The Sojourn (PlayStation 4) Review

You can find this review in full at

The Sojourn is a fantastically strange game; a game where I feel I have little to say and yet cannot fathom where to start. From the outside looking in, you have a pretty albeit simple-looking first person puzzler with a core theme of light, and if that’s enough to sell you, by all means jump in! In a sense you really do get what’s on the package, but there’s a certain intricacy and narrative that’s difficult to understand looking deeper.

Jumping into the game you have no abilities. Presented with a path to walk along and a light to follow, you move agonisingly slowly through a world as it illuminates and opens around you. It’s painful in a way, but this pain is emphasised because your aim is simply to walk. Ordinarily I would criticise this pace as an issue, something to artificially lengthen an otherwise short experience, but as you enter the first puzzle, it becomes evident its role in a larger design.

The game starts you off simply to introduce each part before expecting you to use it in a puzzling manner, starting with the flame. Touching this wispy wonder grants you the power to enter the dark world, this power consumed as you move. What makes the dark world so great? In this alternate view of the world, you’ll find new platforms available, and as the game goes on, you’ll find yourself able to interact with an interesting repertoire of objects. By in large, your goal is to utilise the dark world and the tools at your disposal to get from the start of a puzzle to the end. It’s magnificently simple on paper, but what stands out to me is how this simplicity is paralleled. Starting out with a statue you can swap places with in the dark world, puzzles grow in challenge and complexity as you’re introduced to small additions one by one. You’re naturally guided from just swapping places with a statue to recognising a chamber you can use to duplicate it, to spotting gates and where statues need to be to unlock them. You also have broken paths that can only be reassembled in the dark world that’ll return to their original state after a certain amount of time passes, and barricades that only block your way in the dark world. There’s a brilliant assortment of individual components that’re introduced one at a time. With each you’re given a brief message to explain what it is, before moving through puzzles to prove your understanding. Just as you find yourself comfortable in utilising these newfound powers, you’re put before a test only slightly more difficult than your previous trial, balanced well to reward your thinking without overwhelming you at any particular time. Each puzzle is crafted in such a methodical way that you come to terms with your slowness and largely forget about it, embracing it as your timer in the dark world.

Seeing you move from room to room solving these puzzles, The Sojourn leaves little room for traditional narrative. With no spoken dialogue and the only text being one of tutorial messages or cryptic introductions to new sections, you’re given the freedom to interpret events as you please. As you progress, you come across stone scenes portraying what I assume to be the life of a child, depicting significant events and hardships. Though I’ve never been the type of person to take to this kind of narrative well, I can at least appreciate what it’s trying to do. Even in my lack of larger understanding, it’s easy to appreciate these dioramas individually thanks to their interesting posing and overall design. I’m sure there’s more to see and more to gain in following these events more thoroughly, but it definitely isn’t a requirement in having a great time with the game.

Looking at the music and graphical styling of the game you find everything shining a focus on the puzzles. Graphics are low poly and scenes catch the eye without necessarily drawing focus or attention from the problem at hand. The music is perfectly forgettable to the point of me having to check whether the game even had music to write this. It again blends into the background as perfect ambiance to keep you drawn into the world and provoke thought. It’s slow and nuanced, and a perfect fit for a game so thematically matching. The simple aesthetic allows the game to show a visually stunning contrast between light and dark, and for me it’s hard to criticise. While I understand not everybody appreciates low poly graphics, they really aren’t the focus. They’re a means of delivering high quality and easy to jump into puzzles, and in that regard they definitely succeed. 

For those who pick it up and decide they want more than just following the beaten track, extra challenges are available as the game progresses. With some lurking behind specified gates and others being stapled to the end of an easier puzzle as optional content, the game makes sure to keep you busy and provide for those eager to keep playing. It’s difficult for me to say concretely whether this is a game I can or cannot recommend, largely because it’s a style of game you’re either likely to love or hate. If you’re into slow and methodical puzzling, if you’re after a game you can pick up for a few minutes or a few hours, if you want to be challenged in a fair and gradual manner, The Sojourn will likely appeal to you. If the sound of that doesn’t grasp you however, it’s a gamble. You may get past the slow movement as I did, or you may not. You may enjoy the themes and aesthetic, or you may not. For its target audience, I believe this is a fantastic game, and encourage anybody reading to at least check it out. You might just find something new to love. 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Nintendo Switch) Review

You can find this review in full at

Fire Emblem is a series I hold quite close to my heart. Starting with Shadow Dragon on the DS and jumping between the other titles ever since, the combination of strategy, dice rolling, character development, and brilliant writing has enthralled me in a way other games simply can’t mimic. Though it’s undoubtedly had its ups and downs, I picked up Three Houses in hope it might inspire another generation of fans in the same way Awakening once did, and in that respect, it certainly didn’t disappoint.

For those of you not familiar with the larger series, Fire Emblem is known for its strategic turn-based battles and the accompanying stories of war, betrayal, and more often than not, dragons. Where it stands out for me personally is in its limited resources; be it experience, gold, or weapon durability, you’re constantly having to plan out who kills what, with which weapon, and how you’re going to be managing five chapters later. It’s in linearity this balance truly shines, giving decisions a sense of finality and consequence, forcing you to adapt as you realise piling all your resources into a healer because you really wanted her to be a swordsman may not have been the best idea.

As the series has evolved, so too has this formula, adjusting the limitations I’m so fond of in ways as to make the game more accessible through optional extras. Implementing open worlds to be moved through and bonus battles to be fought for extra experience and money, it fuelled players intent on maxing stats and destroying difficulty. It’s in this accessibility Fire Emblem found new life on the 3DS, and for that I’ll forever be grateful, but in these options I felt the series had lost something along the way. Where a player can grind, they will grind. Where a player can have a team with a lot of big numbers, they’ll put in time to have it. In having these options, I’ve historically found myself using them—often to the point of prematurely burning myself out. Coming into Three Houses with very little knowledge, this was perhaps my most significant cause for concern. With, as the title may suggest, three houses to side with, and three paths to explore, burning out before seeing all the game had to offer seemed an inevitability.

Getting Started

After passing the initial fanfare of difficulty selection, cutscenes, and scene setting, you’re whisked into battle to assist three young nobles being pursued by bandits. Basics learned and bandits wiped out, they’re properly introduced to you as the upcoming rulers of the game’s three major powers: the Adrestian Empire, the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, and the Leicester Alliance. Accompanying them back to the officer’s academy at Garreg Mach Monastery, you’re soon roped in by the church’s archbishop Rhea to stay as a professor and guide one of the academy’s three houses, and it’s here the game really begins.

The basic gameplay cycle can be broken down into months. At the start of the month, you’ll get a mission. These missions start out simple in exterminating bandits and the like, but as the story escalates, so too do the manner of mission you take on. These are the key events that move the story forwards, comparable to the traditional chapters of your average Fire Emblem game. Regardless of the house you chose, the first half of the game shares common missions, with the game branching out in completely different directions when the second half begins and things really start kicking off. If you’re to judge the game on these maps alone, in both their design and the story told to connect them, I believe you already have the workings of a good game—a good game however, and nothing more.

The story is something I want to keep as vague as possible in this review. Instead of talking about the events themselves, I find it more interesting to look at how it progresses, escalates, twists, warps, and subverts your expectations. In short, it’s fantastic, and among the most enjoyable I’ve played in a Fire Emblem game. The design of the three routes is different to, for example, Fire Emblem FatesFates gave the player an introduction to each side of the moral coin and presented them with an informed decision, but even beyond this the structure of the game remained relatively constant. Putting the chapters side by side, you could match up key events, and in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t feel as though your presence made all that much of a difference. Each path had its own set of information revealed to the player, but you’d only find a few unique pieces of information. Three Houses in contrast gives you three bright and fresh-faced characters. They’re each ambitious and glowing in their unique ways. They introduce you to each member of their house, and based on little more than that you’re expected to make what is ultimately the most significant decision in the game. Because you chose your house for its cast of personalities, or even just for its leader, you want them to succeed in an incredibly personal way, almost as if to scream to the rest of the game that you made the right choice and that you stand by it.

Fresh Content

Beyond the main events of the game, a greater entity lurks. Each month, as you might expect, is made up of a number of weeks, with each week following a formula. At the start, you perform your duty as a professor and teach your class. What this equates to is giving bonus experience to chosen skills, allowing you to develop your units outside of battle. If you want an army of Dark Knights by the end of the game, you’ll be training all your units in reason and riding for example. Though each character excels at different things and each have their own optimal end classes, it’s down to you to decide what they’ll become—you can even have an army of healers if you so desire! What you ultimately have is the freedom of Shadow Dragon’s class changing system without the limitations it imposed. As long as you can get a skill to the required level, the sky is the limit. Such freedom does however only go to highlight what limits are in place, these being the few gender-locked classes there are. What this unfortunately means is that there is no female class specialised in the new gauntlet weapon type, and that there’s no male class built to wield both types of magic. There’s nothing stopping you from putting gauntlets on a female Swordmaster, or giving your male Holy Knight some black magic to play with, but with how far the series has come in player choice and opportunities, I find this a shame all the same.

