Pokemon Masters Review

A few weeks ago, the mobile game Pokemon Masters released. I have been playing the Android version since the day the game launched. As I actually have been playing it a decent amount, I thought it would be informative for others if I took the time to write a review of it. I rarely if ever review mobile games but I play them quite frequently so I feel that I’m experienced enough to judge the game fairly, and hopefully accurately considering the many hidden features the game has.

The first thing that needs to be said about Pokemon Masters is that it’s not a full Pokemon game. Pokemon, as in the original/core series, is an RPG that’s constructed based on two major aspects of play: capturing and battling. The core experience is entertaining because it challenges players to locate and ultimately capture Pokemon to then be trained and used for battle. It’s only by mastering both skills that one can truly master the games. Since the two mechanics are directly linked and both are required to beat the games, the gameplay never really gets old within each individual game. You can jump between exploring to capture and battling to train/improve your Pokemon to your heart’s content. This formula works and has for 20 years across like 10 generations of Pokemon games plus remakes, with a new one coming in just a couple months (Pokemon: Sword & Shield). That’s why the basic mechanics of Pokemon games haven’t really changed that much in all this time.

trainersThe problem with mobile Pokemon games is that they never get both parts right. Pokemon GO, which I’m still playing, gets the capturing portion almost perfectly. But the battles are garbage. They aren’t turn based and have almost no RPG elements to them in practical terms. Pokemon Masters, on the other hand, gets battling down fairly well, with a streamlined but working RPG system to boot, but the capturing aspect is pretty much non-existent. I believe this is intentional on both counts. Because while Nintendo does want you to play their free to play mobile games, they want you to buy their consoles and console games more. So no true Pokemon experience ever gets produced on mobile and I doubt one ever will.

Pokemon Masters is set on the man-made island of Pasio. On this island they hold a special tournament called the Pokemon Masters League (PML). The PML is not a traditional battle of two trainers and up to 12 Pokemon. Instead you battle with Pokemon & Trainer pairs, referred to as “Sync Pairs”, in three on three battles. As such, you do not capture Pokemon. Instead you meet and recruit other trainers and when they join you one of their Pokemon becomes available for you to use in battle as part of that Sync Pair. Trainers from all over the world have come to Pasio to form these Sync Pairs and teams or Sync Pairs in order to win the PML. Your character’s partner Pokemon is a Pikachu. This is the backdrop of the entire game.

pokemon-mastersThe main gameplay works at its core aspects. You battle three on three Pokemon battles with a great many exceptions where your opponents are allowed to have more than three members on their team. In this situation, only three Pokemon appear on the front line of battles and then they’re quickly replaced once you defeat the Pokemon at the front of the line. You are always shown how many Sync Pairs are on the opposing team at the start of a battle. Placement plays a role in this for opponents but not really for you because so far you can only take a maximum of three Pokemon into battle. You can choose their placement order on the field, as in left, right, or middle, but you aren’t able to control the order in which they’re attacked because all three are on the field at the same time. Your opponent can attack whichever of your three they want to at any time. And they often do attacks that hurt all three simultaneously.

Battles are not turn based. Instead they’re real time action point based like in Final Fantasy XIII. You have an AP bar constantly filling at the bottom of the screen based on time. It’s broken into sections. Each attack costs the entire team a certain number of those sections. In this way you must manage your three Pokemon and use their moves effectively in order to knock out all the opposing team’s Pokemon before yours are all knocked out. Battles have no time limit. Each Pokemon & Trainer pair can learn up to four techniques. From what I’ve seen so far, this is always two attacks and two status altering techniques. Status techniques can do different things such as heal, increase attack power, increase speed, refill AP bars, and so on. They can also be used to induce negative effects on opponents such as poison or confusion. Attacks and status techniques for each Pokemon are all predetermined and cannot be changed, to the best of my current knowledge playing the game.

pokemon-masters-battleDuring battle, each team has a sync move counter. Sync moves are special high damage attacks that are specific to each Sync Pair. You initiate them by running the sync move counter down to zero from nine. After using a sync move, the counter refills to nine. Certain Sync pairs seem to be able to affect the sync pair counter’s number and speed, but I have only witnessed this from enemy teams and haven’t been able to create these affects for my own team yet. Both attacks and status techniques run down the counter, but status techniques don’t require any AP to use. This affects strategy because you have to account for both damage and trying to get the sync counter to zero as quickly as possible. Matches are often lost because the enemy team got their sync move out first. Status techniques may not take AP but they still take time to cast so you are delaying your next attack by using them. Both teams have the sync counter showing so it’s important to watch the other team’s counter in order to prepare yourself for an upcoming sync move. Sync moves can be used an unlimited number of times during battle but so far I’ve never used them more than twice in any one battle.

When battling, you must consider time, attack points, and the opposing team’s weaknesses. Attacks must be targeted at a specific Pokemon by a specific Pokemon. You can easily change both attacker and target by pressing the new Pokemon you want to attack with or target. The opposing team will not attack based on who you’re currently using to attack. They will just attack based on the AI’s strategy, which is often quite effective and not just at random. The enemy AI will take into account weaknesses, status techniques, and sync moves as well. So it’s in your best interest to attack with the right Pokemon against the right target as quickly as possible while accounting for status techniques and sync moves during the process. The most common mistake I make in battle is using a sync move on the wrong Pokemon because I forget to change my target based on weakness to the Pokemon type using the sync move. There’s also an auto function where the game will battle for you with the team you selected, but as with most games the AI will not battle intelligently when being used from your side. It’s extremely annoying.

sync pairsWhile battle teams can only include three Sync Pairs and thus Pokemon at a time, your total team can include an unlimited number of Sync Pairs. The way to excel in battle is to pick the right set of three Sync Pairs to construct a team that will best take advantage of the weaknesses of the opposing team. The game always tells you what the most effective Pokemon types are for the upcoming battle based on the type weaknesses of the opposing team. You do not have to include your character, and his/her Pikachu, in your battle team. This is extremely important because electric types are not always the best choice for battle.

Trainers can be added to your team in two ways. They can be acquired as part of the story or unlocked in the store. The plot based trainers cannot be skipped. They are added as you progress through the story and meet them. Store bought trainers are from loot boxes that you can buy with gems. There are two types of gems: paid and non-paid. You can get non-paid gems from completing tasks, battles, and missions. Tasks are basically just story progression moments that require you to talk to people to progress the story forward. This is all on rails and can be easily clicked through if you aren’t interested in the story. Missions are constantly added goals that can be completed at any time. They can be anything from win a certain number of battles to spend a certain amount of coins in the store. The non-paid gems can only be used to purchase certain types of loot boxes. Paid loot boxes on average net better trainers. You can get the same trainer from loot boxes more than once. Each time you get a repeat, it strengthens that trainer’s sync move up to five. I don’t know what happens when you get a repeat trainer a sixth time, or even if you can.

pokemon-masters-screenTrainers/Sync Pairs are given a star rating. I’m not exactly sure what the rating denotes because some higher ranked trainers have worse Pokemon than trainers with lower star ranks. 5 stars is currently the top rank a trainer can have. Trainers can also be upgraded with special items that have to be collected by playing the game or bought in the store with coins. Sync Pairs have a level, like how Pokemon do in the core games. As you battle and use XP items, you can increase the level of your participating trainers and ultimately the stats of their Pokemon in battle. But each trainer has a level cap based on their star rating. The cap for three star trainers, the most common I’ve seen, is only 30, which is really disappointing. But you can use items to increase the level caps. The item cost isn’t terrible for this process. But the cost to increase a Sync Pairs star rating is ridiculous by comparison. You can quickly max out characters to the starting level 30 cap by using the very abundant minimum XP boost items. But once you get to the higher level caps, maxing out Sync Pairs requires way more XP which means lots of spending or lots of grinding. Trainers with a higher star rating can level up higher to start. You must also use items to unlock additional moves for Sync pairs. All of them start out with one attack and one status technique and have to have the other two moves unlocked. The first additional move is really easy to unlock but the second requires way more rare items. I have yet to unlock the final attack/technique for a single Sync Pair.

Pokemon in the game come from all over the world, as do the trainers that partner with them. All regions and types are represented. Some trainers have basic Pokemon and others you recruit will already have them evolved. Pokemon also differ in rarity. The story mode quickly netted me Starmie (Misty), Torkoal (Flannery), and Lucario (Korrina) with Misty (Starmie) and Brock (Onix) being the first two trainers I recruited.

rock training eventSome Pokemon can be evolved. But the process and cost of evolving is very high and will take a very long time for free players. You have to max out a Trainer with a Pokemon capable of evolving. Then you have to unlock the evolve mission for that Pokemon. You do this as soon as you win a battle with the maxed out Sync Pair. Then you have to purchase five evolve shards from the store. These require spending coins, the basic currency in the game. So you need to be smart when choosing which Pokemon to evolve because it will take you a while as a free player. Thankfully, most of the Pokemon currently available in the game are not able to evolve.

Along with the story mode there are also special timed events. These are basically just additional story chapters that don’t affect the main story but net additional items and xp. They can also be great a deal harder than the normal story mode levels. Currently only two of these events has been made available in the game so far; one focused on training and the other story. The story based on has a fairly lengthy completion time limit/window so pretty much everyone will be able to finish it if they started in the opening weeks of the game.

pokemon-masters-teamsVisually speaking, Pokemon Masters is very solid for a mobile game. The art style looks a lot like the anime, which all the main characters come from. It’s 2D but mimics 3D in certain elements. The colors are vibrant and clear and the UI is fairly manageable. The menus are a bit cluttered and lack more detailed descriptions that would be quite helpful, but in general it’s a manageable design. What’s nice is how fluid the battles look. Attacks look like the actual elemental attacks they should be. And you can tell how effective attacks were with visual and written cues on the life bars floating above each Pokemon. I would say the Pokemon models look better in Pokemon GO, but Pokemon Masters has a lot more detail overall. Especially in the people and settings.

