Posts filed under Reviews

ARMS demo at the Toronto Nintendo Switch Preview

Quick thoughts on the ARMS demo:

  • game is fun, colourful, and surprisingly deep
  • The controls are responsive and curving a punch mid throw is neat
  • The pace is very methodical, I would wish for some faster fighters perhaps
  • you can punch someone else's fist and it cancels it out
  • the Joy-Con controllers tracked movements perfectly, they never went out of alignment or needed re-syncing
  • they are small but comfortable in the hand
Posted on February 3, 2017 and filed under Reviews.

Circle with Disney in Canada

This is the Circle with Disney. It's a cool internet monitoring and parental control device that lets you set time limits on internet, monitor app usage, and so on. I've been on the lookout for something to allow me to control access to the internet in a more finely tuned way than what my dlink router offers me.

Doing some Googling led me to the Circle. Originally a failed kickstarter, now offered in partnership with Disney (way to go, people!) the Circle is, despite its name, a white cube that connects to your wifi and lets you do all that parental stuff. I was blown away by a review, and looking at the features on the Circle site itself, it looked like the perfect device for what I need.

Only downside, you can't order it from the US to ship to Canada. And the iOS app that's needed to set it up is only available on the US iTunes store. So to get this thing working up here I'd have to ship it to a US address, pick it up or have someone travelling bring it back with them, and also set up a US iTunes account in order to get the app. A little too much work for me right now, as I'm in the middle of moving house.

And then today, I decide to try searching for Circle on the best buy canada site, and lo and behold, it's available for pre-order! Shipping September 15th, it looks like Circle is indeed coming to Canada! I'm hoping that the iOS app will be available in the Canadian iTunes store on that day as well.

I'll report back when I get it set up. - E

Posted on September 6, 2016 and filed under Reviews.

Review: Tyto Ecology - Build Your Biome

by Ryan Thompson

After 5 hours of arranging organisms in three biomes I had created, I was confident in recommending Tyto Ecology to my science students. Tyto Ecology is 6.99 on Steam and Free on iOS (iPad only).

After 5 hours of arranging organisms in three biomes I had created, I was confident in recommending Tyto Ecology to my science students. Tyto Ecology is 6.99 on Steam and Free on iOS (iPad only).

Lindsey Tropf is a repeat guest of the Magic Hour Show Podcast, show number 5 and 10, respectively. She is the founder and CEO of Immersed Games, developer of Tyto Ecology. I received a code for the Steam version of the game from her.

Not dead yet! Yay!

Not dead yet! Yay!

Tyto Ecology is an ecosystem creation simulator. I took interest in the game because of my role as an elementary science teacher. I’ve spent my time with the game building rainforest, grassland, and desert biomes. I’ve placed giant Kapok trees and small varieties of grasses and shrubbery. Animals have been summoned forth into these habitats at my whim, and died slow, painful deaths from starvation. Some have survived, and the health of my ecosystems have stayed fairly high, but having insectivores in an environment with only a poisonous insect for food… doesn’t work so well.

The game prioritizes simplicity over micro-management. Dropping plants and animals in the environment creates groups or territories for the organisms. You won’t be able to place a single bobcat wherever you want; you choose its territory. Some players might miss the level of control this takes away from the players. You’ll spend less time figuring out exactly where to place that one mushroom, instead choosing its circle of influence. This level of simplicity makes the game more accessible in primary and secondary classrooms, as placement of organisms doesn’t require precision.

Sparing specifics of the Next Generation Science Standards (, Tyto Ecology nestles itself neatly within my science curriculum. Most obviously, the game provides an interactive way to lead to the understanding that organisms survive well in some environments, but not in others. However, since one can’t (yet) place a cactus in a tropical rainforest, or a polar bear in a desert, extremes of organisms in the wrong environment aren’t something that can be played with. Adaptations help animals survive, and some plants and animals are just better suited for survival. You’ll find tough, hearty species that can only be eaten by very specific animals (or, like the badger, species that can eat just about anything).

The strongest concept covered is that animals, plants and other organisms interact within ecosystems and these relationships can affect the survival of multiple species. Organisms that will interact with each other are clearly shown each time a plant or animal is placed in the environment. In my initial sessions, I was very content to see that I had herbivores interacting with plants, and carnivores interacting with herbivores. My quick contentment resulted in animals dying, in animations that aren’t frightening for children of any age. It was time for me to consult the biodex.

I really appreciate the biodex in Tyto Ecology. A quick-click of its page icon provides information on each organism in the game, and a glossary of terms that might help the player understand what’s happening in their ecosystem. Reading the biodex taught me that the ants I had so kindly offered to my insectivores were poisonous. It helped me discover which plants possess the best leaves or fruits for herbivores, which are used for shelter, and which are very attractive to pollinators – who will be more attractive to my insectivores than poisonous ants, for sure. The biodex is great for educational purposes, as it bristles with real-world facts, and becomes required reading to ensure balanced and appropriate interactions in your ecosystems.

There are two forms of energy currency for use in the game – Impact Points and Tyto Coins. Impact Points are required to place animals and plants in the environment. Tyto Coins are used to unlock organisms and purchase Impact Points. Should you find yourself in an environmental emergency, you can exchange your coins for points to quickly (hopefully) balance your ecosystem. These currencies could be a conceit for the iPad version of the game, as they encourage revisiting the game once your points have recharged. For the classroom, the limitation on how much can be done in one play session is a strength. This encourages small changes in the environment. I would suggest to students that they are attempting to engineer the perfect environment. Limiting the amount of changes that can be made in a session will help students to determine what’s working, what isn’t, and how to improve their ecosystems. Suddenly, Tyto Ecology is also connecting to the engineering design process.

