Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Wulverblade


It has taken some time but I’m here to tell you that Wulverblade is the real deal. While it is most certainly a game inspired by many classic games of both the beat-em-up and slash-em-up eras the likes of Final Fight and Golden Axe it is very much its own game. Better yet, it is a wake-up call to the genre, a slap in the face for it to wake up, modernize, and work harder to make the itself into something more. With its gorgeously gory artwork, its historically-inspired settings, and its absolutely brutal and challenging gameplay Wulverblade is a best of genre treat to be savored.


In the game you’ll take control (along with one friend if you’d like) of one of the members of the Wulver clan. There’s Caradoc, the middle-of-the road warrior who plays with a balance of speed and strength, his sister Guinevere who is a bit more agile but isn’t as powerful, and Brennus who is more of a grappling mountain of a character but who appropriately moves more slowly. The differences between them aren’t just cosmetic, they each have the same general moveset but execute key moves quite differently in subtle ways. The moveset for Wulverblade is absolutely massive, using all 4 face buttons and mixing in directional double-taps as well to give you a staggering number of options with which to slay your foes.


Given the level of challenge in the game, particularly in some of its boss battles, you will absolutely need to learn to make use of as many of these skills as possible and when it is appropriate to use them. What sets Wulverblade apart from its brethren is that you won’t be button mashing your way through to the end, satisfied to keep continuing. You will need to learn how best to deal with every type of foe you face, whether ranged, shielded, or armed with spears or swords, in order to be effective. Your enemies are smart and will out-maneuver you if you’ll let them. To survive you’ll need to use everything the game offers you for help, whether it be weapons (or enemy body parts) on the ground you can throw, heavy weapons you can use to supplement your offensive capabilities, your rage meter that will put you into a frenzy that will help you kill many foes but also recover health, or even things like spikes or fire in the environment that will help you make quick work of waves of enemies. The boss fights are where you’ll be put to an even greater test as they often have both formidable attacks and health. You’ll need to watch for their telegraphed attacks and either dodge or even counter them properly with one of your specific attacks in order to defeat them. While very little in the game is easy the first time around if you’re observant and develop appropriate strategies for dealing with your various opponents you will find yourself cutting through the forces of your enemy in no time.


Presentation is really an area where Wulverblade shines, with high-quality artwork, character design, almost cinematic action sequences that play in silhouettes, and more. You’ve never seen a game in this genre look this stunning and you may not see another anytime soon. It isn’t only skin-deep either, another fascinating aspect of the game is the attention to detail given to the history that inspired it and, in many cases, the video and pictures that help you make a deeper connection to the game. Seeing many of the ruins that inspired locations used in the game it’s hard not to be struck by the love not just for this genre but also the rich history of Britain itself.

None of this is to say there aren’t concerns. Foremost is that the challenge in the game isn’t for the easily frustrated or discouraged. You won’t be able to muddle through this, but once you accept that fact and begin to make use of the moves and opportunities that the game presents you’ll be astonished with how much more easily you’ll be able to cut down your enemies. One issue tied to the game’s excellent art, particularly in the foreground, is that it sometimes will obstruct objects on the ground, including key ones like health, so you’ll have a tendency to run across the bottom of the screen at times to be sure you didn’t miss anything. Tied to the difficulty for me the spike was in the third Level that has a tough-as-nails boss that you’ll need to work out a plan to defeat. Even once I knew what I needed to do the window of opportunity closes pretty quickly and I struggled with it. From that point on until the game’s aggravatingly-challenging final boss I found that I was often able to get to each level’s mid-way checkpoint (which you can then start from) often and work out a way to defeat them in a few attempts.


Overall Wulverblade is an absolute masterpiece of a game and for people who have been bemoaning the lack of quality beat-em-ups available it should provide many hours of meaty combat and carnage. To enjoy it you’ll need to overcome falling into old and sloppy habits and learn to work with all of the moves and nuance made available to you. Your reward will be a very viscerally satisfying and overall bloody good time, with some crazy surprises you won’t want to miss out on!

