Intelligent Systems  Tagged Articles RSS Feed | Intelligent Systems  RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Why Pokemon Needs HMs Back in Place of Poké Ride Fri, 01 Dec 2017 13:39:07 -0500 ThatGamersAsylum

With the release of the seventh generation of Pokemon titles -- Sun and Moon last year and the recent Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon -- there’s been something on my mind. As anyone who has played these titles knows, there were large changes made to the classic series's formula in this gen. In particular, I want to talk about the removal of HMs (Hidden Machines) and why said removal actually hurt the franchise more than anything else.

The Basics

Then . . . 

Every mainline Pokemon game up until this point had included HMs. HMs were items you obtained that let you teach your Pokemon a special move which, unlike all other moves, could be used not only in battle but also in certain overworld situations. While specific HMs varied from game to game, there were some that were consistent across the whole series, such as Surf, which allowed you to swim over large bodies of water, or Fly, which allowed you to use a flying Pokemon to return to previously visited locations (aka fast travel). Like any other move in Pokemon, only particular Pokemon could learn particular HMs. For instance, you needed to be able to fly to learn Fly.

. . . and Now

In place of HMs, we were given the Poké Ride system. Instead of teaching a Pokemon a move, you were given a particular Pokemon you would summon exclusively to execute the functions that you previously used your own Pokemon for. Whereas you previously used your Pidgeot to fly, you were now using a generic Charizard to get the job done. And while you were using your Swampert to surf previously, now you were going to be using a generic Lapras, Sharpedo, or Mantine. In that same light, surfing on your Pokemon would cause a black, unidentifiable blur to appear underneath your character so that the developers would not have to actually create and animate hundreds of different Pokemon sprites or models; now there are custom models.

On the surface, replacing HMs with the Poké Ride system only seems to affect the game in small ways; however, considering the actual reason these systems were created in the first place reveals what is actually going on behind the scenes.

The Good

HMs Are the Swiss Army Knife of Design

It should be noted that HMs actually have a lot of uses in the world of Pokemon, and I am not just talking about the literal function of the skills themselves. Whether it was the in-world uses of HMs or their combat uses, there was a wide spectrum of uses for HMs over the years. That being said, HMs allow you to interact with the game world using your Pokemon in a way that does not just represent beating up other Pokemon.

HMs Keep You On Track

The overworld uses for HMs allow the developers to organically add in layers of exploration by gating off content. In other words, you may be able to see that you can get to a small, item-bearing island in the middle of a lake from early on in the game, but it’s only later in the game that you can actually return to this spot to get said item. Moreover, HMs can ensure that you cannot surf until you actually get everything required to surf -- HM, badges, a Pokemon that can learn Surf, etc. -- meaning they know you cannot get to locations you are not supposed to be at until the appropriate time, which is important in a game where you can freely trade Pokemon around.

This is very clearly the part of HMs that the developers wished to preserve with their implementation of Poké Ride.

HMs Let YOUR Pokemon Interact With the World

HMs also serve to tie your Pokemon to the game world, thus grounding the experience (well, as much as that is possible in a game world as ridiculous as Pokemon). It makes sense that you could use an HM like Strength to bot push boulders in the open world and to push around Pokemon in battle.

Moreover, since YOUR Pokemon have to learn these HMs, it feels like your team and by extension, you, are affecting the game world. This aesthetic, emotional value is something that, while secondary in purpose, is nonetheless very powerful. It grants you autonomy and power over the world in a way that the Poké Ride just doesn’t.

HMs Ensure You Can Keep Up with Your Foes

But perhaps most importantly, HMs completely shape your team from start to finish. Usually, HMs are not optional. While this has changed over the course of the series, with certain HMs like Cut becoming almost completely optional, at their best, HMs help shape the exploration. This is seen through the extensive use of boulder pushing puzzles in early games, as well as in Surf, which has been required for extensive portions of every game.

Most importantly, however, you are required to have a Pokemon that can learn it. For instance, Surf is a water move and can be learned almost exclusively by water Pokemon, meaning that there’s a good chance you have a water Pokemon, or at the very least, you have a water move. From the developer’s point of view, this means they know you can most likely fight off fire-type, ground-type, and rock-type Pokemon. In that same vein, they know there’s a really good chance that you have a Pokemon that knows Fly, which is a flying-type move, that can help you with fighting-type, grass-type, and bug-type Pokemon, which are all common enemy types. (Why do you think there is always a "starter bird," e.g., Pidgey, Starly, Fetchling, etc.?)

This meant that the developers could force you to learn HMs to get past overworld blocks while also ensuring you had the combat weapons needed to adequately handle the enemies going forward. This helped subtly lead you toward using Pokemon that could learn these essential moves, thus helping ensure you had a balanced roster.

The Bad

Now, you might think I'm looking at HMs through some odd rose-tinted glasses, but you’d be wrong. All of this wonderful design aside, the HM system has had some major issues since its inception. In fact, it is amazing that the rules surrounding them were never changed over the course of nearly 20 years. Let's look at some of the larger problems with the system.

HMs Can’t be Deleted

Well, except by one particular person in each game, which is needlessly annoying. This creates a TON of problems.

This eats up 1/4 of a certain Pokemon's moveset. Some of the games have up to 8 HMs, meaning one or two Pokemon might have half their moveset dominated by these moves. The autonomy that HMs add on the overworld is counteracted by the inability to choose moves for particular Pokemon on your roster. 

Most HMs Really Suck

This is relatively straightforward. Most HMs are not exactly what you would call "useful" moves. Rock Smash hits with a whopping 40 damage (it was only 20 in gen 2 and 3). Flash literally only lowers your foes’ accuracy, which might not even be something you are interested in. There’s also been a propensity toward crappy Normal-type moves, which fails to take advantage of HMs' ability to balance rosters. And don’t even get me started on Defog.

Even the ones that are good, like Surf, are not great for all Pokemon that can learn them since moves are split between Special and Physical types. This means a physical attacking Water Pokemon, such as Swampert, will find a lot less use from Surf than a special attacking Pokemon like Kyogre.

