Tag Archive: RPG


I had a chance to play a new demo of South Park: The Fractured But Whole from Ubisoft, Ubisoft San Francisco, and South Park Digital Studios. Here, we fight some priests and red necks. Check it out. South Park: The Fractured But Whole will be available October 17 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

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There is no more ubiquitous character in video games than Nintendo’s mascot, Mario. He’s raced go-karts, he’s played baseball and soccer, he’s taught kids how to type, and yes, there’s that whole saving the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser a couple dozen times, too. So, the thought of Mario doing something new once again isn’t really that new at all. When it was revealed that his latest activity would be teaming up with Ubisoft’s anti-mascot the Rabbids in a tactical-RPG, however, I admit that seemed as random as the Rabbids themselves. But as is often the case, Mario can do no wrong, and with the Rabbids wreaking their usual brand of havoc, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle sees each group of characters play well off the strengths of the other to deliver one of the most fun tactical RPGs you’re likely to play.

The game begins in the real world, where a genius girl has invented a device called the SupaMerge. Just by looking at two items through a pair of fancy goggles, she can merge their molecules together into something useful, like looking at a flower and a lamp to produce a plant whose flowers are actual lightbulbs. The device is littered with bugs, though, and after packing it in after another night of troubleshooting, the girl goes to bed. It’s at this moment, riding in their iconic time-traveling washing machine, that the Rabbids randomly appear, and instantly start wreaking havoc in the girl’s workshop. It’s not long before one finds the SupaMerge, merges with it himself, and then can’t stop looking around at everything around him, including various Mario Bros. memorabilia. Soon, the Rabbids and their washing machine are catapulted into the Mushroom Kingdom, where the panicked Rabbid with the goggles (later dubbed Spawny) continues to merge things he shouldn’t—leaving Mario and friends having to team up with several Rabbids dressed in familiar Mario gear to try to restore a semblance of order.

There are two major parts to Mario + Rabbids gameplay: world exploration and battles. Each of the game’s four worlds is broken down into eight chapters, with a ninth if you count the boss at the end of each one. It may not sound like a lot of worlds, but the number actually works out pretty well in terms of providing legitimate length to the game (considering my first playthough pushed the 20-hour mark), and falls in with the Mario theme of eight stages per level. During most chapters, there will be sections of the world ravaged in some way by Spawny’s goggles that will require some puzzle solving in order to progress. Usually these consisted of having to press switches to move massive sections of the world, or place pipes to try to build a way forward, but the puzzles fit well in the vein of the Mario series and offered a nice break from the one to three battles in each chapter.

Battles break down in a way very similar to what you might see in a game series like XCOM, and you can see them coming as the camera shifts from a more cinematic one during exploration to a more tactical-driven isometric cam. Mario and two allies will take the field and be given one of four tasks: escort a fourth, unarmed character to a safe zone; get one of their own teammates to a safe zone; kill all enemies; or kill a certain number of enemies. I could’ve used a little more variety in my mission objectives, but there was enough to keep things from being monotonous at least.

Each character is able to move a certain number of spaces per turn, and can actually tackle enemies during this phase, or jump off of teammates to move farther than normal on the battlefield. However you move, or wherever you land, it’s recommended that you take cover, with shield icons representing how much protection your characters actually have at the moment (since cover can also be destroyed by enemy or friendly fire). You can then activate one offensive attack and one power per character; what’s impressive about this is many powers and attacks will have special effects when they crit, and if you smartly set your team up, you can stack these for some truly chaotic effects.

In one instance, I fired Rabbid Luigi’s Bworb weapon (it’s an energy orb projectile thing) and set an enemy on fire. This enemy then proceeded to run all over the battlefield until his behind cooled off, but while doing so, triggered Mario’s Hero Sight power (basically, Overwatch in XCOM, which allows players to shoot enemies that cross the player’s line of sight, even when it’s not that character’s turn). That attack’s crit caused bounce—which launched the enemy high into the air—and then activated Peach’s Royal Gaze—her version of Hero Sight/Overwatch—and she shotgunned the enemy and froze them. Let’s just say that particular enemy didn’t know what hit them, and was no longer a threat.

Once completed, each battle is given a grade based on how many characters of yours were knocked out and how many turns it took you to beat the battle. Better outcomes in battle leads to greater rewards upon successfully completing each chapter, with the team then being bestowed with coins to purchase new weapons and XP in order to power up some surprisingly deep skill trees of each character.

Speaking of characters, though, one of my few issues with the game is that there are only eight characters total here, you can only choose three at a time, and you don’t even get the last character for your party until only a couple of stages before the game actually comes to an end. You also must always have Mario in your party, and there must always be at least one Rabbid. This was all really limiting on the strategy front because, particularly towards the end of the game, I felt I was being forced to put out a team that wasn’t necessarily my best. It might be a way to create artificial challenge, and I get the hesitation to allow Mario to be put on the bench, but the characters should then really have been better balanced, or should have offered up some greater variety between their abilities.

I think the general lack of powers for each character, no matter how strong your characters might get, was also a bit of a limiting factor. Each character only gets two weapons and two powers, and although they can earn stronger versions of everything as the game progresses, I would really have loved it had each character had more abilities they could learn instead of just powering up what they already had. It would offer more strategic nuance—especially when you’re so limited on how you can create your team—as well as give you something more tangible to work towards, considering you’ll at least have the base version for everything unlocked for each character by world two.

