236 Reviews liked by Psientologist
There's a whole lotta ass showing going on in the Backloggd review section for Separate Ways! I know you kids love to whinge, but Separate Ways wasn't "free in the original" and if we wanted to play it we had to buy the whole game again on a different platform. There's still time to edit those reviews, folks! You don't want to be WRONG ONLINE do you? About VIDEOGAMES? We both know that being right about videogames online is all you've got!
Absolutely great setup for this kind of game. There is an infinite amount of creative situations that the Nonary Games' setup allows for, and the rest of the game doesn't disappoint. It is extremely rare to find a mystery this well-crafted. I managed to actually just straight-up anticipate certain reveals without them being obvious at all, that's the mark of really consistent writing imo. Also the escape rooms are really fun. I think there's a couple of minor issues (text speed is way too slow, some of the number-related twists at the very end are a little goofy and i feel like getting the true ending without looking it up would be pretty rough) but yeah this is a really good game. NieR Automata if it was good fr fr
SPLATOON 3 - YEAR ONE REPORT
There's probably no game that I'm more "into" than Splatoon. There's games I like more, things that have been and gone, but Splatoon is its own scene. A subculture, and a massive push of energy from a new generation of remarkably talented Nintendo devs. Building on the lessons taught by the Marios and Zeldas, but it's a socially conscious online shooter that embraces new players. I love that while other monolithic multiplayer icons were collaborating with movie studios to promote a new release, Splatoon was collaborating with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, to encourage fans to take interest in the real-life species of aquatic creatures that the games take inspiration from. It's also a refreshingly progressive title from a safe, Japanese family brand like Nintendo, with its embrace of street art, Octo Expansion's overt anti-racist themes, and 3's abandonment of gender classes. It's quite encouraging to see how much a young queer fanbase have adopted the game as a positive community, in contrast to hostile, masculine spaces like Call of Duty and Gears of War. I think it does a great job of representing contemporary Japanese pop culture too, showcasing regional pop idols as fun, positive icons that fans can bond over, and not the icky, fetishised exploitees that the west tends to view them as. There's just a lot that Splatoon does that I think is really cool, and I'm consistently supportive of it.
It's a shame then that Splatoon 3 doesn't really seem to have as much of a voice as the previous titles. The energy seems to have diminished somewhat. Whether through complications with the pandemic, a less experimental, more efficient design structure, or developer burnout, I don't get as much sense of direction with the new game. Map designs seem reined-in and conservative in their approach, while previous games were introducing new mechanics and distinct playstyles with each new drop. Deep Cut haven't had the same impact as the Squid Sisters or Off the Hook, with the game's DLC allowing oldheads (me) to regress into Splatoon 1's Inkopolis lobby, largely ignoring the direction of the new title. New seasons bring back maps from previous titles, many of them from Splatoon 2, which players could access just as easily on their Nintendo Switch already. It just seems to have plateaued. Splatoon isn't pushing at the boundaries anymore. They're digging up nostalgia for games that came out a few years ago.
I don't think it's dead, though. There's encouraging signs that Splatoon 3 is still just finding its shape. Deep Cut's three-piece presents a fundamentally different dynamic from what's come before, presented as petty, bickering bumpkins from a smaller town, and it's great to see how that's been incorporated into their new track, Big Betrayal (their biggest banger so far). Their disappointingly restrained performance at Nintendo Live 2022 seems to be behind them, and I think their next concert could be a lot of fun. At time of writing, Deep Cut's Splatfest is currently in session, with the winning member seemingly becoming the leader of the group. I want them to stick to whatever the result is, and I think it would be a lot of fun to see Shiver's resentment if she has to take orders from either of the other two. While I moan about how relatively regressive 3 has been, I will die a hardcore Squid Sisters devotee, and it's been great to see how much the new game has catered for those who got invested in Callie's disappearance before 2's release. I want the series to continue to present them as the icons who started all this, and 3 has largely been following the trajectory I'd hoped to see, in that regard.
I just feel very precious about Splatoon. There was a time when each new development felt like a step into the future. How exciting it was when Camp Triggerfish first dropped, with its multiple base territories converging in central hot zone. Even as a Team Order voter, I feel concerned about Side Order's revisionist theme, turning its back on the significance of Splatfest results. If we were going to see both the Chaos and Order timelines anyway, what was the point in taking part in the Final Fest? It doesn't seem like the kind of move Splatoon 1 would have made.