The writing is actually a very complete story, thus far. I’m only on the 10th introductory chapter as I write this and I’ve already met quite a few characters and learned a lot about them and the island of Pasio. The motivation for the characters is all to win the PML but their personal reasons are each specific and developed. Each trainer also has their own optional side missions to help develop them as a character. There are villains, rivals, bullies, and impressive trainers for the characters to look up to. It seems like a full-fledged Pokemon story. At the same time though, there is quite a lot of dialog that I simply don’t care about. Because much of it is character development that within this context doesn’t really matter. I care about the island, the villains and their motivations, and what I have to do to find and battle the best trainers. I don’t care about the fact that some random trainer with a Pokemon I don’t want because I already have better ones is fighting to make their grandfather proud but is also learning to not let other people’s expectations define them. The game is written much like the show. Except it’s a game on your phone presented with text based dialog. So it gets rather boring, takes a long time to read, and since it is a mobile game I’m often playing it passively while doing something else.

special eventI think the developers were aware of this writing conundrum for players because the structure of the game is well defined and very convenient. The game is broken up into chapters. Each chapter is broken up into sections. Each section can be entered specifically and intentionally. They can also all be replayed. Sections clearly state what aspect of gameplay they are. Some are labeled story. These are just dialog. Some are labeled battle and tell you how many battles will occur within that section. HP and status techniques reset at the end of each section but not between battles within a single section. So it’s important to manage things like your limited number of heals when playing a section with multiple battles. Some sections are labeled boss. These are single battle sections with a very strong opponent, usually at the end of a chapter. This organization system works because it allows the player to rush through story moments if they don’t care without having to redo them if they lose a battle.

The game also features a training area but it’s not very clear about what it’s supposed to be used for. There are lots of different types of training sections but only the ones marked XP seem to have any value. The other ones don’t improve your trainers in any way that I’ve been able to recognize. They just help you practice different battle scenarios. Or at least that’s how it seems. This is another example of how the game needs clearer text descriptions in the menus. One of the major problems with training battles is that they, like with the main story missions, are Pokemon type specific. Meaning you either have to use the same Pokemon over and over again or be strong enough to win without taking advantage of types and weaknesses. This gets way more difficult to accomplish in the higher difficulty training levels.

 

Pokemon-Masters-Increase-PotentialOne thing I really don’t like in general about Pokemon Masters is all the hidden features. There are things that are required to progress through the game effectively that simply aren’t explained clearly. Level caps is a good example of this. I had no idea that you could raise level caps until I had already reached the initial cap for several Sync Pairs. There are also other hidden features that can be used to make your Sync Pairs stronger, but they’re often hidden. Some can’t even be unlocked until later in the game.

I’m not far enough in yet to be able to speak on the game’s replay value. I can say that I’ve yet to replay anything that I had already beaten except the XP training sections. The game also is already running special additional timed story events so at this point it seems like any other mobile game where the idea is to keep playing and experiencing additional content rather than replay old things you’ve already completed.

Pokemon-Masters-League-BadgeUltimately the battle system is quite good and the main reason I’ve continued playing the game. I enjoy the challenge of the battles and like the fact that I don’t always win but can usually identify what mistakes I made that caused me to lose. But while the battle system is good, the game does have a number of problems. The low starting level cap is terrible when coupled with the fact that the game doesn’t clearly tell you how to raise your level cap. I played several hours thinking I was stuck at level 30 until I finally got pushed up against a difficulty wall and had to Google it to confirm that the caps could be raised and how to do it. I also really hate that there’s a divide between free and paid gems. It should work like most mobile games where the in game currency is standardized and can be used to buy anything but you can get more of it quicker by spending real money, if you want to. They also need to make evolving Pokemon and Sync Pair star levels much less costly and inconvenient.

As I said early in this review, Pokemon Masters really feels like only half the experience of an authentic core Pokemon game. It has the battles and some of the training, but none of the discovering and catching random wild Pokemon. It definitely works as a stepping stone to keep me focused on Pokemon while I wait for Sword and Shield. And there’s still some aspects of the game I haven’t fully tapped into yet, or at least that’s how it seems. If you’re looking for a mobile game that keeps you coming back but doesn’t require the inconvenience of Pokemon GO, where you have to move around to play the game, this isn’t a bad option.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.
Advertisements

Finally Dealt with the Devil (Cuphead Completed)

I’ve had a long and colorful relationship with the game Cuphead. I remember when it was first announced at E3 as an XB1 exclusive back in 2014. I was actually the person who started the wiki on IGN for Cuphead when I worked on their E3 wiki creation strike team. I knew from the first announcement that I wanted to play this game but I also feared that I never would because I was absolutely not going to buy an XB1, and I still haven’t. But thankfully Microsoft decided to port all their games to PC. That’s also how I finally got a copy of Sunset Overdrive, which I still need to play.

Before Cuphead was released on PC, people were already talking about it on XB1, and they were not happy. While the game was praised for both the art and gameplay, so many people took issue with both. The art angered people because of the racist history behind the style. And the gameplay angered people because it was considered too hard for many (noobs). Now I don’t actually agree with the idea that people shouldn’t be able to use this art style for non-race related projects, so I won’t get into that. But the gameplay thing was a real worry for me.

Cuphead Screenshot 2018.11.23 - 21.24.56.12I have never shied away from a game because it was too hard, provided it still felt balanced, but it can be quite intimidating to purposely walk into a game that everyone else is calling impossible. I still remember how much everyone was talking about Demon’s Souls when it first released. Even a GameStop clerk told me it was so hard that he had given up playing it. By the time I finally sat down to play it, I was horrified. Soulslike is now one of my favorite game genres. So I still wanted to play Cuphead, but I was really worried that I’d get stuck and not be able to finish it. The game happens to be in one of my worst performing genres, which worried me even more. People found the game so challenging that they petitioned for an easy mode to be added and the developers actually delivered one. It doesn’t allow you to finish the entire game, but it does let you reach the penultimate boss. To me, this entire thing was ludicrous, but it also made me want to play the game even more. The demand for an easy mode always motivates me to take an interest in a game. Not because I want to play on easy mode but because I want to prove that I don’t need to.

After several months of actively waiting for a price drop, having already waited years for the game release and then finally the PC port, I finally bought Cuphead. This was before the Switch version was announced or else I probably would have gotten it on that. When I first started the game, I was using a DualShock 4 controller. That and a Wii U Pro controller were my only viable options for playing on PC. I was not going to use a keyboard to play this type of game and at that point did not own an XB1 controller. So I went with the DS4 because it’s the controller I had the most experience with between the two options I had.

Cuphead Screenshot 2018.11.23 - 21.35.13.51I struggled so much to beat The Root Pack. This was the first boss I faced when I started Cuphead. It took me literal hours to finally beat that boss. I was shocked at how hard the game was for me. To get stuck on the first encounter in a game was an experience I’d never had before in more than 20 years of gaming.  I felt depressed. Maybe this game really was too hard for me and I actually needed to use the easy mode? But I refused. I would quit the game altogether before I would belittle myself to playing on easy mode.

After many hours of frustration, I finally defeated The Root Pack and went on to fight Ribby & Croaks. I could not beat them. I struggled and struggled for hours but I absolutely could not beat them. Ultimately I stopped playing the game altogether because I simply couldn’t move forward and refused to play the easy mode. I promised myself I would return to the game at some point but honestly I didn’t see the point when it was just too hard for me. I think I probably should have faced Goopy Le Grande instead of Ribby & Croaks second but that’s not what happened. I put the game in my start menu to remind me that I still needed to go back and beat it but I never actually attempted to because I knew I’d not be able to beat Ribby & Croaks.

Cuphead Screenshot 2019.09.05 - 18.49.56.44

It wasn’t until several months later that I finally returned to Cuphead. I had wanted an XB1 controller for PC gaming for some time, because it’s the only controller that consistently works properly with just about every PC game. But I didn’t technically need one because I had the ability to use any of my controllers on PC with an adapter I had purchased more than a year earlier. I just happened to luck into a free one that was being thrown out at my office. Ironically I had to spend more than the cost of a controller to buy a Bluetooth adapter and battery pack but I now had an XB1 controller for PC gaming. I decided to test it out with Cuphead since it’s one of the only games in my PC I could start without logging into Steam or another launcher and I was already familiar with the game so there wouldn’t be any delays to starting the test. I went right back into the Ribby & Croaks fight.

I did not defeat Ribby & Croaks immediately when trying the XB1 controller, but I did immediately realize that I was performing well enough to where beating them would be possible. After a few more tries and shaking the rust off, I defeated Ribby & Croaks and then went on to quickly defeat Goopy Le Grande, Cagney Carnation, and Hilda Berg. Suddenly I wasn’t just OK at Cuphead. I was good at it. I realized that the whole time it wasn’t my lack of skill that had made the game so hard. It was my lack of proper hardware. The game was literally made to be played on an XB1 controller and as soon as I corrected this issue I was zooming through the bosses. That’s not to imply that the game has to be played on an XB1 controller. My friend beat the whole thing with a keyboard, which I still think is ridiculous. But now I too was progressing through Cuphead at an appropriate rate, without using the easy mode.

Cuphead Screenshot 2019.09.03 - 08.51.31.50Though there were some bosses that were tough for a short while, in general I flew through the rest of the game. I played it sparingly over the course of several weeks, but basically no regular boss took me more than two hours to beat and most of them I cleared in under 30 minutes. I even managed to defeat Baroness Von Bon Bon on the first try. I got held up a bit at Carla Maria, which I think might be the hardest boss in the game other than maybe King Dice, but ultimately I reached the Devil.

It took me about three hours to defeat the Devil. He wasn’t hard to figure out. Just hard to fight without taking stray hits. But eventually I defeated him. It was so satisfying to finally beat Cuphead. And it made me feel great to not have had to use the easy mode. It almost feels like a chapter of my life has closed. I’ve spent five years wanting to beat that game.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cuphead was fun. It was challenging, but not in a stupid way. Really the boss fights were just as much about thought as they were reflexes. Each one was a bit of a puzzle. Choosing the correct approach with the right weapons, special ability, and charm made the difference between winning and losing. Yes you did have to be able to jump and move dynamically and quickly, but this was only a part of the boss fights as a whole.  And of course, the art was beautiful. I would absolutely play a sequel. Now that I’ve completed Cuphead, I’ve removed it from my start menu. The delight in not being reminded that I might be a noob in disguise is a great feeling. Now to find a new game to casually torture myself over. I’m thinking Dead Cells next.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Gamescom 2019

This year was my first time ever attending Gamescom. I would like to thank Ubisoft for inviting me to attend the event as a contestant in the Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Grand Championship. While I was extremely depressed to have lost in the first round, and even more so to have lost because of a single error in an otherwise flawlessly executed match, I am still happy to have been given the opportunity to participate and attending Gamescom was amazing. I also want to acknowledge that the main reason my experience at Gamescom was so good was that Ubisoft was gracious enough to provide me with an exhibitor’s ticket. This allowed me special access and privileges that normal attendees just didn’t have, which in turn allowed me to try out way more games than probably anyone else.

