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Pokémon has been nothing short of a phenomenon since it first debuted over 20 years ago on the Nintendo Game Boy. Whether you’ve been there since the very start, like yours truly, or came along later, the series has been a constant in the popular zeitgeist since it appeared. And yet, it’s always been on handheld systems. Sure, we’ve had Pokémon Stadium and Pokémon Snap and even Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee that reimagined the original Pokémon Red/Blue games for the Switch. But we’ve never had a brand-new generation that debuted on a home console—until now, that is, with Generation VIII’s Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield.

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield start off like most any other Pokémon game. You are tasked with becoming the very best, like no one ever was. You quickly meet your best friend and rival, Hop, and his brother Leon, who is the Pokémon Champion for the Galar region and is famous for being undefeated. So, you and Hop set off to do the impossible in a race to be the first to beat Leon and become the new champ. Leon is intrigued by this ambitious mission, and unlike Pokémon games in the past, it is he who offers you your starter Pokémon. From there, you’ll have to take down eight unique gyms across the Galar region, each with a special challenge.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.

I chose Scorbunny as my starter, marking only the second time I haven’t chosen the water type in my personal history. Interestingly, Hop takes the Pokémon your starter is strongest against (in my case, the grass type Grookey) and the champion takes the Pokemon you’re weakest against (Sobble, the water type for me). Typically, your rival takes the Pokémon yours is weakest against, and the third stays with a Professor. It’s a small detail in regards to the overall game, but it makes so much sense you wonder why it wasn’t done sooner.

From a very high-level view, Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield then play like most other Pokémon games from here on out. You’ll hear tales of the legendary Pokémon Zacien and Zamazenta that protect Galar (foreshadowing an inevitable meetup), you’ll catch Pokémon in the wild to build a balanced party to take down gym leaders and collect badges to prove you’re worthy to combat the champion, and you’ll quell some inevitable trouble that arises from those who would use Pokémon for nefarious means. The core of Pokémon remains both relatively unchanged and tremendously fun. Where this latest generation of Pokémon both excels and falters, however, is in the differences that the games introduce when compared more directly with their predecessors.

One major upgrade is the look. Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield look absolutely stunning, taking full advantage of the Switch hardware and being on a proper home console. Every location you visit is incredibly detailed, and the world feels more lived in than most other Pokémon games with many more people and homes to explore. The British influence on the game is also evident everywhere you look, with some regions and towns modeled after popular tourist attractions like Stonehenge or the Roman Baths. There’s even a proper Underground that can shuttle you to places around Galar.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.

But the Underground is the first, and admittedly most minor, of several elements in Pokémon Swordand Pokémon Shield where it doesn’t feel like developer Game Freak leaned into an idea far enough. It isn’t long after your first Underground ride that Flying Taxis are introduced, representing the game’s true fast travel system and replacing Fly from previous games. In one fell swoop, they make the Underground needless window dressing.

Early in the game, well before you face your first gym, you have to cross an extensive expanse called the Wild Area, a massive field that connects to two key towns in Galar. The field features a bevy of new and old Pokémon alike, and is one of the best places to put together a balanced team for combat. Random encounters of the past are gone, and you can actually see Pokémon floating, flying, walking, or bouncing all around the field. There are still “surprise encounters” occasionally, marked by an exclamation point before the battle begins that are triggered by staying in tall grass for too long. But, for the most part, you’ll know exactly what wild Pokémon you’re trying to capture—and I, for one, am thrilled random encounters are all but gone now.

The Pokémon in the field are also consistently around certain levels in certain parts, offering up a makeshift barrier in the game to let you know to come back to particular parts of the field later on. For example, trying to capture a level 25 Butterfree when you’re only level 12 isn’t going to work most of the time.

The Wild Area also introduces two new gameplay components, the first of which is camping. Camping may not sound like much, but here you can play with your Pokémon and cook curry with them in fun little minigames that also have a benefit in battle. You can earn easy XP to help level up your Pokémon when you make camp, and developing a better relationship with your Pokémon while relaxing could lead to in-battle bonuses like shaking off paralysis or delivering critical hits more frequently. It serves as a nice distraction from constant battling, and I admit it’s pretty fun to play catch with your favorite Pokémon. Camping can be done in other areas later on, too.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.