If you’re looking for a large-scale, micromanagement zoo simulator, I don’t think Tyto Ecology is for you. The game does feel like a more casual experience. Some gameplay sessions were an hour, as I spent time in each of my three biomes. Others were just a few minutes, as I checked on my animal populations, read a few biodex entries, and placed a few new animal territories (and hoping these would outlive the last). Once more, this flexibility is strength in the classroom. Perhaps this is a beginning of period exercise, or a 15-minute reading center, or a quick reward for a class session well done. Alternatively, the game could be an entire lesson, effectively including reading, engineering, and science skills. 

Posted on June 21, 2016 and filed under Reviews.

My Steam Controller came

My unboxing video on Periscope is here.

My new Steam Controller came and I opened it. After putting in the batteries, I tried it on my Mac. And while it let me navigate around Big Picture Mode, it didn't seem to be recognized in Hotline Miami.

I'll give it a try on my PC tomorrow. Also, did you know that it can do motion control? That means I can play shooters on my PC with motion control like in Splatoon. Boom.

It's a whole new world, baby.

Posted on November 11, 2015 and filed under Reviews.

How Far I Got - Explody Bomb Impressions

Game: Explody Bomb – Alkterios Games LLC
by Ryan Thompson

Unique take on addictive “Flappy” style gameplay, utilizing the dual-screen setup of the WiiU.
Reminiscent of Early NES arcade games, such as Balloon Fight.
Value priced ($1.99) with potential for long term replay.

Necessary to shoot all enemies on screen (except stars), rather than avoid them.
Difficult to identify enemies on the plane’s (TV) screen.
Plane’s slow fire rate resulted in multiple deaths that could have been avoided.

Disclosure: Derek from Alkterios Games, LLC is a Twitter Connection and Splatoon buddy. I was provided code of the game from him.

I spent a half-hour with Explody Bomb. I reached a high score of five points. The first WiiU eShop release from Alkterios Games LLC, Explody Bomb is a “Flappy Bird-like” game (that’s a thing, right? If not, it should be). Unlike the countless Flappy Bird clones that appeared on mobile devices following the original’s runaway success, Explody Bomb adds a few twists to the basic gameplay, utilizing the dual screens of the WiiU.

Using the gamepad, Explody Bomb puts flying in one direction avoiding obstacles action ON TWO SCREENS! On the TV, the player pilots a plane (it and pilot are reminiscent of the NES’ Balloon Fight sprites). On the gamepad, a bomb is guided up and down along a line. The plane can move in all directions and fire a projectile at enemies on the main screen, and the bomb remains directly below the plane. Control of the plane utilizes the left thumbstick and A button to fire its weapon, while the bomb is moved vertically using the right thumbstick.

The ideas added to Explody Bomb differentiate it from other clones, but also add some problems. Enemies don’t do much to indicate a threat on the screen. Cause of many of my deaths was a static missile looking device that didn’t strike me as anything other than an object to be avoided. The plane’s fire rate feels just a tad too slow, often preventing it from being useful. I found myself failing without hitting obstacles, learning later that all enemies on screen (except stars) have to be shot. I guess they explode or something, ending your progress. So, the slow fire rate becomes more of an issue. I tried to play the game on just the gamepad; this is a true dual-screen game, you must look at both the TV and WiiU Gamepad simultaneously. I’m glad to see games utilize the pad, but I was confused at first. Not seeing the directions displayed on the TV will do that. This is a first release; I’d enjoy seeing the developer refine and modernize the ideas here in a future version.

Explody Bomb is a simple concept that provides a deep challenge. I commend the developer for making use of both screens and doing something with the Flappy concept that truly felt different. It was very difficult to manage looking at both screens at the same time, and I found myself sitting as far away from the television as possible to keep both in my field of view. The necessity of shooting enemies on the TV screen adds another layer of challenge to the gameplay. If you enjoy the style of games like this, Explody Bomb is worth a look, and at $1.99 won’t hurt your eShop budget too much.

About the Author
Ryan isn’t a game journalist, but he enjoys writing about his hobby.
He hopes you’ll chat and play some games with him @zoso1701 on Twitter, Miiverse and Steam.
Hear him on the Magic Hour Show Podcast from!

Posted on September 18, 2015 and filed under Reviews.

Thoughts of a Two-Year-Old on Bit Trip Presents... Runner 2

In the first of a new series of posts, Ryan Thompson shares his two-year-old's thoughts on video games. Today, he takes a look at Bit Trip Presents... Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien.

I occasionally (often) play stretches of video games with my kids around. My daughter’s interests influence what games will be played. She is old enough now to express her interests and opinions in ways that only toddlers can. This series of posts will use her thoughts to summarize our gameplay experiences.

First game of the summer is Bit.Trip Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. We played it side by side enough that Daughter will repeat the announcements of the game’s title at random moments throughout the day. Runner2 received plenty of positive praise and mostly favorable reviews, but what did a two year-old think of the colorful, precise and full of character auto-runner?

“Bit.Trip Runner runs FAST! JUST LIKE THIS,” Daughter says as she runs up and down the hallway. As the floor buckles from her heavy footfalls, she adds, “Jumps UP and DOWN and ROUND and ROUND!” This is her description of the basic gameplay of Runner2, combined with a phrase from a current favorite book, Pony Brushes His Teeth. There’s a bit more to the game then jumping, but I’m glad Daughter isn’t trying to slide, kick, jump-kick or block pixel projectiles while she zooms up and down the hallway.

Daughter’s favorite part of the game is the variety of characters. Kids can be fickle, and every level saw a change in costume or character. Runner2 features 8 characters: male, female and retro versions of the main hero, a pickle, reverse merman, anthropomorphized oil can, an elder of the Video species, and Daughter’s favorite (or least, depending on the minute), a hamburger-headed humanoid. She really liked “Hamburger,” actual name Whetfart Cheeseborger, enough that she requested a hamburger dinner. I happily obliged, and she proceeded to take her mini-burger apart in the way Cheeseborger comes apart after a missed jump or hit obstacle, claiming “it’s just like hamburger girl in Bit Trip Runner!” If only she actually ate her dinner with such enthusiasm.

