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Tiny Review: Hatsune Miku Project Diva f ⊟
The Hatsune Miku game, just released on PS Vita (PSN-only), is a really intense sensory overload experience, and a simple-to-understand but exciting rhythm game.
It’s also a perfect illustration of the difference between translation and localization.

In localization, a game is altered in some ways to make it not just palatable to the new target market, but legible in the first place. Sometimes this goes overboard (Eat your hamburgers, Apollo), but most of the time it helps, say, Western gamers understand the important parts of a game without having to rely on cultural background knowledge they don’t have.
A translation, on the other hand, just takes a product and puts it in a new language, with no regard for culture. Hatsune Miku Project Diva f is translated just enough to be playable: the menus and tutorial text are all in English, but everything else is exactly as it would be for a Japanese release.
Even the lyrics of the songs, which are one of the many, many, many elements filling the screen during gameplay, are presented not in English, but in transliterated Japanese syllables. You can read it, but not understand it.
)
That’s the most extreme example, but there are more subtle things. Like the fact that the game just expects everyone playing it to know who Hatsune Miku and all her friends are. Normally with a Japanese licensed property, I’d expect some kind of introduction to the characters, or background about their story, something like that.
There’s nothing of the sort here. There’s an intro video showing all the characters interacting, but no explanation of who they are or why they’re doing any of these things. Miku is moving into a new house! She’s nervous! Okay?
I have a really limited understanding of Miku – just the basics, that she’s an avatar for a vocal synthesis software, and all her friends are different voices that can be programmed to sing whatever Japanese syllables, and that she’s become so popular that she headlines concerts. And even that’s more than I’d get from this game, which just drops you straight into hardcore Miku fandom.
And I think that’s the right choice. For one thing, the people who would buy a Hatsune Miku game in America are the people who want things as Japanese as possible, with only minor concessions for comprehension. Miku is a totally Japanese phenomenon, best appreciated over here (I imagine) by people who already have a working knowledge of Japanese culture.
And anyway, even as a relative Miku noob, I find the immersion approach to the phenomenon pleasant. I don’t know who the hell any of these people are, or who made all these songs that sound like anime ending themes, or anything, and the deep dive into this uncharted territory is fascinating to me. I might end up reading about all these Vocaloids now!

Oh yeah, so about the part where you play a rhythm game. Man, what an overwhelming thing. I totally get what air traffic controllers feel like from playing this video game about computer anime singers, and that’s definitely not an exaggeration at all. Basically, you tap the face buttons and occasionally the screen in time to icons on the screen. But those icons fly in from all over, often unpredictably, in rapid fire. And they display over brightly colored FMV. Under that, the lyrics in transliterated Japanese show up. And you get messages alerting you to a “technical zone” or “chance zone” (these vary, but basically they’re chances to get more points). 
This is not a rhythm game to wind down with at the end of the day. This isn’t something you can mindlessly tap away at. At least for me, Project Diva f demands full attention, and leaves me feeling temporarily dazed after every session. And I love it!
I mean, after I got through my first session and had a better idea what I was in for. That first time, I admit I wasn’t sure I had the constitution for it.
There’s a lot of other stuff in here, like a mode where you decorate your character’s room, a mode where you touch their faces to build friendships, and an edit mode where you can make your own videos and use you own MP3 songs!
But i haven’t messed with any of that stuff, at least not very much. The rhythm game is quite enough for me. Between the onslaught of visual and auditory information and the complete lack of context, it’s a little too much for me.
This article was made possible by the generous donations from our Club Tiny members and support from readers like you!
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Tiny Review: Hatsune Miku Project Diva f ⊟

The Hatsune Miku game, just released on PS Vita (PSN-only), is a really intense sensory overload experience, and a simple-to-understand but exciting rhythm game.

It’s also a perfect illustration of the difference between translation and localization.

