Category Archives: Wii U

Disney Infinity 3.0 Review

Disney Infinity 3.0 ReviewDisney Infinity 3.0 (Available on PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Avalanche Software
Release Date: August 28th, 2015

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Disney Infinity 3.0 E10+, or everyone over ten years old. They only site cartoon violence as a potential hazard, and to be honest, that’s absolutely right. Even young kids under 10 shouldn’t have much trouble with the game in terms of content, more so they’ll need an adult’s help in setting up the game and creating some of the content.

Plays Like: If you’ve played any of the Infinity games you should know the drill by now. You purchase the starter set that includes a few figures and the power base, plus a play set. That activates a certain amount of content on the disc. Typically it unlocks one story mode for the included characters. You also get the toy box which is where you can use every figure from across all three games. It’s where you build levels, customize your house and much, much more. If you want to experience more stories or figures, those are all sold separately. The non-user generated content plays out like any other children’s action game where you have limited moves, and make your way through linear stages.

Review Basis: Disney Interactive sent us a review copy for the PlayStation 4.

Disney Infinity has been my go-to series for the toy-to-game genre. Skylanders may have started the trend, and Nintendo is sure making a mint off those Amiibos, but it’s Disney Infinity that seems to have struck the perfect balance between a limited amount of figures, and a very entertaining videogame. This is by far the best version yet, and considering how many figures have been released across all three games, you sure have a lot of options for your toy box.

DI3_2The Great:

Disney characters, check, Marvel characters, double check, and now Star Wars characters, triple check! That is an incredible wealth of content, and for the very first time all three universes have come together in one package. There is something here for children of all ages. Whether you want to spend countless hours in the intimidating, but ultimately enjoyable toy box mode where you can use any figure you’ve collected over the years in a mix mash of games, genres, or anything else your brain can think of; or work your way through one of the many play sets, Disney Infinity 3.0 is a sheer delight. It’s the incredible wealth of content that is by far the single best feature of this game.

DI3_4The Good:

  • This year’s starter set features Ahsoka and Anakin figures, and the play set Twilight of the Republic, which is hands down the absolute best play set included in any of the previous starter sets. While you may note that’s one figure less than the previous starter sets, keep in mind that the price has been lowered. It’s also possible to use the power base from Disney Infinity 2.0 and simply download the game for an even greater cost reduction. That way you can simply pick-up the figures individually.
  • As always the build quality of the figures is top notch. That classic cartoony look the toys have fits the Star Wars universe perfectly. I will admit that excited children might snap off those thin lightsabers though, so parents be warned.
  • Combat is tighter and more refined than ever before. Experienced players will be able to time their button presses to string together a wide assortment of awesome looking combos, but for the kids, button mashing also leads to some rather awesome results. This is a perfect balance for seasoned and newbie players alike.

DI3_1+ The Star Wars property is respected and put to good use. You can explore four planets, take part in space dog fights, and much more. I was surprised by just how fantastic the overall gameplay was.

  • The toy box mode is now easier than ever before. It’s incredible what you can do in this mode, make a Star Wars-inspired Mario Kart, or anything else you can dream of. Previously actually making these mini-games was daunting, but now, thanks to the new tools, I found it much easier to whip up something enjoyable. That said, it is still quite overwhelming at first glance. If building your own levels and games isn’t your thing, that’s ok, you can easily play through the hundreds of user created levels.
  • The audio visual presentation is absolutely top notch. This feels, looks, and sounds like a Star Wars game. The developers didn’t skip a beat, and it shows.

DI3_3The So-So:

+/- Every year it’s the same thing, but ultimately your enjoyment of Disney Infinity 3.0 will greatly depend on how much money you throw at it. If you purchase the additional characters and play sets, naturally you’ll have a much deeper experience than someone who only purchases the starter set. I would strongly recommend if you’re going to buy this for children, pick up at least one or two additional figures and another play set.

DI3_5The Lowdown:

Disney Infinity 3.0 is a fantastic game. While it may appear to be a more expensive affair this time around because of the reduced figure count, you’re actually getting more bang for your buck. While I absolutely loved last year’s iteration, this year’s blows it out of the water. The Star Wars property is handled with respect and admiration and it shows. This is an absolute gem for kids, so if you have some, I strongly recommend you put this bad boy under the Christmas tree.

Final Score: 8.5/10

Citizens of Earth Review

medium_coverCitizens of Earth (Available on PC, PS4, PS Vita, 3DS, and Wii U)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Eden Industries
Release Date: January 20th, 2015

Parent Talk: Citizens of Earth has been rated E10+ for everyone ten and up. It features animated violence, tobacco references, and simulated gambling. If you’ve ever played Earthbound you know what to expect here. The game’s world is animated with cartoony flare, and the setting is a modern day, over the top city. It’s very goofy, which means that even players who are ten shouldn’t have a problem with any of the material showcased in the game.

Plays Like: At first glance one might be inclined to say this is the next entry in the Earthbound series. Citizens of Earth features many elements inspired by that classic SNES game, however it has a few other elements that separate it. Gameplay is broken down into typical RPG fair, where you move around an overworld, get new quests by talking to people you see, complete quests to get more members on your team, and battles take place via turn-based gameplay.

Review Basis: Finished the PC version of the game, which Atlus sent us.

Earthbound is considered a lost classic. For whatever reason the game bombed upon its original release, however it has developed a massive cult following since then. There was something special about it, the modern setting, the charm and awesome characters were also so unlike everything else on the market. Citizens of Earth tries so desperately to be the unofficial sequel, but never manages to capture the same spirits.

COE1The Great:

If there’s one elements that I absolutely loved with Citizens of Earth it has to be the presentation. I loved how all the characters looked, and the game’s setting. This often felt like a modern day Earthbound. The art style is beautiful and also very humorous. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion. The voice acting of the character is also another area that I really enjoyed because each has their own unique charm to them.

The Good:

  • The story can also be quite humorous at times. You take on the role of…you. You’ve just become the Vice President of the World, and after a day on the job you’re tired and decide to go on a much deserved vacation. The game picks up with you waking up at your mother’s house, and as soon as you leave said house you see protestors everywhere. Eventually the plot takes a turn to the bizarre with some strange brewed coffee affecting the citizens, and well, there’s much more going on behind the scenes. Sadly the story does get a little jumbled with the abundant amount of side-quests thrown in.
  • Characters galore. There are over a dozen recruits you can find in the game, and each one has their own unique ability. Your brother can allow you to acquire items from anywhere, a mascot character can change the game’s difficulty on the fly, and so on. These abilities also transfer over into battle, where your mother might be able to heal an ally, and another character might be able to protect other characters. Mixing and matching your team is a powerful strategy to ensure you’re always ready for whatever lies ahead.

COE2The So-So:

+/- Most of the game’s objectives are a little too vague for their own good. I understand this was done to be humorous, but in the end it means you have to play through the game in a few sittings or you might have trouble remembering exactly what it was you were supposed to do. A very simple case from the beginning of the game is you try and recruit the conspiracy guy. He requires three pieces of evidence, but you’re not told what the evidence is. The log simply tells you to ‘Collect the Evidence’. What does that mean? It’s simple enough if you play right away, and explore, but if you put the game down for any lengthy period of time you may wonder what it is you’re supposed to do next. This issue pops up constantly throughout the game.

