Monday, July 31, 2017

Splatoon 2 Review

Do squids migrate? Well, these did. The Inklings are back for the sequel to the hit Wii U game, Splatoon. It’s been a while since Nintendo had a good shooter series to call its own. We had Goldeneye and Perfect Dark on N64, but not much since then besides a few failed Metroid multiplayer games. With this sequel, Splatoon cements itself as Nintendo’s prime shooter series.

I’ve heard critics say that Splatoon 2 is more Splatoon. Splatoon 2 is definitely more Splatoon. A lot more Splatoon. The first game was heavily criticized for its lack of content at launch. I guess Nintendo heard the complaints, because Splatoon 2 has launched with more than twice the content. It has more stages, more modes, and a better single player campaign. The original launched with 5 multiplayer maps, 2 online modes, and Hero Mode. Splatoon 2 has 8 maps (with only 2 from the first game), all the modes Splatoon had after all the DLC, plus Salmon Run. All of these modes are also playable in LAN or wireless link mode. There will also be more more maps and weapons added to the game over the next year. We’ve already seen 2 new weapons added just 1 week after launch and there will be a Splatfest exclusive stage going live next weekend.

The first thing most people notice about Splatoon is its style. It’s a mixture of Super Soakers, Nickelodeon slime, fashion, music, and oh yeah, sea creatures. It’s not often we see such stylish games. It reminds me of games like Jet Set Radio, The World Ends With You, and a little bit of Super Mario Sunshine, but not for the same reasons. Mario doesn’t know anything about staying fresh.

At its core, Splatoon 2 is very similar to other popular shooters. The goal of the game isn’t shooting other players, but the controls, weapons, and gear are really not that different from what you might find in Halo or Destiny.

I play the game like a console FPS. I use the Pro Controller and I use the right stick to aim and Y to quickly turn around. I do not use motion controls. I know many people swear by them, but I don’t like them at all. My big issue with them is the way you turn with them. The motion controls work like you’re the pivot point, so if you turn your controller, the character turns, and then when you straighten your controller, your character also turns back. You have to use the right stick to help you out. You’re using 2 different methods to aim with motion controls, instead of just one with the right stick. I’d rather have something more like mouse controls. Metroid Prime 3 did it right.

When you start the game, you’re greeted by Marina and Pearl. These two are Callie and Marie’s replacements as the game’s hosts. They’ll give you a rundown of the current stages in rotation and what’s going on in the game. The game changes the 2 available stages in each mode and the game types in Ranked and League modes every 2 hours. This keeps the game fresh and gives people time to learn all the modes and maps. There’s also schedules for everything in the game menus.

After Pearl and Marina stop talking, you step out into the Mecca of Inkling culture, the Shibuya of Splatoon, Inkopolis Square. This is the hub that connects everything in the game. Here you’ll find stores, helpful NPCs, entrances to all the different modes, and other people’s Inklings. Random Inklings, along with those of the people you’ve played with, will appear around the square. You can check their gear out, look at their Miiverse-like drawings, and even order the clothes they're wearing.

The Lobby is where you’ll find all the online multiplayer modes. The main mode is Regular Battle, which is Turf War only. In Turf War, the team with the most ink on the floor wins. After a game of Turf War, you get coins and XP. You can use the coins to buy gear at the stores and XP unlocks the abilities on your clothes and raises your character’s level. Once get to level 10, you can play Ranked Battle. Ranked Battle is where you can play the game’s other multiplayer game types; Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Splatzones. These modes are basically the Splatoon versions of Payload, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill modes you find in games like Team Fortress and Halo. When you win in ranked mode, you get points that increases your rank, and when you lose, you lose points and can go down in rank. Aftering getting at least a B- rank in one of the ranked modes, you can play League Battle. League Battle is just like Ranked mode, but with a different stage and mode rotation, and you can only play it with friends. There’s also modes for playing with friends in the other modes, hosting private online battles, and creating lobbies with the Switch Online app.

There are 3 stores where you can buy clothes. There are stores for shoes, shirts, and hats. The clothing selection changes every day at Midnight. There’s also a weapon shop. As you gain ranks in Regular Battle, more weapons will become available for purchase. In the back of the square there’s a food truck where you can buy food and drinks that give you buffs, like double XP, double coins, and buffs that increase the chance to get specific abilities on your gear when they level up.

Near the Lobby entrance is Murch. Murch is an urchin kid who can remove, reroll, and apply new secondary abilities on your gear, for a price. When you “scrub” (remove) the secondary abilities on your gear, you get Ability Chunks, which you can collect and use to add custom abilities to other gear. Murch also delivers the clothes you order from the Switch Online app or the Inklings around the square.

