Nintendo ID: EarthbounderBR
3DS Friend Code: 4639-9251-0617
When I checked my blog today and noticed that it has been nearly one month ever since I wrote something in this space I got quite surprised. That is probably the longest stretch without a blog post ever since.... ever? Strangely, I can't say I have been busy because now it has been a month I have been on vacation and had nothing really important to do; so if I had to blame it on someone I would probably blame it on Nintendo and their general lack of interesting reveals or news after E3. I will try to go back to writing more frequently because doing so really relax my mind and serves as an excellent distraction.
Still, I have just gotten a full-time job in an Information Technology company and I still have two things left in order to fully conclude my bachelor degree: Physics II and the writing and programming of my graduation project. However, I will try to write something whenever I feel like it.
I hope everybody is doing well!
Nintendo has yet to reveal the date on which we will all finally be able to play The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the first Zelda console release in nearly five years, but with each passing day the game's release creeps a little bit closer and as the people involved with the game start to let out little nuggets of information expectations begin to rise. Recently, Aonuma revealed some really interesting information on the world of Skyward Sword, some of which made me rather excited about what is to come.
"The game starts in Skyloft, this city that's floating in the air, and you'll come back to this town multiple times. Things are always proceeding along in town, and in that respect it's very much like Majora's Mask. Like with Majora, there are a lot of game events involving the townspeople that get intertwined with the main story. Link, Zelda and their other friends all go to the same boarding school, and you've got teachers and a principal as well. It's a bit of a different setting from previous Zeldas."
I always felt like Wind Waker, through Windfall Island and its slightly complex character relationships and behaviors, came close to achieving what Clock Town represented for Majora's Mask. However, on Twilight Princess Nintendo took a major step back when the citizens of the visually amazing Castle Town were nothing but empty shells with a single sentence to say when approached. Fans have been claiming for the second coming of Clock Town for a long while, and given the fact that Skyloft and the game's characters are all based in a boarding school, that setup could lead to very interesting relationships, sidequests and behaviors depending on the time of the day, the point where you are in the game and – hopefully – other factors.
"With previous Zeldas the common pattern was that the really neat items wouldn't show up until later on in the game. You need to have the basic item set or it wouldn't be Zelda, so the new items tended to get shunted to the latter part of the game. Miyamoto said that had to change, like 'This is neat, let's bring it out from the start.' So a lot of neat new items will show up pretty early on."
I had never really thought about it that way to be quite honest, but Miyamoto has a very good point. The really fragile point that needs to be addressed in terms of Link's items and equipment is their usage outside of the dungeons where we acquire them, which has been close to null in recent releases. Maybe bringing the coolest most useful items to the front end of the game will end up making them more frequently used, therefore creating interesting situations and puzzles outside the dungeons themselves, instead of having the huge overworld as an empty landscape where you can speed your horse through.
"Yes, it's only the people in Skyloft. Nobody on there thinks anything of it, though, because living in Skyloft and flying around on birds is normal to them. They don't have any awareness of there being a mainland beneath the clouds and so forth -- that gets expanded upon once Zelda goes missing, and you get access to the areas under the clouds."
Around E3 time someone involved with the project – I can't remember whether it was Miyamoto or Aonuma – mentioned how the world above the clouds would sort of be like Wind Waker's Great Sea, with clouds instead of water, a bird instead of a boat and floating islands instead of mountain tops. The fact that there is a land below the clouds probably means that whatever is above them won't be as huge as the entire Great Sea, but two independent fully-fledged overworlds beats only one at any time of the day, and I have a hunch that Nintendo will find a way to craft awe inspiring puzzles that involve combining events above the clouds with occurrences below them. That should open up quite a bunch of possibilities.
"The demo shows when you first meet him, and plainly he's looking down at Link, stopping his sword with his fingers and so forth. In terms of story image he's kind of like Dark Link; he sees right through Link's moves in battle. You can sort of swing your sword wildly and still hold your own against a lot of foes, but there's no way you can beat Ghiraham like that. You need to keep your distance and watch his moves, and it's something you'll need to change your strategy for. I think he's a pretty good change of pace as bosses go, and he'll change gradually throughout the game."
I like Ganondorf as much as everybody eles, but I believe I speak for most of the Zelda fan community that I am very happy we are getting a seemingly complex villain that is not Ganondorf. Skull Kid in all its creepy innocence and Vaati were great villains, and although I have a few complaints about Zant I still liked the guy even though he was not the main cruel mind behind all the happenings in Hyrule when it was all said and done. So I am definitely looking forward to knowing more about him.
"This game talks about the birth of the Master Sword, and it touches on why Ganondorf showed up. If you play it, I think you'll get some understanding on that. It connects to Ocarina, so if you play Ocarina of Time 3D and move on to this game, I think you'll catch on to a lot of things."
We already knew the part about the Master Sword, but the part about Ganondorf makes me really curious. I always thought he was just your average bad guy that wants to conker the realm he lives the closest to. Maybe there is much more to him than that.
"The whole game is complete, and we're fine-tuning the balance right now. We were going to have it wholly done by around E3, but there's so much volume to it, neither I nor Miyamoto have gotten to fully play out every aspect. The non-English localizations are proceeding along now, and we're trying to make this a simultaneous worldwide release. You have to put Zelda all out at once or else the story's going to get spoiled -- although, really, there's a ton to enjoy here even if you know a little about the story beforehand."
Can we get this game now, please?!
Out of the stellar collection of movies Pixar has crafted through the past sixteen years, their 2006 release, Cars, was almost universally considered to have been their weakest outing, sometimes being paired up with A Bug's Life in the awarding of that title. It naturally comes as a surprise then to find out that a company that has been historically averse to sequels – with the exception of their dearest child, Toy Story – decides to take it upon themselves to develop a follow-up for said film. If there is one undeniably great thing to be mentioned about the Cars franchise, is that it generates a lot of revenue for Disney coming from an audience the company is often wrongly accused of overlooking: young boys. Therefore, being aware of both of these facts, it is hard to go to the cinema without the lingering suspicious that Cars 2, in spite of what its producers have said, is more of an attempt to boast the franchise's merchandise sales than to make a traditional Pixar movie where viewers are overwhelmed by artistic value and brought to tears over a believable human script. And when you leave the cinema, it is hard not to think of Cars 2 as better-produced 90-minute hot wheels advertisement.
Radiator Springs, the charming heart-warming town that served as the core setting for the previous movie, is only seen in the very beginning of the flick and on the movie's final minutes, because most of the plot takes place in a world racing championship that travels to Japan, Italy and England; and naturally Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater are right in the middle of a competition that serves as the background of a worldwide conspiracy involving spies, shooting, explosions and gadgets that seem to come right out of a James Bond movie. Because of this fast-paced nature, Cars 2 will have its great moments of family friendly entertainment; but whereas a lot of time is spent in racing and spying sequences, there is little attention paid to the character development that had always made Pixar's movies stand out even from the motion pictures produced by the modern Disney's Animation Studios. Truth be told, the writting crew attempted to create an emotional ark or two through the movie, but it all comes off as unnatural and quickyl put together.
Instead of having action sequences that serve the purpose of putting us at the edge of our seats for characters that we learned to love through their deep dialogue; Cars 2 does action because it looks cool, and tries to adapt character development to it. It is a decision that ties the hands of extremely talented writers, and obviously takes away the Pixar spirit out of the whole thing. While McQueen is busy with racing, Mater ends up gaining the spotlight, which means that the movie sets up many comic opportunities for the adorable silly two truck to shine. The problem is that while as a second banana Mater proves to be an excellent character, the light that comes with being center stage reveals many rusty spots and weaknesses in the character, and after thirty minutes his jokes are not even that funny anymore.
With all that being said, Pixar's movies are obviously judged much harder than animations coming from other companies. Cars 2 will be succesful in entertaining its audience: kids will adore it, racing lovers will be awed by the mesmerizing shots of the action and parents will be happy. However, if it was hard to believe in cars with human-like attitudes, it will be even harder now that instead of being engaged mostly in racing, some of those cars will also be plotting devious schemes and playing the roles of spies. Many people wondered if there would ever come a day when Pixar would fail to deliver, fret not for that day has come to pass, Cars 2 is clearly miles and miles away from what the company truly has the capacity to produce.
Yet another E3 has come and gone away, and even though it lacked the flash and megatons of some previous editions, the overall result was very positive for all companies. Many questions were raised during this generation as to which company would be the first one to take the leap, Nintendo had the weakest tech, but maybe Microsoft and Sony would be the ones more interested in moving on due to the way their systems were beat down on this generation. As it turns out, Nintendo will get the head start, but questions remain on whether the Wii-U will be technically equivalent to whatever Sony and Microsoft are cooking, or if it will stay so much behind in terms of power that it will once again be left out of the multiplatform party.
One thing is for sure, Nintendo designed a console that has an innovative control with a good amount of motion sensing technology, but that does not have any lack of buttons that would limit more traditional games or force developers to go for a control scheme they are not exactly pleased with. The Wii-U allows for whatever kind of control strategy companies feel like using to develop their games. Sony showed that the Playstation 3 is still going very strong in terms of software, with games that appeal to all kinds of audiences while displaying amazing quality; and the PSV was a statement on how Sony has learned that being arrogant about the technical superiority of their system when the time to set a price for it comes is not a smart business strategy. As for Microsoft, the desperate focus on Kinect harmed the company, which presented great titles and sequels, but that failed to have the software variety Sony has.
So far, 2011 has been a great year, with plenty of amazing software hitting all consoles – with the exception of the Nintendo Wii – and the future is looking even more exciting after this year's E3.
A mildly amusing Distributed Systems lecture stopped me from being able to fully watch Sony's E3 conference, by the time I got home an Infamous 2 demo was being played, so let's start from there. Differently from Microsoft, Sony had something to appeal to all kinds of audiences and in a brief stint of ten minutes they clearly displayed that. Infamous 2 looked astonishing, the addition of Move to LittleBigPlanet 2 will make a game that is already simple and charming even more appealing to people who want to have an option to the overflow of shooters in the market and – the biggest surprise of the night in terms of software – the new Sly Cooper pleases the heart of both longtime gamers who have been waiting for the return of this franchise, and younger players who will be instantly drawn by the colorful look of this adventure.