+/- The battle system starts off quite enjoyable, but after a while it becomes tiresome and repetitive. The concept works like this. Every attack either gains or depletes an energy orb. There are also items you can use to restore energy, as you would imagine. That sounds simple enough right, well good because it is. The thing is that after a while you find yourself always cycling through the exact same attacks. You’ll use two physical attacks to build energy, one powerful attack which depletes said energy, another to heal your party, etc. Repeat this countless times and there you have it. Over time it almost feels like you’re not playing at all. Thankfully the auto-defeat feature from Earthbound is featured here so when you visit older areas with weaker enemies you can easily navigate the area without having to defeat countless enemies.

The Bad:

  • At first you won’t mind all the new characters being added to the game, but in time you start to realize that none of these characters has any soul. There’s just nothing special about them. I really enjoyed the banter from a handful, but the rest felt almost like cut and paste clichés. I would have much rather had a solid group of say six or eight characters, but with more fleshed out and humorous storylines than what we got.

COE3The Lowdown:

I think with some tweaking this could have been something special. It’s not a bad game by any means, it’s just that it needed some more time in the oven and the battle system needed some more diversity. I also would have really loved to have seen less characters, but more of a focused backstory on some of these wacky people. As is right now, Citizens of Earth is a decent game that might tickle your fancy if you’ve enjoyed seeing the footage in the video review.

Final Score: 6.5/10

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Review

SSBSuper Smash Bros. for Wii U (Available exclusively on Wii U)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 8
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Sora Ltd, Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: November 21st, 2014

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Super Smash Bros. for Wii U E10+ for everyone ten and up. The game features cartoon violence, and that’s about it. It’s a bright, colorful, and fun fighter. There are no realistic depictions violence in the traditional sense. Here you can bash your opponents with a giant mallet, you can throw them off a massive arena, or you can blast them with a wide assortment of wacky power-ups. Imagine if Super Mario Bros., Zelda, and all the other classic Nintendo franchises got together and asked one simple question, which one of us is the best fighter out there? That’s what you can expect from this wonderful game.

Plays Like: Normally I would say it plays like all the other Smash Bros. games, but the truth is that I have virtually no experience with the series outside the 3DS version. So what I will say is that the game features a wide assortment of side modes, a robust single player offering, great Amiibo integration, and a kick ass online mode. The core gameplay requires you to throw your opponent off the screen, by any means necessary.

Review Basis: I played all the various modes available, spent far too much time training Amiibo characters, and got my butt handed to me in more online matches than I would care to admit. I am by no means a master player, but I will proudly say that I’ve come to appreciate the series in a whole new way thanks to this excellent fighter.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a fantastic game that features a wealth of side modes, Amiibo integration, and great single and multiplayer modes. If you have to purchase one Wii U game this holiday season, this is the one you want to pick up. There are so many different modes available that it often feels like you’re purchasing more than one game. Couple that with the great Amiibo figures and you could very well spend the next year with no other game than this one. The fighting system in place is great, and over time you can master each characters’ move set, and attain pitch perfect timing.

SSB4The Great:

Value. That’s the one word that comes to mind when I look back at all the different gameplay modes available. From the classic mode, to the online ranked mode, and everything in-between there is something here for literally everyone. There are now 8-player battles, there’s a cool spin on Mario Party, and then there’s the Smash mode where most of you will be spending the bulk of your time. That’s where you and your friends can learn to master each of the dozens of characters available. When you combine all of these elements together, it’s incredible just how much value there is in this one game.

SSB2The Good:

  • The Perfect example of easy to pick-up and play, but tough to master. Each character has the exact same button commands. Don’t expect circular fireball moves here, no instead the moves are incredibly simplistic. Press a direction and a button, and that’s it. You have two primary attacks, a block and a grapple. That’s all she wrote. What changes with each character are their unique abilities. While up and A might be an uppercut for one character, it might be something completely different for another, perhaps an up-strike for Link, or a cape sweep for Mario. Then there are projectile-based characters which use the same basic commands, but control completely different than everyone else. The timing is also slightly different for each character. What ends up happening is, you’ll find a character you enjoy using, and spend the next few weeks mastering all their finer details, and that’s what makes this game so bloody special.
  • Respecting your heritage. One of the absolute best aspects of Smash for Wii U is how the game pays homage to all the franchises that came before it. From Duck Hunt to Sonic the Hedgehog every stage, theme song, bonus item, and character move set is inspired by some legendary game, series, or franchise. I absolutely loved that. It was amazing to hear so many classic songs with modern twists to them. If you’ve been playing on Nintendo-made consoles since you were little, this is going to tickle your nostalgia bone.

  • Options galore. First off, you can play the game any way you want. From using the GameCube controller with the newly released adapter, the GamePad or the Wii U Classic Controller, the choice is yours. Then there’s the fights themselves. Do you go one-on-one with items off to test your skill, or do you go item on and 8-players for complete chaos? I adored how every aspect of the game has tons of choices available for you to tweak.

  • Event, classic, special orders, All-Star, and the board-game like Smash Tour all offer up their unique takes on the classic action. Some give you specific challenges, whereas others drop random elements into the fights and have you duke it out. Whatever you decide to play, each gameplay mode offers fun in short bursts. If you want to play for hours on end, odds are you’ll find yourself going between the different gameplay modes, while spending the bulk of your time refining your skills online.

  • Speaking of online, there are a nice set of online modes. From ranked modes that keep tally on your wins and losses, to the free-for-all, you can select between one-on-one matches, team matches, and more. The awesome eight-player matches are local only though, which is a bit unfortunate because those matches are completely insane.

  • Beautiful at 60 fps. This is a technical showpiece for the Wii U. During all of the different gameplay modes and matches I played, I never noticed any dip in the framerate. Keep in mind it’s entirely possible that I haven’t experienced every single aspect of the game, and I actually believe I haven’t as there’s just so much. That said, the attention to detail in the environments, and the stunning framerate make this a silky smooth experience you’ll want to come back to time and time again.

  • The audio is also fantastic. While some of these music scores might be recycled from previous games, they all sound amazing. I absolutely loved going to each new stage to hear familiar tunes from the Zelda franchise. That’s my favorite after all, so it holds a special place in my heart. The others were equally as impressive though.

  • I didn’t expect to enjoy the Amiibo integration as much as I did. From spending time to level my figures to 50, to using them against my opponents, I’d say the Amiibo figures are going to sell quite well. I love that I can bring them over to a friend’s house and tackle his team with mine. It’s excellent. There are several ways you can train and customize your Amiibo fighters too, which adds some much needed depth to an otherwise simple concept.

SSB3The So-So:

+/- The arena builder isn’t as intuitive as it should be for being on a system with a touch screen controller. Simple omissions like not being able to create a platform and then move it without having to erase and start over are major oversights. I also found the whole system to be overly cumbersome. It’s a shame too because that really could have been a huge time sink for some, but now I see it being more of a novelty.

+/- I played quite a few matches online and if I knew who I was playing the matches were always spot-on with no lag, however if I played random matches they were a hit and miss. Most, I’d say around 85% were fantastic, however every now and then I would disconnect. Since there is no way to see the connection strength of your opponents, I can foresee this being a problem moving forward. The fact most of the game runs smoothly is a great sign, but hopefully some tweaks will be made to inch that number closer to 100%.

SSB1The Bad:

  • I find it a little silly that in 2014 I still have to text a friend to tell him I want to play a game with him online, since there’s no notification system. Once we’re both online everything else is a breeze, and works perfectly, but the fact I can’t just send an invite and he gets it in whatever game he happens to be playing is kind of sad.

