June on Stew Review

So since last time, I’ve finished my first trimester of my Graphic Design diploma! Sadly, this has meant games and Stew Review have taken a backseat to being an adult and doing things. I’ve been playing Overwatch almost non-stop since it’s come out, with a few chapters of Fire Emblem Fates in between.

Anyway, what’s on the horizon in June?

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Mirror’s Edge is pretty high on my list for hype, with the original being one of my top 3 all-time favourites! Kirby: Planet Robobot is also due out that weekend, with a new, yet small, line of amiibo (yay…) Lastly is Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, which piqued my interest when first announced, and is finally coming out here in the west.

Anything you think I missed that I’d like? Or even just excited for something else? Hit up that comment box yo!

Splatoon – Squad Battles – We need YOU!

With the April update coming soon, there’s gonna be a ton of balancing and weapon sets to try out!

These days, my friend Eddy and I pretty much just play Ranked battles, seeing as it’s the main place to progress in the game for us. We own most of the gear, and all the current weapons, so we try and rank up!

But we’re just two people- we always get paired with two people we can’t communicate with, and we sadly lose way more than we’d like. So I’m desperate! If you’d like to join us on our Splatoon sessions, drop us a comment below!

Pokken Tournament

So, I suck at fighting games. I never really got into them as a kid, and now that I’m older I can appreciate the challenge and skill involved in them… but still suck at them.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl was my first real attempt to play a fighting game, simply because a friend hyped me up on the idea of all these mascots fighting each other (I had heard of the franchise before, just never played it). And boy did I suck. I ended up giving up entirely on it, eventually. Then Smash 4 came out, and it all clicked. I finally understood how to play, how to react and anticipate… and then the fighting game thirst began.

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While I’m no Pokemon professor, the concept makes sense to me. Type advantages, in particular. And while Pokken doesn’t have type advantages in the traditional, Pokemon sense, it still employs, and relies heavily on, a rock-paper-scissors system. Normal attacks beat grabs, grabs beat counters, and counters beat normal attacks. And when you get that basic mechanic down, you can move onto more advanced techniques, and learning how to read your opponent to beat their chosen attack.

I may have made Pokken sound incredibly simple, it still has a lot of depth, somehow. Every character has a very different moveset, with some Pokemon being better at closing gaps, some attacking from a range easier, and some that are harder to predict (I’m looking at you, Gengar).

I personally picked Lucario as my partner Pokemon for the single player Ferrum League mode, but you can pick a multitude of many others, with some being straight up fighters (Machamp, Blaziken), some being more sneaky (Weavile, Gengar) and some even feeling like they shouldn’t be there (Braixen, Chandelure). They all have a very distinct personality that shows via animation and moveset, too.

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The fights will have two different phases, which will switch after certain combos are powerful attacks are executed. Duel Phase resembles a traditional fighter, all happening on a 2D plane. Field Phase will allow you to move in 3D space, with the arena dictating where you can actually go. Each phase has a slightly different control scheme, with Field Phase having homing attacks to help close the gap, and Duel Phase having more brutal, close quarters moves to deal some, ahem, massive damage.

During the fight, you can build up your Synergy gauge, to unleash a powered up form, as well as a massive, finisher-type move. Pokemon who can Mega Evolve will do so, while every other Pokemon will just take on a move energised demeanor. Tap R + L to use it when it’s full, then again to activate your awesome, special move. You can block it if you time it right, but dammit Sceptile how much damage do you have to inflict GUH

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Before each match, you can also pick two supporter Pokemon to summon during the fight. You can only pick one of those two supporters before a fight to actually summon for that round. I have a stupid inclination towards the cuter Pokemon I like, instead of more useful ones. But seeing Lapras so happily surf through the middle of a fight makes me feel like this game was worth the money.

Lastly, there’s the Advisor, Nia. During gameplay, she will give you a heads up on your support and synergy guages, and sometime a few helpful tips on ho- who am I kidding, turn it off, she won’t shut up I swear.

