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Game Reviews

‘Pokémon Moon’ – Aloha to Alola

Pokémon Moon is a surprising change of pace in this regard. It shakes up and attempts to change many of the tired formulas the series has had since its start on the Game Boy in 1996.




Pokémon games have become rather formulaic over the past two decades. You begin your adventure with one of three starter types, encounter birds and vermin-type Pokémon at the start, collect 8 badges from gyms, which you use to challenge the Pokémon League, and underneath it all is some weird subplot involving a criminal group. The repetitive and cookie-cutter approach Game Freak has used pushed me away from the series, as there was a lacking amount of depth to the game outside of its combat and monster-raising mechanics. Pokémon Moon is a surprising change of pace in this regard. It shakes up and attempts to change many of the tired formulas the series has had since its start on the Game Boy in 1996.

The Alola region is very different from the settings in previous games. There are no gyms in Alola, at least not in the traditional sense, and there’s also no Elite 4 or Pokémon League. Instead, when kids reach the age of 11 they take on the “Island Challenge,” a series of trials to prove their worth. Each trial comes in two parts: a challenge, and then a battle with a Totem Pokémon. Every challenge is different, and it helps to keep the gameplay varied. A couple of my personal favorites included photographing ghost Pokémon in a haunted supermarket, and foraging for food to lure a trial’s Totem Pokémon out.


Totem battles are also very different from gym battles in previous games. Unlike with gyms, you’re battling against the Pokémon itself rather than the team of a designated leader. Totem Pokémon are pretty strong for this reason, and they can be difficult to overcome if your team isn’t properly prepared. It feels like Game Freak put a lot of effort into these fights, because Totems will even have responses to you trying to exploit their weaknesses, something that feels like a first for the series. Totems can also call on other wild Pokémon to assist them, a mechanic that’s put to good use. Whatever assistant Pokémon the totem calls will typically complement it in some way and not just be another beat stick you have to deal with. In particular, one of the assistant Pokémon for the grass trial uses the move “Sunny Day,” which powers up the Totem’s moves and gives it access to a near-full heal every turn. You have to shift your focus in Totem battles constantly, and it’s a welcome change of pace to the old model of gym battles.

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed exploring a world in a Pokémon game as much as I have with Moon. Alola is bursting with personality. In particular is Po Town, an abandoned village that is used as a base of operation for one of the antagonistic forces in the game, Team Skull. The village is run down, barricaded behind cold iron walls. The buildings in Po Town have deteriorated, their windows are smashed and their walls splattered in Skull graffiti. There’s plenty of other memorable locations too, including the starting town of Hau’oli, the Lush Jungle, and Wela Volcano.


Even the “generic” forest areas have a feeling of personality to them.

The soundtrack compliments the vibrant Hawaii-inspired world, and even the reused jingles from previous games have remixes that fit the setting. The variety in Alola is one of the driving forces behind how the game feels fresh, and it’s tied into all of the game’s aesthetic features. The sights and sounds are what originally sold me on Moon. There is one other strong feature to the game’s presentation, though, and that’s its writing.

Team Skull is one of the game’s better points due to how creative their dialogue is. I have never really sought out to talk to NPCs in a Pokémon game after battling them, but the entertaining things Skull grunts say quickly got me to change my ways. The Skull underlings are brimming with personality. The group pushes itself as hardcore Pokémon thieves, but their dialogue and actions show that they’re really just inept punks. They get into arguments over their uniforms, they lose the Pokémon they try to steal, and they mix up messages that they send to each other, all while still trying to push their “bad to the bone” style. They’re flawed, and for once it is believable how a group of twenty-something gang members could lose to an eleven-year-old kid. I really wish more NPCs in Moon could have the same attention to personality that the Skull grunts have. There are a few major NPCs, like professor Kukui and a couple of the trail leaders, that are pretty defined, but most of the time it feels like a lot of NPCs lack an actual character.