Dust, Saints Row The Third, Star Trek, the new SSX with mountains from all over the world being presented in an incredibly realistic level of detail and Battlefield 3 will also leave Playstation 3 owners more than busy and happy on this coming year. Bioshock Infinite must have left everybody on the audience with a feeling of "I want to see more of this game. And I want to see it right now". It had all components that make a Bioshock game fantastic and a lot of thrilling moody action. On the other hand, Need for Speed: The Run could have used more racing and less scripted events and less pointless real-time events that add nothing whatsoever to the game other than showing its cinematic value.
And then it was time for the big star of the show: the Playstation Vita. The system is getting a lot of support and fantastic games right out of the gate, differently from the Nintendo 3DS. Uncharted showed how much power that little device has hidden inside of it, and the touch controls implemented in the game were pretty cool, especially when they showed how you can draw the path Drake must follow as he climbed of the ledges. Modnation Racers and the ability to create tracks simply by drawing on the screen also had me really excited for the system. LittleBigPlanet, Street Fighter vs Tekken, and the Diablo-like Ruin also showed a lot of potential, and the system automatically positioned itself as a threat to Nintendo's dominance of the handheld market.
But one thing remained to be announced for Sony's threat to be confirmed, and that was price. The price that hurt their two current generation systems could also harm the Playstation Vita, but to everybody's pleasant surprise the 3G Vita will cost 300 dollars, while the Wi-Fi Vita will be sold for 250 bucks. Sony has fortunately learned not to be arrogant in the pricing of their systems, and as a consequence, for the first time ever, Nintendo will have some really close competition on the portable gaming market. I believe it will be an extremely close race, instead of the previous generation's blowout, but due to the strength of the DS brand and Nintendo's device early release, I think Nintendo will come out on top again, but not without losing a big share of the market they dominated for so many years. This time, Sony means business.
First, let's get the minor – yet quite important - stuff out of the way. After Nintendo's conference the Nintendo 3DS has went from an interesting system to an absolute must-buy. Pretty soon the real software support the system has been lacking will arrive, and those who don't have it will be missing a lot. The only looming problem is that it needs a price drop after Sony showed to the world yesterday that they learned a lesson on how to properly price their systems. Zelda fans ought to be excited about the many goodies Nintendo revealed to commemorate the franchise's 25th anniversary, and about Skyward Sword, which is shaping up to be a great Zelda game with a few changes to the franchise's traditional structure. And finally, Wii fans are bound to be scratching their heads wondering what they will play on their system on the next few months, as nothing really new and exciting was announced.
Now, off to the tasty and rather polemic part of the conference: Wii U. Before you go out and yell to the world that Nintendo has lost it, let me remind you that not too long ago everybody thought that the motion controls introduced by Nintendo on E3 2005 were stupid in their look and execution. Six years later, all companies have opened their doors to motion controls and are trying to continue what the Wii introduced a few years back. Wii U is another chapter of Nintendo's inventive history on this industry, and as boring as it might sound, these new pages will probably develop in a very similar fashion to the ones that preceded them. As I write this, people who have watched Nintendo's conference are mainly divided into two groups: there are the ones who hated the whole concept of Wii U and are never going to give it a chance; and there are the ones who are not quite sure, but that trust Nintendo enough to explore this concept and give it a chance. Wii U will be the Nintendo Wii all over again.
Nintendo is to blame for the fact that it didn't quite cause the splash they were hoping for. It is understandable that they wanted to focus on the control, and not on the "box" are Reggie said after the conference, but from the initial video it was not quite clear if we were looking at an extension for the Wii or at an actual new console and the control was initially shown working with a slightly tweaked version of New Super Mario Bros Wii. Nintendo's attempt to explain the concept of Wii U was poor at best, and left almost everybody confused. Aside from being clearer, the conference also lacked something all new consoles must show on their first appearance: shiny tech demos. Showing a new console mostly with games whose visuals are pretty much on the same level as your underpowered current console doesn't help a whole lot and just increases the confusion on whether that is a new system or a new controller who serves as an extension for the Wii.
Speaking of visuals, Nintendo seems to have definitely given up on the race for graphics. The system's controller will be very expensive, so they had to cut back somewhere, and that was in hardware power. Differently from the Wii, though, third parties seem to be on board with Nintendo this time around, but I still feel that Nintendo has made another big mistake in making a system that will undoubtedly be less powerful than what Microsoft and Sony will have on the next generation. Only time will tell whether I am correct, but the way I see it Wii U will get great inventive games from Nintendo, some bright exclusives by third parties and a whole bunch of ports from the 360 and Playstation 3. Meaning that strong multiplatforms will be non-existent, as the system will have a unique control scheme and a much weaker hardware than the competition. Does it sound familiar? Yeah, just like the Nintendo Wii.
I really liked what I saw in terms of the experiences the control can generate, some gameplay videos I have watched from the show floor got me really excited about what could be done with this. But, I worry greatly about the future and about how this console will do in the long run. I have got no doubts it will sell a lot (it has the Wii brand on it, and Nintendo will not price it very high), but as Nintendo boasts about apparently much better online features, I fear that the Wii's biggest flaw might have been passed to its successor: the lack of multiplatforms and a tendency to attract ports due to its inferior hardware. Maybe, this time, Nintendo will be smarter and make sure they really get a lot of exclusive content that makes use of their fantastic tablet controller. Only time will tell.
Do we seriously need Hollywood-like trailers to get gamers pumped about and upcoming release? As I watch all these E3 announcements all I can think of is "Well, this looks cool, but I don't know how the game plays so I can't get that excited. Anything can sound excellent with CG animation and dramatic voice acting". Seriously people, more gameplay and less hiding the beautiful imperfections of the gamin industry with fake trailers.
When did it become vital for videogames to have as many extra features as your average Smartphone? Whenever I buy a system I think about the games I am going to play in it, and not about interactions with social networks, taking pictures and browsing the internet. Am I getting old and grumpy?
I have got a demand to make, Nintendo. Less movie trailers, and more game presentations; less extra features and superfluous content, and more Mario, Link, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, F-Zero, Pikmin and stuff like that.
It is pretty easy to see where Microsoft was successful in this year's conference, and that is in the area where the company usually does pretty well: the franchises they have under their belt. Gears of War 3 and Ghost Reckon were quite impressive, the new Tomb Raider was a pleasant surprise, Modern Warfare 3 started out slow and moody and ended up with a glorious shooting sequence, Forza 4 showed that Gran Turismo is miles behind it, Mass Effect 3 worked wonderfully and the addition of voice commands through Kinect was interesting to say the least and Halo 4 appeared out of the blue and left before you could sink everything in, but left a very positive impression on the audience that packed the auditorium to be mesmerized by those titles, but also to be confused and embarrassed as Microsoft skidded on its own creation: Kinect.
Now that Microsoft is clearly putting all of their money on this amazing device, it is easy to notice that while Kinect employs some incredibly versatile technology that produces astounding results – it was hard not to be impressed by the automatic rendering of real objects and people – it has one dreadful fatal flaw, the complete lack of a control stick. The control stick is to 3-D gaming what the wheel is for humanity, without a control stick it is hard for a gamer to have full power over the course that the game is taking, and for that Kinect will never be fully accepted. The three games that were supposed to serve as Kinect's definite welcome card to the hardcore audience, only served to show the device's Achilles heel.
Star Wars, Rome and Fable could have been fantastic displays of the future of gaming, instead they ended up appearing as three on rails titles (based on what could be seen) that could have been much bigger and better if they were developed with traditional controls in mind, or if Kinect had some strategy to effectively allow gamers to control the movement of characters on stage. The three games look fantastic, and their response to the movements made on stage (assuming the demos were not fake) was great, but it is hard to be amazed by a game when you sit and notice that the central technology supporting it is actually depriving it of being better, instead of allowing developers to soar as high as possible with their creativity. What is more worrisome is to notice that Microsoft is completely willing to bet in Kinect as the flawed gaming interface it is. So willing that they spent the biggest part of their one hour and a half show on it.
When used in games that do not depend on freedom of movement on a 3-D plane in order to be successful, Kinect amazes. Dance Central 2 looks like a lot of fun, whether or not you are into that sort of game or into dancing, and Kinect Sports 2 must be a blast to play with friends. Those two titles are extremely appealing and bet on the "games for everyone" philosophy that Nintendo has always followed, but that got much more intense with the release of the Nintendo Wii. On the other end of the spectrum we got Sesame Street and Disneyland, two games that will exclusively appeal to children – something that Nintendo has always been criticized of, but has never really been guilty as Mario and his peers are fun for all ages.
Microsoft's Conference was great where the company is usually great at, but in their new business venture the company has been failing poorly for the most part in their attempt to mix free roaming games with a Kinect technology that severely limits them.
With Okamiden gone I think I could say I have played all games that interest me on the Nintendo DS, unless of course I come across a hidden gem that went by me without being noticed in the months to come, but I sort of considered finishing Okamiden to be my farewell to the system. So in the next few days, maybe after all the E3 craze that is coming up, I will do a list of the best games on the system and maybe a post with an overview on what the DS represented for Nintendo and for gaming in general. Anyway, read the review if you feel like it, and recommend it if you find it is helpful.
Warning! Huge review approaching!
It relies a little bit too much on Okami; for the good, and for the bad
Okami is a forgotten masterpiece that the previous gaming generation gave us. The game as hurt by the fact that it came out a little too late for its own good, being released as the gaming world anticipated an upcoming batch of new systems while forgetting about the consoles they currently owned. In the original game's central plot piece, the main character had returned to earth to defeat demons and regain its former power that had vanished along with people's faith on the Gods, which diminished with time; differently from Amaterasu, though, Okami – the game – won over many fans as time went by and word on the game's greatness spread. Fortunately, due to this popularity surge the series was given another chance, this time on the Nintendo DS: a system that would obviously present a big challenge to the perfect translation of the original game's sheer size due to the handheld's limited technical capabilities, but that at the same time would heavily benefit the drawing mechanics that were one of the most unique aspects of Okami. Capcom was able to overcome all technical liabilities, and produce a game that is worthy of its predecessor, and certainly the greatest most fluid 3-D adventure on the system.