As each week ends and teaching concludes, you’re given free time to do with as you wish. Here you can choose between exploration, battles, lectures, and resting. The latter three are self-explanatory; battles are akin to the additional battles seen in previous games, lectures give separate opportunity for skill growth, and resting skips ahead with a few minor benefits. Of the available options exploring is by far the most interesting, at least for your first playthrough. During this time you’re free to roam the monastery grounds, talking with students for their thoughts on current events, collecting quests to be fulfilled each month, fishing, and even a sharing a pot of tea should you so desire. While actions like talking and fishing can be done to your heart’s content, others are limited to a set number each week based on your professor level. Most of these are directly tied to growth to avoid abuse, such as having a meal with your students to improve their motivation and, in turn, allow them to be taught to more in the coming week’s lecture time. Your professor level improves naturally as you play the game, rewarding you for responding to questions with reasonable answers, taking the time to interact with your students, and completing quests as they arise. On top of giving you more to do in exploring the monastery, your professor level also grants additional battles each week should you decide to forgo exploration. Starting at just one battle a week, it soon becomes two, and when you finally reach the maximum level, you can do up to three. This gives your choice of free time a sense of balance and ultimately transforms it into a resource for you to manage. Battling too much can result in a lack of skill development, but avoiding extra battles altogether can lead to some of your units feeling underdeveloped. It truly feels as though there is no real right or wrong way to play, but for those picking it up and feeling overwhelmed with the choices at hand, the game is kind enough to show you how other players have spent their time for the current week with statistics shown beside each choice. Whether you choose to follow the herd or forge your own path however is up to you.

While fans of the series will feel right at home with the game’s battling system, it definitely isn’t without its own set of notable changes. One of the easier to miss, and perhaps most significant, is the absence of a weapon triangle. In many a modern game, it’s established that swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords, this reinforced with bonuses to the unit with the advantage. In Three Houses, the field is an even one. Personally, I think this is fantastic, removing a component of team composition that at times serves only to shackle you into specific classes. Each weapon type still comes with its own set of pros and cons; axes do a lot of damage with bad hit rate, swords have a good hit rate with middling attack, gauntlets even let you strike twice before your opponent can attack, with the caveat you can’t use them while mounted. Teams are now diverse through choice, in oppose to being through a sense of obligation and caution.

A more difficult addition to miss comes in the form of demonic beasts, a boss-type enemy with a few fun twists. First, they’re huge. With normal demonic beasts occupying four tiles in a square and special beasts going even larger, their presence is known. Of course, with size comes more areas to be hit, and to counter that, demonic beasts have two things: barriers and multiple health bars. Barriers are simple; there’s one for each tile it occupies and they require two hits to break, regardless of how much damage you’re doing. While you can just keep breaking one part of its barrier to expose a weak point, you’re encouraged to smash it all, receiving rare bonus items as a reward. As you take down each bar of health, the demonic beast gains new abilities, providing a thrilling rush and a fight much unlike the rest of the series that gets more difficult as you progress through it. As you battle more and more, you begin to form strategies to dismantle their barriers and defeat them in a turn, as to deprive them of their last wind. It’s all satisfying in a way I wouldn’t have expected from the series, providing a frequent boss-killing buzz in bitesize portions.

If you’ve not played the game, you may think these one turn strategies require a small army to execute—four barriers to break, each with up to two health. One of the things I love about Three Houses is how each new feature seems to tie in with another. Roll on battalions! Once again new to the series, each unit can now equip a battalion to join them in battle. Each one provides small stat boosts to the unit they’re assigned to, and if you zoom the camera in, you can actually see them following behind. The biggest thing they bring to the table however, are gambits. Gambits are limited use special attacks that do damage over a number of tiles, accompanied by a unique effect. Some push enemies back, some set tiles on fire for environmental damage, others poison enemies, but the key part for the avid beast slayers among us is that they hit a number of tiles. With the right battalions assigned, you can dismantle a fully-functioning barrier with just two attacks! On top of this, enemies are unable to retaliate when attacked with these, allowing you to chip away at stronger foes to push them within range of a kill, especially early on when you’re lacking in firepower.

Alongside your major additions are a few small things of note. Magic has a fresh coat of paint with how it functions, giving the unit a set number of uses for each spell per battle, and new spells being learned as you level up your reason and faith skills. Magic users are incredibly powerful against a good majority of enemies, but the limited spell uses mean they need to be played effectively so as not to waste what little they have. As their library grows, they become mightier and more capable of singlehanded destruction, worrying less about remaining uses with advanced classes doubling how much you can cast.

The last tweak to the formula comes in the form of combat arts, powerful attacks that consume weapon durability to use. Often learned for mastering a class or attaining a new skill level, combat arts provide a huge range of different bonuses. Ranging from a higher critical chance, to extra range for bow users, to effective damage against certain types of foe, you have three slots to decide how to fill, varying greatly from unit to unit. Though they can be overlooked while playing in favour of a more standard approach, I found combat arts invaluable, especially so for bow users where any extra range is appreciated. Like much of what I love about Three Houses, they’re something you can embrace, overlook, or ignore entirely. Again it provides choice with limitation, and even deciding to use them you find yourself debating whether a one round kill is worth losing the additional weapon durability. With a power akin to Mila’s Turnwheel from Shadows of Valentia handy however, you’re also free to experiment in-game. Thanks to a godly power you possess, you’re able to rewind turns a set number of times each battle, pushing you to try for that 40% hit chance kill or that unlikely crit in a brilliantly satisfying way.

There’s so much to keep you interested and occupied as you play, but what stands out to me is how the game rewards you for coming back and playing again. After facing a story’s climax and raising an army for upwards of 30 hours, it can feel a little disheartening to be starting from nothing. Gone is your level 62 Great Knight, gone is the money you were hording because you were worried about running out, gone is your progress—and yet you find yourself tempted back with just enough to feel like your previous efforts are still with you. What you retain in actuality is really rather little: the battalions you’ve collected, the progress you’ve made in levelling up statues that provide you with various benefits, and your renown, something obtained by completing quests and battles. Digging a little deeper however, you find your progress still remains. What’s added for New Game Plus is a new way of spending your renown, allowing you to instantly jump back to your old professor level, and buy back both support rankings and skill levels previously acquired. With this, you’re able to recruit familiar faces to your house almost instantly, and your high professor level from the start means you have more time to develop your students, both in exploring the monastery and in the number of battles you’re able to do per free day. Add to this the mysteries and puzzles yet unsolved and you’re soon drawn in once more, standing by a new face, holding the banner of a new house. It’s a vicious cycle I can only applaud.

Razer BlackWidow Elite Gaming Keyboard (Hardware) Review

As companies go, Razer is an odd one for me. I’ve used a BlackWidow Chroma, one of their earlier RGB keyboards, for almost six years now with my only issue coming from one of its legs breaking off. As keyboards go, I have a preconception of build quality and polish with Razer, to some extent at the cost of style. What was the point of a mechanical keyboard if it didn’t scream gaming after all? Times have moved on, and with the mechanical keyboard becoming more and more common on every type of setup, can Razer put forward a keyboard to cater to a more general audience?

To avoid confusion, the BlackWidow Elite is still very much a gaming keyboard, make no mistake about that. Advertising their proprietary switches for peak precision and performance, remappable keys, and that every key can hide a second function, it has everything in place for a fantastic gaming offering. The keyboard sent for review contains Razer’s Yellow switches, to the best of my knowledge being a close match to your traditional reds. Having come from their Green switches, similar to traditional blues, in my BlackWidow Chroma, it took some getting used to. Gone are the satisfying clicks you best associate with a mechanical keyboard, and in their place, a new and incredibly odd sense of reactivity quite strangely no less satisfying. Where with Greens you would use the switch’s click as feedback the input has been registered, Yellows find themselves triggering before you really realise you want to hit them, at least until you get past the initial culture shock. From my imprecise attempts at measurement, you’re looking at around 2mm of pressing before your input is registered, with the keys having around 5mm of travel distance in total. This was measured with a ruler held to the side of the keys, so the numbers may be slightly off, but I can say with certainty these keys feel remarkably responsive.

Looking at its feature set is an interesting mix. You have your standard RGB lighting, complete with a configuration tool we’ll look at later, you have assignable macros, but notably no specific macro keys, you have Razer’s gaming mode, disabling the windows key when active, and as a nice addition, you have four multimedia buttons, complete with a digital dial. The multimedia buttons in particular stand out to me, giving a really nice overall feel to the keyboard as something more than just gaming, and this idea bleeds into the overall design. To be blunt, the keyboard looks normal. The font used for the keys is slim and pleasant to look at, the bulk of specialised macro keys I’m used to seeing on the Chroma has been cut off, instead opting to store them as additional options accessed when holding the function key. Even the small addition of multimedia options screams everyday use. Instead of looking like an eight year old’s fantasy of what a gamer should use, it looks and feels like a keyboard that wouldn’t be out of place in an office, at a school, or wherever else you might want to take it. Some like the garishness, but I have an appreciation for a more muted and clean design, and Razer really impressed me with this. Another small aspect of appreciation comes from the case’s design. The Chroma’s keys were sunk into the body of the keyboard, this pit acting as a magnet to hairs and dust, the only real means of cleaning being to remove every key. With the keys sat atop the case here, it’s far easier to blow compressed air from the bottom to sweep out all the junk. It’s a small change, but one I appreciate immensely.

