Let me be your HOG.

I haven’t played many hidden object games in the last few years, but I recently stumbled across the eighth entry in Sunward Games’ The Secret Order series on the Switch eShop, and since I’d played the first six games I figured I may as well see what Sarah Pennington has been up to.  Not sure how I missed #7, but maybe I’ll track that down later.

For the uninitiated, Sarah has been living a very odd life since the events of the first game, where she was a perfectly ordinary person living a perfectly ordinary life until she was saved from an assassination attempt by her nephew from the future.  She’s been to the past (a few times), to the Amazon, ancient Egypt, etc, etc, lots of various exotic locales where the problems of the day can be solved by rummaging through piles of junk to find random things and solving logic puzzles, and this installation in the series has her going back to, well, uh…

Look, it’s right in the title.

Anyway, the last time she was in the Buried Kingdom she made friends with a baby dragon and restored the proper ruler and all was well, which naturally couldn’t last.

Look, the plots in these things are usually pretty flimsy.  Bad guys are bad, good guys are good, it’s all about the art and the puzzles.

And this game IS pretty, with lots of the colorful environments you tend to get in any HOG and some very detailed characters.

Yes, you talk to a skeleton who is also a harp.  Which is pretty metal.

Admittedly, compared to Live2D or E-Mote, the actual character animations are pretty stiff and unremarkable.  It would be interesting to see Sunward combining an animation system like that with their more detailed characters.

The art style extends to some of the weird things you have to pick up and carry around until you’ve found the right place to use them to solve a puzzle, after which time you typically discard them without a thought towards future purpose.

Well, you use this thing twice, because it’s an axe on one side and a hammer on the other.  Unique tool, indeed.

And for some reason the developers put a mimic in the game?  You carry this around until you find a rope that needs something heavy on it to serve as a counterweight, then the mimic gloms onto the rope for you.  I’m actually OK with using this once and never again.


Unfortunately, while the art is top notch and the story had just enough weirdness to it to be interesting, the game as a whole is a bit of a letdown.

First, while this is a hidden object game, I had a heck of a time actually solving hidden object scenes on the tiny Switch screen.

I wound up needing to switch the game into “tile match” mode most of the time.  This lets you play a round of concentration to clear the hidden object scenes, and that was kind of a disappointment.  One of the big draws to any HOG is that it scratches the same itch as looking for “Nina” in a Hirschfield drawing or spending more time looking for the bunny on a Playboy cover than you do ogling the cover model, and playing a HOG as not-a-HOG doesn’t give you nearly the same feeling of being clever.

There is something about being told that you need to find a “bow” in a scene and needing to figure out whether you are looking for a projectile weapon, a violin bow, or a hair ornament, and whether it will be right out in the open or maybe just barely visible as an object in a painting, and I didn’t really get to enjoy that because it was frustratingly difficult to find things on the Switch’s screen and the virtual pointer didn’t really allow for precision clicking.  Some sort of zoom or magnification setting would have been really helpful here, or letting you use the touch screen to select things rather than forcing the use of the joycons.

I realize that I have just seriously dated myself with the earlier references.  Fortunately, the average HOG enjoyer is probably old enough to get them.

Second, it’s super short.  Like, you can make any hidden object game shorter if you abuse the “where do I need to go” button and fast travel, much less the hint button and puzzle skips, but this is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short.  There aren’t very many hidden object scenes at all, and few puzzles that aren’t a matter of just using every item in your inventory on them until one of them works.

This is published by Artifex Mundi, who tends to have pretty steep discounts on their eShop games when they go on sale, so I suspect I paid closer to $3 than the $15 list price they ask for this. At $3 it’s a good deal for about 3 hours of light puzzle solving.  At full price I would have been upset.

Maybe I should figure out which game was #7 and give it a go.  I suspect if I actually play it on the TV instead of in handheld mode I will have much less to grouse about.

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Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story

It has been a very – VERY – long time since I have played a traditional adventure game, the kind where you wander through some sort of fantastical setting picking up every loose object you can find and trying to apply them to puzzles that make sense only in the game designer’s twisted logic.

To be honest, the last one I played may have come on floppy disks.

I’ve played a ton of “Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure” games in the intervening years, of course, but those tend to be very friendly and point out which locations still have stuff to find and where you might be able to use the latest thing you’ve just collected.  Many of them also have fast travel to avoid annoying backtracking.

Sense is not as nice about this.  It’s not as obviously-designed to sell hint books as the Sierra adventure games of yore, but there is an awful lot of needing to slowly walk back and forth, going into rooms you’ve already seen a ton of times, to find exactly the right spot to use the thing you’ve just picked up or to find the thing that you have walked past a dozen times that your character has finally realized is worth collecting.