There have also been four different Water-type HMs -- Surf, Waterfall, Dive, and Whirlpool -- over the course of the series, which is kind of crazy considering there are eighteen different Pokemon types, most of which have never had even one HM. This, in turn, puts a huge burden on water-type Pokemon to learn multiple HMs despite you maybe not wanting or needing that.

Problems Born of Other Problems

These two major issues also lead to the emergence of other problems, like the so-called “HM Slaves,” which are Pokemon you only ever keep around because they have learned four different, crappy HMs that you’d never want your actual combatants to learn.

Practical Solutions

As much as I am willing to merely complain talk in hypotheticals, I will actually give some practical solutions to this problem, which has frankly been completely mishandled over the duration of the series.

Potential Is Material

You should be able to use an HM on the overworld without forcing a Pokemon to actually learn it. This means that HMs don’t have to be great moves, nor will you be forced to learn crappy moves. This does mean that you can't rely on the fact that a Pokemon knows a certain move just because they are using a certain HM. That is to say, a Pokemon could use Surf on the overworld, but the dev doesn't explicitly know whether you actually have a Pokemon that knows a water move; they just know you have a Pokemon that is capable of learning a water move. However, this is a cheap and easy fix.

Diversity & Balance

HMs should be represented by a large diversity of Pokemon types. So, maybe there is a fire equivalent to Surf, which would then allow you to ride on lava, which would be freaking awesome. Maybe there is a ground equivalent to Dive (the already-existent Dig?) which allows you to burrow down into certain areas. Maybe there is a fairy move which allows items in the world to begin to float, similar to the way fairy dust is used in the Peter Pan/Tinker Bell universe.

Above and Beyond

While I have largely focused on how HMs tie into combat, another shortcoming of HMs is that their overworld usages truly fail to inspire. In short, I would describe them as not being either action-oriented or logic-oriented enough. For action-oriented, you would want something that has some feel to it. Something that you can get better at controlling with skill, which might take some amount of timing to truly master and utilize. For logic-oriented, you would want something that works well for puzzles. Something that makes you think in an abstract way, which could then be utilized in a variety of ways.

Imagine being able to hotkey certain HMs to your face buttons to then be able to make rapid-fire, Zelda-esque moves on the overworld. In fact, looking back at old 2D isometric Zelda titles reveals a ton of different items that could literally be stolen outright.

Imagine if Cut was turned into something that was equivalent to Link’s sword. Merely pressing A, your hotkey for Cut, on the over world could allow you to cut down grass, just like in old-school Zelda titles. In fact, older games in the series let you cut swathes of grass using Cut, but it required you to go into the menu to activate it. Strength could be used to push boulders like it always has, or maybe it could let you pick up and throw boulders. Maybe Iron Defense could become a steel-type HM used like Link’s shield. And electric Pokemon could use magnetism similar to the Magnetic gloves in Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons.

Sure, all of this would be harder to abstract now that the series has moved away from its isometric 2D roots, but the potential to completely revolutionize Pokemon by reusing old Legend of Zelda ideas is damned near limitless.


In summation, I think that the implicit team-balancing capabilities of HMs more than prove why they should have stayed around. In fact, I think they would have stuck around had they actually been innovated upon. If the devs had merely bothered to actually balance HMs so that they were more diverse and less crappy, then the system wouldn't have needed to be changed. More importantly, people would not have wanted it to change, because it would have been a pivotal part of the world's design rather than being a vaguely interesting but ultimately annoying footnote. 

How Fire Emblem Heroes Continues to Excel in the Mobile RPG Space Thu, 30 Mar 2017 12:00:01 -0400 ThatGamersAsylum

A 'tiny' game called Fire Emblem Heroes was released on February 2, 2017, roughly 2 months ago; it has been going strong ever since. Make no mistake: this isn’t by accident. A lot of Fire Emblem Heroes’ success is attributed to multiple things, each of which serves multiple masters.

The Setup

Fire Emblem: Heroes started off in the fast lane for success.

Fire Emblem Heroes, artFire Emblem Heroes has gorgeous art. 

Quality Helps

Fire Emblem: Heroes is helped by its genre. Turn-based strategy games are generally some of the easier games to play on mobile, because their control scheme is mostly menu based. Moreover, it is a good game. That tends to make people want to linger.

The game successfully distills the Fire Emblem experience into a smaller package with some genius game design tweaks. Characters can’t use multiple weapon types, so you are forced to utilize the weapon triangle to your advantage. Each character has their own unique weaponry and abilities instead of just being a unit of a particular class, like in mainline entries. Chance plays a much smaller role, ensuring that strategy is king. Smaller maps ensure that the more focused strategy aspects don’t potentially become overwhelming.

The Fan Base is Strong With This One

Nintendo has a strong following. I know, I know. That is a pretty controversial thing to say, but I really think they are going to make it big one of these days. Just you watch. Once they learn to make a real console -- unlike the WiiU -- they will be huge.

Fire Emblem Heroes, Lon'Qu, artLon'Qu for all my female Fire Emblem readers.

But it is not just Nintendo that has a strong following; Fire Emblem has grown in popularity a lot in recent years. So much so that it seems to be one of Nintendo’s premiere IP’s.

Thanks to Nintendo’s strong handheld presence and support throughout the years, it feels natural to have their games in your pocket. (That's why people said,"Nintendo should get into the mobile marketplace!" for years. That and the WiiU's slow spiraling death.) Heck, only 2 of the 9 stateside Fire Emblem releases have been on consoles.

Change is a Good Thing

Intelligent Systems has made-- and continues to make-- a lot of intelligent (See what I did there? Never miss the chance to ruin your own innuendo.) adjustments to the game since its release to ensure that it will stay fresh and fun.

Fire Emblem Heroes, NinianNinian is a dragon, a dancer, and my bae. 

Additional Content

Since release, there have been many events. An event that rewarded you a character upon completion ended just a few days ago. There have been 4 of such events in total. 

