Game Ramblings #158 – Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga

More Info from Star Wars

  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Platform: PS5
  • Also Available On: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series

It’s been a bit since my last ramblings. I decided to do carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists at once, as one does. What that does is makes videogames surprisingly not very fun to play. When I was figuring out what I wanted to play first after getting my sutures out, this one was sitting there ready to go. It feels like it’s been forever since The Force Awakens, but the full 9 episode saga is here and it’s a lot of fun.

The Lego games have always just kind of been collectathons, but it surprised me how much this felt like a complete game, and not just a Legoified version of the movies like a lot of past games. There were some pretty obvious changes to the core combat mechanics as well as a much better expansion to the metagame between story segments that really made the whole thing work.

The biggest obvious change is that there’s ranged weapons everywhere! You’ve got blasters of every flavor, bows of all sorts, you can chuck your light saber like a whooshing boomerang. However, unlike The Force Awakens, which sometimes had ranged weapons but clumsy aiming due to the fixed camera angle, we’re now seeing a full third-person game. You’ve got all your typical trappings of shooters, such as ADS on the left trigger and full camera manipulation on the right stick. In doing this change, the game now feels like a modern title along the lines of something like a simple Ratchet & Clank, rather than a sort of clumsy Lego-themed isometric platformer.

The metagame is also just a lot more free flowing in a way that encourages the use of the typical large character roster of the series. You’ll jump between segments of free roam where you can use any purchased characters and segments of story where you’re restricted to relevant characters. In allowing the free roam segments, the game is doing a great job of slowing down the pace of the game in a way that is still fun. Where a typical Lego Star Wars title was around 10 hours, this one is about 20. While that is much longer, it now covers all nine movies instead of just a handful, so the pace slowing down is definitely necessary.

What you end up doing is completing a specific story segment, then being unleashed into what is essentially a movie-themed playground. Scattered around are all sorts of miscellaneous rewards, so it becomes a game of finding out how to get them all. Some spots are simply puzzles of choosing the right person to get to the glowing spot. Some of them are mini races or combat segments for a reward. Some of them are side quests where you interact with characters from the movies in fun ways in order to unlock them for play. However, the important thing is that it’s varied and quick to do. You’ll spend a few minutes per-reward, then move on to the next thing. It keeps things fresh so you aren’t stuck in one spot for long periods of time, but also provides a nice change from the purely linear story segments that you’re doing the rest of the time.

It’s also worth a mention that space combat is another one of the things that acts as a nice pace change. Some of the areas are Star-Fox inspired – such as the Death Star trench run – and some of the areas are distinctly open flight. Mechanically these are definitely simple. You’re basically firing a relatively large angle auto aim machine gun or firing a very generously homing proton torpedo. However, in all cases it’s another place I can point at where the segments are used as a way to breakup the pace of the game and keep the overall flow fresh.

Ultimately that’s the biggest thing about this title that I could point at as an improvement over past entries. You’re running through a bunch of story very quickly to cover nine movies, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming or boring at any point. Because the specifics of what you’re doing change so much, you don’t really have time to become bored with any specific type of gameplay. You kind of do one type of gameplay for a few minutes in a story mission, then go into free roam, then go into another story mission with completely different gameplay, then back to free roam. Because everything has some currency being given that allow you to get more stuff, it also never feels like you’re doing something unrewarding.

If you’re a fan of past Lego titles this is an easy recommendation. If you’re a fan of Star Wars this is an easy recommendation. However, more than that this feels like a much easier recommendation to the general game audience. This is a much more complete game than past titles. Rather than being a game that leans on its IP to be good, this feels like a generally good game that is instead boosted by its use of the IP. While the reports of severe development problems put a bit of a black eye on things, this game is showing a bit of hope that the Traveller’s Tales Lego series can be a bit thing again going forward.

