I've been posting semi-regularly with updates about my journey through the Dance Dance Revolution series, and I suppose it was only a matter of time before I tried out the Karaoke Revolution series. Like the DDR series, the Karaoke series is also published by Konami, but otherwise the two series don't have much in common at all. The Karaoke games were developed by Harmonix, who went on to develop the hugely successful Guitar Hero and Rock Band games, although the first entry in the Karaoke Revolution series was one of their earliest games.

I played the first game in the series, simply called Karaoke Revolution, and released on PS2. Harmonix's lack of experience shows, as the interface and graphics (most notably the character models) are pretty basic even considering when it was released (late 2003). Along with selecting songs you pick a character, outfit, and venue, and the crowd reacts according to how well you're doing. You're given a rating for each phrase of the song, and as you'd expect from a rhythm game, you earn combos by getting a sequence of high ratings. The vocal detection seems decent, although there's a bit of a lag as the game recognizes your pitch, and to get higher scores it seems like you have to sing a little bit ahead of the soundtrack, which is kind of annoying. It'll be interesting to see how the recognition technology improves in subsequent games of this series and its competitors.

The game has several difficulty levels (the harder the mode, the harsher the judging of your pitch-matching), and the songs are also given a difficulty rating (one to three). The song list is divided so that there are four in a venue and the venues progress from a small club to a giant stadium. All the venues are unlocked to start, and each song also has target scores for you to earn gold and platinum medals, although the only unlockables are some outfits, a few songs, and some behind-the-scenes videos (basically just the developers singing some of the songs). There's also a versus mode and a karaoke-only mode (i.e. no scoring). As with the DDR games, the song features mostly covers rather than original songs, but I don't have a problem with that as the covers are good facsimiles of the originals and you're singing over them anyway. The song selection is definitely of its time, but even though I'm a pop music ignoramus, I knew at least one of the songs in each venue. For the songs I only half knew I could basically fake my way through the verses and then sing on the chorus, so the game should be an okay way to learn some new songs as well.

Overall the game was pretty enjoyable, despite the subpar presentation. I'll probably dip into a couple more games in the series before trying out some other karaoke-type video games, but I think it's pretty safe to say that I don't think I'm in danger of becoming as big a completist of the series as DDR (especially since there are country and American Idol editions of the game, haha.)


Anti-social geezer that I am, I rarely play party games, but 1-2-Switch, one of the launch titles for Switch, is unusual in many ways. For Nintendo a mini-game collection showcasing the unique capabilities of a new system is hardly a surprise by now (see Wii Sports for Wii and Nintendo Land for Wii U for example). But 1-2-Switch explores new territory by providing a set of mini-games that encourage you to ignore the screen altogether and focus on your opponent instead.

The set of 28 mini-games has a decent amount of variety, and as in those other games they do a good job of showing off the capabilities of the new system. Not all of them are memorable, however. Still, at its best 1-2-Switch reaches the level of silliness of classic Wii party games, such as WarioWare: Smooth Moves, where it's as much fun seeing your friends' actions as attempting to win yourself. The game feels much more limited than Smooth Moves, though, as the game is entirely focused on multiplayer and even then doesn't provide much motivation for more than a few sessions with the same group. Medals for getting target scores for the mini-games that are playable solo would have been a worthwhile addition, and more mini-games with even more variety would have improved the overall package as well. It's a little disappointing that the game isn't part of the WarioWare series since it's so obviously indebted to it, but it's understandable since the developers wanted to shift your attention away from the screen. The controls work great for the majority of the mini-games, and the video clips with live actors demonstrating each mini-games are entertainingly silly and cheesy.

The official website of the game includes suggestions for livening up your 1-2-Switch party, some of which would have been nice as added options within the game itself. Although it's easy to dismiss this game as being a shallow experience, with the right group of friends this could be a lot of fun. At the original $50 MSRP the game was a little hard to recommend, but now that it's possible to find a user copy for a bit cheaper it's much easier to recommend this as a fun game to introduce your friends and family to Switch.

Party on the go with these 1-2-Switch links:
- Review at NintendoLife
- Nintendo Treehouse demonstration of the game
- Nintendo Minute episode showing off the game
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Entry on Metacritic. I liked this quote from a user-submitted review: "If you like eating fake sandwiches, you'll love this game."

Another year, another Tetris game, haha. I was curious about Tetris 2 for NES, the only numbered follow-up to the original smash hit. I went into it blind, but it turns out the game is basically a continuation of the type of match-3 gameplay introduced in Dr. Mario. In Dr. Mario you're tasked with clearing viruses by placing pills of the same color next to them (pieces are cleared when four or more of the same color are connected vertically or horizontally). In Tetris 2 the setup is pretty much the same but without the virus/pills skin. Also, in Dr. Mario the puzzle pieces always come in the shape of pills, meaning two squares at a time, whereas in Tetris 2 (as in the original) the pieces always come four squares at a time. Unlike the original Tetris, though, here the puzzle pieces come in odder shapes, to account for the fact that the gameplay centers around matching colors rather than just making lines.

