Thursday, January 16, 2020

My unasked-for review of Hey! Pikmin: I liked it, I really liked it!

I bought Hey! Pikmin a couple of years ago when retailers were selling copies at a fraction of their original asking price.

It's been sitting in a drawer ever since it arrived on my doorstep, though, because the negative word of mouth that surrounds this side-scrolling Pikmin spinoff convinced me it was a dud.

What prompted me to slip my Hey! Pikmin cart into my flame-red 3DS at long last? This recent write-up played a role, naturally, but so did my desire to play a DS or 3DS game that wasn't an RPG.

Hey! Pikmin fit that bill as well as any other game in my collection, so I started my way through it late last week. Five days and just about 13 hours later, I was done with it--final boss, credit roll, and all.

Although this post's headline should make it pretty clear how I feel about the time I spent with Hey! Pikmin, I'm guessing most of you would like to know a little more about those feelings than just, "I loved it!"

For those folks, here are some of the positives--and negatives!--that stuck out at me while I traipsed my way through Hey! Pikmin.

Hey! Pikmin pros

It looks great--Visually, Hey! Pikmin reminds me of Yoshi's New Island. Which makes a lot of sense, as developer Arzest made both of these 3DS games. Don't fret if you despise New Island's aesthetics. Not only are the graphics in Hey! Pikmin more consistent than those of its Yoshi-starring counterpart, but they're more consistently pretty, too.

The puzzle-centric gameplay is refreshingly unique--At times, Hey! Pikmin feels like it began life as a Kirby or Yoshi game. An example: you use the Pikmin you collect here to defeat enemies and solve puzzles, much like you use eggs to complete those same actions in your average Yoshi title. Overall, though, Hey! Pikmin's gameplay differs just enough from that of the aforementioned counterparts to feel unique. There's no real "platforming"--or even jumping--in this spinoff, for starters. Also, the pace is a lot slower and more deliberate than it is in most Yoshi and Kirby games. And then there are the eponymous, carrot-like creatures, which, as you might expect, provide their own twist to this well-worn genre.

It's almost blissfully short--When I was younger, Hey! Pikmin's brevity would've caused me to blow a gasket. These days, short games thrill me. I no longer have the time or attention span to play more than a couple of super-long games each year. So, Hey! Pikmin was perfect for me in that regard.

Another way it was perfect for me: it didn't overstay its welcome. You might be thinking, "Of course it didn't, you only played it for 13 hours!" My response is that if Hey! Pikmin had included one more sector (world), even one more boss, it would've actively annoyed me. In other words, it basically ended right around when I thought it should. How many times does that happen with modern games?

Also, it's perfect for short bursts of play--If you, too, prefer games that allow you to plug away at them a little bit at a time, you should track down a copy of Hey! Pikmin pronto. Assuming you're still in the mood for 3DS titles, of course. Most Hey! Pikmin stages can be finished in just a few minutes. And most sectors can be finished in an hour or so. It all makes for a pretty wonderful situation if you don't have a ton of free time and you're not a huge fan of games that take months to complete.

I'm pretty sure I'll replay it sooner rather than later--And that's not something I say about a lot of games these days. So why am I saying it here? Because I'm already looking forward to experiencing certain Hey! Pikmin levels a second or even third time, that's why. I'm especially looking forward to revisiting the frosty stages of the "Snowfall Field" sector--like the one that tasks you with controlling Olimar and his pluckable, pint-sized crew while sliding down a mountain atop a bottle cap.

Hey! Pikmin cons

It chugs a bit on an OG 3DS--It's possible Hey! Pikmin is like Poochy and Yoshi's Woolly World and performs better when played on a New 3DS. My only experience with the former title to date, though, is on an OG 3DS. And when played on an OG 3DS, Hey! Pikmin's frame rate struggles a bit on several stages. I'd even go so far as to say it struggles mightily on a few. That's never really bothered me, strangely enough, but I know it bugs others, so I thought I'd point it out here.

It's pretty easy--You know how in most Kirby and Yoshi games, the real challenge comes from nabbing all the collectibles in a stage or finishing a level without taking a hit? Well, the same is true of Hey! Pikmin. If you hate that sort of thing, you'll probably hate this side-scroller, too.

Too few stages force you to use multiple kinds of Pikmin--Considering Hey! Pikmin features five different Pikmin types, you might think it would be chock-full of levels requiring you to use all, or at least several, of them. Nope. The majority only let you use one or two. Just a handful let you use three, and I can't think of a single one that lets you use all five. A missed opportunity, if you ask me.