Multiple sets of new characters have been added (in fact, more new characters were just announced). This has always brought a new set of maps along with it. Purely story related missions were added as well. There was even a large, weird tournament style competition that lasted a little over a week. (My March Madness bracket had Lucina winning; I was correct.)

Last but not least, a whole system that allowed characters to inherit abilities from other characters was added. This drastically increased the amount of depth, customization, and replayability the game has to offer. All of this doesn't even include some of the smaller additions that have been made. 

Bettering the System

Fire Emblem Heroes, dragon girl, kickassKickass dragon girl is kickass. 

The developers have also done a good job fixing the game. They are adding a feature that allows you to move your units around between the predefined starting positions on the map. (Currently, you might start a map and have units in horrible positions that could potentially cost you the match.) This fixes one of my major gripes with the game.

They also changed how many hero feathers -- which are used to rank up characters for some reason -- you earn from the Arena to help ease the slow grind (although it is still pretty damned painful).

Living On the Edge: Working Against F2P

Fire Emblem Heroes is an F2P game. At its heart, some of its conventions have been potentially problematic. But IS has helped ease a lot of the F2P concerns by reducing many of the hurdles and penalties inherent to the genre. Orbs, which are used to purchase characters, are regularly given out freely. And the aforementioned addition of various free characters and missions (which also reward orbs) help ensure that you are at least getting some good heroes for your trouble. The stamina cost to play levels in the training tower has stayed at half cost since the game was released. And soon the max stamina will be increased from 50 to 99.

There You Have It

All you need to do to make a hit mobile game is, create a good game that is based on a popular IP, while continually adding high-quality content, fixing existing flaws, and never allowing its F2P roots turn into parasitic cancer. Simple right? No, but Fire Emblem Heroes proves it can be done.

Paper Mario: Color Splash - How to get Plum Park's second Mini Paint Star Thu, 13 Oct 2016 00:25:43 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Plum Park may be one of the areas I remember best in Paper Mario: Color Splash, and if you've made it all the way through and gotten the first Mini Paint Star in the area you very well may agree. It's the second area you come across that's a little challenging and three iconic characters from the series (one of which being hidden) make an appearance.

It's all fun and games until you can't find a Mini Paint Star, though. And Plum Park's second one is nowhere to be seen when you make your way through the park the first time around.

Once you purify the park's waters via a Petea pummeling the park's waters become safe to traverse and the flowers that were closed when the water was poisoned are now in full bloom, which is exactly how you got the first Mini Paint Star.

The second one is also inside a blooming flower but even if you wander the park a couple times over you're not going to get a single glance of its location nor are you going to hear the sparkling sound. Instead you've got to pay attention to what walkways are available.

When you first enter Plum Park make a right at the entrance garden just as you did when the water supply was poisoned.

Now here's the hard part:

On this screen, look just below the bridge for a lily pad and jump on it. What's that you see? The edge of a Mini Paint Star?

Jump on the next two lily pads and then onto the flower to grab it up.

I may have lied about this one being hard to get. It is one of the easiest to get in Color Splash and is only two screens into the area. There just aren't any indicators it's nearby.

Let this serve as a reminder to keep your eyes open for small hints and hidden walkways. I'll remember Plum Park for a few reasons, none of those reasons being this Mini Paint Star.

Paper Mario: Color Splash - How to get Chateau Chanterelle's Green Mini Paint Star Thu, 13 Oct 2016 00:19:37 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Chateau Chanterelle may be one of the smallest areas in Paper Mario: Color Splash, but it plays some key parts in your adventure during the early parts of the game. Hosting two Mini Paint Stars and a vital item to progressing at one point, you're probably going to be coming here one or two more times than you'd like.

Getting the first Mini Paint Star in Chateau Chanterelle is easy enough, but what about the green one you see on top of the barn? Also pretty easy, provided you have a keen eye.

First things first: Make your way through the professor's house and out to the Princess's house -- Princess's house being the doghouse out in the backyard.

Press A at the front of Princess's house to slip inside, once you do so walk right and head up.

You'll come to the area behind the barn that's closed off from the outside (you can paint the gate to make it usable). From here you can check the two barn doors to see what's inside, which you should definitely do.

To get to the Green Mini Paint Star you need to make sure both barn doors are closed, then get in the right position to use the Cutout ability.

Getting in the right position can take a bit to align just right. If you're having trouble take a look at the image below to see where Mario should be standing to make the Cutout work.

Cut out the dotted line, walk on up, and voila! You now have another Mini Paint Star to add to your collection and have opened up another area.

This won't be the last time you're here at Chateau Chanterelle, but next time you're here on more cryptic business. Don't worry about that for now, just keep pushing forward with Huey and finding those Paint Stars.

Paper Mario: Color Splash - How to find the Bone to beat Iggy in the Golden Coliseum Mon, 10 Oct 2016 11:49:11 -0400 Ashley Shankle

The fight against Iggy at the Golden Coliseum is interesting if nothing else. Like most of the bosses in Paper Mario: Color Splash you need a specific Thing in your deck of cards to best him, and if the admittance Shy Guy is any indication that Thing is a Bone. He does say it enough, after all.

Wandering around the Coliseum, you meet some Shy Guys trying to find a weapon they stole from Marmalade Valley. It's obvious this weapon is the Thing you need, but if you travel to Marmalade Valley to find another Bone to take to the fight a Toad will tell you it's been stolen. You can't buy a new one from the Wringer in Port Prisma either, and the know-it-all Toad tells you the item is in the Golden Coliseum.

From here you head back to the Coliseum and speak to the admittance Shy Guy inside the Golden Coliseum he asks if you're bad to the bone. Normally you'd say yes -- that seems like the natural thing to do -- but instead you need to respond with "I.. I don't know..." and the Shy Guy sends you on your way.

Now you can finally explore the area to find the Bone.

From here you need to go back outside the Coliseum and go left toward the spectator area, which was closed before you declined to fight but is now open.

