Sunday, December 29, 2019

My biggest gaming disappointments of 2019

This may be the first time I've published a post about my most disappointing games of a particular year.

I guess that's because the games I purchase and play rarely disappoint me. Or at least they rarely irk me so much I'd then describe them as disappointing.

What changed in 2019? I stumbled upon a couple of games that actually disappointed me.

While I bought these games expecting to adore them, I walked away from both after a handful of hours because they weren't doing it for me in ways I'll hopefully make clear in the paragraphs that follow.

Penny-Punching Princess

I don't know if I've said these exact words here or anywhere else before, but I'm a pretty big fan of Nippon Ichi Software (or NIS). Yes, this little company that could has released some duds, but it's also put out some real gems--like my favorite games of the year, Lapis x Labyrinth and The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince.

I first booted up NIS' Penny-Punching Princess shortly after I finished the former, in fact. Though I loved the look of it, and found its localization surprisingly funny, its gameplay left me cold.

There just wasn't enough depth to Penny-Punching Princess' button-mashing battles to keep me playing. Yes, its bribe mechanic, which employs an on-screen calculator and allows you to use the money you've collected to slip past enemies and traps, is brilliant, but even it couldn't maintain my interest in the entire package.

Will I ever return to my copy of Penny-Punching Princess? I doubt it. At the moment, I can't imagine what would cause me to change my opinion of it.

You never know, though. With a little distance, I might look upon the game with more favorable eyes. I'm not going to bet on that happening, but I'm also not going to assume it's an impossibility.

Umihara Kawase Fresh!

I've long loved the first two Umihara Kawase games--made for the Super Famicom and original PlayStation, respectively. Sadly, I can't say the same about the third, Sayonara Umihara Kawase. Although I own a pair of copies of the 3DS version, both sorely disappointed me.

I had higher hopes for Umihara Kawase Fresh! in the lead-up to its release early this year, but it fared no better with me in the end. I actually quite liked its syrupy sweet art style, but found the quest-focused gameplay far less appealing.

In particular, I disliked that many of the quests I encountered while playing Umihara Kawase Fresh! were annoyingly similar, or took me through territory I'd already visited numerous times.

Also, before I started through this game, I thought I'd dig its new ingredient-gathering and cooking component. I didn't. It's not terrible, mind you, but I also don't think it adds much to the overall experience.

Personally, I'd rather worry about one-shot deaths, as you do in every other Umihara Kawase title, than the constantly draining health bar that needs to be refilled (by scarfing down the grub you make with the aforementioned ingredients) in Fresh!

Is it really possible Penny-Punching Princess and Umihara Kawase Fresh! are the only games that disappointed me in 2019?

If pressed, I might add The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (above) and Yo-Kai Watch 3 to the pile. And maybe even Luigi's Mansion 3.

I finished two of these titles, though, and put nearly eight hours into the third, so I'm not entirely comfortable putting them on the same level as the Switch carts that serve as the focus of this post.

Anyway, now that I've had my say on the matter, I'd like to know: what are your most disappointing games of 2019?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

My favorite games of 2019 that weren't actually released in 2019

Although the number of old games I play often competes with the number of new games I play in any given year, I'm pretty sure the scales tipped in favor of the former in 2019.

As such, I thought I should write up a post about my favorite games of the last year that, you know, weren't actually released during the last year.

A Witch’s Tale (DS)--Truth be told, I bought this Nippon Ichi-made RPG simply because I liked how it looked. I'd heard the rest of it wasn't very good, though, so dragged my feet on playing it. Now that I've not only started but finished it, I'm here to say all the folks who suggested I'd hate A Witch's Tale were wrong. It's no Mother or Undertale or, um, Bravely Default, as you might expect, but I still found it both fun and unique. Regarding the latter, A Witch's Tale is completely touch-based--you don't use your system's directional pad or buttons for anything. Also, there's no overworld to explore here. Instead, you jump between a small hub town and six larger areas that sport curious themes. Oh, and you fill your party with an assortment of odd-looking dolls rather than with other humans, which I found to be a particularly interesting change of pace.

Cave Noire (GameBoy)--Although I've played this Japan-only GameBoy game before, none of those experiences lasted more than an hour at most. I'm not sure why that is, as I usually love roguelikes. At any rate, I stuck with it quite a while longer than that this year. My thoughts on the four or so hours I devoted to Cave Noire in 2019? I adored them. They allowed me to discover just how much it differs from your typical example of the genre. For starters, the dungeons you explore here are delightfully bite-sized and perfect for brief bouts of gaming. Also, conquering them requires you to meet various goals, like collecting a certain amount of money or saving a specific number of caged fairies. Speaking of which, I have yet to beat all of Cave Noire's challenges, but I hope to do so in 2020--with the game's exceptional soundtrack egging me on all the way.

Crimson Shroud (3DS)--If I were to tag a theme to my last year with video games, it'd be something like "playing games I stupidly ignored in the past." Actually, though, I haven't ignored Crimson Shroud. In fact, I bought it upon release--only to play it in fits and spurts until earlier this year. Once again, I'm not sure why I failed to stick with it up to now. Its dice-centric battles, inspired by tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, are right up my alley. As are Crimson Shroud's gritty aesthetic and cinematic soundtrack. Some of its late-game tussles grated on my nerves, I have to admit, but they barely put a dent in my enjoyment of this novel adventure.

Ever Oasis (3DS)--Unless something drastic happens between now and midnight on Jan. 1, this GREZZO-developed RPG will end up second among my most-played games of 2019. That's pretty cool, and surprising, considering I bought Ever Oasis expecting it to disappoint me (at least a bit). Obviously it didn't. Although it wasn't as Secret of Mana-esque as I was told it would be, I thought its real-time battles were even better than those of Squaresoft's 16-bit classic. I also appreciated Ever Oasis' enormous selection of whimsical weapons--its humungous hammers shaped like cacti and pinecones and other odd objects, in particular. The main complaint I can aim at this 3DS cart: its town-building component wore out its welcome well in advance of the finish line.

Final Fantasy Tactics A2 (DS)--Despite the fact that I love the original Final Fantasy Tactics dearly, I've never played its portable spinoffs. Or I hadn't played them before I stubbornly set out to beat Final Fantasy Tactics A2 this summer. Over 65 hours later, I met that objective--and then promptly returned the cartridge to its blue-sleeved case. Did I do so happily, or grouchily? It's hard to say. Only one aspect of A2 made me grouchy, but it was a doozy: the final battle. I loved pretty much everything else about it, though--from the graphics, to the music, to the focus on quests over story. Speaking of that last point, I know a lot of people wish Final Fantasy Tactics A2 had a better story. I'm not one of them. Most RPG stories are bloated, boring messes, in my opinion, so I'm fine with the one in Final Fantasy Tactics A2 doing the bare minimum to move things along.