The other new feature is the highly talked about the Dynamax/Gigantamax feature. Dynamaxing a Pokémon is similar to the Mega Evolutions from Pokémon X/Y and Pokémon Sun/Moon, but far better balanced and far more critical to the story. Dynamaxing only lasts for three turns, whereas Mega Evolutions continued until a battle was over. Only one Pokémon per battle per trainer can be Dynamaxed and doing so replaces the moves of your Pokémon with Max moves based on type. For example, fire moves turn into Max Flare when Dynamaxed, whereas water moves turns into Max Geyser. This helps prompt players to ensure their Pokémon have a variety of different moves, not just always play to type. After all, a Pokémon with four fire-type moves would then only have one move while Dynamaxed. The only difference, besides appearance, with a Pokémon that can Gigantamax when they Dynamax, is they have an exclusive G-Max move that’s even more powerful, but the Pokémon capable of doing this are few and far between.

In the Wild Area, you’ll encounter your first Pokémon dens. These are powerful hot spots that cause energy to course through them. Any wild Pokémon that has made a home in these dens will automatically Dynamax. If you can defeat a wild Dynamaxed Pokémon, you’re guaranteed to catch it in its original, de-Dynamaxed form. It’s a great way to quickly build a powerful party to take on the eight gym leaders.

As great as all this was, and as much fun as I had exploring the Wild Area, there’s only one Wild Area in the entire game. If you’re like me and put a priority on becoming champion and taking on all the gyms as quickly as possible, you’ll only need to go through the Wild Area twice in the entire game. Sure, you can go back and visit whenever you want. But it was very disappointing that instead of filling Galar with these Pokémon havens, most of the rest of the game relies on routes and caves that harken back to the original Pokémon games. You can still catch wild Pokémon on these routes, but only the Wild Area has wild Dynamax Pokémon.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.

This leads into another issue with Pokemon Sword and Shield: inconsistent pacing. It wasn’t until hour seven of my playthrough that I got to my first gym, which made the game feel like it was going to be a slow burn. Once you get through the Wild Area that first time, however, the pace of the game quickens dramatically. Even with each gym offering a fun mini challenge (like herding Wooloo for Milo), you’ll roll through gym battles at a pretty breakneck pace; I was taking down gyms almost hourly. Just walk down a path, catch a couple more Pokémon for the Pokédex, and snag another badge. Other Pokémon games spread their gyms out more evenly, offering you challenges, puzzles, and sometimes even towns that might not have a Pokémon gym, but which offered other distractions in-between. Had the pacing been more consistent the whole way through, the linearity might’ve been less noticeable and less problematic.

That inbalance may have been less noticeable because, as the titles might suggest, Pokémon Swordand Pokémon Shield is focused more on battling than any previous Pokémon game. It’s not just celebrated in the Galar region—it’s their entire way of life. The goal of completing your Pokédex is a distant second to becoming champion now. This has also led to some user interface and gameplay innovations that I didn’t realize we needed so badly until we got them here. Like, for example, clearly telling players moves that are effective or not effective against Pokémon before you use them as long as you have Pokédex data on your opponent; no longer having to go to a Pokémon Center to adjust your team, instead now being able to just switch Pokémon out of your party with a box on the fly; and even a new feature called Poké Jobs that allow Pokémon not in your party to do missions and gain XP on their own. These were all nice little conveniences that went a long way towards my enjoyment of the game.

And, of course, we need to talk about the Pokédex. Not a second of my game was less enjoyable because the Galar region doesn’t have access to all of the hundreds of Pokémon previously introduced. Instead, I found joy in finding all of the regional exclusive variants the game offers, as well as dozens of brand new Pokémon including Drednaw and Corviknight, who were anchors in my party alongside Scorbunny from almost the beginning of the game. There are still plenty of Pokémon to play around with, and the idea that another region wouldn’t have access to all the Pokémon in the world makes perfect sense. Think of them like the region exclusives in Pokémon GO.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.

Finally, I wasn’t able to put the online play for Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield through its proper paces, as the servers still aren’t up. That said, I was able to do a local link battle with Mike from the EGM main office. Similar to how you can make a code for private groups in Pokémon GO raids, you can make a number that you share for local battling, which worked without a hitch when we tested it out. That said, there was still a bit of a balancing issue. After the game reset all our Pokémon to level 50—as is standard—since Mike was using early game moves, and all my Pokémon were touting end game abilities, even when matchups would normally favor him like his grass-type Grookey against my water/rock-type Drednaw, I pummeled him. Of course, most people won’t even try battling until they get later in the game, but Mike did me a solid by taking his lumps to test out the link battles.

