Zanki Zero: Last Beginning (PlayStation 4) Review

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Since the completion of the third Danganronpa game, its creators have been busy. Previously putting their name behind a whimsical tale of world destruction at the mere sight of panties, they continue their trend of wonderful end of worldliness to bring something new and creative, and yet true to each of its roots. 

Welcome to Garage Island

Zanki Zero has perhaps the most fluid transition from title screen to gameplay I’ve ever seen, the menu simply fading away, leaving you with a brief overview of the controls and a small area to explore. A deserted and ruined city by the sea, you find yourself chasing a fading image. Walking through the ruin, weaving down alleys until you find yourself in front of an open garage, and in it, a mysterious arcade machine.

This sequence excels in setting a desolate scene with its deliberate ambient and environmental choices. With the game jumping from this setting to a dark cityscape upon interacting with the arcade machine, you almost get a sense of being flung back into reality; you’re drawn into this world so brilliantly before the game gives you so much as a word to read. It gives you an initial set of mysteries to be solved, things you find are slowly chipped away at as you play as if to keep you hooked on that same sense of mystery from start to end. As the intro plays out, you witness a desperate Haruto Higurashi atop a bland and looming tower wallowing, before stepping into the abyss below. Much to both his surprise, and mine as the player, death is not what greeted him in the end. Where there should have only been dark, his senses are overwhelmed with light, water, and shortly after, the voice of a young girl. A familiar island, the one you had previously walked through, is his destination, and it’s here the story really gets started.

Introducing herself as Sachika, the girl takes you to what will soon be your base of operations: the garage, where the game’s remaining cast are waiting to meet you. A total of eight people including Haruto and Sachika, each one is characterised by a deadly sin, with Sachika referred to as ‘The Original Sin’. While these titles aren’t mentioned until later in the game, I found them to be a unique insight into predicting how characters might act and develop early on. Haruto, for example, is revealed to be the ‘Editor of Sloth’ in the first chapter. From this, you begin to cast judgement: is he slothful, a sinner, or is he a victim of others’ slothful tendencies? Thinking down both paths, you force yourself to consider both an optimistic and pessimistic answer to each question, and as the truth slowly comes to light, you find your way of thinking influenced for the next character to be explored. It’s a brilliant mechanism in its simplicity, in how it plays on your preconceived notions and accumulating impressions.

The gameplay loop from chapter to chapter is nothing remarkable. In the garage, you’re introduced to several of the game’s founding ideas: you are the last eight survivors of humanity, you are all clones, and that you should follow the tasks provided by the mysterious cartoon Extend TV. The cartoon and its strange presenters Sho and Mirai stay with you throughout the story and act as your primary source of information, perhaps the most important of this being that as clones, they can be revived endlessly. The caveat however, is that death is no longer optional, rather an cruel inevitability.

Every End…

As clones, our sinful cast’s lifespan is limited to a meagre 13 days. In this time, they go from children, to adults, to middle-aged, and finally to seniors, before dying of old age. Upon death, their bodies dissolve into white sand, leaving behind a pile of their belongings and more importantly, their X Key. By taking this key back to the Extend Machine, the previously mentioned arcade machine stashed away in the garage, they can be revived; it’s here where my favourite mechanic really comes to light.

Zanki Zero is much unlike any other RPG I’ve played. The single truth I’ve always held so closely, the micromanagement and effort propelled by the fear of death, of missing out on experience and losing progress; all of this is reworked and disfigured in a way so contrary to the genre fundamental. All of this comes from being revived by the Extend Machine, and the possibilities that lie in Shigabane. To be revived, or as the game describes it, extended, you need points. Points are accumulated for various activities, the main two being exploring new areas and defeating enemies, but to reduce this cycle down to gathering points until you die of old age, before extending and repeating, is to do it an incredible disservice. Shigabane are your incentive for death; think of each one as a bonus that can be applied to a character upon being extended. What’s so brilliant about these is how you get them, and how drastically it can affect how you play the game.

Put simply, your characters adapt to survive. You died because Monster X clawed you? In your next life, you might take less damage from Monster X and claw attacks. You died carrying too many items? In your next life, you might be able to carry more. You died as a child? In your next life, you may live another day before transitioning from a child to an adult. As a system, it’s not one I agreed with at first. It felt as though the game was fighting against me, enemies doing too much damage, the aging process seemingly always killing somebody as each day passed, but as I began to adapt to this myself, so too did the game’s cast. As I entered a new area, I made it a priority to have my party killed by the most common enemy as preparation; I wanted to explore, to experience everything the game had to throw at me. The game drove me into a mindset of suffering as means of preventing suffering later, and to see just how resilient to this harsh environment I could make my party. The requirement of points to extend limits this process, making it overall far more strategic than it otherwise may be. Do you use up all your points killing and extending one character to have a single monster, leaving the rest of your team vulnerable when your solo force eventually falls? Do you distribute your deaths to create a team that can handle the common threats? Or do you simply accumulate points and only use them when death catches you off guard? As you progress and get more Shigabane, each extend costs more and more points, making these choices more difficult. With the option of extending without the effects of your Shigabane for your new lifetime costing a fraction of what you would otherwise have to pay, you always have some degree of fallback for when your plans go off course.

To some extent, the game gives you an ultimate failsafe in Sachika. While she too can die and be extended in the same manner as the other characters, she is unique in that she doesn’t age. What this means for your adventuring is that as long as you keep her healthy, you’ll always have a way out. You can always push on just that little bit more safe in the knowledge a complete party wipe-out, the kind that painstakingly forces you to continue from your last save, can so often be avoided with foresight. You have the freedom to die knowing you have her as your trump card. 

Into the Ruins

Dungeon crawling in Zanki Zero is fairly basic, and whether that’s a positive or a negative will depend entirely on what you want from the game. The world laid out as a grid, you’re able to move in each cardinal direction, with a pointer available to inspect items around you and certain areas. Everything is just about as you’d expect; the map is filled automatically as you walk, puzzles and traps litter the world, and there’s a plethora of things to uncover, enabling a vigilant player to enrich the overall narrative. Where the game tries to be interesting is in two key areas: survival meters and combat.

As a whole, survival meters are a huge negative for me. Forcing miscellaneous and unwanted micromanagement, you often find them unbalanced in a way as to pad out otherwise-trivial games with menial and repetitive activities. Does Zanki Zero break this trend? I’m sad to say it does nothing revolutionary in this respect, and much of what I dislike is still present. For each character, you need to watch their stamina, stress, and bladder. Needing the toilet leads to an increase of stress, an increased stress level reduces your stamina faster, and your stamina reaching zero means your health will gradually be reduced. On top of this, replenishing one meter will often have an adverse effect on another; to recover stamina you might drink water, which naturally will make your character more desperate for the toilet. Using the toilet in a rundown building might make your character more stressed, it’s a balancing act that you’ll likely either love or hate. While the way I describe it is largely negative, but it’s not without merit. Where it excels is in fitting with the rest of the game. It’s awkward, it’s a system very much against you as the player, it almost wants you to fail, to force you to pay more attention to it and plan. This planning and strategy is at the core of what makes the game so fun and interesting despite containing a few otherwise-irritating features, and this is highlighted further in the harder difficulties where the world is at its harshest. With everything against you, every small victory feels like a triumph, you get an incredible sense of gradual and consistent progress.

Combat is about as simple as you can get in a dungeon crawler. Enemies move around the map in real time and attack you when you’re in their range. Each attack has its own range and cooldown, and learning these is the key to succeeding. Instead of focusing on high levels and outrageous skills, Zanki Zero tests your dungeon crawling, observation, and patience. It forces you to be constantly aware of your surroundings and encourages a thorough job scouting the area, the game once again rewarding the prepared. The bosses of each area are where the game tries to be creative, despite the relatively few options it provides to you as the player. While you can dumb it down to attack, dodge, wait for your attacks to recharge, and repeat, bosses try to mix things up. Whether they show off a new attack type for the first time, allow you to utilise traps, or even feed you information on how best to handle a given enemy through inspecting elements of the environment, each one felt grand. Combining puzzle solving, analysis, and patience, they stand as genuine barriers on harder difficulties.

