Tag Archive: nintendo


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 The dragon gods—Duma from the north and Mila to the south—have withdrawn their boons to the people, and the respective nations that fell under each god’s purview are crumbling because of it.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.

At this point, we know that the Wii U had a ton of shortcomings. If there was one good thing to come from that console generation for Nintendo, however, it was when they really threw their doors open and welcomed indie games full-bore. We can look back at titles like Runbow and Shovel Knight and know those wonderful experiences helped solidify Nintendo’s indie-friendly stance. None may have been more impactful, though, than Fast Racing Neo—a sequel to the Wii’s Fast Racing League—that gave gamers everywhere the closest thing we’ve had to a new F-Zero in what feels like forever. The love for that game made it a no-brainer then for developer Shin’en Multimedia to continue the franchise and deliver us Fast RMX on day one with the Switch.

In a lot of ways, Fast RMX is Fast Racing Neo 1.5. It touts all 24 tracks Neo had with its DLC, but with six brand new ones also in tow, upping the total to 30. Meanwhile sharper graphics, Switch functionality, and a new “Hero” mode help beef up the experience of this hardcore anti-gravity racer. There isn’t really more than that, but that’s perfectly fine in my book. You just hop into the cockpit of one of three different vehicles (there’s 12 more to unlock as you race) and aim for the finish line. Depending on where you place gives you points, similar to Mario Kart, and the racer with the most points at the end of the three-race circuit is the champion.

The hook for the racing is in the name. Every vehicle averages top-speeds well over 1,000 MPH as you soar through locations both terrestrial and beyond. There is a bit of strategy here as well as different-colored speed strips—activated by changing your exhaust stream with a press of a button to match the color—which can give temporary boosts. Collecting power orbs also allow you to fill up your personal boost meter, giving you that necessary edge in long stretches without speed strips, and again placing a pure emphasis on going as fast as possible. Playing smart and finding the perfect paths between boosts is a must.

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And, if you’re going fast enough, you can bump your rivals out of the way too. Fast RMX should be commended for never pulling its punches with its AI; right from the first race, you’ll be fighting all the other racers and jockeying for pole position, as your opponents will use boosts just as much as you while definitely not being afraid of bumping you off course. All of this means that, as the game progresses, unless you pull off a near-perfect race you’ll be more and more likely to lose. I’d never been so happy over a third-place finish before by the time I had reached the Platinum circuit.

You’ll find the 30 courses in the game take place in myriad settings, cutting through rainforests and glaciers here on Earth or zipping around space stations and asteroid quarries. The course locations are absolutely gorgeous, with the amount of detail surrounding each track hinting to a spectacular future where these circuits can take place while also taking your breath away.

If only the tracks themselves were as consistently inspirational. Some definitely take advantage of the anti-grav future premise the game is built around, and will make you audibly utter “wow” as you swirl around the course’s curves. And, if you’re not careful, you can fly off an edge, crashing and burning just as easily as soar ahead of other racers for a victory. There are plenty of shortcuts to be found on some courses, and knowing your vehicle’s capabilities as well as the track could lead to shaving precious seconds off your lap times.

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Other courses are very straightforward, however, and don’t push the envelope nearly as much. What’s worse is when it felt like the game tried to make more simple tracks far more difficult by adding obstacles—particularly around blind corners. For example, one track is observed by giant, insect-like robots, which randomly decide to cross the street with no rhyme or reason, crushing your vehicle. It didn’t make the game more difficult as much as it felt cheap at times as a crash all but guaranteed a less-than-stellar finishing position and likely some forced replays until you learn where everything is by heart.

In terms of the game’s modes as well, I wish there was a bit more depth. You start with your standard series of championships and classes. There are 10 three-race championships to start, and three different classes ranging from Subsonic to Supersonic. Although having all 30 tracks available in a single race class was a lot of fun at first, it quickly became repetitive with the minimal increase in difficulty change once it was time to move up in class—and my motivation was lacking since I had already seen all there was to see. It would’ve been better had some championships been relegated to each class, giving a sense of identity to them, and marking a more obvious increase in difficulty between courses.

There’s also the noticeable absence of time attack mode. What could’ve been a great way to learn tracks for championships and improve your times will be patched in later as free DLC, but it being absent at the moment is disappointing to say the least. In its place is the mentioned-above new Hero mode. This is meant more for after you’ve already learned the courses, since your boost meter is also your shield meter here, and it’s much easier to crash—and if you crash in Hero mode, the race is over. If—for some reason—you want Fast RMX to be even harder, this mode is for you.

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It’s not just racing against the computer all day in Fast RMX, however. There’s a local multiplayer option that supports up to four players, with each player taking a Joy-Con and linking it to the Switch. There’s also online multiplayer, which works fine at this point, but it lacks certain amenities like online friend support that Shin’en has again said will be patched in later.

Fast RMX is the better version of an already good racing game. If you’re looking for something that will challenge your reflexes and get those competitive juices flowing, then this is a great game for you. The fact that some modes missed launch is disheartening, as is the inconsistent track quality, which can lead to as much frustration as fun at times. We may not ever get another F-Zero game, but the Fast series is doing a great job at trying to make claims to the title of its successor.