There’s also features like surprise trades now, where you put a random Pokémon up for grabs and get a random Pokémon in return. And, similar to Pokémon GO’sraids, those Wild Area Dynamax battles can be fought together with up to three friends. Even though Mike joined me for one despite not being anywhere near my level, the game balance battles so that, when you catch the Pokémon, it’s close to the level of each trainer. So, the Pokémon Mike could capture after the battle was a level 20, while for me, it was a level 50. We both get a Pokémon, and at least here the game remained balanced.

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are among the best games the series has ever offered. The Galar region is fun to explore, the new Pokémon it offers up are some of the most interesting the series has seen yet, and the Dynamax system adds a new wrinkle that freshens things up like never before. The adventure can be a little linear—and maybe even tedious at times—but it features everything that makes Pokémon great. Hopefully next time, Game Freak will push their new ideas to the limits and really deliver something special.

Credit: Nintendo / Creatures Inc. / GAME FREAK inc.
★★★★☆

The first new-generation Pokémon game to release on a proper home console does not disappoint. New features like Dynamaxing and the Wild Area are fun additions that make the experience of becoming a Pokémon champion still feel fresh. It’s just a shame that Game Freak didn’t lean into the new features more than they did.

Developer
Game Freak Inc≥
Publisher
Nintendo
ESRB
E – Everyone
Release Date
11.15.2019

Hey everyone, I provided more VO for Wrigley Friends. Anyone who grew up watching things like Stick Stickley on Nickelodeon might get a kick out of it. Guess which voice I provide and maybe I’ll share some gum with you, haha.

Hey everyone, I provide a little VO for this fun sketch called Wrigley Friends. Anyone who grew up watching things like Stick Stickley on Nickelodeon might get a kick out of it. Guess which voice I provide and maybe I’ll share some gum with you, haha.

I did stand-up comedy for the first time. This was taped down in Bert’s Back Room in West Hollywood. Check it out!

I made a cameo as the Penguin in the 2018 Halloween special for DC Daily.

I made a cameo in this episode of Rita Guida called “Rita’s List”.

I played Pennywise in the season finale of this comedic web series.

I’ve reviewed a lot of games over the years, but I realized recently that I had never taken pen-to-paper (so to say) when it comes to JRPGs. Sure, I had written about them as a “secondary” reviewer when EGM print went back to old-school multi-person reviews a few years ago, but I had never been the primary reviewer. And, admittedly, the genre is a bit hit-or-miss for me. While I’m not a big Final Fantasy person, I do love the Tales series, and I also really enjoyed Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch a few years ago. So, in order to fill in that blank spot on my reviewing career—and also get my hands on the much anticipated sequel early—I was more than happy to take a crack at Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. And, I can attest that it did not disappoint.

Players take charge of an elder statesman named Roland who is mysteriously teleported to a new world when a cataclysmic event befalls his. Roland is shocked to find his youth restored, and that he now sits in the royal bedroom of a newly-crowned king in a medieval world. Roland’s timing could not be more fortuitous for this would-be king named Evan, as a coup by Evan’s chancellor has just begun. Bewildering situation put aside, the two resolve to escape the castle, and thus begin an adventure that will leave both their worlds feeling the ramifications for generations.

It should be said right off the bat that you could jump right into Ni No Kuni II without having played the first one, as there is almost no connection between them given each is a stand-alone story. The only similarities between the two games is the fact that they each share a significant artifact called the Mornstar—similar to how the Sorcerer’s Ring can be found in many of publisher Bandai Namco’s Tales games—and the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell returns. It could make you wonder if this game takes place in the far-flung future of the first game, but there are few other similarities present except one: that people in one world sometimes have a doppelganger in the other with which they are inextricably linked. This point is far more muted here, though, as unlike the first Ni No Kuni—where main character Oliver would bounce back and forth between the two realms—we remain in Evan’s world for the entirety of this game, with only passing references by Roland to his previous life.

No matter whether you played the first game or not, it’s easy to appreciate the stellar storytelling present in Ni No Kuni II. Evan soon composes himself after his escape, and steels himself for the trials ahead. He doesn’t just wish to regain his kingdom, but also create an entirely new one called Evermore than shall unite the world under a single banner to the betterment of all peoples. It’s the kind of wish that a child would make, but the fact that Evan doggedly sets off to do so continues the storybook theme the game takes on from its very beginning, as it empowers a child to do amazing things for both his world and himself.

