Retro Review: Pokémon Crystal

Introduction

Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver, were the sequels to the breakout success Pokémon Red and Blue versions. The games released just at the peak of the “Pokémania” phenomenon of the late 90s with a 1999 release in Japan, 2000 in the US and AU, and in 2001 in the EU. The sequels sought to expand upon the world of Pokémon created in Red and Blue adding a new region to explore filled with new characters and 100 new Pokémon. Pokémon Crystal Version released in 2001 and built even more upon the Johto Region with more quality-of-life upgrades, tweaks to the story and additions of new features like the ability to choose your sex and Battle Tower. After completing a recent replay of Pokémon Crystal Version it’s time to dive in with a retro review. How do these lauded sequels hold up? Read more to find out!

Story

This game is set 2 years after the events in Pokémon Red and Blue versions and has the player taking on role of a new 10 year-old trainer that is starting their journey. Johto is a region that is to the west of the Kanto region, where Red and Blue took place. New trainers start out by visiting Professor Elm and choosing a starter from among Chikorita, Cyndaquil and Totodile a Grass, Fire, and Water type respectively. The rival in this game is an edgy kid that steals a Pokémon from the Elm lab after you receive yours. He also seems to have a connection to the villainous Team Rocket who has returned in this game and are looking for their leader Giovanni as they carry out evil schemes. The player must take on the 8 Johto Gym Leaders and challenge the Pokémon League while stopping Team Rocket along the way.

The Johto region sports many environments and locations a decent mix of familiar and unfamiliar. Some Locations really show off a uniqueness that establishes Johto as different place, while others will feel right at home in the previous titles. The story in the game makes frequent callbacks to the previous games establishing the connection between the stories and making the world feel more alive via the connection to the previous regions.

Game Play

The game play builds upon what was established in Red and Blue. The isometric over-world exploration and thrilling turn-based battles remain intact from the originals with several refinements. The biggest change will be the addition of two new Pokémon types: the Dark-Type and the Steel-Type. These types were introduced to balance the type chart which had previously left the Psychic-type too strong in Red and Blue with little counter-play. Another new feature was the introduction of Pokémon Breeding, a process that allowed players even further customization of their Pokémon via breeding moves that Pokémon can’t normally learn onto the offspring. The games also introduced an internal clock so that the game tracks whether it is day or nighttime and the over-world visuals and appearance rate of Pokémon change. The HM system returns with a bunch of new additions and with them new environmental obstacles such as waterfalls whirlpools.

Sound

One again the sound team pushes the limits of the Game Boy hardware with an amazing soundtrack. The jaunty town and route themes create an atmosphere that feels familiar yet very different from the soundtrack in Red Blue and Yellow. This game notably has a few more tunes that have a melancholy feel to them making some songs feel nostalgic even upon hearing them for the first time. Several tunes from Pokémon Red Blue Green and Yellow return as remixes that capture the feel of the originals while giving the sense of time passed. The cries for the new Pokémon carry the same unique qualities that make them feel right at home among the existing cries. The sound effects feature a mix of staple sound effects from the previous games and brand new sounds for a mix that lets the player know they are playing Pokémon but a new game in a new setting.

Graphics and Visuals

GameFreak has further refined their understanding of the Game Boy hardware and created a graphical presentation far superior to that of Red/Green/Blue/Yellow. The Pokémon sprites are clearer and more detailed. The spites are colorful and the poses are full of life. If you play the Crystal Version the Pokémon sprites will move when you first send them out into battle this touch makes the Pokémon feel even more alive. The in-game trainers have all had upgrades to their sprites and new designs making the visual experience feel fresh and new even. This game starts the series staple of the NPC trainers having new designs in every new generation. All of the major characters have iconic designs that players will instantly fall in love with. The animations for Pokémon attacks have also been given an upgrade to make them more visually impressive, as you play you can see and feel the power of each move as the attacks flash across the screen and impact the opponents.

The upgrade to the over-world visuals are not as intense as the Pokémon and trainer visuals, but they are still impressive and in some areas shine in an outstanding display. The environments range from towns themed after ancient Japanese villages to sprawling modern cityscapes, to caves covered in ice. Exploring the visual world is an experience like no other on the Game Boy.

Other

The inclusion of the Kanto quest in the game effectively results in the main quest for the game being spit between the two regions. This results in the Johto region being somewhat shorter than the main quest in Red and Blue, in fact the Johto quest is the shortest main game quest in the franchise. This splitting also affects the Pokémon distribution with several Johto (The Murkrow, Houndour, Larvitar, and Slugma lines) Pokémon only being found in the Kanto region making them unwatchable during the main quest. This limitation combined with the high percentage of Kanto Pokémon present in the Johto region rob the main quest of some of it’s unique feel as players encounter many Pokémon they have seen before.

