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Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!!

Platforms: DS, 3DS

Developer: WayForward

Genre: Action-Adventure
Based on the popular cartoon, Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!! takes you on a quest through the Land of Ooo to recover the garbage that Ice King stole from Finn and Jake's treehouse. I took this quest and it was quite fun. I wandered around a large map from top-down view and then went into sidescrolling areas and punched, kicked, and sliced familiar foes from episodes throughout the series. It was quite enjoyable, I must admit. However, is it a worthy buy, or just some poor title that will disgrace the name of the series? Read on, because it's reviewing time!!

Thanks to the close partnership series creator Pendleton Ward had with the developers, the game is incredibly close to its source material. The characters are great, as is the writing; I was able to read everything that was said in the voice of the character who said it. There are also plenty of characters from the show in this game; I'm honestly amazed at how many characters do show up, and some locations as well. The story itself presents itself early and involves Finn and Jake from having to go everywhere to try to get the Ice King to give them their stuff back. Along the way, they run into a large cast of characters from the show and beat up monsters.

The overworld map is pretty cool; it's easy to figure out where one is going and each area of the map has its own unique overworld music. Occasionally, dark shadows appear on the world map, leading to a small battle that will reward you with an item. What's really cool is that the music for these battles changes depending on what area of the map you're in, and the victory tune is a calmer instrumental of the main theme of the show. It's also fun to check out all the little areas on the map itself. You can also access B.M.O. on the bottom screen, who serves as your menu. With it you can check Finn & Jake's stats, items, a map, and options. It's quite a clever take on the menu, and one that makes perfect sense for a game based on Adventure Time.

On their quest, they'll also come across quite a few chests. These either give a free item (as in the map battles), grant Finn or Jake a new ability or contain Wizard Stars. Wizard Stars are how Finn's stats increase; there are four levels for each of the three stats. Hearts increases maximum health, Attack increases damage dealt, and Speed increases Finn's movement speed both on the overworld and in levels, in addition to increasing the overall attack speed as well. It was quite rewarding to see the changes immediately after leveling up. These stat changes are very helpful in defeating the several bosses throughout the game; in a hilarious touch, nearly all of them have humorous subtitles under their names.

There's also plenty of items to find within the Land of Ooo, some dropped by foes and others found around the environment. There's attack items, status items to increase your speed or attack temporarily, and then recovery items. This is where the fun comes in; you'll find there's normal foods and condiments which you can drag and drop on the foods to change their effect. Though most combinations heal you, there are a few that actually do damage. There's quite a bit of fun had in experimenting and making random things like ketchup in trail mix, or salt on a royal tart. A lot of the items reference past episodes of the show, and they all have some rather hilarious descriptions that scroll along on the bottom screen.
A WayForward game wouldn't be complete without a phenomenal soundtrack by Jake "virt" Kaufman, and this game is no exception. The music is incredibly fitting for the world of Adventure Time, and very entertaining to listen to. The tracks with lyrics are hilarious and well-written, and there's some surprises hidden throughout the various stages. I was constantly amazed by the variety; early on I went from the old-timey grand adventure tune to a hard-rockin' synth-fueled ballad of awesomeness and loved every second of it.

To sum it up, Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!! is a very enjoyable game, despite its brevity. Every element is fantastic and complements every other element, and the game is quite good as a result. It's also good that one can grab it for either DS or 3DS, creating some more accessibility for it; the only difference is the 3DS version has the 3D and some extra music tracks. In addition, there's a New Game+ in which all enemies have double health; however, your stats are how they were at the end of the first playthrough. The Enchiridion is also hidden somewhere within the world, though I have yet to find it. I suppose that will have to wait until another adventure. Until next time, game on!


Fire Emblem: Awakening

Platform: 3DS (Retail and Downloadable via eShop)

Developer: Intelligent Systems

Genre: Turn Based Strategy-RPG

Fire Emblem is a franchise that has a bit of mixed history here in the US. The franchise thrived in Japan ever since the NES and continued for years. Despite this, we never heard hide nor hair of it until 2003 when we got our first entry in the series, this one for Game Boy Advance. Although it was simply titled Fire Emblem, it was in reality the seventh installment and was subtitled Rekka no Ken, or Blazing Sword. The localization effort was no doubt spurred on by the inclusion of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, despite neither appearing in Blazing Sword (or at least, Roy is only a kid in it, and that's at the end of the game). Regardless of that, the game was a great success, leading Nintendo to localize the next 4 games. However, Shadow Dragon (the eleventh entry in the franchise and a remake of the original) didn't do too well. Perhaps it was the outdated systems that took the place of all the advancements of previous entries, or maybe it was the fact you had to purposefully kill your units (remember, Fire Emblem is a series where if a unit dies they're gone for good unless you restart the chapter) in order to access side chapters.