Publisher: Shin’en Multimedia • Developer: Shin’en Multimeda • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.03.17
7.5
The fact that some of Fast RMX’s modes like Time Attack missed launch is a bummer, and track design can be a bit inconsistent in terms of quality, but if you’re looking for a pure arcade racing experience, this heir apparent to F-Zero will definitely do the trick.
The Good A constant challenge from the first race. Each racing location is absolutely gorgeous.
The Bad Time Trial mode is absent at launch. Course design feels a bit uninspired. There are only incremental differences between cup modes.
The Ugly Just clipping an obstacle and watching as your racer careens off a cliff in a fiery heap.
Fast RMX is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Review code was provided by Shin’en Multimedia for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

There had been a Bomberman game on every Nintendo system ever until that streak finally broke with the Wii U. Looking to make sure that mistake wasn’t repeated, Konami surprised everyone when they announced that their first Bomberman game and the first game we’ve seen from the series in seven years—Konami acquired original Bomberman creators Hudson Soft in 2012 and then never used the IP—would be a Switch launch title. As someone who played more than a few entries in the series on several different Nintendo consoles, this was an exciting surprise, made all the better by a game that actually delivers a decent-quality maze-busting experience.

Super Bomberman R opens up on Planet Bomber, where the original white Bomberman is admonishing his seven siblings for ignoring their demolition training duties. As they all go around the room making their excuses, a man named Buggler announces himself to the world and challenges team Bomberman outright with his own team of five Dastardly Bombers—who promptly begin wreaking havoc at different outposts all over the galaxy. The Bombermen must now fight their way through the Dastardly Bombers to get to Buggler and end his reign of terror.

Even when Bomberman moved away from his arcade roots and started trying to add real story elements with Mega Bomberman in the Sega Genesis days, it was never really a game driven by its plot—it was more like we now had an excuse as to why we would go around willy-nilly blowing up every brick wall and balloon enemy we found. Similarly, Super Bomberman R’s story isn’t its strong suit. It tries to go for a Saturday-morning cartoon vibe, with each cutscene touting over-the-top comedic dialogue, but it’s clearly just there to loosely tie the entire adventure together. For old-school fans, you’ll appreciate how it pays homage to the Bomberman games of the past, at least in terms of modernizing the stories of characters like Buggler (Bagular in the old games) and the Dastardly Bombers. If you’re not a die-hard Bomberman fan, you’ll still be able to follow along, although you likely won’t care nearly as much as those of us who have some history with these characters.

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Where Super Bomberman R shines is in its gameplay, which again blends the earliest adventures of Bomberman with some of his later 3D escapades. Most of the campaign is spread out across five worlds with 10 stages each. The first eight of these stages are your classic Bomberman fare, as a cavalcade of breakable and non-breakable blocks create mazes of varying complexity that are littered with enemies that can one-hit kill our hero. Each world has its own theme, but after just a couple stages on each planet, the aesthetics become a tad dull. Every world is also designed in 3D, but the locked isometric camera gives off those old-school puzzler vibes fans of the series likely first fell in love with.

Most of these stages require you to eliminate all your enemies—the most common task for Bomberman over the years. Adding a new wrinkle, however, are stages that feature survival objectives, escort missions, finding hidden keys, or stepping on a series of hidden switches. This variety helps keep gameplay that can become repetitive fresh, especially when you’re still relatively underpowered and need to find all the classic bomb, blast, and movement power-ups the series has always featured.

The last two stages of each world are where the game gets really fun, harkening back to more recent titles in the series. First, you have to take on a Dastardly Bomber in single combat, trying to trick them into blowing themselves up if you can’t find the perfect way to do it with your own bombs, or maybe a combination of the two (several times I would use an enemy’s bomb against them to pin them in a corner and secure victory). If you can defeat them in single combat, then the Dastardly Bomber transforms into a massive map-filling mechanical monstrosity. For example, Golem Bomber becomes Fort Walker, a giant robotic turtle where you have to blow up each of its four legs before blasting away at its head. Meanwhile, Plasma Bomber becomes Judge Gwinbee, a flying mech with machine guns that you have to blow up as it flies by. These moments made whatever grind the rest of the campaign might dish out more than worth it, and truly put your skills to the test.

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And trust me, your skills will be tested, because you will die. A lot. It’s still surprising how often you might lose track of how big your bomb blast is, forget about an enemy around the corner, or just accidentally barricade yourself between two bombs and watch as your life counter drops by one. The chaos only increases if playing the campaign in 2-player co-op due to friendly fire. Easier difficulties offer more lives, but no matter what setting you play on, the system by which you receive more continues is more mind-boggling than any maze the game throws at you.

Super Bomberman R features an in-game currency (no microtransactions) that rewards you with coins for beating Dastardly Bombers in the campaign or by winning multiplayer matches. This currency system can be used to purchase cosmetic items for your Bombermen, new maps, and unfortunately, also campaign continues. This weird interchanging of the currency means that if I ran out of lives and didn’t have enough coins saved up because I bought Black Bomberman this sweet top hat, I’d lose my entire progress on a level and have to start at stage one again, no matter my position. Lower difficulties see the price of continues drop, but it’s a weird way to have to game the system, often forcing you to choose between multiplayer goodies and beating the main game and creating an unfortunate grind.