Score: 9

Pros:
  • A major step forward for a genre that has mostly remained unchanged for decades
  • Rich, deep, and engaging gameplay that will demand your attention
  • Stunning artwork and almost cinematic sequences of gameplay in places
  • Includes an awesome array of weaponry and historical information


Cons:
  • The challenge will likely scare away casual players who simply want to button-mash their way through their beat-em-ups
  • There are issues with the foreground art obscuring power-ups and health in places
  • Even for determined players there will likely be challenges where the difficulty will spike that you’ll need to grit through


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: UNBOX - Newbie's Adventure


When I encounter a game like UNBOX - Newbie’s Adventure it can be a difficult process to figure out how to review it. Right from the get-go it just felt like something wasn’t quite right with it so I spent the next few hours playing it trying to get my arms around the problems I was seeing. There’s a rough and almost unfinished quality to it, though no doubt the partial defense of this would be “but you’re controlling a box” and I suppose that’s valid to a degree but I’m also not positive the best defense to bad mechanics is to treat it as if they’re by design. There are some redeeming qualities that the game has but in order to enjoy them you’re going to have to buckle up and accept and even embrace the, at times, wonky nature of it all.

Starting with how the game looks there’s just something off about it. Strangely I’d say that the game looks best in handheld mode as the scale helps to hide the shifting quality of the textures around you that are very visible in spots. In docked mode it is almost impossible to miss the lines where the quality of the textures go from good in your immediate vicinity to degraded a few feet away and sometimes you can see further lines as well. I note this mainly because it’s something I’ve not seen in games in over a generation in general so it’s almost impossible to miss and immediately gives UNBOX a somewhat half-baked quality. In general there’s just a last-gen feeling to the title in terms of graphics like it was up-ported but isn’t really taking advantage of the Switch’s power.


If my roblems with the game stopped there it would perhaps wouldn’t be so bad but I have real issues with the control in the game. I get it, you’re controlling a box. If you literally rolled a box around it would move somewhat unevenly as it went over its edges and in the gaps you wouldn’t have contact or grip. Yes, that’s interesting as an idea and perhaps a bit humorous but it sucks in a platforming game where you need precision. What’s worse is that when you’re in the air the precision isn’t quite there either, movement is pretty unwieldy as well, especially when you use your “unbox” ability to perform additional jumps. It just seems that rather than setting up well-designed levels with jumping puzzles that would test your precision and execution the answer was to set up mostly mundane jumping puzzles that combined with the dodgy controls would simply test your patience. This isn’t to say that it can’t be overcome, it will only take a few attempts most of the time to get through things. Just unfortunately when you’re fighting the wonky controls accomplishing these tasks doesn’t often feel rewarding as much as just a relief, which isn’t nearly as great a sensation.

If you’re still hanging on at this point the style of the game is a platforming adventure at the high level but it’s also a bit of a collect-a-thon set in very open spaces. The lack of a set and specific path I suppose is nice but the game design seems to acknowledge the problem that lack of direction created by setting up controls to find where to even get your quests to accumulate the stamps you need to progress. Without these I think you could probably go quite a while and not stumble onto them since the areas are quite large. Quests will generally involve platforming tasks and a few will blend in the inclusion of your use of the fireworks that are used in the game’s fun but overall forgettable multiplayer mode. Once you gather enough of the stamps you’ll get into a boss fight and move on to the next stage to repeat the process again in a new environment. In the first boss battle I was surprised to see a timer and that when I got knocked off the tower we were fighting on I would just respawn without seeming to have lost any progress. This made it seem like an admission that the whole thing is a bit off but with so much time and little consequence to failure defeating him could probably happen without the person even knowing what they were doing, especially given the fact that the boss harmed himself at least twice for me without me doing anything special at all.


What’s strange with UNBOX is that with the somewhat unfinished feel of some elements of the game I often wondered if it was intended to be a “physics game” along the lines of Goat Simulator and others where the intent is to have a weird feel to everything. If that were the case, though, the other essential part of that genre is a degree of humor and over-the-top ridiculousness to help compensate for the many shortcomings the game has otherwise. Since it is pretty well played straight throughout (random bad jokes involving boxes not counting) I don’t think that was the intent here so it brings me back to feeling like the game combined a not-great concept for making a viable and fun platformer with too little time spent to make the game the best it could, smoothing the rough edges that would come with a game where you’re moving a box around and trying to make precision jumps with it.