Game Ramblings #157 – Kirby and the Forgotten Land

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: Platformer
  • Platform: Switch

This isn’t quite the open world revelation that we all hoped it would be after the first trailer. It also isn’t at all a challenging game like Elden Ring. It doesn’t really do anything all that ambitious, even for the Kirby series. However, what it is is fun. It’s fun in that weird unexplainable way that so many Nintendo games just are and so many developers wish they could capture. It’s that fun that makes this worth playing.

Within the opening sequence of the game you become the car above and that really just sets the stage for the game. Kirby is taking his hoovering mechanic to a new level here and more often than not it serves as an outlandish way for the game to get you through a specific mechanic. Need to cover long distances fast? There’s a convenient car. Need to shoot at enemies or break through a wall from range? Why not becoming a soda shooting vending machine. Need to pierce through a weak point in the ground? Well, a traffic cone is the right shape.

The thing about all these instances isn’t necessarily that they are new mechanics. What they are wrapped in is a layer of magic. There’s something entirely unknown to me about why the simple mechanics are so memorable here, but a lot of it ultimately comes down to the attention to detail in the buildup of the world itself. It’s little things, like the way Kirby’s animations show squish and stretch when there’s changes in velocity. It’s things like the subtle freeze frames that occur when you smash through something as car Kirby. It’s things like seeing the same damn tree boss that every Kirby games has, but now with a tropical flair and a change to the camera angle to hit both nostalgia and mechanical interest. That attention to detail is so utterly hard to grasp as a developer, but is something that Nintendo has routinely done so well that allows its otherwise simple games to nearly universally be regarded as great.

Luckily, the game doesn’t just skate by on polish. Despite being easy, it’s got a surprising amount to do, which gives a lot of interesting content for players of all skill levels. Each level has your normal end point, but within that there’s also a bunch of hidden objectives. Each level has a collection of hidden waddle dees, but the rest of the objectives run the gamut from beating enemies with specific powers to finishing encounters without taking damage to beating bosses quickly to simply just finding cool hidden shit. It provides enough of a distraction for completionists to be chasing a bit of a carrot that’s beyond just simply finishing the levels. That’s not to say that it doesn’t start to wear a bit thin by the end, but it was nice to have something to strive for and even replay levels for

However, my favorite thing were the treasure road levels. These are effectively single-power time trials, and they’re a speed runner’s dream. Each one drops you into a level with a specific power and a handful of encounters to finish between you and the goal. Everything between that point is entirely up to your skill level. In doing these, you very quickly learn how to efficiently use your powers, allowing you quicker and quicker times through the specific level. That then leads to more efficient and more clever use of the powers in regular levels and boss fights, giving a positive reinforcement loop to the player’s skill in the game.

That kind of a loop is also a classic Nintendo thing. If you think about something like level 1-1 in Super Mario Bros – you run the right, see a Goomba, maybe you die, but if you jump and land on it you now know a core mechanic. As you keep running to the right, you see a few more as well as some pipes. You know how to jump, so now you’re learning how to jump well. Each little step along that way reinforces what you learned in previous things to become better at the game. Kirby treats the treasure road levels the same way. They’re run on their own, but the skill improvements you get in them just serve to improve how you play through the rest of the game.

All that said, if you want something ambitious or innovative, this isn’t it. This game should be played because it’s purely fun. It’s not fun in a new way, and it’s not often fun in an explainable way, but it just is. If you’re wanting something more forgiving after Elden Ring, give this a try. If you want something fun to just fill a gap, give this a try. End of the day it’s just a mindless title, but it didn’t stop being fun for me the entire time.

Shelved It #17 – Bug Fables: The Everlasting Spring

More Info from Dangen Entertainment

  • Genre: RPG
  • Platform: Switch
  • Also Available On: Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series

As basically a clone of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door this one gets a lot right. The writing is entertaining. The combat has good action-based attack and defense perks. The visual style really hits a good place. However, at the 10 hour mark my attacks still did the same damage as the 0 hour mark. What ultimately did me in is that I wanted to kill some trash quicker, couldn’t find an item to do so, then did a bunch of side quests in search of similar things with my rewards only some small amounts of currency. It felt unrewarding in a way that made me question how much longer I’d have to go to get beyond the simple set of strategies available to me for the majority of my time in the game. The core choice in how they handled stats and how it impacted my power curve was something I couldn’t shake.

