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AI: The Somnium Files (Nintendo Switch)

By Harmony♡ on October 5th, 2019

Astral Chain (Nintendo Switch)

By Harmony♡ on September 20th, 2019

The Watson-Scott Test (Windows)

By Harmony♡ on March 4th, 2019

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion (Nintendo Switch)

A new gold standard for DLC

The Good
The Octo Expansion is a major content package that enhances the Splatoon 2 experience, and there's something in it for every type of player. Front and center is the long-requested addition of playable Octolings, as well as a number of other customization options for the player's avatar. For those interested in the lore of Splatoon's world, the included story mode is sure to satisfy; it's an even longer campaign than the one featured in the base game, and it furthers the existing plot while also raising some new and interesting questions. Although it is much darker than previous entries, it still contains plenty of the lighthearted moments that have become part of the series' charm. Fan favorite characters like Pearl and Marina get plenty of time in the spotlight, and the brand-new additions to the cast are largely lovable as well.

The gameplay itself is incredibly challenging, even for veteran players, but the difficulty rarely feels cheap or overly punishing. There are no surprise traps, dependency on RNG, or any of the other tricks subpar developers are known to use in place of real difficulty. Instead, challenges are centered around mastery of specific weapons or techniques, knowledge of the physics system, and skillfully executed inputs. Lest less experienced players worry, however, there is always the option to skip a level that one has failed too many times. Players who choose this option will be able to move on in the story at the cost of some in-game currency, but will miss out on certain rewards this way. Levels can be replayed at any time, so nothing is permanently lost by skipping one and coming back later. This system is a great compromise that allows players of all skill levels to enjoy the campaign to the best of their abilities.

The campaign's finale is an extended sequence of seven extra-long levels. The gameplay here is an especially intense test of everything the player has learned, set to some of the best tracks that have been produced for the series. Capping it off is a cathartic and totally unique final boss fight that feels like a celebration of everything Splatoon is.

The Bad
Not all levels are created equal. There are a handful that are simply rehashes of boss fights from the base game, and others that mimic the gameplay of specific multiplayer modes. While these fights do have some differences from their original iterations, they still feel uninspired; it would have been preferable to patch these into the main game as rematches, and create brand new challenges for the DLC. The fee for skipping or retrying these levels is also incredibly steep, enough so to outright discourage players who aren't certain they can win the first time around.

The aforementioned ending sequence features no stopping points and must be completed in one sitting, which is sure to frustrate anyone who struggles to find time for an extended gaming session. When replaying this segment later, there is no level select, which is also annoying when you only want to test yourself on one of the specific challenges.

The Bottom Line
Ultimately, despite a handful of flaws, Octo Expansion is a huge content package full of things fans of the series will love. No matter what you're looking for - more story content, extended gameplay, a way to test your skills, or new ways to deck out your multiplayer avatar - you'll find it here. And incredibly, all this is available in a single download that costs just 1/3 the price of the base game. In an age where developers are increasingly derided for using DLC to line their pockets while providing minimal new content, this is a shining example of how to do downloadable content right. A must-have for anyone who loves the Splatoon series and wants more out of it.

By Harmony♡ on September 26th, 2018

Pokémon Ultra Moon (Nintendo 3DS)

Two steps forward, one step back... or is it the other way around?

The Good
Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon bring back the series' once long-standing tradition of releasing an updated "third version" a year or two after a pair's initial release. True to form, these two new games bring a lot of gameplay enhancements to the Sun and Moon experience, some being brand-new features and others simple quality of life improvements. A few of the smaller, yet greatly appreciated updates include making some evolution methods accessible earlier on in the main story, the return of the sixth generation games' O-Powers, and a slightly expanded regional Pokédex.

My personal favorite new feature is the Alola Photo Club, a surprisingly addictive side mode in which you can pose your player character and/or Pokémon for photos, then later decorate them with a variety of cute little stickers and borders. It's probably the closest we'll ever get to a proper Pokémon Snap sequel, and it's way more fun than it has any right to be. One of the other major minigames introduced, Mantine Surf, provides a new way to earn Battle Points. While it's not really my thing, it's great news for those who want to buy from BP shops but struggle with the special battle facilities. Lastly, the Ultra Warp Ride is a minigame where performing well gives you a chance to encounter legendaries, Ultra Beasts, and shiny Pokémon, all while being pretty fun on its own.

As expected of a modern Pokémon game, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon also introduce new forms for existing Pokémon, the standout this time around being an incredibly cool-looking Psychic/Dragon form for the legendary Necrozma. However, in a series first, they also introduce five new Pokémon mid-generation. Four of these are Ultra Beasts, a class of Pokémon I quickly fell in love with after Sun and Moon introduced them a year before. While these new four add very little to the plot or lore, they're all well-designed additions that have the same otherworldly essence I've come to love about the UBs.

