Minecraft Dungeons

I spent months seeing ads for Minecraft Dungeons and assuming it was a fancy Minecraft mod. As it turns out it’s a completely different game. It uses Minecraft textures, sounds, creatures, and trappings (like the currency is emeralds), but its actually an Action RPG.

Blocky Diablo would also be accurate.

If you’re new the genre, ARPG is just a fancy name for a Diablo clone. It’s a 3rd person top down dungeon crawler where you collect loot and level up your character. As a big fan of Diablo II and a big fan of Minecraft, you might expect that this would be my kind of game… and you’d mostly be right.

I mostly enjoyed Minecraft Dungeons. While I didn’t play much endgame content or go to the much harder difficulties, I did clear the full story, and some of the postgame, and had a good time with it.

However, I have three fundamental problems with the game

  1. Lack of twangy guitar music.
  2. Consumable arrows.
  3. Map readability and collision.

While issue one pretty much speaks for itself, issue two is a bit more nuanced. Why does it matter that Minecraft Crayons has consumable arrows? To explain that, let’s talk about how the game handles skills.

Minecraft Funyons has an interesting “class” system. I put class in quotes because there are no set classes; how your character approaches the game depends entirely on what kind of gear you wear and enchantments you apply. If you want to be a rogue, you equip armor that makes you deal more physical damage. To be a tank, you equip armor that reduces the damage you take. If you want to be a caster, you equip armor that reduces the cooldowns on your artifacts (effectively your abilities), and then equip artifacts that deal damage. And if you want to be an archer, you equip armor that gives you extra ranged damage and extra arrows.

The problem is that the arrow economy is such that even with bonus arrow armor, enchantments, and artifacts, you STILL run out of arrows at some point each run. With at most 10 de facto classes, it’s a strange design choice to make one of them effectively unplayable.

My third issue was map readability. While the Minecraft style maps are very pretty, because all the elements are visually similar, I often found it hard to quickly figure out which terrain was walkable and which blocked me. And that’s a big problem when trying to make a split second decision with a million mobs following me. Hit a wall, and you’re dead.

Being pinned against terrain by a wave of enemies wouldn’t be terrible if the standard roll ability let you roll through the enemies, but it doesn’t, unlike almost every game I’ve ever played with a dodge. It also doesn’t actually dodge hits. All it does is give you a quick burst of speed followed by being slowed. Looking back, I found this design decision this most frustrating part of the game.

And there are a few other things that don’t quite make sense to me. The enchantment system seems to be built to encourage you to try out new sub builds frequently. But this never really worked. There are only two ways to get your enchantment points/levels back to try out a new item or build.

Option 1 is to salvage the original item, getting rid of it. If you do this and then don’t like your new build, you’re shit out of luck. Option 2 is go give your items to the Blacksmith, which gives you back your enchantment points, and then upgrades the item after your clear 3 levels. But again, if you don’t like your build, you’re still shit out of luck, abeit only for 3 runs. Why there isn’t just a “refund enchantment points” button is beyond me.

The game is also a bit buggy. While none of these are “Eat your savefile” or “Crash your machine” levels of bugs, they’re still annoying. For example, I fought a miniboss at the start of a level, and then spent the entire level listening to the dramatic boss music. Almost every chest you open spews some consumable items out of the level, entirely wasting them. Another time I rolled in the middle of combat and got stuck in a hole in the map.

Overall, I did have fun with it, even if it was somewhat simple. It honestly felt like the game was initially designed as a roguelike, but at some point they changed it to a perpetual gear chase. The addition of the Tower, a game mode that is quite literally a roguelike adds to that theory.

Minecraft Dungeons is available on pretty much every platform, and also has cross-play between all of them. So if you’re looking for a solid, but simple ARPG you can play with other folks, grab a copy, and sit back. Just be prepared to deal with some annoyances along the way. And if you’re still on the fence, you can read more about it here.

Ed Note: The post-game content is actually surprisingly extensive, and decent. I played it even if Max didn’t. It functions similar to PoE’s mapping system, in that the zones themselves are remixes of previously cleared areas with increased mob variety and specialties. It also has it’s own special gear chase with gilded items and whatnot. TLDR: Postgame good!

