For something a bit different I thought I'd post my thoughts on the Splatoon manga, the first volume of which was released in North America a few months ago. There are quite a few other official Nintendo manga series, but this is the first one I've read. I didn't really know what to expect, but this debut volume really feels like a glorified advertisement rather than a compelling manga. The author did a good job of giving of the main character "Goggles" a lively personality, although not much time is spent on the rest of his team (Team Blue). The other three members of Team Blue are also named after Splatoon gear, and Goggles plays the typical plucky "scatter-brained but still somehow comes out on top" manga protagonist role.

Each chapter consists of Team Blue facing off against a superior team, but somehow using their teamwork to win. The manga faithfully recreates all the elements of the game, including name-checking specific weapon, sub-weapons, stages, and strategies. As a fan of the Splatoon video games it's fun to see the game in manga form and the artwork captures the unique and "fresh" aesthetics of the game, but there's very little plot or characterization to make this a distinctive experience. It definitely feels aimed at younger kids, although I'm still somewhat hopeful that volume 2 will pick up and actually provide a little more plot. I'm not really expecting it to, though, but as it comes out next week I won't have much longer to find out.

(For anyone interested in a closer look at the manga, Nintendo Minute did a video about the manga a couple of months ago that's pretty entertaining.)

It's been a few years since I played a pinball video game, so I was quite overdue. I've had Zen Pinball 3D on 3DS for a while, and I'd actually already played its sequel, Zen Pinball 2. The first Zen Pinball game first appeared on PlayStation Network before releasing on 3DS (and Android, apparently). It seems like the tables have since been released in other configurations on Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Steam as well.

As usual, although I tried all four tables, I focused mostly on one, in this case the medieval-themed one called "Excalibur". As with their other tables there are a lot of different goals to shoot for around the table and missions to attempt, including a jousting mini-game and a knight's duel mini-game. The graphics, sound effects, voice clips, and controls are all solid, although it's kind of a drag that many of the missions reset when you lose a ball, making it difficult to actually accomplish them.

The game does suffer from being crammed on the 3DS. I had the game on a regular New 3DS, and it would definitely have benefited from being on a larger 3DS XL system. The game feels much more cramped than other pinball games on DS and 3DS since it restricts the main view to the top screen rather than utilizing both screens. This makes sense in terms of the game being presented in stereoscopic 3D (which looks great, by the way) and also being a port from another system, but it's a big waste of screen real estate as the second screen is just used for the LED messages that mostly just shows the score. A big side effect of this is that you often can't really see what's going on with the ball when it's bouncing around the top part of the table, although you can select between eight different views. The zoomed-in view isn't really satisfactory, though, and the most zoomed-out view is pretty unplayable.

From what I've played of the other three tables the layouts feel a bit too similar, although playing them more may make their differences more apparent. I played the game pretty addictively, and it's a good game to play on the go. It's a little more stressful than what I would usually first turn to, though, so although I enjoyed playing it I probably won't make it one of my go-to 3DS games.

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It's been a while since I'd played a Pokemon spin-off, but I finally sat down and spent a good chunk of time with Pokemon Dash, a DS launch title that I've been trying to get motivated to take a good look at for what seems like forever. I'd dipped into the game a long, long time ago, but didn't remember much about the game at all.

It turns out the game isn't really a racing game in the traditional sense, but it does provide an interesting, if somewhat unrefined, collection of game elements that really show off the capabilities of Nintendo's at-the-time newest handheld system. First off, the game uses the touchscreen to control the three major actions, which are: dashing by swiping over you (as Pikachu) in a particular direction, swiping over the markers on the left or right sides of the screen to make you rise or fall if you have a balloon item, and tapping on the balloons to pop them to make you fall faster. The game also requires you to shift between looking at the action on the bottom screen and using the radar on the top screen. The radar provides essential information on where the next checkpoint is (you have to dash to a set number of them on each course), or where vital items are (balloons, and also items that let you dash faster through specific terrain, such as forests or swamp). The game also has a unique feature where you can plug in your GBA mainline Pokemon games and transfer your current party into maps that are used for a special mode (more on that later).

The main mode is actually pretty fun, although the mechanics are a little bit awkward. During the bulk of the game you're dashing around and the bottom screen shows an arrow showing you where the next checkpoint is, but the radar on the top screen doesn't show you any map info, just icons showing where the checkpoints and items are. Also, when you have a balloon item you rise up in the air and are presented with a map view of the whole course, but you're not given a pointer to the next checkpoint. Instead, you're given a hint of where to find it, in the form of an image of the section of the map the checkpoint is in. It's up to you to hunt around the quite large map to find the part of the map that matches the provided image. This sounds fun in theory, but it ends up not working at all in practice. The AI on the higher levels unerringly knows exactly where to find the next checkpoint, so you end up just having to do a lot of memorizing to match their speed and win. On the higher levels you also can never take a direct line from checkpoint to checkpoint, and you often have to choose to land further away from a checkpoint in order to nab a balloon or item that you'll need to get to the checkpoint after the current checkpoint. Planning out your route sounds like it could been a fun game mechanic, but in practice you end up just chasing after the Pokemon who are ahead of you to figure out where to go next.