Even with this odd currency situation, the greatest strength of Super Bomberman R—like many Bomberman games—remains the multiplayer component, and it’s only been enhanced further with the Switch. Up to eight Joy-Cons can be connected to a Switch for some truly frantic local action, or four Switches can link with two Joy-Cons each, again resulting in the same scenario. Even if you don’t have a full complement of local players, you can always play online. While there have been reports of connectivity issues at launch, I can attest that at least during my personal time online over the past few days, I had no problem connecting with other players. Either way, the multiplayer action that the series is known for remains, and there is no more fulfilling feeling than trapping your buddy in a corner with explosives—and no more harrowing feeling than when the same thing is done to you in turn.

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If you can’t get the full complement of eight players either way, you can also add bots to the multiplayer fun. However, I’d advise against it. The bot AI can’t be adjusted, and they are almost always set to master level it seems, knowing just how far away they need to stand from your bombs or the perfect way to trap you almost every time. The best multiplayer fun in Bomberman is against friends anyway, and that remains true here in Super Bomberman R.

Super Bomberman R might not pack the punch of one of Bomberman’s bombs when you think of console launch titles, but it’s still a quality experience. The campaign can be a bit of a grind, but has enough surprises and enjoyable moments to keep pulling you through—especially if playing co-op with a friend. And, like many Bomberman titles of the past, the local multiplayer experience with friends is almost second-to-none—that is if the game doesn’t blow up your friendships as much as you do brick walls. A few questionable choices like the in-game currency definitely add an unwanted grinding element to everything, but any fan of old-school Bomberman should be more than pleased with this long-awaited return.

Publisher: Konami • Developer: Hexadrive • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 03.03.17
7.5
The in-game currency decision was a head scratcher, as it adds an unwelcome grinding element to much of the gameplay. If you can look past that, then there’s a decent campaign and the same addictive multiplayer Bomberman is known for sitting at this launch title’s explosive core.
The Good A surprising amount of content, with 8-player multiplayer and a campaign that lasts for more than 50 levels.
The Bad Level design and gameplay can get repetitive after a while; in-game currency system.
The Ugly Accidentally trapping yourself between two bombs and then there are those few seconds where you’re just waiting for your inevitable end.
Super Bomberman R is a Switch exclusive. Review code was provided by Konami for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Although the Nintendo Switch is only going to have five games released on launch day, it’ll have over 50 games impressively come out during the system’s initial launch window. I had a chance to go hands-on with over a dozen of these launch window games—including the five coming on day one—and put together a list of the ten best titles you should be looking forward to in the early days of Nintendo’s newest home console.

12Switch

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: March 3, 2017
1-2 Switch
It wouldn’t be a Nintendo console launch anymore it seems without a fun collection of minigames available to show off the system’s potential, and hopefully draw the entire family into the Big N’s warm embrace. 1-2 Switch features a handful of games that take full advantage of the Joy-Con’s variety of motion sensors while bringing out your competitive nature. One game requires you to listen for the sound of a ball smacking a paddle and to keep up with the rhythm in table tennis—minus the table. For all you wannabe cowboys out there, having to quick draw your Joy-Con and press the trigger in an old-fashioned duel at high noon might be more your speed. And the first game to fully take advantage of the HD Rumble, one minigame requires you to move your Joy-Con around and determine how many marbles are inside it—and, unbelievably, the sensors make it feel like there are actually marbles inside your controller. The most interesting thing about all these minigames is that they implore players to look away from their TVs and instead look at each other, livening up the play space and again driving home the potential portability of the fun the Switch has to offer.

ARMS

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Spring 2017
ARMS
Another new IP being introduced during the Switch’s launch window, the ARMS demo we played touted five different fighters, with a variety of titular appendages that you could snap into place, potentially providing a greater advantage on the battlefield. Each player requires a pair of Joy-Cons, with each representing a player’s left and right arm respectively. By turning the Joy-Cons you can move or block, and by punching forward you can send your spring-loaded arms forward at incredible speeds. You can even throw hooks by twisting your arms mid-attack, or throw your opponents off by punching both arms at the same time. Each armament touts different positives and negatives in terms of how powerful they are, and how many times they can potentially hit. The Trident, for example, shoots three finger projectiles out, while the BIG wrecking ball arms are slower but can do a ton of damage. Similar to many fighting games out there, each player has a lifebar, and each avatar also has their natural advantages and disadvantages in terms of health, speed, blocking, and other parameters you’d expect from a game such as this. Meanwhile, ARMS touts multiple ways to play: single-player versus the computer, local versus, and also online versus. Whether or not there’s an accompanying story to go along with ARMS is yet to be seen, but at the very least, if you can snag a second set of Joy-Cons, ARMS could be another game to potentially get the party started on the Switch.

FASTRACINGRMX

Developer: Shin’en Multimedia
Publisher: Shin’en Multimedia
Release Date: March/April 2017
FAST RMX
FAST Racing NEO took the gaming world by storm by harkening back to the futuristic racing of games like F-Zero, and was a rare surprise hit on the Wii U. So, it was with great glee that I found that the original game is being ported over to the Switch with more tracks, more cars, and more modes than the original. Once again, players will hop into the cockpit of a futuristic, super-stylized, hovering race pod and will have to change the colors of their jet streams mid-race in order to get the biggest and best boosts possible if they want to exceed speeds of 1000 miles per hour. Impressively, you can play the entire game with only a single Joy-Con by turning it sideways, or use the Switch Pro Controller if you so choose. In another rarity, FAST RMX touts four-player local split-screen as long as you have enough controllers. There’s also 8-player online versus, and taking advantage of the Switch’s ability to connect with other consoles locally, even touts 8-player local multiplayer if everyone has their own Switch. If you missed FAST Racing NEO the first time around, this remix is a perfect time to test your racing mettle.