Whatever the reason, the second DS game, this one a remake of the second half of Fire Emblem 3, never made it to our shores. This was quite a shame, as the game introduced the My Unit character, as seen again in this very installment. The hallmark of the My Unit, or Avatar as it is known here, is that the character you create isn't just another unit. No, they're a focal point of the entire story, partnering up with the main character right from the get-go. In Fire Emblem: Awakening, the Avatar awakes after a mysterious dream to see Chrom, leader of the Ylissean Shepherds, helping him or her up. However, the Avatar has amnesia, though she knows who Chrom is due to the dream and quickly remembers her own name shortly after. A nearby town is being beset by brigands though, so the Avatar teams up with Chrom and a few of his Shepherds to fend them off. After doing so, they camp in a nearby forest; this is quickly cut short as the land starts to churn and a mystic portal opens in the sky as undead fall from it. A human figure falls shortly after them, bearing the name Marth. However, the Hero-King Marth lived over 2,000 years beforehand! How could he be there now? And what exactly was the nature of these undead, these Risen?

If you've played the demo, this is where it ends. However, there is much more to the game than that. With the return of the World Map as seen in The Sacred Stones comes quite a bit of optional content. You can find special shops selling rare items, or skirmishes involving the Risen. Occasionally the two combine and you have to protect the merchant from the foes, or maybe two Risen will appear on the same space creating double the challenge. Teams earned from SpotPass and StreetPass will also appear somewhere on the World Map for battles. There will also appear when certain conditions are met some Paralogue spaces, which are the basic side-chapters present in all installments.

You can also access the main menu from here, where you can rearrange your inventory, equip Skills, access new Support conversations between characters (more on those two later), save the game, access wireless features (sans DLC as that's used elsewhere), and check out the Barracks. The Barracks are an area where random events happen to units. Sometimes they'll find an item, or maybe get a temporary stat boost. Other times they'll talk to another character, occasionally building up Support levels between the two. You can also check the Roster, holding the short bios of all currently-recruited members, complete with a yearbook-style random fact about the character and their birthday. At first, I thought the birthday was just a nifty little tidbit; as it turns out, heading to the Barracks on a character's birthday yields three of the events for that one character. The other great thing about the Barracks is that a random character will appear on the bottom screen with a greeting tied to the 3DS internal clock.

Supports and Skills are crucial to survival in this game. As two characters spend time next to each other, their Support levels grow. When they meet certain thresholds, a new Support conversation can be read. As these levels grow, the paired units will gain bonuses with the other is attacked, increasing their hit rate and avoidance, among other things. There are four levels to supports: C, B, A, and S. The thing is, S ranks are special. Thought units can have as many A supports as people they can support with, S supports only appear on characters who can marry, and when reaching S level, those two units do indeed marry. There are additional benefits to this too, but those come on later in the story.

Skills are learned through leveling up. Each class learns two skills, and can reach level 20 (level 30 in the case of certain special classes). It takes 100 experience to level up, though the higher the level the less EXP they get. Once a unit reaches level 10 in any class, they can either use a Second Seal to reclass to another class (units generally have two or three to choose from) or a Master Seal to promote from their base class to a more powerful one (each class can promote to one of two promoted classes) . However, special classes have no promoted versions, hence their higher max level. In addition, upon reaching level 10 in a promoted class, a unit can use a Second Seal to reclass to any of their available base classes or the promoted versions of them; if they max out at level 20, they can even use a Second Seal to return to level 1 of that same class, stat boosts intact. The Avatar can reclass to ANY class (aside from special classes), though he or she will still need a Master Seal to promote. Though there are level limits per class, a unit can reclass as many times as they want, though they'll always start at level 1. In addition, the game tallies the total amount of levels gained, so the more you reclass the longer it may take to level up in that new one.

