I've come across a few people online who play the Picross games obsessively, and I can sort of see why. Picross is predictable bubble gum for the brain, and it is satisfying to play through some puzzles every once in a while, but I'm definitely not someone who feels compelled to finish every single Picross puzzle I come across. I assume Jupiter Corporation, which has been responsible for all the Nintendo-published Picross games since the original Mario's Picross on Game Boy, have made quite an easy profit, and versions for 3DS and Switch abound, including My Nintendo Picross: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which I played a few years ago.

I rewound the clock a bit and spent some time with Picross DS, I think the only Picross game released for that system. The core game is pretty much exactly what you would expect and the touch and button control options work fine, but there are a few frills included. The completed puzzle has a little animation; there are a few different music tracks for each mode; and there are some daily missions with unique modes, such as having you fix errors or hiding some of the numbers you would normally need to solve the puzzle. There are also some throwaway little minigames included for the heck of it. You can also create and trade puzzles with friends, and there were some official downloadable puzzles and a versus mode that, of course, are no longer available since the DS's Wi-Fi services shutdown a long time ago.

The puzzles vary in size, and it's a little awkward to zoom in and out of the larger puzzles, but there's not really any getting around that. One annoyance is that for the easier puzzles you can't turn off the feature that tells you if you've made an error, which is something I always prefer to do without. In general there's a wide variety of puzzle images ranging from fruits to animals, and near the end of the game, Nintendo characters. Overall this game has a few more features than the other Picross games I've played, although none of them are essential. Picross DS is a little less compelling in the "theme and fun" category, so I'd still have to give some of the other games in the series the edge, but this is a worthwhile game even years later and Picross fans should enjoy it.

I was motivated to spend time with Pokemon Rumble U because I knew that its smartphone follow-up, Pokémon Rumble Rush, was due to shut down this past July, just a little over a year of its initial debut. The Pokémon Rumble series has been one of the lamer Pokémon spin-off series, and I for one wasn't too sad to see this iteration go.

Yet again this game recycled the same beat-'em-up formula as its predecessors and featured the same blocky Pokemon "toys" for you to use in battle and try to "collect 'em all". The game was most similar to the second 3DS game, and at its core it had you travelling to different areas (in this game, "islands") to encounter and try to catch area-specific Pokemon. The main new feature was that you could come across ore that you have to refine in order to get a boatload of upgrades, the main one being "Power Gears" that upgraded a Pokemon's stats (most of which were by Pokemon type although some boosted certain types of attacks and some were only usable by specific Pokemon), and "Summon Gears", which enabled you to summon a specific Pokemon for a powerful attack. An update added a "Battle Royale" mode that had three of your critters to auto-battle against another team. The game was designed as a mobile game and had all the hallmarks of one, such as including daily missions, and the in-game currency was used to increase storage capacity of both your gears and your Pokemon, and also to increase the speed of refining ore. Its other main use was to enable you to visit more locations (via "Guide Feathers"), and although the main areas originally cycled through every two weeks, at the end they had all of them available all the time.

Overall Pokemon Rumble Rush was a harmless but forgettable smartphone entry in this mindless Pokémon spin-off series, and The Pokémon Company seems to be continuing to try to find its next big hit. Although I originally dimissed their later smartphone effort, Pokemon Masters, I've still been keeping up with that game more or less and it has come a ways since its debut a year ago and has recently been rebranded as Pokémon Masters EX (not to be confused with "Pokemon Master SEX", which I heard was trending on Twitter and refers to something quite different). I'm still not wholly convinced that even with the renaming that that game is worth spending that much time on, but I'm guessing with all these updates it's doing reasonably well, and I'll probably still keep up with it and so will probably have to write another post about it at some point.

Ah, Pokemon spin-offs... such a mixed bag. The Pokémon Rumble spin-off series has gone on longer than I think anyone expected, and someone out there must be spending money on them because Ambrella keeps getting hired to keep making them! I last wrote about the fourth game in the series and the second on 3DS, Pokemon Rumble World, three years ago, and after having played all five games I would consider that game to be the high point of the series, which really isn't saying much. Overall I would rank Pokemon Rumble U, the third release in the series and the only one on Wii U, somewhere in the middle.

As with the other games in this spin-off series, Pokemon Rumble U features the same tired beat-'em-up formula in which you use Pokemon toys in battle and try to "collect 'em all". Aside from having the best graphics by far of any entry in the series and a focus on arena battles as opposed to the disposable short stages of the other entries, this game adds a few new wrinkles. For one, it and the original WiiWare game are the only games of the five that feature co-op multiplayer, and as with the original you can easily have your buddies drop in and out for a total of four players playing simultaneously. This game also makes use of the Wii U GamePad's NFC functionality, in the form of NFC figures (predating Nintendo's own wildly successful line of Amiibo figures). Fortunately for collectors the Pokemon powers that be only ended up releasing a small number of these figures, and they don't really provide anything in terms of actual advantages in the game. Unlike all the other in-game Pokemon characters you'll collect and use to fight, the Rumble U NFC figures can be levelled up with the in-game currency. In practice, though, it's more trouble to level them up than it's worth, since you're constantly gaining new and stronger Pokemon anyway.

The game was also the first in the series to add a set of missions to each stage, which makes things marginally more interesting. Another main new feature is that there's a special meter that when full lets you drop bombs by using the GamePad's touchscreen. Lastly, the only other new feature is the ability to occasionally pick up a Master Ball on the stage that you can throw at an enemy Pokemon in order to capture them, which is another little hook to get you to replay previous stages in order to try to complete your Pokedex.

