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October, 2017:

Review – Pokemon Magikarp Jump (Android, iOS)

The Good

  • Charming visuals and art work
  • Magikarp
  • Magikarp

The Bad

  • Very repetitive game play
  • Weird overpriced Microtransaction Model
  • Shallow Gameplay

In Depth

Pokemon Go isn’t the only mobile Pokemon Experience available on mobile, Pokemon Magikarp Jump is a much more traditional mobile game with all of the usual caveats that come along with that.  At it’s core, Magikarp Jump is just your traditional old school Tomagotchi only with Pokemon.  You fish up a Magikarp, you feed it food and train it, and then take it off to compete in a Jumping contest against AI Magikarp opponents.  That’s 100% of the extend of the game.

The best part of this whole game is the art and animation.  It’s repetitive yes, but it all looks really great.  There are several dozen Pokemon that show up in the game aside from Magikarps, all of them rendered in this recognizable cutesy art style.

The more you play the more coin rewards you get which allows you to upgrade the various foods and training courses.  There are also Diamonds which are this games Premium currency, which can be used to unlock Friend Pokemon and decorations for your Magikarp tank.  The friendly Pokemon offer time based rewards such as bonus experience (JP or Jump Power) or extra coins.  The Decorations offer passive bonuses such as a blanked percentage bonus to coins or JP.  This offers up some variety of ways to raise your Magikarp.  The Premium currency can be purchased for real money but it also can be earned, slowly, by simply playing the game. After training, and league matches, you often encounter random events, some of which drop diamonds, others bonus exp and gold.

There is choice, and not really a lot of choice.  To keep things moving, you really need to keep upgrading food and training, which means needing gold, which pretty much steers all upgrades into getting more gold.  Spending a few hundred hard to get Diamonds for 2 extra food isn’t really as useful as spending the same amount for a bonus to gold drops or even just a boost to the experience food gives.

The whole system is of course, also designed on a sliding scale, so you get stronger, but you never really feel like you are getting “better”.  The leagues (all ten of them) all play out essentially at the same pace until you reach Level 100 Magikarps.  Every match is the same and entirely dependent on having more experience than your opponent, which is a fixed amount.  The only real way to make things move faster is to drop real world money.

Which brings up some weirdness.  There is a spending limit, built in, it’s something like $50 ever.  I suppose it’s to prevent kids from blowing hundreds on the game, except the entire point of this business model is to be sustained by “whales” IE the people who spend hundreds of dollars, to make up for those trudging through at the Free pace.  Spending $50 also gives you the Diamond Miner, which grants 100 free Diamonds per day, which pretty much enables all of the unlocks to be purchased many orders of magnitude faster than playing for Free.  the amount of Diamonds you get on basic purchases is also pretty low, enough to buy maybe 1 item.  Essentially the only reason to buy in, is for the Diamond Miner.

The problem here is, game doesn’t have anywhere near $50 worth of game play.  I get that some people will feel it does, but speaking for the idea of the vast majority, it doesn’t.  You don’t do anything interactive at all side from tapping food and pressing OK a lot.  Maybe, MAYBE if the Training rounds were actual mini games and you maybe some extra taps or something to help jump more in League battles and just in general if there was SOMETHING besides being a time waster to the game.  There isn’t though, and as it stands, being a time waster is ok, but it’s not really $50 ok.  I’m all for supporting developers, and I’d gladly throw $5-$10 at this game for the time I’ve spent on it and the enjoyable art and animation.

After you reach level 100 you can keep training Magikarps to higher and higher experience to see how high you can get your Magikarp to jump.  There’s no direct player vs player aspect but connecting to Facebook lets you see how your friends are ranking.

Don’t get me wrong on the negatives, the game is pretty fun as a Tomagotchi time waster, it just feels like there are some odd choices in the pay model and the gameplay itself just, completely lacks any real depth.  I have enjoyed the game a lot.  I’ve played all the way through to Level 100, which, takes months, just as a heads up, but it’s more than doable.  It just gets old after a while.

 

Review – Marvel Legends – Blade (Man-Thing Wave)

The recent Man-Thing BAF wave of Marvel Legends is also known as the Netflix Wave.  Primarily because it consists of Netflix versions of several characters, namely, Daredevil, The Punisher, Elektra and Jessica Jones.  The wave also includes some comic characters though, mostly ones that make sense.  Bullseye and Blade are both sort of in the same “street level” department as out Netflix heroes.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I almost wonder if this is sort of a secret preview for some possible future shows from Netflix.  Bullseye is too much of a Daredevil staple that I would be incredibly surprised if he doesn’t show up for Season 3, for example.  Could a Blade Series be int he works?  Maybe a Man-Thing movie?

