Game Ramblings #174 – Pikmin 4

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: RTS
  • Platform: Switch

I’ve always enjoyed the Pikmin series, but something about the time restriction never really clicked with me. For the original game it made sense given the story, but after it went away in Pikmin 2, it was frustrating to see it come back for 3. This game took the day limit away again leading to a game that feels like it’s built around exploration rather than rushing against the clock, and the resulting game has clicked for me more than any game in the series to this point.

The actual core loop of the game feels perfect for what Nintendo has been experimenting with since the DS days, where there’s a really tight small loop that can just be repeated while always making some sort of forward progress. In this case, it’s the same sort of core loop that Pikmin has always had – start at sunrise, collect as much as you can before sunset, repeat – but the removal of a day limit really changes how I thought about things. Each core loop is a really tight period of time so you can have a distinct start and end point for a single session, or do multiple loops for a longer session. Both scenarios work great and give you obvious progress with obvious break points.

Rather than having the goal of each day be a mad rush to collect as much as possible, I treated trips as sort of one of two phases. In a first run through an area, my goal was simply to unlock as much stuff and remove as much danger as possible. I would clear obstacles, kill enemies, and dig things up, but I would largely ignore it and leave it around. The things you kill and remove persist to future days so there was no danger of losing progress. Once I had a large area cleared, I would then go through and have my Pikmin collect everything and start clearing out the caves that I ran across. This was also important in that it allowed me to compartmentalize the squad build out a lot better. Rather than worrying about whether or not I had the right Pikmin for the situation, I could just make mental notes of spots that I didn’t have the right squad for and come back later with a different makeup.

I totally get where the removal of the day limit mechanic would bother people looking for more challenge, but I just don’t share the sentiment. Yes this game is easy, but it’s because fundamentally the difficulty of encounters is pretty low. Its lack of difficulty is definitely something that I would consider an overall negative to the game, because there’s very few points where I was actively in any danger, let alone felt like I was having a difficult time. I think there’s an opportunity for this style of game to be made difficult in a way where the mechanics of the encounter are the difficulty factor, because there’s a lot of tuning knobs that could quickly make this game very hard. Tighter timing on getting Pikmin off enemies, quicker deaths if you throw them into areas they are prone to damage in, less leniency on taking multiple hits before the Pikmin die, etc. I think there’s an interesting potential here for a true hard/new game+ mode here but I don’t think that limiting day count is the way to do it.

This change also led to what ultimately felt like more interesting environments. The individual areas were a lot more open than I remember them being in the past. It’s not that previous games were linear, but these areas felt truly open to me. Generally speaking environmental interactions were less about opening new areas, and more about opening shortcuts through the full level to make traversal back quicker or simpler. Some interactions did truly modify the environment – one particular example being a low/high tide transition in a beach theme level – but for the most part the changes you make are to make your life simpler in coming back to an area.

The return of caves from Pikmin 2 is also welcomed, though they are in a far more complete form here. Pikmin 2‘s were mostly randomized generic caves, but in the case of 4 they are generally fully formed and more centered around specific mechanics. In some cases it might be Pikmin restrictions to test your ability to effectively use some types. In a lot of cases, it’s actually the use of unique bosses. What this ended up doing for me as a player was to give the game something of a Breath of the Wild vibe where the overworld segments were for testing my overall knowledge and the caves were for hammering on specific segments. The caves are certainly more involved than a Zelda shrine, but it had a similar feel of always having something slightly different to play through.

I think overall this game feels like the sequel to Pikmin 2 that I’ve wanted for a long time. I didn’t necessarily have issues with 3, but it felt like a step back towards the original. Rather than being an exploration-focused game, that one felt like more of the restricted stress game of the original. 4 feels like where the series should be going to me. It’s built from puzzles and collecting and exploration of a large alien environment, encouraging the player to check every corner carefully, rather than rushing through to maximize things as quick as possible. The series has had its time as a series about rescuing, so going in the direction of exploration as a focus is something I’d like to see them continue to grow.