Dad and Daughter Highlights of Runner2

  • “There are RAINBOWS!”
  • “She (Commandgirl Video) has a pretty dress!”
  • “Ooh, pretty!”
  • “I want to be the hamburger”
  • “I DON’T want to be the hamburger”

Runner2 was purchased as part of the Humble Nintendo Indie Bundle. This is the first of the games available in the bundle we’ve completed, and it’s also the first game my daughter has requested to play with no encouragement from a parent.

About the Author

Ryan isn’t a game journalist, but he enjoys writing about his hobby.

He hopes you’ll chat and play some games with him @zoso1701 on Twitter, Miiverse and Steam.

Hear him on the Magic Hour Show Podcast from!

Posted on July 17, 2015 and filed under Reviews.

Splatoon: Nintendo's Friendly Shooter

Welcome to Inkopolis, where the party never stops.

Welcome to Inkopolis, where the party never stops.

My kids and I have been playing and evaluating Splatoon for about two weeks now. Here are some of my thoughts on Nintendo’s newest and freshest game for the Wii U.

Title: Splatoon | Platforms: Wii U | Release Date: 2015-05-29

Distribution: Retail and Digital | Digital Install size: 1732 MB

Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10 and up): Cartoon Violence

Genre: Action | Players: 1 - 8 | Current Version: 1.2.0


Splatoon is a third person shooter where the primary goal is to cover as much ground as possible with ink. Splatting other players is secondary. It’s possible to play a whole match without ‘killing’ an opponent, if you were to just concentrate on inking turf. There are certain advantages to hitting other players of course, not the least of which is getting them off the field for a few seconds while you continue to cover ground. However, you don’t get any extra points for how many ‘kills’ you made, or anything like that. The emphasis is on the ink, not the kills.

Splatoon is a shooter like no other. What shooter would have a weapon like a paint roller, which can only fire blobs of ink a very short distance as you shake the roller? Not very effective at hitting targets any father away than a few feet, but extremely effective at putting ink on the ground.

The design team have also taken the Gamepad and used it to give players the option of Motion Control aiming. It’s a divisive issue, especially as it comes turned on by default, and those who are used to playing shooters with the camera on the right-stick may find it off-putting. I would recommend giving it a fair try, it might just win you over, as it did I. The right stick is still used, but only for left and right movement, and the Gamepad tilt and pan for anything else. I found the most success by limiting the Gamepad to up and down and minor left right movements, and using the Right stick for bigger turns.


Splatoon offers various modes of play. The main one is found in the Lobby: the online multiplayer mode. Upon release the game has Turf Battle mode, and Ranked Battle mode, the latter being unlocked when your character reaches level 10. Experience is gained by playing Turf Battle, and points gained in that mode double as currency you can use on upgrades and gear. Ranked Battle differs from Turf Battle in that you fight for control of zones on the map, rather than greater coverage.

Offline you can play local multiplayer in the Battle Dojo, one on one. One player uses the Gamepad for controls and looks at the Gamepad screen, and the other player uses a Pro Controller or Classic Controller (Pro) attached to a Wii Remote, and looks at the main television screen. Battle Dojo matches are determined by who pops the most balloons that spawn around the map in the given time. It’s a fun way to get to know the layouts of the maps, and have a little friendly competition as well.

Then there is the story mode: Octo Valley. In this mode, the player makes her way through various stages and floating ‘worlds’ in a land controlled by Octopi. Throughout each stage the player will navigate various obstacles, defend against Octo enemies of differing types, and make their way to the end of each stage to recover the missing Zapfish, a sort of living lightbulb. Each stage also has a hidden Sunken Scroll, which can be found through careful examination of the level and some fancy platforming to reach these hidden areas. At the end of each world, there is a boss, which in traditional Mario style must be defeated three times in order for them to be truly finished. Bosses also give the player a special scroll, which unlocks special weapon loadouts in the Inkopolis Weapon Shop. Even without that incentive, the story mode is creative, fun, and challenging. The way the differing worlds are connected to each other in a organic way reminded me of Dark Souls’ level design. And when you reach the final boss, take a moment to look around from that high viewpoint. It’s pretty spectacular. You can even see Inkopolis in the distance. If you’re wondering how much content the single player has, I would estimate between three to five hours, depending on your skill level and whether you find all the secret Sunken Scrolls. It’s definitely not an afterthought tacked onto the game, and it’s worth playing.

Sound and Music

Splatoon supports 5.1 surround, and I would definitely recommend it if you have the setup for it. It makes for an immersive experience, and shows off the excellent sound design.

From the putt-putt of the paint guns, to the guitar scream of the Killer Wail, the sounds in Splatoon are superb. Everything sounds organic and authentic, and when you submerge into the ink, all sounds take on that muted underwater quality, as they should. Even the loading screen is alive with the sounds of the city; I could almost see the commuter train as it passes from the front speakers to the rear.

The music in Splatoon ranges from Rock to laid back Reggae, all infused with tinges of Surf, as befitting the musical taste of a squid. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but at least it isn’t boring.

Thoughts for Parents

Nintendo have gone out of their way to make Splatoon friendly to new players. The one on one Battle Dojo and the offline Single Player Story Mode are both excellent training modes for the Online Turf Battle mode. Not that they aren't fun in their own right, of course. But at its heart, Splatoon is an online game, and Nintendo is doing everything it can to help people embrace that. Keeping matches short, eliminating voice chat, and focusing on turf rather than kills, takes away much of the potential for bad manners, and keeps the game fun even if you don't come out on the winning side.

My kids seem to sense that as well, and they progressed through the game much as (I suspect) Nintendo wanted them to: playing some of the story mode, doing the 1v1 with me or with each other, and then venturing on to the online game once they'd gotten a handle on how to play on their own.