If combat and survival meters really aren’t something you enjoy, the western release features the addition of a new difficulty setting, completely disabling enemy encounters and all survival aspects. With this, you can appreciate the game for its environments, exploring and puzzle solving your way through its interesting storyline. While I wouldn’t recommend starting on this difficulty for the vast majority of players, it does well in allowing just about anybody to experience and enjoy a good chunk of what the game has to offer, and with New Game+, those same people can go in a second time slightly stronger, perhaps more confident to try something different.

Overall, Zanki Zero is interesting. Though the writing and character motivations can feel a little muddled towards the end of the game, I found myself thoroughly enjoying both the narrative being presented and the one I uncovered by analysing my surroundings.  It’s hard to pin down exactly the type of person who will have a good time with it, but if you’re in the mood for a wild ride of post-apocalyptic and sometimes-unintentionally nonsensical drama mixed with a dash of puzzle solving, give it a shot. 

Yoshi’s Crafted World (Nintendo Switch) Review

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The Yoshi series as a whole is something that’s always enthralled me. Growing up with the GBA port of Yoshi’s Island, the casual explorative platformer series has managed to keep me interested through both the good times and bad. After harbouring mixed feelings for both Yoshi’s New Island and Woolly World, I find myself once again eager to explore, hoping to be charmed and captivated in the same way the series first caught my eye.

A Whole New World

Opening with a short cutscene, the game begins with a peaceful Yoshi society, this time lazily gathered around the legendary Sundream Stone. Eager to claim the stone’s fabled power to grant wishes for himself, Baby Bowser suddenly appears raring for a fight. After an intense round of tug of war between the jealous junior and our party of friends, the stone is pulled apart, its five Dream Gems launched across an unknown world. Intent on finding the gems before Baby Bowser can, the Yoshis set out on a new quest in this foreign land.

I feel there’s only so much I can say here; I doubt you’ve come to the game for a particularly deep or intense storyline, though that’s an avenue I’d personally be interested in seeing Nintendo go down. What the introduction does well in is highlighting what’s to come. You have the bright colour scheme, a myriad of Yoshis to choose from, a new visually stunning art direction, and of course, the brilliant duo that is Baby Bowser and Kamek. With these glimmers of radiant hope, the game set my expectations high, and it really didn’t disappoint.

Launching into the first level, the same one featured in the free eShop demo, you quickly begin to see what’s changed from a mechanical standpoint. Having played Yoshi’s Island quite recently, I found myself immediately taken aback by two things: movement and eggs. As a whole, the game feels fluid and responsive, the controls something that can be picked up in a matter of minutes. In an attempt to keep things moving and minimise downtime, the game also does well in streamlining certain things such as swallowing enemies, the egg conversion now automated instead of having to crouch. It defines itself as a unique entry to the series without straying far enough from its roots as to remove what made it great so many years ago. I found it incredibly satisfying to play, but only when jumping back to the SNES version of Yoshi’s Island did I realise just how different it is, and by no means do I think this a bad thing. The game is slower, but in what feels to be an intentional way; you have time to see the multi-layered levels, time to pick up on the small details and hidden secrets that make the Yoshi series so fun. With the new ability to shoot into both the foreground and background, you come to appreciate the change of pace.

The strangest quirk to irritate me as I started ended up being the fact your eggs don’t carry over from level to level as they did in older games, but the more I played, the more I came to appreciate the reasons behind this choice. Enemy placement feels far more meaningful and well-paced as to provide both ample ammunition to progress and subtle hints of what’s available to hit nearby. You also have areas with few eggs and challenges that require them, adding a thin veil of challenge to an otherwise largely laid back game. As you progress, you begin to make better use of what the levels give you, and as a whole it goes a long way in crafting an enjoyable experience.

Yoshi’s Crafted Collectathon

While the challenges of Yoshi games have often been found in collecting everything the game has to offer, Crafted World takes this to new unparalleled heights. Each level has a number of visible flowers as you’ve likely seen in previous games of the series. The amount varies from level to level with some lying around, some hidden behind floating clouds, and others obtained through small challenges. You then have three bonus flowers for each level; one for collecting 100 coins, one for collecting the 20 red coins, and one for finishing the level on maximum health. Finally, you have four flowers on offer for optionally completing the course in reverse and finding mini Poochies, with one flower being awarded for each of the three found, and the last being a reward for completing the stage in a set time. Once you’ve beaten each level in a world, you’ll then be tasked with extra missions to seek out souvenirs, with each one successfully found rewarding you with an additional flower. That’s everything. While you do need flowers to unlock new worlds and progress through the game, the levels are structured in a way as to encourage exploration and discovery without forcing it on you. It’s balanced well to the point of unlocking worlds being satisfying without feeling gated behind unnecessary walls. 

At first glance, the sheer volume of flowers is overwhelming and as I played the first level, I found myself incredibly irritated by the design as a whole. After all, if you want to get everything, you’ll be playing through each level three or four times: once for the normal completion, once in reverse, and once more for each souvenir. Having already played the first level via the demo, I had already appreciated the sights, I had already spotted the cows, and I’d already seen the small details on show as you go through in reverse. What I had however forgotten was how much I loved doing it in the demo; it’s almost amusing to me how my first impressions of the game’s collectibles was jaded not through any fault of the game itself, but by my completionist attitudes in full force when playing the demo. Despite each level being packed with content, and despite there being an incredible depth of gameplay that can shift by simply focusing your attention on different areas of the level, I found myself burned out by something that could have so easily been solved by carrying over save data. Though I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing everything each level had to show, I do feel it negatively impacts replayability to the game as a whole. Once you’ve seen everything, you really have seen everything, and I just can’t see myself coming back to play it any time soon. It’s not to say I won’t come back to it again a few years down the line, or going through the odd level again with different friends, but otherwise it’s something that’ll be be sat collecting dust.

The two player options are however worth mentioning for a way to keep your experience fresh. Where I usually meticulously scour levels for every secret and collectible, everything is different when I pull a friend in. Gone are the methodical searches, one of a friendly journey or competitive death battle standing in their place. The degree of the coop play is relatively simple: you get two Yoshis and you play through levels as normal. You can swallow your friend to carry them, and one Yoshi can ride the other and play as a turret. It’s brilliant fun all in all, and does well in providing a platform for players of any skill to appreciate. The only fault I could possibly pull from this is the lack of option to mix and match game play styles. While the classic play the one I generally recommend people try, mellow mode acts as a perfect bridge for a parent to introduce their child to gaming. Giving you wings to flutter infinitely, as well as each enemy providing two eggs in oppose to one, the game is made easier and its challenges further trivialised. It becomes less about the level design choices and more about experiencing the music, the brilliant art direction, and the world of the game. Though it isn’t something for me, its inclusion is definitely not a bad thing, especially in a series like Yoshi.

It’s difficult to deny that Yoshi’s Crafted World is by most standards an easy game, but I think it’s brilliant for it. So rarely nowadays do we get the chance to explore and discover in such a relaxed and mellow setting. The game is forgiving to the degree of me feeling comfortable jumping off ledges from time to time just to make sure I haven’t missed anything; it isn’t something I could say of a Mario game, nor any other platformer. For every Dark Souls of its genre, I feel we should be crying out for a Yoshi. A game you can sit down and uncontrollably smile at, a game you can enjoy without pressure or stress. For anybody looking for a good time, or even just a gentle break from reality, Yoshi’s Crafted World is a must buy, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend.

