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January 27, 2017

Pokémon Picross

Second in this two-part article about the Nintendo 3DS Pokémon free-to-play games. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Will you ever get a better picture? Nope!
It's like she doesn't want you to see her in HD.
Meet Professor Tetra. While the Elms, Birchs, Junipers, Sycamores and Kukuis of the world were seriously studying to become Professors (under the no-less-famous Oaks and Rowans as teachers), Tetra was in her corner playing paper picture puzzles instead of learning. Quite the addicted to nonograms, that woman. I explained in my review of Picross 3D how the logic game Picross works, so I won’t explain it again. Check that review to find out. Now, apply that 2D concept to Pokémon, just by having grids anywhere from 5X5 to 20X15 to fill. Most grids in the game are 10X10, though. 5X5 is reserved to Tutorials, 15X15 is for particularly strong Pokémon (and some Mega Evolutions), while all Legendary Pokémon (and some very special Pokémon and some Mega Evolutions) are in 20X15 grids.

Professor Tetra will explain to you how to play Nonograms in the first couple levels, showing the kind of logical series of deductions that can be used to uncover a picture in an empty grid by using the clues on top and on the side. The first levels are very simple, then you’re thrown into the main game.

The first levels show items rather than Pokémon species,
to get you used to how Picross puzzles function.

But, you’ll ask me, this is not a Match 3 type of game! How did they make a free-to-play game out of this? To which I reply, simple! With an Energy system that depletes by 1 each time you fill in a black square. Most small (10X10) levels have 30 to 70 black squares in them (the grid’s value is helpfully indicated when you select it), so even with your starting bank of 100 Energy, you should be able to complete at least one puzzle each time. However, things are getting better, as Tetra will provide you with enough of the game’s currency, Picrites, so that you can extend your Energy bar by another 100. Later you can expand it to 300, 400, and a final, very expensive upgrade makes it infinite. Before that final upgrade, you retrieve one Energy per minute (taking effectively 6 hours 20 minutes to heal back all Energy if you empty the 400-Energy bar).

I see somebody paid dear money to make their energy bar infinite...
and to get maximum Picrites... Poor soul, you wasted cash.

Oh yeah, Picrites are the thing you’ll pay real, dear money for. They basically look like blue cubes. Hey, finally a currency you can build things out of! Wonder if that’s what money is like in the Minecraft world? Much like coins and gems in Pokémon Shuffle, they are used for a number of things, mostly to try and help you on your quest to paint ‘em all. Fill back your energy gauge? You gotta pay. Upgrade the gauge? You gotta pay. Open a new slot in your team? You gotta pay. Unlock a new zone? You gotta pay! Get the Mega Pencil? You gotta fucking pay! That’s the nastiest part about this game, you cannot progress without paying, as every next zone is blocked until you fork over the required amount of Picrites. To go from Zone 13 to Zone 15: 170 Picrites. To go from Zone 20 to Zone 22: 210 Picrites!

It is actually possible to earn Picrites in the game, by yourself, but as with any other free-to-play game, getting enough of that currency to be able to progress will be done at a snail’s pace. How to earn Picrites for free here?
When I think of daily training, I think of things that
do not really involve a Nintendo 3DS.
-By playing once, every day, through Tetra’s Daily Training. It’s in multiple 7X7 grids, so it’s pretty quick and all you need to do is fill the grids as fast as possible. They don’t contain pictures, they’re just meant to test your deduction speed. You get a set number of Picrites if you complete the Training, with a few more if you managed to complete them under a set amount of time. You can level up in that section to increase the number of Picrites earned. Even if you fare well, that’s still only gonna give you 15 Picrites at most. Which means you’ll be grinding for more than 10 days to get the 170 Picrites to unlock Zone 15. Or grind Picrites for a few more days to have enough for Zone 22. Oh, and to get 15 Picrites on one day, you must beat Daily Training at Level 10 AND beat all five stages under two minutes, which is very hard; you will usually gain only 10 Picrites…
The objectives - also, objectively, the slowest way
to gather Picrites.
-The other way to gain Picrites is to complete objectives in any level. Every grid in the game has three little quests as well as a fourth one, which always goes “get all other three quests done at the same time while you fill the grid”. You usually get one Picrite for any of the original missions, and 3 Picrites for the “complete all objectives at once” quest… meaning that even with some luck, you’ll at most get 6 Picrites out of any level beaten. You cannot re-earn those Picrites, by the way. You got them, they’re gone. No farming for them. That’s, of course, when the game isn’t giving you a different reward, like mural pieces…
-The last way to get free Picrites is to get every Achievement in the game, which nets a medal and three Picrites each – unfortunately, not nearly enough to get anywhere. Also, most achievements are kept secret… Plus, too many achievements cannot be done until you're way far ahead into the game.

Thanks for outright telling me your scam, game.
But of course, there’s the Picrites store, which will give you 200 or 800 Picrites for a decreased price the first time you buy anything there, then everything else will be at normal price. There is a silver lining, though; as soon as you’ve bought 5000 Picrites in the Store, you’ll never have to pay ever again to get Picrites there. And hey, lookit that, 5000 Picrites cost about 40 dollars USD… AKA, the price of a full game. See what they did there? You’ll never have to pay for anything in the game ever if you pay the game’s full price. Until then, get this relatively-free game with microtransactions required to get anywhere fast… That’s some sneaky stuff right there.

