Saturday, November 21, 2015

Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival - Fun for kids of some ages!

Genre: Minigame collection / Board game - Platform: Wii U - Release: November 13, 2015

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this game from Nintendo.
Opinions expressed in this review are my own.
As a critic, I have to tell you that Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is lacking in depth and probably does not offer enough mental stimulation for older gamers. But there's a reason why I don't give review scores and that's because while a game may be below average from a critic's perspective, there still may be an audience who will enjoy the game. In this case, that audience is parents and their kids. Personally, I found the main board game mode and most of the minigames to be pretty dull and not worth playing when there are other, more complex games out there like Mario Party and especially Fortune Street. But Fortune Street is a bit too complex for younger kids and so there is indeed a place for amiibo Festival. I can even confirm that while streaming it, I had at least one viewer who already owned the game and absolutely loved it, so maybe you'll be like that.

There's another important clarification that I'd like to make and that's that Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is not as much of a cash grab as it appears to be with its amiibo gimmick. Yes, Animal Crossing series amiibo and/or Animal Crossing amiibo cards are required to play, but as of now, the game comes with two amiibo figures and three amiibo cards which is enough to play all of the game except for two minigames which each require an additional three cards. Although, I'll admit that having additional figures and cards does open up some variation in a few of the minigames which I feel really should have been available without an additional purchase. I'll go into that more when I explain each of the nine minigames.

One last thing before I explain each game though - yes, this is kind of a minigame collection, but two of the games are less "mini" than the rest. In general, playing and winning the games doesn't really unlock anything apart from tickets, which are more of a participation bonus than anything, and these tickets can be used to unlock the rest of the minigames as well as new features for the board game. Since there aren't really any unlockables besides that, there isn't a whole lot of reason to replay most of the games, except, you know, if you enjoy them of course. The board game does offer a bit more reason to play it though, since any player who uses an Animal Crossing amiibo as their character can save their points to their amiibo and level it up to unlock emotions (cute animations you can do at the beginning of your turn) and clothing. So that's the game. Let's finally get into the games within the game.

Board Game  (Requires one Animal Crossing amiibo figure (up to four). Players without an amiibo play as a villager.)
This is the main game of amiibo Festival. The basic goal is to have the most happy points at the end of the month (each turn is a day). You get happy points by landing on certain spaces and triggering short little cutscenes showing your character doing something happy. Another way of getting happy points is to focus on collecting the stamps at the four corners of the board, each of which gives a happy bonus. Apart from happy points, you can also collect bells (that's the Animal Crossing currency) by landing on money-giving spaces. At the end of the game, you'll get one happy point per 1,000 bells, so you'll be wanting to go for any good space you can get. The best way of making it big though, is to buy turnips on the Sunday of each week and then hope you can land on a space with a higher turnip price during the week so that you can sell them for profit. It's a sort of "stalk" market. Any turnips not sold by the end of the week go bad though, so you're forced to sell on Saturday if you have any left. It's a bit of a gamble, but betting on the "stalk market" while going for each of the four stamps is the main way of winning.

Unfortunately for you, there are also negative spaces which cause you to lose either happy points or money or both, so you'll sometimes be faced with a choice of whether to land on a bad space in order to keep on track to your next stamp or avoid it and possibly miss the stamp. There's only one board to play on, but you're able to pick which month you play in to change the events that happen during the month. These events include special characters showing up who may give you cards (items usable at the beginning of your turn which give you a bit more control over the generally totally luck-dependent game) or contests rewarding you with happy points, which all typically come down to landing on a better space than your opponents. It's important to stress just how little control you have over your fate in the game; it's a step above Candy Land, but whether you win or lose will mostly come down to dice rolls and how lucky your spaces are, so more experienced gamers will probably be bored by it. There's even a "money tree" event which grants the player who lands on the unidentifiable space 90,000 bells - basically an instant win. That said, the lack of complexity means that the game is also accessible to younger players, making it the sort of game for parents and kids to gather around the GamePad like a physical board game for a fun family game night.

Oh, also, you can play this single player against three computer-controlled villagers if you want, but that's pretty boring.

Desert Island Escape (Requires three Animal Crossing amiibo cards. Additional cards allow you to use different characters which have different abilities.)