Okamiden starts exactly nine months after Okami. Amaterasu had defeated the mighty Yami, supposedly ridding the land of Nippon of all of its demons; for achieving her goal and regaining people's faith, Amaterasu had her power restored and went back to the Celestial Plain to look after the world from above. However, as Okamiden begins demons mysteriously make their way back to curse the landscapes of Nippon and its gentle citizens, Sakuya – noticing trouble rising on the land she is destined to look after – calls upon Amaterasu to save Nippon once again, but instead her pleas are answered by Chibiterasu, Amaterasu's son that comes clueless into Nippon and stumbles upon the Celestial Envoy, Issun. After showing the little puppy the basics and having fond memories of Amaterasu awake in his heart, Issun tells the puppy he should find a partner to help him in his quest, and he does so by joining forces with Kuni, Susano's son.
It is undeniable that Okami had really strong writing to back up all of its fantastic characters and the many plots that surrounded them. Okamiden somehow manages to elevate that writing prowess into a whole new amazing level. During his journey, Chibiterasu will have many young partners mounting into his back, and each one of those partners will have stories, troubles and abilities of their own, which means that Okamiden has a very strong set of main characters that will – along with Amaterasu's son – learn a lot about themselves and grow right in front of your eyes. It is extremely hard not to develop strong connections to all these central playable characters that will start as insecure kids and leave you as stronger beings aware of their responsibilities. Playing Okamiden is witnessing their development, and as they grow so does the game's fantastic plot that is filled with great dialogue and many unpredictable twists. It is extremely rare to find such quality writing in a game that focuses on adventure and exploration, and not in role playing.
The main issue with Okamiden is that the game doesn't really do much to distance itself from its predecessor. Chibi has the same exact powers as his mother did; he can slash enemies and use his many brush powers do bring them down or to solve puzzles on the environment around him. The brush techniques found in Okamiden are pretty much the same ones that players mastered in Okami. It is possible to make plants bloom, manipulate elements, restore broken artifacts, slash objects and foes, create bombs at will and do a few other nifty tricks; however, new puzzles and uses for those abilities have been crafted by the developers making them a little less repetitive for those who played the original game. Drawing the symbols needed to summon those powers with the stylus does wonders for the efficiency of the game's controls, but sadly some symbols that have been clearly drawn very well sometimes are not accepted by the game, which may turn out to be a little bit annoying, especially when you need and attack to work on desperate situations.
The really big change gameplay-wise that Okamiden features is that depending on the child that is accompanying Chibi at a certain moment in the game, the wolf will gain a new ability as a consequence of a special skill possessed by his partner. This allowed for every segment of the game to be considerably distinct, because the design of the game's dungeons will be inspired by the abilities of the partner you will be carrying at that point in the game. In that way, the over twenty hours of Okamiden always bring something very fresh with them, and while the game copies its predecessor a little bit too much, it never really repeats itself.
Another ability that comes with the addition of a youngster partner is that it is possible to control Chibi and the kid separately. All you have to do is press the x-button so the child will get out of Chibi's back, and then you can control him or her to reach places that the wolf cannot. However, despite being a very unique characteristic to Okamiden, having to control both characters to get through a simple puzzle sometimes breaks the pace of the game, especially because the children are quite vulnerable when they are by themselves. The game's pace is also harmed by some mandatory battles against minor enemies that you will find along the way. Battles have never been the most exciting part about Okami, as they are basically hack and slash affairs in the middle of a compelling exploration, therefore it was always a good thing that it was super simple to avoid battles against regular enemies on the original, but Okamiden will often throw mandatory battles at you, especially inside dungeons.
Okamiden follows the same basic structure as Okami, which in this case is not a bad thing at all. You will explore really big torn apart areas and try to restore them to their former beauty, by going through a puzzle-filled dungeon or defeating a bad boss that has taken over the area and harmed its inhabitants. Many of the places present in Okami will be revisited, some of them have changed with time and natural disasters but others remain pretty much the same. Regardless, going through the same scenarios once again can be a tad boring, but there is a really nice part about it, because you will get to see characters that you have met on your original adventure one more time, and see how their lives have changed in this period of nine months.
Naturally, by being in a system that is not as powerful as the Playstation 2 or the Nintendo Wii, most people would expect Okamiden to suffer due to being unable to reproduce the artistic goodness and visual candy of Okami. However, Capcom has achieved a lot, because Okamiden genuinely feels like Okami in a handheld, and there is not a single moment in the game where players could possibly think that visuals or characters could have been done better. The game still looks like a moving painting and its scenarios are absolutely gorgeous, even though they are broken down into smaller zones with short loading times in between them. Okamiden is huge, there is a lot to do, discover and explore and in those categories it is not matched by any game available on the Nintendo DS. The game shows how fluid 3-D gigantic adventures can be on Nintendo's handheld.
Okamiden is a very good game, but its main issue is that it copies pretty much everything from its predecessor. For some parts, that is a fantastic thing to do, because the astounding boss battles, long adventure, great dungeons, amazing abilities, breathtaking scenarios, abundant sidequests and remarkable songs are all here in a way or another; but, when it comes to being original, it really doesn't do much aside from its storytelling and partnership system. Still, as the Nintendo DS leaves the stage Okamiden is a very good summary of everything the system was great on as it uses all capabilities Nintendo's successful handheld has to offer in order to produce one of the most mesmerizing adventures to ever set foot on a portable console.
Actual Score: 8.8
There is nothing more pleasant than letting your imagination run wild and that is something that only projects whose nature we are not aware of or games that we wish would show up are able to provide. So let your imaginations run wild as we take a look at the projects that are a really long shot from happening at E3. Just don't let yourself be disappointed if none of them show up.
Retro Studios Project
Donkey Kong Country Returns is out, which leaves everybody wondering what in the world could be in development behind the walls of the headquarters for Retro Studios, and we can only be sure of one thing: it is big and it is awesome. Rumors of a sequel for their very successful rebirth of Donkey Kong have already traveled through the web, but Retro could be – for the first time in the company's history ever since Nintendo bought them – working on brand new intellectual property that will floor everybody. Their latest game has been out for a short amount of time, but that does not necessarily mean the company has nothing on the pipeline to reveal or to hype.
It has been said over and over again that if there is a game that could take advantage of the Wiimote's setup, that game is a new version of Luigi's Mansion. It turns out that the Wiimote has come, and it is about to be gone in less than a year so if Nintendo does plan to use that potential the time is now. The problem: every single word mentioned on this project has been the source of internet speculation by fans that play the role of game developers to try to figure out what could work and what couldn't work with Nintendo's hardware. Nintendo's bigwigs never hinted or realistically talked about Luigi's Mansion coming to the Wii.
The series that was born on the Super Nintendo, found a great home and turned into an epic racing game with the Nintendo 64, provided players with hours upon hours of fun with countless GBA versions and reached its peak with the glorious F-Zero GX for Gamecube has disappeared on this generation. Miyamoto seemed to be unhappy with the direction Sega took with the franchise nearly a decade ago, which contrasted heavily with the fanbase's opinion that F-Zero GX was one of the best games to grace Nintendo's previous generation system. Whether or not Miyamoto's dislike of F-Zero GX had any effect on the series not showing up on this generation, the truth is that not having an F-Zero game on a system would be a great loss for fans and for Nintendo, which would fail to take advantage of one of its most popular franchises through an entire generation.
After 1997 the Star Fox series has been arguably trying to reformulate itself just to miss the target by some yards; a needless search for a new gameplay format, since Star Fox 64 does pretty much everything right, and Nintendo has been refusing for fourteen years to simply reuse that formula with a few tweaks added, fresh visuals and new planets. Putting the Star Fox series back on its feet is extremely simple, and the motion controls could be an excellent option to control the famed airwings, especially with the Wii Motion Plus addition, Nintendo just has to give it a chance.
We know these projects exist somewhere out there, at least that is what we have been told, and their announcements seem like just a matter of time, even though we are not sure about their true nature. Here are the projects that wouldn't make anybody speechless in shock if they were introduced at E3.
Miyamoto has stated one million times that Nintendo is working on this project. It all started with a limited team that couldn't really move the project forward in a significant pace, but as Nintendo EAD's main projects were released it is safe to assume that the team grew bigger and that the game is already in a pretty good shape to be shown. What remains to be seen is whether or not Nintendo has shifted the project to their next upcoming system – the sound of Pikmin visuals in HD is extremely appealing to me, or if Pikmin 3 will be some sort of swam song for the Nintendo Wii alongside Zelda and Kirby. Regardless of which system it will land on, one thing is for sure, this project has to be shown to the world one day, and with each year the chances of it appearing grow bigger. Will 2011 finally be it?
Announced with pomp and circumstance the Vitality Sensor failed to impress. As Iwata left the stage a few awkward applauses came from the audience, but that was it. Iwata was right to state that they were mistaken in thinking it was ready to be shown; it was really far from that, but unless Nintendo has completely dropped the idea due to a very cold initial reception, the Vitality Sensor is still out there somewhere being worked on by very creative minds who will certainly come up with appealing uses of this strange device. Maybe it was integrated into Project Café and it will be a part of the new system's unique approach to gameplay, or maybe it has disappeared for good. This year's E3 seems to be the time to figure out the destiny of this device.
Nintendo will undoubtedly try to win the so-called hardcore audience with Project Café, and at this point in time simply presenting a powerful system with high-definition visuals will not be quite enough. The company will have to put their money where their mouth is and for the first time in the company's history go out there and convince third-party companies to develop for their system, or maybe even use some money to get exclusivity on one or two installments from huge franchises that gave the advantage to Microsoft and Sony over the Big N. There is no better welcome card than GTA V, as the franchise has become a major symbol of hardcore gaming, extra content and hours and hours of thrilling gameplay. GTA V would show millions of gamers unfaithful on Nintendo that on this upcoming generation they mean business.
Nobody has any clue whatsoever on what is the exact nature of this project, but earlier this yea Iwata let the world know that Pokémon games were being developed for the 3DS and for the Wii. Whether we will get another lame arena game that has the content you would expect from a less-than-half-finished title, or an actual 3-D adventure with the most addictive monsters in the world – a long time dream for pretty much all Pokémon fans – is yet to be known, but anything related to the Pokémon franchise always creates lots of expectations and carries with it a huge load of potential.
