Nintendo Wii U: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (review)

Release date: June 2016

Developer: Nintendo/Atlus/Intelligent Systems

Format: Digital download (eShop) and physical disk

Other platforms: NA

Price: ~$90 AUD

TMS Game Cover

When it was first announced, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was one of those games that interested me, but not enough to make me commit to buying it. The concept of a crossover between Persona or Shin Megami Tensei games (none of which I’d played except Persona 4) and Fire Emblem sounded too weird to work, and as it got closer to release and it seemed that the Fire Emblem aspect would be little more than a few tacked-on references, I decided to take a pass on it. Some of my friends got it on release and raved about it, making me reconsider, but as this was more of a niche game, chain retailers (which usually sell launch games much cheaper than RRP) like Big W and Target didn’t stock it, meaning my only option would be to pay $90 for it from EB Games. Luckily my Nan ended up buying it for me, and since I’ve just gone on intermission from my PhD studies, I’ve had plenty of time to play it this week.

In TMS: FE, Tokyo is being attacked by otherworldly beings called Mirages, who steal and consume the creative energy of humans. After an encounter with these Mirages at a talent show audition, Itsuki Aoi and his friend Tsubasa Oribe find themselves partnered with benevolent Mirages based on characters from the Fire Emblem series. After signing up with the Fortuna Entertainment talent agency, Itsuki and Tsubasa begin to built their Idol careers while continuing the fight against the sinister Mirages, with other characters joining them along the way. The story isn’t particularly deep, and the character archetypes are common in many Anime series, but the interactions between the characters and the pop idol themes and aesthetics still make for a charming experience.

Scattered throughout Tokyo are shining portals into alternate dimensions called Idolospheres (dungeons) where Mirages reside, and these are where you will spend the majority of your time in the game. The design of these dungeons is heavily influenced by the entertainment and show-business themes of the game and there are a variety of puzzles to solve in order to get through the dungeon. Though I liked the dungeon designs from a visual standpoint, I did find myself growing bored and irritated with the tedious puzzle-solving and constant backtracking this required. This feeling usually didn’t last long, and the ability to activate warp portals to quickly travel between different points in the dungeons alleviated it somewhat, but it did detract from my immersion at times. While walking around in the dungeons, you will often see shadowy robed figures floating around. Some of these will ignore you, but others will rush at you if they see you. Touching one of them (or letting one touch you) will start a battle, but if you hit it with your weapon and then touch it, you increase your chance of getting the first strike once the fight starts.

TMS Dungeon

The dungeons themselves were hit and miss, but the combat within the dungeons was one of my favourite things about the game. Though your Mirage companions take their original Fire Emblem forms in certain locations, they take the form of weapons (called Carnages) to be wielded by the main characters while in dungeons and in battle. These battles occur on a round stage surrounded by a cheering audience, with the characters transforming into glamorous, decadently-costumed alter-egos. The attack order is determined by each character’s position along a bar at the top of the screen, and whether an enemy is weak to a particular attack is only shown once you have tried that attack on it. While you can only have three characters active in your party at once, you can switch out characters during battle if someone is incapacitated, getting low on health or if all the enemies are resistant to their attacks.

TMS Boss Battle

By far the best aspect of combat is the Sessions mechanic. If one of your characters uses a Skill and attacks an enemy’s weakness (either against elements or weapon types), it can trigger a Sessions combo where other characters who have a Session skill of the same type will jump in and attack the enemy as well without using a turn. Not only does this do a lot more damage, but the animations are full of flashy special effects and are a joy to watch. Sessions generally result in more loot being earned from the battle, and some particularly strong enemy bosses can really only be defeated by chaining together a lot of Session attacks.

TMS Kiria Session

In addition to earning Performa, yen and experience points to level up during battles, you can also get various items from the dungeons, either through defeating monsters or by finding treasure. These can be used to forge Carnage Unities or Radiant Unities. When you have enough items to forge any new Unity, you will get a notification through Topic (see below) telling you what Unity you can create and what character it is for, so you can head back to the Bloom Palace (within Fortuna Office) to have Tiki (another returning Fire Emblem character) perform the ritual. Carnage Unity forges a new weapon containing several new skills, which the character wielding it can earn by gaining experience in battle. Skills can be Command Skills (which allow the character to perform attacks or spells), Passive Skills (usually boosting stats of party members) or Session Skills, which are used to chain together Session attacks; each character can only have six of each type of skill. Radiant Unity, on the other hand, gives the characters Radiant Skills, which are permanent and separate from skills gained through Carnage. These can include battle skills as well as passive skills like health or stat boosts.

TMS Bloom Palace

I did find it a bit annoying that all upgrades had to be performed back at the Bloom Palace, as it meant you had to keep trekking back and forth between the dungeon and the Bloom Palace every time you had a new Unity available rather than just being able to do it in the field. It really is a necessity, though; once your character has mastered all the skills from a particular weapon, they can’t gain any new combat skills until you go and forge a new weapon and equip it.

TMS Touma Carnage

TMS Itsuki Radiant

In between story chapters, you can take on side quests involving other characters. Some will be requests from random characters (these occasionally appear in dungeons as well) and usually take the form of fetch quests. Other quests involve the other main characters in the game and though they have different objectives, they generally end up furthering the friendship between your character and the supporting cast by helping them expand their own careers. The quests tend to involve a mixture of exploring and talking to people around Tokyo and venturing back into dungeons to defeat monsters or rescue lost characters. Most of these main character side stories have certain stage rank or level requirements to unlock, and though they don’t directly affect the main story, they do help the characters earn new skills or abilities, so it is well worth completing these side story quests when you can. While you’re in Tokyo, it’s also a good idea to visit the shops to stock up on healing items or stat-boosting accessories.

TMS City

Early in the game, you get Topic, which is essentially a chat/message service for your handheld device. Throughout the story, other characters will send you messages and your GamePad will vibrate, prompting you to look down at the small screen. Some of these messages are related to the main story while others may concern side quests for certain characters; occasionally the messages don’t have a direct purpose but are more just casual chatter from the characters. When the mechanic was first introduced, I feared that having messages pop up would get annoying, but this was rarely the case; if anything, it makes the world and the characters in it more relatable.

TMS Topic Message

Another gripe I have to mention (along with the sometimes-annoying dungeon puzzles and frequent backtracking required for upgrading characters’ skills) is the loading screens. Any time you have to travel to another location, a loading screen pops up for anywhere from 5-10 seconds. This wouldn’t be so bad if they only popped up occasionally, but when you have to leave the dungeon, travel to Fortuna Office and then the Bloom Garden and then travel back to the district the Idolosphere gate was in before entering the dungeon to continue where you left off every time you want to upgrade, the time spend staring at a loading screen quickly adds up.