Kirby and the Forgotten Land

Kirby and the Forgotten Land is fun, but I wish I could play the challenging parts without beating the game first.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land is fine. But even though I just finished the game, I don’t really have any strong feelings about it. I think if you’re looking for a fairly relaxing 3D platformer, or are newer to video games, Kirby would probably hit the spot. That said, if you don’t play Kirby and the Forgotten Land, I couldn’t really make a strong argument that you’d be missing out on much.

Kirby games are generally fairly easy*. I don’t think this is a bad thing. Kirby is Nintendo’s entry level franchise. Making a game that everyone can beat, but still feels fun to play for both folks who might be picking up a controller for the first time as well as jaded freaks like myself is a tough balancing act. If you want more insight into that sorta thing, I suggest you check out this article from the Washington Post, with the creators. Even how the game handles detection isn’t straight forward, and is built in such a way that if an attack looks like it should connect, it connects! Which is brilliant, and clever, but still easy.

*Many Kirby games have post-game content in the form of boss rushes/time attacks/etc. These are NOT easy.

This writeup is about Kirby and the Forgotten Land though. So let’s get the bit of this article were I describe game mechanics verbatim over with, shall we?

In Kirby and the Forgotten Land, you play as Kirby. Like most Kirby games, the primary mechanic is being able to swallow up enemies, and copy their abilities. Unlike most Kirby games, the game is the first true 3D entry in the series. You don’t quite have the ability to jump/float infinitely, as it would break most of these 3D maps. Compared to something like Amazing Mirror, the game is incredibly linear, taking place over a series of levels played in order.

Each level has 5 mini-objectives, and two main objectives that are always the same. Objective one is to complete the level, and objective two is to find hidden captured waddle-dees. Usually the waddle-dees are in some sort of hidden area off the main path, or in something that needs to be destroyed. Objectives 3-5 are usually to complete some sort of additional task, and while these start out as hidden, each time you complete a level, you’re given a hint about what these extra goals are.

By the time I completed most levels, I had found 8-9 of the 11 waddle-dees. Beat enough levels, and you’ll reach the boss. Actually unlocking the boss does require that you freed enough of the waddle-dees from earlier, but I never actually had to go back to replay a level. I always had enough waddle-dees anyway. Beat the boss level, you unlock the next world.

Let’s talk about the bosses. They’re solid. Like most Kirby games, there are mini-bosses, which are fairly easy, and main bosses, which are the only places in the game I died. They’re fun spectacles and are somewhat challenging.

Outside the main game levels and the bosses, there are a few more activities. There’s a home town area that gives access to several mini-games, which I never played. There are also side areas called treasure roads that serve as time-trials/skill checks to get currencies to upgrade your abilities. I played like two of these, and then decided I didn’t care.

Complaining about Kirby being a generic video game is like complaining about Lord of the Rings being generic fantasy. Kirby is meant to be an easily played and approachable game, with a certain level of challenge and depth offered in the post game for more skilled players. As I mentioned in the intro, it’s not like it’s easy to make a game anyone can beat and feel good about it.

But with that said, I also don’t have strong feelings about it. Kirby and the Forgotten Land doesn’t offer anything I haven’t seen before, or seen at a similar level of polish. It’s a new Kirby game, with all that the series entails, including bright and colorful visuals, a story that takes a surprisingly dark turn in the last 90% of the game, and a final boss that looks like it belongs in a JRPG.

If you’re newer to gaming I think it’s a really solid place to start. Not because it is easy, but because it’s well designed. It’s good training ground for a lot of the habits and ideas that could serve well playing other games. Kirby and the Forgotten Land is $60 for Nintendo Switch. It’s a fine 3D platformer, with a fair amount of content and side objectives, but it doesn’t redefine Kirby games, and outside of the boss levels, there wasn’t anything super memorable about it. I don’t dislike it by any means, but I don’t feel passionately about it.

Post-Script: So after finishing the game, and dying a bunch in Elden Ring, I went back and decided to play the post game. It’s much harder and could best be described as a remix of the base game. It takes sections from each world, compresses them into a single level with juiced up boss fight at the end. Then it adds extra enemies to each section. It’s a lot more fun and interesting, because it isn’t as easy. I appreciate that it’s there, but I wish there was just an option to start with this version of the game.

