Friday 8 November 2019

Disgaea 4 Complete + Review (Switch)

We are big fans of the Disgaea series at Retro 101 and have been more than happy to dive into the ‘complete’ versions of the games as they arrive on the Switch. Disgaea 4 always had a lot of personality so we were excited to have a reason to return to it once more.

This time around the plot revolves around a Prinny trainer by the name of Valvatorez, a once powerful tyrant who has renounced much of his power based on a promise he made many centuries ago. A noble demon, he never breaks a promise and when a group of Prinnies are taken away by the government for execution he leaps into action to save them. Why you ask? Because he promised them some sardines for tea and they were taken before they could eat them. Yes. Really.

Of course as things progress it gets much more complex than that and before you know it you’re on a mission to overthrow the powers that be with a bunch of rag tag companions, failed demons and several Prinnies. It’s possibly the maddest plot yet and it’s beautifully written and funny throughout with a lot of fourth wall breaking, several of the characters believing they are the main hero and one thinking they are the end of game boss.

Imortanly, the game is easy to see on the Switch screen. Graphics are smooth and while that removes the pixel style of previous games it certainly helps out with knowing what is going on. You can also pan and zoom around the battlefield easily which gives you all the angles you need.

The standard systems are still in place so if you’ve played Disgaea before you’ll know what to expect. There were new systems introduced here as well such as tower combat given more flexibility and monsters being able to morph together to create bigger monsters or turn into special weapons for human characters. You can also place special buildings on a game board then place characters around them to gain special effects such as gaining experience from the head of that building. The more levels you complete the bigger the board gets and the more buildings you can place (after senate approval of course).

While it’s not too tricky to pick up for fans of the series it’s not massively newcomer friendly. With a fair few systems added to what was already there it means there is a huge wealth of stuff to take in. There is a very short tutorial section but you’ll have to do a lot of playing around to see how things work if you want to really get into the meat of the game.

The levels don’t exactly ease you in gently either. While enemies are generally of a manageable level the layout and design of stages is somewhat advanced. Very early on we were taking on intricate patterns of Geo Symbols which in previous games haven’t appeared until quite some way into the game. By world three we were already facing strings of snipers and archers placed out of reach on panels that allowed double shots and health recovery.

There are certainly very few levels where you just rock up with your squad and hit the enemy until they disappear. This isn’t of course a bad thing but we can certainly see how it might be too much for newcomers. While we’re on the subject there really needs to be a colour blind filter implemented in some way as well. Having so many different Geo Symbol colours is fine but it’s impossible to identify what panel is what when it gets so crowded with different colours and characters.

Small issues aside this is a highlight of the Disgaea series. It has the more flexible difficulty curve of Disgaea 2 while having a sense of humour and quality characters that rival the original game. If number crunching, levelling and bizarre characters are your thing then there isn’t anything out there better than this. It’s certainly going to last a very long time as well with all the additional content included. If you aren’t shouting SARDINES! Within a week of play we’ll be amazed.

Overall 9/10

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince Review (Switch)

Although we found Trine 3 to be a lot of fun it didn’t reach the heights of the first two games in the series. The 3D design allowed for some fun set pieces but nothing really held together as tightly as in the series 2.5D roots. With this in mind we were pleased to see Frozenbyte return Trine 4 to the 2.5D style and venture forth once more into a world of fiendish puzzle design and beautiful landscapes.

The plot of the Trine series have never really been the main highlight but it still helps to set up the fantasy world and characters that move within it. This time our three heroes are on the trail of a prince who is having nightmares that are taking form in reality and threatening to cast the world into shadow. Ok then.

In order to save the world, Amadeus the wizard, Pontius the knight and Zora the thief must solve puzzles, engage in some platforming and fight off some shadowy apparitions that seem to mainly take the form of big wolves. The puzzles are excellent throughout and will stretch both new and returning. As you progress each of the characters is granted new skills which are then filtered into the puzzle design. For instance, at one point Pontius gains the ability to set up a sort of magical second shield that can be used to deflect light beams and water. This technique is then heavily required for the following few levels. The adding of the new elements keeps things fresh and always keeps players on their toes.

The combat though fails to reach the same sort of heights. Most of time fighting comes down to being enclosed in an arena which fills with monsters. It’s then a mad scramble to get Pontius around to kill things quickly enough before he is taken out. The other two characters aren’t much use in the tight arena setting and it feels samey and repetitive quickly. This is something that was never an issue in previous games so it is somewhat disappointing to see such unimaginative action sections appear here. It’s also not helped by the fact that playing undocked makes everything so small that you can’t really tell what’s happening close up (something again not helped by the dreamy aura that surrounds enemies).

Though the combat is disappointing, most of the time you will be trying to overcome traps and obstacles in creative ways. Most things you come up against have multiple solutions so it allows the player to deal with things in whichever way they see fit. For example, getting over spikes might be achievable by summoning blocks but you could also get across them by having Pontius dash or by Zora swinging.

The difficulty has also been knocked down a touch as characters that die can now be brought back to life more easily. In previous games players had to make it through a checkpoint to restore lost companions but now they will pop back up after a small amount of time has passed. If you want to play the game in the classic way you still can (and good luck to you if you try it).

The levels themselves are of an exceptional overall quality and look stunning throughout the five acts. They are also long but never outstay their welcome due to the ingenuity and variety present throughout. It’s also worth noting we didn’t hit any type of technical issue when playing undocked.

Overall, Trine 4 is a well-crafted, creative and fun addition to the Trine franchise. The puzzles are exceptional and the game is consistently jaw dropping in terms of visuals. It’s not quite up to the near perfection of Trine 2 but it’s a substantial and enjoyable adventure and shows that there is still life in both the franchise and the 2.5D format if Frozenbyte decide to keep the game going in this direction.

Overall 8/10