This is the second "main" minigame is Desert Island Escape, and this one actually does offer a bit of strategic fun that players of any age will probably enjoy. There are thirty levels (unless there are more after that which I don't know about) and in each you'll be stranded on a island which is divided up by a hexagonal grid. As a single player, you'll control each of your three characters in turn (whichever cards you scanned in) and use them to strategically explore the island in search of food, tool-building supplies, and ultimately the materials to build a raft to escape the island. Since food is limited and there's a turn limit as well, you have to plan carefully and use each character's special ability (for example, being able to catch fish without a rod or being able to identify items in adjacent spaces) to explore the island as efficiently as possible. And a little luck also helps since the things you need are semi-randomly distributed on the island and many events are determined by a roulette wheel. With careful planning and the right tools though, you can figure out the probabilities and put luck back on your side. It's a shame that you have to buy additional cards to try out more characters and abilities which really spice up the game, but if you have the cards for it, this game is probably the most fun of the bunch.

Acorn Chase (Requires three Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

From here on out, the minigames are more... mini. This one is still pretty fun and unique though. In Acorn Chase, you're tasked with navigating around a field of obstacles to collect all of the acorns with your team of three animals. The catch is that you must navigate by scanning in the appropriate amiibo card to choose your direction. And the second catch is that an evil lawnmower is chasing you, so you have to do it fast. There are only three levels, but the game does save your fastest time, if that gives you any incentive to replay it. It's a pretty unique and difficult to master control scheme, but I can't help but wonder how beat up the cards might get when kids try to play this frantic game.

Balloon Island (Requires one to three Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)
Basically, it's pachinko. By holding an amiibo card on the GamePad and then taking it off with good/lucky timing, you drop characters from above onto three different configurations of balloons. There's also an island in the middle which is essentially a target to land on with point multipliers, but if you miss the island entirely, you don't get any points. All you control is when you drop the character, so mostly you just have to watch and hope for the best. As always, your only reward is a high score and participation tickets.

Quiz Show (Requires one Animal Crossing amiibo card per player, up to four.)

It's an Animal Crossing trivia game and honestly the questions are pretty darn difficult, even though I've played every main Animal Crossing game including the Japan-exclusive Nintendo 64 version. Each question appears on the TV and the multiple choice answers are shown on the gamepad. When playing single player, you have to answer as many questions correctly as you can in a limited time. For multiplayer, players must scan in their card whenever the spotlight is on their character and shoot for the most correct answers out of the fifteen questions. This is another one that I could see kids wrecking their cards on, but it's decently fun even though it's pretty darn hard. Parents will be in trouble for this one, since you need a lot of Animal Crossing knowledge to win.

Fruit Path (Requires one or more Animal Crossing amiibo cards, but playing with one would be stupid.)

For this one, players take turns scanning in cards to move the number of spaces listed on the card. The goal is to collect fruit while stopping before potential pitfalls which cause you to drop fruit. There's also a basket of golden fruit at the end of the path that you'll want to get, so it's kind of a game of chicken to see who can end up with the golden fruit. It seems more random and unpredictable than that description sounds though.

Resetti Bop (Requires three Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

Resetti Bop is basically whack-a-mole, but you do the whacking by scanning in the appropriate amiibo cards. There's also an added twist in that each character has a particular sign from rock-paper-scissors and you have to only bop the Resettis that you can beat in rock-paper-scissors. It's another frantic card swiping game, but it's a little fun and clever at least. Also, this game features a totally rad remix of Resetti's theme music.

Mystery Campers (Requires six Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

The first of the two minigames which requires you to buy more cards to play it, Mystery Campers is a version of one of those tried and true logic puzzles. You get ten guesses to figure out which four of a set of six characters are in which tents. Each guess reveals how many you have exactly right and how many are close, but not which ones are right or close, so you have to use educated guesses and the process of elimination to figure it out. Once you know the method though, there's really no reason to play this game a second time.

amiibo Card Battle (Requires six Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

I'll be honest. I don't totally get how this game works, mostly because the game explains almost nothing about it and it's completely absent from the manual (and this isn't the only game that is either). Essentially, you take turns swiping in amiibo cards with a friend and try to beat their card without reusing any. But then seemingly random stuff happens that changes whether you want to get a high card or low card and I don't get it.

The Final Word:
Honestly, this review has gone on longer than the game deserves, but I do like to be thorough. The majority of the minigames are so simple that you probably won't want to play them more than once or twice, but then again, when I was a kid, I could be entertained for hours with a bed sheet and kitchen utensils, so don't underestimate how much a kid might enjoy it in spite of its simplicity. While it's not quite as much of a cash grab as it appears, it's still disappointing that some fairly significant features (like additional characters for the board game and Desert Island Escape) are unnecessarily locked behind the paywall of owning certain amiibo and cards. So, basically, the only audience that I can recommend this game to is parents who want a game to play with their kids and who don't mind potentially getting into amiibo figure and card collecting. For everyone else, you should probably pass on this one. It's not even compatible with the Animal Crossing e-Reader cards from 2003! (That's a joke. Those are totally different cards and nobody expected them to be compatible.)