The set-up is clearly there for a classic adventure fitting of both these franchises. The story finds a way to incorporate the humor of the Rabbids, yet still deliver an adventure worthy of Mario. When it came to gameplay, admittedly Mario + Rabbids had to strike a difficult balance. Typically, Mario and Rabbids games are easy to pick up and play for gamers of all ages—tactical RPGs, however, are usually far more involved, and boast an intricate set of rules that only grow more so as the game progresses. Marrying these two concepts would not be easy, and unsurprisingly, Ubisoft erred on the side of accessibility over complexity. This isn’t to say Mario + Rabbids is a pushover if you’re looking for intense strategy sessions. It’s quite the opposite actually, especially in the game’s later stages, and you’ll be tempted at times to turn on the game’s easy mode (which gives your characters a 50% health boost). Still, I felt like the game only scratched the surface of some concepts, not willing to dig too deeply for fear of isolating certain audiences. If anything, my complaints for wanting more from these systems only hammers home the fact that there is a solid core strategy game here, which I would love to see evolve and grow stronger in the future.

It also needs to be said that Mario + Rabbids offers up some fantastic replayability. There are dozens of collectibles to be found, many of which can only be acquired by returning to worlds previously visited after your guide throughout the adventure—the detached user-interface for Spawny’s goggles named Beep-0—powers up after each boss battle. Each world also gains an additional 10 challenge battles when you beat it, and there’s an extra four challenges to be found in the game’s central hub of Peach’s Castle, too. There’s also Amiibo support, but not nearly as much as in many other Nintendo games; only Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi amiibos are necessary here and using them once will net each character an extra weapon and that’s it.

Finally, there’s also a 2-player local co-op campaign separate from the main story to be tackled. Here, players can each choose two characters, and must work together by taking turns to overcome the heightened challenge thrown at them. Careful teamwork is required here, because it’s very easy for each player to try to do their own thing, only to be ambushed by enemies and see your game end in a quick and humiliating defeat.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a game that none of us knew we wanted, but should be happy is here. It again shows that you can stick Mario into any multitude of situations and he’ll deliver a high-quality experience that everyone can enjoy. As a tactical RPG, Mario + Rabbids does leave a little bit to be desired in terms of depth of gameplay, but overall provides a fun experience that will have you racking your brain as you try to overcome the scenarios before you—and belly-laughing at the hijinx Mario’s unlikely new sidekicks, the Rabbids, bring to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Paris/Milan • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 08.29.17
8.5
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle may not be the deepest tactical RPG, but it delivers a solid all-around experience that takes advantage of the strengths of both Mario and the Rabbids—making for one of the most surprisingly enjoyable game experiences you’re likely to have this year.
The Good An odd team-up on paper turns into one of the better tactical RPG experiences out there.
The Bad I wish that some of the great ideas here had been given a little more depth.
The Ugly The constant fight against the want to turn on easy mode when facing off against some late-game bosses.
Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Supergiant Games is starting to develop a reputation for delivering quality RPGs highlighted by quality stories and unconventional gameplay mechanics for the genre. Its third effort, Pyre, continues this trend by blending yet another compelling experience with the unexpected point of conflict boiling down to what translates as an otherworldly take on three-on-three basketball. Just like with Transistor and Bastion, however, Pyre will surprise you with how well everything comes together in an unforgettable game full of twists and turns.

Pyre begins with your character being cast into the Downside, a wasteland of sorts where all exiles are sent for breaking the law in the Commonwealth, civilization’s shining city on a hill. There, starving and injured from the perilous journey from the Commonwealth, you are found by three fellow exiles. It seems you are just the person these exiles have been looking for, as you are one known as a “Reader.” Literacy is banned in the Commonwealth, but those who break this rule are held in high regard in the Downside, as they can interpret ancient texts that can lead exiles back to the Commonwealth—and freedom—in a ceremony called The Rites. With no other choice but to join your would-be saviors, you agree to work together in order to reclaim what you’ve lost. Unfortunately, it won’t be long before you realize that freedom always comes at a price.

What’s interesting about Pyre is that while the player character’s Reader fills an integral role to the entire story, you never actually see your character, and customization ends at choosing whether to be male, female, or neither (for the sake of conversational pronouns). The entire game plays out from a first-person perspective, with your roster of exiles speaking directly to you the entire game. Over the course of these conversations, you’ll have to make integral decisions on how you and your team will progress towards your freedom, directly influencing what path you take, and which other exiles you will fight in The Rites. When combined with a world map that consists of you just telling your wagon where to go next, this gave Pyre a distinct point-and-click adventure feel when it comes to how its story actually plays out. However, it also offered welcome nuance to how I could shape my own individual tale, and made sure my adventure was unlikely to be exactly the same as anyone else’s.

Your decisions can also affect who ends up joining or leaving your party over the course of the game, growing your stable of exiles to over half-a-dozen capable beings if you so choose. I say “beings” because the world of Pyre is a rich one full of more than just humans. There are the dog-like Curs, the living tree Saps, the monstrous Demons, and more. Each race can participate in The Rites, and each one offers unique skills to be taken advantage of. For example, the Wyrms (aptly named worm-like creatures) may be small in stature, but their slime trail lets them move lightning quick on the field. Leveling up exiles after each battle—or, as the game puts it, “moving closer to enlightenment”—will open up new abilities that further enhance each race’s specific strengths.

