Thursday, April 21, 2016

Pokemon Co-Master Impressions

So the Pokemon Company released a new spinoff Pokemon game in Japan. It's a board style game where the goal is to reach your opponent's goal. The board itself looks fairly simple, but as I've played it, I've noticed it can actually be quite a complex game that's interesting to play.
Pokemon Co-Master! Because it would be lonely at the top?
I was able to download a copy of the game and try it out. However, the game itself is fully Japanese so I tend to act like former 5 year-old self and skip past dialogue and rules. I simply guess the effects and remember what I see. In the process, I've learned a few things but still confused on a few others. As a result, I cannot give a full review, but I'll get as close as I can for the bit I've played.

Reading through some comments on Polygon, this is apparently a video game version of some board game that came out quite some time ago but was short-lived. I actually like the board game. It's an interesting twist on the Pokemon formula as every Pokemon is useful, unlike in Pokemon Shuffle. By useful, I mean, you might want to hold on to your starter set and weak Pokemon, because they can be quite powerful. Yes, little Weedle can hold its own against a Charizard, probably. That's how awesome it is. Spearow is also perhaps the deadliest foe in the game where I'm at.

So here's game setup: You can have 6 Pokemon figures and you take turns placing or moving them across the board. Each side has 2 spawn points. If your figure gets defeated in battle, it gets sent to the Pokemon Center. If 3 Pokemon are sent there, the one that's been in there the longest gets sent back to your hand, allowing you to place it again after 1 turn.
Here: the board is showing where Pikachu can move to as well as its roulette wheel
For Battling, both sides spin a roulette wheel for their respective figures. The higher number wins, but it's not always that simple. There are effects which trump attacks. For example, Pikachu can spin a 100, but it's useless if Chespin guards. If the numbers are the same, nothing happens. Taurus' special ability can force its opponent to move back 2 spaces and have to wait 2 turns. This would also beat out Pikachu's 100 spin. On the flip side, if your special has more stars than the other figure's, then your special takes priority.

So what do I mean about Weedle defeating a Charizard? This is because if a Pokemon lands on a Miss, then Weedle only needs to land on a 10 and it will defeat its opponent. Each roulette wheel is specific to a Pokemon species so the value of Miss differs greatly. There are at least 2 Pokemon I've gotten where Miss is like 4% while others has it at like 60%.

Charizard may have power, but there's also a good chance he can miss
There's another thing that needs consideration when building your team: Movement Points. The highest I've seen is 3 and those are for the weaker Pokemon. The stronger your Pokemon, the more likely it'll be a 2 or 1. If you have all 1's, then you might lose to a team of all 3's.

Now just because there are roulette wheels doesn't mean this isn't a thinking game. Luck certainly has it's place in the game, but you definitely need to plan your actions. I've made a few silly mistakes that certainly cost me the match. However, if you are uncertain what to do, just tap the AI button.

That's right, you have an AI partner. If you tap it, then the AI will move for you. So far it's done a fairly god job and I've learned some neat tactics from it. However, I have seen a few moves that I think made no sense or were highly risky. I tend to use it when I see 2 valid moves but unsure which to choose. The benefit is that the AI tends to select one of those 2 rather than a 3rd. I also use it when I don't want to bother looking at every figure's roulette wheel in order to figure out which Pokemon to send out.

There is one thing I have noticed that the AI never does and that's play your "plates". These cards grant bonuses for your team. For example, I can increase attack power of Torchic by 20, cure a poisoned figure, etc.. Some cards end your turn as soon as you play while others allow for movement as well. Both have their places as sometimes you need to move, but it would cost you the game if you did move a figure. Sometimes the best thing to do is force your opponent to attack first.

