Connect with us

Reviews

d2b vs. DearDrops – Cross the Future review

Is this powerhouse crossover a beautiful duet, or nails on a chalkboard?

Published

on

Is this powerhouse crossover a beautiful duet, or nails on a chalkboard?

Overdrive is a company that specializes in music based narratives. Sure, they’ve released other non-music games but that defeats the point I’m trying to make.

KiraKira was the first such game, released in 2007. It centered on a group of students at a Christian school who started a punk rock band, the Second Literature Club (Daini Bungeibu Bando, hence d2b). Its central protagonists, Kirari and Shikanosuke, fall in love and together with the rest of d2b tour Japan.

In 2010 they released DearDrops, another music focused game. This time around, Suganuma Shoichi, a prolific violinist training in Germany, encountered an incident that forced him to quit playing. He returned to Japan where he got a job as a handyman at a rock house, and formed a new band, learning to play guitar before switching back to violin and falling in love with Riho.

Without a doubt these are Overdrive’s two most popular visual novels. Given their success, and their similar settings, a crossover seemed obvious.

Enter d2b vs. DearDrops Cross the Future.

d2b-DearDrops-4

Set ten years after KiraKira and three years after DearDrops, the two bands find themselves in different directions. The Second Literature club has disbanded, with Kirari becoming an international superstar on her own, and the rest of the group splitting up. DearDrops is still together, minus Shoichi, who is traveling Europe playing alongside none other than Kirari.

Riho is watching a Kirari/Shoichi concert, and being a singer herself, becomes jealous of Kiara playing music with her boyfriend while she’s stuck in Japan. This sets the stage for the heart of the game’s story, culminating in a pseudo-competition between the two bands.

It can get a bit melodramatic. At times it can feel like there are lives on the line, when in reality they’re trying to reconcile their emotions towards one another. Internal monologs are the course of the day, with such Shakespearean prose as: “I wish I could cut myself open. If only it wouldn’t kill me. I won’t though, because dying would only piss me off more.” The game stays with this constant tone, so much so that it in the context of that tone, the melodramatic writing works.

d2b-DearDrops-3

What works less well is that some of the scenes tend to drag on too long, something I had a problem with in DearDrops as well. At one point, a character had a full blown conversation with a cat, asking it its name, where it came from, and how it’s doing. Then another character came out and talked about the cat some more.

These long scenes do little to open the door for new players, as the game expects you to play both DearDrops and KiraKira before this. I didn’t play the later  so I don’t feel strong a connection to those characters. Towards the end there’s a big confrontation between Kirari and Shikanosuke and I had little idea what was going on. However I respect a sequel that doesn’t want to water itself down to “appeal to a wider audience”. I’m the guest here, I can’t come barging in and make demands when it’s my own fault for not playing the previous game.

d2b-DearDrops-5

It’s easy finding screenshots of this game, because almost all of the background art, character art, and loose animations are lifted straight from KiraKira and especially DearDrops. When I say the members of DearDrops are the same, I really mean the same, even down to wearing the same clothes, three years later.

Even the music is ripped straight from the previous two games. Everything, except one song at the end, is taken straight from DearDrops, there isn’t even anything from KiraKira. The one exception is the final song, the end credit sequence that shows off the song the two bands have been working on together. To finally have these two come together to end these franchises is an amazing feeling.

I recommend giving the original soundtracks a listen even if you’re not into Japanese music. They don’t have a “Hatsune Miku” over the top pop noise, but sound more like regular music that’s in Japanese.

However that doesn’t excuse the fact that the rest of the music is all instrumental. There are several parts in the story in which one of the character’s mention Riho’s or Kirari’s singing but we don’t hear anything. It creates a feeling of isolation as you’re told what’s going on during this vital part of the story rather than seeing it for yourself. That’s a basic rule of storytelling, completely shattered.

The explanation for such perceived laziness is that the game is a “fandisk”, meaning it’s something the company put out after the release of the original game. Fandisk’s usually feature the same music, backgrounds, and art of the original game and are usually meant as a fun extra for fans. Sometimes a fandisk is a fully original game, like d2b vs. DearDrops, but very, very rarely are they considered true sequels. In that regard, some might inclined to feel lucky we got as much as we did.

