SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech Review

Quick Review:

A masterpiece in game design, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is the best card based battle rpg ever made.

The interesting thing about adventure card based turn battle video games is, there aren’t as many as you’d think. Those that are out there are so few and far between, and it’s fair to wonder why? The concept feels simple enough. Draw a card from a deck on each turn, see it play out, and wait for the opponent’s response. Deck building strategy games, like Hearthstone or Gwent, though similar in style, usually don’t include traditional turn based adventure RPG elements. So when reviewing a game like SteamWorld Quest, there isn’t a whole lot to pull on from past experience. And maybe that’s what makes it so special. From beginning to end, the game offers something that feels different, new, and well executed. At least from my experience, it’s not such an easy task for developers to find the perfect mix of difficulty, skill, luck, and to make each battle fun enough for the player to not get burned out on the system. SteamWorld Quest’s approach of deck building and combat is refreshing and never feels dull. Mix in an extremely like-able cast and an excellent rpg leveling system, and the game sky-rockets to the top of the list for releases in 2019 so far.

The most obvious comparisons for SteamWorld Quest would be Baten Kaitos and Paper Mario: Color Splash. When Paper Mario: Color Splash was shown for the Wii U, a lot of fans, including myself, saw some real potential of what might be. But really, it didn’t meet my personal expectations in part because of how easy it is, and it just didn’t feel that interesting using the cards in battle. I have never played the Baten Kaitos games, but from watching a few gameplay videos, I can say that SteamWorld Quest is probably in the same realm in terms of battle, though it distinguishes itself. Now, let’s get into some of the specifics of the game!

I am not a huge SteamWorld nerd, but from what I understand, the opening cutscene will show off some sort of timeline placement for the game in the universe. So maybe those with a better understanding of the story in the games can fill me in on that!

SteamWorld Quest follows a group of protagonists set off on an unexpected adventure. Armilly, the knight character and aspiring guild member, begins her story in search of a rare mushroom with her best friend, Copernica. Copernica, the alchemist, would like to use the mushroom for it’s medicinal purposes. Armilly’s intention is to impress the Guild Heroes so she can join their rank. After finding the mushroom, they return home to find their village set ablaze, with an unknown force called The Void intent on capturing all of the Guild Heroes in the town. It is soon learned they are the hand of The Dark Lord. And so, an unexpected story of heroism and peril ensues.

Armilly is a really cute, and maybe a bit naive, character who chooses to narrate her own adventures from time to time. This is a really small detail that the developers, Image & Form, added to the dialogue, but immediately, Armilly’s narrations add comedic relief while also portraying her as someone who seeks her own sense of heroism. This is a really important progression for her character throughout the game, and it’s a clever way to introduce it to the player.

“After friendly banter, our heroes decided to cast aside their weariness to instead follow this new lead.”

Armilly, SteamWorld Quest

Armilly also will quote from a book, the Heroes Handbook, which she carries with her, this too is important to the story. Gilgamech, the hero that banished evil, is Armilly’s biggest inspirtation, and she will reference that as each chapter plays out.

Accompanying Milly on her journey is her best friend, Copernica, and later their friend Galleo.

Copernica is the alchemist of the group. She’s level headed and not so gung-ho on what’s transpiring. She will often attempt to talk Armilly out of her recklessness and offer a different solution. The dialogue exchanges between these two, and really all the characters, are smart and witty. Copernica went to the local alchemist academy and had some problems while she was there. Her arc is focused on her time there, where things maybe didn’t work out as she had hoped.

Galleo lives in his mom’s basement, reluctant to leave home, happy to be the hermit and work on his inventions. His arc revolves around this, and what starts as a running joke becomes more personal as the story progresses. He acts mostly as a healer in battle, more on that later though.

Two other playable characters, though three in total, will join them on their journey through the world, each with contributions to the team and to the story.

Orik is the old companion and partner of the fabled hero Gilgamech. He brings a sense of zen to the group, always offering focused advice or an inspiring word. He has an array of different masks that influence how he battles.

Last we have the twin siblings, Tarah and Thayne. These two add a cool element to battle, as they each have different types of attacks, one with physical damage and one with arcane magic. Their story is a bit sad, having been raised in an orphanage, which has influenced them to become the thieves.

As you might expect, things aren’t as they seem, and events quickly unravel amidst the twists and turns of their adventure, as the heroes try to stop The Dark Lord from bringing the evil back that Gilgamech banished long ago.

The character’s stories unfold in text bubbles with a mumbling noise accompanying the text from the character that’s speaking. The sounds the character make during the dialogue will be familiar to many gamers from the N64 era, I’m sure. These sounds are also generated in battle, which some of them are just fun to hear. Galleo has this happy grunt sound he makes with each buff or healing action, and I can’t imagine playing the game without that noise.

The game is presented with beautifully hand-drawn artwork. Each character design is unique and creative, and the landscapes and maps of the world are beautiful. Though not super detailed or complex, they are clean and fitting for the game. Enemy design is excellent, though maybe not as varied as I would personally like for a game like this, as enemy assets are re-used with different skins fairly often. This is an extremely common practice, especially for rpgs, so it isn’t too much to gripe about. Still, I’d appreciate a handful more unique enemies to fight in the 20-25 hour+ adventure.

If I may gripe for a moment, it would be because each area, where you traverse a labyrinth type level to progress the story, feels a little…samey. Maybe not aesthetically, but just in terms of how the levels play out. Basically, you just travel through a very similar dungeon or map while fighting enemies and looking for loot until a boss fight at the end. Perhaps I’m selling the design a bit short though, because there are some puzzles to solve and moving through the maps never gets old, persay, it’s just that it becomes a bit predictable. This is the direction the developers chose, and while it’s not inherently bad, it can get repetitive. Rinse, Wash, Repeat. Searching for chests that contain items, gold, and new cards never really gets old though, nor does fighting enemies, but there isn’t much variety or surprises in the overworld… Except for a duck mini boss which was, actually yeah, that did surprise me.

Now, let’s get into the absolute best part about SteamWorld Quest.