TLDR: There’s a harder game mode, but you have to beat the game to unlock it.

The Cruel King and the Great Hero

Ed Note: We requested and received a review copy of The Cruel King and the Great Hero from Nippon Ichi Software.

The Cruel King and the Great Hero is a a turn based RPG by Nippon Ichi Software. It has a beautiful story book art style and the story is solid. With that said, I’m on the fence about recommending it. The mechanical aspects of its combat system sit somewhere between “Unfun” and “Rudimentary.” This isn’t helped by the game’s random encounter system, and early to mid-game world traversal.

The game starts out with Yuu, the main character, living with her father, the Dragon King, where she trains every day to become a hero. We learn fairly early on that Yuu’s actual father was a hero who traveled around defeating monsters. The details on how she ended up in the Dragon King’s care are fairly hazy, though they do get fleshed out by the end of the game. While training, the stick that she uses as a sword breaks, and the Dragon King suggests she go to the nearby monster village to get a replacement. This means traveling through the forest, which is populated by dangerous monsters that will attack her. After defeating monsters and visiting the village, she gets a new sword.

After this the game opens up a bit. I won’t go into great detail to avoid some spoilers, but the general structure is “Someone has a problem, Yuu volunteers to help them, they join as a party member, and Yuu has to go to a place to do a thing.” A majority of the game follows this structure, prior to the climax and finale.

The localization is generally solid. There was only a single quest where it fell flat.

But it does bring us to the point I want to talk about the most: the game’s combat and RPG systems. Let’s talk about the RPG systems first, because there aren’t many. You have a maximum of up to two party members at any point in time, consisting of Yuu and one other character. Prior to reaching the climax, you have no ability to choose who is in your party. The game has a level system, but there are no choices related to leveling up, or character customization.

The closest thing to customization lies in the equipment. Each character has 4 equipment slots, a weapon, an armor, and two accessories. However, I never found two weapons the game that were equivalent but with different abilities. Every new weapon was just an upgrade. The accessories are the actual customization, but even then, I used the same 4 accessories for more or less the entire game (the accessories in question were two that auto-healed each turn, one that made guarding reduce damage even further, and a stat stick that increased speed and damage). This is really the extent of character customization.

Having covered the RPG elements, let’s talk about combat. Combat is basic. You have health and energy. There are a variety of status effects, but they follow fairly standard RPG tropes. Energy is used to perform special attacks. For abilities, (if I recall correctly) prior to the final boss, Yuu had 7 skills, of which only 5 were really relevant. More on that later. These 5 could be summarized as: Heavy Attack, Fast Attack, Conditional AOE, Protect Ally, and Heavy AOE. My other party member had 4, which could be summarized as: AOE and Team Buff, Self Buff, Single Target Damage plus Status, and Heavy AOE.

Each character also has a normal attack, and a guard. The guard is the only part of the combat system I have any actual praise for, because guarding restores extra energy, making guarding vs attacking an actual meaningful choice.

These two raccoons are about to be absolutely flattened.

The problems I have with combat are multi-layered, so let’s go through them. I mentioned above that there are conditional multi-attacks. These attacks will only hit enemies if they are lined up correctly. The problem with these attacks is that enemies never move around in combat. There is also no way to move them around. That means these attacks are only useful when enemies just happen to show up in ways that are convenient. Of the 3 potential party members, only one had access to non-conditional AOE, and so was the party member I brought with me when I could choose. Remember: you can only have one other party member.

The boss fights are the only source of real difficultly I encountered, and they don’t feel particularly fair. There were two instances of frustration I encountered. One was around the middle of the game. In that fight, the enemy used an attack that would do about 100 damage. Unfortunately, the max HP of my characters was respectively about 120 and 70. So if I ever let myself go below max, there was a non-zero chance I would get wiped by a random attack, with no telegraphing.

The other situation was the final boss fight. While I only failed it once, before returning to clear it, that first failure took around 45 minutes, and the second attempt took around 30-40. It is simply not a fun fight. Bosses are not affected by status effects, even temporarily, so the only real strategy devolved into “Make sure that they can never do an attack to kill both party members at once, and spam healing items.”