Unfamiliar with a new stage, or just want to run around inking things without any enemies? There’s a Recon Mode for stages so can you explore at your own pace. Want to try out a new weapon before you buy it, or just get used to the ones you have? The Weapon Test area has dummies you can practice on.

If you want to play with your friends, you can choose to jump into their multiplayer lobby instead of a random one. If they’re in a game, a countdown timer appears to let you know how long you have to wait until they are done their match. Once you start the match, you’ll remain together in the same lobby until you exit multiplayer mode.

If you do end up waiting for a match to start, you can play a cute 8-bit minigame on the GamePad screen to pass the time. Included from the start is Squid Jump, a simple game which has you powering up to jump upwards onto various platforms in a race against time to the top of the level. It’s surprisingly fun, and is a perfect time waster. It also saves your place in the game when the match begins, and resumes from the same spot the next time you play. Other minigames can be unlocked by completing the amiibo challenges.

Speaking of amiibo, there are three characters supported in Splatoon: an Inkling Girl, an Inkling Boy, and a Squid. Each of them unlocks a series of challenge stages, as well as exclusive gear and the aforementioned minigames. I was not able to test them pre-release, but I look forward to the additional content they will unlock.

Nintendo seem to be keen on making sure the game is a success, and their plan to release a free update in August with new gameplay modes is part of that strategy. As additional modes and maps are added over time, as in-game Festivals are announced, the game will hopefully keep players engaged, and coming back for more. For an online multiplayer game to work, it must have an active community, and I believe Nintendo’s strategy is to grow it steadily over the long term.

Much has been made of the decision to leave out voice chat, and I think it’s a good decision. From a parent’s perspective, it eliminates one of the greatest issues I have with letting my younger kids play or interact with anyone online that they don’t already know in real life: the potential for abusive behaviour. In fact, with no way to speak or even type messages, the only way to communicate with my kids as they play is through other services, which lets me vet who they can and cannot interact with.

Wish List

That’s not to say that there aren’t areas of the game which could be improved. Here are a few of my suggestions:

Multiple users:

In our pre-release review copy, there is no way to switch user accounts while in game, and there is only one character per user. So if my daughter wants her own character, and wants to save her own progress in single player, we have to close the game, go to switch the Nintendo Network ID to her account, and then launch the game again. It would be great if there was a way to switch accounts without quitting and re-launching the game.

More local multiplayer:

At launch the game’s only local multiplayer mode is the 1v1 Battle Dojo. It would be a natural addition to have a local 4 player mode, so that families can play together. With local multiplayer so strongly represented in Mario Kart and Smash Bros., it seems even more glaring by its absence here. I really believe that Splatoon has an opportunity to become this generation’s Goldeneye, if Nintendo were to seize it.

Streamline the start:

When you first load the game, after the splash screen you are required to watch the Squid Sisters announce the current Turf War and Ranked Battle stages. It was cute the first time, but it does lose its charm with repeated viewings. There is no way to skip it, and even mashing the A button it still takes nearly half a minute before you can play. It is especially annoying after having to switch users (see above).

Changing Weapons while waiting for a match to start:

As it stands right now, you need to exit the Lobby altogether to change weapon loadouts, which means that if you want to swtich weapons in between matches, you have to go through multiple steps. It would be much handier to be able to access the weapon switching screen while still waiting for the match to start, without exiting and losing your place in the lobby.

Final Thought

Nintendo have made the first truly friendly online shooter, and have managed to do so while maintaining its reputation as a company that makes games that are safe for kids to play. At the same time, they haven’t so severely limited the game that it isn’t still fun for grownups. Amazingly fun, in fact. Splatoon keeps me wanting to play more.

Splatoon Pre-Release Review Copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.

Posted on May 28, 2015 and filed under Reviews.

gamerparent preview - RIVE

Ryan Thompson takes a look at a preview build of the upcoming Two Tribes Game RIVE.

Obligatory asteroid blasting section!

Obligatory asteroid blasting section!

Combining twin-stick, shoot-em up, and platforming gameplay mechanics, Two Tribes Publishing’s RIVE presents a seamless integration of the two genres in their action-packed title, coming soon to PC, Xbox One and WiiU.

You are the pilot of a transforming spaceship, spider-robot, submarine thing. During my time with the preview build, I was impressed with how seamlessly the player craft and physics changed with the environment. One moment you’re blasting blue robot balls with lasers rapid firing across vast distances, the next – you’re in water and can’t get a shot past two meters.

Dialogue is not complete, but it’s obvious from the lines that are included that RIVE is going to have a healthy dose of humor. Two Tribes may be taking game mechanics seriously, but the dialogue presented here is light, laughter-inducing and not hesitant to break the fourth wall.

I was impressed with how each of the actions felt when while controlling the game. Boost jumps in spiderbot-mode feel appropriately heavy. This craft has a significant mass, though it is relatively small on-screen. I felt like I was jumping in a mobile lead-weight. If you’ve played a recent Donkey Kong Country game, you know what I mean. Your vehicle is not a lightweight character, but thanks to well-planned platforming sections, you’ll quickly be able to predict how high and far you can jump.

Water sections can break a game for me. Submersing the craft in RIVE did not result in throwing a controller on the ground and storming off in frustration. Piloting the vehicle through water was smooth as butter. Rayman Legends featured some of my favorite water levels ever, and the brief water sections in RIVE felt comparable to those. Moving the control sticks will move your ship in a way you would expect, there’s no unnecessary weight forcing the player to the bottom of the sea *cough Mario cough*.

Assuming Two Tribes builds on the excellence they’ve presented in the RIVE preview, this will definitely be a game worth your notice and time. As this is the preview version, I am not going to formally score the accessibility to parent gamers, but I’ve highlighted some key points below.

  • Quick restarts at failed sections
  • Content is appropriate for all-ages
  • Full-game includes a save progress feature
Posted on May 26, 2015 and filed under Reviews.

amiibo Tapped Out?