The battle system is FREAKING AWESOME!! Remember how I spoke of how the card battle system for Paper Mario: Color Splash didn’t really feel that good, and it wasn’t fulfilling to battle? Scrap all that with SteamWorld Quest. The battle system is engaging, difficult, strategic, and so smartly instituted by Image & Form. It is flawless in my opinion, one of the most perfectly crafted systems ever created. Let’s get into the details.

The basics of battle come down to a 24 card deck, 8 cards for each character. You can only have three fighters in your battle party at a time, and finding the right mix of characters and cards is a big part of finding success in the game. Each character has a mix of cards they can choose from, but again, only 8 can be selected at a time to take into battle. It’s important to consider what type of card you are adding to your character, because sometimes you will want a certain type to help your team.

Once in battle, you’ll be given a choice of 7 random cards to begin each fight and 17 will be in your pull pile. You can choose to swap out two cards each turn, but you will not be able to use those cards until the next card shuffle, which happens when all 17 in your pull pile have been put into the playable cards. Moving on.

There are four types of cards, and now, my students, I will teach you about Steam Pressure.

First, we have your standard attack/buff/debuff card. These cards don’t use Steam Pressure, no no no. They actually add Steam Pressure(or SP, from here on) to your team. You’ll notice a horizontal line of gear shapes at the top of the screen that will fill as you use these standard cards.

Next are the skill cards, or ones that use SP. These range from 1 SP to…I believe there is one card that uses 5 SP at a time, but most max out at 4 SP. There is a number in the top right corner of the card that shows how much SP it will cost to use that card. Cards with more SP tend to be more powerful, but you won’t be able to use them without SP, which you have to build up with the common cards. Something for you to keep in mind.

We also have cards that don’t use any SP, but they also don’t add any SP to your gauge. These cards have a number 0 in the right hand corner, and while you might think loading up on them is a good strategy…well, ya know what, maybe it is!

Last are cards with an X on them, and these can be used at any time, but their power is based on the amount of SP you have built up. Use them when your Steam Guage is full, to devastating effect, or use them when empty to finish off a hero combo. Again, it’s all up to you how you want to play the game and what strategies to employ.

Experimenting with different deck builds for each character is really great, and what’s awesome about SteamWorld Quest is that you can change how each character plays based on their deck build. Want Copernica to be your attacker? Load her up with spells and damage cards. Or would you rather her be a standard alchemist, meant to help the team but deal little damage? Adjust your deck so she can utilize that skill-set. All 5 playable characters have around 25 cards to choose from by the end of the game, and with only 8 in each build, it’s really easy and fun to experiment with different play styles. This is one of the most interesting parts of the game, because I’m not even joking when I say each character can feel like 2 or 3 different types of fighters based on their deck build. It is absolutely brilliant game design, but it doesn’t even stop there.

Your team can pull off combos in battle. There are two different types, but the most common one is using three cards in a row on your turn from the same character. This is where strategy comes into play, because when you activate this character combo, the same character will automatically play a 4th card. The effect of this card varies widely from character to character, and it can also change based on what weapon you have equipped for that character. Oh, I haven’t even touched on that. Yeah, while you are at the merchant, you can buy new weapons, so don’t forget to do that when you get enough coins. Each weapon offers one of at least 3, perhaps 4 different combo cards for the character. For example, Armilly has a combo card called ‘Lacerate,’ which will do a small amount of damage to an enemy, but also inflict Bleed. Anytime that enemy does an action for the next few rounds they will take residual damage. This is just one example! There are lots of options for your play style, from healing for your team, defense up, a shield for the whole party, or element attacks. Will you mix and match who plays the cards, or choose to go for the character specific combo? It’s completely up to you how you want to approach a battle.

Can I catch my breath for a second? NO, because there is another type of combo, one that can be activated between two characters. If the strategy of the game wasn’t already enough, you can build decks around these combos. Several cards, usually 2 or 3 per character, have the option to activate this combo. A little picture of which character the card can interact with will be shown on the bottom of the card. One such card of Copernica’s, when used after a card played by Galleo, grants healing to the entire team. Galleo and Armilly have a card where Armilly adds to Galleo’s attack power for the card. The combo card must always be played after the activation card for the combo to take place, so keep that in mind. Not every character has a combo card with every other character, so picking your active party around these can also be a good way to build a deck and a team.

Ok. So, battles take place with these cards, and after your turn the enemy gets to act. They use cards in the same way, though they can’t use combos. They will use attack or defense cards, or maybe they’ll use a buff or debuff. Standard buffs include Physical Strength Up, Defense Up, Dodge Up, Element Attack Up, etc.. Standard debuffs include Poison, Defense Down, Magic Down, Blind, Bleed, Element Attack Down, etc.. You’ll find strategies with your deck build based on some of these types of cards, too. For example, Galleo has a Poison card which is really useful, so I almost always had it in his deck. These are things you’ll want to consider and try out as you get a hang of the deck building.

What feels almost like an afterthought, you can also play item cards to heal, revive, or cure your team of debuffs. These cards can be found in chests or from winning battles, or bought at the vendor. Sometimes you’ll need to stock up on these for some of the more difficult boss fights or if your team isn’t leveled high enough.

Your team will add more cards by finding chests and buying new cards from the vendor, or from important story moments. You can craft new cards from the merchant too, these you won’t find anywhere else in the world, so check in with the traveling vendor often. On top of this, some cards can be enhanced to make them even more powerful. You’ll need gold and items that you receive from winning battles in order to upgrade and craft new cards. And, one last thing. Cards will also have a standard, passive upgrade in damage and effectiveness as your characters level up. So if you like using a specific card it will always keep its usefulness. That’s not to say you won’t find better cards, but even the initial cards in your character decks will have a use, if you choose, late in the game.

Should we recap?

  • Steam Pressure – Build your decks around cards that add/use SP
  • Combos – Set your party and your deck around cards that can interact with one another
  • Buff/Debuffs – Keep in mind what the enemy cards do and build your deck around those.
  • More cards to try out as you progress, old cards still have use as you level up.

I found nice deck builds that I had success with, but in reality you will find a deck that probably looks nothing like mine and you will crush with it! I switched up my party and cards often, because frankly, it’s really fun. That’s what is so wonderful about this system, it can cater to so many different types of players. With a little experimenting, you’ll find a play style that suits you before you know it.

