Tag Archives: Review

Review – Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Only Happy for So Long…

by Randy Marr

The most recent game in the Animal Crossing comes to us in the form of a spin off titled Happy Home Designer. You play a villager who joins up with the Happy Home Academy in order to help townsfolk build their dream home. Using a new set of furniture organization tools on the bottom screen, and armed with a slowly growing catalog of furniture to choose from, you must fulfill each villager’s request in decorating their pad. Or not. It’s your game, do what you want.

And there in lies the first problem with Happy Home Designer: the lack of structure. On one hand, it’s nice to be given a series of blank canvases to work your interior decorating magic on, but after the 10th, 15th, or 20th time, you’ll start to crave some rules. A challenge. A point structure. Anything that can give you purpose to cramming furniture into some chicken’s new house.

Build your own school, if you want.

The new way you organize furniture in the houses of your clients is effective, and is hopefully a glimpse into the future of organizing your personal house in future Animal Crossing titles. In fact, this whole game feels like somebody came up with a great new system for organizing furniture, and rather than making a new Animal Crossing game on the WiiU or for whatever the “NX” is going to be, they instead made a game based solely around that function.

That in and of itself wouldn’t be terrible. In fact, the idea of freely creating a house now and again is pretty fun for a little while. Given that the game does nothing more than expand upon a couple of elements from Animal Crossing: New Leaf, while completely removing most of them, a full price is hard to swallow. Not only that, but the supplementary Amiibo Cards lead to inflating the price even further.

Only a few of the many cards.

The Amiibo Cards are ultimately useless in this title. For the most part, every character that’s on an Amiibo Card can be found in game, so there’s no need to have a card for them once you’ve found them. Alternatively, the cards do make a great way to hunt down your favorite villagers (*cough*Tangy*cough*) and have direct access to them, but that only diminishes the card’s overall value. And at a dollar a card, there’s not a lot of room for Nintendo to be bringing down the value. Some special characters, such as K.K. Slider and Saharah, are (as far as I’ve found) the only characters that can’t be found through regular gameplay and must be scanned in with an Amiibo Card.

What feels like a neat R&D experiment appears to have turned into a full fledged game without a lot of actual substance to justify the price. Add on the 100 Amiibo Cards in randomized packs (for just the first wave) and you’ve got an insane amount of money spent with no real reason to do so. It’s a bad value, through and through.

Review: Shovel Knight

Retro concepts with modern sensibilities make for a brilliant game.

Every now and again we get another game that promises retro-platforming action. Spelunky, 1001 Spikes, Mega Man 9. Few actually manage to find what made retro games so great, and most of them forsake modern game designs to try and reach that “classic” feel. Shovel Knight manages to hit a sweet spot on both accounts, and the results are astounding.

Shovel Knight might sound ridiculous, but it is straight forward. You play as a knight who wields a shovel for purposes of combat and exploration. He also gets an array of sub-weapons to use, many of which that hearken back to games like Castlevania and Mega Man.

Using these weapons, you travel the world of Shovel Knight, defeating members of an insidious order as you fight to win back your beloved Shield Knight, a dear friend that was thought lost to The Tower of Enchantment. Traveling the world is a combination of Super Mario Bros. 3‘s overworld map and The Adventures of Link‘s villages. It gives a great sense of exploration to a game that otherwise features fairly straight-forward levels in the vein of Mega Man and Castlevania 3.

Gameplay within these levels feels very much like a more fluid Adventures of Link with swordplay replaced with shovelplay, which is now a word. You swipe can swing your shovel in arcs in front of you, or you can come down upon your enemies with a vertical shovel-drop. When combined with the aforementioned sub-weapons, you’ll find an incredibly gratifying gameplay system built into the game. The same method of combat is used to traverse platforming puzzles to find more and more treasure, a key component for buying new weapons and upgrades.

The level design is varied and compelling: from interesting puzzles using your shoveling skills to their utmost potential to perplexing paths that require sub-weapons and quick reflexes to navigate. Equally varied and challenging are the boss fights, each reminiscent of a variety of fights throughout video game history.

I can’t say enough about the music of the game. While it isn’t exactly true to the capabilities of the 8-bit era, it is evoking that same feeling of games like Mega Man and Castlevania. Jake Kaufman has put together an incredibly array of songs here that are well worth purchasing on their own from the game.

In the end, Shovel Knight is more than a game that just wants to invoke that “classic feeling” for a bullet-point. It’s a love letter to the great game design that brought all of us where we are now, and it shows.

Note: For what it’s worth, I played the game on the 3DS and that appears to be the place to play. The layered dimensions among the backgrounds of the game really make it pop, visually. The game in general really works well in a portable format, but it’s also available on Steam and Wii U, and I would easily recommend it there as well.


Review: Pushmo World

Pushmo returns in HD, and manages to rekindle my desire to shove blocks around.

The 3DS saw one of the most innovative puzzle games in recent memory with Pushmo a few years back. A simple downloadable title became one of the 3DS’s best games, if nothing else for the refreshing nature of it’s gameplay. It wasn’t about speed or necessarily skill, it was about thinking things carefully to get from the bottom to the top. Plain, simple, and immensely enjoyable.

Pushmo World seeks to bring that same innovative gameplay to the big screen. Admittedly, it’s not as fresh the second time, but it still delivers head scratching brilliance with a new batch of puzzles. You also get a more robust social feature through Miiverse, allowing you to find and endless assortment of user-generated Pushmo puzzles!