GameSir VX AimSwitch (Hardware) Review

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Taking the AimSwitch out of the box for the first time had me quite excited to get stuck in. The design, put quite simply, is the left half of your average keyboard. Featuring 34 keys that can each be reconfigured via a free to download companion app, you’re given a lot of freedom out of the box. For me, my hand rests comfortably with my thumb on space, middle three fingers over the arrow keys, and my little finger on tab. The beauty of having half a keyboard present means that no matter your hand size of preference, you’ll likely be able to find a comfortable way to operate it; pair this degree of customisation with the adjustable wrist rest and from a comfort and longevity standpoint, you’re onto a winner.

Sadly, I can’t sing such high praises for the device’s build quality. At first glance, the key caps quite oddly caught my eye. Having owned a Razer Blackwidow Chroma for a few years, they jumped out to me for their faded appearance, almost as if transparent to allow light through. It’s a fairly standard appearance for a device with some kind of lighting, and yet the AimSwitch has no such thing. Seeing this, I re-read the manual and searched online in hopes of being wrong, but to no avail. I even tried putting one of the key caps onto my keyboard and lone behold, they are transparent. Though perhaps an odd criticism, it speaks to the lack of care and detail on show.

The switches themselves come from the lesser known company TTC. After doing a little research, I found myself unsurprised to see these largely a budget choice. Despite this, they still provide a reasonably satisfying click when hit, albeit with an accompanying echo I can’t say I’m overly fond of. To me, the whole thing simply feels cheap. While there is some satisfaction in the mechanical keys, the novelty soon wears off when switching between it and something better built. This might not be something you’d notice if you don’t typically use mechanical keyboards, the feel of its mechanicalness potentially outweighing the relative lack of quality, but for anybody accustom to anything remotely well-made, you’ll likely be left disappointed.

Coming bundled with a gaming mouse to complete the setup, I feel myself prepared to say more of the same. It’s fine, but the chances are you already own a better mouse. While the cable feels pleasant, the overall design is garish. Needlessly pointy with vanity spikes surrounding the mouse wheel, I felt it lack any kind of weight. I can generally forgive that as personal preference, but the overall outlook is one matching its companion: cheap. My biggest issue lies in the buttons you rest your fingers on and their oversensitivity. As I played, I found myself clicking where not intended, the clicks themselves feeling shallow and dissatisfying. Fortunately, you’re able to use the keypad with other USB mice, but it’s a little sad to see part of this set simply wind up useless.

Beyond the build quality, GameSir set out to appeal to a niche market with the AimSwitch’s console compatibility. This means anybody with a PS3, PS4, Xbox One, and even Switch, can in theory enjoy the same precision and input as their PC brethren. At least in theory.

Getting the AimSwitch up and running with the Switch is a simple affair. Plug the USB receiver into the dock, enable wired pro controllers via the system settings, and you’re good to go! When you turn on the AimSwitch, it’ll quickly connect to the system as a Pro Controller, with the mouse acting as the right analogue input. WASD controls your left analogue, the arrows are your D-Pad, and the other buttons are scattered within reach. The default setup is good enough to get you started, but you’ll likely want to switch it up to something more suited to your needs. Thankfully, this is a relatively simple task.

The accompanying G-Crux app for Android and iOS is essential to get the best out of the AimSwitch. Using the app, you can wirelessly update the device’s firmware, and more importantly, remap the keys to your liking. Each of the 34 keys can be set to your liking, on top of the mouse’s left and right click, and the two buttons on the side. With the ability to store up to five configurations on-device to be switched between on demand, you have the freedom to play as you want. Though the app is a little rough around the edges, it does well in providing a simple and easy to use interface. With the ability to name buttons with their relevant function, you’re able to quickly see what you’re remapping as you tweak your configurations.

Using the AimSwitch in-game is the thing I’m perhaps most conflicted on. I want to like it; I really want to like it, but I just don’t think it works. Despite the cheap feel of the keys, I enjoyed having the keyboard option for my system, and I feel this part of the device works really well. If you have a game like Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists where you’re mostly moving through menus, the flat half-keyboard is surprisingly comfortable and pleasant to use. If you have games that don’t rely on the right analogue stick, you may find some surprising utility in being able to play casually with one hand. It’s beyond this scope where I struggle to recommend it, and it’s hard to really put the blame on the device itself. Mapping the right analogue stick to a mouse is a flawed idea at best. When you use a mouse, you do so for the precision, for the responsiveness and fluid movement. When your mouse is mapped to the right analogue stick, you lose almost all of this. For any kind of precision, you need to mess with sensitivity in-game, you need to tweak the mouse settings using the G-Crux app, and despite my best efforts, I simply couldn’t find a way to make it work. The camera was too jarring, too slow, moving in too great an interval; the previously easy to use app suddenly became frustrating as I changed settings, disconnected, connected to the console, tested the settings, and repeated. With both the default settings and officially released configurations failing to impress me, I can see why the AimSwitch doesn’t have much in the way of console competition.

Overall, I’m left with a mixed bag of feelings for GameSir’s VX AimSwitch. Featuring quite frankly impressive customisation options and a unique offering in a remappable keyboard for consoles, it falls short in too many areas to fully recommend. With the core idea falling flat, paired with the cheap look and feel, I can’t recommend it for its current RRP of $99.99. What I’d love to see is GameSir look at what went well here and come back with something that builds on those strengths: a remappable keypad for consoles is in my eyes something with a lot of potential. With nicer switches, better key cap design, and even including an analogue stick for proper camera control, they could have a genuinely unique and brilliant product. Despite their shortcomings here, I’m eager to see what they bring in the coming years.

Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World (Nintendo Switch) Review

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The Atelier series is one I’ve come to be fond of despite only dabbling in one or two of its western releases. Tasked under varying circumstances with completing requests in a set time limit, the games often see you gather materials through foraging and JRPG battles, before synthesising them into something greater with alchemy. This loop of gathering, creating, and fulfilling goals is satisfying and keeps you engaged as your tasks gradually become more difficult and the areas you have to explore grow. Roll on Nelke and her legendary group and we find ourselves with something similar, and yet not quite the same. 

An Aristocrat’s Tale

The premise of Nelke isn’t all too difficult to grasp; an excitable aristocrat sets out for the small village of Westwald as its new administrator in hopes of developing it into something bigger. Alongside this, you have a secondary motivation in wanting to uncover the secrets of the sage relics, the legendary Granzweit Tree rumoured to be hidden nearby. Finally, adding the fact the lord of Westwald is Nelke’s father, you have a constraint to keep the game somewhat grounded, as well as an excuse to weave in the series-standard timed tasks.

Of course, Nelke won’t be alone on her adventure. With her from the start are her maid Misty and the village chief Knoss, but it doesn’t take long for your party to expand as alchemists and familiar faces from the franchise’s history appear one by one through a myriad of botched alchemy and mysterious teleportations. The setup is undeniably simple, but does what it needs to in providing a stage for what is ultimately a grand celebration, largely reminiscent of how Fire Emblem Heroes used gateways to other worlds. Even not knowing the majority of the characters present, I found myself having a great time interacting with them and seeing them develop; I can only imagine how happy somebody who played the first game back in 1997 would be to see the its protagonist Marie again. 

Town Life

Though the game takes a while to get going as you battle through full-screen images bombarding you with tutorial information for the first hour or so, there is a genuinely satisfying experience to be found. The general gameplay loop can be broken down into two parts: weekdays and holidays, with a turn being made up of one of each. To avoid being sent back to the capital, Nelke is given tasks from her father to complete within a certain number of turns, and it’s here you’ll generally find yourself thinking ahead. One early task for example asks you to remain in profit for three consecutive days. With this in mind, you want to sell expensive goods. To sell expensive goods, you’ll want to synthesise them. To synthesise them, you’ll want the right materials. To get the right materials, you’ll want to setup your farms and gathering squads. On top of that, you’ll also want to watch how much you spend in labour and building costs; you need workers and you need to get things setup, but you also need balance. The early tasks introduce you to the supply chain and making profit as a whole in a surprisingly organic way given the direct approach taken for the initial tutorials. Once you’re free of them, you really find the game opening up and leaving you to decide what type of growth suits you best, and how you want to achieve it. It’s definitely a slow game at first, but sticking with it provides you with a fantastic satisfaction as you begin to see your efforts bear fruit, bombs, and whatever else you decide to make. 

