*NOTE: I ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED THIS REVIEW ON GAME FREAKS 365. YOU CAN CHECK OUT THE ORIGINAL VERSION BY CLICKING HERE.
Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword was released on the Nintendo 3DS eShop a few months ago. Despite being drawn to its inexplicably charming style, I passed over the budget-priced action title for a few weeks before finally giving into the urge to play it.
The game is basically Samurai Punch-Out!!, if you can imagine such a thing: basically, the duel-style combat boils down to the mastery of your katana attacks and dodging the patterns of your foes. Fortunately, the fluidity of the game and its intuitive control scheme support the precision required to skillfully evade and counterattack your enemies. Basic attacks are carried out with the A button, though you’ll tend to dodge more often with the B button, waiting for the right moment between an enemy’s attack patterns to strike. Of course, there is a block/parry function (Right trigger), though the use of this ability takes away any of the valuable “Precision Points” that you’ve collected in the process of pulling off those last-second evasive moves. In addition to collecting gold coins from fallen foes, your Precision Points can be cashed in at the shop located in each village, and ultimately used to purchase useful items, among other things.
More Than Meets The Eye?
The game design is constantly rewarding, with a satisfying sense of progression as you travel across the world map in search of a kidnapped princess. There are three general regions to explore, with the later ones opening up after Sakura finishes each of the levels and tackles a challenging castle stage in each area. The castle levels, naturally, serve as the “boss stages” – Sakura must confront a difficult boss character at the end of each castle to move forward. These battles require you to pull off some of your best moves, and it is also helpful to have an inventory stocked with items. This is really only possible if you re-visit the stages you’ve already completed, stockpiling gold coins.
This may sound like a tedious process of grinding, but it actually makes Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword feel slightly “RPG-lite”, and it never really gets old because the gameplay is just so entertaining to play. Sakura Samurai is certainly deeper than what I expected from the $7.00 download price; the rewarding sense of progression leads to an expansiveness I never expected, though it is by no means as robust as what you would expect from the “upgrade systems” in deeper RPGs.
Still, the game is no slouch: using the gold you’ve collected, you can forge your katana to make it stronger, purchase several different items in the shop, rest at the local inn, or play a variety of mini-games in each of the villages scattered throughout the world map. You can chat with the local villagers, and though they won’t have much to add to the story, there is a feeling that Sakura Samurai could be so much more – perhaps the IP could even be expanded upon for a full retail release, with a bigger map and more in-depth features.
A Lost Art, Or Fresh New IP?
I walked away from Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword completely impressed and admittedly surprised, regretting the time that it took for me to finally invest in the download on the eShop. I don’t think it warrants a purchase from every 3DS owner out there, but Sakura Samurai is certainly one of the finest games on the eShop market – and I would go even further; Nintendo should consider developing this new IP even further.
Recommendation/Conclusion: Buy It.
The swordplay is solid, the combat is smooth, the controls are as intuitive as you could possibly hope for – not only that, Sakura Samurai has an undeniably charming visual style and plenty of components that could be expanded upon. I fell in love with the title quickly after picking it up for the very first time, and I think anyone looking for something interesting on the eShop will feel the same way.
* THIS RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW IS BASED ON EXCERPTS FROM MY FULL REVIEW OF KID ICARUS: UPRISING, ORIGINALLY POSTED ON GAMEFREAKS365.COM YOU CAN CHECK OUT THE FULL VERSION OF THE REVIEW THERE, OR CONTINUE READING FOR THE SUMMARIZED “RETROSPECTIVE” VERSION.
“Kid Icarus: Uprising is the long-overdue revival of a 25-year-old Nintendo franchise starring the heroic angel Pit, the goddess Palutena, and the evil Medusa…it has been over two decades since the last installment, there was plenty of hype and anticipation leading up to this release…[Kid Icarus: Uprising] ultimately transforms the classic platforming action of its predecssors into a hybrid of exciting gameplay styles, going the extra mile to offer what is arguably the deepest and most content-heavy 3DS title to date.”
…on the split between air and ground combat:
“… the gameplay splits between flying and ground segments after about five minutes of mindless (but exciting) aerial combat. The flying segments of Kid Icarus: Uprising are no doubt fantastic – some are the most exciting parts of the game – but the combat on foot is what made me fall in love with the game, and I think the critical response to this little learning curve is pretty unfortunate.”
