Mini Reviews: Of Parties, Pokemon, and Food

Drawful 2

Drawful 2 (Jackbox Games, 2016, PC)

There aren't any good official screenshots of the game and I forgot to take any real ones, so here's a terrible image that tells you nothing about Drawful 2 and includes my Discord overlay. Now that's professionalism.

The game tasks players with drawing a ridiculous prompt, then asks everyone else to come up with their own label for everyone else's images. All players vote on which label they think was the original, and you get points if you fool anyone or, as the artist, if they find the correct label.

It's a neat idea, but it's too close to both some other games - like Dixit and especially the next game on today's list - that I just like more. I probably won't come back to it much.

Gartic Phone

Gartic Phone (Onrizon, Browser)

This isn't really a game because there aren't really winners, but sometimes you don't need any competition. In the base mode, everyone is asked to draw a prompt, then another player is asked to briefly describe that image, then another player draws that description, and so on until the alternating mess has gone all the way around. Alternatively, you can have players try to reproduce the image in each round and only ask for a textual description at the very end.

It's an extremely simple concept that works brilliantly. We had a wide variety of artistic ability on display, but everyone was still able to create entertaining nonsense. It's great, stupid fun.

Isle of Armor

Pokemon Sword and Shield: The Isle of Armor (GameFreak/Nintendo, 2020, Switch)

I held off getting this for ages because I'd heard it wasn't anything special at launch. And I can see where that impression comes from: if you're looking for a real story or much structured content, this isn't going to deliver. Isle of Armor is one big wild area with a ton of new Pokemon to catch and a handful of exploration-first tasks to complete. The expansion's value to you is going to be almost completely dependent on how interested you are in fully exploring a new environment or, alternatively, in mastering a new kind of restricted battle introduced at the end of the DLC.

Personally, I'm all about exploration and loved this expansion. I heard it described as "GameFreak finally made a Switch game", and that's really exactly what it is. The performance issues and dull open fields of mainland Galar are gone, and you're left with a beautiful island to explore. When you're not staring at the ground for one of the quests, anyway.

Cook, Serve, Delicious 3

Cook, Serve, Delicious 3 (Vertigo Gaming, 2020, PC)

The positivity train ends here, unfortunately. CSD2 was a great podcast game that just had an utterly unreasonable amount of content. I had a great time with it for a long time - I've played just over 24 hours - but it would've taken more than twice that to finish each of its levels even once, and there just wasn't anywhere near enough gameplay variety to keep me entertained for that long. Once you've played a few levels of a restaurant, you've pretty much played all of them.

CSD3 sees that flaw and octuples down on it. There loads upon loads of new recipes, sure, but they all pretty much fall into the same handful of mechanics. You'll be seeing the ones in the 0-2 difficulty range almost constantly because they're available on most levels and there's little reason not to take them. Sure, higher difficulty recipes pay more, but they also take longer to make and increase the chance of dropping the all-important combo. It doesn't help that there are loads of little frustrations that make sense in context of CSD3's desire to be an unforgiving perfection game, but that have nothing to do with the theme of making food. Customers are only mildly annoyed if you give them chicken that hasn't been cooked at all, but they're furious if you give them the wrong syrup on a pancake. You can't back out of starting a recipe if you click the wrong one, can't take food off the burner without also fully completing it, and can't undo putting an ingredient down even when it'd be easy to do so in real life. Add in that some of the recipes don't even feel much like making the real food (who serves tonkatsu without rice?) and you've got the rare video game where the theme feels "pasted on."

I know I'm in the minority on this game, possibly because people who felt similarly didn't continue playing the series, but I think it'd be much better served by cutting quantity in favor of quality. Give us fewer recipes that really feel like making that food, and use them on fewer levels that feel more varied. I don't need the same level copy/pasted a dozen times in the campaign with every possible combination of modifiers. Sometimes it's better to have 100 good levels than 400 okay ones.

Pokemon Puzzle Challenge

Pokemon Puzzle Challenge (Intelligent Systems/Nintendo, 2000, GBC)

Panel de Pon with a Pokemon skin. The main mode has you battle each of the Johto gym leaders (and the Elite 4 on higher difficulties) in what are essentially races against random garbage spawns. There are some very strange remixes of GSC music for each battle that take parts of the town theme for each gym and then turn it into something unrecognizable. Equally strangely, most leaders don't use the Pokemon they're known for, and yours never evolve.

The barebones theme likely comes down to this originally having been developed as a straight PdP game and only turning into Pokemon late in development. It might be a good starting point for PdP if you're looking to start that series and already like Pokemon, but I don't think it'll be too much of a hit with anyone who just wants the theme.

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