Getting interested? How do you obtain new figures? The 2 ways I've seen so far is win a match or "purchase" one. Both are difficult as the match option has you spin another wheel with the odds not in your favor. The shop option requires either golden tickets or diamonds, the latter of which can be purchased with real money. The result is that it's difficult to get free figures, but I have managed to get quite a few with quite a bit of patience. There are some duels where the odds of getting a figure is a bit higher and sometimes you can win within 2 moves, so it's possible to collect the figures. There are also matches where you are guaranteed a good prize when you win the first time, like diamonds or a Pikachu figure, in addition to the roulette wheel spin.
This game totally explains Ash's Pikachu and how it can lose to easy opponents while taking down strong ones
It is possible that you just keep getting stuck with obtaining the same figure again and again. Those figures can still be put to good use. If you fuze them with another Pokemon, the base figure gains a lot more experience than you get from winning a battle. After leveling up, you can deplete the Miss sections and increase the odds of landing on something you want. It's a slow process, but the results can make your figure better than another of the same model.

You can also play online against other players in ranked battles. To do this, you first need to obtain special tickets by playing the campaign mode. When you go to play, there's ranked mode and room mode. I assume room mode is to play against nearby opponents. In ranked mode, you have a chess clock where your time goes down during your turn. This adds a sense of urgency to every action as you want to make sure you have more time on the clock than your opponent. It also forces you to try and plan your move while your opponent is making his.

If you have doubts that you are playing against a human due to the AI nature of the game, my doubts were resolved when my opponent stopped playing as soon as it was guaranteed that I had won. Luckily, if your opponent doesn't move for 1 minute, then you are declared the winner. I could see a desire for the time to be 30 seconds, but sometimes it really does take more than 30 seconds to figure a good strategy.
Uh-oh! Time is running out on my side
Something I find weird, which might be on Google's side, is how the game is rated for 3+. Does that mean they expect 3 year-olds to play this game? That's pretty bad considering that most of the text is kanji and there are quite a few currencies, making this a money trap for those who aren't careful.

In summary, I'm so far enjoying this free to start game. The progress can be slow, but it is fun when you have a good match.  It's a nice strategy game with good replay value and I could see them using this as a means of reintroducing the board game. Perhaps they can use all of those Pokemon Rumble figures that didn't become a hit. I do have one last warning and that is this app does drain the battery pretty fast, even as fast as you are charging. So you might want to limit playing when you don't have access to a charging station.

P.S. The app does crash occasionally. I haven't seen too many, but I have gotten a few. The good thing is it looks like the app handles it nicely so I didn't lose anything. Hopefully it doesn't get worse as I progress towards the end. I'm still only at the 2nd tower.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Interesting things about Twilight Princess

So yesterday, I wrote my review of how the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was ported to Wii U. In my analysis, it's a good port. Now as I played it, I noticed a few things that I found interesting.