Read more

Danganronpa: The Ultimate High School Murder Mystery ⊟
Note: This isn’t really a review of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc for PS Vita, because I’m nowhere near finished with it. I have put in enough time that I’m confident about having played a representative sample, but I didn’t want to be disingenous about having a complete picture of the game. I’m still playing it! I don’t want to rush!
I always want to be a visual novel fan, but it rarely works out. I bailed out of 999 after I got stuck during a plane ride with no idea how to solve a puzzle. I’ve tried over the years, but the only ones that really stuck were the Phoenix Wright games (and Jake Hunter).
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc just refuses to let me lose interest. It’s utterly crammed with weird gameplay mechanics, constantly introducing a new minigame or adding a layer of complexity to one that’s already been introduced. That’s not always a good idea, but it’s always interesting.
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Danganronpa is basically 999: The New Class. Fifteen teens, all “ultimate” masters of a skill that lends itself to an anime stereotype (the Ultimate Baseball Star, the Ultimate Pop Idol, the Ultimate Fanfic Creator) are locked in a sealed school, watched at all times by an evil, remote controlled teddy bear named Monokuma. Their only hope of escape: if a student can murder another without being caught, that student will “graduate” and be set free. 
Chihiro Fujisaki, Ultimate Programmer (via dontmindmeyo)
So you, as “Ultimate Lucky Student”/regular dude Makoto Naegi, work with the others to search the school for clues – both to the overarching mystery of why anyone would do this, and to the more immediate mystery of whodunit in each chapter.
The game is neatly divided three ways: sometimes you’re searching the school for clues to move the story forward; sometimes you have “free time” and you can chat with other students to build friendships, Persona style; and at the end of every chapter you present your evidence in a “class trial” to identify which of your fellow students is a murderer.
The “free time” and investigation segments are pretty self explanatory, although while I was playing the other day Eric was telling me he was maxing out relationship levels with some of the other students, and I didn’t realize those existed. Whoops! But the trials, while focusing on reading testimony and presenting evidence to point out contradictions, veer wildly from Ace Attorney territory in execution.
Under the threat of a (generous) timer, you listen to testimony, then choose a “truth bullet” to fire directly into a statement, making sure to tap the screen to get unimportant background statements out of the way. Then after you’ve successfully identified the culprit, you dismiss their final protests in a rhythm game. Then you recount the events of the murder by placing comic panels in the right order. I’m probably forgetting some stuff in there.
via TempoKnight / Fuck Yeah, Controversial Characters
Basically, it’s a total smorgasbord. And it’s fast and twitchy and exciting, while also requiring logic and thought. I don’t think all of those things need to be in the trials, and I don’t think they’re all perfectly executed, but enough of it works, and some of it works really well!
The outcomes of the trials are so far hella surprising too. The plot throws in twist after twist in a valiant effort to keep players from figuring everything out too early. Maybe this exposes me as a dumbo, but the first case completely surprised me at least twice!
Not only are the cases cleverly written, but the characters are interesting too. The game definitely started with the templates of “anime stereotypes,” but even that is a sort of misdirection, as the cardboard cutouts (oh, and they’re literally flat on screen like Parappa characters) slowly reveal themselves to be somewhat multifaceted people, some likeable, some weird jerks, but all more than just the stereotypes they represent. They aren’t always treated with respect in the story, and I don’t just mean because they’re murdered. It’s a spoiler to discuss it further, but I’ll say that I was disappointed with the way one in particular was characterized.
Oh, and somehow, despite being an incredibly grim story with lots of really awful murders, endless despair, and such, Danganronpa manages to be pretty funny! I appreciate that.
Bearing in mind my self-acknowledged lack of visual novel expertise, even I can tell that Danganronpa is Spike Chunsoft desperately throwing everything it can into a game in an effort to force the genre to evolve. While the resulting mashup of everything on earth can be pretty uneven, the experience, I guess, averages out to something really great.
This article was made possible by the generous donations from our Club Tiny members and the support we’ve received from readers like you!
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Danganronpa: The Ultimate High School Murder Mystery ⊟

Note: This isn’t really a review of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc for PS Vita, because I’m nowhere near finished with it. I have put in enough time that I’m confident about having played a representative sample, but I didn’t want to be disingenous about having a complete picture of the game. I’m still playing it! I don’t want to rush!

I always want to be a visual novel fan, but it rarely works out. I bailed out of 999 after I got stuck during a plane ride with no idea how to solve a puzzle. I’ve tried over the years, but the only ones that really stuck were the Phoenix Wright games (and Jake Hunter).

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc just refuses to let me lose interest. It’s utterly crammed with weird gameplay mechanics, constantly introducing a new minigame or adding a layer of complexity to one that’s already been introduced. That’s not always a good idea, but it’s always interesting.

Read more

Threes is your new iOS jam ⊟

We don’t talk about iPhone games too much on TC, but sometimes I’m driven to because they’re so dang fucking good, like Threes is. It’s definitely a tiny game on a tiny device (or an iPad WHATEVER) so I don’t think it strays too far from our mission! And you should totally get it if you can!

Threes is the work of Puzzlejuice designer Asher Vollmer and Puzzlejuice/Ridiculous Fishing/Solipskier artist Greg Wohlwend, which tells you right away it’s a) going to have a clean, colorful look, and b) it’s an intuitive-as-hell puzzle game.