The expansion of the HM system pushes the number of HMs up to 7 which is a significant number. This often results in players being forced to replace useful moves to have HMs needed to navigate the over-world or face having to backtrack to a Pokémon Center when they encounter an obstacle.

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The addition of more chances to re-battle certain NPC trainers and the addition of breeding to further customize your favorite Pokémon adds a level of replayable to the game that is better than what was in Red/Blue, however, the games still suffer from a lack of post-game content.

In the Crystal Version the Battle Tower is introduced, it is a tower where players can ascend by widding battles against NPC trainers with very strong AI making them difficult battles. This feature is great for players looking for a deeper challenge after conquering the game world but aren’t ready for competitive play against other humans.

Final Verdict

Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal stands as a great sequel. It’s said that lightning doesn’t strike twice, but these games proved that saying wrong and set the stage for Pokémon to continue on to become the mega-series that it is today. The games pick up where Red/Blue/Yellow left off and do a solid job of expanding the game world in a way that feels both new and familiar. The game shows the growing pains of a new series breaching out and and finding its feet in it’s first sequel but the cons of the game are far outweighed by the pros. If you enjoyed Red/Blue/Yellow you will love this game. If you are a fan that missed out on playing these games it is worth it to come back and experience the debut of Johto and first steps into the larger world of Pokémon.

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Spoiler-Free Review: Pokémon Legends Arceus

In late January Pokémon Legends: Arceus released on the Nintendo Switch. This game is developed by Game Freak and stands as a sort of side-story taking place in the ancient version of the Sinnoh Region from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, and the recently released Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. Legends Arceus provides a refresh of the Pokémon formula the refines and builds on elements introduced in previous titles long with introducing some brand new elements to create a Pokémon experience that is a unique and enjoyable.

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The first thing players will notice is that the game takes place in a semi open-world. The player wonders freely and the wild Pokémon appear on the map and depending on their disposition, will either flee from or chase down and attack the player. The player can sneak around and throw Poké Balls at these Pokémon for a chance to catch them without fighting, or they can throw a Poké Ball containing one of their own Pokémon to initiate a battle. The Pokémon attacks can be very swift and if the player isn’t careful they can easily find themselves getting swarmed and knocked out by the wild Pokémon. Alpha Pokémon are super strong versions of the wild Pokémon they are larger than normal and will have glowing red eyes. These are boss level encounters that are many levels higher than the regular wild Pokémon. Players can try to avoid these encounters until they are high enough level or especially daring players can engage and try to capture them.

These open-world areas take the Wild Areas introduced in Pokémon Sword and Shield and refines the concept taking inspiration for the deadly encounters in games like Breath of the Wild, and Monster Hunter. The player now takes damage from the attacks of wild Pokémon and if the player takes too much damage at once they will black out losing some of the resources they collected. These lost resources will appear in other players worlds and can be recovered by them when players are connected to the internet.

Story

The story from the game is designed to suit this unique departure from the rest of the series. The game takes place in ancient Sinnoh Region which is called the Hisui Region. The player encounters the Pokémon Professor Laventon and chooses their starter. They then go to Jubilife Villiage and the player gets recruited to the survey corps of the Galaxy Expedition Team and is tasked with completing the first Pokédex of the Sinnoh region. Throughout the Hisui Region there are territories filled with wild Pokémon and super strong Nobel Pokémon are the lords of these territories. A mysterious force has made these Noble Pokémon go into a frenzied state. Each Nobel Pokémon is looked over by a warden, these people belong to either the Diamond Clan or the Pearl Clan. Both clans worship the deity that created the world as “Almighty Sinnoh” the clans have been at war for generations because the Diamond Clan seeing the deity as a being of time, while the Pearl Clan believes the deity is a being of space. The Galaxy Expedition team is a neutral party seeking to establish their own place in Hisui and seek to maintain the newly-minted peace between the two clans. During the adventure the player will encounter a variety of characters many of which appear to be the ancient ancestors of characters from throughout the series.

The story leans a bit more into the mature aspects of the Pokémon world that have only been lightly brushed upon in the previous games. Hisui is a violent region set before People and Pokémon started cooperating with each other. People that wander out into the wild are often injured and killed by wild Pokémon leading to the population of Hisui believing Pokémon to be deadly creatures that should be avoided. There is also the previous war between the Diamond and Pearl clans, and lore bits hinting at just how violent the region has been in the past for people and Pokémon alike.

