourages a little bit of experimentation. You don't have to get every item (an interesting minimum percent challenge perhaps), and you certainly don't have to place a crystal in the palaces immediately after beating their bosses. In fact, the latter's a pretty good way of farming lives in the endgame, since using the crystals always gives you a free level up. One cool thing I didn't know until recently is that you can actually bring up the save menu without a game over by hitting Up+A on the 2P controller while in the start menu. Neat if you're trying to play this as vanilla as possible.
Despite some songs being better on the FDS/Japanese version with its funky wavetable synth, this game has a great score. I usually remember Akito Nakatsuka for his wonderful compositions in Sutte Hakkun, but the songs here are great as well. Not even including the classic Temple theme, all of the other songs are pretty memorable. The battle theme in this version is also an entirely different song from the original release and I prefer it. Moreover, the angle taken with the story is cool. Having a secret, sleeping Princess Zelda that was there during the events of the first game is interesting. And for what it's worth, it lent itself pretty well to being factored into the fictional timeline.
Moreover, this game's also unintentionally funny. Supposedly the Zelda 2 Redux mod retranslated the NPC text, but I'm not too sure I would want that. I do quite like them saying "I am much too busy to talk to a stranger," before moonwalking away. It's good. Personal favorites would likely be "You are a hero for saving my child.Come" and "With boots I could walk on the water." I also really love how the developer credits use pseudonyms, as was the case with the first game. Same goes for the "Thanks a million". They give a nice arcade game-y charm to the games you don't really get much from Nintendo.
But yes, while this game is sometimes antiquated, it's often filled with forward-thinking genius. A remake of this game could make it perfect, and reusing some of its gameplay features in later Zeldas would not be a bad idea. Zelda's a very puzzle-focused series, but it does lend itself well to more diverse combat potential. Though even without that, the legacy of this game is pretty pervasive, and I think that's pretty nice.

It's really interesting to think that Atlus apparently wasn't thinking about continuing their mainline Shin Megami Tensei series after the completion of If. That explains a fair bit about why this game, in a lot of ways, feels like a reboot of the series. This is also not to forget that the team wanted to make this game the best it could be and not miss any marks in its potential. Generally speaking, this is a goal most developers have, but it's not uncommon to see pitfalls in the end result because of missing time, skills, and the like. Nocturne was fortunately afforded all of these, and so with its lengthy period of conception and development, its small team made way for a game that's near-perfect to me in a lot of ways. It still has a few slight issues, but none that I can really hold against it.
In fact, it's a little tricky to put into words what I really like about this game outside of the excellent gameplay. The game at a lot of points feels more akin to an introverted experience that one might keep to themselves than one that can be broken down in a myriad fashion and shouted from the rooftops. Much of that comes from the deliberate atmosphere that the game has and I really adore it for that; more games ought to have this sense of comforting isolation. Some of the other SMT games do have it to some degree, but this one is the most overt out of the ones I have played thus far. It also makes jokes related to this game an all the more apt juxtaposition, like this ad for it G4TV once aired.
SMT games did struggle to keep gameplay fresh for a little bit. New entries during the fifth generation still boiled down to the simple demon summoning and fusion mechanics with standard turn-based gameplay that maybe had some odd alterations mixed in (see Devil Summoner with the loyalty system). Compared to what Final Fantasy was doing with each entry then, it made the series look a little barebones in comparison. However, Nocturne introduced the press turn system which has become a mainstay for the mainline games; seeing some additional use in that mobile game DX2 and the Digital Devil Saga games as well. Maybe it's a little weird to get the hang of initially, but that confusion shouldn't last long. Fundamentally, your entire party has a shared set of turns they can use, and certain outcomes can extend or reduce how long the player phase goes on for. Normally this would just be one turn per party member, but you can get fancier than that. Things like passing a turn, getting a critical hit, or getting at an enemy's weakness will count as half of a turn letting you move an additional time. On the other hand, having moves miss, be reflected, drained, or nullified will use up more than one turn; sometimes all of them. There's a little more nuance to it besides that, but in the end it's a rather simple idea that can lead to really fun (or devastating) outcomes. It all depends on how you've built your team and strategize. Well, mostly, there's still the standard randomness typically seen in an RPG, of course.
The player character, Demi-fiend, is treated like a blank slate to build stats and moves on. You can choose a stat of his to raise on leveling up, but in addition can also find magatamas throughout that give you certain resistances to swap out and moves to add to your skill list. Some of these are much harder to get than others, but most of the practical ones not so much. Many of them can be bought from stores or by doing a neat side quest, and it's not required to get them all. Though, the final one you get for collecting the first 24 is absolutely busted, despite you getting it really late in the game and having to suffer through the Puzzle Boy minigame to get it. Said minigame is an homage to Atlus' old puzzle series of the same name (in Japan at least). I like those games from the little bit I've played, but you have to do 20 stages in one go and they get very challenging. The option to get back to the normal game and resume later on would have been cool, but that's beside the point. Magatamas are handy, and make for great team customization.
It's also rather common for RPGs to include elements that intend to add complexity to their games that either don't do anything or push the complexity into convolution. A balancing issue between breadth and depth, perhaps. But this game is rather impressive for having this yet never feeling too overwhelming by allowing a variety of strategies to be viable within a rather simple framework. It also makes good use of pretty much every aspect of the game's systems. One that jumps out at me the most (that I hadn't mentioned already) is that auto battle is actually useful. Especially the case since it's speedy and physical attacks are a solid neutral option oftentimes. I'm not the biggest RPG buff, but as far as I know, systems like that are usually not very helpful unless you wanna die. A couple pitfalls come from the Luck stat on the Demi-fiend not being very handy since it just lowers the chance of being cursed by your magatama, which itself is already pretty rare. Demon negotiations are also a bit weaker in this game. They're much more simplified to the point where scoring a new demon to summon hilariously becomes almost complete chance, save for a few instant recruit scenarios (i.e. some skills fare better depending on who is talking to whom). It's pretty funny to joke about, but when you actually have to deal with it and demons start robbing you of your items and macca, not so much. I do think it was nice that they wanted to make it more accessible to newer players, but the overreliance on randomness makes things a bit annoying. Similarly, demon fusion is great as usual, and lets you choose which moves you can transfer, but not really. In order to get some combination of skills you want in a demon, you have to go in and out of the menu until the fusion preview randomly selects the ones you want. I don't think manipulating this was intentional at all though, as they probably would have implemented choosing skills directly if so. So having to game that system slightly is an annoyance, particularly since lower-level skills like Kidnap and Pester are more likely to be selected, and personally I don't want more demons with negotiation skills.
