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note: was originally intending this as a flapjack, but I couldn't stop writing lol. didn't finish true ending and got lazy so I sorta put off writing this for a while. a little sloppy but I figured something this long should get posted as a full review.
once I finished the sage leaf dandori challenges + the olimar mode I sorta got what I wanted out of the experience. playing mario wonder a bit recently I noticed that that game has the good grace to offer some of its """hardcore""" content out of the gate as you explore; why didn't they do that shit in pikmin 4? could've tolerated the slow difficulty curve better in a tighter linear structure a la pikmin 3, but the shift back towards the pikmin 2-style cave progression prolongs the wait for the fun stuff. shocked by how rarely the caves incorporate room layouts that get more complex than the humble nuzzle; could've fooled me into thinking they had returned to randomized layouts as well given the plain feeling of many of these. overworld gameplay is fine but never evolves beyond idle busy-body gameplay, the dandori battles descend into chaos with their randomly spawning items and point bonuses, and the night missions strip out the normal routing focus in favor of clicker combat.
the challenges is where the designers flex their mental muscles quite a bit more. across the board rather fun to get perfect scores on (even the first few!); my pick for favorite of the non-sage leaf bunch is definitely the blue/ice one about halfway through where you trade off between gathering items in various underwater pools with freezing said pools to make walkways and shortcuts to other items. the new flaming pinecone idea is also a great twist on the old bombs, where the old limited-use mechanic is traded for reigniting the pinecone at little firepits strewn throughout a level. fits better with the new focus on short-term routing vs the long-term resource management of pikmin 1. the olimar mode scratches the latter itch by form-fitting the first four areas into a truncated version of the original and its limited day system. it reinterprets the overworld area from the campaign as actual routeable levels with limited resources (specifically with no shop), and for the couple hours it lasts I felt much more invigorated about thinking through my decisions.
dunno how I feel about oatchi. new swiss army knife tool that sorta turns off the game even without the many power-ups you can purchase for him. only works well in multitasking settings (as seen in the challenges) where choosing where to allocate him is more of a driving issue. he not only can deal with virtually every obstacle but also serves as a pikmin leader, although I found the method of dividing up the pikmin army between your avatar and oatchi to be more cumbersome than the buttery smooth leader switching of pikmin 3. given that the caves follow pikmin 2's pattern of being best suited to tackling in a large ball rolling through each room one-by-one, I rarely ever felt the need to dismount oatchi. perhaps if his contextual actions were better geared for multitasking, I might have found it more useful; for example, if I send oatchi and a group of pikmin to knock down a dirt wall and then I go off to micromanage somewhere else, it would be preferable if oatchi would stay with the pikmin at the gate so I can switch over once their task is done rather than him immediately running back while the pikmin sit around dumbfounded. I got more comfortable with it in the sage leaf challenges where I was actually forced to play around oatchi, especially in the first few when I was still stubbornly refusing to upgrade oatchi past bare necessities. my positive takeaway is that they made this interesting asymmetric relationship with oatchi where he's the primary locus of your strategizing thanks to his wealth of abilities. on the other hand, in the context of the main campaign it ends up being more of a bulldozer that makes structured routing pointless in favor of just mindlessly throwing oatchi at everything.
combat in general has sorta been given up on. the biggest culprit is having not one but multiple types of pikmin that just turn off combat, with the infamous purples being supplemented by rocks and ice. ice in particular feels like a miss when it comes to explicitly establishing a trade-off: freezing an enemy and then shattering them is very safe but gives you nectar for leveling pikmin instead of a corpse you can trade for pikmin sprouts. would maybe work in a game that didn't freely give you extra and easy pikmin sprouts en masse, but here I was leaving corpses behind left and right out of laziness, so cheesing enemies with ice was almost always the best solution early game (even for bosses!). that plus the new lock-on (which has the dubious honor of both being brainless and annoyingly inaccurate and restrictive) plus oatchi plus charge... they just don't really know what to do with the combat system. which like, totally fine, but then you've gotta play up the routing, and I s2g 70% of this game just doesn't have that at all. at least the bosses are pretty quick?