The Lowdown:

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a fantastic game, probably the best currently available on the Wii U considering all the value you get in this one package. Couple that with the prospect of potential downloadable content later on, Amiibo integration, and the robust gameplay modes already available and you can see why the Wii U should have a very successful holiday season. If you own a Wii U, this is one game you should have in your system as of right now, and if you don’t own a Wii U, what the heck are you waiting for? With Wind Waker HD, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World, Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, and now this, plus the awesome Virtual Console offerings, there is something here for gamers of all ages.

Final Score: 9.6/10

Hyrule Warriors Review

Hyrule WarriorsHyrule Warriors (Available exclusively on Wii U)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Action
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Omega Force, Team Ninja
Release Date: September 26th, 2014

Parent Talk: Hyrule Warriors has been rated T for teen by the ESRB. That makes Hyrule Warriors only the second Zelda game of all time to be rated T, the other being Twilight Princess. The reason why it was rated T is because of fantasy violence and suggestive themes. The suggestive themes are mainly some of the character’s provocative costumes, and the violence should be obvious. You play as any number of classic Zelda characters and take out hordes of enemies with powerful weapons. There’s no blood or gore whatsoever though, so even kids could get a lot of enjoyment out of this one, especially if they’re fans of the series.

Plays Like: Have you ever played a game in the long-running Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors series? If you, know what you’re getting here, well…for the most part. The game mashes the Dynasty Warriors’ series tactic and time management gameplay with Zelda’s objective-based gameplay. It also acts as the very best fan service I have ever played. You move around a large map trying to secure key forts, take out legendary Zelda bosses, and defeat legions of classic enemies from every single game in the Legend of Zelda franchise. This is a love letter to the fans.

Review Basis: Finished the Legend mode, and played through the Adventure mode.

The Dynasty Warriors series has spawned a number of spin-offs over the years including one based on Gundam, Fist of the North Star, and One Piece. While all great fan services in their own right, as a diehard Zelda fan, I have never played something like this before. It perfectly balances the classic Warriors gameplay of properly securing your position, and making the most of the little time you have available with Zelda’s objective-based gameplay, such as getting a new weapon to access a new area or take out a boss. It’s a beautiful looking game too, featuring the most detailed designs ever seen for these legendary characters, and from the moment the intro screen plays you know you’re not just playing some cheap mash-up between two franchises, you’re actually playing the perfect combination of two excellent series. Warriors fans will appreciate the amount of polish that went into the development of the game, and Zelda fans will adore all the little nods to their beloved franchise. I never expected this experiment would turn out to be as awesome as it did.

She's in deep thought.
She’s in deep thought.

The Great:

Do I really have to say this? The fan service is hands-down the best part of the game. From the rocking remix of the classic Zelda theme, to the 13 playable characters it’s all just awesome. Have you ever wanted to play as the warrior version of Impa? How about actually taking part in one of the epic wars mentioned in many of the previous games? Everything is possible here. Battles take part in some of the most memorable dungeons and areas from key games in the franchise and the characters you get to play as are nothing short of incredible. From Midna to Ganondorf himself, no characters are off-limits. I also really loved all the little touches like how all the characters hold treasure they find in chests above their heads, all the classic sound effects, and the remixed tunes of epic themes from years ago. This is the ultimate fan service and I really couldn’t imagine anything better.

Link is ready for anything!
Link is ready for anything!

The Good:

  • Keeping the choices from the Dynasty Warriors games is excellent. You’re constantly challenged with making choices. Do you hold the current fort you’re fighting in, or do you go and try and locate the Gold Skulltula that just popped because you killed 1,000 enemies? How about the mid-boss that just dropped in the middle of the filed; they usually drop tons of rupees when they die. All these choices coupled with the more traditional objective-based gameplay of the Zelda series, such as locating a powerful weapon inside a hidden cave, or downing King Dodongo, help bridge the gap between the two franchises.
  • There are currently 13 playable characters, some of which I’ve already mentioned, and the promise of more to come. This helps keep the action fresh as each character has their own unique skills and abilities. From Princess Zelda, to Sheik, and even Darunia, the assortment of characters is brilliant. Each character also has an elemental affinity, which means certain characters will be more useful on certain stages, and this is great because it almost forces you to try new characters.
  • There’s a surprisingly deep crafting system in place where you can enhance your characters’ with powerful new combos, or skills. It’s excellent making a bottle with a potion, or unlocking some new skill for one of your favorite playable characters. I also loved being able to use rupees to level up characters that I didn’t use in a while. It prevented me from having to grind out levels on characters I wanted to use in the next mission. I did find myself going back to earlier missions to farm crafting supplies though, but that was a personal choice, not one the game forced upon you.
  • Boss fights might not be too challenging, but they round out the package perfectly. From the minute you see King Dodongo on the first mission, to Gohma, and the Imprisoned One, Hyrule Warriors keeps surprising you. While the mechanics used to defeat boss characters may be somewhat disappointing, I still found it awesome to have all these characters in the same game.
  • Adventure mode is a true delight. Not only does it perfectly recreated the 2D map from the very first Legend of Zelda, but each ‘screen’ is actually a battle area. You move around the map, selecting an area you’d like to jump into. From there the action reverts to standard Hyrule Warriors gameplay, but gives you specific mission parameters to meet. There are plenty of secrets and goodies to be found in both Legend and Adventure mode, and I loved how the two were so perfectly connected. You might find new weapons, new characters, heart pieces, and more and everything you do in one mode transfers to the next. It’s brilliant!
  • Off-screen gameplay is fantastic, as always. The footage you’re watching in the video review was made possible because of off-screen mode. Without it, this review would have been delayed for quite some time.
  • Hyrule Warriors is the nicest looking Zelda game ever, at least from a technical perspective. Characters look incredible, and the amount of enemies on the screen at once is amazing. I didn’t experience slow-down in the single player campaign, and the nods to the previous Zelda games are literally everywhere. While the level design isn’t anywhere near as complex as in traditional Zelda games, it really doesn’t matter when the cohesive world comes together this well.
  • The soundtrack is fantastic. All the remixed tunes are spectacular. I especially love the rock version of the classic theme, and the sound effects are mostly ripped from the previous games in the series, so you know you’re going to feel right at home.
  • I was absolutely shocked to hear any sort of voice acting in a Zelda game, and while it’s only one narrator that speaks during the game, it was more than enough for me. I hope one day Nintendo adds real voice acting in the Zelda franchise because it felt right at home with just the narrator.
Yes there's even a brand new character waiting for you to check out.
Yes there’s even a brand new character waiting for you to check out.

The So-So:

+/- Some will say the core action of repeatedly killing enemies in the same manner over and over again gets old, but since you can play as so many different characters, and all the fan service, I truly can’t complain. I enjoyed every minute I spent with the game, even if I only had to press the same few buttons again and again.

+/- I thought I would love the coop mode, but there are a lot of technical issues that pop up in this mode such as major from frame rate drops. It remains a fun diversion, but I eventually stopped playing in coop because I wanted to experience the game as it was clearly intended to be played.

+/- While this acts as one of the best Zelda spin-offs ever made, it doesn’t do very much to push the Warriors series forward. The gameplay remains largely unchanged since the last major Warriors release, and while new fans to the series might not even notice, longtime fans will. It’s not bad though as this current formula works perfectly.