As the NintendoLife reviewer noted, Pokemon Rumble U's battles get really crowded with enemies, and with the visual effects they've added to make use of the hardware it's even harder to see what's going on than the other entries in the series. The lighting is also such that things look a bit hazy in general, which doesn't help either. But the battles are generally so easy to get through that you don't really have to strategize much or do much than mash buttons anyway.

With 649 different types of Pokemon to collect this game no doubt has kept Pokemon obsessives very busy, but for the rest of us this is a good but not great release. Not the worst Pokemon spin-off for sure, but after getting about a third of the way through I'd definitely felt like I'd had enough. The next, and so far final, game in the series, Pokemon Rumble Rush was a short-lived smartphone title, but more on that game soon...

I've done a pretty poor job of making my way through the Kirby series (my last blog entry on a Kirby game was on Kirby and the Rainbow Curse four and a half years ago (!)). I have to admit that a lot of my lethargy is due to getting easily bored by how easy and mindless the games are, but I did actually make a good amount of progress on Kirby's Dream Land 3 playing co-op with a gaming buddy of mine, but then my SNES glitched and we lost our save. :( :( :( I gave up on going back to that game, and instead moved on to the series' lone N64 entry, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards.

I wasn't expecting much from the game to be honest, and maybe my low expectations helped me approach the game in a different way than I have some of the other games in the series. I think having played Yoshi's Story, another N64 platformer, also helped set my expectations, but whatever it was, somehow I found myself enjoying the game much more than I have most of the other entries I've played. Maybe everything just clicked finally. The game is stuffed with cuteness, and the cutscenes had a lot funny physical comedy that gave the characters a lot of personality. Previous games have had cutscenes as well, but having them as 3D animations gives them a much greater impact.

Kirby's trademark copy ability is back again in full force, but the twist here is that you can combine two abilities to make a new one. There are seven abilities which lead to 28 unique combinations (an ability can be combined with itself to make a superpowered version), and experimenting with all the combinations is a lot of fun, even when some of them are pretty useless. In retrospect this is the same type of doubled-up combination mechanic as in Kirby's Dream Land 2 and 3 except there you're combining animal friends with a Kirby ability instead of two abilities, but I didn't really appreciate that when I played Kirby's Dream Land 2 way back when. I also didn't mind Kirby 64 being a relatively easy game overall, since it didn't feel completely mindless and it seemed more challenging that I remember the other games being, particularly with the boss fights. Each level has three sometimes quite hard-to-find collectibles, and you need to collect all of them to get the "true" ending, which definitely adds to the longevity of what is otherwise a pretty short game (around four hours, although in my advancing age short games are definitely more of a boon than a bane).

Overall I'm a bit surprised that I find myself ranking Kirby 64 so high among the games in the series I've played so far, especially considering it was an N64 game, which definitely wasn't my favorite era in gaming history. But maybe this is a turning point for me and I'll become a Kirby fan yet. It looks like next I have the GBA games to tackle, so stay tuned for that -- maybe even this year, haha.

Looks like it's been about a year and a half since I've blogged about a Just Dance game, but I realized that I'd forgotten to blog about playing through the spin-off games Dance on Broadway and Just Dance Kids. There isn't actually a lot to say about either of those two games other than Dance on Broadway ups the cheesiness quotient and Just Dance Kids, while not dumbing down the gameplay too much, is definitely geared towards a younger audience and does away with recording high scores altogether.

Anyway, that brings us to the next mainline entry, Just Dance 4. At this point I was faced with a bit of a conundrum about which system to play the game on since it was released for both of Wii and Wii U (among other systems), but I went with the Wii U version since it added a couple of new features. First, though, in general the game is the same old Just Dance gameplay that we know and love, and by now the aesthetics and inherent cheesiness have become nostalgic to me and I've pretty much completely embraced them. The tracklist of this particular title has a good amount of variety, and vets will have an easier time picking up the choreography since the choregoraphy tends to fall into somewhat predictable patterns. Along with the core game mode featuring songs with stars you can earn based on your score and a basic achievements system (five possible for each song), Just Dance 4 includes many songs with unlockable alternate choreographies, some of which are fun mashups of previous choreographies as in the previous game, and some with completely different, much more difficult choreographies. Duet and four-person choreographies also make a return and seem to make up a bigger part of the song list than before, and new songs and choreographies are unlocked at a pretty regular clip.

In terms of Wii U specific features, the game does make use of the GamePad in a special "Puppet Master" mode where an observer can pick particular moves to drop in and also select which dancer executed a move the best. I can imagine in certain setting this could be a fun little extra, but otherwise outside of improved visuals it seems like the Wii U and the Wii versions are pretty much the same.

As with many long-running series, Ubisoft doesn't try to reinvent the wheel with Just Dance 4, but the new slate of songs and choreographies is worthwhile. Apparently this was the entry where they changed the scoring so that you don't have to worry about maintaining a continuous streak of perfect movements to maximize your score, which I definitely approve of. I'd probably rank Just Dance 3 a little higher than this entry since that game added more new tweaks to the core gameplay, but this is another solid entry in the ongoing series. It looks like the next entry, Just Dance 2014, is where the series switches over to titling the games after the year, which makes sense since the releases are getting churned out annually. There are three of those on Wii U, so it looks like I'll still have a good reason to keep that system hooked up for a good long while.