Category Archives: Wii Reviews

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

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Review

Zelda IIZelda II: The Adventure of Link (Available on 3DS, Wii, and Wii U)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Original Release Date: September 26th, 1988
Wii Virtual Console Release Date: June 4th, 2007
3DS Virtual Console Release Date: November 22nd, 2012
Wii U Virtual Console Release Date: September 12th, 2013

Parent Talk: Having played this while a youngster myself, I can understand why the ESRB rated Zelda II E for everyone. Considering the somewhat primitive graphics, there really isn’t anything too overly mature about the game except the overall plot, which thankfully comes across much clearer than the original’s did.

Plays Like: Unlike The Legend of Zelda, The Adventure of Link no longer takes place with an overhead perspective. Instead the game plays something more like Castlevania mixed with Dragon Quest. There’s still an overworld, although whenever enemies touch Link, they’re transported to a side-scrolling battle stage. Dungeons also take place in side scrolling areas where players engage in some of the most challenging battles ever to grace a Zelda game. Many consider this the most difficult game in the series, and for very good reason, it is. There’s also a leveling system, magic, and so much more.

Review Basis: Much like the original Zelda on the NES, I’ve played my fair share of The Adventure of Link. While this may be one of my least favorite entries in the series, it’s remains a fantastic game that dramatically changed the course of the series.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is generally regarded as the weakest link in the Zelda series, but that’s only because it tried to do so many new things. As a stand-alone videogame it’s actually extremely fun to play, so long as you aren’t easily frustrated. Reviewing this game as if playing it for the first time proved one thing right away, if you dislike dying a lot, this is most likely not the game for you. Outside the challenge, it’s pretty remarkable how well certain aspects have held up some 25 years after its original release?

ZeldaII_1The Great:

Having the balls to do something different. Bow and arrows, boomerang, bombs, yeah, they’re all gone in Zelda II. They’ve been replaced with an overworld and leveling system that mimics Dragon Quest. Enjoyed spending countless hours looking for secret entrances, well they’re still here although they’ve been scaled back to make room for what the real focus is, action. Link can learn a wide variety of skillful sword techniques including the awesome down-thrust, which is one of the most useful abilities in the entire game. There’s now a magic system which allows Link to shield himself, heal his wounds, or even transform into a fairy. All of these changes made Zelda II a completely different beast compared to the original, and depending on when you began playing the series, you either loved it or hated it. No one can deny that it was extremely risky of Nintendo to make all these changes, and today the game is remembered for having the courage to try something different.

ZeldaII_2The Good:

+ Extremely large overworld that contains loads of hidden goodies. While completely different than the original, the overworld still has its fair share of secrets. Players can find point bags, which aid in leveling, they can find heart containers, which increase Link’s capacity to hold more health, and more.

+ Grinding isn’t really required. Sure you can if you want, but unlike true RPGs, Zelda II works quite differently in that each dungeon automatically increases Link’s level upon completion. The game automatically determines which area will increase in strength upon leveling, be it either health, magic or sword strength.

+ Save sates are a blessing for new players. Given the extreme difficulty level, new players will be able to slowly ease into the game thanks to the save states, and not have to worry about restarting over and over again.

ZeldaII_3The So-So:

+/- Brutally difficult at the onset of the game, but slowly balances out as you progress. That’s not to say it ever becomes easy, but as you learn to use your spells more effectively, and get better at the combat system, things eventually balance out.

+/- Dialogue is more useful than the original Zelda, but players will still get lost. Thankfully towns are useful because there are more than a few characters which can point you in the right direction, but when it comes to hidden items that are required to progress, more often than not you’ll spend hours trying to find them unless you resort to using a guide.

The Bad:

– Hit boxes are extremely small. If you’re up against an Ironknuckle for example, unless you use the jump thrust move, you’re likely to lose of half your health because of how precise your hits have to be.

– Merciless. Difficulty is one thing, the lack of health drops from enemies is something else entirely. If you don’t use save states you’re going to die, a lot.

ZeldaII_4The Lowdown:

While many may dismiss Zelda II because of its difficulty or how radically different it is compared to its predecessor, it remains a fun game. The magic system remains fun to use, and exploration is easier than the original because of additional hints and a more linear progression system. If you can stomach the difficulty, aren’t put off by the emphasis on action, then Zelda II is certainly a classic worth revisiting.