An amiibo Collector's Impressions of amiiboTAP: Nintendo's Greatest Bits

by Ryan Thompson

Good news! You're coming off the shelf tonight!

Good news! You're coming off the shelf tonight!

My wife and I (and our kids?) have lots of amiibo. Yep, we’re in deep enough to know that the plural form is amiibo, not amiibos. We were excited to have a reason to pull them off the display shelf. But, that reason is not compelling enough to add much needed value beyond display, and they do look awesome hanging out on our china cabinet.

AmiiboTAP is free, for what it’s worth. We didn’t find it worth the space on the hard drive. Scanning an amiibo scores you twenty-seven minutes, in most cases, of time with a Nintendo or Super Nintendo game. These minutes are split up into three-minute scenes. Some games have nine, others four to seven scenes.

Sonic knows this isn't worth the time.

Sonic knows this isn't worth the time.

Our amiibo collection is vast enough to have unlocked all the glorified demos available in AmiiboTAP, and to start seeing repeats of titles….

There are a few games we haven’t played before. My wife initially thought that “scene” meant we would be watching a video playthrough. She was only slightly more impressed when we actually played through a bit of Wario’s Woods. The playtime was enough to know why we missed that game back in the day.

Here are the games unlocked by our amiibo. This certainly appears to be random.

In a year, we’ll revisit the demos of amiiboTAP. When our daughter is old enough to experience some of the classics, TAP might make more sense. I’m sure kids will enjoy tapping their amiibo on the gamepad, registering owners, nicknaming them and watching the game present animations – over and over…. Allowing kids to play through bitesize chunks of the classics is a great way to expose them to older games and mechanics, without forcing them to endure outdated gameplay for too long.  For those of us familiar with much of Nintendo’s back catalogue, TAP is a reminder of the games we loved and justification for the few games we’ve missed. But hey, all our amiibo now have registered owners and nicknames!

Posted on May 2, 2015 and filed under Reviews.

Now Playing: XCOM Enemy Unknown


Last year I played through Fire Emblem Awakening on 3DS. It was my first Fire Emblem, and my first real Strategy RPG. If you know anything about Fire Emblem, you'll know that permanent character death is a big feature of the game, and that the developers tried to make Awakening a more beginner friendly iteration by giving the player a non-permadeath mode. I didn't choose to use that mode, instead opting for the more traditional mode. In practical terms, however, I couldn't let my characters die. Should one of my beloved team fall in battle, I would simply restart the game and do the battle over, adjusting my strategy to try not to die.

Enter XCOM Enemy Unknown. I've been waiting to play this for a while, all the time knowing that it was probably my kind of jam, given my love for the whole Fire Emblem experience. I'd heard podcasts speak about about squads dying permanently, and players getting attached to their soldiers, even going so far as to name them after their friends and acquaintances. Could I subject myself to that same level of attachment, and invariably, that level of loss?

Turns out I can. I'm now in my sixth game of XCOM. Not because I've finished it six times, oh no. Because I've restarted it six times. I've yet to assault the Alien Base, which I understand is about one-third of the way through the game. Steam tells me I've been playing XCOM for a total of 22 hours now.

Hello, my name is Eugene, and I'm a perfectionist.

It's not that soldiers are dying. I've been naming them after twitter friends, gaming podcast personalities, family members, friends. I had my cousin, a sniper at the Major promotion level die on a mission. Whoops. I let it go. Losing soldiers is not as problematic in XCOM as it is in Fire Emblem. In XCOM, you can replace a soldier very easily, The training and experience that they gained is lost, but there's always another soldier to take their place.

I have restarted XCOM six times because I'm obsessing. One of my restarts was because I discovered that if you start the game without doing the tutorial, you can complete the first mission without losing three out of your initial four squad members. Another 2 of my restarts were because I didn't like the fact that I only had one Steam Vent area in my base on which to build a Thermal Power Generator. Finally I've been restarting over the council members leaving XCOM. If a countries' panic level gets too high, at the end of the month they will leave the XCOM project. The only way to reduce their panic level is to place a satellite over their county, or to successfully complete a mission in that country. I'm trying to achieve a play through where nobody leaves the council. So far on this current try I have lost two countries. I almost thought about starting again, but I think this time I'll just see it through, if just to try to make it to the end. I've only got 21 days until my other jam releases, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate.

I can always try it again at a higher difficulty level once I finish. Because it seems I don't mind punishing myself with a great game.

Posted on January 22, 2015 and filed under Reviews.

Quick review of the HORI Battle Pad for Wii U

I recently picked up the HORI Battle Pad for Wii U controller, which is a 3rd party controller mimicking the design of the venerable Gamecube controller. With the recent release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U there has been a lot of interest in Gamecube controllers (not to mention the insanely hard to find Gamecube USB adapter). If you weren't lucky enough to snag an adapter but still want that Gamecube controller experience on the Wii U, HORI has just the thing for you. I took it out of the box and compared it to the official new Smash Gamecube controller, and here are my observations:

  1. The L analog stick tension is looser
  2. The D-Pad is larger, and also looser (ever so slightly)
  3. The C-stick feels identical
  4. The buttons are a little more 'clacky' but are not bad
  5. The shoulder buttons are regular buttons, not gamecube style triggers
  6. The Z shoulder buttons articulate from the top, with a hinged design, so they are more like triggers in that they have to be pushed from the bottom of the button
  7. The controller is lighter
  8. The cable is much shorter, obviously, as it's meant to be plugged into a Wiimote. The cable length is on par with the Classic Controller Pro cable
  9. The form factor of the HORI controller as a whole is identical to the Gamecube controller

In general, it compares favourably with the Gamecube controller. If you're looking for something to play smash with and don't have the adapter, this is probably a good second choice. If you love the Gamecube controller and wish you could play other games with it, then this would be perfect. 