The Bad
However, several common complaints about the original Sun and Moon pair remain unchanged, or are addressed in a halfhearted way that doesn't do enough to improve the overall experience. One such example is the lack of good places to train high-level Pokémon. The levels of wild Pokémon in postgame areas have just barely been raised, and while the new Ultra Space Wilds do contain some strong enemies that give good experience, getting there is too inefficient to be considered a good solution.

In one baffling case, a maligned feature has been made even worse. The Rotom Pokédex was a feature from the earlier pair that nobody asked for and has been generally panned for its annoying and repetitive dialogue, and now it's become even more obnoxious. Instead of occasional brief quips from it on the bottom screen, it now has some long tangent to go off on every minute or two. Returning to the overworld from a battle or menu seems to always trigger its unwanted advice-giving, which blocks off other touch screen features like the map until it's done.

My other major gripe about these games is the story. While Pokémon games have never been known for great storytelling, Sun and Moon blew me away last year by not only shaking up the standard formula, but also by telling a surprisingly mature and emotional story about the protagonist's friend, Lillie, and her relationship with her abusive mother. It managed to address the topic in a family-friendly way without pulling any punches, which is something I have a great deal of respect for.

All of that was gutted in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon. Instead, we get another legendary Pokémon doomsday plot, not all that different from older games in the series. While some of Lillie's family drama remains, what was and was not changed feels very inconsistent and often out-of-place, and it's concluded in a much less satisfying way. Certain plot points from the previous games are still brought up here, but are either never addressed again, or make little sense in the context of the changed story. There's a new postgame storyline about the return of the main antagonists from previous games, and while it does have a few fun and rather challenging battles, it didn't seem to have much point beyond being a glorified boss rush that was over in less than a couple hours. Overall, both of these major plots are messily written, and I couldn't really feel invested in them.

The Bottom Line
While I've still been enjoying my time with Ultra Moon, and I don't have enough praise for the various additions it makes to the vanilla Sun and Moon experience, it's hard to be totally enthusiastic when considering all the simple and seemingly obvious improvements that could have been made but weren't. Meanwhile, the story is an absolutely enormous letdown after the high expectations I had coming off the previous pair of games.

On top of all that, in the age of DLC, it's hard to justify continuing the old "third version" practice to begin with. Everything Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon bring to the table could have been incorporated into the vanilla games as DLC, and I'd have been perfectly happy to pay $15 or $20 for such a package. However, it's not worth the $40 pricetag of a brand new game. Judged on their own merits without comparison to other games, the Ultra games are an acceptable addition to the series, but with these other points taken into consideration, I really hesitate to recommend them.

By Harmony♡ on December 1st, 2017

Doki Doki Literature Club! (Windows)

By Harmony♡ on October 24th, 2017

Dragon Cave (Browser)

By Harmony♡ on June 26th, 2017

NieR (PlayStation 3)

By Harmony♡ on May 28th, 2017

Pokémon: Magikarp Jump (Android)

By Harmony♡ on May 28th, 2017

We Become What We Behold (Browser)

By Harmony♡ on December 23rd, 2016

Pokémon Moon (Nintendo 3DS)

By Harmony♡ on December 23rd, 2016

Pokémon GO (Android)

By Harmony♡ on December 22nd, 2016

Pokémon Uranium (Windows)

By Harmony♡ on August 22nd, 2016

Valkemarian Tales: Jolly Follies (Browser)

By Harmony♡ on July 27th, 2016

Child of Eden (Xbox 360)

By Harmony♡ on July 2nd, 2016

Pokémon Shuffle (Android)

By Harmony♡ on June 29th, 2016

Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica (PlayStation 2)

By Harmony♡ on June 12th, 2016

Middens (Windows)

By Harmony♡ on June 8th, 2016

Yume Nikki (Windows)

By Harmony♡ on May 11th, 2016 (Browser)

By Harmony♡ on May 7th, 2016

XenobladeX: Support DLC Quest - Kizuna Sokushin Quest Set (Wii U)

By Harmony♡ on April 24th, 2016

Splatoon (Wii U)

By Harmony♡ on April 24th, 2016

Super Paper Mario (Wii)

By Harmony♡ on March 11th, 2016

XenobladeX: HB (Wii U)

By Harmony♡ on February 24th, 2016

Pokémon Tower Defense (Browser)

By Harmony♡ on February 9th, 2016

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