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Review: Pokemon Snap

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By: Iris the Keyblade Master

Ah, Pokémon Snap, the only Pokémon-related video game that I ever got to play when I was a kid.  It was made for the Nintendo 64, but it’s also currently available on the Wii U Virtual Console.  I recently bought a copy for my N64 and found that it still held up for me as an adult.

First, I told myself that I just wanted to test the game out to make sure it still worked.  About twenty minutes later, I had furiously headed back to the Beach level to prove to Professor Oak that the size in my pictures was NOT “so-so!”  It’s one of those games that is so simple and yet so addicting at times.

Unlike other Pokémon games, you don’t get to capture, train, or trade any of the wild Pokémon that you find in the different levels.  You take pictures and send them to Professor Oak, who then gives you points based on its size, position, how many of the same type appeared in the shot, etc.  (And boy, does he have high standards for “size!”)  However, to get to the next level, you must complete a variety of objectives.  Sometimes, it’s a matter of taking a certain number of pictures of unique Pokémon.  Other times, you need to trigger something special within a level to get to the next one.

Additionally, certain Pokémon won’t appear without the help of tools that Professor Oak gives you throughout the game.  And sometimes the ways to get new Pokémon aren’t so obvious.  For example, there’s a Charmeleon that walks around a lava pit towards the end of the Volcano course.  If you knock him into the pit with an apple treat, he’ll evolve into Charazard.  This interaction increases the replay value of the game, since it encourages you to go back and try new tricks to find hidden Pokémon.  (Side note: it’s also worth mentioning that because it’s an older game, you won’t find any Pokémon that came after Mew. Mew himself doesn’t even appear until after you’ve unlocked the final level.)

Technically, the player character has a name, Todd.  But like Link and the early Final Fantasy heroes, you get to pick what you want to call him.  He doesn’t have much of a personality in the game beyond, “Oh boy, let’s take a lot of pictures of Pokémon!” but it works.

Pokémon Snap is a fun, colorful game.  I love the different environments that you get to view through Todd’s safari vehicle.  Hopefully, some day, Nintendo will make a sequel.  They could really make it work by including the other generations of Pokémon, and maybe add new features, i.e. editing your pictures or getting to explore open world settings instead of following the same track.

If you like the Pokémon series, but never got around to trying this game, then I recommend checking it out if you still have your Nintendo 64 or access to the Virtual Console.  It’s a lot of fun!

Review: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

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By Iris the Keyblade Master

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is one of those games that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does.  The first game in the series was this big, epic adventure, involving Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy traveling all over the universe to stop Maleficent and meeting all kinds of Disney characters along the way.  Kingdom Hearts II was another a big, epic adventure that continued Sora’s quest.   He searched for his lost friends, befriended more popular characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Tron, and fought an evil organization.

Chain of Memories limits the adventure to one castle made of illusions.  Every floor that Sora visits is designed to look like a Disney world from his memories.  So almost all of the levels that you complete are areas that you’ve already explored from the first game.  (Little did we know that this would be a recurring problem in future games.)  It’s not necessarily what a person would have in mind if you told them to check out the sequel to Kingdom Hearts.

However, I love the story of Chain of Memories, so it’s probably the entry in the series that I replay the most apart from the first game.  It picks up where the first game left off, with Sora, Donald, and Goofy on the trail of their lost friends, Riku and Mickey.  They come across a castle inhabited by a mysterious organization that claims to have something- or someone- that Sora wants.  Sora takes the bait, only to find as he progresses through the castle that he’s losing his memories.

First, the story’s fantastic.  It’s one of two games in the series that involve a group of villains trying to trick Sora into working for them, and this one executes the idea much better.  The other game more or less saves the mind-bending shenanigans for the final level.  In Chain of Memories, it’s a steady progression of Sora forgetting his previous adventures and becoming increasingly obsessed with rescuing Naminé and Riku from the Organization.  Sora’s been previously established as somebody who cares deeply about his friends and the promises that he makes to them, so his change in personality makes complete sense.  The new characters are also well-written.  It’s the game that kicked off Axel’s popularity, and it’s easy to see why.  Naminé is wonderful too and a good example of a well-written “damsel in distress.”

I thought I would hate the battle system when I learned that it would be card-based.  Every attack that you make and magic spell that you cast is limited to the number of cards that Sora has in his deck.  However, I found that it was very manageable and does force you to strategize a little.  You can only carry so many cards in your deck, and the powerful ones are more expensive than the weaker ones.  You can also create special attacks called “sleights,” where you load three cards and use them together.  But the first card that you load for the sleight will not reappear for the rest of the battle.  So spamming sleight attacks will only take you so far.