Moving onto holidays, you come to a more relaxed setting. Gone is the balancing of books and maintaining of profits, new strategy arising from how you choose to split your time. During each holiday, your time is divided into 12 segments, where they can be spent either visiting your townsfolk or exploring a variety of areas for items and enemies. Visiting people will enhance your relationship with them, giving the characters you like a bit more screen time, as well as potentially triggering events and providing you with bonus tasks. Exploring on the other hand rewards you in a far more direct way, providing you with an additional means of gathering certain materials, or fulfilling the requests of villagers that may have asked for specific monsters to be slayed. As an idea, I quite enjoy how this is split. With each visit consuming two segments and exploration going for as long as you still have time, or reach the end of the path, you’ll find yourself adjusting your strategy throughout the game depending on what your current situation requires. Where I feel the game falls somewhat short however is in the exploration itself, and how it’s completely detached from what I would consider to be a modern series staple. 

Instead of moving through a dungeon area with roaming enemies and gathering spots, you find yourself automatically walking across a linear path. As you walk, your team will stop at random to pick up items or encounter enemies, your only input being whether they walk or run. Even after entering an encounter, I found little reason to interact when combat can be trivialised to the point of putting it on auto and letting my team win for me. This part of the game finds itself in an awkward middle ground where it’s not sure who it wants to cater for. On one hand, it tries to look back at the fans coming back for their dose of Atelier charm and throws them a fairly generic JRPG battle system and the general idea of material gathering from previous games; on the other it tries to streamline the process to fit better with the gameplay loop you’d expect in a town development game. Playing it, I found myself wanting either more or less. Were this to be streamlined further to a completely automated activity, I’d be able to return to the weekdays sooner and focus on a part of the game I genuinely enjoy. Were it to further embrace the series’ roots and go for fuller dungeons and progression in this respect, it’d have room to make a far more unique title and embrace traditional JRPG tropes in a natural way. In what feels like an attempt to bring two audiences together, I can’t help but think both are made to suffer.

Atelier for the Ages

Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists is an interesting game if nothing else. Celebrating a brilliant 20 years of history, it succeeds in bringing familiar faces together, tasking the player with building what feels like the setting for another game entirely. From the building designs, to the vibrant artwork, to the casual and slightly repetitive background music, everything feels so perfectly in place. While it saddens me the game doesn’t give you the option to run through your creation and really experience your work as you have so many towns before it, it goes to further emphasise this is an Atelier game like none before it. Whether it’s one for you is difficult to say, but for anybody looking for some laid back town development, accompanied by charm and vibrance by the bucket load, it is a must buy. 

Ace Combat 7 (PlayStation 4) Review

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Ace Combat is a series I’ve always been fond of despite never touching a numbered title. Enjoying the PSP and more controversial 3DS entries, the fast-paced dogfighting and diverse set of missions kept me hooked from start to end. Looking now to my first mainline game, just how far has the series come since I last looked in 2011?

Into the Skies

A swift reminder of how the home console experience differs from my portable memories, the campaign kicks off with a cutscene to set the tone for the rest of game. Visually speaking, it was magnificent. The cinematography, audio, and effects all contribute to a brilliant camcorder feel without necessarily having to sacrifice on quality to support it. Looking at the narrative itself, it’s about what you’d expect from this kind of game. You have your two nations at war and a new ace pilot on the scene; what made it interesting for me however was how this story was told. The cutscenes shifting between the perspective of what seemed to be everybody but the main character, you get a feeling of a world being built around him in oppose to him actually being the center of the events. Where he may be mentioned and involved in mission briefs and debriefs, the nature of the narrative prefers to shine a light on other characters through their storytelling. It does well in building up a silent protagonist in a way where he has a personality and an active role in events, while still giving you the freedom to project and really put yourself in his position and appreciate some of the more minor appearances.

I’m not sure I’d call the plot anything particularly memorable or ground-breaking, but it does what it needs to well. Each mission draws you in with new details of the world and ends with the consequences of your actions. Be it destroying a key structure, taking out an ace pilot, or even failing to protect your objective in some cases, you’re fed a reason to immediately want to move to the next mission. It gives you just enough as to entice you onwards, saying “this is what you did, don’t you want to find out more?” With how well this is executed, I did find myself a little disappointed to see a lack of branching paths. As one of my favourite aspects of the PSP release Ace Combat X, it added to this enticement by putting further responsibility on you. The flying fortress destroyed another city? Maybe you should’ve gone to deal with that first. You put yourself in a cycle of making decisions and feeling a necessity to see it through to the consequences; the lack of decision-making removes the biggest part of this. Given how the story plays out, it’s written well as to justify the lack of direct player choice, but I still feel something like this could’ve thrived on a smaller scale, the choices made mid-mission having an effect on the overall outcome.

The missions themselves still stand out to me for the sheer quantity of different objectives. You have the standard dogfighting as you might expect, alongside your bombing runs to cut enemy supply lines. On top of this, you have stealth sections, boss fights against unrealistically huge aircraft, protecting allies, there’s even a mission where you have to fly around and act as bait for a while. On top of this you have recurring ideas, now utilising weather and other elements to redefine what you thought to be familiar. My favourite missions came later in the game where I’d already bombed targets, I’d already fought aces and seen the seemingly-unbeatable mega-plane, and yet I was caught off-guard by just how fun it could be to add clouds. A standard “take out five radar sites” mission burst into a strategic game of battling the wind and low visibility to stay low, emerging to strike, and falling back down. There’s so much on offer that I truly believe there will be something that’ll make every player stop for a moment and reflect on just how much they enjoyed what they did. Even for those not fond of fighting are catered for with each mission having a free flight mode to be played afterwards, allowing you to fly around the map with no stress and no limits. Of course, I’d hardly recommend the game to somebody who isn’t fond of its best parts, but it’s a great way of easing somebody new into it if they happen to be watching you play.

Weather plays a far more significant role than I’ve seen in other titles. Instead of clouds simply being there to look pretty, they now obscure aiming and make it easier to dodge missiles. Rain splashes onto your HUD, turbulent areas wrestle control of the plane from you, you can even have your electronics disabled by a freak jolt of lightning. You have the missions I previously mentioned that go out of their way to utilise the weather as a means of expanding otherwise-simple objectives, but even when not in one of these, you still can’t help but harbour an appreciation for the intricacies of this system. With clouds in almost every sky, you usually have somewhere to hide if you need it. If I had to fault the weather for anything, it’s that they didn’t do enough with it. The missions that utilised it were fantastic, but what about those that didn’t? An option for the free play mode to change the weather would’ve been great and really add to the overall replayability.

As it stands, the game’s replayability stems from core two areas: its difficulty settings and the customisation of planes. Featuring three difficulty levels of Easy, Normal, and Hard as standard, you’re given the freedom you need to enjoy it at your own pace. On the lower difficulties, you’ll find yourself taking less damage and scoring thresholds being far more lenient on missions that require a certain score to complete. While the scaling of difficulty may do well in making the game more accessible, one thing I’m not fond of is how you’re locked into it after deciding at the start. If you progress through the entire game on Normal or Hard and happen to find yourself stuck towards the end, your only options are to restart the entire campaign or battle through the frustrations of your own inadequacy. Though a small criticism, a system allowing you to turn down the difficulty mid-campaign, would have been a simple solution. For the skilled among us however, there is the chance to go beyond—the Ace difficulty unlocking after beating the campaign on Hard. With this, even those only interested in a challenge have a reason to come back again.