Here’s one I created! It’s kind of terrible, but you can scan the QR code into either version of Pushmo to try it!

What makes Pushmo great is it’s simplicity. The colorful art style, the peppy music, and the minimal amount of mechanics helps to keep the game clear and concise, and yet the variety of puzzles seems endless. The amount of innovation you get from a game about pushing and pulling blocks around never ceases to surprise me, even in the franchise’s second iteration.

Ultimately, Pushmo is a puzzle game only in competition with itself. It’s nice to see that Nintendo didn’t try and staple more weird mechanics into it, or re-introduce elements from the less favorable offshoot Crashmo (also available on the 3DS). What we have is a great game, in high definition, with nearly unlimited content. At the end of the day that’s all anybody could ask for.

PC Review – Remember Me

Note: This is for the PC version of Remember Me

 Remember Me is the first game developed by DONTNOD entertainment. Originally, it had a hard time finding a publisher, as many of them were reluctant to pick up a game with a female protagonist that also didn’t fatally kill every enemy you come across. Capcom eventually picked it up, and published it to three platforms (PC, Xbox, and PS3).  I played it on the PC, with an Xbox controller, on the hardest difficulty.  I didn’t attempt it on the mouse and keyboard, but based on how it plays,  I can’t imagine it would be a fun experience.

One of it’s strongest attributes is it’s music.  The soundtrack, composed by Olivier Derivière, fits the world perfectly. It adapts itself to combat, changes it’s style based on what’s going on, and is tremendously unique in terms of what it offers.  I would strongly encourage at least giving the excerpts a brief listen, courtesy of the Soundcloud link below. The soundtrack itself is availible on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon MP3 if you end up wanting to check out more.

Gameplay-wise, it has a lot of things in common with Arkham Asylum, where the emphasis is more on watching the rhythm of battle and reacting accordingly over mashing out a 46 button combo that you’ve committed to muscle memory. You only ever unlock 4 ‘combos’, all of which are pretty easy to remember and make sense, reinforcing a more simple, but effective, method of combat.  Where Remember Me adds it’s own sense of flair is the ‘pressen’ system.  You can adjust each strike to have one of four effects: damage, health restoration, Sensen cooldowns (more on that later!), and ‘chain’. Damage and health restoration are pretty self explanatory; the ‘chain’ ones simply take on the effect of whatever precedes it.   Sensen Cooldowns lower the countdown timer on your specialized abilities, which could be considered the ‘special’ moves.  Each one has a different effect–one allows you to openly freeform moves in a series of devastating strikes, another brainwashes a robot enemy to your cause before it self-destructs.  There’s more in there, and they definitely add a flair to the combat–they are prevalent enough so that you can use them freely, but not so common that they’re all you do.  It’s a simple system that’s pretty fun, though over a multiple-hour play session it starts to feel a -little- robotic. (I’m still riding the MGS Revengeance high, though, so I get withdrawals if I’m not bisecting a Metal Gear Ray in half.)

These are the specialized Sense Abilities you get. The game does a nifty slowdown mechanic to give you time to choose--but the combat doesn't stop!
These are the specialized Sense Abilities you get. The game does a nifty slowdown mechanic to give you time to choose–but the combat doesn’t stop!

Outside of combat, you have the typical Tomb Raider-esque platforming. Nillin, the protagonist, can climb, vault, and jump with the best of them.  The game’s sense of style is amazing here, too–you never feel lost, thanks to helpful HUD elements that show you all the safe spots to jump.  If you’ve ever jumped for a ledge in a game and missed just due to the fact it seemed like it should’ve been a safe haven, rest assured that doesn’t happen here.  And while you do have a sweet moveset for traversing the terrain, the game is unfortunately rather linear–there’s  a few branches where you can hunt down collectibles, but otherwise, it’s fairly straightforward.  Personally, that’s not a huge deal to me, but there were times where I wanted to go and explore Neo Paris in all it’s beauty.

Guys, this menu is gorgeous. Like seriously. So damn stylish -- and this is only the intro menu!
Guys, this menu is gorgeous. Like seriously. So damn stylish — and this is only the intro menu!

There was a few bugs here and there. Most often, a scripted event didn’t go off, leaving me without a ledge to jump to or elevator to ride.  These didn’t provide a major hurdle, as the game’s checkpointing is damn brilliant.  The feelings of “Oh shit, where was my last check point?”, so common with quite the number of games, didn’t occur here.  Other than that, the game ran smooth as silk, and I had no problems with the initial install.

In game UIs are really slick, and aside from your health/Sensen abilities, everything is rendered as something Nillin actually sees, thanks to her Sensen implant.
In game UIs are really slick, and aside from your health/Sensen abilities, everything is rendered as something Nillin actually sees, thanks to her Sensen implant.

Overall, Remember Me is a solid game.  There’s nothing that stands out, but the combat system has enough nooks and crannies to not feel completely redundant with other games. Where it shines is it’s art style and sense of self; it’s one of the few games where the world feels fully believable and fleshed out. The animations are top notch, too–Nillin gives a great sense of being wounded or confused or angry even when idle.  Ultimately, it’s something I think people should experience for at least the sights and sounds, and the gameplay isn’t something you’ll need to suffer through for getting from point A to B.

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