Marvel Legends Blade

This iteration of Blade is particularly nice because his design works pretty well as both a comic book and a potential MCU Blade figure.  He isn’t based directly on any particular live action Blade (Wesley Snipes or Sticky Fingaz), but he looks like he’s a normal human enough to fit in with an MCU display.  Contrast this with, for example, Bullseye from this same wave, who sort of works but has those slightly exaggerated comic features that make him stand out a bit from all of the realistic MCU designs.  I only really bring up the MCU at all because this is the “Netflix Wave” and this is full of MCU designs.

Marvel Legends Blade

The figure itself is… ok-ish.  I actually have a few issues with the body design.  For starters, his chest is huge.  By chick I mean, his upper chest.  It’s almost comically oversized even by comic standards, because it looks so disproportionate next to his lower body.  Blade definitely feels like he’s been skipping leg day quite a bit.  His bare arms also look a little funky and are full of really ugly joints.  A lot of figures get away with the ugly joints by hiding those parts with armor or some sort of suit, but because it’s just bare skin, they really stick out.  His shoulders are particularly weird in places, they remind me a lot of Cable, where the shoulders are almost set too low to look human.  His sword scabbard/bandolier is also fits oddly, it doesn’t really have any good place where it feels right and it’s generally pretty loose all around.  The sword works well in it and the basic idea is there, I just kind of wish it fit his body better.

Marvel Legends Blade

These design issues are kind of a shame because otherwise the paint and sculpt are pretty great.  The heads both look really good and his chest armor and legs all are nicely done.   I feel like some better choices on the arms would have really helped this figure come off less weird looking.  I almost wonder if there was some thought to giving him a coat at some point as well, since putting the new figure int he old Wesley Snipes Blade’s coat goes a long way to hide a lot of the flaws.

Marvel Legends Blade

Overall, while Blade is not a terrible figure, he’s not without his flaws.  Blade’s time kind of feels like it’s come and gone though and he’s kind of a niche hero, so chances are there isn’t going to be another Blade release in the Marvel Legends line anytime soon.  I will say, as much as I like the old Toybiz Snipes Blade, comparing the two, the new one feels more solid and poseable overall, so he is a good upgrade.  Giving him the old coat helps as well, if you have one floating around.

Marvel Legends Blade

Review – Transformers – Titans Return – Topspin and Twintwist

Where Combiner Wars did it’s duty by giving us remakes of all of the original Combiner Transformers, it also used that opportunity to repaint all of those molds into different versions of the original G1 Autobots.  Titans Return has been moving into a lot more interesting territory.  There’s a lot more updates of Targetmasters, Movie bots and in this case, Jumpstarters.  Topspin and Twintwist were a pair of very similar G1 bots that had one specific gimmick.  Pull them back, and a motor would speed the vehicle along and eventually it would pop up and land on it’s robot feet.  The entire transformation was literally “fold in half at the waist”.

Topspin got sort of an update with the movie line, he appeared in Dark of the Moon as one of the Wreckers, as a blue Lowes NASCAR.  His toy even got a gray colored repaint that kind of worked as his buddy Twintwist.  This iteration had pretty much nothing in common with his namesake aside from a vaguely Blue and White color theme.  The original jumpstarters are more of a turquoise than a blue.

Titans Return has given us a proper update to this pair.  Topspin came first but Twintwist is a straight remold of the Topspin mold.   The new mold isn’t an exact replica of the original space ship/tank thingy, but it’s close enough, and the originals were kind of misshapen anyway to help accommodate the auto transform gimmick.  The transformation is also an actual transformation now, and naturally a lot more complicated.    It’s still reminiscent of the original.  The bulky back end becomes the legs with the sides becoming the arms and the end result looks pretty close to the original robot with better proportions as well.

Like a lot of Transformers lines, the later figures tend to be get better all around, and Topspin is no exception.  He’s definitely one of if not the best mold in the line.  The closest rival is Triggerhappy.  A lot is helped by the way his transformation does a good job of hiding a lot of the hollow bits that have been prevalent lately.  He also does a lot of interesting twists and flips that help him feel like he actually has a complex transformation.  Something else lacking in a lot of figures lately.  Particularly of note is his arms, which do this neat open up and collapse in on the shoulder and hand, often it’s a trick done on one end or the other, not both.

