8BitDo N30 Arcade Stick (Hardware) Review

You can find this review in full at GBAtemp.net:

I didn’t grow up in arcades. I never found the commitment to involve myself in the plethora of quality fighting games released in my lifetime. To me, an arcade stick is something interesting, and something new. With the N30 as my first, I wanted something capable of breathing new life into classic releases, and I was excited to give it a shot.

A Classic Feel

As with any 8BitDo product, the first thing to hit you is the design; needless to say, it’s gorgeous. Before receiving the N30, I was a little dubious on how the classic handheld controller would scale up; it’s a design that has been done to death, and I feel it all too easy to fall into the trap of looking like a cheap knockoff. These worries were thankfully misplaced. The bright red buttons offer a stark and visually pleasing contrast to the natural monochromatic tone of the NES, with the black buttons blending nicely into the shell. If I had to find fault in the design, it would come from the button labels perhaps being difficult to read because of the way the plastic reflects light. This is ultimately a non-issue once you get to grips with the layout. I can understand why this is as it is, going with stylistic consistency for the sake of having to look closer at the controller for the first hour of use.

Each of the main buttons; A, B, X, Y, L, R, ZL, and ZR; feel responsive, activating from even a slight press. Pushing each button down offers little feedback, ultimately feeling softer than I might have imagined pressing. If you’re looking for a new way to play your Neo Geo collection, or Nintendo’s own Arcade Archives series, this is unlikely to be an issue. The buttons still feel satisfying to press, and the layout clearly fits these games.

The black buttons and switches represent various toggles and less important buttons. These include a switch between XInput and DirectInput, Analogue and D-Pad for the stick, and buttons for Turbo, Pair, Select, and a large central Start button. Most of these are relatively self-explanatory in use. The Turbo button is a nice addition to this controller, but I can’t help but think it counter-intuitive to the overall purpose. To me, an arcade stick is fantastic for its ease of button mashing, no longer forcing hand cramps from an uncomfortable claw grip on a normal controller. That said, additional functionality is never a bad thing, and it being out of the way on the top-left means you can easily forget about it should it not interest you. Much like the SN30 Pro, the Start button is used to power on the controller, in conjunction with face buttons to connect to different devices. By now, this feels fairly standard for an 8BitDo controller, even using the same button combinations as the SN30 Pro, providing a degree of familiarity out of the box for long-time 8BitDo fans.

The stick itself uses four switches to register inputs in each cardinal direction, as well as diagonal inputs as two switches are held down at once. For those wanting a general arcade experience, it feels really quite nice. Each directional input felt responsive, with a click as a switch is hit. If you’re after something to spice up your average Switch game, this may not be the controller for you. While the stick can indeed be used as the left analogue stick, being limited to eight directions with no analogue input limits viable games.  It’s in games such as KamikoSuper Mario Bros, and Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds where this controller really shines. Thanks to the button layout, a game like Bayonetta can become incredibly enjoyable; but the experience is ultimately held back by the joystick. This isn’t so much a fault of the design, but it’s something people should be aware of if contemplating the N30 with no prior knowledge of arcade sticks.

I found the controller to be weighted quite nicely, much of this weight coming from the underside panel. It’s heavy enough as to feel stable on a table, but not so much you would feel uncomfortable with it on your lap. Overall, I find myself impressed with its build quality and overall design.

A Modern Touch

With the N30 Arcade Stick, 8BitDo boasts a degree of customisation. The unit’s back panel easily unscrewed, you can quickly get to the internals and swap out to your heart’s content. Featuring standard 30mm buttons, and fitting popular Sanwa joysticks, you can make this unit your own. The real joy of this stems from its price point. Being among the cheapest Switch-compatible arcade sticks, it puts itself forward as a fantastic entry-level device. It gives users a chance to test the water before spending heaps of money; and if the experience is one they enjoy, it can be upgraded with standard parts and little hassle.

Being an 8BitDo controller, expect to get your money’s worth with compatibility. Working not only on the Switch, but PC, Android, and MacOS, you have one widely compatible controller without the need for adaptors or fancy setups. From my first time using it, I’ve enjoyed reexploring classic titles across a plethora of devices. While Android support is something I appreciate, I wasn’t able to fully utilise it having only an Android phone. With how simple it is to connect, I can imagine it being a fantastic controller for any reasonably sized tablet. If you’re using this with your PC, you have the option of connecting it via USB using the included 3m cable.

