When I was travelling in Europe a few years ago I was curious about video games that were published outside of the US, so I picked up cheap copies of two DS games that I otherwise would have little use. Both of them were no doubt riding the wave of the success of the first Brain Age game, and the first is called English Training, while its sequel is called Practise English. "More English Training" would probably have been a more appropriate title for the latter, as that game does pretty much everything the first game does, but adds more extras.

[As a side note, be aware that the original DS and DS Lite are region free and so a US version can play these games, but note that all the DSi and 3DS/2DS models are region-locked and US versions can't play this game. Also note that despite packaging being specific to different countries, all versions of the games give you the option of selecting your native language amongst the provided options, which are German, French, Italian, and Spanish, and in some versions of the game, Dutch. Oh, and the original version of the game was for Japanese speakers.]

I had the vague notion that playing these games might help me learn other languages, but the majority of the games are really focused on having you listen to dialogues and then transcribing them via the games' handwriting recognition, which is, of course, fairly useless for a native speaker. There are a lot of ways they take the material from the dialogues and repackage them to help drill them into you, for example: some listening comprehension questions of the dialogues, including a dictionary of words and phrases from the dialogues that you can refer back to, a "continuous play" option where you can listen to all the dialogues in a row without pause and on a loop (and also just the ones you've marked as having trouble with), etc. The dialogues themselves have a lot of variety and seem like pretty standard but useful phrases, and there are some surprises thrown in to mix things up a bit, such as some nursery rhyme songs (although I'm not sure how useful it is for a foreign speaker to know how to say "Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow", haha). The second game in particular has some more variety, such as a section that consists of many different people speaking English in different accents, including an Australian or a Japanese person speaking English (the game otherwise uses British English).

As with the Brain Age games you can take a test once a day to help chart your progress, and there's also a graph you can look at that shows you how many exercises you've completed over time. Both games have a handful of extras that are more game-like, but the second game has more of them. That game has a mini-game where you act as a pizza delivery person and have to follow directions to deliver pizzas, and one where you're given instructions on how to color a picture (for example, "color the woman's hair pink").

Although I'm not the games' target audience and it's not really too useful for me to learn one of the foreign languages, they are very well designed and seem like much better overall than the two other language games I've played, My French Coach and My Japanese Coach. Still, it's always fun to take a peek at games released outside of my region, and if any reader happens to be checking out this review, then I can definitely recommend these games based on my experience with them. Have fun! ;)

In my post about contributing to the blog A Most Agreeable Pastime, I'd mentioned that I wouldn't be cross-posting in general, but I'm afraid I'm already going to have to make an exception. I'd already posted about Nintendo's smartphone game Fire Emblem Heroes, on this blog a few weeks after it was released, and I'd enjoyed the game but hadn't been wowed by it. But what a difference a few more months make! The game has steadily grown in features and, although there have been dips in my interest, overall my enjoyment of the game has just increased as time has gone on. My blog entry at A Most Agreeable Pastime goes into exhaustive (and probably exhausting) detail, but my concluding paragraph sums up my current feelings:

    Intelligent Systems is one of my favorite developers, and contrary to my initial expectations the game is actually so much fun and addictive that I’ve added it to my list of Favorite Games of All Time. I’m skeptical that the game can continue to keep my attention for another year, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what Intelligent Systems has up their sleeves.

In the few weeks since that post was written there haven't been any major announcements of new features, so I'm in a steady state of trying to put in the minimum time required to keep up with whatever the current missions are. I'm sure when new characters I like are added my interest will be reinvigorated, but for now I'm happy to keep chugging along without having to sink too much time in the game. Which hopefully will free me up to finally finish other games I've been ignoring for far too long!


I was in the mood to play something a bit mindless, so I tried out My Nintendo Picross: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for 3DS. The MyNintendo rewards have been pretty underwhelming in general, but it was nice that we got this little exclusive (although I'm disappointed we never got the two Japan-only Club Nintendo Picross games). The game is developed by Jupiter Corporation, who developed all the previous Picross games for Nintendo, including the original Mario's Picross game, all the Picross e games on 3DS, and Pokémon Picross (which I played last year).

The game is pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be, which is Picross with Twilight Princess references. Along with Twilight Princess themed puzzles, the game also includes sound effects and music, including the iconic "da da da!" victory jingle (in this case, played whenever you complete a puzzle). You're given plenty of time to complete the puzzles (there's a 60-minute time limit), and various hint options, such as options for the game to tell you when you've made a mistake at the expense of a time penalty. There's also a nice feature where the game will show you in blue which columns/rows you can currently fill in. You can choose between touchscreen controls or buttons, and if you use touchscreen controls you can also use the control stick or D-pad to toggle between filling in squares or marking them with an X. One surprise was that the game includes "Mega Picross" puzzles, which have a variation of the regular Picross rules and offer a nice change of pace (apparently these are also included in Pokémon Picross, although I guess I got bored of that game before I got far enough along to encounter them).

This was a fun game and the Twilight Princess elements gave me a nice feeling of nostalgia. Nothing earth-shattering, but a good game to unwind with.