In fact, practically all of the minor quality of life peeves I have are addressed in the Hardtype mod. Cool! It's a much more technical version as well, but it's also still got the random skill transfers which I'd imagine would make me want to vomit a bit when preparing for some of the late-game encounters. The recent remaster does outright fix that though, but it also looks like it has more things that would aggravate me personally, like the battle music still being compressed when it doesn't need to be. Thus, I'll likely still prefer this version over it.
The setting in this game is also fascinating. This game uses a contemporary world, but, whoops spoilers, the world (i.e. Tokyo) "ends" in the first couple minutes of the game, and its remains become this surreal spherical landscape called the Vortex World. Old places like Shibuya and the Diet Building are warped, not beyond recognition, but far beyond how they would have originally felt. Nearly everyone from the previous world died, so the NPCs are primarily demons, human-like creatures called Manikins, and the spirits of the dead. That description on paper probably sounds hellish, but like I said earlier there's a rather comforting feeling to it. Series artist, Kazuma Kaneko, envisioned the player running around the desert naked, and exploring the world map isn't too far off from that. Many of the locations also have aspects of Buddhism, Gnosticism, and then some in their appearance, and it makes every dungeon ooze with memorability. Kabukicho and the Obelisk are usually first to come to mind for me, and I really think the Amala Network's look would make for a trippy interior in a hotel. There are a lot of strange things like this and such that are never fully explained. They just exist as idiosyncratic phenomena. And of course, I'd be remiss to forget mentioning the outstanding soundtrack by Shoji Meguro, Toshiko Tasaki, and Kenichi Tsuchiya. There is not a single song in it that isn't solid; even the ambience tracks used are perfect. An excellent OST for playing on the go, for sure.
Earlier games played more with the idea of a law vs. chaos setting, but this game leans much more into the chaos side, leaving it to the player to choose which of three doctrines will govern the world (called Reasons). You also have several options for rejecting them as well, making for six possible endings. Gameplay-wise, they don't affect too much save for changing which of the bosses you fight near the end. The exception being the True Demon Ending which requires you beat an extra dungeon that's available to you closer to the start of the game. For the most part, the game gives you positives and negatives for every outcome which makes the decisions feel nonjudgmental and respected. There's no definitive best ending, and only what you decide to make of them. The closest one to a bad ending being the one I accidentally got this time around, which is pretty funny, so I give it a pass. The cast of characters is also very small and major cutscenes are kept to a minimum, which gives things a little less intimacy, but they're always cool and visually remarkable. I find it interesting that the aforementioned remaster gives the cutscenes voice acting; not a downside most likely, but I do think this a rare example of a modern game that benefits from not having any there.
I do also find it interesting that this game gave this series its reputation for being tough as nails. The developers designed much of this game for accessibility and it shows since it's rarely tedious, however it does require you to play by its rules. Matador is the first boss that really makes that apparent. If you're focusing on having a higher level, you're probably still going to have a hard time because the more efficient way to play is by crafting a team that can take the most advantage of the press turn system in a given fight. Once you understand that, the game is rather doable. Of course, I often still died a lot. Partly because the sort of creative gimmick each boss has requires a different strategic approach, and partly because sometimes the game just feels like picking on you.
The original Japanese version of Nocturne didn't include any of the parts related to the True Demon Ending. Those were all added into the definitive version subtitled Maniax, which was the version that ended up being localized for the West. Out of all of the definitive versions of Atlus games I've played, this is the only one that doesn't make changes and additions that feel overly jarring and out of place. The exception to this being Dante/Raidou's inclusion. Though that "Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry" series badge on the European cover is legendary, so I'll take it.
Unsurprisingly, with how long the development of this game was, there's a ton of unused stuff. A handful of unused songs, dungeons that look trippier than the ones in the final release, and a UI that looks closer to the ones seen in the fifth-gen SMT games just to list a few. It looked like a completely different game, and I'm glad the developers have showcased early development on it, even if there's no prototype builds publicly accessible. I find this to be an excellent game as it fosters a unique style and never slacks on substantial gameplay. I think with the next playthrough I might finally go for the hard difficulty (not the Hardtype mod). It's just for a good challenge, but hopefully changes like not being able to run from battle and items costing thrice as much don't drive me nuts. After all, this game would never take advantage of my innate gullibility.

There is plenty I love about this more than Breath of the Wild, but there's also a lot I find much worse. Generally, Zelda games use different maps for each entry, and so although this is a direct sequel to the previous game, that's definitely the initial part of the problem I have. Open worlders, and Zelda titles in particular, are games where exploration is the main facet of their design, so I am simply not so much of a proponent of this game reusing most of it with subtle changes and neat new things sprinkled on top. Sure, that might work for Yakuza, but those games are not made for exploration, they're made for a tight, plot-driven game. And yes, the amount of polishing and touch-ups for further optimization are awesome (perhaps at the bane of speedrunners though). Since, minus the expected slowdown in some areas, everything just works super well and bug-free. But then, Breath of the Wild was also pretty bugless. And what I find when I think about what this game does well, it eventually comes to the realization that Breath of the Wild also did much of the same just as well, many times even better. So ultimately, the only things I truly find praiseworthy are the new things, when they're done well, of course. And well, I find that many of these new things are half-baked, missed opportunities. And although I never wrote a review on Breath of the Wild, I will refrain from divulging much on what the original game did unless it's for comparison's sake (which there will probably be a lot of). Many things are 1-to-1 the exact same in many senses, and I already have a lot of thoughts I'd like to air on the new offerings.