Ghost Trick (DS)--I feel like I've said this a lot over the last few weeks, but I have a bad habit of avoiding games that garner too much hype from the masses. Capcom's Ghost Trick is but one example of a title that's met this sad fate. My loss, right? I'd certainly say so after playing through it on a tear this autumn. I had no idea the core gameplay in Ghost Trick was so ... puzzle game-ish. That alone increased my interest in it tenfold, though I found its art style, animation, dialogue, and music more than a tad captivating, too. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that, while it took me a while to play Ghost Trick for the first time, it won't take me quite so long to play it a second or even third time.

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (DS)--I loved Hotel Dusk: Room 215 when I played through it a number of years ago. I expected to play through this follow-up shortly after, but you know how it often goes with best-laid plans. Oh, well, all that matters is I finally tackled it. And that I enjoyed nearly every minute of my time with Last Window. I especially liked that the setting was so different from that of Hotel Dusk. I'm unable to say the same about the new cast of characters, but you can't have everything, right? At least Last Window's soundtrack lived up to my sky-high expectations after the brilliant Hotel Dusk OST knocked me off my feet.

See also: my favorite games of 2019 and, uh, my other favorite games of 2019, too

Sunday, December 22, 2019

My favorite games of 2019 that aren't The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince or Lapis x Labyrinth

I may have declared Lapis x Labyrinth and The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince my favorite games of 2019, but that doesn't mean they're the only games I enjoyed this past year.

In fact, here are seven titles I also had a blast playing at some point in the past 12 months.

Dandy Dungeon (PC, Switch)--I named another Onion Games joint, the brilliantly bleak shmup, Black Bird, one of my favorite games of last year. I nearly did the same this year with the company's Dandy Dungeon. What stopped me? The main reason is that I failed to finish it--or, rather, that I walked away from it at one point and never returned to it.

Although I can tell you exactly why I dropped it (I went on vacation and didn't take my Switch), I can't tell you why I didn't pick it up again. Maybe it did the unthinkable and became too repetitive? I say that's unthinkable because I usually don't mind a bit of repetition in games. I mean, you're talking to a guy who happily spends hours grinding in pretty much every RPG he plays--even when it's not needed. But there's a forced grind to this one that perhaps wore on me a tad.

Still, I was full-on obsessed with Dandy Dungeon during the 22 hours I'd put into it before that point, as this post proves. Its gameplay loop, which adroitly combines dungeon-crawling and loot-gathering with time-sensitive puzzle-solving, is both exhilarating and amusing. Actually, amusing describes several other elements of Dandy Dungeon, too, including its graphics, soundtrack, and story. Wait, remind me why I'm not playing this brilliant game right this second?

Heroland (PC, PS4, Switch)--I'm still working my way through this one, an odd, mobile-game-esque RPG made by folks who previously worked on Fantasy Life, Magical Vacation, and Mother 3, but I've spent enough time with it (about 12 hours now) to know I like it a great deal.

My first impressions of Heroland weren't favorable, as the opening hour or two were filled with blather and early battles veered far too close to they-play-themselves territory for my liking. Both areas of complaint improved by leaps and bounds as I continued to plug away at the game, I'm happy to report. Especially the fights.

In case you haven't heard, you don't directly control your parties in Heroland. Instead, you guide them--by periodically giving orders either to the whole group or to an individual member. It's kind of a bummer at the start, but their tactical nature eventually makes itself obvious, and that's when my opinion of this FuRyu product turned toward the positive for good.

Helping matters along tremendously: the game's earworm-enducing soundtrack and appealingly unique look.

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn (3DS)--I'm fully aware that both the original Kirby’s Epic Yarn and this barely enhanced 3DS port have their fair share of detractors. For me, though, they're the video game equivalent of comfort food. They're what I turn to when I want to relax, or when I'm longing for the "good old days."

The accessibly enjoyable gameplay of these titles is a big reason for that, of course, but their cozy graphics and whimsical soundtracks play major roles, too. I guess that's why I gobbled up Extra Epic Yarn when it came out this past spring, and it's also why I'm now naming it one of my favorite games of 2019.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (3DS, mobile, PS4, Switch)--I wish I could tell you why I waited until the release of Gyakuten Saiban 123: Naruhodo Selection (that's the Japanese title of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy) to finally play my first Ace Attorney game. Whatever the case may be, I'm glad I got my act together and went through the long-running series' opening entry earlier this year.

Its brilliantly crafted characters and story as well as its eclectic soundtrack were the clear standouts for me, but I liked pretty much every other component of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, too. OK, so Capcom could've done a better job on the revamped visuals. And the game stumped me on several occasions. Neither of those things dampened my enjoyment of this visual novel, though. Hopefully they also won't keep me from digging its follow-ups when I tackle them in 2020.

Romancing SaGa 3 (mobile, PC, PS4, Switch, Vita, Xbox One)--There was a time not so long ago that I thought Romancing SaGa 3 might squeeze its way into the running for full-on favorite game of 2019. In the end, I put it here instead.

As for what prompted me to consider it a GOTY contender, that would be its tastefully updated graphics, its appropriately epic soundtrack, and its open-ended, quest-focused design. I also had a blast with its battles--or at least I did at first. The different formations, the odd party members, and especially the "sparking" of new abilities thrilled me for a good while, but at some point Romancing SaGa 3's fights lost a bit of their luster. I think it's because they happen a smidge too frequently (despite not being random, technically) and because the aforementioned sparking doesn't happen frequently enough.

Don't worry, I'm not giving up on it despite that disappointing turn of events. I'll definitely return to my playthrough, currently at the 26-hour mark, sometime next year.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe (GameBoy Color)--I may have stubbornly avoided giving this homebrew GameBoy game a go until several months after its initial, non-deluxe release, but once I broke the seal in that regard I quickly made up for lost time.

If you haven't read any of my other write-ups or interviews related to this Tangram Games-developed title, it's a glorious mix of Nintendo's Balloon Kid and Ferry Halim’s Winterbells, if that makes any sense whatsoever. The same can be said of Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe, which came out in late October. It's basically a colorized and otherwise slightly tweaked version of the original, though it also tosses in a new infinite mode for good measure.

