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Game Reviews

‘Part Time UFO’ is a Charming, Cute, Challenging and Fun Puzzle Adventure

Review of ‘Part Time UFO’, the newest mobile puzzle game by the creators of Kirby and BoxBoy!

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Part Time UFO is a strange, unexpected arrival to the mobile marketplace, but at the same time, a much welcome classic take on puzzle games.

Part Time UFO is the first release by HAL Egg, a recently formed mobile-game-focused subsidiary of HAL Laboratory, Inc, best known as the developer behind Nintendo’s Kirby series as well as the first two Super Smash Bros. games. More recently, HAL also developed the BoxBoy! series of games for the 3DS, to which Part Time UFO could be considered a kind of off-shoot of, in its sensibilities and style at least.

“Part Time UFO” (HAL Laboratory, Inc., 2017)

In Part Time UFO, you play the role of a wayward anthropomorphic disc-shaped spacecraft of alien origins, crash-landed on Earth, but making do by taking odd jobs from classified ads – jobs which all involve the need for a flying saucer with a crane, coincidentally enough.

To complete these jobs (a.k.a levels), you have to use your “crane game”-like a claw to grab a hold of objects and place them in their designated area, which might sound simple enough, but there’s more to it than just that. Firstly, each puzzle has different completion requirements. While one puzzle might simply ask you to place some fruit on a truck bed, another might require the building of say, a temple, with pillars and a roof and all that.

In order to complete a task as specific as that, you have to get a firm hold on your grabbing, balancing and general finagling skills. You can fly around in a level area pretty freely, so in combination to using your claw, at times you might be able to flip over or push objects by flying under, into or around them.

Medals are earned by completing specific objectives in each level (“Part Time UFO”, HAL Laboratory, Inc., 2017)

But wait, there’s more! Each level also has three special tasks that can be completed in order to earn medals, which in turn unlock more levels (think like “stars” in modern 3D Mario games). These special tasks can be something like completing a level within a certain time, placing objects in a specific way, collecting all different kind of fish in a fishing puzzle, finding hidden characters within the puzzle area, and so on.

Completing each level nets you an income in the form of coins, and the amount of coins you earn depends on the number of tasks completed once a puzzle is completed. These coins can be used to buy things like new outfits for UFO or abilities like faster speed or the ability to prevent objects from swaying too much.

But, does all of this come together in a cohesive sort of way? The answer has to be yes. It absolutely does.

“Part Time UFO” (HAL Laboratory, Inc., 2017)

Completing each level is satisfying on its own but going for the medals is what makes the game really shine. It’s downright addictive working to earn them all, and while the difficulty does unevenly spike in some levels compared to others (I’m looking at you, Circus job #3), it’s never really unfair nor all too difficult. It simply requires a little bit of patience, something that might be a bit of a unique idea for a mobile game, a medium that is usually home to more short-attention-span driven flights.

This all said, the game has a few fleeting but noticeable rough edges, with one or two puzzles in particular that seem to have a design oversight that can make you accidentally finish a level sooner than you wanted to if you’re aiming for a specific medal.

Perhaps this is by design, but it’s not something that I found particularly fun in that instance, having to do everything over again in an already needlessly time-consuming puzzle.

Money earned from completing jobs can be used to go on a shopping spree for clothes (“Part Time UFO”, HAL Laboratory, Inc., 2017)

Even if some puzzles give you a hard time, you can rely on both the visuals and music to uplift your spirits, to cheer you on. The visuals are cute and minimal, and sort of remind me of the first Scribblenauts game for the DS, in that they kinda float and have a general cartoon vibe to them.

There’s a lot of little bits of character and charm added throughout the game, with how all the different outfits look on UFO, all the interactions with objects (which happen to be sometimes living humans and animals) as you grab with your claw, the stage backgrounds and so on.

