I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Yono and the Celestial Elephants, a cute, charming, and easygoing puzzle adventure game with a lot of philosophical musings and a lot of heart, and so I started looking into the developer, Neckbolt Games, aka Niklas Hallin's, other games. Being a big puzzle fan, I was immediately drawn to his puzzle game Wolf Sheep Cabbage, which was released a couple of years ago on Android. On the surface the game looked pretty typical of the genre, but as a long-time puzzle game player I know that you can only tell how good a puzzle game is by trying it out so I jumped in.

Many hours later, I'm still addicted to playing this game! The visual design and sound design are clean and have personality and charm, and the core game mechanics are rock solid and, like the best of puzzle games, quite elegant (which is no small feat). In the game each of the eponymous puzzle pieces have three "growth" states (e.g. sprout, medium cabbage, big cabbage). In a mechanic reminiscent of the excellent game Threes you can combine pieces at the same state of growth according to the food chain (wolf eats sheep eats cabbage). As you'd expect, the goal is to manage the board and the incoming stream of puzzle pieces to try to get the highest score possible.

Part of what makes the game so addictive is figuring out the optimal strategy of how to manage your limited board space. I'm not completely sure what the rate of pieces is, but the game seems to provide you more cabbages and sheep than wolves, which would be logical. After putting quite a bit of time into the game it seems like despite your best efforts you can still get stuck with way more wolves than any other pieces, and part of the problem may be that if you make a large combo by having a grown wolf eat many grown sheep, you end up with a lot of wolves on the board with not enough sheep. Having to make sure that roughly one wolf eats one sheep ruins the fun of trying to set up combos, but it does seem to make the game last longer, which in the long run should net you a higher score.

I'm not sure if there's any dynamic adjustment going on with the puzzle pieces you're given, but my impression is that with a bit more balancing this game could be really excellent, but as it is it's still a really fun and addictive puzzle game that I highly recommend. I continue to be impressed with this developer, and will definitely have to check out his other games as well.

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I've gotten a bit behind on posts since I've started doing reviews for A Most Agreeable Pastime. In particular, I reviewed Yono and the Celestial Elephants and Inversus Deluxe, both on Nintendo Switch's eShop (yes, I finally got a Switch!). But I've finished a few short games, so I'll be able to catch up a bit now.

First up is Super Mario Run, available on Android and iOS. I was extremely skeptical of the game when it was released last year, in large part because the app stores are full of endless runners, and the vast majority of them are huge snoozefests. Also, along with many others I was put off by how it presented itself as free to play, but in reality it was really more like a demo. In the free version you can play a limited amount of the "Tour" mode, which is more analagous to a regular Mario game. The free mode lets you play through the first world out of six, with each world consisting of four stages. Each stage has three sets of coins (pink, purple, and black) that get progressively more difficult to collect. Unlike the main Mario games getting all the special coins isn't about exploration but more about having exact timing, which is less interesting to me, but this mode is still enjoyable in general.

The other main mode is Toad Rally, where you compete against a ghost (i.e. saved playback) of another player and try to get more points, which are accrued by collecting coins and also performing "stunts", such as jumping after vaulting over an enemy or jumping after dropping off of a ledge. Toad Rally can be fun, although it's also kind of stressful because you lose Toads if you lose a match. Winning a rematch should get you more Toads than you lost, but only if you don't lose too many times. Toads are the main wall behind which special buildings (used in Kingdom Builder, a pretty useless mode where you can decorate your Mushroom Kingdom with various buildings and flowers and such) and characters are locked behind, so you'll definitely have to play a lot of this mode in order to collect everything in the game. The game restricts your play of this mode and requires you to use up Toad Rally tickets, but you'll have way more than you'll ever need so that's not a problem at all and seems like a pointless added wrinkle.

I was more interested in the main "Tour" mode, but I didn't spring for the full version until recently when the game was half off ($5 instead of the usual $10). The sale coincided with the release of a few new features. One was the addition of a star world which includes nine extra stages that are unlocked by completing the main Tour mode and specific missions (e.g. collect a certain number of coins on a particular stage), one for each of the nine new stages. The other was the "Remix 10" mode. This is a fun mode where the game mixes up sections of each of the Tour modes levels (basically a fifth of a stage), parts of stages from Toad Rally mode, and some new bits (mostly bonus-type stages). As the moniker suggests, you have to play through ten in a row in a sequence, and you can collect rainbow coins in order to get a chance to earn a new building. (Deaths aren't penalized other than causing you to lose your rainbow coins for that stage.)

