Which Console should you choose for portable gaming?

Why consoles? They are purpose-built for gaming.

The eternal question – what is the best gaming platform? The right question, as always, is what is the best gaming platform for you. Game exclusives are a thing on consoles more than PC, but they are a thing. If you have your heart set on playing Halo, you need an Xbox. Marvel’s Spider-Man? PlayStation. Mario/Zelda games? Switch.

This exclusives situation is partly why a lot of console gamers have a ‘big’ console and a portable. Or in other words, a PS4 or Xbox and a Switch.

Console gaming isn’t cheap, but it is less expensive than PC gaming. The cost of two consoles is comparable to a low to mid tier PC setup in terms of price. I am not recommending that you need to buy two consoles, but this is why a lot of the gamers you see on YouTube and the like have this kind of setup.

But that is what works for them – what about you? Did you decide on where you want to game?

Initially, I was going to do all of the consoles today in one piece. That was going to be a long read again, and I want to avoid that. So today, I am concentrating on the first type of console gaming – portable gaming.

Gaming on the go – The Nintendo Switch

Without playing on your phone or investing in some niche products, the Switch is the best console to take your games with you for playing anywhere.

Sure, technically there you can play on a gaming laptop, but they aren’t as portable as a Switch. Can you imagine setting up your computer on the bus?

The Switch eShop has a heap of PC indie games that are finally getting recognition on the Switch. There is also the first party Nintendo line up. A lot of people have complained that a lot of the Switch releases are ports of the Wii U games, and there is validity in that. But as the Wii U sold so badly comparatively speaking, a lot of great games just never got played.

Switch on a plane
My Switch has helped with many a plane flight, both during and before! Image Source: Nintendo

There are a couple of downsides to gaming on the Switch though. The first is the price. Nintendo games, especially first-party titles, rarely drop in price. Breath of the Wild is about $10-15 less now three years after it’s initial release. Compare this to games on PC, PS4 and Xbox, and you can all but bank on the game being 2/3rds to half the original release price!

The beautiful thing about the Switch is playing in handheld mode, the game runs the same on the Switch or the Switch Lite, as they are the same hardware. 

But aren’t the graphics on the Switch only 720p? Why would I want such a bad resolution?

This is where you shouldn’t always look just at the numbers. The Switch doesn’t have the same graphical or computational power as the PS4 or the Xbox. Even most lower end PC Graphics Cards can do better than the Switch Graphics. This isn’t really the point of the Switch though.

You won’t see Ray Tracing on the Switch anytime soon. Photorealistic graphics don’t run as smoothly on Switch as it’s more highly powered bretheren. That doesn’t mean that the Switch has bad graphics though.

I usually trip up ‘graphics snobs’ on YouTube with a simple search. What do I look for? Check out how much fun they have with Minecraft. If you ever wanted to watch people have fun with ‘basic’ graphics, there is a stellar example.

Asphalt 9
OK, it's no Gran Turismo. But Asphalt 9 still looks amazing, even on a 1080p screen.

A trick that Nintendo uses in their games is the art style. By not trying for realistic hair and fabric movement, they don’t need as much horsepower as other consoles. The graphical presenation of games like Breath of the Wild isn’t purely an aesthetics choice – it helps performance as well.

The 720p limit is also mainly imposed on handheld mode. How much detail can you actually see on a 6″ screen? When playing docked, most games are played at 1080p. Why can you only play 1080p in docked mode?

Battery life mainly. By not having to push as many pixels, the Switch doesn’t need as much power. This means that in handheld mode, it doesn’t run as physically hot or need as much power as in docked mode.

Luigis Mansion 3
Lower the scale, improve the quality. The reflections in Luigi's Mansion are an integral mechanic.

AAA games with photorealistic (or close to it) look amazing. I am not trying to say they don’t. But I have played a heap of graphically amazing games that are boring. It comes down to one simple question.

What’s more important – a great game, or great graphics? Of course we want both ideally. But if you look at games like Fez, Papers Please, Dead Cells or Celeste, you can’t tell me they are graphically impressive.

So it’s a case of picking your target. Yes, if a game is on PC, PS4, Xbox and Switch, the Switch will look graphically ‘poorer’ – but as long as it plays well, how important is it to you? This is where if you need better and smoother graphics, you need to sacrifice portability. At least today. Improvements continue all of the time, so better will always be around the corner.

After all that, there are two choices with the Switch – the Switch and the Switch Lite. It’s that simple. Both have the same game-playing hardware but differ in accessories and what they can (and can’t) do.

Let’s look at the Switch

The Switch comes with two detachable Joy-Cons, which you can use in a lot of games to play multiplayer with one Joy-Con each. 

The Joy-Cons also give you the benefit of motion controls and the rumble feature. Now for a lot of games, this is a pretty optional (some say gimmicky) feature. For many games, this isn’t a problem. But if you want to play Mario Party, prepare to shell out for some extra controllers to play the game at all!

It also comes with a Dock, meaning you can connect up your Switch to your TV and play in 1080p – the same base resolution as PS4 and Xbox.

So you can sit and play Breath of the Wild or The Witcher 3 (or any game!) on your couch on your big screen. When you have to go somewhere, pick up your Switch and keep playing on the go. It’s that simple. No syncing saves via Nintendo Online, no changing graphical settings, it just works.

Nintendo Switch
All the basics are included in the box

Now let’s compare the Switch Lite

The benefits of the Switch Lite are pretty simple. First off is the price – the Switch Lite is about AUD$150 cheaper. You also have almost everything you need in a smaller package, more comfortable to carry around with you. Battery life is even better on the Switch Lite.

There are drawbacks, though. Want to play on the TV? Sorry, you can’t just buy a dock and expect it to plug straight in. The functionality isn’t built-in.

The lack of Joy-Cons also means that you can’t just hand a friend a controller for some spontaneous Mario Kart. Some games, like Mario Odysee, also shine with motion controls – in my opinion anyway. You can remedy this by buying Joy-Cons, but that starts getting expensive as we will look at in a minute.

Nintendo Switch Lite
The console. For portable gaming, it's all you need.

Must have accessories (Both Systems)

An SD card. The Switch comes with 32ish GB of intenral storage you can use, but a lot of games will eat through this storage very quickly.

Don’t get sucked in to the ‘Switch’ branded memory cards though. They work well, and are a safe buy, but you are buying a standard SanDisk SD card with Nintendo’s licensing markup included.

If you want a safe buy, stick with SanDisk SDXC cards. You should be looking at about AUD$80 for 128 GB models. You can save some money and get smaller cards, but they will hold fewer games.

Nintendo cartridges are doing a bit of a sneaky. The cartridge has some of the game on them, but get you to download the rest of the game. There is no cost to do this other than internet use, but many people expect the game to be on the cartridge.

You can switch SD cards as well, so if you end up with a lot of games you can use this function for managing your storage.

Swith Memory Card
Retailing for AUD$59, you can get the same capacity Samsung Evo Plus for AUD$30

If you are playing portably, I would also recommend a screen protector and a case – just like your mobile phone.

I would suggest a budget of about AUD$60 for both a screen protector and a case, but this amount will change depending on the case you want to get. Bottom line is almost all cases are fine and will do the job, it’s a personal choice for the look you want. I only advise against cases that are fully soft (you can scuinch it up in your hand), as this reduced the protection for your Switch. Again, this is a personal choice though – a soft case might fit nicely in a pocket in your backpack.

The good news is you can’t really go wrong here. If the case holds everything you need, and you like the looks, it’s the right case. You can just protect your console, or get messenger bags dedicated to carrying all of your equipment. There are even lots of choices in between.

Switch Dock Case
You can get cases to take your entire setup, or just the console itself. It all depends on what you need to carry with you.

So which should I buy?

If you only play games on your own or online and don’t mind not being able to play games on your TV, then have a good look at the Switch Lite. If you have smaller hands and the portability is important, the smaller sized Switch Lite will probably be better for you to carry around. Also, if you want to play on longer trips a lot, the better battery life can’t be underestimated.

As a general recommendation, I would say stick to Switch. Why? The flexibility and included experience you get all included. And in total, it works out pretty cheap in comparison.

Yes, battery life isn’t as good – don’t forget that catch. But I like playing on my TV, and I can only do that with the Switch. I am a taller guy, so the larger Switch is still pretty easy for me to carry and play on.

There is also to me the Switch’s better value. Yes, it’s $150 more expensive, so saying it’s good value seems counterintuitive. But if you add Joycons to play multiplayer and motion control games with, that’s an additional AUD$120 you are looking to add. All of a sudden, it only costs you $30 to play on the TV! Playing Mario Kart multiplayer is a lot easier on 40″+ screens than the Switch’s 6ish” screen (depending on Lite/Switch).

Switch TV Frame
You don't need to go to this extreme, but I still think it looks amazing! Image Source: geekologie.com

Even if the dock did work with the Switch Lite, a dock by itself is also AUD$120, so in total that would be an extra $90 over just buying the Switch.

As always, it depends on your use scenario. The Switch Lite is excellent, and I can see why it works well for some people. If you are looking at it from a particular perspective, it makes a lot of sense. But hopefully, now you can see how the cheaper console isn’t always the most economical choice.

Wait, so the Switch is my only choice? What about the retro handheld consoles, or the 3DS? 