But it seems odd then that a mashup of Overdrive’s two most popular franchises would be relegated to “fandisk” status. Bringing these two together was an obvious move, however this recycling gives the impression that Overdrive didn’t want to do it in the first place.

At the very least, Overdrive did overhaul the characters from KiraKira, as seeing them maintain their youth after ten years would break any remaining immersion. It shows how much Overdrive’s art has improved over the years, as the new character models fit right in, while still maintaining some of their original features.

Every character looks crisp and beautiful, and carries the stereotypical “anime” styling’s without looking over the top. You can be forgiven for thinking Riho’s hair is naturally blue. The backgrounds are jaw-dropping, looking like water color paintings in their stunning minimalist, yet fully detailed design. Look at me going on about art.

d2b-DearDrops-1

The game does at least feature voice acting, with the original Japanese cast reprising their roles. It’s a shame then that several of the actors must have sat about 50 feet away from their microphone. Multiple characters, including Riho, can barely be heard over the background music. Perhaps someone should tell the cast that when the voice over director says “if you can speak any quieter, that’d be great”, they’re actually being sarcastic. It’s odd considering I don’t remember ever having this problem in DearDrops.

For a visual novel without any RPG mechanics, the only real player interaction is through player choices. Here, there aren’t many choices the player can make, and the few that are scattered throughout don’t seem to affect the plot much, if at all. Maybe your choices decide what lines the characters will say immediately after, but there are no long lasting changes.

I have a lot of criticism about d2b vs. DearDrops, but something about the game just pulls me in. The story, despite its overdramatic dialog and long-windedness, really grabbed me. Overdrive’s writers could have taken an early vacation and rely on nostalgia alone to carry the plot. Instead, they wrote a substantial story that actually has a purpose.

d2b-DearDrops-2

It’s through the characters that make this game shine. Each character, big or small, goes through their own arc. They’ve all changed over the years, whether they realize it or not, and seeing them struggle with a lack of success, or too much success, is both heartbreaking and warming.

As the credits rolled, and a tear marched down my cheek, I realized the game had to do something right. There are so many cut-corners here I can see why it’s called a fandisk.

They say you’re most critical towards the things you love, and I guess that’s true. You acknowledge the faults, yet despite all the flaws, you still find a place for whatever it is in your heart. d2b vs. DearDrops has an amazing story (if too long and melodramatic), fantastic art (if too reused), great voice acting (if too quiet), and a memorable soundtrack (if taken from previous games). Throughout the last hour of the story and all the way through the epilogue I was sporting a wide grin on my face, happy to see such a great ending to such a great story.

Oh dear, it seems the melodramatic writing is rubbing off on me.

d2b-DearDrops-6

Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.

Josh was a once freelance writer who has gone on to write fiction, including mods for Fallout New Vegas. He never lost his love for writing about video games, and now finds himself doing it every day.

Reviews

Lost Ember – Nintendo Switch Review

Lost Ember brings a contemplative journey of discovery to the Nintendo Switch.

Published

on

Lost Ember - Nintendo Switch Review

Lost Ember brings a contemplative journey of discovery to the Nintendo Switch.

I need to have a quiet word with Mooneye Studios. I’m pretty sure someone there has some strange psychic link into my mind, specifically to my taste in video games.

Lost Ember is an exploration adventure that takes inspiration from – and pays homage to – a myriad of games, many of which are among my all-time favourites. I’ll take a deep breath and list them: Ico, Journey, Abzü. Breath of the Wild, Okami, Flower, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, plus a smidgen of Hob and a dash of Twilight Princess for good measure.

Far from being a criticism, this is absolutely a good thing, and it’s not just me that feels this way. You can also count the nearly 8000 backers who helped Kickstart the game in 2016. If you share similar tastes, Lost Ember – which was recently ported to the Nintendo Switch – should be on your radar.

Conceptually, I was on board with Lost Ember before I started playing. But it’s no small task to carry the weight of my expectations and also add something new to the sub-genre of semi-open world melancholic nature rambles I enjoy so much.

It starts well. The title screen is a mesmerising construct. A silhouette of a running fox framed by a dust pink setting sun, backed by an elegiac score promising an emotional adventure to come. It’s a promise the game comes tantalisingly close to keeping.

