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Game Reviews

Review – PC – House MD (the Game)

Legacy Interactive | Released: 5.26.2011

NOTE: This review mostly concerns itself with Chapter 1, I plan to go through at least one more chapter and if there are significant game play changes I’ll note them but otherwise it can be assumed to be more of the same.  Also this review is image heavy because I had too many good shots to narrow it down.

Occasionally something that seems slightly ridiculous shows up on my radar and I just can’t help but give it a try.  House MD the Game falls into this category.  The company behind this isn’t one I’ve ever heard of but judging by their website they specialize in this sort of point and click mini game based adventure game.  They also have some games based on other popular prime time shows available.

I am a fan of the show, sort of.  I really enjoyed it up through the end of Season 3.  After they broke up the original team and started adding other subordinates things started slowly moving downhill.  I can’t say I’ve watched much past maybe halfway through Season 4.  This game features most of the more current characters so it is at least based on the what’s relevant now as far as the show goes.  Everyone is there, House, Wilson, Cuddy, Thirteen, Foreman, Cameron, Chase, and Taub.  The graphics on this are good enough that everyone is easily recognizable.  I won’t go so far as to say they are great though only because some of the facial expressions House gives are a little… odd…

The game itself does a decent job of replicating the general aspects of the show.  There are 5 Chapters or cases to solve which must be solved in order.  There is the basic set up, some inconspicuous situation leads to a person landing in the hospital.  House and his team brainstorm and test for various illnesses.  There’s even the “side patient” clinic side of House’s job that shows up.  Eventually after several failed diagnosis, House has an epiphany moment (through the use of a bouncing ball mini game) and the solution presents itself to the world more or less out of nowhere.

This plot aspect actually annoys me but it’s consistent with the show and much of modern television these days.  They throw so many Red Herrings at you that there isn’t any way to actually piece together the mystery even if you’re paying attention.  There is just an “ah-hah” moment and it’s done.  Not a complaint against the game mind you but that gimmick reeks of annoying writing.

The game play itself involves reading through the narrative and solving several tasks presented to you.  These tasks are timed mini games.  You do procedural tasks which are, slightly annoyingly, spelled out step by step, so no real challenge.  These involve things like “whip the area with  sponge, stick the needle in the arm, no slide up to insert the needle, put the vial on to the end of the needle”.

There are also search and find the clues games.  These involve panning around a scene looking for clues as to what may have caused the illness.  These are a little weak because you mostly pick up random objects, none of which end up having much to do with anything.  The third of the more common puzzles is the brainstorming sessions.  Several different diseases float around on the screen.  You must select the correct one to move on.  As you select answers, letters that match will be revealed helping you to sole the answer.  Also letters are revealed over time slowly.  Generally you’ll do 4 or 5 of these in a row as House tells you all the reasons you’re wrong.

The whole thing reminds me a lot of the Pet Care style games my kids play.  Basic mouse movement based tasks presented to the player with no true threat of loss.  This is a very casual game in that it’s meant to appeal to people who don’t really play games.  The type who don’t want to get a game over screen ever, they just want play a house episode.

Much of the game is very dialogue heavy.  I can’t really decide if it’s good or bad or just off.  I have not really paid attention to the show the last few seasons so maybe house has turned into a “Sex one liner every other sentence kinda guy” but I don’t remember him being quite this randomly nuts on the show.  The worst comes from the clinic patient.  House more or less mocks her the entire time telling her she needs to fatten up repeatedly only considerably more rudely.  House is an ass but he’s not really all that flat out MEAN.  I’ve included several choice selections in the screenshots, you’ll want to enlarge them to read it though.

The simplicity will probably turn off a lot of more hardcore gamer types.  It’ll likely turn off people who just like more action in their game.  It’s not real terrible for a mostly text based narrative style adventure game.