Final Score: 8/10

The Legend of Zelda Review

Legend of ZeldaThe Legend of Zelda (Available on Wii U, Wii, and 3DS)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Original Release Date: August 22nd, 1987
Wii Virtual Console Release Date: November 19th, 2006
3DS Virtual Console Release Date: July 5th, 2012
Wii U Virtual Console Release Date: August 29th, 2013

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates The Legend of Zelda E for everyone because of mild fantasy violence. I’m not sure how the ESRB can rate the game so low when it features one of the most grotesque scenes in any NES videogame ever. Don’t know what I’m talking about, finish the game and look at what happens to poor old Ganon. Truthfully though, children of all ages can easily pick up and enjoy even the most mature officially licensed NES games. Parents have nothing to fear here.

Plays Like: At the time of its release it didn’t really play much like anything else out there. It was one of the first truly open videogames, allowing players to explore each and every square foot of Hyrule. By traversing the overworld and the various dungeons, players acquired new weapons and power-ups along the way. Eventually they would take the fight to Ganon and become the hero of legend, or something like that. For anyone looking to play through the game today, think of it as a much simpler version of A Link to the Past or any of the 2D Zelda games released after it.

Review Basis: I’ve finished the game once or twice over the years, maybe a few more.

The Legend of Zelda truly doesn’t need an introduction, nor a review for that matter. This game was so ground-breaking when it hit the NES that it single-handily established an entire genre. It remains one of the best selling NES games of all time, and the series has become one of Nintendo’s most successful to date. Instead of looking at the game through the eyes of someone who grew up playing it, let’s look at it from the perspective of a brand new gamer. How does the game hold up some twenty-six years after its original release?

Umm...thanks...
Umm…thanks…

The Great:

The sense of exploration is superb. From forests to a great mountain, The Legend of Zelda offers players unique environments to explore. Pre-NES games tried to give players the same sense of freedom, but failed due to technical limitations of the hardware they were released on. Here players didn’t have to imagine what the forest or river looked it, they could actually see it. Even today the graphics do a good job of highlighting key areas. You can easily tell where you are, and where you’re heading next. It’s because of this that you’ll want to keep exploring until you’ve seen everything Hyrule has to offer. That joyous sense of wonderment hasn’t aged a day.

One well placed bomb and this guy is toast.
One well placed bomb and this guy is toast.

The Good:

+ Great variety of weapons, and items. Each new one you find unlocks just a little bit more of Hyrule. Be it the raft, or the ladder, every time you get something new, you start to wonder where you’ll be able to go next.

+ Dungeon map system is great. Not only can you see the direction of doors, but it’s also extremely useful to locate hidden rooms, or areas where you can bomb to make shot-cuts to other sections.

+ Combat is exceptional. Not only do you have a sword that throws a beam when you have full health, but you can mix and match sword fighting techniques with ranged attacks such as using the boomerang to stun enemies and then moving in for the kill with the sword, or a well placed bomb. Every weapon can be used against multiple enemies and that’s where the deepness of the combat system shines through.

+ Surprising amount of content. There are exactly eight main dungeon, plus one final hooray against Ganon up on Death Mountain. The game was so big it came with a battery to save your game. Thankfully the Wii U version goes one step further and allows you to use restore points for those frustratingly difficult parts.

+ Miiverse integration with the Wii U version is outstanding. Now I can finally show players the proper way to play this game. What do I mean, I’m talking about having six heart containers, the magic shield, the blue ring, blue candle, bombs, and arrows, all before even entering the first dungeon. Now that’s how you roll baby!

Ah yes, I remember the first time I saw this.  Classic moment.
Ah yes, I remember the first time I saw this. Classic moment.

The So-So:

+/- The map system on the overworld hasn’t aged so well. Sure it’s great being able to see a dot in a large black rectangle, but realistically it’s too rudimentary for today’s spoiled gamer. You might remember there was a heart piece somewhere to the right of the map, but without having a detailed map, getting there may prove much more difficult than you realize.

+/- Link can only move in four directions, and because of that sword fighting feels far looser than it should. When you come face to face with a Darknut for example, it can be extremely difficult to attack and move a split second later. The bizarre thing is that the boomerang can be thrown in all eight directions, so clearly this was a design choice, not a technical limitation.

+/- Secrets are not highlighted or otherwise hinted at. Sure there are some poor translations which will get you to the next dungeon, but I’m talking about secret heart containers, rupee stashes and things like that. These secret areas are truly secret. The only way to know where one is, is to spend hours upon hours bombing every wall, or burning every tree. As such, modern gamers will likely have no choice but to use a strategy guide in hopes of acquiring all the necessary power-ups in order to complete the game. Good news is the Wii U has a built-in web browser players can use.

Really expensive, yes, but awesome just the same.
Really expensive, yes, but awesome just the same.