Lost Ember - Nintendo Switch Review

Lost Ember is a walking sim writ large. Really large. Really, really large. It’s a (mostly) linear journey told across  seven distinct chapters and a variety of soaring natural landscapes and environments. It’s a world of rolling hills, ancient ruins, tumbling rapids, dusty dunes, snowcapped peaks, and, in some of the game’s most exhilarating moments, wide-open skies.

For much of Lost Ember you control a wolf that – with a Navi-like guide as a companion – embarks on a quest to discover the fate of a fallen civilisation. Along the way you can also assume control over other species, possessing them Being John Malkovich-style to help you overcome different terrain or environmental obstacles. Each has unique abilities that help you continue forward. In one early example, possessing a mole lets you dig a path under a rock. Later, you can use the abilities of a flying fish to swim upstream, and become a mountain goat to negotiate a vertiginous cliff path.

Each animal is exquisitely animated, be it the adorable waddling of a mole or the majestic swoops of a parrot. One sequence, in which you possess a stampeding buffalo, is an exercise in pure cinematic spectacle. But there’s also the opportunity to become a duckling and lead your siblings around in circles like Benny Hill.

The attention to detail extends to the environments. This heightened take on the natural world is stylised but varied and constantly changing. For once, it’s a video game journey that actually feels like a journey. And although there are few traditional objectives, there is always something on the horizon to draw you forward, onward, and deeper.

The trade-off for this artistry is some occasional but significant performance issues. The pre-release version we played for review was subject to game-stopping stutters and frame-rate drops. The problem is particularly apparent when moving from one large area to another, and unfortunately ruinous to a couple of Lost Ember‘s more ambitious environmental transitions. It’s not enough of a problem to advise against buying the game, but it is distracting and something that we hope will be improved in a post-release patch. For the best performance and visual fidelity, handheld mode is the best option.

Lost Ember - Nintendo Switch Review

Threaded throughout the journey is an oblique narrative revealed through a combination of flashback cutscenes and ghostly in-game memories. Interestingly, before you begin your adventure, you are given the option of playing the game with or without dialogue from your guiding companion. I played it with the dialogue enabled, and although it’s well performed, it’s a little too expositional and explanatory. If you have the appetite to play Lost Ember more than once, I’d recommend taking your first trip without the commentary and drawing your own conclusions from the otherwise effectively-told story.

Lost Ember‘s pleasure also comes from traversing its world and seeing it from different perspectives. Each creature is distinct and satisfying to control, be it the gallop of a wolf, the Samus-like rolling of a mole, the majestic stride of an elephant, or the amusingly slow amble of a tortoise. Curious players will be rewarded with new vistas admire or non-essential world-building collectables to discover. The combination of exploration, animal possession, and narrative comes together to keep the game engaging throughout its six-hour length.

Ultimately, Lost Ember doesn’t exceed the titles I listed at the start of this review, but it’s a worthy addition to their ranks. It tells an interesting story in an expansive world that is blissfully free from mission icons and side quests. And despite its relative brevity, it’s not an adventure to rush. So take your time, breath in the air, and savour the sights.

Lost Ember - Nintendo Switch review
3.5

Summary


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Mooneye Studios
Publisher: Mooneye Studios
Release Date: September 25, 2020


Lost Ember wears its influences proudly but it doesn’t surpass them. Nonetheless, it’s a personal tale told with style on a large and frequently beautiful canvas. Unfortunately, the Nintendo Switch version suffers from performance problems that are detrimental to the overall experience. If they can be fixed – and we’ll update this review if they are – you can happily add another half-point to our score.

Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.

Continue Reading

Reviews

Super Mario 3D All-Stars review

Super Mario 3D All-Stars on Switch rises above a host of small niggles to remind us that when it comes to gameplay, Nintendo’s Italian plumber is still king.

Published

on

Super Mario 3D All-Stars
Nintendo / Thumbsticks

Super Mario 3D All-Stars on Nintendo Switch rises above some small niggles to remind us that when it comes to gameplay, Super Mario is still king.

I’m not sure what it would take to satisfactorily celebrate the anniversary of an icon with Super Mario’s legacy and stature. It’s evident, however, that Super Mario 3D All-Stars has fallen short of what some fans hoped for. And although it’s easy to be disappointed by what this new Nintendo Switch collection doesn’t include, it’s thankfully easier to be entertained, enthralled, and exhilarated by what it does.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars features three titles plucked from the Nintendo 64, GameCube and Wii eras. Two of them are universally acknowledged as classics. The other is a divisive title, ripe for reappraisal. Each game runs in high-definition with a few modest enhancements such as improved HUD elements and some updated art assets. HD rumble is another welcome addition. Super Mario 64, in particular, benefits from the subtle pulses and purrs that now support Mario’s acrobatics.

