For my last game of 2015, I had to post about Pokemon X/Y, because I more than doubled the amount of time I'd spent on the game since the last time I posted about it (in the fall of last year), going from 150+ hours to more than 310+ hours (!!!!). The bulk of that time was spent trying to get through the post-game "marathon mode" that is presented in the form of the damn Battle Maison. I focused on the Single Battle mode, and getting through the regular Single Battle mode (20 wins in a row) was easy, but getting through the "Super" Single Battle mode has been a huge pain. I'm determined not to overload my three-'mon team with Uber Pokemon (esp. legendaries), and similarly I don't want to have to use a 6-perfect-IV team (I've gotten quite a few 'mon with 5 perfect IVs just from wonder trading (presumably people doing a lot of breeding and discarding ones that didn't have perfect IVs or the nature they wanted, etc.)), but creating a team that can take on any possible combination of opponents seems extremely difficult. I've been able to get to around #40 fairly consistently without too much trouble, but anything about #35 or more seems to require too much luck. It's been entertaining to see the different strategies the CPU throws at you, and I've adjusted my team several times (replacing Greninja, for example, who despite being ranked as Uber on Smogon kept letting me down), but eventually I've had to table this for a while, at least until I can try adjusting my team yet again. I'm guessing that the other modes are a little less luck based as you have a slightly bigger team to work with.

Despite this disappointment, while I was slogging through this pain I used the game's online features to finally finish the national Pokedex (that's some 710+ Pokemon, as limited-release event Pokemon are not required), a first for me for the series. The online features make completing the Pokedex a question of time rather than serious effort, and I was always surprised at how easy it was to trade for legendaries with Pokemon that weren't, in my opinion, really equal. In any case, it's nice to finally have the Shiny Charm. I tried using the Pokeradar to catch shinies more seriously than before, and after a fair amount of effort I finally caught a shiny Croagunk (incidentally, this is the video I found most useful for learning how to catch shinies in Pokemon X/Y (and ORAS), as the mechanics seems to have changed since the last generation). It seems like even with stepping into the right grass perfectly there's still a fairly high chance (a couple percent) that your chain will break before you get to the target of 40, but with enough persistence you should be able to. I don't have enough time to devote myself to shiny hunting as a way of life, but it was fun to be able to at least know the mechanics inside and out and cross this off my list of things to try in the Pokemon games (although I still have yet to naturally encounter a shiny in the wild).

I don't know that I would have guessed that Pokemon X/Y would have ended up being one of my most-played games ever based on my reaction when I first played through it, but I guess I've "levelled up" again in my Pokemon fandom. I'm determined to give the Battle Maison another go at some point and eventually experiment with an all-new team, and I'm also looking forward to seeing what new announcements are in store for us for 2016, which is the Pokemon series' 20th anniversary. There are still a few minor things here and there that I haven't 100% completed in Pokemon X/Y, like the Battle Chateau and the Battle Institute, so it looks like there's still a fair amount more for me to tackle when I do pick this up again. I have a feeling I'll be posting about the game in 2016 as well, which would be the fourth year in a row, but we'll just have to see.

Some pain-free Pokemon X/Y links:
- My previous two posts on the game (from 2014 and 2013) have a lot of still-relevant links
- Bulbapedia is still the best site for everything you could ever want to know about the games and the series
- Just for fun, here are pictures of some cute holiday-themed Pokemon merch that were released in Japan a few years ago.

I'd played and enjoyed Just Dance 2, and I knew that playing its predecessor, Just Dance, would feel like a step back. I'm a completist in general, though, and felt the need to try it out. The game is, believe it or not, even more simplistic than its successor. The motion controls do feel less accurate, and the ranking system in terms of achieving a target score is more basic. In this game the goal is to top 10,000 points in each song, which gets you a gold border in the song selection screen and the summary page that's buried under the Extras menu. You also apparently get a little trophy icon in the song selection screen if you top 15,000 points, although given the issues with the controls that probably takes a fair amount of trial-and-error-based "practice". The game also doesn't have some of the tiny additions introduced in the sequel, namely a visual cue of which hand is holding the wiimote, and "gold moves" (moves that, if you hit them, net you extra points).