Splatoon 3 is still the best place to play Splatoon today. The pre-match practice lobby and skippable Anarchy Splatcasts make it a much more inviting option on your Switch's home menu, and the active season rewards keep active players invested in returning regularly. It just doesn't feel like we've really got the game it's supposed to be yet. It's safe, and that's not something I value in Splatoon. I want them to see the big swings, and weird experiments without worrying about the impact to its established playerbase. I know a lot of people who bought it at release, and I think I'm the only one who hasn't dropped off playing it regularly. I know what this team can do. I'm telling them now's the time to do it.
Pokémon Radical Red
I've marked this as Shelved, but I might be back on it as soon as tomorrow.
Radical Red is for a certain breed of person. I've never got on with "competitive" Pokémon, it does absolutely nothing for me. But I read about RR and found its sales pitch really interesting. What if Fire Red was balanced to be played like competitive pokémon, had a bunch of QoL upgrades that made team building much easier and streamlined, and also every fucking Pokémon ever was in it? Oh, and also, it's hard as all bloody fucking shit. That's RR!
And, to my surprise, I enjoy it! It's making me think about Pokémon in a way I never have before, considering statistical builds and specific roles within my squad (tanky walls, status effect stallers, sweepers etc)! Which is cool! I like running into boss characters, failing miserably, and then having to go to my Boxes and figure out ok, who's going to substitute nicely here to beat this fud? Do I give up a mon in slot 1 to set up for a sweeper to come in and just wreck house? That's fun as fuck.
But it's also far too hard. Fuck off Giovanni you absolute cunt, take your Mega Evolved Kangaskhan with you.
In his video last year regarding context sensitivity, Matthewmatosis opens by describing Ghost Trick as entirely context-sensitive: the main action button ("trick") always performs a different action depending on the item possessed. However, he points this out as an exception to the trend of heavy context-sensitivity weighing down modern games, because simply put, Ghost Trick uses context-sensitivity not as a crutch, but as its core. It never seems to suffer from fuzzy context: the game not only gives you plenty of safe time to experiment with set-pieces leading up to timed sequences (since untimed traversal to the victim is every bit a puzzle in itself), but also briefly describes the single "trick" of each object possessed to give players an idea of how to progress. Furthermore, Ghost Trick's difficulty hits a perfect sweet-spot: it doesn't feel free because traversal and manipulating objects to your advantage require a good degree of planning and experimentation, but failure also never feels too punishing because other characters and the environment are great at providing thoughtful feedback upon failure, so the player isn't just banging their head against a wall via quick restarts at built-in checkpoints.
Essentially, it's like playing the ancestor of Return of the Obra Dinn but with a time loop mechanic attached. The objective remains simple (travel back to four minutes before death to avert fate), but how to achieve said objective is always completely dictated by your surroundings. As a result, it naturally iterates upon its basic structure to create more unconventional scenarios: soon you're not just manipulating objects for traversal and foiling assassins, you're also solving locked room mysteries, or traveling to different environments to save victims from elsewhere, or diving into deaths within deaths to avert multiple fates at a time. Through all of this, Ghost Trick understands one of the key strengths of video games: creating virtual playgrounds of experimentation unsaddled by the limitations of time to reward players through the joy of discovery. The player is constantly surprised time and time again not only from unexpected object interactions, but also from how the narrative weaves in and out of death sequences to create suspenseful moments. It's a minor miracle in itself that the story never jumps the shark: the gameplay mechanics remain firmly consistent alongside its lore, and every plot thread is neatly wrapped up by the end of the game after a series of subtly foreshadowed twists. Combine this marrying of storytelling and gameplay with expressive animations, a colorful and very personable cast, an understated yet powerful soundtrack, and a great mix of humor and emotional moments, and you get what is perhaps the most cohesive title in the DS library.
It's rather poetic that a game which looked simple on the outside provided such an intricate exercise for Shu Takumi to prove that he was no one-trick pony. I'm grateful that Ghost Trick has finally been ported to modern systems for a whole new audience to lose their minds over this, for it's a masterpiece that everyone owes to themselves to check out. At the end of the day, nothing feels quite as cathartic as miraculously changing destiny in the face of inevitable death.
