Life in the pandemic has had one notable bright spot for me, which was coming across the Korean boy band BTS via their first English language single and becoming a fan. I'm not ashamed to admit that the group's carefully manufactured pop music, slick choreography and dance moves, and endearing personalities have won me over and their videos and music, of which there seems to be an endless supply, have helped while away some otherwise dull hours stuck at home.

Pretty soon after I started getting into them, the group released their second smartphone video game, so of course I had to check out their first one, released about a year and half ago and entitled BTS World. As I've come to expect from the band, the game isn't just a quick cash grab. It definitely has all the trapping of a mobile game, including a stamina system and a core gacha system (where you spend gems to roll for character cards ranging from 1 to 5 stars in value), but the story mode is extensive.

In the story mode you travel back in time and take on the role of the burgeoning group's manager, and although it's easy to blow through the early chapters, it doesn't take too long to get into the real gameplay loop. The chapters have stages that alternate between a bit of story and a part where you select cards to fulfill a minimum score in some combination of the four color-coded attribute categories (passion, heart, mind, and something green, I forget what it stands for, but it doesn't really matter). Each card you get from a gacha roll has some maximum upgradeable value of all four categories, so there is some minor strategy involved in choosing which of your cards to level up and upgrade, and you can also take on "agency" training to try to cover some of your gaps in your roster of cards. Padding out the experience are an in-game mobile phone where you have cute interactions where the group members "text you" or "call you" (complete with audio recordings) and respond to your social media posts or make their own posts, and you can also earn, roll for, or buy using real currency clothes to dress the band members up in. It's surprising how much game-specific content the group has recorded and photographed, including quite a lot of fully acted video sequences, and it really does enhance the experience. On top of all of this, for die-hard fans who have already played through all of the main story mode, there are additional side stories for each character that limit you to only using the cards of that specific character, and you also have to have levelled up your relationship with that character high enough.

It doesn't take much time to run through the daily missions every day, and after a few months of logging in every day I've built up a decent range of cards without too much effort, although I still don't have that many 5* (the highest rarity). I haven't dropped a dime (or a won) on the game, and I don't really plan to, but I haven't hit a brick wall yet in terms of making progress. There are regular special events that involve new cards and outfits, but I haven't really paid much attention to them. I don't feel any need to "collect 'em all" when it comes to all the cards, so I'm pretty safe from any potential dangers of spending too much real money on the game. At this point it's definitely going to take me a long time to get through the rest of the story mode at the snail's pace that I'm going, but I'm not really in any rush. Overall this is a solid mobile title for fans of the band, although it's not going to set the rest of the world on fire in terms of any gaming innovations.

 

When I'd posted about my playthrough of Dr. Mario 64 about five months ago I'd mentioned that I've still been playing the smartphone app Dr. Mario World regularly and that my rating of it has improved a lot since I originally blogged about it last summer. Recently I beat level 500 of the regular mode, so I figured now was a good time to take another look at the game.

When I first played the game last summer I'd enjoyed how much the game had moved the series forward, but after a year and a half of playing it every day I can definitely say that the game is worthy of being included on a list of best games of all time. The game has added some new hazards and doctors (i.e. characters with unique specials) over the past year and a half, and the variety of stages and doctors itself is very satisfying and would be noteworthy. However, one feature that they've added a few months ago is the summit mode, which has been a big boon overall in terms of balancing the free-to-play aspect with the difficulty of some of the stages. The summit is a collection of stages that stick around for a few weeks, and there are four sets of stages. The easiest two sets are a breeze to get through, but the difficulty really ramps up in the third set (seemingly requiring you to be a whale or pony up cash for special items), and the fourth set requires you to have specific doctors to participate. That description makes it sound like the summit mode is a pain, but the big benefit of it and part of its main purpose is that, if you beat all of the first or second sets of stages, it provides you with a way to accelerate your doctors' specials and add a bonus to your score on each stage you play in the regular mode. This gives you an easy way to increase your score to get those elusive three-star ratings for those stages, which, for a free-to-play completist like me, is a huge plus. There's a big limitation in activating these bonuses since they're only available for 24 hours, but since I mostly just play a few stages a day it's just as well that I feel compelled to play for a longer burst of time only a couple of days every few weeks.