Score: 5

Pros:
  • The multiplayer mode is fun to kick around with for a little bit but it is an add-on and not the main feature
  • You can see some of the design and thoughts trying to break through in places

Cons:
  • Some visual issues at times make it feel like a last-gen game
  • The control is a consistent annoyance when paired with precision jumping
  • Tasks like freeing caged boxes don’t often give any reward whatsoever, even their tips for how to defeat your enemies they promise are often pointless. This feels like a partial concept that was never finished
  • From appearance to control to overall gameplay experience it feels more like an Early Access game than a finished retail product
  • The MSRP when considering all of the above is far too high, physical release or not


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: 88 Heroes


A game like 88 Heroes is pretty difficult to put a simple label on since to a pretty wild degree it is obviously determined to play by its own rules. The game’s story of impending doom with a whole lot of 88s involved may not be too odd but the eclectic crew of “heroes” you’ll take control of in order to save the world certainly are. Playing out half like a running gag and half as a relatively basic platformer I would certainly say I’ve never played anything quite like it, and there are both positives and negatives to go with that sentiment.


Visually 88 Heroes is a bit of a mixed bag, though I’d say it has clearly been designed to look the way it does and can respect the follow through. In the foreground you’ll see the alien coming to destroy us all lording over a video screen as members of his crew mill around and generally act as periodic distractions. It’s all a bit weird but it does lend to flavor. In terms of the game space itself the graphics actually look a bit like some older arcade titles I played back in the day. They’re generally simple and the spaces are a bit sparse but there’s some variety and flavor as you move around all the same. From hero to hero there’s a visual consistency to some degree but at the same time many of the them are essentially caricatures of characters from other games or popular culture so they take some liberties in some cases. For as many heroes as there are I have to give credit, they’re all well-drawn and animated for their somewhat limited move sets so I appreciate the dedication to doing as much as possible to make the game work visually while keeping a pretty simple art style.

In terms of gameplay it’s a really mixed bag for the most part, and to some degree I think the entire conceit of the heroes and their varying (and sometimes worthless) abilities is constructed merely to paint over the shortcomings and issues of the core gameplay. The levels themselves aren’t generally all that complex, they have combinations of jumping puzzles, traps, and enemies that will all kill your hero in one hit. Even some simple things like being under a platform and being touched by it will result in your exploding into pieces so things like that can be a bit aggravating at times. Jumping, in general, works well but overall how jumping is handled mechanically from hero to hero will vary a bit and this can also result in unnecessary deaths simply because you just started out but didn’t have a hang of the way they move or jump. Some heroes also have powers to shoot or attack but since this varies wildly in terms of if they shoot, how many shots they have, if their power is just cosmetic or does damage, and what range their attacks may have it’s a real crapshoot. Most of the time the level is simple enough to navigate and get through but it isn’t the level you’re fighting with, it is the random hero you’ve been assigned.


What will make or break the overall experience is the heroes and whether you enjoy the humor and antics associated with them or are aggravated by them. I absolutely laughed out loud at some of the ridiculous heroes and their powers that are often useful, but in some cases the gags involving heroes’ powers can get the best of you for negative outcomes. I worry potentially in ways that could be almost game-breaking if you did the wrong things. Some heroes have the ability to destroy walls or even the floor and in a critical spot I’d wonder if it would be possible to essentially make a portion of the map unpassable, at least for the majority of your heroes. Then there’s the problem of heroes that simply aren’t particularly well-suited to survival in the platforming scenarios they’re thrown into, with some of them I’d wager likely unable to get out of a paper bag. It’s a difficult line to walk between the absurdist humor of a hero who’s a mime who can only do the “pretending to be in a box” thing and the fact that for the most part his purpose is to be funny cannon fodder to die and not be seen again. In theory you could persevere and be successful even with poorly-matched heroes, and that can be cool, but at the same time a significant portion of your roster is there for laughs first and gaming success last and that can bite you a bit at times.

