Review of Pokémon Sword & Shield — Galar Calling

Since its 1996 debut, the international phenomenon in Pokémon has always seemed to cater towards the handheld-gaming crowd.  While there had been plenty of spin-offs and remakes for home consoles ranging from the N64 to the Wii U, having a portable system was a requirement if you wanted a piece of the core Pokémon lineup.  But thanks to the Switch, that prerequisite has been axed.  After three years of development, Pokémon Sword & Shield have arrived as the first main-series Pokémon games for home consoles.  I know these games have been the butt of backlash for several reasons, but it’s a still good duo of games on their own merit.  Let’s whip out our Pokédexes and converse about it.

Jolly ol’ Galar

The eighth generation of this heavily-revered franchise is set in the Galar region, which is based on the United Kingdom.  The plot is mostly the same as previous gens — You receive your starter Pokémon, learn the ropes of being a Trainer, and go on a quest to become the regional Pokémon champion.  Gym Battles are part of your journey again, except the lineup of Gym Leaders you face depends on which of these two versions you decide to play.

With tea or biscuits

Although features like Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves have been tossed and the Pokédex has been trimmed, there are plenty of new things to do in your latest Pokémon adventure.  You can take part in raids similar to those in Pokémon Go, have your Pokémon partake in special tasks, and even spend some time socializing and cooking meals with your Pokémon.  It should also be pointed out that the world now has a dynamic weather system, and the powerful critters can temporarily become larger in appearance thanks to Dynamax and Gigantamax forms.  Lastly, if you have some Pokémon from previous adventures that you’d like to bring along with you for this ride, you’ll be able to transfer them via the upcoming Pokémon Home service.

No Game, No Watch, Just Galar-y

Despite seeming like a very polarizing duo of games in its franchise, Pokémon Sword & Shield do what they can to provide you with more of the great Pokémon fun that’s been had since its late-90’s launch.  The new formula may seem a bit too streamlined to your liking at first; But once your adventure in the Galar region commences, you’ll have nothing to develop gripes about.

Review of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 — Oh no, there goes Tokyo

Everyone’s favorite plumber and hedgehog are once again going for the gold, as the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series has come to the Nintendo Switch for its sixth installment.  Sure, it may seem like nothing more than a simple cash-grab, but there are some enjoyable new features to be delved into.  So without further ado, let’s light the torch and get into the review itself.

Time-travel turmoil

We haven’t seen a story mode in this series since the 3DS version of the London 2012 installment, but it returns in this edition.  After an opening confrontation, the competitors are inadvertently sent back in time to the Tokyo 1964 games (The setting of which is presented in 2D), and getting back to the present is going to be way easier said than done.  In the meantime, our heroes and villains must venture around the retro venues and compete in old-school 2D events, and there are also 10 special minigames that you must unlock in this mode before you can play them elsewhere.

It shines like gold

Tokyo 2020 has a big list of events to play, and there are some new ones like skateboarding, surfing, sport climbing, and karate.  Whether you’re playing the 2020, 1964, or Dream Events, each minigame comes equipped with tight control schemes, and you can choose between motion controls and standard gamepad controls.  While the controls are fluid and responsive, you still might want to read the instructions for each event in case they seem a little complex at first.

For the first time in the series, online multiplayer is included.  However, I feel that it is, at the very least, half-baked.  The tournament format in events like table tennis and badminton is ditched (Thus making them feel way too short in length), and you are unable to play the 1964 events.  These aren’t dealbreakers, but they make me believe that the online in Tokyo 2020 just isn’t for me.  If inviting three friends over (And possibly ordering a bunch of Pepsi and Domino’s Pizza) is what I need to do in order to get the multiplayer experience I truly want from this game, so be it. But hey, maybe the developers will improve the online multiplayer in a future patch.

It’s the final countdown

It may knock a few hurdles to the ground, but this is a decent comeback for the Mario & Sonic series and a fine debut for it on the Switch.  If you can stomach the fact that this isn’t supposed to be in the same league as minigame compilations like the Mario Party series, this Tokyo 2020 installment is a great place for you to go on the hunt for gold medals.

Review of Luigi’s Mansion 3 — Welcome to the Hotel Luigi

After a six-year hiatus, Mario’s younger bro Luigi has once again busted out his trusty vacuum and flashlight in his first titular adventure for the Nintendo Switch.  Even though I missed out on Dark Moon, I got pretty psyched when I heard that Luigi’s Mansion 3 was going to be a thing.  And now that I’ve gotten my hands on it, I can say that Nintendo and Next Level Games have done an admirable job with the third chapter of this spin-off series.  With that preamble out of the way, let’s chat about all the cool stuff that Luigi’s latest Ghostbusters-like adventure brings to the table.