You've got to make your way from the third level of the stands to the first, which is a downward trip filled with blank spots to paint, disgruntled fighters to combat, Fuzzies to dodge, and cards to pick up.

The entire trip is hard to describe but it's easy to figure out which way you're supposed to go from here -- though you will have to use an Unfurl Block at one point, and you need to go behind the stairs on the first level of the stands (check the signs on each floor).

On the ledge outside the first level of the stands you'll notice a spot where there are two blocks that fall when you step on them with two Fuzzies patrolling the area. Let the block to the left without spikes under it drop you, then walk left.

Finding the Bone from this point on is easy. When you reach the spying Goomba, walk right for a save point and the Bone.

Bottle Opener

You can also find a Bottle Opener in the Coliseum's spectator area, which also requires you to adventure around the first floor of the area but without purposefully falling as you did to get the Bone.

You don't need the Bottle Opener to beat Iggy, but it's good to go ahead and grab it now.

As for Iggy himself, be sure to use the bone once he and his two minions are out on their chariots. Iggy will call out his minions once he is at half health, and on the turn right after he won't be present. Do not use the bone until all three enemies are on the field.

Paper Mario: Color Splash - Where to find the spike to open Kiwano Temple Sun, 09 Oct 2016 12:33:01 -0400 Ashley Shankle

Once you open up Kiwano Temple in Paper Mario: Color Splash you've found a fair amount of Mini Paint Stars and have opened up a lot of areas, so figuring out where you're supposed to get the spike to open the door to the temple can be a bit of a brainteaser.

Kiwano Temple is a pretty spiky place so your first instinct is probably to try to scour the area, but the exact spike you need is elsewhere.

Luckily the spike isn't too far away, nor is it too hard to get. Remember that huge spike on the professor's desk at Chateau Chanterelle? That's the key you need to get into Kiwano Temple, and the professor will be happy enough to give it to you.. once he's not depressed anymore.

The professor is still face-down wallowing in his own emotions since Princess, his now-giant Chain Chomp companion, has run away. You've got to figure out how to get him out of his funk and it seems bringing back his beloved Princess is the only way to do so.

The professor's assistant Toad mentions that Princess might come back if she smells her favorite snack, and if her rampage in the excavation site at Marmalade Valley is any indicator her favorite snack is bones.

You should still have the Bone card in your inventory. If not head back to Port Prisma's Harbor District and squeeze a fresh bone for your card collection. Now head to Chateau Chanterelle.

Go into the backyard and press the Y button to use Cutout on these two boards next to Princess's house.

Place the Bone card in the Cutout slot and wait for Princess's return. After it's all said and done the professor will give you the Sharp Spike on his desk.

All you have to do now is head back to Kiwano Temple, brave the spikes, and unlock the door to continue your quest to collect the Paint Stars and return color to Prism Island.

Paper Mario: Color Splash - How to win at Toad Shuffle Sat, 08 Oct 2016 08:00:59 -0400 Ashley Shankle

The Five Fun Guys are putting on a show at Bloo Bay Beach and you're invited.. to be scammed!

After finding all five of the quintuplets they ask if you'd like to participate in Toad Shuffle, a game that would normally be easy if the Five Fun Guys weren't blatantly cheating. Unfortunately you need to win to get the Blissful Beach Key.

The yellow Toad host always hands the key to the Toad who got stuck in the clam and crumpled the top of his head. Logically you as the player should easily be able to pick the crumpled Toad, right?

Unfortunately the event is rigged against you. No matter how well you pay attention and try to look for the key to change hands during the dance you just can't pick the right Toad when it comes time to choose.

At this point in the game Paper Mario: Color Splash has already had you put your mind to the test and come up with some less than obvious solutions to the game's puzzles and Toad Shuffle is no different.

The yellow Toad specifically tells you not to touch the Five Fun Guys but you're going to need to in order to win at Toad Shuffle -- don't worry, the yellow Toad won't say anything. Don't stress about hitting other Toads by accident, either. Once you paint the crumpled Toad the other paint disappears.

After the yellow Toad hands the key to the crumpled headed green Toad, whack on him with your Paint Hammer to mark him as the Toad with the key. Then let the Toad Shuffle commence as usual.

The Five Fun Guys will try to trick you once again but your keen puzzle-solving and painting skills have trounced their trick: the host Toad quickly accepts you've bested them at their own game and hands over the Blissful Beach Key.

Now you can continue on your way over to Blissful Beach and keep searching for those Paint Stars.

Paper Mario: Color Splash - How to open the hatch at the very start in Port Prisma Sat, 08 Oct 2016 05:00:02 -0400 Ashley Shankle

There are a lot of puzzles to unravel in Paper Mario: Color Splash and the very first one is thrown in your face within the game's first few minutes in Port Prisma. Luckily the game's very first puzzle is easy peasy as long as you have a keen eye.

When you arrive in Port Prisma and walk into the town square you come across what looks like a hatch with five colored off-shoots and three colored orbs in the middle. You have to light up the three orbs to unlock this hatch and progress.

The red and blue orbs are easier to figure out than the yellow, but here's how to light all three orbs and keep pushing forward in Color Splash. (Sorry, I took screenshots after finishing each task.)

Red orb

Go to the back brick wall of the square and look for a red brick sticking out of the wall. Jump under the brick to knock it back up into place to light the red orb.

You can see the red brick after being knocked into placed in this image.

Blue orb

Go to the front right side of the square and look for a set of four bricks sticking out of the ground. Press the B button and hammer the bricks back into the ground to light the blue orb.

Mario is facing the bricks in this image after hammering them.

Yellow orb

Go to the front left side of the square and take a good look at the flowerbed at the very front of the screen. Notice how the middle one looks a little off? Jump up onto the flowerbed and hold the A button next to the odd flower to set it right and light the yellow orb.

The middle flower is key.

As mentioned this puzzle is very simple! But I myself wandered around for a couple minutes trying to figure out how to light the yellow orb. Hopefully this short guide saves you some time so you can get on with the game and restore the color to Port Prisma and its surrounding areas.