Being able to customise your plane is something I’ve always loved about the series. In the options available, you’re given the power to create your own challenges, and to replay each mission again and again and still have them feel fresh. While difficulty options alone give a sense of replayability, it’s here where the bulk of it lies. In Ace Combat 7, you have the Aircraft Tree. Here, you buy new planes, parts, and weapons with the money earned from missions and online play. Despite being conflicted over what at first felt like yet another generic skill tree, I was surprised at how well-balanced it ended up being. As the player, you have the final say over how your money is spent. With an ever-expanding set of options before me, I was forced to think about when I should buy and when I should wait. It’s a layer of strategy without leaving new players too overwhelmed, the game placing key aircraft in your path early on. You get a perhaps undeserved sense of satisfaction for your choices, but it all does well in contributing to the overall progression of the game.

When it comes to mobility in-air, you’re given two choices of control options. By default, the game has a much more arcadey feel to it, left and right on the analogue stick actually moving the plane left and right. For the more traditional players out there the Expert control scheme is available, allowing you to fly by rolling and pitching. I spent much of my time using the Expert controls with them being closer to what I’m used to, but the default options are definitely worth giving a chance. On top of the simplified control scheme, the camera often felt more dynamic in its motion. The game ended up feeling more active and explosive, further highlighting its best features and effects. It’s hard to say which I preferred in the end, but in both I felt the responsivity and fluidity I’ve come to associate with the series.

Ace Combat: Battle Royale

For those seeking more once the war is over, the game features two online modes: Team Deathmatch and Battle Royale. Team Deathmatch is thereabouts what you might expect: split into two teams with the first team to hit the target score winning. Battle Royale on the other hand, for better or worse, isn’t really battle royale as we’ve come to know in recent times. Essentially acting as a free-for-all, it follows largely the same format as Team Deathmatch in the victory condition being the first player to hit a certain score threshold. Both of these modes also operate on a timer, avoiding the possibility of a heavily drawn out fight if the players present aren’t up to par.

Each mode comes with a short list of customisations, the two of particular interest being a cost limit and whether special weapons are allowed. The former of these is great in allowing players who aren’t too far in the campaign to still enjoy online play and perhaps earn some money to help them progress without having to face players with long-range lasers and a myriad of handy parts. The latter is interesting in that it could be seen to do the same thing in setting an even playing field. In disallowing special weapons, the focus is shifted to manoeuvrability and mastery of the game’s control scheme. If like me you jump from room to room, you’ll find a surprising variety in the online experience, and you’ll likely walk away a better player for it.

An Ace Experience?

I have no doubt in my mind that Ace Combat 7 is the best game in the series I’ve played, but when I’m only comparing it to its PSP and 3DS counterparts, that might not stand for much. From its easy to grasp control scheme, to its huge variety of missions, planes, and weapons—if you’re a series fan, I can’t think of a reason to avoid picking it up. For those without prior series knowledge, don’t be intimidated by it being the seventh entry; my time playing is proof it can be enjoyed all the same. If in the past you’ve enjoyed Pilotwings, or even Google Earth’s flight simulation, I urge you to give it a shot. You really don’t know what you’ve been missing.

KLIM Aim Gaming Mouse (Hardware) Review

You can find this review in full at

With gaming hardware all the rage in recent years, KLIM have stepped into an otherwise expensive and saturated market with their line of affordable tech for the masses. Offering customisable RGB lighting alongside a myriad of features and functionality, you’re probably wondering just what the catch is?

Coming in what I would call a fairly standard box, the mouse comes in at 128mm in length, making it the largest mouse I’ve owned in my less than fancy line of predecessors. Its size allows for my full hand to rest effortlessly on each button, with the textured grip on the side providing an ideal place to place my thumb. As well as your standard left button, right button, and scroll wheel, the Aim also features two buttons on the side, and one in the center just below the scroll wheel. Thanks to its largely symmetrical design, it feels comfortable to hold with either hand, though you’ll only have access to the side buttons on the left of the mouse. Considering its price, I really found myself surprised at the overall premium aesthetic and feel. Pair this with a quality-feeling braided cable and you have something you wouldn’t assume to be in the budget section. 

The configuration software is in a way the heart of the mouse. Through it, you’re given the power to customise your experience and really make it your own. KLIM’s driver gives you a fair amount to play with; between changing the DPI, report rate, and button bindings, you’re also able to create macros and setup the lighting exactly as you like. On the surface, it has a similar appearance to Razer’s similar utility software Synapse, but after only a short time with it, you’ll begin to realise where money was saved. The software is, in a word, awful, and it’s in how it’s awful I find the most frustration. Everything workseverything is functional, but everything expects you to know its small quirk. The easiest example of this to bring up is in the lighting menu, hidden behind the less than obvious ‘Marquee’ button. 

The menu above makes sense at first glance. You can click the drop-down to change the mode, brightness, and a few other things. You click on the colours to bring up the same kind of colour picker you find in MS Paint; it’s a dated and awkward look, but those aren’t things that’ll stop you from doing what you want to be doing. The quirk here is in the brightness drop-down, and its shown values of zero to seven. With it initially set to 50, something doesn’t look quite right. Where are the other 43 values? To access those, you click and drag down to scroll the menu. It’s absurd, unintuitive, and not communicated anywhere outside of the user manual—a manual I might add that is only available via KLIM’s store, the links on their actual site all broken. I was so ready to believe this software simply didn’t work to the point of downloading Cheat Engine to set the brightness manually.

Looking past this and onto other areas of the software, you run into the same issues. Macros are simple to set up, but cumbersome and frustrating all the same. You first name them to add them to the list, then start recording, enter your macro, then stop recording. It all makes sense. There are an unnecessary amount of confirmation prompts to go with it, but it makes sense. When you’re finished, you then need to hit the confirm button. If you forget that, moving to any other area of the software will erase your efforts. It’s small, but when you have unnecessary prompts littering every other action, you might have thought it wise to have one on leaving unsaved settings. When setting up a button as a key, you may also find some keys simply don’t work, Page Up and Down being two I’ve run into. For a short period of time, I had thought setting keys simply didn’t work, since these were the only things I was interested in binding. Communication is at the core of what this software lacks. The options on offer are quite fantastic for the price you’re paying, but that only makes it more of a shame to see them gated behind something so frustrating and poorly designed. Fortunately, any customisations made are saved to the mouse, meaning you’ll only have to set it up once and never open the driver again. The configurations carrying between machines, even to those without the driver installed, was a welcomed surprise. 

KLIM have made something really quite fantastic for its price point. From its premium aesthetic, to its braided cable, configurable lights, and customisable macro-programmable buttons, it really is one of the best mice I’ve owned to date. All of this only adds to how much of a shame it is to see it let down by its software. If you’re patient enough to work through its faults and perhaps don’t have much to spend, I recommend giving it a shot. Assuming you know what to expect, you’ll more than get your money’s worth.

Arozzi Arena Gaming Desk (Hardware) Review

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What makes a desk a gaming desk? It’s a simple question, and one with an endless number of answers. In our previous reviews, we’ve seen RGBs, built-in outlets, and even height adjustment at the push of a button. For Arozzi however, their key selling point comes in the form of a full-surface mouse mat, as well as their take on a cable management solution.

As far as my knowledge of DIY can tell me, assembling the desk was a trivial, if not slightly time-consuming task. The instruction manual containing only a series of pictures and no written assistance, I found myself getting caught up in smaller details from time to time, but on the whole there was nothing complicated. Even if you do manage to get something wrong, it’s a simple case of unscrewing and trying again to correct it, and if you find yourself particularly stuck, Arozzi also have an assembly video you can check out (something I was amusingly unaware of at the time!). My biggest issue came in the tight space I had to assemble everything. Living in somewhat of a box, I was able to put together the legs and frame in a reasonably open area, but when it came to putting everything together, I found myself on my back attaching things from underneath instead of flipping the desk right at the end. Adjusting the height of the legs was a particular pain, having to rely on a friend to lift it as I locked the legs into position. This is by no means a fault of the desk, but should be kept in mind if you’re considering a purchase. With the surface of the desk being a huge 160x82cm, you’re going to need room for it, or at least an able-bodied friend to lend a hand. 

