Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: Rocket League


Rocket League is a completely oddball concept that I don’t think would have ever been created by a AAA game studio. When trying to describe it to people what you roughly end up having to say is, “It’s like playing soccer with rocket-powered cars,” and as the words escape your mouth they feel a bit odd. The thing is, at its base, that is roughly what the game involves but it is also so much more than that for people who’ve gotten the bug for it. It’s also about last-second goals sending the game to overtime, improbable saves made by someone streaking across the goal just before the ball goes in, and people making aerial goals that defy gravity. Once it finally clicks and you make one of those crazy plays yourself it’s a rush that’s hard to turn your back on.


The majority of people tend to play in the standard modes, either competitively or just for fun, in 1 v 1, 2 v 2, and 3 v 3 matches. These are just for the standard game with normal rules and depending on how many people you have the dynamics of the game shift quite a bit. In 3 v 3 the tendency will be to have 2 people generally playing offense and 1 person ideally hanging back to cover to the goal. 2 v 2 tends to be a bit more fluid with players needing to balance the risk and reward of the second player coming up to help on offense while leaving the goal open. 1 v 1 is just what it sounds like with 2 players facing off and trying to prove who has the better core skills (or luck). In addition there are a load of casual-only modes including the jam-packed 4 v 4 Chaos, Hoops (which is a bit like basketball and challenging), Snow Day (which has a puck and is like ice hockey), Rumble (full of crazy power-ups and can be quite unpredictable), Drop Shot (the arena floor takes damage to eventually open up and become the goal, very strategic and challenging), and Rocket Labs (featuring a variety of non-traditional arenas). In short, whether you’re looking for something light and silly or more intense there’s something for all tastes.

If you decide to take the plunge there are a number of things you’ll want to do and understand in order to best enjoy your experience. First, you’ll want to absolutely use the game’s Training modes and get a fundamental understanding of how to play from a mechanical standpoint. Knowing how to move quickly and having a general feel for doing even simple moves while in the air are the foundations for both more advanced play and enjoying the game rather than being aggravated by it. Next, though playing against bots is in no way a replacement for competing against humans, I’d suggest Playing Locally and setting up an Exhibition or Season, first maybe even just setting up a local lobby and playing by yourself to simply moving around the arena to get a feel for its dimensions. The reason this feel will be important is that while it is initially difficult you should learn to play the game primarily with the Ball Cam on, meaning you won’t be looking forward with an arrow trying to help you know where the ball is, you’ll always be looking at the ball. Positional awareness is vital in this game and while the arrow is helpful Rocket League is all about precision and trying to make tough plays when you don’t really know where the ball is makes for a lot of disappointment. Playing some matches offline against bots won’t give you everything you need to be prepared for human competitors but they’ll at least help you develop some core competency. While, for the most part, the Rocket League community is pretty friendly there’s nothing worse than missing a block you should have made and getting “What a Save!” spammed at you.


Now having gone over what the game is, why it can be a lot of fun, and how to get yourself started on some semblance of the road to success we get to the verdict on the Switch iteration of the game itself. As a 500+ hour veteran of playing it on the PC I will absolutely admit that my personal bar for the game is high, and no doubt that makes me more picky, but I’d say it is a mixed bag. Most critically the game is 100% playable, and that includes the vital ability to get in the air and make big plays with precision. If the game’s framerate weren’t consistently high this wouldn’t be possible so they’ve focused on what is most vital and made that happen. That gets us into what isn’t quite as good. Certainly the lower resolution in docked mode is hard to miss, the edges on everything are a bummer and some of the lighting can be odd at times. What this means is that in many ways playing it in handheld mode looks much better but that also has its limitations. Though not a technical fault one issue with playing it handheld is that interpreting the action at the far end of the field, a key element to playing goalkeeper in particular, is tricky simply given the size of the screen. While you can deal with this as an issue it just points out where the reduced screen size in handheld mode can be less than ideal. While the issues were sporadic, and I’d hope they’ll be patched out, I also occasionally got a performance stutter or hitch when action in my immediate area got intense, when a destruction happened close by, and with some combination of effects in Rumble Mode. None of them were so bad as to ruin the game, just I’m very sensitive to performance and I couldn’t help but notice them. As I’d suspected people’s concerns over the lack of analog triggers on the Switch were unfounded. Very honestly in a game where you have rocket boosting and try to keep your speed up at all times it isn’t much of a factor, and I didn’t have any issues performing any of my core aerial moves either because of the purely digital triggers.