Alright, now that I have discussed the most annoying part of the game (the microtransactions), now I can discuss everything else. Much like Pokémon Shuffle, no Pokémon is dual-typed here, instead having a single type and the ability that goes with it. Instead of having a plethora of different abilities here, we only have 12, but they’re all related to grid-filling (obviously; do you really think any Pokémon in this game would help you gain more Picrites? If you want a Meowth with Pay Day, play the goddamn main series games). Each one of the 18 types has its ability, though some types share abilities. Here’s a breakdown of the different abilities in the game.
-Blue Force: The Water- and Ice-type Pokémon will reveal, for a certain time, which clues you’re currently able to fill in. This takes into account all filled squares.
-Filling abilities: This will fill some squares in the grid, marking all squares in the area as filled, or as empty. This helps a lot if you’re stuck. There are many ways to fill the grid, whether it’s vertical lines (Normal-types), horizontal lines (Rock- and Ground-types), a cross (Fire-types), a square (Dragon-types), a diamond (Fairy-types), or filling any number of squares at random (Dark- and Poison-types).
-Auto-correct: These two are able to detect when you make a mistake and correct it. There’s a certain number of mistakes that can be corrected this way before the ability runs out. Steel-type Pokémon can correct both, filling a square you put an X in, or putting an X in a square you filled. Grass-type Pokémon can only correct and fill squares you erroneously put an X in.
-Hyper Scanner: Used by Flying-, Fighting- and Bug-type Pokémon, this ability, when triggered, will check all the squares that have been filled so far and instantly correct as many mistakes it can find as possible.
-Chrono powers: Using these, you can slow down the timer (with Electric-types) for the whole duration of the level, or stop it completely for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes (with Ghost-types). Perfect when you are trying to beat a level under a certain amount of time to receive a Picrite.

A 20X15 grid - feel free to print it to play!
I should also mention that each Pokémon you catch, through completing their Picross level, has a Picross size setting. That Pokémon cannot act in a level larger than the one they came from. As an example, if you’re about to play a 15X15 grid, you’re not allowed to include any Pokémon that came from 10X10 grids. Same goes for 15X15 Pokémon that can’t be used in 20X15 grids. However, you can use Pokémon from larger grids on smaller grids; you can make a team of Legendary Pokémon (all 20X15) and use them for a 10X10 grid if you want.

Also of note, Mega Evolutions are in this game, although they’re their own level separate from the regular Pokémon. Mega Evolutions are usually in bigger grids than the Pokémon they’re from, they also have better abilities when used to help in other grids – and also, you can’t have both a Pokémon and its Mega form in a team. All in all, they’re very useful. There’s only one problem; to play a Mega Evolution’s stage, you need the Mega Pencil. That’ll be 500 Picrites, thank you very much. More spending, or more grinding, either way, this sucks. Hm, wonder what Tetra does with all the money you send to her for Picrites? Maybe she pays a team of researchers to do her work in her place since she spends more time playing paper logic puzzles than working as a Professor?

Mega evolutions in Pokémon Picross are a lot less annoying
than in Pokémon Shuffle, that's for damn sure.

Granted, those are pretty impressive.
I would hate to have to solve them if they weren't split
in 10X10 grids, though...
I believe I also mentioned mural pieces. Some levels will give mural pieces when their objectives are completed; these are added to two murals, available from the main menu. Each mural contains 64 pieces, for a total of 128. One depicts Primal Groudon, the other has Primal Kyogre. Much like how the two were the mascots of the then latest titles, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Hm, I wonder if Pokémon Picross will update to include levels based on the new Pokémon of Gen 7, including Alolan forms? I haven’t yet managed to complete either mural, but apparently they offer nothing but a little additional challenge (and a few Picrites from the Achievements section). Also they count the cumulative time you took to complete all 64 tiles on a mural, so… try to get a better time in the end? I dunno. Meh.

What else can you do in this game anyway? I mentioned the 100 Achievements. They can be accessed from the bottom menu. Some of them are the inevitable progression stuff (unlock X areas, catch X Pokémon, complete X objectives, use an ability X times), while some others are more complex. In particular, the last missions all require very precise teams, usually following a theme or gimmick. Good luck ever finding about them outside of using the handy Bulbapedia page… which I have, right here, how convenient.

Most of the medals that require very precise teams.
Entirely too many, but hey, what do I know.

There are 4 levels that must be unlocked with passcodes. The passcodes differ from region to region, and feature some special Pokémon (Ash-Greninja, Mew, and Zygarde, both 10% and Complete forms). There are some Mythical Pokémon that will only appear on some stages, at certain times, for a certain period of time. So if you miss them, you have to wait again. And as luck would have it, Tetra has a knack for finding out about those Pokémon… when they’re in the very NEXT area that you have yet to unlock! Y'know, the next area that requires a crazy number of Picrites before you can set foot there! I swear, this feels more and more like a scam to get you to pay for more Picrites. Hell, even if you did hurry to unlock the next area in the game, you still need to get to the damn Pokémon before it vanishes, and that means completing every level leading to it! Which may not be possible if you only have 400 Energy! Augh!

In other words, patience can save you some money.
On the team-building screen, you can pick your favorite Pokémon and Favorite them, with a Heart symbol, which is neat. You can also heal some Pokémon that have been used recently (because yes, every Pokémon has a timer that starts after it’s used in a level, and cannot be used until that timer ends… except if you have 3 Picrites to heal it quickly, of course… I swear, even the mafia isn’t that persistent in demanding money from you!). Last but not least, you can even make a randomized team.