The top of the desk is made of three parts which are screwed together in the assembly process, and finally covered with the full-surface mouse mat when everything is ready to go. Despite being excited to have such a large desk, I can’t deny I had my doubts about Arozzi’s key offerings. A full-surface mouse mat is a good idea on paper, but felt like a gimmick that’d get in the way more than help. The cable management solution being nothing more than a mesh bag hung from the desk came across similarly; a nice idea but something I had no real expectations for. Having used the desk for a few weeks now, I’m surprised at just how much these have made a difference.

I think the mouse mat somewhat speaks for itself in its usefulness, providing a high quality surface suitable for any mouse. My main concern with it was the lack of anything to attach it to the desk, but with it gripping so well regardless these concerns were thankfully unfounded. With the mouse mat being water resistant and machine washable, it’s easy to keep everything looking fresh. The mesh bag was another surprising hit for me. I’ve never been a person to care about my tangled cables, just as long as they were kept out of sight. With this in mind, it’s been common to see an abhorrent entanglement of unknown wires lurking beneath. Now? Now everything is clear. It’s refreshing to be able to put my feet under a desk and not feel at risk of pulling a monitor or two down, not to mention the ease of cleaning with everything elevated from the ground. It’s a shockingly simple solution, but one I can’t deny is effective in doing what it sets out to do. 

While there isn’t much to complain about in such a simple desk, I do have a few minor gripes, the most significant of these coming from its two-legged design. Relying on two legs to maintain stability, I’ve found the desk to rock at times if leaned on too heavily. If you only have monitors and systems directly on the desk, this isn’t anything of an issue; the rocking never gets too much as for things to start moving, especially with the surface providing a suitable degree of grip. If however you’re stacking things, or like me use an adjustable monitor stand, it’s something you should be aware of. I’ve not had anything fall in my time with this desk, but I have been concerned from time to time. If you want a more stable way to elevate your monitors, the holes in the back of the desk to thread cables through also double as mounts if you have the right equipment. Sadly, it isn’t something I was able to test, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. 

Overall, Arozzi’s Arena gaming desk is one I find myself recommending. Presenting a high quality and well-built aesthetic, paired with its mouse mat and mesh bags, it is a simpler kind of desk. Putting attention on functionality over flashiness, it is a solid choice for anybody in the market for an upgrade. 

New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Originally released in 2012 as a launch title for the Wii U, the aptly named New Super Mario Bros U served as Nintendo’s flagship title to get the system off to a good start. While this may not have gone as well as they originally planned, the game stood out to me at the time. Almost seven years later, how does it hold up, and exactly what’s changed for it to earn its Deluxe title?

The Princess is Kidnapped!?

The plot of a Mario game has never really had much substance, nor has it ever really needed to. You have your standard “Bowser has the princess, go save her!” motivation, before setting out on your merry way. While it might standard, I’ve always appreciated the slight twist in this title in throwing Mario and friends out of the castle, in oppose to the princess being taken away. It’s a small thing, but it makes this otherwise predictable opening sequence a little more enjoyable.

In traditional form, you need to work your way through eight worlds: a grassy world, a desert world, an ice world, a water world, a forest world, a rocky world, a cloudy world, and finally a lava world. They’re all things you’ve seen before, and to some extent, they’re all things you’d expect to see. While much of this is your standard Mario, one thing I feel deserving of attention is the single branching point in the world. Ignoring secret exits to skip levels, you progress through World 1 and 2, where you then get to pick whether to venture into World 3 or 4. At the end of these worlds, the path joins together to finish the game in an otherwise largely linear fashion. What makes this small choice so brilliant is the two worlds you’re picking between: the ice world and the water world. To me, these are two evils of the series, but necessary evils. To not have them in a modern Mario game would quite frankly be odd, and despite my reservations I would miss them. Nintendo addressed this by giving the player the ability to do one or the other, and if they wanted to go back, do both. It goes to show the level of understanding the company has towards its userbase, and these details are what make Nintendo games shine to me. This understanding is shown beyond just the world design, including some of the new content in this version.

The most significant addition for me is the inclusion of Toadette, or more significantly, Peachette, her unique powerup. Toadette as a character is designed to make the game easier. Selecting her will grant you an additional 100 seconds in each level, transform every 1-Up mushroom into a 3-Up moon, and provide access to the aforementioned transformation. On top of this, she gains additional mobility underwater, and slides less on ice. Again, water and ice. Nintendo’s way of addressing these is in my opinion perfect for the kind of game it is. To many, the game isn’t exactly difficult, it possible to rush through in a matter of hours. Instead of simplifying mechanics or jeopardising an already brilliant overall experience, they added a new character. Toadette is a character to make it easier for parents to play with their children, or for somebody to be eased into this famous franchise, but that’s not all she is. She is a way for people like me who have already seen and experienced everything to do so again.

The Peachette transformation is largely the same as an Acorn Suit: you glide when holding jump and you get upward mobility for hitting the spin button in the air. The biggest difference is her ability is a jump to propel her upwards when falling into a pit, or any substance that might take a life such as lava or poisonous water. It’s a relatively small tweak to make the game easier without necessarily removing the consequence or possibility of losing a life. While I never really felt I needed it, I can’t deny the thrill and satisfaction that comes from a near-death recovery, as well as the frustration this extra jump has saved. On top of this, she’s generally a floatier character that just feels better to play as. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made her so fun or game-changing, but I can say with certainty she made my playthrough feel completely fresh.

A few of these changes have also been carried over to Nabbit, a character previously only playable in New Super Luigi U. Now available in both modes, the purple item thief presents the easiest way to enjoy the game in his complete invulnerability to enemies. Featuring Toadette’s additional 100 seconds on the timer, as well as her updated ice and water mechanics, he is the best way for somebody to take their very first step into platforming. The trade-off for his immunity to enemies is his inability to use powerups. This in itself gives players who tried and enjoyed playing as him an entirely new experience when moving to a more standard character. An interesting addition to his arsenal is how he interacts with items. Despite not being able to use them, the item thief can still put them to good use, transforming each item into a 1-Up at the end of the level. It’s a small addition, but it’s nice to see the items not entirely wasted, especially when your Nabbit-playing friend takes it upon themselves to steal them before you get a chance to power up.

Largely intact from the original release, four player local multiplayer is supported in both docked and handheld mode, and I strongly recommend you try it out if you have any Mario-loving friends nearby. Everything is how you might expect, each player controlling a character independently on-screen and frantically running and fighting through a level at a time. Sadly, the option for the fifth player is no longer present. In the Wii U version, playing with multiple people gave you the ability to place blocks on-screen to jump off by tapping on the gamepad. The reason for its lack of inclusion is fairly clear: the Switch simply doesn’t lend itself to this kind of control scheme. Yes, there’s still a touch screen, but when you think about this as something only available when playing multiplayer, you have to consider how much of a hassle it would be to be obscuring everybody’s view of the game just to place a block. It’s a shame they couldn’t rework this in some way, but I can’t say I’m entirely surprised. With many not even knowing it existed in the original release, I doubt it’ll be missed too much.

This being the deluxe release, I’m happy to see Luigi’s adventure included as well. Originally launching as DLC, New Super Luigi U was an interesting idea. Featuring Luigi as the hero and 164 completely new and notably harder levels, it served as an impressive expansion. With only 100 seconds on the clock for each level, you’re pushed to go fast and sometimes play a little riskier than you might have in the base game. Paired with Luigi’s more slippery controls, it’s an enjoyable and different experience. While I’m definitely glad to see it included and have enjoyed playing through it, I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. The levels are all still fun, but feel more like unfinished ideas when compared to the polished and precise nature of their base game counterparts. When seeing the goal flag at the end of the level I often found myself disappointed, too often ending before the level could really shine. To some extent, it is a shame, but the challenges present and the sheer amount of levels go a long way in making up for it. They’re fun, but I can’t help but think they could have been better.