…on the criticisms of the ground-based combat/controls:
“Although there is definitely a learning curve associated with the ground combat, such as mastering the stylus-based camera controls and the touchy dodge/dash abilities with the circle pad, I had almost no trouble playing the on-foot portions of each level. After admittedly struggling with the ground controls for a few minutes in the very first level, I adjusted the camera sensitivity settings and slowly got more comfortable with the circle pad, and had absolutely no issues for the remaining 24 chapters.”
…on the variety & depth featured in the game:
“With all of the different weapon types, the wide variety of enemies, and the focus on weak points and attack patterns, there are so many different ways to play and master the game…The fact that the game offers so much depth is great, but actually providing a reason to dive in and explore the content is even better.”
…on the bantering between characters in the game:
“Rather than breaking up the action frequently to hassle the player with cut-scenes, Kid Icarus: Uprising channels most of its details to the player in real-time. Although some critics have called this “distracting”, I think it works wonders for bringing out the personality of each role, not to mention it keeps the time you spend “watching” rather than “playing” to a minimum.”
…on the online multiplayer features:
“Kid Icarus: Uprising is possibly the biggest achievement to date for any online Nintendo title…the online multiplayer is based around the ground combat – and all of those variables from Solo Mode come into play, from the dodge mechanics and various weapon types to the special powers equipped in each player’s customized load-outs.”
Recommendation/Conclusion: Buy It.
“…I would put [Kid Icarus: Uprising] among the ranks of a “system-seller”; a game that should firmly convince anyone on the fence of buying a Nintendo 3DS to finally do so without any hesitation.”
“Uprising feels fresh and endlessly intriguing from start to finish…injected with depth and life that it never had before, from the intangibles (charming cast of characters, compelling storyline, creative art style) to the most fundamental mechanics (balance between flying/ground combat, variety of weapons/abilities, plethora of enemy types).”
“Pit’s universe is begging to be explored, and by all means, Uprising serves as the very best launching point for Kid Icarus to take flight once again…I am completely satisfied with Pit’s return to form on the 3DS, and highly encourage you to play it immediately.”
WayForward Technologies’ Mighty Switch Force! was one of the more critically-acclaimed downloads that came out on the Nintendo eShop last year. Along with the colorful puzzle-platformer Pushmo, this side-scroller was one of the first games on the 3DS’s digital service that was arguably as impressive as anything comparable on the Xbox 360’s XBLA marketplace, or the PlayStation 3’s PSN shop.
Design/Concept: (9.5/10) Mighty Switch Force! is largely based around traditional side-scrolling elements such as running and jumping through each stage, avoiding obstacles and blasting enemies – but the design gets really clever when you factor in its “switching” mechanic, which is used to activate special platforms that are scattered throughout each of the levels. The level design is particularly clever, especially in the later courses requiring the skillful timing of “switching” platforms in order to navigate the maze-like stages. There is an emphasis on “speedruns”, so it pays to “master” the concept – something that I value quite a bit. I enjoy a decent challenge, and finding all of the scattered hooligans in each stage of Mighty Switch Force! while also trying to pass the “par time” is quite a task.
Presentation: (9/10) The 2D sprites are extremely well-animated, the stages are highly detailed, and the artistic style is generally appealing – indeed, Mighty Switch Force! looks as great as it plays. In addition, the catchy chiptune soundtrack really fits the game, though the annoying sound effects made me turn down the 3DS’s audio more often than not.
Functionality: (8/10) Mighty Switch Force! looks great with the 3D effects activated – in fact, the special effects and sprites really “pop”, giving the graphics an even more enhanced appearance. Additionally, the game was one of the very first to feature proper “DLC” on the 3DS – there were five stages and some other enhancements added to the original version shortly after its release, available for free on the eShop. That being said, where are the leaderboards? Why bother with “speedruns” if there aren’t any online charts to compare your highest scores against others?