Personally, I'd recommend this game a lot more.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Xenoblade Chronicles X Preview Coverage

I have a free review copy of Xenoblade Chronicles X from Nintendo.
All opinions in this article are my own and information is accurate to the best of my ability and knowledge.

This is going to be somewhat unorganized, but I'll keep this page updated with pre-release information that people seem to want to know including impressions, screenshots, and videos. Let's get to it!

General Gameplay

The world is massive and beautiful. You'll be spending a lot of time doing minor side missions, less minor affinity missions, and not at all minor story missions. These typically involve collecting items, exploring new areas, and fighting enemies. Collected items can also be used to craft new equipment and augments and upgrades for your equipment. Exploring will open up "landmarks" to fast travel to and in some places you can plant data probes which give various benefits such as mining valuable materials for quests or for investing in equipment manufacturers. Enemies vary in hostility just as they did in Xenoblade Chronicles and there are also certain stronger versions of normal enemies that are often tied to quests. There's an enemy log and collectopedia for keeping track of enemies and their drops, and all of the random items you find scattered across the world.

Completing affinity missions improves relationships between characters, unlocks new party members who can join you upon request, and may unlock new Arts as well.

While I haven't discovered difficulty options overall, I did find that I was offered to lower the difficulty for a single boss after dying to it a few times in a row.

Additional info here, compiled by Gessenkou (Possible spoiler warning)
Arts work similarly to how they did in Xenoblade Chronicles. They require a cooldown in most cases and often work better in a certain order (Topple enemy -> Move strong vs toppled enemies). Positioning relative to the enemy is also important. Depending on your class, you'll get different Arts and use different weapons. You'll also unlock skills which can be equipped and leveled up for passive bonuses.

There's an overwhelming amount of information and menus to keep track of in this game. That's good for complexity, but I honestly still feel like I'm missing out on certain things (multiplayer especially). The game does a good job of explaining everything a little at a time, but it still feels like a lot at once - but I prefer it that way over holding back too much of the game for too long.

It is possible to replay certain boss battles in a time attack challenge for rewards and for glory (the fastest time of the day is recorded on the server).

Minor peeve: Sometimes when fighting large enemies for a quest, a larger, ridiculously strong enemy will wander in and you won't even see it until it kills your entire party in one hit. Actually, on second thought, this is often probably my fault for using AOE attacks and hitting other creatures without accidentally.

Rumor buster: "There is no Japanese audio option or any audio options of any kind." CONFIRMED

Random note: For the most part, everything you need to know is explained in-game, but there's a whole lot of things that aren't well explained in-game. Thankfully, the digital manual is quite in depth and covers seemingly everything you'll want to know.

You don't get your first Skell until after Chapter 6 (fairly far into the game) and there's a long-ish quest required to get it, but it's definitely worth the trouble. It looks cool, goes fast, jumps high, and hits much harder than you would on your own. Skells have a whole bunch of equipment slots and each equipped item gives you an Art associated with it, so there are a whole lot of variations available. You can also name your Skell and customize its colors with nice Photoshop-esque color sliders. There are better and better Skells that you can get as the game goes on as well.

See also: My archived stream of the Skell License quest and Skell gameplay. (Part 1, Part 2)


There seems to be less focus on the main story compared to Xenoblade Chronicles since you're required to do certain affinity missions and other arbitrary goals before moving on to the next story mission. That said, the story is still really epic so far although I have a long way to go.

By the way, the voice acting and writing is fantastic and often funny, especially when it comes to the other alien races. The characters' visual design however, at least for the humans, is kinda bad in my opinion.

(Spoiler warning)

Rumor Buster: "Lin's age has been changed from 13 to 15 in English releases." BUSTED (Lin is still 13.)

Character Customization

At the beginning of the game you can customize your character. There's a lot more depth to it than most games, but not as much depth as other games. Watch the video to see for yourself. Also, there are certain hair styles that are unique to a particular "base face".

Rumor buster: "The bust slider is removed in non-Japanese versions of the game, even for 'woman' character models." CONFIRMED.