Moon is not without its weakness, though, and its story is one of its weakest points. It’s not really clear what the main plot of the game is; rather, it’s like two or three stories are intertwined, but none of them reach a satisfying conclusion. There’s the Island Challenge that your player character and their rival go through, the Aether Foundation and Team Skull events, and then finally the story of Lillie, a girl that has some connection to Aether, and her character development. The biggest of these plots is that of the Aether Foundation and Team Skull, but neither groups receive an adequate amount of time to explain their motives. For example, despite the Team Skull grunts being great inclusions with clever writing, their bosses are boring and unexplored. Guzma, the leader of Team Skull shares a very similar ineptitude to his subordinates but it’s hinted at that he was/is a serious trainer. He has negative ties to the Island Challenge due to some kind of failure, but the story never chooses to pursue this point. The same can be said for the named members of the Aether Foundation, as most of them have barely any dialogue to define who they are on the most basic level.

Pokémon Moon‘s gameplay also has its own faults, mostly by undoing everything X and Y got right. Super training was a feature added in the last generation to speed up the process of gaining “Effort Values” (EVs), hidden stat numbers that determine your Pokémon’s stat increases. The only way to train EVs prior to X and Y was by grinding against specific Pokémon. The process could take hours, if not days, to do properly. Super training gave a nice alternative to this, even if it’s not that much faster. There were also horde battles, where you could fight multiples of the same Pokémon to maximize your EV gains. Moon gets rid of both of these, replacing hordes with the aforementioned “crying for help” mechanic used by Totems, and replacing super training with an online festival plaza. You have to unlock a shop, and then upgrade it several times to get decent EV buffs from it to the point where it’s not worth doing. The festival plaza feels like a forced way to make Moon a social game, and locks players out of things until they’ve met enough other unique trainers to grind a second currency in order to buy more shops. The festival plaza itself isn’t a bad idea, but its execution is.


Pokémon-ami has been slightly retooled from X and Y, and is only available after battles.

By the end, it started to feel like Pokémon Moon was collapsing back in on itself. It has a lot of interesting ideas (and some bad ones), but it doesn’t follow through with them. While the game tried to mix it’s formula up at the start, you’re basically doing gym battles and the Pokémon League by the end. The story, despite being one of the darkest and most interesting narratives in a Pokémon title, falls flat on its face near its conclusion from a lot of lacking characterization. Pokemon Moon isn’t a bad game, though. It’s a solid title for series veterans or for newcomers, and has the same foundation as any other Pokémon game.

Taylor is a writer from Atlanta, GA. His passion for games extends across genres and generations. When not playing or writing about games, he's probably reading science fiction.

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Game Reviews

‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.



It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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Game Reviews

‘The Touryst’ Review: Vacation, All I Ever Wanted



There’s an acceptance of a certain rhythm when traveling alone: often an itinerary-less trip will be filled with quiet solitude and uneventful meandering; yet, when those exciting moments of interaction and discovery are inevitably stumbled upon, they tend to be of the highly memorable variety. The latest offering from Shin’en Multimedia, The Touryst, shrewdly captures this relaxing, energizing roller coaster. It’s a quirky little getaway that encourages players to explore its gorgeous voxel island delights at their own pace, letting them bask in the peaceful surroundings and doling out treasure for those curious to seek it out. The result is a soothing weekend sojourn of puzzles, platforming, and mini games under the sun that is also winds up as one of the best indies on the Switch.

There’s no doubt that atmosphere plays a big part in what makes The Touryst so successful, as the vague setup and sparse narrative casts a mysterious aura over the proceedings. Who our mustachioed vacationer is or why he agrees to find glowing blue orbs for some random old man is pretty much left to the imagination. Is the player curious about what they could see and find out there among the green palm trees, sandy beaches, monolithic temples, and sky blue waters? Then they will follow their nose regardless of the lack of any story motivation, and The Touryst has sprung its trap. The urge to see the sights and have an adventure is a must here, and so the wandering begins.

Luckily, The Touryst is filled with charming things to stumble upon around almost every corner, be that a scuba diving boat operator on a Greek isle that facilitates swimming with the fishes, a seaside dance party in need of a hi-tech energy boost, or a bustling business center complete with an arcade, art gallery, and movie theater (for those times when you just need to sit down for a while). Personality abounds, as long as friendly players aren’t shy about talking to strangers (the best way to get the most out of a trip to a new place). No matter where one’s feet take them, there are plenty of mini-stories at play thanks to the native inhabitants and fellow tourists, with these weirdos offering interactions both puzzling and profitable.