Game Ramblings #160.1 – Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: JRPG
  • Platform: Switch

Original Ramblings

This expansion is by all definitions for the fans. It’s got returning important story characters from past entries in Rex and Shulk. It’s got import returning locations like Colony 9 from the original Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s got the ancestors of some of Chronicles 3’s cast. Basically, it’s there to be a trip specifically for fans of the series, but in that way it feels like the perfect way to cap the series.

This is every bit an extension of the gameplay from XC3, with a few things that feel really tailored towards an expansion experience. The obvious thing is that you power level like crazy to the point that I finished the game around level 60 and maybe had about 20 hours of gameplay. This is all taking place within a single connected world with a single map that you can get through pretty quickly. There’s some environmental things that allow you to basically zipline through the regions, and by the end of the game you’ll have unlocked so many of them that you can get end to end through the entire world in a matter of a couple of minutes without fast travel. I’d actually like to see this explored more in a future Xeno title, as being able to get around between regions quickly without a map feels way more engaging and connected to the world than a typical fast travel system.

Besides that stuff, the big thing added was an affinity system where you earn points for doing normal things (exploring, collecting, etc) to get points to purchase upgrades. There’s been variations on this in the past, but it all feels very directly do thing -> get cool stuff that powers you up. XC3 was already a game that was light on gearing as a power curve, and this feels like it leans further into simplifying away from XC2’s mess of stats as it combines stats, ability purchasing, and ability upgrading into a single source of selection. It obviously benefits the speed of power curve for an expansion experience, but it also feels like it would benefit a larger game as a whole.

However, there’s also a bit of an ending thing that gets into the potential future of the series, and that’s where I’m going to hide behind spoiler tags.


The core plot of XC3 within the overarching series was that Earth had previously been split in two, becoming the worlds of XC1 and XC2. By the time of XC3, the worlds had drifted back towards each other in an attempt to recombine. The plot of XC3 then ends with the worlds re-separating. The end boss sequence and post credits scene shows this process, but it adds a few additional things that seem to imply the Chronicles series is more tied to the rest of the Xeno games than we’ve been led to believe.

One of the first things that catches your attention is a series of radio broadcasts while the cast is being led through a virtual Earth. The radio broadcasts mention a few things of note. One is humans being sent to Sagittarius, where Xenogears ends up taking place. One is Project Exodus – the process of sending humans away to other planets. This is directly the same name as a project from Xenoblade Chronicles X, as well as a similar project from Xenosaga. During these broadcasts Dmitri Yuriev is also name dropped, and he is directly one of the antagonists in the Xenosaga series.

The final set of things comes during the post credits scene. During this scene, you see the two earths recombining. However, they also are seen coming out of some sort of cloaking. I assume this was hinting at the plot of Xenosaga, where Earth is lost due to cloaking. This is then followed up by a blue object of some sort crashing towards Earth, which again to me seems to imply it’s KOS-MOS from the end of Xenosaga III falling to Earth.

All that is to say that this expansion really is for the fans. It adds more context to the Xenoblade series, but also seems to imply ties to the rest of the overarching Xeno series, even if Nintendo doesn’t own those IPs. It also puts us in a place where they’ve given a number of jumping off points for whatever comes next, whether that’s an XC4 or an entirely new branch of the Xeno games.


If you at all enjoyed Xenoblade Chronicles 3, this expansion probably isn’t going to change that opinion. It’s still the same great core gameplay. As something that is simply more of a good thing, it’s enough to be worthwhile. As something for fans of the series, it’s even better. It clearly is there to both be a thanks to fans, as well as a nod towards what might come next and really puts an end cap on what I assume is the end of this set of Xeno titles.

Game Ramblings #171 – The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom

More Info from Nintendo

  • Genre: ARPG
  • Platform: Switch

It would be extremely easy to point at this game and just go “it’s a sequel, whatever”. It shares the characters from Breath of the Wild. It largely shares the overworld, which at a glance simply features the changes that come from progression of time. At a glance it looks to be largely the same mechanically. However, it’s just a bafflingly better game than BOTW, which was already a bafflingly good game.

