What I’ve Been Playing (Q1) 2021
Thoughts and impressions on the games I finished during Q1 of 2021 (January through March).
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Thoughts and impressions on the games I finished during Q1 of 2021 (January through March).
For the past few years, I’ve been participating in an online forum’s thread where the goal is to complete/roll the credits on at least 52 games during the calendar year. I’ve met my goal and then-some over the past few years (especially during 2020 when the pandemic began), but as things (hopefully) continue to get better here in North America, I’m not quite sure I’ll complete the challenge this year. I’ve also been wanting to get back to a handful of longer games I’ve had in progress, so I may/may not hit my goal and that’s okay. Despite another grueling work season, here are the games I managed to finish during the first quarter of the year (from January through March of 2021):
I haven’t played Capcom’s Mega Man 4 since the Anniversary collection on GameCube. Before that, I don’t think I’ve played the game since the NES days. Like many kids who grew-up with Mega Man (MM), I was introduced to the blue bomber out of order. If I recall things correctly, MM3 or MM4 was my first game in the franchise. For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed replaying a game from the Mega Man Legacy Collection as a sort of palate cleanser to kick things off in January. If you’ve played an entry or two, most MM games will start to blur together, but MM4 was the first game in the franchise to introduce the mega buster/charge shot, which makes it somewhat of a game-changer. In Skull Man’s stage, for example, there are skeleton enemies that can be destroyed with one charged blast. Speaking of the levels, most stages felt shorter and somewhat uninspired compared to the previous entries, but if any robot master stood-out to me, it was probably Bright Man. In Bright Man’s stage, there were these flying light-bulb enemies that when once destroyed, the screen would go pitch black. Unless you destroyed these firework-launching robots (which will light the room again), you’ll fumble your way through the darkness. I’ve always been impressed when designers make the most out of their hardware’s limitations and MM4 was definitely pushing some new ideas.
MM4 also seemed easier than the previous titles and unless I was extremely lucky, enemies dropped extra lives more frequently than the previous games, too. There’s even an extra hidden item or two to discover, which helps with some of the more tricky platforming segments in the final levels. The “Wily” castle stages were interesting in MM4, if not a bit excessive. Given the fact that this was the fourth entry, I assumed the developers wanted to surprise/shock fans, perhaps out of fear of the series growing stale. Every MM game typically ends with a series of castle stages, but in MM4, there’s a “fake” Wily castle, which extends its length. In retrospect, it ultimately felt unnecessary and more like padding, but as a kid, I’m sure I didn’t complain that there was more bang for my parent’s buck, so to speak. The final boss fight was extremely frustrating too as it required charged shots to do damage and Wily is almost always just out of reach. Finally, I still try my best to play older games as if I were on the original hardware (no save states/rewinds), which made retrying the final encounter a nightmare. I finished the game again in a sitting or two and I’ll probably continue this tradition indefinitely until I complete all of the games from the collection, so here’s to MM5 in 2022!
If Found…, developed by DREAMFEEL, is a genuine, heartfelt visual novel (VN) about finding yourself, becoming who you are and the importance of having a chosen family. VN games are more prevalent than ever before, but If Found… handles transgender, non-binary and queer characters with thoughtfulness and care. While I can’t completely relate to being transgender, I found many of the issues and scenarios completely relatable. I knew I was a gay man at a young age, but it took me a long time to accept it, so I found a lot of the situations presented in If Found… to be very similar to my own coming-out experiences. Making new friends online through social/dating apps was one of the most challenging times of my life, especially as a young adult. If there’s one thing I’ve valued the most, however, since coming out is the importance of a chosen family and this game echos that sentiment.