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There’s not a huge story to write home about here, with it mostly being about you making your way through the different colour leagues in the new region of Ferrum. Each league gets harder as you progress, going in order; green, blue and red.

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In between each league is a little bit of Shadow Mewtwo talk, and a fight against said Shadow Mewtwo. After the red league, you’re told they have to shut it down because Shadow Mewtwo is ruining everything, so you have to save Shadow Mewtwo. Then he’s Mewtwo, and then you unlock Mewtwo, and can play as Mewtwo. But not Shadow Mewtwo.

After that, you unlock the Chroma League, and I genuinely hope you don’t have to fight a Sceptile in that one. I’m stuck on it, so…

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It’s amazing how well they mixed the classic Pokemon silhouette designs with a realistic, detailed texturing. Furry Pokemon have actual puffs of fur,  reptile Pokemon have a waxy skin, and the Ghost type Pokemon look remarkably surreal, with an unnatural glow.

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Beyond that, there isn’t a huge amount of art to really talk about. The arenas look cool, but you focus on them very little while in the middle of battle. The Pokemon and NPCs look kinda wooden in the background, but again, you shouldn’t really be paying much attention to them.

The avatar system, however, is very cool. I can’t help but draw parallels to Miitomo, which just came out, with the huge amount of clothes to unlock and buy with in-game money. I really hope Sun and Moon have an avatar customisation suite as cool as Pokken!

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I can barely hear the music over the top of Nia stating her cheering helped, after I turned her off entirely during gameplay. SHUT UP, NIA.

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So overall, if you’re a Pokemon fan, but suck at fighters, Pokken will still make sense to you. The one-beats-the-other mechanic of the game will make sense to any Pokemon fan, and given enough practice, the rest will follow naturally. Just keep at it!

If you’re a fighting game fan in general, I actually have no idea if you will like this game. But if you’re a fighting game fan and a Pokemon fan, chances are you can overlook a lot of the small things that most people don’t see, and just enjoy it as a dynamic Pokemon battle game.

 

 

The Legend of Zelda – Twilight Princess

Around 2004-2005, my parents split up. I won’t go into details, but the result of it was my dad and I moving to Canberra, leaving both my mum and Adelaide behind. It never really hit me that hard, strangely enough. My whole life was turned on it’s head, and I just shrugged, and kind of accepted it.

That’s not to say I didn’t care, I did, immensely. Perhaps it was all just too much for 15 year old me to take in. Dad and I had to share a bed at my half sisters place, while her and my brother-in-law were also raising a 3-4 year old boy. The solace I had was an Xbox, and a handful of games. It did the trick enough, I suppose.

A year later, dad and I got a place of our own, and we were all moved in within a week. I can’t remember exactly when it all happened, but it was late 2006, with the Wii about to come out here in Australia. I was pretty excited, despite the fact I hadn’t played a Nintendo home console for years. I skipped the Gamecube for the Xbox, but I was keen to get back into Nintendo, with the motion controls actually appealing to me. Yeah I know, but I was young…

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I was so excited for waggle, once upon a time

And finding one was a whole other story, there was just no hope. But my mum pulled through, and found one, and shipped it over with a copy of Red Steel. I think we were both excited, with me hyped to get a new gaming console, and my mum being able to get me something awesome, closing that gap between Adelaide and Canberra.

A few weeks after the Wii arrived, dad and I went out to the mall, and we picked up a copy of Twilight Princess as his Christmas present to me. Even though my parents had separated, it was that moment that stuck with me, to open my eyes to the fact that they still both game a damn about me, despite the drama. I played Twilight Princess religiously for the next few weeks, excited to jump back into the series after A Link to the Past being the last one I played. So when I heard there was a HD remake coming, I hesitated. Do I want such a powerful memory potentially defiled by replaying it with modern expectations?

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The first thing that stood out to me when I first got the game was the super serious, gritty tone of the world. The beautiful twilight colour scheme has always been one of my favourites, which has actually affected the way I see and feel about real life sunsets.