Intelligent Systems rumored to be finishing up new Paper Mario for Wii U Sat, 23 Jan 2016 05:56:15 -0500 David Fisher

Emily Rogers and Nintendo Life's Liam Robertson are known for releasing accurate leaks and rumors when it comes to Nintendo. In fact, the latter confirmed the existence of a free to play amiibo game an entire month earlier than its announcement in Japan. If their reputation for accurate rumors holds, then Nintendo fans who are still pining for more Paper Mario after the release of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam need not wait long for the next installment of the paper cutout plumber.

According to a Twitter post by Rogers, 5 sources have told her that a new Paper Mario game will be announced later this year for the Wii U. The game is also rumored to be developed by Intelligent Systems, the developers known best for Fire Emblem, 2D Metroid games, and the WarioWare series. But that's not even the best part!

You didn't read that wrong. The game is supposedly already in the localization and testing stage. If this part of the rumor is true, then that would mean Paper Mario for the Wii U's announcement could be just around the corner!

Remember, despite Emily Rogers' history of accurate rumors, this is -in the end - still just a rumor. Still, with Nintendo's stocks rising, it could be that investors already know about a much larger hidden lineup coming this year. I'd hate to be the one to spread false rumors, but that's something I'm betting on right now.

What do you think of this Paper Mario (Wii U) rumor? Would you be willing to shell out more coin for a Paper Mario title after Sticker Star? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

3DS Review: Paper Mario: Sticker Star Comes Unstuck Fri, 14 Nov 2014 12:02:13 -0500 SilverMorph

Mario has always been something of a jack-of-all-trades. Purportedly a plumber, we never actually see him at work, despite the vast number of pipes he's crawled through over the years. Instead we catch him trying his hand at kart-racing, golfing, dancing, and, oddly enough, participating in the Olympic Games with long-time rival Sonic the Hedgehog.

Why Mario even bothers in a trackrace with Sonic is beyond me; there's really no contest here.

But despite the wide, and often bizarre, array of activities that our favourite portly Goomba-boppin' Italian has participated in, when you actually sit down for a moment and look at it critically, quite a few of the poor guy's endeavours have failed to hit the mark. While Mario Kart is pure, unadulterated fun, arguably even moreso with the advent of the 8th installment - which, to my knowledge, still isn't getting the attention it deserves, possibly owing to the fact that the Wii U is a niche console few people own, but I digress - the Mario Parties have always been a mixed bag. The earlier titles for the N64 were pretty decent, blister-inducing minigames aside, but the more recent installments for the Wii have been generic, mundane wagglefests that besmirch Mario's good name. Oh, and one of them featured this legendary localisation cockup:

Remember this? You do now. Apparently 'spastic' is an offensive term in Europe. Political correctness gone mad if you ask me.

As for the rest of his roster, the various sporting titles were forgettable at best, and don't even get me started on the Dance Dance Revolution spinoff. The less said about that the better. But despite this mixed bag, there's always been one genre of gaming that the little red-capped leakfixer has consistently excelled at: the RPG, or role-playing-game for the uninitiated.

A Long and Storied History

Starting with the frankly awesome Legend of the Seven Stars for the SNES, a milestone title that showed these characters could function believably in a turn-based environment, we were quickly treated to several more in its stead, most notably Paper Mario for the N64, released in 2001, which was sadly the tail-end of the N64's lifespan, so few played it, which was a shame, as it was friggin' amazing.


                    Come on, take a look at this boxart. It just screams fun.

Though it was supposedly a successor to Legend of the Seven Stars, you really couldn't tell; it took what made that game great, removed what didn't, and married it to a gorgeous, papery cut-out, storybook style aesthetic to produce a genuinely entertaining experience all its own, making it a real good swansong for the poor old N64.

In 2004, with the emergence of everyone's favourite Fisher-Price style console the Gamecube, we got a sequel: The Thousand Year Door. This one was arguably even better, adding a far more sophisticated battle system and a genuinely dark story, in which Peach is possessed by a 1000-year-old demon bent on total cataclysmic destruction, which made for a nice breath of fresh air after Mario Sunshine's sickeningly twee Isle Delfino. Again, an amazing title, and one of the best for the GCN.


   It's pretty clear Miyamoto himself took over boxart duty between these two.

But then, sadly, a step backwards was taken in 2007 with the Wii installment Super Paper Mario. Originally slated for a Gamecube release, it was ported to the Wii at the last minute, and if its title wasn't indication enough, it was pretty different, and not in a good way. It stripped away the turn-based combat in favour of a more conventional head-bopping battle system, more akin to a regular Mario platformer than an RPG, and reduced the overall feel of the title into something resembling a generic action game rather than the great TTYD.

Even so, it just about managed to scrape by as an enjoyable title with a genuinely witty, laugh-out-loud script - a highlight was a corrupt robotic dragon who spoke in computer terms, telling you, for example, to "press CTRL ALT DEL" to defeat him, then laughing at your expense upon your stark realisation the Wiimote features none of those buttons - an awesome soundtrack, the ability to play as Bowser - which is always a plus in my book, as I adored Bowser's Inside Story - and an even darker story than TTYD, in which an evil count, twisted by many years of separation from his long lost love who he presumed dead, decides to bring about a void which will utterly consume the entire universe. It got to a point where Mario and co. actually end up in Hell. That's just badass.

And he actually succeeds. Kind of a step up from Bowser just wanting a slice of cake.

2012: The End of the World? Yep, Pretty Much 

So, in 2012, we received the next installment, Sticker Star. This time for the 3DS, marking the first instance the series has been on a portable console, it promised a return to the franchises' RPG roots, with turn-based battles making a comeback. Did it succeed? Not according to the fanbase, which ripped it a new one within hours of its release, but were they perhaps a tad harsh? Let's take a look. About time I got round to the actual review. 