Over the course of the show I was able to try/experience 22 different unreleased games that are mainstream and some additional indies which I won’t take the time to talk about in this post for the sake of time. I truly believe that other than press I played more mainstream games at Gamescom than anyone else. An exhibitor ticket gave me early access every day which meant I could skip at least one to two lines a day. For example, the lines for FFVII Remake and Marvel’s Avengers were right next to each other in the Square Enix booth. Both consistently had lines of at least 2.5 hours every day of the show. But I was able to enter the show floor an hour early every day. So one of those days I talked one of the Square Enix team members into letting me try Marvel’s Avengers before the official opening time. This allowed me to then be one of the first in line for FFVII Remake right after, allowing me to try two of the biggest games being demoed at Gamescom this year in under 30 minutes of actual show time. That was literally record breaking. And because there was no line at the Square Enix demo for Trials of Mana remake, because everyone was trying it at the Nintendo booth, I was able to try that game right after FFVII Remake. So I managed to try three mainstream titles within the first official hour of one of the days at Gamescom. I used similar tactics throughout the week in order to try literally every game at the show I wanted to try. The only two games of note that I didn’t try were Borderlands 3 and Control. I honestly didn’t want to try either, but after having read the reviews for Control, I do wish I had tried that game and could have if I had wanted to take the time during the show.

 

Gamescom Entrance

This was my first time visiting Germany and I really enjoyed it. Cologne is a great city and I could definitely live there. It’s a beautiful and large but still kind of quaint place with culture and character. And German people are so nice. That being said, German gamers suck. I’m sorry, and I know that’s a wide brush to paint with, but I have to say that of all the gaming and tech related events I’ve been to in three different regions (Asia, NA, EU) of the world, the Gamescom attendees, most of which were native Germans, were the worst, most selfish, and unprofessional people I’ve ever interacted with in a setting like this. And that’s saying a lot. I’m not talking about the staff. Save for a few exceptions, they were great. I’m talking about the people attending the event. So many selfish assholes. They can’t wait in lines like adults. They have little to no concept of what’s appropriate in a crowded public setting. And worst of all they defend each other’s bad behavior even when they aren’t actually guilty of said behavior themselves. I won’t go into specific details of the various ridiculous occurrences I experienced and witnessed, but for such a large event with literally thousands of visitors, I expected better from the attendees. The behavior I saw at Gamescom does not happen at Taipei Game Show. It does not happen at CES. I haven’t been to every gaming event in the world so I can’t say for sure if this was an isolated occurrence or not, but in my experience, German gamers need to grow up. And I’m speaking as a 30 year old man who waited four hours to try Iron Man VR.

This was a gaming event so of course we need to talk about swag. You know me. I’m all about that free stuff at events. I have to say that for quantity, Gamescom was not the best swag event I’ve been to. I make much better hauls at Computex each year. But I’ll also say that with so many more people and much longer lines in a way it’s possible that I just wasn’t able to access as much swag as there actually was. I’ll also say that the giveaways at Gamescom were top notch, but giveaways don’t really count as swag because not everyone can get them just from waiting in line. For example, I got four shirts (Watch Dogs Legion, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Everspace 2, and Biomutant). But of those four only one of them was given out for waiting in line to try a game (Biomutant). The other three were special privilege acquisitions. The Everspace 2 one I got for work related reasons and the two Ubisoft ones I happened to catch when they were thrown out into the crowd during presentations. That means really only one shirt was available as actual swag in my whole haul. I got 11 pins, which is awesome because I actually collect them. But two of them I paid for and one was another instance of a work related acquisition. So really I got only eight pins as swag, three of which were from Nintendo (Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Pokémon: Sword & Shield). The three Nintendo ones weren’t even available until later in the week so if you tried those games earlier then you couldn’t get those pins. In my case I went back to the Link’s Awakening booth, because I tried that on the first day, and begged them for a pin later in the week. I managed to get two hats and a visor as actual swag. But the visor was a disappointment because it was for Cyberpunk 2077 and I really just expected better swag from CD Projekt Red for that game. I wanted a Cyberpunk 2077 shirt so badly. So all in all the swag was average at best for both quantity and quality.

pins

Now I want to take the time to give single paragraph reviews of each of the noteworthy games I tried at Gamescom. So pretty much the rest of this post will be games coverage. It is a lot to read, but like I said, I played a lot of games. I have listed the titles in bold so you can skip over the ones you aren’t interested in. Games are not listed in any particular order.

Trials of Mana HD Remake (Nintendo Switch)

This was awesome. I never played the original Mana series but I was considering buying Collection of Mana for Nintendo Switch. Now I’m definitely going to wait for them to remake the other two games in this style and then just buy a collection of the remade versions. Trials of Mana looks beautiful and plays so smoothly. For a remake of a classic game, it does not feel super retro. It’s nearly a normal action RPG. The combat was good, the real time party system worked well, and the boss fight at the end of the demo was exciting, challenging, and yet still well balanced. Highly recommend picking it up if you’re interested in this classic series and I hope we see the whole collection soon.

FFVII Remake (PS4)

My gosh this game plays well. I have been avidly opposed to this remake ever since they announced that they were changing the gameplay and making it episodic. But I will give credit where credit is due and admit that this gameplay is otherworldly. It is so revolutionary for the franchise and extremely well made. Even playing it in German felt great. I hate that I’m going to buy this game, but I am going to buy this game. The gameplay alone made sure of that. It’s a real time action RPG with the ATB system from FFXIII being used to implement the turn based feel from the original FFVII without slowing the gameplay down to the point of breaking your groove. It’s hard to even explain because I’ve never seen anything like it before. And the graphics are just phenomenal but that should surprise no one at this point. One thing I will say though is that the gameplay shown was used for multiple characters (Cloud and Barret), which leads me even more to ask what the point of episodes is because the original sell was that the episodes would essentially be different games telling one coherent story. That’s not what I was getting from this gameplay. This system can and will almost certainly be used across all characters so there’s really no justification to break this into episodes because the story aspect can easily shift between cutscenes. Changing your walking avatar from Cloud to another character is not a justification to sell a separate game if they’re going to be part of the same party anyway. In any case, based on what I played this is a must play.

 Marvel’s Avengers (PS4)

This game got a lot of flak after the E3 announcement and I really don’t know why. Visually, the demo I played did have some issues. It was mostly hair that I had problems with. Everything else was fine for an alpha build. It played smoothly, the controls didn’t lag, and I didn’t get any dropped frames. It’s a pretty standard brawler done in the spirit of the Arkham games. But each of the playable characters has a slightly different move set and feel. Personally I liked Hulk and Thor the most because they felt the most appropriate for the gameplay with Captain America in a close third. Black Widow was only featured in a boss fight so while she did work appropriately, I can’t speak to how she wields in normal combat scenarios. The demo was very linear with each character merging into the next one to tell a whole story, but I don’t have a problem with linear games. If the gameplay is good and the story is coherent while having enough length to justify $60+, I’m absolutely fine with a linear story. But the attendant informed me that the final product will be way less linear than the demo I played. I liked it and I’ll definitely pick it up.

Monkey King: Hero is Back (PC)

This game is trash. Which really depressed me because I love the Monkey King character and stories and was super excited to try this game. I didn’t even know about it until I saw the banner at Gamescom. I had high hopes because the character and settling are great for a game, but this was executed poorly. The gameplay isn’t necessarily stiff, but it definitely isn’t smooth either. The graphics are tolerable for the sake of the animated film it’s based on, but they aren’t good. The thing that angered me most was ladder transitions. To climb from one floor to another, even when it’s all part of the same interactive area, you have to wait for an animation clip rather than just climb the damn ladders. This is not acceptable in 2019. Especially not from the company that helped produce games like The Wonderful 101 and Final Fantasy XV. This demo was just unacceptably bad and I’m really, really depressed about it.

Asterix & Obelix XXL 3 – The Crystal Menhir (PC)

I actually only just found out about XXL 3 about two weeks before Gamescom. And honestly I only found out about XXL 2 a couple months before that. I used to watch this cartoon as a kid and play some of the games so I was really happy that they’re still making them and that I could try the newest one at Gamescom. This is by no means a AAA title, but it’s quite fun. I played it solo but you can play it with two player co-op. It’s a well-made top down brawler. A bit repetitive but not bad. Some of the puzzles, if they can be called that, are more annoying jump challenges than actual puzzles but nothing game breaking. It’s really more something you play because you’re a fan of the franchise than because it’s a great game. But if you liked the previous games then this one definitely won’t disappoint.

Link’s Awakening HD Remake (Nintendo Switch)

This was phenomenal. I waited three hours to play it and I don’t regret it. It’s beautiful, the gameplay is smooth, and it’s fun. I never finished the original Link’s Awakening but I will definitely be buying and beating this. Even playing it in German, which I don’t read, in no way turned me off the game. It’s just good. It’s not worth $60. That I will say. For $30, this would be a no brainer purchase. But at full AAA price, I’m gonna wait for a Black Friday deal. But it’s definitely a must play for me.

Doom Eternal (Google Stadia)

There are two main reasons that I wanted to play Doom Eternal on Stadia. The first was that I didn’t want to wait three hours to try Doom Eternal and the second was that I really wanted to try Stadia but the only other game they had available to try was Mortal Kombat 11, which I’ve already played on PS4, so it seemed like a waste of time to try that one. I will admit however that playing a game I had already played and comparing it to Stadia probably would have given me a more legitimate ability to judge the platform in a single 15 minute demo.