Ultimately 88 Heroes is a title that lives and dies by its humor, and that statement has meaning on several levels. It isn’t only that many of the heroes aren’t very useful, a compounding problem is that since almost all of them are unique in some way as a player you often have very little basis for how this character “works”. There’s no real opportunity to “git gud” with them or understand their nuances, you’re just going to run at your problems head-on and hope that your luck and reflexes will help you win the day. Granted, as you play through the game there’s no doubt you’d begin to work some of these things out but since the gameplay is relatively shallow once the surprises and jokes wear thin I’m not so positive the action itself holds up on its own to keep you compelled. I enjoyed my time with the game to a degree and some of the referential humor is a lot of fun but once you contemplate your third or fourth run and you’re looking to really play and beat the game as your priority nothing is going to stop some of the problems from seeping in.


Score: 6.5

Pros:
  • There are some great characters and jokes around popular movies and games that are entertaining
  • If you’re looking for something to just play and enjoy and you aren’t necessarily hyper-focused on success the game’s problems won’t bother you as much
  • Credit to the developers for having their concept and sticking with it, it is well-executed on the whole

Cons:
  • If the jokes fail to connect for you or quickly wear thin the game beneath it all isn’t terribly compelling
  • All of your heroes are quite fragile and you’ll often die due to your lack of familiarity with the hero you’re using since their abilities and movements vary pretty wildly
  • There are some serious problems you can get into with some heroes powers and their ability to ruin the level, opening the door to accidentally making parts of them problematic for many heroes
  • Given the overall content the MSRP feels a bit high, even if it does have a physical release


Review: Squareboy Vs. Bullies - Arena Edition


In terms of genre representation on the Switch the classic beat-em-up hasn’t really gotten much love to this point. That changes this week with the release of Squareboy Vs. Bullies - Arena Edition. Working with a pretty basic control scheme you’ll try to get Squareboy through a variety of tough situations with progressively more challenging foes as he works to defend himself and then find his sensei.

Visually there’s not a whole lot going on, it is a pretty basic 8-bit style game in appearance and though it isn’t burning up the world there’s nothing terribly wrong with it either. Enemies are, at the core, very similar looking for the most part but they do have varying hair, hats, or other fine details so you’ll be able to tell them apart. For the most part they vary in appearance in order to tip you off to the type of weapons they may use or special attacks they may have so all of this works reasonably well.


The game uses a pretty basic 2-button scheme with one for attack and one for jump. They’re used for relatively good effect for variety with double-tap directional attacks (dash, spinning leg sweep, spinning uppercut) though those do feel a little unreliable at times. You’ll also be able to do some relatively stock beat-em-up moves like grabbing someone and then either punching or throwing them, and what would a beat-em-up be without a stock jump kick.

There’s both the main Story mode as well as an Arena mode, and you can play those by yourself or with a friend, but overall there’s not much differentiation between them. Being blunt for the most part while there’s a challenge to be had none of it is terribly thrilling. You’ll need to keep yourself from getting trapped from both sides, keep an eye on anyone with a ranged attack, and make the most of whatever pick-ups you’re able to find along the way but it is textbook fare overall. Arena mode is really just fighting a series of foes that will allow you to unlock new locales to fight in. Story Mode does walk you through a pretty simply narrative of you and your sensei but while the themed enemies do change with location the repetition still sets in pretty hard.


Functionally I can’t really fault Squareboy with any major concerns but perhaps that isn’t the most ringing endorsement either. Though it is admirably put together and works perfectly well it is lacking in excitement and even I’d say in some heart. Having finished played it for hours I’m still really indifferent on the overall experience. It isn’t bad but it isn’t memorable. If you’re searching for something simple that is inexpensive and will consume some of your time with a generally moderate challenge, and are just a fan of the genre in its many forms, perhaps it could be worth your time though.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • Enemies are varied and will get you in trouble if you don’t maneuver yourself well
  • It can at least be a little more fun if you are able to play with a friend

Cons:
  • Not terribly memorable in any way
  • The double-tap attacks don’t always come off reliably
  • Arena mode is really just the same overall experience with a counter