Another alternative is the PDP Wii Fight Pad. By comparison, with the PDP controller (which I don't have): the color choices are more varied (Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Peach, Samus, etc.), the c-stick is a full analog stick, the buttons are clear glossy, and the Z shoulder buttons are more like the contoured gamecube controller triggers, but no turbo. The form factor is also not identical to the gamecube controller, but similar enough.

Check out the HORI Battle Pad Turbo for Wii U on

Posted on January 13, 2015 and filed under Reviews.

Wii Fit U Thoughts - The Fit Meter

I've had the Fit Meter for a few days now, and I wanted to share my impressions. What follows is in no particular order, so bear with me.

My Fit Meter is black and silver. Understated for me, which I like, but I really want to get a brighter coloured one for my daughter, probably the white and red/pink one. I don't know when those will become available, but I'm hoping it's before Christmas!

I've worn it religiously every day, and I hardly notice it, it's not uncomfortable, even though at first glance it seems big. It's not. Maybe it's the rounded corners, or the fact that it's round, but for whatever reason it sits nicely on my belt at my hip, and I just forget it's there.

Syncing the Fit Meter is very simple, you simply hold the meter to face the IR port on the Gamepad, and hold down the centre button. A few seconds later you're all synced. There's a nice little touch when you sync the Fit Meter for the first time; when it's done syncing it plays a continuation of the music phrase that's playing on the Gamepad. It also displays a LCD screen representation of your Mii, personalizing your Fit Meter with your face.

The display on the Fit Meter is simple, with left and right arrows scrolling through various pages on the LCD screen. It displays how many steps you've taken, how many calories you've burned, the temperature, and the altitude. Pressing the centre button changes the display to show a MET's graph and altitude graph, as well as screen and sound settings. The display goes to sleep after a minute or so to save battery, but the Fit Meter is still working even when the screen is blank. You can also adjust the volume of the sounds the Fit Meter makes, or turn them off completely.

The Fit Meter also tracks altitude changes, which is nice when you're going up those stairs, or running up hills, or whatever.

When the Fit Meter is synced, altitude and distance information can be viewed the data panel in graph form in the Wii Fit U game (app? program?), showing varying periods of time and level of activity during different parts of the day. There is also a challenge panel, where you can apply your didstance and altitutde towards various walking and climbing courses. Currently I'm 14km into a 42km walking course in Tokyo, Japan, and 80m up the Eiffel Tower. Kind of fun, and it gives you a goal to work towards.

It's this gamification part of the Fit Meter that has me motivated to walk more, as silly as it seems. Just like the 3DS Play Coins, offering me some measureable progress in exchange for a few more steps is enough to keep me going. Ultimately, the decision to wear a fitness meter of this kind indicates some desire to improve your fitness, and giving me incentive to do more is a very good thing.

The Fit Meter is $20, and syncing it with the downloaded time limited trial version of Wii Fit U lets you keep the game permanently. If you already have a Balance Board from the Wii, it's definitely worth getting if you're even the tiniest bit interested in Wii Fit U.

If you're interested I made a community gym called FitMonsterHunters that anyone who loves Monster Hunter can join. Here's the lookup code 5267-1406-7045

Posted on November 8, 2013 and filed under Reviews.

DuckTales Remastered - what they're saying

The HD remake of the classis NES game DuckTales released today in North America, and here's what people are saying about it:

Destructoid: "There are some classics that don't hold up today -- and there are some that absolutely need to be experienced by gamers of all ages. One of those classics is the original DuckTales on the NES, which set a gold standard for licensed games everywhere going forward."

MTV: "Pogoing onto slow-moving enemies or swinging Scrooge's cane like a golf club have been mythologized so much in the popular gaming consciousness that it's easy to forget that "DuckTales" (and now its remake) expand not at all on its hero's core abilities."

USGamer: "I reviewed the original DuckTales on NES over two decades ago and thoroughly enjoyed playing it, rating it a very solid 90%. So, of course, I was hugely interested to see how this "remastered" version would span the decades – and just how the developer would tackle the tricky task of bringing the game up-to-date, while making sure it keeps its original looks, feel and atmosphere. Turns out WayForward did a decent job, but in the process has managed to create some new issues that the original didn't have."

IGN: "Then again, nothing clouds memories like nostalgia, and that’s where talking about DuckTales: Remastered gets dangerous. The thing is, the very existence of WayForward’s HD remake of Capcom’s classic NES platformer – 20 years after the last episode of the cartoon aired and 23 years after Capcom released the game – begs a simple questions: was NES’ DuckTales really as good as we remember?"

Polygon: "If WayForward and Capcom's end goal was to recreate DuckTales while modernizing the presentation, they've accomplished just that. But other modern updates to classic NES titles have found more accessible, appealing ground, paying homage while improving the weaknesses of the source material. Instead, DuckTales: Remastered is full of miserably dull and frustrating mechanics behind its updated presentation — and no visual overhaul can hide that."

Escapist Magazine: "DuckTales: Remastered doesn't try to do anything new. What it does, however, it does with a sense of style that doesn't spoil your childhood memories. Likewise, the updated graphics and interface don't detract from the retro feel of the game. It still feels like you're playing an NES game, but the easy pogo option, the character voices - some of the original voice actors from the animated series were actually tapped for this re-release - and the saved game system genuinely enhance the experience."

Posted on August 13, 2013 and filed under Reviews.