Combat just isn’t fun. Characters don’t have enough attack variety to keep things interesting, or exciting, and tactics for any encounter almost always boiled down to “Spam big AOE attacks, and hope you kill them first.” I used the word “rudimentary” in the opening paragraph, and I really mean it. The combat structure feels like it was copy-pasted from a default RPG Maker project.

All of this would be less annoying if combat wasn’t such a large portion of the game. Almost every quest and sub-quest involves traveling from point A to point B, with random encounters along the way. And while there is an item you can use to “prevent” encounters, I’m not convinced it actually works. At the very least, it doesn’t quite work as described.

Since we’re on the subject, let’s talk about traversal. Traversal is my other big gripe with the game. Yuu moves incredibly slowly. For an idea of how slowly, let me tell a story. Early on in the game, you get access to an item that lets you return to a hub zone. Later in the game while doing side quests in the ice zone, I found myself using this item often. This was because it was faster to complete an objective in the ice zone, warp back to the hub zone, walk to the teleport near the hub, and then teleport back to the ice zone, rather then just walking from one part of the ice zone to another.

But despite all this, I did finish The Cruel King and the Great Hero. I won’t lie, part of that is because I had a review copy, and I refuse to write a review of a game I can’t finish. Which is why we don’t yet have an Elden Ring review.

But the other reason is that the story is good. It’s a curious and compelling take on story book tropes. It’s not subversive, and it’s not going to win a Caldecott award or anything, but it’s generally comfy and interesting, and the story incredibly well accompanied by the art. The game’s side quests and writing all feed into this, making the end result feel like reading a set of children’s books.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about that art for bit. It’s great. I love the painterly feel, and the general soft tones. The animation is good. The UI elements are clear and crisp. The game absolutely nails a theme and feel, and that’s supported by the music. It’s just unfortunate that so much of this incredible art and comfy, if simple story, is left to carry the weight of a mediocre paint by the numbers RPG.

And those are pretty much my thoughts on The Cruel King and the Great Hero. A solid 9/10 for art, music, worldbuilding and tone. A 6/10 for passable mechanics that aren’t bad, but do nothing new, while not really offering interesting options. The game is $30 for Nintendo Switch, which honestly, seems about fair. If you want something small and comfy to play around with, and don’t mind dealing with a few aggravating moments, it might be worth picking up.

Pokemon Legends: Arceus

I like Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Does the game have so many technical problems that I’m going to devote at least a paragraph to them below? Yes. But is it also the first Pokémon game that we’ve gotten in 25 years that is actually mechanically different than the other games in the series? Yes. Yes it is.

The rest of this article is going to assume that you’ve played a Pokémon game at some point. If you haven’t, reading this post first will make the rest of this review make more sense.

As mentioned above, Arceus is significantly different than previous Pokémon games. In brief: the game now takes place in a semi-open world. Story progression is based around a combination of catching lots of Pokémon, and mission completion, and there are no gym battles or equivalents. While battling and catching Pokémon both remain, the battle system has been significantly trimmed down, with held items and abilities being removed, and most status effects/stat buffs have also been changed to be simpler. The game does offer the ability to use moves in different styles, but this mostly boils down to “Do more damage, but take longer to act again, or do less damage, but act again quicker.”

You can fight multiple enemy Pokemon at once.

As the game now takes place in an open world, there are no more random battles. Instead, Pokémon just sort of go about the world, doing as they please, with most having a set spawn location. As such, catching Pokémon has changed, with many not even requiring you to battle them. Instead, you just need to get close enough to throw a Pokeball at them and hit them. Pokémon also don’t share the same set of behaviors either. Some will happily watch as you walk closer and closer prior to beaning them in the head with a well placed shot, some will turn tail and run, and some will see you and just start swinging/blasting bubbles/trying to poison you—you get the idea. For Pokémon in this last group, once they notice you and engage in combat, you’ll have to fight them with your own Pokémon if you actually want to catch them. The alternate option is to truffle shuffle your way through the waist high grass and wait for them to look away so you can lob a ball at the back of their head. The game actually encourages this, because back hits have an increased catch rate.

You will never have enough Apricorns, and when you think you do, you’ll be wrong.

