Monthly Archives: December 2015

December Update: Pokemon Picross and Nintendo Badge Arcade

 

Honestly, I’m a fiend for Picross.  Picross DS was a major time suck in my life many years ago.  I’ve actually considered a lot whether that game was an unhealthy obsession.  I would turn on the game expecting to kill maybe ~10-15 minutes solving one or two puzzles, but I would get caught in a loop where after beating a puzzle, I would think to myself “just one more!”  Suddenly, entire hours of my afternoon would disappear, and I would wonder how I let the time go.  The term “addictive” gameplay is often considered a positive remark toward a game, but sometimes I’m not so sure it should be.  After Picross DS, I tried to attack the sequels with a little more moderation.  Picross 3D came out when I was busy writing my dissertation, and I went “Nope! Not touching that!” out of fear that it would be too much of a distraction.  I have played the first Picross e game released on 3DS, however.

Pokémon Picross logo.png

For those unfamiliar with the Picross series, the games are collections of a type of logic puzzle called nonograms.  Nonograms are kind of like crosswords or sudoku in that they were originally printed puzzles found in things like newspapers and booklets.  The game is played on a square grid where the numbers attached to each column and row are used to deduce which squares of the grid should be filled in by the player.  The idea is that, when all the correct square spaces are filled in, they should form a crude picture.  There’s something about nonogram puzzles that make them more suited for video game form than its counterparts like sudoku, and that’s something Nintendo realized a long time ago as the Picross series started on Game Boy in 1995.

Pokemon Picross introduces its own wrinkle into the series.  The puzzles form pictures of pokemon monster and upon completion that pokemon becomes a part of the player’s collection.  Collected pokemon can then be added to the player’s “party” and can be used to help solve other puzzles with their hint abilities.  These abilities include , for instance, revealing the correct squares for a given column or auto correcting a mistake made by the player.  As far as I can tell,  use of the abilities is entirely optional.  Hardcore players who want to tackle the game with pure logic need not use their pokemon.  The monsters are differentiated by which ability they can use as well as the number of times the ability can be used during a given puzzle and the length of the subsequent cooldown timer.

This game is advertised by Nintendo as “free to start,” and features an in-game currency called picrites and an energy meter which depletes as squares are filled in so that each time the player fills in a square (correctly or incorrectly) the meter goes down by 1.  The meter will slowly recharge over a period of a few hours, meaning that if you run out of energy in the middle of a puzzle, you’re going to have to give up on it.  Mercifully, each puzzle says upfront the minimum amount of energy required to reach the solution assuming the player makes no mistakes.  Picrites can be spent to refill the meter with no wait or upgrade its length.

Picrites are really how Nintendo intends to make money off the game.  The puzzles are divided into stages called “areas,” and after beating the puzzles in a given area, the player must spend a fairly hefty amount of picrites to unlock the next one.  The player will receive a few hundred picrites for completing the tutorials, but afterwards earning picrites in-game slows to a trickle.  A small amount of picrites can be earned once each puzzle by completing certain special objectives such as solving it within a certain time limit.  There’s also a daily challenge that can be completed once per day for a small amount of picrites.

Unfortunately, I think most players will hit a wall at around area 5 where they will need to buy picrites to progress, because the trickle they’ll receive from the normal levels and daily challenges just aren’t enough.  Mercifully though, there’s a spending limit on how many picrites you can buy which is about $30.  After you spend that amount, it is my understanding you’ll be able to withdraw unlimited picrites for free from the shop.  

For as much of a fiend as I am for Picross, I don’t think I’m going to go much farther with Pokemon Picross.  I don’t really know if the Pokemon hook really creates a meaningful enhancement to the game, and there are several Picross e games available on the eshop for much less than $30.  And like I said, in the past I’ve had a bit of an unhealthy fixation with Picross, and I find it somewhat of a mercy that Nintendo created such a convoluted paywall as it deters my temptation.  Nonetheless, if you like Pokemon and are curious about Picross, I would at least give the game a shot as it’s free-to-start.  I will also say that there does appear to be a ton of content here as there are a total of 31 areas that have about 5-10 puzzles each plus various types of special puzzles, so I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who ends up spending money on the game.

In contrast to Pokemon Picross, Nintendo Badge Arcade is a game I feel like one can enjoy pretty easily if they choose not to spend any money or perhaps only a few dollars.  Badge Arcade allows 3DS owners to win virtual “badges” for their systems, which are icons of various Nintendo properties that can be used to decorate the 3DS home screen.  These badges are won via 2D crane games (sort of like UFO Catchers) where the goal is to get the badges to fall into pits at the bottom of the screen.  The player scrolls a pincer across the top of the screen that is used to grab onto badges, but it’s not necessary to actually grab anything with them pincer, you just merely need to get the badges to fall into the bottom of the screen.  So, for instance, if the badges are stacked on a slope, grabbing one of the badges at the base of the slope can cause a chain reaction that lets the others slide off.

The game is free-to-play with it costing $1 for the player to get five tries.  However, each day you get five free tries on the “practice” catcher.  You don’t get to keep the badges you win during practice, but if you do well enough you can win free plays on the real catchers.  I can pretty reliably get at least one free play a day, often two or three.