2DS XL
The last generation of 3DS ditched the 3D, but plays 99% of all the games
Evercade
This is one such Retro Handheld that has caught a lot of attention

So why I am not talking about the 3DS is simple – it’s an all but dead system. I am not saying they are bad consoles; just they are becoming a niche purchase.

Right now, if you can find a new 3DS on the shelves, you will probably be looking at only a little lower cost than a Switch. People aren’t releasing new games for the console anymore, not really.

Not only are the consoles hard to find, but games are a mixed bag as well. There is a heap of cheap DS games at my local EB Games, for example, but I don’t want to play many of them. All of the DS games I want to play I already own, and I still intend to make my way through the games I haven’t finished.

Some games though I am putting off for the Switch rerelease. One such game is Xenoblade Chronicles. I enjoyed what I played of it, but I was nowhere near finishing it! I can play the new streamlined and visually upgraded version on the Switch, on a much bigger screen – even if I don’t play it on my TV!

Retro handheld consoles are also a mixed bag, both in experience and legality. I am not trying to say that such consoles are illegal, but many of the more popular ones come with some undoubtedly illegal game versions.

These retro consoles also tend to require a lot of user tweaking for the best experience. A lot of the retro consoles I would recommend are locked to only a few titles, and this is done so you can pick a game and play. These offer the most hands-off experience, but only for certain older games.

Playing these older games have their place in what people want to play, and if you have any interest, I encourage you to give them a try. Seeing where elements of game design started, and how much we still owe to ‘old’ games is eye-opening.

Retro gaming is great, but for the majority of people aren’t what people are talking about when talking gaming. Besides, if you look through the Switch eStore, you will see a lot of these retro games designed to work well on the Switch as well! And if you are into modding and other ‘advanced’ tricks (and have the time to research the pros and cons), you can get the same emulators running on the Switch as well. That I will leave to others to explain.

Questions?

Hopefully, that helped you work out which Switch Console works for you. If you have any other questions, drop me a comment below or on Facebook. I have tried to keep everything pretty general, but if enough specific issues come up I am happy to look at particular situations!

Thursday I will be looking at the ‘big two’ – PlayStation vs Xbox, and if you need to spend the extra on the Pro or X versions.

Until tomorrow and the Yeti hunt,

JohnHQLD

The next big video gaming choice: Where do you want to play?

Switch on a plane

It’s not quite time to be talking hardware – there are other things to keep in mind still

Welcome back! So now you know we will be looking at the first step of hardware choices. Where do you want to play?

Most people will be saying “At home”. The gaming den is the dream of gamers everywhere. But this isn’t always the case. Spend a lot of time on public transport? That time could be spent gaming! Or maybe you catch up with friends for a LAN party regularly? Some people even need to move on short notice, and large gaming desktops computers do not like being transported easily.

This goes with your mindset. This is probably the most significant overlooked criteria I see when people look at what they want to do. It’s great to know you want total immersion, but if most of your free time is when you are out and about gaming on a desktop is all but out.

Switch on a plane
My Switch has helped with many a plane flight, both during and before! Image Source: Nintendo

There is no right answer here, it’s all about the right solution for you. So let’s have a look at some starting choices we will be building on as Talking Tech continues.

Some solid starting choices

Looking at all of the available games is daunting. Knowing what you want to play is even worse. Different people have different tastes. I love RPGs, and I am lucky that I can play them on almost anything. But how do you know what you want to play? 

Unfortunately, it’s like movies, books, music, or even cars – until you try them, you don’t know for sure. And you can’t try them until you make an investment. Of course, if you know someone that plays games and can try them out on their machines, it helps. But it’s not always that easy.

So if you are looking at playing a wide range of games, below I have some reliable starting places that you can look at as a safe starting choice. 

These aren’t recommendations – don’t look at them as such. But these will let you look at some options and the costs involved to get started from scratch and a feel for budgets, and we can build from here going forward.

At home gaming only

Bang for buck starting out, I would suggest an Xbox One S and Game Pass subscription. You can play hundreds of games for $15 a month (for ultimate), keep some freebies and try lots of different types of games.

Why do I recommend Ultimate Game Pass? It comes with Gold, which gives you free games each month for the extra $5. Plus right now, I can crossplay games with my desktop!

If the game is a Microsoft Game Studios one, you can even play it at launch on Game Pass. Look at spending AUD$400 + Game Pass subscription to get a good starter and excellent gaming experience.

Xbox One S Starter Pack
Xbox has starters and the digital only console. Every saving has some form of extra price.

You would have seen many headlines that PlayStation ‘won’ this console generation. While true in sales, that’s not really the whole story. I prefer PlayStation as a platform (I am a PlayStation fanboy), and it has more exclusive games than Xbox. That alone doesn’t make it the best console out there, but you can’t go wrong either.

PlayStation provides a great gaming experience, and you can usually get deals on the base PS4 and a couple of games for $500. Add $80 a year for PlayStation Plus, and you will get to keep a couple of new games each month as a part of the deal. If you want to dip your toes into VR as well, PlayStation is your console choice.

Today, you get access to some fantastic exclusive titles as well – more about that later.

PS4 Starter Pack
Starter packs are a great way to save a little money, but you still spend more

You can’t really go wrong on either platform unless you must play a title exclusive to one over the other. Have to play Halo? Don’t buy a PS4.

Looking for the Switch? Well, I consider the Switch a portable, even in docked mode. Check out ‘Gaming on the go’ for some Switch thoughts 🙂

For more power, choice and flexibility you would be buying/building a PC. You can get a system with a GTX 1660Ti/RX 5600 graphics card that will rip through games at 1080p for around AUD$2,000. This includes a monitor, keyboard etc. – the computer itself will be around the $1500 – $1600 mark. You can still take advantage of Game Pass, plus have access to Steam Sales and GoG.com which has great titles for much less than the console equivalent. Even Epic gives away a free game a week.

Does a system like that have all RTX this and 4K HDR that? No. But then again, I haven’t talked about the PlayStation Pro or the Xbox One X either. The highest performing graphic cards cost AUD$1400+ by themselves!

Basic Gaming PC
No flashy lights and bling, but works well (once you put the side panel back on :p )

Everything I have outlined here is for what I consider a solid baseline experience – 60 frames per second for smooth gameplay at 1080p (Full HD) resolutions. I wouldn’t look at anything less than these choices for a great experience. There are exceptions, but these are niche situations and should be looked at as such. For example, I would love a multi-game arcade cabinet at home, but I can’t play Resident Evil 3 on it!

Can you do better? Yes, in every single case. But future articles will start explaining these options.

Gaming on the go

If you want something you can take with you, then primarily you are looking at a Nintendo Switch or a Gaming Laptop.

For the Switch, budget about $330 for the Switch Lite (handheld only) or $500 for the version you can plug into your TV for choices. Add $60ish for a case and screen protector – you want to protect your portable! It’s a vague amount because the case you like could be cheaper or more expensive. They all do the job at the end of the day.

Then add about $80 per game you want to buy. Switch Online gives you some classic games, but no new titles like Sony or Microsoft. The Switch is a great platform, and quickly became one of my favourites. The downside is that games for it are expensive compared to every other platform.

The Switcher
Yes, there are compromises playing on a 'weaker' platform. But there are positives as well!

For a Gaming Laptop, I would budget for about $2,000 – $2,500 for similar specs to the gaming desktop I talked about before. It will still rip through games at 1080p and has all the same benefits as the desktop. It won’t be quite as fast performance-wise as the desktop though.

Don’t get put off by this statement – a lot of people talk down about laptop performance, and the hate talk is not justified. The differences in many titles will be within a couple of percent of frames showing per second (think the smoothness of gameplay). This difference is for a bunch of good reasons, and I will be making a comparison between Desktops and Laptops in a couple of weeks.

Asus Gaming Laptop
Looks and size are a big part of the price, but if you want to pick it up and game, laptops are always there

Portable means you can game almost anywhere, you just need power and maybe internet access.

The thing to remember though is if you want portable, you sacrifice computing and graphical power, and pay a premium. The same goes for the Switch compared to PS4 and Xbox by the way!

The trade offs for a Switch vs Xbox/PS4 are pretty obvious, but it’s still a great experience. I know a lot of people (and roll my eyes at lots of comments) that complain the Switch doesn’t have 4K HDR. It could, but you would be carrying around something the size of laptop anyway! It’s all pros and cons.

Another portable console that gets shunned by the general gaming community is your phone. Yes, I said it. Your phone can be an awesome gaming platform!

Will it play the latest games at fast frame rates and have all the bells and whistles? Nope. Mobiles rarely have the newest AAA games released on them. Gaming will eat through your battery as well. But a lot of us have pretty high-end phones we purchased on a contract.

But if you just want to check out Fortnite? You probably already have a way sitting in your pocket!

Rog Phone 2
You don't need this phone specifically, but gaming on mobile is fun

For playing on your phone long term, I would probably suggest investing in a Bluetooth controller. The PS4 DualShock works well for about $90. There are lots of different controllers but think of the DualShock as a reliable general choice.

So how do I know what I want to game on?

Really, it comes down to what you want to play. 