The music, however, is perhaps the strongest part of the presentation for me. Reminiscent of music from the likes of Noby Noby Boy and the original Scribblenauts (a continuing comparison), the soundtrack consists of what sounds like variations on the same theme, with these alien sounding soft vocals on top of friendly, strange and oddly nostalgic scores. It’s not something I was expecting to be such a strong part of the game going in, but it’s definitely what has stuck with me the most.

“Part Time UFO” (HAL Laboratory, Inc., 2017)

All in all, Part Time UFO is a charming, sweet little puzzle game with a lot of challenge that should keep you busy for a long time. As a modest, relatively short mobile game that costs $4, it goes above and beyond its scope within its medium.

It’s the kind of puzzle game that I wish we would see more of all across all gaming platforms, harking back to smaller, more confined but lovingly crafted games on handheld consoles of the past.

I hope this isn’t the last we see of our UFO friend in its journey across Earth as a part-timer. I’ve come to grow fond of this world and what else it might have to offer, and that is a testament to the fun I’ve had in the charming world of Part Time UFO.

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

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Game Reviews

‘Pokémon Café Mix’ Is A Standard But Adorable Cup of Brew

Pokémon Café Mix is the equivalent to walking into a local coffee shop and finding a standard cup of brew masqueraded by absolutely irresistible and adorable latte artwork. On the outside, it looks appealing with its cutesy visuals that only a true master barista in handling such a supplement could produce…

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'Pokemon Café Mix' Review

Pokémon Café Mix Review

Developer: Genius Sonority | Publisher: The Pokémon Company, Nintendo | Genre: Puzzle | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, IOS, Android | Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch


Pokémon Café Mix is the equivalent to walking into a local coffee shop and finding a standard cup of brew masqueraded by absolutely irresistible and adorable latte artwork. On the outside, it looks appealing with its cutesy visuals that only a true master barista in handling such a supplement could produce, but the core taste of that hot beverage you wanted will eventually hit your mouth with the utmost average standard it can possibly be held to. It is not horrible by any means, but in comparison to its striking visuals, it falls extremely short in expectations. From the original studio behind Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, Genius Sonority has been put at the forefront of developing mobile titles for the pocket monsters phenomenon in the past few years with solid commercial success.

In their newest cozy mobile distraction, you might find yourself hanging up the cooking apron before your first day of work even comes to an end- at least, maybe for older audiences unwilling to dive deeper into the title after some painstakingly easy first impressions. Pokémon Café Mix starts out as a somewhat mindless puzzle game that requires little to no thought to progress through. Is it entertaining? Not at all in its opening stages that require zero effort to complete, but it does certainly get better while retaining its very simple gameplay loop. For younger audiences, those early levels will surely be satisfying like other mobile titles that can fill their brains with dopamine as they watch pieces vanish with fulfilling animations and sound effects, but seasoned puzzle Pokémon veterans will be waiting quite a while before the real challenge hits.

All it takes to complete each recipe early on is fingerprinting up your touchscreen for under a minute with a couple of big swirls and maybe a tap or two in between. If you have played or watched games like LINE’s Disney Tsum Tsum or Yo-kai Watch: Wibble Wobble, then there is nothing new to witness here. Your goal is to connect as many heads or symbols as you can in the least amount of turns possible by dragging one all over the screen. Every now and then you may get to activate a special move or power up with a single tap or placement to clear some of the objectives at hand, but aside from that, the gameplay never evolves into anything more complicated. There is oddly no unique Pokémon spin on the type of puzzles being provided. It always remains consistent in its visual theme combination of food, drinks, and Pokémon at the very least and a lot of times that is utilized creatively but players should not expect any of their knowledge of the series to be used here unlike other titles from Genius Sonority. It never grows to be as challenging as the company’s other puzzle games too like Pokémon Shuffle or Battle Trozei. Café Mix is a are bones puzzle game, however, it can be fun during the later levels that provide a real challenge. The grind to get there though can be absolutely exhausting.