If I had my way, I'd be ably to play both iterations of Tobu Tobu Girl on my Switch (or even my trusty 3DS), but since that's unlikely to happen in an official capacity, I'll keep plugging away at it on my hacked Wii. It's not the optimal solution for me, but the alternative--not playing this classic-in-the-making at all--is just not an option.

World of Final Fantasy Maxima (PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One)--I started through this enhanced version of World of Final Fantasy early in the year with fairly low expectations. Though I'd heard good things about the original release from folks whose opinions I respect, I couldn't help but think it wasn't going to be my cup of tea. Without mincing words, the non-chibi character designs horrified me and the battles--featuring party members with captured enemies stacked perilously on their noggins--baffled me.

Well, neither of those niggles bothered me at all after I spent a couple hours with the game. Which isn't to suggest World of Final Fantasy Maxima is without issues, mind you. In fact, I've found it strangely rough around the edges for a Square Enix product so far.

Still, Maxima's many charms--including the baffling battles I mentioned a few sentences ago, curiously enough--have outweighed its handful of blemishes to this point (my playthrough is hovering at 26 hours), so I'm hopeful that will continue when I circle back to it in the new year.

See also: 'My favorite games of 2018 that aren't Black Bird or Sushi Striker'

Thursday, December 19, 2019

My favorite games of 2019: Lapis x Labyrinth and The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince

If you had told me this time last year that I'd declare Lapis x Labyrinth and The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince my favorite games of 2019, I'd have laughed in your face.

Back then, these Nippon Ichi Software-made games were barely on my radar. I wasn't even sure I was going to buy the localized version of Lapis x Labyrinth. And though I'd already placed a pre-order for The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince by that point, I had a sinking feeling I wouldn't enjoy it.

All those fears flew out the window within minutes of starting The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, and within a few hours of doing the same with Lapis x Labyrinth.

Warming up to and falling in love with The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince was easy. Everything from the start screen, to the opening cinematic, to the introductory tutorial, to the music that accompanied them set the perfect tone for what was to come.

So, what was to come? About five hours of blissful platforming and puzzle-solving.

Actually, it isn't the platforming and puzzle-solving in The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince that's blissful. It's the whole package.

On their own, neither of the above-mentioned components are overly impressive. The platforming in this game pales in comparison to that of CelesteHollow Knight, or even Super Mario Bros. The same can be said of its puzzle-solving elements and those of that sub-genre's stand-outs.

These shortcomings are easy to excuse when they're combined with The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince's story, characters, and atmosphere, though. In that context, they feel like two important-but-far-from-vital parts of a charmingly interactive fairy tale.

Still not seeing why I consider The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince to be one of my two favorite games of 2019? How about this: I can't stop thinking about it. Even after finishing it twice.

Also, I've spent more time thinking about The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince this year than I've spent thinking about Ghost Trick, Last Window, or Mother 3. If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

Lapis x Labyrinth hasn't had the same long-term impact on my psyche, but it sure affected me while I raced through it this past summer.

That's chiefly because this side-scroller is one of the most visceral--or maybe I should say instinctual--titles I've ever experienced. In fact, once I came to grips with Lapis x Labyrinth's controls and gameplay loop, I made it through the remainder of its frantic, frenetic adventure almost on auto-pilot.

A case in point: after a surprisingly short getting-to-know-you period, whenever "ENCOUNTER!!!" flashed on the screen to alert me of yet another enemy swarm (spoiler: this happens a lot), my fingers basically took over and did what was needed to rid the stage of them.

To be totally honest, I'm not used to feeling so skillful or powerful while playing a game. I usually feel like an oaf--particularly during side-scrolling action titles (a category that aptly describes Lapis x Labyrinth) that require perfect jumps or precise timing.

As such, you might think Lapis x Labyrinth's stressful, stay-on-your-toes action would've worn me out after a while. It didn't. On the contrary, I loved it. So much so that I stuck with it long enough to see its credit roll and put nearly 30 hours into it along the way.

It just hit me that what I've said so far may help you understand why I named Lapis x Labyrinth one of my favorite games of 2019, but it doesn't really help you understand what it's all about or even how it plays.

I'll try to tackle that in an upcoming post. For now, though, hopefully the following description will do the trick. In my mind, Lapis x Labyrinth is one part Etrian Odyssey, one part Muramasa: The Demon Blade, one part Mystery Dungeon "monster house," and one part slot machine.

Actually, I could toss in a couple more games here, like World of Final Fantasy, but I figure that would make things more confusing.

Honestly, it's too bad NIS America didn't put a Lapis x Labyrinth demo on the PlayStation Store, the Switch eShop, or even Steam. Telling people it's an exhilarating, side-scrolling, treasure-collecting dungeon-crawler only goes so far with most folks.

Still, if what I've said here, or what you see here, piques your interest at all, you could do a whole lot worse than take a chance on Lapis x Labyrinth at some point in the new year.

See also: 'Black Bird and Sushi Striker, my favorite games of 2018'

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Mini-reviews of the 19 games I finished in 2019, part two

My last post featured mini-reviews of 10 of the 19 games I finished this year. Here are some similarly succinct write-ups for the remaining nine titles I completed in 2019.

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (DS)--I first played and finished Hotel Dusk: Room 215 back in 2015. I wish I could give you a good reason as to why it took me until 2019 to play and finish this follow-up, which released in 2010. The best I can come up with is I wanted to savor the experience and felt like I couldn't do so until this year. At any rate, I loved Last Window--much like I loved Hotel Dusk. Although these two point-and-click murder-mystery titles are strikingly similar, they're just different enough to be equally enthralling. There's no question in my mind that I'll replay both--many times over--in the coming years.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)--Given my love of the GameBoy, it probably seems strange that I didn't play Link’s Awakening back when the original version released in 1993. I did download the GameBoy Color DX version from the 3DS eShop a few years ago, but I only put a couple of hours into it before walking away for some reason I can't remember. So, what did I think of this Switch remake? I liked it. I wouldn't say I loved it, though. That's mainly because I regularly had to refer to a guide to figure out what to do or where to go next. I also found the game a bit disjointed. All in all, it was far from a turd, but it also didn't live up to my expectations--or to my previous, more positive experiences with the series' first release, A Link to the Past, or even A Link Between Worlds.