Adventure mode is an absolute blast.
Adventure mode is an absolute blast.

The Bad:

  • I would have loved to have played this game with Steven, but alas that’s not an option.
Classic bosses make a welcome return.
Classic bosses make a welcome return.

The Lowdown:

Hyrule Warriors is a fantastic tribute to one of the best videogame series ever made. If, like me, you’ve been a fan of the series since the original NES game, then this is a no-brainer. In fact I’d say this is a game Nintendo fans as a whole should check out. It’s absolutely incredible, especially for the fans. Since I am a fan I’m not going to sugar coat it, this feels like it was made for me, and I’m now about three times more excited for 2015’s Dragon Quest Heroes than I was before. There are so many other series that could get the Warriors treatment, and so long as Omega Force treats said series with such love and respect as they’ve done here, they’ll have tons of success. I can’t stress this enough, if you enjoy action games or the Zelda series as a whole, go buy Hyrule Warriors. It’s one of the best games of 2015 in my eyes!

Final Score: 9.2/10  

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Review

Disney Infinity 2.0Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes (Available on PC, PS4, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: Disney
Developer: Avalanche Software
Release Date: September 23rd, 2014

Parent Talk: Imagine a game where you play through a story as one of many Marvel characters, or even better, an interactive toy box where you can create your own games, and use a vast array of characters in silly mini-games, highly competitive races, or pretty much anything else you can think of. That’s Disney Infinity in a nutshell. It’s the perfect family game, and one that features nothing but cartoon violence. I can easily recommend this one to anyone with young kids at home as it’s really simple to learn, and you won’t be bored to tears while they have a blast. There’s real enjoyment to be had here for all.

Plays Like: The one included play set (Avengers) is an open world Grand Theft Auto-like story-driven game where you pick up simple missions and complete them to earn experience and currency, which you use to purchase additional goodies for the Toy Box mode. It’s in this mode where you can create your own games using wonderful assists that do almost all the hard work for you.

Review Basis: Disney sent over the PS4 Start Pack, and I played around with the Toy Box mode and finished the main story campaign that shipped with the Avengers play set. I also plan to cover additional toys that get released for the three current play sets available (Avengers, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy).

Last year I thought Disney Infinity was the perfect games for kids. Yes the Toy Box mode was a little cumbersome because it required you to really know what you were doing, and it was a little sneaky forcing parents to buy a second character in order for their siblings to play together, but hot damn was it a fun game to play. This year Avalanche software has mixed things up a bit, and the end result is a fantastic iteration on what was already a wonderful kid’s game. If you have children at home, this will make for one hell of an amazing Christmas gift.

The Great:

The Toy Box mode has been dramatically improved. While you can still customize and make your own games, now the game tries very hard to help you out by offering up some great templates. You can even let the game build mini-games for you if you’re not feeling overly creative, or if you don’t have the time to devote to the game. I loved this aspect as it allowed me to focus on what I really enjoyed, just playing around with all the different creations other people have built. Giving me the confidence to build my own games just made the experience that much better. It’s now easier than ever to submit your creations to Disney, which once approved, can be downloaded by the entire community. Sadly I lack the skill and time to make something really worthwhile, but I have been enjoying what others have created, just as I did in the first Disney Infinity.

Something else I really appreciated was the fact the Starter Pack includes three Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, and Black Widow. You also get the Avengers play set, plus two Toy Box games, which are basically mini-games. That means two kids can play together straight out of the box, whereas last year you had to buy an additional character from one of the three included play sets in order to play together. If you don’t understand the way the system works, it’s quite simple. Each character is associated with a certain play set. Currently there are three play sets available, the Starter Pack’s included Avengers, and two ‘sold separately’ play sets, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Some characters can be used in different play sets if you located 10 character coins in the current play set. This was done to unlock exclusive stories for that character in a play set they wouldn’t normally be associated with. Each play set is a self-contained story mode. Disney has set up a Disney Infinity website (https://infinity.disney.com/en-ca/characters) that will show you all the toys available, and which play sets they work with. Most Marvel characters will work with all the Marvel play sets, but not necessarily all of them. Be sure to check the site before purchasing additional characters. Classic Disney characters only work in the Toy Box mode, so keep that in mind before expecting to use Donald Duck in the Avengers play set.

Assault on Asgard, and Escape from Kyln discs unlock cute little mini-games that are best played in short bursts. If you’re looking for additional discs, you can purchase what are called Power Disc packs. Each pack sells for $5 and includes two unique discs, either a Toy Box disc (hexagonal shape) which could unlock new textures, features, or items for your Toy Box, or you could get a character power disc (circular shape), which gives your Infinity character a stat boost or some other in-game goodie. Because these packs are completely random though, you could spend hundreds in order to collect them all, and in fact you can purchase the complete set of 40 discs for the low asking price of $200 on eBay. Why this is great is because it helps bring the physical toys and discs you collect in real life to the virtual world, and that addictive nature associated with collecting anything really shines through here. Not only can you collect all the toys, but also all the Power Discs, and some of which are extremely rare.

Thankfully you don’t absolutely need the Power Discs to get the full enjoyment out of the game, and if you bought a bunch of figures from the original Infinity I’m happy to report they all work with the Toy Box mode, and all characters have skill trees now! This means you can level them up while you tackle any number of creations in the Toy Box mode. That was a really great, and much appreciated touch.

Personally it’s the figures I love. They’re expressive, detailed, and sturdy enough to actually be played with. While some of the paint work lacks the quality you’d expect on a $14 action figure, they look good just the same. I kind of which they were articulated, but for $14 you can’t expect too much these days, and the poses are fantastic and fitting. I’ll be honest, I’d love to display these on my desk at work because they look that fun. I would gladly spend some extra money to pick up a few extra figures just to have lying around. Disney already has three different waves of figures planned, with who knows how many planned for the future.

Oh and did I mention the game now features Marvel characters? Yeah, that’s clearly great, and coupled with all the existing toys available, this series has just become an instant classic for children all over the world.

The Good:

  • Each character feels completely unique to the last. While Iron Man and Thor can fly, they both have radically different move sets. Each character has a level cap of 20, but their level trees allow players to evolve them as they see fit. When you reach level 20 you won’t have unlocked all the skills, which gives the game some much needed depth. Level progress is saved to the toys so you can bring them to your friend’s house and be just as strong as you were the last time you played.
  • Local co-op is a blast and fitting for parents with their children. There is online play, but it’s for the Toy Box mode only. That’s not a bad thing as that’s the best mode in the whole game.

  • The audio visual package is fairly impressive. I’m a big fan of the way the toys look, and their in-game personas look exactly like the figures. The voice actors do a great job, and there are a few surprise voice actors you may not expect to be here. The music is fairly standard, but there are some good sound effects thrown in making all the special moves sound powerful.

The So-So:

+/- Your children will get a kick out of the play sets, but odds are you’ll be bored to tears very quickly. While it’s great being able to play as all the different Marvel super heroes, the truth is that the missions within the play sets are extremely repetitive. It’s always escort this bus, take this package, or help these people to reach a certain location, or fire up generations, beat back these baddies, etc.

+/- While playing in co-op the framerate frequently drops, and the open city, while fairly nice to look at is made up of the exact same cars and pedestrians. Sure this is a child’s game, but one would expect it to run a bit better than it does.