Replay Value: (7/10) Speaking of the lack of online functionality, if there is one thing that really hurts Mighty Switch Force!, it’s the replay value. There are just over a dozen stages, with a small bump to the number if you count the bonus ones on the eShop. You will certainly need to spend a lot of time re-playing some of the stages, particularly if you want to earn high scores and “star” ratings on each…but beside the thrill of clearing each “par time”, there isn’t a big incentive to continue playing. This game really could have used “Achievements” or some other form of benefit for the time investment.
Recommendation/Conclusion ~ Buy It. Mighty Switch Force! would be rated even higher if its MSRP on the eShop was the same as the temporary sale price ($3.99) that convinced me to make the purchase. Unfortunately, sitting at $5.99, the lack of replay value stings just a bit more. Still, the free bonus content adds five levels and visual enhancements to an already stylish and gorgeous-looking side-scroller; one that excels even more with its clever and inventive level design. Roughly a year later, I would still put it on my short list of “Personal Favorite eShop Games”.
* This retrospective review is based on excerpts from my full review of Mario Tennis Open, originally posted on GameFreaks365.com. You can check out the full version of the review there, or continue reading for the summarized “retrospective” version.
…this game is fundamentally the exact same as it has always been: it’s the Mario Tennis that you have known and loved for years, whether you played for the first time on the Nintendo 64, the Game Boy Color, the Gamecube, or the Game Boy Advance…For the most part, Mario Tennis Open succeeds at everything you’d hope for: it’s a solid game of tennis, from the variety of shots to the roster of characters and the selection of courts.
…on the new “Dynamic Mode”:
I noticed that playing Mario Tennis Open in “regular mode” – i.e., holding the 3DS at a “rested” position, and not using the gyroscopic controls to aim – was ultimately much harder than using the Dynamic View. Basically, the automatic movement in the latter takes away the responsibility of positioning your character on the court, which is actually pretty difficult to do during some of the fast-paced matches featured in this game. Regular mode really brings out this difficulty, which can be maddening at times – a shame, considering the 3D effects can only be enjoyed when the regular mode is active.
…on the unusual lack of replay value:
For what it’s worth, Mario Tennis Open is one of Nintendo’s most robust online offerings to date, from the extensive collection of unlockable custom items to the glorious return of the “Download Play” feature. Unfortunately, with all those things considered, the game still feels very light on content – unusual, considering that almost every Mario sports title to date has been loaded to the brim with “stuff to do”.
…on the overall quality of the game:
Mario Tennis Open will no doubt satisfy the fans of Mario Tennis games and Mario sports titles in general, but it won’t be for the same stretch of time – the lacking replay value really hurts the overall package, though not enough to forget how solid the fundamentals really are. This game is very well designed, from the various shots and courts and unlockable items to the gimmicky features exclusive to the 3DS and the accessible multiplayer content.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjo2JL5VBeY&w=469&h=264] …on the small feeling of disappointment:
Unfortunately, the game falls a little short of some admittedly high expectations – but the result is still Mario Tennis, and just knowing that I can turn on the game and enjoy a quick match alone or with anyone in the world online is reasonably satisfying.
** The final score in this review has been adjusted and changed from the final score of the original review. Although the content of the review is still the same, the writer feels that the lack of replay value has greatly diminished the overall value of the game, thus warranting a lower score to reflect that idea.
* This retrospective review is based on excerpts from my full review of Shinobi, originally posted on GameFreaks365.com. You can check out the full version of the review there, or continue reading for the summarized “retrospective” version.
… [Shinobi] doesn’t hold back – just like its predecessors, it essentially punishes you for simply choosing to play it, unless you become as skilled as the series’ protagonist (Jiro) himself…[the] over-the-top style is overall very reminiscent of the classic 16-bit side-scrollers found on the Genesis and Super Nintendo…Shinobi also stays true to its predecessors with its fundamental gameplay mechanics, which are quite easy to learn – but as the saying goes, very difficult to master.
…on precision and perfection:
Shinobi constantly judges your performance based on almost every action – from taking any sort of damage (lose some points) to dying (lose a lot of points) or resorting to the use of magic scrolls (lose even more points). If you don’t complete the brutally-challenging stages within the “par times”, you lose points. Basically, Shinobi demands the kind of perfection that just isn’t really seen in modern gaming – and like it or not, the game is actually very fair.