One of the things that struck me was that it felt weird that they threw out the runes from the original game. That felt like such a core part of the gameplay of the original that removing them just felt wrong. When you get the new ultra hand and fuse abilities early on, they kind of feel like a weird replacement. But then you fuse a bomb flower to an arrow and you suddenly don’t miss the bomb rune so much. You start to realize that the utility of ultra hand replaces the use of the magnesis rune. You start attaching rockets to your shields and suddenly using stasis launches just feels like a slow part of the past. Then you’re busy building something stupid like the vehicle I made up there and by that point you’ve completely missed that the system has so well clicked in your head that you don’t miss the systems of the original game.

The thing that is so wild as a developer about the set of abilities in the game is how often I would try something and be surprised that it just worked. There’s obvious things like attaching an arrow and bomb together would do something cool because Zelda games have had that in the past. But attaching an eyeball to an arrow? Well of course it’s now a homing arrow because it can see. Attaching meat to an arrow? Now you’ve got something to lure enemies. Attach a rocket to your shield? Now you can fly. Attach a wheel to a rope? Now you can open gates. Attach a control stick to some fans? You’ve got a flying motorcycle. Those are nothing next to some of the crazy things the community has been up to.

It’s one of those things that I can understand conceptually how they pulled it off. Ultimately it’s more of an issue of scale of problem solving than anything else. However, I’ve never been in the position where I could simply make anything work simply because that’s the core idea of the game. Everything within these systems is so well polished because they’ve spent the last six years just perfecting every interaction that you can have. These interactions are also completely not accidental either, because most of them are covered in some place in some shrine in some corner of the world where it was clear that something was made simply because some developer along the way said “I want to make a puzzle, I want this mechanic, let’s get it working” and it became another potential tool in the chest for the team and ultimately for players.

All this is to say nothing about the fact that the game isn’t just a slightly modified overworld. Yes that’s there, and yes there’s a lot of differences that players of BOTW will appreciate. However, there’s an entire set of new sky islands to explore and puzzle through that offer unique challenges in terms of trying not to fall off of them. The introduction of the ascend ability that allows you to pass through things above you greatly enhances traversal in all situations. You then start going into the depths and quickly realize that there’s an entire second overworld as big as Hyrule to explore and find cool stuff in. The depths’ core change is that it’s completely dark until you light it up, and that change alone transforms the game into the strangest combination of survival horror and ARPG that drastically changed the pace of how I was playing the game. That alone is enough of a reason to warrant this being considered a full new experience instead of simply a retread.

All that said I do have some gripes about combat, which felt like the weakest part of the game to me. There was something about the timing of dodges/parries that just felt off to me and I could never really quite place my finger on what it was. So much of the combat once you get past the intro red enemies is about dodging or parrying to lay in maximum damage and it always felt like I was just a bit early or just a bit late. I would make adjustments and end up on the other side of that, never really getting to the point where I was really ever comfortable engaging in combat in the overworld where multiple enemies were around. I felt like I was often just taking a ton of what should have been avoidable damage, but just never could quite make it work.

The frustrating part is I never had this problem against bosses. I beat all the temple bosses first try and had similar results against Ganon, despite the fight feeling like a callback to Wind Waker in being so heavily based around specifically dodging to lay in damage. The fact that bosses tended to be fine while overworld combat was problematic for me made me think that I was battling some sort of input latency or frame pacing issue since overworld framerate tends to be less consistent than the tailored boss areas. In those situations combat just felt nice. Timing things felt fair and appropriate without being too easy. It was rewarding to nail your dodges and get a flurry rush while laying in huge damage. I guess ultimately my problem with combat was that things like late-game Bokoblins felt like more of a threat than Ganondorf which is something I can’t really reconcile in my head.

My combat issues didn’t really negatively impact my feelings on the game though. This is absolutely a game worth playing and if for some reason you still don’t own a Switch, this is game worth getting a Switch to play. It’s so fundamentally good across nearly the entire experience and just constantly throws things at you that will surprise you. It takes what was originally a top game of all time framework and enhances it in ways that sets a new standard for what open world ARPGs should be striving for.