One area I feel the controller poorly designed is its inability to be used while charging. I can only assume it thinks it’s connected to a PC whenever plugged in, completely disabling wireless capabilities. With this in mind, you can only play while charging if you plan on playing a PC game. It’s a minor gripe, and I feel it could be addressed in a future firmware update.

All in all, the N30 Arcade Stick does everything I wanted of it. It put new life into my classic titles, looking and feeling great to use. I see it as a fantastic investment should you be eagerly waiting for Nintendo’s Virtual Console to launch on Switch, with plenty of great games already available to take advantage of its design.

Layers of Fear: Legacy (Nintendo Switch) Review

You can find this review in full at GBAtemp.net:

Having originally released early 2016, Layers of Fear: Legacy puts a fresh coat of paint on the psychological horror, combining the base game and Inheritance DLC for a definitive Switch release. Incorporating many of the hardware’s new features, is the mad painter’s vision any clearer?

The First Coat

Starting the game for the first time, you are greeted with a message. Proclaiming each of your decisions will affect the narrative and comparing the gameplay experience to life itself, it sets an odd tone from the beginning. This message, though something insignificantly skipped for some, had made its presence clear. It puts forward the notion of the game as something to be experienced, not simply observed or played. This message would serve to put weight on my actions, and add responsibility to the consequences.

After such a stark notice of your involvement in the story to come, the title screen feels oddly serene. A well-lit room containing art supplies, accompanied by a quaint and soothing piano melody. It isn’t scary, nor ominous. It’s calming, almost beautifully so.

Switching it Up

Before starting the game itself, I took a moment as I always do to try the touch screen. Despite the menu being by no means optimised for such input, my frantic taps actually did something on-screen. I am the kind of person to appreciate touch controls when I see them, especially for such minor things as menus. It feels intuitive and generally quite pleasant, going a long way in streamlining non-gameplay elements. This appreciation can only take me so far; when the developers were so bold to proclaim the game had been “redesigned to make the best out of Nintendo Switch’s unique features”, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. This isn’t what a redesign looks like; this is an afterthought. An instance the studio sought to release something they could call more than a port without the willingness to make the necessary stylistic compromises. This theme of poorly conceived afterthoughts echoes into almost every one of the Switch’s unique offerings.

Moving past the menus, touch inputs are also supported as you explore the bulk of the game. There are a variety of successful touch implementations in a game such as this; swiping to pan the screen, or simply being able to tap things you can see. Layers of Fear: Legacy went for a different approach entirely. Here, the touch screen ultimately controls your character’s neck. Tapping an area of the screen snaps to a position, the far left of the screen moving the camera angle to as far as your neck will turn to the left. To give due credit, it’s an interesting idea in isolation, but in the larger context of the game, it falls flat. On top of this strange neck movement, the touch screen is also used to interact with on-screen elements. This is where it all really comes apart.

Assume you’re looking directly at an interactable object; the logical assumption is that pressing on it would cause an interaction. This would be the case were it not for the aforementioned camera movement. Pressing on the screen will snap the camera to a different location. From here, you slide your finger across the screen until the object is central again. You then tap the unrelated area of the screen for your interaction. The object has more complex interactions? Want to open a chest, or a door? Give up.

The saving grace for this Switch redesign comes from the motion controls. The ability to open a door by flicking your wrist feels good. Though it can be a little jarring to keep jumping between motion controlled interactions, and analogue stick-controlled camera movement, I believe the inclusion of motion controls does improve the overall experience in a meaningful way. You can also use these motion controls to examine objects, rotating the Joy Con as if you were holding the object. It’s nice as an idea, but the reality of it sees the object erratically rotating with little real player control. Stick to the analogue stick here.

As traditional controls go, Layers of Fear: Legacy is neither revolutionary nor lacking. The movement may seem slow for some, but as I played I came to realise there was no necessity for running. Each footstep feels powerful, rhythmical, as if your heart is beating through the floorboards beneath you. This slowed pace reinforces a feeling of dread as you explore the unknown, reaffirming the knowledge you can’t run away, that you must face your demons.