Review: Neon Chrome


There was once a game made by Origin (before EA acquired and ruined them) called Crusader: No Remorse and I absolutely loved the insane action paces that it would put you through. Facing hordes of enemies, you alone were on a mission to survive using your weapons, your tactics, and often your ability to improvise. For me, playing Neon Chrome is like a window back to those same feelings with it’s sometimes completely insane firefights, ample opportunities to use the environment to your advantage, and need for tactics in order to be successful. While the level of challenge can be intimidating at first your ability to improve your stats and unlock new abilities and weapons as you progress will ensure that the more time you put in the better you’ll be able to do.


In the spirit of its roguelike nature every time you make your way into Neon Chrome to attempt to take down the Overseer you’ll be given a choice between three classes with varying advantages. Over the course of each run you’ll also be able to choose between weapons you’ll find, potentially change out your grenades, and choose among a variety of abilities. All of these will help you cater the game as much as possible to your style and to compensate for your weaknesses. Initially these abilities will mostly involve adding health or to your ammo capacity but as you have more success you’ll begin to unlock some much more powerful and often sinister abilities that will encourage you to experiment with your builds quite a bit more. Weapon and grenade selection isn’t merely about raw power as some have better accuracy, some will have a broad area of effect, and some will even catch your enemies on fire. It is your power of choice, when used effectively, that will make the difference between making it only a few stages in and getting much deeper. Best of all, if you find it to be a bit overwhelming and have friends available they can join in for the fun as well!

Moving through the floors that take you to the top to face your final battle the game is segmented with a few levels at a time before you’ll face off against a challenging boss. These battles will test your skills, your load out, and your tenacity as the first time you’ll generally face them, without having had the opportunity to bolster your stats, you’re likely to feel a bit out of your league. That said, if you’re able to keep your head and are quick these fights are possible to win, you just may not be able to recover well enough from the fight to last much longer. Opportunities to heal do show up, but they’re rarely going to do more then renew a portion of your health. It is a game that’s meant to challenge and not coddle you, and in order to get further into the game you’re likely going to have to die quite a bit. The longer you’re able to survive the more money you’ll be able to accumulate and the more stations you’re likely to encounter that will permanently unlock new abilities and weaponry. Even when you die you’re still then always making progress.


Between runs you’ll have the opportunity to invest that money in improving your core stats or opening up additional slots for skills. I’d tend to recommend the slots since as time goes on and you have the more powerful options available to you they can be game-changers. In addition you’ll have the option to spend some money in order to guarantee which gun, grenades, and skill you’ll start your run with. This can be a wise investment, particularly where the grenades and abilities are concerned, since having to deal with ones that don’t suit you will tend to put you at risk. The gun can be tempting but realize that you’ll likely be wooed regularly with more powerful weapons and at some point, even if it is a less ideal choice for you, you’ll likely switch things up. The point is, no matter how much you may struggle on a given run, the further you go you’ll be able to feed your success into further success.


I’ve actually been enjoying Neon Chrome for quite some time on the PC and am thrilled that it has finally made its way to the Switch, even moreso that it has come over quite flawlessly. Beating the Overseer is no easy feat but what I love the most about the game is that it continues to scale itself up even past that initial victory and you’ll be able to continue to test your skills and your load outs against consistently formidable resistance. In some ways it is when all of the skill options are finally available to you that the game most comes to life, throwing exciting challenges at you and demanding that you give it your full attention to persevere. While I’ve played many roguelike shooters and enjoy them all I hold Neon Chrome up as one of my absolute favorites for multiple reasons.

Score: 9

Pros:
  • Intense and varied shooting action
  • Each run presents new challenges and opportunities
  • Your efforts are never wasted, every time you die there are chances to improve your odds on subsequent runs
  • Even more chaotic and fun with a friend!

