Saturday, 16 November 2019

Pokémon Shield – First Impressions

From when they were first announced, I’ve been wanting to get stuck into this one and explore this new world. From the E3 trailer, I’ve wanted to dive into the Wild Area, and wondered just how it would feel for that taste of openness for a series that, even now, has design ties to its past. And then ever since, I’ve waited until the day – this day – where I have now lived within the Galar region.

Now, there are some issues I have, but they’re not that important for the sake of these impressions. It’s more for the concept side of wanting the series to grow into something larger than what it is, faster than what it can. The improvements within the game are a step in the right direction, and are something I want to see built on. Especially when it comes to the Wild Area.

The Wild Area might look a bit lifeless, but it works for what it needs to do. That being the first taste of how a vast open space works in the main series. Many types of Pokémon roam around here, popping up whenever you get close by, ready for battling and capturing. Locking the higher-levelled ‘mon from capture behind the Gym Challenge might be a bit restrictive, but unless you get lucky, there’s little chance in you surviving long enough to have a chance to nab one anyway.

Split into many parts, each has a different selection of ‘mon to engage with that will only be found in a few of the sections of the Area. There are also trainers around who will offer items or other services, with the watts you find from dens being the currency most of them want. It’s a location that does what it needs to do, but unfortunately can be seen as mostly optional. There are only two points when following the story you will ever have to be here, owing to how the region as a whole is designed.

But even the rest of the region stands out as being a diverse one, with the rural farming community to the south, and each of the cities on the central ring being vastly distinct from each other – something that the upgrade to a console shows off greater than the 3DS ever could. Even the routes pop as being varied, with a greater use of background elements being used to diversify them.

Battles are much the same as ever, but the dynamic feeling to the moves is slowly getting there. The camera could use a bit of work, as it still feels the need to revert to that static, familiar viewpoint after every move. Ever since the move to 3D, I’ve disliked the fact the camera is still trying to stay in that position for as long as it can. It’s better here, as it does move around more during moves and will only wait a few seconds before starting to roam between turns, but I still feel that viewpoint just is not needed any more.

As for the thing that gives the reason to all this, the story is focused on the Gym Challenge, and is a large part of all interactions within the game. It does a good job of creating characters that fit the themes it wants to explore during this Challenge your character embarks upon, such as confidence, wrong-doing, and the effects of popularity. Sure, your own avatar is as blank slate as ever, but at least they show recognition of what’s happening around them now. Sometimes.

Customising the outfit of your character is back, with plenty more clothing options, and even hairstyles. This time I feel my character looks close to me in fashion styling rather than a close approximation, and if I wanted, I could go for plenty of other stylings as well. It might not be fashion on a grand scale (I doubt there’d ever be as many options as in GTA V, for example), but there’s a varied choice with a number of colour options per design.

Overall, though, Pokémon for me has always been about making memories and enjoying the journey. The music works in doing that, as does the variety of new creatures that fills the roster of all those available within this region. I’ve got a few favourites, one of which I had no idea about before encountering it, which goes to show just how great moments such as that can be created from the unknown. That also applies to the camping feature in the game, where unexpected and cute moments can show themselves at any time.

Yes, graphics aren’t exactly the best, and there’s a few rough patches in animation, but if you can overlook those factors, Galar is a great place to explore. Sure, I’d like more to fill this world and for a lot more openness in the routes between cities, but those don’t stop me from enjoying the game. There’s also a weather system in place in the Wild Area that makes no sense whatsoever, with each section having its own set weather. Problem is, with how small these sections are, it’s just bonkers to go from a harsh, sunny day to chaotic thunderstorms in the space of a few steps. Especially if you can’t actually see that weather until you step within the section it’s happening in. But, that’s just something inconsequential when looking at things completely from within video game logic.

Sword and Shield might appear basic, and to be fair, they are if you compare them to any number of other releases on the Switch. But everything here allows the player a journey they might just find something special within. And for that reason, I can certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to enjoy such. Older fans who want something more from this series, this probably isn’t going to be for you. But if Game Freak can build on what they’ve given us with the Wild Area, and continue to improve the look of the core reason to play, generation nine will hopefully offer plenty.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Mario and Sonic and the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 - First Impressions

I remember vaguely getting the first of these games and having a great time with it. Back when the Wii was still the most popular machine in the house. Back when I was still growing into the man of gaming culture that I am today. But while I enjoyed the game, I didn’t get another within the series until it moved to the WiiU with the Winter Sochi Games, where I similarly enjoyed what it offered.