I'd also like to mention the Wireless menu. Here you can activate (or deactivate) SpotPass features, purchase previously-recruited Spot/StreetPass units, or start a local-multiplayer match with Double Duel. In that last mode, two players collaborate to complete a map. You can also set up your StreetPass team that other players will receive, access the Bonus Box which occasionally gives you bonus teams to fight starring characters from past games, get free items, special Paralogues, and challenger teams for Double Duel. Lastly, you can collect Renown rewards; as you defeat StreetPass and SpotPass teams, you earn Renown points. Once you collect enough Renown points, you can collect free rewards and keep building up that Renown; don't worry though, as you don't spend any Renown when obtaining these items. The Bonus Box is updated every Thursday with the eShop, so be sure to update it regularly to get all the bonuses you can. In addition, a new SpotPass team appears within each entry 24 hours after you last summoned one; when you update the Bonus Box on Thursdays all possible characters from the previously unlocked title will be available to summon at will. It really allows you to keep playing a save long after you defeat the final boss.

The battle system itself is quite nice. The main interface itself is much like chess, but with a lot of other factors. You move your units around the map, placing them carefully to take advantage of whatever support bonuses there may be, and attacking enemies if they're in range of your weapons. Once you do, the battle interface comes up. Damage and hit chance (along with critical hit rate) is governed by the stats of both units, and the battle plays out automatically. Generally, units can attack each other once per round, though if their speed is high enough they can attack twice, and certain weapons might bump this up to four times. Archers can only attack enemies one space away from them (two if they have a Longbow equipped), while magic can hit either adjacent foes or those one space away. As mentioned before, one has to be careful as (unless Casual mode is being played) once a unit dies they're gone for good. Even on Casual mode, they're gone for that chapter and you don't get them back until afterwards. You can also speed up or slow down (or even pause) the combat at any time, and there's the option of a dynamic camera, a side-view one like in early installments, or even a first-person view too.

All these factors combine to create a game in which the campaign is truly yours to craft. Though the story is set and there are some limitations, you choose which characters marry (if possible for them to S support), you choose which classes they are (within their class set), and which weapons they use. You can even forge a weapon to improve its stats (and name it), for a price. Careful though, as every item (except for 2 weapons) has limited uses, and will break when it reaches zero. You also choose who to bring into battle, allowing you to craft your main party as you progress through the game; the world map also allows you to train up backup parties if you so desire. There's also a space that unlocks after Chapter 4 that allows you to purchase and play DLC maps; first time clear bonuses for these range from characters from past games to exclusive items that unlock new classes or skills. The characters unlocked via DLC have unique artwork, meant to differentiate them from SpotPass-earned versions of the same character, who utilize their original artwork. In addition, characters earned through means other than the game itself (SpotPass, StreetPass, and DLC) cannot support at all.
I also can't mention this game without talking about the music, which is incredible. The songs are fantastic, and play during incredibly appropriate times suiting each scene magnificently. There are quite a few tracks, most arrangements of others, but all wonderful. DLC maps also use music from past games in the franchise, all in their original forms. It's interesting to note that the official soundtrack for this game (which comes out in late March) weighs in at 5 discs, which is a great way to show just how much music is in this game. The quality is also quite good, coming out of the 3DS's small speakers with amazing clarity. It's the icing on the cake, really.

At this time, there is no doubt in my mind that this is indeed a game to purchase a 3DS just to play. This isn't hyperbole, this isn't a biased claim, this is what I truly believe based on the outpouring of praise from all corners of the internet. Some people may ask what are right and wrong choices to make with their characters; the thing is, thanks to the amazing customization available, there are no right or wrong choices. Want to build a unit into a tank? Go ahead! Perhaps you'd rather them be attuned to the ways of magic. That's possible too! There are unlimited possibilities in this game, and no two playthroughs are the same. Couple this with four difficulties (higher ones yielding enemies with skills exclusive to those difficulties) and the option to play Casual or Classic and you have yourself endless challenges. I've currently logged nearly 60 hours on my first playthrough, and I'm sure that there will be plenty more to come. Perhaps you can find yourself lost in this world as well; it's certainly a wonderful place to spend your time! Until next time, game on!



Platforms: 3DS (eShop)

Developer: Game Freak

Genre: Rhythm/Platformer
Last year, a game was announced via a Japanese Nintendo Direct event that caught my eye. No, it wasn't Denpa Ningen RPG 2 (though that was the same presentation and I was intrigued by it), the sequel to the already-reviewed The Denpa Men. It was a little game called HarmoKnight: Rhythm Hunter. It was a rhythm game from the minds at GameFreak, and though most of the songs were original there were some audio cameos in the form of Pokémon songs. Time went by and it was eventually announced for localization, much to the relief of many, myself included. And it just came out yesterday, sans the "Rhythm Hunter" subtitle. So was it everything I had waited for? Did it live up to the hype? Why don't you read on and find out, eh?