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Tiny Review - Zelda: A Link Between Worlds ⊟
You don’t need us to tell you The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is amazing. Almost every reviewer (except maybe Destructoid) agrees it’s top tier, and you likely have the 3DS game shipping your way if it’s not already in your hands anyway. But since some of you insisted on Twitter, we’ll play our part as the arbiters of what’s fun on handhelds.
We’ve previously talked at length about all the changes Nintendo’s made to the Zelda formula have all been for the better: the Link-turns-into-a-drawing mechanic allows for new and creative puzzles, immediate equipment rentals let you explore the way you want to, and the game is full of welcome tweaks to streamline the experience. Since we’ve gone over all that, let’s just get to the usual bullet list of arbitrary observations.
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Four things that are fab:
Rumor Guy. I wish he had more gossip, or that he was in every single Nintendo game just talking a whole bunch of mess about other characters.
The music that plays during that minigame in which you have to rush across the map before time runs out. Actually the whole soundtrack is choice.
Everything about the Thieves’ Hideout. The clever way you sneak in (piece together a tune sung by nearby hoodlums), the escort puzzles, and the boss. One of the best Zelda dungeons of all time.
A collect-a-thon I enjoyed! The game makes you actually want to find Mother MaiMai’s 100 children and trade them in for weapon upgrades.

thousands of pro bloggers care to differ
Two things that are butt:
Predictable weapons. Most of them are carried over from A Link to the Past. I prefer having weird items, like Phantom Hourglass' Bombchu Bag or Twilight Princess' Spinner.
The Swamp dungeon was no fun. No surprise there.
Score:

image via hellfire_dj
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Tiny Cartridge’s review of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is based on a copy provided by Nintendo.

Tiny Review - Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

You don’t need us to tell you The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is amazing. Almost every reviewer (except maybe Destructoid) agrees it’s top tier, and you likely have the 3DS game shipping your way if it’s not already in your hands anyway. But since some of you insisted on Twitter, we’ll play our part as the arbiters of what’s fun on handhelds.

We’ve previously talked at length about all the changes Nintendo’s made to the Zelda formula have all been for the better: the Link-turns-into-a-drawing mechanic allows for new and creative puzzles, immediate equipment rentals let you explore the way you want to, and the game is full of welcome tweaks to streamline the experience. Since we’ve gone over all that, let’s just get to the usual bullet list of arbitrary observations.

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Tiny Review: Tearaway ⊟
Tearaway feels like a AAA game. I don’t necessarily mean that in terms of production values, but rather in the sense that, like the stereotype of modern big-budget games, Media Molecule’s Vita platformer is strictly linear, guiding you from spectacle to spectacle as smoothly as possible. It is, to use the common comparison, an amusement park ride, complete with occasional keepsake photos.
But I’m not denouncing this game, despite its trivial combat, nonexistent challenge and rudimentary puzzles. For once, that kind of handholding is okay because Tearaway uses this AAA framework not to show us, like, how simultaneously cool and sad war is or whatever, but to show us something beautiful.
And it’s really, really beautiful. 

Three things that are fab:
As you play Tearaway, you find “blank” items and characters that, when photographed with the in-game camera, unlock a papercraft model on tearaway.me. You can make physical mementos of the things you saw in the game! The commingling of the physical world with the in-game world is not only appropriate to the setting of the game (which puts your face inside the sun and has you poking your fingers into the world to move objects via the rear touchpad), it results in cute stuff on your desk.
Tearaway makes some of the smartest use yet of the Vita’s various inputs. The aforementioned rear touchpad use is hilarious and cool, and accompanied by lots and lots of touchscreen stuff. It’s all totally intuitive, as you pull on tabs to unfold paper staircases and pull rolled paper bridges out between platforms. And, of course, draw and cut out decorations to apply to yourself and other characters.
The ending isn’t exactly a shock, but talking about it too much might still be kind of spoilery. So I’ll just say it’s gorgeous and perfect.

Three things that are butt:
Combat really is simple to such a degree that it’s unnecessary. Occasionally some little cube guys will show up, and you dodge them, then pick them up and throw them. Every time. Later, you get even more attacks you can use, and the enemies don’t really get any more complicated.
As cool as the rear touchpad is in this game, it’s still the rear touchpad, and can be finicky. It frequently just lost track of my fingers while I was pushing a platform around, or tracked another finger I didn’t realize was on the touchpad.
The in-game camera item is great, with all kinds of optional filters and lenses that you can unlock… but the other camera, the one that, like, shows you where you are on screen while you’re moving around, is pretty frustrating. Even though death is totally not a big deal in this game, it’s annoying to die because the camera swung around right before a pit.
Score:

A moose whose pelt is a picture of my cats
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Tiny Cartridge’s review of Tearaway is based on a copy provided by Sony.

Tiny Review: Tearaway ⊟

Tearaway feels like a AAA game. I don’t necessarily mean that in terms of production values, but rather in the sense that, like the stereotype of modern big-budget games, Media Molecule’s Vita platformer is strictly linear, guiding you from spectacle to spectacle as smoothly as possible. It is, to use the common comparison, an amusement park ride, complete with occasional keepsake photos.

But I’m not denouncing this game, despite its trivial combat, nonexistent challenge and rudimentary puzzles. For once, that kind of handholding is okay because Tearaway uses this AAA framework not to show us, like, how simultaneously cool and sad war is or whatever, but to show us something beautiful.

And it’s really, really beautiful. 