The new abilities that Link gets are the main sum and substance selling point of the game. They almost entirely replace the runes from the previous one, though ones like Magnesis live on through Ultrahand, of which is the "big one" with the widest range of applicability. You can use it to pick up and stitch a myriad of objects together to make a number of contraptions, vehicles, and whatnot. In some cases even, like with propping up Addison's Hudson Construction signs, you can just build a monstrosity to see how janky of a solution will work. I did find it fun to get creative with initially, but frankly, the controls are awfully cumbersome to use. I eventually got used to them over time, but never once were they intrinsically enjoyable. This was perhaps countered by the Autobuild feature which lets you save a handful of your favorite designs to use whenever. Yet, it's also fairly annoying in its own right since unless you have the Zonai devices (equipment named after the race that was mentioned, but not formally introduced, in Breath of the Wild, more on them later) selected and taken out of your inventory, you have to use a commodity that you normally mine for called Zonaite to essentially pay for the structure being built. Kills a lot of the enjoyment the feature could bring by not just letting you stash your creations somehow and making it tedious at the minimum since it doesn't just subtract the devices straight from your inventory when building. A lot of things you can make can eventually break down once you've used them for a bit as well. There are a few workarounds that you can use to counteract this, like spawning the glider birds midair, but this is just one case I noticed that over time showed a pattern of the developers implementing neat features but seemingly not wanting them to be too "busted". Which in most cases doesn't make a rather easy game that much easier, so why bother sapping the fun out of your biggest selling point? As a friend mentioned, it would not be surprising if longer lasting devices end up being a feature of the DLC for this game, but it would have been really nice if it was just part of the base experience.
Fuse is the other ability that changes the general approach to gameplay. It'll stick pretty much any material (including other weapons) onto your currently equipped one. Ultimately though, I didn't find that it really made much of an impact. Save for a handful of items adding neat and sometimes goofy effects, as I played more of the game, the thing I'd focus on primarily was just making sure I added some monster parts that boosted attack power a bunch. Which I don't think would be too much of a problem, as that's my choice and prerogative as a player. However, actually fusing weapons is a slow and tedious process since you have to individually equip each weapon or shield, find the item you want to fuse, drop it onto the ground and then finally fuse. To make matters worse, items still break (very quickly at that), and the options to salvage your items by separating them takes time to do as well. It's all a highly obnoxious endeavor over time, and so I found myself using it less and less if I could help it (much as I did with Ultrahand).
The last two abilities, Recall and Ascend, are far more situational. The former letting you rewind an object's course of movement and the latter letting you move upwards through ceilings. I found these ones a bit more fun to use, and maybe that's because they're not as convoluted by design. Sure, they're no Revali's Gale nor Statis, but I think they're decent and like those two can be pretty handy for moving around quickly.
I think the changes that could have been made to this game to make it fresh were pretty simple really. Mostly just coming down to its core gameplay and overall design. The combat is still fun, virtually unchanged from the last entry, and there's some 10 plus new enemies with a handful replacing the Guardians from the first game (those being the Constructs, which I do not think are as interesting to fight). Moving around the map is also a lot easier to do thanks to the aforementioned Ultrahand paired with the Zonai devices, and the Towers/Sky Islands being good places to glide from, but it's still very slow. I would rather not have that lack of pace, but it is an open-world game, so perhaps that's an issue I have with the genre as a whole. The overall structure of the game is what I have the biggest issue with (as referenced at the beginning). This game uses the same surface map, but also adds sky areas and an underground to explore. The issue with the former is that I've already explored the original map pretty comprehensively and so going back through it all with a fine-toothed comb to see every change wasn't my cup of tea (I still did it anyways though). Especially since many of said changes are limited to NPC dialogue and quests to get features from the original game being in different locations. Though, I did find the world to be a lot more lively this time around. There seem to be so many more characters to talk to, and the dialogue is dynamic in some ways I don't really remember Breath of the Wild being. One of my favorite examples of this being when you approach Sheikah characters while wearing the Yiga outfit. Said outfit is a reward for what the game calls a Side Adventure, which is distinguished from the much quicker Side Quests this time around. I like that they made this distinction, as the side adventures are generally multi-part happenings that give you more insight into what's been going on with the characters, new and old. Not to mention there are way more of these combined than what the first game had. Many times though, they felt a bit less than the sum of their parts as it was still a bit lacking in novelty for me, but I enjoyed the truckload I did.
The sky islands I mentioned earlier were part of the effort to triple the game's map size, and it doesn't do the greatest job. Odd, considering that was a huge part of the advertising. I think they're mostly neat, and they have a strong emphasis on verticality which is very cool, but there aren't that many of them. The biggest group, in fact, are the Great Sky Islands you play on as the game's tutorial, which itself was super rough. Great Plateau had a better sense of progression; this game wants you to go in a specific order for completing it and made back-tracking from any deviations an outrageous chore. There was also a better sense of mystery with King Rhoam guiding you; Rauru, despite being cool, did not offer much in the way of this, though that changed since later on he does get developed a bit more later on.
The depths are the other part of the map's expansion. But man, I think these were a huge wasted potential. I like caves, they're cozy, and so are these. But perhaps like a real world cave, there's not much to really do in the depths. If Breath of the Wild's map felt empty a lot of the time, then the depths is that tenfold. 90% of what you do in them is scramble around pitch-black darkness throwing brightbloom seeds to light up the area in order to find lightroots which brighten the surrounding area up completely (and fill out your map a bit). There are a lot of abandoned mines, coliseums, and other such landmarks, including two you have to visit for the story, the latter part being one of my favorite aspects about the entire area, but they're not very substantial. At the very least, lightroots are quick and easy to find in there and correspond directly to a shrine on the surface (which cheekily has the same name backwards), thus helping out the quest to get all 152 shrines a ton. There was a shrine though that didn't line up with its lightroot, and I'm not really sure why they broke the unwritten rule there. Moreover, a lot of the nice gear you can find (many reused from the first game, unsurprisingly) is also tucked down there as well, but that didn't really add much for me, personally. Well, maybe that's a lie, I did go out of my way to find the Ocarina of Time outfit.