The real draw for me was the new inclusion of Princess Daisy as a playable character, a first for a platforming game and something I was super psyched about. I would've paid the full price just for the chance to play as Daisy, who is easily one of my favorite Mario characters by far (the other being Waluigi, wahaha!). I'm still slogging my way through the Remix 10 mode to get Daisy, which requires playing that mode a lot, but it's probably one of my favorite modes of the game since it's more low pressure than the Tour mode and Toad Rally and there's a lot of variety built into it.

Phew! So that's a run-down of all the features of the game. But how was the game itself? Although on the surface the game looks exactly like a New Super Mario Bros. game, it actually took me a fair amount of time to get used to the timing of everything. Since Mario automatically vaults over most enemies, it takes some time to adjust to jumping after he's on top of an enemy instead of before in order to do a "stunt" to get more points in Toad Rally. The game adds pause blocks that momentarily halt Mario in his tracks, as well as backwards arrow blocks where when you jump on them cause Mario to jump backwards. He'll also automatically stop when on a platform suspended in air or blocked by a wall or a pipe. In the case of a wall you'll end up having to do a wall jump (slide down a wall and jump) to change direction, which is also something to get used to.

Once I got used to the new mechanics, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the game. You can blitz through the 24 levels that make up the Tour mode without a ton of effort, but collecting all the coins will take much more time and skill. The game is really well suited to being on a smartphone, as everything is presented in little chunks that don't take more than a few minutes to get through. The modes feed off of each other (winning in Tour mode unlocks stages in Toad Rally and also gets you Toad Rally tickets, and playing Toad Rally nets you Toads, which unlock buildings in Kingdom Builder, etc.) which seems a bit overdone and overly reliant on you caring anything about the Kingdom Builder mode, but it's also easy to focus on whichever mode you enjoy the most without having to bother much with the other modes. The exception is that you're required to play a lot of Toad Rally to unlock all the characters, which is somewhat disappointing as it's one of my least favorite modes.

I never would have guessed that Super Mario Run would end up being one of the freshest 2-D Mario games in years, but it just goes to show you that you should never underestimate the mastermind that is Miyamoto. Super Mario Run. I collected all the pink coins and played a fair amount of Toad Rally and Remix 10, and although I don't feel the need to collect all the rest of the coins or buildings right away, I will definitely be adding this to the collection of games I go to for playing on my lunch break.

Vault over these "new" Super Mario Run links:
- Official site for the game
- Video of Miyamoto introducing the game
- Silly Nintendo Minute video on the game- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry on Wikipedia

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Another day, another Pokemon spin-off game. I was mildly curious about the smartphone game Pokémon: Magikarp Jump just because the premise sounded so ridiculous: train up your Magikarp to take part in jumping competitions. I decided to give it a try for the heck of it. I was expecting it to be more of a set of mini-games or something, but it's actually more of a simulation game.

The two main ways you train up your Magikarp are by collecting berries in your pond just by touching them, or doing some training. The game selects one of your available training routines which vary in the amount of jumping power (i.e. experience) they'll grant your Magikarp, but outside of deciding to train you don't actually do anything active here (or anywhere else in the game for that matter other than the pond). Competitions are a likewise hands-off affair. You can also gain experience via special helper Pokemon that show up in your pond and via random events that trigger on the way back from training. You can power-up the amount of experience you earn from all of these methods by paying in-game coins (which can be bought with real-world money). You can also use virtual and real-world currency to add decorations to your pond and other fairly useless extras. As is par for the course paying real money in this game seems like a complete waste to me, and would only really be needed if you absolutely had to barrel through the whole. The game is much better in short bursts anyway, and you make much more progress from playing a few minutes every day for several days rather than playing for an extended period of time in one sitting.

Upgrading the rate you gain experience and the eating mechanics reminded me very strongly of Cookie Clicker. which was a humorously postmodern game that I'd played and enjoyed a few years back. It seems like that game (or some other game much like it) has spawned a bunch of imitators, without the meta humor. With the colorful and chibi-esque graphics and cute premise Magikarp Jump is a more palatable one than the others I've come across, although ultimately the game is still incredibly shallow. There's a limit to the maximum level each of the Magikarp you reel in can obtain, so you have to continuously retire old Magikarp and train up new ones. Every time you retire one the rate of training your Magikarp increases, and the game keeps track of the different patterns of Magikarp you've collected for added "gotta catch 'em all" obsessiveness.