Here are some extra images I didn’t have room for….  Click to make them larger…

Forza Horizon 4 (PC, Xbox One)

Microsoft – 2018

The Good

  • Stunning Visuals
  • Gameplay has a ton of variety and courses and cars
  • The car Livery system is pretty great

The Bad

  • The PC version is a pretty mediocre port of the console version
  • There are a lot of bugs.
  • The Online Scene isn’t great

Racing is a genre of games that I don’t really obsess over but I often come back to. It’s quite possibly my secret favorite genre. I bought an N64 so I could play Cruisin USA, I played a ton of Gran Turismo 2 on my Playstation, I played a bunch of Need for Speed games. the only X-Box 360 title I have played with any amount of play time was Forza Motorsport 4.

I’d been kind of looking at trying one of the Forza games in the Windows 10 store, though I was a little apprehensive early on because, well, it’s the Windows 10 store. I’ve used Windows 10 enough that I can say I’m ok with keeping it around some so I went ahead and decided to dive into Forza Horizon 4, which is the newest title in the series. It was on sale and I had a bunch of Bing Rewards credit so I picked up the Ultimate Edition for a steal and have been playing it pretty regularly since.

So, Forza consists of two core series. The Forza Motorsport Series is a more traditional “Pick a race and run it” style game, the Forza Horizon series is a more open world experience. Each of the Horizon games take place in an approximation of a different real world region, Forza Horizon 4 takes place in the countryside of the UK near Edinburgh. It centers around the Horizon Festival, which is a sort of gathering for racers to show off their skills in different types of racing. The point is, there is some sort of vague plot to this game, you meet with some of the organizers and they give little cut scenes occasionally. Each race type culminates in a longer showcase event, that one of the characters has been building up to. It’s not going to win any writing awards, but it’s there. There are sub stories as well, though it all amounts to an excuse to drive a car and win some sort of race.

For example, one of the sub stories is a series of events hosted by a Vlogger who is showing off cars that appeared in video games over the years. Like the Ferrari from Outrun or the
Lamborghini Countach from Test Drive. Another has you participating in a series of outlandish stunts as you work do some side work for a filmmaker as a Stunt Driver. There are a series of special event races which culminates in a Halo themed run driving a Warthog. Another has you race a massive hovercraft as it storms over the terrain.

These are all in addition to the more standard races that make up the core Horizon Festival series. The Horizon races are broken up into types you might expect, Off-road racing with trucks, Street races with lots of tight corners and turns, Road races which are a little more forgiving than street races and have a few more straightaways. You start off with only a handful of events available but unlock more as you level up your skill in each type of race. Eventually the entire map is essentially covered in events.

The map itself is pretty good size. It can take a pretty good while to circle the entire area, and even just traveling across it can take five to ten minutes, depending on how much you go off road or what car you’re driving. In addition to race events, there are all sorts of activities on the map itself. Speed Trap challenges to achieve a high speed at a certain point, Drift Zones where you accumulate points by drifting around a series of turns, or Danger Signs where the object is to see how far you can jump your car. Like regular races and mini stories, doing these activities, unlocks other activities.

When all of this gets old, there’s also the hourly Forzathon events, which are sort of impromptu gatherings of players who all work to do the world activities for accumulated points. These, admittedly, get a little old, they last 10-15 minutes and it involves doing the same speed trap or danger sign jump over and over and over and over while a meter inches upwards for the group. It really feels like these could be given some more variety, maybe a series of checkpoints for everyone to race through that span the map or something. These events give special Forzathon Points which can be used to buy special weekly exclusive items.

Thinking of buying, the game’s other progression system is through accumulating cars and player outfits. You can’t exit your vehicle but your avatar appears on race start and completion screens and shows up in your car driving. You earn clothes and cars through a variety of methods, winning races and leveling up the different race types is one. You can outright buy cars with your winnings. You can also win prizes through Wheelspins which are earned from victories and leveling up your character. These are pretty much what they sound like. A big prize wheel spins and you get an item afterwards.

It’s notable to add that there is no real world cash shop. You buy the game, and that’s it. The Wheelspins especially feel like something that would normally be a “pay $1.99 and get a wheelspin” item but there is no way to buy extra wheelspins. They must be earned by racing. This is good because frankly, micro transactions are kind of hurting the game industry. It’s a little frustrating since it means you get a loot box that you can’t control and may get some garbage emote out of it instead of that rare car that happened to show up as an option. Fortunately the game pretty much showers you with Wheelspins.