So why’s it worth playing, then?

Well, apart from the blatant pandering to baser instincts displayed by the main character, it’s a really atmospheric horror game set in the sort of cyberpunk future that we used to envision 40 years ago.  Well, sorta.  Your character LIVES in 2083, but 90% of the game takes place in a haunted apartment complex that was sealed up in 1983 after things went horribly wrong.  Your only glimpses of 2083 come at the very start and end of the game, and in one tiny segment where you actually go outside to get between wings of the building.

I would not want to live in this 2083, but I’ve always associated the cyberpunk genre as “tech + decay” and this particular version of Future Seattle is beautifully realized for that aesthetic.

So, with a virtual setting of 1983, the tech inside the apartments themselves is… well, sparse and extremely analog.

Saving is done by finding betamax tapes and then betamax VCRs where you can record your progress, for example.  This is Survival Horror for Gen X Nerds.

With most of the game taking place in a very run-down and falling-apart 1983 apartment complex, I could understand some serious disappointment if you read the game’s title and expected to be jacking in to cyberspace and pulling off some William Gibson hijinks.  In fact, the main character is just trying to meet someone for a first date – hence the flimsy justification for the dressed-to-kill outfit – and has to go into the bathroom to calm her nerves while she waits for her date to show up.  When she comes out, everything has gone all to heck and suddenly she has a whole lot of ghosts to deal with while trying to escape the apartments she’s become mysteriously stuck in.

Some of these ghosts are simply mischievous – I loved the one that would steal items from your inventory and, ahem, spirit them away to its lair – some are actually friendly and some are downright malevolent.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a way to lay them all to rest.   Each purification comes with a little comic-panel-style cutscene, and some of them are quite emotional.


The developer cites Fatal Frame as an inspiration, and while there’s no camera-related combat it definitely has some of the same feeling of wandering through the aftermath of Something Bad Happened and trying to piece it together from environmental clues.  There’s a lot of examining items and journal reading in your future.

It also has a related easter egg that gave me a huge grin when I examined a camera I found in one of the rooms.

I would also like to mention that the music and sound design are top notch.  Those are a big part of making an effective horror game, and I felt this nailed both.

The actual experience of playing the game, as I kind of alluded to earlier, is… well, clunky.  Setting the sometimes-obtuse puzzles aside, there’s a number of occasions where you can be doing things entirely out of sequence and the game does not adapt well.

For example, you don’t actually encounter many downright hostile ghosts until you’re about halfway through the game, and your character needs to learn how to exorcise them.  Straightforward, right?

Except you can skip the bit where you learn how to perform exorcisms and then suddenly find yourself in a cutscene where you are sealing away a ghost like you finally remembered that Exorcism 201 course you took back in community college.  I suppose it’s better than a painful death scene, but maybe locking the character out of the conflict until they’ve gone through the story justification to get there would have been better.

There’s also some combat, though it’s blissfully rare, which features you kind of vaguely waving this enchanted sword thing at ghosts and hoping the collision detection goes your way.

And, like every adventure game in history, it is plagued by Single Use Items.  This grate, for example, is something you run into very late in the game.  By this time you have used and thrown away a number of crowbars, knives, and screwdrivers, but when you get to this grate you now need to rummage around until you’ve found a letter opener to get into it.

The last negative thing I’m going to say is this: Sense is available for the Switch, Mac, Linux, Windows, Playstation and Xbox.  If you have any choice at all, do not play it on the Switch like I did.  For a game that doesn’t seem like it should be taxing the system all that much, it suffers some really obvious slowdown throughout.  It was written by a three person team, and I stumbled across a Steam forum post from the developer apologizing for the Switch performance and saying they weren’t able to optimize it further, so at least they tried?

So, would I recommend this game?

Well, hmm.  Yes.  If you are able to get into the setting and atmosphere, you can probably forgive the clunkiness and slow pacing.  There’s a demo version on Steam to check out, which should help seal the deal one way or the other.

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Gunma’s Ambition: What did I just play?

So, Japan has a reputation for putting out weird games at times.  And I’m very guilty of pointing at something like Umamusume and saying “look, Japan so wacky!”.

But, really, that’s just girls who are idol singers and also horses.  It’s (cute thing + cute thing + someone’s fetish) and that’s not weird so much as it’s just cashing in on the weak-minded who will trade money for horsegirl .pngs.

Gunma’s Ambition: You and Me are Gunma, now this is a weird game.  It’s the sort of thing that we got on phones back before every game became a f2p micro transaction nightmare, and it fits perfectly with the general vibe of the Switch.