+/- I love having different characters to play with, but it’s clear some will be better than others. Black Widow is such an interesting character in the comics and in the movies, and while her sculpt on the figure is great, her in-game persona just isn’t anywhere near as interesting as Iron Man or Thor. She unfortunately has to drive to get to different locations, take elevators to reach rooftops, etc. This doesn’t really make her feel very super, or as powerful as the other Avengers do. I have a feeling the other characters you can purchase would be much the same, so keep that in mind. While they might be awesome to look at, they could be really boring to use in-game.

+/- Having to unlock toys in the Toy Box mode never sat well with me, and it remains the same here. It forces you to go back and play through the play sets over and over again. Children won’t mind, but adults will. It limits your creativity until you can purchase new toys and design elements.

The Bad:

  • Some issues occur when playing Toy Box games, including but not limited to full game crashes.

The Ugly:

I really shouldn’t be this into the figures, but damn I love me some Marvel, and these figures are just too awesome to pass up. Gotta Collect ‘Em All!

The Lowdown:  

Disney Infinity 2.0 is a fantastic way to spur one’s imagination. While the core gameplay still needs some fixing, the addictive nature of the Toy Box mode will keep your children glued to the TV screen. If they get bored of watching Daddy try and make new games, they can always play with the physical toys, or jump back into one of the three available play sets. I can’t recommend the game enough for young children, or parents that are looking for a game to play with their kids. If you’re a fan of Marvel, I highly recommend you take a look at the figures, you might just fall in love with the designs and end up purchasing all of them.

Final Score (General audiences): 8/10
Final Score (Kids): 10/10

Shovel Knight Review

Shovel Knight ReviewShovel Knight (Available on 3DS, PC, and Wii U)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action Platformer
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Release Date: June 26th, 2014

Parent Talk: Shovel Knight has been rated E for everyone by the ESRB, and features mild fantasy violence. This has all the makings of a fantastic NES classic, meaning even your youngest children can play the game without fear of any damaging material. It’s hardcore platforming action at its best.

Plays Like: Imagine if Mega Man, Super Mario Bros. 3, and DuckTales had an NES offspring, and you’ve got yourself Shovel Knight. It borrows gameplay elements from all three of those classic titles, and yet still brings enough new and fresh ideas to the tables to keep things very, very interesting. It’s a must-play game.

Review Basis: I finished the PC version of the game in one sitting. Afterwards, I grabbed some food, and went right back to playing. I haven’t started the New Game+ mode yet, but oh yes, I sure will.

Here’s an interesting story for you. I told Steven, one of the other COE nutcases, about a new game I just discovered that was absolutely incredible, Astebreed for those that don’t know. He took a guess and said Shovel Knight, to which I replied ‘WTF is Shovel Knight’. After some swearing, belittling, and other obscenities, he said it was a new action platforming game that would be right up my alley. A quick Google search later and I realized what Shovel Knight was. It was a Kickstarter game that got funded last April, I vividly recall their pitch video. Why I never gave them money is beyond me, because it turns out not only is this my style of game, but it too has jumped into my top five games of 2014 thus far. If you enjoy the retro scene, or are just looking for a kick ass game, go download Shovel Knight right now.

SK2The Great:

Everything old is new again. Let’s face facts, the retro scene is on fire right now. Not only are countless indie developers releasing games that reminisce about the classic NES days, but the original carts themselves have exploded in value over the past five years. Just take a quick look at eBay and you’ll see that even SNES games are crazy expensive. I mean $50 for a loose cart of Super Metroid?!?! For real!

Enter Shovel Knight. Shovel Knight was developed by a start-up indie developer called Yacht Club Games, and after this masterpiece they’re not going to be an unknown company for long. Shovel Knight successfully combined level design and boss elements from Mega Man, the awesome pogo gameplay from DuckTales, the overworld from Super Mario Bros. 3, and towns from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. It’s not just a combination of these elements that make Shovel Knight so great, it’s the fact that Yacht Club Games simply took inspiration from these classics, but developed their own unique style, flair, and game world. Everything about Shovel Knight screams classic NES, yet at the same time it feels fresh enough to stand on its own, and that’s what makes it such a wonderful experience.

SK1The Good:

+ A platformer with a story. The setup is simple, Shovel Knight and his partner in crime Shield Knight are separated, an evil Enchantress has restored a powerful tower, and there are eight robot masters…I mean eight henchmen that must be stopped in order to restore peace to the land.

+ Each of the eight Order of No Quarter feels like they were ripped directly from a Mega Man game. You have your underwater Treasure Knight, there’s the ice world boss Polar Knight, and more. I loved the throwback to Mega Man, and the fact that each boss and stage is so completely unique compared to the last only makes things that much better.

+ Boss fights aren’t scripted, which means while a certain boss might have access to five moves, how they attack you changes every time you fight them. I really enjoyed that as simple pattern recognition isn’t enough.

+ I already mentioned the overworld map system is taken directly from Super Mario Bros. 3, but I love how they’ve adapted it to fit this unique world. While Shovel Knight moves from one area to the next, occasionally minor boss fights will pop up, there will be gem areas that you can only traverse with a special power-up, and much, much more.

+ Core gameplay is simple, but completely spot-on. You can jump, attack, or perform a downward thrust with your shovel. Along the way you can gain access to secondary attacks which use little jars of magic. Think of it like the heart system from the vintage Castlevania games. You can eventually find relics that allow you to punch through rocks, shoot flames, and more.

+ Weapon and armor upgrades are more than just for show. You can purchase upgrades that allow you to activate a powerful swipe attack after two successful bounces off enemies or blocks, you can get a charge shot like Mega Man would use, or even a beam attack like the vintage Zelda games.

+ You earn gems and diamonds from digging up treasure, defeating enemies, and virtually everything else you can imagine. The more loot you have, the more you can upgrade your health, your magic container number, and more. Die though, and a portion of your loot appears in three flying bags. Taken from Diablo, the only way to get your stolen loot is to head back to where you died and collect it yourself.

+ New Game+ If you’re looking for a challenge, this is certainly the mode you’re going to want to play through. Finish the game, which take under six hours unless you want to explore everything. Once done you can restart the game with all your previous equipment, but prepare to get your ass handed to you.

+ Level design, character design, and the overall graphics are fantastic. The game looks as if it were ripped from the NES, and given the HD treatment. Not since Mega Man 9 and 10 has a retro game looked so good. The sound design is exactly the same, it sounds perfectly unique featuring catchy tunes, and great sound effects. Both come together perfectly to establish Shovel Knight as Yacht Club Games’ mascot moving forward. They’re going to have their work cut out for them to top this.

SK3The So-So:

+/- Perhaps the only negative thing I can say about Shovel Knight is that some of its replay factor just isn’t there. The levels are 100% linear, even though they do feature some hidden paths here and there. The design isn’t enough to warrant multiple play-throughs. Once you’ve completed the main story and New Game+ I’m not convinced you’ll want to return every year, but proof is in the pudding so only time will tell. All the NES classics that this game borrows gameplay elements from could easily be replayed over and over, and over again and if Shovel Knight is able to do the same then it will have earned its place in gaming history.

SK4The Lowdown:

Shovel Knight is the best Kickstarter released game I’ve played to date. Yes, I even enjoyed it more than Broken Age. There’s just something about these throwback games I love. Shovel Knight takes the best of what made the original classics so much fun to play, and spices things up just enough to make it feel unique. If you own a Wii U, 3DS, or a somewhat capable PC, I wholeheartedly recommend you purchase Shovel Knight. It’s retro gaming at its absolute finest.