The final feature of the game is the Alternate Mode, which uses different rules from the usual Picross stage (with some clues being merged together weirdly). Every single stage of the main game can be replayed here… all you need is 300 Picrites to unlock that mode, after you’ve completed the tutorial stages. Yep, more paying. I don’t recommend it, because I believe that this Alternate way to do Picross puzzles is utter crap, so I won’t pay more attention to it. But yeah… that’s everything in the game.

This is not my pretty paper puzzle, this is not my beautiful
Pîcross game!

Zygarde 10%
I’d like to like it. But this thing wants my goddamn money, and it shows. Oh, sure, it’ll want at most 40 bucks, but if I had that kind of money on me, I would probably spend it on more important things. The music and graphics are fine - on this, I should mention that most Picross stages represent really well the Pokémon they’re supposed to be, and you can sometimes tell before the stage is finished which Pokémon it is. The colored Picross stages, used as avatars on the team-building screen, also look pretty good.

I like the general concept and the gameplay is great, but then again, I am a Picross fan, so I shouldn’t be surprised. (Alright, I don’t like the Alternate mode, but that’s alright, I can’t even pay for it.) Hell, I like this one more than Pokémon Shuffle. But once again, we have a barrier, and it’s all around the money. I think this review has highlighted just how often you need to fork over some money – and to the game’s credit, unlike Pokémon Shuffle, it basically stops costing anything after you’ve spent approximately 40 bucks. Unfortunately, it constantly pesters you to buy Picrites if you want to get anywhere, especially when it comes to unlocking zones halfway into the game. And grinding those Picrites by yourself? Good luck, you’ll unlock about what, one zone every week? Or one every two or three weeks? And that’s if you don’t stop being interested in the game because of how long it takes to get anything done without paying!

The game ends up feeling like a debt collector. “"Alright, you've had your fun, but if you wanna go any further, either you work your butt off, or you give me my money.” "Come on, gimme my money." "C'm'on. I know you got some. Don't worry, once you give me the 40 bucks you owe me, I'mma cut you some slack. Alright, fork it over."

I mean, it’s definitely not a bad game, I would gladly play it – but this really sinks it down. Either way, this is all I had to say about Pokémon Picross. I am finally done with both free-to-play Pokémon games. Both ones available on the Nintendo 3DS, of course. If there are any Pokémon free-to-play games on mobile that I’m forgetting, I don’t care.

January 20, 2017

Pokémon Shuffle

You know what? Let’s get those done right away.

Bleh, I hope I won't be stuck all the time with cheap,
weak baby Poikémon.
Last year, I bought Pokémon Sun, on the Sunday after it came out. I’ve already caught all of the species in the Pokédex, all I'm missing is the QR code ones and a few evolutions of those. I have quite a number of points of criticisms about the game (such as, no National Dex?), but this will have to wait until I properly review the game – which could be in quite a while. Hell, I want to review Pokémon X first. But there are two smaller games on the Nintendo 3DS, that were automatically downloaded to it, two Pokémon games that also happen to be of the free-to-play formula. Pokémon Shuffle is your typical “Match 3” game with Pokémon abilities, while Pokémon Picross combines two of my favorite things: Pokémon and picture logic puzzles. You may remember my review of Picross 3D last year.

Why am I reviewing them both right now? Because I decided so. Seriously though, these days I play a lot more on my Nintendo 3DS than on the Wii, so I’m closer to the 3DSWare titles. And I’ve been itching to talk about those for a while now. Just wanna be done with the free-to-play titles ASAP.

It’s a big question: How do you combine the “Match 3” type of game with Pokémon? Such a game needs to take into account special abilities, type effectiveness, Pokémon-catching, Mega Evolutions… So many other things, too! So many abilities can only work in a system like the one that the main series Pokémon games have implemented… can it be done? Well, I can’t say it’s the greatest thing ever, but they did indeed do it. You set up a team of four with the Pokémon you catch, and then swap them around in a 6X6 grid to form groups of 3, 4 or 5, to damage the Pokémon of the current level. There is a level-up system of course, to increase the attack of the Pokémon in your team.

January 13, 2017

DuckTales Remastered (Part 3)

We’ve got five levels completed and only one major treasure left to find – on the Moon! (Be sure to read the previous parts if youmissed them!)

Treasue hunts always put Scrooge in a jolly, jumping mood.

And thus, Scrooge prepares to go where few (if any) ducks have gone before, on his quest for the Green Cheese of Longevity! Geez, these treasure have fancy-as-Heck names. It’s a good thing Gyro Gearloose has a rocket ship ready for the trip! Scrooge brings along his accountant, Fenton Crackshell, in case he’d need the duck’s various talents.

I'm not blaming WayForward, they made excellent spriting
work, but Fenton really needed a "astonished", "wow"
expression here. No one goes to the moon and is this bored.
This game also answers the existential question many gamers have had since the original DuckTales game: How could Scrooge breathe in space? The answer, apparently, is a special chewing-gum recipe by Gyro that supplies the chewer with oxygen. A very poorly-tasting gum that is mentioned once with chewing sounds, and then every subsequent interaction on the Moon forgets the chewing. Still doesn’t explain why there’s Earth-like gravity on the surface of the moon, nor how Scrooge, Gyro or Fenton’s bodies don’t suffer in any other way from the lack of oxygen or atnosphere…

Let's explore this gigantic spaceship that conveniently
appeared on the Moon. Gee, I sure hope they're not
invaders trying to take over Earth. If they are, my hunt
for the Green Cheese will be the least of our troubles...

