I'm a big fan of Intelligent Systems, the company behind some of my favorite games of all time, including the Fire Emblem series. I recently finally got back to playing and finishing Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. on 3DS, a game that got decent reviews but quickly faded into obscurity. It really annoys me that people whine about not getting enough new IPs, and then completely ignore a fun and solid game like Code Name: S.T.E.A.M..

Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is part of a sub-genre of tactics games that I wasn't familiar with where you take turns moving around a 3D level and shooting and avoiding enemies. You have a finite amount of actions you can take (in this game, movement and actions cost energy in the form of "steam"), and progressing through a level requires a combination of exploration, attacking, and defending. New characters (and equipment) are introduced regularly throughout the adventure, and each character falls into a typical class (scout, heavyweight, sniper, etc.) with character-specific abilities.

The art style and setting are quite unique. The game takes its inspiration from steampunk combined with classic American comics, and the characters themselves are drawn from mostly American literature, including John Henry, Tom Sawyer, the Lion from The Wizard of Oz, and Tiger Lily from Peter Pan, all led by Abe Lincoln himself. The enemies are grotesque aliens drawn from the monsters of the works of Lovecraft, which I wasn't familiar with, but meshed just fine with the seemingly random mishmash of other elements.

The game's story is pretty silly but enjoyable, and the difficulty level of the main campaign isn't too high (especially once a particularly powerful character is joins the team. There's a lot of variety in the levels and the characters, and a decent amount of variety in the enemies. The music is pretty good, and the graphics, while tending to be dark and foreboding in general, look better than static screenshots would suggest, although not amongst the best on the system.

The game supports the first four Fire Emblem Amiibo and tapping one will add that character to your roster (along with some great reworked Fire Emblem series music to accompany them). Apparently most of the Fire Emblem characters pale in comparison to the regular roster, but having them does add to the replayability. The game's replayability is high in general since levels can be replayed with harder challenges or completely different teams, and there are also three collectibles scattered around every map. One significant inconvenience is that you can only replay a chapter, which consists of multiple maps, rather than a single map, but being able to replay a map with any unlocked character makes this questionable design decision a bit more palatable.

The game includes local and online multiplayer, although I didn't dive too deeply into that. For me Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. took some time for me to get into, and then I was really chugging along, and then it felt a little dragged out towards the end, but overall I really enjoyed the game and it's too bad it didn't find a wider audience. As a first foray into this sub-genre this was a good introduction, and I'm sure I'll be coming playing more games like this one eventually.

Fight the alien menace in Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. links:
- Official site
- Entry at nintendo.wikia.com
- Entry at fireemblemwiki.org
- Review at NintendoLife
- Good FAQ at GameFAQs

I'm not a big fan of beat-'em-ups, but they're good for a session of mindless co-op. A gaming buddy of mine and I played through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, a game that seems to be generally highly regarded.

I have to admit I didn't find much particularly compelling about the game. It seems very similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, which I'd played through on NES a few years ago but didn't find particularly memorable. TMNT IV has a little more variety in terms of locales and there are some stages that shake thing up a bit, specifically a couple of hoverboard levels, including one that makes good use of the SNES's Mode 7 effects. I'm sure fans of the cartoons would get a lot more out of it (I never saw the appeal myself), but for me this just felt like business as usual, and a pretty mindless experience on the normal difficulty level.

Not much more to say about this. Finishing this game completes the list of most famous TMNT video games, so I don't have to worry too much about spending more time on them. The one other TMNT game that I'm curious about is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up, a Smash Bros. clone that was co-developed by some of the development staff of the Smash Bros. games. I'm not expecting much from it, but I'll probably check it out at some point.

Time for some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time links:
- Entry at Wikipedia
- Entry at Racketboy's Together Retro Game Club
- It comes in at #25 on sydlexia's list of top SNES games
- Apparently the game was remade not long ago. Here's a trailer.

Like many, I was skeptical about Yo-kai Watch, a series that despite being hugely popular in Japan seemed a bit too much like the Pokemon games for my taste. After beating the first Yo-kai Watch game (for 3DS) I'd have to say that the game is probably only slightly more unique than I expected. The game is definitely more than the sum of its parts, though. Although the core monster collection and evolution is pretty similar, in comparison to the Pokemon games' glacial pace of changes from iteration to iteration, Yo-kai Watch offers a distinct breath of fresh air.

