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Humor and charm | BusinessWorld

Little Town Hero
Nintendo Switch

CONSIDERING how hard any news about Little Town Hero Hit gaming circles from inception to release, pundits would have been wrong to buttress its status as a "Little Known Title" when it finally made its way to the Nintendo eShop last week. It was announced with no fanfare and scant information in August last year. Even then, the public knew, well, a little apart from its genre (role-playing game), working title (Town), and synopsis (a young lead defending a – what else? – town from monsters). And, after that, virtually nothing was heard of it until the week before its Oct. 16 launch.

To be sure, not all releases for the Switch are given the red-carpet treatment. If anything, the opposite has become the norm; few out of the sheer number of intellectual properties being developed for the hybrid console at any given time get their turn in the spotlight. Nonetheless, the relative dearth of information about Little Town Hero is nothing short of remarkable; after all, no less than Game Freak – responsible for the videogame arm of Pokémon, the biggest media franchise in the world – steered it to fruition. Little wonder, then, that gamers all but became prospectors, with material on the title, among them an official video showing the first 20 minutes of gameplay close to release date, treated as rare finds.

No doubt, the radio silence was deliberate. In controlling the flow of information, Game Freak succeeded in whetting the appetite of gamers all the more. And, in retrospect, it was right to do so. Little Town Hero manages to live up to expectations and serves as ample proof of the developer's Gear Project viability, which encourages programmers to break from its flagship Pokémon series and work on innovative concepts as a means to "recharge" their creative juices. Put succinctly, the developer’s first RPG outside of the Pokémon series since Bush Seiryūden: Futari no Yūsha for the Super Famicom in 1997 it works because of a unique willingness – a preferable option, even – to be different.

Little Town HeroIt's typical initial impression screams. It presents the lead character within a simple storyline: Ax is inquisitive and full of vigorous youth, bent on seeing the world that lies beyond his town. Unfortunately, the castle aims to prevent him – and all other subjects – from leaving, keeping them in a way to keep the monsters out. As the latter somehow penetrates the boundaries, anyway, he moves on to take the invaders with help from his friends, among them Sidekick Nelz, the old reliable Pasmina, and “rival” Matock, training from Castle Guard Angard (a clear allusion to the fencing term), and a red stone that gives him the power to do so.

Neither linear nor Little Town HeroAs narrative progression may be, the gameplay is far from rote. As with most other RPGs, exploration of the overworld and interaction with non-playable characters are crucial to advancement. And unlike most other RPGs, leveling up and grinding, not to mention collecting currency and equipment, are considered unnecessary. No random battles occur; nor do they need to be sought for the buildup of talents. Even as a skill tree is used, climbing becomes inevitable through combat triggered by specific events.

Considering the longtime direction Pokémon series programmer Masao Taya, Little Town HeroIts singularly spectacular turn-based battle system should come as no surprise. And yet it manages to call attention to the game's foundation, and not just because of its unorthodox mechanics that, for lack of a better description, represent an amalgamation of, say, Mario Party and Slay the Spire. Thought bubbles that frame ideas (labeled "Izzits") from which actions ("Dazzits") are concretized and consolidated through the dispensation of ability points (three to begin with and increasing from one to three to a maximum of six). The results are then pitted against those of the enemies, with the turn ending after the hands are exhausted. Movement along the combat board is then possible, after which another turn commences. And so on and so forth until victory is crafted or defeat suffered, whatever the case may be.

For all the seeming complexities, Little Town HeroIts gameplay is thankfully intuitive. Battles can last long, but wind up being appropriately rewarding, never mind – no pun intended – that randomness plays into outcomes. Buffs and boosts can be triggered by well-thought-out action sequences and character placements, and a fair share of strategizing is required to take advantage of enemy weaknesses. Which, as an aside, provide the bases for side quests en route; townsfolk with whom relationships were hitherto made and fortified actually get help from the sidelines during combat.

For the most part, Little Town Hero looks and sounds great; as representative of Game Freak's intellectual properties, it boasts colorful cel-shaded visuals and vibrant music (influenced by the direction of UndertaleToby Fox 's PokémonHitomi Sato). Animations are beautifully rendered, though their frequency can stifle pace and, apparently, put a crimp on hardware resources; transitions occasionally lead to graphical slowdowns, especially with the Switch undocked. Parenthetically, the Animal Crossing-type synthesized tones emitted during conversations can take some getting used to.

In the final analysis, Little Town Hero provides value well beyond its $ 24.99 price tag. It certainly lives up to its name; Designed as a deck builder in RPG clothing, it figures to keep gamers immersed for a good 15 hours or so. Oozing with humor and charm, it both provides substance to Game Freak's Gear Project enterprise and makes it awaited for its release. Pokémon Sword and Shield next month all the more worthwhile.


• Complex, but not complicated, combat system

• Outstanding audio-visual presentation

• Offers good value for money


• Battles can take a while

• Forced animations wear out are welcome

• Occasional graphical lags

RATING: 8.5 / 10

POSTSCRIPT: Don't be fooled by the name. FUZE4 may carry the title of an adrenaline-pumping racer or futuristic action romp, but neither one. In fact, it's even a game. Rather, a game coding tool, and, as described in Nintendo's official site, “designed and developed by a team of experienced gamers, programmers, artists, and educators. The end result is a language perfectly suited to coding games and apps for absolute beginners and seasoned programmers. ”In other words, don't provide quick fixes for those unable to stop fidgeting in their seats for long periods at a time.

FUZE4 cheap cheap. At $ 39.99, it comes off as a Nintendo eShop offering that requires careful consideration prior to purchase. For those serious about their intent to learn – or further expand their knowledge – about the intricacies of game programming, however, it promptly exposes itself as a decided bargain; on tap are a thousand dollars' worth of assets that can be used to create two- and three-dimensional models for gaming content across a variety of genres. The interface is both intuitive and well-designed, with support for Joy-Con, touchscreen, and even keyboard inputs. And, most importantly, it features tons of support for newbies; Tutorials and on-the-fly references are easily accessible with explanations and examples.

Needless to say, even a learning curve for the resolute and well-prepared. On the other hand, FUZE4 does an excellent job of starting slow, and then escalating the transfer of knowledge, and always at the users' pace. Actions and accompanying texts of code are shown first, followed by simple commands to get objects to move around the screen, and then input changes to existing programming to see their effects.

Make no mistake. FUZE4 can, and likely will, be daunting. There can be no sugar-coating the effort needed to progress. That said, the possibilities are endless. The extent of imagination is the only limit, and, in this regard, the key is not to see the absorption of information as a means to an end, but also as an end in and of itself. (8.5 / 10)

THE LAST WORD: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is coming to the Switch. Recently rated for the platform by Entertainment Software Rating Board, the first-person shooter has assured gamers of the role of gunslinger Silas Greaves and the use of any and all types of weapons to upend enemies. Shootouts are highlighted by realistic gunfire, cries of pain, slow-motion effects, and large splashes of blood. Developer Techland, which acquired the rights to the Call of Juarez last year's series, is gearing up for a big reveal later this week.

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