Final Score: 9.5/10

E3 2014 Press Conference Impressions

Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all held press conferences in LA…well ok Nintendo held a digital event, but whatever.  The point is that tons of new games were revealed, and we now have a much better idea what to expect from the next 12 months for each of the big three console manufacturers.  Here are my reactions to the press events.

Microsoft Press Conference:

Sony Press Conference:

Nintendo Digital Event:

What are your thoughts on the big three?

Watch Dogs Review

Watch DogsWatch Dogs (Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 8
Genre: Action
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: May 27th, 2014

Parent Talk: Watch Dogs is rated M for mature because of blood, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content, and the use of drugs and alcohol. If you’ve ever played an open world game in the vein of Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row, you know what to expect in terms of sheer violence and brutality. There are also some intense scenes such as people being sold off to the sex trade and much, much more.

Plays Like: While Watch Dogs shares a lot in comment with other open world games in that you drive around a massive city, take on missions to progress the story, and take part in hundreds of short side quests, or mini-games. What makes Watch Dogs unique is that it features a hacking mechanic that feels completely different than virtually any other open world game out there. You can spy on anyone by taking over a security camera, you can cause traffic lights to spontaneously switch colors causing a massive traffic jam, and much more. Aiden is no push-over either, and he’s well-armed with all the usual firearms you’d expect from a game like this.

Review Basis: Ubisoft sent over the PlayStation 4 version for us to review.  I played many online sessions, and completed the single player campaign.

Watch Dogs has been hyped as the next great videogame franchise for the past few years. It has been eagerly anticipated by millions of gamers around the world, and now the time has come to pass judgment. Does Watch Dogs live up to the hype, or is it just another in a long line of open world action games?

Watch Dogs1The Great:

In typical open world fashion, you take on missions in order to progress the story. Interestingly enough, the story is linear, and each act is broken down into one mission after another. You don’t go see either Cousin Vinnie, Bob, or Sue for a mission, and someone else for another. No, instead the core focus is on a very linear storyline, but how you tackle the missions is what makes Watch Dogs stand out. Normally you’d just run into a building, guns blazing and then you’d be challenged with escaping the madness afterwards. While that basic setup is more or less the same here, Aiden, the protagonist, has the ability to hack into a nice assortment of objects. He can hack security cameras, which allow you to see where enemies are, he can overload an enemy’s cellphone which causes it to explode, he can overload circuit breakers, and much more. This changes the way you approach each encounter, because while it’s certainly true you could just run in guns blazing, it’s so much more enjoyable taking your enemies out from the shadows using nothing but your hacking skills and a couple of smart distractions.

Watch Dogs2The Good:

+ Fantastic cast of characters. One of my favorite aspects of Watch Dogs is the great casts of supporting characters. I never really connected on a personal level with Aiden, but the rest of the cast was great. Clara in particular is an extremely important, and interesting character.

+ The side missions, and optional content are all extremely fun to play. If you enjoy open world games, you’re going to enjoy this one. Simple as that. From blasting aliens in augmented reality mini-games, to the wide assortment of side missions like preventing people from being robbed, to delivering cars to specific spots with little or no damage, to anything else you can think of, the action remains fun and enjoyable.

+ I also really loved how the online portion of the game is seamlessly connected to the single player experience. Frequently you’ll be updated about some sort of online event taking place from races to decryption matches and more. There are several online game modes available, and they’re all a blast.

+ I also have to mention the digital trip mini-games. I don’t want to spoil them as there are only four, but these offer some of the most fun you’ll have in the entire game. They’re wacky, but so, so awesome.

+ The simple level system allows Aiden to become a better hacker, driver, and a more proficient killing machine. Everything you do in the game nets you experience and all the various mini-games, and side quests, including online sessions, will reward special cars, weapons, and skills. I love how no matter what you do, you always feel like you’re making progress.

+ Watch Dogs is a very impressive game to look at, and to listen to. From lush environments, great water effects, and a wide assortment of catchy musical tracks, there’s something here for audio visual fans to dig their teeth into. I also really appreciated how destroyable some of the environments are.

Watch Dogs3The So-So:

+/- The story never reaches its full potential. Aiden is seeking revenge for the death of his niece, but when his sister begs him to stop because he’s putting the rest of his family in jeopardy, he essentially ignores her pleas and continues, even though she’s absolutely right. I was never really satisfied with the explanation the game gave for why Aiden was so persistent, and I found it hurt his overall character as a result.

+/- While Aiden does get more interesting later on in the game, I found it a bit too late by that time. Here we have a person who is essentially killing hundreds, if not thousands of people for one little girl. Is that truly revenge?

+/- Being able to use your profiler, or cellphone to see what every single NPC does for a living, how much they make, and more, acts like a moral compass of sorts. Will you shoot an enemy if you know that they’re only doing this job because they need the money for their sick mother? What about the guy who’s expecting a newborn any day now? I loved that the game made me react differently to each new situation, however there was no real consequence for killing one NPC and saving another. I appreciated what Ubisoft tried to do here, but it felt only half fulfilling.

Watch Dogs4The Bad:

– While everything comes together beautifully in Watch Dogs, the game does suffer from a few issues. The first being the shopping system is completely pointless. During my entire time with the game I never once bought anything from the various stores that I wasn’t forced to, because there was simply no need. I never ran out of ammo, never had a need for a sports car, etc. Everything I needed the game gave me, making the shopping experience useless.

– As with virtually all open world games, eventually the world starts to feel a bit repetitive. While I love fast traveling to safe spots, the core breakdown is almost always the same. Drive somewhere, shoot people, hack something, drive somewhere else. There is a ton of mission variety, but that feeling that you’re doing something similar is always present.

Watch Dogs5The Lowdown:

Watch Dogs is a very fun game to play, but it didn’t wow me as much as I thought it would. Perhaps it’s because the hacking system is simply a single button press, maybe it’s because there are so many high quality open world games out there, or perhaps I’m simply tiring of the genre. Whatever the case may be, I enjoyed my time with Watch Dogs and I can easily recommend this one to fans of the genre looking for something a bit different. Ultimately though, I’d say this is a very good game, just not overly great.

Final Score: 8/10

Child of Light Review

Child of Light ReviewChild of Light (Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: April 30th, 2014

Parent Talk: Child of Light is a beautiful RPG that features fairytale-like fantasy violence as well as the use of tobacco and alcohol, but again, in a whimsical sense. The entire game is told through the eyes of a young girl, and the backdrop is a painting world come to life. There is very little damaging with this game, however I do recommend parents heed the warning of the ESRB because very young children might be scared by some of the darker elements in the game.

Plays Like: Child of Light was designed from the ground up to be reminiscent of RPGs from the 16-bit console generation, however with modern sensibilities. That means there are no random encounters, but action is entirely turn-based. Everything is streamlined here from the basic inventory system, to the relatively simple battle system, however it all comes together in such a way that it proves there’s still a place for turn-based RPGs in today’s overly action RPG world.

Review Basis: Finished the PS4 version of the game.

If you’re looking for a beautiful game for any of the modern platforms from the PS3 to the Xbox One and Wii U, this is a game you should pay attention to. It features some of the liveliest settings I’ve seen in years, and the gameplay, while nostalgic, is extremely balanced and fun to play. It feels extremely rewarding when you time your attacks correctly and prevent a boss from attacking during the entire encounter.