So, while there aren’t any micro transactions, this does lead into my first complaint. I purchased the Ultimate Edition on sale, so it didn’t seem too bad, but the game kind of feels like it almost needs the $99 Ultimate Edition package, for anyone who has any intention of seriously playing the game and the expansions. In addition to including the current (Fortune Island) and unknown second expansion, the Ultimate Edition comes with a ton of cars and the VIP Pass, which includes a bunch of perks like double experience and free wheelspins and whatnot, all things that make the progression of the game fly by.

My other major problem comes from how shoddy the PC port itself feels. The game itself plays well and looks great and on the whole, I am happy, but it has a lot of weird quirks and a lot of bugs that feels like they stem from the whole “Windows 10 Cross Play Xbox experience” or whatever it’s called. For example, there is an elaborate and nice Photo Mode in the game, but the only way to get the photos into a useful sharable format is to first share them to your Forza Profile on the Forza website. I mean you can print screen them, but the actual export produces a much nicer quality image.

I also feel like the lack of a user defined radio stems from this weird Xbox wrapper. The in game radio is all right but gets a little old after a while, having the ability to point a user radio station to a folder of MP3s would be amazing. You can play whatever music you want of course on something else, but the game is really bad about auto turning to a new radio station during races and the console version apparently doesn’t have a way to permanently mute the radio at all on the volume slider. Between this missing feature and the lack of screen shots saving to the drive, it’s like the game just doesn’t have access to the file system. It’s more of a Windows 10 problem than a Game problem, but it’s kind of a problem.

On Windows 10 problems, I have also had problems getting updates to take and the game to launch, a problem others have had as well. Sometimes it just doesn’t launch with no helpful errors. I also had to do a complete reinstall to get the Fortune Island DLC to take.

I also kind of hate the complete lack of in game chat, which i understand is also a side effect of the cross play aspects with the Xbox One. The text chat is all done via these little emote meme phrases and you can only “equip” 4 at a time.

Most of these problems, aside from the literal game breaking updating issue, aren’t game breaking. The pluses really outweigh those negatives. Racing games aren’t for everyone, but this one is pretty awesome. It’s visually amazing and the lack of micro transactions despite how easy it would have been to add them is really great. I’d definitely recommend the game, especially if it’s on sale.

Review – The Binding of Isaac (PC)

So, the makers of Super Meat Boy, Team Meat, apparently have an old school Nintendo Fetish of the worst kind.  First you have Super Meat Boy, which has vague connotations of Super Mario Brothers.  Though the reality is the name is all it really has in common with Super Mario Brothers, that and being a side scrolling platform game.  The Binding of Isaac is sort of like this, only with The Legend of Zelda.  It sort of has the same cadence and style in name and shares a lot of game play style.

The reality is, other than the basic interface design, The Binding of Isaac shares very little with The Legend of Zelda.  The presentation is similar but the game itself is a rogue-like.   This game’s primary gimmick, and the source of it’s possible lone flaw, is it’s randomness.  It can be extremely cruel at times.  The ability to complete the higher levels tends to be closely associated with the items and upgrades you find.  These upgrades tend to be pretty random and are also often dependent on if you have enough coins to buy them.  This can lead to some rounds where you manage to become an overpowered juggernaut and others where you’re essentially the same guy on Level 3 as you started out.

Assuming you can even make it to level 3 without upgrades.  There is also the problem of keeping yourself alive in this random mess.  Some rounds, enemies will almost always drop hearts and coins, others you’ll get nothing.  There does seem to be some level of algorithm in place to keep things fair, it just could use a bit of tweaking.  The game does do a pretty good job of keeping the earlier enemies easier and the later enemies more difficult.

It also is surprisingly not as frustrating as it seems like it should be.  This was a trait shared by Super Meat Boy.  It also becomes easier as you become accustomed to how the enemies act and move.  Now, granted it does start to shove curveballs at you like nobody’s business later in the game, like having the laser blasting aliens with small corridors to navigate, and swarms of flying spitting creatures in a room full or rocks.