Pyre also has an astonishing amount of lore to it. Each race has its own history, and each exile their own tale to tell if you can befriend them enough during your down time in the wagon. As the Reader, you can also look at holy books that fill in the background of the universe you find yourself in; from how The Rites were started to those who participated in them before you, it’s all at your fingertips should you allow yourself to fall down Pyre’s extremely deep rabbit hole.

Once The Rites commence, however, the real fun begins. The Reader almost takes on the role of a coach, watching from the sidelines, but in reality as the player, assuming control of your three-exile team.  As your party expands, you’ll be able to choose what three exiles will comprise your team to go against others in the Downside, as well as analyze opposing teams for weaknesses to better stack your lineup in your favor. Once teams are chosen and talisman bought from nearby shops to boost your stats assigned, a celestial orb is placed in the middle of the field. From there, players will attempt to pass, shoot, or even carry the orb into an opposing team’s burning pyre. By doing so, you’ll remove a numbers of points from the pyre (different characters can do more or less damage to the pyre), and whittling down the enemy pyre to zero before the computer does the same to yours ensures victory.

I was pleasantly surprised by how deep the strategy element of The Rites is in Pyre. Sometimes speed is the way to go, and taking small chunks away from your enemy’s pyre at a time is the key. Other times, it’s best to hang back and play defensively, using your aura—a mythical barrier that protects all players—to knock back or even remove foes from the field for a time. Balancing your team up with a variety of light and heavy characters, or leaning more heavily on a particular statistic, will be up to you and your analysis of each situation.

As you progress in the game, you’ll come to find that your band of exiles—known as the Nightwings amongst those in the Downside—are in an unusual position for a game of this nature: they’re the best team at conducting The Rites, at least historically. As the stakes continue to climb, and a leaderboard with standings unlocks to show off your position at the top, every other team of exiles in the Downside is looking to take you down. In fact, sometimes they’re even ready to bend the rules a little to try to take away whatever edge you may think you have. It’s one of several clever twists Pyre’s story will throw at you in order to help distract from what can sometimes become repetitive gameplay.

This didn’t stop me, however, from marching to a 26-0 record and the game’s best ending. There were only a few times (on normal difficulty mind you) that I felt challenged, and once I reached a certain level with my characters, even that fell by the wayside. If you should fail, however, the game merely continues pressing on, like any sports game would. Faltering in key, story-heavy match-ups could affect your ending, however, and that helps increase the pressure you might put on yourself, serving as a driving factor to keep going while staying on your toes.

Even if the gameplay starts to feel a little grind-y, one thing that Pyre takes away from its Supergiant predecessors is some slick art direction. Visually, the game’s color burst off the screen like a stained glass window, with vibrant shades used for every climate the Downside offers—from freezing snow capped peaks or blistering white hot deserts, to the turbulent seas off its coasts or lush jungles of its interior. Every climate also features a fallen Titan, a massive creature from Downside lore that sticks out of the expanse more than any crag or outcropping and provides far more character to the world.

The audio also doesn’t disappoint. While your exiles don’t really talk (they only make gibberish sounds when their words appear on screen as text), the conductor of The Rites—the one being higher than you in the Downside—speaks with a voice. His spoken word helps fill in the gaps of the narrative, while also taunting you like the most malicious of fans, hurling insults from the safety of a ballpark’s bleachers as The Rites take place. The music is simply top-notch as well, with Darren Korb again knowing exactly what strings to pluck (or chords to play) in order to add that extra bit of emotional gravitas to the game’s heavier scenes, or to get your blood pumping as the action begins to pick up.

Although the bulk of Pyre is the 10-hour or so campaign—easily the longest single-player experience Supergiant has made to date—considering the nature of its team versus team gameplay, it would’ve been surprising had the game not featured a multiplayer. Pyre does tout a local versus option that allows you and a friend to choose from any of the game’s 10 color schemes and over 20 of its most important characters, both from the Nightwings and your enemies’ sidelines. You can customize the hit points your pyres have, items you can use, and what field you can play on as well. My only knock against it is that there is no online option; it’s understandable given Supergiant’s small size as an indie developer that online multiplayer wasn’t likely doable simply from a logistics standpoint, but it would’ve been nice, and could’ve added some extra replayability.

Pyre is yet another surprise from the folks at Supergiant Games. Its story is full of twists and turns, yet still finds a way to be accommodating and customizable to every player who picks it up. It also features gameplay you would never otherwise find in an RPG or adventure game of this ilk, and uses it to create a lush, vibrant world with depth and beauty. It can get a tad repetitive at times, and replayability might be an issue if you’re like me and get the best ending right off the bat, but it’s still an adventure well worth having at least once—and shows once again how mixing up a formula can provide fantastic results.