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince (Switch)--I did more than finish this Nippon Ichi Software-made game once; I finished it twice. That's how much I enjoyed The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince. What was it about it this darkly cute puzzler-platformer that prompted such adoration? Its touching, fairy-tale-esque story was the chief culprit, though its unique gameplay, soothing tunes, and eye-catching art style played key roles, too. By the way, I'm far from done with this title, which also can be played on the PS4 and Vita (though the latter was a Japan-only release). In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if I beat it a couple more times in 2020.

Luigi's Mansion 3 (Switch)--I developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with the 3DS port of the original Luigi's Mansion when I played through it last year. Did the same thing happen when I played through Luigi's Mansion 3 this year? I'm sad to say it sort of did. On the love side, there are the Pixar-worthy graphics, the beautifully varied floor themes, and the surprisingly creative puzzles. On the hate side, there are the frustrating controls and the occasional lack of direction. In the end, I'm glad I bought, played, and finished Luigi's Mansion 3, but I'm not sure I'll ever return to it.

Mother 3 (GameBoy Advance)--Those of you who've known me for at least a little while should be well aware of the fact that I'm a late bloomer when it comes to Nintendo's  deservedly ballyhooed Mother series. I didn't play through its second entry, called EarthBound in my neck of the woods, until 2014. And I waited all the way until 2017 to do the same with the original Mother. I adored both titles, so I approached Mother 3 with the highest of expectations. Although I can't say it disappointed me, I can say I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. The chapter structure kind of turned me off, plus I thought it felt a tad padded. That said, I have every intention of replaying it at some point down the road--after I've replayed the first two Mother games, of course.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Switch)--I hate to admit this, but sometimes the hype surrounding a game turns me off to the point that I stubbornly ignore it. That's what kept me from playing classics like EarthBound and Undertale for so long, and it's what kept me from diving into the Ace Attorney series, too. As was the case with those aforementioned titles, I'm now hitting myself for my stupidity. I can honestly say I loved nearly every minute of the 20-ish hours I put into the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Switch port this spring. If I had known its characters, soundtrack, and writing were so brilliant, I would've raced through it when the DS port made it way stateside back in 2005.

Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure (DS)--I avoided this DS port of Nippon Ichi's PlayStation RPG from 2000 for ages because the word on the street was that it was filled with game-killing glitches and bugs. I finally threw caution to the wind and picked up a copy this summer, though--in part because my curiosity got the best of me, and in part because I desperately wanted to play a short game for a change. Well, guess what? The risk paid off. I had a blast with Rhapsody. Its colorful cast of characters--the fiendish Etoile, in particular--was the highlight for me, but I also got a kick out of its puppet-focused battles and its Easter-egg aesthetic.

Touch Detective (DS)--Despite my years-long fascination with developer BeeWorks' Funghi mascot, I didn't play the game that birthed it until early 2019. My thoughts after putting over seven hours into said DS title (which was just enough to reach its end credits)? Touch Detective is the definition of "mixed bag," though for me its positives outweighed its negatives. As for its bright spots: those would be its marvelously weird aesthetic, characters, and mysteries. Admittedly, that last component confounded me more than I'd usually like, but it didn't annoy me here as it often does in similar situations.

Unou no Tatsujin: Soukai! Machigai Museum (DS)--This game was renamed QuickSpot when Namco released it in North America. I bought a copy of the Japanese version--hey, it's got the better cover illustration--after some folks on Twitter recommended it. A few bucks and about a week later, I was done with it. Don't take that as complaint. I was done with it because I'd gone through all of its spot-the-difference stages (or whatever you call such things). Yes, this is a digital, dual-screened photo-hunt game. Sounds like I real snooze, I know, but it's actually quite nice--thanks in large part to all the lovely art packed inside it.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Mini-reviews of the 19 games I finished in 2019, part one

Back when I was a teenager, I finished a ton of games each year. These days, I'm lucky if I can beat even a handful.

Well, except for the last two years. In 2018, I finished 15 games. And I've finished 19 games so far in 2019.

I enjoyed every single one one of those games, so I thought I'd share mini-reviews of them in a pair of blog posts. Here's the first batch; look for the second in a few days.

A Witch’s Tale (DS)--I approached playing this role-playing game with the lowest of expectations thanks to the fairly terrible word of mouth that surrounds it. It didn't take me long to develop my own, far more positive opinion of A Witch's Tale, though. I'd never call this touch-heavy offering a classic, don't-miss DS RPG, mind you, but I think it's both unique and fun enough to warrant a playthrough or two if you still own (and use) one of Nintendo's dual-screened systems.

Another Code (DS)--You may have heard that this point-and-click adventure, known as Trace Memory in North America, is on the short side. Well, it is. In fact, it took me less than five hours to reach Another Code's end credits. That said, it packs a lot of intrigue, not to mention interesting puzzles, into the brief, coming-of-age journey of its heroine, Ashley Robbins. One thing I would recommend to folks who've yet to play any of now-defunct developer CiNG's DS games: start with this one, then move on to the far superior Hotel Dusk and The Last Window at a later date.

Crimson Shroud (3DS)--Although I bought this Yasumi Matsuno-helmed RPG the day it hit the 3DS eShop back in late 2012, I barely put more than a few minutes into it until early this year. I guess all the talk about it being inspired by tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons intimidated me a bit? I needn't have worried. In the end, I found Crimson Shroud to be a thrilling change of pace. OK, so a few battles near the end aggravated me, but not so much they caused me to walk away in a huff. I did feel a bit, well, huffy after watching the game's initial ending sequence, but even that didn't ruin the otherwise-lovely experience for me.

Ever Oasis (3DS)--This 2017 release was made, in part, by Koichi Ishii, who also had a hand in such gems as Secret of Mana, that game's sequel (Seiken Densetsu 3), and one of my all-time favorite RPGs, SaGa Frontier. Ever Oasis resembles the first of those titles, but it's far from a copycat. Unlike that 16-bit classic, this overlooked 3DS gem includes town-building, material-gathering, and quest-fulfilling components. To learn more about those and other aspects of this game, check out the blog post I published a few months ago, "A whole lot of thoughts on Ever Oasis for the Nintendo 3DS."