The game marks the second-time in the Pokémon main series that the adventure has no gym leaders. In Pokémon Sun and Moon the gyms were replaced with trials with trial captains and totem Pokémon. This system is greatly improved upon in Legends Arceus with Wardens that act as guardians for the Nobel Pokémon that lord over the various areas in the Hisui region.

Game Play

The game play is streamlined a lot from previous games. Pokémon appear in the over-world and will attack the player doing damage to them. If the player takes too much damage from attacks they will be knocked out. When the player initiates a battle the game transitions seamlessly into said battle. One of the biggest changes is the introduction of battle styles. Each the player can choose from using the regular version of the attack, the Strong Style version of the attack, or the Agile Style version of the attack. Strong style attacks deal more damage at the cost of the Pokémon’s turns coming up slower, and Agile Style attacks do less damage but the Pokémon’s turns come more quickly. Battle Styles add a new strategic layer to Pokémon battles and keep them more dynamic and engaging. The damage calculation system has been reworked so that being several levels higher is less meaningful to battles. The changes and new features make it so that even veteran players have to focus on the battles and not play on autopilot.

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There are also many quality of life improvements such as Pokémon having a pool of moves that players can swap between on the fly eliminating the need for TMs and move tutors. The EV/IV system has also been completely overhauled making it easy to train a Pokémon up to perfect stats. However, there is no way to breed Pokémon in Legends Arceus. The ride Pokémon system from Sun and Moon also returns in a more refined form with the player being able to unlock ride Pokémon that help them to travel faster, swim in the water, and fly through the sky.

The is a step up in challenge from precious games in the series, the real-time dodging mechanics will feel right at home to players familiar with games like Monster Hunter and Dark Souls. Being careless will cost you as the aggressive wild Pokémon will attack the player mercilessly and swarm them. Players can crouch and hide in the tall grass to steam up on unsuspecting Pokémon. They can also opt to pelt the wild Pokémon with items to stun them. The turn-based battles are also offer a deeper challenge with the end-game battles being some of the most challenging yet in the series.

The Pokémon models have been given a nice update as have the attack animations making the battles look great in action. The entire art aesthetic of the game is based on ancient Japanese panting so the environments haven almost watercolor look to them. Weather effects like rain and snow will show up on your player character and other characters as you play the game. Some may find the graphical style of the environments off-putting for its lack of realism and HD fidelity but it is not enough to distract from the game.

Soundtrack and Audio

The soundtrack features great remixes of the classic themes from Diamond and Pearl. The areas players explore will have ambient remixes often combining route themes with city and down themes. The trainer battles use pulse-pounding remixes of the trainer battle and gym leader themes. Sound effects are fine tuned to for the game experience. The item pickup jingle is quick to match the fast resource gathering in open world environments. Familiar sounds have new twists to them, all of this culminates to make a great sound experience. The more ambient tones of the music means that some of the world music may be less impactful and memorable than the themes that have come out of previous Pokémon games.

Flaws and Downsides

One major flaw with the game is that it is a single-player experience, removing nearly all of the multiplayer features we have come to know and love in the series. There are no PvP elements in the game, so players cannot battle with others in Pokémon Legends Arceus. As such there are no ranked battles or VGC. Players can trade Pokémon with others either locally or online. The other other online interaction is the system where when a player dies their dropped items can be picked up and returned by another player. Thematically it fits because the game is supposed to be set in a time before Pokémon Trainers, but it may come a disappointment to those looking to try out the new battle system against other humans. This lack of multiplayer means the games will have that much less reason to come back and play after completing the story.

Abilities have been removed from the game which is a significant hit to the level of depth in the battle system. With multiplayer not being a part of the game the team at Game Freak may have opted for removing that layer of complexity to keep things streamlined.

Final Verdict

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a must-play for fans of Pokémon. It offers an exciting and unique new story, and revamped game play that offers a level of challenge never before seen in the series. The game also serves as a call to lapsed fans. If you are someone that has dropped out of the Pokémon games this may be the place to join in and see what the future of the series could hold. This game is highly recommend for anyone that owns a Nintendo Switch and enjoys open world game play and adventures.

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Review: Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl Versions are the long-awaited remakes of the 2006 Nintendo DS classics Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. These games hold the unique distinction of being the first main series Pokémon games to be made by a developer other than Game Freak with ILCA taking the wheel. These games stand as a faithful remake of Diamond and Pearl with some quality of life updates and modernization along with a few new features. This look at the games will help to paint a picture of just where these games fall in the storied franchise.