There are several refreshing aspects of Yo-kai Watch. Although the first entries of both series took place in a Japan-like country, Yo-kai Watch embraces it to a much greater extent. This isn't surprising since the Yo-kai themselves are based on Japanese folklore, but the town of "Springdale" feels like a living, breathing Japanese town, complete with shrines, hot springs, and ramen restaurants. A lot of Japanese video games have seemed to take this approach (the latest Zelda game, to mention just one example), but Yo-kai Watch is a more literal representation and (to a Western audience anyway) provides an exoticism grounded in reality that is compelling.

The Yo-kai themselves are in general quirkier than Pokemon, and there's a good variety, ranging from "cool" to cute to just plain weird. Evolution is much less of an emphasis and powerful Yo-kai can be obtained instead via sheer chance via a daily in-game lottery. "Catching them all" is also emphasized less, and completists playing the game will probably quickly get soon frustrated. Recruiting Yo-kai takes a somewhat Shin Megami Tensei approach in that you have to figure out through trial and error what a Yo-kai's favorite food is in order to increase your changes of recruiting it, and even then it's going to take many tries before they'll offer to join you. Like Shin Megami Tensei the game also features Yo-kai fusion, although the number of Yo-kai you can fuse is pretty small, so, for better or worse, it's not a big emphasis within the game.

These sound like negatives, but they steer you to make the most of the Yo-kai that you do have and spend more time with them. You'll still have plenty of Yo-kai to choose from, and many Yo-kai join you through story events. The game also makes itself distinct from Pokemon by its cartoony presentation, which also isn't surprising as it launched with a cartoon TV show tie-in (plus an avalanche of toys and other merchandise).

The game is limited to several areas, but they're full of landmarks that you'll be visiting. You'll gradually memorize the maps over the course of the game, as there's a practically endless supply of NPC quests (mostly of the fetch variety) that will have you criss-crossing back and forth to accomplish. This adds to the unique feel to the game, as does the mini-game based battle mechanics. The touch-screen focused battles are pretty simplistic, mindless affairs, although later in the game things do get a little frantic.

What makes the game the most memorable, though, is the high degree of polish. The game looks fantastic and runs completely in stereoscopic 3-D, which makes Pokemon Sun and Moon's lack of stereoscopic 3-D starkly conspicuous in comparison. The story is episodic and pretty thing, but it too is a bit more interesting than the latest Pokemon games, which are generally driven by the protagonist wanting to be a Pokemon master, rather than wanting to save the world.

All in all I was pleasantly surprised with this first game in the series, and will definitely be checking out others. It looks like the sequel is pretty much the same as this game, so I may skip that one. The third game in the series was recently announced for release, so I'll keeping my eye out for that one, and the fourth game is due for Switch in the not-too-distant future as well. With the Pokemon series seeming to be nearly completely stagnant, it's great to have a viable alternative, especially one as polished as the Yo-kai series. Here's hoping it doesn't fall into the same pattern of essentially identical release after release after release.

Recruit these Yo-kai Watch links:
- Entry at yokaiwatch.wikia.com
- Entry at howlongtobeat.com
- Review at NintendoLife
- Nintendo Treehouse Live segment about the game at E3 2015

I'm a pretty big Pac-Man fan ever since the days I would spend my precious tokens on the Ms. Pac-Man machine at the local arcade. Last year I'd played and enjoyed Pac-Man Championship Edition on XBLA, and recently I've been playing the smartphone game Pac-Man 256.

The game is co-developed by Hipster Whale, who created the successful Frogger clone Crossy Road. I spent a bit of time with Crossy Road to see if it offered anything more than being a Frogger clone with retro graphics, and it doesn't at all, which is a pity. But that makes Pac-Man 256 all the more enjoyable, because Pac-Man 256 combines the Pac-Man games with Crossy Road and adds in new elements that serve to make it a fun experience.