If you want to play first-person shooters, adventure games or role-playing games? Good news – you can play on pretty much anything. Real-time strategy? Not many come to console, but they exist. Personally, I prefer PC – keyboard and mouse is still better than controllers. 

The release of the Epic Store has introduced confusion because Epic has paid companies to only release their games on the Epic store. Mostly it’s what is known as a timed exclusive, meaning that you can only buy and play it from Epic for 6-12 months. Want to use your Amazon gift card to buy it? Sorry. You can’t. Well, not for a while at least. And then you have to get it when some other game you want to play is being released. This is a big part of the ‘uproar’ of Epic Games.

This has gone against the industry trend as a whole. Microsoft Game Pass (yes, I keep going on about it) is releasing Xbox games on PC. Older games need work most Xbox games aren’t available. Still, going forward Microsoft has been releasing their games made by Microsoft Studios to work on PC and Xbox. So in a few years, you won’t necessarily need an Xbox to play console games – your ‘gaming PC’ and Game Pass could be all you need for any Microsoft games.

Epic Games Store
Choice is rarely a bad thing, but gamers can be very vocal in their disapproval

Before last year, if a game came out on PC, it used to be on PC. Steam is the defacto PC store, and you could buy it there digitally. You could still buy it from other places though – you didn’t have to buy it only from Steam. Go anywhere that sold physical versions like EB Games, Amazon, JB Hi-Fi and you got the same thing. There are services like EA Origin that only sold their titles. Still, they didn’t have such a significant impact across so many titles. Eventually, such services ended up releasing simultaneously on other platforms such as Steam anyway because sales suffered.

These days, a lot of games come to both PC and consoles across the range. The idea of ‘exclusives’ are both dying off and taking strange turns locking you in, which does make choices confusing for new shoppers.

What are exclusives? Generally, it means a title tied to one platform. If you must play Horizon: Zero Dawn or Marvel’s Spider-Man you need a PS4. Your choice is really between buying a PS4 or PS4 Pro. Want to play Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? Buy a Switch. It’s not on anything else.

Cyberpunk 2077 Preorder
Apart from First Party (Hardware Makers) titles, it's rare to not be able to play on a lot of platforms these days

Even Sony has started to back down on its exclusives. Death Stranding is coming to PC, and rumours of Horizon Zero Dawn are out there as well. True, this approach isn’t as aggressive as Microsoft, but the fact they are backing down at all is a significant step for them.

Streaming is another factor in all this, but not one you need to worry about today. What streaming means is you can play games from your subscription on almost anything. As I said, for today, don’t worry about it. The tech is still new and not widely available, so while it’s coming don’t be put off by the next big thing. We will get benefits down the line, just not quickly enough you need to prepare for it.

How does this help you pick what you want to game on? If you don’t know what you want to play, you need a platform with the most choices for games.

Project XCloud
Streaming will mean you don't need specific hardware - but it's a ways off yet

As a rule of thumb, PC has the most comprehensive selection of popular games, followed by PlayStation with their exclusives, Xbox, and then Switch. Each platform has strong titles only available on that platform. Unless you need to play that one particular game/series, don’t let it be the only thing that guides you.

But now I am even more confused!

Possibly. And I am sorry about that. There is a lot of information and choices to take in, especially in one go. But what I have outlined today is only a small amount of the possibilities out there. The amount of choice is staggering. Even veterans get confused at this stage. I promise this is the only time I will have so many options laid out like this.

Not every choice is viable for everyone. If you only want portable gaming, then you can see there are only a couple of easy options now. You can get cases with screens for making your PS4 and Xbox portable. You can get small form factor desktops with handles to take with you. There is still more to think about, but if you want quick and easy, hopefully, the choices aren’t as intimidating now. All the other stuff is extras, like getting customisations on your car.

If you only want to game and/or keep costs down, consoles are a great choice. If you have spent a lot on a work desktop system, you can just add a better gaming graphics card. You might be surprised at how many games a ‘work’ laptop can actually play! All of this I will be breaking down in the coming weeks.

We need to know what you really want your experience to be so that you can explore the options that best suit you. Next week, we will take a look at console gaming in more detail.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Witcher 3 on PC, or Switcher 3 play anywhere? Why choose?

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt Title Screen

Don’t toss your Switch to your Witcher!

The Witcher 3 Complete Edition on Switch got it’s 3.6 update yesterday. CD Projekt Red had been saying the update would be ‘worth the wait’, and boy was it for me!

I own The Witcher 3 on PC, PS4 and Switch. And yet I haven’t played more than a couple of hours. Not becuase I don’t want to – quite the opposite in fact. I really want to be able to sit and dedicate hours to playing it.

So recently I bought The Witcher on Switch because I can take it with me. Yes, I take graphical hits etc., but the fact I can fire it up and do a side quest on my lunch break or two is worth it.

Yesterday the 3.6 patch was released to the world, and one unannounced but asked for feature has been added. Cross Saving!

It is limited to PC and Switch at the moment, which is disappointing for those that play on consoles. Hopefully this is still being worked on if this is you!

For me, I can now play The Witcher 3 at home on my PC with all the bells and whistles active. When I head out, I can now download my save from GoG.com (Steam is also available) and continue in handheld mode. Best of both worlds!

Witcher 3 Cloud Save Menu
Hopefully PSN and Xbox can be added to this list soon

Wait – download your saves?

Yes. The system isn’t perfect, but it is a lot better than not being able to at all. You have to download your save from GoG.com or Steam, and manually upload them again when you are ready to switch back.

This means for me worst case hotspotting my Switch to my phone for the download if wifi isn’t available. As saves are only a couple of megabytes, it’s not too bad. Annoying, but as I said a small hoop to go through.

So what else is in the patch?

You know those ‘graphical compromises’ people keep talking about? Now you can tweak your graphics! I probably won’t mess with this too much, but you can now tweak your settings.

I haven’t tested the patch yet to see if it changes between handheld and docked mode, but I would be surprised if it doesn’t tweak itself accordingly. After all, if you are playing docked you don’t have to worry as much about heat and battery life!

There are also other optimisations to help with frame rate issues and the like, as well as more language options. Probably my favourite feature is adding touch control support for Gwent, the in-game card game.

Witcher 3 Switch new graphical options
OK, so not an exciting screen in itself. But you can now tweak the settings like other platforms
Simulate Witcher 2 Saves
Well, I don't need this screen anymore!

But now I have a new problem!

And it’s a doozy.

Now that I can import my Witcher 2 save into The Witcher 3, which one do I choose? It will be fun to play and see the outcomes of my previous choices. But what to choose?

Oh, curse you first world problems!

What do you think? Was this an update worth waiting for? Or are you a console player that has been left out? Shout out in the comments or Facebook!

Until tomorrow,

JohnHQLD

Last Week’s Gaming – February 17th, 2020

One Deck Dungeon Game Start

Well one game got me really suckered in this week

It looks like another Video Game heavy week, but I played about 9-10 hours of One Deck Dungeon this week! It definitely helped with my ‘Play 250 games’ progress this week! Just look to the right for how that is tracking 🙂

Enough of all that though, on to what I have been playing!

One Deck Dungeon

I have been meaning to get to One Deck Dungeon for a long time. A lot of people have told me how great a solo game it is, but I always had something else to play. Well I fixed that this week, and I played it a lot. Fifteen times, to be exact.

It’s a solo dungeon crawl experience that plays with some tokens and a deck of cards. I played a few times with the physical version, and a few times on the Steam copy I have had for a while.

Now that I know how to play it properly, I will probably solo it on PC. There is a lot of shuffling and turn order things to keep straight, and the digital version handles all that. But beware – the first few run throughs are tough. Expect a full review soon.

One Deck Dungeon - Dragon run complete!
This was a hard slog, but my two adventurers won through

Onitama – Android

As usual, I played some Onitama again when I had a bit of downtime during the day at work. Against the hard AI, I usually win about one third of the time. Last week I was dreaming for a win at all.

This week went much smoother – three games, two wins. Vindication!

I love Onitama as a game. You will see this pop-up in games played pretty consistantly because of this. Onirim is another favourite, but I didn’t get around to it this week.

Why do I love Onitama? Check out my review for more info!

Onitama
VINDICATION! After last week's whooping, getting a couple of wins was great

Halo – Xbox

I am running a bit of a tight rope this week. One of the reason I have trouble finishing video games is switching between games. And this week, I started two other games!

That didn’t stop me from making some progress in Halo this week, but I need to keep old habits in mind. I have gotten up to the Flood, so I’m in the ‘real’ game now I guess?

One thing that did strike me is how little Bungie level design has changed. Halo is almost 20 years old now, and yet I saw a lot of empty areas for loading like I did in Destiny 2. That’s not a bad thing as such, but it’s interesting to see how much some developers stick to what they know.

Halo
I didn't get much further in this week, but I am aiming to finish Halo before any of the other games I started

Marvel’s Spider-Man – PS4

So this week I picked up my DualShock 4 back button attachment. I was going to test it with Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order. I didn’t, as I was worried about getting sucked into it and ignoring Halo.

Ooops. Instead, I got sucked into Spider-Man. The first thing that hit me is that the official Marvel games are not using any of the MCU actors faces. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does ruin some of the immersion for me. I don’t feel like I am playing in the Marvel universe at all.