In the end Rocket League is absolutely one of my favorite games of all time and I’m thrilled to finally be able to play it on the Switch. While I’ve never enjoyed competitive multiplayer sports titles once I got the basic mechanics of the game down and had my first incredible goals and saves it hooked me completely. Playing against people better than you is often humbling but it is also instructive. So much in the game is about first understanding what is possible and then working to figure out how to do it yourself. That shot off the wall where they then boosted off to follow the ball to the goal? Someone had to think big and crazy and then practice to do it first. It’s exhilarating when you pull off great plays and in general I’d say the community of people you’ll play with and against is among the most polite, overall, I’ve ever interacted with. The great news is that Rocket League is absolutely playable and still that terrific game experience on the Nintendo Switch, I’m only sad that it isn’t quite good enough that I’d say if you have the option to play it on other platforms you won’t want or need to anymore.


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • I consider Rocket League to be one of the best multi-player games out there, and its sustained success on multiple platforms confirms that as well
  • No matter how much you progress and learn there’s always some new technique or trick to pick up for being even more awesome
  • The variety of competitive and casual modes provide flavor for just about any mood you may be in
Cons:
  • While it can be enjoyed to a degree as a single-player game against bots this really is meant to be played against other people online
  • The lower-than-normal resolution in docked mode make the edges on the ball and cars hard to miss
  • Some random hitches at times when the action gets intense

Review: Skyrim


There’s little doubt that Bethesda has become the primary reference point for modern Western RPGs. Between the Fallout (please, please, port Fallout 3) and the Elder Scrolls series they’ve steadily raised the bar for creating worlds that you can get lost in, usually in a good way. For the fans of Skyrim, though not hardly a new title, there was good reason to be both dumbstruck and skeptical almost a year ago when the first teaser commercial showed up and there was a glimpse of this grand and massive title running on the Nintendo Switch. The idea that it could not only run on a portable system but not be utterly hamstrung by its limitations in some way seemed almost preposterous. It’s officially time to give full credit where it is due, the people at Bethesda have now delivered back-to-back mini miracles, first delivering an impressive port of DOOM and now bringing the full and uncompromised massive world of Skyrim to the Switch.


For the uninitiated, especially those familiar only with the open world aspects so lauded in Breath of the Wild, the first thing to understand is that regardless of how much exploration there was in the game Skyrim adds many, many more dimensions. The key difference in this world is choice, and the degree to which you are able to choose your own path. Not only can you venture out in any direction and try to uncover every nook and cranny of the map, but how you do it and who you’ll become over the course of those travels is also left to your instincts and inclinations. Will you aspire to be noble, give in to your more base instincts, or simply be opportunistic and go with whatever suits you at the time?

At a higher level these choices won’t just influence you immediately but can have effects further into the game in terms of who will associate with you or opportunities that may present themselves. In particular there are powerful groups and organizations you may want to join up with, and in many cases to get on their radar it doesn’t pay to go down the middle, you’ll generally want to consistently go with the righteous or the unsavory paths. When you add this to the degree of player agency in terms of which discipline you’ll choose for fighting, whether as a magic user, archer, or master of one or two-handed weapons, and then proficiencies in skills like crafting, pickpocketing, lockpicking, or enhancing weapons and much more it can be a bit overwhelming.


With all of this in mind Skyrim has a tendency to be less about the destination and much more about the journey, sometimes to the point that you’ll find people who’ve played the game for over a hundred hours without substantially advancing the core story. The joy in Skyrim tends to be more about the rabbit holes you’ll find, and how far you choose to go down them. You may randomly encounter someone in trouble or a place in your travels where your engagement is brief, limited to a fight or an exchange. There are, however, many cases where the people or groups that you’ll meet or hear about will require some substantial investment to first find them, then to gain their trust and become one of their organization, and then sometimes to help the group progress even further. It is often these experiences that make the game the most rich and memorable and yet, as I’d said, they don’t usually concern the game’s primary story at all. What most of Bethesda’s games risk with this common thread is that people can exhaust themselves or become satisfied with the overall experience and put it to bed before they see the end of the story. But, the beauty of games this rich is that doesn’t need to imply they’ve necessarily missed out since the realm has many stories to tell. The primary storyline just happens to be the one that is most fleshed out, but there are others that are nonetheless fascinating in their own right for you to discover whether on your first playthrough or your second, third, or fourth.