Also, because this an open world game, there’s a crafting system. You can craft Pokeballs, revives, and various items with the rocks and berries you find lying around. It’s actually generally not as tedious as it might sound, primarily because the same few mats are used for a bunch of different things, and there also aren’t a ridiculous number of them you have to gather. cougheldenringcough

The open world itself is split up into 6 or so areas, and each area is self contained. For example, you can’t go from the ruin swamp zone to the ice zone without actually going back to town, and then going to the other area on the map. You likely won’t be able to explore every part of a map when you first unlock it, as portions will be locked behind ride Pokémon, the game’s version of HMs. These are various Pokémon that you’ll make friends with and will give you the ability to swim across water, fly across the sky, and scale rock cliffs. Yes, I know it seems like flying would make climbing redundant but it doesn’t really work like that in practice.

Realistically, these open world zones are fine. I’m gonna be honest, you could probably fill a grey box with lots of Pokémon and I would enjoy it. Pokémon Go put Pokémon on top of google maps, and I liked it. With that said, this isn’t Elden Ring or Breath of the Wild, there are no hidden secrets and crevices to find, and each zone itself is pretty small. They’re habitats for the Pokémon that live in them, and not much else unfortunately.

So what do I like? One thing is that Pokémon are actually rendered to scale in this game. This is a small thing, but it really does build the feeling of them being actual animals in the world instead of the “Wailord is the same size as Skitty” that we’ve had from previous games. It also gets used in two of the game’s mechanical systems, where catching Pokemon of different sizes can be a goal for various surveying missions and to distinguish Alpha Pokemon, which I’m just realizing we haven’t covered yet.

I just realized Dusknoir has red eyes by default, making this a terrible example of what this sorta thing looks like…

While you’re journeying around you might find a Pokémon that seems much bigger than you’d think it should be, with glowing red eyes. These are Alpha Pokémon, and they’re great. Outside of the immense bulk, there are few other critical differences. They tend to be much higher leveled then anything in the surrounding area, sometimes have special attacks, and have zero chill. They can’t be captured except by battling them, and until your Pokémon are in the 60-70 level range, they can and will thrash you into the ground.

I really like this because in most Pokémon games, catching Pokémon is pretty much a zero risk process, and you’ll never actually be able to go back to an area and be challenged. Alphas are a nice change of pace, and one of my most memorable moments in the game was wiping my team multiple times into an Alpha Tangrowth, then reviving them while it tried to put me six feet under. Alphas also tend to be Pokémon that could only have been obtained via evolution in previous games, so its just cool to actually fight and catch them in their already evolved forms.

Yes, that’s a wild Empoleon. It fainted from recoil damage. There was some salt.

Now that we’ve covered the actual game and mechanics, let’s talk about the game’s massive technical failings.

First, a brief statement. Creating games is a complex process with multiple disciplines and processes involved. That said , I consider most of the things in the paragraphs below to be effectively statements of fact. Maybe mimicking Super Mario 64’s performance and art style is a design choice, but I don’t give a shit. The game should not look and have performance issues this bad.

Most of the environments in the game look like garbage, and they feel incredibly static and stale outside of the Pokémon inhabiting them.
The Pokémon/NPC’s look good, but if you get more than 4 NPC’s on the screen even during a cutscene, the framerate dips. Because of this, there are very few situations where you can have large numbers of different wild Pokémon on screen, and the end result is that the game’s world can feel underpopulated.
The game has an amount of pop-in/fade in that’s comical on everything, and when you’re flying around looking for a specific plant, or a Pokémon that might be the size of that plant, this actively screws with your ability to find it. Of everything on this list, this one is biggest hindrance to actively playing the game, and pisses me off the most.

See that little hill in the distance, with nothing on it, and nothing anywhere around it?
It’s the one we’re hovering over right here.

In addition to all of this, the game has one of the most screwed up systems for animation level of detail that I’ve seen. It’s most visible on any of the flying Pokemon such as Gyrados, Togetic or Crobat, but you can actively see the point at which they get far enough away from you for the game to start dropping frames from their animation cycle.

Anyway, that’s Pokémon Legends: Arceus. If you’re someone like me who’s always wanted a Pokémon game where you run around massive open environments trying to catch Pokémon, and see them at actual scale, this game is pretty much exactly what you’ve been waiting for. You’ll be able to ignore the game’s flaws and have a lot of fun.