CoL1The Great:

There are two distinct elements that really stand out in Child of Light, with the first being the incredible battle system. What makes it so unique is that it combines real-time elements and classic turn-based commands. At the bottom of the screen is an action bar which show icons for all the characters on the screen, typically two icons for the two heroes and three for the enemies. On the right side of the action bar is a red portion which is the command entry or cast build-up portion. The second your character’s icon hit the left portion of the red section you’re given your turn to enter your command. From there your character will prepare to attack, only doing so when their icon reaches the very end of the meter. The twist is that should you be attacked before your character gets their attack off, it acts as an interrupt and your icon gets blasted back to the left, therefore causing you to essentially lose a turn. What’s so great about this is that you can do the same to enemies as well, and even bosses. This adds an incredible amount of strategy to a deceivingly simple looking combat system.

Things get even more interesting when you include Igniculus, who is controlled with the right analog stick of a real-life coop partner. Igniculus can fly around the screen healing allies, or slowing down enemies, on top of picking up health and mana orbs from the environment. If that sounds like a lot to manage, keep in mind that this doesn’t even include the fact that you’ll be switching your party members almost every other turn later on in the game because each has unique abilities catered to a specific type of enemy.

The other fantastic element are the beautiful graphics. Imagine a hand painted piece of art come to life, and that’s what you get here. Child of Light was deeply inspired by Studio Ghibli and the spectacular art of Yoshitaka Amano. From the backdrops, to the enemy and level design, everything has been meticulously pieced together in such a way that you always feel like you’re playing within a child’s fairytale book and it’s wonderful. Each new area you explore looks dramatically different than the last, and yet they all fit together perfectly. It’s hard to describe in words just how incredible this game looks, and the feeling it will give you as you first step foot in the magically world of Lemuria.

CoL2The Good:

+ The story is quite unexpected as it features a young girl named Aurora trying to save her father, and not the other way around. Each new cast member you meet strikes off on their own, instead of following archaic archetypes from RPGs of old. As such you automatically feel connected to these characters as they all feel important and unique.

+ Incredible sense of style from not only the lush visual presentation, but also the way in which the dialogue has a deeply Shakespearian feel to it. This further enhances the game’s unique feel.

+ The soundtrack feels much like the visuals, organic. The melodies are bold when you’re in combat, and surreal when you’re running by a waterfall. I haven’t played a game where the soundtrack complemented the visuals like this in a very long time.

+ The simple inventory system allows you to easily get the most out of potions and special gems, which you can augment to your weapon, defense, and overall stats. These gems can even be combined through a very basic alchemy system. If you attach a blue gem to your weapon you’ll gain a water attack bonus on all enemies you attack through melee, and if you attach said gem to your defense you’ll gain a certain percentage of water elemental resistance. For the stat bonuses, they can range from increasing your HP and mana, to grant you a limit-break type attack and so much more.

+ Upon leveling up players can unlock one new skill in the level-up tree. Later on it will take two levels to unlock the most powerful abilities. What’s nice is that you always have at least three different directions you can select from on the tree. Typically one area will be most focused on magic attacks, one for melee attacks, and one for overall bonuses, but each character has a unique tree, and often there are skills from all three sets located within each branch. Another bonus is that your entire party gains experience even if they’re not in combat.

+ Igniculus isn’t just useful in battle situations, but also helps Aurora solve puzzles. He can light the way to secret caves, or helps her activate switches she otherwise would never be able to reach. In the end he feels like a true companion.

+ One of the biggest problems people have when they have a family, or begin their working career is a real lack of time to devote to playing videogames. Thankfully Child of Light is around 12 hours long, which is absolutely perfect because even if you can only devote 30 minutes a day, you’ll always feel like you’re making progress and before long you’ll see the end credits.

CoL3The Lowdown:

Child of Light is one of the year’s freshest and best RPGs. Don’t let it’s download-only moniker fool you, this is an incredible journey that’s well worth taking. The combat is balanced and extremely deep for appearing so simple. The graphics and soundtrack are absolutely fantastic, and the story is deeply personal. I don’t know what else I can say except, go give this one a download right away. It comes extremely highly recommended.

Final Score: 9.8/10  

The Wii U is the Best Next-Gen Console Currently Available!

With a headline like that you’ve got to be curious how one can say something so insane, right?  Well Steven has some great points about why he feels the Wii U is an absolute must-buy right now, and why you shouldn’t be picking on it as much as you likely are.  Enjoy the video!

Super Castlevania IV Review

Super_Castlevania_IV_USASuper Castlevania IV (Available on Wii, and Wii U)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Original SNES Release Date: December 4th, 1991
Wii Virtual Console Release Date: December 25th, 2006
Wii U Virtual Console Release Date: October 31st, 2013

Parent Talk: Super Castlevania IV is rated E10+ for everyone ten and older.  The ESRB lists fantasy action and violence as the main disclaimer, and I think that’s appropriate.  The game isn’t too gory, but does feature skeletons, Medusa, and other creatures of the night which could potentially frighten the very young.  That said, I know many people who played this game when they were only five or six and they turned out just fine.

Plays Like: The game plays very much like Castlevania and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse on the NES, although taken to the next level.  The whip can now be swung in eight different directions, and even held in any position which acts as a sort of shield.

Review Basis: Having finished the game numerous times on the SNES, and the Wii Virtual Console, I decided to swing into action and play through the Wii U Virtual Console version just because it was an excuse to return to this incredible game.

Having come off of three incredible hits on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Konami was ready to rock the world with its fourth Castlevania, exclusively released on the Super NES.  While not technically a sequel, more of a reimagining of the original game, Super Castlevania IV features some of the very best audio, visuals, and gameplay the series has ever seen in 2D.  If you have never played this game before and enjoy the series, do yourself a big favor and go download this one straight away.

SCV4_2The Great:

Hands-down the very best gameplay element added to SCV4 is the eight-way directional whip.  Now you could jump and whip down, angle and whip diagonally, or whip straight up, and to the sides.  It was amazing!  You could even hold down the attack button and Simon would hold the whip out in front of him, which helped to protect against incoming projectiles.  Seriously, it can’t be said enough times, this was revolutionary stuff back in 1991.  For some reason Konami would ditch this gameplay element in virtually every single 2D Castlevania afterwards, and the only logical explanation is that it helped make the game a bit easier than the previous entries.  It’s a real shame though as it was just so awesome!

SCV4_3The Good:

+ Other gameplay refinements include being able to shoot your weapon with the R button instead of up and attack.  It might seem like a minor addition, but it went along way to help make this feel like a different beast.  There were also special objects Simon could attach his whip into that would allow him to swing from one area to the next.  Simon could also turn direction while mid-jump, and even jump on and off stairs.  All little additions that came together to make this something really special.

+ Phenomenal use of Mode-7.  Mode-7 is a unique graphical scaling effect the SNES featured, and Nintendo highly marketed.  Certain stages in the game made full use of the effect, such as the infamous tunnel stage that would frequently cause people with motion sickness to want to hurl their lunch.  It was a true sight to behold though, and made those playing the game feel like they were experiencing something truly special.

+ Outside the Mode-7 stages and effect, were the super refined graphics.  Simon’s sprite was larger than ever, the environments were more detailed than anything the NES could pump out, and the boss fights featured some truly massive foes.  One of my favorite was the two-headed dragon you fight during one of the early stages.  Sure there was some slowdown here and there, but it was worth it for these stunning visuals.  They hold up perfectly well over two decades after the game originally shipped.

