It's been quite a while since I've played a logic puzzle game. I had to dig back through my archives and although the game Swap This! had a puzzle mode, it wasn't the main focus. I think the last pure logic puzzle game I played was probably Stretchmo, a Nintendo game which is part of the Pushmo series.

Stretchmo provides a pretty apt point of comparison with the puzzle game I'm reviewing today, called Baba is You. The game is made by one-man Finnish developer Hempuli, and I was attracted to the game's charmingly simple but unique art style and its basic premise, which is to rearrange simple statements such as "Baba is You" and "Wall is Stop" to solve puzzles. The game is a mind-bending twist on the classic Sokoban type of puzzles, where you're tasked with pushing blocks around to achieve a goal. In this case the goal is to reach the item (usually the flag) marked "Goal".

The game is extremely satisfying as you work through the first few sets of puzzles and learn the mechanics and experiment with the small set of words. The mechanics are surprisingly robust and the puzzles surprisingly varied even with a small number of options, everything was going swimmingly... until I hit a roadblock. And another. And another. And this is where the game really fell apart for me, and it sounds like a similar thing happened with the NintendoLife reviewer. In Baba is You you do have a handy rewind feature and some options of skipping some puzzles since in each area you're only required to finish a certain number of them to move on, but even allowing for that I found myself getting stuck over and over again. I really, really hate having to resort to looking up solutions online, so I persisted to no avail, and when I did look up a few solutions I found them to be really unsatisfying. The game forces you to "think outside of the box", but in a way that requires such a big leap of thought and to think in such an obscure way that it's hard to imagine many people getting to the solution without resorting to an online FAQ. It's interesting to compare my experiences to the people who left negative reviews of the game on Steam. Like me, a lot of them call themselves puzzle fans, and they also point to the high spike in difficulty. I would also echo the often-repeated comment that the way the puzzles are set up you can't even begin to tell if you're on the right track, so you could end up spending hours on false path after false path.

I don't mind a puzzle game being difficult, but in this day and age there should be more options for hints, even a mechanic as simple as accruing a currency to unlock the first few moves of the solution. Since players end up resorting to the Internet when they get stuck anyway, incorporating a hint system into the game would really help the player, both emotionally in terms of not having to be hopelessly stuck, and also psychologically, in that you're not forced to look up the entire solution, but you can at least get pointed in the right direction. All in all I'm disappointed that I had to give up on Baba is You in frustration since I think the aesthetics and the concept are really great. At some point once the emotional scars have healed I may come back to this for another go, but I can't imagine wanting to do so for a very long time unless I need something to raise my blood pressure.

Sayonara Wild Hearts looked like a good fit for me as it combines a unique eye-catching neon art style, J-pop style music, and some rhythm game mechanics (although it turns out this isn't actually a rhythm game). I'm happy to report that it deserves much of the praise it's received. The art looks even better in motion, and although the actual gameplay resembles a fixed-track on-rails shooter, the camera angles are so dynamic and constantly changing that there's never any danger of getting bored. If anything, I agree with NintendoLife's review that stages feel a little on the short side.

The game itself is also very compact and there are only 23 stages, but that's not a big issue as it's an indie title and there's a good amount of variety in the stages. Aside from some quick-time events, mostly during boss fights, a lot of the gameplay just consists of steering the character to collect hearts, which is fun and rather reminded me of the bonus stages in some old Sonic games; the game also incorporates a similar sense of breakneck speed as the Sonic games. It's not too difficult to get through each stage, as the game is extremely generous with checkpoints. Retries are fluid and take you back a minute or so at most, and you're given an infinite number of attempts. There's plenty of replayability in chasing after higher scores and medals for each stage, although these require you to not mess up at all or miss any collectables (which would break your multiplier), and so end up requiring more rote memorization than I'm interested in. There are also some obscure achievements where you're given cryptic clues about how to unlock them, but they were so impenetrable taht I couldn't be bothered with them.

Overall Sayonara Wild Hearts was a super stylish and fun indie title by Simogo, a Swedish developer, and I've definitely enjoying listening to the soundtrack outside of the game as well. A lot of Simogo's previous titles are on iOS, but I'm intrigued about checking out their game Year Walk which was released on Steam and Wii U, which I remember hearing about back when it first came out.

