In 2019, Tetris 99 for Nintendo Switch Online members mashed up an all-time classic game with battle royale mechanics to give a fresh and enjoyable experience that we never knew we needed, and in 2020 Super Mario Bros. 35 followed suit (albeit for a limited time). This year we got a surprise new remixed classic game, this time featuring our favorite yellow pizza puck, Pac-Man, in the form of PAC-MAN 99.

This is going to be a pretty short review, because PAC-MAN 99's core setup is the same as the other two games previously mentioned. There are more details to learn about and keep track of in terms of the mechanics, but there are plenty of guides online (including a bunch of very thorough ones on NintendoLife). I much prefer to learn through trial and error,  though, and after less than an hour of learning the mechanics I was able to win a round at #1. I'm very much a Pac-Man series vet, though, and I expect gamers less familiar with the iconic gameplay will have much more of a learning curve. As with the previous 99 battle royale games, in this one you can choose which types of players to target, and as usual I couldn't really be bothered to pay much attention to that. In this game there's another set of options you can choose from that provide trade-offs to your character (e.g. increased attack but slower speed), but I couldn't be much bothered futzing around with those either. Steady and solid pellet munching should get you pretty far, and in particular I soon realized that timing when to grab the fruit and the power pellets was key.

I've played a lot of Pac-Man games in my time, so the variations in this game are fun but they're a lot like the Championship Edition mechanics and so they don't make me particularly compelled to sink a whole lot of time into it. This game's also much more obviously intended to generate revenue for Bandai Namco, as each skin is paid DLC, unlike Tetris 99's slew of free and limited event skins. The limited-time events are what kept me coming back to Tetris 99 regularly, so without that hook and without free multiplayer with friends, as enjoyable as my experience with the game was I probably won't be picking it up again anytime soon. I'm sure more competitive players will get a lot more mileage than I, though, and I expect the game will be pretty successful and have a long tail. Overall I'd probably rank PAC-MAN 99 just a bit lower than the previous Pac-Man game I've blogged about, Pac-Man 256, although lord knows that there are many, many more Pac-Man games to try out... eventually!

They're not super well known, but I've been a fan of Dutch developer Two Tribes since I played one of their earliest releases, Toki Tori for Game Boy Color. They're masters of puzzle games, so even though I didn't know much about their release Rubik's World for DS (aka Rubik's Puzzle World) and even though I'm not a fan at all of Rubik's Cubes in general, I was still looking forward to giving it a closer look. (Bit of trivia for you: apparently the Rubik's Cube "is widely considered to be the world's best-selling toy",)

Anyway, the game on DS isn't to be confused with Rubik's World for Wii, which Two Tribes also developed and which has some of the same content. Both games feature a group of different modes, all centered around "Cubies", the name they've given to the anthropomorphized blocks that make up a Rubik's Cube. Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch, but it's as good a unifying theme to the varied modes as any, I suppose. Rubik's World on DS has eight different modes. The first one is solving Rubik's Cubes, either the original 3x3x3 size, or a smaller 2x2x2 size, or a larger version. This mode also includes a reverse solve mode where you're tasked with reproducing a given scrambled Cube pattern from a completed Cube to start, and a tutorial on solving Rubik's Cubes which I tried to work through, but which I had to give up on because it seemed to completely gloss over whole steps. (FYI, this tutorial on the Rubik Cube's official site is much more in depth and useful.)

Next up, there's a basic music mode where you can create and save up several tracks, and which you can then use to replace the win or lose jingles that play in the other modes. There's also a little drawing mode where you assemble three dimensional cubes into two dimensional images that also get used to decorate the main menu. Both of these are nice touches and minor diversions, but the main draw to the game is really the puzzle modes.

I'd actually played the successor to one of these modes on Switch, the one that became Swap This!. I found it to be a decent but not great little puzzle game on Switch, and it's pretty much the same here but without the variations on the core gameplay. This is a match-3 type of game where you swap pieces of the same color to make blocks disappear. In this version you're always swapping a piece on the board with a piece that you're holding, which is a slight twist on the usual mechanics and one that takes a little getting used to. The game is also more unique than the average match-3 game in that the goal isn't to just make matches, but to do them in such a way that you cause a section of the board to become detached and fall off. This is a satisfying core mechanic, but once you've gotten the hang of it there's not a whole lot to it and not really any motivation to chase for a higher score.