Before I move on from the battle system, I should probably mention that there are three difficulty levels that the player can choose from, and I would suggest the normal setting for a good challenge. The most difficult setting is for advanced players that want a very difficult experience, and the low setting is for someone not all that interested in a challenging experience. I found the middle setting to be perfect. Still difficult if you don’t have a proper deck and/or party build, but not so difficult to feel unfair.

Screenshots

Let’s take a break and peruse some screenshots.

More to Love

Up for a challenge? Later in the game you can unlock an arena style battle challenge where your team can earn gold, items, and new cards. The cool part about this mode is that there are different scenarios to overcome. One example is that your entire team is poisoned throughout all the battles(up to 10 straight without stopping,) and cannot be cured. This adds even more strategic elements and will make the player build decks around this debuff. Again, this mode, like all the battles in this game, is stellar.

The soundtrack for the game is excellent. It has this very heroic and adventurous feel, but also playful. It is often driven by a violin and piano, and it’s just really well done. The battle music and boss music is recycled throughout the game and each area has a unique track or two, and really, it’s a little difficult to put into words how well the soundtrack suits the game, but here is an example.

Merchant

This is the merchant track, and I don’t know, it is just so fitting to the theme of the entire game, and that is an extremely focused theme throughout. Heroism, adventure, with a hint of playfulness. It’s wonderful. I think the soundtrack elevates the game to an even higher standard, and that is something that, on top of all the other great things about the game, was the final piece of the puzzle for me when considering what score to award SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I love SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech. The characters are great, so well designed. The story is fairly engaging and has some very “real” moments as the characters unlock the mysteries of their situation and their battle against the Dark Lord and the Void army. I am intentionally being vague with the story though, as not to spoil anything. It ends in an epic battle that for me lasted 67 turns on normal difficulty! Even standard battles feel difficult in this game, and I love a game that makes you work a little bit for the glory. The soundtrack, though maybe a bit understated, is wonderful, and enstills the player with the theme of the game, Heroism. The repetition in the enemy design and overall style of the different areas and overworld are my only real gripes, and they are small.

The deck building card system in SteamWorld Quest is one of my favorite battle systems in all of gaming. It can’t be overstated, Image & Form have something so special in this system, so organic, it comes together in a way that works on all fronts. There are no flaws in the deck building, the team building, Steam Pressure, the leveling up, the weapons and items, the management and pacing of funds. The cards have tons of variety that allow the player to pick and choose a suitable play style. Battles are balanced and almost always offer a challenge, even common enemies can cause some problems. I can say this without hesitation, the card system in SteamWorld Quest is perfect. I don’t see any way it could get any better.

I think this game is so good, exceptional, really, that I would recommend it to anyone. It is the type of game that transcends preferences, in my opinion, one that should be experienced not just by rpg lovers, not just by indie fans. It is a game that shouldn’t be missed, a generational achievement that pushes and expands the card battle genre into new territory. It is excellence that is rarely seen, the best Battle Card RPG ever made, probably, and has “Instant Classic,” written all over it.

Nintendo Nation…is in Love… and gives it 10 Heroic Strikes out of 10

Review: The Princess Br… GUIDE

Quick Review: The Princess Guide hits all the right notes in terms of presentation, soundtrack, and dialogue, but suffers from a pacing issue with combat difficulty. It’s still easy to recommend, as the princesses are great and gameplay is good enough to overcome the few problems.

Rather not read it? View it!

The Princess Guide(not Bride, stop reading now if you thought this was a Princess Bride review😂) is a hilarious and charming romp filled with wonderful characters and good, solid action and loot collecting gameplay.

Developed by Nippon Ichi Software and published in the west by NIS America, The Princess Guide follows the path of Four Princesses. You play as their teacher and instructor, guiding each in the right direction and controlling them during battles and on the world map. Each princess has their own story, 4 chapters long, before you leave one for another. Then they come together for a chapter, before finally you finish the game off with one of them. There are 4 endings to the game.


To touch very briefly of what’s happening in the game, there is an interconnected story and a common enemy for the Princesses to fight, but it’s scattered and not really integral to enjoying the game. Put simply, the story really doesn’t matter. The most interesting parts of the story are the interactions between characters, and the princesses, and you the player, which acts as their teacher. These are great.

The ending of the story I was able to complete for this review was rather anticlimactic. My princess, I chose Liliartie, was very powerful, and after I beat the boss, which I didn’t even know was the final boss, the credits rolled. It would have been nice to have a more challenging final boss or a better lead up to it at least. It’s one of my few gripes with how the story was handled.

The Princess Guide is mostly told through 2D images of the characters that animate in a quick up and down motion with a slow moving static screenshot showing their location behind them. Each princess has 4 or 5 default positions and facial expressions that they use in each dialogue scene. As the game has the original Japanese voice acting, it uses text bubbles that are clear and friendly. The colors of these scenes are bright and vibrant, and Nippon Ichi really did a nice job making a simple presentation that is also clean and very engaging. The Princess dialogue interactions are a real highlight of the game.

And now, it’s time to meet the princesses!

Liliartie: Heir to the throne of Alixon, warrior princess, and a glutton for dragon meat!

Warrior Princess Liliartie

She’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, never quite able to find the right words. She even has her own cue-card soldier that “helps” her during the dialogue scenes, often scolding or just simply shaking his head in disbelief. Her interactions with you as the teacher, who she refers to as ‘Boss’ are some of the funniest in the game.

Veronica is the #1 ranked Witch of the Rusty Magic Guild. Hope you wore your back brace boys, she’s rather opposed to walking on her own!

Veronica of the Rusty Magic Guild

She is hard-nosed and intimidating as the leader of guild, and bossy too. She encourages you as her teacher, affectionately known as ‘Teach’ to carry her around the world, and you comply! She’s also very funny, in a cruel way, often turning her subordinates into frogs for their mistakes, which aren’t really deserving of any punishment. Humor is a common theme in the game. A couple of these princesses have attitude and sass.

Rose Princess Monomaria – Dutchess of Yudaria. A sad tale of a young girl trying to find her way in the world.