Publisher: Supergiant Games • Developer: Supergiant Games • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 07.25.17
9.0
Pyre mashes up point-and-click adventures, RPGs, and sports games—and comes out the other end with one of the more memorable stories we’ve seen in some time. It’s a tale of freedom, sacrifice, and rising against the odds, even when they seem to be in your favor. While it can be a bit repetitive gameplay-wise, the colorful world and even more colorful characters should be more than enough to motivate you to fight for the exiles of the Downside.
The Good A larger than life cast of characters and unique gameplay that stems from an unusual mash-up of genres.
The Bad No online multiplayer.
The Ugly How much I paced in my living room while contemplating the game’s biggest decisions,
Pyre is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Supergiant Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

We were like sardines in a tin can. Every influencer, member of the press corps, and Activision staffer had been crammed into a stuffy aircraft hangar down in Hawthorne, California, fittingly right next to SpaceX’s headquarters. While Elon Musk’s company was nearby trying to help pioneer space travel, we had all huddled together to see the first gameplay of Destiny 2—the highly anticipated sequel to Bungie’s 2014 MMOFPS sci-fi space opera.

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Luke Smith—likely one of the more visible and successful examples of game journalist turned game developer, and now director for Destiny 2—had taken the stage to highlight and guide us through the series of video vignettes we were about to watch. To kick things off, Luke surprisingly talked rather candidly about the fact that the original Destiny had lost a significant chunk of its audience after release. Although 50% of Destiny owners had invested in the expansions, crafted their own adventures with friends, and saw firsthand the universe Bungie so desperately wanted to create finally come together and take shape late in Destiny’s life, there was another 50% of the audience that hit that initial level cap, and never returned. The fun had simply been buried too far beneath the surface, and not everyone was willing to go digging for it.

Admittedly, I fell into that latter group. Although a perfectly competent and polished shooter, the first Destiny never grabbed me. I couldn’t sink my teeth into its lore, and what it had done in that initial effort just wasn’t enough to warrant me sticking around—and definitely would not get me to open up my wallet again for its expansions. However, at least Bungie was aware—or claimed to be aware—of folks like me. It’s often too easy for developers to continue to cater to the people they already have locked in, chalking up those lost over time as simple passersby, paying them no heed.

Bungie wants to get to the fun parts faster with Destiny 2 in the hopes of luring people like me back to the franchise. After both the presentation and then the ensuing hands-on with the game, though, I was left shaking my head, because it appears that very little has actually changed. In only the franchise’s second game, Destiny 2 feels like a glorified add-on—or, worse yet, a soft-reboot.

Some of the additions that were highlighted during Bungie’s presentation would of course be impossible to show in a venue like this. Building clans and the improved matchmaking is something that we will need to wait for final code for before we properly see it, but it is definitely something the game has long needed. While chatting with others at the event, it was common for the more diehard Destiny fans—the ones who easily fell into the 50% opposite me—to be extremely happy about this change. Still, many also lamented that it’s something that should have been in the game from the get-go, or at least earlier than this. This was one of two common reactions I found throughout the day: that the changes Destiny 2 were bringing should’ve been in the original.

There was also grief expressed over the fact that those loyal to the franchise would not see any boons or the like carry over from one game to the next. Destiny has been propped up by its fanbase believing the game would continue to improve, investing time and money into it constantly, and they are being “rewarded” by having to grind all over again. It almost feels like, in trying to win back folks like myself with a fresh start, that Bungie may have taken their entrenched audience for granted to some degree.

The other reaction that was far more common throughout the day was simple—this is it?—and many in both halves of Destiny’s potential audience shared it. Only one new raid, no new classes, and three new worlds (four if you count the new areas opened up on Earth) were teased. Sure, you have the new subclasses and powers for heroes, but if you’re going to make everyone start over, why not go hog wild and expand the gameplay, customization, and class options?

The worst of it is that Bungie showed us so little that whatever new content might’ve been there felt buried in the demos. Here we were, digging to try to find the fun of it all again. All heroes we played with—whether it was on the one Strike mission, one new 4v4 PvP mode, or the Homecoming campaign mission (which had been shown to us during the presentation already)—were prebuilt. Most of this was available on both PC and PS4, and I can attest that the PC version of the game looked and handled great. But, the demos that Bungie gave to us failed to make me care whatsoever, just like with the original game.

For example, allowing us to play a mission you literally just showed us during your presentation did nothing to expand on the idea of the fresh story you’re trying to set up. Dominus Ghaul is stealing the Traveler for himself; if I didn’t care about the giant gumball in the sky from the first game, how is this going to suddenly compel me? Thanks for dropping me into a firefight, with a prebuilt character, that I don’t want to be a part of after walking me through it literally 30 minutes prior. Let me explore a little; show me something new. If you’re trying to convince people to come back to Destiny, this wasn’t the mission to do it with.

The Strike Mission was similar. Although there were some new and interesting environmental hazards like giant mining drills, the Strike seemed to play just like the ones in the previous game: work your way deeper into an exotic location with your team—in this case a mining asteroid—kill the boss, get out with some loot.

Also, if you’re promoting connectivity and community, maybe give us some headsets with microphones in PvP or the Strikes. It’s hard to coordinate if you can’t communicate, and handcuffing everyone demoing the game like this made no sense even if you weren’t stressing how the game brings people together—but since you are, this came off as extra moronic.