Oh, and Donald gets to be just as useless in this game as he is in every Kingdom Hearts game.  Only this time, he doesn’t just fail to heal you.  If you don’t watch it, he can heal your enemies.  Yeah.  You read that right.  You’ll be desperately fighting Axel or Hades, who both use Fire spells, and he’ll happily hit them with Fire spells that bring their health back up.  Try to avoid using him in a fight with a magic-based enemy.

I also find it interesting how the difficulty level of the bosses and the usefulness of certain cards did change in the GameBoy Advanced version and the PlayStation 2 version.  See, the GBA obviously has a small screen, so big enemies aren’t hard to fight and Summon cards have a wider reach.  Cloud Strife was my favorite card in the GBA game.  All I had to do was summon him and he’d wipe out enemies with two slashes of the Buster Sword.  But the PlayStation 2 remake puts you in a bigger, three-dimensional area, so it’s a matter of getting close to an enemy, hoping that enemy stays put as you summon Cloud, and hope that Cloud moves in the right direction to slash said enemies.  If you’re in the wrong place or facing the wrong way, he’s completely useless.

All in all, I think this game was much better suited for the GameBoy Advanced over the PlayStation 2.  It has a smaller story and the levels are mostly the same as the first game.  In a way, it’s kind of impressive.  In terms of world design, it plays like a GBA remake of the first game.  Yet it has its own unique story, which supplies a reason for why you’re playing through the same locations again.  If you play the PlayStation 2 remake without that context, it comes off like a cheap, lazy sequel.

Nonetheless, I love playing the PS2 remake due to the improved graphics and voice acting.  Sora’s character arc and his relationships with his friends go to interesting places.  The series got two new fabulous female characters.  The soundtrack mostly rehashes the first game, but Yoko Shimomura composed some beautiful new tracks, i.e. “Naminé” and the final boss battle theme, “Lord of the Castle.”

Although it’s not an entry in the series that you absolutely must play to understand the rest of the plot, I highly recommend Chain of Memories.

Review: Anarcute

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Anarcute is advertised as a riot simulator. When I think of riots, I do NOT picture the cutest fuzziest animals alive, but there is a shit load of rioting going on.

What’s it about?
You are cute and fuzzy animals that have had it with the government oppression and squishing your desire to spread love. You are so filled with furry rage that you take to the streets and beat the crap out of anyone who gets in your way, taking down every building you can find to combat the evil overlords and bring peace and love back to your world.

You have to navigate your rioters through maze-like levels of buildings to avoid guards, lasers and mines while rescuing your friends to make your group larger. The larger the group, the harder they are to navigate and control. Keeping them from harm is a near impossible task. You move through the level trying to keep as many of your furry friends alive while trying to complete your level objective.

What did I think?
OMG, I LOVE THIS GAME. I have fun even during the most difficult levels. This game stresses me out even less than Flat Kingdom does. You go through different countries, liberating areas and freeing locked-up comrades. You can buy bonuses and earn them. You gain different abilities depending on how many rioters you have in your group. You can get anything: from stomps that throw your enemies, to abilities to knock down buildings and even a roman shield formation to project everyone.

This game is full of adorable visuals, a great soundtrack, a terrifying story line and continued complexity. However, this game isn’t for kids (in my honest opinion). There are snipers and your rioters will die if they take too much damage. I don’t know how well they will react to seeing a bunny sniped in the streets (even if there is no blood). The mechanics of the game continue to impress me and the boss battles are interesting and well thought out. I am also impressed at the animals that you save/unlock throughout the game. They aren’t just your typical animals. They have snails, jellyfish and unicorns alongside the cats, pugs and horses.

Do I recommend it?
This game is by far one of my favorites. I love every aspect of it and I think it’s a steal for $14.99, available on Steam. If you love great music, cute fuzzy characters, a really good laugh and supporting indie developers, then this game is surely for you.

However, if words aren’t enough, please take a look at all the fun I’m having in my Let’s Play here:

Review: Hero of the Kingdom II

Dev/Pub: Lonely Troops
Release Date: Feb. 20, 2016
Platform(s): Mobile, Mac, PC

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Hero of the Kingdom II is a point-and-click-style adventure game with great artwork that brings a 90s nostalgia to the gameplay experience. Reminding me – look and feel – of games like King’s Quest, Betrayal at Krondor and the like. I immediately felt at home when I started playing.

What’s it about?
You and your sister leave your village after tragedy strikes. You find yourselves at a small coastal village, where you are taken in by an old man who seems to long for a family. There, you help the village and your sister until Pirates attack and take her from you. You repair the village and set out to find her.