Both vehicles do a great job of lending itself to the Titan Master gimmick.  The space ship design is perfect for a cockpit for the small robot to sit in and pilot.  The little drill tank of Twintwist is a great vehicle for these little guys as well.  Neither was originally a Headmaster but the gimmick fits well.

Topspin and Twintwist are definitely a top notch toys for the Titans Return line.  Twintwist is slightly weaker than his mold originator Topspin.  The guns don’t work as well in the tank mold and the tank dreads kind of just hang off and look ugly in robot mode vs Topspin’s wings.  There’s been a lot of hits in this line but this mold one of the best.  It’s a solid update of a unique and interesting G1 design with a modern appeal layered on top.

Review – Super Mario Run (Android, iOS)

The Good

  • Solid Mario style Game on Mobile
  • Smooth graphics and Gameplay
  • Fun Gameplay in some modes

The Bad

  • Regular price is too high ($10)
  • Repetitive Gameplay
  • Toad Rally is Lame

In Depth

Nintendo is slowly making their way to mobile with a few of their flagship series, namely Pokemon and Super Mario Brothers.  They still aren’t putting out straight ports of the classics yet, but hopefully they will come around.  Hopefully when they do they don’t flub it and overprice everything the way Square has done with it’s Final Fantasy ports.  Mario’s first mobile foray is Super Mario Run, on Android and iOS.

Super Mario Run is a combination of quick repeatable mobile gameplay and classic Mario gameplay.  The overall feel and look is similar to the New Super Mario Brothers games, 2D side scrolling with 3D objects and sprites.  The main catch is that Mario is always moving to the right.  The game is designed to be played with one hand, and your only real control is to tap to jump.  It’s not really an endless runner, but it sort of plays like one.  The game is divided up into several levels and game modes, Tour, which is the standard single player campaign, Toad Rally, which is an online competitive game, and the new Remix 10, which is short bursts of very short levels.

There is also a Kingdom Builder mode which ties everything together and sort of serves as the purpose and end goal to every other mode.  As you gather Toads to your kingdom, your castle will level up to return to it’s former glory.  You also will gain new buildings to unlock and build in the kingdom and the ability to expand into other areas, increasing the size of your build space.  It’s neat, but serves no real purpose.  The toads will dance around the buildings but they are mostly decorative and placing a bunch of statues has the same effect as placing a bunch of Toad houses.  There are a handful of buildings which can be used to unlock simple mini games to gain Toad Rally Tickets, but they are in the minority of buildings you will unlock.  This mode is also limited a bit in how many spaces are available to build on.  This can be a little frustrating since it will very often mean choosing what you want to build too often and you’ll end up with a large bank fo unused buildings by simply not having room.

You primarily gather Toads by playing Toad Rally.  This is also my biggest gripe with this game.  Toad Rally is incredibly tedious.  You sort of play against other players, but it’s not real time.  It’s also not clear if it’s an actual play through of that player either, since often the ghosts will be different each round.  Most of these Toad Rallies are decided by whomever manages to get a Star power up as well, making most rounds one sided at one point.  The number of Toad Rally courses isn’t particularly varied and some stages are extra annoying to play such as Ghost houses, which require a lot of downtime waiting for Boos and looping through the same screen or the Airship levels, which usually result in a lot of deaths due to the constant pits between platforms and the unpredictability of cannons and enemies.  This exacerbates the tedium of these levels because even when you win the round, the scores are so low you will only earn a small handful of Toads of the corresponding color.  So, for example, you’ll get to play a LOT of repetitive Ghost House levels in order to get anywhere in collecting Purple Toads.

The new mode, Remix-10 is the new primary way to unlock items for your Kingdom, and it’s the closest mode to an Endless runner game that there is.  It gets a little old but I find it to be the most fun of the various modes.  You play through ten very short, maybe 10-20 second levels of varying types in a row each session.  Even if you die on a segment, you just move on to the next segment.  The only real objective is you pass ten levels, even if you die on all ten, though along the way you collect Rainbow Coins which unlock special bonus items.  You also get an item after each segment of ten.  In general, the mode is very generous with item drops.   The problem ends up being the one mentioned previously, where you run out of room.  Unlocking more space means building bridges, which means collecting a TON of Toads in the lame Toad Rally.

The last major mode is the Tour Mode.  This is the more traditional single player game.  There are 6 regular worlds, each with 4 levels each (3 normal and a castle/Airship).  After finishing the main run you unlock the Star World which consists of 9 levels unlocked by completing special tasks.  Playing Tour serves several purposes.  Completing tour unlocks Princess Peach as a playable character.  Completing worlds adds more variety to the playable levels in Toad Rally.  You also have the opportunity in each level to collect 5 special coins which often require tricky moves and techniques.