Finish It

Creeping into the house for the first time, you are presented with an interesting atmosphere. One that whispers of another’s presence just out of sight. A soft piano melody and a woman’s song can be heard on top of the ambient storm outside. The imagery put forward is something that stood out to me, and is worked well into every part of the environment. The painter’s desperate struggle to complete his masterpiece, the voice echoing through the halls soon becoming alien and haunting. The broken promises, the sorrow and isolation, they all shine through so early on in the game; all this amplified as you enter the room with the canvas for the first time. Silence—love and warmth daring not haunt this twisted space.

From this solitary chamber, space begins to distort; the world bending to the painter’s troubled mind. This is where your adventure really begins, the doors you go through and the choices you make ultimately deciding the final form of his magnum opus. As you walk through the corridors of this malformed mansion, familiarity becomes a common thought. While the prologue chapter, the time spent before entering the painter’s room, was short and uneventful, it goes far in setting the scene. It allows you to recognise areas, and feel as though you are walking through you own memories of the mansion. You find yourself delving into your own mind as much as the painter himself.

Progression presents itself as a constant struggle. Do you follow the layout of the house? Do you listen to the writing on the walls? Do you follow a distant sound? These choices feel like the mansion itself is fighting both the mind of the painter, and your own free will. It creates an experience unique to the player, and one they will be able to feel a degree of empathy for, despite the abnormal setting. You feel a strange sense of accomplishment to see your actions lead to a payoff in witnessing the consequences.

Defying Gravity

Where I feel the game truly shines is in its puzzles, and the mind games played for the entirety of the experience. From the puzzle design, to the tricks of the ever-changing hallways, I felt a strong presence of Antichamber. Each corner turned, each message read, I had the chambers of the 2013 hit ever-present in my mind. It’s as though they took the style of Antichamber, slowed it down, threw in some darker themes, and added explorative point and click elements. It’s a strange mix in my mind but when it comes together so well, I have to commend it. Though it does rely on a good number of horror tropes, I couldn’t help but enjoy them as they revealed themselves.

The puzzle design isn’t without fault; two sections completely halting my progress as I played. One such area involved me spending 15 minutes tracking down a ringing phone. In this section, the game presented no clever hint to be noticed, ultimately coming down to examining each part of the room until the solution was brute forced. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but these experiences were few and far between. Calling a friend in to help, the game transformed into something new.

Not So Alone in the Dark

By myself in a dark room, light coming only from the television in front of me. That was how I started playing Layers of Fear: Legacy. It is a fine way to experience any horror title new or old, and is the way many people will. This isolation allowed for the atmosphere to build nicely, and for the tension to really hit me. The jump scares scattered throughout the game never felt unfair, the atmosphere and build up justifying their inclusion. Playing with a friend broke all of this, and I enjoyed it far more than I could have anticipated.

My housemate sat comfortably next to me, this psychological horror was seen in a new light. No longer did I find myself entrapped by the atmosphere; instead standing beyond it, given a new power to examine and dissect it. Each room became an alluring point of discussion; the things that would have haunted me alone becoming a subdued laugh and source of newfound stress. The very nature of the game had changed, each of us waiting on baited breath to see just what the game would throw at us next. I found a great experience from this game both as a player and spectator. Layers of Fear: Legacy is a game you control, to be enjoyed alone or with friends, to laugh at or to cower at.

Inherited Trauma

As previously mentioned, the Switch version of this game comes packaged with the Inheritance DLC; this additional story told through the eyes of the painter’s daughter. In this, you’ll find yourself reexploring the mansion from a new perspective, adding further detail to the story of the painter and his family. Given the base game is relatively short, beatable in five or six hours, this additional content is much appreciated. You can expect to get another two or three hours here following the same kind of tropes and themes you’ll already be familiar with.

While ultimately not an incredibly long game, it goes out of its way to sell you on the experience it provides. If you judge a game by how many hours of content it provides, this might not be for you. Though featuring multiple endings to uncover, you’re unlikely to hit more than 15 hours for 100% completion. If you’re looking for a well-designed horror game to play alone or with friends, at a TV or in the middle of nowhere, I urge you to try it. I wasn’t let down, and I don’t think you will be either.