What people are saying about Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

"Monster Hunter has never enjoyed much western success - and we're the losers. Of all Capcom's modern series, this co-operative action-RPG is one of the deepest, funniest and most rewarding. It lacks the nostalgia and immediacy of Street Fighter 4 or the big-budget production values of Resident Evil, but has something at its core that I find more fulfilling. Call it camaraderie, the rush of a team sport played well - with a sideline in snazzy uniforms." Rich Stanton, eurogamer

"Learning the attack animations of both your character and the monsters is what will really elevate your skill to the next level. Larger weapons take much larger swings and it is crucial to know when to attack and when not to attack; when to evade and when not to evade; when to use items and when not to use items. Overcommitment in Monster Hunter can and will lead to damage that should have been avoided. Monster Hunter is a series about playing smart." Patrick Hancock, destructoid

"Much like Dark SoulsMonster Hunter is a Japanese RPG series that requires an abundance of patience for some serious gameplay rewards. Be prepared to invest some serious time to get your money’s worth - go all in, or go home. Dig deep enough, and you’ll uncover an enjoyable and captivating action-RPG experience." via Spong

"Monster Hunter producer Ryozo Tsujimoto spent the free hours of his youth in Japan’s arcades, watching over the shoulders of his peers in order to avoid wasting his limited pocket money. This way, he could learn playstyles and attack patterns as well as memorise enemy locations to make his handful of credits go that much further. Other players would insert their coins and make their mistakes while behind them Tsujimoto continued to watch and learn.

This attitude lies at the heart of the Monster Hunter series’ design. Beginners learn the ropes not by reading instruction manuals or following step-by-step tutorials, but by watching and then doing. There’s no quicker or better route to mastery than to team up with a trio of veterans and simply observe them at work while you operate on the periphery of a hunt. However much or little you contribute to the final result, every play session is important, because in Monster Hunter you never really stop learning. Whether it’s an enemy variant or a fresh weapon type, there’s always something to discover. And with more of just about everything packed in, Ultimate certainly earns its title as the most comprehensive game in the series to date." via EDGE

"Play a Monster Hunter game for months on end and it's easy to forget the thrill of the initial monster encounter: the pulse blip as the battle music kicks in, the dismay when you realise just how big it is, the catharsis of finally bringing it down. Time sees that magic fade - you begin to see intricate designs as nothing more than hit boxes and handy giblets - but Ultimate's injection of some 30 or so beasts into the ecosystem will delay it for another 100 hours. Even returning faces pack a few surprises with reworked attacks and animations.

It's a shame, then, that much of this is buried in a straight retelling of Tri. We counted five new tasks in the first four ranks of missions, front-loading the game with familiar mushroom collecting and Jaggi-bagging. It's 20 hours in a game some will invest 300 in, but casual Tri dabblers might feel fobbed off. An easy fix is to embrace a new weapon. Classes handle so differently that putting down your trusty Long Sword for a bow is like stepping into a new game. Four all-new types (see box, opposite) equals four new approaches to well trodden ground." via ONM

"Some material locations are obvious — a Qurupeco scale probably drops from, you know, a Qurupeco — but how was I to know that a flintstone also comes from that oddly named bird creature, and not from one of the several varieties of mineral veins that can be mined? The solution offered by longtime Monster Hunter players I consulted was obvious but annoying: Open a game guide on your computer while you play. It's an inelegant approach in a game where crafting is necessary to progress at all.

And yet I was up until 1 a.m. last night killing a tough rock monster for the third time in a row in hopes that I would get the last item necessary to finish my latest armor set. Once Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate got its claws in me, I frequently and eagerly pushed past the tedium to what it does so well. Each monster slain is a triumph; each new weapon is a joy to learn; each detailed piece of gear looks great despite the muddy graphics that mark Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate as a game based on a Wii title." Philip Kollar, polygon

Posted on March 21, 2013 and filed under Reviews.

L.A. Noire - Finishing Thoughts

Game: L.A. Noire (The Complete Edition)

Platform played: PC, controller

Publisher: Rockstar Games & Team Bondi

(This article contains spoilers)

I finished L.A. Noire this week. Finally. For some reason I really started to lose interest around 2/3rds of the way through, but I got back to it this week and completed all the cases. Steam shows my total play time as somewhere around the 30 hour mark.

I finished all the cases, and progressed through the whole story, but wouldn't say I 'completed' the game in the completionist sense of the word. I did not unlock all the vehicles, nor did I respond to all the street level crime that comes over the radio. I didn't drive around and explore all of L.A., or look at all the landmarks.

But I will remember my time in post-war Los Angeles fondly. I spent much of my time turning my time in between destinations into my own personal version of Carmageddon, where I would commandeer random vehicles on the street and then run over pedestrians and destroy street lights. My favourite was getting into a fire truck and running over my partner repeatedly. Each time I ran him over he would pop right back up, and stand there waiting for me. Sometimes I would merely take cars and park them in the middle of intersections, blocking traffic in all four directions.

The cars themselves handled pretty badly. I failed many a car chase scene because my car would corner so poorly I would drive into fences or walls. I'm not sure if it was just janky controls, or whether cars of that era simply did not handle well. Does a Packard really handle like a boat? Anyone know?

When I wasn't causing grief on the roads, another of my pastimes was walking around on the sidewalk pushing people out of the way, sometimes even knocking them down to the ground. I'm glad there wasn't any sort of reputation or infamy point system, or else I'd have been in deep trouble.

Since the game is from the third person perspective, I didn't have too much trouble with motion sickness or dizziness, with the exception of the underground tunnel section of the final case in homicide. That was bad for me. Mostly because I had to chase the suspect and I didn't move fast enough, so I had to repeat the sequence several times. I don't do well when looking at confined spaces.

A big part of the game is the facial expressions, and one of the selling points of L.A. Noire's gameplay was the necessity to read people's facial expressions while questioning them, in order to determine whether they were telling the truth or lying. In this respect I think the tech was pretty good, but I felt that it was the first attempt at it, and that it could (and subsequently has) go a lot further.

If a game relies heavily on facial expressions to tell the story, then it behooves the developer to get good actors for it, and in the case of L.A. Noire, they certainly did. At least 4 actors, including the lead character Cole Phelps (played by Aaron Staton), came from the acclaimed TV series Mad Men. The character of Leland Monroe was played by John Noble, star of the TV show Fringe, and also Denethor from Lord of the Rings. For this reason L.A. Noire is unique, in that its characters are acted by real actors, not simply voiced. By that I mean that the characters have the same likeness as their real life actor counterparts. So while Cole Phelps is on the screen, a part of me can't help but see Ken Cosgrove, the character from Mad Men. I'd say "Hey, that guy is from Mad Men too," whenever another actor I recognized would appear, as a suspect or witness.