Despite the frustration, the gameplay is pretty solid, and decent.

The real likely turn off to some people is the game’s somewhat grotesque nature and it’s somewhat mocking of religion gameplay.  The Binding of Isaac is a story from the Bible where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  The basic plot of the story is that Isaac’s mother is told by a mysterious voice that her son has become corrupted and he must be taught humility, or something along those lines.  There are numerous references to biblical elements.  This is mixed in with what is essentially a horror house of bloody enemies often based on bodily organs.  Often enemies spew blood pellets or drop piles of shit on the floor.  It’s generally something that people who have a more sensitive disposition will probably find offensive.

This game has one final really great point going for it, it’s cheap.  It’s almost like some sort of experiment in marketing but the game is only $5, which is hard to pass up.  It’s frustrating as hell but it’s fun enough that it’ll keep you coming back, assuming you’re not turned off by the slightly disturbing imagery involved.

The Binding of Isaac is available on Steam here.

Pokemon Go Go-tcha Band

So, I should preface a bit by saying, I am a very casual level player of Pokemon Go.  I mean maybe I am overestimating the level of most players, but I often see people talking about burning through hundreds of Pokemon and eggs and stardust to maximize this or that.  There are gyms an raids that I barely ever participate in.  My interest in Pokemon Go extends mostly to “It’s Pokemon” because it’s not really Pokemon.  It’s more, incentivized walking.  Which is also why I care about Pokemon Go, at all.  Primarily I “play” at lunch, I eat, I go walk a loop downtown outside my office.  What I really wanted to help with this, was a way to spin Pokestops and catch Pokemon, without having to carry my phone in my hand and look at my phone constantly.

Enter the Pokemon Go Plus, and in my case, the Pokemon Go-tcha band.  I had been looking at getting a PoGo+ for a while, but I had heard they were kind of flaky, and you still had to press a button to actually perform an action (catching or spinning).  Then I found the 3rd party Go-tcha band, which is identical in function to the Plus, except it auto spins and auto catches.  The Go-tcha also has an internal rechargeable batter, the PoGo+ has a replaceable battery.  After using the band for a few months, it’s not perfect, but the short of it is, it work for my needs.  It does what it proposes and works pretty well.

I have a few little gripes and there are some oddities to it, which I want to get into a bit and is the whole point of writing this, but I am 99% sure that these are all limitations put in place, intentionally or not, in Pokemon Go itself.

So a bit of an overview of what exactly the Go-tcha does, a lot of this applies to the PoGo+ as well.  Depending on the settings in the app itself and on the band, it will automatically scan the area and spin Pokestops or catch Pokemon.  It’s not an end all to auto-playing PoGo however.  The catching will throw one regular Pokeball.  That’s it.  If it catches, you get the Pokemon, if it doesn’t the Pokemon flees.  It doesn’t throw Great or Ultra balls.  This can be a little frustrating at times, I’ve been at a point where I had 100 Great and Ultra balls, but zero regular Pokeballs, which means the band does nothing.  This is a limitation of how Pokemon Go works however, the regular PoGo+ works the same way, except you have to click the button to do the throw.

The Go-tcha also has some options that can be toggled, by tapping the button, to cycle through, and holding it to toggle.  I am not sure the regular PoGo+ has these options.  The toggle-able options in order, all on/off, are Spin Pokestops, Catch Pokemon, Catch Unique Pokemon, Vibration, and Bluetooth.  You can conserve Pokeballs by either disabling the catching, or setting it to catch only Pokemon that you don’t already have.  In my testing, and this may be wrong, but it’s based on what I’ve seen, this has some limitations.  The Pokemon Go app itself seems to prioritize it’s actions, it will search for and target Pokemon then target Pokestops.  As far as I can tell, you must disable Pokemon scanning int he settings of the app itself if you want to only spin Pokestops.  I find I do maybe one walk a week with spinning only to replenish my stock of Pokeballs.  Depending on the density, it’s pretty easy to pull in 50 Pokeballs or so with 20-30 minutes of walking.