It is that wonderful time of the year again. No gaming news whatsoever will exist for the next month or so as all gaming companies are holding whatever they have for the big battle of Los Angeles that will happen in June, which means there is plenty of time to speculate and let your imagination free as you dream about what is possibly coming around the corner. Here is the first part of my 2011 E3 Predictions, beginning with what we are pretty sure is going to happen.
As Iwata will step onto the stage to start Nintendo's Conference, all rumors we have heard for the past months will start falling as the real mystery behind the codename "Project Café" will be revealed to a very eager audience. Will it be a completely new form of gaming, or will it just expand on motion controls? Will it feature enough extra content and internet prowess to compete against Sony and Microsoft? Will it be significantly more powerful than the systems we have nowadays in the market? Nintendo will be the first company to set foot on a new generation of gaming systems, and they will have the chance to set the tone of whatever is coming next. Regardless of the precise nature of Project Café, one thing is for sure: it will be quite surprising.
The Big 3DS Outburst
The fact that the Nintendo 3DS has been trailing in monthly sales to its predecessor is a big statement on how amazing and popular-appealing the Nintendo DS is, but it is also the financial materialization of the system's lacking starting lineup. Nintendo knows that the 3DS lacks a bunch of blockbuster titles in order for it to become a must-buy for gamers of all kinds and ages, and the company will not sit idle and let the system the way it is now. E3 is the big moment to let loose all big projects that are in line for reasonably close releases, and considering how much third-party support Nintendo bragged about when the 3DS was first unveiled one year ago, the Big N will have – aside from their own games – a lot of third-party big-name franchises to display on a epic video montage that will have gamers sitting in their couches shouting "I want that one" hundreds of times for the five minutes that the footage is bound to last.
While other Nintendo franchises like Star Fox and F-Zero seem to be oddly destined not to show up on this generation, Kirby will star on yet another game just a few months after the glorious Epic Yarn hit stores all over the world with its inventiveness and cuteness. The project that didn't make it into the Gamecube seems to have been reborn as one of Nintendo's greatest bets to end the Wii's lifecycle in a great manner. It will not be that big of a shock to see Kirby at E3, as footage from the game has already been released, but it is only natural that Iwata will use a few seconds of the presentation to at least mention a few extra details on the game and its release date on this side of the globe.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
If the next Zelda game had a very humble and discrete presentation on last year's E3, this is the time when it will grow big and explode in awesomeness in front of everybody who is in the audience. He unknown details of Skyward Sword, its history, game structure and – most importantly – release date, will all be revealed and it wouldn't shock me to see that Nintendo has made some big visual adjustments to the game ever since it was last shown. After all, when Miyamoto is at the helm, it is hard to tell how a project is going to behave during its entire developing cycle. Skyward Sword will be Nintendo's biggest display in terms of Wii software on this year's E3, as nothing could be possibly be bigger than the release of the first Zelda developed with the system's hardware in mind. Link opened the doors to the Wii with the Twilight Princess port, and it will likely be the one responsible for closing them as Project Café readies itself to hit the market.
Now here is a game I had never heard of until GabuEx wrote a review on it and got me interested in this amazing game. Ghost Trick is probably one of the last breaths of the Nintendo DS, something which is sad to admit, but something that makes me glad that a system that is on its way out can still welcome an idea as unique as this one and a game as well-produced as Ghost Trick. Now it is off to Okamiden for me, which is probably the last new game I will play for the system. It has been fun, Nintendo DS. Anyway, you know the drill, fell free to skip everything, but if you are interested in the game feel free to go through it all and recommend it.
Warning! Huge review approaches!
Among the many original concepts that found their home on the Nintendo DS, Ghost Trick is one of the most refreshing
In its waning months, most systems suffer from a nearly total lack of good releases, a drought caused by a safe attitude from game developers who witness as their target audience becomes so deeply interested in the system that is to come that they completely forget about the devices they have in hand. Naturally, it was to be expected that Nintendo DS – with its gorgeous third-party support and a hardware that inspires creativity - would be one of the few systems to defy that logic and keep a relatively steady flow of good releases pouring into the market. Out of all those games, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is absolutely the best, and unsatisfied with making this adventure be the most stellar of the system's closing games, Capcom went ahead and made it an easy contender to rank among the best ten games to ever grace Nintendo's most successful handheld machine. The Nintendo DS bows to leave center stage, and it does so in an extremely remarkable fashion.
Ghost Trick explores the world of the dead. As its body has been the recent victim of a murder, a confused spirit wakes up to notice that it has lost its memory. Unaware of what is happening and of its identity, the spirit witnesses yet another murder: a young detective by the name of Lynne is shot dead right in front of him, in a junkyard on a dark side of the city, by a sinister looking man. The detective falls and shocked by what he has just seen the spirit expresses his urge to try to help the young woman. He is then approached by another spirit, named Ray – who is appropriately possessing a lamp. Ray seems to now all about this ghost world where the dizzy spirit is now in, and so he goes on to tell the spirit the number of unique abilities he has acquired by being killed. Desperate to discover his identity, his story and why he was murdered the spirit decides to save the young detective from her seemingly inevitable death, upon hearing from Ray that she is his only lead into finding out more about his story.
The spirit learns that when a body has life removed from it, the spirit inside it can be contacted on the ghost world. Not only that, but if the body has just been recently dead he has the ability to travel back to four minutes before said body has been killed in order to watch the whole scene unfold only to then have the opportunity to save the person or animal from death. By saving someone our deceased hero will gain the ability to communicate with that living being on the ghost world, meaning that it will be able to ask that being questions and communicate effectively. Bodies, though, cannot be possessed by spirits; therefore in order to stop deaths from happening the only option is to take control of objects placed on the environment and control them in a way that will allow the fate of the person to be altered.
And that initially complicated explanation basically sums up the overall premise of Ghost Trick. Throughout the game you will be viewing the killing of a lot of people, some of which will die more than once during the adventure, and you will always have to be there in order to go back to four minutes before their death and avert their fate. Once the action is on the clock will start ticking away and you will be able to switch between the ghost world and living realm. On the living realm you will be able to trigger actions on the objects you have possessed, and with a right timing things will work out just great; while on the ghost world you will be moving from one object to another, while the action is completely frozen, and you think about what action should you take to stop a hidden gunman from firing a deadly shot or avoid a deadly trap to go off. Every puzzle has only one solution, but the solutions are so varied and unique, sometimes requiring thinking outside the box; and the ways on which people are killed are so distinct that the game never gets repetitive. Ghost Trick is an astounding blend of thrilling action with cold reasoning. It employs usual elements present in puzzle games in a never-seen-before scenario.
There is no reason to worry, though, as spirits can cheat death as many times as they feel like, so if you fail to save someone after going back in time, you can simply go back again to try to save them. And in that resides the only flaw of the game: players may end up seeing the same "cutscene" that tells the story of a character's death way too many times. Once you go back in time, you will see everything play out so you can understand what happens, only to them start trying to use your powers while the scene plays out for a second time. Those first two times aren't that tiresome, since they are somehow distinct experience, but it is from the third time on that things get a little bit frustrating. If you fail, or miss a unique chance to alter the occurrence the game will let you know and you will have to go back only to have that chance once again. It is true that developers tried to diminish that issue by making things go slightly faster on repeated plays through the death scenario, but the fact remains that it can get a little tiresome, in spite of how fun trying to stop someone from being killed is. However, that issue is basically an inborn characteristic of the game's extremely inventive concept.
Toying with time, watching the story of someone's death, saving people's lives and then being able to interact with them while they are on the living world, as a consequence creating very strong friendship bonds with some of the living is pretty awesome in itself, but that is not the best part of the game, that award goes to its story. As a game that stars a confused spirit with a serious memory problem, Ghost Trick is obviously a mystery, and it is a very well-written one. At first, you will meet and interact with a huge group of characters (some more intensively than the others) that seem to have no connection whatsoever with one another, but the looming feeling that a bigger plot wraps around all of the cast will keep players going for hours and hours until the system's battery is completely dead (no pun intended). And as our friend, the confused spirit, is told at the beginning of the game that he will cease to exist by dawn, the quest to uncover the truth behind his identity, his life and his death is an extremely urgent one.
The story is developed in a really good pace, with every chapter that you conclude and with each life that you save you become somehow closer to discovering what exactly is going on in this unusually eventful night; and at some other times saving someone will only lead to more questions and doubts, something that will certainly keep players always going for more. The game features a lot of stellar dialogue, the writing is so flawless that by the end of the game it will be hard to say goodbye to all characters you will encounter during the adventure, especially because the ending is a more than satisfactory way to finish this amazing quest. The will to play more and more is also helped by the game's perfect difficulty curve. Puzzles start as simple as they can be, and saving the first few lives feels like a simple tutorial, but as things progress extreme measures such as travelling to another place through the phone line (another power ghosts have) may become necessary to keep someone from dying by having an effect on the events from a distance.
Visually, Ghost Trick is a very charming game. The very well-drawn 2-D scenarios are mixed with stylish character models that have a good amount of detail. The production values of the game help all dramatic murder scenes to become even more dramatic due to the precise timing of the animations and the moody songs that are triggered right on cue to add some spice to the scenes. There are no voiced-over dialogues, but there are plenty of sound cues and sound effects to turn Ghost Trick into a really immersive experience.
Ghost Trick is one of the best games on the Nintendo DS, and that is saying a lot for system that has lived for six years and has one of the strongest lineup the gaming world has ever seen. Ghost Trick has a very original concept, and the solid writing behind it makes it happen in a remarkable way. There is not much to the game when it comes to replay value, but the regular adventure lasts for some good twelve hours and it is hard to forget all the remarkable moments this game will provide. Among many of the original concepts that found their home on the Nintendo DS, Ghost Trick is one of the most refreshing.
I guess this review concludes the list of Wii games I brought with me from my trip to the United States. Now, I honestly have nothing to play on the Wii for quite a while, something that might not be so terrible since I am not exactly planning on splurging with games this year. I am looking into my DS backlog now which as of today includes Ghost Trick, a game I had honestly never heard of until I decided to check the Top games released recently for the system. And Okamiden, a game I am really looking forward to playing. They shall be reviewed soon, or in the next month or so. Meanwhile, enjoy this review and if you make it to the end, recommend it.