With customisation such a large part of these fancy keyboards, it needs to be backed up with an easy to use software solution; no matter how many great options you have, if you can’t figure out how to access them, they’re useless. It should really come as no surprise to say Razer hit it out of the park in this department. Having used their Synapse software in the past with my previous keyboard, everything functioned simply and exactly as I was used to. By selecting the keyboard tab and entering Chroma Studio, you’re presented with an incredibly easy to use interface.

What you have is a clear visual representation of your keyboard’s lighting. This image is updated in real time with key presses or fancy features as they’re happening; in the screenshot above you can see the Alt key is a different colour because I was holding it to take the picture. My setup for the keyboard is quite a simple one, being fond of block colours. I have effects layered so to give most of the keyboard set colours, and for them to briefly turn white when hit so as to allow me to see if I happen to mishit a key. Aside from this, I have my multimedia keys changing colour depending on how loud the currently playing audio is, really just because it seemed like an amusing feature. Effects are layered like in image editing software, with effects on top given higher priority. For the effect I’m using, I have the flat colours as a static layer, with a reactive white layer blanketing the entire keyboard. If you’re a little more adventurous than myself, there’s a lot to play with, most of which being animated or reactive. By far the most bizarre of these is ambient awareness, attempting to change the lighting on your keyboard in real time to match the contents of your screen. It isn’t perfect and doesn’t work fantastically when using the keyboard for day to day activities, but in-game where colours are vibrant and varied, it works really nicely as a base layer to be built upon. A small but important thing to mention with these customisations is that you can store up to four layouts on the keyboard’s on-board memory. You do unfortunately still require Synapse installed on other systems to access them, but it makes transferring settings far simpler than it previously has been.

A few minor additions worth a brief mention are the magnetic wrist rest and a cable routing quirk. The wrist rest sits comfortably on the front of the unit and holds itself in place with in-built magnets. It’s the kind of thing you put down and don’t notice, and I say that in the best possible way. It takes up minimal space, and provides apt support that just lets you carry on typing with very little wear. The cable routing is as simple as having grooves under the keyboard, and three holes for the wire to escape from. This means you can have your keyboard wire extending from the back, the top-left, or the top-right, depending on your particular needs. It’s something I’d have never thought of, and something I’d never really look for in a keyboard, but such flexibility is nice all the same. Anything to limit a mess of wires is a positive in my book.

All in all, I struggle to find fault in Razer’s BlackWidow Elite. An unquestionable step up from their original BlackWidow Chroma, it’s a sleek gaming keyboard with an ample feature set, available in both UK and US layouts, as well as Razer’s own Green, Orange, and Yellow switches. Its only real limiting factor for me is its price; at £169.99, it isn’t the kind of thing you can really buy on a whim. If you can get past the cost however, you’ll have a quality keyboard built to last.

SteelSeries Arctis 7 Wireless Gaming Headset (Hardware) Review

You can find this review in full at

Newton’s forgotten law of physics: where there is a product, there is a gaming product. Be it flashy RGB lighting, an interesting choice of font, or a garish pointy design, a gaming product is noticeable. It’s made to stand out in an often style over substance manner; it’s made to catch the eye, to draw people in, and it often works. I like many a modern gamesperson have my fair share of fancily lit goodness surrounding me, but sometimes a gaming product is more. Sometimes it fills a legitimate role, sometimes you find a product like SteelSeries’ Arctis 7 headset.

At first glance, you might think the Arctis 7 somewhat plain. You have two matte black ear cups held together by a similarly black plastic frame. Each cup is adorned with the SteelSeries logo, and the frame has a strip of adjustable elastic for your head to press against, alleviating any discomfort you may otherwise have with a standard plastic frame. Looking at the ear cups themselves, on the left you have a retractable microphone, as well as the volume dial and a few ports for charging and connecting the headset to devices via a 3.5mm jack, and of course a button to mute the mic. The right is a little less cluttered, housing only the power button and a dial to balance audio between two tracks. More or less, that’s everything. They don’t look particularly flashy, there’s no RGBs, and there’s nothing pointy; they’re not even neon green! They lack the flair you might expect, and yet I can’t help but find that a good thing. From a design standpoint, they’re just headphones. They look refined, they look clean, and despite the plastic casing, they look and feel like a premium product.

Putting them on for the first time was an interesting experience. My head isn’t overly large, to the best of my knowledge at least, but plastic frames worry me. I worry they’re brittle, I worry I might put them on to hear an unfortunate snap. As somebody most acquainted with whatever I can find for as little money as I can spend, these fears are often justified. Having a play with these, at the very least I feel secure. My head resting on the elastic strip and the cups cushioned with some kind of comfortable fabric material, they feel really quite nice to wear. Even putting them over my glasses, they sit well, allowing me to use them for hours on end with no real kind of drawback. I’ve pulled at them a fair bit to see just how flexible they are for those more endowed in the head department than myself, and I’m quite impressed. They aren’t something you’ll break without putting real effort in, the plastic frame adjusting nicely to my bending and stretching.

Despite lacking your typical gaming trademarks, it’s here where the Arctis 7 really does shine. To put it simply, everything sounds as it should; no particular aspect felt enhanced or overemphasised. This normalcy is exactly what I want, especially when it comes to games. Earphones I’ve used previously have been hit and miss, my most significant irritation being a focus on bass and the efforts to enhance it to varying degrees of success. I don’t think you’ll be surprised putting these on. There’s nothing to stand out and really take your breath away, it’s just the sound you expect to hear wirelessly in your ear, and that’s fine. Thanks to the 2.4 GHz wireless transmitter, latency is all but unnoticeable. Jumping from Super Smash Bros Ultimate, to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, to Detroit on the PS4, and even watching films on my laptop, I noticed no discrepancies. Lips were synced, smashes were satisfying, even jumping on Taiko I was hitting the notes to the same degree my ability would dictate.

Connecting the headset to your system of choice ranges from plug and play to plug a few things in and play; it’s simple, but not entirely intuitive in places. On a Windows PC, you plug in the dongle, let it do its automatic setup, and you’re done. You can turn on the headset to find it already paired to the dongle, and two audio channels visible in Windows, one for game audio, and one for voice chat. Of course, you aren’t limited to just these. With them being two plain audio channels, you can put any programs you want onto any channel and balance them at your will. For people who stream games and like to watch videos when they’re live, this dual channel setup can be utilised to keep all the miscellaneous video audio to your ears only, assuming you setup your software of choice to only take audio from the game channel. For consoles, it’s a little bit of a mixed bag, but even at its worst it isn’t necessarily complex. With a PS4, it’s as easy as Windows; plug and play. It’s detected as a headset when you plug in the dongle, and you’re good to go. The Switch, on the other hand, was a little irritating. Under compatibility on the Arctis 7 product page, it lists the Switch as compatible with wireless usage via USB in docked mode—technically speaking this much is true. You plug the dongle into the dock for power. What it fails to specify is that the Switch won’t detect it as a USB audio device. Instead, you’ll need to pick up a male to male 3.5mm wire and plug it into the Switch and the dongle. This wire is oddly not included with the headset. Once you’ve plugged in these extra cables, it works as you’d expect; I might add you can do the same with any device assuming the dongle is powered. As a general feature, it’s great, but I’d have preferred it a little better explained when it came to the compatibility listing, and including a 3.5mm wire would obviously have been ideal.

I like my audio to be clear and accurate, but for those wanting a little more control, SteelSeries Engine 3 has you covered. With this software, you can get down and dirty to get the sound just right for you, with options including bass enhancement, dialogue enhancement, and a standard-looking equalizer. As you fiddle with the settings your changes are previewed, allowing you to quickly get things as you like them with your audio playing in the background. You can save a seemingly-unlimited number of configurations, and even set them to enable on the launch of specific applications. Got a preferred sound for films? Enable it when you launch Media Player Classic. Really want to feel your engine revving in your sports racing game of choice? Get a config setup and launch it with the game. The software is really quite sleek and simple to use, and a nice thing to note is that these changes seem to save to the wireless dongle. Obviously you shouldn’t expect it to start switching between your configs, but if you want an unreasonable amount of bass to accompany your nightly Fire Emblem session, you’ll be good to go. With this seemingly saving to the dongle however, none of these changes are carried over should you decide to use the headset in a wired capacity. That being said, I think the standard setup is fantastic.

The microphone is attached to the left ear cup and easily retracts when not in use. You also have a button to toggle whether it’s muted, this visualised by a red light on the microphone itself. This design works nicely in letting you easily see its status without having to fiddle or keep hitting buttons asking whether the person on the other end can hear you. Spending some time talking with Chary over Discord, she could hear me clearly and even questioned whether I was using this headset or my standalone Blue Snowball.