Monomario, Young Miss of Yudaria

Monomaria’s parents died when she was young, and she is struggling just to get by. She works as a mercenary to pay off her family debts and restore her family name. The young lady doesn’t like being called ‘Young Miss,’ an ongoing joke with the Old Man that follows the action and still continues to serve the Yudaria family. She is fighting some deep demons, living poor, thinking she is never enough, and she is definitely the most intense of all the princesses. Monomaria’s comedic contribution to the game is injuring herself, if you find that type of thing funny.

Dragon Princess Alpana – sage of the great Kamara faith. Some sort of Dragon humanoid. Fufu.

Alpana, The Dragon Girl

She travels around the world recruiting and converting new followers to her faith. One of her main differences in gameplay is that her combat is different than the others. She has faster movement during battle which leads to quick action. Her story overlaps the other world’s and characters, Alpana has brief interactions during her chapters with characters from the other stories, and she is good friends with Liliartie.

The game is played out on an overworld map which is made up of strongholds spread out with roads connecting them. As the teacher of the princesses, it is the player’s job to set up your commanders and move them around the map. Each commander is recruited before the chapter starts, and can be bought with gold. You will then need to buy soldiers for your commander to use in battle.

Soldier selection

There are different character classes, warriors, witches, gunners, sages. They can each select from a group of certain types of soldiers, but later in the game more powerful types will unlock. There is some strategy involved in which soldiers you choose, but in general, just pick the ones with the best attack and defense. The game isn’t trying to punish the player, so you won’t notice much penalty even if your setup isn’t ideal. If any of your soldiers are defeated in battle, you’ll need to head back to the menu and purchase more to fill out your team.

Over world map The Princess Guide
The Overworld Map

Back to the world map, missions and sub-missions show up on the crossroads and you dispatch your commanders, up to 4 at a time, and their team, to your different objectives. These missions can include simple things, like get to your destination in a certain time frame, defeat all of the enemies on the map, or defend a stronghold for a period of time. Then there are the story missions where you play through a small dungeon, defeating boat loads of enemies, collecting gold, and collecting new weapons, while also progressing the story. A lot of the fun of the game comes from these battles where you get tons of gold and lots of new weapons.

Leveling up the Princesses

Guidance Menu

One of the most unique parts of the game is how the princesses are leveled up. As their teacher, there are times in the game you will be asked to either Praise them or to Scold them. This can be during the dialogue scenes or you can do it up to three times in each battle when you are in control of the Princess. Whichever you choose, Praise or Scold, will level up an Idea. You unlock ideas known as Knowledge Materia throughout the game through combat and completing specific objectives during battles. When the idea guage is full, you’ll be able to teach the Princess the Idea, and she will level up, while also unlocking perks and the ability to craft new weapons. Leveling up your princess also allows you to add skill points to your own commander character, which you create at the start of the game.

Combat is seemingly straightforward, but there are some things you’ll want to pay attention to as you get further along into the game. There a few different types of attacks, and you’ll use combinations of X, Y, B, and A to pull off attacks and traverse around the dungeons. Depending on how you want to play, combat can be strategic and pretty rewarding, and it is really very fun once you get the hang of type of attack. On the other hand, aside from some later missions, you could probably button mash your way to victory in most instances.

The basic attack is to simply hit Y repeatedly. Your commander will do a series of hits and finish with a powerful attack. You can also do a tilt Y attack, which does a series of different attacks. Using Y and Y tilt in conjunction can be an effective combat strategy.

If you press Y and B together you’ll do another type of attack, which varies between character classes. Warriors will do an attack which clears space around them, not much damage. But Gunners will shoot a powerful ranged missile which can penetrate some enemies armor. You’ll want to experiment with each character to see which type of attack is best suited for the situation.

Pressing A sends your group of soldiers out to do an attack in the direction you are facing.

Pressing X sends one of your soldiers out for an attack with a debuff effect. Common debuffs are poison, break, stun, and confuse. Your soldiers have between 3 and 5 X attacks, depending on which ones you have equipped. To switch between which solider attacks, use the D-pad.

By pressing L you can change the strategy of your team. The most useful one I found was Triage, which heals your squad immediately, but there are offensive and defensive strategies as well if you are so inclined to use them.

An example of combat in The Princess Guide

On top of the basic attacks, there are special attacks that can be performed by pressing R and then A. Specials are based on the weapon you have equipped. There are lots of different options, so play around and find the one that suits your play style.

Another important aspect of combat are relics. There are relics scattered throughout the battle maps that can be claimed and then used against the enemies. If you don’t claim them, they will act against you. They have tons of different buffs once claimed. Some do simple attacks, some stun, some send lines of fire in a direction, or giant bowling balls might fall from the sky and roll, causing massive damage. There is a healer and ones that poison the enemy. There are just so many, and they really add a fun dynamic to otherwise fairly basic combat.

And that basic combat is OK for the game, and with relics it does improve, but I feel like there is a real missed opportunity here. The combat really has the potential to be great. And there are times it is amazing. Let me explain. There were a few times late in the game where hordes of enemies would appear, probably 20, 30, maybe more at a time, and that is actually where the game shines the most in terms of the combat. This would force me to use every aspect of combat and to actually use skill.

Weapon select screen

I think the game has a pacing issue with the difficulty. During the initial Princess stories, 4 chapters for each, combat never seems to deviate from being basic and fairly easy. There are new enemy types which provide some challenges, but it’s not like these frantic battles which were so fun. Unfortunately, by the time I was getting to experience these awesome, more difficult, battles with so many enemies that tested my skill, the game was almost over. It might have been more rewarding for the player to have a more significant difficulty boost in the middle of the game, rather than waiting until the very end. An endless Dungeon mode and an endless Horde mode would be so good for this game, and something I hope NIS takes into account if there were to be DLC or for a sequel.

The Japanese voice actresses for the Princesses are fantastic. They shine throughout the game, and Liliartie in particular is so good, she was my favorite voice actress in the game. I don’t understand Japanese, but I was drawn to her voice and how enthusiastic she played the character.

Title Screen music from The Princess Guide

The music in the game is really good. Not much more to say. It fits the game well, no matter if it’s a dialogue scene, world map, or combat. The music always fits as it should. There are some memorable tracks for sure, that you might or might not be humming afterwards, I know I was! I will be adding some tracks from the game to our sidebar on the website, so make sure you check there if you want to hear some music from the game.