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Vacation

Crying • Get Olde

Get Olde is my favorite chiptune release of the year, and I don’t want you to miss it — not like Dannel and I almost did, when someone sent us a link weeks ago and we forgot to check it out. Absolutely play through the entire thing, then do it again and again and again.

I struggled in deciding whether to declare this 2013’s best chip album so far, or dull my praise by qualifying it as my favorite. I don’t want to burden Crying’s debut release with impossible expectations and undeserved resentment from fans of other groups, so I’ll settle for the latter statement.

My tastes in the genre are very specific, and this surprise release from the Purchase, NY trio hits them all — chirpy Game Boy tunes paired with traditional instruments (Ryan Galloway on guitar, Nick Corbo on drums), servicable vocals, playful but personal lyrics, and catchy choruses.

Crying’s frontwoman Elaiza Santos goes far and beyond servicable, though, lending the kind of female voice to a video game life’s soundtrack that I haven’t heard much outside of Leeni on "Nice Young Man" or Jane Pinckard on The 1UP Show’s theme song (not actually a chip track, but I always imagine her singing over this cover).

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  • Source Bandcamp
Tiny Review: Spelunky (Vita) ⊟
I struggle to find a dessert metaphor to describe Spelunky, because that’s how I feel about it: it’s one small bite of delight after another. But to call it a dessert makes it sound insubstantial, when in fact Spelunky is infinitely deep … even though it can be played in tiny sessions and as seriously as you care to.
The Vita version, thanks to portability and the convenience of sleep mode, makes it even easier to eat just one more of this notional mega confection.
Spelunky, if you haven’t been indoctrinated yet, is a roguelike. Wait, come back, it’s not a turn-based thing with a text window to inform you that your @ has been cursed. Spelunky is a roguelike base built around a brilliant side-scrolling platform action game, allowing even dummies like me to finally get the appeal of roguelikes.


Having played the living shit out of Spelunky on previous platforms. I think I get it: it’s the consistent application of rules. In most games, say, a spike trap wouldn’t affect an enemy. But in Spelunky, an exploding frog can walk into a spike trap just like you can. Everything reacts to everything else in a consistent manner, resulting in a game where all kinds of crazy stuff can happen with or without your involvement.
A dead caveman can fall onto an altar to the goddess Kali, earning you favor. You could lure a giant bee into a tiki spike trap. A monkey could steal a bomb out of your bag and set it off in a shop, causing the shopkeeper to go berserk, running around and shooting his shotgun… until he falls on some spikes, leaving you the shotgun.
And because the levels are randomly generated, you’ll see something new and weird just about every time. Spelunky is like language, in that its elements can be combined into infinite novel expressions— you can play, or say, something that nobody has ever done before.

This structure means that I don’t get frustrated when I die, even though it means starting over at 1-1. For one thing, my death is usually hilarious or interesting in some way. Wow, I got boomerang’d right into a carnivorous plant! Fascinating! Now I’ve learned a bit more about how to navigate Spelunky-land.
And for another, each death is a chance for the levels to randomize again and come up with something else crazy to show me. And that’s always exciting. Like a baklava with a different flavor in each layer of its puff pastry (still working on that metaphor), Spelunky offers enough variety to keep me playing over and over. It’s the kind of game that I’d never stop playing if other stuff didn’t come out. Except, unlike other games I get infatuated with, I’ve already proven that I can easily return to Spelunky. 
Score:
This peanut butter sandwich, but ten thousand layers tall
Spelunky releases for PlayStation 3 and PS Vita today on PSN, priced at $14.99 ($11.99 if you’re a PS Plus subscriber). It’s also available on XBLA and Windows (Steam, GOG).
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Tiny Review: Spelunky (Vita) ⊟

I struggle to find a dessert metaphor to describe Spelunky, because that’s how I feel about it: it’s one small bite of delight after another. But to call it a dessert makes it sound insubstantial, when in fact Spelunky is infinitely deep … even though it can be played in tiny sessions and as seriously as you care to.

The Vita version, thanks to portability and the convenience of sleep mode, makes it even easier to eat just one more of this notional mega confection.

Spelunky, if you haven’t been indoctrinated yet, is a roguelike. Wait, come back, it’s not a turn-based thing with a text window to inform you that your @ has been cursed. Spelunky is a roguelike base built around a brilliant side-scrolling platform action game, allowing even dummies like me to finally get the appeal of roguelikes.