There are two other puzzle modes that are much more satisfying, though. Both of them are Sokoban-style puzzles, i.e. box-pushing puzzles like the ones in classic Zelda games. In one you're guiding blocks to the exit. Blocks travel in a straight line when you set them in motion, but soon you'll have to make use of Chu Chu Rocket-like devices that change their direction or rotate them, etc. (Apparently this mode saw new life in Two Tribes' Steam release called RUSH.) The second mode, called "Color", has a similar concept, except in this case the focus is on coloring the 8 sides of the cubes. When a side comes into contact with a side of another block that's the same color, the two stick together, and this leads to some very mind-bendy and satisfying puzzles. This mode is the most Rubik's Cube-like game of the bunch as it forces you to plan ahead and focus on which side of a cube needs to be which color after it's been rotated multiple times, which may be a particular draw for some. The main drawback to both of these modes is that you have to use the stylus to switch between Cubies, when it would have been so much more convenient to be able to use the L or R buttons, or even the D pad.

The third main puzzle mode is called "Fit", and this is a "Cubie" take on the "human Tetris" type of game show shenanigans. In this case you're presented with a bunch of squares that you have to rearrange to fit within the target hole shape. Along with matching the shape of the hole, you need to rearrange the extraneous pieces so that they fit within specified safe area on the sides. What makes this mode actually a puzzle game is that you can only move certain squares to certain positions. Basically those mechanics are very similar to Mahjong in that you can only move the squares on the edges. Each stage of this mode is timed and is made up of a sequence of shapes, and although the mechanics are very clever and the mode is actually very enjoyable once you wrap your head around it, it would have been so much better if it were presented as individual levels with medals for best times rather than a sequence of levels. It's annoying to repeatedly have to replay the first four parts of a stage just to repeatedly fail on the last one, and the pressure of the clock seems antithetical to the general vibe of puzzle games in general.

Those three main puzzle modes all come with 40 normal difficulty and 40 hard difficulty puzzles each (plus a handful of tutorial puzzles), so there's definitely plenty of content here for puzzle fans. The last puzzle mode is called "Calculate", and although it's the simplest of the bunch, it's still enjoyable. In it you're presented with two simple math equations whose answers will be a number 1 through 10, and then you input the answer as a point on a 10x10 grid. The game fills in lines and shapes based on the coordinates you select, and it's satisfying to see the pixel image gradually get filled in, much like how designs gradually get filled in with a Picross puzzle. This mode has some notable downsides, however. For one, every other level seems to be just a bunch of random shapes that don't actually make a picture, which is disappointing. Another is that although it supposedly keeps track of your skill level (and adds more math operations to the calculations to complete), it inexplicably doesn't let you go back to previous levels to retry them to improve your performance, and it doesn't give any sort of indication of how many levels there are, which as a result made me lose interest in continuing with it further.

Overall this is a nice little package for puzzle fans, if just for the two main modes. There are some baffling design choices, particularly for "Fit" and "Calculate", and although at the time Game Informer gave it quite a positive review, most other reviewers seemed to find the collection a bit disjoint and confusing. It definitely takes some time for a lot of these modes to click, but once they do this is definitely worth the few bucks it would cost to pick up a copy. Two Tribes has officially retired from making new games, but remakes seem to be the loophole that is letting them continue to put out new content. It would be great to see them dip back into the well of this collection, as many of these game mechanics are still fresh and fun, and the clever puzzle designs really deserve a wider audience. Here's hoping!

I'm a completist at heart, and so even though the last game I'd played in the Just Dance series was Just Dance 4 on Wii U, I took a step back and picked up a copy of one of the artist-specific spin-offs, The Black Eyed Peas Experience on Wii. More specifically, I happened to get a copy of the "Special Edition", which apparently includes a couple of exclusive songs.

This is the second of the handful of artist-specific Just Dance games that were released. I'd played and enjoyed the Michael Jackson one a while ago now, but I'd been familiar with most of those songs. I knew only a couple of the twenty some-odd Black Eyed Peas songs in this game, and I was pleasantly surprised at the variety amongst the songs and how catchy it was in general. Even though they pretty much passed me by at the time, I can sort of see why they were popular. Of course, since this game is focused on one artist there isn't as much variety in the songs as, say, Just Dance 3, which has twice as many songs, all from different artists, as well as from different genres, but to offset that the choreography in this game is in general noticeably more intricate. I also felt that the grading was harsher. It seems like in this game you get bonus points for playing with a buddy, so that may have been why, playing solo, my ratings (out of 5) in this game were generally much lower than in the other games. As is par for the course it takes some time to figure out how to get particular moves to register with the game in terms of how to hold the Wii remote, but I don't focus too much on the scoring in these types of games anyway, so that wasn't a big deal to me.