The character design is also great, with Wolf Link just working without even trying. Midna is endearing, even when it’s clear she’s manipulating you, simply because of her cheeky smile, and playful, impish mannerisms.

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“Do I know you? I mean… WOOF”

In retrospect, however, I am so glad they toned down the bloom lighting, meaning there’s more detail in the twilight areas. The HD textures make the game look stunning in some areas, but it also makes the low polygon count in certain areas incredibly obvious. Given that the main change of the game is that it’s now HD, it’s hard not to be a tad disappointed in the old polygonal modelling.

But now that I’m older, I can appreciate the character designs all the much more, in how they show so much about a character before they even say a word. Ashei was always one of my favourite designs, showing her stoic, but dutiful personality before even truly meeting her in the Snowpeak Mountain area.

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It wouldn’t be a Zelda review without mentioning the music, right? When I first played Twilight Princess, many of the tunes in the game were familiar from watching friends play Ocarina of Time. Epona’s Song is not subtle at all, but the howling rocks can be either familiar, or changed to the point where I had no clue.

As familiar the music is, the HD remake hasn’t increased the quality from a MIDI track to fully orchestrated and recorded, which sticks out like a sore thumb these days. It’s a disappointment, but also understandable.

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Midna is what makes this story worth playing the game for. Link was never meant to have a true character art, being a blank slate for the player to project themselves onto. Zelda takes a backseat this time around, leaving Midna with the vast majority of the plot points. Which is fine! She’s an enjoyable character whenever she’s on screen, with dubious motives turning to noble ones throughout the game.

Zant is also an interesting, but strange villain. He come across as menacing and formidable at first, where you can tell he’s holding back his true self to instill some uneasiness in you. But when you finally get to his throne to fight him, he’s very unhinged. Entitled, tantrum throwing and almost comic.

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He’s crazy, but he’s got style. Damn.

And then there’s my, still, favourite representation of Ganondorf. Actually hiding in the shadows, he proves to be the mastermind behind it all. At first, it comes across as cliche, but you have to consider his motives. He was put to execution because the Hero of Time warned Zelda and the royal family of his plans. Sinister as they may be, he was put to death without having done anything yet. That would make anybody mad, if you think about it.

But then the guy gets stabbed in the gut, only to be revived by the power of the Triforce- and then banished to a whole new dimension. Not to justify his actions, but they were really kicking the hornets nest here, only to have it all backfire in a major way.

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*goosebumps*

The Zant boss battle, and the four phase Ganondorf (and Ganon!) fight are my favourite Zelda moments, by far. Pure fun, then the stakes are really high during the final fight. It’s just so epic, I still go back and play the Ganondorf fight over and over just because.

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And then there’s the gameplay… I am so glad they took out the motion controls. So very, very glad. Back in 2006 when I first played it, I actually didn’t mind it so much. But I don’t think I could play 30 hours of Zelda with waggle again…  The Gamepad is definitely the way to go, with your entire inventory, or even dungeon map, on display and ready.

So while the controls are nicer, the combat in the game is still tedious at times. I found myself getting frustrated with what should be simple battles, just because of animations going on for too long, or Link falling over and taking forever to get up. The Double Clawshot item is still a pain to use, with the Sky City dungeon still being my least favourite in the game, by far.

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Even Link is like “Oh, yay… what is it”

And then you have a handful of items that don’t make much sense being there beyond the dungeon they’re found in, other than a few cheap ‘piece of heart’ forks in the road. The Ball and Chain, the Spinner and the Dominion Rod don’t feel like staple items, and are all annoying to use in any other purpose than it’s intended dungeon-clearing design.

However, the dungeon design is still great in a lot places, with the water dungeon being one of my favourites for it’s ingenious use of water flow. That’s right, a water dungeon that’s not terrible!

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All in all, I’m glad I got to replay Twilight Princess. I can definitely see it’s flaws, but I still have to be grateful for the Zelda game that got me hooked on Nintendo fully again.  I wish the remaster went beyond textures and minor gameplay tweaks, but with a new Zelda on the horizon, it makes total sense why they left it to what it is.

Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire and the future of Pokemon

The Hoenn remakes are the first remakes where I had no nostalgic connection to the original games. The Advance era, or Gen 3, went by completely under my radar, where I played very few Nintendo games at all. So as much as I was seeing all the hype around Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby, I was almost entirely uninterested.

Keep in mind, I had been playing the Pokemon games again from Diamond onward, almost non-stop. I was burning out, especially after Pokemon X and Y ended up being comparatively short. I ended up buying Alpha Sapphire, playing an hour, then never touching it again.

Then I decided I wanted to give it another shot, back around week 42 of my Game-a-Week project. I jumped back in and… I was in the middle of something, but I couldn’t remember what… so I left it again. And then Pokemon had it’s 20th anniversary, and I just couldn’t leave a game in my collection unfinished.

So I dove back in. I guessed what I was doing, ended up figuring it out, and bulldozed my way through to the end of the game with my elite team. And by elite team, I mean Dragonite. The Dragonite I’ve trained since Gen 4, even.

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Setting the sub-par standard

It got me thinking, now that all of the games are connected since Gen 3, the feeling of having a personalised journey in Pokemon is now a little muddied. Instead of catching my favourites in the game, training them up and having some struggles when I’m under-leveled, I have the option to trade in (or transfer from Pokemon Bank) my A-team. Sure, I can still play the old fashioned way, but it definitely feels like modern Pokemon games are geared towards the end game of catching them all.

And because there are just so many to collect, it’s becoming harder and harder to have Pokemon stories in these games that aren’t centred around specific people, evil teams, or Legendaries. The originals were all about your bond with your Pokemon, and the journey you go through. The newer games are about these larger-than-life creatures, where the whole world depends on you stopping the generic evil team from abusing their powers.

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Stop flooding the world, naughty

I’m painting with a wide brush here, because Alpha Sapphire didn’t feel like my journey anymore. It felt like I was just there while everything happened. The Primal Kyogre stuff was cool, but why did I have to go, instead of some adult with a bit more experience? The big arc around Kyogre felt so extraordinary, I wondered what the point of going to the Pokemon League and beating the Elite Four would even mean. It felt like the story simmered down at that point, where in earlier games I remember, it was the culmination of your efforts.

And then there’s the Delta Episode. A lot of people were urging me to play through Alpha Sapphire to the end, so I could experience this all new chapter of the game. I was excited at first. It did a good job of setting up the story to be this big, exciting adventure after the Elite Four. I was dissappointed that it ended up being a back-and-forth, almost fetch questy experience. I was sent back and forth across Hoenn, most of the time just to exchange a few words… But then I got to meet Rayquaza and Deoxys. It was surreal. During the actual space flight with Rayquaza, there’s no dialogue. You’re not given a briefing on Deoxys before you battle it. It felt just like surfing through Cerulean Cave and bumping into Mewtwo.

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Am- am I in space?!

I guess this is less of a review of Alpha Sapphire, and more of a musing on what I feel Pokemon has become. It’s evolved into something that doesn’t resemble the original games anymore. It’s grown, and I’m not entirely sure I like it. I love the 3D worlds, the feeling of catching a favourite Pokemon, and beating the Elite Four. The story, however… it just doesn’t work for me. It’s got to be challenging to try and write a story that’s going to work with the near infinite combinations of Pokemon you can have in your team, but having the Legendaries have more relevance to the plot than you can be a little disconnecting.

Pokemon: Blue Version

It’s funny that one of my highly anticipated is a rerelease of one of my very first video games. I’ll bitch and moan about all the HD rereleases of games less than 10, even 5, years ago. But when Nintendo remake or release an old school title, I’ll not just allow it, I’ll hyperventilate about it. All just because the nostalgia is stronger.