The Arctis 7 succeeds in every essential area for a gaming headset, but it’s in this focus a more generalist buyer may be put off. The lack of both noise cancelling and isolation are in my opinion its two greatest flaws. These aren’t headphones I’d be comfortable wearing on a bus or train, not for the detracted microphone still slightly visible, but for the fear of being a nuisance to those around me. It’s as though you have two speakers next to your ears, which is obviously true, but I’m at a loss as to how better describe it. Aside from this, the headset also lacks Bluetooth connectivity, relying solely on its 2.4 GHz dongle for wireless and the option for a more widely compatible 3.5mm wired connection for those lacking the required USB port.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 (Nintendo Switch) Review

You can find this review in full at

To build is to blaspheme, so say the Children of Hargon. Worshipping destruction and chaos, the act of creation itself is outlawed and forbidden, builders imprisoned for their crimes. Waking up behind bars in a monster-occupied ship, en route to your demise, your services are required. Though the crew shun you, your utility in repairing the ship after a recent storm is too great to simply ignore, and it’s here you learn the basics. On the orders of a skeletal captain, you make some torches, repair the deck, and have a little play fight with one of the crew. Acting as a fairly natural tutorial to get those who skipped the first game up to speed, it sets an initial light-hearted tone for the game. This shanty crew, evil though they might be, really came to grow on me in the short time I had with them. Quirky, fun, and just a great cast of characters to be around; I almost wanted them to succeed in their cause, even if it was destroying everything. After maybe half an hour of getting to know these lovely creatures, they die. They all die. They die and it’s heartbreaking, and I wasn’t ready for it. Your final test before being ready to really kick things off with the game comes in the form of a storm, requiring you to plug holes in the ship. Though you try your best, the ship sinks, its only survivors being yourself and a particularly vocal and moderately less-fun-than-the-monsters woman. As you look around the beach, you see bodies lined up; you interact with them and they get washed away by the ocean. I just didn’t see it coming from a game like this, something so unexpectedly powerful and saddening to kick off such an incredible and grand adventure.

The island you’re washed up onto is the legendary and aptly named Isle of Awakening, acting as a hub area and larger objective for the rest of the game. It’s here you meet two amnesiac characters, Malroth and an ethereal bearded fellow assumed to be the island’s guardian. What’s interesting about this whole setup is how as the player, you’re fed more information than the characters in-game. For those who’ve played Dragon Quest 2, or those who paid more attention than I did to the opening cutscene, Malroth is the name of the demon summoned by Hargon. Your hero-to-be builder is ultimately teaming up and growing with and thanks to the unknowing lord of destruction, and it puts you in an interesting mindset. As a character, he’s rowdy, over the top, and as his title may suggest, excels in destructive activities. He’s a great ally considering all these things, and functionally he does his job well. Tagging along on your adventures, he gains experience and levels up alongside your character, and generally does well in assisting in whatever you’re trying to do. If you attack an enemy, he runs in to help. If you cut down a tree, he’ll go to nearby trees to get you some more wood. You get a sense of him really trying his best for you, which only goes to add to the conflict in his character. Will this development only serve to make him stronger? Will I need to fight him when the game comes to a close? This kind of player omnipotence does well in fuelling this kind of debate as the game progresses, despite it not going out of its way to present such arguments. It gives you snippets of information to ponder and obsess over as the larger story unravels, and as it goes, the larger story doesn’t disappoint.

Our favourite bearded spirit sees your building potential and sets you off with your larger goal of developing the Isle of Awakening as you see fit. This task serves as the backbone of the game, and with ownership of the island falling to you, you really are free to do as you please. Whether you want to dig up a desert or deface an otherwise nice looking temple, the ball’s in your court, but it won’t be long until you hit a wall; you can’t really make much in the beginning. Your island is barren and void of greenery, and you’re still a novice when it comes to making things. If you want to both grow as a builder and find ways to get your island looking as nice as possible, it won’t be long until you give into the plot and find yourself progressing to Furrowfield, the ‘land of verdant vegetation’. Eager to find a way to get your island a little greener, it’s an ideal place to start looking, but it isn’t going to be easy, not with the islanders being devout followers of the questionable Children of Hargon.

Each island you visit has a different twist and larger objective, but you’re generally looking at a cycle of building a town by completing requests of the villagers. As you complete these requests, they’ll generally become more open to the idea of building, abandon their faith, and attract new residents. These residents will then join in with the island’s quirk, helping out with things like farming and mining to give you time to focus on more interesting endeavours, and there really is a surprising amount to be found. With the terrain not randomly generated as you’d see in the ever-popular blocky superstar Minecraft, you get a real sense of caring and thoughtfulness; the world in its entirety feels intentional, and that knowledge compels you to seek out its finer details, something both to the game’s merit and detriment.

I think the merits of such design are clear; there are secrets, quirks, oddities, and just really nice landscapes and scenery as a whole. If you see an island in the distance, you know it’s there for a reason. If you see a monument or a building, you’re drawn to it if only to find out its significance, but it’s here where the game finds itself confused. You’ll find interesting things, and you might even spot an interesting-looking NPC, but in its attempt to present a linear narrative, it loses some of the charm it would otherwise have. These NPCs littered in each corner of the map pull you in to investigate, but if you find them before your time, they’ll simply refuse to talk to you. Every single one, the same line: “Scarlet tries to strike up a conversation… But there’s no response.” It’s a real shame. If the game were designed to be a little more flexible and allow you to recruit NPCs out of order, the experience would feel far more unique and rewarding. Even keeping these NPCs despawned until you need to meet them would have been a viable choice in keeping the player engaged, the single line snapping you back to reality whether you like it or not. It isn’t an experience-destroying negative, but it irritates me to see such a brilliant and otherwise thoroughly thought-out and designed game fall short in what to me seems like an obvious way. You get used to it, sure, but you shouldn’t have to. It’s not as though exploration is useless though, even with the uncooperative NPCs. You’ll find building puzzles, hidden chests, enemies with useful drops, and even powerful optional bosses if you’re up for the challenge. The world is a joy to navigate and I really encourage anybody playing to take the time to do so.

When you’re finished taking in the sights and want to return to the story, you’ll find a number of ways the game gauges your progression. First, you have your character level. Gaining XP by beating up monsters with your companion Malroth, you can think of this as personal growth. As you level up, you’ll gain more health and access to recipes that’ll help you beat things up quicker, such as weapons for both of your characters. Something I really found myself fond of was the level cap enforced at each stage of the game. On the Furrowfield, you’ll find your level capped to 10, but as you progress, this limit is gradually raised. It means for people like me who spent 20 hours building a fortress before progressing, you won’t feel too powerful, also giving the game control over the kinds of weapon recipes it gives you. The recipes for the first ten levels will require items you can gather on Furrowfield, up to the next limit will require items of the next island; the game never leaves you in a position where you don’t have the resources to do what you need to, unless the next task is to be gathering them. It’s well-paced and again, well thought out in giving you a satisfying experience over a long period of play.

The second means of progression is directly related to your progress on each island, a level for your village. As mentioned earlier, as the village grows, you’ll get more villagers and more eager hands to help. Growth happens through completing requests, providing you with gratitude, which can then be spent on levelling up the village when set thresholds are reached. Though requests are a significant way of getting gratitude, there are plenty of other ways, each rewarding your effort in its own way. If a villager sleeps on a bed, you’ll get a little gratitude each day as they wake up. If you set up a place for them to eat, you’ll get a little gratitude when they take some food. If you set up a kitchen, a toilet, a bath, if you have fields they can tend to, they’ll reward you with gratitude. The game encourages you to play and build to your heart’s content, and the collection of gratitude is, for the lack of a better word, incredibly gratifying. When you’ve progressed enough for the chapter to come to a close, you’ll head back to the Isle of Awakening with some new allies and the recipes and resources you’ve gained along the way, and once you start building there, you’ll again be rewarded with gratitude. With no formal village to speak of, it’s used a little differently however.

Once your time in Furrowfield has come to an end, the game opens up with some really nice options. You have a new means of movement in the glider, but perhaps more significantly, you gain access to both multiplayer and Explorer’s Shores. Explorer’s Shores are small islands scattered around the larger world map. Paying a set amount of gratitude earned at the Isle of Awakening, you’re able to visit these islands as much as you’d like, but unlike your main ‘story islands’, no progress is saved here. Your objective is detached from the rest of the game, ultimately serving as a scavenger hunt for a pre-set list of items, the reward entirely worth the effort. For each hunt completed, you get unlimited access to a specified material, and with two hunts available for each island, you’ll be wanting to develop the Isle of Awakening if only to access them. Unlimited wood meant I no longer had to worry about the dwindling tree populous, unlimited grass fibre meant I could stop slashing at every piece of grass in my path. The slow transition to a more creative way of playing is something I really appreciated, the game again paced brilliantly as to present these unlimited items after the areas where they were previously commonplace. Furrowfield rich in trees and other types of greenery, you’d be less inclined to explore and gather materials if you had unlimited access to wood. Coming back to the Isle of Awakening however, it’s easy to feel limited in what you can do. Best of all, these islands are entirely optional. If you’d rather a purer life of survival and gathering, the game will respect your choice and leave you be, but for those wanting to create on a grander stage, such unlimited access will be welcomed.

Multiplayer is a little harder for me to comment on without anybody I know having the game prior to it launching, though I can still go over a few of the basics. You gain access to it after returning from Furrowfield, and allows you to play either online or via local wireless with three other people. When playing with them, you can run around and build the Isle of Awakening together. With the online functioning using the Switch friend list, I’m also assuming cross-platform multiplayer isn’t possible. I wish I could give a little more information on this, but I can at least say I’m thoroughly looking forward to playing with others after the game has officially launched.