Still, all of this was forgiven when I watch the performance cut scenes or the battle animations. They are so energetic and flamboyant, the costumes are decadent and the JPop music is so upbeat and catchy I often ended up with the songs stuck in my head when I was trying to go to sleep.

TMS Pegasus Cut Scene

The combination of Persona‘s friendship/relationship aspects, Shin Megami Tensei‘s demon fusions and Fire Emblem‘s character class and weapon fusion system seems like an odd one, yet it works. I had feared that the more ‘serious’ characters of Fire Emblem‘s world might not mesh well with the colourful and exuberant world and characters, but they did. Even so, sometimes I couldn’t help but feel the Fire Emblem characters were just tacked on; I would have liked to see more of them rather than having them relegated to just being used as weapons most of the time. I think I’m only about halfway through the game at this point, but so far these mechanics and the gorgeous art and music style are enough to keep me coming back, even though the story is relatively insubstantial so far (if the story does develop further and become more complex by the time I finish the game, I’ll update this review).

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is weird, it’s ridiculous and it’s definitely over-the-top. And you know what? I love it. When I first fired up the game, I ended up playing it for 10 hours straight, and it’s incredibly rare for me to play any video game for more than a couple of hours at a time. If you have a Wii U and you love JRPGs, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a must-buy. Though the experience is occasionally marred by long loading times and tedious backtracking, the catchy music, bright and colourful art style and engaging battle mechanics will be more than enough to keep you playing.

Score:

PawprintWholePawprintWholePawprintWholePawprintWholePawprintHalf

Posted in Console, Nintendo, Wii U | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Mobile: Pokemon GO (review)

Release date: July 2016

Developer: Niantic/The Pokemon Company

Format: Digital download (iOS/Android)

Other platforms: NA

Price: FREE (includes microtransactions)

PokemonGO App Icon

Though Pokemon GO was announced some time ago and had been out for beta testing for a little while, its release last week came seemingly out of nowhere. As far as I could recall, there hadn’t been a concrete release date set, so it was a surprise to wake up one morning and find all my social media pages flooded with posts from my friends about what Pokemon they had caught in their garden. I’ve loved Pokemon ever since my Nan bought me Pokemon Red for my Game Boy so I immediately installed the app to see if it lived up to the hype.

Upon booting up the app, it asked me to sign in with a Google account. I had two linked to my phone anyway but I can see how some people might find it annoying to have to create yet another account just to use the app. Once you set up your character and complete a short tutorial on how to catch Pokemon (which allows you to catch one of the three starter Pokemon – Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle – from the original games), you will find your character standing in a map of your surroundings, drawn from Google Maps. As you walk around in the real world, your character mirrors your movements. When your phone vibrates, it means a Pokemon is nearby; check your surroundings to find the Pokemon on your map. Once you tap it, you’ll enter an encounter and have a chance to catch the Pokemon.

PokemonGO Growlithe Catch

These Pokemon encounters are supposed to have an augmented reality (AR) mode which allows you to see the Pokemon superimposed on your real life surroundings. Unfortunately I could never get this to work as it always told me it ‘could not detect the device’s orientation’. This was disappointing as one of the things I was really looking forward to was catching Pokemon in amusing real world places or taking photos of my dog with a Pokemon sitting on his head. If you can’t (or don’t want to) use AR, the game just gives you a basic computer-generated background.

Unlike wild Pokemon battles in traditional Pokemon games, you don’t get to use your own Pokemon to weaken wild Pokemon in this app; all you can do is throw Pokeballs at it and hope the Pokemon stays inside. Some Pokemon have higher combat points (similar to level) which makes them harder to catch, though as your trainer level improves, you will be able to get more powerful Pokeballs and items like Razz Berries which you can feed to Pokemon to make them easier to catch. As far as Pokemon encounter rates go, it seems to vary wildly based on luck; some friends of mine who live away from built-up areas apparently caught numerous Pokemon without having to leave their house, just by keeping their phone running. I, on the other hand, would often wander around several blocks, moving around for nearly an hour without encountering a single Pokemon. One item – incense – allows you to attract Pokemon to your location for 30 minutes, but I still didn’t have much luck with it. You can have up to 50 Pokemon at a time, though I believe you can expand this by paying real-world money. Catching Pokemon is the most common way to fill out your Pokedex, but you can also do this by evolving Pokemon (catch enough of the same type and you will be able to evolve it) or by hatching them from eggs using an incubator.

PokemonGO Pokemon Team

Depending on where you are, you’ll see a number of markers dotted around the landscape; short cube-shaped markers which turn into rotating Pokeball tokens as you get closer to them, and tall towers topped with Pokemon and a coloured marker. Though many of these are situated at known landmarks or shops (such as post offices and libraries), some are in seemingly random places. Also, though you can see them and touch them on the map from quite a distance away, you have to be fairly close to actually interact with it (otherwise it tells you you’re too far away). I found that I needed to be within about ten metres or so of the location before I could use the markers.

The tall towers represent Pokemon Gyms, where trainers can battle and attempt to take control over the gym. You have to be level 5 before you can try to take a gym, and when you reach level 5, you will be asked to choose from one of three teams: Blue, Red or Yellow. The colour of the marker on the gym indicates which team is in control of it at the time. If your team already owns the gym, you can try to increase its ‘prestige’ by choosing one Pokemon to battle so you can leave one of your Pokemon there, but if it’s held by a different team, you need to battle however many Pokemon are stationed there with only six of your own Pokemon. Battles themselves are relatively simple; swipe to avoid enemy attacks, tap your Pokemon to do a regular attack and, once the meter in the corner fills up, you can hold down on the Pokemon to charge it and release to do a special attack.

PokemonGO Gym Vaporeon*    PokemonGo Gym Battle*

The Pokeball tokens represent PokeStops, where you can spin the marker and collect items that fall out, such as Pokeballs, potions, revives and eggs. They are normally blue but they turn purple after you have used them and no more items can be claimed from them until they reset again, which generally seems to occur after 3 or 4 minutes. If you have a PokeStop near where you live or work or there’s one near where you’re having a lunch, this is a really good way to farm items.

PokemonGO Map     PokemonGO PokeStop

These PokeStops are the best place to get items, though you also get some every time you level up (experience for levelling up is gained through catching and evolving Pokemon and holding Pokemon Gyms). Your only other option is to pay real world money for gold coins and then exchange those coins for items.

PokemonGO Bag Items     PokemonGO Store Items

One thing I like about Pokemon GO is that it is making me be more active. If I’m walking somewhere specific, I’ll go the long way so I can go past more PokeStops. A few times a day, I will go for a walk around my block to see what Pokemon I can catch (and given I usually take the dog with me on walks, he appreciates it as well). Obviously this sort of app comes with the proviso that you need to be careful and watch where you’re going so you don’t walk out in front of traffic or end up in an unsafe area (the start-up of the app includes a warning to be aware of your surroundings), and that you need to keep an eye on your data usage. Luckily Pokemon GO doesn’t seem to chew up a lot of data, but it will absolutely murder your battery.