The Shoal is an arcade where you can set up local multiplayer modes with up to 8 players. You can play all the modes, in any stage, and with custom rules here. You can even do Salmon Run whenever you want. You can play in LAN mode with docked Switches and with local wireless in handheld mode. There’s even a machine with a playable Guitar Hero-like game with songs from the game in front of the arcade. There’s also an empty UFO catcher and a DDR-like game out front, but you can’t play those, at least not yet.

Standing on top a sewer grate in the square is Marie, one of the hosts of the first Splatoon. If you follow her, you'll end up in Octo Canyon, where you can play the single player campaign of Splatoon 2, Hero Mode. Hero mode has 27 levels and 5 boss fights. The levels start out as easy tutorials, teaching you how to move around and use each weapon type, but start getting challenging pretty quickly. This mode kind of reminds me of Portal. There are enemies around, but you main goal is to make it to the end. Since Inklings can’t jump like Mario, you have to use your ink and ink swimming skills to do all the platforming. It’s a lot of fun and the bosses are very creative and really test your skills with each weapon. This mode is kind of short, though. I beat the whole thing in about 5 hours. You can beat every level with each weapon to unlock them in multiplayer, so there’s a lot of replay value there if you want those weapons, though. I still don’t think this mode can stand on its own. I wouldn’t recommend buying Splatoon 2 just to play Hero Mode.

Hero Mode is also where you’ll get the story of Splatoon 2. A lot of it is about fighting the Octolings and testing weapons for Sheldon, but as you progress through it, Marie will start revealing your true mission, finding Callie. Much like in the first game, there are Sunken Scrolls hidden around the levels. The first game’s scrolls explained a lot about the history and lore of the world of Splatoon, but the ones in Splatoon 2 are more about the backstory of the NPCs and the changes and new stuff in the game.

Off in the corner of the square, in a back alley, you’ll find the entrance to Salmon Run. Salmon Run is basically Firefight, Spartan Ops, or Horde Mode from Halo and Gears of War. You get one of 4 preset weapons and fight 3 waves of monsters and bosses. If you survive and kill enough bosses, you get big money, big prizes. I love it! Much like Ranked Mode, you gain XP and gain ranks (or pay grade) when you win and lose XP and go down in ranks if you lose. The higher your rank, the better your pay and bonuses are, and the harder the games will be.

When the game launched, Salmon Run was available in 12 hour periods, around every other day. Lately, it’s been showing up for 24 hours every other day. There has been a lot of criticism about how how Salmon Run is only available at certain times. I agree that it sucks having a mode only available at certain times, because it’s a fun mode. I think the issue is that the money and prizes you get from it are pretty ridiculous. You get huge amounts of coins, tickets, Ability Chunks, and even clothes. If they had those kind of prizes available at all times, it would throw the game’s progression balance out of whack. There would be no need to do any other mode to fully customize gear. I guess they could rebalance the bonuses and make it available all the time and then do special events for it, like they do with Splatfests.

Splatfests are special events in which you pick a side and fight it out in Turf War. For what, you say? To determine what’s better, mayo or ketchup? Cake or ice cream? Yes, it’s silly, but there is actually an awesome gameplay incentive to participate. Once you choose a side, you get a T-shirt with the thing you chose on it. I’m wearing a ketchup shirt at the moment. This shirt has a 2X all abilities primary slot and 3 ability slots, and and while the Splatfest is active, Murch will remove the abilities and give you Ability Chunks for just 2,000 coins. It’s usually 20,000 coins to scrub a clothing item, so this is a great time to farm Ability Chunks to create your perfectly balanced, custom gear.

I think Splatoon 2 is a great game. I could spend hundreds of hours playing it. The rotating game types and maps, Salmon Run, and Splatfests make it feel like there’s always something fresh going on in Inkopolis. I think my biggest complaint about it is that there is no single player content besides Hero Mode. Hero Mode is fun and all, but it’s not really what Splatoon is about. Splatoon is about the multiplayer modes, and that’s kind of an issue when the Switch is also a handheld you can take places where you can’t get online. This is not the game you want to take with you on a long car ride. There should be a way to play the multiplayer modes offline against the AI. Besides that, I think it’s one of the best games on Switch. It’s definitely off the hook!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Metroid: Zero Mission Review

Originally released in 2004 for the GBA, Metroid Zero Mission is a remake of the NES classic, Metroid. It was the last 2D Metroid released. By the time the 3DS remake of Metroid II comes out, it will have been 13 years without a new 2D Metroid game. What a dreadful thought.

