Super Mario Maker 2 Review

Posted by | Reviews, Switch | No Comments

Available On: Switch

Super Mario Maker was a clever delight when it launched in 2015 on Wii U. The simple premise – a full editor suite for making and playing Mario levels across multiple eras – was an instant hit, recreating the dreams of many a dreamy kid scratching out level designs in a school notebook. The Switch sequel keeps the same solid editing and classic Mario gameplay, while adding several high quality pieces, a vastly expanded story mode, and online and local multiplayer.

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Jaws Board Game Review

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Publisher: Ravensburger
Age: 12+
Players: 2-4
Game Length: 60 minutes
MSRP: $29.99

Brody: I used to hate the water…

Hooper: I can’t imagine why.

Building upon the success of last year’s Jurassic Park Danger board game, Ravensburger returns with another movie license in the Jaws board game (available exclusively at Target). Released in 1975, Jaws is often considered the original summer blockbuster, as a trio of men on the vacation destination of Amity Island try to keep a man-eating shark from, well, man-eating, first by trying to close the beaches, then by getting on a boat and hunting the shark themselves.

The Jaws game brilliantly captures both halves of the film in a unique two act structure, culminating in an exciting finale where the shark player rips apart a sinking boat while other players desperately try to fend it off.

A Bigger Boat

As in Jurassic Park Danger, players are divided up into two teams, the humans and the shark. The three human characters of Brody, Hooper, and Quint are always present, making the 2 and 3-player game a little more challenging for the human player but also maintaining a proper balance when playing with fewer than four.

In act one the human team controls the three characters on Amity Island. Each turn they have a set number of actions with which to rescue swimmers (spawned from event cards drawn each round), gather motion sensing barrels, close beaches, and try to locate the shark. The shark player, meanwhile uses a hidden notepad to track their movement and eating habits.

Act one results in an excellent game of cat and mouse as the humans try to locate the shark player using their various abilities, like Brody’s binoculars and Hooper’s fish finder, while minimizing losses.

The first act ends when the shark has eaten nine swimmers, or if Quint manages to tag the shark with two of his barrels. Depending on how many swimmers the shark ate, act two swings in favor of either the shark (more ability cards) or the humans (more gear cards). The board is flipped and boat tiles are added to represent Quint’s boat from the film, the Orca.

If act one is a subtle detective game with some light strategy, act two is a full-on tactical strategy warfare with hit points and dice rolls. The shark resurfaces by choosing from several different Resurface cards, and the humans have to predict where it’ll appear, targeting the space with spears, flares, and pistols. The shark player rips apart chunks of the boat, flipping tiles or eliminating them entirely, and possibly dumping humans into the water where it can start whittling down their hit points.

I’ve played both extremes of act one, with the shark player eating the maximum number of swimmers (and thus gaining the biggest hand advantage going into act two) and the humans tagging the shark almost immediately, with the opposite swing in momentum. However, the card advantage from act one doesn’t grant an automatic win. In both instances the final turn of act two came down to a nail-biting thriller, with a 1 hit point shark nimbly trying to avoid becoming sushi while the surviving humans cling to the last shreds of a sinking boat.

We ran into a few rules questions when it came to act two’s constantly changing battlefield and adjacency conundrums. And it’s a bummer that the movie license doesn’t appear to include the actors’ likenesses, but that doesn’t take away from the fantastic gameplay.

The Rating

The Jaws Board Game has an age recommendation of 12+. Both acts require tactical planning and strategy, and in the case of the human players, coordination of their actions and attacks. The shark player needs to keep careful, honest track of what they do each round throughout act one.

The subject matter is another factor, as the shark player is eating people in act one, and both sides are trying to kill one another in act two. Humorously the original film is rated PG, but would garner at least a strong PG-13 rating (which wasn’t invented until 1984) if not an R rating today.

The Takeaway

I was very impressed to find the solution to whether or not to adapt a Jaws game from the ship or the island was “Why not both?” The two act gameplay structure creates a memorable mini campaign as both sides earn their powers from how well they handle act one. Alternatively you can play each act as a separate game mode if you’re short on time. Both sides play completely differently and the action is fun and tense throughout both acts. Even more than Jurassic Park Danger, the Jaws board game is a triumphant of great game design and an excellent use of the source material.

Slay the Spire Review

Posted by | PC, PlayStation 4, Reviews, Switch | No Comments

Available On: PC (Windows, Mac, Linux) , PlayStation 4, Switch

Card battlers are fashionably popular right now (see our review on the excellent SteamWorld Quest), and Slay the Spire checks just about every box for popular indie genres. Deck-building. Dungeon Crawling. Random Encounters. Roguelike. Even more than most in the genre, Slay the Spire is a purely mechanics-driven game, with very little storytelling. But those systems work beautifully together to create a memorable, deep, and easy-to-play experience that rivals many physical card games.