Even though I had just played a platformer, I was in the mood to play something on my Wii U and decided to finally try out Runbow, which has been sitting on my Wii U since I bought it in the Nintendo Humble bundle a year ago. I probably had heard it mentioned recently since the version for New 3DS was released just a couple of weeks ago.

Anyway, I hadn't played the game at all, but I found it to be pretty enjoyable overall. The game's mechanics are unique and easy to understand: the background changes colors periodically, and when it does all the elements on the stage that are the same color (namely walls and platforms) effectively disappear. The game explores every variant of this premise in worthwhile ways, although even with the smart level design after a while there does get to be a sort of sameness to the proceedings. There's a single player adventure mode, and you can earn up to three medals in every stage, and there's also a difficult marathon mode where you have to beat many challenging stages in a row and you can't save. It seems half of the game's focus is on the multiplayer versus modes, of which I was only able to try them for a bit as it seems like finding people to play with online has become a crapshoot. I wasn't interested in them much anyway, but it might have been nice to have had more AI-enabled versions of these modes.

Although I wasn't a huge fan of the art design, in general the presentation is pretty good. There are two main characters (one male and one female), and you can unlock a host of costumes for them, and there are also a ton of indie guest characters, such as Rusty from Steamworld Dig. The music is really noteworthy, though, as it's energizing and dips into many genres, such as jazz and surf rock. The one design choice that I found really questionable was the taunts the game displays on the screens after you die (e.g. "You tried that already") which don't serve any purpose other than to be extremely irritating.

All in all this is worth a look for fans of platformers, although more story, characters, and unique settings and game mechanics on top of the core background color-changing mechanics would have helped me stay more engaged with it. I can see myself trying out the multiplayer with friends or finishing off a few more of the story missions, but this definitely isn't a game that I feel compelled to 100% complete or get the DLC of.

Run the rainbow with these Runbow links:
- Official website for the game
- The soundtrack is available on Bandcamp
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry at Wikipedia

I'm probably one of the few people who has fond memories of the forgotten NES adventure game Milon’s Secret Castle by Hudson Soft. I'd owned the game as a kid although was never able to beat it, and I still found it enjoyable played through the game 8 (!) years ago. That game suffers from many of the same issues as its peers, including a sometimes painfully high difficulty level, completely obtuse clues, and some clumsy mechanics.

I'd heard good things about its one and only sequel, which is usually translated as DoReMi Fantasy: Milon's DokiDoki (i.e. "Heart-pounding") Adventure. The game was released for Super Famicom, the Japanese equivalent of the Super Nintendo. Although the original version was never released outside of Japan, it was one of several previously import-only games that saw new life on Wii's Virtual Console. I was excited about its international release, although a little wary about how it would compare to the original.

With a big sigh of relief I can report that the game builds upon the mechanics of the original and improves them in every way. The game is a vibrant and lively 16-bit platformer, and oozes with personality and charm. Milon himself is every bit as lovable as better-known platforming heroes such as Mario, and his quest to save his fairy friend has him journeying through multiple worlds, with some surprise themes thrown in. Along with the requisite water, lava, and ice worlds, there's also a candy world and a mountainous region and some other surprises. The game has all of the regular platforming elements, including auto-scrolling levels, rotating platforms, and bottomless pits, but virtually every stage introduces new mechanics. All the elements combined with the bright and colorful design come together to make the game feel surprisingly fresh and fun. The game also has dungeons, which are more like the large stages in the original, which usually feature maze-like layouts and which are a fun change of pace.

As in the original, Milon is armed with magic bubbles, although in this game instead of just damaging enemies he instead traps most of them (or he can jump on most of them). Milon also has two powerups he can collect: he can use bubble gum to save himself from falling into a pit, and use a pair of winged shoes to glide down from a jump, both of which are very handy. He also gains a couple of cool special moves as the game continues that are required for him to proceed. There are unique enemies in each world and each castle, and although most of them prove to be no match for Milon's bubbles, they all have fun animations and often have funny surprised expressions when they get trapped.

The game was released on Wii's Virtual Console in the original Japanese, but the digital manual tells you everything you need to know. The game is pretty generous with health-restoring items for most of the game, although the last few worlds and bosses are more challenging. The game gives you unlimited continues, and it also has a password feature, although I think the latter only starts you at the beginning of a world.

There aren't many bad things about the game. The bonus mini-game rooms are kind of lame in general, and less fun than the one mini-game in the original. When you die you start off with the lowest health, which is an annoyance when you're trying to beat a boss, as you have to find two health items before you can go back to the boss fight. This isn't too bad though, because the game lets you exit a stage at any time by pressing the select button. You'll have to play at least some stages a few times in order to find the hidden star, but for the most part the stars aren't too hard to find and exploring every corner of every stage is part of the fun.

All in all I was surprised at how much I liked the game, and for once found the game lived up to its hype, so much so that I had to add it to my list of favorite games of all time. I'm glad the game was finally released overseas and that Milon was introduced to more people. It's highly doubtful that this series will ever be revived, but I can now count myself among the many people who love this game and would be psyched to see Milon's next adventure.