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Picross is a game, like Sudoku, that I find fun in short bursts but that is pretty mindless and that I lose interest in pretty quickly. In this particular case, I tried out Pokémon Picross, which was released late last year. As with Sudoku games, if you've played one Picross game you've pretty much played them all. In this particular game part of the draw is that the puzzles are all pixel renditions of familiar Pokémon, which was marginally more engaging than the usual stable of random objects. When you solve a puzzle you "capture" that Pokémon, and can use its special ability to help you in other puzzles (e.g. scan puzzle for mistakes, reveal some random squares, etc.).

Each puzzle comes with various missions (e.g. solve in less than X minutes, or use a certain Pokémon ability) that you can tackle to earn "Picrites", the in-game currency, and there are random achievements and daily challenges that will also net you some Picrites. This game is also free to play, and it's done fairly similarly to other games of this kind (e.g. pay Picrites to be able to use Pokémon you've already used or unlock new puzzles). There's a ~32 USD cap on how much you can spend, which for 300+ puzzles this doesn't seem like a great deal, although with the free elements you could probably finish the game with well under that. I personally felt like I'd seen everything the game had to offer after just a couple of hours, and I'll probably try out other Picross games (such as the recently released MyNintendo reward, which uses elements from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess) before picking this one up again. Apparently I'm not the only one who found the touchscreen to be a bit unresponsive in this game, at least on the regular 3DS screen that I was using; perhaps the game plays better on a 3DS XL. Regardless, this is a game that may convert some Pokémon fans to the Picross games, but is otherwise pretty unremarkable. Onward!

Cross off these Pokémon Picross links:
- Page on official Pokémon site
- Miiverse page
- Review on NintendoLife
- FAQ on GameFAQs, includes some details on the pricing breakdown

I think pretty much everyone was taken aback when Nintendo announced that their first free-to-play game would be a new Steel Diver game. I had enjoyed the first Steel Diver game more than I had expected, but I find it hard to believe that many people were champing at the bit to play it. Being a Nintendo completist, I tried out the free version but did spring for the premium version, and as with the first game, found this to be more worthwhile than I expected.

The game is easily described as a sort of slow-motion first-person shooter. Which is hard to imagine being much fun, but actually is more interesting than you would think. The game expands the periscope mode from the previous game, in which you turned the 3DS around physically to shoot at ships from your sub. In this game you actually move the sub around and attack subs as well as other ships. Aside from strategizing when to mask (hide your sub, which uses air) and when to surface (to replenish air), you have to really be careful about positioning yourself, aiming, and shooting, because ammo is limited and everything goes so slowly so you don't have much room for error. This ends up meaning you can strategize more, which is refreshing. The previous game's mode was sort of a slow-motion racer, and this game is a slow-motion FPS. It's interesting that Nintendo is also exploring a slow-motion fighter, with their supposedly forthcoming game, Project Giant Robot, which Miyamoto introduced at E3 2014.

i kind of like the concept of the game just because it's so wacky, but it doesn't really make for thrilling gameplay. The single player mode features two missions in the free version and seven missions in the premium version, which doesn't sound like that many, but each mission has three different difficulty levels and requirements for earning a gold medal. As with most FPSes, the single player mode mostly just serves as a warm-up to the main multiplayer mode, and having only seven ensures that the mode doesn't wear out its welcome. Playing through the single player mode will also unlock additional subs and crew members in the premium version. Crew members are analogous to the decals of the previous game, and serve as a way to tweak your stats (e.g. +1 health for -1 submerged speed). The different subs and crew members let you customize a sub to suit your style, and the premium version also makes more stages available in the multiplayer, so as a package it's worth it if you're into the game at all. The premium version also allows you to purchase additional subs for $1 each, and these subs seem to have slightly better stats overall than the other subs, but not enough to easily overwhelm other players. You can also pay extra to add crew member slots to any sub, which, again, would give those players more customization options, but wouldn't necessarily overwhelm other players

The multiplayer is basically random 4 vs 4 matches, with limited communication. Nintendo has struggled with communication in their games, always opting towards being perhaps overly protective to children. In this game communication is limited to Morse code, which fits nicely with the submarine setting, and pretty much limits you to communicating your current location to your team (e.g. "E3") and simple directives, such as "GO?" and "OK".