Warning! Massive review approaching!
Goldeneye 007 becomes relevant to a whole new generation of gamers while keeping its roots intact
At the dawn of 3-D gaming Rare set on a quest to make a shooter work on a console. Before that time most first-person shooters were restricted to computers, and accurately controlling a game of that sort through a regular controller was nearly unimaginable. Not only did Rare succeed in crafting a precise way of guiding the world's most famous secret agent through his missions, but they also laid the foundations for how both single-player and multiplayer modes on games of that kind would have to be designed. Before Goldeneye 007, gamers who walked into a gaming store would mostly find platformers or adventure games; after Goldeneye 007, first-person shooters grew to become the industry's most popular genre and the category on which most of its huge-sellers fall into. Clearly, Goldeneye 007 has a huge historical value; besides, flawless memories of the game reside in the minds of many gamers who experienced the game close to its release date. As a consequence, the task of bringing the title back to life two generations later was an awfully risky task, since the final product would have to battle nostalgia in order to please old fans while updating its general structure in a way that would make it relevant in this new gaming scenario, all of that without harming the game's nearly holy aura. With a sigh of relief it is possible to say that Activision did it.
Being a film adaptation and all, the game kicks off in the very same way as the movie did, with 007 and 006 attempting to infiltrate a chemical weapons factory. Needless to say, what stats as a simple infiltration job will end up uncovering a world-wide conspiracy that will have the charming nonchalant agent going through every corner of the planet to get deeper and deeper into the plot. From the get go, players who have experienced the original game will notice how Activision worked in making the game fit in with the shiny new crowd of shooters. Aside from the naturally more gorgeous environments, the game has also become much more cinematic with eventual cutscenes – that will mostly require real-time actions – splitting the gameplay sections and sometimes developing the story within the mission. The scenarios on which the action takes place have also been greatly enhanced, levels that if played nowadays would seem rather short and claustrophobic have grew in proportions without losing their personality. Meaning that old-school gamers will easily recognize the locations, while not going through major déjŕ-vu moments that would ruin the novelty of the experience; on the other hand, newcomers who are trying to grasp why this game is so talked about will not see any wrinkles or rustiness on the game's structure.
The gameplay in Goldeneye 007 is quite straightforward, each single-player level features an assortment of missions, ranging from hacking information out of a computer to blowing stuff up, and such goals can be achieved into two basic ways: stealth or straight making yourself known to the enemy while shooting everybody. Clearly, players will not be able to keep advancing in secret through the entirety of a mission, but killing enemies while keeping a low profile is extremely vital since it avoids a large number of soldiers to gang up on you. Not to mention that it is quite a thrill to shoot an enemy with a silenced gun only to hear Bond's heartbeat grow stronger while nearby enemies decide whether or not they have seen anything. Not getting a rush out of it is simply impossible. Sadly, the AI recognition of whether players are still invisible to the enemy or not will rarely seem to be a bit off, as players will certainly be wondering how in the world they were seen by a certain soldier.
Whether or not that is fair, one thing is for sure: that is the time to pull out a fast noisy gun to really make some damage. Speaking of guns, the game presents a really nice variety of weapons that can be used by our beloved agent: pistols, shotguns, riffles, grenades, and etc. James has got quite an arsenal at his disposal. Taking advantage of the Wii's flexibility towards control schemes, the game presents two very distinct options that completely erase any complaints players may have about the controls. It is possible to play with the Wiimote and nunchuck, obviously making use of how intuitive and more engaging it is to use IR to aim at your enemies; and, to the more traditional gamer, the Gamecube controller as well as the clasic controller will give him the opportunity to use the dual-stick standard. Whichever control scheme suits you, one thing is for sure: both of them work amazingly well with great response times and their intuitive set-up is great for anyone who is starting in the world of first-person shooters.
Bond is not all about shooting, though, and as a spy he will have to eventually use his wits and extra abilities to get out of complicated situations. Those moments that add a little variety to the frantic action include driving vehicles (yes, the unforgettable section of driving a tank through the streets is still here) and solving the usual problem of getting from point A to point B either without being seen or because there is a dead-end in your path. Both of those slower moments do not require huge amounts of intellectual power, but they do a lot in breaking up the general pace of the game that would have naturally become monotonous in its continuous shooting if nothing was done. As it happened in the original game, Goldeneye 007 has a large set of difficulty levels to choose from on its single-player missions, something that – paired up with how amazingly designed the levels are – is bound to make players replay many of the missions over and over again trying to challenge themselves. And the great thing is, the missions go through slight alterations on the routes you have to go through and the goals you have to achieve as you move from one difficulty setting from another, therefore no mission is quite the same when played in different difficulty levels. It is replay value at its peak.
The original game was not mainly famous for its single-player, though, what really made it outstanding beyond comprehension was its multiplayer split-screen mode. Here the greatness remains; sure, the visual quality suffers a lot when the screen in divided in four, but the experience of competing with up to three other friends, right there on your living room is something that totally compensates that loss of visual prowess. There are plenty of levels, options and characters to add lots of variables to each new split-screen match, and after spending over 10 hours on the single-player mode gamers will spend at least twice that time having fun with the game's local multiplayer option. On top of that, there is always the online component that rewards players who spend a lot of time online with the unlocking of new items and guns. Online matches support up to eight players and offer an equally decent variety of options to customize a match.
In general, Goldeneye 007 does not tarnish the name of the original by any means. On the contrary, it makes that name relevant to a whole new generation of gamers. The graphics are fantastic for a Wii shooter, and it is amazing how the action does not slow down even though in some occasions there are tons of enemies on the screen, including helicopters, cars and big explosions. The scenarios give new depth and a new look to old stages. On the sound department, the voices that develop the story are done by excellent actors – including the marvelous Judi Dench, which by herself gives a lot of creativity to the job done by the amazing voice actors that give life to this story. The sound effects, with the game's great sound design, add a lot of thrill to the experiences of stealth and shooting.
There may be a few shortcomings along the way, but Goldeneye 007 is one of the finest first-person shooters on the system. It is a fact that the experience is not fully original, but that does not mean it is not enjoyable. The game was carefully constructed to make a splash with those who have experienced the original, and those who haven't and Activision did so in a very successful manner. Anyone who is looking for a thrilling shooting experience featuring great level-design and very flexible difficulty settings is more than recommended to give it a try. Goldeneye 007 has transcended two generations with its influence that got the first-person shooting fever started, and now it has reappeared to show that it can still be as relevant as it was fourteen years ago.
Actual Score: 8.7
"And I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference"
Never before in the history of electronic entertainment has having the technological edge over the competition been so sought after by the industry's giants. It should be noted that, in this case, technological edge does not necessarily mean the number of polygons a processor can place on the screen, or hoe many frames per second the average game for said platform is able to run on. The technological edge Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are going after for this upcoming generation is the quality and precision that their system's motion controls will – inevitably – present. Whether or not motion controls will gain terrain over the regular static control schemes remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, having the more appealing and fun-looking motion technology might be the difference between first and third place on the generation that is to come.
For gamers – at least those who are somehow sympathetic towards more interactive control setups, that perspective is rather exciting because this desperate struggle for cutting-edge technology will most possibly generate a considerable gap between the controls we have now and the controls we will have later. In fact, that tendency is so strong that the gaming audience should not be surprised if one of the three, or maybe even the three, main gaming companies decides to go beyond motions controllers in order to come up with their own unique ways to play games. Superficially speaking, the Wii was extremely successful because of the Wiimote, but on a deeper level the system achieved so much on the commercial department because it completely turned around the way through which games could be played; and the change on that interface allowed a huge number of people who were away from the gaming market due to the complicate controls, to get a little bit closer to it to give it a try. The Wiimote might have been to the gaming industry what the iPhone was for mobiles.
Possible new ways to interact with the virtual worlds we have always loved is more than enough to make everyone start their own E3 countdown in anticipation to what might be shown, but as Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft try to topple each other a huge shift in the third-party market could be about to occur. While slightly different in their approach, all videogames up to this point (with the exception of the Wii) have had the same interpretation over what gaming means, but what could happen by the next generation is that each of the three companies' research and development teams might come up with such a new take on gaming that an industry that has roughly followed on the same road through all these years might diverge into three wildly different and unknown paths. Once again, an open-minded gamer could not be happier about that outlook, but if you are leading are third-party company that possible diversion could turn out to be your main cause for concern at night as you rest your head on the pillow.
Third-parties mostly thrive on making games that will sell on all systems that are currently on the market. Aside from a few hardware specific implementations, the cost of such game is not directly related to the number of platforms it is being made to. But if the three companies decide to travel on three radically distinct roads, the scenario changes drastically. Gamers who invest in a certain hardware expect the titles they buy to fully take advantage of whatever features said gamer decided to settle for during the generation, as a consequence third-party companies will have to choose between blindly betting into a single platform; or handling the extra expenses that involve planning a game that is flexible enough so that it can take advantage of all technologies that exist in the market, and having enough cash to pay for the development of three unique versions of the same title.
The first option would change the gaming landscape, attracting third-parties would become more vital than ever for the electronic entertainment giants as winning over a big third-party could mean holding many relevant exclusive titles under their belt; and at the same time, on the buying end of the market, gamers would have to be even more thoughtful when deciding which console to purchase, if they do in fact limit themselves to a console per generation. While developing three versions of the same game would make development costs skyrocket, starting with the number of different professionals companies would have to hire in order to have staff with expertise in each one of the systems available in the market and ending with the equally unique marketing all of the games' versions would require.
It is hard to predict where we are heading to right now, but the fact is that as you read this Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are working to trump each other in a way that has never been seen before. They are giving some attention to how powerful their hardware will be, but chances are most of their resources are being aimed at overhauling the way on which games are played, because that key will end up opening up the chest with the golden coins of the casual market. While they look for the balance between interfaces that will please two disparate audiences and unlock amazing possibilities for all kinds of developers and games, they might be moving further and further away from the same road they have been travelling through during all these years. It is hard telling who will take the best road, and it will be even harder for third-parties to figure out which road to take when they come to the decision point. Fortunately for us, while they have to choose, we can just decide to be one traveler to take all of them and enjoy whatever possibilities said road may offer. As for third-parties, they may end up regretting the road not taken.
