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March 25, 2019
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Nintendo Switch

‘Ape Out’ and ‘Baba Is You’ demonstrate the depth of simplicity

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The games we see advertised the most aren’t necessarily the best representatives for what has become an incredibly diverse medium. Yearly AAA installments and massive open worlds are all well and good, but simplicity is rarely on display — which makes two recent releases, Ape Out and Baba Is You, all the more delightful.

Both are, in a way, very simple games, but from that simplicity arises complex and enjoyable gameplay concepts that can entertain (or frustrate) for hours. It’s a refreshing reversal of games that appear complex but ultimately have very little depth.

Ape Out is certainly the more simple of the two, at least in gameplay terms. You’re an ape — a great ape. A gorilla, to be precise. And you have gotten out.

The smooth top-down action has you navigating a procedurally generated office patrolled by gun-wielding ne’er-do-wells. To prevent further ape blood from being spilled, you can either punch them — usually fatal, as you are strong — or grab them, which causes them to fire their gun. Then you can throw them into a wall. That’s pretty much it!

A few things elevate the game beyond the apparently arcade-level concepts here. First is a distinctive visual style that combines a sort of watercolor or chalky effect with starkly monochrome characters and surroundings, making gameplay elements highly distinctive and recognizable while giving a definite look to the whole world.

The controls are also smooth and largely predictable, letting you confidently move through the world without worrying whether you’ll catch on something or whether your lunge will reach a guy — if you’re not sure, it’s exciting rather than frustrating. Well-spaced checkpoints make you master an area before passing on, but don’t feel punitive, and new enemies and obstacles are introduced gradually and logically.

But the music is the most striking bit. A base beat of jazz drums accompanies each stage, growing in intensity as you progress to the next level (it can take as little as 20 or 30 seconds to do so), and every action adds a beat or cymbal crash to the mix. The responsive music makes it feel like a real soundtrack to your acts, while also spurring you on to greater ones.

As Penny Arcade pointed out, Ape Out is fun and original from the moment you pick it up. There’s no boring tutorial, problematic dialogue, poorly characterized protagonist, obscure and frequently revised gameplay elements, and no “ludonarrative dissonance.” In other words you never think “wait, would an enraged ape really do that?” (By the way, it’s definitely violent — but in an absurd comic style, not graphic and horrible.)

Baba Is You is simple in a different way. Its graphics and simple grid-based movement place it in company with The Adventures of Lolo or similar block-pushing games from the ’80s and ’90s. The complexity of this game, however, comes from a mind-bending twist along the lines of Portal and The Witness: the rules of the game are actual blocks that you move around as well.

It sounds weird, but that’s the game: In addition to rocks, water, walls and various other items, there are blocks defining the actual rules of that level with a crude, blocky logic, such as “flag is win” and “rock is push,” meaning you win if you touch the flag and rocks can be pushed.

Perhaps the flag is embedded in an inaccessible fortress of walls, though. No problem. A couple pushes mean that now “rock is win” — so just go touch a rock and the level is complete. Or perhaps if you can reach it, the rule “wall is stop” can be shifted, letting you walk right through them to the flag.

The simple, cute graphics let you focus on the seemingly limited, yet actually maddeningly diverse, ways of combining and shifting the blocks of the level. “Eureka!” moments are elusive things, as the creator seems to have a knack for predicting how you might think and putting roadblocks in the way of obvious solutions. But there is that amazing feeling that you’re a genius when you come back to an “impossible” level and see it with new eyes, solving it in a handful of seconds. That’s the complexity of simplicity — a single breakthrough that takes half an hour to arrive at.

I won’t lie, though: Baba Is You is hard. It’s hard as hell. In the forums are puzzle fiends shame-facedly admitting they can’t beat the 6th level, or facepalming after a hint is offered. It’s easy to develop a mental block and never get past it — but fortunately the game is fairly open, letting you take on the first few puzzles of various themed areas of the map rather than making you clear one before moving on to the next. This isn’t a game you’ll be done with in an afternoon.

Both Baba Is You and Ape Out cost less than $20 (on PC and Switch right now), in the sweet spot between the shovelware under $10 and “full” retail games twice the cost. Both are unique and created with obvious care and attention to detail. And neither ever requires more than two or three minutes of your time — though you can, as I did last night, lose hours just as easily as you would in a AAA title. This is simple done right.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Nintendo makes the old new again with Mario, Zelda, Tetris titles for Switch

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The afternoon brought an eventful series of announcements from Nintendo in one of its Direct video promos, and 2019 is looking to be a banner year for the Switch. Here’s everything the company announced, from Super Mario Maker 2 to the unexpected remake of Game Boy classic Link’s Awakening.

The stream cold opened with a look at the new Mario Maker, which would honestly be enough announcement for one day. But boy did they have more up their sleeves.

First the actually new stuff:

Shown last but likely to garner the bulk of the internet’s response is the remake of Link’s Awakening, which came out more than a quarter of a century ago on Game Boy. I admit to never finishing this, but I loved the feel of it, so I’m dying to play this new tilt-shifted, perspective-switching 3D version.