  1. Midna's hand gesture is the Japanese one for "Come": In the west, the palm would be face-up, which I saw one boss do in a fight (won't spoil for those who don't know who). However, in Japan (where the game was developed), the palm is face-down and looks like you are digging.
  2. The Hidden Village shootout is awesome and inspired a spinoff game. However, you can also play a Cat-hunt version by talking to the cucco. The goal is to talk to every single cat in the village and you get a piece of heart.
  3. This is the only Zelda game where someone looks at you as a hero: In most games, you are called the hero, but no one looks up to you as one. This makes Twilight Princess interesting, because you have the character Collin aspires to be like you.
  4. The shaman can't stand the bar owner :D
  5. The Gorons go from Sumo to Boxing. If this game was made in the US instead of Japan, it probably would have been deemed controversial.
  6. I didn't try it, but you can make the oocca fly forever, making it look like they are trying to attack you Video on youtube. I wonder if they'll attack you like the cucco.
  7. The wolf form is more powerful than the Master Sword.
  8. When you reach the temple of time, it kinda looks like the Wii U tech demo. Makes me wonder if they have been developing this port since then.
  9. Midna may have an interesting story and dialogue, but she stinks when it comes to giving you advice about what to do next.
  10. The game is a bit inconsistent about whether some items should be in the fancy chest or just a normal chest.
  11. When playing the balloon popping minigame, get the minimum high score and slowly increment each round in order to get money fairly easily.
  12. There are mini-dungeons hidden in Hyrule Field.
  13. The yeti's mansion is filled with paintings of various characters and locations, including some I don't expect he could reach.
  14. When you switch to Zora armor, you can't swim faster like you can in human or wolf form.
  15. Some of the howling stone songs are from OoT.
  16. The developers seem to like Westerns. Not only do you have the joust and herd, but also the Hidden Village shootout and this pose.
  17. Rutela's theme is the Serenade of Water from OoT.
  18. The Hidden Village is likely the Kakariko Village from OoT due to the information provided by its inhabitant, which had a shooting game.
  19. You can play fetch with the dogs in Castle Town by picking up a bone and throwing it. The dog will bring it back.
  20. Even though it's dogs that are known to have good smelling senses, it's Telma's cat that says she could tell you're Link based off your scent 
  21. Possible Spoiler: Your trainer for Hidden Skills call you his Child
  22. The Wii U version adds a touch button to let you switch between Wolf-Link and Human Link on the fly.
  23. You don't need to talk to Midna in order to warp on the Wii U version. Just open the map, press L to turn on portals, and touch your destination.
  24. The Wii U version starts you off with a wallet to hold 500 rupees and the next one holds 1000. Much better improvement over the Gamecube's 300 start. However, if you can't hold the rupees, you won't put them back into the chest anymore.
  25. If you plug in headphones to the gamepad, the audio will stop playing on the TV automatically
  26. In some of the dungeons for the Wii U version, you can't access some chests until later. First one I noticed was in Death Mountain
  27. The Wii U version has a special lantern to help you find Poes.
  28. If you want to make a bow combination on the Wii U, you have to pause the game.

Bonus one: Concept art for Ilia had a fairy image on her forehead. That could possibly mean that she was intended to be Navi from OoT incarnate (I recall seeing this in Hyrule Historia).

Extra one: This is the only Zelda game that has an explanation as to how Link can carry all of that equipment

Update 6/16/16
The character who repairs the cannon is a reference to Mario. Using cannons to reach new locations such as a sky world or desert world appeared in New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS in 2006, the same year Twilight Princess originally released.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Port Review: The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess for Wii U

First things first, I should apologize for not writing a review for a long time. The simple explanation consists of two things. First, I've been busy with life changing events. Second, I haven't been buying as many new games but instead been playing Pokemon Shuffle with the little spare time I had. However, I did pick up Twilight Princess for the Wii U for a few reasons. First, I wanted the soundtrack that came with it. Second, I cannot play my Gamecube version for a while as I do not have access to a Wii or Gamecube to play it on. Third, I wanted to check out the Wolf Link Amiibo and I hope that it has some neat feature in the new Zelda game. So how does the game hold up as I went through effectively my third playthrough? Pretty good and it gives me some hope for how the new game will turn out.
Good Job, Nintendo
Of course, I should clarify but what I meant by the word "hope". There are some good features that I want them to carry over and there are features I want them to make/improve. All of these have to do with the gamepad implementation.

Twilight Princess used the gamepad to an okay level. You can play the full game using the gamepad only, but I found that out by accident rather than being told how to do so. For those who want to know, pause the game with the + button and then press the - button to switch displays. As a warning though, the resolution takes a hit. It still looks nice, but not as nice as on a 32-inch 1080p HDTV. To make up for that, Nintendo included a feature that's nice for "need to be quiet" time: Audio Source Swap. If you plug in headphones into the gamepad, the game audio will automatically stop playing on the TV, switching completely to the headphones. It sounds so trivial, but I utilized that feature quite a bit during the 30 hours I played.
So I can listen to the Hidden Village song without disturbing my family

Now the gamepad can be used for both items and map display and you can use either in real time. I found that neat for the times when I wanted to swap items when waiting to reach a destination. A good example is when you are sinking in the water and want to pull out the clawshot or water bombs. It may not save a lot of time, but it's a lot of the little moments like that where you can determine if a feature is good or not. If you are in big trouble, then you can always pause the game and change your items that way. It's good, but it could be better.