Some people say that the original Metroid is unplayable these days. I think that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it is a little hard to go back to after playing the later games in the series. Zero Mission brings the original Metroid up to Metroid Fusion standards. It’s not just a graphical update. The controls, UI, music, story, items, and zone layouts have all gotten major updates.

The NES original didn’t have much of a story, but Zero Mission changes that and tries to make the game fit in better with the rest of the series. The game starts off with an animated cutscene and a journal entry from Samus. It’s very reminiscent of Super Metroid’s intro. There are also cutscenes that play at key points throughout the game. For example, a cutscene showing Mother Brain watching Samus plays the first time you take the elevator down into Norfair. The new cutscenes really make the game feel dynamic, like the enemies are reacting to what I’m doing and not just standing around waiting for me to come kill them.

Zero Mission looks fantastic. It brings the graphics up to Metroid Fusion standards, but has its own unique look. Samus, the enemies, and the foreground objects all have very nice looking and detailed sprites, like in Fusion, but the backgrounds are mostly black shadows and outlines using 2 or 3 colors. It’s a stylistic choice that helps recreate the look and feel of the NES game, without using flat black colored backgrounds. The game succeeds in keeping the 80s vibe and ends up looking a lot cleaner than Fusion, which can look a bit cluttered in some areas.

You'll find all the items from the NES game here, along with a few items from Metroid II, Super Metroid, and Metroid Fusion. The ledge grab move from Fusion returns here in the form of the Power Grip upgrade. This item can be found in the new Chozodia area, being held by a giant, sinister looking Chozo statue, which looks like something out of Metroid Prime. I found it kind of funny that they present this item like it’s some huge deal, when it’s a base ability in Fusion. The Spring Ball from Metroid II returns, bundled with the Hi-Jump, as well as a few Super Metroid items, such as the Speed Booster and the Super Missiles. The NES game’s inventory was kind of small when compared to the later games, so the addition of items from other games spices things up a bit. And it makes sense that these items would be in Zebes, since this is the Chozo homeworld.

Throughout the game, you’ll find a few sinister looking Chozo statues that will give you a mystery item. These items are actually 2 upgrades. One is an upgrade to your arm cannon, which lets you break special blocks you’ll find in your way in some areas. The second upgrades from these items are actually some of the returning items from Metroid II and Super Metroid, but they stay dormant until you get the Gravity Suit, because apparently, they’re not compatible with the Varia Suit.

I thought some of the ways you opened paths to new areas were unimaginative and not very Metroid-like. The whole mystery block breaking arm cannon upgrades thing ends up feeling like some half baked idea they forgot to remove from the final version. I guess they just felt like they had to give you something with the upgrades you wouldn’t be able to use yet. There’s also another method they use to open paths where all you do is go somewhere, maybe watch something happen, and then turn around and go back to where the path opened up. It requires no skills or items and sometimes doesn’t make much sense. For example, there’s a doorway made of giant stone Ridley and Kraid heads, which open their mouths when you kill them. After killing Kraid, you’re required to go look at them and then turn around and go back where you came from to open the way. You haven't killed Ridley, so you know you can’t go through, so why are you going there?

The rest of the game plays like something halfway between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. You can freely run around and go wherever your abilities can take you, like in Super Metroid, and the game is not constantly locking doors behind you and funneling you down a path, like in Metroid Fusion. Zero Mission does streamline the experience and cuts down on a lot of the wandering around you might have done in the original by adding a map, save rooms, and waypoints, though. The waypoints in particular do feel like they take a little bit away from the old Metroid experience. Part of the fun of Super Metroid and the original was exploring and finding your own way around.

Zero Mission has a few areas with layouts that look like they’re straight out of the NES game, but most areas have a completely different layout from Metroid and Super Metroid, even though they are technically the same areas. Zero Mission has all the zones from the original and adds 3 more zones; Crateria, Chozodia, and the Space Pirate Mothership. Crateria is the surface of Zebes, which you might remember from Super Metroid; Chozodia is vaguely Aztec and Egyptian ancient Chozo ruins; and the Space Pirate Mothership is the ship Ridley comes to Zebes in, and the final area of the game.