As with my review of DOOM before it you’ll notice that to this point I haven’t brought up the Switch itself in regards to the game and that’s for good reason. Aside from some unique features it brings to the game in the form of some Amiibo support (which awaits you roughly mid-game in a prominent area), motion controls that you may enjoy or not care for, and the ability to take the game anywhere there’s not a lot to say. The reason for that is in this equation the Switch only seems to have pluses and no discernable minuses. The conversion of Skyrim is, for all practical purposes, a flawless one from the time I’ve spent in the game. The details are crisp, the performance has no signs of hiccups or slowdown, and despite being run on a tablet-sized device with much more modest memory capacity than larger consoles or PCs there seem to be no compromises in sight. The only edge would go to the PC version for its readily-available mod support that can help you alter the game in some substantial ways, but in the case of the Switch the ability to play it anywhere in style more than offsets that sacrifice and even arguably makes it a superior version to the other consoles. Despite its age Skyrim is just as rich and robust a game experience as it ever was, and the fact that it can be played on a portable device is a technical achievement worthy of some praise. Congratulations to the team at Nintendo for making versatile hardware capable of this feat and to Bethesda for having both the vision and expertise to pull this off and to set the bar so high for the other major publishers.


Score: 9.5

Pros:
  • One of the best Western RPGs ever made with hundreds of hours of content awaiting you
  • No discernable compromises in the overall appearance or game experience in coming to Switch
  • Switch-specific value adds like the Amiibo gear and motion controls are appreciated but its portability is a true game-changer

Cons:
  • While not specific to the Switch version there are simply quirky things about Skyrim you’ll get used to
  • The rabbit holes can be very compelling in Skyrim and that can dwarf interest in the main storyline depending on the path you choose



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: VVVVVV


There’s something to be said for the simplicity of classic games from past generations. Without the splendor of sophisticated graphics, complex physics engines, and modern production values the developers had to find ways to construct challenges that would stand out in people’s minds, making for memorable experiences. VVVVVV harkens back to those earlier days, with a look that absolutely brings me back to playing games on the Commodore 64. Fortunately, the challenges I remember from that era have come along for the ride, or may have even been improved upon.


The essence of gameplay in VVVVVV is being clever about how and when you invert gravity to make your way through a ton of spike-lined rooms of death. While the theming and specific nature of the challenges you’ll face will vary a bit by zone nothing ever strays very far from this core concept. This, of course, makes the controls very simple, you’ll essentially move left and right and then press a button to invert gravity and you’ve got the general idea already. The problem is in the execution, but on that score you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself.

That’s because the simplicity in control doesn’t mean that the challenges you’ll face are easily conquered. Quite to the contrary, in many places completing the levels will tend to put some sweat on your brow, especially if you’re determined to collect all of the game’s trinkets along the way as well. What will ultimately determine whether or not you’ll find the game addicting or off-putting will be the game’s, at times, diabolical degree of difficulty. Sharing much in common with other brutally-challenging games like Super Meat Boy you’ll hit your checkpoints often and you’ll need them because you’ll simply die a ton as you try to perfect your timing and technique to make your way through the game’s gauntlet of spiked death.


Of course since the challenge to accomplish everything in the game can border on sadistic in places a fair portion of the total Switch audience will likely not be ready for taking this on. Another portion of the audience will likely be put off by the more-retro-than-usual visuals in the game that make NES-era games look detailed. The thing is, VVVVVV is a relatively pure title with a clear objective in mind and truthfully the visuals are just a small piece of the puzzle, it is the level design that has gotten the lion’s share of the focus and when trying to complete some of the zones in the game that care and attention to detail will be felt deeply as you curse your umpteenth attempt at a specific room.