You meet new people along the way, complete quests, learn to fish, find lost treasure and so on and so forth. You gain items, experience, gold and friends while you explore the fantasy landscape. You make your way through small farms, large cities, battle snakes, giant spiders and even zombies.

What did I think?
It’s an entertaining game that I’m about halfway finished. I’ve done one Let’s Play and am finishing the game up on my Twitch Stream. You come across of ton of different quests, most require you to help someone or do something. Others require you to find a lost item, which can be harder than it sounds due to the items being drawn in so effortlessly to the surrounding landscape. It’s simple and entertaining and exactly what I need right now. I enjoy the nature of the game, the lore behind it. The music and sounds are a bonus and it’s appealing to stare at for hours on end.

Do I recommend it?
If you enjoy simple, yet entertaining, then you’ll have to check it out. You can find it on Steam for $7.99.

Watch my let’s play here:

Games You Didn’t Play, But Should: Legend of Grimrock

Games You Didn’t Play, But Should: Legend of Grimrock

Guest Post by: Michael Early

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You didn’t play Legend of Grimrock, or its sequel. Perhaps it flew under your radar, or you haven’t caught it during a steam sale, or maybe you just don’t like the style of the game. Whatever your reason was, I think it’s time to reconsider. The game was released quietly through digital-only channels by an indie studio from Finland named “Almost Human,” who self financed the game with a team of four people. An impressive feat given the size and the scope of the game. Legend of Grimrock reminds me most of  games like Might and Magic or Eye of the Beholder as it’s a first-person, party based RPG filled with puzzles and deathtraps around every corner. You didn’t play Legend of Grimrock, so I’m going to tell you why you should.

Legend of Grimrock and its sequel, the appropriately named Legend of Grimrock II, are real-time, tile based RPGs, which means that everything in the game fits onto a single uniform square tile. When you move, you can move in any direction. It takes you one full tile and turning is done 90° at a time. This holds true for the enemies as well, which makes combat an interesting experience. Enemies all have patterns in movements and attacks, which  are not terribly hard to learn, but also means that where you have the fight is just as important as what you’re fighting. After all, you wouldn’t want to fight a ranged opponent without the ability to sidestep projectiles.  Enemies will also work to surround your party, thus jamming up your movement and then hacking you and your party to death.

The subject of party is an important one in these games.  You’ll have to build a party of four people across four races and three classes (five races and seven classes in the second game). Each race has their strength and weaknesses. Minotaurs would be great fighters, due to their high HP pool, and a skill that grants them bonus strength by looting skulls.  Insectoid characters have a high bonus to magic which makes them ideal mages.  Placement in the party matters as well. Keeping mages in the back protects them from front line damage, but makes them vulnerable to being attacked from behind.  Make sure to keep your head on a swivel.

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Enemies aren’t the only danger in Legend of Grimrock. The dungeon itself is just as harsh as the monsters inside of it. Traps and pitfalls are numerous. Walking up to a switch could open the door at the end of the hall or cause the ceiling to open and drop a giant grab onto your party’s collective heads. That button you press on the wall might just cause the ground underneath you to fall out.  Of course, that means that with some clever thinking, turning those traps against the monsters in the dungeon isn’t too difficult. Just as there are traps and pitfalls, there are also hidden walls and secret passages littered throughout the great dungeon.

Legend of Grimrock and Legend of Grimrock II are both fantastic games that offer a whole lot to the player. LoG II has a larger cast of races and more classes, making its combat and game play a bit more dynamic. But LoG itself stands strong on its own and is now available for the iPad, which makes it a great game to check out and play on the go.  If you’re playing on the PC, know that there is endless community content available for the game. Re-skins for monsters and new adventures are all easily accessible through the steam marketplace.  What are you waiting for? Get out there and play Legend of Grimrock.

Legend of Grimrock on Steam

Review: Unravel

Review: Unravel

Developer: Coldwood Interactive
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2016
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC

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You know that I always say that I’m not good at puzzle games. Well, to be honest, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been playing puzzle games my whole life and, while I say I’m not good at them on camera when I get flustered, I can get through them fairly easily when I’m playing them on my own and I can take the time to figure it out. It’s just a matter of perspective. A puzzle-platformer game, Unravel has all the elements I love.

What’s it about?
Unravel follows a small humanoid creature named Yarny. Yarny is, as you can guess, made out of yarn. As you move, Yarny unravels, so you have to find all the clever places where yarn is stashed so he can remake himself. As Yarny, you move through different puzzles and obstacles in search of memories and small crocheted (or knit – it doesn’t specify and I don’t know enough to figure it out myself) animal-shaped pieces that his owner has lost during significant times in her life.