Another thing that works for Spider-Man but also against it for me is that combat. It plays like the Batman Arkham games, and I spent way too long hitting triangle to counter. This is not a move in Spider-Man!

I think I can finish Halo in a dedicated weekend, so once that is done I will be returning to Spider-Man straight away.

Marvel's Spider-Man
The photo mode is a lot of fun. How could I resist?

Resident Evil 0 – Switch

With the various eShop sales, I have been slowly building my Resident Evil collection on my Switch. Obviously it will be missing the new remakes, but for historical plays I like the idea of taking the collection with me.

Story wise, it takes place before the original Resident Evil, hence the 0 numbering. I have heard lots of mixed reviews about the game, and wanted to check it out for myself.

It has a lot of game innovations that I already appreciate, such as controlling two characters at once. That said, I am early into the game so that may be a negative later.

I don’t intend to hit Resident Evil 0 hard, but it’s a different enough game to the others that I shouldn’t get genre burn out. A couple of hours a week means this will take a long time to get through, but the puzzles so far have been challenging enough that should be enough.

Resident Evil 0
So I beat the first boss. And I did it with a knife! Out of necessity, not skill 😛

What about you?  I hope you got some great games in.  Or are you looking forward to a new one?  Let me know!  Shout out on Facebook or @JohnHQLD me on Twitter!

Until tomorrow,

JohnHQLD

Luigi’s Mansion 3 Review

Luigi's Mansion 3 Cover
Released 2019
Platform Switch
Publisher Nintendo (Website)
Developer Next Level Games (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1-2 (Campaign)
1-8 (Party Games)
Category Light Puzzler
Collection
Cute Horror Theme

Who you gonna call? Luigi! Wait, wrong franchise.

It’s an appropriate crossover, though. Luigi’s Mansion was a hit when released on the GameCube way back in 2002 (2001 for Japan). I got to play it in early 2019 when re-released on the DS. I say play it, as I started playing but never finished it. By then, the Switch was becoming my portable console of choice and other games called.

But even then, I knew Luigi’s Mansion 3 was coming. I got to pick up my copy when I got back from PAX Aus last year. And a couple of weeks ago, I finally got to enjoy it 🙂

So what is Luigi’s Mansion?

The series has Luigi somehow trapped in a situation where he needs to capture ghosts and save his friends from King Boo. Professor E. Gadd helps him in this by providing Luigi with a Pultergust – a vacuum that can capture the ghosts. Along there way there are collectables you need like keys to progress in the story. Eventually, you will work your way to King Boo and set everything right 🙂

The plot isn’t any more profound than this in any of the games. You don’t play Luigi’s Mansion for the riveting story. Luigi’s Mansion is a 3D light puzzle and collection game, and a whole lot of fun. That’s why you play it 🙂

OK, so what about Luigi’s Mansion 3?

You start the game on a bus with Mario, Peach and some Toads. Luigi has won a holiday at a new hotel, and everyone is looking forward to a well earned holiday.

Things go south quickly, and Luigi is the only one not captured in a portrait. Fleeing in a way only Luigi can, he lucks into Professor E. Gadd’s car. Armed with the Poltergust, Luigi then sets out to rescue Mario and all.

You need to get up to the top level of the hotel, but the elevator buttons have been removed. Gameplay wise, this means you have to solve the puzzles of each individual floor before beating the boss. Defeating the boss gains you another elevator button, and eventually, you unlock all the levels.

Welcome to the Last Resort
Everything looks like paradise when you arrive at The Last Resort

Unique Levels? Isn’t it a hotel?

You are in a hotel, but plenty of hotels are built around themes. Instead of having say the Disneyland Hotel with rooms tailored to different characters, the hotel in Luigi’s Mansion takes things further.

The lower levels and first few floors are standard kinds of floors. They look like most high-class hotels. Shopping, Lobby, Restaurant, that kind of thing. But as you continue to go higher, the levels take on their own themes.

Garden floors that have multiple levels, Film Studios, a Museum, even a dessert. You don’t have too long to get bored of any level. This is one of Luigi’s Mansions strengths and a weakness – the games are not very long.

Garden out of Control
The first 'strange' level is a multi level gardening nightmare

So how does a vacuum let you capture ghosts?

Simple, you vacuum them up! The ghosts themselves aren’t exactly keen on this idea. You flash them with your flashlight to expose their hearts, then you can catch them in your vacuum. Once you have them like this, but they try their best to get away from you.

When this happens, you need to pull away from them. This drains the ghost’s health, but do it long enough, and you can get a firm hold on it. Once you do, you can slam the ghost around. When you have them like this, you can slam it into other ghosts, using them as a club.

Capturing Ghosts
Watching the boss ghosts finally get caught is always fun

That sounds like it would get boring.

It does, but Luigi’s Mansion doesn’t have you doing the same thing for too long. Mostly you are exploring the floor looking for a key to get into new areas. Combat like this is all through the game, but it’s not a constant activity.

There are only a few types of ghost in the game, but they get tricky as you continue. They start wearing sunglasses, for example, so the light doesn’t affect them. This turns new encounters into mini-puzzles that need to be solved as well.

Fair enough, but just collecting elevator buttons doesn’t sound like a lot.

You need to collect elevator buttons to get through the story. But that isn’t the only thing you can hunt for in the game.

There is a bunch of cash hidden in the hotel. The more you collect, the higher your score at the end of the game. I spent a bit of time vacuuming everything and ended up with just over $80,000 collected. This gave me an A rank.

Elevator Button Acquired
Game progress is marked in how many buttons you have collected so far

With this kind of ranking system, there is usually an elusive S rank. No one is reported to have this, so I am not sure if it exists in Luigi’s Mansion 3. But if I was to replay the game, it gives me something to aim for.

There are also six gems hidden in each level. Collecting all of these gives you a sparkly plunger. Each gem is uniquely shaped based on the floor’s theme, and finding the first one got a smile out of me each time.

Once you have cleared a level, you can also go back and try and find a Boo hidden on each level. I found a couple when the mechanic was introduced but didn’t spend a lot of time hunting them down. Each Boo has a pun name. Some made me laugh, some made me groan, so the puns were spot on 🙂

Well, until I got to the second last floor. Then I went back and spent about an hour getting the boos and any gems I missed. The beauty of both collectables is that they are entirely optional. If you do decide to hunt them down, it doesn’t add much to the playtime, but it never got dull looking for them either.

Gem Display
You have standard collectibles as well.

What about the second all green Luigi? I have seen him on the cover.

This is a new mechanic introduced in Luigi’s Mansion 3. The bright green fella is Gooigi. As I was playing solo, I could use him to solve puzzles by switching control between Luigi and Gooigi.

You can also play Luigi’s Mansion with a friend. One player plays as Luigi, the other as Gooigi. If you are playing with two players, I would suggest the more experienced player plays as Luigi. Gooigi has health, but if he ‘dies’ he can be respawned very quickly. If Luigi runs out of health, it’s game over.

Gooigi taking center stage
Taking control of two characters can be a challenge, but opens up lots of puzzle possibilities

The biggest thing I grappled with in Luigi’s Mansion 3 was the controls. Mostly I could work around the sometimes overly helpful control system, except for one mandatory area.

There is a level with a lot of water that has you floating in a duck-shaped floatie. You turn left and right to pick a direction and suck or blow with the poltergust to go forward and backwards.

Going through the level, this was a little annoying but not too bad. The real hassle was with the boss fight and is the only time I stopped playing out of frustration.

B2 - the water level
While fun initially, this levels boss fight was very frustrating

Speaking of multiplayer, there are also two other games you can play – ScareScraper and ScreamPark. These are competitive and cooperative player modes to play as well. These are fun diversions, but I haven’t tried any of them yet. Not because I am not interested in trying them, I just haven’t had the chance.

Who should play Luigi’s Mansion? It doesn’t sound like a lot of game.

This is one of those questions that I get a lot but sometimes have trouble understanding. There are more narrative-driven games and games with better graphics. Not that Luigi’s Mansion 3 looks terrible, it’s just no Red Dead Redemption 2 for example.

After coming off the 80ish hour Final Fantasy XV, the relatively short 20 hour run through of Luigi’s Mansion 3 was a great palate cleanser. The puzzles are engaging without being harsh. The length of the game meant I could always be progressing. I didn’t have hundreds of side quests to distract me.

If you want to sit down for a serious gaming session, Luigi’s Mansion 3 isn’t the game. But to just sit down and pick up a fun experience that keeps you engaged, it’s just about perfect.

Just about perfect?

Every game has one big downside for me. The controls never quite seemed to work the way I expected them to. There are some motion aspects where you can tip your controls to adjust the height of what you are aiming at. This isn’t too bad, but it did take a bit of getting used to.

Once I had the boss fight worked out though, it only took me two more attempts to get through it. It wasn’t the end of the world and didn’t reduce my enjoyment overall, but if I had to pick on something, this level is the only frustrating part for me.

Overall Thoughts

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a great in-between game. If I had started expecting a long story-driven game, I would have been disappointed. Instead, you get a medium length light puzzle game with just enough elements to never get bored overall.

While I haven’t played any of the multiplayer games, I do appreciate their inclusion. It does help justify the full retail price for a short solo experience.