Final Fantasy Tactics A2 (DS)--Here's another DS title I long avoided because of the negative word of mouth that surrounds it. Now that I've played it, I'm baffled as to why so many others pooh-pooh A2. Sure, its vibe is decidedly different from that of the original Final Fantasy Tactics, and it's quest-based rather than story-focused, but I found those changes refreshing rather than off-putting. Actually, the only issue I had with Final Fantasy Tactics A2 was its annoying final boss--and that's a complaint I could level at most Square Enix RPGs I've bothered to finish.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (DS)--People have been begging me to play this Shu Takumi-directed adventure game from 2011 for ages. Now that I've done so, I can understand their passionate pleas. For whatever reason, I always assumed Ghost Trick was just Ace Attorney with a different coat of paint. Instead, it's more of a puzzler. With an amazing art style. And an impressive soundtrack. And a surprisingly touching story. What I'm trying to say here is: if you've yet to play it yourself, do so as soon as possible.

Katamari Damacy Encore (Switch)--As much as I love the original PS2 release of Katamari Damacy, I rarely pull that system out of the closet these days. I play my Switch all the time, though, so you know I jumped all over this port--especially since it's portable. (I pretty much only play portable systems at the moment.) The eight hours I spent with it were among my most joyous of the year, as far as the time I spent with games were concerned. As a result, I sincerely hope Bandai Namco gives us a Switch port of We Love Katamari in 2020.

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn (3DS)--I know a lot of people reacted to the announcement of this barely enhanced portable port of Kirby’s Epic Yarn with a shrug or a sigh (if not worse), but my own response was far more positive. Granted, I adore both the original Wii game and the 3DS system, so the idea of playing through the former on the latter sounded like a dream come true. And you know what? That's basically what it was for me. The only way I could've loved it more would've been if it had included new stages or been playable in 3D.

Kirby Triple Deluxe (3DS)--Despite my love of cute games, I've never been the biggest Kirby fan. I had such a good time with Epic Yarn, Return to Dream Land, and Planet Robobot, though, that I broke down and bought a copy of Triple Deluxe early this year. I didn't find it as thrilling as I found Epic Yarn or Planet Robobot, but I still had a blast with it. It felt like a portable Return to Dream Land, and that was more than fine with me.

Lapis x Labyrinth (Switch)--I hemmed and hawed a lot before buying this Nippon Ichi Software title. Why? The main reason was preview trailers made me think Lapis x Labyrinth's gameplay might not be my cup of tea. My reticence seems silly now. I loved nearly every second of the 30-ish hours I put into this frantic, side-scrolling dungeon-looter. I get the distinct feeling it's one of those "not for everyone" titles, but it definitely was for me.

See also: 'Mini-reviews of the 19 games I finished in 2019, part two'

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Six reasons I'm thrilled I finally got off my butt and played Last Window: The Secret of Cape West

I've had a copy of Last Window for ages. I honestly can't remember when I bought it, but this old post says I picked it up shortly after its European release in 2010, so I guess it's been about nine years?

Why did it take me so long to play it? For starters, it took me a long time to play its predecessor, Hotel Dusk: Room 215, too. That Nintendo DS game came out in early 2007, yet I didn't start my way through it until the summer of 2015. (Check out my thoughts on Hotel Dusk.)

That playthrough took me just over 17 hours, by the way. My recent-ish Last Window playthrough took just under 15 hours.

On a related note, I loved nearly every minute of the 15 or so hours I spent with now-defunct developer CiNG's Hotel Dusk sequel. Here are the main reasons why:

Kyle's not the only one with a pissy attitude

Kyle's pissy attitude--If Last Window's protagonist, former detective Kyle Hyde, were an actual person, I probably wouldn't like him very much. He grouchily reacts to almost every situation with suspicion, annoyance, and alarm. That wouldn't sit well with me in real life. Within the context of this game, though, it's not such a big deal. Actually, I found it eye-rollingly and even endearingly humorous whenever I encountered it here.

The hilariously dramatic "Game Over" scenes--Few events in the world of video games tickle me as much as botching a puzzle or interaction in Last Window (or Hotel Dusk) and then seeing Kyle's head drop, the screen darken, and the words "Game Over" burn into the screen. Why is this funny, you ask? Because these "Game Over" scenes usually pop up after you've done something that barely qualifies as dramatic, like putting your foot in your mouth during a conversation. Kyle's over-the-top reactions seem ridiculously silly in such cases.

Kyle and his daily cup of joe

The in-game cafe's coffee obsession--My second-favorite component of Last Window, after its predictably sublime soundtrack (see below for more on that), is its head-scratch-worthy obsession with coffee. Kyle regularly visits Lucky’s Cafe, which is conveniently situated on the ground floor of the Cape West apartment complex he calls home. On several occasions, he actually parks his butt in a booth and orders something to eat and drink from proprietor Sidney or his daughter, Claire. This is when you're hit with a charmingly fetishistic description of how the cup of coffee that eventually comes out of the kitchen was sourced, prepared, and savored. It's weird, not to mention a bit unrealistic (Lucky's is an aw-shucks diner set in 1980), but it's also pretty cute.

The lounge-y, jazzy soundtrack--Just like its predecessor, Last Window is crammed full of laid-back tunes that set the perfect mood for a week, or at least a few hours, of sleuthing. It also serves as a fitting accompaniment to the game's chill aesthetic, setting, and overall vibe. Actually, the same qualities that make the Last Window OST a joy to listen to while playing the game make it a joy to listen to when you're done with the game, too. In fact, I often put it on while I'm working, reading, or simply looking to relax and wind down for the day.

No, this is not supposed to be an example of Last Window's Christmas setting

The Christmas setting--Yep, Last Window takes place around Christmas. It begins right before that holiday and ends just after it. The game hardly shoves that fact down your throat, but there's enough evidence to it lying around to make it obvious. As a total sucker for (almost) all things Christmas, I appreciated the subtle shout-outs while working my way through this point-and-click adventure.

The intriguing mystery--Oh, right! The story. How could I forget about that? Well, although I wouldn't say Last Window's story is as captivating as the one that drives its predecessor, I would say it more than does the trick. And I'd make a similar statement about this sequel's cast of characters. They're not as colorful, interesting, or mysterious as their Hotel Dusk counterparts, in my humble opinion, but they're also not complete duds. My favorite of the bunch: the stuffy stick-in-the-mud landlady named Mags.

Do I consider any aspect of Last Window to be a dud? Not really, though I did encounter the occasional puzzle I couldn't solve without assistance. That's par for the course with me and this kind of game, though, so I won't hold it against this one.

See also: a somewhat gay review of Chase: Cold Case Investigations ~Distant Memories~ (3DS)

Sunday, December 08, 2019

10 Nintendo DS games I want to play in 2020

I don't know what got into me this year, but whatever it was pushed me to play more Nintendo DS games than I've played since the dual-screened system's heyday.