Looking at it visually, New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe is stunning. Each world’s theme is put across in such an overtly ‘Nintendo’ way, exploding with vibrant colour and detail. While it might not push the boat out as the 3D titles have been known to, it knows what it wants to do and executes it well. Also worth mentioning here is how the game’s resolution has been updated from its Wii U release. Previously locked 720p, we now are treated to a cleaner 1080p image docked, and a native 720p when in handheld mode. On top of this, the game retains its locked 60 FPS gameplay regardless of whether you’re at home or on the go, even with four players on-screen fighting for supremacy.

This is a game I can recommend to any Switch owner. Though a thoroughly enjoyable experience with friends, the game still stands tall when played alone. Whether it’s worth the double dip is as it usually is something a little more difficult to address. The biggest draw to a Switch port lies in its portability. Pair this with the new character Toadette, cleaner visuals, and a few tweaks here and there, and whether you can justify the purchase becomes tough to say. What I can say with certainty is that this is a fantastic port and despite not necessarily adding much to the base Wii U package, does well in earning its Deluxe moniker.

Nippon Marathon (PlayStation 4) Review

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Looking at Nippon Marathon from the outside, I struggled to come up with any reasonable kind of expectation. It looked inexplicably fun, attracting me in a similar way to the 2010 classic Doritos Crash Course. It looked fast-paced, it looked low-budget, and for reasons beyond any kind of rational comprehension, it looked like a game I might enjoy.

The Nippon Marathon

So just what is the Nippon Marathon? On the surface, it could be considered exactly as the name describes it: a series of marathon races on-foot across Japan. With each race in the series offering an increasing prize for victory, fame and fortune await any who finish the final race in first place. That’s largely all there is to it, and yet it manages to be so much more.

Individual races are run with four players of either human or CPU origin, with the ability to tag in and out at any time. In the races, you move using analogue controls, with the ability to jump, duck, and dive, as well as pick up and use a small set of fruity items. That much is simple to explain; where it starts getting a little more interesting is in how you score points. You might jump to the rather logical assumption that, as a marathon, the person finishing first is the victor. This assumption would be wrong, at least in my experience. You see, there’s more to a marathon than where you place, and we can break it down a little. Final position does count for something, giving first place 100 points, and subsequent placing receiving 75, 50, and 25 points.

Moving on, we have a popularity bonus, adding between 0 and 100 points to your final score. Popularity is gained and lost throughout the race depending on your actions. If you push somebody in the crowd, you’ll generally not be their favourite to win; but if you find yourself being mauled by an army of dogs, the audience seem to love you. If I’m being entirely honest, it’s not a system I fully came to understand, but as you play, you gradually come to see the kind of things you should be doing. Green numbers appearing signify you’re doing something right, and red show that you should probably stop doing whatever you’re doing—it’s signposted clearly enough.

Next we have an extensive list of random bonuses, rewarding you for anything from eating the most mushrooms, to taking the most items, to being knocked down by the most dogs. If you did something that made you stand out, you’ll probably get some points for it here. These I feel are similar to the bonus stars of Mario Party in that you really have no idea what you should and shouldn’t be doing with many of them coming down to chance. They’re wacky and something to laugh at even when the race is over, fitting surprisingly well in the overall arc of events.

Finally, we have the core of the race: the running. Your goal is to stay ahead of your rivals as you might expect. With the camera following the leading player, those who are forced off-screen are eliminated from the current round and lose stars. Perhaps the most important part of scoring, each star will grant you an additional 50 points when the race is over for a maximum of 400 for eight stars. With rounds segmented depending on how long players last, it’s entirely possible for every player to remain on their starting total of three stars apiece, or for one person to be rocking a full set of eight while the rest suffer. It’s here you see the variety in races; no two are the same thanks to how this segmentation works. Though you only have eight courses, the replayability to be found in unparalelled madness and chaos is astonishing.

A Bit Extra

On top of your standard marathon races, there are a few extras to be explored. Featuring two party modes and an eccentric story for each of the four main characters, it isn’t exactly lacking in content. My favourite of the two party modes is a simple inclusion but fun nonetheless as a means of exploring the game’s physics. Go-Go-Trolly sees you dive down a bowling lane in none other than a shopping cart, avoiding miscellaneous obstacles to play what is otherwise a normal game. While the obstacles are few, the game mode justifies itself plenty in the surprising depth of strategy to be had. Should you roll down the alley in your cart? Should you push your cart to one side and rag-doll your way to the other? There are so many ways to play, and none of them feel wrong.

The second party mode is less than aptly named L.O.B.S.T.E.R. Here, you take it in turns to run through a randomly generated obstacle course with the goal of going further than the person before you in a short amount of time. If you don’t make the cut, you get a letter to your name, starting with L and going all the way to R. To win, you just have to keep staying ahead and not have the full word spelled. Another odd mode, I found myself enjoying this a lot. At the end of each round when all but one player has been given a fresh letter, the level is mixed up by either giving you more time to run, adding an item, or completely swapping out a section for a random one. It’s a great experience to make gradual progression in a group through a new stage every time you play, and with the game’s usual physics and fun at play, you’re sure to have a laugh with mayhem and mishaps.

To both the game’s merit and detriment, these modes are played one character at a time, in oppose to the four player free-for-all you have in marathon races. On one hand, you really do lose a significant degree of chaos and madness, especially when the free-for-all aspect would have fit so well in L.O.B.S.T.E.R, but there is a light to this darkness. The positive here is that both of these modes are playable with between two and eight players, and only a single controller to be passed around. As party modes, they succeed in providing an affordable and inclusive game to be pulled out for friends, regardless of your controller count.

The last part of the game that needs a brief word is the story mode. It’s only a brief word because much of this has already been discussed when talking about the marathon earlier—this is essentially all eight races packaged up in chapters of dialogue to breathe life into this odd cast of characters. It’s alright. Where I found myself in hysterics at everything else the game had to offer, the story somehow felt weak. It’s not as though the humour is particularly bad, fitting in well with the rest of the game’s general tones and themes, but it just feels lacking. All there is to it is a bit of text, and I feel the game could’ve done more. You’ll definitely enjoy them if you’re looking for something more catered to the single player, but I can’t see anybody completing each route more than once.

Making the Switch

Despite the review copy provided being for the PS4, I was excited enough about the game to purchase it from the eShop, so I wanted to provide a bit of extra detail about that version as well. In that regard, I’m happy to say it really does feel like the same game. A few minor grievances are how the menus can feel a little slow to respond, and how from time to time, you might feel a stutter as you run faster than the level can load. While sometimes noticeable, none of these are enough to detract from the fun, and can be seen on both versions of the game. My untrained eye felt no issue in framerate regardless of handheld or docked, though I can’t say it’s much of a surprise with how untaxing the game appears to be. It’s a shame about the occasional stutter in levels, but I can hope this is patchable in future.

Nippon Marathon is unquantifiably fun. Character models are basic and look off, the voice acting is cheesy with poor writing and repeated jokes, and the gameplay is raw to the degree of feeling like a student Unity project; and yet I keep coming back for more. The unspoken chaos is the game’s driving force—getting stopped in the middle of a race for a quiz, diving through windows into the street, rag-dolling down a hill as you miss the jump into a stray shopping cart. It stands as the most bizarre game I played in 2018, and it stands tall in that regard. Is it a game you should buy? That really isn’t for me to say. If you love the stupid, the wacky and fun, and the not so unreasonably priced, I’d dive right in. It’s the most beautiful mess you’re likely to play for a good while.

Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition (Nintendo Switch) Review

You can find this review in full at

Originally released in 2013, Dynasty Warriors 8 (DW8) has since been seen on more consoles than Bethesda’s infamously ported Skyrim. Each release offering new content, new expansions, or simply a compilation of the two, it now finds itself in the hands of western Switch owners. Read on as we discover what makes this Xtreme port so definitive in Koei Tecmo’s latest excessively long-named release. 