It's been longer than I remembered since I'd played a Dr. Mario game, but now that I've played Tetris 2 I recognize how much of the gameplay is similar to the Dr. Luigi mode in Dr. Luigi, a game released about four years ago that Tetris 2I had played and enjoyed. Like Tetris 2, the Dr. Luigi mode has you using four-square shaped puzzle pieces rather than the usual two-square pieces of the regular Dr. Mario mode, but unlike Tetris 2, in the Dr. Luigi mode the pieces are always shaped like Ls (due to the mode's namesake, naturally). The gravity mechanics are also more obvious in the Dr. Luigi mode as it's clear visually that the L pieces are made up of two 2-square shaped pills, whereas the ways the pieces in Tetris 2 break apart are a little more complicated. In Tetris 2 you can match parts of a single piece and then continue to maneuver the rest of the piece down the well, including rotating the remaining parts. Basically Tetris 2 is more complicated, but I'd have to refresh my memory on the Dr. Luigi mechanics to determine which is more fun overall.

Tetris 2 has a few more wrinkles worth mentioning. The single player mode is pretty typical and fairly humdrum. There's a little cutscene every ten levels you beat, and there's an added twist to the Dr. Mario mechanics in the form of special flashing blocks in every level, one of each of the three colors. If you manage to clear these blocks they automatically clear off all the blocks of the same color, which adds another layer of objectives to the game. You can also clear off all the non-"virus" blocks on the entire board of a color by matching six squares together instead of the usual three, which is super helpful in the vs. CPU mode.

The two player vs. mode and the 1 player vs. CPU mode are where the game really shines. This mode tapped into my obsessive streak in a way that hasn't happened in a good while, but it was partly because I couldn't tell if it was hard because of my lack of skills or because of problems with the game mechanics. A bit of both, probably. In the vs. mode there are a couple of design decisions that seem highly questionable. One is that instead of each player getting their own box that displays the upcoming piece, you share the same piece preview box. This was probably to add to the competitiveness of the game, but it ends up being a big problem since more often than not the piece in the preview box gets "taken" by the other player right when you're about to use it. This completely ruins being able to build any strategy around the next piece, and so instead you end up having to completely ignore the piece preview altogether. Another issue is that like Dr. Mario clearing out the last few pieces at the end of a round can get to be an incredibly tedious marathon. The issue is exacerbated in Tetris 2 because you end up filling the board with pieces at twice the rate as in Dr. Mario (because each piece is four squares instead of Dr. Mario's two). The ability to make a match of six to clear all the non-virus pieces of that color helps, but it isn't enough to keep the end of each round taking ages to finish.

Overall I enjoyed Tetris 2, although it made me appreciate the simpler gameplay of the Dr. Mario games. It'll be interesting to go back and replay more of the Dr. Luigi modes, and, like many puzzle games of the time, Tetris 2 was ported to SNES and Game Boy, so I'll be trying those out eventually as well.

The Doctor is out, but check out these Tetris 2 links anyway:
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Entry on nindb.net (although the info isn't quite correct, as the NES version doesn't include the puzzle mode)
- FAQ at GameFAQs, includes a run-down of all the cutscenes


For my first review of the new year I'm going to post my thoughts on the JRPG Bravely Default for the 3DS. The game was released worldwide about four years ago and in Japan a year and a half before that, and somewhat unusually it was published by Nintendo outside of Japan (in Japan it was published by Square Enix).

Bravely Default game was developed by a company called Silicon Studios, but it feels like an old-school Final Fantasy game in all but name. The two main core gameplay components are the job system, which is pretty much straight from the Final Fantasy games, and the "brave/default" system whereby you can direct a character to take turns in advance, or store up turns to unleash them all in the future.I wasn't sure what to expect about the battle system, but it works quite well. For regular battles making use of the brave/default commands doesn't matter much, but boss battles definitely require you to pay attention to your opponents' abilities and strategize the when to attack and when to defend.

Most of the jobs fit into familiar roles (e.g. knight, thief, white mage, black mage, etc.), but there are a good number of unique jobs thrown into the mix. You earn jobs by defeating bosses, many of whom are optional, and I found that on the normal difficulty (which you can adjust on the fly) doing these sidequests put me at about the right level to progress in the main quest without grinding. If anything there are perhaps too many jobs, as you'll gain new jobs before you've even made a dent in gaining all the abilities of the previous jobs, but I suppose this helps with replayability. The game lets you switch jobs as you please and no matter what your current job is you can equip passive abilities you've mastered from other jobs, and as you progress in the game it becomes a lot of fun to mix and match these abilities and strategize which abilities best complement which jobs.