After a brief introduction, the game drops you off at some tutorials. Thankfully these are fun little endeavors that help you get acquainted with the game. Also there's only 3 of them, which helps too; the last of these is designed to kickstart the actual storyline, and does so quite nicely. Beings known as Noizoids have invaded the peaceful realm of Melodia, and their very presence emits sounds that drive the local creatures insane. Tempo, the main character, and Tappy, his lapin friend, are tasked with carrying a legendary staff to Symphony City where Princess Ariana can find a worthy hero to wield it. Along the way they meet up with Lyra, an archer who shoots enemies from afar with her harp, and Tyko, a drummer who travels the world with his monkey friend Cymbi. Both have brief tutorials on how to control them, as there are stages where they temporarily take over for Tempo partway through.

It's a small group, but no game truly needs a large ensemble. The gameplay is pretty simple too, utilizing only a few buttons. There's also a nice interconnected world map a la Super Mario World that you traverse. The map is broken into sections, usually based on genre. For instance, there's a jaunty march world, a craggy rock world, a festive jazz world, and so on. I really enjoyed seeing the new areas and hearing the music; it's pretty good, which is almost a prerequisite for any music game. The boss stages are fun too; these stages take a Simon approach to the gameplay. You're told what to do with vocal commands and then you repeat. For instance, one stage might have you input RIGHT LEFT HIT HIT JUMP, all to the rhythm of the music. As with many rhythm games, the more you play the better you get, and some stages may take several tries to get right.

You're ranked at the end of each stage based on how many notes you collected; if you score high enough, the notes will cause the Victory Flower at the end of every stage to bloom. This gives you the Royal Note for that stage, which are necessary to proceed through the game. There are three ranks you can earn upon completion of a stage: So-So, which does nothing and means you have to retry for that Royal Note (provided you haven't earned it already); Good, which earns you that much-needed Royal Note; and Great, which gets you both the Royal Note and unlocks the option to replay the stage at double speed. If you get a Great on both versions of a stage (normal and fast), you'll unlock concept art visible in the Stage Selector, accessible on the World Map by pressing Y.

There's a lot of replayability in this title, something that's common across all rhythm games. After all, you'll want to keep playing to get a high score, and in this game there's unlockables for doing just that. You can also listen to the music of any stage by highlighting it and hitting Start while in the Stage Selector, something that I find incredibly awesome. Though the story may not take long to wrap up, there's some extra-hard stages that lie hidden within the world of Melodia, and it'll take some exploration through the stages to find out how to unlock them. The game also has a great sense of humor; the interactions between the group were very well-written, and I eagerly awaited seeing what they'd say next. Even Tappy, the game's helper character, is funny; you'll find him holding signs at various places throughout the stages, and sometimes he says some pretty hilarious things. It's also fun to hit him; if you time it right, an attack will make him stumble backwards and drop the sign he's holding. What's even better is that this is a good indicator of whether your timing is off or not; if you can hit him, then you're in good shape to continue the stage.
All in all, HarmoKnight is quite the gem. Though the pricetag might be a little high at $15, I find that it is well worth it. There's so much to do and the music is so good that I've found it difficult to put the game down; I'm constantly going back to old stages to get a Great on them, or trying the Fast version of a stage to get a Great on that. HarmoKnight is definitely worth your time; it's a welcome reminder that GameFreak can make fantastic games outside of Pokémon, and one that gives hope for more unique experiences from them. There's a free demo available right now, and though the available levels in that aren't quite in harmony with the locations in the actual game, it's still worth it to check that out. Until next time, game on!


Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Platforms: 3DS

Developer: AlphaDream

Genre: Turn-Based RPG
Mario RPGs have an interesting history. The first one, known as Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, was a collaboration between Square Enix and Nintendo, and was released late in the Super NES's lifespan. From there, the RPG subseries of everyone's favorite Italian plumber was split in two. First came Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64, which was known as Super Mario RPG 2 in development. In this world, everyone was made of paper and the battle system took on its own 2D life. The second half came in 2003 with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga on the Game Boy Advance. This one was far more reminiscent of Super Mario RPG, and for good reason! The developer, AlphaDream, is made up of several former Square Co. developers who worked on Super Mario RPG, and the music is by Yoko Shimomura, just like in that first game. Since that quest in a neighboring kingdom, the titular brothers have ventured into the past and also throughout Bowser's body; now, they embark on a new quest that will take them into the world of dreams.