This anniversary collection is completed by three soundtracks, and that’s it. If you’re a fan of Digital Eclipse’s work with the Mega Man franchise, for example, I expect you’ll be disappointed by what’s on offer here. Put simply, 3D All-Stars is a compilation of three classic games presented as close to their original format as is possible given the requirements of modern HD televisions. It is the bare minimum, then, although it’s worth noting that all three games look splendid nonetheless.

Mario 3D All-Stars artwork

Super Mario 64

Much of the disappointment surrounding this collection is directed at the presentation of Nintendo 64 classic, Super Mario 64. Unlike Activision’s Crash Bandicoot and Spyro trilogies, the All-Stars version of Super Mario 64 is not a remake, but it’s also not a full remaster. Instead, it’s the Japanese Shindō Pak Taiō version of the game presented in 4:3 ratio at 720p resolution. The frame-rate is locked tight at 30 fps, but the in-game camera is still the Lakitu-controlled experiment of incremental positioning it was in 1996. The one concession to modern gameplay expectations is a switcheroo of the horizontal camera axis, from inverted to normal.

All of this would be a problem were it not for the game still being absolutely brilliant. Those black borders on the side of the screen are disappointing, but then I tumble into a strange swirling pool of colour and land in a subterranean maze. I long jump across a ravine to escape a nasty bug. I weave through a path of tumbling boulders. I plunge into a pool of water and climb on to the back of a sea monster. I discover a small island topped by a ring of gleaming coins with a glowing star at its centre. I take the star, and I win. It’s an action movie refined into 84 blissful seconds.

Super Mario 64 - Super Mario 3D All-Stars

That’s the magic of Super Mario 64. The game’s age is almost its defining feature. Displayed in HD and released from the fuzz of a CRT screen, it looks dynamite, even at 720p. Sure, a full visual makeover would be an interesting exercise, but there’s also a chance it would shine a harsh light on the game’s limits and those hazy, out of reach borders. There is an innate beauty in the simplicity of its polygons simplicity. Unlike its successor, every shape and colour in Super Mario 64 feel deliberately positioned to create the ultimate digital playground. Whereas the muted, earthy tones The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time benefit from its Nintendo 3DS upgrade, Super Mario 64 looks and feels timeless.

For me, revisiting Super Mario 64 is an exercise in flexing 24 years of muscle memory. Newcomers might struggle with its camera or find some the trickier platforming sequences frustrating, but Mario can still turn on a dime, wall bounce with grace, and triple jump with a finesse that no other video game character can muster. Age can not diminish that, and it never will.

Super Mario Sunshine

Super Mario Sunshine has always been considered the black sheep of Mario’s 3D family. It was acknowledged as a minor classic in 2002, but over time it has been quietly pushed aside and forgotten, like a misguided holiday romance.

Super Mario Sunshine - Super Mario 3D All-Stars

On Nintendo Switch, Sunshine finds itself upscaled to 1080p and given much-needed room to breathe with a 16:9 aspect ratio. These welcome changes are offset by a stubborn refusal to allow the inverted aiming controls to be changed, despite a reversal of the horizontal camera. The F.L.U.D.D. mechanics have also been migrated from one pressure-sensitive GameCube trigger to two digital shoulder buttons on Switch.

It’s not an ideal compromise, especially when combined with the game’s wayward camera and looser approach to level design. All of this would be a problem were not for the game being such a uniquely singular Mario experience. Aiming F.L.U.D.D. is needlessly counter-intuitive, but then I swan-dive into a stream of water, and I forget all about it. I slide down a hill and launch into a jump. I bounce from a rope and hover in the air, held aloft by two jets of water. I climb a windmill to battle Petey Piranha in a mess of water, goo, and ground-pounds.

Super Mario Sunshine is a hodge-podge of the sublime and the ridiculous, a vacation of wild highs and hangover headaches. It’s a flawed, scruffy game by Nintendo’s standards, but I predict those expecting a disaster will be pleasantly surprised.