Story and Plot

The story from Diamond and Pearl is retold in its entity. This continues the now series staple of larger-than-life story lines that started in Ruby and Sapphire. In this story the player starts as a kid in Twinleaf Town who together with their friend and rival aspire to become Pokémon trainers. The pair decide to visit their local lake which is rumored to home a mysterious Pokémon and from there they end up encountering their starter Pokémon and embarking on a grand adventure.

The story is the standard Pokémon quest with the journey to defeat the 8 Gym Leaders and challenge the Pokémon League and become champion. Team Galactic will will encounter the player at several points throughout the adventure, this evil team is set on using the power of the legendary Pokémon to recreate the world. Since this is a remake those that have played the original will know all the story beats in and out, but it is a good story filled with fun and memorable characters so it is worth revisiting.

Game Play

The game play is a return to classic form with the battles being random encounters. Battles are streamlined and the game is much faster than the originals which were infamous for the slow game play. The battles are modernized and have all of the updates expected of modern Pokémon games, there is no Dynamaxing so the game is a marked return to a time before the super modes of Mega Evolution, Z-Moves and Dynamaxing. Those that miss the classic game play will be right at home with this experience. Quality of life improvements have been added to the game such as HM moves becoming a Pokétch app so it is no longer required to have a Pokémon that has learned the move in your party. The character moves freely and isn’t locked into grid-based movement. This being a remake of a classic Pokémon game the difficulty curve is greater than in modern games and unprepared players can find themselves getting wiped by boss characters like the Gym leaders early on. The experience share is permanent and always on which mitigates this difficulty curve a bit. This is an issue for the players that enjoy the challenge and it is a lingering question why this feature can’t be toggled on and off rather than being always on.

The Underground has been revamped into the Grand Underground which has enclaves called Pokémon Hideaways where players can encounter different Pokémon that wander around the over-world map, like they do in Sword and Shield, including many that are not in the Sinnoh Dex. This opens up a variety of Pokémon to players and helps to mitigate some of the issues like there being so few Fire-type Pokémon options available to catch during the story mode. The digging minigame is a perfect recreation of the original, and now players can find Pokémon statues that they can place in their secret base to influence the spawn rates of Pokémon. Secret bases have been entirely revamped and are no longer strictly decorative. Now secret bases impact the game via the Pokémon statues that players place inside their secret base. The main story will last about 40-60 hours, and there is near unlimited replay value with competitive breeding and battling, and completing the Pokédex.

The online features are standard. The games are missing the Global Trade Station (GTS) which was one of the major online features in the originals. In the modern series GTS has been removed from the games and is only available in Pokémon Home. It is disappointing to see this feature doesn’t return in the remakes of the games were the GTS originated. The games also have no ranked matches, and because of this aren’t being used as the games for the next season of the Pokémon Video Game Championships (VGC) official competitive format.

The post-game story content is limited but staples like the Battle Tower and Gym Leader rematches are present and provide at least some post-game content. Previous remakes in the series have had sizable post-game content including the acclaimed Delta Episode in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Compared to previous remakes Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are somewhat lacking in post-game story content. Now that the franchise has fully entered the era of DLC there is a possibility that more content could be added via DLC.

Graphics

The art style for the over-world is a chibi style meant to imitate the pixel art of the original game. In battles the art transitions to full-sized models similar to those seen in Sword and Shield. The 3D renders of the characters are perfect reflections of their 2D sprites. The animations for the Pokémon and their attacks are vivid and smooth. The trainer animations during battle are somewhat static however. The backgrounds during the battle scenes are varied and impressive there are no empty void spaces for battles like would happen so often in Sword and Shield. The over-world environments are crisp and accurate recreations that capture the spirit of the originals. The menu sprites for Pokémon and items have been replaced with vector art. The vector art for the Pokémon in menus lacks some of the charm of sprite art, but it is a decent substitute.

Sound

The soundtrack is a faithful recreation of the Diamond and Pearl soundtrack. Memorable songs from one of the most acclaimed soundtracks in the franchise are vibrantly recreated in a way that invokes the nostalgia of these tunes while presenting them in a new way. There is an option that gets unlocked in the game that lets players listen to the original version of the soundtrack so players can switch to the classic soundtrack if they want to experience the full classic soundtrack in action. Because this is a remake there is little room for original compositions so players that have played the originals shouldn’t don’t go into this game expecting to hear music they’ve never heard before. The sound effects are crisp and clear, the Pokémon cries sound as good as ever. Of course Chatot’s ability that let players record a sound for Chatot to cry has been removed It’s a solid and rich sound experience.