I know nothing about Gunma prefecture.  I’ve only ever heard of it because J-list makes their headquarters there, and also it shows up in an episode of Rail Wars! which is a fine anime about trains and you probably should just leave that statement right there and not google image search it.

Now that I’ve played this game, I went over to Wikipedia to see if it could tell me more, and apparently it’s one of Japan’s few land-locked prefectures and is historically associated with horse (actual horses, not girls who are horses) culture in Japan and there’s not really much more to it.  But someone obviously really likes it, because this game is all about Gunma.  Specifically, you are converting every other prefecture in Japan into Gunma and maybe even picking up some geography and local knowledge along the way.

This probably takes some explanation.

The main playfield of Gunma’s Ambition is on the left side of the screen, where an endless stream of local food and cultural objects falls from the sky.  Any you catch give you points, but you still get a few pity points for ones you miss.  There’s a multiplier zone in the middle and things you catch there are worth more.

On the right, you choose a prefecture to convert into Gunma.  You should probably start with the smaller ones and then work up from there.

After you’ve chosen a prefecture, you can spend points to draw cards from a Daruma.  Each card will either have a city or a prefecture on it, and the population of the place shown on the card will be applied to the prefecture you are converting.  Once you have converted every person in the prefecture to Gunma, it turns blue and you can move on to the next set of victims.

Initially, the stuff you’re trying to catch gives only a few points, and buying cards is pretty cheap as well.  Costs ramp up pretty steadily, though, so you periodically need to spend points in a few …skills?  I don’t know if I’d call them skills.  Stuff that makes the bar fuller faster, because this is a game all about filling bars.

Here I have a 36x multiplier on points, have made the bonus area larger and more valuable, and have increased the size of the little bouncing Gunma that I use to pick up items.

Should I mention that every single time you pick up an item it plays a sound bite of the word “Gunma”?  Gunmagunmagunmagunma, all set to cheery music.  I think this game may be violating some human rights regulations.

By the time you are working to convert Tokyo to Gunma, you have some truly big numbers going on.  While the early game is characterized by needing to be economical and strategic in your choices, this late game is just trying to spend points faster than you can make them and generally failing because your income is bonkers by this point.

Finally, once you convert all of Japan to Gunma, there is a bonus stage which I will not spoil because I wasn’t expecting it and it put the biggest grin on my face.

While you’re gathering food and collecting cards, you fill out a dictionary with little information about towns, prefectures, and cultural specialties of the various regions of Japan.  If you ever wanted to know the official flower, tree, and bird for any given Japanese prefecture, this is your reference guide:

The best thing about Gunma’s Ambition, apart from the way you fill bars and spend points to fill bars better and then fill bigger bars, is that the game is always in motion.  Even while navigating game menus, stuff is still falling and you can use the L and R buttons to move Gunma back and forth to catch it – or just let it fall and you’ll get some points anyway.  Need to take a bathroom break?  When you come back there will be more points to spend.  It’s a very fun energy, and while I still have no idea WHY Gunma, I at least know WHAT Gunma and WHO Gunma.

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Eroge minus Ero, take two: TroubleDays

More Switch gaming, this time Qureate’s visual novel “TroubleDays”.

No, there’s no space in the name.  Yes, it bugs me too.

If I had a nickel for every story I’ve seen where the plot goes something like “Succubus is sent to the human world to take her first victim but is super naive and can’t get the hang of the whole draining-the-life-force-from-men thing” I’d probably have between fifty cents and a dollar, which may be more of an indictment of the sorts of manga and anime I consume than it is a reflection of how common the trope really is. It’s no “teenage boy must pilot giant robot to save the world”, but it still seems to come up fairly often.

TroubleDays, at any rate, drops another nickel in that metaphorical jar. Much like the last Qureate visual novel I played, KukkuroDays, it’s a neutered version of an 18+ VN and falls into the same sort of reverse-isekai magical-girlfriend category. It’s fluffy and not particularly deep, mostly there to give you about three hours of time with a constantly-embarrassed succubus named Lovelia, and doesn’t charge much for the experience.

I have concerns about my comma usage in that last sentence, but none of my primary school English teachers are likely to ever read this.

There’s a bit more than three hours here if you want to chase down all of the story endings, of course. I finished the game with an ending that wasn’t entirely bleak but was still a bit dark, then went back with a walkthrough to see the mega-happy and 100%-depressing endings.