I'll chat about those DS titles in an upcoming post. What I want to discuss today are the DS titles I'm hoping to buy and play in 2020.

Again--I've heard this CiNG-developed game pales in comparison to the rest of the company's DS releases, like Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk, but I want to play it anyway. I've loved every other title it put out before filing for bankruptcy in 2010, including the aforementioned ones, so I think it would be only fitting for me to try Again, too--even if it proves to be a disappointment in the end.

The Dark Spire--Those of you who still follow the DS probably know why I've yet to play, or even buy, this Success-made dungeon-crawler. For the rest of you, the reason is complete copies of The Dark Spire go for a pretty penny these days. Still, it's intrigued me for so long that I'm planning to bite the bullet on it sometime in the coming year--bank account be damned.

Japanese cover art for The Dark Spire

Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings--For reasons I can't remember, I avoided nearly all of the Final Fantasy and Mana games Square Enix brought to the DS. (The sole exceptions: Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light.) I guess the word of mouth on them must've been bad? Regardless, I've long thought they looked brilliant. Revenant Wings, especially. I have little idea as to how it plays, but that's rarely stopped me before.

Flower, Sun, and Rain--I bought this DS port of Grasshopper Manufacture's second-ever game (originally released in Japan for the PS2) shortly after it was discussed while recording an episode of The Nichiest Podcast Ever. In other words, it's been sitting on a shelf, sadly unplayed, for quite some time. Here's hoping I can make it the second Grasshopper-made game I've ever played--after another of its DS titles, Contact--as soon as possible next year.

Infinite Space--I've got to be honest here: I don't actually know much about this one. I know it was made (in part) by PlatinumGames. I know it was published by Sega. And that's basically it. OK, so I know it's set in space, too--hence the second part of its title. Whatever. I've heard and read such good things about Infinite Space that I couldn't help but buy it when it was reprinted a couple of years back. The current idea is to get off my butt and finally play it within the next 12 months. Fingers crossed.

North American cover art for Knights in the Nightmare

Knights in the Nightmare--Is it strange that I want to play this 2009 release even though I've never played any of Sting Entertainment's other "Dept. Heaven" titles? I suppose so. The thing is, I'm not the biggest GameBoy Advance fan in the world. (Gulp!) And though I love the PSP, I rarely pull mine out these days. In other words, it's unlikely I'm going to play the series' first two entries--Riviera: The Promised Land and Yggdra Union--anytime soon. So why not skip right to the more-accessible-for-me third (or fourth, according to the people who call the shots) entry?

Magical Starsign--Here's a game I bought after asking folks on Twitter to name some underappreciated DS titles. I'd always liked how it looked, but I'd also heard rumblings that it was boring. When a few of the aforementioned social-media acquaintances suggested otherwise, though, my wariness toward this Brownie Brown-developed role-player dissolved like a Kool-Aid packet into water. Helping matters: even new copies of Magical Starsign are fairly cheap at the moment.

Magician's Quest: Mysterious Times--You might think that, given my love of the Animal Crossing series, I'd have played this Konami-published knockoff by now. Well, I haven't. That's mostly because I've never liked its aesthetic, if I'm to be honest. Still, I'm in such a DS mood these days that I'm seriously considering games that previously failed to attract my interest. Magician's Quest may have to wait until late in the year to be played, however, as Animal Crossing: New Horizons is sure to take up all of my life-sim bandwidth from spring to autumn.

North American cover art for Mystery Dungeon

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer--Full disclosure: the only reason I don't already own this iteration of the vaunted Shiren the Wanderer series is its hideous North American box art (see above). Also, this isn't the kind of game someone like me is even going to attempt to play through in Japanese. (That region's cover illustration is leagues better than ours, naturally.) I'm going to push my prejudices aside, though, and nab a copy soon so I can see how it stacks up against the other Mystery Dungeon games I've enjoyed to date.

Nostalgia--This is another game I've waffled on buying for ages. Still, I'm thinking of flopping over to the "buy" side of things in 2020 for two reasons. One is that Red Entertainment, of Tengai Makyou fame, had a hand in making it. Another is that the similarly talented Matrix Software helped with its development, too. I have a feeling Notalgia won't live up to the pedigrees of either company, but I'm willing to take a chance on it anyway.

See also: '15 Nintendo DS games you should think about starting in honor of the system's 15th anniversary'

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

A few impressions of and pieces of advice on the recently released Romancing SaGa 3 remake now that I've put more than 20 hours into it

My original plan was to wait until early 2020 to buy the recently released Romancing SaGa 3 remake. Everything changed, though, when Square Enix slapped a 20-percent discount on this long-awaited role-playing game during its launch window.

Still, I assumed I wouldn't actually play it for weeks, if not months--what with Pokémon Shield's imminent arrival (at the time) and all. Boy, was I wrong. Romancing SaGa 3 dug its hooks into me within minutes of being booted up for the very first time.

Over 20 hours later, I'm thoroughly enjoying it and ignoring the new Pokémon title.

Why am I enjoying this Romancing SaGa 3 remake-remaster-whatever-you-want-to-call-it so thoroughly? Here are the main reasons, plus a couple of complaints that, if addressed, would prompt me to like this pixelated adventure even more than I already do.

Oh, and I'm tossing in a few pieces of advice at the end as a bonus--just in case any of you decide to buy it down the road as well.

I love how the map opens up as you talk to NPCs--I'm sure other RPGs have utilized a similar system, where you only gain access to towns and dungeons and other locations after a non-player character (NPC) mentions them, but this is the first one I've played. There's something surprisingly thrilling about exiting to the world map and seeing a new area or two pop up out of nowhere, begging to be explored.

It's worth playing for the weird potential party members alone--My current Romancing SaGa 3 party includes a blue elephant, a pink-haired fairy, and a bard who bears a striking resemblance to Final Fantasy IV's Gogo. And they're only the tip of the iceberg here. Additional options include an anthropomorphic snowman, a similarly human-esque lobster, and a Batman wannabe. Eat your heart out, bog-standard JRPGs.

"Sparking" new skills here is as exhilarating as it is in every SaGa game--Admittedly, it isn't as exhilarating as it is in SaGa Frontier, or at least it isn't to me. But there's no denying my heart skips a beat whenever a little lightbulb appears over the head of one of my party members, alerting me to the fact that he, she, or it is about to learn a new battle skill. My only complaint is that I wish it would happen with more frequency. I've gone through a lot of dry spells so far in my 20 or so hours with the game, and that's not only unacceptable, it's boring.

