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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (386)

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Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5

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Ittle Dew 2   PC (Steam) 

It'll Do Just Fine    4.5/5 stars

“It’s Not an Open World ‘Zelda’ with Non-Breaking Weapons, but It’ll Do.”

“Ittle Dew 2” (“ID2”) is the 2016 sequel to Swedish Indie developer, Ludosity’s, 2013 original Action/Adventure game (which launched on the defunct-by-design OUYA microconsole), “Ittle Dew.” In the years since Ludosity got their start making awful Xbox Live Indie and mobile games, the team has really upped their game, producing a number of quirky titles in a variety of genres, all tied together as part of “The Ludoverse.”

I enjoyed the original “Ittle Dew” quite a bit, both for its absolute saturation in quirky charm, its sardonic humor, and its (mostly good) puzzle-solving. However, I lamented that the game was both short and featured a handful of balance issues here and there. Regardless, I was quite pleased when Ludosity released a follow-up game, but less pleased that the year-late Nintendo Switch port had more content. Fortunately, Ludosity seems to be the type of game development team that takes their audience seriously. Not only is “ID2” the more expansive sequel I’d hoped for, but the non-Switch versions all received the Switch’s bonus content for free, and Ludosity even went so far as to address issues and complaints their fans expressed in post-release patches, resulting in a game that – 4 years after its original release – is well and truly great.

Presentation
“ID2” isn’t built in the same crummy 2D sprite engine as the original game. Instead, it’s a typical Unity Engine project, featuring a mix of 2D and 3D assets mushed together. Fortunately, the art team at Ludosity still knows what they’re doing, and the visuals still ooze scribbly, childish charm from every pixel. Enemy and character models are cell-shaded, and still feature the wiggly crayon-style borders everything in the first game had, while environments are bigger, bolder, significantly less-flat, and feel significantly more original than the blatantly ‘Zelda’-rip-off tilesets in the previous game.

Audio in “ID2” is fantastic, with great use of silly sound effects, both to give enemies more character and to cue to player to off-screen happenings. The soundtrack is a good deal more expansive in this sequel, and stands on its own merits with its quirky goofiness.

Technically, “ID2” is solid… but not quite perfect. I managed to crash the game from the MAIN MENU(!) by pressing Start instead of A on my XBONE controller to select Continue at one point, and the entire UI is incredibly lazy. While the game, naturally, supports Xinput controls out of the box, as one would expect of a 2016 multi-platform release, the PC version doesn’t actually label the UI with Xinput terminology, such as XYAB, Start, Back, Right Bumper, etc. It just labels all of the UI elements with generic Windows gamepad numbers. Nobody knows what button 0 is on an XBONE controller!

Story
After escaping the mysterious island of Itan Carver, Ittle – a tomboyish girl on the cusp of puberty – and Tippsie – a magical talking fox with fairy wings who is addicted to ‘Health Potion’ – find themselves crashing their new raft, rather spectacularly onto a new island. Not on the beach, of course, but somehow into a small frog pond at the island’s heart.

Setting out to explore their new surroundings, the manic duo soon run into the locals – a mixture of purple-skinned ‘Jennies,’ anthropomorphic turnips, and a mysterious old man with books strapped to his head, who is absolutely apoplectic about an adventurer showing up on the island. He emphatically discourages Ittle and Tippsie from exploring ANYTHING before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

Of course, Ittle is something of a brute with chronic selective hearing, while Tippsie is both a drunk and Ittle’s personal enabler, so the two set off to explore the island’s dungeons, based on the rumor that each one contains a piece of a raft they can use to sail away… and stomping through dungeons sure sounds a lot more fun than cutting down a few trees and tying the trunks together!

As Ittle and Tippsie scour the island, bits and pieces of island lore and backstory present themselves, ultimately revealing why old Book Head is so afraid of adventurers on his island. However, beyond and below the surface storytelling, “ID2” contains some of the deepest-hidden, most obscure secret lore this side of Phil Fish’s “FEZ.” While surface threads of this underlying backstory are readily visible, it takes (and did take) a dedicated group effort by the fan community to decipher and uncover the obscene amount of cryptic stuff hidden beneath the surface. While I do love games with twists and turns, unpredictable outcomes, and dots to connect, “ID2” actually takes it a bit too far.