The original game ends after Samus escapes Tourian, following the battle with Mother Brain, but Zero Mission adds a new chapter with 2 new areas and a new final boss. At the time of its release, the extra chapter was kind of a big deal. It was the first appearance of “Zero Suit Samus”. This new version of Samus in the Zero Suit became so popular, that a new Super Smash Bros character was made around the idea of Samus fighting without her Power Suit. In this new chapter, Samus’s ship is shot down and she can’t use her Varia Suit, for whatever reason. She then sneaks into the Space Pirate Mothership with nothing but a stun gun. Maybe she can find some tools and spare parts to fix her ship there. While on the ship, you try to sneak around while avoiding Space Pirates, until you get the Gravity Suit. Playing as Samus with no powers is kind of frustrating, but it makes the moment when you get all of them back and wreak havoc on the Space Pirates all the sweeter.

After beating the game on normal, you unlock an art gallery, a new hard mode, and the original Metroid game. The main difference in Hard Mode is the damage you take. You take a lot of damage in Hard Mode, so it makes even the beginning of the game much more challenging. The version of Metroid included here is pretty much the same as the NES Classics version that was later released on GBA. It’s stretched to fill the wider GBA screen and it has a save feature, but still no save files, like the Famicom Disk System version. It’s not a very good version of the game. If you want to play the original, your best bet is probably getting it on 3DS Virtual Console. At least the version included in ZM has shoot on B and jump on A, I guess.

Zero Mission is definitely the version of Metroid to play. It has better graphics, sound, gameplay, and the story fits in better with the rest of the series. I wouldn’t say it makes the original completely irrelevant, but I wouldn't recommend it over Zero Mission unless you’re just interested in it as a piece of videogame history.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - The Master Trials Review

DLC Pack 1 of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Expansion Pass has hit, just 4 months after the game’s release. Technically, The Master Trials is the second piece of DLC included with the Expansion Pass, but it is the first piece of DLC with actual playable content. The first piece of DLC was the Purchase Bonus, the red Nintendo Switch shirt. The next DLC Pack, The Champion’s Ballad, will include new story content and a new dungeon. All 3 pieces of DLC are only available as part of the BotW Expansion Pass for $19.99 on both Wii U and Switch.

The Master Trials includes a new map feature called Hero’s Path Mode, a few quests that will reward you with new items, the Trial of the Sword, and the new hard mode, Master Mode. I can’t be the only one who thinks all these Master and Trial names are a bit confusing.

The new map feature, Hero’s Path Mode, shows you where you’ve been on your adventure. You can now press X while on the map screen to reveal a green line that traces out everywhere you’ve been in the last 200 hours. This could be useful for deciding where you should go exploring next.

When you first load up an old save, you’ll hear the familiar “ooohhhmmm” of a Sheikah monk who will give you a bunch of quests labeled “EX”. One of these quests is for the Trial of the Sword and the rest will send you around Hyrule in search of some new gear and the Travel Medallion. The Travel Medallion is an item that allows you to set a teleportation spot anywhere in the overworld. I found it pretty useful for going somewhere to spend the night when it starts to rain. The rest of the quests will reward you with some new Zelda fanservice gear. There’s a suit of armor like the one Zelda wears in Spirit Tracks, which gives you Attack Up; a Tingle costume that allows you to run faster at night and freaks villagers out; a Korok mask that will let you know when you’re near a Korok seed; Majora’s Mask, which lets you get up close to some enemies without being attacked; and Midna’s helmet from Twilight Princess, which will give you some Guardian resistance. Is that hint about the origin of Midna’s helmet? These quests don’t take long if you’ve already uncovered the map. They only took me a couple of hours. All they require is hunting down some treasure chests, and most of them are in Hyrule Field. This gear will be useful for those playing through the game, but not so much for those who have save files at the end of the game. The gear you get from these quests is also not upgradable, so people late in the game will probably have better, upgraded gear from in-game vendors or amiibos.

If you already have the Master Sword, the Sheikah Monk will give you an EX quest for the Trial of the Sword. The Trial of the Sword is 3 sets of trials split up into the Beginning, Middle, and Final Trials. The Beginning Trials have 12 floors, Middle Trials have 16 floors, and the Final Trials have 23 floors. The trials are presented in the same style as Eventide Island, you come in with nothing and leave with nothing. The only things that carry over into the trials are your hearts, stamina, and your runes. No amiibo rune allowed, though! You get weapons by defeating enemies and you can pick up whatever food you find in crates or growing on each floor. After making it through a few floors, you’ll come upon a floor with fairies, food, treasure chests, and a cooking fire. This is your chance to do some real cooking to refill your hearts and get ready for the floors ahead. The chests usually have weapons, but there are a few that have a piece of armor in them, so you’re not always naked. There is no saving or continues while inside the trials, so if you die, you have to start the trial over from the beginning. You can save after you complete a trial and are sent back outside, of course.