Although I appreciate that Romancing SaGa 3 is mysterious, I wish it would explain things a bit more than it does--You've probably heard that this game, like its predecessors and successors, has the barest of stories. It's true, but that honestly hasn't bothered me much. Far more irksome has been that it's often similarly tight-lipped about how things like magic and combo attacks operate. Some of it can be sussed out via trial and error, but not all of it. Harrumph.

I wish the town music was more varied--I adore Romancing SaGa 3's soundtrack on the whole, but something that really bugs me about it is a good number of towns feature the exact same background tune. Even worse, that particular song is my least favorite of the ones I've heard up to this point.

Where's the fast-forward button, Square Enix?--Both Bravely Default and Octopath Traveler let players speed up battles with the touch of a button. Why on earth doesn't Romancing SaGa 3 allow the same? Especially since it features the slowest fights of this trio of titles. These lackadaisical battles aren't dealbreakers, mind you, but they do get a tad boring now and then.

Has what I've said thus far got you itching to pick up a copy of Romancing SaGa 3? If so, keep the following pieces of advice in mind as you continue to contemplate your purchase--or as you start your way through the game (if it's already taking up space on your PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Vita, or phone).

If you hate RPGs that lack explorable overworlds, look elsewhere--I enjoy racing across an ever-changing overworld as much as anyone. That's not something you get to do while playing Romancing SaGa 3, however. Instead, you get to choose between icons--representing caves, forests, towns, and the like--unceremoniously plopped onto a map. It's kind of a bummer at first, but it saves time in the long run, so I personally consider the whole she-bang a wash.

Also look elsewhere if you absolutely need a grand story in your RPGs--Most SaGa games aren't story-focused affairs. Romancing SaGa 3 is no different. That doesn't mean it's story-free, though. In fact, it offers up plenty of little snippets of stories through the numerous quests it tosses your way. Many of them are surprisingly unique for the genre, too, so if you're at all open-minded in this area, give the title a go despite the fact that its gameplay isn't tied to a novel-worthy tale.

Try not to psyche yourself out--Yes, Romancing SaGa 3 can be obtuse. And yes, Romancing SaGa 3 can be difficult. It's not so obtuse or difficult that it's impossible to finish, though. In fact, if your first playthrough is anything like mine has been so far, you'll enjoy long stretches when the proceedings seem positively ho-hum. So don't keep the game at arm's length simply because you're scared it'll be too much for you.

Prepare to see your party wiped out a lot--Part of the fun of playing a SaGa game, in my experience, is tucking into dungeons or taking on bosses you know nothing about and seeing how you fare. That often results in your ass being handed to you, admittedly. As such, try to embrace dying in Romancing SaGa 3. It's going to happen a lot, no matter what you do. Accept rather than fear it and you'll get a lot more enjoyment out of the experience.

Don't worry about grinding--One of the main things that's made me wary about playing both Romancing SaGa 2 and 3 is the oft-repeated warning that grinding in either game can be a bad idea. As in, grinding does more than toughen up your party members; it toughens up enemies, too. Well, here's some good news for you: while that's true--to a point--you shouldn't have to worry about it much. Although there are no random battles in this game, you'll be forced into them regularly enough that grinding is sure to be the last thing on your mind.

Embrace FAQs and walkthroughs--Going through a game blindly is an admirable feat. That said, I wouldn't suggest doing so with Romancing SaGa 3. Not only will it make your journey a lot more challenging, but it'll likely cause you to miss a bunch of cool characters and quests along the way as well. This blog is a great source of information, as is this shrine.

See also: 'Five reasons I would've paid full price for the Switch version of Dandy Dungeon if Onion Games had forced me to do so'

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Manual Stimulation: Osawagase! Penguin Boy (GameBoy)

Osawagase! Penguin Boy's in-game graphics are cute as a button.

The same can't be said of this 1990 release's box art, which I find almost bizarrely ugly.

In fact, I found it so off-putting when I first bought my copy of the game that I waited over a year to open its instruction booklet--because I assumed it, too, was hideous.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Osawagase! Penguin Boy manual may not qualify as a stunner--like the manuals made for Bubble Bobble, Ghostbusters 2, and Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru surely are--but it's lovely nonetheless.

One reason for that is the manual made for Osawagase! Penguin Boy, renamed Amazing Penguin when it hit the streets of North America in 1991, kicks off with a multi-page comic. Yes, à la the Snow Bros. Jr. manual.

Said comic looks pretty hilarious, too. Not that I full understand everything that goes on within it, mind you.

Still, the high-quality illustrations nearly make the entire package--and I'm including the box and game cartridge here--worth the price of admission all on their own.

Interestingly, the Osawagase! Penguin Boy manual waits until the sixth page to detail the game's story. I guess its designers really wanted to rope in readers with the comic strip.

Next, we have some explanation as to how Osawagase! Penguin Boy plays. It's a fun little game, by the way, if you've yet to experience it for yourself. It's a bit like Taito's Qix, though cuter and more energetic.

Also, you get to kick objects at on-coming enemies in Osawagase! Penguin Boy. It's surprisingly satisfying.

Speaking of satisfying, that's just one of the words I'd use to describe the manual spread that showcases Osawagase! Penguin Boy's enemies. I mean, what's up with that bear character? Is he riding a cloud, or a baguette? Also, props to the bird boss exclaiming, "Love and Peace!"

Sadly, I have no clue--or little clue--as to the focus of these last two pages. I know the header on the left-hand page says something like "First Present!" but what does that mean?

If any of you have a better understanding of Japanese than I do (not a high bar to clear, if I'm to be honest) and can educate the rest of us as to what's going on in the final spread of the Osawagase! Penguin Boy instruction booklet, I'd be beyond thankful.

See also: the Japanese Penguin-kun Wars Vs. and Penguin Land GameBoy manuals

Thursday, November 21, 2019

15 Nintendo DS games you should think about starting in honor of the system's 15th anniversary

It's hard to believe the Nintendo DS came out 15 years ago today.

Some of you may be surprised to hear I haven't been playing this dual-screened, touch-enabled system since that date.

The truth is, I waited a couple of years before jumping into the fray. In fact, I waited until I was about to head out on a business trip and worried I'd be bored during my down time, so I bought a white DS Lite and a copy of Animal Crossing: Wild World to keep lethargy at bay.