All said VVVVVV is a very good game experience for the most part targeted at a very specific segment of the market. While it is visually simple its focus is purely on the maddening challenge of a classic game mechanic worked in a variety of ways to create a compelling experience. If you’re not down on the looks or take your games on the less than hardcore side you’ll obviously want to steer clear. If, however, you’re the kind who picks up the gauntlet when it is thrown down before you it’s very engaging from start to finish.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • Brutally challenging for the right reason, impeccable level design
  • A number of zones that throw a variation into the gravity-inversion mix to keep things fresh
  • Well-spaced and plentiful checkpoints at least ensure you only have to get through difficult areas once
Cons:
  • The game’s art is deliberately minimal
  • The level of challenge ramps up quickly and never lets up so mostly for hardcore gamers


Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: RiME


After many years and a variety of delays RiME has finally come to the Nintendo Switch to deliver its tale that begins humbly with a boy washing up on the shore of a seemingly deserted island. A fair amount of what will drive you in the game is to understand what’s going on, who this boy is, and who the mysterious figure is, mostly only glimpsed in the distance, watching you. Whether or not the ultimate resolution to the story is to your liking, the way that it unfolds over the course of your adventure is still compelling and at times almost cinematic. The bad news is that on the Switch it also gets dragged down by technical issues, meaning it won’t be a journey for everyone.


Outside of those aforementioned details what will likely compel or annoy you the most in RiME is the generally unguided exploration. You will be given cues and some more direct help at times over the course of the journey but there are portions of the game where it will drop you in a landscape and you’ll need to follow your instincts to determine what you should be doing. What’s great about this is that there are quite a number of hidden goodies strewn about that can help bring more dimension to the story and even somewhat affect its outcome. Many of the environments are actually quite large and if you want to find everything you’ll need to keep an eye out for visual cues that will hint at places you can climb. Where this can be bad is that sometimes it can lead to accidental backtracking or even losing your bearings for how to progress the story if you aren’t careful. It’s a delicate line that the game tries to keep in balance but player agency can always have these sorts of risks.

As you journey the other major piece of the game is the abundance of puzzles that come in a relatively wide variety of forms. While you’ll have some degree of classic block shoving there are also puzzles that revolve around controlling light and shadow that can be very creative, though sometimes not always obvious. Traversal is the other most common type of puzzle, though it is typically not too challenging once you learn what cues to look for to identify what ledges you’ll be able to grab hold of. Essentially if you don’t see some differently-colored highlights on an edge of a surface you’ll need to assume you won’t be able to grab it. Once you’re in tune with this these rock climbing puzzles are usually a matter of connect the dots as you need to jump to grab one outcropping, move down to pull yourself across, stand up, and then jump up to the next rock, etc. There are additionally some timing puzzles where you’ll need to shout near a few objects to trigger them all in quick succession or where you’ll need to move a glowing orb to different pedestals but overall they fall generally into these patterns. I will say that some of them can be a little picky in precisely how you line something up or you may see a potential solution to the problem the game won’t allow but as long as you recognize your method simply isn’t working and step back to find another way to do things you should be fine.


That leads to the technical side of things and while some stunning visuals are pulled off over the course of the experience there’s no missing pretty regular bouts of slowdown. While the game in no way becomes unplayable because of this, the action being relatively simple overall helps greatly with this, acknowledging it isn’t a matter of being picky or sensitive, the problems are frequent and they’re impossible to miss. In particular there are some moments in the game that are scripted, with the camera pulling out for an impactful and somewhat cinematic view of things, where the frame rate will drop and it sort of puts a hitch into what are meant to be powerful moments. While the view of the action can occasionally get muddy even in docked mode I noticed a somewhat Vaseline-like appearance to the game in places in handheld mode more often. Again, this doesn’t make the game in any way unplayable but it does interfere with your ability to be lost in both the action and the story at times and that’s unfortunate.

In the end RiME is a game with lovely massive environments, a very appealing art style, and terrific music that together help build a strong base for an engaging experience. The implementation of the exploration and puzzles I would say is likely to boil down to taste, with some people appreciating the lack of a firm hand guiding you everywhere and others finding some elements needlessly confusing. While I appreciate the story the game set out to tell I’d say that it didn’t quite carry the impact it might have if I’d come to have a stronger connection to the main character, who generally doesn’t have a personality to latch onto. That all then ends up being mired in the game’s technical shortcomings as well. RiME is a game full of ambitions and promise, it just doesn’t quite deliver it all as well on the Switch as it might have. If you’re looking for an ambitious adventure I’d first recommend it on another platform but if you don’t have that option just understand the issues going in and you should still be able to thoroughly enjoy it.