…on the steep learning curve:
Button-mashers beware; the sense of reward that keeps you playing through this game will only come if you really master it – fans of the Shinobi games are familiar with this concept, but the punishing difficulty will likely turn away many of the casual gamers who aren’t as familiar with the relentless challenge of NES/Genesis-era titles.
…on trial-and-error and the idea of perfectionism:
…despite the countless frustrated moments I witnessed in each stage, I couldn’t shake the urge to go back through each stage in the “Free Play” mode to try again for higher scores. Since the game demands perfection for such rewards, there is a lot of trial-and-error involved.
Shinobi is one of the first 3DS games to prominently feature in-game “Achievements”, which certainly add a lot fo the replay value – particularly if you typically enjoy seeking out all of them. Though many of them require you to be very skilled at the game, there are plenty that almost seem like a “mark of shame” – for instance, the Achievement for using magic scrolls 150 times essentially scolds you for resorting to those abilities so many times.
…on extra content:
Shinobi offers quite a bit of content that extends well beyond the 8- to 10-hour Story Mode. If you choose to tackle the stages on harder difficulty settings, you’ll have to start a New Game – but you can go back any time and play the easier settings in Free Play, regardless. There are also “Challenge Maps” that can be unlocked with the StreetPass functions of the 3DS, or by using some of the Play Coins you’ve collected by walking around with the console in your pocket.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSxGz4s135c&w=469&h=264]…on the overall quality of the game:
…if you enjoy challenging games – particularly those “old-school” throwbacks or reboots that imitate the game design or fundamentals seen in 8- and 16-bit classics – you will find a lot to like about Shinobi. Fans of the series will definitely appreciate how much the gameplay reflects upon the Shinobi titles from the Sega Genesis. Anyone seeking a solid action title will find it; as well as the flashy visual style, the cheesy-yet-nostalgic techno-rock soundtrack, and the satisfyingly deep amount of bonus content.
* This retrospective review is based on excerpts from my full review of Tales of the Abyss, originally posted on GameFreaks365.com. You can check out the full version of the review there, or continue reading for the summarized “retrospective” version.
“Tales of the Abyss for 3DS is essentially a port of a PlayStation 2 game from 2006 by the same name. Though it doesn’t sound like much for “exclusive content”, the port boasts 3D effects with the new handheld as well as dual-screen support, in addition to new artwork designed by Kousuke Fujishima.”
…on the protagonist and characters:
“Interestingly, Luke [the main character] is not the protagonist you’d expect. His time spent living in the manor has made him selfish, shallow, stubborn, and sheltered to the point of sheer ignorance – he has no idea what life on the other side of the walls is like, and it shows in every single conversation he has with other characters for quite some time. While he isn’t immediately likeable, Luke comes around eventually – and the supporting characters around him are also pretty strong.”
…on the battle system:
“As with all Tales games, battle is done in real-time, with each encounter starting as the player makes contact with an on-screen enemy in the field. The Tales battle system holds up very well on the 3DS, with players using the circle pad to move around the field, attacking with the A button and using special “Artes” with the B button. Combining these buttons with movements on the circle pad results in new attacks and bigger combos, dishing out more damage and so on. The battle system is actually pretty deep, and as you learn new Artes later in the game, each character in the party can be customized and specialized to a great deal.”
…on the classic style:
“…[Tales of the Abyss] feels like it could be right at home in the 32-bit generation, with its focus on classic JRPG elements like leveling, grinding, managing your inventory, collecting items from fallen foes, and even cooking food by finding recipes across the land.”
…on the addictive draw of the classic RPG:
“…Tales of the Abyss for the 3DS nonetheless benefits from its ability to provide players with that inexplicably “addicted” feeling that comes with many traditional JRPGs. Even if you burn an hour grinding experience points in the same area against the same foes, Tales of the Abyss is fun to play for the 30-40 hours that it asks of players.”
…on the 3D effects:
“…the 3D effects and the colorful art style really make the fantasy world of Aludrant come alive more than ever before, with all the lush and detailed environments found in the game.”