There are a few side characters, but the game is a little low-budget when it comes to character sprites and the only character you ever see outside of rare CGs is Lovelia. I suspect this is because the game uses the E-mote system to give the characters some motion and facial expressions, and rigging a character up for that system is much more costly than just slapping together a static 2D sprite like you’d get in older VNs.

It does make for some unintentionally-amusing scenes, though.

Lovelia’s supervisor doesn’t get a sprite OR a name.

Likewise, while Lovelia has full voice acting, everyone else is mute. I did like the voice actress quite a bit, and combined with the E-mote system it made for a very expressive main character, so my only complaint here is a personal failing and that’s that I tend to skip through text-only dialog before I’ve actually read it. At least there’s a log I can look at to see what I missed when I realize I’ve done that.

There’s considerable reuse of background images from KukkuroDays in TroubleDays. At least, I’m assuming this is the more recent of the two games, so maybe the reuse actually went the other way. Both use the gag of being set in Akihabara to excuse the fact that the main heroine is dressed extremely provocatively but it’s cool because everyone just assumes that it’s cosplay, and you get the same street scenes and some reused interior backgrounds.

The billboards changed a little anyway.


No change here though.

TroubleDays has far more settings, however, making it a little more interesting than the “main character’s bedroom – Akihabara main street – BookOff interior – Akihabara back streets loop” that KukkuroDays went through. The characters go to a hot springs! And an Animate!

Still, even the cases where the lower budget makes itself evident aren’t deal breakers for me. I have never really had the patience for the Big Name VNs with hundreds of hours of reading and intricate decision trees and so on. I own a few, but I’m going to actually read the fluffy short ones that know what their audience wants and gives it to them.

And what we want is a succubus in glasses.

I haven’t tried either of Qureate’s other “Days” series. I’m just going to assume that NinNinDays is a magical girlfriend story set in Akihabara where your magical girlfriend is a ninja and IdolDays is a …wait, that’s probably not a reverse isekai and the girlfriend probably isn’t magical. So maybe it breaks the mold. Unless she’s a magical idol? It’s set in Akihabara at least.

Also Ninjas technically aren’t magical either. Whatever. I’m going to ignore all evidence that goes counter to my theory.


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Chrono Circle: I’m not obsessed, I swear.

So, I mentioned a couple of times last year that I had discovered an arcade rhythm game called Chrono Circle, that I had become quite fond of it, and that I had even spent some time grinding out the first Season Pass even though it was basically just unlocking a bunch of cosmetics that would theoretically become useless the moment the game went offline.

And all arcade rhythm games DO, eventually, go offline.  So grinding out a season pass is about the silliest thing you could ever do.

Grinding out EIGHT season passes in the time between those posts and today is just ridiculous.

Still, even after putting over two hundred play sessions into the game – the official website is very good at tracking your play statistics – I am having fun with it.  The music selection is large and full of energetic, happy tunes and the visuals and haptics do a fantastic job of making me forget that people might actually be watching me make a fool of myself playing.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t dabbled with other games.  The nearest Round 1 just added two “Music Diver” cabinets and I have sunk a few credits into those.  It’s a much more accessible game, and if the music selection wasn’t so dang limited I would probably be all distracted-boyfriend.  It’s got RAILGUN music in it, by God, and the opening song from Spy X Family.  Strong recommend.

Still, I keep coming back to Chrono Circle.  Despite grinding my way up the ranks to the point where the website says that I am in the top 3% of players, I spend most of my time with songs at “Hard” difficulty, because while I can generally pass “Experts” they just aren’t fun and Masters are impossible.  Hard is a nice balance between “working up a sweat” and “actually dying”.

And, speaking of working up a sweat, one other thing that keeps me coming back to Chrono Circle is that, while it’s not a dance game, it keeps me moving through the entire play session and my watch/fitness tracker LOVES me for it.  Like, it may be a bit silly to deliberately adjust my lifestyle in order to appease an eternally judgmental electronic minder, but when you think about it that’s the whole point of wearing a fitness tracker, right?

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Two out of three ain’t bad.

Hey.  Hey, you.  Do you like jazz music, mecha musume, and Taito’s 1981 arcade hit Qix?

Because if you are at the precise center of this extremely specific Venn diagram, boy do I have a game for you.

For the record, I’m not hugely fond of jazz, but the other two are right up my alley.

Bishoujo Battle Cyber Panic! publisher eastasiasoft has a heck of a lot of games for the Switch that can be summed up as “what if <x>, but with cute anime girls?”, and even a few “what if <x>, but with cute cross-dressing anime boys?” and while I wouldn’t think the market would be HUGE for “what if breakout, but with otokonoko”, they keep putting them out so someone must be buying them.