I think what really killed it for me was the progression, where you're looking for your ship's pilot and you're just looking around the various areas trying to figure out where he is. felt like it was in-game weeks before I finally found him and could wrap up the main story. would've loved to skip a lot of the random-ass caves I did so I would've still felt fresh on the game for the endgame content, but unfortunately I kept getting stuck on optional shit. bet there was signposting I breezed past on accident so I'm not willing to completely blame that on the game. weirdly scattershot and unfocused. discussed more here.
the swinging package here is sewn up by three mechanics: the boost, the web zip, and the charge jump. in a modern design, the boost would inevitably be restrained by some kind of resource like a meter or a cooldown thanks to the idle nodding of designers seeing a chance to add an explicit limitation to the system. spider-man 2 doesn't need that; the boost's only mechanical restriction is that it can be used once per swing with no other catch. simply obtaining the speed that it comes with using it adds enough danger to traversal to avoid any need for an artificial check on its power. the web zip (once obtained) defrays this by opening up an escape hatch when you need to bail out. its ability to quickly change your angle and briefly cap your speed reins in runaway or unexpected swings. the charge jump overlays all of this with the ability to influence height out of the swing and weave in ground movement without losing momentum. it gives the player a variable amount of impulse based on how long it's been buffered, and it sits completely independent of the other moves, making it chargeable in the background while simultaneously swinging. these three beg not only multilayered decision-making, with fingers working independently to control different systems, but also robust split-second decision-making that keeps the player constantly juggling the three as the micropositioning constantly evolves.
that's primarily because the micropositioning (partially) controls where spidey's webs go, and it's nuanced to such an extent that you'll often have no idea what exactly it'll attach to or how you'll swing around its fulcrum. watch this quick speedrun of the pizza missions and you'll see even a world record holder overshoot objectives, muddle with awkward climbing angles, and get stuck inside a fire escape. this chaos persists even at lower speeds, so there's no point to holding yourself back; boost as often as you can and be prepared for disaster. the game's challenges accept this fact and run with it by featuring generously sized rings to run through without many "tricks" involved. in fact, most of the challenges would feel like filler if not for the volatility of the swinging system giving much-needed variety to what otherwise are checkpoints slapped inside city blocks. you're never expected to plan intricate routes through these because accepting inconsistency and learning to work around it is the core of the game's unique movement system. even simple additions to a challenge such as mandating wallrunning, loop-de-loops, or landing on the ground inside particular checkpoints wrinkle the necessary traversal in such a way that you'll remember one-off challenges days after you originally played them. these nuances are the crux of the game's appeal.
whether this sounds appealing to you in the long run depends on how much intrinsic enjoyment you can get out of this system without much structure surrounding it. its these challenges and the pizza missions providing most of your sustenance, and luckily they're available from mere minutes into the game. however, to further upgrade your base speed, expect to pay the piper by sleepwalking through ~4-5 hours of story-driven setpieces. it shockingly does little to play with your swinging chops and instead alternates extremely lax "get to the objective" segments with dull beat-em-up combat that rarely escalates beyond spamming the air combo and the contextual dodge. it luckily rarely veers into true frustration, but the fact that you have to engage with it all was a rather sore point to me. having to eat my veggies to enjoy my traversal dessert doesn't hit quite as hard when the dessert itself is a bit of an acquired taste, riddled with its own frustrations and inconsistencies. holistically the experience feels often more like something I enjoy dissecting in theory and less so in practice.
the similarities to gravity rush occurred to me while playing, as I outlined in my review of that game that it was also a bare-bones open world experience buoyed by its exciting traversal yet limited by rarely leaning into it outside of optional challenges. spider-man 2 is an even purer expression of that sentiment, with a washed-out, flat version of manhattan replacing the anachronistically rich hekseville and an even more wild and disorienting swinging system replacing the comparatively straight-forward gravity control. a game I see myself continuing to pop in to pick away at the remaining challenges, but not necessarily one that kept me enthralled.