The most interesting section of the day for me was easily the PvP, which at least showed us the new Countdown game mode. Even that didn’t feel exactly new, however, as it is best described as being exactly like Search and Destroy in Call of Duty, just with a Destiny-colored coat of paint. Every player has one life to live; one team has a bomb and a pair of targets. If that team kills everyone on the opposing team or successfully detonates the bomb, they win. Conversely, the other team is also trying to kill everyone, or can defuse the bomb before it goes off to achieve victory. The small map we played on was conducive to the mode and offered up some fast and frantic action. I would have loved to see other modes as well, though, especially to see how shrinking the standard 6v6 of most Destiny modes to 4v4 in Destiny 2 would affect them.

Activision and Bungie have just less than four months before Destiny 2 launches, and if they’re trying to find fuel for whatever hype train they want to get started, this was not the way to do it. I was left unimpressed by what was shown to us; like the first game, Destiny 2 came off as a perfectly competent and polished shooter in my hour or so hands-on with it, but it is an uninteresting one. My hope is that this was merely Bungie keeping their best cards close to the vest, and that more intriguing and nuanced gameplay will emerge over the summer. Otherwise, no matter how much the game has improved, it’s going to be hard to push onto players a fancy expansion that serves as a reset button for a franchise—no matter what 50% of the audience you fall into.

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.

“And it’s another ambush.” This innocuous, almost throw-away line of dialogue near the end of a side mission on the ice planet Voeld was one of the most compelling moments in my time with Mass Effect: Andromeda. Not because the situation or even the line itself was particularly thrilling, but because the exasperation with which the line was delivered was exactly how I had felt for about the first 30 hours of the 65 it took me to finish the campaign. The seeming self-awareness by Ryder was the first time I found myself able to finally relate to the new hero of one of gaming’s most beloved series, and yet succinctly summed up one of the main reasons why I was not enjoying myself.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is of course the fourth main game in BioWare’s epic space-faring RPG franchise. This latest chapter technically begins between the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, where a former N7 named Alec Ryder and his children sign up for a program known as the Andromeda Initiative, a space-exploration mission that sends them—and nearly 100,000 others from select races—off towards the Heleus cluster in the Andromeda galaxy while frozen in cryo-stasis upon special ships aptly called Arks. The journey is set to take just over 600 years, and the hope upon arrival is they will be able to colonize “golden worlds,” planets that appear hospitable for life from the Milky Way. Taking control of one of Alec’s fraternal twin children (male or female), you soon realize that the worlds you had hoped to forge a future on are no longer golden, and the ill-timed death of your father makes you inadvertently the tip of a new spear that must be forged if civilization is to thrive on this new frontier.

This task of finding and terraforming new worlds is one of your two major objectives in Andromeda as the newly designated “Pathfinder” for the Initiative—and I quickly grew to despise it. Ryder must make five planets viable for life to live on, but the process is the same each and every time: activation of ancient technology on each world to expedite the terraforming process while completing mundane tasks for people on or wanting to go to the planet. It’s bad enough the worlds can be boiled down to “ice world,” “jungle world,” “sandy desert world,” “rocky desert world,” and “hive of scum and villainy.” Combine them with monotonous, circuitous fetch quests that have you bouncing around the galaxy and suffering through long, unskippable interstellar travel scenes before getting just a couple of lines of dialogue and a green check mark in your menu, or being sent to an outpost to kill all the bad guys, and I honestly almost wanted the Initiative to fail. They’re the most transparent and dull quests an RPG can provide, especially with minimal main story involvement, and it all just felt like a mechanism to bloat the game’s length from the 30-35 hours it could’ve been—which would have fallen in line with previous games in the series—to the 65-75 hours you’ll likely need to do everything now, should you choose to do so like I did. If ever there was an argument that bigger isn’t necessarily better, Andromeda makes it.

The other major issue with this task is that it makes the universe feel like a knockoff of what the original trilogy had provided, as your job is just building this galaxy up to original Mass Effect levels.  When I landed on the Citadel in the original Mass Effect, the alien races and the scope of everything blew me away. When you land on the Nexus (wannabe Citadel) in Andromeda via the Tempest (wannabe Normandy), many alien races like the drell, quarians, elcor, hanar, and volus—to name just a few—have all been cut. Only the krogan, turians, salarians, asari, and, of course, humans, have supposedly made the trip from the Milky Way. To replace nearly a dozen other species from the original trilogy, all we get are the new enemies (the kett), one new ally (the angarans), and the references to a long dead race whose technology plagues Andromeda (the remnant). In a game that felt like it was trying to sell itself on exploration and new experiences, it’s depressing how little there was in Andromeda to genuinely explore and get excited about, since it all felt so familiar and barebones. BioWare should have streamlined the side quests, not the Heleus cluster.

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Luckily, your other main objective in the Andromeda galaxy will feel a lot more familiar, and is a lot more fun. Along your viability journey, you’ll come across the aforementioned kett, a ruthless alien race bent on conquering every species in the known universe. While not focused on all-out destruction like the reapers were in the original trilogy, the kett are interested in assimilation, and they are very curious in everyone who just appeared from the Milky Way. This conflict makes up the majority of the game’s story beats, and the missions associated with stopping the kett not only provide more variety than the viability ones, but are heavily grounded in the dialogue and character development we’ve come to expect from a BioWare game. The leader of the kett, the Archon, is the epitome of the ruthlessness that embodies his people, and my only complaint on that front is I wish there was more of him—and more length to this storyline in general—as he worked from the shadows most of the game.