BBCP!, since I refuse to type out that entire name ever again, is, yeah, “what if Qix, but with cute anime girls” and if you’re looking for a rather fast-paced puzzler where success is rewarded by a gallery of girls-with-guns or girls-as-tanks, you don’t need to look much further.

Now, it has been the better part of four decades – excuse me while I crumble into dust – since I actually played a real Qix machine, but I remember it being one of those arcade machines where your defeat felt even more inevitable than usual.  While the titular enemy never seemed to take much interest in you, it had a marvelous ability to reverse course at just the right moment to steal one of your lives just before you’d completed a line.

The enemies in BBCP! behave very similarly, in that they mostly bounce randomly all over the screen and kill you when you get too greedy, though there are quite a few varieties and some seem more intent on chasing you than others.  In early levels, there aren’t very many to dodge…

…but when you get past about level 30 the opposing forces get a little ridiculous:

That’s five enemies that bounce around the screen and try to run into you, two that stay stationary and fire bullets at you, and two that follow you around the edge like the Sparks did in Qix.  And this is far from the worst level.

Fortunately, you can box in the enemies to clear them out, with an endorphin-triggering explosion of bonus points, and there are occasional powerups to gather to make the process easier.  Nonetheless, I did spend a lot of time huddled on a safe wall waiting for a tiny opening that would let me claim a few more pixels of the playfield in my quest to get 75%, unlock a new illustration, and then be faced with an even more challenging set of adversaries.

Right.  Illustrations.  Beyond a sense of satisfaction, every level you clear rewards you with a new picture of a cute anime girl, generally with a military theme to them.  Not sure why, not my place to ask, if this is what you’re in to then this is the game for you.

On the other hand, there’s one gallery page – so 10 illustrations, out of 50 – where the line between “fetish fuel” and “nightmare fuel” was crossed so long ago that it can only be seen as a fading memory in the rear-view mirror.

Again, if this is your thing then this is the game for you.  Just… well, I would say I have questions but I legitimately don’t want to know the answers.

One thing that killed me many, many times is that BBCP! does not have a button to press to engage “draw mode”.  If you’re at an edge and you press the thumbstick in the direction of empty space, you start drawing a line out into it.  This killed me a number of times when I accidentally took a tiny step out of safety, and it’s something that I would have greatly appreciated being able to toggle.

On the other hand, unlike some Qix clones, you can start drawing a line and then immediately back up, erasing the line and retreating back to safety.  So it’s got that going for it.

Overall, it was fun in the moment but pretty forgettable afterwards.  It does award you points based on your performance in a level, so if you really wanted to get into it then you could probably get a lot of hours out of chasing perfect clears.

This is one example of a perfect clear, and it gives you a little star for the level on the level select screen.  I’m not sure if there’s a reward for getting a star for every level, other than that all of your levels will have a star by them and I’m sure that’s enough for some people.

I didn’t see many perfect clears after about level 15, and by the time I hit the 40s I was grateful for any victory I could scrape out.  I wouldn’t describe the difficulty curve as steep, but it’s a gradual slope that definitely winds up getting some altitude at the end.

Looking at my Steam library, I seem to have a few other games in this series, and apparently I even played a similar Qix clone from the same publisher back in 2017.  I don’t remember it having creepy insect girls, though.  It’s possible I blocked them out?

Interestingly, the “but with boys” titles seem to be Switch-only.  Man, this system gets some weird stuff.

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Setting these aside.

While I’ve been going through my backlog of Switch games recently, I’ve found a few that were decent but that I don’t think I’m going to put a lot of time into.  Since one of the things that is impressing me about this system is the sheer variety of software available, I figured I’d give them a mention.

G-Mode Archives+ Idol Janshi Suchie-Pai * Milky’s Ambition

The Suchie-Pai games are responsible for my mild obsession with Japanese arcade-style strip mahjong games, and I was surprised to discover that there was a game in the series released for mobile phones in Japan.  G-Mode has actually released Switch versions of dozens of their games from this era, and they’re a fascinating time capsule of mobile gaming just before the smartphone explosion.

On the other hand, while I am not the world’s BEST mahjong player I am confident in saying that this particular version of the game cheats like crazy and there’s no real reason to play it when I could just play the Saturn games which have also gotten Switch releases.

Plus, it ditched the panel match mini game.  That’s just a sin.

Cotton Reboot!

Similarly to Suchie-Pai, the TG-16 version of Cotton was my introduction to cute-em-ups, and I had a lot of fun with it despite being very bad at the genre.  The Reboot version is just as cute and just as fun (and much prettier), and I got to try out the X68000 original that the TG-16 version was ported from, but in the end it turns out that I just don’t have the patience to get gud and simply credit-feeding to the end seems really cheap.  Maybe I’ll come back to it someday and do that.