But there’s more to life than racking up coins via side quests; there’s something eerily odd buried beneath the tropical destinations of The Touryst that beckons to be uncovered by just the right explorer. Towering mounds filled with ancient devices and clever puzzles hold secrets that promise that this vacation will be one for the scrapbook. These short ‘dungeons’ are the meat of the game, providing a variety of platforming and logic challenges that range from overt to opaque; sometimes even finding the way in to these ominous structures is a puzzle in itself, which only further drives an overarching sense of discovery.

Smartly, The Touryst rarely telegraphs solutions to its tests (or in some cases, that there even is a test), and instead encourages experimentation. Inside temples, players need to determine why certain lights are glowing and others aren’t, understand how sequences work, pay attention to rumbling feedback, and decide just how to deal with once-dormant mechanical creatures that now awaken to stand in the protagonist’s way. Things can seem opaque at times, but Shin’en has managed to hit that sweet spot that keeps poking around from getting too frustrating. But just in case, there are plenty of beach chairs and cabana beds to lie down on and think. Or, just soak in some rays and enjoy the scenery.

Regardless of the difficulty players may or may not have with the crafty puzzles or surprisingly challenging mini games (good lord, surfing and those 8-bit arcade throwbacks can be tough), The Touryst is still a sight to see. Shin’en has created a buttery smooth island-hopping environment that is a pleasure to peruse. Go off the beaten path and enjoy the gorgeous sunsets, gently pixelated waves, crunching grains of sand, and flopping flora. The visuals seem so simple, yet at times can be stunning to behold, especially when spotting some of the smaller details that have been added to make these place come alive. A depth of field style entices players to see just what that blurry landmark off in distance is, and the soundtrack seamlessly shifts between relaxing and intriguingly uncanny. That developers have achieved this with what are surely the shortest load times on Nintendo’s console makes the experience all the more immersive.

Like most vacations, The Touryst is destined to be over too soon for some players, but trips like these aren’t meant to last forever. The five hours or so it takes to see all there is to see is highly satisfying throughout, and the vague hint at the end of a followup will have many Switch-owning puzzle fans looking forward to getting future time off.

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Game Reviews

‘Shovel Knight: King of Cards’ and ‘Showdown’ Review: Really Spoiling Us

It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise.



It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday season, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with, not just one, but two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise. Not content with just releasing another new character’s twist on the original formula, Yacht Club has also developed their own fighting game in the Shovel Knight universe. It’s to the developer’s credit that two simultaneous releases can be of this quality, but valid questions can also be asked as to whether the original formula has gotten stale, and whether Showdown’s new concept does the series justice. Fear not, for both questions will be answered in this bumper, two-for-one review!

Shovel Knight: King of Cards

King of Cards is the latest re-tread of Shovel Knight, and this time the emperor’s new clothes are the regal duds of King Knight, who is on a quest to become the greatest player in the kingdom of the card game Joustus… without really having to beat that many people at it. After the stoically heroic Shovel Knight, the dastardly cunning Plague Knight, and the broodingly enigmatic Spectre Knight, King of Cards’ protagonist embodies an enjoyable dose of pompous entitlement. His quest isn’t all that noble, and he really can’t be bothered to do a lot of hard graft to reach his goal. Thanks to the typically witty script, King Knight shines as a loathsome oik who doesn’t pay attention to any advice he’s given, and would rather have a fight, or cheat, than actually get better at Joustus.

Shovel Knight
This a late-game bout of Joustus, which shows how complex it can get.

Joustus might not really be all that important to King Knight, but it adds an entirely new element to the traditional Shovel Kinght gameplay. Those players who are a sucker for built-in card games (myself included) will find a lot to enjoy when stepping away from all the platforming and fighting to engage in a round of Joustus. The game is played by placing cards, one at a time, onto a grid with the goal of having more of your cards placed on top of gems than your opponent.

All cards contain abilities and can be used to shove opposing cards out of the way (and off the gems), with advanced cards used to blow up, slam or recruit those of the other player. It all starts off simple enough, but can get really brain-taxing as the story progresses, and grows to be a real highlight of the game – and one of the better card-games-within-a-game I’ve played. Cheat cards can be bought to give you a leg up for trickier opponents, especially as the winner of each game gets to take one (or three if you control all gems at the end of the round) card from the loser.  

Shovel Knight
Platforming at its satisfying best. Y’know, without actually touching the platforms.