Speaking of characters, it wouldn’t be Mass Effect without a ragtag group of aliens and humans coming together to represent the diversity this fictional galaxy is supposed to be all about. I was a little shocked that the group just seems to be thrown together rather quickly and haphazardly—you’ll have your entire squad by the start of the second planet—but I couldn’t help but develop strong emotions towards each and every one of them. In fact, the long chains of events that culminate in their loyalty missions might have been my favorite objectives in the game. And, because all of the characters don’t know the fate of the Milky Way since they left after the original Mass Effect, it is interesting to see them wonder about what might’ve happened, how old prejudices like those between salarians and krogans are still running strong here in Andromeda, and how they sort through the mysteries and baggage they brought with them which often prompted them to leave everything they knew behind in the first place.

What strengthens these relationships the most, though, is dialogue. Although some of the dialogue—and the acting in general—is hit or miss, more options than the Paragon/Renegade choices of the original trilogy have been offered to help provide a better, more rounded Ryder than Shepard. Some answers are more professional, while others more emotional. Some are guarded; others show a softer side to Ryder, and in turn, possibly your teammates. It’s a welcome bit of nuance for one of the series’ core mechanics. There’s even an opportunity within some cutscenes—almost like a Telltale game—where pressing a trigger button will have Ryder act impulsively, which could profoundly affect relationships down the line.

Of course, you’re not just talking in Mass Effect: Andromeda. The third-person shooter gameplay from the main trilogy returns with some tweaks to them. A new cover mechanic has been added that really doesn’t work as well as it should—most of the time, you’ll hug a corner you didn’t mean to, and even then you’re often still at least partially exposed. And, credit to the AI here, if you do stay in cover for too long, the enemy will quickly try to flank you. So, your best bet is to keep moving. A new jetpack that gives you some pure jumping ability has also been added that allows you to float when aiming, but really, flying above all your cover just makes you a prime target.

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The jetpack also introduces some teeth-grindingly frustrating platforming sections to the game. Exploring the ancient ruins you need to navigate in order to turn on each planet’s terraforming machines is a torturous exercise in futility. Adding jumping to a game with an emphasis on exploration makes sense, but it lacks the finesse necessary to keep the mechanic—and vertical navigation in general—from becoming nothing but a chore. Ryder never sticks a landing after a long jump, often times leading to him tumbling off an edge, and it is very difficult to judge distance here because the camera is positioned far too closely to your character. It’s perfect for a third-person shooter, not a third-person platformer.

The last major addition to gameplay is that four of the five planets you need to make viable require you to traverse them in the Nomad, the new version of the original Mass Effect’s Mako. Simply put, the Nomad sucks. You need to change gears to climb even the slightest incline on every planet, it lacks any sort of weaponry—which would have made the more bad guy-ridden planets a lot more fun instead of constantly having to leave the vehicle to shoot people—and even when you are able to climb up a mountain that should be accessible, you’ll find blue neon walls appear to signify the edge of the world, forcing you to take the long way around every mountain. Driving was almost as much of a chore as jumping.

As you complete missions, explore the landscape, and take out kett and remnant, you’ll level up like in any RPG. Much like the more nuanced dialogue options, there are many ways to make Ryder truly unique to you here in Andromeda. Dozens of power options fall under combat, technology, or biotics, with three non-passive choices being able to be carried into battle at a time (though they can be switched out on the fly via the menu screen if a situation should change). By spending points in each category, you’ll also unlock profiles, which give boosts depending on your playstyle. For example, the Soldier profile is exclusively combat tree-heavy in its bonuses, while others mix and match two of the three trees in its bonuses, with one profile skewing to all three. I preferred the Vanguard personally, which was a mix of combat and technology.

For as easy as leveling up is, though, the new crafting system is as much of a chore as a lot of the other systems added to this game. You can’t craft on the fly, having to either find a tucked-away research & development console somewhere on a planet, or return to your ship, which always takes back off into space for some reason whenever you return to it. I really don’t know why you can’t just go into the ship without it leaving dock and triggering the same annoying cutscene—trying to cover up the game’s awful loading times, perhaps. Collecting resources is easy enough, but building and equipping items is so bothersome I only touched the R&D consoles when I absolutely, positively had to make a change or craft a quest item.

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While on the subject of load times, now is also perfect to talk about how broken Mass Effect: Andromeda is from a technical aspect. Animation has never been a BioWare strong suit, but there were many instances while I was playing that the animation was busted or weird on another level. I’ve seen three different Drack (your krogan ally) walk into the galley on the Tempest at once; I’ve seen PeeBee (asari ally) blink out of existence in the middle of a conversation; I’ve seen the Nomad spawn in places it shouldn’t, like inside buildings; I’ve fallen through the world on fast travel points, and had Ryder randomly give speeches from cutscenes in missions that I completed hours prior. I’ve seen some shit in this game, and that’s not even including the long load times, the awful draw distance, and the instances where the game literally comes to a complete halt if you drive too fast in the Nomad as the planets you are driving on struggle to load into your game. This game is going to be getting patches for a long time.