Along with this big F2P quality of life improvement, the developers have rebalanced the older timed stages, which were noticeably overly difficult, and also periodically rebalanced underpowered doctors' abilities. It's now easier to appreciate the variety that the timed stages provide. They've tweaked the versus mode as well in the form of rotating spotlight doctors who get bonuses in that mode (e.g. increased attack, defense, and special meter filling). This is a plus for long-time players like me who have accrued a wide variety of doctors to choose from, and also adds some more variety to the versus mode since you're not just using the same doctor every time. Even though I don't seem to be particularly good at the versus mode, it still provides a nice change of pace since the majority of regular stages aren't timed, so I'm fine with playing the minimum number of matches in order to fulfill the daily missions.

Overall I've been pleasantly surprised at how much longevity the game has had for me. I definitely haven't gotten tired of it yet, and there are plenty of more regular mode stages for me to tackle whenever I feel the urge. Even though I don't feel the need to whale for specific doctors or anything, I wouldn't mind throwing some money at it at some point to show my appreciation for the hours I've spent enjoying the solid gameplay. The gacha mechanics are pretty unobtrusive, and it says something that this is one of the rare games my SO has played for any length of time. I don't expect any huge changes to the game from here on out, but even without any major new features I can see myself continuing to play this a bit every day for a good while still. Even though this isn't a flashy title by any means, this is a rare game that has a surprising amount of variety and longevity, and for me is one of Nintendo's most successful forays into mobile gaming to date.

Wow, it's been a really, really long time since I've blogged about a Puyo Puyo game! I've played various iterations here and there since I first encountered it via its Kirby's Avalanche release when I played it way back in 2007, but it's taken me this long to get around to sitting down and giving any of its follow-ups a proper look. I've had the Wii Virtual Console version of Puyo Puyo 2: Tsuu (originally released on the Japanese Mega Drive, aka Sega Genesis), which was notable because it was one of the few originally Japan-only releases that found a new lease on life via digital rereleases. The hugely enjoyable DoReMi Fantasy: Milon's DokiDoki Adventure was another previously Japan-only release that I'd also been really happy to see get a Wii Virtual Console release, and like that game Puyo Puyo 2 isn't translated at all, but it's not too hard to figure out what the different modes are and it doesn't detract from the overall experience too much (although it would've been nice to have had the inevitably inane dialogue between the characters during the story mode).

I spent the bulk of my time on the aforementioned story mode, and it definitely took me some time to regain any Puyo Puyo skills I may have previously developed. The blob matching and popping is as addictive and fun as ever, particularly with trying to set up combos, and it was great to have the game's original characters rather than the Kirby or Sonic skins of the original game's Western releases. The characters are, in typical fashion, pretty wacky, and include a flea, a mermaid, and a Samurai Mole, and as with Kirby's Avalanche, the difficulty level is offset by having unlimited continues. In this game you can also tweak various options to make the game more or less difficult, including settings related to a new game mechanic this entry introduces called "sousai", aka the "offset rule", aka garbage countering. This has become a standard feature in this type of game, where you can counter garbage blocks that are being sent by your opponent and are queued to be dropped onto your screen, and you can partially or even wholly negate them before they drop. When I'd played the first entry in the series I'd noted that games seemed to end really quickly because there isn't a way to recover from an attack, and although this new game mechanic does help, it's still really easy to quickly get overwhelmed by a mountain of garbage blocks. I'll have to take a closer look at subsequent entries to see if they've balanced the mechanics out a little further or not but I guess having quick-fire games rather than long marathon rounds isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The game has hopefully gotten renewed attention since its Super Famicom (aka SNES) release has been added to the Nintendo Switch Online offerings, and also the series in general seems to be going strong with the crossover Puyo Puyo Tetris being a launch title for Switch three and a half years ago. That game also got a sequel that just released a few days ago, and even aside from those it looks like I have plenty of Puyo Puyo games to play for a while yet.