Evan’s undying optimism and youthful exuberance gives this adventure a tone that gamers of all age groups can enjoy, as he is a refreshing change of pace when it comes to most protagonists in modern games. Continuing the enjoyable-for-all-age-groups aspect is that—as much as I didn’t want it to end as I absolutely adored exploring the world—Ni No Kuni II should clock in for most gamers around the 50-hour mark, a far cry from the norm in the JRPG genre. But, there’s an efficiency and natural fluidity to the storytelling here that games in this genre typically lack, and this, too, was refreshing. Sure, there are a few fetch quests, but none of them felt like they were forcibly bloating the game, instead continuing to serve Evan, Roland, and the rest of the party in their character development.

Another aspect of Ni No Kuni II that gives it a fantastical feel is its art style and music. Although Studio Ghibli did not collaborate with developer Level-5 on this game like they did on the first Ni No Kuni, character designer Yoshiyuki Momose does return in the same role here. His art style clearly permeated every character in the game, giving them all a distinct feel, but also a familiarity to those in tune with his work. Composer Joe Hisaishi also returned for Ni No Kuni II after his work on the first game, and whether it was trumpets triumphantly announcing another success for Evan or the individual themes of each new kingdom I visited—feeding into the character of each of these worlds within the world—the music breathed a special kind of life into Ni No Kuni II that kept a smile plastered on my face.

As much as the style has stayed the same between Ni No Kuni games, the substance—or in this case the gameplay—has seen some major overhauls. The first and possibly biggest change is the removal of Familiars. These friendly sidekicks would fight alongside Oliver and his crew in the first game, where leveling them up was a critical element to finding yourself victorious in battle. However, many labeled the idea a knock-off Pokémon-esque mechanic that required you to keep catching more of those Familiars as the game went on. In Ni No Kuni II, they’ve been replaced by sprite-like beings called Higgledies. These cute critters aren’t nearly as prevalent in the world as Familiars were; you can only take four into battle at once, and although they may offer some nice buffs, a little extra AI controlled offense, or even some elemental firepower, they take a huge backseat in combat, as they’re very much a “set ‘em and forget ‘em” element that simplifies combat tremendously.

There are other changes to the combat besides the removal of Familiars, however. The real-time combat system where players control a single character (out of the three you can set to your party at a time), hacking away with that character’s weapon of choice or magic, does remain reminiscent of the first game. One extra little nuance, though, is that you can carry a projectile weapon into these mini-arenas to fire at enemies who get out of range, or switch between three different melee weapons on the fly. This allows you to carry weapons with different element abilities or buffs into battle in order to keep your strategies fluent, as you rotate them at a moment’s notice with a tap of one of the shoulder buttons. There’s also a charge system which you build through consecutive attacks. You can perform more powerful magic if your melee weapons have a one-hundred-percent charge, meaning swapping between weapons of different charges is another strategy to be mindful of. It may sound complicated here, but after only a battle or two, it became second nature to rotate Roland’s three swords, and helped keep the hack ‘n’ slash aspects of combat from becoming monotonous.

There are also a few changes to how Evan and company are represented in the world. When in dungeons or villages, you’ll see either Evan or your chosen party member (depending on the scenario) from a third-person behind-the-back view. When you go into the overworld when traveling between all these places, however, your party takes on a chibi-fied look, almost like little Pop! Vinyl figures of themselves moving around. When you come across enemies in dungeons, a circle surrounding the conflict will appear, and you’ll brawl right there; alternatively, when in the overworld, you’ll be transported to an impromptu arena to do combat. It’s a curious way of doing things, having these two distinctly different ways to represent your characters, and it kind of reminded me of The Legend of Zelda II: Adventure of Link in how that game’s camera and representation would change based on where you were. It was a bit jarring at first, but I realized later on why there is this distinction between how the characters are portrayed on a micro versus macro level.

And that leads to possibly the most intriguing gameplay element of Ni No Kuni II. In order for Evan to build his own kingdom—a major crux of the story laid out to us—the game introduces real-time strategy mechanics such as collecting resources, building your kingdom up, assigning villagers to different tasks, and even waging war against bandits, thieves, or even other nations. You can watch as your chibi-fied people mill about on the world stage as they work in lumber yards, research new magic, build armor and weapons, or just relax at your inn (after you build all these things, of course).