Pokémon Café Mix only has 100 levels currently with more to be added in the future, according to The Pokémon Company. Luckily for this title, what should be its one scariest aspect is far from any player or parent’s worries: microtransactions. You do not have to spend a dollar to get through the entirety of the game, despite the presence of microtransactions. The only reason to spend any money on these in-app purchases is if you wish to complete the whole game in one or two sittings–yet it’s a portable title, so why would you want to do that? As long as you remain patient and play in shortish intervals, then you will easily breeze through every level without ever having to punch in a credit card number- a nice change of pace from many other mobile-made puzzle games that attempt to cram these in-app purchases down your throat.

Pokémon Café Mix’s greatest highlight is the visuals: seeing Pokémon perusing a tiny coffee shop entirely run by you the owner, your delightful Eevee pal, and a new assistant barista named Leah all accompanied by an appealing art style that never goes underutilized. While its mechanics and gameplay loop are underwhelming and rely on the standards of its subgenre, its lovely art style is really something special and heartwarming. The appealing aspect of the game truly lies in its adorable art style that never disappoints- seriously, how could this not make you smile? Atmospherically, the game successfully blends that warm feeling of a small café with the thematic appearance of the Pokémon universe. Every character, room, drink, and dessert has been expertly designed to be modeled after its world and characters in several loveable ways for both fans of the series and newcomers browsing casually through phone apps. Look at how adorable some of the artwork is here. How could you not want to be as happy as a Bulbasaur in a café work outfit?

Is Pokémon Café Mix worth your time? Well, it is a free game so you cannot go wrong in giving it a shot at the very least. It is something that I can certainly recommend to younger audiences looking for a mobile distraction that parents will not have to worry about being littered with forced in-app purchases, but outside of that, you would probably find more entertainment in looking at some screenshots of the game rather than wasting your time stirring drinks and cooking meals if you are looking for a more endearing challenge. For a Nintendo Switch title, it is not exactly worth your time when there are so many other free-to-play and free-to-start games available on the system- I would even maybe recommend Pokémon Quest over this for fans of the franchise on the Nintendo Switch and Shuffle for those looking for a puzzle title on mobile devices. For a mobile app, however, it is far better than a vast majority of what I have experienced when it comes to microtransactions and overall quality. Pokémon Café Mix a simple yet extremely polished title at the end of the day. As stated before, it’s free so you might as well try it out for a few minutes in your spare time.

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Game Reviews

‘The Last of Us 2’— A Bittersweet Symphony of Raw Violence and Retribution

The Last of Us 2 offers a satisfying, if scattershot, conclusion to the open ending of the first game, improving gameplay along the way.

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The Last of Us 2 Review

The Last of Us Part II Review

Developer: Naughty Dog | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Genre: Action-adventure/survival horror | Platforms: PlayStation 4 | Reviewed On: PlayStation 4

Note: This review does not contain outright spoilers for The Last of Us 2. Though there may be small allusions to events that occur in the game, they’ve been kept as vague as possible. 

****

Following up one of the most critically acclaimed games of the previous generation is no mean feat and, in this regard, The Last of Us 2 has always had its work cut out for it. Its predecessor is lauded as one of the greatest stories ever told in the medium, with a perfect beginning and ending, even if its middle does sag a bit. By comparison, The Last of Us 2 feels a bit more disjointed, with many highs along the way but an overall experience that doesn’t quite measure up to the original.

That is, of course, in terms of the storytelling most specifically. While The Last of Us had a pretty straightforward, if morally murky, plot, the sequel feels more like a series of vignettes at times, different ideas for a sequel to the original game that have been jammed together and jury-rigged into a whole. If there are two or three good choices for Ellie’s companion character, why not use them all interchangeably?

The Last of Us 2 Review

The obvious answer here is that the bond between Ellie and Joel is part of what made the first game feel so special, and made the journeys of the characters so monumental. Having so many new characters introduced, and giving them so little time to justify their existence, really cheapens the overall experience, and it definitely highlights the biggest faults of The Last of Us 2.