Super Mario Galaxy

Of the games in this collection, Super Mario Galaxy requires the least amount of polish from a visual perspective. Nintendo’s artistry looks wonderful in 1080p, and the game runs a silky smooth 60 fps without any hiccups. The implementation of the Wii version’s motion controls is more of a mixed bag, however.

In docked mode, you can play with a Pro Controller or two Joy-Cons. They work well enough, but the motion aiming is not as precise as Wii players will recall, and the absence of an infrared sensor means frequent recalibration.

In handheld mode, these actions are transferred to the Switch’s touchscreen. It’s an obvious solution, but in practice, some of the more intricate levels result in a spaghetti of fingers as your hand moves back and forth from the controller to the screen in quick succession. Thankfully, Mario’s spin-jump can now be performed with a simple tap of the Y button.

Super Mario Galaxy - Super Mario 3D All-Stars

All of this would be a problem were it not for the game remaining one of the purest distillations of platforming ever committed to silicon. The touchscreen controls can be fiddly in the heat of the moment, but when that moment is a journey across a galaxy featuring castle planets, physics-defying bridges, a glass space station with constantly flipping gravity, and a gauntlet of lava-filled boulders, those problems fade away. It’s simply a joy to watch this version of Mario in action, bending the rules of space and motion across a series of varied and outrageously imaginative environments.

It’s striking how significantly video games changed in the decade between Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, and how little they have evolved since. Despite Super Mario Odyssey‘s obvious achievements, it sits firmly in Galaxy‘s shadow. It’s another outright classic from Nintendo and a masterpiece of video game construction.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars review
4.5

Summary


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: September 18, 2020


Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a limited time release in both physical and digital formats. We can only guess at the reason but whatever misgivings you have about the nature of this collection – or its position as Nintendo’s big fall release – it’s still an essential purchase. All three games look better than ever and provide hours and hours of exquisitely designed and consistently inventive entertainment.

Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.

Continue Reading

Reviews

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 review

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 revitalizes the dormant skate series with a frontside 180 onto modern tech.

Published

on

Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 + 2 review
Activision

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 revitalizes the dormant skate series with a frontside 180 onto modern tech.

My experience with Tony Hawk has, more often than not, been mediated by Vicarious Visions.

The prolific studio once put out 14 games in a year (12 in their still-ridiculous runner-up), porting just about every popular early aughts IP to Nintendo’s handhelds. If there’s a mascot platformer you loved on consoles, chances are Vicarious Visions broke it down to its barest essentials – which usually meant a switch to 2D – and put out a Game Boy Advance version.

The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games got a similar treatment. Though Natsume’s Game Boy Color version of the original THPS is underwhelming, Vicarious Visions managed to capture much of the series charm in their subsequent GBA ports. I played a tonne of the studio’s isometric take on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 and dumped dozens of hours into the series’ blocky DS debut, American Sk8land. Meanwhile, I somehow never made it past the Hangar on my N64 copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

For much of its 30-year history, the Activision subsidiary has had the unenviable task of making worse versions of beloved games, dumbing down the graphics and simplifying the gameplay until they had something that would keep a seven-year-old kid happy enough on a long car ride. They did impressive work for unimpressive hardware.

Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 + 2 review 02

In recent years, though, Vicarious Visions has finally had the opportunity to give games glow-ups. With 2017’s Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, the studio lovingly reimagined Naughty Dog’s decades-old original run for modern hardware, kickstarting a wave of remasters at Activision (Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled from Beenox, Spyro Reignited Trilogy from Toys for Bob) and clearing a path for a brand new Crash Bandicoot game, Crash 4: It’s About Time, set to release next month.

Now, Vicarious Visions has focused that same love and attention on remaking the series they spent the ‘00s de-making for handhelds. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a fantastic remake of the earliest games, and a wonderful return for a series that went out on the sour note of 2015’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. It also proves that if Activision is interested in continuing to cash-in on nostalgia, Vicarious Visions is one of their most essential assets.

Pretending I’m (still) a Superman

Skating in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 feels effortlessly good – exactly how you probably remember these games feeling. Despite the fact that I hadn’t played a Tony Hawk game in almost 15 years, re-learning the controls was easy and fun. An optional, extensive tutorial with VO instructions from the Birdman himself is a nice touch.