This element of Ni No Kuni II was both one of my most- and least-favorite elements to the game. When this weird RTS aspect was introduced, I loved working towards growing my population by doing the bevy of side quests that were introduced. Sometimes I’d have to bring someone an item, kill a monster, or just build my kingdom’s renown enough to have those people join my burgeoning population as I tried to become a world power on Ni No Kuni II’s stage. As Evan grew into the role of a king and I got more resources and followers, my kingdom grew along with it, opening up even more potential side activities. And the more I did for my kingdom, the more my subjects could in turn do for me in combat and travel.

Of course, trying to bring the world together leads to inevitable conflict, and it was here—especially as a way to introduce some of the game’s more important chapters or as a precursor to some major conflicts—that Evan would have to lead his armies against other armies. I could pick up to four different unit types and then have to meet a series of objectives to overcome the opposing armies, and it was at this point that this RTS experiment fell apart.

You see, combat in a typical RTS requires precision and knowing exactly what your units will do and when. In Ni No Kuni II, this element felt far too haphazard to be fun. Evan’s units would never attack at a consistent pace, and they would never leave the commander’s side on the field. I’d be stuck moving Evan around the world with these four mini-commanders basically attached to his hip like I was driving around in Mario Kart with a trio of green turtle shells around me, running into enemy forces and hoping they would hold out longer than the AI does—because if they don’t, Evan is awfully vulnerable all by his lonesome.

My units could level up, but one of the other few problems with Ni No Kuni II in general is just that the game doesn’t do a very good job of letting you know exactly when this would happen. Sure, both your armies and your party on the micro level have numbers for attack, defense, magic, and so on. But the armies themselves don’t have any sort of indicator as to when they would level up (leading to some late-game grinding, let me tell you), and my party only had a vague XP bar next to their names, which would’ve been far better served with some actual numbers to let me know how many more wyverns or whatever I need to bash to hit the next level. In the grand scheme of things it’s a minor annoyance, but a little more clarity could’ve gone a long way here.

Ni No Kuni II may not have many direct links to its predecessor, but it is indeed an improvement in many ways. There is a ton of side content that feeds into the main story in a natural and engaging way, while the world, characters, music, and the journey the story takes you on are all beautiful. Combat has also seen some sharp improvements, both via addition and subtraction. The only thing holding it back were a few questionable decisions with those RTS elements, but thankfully those skirmishes are few and far between and they do not mar what is otherwise a stellar Japanese RPG.

Publisher: Bandai Namco • Developer: Level-5 • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.23.18

8.5

Ni No Kuni II is full of some tremendously creative decisions that make this unlike many other Japanese RPGs, as well as a clear step above an already good game in the original Ni No Kuni. However, some additions like the RTS elements left me scratching my head. Despite this, Ni No Kuni II tells a beautiful story that’s set in an even more beautiful world, and should be enjoyed by most JRPG fans.

The Good

Beautiful world, music, and story that all other JRPGs should aspire to.

The Bad

RTS-like combat scenarios to mimic large-scale nation-vs-nation battles that sounds great on paper but were poorly executed.

The Ugly

The obsession that developed over making sure each citizen of Evermore had their happily ever after.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

It’s hard to go wrong with a Kirby game. Everyone’s favorite little pink puffball is as consistent as any of the other major Nintendo characters, and just like Mario or Link, Kirby keeps finding new ways to breathe life into old tricks. This holds true once more in his first adventure on the Switch, Kirby Star Allies, which puts a new spin on some classic gimmicks that make this latest adventure one of Kirby’s best.

Kirby Star Allies kicks off like many of Kirby’s adventures, with him lazily sleeping under a tree in Dream Land. Unbeknownst to him, there are dark forces at work as a black, heart-shaped rock is destroyed, sending fragments of itself across the land. When these pebbles become embedded in familiar Kirby foes, their malice grows. Luckily for Kirby, a pure pink heart from the same rock has found its way to him, giving him not only the ability to battle the black hearts but also a few new tricks as well.

The biggest mechanic that Kirby Star Allies revolves around is using this pink heart power to convert enemies old and new to our hero’s cause. While Kirby turning enemies into friends has been around since the Kirby Super Star days, the fact that he can now have up to three friends in tow—and control any of them directly by riding piggyback on them—gives Kirby a bevy of new options at any given moment. It’s a rotation of abilities that he’s never really had before, and this opens up a variety of new gameplay elements and puzzles that help keep Star Allies feeling fresh across the entire experience.

