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

I've been trying to get motivated enough to finally sit down and finish The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (the Wii U version). Part of what helped spur me on was the latest Power Pros podcast that looked back at the game, six months after its release. [In case you don't know, Power Pros is a solid podcast by former Nintendo Power editors.] I was definitely wary of the game even before it was released. Yes, it looks gorgeous (it really reminds me of Studio Ghibli films, which I love in general), but the open world gameplay was actually a pretty big turn-off for me. I already know that I prefer my games to be more structured without a lot of filler sidequests, and this was probably the main thing that caused me to feel fairly lukewarm about the game during my entire playthrough.

It seems churlish to be in the dissenting minority of a game that is so universally praised, but I found the game's individual parts to feel too familiar (Gorons and Zoras, check, desert area, check, Lost Woods, check, and of course the requisite stealth sections, yawn). The "go anywhere, do anything" format definitely changes things up, and it's impressive that the world is so vast. I actually played the game a ton when I first got it (like 60 hours), and a lot of that was motivated by finding all the towers and unlocking the entire map, and tracking down the "memories" (cut-scenes triggered by finding particular locations). I did most of the shrines I came across (about half of the 120), and I liked the four dungeons overall. They were very short, though, which wouldn't have been a bad thing if there were more of them. I did some of the other (optional) dungeon-esque areas, but overall I felt the game was too homogeneous. I was really disappointed that all the shrines have the same aesthetic, and that the four dungeons also share the same aesthetic. The dungeons were fun, but there was nothing reaching the heights of unique and memorable design as Ocarina's Forest Temple or Jabu-Jabu's Belly or Wind Waker's Forsaken Fortress or Twilight Princess's dungeon in the sky. Towns were pretty boring, and there wasn't enough enemy variety, and although climbing up mountains and paragliding off of them was fun for a while, it definitely gets pretty boring before you get to the end of the game.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the Zelda series in general is gaining items over the course of your adventure. In this game you get all the items at the beginning of the game, and this also makes the game feel like it lacks a strong sense of progression. Yes, you do get more powerful weapons as you defeat more powerful enemies, but a lot of the time the weapons are basically just the same as lower-ranked weapons but with more attack power or durability.

I liked the game well enough overall, but after beating it I feel like for me it winds up in the middle of the pack in terms of Zelda games. I'm disappointed that after such huge acclaim for the game that subsequent games are going to be heavily based on it, but it may be that Nintendo improves on the design and alleviates the overall lack of variety and innovation I felt during my playthrough. I'm curious about how the DLC turns out, but unless it sounds like something really different I doubt I'm going to get back into this game again. I have dipped into replaying more games in the series, but I'm not in a big hurry to finish any of them, given all the other great games that are being released seemingly every week. The curse of too many games!

Climb every one of these The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild links:
- Official site. Includes details on the DLC, videos, concept art, and wallpapers.
- Walkthrough at zeldadungeon.net, with an interactive map
- Write-up at Lofi-Gaming, which offers the perspective of someone who never finished the other 3D Zelda games
- There's no shortage of articles about the game. Here's a random one that takes a look at things that happen when you play the game as naked Link.
- Cool speed run
- Entry on Metacritic. Apparently the game set the record for the most perfect scores for a single game.
- Review on NintendoLife

Another year, another abandoned Shin Megami Tensei game, haha. I played about halfway through Persona 3 last year, and I've been hacking away at Shin Megami Tensei IV for 3DS ever since it was released four (!!!) years ago. For this game I got about two thirds of the way through before I had to give up on it out of complete boredom, which I guess is a bit better. :p

I got the game originally because there was a Club Nintendo (R.I.P.) bonus if you bought it and Fire Emblem Awakening, in anticipation of the crossover of the two series which was unnamed at the time but eventually was released as Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE after a lot of delays. I've played bits of earlier games in the series, but although I played through all of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers I've realized that they're all extremely similar. You could say that of many RPG series, I suppose, but I don't notice it nearly as much as these games. This game uses the 3-D dungeon exploration of its predecessor (called Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne in the US) and the Persona series, and the demon designs, setting, negotiation mechanics (whereby you can recruit demons), and press turn systems are the same as in many of the other games.