Now, like I said, turning off Pokemon scanning seems to be required, but only because of what seems to be a limitation of Pokemon Go itself.  Basically, what I have seen happen, is that the app will target the first Pokemon it sees, then stick to it, until you try to catch it with the band.  This also affects catching unique Pokemon for the same reason.  If you have the band itself set to only throw at unique Pokemon, it may catch on a Pidgey you have, while you walk past a Dratini or something that you don’t have.  Because it will get stuck on the Pidgey waiting for the band to do something.  The best use cases for the band, are to either turn off Pokemon scanning in Pokemon Go and only spin stops, or keep everything on full boar, and let it go to town.

It does keep up well in full on mode.  It targets and catches the Pokemon fast enough that it should also catch and spin Pokestops.  I also have found it works even when driving at a reasonable speed (40mph or less), often catching Pokemon that don’t even show up on the map.  Don’t play PoGo while driving kids, but if you’ve just got a Go-tcha laying in the seat next to your phone, you aren’t exactly interacting with anything.  In my experience though, the screen still has to be on, which seems to be another annoying limitation of Pokemon Go itself.  If the screen is off, it doesn’t seem to update your location, you can watch your character run to catch up once you turn the screen back on.  So when using the band you can shove your phone in your pocket, but it still has to be on, so it’s easy to bump the screen by mistake and screw things up.

There also isn’t really enough notification when you’re item bag or Pokemon bag is full.  The app simply stops catching or spinning when this happens.  It’s fairly easy to fill up as well, I find I am constantly tossing out berries.  You can of course remedy this by buying more bag space.  Once again, more of a limitation of the game than anything.  I have also had some connectivity issues which are usually resolved by resetting the app or phone, or deleting and repairing the device.  This is also a known issue with the official Pokemon Go Plus band, and it not unique to the Go-tcha.

The Go-tcha band itself has a few quirks.  It has no on/off function that I can find.  So it’s always on.  You recharge it by sticking it in a little USB cradle.  The Go-tcha itself is maybe a centimeter by a centimeter by 2 centimeters, it reminds me a lot of my old Fitbit flex.  There are no ports on it, just two little contacts for charging.  It has one touch sensitive area on one end of the display.  There are little animations that play on it as it does things.  You can buy third party bands, which is good for two reasons.  One, the band that comes with it is this speckled red white and black thing that’s ugly as hell.  Two, the band that comes with it is effectively child sized, it doesn’t fit at all around my wrist.  I just carry it in my pocket.  A word of warning on this, I have found that having other things in your pocket (like pocket change) can accidentally change the settings on the unit.  It’s best to keep it in the band, even if you aren’t wearing it because frankly, it’s easy to loose, it’s so small.

Real quick before wrapping up, I wanted to run through a bit of other little thing it does and does not do.  It will spin Gyms, but it does not battle in gyms or raids in any way.  If the bag fills up, it won’t keep spinning stops, and there isn’t any filter for say, “only keep rare items and Pokeballs”.  It only throws once at any given Pokemon, no matter how rare, and afterwards that Pokemon is gone.  So if you want a particular Pokemon, you need to play normally and manually throw balls.  Pokemon caught with the band do count towards Field Research,  if it says “Catch 3 Water Pokemon”, it doesn’t matter if you caught them with the band or manually.  Spinning stops also counts towards research.  Using the band still lets you hatch eggs, though you don’t get a notification that it’s happening.

So wrapping this up, with a little TL;DR, the band works as expected, and frankly, if you want to be able to walk and play PoGo distraction free, it’s worth picking up.  I had my doubts going in but after hem-hawing about it for months, I just bit the bullet.  I wouldn’t pay much mark up on it though, I have seen the PoGo+ for I think $30-$35 and the Gotcha for $40-$45, but both are often marked up a lot more, the prices already feel like they are pushing it for the value depending on how casual you are about playing the game.  I kind of wish it included a little more incentive like maybe the one throw Pokeballs didn’t count towards your owned balls or something.

