The Switch release of In my recent post about Ring Fit Adventure I'd mentioned that I've also been playing Fitness Boxing, another fitness title on Switch. The game actually had a bit more longevity for me than Ring Fit, mostly because of the number of routines. There are a number of boxing moves (jab, uppercut, hook, duck, etc.), and routines focus on a handful of them at a time. It's not hard to get the highest number of stars for each routine on the first time through, but new moves are introduced periodically, and that helps keep things interesting. The actual amount of exercise and effort isn't as strenuous as Ring Fit, but it's a little more engaging overall since you're not having to stop and start a bunch of different exercises and can get more in the zone of just doing a longer continuous routine.

The presentation is somewhat in the style of the Wii Fit games, but with more of a "techno cool" aesthetic. For each routine you can choose a shorter or longer version, and you can select from any of the song options, which are pretty bland instrumental versions of fairly well-known pop hits. You're also free to use whichever trainer avatar you want, although they're also pretty bland. Earning enough stamps (one per day that you play) unlock different items of clothing or accessories for each trainer, and unlocking all of them will take a good long while. At times you have to exaggerate the movements for the game to tell them apart, but the controls work fine in general. The exception to this are some of the moves included in the most advanced routines, which include short steps and small jumps, which I struggled to get the game to recognize consistently, especially when they come in quick succession. Again, really exaggerating the movements seems to help, and netting a high score doesn't really earn you anything, so it wasn't that big of a deal for me. One minor feature I enjoyed was being able to change the trainers' language. I got tired of hearing the same voice clips over and over again in English, so being able to learn a little of another language was a nice little extra feature.

After having unlocked all the routines there wasn't a lot to keep me interested in the game, but as the first boxing type of video game I played I enjoyed it as a change of pace overall. This has made me more curious about the raft of boxing video games that were released on Wii, so I'll probably see if I can find a cheap lot of them on eBay or something and try a couple of them out.

The Switch release of Xenoblade Chronicles came out recently, but as usual I'm way behind and have only this past year really dived into the second game in the series, Xenoblade Chronicles X. I'd enjoyed but not been bowled over by the original Xenoblade Chronicles on Wii, but I actually found myself playing Xenoblade Chronicles X much more obsessively and in the end enjoying it much more. X has less story overall, and part of this is due to the fact that you create your character and you have a much wider array of characters that you can choose from to recruit and use. I preferred the sci-fi setting and the story setup (human colony interacting with alien races) and the electronic music (which is excellent by the way), but both games have simliar battle mechanics and comparable numbers of things to do in terms of sidequests and NPCs and locales (although X is a significantly longer game, which is not usually a plus in my book).

But even aside from the similarities, I preferred the way X is structured. X has the map on the GamePad, and unlocking all the parts of the map gets to be an obsession, which to me felt a lot like my experience with Breath of the Wild. X ups the obsessiveness even more by dividing the map into a grid where each cell has some special mission to complete before a little green tick mark gets put on it. Some of the missions are to defeat a difficult enemy, some are related to specific sidequests, etc. but that extra bit of motivation to fill in the map is extremely compelling (a similar mechanic is what also drove me to pour hours into Hyrule Warriors' Adventure Mode).

Like its predecessor, Xenoblade Chronicles X is a huge game, and 50+ hours into it I'm amazed at how much more there is to do. The character design is still a little off, in the same way that it was in the previous game, although I appreciated the heart-to-heart conversations which make a return here as much as I did before. I didn't dip into the online co-op mission-based mode and there was definitely some frustration in trying to complete some sidequests, such as trying to track down rare drops or particular NPCs who only show up at certain times of day and in the end having to resort to online guides, and a few other relatively minor complaints here and there, but overall this was a truly impressive game and one that I'm looking forward to going back to at some point to finish off. I felt like the first game was fun but not super memorable, but I found the alien world of Mira to be much more immersive and Xenoblade Chronicles X to be a much more lasting experience overall, so I am going to have to give it the edge and include it in my list of greatest games. It's a little sad that the Wii U never found mainstream success, but that amazing games like this one were created for it is some consolation at least.

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 in general 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.