At the risk of sounding far too pessimistic about the game right out of the gate though, let me hold off to say that The Last of Us 2 is a very good game, it just has the unfortunate luck of being compared to one of the highest watermarks in the whole medium. Naturally, this leads to some hard-line comparisons, and also to some criticisms, that not everyone is going to share or agree with. One would think that TwitterMetacritic, and in general, the overall online discourse surrounding the game makes that abundantly clear, but it bears repeating just in case.

Game director Neil Druckmann’s announcement that the theme of the game would be “hate” wrangled some folks the wrong way from the start. While thematically it makes sense, as the original game is essentially about the opposite, it does make The Last of Us 2 harder to cotton to. Ellie’s campaign is basically just one long journey of increasingly disturbing and disquieting revenge and this is, obviously, much harder to relate to than Joel and Ellie’s surrogate family dynamic from the first game.

The Last of Us 2 Review

Though the plot does have some fantastic twists, with a truly unexpected blow coming early on in the game, it still seems to lack the overall cohesion and tonal consistency of The Last of Us. Still, the mind-blowing midway turn of this sequel alone is to be painstakingly admired for the sheer audacity of it all, and the way the game plays with our expectations with regard to the ending is a bit of storytelling bravado that can’t go unnoted.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out how unlikable Ellie slowly becomes over the course of the game. While Joel certainly takes a heel turn at the end of The Last of Us, Ellie becomes downright villainous in her determination by the time the credits roll around.

Of course, as becomes abundantly clear throughout, The Last of Us 2 is really about the cycle of violence and retaliation, and how they destroy us as peoples, groups, and communities. The IRA attacks, and counterattacks, in Ireland, are a great example of this and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be even more adept in relation to the game. Still, succinct as these inspirations, and the execution upon them, might be, it does make for a tough 20-30 hours of game to endure.

The Last of Us 2 Review

Plot caveats aside, however, the overall experience of playing The Last of Us 2 is much stronger as a whole. The combat has been tightened up exponentially. Hand to hand combat introduces a dodge mechanic that changes the way the game plays to an exceptional degree, while the aiming has improved upon the already excellent feel of the balance (between careful aim and anxiety) of the original.

Players also have far more options to avoid combat altogether, with stealth being a Metal Gear Solid-like opportunity to really challenge the AI and best them. The only problem with this option is that in a game so built around seeking out resources and collectibles, it really makes for an identity crisis, particularly for trophy hunters and completionists.

In this regard, players may often find themselves split between seeing where the story goes and making sure they’ve thoroughly picked through the vast landscapes and environments in the game. Granted this really depends on one’s gameplay style to begin with but it does bear mentioning.

The Last of Us 2 Review

Another vast improvement on the original is the level of gun nerd realism that is applied to upgrading weapons. The workbenches in The Last of Us 2 are downright shocking in their attention to detail. Ellie will clean her weapon with each dismantling and the way she systematically attaches and improves upon the components will wow even pacifists.

Conversely, other elements of realism have more mixed results. Enemy combatants screaming the names of their fallen comrades can be disheartening, to be sure, as they are intended to be. However, the 50th or 100th time a maimed enemy screams in agony and writhes on the ground, players will be so desensitized to it that it becomes a mere annoyance. But then maybe this gradual nonchalance about the gruesome violence we’re committing is part of the point as well.

Traversal is also much better this time around. Players will waste little time seeking out, moving and rearranging pallets or ramps here, and it makes The Last of Us 2 much more rewarding to navigate than its predecessor. Looking for the right window to smash or the right building to scale is much more satisfying than painstakingly yanking pallets around or shuffling ladders from place to place.

There are even a few impressive physics-based puzzles, and a new rope-tossing mechanic that changes the way you’ll look at traversing the game altogether. A sparsely used guitar playing mechanic, in which the player must find the key and strum with the touchpad, is strangely soothing as well when it crops up, rarely as that is. Players can opt to imitate Gustavo Santaolalla’s gorgeously haunting guitar tunes with this feature or try to create something all their own.