The Verdict

To sum up my feelings on the Princess Guide, I will start by saying, there are individual aspects of the game which I would not classify as great. The combat isn’t great, but with the use of the relics and player creativity with all the different types of attacks, it becomes better. The story isn’t great, but it does try to tie together four separate ones in the end. The difficulty could be ramped up sooner, but there are times when the combat is so frantic and so difficult, where it is so good, that I was left thinking, why couldn’t the entire game be like this?

Presentation and Dialogue are top notch

Then there are the truly great things, like the presentation, the dialogue, the Princesses themselves, and how the Princesses are leveled up. The soundtrack and voice acting are excellent.

When combining the good with the not so good, it adds up to a game that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I will most definitely play more, but it just doesn’t quite reach its potential. During those dialogue scenes I had so much fun with the game, same with the Princess leveling, and the battles near the end of the game were incredibly challenging and fun to complete. And it’s those battles that saved the combat, to be honest, from becoming too repetitive and stale. But that taste of how good it could be also left me wishing for more.

Regardless of this, The Princess Guide is really easy for me to recommend. It is quirky and so fun, the Princesses are great characters, and it’s just a really good game. Nippon Ichi did a really great job, and for a $40 game, you could easily get 15-20 hours, if not more out of the game to complete all of the different story endings.

Nintendo Nation gives it a ‘Like’ and a score of 8 Dragon Steaks out of 10.

Nintendo Switch Review: Claybook

Quick Review: Claybook offers an initially intriguing clay-physics puzzle platformer for the Nintendo Switch, that ultimately can’t quite hold the player’s attention.

Rather not read it? View our YouTube review!

Developed by Second Order

Nintendo Switch Release Date: March 12, 2019

Let’s preface this review by saying that Claybook is a neat idea.

Gameplay

It’s a puzzle platformer game where the player must move a ball(or cube, disc, duck, or other shape) made out of clay to different objectives or to solve puzzles on a small level also made out of clay. Some shapes that the player controls even have special abilities, like a bomb shape that repels clay and a magnet that attracts.

Clay physics is not a phrase that I have ever thought of or I ever intended to think about in my life, but with Claybook, here we are. Understanding the physics of the game is paramount to enjoying it, and that can take some time.

Clay ducky, you’re the one!

I don’t think the game has that initial thing needed to grab the player’s attention and to hold it for long periods of time. My play sessions consisted of short runs, a level here, a level there. And come to think of it, that’s a perfect fit for the Switch, where I think this game might find moderate success. But in general, the gameplay became stale quickly and didn’t encourage me to try again after completing a level.

Let’s talk about the aforementioned Clay physics. The levels made out of clay really do act, I imagine, as clay might act when interacting with more clay. The shape that the player controls picks up remnants of other color clay as it travels, a nice touch, and the weight of the clay shape will slightly eat away at the level as you traverse it. If your shape falls a large enough distance it will also compress your clay shape and distort it for a short time. These clay physics of the game are actually done quite well, and if there is an endearing quality of the game, this is it.

That boy has large eyes, and he is quite focused on that cube of clay.

Presentation

There are stories and chapters which act as the levels in the game that kind of make the game feel like a storybook, but not quite in a cohesive way. The game takes place in a child’s bedroom on a square table, so you can see some toys and the child’s bed off in the distance, as well as the young child himself. He is watching intently and using a joystick, so I suppose that’s us as the player, playing with the clay.

There are 20 pre-made levels which consist of the main game. New chapters and stories unlock as players complete the levels, and depending on how successful they are. When you complete a level, you will be given a grade, anywhere from 1 star to 3 stars. So there are 60 possible stars needed to 100% the game. The more stars you get, the higher score you will receive, and the quicker the next levels unlock.

Main mode level select screen

If you want to get more out of the game beyond this, there is a level creator mode, where you can build your own chapters and your own story. I entered the mode just to check it out and I was pretty overwhelmed to be honest. That’s not to say it won’t be utilized by some people, but I could tell right away that it would not be something I personally would use.

These levels can be uploaded to the Community Creations server and be played. I played one or two that were available, so there must be some form of cross play done here, and after completing a level you can up vote or downvote to increase visibility. The ones I played were very simple, I would actually be curious to see the types of creations people come up with once the game releases on the Switch. Right now, it seems like a mode that was not utilized by many people on the platforms where the game has previously been released.

Controls/Camera

Back to the main mode. Moving around the levels consists of using thumbsticks to change the direction and the camera angle. You’ll go up, down, and across all manner of ramps and stairs and crosswalks in an attempt to get to your next objective. Objectives include filling tanks with clay, or using ZR to “eat” chocolate pieces with your shape, getting to the next waypoint, or leaving behind a particular shape in a certain spot. Fulfilling these objectives unlocks the exit of the level, which happens when 50% of the objectives are fulfilled. And if you want to go for a high score and reach the top of the online leader boards, you’ll want to go for 100% completion while doing it as fast as you can.

Traversing the stages is not always the easiest task, but luckily the game has a rewind function, one that you will want to get used to using if you are prone to making mistakes. The rewind always leaves behind a solid shape of clay of whatever shape you are using. You can use this to your advantage to get across gaps or to build steps of sorts to get out of pits or to higher levels. This function does work, and I can see Second Orders vision for its use, but it’s a little difficult to get the hang of.

There’s that boy again, intently focused on his clay shape.

Now, I think I ought to touch on the camera in the game. I really didnt enjoy the camera, and I feel like it just isn’t very intuitive. There were many times where I struggled just to get the proper view to help me get where I needed to go. There are many times where the camera goes through and inside objects and that can be very distracting. My daughter, who is 8 and is what I would call an advanced video game player for her age, gave the game a shot during our time with it. She gave up very quickly because of the camera.

Soundtrack

To touch on the soundtrack, I think Second Order did a good job, but there isn’t very much variety. The orchestrated soundtrack is fun and whimsical, transporting the player to better, simpler times. There isn’t much variance, but in general the soundtrack accomplishes the task of making the player feel good while playing.