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk
My first thought was that Bomb Rush Cyberfunk was just going to be a straight spiritual successor to Jet Set Radio Future (which would have been a letdown considering my three weeks of original Jet Set Radio prep), but I'm pleasantly surprised by the blend of mechanics presented! In reality, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk takes the overall structure and aesthetic from Future while borrowing more heavily from original Jet Set Radio's tight level design and intricate scoring mechanics, and dare I say, actually improves upon certain aspects. It does have a few underdeveloped features as a result of its experimentation, but overall, not a bad first attempt by Team Reptile!
One issue that apparently escaped my notice the first time around (I replayed Future recently just to confirm this) was that Future's extremely linear and stretched-out levels resulted in tons of backtracking upon missing objectives/falling off the stage, and led to fairly rigid approaches that really tried my patience upon additional loops. This is fortunately not the case with Bomb Rush Cyberfunk: levels are generally a lot more open with many more shortcuts and are spaced apart carefully to where traversal feels much more free-form. It more closely resembles original Jet Set Radio, especially when you consider how its momentum mechanics complement this design. Future made the speed fairly easy to obtain: jump onto a rail regardless of your momentum, then keep mashing trick to accelerate and never slow down. On the other hand, original Jet Set Radio became well-known for how slow your character would move about unless you actively utilized rails and grindable walls to speed up, and Bomb Rush Cyberfunk takes a modern twist: you need to maintain momentum by either rail grinding and leaning into corners for speed boosts, or by using grounded manuals combined with boost (refreshed from performing tricks) to retain speed.
The momentum mechanics go hand-in-hand with the game's combo system. After thoroughly exploring levels to spray graffiti spots for "rep" and completing subsequent score and movement-tech challenges from opposing crew members, your crew must finally confront opposing crews in a crew battle, outscoring them with trick combos in their own territory. The scoring and trick system improvises upon both original Jet Set Radio and Future: in both games, the safest way to score trick points was abusing infinite grind loops and repeating the same tricks/movement over and over. However, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk turns this on its head: you don't get tons of points for doing the same tricks ad-nauseam (since trick value decreases and eventually levels off when used more and more). Instead, the main key to getting points is increasing the multiplier by utilizing unique features of the stage: that is, leaning into tight corners on grindable rails, wall-riding billboards, and going up half-pipe ramps (which are improved over the original game since you can manual up ramps and then air boost off into manuals/rail and wall-grinds, so they can function as part of a combo). The key word is "unique," since utilizing the same set-piece in a held combo will not give additional multipliers, and the same goes for graffiti spots that can now also be resprayed as one-time trick bonuses during continuous combos. As a result, the trick and multiplier staling incentivizes players to fully explore and utilize every set-piece present upon the open stages to create massive combos, made easier thanks to the mid-air dash (which also lets you alter airborne momentum once) and the manual. The only downside here is that the game's circumstances never become difficult enough to necessitate this trick optimization; the story crew battles are pretty easy and I was leapfrogging them using the above strategy (i.e. while other crews were floundering around several hundred thousand, I was well beyond a couple million in score), so unless players are trying to crack the tougher post-game score barriers for optional characters/achievements, they may never need to lean on these strategies at all.
The lack of difficulty serves as a microcosm of this game's unfortunate trend: Bomb Rush Cyberfunk certainly innovates upon many features from the Jet Set Radio games, but I find a few to be undercooked or lacking in execution. The combat's one example: it's not a bad idea in theory (using tricks to both deal damage and maintain score/momentum) and in fact has been proposed before, but its implementation leaves something to be desired. Attacking enemies feels like it has little impact because of the muffled sound-effects, akin to slapping a wet sock on a table. Also, most enemies can be defeated with a single grounded attack into an immediate "corkscrew" jump and then spray-painted in the air. While this graffiti coup de grâce never gets old, it does feel quite difficult in practice comboing in and out of this linearizing technique (since you need to be standing and off your skates to execute, breaking any combo potential), so combat never really flows and the mandatory combat sections in-story feel somewhat superfluous.