Image result for Nintendo Badge Arcade

The badges that are available to win are changed out every few days and are often sprites or artwork from popular games like Mario Maker, Mario Kart, Kirby, Zelda, Animal Crossing, etc.  I appreciate that they also have had badges from lesser known Nintendo series like Pushmo and Box Boy.  My favorite badges have so far been the 8-bit sprites from various NES games that they put up to promote NES Remix.  The weirdest badges I’ve seen were a set of pixelated tropical birds that, as far as I could tell, had nothing to do with any Nintendo franchise.

Weird as it is, I really enjoy this game.  It’s something I usually spend a few minutes playing each day (really as much as I can do with the free plays).  I’ve only actually bothered to spend a few bucks on it to get all of the Super Mario Bros. 2 badges that were a part of the aforementioned NES Remix promotion.  Otherwise, I just try to get as many badges as I can with the free plays.  There’s very little pressure to spend any money.

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Holiday Travels Gaming: Mario & Luigi Partners in Time and Rayman Legends

Thanksgiving and Christmas always mean handheld gaming for me, as I have to make a long arduous journey southward to visit my parents house where I grew up.  I always stress out over which few games I’m going to carry along with me.  I have no idea why I do this.  I don’t put nearly as much time into thinking about clothing or the other things I need to pack. 

I’ve often mentioned my love of the Mario RPG series here on the blog.  I’m excited for the release of Paper Jam, but it’s still over a month away here.  It’s already out in Europe and Japan, but I suppose Nintendo of America feels that Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon just came out and releasing any more games for this holiday shopping season would be just a little too generous to its fans.

Mario & Luigi - Parnters In Time (box art).jpg

Anyway, during the break I decided to player Partners in Time which is the second Mario and Luigi RPG game.  This is the only Mario and Luigi game I’ve never played.  I didn’t get to play it when it was originally released on the DS, and, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever saw a copy of the game on store shelves.  I can only assume it was a very limited release.  I had to ebay the copy I’m playing on now.  

The plot of this game begins with Professor E. Gadd (of Luigi’s Mansion and Mario Sunshine fame) demonstrating his new time machine at Peach’s castle.  An excited Peach travels alone to the past to when she was an infant, but when the time machine returns to the present, Peach is missing, and in her place an alien monster jumps from the machine and attacks the castle before being neutralized by Mario and Luigi.  The brothers, E. Gadd and Toadsworth learn that Peach has been kidnapped by alien invaders who are running amok in the Mushroom Kingdom of the past.   Why no one in the present remembers this alien invasion that took place in the past is never explained…….

As a result of damage to the time machine, time holes to the past begin appearing across Peach’s castle which the brothers to search the past for the princess.  There they meet up with the baby versions of themselves that were first seen in Yoshi’s Island.  For most of the adventure, the babies ride piggyback on their adult counterparts, but they can also detach and head off on their own.  This is important as they are capable of reaching areas that the big bros can’t such as by crawling through tiny holes in the walls or being lofted up onto high ledges by the adults.  This is used to create some interesting mechanics in the dungeons.

There are two pillars of M+L that I think are the critical factors in making the games so special.  The first are the turn-based battle systems which incorporate timing and reaction-based elements which makes enemy encounters quite a bit more stimulating to me than what is encountered in typical Japanese turn-based RPGs.  The second is the humor and offbeat imagination found throughout the series.  There are just so many funny and clever characters and situations found in these games.  

I’ve heard more than a few people call this the most boring and uneventful game in the M+L series.  Now I’m only a handful of hours into the game so far, but I’m having a hard time understanding that position.  In terms of the pillars I’ve outlined above (humor and battle system), I would put it (so far) on the same level as Superstar Saga (the first game), which isn’t too far behind Bowser’s Inside Story.  The babies don’t really add much to the battle system, but they don’t really detract anything from it either.   And one thing I really appreciate is that the game packs a lot more references to the various Mario spinoff games than other titles in the M+L series.  Professor E. Gadd is one of my favorite Mario spinoff characters, and he plays a fairly important role in guiding the brothers in this game.  I’ve also seen references to other “deep cut” games like Yoshi’s Cookie and both the Japanese and American versions of Super Mario Bros. 2.  Kamek also has a funny little “ohhhh….. it’s you kids again” moment when he first encounters the baby brothers for the first time after trying to kidnap them in Yoshi’s Island.

So far, I’m looking forward to completing this game.  Also during my break a few weeks ago, I got into Rayman Legends on Vita.  I really enjoyed Rayman Origins, but I think Legends may actually top it.  I think the art is a significant step up as it features a level of embellishment that wasn’t present in Origins.  But more importantly, there’s just something about the level design in Legends that is more “fast and free” than Origins.  I’m afraid I have a hard time articulating my feelings on what I mean by that.  I think it’s because I always felt a little bogged down searching for the caged electoons in Origins, while their counterparts in Legends, the captured Teensies, are significantly easier to find.  The result is that you can move through the levels at a faster pace that results in more satisfying platforming.  Also, there’s not as many swimming levels which I found to be a huge relief.

I’ve let too many weeds grow in this blog for the past month, but I hope to get back on a (semi)regular posting schedule soon.  Thanks to you all for reading!

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