Title theme from Claybook

The Verdict

Claybook does some interesting things with clay that behaves like real clay, and that really is a unique thing I have never seen before. But once that initial charm wears off, ultimately I think the gameplay just isn’t that good. The camera inhibits gameplay a bit too often, and after finishing my playthrough for this review, I have had no real desire to go back to improve my times or scores. So while my initial playthrough was at times fun and entertaining, replay-ability might be an issue for some.

Still, I think the game could find an audience, especially for those looking for a unique puzzle platformer with a custom level builder. Claybook could scratch that itch. But for most, it will likely be a game you play through once and never think about again.

Nintendo Nation is Indifferent.

Translation: The game is fine, but won’t move the needle for most gamers.

Review: Unknown Fate

Quick Review

Marslit Games delivers an interesting, albeit flawed, experience that is, if nothing else, worth a shot.

Don’t want to read it? View it instead!

Nintendo Nation’s Unknown Fate Review

Unknown Fate is a really, really interesting game. There are few games that by the end really make you think about every little detail, but in the case of Unknown Fate, I found myself dissecting everything. Every interaction, every flashback, every seemingly minute detail to try to finally piece together an intriguing puzzle.

Marslit games, the brother tandem from Italy, have taken a huge risk with their first foray into game development, and in general, they have succeeded. Unknown Fate is successful in its story telling and character design, but it falls short in other areas. Where that leaves us is with a game that is ultimately quite good, but with some refinement, could be so much better.

Story

The story focuses on Richard, a man that finds himself in an obscure world with no indication or memory of how he arrived there. The world is bizarre, to say the least, and there are characters introduced that don’t make a whole lot of sense at first. There’s the woman in white, the Guardian, more guardians, a dog that also turns out to be intrical to the story, and mysterious, huge creatures that appear and come to life out of no where.

Title Screen

One of the more interesting parts of the game, both in terms of story and artistically, is the flashback memory world. Here, everything is in black and white and the people have been mostly blacked out to make for a really interesting and compelling look. Richard relives these memories through his different perspectives. First as a child, then as an adolescent, then as a young adult. These flashback memories at first don’t have much meaning, but by the end of the game they begin to make more sense, eventually becoming the basis behind Richard’s character arc.

All of this leads to some pretty cool moments of clarity for Richard and the player, as more is revealed about his traumatic past, and how he has struggled to let go of things he couldn’t control and things he blamed himself for. Once you realize just what this means, it’s easy to sympathize and ultimately root for Richard to overcome his demons.

The Guardians, caretakers of the bizarre world Richard finds himself, are quite well done and offer Richard advice and guidance throughout his journey. They also appear in the flashbacks in very subtle ways that really make the player question what’s happening, and what role they ultimately play.

The first Guardian

The world is divided mostly into three different asthetics. Each has a unique feel with different items littered throughout to indicate a time in Richard’s life. The first world has blocks, picket fences, and other childhood reminders. Later on there is a world with pencils and paper, ink bottles, and cassette tapes, perhaps to indicate school aged Richard. Then there are the half lit cigarettes, push pins, and brightly lit computer screens in another world, indicating a stressed man at work. Richard’s memories are clearly tied to certain periods of his life.

The story and the world building are the most interesting things about Unknown Fate. If I could review this game based simply on those, it would receive a very high grade. But there is more to the game, and it’s unfortunately not all good. The game’s shortcomings are in the gameplay itself, where there isn’t much variety and there isn’t much attention to detail or polish.

Gameplay

I’d like to first say “kudos” to Marslit Games for attempting a first person game for their very first video game. That takes guts. But…

Unknown Fate has some real problems when it comes to the simple things. To start, there are many times during the game where some sort of auto aim would be beneficial. I understand that the game was developed on PC first, so perhaps these things should be forgiven, designed for a mouse and keyboard, but the lack of auto aim on the console version makes for very unsatisfying gameplay. Shooting at platforms or enemies is difficult and the aiming controls are jerky at best. I got used to it during my play through, but I can’t overlook how much better the game would play with a simple magnetism towards the targets.

And when it comes to enemies, it’s another dud. The lack of auto aim and the lack of any sort of collision sounds makes fighting enemies a very unrewarding experience, one that was simply a nuisance more than anything else. I questioned many times why the enemies were even in the game to begin with. They are unnecessary and don’t provide any compelling gameplay.

An enemy approaches. Without aiming magnetism, it will probably be more difficult than you expect.

There are quality of life problems beyond this. For example, there are traversal problems with jumping and getting stuck on ledges. I fell through the map once and had to restart. When you miss a jump and fall and the game takes you back to the previous checkpoint you often aren’t facing in the proper direction. Aside from falling through the map, which obviously should not happen, these problems are what I consider to be oversights. I expect that with more experience Marslit will be able to work out some of these issues with their next game, but for Unknown Fate, it can lead to a frustrating experience.

To progress the story, Richard must traverse the landscape with the use of The Artifact, a glowing orb that grants different uses. Simple puzzle solving and platforming becomes more complex as you progress, and the artifacts’ three forms are unlocked. The first form shoots a beam of light and stuns enemies, the second allows the player to rotate and move some platforms and boxes, and the third shoots a time altering ball of light. After unlocking all three I think the game opens up and the puzzle solving becomes pretty fun.

With the power of the Artifact, I’m going to rotate the $*%$ out of those platforms

Soundtrack/Voice Acting

The soundtrack for the game is OK. Each world has a unique track or two that repeats throughout. My favorite was the third world where there is a soothing piano track. But unfortunately, I must mention that the English voice acting is… Not good. The actor that plays Richard is not convincing, to put it lightly. Some of the others, like the guardians, are much better, but I can’t help but feel if Richard had been cast a bit better the voice acting as a whole would be raised. The female lead, Eveline, is also weak. And, Richard pronounces Eveline’s name differently than Eveline pronounces her own name, which I just found to be very strange. You’ll understand why if you choose to play the game.

On top of the actual acting, there are some audio problems where the voice acting is very quiet in comparison to the rest of the game sounds. That’s part of a wide variety of miscues, and it’s the attention to detail that I feel the game lacks.

Huh? Didn’t catch that.

Verdict

Despite the many problems the game suffers from, I found myself enjoying the game, completely invested in seeing it to the end. The story comes together very nicely, revealing what Richard’s struggles and memories were all about, and after the third artifact power unlocks the puzzle solving becomes fun and a bit more varied.