Having all these frenemies alongside Kirby also allows Star Allies to introduce 4-player local co-op to the series. It’s not quite as hectic or as competitive as, say, when it was introduced back in New Super Mario Bros. Wii for that franchise, but it can still cause some fun chaos on screen as four characters bounce around in different directions. However, Kirby is still top banana, so whenever he starts moving, the other players will warp to him. Kirby can also change his friends at any time with a fickle flick of another pink heart for whatever may suit his puzzle-solving needs at the moment.

The other advantage to having a variety of friends in your entourage is that the Mix ability also returns in Star Allies. This allows Kirby—or even some of the other friends—to have new elemental abilities added to their weapons, unlocking special moves that can open up new areas of stages. For example, if Kirby has a Chilly or Burning Leo in his party after absorbing the ability of a Sir Kibble, he can get the apropos abilities of Ice or Fire Cutter respectively. If Kirby also has a Rocky in his group with that Chilly, though, he can have them work together to create a Curling ability that smashes through weak walls and flattens lesser enemies. And, with brand new powers added to the Kirby-verse like Staff and Spider on top of all the classics you’d expect, the possibilities are near endless.

If regular enemies aren’t doing it for you in Star Allies, Kirby can also unlock something called a Dream Palace in each world by finding branching paths in select levels. In each Dream Palace, Kirby can spin a wheel, and wherever it lands, Kirby will get a special ally. There are plans for some very special characters to come via free DLC post-launch, but I was able to mess around with the three Kirby icons included in the game at launch to receive Bandana Dee, King Dedede, and Meta Knight, who of course wield spear, hammer, and sword abilities respectively. While filling your party with these characters could limit your elemental options, having one or two fighting alongside Kirby at a time is a nice little nod to Kirby’s past—and it’s just fun seeing them in action here.

What might be the most impressive thing about your friendly characters in Star Allies is how easy it is to control the entire party even when just playing single player. Calling on allies to mix their powers is a cinch, and the AI-controlled characters will take it upon themselves to attack enemies or assist Kirby with puzzles that require all four characters to be working in unison in a way that feels natural and never frustrating. I was afraid that I might have to end up babysitting Kirby’s AI allies when I wasn’t playing with friends, but that was never the case. My teammates always more than held their own while never overstepping their bounds to where it felt like the game was solving puzzles or beating enemies for me. It’s a precarious balance to get right, and Star Allies does it well.

Having three friends alongside Kirby also unlocks a brand new mechanic in Star Allies when you come across special Friend Action pads. These pads provide a fun change of pace in the action, allowing your party to transform into a variety of shapes that can be used to solve puzzles. For example, maybe you’ll become a Friend Bridge to help guide Key Dees across gaps to open doors, or instead utilize the Friend Train, where Kirby throws on a conductor’s hat and you run roughshod over everything in your path.

All of these mechanics come together to really deliver one of the more complete Kirby packages. Sure, there’s not much to the story, but there rarely is. Star Allies even liberally borrows a lot of elements from past Kirby games in terms of stages and enemies, making it feel like a walk down memory lane as much as a brand new adventure at times. It’s also a bit shorter than we’re used to, not to mention a bit simple—I finished the game with more than 100 lives in the bank. Still, Star Allies excels in its gameplay, which doesn’t let up for a second and continues to deliver new mechanics right on up until the final credits roll.

The only real knock against Kirby Star Allies I have is that if you should turn the game off, whatever friends you have with you will be lost. You won’t lose your lives or anything like that, but if you’re like me, it’ll break you out of the habit of completely powering down your Switch when you’re done playing, and instead leave everything in sleep mode. So, it’s really not that big a deal in the end anyway.

And even when the credits do roll, the adventure is far from over. Like a lot of other Kirby games over the years, there are smaller game modes outside the main story that add a little extra pop to this platformer which are just as fun in 4-player co-op. Chop Champs is a wood-chopping mini-game that can be played with motion controls if you so choose to, you guessed it, chop wood faster than the other Kirbys while avoiding enemies hanging in the trees. Star Slam Heroes is a home run derby-style timing mini-game, while Ultimate Choice is a boss rush that you can choose the difficulty for before tackling it. And, finally, there’s Guest Star, where you play the main game over with different power-ups, racing against the clock, and without Kirby, putting one of the many enemies you absorb over the course of the story into the leading role.