Scrooge seems way too happy to be able to swim in the
air. Perhaps it reminds him of when he swims through
solid metals back home.
A moment later, a giant alien spaceship comes over them and takes away Fenton and his briefcase containing the pieces of the Gizmoduck suit. We gotta save him because, as it turns out, Gizmoduck is needed to blast open the way towards the Green Cheese. In the original game, we just had to retrieve the remote control to call Gizmoduck. Here, we actually need to find Fenton (and save him, then repair the artificial gravity), and then find the three pieces of the Gizmoduck suit. After which we must go back to Gyro’s ship, where Fenton will have the Gizmoduck suit equipped on him, and then Scrooge and his bodyguard will run to the blocked path towards the Green Cheese.

God, that music is amazing. Such a huge improvement over the original theme for the Moon level, which is already considered one of the best NES tunes of all. And this art! The moon scenes are so great, and so are the screens in the alien spaceship!

Killing space ducks is fun! Even if you're a duck too!
Soon the pieces of Gizmoduck are collected, and Scrooge brings them back to Fenton, who puts on his superhero outfit. And thus, we get one of the most awesome moments in the game: Gizmoduck following Scrooge around, destroying every enemy in sight on the way to the blockade. It. Is. Glorious. As for the blockade? Scrooge’s assistant tosses everything he got at it, including missiles, bombs, and a pair of dirty boxer shorts. Which, where did he get that? These ducks wear nothing below the belt!

These guys aren't bright. Scrooge's there, they don't attack.
That’s when an army of Beagle Boys, accompanied by Glomgold, run into the cave to look for the Green Cheese. Riddle me this, Batman: We know how Scrooge, Fenton and Gyro breathe in space, but how do the Beagle Boys and Glomgold do? This is never explained, and I doubt the writers ever will explain it. I mean, don’t even count on them to explain just how the Heck the Beagle Boys knew Scrooge was on the moon at that precise moment, or how they got there themselves!

Most bosses turn red when they're pissed enough.
This one turn fluo green. Points for creativity, I guess.
Scrooge goes in the cave and defeats the hordes of Beagle Boys, and arrives at the final room, where the Green Cheese of Longevity awaits… well, until it’s gulped down by one of those rats freed from the alien spaceship along with Fenton earlier! The giant rat is an admittedly tough boss, though its original pattern was ridiculously simple; run left or right, then jump left or right on the higher platforms, then go back down and resume. Easy as Heck. Here? When the rat is struck a few times with the cane, it’ll become invincible for a moment and pop out of any of the holes in the background before running at Scrooge. Still, that only makes the boss a little harder, and soon it’s defeated, spitting out the treasure.

That Magica... why does she always show up at the worst times?
Almost makes me miss Merlock.
With now all five main treasures found, Scrooge returns to the Money Bin, where he celebrates his victory. Sadly, this is short-lived, as the Beagle Boys and Glomgold show up, kidnapping Huey, Dewey and Louie, and taking the treasures in the process, even forcing Scrooge to fork over the Green Cheese. Poor triplets. They have already been kidnapped twice, and now, a third time! Meanwhile, Webby hasn’t been kidnapped a single time… huh. Nice way to play with the audience’s expectations on who gets captured. Then Magica shows up, saying that she was the one to bring Scrooge into this adventure in the first place, through the painting she sold him, so that he’d go and chase down these five legendary treasure items, so that she would take them and use them to bring back to life the mighty Count Dracula Duck!

…Wait. Wow, that is one Hell of a complicated plan. So, Magica sold that picture to Scrooge at bargain price, so that he would bring it home, and she completely expected that he’d someday find the secret treasure map hidden in the painting, also fully aware that Scrooge would not resist the envy of spending money to find these treasures, so that she could snatch them from him as soon as she could… which, a) doesn’t explain why she battled him in the Transylvania level, since she would have been perfectly able to flee with the Coin of the Lost Realm, or just let Scrooge have it since she wanted him to gather all five, and b) doesn’t explain how the Hell did Flintheart Glomgold and the Beagle Boys find out about each treasure, and became a threat in some of the levels – in particular, in Transylvania, in the Himalayas, and on the Moon. Unless Glomgold knew about the treasures as well, but how could he? Scrooge had no idea about the treasure map until he found it, once the Beagle Boys tried to steal the painting…. Also, the Beagle Boys were playing ghosts in Transylvania, as if they were helping Magica… could they be actually… and Glomgold, could he actually be helping Magica or… wait a second, none of this makes any sense. Whatever.

"Am I the only one feeling like a oasted duck here?"
"That is nothing compared to the roast we were preparing
for the 'Richest Duck in the World'!"
Magica freezes everyone else, takes the five treasures, kidnaps the triplets, turns the Beagle Boys into pigs, gloats (no incredibly evil deed is complete without a hefty dose of gloating), asks for Scrooge to bring her his Number One Dime if he wants to see his nephews alive again, and leaves. Scrooge and Glomgold decide to team us to take back what they’ve lost – and Scrooge accepts to hand Glomgold the five treasures (and become the second richest duck) if they help each other to save Huey, Dewey and Louie.

On a quick note, I like that we can skip any cutscene, because the one containing this entire scene is long enough for one to take a bathroom break. You can probably guess why I know that.

Ah yes, there's another item to cross off the list.
"Piece of level with stylistic darkness forming silhouettes".