It didn't do the trick. Nor did it transform me into a Nintendo DS fan. What did? I honestly can't remember. All I know is I turned a corner at some later point and never looked back.

I've bought and played and loved a ton of DS games in the ensuing years. The ones named and discussed below are among my favorites.

If you're looking to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Nintendo DS' release, I'd highly recommend starting one--or more--of them as soon as you can.

A Witch's Tale--Although the word of mouth on this game is pretty poor, I had an absolute blast with it last month. It's a role-playing game with turn- and touch-based battles plus a few other interesting twists. It's also fairly short, especially as far as RPGs are concerned. The cherry on top of this pixel-filled confection: the protagonist is a girl. A bratty girl at the beginning, to be sure, but her attitude improves by leaps and bounds as A Witch's Tale progresses.

Contact--I finally played this Grasshopper Manufacture-made game (after keeping it at arm's length for ages) because I liked its EarthBound-esque aesthetic and its European cover art. I quickly discovered that it plays nothing like Shigesato Itoi's classic. This ARPG manages to hold its own anyway, though, thanks in large part to its intriguing, fourth-wall-breaking story and unique costume system.

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime--This is another of those games that I long ignored simply because it annoyed me that everyone and their mother seemed to adore it. I got over myself eventually. I'm glad I did, too, as I now consider Rocket Slime to be an all-time fave. Why? You play as one of the Dragon Quest series' iconic slimes, for starters. Plus, the writing is silly and the tank battles that end each stage are scintillating.

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light--This Matrix Software-developed game has its detractors, but it's my favorite DS RPG. Yes, it's got a few issues, which I briefly touched on in this old post, but it makes up for them with its overall appearance, its creative job system, and its ear-pleasing soundtrack. If you're looking for a role-playing game that harkens back to the glory days of Final Fantasy IV or V, pick up a copy ASAP.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective--Most folks call this Shu Takumi creation a visual novel, and while they're not wrong, I do think they're selling it a bit short with that description. Ghost Trick is more of a puzzler than an adventure game, if you ask me. After all, your main task while playing it is to, in the simplest terms possible, quickly connect dots while time clicks away. Don't worry, it's a lot more interesting and engaging--and difficult--than my pithy description here makes it sound.

Hotel Dusk--This CiNG-developed point-and-click game should've become a break-out hit like chart-toppers Animal Crossing: Wild World and Brain Age. I guess the masses just weren't interested in solving novel-worthy mysteries after they were done running errands for furry villagers and training their gray matter. That's too bad, as Hotel Dusk offers players a lot more than an enjoyable whodunit. It also offers them a fascinating cast of characters and some killer tunes.

My World, My Way--You might think of this DS title as being similar to both A Witch's Tale, mentioned earlier, and the much-maligned Super Princess Peach. It's like the latter in that both games' protagonists use their emotions to battle and even interact with enemies as well as alter their surroundings. And it's like the former in that it's a decidedly unconventional RPG. There's no real overworld to traverse in My World, My Way, for example--just small areas that open up as you complete various tasks and actions. Admittedly, this part of the game can be tedious, but you shouldn't find it so tedious it ruins the rest of the adventure.

Okamiden--Capcom may not consider this title to be an actual sequel to its highly revered, but lowly selling, Okami, but don't let the lack of a "2" at the end of its name fool you. Okamiden is a worthy follow-up to the company's original Zelda clone. There are a few elements here that are sure to give some hardcore Okami fans pause--the chibi-fied visuals, in particular. Still, the DS' touch screen is the perfect canvas for the series' "Celestial Brush," and that alone should sway most skeptics.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney--I'm sure some of you will have a hard time swallowing this one. After all, the very same game can be played on far more modern and accessible devices and systems than the DS. This is the last release of the original Ace Attorney that features pixel-based graphics, though, and that alone makes it the go-to option for folks who still have a dual-screened, Nintendo-branded handheld.

QuickSpot--A few months ago, I asked folks on Twitter to recommend some fun, under-the-radar DS titles. Two people I both like and respect suggested I try this one. And do I did, though I was hesitant at first. QuickSpot--Unou no Tatsujin: Soukai! Machigai Museum in Japan--is one of those spot-the-difference or photo-hunt games. Not exactly my cup of tea. What separates this one from the ho-hum pack is that it features a plethora of beautiful illustrations produced by the wizards at Namco. There's not much more to it than that, to be honest, but that was enough for me to spend a full five hours finishing its 100-plus stages (images?) a few months back.

Rhythm Heaven--Rhythm Tengoku diehards aren't aways kind to the series' first sequel. Me, I adore it. Sure, it's not the definition of perfection like its GameBoy Advance predecessor, but it's pretty wonderful all the same. That's especially true of this game's aesthetic, which matches and maybe even exceeds that of the original. I personally think the vast majority of Rhythm Heaven's new tap- and flick-based mini-games are stellar, too.

Style Savvy--I'm fully aware that most, if not all, of this game's sequels have surpassed it in terms of both graphics and content. Still, I think the 2009 original is worth checking out for one simple reason: you play it with your system held sideways. So, if you're like me and you're a sucker for book-style DS titles, give it a try. An added bonus: used copies are dirt cheap these days.

Tetris DS--Some will tell you the GameBoy version of Tetris has yet to be topped. Am I a member of that group? I'm not sure, to be honest. Regardless, I think the argument could be made that this DS iteration deserves the title of "best Tetris game ever," too, thanks to its Nintendo cameos, underrated soundtrack, and bevy of inventive modes.

The World Ends With You--There are all kinds of reasons you should play The World Ends With You if you haven't already. One is that it's a Square Enix title but isn't called Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, or Kingdom Hearts. Another is that it oozes style. And then there are the unique setting, the eclectic soundtrack, and the frenetic dual-screened battles. The mobile and Switch versions of The World Ends With You also feature those first two components, of course, but you'll only find the last one on this DS cart.

Touch Detective--Like a lot of people, I was first attracted to this point-and-clicker's Beetlejuice-esque art style. OK, so I also liked its anthropomorphic mushroom character, Nameko (Funghi outside of Japan), quite a bit. On a less positive note, the cases you're tasked with solving in this BeeWorks-made game can be a touch confusing. Everything else about it is so silly and charming and bizarre that I think it's worth a go anyway if you have even the slightest interest.

Are there any DS games you'd recommend that I failed to point out in this post? If so, let me know about them in the comments section below.