While the story/characters are the main draw of If Found… I wasn’t too hot on some of the gameplay mechanics. As you navigate from page to page, you’ll use either an onscreen cursor or your fingers (if played in portable mode) to quite literally erase the contents of the screen in order to progress. It was a meaningful/clever way to tie a mechanic into the overall narrative, but it became relatively tedious to clear the screen the more I played. Perhaps the game felt more organic in portable mode, but I only played the game with a controller so I can’t comment on that aspect. The entire experience is like reading a book with little player choice, but there’s actually an epilogue chapter which is more “choose your own adventure” style than the main game and it’s something I wish the game did more of. There’s been an influx of LGBTQ+ games over the past few years, which is great, but If Found…didn’t hit me as hard as others like SWERY’s The Missing, which tackled similar themes in a more cohesive manner, I felt. Like many VN, If Found… is a one-and-done experience. There is a chapter select, but there’s no reason to replay the game unless you really enjoyed the story/characters. I completed the game in a sitting or two on the Nintendo Switch.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt as confused/conflicted about a game as I have with Chameleon Game’s Tamarin. If David Wise’s music contributions weren’t an indicator from the outset, Tamarin clearly wears its love for N64 era Rare games on its sleeves. It’s a 3D platformer where you play as a cute, Gremlins-looking creature who’s home is invaded by ants that look like they’ve been ripped out of Rare’s less-talked about Jet Force Gemini. Oh, and if that doesn’t sit well with you, your first two weapons are an Uzi and a sub-machine gun. The hub-worlds are the best, most fun parts of the game. Here, you’ll discover secrets, shortcuts and other roundabout areas that connect and bring cohesion to the game’s environments. It’s surprisingly Metroid-like in its structure as you’ll need certain weapons to access locked-off areas and there is a degree of backtracking, both in order to complete the game and find the hidden birdies that are scattered about the three main stages. There’s something about the visuals that feel like someone’s first attempt at modeling environments in Unreal Engine, however. The visuals have a degree of photo-realism that’s appealing from afar, but when you’re running down samey/bland interiors for a big portion of the game, perhaps a more cartoon-y art-style would have been the better approach.
Outside of the hub areas, the core of the game takes place in ant-infested factory stages which change the game from being a fun, 3D platforming romp to an extremely repetitive and mostly boring 3rd-person shooter. You’ll mow down a handful of enemy types including shielded ants, rocket-launcher wielding beetles and swarms of robotic flies. None of it is particularly satisfying, unfortunately. Tamarin also tries to emulate Mario’s 3D move-set; he/she has a long jump, butt slam, somersault and even the sideways flip, but it all feels stiff and the platforming doesn’t really call for any of these maneuvers often. Finally, do not play this game on the PlayStation 5 (PS5) if you managed to score one as it crashes constantly and I don’t believe the developers are aware of the fact. I completed the game on my PS4 at 100% completion with the Platinum trophy earned, but I don’t think I’ll ever return to this game down the road.
Double Fine’s Psychonauts is a non-traditional 3D platformer about a bunch of psychic kids at a summer camp. It was also the studio’s first official release, yet its LucasArts lineage clearly shows. I’ve played Psychonauts to completion back in the day and remembered loving it. I’ve wanted to revisit the PS2 classic version on PS4 for quite some time and since the sequel is supposedly releasing this year, there’s no better time than now. In retrospect, Psychonauts is far more special than I remembered it being, but it’s also not without its problems. The levels are extremely unique (there’s an entire stage that’s essentially a game of Catan) and the cast of characters are mostly likeable, but memorable nonetheless. LucasArt’s PC-style adventure game sensibilities are more noticeable in Pyschonauts than I ad realized when I first played it. In the “Milkman Conspiracy” stage, for example, you collect key items in order to access certain areas of the level. At times, it feels like classic point & click sequence complete with the trial & error gameplay you’d come to expect from the genre.