Bayonetta + Bayonetta 2 (Nintendo Switch) Review

You can find this review in full at GBAtemp.net:

Originally released in 2009 for the PS3 and Xbox 360, Bayonetta is an action-packed hack and slash game from the now-renowned company PlatinumGames. Having developed for every modern home console since the Xbox 360, Bayonetta + Bayonetta 2 marks their leap to Nintendo’s latest and greatest system; but does the witch belong on the Switch?

Despite being a long-time fan of Devil May CryBayonetta is a series that has long-since eluded me. Having missed its original release, and subsequent Wii U port, the Switch version offers a lifeline; a means of enjoying a game I have heard only wonderful things about. Please keep in mind as you read this I am going into the series fresh; and as such, comparisons to other versions will be limited. I will however be commenting on this game as a new experience; as it may too be for many.

First Impressions

Before so much as reaching the title screen, the game gives us a cutscene, broken and ominous in nature; fragments of Bayonetta’s past thrown at force to show what’s to come. Followed by a simple title screen and a whisper of the game’s title, everything feels old, dated even. Continuing into the menus, the same feeling is only amplified; this clearly isn’t a game from 2018. It doesn’t even feel like a game from 2009. Instead, I’m thrown back to the 90s, timeless releases such as Tomb Raider leaping to the forefront of my mind. It is by no means a bad thing, it’s wonderful in fact. To see a game so beautifully pull off such a bold and dated vibe, whilst not letting it hold it back, truly is a thing to marvel at. It’s as though it aims to impress nobody, wanting to let the content speak for itself—and the content speaks volumes.

Sass and Style

For newcomers and series veterans alike, the opening cutscene is a joy to behold; offering an entirely  different experience depending on your expectations going in. Every element in the scene is captivatingly contrary; the dreary graveyard offset by Enzo urinating on the grave of producer Hideki Kamiya; the heavy funeral tone thrown aside as Bayonetta sheds her pure, religious garbs in a fashionable transformation exuding sex appeal and style. Each and every element of the scene pushes a degree of crazy escalation and unnecessarily choreographed combat to present what feels like a dance of death; our jaded heroine bound by no law nor restraint. 

The effort gone into an adequate portrayal of this witch’s style shines through in every element of her being; and is shown at every possible opportunity. She doesn’t walk, she struts; she commands the space around her. Don’t expect any scene to be presented halfheartedly. Instead prepare to admire and appreciate each action-packed frame before moving onto the next, the game taking moments to pause, allowing you take everything in with freeze frames and slow motion. Of course, this extends far beyond cutscenes alone, bleeding into both dialogue and combat.

If you’ve ever seen or played a Devil May Cry game, you should know the kind of action to expect. It’s fast, furious, and rather uniquely feminine. It pays homage to the style of Devil May Cry, whilst continuing to forge its own unique identity. With a great deal of variation in its combo attacks, and a plethora of different weapons and fighting styles to choose from, the combat is incredibly easy to pick up and find satisfaction in.

Where Bayonetta finds its niche is in Witch Time; a brief moment of slow motion after narrowly avoiding an attack. Allowing you to get in uninterrupted and powerful combos, Witch Time is something you are constantly pushed towards both in and out of combat. As if to train you for imperative moments in a fight, the game presents training sections where you’re forced to enter Witch Time in order to get past obstacles otherwise insurmountable. It’s a neat idea that makes Witch Time feel like more than a last minute thought crammed into the combat system. The very nature of it forces a different style of play to what I would consider regular hack and slash; encouraging you to watch your enemies intently, waiting for an opening. You could say it goes against the core idea of hack and slash, testing your observation skills over your button mashing; I feel this is definitely to its benefit. If you do however find yourself struggling, the game has various difficulty settings, allowing players of all skill level to find some enjoyment.

Matching perhaps every other aspect of the game, the soundtrack is no disappointment. Featuring an assortment of standard, high octane tracks; as well as the masterfully adapted classic Fly Me to the Moon, you are in for an experience both familiar, and like no other. Combat feels like an overly dramatised style monster unleashing her jet black locks onto unsuspecting forces of light and dark; and the role music plays in this is key. Each element comes together flawlessly to forge the experience that is Bayonetta, an experience I’m grateful to have had the chance to partake in.