PokemonGO Eevee Pokedex

Caught an Eevee out on a walk while waiting for Rex to have a crap. What a time to be alive.

When there's a Pokemon outside but you don't want your phone to get rained on.

When there’s a Pokemon outside but you don’t want your phone to get rained on.

As enjoyable as the app can be, the heavy use of battery is just one of Pokemon GO‘s numerous issues. Aside from a short tutorial at the start showing you how to catch a Pokemon, many of the mechanics aren’t really explained; though you can work a lot of it out on your own just by playing with it, there were a few things that I only learned by stumbling across posts by others on forums or social media. By the far the most common problem I (and others) have had is the servers being overloaded. Often you will open up the app only to be greeted with a screen telling you to try again later.

PokemonGO Servers Busy

An all too common sight.

In addition to this, the app is just buggy. It will quite often lose the GPS signal – even if you’re not moving, and even if GPS is working fine in other apps – and though if you’re just in the map this is a minor nuisance, if you’re in the middle of a gym battle or trying to catch a Pokemon, you will get kicked out of the battle/encounter, not only missing out on your chance to catch a Pokemon or score victory but also effectively wasting any items you’d used up to that point. Sometimes the GPS will ‘work’ but it will be way off (and I’m not sure if this is the app or my phone’s GPS); at one stage I couldn’t interact with the local post office PokeStop because it was “too far away”, even though I was IN the post office.

Sometimes the app will freeze, leaving you no choice but to exit the app and once again, lose any progress you had made in trying to catch or beat a Pokemon. I was absolutely livid when I lost a chance to catch a Dratini (a rare Pokemon for those of you unfamiliar with them), and most people I know with the app have had at least one similar experience of missing out on catching a new or strong Pokemon because of a glitch. On one occasion, the app froze as an egg was hatching, and I lost both the egg AND whatever Pokemon was inside it. I’ve also been unable to complete a single gym battle to this point because of the app crashing every time I try.

Overall, Pokemon GO has the potential to be a great app, but it’s not quite there yet. Frequent server overloads, persistent crashes and freezes and a finicky GPS system mean this app is frustrating almost as often as it is fun. Apparently an upcoming update will add the ability to trade and battle with other Pokemon GO players, so if and when that happens, I’ll probably update this post. Still, it is a free app, it has its good moments and it will help (slightly) to scratch the Pokemon itch until Sun and Moon come out at the end of this year.

Update 28th December, 2016: Since I wrote this review, Niantic has continued to push out updates for Pokemon GO. Some of these updates have introduced welcome changes to the app, such as the Buddy system, which allows you to select a Pokemon to ‘walk’ with you and get extra candy for each 1, 3 or 5kms walked (depending on the rarity of the Pokemon). They also introduced Appraisals, in which the leader of your team comments on your Pokemon’s overall strength (total combined stats) and individual stats (eg. your Pokemon’s strongest statistic). This allows players to be more selective about which Pokemon to evolve and which to transfer, as there’s not much benefit to evolving a Pokemon with a poor appraisal.

There have also been a few special events for the game, which have helped to prevent it from becoming too stale. The first event was the Halloween event, in which catching and transferring Pokemon gave you double candy and ‘spooky’ Pokemon were more likely to spawn in the wild (this helped a lot of people – including me – gather the Gastlys, Cubones, Drowzees and Meowths required to fill out our Pokedex with their respective evolutions). In December we were given increased spawns of Pikachus, and those wild Pikachus encountered during the Christmas period have little red Santa hats, which they keep if you evolve it into a Raichu. At the time of writing, a single-use incubator is awarded once per day when you spin your first PokeStop marker, which is great for people like me who don’t spend money on the game and are just relying on the infinite-use incubator you get at the start of the game. December has also seen the introduction of some of the baby Pokemon from Generation 2; these can only be obtained by hatching them from eggs. Starting next week, the starter Pokemon will also spawn more frequently, which will allow us to get Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle and their evolutions much more easily.

Unfortunately along with the good, there has been some bad; mainly in that, for every bug that was removed, another was introduced. One of the recent updates introduced a bug that made your phone vibrate every time the sightings list changed, so you’d look at your phone expecting to see a Pokemon spawn nearby but there would be nothing. The next (and latest) update apparently removed this issue (I haven’t updated it myself yet), but a lot of people who updated are reportedly encountering a lot of issues with the game freezing in the startup screens, meaning they can’t even get into the app. Another annoying bug I have noticed is that when my character levels up, it seems to delete some candies from various Pokemon; because I’m a dork, I keep a written tally of how many candies I need for the next evolution, and there have been a number of times where I’ve caught a Pokemon just after levelling up, thought to myself “Oh, good, that was the last one I needed to evolve it,” only to discover I suddenly need another 8 candies instead of the 2 it said I needed previously.

Score:

PawprintWholePawprintWholePawprintWhole

*Photos marked with a * were kindly provided by my friend, The Casual Geek.

Posted in Android, iOS, Mobile | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tokyo Treat – July 2016 Premium Box

As much as I loved my April Tokyo Treat box, I decided it was something I couldn’t financially justify every month, and would be something I could just get every now and then. Every month, Tokyo Treat sends out emails saying what the theme of the next month’s box will be, and when I saw that July’s box would be Anime-themed (and would therefore include Pokemon stuff), I decided I would subscribe again, just for that month. I also decided to get a Premium box this time because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. It arrived yesterday, and I think Rex is just as intrigued as I am. Also, if you’re still waiting for your box and don’t want any spoilers as to what it contains, you should probably stop reading now.

TokyoTreat July Rex

When I opened the box, it was once again absolutely packed to bursting with goodies.

TokyoTreatJuly Box

Once I got out the little booklet containing the ‘menu’ and other interesting pictures and information about Japan, I sat down to review what I had received.

TokyoTreat July Booklet

So, in no particular order, here are the items from the July Premium box…

Thomas and Friends Chocolate Pretzel Sticks
The first thing I opened was the Thomas Pocky. Okay, it’s not actually Pocky – it’s a different brand name – but it’s essentially the same as Pocky; pretzel-like biscuit sticks coated in various flavours (in this case, chocolate). Pocky is one Japanese food that is actually reasonably easy to find in Australia, so if you’ve had chocolate Pocky before, these Thomas chocolate pretzel sticks are basically the same.

Thomas Chocolate Pretzel Sticks

Shrimp Crackers
This was one of the first things I opened so I could get it out of the way; I’ve never really liked anything to do with seafood and since these are shrimp, I wasn’t expecting to like these either. I was pleasantly surprised to find they are actually quite nice. In fact, they taste a lot like those prawn crackers (makes sense I guess) that Chinese restaurants always seem to give you a free bag of with your order (flavour is maybe a bit more subtle, though). These are a really nice savoury snack and I was actually disappointed the bag wasn’t bigger.