LoZBotW

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: March 3, 2017
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
There was easily no other game that excited us more about the Switch than the newest chapter in one of gaming’s greatest franchises. After having played demos on both systems, I can attest that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks better and plays smoother on the Switch over its Wii U counterpart. Playing with the Joy-Cons inserted into the “puppy dog” dock felt amazingly comfortable, and it wasn’t long before I was off trying to figure out the secret behind Calamity Ganon in the largest Hyrule yet. The map was absolutely massive, but I couldn’t wait to explore every single inch. Of course, the demo was quickly cut short after only 20 minutes, but I found everything to be easier in the Switch version, from managing my inventory to combat, and I believe again it’s in large part to the Switch controller being far more comfortable than the Wii U tablet. Of course, if I so chose, I could also snap the Joycons to the side of the Switch console and take it on the road. There’s a small loss of quality there—the 900p visuals becomes 720p on the console’s 6.5-inch screen—but the fact I could be flying across the country and playing a Zelda game makes up for that in spades.

MK8DX

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: April 28, 2017
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Besides getting an obvious bump in visual fidelity on the Switch console, this latest version of everyone’s favorite kart racer is filled to the brim with content. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is easily the definitive edition of this game. All previous DLC characters are unlocked from the get-go, along with a couple of new ones added to this version. New tracks are also included, again upping the content and replayability should you have played the original the first time around. The most telling addition, however, comes on the multiplayer side. Yes, like many of the other games on this list, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe touts a variety of local and online multiplayer options all depending on how many Switches and Joy-Cons you have available. You can even play 2-player split-screen locally with just a pair of Joy-Cons, with each player turning them sideways like NES controllers. But the biggest multiplayer addition is the inclusion of old-school balloon-popping battles in classic arenas that were noticeably absent from the launch of the original Mario Kart 8. With all these additions and new features, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is almost an entirely new game, and a must have for fans of the series.

Snipperclips

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: March 2017
Snipperclips — Cut It Out, Together!
Lengthy title that should be shortened to just Snipperclips aside, this is another new IP that shows off the flexibility and creativity games on the Switch can potentially afford developers and players. This two-player game gives each player a single Joy-Con turned sideways, and sees them take control of living pieces of construction paper. By cutting your partner—and them cutting you—into a variety of different shapes, you must create the tools needed to solve puzzles of ever-increasing difficulty. No matter if you’re popping balloons, putting a basketball through a hoop, bringing a pencil over to a sharpener, or just matching shapes given to you, Snipperclips – Cut It Out, Together! will test your ability to collaborate (and maybe your patience) as you attempt to overcome all the challenges in your way.

SonicMania

Developer: Headcannon/PagodaWest
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: Spring 2017
Sonic Mania
One of the big things seemingly keeping the industry afloat at times is its regular reliance on nostalgia. When that nostalgia hits home, it’s hard to deny the impact it can have on a particular fanbase. Of course, when that same nostalgia leads to disappointment, the impact it has can be felt even more harshly in the other direction. Few franchises have seen both sides of this effect as clearly as Sonic the Hedgehog, with most recent entries falling on the unfortunate side of the nostalgia effect. It’s no wonder then that SEGA is turning an eye back to the beginning—to Sonic’s clearly-defined roots—and bringing the blue blur back home with Sonic Mania. A combination of the original Sonic the Hedgehog and an entirely new adventure, Sonic Mania combines the 16-bit breakneck speed that Sonic blasted onto the scene with with new worlds, harder levels, bigger bosses, and even the inclusion of his buddies Tails and Knucles this time around. While Sonic Mania is the only non-exclusive title to make this list, it needs to be mentioned that being able to play the game with only a single Joy-Con controller might feel the most similar to how it did when we were children as opposed to the larger, bulkier controllers of the PS4 or Xbox One. Considering Sonic only ever needed a couple of buttons, even the single Joy-Con might be overkill to some. To the rest of us, it is an extra tool in SEGA’s efforts to re-hone in on Sonic’s core, and bring his fans back to happier times.

Splatoon2

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Summer 2017
Splatoon 2
Disappointment over the fact this wasn’t named Spla2oon aside, Splatoon 2 is doing everything you could hope for from any and every sequel. Aside from supporting both Joy-Con and Pro Controller play, and offering up local 8-player multiplayer if you have enough Switches, Splatoon 2 is coming at us bigger and better in every way imaginable. Just like in real life, two years time has passed in the world of Splatoon, and with it Squid-kid style has changed—along with their weaponry. New devices like the twin pistols allow for more accurate painting, and new modes, maps, and more are promised to bring the experience as a whole to a new level. I played a pair of classic turf war matches during our brief time with the game, and the core of bright colors and easy to pick-up gameplay remain centered on the Wii U’s biggest surprise franchise. We can’t wait to paint the town red (and blue, and green, and yellow, and pink) all over again this summer.