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  • Light hearted game play that is still engaging
  • Good balance between exploring and combat
  • Extends campaign with multiplayer party games

Cons

  • Controls can be a little tricky
  • Campaign is a short for the asking price
JohnHQLD

Pokemon Sword/Pokemon Shield review

Pokemon Sword and Shield Review Welcome
Pokemon Sword and Shield Art
Released 2019
Platform Nintendo Switch
Publisher Nintendo (Website)
Developer Game Freak (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1
Category RPG
Collectible/Set Collection

It’s a brave new world for the venerable RPG. Just not too new a world.

Pokemon games have been around for decades. Starting with Pokemon Red and Blue on the original Game Boy, the formula hasn’t changed much in almost 25 years. You take the role of a young aspiring trainer and wander the land capturing Pokemon and building your team to become the best.

Pokemon Let’s Go (reviewed here) was the first significant departure to this formula in a long time. The main storyline and quests were still there, as they ultimately a remake of Pokemon Yellow. What had changed for the first time in a long time was the capture system. It bought in the Pokemon Go style ‘throw Pokeballs at creatures until you catch them’ style play. You could also for the first time see in the world the Pokemon wandering about.

Pokemon Red Blue Gameplay
The graphics have changed, but the core game has remained largely the same

To say the reception was divided would be an understatement.

Long time fans held there breath for the first ‘proper’ Pokemon RPG for the Switch – Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield.

You keep mentioning two titles. Which game are you reviewing?

The very confusing answer to this is “Yes”. Each game has an alternate edition that includes Pokemon the other doesn’t, so you need to find players of the opposing version and trade to complete your Pokedex. While I have only played through Pokemon Shield, everything I am going to talk about is relevant to Pokemon Sword.

Pokemon Sword and Shield – the basics

Nothing has really changed here since my first Game Boy Pokemon adventure. You choose your avatar and begin your quest to become the best Pokemon trainer around.

Your ‘rival’ in this outing happens to be the little brother of Leon, the unbeatable Champion of the Galar region and final story boss fight. What is the Galar region? It’s the area you are exploring, and this time around has been heavily influenced by England. Without getting wrapped up in Pokemon lore, basically, each region of the world of Pokemon has a ‘real world’ equivalent. In most games, you explore new areas, giving a reason for new Pokemon and mechanics to exist.

At its heart, Pokemon Sword and Shield are still light RPG adventures – depending on your definition of light. The path you take is fairly linear, but you can explore the world at your own pace. The story is far from complicated but serves to keep the game going.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Hop and Leon
That's you on the Left, Hop your rival, then big brother Leon

Instead of wandering the land looking for monsters to fight, you instead battle your Pokemon against other peoples Pokemon or even wild Pokemon. You can capture wild Pokemon to complete your Pokedex (your Pokemon checklist). You can also use some Pokemon’s abilities to complete quests during the game.

The first big change – Sword and Shield differ in a little more than just Pokemon!

That’s right – it’s not only a question of which Pokemon are in each version anymore. I am not going to go into details as I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a slightly different story path in each game. You do all the same things, but you meet two different gym leaders depending on the version you play. It’s not just the leader though, it’s also the Pokemon type they specialise in that is affected.

There are also slightly different items available in each game, but this only really affects your curries which I will talk about later.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Allister
You will only see Allister, the Ghost type trainer, in Shield

None of this is worth it for me personally to play both versions, but it is nice that Game Freak is experimenting with this feature and I hope it continues.

And now you can camp and cook for your Pokemon!

That’s right – you can camp and rest with your Pokemon now. Not only that, you have some Poketoys (what else?) that lets you play with your Pokemon at camp!

But not only that, you can cook for everyone as well. This little mini-game isn’t strictly necessary, but as you find new ingredients and get better at cooking, your Pokemon see in-game benefits.

It’s a bit of fun, but not essential. My Pokemon would sometimes complain of being tired and hungry, and taking care of them increased your relationship. If you treat your Pokemon well, they are more likely to critical hit opponents or hold on with 1 health point instead of being knocked out.

You will only see Allister, the Ghost type trainer, in Shield
Some of these meals I wish I could make so easily!

I have seen this mechanic in a few games now, and I had fun playing with my Pokemon overall. Sometimes it was nagging me to camp more than I wanted to (two-minute intervals sometimes!), but camping was executed pretty well overall.

The next change – the Wild Area

After coming to grips with the game, you are introduced to the Wild Area. This is a vast open area with all sorts of different Pokemon to discover and is easier to just run around and battle in than the original games.

After coming to grips with the game, you are introduced to the Wild Area. This is a vast open area with all sorts of different Pokemon to discover and is easier to just run around and battle in than the original games.

Pokemon of a certain level tend to hang around in specific areas of the Wild Area, but not always specific Pokemon. Depending on the weather and time of day (yes, this does matter in-game now!) different Pokemon will appear.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Wild Area
Bit of fourth wall breaking there 🙂

It is also an area with a couple of mini-games, such as the Rotum Rally. Winning these games do earn you prizes, but for me, they were not essential to play. So I will say they are there, and they are fun enough but know there are little games to play. Describing them makes them sound incredibly dull, and as they aren’t essential to the game, knowing they exist is enough.

Another feature of the Wild Land is the Pokemon Dens. Here you can find watts, a type of wild area currency. But the big payoff is the chance to capture a Dynamax wild Pokemon.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Dynamax Raid
It's four on one - we can get it! Right?

Capture a dynawhatnow?

A change in combat mechanics in Sword and Shield is called Dynamax. Basically, you make your Pokemon really, really big for 3 turns of combat. They get increased health and access to special moved. You can do it once per match in specific areas.

It looks cool most of the time. There can be new animations and looks for the Pokemon, as well as unique special moves. My big issue with Dynamax is once you have seen it a couple of times, I got bored with it. Competitive play has banned its use. I am glad they tried something different, but for me, this isn’t something I hope sticks around.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Dynamax In Battle
Some of the Dynamax Transformations can be a little terrifying!

So why is Dynamax in the Wild Area important?

Ahh, here is where it does hold my interest. In the wildlands, you can team up with up to three other trainers over the internet and do a specific Dynamax raid. You only get to use your first Pokemon, but if you win the timed battle, you get a chance to catch one of these special Pokemon.

The problem isn’t the Dynamax raids though. My issue with Dynamax raids is the glitchy online connectivity. But I will talk more about this later.

Even playing offline, you get three computer-controlled trainers to battle with, and the raid itself is still something different. Don’t want to do them? Don’t start a raid. It’s nice having optional combat choices in a game like this.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Camping Games
Anything is more fun than a loading screen. Like playing fetch with Magikarp!

And my favourite change, Jobs.

Previously, if you wanted to level up all of your Pokemon, you need to constantly battle with them. Now you can send your Pokemon out on Jobs and earn experience and items without playing!

This can sound cheap, but there is still a lot to it. You can’t just spam a job with the same Pokemon, you need to match the Pokemon you send to the task required. Sending Fire-type Pokemon to someone that needs help from water-types will not earn you much.

You also have to wait. You can send your Pokemon out for a full day, and I have levelled up Pokemon I haven’t used in combat pretty quickly. Later some jobs let you boost your Pokemon’s stats. Love a Pokemon, but they keep getting knocked out? Send them on tasks for a few days to increase their defence and health!

Pokemon Sword and Shield Pokemon Return From Job
When do well with a job, it's a party as your Pokemon return

That sounds alright, but you started complaining about online?

I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, but as a general rule, Nintendo has made some interesting online decisions. I use Nintendo Online mainly for cloud saves and access to the retro games. Tetris 99 is the only big multiplayer game I play.

When you activate online in Pokemon Sword and Shield, you are continually seeing other players phase in and out of your game world. This is annoying, but not terrible. Trying to get players to join your Dynamax raids is awful. Even if you can see another player waiting and asking for players to join them, rarely can I actually do it.

Most of the time, you sit looking at the screen for 2 minutes for the requests to time out, then you play with computer-controlled players. It has stopped me from even trying to be honest. It’s not the end of the world, as it is an optional mechanic. It is frustrating to see the start of a fun feature that should work in 2019 fail again and again.

What about the complaints I have heard about reused assets and poor graphics?

OK, here I am picking a fight with the internet. The Pokemon games got their start on the Game Boy, and have had their biggest run on the DS consoles. These handhelds, while technological marvels in their time, hardware limitations equalled simpler games.

The Pokemon games are formulaic. They follow the same general structure again and again. Think of EA’s sports titles the 2K series – you keep getting the same game over and over again with small tweaks. Pokemon has been doing this for a long time, and people wanted to see something different.

Pokemon Sword and Shield Metacritic
What do I mean by people slamming Pokemon Sword and Shield? Look at the difference on Metacritic

Game Freak has tried to do things in a new way with the series coming to the Switch. Some things worked, others didn’t. As I have only played select titles in the series, I didn’t realise when I was playing that the same sound file was used for various Pokemon in battle. I was playing, the funny sound played, I was happy.

In the wild area, the ‘generic tree’ doesn’t look great. Apparently, the textures were a direct copy from the DS Sun and Moon games. And it is the same tree over and over again – no variety in the forest.

Personally, it made it easy for me to differentiate a generic tree from a Berry Bush. Because ‘normal’ trees are supposed to be generic, I noticed the difference and moved on. It didn’t ruin my experience overall, it was all a momentary blip. Which I promptly ignored.

