‘Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee’: The Future is Nostalgic
Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee aren’t shy about the influence Pokémon Yellow had on their development, and by combining the 90s classic with Pokémon Go, they’ve produced one of the more enjoyable adventures on the Nintendo Switch this year.
Pokémon has been veering off into different directions as of late. X and Y brought Mega Evolution, while Sun and Moon turned its back on gyms and introduced the Z-Move. While new mechanics can be exciting, nostalgia can be an equally persuasive force that captivates the imagination of an older generation. Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee aren’t shy about the influence Pokémon Yellow had on their development, and by combining the 90s classic with Pokémon Go, they’ve produced one of the more enjoyable adventures on the Nintendo Switch this year.
For those old enough to have played Pokémon Yellow, the story has changed very little, if it at all. Jessie and James from the anime are once again introduced as a comic relief for the otherwise serious Team Rocket. Even though the storyline has barely changed, it’s a reticent reminder of how clever and thought-provoking generation one was, especially enjoying the journey again over twenty years later. The Cubone interlude was particularly tragic at the time, and while Pokémon Origins did a fabulous job of bringing the scene to anime, the gameplay combined with the creepy Lavender Town soundtrack has always enhanced the situation.
Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee are exactly the games Nintendo needed to pitch to the fans before the Switch was launched.
By borrowing mechanics from Pokémon Go, the gameplay has become much more lively and interactive. Rather than rummaging through the tall grass and wasting hours trying to find a rare pokémon, they now freely move in and around the tall grass, allowing the player to choose or avoid the interaction. This is a mechanic that should be brought over to generation eight as the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages; avoiding Zubat and their supersonic disposition is particularly rewarding, but finding a rare pokémon stumbling through the tall grass is even more magnificent.
Perhaps the biggest change, and probably the most divisive, is to the catching mechanic. Previously, the player would have battled a pokémon until reasonably weak before attempting to throw a pokéball. In Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee, catching a pokémon is very similar to Pokémon Go, relying on timing and technique to maximize the player’s chances. Much of the gameplay is centered around this mechanic and the game actively encourages the player to catch as many pokémon as possible.
Catching pokémon earns EXP for the pokémon currently in the party. The amount of EXP depends on the pokémon caught, the strength of the technique, the size of the pokémon, and how many of the same species the player has caught in a row. This is where the joy-con really excels. While the joy-con has numerous problems, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee are exactly the games Nintendo needed to pitch to the fans before the Switch was launched. The technique the player uses with the motion controls helps them to catch pokémon easier, all while at the same time earn more EXP. It’s still irritating that the games are incompatible with the pro controller, however, as eventually the joy-cons can become tiresome.
The catching mechanic is further enhanced by the individualistic movements of the pokémon. It becomes a mini-game within a game, playing like a motion-controlled arcade experience. Each species has a unique movement that the player has to learn to time the throw of the pokéball perfectly, while at the same time attempting to hit the sweet spot to increase the chances of a capture. While still reliant on the luck of mathematics, there’s an element of skill involved to help the player defy the odds.
There is a slight hint that this mechanic could be brought over to the main games. Some pokémon, notably Snorlax, require a pokémon battle before the new catching mechanic can be utilized. This is another influence from the anime, where the pokémon often fainted before they were caught. If this was to become the new technique for catching pokémon, moves such as False Swipe would certainly suffer an existential crisis, but that’s a sacrifice a Voltorb is willing to risk. Catching pokémon would become more interactive and, therefore, more enjoyable. Indeed, Pokémon Let’s Go itself could have used more of these situations rather than blindly throwing pokéballs until one sticks.
To further incentivize the player to catch pokémon, battling against the various NPCs and Gym Leaders earns less EXP than previous games. Creating catching combos will certainly hasten the leveling up process far more than battling, and by catching the same pokémon continuously, the player will be more likely to find stronger pokémon, including shinies. This is nothing new, just an adaptation from previous games, but it certainly is utilized wonderfully with the Pokémon Go mechanics.
This can have an adverse effect on the player’s box, and unfortunately, the pokémon box system is a complete mess in Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee. While it can be sorted in various ways, the fact that the player’s main party is mixed into the arrangement creates a cumbersome, and even more tiresome, process of finding the desired pokémon. Ideally, the player wouldn’t have to sort through the box at every moment.
The best way to combat the disorganization is to cut the numbers down. Once upon a time, that would have meant releasing pokémon back into the wild. In Pokémon Let’s Go, rather than give the pokémon freedom, they can suffer a far worse fate and be sent to Professor Oak in exchange for some candies. The candy is incredibly useful and another attempt to persuade trainers to catch as many pokémon as possible. These candies come in many varieties and can be used to boost the stats of the player’s pokémon. This ensures that catching pokémon indirectly strengthens the player’s pokémon, creating a cycle that leads to the Indigo Plateau itself.
