Monday, September 17, 2018

Senran Kagura: Reflexions (Switch) Review

Early on in the Switch's life, Kenichiro Takaki, the producer of Senran Kagura, wondered about making a game using the enhanced rumble.  Fans of the series dreamed about what would come next...and then we got Senran Kagura: Reflexions.

If you have ever messed around in the Dressing Room feature in any of the other SK games, then you will have a good idea what this game is all about.  Except now there's dialogue to go with it!  Asuka will talk to you, then you will message a part of her hand.  Depending on which part she responds to, and which part you rub, you are then taken to one of the game's "arcs".  Asuka will be dressed appropriately for the arc, and ready for you to practice your reflexology on her body.  Yes, you read that right.

There are two main actions in the body reflexology, squeezing and touching.  Well, there's also caressing and using the water gun, but they don't seem to do anything.  I take that back.  The water gun mode lets you rotate Asuka around, so you can touch her back.  Not really a function that needs to be tied to it, but it is.

Anyway, you will poke or grab various parts of her body.  When you do, a colored circle will appear.  Getting more and more of any color will be reflected the background effect.  Once you've done that enough, you can use a tool to...message her.  As you go through the arcs, you will eventually earn all 4 different tools.  Once it's time, just select one and go.  Each has its own mini-game that rely on the same principle.  Keep Asuka's happy meter in the right zone, which increases the heart meter.  The trick is to keep it in the right range, as doing something too long or, hard, won't work.  If you get the heart meter to the specified level within the time limit, you win!  And by "win" I mean fill her heart crystal more.  Then back to the hand reflexology and repeat until the crystal is filled.  You will need to do this at least five times to fully fill the crystal.

Both reflexologies can be done with motion controls or the controller buttons.  The motion controls are fairly responsive.  Half of the motions felt appropriate, while the other half didn't feel like they were mimicking the actions they were trying to.  I pretty much stuck to using the controller sticks and buttons, as they were a lot more reliable to succeed in the mini-games.  It was a lot easier for me to find the rhythm when using the sticks.  I would encourage players to try both, as the motion worked better than I would have though, and was fun for some of the mini-games.

The crystal fills with whatever color effects you had when going into the mini-game.  Mixing colors will change the overall crystal, and whatever color it is when it is fully filled, that's the ending you get.  That's good in theory.  In practice, the endings aren't really that different, just different dialogue.  The main reason to end with each of the five colors is to get the "true" ending, which unlocks the second main menu picture.  Other than that, getting all five colors in an arc will unlock that costume.

I'm sure that's not how you use a brush

As for other things to do, there is the mini-reflexology, where you can just squeeze and touch Asuka in the classroom, and it won't go to the mini-game.  It's easiest to dress her up in the various outfits here as well.  If you want a more static experience, Reflexions also has the dressing room option.  This is where you change Asuka's hair, accessories, and outfit, plus it allows you to put her in various poses.  It wasn't something I used very often in the main games, and that hasn't changed here.

Well, Senran Kagura: Reflexions sure is an interesting idea, if not a bit creepy at times.  It does feel more like a tech demo to me, since it relies on the motion controls and vibration for most of the interesting bits.  Otherwise, it's pretty much the stuff you can already do in the dressing room function of the other SK games.  Those also have the added benefits of more (and better) girls and outfits.  While you will be able to buy other girls as DLC at some point, I'm not sure it's enough to make me go back to the game (unless there's Murakumo DLC).  There isn't a whole lot to do, but at least the price reflects that.

The Good:
Interesting use of the motion controls and the vibration function.

The Bad:
Making a stand alone game out of a rarely used menu section of the normal games doesn't automatically make it good.

The SaHD:
The "big brother" arc is of course creepy, but the idol one ("Oh, Mr. Producer!") also feels a little uncomfortable in today's world.

(Review code for Senran Kagura: Reflexions was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Shikhondo: Soul Eater Review

I'm always game to try a new shmup.  Some are good, some are bad, but it's a genre I enjoy.  When Shikhondo was announced, I made sure to ask for a review code.  I figured it would play really well on the Switch, and happily received that version.