…on the fundamentals:
“…fans of traditional JRPGs will find a lot to love while playing Tales of the Abyss. It by no means re-writes the book when it comes to the fundamentals, but it doesn’t have to, because it simply delivers them in a way that is accessible, comprehensible, intuitive, and entertaining – that’s all that really matters. Playing Tales of the Abyss reminded me of the time I spent playing Brave Story – an otherwise unspectacular JRPG for the PSP that was memorable solely for its solid gameplay. Again, it’s that inexplicable feeling of being “hooked” to the grinding and the leveling that this game really pulls off well – and I know that’s what all the JRPG fans out there really want these days, among the sea of Western RPGs flooding the market.”
* This retrospective review is based on excerpts from my full review of Resident Evil: Revelations, originally posted on GameFreaks365.com. You can check out the full version of the review there, or continue reading for the summarized “retrospective” version.
“Resident Evil: Revelations is something of a “compromise.” The latest entry in the series is a blend of old and new, ultimately serving as one of the finest “modern” Resident Evil titles and one of the best 3DS games to date. It may still be more “action” than “survival horror,” but Resident Evil: Revelations is nonetheless fantastic, delivering a tense, beefy campaign and a terrific multiplayer component with the addition of Raid Mode. Think no less of it as a handheld game than you would if it were on consoles – Revelations is definitely the next chapter in the franchise, and serves as an important part of the story leading up to Resident Evil 6.”
…on the Circle Pad Pro:
“Revelations is one of the first games to support the Circle Pad Pro peripheral, but I never actually felt like it was necessary, and had no problem playing the game from start to finish without one.”
…on the puzzle- and problem-solving:
“Revelations brings back more of the classic puzzle- and problem-solving elements – it even forces you to backtrack every once in a while, though the map on the bottom screen prevents this from becoming an issue. In fact, other than getting lost a few times, I rarely had trouble making progress in each of the 12 single-player “episodes” (split into four chapters), and the occasional distraction from monster-blasting was actually pretty refreshing.”
…on the “survival-horror” game design:
“Some of the fundamentals of the classics have changed to the point that the “survival-horror” origins of the series have all but vanished from the design. Rarely are your “survival skills” put to the test – at any point in the game, you can carry up to three fully-loaded weapons, a fully supply of three or four different grenades, a melee weapon (knife, machete, etc.), and up to six green herbs. This is all in addition to the new “Genesis” device, which is used to scan the environment for hidden items, and to collect “enemy data” (which ultimately rewards you with more green herbs).”
…on the topic of past Resident Evil games:
“Revelations might feel more like an “action” game than the first three or four Resident Evil titles, but the settings (the rooms, corridors, and deck of the SS Queen Zenobia) and the level designs (cramped interiors, narrow hallways, twisted paths leading to dead ends, etc.) are actually very reminiscent of the classic games. As I said before, you typically encounter one or two “BOWs” at a time, and almost never more than four or five. Rarely are you swarmed or surrounded on all sides by your enemies; this was the idea that actually played a fundamental part in RE4 and RE5’s design, making them feel tense, claustrophobic, and chaotic. While the player may have been bombarded and swallowed up by hordes of undead, there was plenty of real estate to work with. In this case, Revelations feels a lot more like the Gamecube prequel Resident Evil 0 in that it forces you to deal with your foes in a cramped, cluttered, and claustrophobic environment.”
…on Raid Mode:
“As much as I have already said about the game design, the production values and CG scenes, and the story mode, Revelations’ Raid Mode is my favorite part of the entire package. Raid Mode supports solo play, but was clearly designed for local or online co-op. Ultimately this bonus mode feels like the game that last year’s Mercenaries 3D could have been, if it wasn’t essentially Capcom’s test-run for the Revelations design team.”
“I would like to point out perhaps the most impressive fact about Resident Evil: Revelations – at no point in my experience did I feel like the game was limited by its status as a handheld game. This is undoubtedly the 3DS’s crowning achievement in terms of production values, from the graphics to the music. In fact, some of the CG scenes look better than what you see in many console titles. Even the in-game graphics are the best on the handheld to date, showing nearly the same level of detail seen in Resident Evil 5, without any major frame rate issues. The clarity is simply amazing; overall the 3DS does a fantastic job of bringing the full Resident Evil experience to life on a handheld system.”
Everyone likes Mario Kart: if Nintendo had simply thrown together a sloppy Nintendo 3DS version of the popular kart racing series, maybe including a few new characters or race tracks, it would still be sitting on some pretty big stacks of cash within a few weeks.