Stadia runs fine. What I mean by that is I was able to play Doom Eternal comfortably with no lag, frame rate drops, or any legitimate gameplay issues. The game ran adequately. Now I’m not 100% sure on the setup they actually had because they had a controller and other cables running into a table and then a laptop with nothing on the screen except the Stadia logo sitting next to a monitor, which the game was running on. So the implication was that you were dual monitoring a laptop and running Doom Eternal via Stadia on the monitor while playing with a wired controller, but I have no actual proof of that because they didn’t present the setup to me. They just sat me down, handed me a controller and declared it was Doom Eternal on Stadia. So I believe that’s what I was experiencing, but take this with a grain of salt because there’s no evidence to suggest that this was actually the case. The one negative I will say about Stadia is that the graphics don’t hold up. Playing Doom on my regular PS4 looks better than Doom Eternal on Stadia. The game looked acceptable but not beautiful. If you’re used to high spec PC gaming with a 1080 or more card, which I am, Stadia doesn’t hold up. It runs fine, but it’s not the perfectly crisp HD picture hard core PC Master Race gamers are used to. It’s more like playing games on a PS3. Looks and runs fine, but doesn’t hold up to current high graphics standards. So if you are a minimum spec gamer, it’s probably fine for you. But if you are a 120 FPS, 2080ti, 4K gamer, then you will absolutely not be able to play games on Stadia in its current form.

Doom Eternal was great. And that should surprise no one. It’s the same formula as Doom, and that’s a good thing, because the formula works. Even on the lacking graphics of Stadia, I was having a blast playing it. If you liked Doom, you’re going to like Doom Eternal. Enough said.

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (PC)

I don’t think I’ve played a game since Destiny that required team work as much as Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. This was a demo where you were forced to play on a squad of four and it was tough. Granted the other players were native German speakers and I speak maybe four words of German, but we were all experienced gamers and we struggled. We failed (all four dead at once) multiple times. The game is hard but fair. We had to learn how to work together and be more conservative, but once we did that, we got through it. A big part of the game is fighting drones and robot type enemies. This is where the game gets really difficult because they don’t go down like people. But they mow you down easy. The game works well and looks great. My only real complaint about the gameplay is that you still can’t button to cover like in The Division. Like with Ghost Recon: Wildlands, you just sort of naturally flow in and out of cover as you move. I think intentional cover would improve the gameplay but many would probably argue that it would make it too easy. But in my opinion if being able to cover in a shooter makes the game too easy or less enjoyable, then it’s probably not a good game to begin with. I think Breakpoint would play just fine with button press cover and cover to cover movement. But in general it’s a great game that I’ll definitely be playing, so I can take on the Punisher.

Cyberpunk 2077 (Non-playable Gameplay Presentation)

Sadly I did not get to play Cyberpunk 2077, but the experience of seeing a narrated presentation was extremely informative and valuable. This presentation featured a person playing the game live while a presenter narrated the action. The focus of this presentation was to show how the character development system affects gameplay with what they refer to as a “fluid class system”. Essentially you don’t have classes. You just have skills which you level up with points gained through xp. The two builds they showed were one focused on hacking and the other focused on strength. The way they presented this was very effective because they showed the same mission twice done with these two different builds. The hacker build was much more about stealth and using your skills to clear obstacles and take out enemies strategically, with little direct combat. The strength build just ran in and destroyed everything directly. The best example of comparison between these two builds was during a fight sequence with several enemies and a turret near the middle of the room. The hacker hacked the turret and let it do the work for him, while the strength build used a human shield to get close to the turret and then ripped it out of its stand and used it as a mini-gun. Both approaches were amazing and I’m honestly not sure which one I would prefer to play. They said you could build however you wanted and potentially have features from both builds but they did not answer how much available xp there was in the game in order to reach both these builds simultaneously.

While I still would prefer the game in third person, watching this presentation convinced me that I could probably enjoy playing it in first person as well. The driving did go to third person though so I really hope a patch or mod is coming.

The Surge 2 (PC)

I was really excited to play this. I have The Surge but haven’t actually finished it yet. I do plan on getting it done though. I really like this IP because it plays like a stripped down Dark Souls set in the future instead of the past. I was really depressed that I didn’t get into The Surge 2 closed beta but finding out I could try it at Gamescom made me really happy. Now let me say that the Deep Silver booth sucked. The line for The Surge 2 was never long, but took forever. I waited 45 minutes and didn’t move an inch. I asked multiple employees why it was taking so long and no one could give me an answer other than “I don’t know.” I finally stepped out of line and was considering giving up on getting to try it at all. The only reason I got to play it was that a friend found a fast pass and gave it to me because he didn’t know the studio. While the booth was badly managed, the game is awesome. It plays really well. I especially liked that at the start of this game you don’t have a rig so you have to work your way through learning the combat without power and then once you’ve started to really get it you find a rig and get a real boost of power. It’s a great storytelling mechanic. That being said, it’s kind of a turn off if you don’t will your way through that opening phase of the game. Before you get your rig, you can’t even dodge. And you feel those limitations. But once you get a hang of the combat and then get a rig, it’s so gratifying. I also liked that you start off the game with a sort of boxing gloves type weapon. You get these metal fist covers that allow you to fight against opponents in rigs. I actually hope that in the later game you get supped up fist weapons and can fight boxing style because it works really well. But if you’re not getting weapons grade damage, it’s just not worth it once you get a rig. In general, the game plays great and looks decent enough. There’s also a more human focused story with real conversations and dialog options. The first game put you in a world of mostly robots. This game seems to put you in a world of mostly people after the robots revolted and were finally beaten back. I can’t wait to play the final version.

As a bonus, there was a boss in the demo and for defeating it during the 20 minute trial period, I was given a steel-book case for The Surge. This was an awesome surprise that I absolutely was not expecting. And since I own the physical version of the first game that makes it even better.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (PC)

Sadly I did not like this demo. The controls were a bit overwhelming to learn in a 15 minute session. There’s actually a lot going on. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it means there’s depth to the game. It’s an open world with a battle mode which is initialized when you make contact with enemies that are seen on the map. This is all fine. The boss battles are slightly different from regular battles but not by too much. This is also fine. There’s a lot going on in this world. Lots of NPCs to interact with. Sidequests all over the place. Other characters that team up with you and travel the map with you depending on what part of the story you’re in. This is all good stuff. What isn’t good is how much crap is on the screen at one time. There’s so much going on and it’s all on screen at once. Beacons for objectives, a large HUD, NPC dialog boxes in the distance, floating collectibles, and just lots of general clutter. It’s so hard to focus on playing the game with so much on screen information pulling you out of the experience. Like imagine if in Assassin’s Creed the gameplay looked like the map. If all those objectives, side events, mini-games, challenges, treasure chests, and other map icons were all on the screen constantly while trying to play the game. Now imagine that on a screen of less than 27 inches. It would be a nightmare to play. That’s how this game plays. I hope you can turn a lot of that stuff off in menus because if you can’t it’s just too much junk on screen at one time.

Medievil (PS4)

Great remake. Absolutely buying this. It plays well. It looks good. It sounds good. I never played this as a kid, but I was aware of it and I’m so glad they made a good remake. For the most part, it’s challenging yet fair. The controls are accessible and run smoothly. It’s just a really well made remake. My only complaint, which I assume was present in the original game as well, was the resource management mechanics. Like you start off with a sword that I don’t believe can break. But you can pick up other weapons. But when you do you lose your sword. Yet those other weapons can break. So ultimately I got to the boss in the demo and my weapon broke and I was expected to fight the boss with no actual weapon other than my useless bone arm, which also removes the ability to use your shield. Even when I died, I respawned with no weapon. I found this to be a very annoying and unbalanced mechanic. But otherwise it’s a great game that I’ll definitely buy.

Concrete Genie (PS4)

I hate to say it, but this game is not good. The controls are trash. The painting mechanics are not intuitive at all. Making creatures isn’t nearly as accessible or effective as you want it to be. It just does not play well. And I didn’t even get to any of the evil monster sequences. The demo was extremely boring in that all you had to do was find light bulbs hidden around the town and paint them to turn them on. But even this simple task was so tedious with the broken controls. The graphics are OK but not as good as the ads made them seem like they would be. I was originally excited with the initial reveal but now it’s a hard pass for me.

Dreams (PS4)

I’m actually very interested in this. Writing about it is difficult because they didn’t demo the creator mode. What they showed were creations that were already active for you to play. And they were all so different. There was shmup flyer, a puzzle platformer, a soccer type game, a 3D point and click, and other genres. So many different types of games seem to be possible in Dreams. But because I didn’t see the creator mode I don’t know how hard it is to do any of that. If I’m honest, I’m not super interested in playing other people’s creations. I’m interested in creating my own games. The marketing makes it seem like this is totally easy to do. But that sounds improbable. It’s hard enough to make a good level in Super Mario Maker 2 and that’s built on a grid with pre-made assets. I’ll keep an eye out for this but I can’t really say if it’s good or bad at this time. All I can say is that it seems possible for people to create entire games. Now the question becomes will they be compensated for their hard work in the event that someone creates something actually worth talking about. Because the stuff I saw easily bested many indies you can find on Steam.

Biomutant (PC)

I was really excited for this when I first heard about it, and then it got delayed for like over a year. So I was happy to wait in line for about 90 minutes to try it. And it was worth it. The graphics are kind of weird. It’s like an adult cartoon. Not bad, but also not particularly good. Because the level of violence isn’t super cartoony, so it could have been more graphic. But the animal characters also make sense in a less gory tone. So it’s kind of in limbo visually. But the gameplay is superb. It’s fluid, well balanced, easy to pick up, and just really fun. I genuinely enjoyed every fight in the demo from start to finish. It also has different types of physical weapons. I started off with a saw blade, which was great, and then got a rocket punch glove, which was also great. It’s a must play for me.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Nintendo Switch)

I haven’t actually played any of the previous games, but I was very interested in this one after the E3 reveal. The gameplay was much harder than I imagined it would be. But not hard in the sense that the gameplay is hard. More in that the controls are very unruly. Even a friend who had played the previous games said it didn’t feel the same as the older ones. The mechanic for weakening ghosts so you can slam them wasn’t clear to me but I sort of figured it out through playing. The bigger issue though was the rotation. You can’t just turn in the direction you push the stick like in a normal Mario game. You have to actually spin around in a circle going in either direction. So if an enemy appears behind you, you can’t just instantly point towards them and attack them. You have to take the time to spin all the way around and then line up your attack. And aim matters in this game a lot. You can and do miss often. Especially in the boss fight included in the demo where you’re facing a ghost riding a horse. The graphics were great. And the concepts of the gameplay were quite good. But the controls just were not good for me. I’m still interested but I want normal Nintendo platformer directional movement. I do acknowledge though that this isn’t a platformer, but the rotating does not work well.