In terms of the aesthetics, the game has this really weird chunky pixel effect on some of the visuals of the menus, which seems like it was taking inspiration from the BEP's music video "The Time (Dirty Bit)". I just found it to be kind of creepy and off-putting, but maybe BEP fans would appreciate it. Instead of the neon color scheme and glowing white dancers of the main games, this game has four dancers who, presumably, are representing the four members of the group. For a lot of the songs the game shows parts of the music video in the background, and I'm guessing the choreography references the originals, but I don't really know. There isn't much in the way of unlockables, which, again, is to be expected with these games. The game keeps track of your high scores and lets you record your initials, and when you've played all the songs in one of the four albums, it unlocks a little video message from one of the band members.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a perfectly worthy entry in the Just Dance series. Even though it's specific to one artist, there's a still a good amount of variety in the music, and the choreography is definitely better than in the Michael Jackson game. I would rank this around the middle of the pack for the Just Dance games I've played so far, which isn't bad at all, although to be honest the games aren't all that different from each other. Just Dance 4 is probably the best one so far in terms of minor tweaks to the established formula, but there have been annual releases since then so it could very well be that later installments have added additional incremental improvements. We'll have to see!

Flip Wars was an eShop-only release that came out a few months after the launch of Switch, and although I wouldn't usually pay that much attention to multiplayer games like these, the fact it was published by Nintendo in the West made it an instant buy. It's clear that the game owes a lot to the Bomberman series, which I'm familiar with but haven't delved into much in particular. Super Bomberman R was a Switch launch title and a competent multiplayer entry in the series, so its release makes Flip Wars feel even more superfluous.

The review at NintendoLife goes into the game's meager modes in exhaustive detail, and although an update soon after the initial release added a couple of new features, it definitely wasn't enough to save the game from feeling unoriginal and mediocre. Basically, somewhat like a combination of the game Othello and Bomberman, you move your character around and jump on tiles to cause tiles in all four directions around your tile to flip to your color. You can use this move to attack your opponents, and there are various stage hazards, stage layouts, and items to add some variety to the core gameplay. It makes a little more sense that Nintendo would have published Flip Wars since, apparently, the game was originally designed to use Mii characters. The game feels super basic in terms of the gameplay and the presentation, and overall it definitely feels like it could have been a mode in a larger collection of mini-games, such as Wii Play, rather than a standalone release. The game supports single console or multiple console local play and online play (which seems pretty dead), but you can also play against CPU characters with three difficulty levels.

Despite my generally negative impression of the game, it's actually not terrible and after playing it a while I came to appreciate it a bit more. Just continuously jumping haphazardly is actually not a great strategy, and there are some game mechanics that give the game more depth. You move much faster through tiles of your own color, and you can cancel a jump or press a direction in the air to move one square beyond your starting location to fake out your opponents. You can also time your jumps to avoid environmental hazards, or counterattack an opponent's attack.

I can see how this game could be fun with a group of friends who took the time to understand the mechanics, although the barebones presentation makes it unlikely that anyone would want to do so. At some point when things are back to normal I'll hopefully be able to force some people to try out local multiplayer with me, but until then this is a game that I'm not going to need to come back to anytime soon.

Yikes, it looks like it's been 8 years since I played the first Mighty Switch Force! game on 3DS. I just finished the second game last night, which has the awkwardly punctuated title Mighty Switch Force! 2. The game has only 16 stages, but overall it's a similar length as the first game in terms of the time required to complete. Like the first game, each stage has a "par" time that you can shoot for, which increases replayability, and there's also an optional collectable in the form of an "ugly baby" in each stage as well.

For about the first hour and a half of the game I felt exactly the same way as the NintendoLife reviewer, namely, that the game was way too similar to the original. Unsurprisingly, the beginning of the game is basically a retread of the original game's mechanics, presumably in order to get new players up to speed, but I got a lot more interested in it once new mechanics started to become more prominent. The firehose mechanic doesn't really change things up that much, but it does introduce some satisfying Pipe Dream-like puzzles. One of the biggest new additions is a block that locks when you're standing on it, and although it took a while for the way it works to really click, ultimately this leads to some very novel and satisfying puzzles as well.

I'm not a fan of speed running through games so I didn't bother with the par times, and I didn't bother collecting all the babies, either, but even though I started off not particularly caring much about the game, in the end I was won over and quite enjoyed it. The game has WayForward's expected sky high level of polish, and although most of the visual and audio designs were already seen in the first game, all of those elements were still enjoyable here. Overall I agree with those who say because of the short length this feels more like an expansion rather than a full sequel, but for fans of the original this is still an easy recommendation.