One hot topic when it comes to the Switch version of the game is, quite understandably, just how well it performs, and it’s a mixed bag. To my untrained eye, the game largely feels incredibly nice to play, not noticing any kind of slowdown in the general activities of building and gathering. Where things started to get choppy however was after I acquired the glider. As a fast means of getting around, I used it to do a lap of each new island, allowing me to have a fuller idea of my surroundings. In this swift movement through the scenery, the game struggled at times to keep up, stuttering noticeably, but never to a particularly concerning limit, and certainly not frequent to the point of it being a larger issue. If you’re more sensitive to this kind of thing than myself, I encourage you to check out the free demo and try pushing the game as best you can.

All in all, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is phenomenal. With its fantastic sense of progression, fun writing, and endless building opportunities, it is a perfect game to lose yourself in, hours melting away as you decide you just want to build one more wall. Though slightly held back by uncooperative NPCs and occasional performance hiccups, it stands out to me as one of the best titles released for the Switch to date. It’s a game I thoroughly enjoyed, and hope many more will enjoy in the coming days and weeks.

Super Mario Maker 2 (Nintendo Switch) Review

You can find this review in full at

For years, Mario fans sat and appreciated Nintendo’s efforts, each new game bringing with it a degree of charm and unique brilliance. Between new power ups, new levels, or even just a fresh appearance on a new console, fans watched, waited, anticipated, and enjoyed—but the fans wanted more. They wanted to break the shackles of Nintendo’s design principles, they wanted to torture others with horrible ideas, they wanted to do it for themselves, and with the release of Mario Maker on the Wii U, they did all that and more. The Switch’s popularity ever-prominent, and a slurry of the Wii U’s greatest titles finding themselves ported for the wider audience, it was only a matter of time until the level creation toolkit received the same treatment; not as a port, but as a sequel.

What’s New?

There’s a deceptively impressive amount added to the original experience. It’s easy to break it down to a single player story mode and a few new parts, but there’s just so much depth to each individual element. Starting with course parts, you now have on/off switches, blocks, tracks, and conveyor belts that can be toggled using them, snake blocks, swinging claws, seesaws, Banzai Bills, icicles, twisters, angry suns, less angry moons, Dry Bones shells to ride in, the ever-pitiful Boom Boom, and finally after almost four years of waiting, the much-anticipated slopes! It’s a good amount to rattle off in a list, but that’s not to speak of the options and creativity each part provides both in tandem with one another and existing parts. Seesaws can be made into catapults, swinging claws can carry drop all manner of hell onto an unsuspecting Mario, twisters can be made to block entry to pipes, and the moon essentially doubles the amount of course themes at your disposal. The same joy and unparalleled creativity of the first game is here in full force, now with more to play and interact with.

On top of these parts, you also get four new course themes and an entirely new game style. Each addition feels justified in creating an ultimate Mario package; icicles feel at home in the snow theme, twisters and angry suns in the desert, with the forest being unique with its customisable water level, and the sky being something I’m more surprised wasn’t in the first game. While most of these are functionally identical, it’s at night they truly come into their own. With a simple toggle in the menu, each theme can be switched over to its associated night theme, meaning each of the ten available options has a visually stunning counterpart for a total of 20 themes. What makes these stand out is, quite unsurprisingly for a Mario game, their individual gimmicks. In the forest, the water turns to poison, in the sky, gravity is lessened, in the castle, Mario swims like in a water level, with the caveat that the enemies walk as if they’re on land. With each one, there are a myriad of new possibilities to explore and discover, each item, block, enemy, and gizmo taking on fantastic and unexpected properties.

The new game style, a 2D take on the yet-to-be-ported Wii U classic Super Mario 3D World, is every bit brilliant and unique as the other additions; perhaps even more so, with you being locked into the style after starting your course. If you want to change style later you’ll have to start from scratch, contrary to the flexibility of the other four styles. Is there a good reason for this? It’s hard to say. At a fundamental level, the 3DW theme is different. Mario has a completely different set of mobility options, you can stand on Thwomps, you have interaction happening between the foreground and background, really hammering home this is a three dimensional game superimposed onto a two dimensional space. You also have a good set of new parts, many of which originating from the original 3D World game. Each enemy stands out for their properties: Skipsqueaks try to jump with Mario, Hop-Chops act like trampolines when jumped on, Ant Troopers are bouncy, Stingbys can fly through other objects to chase Mario. Clear pipes are the standout new part for the style, giving you means of fast passage from one area to another, but also allowing enemies and items to travel in a way not previously possible. As a whole, it’s fantastic fun, but it’s not without fault.

While it’s easy to look at what makes the 3DW style unique as a reason for it being so standalone, you can look at any one of the other four styles in a similar light. Each one has its own signature movement options, unique powerups, and specific object interactions. What makes them so different to 3DW is how everything matches up. In Mario Bros 3 you have the boot and the raccoon suit, which parallels to Yoshi and the cape in Mario World. While enemies may act differently, they’re still present throughout the four styles, and if they’re not, there’s something in its place. Levels may not play the same way after switching style, but they can be adapted. With 3DW, you not only have added content with no parallels, but also content that simply isn’t present. You lose so much that at first you find yourself fighting with the game to get what you want.

The first level I made with the retail version revolved around being able to stand on a Thwomp to cross lava; it was made in the 3DW style. I wanted to create obstacles and challenges that had to be beaten for the Thwomp to be able to progress, and in turn, allow for your own progression, the limitation being that I needed the Thwomp to wait for Mario to complete a section. My first thought was to add a one-way gate, meaning you could move through it, but it’d stop the Thwomp from being able to return to its original position. Sadly, there are no one-way gates. My next thought was an on/off block, and again, no dice, despite the presence of the on/off switch itself. Again and again I ran into small problems and irritations from just how much wasn’t there. It was undeniably frustrating, and when getting started with the game, it’s something that took time to adjust to. Moving past this initial barrier however was almost liberating. It forced me into the mindset of recognising limitations and being creative in working around them, something I feel is greatly in the spirit of the game. To a lesser extent, it’s something you can feel in the other styles. With so many different interactions to consider, it’s easy to expect something to work one way and it simply not. This cycle of expectation, realisation, and improvisation became my fundamental work ethic and drove me into far more creative and satisfying solutions. To be clear, I still would prefer if many of the missing elements were present in the 3DW style, but their absence isn’t as much of a limiting factor as I initially thought it would be. For each missing part, there’s ten workarounds, ten brilliantly odd things to be noticed about the new things, ten things you never knew because you never had to know them. It could have been better, there could have been more, but it’s not as though your options are so narrow as for these to be a necessity.

The 3DW style isn’t the alone in lacking certain parts however, both Amiibo costumes and fan-favourite ‘weird Mario’ missing in action. To some extent, I can understand the lack of Amiibo costumes, or at least a good number of them. With so many of them featuring characters from other games, real-life celebrities, and even branded cars, there would be an incredible amount of paperwork and hoops to jump through to even come close to matching the variety the first game had by the end. Even with this in mind though, I am sad to see there be nothing left here. Even replacing the vast catalogue of options with one or two choice Marios would have been nice, if only for the unique property of having small Mario’s hitbox with the ability to break blocks. It isn’t the worst thing they could have done, but the lack of Jumpu Girl will be a hit for many. Weird Mario is an abomination and deserved to be cut. 

With the timed delivery of new parts scrapped for this game, it’s easy to be overwhelmed when you first start playing. Though Nintendo provide a really thorough and handy set of tutorials to assist in good level design, they also included a far more natural way of introducing ideas and new elements with the game’s story mode. As stories go, it’s as barebones as you might expect it to be: the castle is completed, a misplaced reset rocket happens to be launched, and Mario has to collect coins to rebuild the castle bit by bit. It isn’t much to go on, but it’s both charming in its presentation and ample in setting up a satisfying gameplay loop. Beat levels to collect coins, start building a new part of the castle with those coins, beat levels to progress in building, rinse and repeat with new levels. This mode had me hooked from the start in the same way a free to play game hooks me. It has each individual element: you pay for an upgrade, you wait for it to be completed, you get more content when finished to then upgrade more. The basic formula is the same, but where a free to play game would have you wait time or pay money, Mario Maker 2 has you play levels, with each upgrade requiring a different amount of levels beaten before completion. It amused me where it really shouldn’t have that a game nowadays is designed in a way as to encourage you to play, in oppose to monopolising monotony. It’s what you’d expect of a first party Nintendo game, but the parallels to me are what makes it so addicting. That you can see it come together visually in the castle being built is just a bonus.

There is one thing of special note in the story mode, this being levels that you aren’t able to make yourself. Though most of what you play is entirely recreatable, you come across a few that you simply don’t have the tools for. One level for example had a clear condition of you holding a heavy stone as you reach the goal, this stone limiting Mario’s trademark jumping and being a general inconvenience; another you had to escort a Toad to the goal. It’s entirely possible these are things that’ll be added in future updates just as the Wii U release saw additional content, but with them being some of the less fun levels on offer, I’m certainly in no rush to see them.

