Tag Archive: 3ds


There are more than a half-dozen Fire Emblem games that never came to our shores, but in 2008, Nintendo released Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for the DS—a remake of the very first Fire Emblem game—here in North America. That decision gave me hope that we would start to see more of the Fire Emblem games we never received finally cross the Pacific in some form or another. Flash forward almost a full decade later, and I had all but given up on the idea. Naturally, then, Nintendo releases Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia—a remake of the second-ever Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem Gaiden—rekindling my hopes. And—if Shadows of Valentia is any indicator—the idea of continuing to bring over old games in the series remains as sound as I thought it did almost 10 years ago.

Shadows of Valentia takes place at the same time as Shadow Dragon in Fire Emblem chronology. While Marth is freeing the continent of Archanea in the east, the continent of Valentia to the west is war-torn for different reasons. The dragon gods—Duma from the north and Mila to the south—have withdrawn their boons to the people, and the respective nations that fell under each god’s purview are crumbling because of it. Two children who bear a special brand on their hands, Alm and Celica, are unexpectedly thrust into the center of it all. Each will try to bring peace to Valentia in their own way, not realizing how connected they truly are. It’s your typical Fire Emblem tale of kings, queens, dragons, and magic.

Because Fire Emblem Gaiden never made its way to the West, it’s hard for me to compare this remake to the source material beyond obvious differences. For example, following in the footsteps of more modern games in the series, every major character has their lines fully voiced (and fantastically so). There are also fully-animated cutscenes, while each character has had a more modern redesign given to them that pops off the screens of the 3DS.

Doing some research, though, led me to find that Fire Emblem Gaiden was often described as the “Zelda II of Fire Emblem.” This is because the game introduced some drastically different gameplay like dungeons and town exploration, and even side quests from NPCs that were quickly abandoned by the series as a whole after poor reactions. All of that radically different gameplay returns here in Shadows of Valentia, but what’s interesting is that since this is a first for Westerners to experience this in Fire Emblem—with features like “My Castle” in Fire Emblem Fates helping to pave the way—it actually feels like a natural progression for the series that I surprisingly enjoyed and quickly adapted to. It may have been far-reaching in 1992; in 2017, it feels like Fire Emblem is just growing in new and wonderful ways.

Getting to towns and dungeons is done via utilizing a limited overworld map with paths laid out before you, and you can see ahead to where most of the battles that mark major chapters in your adventure will occur. While Shadow Dragon displayed a linear overworld map at times, you use Shadows of Valentia’s to actually plan your next move. It is larger, has branching paths, and allows you to bounce back and forth between Alm and Celica’s different bands of characters, each traversing their own course and occasionally interacting with the other at certain points. The overworld map helps get across the idea of the duo actually fighting a war, moving the frontlines and themselves closer to their goals with each victory, and being able to see how far they’ve come in such a simplistic way gives a sense of scale that we don’t often get in Fire Emblem games.

Once you do visit a town or dungeon, you get very different experiences from anything we’ve seen before from the series. Towns are made up of a few different locations (taverns, homes, blacksmiths, etc.) and you select where you want to go from another map. From a first-person perspective, you then can look around the room with a targeting reticule to pick up items or talk with the various townsfolk to shop, learn about the world, or potentially unlock a small sidequest. Unfortunately, the sidequests are a bit dull, and are always of the “if you get me item x I’ll give you item y” variety. Often times I wouldn’t even bother with them unless I already had the item in my possession, but they do give you something else to do beyond fighting all the time.

Dungeons, meanwhile, are explored from a third-person view as you walk around in them much more like traditional RPGs. There are often exclusive treasures to be found and secrets to be uncovered in dungeons, whether they’re abandoned caves, ancient ruins, or enemy forts. If you come across an enemy in a dungeon, you can potentially avoid it; if you touch the enemy, however, the world shifts to a more traditional Fire Emblem grid where Alm or Celica and a small contingent of their allies will have to fight a tactical-RPG battle. It took some getting used to, but I found the rewards within dungeons made them definitely worth exploring.

Dungeons are also where you now can change classes for your party members. Many dungeons have statues that, when prayed to, will bestow new classes (and higher stats) on your most experienced party members. I loved this feature, because no longer did I have to spend all my coin or search desperately on battlefields for the right items (which would trigger the all-important class increase in previous games). Certain characters listed as “villagers” also have the added benefit of changing their class to whatever you wish. If your group is mage-heavy, you can force a villager to take up a sword or lance, or vice versa. Or, you can make more mages or more soldiers, and try to dominate the landscape with one offensive dimension.

Not all the changes Shadows of Valentia introduces were welcome, though. In an attempt to keep the combat process streamlined, every unit has a default weapon that will never break. Whether it’s a lance, sword, or magic tome, the traditional Fire Emblem weapon durability remains gone like it was in Fire Emblem Fates. Also removed, however, is the ability to carry multiple weapons, so no longer can you carry a variety of gear to defend yourself with depending on the scenario. You can carry a special weapon to replace the default that will never break—like a silver lance, brave sword, or a blessed bow—but you are stuck with that weapon for the entirety of a battle no matter what gets thrown at you.

This lack of improvisation was disappointing from Shadows of Valentia, and the only thing worse than this is when certain classes do get two weapons to carry—like magic and a sword, or a bow and a sword—they will always default to their original. I prefer the old way where the last thing I attacked with is what I would now defend with. This way, if my bow-carrying soldier was attacked by a mage from a distance, they could still defend themselves (had I used the bow previously), instead of being helplessly pelted by dark magic while holding their default sword every time.

That’s not the only issue with weapons in Shadows of Valentia. One of the pillars of Fire Emblem combat has been the rock-paper-scissors, axe-sword-lance weapon triangle that has always been present in Western releases of the series—yet it is noticeably absent here. Your enemies have axes, you can acquire axes (for sidequests), but none of your units can actually use them. All that your non-magic units can use are swords, bows, and lances, and a larger focus was put on black and white magic with your mages. White heals units, black is offensive, and all magic requires some sort of HP sacrifice now. The HP sacrifice was an interesting twist that added some difficulty to the game, but the balance that came with the weapons triangle and the more simplistic use of magic in previous games is sorely missed here. Even by the time I beat the game 30-35 hours after I had started it, I was still unsure of what units did well against which others.

Speaking of how long I played this game, that’s a long time to do the same objective over and over again, and not until the last couple of battles does your objective change. It is always just obliterating your opponents—no lasting so many turns, defending objectives, or capturing objectives. I miss the variety from previous Fire Emblem games that required me to change my thinking somewhere along the line beyond “strongest units on the front lines will run roughshod over my enemies”.

If you still want a more traditional Fire Emblem experience, however, fear not. There’s nothing we can do about the missing weapons triangle—which will always perplex me about this game—but exploring towns and dungeons are optional for the most part. Although I found they added a lot of depth to the experience and the world (and characters and classes to my party), I imagine some purists out there might recoil at the dramatic shifts in gameplay. It’ll make the experience even more difficult if you avoid them, but if all you want is classic Fire Emblem grid-based tactical-RPG and unit management, then don’t worry: outside of a couple of mandatory sections, you can just move from battle to battle to battle on the overworld map.