Final Verdict

This game is a quality update over the classics with quality of life features and modernization. The decision to go with a faithful remake with minimal changes from the original was a bold decision that pays off in how faithful this remake is in story and plot setting. ILCA does a decent job as the first Non-Game Freak developers to work on a new main series game. The game is somewhat hindered by the lack of ranked matches and loss of features like the GTS, and the game has some bugs and glitches on release that are being patched. Its worth picking up if you are a fan of the franchise, especially if you like the originals, or just enjoy fun JRPGs.

Retro Review: Pokémon Blue Version

Pokémon Red and Green initially released in Japan on February 27th 1996 for the Nintendo Game Boy with the English Red and Blue Versions releasing two years later in 1998 in the United States, and in 1999 in Europe. The games would go on to spawn a cultural phenomenon the dominated the late 90s and early 2000s. After recently completing a replay of Pokémon Blue Version, here is a retro review for the games that started it all.

Pokémon Blue Version is a JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) where the player lives in a world inhabited by fantastical creatures called Pokémon. Wild Pokémon can be captured by humans and trained to become stronger and even evolve into new stronger forms. The people that team up with Pokémon and engage in battles against others using Pokémon are known as Pokémon Trainers. However, there are bad trainers that exploit Pokémon and use them for nefarious ends, the notorious Team Rocket criminal organization terrorizes the region making life miserable for people and Pokémon alike.

In the game the player takes on the role of a brand-new Pokémon Trainer that chooses their starting Pokémon from among three offered by a Pokémon Professor. This trainer is tasked with a mission to record data on every known Pokémon in the Pokédex, an electronic encyclopedia on Pokémon. Alongside this task the player pursues their personal dream to travel the region and battle the 8 Gym Leaders and earn their badges as proof of skill, and to ascend the ranks to eventually challenge the Pokémon League. The Pokémon League is home of the Elite Four, the four strongest trainers in the whole region, and anyone that can beat these four trainers gains the title of Pokémon League Champion. On their quest the player will have to try to put a stop to Team Rocket’s plans, explore the region to find as many Pokémon as possible, and discover the mysteries behind the legendary Pokémon that rarely appear before humans.

The game play in Pokémon Blue is very typical fare for a JRPG on the Game Boy, using the directional pad the player can navigate the top-down world map. There are various environments that have puzzles and obstacles that the player will have to overcome by activating their Pokémon’s abilities on the world map to do things like licking up dark areas, moving large boulders and surfing over the water. When the player enters a Pokémon battle the perspective shifts to a 2D side-perspective battle screen. The battles are turn-based and via menus the player decides on which attacks to use, they can also decide whether to swap out Pokémon, or use items, or flee in the case of wild Pokémon.

The controls are simple to learn, and this simplicity belies the deeper strategic elements of the game. Pokémon and their moves are all aligned to various elemental types and in a rock-paper-scissors style chain each type has advantages and disadvantages against others. For example Fire-type is against Grass-type, and Grass-type is strong against Water-type, and Water-type is strong against Fire-type. When at attack is strong it does increased damage (known as super-effective) and if a Pokémon is hit with an attack it is weak against it will take increased damage. In the first generation Pokémon there are 15 types in the game, and individual Pokémon species can have up to two types like a Fire/Flying-type or a Grass/Poison-type. Pokémon can also learn moves that might cover for their weaknesses and let them do super-effective damage to opponents that they normally wouldn’t be able to, for example in some cases you can teach a Grass-type attack to a Fire-type Pokémon so they can damage Water-types.

The graphical presentation is excellent for a late-era Game Boy title. The sprite work is vivid and brings the humans and Pokémon to life. The over world sprites suffer a bit being somewhat generic, this is likely due to storage limitations on the console, and doesn’t hurt the overall experience much thanks to the amazing sprite work in the battle portaits. Pokémon are well-rendered in expressive sprite art that oozes personality and really drives home the nature of each monster. There are many clever details that become iconic signatures like items that are on the map appearing as Poké Balls (the item used to capture Pokémon) rather than the more traditional treasure chests. This is even cleverly exploited with a Pokémon that resembles a Poké Ball that acts as a mimic enemy in some areas. The animations for the Pokémon attacks are another feat with unique effects showing the element and power of each attack and creating a real sense of impact with each move.