Here is yet another review. Sonic Colors was a lot of fun to play, but the sad part is that with it gone I only have Goldeneye 007 and Okamiden to play in the foreseeable future, which my turn out to be a good thing in the end because I am saving money for other things right now and I really don't plan to spend too much with gaming this year. Anyway, enjoy the review if you want to, and recommend it if you make it to the end and like it.
Warning! Huge review approaching!
It will not change the platforming world, but at this point showing there is hope for Sonic is much more important
Watching Sonic struggle through the 3-D gaming era was like watching an aging professional sports player go through the twilight of his career: you see things starting to fall apart to a point where everybody thinks there is no turning back, but a few believers still see some potential in there that could signal towards a sudden outburst of brilliancy. Differently from a sports player who has no protection against the unstoppable insatiable hunger of this overpowering force called time, Sonic can start things over easily with the same energy and impact of a brand new videogame character. All that it takes for that to happen is the springing of a bright concept inside the head of a game producer and the spreading of a whole lot of common sense on how to build a good Sonic platformer among the developers responsible for the game. Until this point, that recipe had always failed to come together at once, and so Sonic 3-D games were always lacking in one aspect or another. Sonic Colors does have its flaws, but what we see here is a balanced and extremely solid gaming experience, unlike anything the hedgehog has been able to deliver in many years.
If there is one thing that hasn't been improved with Sonic Colors is the unnecessary amount of attention put into the storyline. The game starts with a good quantity of storytelling, showing how Eggman has apparently turned into a good guy and decided to build an intergalactic theme park that is made up of several different planets all connected by a central hub. Sonic and Tails head to his theme park to investigate as the duo does not believe in the doctor's good intentions, unsurprisingly they learn from a strange alien creature – called a Wisp – that the planets who are linked to his theme park were actually their homes and that Eggman is kidnapping their entire race for unknown evil purposes. Things would have been fine if the storytelling stopped there as that is pretty much all you need to know on a platformer until you beat the final boss to watch a concluding cinema, but Sega decided to throw a few cutscenes in-between stages and worlds to further develop the plot. The cutscenes are plagued by extremely cheesy dialogues and predictable jokes, which contrast with the good level of the voice acting. Fortunately, they are all easy to skip with the touch of a button.
Sonic Colors features, in all of its levels, an exhilarating combination of 3D and 2.5D sections. Sega discovered the perfect formula that balances exciting fast-speed maneuvers through loops, slides, corkscrews and other extremely well-designed level layouts with slower segments that require timely jumps, planned out attacks and even some thinking outside the box. Sonic Colors and most of its many levels are the modern equivalent of the sidescrolling brilliancy that graced the early Sonic games with stages that branched everywhere and where all paths were filled with fun secrets and thrills. Sadly, while most stages have been given major attention others are completely lackluster in their design, featuring a huge gap in quality when compared to other stages. The gap is so big sometimes that it is hard to believe that the stages belong to the same game and were developed by the very same team. Another issue that harms some of the game's levels is that some traps are more frustrating than fun, and the fact that players may have to repeat them many times in order to finally be able to move on just aggravates the problem. Losing all lives and facing a game over screen just because of pure frustration over an annoying segment is not an uncommon occurrence.
What makes Sonic Colors stand out among other Sonic games that have been recently released and featured that blend of 3D and 2.5D, are the Wisps. Those little colorful aliens have joined Sonic to help him free their peers, and each one of them will give him a little bit of their power for a limited amount of time. Activated by the shaking of the Wiimote, the abilities coming from the Wisps add a lot of variety to the game, allowing developers to create a rage of obstacles that open up the gameplay considerably. Sonic can turn into a laser that bounces off of walls, gain the ability to float, drill through dirt, eat everything in his path, become a spiked ball that sticks to walls, blast through the air as a rocket and turn blue rings into blocks and vice versa. Another interesting thing about the Wisps is that some of them are only unlocked in the last worlds of the game, which means that by going back to the first stages of the game and replaying some of them players will be able to use their newly-acquired powers to explore new routes, improve their time and their rank. Those looking for full completion will have many reasons to smile, since replaying the levels is mostly a fun exercise.
Perhaps the biggest change that Sonic colors brings when compared to all of the games that preceded it is that from a gameplay standpoint, Sonic Colors is excellent. There are no camera hiccups whatsoever, players see everything they need to see all the time in an incredibly natural fashion that does not even require any kind of camera adjustment. The game also controls in a remarkably accurate manner, including all the transformations that could have potentially caused some instances of poorly worked on controls. In Sonic colors everything is fluid, seamless and beautiful, including the framerate that does not suffer at all even though the game displays dazzling extensive visuals that blast by the screen at incredibly high speeds.
Sonic Colors is not an extremely long game. Its six worlds have seven levels, including a boss battle, which means that one playthrough – without looking for all items contained in each stage – will take players less than five hours to complete. However, Sonic Colors has plenty of options for those looking to spend some extra time enjoying the title. Players can improve their rank in all the levels in an attempt to get the flawless S, collect all hidden red coins by exploring all possible paths within each stage in order to unlock cooperative challenges on the Sonic Simulator, or simply improve their score so that they can post it to an extremely competitive online leaderboard to see how they do against a whole world of addicted Sonic fans. It is a good thing most of the levels really motivate players to do it again due to their amazing quality.
Overall, Sonic Colors brings a lot of the magic of the old Sonic games to the 3D environment with some twists along the way that make this adventure rather original and remarkable. There are a few issues here and there, but nothing really tarnishes the fact that this is the greatest Sonic game to be released in over a decade. It has great visuals, fast exciting moments, slow segments that show a lot of care with the level design, a nice collection of songs to power up the fun and solid gameplay. Sonic Colors won't change anybody's concepts on great platformers, or set new bars for the genre, but at this point showing that people behind Sonic are finally getting in touch with reality and realizing what makes a great Sonic game is much more important than any earth-shattering productions.
Actual Score: 7.9
A major topic of discussion throughout this generation has been who will take the first step into a new battle for the home console gaming market given the disparity among the systems that nowadays compete for the top spot. Sony and Microsoft have clearly more powerful systems that have processing capacity to stay technologically relevant for a long while, but that have no hope whatsoever to catching up to the Nintendo Wii; a system whose already outdated technical power is contrasted by its successful sales. Nintendo has finally stepped up to answer that seemingly never-ending debate, the Japanese company seems to be willing to be the one to start up a new console war as not-so-solid information on their next system, currently dubbed Project Cafe, starts to pour out of the once apparently impossible to breach gates of their headquarters.
Nintendo's plan is to win over the crowd that they lost with the Nintendo Wii, and there is no better way to do that than to be first console to hit the market, but that alone will not do the company much good. The first measure that must be taken is to finally create an HD compatible system, something that will absolutely happen, since five years after the Wii's release there is no denying that HD technology has reached the homes of an enormous number of people, and what was brand new technology back then has risen to become the standard. Nintendo will also have to mesmerize gamers with gorgeous graphical displays, simply surpassing the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 will not be quite enough. Project Cafe will be part of a new generation, therefore unless Nintendo convinces gamers that what they have managed to create graphically will not be easily reached or overtaken by the competition, most gamers will just sit and wait for Microsoft and Sony to show their weapons for real comparison. Nintendo has lost a big part of their credit with some gamers, so it will take a lot to win them back when its two rivals haven't shown what their systems are capable of.
Realizing that videogame systems have morphed into something that is much closer to a computer is also key if the company wants to succeed in their quest for the hardcore market. That means going all out with extra features, something the 3DS itself already did quite well, and a very strong online system that is on par with Xbox Live and PSN. Nintendo should not dumb down things to try to appeal to a larger crowd. Mario and all of their other world-famous franchises have already reached all layers of the market and will be enough to sell their system to casual gamers, but without strong online play and lacking extra features their fame won't do much in convincing those who chose to go with the HD systems this generation to give Nintendo a chance.
Even if the system does feature all that, Nintendo still has a remaining issue to address: third-parties. Making a system that is technologically on par with whatever Sony and Microsoft are brewing will almost certainly guarantee that a steady flow of multiplatform titles will grace the system, but having the company's executives roll up their sleeves to go out there and negotiate exclusivity deals for big third-party series would also show a now skeptical hardcore audience that Nintendo means business, and for that Nintendo has to lower their belief that their unparalleled core of exclusive titles is enough. Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, F-Zero, Pikmin, Pokémon, Metroid and others are a guarantee of hours upon hours of fun, but truth is that there is a bigger amount of great franchises out there than what Nintendo has under their belt, because one company can't simply compete against a large number of talented third-party developers.
As for the extensively rumored controls, Nintendo should find a blend between the traditional joystick that is full of buttons, so that third-parties don't have too many complications in developing games for all three systems, while looking to once again innovate with excellent motion controls – that are from now on a requirement for every single system out there. This year's E3, and 2012 can't come any sooner.
I am not sure if anybody has noticed, but I haven't blogged much lately. Well, first of all this is my second to last semester at College so I am wrapping up some demanding subjects before I can have a really easygoing semester starting in August with only Physics II and my Graduation Project left to worry about. I have been out of the gaming news loop, but I will hopefully recover soon. I don't intend to buy a 3DS until at least the end of the year and that is because I am saving to buy a car - and by saving I mean not spending money with anything else that is costly and a 3DS here is around 800 dollars - and because the system doesn't have many great games as of now. Anyway, enjoy this review of Kirby's Epic Yarn if you want to, or run away from it as quickly as you can before it is too late.
Warning! Huge Review Approaching!
Kirby's Epic Yarn has set up a new very high bar for Kirby games that will follow
Kirby games have always been the source of somehow mixed reactions from even the most avid Nintendo fans; while some gamers will look at his adventures as a fantastic way to chill and have fun in between more demanding releases, others will state that the total lack of difficulty Kirby's games provide makes it hard to actually enjoy and focus on the game. Kirby's Epic Yarn does not come with the purpose of shattering the arguments of those who were never too entertained by Kirby, as the game is still as easy to finish as all its many predecessors, but even without attempting to change conceptions on the series, it manages – by being a game overly beautified by attention to detail – to build a solid reasoning as to why one should give the series another chance. Meanwhile, for those who have always had a soft heart for this equally soft series, Kirby's Epic Yarn is probably going to be the most delightful and cute piece of software they have ever played.