The kappa ducks from African are back!
And they are mysteriously able to swim in lava!
Thus, we get the most difficult level in the whole game, Mount Vesuvius. Its feel like the developers took the hardest part of each previous level and taped all of these parts together for a truly grueling platforming experience. Instant magma boulder death traps! Deadly lava! Breakable chains! Long sections of pogo-jumping on enemies’ heads over deadly lava! Spikes everywhere! Bats! Cameos by Glomgold! All of these combined for a level that will make you beg for mercy. Granted, Glomgold is actually helping, but still… Think of it as the Doctor Wily stage of the new DuckTales. Heck, the original was made by Capcom, this just invites comparisons to Mega Man.

Talking about the original, the NES game’s final level was just a remake of the Transylvania level, minus any diamonds and special zones. Bo-ring. And since we had already been there, we knew which way to go already. This was kind of a disappointment (and the last boss, Dracula Duck, came the Hell out of nowhere). All of these issues were solved for Remastered; that’s awesome. Even the new level’s music is amazing!

"It's been great doing business with you too, ya heartless windbag."
Finally, we get to the boss’s room. Magica soon welcomes them, and asks for the Number One Dime, which Scrooge reveals… only for Glomgold to steal it and run to Magica. They’ve been working together! All of a sudden, the repeated appearances by Scrooge’s rival, and the attack on the Money Bin, it all makes sense; this was all planned! Gee, good thing it let Scrooge discover the treasure map! What, Magica, was the billionaire taking too long to fall into your trap? That’s why the Beagle Boys tried to take away the painting? Gee, so many things make more sense now… I still doubt there’s any explanation for why the Beagle Boys could be on the moon earlier, though…

At least this Dracula Duck is less nekkid than the one in
the original.
Anyway, Magica uses the treasures and summons Dracula Duck! I still have no idea how 5 so wholly different legendary items could help resurrecting a monster… but it does, and so we get our final fight. Dracula behaves much like he did in the original game: He’s floating too high for Scrooge to be able to drill into his head with a simple pogo cane jump. However, he also tosses bats towards Scrooge, which the billionaire can then use to jump higher and smash some vampire cranium. For a creature of evil, it sure is dumb; if it weren’t for these bats, Scrooge wouldn’t stand a chance. Tssk, and then they say that good is dumb. 

Each time Dracula Duck takes a hit, he reappears over Magica’s cauldron, and she uses one of three spells on him; each one makes him indestructible for a moment and he can use attacks that must be avoided at all costs.
Good thing there are no other teeth on this guy!
-The green spell turns Dracula Duck into a dragon that will spit a few fireballs; it stays in the background for that, so it can’t be hit.
-The yellow spell makes Dracula giant, after which it will attack Scrooge with its vampire fangs. Let’s just say that it is a very impressive attack.
-Lastly, the red spell turns Dracula into a huge swarm of bats that will descend upon Scrooge… leaving always only a square of free space for the old duck to protect himself. This is the hardest attack to avoid, because you barely have any time to move towards the safe space!

Halfway through the fight, Dracula will float even higher, so Scrooge needs to pogo-jump on two bats to reach the monster’s head. Still, a few more hits and Dracula is defeated, turning into stone that soon crumbles into dust. Good riddance! Gotta admit, this boss fight was better than the original in every way! The triplets are freed and Scrooge tells them to flee towards Launchpad, while he goes out to retrieve his Number One Dime.

In the original game, after Dracula Duck's defeat, Glomgold and Vulture-Magica just appeared out of nowhere, intending to steal the treasure that was now somehow resting atop a tall column, and Scrooge just had to keep climbing a rope to get to it first. No explanation, not even an actual challenge.

That's not even the tough part.
In Remastered, it’s explained that Glomgold and Magica are fighting over the Dime, and Glomgold grabs on Vulture-Magica to prevent her from getting to the Dime first, slowing her down long enough that Scrooge can get to the top before them. Artisans of their own defeat, they say. Don’t expect it to be easy to beat them to the Dime, though; if you thought the grueling platforming was over, think again. This time, if you don’t jump correctly at the right places, and go to the right spots, you will be beaten by them. Okay, it’s not impossible, but it is difficult. Oh, and when you get the dime? The whole place gets covered in lava that keeps rising! So you need to keep climbing upwards! THAT part is near-impossible. Hell, this is where I got a Game Over most often. It’s extremely hard to reach the top, unless you learn about some shortcuts. These will let you climb faster than the lava; the normal path involves a lot of jumping from dangling chain to dangling chain, with every single chain crumbling down seconds after Scrooge has touched it!

Pictured: Chains breaking shortly after use.
Not pictured: The friggin' rising lava down below!

Soon enough, Scrooge reaches the top, where he’s picked up by Launchpad in the nick of time. As they leave Mount Vesuvius, Scrooge is just happy that he got his Dime back. His nephews remind him that they lost the treasure items, to which Scrooge replies that he’s just happy he got to have such a marvelous adventure with his family. And of course, he got what counts the most: Dream and friends.

The bad guys are arrested, the good guys win,
the true evil, Magica, is still at large though...
But who cares, let's go for ice cream!
Heh! If you’ve beaten the original game, you knew this joke was coming. Anyway, Glomgold and the Beagle Boys get arrested, and Scrooge brings his nephews to the ice cream shop – where he promises to give each of them an ice cream cone. With ice cream, this time! Hah! Ah, scrooge, a miser in every possible way. Hm, wonder if he was visited by three ghosts last Christmas? Apparently not. Roll credits, with the full DuckTales theme song, followed by a piano version of the Moon theme. Yay!

