I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying out every feature in Pokemon Y a while back, so when Pokémon Sun came out I wasn't in a big rush to get it. Eventually I did, and it's taken me more than four years to finally finish the main story. Even though critics raved about the games I found the updates to be incredibly minor. The Pokemon games aren't known for being super innovative from generation to generation, but as with my playthrough of Pokémon Pearl I found Pokémon Sun to be an utter snoozefest (on more than one occasional it literally put me to sleep!).

It's a little difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes Pearl and Sun so dull compared to other iterations, such as Black and White and X/Y. I think part of it is is that there weren't that many new Pokemon (only 81 apparently). Introducing Alolan forms of Gen 1 'mon was a lot of fun, and I also liked that a lot of the new Pokemon had unique dual typing, but the story bored me to tears, and trials pretty much just felt like regular gyms. Looking over the list of new features the games included there's nothing much that grabbed me, except the stuff with the Ultra Beasts which had interesting-looking designs, but that's pretty much all in the post game.

I don't really have high hopes for Pokemon Sword and Shield, although the setting looks fun and it will be interesting to see how the series takes advantage of the added horsepower of being on a console rather than a handheld. I actually already started checking that out even before finishing Pokémon Sun, but I can't say I'm that eager to jump into more of the same old formula I've been playing for decades now.

I've really been getting through the Switch eShop games these days, ha. I'd enjoyed both Gunman Clive games on 3DS back in 2015, and so I was interested in the developer, Bertil Horberg's follow-up, Mechstermination Force. Horberg described the game as a combination of Shadow of the Colossus and the Contra games, and that description is spot on. Basically you're tasked with battling 14 bosses, many of whom you'll have to climb your way up to defeat.

I like the Contra games in general, but I'm not really too big a fan of boss fights, so I was already sort of only cautiously optimistc about the game. There's a lot to like about it. The hand-drawn aesthetic of the visuals are good, and all the familiar weapons from the Contra games are here. You have to earn enough of the in-game currency to unlock them and many of them aren't that useful, but once I'd unlocked the spread gun I was pretty happy to make that my default weapon. You cycle through the weapons with one button, which is a little awkward, but the shoulder buttons are needed in order to latch onto metal surfaces. Climbing works pretty well in general, but I found the jumping and running to be really floaty and too light. The weapons are fun, and even though the bosses are well designed in general, a lot of them just feel like generic giant humanoid or animal-inspired robots and don't have much personality. A notable exception is a trio of robots who gang up on you and who have much more entertaining attacks than the others. The music is a little on the bland side, and, also like the Contra series, I found the game dragged on when playing solo: the fights just end up taking too long. Co-op is another story, though, and with a buddy the game is way more fun, and it's easier to make progress. Rounding things off, there's a cute little Easter egg feature where you can romance the NPCs who hang around the central hub between missions, and to extend the game's longevity there are also 4 possible stars to earn for each battle (3 for target times, and 1 for getting through completely untouched).

For a lot of players the game will probably take you a few hours to get through, but I guess I've gotten soft in my old age because it took me a good while longer than that. Overall I enjoyed Mechstermination Force while it lasted, although I'm hoping Horberg is more on the level of the Gunman Clive games in terms of the fun factor.

I'm always on the lookout for great indie games, and The Gardens Between has been on my list of games to check out for a while. I'm not sure where I first heard about it, but I got it on Switch eShop and this has turned out to be one of my favorite games of the year thus far. The game's setup becomes apparent soon after you start playing. You play as two characters, a young boy and a young girl, and rather than control them directly most of the time you're just rewinding or fastforwarding time so that they move along predetermined paths. In each stage your goal is to climb the stage to carry a glowing orb to a stand at the top, and your actions are quite limited. You can rewind or fastforward or stop time, and you can also have the boy ring chimes you come across to cause certain stage elements to change, and you can have the girl set down or pick up the bag that holds the orb. The game is all about figuring out the right order of actions to get past the various obstacles thrown in your way. On paper it sounds like the mechanics would be a little too simplistic, but the gameplay is very enjoyable and, like a visual novel, is about close observation and experimentation rather than fast reflexes.

The gorgeous graphics and sound design suffuse the game with an air of nostalgia and also melancholy that in themselves make the game much more memorable than most other indie games. Being able to set your own pace and take as much time as you need to solve each stage's puzzles add to the laidback nature of the game, and although the game is on the short side (a full playthrough shold take less than a few hours) and doesn't quite explore all the possibilities of the game's interesting mechanics, it's still a wholly satisfying experience and leaves you wanting more. I'm definitely not the only one eagerly looking forward to what The Voxel Agents come up with next.

I don't buy a ton of books, but when I saw that the 2019 book on Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's president whose untimely death at 55 in 2015 is still felt today, was being localized into English it was an instant pre-order. The full title of the book is called Ask Iwata: Words of Wisdom from Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's Legendary CEO, and the name of the book is a riff on Iwata's "Iwata Asks" series of video game development interviews, which I used to read religiously whenever a new one was posted online. A fair amount of the book are excerpts from these interviews, but a lot of it also comes from interviews he did for Itoi's (of Earthbound fame) website that hadn't previously been translated into English. This new content, as well as new interviews with Itoi and legendary Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, make the book particularly valuable, but even beyond that it's nice to have this compact collection of Iwata's own words.

