April Review Roundup - Ninjas, Nonsense, and Birthrights

Which April releases are worth picking up?

It's that time again! There's a slew of game releases out there right now and not enough time to vet all of them. Let us do it for you, with a review roundup to see which of the more niche releases out there are worth your time and attention. This month we've got Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, Pokken Tournament, and Fire Emblem Fates on tap!

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus

The Senran Kagura girls are back again for another heaping helping of Dynasty Warriors-esque beat-'em-up fun.

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is a PlayStation 4 and PS Vita offering that centers around three schools of shinobi as they rise through the ranks in shinobi school, and if you're familiar with the Senran Kagura series, there's a whole lot of scantily-clad characters milling about as well. That's par for the course for these games, but the real question is, is Estival Versus any good? Absolutely!

You'll be flitting about in Estival Versus as various nubile ninja, in various stages that ask you to simply beat up the hundreds of enemies that swarm around you before eventually being sent to take out a boss character. It's fast-moving and frenetic at every turn, with high-powered combos, satisfying air juggles and devastating special attacks. Like the rest of the games in the series, your character's clothing affects how the action plays out. If your ninja is fighting in her normal street clothes, she's got a regular set of attacks and blocks with which she can combat enemies.

If you choose to use a Shinobi Transformation, she'll be outfitted with skimpier clothing for additional moves and a huge jump in power. Frantic Mode places her in her underwear, bolstering attack and offering unlimited combos that make her a force to be reckoned with. It's a very sensual transformation, both of them, but in a very tongue-in-cheek manner that you can't help but laugh at.

Estival Versus lets you jump from character to character as you play through the story mode, which is a lot longer than previous entries in the series. It's riddled with humor throughout as well, which is almost necessary with this kind of game to keep up the fun. If it were bereft of hilarity, it just wouldn't work as well. While there's an underlying plot that's meant to be a bit dramatic, Estival Versus is at its best when there's something to laugh at, and whether you're laughing at its most devious moments or its silliest, you'll have a smile on your face the whole way through.

The game's biggest pitfall isn't its silliness, however, as many would have you believe. While it's engaging to tear through swarms of enemies like a hot knife through butter, this can wear thin on the nerves as you do it over and over throughout the course of the game. You need to be locked in and prepared to keep doing it if you're going to finish up the game, but if this type of slashy beat-'em-up is in your wheelhouse, you may not even notice it getting on your nerves.

Senran Kagura: Estival Versus is a stylistic, silly romp with characters that'll no doubt have you grinning like an idiot with its bizarre narrative, strange characters, and over-the-top jokes and action.

It's a lot of one-shot jokes that might grate on you after the 50th time, but it's also a collection of fairly deep combos, fighting moves, and more. If you enjoyed the rest of the Senran Kagura games, you'll likely want to add this one to your repertoire as well.

Pokken Tournament

Pokken Tournament sounds like a match made in heaven for Pokemon fans who also happen to love fighting games. How could you not love pitting Pikachu in a special luchador costume against a Gengar to see who would win in a special match?

Pokken Tournament attempts to take the interesting parts of Pokemon such as the monsters themselves, trainers, and special abilities and match it with the fast-paced battles of Tekken.

The result is an interesting mixture of both games that could have used a little more time in the oven, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better real-time Pokemon battler this side of Pokemon Stadium.

There are 16 different combatants within Pokken Tournament, and two are variants of other characters, and it seems at first brush there's a bizarre collection of monsters to do battle with. There are some weird inclusions like Suicune and Chandelure, but in the end after trying each of the fighters out I actually quite enjoyed having different monsters I wouldn't normally think about using represented for me in each match.

Pikachu and Charizard are obviously big draws, as are Machamp and Lucario, who I tended to default to in several matches. There's a wide variety of moves no matter which Pokemon you choose to team up with thankfully, so there's room to switch up tactics and choose other 'mons to main if you get bored.

What makes battles so intriguing is the introduction of shifts in battles from "Phase Shifts" to "Duel Phase," where movement controls switch, movesets changes, and everything is turned on its head. Where you were playing what seemed to be a straightforward fighter opens up into something much more challenging.

The transition between both phases can be jarring at first, but in the end you become accustomed to the two different phases after swapping between them two times. That's what sets the game apart immediately from the rest, and it serves up some different strategic requirements than it normally would with the changing battlefield setups.

And the battles themselves are a blast, with the Synergy Drive bar offering up some powerful moves for each Pokemon once it's full: Pikachu Libre has some flashy wrestling moves, Braixen has a fiery yet coquettish finisher, and Gengar's is absolutely terrifying.

These coupled with interference from partner Pokemon make for face-offs that take planning and skill to pull off. There's more than an arcade mode or tournament to test your skills in, too. Ferrum Battles offer single-player tier-based tournaments to rank up as well as full-fledged online play that's a blast to play.

Pokken Tournament is a bit of a strange mixture of genres and fighting moves, but it’s surprisingly efficient in its execution. It’s a strong contender for your Wii U library, especially if you enjoy fighters and Pokemon equally. Before going back to another main Pokemon entry on your handheld, consider giving this a go. You might be surprised by how long you end up playing.

Fire Emblem Fates

Ever since Fire Emblem Awakening hit the scene, you'd be hard-pressed to find another strategy title with as much punch. Fast forward to 2016, and Fire Emblem itself has had another breakthrough with Fire Emblem Fates, and specifically Birthright and Conquest, the two core versions of the original game.

Fire Emblem Fates is split up into two different games after the player reaches Chapter 6. You can choose between either continuing the path you're on or playing another by shelling out an additional $20 to switch it up.

Either way you choose to play, you begin the game as a male or female character named Corrin, who becomes your avatar. There's a conflict going on between the kingdoms of Hoshido and Nohr, and you're right at the center of it. It's more difficult to discern who exactly is "right" and who is "wrong" with this nuanced of a storyline, and so part of what makes Fates such an intriguing prospect from the get-go are both narratives that are interesting in their own right.

Of course, the narrative is only part of the package, albeit a huge one that should be praised. This is a strategy game first and foremost, and while you can build your own relationships and marriages between characters, strategy and gameplay like the "My Castle" system is what really takes the cake.

The "My Castle" system allows you to set up defenses for your own personal camp, home base, and more that you can call your own. It looks just like the grid-based battlefield you'll find yourself taking to with every skirmish, only it's customizable. You can use your special Fire Emblem-themed amiibo in this mode, such as Marth, Robin, Lucina, and Ike, and even chat and battle with said characters, which makes it an even bigger boon.

Combat is still largely the same as well, but refined significantly. There's still the ever-familiar rock paper scissors mechanic where certain types of armaments best others, but there are additional layers of strategy that you'll eventually uncover from spending time with the game.

Weapons no longer break anymore either, but you can and will lose units, so choosing a difficulty that doesn't include permadeath when beginning the game will decide that if it's something you don't wish to play with. You can use the special "Phoenix" setting if you're worried about losing anyone, which which is an easy mode that brings back fallen party members back the next turn.

There's a lot to love about Fire Emblem Fates, especially if you were a big fan from the beginning. From additional content to exciting changes in the course of the story, there's a wealth of gameplay to enjoy. It's an exciting entry in the series, so if you've been looking for a reason to get back into Fire Emblem in general, this is an excellent place to start.