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What did I think?
This game is incredibly moving and absolutely beautiful. The storyline takes the whole game to reveal itself, but it’s so worth it. The storytelling aspect of Unravel is so beautifully done that you find yourself caring deeply for Yarny and his owner and her family. I cared about Yarny so much that I actually jumped or screamed during parts when the environment tried to attack him. It’s powerful, to say the least.

The graphics are amazing. Yarny is simple enough, but you can really see him getting smaller and smaller the more he moves around. The details are incredible. He’s also surrounded by this gorgeous scenery, whether it’s a beautiful bumbling brook in the backyard, a snowy vacation or a terrifyingly real lighting storm.

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The controls are easy to master and Yarny is very responsive. I’ve been playing on my PS4 and I’ve found that I very rarely yell at my screen, “Jump when I say JUMP!” (If you’ve been watching my Ori and the Blind Forest series, then you know I say that a lot). The gameplay is smooth and even relaxing, except when you’re in an area that’s super stressful… like when you’re trying not to get snatched up by birds in an open field.

Some puzzles are more complex than others and I wouldn’t say that they get any harder as the game goes on. There are 12 puzzles in all and once you get the hang of it and learn the game, they’re actually pretty quick to figure out. That doesn’t make them any less brilliant or the game any less challenging. There are little tricks and tips you really have to master in order to finish some of them.

The replayability in the game is low. Once you go through a level, you basically can just go through it again with no changes. There are little secrets in each level that could be fun to go back and explore; however, you’re really only going to get one play through out of the game – unless you’re a completionist.

Do I recommend it?
Yes, I do. It’s become one of my favorite games to play when it’s been a long day. It helps me unwind and I just can’t get enough of it. I highly recommend it. You can find it on Origin, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for $19.99.

JD Reviews: Spider-Women Alpha #1

Writer: Robbie Thompson
Artists: Vanesa Del Rey
Published by Marvel

Review by: Johnny Destructo

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Silk (Cindy Moon): a gal spider-bitten by the same spider that bit ol’ Spidey. She was then trapped in a bunker for ten years, without any human interaction.

Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew): previously a super-spy, now a super-hero and recent mother, the eldest of the bunch.

Spider-Gwen (Gwen Stacy): a Gwen from another dimension who was bitten by the radioactive spider that chomped on the Peter from our dimension. Her Peter died in her arms, and she’s in a punk-band named The Mary Janes.

I’ve seen Spider-Gwen appearing in our Marvel Universe here and there, and was confused, thinking she was in her own Universe (The Gweniverse? I dunno). Turns out, she can travel back and forth thanks to a “Dimensional Travel Watch.” Think iWatch, but with +1 to Inter-dimensional Portal Apps. This is important, because most of the story hinges on this doo-hicky.

We start off in the Gweniverse, watching as Gwen is watched and plotted against by a fella in a Spidery outfit and an unknown higher-up. She zips over to our Universe (designated The 616) to get brunch with Silk and Spider-Jessy, but instead decide on heading back to Gwen’s place for alternate-dimension fooding. They fight a giant Super Adaptoid (see also: Giant Robot that can recreate your powers), and come back to get their stuff to go home only to find out that their Dimension hopper thingy is GONE.

Dun-dun-dunnn.

(Turns out the Super Adaptoid was there just to keep them busy while the aforementioned Spidery villain stole their thingy, preventing them from getting back home). Also revealed is the the Evil Mastermind behind this plan: THE—ahhhh, I won’t spoil it for you. But it was a pretty good cliff-hanger.

Now it might not seem like there’s all that much going on here, story-wise, but the delish is in the details. Each character feels fleshed out, have different mannerisms, different speech-patterns, etc. It’s really fun character work that deals with raising a new-born, adjusting to society after being away so long, and just general gossip. And they don’t all get along! I expected this book to be about 3 Spider-Friends, but not so much. Gwen and Silk both seem to be friends with Jessica, but Gwen can’t seem to stand Silk and is kind of a jerk to her. We’ve all been in this situation before, and it reads as fairly authentic.

The one negative I have about this issue though is the art. The brush work feels organic and the figures have movement, but when it comes to the faces, the work looks rushed. It’s a look more suited to a Vertigo title, or perhaps an Image book, but it seems a little out of place here.

Otherwise, this is a good beginning to a Marvel crossover event that I might actually care about!

JD can be found running his own comic shop in Manayunk, PA called Johnny Destructo’s HERO COMPLEX, hosting the PopTards Podcast, discussing movies, comics and other flimflam over at www.poptardsgo.com, and graphically designing/illustrating/inking and Booking his Face off at www.facebook.com/jaydotdeedot.

Follow his twitter: @poptardsgo.