Paper Mario: Origami King

This post – about the upcoming new Paper Mario game – was inspired by a good read on The Wizard Dojo. Check out Scott’s thoughts (and blog in general) – it’s much better than what I cobble together here.

Anyway, there’s this new Paper Mario game coming out soon for the Switch, subtitled The Origami King. You may have heard of it. A lot of Nintendo/Switch fans lost their shit and got super-excited about it (good for them), while others have had a more lukewarm response to Mario’s latest paper-based spin-off. Where do I sit on this one? Somewhere in the middle. The trailer looked fun, but also disappointing. Maybe I’m just an crusty old entitled gamer? Perhaps.

But here’s the issue: The Origami King resembles Sticker Star and Colour Splash – not the first two Paper Mario games that fans desperately want to see a proper sequel to.

Continue reading “Paper Mario: Origami King”

Review – Geist (Gamecube)

Geist-1Platform: Gamecube
Year: 2005
Developer: N-Space
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: FPS

Note: This is a review that I have previously published elsewhere in the past, either on a different (now defunct) blog or a gaming forum. I’ve dragged the original – kicking and screaming – from the dusty archives and polished it up. Consider this the ‘Director’s Cut’ edition…

Geist is a game suffering from an identity crisis that overshadows its potential. It’s a verdict that I couldn’t help but come away with after playing through N-Space’s ghostly adventure; a game bogged down by damaging flaws that detract from the fresh and interesting ideas that could have amounted to something special had the game been treated to more polish.

I wasn’t completely shocked by this, however. After all, Geist was first revealed at 2003’s E3 event and touted for release that very same year. Unfortunately, the game was delayed and by the time it finally materialised on the Gamecube in 2005, very few people cared anymore. History shows that games trapped in development hell are likely to finally emerge as damp squibs despite all of that extra time that the developers have had to fine tune their product. Sadly, Geist is no exception to this unwritten rule.

Ghostin’ it up

Geist opens with the player in the shoes of John Raimi (no relation to Hollywood’s Sam Raimi…I think), a member of a counter-terrorism team tasked with investigating a shady French lab. In true sci-fi fashion the mission goes terribly wrong and Raimi finds himself a ‘guest’ of the lab’s owners, the mysterious Volks Corporation, who decide that he is the perfect subject for their sinister experiments. Strapped into their machine, Raimi is ripped from his body and left to exist as an ethereal spirit but it isn’t long before he manages to escape.

Geist-4
Raimi be angry. [Image Source]
This is where Geist‘s much-touted USP – possession – comes into play. After a short tutorial in possessing objects, you start to use Raimi’s new powers to explore the facility with the goal of recovering his body and uncovering the intentions of Volks. This means possessing the guards and scientists in Volks’ employ in order to interact with the physical world around you. Potential hosts can only be possessed when they have been sufficiently spooked as indicated by the colour of their aura so it’s a case of using the objects around them to get them nice and scared. Dustbins, computer terminals and items of machinery are just some of the things that Raimi can utilise to give his unsuspecting victims a case of the willies – you can force a piece of machinery to explode without warning for example. It’s usually a multi-stage process with several objects needing to be manipulated before the target succumbs to their fear and leaves the door open for Raimi to swoop in and take up residence.

At first this mechanic feels original and is genuinely fun. The first few possessions are magical and you’ll be hard-pressed not to smile at the results of your ghostly antics. Ironically, however, Geist‘s signature mechanic is also its Achilles heel because it quickly becomes apparent that you aren’t as free as your ghostly state would imply.

Geist-3
Possessing a security gun turret is admittedly pretty cool. [Image Source]
Let’s begin with the elephant in the room: Raimi is a ghost and yet he is still thwarted by walls and closed/locked doors. Yes, really. So you are having to constantly possess unwitting humans in order to move between rooms whenever doors are involved. As well as making absolutely no sense whatsoever, this huge restriction serves to rob the player of feeling all-powerful. What’s the point of being a ghost if you are stuck playing by the rules of the physical world? It’s the first in a series of missed opportunities.

The possession mechanic itself is similarly limited. As with your inability to pass through walls like a paranormal badass, possessing humans is a restrictive and disappointingly scripted process. Inanimate objects usually have to be manipulated in a specific sequence so scaring the base’s populance boils down to identifying which items to utilise and what order to use them in. When this realisation hits home the fun rapidly evaporates and you are left with an extremely linear experience intent on pushing the player down pre-determined routes. Geist is crying out for a more sandbox-like style of play, where the player can choose which objects to use and how to use them. As well as enhancing the overall experience, it would certainly have given the game some much-needed replay value.