Shrimp Crackers

Soybean Flour Mochi Rice Cake DIY Candy
This was another one I opened early because I didn’t expect to like it (I’ve never been a fan of anything soybean and I didn’t particularly care for the DIY candy I got in the April box). When you open it, you get three little pouches (two of some jelly-like substance and one of roasted soybean flour) and a plastic spoon. Following the instructions, I tipped the jelly pouches into the little polystyrene tray and then sprinkled the soybean flour over it. It wasn’t bad, though it was a bit bland. It had a sort of sweet-and-savoury taste, though the jelly on its own didn’t taste like much at all. It was one of those things where the taste sort of grows on you the more you eat it, though I didn’t eat it all (it kind of felt like pointless ‘filler’ food), I didn’t mind it in the end. Wouldn’t bother eating it again, though.

Soybean Mochi Rice cake DIY

Pokemon Gummy
Though I’d had hopes for at least a few Pokemon-related items being included, this was sadly the only one I got. These are little gummy domes of different flavors (pineapple, grape and peach). They are sweet and slightly tangy and rather enjoyable, though they taste quite similar to most fruit jubes you can buy in a local supermarket.

Pokemon Gummy

Calpis Gummy
These are soft gummy lollies with a dusting of sugar over them (similar to citrus jubes you can buy in any supermarket here). They are apparently flavoured for a soft drink called Calpis. They are sweet, but not overpoweringly so, and inside each gummy is a pocket of what is apparently yoghurt-flavoured syrup. I quite liked these.

Calpis Gummy

Cocotama Snack
This one came with a little pink pouch stuck to the front of it. Opening the pouch revealed a cute little Cocotama character on a square sticker. The snacks are crispy hearts that have a fairly subtle flavour, like some sort of crispy strawberry cereal. These are okay, but nothing special.

Cocotama Snack

Dragon Ball Heroes Snack 5
Like the Cocotama Snack, the Dragon Ball Heroes Snack 5 had a smaller packet stuck to the back of it, which contained some sort of trading card. The first thing that hit me when I opened the snack itself was the smell of macaroni cheese. They basically taste like macaroni cheese in Cheezel form, though these were weird little curly things instead of rings. Also the flavour is probably a bit more subtle with these Dragon Ball snacks than it is in Cheezels. Another savoury snack that I really enjoyed; as with the Shrimp Crackers, I could have quite happily eaten another bag of them.

Dragon Ball Heroes Snack 5

Yokai Watch Chocolate
I must admit I had fun taunting one of my friends on Twitter with this (he’s a huge Yokai Watch fan). It’s basically a chocolate lollipop featuring one of the characters – Jibanyan – from the Anime (which I don’t watch, so I had to Google him). Any chocolate made for popular franchise items is usually tasteless so I wasn’t particularly expecting to enjoy this, but it’s actually up there in the top few chocolates I have eaten. It has layers of milk, white and what seems to be caramel flavoured chocolate and they work together perfectly to create a creamy chocolate snack. (R.I.P. Jibanyan).

Yokai Watch Chocolate

Fortune-Telling Chocolate Pills (Dagashi Kashi)
These are fun little chocolate candies coated in a coloured shell and packaged in what looks like a pill packet. When you pop out the candy from each bubble, there’s a symbol in on the foil that was under it. The booklet that comes with the Tokyo Treat gives you a guide for what all the symbols mean (from ‘very good’ to ‘bad’) and the location of each candy corresponds to some aspect of your life, like love, travel and health, so it’s basically a fun little ‘fortune-telling’ candy. Sadly the chocolate itself was almost flavourless, even if you ate several of them at once (which I did, because I’m a guts).

Fortune Telling Chocolate Pills

Milk-Flavoured Potato Chips
I was a bit iffy about these chips, not being a fan of milk in general, but they were actually not too bad. They didn’t really taste like milk; in fact they didn’t really taste much different to plain, slightly salted potato chips. I enjoyed them as I enjoy potato chips in general, though I was a little disappointed they didn’t have a more unique flavour.

Milk Potato chips

Thomas and Friends Chewing Candy
This little packet includes five decent sized sticks of grape-flavoured chewy candy. I actually thought it was chewing gum at first, because it looks like the sticks of that 5 gum or whatever it’s called, but after you chew on it for a few minutes, it pretty much dissolves into nothing. The grape flavour was nice (sort of like grape Zappos), but it left an odd aftertaste in my mouth.

Thomas Chewing Gum

Black Thunder Gold
The first thing I thought of when I bit into this chocolate bar was ‘chocolate crackle’. You know, those little clumps of chocolate coated Cocoa-Pops in cupcake trays that our parents used to make for birthday parties? This tastes exactly like that. It’s rice puffs and dark crispy cookie coated in milk chocolate, with bits of coconut mixed in. It has a perfect balance between sweet and bitter chocolate. The bar is quite small – about the size of a Milky Way but a bit wider – which was disappointing given how much I liked it.

Black Thunder Gold

Anpanman Ramune Candy
Here we have a little plastic tube full of little candy pieces, each in the shape of the Anpanman characters (I assume that’s what they are anyway; I’ve never seen the TV show or movie or whatever it is). You can either crunch on these or just suck on them and they come in apple, grape, peach or orange flavours, though I found many of them seemed to taste like peach regardless of what colour they were. Not that I minded; I generally love peaches and anything peach-flavoured. A very tasty candy, and one of my surprise favourites for this month’s box.

Anpanmam Ramune Candy

Brazilian Orange Pocky (Summer Limited Edition)
Upon opening my Tokyo Treat box, this item was one of the ones I was most excited about. These are biscuit sticks covered in an orange chocolate that have attained the perfect balance between sweet and tangy. I’m actually sad that because they’re not available in Australia, I’ll never be able to have any more once I’ve gutsed these ones. I love Orange Pocky so much I’d have its babies.

Brazilian Orange Pocky

Moko Moko Mokolet Toilet DIY Candy 3
Ever wanted to eat or drink out of the toilet? I imagine the answer is ‘no’ but thanks to this month’s Tokyo Treat special item, you’ll get the chance to do it anyway. In this DIY candy kit, you get a little plastic toilet (well, the pieces of a toilet; you have to put it together yourself but it’s easy even without the instructions on the box) with some stickers to decorate it (I got a white toilet with France themed stickers), a straw and three little sachets, each containing a flavoured powder (lemonade, cola and strawberry). You pour the contents of the sachet into the cistern so it gathers in the bowl, and then pour some water into the cistern as well and give it a tap or a shake. This makes it fizz up to fill the bowl, though it isn’t clear about how much water you should use. My first attempt (with lemonade flavour) was rather anti-climactic and only fizzed up about half way. For the second one, I put far too much water in to compensate, and it exploded everywhere like a horrific version of that baking soda volcano experiment we all did at school. Luckily by the time I tried the strawberry one, I got the ratio right. The taste of all of them reminded me a lot of Wizz Fizz, though each did have a slight hint of its individual flavour. This was a really fun (if weird) candy snack. Also, pro-tip for those who haven’t had theirs yet: you need to clean the toilet out pretty thoroughly between flavours or it gets backed up.