Read more

Tiny Review: SteamWorld Dig
I did not expect SteamWorld Dig to be a good game. While the pitch for a “hardcore platform mining adventure” sounds like a beautiful combination of words, I didn’t find the initial Beta Gameplay clips compelling and let this eShop game fall off my radar. And I knew little about Swedish studio Image & Form, other than that they put out a Tower Defense game on DSiWare and are more known for their iOS titles. Really, it didn’t sound like Dig had much of a future at Tiny Cartridge beyond a few screenshot and trailer posts.
But it’s a great game, one of the 3DS’s best during a summer when the standards for a great game on Nintendo’s handheld are very high. I was stupid and wrong; it’s totally my jam. Put that deal on toast with peanut butter, and I will eat it all day errday.
It’s Mr. Driller meets Metroid, another marvelous mix of words. You’ll burrow your way down miles of earth, leaving a labyrinth of mazes behind you while collecting weapons/upgrades that let you progress further and make your mining life easier. Dig is as addictive as Namco’s cute platformer (I went through it in one sitting over the course of six hours), but with the depth (both in systems and Mr. Driller's literal depth) and sense of isolation of Metroid.


Three things that are fab:
The effortless way Dig introduces you to new mechanics through its design, letting you figure things out and rewarding you for exploring instead of subjecting you to immersion-breaking tutorials. I didn’t expect this level of execution from a mobile game developer I’d never heard of (FYI, the last indie mobile studio that surprised me with the quality of its Nintendo portable debut was Capybara).
The tension that comes from balancing resources, and weighing the need to return to town every 5-10 minutes. Backtrack to refill your water meter (used for several functions on your steam-powered robot), or keep digging to look for an underground pool? Use up your expensive teleporter to get back to town and sell all the minerals you’ve found, or venture on to see if you can find one buried in the mine, even though your health is low and your lamp is running out of juice?
It will help you feel a little less jealous that Spelunky is releasing for PS Vita but not 3DS. It has the randomly generated underground world and even bombs/dynamite you can throw around — plus it’s also a wonderful and addictive game.

Two things that are butt:
Interactions with NPCs beyond buying items from them are minimal. They will comment on your progress and the mine’s past after you reach certain milestones, but they won’t offer much else. I would have appreciated a lot more humor in Dig's script to make those NPCs more interesting or at least characters who you look forward to talking to. There is also a saloon for robots, but you never get to go in it or make any use of it. :o(
I wanted more puzzles and boss fights. What’s in there is great and appreciated, but I wish Image & Form was able to fit in more. (it’s a tight game, one that will take you anywhere from three to eight hours to finish).
Score:
Robot Mustache
SteamWorld: Dig is available on the eShop right now for $8.99/£7.99. Credit to SteeloDMZ for the main article pic.
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Tiny Review: SteamWorld Dig

I did not expect SteamWorld Dig to be a good game. While the pitch for a “hardcore platform mining adventure” sounds like a beautiful combination of words, I didn’t find the initial Beta Gameplay clips compelling and let this eShop game fall off my radar. And I knew little about Swedish studio Image & Form, other than that they put out a Tower Defense game on DSiWare and are more known for their iOS titles. Really, it didn’t sound like Dig had much of a future at Tiny Cartridge beyond a few screenshot and trailer posts.

But it’s a great game, one of the 3DS’s best during a summer when the standards for a great game on Nintendo’s handheld are very high. I was stupid and wrong; it’s totally my jam. Put that deal on toast with peanut butter, and I will eat it all day errday.

It’s Mr. Driller meets Metroid, another marvelous mix of words. You’ll burrow your way down miles of earth, leaving a labyrinth of mazes behind you while collecting weapons/upgrades that let you progress further and make your mining life easier. Dig is as addictive as Namco’s cute platformer (I went through it in one sitting over the course of six hours), but with the depth (both in systems and Mr. Driller's literal depth) and sense of isolation of Metroid.

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The Animal Crossing: New Leaf experience
[After spending a week with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Francesco Dagostino shares how the life sim offers an experience players won’t find anywhere else, and why it’s the perfect game.]
I want to start this piece with a sincere apology. To my parents, lover, friends, colleagues, and everyone whose life intertwines with mine more or less directly: chances are I haven’t been available to you lately. I might have not replied to your calls and tweets, and I confess my IM status has been constantly set to “Away”. The fact is that I got my hands on Animal Crossing: New Leaf for 3DS last week, and I can’t stop playing it or even talking (and tweeting) about it.

This might come as a surprise to those who know my most intimate gaming habits and preferences: I was nearly immune to the charm of Wild World and City Folks. I found their lack of innovation, set objectives, and challenge rather boring. Of course, I was superficial in my judgment, I admit. But Animal Crossing is not your average video game: it’s an experience — people sure use the word “experience” a lot to describe games nowadays, dontcha think? — one that you have to learn to enjoy regularly every day, for just a few minutes per session.
And New Leaf does a great job at communicating to the player what this venerable series is all about, making you understand and appreciate the experience. Just like in any Animal Crossing game, you have to find your own way of living in a crazy town inhabited by cute and quirky anthropomorphic animals. Within the limited set of rules given to you by the game, you are actually free to do whatever you want — what a paradox!