This game also made a comeback for dungeons, allegedly. Before addressing the semantics there, I will say that I loathe the puzzles in this game. So many of them are not necessarily abstruse, but just tedious. And it often ended up being the case that I could cheese the entire thing by using some goofy combination of Ultrahand, Recall, and Ascend. Legitimately, many of the puzzles can be completely bypassed by just wiggling a platform in the air, using Recall on it, and then moving upward through the object with Ascend. I get that the developers designed the game to make it possible for this open-ended puzzle solving, but when it's so ridiculously easy to skip past a lot of stuff, it makes it feel like they didn't put enough thought into designing the systems at play. Mind you that cheesing the puzzles isn't that much more fun than solving them normally either (maybe save for the ones that allow for rail grinding). Personally, if I spent however much time thinking up clever puzzles to solve, and found that the lazy workaround ended up being this mindless and repeatable across so many of them, I'd be a little annoyed about that. One idea that I think would have been especially cool is if the game did away with a lot (or maybe all) of the shrines, and instead just had 16 or so proper full-sized dungeons. Many of which could have even been put into the depths. This could have likely made the puzzle design more tightly focused and fine-tuned to clever solutions.
And I say "full-sized" dungeons, because the dungeons in this game aren't that much more dungeons than the Divine Beasts were. Makes me wonder why the developers even bothered to announce that the game has dungeons shortly before launch. Because if these are dungeons to them, then what were the Divine Beasts? I say all of this because they still have the same open-ended design of "go check out these four or five isolated things to make the boss appear". The Lightning and Fire Temple dungeons almost have more linearity in some ways, but this just ended up being an introductory portion for the former and a very annoying method of traversing the place for the latter. I think it's perfectly alright to have a very open-ended gameplay experience with moments of linearity, but this game is bizarrely obsessed with doing away with that possibility in the worst of ways. Add to this that the maps for them are not as nearly as useful as the 3D ones for the Divine Beasts and I'm left wondering why this game made changes, big and small, seemingly only to things that hurt the game overall, even when speaking of it on its own merit and not comparing it to the previous entry. Oddly enough, the parts I enjoyed the most about each dungeon were the paths to arrive there. Though, that's likely because they had that linearity that I would have loved to see out of the final destination.
For each dungeon you also get paired up with a sage, which makes for a pretty neat companion system. You can use their abilities after beating the dungeons as well, along with them helping you out in battle. Their attack power and abilities aren't particularly useful as they all do rather low damage, but they're pretty handy for distracting enemies. It's very strange that they chose to make ghostly versions of them to accompany you post-dungeon though. I guess the logic was that it would be weird for them to teleport to you after climbing or flying around, but it's also a video game, so I don't think anyone would care? I think the way you toggle their powers are also pretty botched as well, since you need to be directly next to them in order to activate them. Positioning which is often very difficult to do in battle, and the reward for taking that risk usually isn't all too helpful. Mineru's vow in particular is so awful I ended up deactivating it completely (why give me a big slow tank to use when I still take the same amount of damage?). At the very least, Tulin's ability is really great to use when gliding, and the others have some neat uses for clearing pathways, like Yunobo, who can really help you save on the bomb flowers.
The dungeon bosses throughout are a mixed bag, though they are unique. Some like Colgera and Queen Gibdo were fun, but others like Mucktorok and the Seized Construct were straight-up painful. The only one I can truthfully say I actually loved were the final set of fights with Ganondorf. They made it a nice combination of the fights from the older 3D Zeldas and had some nice elements of their own to them. Pessimistic as it sounds, that might have been the first time for me playing this game that it actually felt like playing a Zelda title. No gimmicks with sages (mostly), Zonai abilities, or anything. Just a straight-forward boss fight. Overall though, I think if there was one thing this game really needed to actually satisfy me, it was genuine dungeons. I can't even pretend to call Hyrule Castle a dungeon. It's more of a "place where you do stuff".
Difficulty was surprisingly lower than Breath of the Wild, but I did also play that game with the Joy-Con grip, so that's almost certainly why I had found that game more challenging. The balancing is very bizarre in this one though; there aren't many tricky enemies save for the lynels of course. But, everything does a lot more damage to you, and I'm not in favor of cheaper difficulty, which is certainly what that feels like. Maybe the justification for that is because you can fuse weapons that are even stronger than ones in the first game, who knows.
I found the story to be intriguing, but it's highly marred by its execution. Zelda games are not focused on the story, but they're often given enough respect to feel coherent, enjoyable, and not contrived. Tears' story is primarily a "cool story, bro" deal, in that it doesn't really affect too much of the gameplay first-hand. Sure, the sky islands descending are part of that, Link getting Rauru's hand and abilities is also part of that, but compared to Breath of the Wild, there's not very much reverence given. In the last game, the Sheikah lore was a big factor in the technology that Link would interact with. Even more than that, there are many Sheikah characters including ones like Purah and Robbie who are skilled at manipulating said technology and creating new devices. The shrine's spirit orbs are even given to you by the mummified monks that made the shrines, each having a unique appearance. In Tears though, we have the mysterious Zonai tribe introduced, but with only two members present, Rauru and Mineru. As for why they couldn't alter the story to have more of them over the 10,000 year timespan covered by the plot is beyond me. Perhaps that'll be something they get into in a future game, but considering this game's intended scope, why not give your game's new group of people more backstory? Additionally, the game reuses an awful lot of its plot and feels rather padded out even though it didn't need to. Every time you beat one of the first four temples you're treated to the same cutscene about how Rauru sealed Ganondorf away in the Imprisoning War. It isn't until the fifth temple you're even shown how that actually played out. Why? The Zonai shrines, while thematically a little cozier, all have the same exact statue of Rauru and his spouse Sonia at the end. Again, why? The Zonai devices are all just there for you to mess with, and despite being the Zonai's technological creations are not given much interesting explanation at all. It all feels a bit lazy even though it wouldn't have taken much more to diversify things a little. This is the essence of the world you explore, why not flesh it out?