Variety is the spice of life

Then there is that identity crisis that I mentioned in this review’s opening sentence. Is it an FPS? A survival horror? It seems that even N-Space doesn’t know because Geist is an example of multiple styles of gameplay colliding to form a muddled experience. In fairness to N-Space Nintendo apparently got involved in this area but it doesn’t make the negative aspects of this genre clash forgivable in any way.

Possess a host carrying a firearm and Geist becomes an FPS which accounts for roughly 75% of the gameplay. Sadly, these sections are dreadful; weapons are restricted to what the host was originally carrying and ammo is unlimited, removing any sort of tactical approach. Not that you’d need to approach firefights with much thought though since the enemy AI appears content to run headlong into a hail of bullets or take ‘cover’ behind crates that only shield their legs! If Nintendo were hoping that Geist would be a killer FPS to boost the Gamecube’s credibility within the genre then this was an enormous failure. The far superior Timesplitters Future Perfect had already hit the system three months prior, for example, and the previous year’s Halo 2 and Killzone over on the Xbox and PS2 respectively would have laughed at Geist‘s attempt to muscle in.

Away from shooting stuff, a later area of the game has Raimi wandering around an eerie mansion and solving puzzles that involve rotating statues and light beams in order to open doors. It’s a notable change of pace from the FPS sections and more than a mild riff on Resident Evil‘s obscure puzzles and dilapidated setting. There’s even a brief stealth segment where, while possessing a dog, you must avoid the guards in a room and reach the other side. There’s nothing wrong with a jack-of-all-trades game but when none of the individual ingredients manage to impress, then the subsequent amalgamation of parts results in a fairly dissatisfying overall experience.

Other criticisms worth noting include the bosses which, bar a few encounters, are mostly recycled and sport identical weaknesses (spoilers: it’s their mouths), bland, generic character models (with poorly-rendered facial detailing) and the environments which look impressive from a distance but crumble under closer scrutiny.

 

Geist-2
Ah, the old conveniently-placed soap suds effect. [original image credit here]
Also, this being a more adult (marketed at teenage boys, then) game released in the mid-noughties, Geist‘s female populance – whether they are wearing secretarial outfits, lab coats or military gear – are all equipped with enormous breasts. There is even a section of the game where you have to possess a busty woman wearing just a small shower towel so well done N-Space. Or not. As an unapologetic male, I’m never going to to complain too much about a bit of titillation in a game, but this must still be marked down as ticking the boxes on a checklist of required generic features.

Conclusion

From the negative tone threading its way through this review you might have already concluded that Geist is a total failure but that would be a decidedly harsh assessment. There are many original and humorous moments that break up the dull sections and the prospect of stumbling across the next one is just enough to keep you plodding on to the game’s conclusion. The aforementioned shower room scene, for example, might seem a bit of a cynical inclusion in order to check the ‘Boobs’ box but it’s still a cheeky nod to the first thing most teenage boys (and, let’s face it, a lot of adult blokes) would think of doing if they could be invisible and pass through walls.

The main issue is that there aren’t enough smile-inducing moments to properly dilute the crap bits. All too often I found myself wondering, “why didn’t they let you do this?” or “wouldn’t it have been cool if you could have done that?” This, and the distinct lack of attention to things like the game’s sub-par AI and very average aesthetics, really mark Geist down as a forgettable curio destined to be lost to the mists of time. This is a real shame because there are some innovative ideas here and so much potential for something truly special. Geist did nothing to set the gaming world alight back in 2005 but in 2019, with the much more powerful technology beneath our TV’s, there’s no reason why revisiting the concept couldn’t result in a fantastic game.

Nintendo Switch Lite thoughts

Nintendo have surprised everybody nobody at all by releasing a ‘Lite’ version of their Switch console. The Switch Lite is billed as a “compact, lightweight addition to the Nintendo Switch family, with integrated controls.” They also say that it is “dedicated to handheld play.”

In normal speak, this means a portable-only version of the Switch with joycons that can’t be removed and no TV output. So why would you even want to give a shit? Surely going backwards is a bad idea? Well, that’s what many said about the 2DS and look at how successful that was for Nintendo. In fairness however, the USP for the 3DS (it’s 3D effect) was increasingly under-utilised by developers and had always been divisive given how it gave some gamers negative side effects while others felt that 3D didn’t add much to the games so left it switched off anyway. In short, the 2DS had less to lose.