Hotel hijinks

The Mario Bros., Princess Peach, and a group of Toads have received invitations to a luxurious hotel called the Last Resort, so they hop in their bus and hit the road without thinking of what could possibly go wrong.  After everyone gets checked in and hits the sack, Luigi and his Polterpup sidekick wake up in the middle of the night to find that his friends and bother are nowhere to be found and the hotel seems a little haunted.  After an encounter with the hotel’s corrupt staff, as well as King Boo, it turns out that Luigi’s allies (Prof. E. Gadd included) have been imprisoned in paintings.  With the help of his ghost-sucking prowess, it’s up to the green-clad plumber to restore order to the hotel and rescue his pals.

It sucks and blows…Literally

Luigi’s Mansion 3 runs on the same engine as its 3DS predecessor, with some obligatory refinements.  The mission-based structure of Dark Moon has been given the boot, and has been replaced by checkpoints that autosave your progress.  Luigi’s Poltergust has been given some new moves like shooting plungers, knocking enemies back with a jet of air, and throwing ghosts onto the floor or into each other.  You can even play as Gooigi from the 3DS port of the original Luigi’s Mansion, and he’ll be a big help if you need to navigate tight spaces or walk across spiked floors (Just don’t fall into water).

If you want the option to have friends explore the haunted hotel with you, your wish is granted.  The campaign supports two-player co-op, and you also get a plate of eight-player modes that task you and your friends with capturing ghosts, firing cannonballs at targets, or catching as many coins as you can.  It’s evident that replay value was high on Nintendo’s priority list when this game was in development.

Who ya gonna call?

The Luigi’s Mansion spin-off series is not intended to be in the same league as the heavyweight platformers the Mario franchise is heavily lauded for, but that doesn’t mean it can’t produce fun games.  With its high replay value and truckload of charm, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is, without a doubt, another must-have for Nintendo’s hybrid console.  We might not get a fourth installment anytime soon, but there’s plenty of  ghost-sucking fun to be had here.

Review of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019) — I want this to be my awakening

It’s no secret that Nintendo has a knack for releasing updated ports of prominent games in their catalog, but it should also be noted that they haven’t released that many full-blown remakes.  For a long time, the big N seemed nearly completely hesitant when it came to completely redesigning classic games for new consoles.  However, as the 3DS’s life cycle winds down and the Switch continues to be highly successful, that hesitance is becoming a thing of the past.  And now that games from established franchises like Pokémon and Metroid have been given the remake treatment in the last two years, next in line is The Legend of Zelda.  But instead of the first Zelda remake being that of a heavy-hitter like A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time, Nintendo and Grezzo have chosen to unearth the 1993 Game Boy gem in Link’s Awakening.

I can swing my sword, sword

If you’ve played the original version, you’ll know the story by heart.  Link is caught in a storm while sailing on his ship, and he ends up stranded on Koholint Island.  The skilled swordsman then spends time lying unconscious on the grains of sand, until a girl named Marin comes to the rescue.  After getting acquainted with this new location, Link must awaken the Wind Fish so that he can begin his trip back to his home kingdom of Hyrule.

We all know the gameplay structure when it comes to Zelda games, and this remake is no different.  There’s a sword to swing, dungeons to explore, sidequests to complete, and upgrades to buy.  The dungeons you complete can now be played in a time attack mode if you want to earn some goodies  You even get to create your own dungeons as your journey goes on.  From the dungeons to the minigames, this remake doesn’t disappoint in the upgrades department.

Despite a noticeable amount of framerate drops, the visual style is both charming and beautiful.  The dot-eyed character models are kind really cute, in my opinion.  Also, the soundtrack does an above-average job recapturing that of the original Game Boy version.

Gone with the Wind Fish

This remake of Link’s Awakening does have a few dents in its shield, but it’s definitely a must-have for your Switch library, even if you never played the 1993 classic it’s on based on.  Will the success of this one influence Nintendo to pump out additional Zelda remakes on the Switch? Time will tell, but I don’t see why not.