This is not to also mention the main way most of its backstory is told, which is through memories again. The game provides you with an order to view these in, but if you don't see them beforehand, you can very well spoil yourself on some of them, as you're free to pick them up in any order you want. Why do this? There's no reason to make this a matter of player choice, you made an order to go in, and I doubt many players would really want to/benefit from seeing them out of order. So why make that the case? Again, it's this bizarre obsession with open-ended freedom rearing its stupid ass head. Personally, I would have made them play in the intended order, regardless of which one you find; easy fix. You could still find the geoglyphs they reside in in any order that way too. The ending of the game is handled sloppily as well, completely dashing some of the established logic that led to the story coming to a head in the first place. I'll leave out specific details to avoid spoilers but it's very silly and could have easily been handled with a little more care to follow through on what the game set up. These are all ultimately minor, but with such a unique premise that I actually really liked, I think it should have maintained the cohesion you would usually get in a Zelda game.
Lastly, I'd like to touch upon the music. A lot of it is ambient for the environments just like the last, and a lot of it is also reused. But, I do love how much more mellowed out the tracks are. The greater variety also kept things fresh; at a certain point with Breath of the Wild I started listening to my own music in the background instead, the only other game I've done that with is Picross 2, but that's for a different reason. Specific tracks I found especially cool were the Construct fight themes in shrines; they do some cool tuplet stuff, and the Dragonhead Island theme, which has really nice synths.
All in all, a lot of the design choices just feel contrived. The first had a very clear and concise vision, but Tears of the Kingdom seems like it doesn't know what it wants to be in scope most of the time. And considering what the developers have said regarding the game's conception, it makes sense. Everything for the game started as DLC ideas, so the game was not designed as a sequel, but more so as a list of ideas that they wanted to implement that had enough scope to justify calling it a sequel to them. What I think this game needed was the sort of tables to be turned like the team had done with Majora's Mask. I don't think that's an unfair comparison at all, mind you. Ocarina of Time completely broke new ground for the series by its transition into 3D. Majora's Mask then took that and completely flipped it on its head by changing aspects of the gameplay structure and design (three-day time reset, mask abilities, new map, etc.). Breath of the Wild did very much the same thing for the series by breaking into the open-world genre, so I'm simply confused that with six years of development, a team working on an A-list game at a multibillion-dollar corporation couldn't challenge its own previously defined conventions and completely flip their previous ideas on their head. There are so many ways I can sum up my problems with this game, and perhaps that comparison is the most salient. As not only did it not get truly weird with it, but it also is perhaps the most similar a Zelda game has ever been to a previous installment. And seeing how the series is now selling more than it ever has, and with Splatoon 3 pulling a similar card, I wouldn't be shocked to see them continue to make the "same" games from now on. Insert thoughts on the Stagnation of Gaming here.
While the game's world does have more life breathed into it, I find that with the core gameplay being nearly identical, minus the new Zonai abilities, it should have been given a bit more oomph and genuine substance. The new abilities get old and are extremely shoehorned despite not even being that necessary to use. Feels like the developers really wanted to make it feel like they put in a lot of effort into this over the last six years, but throwing some toys to play GMod with at me doesn't do a good job of showing that. Given that this open-world format is the direction the series seems to be maintaining, according to series producer Eiji Aonuma, I'd really love for them to genuinely expand on the ideas from these two games and make something wholly unique. As it is, this game plays more like a revised edition to the original Breath of the Wild, and I think that's an odd choice for a sequel. Again, the core gameplay and design that I liked in this game was nigh the exact same that I enjoyed from the last, which I see as an issue for an entry in a series that previously had never really done that. Sans the fact that the new offerings here are often a downgrade. Finally, there's a chance I'll write an addendum to this once the DLC is released for it; as much criticism as I have of this game, I still enjoyed it, and so I'll probably pick it back up at some point. But after playing this on and off over the last month, just about (I had a review copy), I am satisfied for now.
Also holy shit, I did not mean to write a 4,000 word-long thesis on this game. But, I guess it really did give me a fair amount of food for thought. I don't write these reviews for people to actually read, but if you actually just took the time to read this, you are a Super Star (of the Mario Party variety).

I only started playing Dragalia right before the EoS date was officially announced. The game always had my interest for multiple reasons, but I'm a huge slacker when it comes to games and an even bigger one with mobile games. So, while finding out about the game's shut down was the kick in the pants I needed to incentivize me to finally play, I can safely say that my enjoyment of the game would have been greater if I had picked it up earlier on. Sure, I didn't have to deal with the power creep, and sure, I could still replay a good number of the events on my own or alongside the still-very-active community. But this game was designed how a mobile game should be designed, to be played in bursts. So having to rush through it all wasn't the ideal experience by a long shot.
Usually I would write down a good amount of historical info on the game's creation; contextual tidbits and such because I like learning about these things. But another review already did just that and did it far better than I would have given my somewhat limited experience with the game. Feel free to read it! I'll skip explaining the basic gameplay as well on that assumption.
There were many times I found myself getting tired of playing through the game, since while it was mechanically sound and felt pretty good, much of the core game design was recycled. Lots of maps had plain empty layouts that you simply just had to run through before reaching a few enemies, killing them then continuing. Very few objectives and strategies existed in the stages, and boss fights as well, besides whacking foes until they died. There were a small number of bosses that spiced things up with cleverly designed attacks, but I didn't notice this happening too much. Unfortunately, boss arenas were almost always just a big circle you'd run around in too. Hence me saying earlier that I would've enjoyed this game more at a relaxed pace, instead of having to sit down and spend an hour plus on each chapter/event I wanted to go through to reach my goal of experiencing as much of what the game had to offer as possible. But even with that being said, it was gacha game, and unsurprisingly most of the focus was put into its teambuilding aspects, visual polish, and world-building.