The game looks fantastic and has a sort of watercolor visual, and it also makes good use of the stereoscopic 3D effects of the 3DS. (There are also movies you can play via AR cards, which is a nice extra.) The characters are fairly cartoon-ish both in looks and personalities, but the storyline is fairly serious, and practically the whole game has voice acting, which is great. Dungeons are pretty simple maze-like affairs, and the game highlights your next objective on the overworld map which ensures you don't get lost. The random encounter rate isn't too high, and the enemies and locales are pretty nicely varied.

Overall I enjoyed my time with Bravely Default, although not enough to see it through all the way to the end. All aspects of the presentation and core gameplay are polished and of high quality, but the story is pretty average and at its heart it's still a classic RPG, which I can only take in spurts. I wouldn't mind coming back to this to play through more of the story and try out some more of the jobs, but I probably won't get to it anytime soon. It should be a good game for JRPG fans, although apparently it gets quite drawn out and repetitive towards the end.

Get the jobs done with these Bravely Default links:
- Official site
- Entry on finalfantasy.wikia.com. Has lots of useful info, including details on jobs and their abilities.
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Entry on Metacritic

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Good gravy, another year already??? In 2017 I played a decent range of different genres pretty well split between old vs. new games and console vs. handheld games. In a surprise upset I wound up playing more smartphone games than on any console (I played slightly less 3DS games than smartphone games, although more on 3DS if you include 3DS eShop games), and equally surprising was that two of my four favorite games I played this year were for smartphones. I suspect this is an anomaly rather than a trend, but we'll have to see how that develops.

By far the game I played the most this year was Fire Emblem Heroes, released on smartphones. My initial reaction was fairly mixed, but as time passed and more and more features were added I got to really like the game, so much so that it ended up being one of my favorite games of the year. Switch came out this year and I had a lot of fun playing games on it, although I found the new entries in the Mario and Zelda series to be more disappointing than not. Although Arms didn't make my favorite games of all time list, it was one of my favorite games of the year, and the more I play it the more I enjoy it. I finally got around to playing Portal and was happy to see it was worth all the acclaim that it's been given, although most of the other classics I played this year for the first time, such as Final Fight and Mortal Kombat (both on SNES) felt fairly dated.

Here's the summary of what my 2017 looked like gaming-wise (games listed in approximate descending order) with links to each game’s corresponding blog review:

HIGH
- Portal (PC)
- Fire Emblem Heroes (Android) (1, 2)
- DoReMi Fantasy: Milon's DokiDoki Adventure (SNES)
- Neko Atsume (Android)

MEDIUM
- Arms (Switch)
- Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)
- Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS) (replay; previously 2013)
- Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
- Super Mario Run (Android)
- Fire Emblem Warriors (Switch)
- Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 (PS2)
- Wolf Sheep Cabbage (Android)
- The Count Lucanor (Switch eShop)
- Yono And The Celestial Elephants (Switch eShop)
- World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (Gen)
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)
- Rive (Switch eShop)
- Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party (Wii)
- Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (Android)
- My Nintendo Picross: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (3DSWare)
- Runbow (Wii U Ware)
- Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 2 (Wii)
- Practise English! (DS)
- Tekken (PS)
- Samurai Warriors 3 (Wii)
- Pokemon Go (Android)
- Rhythm Paradise Megamix (3DS)
- Pocket Card Jockey (3DSWare)
- Pac-Man Championship Edition (XBLA)
- Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)
- Metroid Prime: Federation Force (3DS)
- Dance Dance Revolution Disney Mix (PS)
- Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (3DS)
- Tomodachi Life (3DS)
- Muscle March (WiiWare)
- NES Remix (Wii U Ware)
- Ridiculous Fishing (Android)
- Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move (3DSWare)
- LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Wii)
- Miitopia (3DS)
- Personal Trainer: Math (DS)
- Eco Shooter: Plant 530 (WiiWare)

LOW
- Ice Climber (NES)
- Dynasty Warriors 2 (PS2)
- Pokemon: Magikarp Jump (Android)
- Golden Axe (Arcade)
- Inversus Deluxe (Switch eShop)
- Pokemon Rumble World (3DSWare)
- Yoshi's Cookie (NES)
- Tennis (GB)
- Final Fight (SNES)
- Mortal Kombat (SNES)

NOT RATED
- Amiibo Tap (Wii U Ware)
- English Training (DS)

Outside of games played, this year I also started writing for the blog A Most Agreeable Pastime, which you can read about here and here. I also reviewed the short-lived Fire Emblem anime and recounted my experience working at PAX East.

I played a fair amount of random stuff this year, although the last couple of months were dominated by playing games on Switch. Nintendo's releases for 2018 are a pretty big mystery (which I'm hoping the next Nintendo Direct will shed some much-needed light on), but I'm half hoping there aren't too many heavy hitters since I have plenty of games in my backlog to try to catch up on and finish, including more than a couple of Switch games from this past year.

That's it for another year in review. As always, thanks as always to anyone who’s stumbled across my little patch of cyberspace and found it even mildly diverting, and welcome to another full year of video games at the Intergalactic Video Game Academy! ;)

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