To see the Moko Moko Mokolet in action, have a look at my Instagram video.

Mokolet DIY Candy

Marutake Peach Drink
My equal favourite item (along with the orange Pocky) for the July box is this drink. I love anything peach-flavoured. The import shop in the shopping centre across the road from my campus used to sell a peach-flavoured soft-drink, and I was devastated when they stopped selling it. I was expecting this one to be a soft-drink, but it was more like a cordial, in one of those weird plastic bottles you have to cut the top off. The booklet describes this as a refreshing drink for summer time and I would have to agree; it’s winter here now but this sweet, delicious peach drink would be perfect on a hot day.

Marutake Peach Drink

And that wraps up my Tokyo Treat July Premium Box review! With all the yummy goodies that were included, I’m glad I went for the Premium box this time over just the regular one.

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Nintendo 3DS: Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros Edition (review)

Release date: May 2015

Format: Digital download (eShop) and physical cart

Other platforms: NA

Price: ~$45 AUD

Puzzle and Dragons Case

Many of you have probably played Puzzle & Dragons in some form on your tablet or smartphone as a free-to-play game (with microtransactions), but this year the franchise made the jump to the Nintendo 3DS as a paid-up-front game. In fact, it’s two games in one; you get Puzzle & Dragons Z, which is in the same vein as the original game, and you also get Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros Edition, which has the same core gameplay but with a Mario ‘skin’ (and some other minor differences). You also don’t have to worry about microtransactions here (no having to wait half an hour for your hearts to refill or pay real money to keep playing). Not being much of a mobile gamer, I hadn’t played any of the P&D games before, so I chose to go through the SMB Edition before playing Puzzle and Dragons Z.

Anyone who has played a Mario game will find the settings of P&D: SMB Edition quite familiar. There’s not much of a story, but there are 8 worlds, each of which have 8 dungeons, and these worlds follow a similar format and order to those in the normal Mario games, with a world of grassy hills, a world of ice, a volcanic world etc. P&D: Z, on the other hand, has an almost Pokemon-y feel about it; you start off in a house, say hello to your mother, and go off for your test to become a Dragon Tamer and get your first monsters. Immediately after you pass your test, the world is attacked by the evil Paradox Organisation, who want to destroy the world. It’s up to you, the rookie Dragon Tamer, to defeat them by travelling through various dungeons and rebuild the world by freeing legendary Skydragons. While I normally enjoy RPG elements and was expecting the story to make P&D:Z even more engaging than P&D: SMB, I was sorely disappointed. Though some of the dialogue was mildly amusing, there was just far too much of it, and a lot of it was full of ‘jokes’ that just weren’t that funny. I often found myself wishing there was a ‘skip’ option so I could get on with the puzzle aspect of the game instead of having to sit through multiple tedious cut scenes after every dungeon and every few minutes while walking around in some areas. The story itself was also trite and somewhat repetitive, and while you could argue that Pokemon is guilty of the same, at least those games have enough other positives to keep you interested and playing. This game just feels like they deliberately aimed to make the most mediocre, cliched RPG story they could manage.

Each dungeon has a number levels within, consisting mostly of ‘battle’ levels but with the odd bonus level where you can win items or choose one path out of two or three branching options. The lower screen shows you a bit of information about each dungeon, such as what items you might find and enemies you will most likely encounter. P&D: SMB has a more linear structure, with levels set out in a similar fashion to traditional Mario games, whereas the world of P&D: Z is more of a free roaming affair.

PDDragonMario World

Once you’ve confirmed the dungeon you want to play, you’ll be given the opportunity to choose which team you want to take in with you. Each team is made up of one Leader and 1-4 Subs, though you will also get to choose one Helper to take along. In early worlds/dungeons, your choice of team probably won’t matter much, but later on the enemies get much tougher to beat, so you really do need to look at what enemies you’ll be up against and plan your team accordingly, choosing characters with elements (attributes) that are strong against the baddies.

PDMario TeamSelect Screens

Next we come to the core of the gameplay itself. Puzzle & Dragons is essentially a tile-matching game, similar to Bejeweled or Candy Crush in that you have to match three or more of a particular orb to create combos, but rather than only being able to swap two adjoining orbs like in those games, P&D lets you tap an orb and drag it wherever you like around the 5X6 board, as long as you do it within a time limit (a few seconds). As you drag it, it swaps places with whichever orb it passes over, so by looking carefully at the layout and planning out a pattern before putting your stylus to the touch screen, you can set off a large number of combos at once, which often multiply as more orbs fall down into combos. Each level within a dungeon contains enemies (sometimes just one but often more), which need to be defeated by creating combos. Enemies all have a number above their head, showing how many turns until they attack, so it’s in your best interests to take them out before that countdown reaches zero. The enemies have attributes or elements and therefore may be weak or resistant against particular elements (eg. fire does a lot of damage against a wood enemy but less against a water enemy).

PDDragonMario Battle

This is where your choice of team becomes important. You need to have at least one character of a particular element (aside from hearts, which are used for restoring your own teams health) in your team for a combo of that element to do any damage, and the more team members you have of that element, the more damage you will do. Each team mate also has a skill, which becomes activated once they’ve participated in a number of combos. These skills range from hard-hitting attacks or moves that increase your attack power for a certain element to moves that change orbs to a different type or restore health, and they don’t count as using a turn, but enemies have their own skills which can be used against you, including ones that hide some of your orbs or bind your team mates of a certain element so they can’t contribute damage. This makes it critical to pay attention to what orbs you’re matching, as there’s not much point in creating an elaborate combo of a particular element if your team mates of that element are all paralysed.

As you play through the dungeons, you will sometimes get enemy characters join you as allies. You can also win items which you can use to transform your allies into more powerful versions of themselves, or you can sacrifice allies to increase another ally’s level. The enemy and creature designs in P&D: SMB are all taken from existing Mario games, so be prepared to encounter familiar faces like Goombas, Boos and Koopas. This was probably the one aspect where I liked P&D: Z more; the creatures get more and more fantastical the further you play through the game, and I loved the designs of the various dragons and other mythical-looking critters. It’s worth going back to the Toad House (in P&D: SMB) and doing this every now and then as leveling up your team to increase their stats and skills can make the difference between defeating a boss or being defeated. Thanks to the ability to just tap on levels, returning to Toad House is quite quick and easy, but in P&D: Z, you have to physically walk back to the Dragon Tamer Headquarters in order to hatch the eggs you receive in battle or to evolve monsters using chips that defeated monsters have dropped (if there was a quick travel option, I didn’t see it).