Course World

In Mario Maker 2, you have three sources of online interaction, all found in the Course World menu: Courses, Network Play, and Endless Challenge. In the Courses screen, you can find the hottest new uploads, look at what’s currently popular, or even search for something in particular. Thanks to the game’s new tagging system, you’re able to find exactly what you want with incredibly little effort. With options available to filter levels based on style, theme, difficulty, region, and tag, and then sort them by either clear rate or popularity, there should always be something to play. Whether you enjoy puzzles, speedruns, or for some sick reason, underwater autoscrollers, Mario Maker 2 has you covered.

If you just want to play without worrying too much about the type of level you’re playing, the Endless Challenge has you covered. Replacing the original game’s 100 Mario Challenge, Endless sees you start with a limited number of lives to work through as many levels as you can for a high score. In the lower difficulties, this becomes a test of endurance, with it being incredibly easy to build up 99 lives and never run out. As you look to the harder expert and super expert however, it becomes a little more of a challenge. For those chasing the top spots, strategic skipping and life conservation become essential, on top of a certain expected skill level. While the 100 Mario Challenge was fun, Endless has me far more engaged than the original game ever did. Being somebody who frequents level on the normal difficulty, the 100 Mario Challenge felt entirely too unrewarding. I already knew I could beat 16 levels with 100 lives, there’s no unexpected victory, the only motivation being the now-absent Amiibo costumes. With Endless, I fell into the ‘just one more’ mentality. I know I’ll likely never see the top of the leaderboard, but I find some fun in seeing my high score go up and finding fun and creative levels along the way.

Perhaps my most mixed feelings of the game lurk within the Network Play options. With both coop and versus modes available against random users (playing with friends coming at a later date), the game again opens up to an unreal number of possibilities. Playing against other people is brilliant fun, just as long as the game isn’t running at the framerate of a Powerpoint presentation. With four players and a traditionally-Nintendo P2P online infrastructure, your experience will be as good as the people you’re playing with. At times, scoring those victory points was a case of sticking out the lag and waiting for the problem player to drop out. Other times, I’ve had completely fluid four player madness. If you can accept the good with the bad, you’ll have a great time. We can hope things will improve, but if you’re considering buying the game, you should expect things to stay as they are for the foreseeable future.

Coop is strange to me. Four people limited only to premade messages have to work towards a common goal of beating a level. If you die, you can respawn either from a checkpoint or by a remaining player in a bubble, just like the New Super Mario Bros multiplayer. I feel the enjoyment of this mode really comes down to the level you get; some are great with other people, and others not so much. When in versus, levels not designed for multiplayer become a brawl for who can work through these incompatibilities, but with other people you’re trying to support, it ends up feeling a little awkward. This amplified by the lack of proper communication, I almost wish Nintendo’s Switch Online app got a Mario Maker update. Almost. I can see the coop being far more fun once support for playing with friends is added, but as it is right now, it’s just kind of alright. If you crave human interaction without all the frivolous troubles of actual interaction, perhaps there’s a niche here for you.

Making the Switch

While the game may be fantastic in many ways, the transition from Wii U to Switch isn’t necessarily an easy one. Dropping the resistive touch screen of the Wii U gamepad in favour of the Switch’s capacitive screen in handheld mode, or no touch screen at all when docked, is something that will undeniably require a period of adjustment. Where anybody could jump into the Wii U version with no prior experience or knowledge, you’ll at first be stumbling in the dark if somebody passes you the Joy Con for some coop making; the instant intuitiveness of the Wii U gamepad just isn’t possible to recreate. To assist in this transition, Nintendo have made a good number of quality of life changes.

First, tiles are larger when making, with the option for both a zoomed in and zoomed out view when desired. This change is entirely logical when you lack the precision of the gamepad’s touch screen, sausage fingering four tiles at once being an ever-present possibility. Following this, the entire making process feels streamlined: no more shaking enemies for alternatives, now simply having to hold down on them. Again, when considering the game had to account for controllers being used for making, shaking enemies would’ve just ended up being an awkward mess. With everything clearly presented on a neat menu, you can see everything possible and access them easily. The menus containing course parts are separated into categories, with each category being composed of a number of rings, each ring having a number of parts. It’s delightful for docked play, being able to select the desired part in an instant, but a part of me yearns for the original game’s menu and the way it had everything shown at once. As it is now, it feels like I’m always having to look for a specific part, in oppose to having the menu open with all the options visible and a freak idea coming to me. It’s something some will prefer to the original, and something others won’t, but given the number of play styles they had to account for, I’d say they did a good job. That being said, if you’re planning on making in this game, I’d definitely recommend picking up a stylus. If you’re not fortunate enough to be in Europe or Japan where Nintendo shipped out their own, you can find them on Amazon from a number of retailers. While it still isn’t quite as good as using the gamepad, it’s a definite improvement in comfort and precision. I picked up this one for less than £10 and it’s done me well.

All in all, Mario Maker 2 is a fantastic game for both creators and players. With new tools, new game modes, and an eternal source of content (assuming your Nintendo Switch Online subscription is live), this is a game that will keep you occupied for as long as you want to play Mario. For the uncreative among us, I encourage you to check this out, you don’t need to be a maker to enjoy everything that is made.

Super Neptunia RPG (Nintendo Switch) Review

You can find this review in full at

My passion for the Neptunia series is something I don’t exactly hide. Since discovering Re;Birth1 in 2015, I’ve been hooked on the self-aware, fourth wall-breaking happenings of Gamindustri through the ages. With this latest entry scrapping the fantastic 3D battle system I’ve come to love, as well as the third dimension as a whole, does this game do enough to stand proud among its predecessors, or is it riding on the series name alone?

Being the first taste of fresh Nepticious goodness since Cyberdimension Neptunia in 2017, the good folks at Idea Factory International prepared a trailer to get you back up to speed with the main cast. Though I find them really quite unforgettable, it’s something I recommend checking out if perhaps you’ve only played one or two games many moons ago. For somebody new entirely to the series wanting to start here, it also provides the bare essentials for you to pick up much of the self-referencing throughout, but realistically I would recommend giving Re;Birth1 a shot before diving in here. As a remake of the first game in the series, you get a fuller introduction to the larger world and its inhabitants, providing a solid foundation of understanding you’ll be grateful for the further you get into Super Neptunia RPG.

Super Nep starts in a way completely unsurprising to me, packed with self-aware humour and the overused trope of an amnesiac protagonist, the ever-idle Neptune. Waking up in an otherwise-abandoned house by an unknown group demanding taxes, she soon joins this definitely-not-shady crew and proceeds to assist in their definitely-above-board activities. Hijinks ensue, Neptune takes far too long to realise she’s with the bad guys, she finds the other goddesses also without their memories, and they all come together. The overarching plot to me isn’t anything special, but I find it rarely is with this series. From game to game you come to understand each character, their motivations, and their actions, and through this knowledge you garner expectations, the game taking these and playing with them. Neptune is motivated by food and lacks any form of common sense. You expect her to do stupid things, but these activities are constantly warped and mocked in such a way as to remain amusing. Just as you think something is a little too predictable, the game either throws a curve ball or acknowledges the fact with a fourth wall break or something similar. At its core, the story, the charm, the humour; they’re all the Neptunia you know and love. The game has an incredibly warm sense of familiarity, starkly contrasting with the playful amnesia of the game’s cast.

While some things remain the same, others are quite clearly different. Perhaps the most obvious of these differences is the genre shift, dropping the third dimension in favour of a beautifully hand-drawn 2D platforming environment. From a solely visual standpoint, I was blown away starting the game for the first time. The world full of such vibrant detail, I felt inclined to stop and just take it in from time to time. Even looking back through screenshots, I find myself appreciating the designs all over again. It’s stunning—at least when it’s still. While each character, each background, each graphic; while each are so carefully and lovingly crafted, the gameplay holding them together is not. Super Neptunia RPG is a game lacking polish, and it isn’t something you’re likely to pick up on until you’ve played it.

Jumping into the world for the first time was an interesting experience. Once the initial environmental awe passes, the first thing you’re drawn to is movement. From a functional standpoint, the game controls fine. You navigate 2D areas, jumping and dashing your way through generally simple but fun platforming challenges. The controls are largely satisfying, but confuse me in the inability to use the D-Pad, especially given the analogue stick’s digital use. There isn’t a gradual speed increase, you’re either moving in a direction or you’re not; I can’t understand why the D-Pad isn’t available as a control scheme when it is so clearly better suited to the task. Moving past this and looking at movement itself, you begin to realise the game isn’t quite as pretty in motion as it is when you were taking in the sights. Though I can acknowledge this as a minor critique, I found movement animations far too snappy. With no transition from stationary to moving or jumping, these so frequently used actions feel jarring and unrefined. These are things you get used to after playing for a little while, but I find it an incredible shame that the player should have to get used to them.