Kirby Star Allies delivers exactly what you expect from a new Kirby game. There’s some fun puzzle solving and platforming, a collection of cute new characters to push the story along, and a new twist on some old mechanics to make everything feel fresh. It’s probably one of the more complete Kirby games I’ve played in a long time, and the addition of 4-player local co-op adds a whole new layer of fun with friends. If you’ve been a fan of the pink puffball for as long as I have, then it should be an easy decision to add this to your Switch library.

Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: HAL Laboratory • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 03.16.18
9.0
Kirby Star Allies hits all the perfect nostalgia notes you expect from a full-blown Kirby adventure, and adds just enough new twists to make something so familiar at this point feel fresh and fun again. The pink puffball has never played so well (particularly with others) before.
The Good Gameplay stays fresh, as there always seems to be a surprise for Kirby and friends around every corner.
The Bad A little short, a little simple, and you lose all your buddies if you shut the game off.
The Ugly King Dedede ‘roided out on that dark-heart magic.
Kirby Star Allies is a Nintendo Switch 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.

Lego games are nothing if not consistent, and in today’s gaming world that’s an accomplishment. Here is a series that typically has multiple releases a year and yet still finds a way to maintain a certain level of quality in terms of its gameplay and its humor. Sure, there’s a really simple base to work from, and it’s not like the graphics will push modern hardware to the brink, but the Lego games always deliver an experience the whole family can enjoy from beginning to end. The latest game, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, once again maintains the course for the series, and although it also adds a few new bells and whistles, there are a few new issues that crop up along the way, too.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 revolves around classic Marvel villain Kang the Conqueror. Kang has decided to stitch together a world from across both time and the multiverse and dub the resulting mishmash Chronopolis, with all the worst characters from across the timeline pledging fealty to him. Of course, in all these worlds happen to be heroes, too. Now, Marvel’s finest (minus the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and all their related characters) must find a way to band together to stop Kang and his army, and send each part of Chronopolis back to their respective place in the multiverse.

Similar to the previous Lego Marvel game, the story unfolds chapter by chapter from a hub world, in this case the aforementioned Chronopolis. Kang’s powers served as the perfect opportunity to stitch together some favorite alternate Marvel universes like Spider-Man 2099’s Nueva York, Spider-Man Noir’s Noir Universe, Captain America’s Hydra Empire, and current Marvel locales like the Inhumans’ Attilan, the Guardians of the Galaxy’s Knowhere, and an Asgard on the brink of Ragnarok. Each world has its own dedicated story chapter and is full of the kind of childish humor that’s always punctuated the series, with the heroes constantly bumbling over themselves. Throwing in the different universes only adds to the topical humor—fourth-wall breaking references to the Noir world’s sepia tone palette, for instance, and the obligatory mummy jokes in Ancient Egypt. Plus, with 18 different worlds across 20 story chapters this is easily the longest standalone Lego game yet crafted.

Chronopolis is also the largest hub world TT Games has ever created for a standalone Lego game. It’s chock full of hours of content, including racing in the streets, stopping crime—petty criminals as well as villains ranging from well known rogues like Electro to relative unknowns like Sentry-459—taking quizzes about the game, and more. Succeeding at these bonus challenges serve as extra ways to earn classic gold bricks, which can then be used to unlock even more content in the game like bonus levels, and more of the heroes on what is easily the largest roster shipped with any Lego game.

To be fair, though, due to Disney and Marvel’s recent push against promoting the X-Men and other movie properties they don’t control, the roster is a bit artificially bloated with multiple versions of Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, and the like as well as some really obscure heroes and villains from Marvel’s history. As a long time fan of Marvel’s properties, these other characters are sorely missed at times. You can give me as many superhero versions of Gwen Stacy as you want, but I’d still much rather have Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, or Cyclops.

Of course, the lack of X-Men is more a matter of personal preference than something that seriously detracts from the gameplay. As in many of the previous games, there are few differences between a lot of the characters besides aesthetic or personal appeal and maybe a different voice actor. Gameplay-wise most characters fall into only a few categories. The different Captain Americas are somewhat unique because there are switches only their shields can hit, but other characters like Dr. Strange can also reflect energy when the situation calls for it. The family of Hulks are usually fine for whenever you need to smash a wall. And you have your pick of characters that can blast or blow things up with energy: Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Thor, and even Rocket Raccoon. And with the new Ms. Marvel replacing the likes of Mr. Fantastic, and Wasp and Ant-Man’s shrinking abilities, there’s very little from the original Lego Marvel that hasn’t been replicated with different heroes here.

