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.

I've played the original Mario Bros. quite a few times over the years, especially since it's made an appearance in the original Super Mario Bros. 3 as a little extra, the GBA Super Mario releases, and more recently, the first NES Remix game. I had a copy of the original NES cartridge, and gave it a closer look than I have before.

The game is typical classic arcade goodness. The jumping is a bit stiff (although not nearly as bad as the generally frustrating Ice Climber), but the game is meticulously designed. There are only three types of enemies (Shellcreepers (turtles), Sidesteppers (crabs), Fighterflies flies)), but they all have unique movements, and the progression of levels is smooth. The stage layout itself doesn't vary, and there are only twelve unique "phases" (i.e. stages), but things get pretty hectic once the number of enemies in a stage increases. The game also has several hazards, namely red and green fireballs and "Freezies", blocks of ice that coat part of the stage with ice, making the ground slippery. The game has two difficulty levels and also has a 2-player mode, in which you can co-operatively progress through stages, or purposely try to trip up the other player.

As with games of the era, getting through the first twelve stages isn't that challenging, but there's plenty of challenge in shooting for a high score. This was a fun blast from the past and fun seeing all the connections to Mario games, such as Freezie and the POW block, and at some point I'll have to try out the original arcade version, which was released on Switch last September.

Check out some before they were "super" Mario Bros. links:
- Entry on mariowiki.com
- Review at NintendoLife
- PDF of the manual, at replacementdocs.com

I've been posting semi-regularly with updates about my journey through the Dance Dance Revolution series, and I suppose it was only a matter of time before I tried out the Karaoke Revolution series. Like the DDR series, the Karaoke series is also published by Konami, but otherwise the two series don't have much in common at all. The Karaoke games were developed by Harmonix, who went on to develop the hugely successful Guitar Hero and Rock Band games, although the first entry in the Karaoke Revolution series was one of their earliest games.

I played the first game in the series, simply called Karaoke Revolution, and released on PS2. Harmonix's lack of experience shows, as the interface and graphics (most notably the character models) are pretty basic even considering when it was released (late 2003). Along with selecting songs you pick a character, outfit, and venue, and the crowd reacts according to how well you're doing. You're given a rating for each phrase of the song, and as you'd expect from a rhythm game, you earn combos by getting a sequence of high ratings. The vocal detection seems decent, although there's a bit of a lag as the game recognizes your pitch, and to get higher scores it seems like you have to sing a little bit ahead of the soundtrack, which is kind of annoying. It'll be interesting to see how the recognition technology improves in subsequent games of this series and its competitors.

The game has several difficulty levels (the harder the mode, the harsher the judging of your pitch-matching), and the songs are also given a difficulty rating (one to three). The song list is divided so that there are four in a venue and the venues progress from a small club to a giant stadium. All the venues are unlocked to start, and each song also has target scores for you to earn gold and platinum medals, although the only unlockables are some outfits, a few songs, and some behind-the-scenes videos (basically just the developers singing some of the songs). There's also a versus mode and a karaoke-only mode (i.e. no scoring). As with the DDR games, the song features mostly covers rather than original songs, but I don't have a problem with that as the covers are good facsimiles of the originals and you're singing over them anyway. The song selection is definitely of its time, but even though I'm a pop music ignoramus, I knew at least one of the songs in each venue. For the songs I only half knew I could basically fake my way through the verses and then sing on the chorus, so the game should be an okay way to learn some new songs as well.

Overall the game was pretty enjoyable, despite the subpar presentation. I'll probably dip into a couple more games in the series before trying out some other karaoke-type video games, but I think it's pretty safe to say that I don't think I'm in danger of becoming as big a completist of the series as DDR (especially since there are country and American Idol editions of the game, haha.)