Score: 7

Pros:
  • Absolutely gorgeous core visuals with a distinctive art style
  • Large environments for you to explore
  • Generally strong environmental puzzles with some creative ideas
Cons:
  • The game’s performance on the Switch is absolutely compromised to be less than anyone involved would have hoped, though still very much playable
  • The exploration and puzzles work better in some phases of the game than others
  • Though it has the makings of an impactful story the lack of personality in your main character makes it harder to connect and give it all a punch


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: Octodad: Dadliest Catch


For the uninitiated, since this is the first “physics game” to come to the Switch, Octodad will be a somewhat unusual experience. In this genre wonky controls are, to some degree, a given and part of the hook, turning actions that would normally be simple or even trivial into a silly mess of flailing, moving awkwardly, and often making a mess of everything in sight. While this can be aggravating the other element that usually comes along with these controls is an element of humor and even absurdity so that the struggle can at least be an entertaining one.


Embracing that concept fully, Octodad - Dadliest Catch puts you in the role of the title character, who is somehow married and taking care of 2 children (the less questions you ask, the better, just giggle along and accept it) while being an octopus dressed as a human and generally trying to avoid the normal people around him from finding out. Whether that entails doing some chores around the house, running errands, or participating in family trips you’ll be amazed at how complicated performing even the most mundane things can be when you’re doing them as an octopus. Does that sound absolutely preposterous but still kind of awesome? Then this will be a game for you!

Mechanically what you’ll need to know is that you’ll use the Z shoulder buttons to get Octodad to walk, with each side triggering a leg. While you hold down that button you’ll be able to often awkwardly maneuver his respective leg tentacle around in 3D space. If this sounds complicated, it absolutely is, but again that’s a part of the experience in this genre. While doing something like walking isn’t so hard, in particular doing something like go up a ladder can be somewhat maddening as the suckers on his feet won’t always be enough to keep him in place as the physics of his body weight going off the side will make him fall. The other piece of the puzzle will be trying to grab things with one of your hand tentacles and then try to move things where they need to go. This type of play tends to be divisive with some people tiring of the overly cumbersome controls and others embracing how ridiculous it all can be.


Where the game runs into trouble, even considering the target style, is sometimes in the lack of your ability to control the camera and the angle the game assumes you want to be looking depending on your task. With both analog sticks occupied with the 3D movement the lack of direct control is perhaps unavoidable, and the majority of the time the camera works quite well, but you will hit spots where it is less than optimal and you’ll find yourself fighting to see what you need to do. Another issue is that some objectives you need to meet in order to progress aren’t very well-defined and there are no more detailed checklists of related tasks you may need to complete to satisfy them. Again, this didn’t come up too often but there were a few times where what I needed to do or what direction I needed to go in weren’t very clear and it slowed down the enjoyment I had otherwise. One element that’s always present in the game is a gauge that roughly measures how badly you’re screwing up and whether humans around you may discover your secret. I’m happy to say I didn’t often run into issues with it, that element of the game is quite forgiving, but at the same time that almost made me think it wasn’t worth having as it is implemented.

What will likely either attract people to Octodad or scare them away will be its unorthodox control and style of play. If you’re looking for a serious challenge with tight controls and impeccable level design you will very much come away disappointed. If, however, you’re open to the experience and the humor of it all Octodad is an excellent representation of the genre as a whole and plays very well as a handheld game to boot. If you’re looking for a major change of pace on the Switch Octodad will be happy to help you out with that!


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Manages to inject absurd humor into everyday tasks and events
  • A light-hearted story and overall experience make it pretty unique in the Switch library
  • As a representative of the style of game it is among the best
Cons:
  • There are times when the camera simply doesn’t want to cooperate
  • Sometimes objectives can be tough to satisfy because you don’t know what sub-item for it hasn’t been satisfied
  • The meter tied to how at risk you are of being discovered seems half-baked though thankfully it at least isn’t often a problem


Review: DOOM


DOOM is probably one of the best-known names and gaming and for good reason, it put the first-person shooter genre, and its developer id Software, on the map (and on a historical note it also showed the way for how shareware could be a successful business model). While over the years and through multiple iterations it has sometimes struggled it is rightfully lauded as one of the most viscerally-pleasing franchises in the business. With this latest entry id took a pretty big risk by incorporating a melee finisher component into the game, changing up its traditional formula, and it paid off with a very strong response. Now this experience has amazingly been brought to the Switch and, while it isn’t quite perfect, it is amazing how great it feels being able to play a AAA third-party title of this caliber anywhere.