The way this game doles out stat upgrades really just doesn’t work for me. Level ups give you three choices – +1 HP, +3 badge points, and +3 special attack points. That’s it. What this ultimately means is that your power curve is tied to badges. Early on most of these are simple things – +1 defense to the back row character, automatic kills of weak enemies, etc. By the point I’m at, I can start to see some more interesting possibilities emerging – for example, a badge that causes a character to get poisoned and a badge that increases defense for a poisoned character. However, I don’t have anything resembling a complete set of badges to execute an actual strategy. For example, I don’t have anything to match with poisons that increases healing to mitigate the inherent damage or increase attack to reduce turns in the fights while poisoned. And sure, there’s food that can temporarily boost things to help you out more but they’re temporary, they’re consumable, and they require you to take up slots in an extremely limited inventory, so it also feels less than ideal to follow after.

In lieu of stat upgrades, strategies like these would be interesting and fun as a mechanical choice, but there’s just such a slow rate of giving out the more interesting badges that I don’t know when I’m going to actually be able to have fun using those types of things. It would be one thing if that was the late game goal and early to mid game were supplemented by stat increases, but I’m also not getting those. My 3 point attack at minute 0 is the same 3 point attack that I have at hour 10, and it’s largely what I do against any trash. The problem is that the trash has gone from 4 to 10 HP in that time, and the only thing I’ve gained is some HP to stay alive a bit longer. It’s caused the pace of battles to slow tremendously for no reason other than lack of power to push through the fights.

It’s such a small mechanical difference from most RPGs, but it’s really wrecking the experience for me. I want to have combat filled with interesting strategies, but I also want to feel like I’m gaining power. Sure, I’ve added some special attacks in that time so intuitively I have more tools at my disposal, but it doesn’t feel like I’m making progress. Something that took two rounds hours ago still takes two rounds, and it will continue to take two rounds until some currently undetermined time at which I find attack up badges or find a complete set to execute some fun strategy.

What it ended up doing was kind of a compound thing. I knew that I needed to do side content to hopefully find some cool rewards, but I didn’t want to do side content because so many of them don’t give cool rewards. I also didn’t necessarily want to push story content because I was getting to a point where normal trash fights were taking more time than I cared to get through, but because stats aren’t earned through leveling it made no sense to do even a small typical grinding pass to alleviate some of the slower pace. Spending a bunch of time fighting trash that gives no XP because it’s “weak” despite taking the same amount of time to kill as five hours ago is pretty discouraging. Finishing those combat sections and getting 20 or 30 berries instead of a useful badge is even more discouraging.

The unfortunate thing is that in a vacuum I really like what they did here. The combat clearly understood what people liked about old Paper Mario. You can reduce incoming damage with well timed button inputs, including a couple different tiers based on how precise you were. Each enemy has very different timing and tells, so you have to learn and memorize enemies. Attacks are similar, with each character having their own flavor of action inputs to increase the damage being done. Each character also has important strengths that play into combat strategy. The bee can knock down flying units. The beetle can flip over armored units. The moth can throw magic which is super effective against specific enemy types. Outside of the lack of power curve, the combat just works extremely well so it’s frustrating that stats are the thing really throwing me off.

This is ultimately a thing where my lack of patience is doing me in here. I get why people enjoy it and for the most part I really like the core mechanics at play but it just is hitting the wrong notes for me. I just want to feel like my time is being rewarded in a consistent manner, and typically for RPGs that would be through token stat increases and gearing. It doesn’t even have to be huge to feel effective in a game like this with such small numbers. Adding a +1 to one stat on one character each level would already be huge. Having the badges then supplement those stat increases to bring in interesting combat strategies would just be icing at that point. As it stands right now, the question mark of when I’ll feel more powerful, or even if I happen to do the right content to get those badges to do so is always just hanging over my head, causing me to fall off this game.