Past the initial tutorials and into the city of Lastation for the first time, you start to find the game opening up, NPCs scattered around to talk to and accept quests from. A completionist at heart, I wanted to try everything I could; if there is a hunting quest among these, I always like to be clearing them naturally as I progress instead of having to come back later specifically for it. To this end, I talked to everybody and accepted everything. One quest wanted me to hunt an enemy, another wanted me to donate money, another find some items, and another talk to some NPCs. Everything felt relatively standard and by the book, something that isn’t necessarily a bad thing so early in the game. The dialogue and snippets of backstory for each NPC wanting my time kept me engaged and eager to seek out more to do, at least until I finished my first quest. Where each NPC will say a few lines to introduce their request and have something to say while you’re in the middle of it, completing it simply replaces their dialogue with “…”. Every NPC that has a quest; it feels as though the more I progress, the more the world is drained of life and charm. It’s fine, it’s minor, but adding a single repetitive line of “Thanks for helping me!” or even despawning the NPC, physically draining the world of life, would have felt more natural. I did enjoy the quests I could complete, but going back to the raw feeling of the game, it feels as though little consideration was put into their delivery.

As soon as you enter an area, you have access to most if not all of its available quests, regardless of whether you can actually complete them at the time. An early example of this is a quest given by a mother to find her four children and tell them to come for dinner. The game places three of these children in hidden but accessible locations, providing a small platforming challenge in a safe area, as well as encouraging you to explore the city. It feels as though the quest should be beatable given how it’s setup, the final child visible on the roof of a building. It feels as though there should be a way up there, like the game is trying to show you a neat trick or have you find a secret exit to the roof. None of this is the case, you’re just expected to return once you’ve gained the ability to jump higher. It’s frustrating in how it completely ruins an otherwise fun quest for me, having wasted my time in trying to beat it. Other examples of this I didn’t mind quite as much, such as a quest that wanted me to locate a book in an area I hadn’t discovered yet. Something like that at least hints it’ll be a while until you complete it, but clarity is something the game would have significantly benefitted from. Having quests appear as you acquire the items to complete them, or even saying explicitly you don’t have the right tools for the job, it’s as though the player is just expected to know as if they had a hand in creating it.

This lack of clarity is spread across many aspects of the game, leaving me quite frequently confused. First you have the game’s loading times; they aren’t fantastic, but as a whole they aren’t a dealbreaker. Where I find fault is in the ‘unmarked’ loading times, where the game doesn’t give you a loading screen, freezing in place while it does its thing—and this isn’t some infrequent occurrence, this is for the pause screen! I’ve timed myself waiting up to seven seconds for the screen to load, all with no feedback or progress. Granted it only appears to be the first time the game is paused upon loading a new area, but again, this is the kind of thing that should have been seen at some stage of testing. Perhaps worse than this are the game’s forced-choice selection boxes, giving you the illusion of free choice in the worst possible way.

Where games usually want you do make a choice, they either don’t give you a choice at all, or add some kind of dialogue to warp Option B into Option A. The original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games used the latter of these options well, taking the opportunity to poke fun at your bad choice before putting you on track for the right one. Instead of this, Super Neptunia RPG simply doesn’t allow you to select the incorrect choice. At the start of the game, a defeated Doggoo wants to join your team, and you’re given a choice as to whether you want to allow it. I thought this meant I might encounter enemies at certain milestones that would join me to diversify my party or even provide skills, but when I couldn’t move the cursor off the “No” option, I couldn’t tell whether it was a bug or just incredibly poor design. I continued playing the game irritated with myself because I thought I had managed to screw up somehow, in complete disbelief the game would pull something like that. Only later when an enemy was actually recruited to provide you with a higher jump did I notice the cursor once again locked in place, this time on the “Yes” option. It’s bizarre and quite frankly a horrible design choice. Add to all of this an intimidating UI of small text and questionable navigation and you have a ball of frustration to work through before you can really find the appreciation for the story and characters that actually have a chance of keeping you hooked.

Combat in Super Neptunia isn’t a complicated affair. With each party member stood at a cardinal position, you select which character you want attacking by pressing the matching face button. X for the top character, A for the right, and so on. Each party member is assigned a single skill, with each skill being either physical or magical, and some also being elemental. The system is surprisingly interesting in how it encourages you to mix things up and be prepared for any assortment of enemies. In addition to this, you have four formations available, each one allowing for a different skill to be equipped. With the option to change formation mid-battle granting access to a new set of skills, on paper you have a genuinely interesting system. In reality however, what you have is an incredibly simple button masher. 

Straying from the series norm of turn-based action, battles in Super Neptunia play out in real time. As you wait, you get AP, which can then be burned to use skills. If an enemy is weak to the skill type, you’ll recover some AP after attacking. The depth of the combat system suddenly feels inconsequential when the battles begin to drag. With skills taking far more time than they probably should to start up and complete, you find yourself leaving battles on fast forward, mashing whichever attack is best suited against the enemies. There’s nothing to really motivate you to pay attention; even if you get low on HP, you can just pause the game and use a recovery item, these usable almost-instantaneously and with no AP cost. There are the makings of a fun system here, but are ultimately lost like so much of the game in minor frustrations and inconveniences.

I could go on and on about this game but really it boils down to this: Super Neptunia RPG isn’t something I can recommend to the vast majority of people, but it’s not to say there isn’t a good experience to be found. If you are patient, willing to overlook questionable design choices, and have the stamina to endure button mashing through almost every encounter, there’s a chance you may yet see the light. You might appreciate the classic Neptunia wit, the fun and well-dubbed cast, the beautiful scenery, and the ups and downs of the game’s story. If you think you’re that kind of person, I encourage you to pick up the Re;Birth trilogy while they’re on sale, and wait for this to fall below $20.

Tribit X1 Wireless Earbuds (Hardware) Review

You can find this review in full at

Wireless earphones have always been an awkward affair for me. Never quite willing to drop huge amounts of money on big names like Bose or Sony, I find myself browsing the lower end of the market with mixed results. Be it poor build quality, an absurd overemphasis on bass, or just being damn uncomfortable, I’ve been through pair after pair, none managing to outlast nor outperform my budget wired set. Much to my surprise, the Tribit X1 Wireless Earbuds are different.

The box is simple and contains everything you need to get started: the earbuds, the charging case, an assortment of different tip sizes, a micro USB charging cable, and a to-the-point instruction manual. Pairing the earbuds for the first time is as easy as removing them from the case and searching for them with any bluetooth-enabled device. No mess, no fuss, no awkward holding down of buttons in a manner no human can be expected to remember. When you remove the buds from the case on subsequent uses, the buds will automatically reconnect to the device assuming it has bluetooth enabled and is in range. Messing with my phone, my laptop, and my Walkman, I faced absolutely no issues. Swapping between devices is relatively hassle-free, just having to select the X1s manually by navigating to the bluetooth settings.

Featuring a physical button on each bud as opposed to a more standard touch-sensitive area comes with its own set of pros and cons, and though perhaps to be expected, I feel them worth mentioning. The main strength of using a touch panel is also its main weakness: its sensitivity. They’re great for letting you just tap at your ear for the next song to play, to summon your branded voice assistant, or to stop your music altogether. What this also means is that you may be skipping songs and having Siri listening to you where you didn’t want if you happen to catch it. The X1s don’t have this issue; the cost is the tactile nature of its buttons. Where you would be able to use a single finger with a touch panel, you want to be using your entire hand here. With a single finger, you find the buds being pushed quite uncomfortably into the ear, where using a hand to holding it in place removes this issue. You won’t be hitting these accidentally, but you also need to be putting a bit of effort in to use them. Whether this is better or worse is a matter of preference. As somebody who usually has devices within arm’s reach regardless, it’s a nonissue for me, opting to use the devices themselves for this functionality.

With ‘true wireless’ earbuds, you have two completely detached earbuds with no wires to connect them. By design they’re exactly what I look for: extremely convenient and really quite liberating. There’s nothing finer for me than doing miscellaneous household activities with some great music and nothing to hold me down. Both of these earbuds having to connect as one device, the X1s function as a ‘master’ earbud and a ‘slave’ earbud. The master is the one that connects to your laptop or phone, and the slave connects to the master. If you’re always using both buds together, this system is flawless, but does impose a minor limitation in the fact the right earbud can’t be connected to a device by itself. What this means is that if you happen to lose your left earbud or if for whatever reason it stops working, you’re completely out of luck. Perhaps a quirk of this design also, it’s interesting to see the buttons on each earbud sharing the same functionality. Where you might expect hitting the left earbud twice to go to the previous track, and the right to the next, both will simply advance to the next track when hit twice. Similarly, both will pause and play the music when hit once. It isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but it’s a shame more couldn’t be done.

In my ear, the X1s really do feel fantastic. Though I don’t trust myself to listen to music while exercising outdoors, I found they do an incredibly good job in staying put despite my futile efforts to shake them loose. With three different tip sizes to be put on the buds, I’m fairly confident they’ll be a comfortable choice regardless of your ear size. The plastic body feels sturdy and well-built and has an overall feel of quality, definitely more so than their price may suggest.

When it comes to the audio quality itself, I have to say I was greatly surprised. As I mentioned previously, I too often find cheaper earphones overcompensating with egregious ear-melting bass, to the point of drowning out anything else. Where I listen to musicals and other lyrical audio, the words would be muffled to the point of ruining an otherwise-great track. The X1s are different. My song of choice when testing this kind of thing is Blumenkranz, the antagonist’s theme from hit anime series Kill la Kill. With its heavy bass, assortment of sounds, and softer-by-comparison lyrics, it’s great to find if any particular area is being overshadowed by another. With the X1s, everything is clear, and everything is in balance. Whether listening to musicals, game soundtracks, or classical music, everything sounds as it should, and all in all I’m really quite impressed.