didn't really talk much about the combat in my last few classic RE reviews because so much of it boils down to pressing aim and shooting until the zombie goes down; the main appeal is the resource consumption, where every shot counts and evading enemies is often preferable. on its face re3's combat focus seems to violate this core appeal, as the increase in enemy counts across the board comes with a corresponding increase in heavy weaponry. shotgun shells weren't even sparse in re2, and in re3 you might as well just use your shotgun as your daily driver given how lush the ammo haul is. between this, chokepoints with explosive barrels, the contextual dodge, the wealth of gunpowders, and the grace pushdowns you get if you've previously been bitten in a room, it really feels like jill is nigh invincible in most regular encounters. with the more claustrophobic corridor design and increased enemy limit in rooms, there are certainly more times that the game pushes you into one of these options instead of going for straight evasion, but at the same time the core conceit is still the same: click aim, click shoot. a lot of mechanics to defray what is still relatively rudimentary gameplay.
however, the devs went out of their way to keep the routing intact. the addition of nemesis as a mr. X replacement so thoroughly trumps its predecessor that it feels a bit shocking they didn't get it this right the first time. mr. X was a effectively an ammo conversion spot; this lumbering beast you could pump full of cheaper ammo to get drops of the nicer stuff. nemesis completely flips this on its head by offering a real challenge between all of his different mutations, with attacks such as full-screen lunges, tentacle whips, and a rocket launcher. tackling him requires a much stronger focus on positioning and dodge acumen than mr. X (or even many other early RE bosses), and fittingly in return for choosing to fight you get parts for specialized weapons. granted, actually mastering the dodge in these fights plays up the issues with its seemingly random outcomes and directions, but at the same time tanking hits or controlling his speed with the freeze grenades gives much-needed leeway in what is probably the hardest boss up to this point in the series. unfortunately, killing him in optional encounters doesn't seem to influence rank at all, and I never got a sense that these optional kills help make his later obligatory fights easier, but his presence still gives the benefit of influencing your ammo route. killing nemesis isn't cheap, so if you're interested in his weapons, the regular fights that are so easily trivialized by the bounty of grenades you receive becomes moments for you to tighten your belt and conserve ammo.
small variations to the campaign are also more prevalent in this entry, from randomized enemy layouts and different item locations to subtle route-dependent event trigger alterations. the least interesting of these are timed binary choices that are occasionally given to you during cutscenes, which generally are nothing more than knowledge checks, especially when you can get a free nemesis kill out of it like in the restaurant or on the bell tower. occasionally these actually affect routing, as on the bridge prior to the dead factory, but more often than not the difference seemed either negligible or not a real tradeoff. the rest of these do affect routing in meaningful ways, from things as minor as changing a room from hunters to brain suckers to major changes such as the magnum and the grenade launcher getting swapped in the stars office. this plus the plentiful ammo fosters a nice "go with the flow" atmosphere where reloading a save and getting thrown into different circumstances is often a worse choice than just limping along through mistakes. on the flip-side, the actual effects of this feels like it would be most relevant between many separate runs, so I really haven't played around with really planning a route for this one as much as I would have liked. it already took me a year to play through this short game lol, hopefully next year once I'm done teaching I'll come back to this one.
with that in mind, the real thing that elevated this for me over re2 was the area design. re3 sticks with general design thrust of the first two -- bigger early areas, smaller later areas -- but it moves away from interconnected inner loops and major-key gating of the mansion or the police station in favor of something more akin to spokes coming out from a wheel, where each spoke has its own little setpiece and order of exploration feels more loose. the best example of this is easily downtown, which implements an item collection challenge similar to chess plugs or medals puzzles from previous games (get supplies to fix a cable car). each primary location in this section is a building, whether a sub station or a press office, all connected via alleys and streets with interactables strewn along the way. does a good job both corralling the player into fighting enemies in narrow spaces as well as providing many separated nodes with their own little sparks of action and intrigue. not really as genius as the mansion's taut, intertwined room layout, but it's cool to see them try something a little different. the later game devolves into mini-puzzle areas on par with the guardhouse (or even smaller in the case of the park or the hospital), but these are a significantly improvement over the undercooked sewer from re2. the puzzles themselves are pretty fun too; I like spatial puzzles more than riddles, and they lean into that more here with stuff like the water purification check near the end of the game.