The Switch Lite however, loses some of the major selling points of the standard Switch (which will still be available to buy). You won’t be able to hook it up to a television for example so no more switching (hur, hur…get it? I’ll get my coat…) between the big and small screens. You also won’t be able to detach the controls for multiplayer. As far as I’m aware, both of these features have been a success with the Switch, unlike the 3DS’ 3D effect which wasn’t such a major loss when the 2DS hit stores. What’s more, an updated model of the standard Switch has apparently been released that improves battery life by upwards of 50% (depending on how you use the thing). This is a bit of a kick in the teeth for the Switch Lite before it has even been released.

Switch-7
[Source]
So, er…why would you bother with the Lite? Well, it’s cheaper for starters. About $100 cheaper in North America. It’s also looking to be bang on £100 cheaper here in the UK too. That makes no sense when you consider exchange rates and values of currency but we’ll just ignore that. Obviously, you could pick up a used Switch unit bundled with games and accessories for the same price (or cheaper) than a brand-new equivalent so there is that to consider but not everybody wants to go for used hardware that other people’s kids have had their grubby mitts all over. Also, the Lite is meant to be more comfortable to hold and there is that added assurance of durability with integrated controllers that can’t be worn out or damaged by constantly removing/replacing them.

All of that said, I would buy a Switch Lite. “Why?” I don’t hear you asking. Because:

  1. I’ve never owned a regular Switch so this wouldn’t be a downgrade
  2. I have no room beneath/next to my TV for more consoles or docks. When you’ve been gaming for many years and like to keep older machines and games, you tend to run short on space pretty quickly. I have no more connections TO the TV left anyway…
  3. I’m not likely to bother with local multi-player as I’m more or less a solo gamer these days
  4. £200 for a brand-new example of a current-gen system appeals to me.

Now that that’s out in the open, I feel that I have to address my previous posts on the Switch because when the console was much younger, I made a series of posts about why I – as a Wii-U owner – wasn’t interested in upgrading to the (then) new Nintendo hardware. If you missed these three posts then here are some quick links to them:

One of my major gripes was to do with feeling shafted as a Wii-U adopter/supporter. After all, I’d bought into the weird console which turned out to be a massive flop that could have tanked Nintendo. I’d put money into buying the top-spec variant of the machine and multiple games. Then it was killed off fairly quickly for reasons that I completely understand and agree with. What I was more aggrieved by was the arrival of the ports – specifically upgraded ports of Wii-U games. These were games that I had already purchased and spent money buying the DLC for and now they were being re-released as “new” titles for a new audience who possibly didn’t realise that, for gamers like me, they were a “been there, done that” deal.

The second sting in the tail was that it reduced my desire to buy into the Switch when the best games were just rehashes. Again, I can understand why Nintendo did this because games like Mario Kart 8 and Pokken Tournament were fantastic games that deserved to sell more copies but their success had been restricted by the Wii-U’s limited appeal and tiny ownership. But the Switch also played host to a bunch of third-party ports of games that were available at a budget price on the likes of the PS4 and Xbox One, but were selling for £40 on the Switch. More old games that were of no interest to a cross-platform gamer such as myself.

Thankfully, we are now out of that period and the Switch has since come into it’s own as a worthy platform in its own right. I can now honestly say that there is enough exclusive or original stuff available to make the Switch a viable purchase for me. Obviously, I haven’t kept up fully with the releases so there will be things that I have yet to discover but off the top of my head, these are a few games that sell the system to me. Note: I’m not including the obvious Marios and Zeldas etc. because those go without saying!

SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy

Switch-1Yes, the game was widely received as fanservice rather than a “serious” fighting game but even so, I still want to play this since I am a big SNK fan. Also, the game wasn’t granted a physical release on the PS4 and since I am loathe to download full games from PSN (due to HDD space, uncompetitive pricing and my crappy internet speed), the Switch retail copy is something I’d like to pick up.

 

 

 

Blade Strangers

Switch-2Another fighting game that didn’t get a physical release on the PS4 and one that I was looking forward to for a long time. It has all the elements that appeal to me: 2D-style presentation, Kinu Nishimura art and characters from the 3DS’ Code of Princess. Again, I would prefer to have this on the Switch for the same reasons as SNK Heroines. Previously, it frustrated me deeply that games like this were denied disc releases on the PS4 (because I didn’t own a Switch!) but the cheaper entry point of the Lite changes all that up (or should I say ‘Switches’ it all up? No? Oh…).