The only real, visible objectives the game offers you are actually simple guidelines. One of the first things you will have to do, for instance, is pay the loan for the little house good ol’ Tom Nook built for you. Taking care of your first debt (more will come as you expand your minuscule house, eventually turning it into the huge mansion of your dreams) might seem like a silly and boring goal, but it will teach you something precious: how the economy of the game world works.
To raise cash, you’ll need to collect shells on the beach, trade items with other denizens, or hop online to export your exclusive fruit to the towns of your friends — I got peaches, interested in buying some?
As you optimize your routine, learning the personality of each character living in your town and solving the trivial issues that trouble their life, the game constantly introduces new elements that you will need to include in your list of daily tasks if you want to be the perfect citizen. There is never a real moment in which you can safely assume you know everything about New Leaf. It’s a game you immediately start a deep relationship with, and you get to know day by day.
And the more you learn, the more there is to know.
If you’re a “veteran” of the series, you will immediately notice that New Leaf is a perversely demanding game. I remember that completing all the daily chores in Wild World only took a handful of minutes, but this sequel has so much new stuff going on that even though it’s designed to be played for a few minutes here and there, you might just find yourself glued to it for hours before putting it down. I’ve played more than 40 hours in my first week, and I’m starting to suspect the battery of my little 3DS is suffering as a result.

Your town quietly expands, and new events unfold at a peaceful but consistent pace. New citizens move in, broadening the kind of social activities you can dive into, old shops remodel as new ones open, offering better services and selections of furniture for your house, and you slowly gain access to new areas and features specifically designed for interactions with other players, both using StreetPass or your Wi-Fi connection. You can rest assured: every time you boot up the game, there will be something new to discover.
But from an extremely simplified game design perspective, New Leaf gives the player only one completely new task: to take the role of Mayor for the town he inhabits. This is a complex job, though, fully supported by the majestic clockwork balance of the gameplay. It requires money and attention, and leads to a complete customization of the game environments, breaking the barriers set by previous Animal Crossing games and letting you shape your town as you see fit according to strategic decisions, not simply by planting trees or flowers but by investing in more important projects such as building bridges, lighthouses, or campsites that impact the behavior of the animal denizens.
There is an important lesson to be learned from this game: Great things come to those who wait… and plan their growth carefully. Even after gaining access to the multiplayer minigame-focused tropical island — a new location that serves as a goldmine with its unlimited supply of valuable fruit, flowers, insects and fish — grinding infinite amounts of cash will not help you proceed faster than how the game wants you to.
This is actually not frustrating.
Many of the activities that govern New Leaf's town development are strictly related to the passage of time, from the growth of fruit to how much time it takes to build a bridge or add a new floor to your house. There is no way to accelerate the game's pace. It is, after all — and despite the adorable animals — a simulation of life, and a realistic one at that.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is not really a game, but it’s also the perfect game. Especially for a handheld device like 3DS, so carefully built around passive or active social interaction. For me, it became another thing to check in the morning and before going to bed alongside stuff like email, Twitter, or my boyfriend’s mood.
Even after playing it for so long, I’m still constantly drawn to it, even just to design a new shirt, look for a new pair of socks, or customize a piece of furniture to make its color match the rest of my living room. I guess this is what makes this game so popular in Japan. You can play it at your own pace, and your animal neighbors will always be there to remind you that, both in this digital life and the real one, you have to take it easy if you want to survive.
How many other games do that?
[You can read more fine articles from Francesco Dagostino at his very awesome Infinity Counter blog, and on his Twitter account @franpaccio. The GIF is via Nookling Junction
I may or may not have felt obligated to publish this because I swiped fruit from Fran’s town to line Buttocks’ own avenues with dozens of trees, their branches hanging and swaying from the weight of plump peaches.]
PREORDER Animal Crossing: New Leaf, AC:NL guide, upcoming games

The Animal Crossing: New Leaf experience

[After spending a week with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Francesco Dagostino shares how the life sim offers an experience players won’t find anywhere else, and why it’s the perfect game.]

I want to start this piece with a sincere apology. To my parents, lover, friends, colleagues, and everyone whose life intertwines with mine more or less directly: chances are I haven’t been available to you lately. I might have not replied to your calls and tweets, and I confess my IM status has been constantly set to “Away”. The fact is that I got my hands on Animal Crossing: New Leaf for 3DS last week, and I can’t stop playing it or even talking (and tweeting) about it.

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Tiny Review: Hobonichi Techo 2013
It might seem odd for Tiny Cartridge to review a daily planner, but I’m always curious about anything Mother/Earthbound creator Shigesato Itoi is involved in, whether it’s his copywriting work, his appearances on Iron Chef as a judge, or even his free DSiWare app for tracking your health.
Plus, when I shared the news last month that Itoi’s company Hobonichi released its popular Japanese planner in English for the first time this year, many of you showed interest in importing a copy. Hobonichi was kind enough to send a Techo (planner) over for us to review, so now you get to hear why you should (or shouldn’t) buy the planner.