The sound design in the game is another of the shining points. Clever and creative use of the Game Boy sound system creates a bevy of memorable earworms that enhance the environments where they play. From the battle themes which carry a heart-pounding sense of action and excitement that suits the contest of skill between opponents, to the town themes which range from bustling and busy to serene and whimsical, to spooky and unsettling. The sound designer also achieved the amazing feat of creating cries for the 151 monsters within the game, the cries themselves have become as iconic as the music. Again, due to sound limitations a few of the Pokémon species ended up sharing the same cry.

There are some weaknesses in the game, the largest of which might be the replayability, once the main story is completed there is only one post-game dungeon. Once the trainers and gym leaders are defeated they can never be battled again leaving the only replayable trainer battles being the Elite Four battles at the endgame. This limitation might not be as important to players that get into the multiplayer and trade and battle Pokémon with others.

Speaking of battles, another of the weaknesses in the game is in the battle system. The type chart is unbalanced and this results Psychic-type and Dragon-type Pokémon are somewhat broken. Another issue is a lack of variety in some Pokémon types. The Ghost-Type and Dragon-type only have one evolutionary line each making the options essentially one Pokémon each for players wishing to use these types. There are several glitches in the game that if encountered can mess with the game data even causing erasure or corruption of the save file. Thankfully, these glitches are not easy to come by in natural play. There is one glitch that is much more impactful to the game, in this glitch the Speed stat of a Pokémon affects the odds of landing a critical hit, this makes it so that faster Pokémon land critical hits much more frequently.

Final Verdict

This game is an instant classic that pushes the Game Boy hardware to the limit. The story and gameplay draw the player into the world of Pokémon and the selection of monsters and abilities let players customize their Pokémon teams to suit their playstyles and come up with a variety of strategies. The multiplayer options are fun and making engaging with other players one of the best experiences in the game. Minor limitations in the game might be frustrating for some, but overall this game is something that is a must-play for fans of the Game Boy and JRPGs. It is also some thing that newer fans that joined the franchise after should go back and experience if they get the chance.

Review: Umineko When They Cry

Umineko no Naku Koro ni (Umineko When they Cry) is a visual sound novel by Ryukishi07. It is the third game and second story in his “When they Cry” series following the wildly successful Higurashi which released in 2002.

The story is about the wealthy Ushiromiya family who have come to their family-owned island of Rokkenjima for their yearly family conference. The patriarch of the Ushiromiya family, Kinzo is of failing health and has not much time left, and the question of the inheritance of his empire is the topic that his children will be arguing over during this weekend. There is also a legend on the island that Kinzo has a second fortune’s worth in gold bars hidden somewhere on the island. This gold was given to Kinzo by a witch that haunts Rokkenjima as its hidden true ruler, and anyone that can find this gold will inherit the gold and become the new Ushiromiya family head. During the conference a typhoon strikes the island cutting it off from the world, a series of gruesome murders occur, and a person claiming to be the golden witch appears. It is up to the player to parse out what is real versus what is fantasy and solve the mysteries of Kinzo’s hidden fortune, the legend of the golden witch, and who is the mastermind behind these murders.

Being a visual sound novel, the game mechanics are limited to pressing a button the advance the text, and navigating menus to read character profiles and clues. There are a few scenes where the player will have to make choices using the controls. Don’t let the lack of interactivity fool you, the true game play comes from the challenge that is issued to the player to solve the murder mystery by pouring over the information and hints that the game provides throughout its narrative and constructing logical theories that explain how the murders were carried out and for what reason. The player is helped along through providing rules and frameworks for the player to work within when approaching a mystery. The enthralling story and well-written characters make the challenge of attempting to solve the mysteries a fun experience.

The graphics in Umineko are relatively simple with many of the backgrounds made from photos that Ryukishi took of various locations and modified to fit them within the spooky setting of story. The characters are depicted in a signature style that is hand-drawn by Ryukishi. Since Ryukishi is not an artist by trade, or training, this art is simplistic but full of character and charm, through some may find the unrefined and non-professional artwork off-putting. Players are able to choose between the original art and updated art styles that display the characters in a more traditional professional visual novel art-style. The visuals in the game do an excellent job at setting the scene within the story, the character sprites are expressive and fun and bring the characters to life as their vivid emotions play throughout the story. The gore in the game is subtle and combined with the amazing writing and sound design create a perfect sense of dread and intrigue.