And, in that regard, Shadows of Valentia is still very much a Fire Emblem game. The main game is broken down into five acts, and while I will say the first act was a bit of a pushover, there was a huge spike back up to what we expect from this series in terms of difficulty from there. In fact, it may be one of the hardest Fire Emblem games I’ve ever played, and the Classic mode touting permadeath will still plague you and your party if you’re not precise and careful with each move you make on the grid. Casual mode—which definitely wasn’t around in Gaiden—at least also returns from more recent iterations of the series, allowing deceased party members to return after every battle. Should Alm or Celica fall in either mode, however, it’s an instant game over.

Another new feature to help with the difficulty is the Turnwheel. Both Alm and Celica get these new artifacts early on in the adventure, and they have two purposes. The first is by inserting items called Cogs into the Turnwheel, you can rewind the game three full turns; it’s a great way to save allies who you would otherwise lose to permadeath. Turnwheels are also how you utilize Amiibo in the game.

Yes, Nintendo’s cute little figurines are compatible with Shadows of Valentia, but depending on what Amiibo you use on the Turnwheel, you’ll have different effects. The brand new Alm/Celica two-pack adds character specific dungeons and battles to the world map. Meanwhile, non-Shadows of Valentia Fire Emblem Amiibo, like Lucina, can be summoned as allies in particularly difficult battles. Finally, Amiibo not related to Fire Emblem, like Mario, will summon monster creatures to your aid. It’s a nice way for Amiibo to be used in the game without really breaking it.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a game more than deserving of a second chance from the East, and a first chance here in the West. It was ahead of its time when it first released as Fire Emblem Gaiden, but now comes across more as a natural evolution of the series with an audience that should be more open to the ideas it pushes in regards to Fire Emblem gameplay. Not everything is perfect—like the noticeable absence of the weapons triangle—but it is a more-than-worthy culmination of the tactical-RPG series’ life on the 3DS.

Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: Intelligent Systems • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 05.19.17
8.5
It’s funny how a remake of a game that never originally hit the West can feel like such a step forward. There are a couple questionable choices, like the removal of the weapons triangle, and series purists might grumble over some other changes like dungeon exploration, but overall Shadows of Valentia feels like the next great step in Fire Emblem.
The Good New features like dungeon exploration, navigating an overworld map, and new ways to change character classes feel like the natural evolution of the series.
The Bad Lack of objective variety, and removal of the classic weapons triangle and weapon choices.
The Ugly How much HP you get from consuming raw ingredients like butter and flour. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. A review copy, as well as Alm/Celica Amiibo, were provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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I’ve been playing Pokémon games for nearly 20 years now, and have loved almost every second of them. As exciting as all the changes I’ve seen have been over that time, some things have remained steadfastly the same. But, with the release of Pokémon Sun/Moon, many of those seemingly untouchable pillars of the Pokémon universe have been changed—resulting in the freshest game the series has seen since its early days, and possibly the best yet.

Sun/Moon begins like many other games in the series. You wake up at home, and your mom tells you to go meet the local professor to begin what will surely turn out to be another fantastical Pokémon adventure. Unlike in others game, you’re the new kid on the block here, having just moved to the new region of Alola from Kanto (the region from the original Red/Blue Pokémon games). Breaking from what you may be used to from the franchise’s previous locations, Alola doesn’t have eight gyms for you to defeat. Instead, you’ll travel to four islands—each overseen by a Kahuna and their Captains who serve as gatekeepers to the powerful Guardian Pokémon on each island—and conquering them all is your primary challenge.

Because of your character’s roots in Kanto, Sun/Moon has a lot of callbacks to that original region—as well as other previous Pokémon games—with cameos galore from both characters and Pokémon alike. No other Pokémon game up to this point has been as self-aware of the universe in which the games take place, and it makes the region feel bigger than it is because of the influences from each previous game manifesting themselves in different ways. It also drips of nostalgia, giving long-time fans something to get excited about when they recognize obscure references, while potentially filling in the blanks for newcomers that want to learn more about those earlier generations. A perfect example might be the new nefarious group of Pokémon snatchers named Team Skull, who are more incompetent and comical than the original Team Rocket, but whose modus operandi falls alarmingly in line with the Kanto crooks and less with the world changing extremists of later titles.

Alola may take some cues from previous games, but in many ways it has a dynamic all its own that might actually make it my new favorite region in the series. Part of that comes from the fact that Sun/Moon is again pushing the 3DS’ graphical boundaries. While X/Y offered the first polygonal graphics in a Pokémon game, there was still a lot of grid-based movement. Sun/Moon finally does away with this altogether (while also smoothing out some of those rough polygonal edges), giving your character the full 360-degrees of freedom to move around as you would in most modern games. Making most of the game incompatible with the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D effect likely helped to boost the graphical power, and I, for one, did not miss it. The camera still remains out of the player’s control to help keep items and secrets hidden via perspective shifts, but this was a huge step forward to making the world of Pokémon feel even more alive and vibrant.

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There is also the aforementioned Kahunas and Captains, who give a shot in the arm to the old gym system. Instead of just battling your way to the top of each gym and then taking on the Elite Four, Sun/Moon offers up a wide variety of gameplay beyond battling. Each Captain will place you on a trial that involves battling at some point, but which also require you to solve some sort of puzzle, such as collecting the ingredients for a recipe or needing to pass a memory exam. Only then will you be able to take on their Guardian Pokémon in a fierce battle that will reward you with a Z-crystal—proof of you conquering the trial and your proficiency as a trainer, which also unlock more areas of Alola. Once an island’s Guardians and Captains are behind you, you’ll then face the island Kahuna as you try to conquer the four corners of Alola.

Speaking of Z-crystals, they’re just the first of several major changes to the battle system. Besides taking the place of traditional gym badges in how they prove your mettle as a trainer, they also unlock special moves for your Pokémon. While there are Z-crystals representing each of the 18 Pokémon types, there are also lesser ones meant for specific Pokémon like Pikachu, Snorlax, or the three new starter Pokémon. A Z-crystal move can only be used once per battle for your entire team, so choosing when and what Pokémon to use it for adds an extra level of strategy that goes far deeper than X/Y’s Mega Evolutions. My only wish now is that Pokémon could carry two items, because it sure is hard to take a Z-crystal away from a Pokémon unless you definitely know what you’re going up against in the next battle.

Another major change in combat is how the UI now provides a chart showing stat changes (like if you’ve been hit with Growl and your Attack has fallen) and what moves are strong against what Pokémon. The stat changes are depicted via a series of arrows, which could be better if we were given actual number changes—but it definitely helps if it’s a back and forth bout. At first, I admit I was leery about the idea of the game just telling me what moves were effective and what ones weren’t, but I suppose it falls in more in line with what a Pokédex is supposed to do. With so many Pokémon and types changing from game to game, most people were probably heading to Google every few minutes to look up a Pokémon they were unfamiliar with anyway.