This game. Is. Amazing. An improvement over the original in just about every possible way. The graphics have all been revamped, sprites, backgrounds, everything, though that was to be expected from a modern remake. The music has all been upgraded to orchestral quality, but that was to be expected as well – although you couldn’t expect the odd combinations of instruments and musical genres found in some levels, combinations that still somehow work! Dubstep in the Transylvanian level, it’s still a surprise to me. There’s now one song with dubstep that I like; glory to the wub wub, I guess.

The big challenges were to update the levels and create a cohesive story for the old classic. The levels were updated alright, forcing players to visit most of the areas that weren’t obligatory in the original – and this, by including a little treasure-hunting in some levels. In the original, there were gigantic portions of levels that you could skip, mostly if you were speedrunning; there was, after all, a special ending if you finished the game with 0$ in bank. Many sections were simple bonuses to earn more money or find extra hearts for Scrooge’s life bar. Here, we need to:
-Collect the eight coins in the Amazon;
-Gather the three pieces of scroll in Transylvania;
-Find the pieces of the fuel regulator in the Himalayas;
-And find Fenton and the pieces of the Gizmoduck suit in the alien ship on the Moon.

This does make the levels a lot longer, but makes the player visit just about every section of each level. Adding to this, some layouts have been edited ever so slightly, mostly for a better flow with the story or to prevent the player from getting to the boss before collecting the plot trinkets demanded by the current plot. The toughest part was to create a cohesive story, tying all the locations together and explaining the bosses and villains of the original. On this they managed to do this rather well. Oh, sure, not everything makes sense still (Let’s see you explain how Miss Beakley and the Beagle Boys were on the moon!), but they tried to explain the treasure hunt and everything that happens around it. The final stretch has some fun twists, mostly the revelation that Magica and Glomgold were working together (something that you could guess only if you went through a trail of logic like I did). I also like how it spins a few details of the original game, like saying that the two villains weren’t actually helping each other when trying to reach for the dime. I consider that they’ve done it rather well, although the overabundance of cutscenes (which happen before every level, after every level, usually before a boss, and every time Scrooge finds a plot trinket) doesn’t help much. You can skip them all, yes, but it feels a bit too much sometimes.

Of course, topping the awesome game with an awesome finale...
That was pretty much a requirement.

So, aside from these few issues, the game is great. I heartily recommend it. You can currently buy it on Steam for 14.99$ CAD. If you liked the original, you should like Remastered.

January 9, 2017

DuckTales Remastered (Part 2)

In Part 1, we stopped an attack from the Beagle Boys on the Money Bin, and then we uncovered a backscratcher – I mean, an important scepter from an Incan castle in the clouds, in the Amazon. Or was it Aztec? Or Mayan? I’ve never been good at differentiating those three – and I’m far from the only one! Alright, so what’s our next stop?

Ah, these kids... always getting into trouble.
This treasure hunt now takes us to Draculesti Manor in Transylvania, to look for the Coin of the Lost Realm. The triplets and Webby absolutely want to join. Oh right, it is perfectly fine to bring kids along on an adventure taking place in a manor that belonged to an actual vampire! In the very first room, the triplets fall into a trapdoor, forcing Scrooge to go and look for them. Hey, I just realized; it’s the second time these kids get kidnapped… and Webby still hasn’t been captured a single time! Okay, let’s go.

Oh God, that music! It’s awesome! Wait, is that… dubstep I hear in there? In that tune about horror? Oh wow, that must be the first time ever that I actually enjoy a song using dubstep. I must also admit that while I love the upgraded visuals in every level of this game, I like the little touch in the Transylvanian manor: There are historical portraits of ducks in the backgrounds – and their eyes are moving to stare at Scrooge as he walks. Now that is really neat.

That painting is looking at me! I could swear it!

In the original DuckTales, this Transylvanian castle had a rather short path towards the boss, but a lot of bonus areas to collect diamonds in. Most levels of the game were like this, actually; the path to the boss was simple if you knew where to go, but you could also just aim for a high score and get all the diamonds you could. Once again, DuckTales Remastered instead forces the player to visit most areas – and here, you won’t be able to progress towards the boss if you don’t save the triplets.

And as luck would have it, each triplet has been captured by a ghost in a bedsheet… Oh wait, no, actually, each ghost is a Beagle Boy. And somehow they each take three hits, while every other generic Beagle Boy in the game takes only one. And for some reason, the last two Beagle Boys you fight are somehow aided by the indestructible real ghosts that are haunting the place! How much sense does that make? Scrooge defeats each Beagle Boy, saves Huey, Dewey or Louie, and the Beagle Boy storms off, dropping a piece of paper in the process. Ah, how I love the contrived coincidences of enemies running away and somehow having something ultra-important drop out of their pocket while they run!

Judging by Scrooge's lines in that part, it appears the authors
of the game are aware of the trope called "Minecart madness".

Once all three triplets have been saved, Scrooge realizes that the three pieces of paper form a scroll, with a spell that becomes necessary to reach the boss.

Scrooge is joined by Huey, Dewey, Louie and Webby just as he finds the great mirror, and inside it, Magica DeSpell appears to gloat. Not even realizing that Scrooge can actually go through the mirror now, and give her a pogo jump to the head. Have you ever had your head smashed by the full weight of an adult male duck balancing on a cane, pressing down on your skull? It friggin’ hurts, as Magica is about to learn.

She’s a pretty tough boss, with a lot of hit points – and some very dastardly techniques. The original game had her just fly around as a vulture and attack sometimes; here, she can summon rows of fire to burn Scrooge – Magica, you got it wrong, that’s not how you cook a canard à l’orange! She can also summon mirrors to attack. A pretty tough boss, but soon she’s defeated, and Scrooge finds the Coin of the Lost Realm.