A lot of the issues with the choreography are as apparent here as in the sequel, namely, too much mime (e.g. shooting imaginary guns and playing air guitar, among other movements), and a lot of focus on arm movements, which makes sense, seeing as how the motion detection is achieved solely via the single wiimote. Also, quite a lot of moves in this game were reused in the sequel, which made the choreography feel overly familiar too often. I'm also still not a big fan of the visuals, either, especially since, many sequels later, Ubisoft has still not changed the style at all.

Despite all of this, although I started off feeling pretty critical, after playing through all the songs, the game's ability to conjure up a chuckle and a smile--mostly at the sheer goofiness of my own ineptitude (I shudder to imagine what I actually looked like while playing this game!)--won me over. This doesn't feel like the best entry in the series, but it was enjoyable overall nonetheless, and an interesting debut to a series that has apparently gone on to sell more than 40 million units.

Some Just Dance links:
- Page at nintendo.com
-
Page on Wikipedia

I gave into the hype, and ended up getting Splatoon pretty soon after it launched in May. In retrospect I forget what exactly pushed me over the edge, but I think the allure of a brand new IP from the big N was probably a big part of it. I started off with the single player mode, and although I appreciated its bite-size Mario Galaxy approach to the stages, I got bored pretty quickly. I ended up playing it off and on, but that mode isn't overly long and I beat the final boss last night (is it just me or was there a big difficulty spike there?). The mode isn't "bad", and I'm not quite sure why I found it to be so tedious. Maybe it was too much mindless "get from point A to point B" without any real variety in locales or objectives.

Clearly the single player mode wasn't the focus of development, as the multiplayer modes are pretty amazing. Nintendo makes it look easy, but I agree with the comparison that other people have made that it does for shooters what Mario Kart did for racing games: made them fun for everyone. It's amazing how elegant the game's core mechanics are. The game's squid and painting mechanics solve so many of the problems that make shooting games difficult and/or less accessible, e.g. slowness when turning around, too much violence, too many confusing objectives. The lack of voice chat is understandable given the family-friendly audience, and is fine in the main "turf" war (where the goal is just to paint as much of the map as possible in your team's color). However, it's barely tolerable in the other multiplayer modes, which affect your ranking. Although it's true that the multiplayer is still fun regardless of whether you win or lose, I find it hard to imagine that you'd be able to make much progress with improving your ranking without playing with the game's squad mode (where you play with friends that you can voice chat with using out-of-game means).

The game had a deliberate rollout, where new game modes, stages, and weapons were released (for free) after the game's original release date. All three multiplayer modes are enjoyable, but the two newer game modes ("Rainmaker" and "Tower Control") are much more interesting than the first one. There's a good amount of variety with stages and weapons now, and it's easy to imagine the ways the game can be expanded upon, with more modes, and the addition of stage elements and hazards that appear in the single player mode but don't appear (yet?) in the multiplayer. Not to mention the game's great aesthetic, fun new characters, and great art style and music.

There has been a lot of doom and gloom accompanying Wii U, Nintendo's current gen console, but Splatoon definitely demonstrates that the company still has "it", the ability to come up with amazing, new, one-of-a-kind game experiences. I was worried the game was overhyped, but although it took me a while to get into the multiplayer (since your'e required to play Turf Wars until you get a high enough rank to play the ranked battle modes), it's a relief that the game has far exceeded my somewhat dour expectations. Aside from catapulting to the top of my list of best games I've played this year, perhaps the most telling sign that I enjoyed the game is that I'm already looking forward to a sequel!