Darksiders Genesis (PC)

I was not happy about this game going into the demo at all. I like this franchise. I like the 3D action hack-n-slash Darksiders games. So when they announced a top down dungeon crawler in the style of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy instead of a sequel starring the fourth horseman, I was not happy. I only took the time to try the demo because I felt like it was something my readers would care about. While I still am not happy that this is the next game in the franchise, I must admit that Genesis is extremely well made. It plays so well for that genre. Maybe the best in the genre I’ve played. I genuinely enjoyed playing it. I wasn’t super enthusiastic about the text based story, but the gameplay is excellent. It’s smooth. You can swap between horsemen easily when playing in single player. The attacks work effectively and fluidly. It’s fairly well balanced. Even the boss fight in the demo was great. I’m not saying I’m going to buy this, but if some friends wanted to play it, I’d be totally in for it.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics (PC)

I’m an OG The Dark Crystal fan. I watched that movie on VHS so many times I’m surprised the tape didn’t break. So all they really had to say to me was The Dark Crystal game and I was interested. I played an alpha build and I got what they were doing. It was very similar to like a Fire Emblem or Banner Saga type game. But it was buggy. Again, alpha build, so that’s fine. I got the gist of what they were trying to do and I guess it works. I don’t love the graphics, but it is based on a Jim Henson puppet movie, so I don’t necessarily think the graphics are inappropriate. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily need graphics to be era appropriate to adapt a show/movie to a game. Like I get why Stranger Things: The Game looks the way it does but I don’t want it to look the way it does. I would have been much happier with just a higher visual quality game, 80’s themed or otherwise. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics certainly looks better than Stranger Things: The Game though. It’s a game I’ll continue to look into but at this point I’m not sold on the gameplay or the graphics. It does appear to be very story intensive though, which I consider a good thing.

Death Stranding (Non-playable Gameplay Presentation)

*This video is more useful than the waste of time that was the Death Stranding “presentation” I attended at the Gamescom booth.

Screw Kojima. Screw Death Stranding. And screw that garbage presentation. The line was nonsensical and the presentation was trash. I’m not even going to discuss what was presented, because you’ve already seen it. They literally made us wait in a line to sit in a dark room on shitty box stools to watch four trailers that had already been made available online at the start of Gamescom. I could have taken that time to try another game such as Control or Borderlands 3 and would have if I had known this presentation wasn’t going to actually be a presentation. I thought it was going to be like the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation where a person who worked on the game was going to show gameplay or at least footage and talk about it. Maybe even answer some questions. No one was even in the room during the presentation other than viewers. They just marched us in there, pressed play, left, and then kicked us out after the four trailers had finished rolling. Absolutely ridiculous waste of my time.

Iron Man VR (PSVR)

I waited four hours to play this which was much too long. But I do consider this demo proof of concept. It was hard to control and the graphics weren’t as clear as I wanted. But I do think that may have just been the way the headset was put on me because even Astro Bot Rescue Mission was way clearer when I tried that earlier this year. I could barely hear the sound. Again, I consider this a setup issue rather than a software issue. But the gameplay worked, even though it was hard to control. I felt like Iron Man. Like it felt real. The demo started with me flying over water and I genuinely thought I was going to fall into the water at one point at the start of the demo when I was still learning the controls. It’s not so good that I’m going to rush out and buy PSVR. But with some tuning to the flying and combat controls that game could be one of the most satisfying VR games made to date. If you have PSVR, definitely keep an eye on this one.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (Nintendo Switch)

I have Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (Wii U) and haven’t gotten any of the other games in this series. I honestly only got it because it came with a Wiimote for less than the price of buying a Wiimote on its own. This latest installment looks really good, but it’s really hard to play. I’ll admit that the directions being in German were a big factor here, but the point is that a number of the events aren’t intuitive. Some games were. I particularly liked the archery game. But the surfing game was impossibly hard to figure out how to do tricks. I was only able to try a limited number of events in the game, but it was a fair amount of them. What I really liked conceptually was that you could also play Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964. This was a mode where the graphics were all retro and the gameplay was made to simulate old school NES limitations. It’s a fun idea, but a lot of those events are even harder than the 2020 games. This game isn’t really my cup of tea, but if you liked the previous ones then this one seems like it won’t under deliver the same sort of experience.

Pokémon Sword and Shield (Nintendo Switch)

The line for this game was consistently ridiculous every single day of Gamescom. The only reason I got to play it was that on the last day of Gamescom, using my exhibitor ticket access, I went there at 8:20 AM and was first in line. I waited 40 minutes to be the first person to play the game that day. And it was worth it. Now honestly this was a garbage demo. I wanted to explore the world and catch Pokémon. The demo took place solely in a single gym, had me battle a few trainers, solve a puzzle, and almost complete the gym leader battle. I say almost because it cut out before I could deal the killing blow. But it felt so good. It made me feel like a kid again playing Red and Blue. It plays like any other Pokémon game. The formula works and need not change. But I’ll definitely be buying both Sword and Shield. I did get to try out the Dynamax mechanic. It was fun but not nearly as effective as I’d like because ultimately when used against another Dynamax Pokémon it just becomes a normal battle. The one thing about the demo that I both liked and disliked at the same time was that it gave me all three starters in my team. That’s not going to happen in the real game. Because it never does. I loved being able to try them all out and I did. I purposely changed Pokémon unnecessarily just to try all six that were available in the demo. And I want them all. But we all know the only way I’m actually going to get them all is to get both games and borrow a second Switch to trade Pokémon with myself. For sure going to buy both games though.

So that ends my Gamescom 2019 coverage. I know this was a long post, but like I said, I played more games than anyone else at the show outside of press. And I didn’t even include any of the smaller indie titles I tried. If you have any additional questions about Gamescom, the tournament, or specific games I tried, please let me know in the comments.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Let’s Talk About Nintendo Switch Lite

Last week Nintendo officially announced the Nintendo Switch Lite. For several months we’ve heard rumors of two supposed new Switch models. In true Nintendo style, the one people were most looking forward too, the beefed up pro version, wasn’t announced or even hinted at. What we got was the official reveal of the budget model, which was also floating around the rumor mill as well. So let’s talk about this new lighter, cheaper, limited function budget model Switch.

Rather than take the time to specifically go over every detail of the differences between the original Switch and the Switch Lite, I’ll just include Nintendo’s convenient comparison tables across the post. The highlights are the Lite is smaller, exactly $100 cheaper, doesn’t have detachable joy-cons, and can’t be hooked to a TV. There are other differences, but these are the ones that are most noteworthy in the discussion of whether or not it’s worth actually buying one. It also comes in three less than ideal colors with the bonus option of getting the Pokémon Sword + Shield edition at surprisingly no additional cost. But the real question is, colors aside, is it worth buying one?

Switch vs Lite Specs.png

 

I love my Nintendo Switch. I’ve had it for about two years and really I have no serious complaints. It’s by no means a perfect console. But other than the lackluster Nintendo Switch Online service, I really couldn’t ask for anything else. There are no region locks or content walls between accounts. Physical cartridges are easy to use, easy to store, and more durable than discs. The ability to instantly transition between TV and handheld play is phenomenal and a feature I use more often than I thought I would. The expandable hard drive space with a microSD card is limited compared to the PS4 and XB1 but quite nice and much easier to swap out than either of the two other consoles. And I can even use controllers from other consoles, including that of competitors, with the help of a fairly affordable adapter. The accessories are way too expensive, but that’s the case for all consoles at this point. In general it’s a great console with an ever expanding library of games, many of which I’m shocked to see available on a Nintendo system in 2019 such as Skyrim and The Witcher 3. And still Nintendo continues to lead the market in both touchscreen and motion controls as it has for the last two or more generations if we’re including handhelds, in terms of both performance and game options. It’s a great console with a high amount of accessibility. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Nintendo wants to expand the Switch’s already respectable market penetration by offering a cheaper option.

There has been a lot of negativity in response to the Nintendo Switch Lite since the announcement. As with all things in 2019, some of the criticisms are legitimate, while most of them are unfounded and show a general lack of understanding about things like target audience and business in general. The Switch Lite is not a debut or flagship product. When judging the Lite there is a correct way to look at it and an incorrect way. First, we need to be brutally honest and acknowledge that this product is not an alternative to the Switch. It’s not replacing it and it’s not circumventing it as a practical budget solution. That’s not what it is and that’s not what it’s meant to be. If you want a Nintendo home console, go out and buy a standard Switch. I suggest a Black Friday bundle if you can wait four months. The Lite is a replacement for the 3DS. And it’s a great replacement at that. And that is how we should be thinking about it. After all these years, Nintendo has finally done what gamers, both console and handheld, have always dreamed of. They closed the gap between home and handheld hardware/software.

Lite Color Options

As a boy I owned a GameBoy and SNES concurrently. I upgraded to an N64 and a GameBoy Color. Then again to a GameCube and a Gameboy Advance. Then I finally said enough is enough. I’m a home console gamer. I’ve owned many handhelds including the Game Gear, PSP, and Vita. But I’ve always preferred gaming at home. When I look back at all the games I’ve played on home consoles over the years, I literally can’t begin to try to settle on a total number of games I’ve beaten, which doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the games I’ve played for at least an hour. I’ve owned consoles since the NES. In fact, to date the only mainline home consoles I haven’t owned since the NES are the Sega Saturn and the XB1, not counting half console iterations like the PS4 Pro, of course. I even own a Panasonic 3DO. Console gaming is in my blood. When I look back at all the handheld games I’ve played over the generations, it’s actually not too long of a list. I can’t recall all of them, but the number of total games is so short that I distinctly remember playing Tennis (GB), Mr. Game & Watch Manhole (GBA e-Reader), Pokémon Red & Blue (GB), Kirby’s Tilt & Tumble (GBC), Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku (GBA), and Pokémon Trading Card Game (GBC). These are all different games from different platforms in no particular order. But with the exception of Pokémon Red & Blue and possibly Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku, none of them were particularly spectacular or fairly memorable games in the grand history of handheld titles.