Outside of Joustus, King of Cards will feel pleasingly familiar to fans of the series. As in previous entries, the levels all share the same look and gimmicks as the original Shovel Knight, but are reshaped to adapt to the new abilities of King Knight. He has a shoulder barge attack that launches him forward, across gaps if need be, and will send him into a spin on contact with enemies or certain types of walls and blocks. This spin move acts very much in the same way as Shovel Knight’s shovel pogo attack, and allows King Knight to bounce around levels with impressive finesse. Anyone who’s played Shovel Knight before knows the drill now – try and clear every screen by chaining together as many bounce attacks as you can. It’s the law.

Shovel Knight
Familiar foes return, but the way you deal with them is the same!

It also wouldn’t be a Shovel Knight game if there weren’t a ton of unlockable moves and buffs. Amongst the best unlocks for King Knight are a Tazmanian Devil-esque tornado spin that allows him to climb walls and smash up enemies, a hammer that produces hearts with each wallop for precious HP, throwable suicide bomber mice, and the ability to stand still and have a big ol’ cry to regain HP. Something we can all relate to.

The world map returns, and is in its best guise in King of Cards. Levels are now a lot shorter than you’d expect – there’s typically only one checkpoint in the non-boss levels – but there are a lot more of them, and a large number have secret exits to find. They’re interspersed with the multiple opportunities to play Joustus, and with the seemingly random appearances of traditional Shovel Knight bosses who show up, Hammer Bros. style, on the map to block your progress. It makes for a really tight campaign that’s filled with a ton of variety.

The floor is literally lava!

It seems almost arbitrary to say, but if you like Shovel Knight and you’re not tired of the standard gameplay, there’s so much to enjoy with King of Cards. He’s probably not the most fun character to play as (for me, that’d be Spectre Knight), but his game is easily the most diverse. He’s just such an enjoyably unlikeable idiot that you’ll constantly be playing with a smile on your face, bopping along to the classic Shovel Knight chiptunes, pogoing around levels and pausing for the occasional game of cards. Who could ask for more?

Shovel Knight Showdown

Who likes Shovel Knight boss fights? Everyone does, right? How about fighting three of them at once in an amalgamation of Smash Bros. and Towerfall? It’s as chaotic as you’re imagining, and seems like a total no-brainer as a second genre for Yacht Club to transpose their blue, spade-loving hero into.

What seemed like an obviously smart move doesn’t necessarily play out in an ideal way. The one-on-one fights in Showdown are as tightly-contested and entertaining as ever, but the multi-man rumbles are absolute mayhem. There are a few different stipulations applied to fights, and these typically involve simply whittling down your opponents’ lives, or depleting their health bar to briefly kill them off and steal any gems they’ve collected from around the level, with the winner being the first to an assigned number.

Shovel Knight
I found it best to just try to escape in every multi-man level.

Standard fights are more enjoyable, as the simplicity of smacking seven shades of snot out of the competitors keeps things manageable amongst the cacophony of onscreen visual noise. The gem-collecting levels, especially with multiple opponents, are frankly a bit of a mess that I rarely found enjoyable.

Perhaps I’m just not very good at Shovel Knight boss fights, but the game felt overly difficult even on the normal setting. Playing story mode often sees your chosen character up against three opponents on the same team, and when it comes to collecting gems from around the level, they’ve got way more of the space covered and you barely get a chance to breathe with them swarming you from the word go. It’s basically an exercise in getting wailed on while you try to run away and scramble for gems, and it’s just not that fun.

If the whole game were 1v1 I’d have more fun, but it’d be a bit pointless and unsubstantial.

What does add a layer of fun to the game is the chance to play as the complete ‘Knight’ roster of Shovel Knight characters, and the best part of Showdown is learning new moves and trying to find your ‘main’. Perhaps, with more time to sit down and learn the move sets in the practice mode, the game would feel more rewarding than if you just jump in and try to slog through the chaotic story mode as I did.

With a four-player battle mode as the only other gameplay option, Showdown was clearly never meant to be anything other than a brief little curio to give fans of the series’ boss fights an overdose of what they love, but as a complete experience, I found it lacking in both modes and reasons to keep plugging away at the arcade fighter-style story mode. It turns out that the boss fights in Shovel Knight are more fun at the end of a platforming level rather than in the middle of enclosed space filled with flashing lights, random effects, environmental hazards, and three bastards all chasing you down. If you can handle all that stress, you’ll have a much better time than I did.

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