Panorama Cotton

Something on the order of 25 years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles and regularly stopping by Pony Toy-Go-Round to browse all the neat things I couldn’t actually afford, they had a copy of Panorama Cotton in their import games display case, for I think about sixty bucks.  Since it now goes for over $1500, that’s sixty bucks I should have spent at the time.

Fortunately, in addition to the Cotton Reboot, we got all of the older Cotton games re-released for the Switch, and I finally got to try this weird little Space Harrier-alike.  It turned out to be a technical wonder for something running on Mega Drive hardware – I am reasonably sure the system couldn’t DO sprite scaling, so I have to wonder whether they had some sort of software scaling routine or whether they were just storing all of the sprites at various sizes, Neo-Geo style, and swapping in sprites as stuff got closer to you to give the illusion of distance.

Less fortunately, it turns out that the overall effect is so busy that I have trouble keeping up with it, and much like the side-scrolling iterations in the series I’m just not patient enough to actually get better.  I’m glad I got the chance to check it out as last, anyway.

While none of these hooked me enough to keep at them, I’m glad all three are available.  Two of them hook directly into the part of my brain that remembers being a young weeb and the third, while not for me, presumably does the same thing for some middle-aged salaryman who had Suchie-Pai and friends to help him through the monotony of his daily train commute.


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Modern Combat Blackout: We have Call of Duty at home.

Let’s be fair.  Comparing Modern Combat Blackout to any games in the Call of Duty series is a massive disservice to MCB.  This is a Switch port of a mobile game from 2014 that can be had for $7.99 regularly and is currently on sale for $1.99.  It doesn’t have the budget or the massive development resources that Activision throws at their flagship series, and it doesn’t cost seventy bucks or eat up 200GB of your console’s precious SSD space.

In addition, it can be played completely offline – I was in “Airplane mode” the entire time – and doesn’t make you set up Yet Another Online Account, which are two huge points in its favor.

However, the easy joke was there so I jumped on it for an article title, and while a direct comparison is decidedly unfair, I think it’s reasonable to look at MCB as at least trying to hit the same audience as CoD.  It’s a gritty first-person military shooter with a plot line that’s all about terrorism and corrupt private military contractors and saving the world with the power of friendship guns.

I only played the campaign, but I understand there’s a multiplayer element to it as well.  I won’t talk about that because I am the last person in the world to have an educated opinion of a game’s multiplayer features.  Going back to CoD, I buy it more-or-less faithfully every year, play through the campaign and then never touch it again.

So.  Campaign mode it is.  MCB has six main campaign chapters (Really, one tutorial stage and five chapters), each of which is broken up into a handful of snack-size missions.  I don’t think any of the individual missions are more than ten minutes long, which is handy considering there are no checkpoints – die once and you’re starting from scratch.

The mission lengths are decidedly welcome if you need to replay any.  Each mission has three goals, and you’re rewarded one to three stars on mission completion.  Unlocking subsequent chapters requires earning a certain number of stars, so I would occasionally run through one to improve my rankings.

In addition to the stars at the end of the level, you get experience points and your weapons level up and new weapon customizations unlock and it is just a delightful burst of bars filling and lights flashing and then you have new bars to fill.  Really, it’s the best sort of positive feedback.  5/5, would fill bars again.

I did have one small bar-related issue which was entirely my fault, and that’s that when possible I really enjoy playing these sorts of games with different weapons and I didn’t use my primary rifle QUITE as much as I should have… and then I hit the last chapter, which in addition to requiring a certain number of stars and a certain player level also required me to have a “tier 4” weapon.  I had a single tier 3 and a variety of tier 2 weapons, so I had to go back and grind a bit.

In addition to story missions, every chapter has a number of “Spec Ops” missions, which are even smaller in scale than the story missions and tend to have a little more of a puzzle element to them.

My favorite of these was the “Breach” mission, which had you throwing a flash grenade into a room of enemies and then needing to decide which needed to die in which order so none of them could shoot you first, or set off a bomb, or kill a hostage, etc.  The room layouts and enemy types are randomized whenever you start a Breach mission, so there’s no way to memorize what’s going to come at you.

I was less enamored of Spec Ops missions that had you defending your team from a sniper’s perch, because the people you were defending were entirely too prone to walking into bullets.

Only one of these was truly awful, however, and at least it comes in the final chapter when you no longer need any more stars to unlock anything.