Switch vs Lite Price.png

The fact that I remember playing them shows that I really didn’t play all that much on handheld. I can’t even remember specifically playing anything on my NES other than Super Mario Bros. as a kid but I had lots of cartridges so I know I did. The difference is that I’ve played so many home console games over the years that it’s hard to recall many of them after more than 20 contiguous years of gaming. So then I have to ask why I got all those handheld consoles at all if I wasn’t all that into them? I can’t speak for everyone but I know for me and many others it always came down to flagship software. When I was a kid, even if you didn’t particularly want to play handhelds, you had to play Pokémon. There simply wasn’t a scenario where a gamer in my age group wasn’t going to play Red and/or Blue. Many kids got GameBoys specifically to play Pokémon. And that trend has continued over the generations. Sure you may buy other games once you’ve gotten the handheld, because that’s the sensible thing to do. But we usually bought them to play one or two specific games. I had a Game Gear so I could play Sonic the Hedgehog outside of the house. I had a GameBoy Color so I could play Pokémon Gold & Silver. I bought a GameBoy Advance with my own money to play Dragonball Z: The Legacy of Goku, still one of my favorite DBZ games of all time by the way. I finally decided to stop playing handheld Pokémon games at that point, never got Ruby & Sapphire, and never bought another handheld console. My PSP was a gift from my father, which I legitimately never used. It sat unopened for a year until I finally sold it to GameStop for way less than I could have gotten on EBAY considering it was still in the box. To this day, it is the only piece of gaming hardware I’ve ever sold. And if I could go back and not sell I would. But I still never would have opened it. My Vita, which I still have and carry to work every day but never use and haven’t since before I bought a Switch, was a gift from my fiancé long before we were engaged.

Lite Compatibility

The truth is that the only reason most of the people in my generation bought handhelds was because there were games we wanted to play that for some stupid reason we weren’t able to play on the more powerful stationary hardware we had already purchased. Buying the next generation home console always made sense. It wasn’t even a question. Gamers want to play new games and eventually new games only appear on new consoles. So you upgrade to the next generation once you’ve exhausted the practical use of the current console you own. The last PS2 game I played was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. This was the game that looked and ran badly enough where I said, it’s finally time to move on to the next generation. The last game I played on PS3 was Dragon Age: Inquisition. Similarly, this was the game that looked and ran badly enough to where I finally said it’s time to move on to the PS4. And I will run my PS4 into the ground, playing every game I can on it until games look and run like absolute trash and then I will get a PS5. This is how console gaming works. Handhelds have spent their history, in my life at least, fleecing me to play a handful of games per a gen. I’ve played more Switch games in the last two years than I think I’ve played on any specific handheld console I’ve ever owned. That’s bad money management on my part but it also shows just how unfair software exclusivity really is. And this is why the Switch Lite is such an important development for the gaming industry as a whole.

Switch Dock Price

As an adult, I’m out of the house all the time compared to when I was a kid. As a person who doesn’t own a vehicle, I’m on public transportation more than I ever was as a kid. So you’d think the prospect of handheld gaming would be more appealing to me now than when I was a kid, and it is. So I play mobile games. As I write this, I’m also causally playing the recently released Dr. Mario World. I do play handhelds more than ever before but I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars just to play one game every 2 – 4 years. Conversely, if you prefer handheld gaming and your handheld console has the specs to run a home console game, having to buy a home console just to play that one game is ridiculous. Finally we don’t have to go through that anymore. Pokemon Sword & Shield comes out this year. For the first time in the history of the series, whether you want to play on the go or at home on your TV you can. Your Nintendo hardware will no longer dictate when, where, and how you choose to play games. In fact, you’ll even be able to switch play styles as you play through the game, if you buy a regular Switch obviously. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. I will never again have to see Nintendo put out a handheld game that I actually do want to play like Mario vs. Donkey Tipping Stars, Game & Watch Gallery, or Paper Mario: Sticker Star and miss out on them. All games I never got to play because I couldn’t be asked to invest in a 3DS. That won’t happen anymore and I love that. That’s the single most important thing about the Nintendo Switch Lite, assuming of course that Nintendo is fully committed to it as the future of handheld gaming.

Joy-Con Grip

What’s most important to consider is that current Switch owners are not the target audience for the Nintendo Switch Lite. The Lite is $199.99. When I saw the announcement I immediately wanted one and immediately settled on not being willing to pay more than $100 for one. Why? Because the comparative value just isn’t there. I’m a Switch owner that plays predominantly docked or portable in the home. I paid $300, give or take because it was part of a massive bundle, for my Switch and it came with a dock, a Joy-Con grip, removable Joy-Cons, and the various wires it requires. And because it was a holiday season deal it came bundled with a game. A Switch dock standalone will cost you $75 on Amazon right now. A Joy-Con grip will cost you $10. That’s $85/$100 in hardware right there without taking into account the Lite’s lack of removable Joy-Cons, inability to dock with a TV in any official way, and the requirement to purchase additional Joy-Cons if you want to play games that aren’t available in handheld mode. It’s simply not worth it to buy a Lite as an alternative to the regular Switch at a discount of only 33% and Switch owners are painfully aware of that. But like I said, let’s not compare it to the Switch but to the 3DS. The Nintendo 3DS XL MSRP is $199.99, the exact same price as the Nintendo Switch Lite. If you think that’s a coincidence then you’re laughably ignorant or just down right oblivious. Nintendo isn’t trying to sell Switch owners a downgrade. They’re trying to sell 3DS owners an upgrade at the same price they paid for their last gen hardware. And offering them access to the full current gen Nintendo home console library for an additional $70 (the current price of two Joy-Cons on Amazon). You think those built in Joy-Cons aren’t detachable because of hardware cost? Think again. This is how the game is played.

Joy-Cons

The truth is that I don’t need a Nintendo Switch Lite, but I want one. I would actually love to take my Switch with me everywhere, but it’s too big and too valuable for me to want to carry around all the time. I don’t want to take it to other countries or keep it in my work bag for causal use. But a smaller, cheaper unit that would allow me to play all the same games would be ideal because it would be a handheld that allows me to continue my home console gaming while on the go. This was the great selling point of the Vita, but it had too many limitations. It’s the flagship feature of the Switch. It’s just that the hardware is a bit too big for truly casual handheld use. They’ve already said you can have the same account on two Switch devices and download/play that account’s software on both devices (not simultaneously). That’s exactly what I want. A lot of people are complaining about the reduced screen size but really I wish the device was even smaller. If I could play my Switch carts on something that would fit safely in my pocket and let me use a single memory card that I could hot swap between my docked Switch and it seamlessly I’d buy that in a second. Because again, I’m not a handheld gamer. I’m a home console gamer who sometimes has to leave my home. I want my gaming as seamless as possible and my on the go hardware as convenient as possible. I don’t want to have to carry a bag just to play games on the go. That’s the main draw of mobile games. That’s why the GameBoy was so successful. I took IT everywhere because I could just keep it in my pocket. Especially the much sleeker GameBoy Color.

Switch Memory Transfer

As a Switch owner, once you get past the specs and price, there are definitely some other serious issues that need to be taken into account. Saves is probably my biggest concern right now. Currently Switch memory cards cannot be hot swapped between devices. You are limited to one microSD card per a Switch. This means that, unlike in the good old days, I couldn’t buy a Lite and then quickly move my cart and memory card from my home Switch to the Lite when I’m leaving the house. This sucks cost wise, but I don’t personally have a problem with buying a memory card for both devices. What I do have a problem with is that there is no quick and easy process to transfer saves between the two devices. If you want to transfer a save from one Switch to another, or to a Lite in this case, you have two options: physical copy or cloud saves. The physical copy method sucks. It requires a PC with a microSD card reader/slot and time. Both things are not ideal for the home console to handheld quick transition that makes the Switch so great to begin with. Cloud saves are a better option but in the same vain, they’re slow. You have to upload the save(s) to the cloud from one device and then download them to the other device. And once you have finished uploading your saves you still can’t leave because you have to have Wi-Fi to access the cloud saves on the other device. So the process is going to take you almost as long as the physical copy method and cost you the price of a Nintendo Switch Online subscription to make use of the cloud save function. Neither of these methods are an effective use of the convenience that I’d be buying a Lite in addition to my Switch to ultimately get.

What I need to see is some sort of save beaming system. You should be able to link two systems wirelessly and beam saves between consoles fairly quickly when within a certain range. It shouldn’t require the cloud save function because it would all be done locally from device to device. Basically it should work like transferring Pokémon from Pokémon GO in your phone to Pokémon Let’s Go on your Switch. It takes just a few seconds after the initial connection is made. This would be the ideal scenario for owning both a Switch and Switch Lite. I’d be playing a game on my TV, have to leave but not want to pack my full sized Switch, beam the save to my Lite, and be on my way.

Switch Primary Console

The other serious issue with dual wielding a Switch and Lite is the primary console downloadable content limitation. Like with PSN accounts, a single Nintendo account can be accessed on multiple Switch devices. But only one can be the primary console. You can download and play games to other consoles through the same Nintendo account but doing so comes with limitations. The most troublesome of which being that downloaded content can only be accessed with active Wi-Fi. This is trash for on the go players outside of like Tokyo, Apple’s main office, and Wakanda. Everyone does not have constant access to Wi-Fi all the time and yet companies continue to ignore this fact. You can play downloaded content on your non-primary Switch, the Lite in this case, but if connection is lost the software will be instantly paused and not able to restart until a connection to Wi-Fi is reestablished. Meaning in practical terms that your Lite will be limited to physical games if it’s not your primary console. Like with the inability to use a single memory card for both devices, I can live with this, at least while physical games are still readily available, but it’s not ideal. These are the sorts of quality of life issues that Nintendo needs to deal with to sell people who already own a Switch. These issues don’t apply to non-Switch owners and that’s one of the main reasons I’m afraid they won’t get dealt with properly in a timely fashion. But again, Switch owners aren’t the target audience so these problems only kind of matter in the grand scheme of things for Nintendo at this point.