+ The soundtrack is also fantastic.  Many of the classic tracks from the original NES trilogy return here, although sounding better than ever thanks to the SNES’ great sound chip.  Bloody Tears in particular was a great standout.

SCV4_4The Lowdown:

Super Castlevania IV has aged perfectly.  It’s one of the best entries in the “classic” series, and while it was never overly difficult thanks to the eight-way whip, it’s made even easier by the Wii U’s save states.  The graphics, incredible soundtrack and amazing gameplay prove that timeless classics are always worth revisiting.  This is one you shouldn’t hesitate to experience on any platform you can get your hands on.  It’s an instant buy!

Final Score: 9/10

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Review

ALttPThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Available on the Wii U, and Wii Virtual Console)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Original Release Date: April 13th, 1992
Wii Virtual Console Release Date: January 22nd, 2007
Wii U Virtual Console Release Date: January 30th, 2014

Parent Talk: Grab ahold of your sword, pick up that shield, and go out there and rescue seven captured maidens, only then can you restore peace to the land of Hyrule.  Sounds awesome and epic, doesn’t it?  That’s because it is!  The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past features lots of sword wielding action, and yet thanks to the cartoony look, never feels like a mature game.  There are some enemies that might frighten the extremely young, but for the most part this is an adventure you’ll want to share with as many as possible, regardless of age.

Plays Like: Take the overhead perspective from the NES classic The Legend of Zelda, and mix the magic spells from Zelda II, and you have only a brief idea of what to expect here.  A Link to the Past (ALttP) forever changed action games upon its release in 1991/2 (depending on your region).  It set the bar so high that no game has ever been able to reach it.  It featured the best possible mix of supremely tight gameplay, a fantastic story, and incredible audio visuals.  Bottom line, this is considered the greatest game of all time for a reason.

Review Basis: Upon purchasing the game in 1992, I have completed it virtually every single year since.  There’s something extremely special about this game that keeps bringing you back for more.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is not only my favorite videogame of all time, but most of the world’s as well.  It was the first game that truly made me go WOW.  The world was massive, the gameplay was spot-on, the story was epic, and the graphics and music were just incredible.  Today, some 22 years after its release, it remains the best of the best.  If you have never played this masterpiece before, you cannot call yourself a gamer.

Who could ever forget their first steps outside.
Who could ever forget their first steps outside.

The Great:

Everything!!!  Thanks for reading the review.  Now go play it.  What, still here?  Why?!  I told you, everything is great, so stop reading and go play damn it!  Ok fine, you want further details, I’ll humor you, but only this once.

Let’s start off with the story.  For the first time in the series, the English actually made sense!  Sure the translation has come under fire in recent years with liberties being taken, but you know what, it doesn’t matter in the least.  The story was so shocking back in 1992 that none of us noticed, and given the quality of the dialogue, you won’t notice today either.  It was one of the first games I can remember that actually had an extremely detailed intro, if you didn’t hit the start button that is.  It explained all about the Golden Land and how a thief broke into this sacred realm and stole a very powerful object.  When you do eventually begin the game, you’re awoken by your uncle, who’s heading off to the castle to rescue the princess Zelda.  Being the good lad you are, you ignore his pleas to stay home and venture forth.  Eventually what appears to be a simple quest becomes something so much more.  By the time you face off against Ganon, and the credits roll it’s incredible to reflect back on all the adventures you’ve had, all the friends you’ve made along the way, and just how epic this tale really was.  Even today it holds up perfectly, but back in 1992 this was simply unheard of in the console space, and it forever changed people’s opinion of what a videogame could do.

One of the coolest uses of Mode-7.
One of the coolest uses of Mode-7.

Next up we have the graphics.  They’re incredible, even 22 years later.  Back when this game hit, the lightning and rain at the beginning of the game were eye popping.  It was such a fantastic way to start the game.  Later on, heading to the Mysterious Forest and unsheathing the Master Sword was another wow moment.  There was also the immense size of the game, not only were there almost a dozen dungeons, but the entire Light World had a clone, with the Dark World.  Clone isn’t the right word, as the Dark World was actually completely different, and because of that this felt like the longest game ever.  The level design was spectacular, the enemy designs were awesome, and the special effects, especially the Mode-7 map was just incredible.  Putting all these things together made one hell of an impression.

The audio was another area that was just spectacular in 1992.  The overworld theme from the original Zelda was crisper, sharper, and all around better in 16-bit.  The number of themes made for this one game were staggering to youngsters the world over.  From the Dark World theme, to the classic fairy music, the amount of songs that originated in this game remain surprising.  Every Zelda game since this one has borrowed at least one theme because they were that memorable.  The sound effects were also great, with a variety of different sounds emitting whenever Link cut a bush, hit into a rock, or attacked an enemy.

A Legend is born!
A Legend is born!

As great as the game is, people might be surprised to hear just how tough it was to complete.  Today we have the Internet, but back in ’92 there was no real way to get help if you got stuck.  Sure you could call a gaming hotline for crazy amounts of money, or subscribe to Nintendo Power, but what if the hotline didn’t have ALttP yet, or what if Nintendo Power didn’t cover the game in that particular issue?  That was it, you just tried, and tried again until you figured it out.  This was such a tough game that Nintendo included a sealed hint book in every copy.  That might be looked at as a fault, but it forced you to explore, and try all the various tools at your disposal.

Speaking of tools, the variety of weapons and items available were jaw-dropping back in the day.  In the original Zelda there were only a handful of items you could find.  In the sequel, the emphasis was more on magic.  With ALttP though, it featured the best of both worlds.  Not only were there tons of fantastic weapons and items to find, but you also had three powerful magic spells you could learn.  The Master Sword had a revamped attack as well.  You could even power-up classic items like the shield and boomerang.  It was nuts!  Overall, this really was light years ahead of the games that came before it.

How did I already rescue the princess?
How did I already rescue the princess?

All of these superb additions wouldn’t mean a thing if the core gameplay wasn’t tight and responsive, but boy was it ever.  Link could not move in eight directions, so everything felt so much smoother.  You could perform a spin attack by holding down the attack button, you could ram through multiple enemies with the Pegasus Boots, and perform so many other fantastic feats with little to no effort whatsoever.  That’s the clear sign that you’re ignoring the controller, and just focusing on the excellent game.

All of this is even before taking into account the Light and Dark World mechanics.  By exploring both worlds you could hop back and forth, finding secrets everywhere.  Exploring became much more than what players had experienced in the previous games, and it was so rewarding that Nintendo would mimic this system with their first 3D Zelda game, Ocarina of Time, except instead of travelling between worlds, you would travel between time.

Many Zelda bosses were inspired from this one battle.
Many Zelda bosses were inspired from this one battle.

The Lowdown:

I could go on for ages, but there’s really no point.  The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a masterpiece that hasn’t aged a single day in 22 years.  It deserves to be played every year, and if you have never gotten around to playing it before, you really owe it to yourself to give this one a download.  It set the blueprint for all the Zelda games to come.  It’s the best of the best, a living Legend!

Final Score: 10/10

Nintendo is DOOMED!!!

Let’s face facts, Nintendo isn’t doing so well right now.  There’s no possible way to spin their latest financials in any positive light, but does that mean all hope is lost?  Jarrod tries to answer that very question in his latest vlog.