My only issue with it is that it doesn’t go far enough. You need to capture or beat a Pokémon first before getting that information on your second encounter with it, whether in battle or in the wild. Why not just give people those stats from the start? Ash’s Pokédex in the cartoon gives him the information immediately upon seeing a new Pokémon. It could’ve, and should’ve, been the same here when Game Freak decided it was going make this change.

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One other major change in combat comes in the form of the removal of Hidden Machines. HMs used to have major traversal or world changing moves like Surf, Strength, and Cut in them. They would take up a normally useful move spot for a member of your team that you couldn’t change, or take up a spot on your team altogether with a Pokémon meant to just know everything useful. Sun/Moon does away with this, although some HMs are still present as normal move-teaching Technical Machines if you want to impart some of the more effective combat moves (like Fly). Instead, you get a pager and can call seven special Pokémon to help you make your way around Alola. For example, you can call a Taurus to break away rocks, or a Charizard to fly you to different Pokécenters. It’s a no-cost service, frees up space on your roster, and might be the most important change yet that Sun/Moon adds to the series. The ease of use was great, and the effectiveness of my party increased tremendously because of it.

Besides the new island challenge and battling mechanics, there are plenty of side distractions to take part in as well. One new aspect is the Poké Refresh, which allows you to pet, feed, and play with your Pokémon outside of battle via the touch screen. A benefit to building up a good relationship with your Pokémon this way is it will offer unique bonuses in battle, but also is a free way of removing status effects on Pokémon. That means items like Awakening (cures sleep) and Antidote (cures poison) are only now necessary during battle—and that means less trips to the Pokécenter or Pokémart for medicines, and more time spent exploring the world and enjoying it.

There are also new places to visit, like your own personal set of islands you discover called the Poké Pelago. Each island in the Pelago can house the extra Pokémon you’d normally keep in Boxes at Pokécenters, which you still use to change your lineup. Now, though, they can train to level up or gather items for you on the side, instead of collecting dust as just another statistic in your Pokédex.

If you’re more about upgrading your trainer, another new feature called the Festival Plaza allows you to talk to people and earn special Festival Currency. This currency can then be used inside the festival to upgrade your trainer’s apparel and offers some much needed trainer customization to the game. Of course, I think it’d be easier if the game just let you customize your character fully from the get-go like every other RPG out there, but at least Pokémon is trying to get with the times when it comes to giving players a bit more expression on that front.

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The Festival Plaza is also where you can trade with or battle players online, or use the new QR scanner via the 3DS’ camera to scan friends’ Pokémon to add their info to your Pokédex (minus the trading aspect). If you’re all about battling like I am, however, then I can attest that—at least in a pre-launch state—I was able to connect to a few folks online, and found there to be minimal issues in one-on-one situations. You can even record your battles and save them to your SD Card to watch and analyze battles later. Besides one-on-one battles, there’s also two-versus-two and the new Battle Royal matches, where four players put one Pokémon in and the last one standing wins.

Unfortunately, it’s in these multi-Pokémon battles that some issues start to arise. Whether playing online, or even offline in the main game, whenever more than two Pokémon appear on screen (yours versus one other), the game starts to slow down a little, load times become more evident, and animation beings to crawl. These issues aren’t enough to ruin the experience, but they are enough to snap you out of your Pokémon reverie for sure—and it’s particularly shocking when this even happens against the computer in the main game.

There’s also a new feature where wild Pokémon can call for help. Sometimes, a wild Pokémon that’s about to faint will call on another of its species, turning a one-on-one fight into a two-on-one (which also triggers the above mentioned slowdown). It offers you, the player, more experience for beating more Pokémon, but—especially if you’re trying to capture one of the two—it can prolong the fight considerably. I once got in a cycle where I had to face seven Zubats because I would take one out and the other would keep calling for help. Finally, I just gave up and ran away because no Zubat is worth that much time. So, this is one feature that I hope future iterations of the game do away with.

Another addition that was hit-or-miss is the new Alolan variants of Kanto Pokémon. For example, there’s now a dark-type Rattata (originally a normal-type), or an ice-type version of Sandshrew (originally a ground-type). For the most part, I like the idea of collecting different types of the same Pokémon, especially since only one is needed to unlock the Pokédex entry. What I don’t like about it is when those Pokémon are used in battle. When an enemy trainer is about to throw out a Pokémon, it only says “Ace Trainer is about to use Ninetails. Do you wish to switch Pokémon?” Normally, Ninetails is a fire-type, and I would counter with a water-type. The game never tells you what variant is being thrown out until it actually appears on your screen. If it’s the ice-type Ninetails, I basically wasted a turn needing to switch out my water-type for a fire-type. It’s a minor thing, but considering how serious some of us take our battles, wasting a turn isn’t something to be taken lightly.

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Pokémon Sun/Moon provides the series a shot in the arm we might not have realized it needed. Battling is more efficient than ever, and that cranks the fun up to levels we haven’t seen since the early days of the series—even with the occasional slowdown issue. New and old Pokémon come together to symbolize the balance this game has struck between Pokémon’s past and its future, providing nostalgia for us franchise veterans and some history for newcomers. Combine all this with more side content than ever before, as well as a beautiful 3D world, and Pokémon Sun/Moon is nothing short of an instant classic.

Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company • Developer: Game Freak • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 11.18.16
9.0
A couple technical issues aside, Sun/Moon might be the best Pokémon game yet. It freshens up a formula some of us PokéManics might not have realized was growing stale until now. Trials and Grand Trials provide variations on familiar gameplay, and the removal of HMs and telling players how effective their moves are rejuvenates battling.
The Good The island trials will make you never want to battle in a gym again. Ride Pokémon doing away with Hidden Machines from previous games.
The Bad Some slowdown in battles involving three or more Pokémon.
The Ugly Why is my character always smiling? Even when things take a turn for the worst in the game, my character’s facial animation never changes.
Pokémon Sun/Moon are Nintendo 3DS exclusives. Primary version reviewed was Pokémon Sun. Review copies were provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I missed the boat when the original Metroid released on the NES—mostly because I was still wearing diapers. Near the height of my childhood gaming in 1994, when I only got games on Christmas or my birthday, I had a choice between Super Metroid and other SNES games; I admittedly passed on Samus Aran. It wouldn’t be until I was older and got a summer job, and therefore had some disposable income, that I would take a chance on Metroid in the form of Metroid Prime. It was there where I fell in love with the series. I’ve since gone back and played the classics, but the Prime trilogy continues to have a special place in my heart as my entryway to the franchise. So, when the Big N announced that they were releasing a Metroid Prime game for the 3DS that would follow the Federation and not everyone’s favorite gold-armored heroine, I (like many) was concerned—and Metroid Prime: Federation Force has gone on to prove those concerns were well founded.

Players take on the role of a generic Marine in the Galactic Federation, the governing body and beacon of order in the Metroid universe which often hires Samus Aran when things get dicey. Looking to become more self-sufficient and rely less on bounty hunters, the Federation has built new mechanized units that Marines can use on the frontlines of the Federation’s militaristic endeavors. One of these new fronts happens to be in the Bermuda system. What starts as standard mech suit training soon becomes a full-blown combat scenario against the Space Pirates, along with a search for answers as to why the pirates have established themselves around Bermuda’s three planets—Bion, Excelcion, and Talvania.