Battling hasn’t changed, and with the gameplay ensuring it’s slightly slower to level up pokémon than in previous games, some of the battles can have challenging moments; the NPCs even carry more than one pokémon, unlike in Sun and Moon. And while a difficult tactical affair will ensue against the same crazy Fisherman with six Magikarps, a more cautious approach will be seen at Fuschia City gym where every trainer and his Growlithe has trained their pokémon to know the move Protect; a limit to generation one pokémon hasn’t diminished the diversity of tactics employed.
The Pikachu or Eevee that the player obtains at the beginning of the game can learn some unique moves from various NPCs dotted around the map. These moves are often particularly strong and have cutesy names such as Bouncy Bubble or Sizzly Slide. They’re definitely worth seeking out as they ensure the player’s starting pokémon is worth battling with.
Perhaps controversially, the limit to generation one pokémon has strengthened Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee instead of weakening them. Rather than muddling an odd variety of different pokémon together, the nostalgic choice of only generation one pokémon has set the perfect atmosphere for two games reliant on a Marty McFly maneuver through time. There’s an odd satisfaction when encountering a Pidgey or Rattata on every route, blindly hoping something else will pop out of the tall grass; something as Farfetch’d or without a Chansey of being obtained certainly creates a Taurus of stampedes towards the lambent arrival.
The only issue regarding obtaining rare pokémon is the plight of the once renowned Safari Zone. Before, it was the place to catch a Scyther or a Kangaskhan (or better yet, the elusive Dratini), but now it’s nothing more than a place to connect Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee to Pokémon Go. It’s a huge waste of an opportunity, in which the Safari Zone could have been an amazing area to catch rare pokémon with the new mechanics. Pokémon Go is the fad that fainted, and the continuous CPR to get it breathing again is unlikely to be successful. While being able to trade between Pokémon Go ad Pokémon Let’s Go is positive, it didn’t need to replace the Safari Zone.
Indeed, trading pokémon in general, is a mess, something that didn’t need changing from previous games. The best approach to trade with friends will be to meet up and trade locally as the online system is dysfunctional. Rather than continuing the GTS system, Pokémon Let’s Go asks the player to type in a code, and the friend has to match the code. This highlights two problems: firstly, trading with anybody across the world is now much more difficult, and secondly, trading with a friend is much more difficult as occasionally the player will end up trading with someone completely different to who they intended.
With trading a vital aspect of the Pokémon series, it’s a shame to see the franchise take a step backward, when previously they had leaped forward from game to game. While the dynamics of generation one pokémon ensure it is easy to complete the Pokédex, in the event of a Johto version of the games, the trading system will need to revert back to the previous system.
The new catching mechanics have brought an important aspect of the Pokémon series to life.
Visually, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee has done an incredible job of updating Pokémon Yellow with a fresh palette that actually manages to install nostalgia while still looking distinct. From color alone, the cities match their origins. Fuschia City has the purplish red that its namesake suggests, while Lavender Town still looks as eerie as ever – the soundtrack helps. The vibrant colors bring Kanto to life, and the battles particularly have never looked better. One concern is there occasionally is some lag, particularly during battles or catching pokémon. This has yet to be a detrimental issue, but the lag can last a couple of seconds (enough to suspect a potential crash, although unlikely).
In addition, the player can choose to have a pokémon walk around with them outside their pokéball, and just like with Pikachu in Pokémon Yellow, the player can interact in meaningful ways. Each pokémon seems to have a personality outside of their pokéball, notably Bellsprout, which seems to run around awkwardly. Some pokémon can be ridden upon, which helps the player move around the map much quicker, although some like Haunter seem to just be for aesthetics only.
Trading and the online services aside, Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee is a fantastic return to Kanto. The new catching mechanics have brought an important aspect of the Pokémon series to life, and by keeping the game generation one specific, it’ll help to ease the more stubborn fans into a change that could be beneficial to future games. While apprehension is understandable, the changes are enjoyable, and the nostalgia Kanto induces ensures the games are one of the best adventures on the Nintendo Switch this year.
‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos
Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.
There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.
Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.
That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.
Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.
By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.
‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running
Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.
In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.
Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.
This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.
Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”
Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.
Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.
At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.
That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.
“Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”
It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.
Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.
‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off
The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.
Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.
Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.
The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.
To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.
In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.
On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.
By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.
Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.
Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.
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