 

Smash Bros. Ultimate

Switch-3I’ve been ploughing hours into the Smash Bros. series ever since Melee on the Gamecube and I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of the entries in the series. The Wii-U game was one of the best things on the console and so the Ultimate follow-up for the Switch looked mighty appealing, especially given that it really does live up to its title with all of those characters. I can’t say I’ve ever really been into the online or super-competitive sides of the game but I’m confident that I would be able to extract more than enough single-player entertainment from the game to make the purchase worthwhile.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Switch-4I’ve fell out with Fire Emblem in the not-too-distant past. Awakening on the 3DS was a fantastic game that finally achieved the unthinkable and dragged the series into a more mainstream light. However, I did not enjoy Fates (a.k.a Camilla’s Breasts: The Game) at all. From how impossible the special edition (with the all-in-one cartridge) was to get here in the UK, to how I felt like I was playing a waifu simulator with an inferior visual design to what had gone before, I sacked the game off pretty early on. Three Houses is getting a good reception however and so it would the perfect chance to give FE another shot.

 

Dead or Alive Xtreme 3

Switch-5I’ve always enjoyed these games, regardless of what the critics say. I already have the Asian-English variants on the PS4 and Vita but this is an updated edition that I could take advantage of with the Switch’s region-free nature. Nintendo not region-locking the Switch was a shocker in itself but even more shocking is their relaxed policy towards censorship compared to Sony who have decided to clamp down on it. This means that the Switch is the best place to play Xtreme 3 and that’s not something I ever imagined me saying when the console first launched.

 

Ultra Street Fighter II

Switch-6Granted, I wasn’t kind to this game when I wrote those original Switch articles. I said that it was an old game that Capcom had simply tarted up and added two new characters to before releasing it at full-price. I don’t support that kind of thing and never will. But I really enjoyed the original HD Remix (which Ultra is an upgraded version of) and if I could buy a used copy of this on the cheap then I certainly would. To be honest, it would be worth it just to play it on a handheld, wherever I am sitting because the OG HD Remix is sat on my PS3’s HDD.

 

So there you have it…I’ve more or less been converted to the idea of buying a Switch. I agree with all of the criticism that the Lite has received but at the end of the day, I think decisions like this have to be made on an individual basis. If, for example, I needed that TV Output or was looking to play a lot of local multiplayer then the Lite wouldn’t even be on my radar. However, it ticks a lot of my boxes and I think that £199.99 price point is quite attractive, especially now that I know I’d have more than enough games to get stuck into and make the purchase worthwhile.

Watch this space.

Sprung: The Dating Game [DS]

Note: This review is part of a series I am going to call “Resurrected Reviews”, essentially stuff that I wrote for previous (now deceased) blogs and review topics on various gaming forums over the years. I have dragged them kicking-and-a-screaming into the harsh light of the present day and revamped them where necessary. Some may say “Rehash” but I say “Recycling”.

Sprung-DS-1
If the back of the game’s box doesn’t make you question your life decisions i.e. buying this game then not much else will, I’m afraid to say.

If the recent coverage of relatively mainstream games on this blog has failed to ignite your interest then I sincerely hope that this review of Sprung: The Dating Game for the DS will go some way to making amends. To the gentleman sitting in the back corner of the room there: recoiling in horror was indeed the correct response. We’re heading a bit further off the beaten track this time and we may find ourselves in the tangled undergrowth where anything could be lying in wait; woeful software for handheld gaming devices for instance.

A few important side notes before we continue:

1. People handed over £25-£30 of their hard earned cash for this at the DS launch!

2. Some people out there (they won’t show their faces for the shame) would have bought this back in April 2005 instead of the likes of Mario 64 DS or Warioware Touched. Christ. I mean…I’m all about personal tastes and all that but still…Christ.

I’m not going to pull any punches here; this game is crap. However, I’m a reasonable chappie capable of spotting redeeming qualities in most games and I firmly believe that too many gamers these days rush to use the “worst game ever” judgement. In my experience, most disagreeable games are merely average or flawed with merit-worthy aspects. I’ve played hundreds of different games across many consoles and I can honestly say that I could count the truly awful ones on less than ten fingers. They simply don’t exist in the quantities that are made out. Unfortunately for Sprung, it easily manages to make it onto my Worst Games I’ve Ever Played roll-call.

Sprung-DS-2
You know what to do here. Get her [edited for obscenities]
Without a doubt, this should be the undisputed worst game in the DS’ European launch line-up but it is spared that accolade due to the existence of Ping Pals, a title that was nothing more than a tarted up version of FREE software built into the DS from day one yet PP was expected to sell to customers for real money (lolz etc.).

Now I don’t have anything against dating games per se as there have been some really quirky and interesting examples produced in Japan (such as Konami’s Toki Meki Memorial series) that I’d love to play but the language barrier is a big problem. More recent examples have been a bit too much for our Western tastes which simply (and rightly so) do not gel with the concept of chatting up digital schoolgirls with obscenely voluminous water balloon knockers but there are alternatives that won’t have you checking the skies for black helicopters. If Sprung was intended to be the Western response to the Japanese games however then the developers failed and I’m going to explain why.