It all begins when Kirby is taking a peaceful stroll through the friendly – yet strangely constantly troubled – Dreamland. Taken over by his gluttony, Kirby attempts to eat an apparently harmless tomato that is suddenly revealed to be possessed by and evil sorcerer: Yin-Yarn. The sorcerer banishes Kirby into Patch Land, where the hero is turned into yarn, therefore making him lose his signature ability of sucking up whatever creature or object appears in front of him. When he hears somebody calling for help, Kirby transforms due to the magic powers of the tomato and saves Prince Fluff. Fluff is the prince of Patch Land, and he tells Kirby of how Yin-Yarn broke his land into seven different pieces that are now in need of being put together once again by seven missing pieces of magic yarn. Needless to say, Kirby sets out in an adventure to bring piece into this broken land.
If there is a Nintendo series that has always had a clear lean towards children that series has got to be Kirby, and that is made pretty blatant by some elements in Kirby's Epic Yarn. First of all, the minimalistic story – filled with silly lines - is developed through storybook-like cutscenes that are combined with a narration that in its intonation is extremely reminiscent of a father reading a nighttime story to a child. Besides, one of the key elements in Kirby's Epic Yarn is that dying is impossible, which basically means that a child could – with a big deal of trouble and fun – button-mash their way to the end of the game. However, those two details do not by any means imply that an adult or teenager would be unable to enjoy the game, because Kirby's Epic Yarn is a treat to anyone who values creativity and clever level-design in videogames, which is pretty much everybody that is willing to spend a part of their day completely devoted to electronic entertainment.
Since the game takes place in a world of Yarn all of its levels and characters are made of different kinds of fabric, yarn, needles, buttons and other objects of the same category and the most interesting part about that aspect of Kirby's Epic Yarn is that this world of fabric does not exclusively work as a beautiful artistic presentation for its stages; on the contrary, yarn is a completely integral part of the adventure and its qualities and properties are used as gameplay elements. For example, when Kirby enters a door, he is actually putting himself in between two layers of fabric; if the stage is apparently lacking a platform for further exploration there is probably a zipper around the area that can be unzipped to make transformations to the landscape and enemies' weak spot will always be a button. Those are just a few of the simplest examples of the ingenious level design that makes Kirby's Epic Yarn attractive to every kind of audience: the one looking for a cute kid-friendly title, and the one looking for a masterpiece of creative game development.
All of the stages are absolutely mesmerizing and the sheer variety of scenarios built out of fabric is dazzling: snow, lava, sand, water, forests and all of your average platformer backgrounds are completely reinvented in the form of yarn and with an attention to detail that manages to go beyond some of the most impressive 3-D games out there. The stages are also quite varied in their gameplay, and while part of the credit goes to the inventive traps and obstacles that the developers crafted the other part goes to the many Kirby transformations the game features. Kirby can turn into a rally racing car, a fire truck, a spaceship, a fish, a digging machine, a train, a dolphin and a few other quirky objects that gave designers a chance to expand on what the game could do, and that chance was very well explored. All of the transformation, just like Kirby himself, are extremely easy to maneuver and the controls are as intuitive as they can be since the low amount of buttons present on the Wiimote lets players discover with uncanny ease what button does what.
Kirby's Epic Yarn has a total of seven worlds, each featuring six stages and a boss. It is a reasonably good amount of stages, but truth be told they are not that big as each one of them can be completed in under three minutes if players decide to rush through them – something that is very easy to do given the fact that you can't possibly die in Kirby's Epic Yarn. However, the game provides great reasons to explore everything – which is the biggest part of the fun. All stages have three hidden treasures and thousands of beads. Treasures can be used to furnish Kirby's yarn house, while beads will influence the rank Kirby gets once he reaches the end of the stage. In fact, losing beads is the only punishment for being hit by an enemy or falling into a bottomless pit; therefore, players who are looking for full completion will spend much bigger amounts of time wandering around the stages; and will also put major effort in not getting hit by anything or performing a not-so-precise jump as one single hit could be the difference between a gold medal and a silver medal.
Getting gold medals on boss battles will also unlock some secret stages within the yarn worlds, stages that are absurdly fun as they usually focus exclusively on one of Kirby's transformations. The bosses in the game are extremely well-designed, and although they pose no threat to the invincible Kirby, their varied forms of attack and the different number of ways on which they can be hit will thrill all players if they aren't already as excited as possible with how ridiculously creative some boss battles are. Going for full completion isn't an almost impossible task like it is in some games, but it is not so easy to do either. So chances are a large portion of players who get into the title will give it a try, as a consequence spending more time on the stages and extending the gameplay time to over twelve hours of pure joy. Those twelve hours do not include the fun mini-games, which are an absolute must, that are unlocked as players progress and collect beads and other items.
Artistically speaking, Kirby's Epic Yarn is one of those few games that are on par with visual masterpieces like Okami with all of its details, colors and natural landscapes being adapted to the unique kind of stone developers decided to use to build their mesmerizing world. And while it is unable to create many technical fireworks due to its sidescrolling design the animations of characters, enemies and bosses amaze due to their unbelievable fluidity. Epic Yarn is a feast for both the eyes and ears, because its soundtrack is full of the simple yet catchy tunes one expects to find in a light-hearted platformer like this one.
In the end, Kirby's Epic Yarn is one of the greatest games one could find on the Wii. It is very suitable for both kids and adults, and friends and family can enjoy it together due to its fantastic cooperative mode where Kirby and Prince Fluff join forces to sew Patch Land back together. More experienced players will have a blast being blown away by the level design and care for detail as they try to reach full completion in this uplifting adventure. When it comes to Nintendo series, it is always hard to elect a brand new game as the best one in the series history due to the unmatchable legacy of their franchises, but Kirby's Epic Yarn joins all elements that make Kirby games so fun, while adding many new twists along the way, that it is kind of hard to play the cold hearted critic and not state that it has set up a new very high bar for Kirby games that will follow.
So here is yet another review. I am still going through all the games that I purchased when I was abroad, so I haven't had much time to catch up to the news – especially those involving the 3DS. I am now done with Epic Mickey and Kirby's Epic Yarn – yes, there is another review coming soon – so that leaves Goldeneye 007 and Sonic Colors left to be finished. I am not sure which one I am starting next, but I am leaning towards Sonic Colors. Anyway, feel free to skip that wall of text, but if you make it to the end, please recommend it!
Warning! Huge Review Approaching!
Epic Mickey's attitude in art, concept and direction is undermined by bland gameplay
The first few glances that the gaming world was able to take at Epic Mickey, revealed a game that was supposed to be the antonymous of everything that has the Disney name added to it. Instead of shinning splendid castles, the first art screens showed torn landscapes; where once happy characters existed, sad broken and troubled figures inhabited a disturbed world that mirrored the happiest place in the planet. That choice to go in an opposite direction in every sense of the term ended up reflecting positively in the overall result of the Epic Mickey experience. Mickey games of the 3-D era have always had a tendency to be shallow, unimaginative and too silly for their own good, Epic Mickey – on the other hand – takes itself seriously enough not to be pretentious, while delivering a one-of-a-kind experience for Wii owners. However, although Mickey moves towards a brighter horizon with this gloomy adventure, there are still a few number of stumbles along the way that prevent his most ambitious gaming outing yet to be called anything other than a good platforming game.
Epic Mickey begins with Yensid, the sorcerer from the Fantasia segment The Sorcerer's Apprentice, at his workshop working in a world that is a carbon copy of Walt's Disneyland. This world is created with the intent of serving as a home for the Disney characters that were forgotten with time. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, is the leader of this world, and all is in fine balance until Mickey Mouse – and his big curious nature – lead him to the sorcerer's workshop. When playing around with the brush that was used to engineer that world, Mickey ends up accidently creating an evil creature – the Blot – in his desperate attempt to destroy his devilish creation Mickey throws tons of thinner into the world, creating havoc and tearing apart the life of its inhabitants. Mickey returns frightened to his house, but a few months later he is surprised a mysterious shadowy figure breaks into his place in his sleep and drags him into the broken Wasteland. Mickey's task is to either fix the mess he caused, or extend the reach of the damage he did.
Epic Mickey is mainly a vault crowded with Disney references. For big and knowledgeable fans of the company, opening that vault is a sheer delight in its own. Some references are rather obscure and will fly over the heads of a big part of the audience, others will be as clear as water, the biggest example being that the Wasteland is set up pretty much like Disneyland with twisted versions of Fantasyland, New Orleans Square, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Toontown being organized around a crooked Sleeping Beauty castle. Being able to play and fight enemies in such a scenario is an amazing experience for Disney fans, but somebody who is looking simply for a great platformer to play will be able to look past all those fan services and notice that at its central structure Epic Mickey is a little bit rusty, as if a soft blowing of the wind were able to bring everything down.
In the game you play as Mickey armed with a brush and thinner. Using those contrasting tools Mickey will be presented with a series of goals by the inhabitants of the Wasteland that had their lives affected by the thinner disaster. The good thing about those missions is that all of them can be performed in two different manners: a friendly resolution, dubbed the Paint Path; or a not so honest solution, dubbed the Thinner Path. Choosing to solve problems more often in one way, instead of the other, will directly affect the final outcome of the game, which is surprisingly deep for a Mickey Mouse game. Besides, as an obvious consequence, the game gains huge replay value from the two ways in which all of the missions can be finished. Not to mention, all of the extra quests that the game will present along the way to those who are looking to fully complete the title by collecting all items it possibly has to offer such as: the addictive pins, film reels that unlock remarkable old Mickey Mouse cartoons, and paper sheets that reveal amazing pieces of art in the game's extra section. Epic Mickey can't, in any way, be finished in only one playthrough.
The creativity applied to the conception of the game's basic premise, however, is nowhere to be seen when you look at the way it has been structured. Most of Epic Mickey's missions consist of silly fetch quests. There aren't many moments in the game where players will be amazed by the ingenuity applied to the platforming sections, everything Epic Mickey offers in terms of level design has already been done, and in a much more inspired fashion. As a consequence, missions that should involve fun segments and obstacles stopping you from reaching a certain item, become a simple exercise in jumping and running through bland challenges that just don't go anywhere for players who are into the genre. All comes down to the combination of running, jumping, erasing a wall or painting a missing piece of the scenario to reveal a new possible path towards your final goal. The missions, which are many, get repetitive pretty fast and past a certain point in the game the only thing that will keep players going is the surprisingly intriguing and heart-warming story that is very well developed.