Another thing that Nintendo has experimented with is how to effectively use the 3DS's controls to create a FPS. This is much easier now that the New 3DS has a second control stick, but what they opted to do here was to make the controls all touchscreen based, as with the previous game. Like the previous game, using the touchscreen provides a lot of the uniqueness of the game experience, although as in other games with unique controls, it does feel that they can be overly complicating what could be more simple. I ended up opting to use a combination of buttons and touchscreen, although I'm guessing die-hard players of the game always just use the buttons as they're easier. The touchscreen controls would work fine, though, but only because the game's pace is so slow, or rather, requires deliberate actions. The multiplayer setup is similar to Splatoon (although Sub Wars preceded it), in that the teams are always shuffled after every match, ensuring that there isn't any chance of a team ganging up on someone.

Overall I didn't mind the time I spent with Steel Diver: Sub Wars, but as with the first Steel Diver game, it's not one I feel like I need to pour tons of time into. It looks like some people got really into this game, though, and have really mastered the mechanics, debate winning strategies, etc. (like in this random Miiverse post, for example). I like that Nintendo regularly defies expectations and throws curveballs like these, although in this particular case this was a game I admired more than loved. But at the same time, if I knew someone who was really into the game, it's a game that I wouldn't mind playing more of either.

Shoot these slow-motion Steel Diver: Sub Wars links:
- Official site
- Page on nintendo.com
- Miiverse page
- Review on NintendoLife
- Wiki on the game, includes an incomplete list of available subs and requirements to unlock
- Entry on Metacritic
- Info on Wikipedia

/a

I'm still waiting for the smartphone game that makes it onto my list of best games of all time. I'd read a lot of good things about the game 10000000 (i.e. 10 Million), a game with an unwieldy title that got good press, particularly from Game Informer, who apparently named it their "Best Mobile Exclusive" title of 2012

I picked up the Android version, and it didn't take me long to realize that the game's setup is essentially the same as the game Puzzle Quest, which was a puzzle-RPG hybrid that appeared on the DS. I had played that game about six years ago and thought it wasn't bad overall, and had actually played it all the way through to the end. 10000000 has a unique take on the tired match three mechanics, where instead of moving pieces around or swapping adjacent pieces, you can slide a row or a column (which wrap around the screen). The goal of the game is to earn 10,000,000 points in one round, and this is achieved by working your way up through the levels, which feature more difficult enemies, but also a higher multiplier.

Basically I found 10000000 to be reasonably enjoyable until I realized that despite the more welcoming retro art trappings, the game requires even less strategy than Puzzle Quest. Puzzle Quest requires you to be very deliberate about your movements since in the main modes you alternate moves with the AI, but in this game just making matches of three of the type you need as quickly as possible usually accomplishes enough for you to progress, i.e. you don't really have to think about chains at all. There are missions you have to complete in order to progress to the next ranking and items you have to strategize about using, but otherwise the game is pretty mindless and the enemies don't really require any special strategies.

In short, this definitely wasn't a complete waste of time, but 10000000 wasn't a game that I felt compelled to continue, either. The match 3 genre continues to grow, and I've already put some time into the next one on my list. That one has already been a bit more of a time suck, though, but we'll have to see how it holds up over time...

Puzzle and quest through these 10000000 links:
- Official site
- Pages for Steam version and iTunes version
- Entry at Wikipedia

I've been a big fan of the Art Style series since my first game, and it's definitely with some sadness that I'm reaching the end of my experience. Art Style: Zengage (aka Art Style: NEMREM, whatever that means!) is my sixth out of seven in the DSiWare series, and as with some of the other games at first I was afraid that this would be the first game that dipped in quality. But my fears were soon laid to rest, and I ended up loving this as much as the others.

The main reason it took some time to warm up to the game is that the first set of puzzles felt distinctly like playing a 2-D version of a Rubik's Cube, and as someone who really lacks in natural ability with regard to spatial skills, I've never been good (or very interested in being good) with them. In this game your goal is to slide rows and columns of each stage's grid around in order to get the colored balls lined up with the correct colored tile. Easier said than done, and it took me a lot of blind trial and error at the beginning before I began to grasp how to think about these types of puzzles.

Fortunately, once over this initial barrier, things went a lot more smoothly as the emphasis of the game becomes much less on Rubik's Cube-like thinking and more about making use of the new mechanics that are introduced with each new set of puzzles. The puzzles come in groups of nine, but you're only required to finish the first five to progress to the next set. The new mechanics include such things as arrow tiles, which move the balls in the direction they're pointing when they're moved underneath them; and lock tiles, which prevent you from sliding that row or column. The game is content with just introducing new elements as you go without necessarily increasing the complexity, and instead what happens is that once you get to the credits there's a sort of epilogue where there are two more sets of puzzles that are more complicated and require you to have fully mastered all the mechanics of the game.