The sound design in stellar in this game. The ambient noises enhance the feeling of being isolated on this island full of nature where no humans are supposed to exist outside of the Ushiromiya family in their mansion. There are several memorable musical pieces used throughout the game that highlight the emotional natures of the scenes in which they occur. Use of winding organs highlight the refinement and dignity of the Ushiromiya family, they are also used to reflect the darkness that lurks within the family and the ominous and deadly legend of the golden witch that permeates the island. The sound effects are unsettling from creepy laughs to shattering glass, gunshots, and the unsettlingly distinct death sound that will stick with you well after you stop playing this game.

The writing and story-telling in this game are top-notch. The characters are vibrant and realistic, each one is fully realized and three-dimensional. This helps to make the player interested in learning more about these characters and uncovering their secrets as the story unfolds. Throughout the story the player will encounter dark themes and deep moral and philosophical questions that inspire thought beyond solving the mysteries at hand. Because there is so little game play through interaction, the game does an excellent job of making up for it through the writing. During the story the player will encounter several riddles and logic puzzles, each of them contributing to the larger mystery of the murders taking place on the island. There are plenty of humorous and memorable moments that ensure that no player will leave the experience empty-handed.

Final Verdict

Rating: 8.5/10

Overall this game is a great experience. This will be especially enjoyable for lovers of the murder mysteries from the golden are of detective fiction, as well as those that are fans of the modern mystery genre. If you enjoy visual novels that tell a compelling story with a cast of fully-realized characters this will be right up your alley. This game is monstrous task with a full play-through of all 8 chapters lasting around 60-70+ hours. There may be some areas where the action of the story may seem to slow down or reiterate known points but thankfully these moments are few and far between and the majority of your time exploring this story will be on the edge of your seat as you try to untangle this winding mystery. This game is highly recommended for fans of visual novels, mystery stories, and fans of good writing in general.

Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. Review

The form factor of the hardware is very aesthetically neat. The device sports a gold face with red trim that invokes the look of the original Game & Watch hardware. The buttons are snappy and well-made, which makes for smooth and responsive game experience. The screen is a full-color 2.5 inch LCD that provides a bright and clean display for the games. The device runs on a rechargeable lithium ion battery that is charged via USB type C-to-A cable, which comes with the hardware. The device is light, but not flimsy, so gamers can easily carry it with them to play on the go. The small size of the device might take some getting used to for larger hands, but that doesn’t hurt the ergonomics much.

The device features three games, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, (known as Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels in the western markets), and Ball from the original Game & Watch. The Super Mario Bros. games are full ports of the original titles with a few easter eggs included such as the infinite lives trick. The version of Ball included is a remake of the classic featuring Mario (and Luigi) instead of Mr. Game & Watch. Rounding out the software is a digital clock application that displays the time as part of a living Super Mario Bros. stage, that changes over time. The digital clock app features many easter eggs including the “Drawing Mario” song from Flipnote Studio, which can be accessed by holding down the A button while on the clock screen. It’s a solid collection of software titles with a focus on Mario’s humble beginnings.

Nintendo have always been masters of creating portable hardware and this is a perfect example of that skill. Playing with this device will being back memories of playing with the Game Boy and DS hardware of days past. If Nintendo would delve into the realm of making a Game Boy classic edition, this gives us a good example of the quality to expect.

At $49.99 USD this nifty little device is a good value for Super Mario Bros. enthusiasts and collectors of Nintendo hardware in general. This is a limited edition that will no longer be restocked after March 15, 2021. Due to the limited nature of the device it has been out of stock since launch. So if you are interested you have a few month window to pick this little gem up if you can find it in stock.

Game & Watch Super Mario Bros. is currently available at GameStop and Amazon.

Pokémon Sword and Shield Isle of Armor DLC Review


Last month the first half of the Expansion Pass for Pokémon Sword and Shield, titled The Isle of Armor, released. The Sword and Shield Expansion Pass has the distinction of being the very first paid DLC in the history of the franchise. The Isle of Armor brings with it new characters, a new adventure in a brand-new area, and over 100 Pokémon previously unavailable in Sword and Shield. Including new Galarian forms, returning Alolan forms, and a brand new legendary Pokémon. So, how does this DLC measure up? Does it provide a tantalizing experience and set a standard for the future of DLC in the franchise, or does it come up short and leave a bad taste for players?