When you return to old levels, not only can you collect anything that you’ve missed, but there’s also new dialogue in some instances. In fact, there’s so much flavor dialogue in-between levels to the point where if you don’t go around and explore the campgrounds in-between major story-beats, you’re going to miss out on a lot of great characterization (and some trophies that are exclusive to the PS4 version, too). As I mentioned earlier, the game’s a little rough around the edges (and the PS4 version seems to have some performance issues). Some of the platforming can be frustrating and I don’t think all of the humor has aged well, unfortunately. It can feel a bit problematic at times; there’s fat shaming jokes and the game even makes light of suicide during a particular scene or two. Double Fine has certainly grown/matured over the years (in some sense), so I’m curious how they’re going to approach certain issues/topics in Psychonauts 2 (whenever it releases). I completed the game at 100% with the Platinum trophy earned.
Tarsier Studio’s Little Nightmares is a 3D puzzle-platformer not unlike games like Limbo/INSIDE. You play as a little kid in a raincoat who awakes in an undisclosed location. You’ll quickly find yourself navigating a concoction of rooms with furniture, fixtures and monsters that are anything but little, however. The game excels in its environmental storytelling (as there’s no spoken dialogue) and its atmosphere, while unsettling/horrifying at times, is beautifully intoxicating. Much like the sequel, Little Nightmares has some impressive cinematography and it’s one of my favorite things about the game. The camera positioning, the use of lighting and shadows, everything feels so purposefully crafted and the attention to detail is exceptional. While Little Nightmares doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before in other 3D puzzle-platformers (you’ll push/pull your fair share of objects/switches along the way), one of the more memorable aspects of the game are the chase sequences. Although a lot of them are scripted, having an unruly creature hunt you down is a thrilling experience that sets the game apart from its competitors (which are far and few between).
I played Little Nightmares at release a few years ago, but because the sequel was coming out this year, I wanted to replay the main game and finish all of the DLC for the first time. The DLC is interesting because it takes place concurrently with the main story. Each DLC episode is about the length of a chapter from the base game, too. The final episode suggests some fairly dark ideas/concepts that will make you think twice about the overall narrative. Minor spoilers ahead; one of my favorite set-piece moments in Little Nightmares is when you reach daylight for the first time. The game makes you think you’re underground or in some strange facility-of-sorts, but you’re actually in a submarine-like monstrosity crawling along the ocean floor. Towards the end of the game, you surface to find yourself adrift at sea and it’s one of the most beautifully shot sequences I’ve seen in a video game to date. To say Little Nightmares has left a strong impression on me again would be an understatement. I completed the game again with 100% of the trophies.
Cyber Shadow, by Mechanical Head Games and published by Yacht Club Games, is another 2D platform-action game in the same vein as classic Ninja Gaiden, but with a splash of old-school Mega Man and Sunsoft’s Batman on the NES for good measure. Games like this are a dime a dozen today, but Cyber Shadow doesn’t differentiate itself enough from its contemporaries, unfortunately. Cyber Shadow is mostly linear with point-A-to-B stage progression which culminate in challenging boss encounters. Similar to Shovel Knight, there’s a risk/reward checkpoint system which allows you to spend currency on three different options; spirit recovery (which refills your SP needed for abilities/special weapons), automatic repair (which recovers your health) and item synthesis which grants you one of the special weapons on display. As you defeat bosses, you’ll also gain new weapons/abilities, which are both beneficial when it comes to traversing the environments and defeating your foes. One of these abilities, a rising fireball slash, can kill both aerial enemies and hit switches above you, for example, but the game doesn’t fixate on any one ability in order to progress (which keeps the pacing relatively fresh). The latter half of the game is a bit too unforgiving and the checkpoints start to become more scarce, however. I think I could have done without the Metroid elements, too. While it’s fun to find some of the hidden items, it feels more like an afterthought, despite the game being thoughtfully connected.
I do wish your character could also duck, slide and destroy projectiles with their sword. Despite the game not being designed around having such options, I think Cyber Shadow would have been more fun and less frustrating to play if your character could perform this maneuvers. The parry mechanic is welcomed, but it requires a particular degree of skill and the input feels inconsistent (which I believe has been patched since). The dash also feels great on the right bumper/trigger, but spotty if you double-tap forward on the direction pad/analog stick of your choice. While Cyber Shadow has well-made art panels to flesh out its story (similar to the original Ninja Gaiden trilogy), the plot feels unnecessarily confusing and a bit too wordy at times. At the time of writing this, months after I’ve completed the game, I couldn’t even tell you what the game was about. At the end of the day, Cyber Shadow is a tough game, but fair. I completed the game on the default difficulty with 100% of the items collected. Outside of some decent boss encounters, the game doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen already in other 2D platform-actions games, but it’s a competent, nostalgic journey that’s worth playing if you’re a fan of the genre.