Return of the Umbra Witch

The second game of the set packs the same initial punch as the first, smacking you with the same fast paced, overly stylish action right out of the gate. Many of my opinions regarding Bayonetta 2 resonate with the original game; it feels like a clean transition from one to the other, maintaining every aspect I came to love. With this transition comes a new classic song seeing the same treatment as Fly Me to the Moon; the similarly lunar Moon River. My thoughts on Bayonetta 2 specifically will be rather limited in this review, as I truly believe the highlights and flaws are shared with the previous game. If you want a more in-depth look at the second game, check out our official review from 2014

Naughty Pets

The plot and general tone of Bayonetta 2 feels strangely detached to the mysterious amnesiac tale of the first. The style, the personality, it’s all there; but now with a reaffirmed sense of arrogance and control that is swiftly shattered in the prologue chapter. Far sooner than the original game, Bayonetta is seen facing a colossal foe in a fight so large scale, the game struggled to keep up. The fight was everything I wanted to see in a sequel, but the game struggling to keep up meant regular drops from the targeted 60 FPS. Honestly, it’s not something I personally noticed as I played the first time—the intensity of the fight completely distracting me—but I understand framerate is a big deal for a lot of people. 

A Cut Above

Bayonetta 2 feels like a clear step up from its predecessor, the entire experience feeling more responsive and fast paced. It understands the nuances of the first game and goes to great lengths in recreating the witch’s magic once more. With this in mind, I would definitely advise playing these games in order, so not to feel let down by what is still an incredible experience in the first game.

Of course, the burning question on many a potential buyer’s mind is just how well do these games run on the Switch? I cannot proclaim to be an expert in these matters, but I can tell you both games run at 720p in both docked and handheld mode; and also both target 60 FPS during normal gameplay—staying at a consistent 30 FPS during cutscenes. While I have no experience with previous releases, it appears the games still struggle in the same areas. Bayonetta 2 for example still falls short in the same places as its Wii U predecessor, however performs better in these deviations from 60 FPS. If you go in wanting a consistent 60 FPS, you may end up disappointed. What we have here are games that run beyond the capabilities of the Wii U, and without the tether of a home console. It isn’t perfect, but it also isn’t so bad as to take away from the overall experience. For a more in-depth look at the framerate and performance, check out Digital Foundry’s initial look at Bayonetta 2.

The Longest Five Minutes (Nintendo Switch) Review

You can find this review in full at GBAtemp.net:

Published by the same creative team behind the Disgaea series, The Longest Five Minutes puts forward a new spin on the classic JRPG formula. Aiming to blend time-old gameplay with such a heavy narrative focus, just how much could Nippon Ichi Software fit into this five minute tale of life and loss?

The title screen is a story unto itself. Simple and elegant, it features the heroes in the final hour of their quest gazing off to their final objective—the Demon King’s castle. Paired with a sorrowful and quaint piano melody and an ambient breeze blowing across the pixilated landscape, you have a scene rarely appropriate for the title; one of conclusion. It beautifully introduces you to the idea of the end without giving away significant detail of what is to come, nor what has happened.

Starting the game soon gets you up to date on the heroes’ quest. Scene after scene flashes before you, dyed an aged tone of sepia. The events feel new—they are new, but they’re presented in such a way as to feel familiar. As if one by one, lost memories are revealing themselves; or fond memories are being reduced to nothing. With a new appreciation for the value of memories, this daydream soon comes to an end; an unknown presence appearing before you.

The Beginning of the End (But Also Just the Beginning)

The Demon King? Who’s that? On that note, who are you? Panic and dread soon wash over the hero as he remembers nothing of his quest as it should be coming to a close. What’s your mission? Why are you here? How did you ever plan on beating the Demon King? One after another, questions rapidly race through his mind. With a grand and exhilarating score playing in the background, everything is in place for this final confrontation, much to the confusion of both the player and the hero. Five minutes to finish the quest; five minutes to defeat the Demon King; five minutes to remember your story, your friends, your hardships. This truly is the longest five minutes.

Of course, even veterans of the industry such as NIS can’t fit a fulfilling story in just five minutes of gameplay. While time continues to march forwards in the final boss encounter, our hero Flash Back finds himself thrown into the past, piece by piece putting together the events that lead him and his party to where he currently stands. And this is where the game’s core mechanic lies.