I didn't have the best chance to enjoy the teambuilding because the microtransactions were completely shut off shortly after I started playing, but I got good mileage out of the polish and story. The game always looked wonderful and ran smoothly, super great lighting and effects at that. Then the story, hoo boy, I think this story took the cake for being the most anime game Nintendo has ever put their name on. Spoiler warning, I guess? Though I have doubts as for whether they'll rerelease this game or even a sequel on the Switch, it's really funny that we not only got the Power of Friendship™ (and Family) and punching God in the face, but the dang Pope even resurrects Satan (not the Christian one, silly). It's a story that at times reminded me of Umineko (and what I've heard about the Zero Escape series), where the story just goes full scorched earth, no ideas were too wacky to be off the table. The similarities to the aforementioned works also extends to it pissing me off sometimes, because at times it sure loved running in circles, spouting the same eye-rolling nonsense over and over until I was genuinely tired and irritated. Perhaps this is just a visual novel thing, which is what the story part effectively was. It was still pretty fun to read though, don't get me wrong. The highlight for me was absolutely any of the stories featuring the apostles, they were just too cool.
I was initially feeling a bit more harsh on what I'd score the game, but I got to (well had to really) experience the hardest story boss fight through co-op play. While I had done some co-op raid events before, this worked a little differently since, if I remember correctly, the raid fights let you have four full teams of four adventurers. Co-op on story quests, and others presumably, made you use one adventurer per player instead and this changed my opinion on the gameplay a little bit. It didn't change the gameplay too much outright besides not having to deal with the semi-crap AI. But I don't know, something about it felt a lot more like real teamwork and made the experience more fun for me, so that last little moment shortly before the game ended was enough for me to feel slightly more positive about the game. The community from my short time playing was also awesome, and I always get a good kick out of one that has a really well-maintained wiki on top of that.
I think my last thought before leaving this game to my memories (and gameplay footage I recorded along with the assets I snatched because I was in full archivist mode the entire way through) reflects what I've seen others say here and there. And that's just the hope that Nintendo chooses to use the IP in the future. I think it has tons of potential for a proper console installment with some of that fully-fleshed out gameplay I was craving. The team behind it clearly had a lot of passion for the project, so I'd love to see it have more things to go by in the future. Also, hit me up if you've got one of those Greatwyrm plushies, I'm almost convinced they don't actually exist.

Considering, that out of all the RPG Maker Dante 98 releases out there, I've only played this and Azusa 999, I'm pretty pleased with my very short track record so far. I'm not super familiar with early RPG Maker games, but I do think that they're really intriguing, especially compared to the legacy titles made on later versions have. Not only are the games made on any version of the tool limited in a software sense, but the ones made on Dante 98 are limited a fair amount more by its hardware. So, it's cool to see how people got creative with it all and this one did not disappoint.
This game's pretty short, and surprisingly for an RPG Maker horror game does feature real RPG gameplay, though it's fairly simplistic, which is perfectly fine. I do also like that the simple puzzle elements the overworld gameplay has transfer nicely into the battle system as well.
Besides that, I really enjoyed the writing, and the fact that you could save several of the characters throughout the game. No one felt one-note, which for the size of the cast is great. The art is also of the era, but it looks great as well and is definitely something that makes it very easy to forget this whole game was made by two people using RPG Maker. For sure what surprised me the most, was the game's sense of humor. I thought it was going to be a wholly serious game, and while there are a good number of unnerving and mature aspects in it, there are lines of dialogue that completely caught me off-guard, since they're genuinely pretty funny. Not so much a creepy game for myself at least, but others' experience may vary of course.
A very well-made and engaging game on the whole, and I'll definitely replay it sometime (it's kinda comfy). Check out the English translation here, it comes with a pre-configed version of Neko Project II, and gives some details on the game's history, like some of the awards it rightfully got.

The Mystery Dungeon games feel especially important to video game history, and if you do a little bit of research, you'll find that they are. These were roguelikes that did their fair share to shape various elements of modern day games and furthermore brought the aforementioned genre to consoles. This isn't especially surprising given they came from the brainchild of Koichi Nakamura, Chunsoft. A company whose legacy also includes visual novels, their sound novel variants, and the quintessential Japanese RPG format. They're a group that's done quite a bit for video games, but personally, this wasn't what pushed me to play Shiren the Wanderer. That was ultimately just a latent sense of intrigue. The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games are very well known, and there's a cavalcade of other properties that were given their very own Mystery Dungeon entries. But Shiren, that always stood out to me as the only one that's an original property. No pre-established world to fit itself into, just the pure vanilla Mystery Dungeon experience. Though, I suppose you can't truly call it vanilla when it wasn't even the first Mystery Dungeon game. That would be the Dragon Quest sub-series. Either way, I knew it had some sort of feudal Japanese setting, and was a roguelike, two things I could get behind fairly easily. And as luck would have it, I happened to pick the remake of the very first entry by chance, which fit the bill even more since I usually like to see where a series gets its start.
After playing the game for a bit, I came about another aspect of it that makes me unsure whether I'd call this your vanilla Mystery Dungeon. It has personality, and a sheer boatload of it. The setting is a lot more fantastical than one might expect and features unrealistic elements aplenty in its world and very zany enemy designs. The latter being good enough that I ended up buying a book with some of the art from the original SFC release dubbed the "Character Debut Book". The game's central design revolving around repeated play made it a necessity to have their designs be memorable, but they got far more clever with this game than that.
Throughout the game, simple events happen when you interact with the NPCs, and much like a standard RPG these end up being side quests that carryover through subsequent plays. Granting the player party members, a restaurant to get stat buffs at during your playthrough, and some of the best items in the game, just to name a few. The cutscenes leading into these rewards are charming and have a great sense of humor. Take the party members, for instance, who are somewhat odd to say the least. Your first encounter with one of them ends with you being blinded as the butt of an insinuating joke, only for you to have to save them from trouble later because they were caught by other victims post-blinding (yeah they also just blind whomever they point at somehow). In the 70 or so hours it took me to beat all of the game's dungeons, maybe only about 30 minutes of those were spent watching cutscenes and reading dialogue. So it's really nice that what little characterization there is does a pretty good job at it.