L.A. Noire really immersed me into the era, not only in the visuals, but the sound design as well. Radio programs played a huge part in this, especially driving around town. Each time you got into a vehicle the radio would be on, and you would hear news, or a comedy program, or commercials of the era, lending a real sense of place and time to the game. Another aspect which stood out to me was the telephones. Having Phelps look for a phone to call in to look up addresses or get messages was fascinating. And you never had to dial, you just picked up the phone and talked to the operator, uttering magical words like "Get me dispatch, please," or "KGPL".

(Major plot spoilers follow)

Near the end of the game, the playable character switches from Phelps to another character, which when it happened was incredibly strange and odd feeling. Suddenly I was a different person, and it was no longer 'my' story, but it became their story, of which I was just playing a part. And as the story wound down, I felt that there wasn't that much of a climax or major plot twist. I was not surprised by the ending, because aside from the gameplay device of switching characters, the story came to a logical conclusion.

Should you play this game? As a technical demonstration of what can be done with facial mapping and motion capture, L.A. Noire excels. If you like exploring a historical open world, similar to the vein of say, Assassin's Creed, then you might like this game to just wander around in. If you're looking to solve crimes using your wits and powers of observation, the game may be less than fulfilling. Players looking for action will be disappointed.

Due to the case by case nature of the game, I was able to play in shorter 60 to 90 minute chunks in the evening, which may be important to you if as a parent your game play time is constricted. Obviously this is not a game for kids, rated M for mature, as it involves gruesome bloody crime scenes and murders, as well as the use of firearms.

All in all I found the game to be full of promise, but one that lost its momentum. It felt like a chore to get to the end, and I'm not sure why. Was it the sameness of gathering clues, questioning witnesses? Was it the difficult action sequences (made difficult by controls more than game difficulty)? Perhaps. All I know is, I finished it, I experienced the story, and I'm glad I did.

Posted on December 20, 2012 and filed under Reviews.

Quick Thoughts on The Wonderful 101

Game: The Wonderful 101

Developer: Platinum Games

Launch date: Launch window

I tried the demo of this at the Discover Wii U Tour recently, and I thought I'd give you some of my thoughts.

- 8 minute time limited demo

- starts off in a circular park area, where you fight the first boss

- the second boss appears as you progress down the street from the park, in a residential neighbourhood

- then a huge helicopter ship crashes down in the street and you have to destroy it before moving on to the next area

- I wasn't able to defeat the third boss in time

- red fist, blue sword, green gun formations available, each activated by drawing a different shape on the Gamepad screen

- You draw a circle on the Gamepad to gather more people into your group, I found it hard to judge where the circle would be appearing, since there was no view of the street on the gamepad, just an overlay of the three shapes for fist, sword and gun

- it was a lot of crazy action and fun, there were a lot of things happening on the screen. Game utilizes the Gamepad and has many controls (dodging, consolidating into a blob, attacking, rushing, etc.)


Posted on November 21, 2012 and filed under Reviews.

24 hours with the Wii U

So I've had a day with the Wii U now, and here's a recap of how the first 24 hours went.

10:00 AM: Package arrives! I only have time to open the shipping box and look at the Wii U.

11:00 AM: Regular mail delivers New Super Mario Bros U. Good timing!

2:45PM: Unboxing ceremony performed.

4:00 PM: Plug in Wii U and charge Gamepad. Try to set up the Wii U without hooking it up to the TV. You can't do that. Decide to go to club nintendo and register my games for coins. New Super Mario Bros U is entered. Nintendo Land doesn't have a PIN code in it, at least not the pack in version. I try to enter my Wii U serial number. It tells me that I have to link my Nintendo ID to club nintendo through the Wii U itself. Will do that later.

4:30 PM: Vacuum the dust around my TV

4:45 PM: Get the Wii U hooked up, turned on. Initial set up goes great. I get the TV remote part working. I set up the wifi password. Start downloading the update. Play with my younger daughter while its downloading.

6:00 PM: After about an hour, it's done downloading and updating, but it's time for dinner. Agonizing.

7:00 PM: I'm back! Did you miss me, Wii U? Of course not. I set up my Nintendo ID (gamerparent, of course) and make a new Mii. The create a Mii from photo works pretty well, I accept. I let both girls create their own Mii's before bedtime.

7:45 PM: I can't figure out how to perform "initial setup of friends list". I cannot find the friends list, how can I set it up? I google it. Friends list appears when you click the "Home" button. Aha! Now that's set up, and I can add people through Miiverse. Cool! The limit is 100 friends, but you can follow 1000.

8:30 PM: The kids are tucked in to bed. I decide to test out the range of the Gamepad. Wii U is in the basement, I go upstairs to the living room, directly above the console. It works, mostly! Location is critical, the closer I am the better it works, but it does lose connection from time to time. I download my first eShop game, Nano Assault Neo. I play it a little, just from the Gamepad, upstairs from the Wii U. Not bad! Some glitches, though, so I'll probably have to find the best spot to sit up here. 

I link my club nintendo account to my Nintendo ID. I set up my Netflix account, I add and follow a few more people on Miiverse. I notice all the dust and lint that has already been attracted to the Gamepad. Sigh.

10:30 PM: Time to turn in.

8:30 AM: I turn it on, just to check my Miiverse. Three friend requests! Awesome. I poke around WaraWara Plaza a bit, checking out what people are saying. Noticing that most people prefer drawing and handwritten notes over typed ones. Some amazing artists out there!

Checking back on club nintendo, I do the Wii U survey for 160 coins. I also get a notice saying that in a week I can do the Nintendo Land survey for 50 coins. Happy.


Posted on November 20, 2012 and filed under Reviews.