SuperBombermanR

Developer: HexaDrive
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: March 3, 2017
Super Bomberman R
During the ending montage of Thursday night’s press conference where Nintendo really showed off the Switch for the first time, there were two things that I noticed. First was the confirmation of NBA 2K18, coupled with the earlier announcement of FIFA showing a clear sign of Nintendo finally supporting sports games again. But completely unrelated, and even more exciting for most of us, was the brief image of a familiar explosives expert who we hadn’t really seen in quite some time. The original Bomberman back in the day was one of those perfect little arcade-inspired adventures that flourished on the original NES. Over the years, the lore of Bomberman and his enemies was expanded upon, and he’s become a cult-classic for those of us who can’t get enough of his brand of demolition and destruction. Thus, Super Bomberman R was an extremely pleasant surprise that fantastically captures the essence of what makes Bomberman great, while giving us tough puzzles, persistent enemies, and just enough friendly fire to keep us on our toes when playing couch co-op. Another game that utilizes a single Joy-Con controller held sideways, Super Bomberman R is a great throwback for fleshing out the Switch’s launch-day lineup.

USF2

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: TBD 2017
Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers
Another retro surprise, Capcom is giving fans what could end up being the final revision of Street Fighter II in the game’s over 25-year lifespan. Featuring two new (to the game) characters in Evil Ryu and Violent Ken, the roster of that fighting game classic is finally considered complete now alongside original additions like Cammy and T. Hawk. The game plays exactly the same, as you would expect if you caught the title the first time around, and features Pro Controller support, unsurprisingly. Besides the two new characters (that channel aspects of Akuma in different ways), the game can be played in two different visual modes. The first mimics the 16-bit sprites of the SNES days, while the other uses the new art UDON provided for the game’s HD Remix release, giving every character a gorgeous coat of anime-style paint that just leaps off the screen. As great as the game looks, the real question now is if it could join the professional fighting game circuit—and how long before we see Ultra Street Fighter II alongside Street Fighter V at tournaments like EVO.

I’m sure like many gamers of my generation, stomping on Goombas and Koopa Troopas with Mario was the first video game experience we had. Over 30 years later, Mario’s moves and looks may have been consistently upgraded, but the simple joy of jumping on an enemy’s head and running for the flagpole goal remains ever satisfying no matter the system. So, with Mario appearing over on a mobile platform for the first time ever in Super Mario Run, I’m sure a lot of us were more than willing to make the leap with him. While the game may have the look and feel of a proper Mario, however, there are enough questionable decisions here to have made this one of my least-favorite trips to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Like the start to almost every Mario adventure, Princess Peach invites Mario over to her castle, and Mario arrives just in time to see Bowser kidnap his beloved. Again. This time, Bowser also proceeds to lay waste to the entire Mushroom Kingdom, reducing it to rubble and scattering the Toad population to the winds before he escapes to his fortress.

The bulk of Super Mario Run is comprised of 24 stages across six worlds in the game’s Tour mode. The first three stages are free to everyone who downloads the game, which I appreciate because it gives you a pretty solid taste of the game before you decide if it’s something you want to drop $9.99 for—a steep price to pay when talking about mobile games usually.

As the name would suggest, the game is an endless runner—Mario never stops moving normally, and all you have to do as the player is tap the screen to make him jump. There are special blocks carefully placed in the game that will pause everything, but if Mario misses them, he just keeps running and jumping at your command. The only other time he’s not sprinting to the right is in certain Ghost Houses and Boom Boom battles, where a wall jump will start Mario heading in the other direction.

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Despite Mario’s legs always churning like a locomotive, a lot of the classic platforming challenge we’ve come to love from the series remains, and never being able to stop actually adds a new layer of difficulty to the gameplay. Of course—as Super Mario Run has more of a casual flair—there are no lives to lose or no real consequences for failure (unlike Mario’s console outings). Still, there is challenge here, since you need to beat a stage in order to advance. Timing your jumps on or over enemies becomes critical as moving platforms and other obstacles are added to each subsequent stage. And, in order to collect the three sets of five special coins (pink, purple, and black) that are scattered in each stage, you’ll need to use every trick the game gives you to grab them successfully. Since only one set of coins appears at a time, if you’re obsessed with collectibles, you know you’ll have to play through each stage at least three times to nab them all.

If collectibles aren’t your thing, then one downside to the full game of Super Mario Run is that even with the challenge steadily ramping up, it shouldn’t take you more than two or three hours to knock out all 24 stages. Drabbing all those aforementioned collectible coins does change the stages slightly (platforms and enemies move to make the new coins challenging to reach), but if you’re not a collectible fiend, you’re likely to end up disappointed at those coins being the driving force behind the main game’s replayability.

There are two other modes that do try to keep you coming back outside of the Tour mode, with the first being Toad Rally. In order to try to lure the scattered Toads back to the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario can spend a Toad Ticket—easily earned via a daily bonus and completing stages—to take on the ghost of another player in a particular stage. If Mario can outperform the ghost by collecting more coins, defeating more enemies, and just generally progressing farther than the ghost in the time given, then Mario will lure Toads back with his impressive feats and bolster the population of the player’s particular Mushroom Kingdom. If Mario loses, some Toads may leave your Kingdom, so there is a risk involved—but luring back more than you’ve lost helps level up your game, potentially leading to expansion.