Regardless, “ID2” is a fairly hefty game, clocking in at roughly 18 hours for my blind, no-FAQs playthrough (but with post-game FAQ consultation to uncover the super-secret lore). I was also quite glad to see that the sense of humor present in the original game is just as strong in the sequel. “ID2” is frequently laugh-out-loud ridiculous, whether it’s the turnip guy with a ‘slight’ water problem in his basement or a fight breaking out at an art gallery.

Gameplay
Where the original “Ittle Dew” was very much a knock-off of the original “Legend of Zelda,” only with a streamlined set of power-ups, a heavy focus on puzzles, and a dearth of interesting combat situations, “ID2” seeks to balance the equation by providing both puzzles AND combat. “ID2” features the addition of a dodge-roll button (uh oh!) besides Ittle’s basic skillset of starting with nothing but a whackin’ stick, but eventually finding three other magical items, each of which occupy the Xbox face buttons.

Perhaps the most novel thing about “ID2,” however, is the fact that it pre-empted Nintendo’s attempts at creating a non-linear, go anywhere, do anything ‘Zelda’ game by a year, since it released in 2016 and “The Legend of Zelda: Break of the Weapons” didn’t release until 2017. The player is free to explore the mysterious island’s first 7 dungeons in any order they wish, and every optional secret cave (and there are a butt load of them) can be solved using nothing more than Ittle’s starting whackin’ stick (which NEVER BREAKS, Nintendo!). Having access to the various pieces of Ittle’s expanded repertoire of items makes these open-world puzzles easier, and grants access to shortcuts, but, in general, “ID2” is truly remarkable in the fact that it does indeed uphold its own ideals about non-linearity.

In spite of the fact that most of them can be solved with nothing more than a stick, the puzzles in “ID2” are still excellent and thought provoking. Thanks to the new game engine, diagonals can be taken into consideration, and while the puzzles still typically involve sliding blocks, pressure plates, and gem-shaped switches to a large degree, there are a number of interesting new elements available that keep things fresh. “ID2” also introduces KEYS(!) for the first time, while also providing the player the opportunity to find and hoard a dozen lockpicks throughout the game that allow them to circumvent locked doors without the correct key. For those who simply can’t get enough of ‘Ittle Dew’-style puzzles, Ludosity added a bonus post-game area in the “+” version of the game, originally released on the Switch, but then ported to all the other platforms. This ‘Dream World’ features the toughest puzzles in the game, yet they’re so clever and well-designed that I never sat staring blankly at the screen.

Unfortunately, not everything in this sequel is coming up roses. Some of it is coming up old fish. And the fishiest aspect of “ID2” is, indeed, the expanded combat. By default, combat feels very, very unbalanced, with common enemies requiring an unbelievable number of stick whackings to defeat them, while they are capable of dishing out significant damage to Ittle’s heart meter (which is expanded, in quarters, once again, by finding boxes of crayons and… eating them). And then there are the boss encounters, which are severely unbalanced in BOTH directions. Early on, I found that it was frequently more difficult to defeat the trash enemies in the rooms before the dungeon bosses than it was to defeat the dungeon bosses themselves. However, after about the halfway point in the game, the bosses (and especially the hidden bosses) become ridiculous damage sponges, death dealers, and pattern memorization exercises all in one, requiring frame-perfect timing for Ittle’s dodge-roll and an excessive amount of focus in order to observe, dodge, and counter the same pattern enough times to whittle down the enemy health meter. Even in the worst-case-scenario, though, the player won’t have to repeat a bunch of rooms for another crack at a given boss, since checkpoints are correctly placed right outside each boss room.

Fortunately, Ludosity took the complaints about the unbalanced combat in “ID2” seriously, and in one of their quality updates added a toggle to the option menu to enable easier combat. This toggle, essentially, makes Enemy:Ittle damage:health balancing feel more like the first game, which I greatly appreciated. Even better, enabling easier combat doesn’t troll the player by arbitrarily locking them out of secret and/or bonus content, or even achievements, like some games do (*coughCupheadcough*). It’s just too bad Ludosity didn’t make the easier combat setting the default.

Overall
“Ittle Dew 2” is almost exactly what I hoped it would be. It’s an expansive, open, non-linear Action/Adventure in the vein of ‘Zelda,’ with a sardonic and quirky sense of humor, and a presentation that positively oozes charm. If the button prompts had been properly labeled for Xinput, and the secret lore didn’t require a Ph.D. in Cryptology, and the combat was properly balanced from the outset, it would be perfect. Thus, it falls just short.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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