Though getting a hang of the basics is easy, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 will push you to put it all together. The addition of the revert, which was added in THPS3, and the manual, which was originally only present in THPS2, makes pulling off long chains of combos seamless. That isn’t to say that it’s easy, though. You will almost certainly curse when you land wonky, allowing a 100,000+ combo to slip through your fingers. As a result, though, the most enjoyable part of these games is the sense of slowly learning a park’s layout until you can navigate it smartly enough to successfully rake in those massive points.

This is what I enjoy most about this game: the perfect interplay between tight level geometry and the player’s moveset. Learning level layouts is an essential part of getting good at this game. But, unlike the pattern recognition required to take down a Cuphead or Dark Souls boss, the memorization you do in Tony Hawk is creative. You are memorizing a routine, sure, but it’s a routine that you made up, that plays to your particular strengths. And while I don’t love the fact that the remake retains the originals’ old school “Complete 8 More Park Goals to Unlock [next level]” model of campaign progress, I do appreciate the way it forced me to learn the intricacies of each park; to figure out where the massive combo hotspots are hiding in parks as initially unintuitive as Burnside.

Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 + 2 review 01

Vicarious Visions has done a fantastic job preserving that god-tier level design, while sprucing up the environmental art to make each level feel suitably distinct. Looking back on videos of the original games, there’s a sunny drabness to most of the levels. But, in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, each level feels like its own unique place.

Burnside is dark, moody and rainy now in a way that borders on neo-noir. The Mall, which previously just looked empty, now feels almost apocalyptically abandoned. The School is bursting with newfound colour, and COVID-era messages about the “new normal.” All the while, the soundtrack – featuring plenty of the original tracks and some new ones that fit in perfectly – blasts a ripping array of punk, ska, metal and hip hop.

If you were a big fan of the early Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games, or if you just w11nt to see what all the fuss was about, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a fantastic return to form for the beloved series. Activision has a fantastic platform here and I only hope they continue to build on it. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and 4 are right there!

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 review
4.5

Summary


Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Developer: Vicarious Visions (original games: Neversoft)
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: September 04, 2020


Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 marks the triumphant return of a beloved franchise. With a vibrant updated look and remixed soundtrack, Vicarious Vision’s remaster brings Neversoft’s stellar originals shredding into 2020.

Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.

Continue Reading

Reviews

RPG Maker MV – Nintendo Switch Review

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an RPG maker.

Published

on

RPG Maker MV - Nintendo Switch review
Degica / Thumbsticks

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an RPG maker.

The tides of time, life, and a career have put paid to those ambitions, unfortunately. Unless I win the lotto or retire, I doubt I’ll ever find the time to learn how to program and design a game from the ground-up.

One hope is access to an increasing number of game-making applications designed to do much of the heavy-lifting and offer a guiding hand to aspiring creators. The RPG Maker series – currently under the stewardship of Degica – is one such example.

Ostensibly a program for PC and Mac, RPG Maker debuted in the early 1990s. The series has also made occasional appearances on consoles with versions produced for the Super Famicom, the original PlayStation, and most recently, the Nintendo 3DS.

RPG Maker MV - Nintendo Switch 08

The series has continued to grow in popularity by offering a comprehensive suite of tools that let users create 2D role-playing games that echo Pokémon, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest favourites of the past. Some developers have also pushed the boundaries of the platform to make genuine classics. Kan Gao’s exquisite To The Moon and Future Cat’s sublime OneShot being prime examples.

The most recent version of the program – RPG Maker MZ – was released for PC and Mac last month. Now, NIS America is bringing a port of 2015’s RPG Maker MV to PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

Unlike the Nintendo 3DS version – which was significantly reworked to suit to its dual-screen home – the console edition of RPG Maker MV is a seemingly straight port of the PC original. The decision to take this approach comes with its benefits and problems.

Let’s take the positive path to begin: It’s a seemingly straight port of the PC original, which is an excellent, full-featured game-creation platform with a mind-boggling array of configurable options. At a base level, anything you can create in the desktop version, you can also create here. That is a very big positive indeed.

For this review, I embarked on creating a small-scale RPG called A Short Adventure About Long Distance. Please be excited.

A Short Story About Long Distance

Development in RPG Maker MV is broken down into logical components. The map creation module lets you create overworlds, town maps, and interiors from a range of tilesets. The event editor is used apply conditions to almost every in-game object, creating reactions, triggers, and dependencies on a local or global scale. The battle system is similarly expansive, covering weapons, abilities, spells, items, and effects with every variable you can think of. You can also manage character classes and level progression with infinitesimal detail.