Platinum has an intriguing new game called Astral Chain, in which you appear to control two fighters at the same time in some crazy-looking robot(?)-on-robot action. Talent from The Wonderful 101, Bayonetta and Nier: Automata ensure this will be worth keeping an eye on.

The recent trend of battle royale and perhaps the best game ever made, Tetris, combine in Tetris 99, where 100 people simultaneously and competitively drop blocks. It looks bonkers, and it’s free on Switch starting right now.

And on the JRPG tip:

Fire Emblem: Three Houses got a long spot that introduced the main characters, whom you’ll no doubt ally with and/or be betrayed by. Romance is in the air! And arrows.

From the back-to-basics studio that put out I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear comes Oninaki, an action RPG that looks like a good well-crafted bit of fun, if not particularly original.

Dragon Quest 11 S — an enhanced version of the original hit — and DQ Builders 2 are on their way to Switch later this year, in Fall and July respectively.

Rune Factory 4 Special is another enhanced, remastered classic in a series that I adore (though I wish they’d remaster Frontier). It was also announced that RF5 is in development, so thank God for that.

Final Fantasy VII is coming at the end of March, and Final Fantasy IX is available now. I’m ashamed to say I never played the latter but this is a great opportunity to.

Sidescrollers new and old:

BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is a new entry in a well-like puzzle platformer series that introduces some new characters and multiplayer. Coming in April.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night got a teaser, but we’ve heard a lot about this Castlevania spiritual sequel already. Just come out!

Yoshi’s Crafted World comes out March 29, but there’s a demo available today.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker gets an update adding multiplayer to its intricate levels, and soon, a paid pack for new ones. I might wait for a combined version but this should be fun.

Miscellaneous but still interesting:

The new Marvel Ultimate Alliance is coming this summer and I can’t wait. The second one was a blast but it came out way too long ago. A good co-op brawler is a natural fit for the Switch, plus being a superhero is fun.

Daemon X Machina, the striking-looking mech combat game, is getting a demo ahead of the summer release. They’re going to incorporate changes and advice from players so if you want to help shape the game, get to it.

Disney Tsum Tsum Festival… I don’t know what this is. But it looks wild.

Deltarune! It’s the sequel-ish to the beloved Undertale, and you can get the first chapter on Switch now. Play Undertale first, or you won’t get the dog jokes.

There were a few more little items here and there, but that’s the gist. Boy am I glad I have a Switch!

You can watch the full Direct here.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Nintendo announces Super Mario Maker 2 for Switch, so goodbye forever

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Nintendo has ruined my life, and all our lives, by announcing Super Mario Maker 2, the sequel to the level-constructing game on Wii U that produced thousands of devious levels for those who think the “real” games aren’t hard enough. Gamers have been asking for this basically since the Switch was first rumored.

Mario Maker 2 looks like it’s been updated in a number of helpful ways apart from being on a console that will actually be supported long-term. The interface needed some sprucing up for the lower precision players, who will have to use their fingers instead of a stylus on the touchscreen.

No doubt this will be a huge draw for Nintendo’s Switch Online service, which will likely not only allow you to share your levels and try those of others, but — if Nintendo listened to its player base — compete with ghosts and other multiplayer features. Here’s hoping we can build whole worlds, but let’s not get greedy. But we definitely have slopes now!

Honestly, I could play NES and SNES-era Mario games forever on repeat, and the re-releases of other Marios on Switch has made the newer ones even more accessible. Probably between those and Mario Maker I’ll never leave the house again.

Details are truly scant for now except that the game will come out in June of this year, just in time for summer to arrive — and be shut out with blackout curtains so glare doesn’t get on my greasy Switch. I’ll update this post if any new information becomes available.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is good, clean, butt-kicking fun

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After a few days with the game, I’m no expert. Hell, I’m not even entirely sure I’m confident enough to take on all comers. I am, however, most definitely hooked. This scrappy little gaming upstart just might have a future ahead of it, after all.

I admit that I’ve not played a Smash Bros. title in…well, it’s been a while, aside from the little bit of game time I’ve had with Ultimate in various demos since the game was unveiled at E3 earlier this year. If you find yourself in a similar boat, the title plays like a fun bit of chaos out of the box.

Try to remember just how much Nintendo managed to pack into previous installments. Now multiply that by a few orders of magnitude, and you should begin to approximate how much is packed into a single screen for Ultimate. I recommend playing the first couple of rounds alone in the comfort of your own home, where no one can make fun of you.

After a few times knocked into the abyss, however, this will come back to you. The button scheme, the combos, how to rebound after some adorable Pokémon hurls you over the side like a mustachioed rag doll.