For a first attempt at a video game, I think Marslit Games should be very proud of what they have accomplished. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But the game has a certain something about it that should be applauded and many gamers will likely appreciate. It has a complex and compelling story with a satisfying end. The gameplay improves with each artifact power. There is incredibly interesting world and character design that is exciting and should be revered by anyone who is appreciative of such qualities. What Unknown Fates does well… It does REALLY well. It’s unfortunate that the flaws are also just as apparent.

But despite the game’s shortcomings, I think this is a game worth playing. It only takes about 6 hours to complete, but I think the message at the end of the game and how it all ties together is really satisfying. Richard’s plight is something I won’t soon forget. Some might not be able to get past the clumsy controls, and I wouldn’t blame you… But if you can, you’ll likely enjoy a very unique and interesting experience.

Nintendo Nation Recommends

Translation: a game that we would happily play that may have flaws others can’t look past.

Indie Spotlight: Has-Been Heroes

One of my favorite games on the Switch isn’t one you’d likely expect. It’s a fairly obscure title, one of those roguelike(lite?) that are all the rage. I’ve played it for nearly 400 hours according to my Switch! This week I have a couple HBH things planned, as I put the spotlight on a game I feel deserves much more love from the gaming world.

To kick off our Game Review section on Nintendo Nation, I wanted to do something a little different. I thought of ways I could highlight games that are special to me. There are tons of games on Switch that maybe flew under the radar, maybe the game released during a bad time, or maybe I just really like the game and want people to know it. Has Been Heroes was released on March 28, 2017 for the Switch. Since then, it has become one of my all time favorite indie games. Will you feel the same? Read on to see if the game is for you. If the game interests you, check out my video, a deep dive into the mechanics of the game. I’ll teach you how to play the most efficient way possible.

Introduction

To play Has Been Heroes is kind of a battle. A battle first against the game, where you are up against the odds right from the start. With game mechanics, spell and item management, and waves of random enemies in your path, it can be daunting. It’s a battle of attrition, as you die, then die again. It’s a battle of memory.  Yours better be short, or long in some cases, to overcome randomly generated events and remember that you can. Because there will come a time where you want to quit, and believe me, I had those moments. But I don’t, and what I’ve found is…a game that from top to bottom is fundamentally good, but has difficult time quickly conveying that to the player.

Has Been Heroes is great. It really is. And according to my Switch play time(nearly 400 hours), I might be one of the few people that can definitively tell you all you need to know. But I guess we should start with the basics, because if you are reading a review for the game, odds are you haven’t played it.

Has Been Heroes is a Rogue Like(lite) lane based game where you control three Heroes while escorting two princesses to school. The truth of the matter is that the game plays more like a puzzle game. One mistake while trying to solve the puzzle can easily make it crumble to pieces, as I had moments early on while still learning the game where I would freeze, unable to do anything at all, as the waves took out a single member of my party. So solving each puzzle(battle) the most efficient way possible is really what the game is about.

Three heroes make up your team.

  • Warrior: one hit per attack and the most damage per hit. Fastest cool down for melee attacks.
  • Mage: two hits per attack and generally are the weakest. Midrange cool down for melee.
  • Rogue: three hits per attack with average damage dealt. Slowest melee recharge.

Each hero starts with an item specific to them and a spell. Items are passive, meaning they do not need to be activated by the player. Spells on the other hand must be activated and are then on a cool down, which can be anywhere from 6 seconds up to 90 seconds depending upon the spell.

There are 36 possible heroes to unlock, and generally they improve, whether it be with max stamina, damage per hit, spell damage, critical hit chance, etc., with each new unlock. Still with me? Unlock them by getting through to the last boss and winning. One new character unlocks each time you win. One thing to keep in mind though, is that in order to unlock characters, each character row must first be completed. So you’ll need to unlock all characters in each row before unlocking any in the next. And, just to confuse you even more, at the end of the run you must open the treasure chest with the character class you are trying to unlock next. So you are trying for the mage in the next column? Before opening the chest, make sure you move your mage to the middle so he is the one that opens the chest. Whew.

Back to the game itself…

Your heroes have green blocks next to their red health bar. These blocks are kind of like a shield, as you can’t be hurt until they are gone(except by elements such as poison, fire, and lightning.) The waves of enemies also have stamina, and this is when the puzzle aspect of the game kicks in. Enemies can be stunned by removing their exact amount of stamina prior to doing another attack. So if a Skeleton with 1 stamina is approaching, ideally, you would stun him with your Warrior(who does one attack per turn.) And then you would hit him while he is stunned for full effect.

Stunning does 3 things.

First, The enemy stops moving forward, other than the very slow scroll of the screen which moves them a very small distance per second. This can buy valuable time at the very least.

Next, you can now get to their health without a damage penalty. Because if you over hit an enemy without removing the stamina first, you will get -10% damage penalty for the hits that do connect to the health bar.

Finally, if the enemy is stunned, your hits will send the enemy flying to the back of the stage, while also removing one of their max stamina, giving you time and space to plan your next attack.

Stunning before attacking is huge. There will be times you can’t or won’t want to stun though, but that is the meta game that only playing can provide.

Movement

But stunning is just part of it, because you will need to figure out how to move your heroes around the 3 lanes to line up your next hit. There is a pause button in the game(L on the Switch), and the game pauses automatically after each hit. You can only move your heroes in between attacks, so as a new player, do not rush this. Take your time to analyze the battle so you can move each character around where you need. And if you are flustered, pause the game.

Something to keep in mind is that there is also backslash damage. If your hero hits an enemy on the way back to position, he does damage. This can be very important, but I typically do not go out of my way to backslash. If it lines up, sure. But, there are some enemies with lots of stamina, but low health, where backslash is quite useful, so keep that in mind when you see an undead skeleton with 20 stamina.

Maps

Each area has a map that you must traverse before fighting a boss. These maps are hugely important and can easily be the difference between a successful run and a failed run. I can’t stress this enough, HIT EVERY CROSSROAD and every battle, if you can. Because you see, gold is so so so important in this game, and each crossroad has some sort of use. There are spell vendors, merchants, chests, locksmiths, Hp/stamina camps, gamblers, and alters. You need money for most of these, and the only way to get money is to battle. So while it might be against your instinct, do not avoid battles. There are at least 4 battles on every map, and you should attempt to get them all.