Four things that are fab:
1. The creativity it encourages - The Techo can be used as a traditional organizer to schedule your life and plot out appointments, but the design of its daily pages, each outlined with a charcoal gray grid, allow for and encourage much more. You can use it as a diary, comic journal, scrapbook, sketchbook, school notebook, budget tracker, etc. Fill it with illustrations of cats or Animal Crossing's K.K. Slider if that’s what you’re into; this isn’t a planner you have to take seriously.

Having no artistic ability, I’m using mine as a chronicle for a mishmash of things, recording my work-out progress, new food I’ve tried with short reviews, moments/jokes I enjoyed with my wife, tweets from @therealjuicyj I want to remember, whatever I watched or listened to that day, etc. I’m trying to live that examined life.
2. The quotes - Plenty of calendars and planners are filled with inspiring daily words, but being from Itoi and his company, the Techo offers eccentric quotes taken from his interviews and articles posted on Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun, much of them never published in English. Take these words from Itoi printed on the the very first days of the year for instance:

The idea of ‘just another day’ is really quite curious.You could say it’s just like every other day,or you could say there’s no other day like it.Someone is born; some people break up.Those are some of the things that take place on ‘just another day.’

And because Itoi’s worked closely with them over the years, you’ll find quotes from Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto in there, too. It’s a treat to turn the pages every other day, and read the next quote.
3. The accessories - Something about the Techo makes you want to go out and buy accessories to enhance your experience with it, and Hobonichi is more than happy to sell you a wide range of "tools and toys" through its site: stickers, stencils, pens (I bought a multi-color Muji pen to keep clipped to my planner case), tiny scissors, mini post-its, small Polaroid cameras that print photo stickers, and other items to decorate your pages with.
Hobonichi provided me with one of its classy leather cases, which are way pricy at $158 apiece but definitely feel/look expensive. People might mistake you for a professional who’s on top of things and making bank when you pull one of these out at work, even if your Techo is nothing more than a collection of drawings you’ve made of butts.

Seeing the dozens of other cases Hobonichi sells, I want to pick up another one with more pockets, as they can double as wallets or pouches that hold things you want handy. For those seeking a personal touch, there are clear jackets that you can slide your own designs into — or you can create a cover like Birdie’s Mother-embroidered case pictured above.
4. The community - There’s already a growing group of Techo fans in the West, partly due to the Mother fans who’ve picked one up, and also due to the efforts of Lindsay Nelson, who helped localize the planner. Lindsay has not only created a site that shows you how to buy and get the most out of your planner; she’s created a Tumblr where people can post Techo photos to show their love.
Marveling over the creative ways others are using their Techos has given me plenty of ideas for how to enjoy my planner. It’s like the physical planner equivalent to downloading updates that introduce new features to a journaling app, or seeing others post hacks/mods for their Techos.
Three things that are butt:
1. We live in a digital age - Tumblr, Facebook, Google Calendar/iCal, or apps like Evernote can do almost everything the Techo can as far as traditional planner tasks go, short of delivering you quotes from Itoi. For many, the physical planner just lacks the power features digital solutions provide: sharing with friends and contacts, commenting and reblogging, tagging and searching, easy importing and exporting, etc. And copying and pasting is so much more convenient when it’s a couple of keystrokes, not a minute spent cutting out and gluing whatever you want to save.

There are still special joys you can only get with a physical journal like the Techo, however, like searching for the perfect pen to pair with your planner, or getting to mark in the margins that a sports team you follow won, or using a butt-based scoring system to rate your day, or affixing colorful cat stickers next to your appointments, or writing out the name of your lover or crush over and over during your daydreams, or making quick sketches of your meals, or slowly building a row of books on your shelf to create a multi-volume chronicle of your life (it helps that the simple jackets  and their spines look so attractive).
2. It’s already mid-February - You might feel wasteful, buying a planner that spans December 2012 - December 2013. Or you can do what I did, and pick something you’ve been meaning to record, and fill the blank pages for those months you missed — recipes, the first chapters of that book you’ve been meaning to start writing, lyrics to Hall and Oates songs for quick reference, portraits of people in your life, unsent love letters to Tiny and/or our Lizard, etc. Or you could use those blank pages to stash footnotes from your daily entries.
3. It’s more expensive than most planners - A Techo alone, without a cover, will cost you $29 before you even pay shipping and handling from Japan. You could get a discounted 3DS game for that amount! 
Score:

I’m actually using my Techo - I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve purchased planners or received them from others, starting from my early teen years.  Without fail, I abandoned them within weeks, if not days.
I’ve found the Techo so much fun to use, though, thanks to the community around it and how personalized mine feels. I expect to fill this planner’s pages until the end of the year, and pick up a new one for 2014.
I know some people who are interested in buying one are waiting for the 2014 edition, but I don’t see the point of having a couple extra months’ worth of pages, versus having something now that can help you organize your days/thoughts, and examine your life. Why put that off?