Adjacent to this is the heat system, a spin on original Jet Set Radio's enemy escalation during story stages. As your character goes about spraying graffiti, police forces begin to spawn in tougher waves: for example, wave one consists of simple grounded officers with batons and pistols, wave two activates turrets that home-in on the player with chains and slow their movement, and wave three brings in armored forces that can block attacks. I found most of these enemies to be mere nuisances: you can easily skate around and dodge most attacks (except for the turrets, which can be easily disabled with a single attack + spray), and since enemies can't be easily comboed for points and will respawn continuously upon defeat anyways, it's best to just ignore them as is. Again, this is fairly similar to original Jet Set Radio's strategy of outmanuevering enemies since foes there were active time sinks, so this doesn't bother me greatly. Unfortunately, this creates friction with Bomb Rush Cyberfunk's exploration, and not just in the sense that enemies will impede progress. The game requires you to swap between the three different types of movestyle for their different abilities: skateboards can ride on extendable fire hydrants to extend them vertically and reach heights, inline skates can skid on glass to shatter specific ceilings, and bikes can open special garage doors. The only way to switch between characters/movestyles is to go to checkerboard tiles and dance, but the game prohibits switching when there's "too much heat." Thus, you have to de-escalate the heat gauge by entering orange porta-potties (unmarked on the map, so hopefully you remember their locations!). However, they also lock up after a single use, so players have to either outright leave the stages or find a different porta-potty elsewhere to reopen old porta-potties for enemy despawning. I think this could have easily been improved if the heat gauge slowly decreased over time from successful enemy evasion.
Even with my criticisms, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk was definitely worth the three year wait. The story isn't anything mindblowing, but it's got some nice twists that are conveyed via these surreal platforming sequences that are a cross between the time rifts from A Hat in Time and a Psychonauts fever dream. I'm pleasantly surprised by a good chunk of the soundtrack too: Hideki Naganuma's three contributions are the obvious highlights, but other tracks like 2Mello's I Wanna Kno and Sebastian Knight's Feel the Funk more than hold their own weight. It's a good mix of upbeat sampledelia hip-hop and chill ambient tunes, with my only real complaint being the lack of guitar-heavy rock tracks like Magical Girl or Statement of Intent... RIP Guitar Vader. Finally, I more than got my playtime's worth out of 100%ing the game, considering all the hidden areas and collectibles to find and just how much fun I had figuring out new ways to string together ridiculous combos. Despite the game's various areas of improvement, I find Bomb Rush Cyberfunk to be a fantastic fresh take upon a beloved franchise that isn't just a homage to Jet Set Radio, but a love letter to classic Y2K counter-culture and skating games as a whole. If you're not a prior fan of the franchise, this might not be the game to change your mind, but if you are, then I see no reason why you wouldn't find some enjoyment out of it. It's no surprise that fans absolutely ate this up, with excitement for the franchise reaching a new fever pitch. Your move, SEGA. Let's see if you guys still understand the concept of love.
Oh, gosh. I ate the whole thing!
Like a lot of people my age, I have a personal history with Pokémon. Enough to know what an alt gr key does, anyway. I was about 11 when it first started to hit in the UK, and I was as captivated by it as anyone else. Pokémon Red was the first handheld game I played that seemed like more than a passing novelty. It was a big adventure, with layers of depth that would keep you enthralled even after you'd beaten the Elite Four. I'd wake up early and play as much as I could, awkwardly tilting my Game Boy Pocket towards my bedside lamp, until either my family woke up or I developed shoulder cramps. As I got older, it remained a series I respected and had an enduring nostalgia for, but I didn't really get much out of the games anymore. It was just too basic, repetitive and tedious. I didn't get excited about labyrinthian caves and grand levelling systems anymore. It was Game Freak pushing their 373 kilobytes in the right spots to keep kids playing for weeks on end.
I also had the Game Boy Pokémon Trading Card Game back then. I recall always feeling a little weird about it. There was the shallow illusion of a proper Pokémon game, but it was a trick. You walked around gyms and talked to NPCs, but there wasn't an overworld. There was no adventure. You weren't getting your bicycle and barrelling down Route 16, or figuring out how to get into Saffron City, or walking aboard the SS Anne. It didn't have any of those big, memorable moments. And it wasn't as fun as the real card game. Everything was obscured behind menu options, and it took about ten minutes to assemble your deck. You couldn't just buy more cards when you lost, either. You had to do everything its way, including flipping a coin to see if you'd just Paralysed a Pokémon you had clearly just knocked out. I didn't have much regard for it. I still 100%ed the thing, obviously, but I didn't feel a lot of affection for it.
Now I'm - god, what has it been now - TWENTY-TWO YEARS older, it hits a little different. I sold all my cards many years ago, and wouldn't ever think of playing again unless it was a one-off with a good friend. I'm more cynical about the claws of the trading card game scene, and how ludicrously Creatures Inc have expanded upon the familiar limitations to excite new generations of players. It's all mad multi-piece holo cards that have 600 HP and shit. I wouldn't want to look at anything past the Team Rocket set. I was ready to turn my back on it when they introduced Steel types. Going back to the 90s version of the game seems welcomingly quaint now. And in those intervening years, I fell deeply in love with SNK vs Capcom: Card Fighters Clash. A TCG videogame works for me, now.