Truly, despite the quibbles and criticisms of the plot and feel of The Last of Us 2 the game does play quite well. It’s also not just a visual showcase but a technical one as well in terms of its appearance and style. The motion capture is completely unrivaled by anything else on the market, with the facial expressions and character movements being almost absurd in their level of precision.

The voice acting is also at the absolute top of the heap, with exceptional performances from mainstays Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, along with newcomers like Laura Bailey. Still, even less important characters are given nuance and care in their depictions by the very talented cast.

Impressive as it all is, though, one can’t help but wonder if the game might’ve benefited from being shortened and clipped here and there. Coming in closer to the 15-20 hour mark could have easily diminished the shortcomings of The Last of Us 2 while highlighting the various technical achievements and gameplay improvements.

Even so, with the sales and Metacritic both boasting wildly impressive numbers, the fact of the matter is that this game will be seen as an unbridled success for both Naughty Dog and Sony, regardless of how the online discourse surrounding the game continues to unfold.

The Last of Us 2 Review

Whichever camp you find yourself in, it’s hard to imagine many gamers coming away with a wholly negative experience with The Last of Us 2. While some may either jibe or struggle with different plot elements and tonal issues, it’s hard not to be impressed by the time and effort that Naughty Dog has put into making a worthwhile successor to perhaps their most acclaimed game to date, even if their success is set to varying degrees.

At the end of the day, The Last of Us 2 is a game most of us will be very glad to have existed in the world. Whether it lives up to the overall hype and personal expectations of its predecessor will be hotly debated for years to come but whether the game is worth playing will almost certainly not.

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Game Reviews

‘Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour’ Review: Hail to the King, Baby

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Duke Nukem 3D Anniversary World Tour

Developer: Nerve Software, Gearbox Software, LLC | Publisher:Gearbox Publishing | Genre: First-person shooter | Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, and Nintendo Switch | Reviewed On: Switch

Hail to the king, baby! Duke Nukem’s back and ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and he’s all outta gum. A part of the classic shooter holy trinity with Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D occupies a very important place in video game history. While generally regarded as a goofy imitation of other single-player shooters from the mid-’90s, Nukem brought its own original brand of personality to the genre and became a lasting name in gaming.

Although it has been almost 25 years after the title’s original release, it’s still no surprise that Duke is finally making his way to the Nintendo Switch with Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour. Over its lifespan, Duke Nukem 3D has been ported to just about every console imaginable, from the Sega Saturn to a Nokia flip phone (look it up!). While the original 20th Anniversary World Tour port released on current-gen consoles over four years ago, the Switch version adds some unique Nintendo features that update the experience. So how well does America’s favorite bad boy translate to a Nintendo console?

To quote the man himself, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is absolutely “groovy.” It’s fast-paced, addicting, entertaining, and faithful to the original. Most importantly, Duke Nukem 3D for the Switch is made very accessible to a modern audience and is a great example of how retro ports should release on modern consoles. It feels just like it did 25 years ago but plays like it was made for the present day, and it’s a welcome addition to the Switch’s growing library of video game classics.

Nobody Steals Our Chicks… and Lives!

The Duke Nukem franchise has always been about taking things to the extreme, and Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour for the Switch is no exception. For the uninitiated, Duke Nukem 3D follows everyone’s favorite muscular, flat-topped hero as he blasts his way through hordes of mutants and evil alien invaders to save Earth’s kidnapped babes. Using a variety of weapons and special items, Nukem battles through city streets, strip clubs, alien ships, and satellite bases to save Earth and rescue the stolen chicks (never thought there would be a good excuse to write that) while rambling off Bruce Campbell-esque one-liners. It’s beautiful fun and a reminder of what the narrative landscape was like during the “wild west” of the video game industry.

Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour

Suprisingly, Nintendo did not seem compelled to censor some of the more vulgar aspects of Duke Nukem 3D. In classic fashion, Duke still offers 20-dollar bills to women on the streets, drops schoolyard insults to the decapitated bodies of alien bosses, and references outdated goofy 90’s pop culture. There are plenty of lurid over the top situations, exposed pixelated breasts, and oddly specific kills. Of course, it’s all done in a very tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top manner, but it’s these elements that really make the franchise memorable.