There are certainly a lot of opportunities here for Classic Mobile Game Micro transactions.  The Toad Rally tickets is the most obvious choice, special buyable items would certainly be another.  Thankfully, Super Mario Run has no micro transactions.  It’s Free to Play, but it’s more like a Shareware title.  The only thing you can purchase is the full game unlock.  You can play the first three levels and Toad Rally for free, but to get more, you’ll need to pay up.  This brings up the other big downside to this title.  It’s fun, there’s quite a bit to do, it’s not really $10 fun.  There is a sale going on (as of this review) that may come back again some time, for half off.  At five dollars, the game feels really worth it.  Everything is just too repetitive for $10.  You can buy full on Mario games for $10, or a lot of other games with more game play.  Maybe if Toad Rally were less tedious making the Kingdom Builder more robust and less limited, it would be worth more, maybe.

Review – Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)

After wrapping up the remake of Metroid II with Metroid: Samus Returns, it seemed like a good idea to look back a bit on Metroid Zero Mission, the remake of the original Metroid put out for the Game Boy Advanced.

Previous to Metroid Zero I had just finished Metroid Classic, the GBA remake of the NES game. The best part of the Classics series is that they are pretty true to the original titles. I’ve previously played bits and pieces of Metroid but the sheer massive randomness of this game has always kept me away. Also it’s “really hard”. Or at least I used to think so. For this outing I decided to cop and use a downloaded map to find my way around. It’s surprisingly easy in Metroid to pick up nearly ever power up and accessory before fighting even one boss. This actually makes the bosses a bit of a push over.

Zero Mission changes things up a bit and gives you a built in map akin to the more modern Metroid titles. The trick here is, many of the areas have been altered slightly requiring special items to access the next area. In fact, Metroid Zero is extremely linear in its storyline.  Many times in the game you’ll find Chozo statues that will point you in the direction you need to head next.

Metroid was pretty ahead of it’s time with it’s free form game play mechanics. Metroid Zero stream lines this idea by adding modern puzzle limitations. The whole experience is very similar to Metroid 3 for the Super Nintendo. It’s still a bit limited by its controls.

In the original Metroid you could shoot, jump and shoot missiles. You access missiles by pressing select. Zero Missions adds a few more items to the mix from its Metroid 3 predecessor, namely Super Missiles and Power Bombs. This makes things a bit tricky however since the Game Boy Advance doesn’t have the same number of buttons as the SNES control pad. Select still cycles through the missile types but the more powerful attack is activated by pressing and holding the R button. The other shoulder button is used for a fairly useless diagonal shot. I can’t help but some sort of scanning power up would have been a better use for the L button. Especially given the number of hidden blocks and the large variety of ways needed to destroy them.

Zero Mission’s map doesn’t make finding everything easier however. I’d estimate that the overall map is at least twice the size of the original if you count the added on final area. Even without that section there are many additional secret hidden paths to find. Oh right, yeah, I said bonus area. I don’t want to spoil things too much but Zero mission doesn’t have quite the same ending you might remember. The bonus area also uses some different play mechanics than players are used to. Play mechanics leaning the irritatingly difficult side of things unfortunately.

Like I said, I don’t want to ruin it too much. Back to the main game. With Zero Mission’s expanded map there is also an expanded selection of bosses. Technically Ridley and Kraid are still the only true bosses but there are a whole slew of new mini bosses that must be defeated throughout your journey across Zebes. The old bosses also got a major facelift. Kraid is now the massive giant he was in Metroid 3, though he’s a lot more of a pushover this round. Ridley is also larger and more resembles his modern pterodactyl self.

In the original Metroid the bosses were not much larger than Samus and followed a simple attack pattern of “Throw lots of things at the player”. This actually made them a bit more difficult as the battles more or less broke down to pounding your opponent with missiles and hoping he died before you did. Zero Mission has more epic scripted boss battled and neither Ridley nor Kraid really do much damage with their attacks. Truth be told, New Ridley is easier to defeat if you let him pick you up so you can pound on him point blank with your missiles. Zero Mission is all around more forgiving of a game. In Metroid, when your health was depleted you were dead. Sure, you had a password but there was no direct continue or save feature. Also in the original Metroid, refilling your health is difficult to do, usually involving killing many of the little bug creatures popping out of the ground.  Also. Zero Mission has health restoring Chozo statues all over. Instantaneous relief.

Finishing the game also unlocks a playable version of the original Metroid.  The remake’s modern mechanics however make it a lot less of a chore to play and much more enjoyable