Well, the cover art looks promising, at least.  Wait... OH GOD NO THAT'S BOWSER JR. ISN'T IT

As you can probably imagine, it's difficult to examine a game like Sticker Star without drawing comparisons between it and its predecessors, if not outright impossible, but even so, a good reviewer needs to keep in mind that some will be going into this with absolutely no knowledge of the series that preceded it, thus impacting their experience, so during my analysis I'll try and bring up the other entries only when absolutely necessary.

The game opens with a pretty nicely animated cutscene which sets the stage; immediately it's established that the game literally takes place in a storybook, finally providing some form of logical explanation behind Mario's sudden flatness, and we're introduced to one of the Mushroom Kingdom's 1000 annual celebrations - OK, not really, but given the number of Mario games that hinge around some form of festival, it wouldn't surprise me - the Sticker Fest, held once a year to herald the arrival of the Sticker Comet from the titular Sticker Star, with which all the citizens can have any wish they desire granted.

But, as is usual for a Mario adventure - notice the lack of 'Paper' there - Bowser shows up, crashes the party, splits the Comet into six pieces, takes one for himself and also kidnaps Peach for good measure. I'm pretty sure he's contractually obliged to do that every time by this point.

Paper-Thin Plotline

And that's pretty much it, as far as the plot goes. Notice something here? The previous games had awesome, often dark and gritty storylines that really enabled you to develop significant emotional attachments to the characters, and this was often part of what made them such interesting titles. In this one, however, the story is no more complex than, say, Super Mario Galaxy; heck, even that had a pretty sad subplot about Rosalina's past, and if even a platformer can turn out a better yarn than yours, you're doing something wrong.

 Pictured: a game with more narrative complexity than an RPG. 

Given the past history of the series, this is actually pretty unacceptable. Now, I can understand that concessions had to be made as it's a handheld game, and therefore angled more toward casual gamers. That's fine. But, rather than having absolutely no story whatsoever, Intelligent Systems could have at least tried to give us more of a framing device. Heck, to even call it a framing device would be a stretch, as the only times the story is actually relevant are at the beginning and end; throughout the bulk of the game, it's never really brought up.

Now, I'm not saying that the story has to be epic, dark, and grand in its scope. Far from it. In fact, I believe that a videogame's plot just has to be servicable at minimum, as long as the gameplay makes up for it; however, to even get to that point, there has to be a story to begin with, which Sticker Star is sadly inadequate at providing. Even if the gameplay was absolutely brilliant - which it isn't, as I'll be getting to shortly - the absence of a meaningful yarn would still be noticeable.

Not dissimilarly, there aren't really any characters here for you to develop a bond with. All - and I mean all - the NPCs are unnamed, generic Toads, whose only notable personality traits are the different colours of spots on their heads. Party members have been nixed, and replaced with a silver crown... thing named Kersti (geddit?) who's pretty much the only original character here. She pretty much acts as your guide for the entire game - I use the term 'guide' loosely - meaning you never meet any other helpers, which, by extension, makes for a loooong time in her company.

Hey, Listen!

This wouldn't be so bad if Kersti wasn't the single most annoying helper character in recent years. Her primary 'quirk' is that she's a self-entitled brat - in fact, the first thing she does upon meeting Mario is to accuse him of breaking the Comet - which, as you can imagine, doesn't make for a very pleasant experience. Throughout the adventure, she's unnecessarily sarcastic and spiteful, frequently insults Mario and other characters, and acts utterly indignant when you're unable to solve a puzzle or defeat a boss.

This is one such boss. You can't tell from the image, but ingame it's absolutely massive. I'd like to see her try and go up against this thing.

I honestly don't know what they were thinking when they wrote her lines; were they honestly trying to make a character more irritating than Navi? For years it seemed impossible, but they sure have succeeded here. In fact, I 100% guarantee you that by the end of the game, when she finally leaves - and I'm not even going to mark that as a spoiler, since it gives me such great pleasure to type it - you'll be wanting to passionately kiss your 3DS screen in sheer elation. I have truly never seen a character so despicably unlikeable in any Mario game before this one. In fact, I knocked a whole two stars off the rating just because of her. I bet you feel mighty silly right now, eh, localisation team?  

Don't be fooled by her cute, sparkly demeanour. She has a heart of stone.

But all this could be partially - and I mean partially - forgiven if the actual gameplay was any good. Sadly, Sticker Star fails spectacularly in this regard too. The main hook of the game is that everything hinges on the use of collectable stickers; indeed, in this reality the Mushroom Kingdom is so obsessed with the shiny, glittery things that their capital is literally named Decalburg. Mario requires stickers to do pretty much everything here: jump, swing his hammer, eat Mushrooms, breathe, sleep - OK, maybe not those last two - to the point where the supposed return to an RPG-style turn-based battle system becomes more of an extended exercise in inventory management.

A Sticky Situation

Each sticker represents a single-use attack that can be used in battle, and once you've performed the attack, it's gone, and more must be either purchased from Decalburg's shop or peeled off the cardboard scenery. This concept definitely had a lot of potential; in an ideal world, the system would be that you'd be encouraged to try lots of different stickers, and you wouldn't need to use one every single time you wanted to attack. But we don't live in an ideal world. Allow me to elaborate.

The screen you'll be seeing most of in the game. Sadly, it's also the most pointless.

The issues with the combat system ultimately boil down to two very significant problems: one, since each sticker can only be used once, once you exhaust your collection you're left with no choice but to run. But since whether or not you're able to flee battle successfully is totally randomised - and can't be done at all against bosses - you'll frequently have Mario's sizeable butt handed to him on a silver platter just because your inventory's empty. The result is that this isn't a turn-based RPG - it becomes an item-based RPG. Imagine a Final Fantasy game where you couldn't attack unless your bag was full of healing items. T'would get pretty irritating, no? Much the same feeling ends up being evoked here.

What's more is that some of the choices for sticker attacks are beyond ridiculous. A special sticker is required for a Fire Flower attack that rains fireballs on the enemies, fine. But you need to stock up on little adhesive boot icons to even perform a simple jump attack, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Why does Mario need the power of a sticker to jump? He jumps around in the game's overworld perfectly fine! Why does he suddenly need to burn through the game's precious inventory space to pull off a move he's world-renowned for being able to execute flawlessly?