A number of stages are locked behind Amiibos--Of all the negatives I'm highlighting here, this one irritates me the most. Actually, it's the only one that irritates me, period. Thankfully, most--all?--of the Hey! Pikmin levels that are locked behind Amiibos seem to be of the "secret spot" variety. Meaning they're single-screened, puzzle-centric stages rather than full-fledged ones. Still, it's beyond annoying that you need to own Amiibos to access them.

See also: 'Five Nintendo 3DS games I want to play in 2020'

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The good, bad, and ugly of Heroland (or, why I'm thinking of walking away from this oddball RPG after putting 20-plus hours into it)

The topic of this post may surprise those of you who noticed that I named Heroland in my "favorite games of 2019 that aren't The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince or Lapis x Labyrinth" write-up.

Don't get me wrong, I stand by its inclusion there--despite the fact that I'm giving serious thought to pulling the plug on my lengthy Heroland playthrough well in advance of the game's end credits.

How could I both enjoy this unique PC, PS4, and Switch RPG--called Work x Work in Japan--and bounce off it before encountering its credit roll? That's what I'll hopefully explain here.

The good

Physical copies come with a frickin' instruction manual--And not only that, but Heroland's manual is pretty nice. It's 25 pages long, printed in full color, and filled with a ton of lovely illustrations. Oh, and it's small enough it actually fits in the game's case. I wouldn't suggest buying a physical copy of Heroland just so you can flip through this booklet whenever the urge arises, but it sure is a nice bonus if you purchase one for at least a couple of other reasons.

It dares to do things differently--I love role-playing games to death, but even I think they can be a little too samey. Well, Heroland approaches the well-worn genre from a unique angle. I guess I should've expected that. After all, it was made by folks who previously worked on Fantasy LifeMagical Vacation, and even Mother 3. Heroland doesn't play like any of those titles, though. It's actually kind of--gulp!--mobile game-esque in its design. To advance the story, you take on quests that revolve around guiding four-person parties through areas of a theme park. Said park has an RPG theme, so naturally it features battles with baddies. (Though the baddies here are just other humans in costumes.) Being a guide, you don't do any fighting yourself; rather, you bark out orders to customers who paid to partake in such tussles. That probably sounds boring to a good portion of you, but I've found it fairly fun so far.

Heroland's soundtrack is surprisingly magical--Or maybe I should call it sneakily impressive? I say this because Heroland's OST didn't strike me as superb right away. It wasn't until a couple of days after I started playing it, when I realized I was humming the game's main battle theme, that such a thought entered my head. On a related note, Tsukasa Masuko's work here is more playful than serious or somber--appropriate, given Heroland's amusement-park setting.

The bad

Everyone in Heroland talks too much--Everyone except the silent, afro-coifed protagonist, that is. I'm not always keen on silent protagonists in games, but Heroland's thrills me. I mean, if ol' Lucky (that's the main character's name) added his two cents to every conversation, this role-player would be even more blathery than it is already. Oh, well, at least Heroland's wall of text is witty.

I wish its developers would've gone further with the board game-esque playfields--Although it's possible things open up in this regard as Heroland approaches its denouement, I'm not betting on it doing so. Assuming I'm right, that's a real shame. While the game changes up its sorties now and then by tossing new environments and enemies at the player, they otherwise remain disappointingly straightforward. Personally, I would've loved it if the playfields that serve as the backbone of Heroland's silly quests were filled with twists and turns--or at least a few more slight bends.

The ugly

Battles don't become a whole lot more strategic or even interesting after the five- or 10-hour mark--Though there's more depth to Heroland's skirmishes than the game leads you to believe early on, things seem to level off in that regard once you're a few hours into its story. Admittedly, I'm still enjoying them quite a bit, but I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy them a lot more if I could make even a couple more choices while telling the park's customers what to do against the horde of adorable enemies they encounter during their Heroland adventures.

It lasts way too long--When I started playing Heroland, I assumed it would take me 15 to 20 hours to finish. Around the time I hit the 15-hour mark, I asked folks on Twitter how long it took them to beat the game. The answer I received shocked me: over 40 hours. Twenty hours in, I've long since forgotten the thrust of Heroland's story--which suggests to me it's already gone on far too long. How on earth am I supposed to give it 20 more hours of my time?

See also: 'A few impressions of the recently released Romancing SaGa 3 remake now that I've put more than 20 hours into it'