Review of Pokémon Snap — For those with the benefit of Pokémon photography

For those of you who don’t know me very well, something I really wanted when I was a child was my very own camera.  Not because I was jealous of those in my family who owned one, but because I developed a fascination with walking around and taking pictures of the beautiful pieces of nature that surrounded my home.  I know it sounds like I watched too much Discovery Kids when I was a lot younger, but this wish of mine was actually influenced by a very interesting spin-off in the heavily-revered Pokémon franchise.  Replace the turn-based strategy with on-rails photography, and you get Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64.

Gotta photograph ’em all

Released in the summer of 1999, Pokémon Snap tasks you with taking pictures of 63 Pokémon in their natural habitats.  You and your trusty ZERO-ONE vehicle travel through seven courses that make up Pokémon Island, and you must use your photography prowess and a handful of gadgets to make sure your pictures look as nice as possible.  Every time you complete a trip, you must choose which of your shots will be shown to Professor Oak, who gives your pictures ratings based on size, pose, and technique.  Even though the amount of courses seems small, the goals of timing your shots correctly and searching for all the included Pokémon will have you hooked.

This was the first game to have 3D Pokémon character models, and the team at HAL Laboratory did a fantastic job designing both those and the courses’ graphics.  There can be a little slowdown when things like smoke and fire cover a big portion of the screen, but it’s only temporary.  In terms of sound, the voice-acting for each character (Both human and Pokémon) is above average, and each course comes with very appropriate music.

Snap, crackle, Pika

This Pokémon game doesn’t have nearly as much replay value as the main series we know and love, but it’s a unique game within its franchise.  If for some reason you enjoy photography simulators, or if you simply enjoy on-rails games of any kind, Pokémon Snap will no doubt be a very charming addition to your N64 library.  It could definitely use a sequel on the Nintendo Switch, especially if it’d allow you to share your in-game photos directly to Facebook and Twitter.  If we can’t bring our cartridges to Blockbuster anymore to print out our photos, we may as well go the social media route.

The Outer Worlds announced for the Nintendo Switch

Have you heard of this upcoming first-person RPG called The Outer Worlds, created by former Fallout writers? It was announced today that with a little help from independent studio Virtuous, this title will be getting a Nintendo Switch port sometime after its Oct. 25 launch. If you’ve played the Switch versions of L.A. Noire and Dark Souls, you have reason to be confident that Virtuous will do satisfactory job with said port. If you don’t own the latest console from the big N, you still have the options of playing The Outer Worlds on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC.

Review of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order — Back in black

If you’re both a gamer and comic book collector, chances are you spent many hours playing the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series from Activision. And in turn, you might have been pleading for a third title in the ten years that have passed since Ultimate Alliance 2‘s release. Luckily, the folks at Nintendo and Team Ninja have finally granted your wish in the form of the Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order.

No roses, just stones

The story is very similar to the recent Avengers films. Thanos teams up with a group known as the Black Order, and they go on another hunt for the six Infinity Stones, which were inadvertently scattered by Guardians of the Galaxy leader Star-Lord. It’s up to you and up to three other players to put together a giant roster of heroes and anti-heroes, sharpen your beat-’em-up skills, and save the galaxy before Thanos’ team conquers it.

Hack-and-slash? More like hack-and-Hulk-Smash

Gameplay-wise, The Black Order is a team-based beat-’em-up. Your heroes have light and heavy attacks as well as special moves that can be used when standing next to your allies. There are no complex button combos to memorize, so every battle and puzzle is basically full of button-mashing. As your journey progresses and you keep taking out bad guys, you’ll be earning enough currency to upgrade your characters’ stats and give them some new moves. Your starting roster is comprised of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, and Groot (With Rocket Raccoon on his shoulders), and many other popular Marvel characters will join you along the way. The overall roster is pretty big, and it will keep getting bigger thanks to free updates and a season pass.

Despite the limitations of the Switch’s hardware, the character designs look as if they’ve escaped from whatever comic pages you happen to be reading, and that’s a compliment. The graphics engine itself is also well-designed, and I have not run into any framerate issues whatsoever. The music definitely sounds like something out of a comic book show or film, and it’s accompanied by wonderfully-performed voice-acting from stars such as Laura Bailey, Phil LaMarr, James Arnold Taylor, Nolan North, and Yuri Lowenthal.

Talk about a MARVEL-ous adventure

As I mentioned, it had been a decade since Ultimate Alliance 2 hit the shelves, and the third chapter does an above-average job picking up where the folks at Activision left off. Whether you’re an avid fan of comic books or adept at co-op beat-’em-ups, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 will reward you and your friends with more action-game fun than you can shake a stack of Free Comic Day books at.