The Medium is easily Bloober Team’s best game to date. Having just played Blair Witch last year and enjoying it despite its issues, the developers are clearly becoming better and more experienced at their horror-game craft. The most notable aspect of the game is its split-screen technology and dual reality system. As a medium, you’ll control the main character simultaneously in two different realities; the real world and the underworld (for the lack of a better term). While it’s somewhat impressive from a technical perspective, the game itself feels more like an old-school survival horror game with fixed camera angles and tried & true survival-horror gameplay that, for better or worse, feels dated. With that said, the camera perspective makes it feel like you’re playing an old-school Resident Evil/Silent Hill game at times and some of the environmental art is exceptionally detailed (especially in the underworld). Unfortunately, a lot of the puzzles feel like they solve themselves or require items that are never too far from the location you’re supposed to use them in. The pacing is great because of these decisions, however, as you’re constantly moving forward and exploring new environments. The game certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The Medium is sort of a one-and-done experience, unfortunately, and because it auto-saves and only keeps a handful of the most recent saves (on consoles at least), there’s no reasonable way to reload earlier parts of the game. If there’s one thing I dislike about the Bloober Team’s games I’ve played so far is that there’s no chapter select to encourage replay value. The fact that you can miss one of the game’s main collectables in order to unlock some of the achievements means you’ll have to replay the entire game from scratch in order to earn them. I’ll consider giving the game another full run in October to mop-up the remaining achievements/collectables I missed on my first playthrough, but I’m not in any rush to return to this split reality-of-sorts. I still think The Medium is worth playing if you’re a fan of the genre, but I was hoping it was going to feel more “next gen” than what it ended up being.
I’ve been wanting to play Analgesic Production’s Anodyne for quite some time now. It originally released back in 2013 and was considered one of the earliest cult-classic indie titles for its time. Anodyne clearly wears its inspirations on its sleeves; it is an overhead, 2D Zelda-like that doesn’t stray too far from the formula. While it doesn’t necessarily do anything remarkably unique, there’s a briskness to its pacing that’s rather refreshing; each room feels so tightly crafted and purposefully laid out, as there’s hardly a wasted screen and the solutions to a lot of the puzzles seem almost immediately apparent when you enter a room. Your main weapon is a broom which receives upgrades as you progress and there are hidden cards and max health containers to collect (some of which are extremely well hidden). Anodyne is kind of a strange game. At times, it can be a bit too wordy and difficult to follow. There’s definitely themes of friendship throughout, what it means to be there for someone who’s important to you and the loneliness life can bring, but I couldn’t pinpoint what the creator was ultimately trying to say (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I believe a lot of the narrative is open to your interpretation).
I completed the game with the 100% Clear Trophy (which means I collected mostly everything in the game). There is a strange post-game where there are more cards and secrets to collect but from my understanding it sort of turns into a pixel-hunt that requires the player to literally go out of bounds on nearly every screen (if you’re not using a guide). I might go back and do the 100% speed-run trophy some day, but I definitely don’t like the game enough to route it at the moment, either. I just downloaded the sequel, Anodyne 2: Return to Dust, and look forward to digging into it soon as I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is an up close and intimate VR experience with the main cast of characters from the original Psychonauts. It apparently bridges the gap between the first game and the soon-to-be-released sequel and picks-up right at the end of the original release. The game makes use of Raz’s physic abilities in creative and fun ways while using the virtual space as his playground. A lot of VR games use what is known as “teleportation” or “warping” to move about an environment as the headset technology in the PSVR doesn’t exactly allow one to walk around their physical space to properly emulate character movement. Raz’s clairvoyance ability, however, naturally lends itself to this idea as you’ll zap your conciseness from one character to the next in order to solve simple puzzles within extremely detailed confined spaces. There’s some extremely clever ideas here despite the game’s (very) short length. There was one trophy I couldn’t figure out on my own and it involved playing a melody on a keyboard during one of the final sequences. I’m not sure if there was a hint somewhere that I missed for the solution, but I have no idea how someone could have figured this secret out unless they’re musically inclined. I completed the game with 100% of the trophies earned.