As with the majority of the games in the rest of the series, the mechanics of Art Style: Zengage look simple, but are very deep and extremely elegant. And as with all the games, the aesthetics are top notch. In this case the game purposefully provides a very relaxed ambience, with ambient sounds like water and wind making up a big part of the soundtrack. Puzzles are compact, and the game provides a rewind button, so that even being stumped is rarely a frustrating experience. With enough trial and error you'll eventually stumble onto the solution, but the game challenges you to reach the "par" number of moves for each puzzle, which definitely increases the replayability. As with the other games in the series, in another developers' hands each set of puzzles would have been bloated to ten times their number. Instead skip Ltd. keeps things moving along, and if that leaves you wanting more, it also ensures that the game doesn't drag on and outstay its welcome.

It's a bit of a tragedy that this series is so unknown, but at the same time it does make it feel more special. I'm happy to add this as the third of the series to my list of favorite games of all time. The mechanics are simple but extremely clever, and the puzzles are wholly satisfying to complete. The style is fantastic, and the game overall is as high quality as ever. There's some consolation in nearing the end of the DSiWare series, as there are still the WiiWare games and the original Game Boy Advance bit Generations series to check out. And also, the opportunity to replay the games in this fantastic series, which I'm also definitely looking forward to.

Twisty Art Style: Zengage links:
- Page on official site
- Review on NintendoLife
- Apparently this is a guide to all the solutions, although it's in Japanese
- Entry on Metacritic
- Info on the order of the sets of puzzles, at GameFAQs

One of the main reasons I got behind on blogging recently was from getting completely sucked into Hyrule Warriors. The other main reason was getting completely sucked into diving back into Kid Icarus: Uprising. I had picked up the game when it first came out, back in 2012, but it had taken me a while to get through the story mode. I've been chipping away at it occasionally since then, picking it up every once in a while to clear out my StreetPasses and complete a mission or two, and my enjoyment of the game gradually increased until I got to a point where I was making good progress in finding all the hidden rooms in the story mode. I was also making good progress on completing the first set of missions, and as with Hyrule Warriors, this really made the game much more worthwhile and brought out the completionist in me, and I spent way too much time strategizing and planning out which missions I would tackle next. I've pretty much finished both of those goals, so I can finally set the game aside for now.

In my first playthrough of Uprising I'd admired the game more than loved it, although this time around I definitely enjoyed my time with the game much more than before. I had rushed through the game the first time on a relatively low difficulty in order to get to the end of the story, but searching out the hidden rooms and having to replay stages multiple times and on high difficulties in order to fulfill specific missions forced me to improve my skillz, learn the attack patterns of the enemies, and pay more attention to the range of powers you can bring into battle. The air sections of the game still felt fairly dull and same-y to me, even on the highest difficulties, but the land battles were much more fun this time around. By the time I got really back into the game I'd also fused some more powerful weapons, and so I had more weapons to choose from, which made things more enjoyable. This time around I enjoyed the twists the game throws at you in the story mode more, and the dialogue was still as entertaining as ever with jokes holding up even on repeated listens, certainly helped by great voice acting. (My favorite line by far: "But chicken is much more ECONOMICAL!!!!" Anyone who's played the game will probably remember that reference, haha.) It's also nice that there's an option to turn off the voices and focus on the music if you want.

The character and enemy design, music, and visuals are all high quality, and the multiplayer mode was still fun, although still not my favorite (although if I had friends who would play with me I definitely wouldn't mind spending more time on it). I'm also not completely convinced that the story mode had to be as long as it was, or that every weapon amongst the multitude of weapons the game includes is really unique and necessary. Two of the three vehicles also seem pretty useless (the Cherubot is the only really worthwhile one). Some of the missions, such as the speed runs, also seem more tedious and pointless than they could've been. The controls worked perfectly fine for me, and I really like the camera controls, although I have to admit that my marathon sessions led to a severely cramped left arm. But less-obsessive players should be fine.

After more than tripling my original playthrough time I found myself seriously considering adding the game to my list of "Favorite Games of All Time". In the end, though, I had to deny the game a spot on my list. Much as I admire the game and enjoyed it this time around, the "tingle" factor just wasn't quite high enough. As with my first playthrough, the game left me looking forward to a follow-up, although who knows when that will happen. Maybe on my third playthrough my esteem will continue to rise. We'll see!

Esteem-rising Kid Icarus: Uprising links:
- The official site is chock-full of information, and includes screenshots and wallpapers
- Page on Miiverse
- There were a bajillion videos released about the game. Here's the video with Sakurai's 14-minute in-depth overview of the game's features, and here's a "Tips and Tricks" video
- Interview with Sakurai at Wired
- Challenge mode FAQ at GameFAQs
- Metacritic entry