Of course, that isn’t always possible, because there is a backtracking penalty in Has Been Heroes! Yep, just one more thing to think about. Candles are used when backtracking, and if you use a candle when you have zero in your inventory, the run is over. I found this out the hard way, and sometimes I would risk things hoping to get a candle from a battle or chest. Not worth it. And that’s a common theme in the game, determining when something is worth it. Worth the risk, worth the gold, worth the trouble. It’s part of the meta game which takes a lot of consideration.

Spells, items, elements

Perhaps the most intimidating part of the game is the sheer number of things to have to worry about. I’ll first touch on spells.

There are really 4 types of spells, and all of them are pretty important. A successful run can be contingent on these spells, which are based on luck whether you receive ones you find to be most useful.

I categorize them into these groups. Buffs, interrupting, nuisance, and devastation.

Buffs give your hero an advantage on the next melee. This can be extra hits,(double strike) or element damage(poison, water, fire, etc.).

Examples: Thunderstrike, Doublestrike, Last Stand

Interrupting spells are probably the most important for a successful run, particularly late in the game. These spells stop, or interrupt, enemies from performing actions, like bosses giving buffs, or to stop healers.

Examples: Fireball, Poison Dart, Thor’s Anger

Nuisance spells usually last 10-40 seconds and do element damage to lots of enemies over that time. Careful, if you haven’t gotten immunity heroes or items, you will be affected after hitting the enemies, as some elements transfer. Charm and Fear spells also fall in this category, where the enemy either turns and attacks his team, or turns and runs for a short amount of time.

Examples: Charm, Electrophobia, Certain Death

Last are devastation spells. These spells either do massive damage or massive movement to the one or more enemies on the screen. So whether it be removing stamina or lane switches or sending the whole screen to the back, these spells are huge when it’s becoming overwhelming.

Examples: Vortex, Hot Potato, Wet Potato, Earth Stomp.

Spells also have slot perks for each hero. Not much to worry about early on, but definitely something to consider as you load up on spells. Sometimes it will line up, like when your hero has a slot perk for Projectiles shoot two, and you give your hero a Projectile spell, like Poison Dart. In this case, every single time you use Poison Dart, you’ll hit the enemy of your choosing and also a random enemy in view.

As you play, you collect spirit orbs from the enemies you kill, which unlock new items and spells at the end of the run. After collecting 20 orbs(then 40, then 60, etc.) and then pressing ZR or ZL on the Switch, you can use any spell even if it was on cool down. Don’t forget to do this, because not only will it make your runs significantly easier, you actually can’t collect orbs while the guage is full and ready to use. Every time you see that you can use this with ZR or ZL, you should use it in order to keep gathering orbs. It took me longer than I care to admit to figure this out, so I unlocked things very very slowly. I’m trying to save you that heartache.

Items

Spells are only part of the game, as items and management of who you give your items to become crucial. Items can be bought from merchants or can appear in chests. Giving an item to a hero automatically gives that hero +50 health. This is important to consider, as mages and rogues don’t start with as much health as warriors. So early on, you are going to want to protect your Rogue and Mage with items. Items typically provide buffs, but sometimes it can be a significant buff and also a nerf in one item.

Items can provide all sorts of buffs. Element immunity or perhaps a plus 10 Melee damage. Maybe a 10% faster spell recharge or 5% plus critical by chance. Some can provide plus 1 max stamina or faster Melee recharge. Late in the game, there are items that give +Melee hits, and these are probably the most important items in the game. Using these with double strike or last stand(100% attack on next hit) is ridiculously fun. I always give my spell recharge items to the rogue so that double strike is up as fast as it can be. It’s stuff like this that makes the game easier, and you need to think about that, because it is so difficult if you aren’t thinking.

And while the game offers all of these little nuances, it’s the gameplay itself which is so addicting. Because now I play fast, really fast, and my goal is always to wipe out the enemies during battle or to kill the boss as quickly as possible. This makes for some frantic moments, but to execute perfectly is always something I strive for. But the game is unrelenting, and even when I think I’ve mastered it, a new wrinkle comes my way, and I must adapt on the fly. It is very rewarding to complete a run, even now, even though I have 100% completed the game.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you have kept track of all I’ve laid out. Odds are, you haven’t. And that’s ok, like I said, the game throws a lot at the player, and it really doesn’t explain anything very well. That said, Has Been Heroes has provided me with more enjoyment and play time than a $20 game ever really should. It grabbed hold of me, and with every thing I had in me, I wanted to win, I wanted to improve, and I wanted to learn the best way to play. It wasn’t always fun, as I have often felt the game wants you to grind, wants you to lose, even when things are looking their best. But I kept playing, because I really believe the game is special, it just takes time, and a commitment to wanting to improve. I realize that a lot of people aren’t willing to sink that kind of time into a game, but for me, the stars aligned.

And inarguably, the game doesn’t explain itself well. It’s not a game anyone can grab and instantly enjoy. But here’s something interesting…my 10 year old son adores the game. So it can appeal to a wide range of gamer, though it suffers from not easily being able to convey that appeal. The User Interface is pretty awful at times, with menus almost always appearing where you don’t want them and in the way of other important information. I’ve learned to simply ignore those little discrepancies.

It was a game meant for me, a game that came at a perfect time. I have 100% completed the game including the DLC which includes the three Trine champions. It is a gem, a near endless experience for those who wish it to be. I still play it to this day. And if you have the patience to improve, to laugh off the hardships, to learn the meta, to ignore some of the shortcomings and forge your own path anyway, you will not be disappointed.

Verdict:

Highly Recommend

If you are looking for a Rogue like(lite) that can offer hours upon hours upon hours of compelling gameplay, this game could be for you.

Disclaimer: This review is intended for entertainment purposes only. Nintendonation.net in no way guarantees that individuals will love, hate, like, dislike, or be indifferent to a particular game. It’s a game, opinions will always differ. Decide if you’d like the game, then decide if it would be worth a purchase.