Cons:
  • There’s no getting around the fact that the game was meant to be difficult initially, though in theory as you upgrade yourself the game could become accessible to anyone with time
  • In handheld mode everything is still easily visible but the scale can be less ideal at times

Review: Tiny Barbarian DX


While the majority of retro pixel art games I’ve seen come out in recent years have sported 16-bit stylings there’s also been a smaller portion of the market that has gone for a more 8-bit style. That isn’t to say the games aren’t attractive, at the resolution they’re able to run at even 8-bit games can have a very attractive look. Tiny Barbarian DX is one of these titles that is looking to hit those nostalgic beats from the NES era but it does so with excellent control, some modern sensibilities, and pretty challenging and compelling gameplay.


You’ll be taking control of this barbarian as he makes his way through a variety of worlds slaying foes, moving between platforms, riding beasts, defeating challenging bosses, and sometimes even taking a moment to flex for the ladies. Enemy variety as you progress is high enough that you’ll need to regularly adjust your strategies a bit and their overlapping attack patterns at times will force you to either react quickly or formulate a battle plan. The boss battles tend to be varied and even quite creative, you won’t simply be hacking and slashing to try to take them down. This is one particular area where I’d say the developers did an excellent job of injecting some modern flair into things, surpassing expectations set by the games it is emulating in many regards.

The great news is that while you’re adventuring through the control is spot-on and pretty well flawless. Movement is fluid, you’re able to jump, climb, grab onto ledges (bonus points), and attack with tight control that is always there with you, helping you realize that when you die the problem was only you, and not the game. With only a classic NES 2-button scheme it is actually pretty amazing the variety of attacks and moves you’re able to make and when you add in the fact that your sword swipes are able to deflect most projectiles you typically have a wide variety of ways you can choose to take down foes in different situations. This helps keep things changing up and interesting and it never really feels like you’re just going through the motions and slashing your way through everything the way this genre can sometimes feel.


One thing that helps greatly with not feeling like there’s much repetition is that from stage to stage you’re often doing very different things or even moving in different directions. You’ll go through levels that are very combat-focused followed by ones that will require some tricky platforming and then some levels will also throw something like a beast for you to ride into the mix. This all keeps the game engaging and fights away the doldrums of repetition. What you’ll find is that you will also thank your lucky stars that when you die (and you will likely do so quite a lot) you’ll only be taken to the beginning of each screen so progress is saved on an ongoing basis and you just need to focus on getting to that next screen, even if you only have a sliver of health left. It is worth noting that if you find solo adventuring too difficult you can bring on a friend to help but with games like this that always presents its own challenges.

All said Tiny Barbarian DX is an excellent throwback-style title that celebrates what was great from that era without being satisfied to hide behind it. It builds on the style of play of many classic games and turns it all into something better, all while maintaining that signature difficulty that was so common in that era. What’s great, though, is that the challenge comes from well-crafted levels and not from wonky or inconsistent control. If you’re itching for something that will make you nostalgic or just want something to suck up a fair number of hours with varied side-scrolling hack-and-slash gameplay Tiny Barbarian DX delivers!


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Terrific art and an energetic chiptune soundtrack
  • Control is king and your Tiny Barbarian’s movement is fluid and responsive
  • There are surprises sprinkled throughout in terms of level and enemy design that make it stand out
Cons:
  • From screen to screen the challenge will inevitably vary, there are absolutely some mixed platforming levels that will make you work hard to get through
  • While the game is perfectly playable in handheld mode the scale is a bit small just as an FYI
  • The pricing may be a little high, though some people will no doubt jump at a physical release

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: Yono and the Celestial Elephants


Note: This game doesn't currently support the Pro Controller, just so you're not surprised!

When people first saw footage of Yono and the Celestial Elephants there was a certain amount of instant joy to go around. An adorable little pachyderm in an adventure that looked similar to the exploits of a certain silent warrior… Yono picked up an unofficial nickname in some circles as “Cute Elephant Zelda”. Having played through the entirety of the final product there’s a mix of good news and not quite as good news. The nickname is mostly an accurate one as the overall style of Yono’s journey shares roots with everyone’s favorite defender of Hyrule. That said if you’re expecting a meaty challenge in terms of combat and dungeon puzzle solving you’ll need to pull back your expectations quite substantially to avoid being terribly disappointed.