PDMario PowerUp Screens

When you are defeated, the game doesn’t really punish you too harshly. You have three continues, and as long as you have continues remaining, you can pick up exactly where you left off if you are defeated (any damage done to the enemy will remain but your health will be fully restored). However, if you die and have no continues remaining, you’ll have to restart the dungeon from the beginning. I found most dungeons could be completed within 5-15 minutes so dying never really frustrated me to the point where I didn’t want to play anymore.

Graphically, P&D: SMB Edition is a joy to look at, with its bright colours and visual style similar to the overworlds in the Wii and Wii U Super Mario Bros games. The bright explosions and flare of colours, coupled with the cheerful 1-Up sounds played when you create a chain of powerful combos and deal a heap of damage to an enemy made it feel satisfying and rewarding when I lined up the orbs just right, and much of the background music would be right at home in a standard Mario game. I also quite liked the setting of P&D: Z and the ability to wander around freely in the locations. In terms of challenge, it was a bit of a mixed bag; it seemed like it didn’t so much have a difficulty curve as a difficulty squiggle, with some levels/enemies being really difficult to beat, followed by an insanely easy enemy set that went down in a matter of seconds, followed immediately by another nearly-indestructible enemy (though overall the earlier dungeons were easier than those in later worlds). Also, P&D: Z seemed slightly easier overall than P&D: SMB.

Before I wrap up this review, I also want to note that when I fired the game up recently for the first time in nearly a year, it told me there was a game update available. After updating the game and starting it up, I got a message saying there was no save data for Puzzle and Dragons Z on the SD card; in other words, my file and all my progress had been wiped. Nintendo’s site says that save data should still be available for use after the update, and since I didn’t try playing the game before updating I can’t be 100% sure whether it was the update that wiped my file or if it just didn’t survive the process of being copied to a larger micro SD card last week (I upgraded from the original 4gb card to a 16gb card), although all of my other games that I tried (both digital and physical copies) still had their save data. Either way, if you do get the message telling you to update, I’d proceed with caution; look up the extra features it adds and if you decide (as I did after reading what the update was for) that you don’t care about the changes, it may be best not to update. I had only played the Mario edition and I was only up to world 3 or 4 at the time, but it was still really annoying to have upwards of 10-15 hours progress just gone.

If you don’t like ‘match-3’ puzzle games, Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros Edition probably won’t change your mind. However I have had a lot of fun with it, and the ability to collect and customise characters makes it more interesting and engaging than a lot of other puzzle games I’ve played. If you can only be bothered playing through one side of it, I’d definitely suggest going for the SMB Edition over the Z side of things, just to avoid the needlessly waffly attempt at a story. Whether you’re looking for something you can sit down and play for an hour or so or just something you can pick up and play for a few minutes at a time, this game is worth adding to your 3DS library.

Score:

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Nintendo 3DS: Kirby Planet Robobot (review)

Release date: June 2016

Format: Digital download (eShop) and physical cart

Other platforms: NA

Price: ~$55 AUD

Kirby Planet Robobot Case

I bought Kirby Triple Deluxe as an impulse buy not long after it came out, and though I didn’t expect to think much of it, I ended up loving it. So, when Kirby Planet Robobot was shown in a Nintendo Direct presentation in March this year, I knew it was a game I’d be interested in. In many ways, it looked quite similar to Triple Deluxe, almost like a direct sequel, so I was interested to see what stayed the same and what was changed in Kirby’s most recent adventure.

As with Kirby Triple Deluxe, Kirby Planet Robobot also contains two mini games, so I’ll review each part in its own section.

Main Game
As Kirby games often do, this one starts out with Kirby snoozing under a tree on Planet Pop Star. During his nap, a horde of robotic invaders from the Haltmann Works Company descend and convert the once green and lush planet to a world of technology and machinery. Though both King Dedede and Meta Knight attempt to repel the invaders, both are easily defeated. Upon waking up and seeing what has been done to his home world, Kirby realises it is up to him to put things right, and he sets off to rid the world of mechanical foes. It’s a simple story and not particularly ground-breaking but it helps to set the scene for another charming entry into the Kirby series.

Like its predecessor, Kirby Planet Robobot is mostly a 2D platformer, though Kirby can travel between the foreground and background to collect items or avoid obstacles; if you’ve played the first game, the mechanics of this one won’t be anything new to you. Some enemies can also attack him in the same manner, with some levels having vehicles that drive forward and run Kirby over if he gets in the way, while others have lasers firing back and forth between the different planes for Kirby to avoid. In some levels, the camera pans around and follows Kirby as he traverses 3D paths around large structures. There’s a strong steampunk motif running through the game’s design, with some boss enemies appearing as steam-powered versions of enemies often seen in the series (such as the clockwork tree that attacks you in the opening levels).

Kirby PR Steampunk tree

Rather than just being an aesthetic factor, this technological theme is integral to the game play, with some level components being controlled by turning wheels, placing batteries into slots or arranging blocks with wires to complete the circuits needed to open doors. There are also enemies that can only be defeated by jumping on them and unscrewing parts of them so they fall to bits, which the sadist in me always found amusing. Though a steampunk/technology world is something I would never have expected would suit Kirby, it does it superbly.

Kirby’s ability to inhale enemies and copy their abilities returns in this game; along with a vast number of abilities from earlier games, Kirby Planet Robobot also introduces three new abilities. Not long after you start playing, Kirby comes across an enemy in a large robotic suit. Defeating this enemy allows you to don the suit yourself (after giving it a shiny pink paint job first) and march through levels punching the living hell out of anything in your path. You can also scan enemies (instead of inhaling them) while in the suit, allowing you to take their abilities and power up the robotic suit even more. Like the Hypernova ability from Kirby Triple Deluxe, the mech suit is essentially a ‘plow through the level with no effort’ item, but it is still immensely satisfying to go all out with giant chainsaw arms or to incinerate everything in front of you, depending on what ability you’ve picked up while in the mech suit. Some levels also let Kirby transform into a vehicle for an auto-scrolling shooting level.

Kirby PR Mecha and Steampunk BG

Kirby PR Jet Boss

There are seven worlds to complete, each with their own theme. Within each of the levels, players can find a variety of Stickers. These don’t have any real functionality, but they are fun to collect, and they can be viewed in your collection once you finish the stage. Each level also includes Code Cubes to find, and since the boss levels will only unlock once you have found a certain number of these Cubes, it’s important to collect them when you can (collecting all the cubes for one world will also unlock an extra stage within that world).