Why would you want to expand it, you ask? Well, Mario can also spend collected coins to help rebuild the Mushroom Kingdom in Build mode, where you’ll use Toad Houses, statues, hills, flower fields, and other items to help bring the Kingdom back to its former glory. Build enough structures, and have enough Toads, and you can expand the Mushroom Kingdom via Rainbow Bridges. You can also unlock new characters this way, such as Luigi or Yoshi, and each handles a bit differently than Mario in the main game. If world building is something that appeals to you, Toad Rally and Build mode work together to offer an interesting alternative to just replaying all the levels again and again.

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Personally, though, I didn’t find this to be enough to make me want to keep coming back to Super Mario Run. World building really isn’t what draws me into a Mario game. I admit I could see myself grinding for all the collectible coins to get more playtime out of each stage, but Super Mario Run has some technical shortcomings that really came to be fatal flaws which would keep me from doing this.

The first is something that I’ve been noticing with more and more mobile games lately, and that’s the fact that they have trouble performing on older mobile devices. I originally started playing the game on my iPad 2, and the game would lag terribly and crash after every few stages. I talked with some friends who had also tried it on older gear, and they had the same issues. When I switched to my iPhone 6, however, everything changed for the better. The lag and crashing issues dissipated, but let this serve as a warning to anyone without a more recent phone or tablet to play on.

The other technical issue is absolutely unforgivable in my book, and really soured my opinion of this game: the fact that it requires you to always be online. I think Nintendo has gotten a lot of their priorities confused lately; Super Mario Maker for the 3DS doesn’t let you go online to share stages you’ve created, and then you’ve got Super Mario Run, a mobile game, requiring you to always be online. I even put my phone in airplane mode to double check, and sure enough, you can’t even get past the title screen if you’re offline—an error message just keeps popping up, even if you paid for the entire game and not just the three demo stages.

I understand that you need the online aspects for the Toad Rally mode and the ghosts present there, but the fact you can’t play the main game offline is puzzling at the very least. With the holidays coming up, I thought Super Mario Run was going to be releasing at the perfect time considering all the long plane flights and car trips I’ve got coming up, and I’m sure I’m not the only one traveling over the next couple of weeks. The fact that I can’t play the game in a car, subway, or bus if I’m using a device without cell service, or on a plane at all—places where people are most apt to want to play mobile games—feels like Nintendo shooting Mario in his foot. This is one of the worst examples I can find of always-online gameplay, and it really hampers Super Mario Run and the potential enjoyment of it tremendously.

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Super Mario Run has a solid core as a mobile game. The endless runner style is nothing we haven’t seen before, but adding Mario’s classic platforming challenge created an extra degree of difficulty we don’t always get with the genre. Unfortunately, this was the brightest spot for this game. Even with all 24 stages, the main game is short, and relies heavily on collectibles and side options like rebuilding the Mushroom Kingdom to keep you coming back for more. Couple this with the fact that it needs to always be online to even be playable, and I think Nintendo really misses the point of what mobile games are supposed to be. Super Mario Run isn’t the worst mobile offering I’ve seen, but it could—and should—have been so much better.

Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: Nintendo EPD/DeNA • ESRB: N/A • Release Date: 12.15.16
6.0
Super Mario Run does a nice job of capturing the feel of a classic Mario game. The fact that it needs to always be online in order to play deters me from grinding through its collectible driven-gameplay, however, since it limits when and where I can actually play the game—defeating one of the primary purposes of playing a mobile game in the first place.
The Good Challenging platforming that will instantly remind you of other Mario games from over the years.
The Bad The always-online aspect is infuriating how much it can hinder when and where you play.
The Ugly All the times I wanted to say, “that’s what she said” whenever someone mentioned you can play with it with just one hand.
Super Mario Run is available on iOS platforms and coming later to Android. Primary version reviewed was for iPhone 6. 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.

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.

I had a chance to check out a couple of demos of Paper Mario: Color Splash at the Nintendo Lounge at San Diego ComicCon 2016. While I did go hands-on for a time with the game, Nintendo refused to let this particular demo be played by anyone but one of their representatives. At the very least, it does mark the first time we are seeing this footage of Mario exploring the Dark Bloo Inn, where he has to exercise some Toad spirits and battle some Sledge Bros.

Paper Mario: Color Splash is coming to the Wii U on October 7.

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Mech-Star Warrior

Whenever I think that HAL Laboratory and Nintendo are going to run out of fun gimmicks to wrap Kirby up in, they find a way to keep surprising me. Whether it’s as a pinball, a yarn creature, or riding a rainbow-painted path, part of the series’ charm has been how the gameplay always seems to be morphing into something fresh—much like Kirby himself when he copies an enemy’s ability—while still sticking to the pink puffball’s action-platforming core. The duo seem to have done it once again with Kirby’s latest outing for the 3DS, Kirby: Planet Robobot.

It’s another peaceful day on the planet Pop Star, with Kirby resting under a tree, King Dedede playing chess against a Waddle Dee, and Meta Knight patrolling the skies in the Halberd. The serenity of this scene is quickly shattered, however, when a mysterious UFO lands on the planet and begins terraforming Pop Star, transforming its inhabitants into mechanical monstrosities. Kirby immediately springs into action in order to get to the bottom of the appearance of these strange aliens and turn Pop Star back into the nature-loving home he knows.

At its core, Planet Robobot is much like any other mainline title in the series. Kirby must fight his way through a half-dozen levels, each broken into a handful of stages, and copy the abilities of the foes he comes across in order to solve puzzles, collect items, and bring the pain to the bosses he’ll face along the way. Along with that, there are several new elements that help Robobot stand out from its predecessors, and that add a lot to the game’s enjoyability.