It's like if, every time you wanted to jump in Mario 64, you had to backtrack to Peach's castle to buy something that enabled you to do it. God, Tick Tock Clock would be hell under those conditions. Even moreso than usual.

The end result is that your album ends up being filled with hundreds of Jump and Hammer - he needs one for that too, apparently - stickers, leaving little to no room for more powerful attacks,  some of which are actually pretty much required for most of the game's bosses. Intelligent Systems really fouled up here. If you're going to have a turn-based system, fine. But don't make Mario utterly defenceless without inventory items. I'm pretty sure that's, like, RPG rule #1.

Goombas Never Gave You This Much Trouble

But it gets even worse when it comes to the bosses. Aside from the fact that, in themselves, they're pretty uninspiring - a Goomba, a Pokey, and a Blooper occupy the first three worlds respectively (although Bowser Jr, unfortunately, makes his Paper Mario debut in World 2; doesn't Nintendo know we all hate him?!) - they're incredibly tough, not in terms of attack power, but in defence. Now, that may not sound too bad. A challenge can be good, right? Yes, yes it can, if the challenge is executed fairly. Here, however, the general idea is that each boss has one special Sticker - or "Thing Sticker" as they're known - that, when used against them, whittles down their HP by often up to 75%. This may seem like a secret tactic you've discovered by yourself at first, until the realisation rapidly dawns that they're actually, 100%, unavoidably required if you don't want to be totally owned by the tanklike bosses the game throws at you.

Sometimes these connections make sense; in order to beat a gigantic Cheep Cheep at one point, for example, you need a Fishhook Sticker. Fair enough. But other times the sticker you need is so erroneously nonsensical that you're left wondering how in hell you were supposed to figure it out. For instance, the gigantic Goomba that guards World 1 will take you eons to defeat unless you use a.... Fan Sticker on him. What? Where's the connection there? Fans and Goombas are, as far as I'm concerned, completely unrelated. Suffice to say, the tempting allure of GameFAQs will be rearing its ugly head more than once.

 Need more proof? In this phase of the fight against Bowser, you need to use a stapler. Yes, a stapler. Take a look at this screenshot and tell me if you can find a single thing that suggests you need to use a stapler.

But perhaps the most irritating thing about this is that the game outright refuses to tell you what you're supposed to use until you've died to the boss exactly three times, at which point Kersti will pop out, and, after berating you as usual, spell out the answer. It's as if the developers knew you would die multiple times, and so programmed the mandatory "you're an idiot" exposition to only play out after this. In which case, they should probably also have looked at the OP bosses and realised the issue: no game should have the condition for help be failure. Not a single one. Sticker Star considers itself an exception, apparently.


Two: you no longer receive experience points for defeating enemies. You read that right. What's that? "What point is there in battling then?" That's a damn good question, and one to which I wish I knew the answer. Instead, every time you fell a foe, it spits out coins, and, if you're lucky, a sticker or two. What this means is that, throughout the adventure, you're locked in an endless, vicious cycle of meaningless combat: buy stickers to kill enemies, which give you more coins and stickers to buy more stickers and kill more enemies. So it goes on, and on, and on, with no rhyme or reason, reducing what could have been a good return to form after Super Paper Mario's head-bopping antics into mindless, fruitless drudgery. Since you get nothing in recompense for wasting your precious stickers on Bowser's mooks, you can easily just bypass every battle with absolutely no repercussions on your ability in later skirmishes.

This game's excuse for a level system. You sicken me, Intelligent Systems.

The only stat boosts Mario receives - to his health only, I might add; no power of defence upgrades for you - are by way of special cardboard hearts that litter the land, hidden in clever little nooks and crannies, which makes for an admittedly engaging sidequest, but it still doesn't excuse the glaring problem here: by rendering the core mechanic of the game, and, indeed, of most RPGs, utterly pointless, not only have Intelligent Systems succeeded in making this the least RPG-like entry in the series thus far (which, ironically, is the exact opposite of what they were supposedly attempting to achieve) but also in making a good 85% of the game feel unrewarding, unnecessary, and synonymous with padding. I seriously never thought I'd come to associate the term 'padding' with the usually bareboned Mario series, but there it is.

All these issues with the battle system ultimately render all the combat except the bosses a waste of your time, leaving only the overworld - or 'field' if you wanna get technical - segments to make or break the game. Sadly, despite a few highlights here and there, these fare little better.

A Step Backwards

I'm getting a serious New Super Mario Bros. U vibe from this. And that isn't a good thing.

Unlike previous entries, Sticker Star's world is divided up by way of a Super Mario Bros. 3 style worldmap. I actually have no qualms with this, as it provides structure to the gameworld, and it's implemented fairly well for the most part. To be honest, you'll spend so long in each 'stage' - often not for entirely the right reasons - that you'll eventually begin to forget you're playing a subdivided area.

What I do take offence to, however, is the theming of each world. Whereas in, say, TTYD, each chapter offered something new - one minute you'd be in a dimly lit town where everyone kept turning into pigs, then the next you'd be in a wrestling tournament under the pseudonym Gonzales - here the six worlds are the classic Mario fare. Say it with me: grass world, desert world, forest world, ice world, fire world, Bowser's castle. That's exactly the structure the game follows, and it creates the impression that they were not only trying to move forward by bringing back the RPG elements, but also move backwards by making it more like a traditional Mario game.

You can't have it both ways, Intelligent Systems. The excuse of it being on a handheld can't be used here. If people want a gameworld like that on the 3DS, they can push off and go buy the decidedly subpar New Super Mario Bros. 2. This is Paper Mario we're talking about, and the series deserves better than this generic tat. I'm sorry, I'm just really passionate about this.