Hopefully we’re done with Magica. Talk about a witch with a capital B. I swear, this damned Draculesti Manor… It was enough troubles as is, I'll be glad never coming back to it! With his wealth, Scrooge should just tear it down and build a hotel over it. He should call it… Hotel Draculesti. Hm… nah. We’ll think of a better name later.

My favorite line from that entire level: "If I hear one more word about
thee mines being haunted, I'll start haunting them meself!"
Okay, off to the African mines. In the original DuckTales, the level was closed off at the beginning by a locked door – forcing Scrooge to go back to the Transylvanian manor to retrieve the key. There was no actual explanation for this – why Transylvania? In the same level where we fought duck skeletons, ghosts and mummies? Here, as soon as we enter the mine, we see all the workers in it fleeing, calling the mine haunted. Of course, Scrooge doesn’t believe any of this – never mind the fact that, merely one level earlier, he faced actual, indestructible freaking ghosts. Oh, and if the ghosts weren’t enough, there have been earthquakes around the place for a short while now. This time around, Scrooge actually has to look for the key to the elevator so that he can go down and find the treasure hidden down there. Granted, it’s easy to find. What follows, however, is a pretty tough level.

In the original DuckTales, two levels had special, extra treasures to look for. Much like the treasure at the end of each level, that extra trinket would also give Scrooge a million dollars. These were hidden in the African mine and on the Moon; and as an extra, the hidden treasure in the African mines also led to a shortcut towards the boss. DuckTales Remastered actually did away with these extra treasures, meaning that if you want to reach the boss, you have no choice but to take the long route. And yet, it would have been a neat bonus to have these extras in the game, as you need a LOT of money to unlock everything there is to get! But nope. Oh well. There’s also a whole new section with a giant rolling boulder that you MUST go through, in order to unlock the path downwards. Because sure, let’s cut off some stuff and replace it by other, more dangerous stuff.

Although, once again, the revamped music is really great.

The second half of the level is pretty straightforward, so you can’t really get lost – it does feel, however, like they made a lot of major changes to the original level (as an example, the boss room is located a lot lower than before, and to reach it you have to do the last part of the long path from the original DuckTales, but backwards). We also get a quick scene of Scrooge encountering weird balls with protruding heads and arms. Soon, we reach the boss room…

With dozens of those ball creatures in the background, and one in front of the others – a king-like one, with beard, cape, crown, scepter, all that! These creatures, calling themselves Terra-Firmians, are apparently in the middle of their Great Games – an event in which they probably play dodgeball using each other. Either way, this is what’s been causing the earthquakes in the mine; Scrooge asks them to stop. The King of the Terra-Firmians thus challenges Scrooge.

A torrent of spheres? That's one ballsy attack.
The original boss would only roll around its room to try and attack. This one can do that, but it can also go into the background and call a wave of his fellow ball-people to try and ram into Scrooge, or blow into a horn, causing large boulder to fall on the battlefield. One the King is defeated, Scrooge explains that their games is stopping his workers from mining for diamonds. The King of Terra-Firmians then says that since those rocks can’t be rolled on and are too sharp for their taste, they’ll gladly fork over any and all “garbage rocks” they can find and slow down their “Games”; as long as they can stay in the mine, of course. And thus we receive the Giant Diamond of the Inner-Earth!

Let's take an impossible dive!
Back at the Money Bin, the nephews snicker and joke that, yes, a large group of ball-people living deep underground and playing sports that cause earthquakes, this makes so much more sense than ghosts! For all that trouble, I would have preferred a ghost, really.

A quick note about the Money Bin: This is where you select a level, but you can also go for a dive in the bin (which, again, is gross because that money could have been anywhere on a person, and yuck, and besides it’s still a hard surface that Scrooge should logically crash his face on, but now I’m just rambling). There’s also a whole section where you can buy art using the money you collected in the game. It’s divided in a few sections, and you must buy most of the art in the unlocked sections to unlock a new one.
With the corresponding 8bit sprites, no less!
-A closer look at the new art for the various characters, both allies and enemies, in the game;
-Concept art for the various locations seen in the game;
-Sketches for those same locations;
-Pencil renders for those locations – wow, that’s a lot;
-Paintings of the backgrounds on the seven locations;
-A Music section where you can listen to the tracks used in DuckTales Remastered; the last tracks in that section are the original 8-bit versions, so you can properly compare. Neat!;
-Last but not least, two full pages of art from the TV show: Pencil renders, cels, that sort of thing. Also the most expensive items to get here, some costing a full million, often more.

How much does it cost to unlock everything? Over 60 millions. Considering you get anywhere from 1.5 to 3 millions per level (with more money earned on higher difficulties), this means you can take quite a while to unlock all of the art. There’s an achievement linked to that, too, so you’d better be ready. Yup, you’re rewarded for doing the opposite of Scrooge and overspending on stuff that is near-useless.

Sorry Webby, you can not come along. Scrooge is a terrible sitter. I mean,
have you seen how often he puts his nephews in the middle of danger?

The next stop in this treasure hunt brings us to the Himalayas. Webby wants to come along, as she wants to see the Himalayan marmots, but Scrooge asks her to stay at the Money Bin with his nephews. He asks Launchpad to bring him there in the plane. No, Scrooge! Ask him to take the helicopter! The plane has wings! It isn’t safe! Helicopter, Scrooge! Helicopter! Fine, don’t listen to me. Crash in 3... 2…

Told ya so!