And now, the first game in the series on the Switch is here, and it again provides the fun that is expected of the series. It feels as though it has lost a lot of the charm that makes the games, however. The characters from both series are still here, and with the story mode there’s some interaction between the two worlds, but other things stop it from being that greatest of crossovers between the two.

Yes, it is the Olympics, so there has to be representation of the real world within it. But the best thing about the games was always the extras that brought the elements of the two universes to the fore. Dream Events would always bring smiles of delight at seeing what interesting spins on events and the locations they take place, and it is kind of lost here.

The three events that are here are fun distractions, with the best for me being Dream Racing. Sochi was king for me in having a variety of different ways to race, so of course I’d latch onto the racing event of the new one. Despite the fact there’s only one track based on Metropolis from Sonic Forces, it executes the feel of racing well, so two runs never feel similar. Dream Shooting is the next bets for me, since Dream Karate feels too random to have much of an impact.

As for the main events, there’s plenty on offer giving the usual bout of mayhem, from regular inclusions such as the 100m and swimming, to new events such as skateboarding and sport climbing. Some favour speed, while some favour a more strategic approach, but all are fun to play through. And that goes for the Tokyo ’64 games, as well. They bring the retro feel to the Olympics, and are great fun even if not as long-lasting. It’s a double-edged sword, for me, I guess. I like retro games, but at the same time can’t feel any immersion from them anymore.

As for the story, it brings both 2020 and 1964 Olympics together with a simple story that serves its purpose to get players experiencing everything that the game offers – including the unlocking of a few guest characters and minigames that are playable within the Games Room. And while above I did say there’s interaction between the two worlds, it’s very surface level interaction. It offers some good character moments at times from what I’ve played of it (and I’m about halfway through it), but it’s dressing to get you to the gameplay.

And now, I’m back to those things that make it not the best it could be. I know I usually avoid comparisons when it comes to reviews (or first impressions), but there’s a lack of that magic that only sparks during the Dream Events but can’t really be fully set alight. The key component of doing a crossover such as this is the fan service – especially since it’s a party game. There’s very little in the way of recognisable music – whether remixed or not – from both series. There’s no customisation options available which means there’s little in terms of visual fan service as well.

This is a first impressions post, so I’m not going to dive into it, but I have ideas on making an ultimate version of a game in this series that includes a lot of what is missing here. And if a core component of a series is missing, is it really worth it to buy?

The gameplay is solid and there’s fun to be had, especially with friends gathered together. And while I’m strongly wanting the fan service to be there, that might be something that others aren’t wanting as much. So in terms of recommendations, if you’re here for the fan service, there’s little to get from this one. However, it’s a party game, and while there’s not any sort of mode that brings that feeling here, it still stands as one to add to the collection for those who enjoy a good game for a bit of multiplayer mayhem wanting something new.

Friday, 1 November 2019

November '19 Monthly Update

October saw a slight change of plans in terms of the GTA map showcased, but it still offered a concept of what an area within the GTA-verse could look like. While I’m not entirely certain when the map based on Michigan will see a reveal (there’s a lot of detail within this one), it will still be within one of these next two months.

I talked a bit more about Pokémon Sword and Shield, just giving out a few more of my thoughts before this month where the first impressions post will be released for both Shield and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. And while not technically a first impressions post, I did talk about Farming Simulator 2017 and the reasons for me taking a dive into the series.

Videos last month brought two GTA videos, looking at more of my custom races on the Xbox One version of the game, as well as a new Sonic Generations Custom Song video in celebration of the new Pokémon games soon to be released. Videos this month will more than likely bring a look around the wild area of Pokémon Shield, and a look at one of the planets within Jedi: Fallen Order. If those don’t happen, I’ve got a backup that I won’t reveal at this time, but it certainly won’t be more GTA.

In terms of story additions, The Forgotten House of Greenwich Hill released to Shorts of the Rula last month, with this month bringing one or two things to The Alternate Extras of Halesowen, along with something more that will remain a surprise until it is released. As a hint, I guess one of my blog posts from last month would provide such a hint. Pokémon: Shadow Boom is also still on schedule of a release on the 15th of every month, with the chapter coming this month starting the journey back to Johto.

Look out for all this and more in the coming month, and I hope you enjoy.