The walls in these trials look like the walls inside Sheikah Shrines, but these are not the usual puzzle-filled Shrines. All the trials here are combat scenarios, which are cleared by killing all of the enemies within them. The real puzzle is in making it out alive. There are a few floors that look like regular shrines and have mini Guardians in them, but most of them are made to look like the Hyrule overworld. There’s trees, grass, water, lava, every kind of weather condition, and pretty much every enemy in the game shows up.

These trials will truly test your knowledge of the game. It’s pretty much required that you know how to fight every kind of enemy, know how to use your runes, know how to deal with all types of weather conditions, and know a few good cooking recipes. You have to have a good strategy or you will die.

I think the Trial of the Sword is the the best part of this DLC Pack. Even though the reward is not that useful for those who have already done everything in the game, it was a lot of fun to play through. I enjoyed the challenge, the strategizing, and putting all my knowledge of the game to use. If you must know what the reward for completing all the trials is, it’s an always fully powered Master Sword. Usually, the Master Sword has 30 attack power against regular enemies and 60 attack power against Guardians and bosses. After all 3 trials are complete, the sword will have 60 attack power at all times. And yes, it still “breaks” or runs out of energy.

The third major part of the DLC Pack is the Master Mode. Even though the name is a reference to the original NES Zelda’s Master Quest, it’s more like the Hero Mode of more recent Zelda games. While there are some big changes from normal mode, the game is basically the same, just harder. Every Shrine is in the same place, all the dungeons are the same, and every puzzle has the same solution. The changes only apply to the enemies and combat. I remember when I first started playing BotW, there was a big difficulty hump I had to get over until I got some more hearts, better weapons, and really learned how to fight each enemy. Master Mode feels like that, but now that hump is about 3 times higher.

Every enemy in the game has been upgraded one tier. There are no more red Bokoblins and silver Lynels are now gold, for example. The very first enemy you encounter coming out of the Shrine of Resurrection is now a blue Bokoblin. This really changes how you go about fighting enemies. Maybe you don’t want to fight a blue Bokoblin with a tree branch. Maybe you’ll just sneak around him now. All the Guardians and bosses have also been upgraded. Bosses still use the same strategies, but now they have more HP and do a lot more damage. Guardians do more damage, have more HP, and the walking ones now try and fake you out by delaying their laser beams, making it harder to parry them. I thought I was pretty good at parrying their lasers, but these new Guardians have really shown me who’s boss.

Another big change is the regenerating enemy health. If you disengage an enemy for too long, their health bar will start flashing and they’ll start to regain health. This might not sound like a big deal, but it makes fighting large groups much harder and makes some of the more creative combat tactics obsolete. You can no longer pick off enemies with bombs from afar, for example. The cooldown of bombs is way too long for you to kill anything before their HP regenerates. Any area damage you do to a group is now much less effective, because the group will regain their health by the time you’re done fighting one of them.

Enemies are also much more alert now. A lookout can now see you from a mile away and sleeping enemies will hear your footsteps and wake up much more easily. This makes stealth gear and food much more valuable.

There are also new enemies where there were none before. There’s a Lynel in the Great Plateau, for example. I don’t think he’s there for you to fight him with tree branches, though. He’s just there to scare you. There are also enemies on floating platforms all over the skies. Sometimes these platforms will have a chest on them, so trying to get to some of these platforms can become a little game. Some of these platforms are very high up, so just popping the balloons and letting the chest fall will not always work, because you'll lose the chest.

You also only get one manual Save and one Autosave in Master Mode. It’s not a huge change. It just means that if you mess something up, you have to live with it or lose some progress if you have not manually saved recently.

Master Mode is definitely not for everyone. I would not recommend it to anyone playing the game for the first time, unless you’re just a glutton for punishment. It is challenging and basically requires you to know how the game works already. BotW is the hardest Zelda game in a long time already, so I’m sure most people will not play all the way through this mode. I’ve come close to tapping out a few times, but I’ve made it through one dungeon (without getting the Champion’s boon at the end), and will keep on playing for now. I kind of want to see what 4 Blight Ganon is like in this mode.

The red Switch T-shirt was already worth my $19.99, so DLC Pack 1 is just the icing on the cake. Trial of the Sword was challenging and a lot of fun to play through. I think that is the real meat of DLC Pack 1 and will be what most people play. Master Mode is also fun and challenging, but probably too much for most people. Overall, I think this DLC pack is really good and makes me feel confident that The Champion’s Ballad will also be great.