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Such a barren room, no wonder I left home

So when I jumped into Pokemon Blue, I started going through the motions- name my character, name my rival, go into the long grass, etc. It’s classic Pokemon, but really, what were you expecting? Unfortunately, the very bare-bones nature of being the first in the franchise did damage the overall feeling of nostalgia, like all things. Pokemon as a franchise evolved so much since these games, and it’s actually interesting to see how much we’ve been taking for granted in the more recent games! Even simple things like breeding, day/night cycle, running shoes… they’re simply not here in Gen 1. And training each Pokemon in your party individually! It’s a lengthier process, but having more direct input to how your Pokemon are trained is actually a lot better in the long run.

I also knew exactly where to go, what Pokemon evolved to what, at what level, so the feeling of discovery was just never going to happen while replaying Blue. Which is sort of a bummer, but again, expected. I blew through Blue in just a few days, catching all the Legendary birds, then taking on the Elite Four- and beating them first try. It was all part of a formula that we still see today, and still works.

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That’s not a hat?

Despite all this, the game is still… fun. It’s simpler. I mean, of course it is, but the simplicity means I can go through and focus on multiple Pokemon. I could beat a gym, then go hunt for new Pokemon. I could spend an hour or so in the Safari Zone. It just feels like an overall “One thing at a time” experience. In the newer games, there’s an overarching story, your rivals are a bit more present, and there’s a stronger end game. In Gen 1, your rival will show up in just a handful of places, the Team Rocket subplot is solved in 2-3 encounters, and the main goals are to just become the Pokemon Champion and complete your Pokedex. It was, I suppose, a lot more disjointed.

But of course, when I first played this as a child, I made many mistakes. I defeated the birds and the two Snorlax’s without realising I could catch them. I didn’t catch Mewtwo until a friend pointed out it existed, and when I tried, I defeated it. I didn’t even think to save and restart the Game Boy! So going back to Blue while learning from these mistakes, I managed to make a much better run of it, catching every legendary, and even finding a Dratini!

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Still my favourite legendary!

I’d still have a hard time recommending these games to someone who wasn’t caught up in the zeitgeist in the 90s. It’s rather obtuse when it comes to figuring out where to go, especially when it comes to the Team Rocket storyline and Cinnabar Island. But for anyone around my age, who grew up with Pokemon so prominent in their lives, get it. Relive it. See how far it’s come, in every aspect. Art, music, mechanics- it’s amazing.

Here’s to another 20 years of Pokemon!

The Earthbound/Mother Series

I know, it’s been too long since I last updated… but I’ve been brainstorming what to do this year, and it’s been hard! I really enjoyed making my way through a new game every week, but playing games that rapidly with the intention of finishing them… well, I wasn’t always enjoying it. I’m grateful I got to play some games and franchises I would have just left sitting on my shelf, like Bayonetta. Seriously, Bayonetta is awesome!

So, I want to play and finish more franchises, but I don’t want to limit myself to a weekly time constraint, especially now that I’m going to be studying this year. So, compromise? Just play a franchise, either ones completely fresh to me, or ones where I’ve play a few, but want to play more. And with all this Mother 3 release talk going on, I figured I’d make the time and play the first two! So, my first attempt at this new system is going to be the Earthbound/Mother series!

So, for all you unfamiliar (which included me up until a few minutes ago), the Earthbound series is known as the Mother series in Japan. In fact, until “Earthbound Beginnings” came out on the Wii U virtual console last year, it wasn’t even really a series in the west, with Earthbound on the SNES being our only exposure to the series. I’ve already played a tiny bit of Earthbound with Lachy from Venn Collective last year, which is on the Stew Review Youtube channel (follow me~).

While the game can be considered a JRPG, it also has it’s own very peculiar and unique features and staples. Stuff that I have trouble describing, but also details that have been adopted by the genre in a larger scale. The big indie game last year, Undertale, borrows heavily from the series. Which is probably why I want to play through it!

So that’s going to be my side project for Stew Review for now! Venn Collective is taking up a lot of my time,but I still want Stew Review to be about my own journey through gaming, and a place to brush up on my critical writing skills. However! Let me know if you want more Stew Review videos, and I may even be able to add the polls back in, if I have trouble picking what game to play in a franchise!