Another considerable problem Epic Mickey presents are its sidescrolling levels. They are always used to connect distinct 3-D areas of the Wasteland, and are good fun in your first playthrough them as they amazingly resemble the design of old-school Mickey cartoons. However, truth is, one time is more than enough to experience all they have to offer. Sadly, the game developers did not realize that, and as a terrible consequence whenever players have to transit from one area to another they are obliged to play the 2-D stages again, with no option whatsoever to skip it and just proceed to their destination. Those extra playthroughs add nothing at all to the game, they just make a possibly fun transition between scenarios into a slightly more boring activity.
The third major issue the game presents is the boring combat. Enemies can be found all across the Wasteland, and they are not exactly the most engaging foes around. Battling all enemies is just a matter of using enough ink to make them friendly, or enough thinner to make them disappear from the world. Therefore combats are simply a matter of running around while spraying the enemy in question with as much paint as possible. There isn't a moment of awe-inspiring creativity in the enemies design, and even though they have different forms of attack, defeating all of them requires pretty much the same method. The fact that game's camerawork is decent at best also doesn't help make the combats more compelling than they are, on the contrary it can turn them into frustrating ordeals.
Epic Mickey is not all about shortcomings, though. Despite all of its slip-ups the game is still a fun platformer to play, and the biggest part of the credit goes to the artistic department involved in the game's production. The artists behind the title were able to transform a real-life artwork of an environment – Disneyland – into a distinct and full of personality videogame scenario, crafting – therefore – a highly artistic version of a place that is already artistic in itself. The scenarios are wonderful in their thorn-apart state and they become even more overwhelming if you work on filling them up with ink and restoring a part of their original beauty and colors. Painting the environment and watching it fluidly transform is one of the most fun activities in the game, and it compels players to explore and play around with the scenarios around them for a little bit. The Wasteland is an extremely immersive location, and the solid story behind it turns it into a rather believable place too.
To go along with the great visuals, a masterpiece of a soundtrack was also crafted. The game is full of dark instrumental themes that perfectly convey the feeling of despair and sadness when one has upon walking into such broken environments. The tunes are not catchy – as you would expect from a platformer – they are actually atmospheric and very successful in bringing players closer to the action. That outstanding combination between sound and sight is the main factor that makes Epic Mickey a nice game to play. The game also features good voice acting into some of its key cutscenes, the ones who don't possess that mark make up for that with extremely high artistic values in their presentation.
To sum things up, Epic Mickey is certainly a mixed bag. The creativity and attention to detail that are seen in the game's visuals and soundtrack are in a much higher level than the craftiness applied to create the stages and challenges that keep the game rolling. For a 3-D Mickey game, Epic Mickey is without a doubt much better than average, but when compared with some of its generation's biggest platformers the game just falls short from impressing. Still, anyone who has a love for the good things Disney has produced during the years will be delighted to know that the Disney license was so well-used by the game's developers throughout the adventure. Epic Mickey is definitely not the brightest platformer out there, but its interesting concept and unique attitude make up for a nice package.
I haven't been posting a lot of blogs lately, and the reasons behind that is that I am kind of out of the loop when it comes to videogame news, I have been busy with College and I am still going back into my regular rhythm after a long trip – not only here in Gamespot, but in life as general. I have finished Donkey Kong Country Returns a while ago, but I only reviewed it today due to laziness. I am about to finish Epic Mickey by now, which means another review is in order real soon. For now, enjoy my first review in almost five months, or just run away from its hugeness. I hope I haven't lost my touch for doing this.
Warning! Huge review approaching!
It astounds with sheer design brilliancy, and as far as 2-D platformers go, that is the main recipe for success
Donkey Kong was undeniably one of Nintendo's strongest and most popular characters under Nintendo's belt during the time Rare was still an integral part of the Japanese giant. The company was able to turn the simian from a mindless villain that was closer to King Kong than an actual hero, into one of the most charismatic characters in the videogame industry, and the British team of developers did so by letting out a nice flow of remarkable platformers that put the Kong family on center stage. The Donkey Kong Country series is still dearly remember to this day, which is quite a feat considering that its peak was reached in a time where pretty much all big console-sellers around the market were also platformers, and its three-year year run of three games spawned what is possibly the greatest sidescrolling platformer of all time: Diddy's Kong Quest. After a long hiatus where Donkey Kong was thrown in a bunch of low-quality titles, Donkey and Diddy are back to their natural environment, and they have a lot to live up to, but Retro Studios makes it seem ridiculously easy to produce a remarkable 2-D platformer on this day and age.
In Donkey Kong Country Returns, unsurprisingly, the Kong family faces a huge problem when their treasured and tasty banana hoard is stolen. While the crime remains the same, the culprit has changed its nature, for the humorous crew of Kremlings has apparently gotten tired of having themselves kicked out of DK Isles in a remarkable fashion. Now, the villain is the Tiki Tak Tribe, a group of evil Tikis that use their powers to hypnotize the islands animals and give them weird powers to stop Donkey Kong from achieving his ultimate goal. While the fact that you are fighting regular animals, as opposed to wacky crocodiles with ridiculously amusing behaviors, is a tad disappointing at first, in the end players will grow used to the face of their new enemy.
Like your usual Donkey Kong Country game, this title is broken into eight distinct worlds, each one with a varying number of levels between six and nine and a boss at the end. The worlds range from the usual Donkey Kong Jungle to the fiery fury of a volcano, going through a beach, a factory and other interesting scenarios. One would be right to point out that these scenarios have been used to death in every single paltformer that has come out ever since Super Mario Bros. amazed the world back in 1985, but what Retro Studios has been able to construct within each one of those clichéd environments is absolutely out of this world.
The level design in Donkey Kong Country Returns is constantly mesmerizing. There isn't a single stage in the entire game that feels like it has been quickly slapped together, and there isn't one obstacle that hasn't been planned carefully. All elements that made the series so fun back in the day are back in full force: animal buddies, blasting barrels, swinging vines and many others. In fact, Retro is so aware of the series legacy that the company has gone out of their way to create a whole world that is mostly filled with the remarkable mine cart stages, and although that may sound like it can get repetitive in the long run, it doesn't; simply because the minds at Retro Studios have too much creativity, and that talent has poured into the inventiveness of each and every single gimmick that is used on the stages. Donkey Kong Country Returns astounds with sheer design brilliancy, and as far as 2-D platformers go, that is the biggest item required for success.
Players will control the duo of Diddy Kong and Donkey Kong; however, the former can't be controlled individually like it happened in the original game of the series. Each monkey has a total of two hearts, meaning that when players have both Kongs they can take up to four hits before finding their demise. However, it is really important to keep that number at three or above, hence keeping Diddy Kong, because his jetpack allows for a little bit of room for mistakes when performing many of the dangerously precise jumps you will need to make throughout the adventure. Having a total of four health points, as opposed to three on the other games, sounds like one of the many breaks companies have been giving gamers on the generally easy modern games, but in this case four hearts is a very well-calculated margin because Donkey Kong Country returns is genuinely hard.
That high level of challenge never becomes overly frustrating, though. Donkey Kong Country Returns is the good kind of challenging, because as many times as players may fall victim to the same traps over and over again, they will never feel overwhelmed by anger or any negative feeling of the sort. Donkey Kong Country Returns is constantly motivating you to keep on going and not to give up, simply because it is one of the most fun and well-designed games you could find on the Nintendo Wii and the combination of its very well-placed checkpoints with the good amount of lives the game will give you, never allows players to lose too much of the progress they have made in a level or in a world. Donkey Kong Country Returns is certainly one of the most challenging games the Wii has to offer, and it achieves that level of challenge without being painful.
The eight worlds and many stages scattered around DK Isles are sure to give you many hours of enjoyment, but for those who don't feel satisfied they have won the battle through the game's already difficult regular adventure, Donkey Kong Country Returns brings a lot of extra things to do. Each stage features the already famous K-O-N-G letters, and this time around collecting them does not add a new life balloon to your count, instead they serve as collectibles that count towards full completion. Gathering all of the letters is a lot of fun, as some of them will require players to do extra insane acrobatics with equally insane timing in order to be grabbed. Besides, all stages have a set number of puzzle pieces that can be found either hidden around the level, or in bonus mini-games whose entrances are also hidden within the stages. The sad part is that those bonus mini-games are extremely repetitive as a group of about five or six of them are repeated throughout the game, contrasting with the varied fun bonus mini-games of the other three games of the series.
All worlds also have a secret stage that can be unlocked by buying a key on Cranky's shop. Although finding them is easy, beating them is certainly not that simple. Those stages are designed to beat down the most skilled platform gamers in the planet, and they require a lot of playthroughs before all their details can be learned so that players can finally make it to the end. Being skilled will not be enough, as patience will also be vital to survive the many ordeals Retro Studios has set up. The prize awaiting for those who conquer all of those stages is an extra secret stage that when completed unlocks a mirror mode, allowing for players to reach a 200% completion in the game.
The game is not without its flaws, though. While graphically it is a beautiful masterpiece with great multi-layered environments and fantastic character models; in terms of sound the game leaves a lot to be desired, especially because it is naturally put side by side with its three older brothers, and in terms of music that is very tough competition. The most remarkable tunes of this title are remixed songs that felt slightly more compelling in their original form, while the newly composed tunes fail to inspire and to fit in with the Donkey Kong feeling. The second, and the last, of the game's biggest problems are the uninspired bosses. With Metroid Prime, Retro Studios was able to create the most amazing boss battles of a generation, but here in Donkey Kong Country Returns the bosses aren't really that unforgettable; on the contrary, the creativity employed in their creation strongly pales in comparison to the brilliancy of the levels that precede them.
Overall, Donkey Kong Country Returns is very close to being the best game in the series, and that is saying a lot. Its flaws are significant, but they are a mere product of the high standards a game of this caliber will be put against. The title has a lengthy challenging single-player mode, a fun cooperative multiplayer gameplay, great extras and a lot of value, making it one of the best platformers of the generation and an absolute must-buy for all Wii owners.