While there is a somewhat trope-driven story here in DOOM the emphasis has always been on strapping into your Space Marine gear (which you’ll do within the first few minutes), amassing an arsenal of fearsome weaponry (including the iconic chainsaw), and mowing through hordes of increasingly-formidable enemies. In that regard this entry in the franchise delivers on all counts, bringing all of its classic weapons into the modern era with flair and fury. What will take getting used to at first is how the mechanics tied to the melee “glory kills” completely alter the flow you’ve come to expect from the genre. Where the action in traditional first-person shooters has tended to be to get into firefights and then go to hide and use the game’s method du jour of healing before going back to the fray, this new DOOM has changed the game for the better. Since glory kills reward you with health, instead of levels being a series of bursts of skirmishes the tendency is towards all-out aggression. You’ll still want and need to use cover in large-scale firefights but with the enticement of some healing you’ll likely want and need to finish off enemies up close and personal. It’s exhilarating, it’s satisfying, and it’s a game-changer.

That leads well into what I consider the best part of the DOOM experience on the Switch as well, and where it reminds me more of my beloved indies, the included Arcade Mode. The Campaign is a good way to get started with the core story and gradual progression, but once you move over to Arcade Mode you’ll be looking to take what you learned in the campaign and to perfect it. The maps are generally the same, though some new power-ups and opportunities are included, but on top of finding ways to work your glory kills in to stay alive you’ll have a score multiplier to keep an eye on that will slowly go down for every moment you’re not slaughtering demons. For me this takes the new DOOM experience to the furthest extent of aggression that it deserves and is a mode I’ll be returning to for quite some time in search of some thrills.


Multiplayer will be what many other gamers will gravitate to the title for, though for me the Deathmatch-y roots it is carrying as a whole (though possibly only for the moment) limit the appeal a bit. That isn’t to say that the included multiplayer isn’t legitimate, this is absolutely the first title that delivers the hardcore online FPS experience to the Switch. As you progress and gain levels you’ll have unlocks that will allow you to change your load out, your appearance, some appealing gameplay modifiers, and of course your victory taunts as well. Finding a match from the lobby was pretty quick and painless, and there are straight Deathmatch options as well as more objective and team-based modes to try to put something out there for everyone. I did run into some wonky issues every once in awhile but I also don’t think of them as being any different or worse than those I’ve had in any online multiplayer game. I think my main issue with multiplayer isn’t so much the variety in play, from the standpoint of the options the game provides for, but perhaps the mentality of the people I found myself playing with. Every mode I played in felt like it was devolving into people just trying to rack up kills somewhat aimlessly rather than working towards the intended goals. This problem may recede over time as people understand the modes better, but for the moment as someone who enjoys the strong and dynamic cooperation of a team of people to win based on the objectives at hand I found it a bit disappointing.

You’ll notice that over the course of the review thus far the focus hasn’t been on how the game performs on the Switch, and moreso just generally on what it offers, and there’s a good reason for that. DOOM has done something I think most people would have considered impossible a year ago, bringing a full-featured AAA gaming experience to a device that you can take anywhere. That isn’t to say that it didn’t need to make compromises to work on the hardware and to avoid filling your SD card, but having played this on a high-end PC I am in awe of how few concessions you are able to perceive on the Switch. Visually it isn’t quite as jaw-dropping but the flow of the game is as smooth and solid as it is anywhere aside from a very limited number of hitches I ran into over hours of play. DOOM has come to the Switch not as a hamstrung and watered-down port but as a top-of-the-line experience that can be taken anywhere, and it is worthy of your attention.



Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • The granddaddy of the FPS genre has some terrific, and hopefully genre-changing, tricks up its sleeve encouraging and rewarding aggression
  • Looks and feels amazing in handheld mode in particular while looking very respectable even blown up in docked mode
  • I consider Arcade Mode an absolute revelation and it will likely be a go-to for returning quick plays when I just need to get my mad on!