I think the concept of fighting Pokémon is much more interesting as a card game than how it's presented in the mainline series. It's not just making the best choice of four moves. There's far more versatility and ways to win. You can knock out enough Pokémon to get all your prize cards before your opponent does, but you can also exploit their bad draws. If they only have one Pokémon on the table, and you can knock them out before they get another, that's an instant win. If you can hold out until they've drawn every card in their deck, that's a win. You can hasten that, or play the long game with status effects disabling their moves. Every attack needs to be powered up with energy cards, Pokémon can be evolved mid-fight, and it's a bit of a gamble trying to line up some absurdly powerful move when you don't know which cards you'll draw. Luck is a big component, but if you build a deck that you know how to use, there's always the potential that you could turn things around when it's looking bad for you.
It's inherently addictive. Each time you win a match against a new opponent, you're given new cards. New options. Maybe you'll get some incredible card, but you'll need a long evolutionary line and a bunch more energy cards to utilise it. You can't go over 60 cards in your deck, and it's up to you how much you'll prioritise hail mary victories over modest, balanced choices that ensure you've got options even when you're drawing weak cards. There's so many ways you can approach each match, and it goes so far beyond the experience point chase of the mainline Pokémon series.
Nostalgia plays a part in any interaction with Gen 1 Pokémon stuff, but the Game Boy Color Trading Card Game serves as such a specific time capsule. Seeing cards you have foggy memories of owning, represented by 64x48 sprites is very charming. Creatures Inc really went to town in illustrating the cards, utilising diverse art styles and techniques, and seeing an old 1998 CGI Pikachu translated into Game Boy pixel art taps into a very specific moment in our shared history.
I still don't think the GBC game is ideal, though. The card game wasn't designed with this kind of adaptation in mind, and it shows in how awkward it can be to play here. They can't display all the information on a card at once, and you have to navigate menus to access crucial details. When your Pokémon is knocked out and you have to select one from your bench, you can't even look at them to consider whether they'll be a great choice for the situation you're in. A lot of variables in the game are dependent on coin flips, and the results in the GBC game somewhat little suspicious. It feels much more like there's an algorithm determining when a successful flip will heighten the excitement, and not a random 50/50 chance. Using the NSO emulator's rewind feature, you can see that the code pre-determines a lot in these battles, and you can throw the AI into repeating bad decisions by making use of unusual strategies. It doesn't feel like playing against a real person, and unlike Card Fighters Clash, the game hasn't been designed with the limitations of a handheld console in mind.
When are you ever going to play the 90s Trading Card Game with a real person, though? Is that ever going to happen again? If you put a lot of energy into seeking vintage cards and like-minded people, you might be able to get that together, but it's going to be a lot more work than just turning this game on. And even though all the buzz is behind the new Switch Online release, it's worth considering if you're looking for games you'd actually want to play on an old Game Boy too. The ghosting effect on those screens aren't nearly as well suited to high-action as you remember, and it's games with static screens that really sing on that device. You're definitely going to have a better time playing a cartridge like this than something like Gradius or Contra (though options are levelled out a little more if you're using something like the Super Game Boy). This is a good Game Boy game, and you likely have more reason to play it than you'd think.
The following paragraph will detail the game's ending, and I suggest you stop reading here if you want to avoid Pokémon Trading Card Game (GBC) spoilers -
Up to this point, the game has played it fairly straight. A card game simulation, albeit one with a cute Game Boy RPG frontend. After beating all the gyms, the four elite Pokémon Trading Card players and the ultimate Pokémon Trading Card Game Master, Ronald, the character "Rod" casually congratulates you with a shocking revelation. "The Legendary Cards seem pleased to be passed on to you". Yes, these cards are sentient. One of the biggest last-minute plot twists I've ever encountered. This isn't Darth Vader being Luke's father. It's his fucking lightsaber. You walk through the door and the £2.50 booster pack gives a speech. "A true Pokémon Card Master is one who has the skull to use the abilities of the different card and the courage to duel powerful opponents, and most of all, the ability to love the Pokémon Trading Card Game." Go suck a shit, Shyamalan.
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