Ghost Giant is easily one of the best PSVR games I’ve played to date. When the controls cooperated and you stood/sat in the correct position, Ghost Giant can feel like a truly magical experience. I’ve said this a lot about VR games, but it truly feels like you’re poking around miniature diorama pieces; playing puppeteer (or the hand of god), if you will, as your ghostly presence can manipulate the real-world despite no one being able to see you (except for the young at heart). You see, in Ghost Giant, you play from the perspective of a ghost and your unspoken task is to help a little kid take care of his sick mother. It’s an extremely sweet story that handles topics like mental health awareness with a surprising amount of love and care. The game itself mostly contains simple environmental puzzles, but there are hidden objects to find scattered about the chapters which encourages the player to poke around the beautifully detailed environments. I discovered all of the trophies and collectables on my own, which felt super satisfying when all was said and done. If you have a PSVR (or an Oculus Quest), I can’t recommend this game enough if you have the means.
Tarsier Studio’s Little Nightmares II (LN II) is everything I wanted a sequel to the original game to be and more. Without spoiling any of the particulars, Little Nightmares II can be perceived as both a prequel and a sequel to the original game. Just like the original game, LN II falls in the Limbo/INSIDE-like 3D puzzle-platformer sub-genre of sorts. The sequel, however, feels much more bleak and muted than the original game. It’s an extremely dark and depressing experience, but its atmosphere is somehow both cozy and welcoming. The game doesn’t stray too far from the first one; you wake up in an undisclosed location and your adventure simply starts. It’s still a beautifully shot, filmic experience with some amazing art direction, grotesque creatures, beautiful lighting and thrilling set-pieces. One of the more interesting aspects of LN II is its similarities to the PS2 cult-classic, ICO, as your AI-controlled partner, Six, will assist you along the way in a similar fashion to how Yorda accompanies the horned boy. What’s interesting and impressive about Six’s implementation was how natural they acted while you played. You can call out to Six to boost you up to a ledge and even hold their hand, but it all feels extremely organic as if someone else was controlling them alongside you. The game feels like it was designed around being a cooperative two-player experience, but it’s still a single-player game at its core.
While there is still a ton of trial & error (you will die a lot just like in the first game), these setbacks ultimately didn’t detract too much from the overall experience. The checkpoints are common and well-placed and the pacing makes it so you never want to put the controller down. If there’s one thing the developers have clearly learned/mastered since the original release, it’s their commitment to minimalism. There’s still no spoken dialogue and outside of a cinematic or two, everything is done through environmental storytelling. Six, just like the player, becomes more confident in their actions as you progress and encounter more horrific scenes which creates an even greater bond between the two characters that no cut-scene could replace. Every year, I’m also on the lookout for my “game of the year (GOTY) moment”. If a game, for whatever reason, makes me put the controller down to reflect upon something, whether it’s gameplay-related, a powerful story moment or even a particular music track, then it’s typically a contender for my GOTY. LN II did this to me within the first hour or so of the game, which usually doesn’t happen so early in the year.