With the X1s lasting around three hours on a single charge, and the charging case providing around five additional full charges, they’re perfect for long journeys or general day to day use. At their £35.99 price point, it’s hard to not recommend them. Between their convenience, sound quality, and build quality, they’re a truly fantastic product.

RetroTINK-2X (Hardware) Review

You can find this review in full at

If you wanted to pull out the SNES and play Super Mario World, it used to be simple. You’d grab your console, plug it into the mains, hook it up to the TV, and get right into it. As times and, perhaps more importantly, TVs, have moved on, this once-simple process has become painful. Whether struggling for the lack of compatible ports, horrid built-in deinterlacing, or an incompatibility with the common 240p signal, it’s often easier to just leave the hardware in the closet and grab something newer. The solutions to these growingly common issues tend to sway between keeping hold of an oversized CRT or finding yourself an upscaler, the latter of which we’re looking at today.

When it comes to viewing your games in the best light, there are two names you’re likely to see time and again: the Framemeister and the Open Source Scan Convertor (OSSC). Both of these are powerful tools rich with features and options, and both come with a hefty price tag of around $300 and $200 respectively. For those on a tight budget and willing to put up with input delay and miscellaneous quirks and qualms, you can also find countless cheap upscalers littering Amazon and eBay. Sitting somewhere between these options is the RetroTINK-2X.

Where the Framemeister and OSSC look to offer a multitude of settings and configurations, the 2X has one job and does it well: line doubling. Taking a 240p signal via one of component, composite, or S-Video, it outputs at 480p via mini HDMI; no mess, no fuss. The board itself is housed in two plexiglass plates you’re expected to assemble yourself. Though mine did come pre-assembled, it seems a simple enough process of putting pieces into place and securing them. With that, you’re good to go! Plug in your micro USB power supply, plug in the mini HDMI output, and plug in your input of choice and play away. The 2X requiring only one amp of current, it’s perfectly happy to be powered by a TV’s USB port, or really any kind of phone charger you might have lying around.

Though the device aims to keep things simple, it features two hardware buttons: one to toggle the display mode, and one to switch between inputs, both of these illustrated by small lights on the board. It’s worth noting that while you do have to manually select the input, it isn’t advisable to have multiple devices connected at the same time as their signal will still be processed to some degree. I noticed this when switching between S-Video and composite inputs recording footage, the image becoming far brighter with both connected together. As for display modes, I found myself pleasantly surprised despite the expectedly limited offerings.

The 2X mode does exactly what you’d expect, doubling the 240p input for a nicely scaled 480p output. Having tested it on a number of different devices, I had no issues in displaying this image across TVs and monitors, it also playing nicely with my capture card after I figured out the resolution it was outputting (720×480 for SFC and 720×576 for N64). While the image displayed fine, I did notice it was stretched to a 16:9 aspect ratio on one of my monitors, something to perhaps be aware of if the device you plan to use it with doesn’t have the option to force an aspect ratio. That being said, it’s a feature you’d expect of any modern TV.

Of everything on offer, the filter was the biggest surprise to me. As a general rule of thumb, I dismiss filters as sins against pixel purity, but with it being an option, it’s something I was eager to at least try. After some playing around it may be no surprise to hear I stand by my ideology, but I have found an appreciation in certain scenarios.

The video above goes through a number of Super Famicom games with and without the filter. Of the games played, Yoshi’s Island stood out to me. Its hand-drawn aesthetic is the perfect style of game to appreciate being smoothed over. To some degree, the same is true for Zelda: A Link to the Past when looking at the diagonal paths. Whether this will be of use to you will likely be a significant point of preference, but where I found the filter really in a league of its own was when using composite input.

Where with S-Video and component you have a clean picture with defined pixels, composite is naturally worse. Giving an overall muddier image, smoothing is a perfect way to hide these blemishes.

It’s something you can really appreciate if you lack expensive component cables, or struggle to find S-Video compatibility as I did for a number of consoles. Despite how common it may be in the US, it’s far more hit and miss in Europe. If you want the best quality out of the 2X, you should be aware of your consoles’ limitations. For example, my Ice Blue N64 doesn’t agree with S-Video where a grey variant would be fine, and PAL GameCubes replaced support for RGB Scart, something not supported by the 2X. If you’re in the US, this is nothing to be concerned about, but if you’re somebody just getting into high quality retro experiences, do your research. The 2X is the perfect device to act as a gateway into this brilliant world, and it’s interesting to see it has use even if you do later decide to upgrade to the more costly OSSC. Where the OSSC has plenty of features, it lacks ports for S-Video and composite input. Using the 2X’s passthrough display mode, the image is delivered in its original state to then be processed and upscaled by the OSSC. 

All in all, I think the 2X is a fantastic product. Easy to setup, easy to use, and with the added benefit of microseconds of added input lag, it’s the perfect device to get you started on your retro gaming adventures. What it lacks in features, it more than makes up for in nailing what it sets out to, filling a gap in the market at its $100 price point. It’s more expensive than the miscellaneous upscalers you might floating around the internet, but delivers a quality image with no compromise to the gaming experience. 

Sefu Deluxe Switch Bag (Hardware) Review

You can find this review in full at

Having owned a Switch since launch, getting it from A to B has always been a pain. When I first ran into this issue, I quickly grabbed my trusty Club Nintendo pouch I’d had since the early days of the 3DS; it protected the screen, which was my main point of concern. From here, my mum went out of her way to make me a pouch to keep it in. While it is adorable and even has a zip in the back to store my games, it sadly isn’t what I’m here to review. As much as I love my pouch, it only solved part of the problem: my Switch was protected but my Joy Cons were not.

Now to clear the air, you have plenty of options when it comes to protecting your console, many of them far cheaper than Sefu’s offerings, but for me, each failing to meet my needs. Each one bulked my bag to the point where I could carry my Switch and… Not much else. Between getting a new bag for my Switch and other things, and getting a bag designed for my Switch, and maybe other things, I found myself becoming more and more intrigued by the latter, ultimately leading me to Sefu’s Deluxe Switch Bag. Coming in at £130 ($160), the Deluxe Switch Bag is everything the title suggests: deluxe, and, well, for the Switch (and a bag if you want to be meticulous). Where this differs from the solutions I’ve looked into before is in the fact it isn’t just a case you’re going to throw in a bag and take with you, nor is it some grotesque neon green monstrosity aimed at your average ‘gamer’. Sefu have come up with something that, to be blunt, just looks like a bag, and it’s one I’m fond of.

As a whole, the bag is quite boxy in nature. Just wide enough and just tall enough to house the Switch, its leather exterior is rigid and feels sturdy. The interior padded with a layer of what Sefu describe as ‘Extreme Impact Foam’, and the Switch held into place thanks to a magnetically detachable cartridge holder, the contents feel secure and safe. Featuring additional padding and a soft lining on the back of the cartridge holder, it does well in keeping the system in place without damage or unnecessary constraints. Because of its delightfully detachable nature, it can be removed at any time to either ponder which game you want to play next, or simply use the bag for something other than the Switch. Though it’s advertised as being great for storing cameras, it’s not something I’ve been able to test, my best camera lurking within a budget smartphone. That being said, it did an excellent job of fitting the miscellaneous Nintendo handhelds I have lying around, albeit with a small game of Tetris required beforehand to evaluate just how much I could get in there. If you don’t mind the divider, it can even be used to secure other systems quite nicely without you having to carry a case around for them, my New 3DS snug to the point of it not falling with the bag held upside down and being shook. Naturally with it being designed for the Switch, you can expect a similar degree of snugness. 

Where I find myself drawing criticism, perhaps the only thing I could personally fault it for, is in its hand-crafted nature. On the positive end of that statement, each one feels unique and almost personal, but with that you have a certain degree of variance from unit to unit. With mine for example, the flap covering the bag’s interior doesn’t completely cover the interior, leaving thin gaps on each side. Ordinarily and on an optimistically sunny day, this isn’t an issue at all, but in your more expected British rain, I wouldn’t feel comfortable. Because of this, I find myself checking the weather before deciding which bag to take out, resorting to the mother approved tried and tested pouch if it isn’t looking so hot. This may be a fault of the design as a whole, or it may be a fault of mine in particular, but it is a shame, and a blemish on what I would otherwise consider to be the perfect solution to my unashamedly specific problem. 

Sefu’s bag isn’t for everybody, that much I feel the need to reiterate. Putting forward a product that is both stylish and functional, it finds itself appealing to a glorious niche of hardcore Switch fans who want to look good at their weekly rooftop party. Though it excels in what it sets out to do, the price point is just too high for its average potential buyer. As if to alleviate this, they do have cheaper options in the Switch Bag and Switch Bag Pro, but both lack the same premium feel I came to love. If you’re that perfect blend of Switch enthusiast and loose with your wallet, I cannot recommend this bag enough. Once you get past the stage of buying it, you have a product that will likely last until Nintendo’s next big hit.