There’s another sniper-style Spec Ops mission which I really enjoyed, which was the “Assassinate” missions.  These present you with a bird’s-eye view of a half-dozen-or-so dudes walking around and you have 45 seconds to figure out which one is your target.

This mode also has a frankly reality-bending-but-who-cares mechanic where you get to control your bullet in flight after it leaves the barrel, which was super cool and reminded me of the arrows in Heavenly Sword.

This is the only time in 16 years that I’ve been reminded of Heavenly Sword.  Anyone else remember when that was supposed to be the PS3’s big system selling game?  No? Just me?  Moving on, then.

One campaign issue that may be more or less forgivable depending on how much you care about story in your gritty military shooters: the Switch version of the game only has half the ending.  In the original mobile game, you have a dramatic final showdown with the Bad Guy, kill said Bad Guy, and then get a post killing-the-Bad-Guy wrap-up where you get to learn the final fates of, well, everything.

The Switch version omits the wrap-up.  I mean, it was pretty clear that the right people got what was coming to them, but I had to go to Wikipedia to look it up.

One place the campaign stands out is in the environments.  You spend most of the game running around modern urban Japan, which is exceedingly rare for an FPS, and the developers put a fair degree of effort into dressing up the world to look like fairly seedy Tokyo back alleys.  There’s even a low-polygon Super Cub!

It’s a tiny detail but I loved stuff like the weathering on the label of these trash/recycling bins.

I almost feel bad about pointing out that the characters on the trash bin on the right in this screenshot are written backwards.  The cigarette machine is good though!

Set dressing aside, graphics range from pretty impressive, like the lighting and texture work in this shot…

…or this cool corporate lobby:

…to less impressive, like this level that was mostly crates of various sizes…

…or this stack of cinderblocks.

Playing in handheld mode, it mostly all looked good in motion.  If I’d had it on a bigger screen I might have been more picky.

Anyway, with the exception of two entirely-optional levels and the bizarrely-truncated ending, I had a grand time with Modern Combat Blackout.  Would spend $1.99 to control bullets with my mind again.

Next I should probably find a game to play that involves cute anime girls that are also power tools, or something.  Wouldn’t want to get TOO enamored of normie games.


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She’s a ditzy schoolgirl. He’s a magical book. Together, they fight crime.

RemiLore is my fifth Switch game in a row, which is kind of an unusual streak.  Finishing Klonoa a few days ago led me to actually look at other games I own for the system, and it turned out I had quite a few and several of them were quite short and could be experienced in a few hours.

RemiLore continues that trend.  With occasional breaks to do things like eat lunch and feed the cat, I went from title screen to end credits in the space of, mmm, four hours?  five?  Not very long anyway.  That’s not a lot for a game with a $40 price tag, so hopefully I got it on sale.

Since I am super cheap, that’s almost certain.  I am very weak to cute girls with glasses, but not $40 weak.

Anyway, I’m not very well-versed in the ways of rogue and rogue-like games, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to say whether it’s a good one or a bad one, but it feels a little thin on content.  I think the appeal boils down to having a cute main character and some goofy humor, so let’s talk about that.

Like any good buddy comedy, you have a pair of characters who don’t necessarily LIKE each other but have to put up with each other because (reasons).  In this case, (reasons) are that Remi – the human of the duo – accidentally wakes up Lore – the book – and Lore panics and warps them both to another dimension.  I’ll let Remi sum up the plot from there:

Complicating her return home is the unfortunate presence of one pissed-off loli.

Choux – the girl on the right – has been stuck in this dimension for a very long time and sees Lore as her ride out and Remi as an unwelcome obstacle.  Fortunately they sit down and talk things out in a reasonable fashion and reach a compromise… oh, who am I kidding.  Choux has had a long time to build an army of murder robots and now they have someone to murder, so why let them go to waste?

The game is split into four worlds, with four acts each, each of which is further split into four combat rooms and some random side areas full of crates and bookshelves and all sorts of extremely breakable items.  When you break things or kill robots, desserts fly out which can be collected to buy character upgrades.

Oh, right, desserts.  More on that in a second.

At the end of every act, you’re scored on your performance, get between one and four chests to smash open for random loot, and then move on to the next act.

So, desserts.  RemiLore is not a terribly serious game, so rather than collecting gold or precious gems you are hovering up shortcakes and ice cream.  Many of the weapons you get are similarly silly and cute.

While you’re running around trying not to get murdered by robots and collecting desserts, Remi and Lore carry on a pretty constant stream of banter, mostly revolving around how much of an idiot the other is being at any given moment.