It’s Dynasty Warriors

To discuss what this titles offers as original content, I’ll be comparing it to the other two games from the series I have experience with: Hyrule Warriors (HW) and Fire Emblem Warriors (FEW). With these two being until recently the only two available on the Switch, I can imagine there being a large number of people in a similar position to me having enjoyed them. How does this enjoyment translate to a more traditional series entry, and what makes this so different? Before going into that however, it’s easier to start with how they’re alike.

Put simply, it is a Warriors game like any before it. You hack and slash your way through hordes of enemies, completing objectives and cutting down enemy officers. Coming from either of the Nintendo versions, much of this will feel familiar, albeit with a slightly different graphical style and some differing terminology. As with HW and FEW, you have a story mode to progress through, seeing you beat a series of stages with a diverse cast of flamboyant and fun characters, as well as a unique mode to keep you hooked when you’ve finished. Where DW8’s story mode is different is in its branching paths. While this was technically also seen in HW and FEW, the way they they’re implemented here creates an overall more engaging and diverse experience. In the other titles, branching paths signified multiple events happening in tandem, with each needing to be completed before continuing. Here, they’re used as alternate paths. You have your standard path to follow that you’ll likely end up going down on your first playthrough, and when you’ve finished that, the previously-hidden bonus objectives are revealed that can alter scenarios down the line. For example, saving an officer, or convincing one to defect, ensuring a specific plan succeeds or fails; it all comes together to build something far more involved than I’ve seen before. Some of these objectives are interesting in that they can change how a scenario is played entirely, creating an unexpected level of replayability, especially for somebody like me who feels it necessary to beat each stage on each of the six available difficulty options. On top of this, you have not one, but five routes to play through, in addition to what ifs, bonus scenarios, previously-DLC scenarios, and the ability to replay any level as the opposing forces in Free Play. The content on offer here is both astounding and overwhelming in equal measure and has kept me hooked far better than HW or FEW ever did, despite my lack of connection with the game’s cast and lore going in. Something worth mentioning as an aside is how each map is playable not only alone, but cooperatively with a friend next to you. While it isn’t something I had a chance to play with, it’s a great inclusion, especially for those with siblings or eager housemates.

Looking at the gameplay, there are a few interesting differences to note, the most significant of which being the weapon triangle and use of horses during battle. While weapon triangles aren’t particularly uncommon, the way they’re used here do well in deepening what it otherwise known to be a simple and repetitive experience. When you go into battle, you can take with you two weapons to be switched out as you play, each weapon being one of Heaven, Earth, or Man affinity. Heaven beats Earth, Earth beats Man, Man beats Heaven. It’s your standard rock, paper, scissors kind of action, but it goes further than just offering damage multipliers for favourable matchups. If you have an advantage, you’re presented with the opportunity to perform a Storm Rush, the equivalent of a Weak Point Smash in HW. If you’re at a disadvantage, you won’t knock back the enemy, and leave yourself open to being knocked down yourself. Where all of this is particularly interesting to me is when playing on Normal difficulty or above. Much to my surprise, enemy officers actually seem to play cleverly. Where they’re at a disadvantage, they’ll switch out their weapon to either turn the table or even the playing field. It’s something small that’s little more than common sense, but it stands out in a game like this when it does more than simply over-level enemies for higher difficulties. The ability to bring two weapons is also goes a long way in keeping your battles fresh, with each character being able to use any of the game’s arsenal with varying degrees of compatibility. With compatibility only offering a variable damage boost, it steers you towards certain weapon types without necessarily enforcing them. It was balanced well enough for me to continue using my favourite character if I wanted to with an unbelievable amount of options. The DLC weapons in particular each come with a unique charm and flair. From straight-up kicks to a totem pole that can transform into a mushroom or coconut tree, the game managed to surprise me every time I picked a new weapon.

Horses might seem minor in comparison to the weapon options and matchups, but coming from HW and FEW, they’re something that take a bit of time to get used to. Available to call by holding ZL at any point in-battle, they offer a faster way to get from point to point. While mounted, you have access to a few limited attacks, but the focus here is clearly in mobility. Though the idea is something I can get behind, my issue lies in the game’s overall speed as a result of their inclusion. Both HW and FEW felt faster paced in regards to character mobility, each having a dash that felt equal to or faster than riding a horse does here. I can understand why this is the way it is when you consider the more realistic themes the game tries to go for (overlooking that totem pole anyway), but it’s hard to look at it as anything other than making large maps longer for no good reason when you jump in for the first time. It’s a similar feeling to what I felt in HW after playing so much FEW, the game feeling much slower in that case because of a skill being absent. It’s not exactly a fault of the game itself, but is brought into the light if you have experience with others available. 

Chen Gong’s Ambition

The other significant mode the game houses is Ambition Mode. Your aim here is to build up your camp, gathering famous officers as you go, in order to win the emperor’s trust in you to protect him in these troubled times. With the name of the mode, I went in expecting a mini version of what you’d usually see in the Empires expansion, which is in itself a blend of Koei Tecmo’s Nobunaga’s Ambition and your standard Warriors action. What I actually got was something entirely different, and not necessarily worse for it. To grow your camp, you go out and do one of three types of battle: Great, Unconventional, or Skirmish. Great Battles allow you to recruit more allies, Unconventional Battles allow you to accrue fame, and Skirmishes make it easier for you to gather materials to build up your camp. Starting with a seven minute timer, you choose which battle you want, and can continue to chain battles as long as you think you have time for it. Additional time is given for tasks such as killing 100 enemies in a map, or completing objectives in Unconventional Battles. While the core is simple, the increasing difficulty as your chain more and more battles, combined with an ever-encroaching timer all comes together to create an incredibly fun and replayable experience. Add to this the simple but satisfying sense of steady progression that comes with building up your camp and you have what surprises me to be my favourite mode out of the three games I’ve been discussing.

Up for a Challenge?

Challenge Mode is something I spent less time on when compared to the others. Featuring battles and objectives to be played and met using pre-specified character builds, there’s a lot to like. Akin to the Arena Quests of the Monster Hunter series, you can dive straight in without having to level up any specific character, or farm for any specific sets of weapons. Everything is laid out nicely in an arcade-like way, and it’s something great for the game as a whole. With five really fun courses to be played by any of the game’s huge roster, it does well in extending an already feature-packed list of content. The reason I’m not as fond of it as I perhaps should be lies in how I enjoy Warriors games. My love for the series stems from the progression of building a weak character to destroyer of armies, the grind for weapons and the eventual plateau of greatness that comes with reaching the top. These arcade-style courses deprive me of my hard work in order to even the playing field to create a competitive environment for high scores. 

The flavours of the challenges themselves are diverse to the point of there really being something to please any player. Rampage is the closest to a vanilla Warriors experience, tasking you with defeating as many enemies as possible within a time limit. Beyond this, things start to get more interesting with challenges ranging from knocking as many enemies off a bridge as possible to running through a battlefield as quickly as you can. If there were a way I could use the non-specified character builds, even if the high score was recorded separately, I feel I’d have a lot of fun here. As it is however, it just doesn’t align with my love of the game. I understand why it is how it is, and I understand a lot of people will enjoy it, but it isn’t for me.

An Xtreme Purchase

Whether this game is for you really boils down to one question: do you like Warriors games? If you get absorbed in mindlessly cutting down troves of enemies with a splash of strategy, overly flamboyant acting, and more betrayal than I care to shake a stick at, this is a game I will not hesitate to recommend. On the flipside of that, if you don’t like Warriors games, I don’t think this will be the one to change your mind. While this is the best Warriors game I’ve played to date, it is still a Warriors game, and doesn’t do anything revolutionary in the way of change. It’s more of the same, but better than ever.