If you’re someone who played the games primarily for the battle system, or for engaging with the secondary mechanics like breeding for perfect IV’s and competitive move sets, those systems have been either stripped out or massively simplified, and I suspect you won’t have as much fun. I don’t personally think that the removal of things like abilities and held items is made up for by the games strong/agile move styles.

And perhaps you’re neither. Perhaps you’re not a Pokémon fan. If that’s the case, I would say that your enjoyment is going to depend heavily on what you want out of the game. You want a game with a mediocre open world, but a bunch of really cool monsters to catch? This could be for you!

If you want a game with an open world that tells a subtle story via its environment and mechanics, with a focus on difficult combat and challenging gameplay? Well, you probably want Elden Ring instead.

You want a large underwater eel? That’s a moray.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus is $60 for Nintendo Switch, and only Switch, because the day we get a mainline Pokémon game on a non-Nintendo console is the day we look out the window and see a flock of pigs sailing unimpeded across the clouds.

Deltarune – Chapter 1 & 2

So, Deltarune. I think it’s very good.

Deltarune is a turn-based RPG. It’s made by Toby Fox, the creator of the darlingest of indie darlings, Undertale. There are a large number of similarities between the two games, including rad as hell music, incredibly weird yet cohesive stories, and bullet hell gameplay mechanics for dodging enemy attacks.

They’re also both games that at least to my mind are much richer if you go into them with no spoilers. As such, if you enjoyed Undertale or games like Earthbound, I would encourage you to grab your gaming machine of choice, and download Chapter 1 & 2 right now. They’re free, and they’re available for PC, Switch, and PS4.

Now, it’s possible that this isn’t enough information for you. You want to know more about what you’re actually getting into. So this next section of the article is for those of you who are either on the fence, or not as interested. Perhaps you played Undertale and it never grabbed you. Perhaps you’ve had your fill of weird internet humor. Perhaps you’re tired of listening to Megalovania. Whatever the reason, I’d still suggest you check out Deltarune.

Deltarune is still just as weird as its famed predecessor, and the music is in my opinion just as good. However, Deltarune’s combat and ACTION system are vastly improved over those of Undertale.

One of Undertale’s primary selling points was that you didn’t have to kill anyone. You could play the game as traditional turn-based RPG with grinding, attacks, and murder. But you could also play through the game by choosing to talk and interact with enemies, and then SPARING them, ending combat without defeating them.

How the story unfolds if you choose to spare enemies is one of the most unique parts of the game. Unfortunately, choosing to spare “trash mobs” quickly becomes tedious after the first time you fight that type of enemy. Combat encounters in Undertale are fairly simple. Combat starts, and on your turn as a pacifist, you select various options in the interaction bar to try to butter up or calm down your opponent. Whenever they attack you, you play a bullet hell dodging mini-game to avoid being hit. While this is fine for bosses, it quickly becomes a boring for the other fights. Every type of normal enemy has the same sequence each time to “beat” the encounter.

But this writeup is about Deltarune, not Undertale. Deltarune still allows you to be a pacifist, but without making the encounters boring. There are a few new mechanics that solve this problem, as well as some general ways that combat encounters have been made more meaningful than they were in Undertale.

The first new mechanic is a system called TP. When enemies attack you in both Undertale and Deltarune, you play a short bullet hell sequence. This sequence varies wildly based on the enemy, but the general rule is: don’t get hit. Deltarune adds the TP gauge to these sequences. It’s used for various special actions and magic attacks including healing, and it fills by being just barely close enough to not take damage from attacks.

The second new mechanic is that pacifist actions also occasionally have their own mini-games associated with them. They’re nowhere near as elaborate as the bullet hell sequences mentioned above, but they’re more fun than simply choosing options on a menu like in Undertale.

And finally, you now have multiple party members to use. Some of the more interesting encounters in the game play with how pacifist options work differently for each party member. And this makes sense because some of your party members are… shall we say… “Less Inclined to Non-Violence” than others.

(Looking at you Susie.)

Deltarune keeps the parts of Undertale that were already loved by pretty much everyone (including the strange story, bizarre art and animation, and music that goes so much harder than it needs to), but just makes them more fun to experience.

I highly recommend you play Deltarune, or at least what’s out so far. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Author Note: Images are from the IGDB because I was too lazy to take screenshots while I was playing.