Elegant Splatoon links:
- Tons of info on the wikia
- Official site.
- Some official wallpapers here and here.
- Translation of promotional manga that served as an intro to the game
- Miiverse community
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry at Metacritic

Played yet another random puzzle game. Quell Reflect appeared on smartphones as well as 3DS, and I picked up the Android version for free. The game calls to mind the ice puzzles in the Zelda series, where you slide blocks (in this case, water droplets) that keep going until they hit a wall. There are several other mechanics gradually introduced in the game, such as spikes that can be pushed and rings that warp the droplets from one place to another, but less than halfway through I got bored with it. The game has a clean-looking interface and a nice, relaxing ambience, and although the puzzles often require some thought, they don't require much heavy brainpower. The game succeeds in providing occasional diversion, but this wasn't particularly addictive.

Apparently the game was preceded by a game called Quell, although it looks like the gameplay is pretty much identical. NintendoLife gave its sequel, Quell Memento, a high score in their review, so I may check that out at some point.

Relaxing Quell Reflect links:
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry at Metacritic of the iOS version and the 3DS version.

As usual, I'm behind on most series, so even though the next entry in the Paper Mario series just came out in Europe (the crossover with the Mario & Luigi series, entitled Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam), I just finished the previous entry, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, which was released three years ago (in 2012).

I'd played the previous three entries and had liked the first two okay but quite disliked the third one (on Wii). The main problem I have with the series in general is that the pace is really slow and there's a ton of text to wade through. Sticker Star drastically cuts down on the amount of dialogue, which is a big plus in my book. Things also seem to progress more quickly in general, as the game is structured as a series of bite-sized stages, rather like the Wii game, but here the stages feel more compact and it feels like there's much less tedious filler.

My playthrough went pretty smoothly at first, but as many other reviewer have noted, there are several parts where you'll get completely stuck about where to go next. The game requires you to revisit some completed stages without much indication about what you're supposed to be doing, and there was one mechanic in particular that I found misleading, where you're required to use a "Thing" sticker (everyday objects, such as a sponge and a vacuum cleaner, that in sticker form become formidable weapons) at particular places, but the space where you're supposed to put your sticker looks much larger than the sticker you're actually supposed to be using. Boss battles also have a similar problem, where you're required to use a special sticker at the exact right point in the boss fight, and so require some trial and error. "Stickerizing" and using "Thing" stickers to progress the story make up a nice game mechanic in general and recalls the "flip to 3D" mechanic from the Wii title (but is much better), although they also slow things down somewhat as in some areas you'll be spending a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to proceed. This mechanic also brings to mind classic point-and-click adventures such as Maniac Mansion, but, as with those games, at times the game's logic is a bit at odds with your own logic.

I enjoyed the sticker mechanic, although as with most RPGs, battles get pretty dull. There are several sequences, moments, and elaborate stages that are particularly memorable (including a pyramid and a haunted mansion), and using the "Thing" stickers in battle often leads to a hearty chuckle (the High Heel sticker is one of the definite highlights). The game is also stuffed with optional useless achievements, and completists will have a somewhat more worthwhile to task to find every level's Secret Door and all the stickers and "Things" (although, again, a hint system would have gone a long way to motivating me to complete those particular useless achievements).

The game runs out of ideas before the end, and the last world feels like a let-down, but despite that and some frustration, overall I enjoyed this entry in the Paper Mario series about as much as the first game in the series. This is the first game in the series to appear on a handheld, and it survives the transition just fine. The game looks and sounds good, and it seems like visuals resembling cardboard are used much more extensively than I remember seeing in the series before, such that stages often look like elaborate, eye-catching dioramas. The game features some pretty good stereoscopic effects as well. Hopefully I'll be able to get caught up on the Mario & Luigi series before another Paper Mario game comes out!

Maniac Paper Mario: Sticker Star links:
- Entry at papermario.wikia.com. Includes complete list of stickers and their locations.
- Entry at www.mariowiki.com
- Entry at metacritic.com
- List of unlockables at GameFAQs
- Review at NintendoLife
- Official website
- Entry at Wikipedia