Kirby PR World Map

Kirby Planet Robobot also launched with four new Amiibo; Kirby, Dedede, Meta Knight and Waddle Dee. I didn’t bother buying any (I already have the first three characters from the SSB series), but scanning any Amiibo (with the exception of a few that don’t work) will give Kirby a copy ability. Some will give you a specific ability depending on the character, while others appear to give you a random ability. You can use this feature up to ten times per level, but I feel like this would make the game too easy; anyway, abilities are mostly plentiful enough during levels that I never tried it.

Kirby PR Tower

The main story won’t take long to complete (I finished it in about 7 hours, which I think was slightly longer than Triple Deluxe), unless you’re going for all the collectibles as well (some of the Cubes and Stickers are quite tricky to get). Once you’ve beaten it, you can play through a modified version of the main story as Meta Knight, extending the play time for this game. Still, even if it is short, it is still thoroughly enjoyable. Kirby in a pink mech suit! Clockwork monsters! What more could you want?

Kirby 3D Rumble
Kirby 3D Rumble sees Kirby waddling around small isometric levels, collecting coins and inhaling enemies or stars and using them as ammo to kill other enemies. The more enemies you hit in a row, the higher combo you score, which gives you points at the end of each stage. You also get graded on your clear time, and these two factors influence the trophy you get at the end. Each level has about 4-5 stages, with the last being a boss fight. This whole mode can be beaten in well under half an hour and isn’t particularly challenging, with all the end-level bosses pretty much being the same creature or a slight variation thereof. After I played through it once, even the prospect of getting a higher score wasn’t enough incentive for me to play it again.

Kirby PR 3D Rumble

Team Kirby Clash
I liked Team Kirby Clash a lot more than Kirby 3D Rumble. You start off selecting a ‘class’ for Kirby (as in many RPGs) from swordsman, healer, hammer-wielder and mage, each of which has different stats. You also get a team mate whose class you can change if you wish. Once you’ve selected your classes, you set off on ‘quests’ to defeat enemies (though it’s not so much a quest as it is a static 2D level containing a boss creature to kill). As with the Main Game, enemies can jump back and forth between the foreground and background and attack you from either, which does help to keep the combat interesting. It is also fun to have a team of different classes so you can mix up the attacks. As you do more damage to the monster, power tablets pop out (the number depends on how many team mates you have). Once each team member has collected a tablet piece, you play a timed mini game to decide how much damage it does to the enemy. After this hit, it usually doesn’t take long to kill the creature. As you go through these quests, you level up and get scores based on your clear time, but again, after I’d played through it once, there wasn’t enough to make me go back and do it a second time.

Kirby PR Team Kirby Clash

The mini games in Planet Robobot were fun, even if they felt almost tacked on as an afterthought. Given that Kirby Triple Deluxe‘s mini-games (Kirby Fighters and Dedede’s Drum Dash) both ended up as extended games available on the eShop, I’d imagine the same will happen with these two mini games at some point. Since I felt that they got repetitive after only a few levels (I had the same problem with Triple Deluxe‘s mini games), I doubt I’ll bother buying the full versions if they do get released.

Those looking for a challenging platformer or deep story won’t find it here, but anyone who wants a fun and super-cute game with a gorgeous art style should pick up Kirby Planet Robobot. As much as I loved Kirby Triple Deluxe, Kirby Planet Robobot is even better.

Score:

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Nintendo Wii U: Never Alone (review)

Release date: November 2014

Developer: Upper One Games

Format: Digital download (eShop)

Other platforms: PC, (Windows/Mac/Linux), PS3, PS4, XBox One

Price: ~$19 AUD

WiiU Never Alone Title

Being a sucker for any game where you get to have a cute furry companion, I was intrigued by Never Alone when I first saw articles about it start popping up. Being the lazy tightarse that I am, though, I didn’t actually buy it until recently, when it went on sale on the Nintendo eShop for about $5 AUD. Developed with input from the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, this is a game that aims to weave an educational experience in with the game mechanics. The story follows Nuna, a young Inupiaq girl trying to find the source of a severe and unending blizzard and save her village. Early on she meets a mysterious white fox who accompanies her and helps her, and she needs all the help she can get to survive the frozen landscape and escape from various monsters chasing her.

Never Alone is a puzzle-platformer, which most gamers will no doubt be familiar with. You control two characters throughout the adventure: Nuna, who can use a bola weapon to break ice or obstacles and can push or pull objects; and Fox, who can run faster than his human companion, climb walls and manipulate benevolent spirit creatures to form platforms for Nuna to traverse. Getting through each of the chapters generally requires you to switch often between the two characters to use their different abilities. In terms of platforming games, Never Alone doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre, but it is mostly straight forward, with the puzzle aspect coming through in that you need to work out which character is most suited to a particular task. I felt that some areas were a little tedious; for example, there were a number of sections where all you did was walk in one direction, and I thought these could have been broken up a little better.

WiiU Never Alone Iceberg

As you play through the game, you unlock extras such as cultural insights and artifacts. The insights include interviews with Inupiaq elders about life in that harsh environment and short documentaries showing some of the locations and myths from their culture, while the artifacts include pictures and descriptions of various items and tools used by the Alaskan indigenous people. There really is a lot of additional content here, and if you have any interest in history or other cultures, it’s well worth your time to have a look through it. You generally unlock a few more insights and artifacts at the end of each chapter, and though you can view them immediately if you wish, you can also just proceed with the game and go through all the cultural material later on (or not at all, if you are only interested in the game aspect of it).

WiiU Never Alone Artifact Description

Visually, Never Alone is quite nice to look at, with its soft palette portraying the unforgiving icy landscapes. After a while I did find myself wishing for just a bit more colour – and occasionally I got it – but given the setting I suppose the more muted colour scheme makes sense. Every now and then, cutscenes provide more context for the story, and I felt that these ink drawings added a lot of visual interest and helped to offset the sometimes monotonous look of the game as a whole. The music in this game was also beautiful, with the mostly soft melodies enhancing the quiet and sometimes haunting atmosphere. Some sections are also narrated by a voiceover in the Inupiaq language (with subtitles) which adds to that sense of playing through a myth or folk tale rather than just making your way through a game.

WiiU Never Alone Wooden Structure

Even though it’s a beautiful game, Never Alone has some significant issues that detract from the experience. I found that the controls were sometimes less responsive* than they should have been. Most of the game is fairly slow-paced, but there were few sections that require fast reflexes and precision controls to avoid death. For example, some areas will have you being chased by an enemy who is right on your tail, meaning that any delay results in death, and you have to use your bola weapon to break objects in your path. Unfortunately launching the bola only seemed to work reliably about 60% of the time, and there were many instances where I died because of this. You also couldn’t change direction quickly, so if you were facing one way and then tried to jump the other way to jump onto a platform, you would end up just hitting your head on it; instead, you had to actually turn around while standing and then jump. When a game is challenging because of level design or whatever, that’s a good thing, but when a games’s most challenging aspect is the controls, it’s just frustrating.