Rumor buster: "Lin's skimpy bathing suit has been censored in non-Japanese versions of the game." CONFIRMED

-Multiplayer is not yet fully functional in the review copy, so not all of these impressions are accurate.- 
If activated, other players' achievements will pop up in the top left corner when they're unlocked. It seems that achievements you've seen from other players will be visible in your own achievements list so that you can get hints of what you have to do to achieve them. For achievements that you have gotten, you can see the date on which you got them, which is pretty cool.

When you start the game, you can choose between focusing on the main story, focusing on multiplayer, or focusing on doing stuff with friends. At this point, though, it's not very clear how this makes a difference since I have no friends to play with and I've yet to see how to even join a multiplayer session. It seems that multiplayer missions have to be unlocked. However, it is possible to see other player characters out in the field and they have customized greetings (you can type in whatever). These characters can be recruited to your party for a thirty minutes and behave as computer-controlled characters. Since the other player characters do have foreign language greetings,, but not in Japanese, and since the English version of XCX seems to use a separate Miiverse community, I'm led to believe that multiplayer is region locked, at least in regards to Japan playing with anyone else.

(Not written by me, but someone has compiled a detailed explanation of the multiplayer features here.)

Reader Questions
Can you play on the GamePad only? - Yes, but the menu and HUD font is super tiny. I wouldn't advise it. On the other hand, once you are familiar with the menus, you won't have to read the text as much anyway.

Does the game audio play on the GamePad when playing on the TV? - No, the GamePad only plays the "beep boops" of using FrontierNav on the GamePad, but if you switch the screen to have the gameplay on the GamePad, it will play all of the game audio.

Can we take a moment and appreciate how cool of a name "Full Metal Jaguar" is? - Yes, let's. 

Do separate NNID accounts have their own save file? - Yes. And by the way, you can only have one save per account.

Can you confirm that the fashion menu is available in the regular base game and not as DLC [as it was in the Japanese release]? - Yes, it's available from the start and allows you to have the appearance of any equipment you can have, while maintaining the stat benefits of any other equipment you want to equip. The DLC characters and affinity missions from the Japanese version are available in the base game for no extra charge as well.

Keep checking back to this page as the game's release approaches for more details and leave a comment with your questions. I'll do my best to answer them if possible!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water (Review)

Platform: Wii U - Genre: Survival Horror - Release: October, 2015 - Buy it on Amazon
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water from Nintendo.
Opinions in this review are my own.

Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water is the fifth main entry in the Fatal Frame series, but only the third fourth to make it outside of Japan. It doesn't matter if you've played the others though, since this is an independent story with the common theme of fighting ghosts with magic cameras (called Camera Obscura). So yeah, there are ghosts and it's a horror game, if you somehow weren't aware.