Besides the campaign (which comprises the overwhelming bulk of Andromeda) there is also a multiplayer component. Andromeda basically borrows the wave-based, horde-like multiplayer from Mass Effect 3 and updates it with new maps, new enemies, and some new objectives. There’s also dozens of new loadouts available that can be unlocked, but I personally would rather just be given a couple characters that can be more deeply customized than all these starting templates that need to be unlocked. There are also microtransactions to purchase credits to unlock items, but going that route is wholly unnecessary. (Of course, I think the multiplayer part of Mass Effect is unnecessary to begin with, though.)

Fighting seven waves of enemies with friends to obtain items—some of which can be carried over to the campaign, like credits and crafting materials—loses its luster very quickly to me. That’s especially the case now that the single-player campaign allows you to send CPU “Strike Teams” to do the missions instead, getting you all the gear you want without the time commitment of having to find friends to play with and stepping away from the story. Managing these teams from a console on the Tempest was a lot more fun and a lot less time consuming than the multiplayer, but if wave-based survival with some objectives is your thing, there are also a lot worse choices out there than what Andromeda provides. Also, I had no issues connecting or finding people to play with, so that’s a plus at least.

Mass Effect: Andromeda isn’t a bad game—but it is far from what we expect from the series. Poorly written fetch-quests, a dead universe that requires the player to bring any semblance of life to it, and more glitches than can be found tolerable in a game like this horribly mar the experience. There is a strong foundation of characters and story that is being laid down here, which gives me hope for the future, but this new chapter of the Mass Effect saga is a high price to pay in order to reinvest in a universe so many of us had come to love.

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Publisher: Electronic Arts • Developer: BioWare Montreal • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.21.17
6.0
There is a strong core of characters and story bedrock laid down in Mass Effect: Andromeda, but between questionable design choices, boring missions, and glitches galore, it’s hard not to view BioWare’s journey to a brand new galaxy as anything less than mission failure.
The Good The main story and new cast of characters are often as compelling as those left behind in the Milky Way.
The Bad Lots of busy work fetch-quests, a sense of everything being too familiar for being 600 light years away, and bugs—so many bugs.
The Ugly I fell harder for PeeBee than I expected.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA 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.

As I walked around the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center during PAX East this year, I saw a great many games. From small titles made by developers I had never heard of, to the bombastic fanfare and excitement surrounding projects by the usual powerhouse publishers, there was something for everyone. One of my surprises of the show was called Livelock, with publisher Perfect World taking a crack at their first non-free-to-play game. My demo back then was enough to pique my interest, compelling me to give the final product a look when it finally released last week. Unfortunately, Livelock fell far short of the excitement it instilled in me back in April.

Livelock takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. When a global extinction event became imminent, humanity found a way to upload people’s consciousness into robot bodies in the hopes of protecting what makes them human. With not enough time to upload every person into their own personal chassis, humanity’s population was transferred into three cores in New York, Tokyo, and Moscow. When the event hit Earth, however, it was far stronger than anticipated, decimating the failsafes that were put in place and causing many minds that had already been uploaded into robots to go mad. However, one failsafe not on Earth—an AI-driven satellite orbiting the planet—is still intact, and has taken it upon itself to find the Capital Intellects, three long-dormant prototype robots that served as the blueprints for the transference process. With players assuming the role of one of these Intellects, they must now travel to the remnants of each core city and collect pieces of a key to a last bastion called Eden in order to salvage what’s left of humanity.

Honestly, folks, these are the reviews I dread the most. Livelock isn’t necessarily a bad game or a broken one—it’s just boring. Bland beyond belief, Livelock doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, and never really became fun as I grinded my way across its two dozen stages. It’s a top-down shooter with RPG elements, and what’s most painful to see is the potential it held before ending up as something so vanilla.

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A prime example of this was the story. Sure, the post-apocalyptic scene isn’t terribly original, but it can be entertaining when done well. The problem here is that the game focuses so hard on throwing more and more robots at you—filling the screen to the point the game painfully lags in some instances—that it never properly fleshes out the details on how the world came to be as it is (or as it was). The only glimmer of character development we get in-game is the occasional quip from each of the three Capital Intellects, and audio logs scattered around the world that simply don’t provide enough background or go into enough detail.

Speaking of the world, levels also fail to capture the imagination. Considering the three cities the game takes place in, the game could’ve done so much more to make it feel like we were actually traipsing through their ruins, instead of just generic streets, fields, tunnels, or tundra. Yes, Russia has snow—but how about the Kremlin? Show us the Empire State Building in New York. Give us something to connect us to these places.

At least there are glimmers of creativity on display with the enemy types. Each has built new homes in the ruins of humanity that have unique themes to them, ones which are based around the enemies themselves. In Russia, the humanoid-like robots have built a village; in Tokyo, an insect hive houses bug-looking bots; and vermin-esque foes have carved out a rat’s nest in what remains of New York. A particular bright spot comes from many of the end level bosses, as they all aren’t just beefed-up versions of lesser enemies. Instead, they show some personality and attack with unique tactics, providing a welcome level of satisfaction upon defeating them.

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The only time it feels like the developers behind Livelock were truly inspired, though, were in the Capital Intellects themselves. There’s the tank in Vanguard, the damage-per-second specialist in Hex, and the support in Catalyst. The trio have distinct personalities that you catch glimpses of in beautifully animated cutscenes that, again, had me wanting to see more of this world. Combat-wise, each one has a half-dozen weapons to choose from (you can take any three into battle at once) along with special powers that grow stronger as you level up (until you hit the level-30 cap). There are even some modest customization options, including colors, robot heads, and capes that you can mix and match.