Like every Pac-Man game, in Pac-Man 256 the main goal is to eat dots and defeat ghosts. Pac-Man 256 ramps up the action by incorporating auto-scrolling which forces you not to linger in an area for long, and also by giving a big bonus if you're able to eat 256 dots in a single unbroken chain. This turns out to be pretty challenging, as easier routes through the maze will invariably have a gap in them that will break your chain, as will backtracking to collect fruit (which gives you an often sizable bonus multiplier) or a power-up. The power-ups make the game feel like more than just another Pac-Man game, and there's a good variety, even though many are similar. You can use in-game coins to level up the power-ups, which make them last longer and earn you more points for defeating ghosts while they're active.

The game was and still is free to play, but it was initially released with more restrictions. Currently the game is much less restrictive and you can play as many times as you want. You can spend real money to buy coins which you can use to level up power-ups or change the skin of the game or continue once if you lose a life. As with most free-to-play games, you can earn coins at a slow pace for free by collecting the ones lying around on stages or completing simple missions such as "eat a certain number of cherries". There are some ads in the game, but they're not that intrusive. The game is played with swipe gestures on a touchscreen, which I usually dislike, but the controls are precise enough for the casual pace of the game. The fact that the variety of ghosts behave in clearly recognizable ways helps make the game more fun as well.

Pac-Man 256 has gotten high acclaim, and it's well-deserved. The gameplay is well thought out and a unique twist on the classic formula, and the visual design is great (the sound design is also particularly noteworthy). It's definitely more satisfying to clear a single Pac-Man board as in the classics than to "endlessly munch" as in this game, but Pac-Man 256 is still a game that I'll be coming back to in the future in order to finish unlocking the remaining power-ups, earning coins to level them up, and chasing my next high score.

I've been super slow about playing through the Bit.Trip series. I'd had mixed feelings when playing Bit.Trip Runner, but I'd played a little of Bit.Trip Beat in co-op mode not too long ago and was reminded that I needed to get back into it.

Although the game debuted on WiiWare, Wii's downloadable service, Bit.Trip Beat is way more enjoyable in its appearances on subsequent compilations. As before, I played it on the Wii compilation, which adds additional difficulty modes (easy and hard) for every game, as well as challenges and unlockable art, etc. The games were designed to be quite difficult, and even the easy modes aren't a total pushover.

If you're not already aware, Bit.Trip Beat is often described as a combination of Pong and a rhythm game, but as with Bit.Trip Runner the musical aspect of the game is more a feature that will help you with the gameplay, rather than something you have to be really conscious of. Beats come in the form of bits that travel from right to left, and you control your paddle on the left by holding the Wii Remote horizontally and rotating it on its long axis. The control scheme works extremely well and is a large part of what makes the game so enjoyable, and the Wiimote is sensitive enough to keep up with the game even when things get hectic.

The game starts off with you having to keep track of just one bit at a time, but pretty soon you'll be fending off waves of bits, many moving in unique patterns. Some of the bits' patterns seem a little unfairly complex. This and the game's high difficulty wouldn't be an issue, if the stages themselves weren't so long. Each stage is about fifteen minutes long, and it's incredibly frustrating to have to play through the majority of the stage over and over again only to get tripped up by something near the end of the stage. In fact, in this retrospective feature at NintendoLife the developers even admit that they "wish that we’d come up with some sort of checkpoint system".

The game's retro visuals and chiptune soundtrack go perfect together, although as with Runner, when things get busy on screen the background can get really distracting. The way Beat progresses is also pretty satisfying. Instead of having a set number of misses, you have two meters. One keeps track of the beats you hit, and one keeps track of your misses. If your hit meter fills up you go into "Mega" mode, where a multiplier increases your score. If your miss meter fills up you go into "Nether" mode, in which your two meters are reset and if your misses outnumber your hits then you get a game over. It's a little annoying that when you're in Mega mode your misses meter doesn't reset every time you fill up the hits meter, but otherwise it's a nice mechanic and a good way to reward good players with a multiplier while not overly punishing for mistakes, i.e. not requiring perfection.

Boss fights are underwhelming, but I suppose it's just as well that they're easy since the stages themselves are so difficult. The main complaint of the game at the time was that there are only three levels, but with three difficulty levels and several follow-up games with similar mechanics it's less of an issue nowadays. I enjoyed playing this game and the core idea is pretty brilliant. The levels feel too long and get a bit repetitive which prevents me giving the game top marks, but it was a gem on WiiWare for good reason and it still holds up today.