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Little Friends: Dogs & Cats Review

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Available On: Switch

With the arrival of touch screen technology in the early 2000s, the ability to pet our furry friends wasn’t far behind. Nintendogs was a big success on the Nintendo DS, eventually spawning a sequel on Nintendo 3DS.

The Switch’s touchscreen controls and Joy-Con seem like an obvious pick for a new version, but thus far the series lies dormant. Here to fill in the gap is Little Friends: Dogs & Cats, a Nintendogs sequel in all but name. It brings the pet playing and petting to the big (and handheld) screen, though doesn’t evolve much beyond the original pet simulator formula from over a decade ago.

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invasion of the cow snatchers

Invasion of the Cow Snatchers Review

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Publisher: Thinkfun
Age: 6+
Players: 1
Game Length: Varies
MSRP: $29.99

Thinkfun’s new magnetic cow-grabbing puzzle game Invasion of the Cow Snatchers adapts a common puzzle design into a modular, interactive 3D board, thanks to a little magnet-magic. A deck of 60 puzzle challenges with five difficulty levels ensures a hefty amount of replayability. The components and gameplay are simple enough for kids to enjoy, and engaging enough for teens and adults.

Beam Me Up

As a visiting UFO armed with a magnet, the player’s job is to abduct magnetized cow discs from a 3D farm field littered with obstacles, such as silos, hay bales, and barn doors. The puzzle is set up according to the challenge card, then a clear plastic cover placed on top, allowing the UFO to fly over and capture the cows one by one.

Four different colored fence pieces come in specific sizes, allowing only a certain number of cows to pass over once abducted. Once magnetized, the cows stick to the underside of the UFO, making it increasingly difficult to maneuver around the board. Puzzles are set up to allow only one or two possible solutions. The backside of the card reveals the exact movement and order of abductions that players need to make in order to catch ’em all and complete the puzzle.

It’s a simple puzzle system brought to life with the tactile quality of the plastic pieces and board. My seven year old was delighted to pick up cows, and equally flummoxed when she realized she was trapped behind fences that were suddenly too high. Thankfully puzzles are easy to reset. With a few minor hints and tips (“You don’t have to pick up this cow first; how can you reach that one over there?”) she was able to blaze through all 10 easy challenges and begin making her way through the medium level.

As a single-player series of puzzles, Invasion of the Cow Snatchers isn’t a typical competitive game, yet I witnessed a group of kids excitedly deduce how to approach each puzzle, and set up the next layout for one another.

The deck of challenge cards includes 60 total puzzle layouts, including Easy, Medium, Hard, Super Hard, and Genius. Genius actually features a few extra rules involving dropping off cows at certain drop-off points, creating some advanced brain teasers that teens and adults can enjoy.

The only snag we ran into was in one of the fence heights. The green barrier (crop field) is supposed to allow for one, and only one cow disc to pass overhead. Unfortunately we constantly struggled to get one cow across. Not sure if it was a defect with my particular copy or if the size of the fence is slightly off but it was enough to cause some frustration when playing, even with adults.

invasion of the cow snatchers

The Rating

Invasion of the Cow Snatchers has a suggested minimum age of six. Younger kids would be prone to quick frustration and may lack the dexterity of operating the UFO. Puzzles come in five different difficulties, allowing for multiple age ranges and skill levels.

The Takeaway

Using only a handful of plastic pieces, a modular 3D board, and a deck of cards, Invasion of the Cow Snatchers provides an impressive array of puzzle designs. The pick up and deliver gameplay is simple but effective and multiple difficulty levels allow for proper scaling as kids master each puzzle layout. A lovely puzzle game for kids and families.

SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech Review

Posted by | PC, Reviews, Switch | No Comments

Available On: Switch, PC (Steam, May 31)

Over the last several years, Swedish indie developers Image & Form Games have been quietly and expertly expanding their colorful robot-filled SteamWorld universe. Impressively each of these games embodies completely different genres, such as action-platformer with SteamWorld Dig and turn-based tactical strategy in SteamWorld Heist, while still maintaining lovely 2D artwork and funny robot heroes.

SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech features a full on fantasy world – but still starring quippy robots, and adds yet another new genre to the SteamWorld library: deckbuilding RPG. The card-based combat is intuitive and rewarding, bolstered by the colorful SteamWorld art design.

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