Going into this DLC I had tempered expectations. I had read up on the features and some of the Pokémon and some of the characters, but was able to remain mostly unspoiled on the story details. I played the expansion on Pokémon Shield version so going into the DLC the first thing I noticed was Avery’s character. He establishes himself as a rival, and one that is not very friendly towards the player’s ambitions on the Island. Avery does a great job of being an unfriendly rival, as well as entertaining one, from his uniquely expressive actions, and dialogue, to his attempts at machivalian plots to thwart the player. I have looked online and seen that pretty much the same is true for Klara in the Sword version which is very good. Because the character interactions with the rival are so enjoyable, I wish we had seen a little bit more of them in action throughout the story. They also suffer from the issue of never having more than 4 Pokémon, I would have liked to have had an all-out 6v6 battle against the rivals at some point.


Continuing with characters, Master Mustard is easily the other stand-out character, which is unsurprising as he is the owner of the Dojo. He is an easy-going guy with a passion for Pokémon and video games, the latter he had to hide from the public in his glory days. Mustard mentors his students, and the player by giving them various tasks that help them discover the secrets of the Isle of Armor and grow stronger. While much more of a straight-forward character than Avery, Mustard is still a good character, and adds a lot to the story. There are a few other NPCs that don’t impact the story. I wasn’t expecting a robust cast of NPC characters, and while just two story-important NPCs might not be enough for some people, they are well-crafted characters.


The tasks are the standard sort of missions in Pokémon, finding hidden or lost objects in caves and forests, battling wild Pokémon. The concept of the wild area of the Isle of Armor is much more fully realized than in the Sword and Shield base games. The environments are less barren and more alive with details. The three cave environments, and the forest area make up the collective dungeon of the island. I think that this DLC could have used more trainer battles as outside of the portions of the story within the Dojo quest line there are no trainer battles to be found. There are plenty of dens on the island allowing for many opportunities to have max raid battles and capture some of the newly added Pokémon.


Overall, this DLC provided a nice solid experience, there is enough content and new features to keep the player busy for a while. The story is engaging, though the lack of new characters, and scarcity of trainer battles make the quest-line somewhat short. When this content is combined with the additional content coming in The Crown Tundra DLC this fall the expansion pass will have collectively provided the amount of additional content that is usually seen in enhanced versions like Pokémon Platinum, or Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. If Game Freak keeps building on the standard that has been set by this expansion pass, then the future of Pokémon Paid DLC has a lot of potential.

Review: Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey Redux

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SMT Strange Journey Redux is one of the 3DS titles to be releasing as the handheld enters its golden years. This updated port of 2010’s SMT Strange Journey on the Nintendo DS, is a worthy second chance for a great game that seems to be fated to be overlooked by most.

The plot provides an interesting take on the Shin Megami Tensei with a setting that carries a heavy science-fiction flavor, most notably resembling Stargate. The player is an officer in a military unit that has been sent to investigate a mysterious vortex that has appeared and swallowed Antarctica and is expanding, threatening the entire planet. Upon entering the vortex disaster strikes the unit, and it is up to the survivors to make use of the demon summing app to make demons their allies and fight their way to the source of this monstrous threat to the planet. The characters are well written and relatable, helping to bring the story to life and draw the player into the experience.

The gameplay is true to the classic SMT formula of crawling sprawling labyrinths filled with traps and demons we have come to know and love. The battle system is also true to the series, with random encounters with a multitude of demons to befriend and fight. The combat is tough at times, but never unfair, with strategy being the heart of combat. Throughout the game the player will be faced with moral decisions that lead them down one of three paths, the choices are normally clear enough for the player to follow the alliance they choose. If you are familiar with the series, you will be right at home battling and befriending many familiar faces. However, new players, or those migrating to this game from the Persona series, may find the focus on dungeon crawling and leveling demons to be off-putting.

The soundtrack for this game is a strong presentation. The orchestral pieces make for an amazing backdrop to this world of demons. The dungeon themes enhance the spooky and danger-ridden atmosphere. The swelling and intense boss themes highlight the stakes in these battles. The only major flaw that can be pointed to is that there could be a larger catalog of music.

The graphical presentation is excellent. The main dungeons follow a theme where each one is designed around a specific vice; the background environments are detailed even though they will never be the focus. Where the graphical presentation really shines is in the animated cutscenes; they are stylish, fluid, and vivid. It is a shame that they are so few and far between. This is not to overlook the character portraits, which are amazing as expected from a SMT game. The sprite work is also very impressive. It is very detailed and the animations, though limited, are expressive tough to bring life to each demon and character.

Overall this game is a hidden gem in the Shin Megami Tensei series, long-time fans should have an enjoyable time with this entry. Outside of a few minor flaws, this game is easily one of the best SMT Handheld games. If you are looking for a solid dungeon-crawling game, or are a fan of the series, this game is well worth your time.

Rating: 4/5

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