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Any fan that has played Kirby games before will immediately pick up on the first of these changes, which is a brand new aesthetic. The terraforming plot point means exploring locations Kirby has never dealt with before, such as casinos, roadways, trains, pipeworks, and more. These also provide Robobot with an interesting contrast in its design, with the colorful, cartoony vibe we usually get from the series crossing with an urban, mechanized motif. Even old-school bosses take advantage of the theme, with the cyborg-like Clanky Woods serving as the hardest version of Whispy Woods we’ve seen yet.

The other major changes come on the gameplay side. Planet Robobot features four new powers for Kirby to wield: Jet, Poison, ESP, and Doctor. You can roast enemies in Jet’s afterburners, throw psychic energy around a room with ESP, bounce pill projectiles at enemies with Doctor, or surf on sludge with Poison to get through a level quicker. While each power has its moments in the game, I found ESP to be the most useful of the four—both because of its offensive strength against enemies, and its ability to help with puzzles by sending projectiles through walls to hit previously-inaccessible switches.

As nice as the new powers are, the biggest gameplay change, though, comes from the fact that Kirby now can pilot his own personal mechanized robot, which he acquires early in the game and utilizes on various stages. The mech not only affords Kirby super-strength that he can use to move large set pieces around each level (opening up new puzzle and platforming opportunities), but also allows for duplicating enemy abilities much like Kirby himself. Copying the flame ability, for instance, turns the mech’s arms into a pair of flamethrowers—great for lighting cannon fuses that can open up previously-inaccessible areas or toasting enemies.

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In some cases, the mech does more than just amplify Kirby’s abilities, too—it changes the very nature of the game. For example, the aforementioned Jet ability transforms the mech into a Gradius-like starship, providing some interesting side-scrolling shooter gameplay. Working in this stage variety provided a nice change of pace from the standard platforming that comprises much of the game, and had me switching powers at a far more frequent pace than when I normally play Kirby games, as I couldn’t wait to see how the mech would transform next.

As great an experience as this all provides, Planet Robobot does suffer from something that has plagued many Nintendo games in recent years: a lack of challenge. Life-hoarding became a game within the game for me, as I never died more than a couple times throughout my playthrough. HAL Laboratory tried to bump up the difficulty by adding three keys to each stage for you to collect—with you needing a certain number of said keys to unlock each boss—but aside from one or two stages, I never had an issue with collecting them all on the first go.

Lack of challenge aside, Kirby: Planet Robobot does a great job of continuing the tradition of what the best Kirby games do: provide a fun adventure that captures your imagination. The difficulty may not have been high, but it’s still a top-quality, tight-handling platformer that I couldn’t help but enjoy for the short time it lasted—and which I didn’t want to put down until I’d seen every power, solved every puzzle, and brought peace back to Pop Star. The new mech gimmick was a delight to mess around with, and in the end, Planet Robobot’s few new features paid massive dividends that any Kirby enthusiast should love to play.

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Developer: HAL Laboratory • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 06.10.16
9.0
It’s probably one of the pink puffball’s shorter adventures, but the new mech gimmick provides a fun and fresh take on Kirby’s action-platforming core that I couldn’t get enough of.
The Good New mech adds a surprising amount of depth and variety to the classic Kirby gameplay.
The Bad No sense of challenge whatsoever.
The Ugly All of Pop Star and its inhabitants becoming mechanized reminded me an awful lot of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Kirby: Planet Robobot 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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Let the good times barrel roll

When the decision was made for Star Fox to finally grace the Wii U, Nintendo and co-developer Platinum Games made the easy choice to stick to the series’ roots—much to the joy of fans everywhere (let’s just say that every time Fox McCloud steps out of his Arwing, you can hear the collective groan of the audience underneath the hiss of the cockpit canopy opening up). Few could have predicted just how far they’d go in wanting to remind fans of the best times the series has previously provided, however. Instead of crafting an entirely new adventure, Star Fox Zero is an interesting blend of old and new elements under the umbrella of a “re-imagining” of what is widely considered the best game in the series, Star Fox 64—a particularly uninventive move considering they already re-released that game for the 3DS (aptly titled Star Fox 64 3D) just five years ago.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the franchise, the Lylat System has been thrust into war by a former Cornerian scientist gone mad named Andross. With his incredible technical prowess, Andross has built a mostly mechanical army the likes of which has never been seen. The only ones who can stop his crazy bid for power are the ragtag heroes-for-hire pilots that comprise the Star Fox team. Equipped with state-of-the-art Arwing fighter jets and their mobile base of operations, the Great Fox, Fox McCloud and company is ready to do what’s right for the sake of the galaxy (and their bank accounts). Three console generations, and nothing has changed.

Beyond just the story, Star Fox Zero stays true to a lot of the gameplay aspects from what we played 19 years ago on the N64—all we’re missing is the struggle to find AAA-batteries for our Rumble Paks. Like Star Fox 64, Star Fox Zero is a mostly on-rails space shooter experience, with “all-range mode” sections of gameplay opening up into an arena for frantic dogfights against massive bosses and Star Fox’s evil counterpart, Star Wolf. The action is fast and heavy, harkening back to when many games still had arcade sensibilities, relying on twitch reflexes and with a single playthrough not lasting more than a few hours. Also, in true throwback fashion, it’s not about beating the game once; it’s about beating it again and again in new and fantastic ways.