In my opinion, the Nintendo Switch Lite is a great device for a casual user or a handheld gamer looking to move into the next gen of handheld titles. And even as a Switch owner I do want one. But currently it’s just not worth it for Switch owners because of a few glaring quality of life flaws. I think it has the potential to really revolutionize the way we quantify home vs handheld gaming, which in many ways the Switch already has, but Nintendo has to prioritize convenience and practicality in creating a bridge between the two devices for current Switch owners. What are your thoughts on the Nintendo Switch Lite? Do you plan on buying one?

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Review – 7.5/10

What I like about the MCU Spider-Man is that both Marvel and the character himself are aware of his actual position on the superhero totem pole. In general, I like Spider-Man. I have been a fan since I was a kid. I’ve played many of his games, watched multiple cartoon series, and seen three different actors portray Peter Parker, my favorite Spider person, across 10 different live action films. But I do not love Spider-Man. He is a great character. This is fact. But he is not as great as everyone seems to give him credit for. He’s relatable, sort of, and I think that’s why he’s such a fan favorite. But in the grand scheme of the Marvel universe he’s not nearly as powerful, intelligent, or important as he’s often given credit for. If anything, I’d say a great many of his greatest moments happened more as a response to fandom than as organic character developments that warranted the fandom. But there’s no way to prove that one way or the other so I guess it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is fully aware that he’s not nearly as great, qualified, or important as everyone else seems to think he is. And this is true both for the viewers and within the MCU itself. That’s probably the main takeaway I got from Spider-Man: Far From Home, and I liked that aspect a lot.

What I loved about Spider-Man: Homecoming was the human aspect. But more specifically, the youth aspect. This version of Peter Parker is a 16 year old kid who genuinely thinks like a 16 year old kid. He wants to hang out with his friends. He wants to have a girlfriend. He wants to protect his Aunt and make sure she’s safe, both from monsters and from interested men. The hero aspect of his life isn’t the most important part of the character. It’s not even who he really wants to be. It’s a responsibility that’s forced onto him, which is a great way to paint the character. Because “with great power comes great responsibility”. That’s the point of the character. He doesn’t want to foil alien tech heists, fight aliens, or stop petty criminals. He has to. It’s his responsibility as a person with super powers. But he just wants to be a 16 year old kid. That’s who Peter Parker is. And while Tom Holland is not my favorite Peter Parker, this version of the character is my favorite version because of how well and realistically written it is. It is the most human Spider-Man I’ve ever seen depicted in live action and Far From Home does a great job of continuing this character’s story.

Tom Holland (Finalized)

I was worried about how Far From Home was going to follow Avengers: Endgame. Just about every movie in the MCU tries to top its direct predecessor film. That’s always been the idea. Bigger, better, and more impressive from one film to the next. With the exception of the Ant-Man films, pretty much every MCU movie actively tried to top the last one and usually did. At least in terms of stakes if nothing else. But we spent 10 years building to Avengers: Endgame. There was absolutely no way a solo film about a 16 year old kid was going to top that. Especially not one with Mysterio headlining as a not villain in the ads. So I had a lot of concerns going into this movie. Thankfully Marvel was not only aware of my concerns but used them to their advantage.

Far From Home followed Endgame perfectly because it actively goes out of its way to reference Endgame and let you know that we’re no longer playing at Thanos level stakes. It’s comedic. It’s personal. The scales and stakes are small. It’s simply not a story about an Infinity War class threat. It’s about healing from the many losses incurred during the Infinity War. And laughter is the best medicine after all.

SPIDER-MAN: ™ FAR FROM HOME

The movie does a lot of bits that are just there to make you laugh. They talk about what happened when everyone came back from the snap and it’s hilarious. They talk about how half the world didn’t age for five years so now everyone’s age is off. There’s an entire subplot about Ned’s romance life that is just hysterical. This is the stuff that a 16 year old kid would be thinking about, superhero or not. Really the actual stakes of the film aren’t even that big to begin with, similar to with Vulture in Homecoming. Yes the bad guy getting away with it would have been terrible. Yes the possible long term repercussions if Spider-Man didn’t do his job would have been a net negative. But the world wasn’t/isn’t going to end. In fact, I’d argue that Far From Home ending with the bad guy getting his way might actually have been better for the planet’s overall defenses in the long term. In any case, the stakes are pretty small. Not Ant-Man small, but small. And that’s a good thing in the case of these Spider-Man films.

Story wise, Far From Home was as good palate cleanser. It rebooted the audience back to the Iron Man one days where people were just kind of doing their own things and dealing with personal villain problems with no big picture to worry about. Yet at the same time, this movie does acknowledge that the good old days can never truly return. I’d say this movie had probably the most plot significant post credits scene of any MCU film to date. It literally affects the way you view every single MCU film except for The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 3, and maybe Captain America: Civil War. It also possibly teases the focal point of the next phase of MCU plots.

mysterio

 

Not only was Far From Home well written, but it was also well acted. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio was great. The character was different from the comics in a number of ways but extremely realistic and relatable. Not only did I believe that character but I sympathized with him quite a bit. As with Homecoming, the students, none of which are actually minors in real life, are extremely believable. Watching Far From Home reminded me a lot of what it was like to be a kid. The crushes, the romantic plans, the conflicts with other boys, the jealousy, and a general lack of assurance that anything you decide to do is actually the correct decision. These are the types of characters that make sense in the world of a 16 year old Spider-Man.

Visually speaking, this movie was great. The effects were top notch while also being very self-aware about the fact that they’re all fictional. The movie has many moments referencing the PS4 game, Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018), by Insomniac Games. It all comes together rather nicely to let the viewer know that not everything has to be so serious. Some things can just be fun and imaginative for the sake of being entertaining in a world constantly plagued by politics, misinformation, and greed. In my opinion, this is the entire point of the movie. It’s referencing the current issues of our reality by portraying those same problems in a post Thanos snap world.

spider-man aunt may

Spider-Man: Far From Home is not the next Avengers: Endgame. It’s not trying to be and that’s a good thing. It’s just a nice movie about a 16 year old kid who just happens to be a superhero. It’s one of if not the most relatable film in the MCU because it’s simply about the struggle of balancing your life with your work and learning how to accept that responsibility without losing your personal life in the process. If you’re looking for the next epic MCU adventure, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a respite from all the doom and gloom from the last several movies while still having some overall plot relevance, this is the perfect film to follow Avengers: Endgame.

cropped-blog-logo.png
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

John Wick the Game?

Last week, I finally saw John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. The movie was excellent, as are all the films in the franchise, but this is not a review. Honestly there’s no sensible reason for me to review John Wick 3 because if you haven’t seen the first two, then you absolutely shouldn’t watch the third one. And if you have seen the first two then you’re absolutely going to watch the third one if you haven’t already regardless of any review written by anyone, good or bad. So writing a review for this movie would be an exercise in futility. What I want to talk about is the concept of a John Wick game.

I have been thinking a lot about what a John Wick game could/should be like. As with all movie games, the experience should emulate that of the movie. Specifically it should try to simulate the feelings the player got while watching the movie. In the case of John Wick that means adrenaline, rage, exhaustion, and a tinge of paranoia induced fear. Those are the feelings I get when watching John Wick movies. Those are the feelings I imagine the character gets over the course of the movies. So in my opinion, a proper John Wick game should induce these same feelings in the player.

john wick 3If I had to narrow down the John Wick experience to a single core idea, it would be extremely visceral, perfectly executed, fast paced violence. Three concepts fused into one. The violence isn’t just acts of killing. It’s brutal acts of killing to a point that I couldn’t even imagine on my own. In the first 15 minutes of John Wick 3, he kills a man with a book. And it’s so brutal that I considered giving up literacy for an extended period of time. The violence is not just brutal but perfectly executed. My friend described John Wick 3 as like “watching someone complete a perfect run of a video game.” This is a fairly accurate description that can be seen in all three of the films. John Wick isn’t just good at killing. He’s consistently good at killing enemy after enemy with very few breaks in between foes. He kills with a rhythm that’s almost poetic in how flawless it is. It’s like watching Bobby Fisher play a game of chess. Finally, the action is fast paced. The movie isn’t built on monotonous build ups and slow paced duels between two knights on opposite sides of a war as they talk things out between clashes. It’s nothing so ceremonious. It’s just kill after kill after kill in rapid succession. Those three ideas together make up the John Wick experience for me.

John Wick at gunpoint.jpgA John Wick game has to have all three of these concepts blended together. Any singular one on its own doesn’t equate to the John Wick experience. Even delivering two of them perfectly would still be an ultimately hollow attempt. A game could be extremely violent and fast paced, but if it’s too forgiving and doesn’t require the player to perform at near perfect levels then it’s not really a John Wick game. If a game made the player have to execute every move flawlessly and delivered Mortal Kombat 11 levels of violence but had no component of time tied to the gameplay then it still wouldn’t be an authentic John Wick gameplay experience. The game would have to deliver all three concepts well to be deemed a proper John Wick game.

John Wick Hex, the soon to be released John Wick game by Bithell Games, may take on the name of John Wick, but it really doesn’t look like it will deliver the full John Wick experience. The violence may be there, but due to the graphics, it doesn’t seem like it will be all that impressive visually. The perfect execution looks like it will definitely be there. In fact, that seems to be the core concept of the gameplay. But the pacing doesn’t look to be there at all, based on what little of the game I’ve seen so far. John Wick Hex looks like they took the concept of chess, not speed chess, and applied it to a game about killing waves of people. While this can and hopefully will be an entertaining gameplay experience, I don’t believe it will be a true John Wick game.

John Wick Hex 1I’m left with two questions. Are there any games that already exist that deliver a full-fledged John Wick style gameplay experience? Would such a game actually appeal to players? Especially in 2019. I’ve been trying to think of games that might be worthy of being called John Wick-esque. One example I keep coming back to is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It’s violent, fast-paced, and requires nearly perfect execution. Obviously it’s not a gun game, as one might expect a John Wick game to be, but it does, for all intents and purposes, meet the three criteria of visceral, fast-paced, and requiring pretty much perfect execution. Based on those core concepts, Sekiro is just Samurai John Wick. But do people like it?