Finally, one of the only disappointing things about LN II is the fact that it’s another transitional PS4/PS5 game that actually doesn’t have a PS5 version available (although a free update is promised for those who already own the “last gen” version. The entire time I was playing the game I was imagining the ways the developers could have utilized the Dual Sense controller and its haptic feedback/adaptive triggers. Unlike the first game, for example, there’s actually melee combat in LN II. There’s moments where you’ll be wielding pipes/axes, but because of your short stature and the heaviness of the objects, your character drags the weapons behind them as they run forward. This would have been the perfect opportunity to incorporate the feeling of dragging your weapons across the floor through the use of haptic feedback. I’m hoping when the time comes, the developer thought about these things as it’ll give me a reason to revisit this nightmare again in the future.
Super Mario Sunshine (SMS) is a strange game in retrospect, but it’s one that I’ve found mostly enjoyable revisiting today. I haven’t played through SMS to completion since it originally released back on GameCube, so the recent 3D All-Stars Switch port (RIP Mario) was a perfect excuse for a vacation back to my youth. After a weird court room introduction where Mario is framed for spreading goop all over an island resort, his punishment is to collect all of the “Shine Sprites” that have been misplaced about the island. Sounds fun, right? Well, think again. SMS is super divisive, to say the least. Over the years, the hardcore Mario community has grown to love its odd control scheme, unconventional level design and speed-running potential (due to its glitches), but others have declared it a misstep in the annals of Nintendo history. Throw me in the camp that enjoys it for some of its questionable design decisions and tropical setting, however.
One aspect I grew to appreciate again was its world design. There’s such a great sense of place to the island as you can see scaled-down, miniature representations of the other courses in the background from certain levels. One thing I miss from the more recent 3D Mario games is the sense of discovery from collecting Power Stars/Shines. Even though Odyssey brought that back to a degree with the Power Moons, there’s one too many as you’ll find yourself practically tripping over them. In Sunshine, there’s so many hidden secrets you can find by just spraying anything/everything that looks suspicious and your reward is almost always a Blue Coin or a hidden Shine. The 100-coin challenge is back as well but it’s much harder in this game than in SM64, for example. Once you do acquire 100 coins and collect the Shine, the game kicks you out of the stage (which makes collecting everything in the game a bit more tedious than it needs to be). Just like with SM64, the natural world progression is great; layouts change/evolve episode-to-episode and characters/NPCs will say new things as you progress through each course objective. A lot of these details are lost in the more recent 3D Mario titles, including Odyssey, and it’s something I hope they can strike a better balance with in future titles.
Speaking of Blue Coins, they are both a blessing and a curse. Getting 100% and collecting all of the Blue Coins in Super Mario Sunshine is probably the hardest, most arduous task in any 3D Mario game to date (next to Super Mario 3D World’s Champion’s Road). The game asks you to explore every nook and cranny in a level, but there’s no way to know which ones you’ve collected. There’s 30 Blue Coins in each stage, but there are unique ones in individual episodes, so unless you’re using a guide, good luck finding all of them on your own. I can’t recall if I used a guide back in the day to find all of the Blue Coins (but I’m pretty sure I did) and this time I told myself I’d try to find them all on my own, but that didn’t last very long. I managed to find at least somewhere between 25-30 Blue Coins per course before I resorted to a guide and even then, it’s still a nightmare figuring out which coins you’re missing because the game doesn’t keep track of them on an episode-by-episode basis. If you’ve played the game before, there are 8 episodes per level. In each of these episodes, Blue Coins can be found in certain episodes only, but there are some that can also be found universally throughout the world. It’s a gigantic mess of a hunt, but one that I found super ironically engaging/rewarding even by today’s standards. I completed the game with all 120 Shines collected and unless they truly remake the game for Mario’s 45th anniversary, I think I’m good on replaying this game anytime soon.
Mail Mole is the debut 3D platformer title from Talpa Games. You deliver letters as a cute mole who burrows underground (ala Super Lucky’s Tale) in short & sweet themed levels that feel inspired by Super Mario 3D World. Mail Mole doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen elsewhere, but it’s still a competent first attempt from a new studio. It’s also nice to see indie developers creating 3D games instead of the retro-inspired, sprite-based throwbacks we’re bombarded with on a weekly basis (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but sometimes there can be too much of a good thing). It’s hard not to compare this game’s core gameplay mechanics to Super Lucky’s Tale, but where it differs is that your character is essentially always underground. I think I would have liked it more if you could control the mole on foot outside of the burrowing, however. As you jump up from out of the ground, you can get a speed boost just as you’re about to dive back underneath if you hit the correct button, which can lead to some surprisingly deep speed-running tech.