So, it was certainly a neat surprise to find that the entire series has a fantastic art style and for this entry to have some little stylistic hooks with its writing and whatnot. But I picked this game up for gameplay, so how does that play out? For starters, this game is brutal, as expected for a roguelike, but the game has various ways of softening things up while still being a challenge. I mentioned the sidequests, but there are also warehouse buildings you can use to store your equipment in. These are a total boon for your progress, although it took me a little while to figure out the best way to use them. There are a lot of items you can find on your adventures, some of them a necessity, like the riceballs to keep you from dying of hunger. Others are only as good as the strategies you employ with them, and a small minority of items are outright harmful to you. So eventually, I learned it best to hold on to my weapon and shield, since upgrading them is a necessity of beating the game. And as I learned which items I had the best strategies for, my warehouses became far more useful. Some items I didn't even know the usefulness of until I went through the final and hardest dungeon in the game. Take the Staff of Postpone, which slows down enemies. Just use that, and ignore them, no more debilitating status effects for you most likely. I hadn't learned how wise it was to not fight every single enemy I came across for ages. But the fact that I didn't says a lot about the array of strategies you can have playing this. This game's like chess, if chess was more like a two-player Dungeons & Dragons, and the dungeon master despises you. Turns only happens after you make a move, so you always have time to stop and think. But you still need to think ahead. After all, there's only so much you can do on the fly, so you have to be ready for the worst. Once you get good at that, the game's a breeze.
One way the game teaches you of its multitudinous complexity is through Fay's Puzzles. These dial in that chess analogy I made in how they play. You're often in a room with strong enemies and traps that can kill you quickly, so the focus is on learning how to avoid these and use items to reach the exit. Doing so also nets you a random prize you can use or store at your discretion. I found these to be rather addictive because of their bite-sized nature; clearing them all within the first 10 hours of my playthrough. Depending on your preferences though, you can do these gradually. Though, in order to get the last bonus dungeon you'll need to complete them all.
Touching upon the difficulty again. To my understanding, this game's not even the hardest and most complex in the series, but it seems to be more unforgiving at times. This version has a rescue request system, so that if you die, you can reach out to another player and have them go through the dungeon to give you another shot. Enough people do still actively play this game, so if you ask around, you'll get some help. Or you could also use a fan-made password generator to save yourself. I didn't like using the latter very much, but since you can only be rescued three times at most in a run before failing, I'd say it's fair. Though there are a few occasions where rescuing isn't an option at all. For example, if you harass the shopkeeper in any way, he'll attack you for very high damage. And if you steal, you'll have to contest with both that and officers (and their dogs) chasing after you. These are manageable if you are well prepared. But if you're unfortunate enough to accidentally select "Throw" instead of the "Put" option when trying to sell something, things might not end very well for you. That sucked when it happened to me personally, and was a bit of a mood killer. Especially considering that this was a game I enjoyed the most in bursts, and redoing the last hour of progress wasn't something I wanted to do in that moment.
Oddly enough, while I had a ton of fun and have fond memories of this game, I'll be giving it a 9/10 for now. I think this decision mainly comes down to the game being better in bursts. A bit of a strange way to score it maybe, so perhaps that'll change. Another reason is that some of the bonus dungeons were a bit lacking. Apparently all of them in the SFC version are a fair challenge, but some of them the new and remade dungeons alike were just a tad too easy here, gimmicks aside. Though the final dungeon in the original is also slightly easier as well it seems, so I guess I'll see for myself eventually. But simply put, if you want a game that's both fun and at times tense and slightly torturous, this is great! Even greater is how each play is different for everyone, making it a pleasure to talk about with others in ways I haven't really seen before, and that includes other games with rogue elements. Add to it that the game has plenty of charm and you've got a roguelike that you might just spend 1300 hours playing. As for me, I'll be applying those 1300 hours across the entire series, because wow there's a lot of Shiren and even more Mystery Dungeon.

I used to tell friends there were no games worth playing on the NES, equating the time one would spend playing its games to be no more than how long one would spend playing Atari 2600 games. This was only a few years ago, mind you, but I was completely over the console. And despite the handful of games I'd enjoyed on it, I found myself hating it. While I'm not fully sure what brought me to feel this way, one possibility was that I'd grown tired of Nintendo continuously reselling the console's games to us players. This seems to be a sentiment shared by many, and I don't think it helps that Nintendo usually resells the same batch of black box NES titles, some of the plainest offerings of the library, and then forgets to offer games from the many other late consoles in their corporate catacombs (cough cough GameCube). Either way, I'd lost sight of the games I liked on the NES, one of them being the now cult classic Gimmick! (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the name).
At launch, it was definitely obscured; additionally getting critically panned by EGM and Famitsu alike, but through various offerings on the internet, it gained more notoriety than it originally saw at release. Something that's certainly left a mark on its secondhand prices, wherein both its Japanese Famicom and Scandinavian NES incarnations it's one of the most expensive releases for the entire system's library. Though in light of that, of course, more people now know of it, myself included. I probably wouldn't have known about it were it not for either Pat the NES Punk's coverage on the game or HG101's old article on it. And to that end I'm thankful, because it's one of the few games that actually makes an edgey gamer like me slightly emotional.
Said emotional onset, is probably due to the fantastic music in the game. The lead programmer, composer, and sound programmer; Tomomi Sakai, Masashi Kageyama and Naohisa Morota, respectively, all worked together to completely max out the Famicom's sound capabilities. Even going so far as to use a custom sound controller called the SUNSOFT 5B, which gave them a few additional channels to work with to really make the music feel live and alive (sparing the technical details, it's a really cool piece of hardware and those intrigued by it should absolutely look into it). As many may tell you, the tunes are good enough that they'll find themselves listening to them just for the heck of it. Something I ought to do myself more often.