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Star Fox Zero parallels its inspiration by featuring branching paths that open up different worlds of varying difficulty depending on certain feats. Beating a level within a time limit, getting a high number of kills, shooting open an alternate path while on rails, or destroying bosses via not-always-obvious means are just some of the catalysts to cause the game’s path to splinter. In addition, achieving high scores on each route not only looks impressive when everything is totaled up at the end of the game, but also awards medals that can be used to unlock special features outside of the primary experience. Even after almost two decades, this remains a great way to offer up a lot of replayability for what would otherwise be considered a short game by today’s standards.

A fair amount of locations from Star Fox 64 have also been reused here—including planets like Corneria, Fortuna, and Titania—but they all see a drastic facelift. Star Fox Zero has fully fleshed out each world you explore. Lush jungles full of dangerous “bioweapons” overrun one world, while another sees shifting sands half hiding space battle wreckage. This level of detail—giving them characteristics and enemies unique to every location—shows off a personality that the planets in previous games never really had. And not every planet is a rehash. There are also some brand new ones specifically designed to offer opportunities to show off the select changes that were made to the gameplay.

And it’s in these changes where things get dicey with Star Fox Zero. New scenarios have been added where you can turn your Arwing into a chicken-walker (sort of like the AT-STs from Star Wars) and you can now move around on the ground in levels you used to only be able to fly through. Your controls change between Arwing and walker modes—and, in a testament to repurposing mechanics, the walker features a Z-targeting system similar to what’s been seen in Legend of Zelda games for years. Z-targeting makes circling, strafing, and dodging enemy fire a lot easier for the slower moving form. Because of this, there are actually times when the walker mode is not only the preferred way to combat Andross’s forces (like in narrow corridors), but also for finding those alternate paths I mentioned earlier.

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Of course, there are moments where you’re forced to use the walker, and its lack of speed and maneuverability compared to the Arwing form becomes a hindrance. Those sections of the game artificially up the difficulty to frustrating levels, making you wish you could just stay in the Arwing the entire time. In fact, when the walker options don’t work, you’ll end up questioning why the transformation was added at all. Ground levels should just be left to the Landmaster.

Speaking of the Landmaster, it’s now gained a flying transformation. If you wanted me to fly in a particular stage, why not just let me stay in the Arwing? Mixing flying/ground sections in a single level—instead of just adding more dedicated levels for each, or allowing you to replay levels with different vehicles—was a curious decision. The transformations for both vehicles work, and work well for the most part; they just didn’t feel necessary. The same can be said for the one new vehicle, the Gyrowing, which adds stealth gameplay on its respective levels. While I can understand a handful of Gyrowing levels could be inserted as an attempt at a change of pace, they aren’t really something a Star Fox game needs.

The Gyrowing also features a sidekick called Direct-I, which requires players to pilot a secondary hacking drone into narrow crevices, slowing down the gameplay even more. All told, flying both the Gyrowing and Direct-I feels decidedly un-Star Fox-like and harkens back to the less than stellar adventure games of the series—even though we’re still technically in a ship—and not the fun flying action we want. Not to mention controlling Direct-I via first-person on the Wii U GamePad while the Gyrowing is left defenseless on your main TV just screams gimmicky controls.

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That leads me to Star Fox Zero’s largest problem: the controls. I’m reminded of The Wonderful 101, another Nintendo and Platinum collaboration that used the Wii U GamePad entirely too much. There is nothing worse than having to take your eyes off of the TV screen to see a different perspective on the GamePad, and more than anything, I wish the ease of control was what had been brought over from Star Fox 64.

When the game is played on your TV, it’s in the traditional third-person view, with the camera positioned directly behind your ship. The Wii U GamePad offers up a first-person perspective from Fox’s cockpit. This by itself would’ve actually been pretty cool, but the problem is that the aiming reticule is then married to the motion of the GamePad, forcing you to dance around your living room like a buffoon as you try to lock on enemy ships. Worse yet, the game mandates use of the first-person view in some sections—especially in the all-range mode arenas—to get the best shots on certain enemies. There is one alternate control scheme that allows you to lessen the impact of these controls, and I ended up spending most of my time using that option. Even so, doing that doesn’t do away with the motion controls completely, and you’re still required to move around far too much to aim/shoot at bad guys while playing.

Star Fox Zero manages to capture the essence of the original Star Fox 64, and rides that nostalgia train hard. At the same time, it leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t help but feel that choosing to re-imagine an older game instead of creating a truly brand new one painted the developers into an unfriendly creative corner. Star Fox Zero is a solid game, but due to its lack of ingenuity and difficult controls, it continues the trend of one of Nintendo’s most beloved IPs just kind of middling about.

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Developer: Platinum Games, Nintendo EPD • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 04.22.16
7.0
Star Fox Zero’s status as a love-letter to the past is solidified. While it does a good job channeling a lot of what was great about Star Fox 64, it fails to really build on it in new and exciting ways, and stumbles because of the Wii U Gamepad.
The Good Searching for alternate paths through the Lylat System remains addicting.
The Bad I felt like I was fighting the Wii U GamePad half the time.
The Ugly Every time Falco shouts, “Thanks for the friendly fire, Fox!” I think I should go upgrade my Internet browser.
Star Fox Zero is a Wii U 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.