People that did notice this and raised it on the internet have a point. This was supposed to be a game built from the ground up for the Switch. Using previous designs/textures/sounds means that wasn’t the case. When this happens, it’s usually because the developers were running out of time. Fixing things like this means delaying the game, it’s part of what ‘Polish’ means when delays are announced.

How is this picking a fight? Becuase there is a lot of yelling from people that haven’t moved on about it. I have seen reviews that have slammed the game because of a tree image reused from the DS. Not poor online connectivity, not game-breaking issues, but because of a time-saving trick used in one area that means nothing to game working or not. Immersion yes, but not the game functioning.

My comment? Get over it. Yes, I noticed it. Yes, you have a point that ‘built from the ground up’ didn’t happen. These are negatives that should be addressed.

But to attack a game and declare it rubbish because of reusing sound files and a tree? Priorities people. The amount of overreaction to small things that don’t affect the gameplay at all has me stumped.

Don’t let people ranting on small issues pull you away from a fun experience. The game is not groundbreaking. I could probably suggest other games for you to try, sure. But hand on heart, you can do a lot worse than the Pokemon Sword and Shield, and if you enjoy Pokemon and/or RPGs, you will enjoy your time with the game.

JohnHQLD

Overall Thoughts

While not perfect, I really enjoyed my time playing Pokemon Shield. The game still had that distinctive Pokemon feel, while pushing the envelope in certain areas.

Some things I would have liked seen pushed further, some I hope to get dropped in future games. Overall though I am glad Nintendo and Game Freak are embracing the idea of change, just not as much as in other titles like The Legend of Zelda.

Not yet, anyway.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  • Gameplay lets new players in easily
  • Trying out new mechanics while holding onto the classic feel
  • Generally good graphical upgrades
  • Nintendo is embracing expansion by DLC for the first time

Cons

  • The gameplay is still very close to all the other Pokemon games
  • Online is spotty at best
  • The main story is very linear
  • Dynamax bored me fairly quickly

HORI Split Pad Pro Review

Released 2019
Platform Switch
By HORI (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Category Controller

Big hands? HORI has you covered – with a couple of caveats

I enjoy playing on my Switch. I tend to play docked with the Pro controller, but being able to continue playing when I travel is fantastic. True, the Vita had this first for a few games, but Sony dropped the ball in terms of supporting the undervalued console.

When I travel for work, it tends to be day trips or for the better part of a week. The Switch shines here. I can sit in the airport and continue playing, but unless I wanted to bring extra equipment, I am limited in what I could play comfortably. Astral Chain on Joy-Cons for example words, but it’s uncomfortable and hurts my hands.

The solution? Bring a stand and pair my Pro controller. But putting the Pro controller in my bag worries me. Nothing to protect the sticks, and I also worry about button presses trying to wake it and drain the battery.

There have been a few third party cases that try to emulate ‘full’ controller feel, and they have all missed for me. The extra ‘wings’ to fit in my hand were nice, but I was still playing with Joy-Cons and their stick/button placement. It wasn’t great.

It works well, but not the most easy to carry around setup

HORI has come out with new controllers to address almost all of these issues, and I am loving.

Introducing the HORI Switch Pad Pro (Daemon X Machina Edition) controllers

First things first – Daemon X Machina Edition? Yep. I haven’t seen any other edition, but all it means is a black and red colour scheme with a stylised ‘X’ on the X button. In the future, there may be different game tie ins, but today it just means slightly off norm colouring.

So what is the Switch Pad Pro? Take the general layout of the Switch Pro Controller, break it in half, and slide them into the Joy-Con rails on your Switch. That’s it. You now have a pro controller with a screen in the middle, and it’s incredible.

There is no other way to describe it – that’s what it feels like, with all the pros and cons that entails.

It's not just the angle, the Split Pad Pro has everything that little bit bigger

What cons can there be with a screen inside a pro controller?

Size. Straight up, this makes the Switch longer and deeper. Now for myself, this made playing the Switch in handheld mode more comfortable. I am 6’3″ tall, and not everyone has hands and arms the size of mine – individual experiences will vary.

The changes to the dimensions also make the Switch impossible to not only put in a pocket, but any case on the market I have seen. This puts you squarely back in the ‘take extra controllers with you’ camp, which I was hoping to escape.

It doesn't look much here, but the Joy-Cons have the switch flar and it all fits inside the Split Pad Pro setup

HORI makes Switch cases, I would love them to make a case I can store the Switch with the Pad Pro attached, Joy-Con’s underneath just in case, and maybe a pocket above for carts. This would make the Switch perfect for taking on day trips for me. Get on it, HORI!

What it does Switch Pad Pro does do well is when you are home and want to put the Switch down between sessions. Because the Switch itself is above the surface, picking up the Switch is much more comfortable. I have trouble sometimes picking my Switch up from flat, and that is no longer a problem.

OK, fine, so what’s the Switch Pad Pro like to play?

And here is the crux of the matter. The Switch Pad Pro is like a Pro Controller, but a little oversized and most importantly, not a Pro controller.

It’s tough to explain in words, but while the Switch Pad Pro is great to play on, you still know you aren’t playing on a Pro controller – probably my favourite controller in general.

Everything is oversized on the Switch Pad Pro. Not comically, at least not for my hands, but it’s noticeable. The sticks are just that little bit larger than the Pro, but the same ‘mushy’ feel in the movement. The seems to exaggerate the loose feel to the sticks, even though in gameplay they are quite responsive. It’s a learning curve, but not a steep one. I was playing Astral Chain comfortably within a couple of minutes, and that was after not playing for a couple of months.

Even with one hand for the shot, you can see the more 'normal' placement of the Dpad

Like any controller, the ultimate form is very personal. What do you want in your controller? If you like the clicky feel like the Xbox controllers, this will not feel great to you. I prefer the feel of the Dualshock, but this is softer again. 

If you are comfortable with the Joy-Cons, the Switch Pad Pro will probably be too big for you, but if like me they are too small this is a viable option.

But that’s not all of the caveats!

That’s right – even after all that, there are still things to watch out for. These are not Joy-Cons – and that had a more significant impact than I imagined.

You lose NFC (Amiibo) support and HD rumble. The rumble I was surprised at, the Amiibo support was a little annoying, but if required I can switch controllers mid-game. The big one you lose is motion control.

If you are like me, right now you are thinking to yourself “It’s attached – that’s fine.” and no, no it isn’t. Not for some games anyway. Realisation dawned on me when I tried to fire up Asphalt 9 Legends, thinking the wider grip would help my arms last longer.

I couldn’t play it at all. The vital ingredient that makes Asphalt so fun to play is missing in the Switch Pad Pro. Everything worked, right up to the point I needed to steer the car!

Not a game I would play without the Pro controller previously

Then I tried Pokemon Let’s Go. The game worked as expected, right up until the time I tried to move the Switch to aim. Ooops. Not the end of the world, but not a hurdle I expected to have to deal with.

That sounds like a lot of negatives with not much going for it!

Yes, it does. And it’s important to flag them, not because the Switch Pad Pro is a bad product, but it is a more niche product than I imagined.

There are a couple of features I haven’t touched on. The first is the Turbo button. I don’t know why, but it has one. I have yet to find a use for it. The second though is an on the fly assignment to buttons on the back of the controller. I haven’t used it yet, but I can see times where a simple button press (or even the dreaded L3/R3) combination needs to be used a lot, so you can hit this button instead of taking you thumb off the stick.

This doesn’t change the fact that for a lot of people, the Switch Pad Pro controller won’t be the best choice for all situations.

The assignable button without third party software is nice

So who should look at buying a Switch Pad Pro?

If you find the Joy-Cons uncomfortable and play in handheld mode a lot at home, these will probably do the trick. If you play docked a lot or don’t want to take the Pro controller with you when travelling because of space, this probably won’t be the best choice.

Playing on the plane, I considered playing The Witcher 3 but instead tried Astral Chain again in the more cramped quarters. Playing felt good, and I wasn’t locking elbows more than usual with the passenger next to me. I also didn’t have tired fingers 20 minutes in, a big plus.

What was a pain was taking a bag for my ‘flight’ stuff, the Switch case and the two Switch Pad Pro sides separatly. I really would have preferred a single case I could have lifted the unit out of, but I have already described that.

Travelling with the Switch Pad Pro is about as fiddley as moving with the Pro controller and a stand, but the price is about the same. If you travel a lot, it might be worthwhile, but if it’s occasional, I don’t think it’s worth the select purchase and custom travel storage you will need to create.

HORI Split Pad Pro

Final Thoughts

The Split Pad Pro controller is great for me, but I am not using it as much as I thought I would. Missing motion controls is a pain for some games, but I miss the rumble more than a couple of games.

Because I already have a Pro controller, I am more likely to drop the Switch in my dock and grab it than setup the Split Pad Pro at home. On the move, it’s almost perfect – except for the size and carrying it around safely.

Add a case to hold the Switch and this HORI, put Rumble back in, and everything else can be forgiven.