Livelock also falls short in the challenge department. A single playthrough on normal difficulty clocks in at about four hours, and will put you right up against the edge of the level cap. There’s no penalty for dying beyond resetting your multiplier, which only really affects you if you’re going for high scores in each level’s online leaderboards. The high score feature does at least offer a nice arcade-like touch, giving Livelock some much-needed replayability beyond three-player campaign co-op with friends. Finally, there’s an endless mode where you take on wave after wave of enemies, but it’s as generic as every other Horde clone we’ve seen over the years.

Livelock works as a top-down shooter—you fire away at enemies and they blow up and you can do this endlessly to your heart’s content. The three Capital Intellects you play with feel satisfying to use, and carry enough personality to make you grow ever so slightly attached to them. With such a lackluster world, uninspired story, and severe lack of challenge, however, you’d have to be an absolute top-down shooter fanatic—or desperate for something cheap to play—to add this to your collection.

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Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment • Developer: Tuque Games • ESRB Date: T – Teen • Release Date: 08.30.16
5.0
Livelock is as generic a top-down shooter as you can get. The locations you find yourself fighting through, the enemies you take on, and the story itself come together in a package that works, but one which fails to inspire any semblance of fun.
The Good Single-player leaderboards and three-player co-op offer a modicum of replayability.
The Bad The story, gameplay, and challenge never quite reached their potential. Lots of lag.
The Ugly You can figure out who the “surprise” bad guy is just from the voice acting in the opening scene.
Livelock is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Perfect World Entertainment 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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Whenever I hear Suda51 is working on a new game, my ears immediately perk up. Since he made his North American debut with Killer7, I’ve always at least been curious to see what zany scenario he can come up with next. Some of them I’ve been absolutely enamored with, like No More Heroes; others have missed their mark with me, like Killer is Dead. But no matter what, if Suda is attached to it, I got to try it out. So, naturally, when the chance came up to try out Let It Die, I was all for it.

Let It Die is a free-to-play third-person action-RPG exclusive for the PS4. In it, players will have to work their way through what can only be described as a waking nightmare, fighting horrific creatures in twisted environments. In the demo I got to play, I specifically had to navigate what looked like a macabre carnival on the outskirts of a city before finally finding myself in a tunnel system filled even more grotesque horrors.

Some of the enemies were simple enough—mostly just other humans like my character, but they were sadists getting off on the carnage and mayhem around us. Many would try to use their bare fists, but some carried weapons ranging from clubs and bats to nail guns and shotguns. If I was lucky, I’d be able to loot their carcasses for their weapons that I could assign to one of six weapon slots (three for each hand, with two-handed weapons taking up a slot on each side).

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Some enemies also wore armor for various body parts that I could also collect and customize my character with. On one play through of the short demo, I had a gas mask and a leather vest on, but no pants. In another, I was able to confiscate jeans with kneepads, but was left bare-chested. Longer playthroughs that go deeper into the game would surely warrant more impressive gear.

There were also enemies floating around that looked completely otherworldly. One creature had a birdcage for a head and long, forked claws protruding from the end of each arm. Moving through the tunnels, I finally came upon the boss: a monstrous creature comprised entirely out of dead bodies, conjoined by a seething hatred for the living. Its charging attacks were not to be taken lightly, but more serious was its habit to rip human limbs off its form and chuck them at me as projectiles. Yup, definitely a Suda game.

Fortunately, I could use the environment to my advantage, finding small animals like frogs and rats to eat in order to replenish health, or mushrooms that gave special boosts to attack and defense. There were also some “grenade” mushrooms that would explode if I tried to eat them, though, so I had to be careful.

Besides the weapons I could find scattered about, my character also had some basic melee attacks. Punches, kicks, and running dropkicks could keep the more difficult enemies off of me for long enough to find better items, but I needed to be careful that my stamina meter wouldn’t run out, as doing so would render my character near useless until they caught their breath.

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Beyond the dark and twisted design of the world and enemies, you might think Let It Die sounds like a pretty straightforward action-RPG. There’s a leveling-up system that we didn’t get to see in action, and there’s still no talk of exactly how monetization will work in the game. There’s one additional significant twist that makes Let It Die unique, however.

When players die in Let It Die, their characters and loadouts are placed into other players’ games, becoming new enemies for people to fight and new loot for them to possibly collect. This cycle of death and rebirth is an interesting concept, as while you might be playing by yourself at any given moments, a half-dozen clones of you from different levels could be out there invading other games and wreaking havoc. It’s a two-way street, of course, because as was proven to us when one of the Grasshopper Manufacture devs suddenly popped into my game, seeing a human-controlled face isn’t necessarily a good thing in Let It Die.

Let It Die still has some big question marks circling around it, especially if it’s still going to drop in 2016 as is currently planned. What I saw in my brief time with the game is a solid core for Suda51’s latest twisted vision of a tried-and-true game genre. Whether there is a market for a F2P action-RPG exclusive to the PS4 of this style is yet to be seen—but, at the very least, I can confirm at this moment that Let It Die is far from dead.

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