To start with, the story is a load of stereotypical rubbish about a group of college friends going off to a ski resort to have a good time. You can choose to play as either a boy or a girl and the entire game from there on in is literally just a series of conversations with other people on the mountain. Most of these exchanges involve you trying to chat somebody up in a park, club or bar but others are supposed to be humorous and some are just downright bizarre. ‘Gameplay’ boils down to choosing from a preset selection of lines on the touch screen and trying to say the right things to advance the conversation in the correct direction. Remember when you bought your shiny new DS for those revolutionary new ways of interacting with your games and all the innovative possibilities that the touch-screen might offer? Yeah – I do too.

Sprung-DS-3
Decisions, decisions…

There are so many problems with this basic game premise that it’s difficult to know where to start. First up, it’s a bit boring isn’t it? Sitting there and just tapping away at lines of wordzzzzz..zzzz…The boredom is also complimented by infuriating frustration as it quickly becomes apparent that the ‘right’ things to say to NPC characters are the things that you’d never expect and when most of the conversations are so bloody weird in the first place, selecting the correct options is a lottery. Additionally you can only get so far with making the wrong decisions before you fail the chapter and have to start all over again. ‘Miserable’ and ‘brain-rotting’ are apt descriptions for the typical mental state that Sprung will induce after just a short while with the game. You start to analyse this software a little too deeply i.e. is Sprung telling me that I should tell a woman whatever it is they want to hear in order to stop them slamming their legs shut? (protip: don’t use this game as any form of ‘training’)

There are also various items that you can use at key moments but you’d have more luck cracking a combination safe than deciphering when to use them and with which NPC. Just in case you needed an extra layer of cryptic obscurity of course. But the worst is still to come, oh yes it is.

The game throws you a lifeline by offering checkpoints which, on paper, is a great idea. Some of the chapters are very long so not having to re-do the entire thing over due to an inevitable error should be a relief but in practice these checkpoints have a downright sinister side. You see, saying the wrong thing sometimes means that certain text selections don’t pop up further on in the chapter. This is already bad enough because you will unwittingly play on, unaware that an earlier mistake has made it impossible to complete a chapter and so you proceed until its Game Over. Huzzah for checkpoints then eh? You wish…

Sprung-DS-4
Let’s be honest: this guy looks like a jerk without Becky having to say it.

In a heinous turn of events, making that critical mistake before a checkpoint means that you can return to that checkpoint as many times as you like but it will be impossible to correct said error and you will always be left with the same strand of dud responses post-checkpoint. You can’t backtrack because you are locked into restarting from the checkpoint and you can’t talk your way out of it because every available line will only lead to dating doom since the options you need won’t appear due to that mistake before the checkpoint. Did anybody test this bullshit? Clearly not.

Are there any positives? Well, the cartoon-like character art is pretty good but otherwise…no! The “gameplay” is about as inspiring as an empty void, the DS’ unique features are all wasted and the humour is as funny as a funeral on a rainy day. It all adds up to a nasty maelstrom of frustration and tedium that must be binned off with all haste to preserve one’s sanity. Sprung’s tag-line is “The game where everybody scores” but it seems to me that they forgot to add “an all-expenses paid trip to the sanatorium”. It must have not fitted on the box.

Why would anybody play this shit instead of doing the real thing? Who was it aimed at? At least Japanese dating sims have an anime charm and far eastern weirdness that makes them appealing for us Western gamers. Sprung on the other hand has literally nothing to offer apart from negative vibes and a guaranteed bad mood when you finally switch the console off (hopefully after no more than five minutes of suffering and even that would be showing the game some saintly generosity…). It may seem like I’ve barely described this game but that’s because there’s nothing to discuss. You click on lines of text and stare at character portraits hoping that something, anything else will happen but it never does.

If you see Sprung on the pre-owned shelves for a few quid and are curious then don’t be. They say that curiosity killed the cat and if you were to compare yourself to that proverbial cat then you’d be sprawled in an upsetting heap in some gutter after being hit by a bus at 50mph should you give in to curiosity. I paid five English pounds for this game to see what it was like and that was embarrassing enough but if I’d paid £25 on release? I would have killed myself as a bare minimum response to such epic masochism and stupidity.

Overall Thoughts

Playing Sprung is like taking a hot date to bed then discovering that you’ve contracted a multitude of STD’s. Heed this public service announcement and avoid, avoid, avoid.