One of my two complaints with the game is that some of these exchanges repeat far too often.  My other complaint is that, since it’s a rogue-like game, dying comes with the penalty of (a) losing half your desserts and (b) being sent back to Act 1 of your current world.  Since I died twice fighting the boss of 1-4, I had to repeat the entirety of world 1 twice over.  I was giving myself permission to shelve the game if I died a third time, but fortunately I seemed to get gud, or at least get adequate, by my third time facing off with the guy.

Once I got over that hump, it was a pretty smooth run through the remainder of the game.  It popped up a nice summary screen and let me know that New Game+ was now available, followed by a cute ending credit scroll and some post-adventure musings from Remi.

Anyway, overall it wasn’t entirely my thing but I had a decent time with it.  Not enough to get me to jump into that NG+ right away, but knowing that it’s unlocked may bring me back when I have a couple of hours to kill.



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Eroge, hold the Ero.

Another day, another short Switch game.  This time, Qureate’s KukkuroDays, an all-ages (well, ESRB Teen) version of a decidedly NOT all-ages visual novel the publisher sells in an uncut version on Mangagamer and other purveyors of anime smut.

I’ll lead off by admitting that, for the most part, I’ve always kind of mentally filed all-ages versions of eroge in the same sort of category as decaffeinated coffee.  Sure, it sorta tastes the same but why would you drink it without the caffeine?

Anyway, setting that unsolicited editorial aside, there are a fair number of decaffeinated eroge on the Switch and the Qureate ones show up pretty often in sales.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I spent three or four hours reading through this one, a couple of minutes looking up a walkthrough after I got the Bad Ending, and another few minutes fast forwarding through the entire game so I could make the Correct Choices.

As an aside, the Bad Ending is super depressing and also very easy to get if you aren’t really careful about the branches you choose.  There are two “Good Endings” and the only difference between reaching either of them is a single choice very late in the game, so you can see one good ending, reload a safe and then watch the other one very easily.  Assuming you don’t mess up before that point.

So, what’s an eroge without the ero like?

Well, in this case, it’s one of those reverse isekai / magical girlfriend sorts of stories, where a cute girl from another world gets sucked into Modern Day Tokyo and naturally lands in the bedroom of a painfully Nice Guy who takes it upon himself to help her with her quest to return home and also does all of the cooking and is super supportive and so on.  Naturally she eventually falls for him etc etc.

Oh and she’s a magical knight and commander in the armed forces back where she comes from, and you have to love their uniforms.

There’s armor there.  Not much of it, but it’s armor.

Most of the story happens either in your tiny apartment or in Akihabara, since you live close to it and the gag is that everyone just assumes that your magical knight girlfriend is some sort of cosplayer.

Qureate also sticks ads for their other games in place of some very famous Akiba billboards.  It’s pretty fun if you’re familiar with the city.

Also, very early on in this game you need to go looking for an ancient magical grimoire and I enjoyed the fact that you find it at Book Off.  Honestly, that just makes sense.  It’s where I’d probably go, too.

And, finally, a gag where the magical knight from another dimension has to confront the Ultimate Evil that is the typical arcade crane game just makes this entire game for me.  I feel your anguish, magical knight.

I’m not certain this is quite a put-up-on-the-living-room-TV while your elderly parents are visiting sort of game, because it does have a fair number of inexplicably low camera angles.

There is absolutely zero nudity, however.

This game uses an animation system called E-mote, which I wasn’t previously familiar with.  It gives the character sprites a little bit of motion and some great facial expressions. It doesn’t seem to be quite as ambitious as Live2D, but it really brought the sprites to life.  No examples here because I forgot to capture a video.

While there is absolutely zero nudity in the Switch game, you can pretty easily spot the points at which the caffeine was taken away.

Funny, it just went to the end credits after this bit.  Not sure what reward you were about to get.  Probably some sort of commemorative plaque. Also I suppose this is a spoiler?  NEWS FLASH: YOU GET THE GIRL.

Snarky comments aside, generally there’s a fade out / fade in to the next scene which isn’t too jarring, and there was only one point where the fade was followed up by the main character commenting on something that was obviously discussed while the two of them were offstage, as it were.

Is it great art? No.  Is it a goofy rom-com worth a few hours of reading, with some good laughs to it? Yes.  Should you just buy the un-expurgated version from Mangagamer?  That’s up to you.  I thought it held its own even in this format.

I also have Qureate’s “TroubleDays” title, which is rated M and is presumably a little spicier without being TOO spicy.  That’s another “Suddenly, magical girlfriend!” where the magical girlfriend is a succubus, so cutting that one down to a T rating would probably have been considerably trickier.  I’ll let you know how that one turned out someday.

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