From the second I started playing Federation Force I knew I was in for a rough time. Quite simply, this is one of the worst-looking games I’ve seen on the 3DS. The first-person perspective does no favors in trying to hide the three dull, lifeless planets you have to explore: Bion, a desert world; Excelcion, an ice planet; and Talvania, your industrialized world. Basically, that means you’re constantly surrounded by different shades of orange/brown, blue/white, and gray/poison gas green, with little respite whenever you pick from the game’s nearly two-dozen missions in those settings.

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The chibi-like big head/little body design of the Federation’s forces—including Samus during her cameos—was also off-putting. It may be more of a personal preference against this art style, but it felt cheap and cartoony for a branch of the franchise whose character and world design used to be one of its strengths. I understand the 3DS isn’t a graphical powerhouse, but it should’ve been able to do more than this.

Beauty can be more than skin deep, however, and so I was hoping the game might be salvaged via its gameplay. Unfortunately, I quickly saw that Federation Force is ugly to its core. Although it utilizes the first-person perspective of the Prime trilogy, Federation Force does not play nearly as smooth as those games. The mechs are slow and plodding, and it’s almost impossible to avoid attacks from more difficult enemies, with many battles becoming a race to see how fast you can whittle down the enemy’s lifebar. The use of the 3DS’s gimmicky gyroscope for more precision aiming also quickly becomes tiresome when trying to line up a killing shot against armored foes with few visible weak points.

The worst of it all may be the balancing of the game, thanks in part to one of Federation Force’s primary selling points being its four-player co-op feature—which somewhat spits in the face of Metroid’s traditional single-player experience with Samus against the world, alone and often stranded in a hostile environment. Each stage you play on is balanced for a four-player fighting force. This means that even if you wanted to play alone, the game punishes you for it, and I am adamant that most players will be unable to finish later stages by themselves. If you are racing against the clock to defeat a dozen or so Space Pirates, but the timer and enemy count remains the same in single player versus four-player co-op, you can see where the better odds are. The Space Pirates may still be pushovers, but there’s only so much any of us can do against time.

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Oh, and good luck trying to assemble a squad to take on those later missions. Part of the reason why my review took so long to get done is it took me forever to find people just to play the game with—even after launch. If I created an invite myself, fewer and fewer players were available for the later missions; if I went to join someone else’s team, many were still middling around during the first half of the game. Throw in the obvious issues that come from not being able to communicate via the 3DS except for a handful of preset phrases on the d-pad (“Hello!” “Help!” “Hurry Up” etc.), and progressing through Federation Force was nothing short of being a chore—especially when you stumble upon someone who cared more about lone wolfing it than working as a team. You can obviously get around some of this by having four friends join together locally, but I couldn’t find three other people interested in picking up their own copies of the game.

It also needs to be said that there is the 3v3 multiplayer mode, Blast Ball, which can be played via download play on the 3DS from just one copy of the game. Because of many of the aforementioned reasons, like the slow movement of the mechs and the difficulty in precision aiming, you’re better off just going back to Rocket League instead of dealing with this rather obvious knock-off. I made the EGM crew try it out here in the office, and I think everyone is still mad at me.

The sad thing is, despite all my complaining, in those rare instances where everything seemed to come together—I found people to play a mission I wanted to play and we were all driven to finish the level as a team and move the story forward—Metroid Prime Federation Force actually worked. The story wasn’t spectacular, but it fit well into the Metroid universe. When four players worked together, there was a challenge, but it felt great to come together as a unit and accomplish the goals laid before you. Even the game’s idea of a more arcade-like experience—with each mission being short and sweet (rare was the mission that took more than 15-20 minutes), but there being a lot of them—could’ve lent itself nicely to experiencing the game in bite-sized bits. The shooting felt satisfying, at least until I ran out of the sparse special ammo or was forced to really take aim at something. Missions actually provided some interesting gameplay variety ranging from exploration to escort, from puzzle solving to shootouts against bosses, and the ability to customize the precise loadout of special weapons and buffs pre-mission meant a well-coordinated team could cover each other’s backs extremely well. The problem was simply that these stars aligned far too infrequently for the experience to ever be truly enjoyable.

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And, that’s Metroid Prime: Federation Force in a nutshell. There was a core idea here that wasn’t actually bad, just horribly executed. The lack of balance between one and four players, the ugly worlds and character design, the gimmicky controls, the plodding movement, Blast Ball—they all muddled what could’ve been a decent adventure that freshened up the Metroid Prime storyline and paved the way for a future, more realized entry. As is, though, Federation Force is a black eye on the series that stands alongside Other M as another failed experiment.

Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: Next Level Games • ESRB Date: T – Teen • Release Date: 08.19.16
3.5
There is a core idea here that could’ve worked, but Metroid Prime: Federation Force is nothing short of a disaster due to horribly thought out implementation and shoddy execution.
The Good Decent mission variety, and if playing with friends locally, four-player co-op has its fun moments.
The Bad Game is completely unbalanced for solo play. Movement is plodding to the point of almost being painful. Trying to communicate during online play is near impossible.
The Ugly Is the future of multiplayer just everyone kicking a giant ball around?
Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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You are the ocean’s gray waves

Nintendo has never been afraid to try something new. Sometimes those gambles pay huge dividends, and other times, they end in disaster. But the Big N keeps innovating, and its most recent change of pace comes with its beloved strategy-RPG series, Fire Emblem. Instead of giving us one adventure, this time Nintendo and developer Intelligent Systems has split up it’s most recent chapter into three perspectives dubbed Fire Emblem Fates.

In Fates, players assume the role of Corrin, a young prince (or princess) from the land of Hoshido who was kidnapped and raised by the kingdom of Nohr as one of their own. When Corrin comes of age and the war between the two kingdoms reaches a fever pitch, you learn the truth of Corrin’s upbringing, and are faced with a game-altering decision: Return to Hoshido, stay with Nohr, or forge your own path towards peace and choose neither.

What’s nice about Fire Emblem Fates Special Edition is that it offers all three paths on one game card, even allowing you to jump straight to the fateful decision on repeat playthroughs. This is a boon, because if you otherwise wanted to explore all three perspectives, and learn all the details there are to learn about this latest Fire Emblem world, you’d have to buy the games separately as Birthright (Hoshido story), Conquest (Nohr story), and then Revelations (neutral story) as a DLC coming nearly a month after launch. It’s like Pokémon, but for plot points.

Unfortunately, of the three stories, the only truly satisfying one comes from Revelations. Not to spoil anything, but key plot details are hidden by siding with one family or another, and although playing through both Birthright and Conquest offers you an overall greater insight into the cast of characters, only Revelations feels like a true Fire Emblem game in terms of the stakes that are on the line and the role your avatar plays.

Besides the altered narrative of each title, the three games also offer slightly different gameplay experiences from one another. Birthright could actually serve as a great starting point for newcomers to the series. It provides the most experience points to level characters up, and gold to upgrade and purchase the best weaponry with—all while giving you a taste of what to expect from other Fire Emblem games, even with its singular “destroy all enemies” goal of most missions.