 

I have a ton of unfinished second or third playthroughs of Fire Emblem games lying around, but for my next Fire Emblem endeavor I finally got around to giving the DLC of Fire Emblem: Awakening some focused attention, even though I'd played its hard mode just a few years ago. At the time of its North American release way back in February 2013 it wasn't clear if the DLC would end up being bundled and rereleased physically with the game as is common with other games, but as time has passed it's become clear that that's not Nintendo's MO and that DLC pretty much always stays as full-priced DLC. (The most notable exceptions are Hyrule Warriors, a collaboration with Koei Tecmo, whose DLC has been tacked on to its two rereleases, on 3DS and then on Switch, and also some of the games that made the leap from Wii U to Switch, such as Mario Kart 8.) Anyway, I'd dipped into the DLC before, mainly the conversation-focused "Scramble" pack of three maps, but this time around I bought and played through pretty much every map.

It's interesting going through the DLC after seeing what Intelligent Systems has done since. A lot of the DLC features characters from previous Fire Emblem games that you can recruit. Unlike the SpotPass versions of these characters who come with standard skills and old artwork, the DLC versions come with unusual skills and brand new artwork, many from famous Fire Emblem artists, which in hindsight feels like an early germ of what Fire Emblem Heroes is. Aside from the aforementioned conversation-focused DLC, the most story-heavy series of DLC is called "The Future Past" that provides a look at the ravaged future timeline that Lucina came from and focuses on the children characters. Most of the other maps have a set of one-liners where if someone from your list of characters battles against a particular enemy or next to a particular non-playable ally he or she will exchange a line with the other character. Completist that I am I plan on getting all of those bits of conversation in-game eventually, but although it's a fun little bonus they're pretty disposable and forgettable.

Dialogue-wise the "Scramble" and "The Future Past" (both packs of three maps) are definitely the highlight, but other maps provide some unique bonuses that help you with grinding for gold, experience, or supports, and there are also two unique classes (Bride and Dread Fighter) and skills that I'm looking forward to trying out on my next regular playthrough. The maps range from trivially easy to tediously relentless and drawn out, and at $53 for the entire set of 25 maps it's a pretty big investment for all but the most die-hard Fire Emblem fans. Considering how much I've spent on the smartphone game has put this DLC in perspective for me, and so even though it would be nice if it were cheaper I wasn't too put out about showing my love for the developer and the series, and I'm definitely going to be working my way through the DLC that was put out for subsequent releases as well.

It was fun to reacquaint myself with the whole Awakening cast and the DLC does provide a nice opportunity to finish off some supports that I hadn't quite completed on my regular playthrough. In looking through some of the discussion at the time of its release, it's been nice to be reminded of how successful Intelligent Systems was in rescuing the series from potential demise. The game got tons of acclaim when it was released, and it's also been entertaining to read people's reactions for whom this was their first Fire Emblem game. I actually started a grind-less run on Lunatic after playing through the DLC, and the difference between that and the Hard mode is huge. Lunatic just seems to be a fairly pointless exercise in continuously rolling the RNG and resetting, and it honestly hasn't been much fun. Not sure when I'm going to pick that up again, but the game has gradually crept up in my esteem after my initial lukewarm reaction to it (no doubt helped by repeated references to it in subsequent Fire Emblem releases), and I'm looking forward to adding to my 172+ hours and counting play file by finishing that playthrough and then revisiting the main game on a more palatable setting, and also replaying through the DLC in the future.

I've gotten a lot of mileage out of a good number of fitness video games, such as the DDR series, but it's been a while since Nintendo has put out one of their own. Wii Fit U was a predictable port of the massive hit Wii Fit, but I was playing that way back in 2015. Fitness Boxing (published by Nintendo outside of Japan) was released about nine months after the Switch's launch, and I actually played that quite a bit (more on that soon) before I switched gears and picked up Ring Fit Adventure. I got the game not long after its initial release and a good six months before the lockdown drove it up to astronomical prices.

Anyway, Ring Fit Adventure has a lot to set it apart from other exercise video games I've played. The ring itself is a very solid piece of equipment, and makes the game emphasize strength training, which is very different from Wii Fit's focus. Even after weeks of pretty steady effort, even short gameplay sessions are still pretty tough, although you can have a lot of freedom adjusting the difficulty and picking which exercises you want to focus on. The game divides up exercises into four categories (arms, legs, abs, and yoga), and although it doesn't quite force you to do exercises from all categories, you're strongly encouraged to since pretty soon after you start the gameplay changes so that exercises that match the color of the enemy you're facing deal more damage.