Once on the main game menu, you do have a few options.  There is arcade mode, hardcore, novice, and boss rush.  Arcade mode is pretty much the normal game.  As with a lot of the other modes, you can choose one of four difficulty levels.  Boss rush is pretty self-explanatory, as you just fight all of the bosses.  Novice is supposedly easier, but didn't feel that different from the easy setting of the arcade mode.  Hardcore boasts 1 life, no continues, but double the speed of soul charging.  When I tried it, it let me continue.  Once I did, I had the normal amount of lives until the end of the stage.  Starting the next one seemed to put me back to hardcore, as I only had the one life.  I'm not sure if this is intentional, but it did feel weird.  To round it out, there's a customize mode that lets you change a few options, and local co-op.  Sadly, I couldn't find anyone in my house brave enough to try that out with me.

The controls and ideas behind the game are pretty simple.  There is a shot button for your normal attack.  There is an alt-fire button, that you hold with the shot button to do a slightly different attack.  This will also make you move a lot slower, so it's easier to weave between bullets.  When you pass close by an enemy bullet, it will fill a bit of your soul gauge.  When it is full, pressing the soul button will have you enter a powered up state for a few seconds.  Pressing the button again will consume a soul stock, but power you up a second level.  If you press the soul button when you don't have a full soul meter, it acts like a bomb attack, damaging on-screen enemies, and taking away some of the bullets.  The soul system is pretty nice once you get the hang of it, just make sure to look at the meter (or listen for the sound) before you hit the button, so you get the power-up instead of the bomb.  Both are useful, but the power-up is better.  Well, for the most part.

There are two characters to choose from, the Grim Reaper and The Girl.  Really descriptive, I know.  Of course I tried the reaper first, as I figured she was like Botan (assuming anyone else remembers Yu Yu Hakusho).  Both have different shot patterns, so the choice isn't superficial.  The reaper has a normal spread, while holding the alt and shot buttons concentrates her fire.  The girl has two orbs with her.  Her normal shot is fairly concentrated, but the small shots from the orbs will automatically aim toward enemies.  The alt-fire send the orbs next to an enemy, and blasts them at short range.  At first I liked the reaper's shot pattern, but eventually found the girl to be better for me.

I did have some problems using the joy-con's analog stick.  There were times where it wouldn't respond, especially if I was moving it back and forth rapidly (like when dodging bullets).  The d-pad buttons worked fine.  I switched to the pro controller, and the stick worked fine.  It may only be a problem with my joy-con, but it's not something I have encountered in any game I've played with them before.

Just like most shmups, you die in 1 hit.  You will start right where you left off, but will be out any soul charge you had.  Of course, these rules can be changed in the "customize" game type.  Thankfully, the characters have really tight hit boxes.  Coupled with the slower movement during alt-fire, it feels good to dodge the bullet hell.  Even if you do run out of lives, you can continue, and it still places you right where you were.  It's very possible to brute force your way through the game, which is nice at least for completing it, and practicing later stages, since there is no feature to select them.

I will say the game can be hard, but it's mostly because the enemy bullets are sometimes hard to see through your shots.  This problem is magnified when using the soul power-up.  I'd also heartily recommend playing in TV mode, as the small screen of handheld mode plus lots of small bullets is a recipe for disaster.  At least some bullet types disappear when the enemy dies, which saved me more times than I can count.

There are 5 stages, each ending with a giant boss battle.  After the fifth one, the game goes on for a few seconds, leading me to believe there is some kind of hidden final boss.  I don't know if there is, and I don't know what the qualifications are.  I would imagine having to do it on 1CC or something like that, but I don't know for sure.  In another unique feature, after completing a stage, you can choose to get an extra life, or another soul.  It isn't much, but I like it.  Obviously, they don't offer it in hardcore mode.

Shikhondo: Soul Eater may not offer many modes or characters, but it's a very solid and fun shmup.  The soul charge and power-up is a nice and unique gameplay mechanic that I enjoyed.  I'd easily recommend it to fans of the genre.  Just be sure to play in TV mode.

The Good:
Good differences between the two characters, tight hit box, unique soul system for power-ups.

The Bad:
Very much a "no frills" experience.

The SaHD:
I really should have invested in the shmup Switch grip Kickstarter thing.

(Review code for Shikhondo was provided by the publisher)