As usual, the game starts the story off quickly, and a tutorial battle ensues. In the process, the blimp that takes the gang of Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toadsworth, and some Toads to the game's locale of Pi'illo Island is destroyed and descends rapidly to the ground... Or maybe not. For some reason, Luigi seems to have become rather narcoleptic and fell asleep, dreaming the whole trip. They're still going to Pi'illo Island, of course, but they landed rather safely. This new trait of his becomes important in the long run, as it allows him to fall asleep almost anywhere, easily allowing Mario access to the Dream World for whatever they need. It's not long before it's revealed that the island is the location of the long-lost Pi'illo Kingdom, which befell an unknown fate at the hands of a being known as Antasma.

The game takes place both in the real world of Pi'illo Island and that of dream versions of the various locations on the island. What's interesting is that the real world's gameplay is much like previous games in the series; you explore with a top-down view and use the various abilities you earn along the way to traverse the island. Much like the sections of the previous game that took place within Bowser, the Dream sections are flat 2D. However, while in the Dream World, you gain the abilities of Dreamy Luigi, a version of Luigi that can harness the abilities of the world of sleep. Soon after, you'll be able to use those powers, known as Luiginary Works, to activate certain objects and reach places you'd never think you'd be able to reach. And in battle, you can use the Luiginary Abilities to pull off amazing special attacks to handle the hordes of enemies you'll find within.

Of course, you'll have access to Bros. Attacks outside of battle as well. Much like Bowser's Inside Story, you earn new moves via Attack Blocks scattered throughout both Pi'illo Island and the Dream World. You also gain ranks as you level up; unlike the previous game, however, you get to choose the perks you get with each new rank. Just think before you pick, since you can't change the perk once you choose it, and since there's more perks than ranks, there's no way to get all the perks on one save file. The game also introduces an Easy Mode; if you die in battle, you can restart that battle either as normal or in Easy Mode, with your power and defense spiked really high. After battle, it returns to normal, so it's just a temporary boost if you just can't get past a boss and don't want to grind. Badges also return as they were in the previous game, where you combine two for various effects and charge the meter until it's full. The bosses use some really creative moves that take advantage of the hardware; there were a lot of neat surprises that I really enjoyed seeing. Of course, you'll be able to do the same thing with your special attacks too, really adding to the fun of using them. In addition, there's a piece of equipment which has varying stats depending on how many steps you've taken that day; using the pedometer in such a way really surprised me. There are also several Giant Luigi battles, in which the green plumber becomes absurdly large to take down equally large foes, echoing the Giant Bowser battles of the previous game.

As for the music... Well, it's Yoko Shimomura. That should really be all that needs to be said. Each piece of music really captures the essence of the area, and some hearken back to previous entries in the series. The theme for Driftwood Shore, for instance, is very reminiscent of a few tracks from the first Mario & Luigi. On the other hand, there's several songs in this game that are reminiscent of some themes from Kingdom Hearts, which is also nice. As with any RPG, a strong soundtrack is often as important as the gameplay and story, and as usual it's a complete package here. The writing is also expertly done, keeping the trend of fantastic humor intact. One of my favorite lines is one of the first you can see; after landing on Pi'illo Island, you'll see a large crowd gathered organized in such a way that they guide you where you need to go. Although not all of them have unique things to say, my favorite is one of the residents who says, "VISITING PERSON!" upon seeing Mario. Really, it's the only way to greet tourists, as far as I'm concerned. You'll also see quite a few Beanish folks along with Hoohooligans, both from the Beanbean Kingdom, along with some new races.
In my opinion, Dream Team is a worthy follow-up to Bowser's Inside Story. Though many may see that one as the "Thousand Year Door" of the Mario & Luigi series, in that it's very hard to top, I feel that it does a great job on its own. There are many things it borrows from that game, and it does it well. The music is fantastic as always, the humor is omnipresent, the gameplay is intuitive and catchy, the story is fun and lighthearted... All things that a Mario & Luigi game should have. It also has decent length; I didn't take that much time to try finding other things or complete sidequests, and it still took over 40 hours, without any real padding to artificially lengthen it. If you're in the mood for a fun RPG, or want to see more of Luigi, or just want a great new game for your 3DS, then pick this one up; it might just be the adventure you were dreaming of. Until next time, game on!


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