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Conquest is for the more experienced Fire Emblem player, and provides a harsher playthrough. Experience points and gold come at a premium, and you’ll have to truly outsmart the computer if you hope to advance, not to mention make full use of every advantage you might have on the battlefield. There are also more varied goals like capturing points, or defeating only a certain number of enemies amongst the mission objectives.

Lastly, Revelations strikes a balance between the two, offering up more opportunities for gold and experience like in Birthright, but providing the variety of objectives and true strategic gameplay seen in Conquest. Having played every game in the series since Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, I again found Revelations to be the most satisfying of the three, because it provides the most true to form experience—even if I can appreciate how the other two can appeal to players of different skill levels and familiarity with the franchise.

Once you get past these nuances in plot and gameplay difficulty, the three games play very similarly. The core Fire Emblem mechanics of moving sprites around a grid-based battlefield in a chess match of sorts—with different character classes and weapons having advantages and disadvantages against certain enemies—returns here, and remains relatively the same since the series’ inception over two decades ago in Japan.

There are also a few new features to help punch up the familiar gameplay. Once you choose your path, players will acquire their own fort where they can have Corrin interact with the troops to further relationships (leading eventually to marriage, and then children who can fight by your side) or boost everyone’s stats via items. Building on the StreetPass battles introduced in Fire Emblem: Awakening, Fates now allows it so that you and your friends can invade each other’s forts, with each fort’s customization adding to player resistances. For example, having a fully upgraded weapons hut might add several points into your fighters’ strength (attack) stats. This limited multiplayer aspect adds an interesting wrinkle to the replayability of the game.

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Not every addition is a winner, though. Fates adds a brand new Phoenix mode that should actually be called “Baby Mode”, or “Why Even Bother Playing This Game” mode. One of Fire Emblem’s staple features is its permadeath, where when a character dies in battle, they stay dead. The difference between permadeath in Fire Emblem and other strategy-RPGs, like XCOM for instance, is the fact that keeping all your characters alive affects not only the ease with which you might prepare for upcoming battles, but alters subplot storylines, too.

Awakening’s Casual mode first took a shot at softening this by allowing characters to come back after each battle. Here, at least, you still had the rush of needing to complete a conflict in order to see your units return to action. The strategy part of the game stayed intact, even if the stakes were lessened. Phoenix mode, however, turns you from an armchair general into a blunt weapon of destruction by allowing each character to come back to life after every turn, removing all semblance of consequence for your actions. And while it is only an option, one I only tried for the sake of this review before starting a new game and switching back to Classic permadeath, the absence of ramifications took a great amount of joy away from playing the game, as nearly every decision was meaningless.

Some of the fun I’ve derived over the years of playing this franchise has been quitting back to the main menu and restarting missions to try to discover that perfect strategy that would get my entire team through each conflict. It lengthens the experience artificially, but seeing every character’s special ending made it worth it for me, especially knowing I had earned it. Whether it was splitting my forces and flanking enemy bosses from both sides, using higher-leveled units as scout teams while leaving the bulk of my force behind to protect the rear, or slowly moving all my units forward like a phalanx of death towards my objective, solving the survival puzzle that leads to an ultimate victory was always worth it, no matter the time investment, and is at the heart of what makes this a great strategy-RPG series. Fates seems to be trying its hardest to be an introduction to the series in many ways, but to those newcomers, I still recommend at least trying Classic mode first before switching over to Casual or Phoenix mode.

This seems to be Nintendo’s strategy with Fire Emblem Fates in a nutshell. If you’re willing to dig a little, the strategy core that has made this series so popular remains fully intact. Meanwhile, it offers a variety of options to players of all different skill levels, and even provides multiple storylines molded around potential play styles in an attempt to lure in new and old players alike (with certain aspects obviously not appealing to everyone). In a game about choices, though, the biggest grievance comes from the central one. After playing all three stories, it felt largely unnecessary to split Fates into three parts. Revelations provides the most well rounded experience—one that long-time fans should gravitate more towards— with Conquest and Birthright really just adding nuance and character development to what would’ve been fine as a standalone plot. All three still work as solid additions to Fire Emblem’s long-running strategy-RPG pedigree, though, depending on what exactly you’re looking for.

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Developer: Intelligent Systems • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 02.19.16
8.0
Whether new to the franchise or a long-time fan, there’s something for everyone in Fire Emblem Fates’ three games. Unfortunately, when you find what you’re looking for in one, you might be disappointed when it’s then not present in the other titles.
The Good Each game offers unique challenges to appeal to every level of Fire Emblem fan.
The Bad Phoenix mode turns you from a calculating general into a blunt tool of destruction.
The Ugly Me singing Azura’s song in the shower. I just can’t get the damn thing out of my head.
Fire Emblem Fates Special Edition is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. A review copy was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

TriForceHeroesHeader

Fashion faux pas

When a new Legend of Zelda game comes out, it’s damned near impossible for me to stop playing it until I see the end credits roll. Ever since that first golden cartridge hit my NES when I was a little kid, those initial playthroughs spurred marathons that likely contribute to my insomnia today. While most of them were worth it, there have been a couple of misses along the way—and it seems that The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes falls into that category. While I hate to see most Zelda titles end, I couldn’t wait until Tri Force Heroes was mercifully over.

Tri Force Heroes does not take place in Hyrule, but instead the world of Hytopia, a land where all the people are fixated on fashion. When this realm’s Princess Styla, the most fashionable person in Hytopia, is stricken with a witch’s curse that traps her in a black body stocking, the king sends out a decree searching for heroes to strike down the witch and bring peace (and high fashion) back to his kingdom. And, according to Hytopian legend, three fated heroes who look alarmingly alike will have to come together to break this curse—with you destined to be one of those heroes.

Since Hytopia is such a fashion-obsessed society, a big element of Tri Force Heroes is that what Link wears plays a large part of being a hero there. After grinding for different crafting materials by repeatedly beating dungeons, he can have the local seamstress put together new costumes that give him subtle benefits while out battling in the Drablands—Hytopia’s fashionless equivalent to Hyrule’s Dark World and where most of the action in the game takes place. For example, the Kokiri Suit allows Link to fire three arrows from his bow in a spread formation, while the Big Bomb Suit increases the size and strength of your bombs.

As ridiculous as it all may sound, it’s not the first time the Zelda franchise has made it so that Link wasn’t saving Zelda, doing work in a realm outside Hyrule, or even teaming up with duplicates of himself. It’s also not the first time we’ve seen unique gameplay elements added to the series, with games even as recent as 2013’s A Link Between Worlds immediately coming to mind. So, while I may have been hesitant upon first hearing the premise, I put my misgivings aside and tried to look at Tri Force Heroes as I would any other Legend of Zelda title.

Surprisingly, I didn’t really have problems adjusting to life in Hytopia or the garb-centric gameplay. Instead, it was everything else involving gameplay that ended up preventing me from enjoying this experience.