Though the character you’re not playing as will usually either follow you or stay still (depending on what is safest), every now and then, the other character would actually die because they just stood there waiting for a platform to collapse or a pursuing enemy to kill them, even though they were supposed to follow automatically (and did so when I replayed the section). Sometimes the character would even move into the path of danger rather than staying put; on one occasion, Nuna actually ran off a platform and fell to her death on some spikes as I was playing as the Fox and moving him away from her to grab a platform. The game has a local co-op mode which would probably alleviate many of these problems, but as it’s a fairly short game at around 3-4 hours for the main story, I’d assume most people would mainly stick to solo mode (I played through the whole game solo).

WiiU Never Alone Cultural Insight

I also found the last portion of the game to have a disproportionately high difficulty spike compared to the rest of the game. As mentioned earlier, the majority of the game was a slow to moderately paced platformer, so those late sections that relied on quick responses and switching constantly between the two characters while dodging a constant threat just felt a little out of place at times. The collision detection* also seemed off at times, with enemy characters ‘hitting’ me even though they weren’t touching me, or my character being unable to grab a wall or ledge when I jumped at it, even though I should have been able to and it worked on other attempts. Dying after watching my character bounce off a wall or go straight through a platform when I had hit it at the right point to grab it was something that grew ever more frustrating on each of the (numerous) occasions it happened. There are a lot of checkpoints throughout the game so deaths usually didn’t result in a huge loss of progress, but it was just so much more annoying and tedious than it needed to be, and it meant that when I finally finished the game, what I felt was more of a sense of relief than of satisfaction. This was especially disappointing given that I went into this game wanting to love it, and expecting to love it.

WiiU Never Alone Green Spirits

It seems that this is the first game in what will be a series that explores a variety of unique cultures and brings them to a more global audience. This is an important task, and I hope that these games succeed and iron out the problems this game suffered from (Never Alone still seems to have done reasonably well commercially and critically). From a purely gameplay standpoint, I’m not sure I’d pay the full $20 or so for Never Alone (especially not on Wii U), but it’s still worth giving it a chance if you do find it on sale, especially if you want an interesting and educational experience in addition to a platformer. It is just a shame the faulty collision detection and unresponsive controls seriously mar what would otherwise be an excellent game.

Score:

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*It’s worth noting that though I played it on the Wii U, Never Alone is also available on PC and most other consoles, so I’m not sure if all versions had these issues. A friend of mine who played it on PS4 and said it was flawless, so I would suggest that if you do buy the game, buy it on one of the other consoles rather than on the Wii U. I also played a couple of other games requiring precise button-presses in between sessions of Never Alone and had no problems, so I know it is not a fault in my controller, either. If you’ve played this game, let me know in the comments what platform you played it on and if you had any problems like I’ve encountered.

Apologies for the lower quality of the pictures in this post. Never Alone is one of the few games that doesn’t allow users to take screenshots and post them to Miiverse, so I had to take the pictures on my iPad.

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Nintendo Wii U: Mini Mario and Friends – Amiibo Challenge (review)

Release date: April 2016

Developer: Nintendo

Format: Digital download (eShop)

Other platforms: Nintendo 3DS

Price: FREE (requires Amiibo)

MMAF Title Screen

In the last Nintendo Direct, we got a glimpse of Mini Mario & Friends: Amiibo Challenge, a free download coming to both the Wii U and the 3DS. It seemed cool but I’d more or less forgotten about it until I saw some of my Australian Twitter friends talking about it this morning (I think it came out in the US last month some time, but as is typical for Australia, we get it later). Given that I have quite a few Amiibo and the game is free, I decided I might as well give it a go.

MMAF Some Amiibo

Some of my Amiibo figures.

There are only ten characters whose Amiibo are compatible with the game, but it doesn’t matter what series Amiibo you use (eg. the red-based SMB, the black-based SSB Mario, Doctor Mario or 30th Anniversary 8-Bit Mario Amiibo will all work exactly the same and let you play as Mario). The compatible Amiibo are Mario, Donkey Kong, Peach, Toad, Luigi, Bowser, Rosalina, Yoshi, Diddy Kong and Bowser Jr. If you have an Amiibo that is not listed here, you can still play the game (tapping your Amiibo will give you a little walking cube character called Mini Spek), but you will only be able to progress through the basic levels and will be unable to access any character-specific levels. Amiibo are usually around $17 RRP, but a lot of large chain retail stores have had recent Nintendo clearances, so you can often find them for $10 if you really want one.

MMAF Peach Amiibo Select Screen

Once you tap your Amiibo into the game (you will have to register an owner and nickname for it if you haven’t already done so), the character takes on the form of a little wind-up toy. Tapping on the toy will start him or her walking in whatever direction they are facing, and you need to use the stylus (or your finger) on the GamePad’s touch screen to collect and place environmental elements (such as pylons and bouncing pads) to guide the character through the level so they can collect coins and Amiibo tokens and make it to the exit, avoiding enemies, bottomless pits or spiky traps. Each character also has a special skill, like Mario’s wall-jump, Diddy Kong’s ledge grab and Yoshi’s ability to eat enemies, meaning that a lot of the basic levels can be played in different ways if you use a different character. The more coins you collect and the faster you make it to the exit, the higher your score, which can potentially earn you a gold trophy for that level.

MMAF DK in Level

Some levels have two exits; the normal door with the red flag, and another door with a character’s face. If you can make it to the character door with that character, you will unlock a set of levels that can only be accessed by that character. The levels require that character’s special skill to access and complete, so you won’t be able to enter with another character. The design of these levels will immediately be familiar to anyone who has played that character’s previous games. For example, Donkey Kong’s levels are themed around Donkey Kong Country Returns and feature a lot of blast barrels, while Luigi’s levels are based on Luigi’s Mansion and rely on moving torches around to stun Boos and reveal hidden blocks. The levels generally only take a minute or two to complete, but some require you to move the camera around as the levels can take up more than one screen worth of space, so a bit of planning is sometimes necessary to determine the fastest way to get your character where it needs to go.

There are about ten basic levels which can be accessed by any character (including Mini Spek), but each character has four exclusive levels, meaning that if you have at least one Amiibo for each character, you have about fifty levels in total to play through (plus another ten or so in the final world, which can only be unlocked after clearing all the basic levels and by collecting Amiibo tokens). I think it would be great if an update let us play levels with characters from other franchises – like Zelda and Pokemon – down the track, but it’s probably not going to happen.

MMAF Yoshi on Map

For a free game, Mini Mario & Friends: Amiibo Challenge is actually pretty good. It’s not really worth going out and buying an Amiibo for it if you don’t already have one, but for those who do own a few of Nintendo’s toys-to-life figurines, it’s a fun way to get a bit more use out of your collection.

Score:

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