This game includes full voice acting, which is great, and it also lets you pass demon skills to your character when your demons level up. It also lets you choose skills to pass onto your fused demons. This helps a bit in making you a little more attached to them, but my main complaint about the series is still that since you're only ever using your demons for a few level ups and always looking to fuse them into more powerful demons there's not enough to make them feel really unique or make you care much about them. Aside from this, everything, even the story, felt overly familiar. The first few hours were pretty fun, but after the extended prologue the game settles into a very slow grind of battling, fusing demons, and running around to get to the next quest, with a regular drip of boss battles to break things up.

Aside from all the complaints that the game doesn't change things up enough, at least not for someone like me who isn't super hardcore about the series, I also have to agree with a lot of the other general complaints, namely, that the overworld map is hard to navigate and it's hard to figure out where you're supposed to go next, and that the characters and graphics are pretty bland. After playing quite a few games in the series I'm much more appreciative of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE's colorful palette, more interesting dungeon designs, and break from series conventions. Apparently the direct sequel to this game, Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse, addresses some of the issues, including making improvements to the overworld navigation, but I'm definitely going to take a pass on that. Instead, I'll probably go back to the tactics game Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor first and then get back to TMS. But don't be surprised if I don't see the end of those games either. :p

Not too stagnant Shin Megami Tensei IV links:
- Entry at megamitensei.wikia.com
- Official site, includes wallpapers
- Great FAQ at GameFAQs
- Some tips for n00bs on Destructoid
- Review on NintendoLife
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Entry on Metacritic

Has it really been five and a half years since I've played a proper Metroid game ? Yikes! Like many others I wasn't too keen on Metroid Prime: Federation Force for 3DS, which was released about a year ago. My aversion to it wasn't so much because it didn't feature the beloved Samus Aran, but because it was squarely multiplayer focused, much like a lot of Nintendo's recent 3DS games (e.g. Team Kirby Crash Deluxe, Steel Diver: Sub Wars and Tank Troopers, etc.).

Federation Force strongly reminded me of The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes, as it is also a multiplayer-focused spin-off of a main Nintendo franchise for 3DS. I enjoyed that game overall decently well when I played it last year, but that game had an advantage over this one in that the single player version of the game works pretty well. In Federation Force the game is clearly designed to make the most of the co-op experience, so even though you can equip three drones to add to your firepower and a "MOD" that lets you do more damage when playing solo, a lot of the missions really rely on a squad, such as protecting a team member who is carrying an item, or parallelizing time-critical tasks. The game does scale up the difficulty when playing with just one other person versus playing with a full team of four, which is good, but to get all three medals for each of the 22 missions you pretty much absolutely have to have a full team of four. And not just any team of four, but one that is extremely well-coordinated. I lucked out on a few of my gaming sessions and ended up with some pretty good teams of random matchups online, but even when playing pretty efficiently, it was really clear that if any one member was just a little slow or otherwise out of sync that you would miss out on getting the highest ranking for the stage.

It's hard to fault the game for being so multiplayer focused when clearly that's its raison d'etre, but it did make it much harder for me to enjoy it. The game does make jumping into a session with other people pretty easy. I had a hard time finding people during the week, but on the weekends it seemed much easier, but that's not surprising. The game also takes a Tri Force Heroes like approach to communication in that you're limited to pre-set utterances, but this didn't detract from the experience ("Over Here", "Good Job", "Help", and "Thanks" do the job fine).

Aside from my complaints about the game being all about the multiplayer, the game itself feels pretty average overall. The graphics looked really blocky (much worse than Next Level Games' previous game, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon), and the visual design, level design, music, storyline, everything all felt bland to me. I felt the same way about Dark Moon in general, although that game got way more critical acclaim than this one. This one is much more about action than exploration, but the locales here are all the usual type (ice world, fire world, yaaaaawn). Likewise the weapons are all pretty standard (ice beam, proximity bombs, etc.) The game has MODs, which are collectibles you equip to modify various properties (e.g. make enemies stay frozen for longer). These give you a decent amount of customization, although you can only equip three at any one time and they're not very flashy. There are a few boss fights which are generally not bad, although some have some cheap one-hit KO moves. The game unlocks hard versions of every mission after you beat it, but from what the hard mode seems identical to the regular mode except presumably the enemies have more health. The game also includes "Blast Ball", a Rocket League wannabe sort of 3 vs. 3 soccer/shooter hybrid mode. I tried out the demo when it was first released, but it really didn't interest me much.