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The biggest disappointment with Tri Force Heroes is that there is no exploration in the game whatsoever. Hytopia acts as a small hub world before Link sets off in a linear adventure where he must beat four levels in each of eight different worlds, as Link looks to collect the parts of a dress that will allow him to break the princess’s curse. The levels are broken down into four mini-stages with each requiring you to solve a puzzle, usually oriented around the three heroes of the story working together.

In fact, the levels are so puzzle focused that Link doesn’t have an item inventory. After selecting your costume from your wardrobe, each area then starts you with the items you’ll need to beat each stage. For example, you never have to worry about finding the bow in a dungeon because it’s gifted to you in certain levels, but then taken away and replaced by the boomerang (or other classic Zelda item) in others, depending on the level design and puzzle parameters. It simplifies the gameplay to a point there is minimal challenge because there are so few variables when all you have is your sword and a single item. Plus, this removes the fun of discovery that most Legend of Zelda titles have, and only compounds the game’s linearity since there’s no opportunity to backtrack and unlock the secrets of an ever-expanding world. Unlike the magical garments that populate the game, what you see is what you get with Tri Force Heroes.

To try to replace some of this lost replayability, each level has three optional challenges that you can complete. Beating a level within a certain time limit or completing it without having used your sword are just a couple of the numerous challenge variations you’ll come across. This means that the 32 levels the game touts actually can turn into 128 if you are patient enough to try and beat each and every challenge. It works well, but it feels out of place being the sole focus for something in The Legend of Zelda series.

Another misstep for Tri Force Heroes comes in the form of the heavily touted co-op. As the title and plot imply, you can play with two friends and tackle the levels as a group, but the option to play with two people and with one AI is oddly missing outside of a tacked on versus mode. You can even play locally with only one cartridge per three 3DSs. And trust me, the local option is the preferred route. Although playing online with people over great distances is all well and good, the communication system in Tri Force Heroes is limited to eight emojis that translate to “Hello”, “Good Job”, “Go Over There” and other simple phrases that really handcuff your team when trying to solve the game’s puzzles—making the already limited core gameplay even more difficult to enjoy. Playing with people in the same room, whether with one or three cartridges, is really the only way to go because communication is key when working with others towards a common goal.

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With so many of the puzzles revolving around three Links needing to solve them, the issue then arises of what do you do when playing by yourself. Luckily, much like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, players going it solo can control the trio of Links. Unfortunately, however, Tri Force Heroes’ system of control is far less efficient than that Gamecube classic.

Instead of allowing players to control all the Links at once and put them in formations like in Four Swords Adventures, you have to switch between each one manually. As the story goes, Link is actually traveling with two “doppels”— enchanted dolls that he can pass his soul between. This means that many times you’ll have to backtrack in order to drag the sometimes-left-behind doppels to the end of a stage after clearing the path, because you can only beat a stage when all three characters are on a Triforce symbol. (Which makes no sense, really, when you consider Hytopia is a world without Zelda, Ganon, the Triforce, etc.). This repetition only adds to the inherent grind the game already provides if you try to collect all the items necessary for the various outfits Link can wear.

All that being said, let me be clear, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes isn’t a horrible game. Hytopia and its people are as charming as those found in any other Zelda title, and the fashion gimmick is an interesting gameplay twist. If you like the idea of solving simple puzzles with a Legend of Zelda flair, and small, quick levels for short bursts of gameplay, then this game delivers.

For those of us who have grown up with Zelda, and who can’t help but be sucked into nearly each and every one of Link’s subsequent adventures, though, I can’t get past the sense that this could’ve been any other adventure game minus the Legend of Zelda coat of paint. Tri Force Heroes just comes off as too one-dimensional in its focus for diehards of the series to get into it—but it might make a decent time sink for more casual fans who can chip away at the levels and their challenge variations on their daily commute.

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Developer: Grezzo, Nintendo • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone  • Release Date: 10.23.15
6.0
Tri Force Heroes is a Zelda game in name only. When you dig just past the surface, poor gameplay mechanics and key missing elements for a Zelda title tarnish what is otherwise a serviceable adventure game.
The Good Tons of content. Puzzles are good in short doses.
The Bad The grind for unnecessary gear. Difficult to complete without friends who are in the same room as you.
The Ugly Anyone who has wanted to see Link in a dress for an entire game can now get their wish.
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes  is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Review copies were provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.

Let sleeping dragons lie

Puzzle & Dragons is nothing short of a phenomenon in Japan. Even legendary Nintendo creative mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto admitted he was playing it when I spoke with him back at E3 2013. And if I were a smarter man, I might’ve been able to predict that Nintendo would ultimately bring Puzzle & Dragons to the 3DS.

My poor cognitive function aside, when Nintendo finally did make the announcement, I think most were still surprised that not only would Puzzle & Dragons Z be coming to the 3DS, but it’d be bundled with a Super Mario Bros.–inspired version to boot. I admit I was particularly intrigued—especially because I’m a sucker for anything that features Mario (I even own Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix for the GameCube). I absolutely had to see what’s captivated so much of Japan—and also whether Mario could transition into the world of match-three games.

Puzzle & Dragons Z plays out just like its mobile counterpart. You take on the role of a coming-of-age teen (and have the choice to be male or female) who’s decided to join a national peacekeeping force. When a terrorist organization called Paradox upsets the delicate balance of the world’s key elements (fire, water, wood, dark, and light), you’re tasked with piecing back together your crumbling world by traveling to temples dedicated to each respective element and restoring order. Along the way, you receive eggs that can instantly hatch back at the home base; you then train these beasts to become part of a six-monster party that fights on your behalf. Members of the party then attack when you match special orbs of power into rows of three or more that correspond to the creature’s color-oriented type.

The Super Mario Bros. Edition of Puzzle & Dragons utilizes similar gameplay but stays true to the Super Mario Bros. formula: Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach, and Mario must traverse eight worlds in order to get her back—with the first seven guarded by Bowser’s trusted Koopalings. The difference here is that Mario and the gang can add members of the Koopa Troop (including Goombas, Bloopers, and Giant Hammer Bros., among others) much in the same way you acquire eggs in Puzzle & Dragons Z. Both games also have a basic RPG-inspired leveling system where the creatures in your party grow stronger the more they fight.

Unfortunately, while this 2-in-1 bundle removes the original’s free-to-play microtransactions, it doesn’t really add anything to the experience, either—and Super Mario Bros. Edition feels like a cheap reskin. After only a few worlds of each game, I found myself utterly bored by the entire thing.

Sure, gathering monsters and leveling them up is an addictive proposition that’s been a cornerstone of collect-em-all RPGs like Pokémon, and there’s a hint of that in both of these titles. Puzzle & Dragons Z even adds a town where players can speak with NPCs and receive items and side challenges—but these folks are about as interesting as the Toads who populate the Mario Bros. games.

After playing a match-three game for any substantial amount of time, you start to realize that, far too often, the game revolves around luck. The best entries in the genre, however, find ways to hide this with an interesting story, stronger RPG elements, or even the aforementioned microtransactions, which surprisingly enough can act as a boon in this case since they either force you to walk away after a short period of time or inspire a gambling-style rush if you put extra money on the line, helping keeping boredom at bay (even if in the worst way possible). Neither of the games in this bundle have any of those properties, though, and so monotony quickly sets in.