One thing the contemporary reviews did take particular notice of at launch were the visuals. These are astounding. Every one of the seven stages has a distinct appearance, and there are all sorts of minute details. Be it the seagulls hovering in the background of the beach stage (those guys make noises too!), or the variety of smooth machinery animations in the mine and tower stages. Coupled with the music, the scenery really shows how rich the NES could be at its best. And I think the final stage absolutely showcases this in my favorite way, as it's the easiest stage in the game, but only as a brief reprieve from the action before the tough final boss. Appropriately fitting, is a slightly ominous mood with a contradictingly serene atmosphere, brought on by the music, the little spikey cat creatures running around, whatever those giant those tooth-shaped creatures lumbering about are, the peaceful dragon statue spouting water, birds twittering, and more. It's a real treat, if my detailed gushing about it didn't already indicate as such.
And of course, though I compliment these things, they wouldn't make the game a masterpiece on their own. Thankfully, the gameplay in Gimmick! is not only wholly unique, but it's a joy to play and works extremely well in the modern gaming age. The protagonist, Yumetarou, has a star projectile he can generate and shoot with the B button. It takes a little bit to get the hang of since it's got its own velocity and will bounce around the screen for a bit until it leaves the area or loses speed and disappears. It's an interesting mechanic, and you must rely on it the entire game to discard enemies and even ride around on it yourself to reach areas normally inaccessible. Things don't simply revolve around that however; Sakai also implemented slope inertia into every single slanted tileset you walk on, and so you'll find yourself jumping a lot to tactically reposition yourself. It makes way for level design that's smart and challenges the player to think in new ways, furthered by the supreme difficulty of the game. If there's one thing people know the game for, it's the challenge. This game's not very long by any means, 30-minute arcade game length at that (perhaps part of the reason the 2020 Exact☆Mix version exists), but you'll most likely take longer than that the first handful of times you play it. It's tough, but far from impossible to get the good ending. This game has the perfect level of challenge to make it both addicting and never feel cheap. It'll grab you by the hair and force you learn its ideas; trifle you with the dastardly boss AI for a little while, before soon making you a master of its ruleset.
This game's a perfect blend of exquisite aesthetics and gameplay; a true passion project from the small team that made it. I think this makes for a good account of why Gimmick! is an awesome game worth your time and adoration. Thanks to me wanting to play the original Dragon Quest games, I've been reminded of the sheer quality of the NES library, and I don't think I'll find myself forgetting that again. Sure there are stinkers like Mario: The Lost Levels, but there are wonderful games like Gimmick! to play instead. Fortunately, a port to modern consoles and PCs was recently announced, so if you haven't already played it, I'd suggest picking that up when it releases. Personally, I'm gonna try to get as many people playing this game as possible, it's too good for me not to.

It goes without saying that games that become representative of a console's library or even an entire genre usually have a good historical basis for being that way. Games like the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES, the first generation of Pokémon on the Game Boy, and even Grand Theft Auto III on the PS2 all rightfully earned their spot as library-defining games. They set many standards for gaming and still hold up in many ways today. Crash Bandicoot generally has a similar reputation as the original PlayStation's killer 3D platformer. As in, for many, this game is equivalent to what Super Mario 64 was doing at the same time for the Nintendo 64. It defined childhoods, and captured a sense of adventure many had never experienced before. And considering I didn't have much childhood nostalgia for SM64 nor Crash (and I absolutely love the former), I wanted to see if I could find the same enjoyment in Crash 1, against the advice of a good friend (and massive Crash fan) that suggested I skip straight to 2. Odd.
Now, I can absolutely see where people's appreciation for this game comes from, and its historical relevance. It came out when 3D platformers were still more or less non-existent, and the few that did get released beforehand made usage of tank controls (see Floating Runner and Alpha Waves as examples), which wasn't always the most satisfying way to play. This was primarily from a lack of fluidity this control scheme had for the genre. But, Crash 1 gives everyone simple controls that are much more intuitive, with a fun little character that has some decent weight to his motion, even going so far as to keep the levels linear enough to make it hard for people to be overwhelmed by the scope of any stages within. It was wise for Naughty Dog to go with this design approach, as it almost ensured that people that weren't big on gaming could enjoy it too.
However, by the same token, this game's ultimately a 2D platformer with a little more freedom of movement (and no, I don't mean it's a "2.5D" platformer). I say that more in the sense that it's barely a 3D platformer at all and hardly warrants being called one in my opinion. Though I'm not gonna be a wise guy about it and come up a genre name for a gameplay setup that's only shared with maybe Temple Run? Crash, while fine to control for the most part, has poor control in the air, so you really have to commit to any and all jumps. These work alright with how the game's levels are designed, but beyond that, the level design is fairly shallow, and doesn't really feel fun. Certainly not fun enough for me to take the challenge of getting 100% completion of the game. It just feels okay, and not anywhere near the massive reputation this series has for being the PlayStation's mascot platformer.
The game as a whole holds up rather well though. Or it would, if it weren't for the bogus save system the game uses. Even by 1996's standards, I have no idea why this game opted for such an outdated approach. Basically requiring the player to find three items with Crash's girlfriend, Tawna, on it. Then, beating a bonus stage afterwards to either get a password or save to your memory card. Failing to do either of these means you're SOL until the next stage with the Tawna items in it. This absolutely felt like a cheap way of raising the difficulty of the game, since it isn't particularly challenging otherwise.
As for the aesthetics. These are fine, like the rest of the game, I wasn't overly enamored with the soundtrack, though it got the job done. Very minimal and ambient, which could be really cool, as is the case with another well-known jungle-themed platformer, but here it was rather forgettable. The sound effects and visuals were possibly my favorite part however, I liked the untextured look of all of the enemies, and the weird vertex manipulation going on with Crash's model made him contort in a lot of goofy ways that was fun to watch. The stage select's rather bland and ugly though, but it's not a game changer. Other than that, it's got some soul to it, so I'm intrigued to see what the developers did with the 2nd game. Maybe it'll win me over as the console's big platformer for real.

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