This is a quickie review of Astro Bears Party, a random Switch eShop game I picked up on as a reco from an acquaintance. The recommendation came with the caveat that the game is primarily a multiplayer experience and that you should only pick it up when it's on sale; it's listed at $4.49 but is often on sale for a couple of bucks.

Anyway, I picked it up somewhat on a whim, and although the game is severely limited, I found it enjoyable nonetheless. The game takes at its base the central mechanic of Super Mario Galaxy, namely, running and hovering around the surface of a planetoid sphere. This game combined that with a Snake-like mechanic where your character's path appears as a solid line that you and your opponent have to avoid. In the single player mode you collect objects and try to survive as long as possible, whereas in the multiplayer mode (of up to four players) you try to outlast your opponents. The game includes four different bears, each with slightly different stats (bear run speed, turn speed, hover speed, and hover recharge speed).

The single player mode is okay, but the multiplayer mode is actually pretty fun. It's very "bear"-bones and the overall package basically feels more like an extended mini-game than a full experience. What content there is, however, is quite polished, and it's an easy to pick up and play multiplayer experience. This would be worth firing up as a warm-up to deeper multiplayer experiences during gaming sessions with friends. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to others, but I don't regret spending a couple of bucks on it either.

With the return of colder weather I've gotten back into some dancing video games, and I've been spending a fair amount of time with Just Dance 3 on Wii. I'd revisited Just Dance 2 a couple of years ago, but I guess it's been a while since I've written about a different Just Dance game.

Just Dance 3 doesn't stray from the tried and true formula too much, but there are some nice additions. The main one for me is that there are now unlockables. These are earned from accruing stars after playing through a song (one through five depending on how well you did). The unlockables include some new songs, as well as some medleys that splice together different moves from variousĀ songs, including songs from the previous two games in the series. It was fun to see these throwbacks to the previous games, and having alternate choreographies to a song is a nice way to add a little more gameplay to the package. The game also adds 4-player choreographies, "Hold My Hand" choreographies in which players literally hold the same controller, and some basic achievements. As is par for the course some of the achievements are downright tedious and a lot of them revolve around the multi-player dances, but for gamers like me it's a nice minor addition.

I don't know if it's just me, but I found the game to recognize my movements pretty well in general. It may be that the movement detection is either better or more lenient, although I suppose it's possible that I've just learned how to match my movements to what the game wants. I got a 5-star ranking (the highest possible) on a decent number of songs, although the songlist itself was pretty similar to the previous two games. It would be nice if they shook things up a bit with other genres, such as classic alternative rock or folk music. Still, the extra features probably gives this the edge over Just Dance 2, but the differences are pretty minor. I don't expect subsequent sequels to evolve much either, but it should come as no surprise that I'm planning on dancing my way through them anyway.

Keep the beat going with these Just Dance 3 links:
- Entertaining video of the Just Dance 2018 Championships. These geeks have got moves! ;)
- Entry at justdance.wikia.com
- Some interesting stats of the game after two months from the now-defunct Nintendo Channel and a look at the most-played Just Dance game on Wii as of October 2012.
- Review at NintendoLife

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