This Reminds Me of a Puzzle. A Real Frustrating One

Anyway, if you can bring yourself agonisingly to look beyond this, you'll find the actual stages aren't great either. The general gist of each is to find the piece of the Comet that marks the end, and to get there you solve some puzzles - I'm hesitant to say you kill enemies as, again, it's utterly pointless - and do some regular platforming. This is pretty much what every level boils down to, aside from a few highlights that include a Snifit gameshow, a ski-lift siege, and the Enigmansion, a Luigi's Mansion-style ghostbusting romp that is genuinely entertaining.

This part made me wish I was playing Dark Moon instead. Sadly, it was not to be.

But these gems are sadly few and far between. Most stages are generic, boring, and whenever they do offer puzzles, they are so mind-bendingly frustrating that your 3DS will be lucky if it comes out unscathed. Ironically, the main problem with the puzzles is the same as the main problem with the battles: the Thing Stickers. In case you didn't figure it out, Thing Stickers are essentially real-world items turned into little adhesive icons - like a vacuum cleaner or a rubber duck, for instance - that, when applied to the landscape, summon a gigantic rendition of the object they represent. Again, some of these make sense, like using a gigantic fan to blow the sails of a windmill around, or using a faucet to fill up a lake. That's all fine and dandy. But, much like the battles, some are just absurd. 

There's a part where you're presented with a gigantic plug socket in the middle of a sandstorm. That's it. No indication is given as to what to put in there, and as there are a great deal of electrical appliance Things in the game, you could conceivably be there for hours plugging in various Things before you find the solution, which turns out to be a vacuum cleaner. For some reason. Sure, why not? What's worse is that, in order to generate the Thing Stickers, you need to find the original item in the world, and, again, no hint is given as to where you may find them, leading to endless hours of backtracking looking for, say, a paperclip that could be literally anywhere, behind any door, in any stage, in any world.

It's clear some attempt was made to curb the frustration with Kersti - oh no - who, upon a tap of the L trigger, will pop out and offer some 'advice', which is typically some utterly useless, indecipherable garbage that, more often than not, is completely unrelated to the task at hand. In the aforementioned scenario, for example, her 'advice' is: "Wow, this sand is really irritating my eyes!" before vanishing again. Look, Intelligent Systems. If you're going to have a hint system, you need to make the hints helpful, otherwise it's just another excuse to have Kersti blather on at you, and Lord knows we didn't need another one.

The scenario in question. Heck, even I can write better hints than Intelligent Systems can: "Wow, this sand sure sucks... hey, sucks! That's it!"

And when the puzzles aren't making you chew your own arm off, they're insultingly easy. There's no happy medium. Through use of a 'Paperisation' technique, you can rip off parts of the world and manipulate them. This had some potential: imagine a puzzle, for instance, where a Whomp guards a bridge. You could Paperise the bridge, flip it over, and watch the Whomp plummet to his doom. See, that would be clever. But most of the puzzles that utilise this mechanic boil down to simply placing something you rip out into a clearly designated purple area. Hardly Mensa-style stuff.

The Good Stuff

In terms of the game's graphics, they're... actually not half bad. What a shocker. This takes the first three games' papery aesthetic and ratchets it up to 11, to the point where even flowing water is made of paper, and the clouds are suspended in the sky by strings. Even the relatively lighthearted N64 original didn't have cartoon physics this skewed, and, to the game's credit, it works. The 3D effect, however, is the typical negligible 'depth of field' shtick that's barely noticeable, so have it off for the sake of your poor 3DS's battery life. Am I the only one who, upon hearing '3D', thinks of things popping out, rather than in? It's a concept Nintendo seems to have failed to grasp.

The soundtrack, however, is absolutely awesome, and - dare I say it - may be the best of the series so far. Highlights include the title theme, the Decalburg theme and the track 'Kersti's Power' which is a rockin' blend of the main theme and classic Mario tunes from the likes of Super Mario World. In fact, the music is so friggin' good that it accounts for one of the stars of my rating, and given that that's 25% of the rating, it says a lot.

Don't believe me? Go on, have a listen. That's some good stuff right there.

However, you may notice that the only positive things I have to say about this stinker are purely aesthetic in nature, and good looks can only carry you so far - a fact which several Kinect games can attest to, but I digress. It's always been my belief that unless a game is fun to play and has memorable characters, as well as mechanics that are actually functional, you may as well be looking at an HD screenshot of it, as the only enjoyment you'll be deriving will be from its graphics, which often isn't worth the steep entry price for most games these days.

Sadly, aside from these pleasant visual and audio surprises, Sticker Star is an utterly disappointing entry in the series in pretty much every way possible. Throw in a genuinely unlikeable character who's with you all the way through, insurmountable bosses that demand a nigh-unfindable item, a dysfunctional battle system that completely eliminates the point of its own existence, brain-melting puzzles and absolutely no story whatsoever, and you've got yourself a recipe for disaster. 

Garnish with $39.99, serves one very unlucky individual.


Story: 0/10

Graphics: 8/10

Performance: 5/10

Presentation: 2/10

Controls: 5/10

Audio: 9/10

Lasting Appeal: 3/10


Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem Setting More or Less Revealed Tue, 09 Jul 2013 14:30:43 -0400 MirandaCB

For a very long while no one heard anything on the new Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem game that was mentioned last January. However, Hitoshi Yamagami, head supervisor of all Intelligent Systems projects, revealed a small, but highly interesting detail about the game in an interview with Hobby Consolas.

Yamagami expressed that he wanted to make a Fire Emblem in modern times. He imagined “a Pegasus that comes from the sky and lands on…Building 109 of Shibuya, Tokyo.” After visiting with several companies to pitch this idea, Atlus suggested throwing Shin Megami Tensei into the mix, launching the collaboration between Atlus and Intelligent Systems.

With this mash up of RPG’s and Yamagami’s vision, it can only mean that Fire Emblem characters and elements will take place in a modern setting (possibly post-apocalyptic). How they’ll get there? Most likely time travel.

To set the groundwork until its release, Nintendo of America is opening the opportunity to get $30 eShop credit when customers purchase Shin Megami Tensei IV and Fire Emblem: Awakening and register the Club Nintendo codes within. These two titles are for 3DS, but Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem will be released on the Wii U.