Fortunately, Nintendo didn’t throw together a sloppy 3DS installment of Mario Kart: in fact, MK7 featured arguably the most ambitious online multiplayer component that it had ever attempted. There were 3DS-exclusive features, such as the 3D effects, the first-person view (seen in the image below), and the gyroscope controls used with the new gliding mechanic. Of course, there were still plenty of new characters (Metal Mario!) and tracks (Neo Bowser City = personal favorite). The developers even threw in a few new items like the “Lucky 7″, the Fire Flower, and the Super Leaf/Tanooki Tail.
Perhaps my favorite part of MK7 was the kart customization; you could earn new parts (kart frames, wheels) and tinker with your vehicle a great deal, allowing quite a bit of unique customization. This was absolutely perfect for taking the action online (via WiFi) and making a name for yourself, joining the all-new “Communities”, or completely falling flat against the toughest international opponents. You could always play locally with a friend – MK7 actually supported the rarely-used “Download Play” function, so you only needed a single copy of the game (and a 3DS for each player) in order to access the competitive races, Coin Battles, and more.
MK7 remains one of the 3DS’s best-looking games: the highly-detailed and brightly-colored tracks were a perfect fit for any Mario Kart title. As an added bonus, the 3D effect was used more naturally and ultimately worked “better” than almost any 3DS game to date (the exception being Super Mario 3D Land). As is the case with all MK games, the soundtrack was infectious and kept the mood pretty light, even when some of the obnoxious blue shell shenanigans inevitably happened.
In the end, Mario Kart 7 was one of my favorite Mario Kart games to date – if it had Mario Kart DS’s “Mission Mode”, it would have easily taken the top spot. The game sold over a million copies, becoming one of the first three titles on the 3DS to do, alongside Super Mario Land and Ocarina 3D. After riding the success of those two first-party titles, MK7 provided the final “push” that the 3DS needed to gain momentum and coast into 2012, completely turning around from its sluggish launch performance.
Recommendation: Buy It. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your gaming tastes tend to include – Mario Kart 7 is one of the 3DS’s best games, and unless you have a personal issue with the franchise, there is no reason that it should be missing from your library. Whether you’re racing the CPU or someone from across the planet via WiFi, MK7 simply rocks.
I’ve already written some retrospective reviews for past 3DS titles (and I plan to publish more), but for the time being, I would like to turn the focus to some of my favorite games available on the Nintendo eShop.
Without further adieu, I will take a look back at one of the very first 3D games available on the eShop – and my first full 3D download – Let’s Golf! 3D:
Let’s Golf! 3D was a simple golf sim that felt much like the classic Hot Shots Golf and Mario Golf titles. There were half a dozen basic courses, based in locations ranging from England (a simple, grassy/forest-based country club) to Greenland (a snowy course set on icy terrain). The basic game design was so simple that anyone could pick it up and play it, and that was nice – LG3D was accessible, and fun to play for a few minutes at a time, whenever the urge to play through a few holes came up.
The campaign mode was decently lengthy, and I spent more than a dozen hours playing LG3D before I completed nearly all of the challenges offered on each course. There was a multiplayer component, so there was actually more content to enjoy, but I never got to play any competitive matches – there was no real competition to speak of, and the lack of “Download Play” meant that I didn’t have any friends to play with locally. The game really would have benefited from Download Play, but there weren’t a lot of 3DS games using the feature when LG3D came out, so I wasn’t expecting it from the eShop title.
For just $4, Let’s Golf! 3D was a great value when I picked it up last summer, and it remains the same today for any fan of classic golfing titles. The only real issue I have isn’t the price; it’s actually the file size. LG3D takes up more than 1,000 blocks on your 3DS’s SD card, which is a considerably large amount, especially for a relatively simple eShop game. Even after a year of downloading more content, my copy of LG3D is one of the biggest saved files on my personal SD card.
Those comments aside, Let’s Golf! 3D is a solid game, and I enjoyed the time I spent playing it. I would actually be happy to see if Gameloft could expand the game and release a full retail version in the future. For now, this is the best option for golf fans on the Nintendo 3DS.