Dragon Quest Builders 2 (Nintendo Switch) Review

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

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 GBAtemp.net:

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.