Having recently sat down with Dynasty Warriors 3 I did decide to hold off on Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and instead went back to Fire Emblem Warriors, a game I hadn't really picked up again since its release three years ago.

At the time of its release my (and virtually every Fire Emblem fan's) disappointment at the limited roster of characters overshadowed my appreciation for the game itself, but with a bit of distance I was able to enjoy the game more than the first time. I went in thinking I might check out the DLC, but it turns out I had plenty of the base game to keep me occupied. I dipped back into the story mode to refresh my memory of how the game works and crossed off a few of the missions there, but I spent the bulk of my time in the History Mode, which is a series of challenges set into a framework that recreates storylines from previous Fire Emblem games. I had two final characters to unlock, and the pacing of the History Mode worked out pretty well in general in the sense that as long as I tackled the missions in order of difficulty I was able to level up my characters enough to meet the increased challenge. Even though I was levelling up all the characters as evenly as possible I didn't have to use gold to auto-level characters, although unlocking the final character was a bit of a stretch and did require more effort than the rest of my time.

A lot of repetition is par for the course with a Warriors game, and although the number of clone characters is still disappointing, this time I did appreciate the differences in the various characters and the tactics mechanics that are incorporated (having to consider weapon advantages and give orders to your teammates). This game more than any other Warriors game really takes the number of grunts to an extreme, and mowing them down starts to feel a little bit ridiculous since the regular enemies seem to be paper thin and they fall to the slightest bit of damage. There's not a ton of variety in the challenges or the maps, but there are enough different characters that I didn't get too bored even as I obsessively worked my way through clearing the maps. As with all Fire Emblem games, unlocking support conversations between characters helped provide an extra bit of motivation to play as well.

Overall I was happy to pour in a lot of time into my second look at Fire Emblem Warriors, but I wasn't motivated enough to reach the next milestone, which would be unlocking all of the characters' unique S-ranked weapons. For my next sit-down with the game I'm definitely going to have to pick up some of the DLC in order to add a bit more variety, although it's disappointing that even then only four of the nine new characters have somewhat new movesets. Still, having new maps to tackle and levelling up the new characters will add some new variety and I'm looking forward to it, even though it may take a few more years before I have enough interest to do so.

 

Undertale is a game that has gotten tons of hype (even getting recognition from Nintendo in the form of being included in Smash Bros. as a Mii costume!), so I was interested in checking it out. I'm not a fan of really long, drawn-out RPGs, but this game is pretty compact and doesn't wear out its welcome (my very chill playthrough took around ten hours, I think), although somehow it still ends up feeling a little short. Part of that may be that it's very linear and you don't revisit any previous locations at all, and also the areas are all very basic with not much in the way of puzzles or challenges. You also don't level up in the same type of a way as a traditional RPG, so it's a little hard to gauge your progress.

The game's offbeat take on the RPG genre is apparently heavily indebted to an "anti-RPG" game released in 1997 called Moon, which was made by a Japanese indie developer (before indie development was even really a thing). Like Moon, Undertale has you questioning the fact you're battling your way through a peaceful kingdom of so-called monsters. The battle system in Undertale is unique in that although you select commands in a traditional RPG fashion, you respond to enemies' attacks by dodging them in a bullet hell-like setup. When confronted by two enemies of different types you have to deal with both enemies' attack patterns simultaneously. It sounds complicated, but it actually works really well, and is one of the highlights of the game. I think a lot of people have been drawn to the music, retro graphics, quirky characters, and quirky writing, and I enjoyed all of those elements, although the writing was occasionally a little too self-referential and cutesy for my taste. The other main highlight for me, however, is the ending, which comes a bit from left field and is very memorable.

The game also has some replayability in the form of alternate endings, some of which would really require you to use a FAQ to get through, but I don't have any interest in exploring those. The developer, Toby Fox, has put out the first part of the follow-up to the game, called DELTARUNE, as a free demo. I tried it out, but it seemed just like more of the same (although I like that he's remixed a lot of the same characters), so I'm not particularly anticipating its release. Maybe by the time it rolls around I'll be more interested in it, but for now this was an enjoyable game that for me didn't quite live up to its hype.