The gameplay loop is pretty basic. You have a world map with a modicum of a story, and you travel around to different points of interest, such as regular levels, boss levels, mini-games, and shops. Your character levels up, gaining higher attack and defense stats and unlocking special skills that you select from a skill grid. Regular levels have you lightly jogging through an obstacle course and battling enemies via exercises, and boss fights are intense battles that get to be quite a marathon of exercises, although items such as drinks that boost certain types of attacks or recover hearts definitely help. Towns take the form of basic menus where talking heads make requests that encourage you to replay a level to get a bit of extra and mostly unnecessary loot, but they're worth doing as they help level up your character anyway.

The art style is colorful and fun and there's a lot of that classic Nintendo charm. The game is really designed for longevity, much more so than the Wii Fit games. After steady playing I still haven't come anywhere near unlocking all the mini-games and exercises in story mode, and apparently there are some 22 worlds and additional new game plus modes. I was getting a little bored with it, but the rhythm game mode they added in a few months ago for free drew me back in with its simple but fun gameplay and nice assortment of modern Ninty tunes.

All in all although Ring Fit Adventure doesn't make as much of an impact as Wii Fit did back in the day, it's still a fun get-off-the-couch game and one that has much more longevity. I still pick it up every once in a while, and I'm sure when the weather gets cold again I'll be spending more time with it again.

It happens that the first game I finished of 2020 was a replay of the magnificent Super Mario Bros. 3. I waxed poetic about this game and at length when I replayed it nine years ago, in 2011, and everything I said at the time amazingly still holds true after this playthrough, so I don't have a lot to add from a personal perspective. This time around I was playing it on Switch via the Nintendo Switch Online library of games, and I actually played it in its two player mode for the first time since I was a kid. The game worked pretty well online, although progress was much slower alternating turns back and forth than if I were playing it straight through on my own. I found it very difficult to get into a rhythm of a stage due to having to take a break after every death, and in the end I wasn't the one who actually beat a lot of the tougher stages, but I still enjoyed the experience as a change of pace and we were able to get through every level without overusing the original OP power-up, the P-wing.

It's also been fun to see how the context of the game has changed when comparing 2011 vs. now. At that time Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS hadn't yet been released, and that game finally saw the long overdue return of the Super Leaf and the Tanooki Suit. The release of Super Mario Maker on Wii U in 2015 saw the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World (as well as the New Super Mario Bros. games) get renewed attention, and one of the more memorable bursts of nostalgia from that release was the long overdue return of Kuribo's Shoe. Similarly, the inclusion of the Angry Sun, the Frog Suit, and the original SMB3 Koopalings in Super Mario Maker 2, released on Switch just last year, were similarly long awaited and welcomed with great enthusiasm.

I've fixed the outdated links from my previous post, and I've also been reading through some things people have written about this iconic game that I've had lying around. This reflection on GameSpite reminds me how innovative the two player mode was, in that you could compete against each other, such as by stealing visits to Toad Houses and the like, or work more cooperatively. The writer also discusses the fact that hunting for secrets and pursuing extra power-ups or lives is oftentimes more hazardous and difficult than just getting through to the end of the stage, which was also true in SMB2 but I agree is even more apparent in this game. The writer also compares the straighforward navigation of levels in the original Super Mario Bros. game to the focus on exploration in Super Mario 64 and says, "Mario 3 wasn't as pure in this respect as the original -- it still had a world map and tons of secrets -- but it was the last game to straddle these two approaches perfectly." I'm inclined to agree with that as well. For me SMB3 combines so many things, including huge amounts of originality, secrets, and difficulty, with everything in perfect balance.

It's interesting to see where the game falls on other people's list of Mario games. NintendoLife has an ongoing feature ranking all the Mario platforming games, and they put SMB3 at sixth (!), which is a travesty, but to each his own. When considering again where the game falls on my list of greats, it's overwhelmingly clear to me that Super Mario Bros. 3 sits firmly at the top of my list of Mario games and still deserves to sit at the top of my list of favorite video games of all time period. It's hard to imagine any game being able to have as big an impact on me as this game did when I was in elementary school, and I'm pretty confident that this is a game that's going to hold up no matter how many times I replay it.