The levels comprise of your typical platformer templates; snow, grasslands, desert, lava and spooky-themed worlds comprise the game’s few locations, but the actual stages themselves offer little variety in platform challenges, unfortunately. This may sound like a broad generalization, but from my experience, one thing I’ve noticed from a lot of indie developers (especially in the 2D/3D platforming genre) is that most stages rarely present unique ideas/mechanics specific to their environment. What I mean by this is that you could arguably swap any snow level with the lava world in Mail Mole and there would barely be a difference outside of the visual template (although the desert world has quicksand which is at least an attempt at differentiating the levels). There are simple boss encounters and a few levels that act more like races where you’re constantly moving forward using boost pads to speed along a linear track, but outside of that, there’s not a whole lot of variety. Finally, there’s unlockable races (which feel more like training grounds for the time trials), costumes to purchase and three radishes to collect in each level which adds some much needed replay value overall. At the end of the day, Mail Mole is a great first attempt at the genre and there’s a competent framework here for an even better sequel. I completed the game at 100% with the Platinum trophy earned.
Super Mario 3D World is as fun as I remembered it being. It’s still a well-made 3D Mario adventure with bite-sized courses, a beautiful aesthetic and one of the hardest post-game challenges to date. The Switch update/port is mostly faithful, however, the developers saw fit to increase Mario’s movement speed, which I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the more I played. I completed the game at 100% back when it first released on Wii U, but I don’t think I want to do it again here anytime soon. Coop-driven games like this continue to remind why the pandemic has been such a depressing state of affairs. I want to play this game with friends locally on a couch and not online if I don’t have to. Considering the mixed reception on the game’s online connectivity issues, I’m not exactly thrilled about convincing four of my online friends to play through all of the stages. So, for now, I rolled the credits on the main game with everything collected up until the post-game worlds.
Bowser’s Fury, however, was truly a joy to experience. It’s the perfect marriage of Super Mario 3D World’s gameplay/power-ups with Super Mario Odyssey’s sprawling kingdoms and then some. Unlike Super Mario Odyssey, however, you’re welcomed to a truly open-world environment with seamless load times, as courses can be entered from any direction completely out of order. The game is essentially comprised of miniature island-courses with non-linear objectives and at the center of the lake is a gigantic, tar-soaked Bowser. Over time, Bowser will rise from his tar pit and wreck havoc causing thunder, lightning and other hazards to spawn. Unless you collect one of the many “Cat Shines” scattered about the environment, Bowser will continue to be a menace until enough time has passed and the storm has calmed. This cycle, for better or worse, repeats itself until you face-off against Bowser a handful of times. Unfortunately, this idea becomes predictable and somewhat unexciting by the 10th or so encounter and they don’t do the best job at making the scenario feel fresh and new, but that could just be a product of the size/scope of the game initially. The core concepts/ideas are great here, but I think Nintendo needs a bit more time to cook them.
I also wish the challenges made more use of all of the abilities at your disposal as you’re almost always using the cat suit power-up to navigate and overcome the courses (similar to Super Mario 3D World itself). One aspect that should be noted, is that the courses change and evolve over time; new layouts, enemies and collectables are added just as soon as you leave and re-enter an island/course and it’s all extremely organic. There’s even some elusive secrets where a random golden island will descend from the sky while Bowser is running amok. You can also lure Bowser near special blocks to unveil a secret Cat Shine which is a good strategy to send Bowser away if you’re not in the mood to deal with him. I’m not quite sure this is the direction future 3D Mario games should take, but I’d certainly play a follow-up to Bowser’s Fury that’s bigger and more robust.
See you next quarter,
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