This was definitely a quick and easy smartphone game that The Pokémon Company seems happy to churn out but that Nintendo themselves would never release themselves. It looks like the developers, Select Button Inc., have put out several other quite successful smartphone games that I'm assuming are in the same vein and are why they were hired to create Magikarp Jump. While this was cute and entertaining enough for a short time, I can't imagine wanting to actually play this for the 27-odd hours that would be needed to beat all the leagues. Not a complete waste of time, but definitely one of the more mindless games I've played in a while.

Click these Pokémon: Magikarp Jump links:
- Super thorough entry on Bulbapedia
- Video of "The Magikarp Song", an awesome comedic song about our favorite useless Pokemon released to coincide with the release of Magikarp Jump
- Review at NintendoLife
- How to evolve your Magikarp into Gyarados
- And just for fun, that video of the person beating Fire Red/Leaf Green with a single Magikarp, haha.

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I'm still working my way through the fighting game canon, so even though I'd played my first Tekken game earlier this year I decided check out an even older fighting game, the original Mortal Kombat. I had a copy of the SNES version of the game lying around so I played that even though it seems is generally looked down on as being the most inferior port as the game's infamous violence was heavily censored.

Not knowing anything about the game, I picked the character Sub-Zero randomly. Even though the controls are simpler than the Street Fighter games (which have six attack buttons compared to Mortal Kombat's four), I found it way harder to execute the special moves. I definitely don't think my controller was defective, but despite my efforts more often than not my moves didn't register correctly, which really killed a lot of my enjoyment of the game. The game in general feels slooooow, much slower and clunkier than the Street Fighter games, and it's a big drawback that the characters feel so similar. I also never really got used to having to use a separate button to block, although that's no fault of the game.

The controversial video-digitized graphics didn't bother me too much as they seem pretty cartoony nowadays (I couldn't help but be reminded of the DSiWare title Photo Dojo), although for its time I can see why parents would have been upset. Even though I'm squeamish about violence in general, the cartoony fatalities are actually the more entertaining parts of the game. Another complaint I have about the game is that the AI is pretty mediocre; it's way too easy to spam the same lame move over and over again to defeat your opponent.

I've been long overdue for playing this game and I'm glad to cross it off my list, but I didn't really get much enjoyment out of my time with it. It seems like the second game is more over the top and has more comedy in it, so I might check it out at some point.

Not too moribund Mortal Kombat links:
- Compare this video of the fatalities in the arcade version vs. this video of the ones in the SNES version
- PDF of the instruction manual
- FAQ at GameFAQs
- Entry at mortalkombat.wikia.com

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I'd been rather intrigued by Pocket Card Jockey for several reasons, not least of which was that it was by Game Freak, best known for their Pokemon games. I'd enjoyed their previously released non-Pokemon game HarmoKnight but I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy this game, a strange mash-up of horse racing and solitaire, mostly because I'm not the biggest fan of solitaire. I became a little more interested in it after hearing how much the hosts of Nintendo Minute played it, so I decided to give it a go.

I've been playing the game off and on for a while. There are a lot of systems to contend with here, and so it definitely takes some time to learn the ins and outs of how everything works. The core game consists of races, which involves playing a few rounds of a solitaire-like game, interspersed with short sections where you have to draw lines to indicate how you want to position your horse. This is pretty solid in general, although even after playing for hours I still had a hard time getting my horse into the right position (your horse will get more energy if she/he is in her/his preferred position in relation to other horses (e.g. in front or behind) as well as if she/he is in a certain zone on the track.

The longer arc of the game is to take your trained horses and breed them to combine and strengthen their stats and abilities. This is a big part of the game, although training a new horse takes a significant amount of time, so it definitely feels like taking a step forward and several steps back whenever you have to start with a new horse. It's satisfying to gain better horses, but the whole process is pretty slow, and the mechanics don't change at all aside from some horses preferring shorter or longer races, and horses having different abilities or preferred positioning. There are special horses that pop up as options occasionally that you can pick from as well, and "winning" the game means basically training up all the special horses and winning all the top races. I ended up winning just a handful of top races and breeding just a couple of horses before I lost interest, due to the built-in "two steps back" design and the lack of variety in the core gameplay. I could see that this game would be more fun with other people to trade horses (via QR codes) with, but for now if I feel the urge to play solitaire I'll just go back to my usual mainstay, Brain Age: Concentration Training (yes, I'm still playing that game! Haha).

Train 'em all with these Pocket Card Jockey links:
- Original Nintendo Direct reveal
- Launch trailer, which includes a couple of QR codes of horses
- Entry on Miiverse
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry at howlongtobeat.com

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