Twilight Princess is an interesting Zelda game in that it does try to utilize old items later on, but those occasions are sometimes only for one-time use.  As a result, I find it annoying to assign one item to button and then change it back to something I'll actually need. For instance, the bombs are sometimes used everywhere, but not often enough to keep a button assign to them. There are two things I would like done here. One is to follow the example of Ocarina of Time 3D in which there were 2 touch buttons that you could assign items to. That way, you just tapped that button and the item would be used. The second option, which I think would be better, is a double-tap activation for the item on the touchscreen. It's perfect for the often one-time need, and by making it a double-tap, the chances of wasting precious resources becomes smaller.

I know that Nintendo can do that, because they implemented it to do one awesome feature: the change between human and wolf-Link! It's perhaps one of the best additions to the game as it makes things so much smoother than having to talk to Midna to transform every single time, only to find out that you can't do it. Once you gain the ability to transform on-demand, that icon is fantastic. No longer are you bound to fighting either as a wolf or as swordsman because it's too inconvenient to switch. Two thumbs up for this feature!

As a side note, everything that is selectable in the menu screens works with the touchscreen as well. I could select portals to warp to without talking to Midna, change my equipment, save my game, etc. So bonus points for that as well, Nintendo and Tantalus.

There is a another worry aspect and that's the hub on screen. You can have the map displayed on the gamepad, but you are still forced to have the hub on your TV. I looked at the settings, but I couldn't turn it off. Maybe I do want to keep them on screen, but sometimes it's in the way, especially since I did actually look at the gamepad map most of the time. It's a handy tool though I'm not sure if the tab design for switching between map and items was best practice. I might have liked a 3rd option that had the mini-map with some items to pull from.

One improvement I would like added here would be to be able to write notes like in Phantom Hourglass. The reason for this is because I found some treasure chests, but was unable to access them until I found an item. I would have liked to make a note for myself, which I could do with the 3DS built-in game notes, but the Wii U doesn't have such a function.
To be fair, you can share pictures like this on Miiverse with your notes.
Back to the improvements, I'll claim that Amiibo was implemented fairly well. Since Link is one of the most popular Amiibos, it's generally safe that the player has Link or maybe Toon Link. Using the Link (or Toon Link) amiibo restocks arrows, which is a useful function without being game-breaking. The only caveat is that you cannot do it more than once a day (I don't know how it works if you have multiple Link Amiibos).  Now if you bought the edition with the Wolf-Link Amiibo (a.k.a. the Midna Amiibo), you can play a special gauntlet of enemies as Wolf-Link. What I've learned form doing that is that the wolf form is more powerful than the Master Sword and sometimes easier to defeat some enemies.

Last improvement to note is the option to use motion controls. You may not want them, but I found to be using it more often the the control stick. Why? Because I could move the camera at just the right speed and precision for my target. It is on by default, but turning it off is as simple as going to Collection screen (Down on the D-Pad) and then Settings (lower-right corner). However, I do suggest to try using them for the whole game. The same rule applies here as with every Nintendo motion controlled game: the game initializes its tracking based off your controller's location at the instant you regain control. So if you use the clawshot to reach a location, it will re-initiliaze after you reach that location so you need to make sure that your controller isn't at a funny angle. It was like this for Wii Sports Resort, Skyward Sword, and Splatoon. I think most of those who hate motion controls really just don't pick up that this is how it works.

Now, if you already know you don't like Twilight Princess, this port probably won't change your mind. The story and pacing is still the same. While some of the core gameplay has been improved thanks to the gamepad and motion controls, you still have to deal with the mandatory mini-games and side-quests. On the other hand, if your complaint was the graphics, they look nice here. At least as nice as I recall them back in 2006. If you were wondering about picking this up, then hopefully this analysis proved to be helpful.
Does this make anyone else think about the Wii U tech demo? The room here was very nicely done