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Game Reviews

‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ Review: (Mostly) Smashing Good Fun

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is unrivalled as a pick up and play beat ’em up, and a roaring celebration of all things Nintendo.

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To say anticipation has surrounded Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the understatement of the century. The acclaimed franchise takes the gaming world by storm with each and every entry, and this latest iteration aims to top its predecessors. “Everyone is here!” – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s battle cry bellows, rallying its scopious cast under one roof. From Mario to Mewtwo, Snake to Sonic, and Bayonetta to Bowser Jr. – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate dons all seventy-plus old and new characters, hence the ‘ultimate’ bit of its name.

So is it the best in class, or a hodgepodge of quantity over quality?

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a fighting fiesta of Nintendo’s all-stars, mingled with some guests for good measure (on that note, Joker from Persona 5 is on his way as DLC? How crazy-cool is that?!). Fighting is fast, weighty, and responsive, and smash attacks being hold-able for longer is a welcome alteration. Newcomers like Inkling and Ridley fit flawlessly, and the breadth of stages is satisfyingly staggering (over one hundred!). And speaking of stages, the new Stage Morph feature is a highlight, changing from one stage to another mid-battle. There is a lot to sink one’s teeth into, so kicking back with friends for some multiplayer won’t get boring.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s beating heart is its fighting.

Unfortunately, get ready to tell those friends “Hang on, let me sort these rules out”. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate makes drastic changes to menu mechanics, sacrificing simplicity in favor of clunky complexity. Rather than tweaking rules on the fly from the character selection screen, rulesets must be pre-customized and saved in advance. It’s convoluted, and results in something as straightforward as adding another stock being tedious.

(Also, selecting a stage prior to choosing a character just feels wrong, period.)

Smash

Outside of standard smash, there’s an abundance of modes. Squad Strike, Tourney, Special Smash, Classic Mode, Training, Mob Smash, Mii Fighter customization, Adventure, Spirit Board, Collection, Sounds, Replays, Records, Challenges, Tips, Movies, Shop, Online… *pant* did I miss anything? Oh, there’s some amiibo stuff too. It’s mostly a blast, with Squad Strike serving up tremendous tag team fighting, and Classic Mode offering unique twists for each character, but the absence of fan favorites like Break the Targets and Home Run Contest doesn’t go unnoticed, and the loss of Stage Builder is disheartening due to its unrealized potential. Although underdeveloped in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, things could only get better had Stage Builder taken influence from Super Mario Maker’s huge scope and oodles of options.

Despite its successes, there’s something missing in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s oddball secret weapon is its adventure mode: World of Light. In it, players peruse a massive map and fight opponents with quirky parameters at play. Earthquakes, reversed controls, uncontrollable speed – World of Light mirrors the variables of past titles’ Event Matches. Success nets players Spirits (of which there are many to collect), powering them up. It’s fun at first, but here’s the catch: it’s reeeaaallllllyyy long. However enjoyable Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is at its core, World of Light is spread too thinly. Unlike Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary, with its multifarious gameplay and dazzling cutscenes, World of Light is just battle after battle, an exercise in monotony, with only the rare boss offering respite from the repetition.

super-smash-bros-ultimate-jigglypuff-tree

Despite its successes, there’s something missing in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Perhaps this is best explained with an analogy, so let’s imagine the Super Smash Bros. games are records from a band:

Super Smash Bros. 64 is the killer debut. It’s humble in scope, but lays strong foundations for the future.

Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl are superb follow-ups. They honour the band’s trademark sound, whilst simultaneously propelling said sound forward via successful experiments in songwriting.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U is a respectable forth record, but it lacks the innovative ambition of its predecessors. It’s a great listen, but a bit forgettable.

Finally, we come to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It’s the long-awaited greatest hits compilation, and whilst it sounds just as good as ever, something’s off. Some of the band’s standout singles aren’t included, and track five, World of Light, is utterly disappointing.

Super Smash Bros Switch Review

After listening, you write a review discussing your experience and perspective, conscious that the band’s fans will be livid at you for criticizing this acclaimed greatest hits compilation. But hold your horses and put down your pitchforks, because criticisms aside…

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s beating heart is its fighting, and in this category, it scores top marks. The gargantuan character and stage roster is mind-bogglingly magical, and there’re some awesome new modes and features like the aforementioned Squad Strike and Stage Morph. Yes, aspects of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate leave something to be desired (*cough* World of Light *cough*), and more innovation would’ve been welcome, but when all is said and done, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is unrivaled as a pickup and play beat ’em up. It’s the most fun one can have with friends, and a roaring celebration of all things Nintendo.

I have spent my life in England finding entertainment in both video games and music. Whilst not indulging in the latter, I invest my time in playing all manner of video games, and as of 2017, writing about all manner of video games. Email: harrymorrisharrymorris@yahoo.com

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Alex Aldridge

    December 11, 2018 at 6:29 am

    Although it can be incredibly frustrating, I really like the World of Light mode. Although more cutscenes are desperately needed. Worse still, I wish they could have written even just a little bit of lore for each spirit. I get that they didn’t want to make 3D models for everything, but I’d still like some kind of blurb for each spirit I unlock. On the mode itself, what would you want to see in future modes? Realistically, nothing in this game is ever going to deviate from the standard formula, so are you expecting different gameplay? The mode feels like they got a team to basically brainstorm as many possible variants on standard smash as possible, and the spirit-leveling is really fun IMO.

    I wish I knew more people to play this with, as it’s only going to be a single player/online game for me, and I’m not sure how long that’ll last. It’s also impossible to play well in handheld mode, which is a real shame. Great review, dude.

    • Harry Morris

      December 11, 2018 at 4:45 pm

      I enjoyed World of Light at first, but it doesn’t take long to become too repetitive for its own good. I agree that Spirit blurbs would have been a good feature, along with added variation to World of Light (more boss battles, platforming stages, break the targets etc.) to mix things up, taking influence from Melee’s Adventure Mode and Brawl’s Subspace Emissary.

      The single player mileage is limited unfortunately, but this is true with nearly all fighting games. I’m glad you liked my review, thanks so much! 😀

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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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.

Riverbond grass

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.

Riverbond boss

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.

Riverbond bears

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.

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Game Reviews

‘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.

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Earthnight

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.”

Earthnight

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.

Earthnight

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

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.

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Game Reviews

‘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.

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Life is Strange 2

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.

Life is Strange 2

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.

Life is Strange 2

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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