Sums my thoughts perfectly.
They can’t go anywhere until Launchpad repairs that damn airplane. Which will be easy, as long as he has that fuel regulator! …Which he subsequently accidentally drops down into the Himalayan caves. Scrooge tells Launchpad to get to work while he goes to recover the fuel regulator. Neither of them notices a young duck with a pink ribbon among the boxes… Webby, you should know that climbing into a plane piloted by Launchpad is dangerous!

Ah yes, getting stuck in the snow. I know that all too well.
We're waist-deep in the stuff in Quebec at the moment.
Scrooge ventures into the level and finds the fuel regulator… which is then attacked by Himalayan rabbits and split in three pieces. Eeeyup, gotta visit most of the level to find them, once again. Oh, by the way, the whole place is covered in snow, so if Scrooge tries to pogo-jump, he can get stuck in the cold ground. Okay, he still can use it on ice or on other hard surfaces, but anywhere else? Yeah, better forget it. I like how this level, simply by being on a snowy mountain, strips Scrooge almost entirely of one of his best ways to go around quickly and defend himself effectively.

Batman's Mister Freeze would have a field day making
puns out of this situation.
On his quest for the pieces, Scrooge finds a sector blocked off by large ice blocks, with something in one of them. It’s Bubba! I don’t really remember the new characters from the last seasons of DuckTales, but they still show up here: Bubba and Fenton Crackshell, AKA Gizmoduck. Here, Bubba can be freed by Scrooge using the pogo jump, after which he’ll gladly help Scrooge find his way around. In the original game, all Bubba did was open a way to an extra heart for Scrooge’s Hit Points. Here, he’s so overjoyed at being freed from the ice that he swings his club around, destroying any icy obstacles. Hey, watch it, you’re gonna hurt someone! Too late, there goes Scrooge’s webbed foot. Ouch. And it was his right foot, too; the one he used the most!

Better for Scrooge to (heh) duck while Bubba is smashing blocks of ice.
Wouldn't want to risk getting struck by that deep cold.

Quick note: Is it just me or Bubba sounds like he would start going “Bubba-saur!” at any moment now? It’s like a Pokémon was given the gift of speech. Not even a pun, I think the caveduck’s voice sounds like a Bulbasaur. Oh, he also gets rid of the enemies in the way, so that’s nice. Also, Scrooge decides to bring Bubba home. He sure owes that to his prehistoric pal.

Oh, and while I’m digressing, can I say that the new tune for the Himalayas is awesome? For some reason, they went with an electric guitar for part of it. Always a good thing in my book!

Ah please, Scrooge, that's not very nice to Webby.
Soon enough, Scrooge finds all three pieces and returns to Launchpad. Weirdly enough, there are also Beagle Boys in this level! Goddammit, how can they be in every single level Scrooge goes in? Do they spy on him or what? Do they know about the treasure map – even though they failed to retrieve it at the beginning of the game? Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Anyway, Scrooge comes back to Launchpad. Bubba’s there, and they find Webby. At first Scrooge is angry, but has no choice but to tag her along. And hey, the plane is ready! But the crew is attacked in the skies by Flintheart Glomgold, Scrooge’s rival from Africa, who’s in his own plane!

Uh oh! That bomb is gonna blow! Also dammit, even in
the skies, we gotta encounter Beagle Boys!
Surprise boss battle in the skies! Not a dogfight, because I’m sure Launchpad would crash his plane into the opponent somehow. Nah, instead, Glomgold will toss bombs and Beagle Boys over to Scrooge’s plane, and Scrooge has to pogo-jump on the Beagle Boys to defeat them and toss the bombs back at the enemy plane. A quick boss battle, not extremely tough, but still tricky – since there was no such fight in the original and it comes a bit out of nowhere. Gotta wonder how Glomgold knew that Scrooge was in the Himalayas, though. Also gotta wonder why neither duck freezes in place, without any pants or shoes in one of the coldest places on Earth.

Not a very impressive yeti there...

Finally, Scrooge and crew find Shadow Pass, where the Lost Crown of Gengis Khan can be found. Except it’s guarded by a yeti. In the original game, since the battlefield was covered in snow, Scrooge couldn’t make a high jump with his pogo-cane, so the yeti was about as big as him. This time around…

Holy crap! All the other bosses look tiny in comparison!
Yikes, that is one large, angry creature! How to defeat this one? It’ll often cause ice and stones to drop down, so Scrooge can send one of those rocks upwards with his cane, to make a large block of ice fall on the yeti’s head, sinking it down into the snow – low enough that Scrooge can pogo-jump on the creature’s head. When the yeti is defeated, Webby and Launchpad run in, with Webby explaining that the yeti here is a lady. As for why she was in such a duck-killing mood, Webby explains, through her unexplained ability to understand animals that don’t speak human languages, that she was angry due to stepping on a spiky thing, and that it’s still on her foot. Realizing that it could be what he’s looking for, Scrooge dives into the snow – no weirdness there, he can dive into money, snow is hardly a problem – and comes back out with the Crown! Yay, we did it! Gee, it’s awfully convenient that Webbigail was with them, huh? This game has more convenience than a friggin’ store!

Oh alright, she tried to kill me, but she was just angry because
she had something under her foot. I suppose that makes her
murderous intent perfectly A-okay, huh?

Alright, we’ve found four of the five great treasures. Only one left, on the… Moon? Oh great, that’ll be pretty far from here! But Scrooge has never backed down from an opportunity to make more money, even if that means going to space! See ya in Part 3! (Wow, I never expected this review to get so big…)