- Spoiler: show
07/07: Mario + Rabbids: Donkey Kong Adventure [Switch]
Much of Donkey Kong Adventure seems to be a response to the core Kingdom Battle videogame. Rabbid Luigi is secretly the best character in Kingdom Battle, combining huge movement range with high power and multiple debuffs (including the all-important Vamp debuff) to transform him into the best utility character and best healer available to Mario & Co. I didn't quite "click" with Kingdom Battle until I grasped this somewhat elusive fact, so I was concerned that Donkey Kong Adventure takes Rabbid Luigi away and doesn't provide an equivalent an alternative--in my mind, deliberately, shaking up the strategy that carried me (and many other players) through Kingdom Battle's final chapters.
Donkey Kong and Rabbid Cranky Kong are the new characters introduced for the adventure, each possessing all-new mechanics. Cranky isn't too
different from the other Rabbids, but with one big difference: He fires his shotgun into enemies when he lands from team jumps. Donkey Kong introduces considerably more wrinkles: His explosive banana functions like a boomerang, he has a ground-pound melee attack that effects a wide circle around him; there are special jump pads only he can use that can launch him across entire levels; and most importantly he can pick up and carry allies, enemies, and even pieces of the terrain and use them as projectiles. This can lead to situations where Donkey Kong can grab Rabbid Cranky, carry him across a DK Jump Pad, throw him into a group of enemies where he will shotgun them on the way down, Rabbid Cranky takes over and slides into one or more enemies for additional damage, team jumps off a team member for a second shotgun landing, then unleashes a third shotgun blast to finish his turn. This strategy prevents him from taking cover, but there usually isn't anything alive around him afterwards anyway. In other words, Donkey Kong adds a whole new dimension to Kingdom Battle's already-brilliant movement-based tactical RPG mechanics. Rabbid Peach is also along for the ride providing the same rudimentary healing she does in the core game; again, this feels deliberate, in an attempt to lessen the prevalence of Vamp Tanking that dominated the core game and make Rabbid Peach a "proper" healing-focused character. She's got the same shtick she had in Kingdom Battle and has no new utility to complement her new companions and feels like the weak link of the DLC.
Donkey Kong Adventure feels easier than the core Kingdom Battle game, but the new mechanics introduced by Donkey Kong and Rabbid Cranky kept me engaged and I appreciated the disruption of dominant strategies. New goals and enemy strategies also make it feel like a markedly different campaign; one map which finds the trio preventing couriers from reaching an exit with no margin for error felt like the smartest level in the entire Mario + Rabbids package. Grant Kirkhope returns to score Donkey Kong again, and when a fully orchestrated arrangement of Jungle Joust plays I felt the same chills I did when familiar tunes surfaced in Breath of the Wild.
By disrupting dominant strategies of Kingdom Battle and offering new scenarios rather than rehashing old ones, Donkey Kong Adventure is a worthy DLC for Mario + Rabbids.
08/07: Crash Bandicoot: Warped [Switch]
I didn't like Crash Bandicoot or Cortex Strikes Back, and Warped has many of the same problems I felt about those games, but with one taken away: It isn't nearly as hard. Crash is still a one-hit wonder, but Warped forcefeeds him apples keeping him well stocked with extra lives no matter how I often got him killed. Where Game Overs were common in the first two installments, I didn't Game Over once in Warped. This isn't to suggest I enjoyed the videogame more; reducing the difficulty rendered the levels listless and anemic, and every so often a racing level featuring terribly-handling vehicles is introduced. My favorite thing about Warped was how short it was (I beat it in less than three hours) and my favorite thing about the N. Sane Trilogy in general is I don't have to play them anymore.
12/07: Riptide GP: Renegade [Switch]
In an unspecified-distant future where the old cities have been consumed by rising water and replaced by idyllic garden-cities, the most popular sport is high-speed water racing on watercraft known as "hydrojets." Our generic, faceless, personality-less hero is goaded into an illegal off-track race with their rival, who lures them into a police ambush and they are imprisoned and banned from the sport. Once out of jail, their only chance for revenge is to compete in illegal underground races which are becoming popular on the internet in the hopes that conquering this "Renegade" league will allow them to confront their treacherous rival.
Like many mobile racing games, Riptide's premise is a coat of paint on a rote racer. There are only six tracks, but somehow the campaign does a good job of not making them boring even as I replay them dozens of times in the rise to the top by reinterpreting them in a variety of events, from basic races to elimination matches to slalom courses. Later unlockable Hydrojets are fast and responsive and react well to the waves in the levels; early on my main struggle was just keeping up with the competition, but once I had a fully souped-up high-end Hydrojet my main struggle was not crashing into walls. A surprisingly complicated trick system powers my boost meter, but sometimes tricks don't fire off correctly which can lead to frustrating crashes. Hydrojets earn a significant speed boost when riding in the wake of other Hydrojets, so competing effectively is less about knowing the shortest path through each course's twists and turns, and more in my ability to tail my opponents effectively.
A surprisingly enjoyable and deep mobile racing game.
14/07: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker [Switch]
As the Switch has rekindled my dormant love of platformers of both the modern and "retro" variety, I've simultaneously become fascinated by what I think of as "anti-platformers," videogames that have the trappings and level design of platformers but don't actually allow the player character to jump in any way. Last year's Snake Pass would be an anti-platformer, and perennial Wii U port machine Switch has recently another anti-platformer, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
Captain Toad unleashes the titular character into a small three-dimensional diorama and tasks me with guiding the Captain from one end of the level to the other gathering as many collectibles along the way as I can. But the good Captain, weighed down by a heavy backpack, cannot jump, turning simple affairs like traversing a broken bridge into complicated, level-spanning affairs. The Wii U original made heavy use of the game pad for many of its mechanics, and these have been adapted for the Switch by using the motion controls in docked mode, or the touch screen in handheld mode. Both work well. Treasure Tracker is extremely short (I finished its first "Book" of levels in under two hours) and not particularly challenging (collectibles are optional and not hidden with a great deal of cunning), but every level offers a new idea rather than repeating old puzzles and there's an ingenuity and charm to the whole affair that feels fresh in a way Mario hasn't for years.
If you missed it on Wii U, the Switch is a great platform to check this one out (maybe after a price drop though).