Iwata will always be a personal hero of mine, and it's astounding how much affection I and countless other Nintendo fans have for him; it's hard to imagine any other corporate CEO managing to convey so much personality in such an authentic way. Iwata's Nintendo Direct presentations were full of such warmth and kindness, while also displaying his sense of humor and his enjoyment of his work. For long-time fans of Iwata it's so bittersweet to see how that same personality leaps from the pages of the Ask Iwata book. The first half of the book focuses on Iwata's career as a programmer and then CEO of HAL Laboratory and has a lot of quotes about his views on management. As a fellow programmer with management experience I expect I found this to be more interesting than the average gamer, but even then the quotes are a little on the dry side and don't really have a lot of concrete deails (perhaps unsurprising given how secretive Nintendo is as a company in general). But the rest of the book is much more satisfying as it touches on specific important moments in Iwata and Nintendo's history, such as his work on the first Smash Bros. game with Masahiro Sakurai. The sections on Miyamoto and Itoi and the interviews with them are particularly touching, and getting a behind the scenes look at two of Iwata's close friendhips is a privilege. The overall takeaway from the book is that the glimpses of Iwata that Nintendo fans saw from a great distance were actually a true reflection of the actual person. By all accounts Iwata was a man of great intelligence and integrity, and he brought the same sensitivity and empathy to all of his relationships, including to his employees and even his customers.

It's always a tragedy when a person like Iwata is taken away "too early", and this book is a somewhat painful reminder of that. It's a bittersweet experience to read of Iwata's triumphs with DS and Wii and his accomplishments and his philosophies and know that he isn't around anymore, but this book also serves as a worthy celebration of a great man. Rest in peace, Iwata. You are still sorely missed, and will continue to be for a good long while!

I've been slooooowly working my way through the Kirby games, but in general I find them to be incredibly easy and boring. I'd tried out the free-to-play Kirby game Team Kirby Clash Deluxe on 3DS when it released in 2017, but progress was slow and it didn't have online multiplayer, and coming near the end of the 3DS's lifespan didn't help matters either. Its port to Switch, Super Kirby Clash, had the benefit of being able to be played on a TV, and it also has easier free-to-play progress (in the original you get far fewer "gem apples", the game's currency, than in the Switch version), along with some additional content apparently.

It was easy to make progress in the game just by signing into it to pick up the daily rewards every time I turned on my Switch, and after dipping into it off and on and enjoying the game I did end up shelling out a few bucks to show my appreciation for the entertainment value. The game has a pretty simple setup. It's basically a series of boss fights with you part of a mandatory team of four, and although local co-op is supported, filling the empty spots with CPUs seems to work fine. You can use the CPU teammates who are provided and are at the same level as you are, or you can "recruit" teammates offline, who may be at a slightly higher (or lower) level. You can also recruit teammates online, in which case their level and equipment are drawn from your friend list and random players online. There's also online co-op, although it's quite a crapshoot. Oftentimes you'll luck out and get matched with someone who's at a way higher level than you are, which will net you a lot of experience points if you're tackling a battle that's above your level, on top of the bonus XP multiplayer you get for playing online. The downside is that because the game relies on peer-to-peer connections, you may experience huge amounts of lag or annoying disconnects.

As for the gameplay itself, you choose from four classes (sword, axe, healer, and beam mage), and the movesets are simple but effective (and presumably closely follow the movesets of those abilities from the mainline games). The bosses, also drawn from the main games, are nicely designed and appear at several different variations of difficulty, although the core approach to defeating them doesn't really change that much from battle to battle. The game uses two stamina systems, one for solo play and one for online play, although it's pretty easy to make progress by bouncing back and forth between the two and earning enough experience to level up, which refills (and extends) both meters. It's not too hard to win each battle, but there are definitely parts where you'll have to grind a lot to reach the suggested level for the next set of battles. The game helps keep you engaged by throwing an onslaught of achievements at you, all of which earn you the in-game currency. Each solo battle has four achievements and each co-op battle has eight, and one of them is almost always to earn the "platinum" ranking. These are purely based on reaching a par speed, and although they're much easier to achieve when you're overlevelled, even then they still requires precision and recognizing the enemies' attacks. Completists will have plenty to keep them occupied, although the game does get repetitive.

Overall Kirby fans will definitely get more out of this game since it references enemies from previous titles, but I still enjoyed the time I spent with it. It's not the deepest or most memorable action game out there, but the aesthetic is as cute as ever (some of Kirby's weapons and armor are particularly awww-inducing), and it's more fun with friends. The free-to-play aspect seems pretty fair on the whole, and although online play with randoms requires a lot of patience, the addition of online multiplayer with friends makes this an obvious upgrade from the 3DS version. I appreciate that this was one of the less mindless Kirby games I've played thus far, although I probably won't really be coming back to it any time soon.