Overall
8/10
8/10

Pros

  • Feels like you are playing with a pro controller with a screen in the middle
  • Using the controls feels better when playing action games, especially with my large hands
  • DPad is very responsive and works great

Cons

  • Could use more resistance in the sticks
  • An extra item to carry around with you, as actually two controllers
  • Unable to use a case with the controllers attached (May change in the future)
  • Rumble would have been nice

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Jackbox Party Pack 6 Review

Released 2019
Platform PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, XBox, Switch (Reviewed), Amazon Fire TV, iPad, Apple TV, Android TV
Publisher Jackbox Games Inc. (Website)
Developer Jackbox Games Inc. (Website)
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players Usually 3-8 plus audience – recommend at least 5 players
Category Party Games

Sometimes, all you want to do is sit and mess with your friends. And Jackbox Party helps you do this ;D

I have plenty of party type board games in my collection, but most share a common flaw. They are all niche in some way. Geek trivia, Pop Culture, Dexterity or ‘gamey’ games. Whatever the niche, you are setting yourself up for just that game for a while.

None are bad games, but there are usually people that don’t want to join in because they feel they can’t win. The other issue can be the judging of answers. Even going with the written response, people can argue because there is a person to contend with.

This is where the Jackbox Party Pack shines. There is a central app that controls a series of different games, so any rules disputes are typically written off as ‘bugs’. It’s incredible how much this changes the focus of the group, and makes organisation and hosting game nights a breeze.

So it’s a trivia game? Pass

Like so many simple games, it sounds too simple to be any fun. But that isn’t where the Jackbox Party games shine.

Yes, there are trivia games. Word games. There are even drawing games. Each set features a unique host that has a series of jokes and quips that gets laughs as the game continues. The games each feel unique, even when using tried and true mechanics.

Having a host or forcing a player to get up and read a bunch of questions can make or break a games night. We have all been there. A great host can elevate Even a standard pub trivia night. Here is where Jackbox shines – you genuinely want to know what is going to be said next.

Yes, my friends were trying to skewer me for a small cash bonus. What a group :p

But why would I want to play a video game with a heap of people? No one has that many controllers!

One of the great features of Jackbox Party Packs is that almost everyone already has their own controller.

You need a device that ‘hosts’ the games sure, and in a party environment this works brilliantly on consoles as everyone can see the game on their TV. 

The players need a web browser to join in. And as almost everyone has a smartphone these days, everyone gets to play on a device they are already comfortable using. No mixing up XBox and Dual Shock buttons here!

OK, but how does this help with people that don’t want to play?

Say you are playing a game where you need to come up with clever wordplay. Some people do not enjoy this, and wouldn’t want to participate.

A great feature of Jackbox Party Packs is the Audience feature. You can have a few players competing, but everyone else can still be a part of the game by voting on the winning answers. Everyone always gets to play, and the audience has a vital role to play in picking winners.

The Audience feature is great for everyone at a party, but it has another bonus. If you are into streaming, you can stream your Jackbox game and have the room code as a part of the stream, including all of your viewers as well.

What can I say - I have a weirdly awesome group of friends to come up with words like this 😀

Playing like this has made the Jackbox panels at PAX Aus one of my ‘must-do’ panels each year – it’s so much fun watching the panellists playing, while at the same time participating in picking winners.

Well, that all sounds alright, but what do you play?

Each party pack comes with about five mini-games, each unique in their way. As you can tell from the title, this is the 6th such collection of games, with new packs coming out every year.

There is never the same type of game in each pack. As with every compilation, some that are gems, and some that aren’t.

Dictionarium

Dictionarium is a fun and fast word game. Players are given a word, and then everyone comes up with a definition of their device. Once everyone is finished (or the time is up), everyone, including the audience votes on their favourite.,

Round 2 has players writing a synonym based on the winning response. Once again, everyone votes for the winner.

The final round has players then using their synonyms in a sentence. Once again, the winner is voted for by everyone. Finally, you end up with a definition and usage of a completely new word!

Dictionarium is a great quick game that can start the night or a quick reset between some of the bigger games. While fun, it’s not a game I would want to play multiple rounds of back to back.

Role Models

Role models is a great game for a group of friends or at least people that know about each other. Players vote on a category (e.g. Olympic Sports, Heist Jobs, Girl Scout Cookies), and everyone chooses who in the group would suit roles in that category.

When everyone finishes voting, the votes are counted, and a player is assigned that role. If there is a tie for the part, a mini-game between the players plays out to pick a single winner.

‘Correctly’ guess the player for the role, and you can win the game! But really for party games like this, the end score is usually an oversite.

While this is a fun diversion, I think its more fun when players know a bit more about each other. Most of the fun is seeing peoples reactions to what the group thinks of them. For example, why am I better suited to Curling that Synchronised Swimming? You need to know the people to get the most out of this. Randomly assigning players because you have to isn’t as fun.

Joke Boat

For all of those aspiring comedians out there, Joke Boat is here to let you shine. It is also a great way to get a room of people laughing at Dad jokes 😀

There are three rounds in total, with each round mostly sharing the same steps. First, you have the brainstorming round. Enter a bunch of subjects for people to write a joke about.

Next, players select a setup that includes the topics from the brainstorming. Finally, you write the punchline. Simple, right?

Players get to deliver their joke, and players vote on the best. Do all of this twice, with the final round having players trying to write a better punchline for other players jokes.

Joke Boat sounds like a lot of fun, and it was enjoyable, but again not a game you will want to play over and over again.

Push The Button

Push the button is a different Jackbox game in that it doesn’t include audience participation. Every player is a player, and each round is a different mini-game on its own.

The setup of the game is relatively standard social deduction fair. Players are all crew on a space ship, but some players are aliens in disguise. The humans must work out who the aliens are and eject them to win.

The time limit is worked nicely into Press The Button as well. The aliens have uploaded a virus into the ships AI and will delete it entirely in 15 minutes.

Each round, a different player takes the role of the captain and picks a mini-game and crew members to participate. Most of the games have the same kind of setup – answer a question. The catch is the humans get one question, and aliens get a different one. You need to look out for the outlandish answers and responses to determine who the aliens are.

As the game progresses, aliens also get the ability to hack the games and can give the humans ‘alien’ answers, or aliens ‘human’ answers. Because everyone is on their phones, it leads to some exciting experiences.

Anyone can vote to ‘Push The Button’ at any time to vote out aliens. The player that pushes the button then nominates who they think are aliens, and everyone not being accused votes if they agree. If the vote passes, the unlucky players are ejected into space!

If one alien remains on the ship, the aliens win. By far the most complex Jackbox game I have ever played, but one of the smoothest social deduction experiences I have ever played.

Murder Mystery Party 2

Murder Mystery Party is probably my favourite of the games in this pack. It’s a typical trivia game, but with a very dark humoured twist.

Players are guests at a spooky hotel, and the host happens to be a serial killer. Each round, players answer general trivia questions for cash prizes. Get the questions right, and everyone continues.

Get the answer wrong, and the host will get to have fun with you with fatal consequences. ‘Losers’ get to play a random mini-game with the host and safe players/the audience. For example, losing players must drink from a goblet. The catch is the safe players have added poison to the drinks!

If you lost the mini-games, you are not out of the game. You become a ghost and continue playing, so no player elimination in the real sense.

When there is one player left, you can then try and escape the hotel. This is done by answering more trivia questions, with each correct answer moving you closer to the exit.

The other players are still playing, and the higher their score, the closer to the exit they are. There is another catch – if you are in the lead, you can only choose two of the three choices, giving the others a better chance of catching up.

With congratulations like this, is winning really worth it? 😀

If you take the lead as a ghost, you steal the life force of the other player and then everyone is against you. Also, just reaching the exit isn’t quite enough. You have to answer the final question perfectly to win.

Murder Trivia Party 2 was by far our most favourite game of the pack.

They all sound pretty good, what is the downside?

Overall there isn’t too much wrong with any of the games. There were some localisation issues as the questions have a significant US bias, but that increased the ‘us vs the game’ mentality of the group.

On the Switch, there were also a couple of times that I had to close the game and start again. Far from the end of the world, but when trying to change games, having it hang was a bit jarring.

Overall though, if Jackbox Party Pack sounds like something you would like to try, grab one of the older packs for cheaper and give it a go. Each iteration has had a standout game for me that has made the cost worth it!

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Tetris 99 v2 Review

Released 2019
Platform Nintendo Switch
Publisher Nintendo (Website)
Developer Arika (Website (Japanese))
Homepage (Visit Website)
Players 1 (more with Big Block DLC)
Category Tetris
Battle Royale
Online

It’s Tetris 99 – New(ish) and improved(ish)!

Tetris is one of those games I love, but always have trouble explaining why I enjoy it. For that reason, I have been trying to write this review for a long time. How long? Long enough that a significant update was released! How significant? Tetris 99 has officially entered version 2!

This review is more of a journey as to what I like and don’t like about Tetris 99. So apologies if I start rambling or seem vague below – I just kind of assume everyone knows Tetris and how to play it.

OK, so what is Tetris?

Tetris began in 1984, the brainchild of Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov. Yep, it’s a Russian game from the 80s that has nothing to do with the cold war. The idea is incredibly simple – a variety of shapes made up of 4 squares (tetrominoes) fall within a set play area. The player’s job is to create horizontal lines from these shapes, that then clear giving you more room to play. You lose when the tetrominoes reach the top. Simple.