 

 

 

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 – 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

Review – Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)

The Good

  • Solid game play from a solid franchise
  • Nice little additions and changes from the original Metroid II
  • Good visuals

The Bad

  • Repetitive enemies and play mechanics
  • Bosses are disproportionately difficult compared to everything else
  • Very linear game play for a “Metroidvania” style game.

In Depth

Metroid: Samus Returns is a 3DS update and remake of the original Metroid II on Game Boy.  It’s essentially to Metroid II, what Zero Mission is to the original Metroid.  The maps in Samus Returns are a little closer to the original Metroid II maps than Zero Mission and Metroid, but there are some changes and additions.  Samus Returns adds Super Missiles and power bombs to Samus’ arsenal, for example, and there is a map revealing scope mechanism as well as the addition fo the Grappling beam.  A lot of the added items are things added during Metroid 3, that became regular staples of the series.

The entire game also has a modern overhaul.  Instead of sprites, everything is polygons and the game is playable in 3D mode, though it is a 2D platform title.  Only one new boss uses the 3D mechanics in 3D space, everything else operates in classic 2D Metroid style.  I really enjoy this style of game, so I am admittedly biased towards the play style.  The game is lacking a bit in the Metroidvania department however.  A lot of the areas have 2 or 3 main path loops that the player must traverse and there isn’t a lot of backtracking done aside from picking up items later, and a lot of this backtracking needs to be done close to the end of the game since you don’t even find the weapon needed to unlock these items until later in the game.  The game itself is broken up into 8 Areas, all generically named “Area”.  The Areas are gate blocked by special pedestals that only open the way after collecting a certain number of Metroid DNA samples.  There isn’t a lot of explanation to what these pedestals are but it’s most likely Chozo related, in classic Metroid fashion.

The core of the game is fun, and everything about the remake works well and helps flesh out the game play from the original title.  Metroid II has always been one of the weaker titles in the series and fleshing it out and giving it a bit more connection to the world of Metroid at large.  Despite taking place on the homeworld of the alien Metroid creatures, it’s always felt a little separated.  Partly because even the Metroids themselves are all mutated “mature” versions that don’t fit the usual Bubble with Claws image of what a Metroid is supposed to be.

Which leads into the core problem with this game, and with Metroid II.  The basic plot involves killing Metroids of various types, more powerful than the last, in order to proceed through the game.  There are 4 types of Metroids, not counting the Queen, and you fight each type several times.  These 40 fights end up being extremely samey as a result.  This problem is exacerbated by Alpha and Gamma Metroid being, more or less the same thing and each of the Omega Metroid battles are literally identical.  There is some variation in the fights by using different environments, sometimes over lava or damaging plants or around movement hindering water, but they all use the same general mechanics until you each the Omega Metroids.  Some of the battles have these moments where the Metroid runs off into a nearby room, which honestly just makes things even more tedious since it mostly just means passing a simple and annoying ball mode tunnel puzzle to progress the fight.

This repetition in boss fights isn’t helped by the normal level enemies either, there’s something like 6 or 7 different ones in different colors that you face… over… and over… and over…  They respawn extremely quickly as well, so sometimes just traveling back and forth a room you get to battle the same enemies over and over.  The game also introduces this gimmicky melee counter attack.  Enemies will charge you, you counter them, then you effectively one shot them if the counter hits.  If you miss, or just try to kill the enemy, you get to shoot it normally, often a dozen or more times.  The whole thing is designed around encounter, wait for charge, counter attack, kill, which itself is slow and tedious the 100th time you perform the action.

There is a new boss that’s added to the game that shows up a few times.  A large Chozo digging robot pops up early on, awakened by Samus.  It later shows up during a stage sequence where you must outrun it’s massive destructive drill arms while passing over and through obstacles.  Eventually you battle it out with the boss.  It’s probably the most difficult boss in the game, though not the final boss, and it’s a nice change of pace from the repetition of the Metroids.

Despite the repetition, it’s a fun game.  It’s not the best Metroid title but it’s a welcome update to one of the less enjoyably and probably less played games int he Metroid franchise.  The new additions do a lot of good freshening things up and the updated graphics are a great step up from the cramped old Game Boy title.