The game takes place over a series of chapters which switch your control between three of the handful of main characters as they investigate cases of disappearing persons and objects on the cursed Mt. Hikami. This mountain, by the way, happens to have a reputation as a suicide hot spot and also has a dark history which you discover through reading lots and lots of conveniently placed notes, books, and notebooks. It's worth noting twice just how much of the backstory is told through these documents, although there are certainly voiced cutscenes as well (in both English and Japanese with an option for subtitles), but as this seems to be the main method of storytelling in most horror games these days, I doubt many fans will mind.
Here, have a Camera Obscura.
The fact that the game is divided into chapters is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, they offer good, clear places to save and quit after a long gaming session (though there is also auto-saving mid-chapter). Also, your stats for each chapter are kept track of, so it gives some motivation to revisit previous parts of the game to try for a higher score by photographing hidden ghosts, speedrunning it, playing on a higher difficulty, or just by being more efficient in battle in general. The chapters also help break up what might have been a monotony of exploring the same place for hours on end; in this case, characters typically go back home at the end of each chapter to regroup. On the other hand, the chapter breaks sometimes feel a bit forced and can break up the plot when you don't want them to. Part of the way through the game, I couldn't help but feel that my actions were a bit repetitive thanks to always going home between visits to Mt. Hikami, only to have another character lured away by ghosts five minutes later. Revisiting previous areas also contributed to this feeling of repetition a bit, but for the most part, previous areas are merely a means of getting to new areas (which are typically forests, old buildings, and shrines) and usually the chapters start you part of the way along the path so you don't have to backtrack the entire way.
(Click to enlarge)
Dolls aren't as cute when they're hanging from trees at night.
The plot itself is... alright. It certainly gets more complex than the basic premise that I mentioned, but it mostly just amounts to learning the history of Mt. Hikami while fighting off ghosts. Rarely does it feel like anything you do is actually working toward any kind of permanent goal; it's more just surviving and rescuing people and learning things. It's worth noting though, that there are multiple endings as well as an entirely separate bonus chapter.
Basic reading ability is required to fully enjoy this game.
As for the gameplay, it's a nice combination of exploration and combat. Your goal varies between chapters, but in most cases you'll be looking for a missing person or object. Sometimes you'll have a personal item which will allow you to trace a missing person and see a vision of which way they went, but in other cases you'll just have to explore. Along the way, there are scattered items which you can collect (healing stuff, extra film, backstory documents, etc.) and while your character slowly reaches out to pick them up, there's a chance of a ghost hand grabbing your arm. This can be dodged by releasing the "pick up item button" (ZR) as soon as you see the ghost hand, but in general it's more annoying than scary or fun. The camera obscura is also used in exploration by occasionally revealing hidden objects, giving hints on the location of a key for a particular keyhole, or by forcing you to go back and take a matching photo from one given to you. These additional uses for the camera are kind of neat, but it's always completely obvious when you need to use them, so they don't really add a whole lot either. In fact, in the few parts where you have to take matching photos, it kind of just feels like pointless filler. That said, it's a very minor complaint that rarely comes up, so don't let it dissuade you from giving the game a shot.
(Click to enlarge)
One of my favorite, creepiest ghosts. I like to imagine that she's looking in through dark windows at night. ;D
Combat is pretty enjoyable, perhaps because I'm into photography in real life anyway, but it really is unique from any other game I've played (except, maybe, Pokemon Snap). Since you're using a camera, rather than shooting at one target as in a first person shooter, your goal is to tilt the gamepad to contain as many targets as possible within the frame. Your basic film is unlimited, but stronger film has to be found or purchased with the points you get while playing, so you'll want to be strategic with the shots you take. Even if you don't care about wasting all your good film, it takes time to reload the film between shots, so it's very important to wait for a good moment. There are a variety of ghostly enemies which behave in different ways, but your main plan of attack will be trying to take a picture with at least five targets in the frame (as you fight, additional targets will float around the ghosts) and taking "fatal frame" pictures when the frame turns red just before you get attacked. Getting a "fatal frame" allows you to take multiple shots without the reloading cool down while having more targets in the frame knocks back the ghost and deals massive damage. The camera(s) can also be upgraded with spiffy lenses which are found throughout the game, granting special attacks that may slow ghosts down, heal you, do extra damage when your health is low, or other handy things. These lenses and the camera itself can be further upgraded by using the points you earn throughout the game from fighting and taking pictures of optional, non-hostile ghosts. As you may have heard in other reviews, character movement is a bit clunky and it's hard to turn quickly when in 3rd person view. This is a bit of an annoyance, but isn't too big of a deal since there is a dodge button when in combat which doesn't require you to wrestle with the controls at all. There's also an element to the gameplay relating to the titular black water - getting wet makes you more vulnerable to attack. There's also a more severe case of this which acts like poison and requires you to use an item to dry yourself off, but since you'll often be walking in the rain and getting knocked down by ghosts, you're probably going to settle for being wet most of the time.
Speaking of being wet, the graphics are pretty good when it comes to water effects and wet clothing (fan service is definitely a thing in this game, there are even unlockable costumes to dress up the girls). The characters and ghosts also look quite nice, but the graphics on the environments in general are hit and miss with a range of high and low quality textures. But my humble opinion is that the graphic quality is perfectly adequate. The audio is what you'd expect from a horror game - creepy sounds and moaning ghosts. The English voice acting is good enough, though the script is merely average, but there's always an option for Japanese audio if that's what you prefer. I did find that some of the dialogue was difficult to understand because of the audio balance, especially outside of major cutscenes, but as I mentioned before, there is an option for subtitles if you find that it's a problem.
The Final Word:
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water isn't the scariest thing I've ever seen, but it's definitely creepy and fun to play for the most part. I wouldn't call it a must-play thanks to the merely average story and somewhat repetitive gameplay, but if it sounds like something you'd like, it's definitely worth playing. With all the incentives to replay previous levels for higher scores, faster times, missed items and ghosts, and harder difficulties, there's quite a lot of content here to get fans to stick around and get their money's worth. It's a good game, but whether or not you'll enjoy it comes down to your personal tastes, as always. I recommend giving the lengthy demo a try, while keeping in mind that the story and combat does get more complex further in the game.
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