Who Wants Some?

Make no bones about it, Duke Nukem 3D’s gameplay and level design has held up over the years, although modern gamers may find it considerably more difficult than new-school shooters. It’s fast, snappy, and unforgiving. Aiming must be precise, enemies rarely miss their shots, and speed is the name of the game. It may take a while getting used to the more classic style of running, hiding, and shooting, but it isn’t too difficult to master after some practice. Fans of Doom will feel right at home here.

Nukem’s level design is also pretty ingenious for its time. Players make progress by finding keycards hidden around, and the game strikes a nice balance between running-and-gunning and platforming. On the other hand, there are a number of hidden switches and some outdated or “unfair” puzzles that might prove frustrating. Again, another sign of the times, but fortunately there are countless online resources devoted to the game if anything becomes too much of a roadblock.

Be Kind, Rewind

Hands down though, the best part of the new remaster is the addition of the rewind feature. Whenever a player dies in Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour, the game displays a rewind time-bar of their entire level playthrough up to that point, and players can choose where in the playthrough they would like to respawn. This could be right before the final deathblow lands, before the encounter, or even way further back if they need to save special items.

To be quite honest, it’s hard to imagine beating the game without this rewind feature. Duke Nukem 3D belongs to a bygone era where players had to struggle through levels, failing over and over until they memorized the map design and achieved the perfect run. Like it or not, gamers today just don’t have that kind of patience, so the rewind feature makes the game more approachable for a more modern and casual audience. It would be great to see this kind of accessibility in other modern re-releases of classic titles, as one can finally enjoy the feeling of an older game without the retro headache.

Nintendo Nukem in 2020

Now, to avoid any confusion, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is not a full 3D remake; it’s more of a re-texture than anything else. Objects “rotate” with the camera and most filler items are 2d, so the game looks more like the spruced-up version of a 25-year-old title that it is instead of a full recreation. Even with the minimal updates, Nukem 3D for the Switch still retains the charm of the past while not looking painful to the modern eye. For purists, the title gives players the option to toggle the updated graphics on or off, but let’s just say the “re-skins” do make a huge, noticeable difference.

Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour

Also, the addition of Gyro controls to Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour for the Switch makes this the premier edition. Honestly, using Gyro controls makes this release feel the closest to the mouse-and-keyboard aiming experience that’s most authentic for the title. When playing, the game plays best when using a combo of gyro and dual-stick aiming, namely relying on the right joystick for larger movements and using Gyro for small, fast-twitch adjustments.

They Don’t Make ‘Em Better Than Nukem!

It’s hard to believe that even after all these years, the Duke Nukem franchise hasn’t made a successful next-gen return to consoles. Of course, there was the Duke Nukem Forever debacle (let’s not talk about that), but nothing else has really captured the magic of Nukem 3D. To put it simply, all devs really need to do is pull out the elements that already exist within 20th Anniversary World Tour. Similarly to Doom 2016, Duke Nukem‘s future just needs to be a soft reboot of Duke Nukem 3D. Create some engaging shooting mechanics, ramp the obscenity up to 11, and add a modern Megadeth-style soundtrack, and there’s the recipe for success.

For now, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour for the Nintendo Switch is a great way for players new and returning to enjoy a classic piece of video game history. It’s outlandish, unforgiving, and intense, but its rewind feature makes the title accessible for most modern shooter fans. Nukem 3D looks nice, plays smoothly, and serves as a great timepiece for an incredible era of video game history. While it will probably be best enjoyed by fans of vintage shooters, a franchise newbie looking for a retro challenge or a glimpse into the past might get some quality mileage out of the title. Nowadays, there are a million ways to play Duke Nukem 3d, but 20th Anniversary World Tour for the Switch is undoubtedly one of the best. So, lock-n-load and get those one-liners ready to roll, because Earth’s babes need saving.

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