Worst of all? The tedium comes before you even get fully invested in either adventure. The difficulty between a board with four different-colored orbs and one with six is monumental, since there are ever only 30 orbs on the screen at once, which is far less than most other match-three games. After only a few tutorial battles, you’re thrown right into the six-color-orb conflicts, rarely to ever return to four or five. Since harder monsters have more HP, you’ll find yourself praying each time you clear a row that the right orbs will fall into place, like a gambler futilely hoping for 7s to lock in on his slot machine.

As much as I love puzzle games and Mario crossovers, Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition is a disappointment on every front. It’s not inherently broken in any way; it’s just painstakingly dull. Puzzle & Dragons borrows so liberally from so many other franchises that when you peel back the layers, it leaves nothing but a half-baked match-three game at its core—and Super Mario Bros. Edition is simply one more layer trying to bolster the illusion that this is an interesting game. It’s not.

Developer: GungHo • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 05.22.15
4.5
A bundle that embodies the worst grinding elements of popular RPGs with a lackluster match-three gameplay mechanic. This version of Puzzle & Dragons tries to use the gold standard that Super Mario Bros. represents in order to bolster the façade that this is an interesting, worthwhile gaming experience. It’s not.
The Good The addictive Pokémon-like nature of collecting and leveling up creatures to fight for you.
The Bad Progress is slow and grinding and nothing about the gameplay hides this fact.
The Ugly I think the reason why Japan loves this franchise so much is they have a gambling problem. It’s time for an intervention.
Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition  is a 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.

The first details of the Fire Emblem game for New 3DS were revealed alongside a new trailer that was shown during today’s Nintendo Direct.

To start off, much like the player character in Fire Emblem: Awakening, the hero of this new game will also be customizable. Unlike Awakening, however, the player character here will be the center of all the attention instead of just supporting the narrative lead.

Set in a world where two feuding nations are on the brink of war, the reason your character is so important is because although you were raised by the royal family of one of these nations, Nohr, a land bent on glory through war, you are actually part of the royal bloodline of the other nation, Hoshido, a more peaceful and honorable place. When this revelation comes to light, you will be forced to choose: blood or loyalty.

Not only will your choice affect the narrative, but also the difficulty. The Hoshido choice provides a more traditional Fire Emblem tale, whereas the Nohr choice will be a more harrowing experience.

This first Fire Emblem for the New 3DS will be released sometime in 2016.

Not thinking outside the box

I pride myself on being able to find enjoyment from a ton of different gaming genres. Whether it’s shooters, fighting games, RPGs, or sports titles, you’ll likely find them somewhere in my collection. Sometimes, though, the genre that really gets me pumped up is a good old-fashioned puzzle-platformer. So, when a little passion project from longtime Nintendo developer HAL Laboratory named BoxBoy! found its way on to my 3DS, I was more than ready to give it a shot.

BoxBoy! stars a walking square named Qbby who must use his ability to make box-shaped extensions of himself to overcome nearly 200 different obstacle courses on the way to repairing his damaged homeworld. Qbby can make bridges to cross gaps, create shields to block lasers or spikes, or build makeshift stairs to reach higher areas.

Unfortunately, especially with the illustrious pedigree of HAL behind the game, I was surprised to find that BoxBoy! feels empty inside. I mean, sure, there’s technically a ton of content crammed in here: hundreds of stages, unlockable challenge levels, and a score-attack mode where you use Qbby’s powers to collect emblems. But by the time I’d reached the fourth world—or after less than an hour of playtime—I’d already grown bored.

You see, BoxBoy! does nothing to innovate on the puzzle-platformer. Admittedly, it’s not the worst thing in the world to use the same traps and gimmicks we’ve seen dozens of times before—teleporters, gravity fields, lasers, and spikes. Disappointingly, though, the game never pushes your cognitive process beyond using the same handful of box creations you learn at the beginning to overcome every situation, so the gameplay starts to feel very monotonous very quickly, even when new obstacles are introduced.

BoxBoy! doesn’t offer any depth-of-field puzzles, since the game isn’t compatible with the 3DS’ 3D feature—it’s a wholly 2D world. The game doesn’t even include any physics-based puzzles. Every time I thought I might be able to use something like momentum to get through a puzzle or place a box where I needed it to be, it would almost immediately sink down in a straight line, like throwing a crumpled-up piece of paper instead of an object that actually had some weight to it.

Eighty percent of the game just feels like HAL got into a “rinse and repeat” mindset with the stage design until they got close to a triple-digit number. Each new level introduces a new impediment, but often instead of combining them with ones seen in previous levels, you only have to bypass the latest one. This fact only compounds the monotony since it feels like you’re you’re playing the same puzzle a handful of times before being allowed to progress to the next one. The stages work, but there’s nothing truly interesting about a single one.

At least until you get close to the end of the game, that is. At that point, there’s a drastic spike in difficulty that makes the last two levels boring and hard. It’s not that I couldn’t overcome them, but after walking through the previous 15 stages like they were nothing, this sudden change of pace was jarring—and not in a good way, considering how ill prepared I felt at first.

And one would think that part of the reason BoxBoy! has such a simple motif—black-and-white settings and characters, with every object in the world including a right angle—that HAL would’ve crafted more inventive puzzles to take advantage of this and defend the decision to keep the look so modest. But everything about BoxBoy! just feels bare bones.

I honestly can’t recommend BoxBoy! even for someone who loves puzzle-platformers. There’s a clear lack of creativity here, whether it’s the art style, story (or lack thereof), gameplay, or level design. I kept wondering when the game would finally start to pick up—and then, before I knew it, it was already over, with the entire experience clocking in at only a few hours. I suppose I should be thankful it only took one sitting to beat and didn’t consume more of my time, because almost from the start, BoxBoy! felt like a waste of it.

Developer: HAL Laboratory • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 04.02.15
4.0
HAL Laboratory fails to innovate at all within the puzzle genre and throws many of the same obstacles at you over and over again—to the point where BoxBoy! is as plain a platformer as its monochromatic motif.
The Good A ton of levels and side content.
The Bad The gameplay is as plain as the design, with a surprisingly sharp spike in difficulty at the very end.
The Ugly BoxBoy! feels like it might’ve had a place on the original Game Boy—not on the 3DS.
BoxBoy! is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.

What? Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire are evolving!

When Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire came out more than a decade ago on the Game Boy Advance, it was one of the more intriguing entries for the franchise. Kicking off what would later be known as Generation III, Ruby/Sapphire introduced players to the Hoenn region, as well as to 135 new types of Pokémon.

It was an odd release, though, because it did away with the day/night cycle introduced in Gold/Silver and no longer encouraged players to try “catch ‘em all”—neither game allowed you to catch all 386 Pokémon known at the time. Still, new Pokémon like Treecko, Mudkip, and Torchic would help these entries find a way into fans’ hearts just the same as previous games had. Because of this, much like how Red/Blue and Gold/Silver were remade several years after their original releases, Nintendo felt it was finally time to do the same to Ruby/Sapphire. Unlike those previous remakes, however, Omega/Alpha feel familiar but also add enough new elements to actually warrant a remake.