Of course, one of the series’ hallmarks has always been its ability to appeal to the button mashers as much as the hardcore gaming crowd. That holds with Ultimate. You can still inflict a fair bit of damage on the opposing side with some ham-handed controller slamming. Heck, with enough finesse, you might even trick them into believing you’ve got some clue about what you’re doing.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, be prepared to be overwhelmed. One of the fundamental keys to Nintendo’s prolonged success is maintaining the basic building blocks of IP, while upping the ante with each subsequent interaction. Like Zelda Breath of Wild and Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo’s done its best to make the title as expansive as possible. Of course, that plays out quite different with a fighting game than an open-ended sandbox title.

Here that means a ridiculous 74 characters at launch (including downloadable content). The list includes all characters from past versions, with several new additions. The series has always played into that old fanfic favorite of getting all of your favorite characters in one place to beat the ever-living snot out each. With Ultimate, the selection spans a broad array of popular franchises, including Mario, Zelda, Street Fighter, Metroid, Sonic, Mega Man, Pokémon and Donkey Kong.

The list goes on and on and on, but here’s a pretty handy guide, including in which installment a given character was introduced.

Ultimate also features modes galore. The basic, however, is the most familiar. Simply stated, you choose a stage and a fighter and do whatever you can to knock your opponent off the platform. The more times you connect, the more damage you do — and the more likely you are to deplete their life force with every subsequent toss.

The stages (100 in all) themselves are as diverse as the fighters, each playing out like a love letter to Nintendo’s past. And there are some pretty deep cuts, from the Living Room in Nintendogs to a level of the 1984 primary colored Pac-Man arcade title, Pac-Land (I could’ve sworn I was the last person alive who had any recollection of that game).

The levels are as dynamic as the fighters. That ranges from the simple speeding freight in Zelda’s Spirit Train, to, in many cases, having the ground seismically shift beneath your feet. The touches are clever in many cases, including Dream Land GB (Game Boy) and Flat Zone X (Game & Watch), which maintain the monochrome screens of their predecessors and allow you to play in — and in some cases around — the old-school console. The developers appear to have had every bit as fun designing the levels as players will have playing them.

Add to that a huge arsenal of items, from Pokeballs to Nintendogs who temporarily block the action, and you’ve got a lot jam-packed into a single frame. Sure, one of the Switch’s best features is the ability to play on the go, but you’re really going to want to experience this thing plugged into a bigger screen.

Between stages, you’ll find yourself pitted against a new challenger. Defeat them in a quick one-on-one, and they’ll be added to your roster. Lose, and they’ll come around for another challenge later on.

A few days in, and I’ve barely even begun to scratch the service on this thing. Devin’s getting ready to do a much deeper dive on the title, including the half-dozen different modes, featuring things like Spirits, collectable characters that add attack and defense bonuses to your fighters.

Sure, things don’t always turn out well when nerds get exactly what they want, but Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is fan service in the best possible sense of the term. The title offers longtime Nintendo devotees exactly what they’re looking for — and then some.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Super Mario Party is Nintendo Switch’s best game

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When I bought the Nintendo Switch a few months ago, my friends told me to buy Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. That’s precisely what I did, but none of those games were enough to get me hooked, which is probably for the best.

But then came Super Mario Party, which Nintendo released earlier this month for the Switch. I grew up gaming, but somehow never played Super Mario Party. Well, it seems as if I’ve been missing out my whole life.

Super Mario Party for Nintendo Switch is a quick, pick-up-and-play kind of game. You set the difficulty level, tell the game how much you want to party (ten, fifteen or twenty turns) and that’s how long you’ll party. But be careful playing with your friends or significant others — because it’s bound to stir up people’s competitive nature.

For those who are unfamiliar with Super Mario Party, it’s a digital board game. The name of the game (well, not literally) is to collect the most stars.

This is my character, Bowser Jr., collecting a star like a boss

To collect these stars, you roll one of two dice — a standard one or one that’s unique to your character. Some characters have dice that roll up to ten (like Donkey Kong and Bowser), but that also comes with the risk of not moving at all or losing coins, which you need to buy stars.

After each round, you play a mini-game, where you’re able to earn some more coins. Depending on the game, you’ll need to put your memory, hand-eye coordination or even sense of touch to work. Thankfully, there’s an opportunity to practice before each mini-game.

Throughout the game, there are opportunities to steal coins and stars from people. During my last party, Luigi stole a star from Yoshi (played by my girlfriend) and it wasn’t pretty. Let’s just say profanities were exclaimed.

There are more than 80 minigames available to play — some of which make great use of the Joy Con, the name for the Switch’s detachable controllers.

The party mode has four game boards. My favorite board (that is, the board on which I tend to perform the best, is Megafruit Paradise. Down the road, maybe through a software update of sorts, it’d be great to have more boards to choose from.

Super Mario Party also features a couple of other modes — river survival, where you control a boat with the Joy-Con paddles, a Sound Stage that reminds me of Dance Dance Revolution and mini-game mode, where you just play mini-games.

But in my experience, its the most fun to play the standard party mode. I’ve heard the best way to play the game is with four humans, but I’ve only ever played it with my girlfriend. We’re already both pretty intense about it so I could only imagine what it’d be like to play with two other people. Consider this my open invitation to holler at me to get a party started.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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