Meet Flash Back

Flashbacks serve as the backbone to the gameplay, providing a classic-feeling RPG experience for the player in a game that is anything but. At set points in the final encounter, our aptly named hero is thrust into his own mind, recalling events relevant to the fight; questions such as “who are the people in my party?” being answered by playing the part of the story where they set off together. While this approach is largely linear, the game does a good job in giving the player freedom to explore within the constraints of the flashbacks. Much akin to classic Final Fantasy games, you are often given the freedom to go the entirely wrong way, walk into the wrong dungeon, fight the wrong foes. Much of this doesn’t necessarily have an impact on the way the story plays out, but such freedom is a joy to see in a game that could be so easily walled off. This freedom aside, player choice is used as means of divergence in an otherwise linear-feeling experience. The outcomes of these choices stood out to me as being surprisingly varied. You want to see what happens if you tell the Demon King you’ll slay your party? Be prepared for the consequences. This element blends seamlessly with the RPG elements to create a sort of visual novel hybrid.

No particular element of the story stood out to me as I played; there was no ground-breaking nor revolutionary plot twist, each part knew its assigned role and stuck with it—perhaps even to the point of cliché. Despite this, the radiant light shined upon these cliched scenes by their presentation transformed even the most mundane and predictable reveal into a revelation for the ages; an uncovered secret. This predictability also has a secondary effect of making you feel as though you’ve seen a number of these events before. It puts forward an experience that feels dated, yet refined. The game presents both the fondest encounters, and strenuous struggles of the heroes’ adventure; all the moments you’ll remember from your childhood JRPG. Nothing feels particularly new—instead coming across how I remember these older games; something I believe to be a greater feat.

Relive, Redo, Reexperience

While the flashbacks do what they aim to well, they complicate a number of standard RPG elements; growth and side quests in particular. Were you to play an average RPG, measuring growth is a simple affair; you level up. You’re too weak to fight a boss? Go fight some monsters and gain experience. You have a simple but effective loop of gratification as you become stronger. It could be argued however this system is flawed. It relies in the player being in a sweet spot of experience; strong enough to deal with enemies, but not so strong as to lack challenge. The flashback system counteracts this in its very nature—after all, you aren’t playing the hero’s story in its entirety. By joining the party at specific moments in the quest, you cut out parts of the experience; for better or worse. What you lose here is a reliance on grinding, and travelling long distances to the next destination. These elements do still exist in the game, but to a much lesser extent than one would usually see in an RPG. As well as the traditional level, which is set by the flashback, you have a secondary Reexperience stat. This is the stat you increase and grow through battles, acting as a buff to the character on top of the true level. This approach gives you the same gratification of levelling up, whilst removing the reliance of it. I never found myself feeling too weak, and yet the Reexperience never seemed to put me so far ahead of the enemies as to make the game too easy.

Side quests still exist in The Longest Five Minutes, but much like the rest of the game, their presentation is altered to fit the flashback mechanic. Instead of being spontaneous and sporadic, they’re listed as bonus objectives, each providing Reexperience for their completion. Despite being a fairly good source of Reexperience, this was never the reason I decided to tackle them. From such simple tasks as talking to lonely old lady, to delivering meals to sailors; these objectives charmed me. They provided depth and life to what could be seen as a stoic world—at least for the most part. Though I enjoyed a great majority of bonus objectives, a select handful stood out for all the wrong reasons; artificial padding to an otherwise lacking flashback. These are few and far between, but true pain cannot be understood without first having to score 20k points on a poorly conceived arcade game.

The Long and Short of It

The Longest Five Minutes works with conventional RPG tropes better than any game I’ve seen before it. If you’ve seen them before, the events feel like a reimagining of any classic adventure, you unlocking these long-since put away memories as the story progresses. Should you be new to the genre, the world, the tropes, the characters, they’ll all seem new, perhaps confusing. It’ll take time to adjust, and you might not understand the gravity of the situation Flash is in. The beauty of this game is that both approaches are equally well thought out, and both allow for a reasonable degree of empathy with Flash. It’s a brilliant concept executed well from start to end.