Your adventure starts off the same as it did a decade ago, with your family moving to the Hoenn region after your father, Norman, is named Petalburg Gym Leader (the fifth you’ll have to face on your way to the region’s Elite Four). Looking to follow in your father’s footsteps as a Pokémon trainer, and with the help of local Pokémon expert Professor Birch, you decide to become the best Pokémon trainer in the world. As you set out to collect the eight gym badges required to make a run at the Pokémon Champion, however, you stumble upon a plot hatched by a nefarious group of Pokémon trainers (Team Magma in Ruby, Team Aqua in Sapphire). They’re trying to revive the legendary Pokémon of the region (Groudon in Ruby, Kyogre in Sapphire), which would spell doom for human and Pokémon alike if they were to succeed. So, naturally, you strive to become not only the very best, but to save everyone and everything you know along the way.

Coming shortly after the release of Pokémon X and Y proves more advantageous for Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire than either of the previous two generations of remakes because of the huge changes X/Y marked for the franchise as a whole. The story of Ruby/Sapphire, however, remains almost exactly the same, beat for beat, which should lessen the learning curve for returning fans but might also deter them from exploring as much as they might with a brand-new adventure.

The only narrative changes you’ll see are minor dialogue rewrites meant to accommodate X/Y features ported over here, like Mega Evolution. Even the “Delta Episode,” which helps explain how Mega Evolution functions, isn’t as new or original as it’s been touted to be.

Meanwhile, what did come over from X/Y goes a long way toward making this familiar adventure feel as fresh as it did 11 years ago. The world of Hoenn looks fantastic, realized in full 3D as you make your way through redesigned gyms, towns, and dungeons. Plus, the Pokémon seem to jump off the screen with the enhanced graphics, and the game, as a whole, easily looks just as good as X/Y.

There’s also the inclusion of Mega Evolutions. Not only are they tied into the story now, but more Pokémon can achieve these new, more powerful forms, including Latios and Latias, one of which will now automatically join you on your journey. Primal Reversions also debut here, but they’re really just new in name only and meant to serve a narrative purpose within the tweaked plot. In reality, they’re simply the Mega Evolutions for the legendary Pokémon Groudon and Kyogre, but instead of needing to activate this power on the Fight menu once already in battle, they’ll transform automatically as soon as they enter the fray.

Curiously, though, some of X/Y’s features didn’t make the trip to Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, like being able to customize your trainer beyond choosing whether they’re male or female at the start. Instead, a new feature called Secret Bases—special holes scattered around Hoenn that you can crawl into and make your own special playroom out of—are meant to scratch your customization itch. It’s a nice idea, especially since you can share different rooms with your friends, but I’d much prefer being able to dress my trainer however I want and let my friends see that in battle, rather than show them whatever new lamp I just bought and stuck in my treehouse.

There’s more to Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire than just having some of X/Y’s notable features crammed in, though, as it does some interesting things on its own. In conjunction with X/Y, you can now complete the most recent National Pokédex for the first time, since some Pokémon are only available in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire. That’s right: If you work hard enough, you can get all 719 Pokémon between the two games.

There’s also the exclusive Cosplay Pikachu, a special version of everyone’s favorite electric rodent that you can win by participating in a Pokémon Contest, a side-activity where Pokémon are rated based on the moves they perform on a stage for an audience. Cosplay Pikachu can’t be traded or evolved but instead wears a variety of outfits into battle that allow it to learn unique, off-type moves. For example, Rockstar Pikachu can learn Meteor Mash, a Steel-type move. And while I think it’s a stupid idea to put a Pikachu in an assortment of different outfits and call it a “feature,” I can’t argue with the fact that it’s actually one of the most powerful Pokémon in the game and ended up being in my final six before taking on the Elite Four.

Besides the completionist’s dream (or nightmare) of trying to complete the Pokédex, a new device called DexNav makes it easier to find those rare Pokémon that only appear at certain times of day or in particular areas under unique conditions. This new feature singlehandedly changes the entire mechanic of searching for (and trying to capture) Pokémon, because it lessens how much luck is involved in the process.

The DexNav can easily be turned on via the bottom screen of the 3DS and works by constantly scanning an area with a radar-like system, leading you directly to these rare, more powerful Pokémon. For example, I found a Mightyena that knew Ice Fang, a move that it wouldn’t normally learn over the course of its training outside of a TM (technical machine, which teaches Pokémon moves they wouldn’t learn otherwise). I also found a Sandshrew that was 10 levels above all the other Pokémon in the area. This randomness in regards to strength and move list makes it much more interesting to catch Pokémon again compared to just shuffling through grass and hoping for the right random encounter.

The biggest change to the game, though, probably comes from the new ability to soar. This new ability is exclusive to Latios or Latias, and only when you’re ready to take on the eighth gym in the game and later. It’s not a move that takes up one of your four slots like Fly or Cut, though, and instead requires a special item, much like riding the Bicycle. Instead of riding on roads and through grass, though, you can ride one of the Eon Pokémon like your own personal jet through the never before explored skies of Hoenn. And once you soar, you can try to capture Pokémon that you wouldn’t normally find as you jet through the airways above the entire region.

Special Mirage Spots­—accessible only by soaring—lead you to the legendary Pokémon from other games, which is necessary if you’re to complete the entire Pokédex. I was honestly shocked at how much fun I had soaring. Not only did it make getting to certain areas easier, but also seeing the entire region of Hoenn from a bird’s-eye view was absolutely beautiful.

And speaking of battling, it’s just as easy now to jump into a versus match against another human in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire as it is in X/Y—but now you can choose if you want to do game-exclusive matchups, which limit you to using Pokémon only from those games. For example, you wouldn’t be able to take Rayquaza into an X/Y League match or Xerneas into an Omega/Alpha match. Other options allow you to use whatever Pokémon you like, but I imagine these new rulesets are more for competition’s sake.

Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire surprised me with how much it was able to add from Pokémon X/Y—yet manage to stay true to the original adventure from more than a decade ago. Not all the new features were as impressive as they were hyped to be, and not everything that should’ve come over from X/Y did in the end, but despite this, Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire are more than worthy of the Pokémon name, and they work as either new adventures for newcomers to the series or fun strolls down memory lane for lifelong trainers.

Developer: Game Freak • Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 11.21.14
8.5
New features like DexNav and the soar ability add just enough new gameplay elements to the classic Pokémon formula to help make this decade-old adventure feel new again.
The Good New visuals; soar and DexNav add fun new gameplay elements.
The Bad You can’t customize your trainers like in X/Y; Primal Reversions are just glorified Mega Evolutions.
The Ugly Cosplay Pikachu: it reminds me of all those stupid people out there who insist on dressing up their pets.
Pokémon Omega Red/Alpha Sapphire are a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Primary version of game reviewed was Omega Red. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.

Ray Carsillo discusses upcoming titles for the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS, including Super Smash Bros., Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2 with Nintendo of America Assistant PR Manager Krysta Yang at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con.