Yono is the latest in a lineage of elephants who have come to help save the world and set the course of things back to the way they’re meant to be ever thousand years. While through the course of the game you’ll learn that his ancestors have faced some significant and dangerous challenges it seems that being just a young and small elephant, the scale of the problems Yono has come to help resolve, at least for the moment, are of an appropriately adjusted scale as well. There is some turmoil among the multiple kingdoms of the lands he has come to and if something isn’t done there will be a war. It’s up to Yono to help intervene and return these kingdoms to peace.

In order to do this he’ll need to indulge in some battles, solve some puzzles, and persevere through a few big boss battles… just perhaps ones appropriate to his relative age and scale. Combat in the game is generally light, not requiring a great deal of strategy, though it is always possible for you to get yourself in trouble if you’re not being cautious. For the most part his charge is all you’ll need to keep enemies at bay and then take them out. For the first half of the game the puzzles, likewise, are generally quite quick and easy to solve. To the game’s credit finding the solutions in the final areas will require some thought to get through, and that’s terrific, just be warned not to expect to challenge your brain too greatly in the early going. The boss fights in the game do have an appropriate level of challenge to them, both to figure out what you’ll need to do and then in being able to execute that plan. There aren’t really any prompts telling you what to do anywhere so you’ll need to use your intuition and perhaps a little trial and error to succeed so these are certainly a high point to the game in terms of making you work to get through them.


To be properly prepared for these boss battles you’ll want to complete a pretty wide variety of mini-quests you’ll encounter in your travels. Whether it involves helping people with a problem, seeing a random doorway somewhere off to the side you’ll need to find the way to, or working to solve a tricky puzzle you’ll randomly encounter Yono does a fairly good job of finding different ways for you to earn heart tokens. For every 4 you find you’ll be able to add a heart to your bar and since the boss battles aren’t crazy difficult but can sap your health in trying to get through them getting all the hearts you can isn’t a bad idea. Besides, it is through many of these mini quests that you’ll see the game’s charm in the interactions with the inhabitants of various towns and in some of the silly things you’ll do to help people out. Many involve moving an object from A to B but even then some of the stories people have to go with these items can be cute. You’ll also be collecting letters that can be used to restore parts of the stories of your ancestors and pieces of currency you’ll want to find in order to indulge in one of the cutest elements of the game, the many different ways you can change Yono’s appearance at the barbershops in each of the towns. With looks that range from artistic to themed to an appropriate nod to a classic Nintendo franchise these are a nice way to customize the look of your game a little and add to the “Awww” factor quite a bit as well.


I think the main thing for experienced gamers who are interested in Yono to reflect on before buying it is whether being challenged is essential or not. The harder you’re hoping to have to work to make your way through the game the more you’re likely to be disappointed. If, however, you manage your expectations and simply enjoy it for what it is Yono is a great and fun adventure while it lasts. A group I would certainly point the game out to would be parents of younger gamers. Since the starting point is very friendly to less-experienced players, the ramping up of challenge is very gradual and smooth, and towards the end it will raise the bar enough to motivate them to figure out a way to win it would be an excellent primer to more ambitious fare like proper Zelda games. Something of this nature, in that regard, is a rarity and helps raise the bar of my respect for it a little higher. What I’m hoping is that we’ll be able to see a sequel with a slightly older Yono who will then continue to face progressively more difficult challenges and perhaps a newer generation of gamers will be able to grow older and more experienced with him.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • Seen through the lens of being a game that is accessible to all gamers, that will slowly raise the bar of challenge throughout, it does an excellent job
  • The art direction and varied looks of the locales you’ll visit are colorful and distinctive
  • I appreciated the at-times sly and odd sense of humor the game has in its dialogue, and the juxtaposition of philosophy and the cute style is amusing


Cons:
  • An unfortunate side effect of anything reminding people of Zelda is the expectations that will come with it. Yono is a good game in that vein but is not as challenging, polished, or refined as a Zelda title
  • Being an elephant navigation in some cases is more complicated or at least visually him going over edges or going up and down steps can look a bit clunky
  • Though I suppose the idea is that Yono’s journey has just begun the ending was a bit underwhelming