There are a few new gameplay mechanics at least to also take advantage of new heroes, though. There are special mazes that only Ms. Marvel can stretch through, Dr. Strange can use his magic to open up special portals with a line-tracing mechanic, and Lockjaw can teleport to normally unseen parts of a level. This comes on top of the classic Lego mechanics of smashing anything and everything in sight, occasionally rebuilding some of the stuff you’ve destroyed into something new and useful, and collecting the in-game currency, studs, to purchase more heroes and vehicles. Collecting minikits and saving Stan Lee from obvious peril also return as extra ways to earn those precious gold bricks.

Besides the massive scope of Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2’s world and its predictably large roster of characters, the game also introduces levels where as many as five characters can be in your party at once. There are several levels where you’ll be working with the entire Guardians of the Galaxy team, or the entire family of Inhumans. This allows for more complex levels and puzzles with more elements than we’ve seen before. Each character in your party can bring something new to the team to help you progress through a level. For example, Star-Lord can fly, Drax has super-strength, Rocket has beam weapons, Gamora can use her swords, and Groot could turn into a ball and roll on certain switches. By switching back and forth between them, you have different characters interacting with different parts of a stage at different times more than ever before.

There’s a downside to this, however. Back when there were only ever two characters to your team, you knew exactly whom you were switching with when playing the game solo. With five characters on a team, even when you’re facing whom you want to control, you may bounce to entirely the wrong character. This only gets worse when, after leaving a character you were just controlling, the AI decides to run off away from where you left them, or worse yet, get stuck somewhere in the environment that you can’t get them out of without restarting the level. While the added complexity to the levels that the larger teams bring is an obvious way to up the ante from prior games, it’s clear that more bugs have made it through as a result. If TT wants to keep these bigger partiers for the next major Lego adventure, it needs to iron out some of these issues first.

The AI also bugs out with the villains on occasion, with cutscenes either being slow to trigger or boss battles not entering their next stage at all for some reason. With most levels being relatively short—few should take more than 20-30 minutes to complete offering up the game in nice bite-sized chunks for those strapped for time—there are few mid-level checkpoints. Although these bugs were few and far between, they were present enough to warrant a warning here. Having to restart large portions of a level because the game glitched is always frustrating.

The Lego games aren’t just solo experiences, though. Local two-player co-op has been with the series for as far back as I can remember and it returns here and is as solid as ever. When you get too far from your partner, the awkward split-screen returns, compounding the issue of a sometimes already too static camera, but it’s nothing some solid communication can’t correct. Depending on the age of who you’re playing with, though, good luck with that.

There’s also a new addition this go around with a four-player competitive mode for multiplayer. You can now communicate with the Grandmaster at Avengers Mansion in the game, and he will welcome you into one of two games. The first is a take on your standard Deathmatch, but with the added bonus of Infinity Gems falling occasionally from the sky and boosting a player or team. The second requires players to try to paint the ground in their color by walking over blank spots. It loosely resembles something from Splatoon, but quickly can devolve into confusing chaos as players desperately try to score in the tiny arenas. Each mode has four arenas to them as well, and although this isn’t the deepest multiplayer, it makes for a nice addition to the formula. It also raises the question, however, as to why there is still no online functionality in the Lego games.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is easily the largest and most entertaining standalone project the series has produced yet. There are literally hours upon hours of fun Marvel-themed content to keep games of all ages occupied for long periods of time. Some of the drastic expansion of the gameplay and world size, however, has led to some bugs that can become frustrating at times. If you can look past some of these new technical issues added on top of some pre-existing ones, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 should still be a fun action-adventure that the an entire family of Marvel Merry Marching Society members can enjoy.

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • Developer: TT Games • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 11.14.17
7.5
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is easily the largest undertaking, outside of Dimensions, for a Lego game yet. More characters and more worlds to explore are punctuated by a humorous story that’s enjoyable for gamers of all ages. Increasing the scope of the Lego games has opened the door for some less than enjoyable bugs to sneak their way at times, though.
The Good Tons of content to keep you busy in Lego Chronopolis for hours on end. The story is fun, and the local versus multiplayer mode was a pleasant surprise.
The Bad Some AI glitches for characters you don’t control, and then trying to switch to those characters, belie some uncharacteristic tech issues from TT.
The Ugly I’ve played way too many Marvel property games this year without the X-Men in them now.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.