The game has three difficulty levels, each with five cups that have five courses. On the regular level it's pretty easy to beat the AI, but the hard level definitely requires a lot of rote memorization via trial and error (which is par for the course with racing games, but which I don't find much fun), and perfect stylus technique. The expert level shakes things up and does present you with the map and the checkpoints beforehand and it's completely up to you to choose the order to tackle them in. As with the hard GP, it requires a lot of effort to beat the AI, and the scales definitely tip towards the frustration side rather than the fun side. Thankfully the game allows you to restart a course at any time without any penalty except a cosmetic one where the trophy you earn at the end won't be shiny if you restarted a course.

Rounding out the package are the usual time trial modes, and a multiplayer mode that requires all players to have a copy of the cartridge. The last mode is the GBA connection mode mentioned previously. This is actually a pretty fun, if shallow, mode that dispenses with most of the gameplay of the other modes and focuses more on the "seek and find" part of the game where you're given a bit of a map image and you have to locate it on the whole map. This mode is made more difficult by rewarding you for the progress you've made in your GBA game, as the time you're given to get through all the maps is based on how high the levels of your Pokemon were. It's pretty much impossible to get through all the maps if your Pokemon are low levels, which I suppose might encourage some people to make more progress in the GBA games before trying to tackle that mode (although by that time (although by the time Pokemon Dash was released, the GBA games had been out for months.

I'm glad I finally was able to force myself to sit down with this game, and I was glad to find that it was more enjoyable than I expected. The game was developed by Ambrella, who have since then gone on to churn out the much less unique Pokémon Rumble games. Pokemon Dash has some good ideas, and it's too bad that they didn't completely gel. It doesn't seem to deserve quite all the flak it got when it was released (mostly, I suspect, by Pokémon fans disappointed that it wasn't a mainline Pokémon game), and it's a decent game overall, especially considering it was a launch title.

Race, seek, and find these Pokemon Dash links:
- Entry on Bulbapedia
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Info on serebii.net about special event courses that were distributed at the time
- Entry on pokemon.com
- Entry on howlongtobeat.com

I'd really enjoyed the two previous games I'd played by developer Neckbolt (i.e. solo developer Niklas Hallin), namely the adventure game Yono and the Celestial Elephants and the puzzle game Wolf Sheep Cabbage, so much so that I went ahead and bought his earlier game, Belladonna on Steam. The game is a short point-and-click adventure (a complete leisurely playthrough only takes about an hour), but as with Yono it has a lot of charm. The game has an interesting setup where you wake up as a recently reanimated corpse, and although I don't usually care for point-and-click adventures much due to the oftentimes obtuse puzzles and logic, here the puzzles are all pretty straightforward. The game's story is related via journal entries that you collect as you progress, and there are hints of philosophy, although nothing nearly as deep as Yono. The story and setting aren't nearly as rich as Yono either, but as an early effort there's still a lot to enjoy. The graphics, sound, and progression are all pretty good, and although the main character's voice acting isn't ideal, it was nice to have all the dialogue recorded. All in all this was a nice, quick, and entertaining (if not particularly unusual) game, and it helps fill in the gap for Yono fans as we wait for more from Neckbolt Games.

Another blast from the past. I'd played Space Invaders a couple of years ago, and although I've played and loved its competitor Galaga since I was a kid, I had never really played Galaxian, Galaga's predecessor.

Galaxian followed Space Invaders by a year, and from the modern-day perspective it feels like exactly what it is: a bridge between Space Invaders and Galaga. Like Space Invaders the game features a single screen and you have to shoot down enemy aliens. Galaxian innovates in many areas, most notably by having the enemies drop down individually instead of en masse to shoot you. There are four different types of enemies worth different point values, and enemies are worth more when you shoot them as they're attacking vs. while they're in formation.

Since Galaga is so well known, it's virtually impossible to compare Galaxian to it. As with many sequels, Galaga really perfects the template presented in Galaxian. You're limited to only one bullet onscreen at a time (a restriction that the enemies don't have, which seems kind of unfair), and so the game requires a level of precision that Galaga doesn't. Galaga's graphics are much better, and the addition of numerous features, including enemies flying onto the screen, tractor beams for the "boss" enemies that provide a fun ship-capturing and recovery mechanic, and bonus challenge stages every few stages, really elevate the game to a higher level.

Overall Galaxian was an entertaining look at the path to Galaga, but not too memorable otherwise. I played the version of the game included in Namco Museum Megamix on Wii, which also includes Galaga's successor, Gaplus, and I'm looking forward to finding out more about that game and the others in that collection before too long.