Overall the game was frustrating playing solo and oftentimes frustrating playing with random people online, but with a good team the game is actually pretty fun. If I had had a consistent group of three other people to play it with I would have enjoyed it more, but even though Tri Force Heroes was much easier to play solo, I'd actually give Federation Force the edge. I'm not that big on shooters in general, but the squad-based gameplay was a change of pace for me, and like a thirsty man in a desert, I'll take any Metroid I can get, even a spin-off game that no one asked for. The game didn't deserve nearly a fraction of all the bile directed towards it, and although I didn't mind the side trip, I'm definitely looking forward to the upcoming remake of Metroid Prime II: Samus Returns, and the promised Metroid Prime 4.

Get locked and loaded with these Metroid Prime: Federation Force links:
- Entry at metroid.wikia.com. Includes screenshots of all the unlockable paint jobs.
- Page on the soon-to-be-shut-down Miiverse
- List of all the medal requirements at GameFAQs and Tips on getting medals when playing solo
- Review on NintendoLife, with a recent extended look at the game (they complain about many disconnects, but I only had that happen to me a couple of times)
- Entry on Metacritic

In my last post I'd mentioned that I'd been trying out various Dynasty Warriors games I had lying around. I had tried and failed to get into Dynasty Warriors 2 for PS2 before playing Hyrule Warriors, but I thought now would be a good time to give it another go and take a close look at the origins of what has become a big franchise (well, excepting the original Dynasty Warriors game, which was a traditional fighter).

Dynasty Warriors 2 definitely feels like a huge step back coming right off of playing Samurai Warriors 3, but it was interesting to see how all the main elements of the series were in place at the start. You're still tasked with single-handedly turning the tide of a large-scale battle, although the levels aren't really broken up into specific missions like in the other games I've played. It's easy to see why I found the game so aimless when I first tried it out, because you're not really told that you're supposed to defeat the named opponents and help our your allies. The battles often have different sections, but unlike the other games I've played the dialog is minimal and you're not constantly being bombarded by requests for help from them.

On the normal difficulty, the game is much more difficult than the others I've played in the series. The grunts you're battling against are much more powerful than in other games, and the game is much stingier about providing items, especially health-restoring items. You have to level up your character, not by accruing experience points, but by defeating higher-ranking opponents. The characters also have a much smaller set of regular attacks and special moves, and the characters themselves don't seem to have as much variety as the later games. The game does include horseback riding, although I didn't find it to be particularly useful, and you can also shoot a bow and arrow, which also seemed fairly useless. You're also given four bodyguards at the start of every battle that level up if they manage to survive to the end of the stage, but this seems like more effort than it's worth.

The game requires grinding, which is definitely annoying, but even more frustrating that that is the scarcity of save points. Apparently the original Japanese game didn't have save points at all, but in this version save points are hidden inside pots and boxes that you have to break. I suppose once you know where all the save points are you can save at strategic moments, but going into it blindly I invariably saved at a bad time or missed the save points altogether. Ugh! The game also suffers from some serious pop-in during crowded scenes, which makes some difficult sections even more frustrating than they would be otherwise. Also the more powerful enemy combatants can heal themselves and gain bonuses like higher attack and defense when you knock them down, which is annoying and pointless.

As with Samurai Warriors 3, each character has a five-stage story line, but there are only eight unique stages total (although as with the other games, different characters will see shared battles from different perspectives). You can drop into Free Mode at any time to grind and then go back to the story mode, but the game feels pretty poorly paced; in particular the third stage seems to have a huge jump in difficulty (and it looks like I'm not the only one who thought so).

Overall the game suffers in the same way that initial games in franchises often do: although the core elements of fun are there, it's clear that there's still a lot of untapped potential. I've already dipped into Dynasty Warriors 3, and already that feels like leaps and bounds more fun than this game, with everything running much more smoothly and looking much better. I'm looking forward to playing that game more, although I'll probably wait until after I've had a chance to play Fire Emblem Warriors when it comes out in October.

Check out the start of the dynasty of Dynasty Warriors 2 with these links:
- Entry at koei.wikia.com
- Entry at Wikipedia
- Positive review at IGN, to help put the game in the context of when it was released