This simplicity is the key to Tetris. You have one particular and repetitive task to do, but the satisfaction of clearing rows is addictive. Incredibly addictive.

Tetris has had a lot of facelifts over the years

The story behind Tetris is also one I find interesting. It’s way too much for this review, but YouTuber The Gaming Historian has a great video explaining it all if you are interested. Even if you just put it on as background noise for an hour (yep, it’s a big story), check it out. I have posted it below, but you can also save the link here.

That’s all? Where is the game?

Like so many simple games, Tetris sounds too simple to be a challenge. That is so completely far from the truth. For one, what I didn’t mention is as you play the drop speed of the pieces increase, giving you less time to plan and react.

For a lot of solo games, the challenge is usually to beat your previous score, and that is the same for Tetris. But there is something else with Tetris that hooks me.

Have you ever meditated? Just being able to let everything go and relax. Tetris does this for me. It doesn’t matter what is on my mind or what is happening. I can usually turn it all off to play a game or three.

This was the first version of Tetris I ever played - the original Gameboy version

Why does this work? I don’t know. All I can say is it does for me. Like meditation, different people have different paths to get there. When I get into that state though, my scores soar. My row clears are three or four lines time after time instead of one or two.

Like in chess, I can see the next pieces coming up and know where I have to put them. You play three or four moves ahead, but without concentrating on it.

Beating your high score wasn't your only reward. Higher score? Better rocket!

There is also another benefit to playing Tetris. So much so, another game was named after it. If you guessed Tetris Effect – you’re right! Long story short, playing Tetris for 30 minutes a day can help your cognitive ability. You can read more about the effect here.

So what is Tetris 99?

When I first heard about Tetris 99, I eye-rolled and groaned loudly. Battle Royale Tetris. The game mode already jumped the shark, in my opinion. Involving Tetris in the format – it was too much.

But it was free with Nintendo Online, so I gave it a go. One game in, I was hooked.

I have played Vs. style Tetris games in the past, and there is a familiar mechanic amongst a lot of them. When you clear rows, you send garbage lines to your opponent, making it harder on them. Tetris 99 uses this same technique, but instead of playing against one player you play against 99 others. And it works well.

The right stick lets you target different sort of opponents. You can target people targeting you, random people, people with the most badges or people in danger of being knocked out. The left stick lets you focus on specific players, but honestly, I am usually to overwhelmed to use it.

First game results. Yeah, I was pretty happy with that 😀

And then you play Tetris. You get on-screen warnings when people are attacking you, and you can see a stack of garbage that is coming for you. Clear lines yourself, and can remove rows from the queue.

When you knock out more players, you collect badges. The more complete symbols you have, the more garbage you send and clear when you clear rows. You can also chain row clears which add multipliers as well.

So apparently I annoyed 4 players before the game started?

There is a science to playing Tetris well, but like all simple games, you will become aware of them as your skills increase. One such technique is called T-spins. When you rotate a piece to fit in where it can’t merely drop-in, that is called a T-spin. It takes practice, but what skill doesn’t?

So I can’t win a game without hours of practice?

Probably not. Not win. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do well and enjoy the game. Think of it like any other Battle Royale game – you don’t expect to win your first game, but because you can drop into another match, you still have fun.

Getting beaten over and over is frustrating. But you don’t need to win to make progress. The higher up the ladder you finish, the more points are awarded. These points go towards a level system. The levels themselves are purely aesthetic, allowing you to get new avatars shown in ladders. Now there are a few other things to let you do this, but more on that later.

So Close! But every game lets you progress, so keep at it!

The Grand Prix events

Where this point system can be seen working is the roughly monthly Grand Prix events. I completely missed the first, but I have joined every one since.

The event is just a weekend of regular Tetris 99 with a goal, usually a free theme. To win the prize, you don’t need to win a round of Tetris. It helps, but it’s not necessary.

All you have to do is earn 100 points during the weekend, and you ‘win’. So while it’s time-consuming, if you just entered 100 rounds, you will win whatever the prize is.

Play a few games, get a free theme. It's a fun way to get people on for a weekend.

The one exception was a Grand Prix where the 99 best players over the weekend (read highest-scoring players) won 999 points in the Eshop – effectively a $10 discount. I spent a lot of time playing that weekend and was lucky enough to score in that top tier.

But here is the thing – during that event, I only won 3-4 matches tops. It’s not the fact of how many matches I won that mattered – it was points earned during the entire event that count. So don’t let being new to Tetris be a factor in not playing the game. Persistence is the key and will be rewarded.

And I didn't 'win' many games, I just kept at it. There has only been one of these events though - so far.

So what is this Version 2 stuff?

Version 2 adds quite a few things, but also more of the same. There isn’t any change to the core gameplay, but how you play those games have gotten tweaked. 

The most significant change is Tetris Invictus mode. It’s still Tetris 99 online, but this time you need to have won to join. That’s right – it’s Tetris 99 hard mode!

Because you know everyone you are playing in Invictus mode has already won, you are going in expecting a battle. What I wasn’t planning on was starting a match with faster drop speeds from the get-go.

So there isn’t the usual slow set yourself up like I find in a standard game of Tetris. You get thrown in the middle, and off you go. The only downside I have found is it takes longer to start a game. I am guessing it’s merely fewer people joining the Invictus games, but it was noticeable.

If you play here, you know you are in for a challenge

So, a hard mode. What’s the big deal?

Invictus mode is a new mode, but that’s not all. There have been a few other changes as well.

For one, daily missions have arrived. Yes, Tetris 99 is following the Battle Royale formula to the letter 🙂

So far, the missions I have seen have been relatively simple to achieve, but have forced me to play Online and against the CPU. This only way to do the second half is buy buying DLC, but I will talk about in a little bit.

Completing missions gets you tickets. Tickets let you buy new themes and avatar symbols, so the rewards are mainly cosmetic. So far there are a handful of items, but I have been sticking to the ones I have won from Grand Prix.

Play a few rounds each day, and use the tickets to 'buy' customisation options

There is a legend of Zelda one that appeals to me. The background is the map of the original game, which puts a smile on my face. Just not enough to have actually ‘bought’ it yet 🙂

Did you mention DLC? I thought this was a free game!

Yes, Tetris 99 is free. But there is also DLC known as Big Block DLC. From memory, it was $15, but I can’t find the price as I have already bought it.

Big Block DLC primarily gives you the ability to play offline. I bought it as I was going to fly, and a couple of Tetris battles sounded great. You can play a CPU battle where all of the opponents are AI. You can set their difficulty level, and also give yourself a boost by starting with badges. It makes a pleasant diversion or practice mode, but that’s it.

The other version and the mode I play more often is Marathon mode. Marathon mode is closer to old school Tetris, where you keep playing as long as you can. For a quick challenge, I play the 150 line mode, where the game ends once you clear 150 rows.

Want to play a traditional game of Tetris? Try Marathon mode

Hang on this is a review – shouldn’t you play it and tell us about it?

Ordinarily, I would have gone out of my way to do that. But there is a catch with Tetris 99. The DLC and extra game modes are precisely that – extras. The main game is the Battle Royale, and that is what I spend the most time playing. Hence, for the review, I have spent the most time talking about the online battle.

Tetris is Tetris, and if you would like other ways to play offline, there are different versions around that may scratch that itch better than Tetris 99. Admittedly not so much on the Switch, with Puyo Puyo Tetris being the only real alternative. Puyo Puyo Tetris is an excellent game, but I had issues playing the Puyo Puyo sections due to colourblindness. There is the same drawback as Tetris 99 for offline play – the main game is different to what you are looking to play.

So if you want to play Tetris, stay away from Tetris 99?

That’s not what I am trying to say, but I can see how it can come across this way. I went into Tetris 99 as a solo Tetris player but converted quickly. I think most Tetris players will have the same experience.

If you are looking to learn how to play Tetris, playing on another console or playing the Big Block DLC will help. But I genuinely think that just jumping into the free online games will be fine. Just jump in and enjoy it.

Marathon mode is fine, but I don't see why it had to be paid for

Almost all Switch owners I know have Nintendo Online, so it’s a free game that at worst you delete. What I don’t recommend is buying Nintendo Online to play Tetris 99. Borrow someone else’s Switch and try it out before putting money down.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

Tetris 99 has a Fire Emblem Event starting tomorrow

Life is but a theme, doo wop doo wop…

Tetris 99 is one of the few games not on my phone I can pick up, play a round or two, and walk away feeling like I have played ‘a game’. This weekend, the sixth Maximus Cup is on, and this time it crosses over with Fire Emblem: Three Houses!

Winning the theme is simple – play and earn 100 points during the event. How do you earn points? Just play.

If you win a round, you will get 100 points instantly. One game, and a new shiny is yours!

From memory you get points for coming in the top 80, with more points the higher you place. This does make winning the prize more skill based, but one thing I love about Tetris is if you keep playing for the weekend, you are all but guaranteed to earn the points you need!

Oh yeah, another event just before I take off for a week!

The Splatoon theme is my favourite to date, and I am loving the fact I want to start playing Three Houses Sunday as I head over the ocean to New Zealand for work.

Obviously, this plan was supposed to be!

Are you going to join in? If you have Switch Online, Tetris 99 and entry is free!

Until next time,

JohnHQLD