Cons:
  • The Deathmatch roots of multiplayer are still present in spirit even if not in intent, but if that’s your jam it would probably instead be a plus
  • As reported there are some instances of audio problems that crop up once in awhile and slowdown does creep up in limited cases as well on occasion


Review: Ittle Dew 2+


When you set your sights on creating a game experience that is inspired by classic masterpieces it is a mixed blessing. You want to create something of your own, with some unique aspects that help differentiate your offering, but at the same time you want and need to capture some of the spirit of the original. Ittle Dew 2+ is an obvious love letter of a game inspired by the classic top-down adventures perfected by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and it does a superb job of inspiring nostalgic feels while firmly establishing itself as a unique and worthwhile game in its own right.


In one of the more unusual opening stories I think I’ve ever seen Ittle ends up “marooned” on an island with her somewhat snarky companion, Tipsy. Be prepared, this game pokes fun at classic genre tropes and situations throughout, and that is one of its most entertaining and endearing qualities. With that in mind, in order to get off the island they’ll need to construct themselves a new raft, the pieces of which just happen to be strewn about in 8 dungeons spread across the map in differently-themed areas. In the video game world this makes perfect sense so off you’ll go! What is somewhat unique is that, generally, you’ll be able to ignore the game’s suggested direction and explore in whatever direction you’d like.

As expected, doing so is much more likely to get you killed, and without more powerful weapons the road may be much more complicated, but it absolutely is possible and that’s a refreshing change. It can sometimes make the dungeons a bit more puzzling too, though, since not all puzzles will be necessary to complete as some items will allow you to bypass certain paths. This means you’ll have to be mindful of what gear you have and that you potentially won’t be able to solve specific rooms with the equipment you have. It’s a real double-edged sword at times. But speaking of dungeons, if you were a bit disappointed that Breath of the Wild or titles like Yono weren’t sufficiently challenging in the puzzle department Ittle Dew 2+ completely has your back! Through the 8 base dungeons and the additional Dream World challenge dungeons put in the game (making it 2+ instead of just 2) I was consistently pushed to experiment and ponder over how to find the solutions to some major head-scratchers. You will be challenged, and it will be aggravating, but since it has been a while since we’ve had some great dungeon puzzles this definitely is a positive note.


Combat, on the other hand, is more of a mixed bag on the whole. Even with the right equipment the overworld is a consistent source of danger through many areas. You’ll need to pretty quickly figure out which zones you can handle confrontations in and which you’ll need to simply try to survive in until you can trigger a checkpoint so you won’t lose progress. If you hunt down all of the secret dungeons and go in every door you can find (be sure to refer to your map often as some doors are sneaky and hidden by the environment) you’ll generally be better prepared with more health and upgrades to your base weapons, but even fully powered up you can have problems. The biggest issue has to do with aim and angles when firing with your wand. This is a critical component in a few boss fights where you’ll need to deflect their shots with yours and while they can be conquered there’s no doubt your aim can be aggravatingly hard to get right. I actually would switch between the analog stick and the digital controls at times to try to help when I wanted to fire in straight lines in some cases and in odd angles at others, it was just a weird thing that was impossible not to notice.

Thankfully, in the end the elements that don’t work as well are greatly outnumbered by what Itte Dew 2+ gets right. Its dungeons are absolutely a loving answer to the call put out by classic Zelda fans who’ve been itching for some cleverly-constructed puzzles in the classic vein. The length is also worth the price of admission (and if you get it physically it comes with a great classic manual and a map as well), including the base 8 dungeon experience as well as a host of additional dungeons you can complete for collector’s cards in the added Dream World that will push your skills even further. Overall, Ittle Dew 2+ was a very pleasant surprise and is, without a doubt, the best homage to classic Zelda gaming on the Switch!


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • The base of a terrific top-down adventure in the classic Zelda style
  • A very self-aware sense of humor
  • Tremendous and challenging dungeon puzzle design
  • The content added past the base 8 superb dungeons amps up the challenge even further

Cons:
  • The open-ended nature of how you can hit dungeons in any order can be a blessing and a curse
  • A few key concepts, like blocks being able to be moved diagonally, weren’t well-explained in the game
  • Combat and aiming can be aggravating at times for the wrong reasons