If you decide to buy a Techo, make sure to read Lindsay’s instructions and bookmark this useful page.
BUY Mother 3/Earthbound, Hobonichi Techo 2013IMAGES VIA Mochigram

Tiny Review: Hobonichi Techo 2013

It might seem odd for Tiny Cartridge to review a daily planner, but I’m always curious about anything Mother/Earthbound creator Shigesato Itoi is involved in, whether it’s his copywriting work, his appearances on Iron Chef as a judge, or even his free DSiWare app for tracking your health.

Plus, when I shared the news last month that Itoi’s company Hobonichi released its popular Japanese planner in English for the first time this year, many of you showed interest in importing a copy. Hobonichi was kind enough to send a Techo (planner) over for us to review, so now you get to hear why you should (or shouldn’t) buy the planner.

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Tiny Review - Fire Emblem: Awakening
Fire Emblem: Awakening is the best SRPG on the 3DS — that might not seem like much considering the limited competition, but the previous holder of that title, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, was fresh to death. I guess that would make Fire Emblem: Awakening fresh to permadeath.
If you demanded a more authoritative statement from me, a summary review to better communicate this title’s quality than comparisons to a 3DS launch game few played, I’d tell you that Fire Emblem: Awakening could be the finest TWRPG of all time. Yes, the combat and systems are as great as any entry from the series, but where this game soars, like the fragile, love-sick pegasus riders in your party’s employ, is in its Tactical Waifu RPG elements.
(The above GIF, by the way, comes from Cece.) 
Three things that are fab:

1. Casual Mode - This is probably the most accessible Fire Emblem yet, and a big part of that is thanks to its Casual setting. Not everyone wants the tension of knowing that a wrong move could permanently kill their favorite characters. With this mode, your characters defeated in combat return to fight/ship another day.

2. 2 Become 1 - Support conversations, or chats between characters when they’re positioned next to each other on the field, have been a critical part of the series for some time now, but Fire Emblem: Awakening encourages them even more with its new “Dual” system, allowing nearby characters to actually join each other in combat. The new “Pair Up” system enables two to move and fight as one, so a slower character can get around faster by attaching him/herself to someone on horseback.

3. The return of Gunpei Yokoi’s Love Tester - Some of the most fun you’ll have in this game will come from seeing characters build up their relationships with support conversations, marry each other, and have children. While you wait for all that to happen, you can see how your characters are getting along with the built-in Hubba Tester, which often produces random results but is a nice (possibly unintentional) nod to Yokoi’s toy that performed a similar function.
Two things that are butt:

1. Getting to the main screen - Perhaps a side effect of the series discouraging players from hitting reset when a battle turns against their favor, it can be a pain to return to the main screen to reload a save, even in Casual Mode. If there’s a way to do this without resetting the game, I didn’t find it.
[Update: John Ricciardi of 8-4, which handled the game’s great localization, points out that you can quick reset by holding L+R and Start]

2. Full voice acting - The voice acting in this game is superb (dual language support with the original Japanese voices!) — the production quality here is almost at Kid Icarus: Uprising levels — but the support conversations aren’t fully voiced. I would have loved to hear the above exchange with the badass Lon’qu.
Score:

PREORDER Fire Emblem: Awakening (Feb 4), other upcoming games

Tiny Review - Fire Emblem: Awakening

Fire Emblem: Awakening is the best SRPG on the 3DS — that might not seem like much considering the limited competition, but the previous holder of that title, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, was fresh to death. I guess that would make Fire Emblem: Awakening fresh to permadeath.

If you demanded a more authoritative statement from me, a summary review to better communicate this title’s quality than comparisons to a 3DS launch game few played, I’d tell you that Fire Emblem: Awakening could be the finest TWRPG of all time. Yes, the combat and systems are as great as any entry from the series, but where this game soars, like the fragile, love-sick pegasus riders in your party’s employ, is in its Tactical Waifu RPG elements.

(The above GIF, by the way, comes from Cece.)

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Ghostbusters and Pokemon recreated in Scribblenauts Unlimited, made possible by the new Object Editor.

I reviewed the Wii U version of Scribblenauts Unlimited over at Joystiq, which took a dark turn:

Scribblenauts Unlimited is meant to be a redemption quest, one that forces Maxwell to examine the way he’s mistreated others and abused his notebook’s powers, but I was having none of that.

The game is filled with characters dropping their wishes at Maxwell’s feet, and I wanted to be the venomous djinn, the nefarious wishmaster that only granted them with a terrible twist. I became the devil on Maxwell’s shoulder, goading him into silencing my counterpart with his notebook by writing out ‘absent conscience.’”

At one point in the game, a girl wished someone would give her something romantic, like in the movies. I offered her a “cursed ring,” which she took happily, unaware that she’d accepted a doomed future in the exchange.  Perhaps not the kind of film she had in mind.

Buy: Super Scribblenauts, Scribblenauts Unlimited
See also: More Scribblenauts Unlimited news and media
[Via Kotaku]