Keeping track of everything isn’t always easy, but development is underpinned by a well-structured database that organises everything from enemies and animations to weapons and party members. For the most part, if you can imagine it, you can make it.

If this, then everything.

The included selection of themed graphical assets is also impressive. At first glance, some of the in-game objects and building components look rather lacklustre, but they can be combined and used to create locations with variety and personality. One perk of the console version is the ability to recolour assets, increasing their usefulness a hundredfold.

There’s certainly an RPG Maker look that, despite your best efforts, you’ll never quite escape. Nonetheless, the tilesets are well designed and the results are often more impressive than you’d expect. The flexibility also extends to characters and NPCs. Mixing and matching character face parts is part Mii Maker, part anime fever dream.

On PC, RPG Maker MV is supported by a wealth of extra content that ranges from official DLC to plugins and user-created assets. RPG Maker MV on Nintendo Switch and PS4 has none of this. It’s reasonable to expect some official DLC packs in future but the absence of mods and plugins to enhance the experience is keenly felt.

And that’s the problem with RPG Maker MV on a console. The limits are just as evident as the possibilities. You can create a complex RPG, but only with the assets available. You can use character close-up images on dialogue boxes, but you can’t download the plugin to dynamically change them.

If this, then maybe that.

RPG Maker MV - Nintendo Switch 08

These niggles also extend to a user interface that is fundamentally unsuited a game controller. An action that would normally involve a quick mouse scroll and a right-click becomes a Monster Hunter-esque fumble of thumbsticks, triggers, and face buttons. The result? Simple. Tasks. Take. Much. More. Time.

It’s initially infuriating, although over time – mostly due to sheer repetition – navigation gradually becomes second nature.

Thankfully, RPG Maker MV on Switch supports a keyboard when docked, and in handheld mode. The touchscreen also is used for selected actions and is an absolute godsend when it comes to entering dialogue and text. However, such is the size of the Switch display you’ll need fingers the width of chopsticks to perform some of the more precise menu inputs.

Loading times are also an improvement on last year’s Japanese release, noticeably so when moving from the database to the map editor.

RPG Maker enemy editor

The other Lavos-sized compromise is the ability to export your lovingly-crafted creations for others to play. RPG Maker MV games on PC can be exported to a variety of formats and are playable on a range of platforms. Here, you’re restricted to sharing via the game’s native online library. Fortunately, the free RPG Maker MV Player app – available from the Nintendo eShop – lets your Switch buddies download and play your games at no cost.

As for the quality of games created in RPG Maker MV, well, that’s down to you. For this review, I decided to developer a slimline 15-30 minute RPG with light combat, town exploration, and a happy ending. Even a game this simple in scope takes a lot of time, but it’s a slow, pleasurable progression of inspiration, planning, testing, and execution. The process will definitely give you an appreciation for the complexities of video game development.

I was hoping to have A Short Adventure About Long Distance completed in time for this review. Alas, it’s mired in development hell while I untangle a spaghetti bowl of cause and effect. As soon as it’s complete, I’ll update this review. Please understand.

A Short Story About Long Distance

There are multiple products on console that aim to bridge the gap between a creative spark of inspiration and a video game. Across PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, you can choose from Dreams, Super Mario Maker, Little Big Planet, Wargroove, PlataGo, and FUZE4, to name just a few. RPG Maker MV sits at the semi-professional end of the game-creation spectrum, but it’s accessible to newcomers and also has the benefit of a strong support community.

RPG Maker MV is not a shortcut to creating an excellent RPG, but it serves as an illuminating introduction to the principals and mechanics of game development. If you can cope with the idiosyncrasies of the console port, it’s an intuitive and fun to use game creation platform that can bring your RPG ideas to life.

RPG Maker MV - Nintendo Switch
4

Summary


Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4
Developer: NIS America
Publisher: Degica
Release Dates: NA: Sept. 8, 2020. EU: Sept. 11, 2020. AU & NZ: Sept. 18, 2020.


As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an RPG maker, and now I am. Creating games in RPG Maker MV is more of a grind than I expected, but the platform makes levelling up game development skills an enjoyable experience. There are compromises on console, but it’s still recommended for aspiring game creators.

Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.

Continue Reading

Reviews

Control: AWE DLC review

“Alan, wake up.”

Published

on

Control AWE review
Remedy Entertainment

“Alan, wake up.”

Coming hot on the heels of March’s The Foundation DLC, Control’s second helping of post-launch content easily offers the more interesting setup. Picking up on the numerous teasers and easter eggs found in the original campaign, it sets out with the goal of officially crossing over the Control and Alan Wake universes, and sees Jesse Faden investigate the eerie horrors that plagued Remedy’s beloved 2008 cult-classic.

It’s without question a tantalizing elevator pitch and seeing Remedy sow the seeds for its recently announced shared universe threequel is exciting. However, AWE can’t help but feel like more of a three-hour tease than a continuation of either story. It still has its moments, but it seems Remedy sees this new narrative as a vehicle to lay the groundwork for a sequel rather than a fully-fledged tale of its own.

The story of AWE begins with Jesse receiving a strange series of messages from Wake himself, who summons her to the Investigations Sector of the Oldest House. Much like the Foundation, Investigations is an expansive new area, with fresh mysteries to uncover, side missions to complete and enemies to face. That being said, it doesn’t do much to stylistically distance itself from the grey architecture and tunnels of interwoven pipework that were explorable in Control’s campaign.

Control AWE screenshot 1

The trade-off is that players get to face Control’s most overtly horrific antagonist yet, with a nightmarish, almost Cronenbergian monster stalking your movements throughout Investigations’ eerie hallways. Discovering exactly what this terrifying creature is makes up the majority of the DLC’s narrative, with Remedy proving once again that it excels when allowed to operate in spookier territory.

Few moments prove the studio’s aptitude for all things that go bump in the night than your frequent boss encounters with this horrifying creature, who will often force you into rooms with wide stretches of pitch-black darkness illuminated only by limited light sources, where it cannot reach you. Each of these battles act as intense, high-stakes puzzles, made all the more terrifying by the fact you can see the lumbering creature stalking you from beyond your well-lit haven.

For all the present Alan Wake fans, these light mechanics probably sound pretty familiar to you, and yes, AWE does frequently take inspiration from Wake’s flashlight focused combat-style. It pops up most frequently in the aforementioned boss encounters and sometimes in the occasional puzzle, but one of the biggest issues with the DLC is that it doesn’t do more with it. To be honest, although it does add a useful new gun form and the ability to hurl several objects at once, there is a sense that nothing AWE brings to the table is particularly fresh.

While The Foundation offered new ways to traverse and fight enemies with its crystal-based abilities, it feels like AWE needs something similar to match that big shift in playstyle. Whether that’s the ability to wield a flashlight to battle some new, darkness-based foes or maybe just a powerful new ability that achieves the same goal, it can’t help but feel like AWE misses a pretty wide opportunity to make something special.

Control AWE screenshot 2

The same goes for the overarching story, which feels like its building to a grandiose, jaw-dropping climax but is snuffed out with little fanfare. For one, while fans are likely paying the admission fee here to see Alan Wake – he is the feature attraction after all – there’s surprisingly little of him on show. Don’t get me wrong, this without a doubt begins to highlight what a Control and Alan Wake sequel could look like, but it always feels like more of a trailer for what’s to come rather than a fully-fledged continuation of that universe. Some fans even speculated AWE would offer answers to the puzzling conclusion of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare DLC, but don’t go into this thinking it’s going to spew out new revelations for that story.

Saying all this, it’s not that AWE is bad. It’s just safe. Everything you liked about Control is still here. The combat encounters are a hell of a lot of fun, the dark sci-fi humour returns in force and, while the additional side-missions focus more on fetch-quests, they offer an entertaining diversion from the main storyline. At the end of the day, I’m sure we’ll look back on this final adventure in The Oldest House as an essential bridge between Control and whatever comes next.

It’s just, for the time being, it feels like Remedy maybe could’ve been a little more ambitious with its first major crossover.

Control: AWE review
3

Summary


Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: August 27, 2020


AWE offers an interesting first look at the future Remedy envisions for both the Alan Wake and Control franchises alongside featuring a terrifying main antagonist and some creepy boss encounters. That being said, it’s still somewhat underwhelming, acting as a teaser for the future with few crazy story beats or new features to get excited about.

Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.

Continue Reading