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a game muddied by controversy. Most people agree that it’s really hard. Like even harder than Dark Souls. But people don’t agree on whether or not the game should be made easier. Arguably, a true John Wick game would need to be at least as hard as Sekiro. But would people like such a game? They’d probably like watching it be played by someone really good. Yet when it came to playing it, many people would probably just complain that it was too hard. But to make it easy just wouldn’t be the John Wick experience. It would at best be the illusion of the John Wick experience, which admittedly many people would like.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gxA proper John Wick game would probably be really annoying. I imagine it would play similarly to Superhot but the levels/engagements would be quite a bit longer. You’d also be able to take at least some hits, as the character gets quite roughed up in the movies at various points. One way to do it might be a constant stream of timed QTEs in the style of TellTale Games titles like The Wolf Among Us. It might play like a very polished version of the Dragon’s Lair games but obviously more violent and realistic. But a lot of people don’t like QTEs. So even if that method did get closer to the movie experience, that doesn’t mean gamers would like it.

the-wolf-among-us-qte

The more I think about it, the more difficult the question seems to answer. I think this might be one of the reasons John Wick Hex was made the way it seems to have been. They went for the perfect execution aspect and some of the violence but appear to have left out the speed aspect as a sacrifice to the modern audience of lazy noobs. Better to appease the majority than make the most authentic experience possible. Especially when you don’t have the reputation of From Software to fall back on for justification.

I think a proper John Wick game is possible, but it’s certainly no easy feat to pull off. Either as a developer or as a gamer. I’m glad John Wick Hex exists because it means at least someone made an attempt. But I want to see a proper AAA John Wick game produced, successful or not. In any case, definitely watch all the movies if you haven’t. You surely won’t regret it.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Kingdom Hearts – Halfway There

I first became a fan of Kingdom Hearts in 2002 when the original game released on PS2. I still remember the commercial, back when commercials were the main way we learned about new video games. I was already a Disney fan and a Final Fantasy fan, having just played FFX for the first time less than a year before. The idea of playing a game that mixed the two things with real time combat blew my mind. I don’t think I ever could have even imagined such a game on my own. I preordered that game. Been in love with the franchise ever since. Two years later they released a spin off title, Chain of Memories, on the Game Boy Advance. I actually had a GBA at the time but I refused to buy the game. I refused to play into the predatory practice of releasing soft sequels and spinoffs on handheld platforms. So I skipped over Chain of Memories.

A year after Chain of Memories released, Kingdom Hearts II finally released. I of course preordered it even though I hadn’t played Chain of Memories. I assumed that, like most spin off titles of the time, it didn’t matter much. I was wrong. Two years after Kingdom Hearts II released, they ported Chain of Memories to the PS2. Because it was now available on home console and I could get it for $20, I bought, played, and hated Re: Chain of Memories. I should clarify that the gameplay is specifically what I hated about the game. Story wise, it’s really important to the franchise. The stuff that gets explained in that game ends up being key to Kingdom Hearts II.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-12-06 01-11-21

While I was angry about the fact that Square Enix had released a spinoff title with key plot information, I had hoped that like with Kingdom Hearts II, I could skip them and still kind of get the gist of what was going on by playing Kingdom Hearts III. In the time since I played Chain of Memories for the first time, it took Square Enix 12 years, four spinoffs, two plot relevant app games, and countless ports to finally release Kingdom Hearts III. And please note that Kingdom Hearts III was originally announced to be a PS3 title. In fact, it’s the main reason I ultimately wanted a PS3. I didn’t play a single Kingdom Hearts game after Re: Chain of Memories until I finally got a hard release date for Kingdom Hearts III.

As if by an act of divine intervention, Square Enix released the Kingdom Hearts All-In-One collection. Basically this is every Kingdom Hearts game ported to PS4 as a single purchase. That’s exactly what I had been asking for since they release 2.5 Remix. So I bought the collection and decided to start back at the beginning and play all the Kingdom Hearts games in order and finally get to play Kingdom Hearts III, and hopefully get a real conclusion to the story. I’m less than 20 hours into Birth by Sleep, meaning I’m about halfway through the series. Plus I’m caught up on Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, the app game which also affects the plot. It’s actually heavily tied to Birth by Sleep. So what I want to do today is not so much summarize the plot of Kingdom Hearts up to this point but rather the experience of playing them all back to back. I’m now somewhere between 130 and 150ish hours into the franchise and I still have a long ways to go. But for some reason I felt like I had kind of reached a milestone point because I’m now playing content that is completely new to me, so I wanted to write a post about it.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-05-16 00-11-48

I think it’s fair to say that of all the game franchises I’ve played, Kingdom Hearts is the most convoluted, confusing, and tied together. Many franchises spin far off from their previous games. Assassin’s Creed is one of the best examples of this. Many franchises assume you’ve played previous games. Metal Gear Solid does this in ways that I found excruciatingly annoying even though I played them all in order going back to the MSX titles. But really no other franchise I’ve played is as unplayable as Kingdom Hearts is when you haven’t played all the previous titles. There are so many important details scattered throughout these games that later matter a lot. Like if you play Kingdom Hearts II without having played both Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days, like I did the first time I played it, you go in missing extremely important plot details which make the first several hours of that game quite confusing. Mostly because the game starts you off by playing as a character that didn’t even exist during the events of the first game. You also spend more than three quarters of the game thinking the main villain from the first game has returned only to discover that not only has he not returned but that the person you thought was him was actually the main character’s best friend in disguise.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-12-14 00-43-04

Now if you play those two spin off titles first, you know all of this stuff. It all comes together fairly consistently, even though it is still kind of confusing to understand exactly what’s going on. Then when you finish Kingdom Hearts II and log back into the game to do the extras a special boss is introduced. A similar thing was done with Kingdom Hearts I. This special boss leads into the next game. But what you don’t realize if you skip the spin off titles is that the special boss leads into the next spin off title, not core game. So this special boss shows up coupled with an epic ending movie, if you have Final Mix and did everything to unlock it, and shows you a bunch of crazy shit that you cannot begin to guess the meaning of, even if you have played Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, which is directly tied to the next game, Birth by Sleep. I sometimes see people online saying they skipped some of the game or just jumped directly into Kingdom Hearts III and I genuinely feel bad for them. Because I assume trying to piece together that story from a vague opening movie and a bunch of random characters from Final Fantasy, Disney, and original Kingdom Hearts characters is probably more difficult than trying to understand the Arrowverse by starting with Legends of Tomorrow season 3.

If you do somehow stick with it and make it to Birth by Sleep, you get thrown for a loop in ways that I can’t even think of another example to compare it to. Like imagine if you watched the first five seasons of Game of Thrones and then the first episode of the sixth season was the first episode of House of Cards. That is what it’s like to start Birth by Sleep as someone who actually played all the previous games in order.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-11-11 21-55-11

Birth by Sleep starts with an epic opening movie, as all the Kingdom Hearts games do, but the music is the song used in Kingdom Hearts I and Chain of Memories. This is odd because there’s a different theme song for Kingdom Hearts II. The opening movie features three characters, two male and one female, which is reminiscent of the three main non-Disney characters from the previous game and the first game. But none of these three characters look like those original three characters. But one of them does look like a character from the second spin off and main game that’s sort of a spirit doppelganger of the main character so you think it’s him and that the other two characters are spirit doppelgangers of the other two main characters, which would have kind of made sense at that point in the franchise. Ignoring the fact that the female character already had a spirit doppelganger introduced. But that was an artificial one so it doesn’t count . . .

Episode - Screenshot 2019-03-12 00-29-30

 

So you think you’re about to start a game about the three main characters’ spirit doppelgangers until they start dropping names and you realize you have no idea who any of these characters are. You’ve never heard their names before. You don’t know any of the characters they’re talking to. You’ve never seen the world they live in. The one reference you get early on to the past game(s) is a name drop tied to a character that looks nothing like anyone you’ve seen before. Which is fine because they’ve already introduced the idea of spirit doppelgangers except they also said spirit doppelgangers look similar to their original forms. This guy doesn’t look anything like the previous version(s) of the character with the same name. Then when they finally introduce the enemies, you’ve never heard of them previously. By this point in the franchise, they’ve already introduced two “races” of monsters. Now you’re introduced to a third one. The first four games you’ve played by this point have nothing to do with this game other than the presence of key shaped weapons. Once you get about six hours in you start to realize that this is actually a prequel to Kingdom Hearts I. The main clues to this are you meet the original form of a guy you previously met the spirit doppelganger of and you meet a young Hercules. In Kingdom Hearts I, Hercules is already a grown man. In Birth by Sleep, he’s still a teenager.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-02-01 19-12-57

Basically I don’t actually know what’s going on anymore. I have ideas because of the app game and few clues that have allowed me to form theories, but I genuinely can’t say why I’m playing this current game, which has three playable characters with their own storylines, as far as the plot is concerned. I do expect it to all connect by the end of Birth by Sleep, but this is a spin off title so there’s a good chance that won’t happen. And it’s not a fun experience playing Birth by Sleep after Kingdom Hearts II. The other games, including Chain of Memories, centered on the main characters traveling with friends and working together to fight enemies and save the worlds. Birth by Sleep has you play alone. You don’t have a squad. You don’t get healing support. You just fly solo. It’s not impossibly hard but it is a lonely gameplay experience after getting so used to traveling with Donald and Goofy.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-11-03 00-33-00

The totally unrelated story isn’t the only problem I have with Birth by Sleep. The gameplay is a noticeable step backwards from Kingdom Hearts II. Which isn’t a surprise considering it’s a spin off title originally released for the PSP. All the spin off titles have garbage gameplay compared to the core games. The leveling and technique development system is better though because it allows the player to develop faster and in ways that suit their own play style and interests.

I hope I haven’t turned off anyone considering playing the Kingdom Hearts franchise, because that honestly wasn’t my intention here. The core titles are great games that truly revolutionized action RPGs in their time. And they really have aged fairly well. But it is definitely a demanding collection of games that many will get bored with or utterly confused by without being diligent. I will continue my journey to Kingdom Hearts III. I have waited more than a decade to play this game and I’m finally getting towards the finish line.

Blog Logo
As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.