The Bad:

– Translation is awful. You would have no clue Miyamoto-san actually had anything to do with this game if you were to look at his name in the credits. What does “Master using it, and you can have it” mean anyways? Oh it means you require a certain number of heart containers, oh…well why didn’t you just say that? Some dungeons require you to follow explicit instructions in order to find their entrance, good luck with that.

The Ugly:

The Legend of Zelda has some of the absolute worst boss battles in the series. Some of the dungeons can be brutally hard, and yet you get to the boss and he can be defeated with literally one bomb.

It's around here where the game becomes rather challenging.
It’s around here where the game becomes rather challenging.

The Lowdown:

Wow this game sounds awful doesn’t it? The truth of the matter is that while some aspects of the game haven’t aged so well, this is still a game that deserves to be played. Remember that I’m reviewing this not for its past accomplishments, but rather as a game that’s being played for the very first time by someone in 2013. Even the newest of new players will find a lot to enjoy in this classic. There’s just something magical about it that holds up over two decades years after its original release, and that really speaks volumes to just how forward thinking it was.

Final Score: 8/10

Super Mario Bros. 2 Review

200px-Super_Mario_Bros_2Super Mario Bros. 2 (Available exclusively on Wii, and Wii U Virtual Console)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: NIntendo
Developer: NIntendo
Original Release Date: October 20th, 1988
Wii VC Release Date: July 2nd, 1988
Wii U VC Release Date: May 16th, 2013

You all know the story by now. The original Super Mario Bros. 2 was deemed either too difficult of unoriginal by Nintendo of America back in the day. Therefore, they took a game called Doki Doki Panic and tweeked it here and there by adding Mario influences. Super Mario Bros. 2 (or Super Mario Bros. USA as it’s called in Japan) was the result. Over the years, it’s been quite controversial. Many gamers loved the game, while others simply found it to be way too weird. What’s my take? Read on for the full review.

The Great:

The wackiness! This game makes absolutely no sense and I love it! You can summon a rocket-ship by plucking out a vegetable! How awesome is that? There are mushrooms that grant you additional health hidden in some kind of dark sub-space world. How do you find those mushrooms you ask? By plucking out a potion and throwing it a precise spot of course. How else? Every Mario game out there usually makes you jump on a flag, or hit a moving panel. In this one, you need to grab a crystal ball, usually found in the belly of a transsexual creature, which then lets you enter the mouth of a giant bird’s face. Everything about Super Mario Bros. 2 is bat-sh** crazy, and that’s why it will always remain a classic in my book.

SMB2_2

The Good:

+ Lets you play as four different characters. Each with obvious strengths and weaknesses. I always thought Luigi was the best character to use. Never played with anyone else besides the occasional level with Peach. I just loved jumping high and bypassing areas doing so. Turns out Luigi is possibly the worst character in the whole game. He’s just too clumsy for the later levels, he slides all over the place and gives you no agility. Yet, take a character like Mario for example. While his jumps make you wonder how he ever could call himself “Jump-man”, he can stop on a dime. Makes the later levels a joke with this guy. Peach can float around like a ninja making her very useful practically at any time. She’s the good all around character. Then you have Toad, another neglected character over the years. He’s crazy fast, giving you the chance to rack up extra lives which are a must if you want to complete the game.

SMB2_1

+ A really diverse amount of bosses. All of them require you to pick up objects and throw at them, but the way the fights are setup are truly unique. If there’s one weakness with the Mario titles of today, it has to be the bosses. Super Mario Bros. 2 is a breath of fresh air in that department.

+ The hardest Mario title ever. Sure you could make a good case about The Lost Levels, but for Super Mario Bros. 2 remains incredibly hard to complete without using restore points. You only need a few hits and you’re dead, and those come easily and quite fast starting with World 4.

+ Fun from beginning to end. Still highly playable today. There’s just something special about jumping on one of Birdo’s eggs only to send it right back at its face.

SMB2_3

The Lowdown:

I know not everyone share’s the same opinion as I do on this one. For me, I always loved the title back then and even today find it as one of greatest NES classics of all time. Add the Miiverse community and you simply cannot pass this title up if you like platformers in any way. Buy it!

Final Score: 9.0/10

Super Mario World Review

250px-Super_Mario_World_CoverartSuper Mario World (Available exclusively on Wii U, and Wii Virtual Console)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Original Release Date: August 23rd, 1991
Wii VC Release Date: February 5th, 2007
Wii U VC Release Date: April 26th, 2013

I’ve been playing Super Mario World since I was a kid. I know the game by heart basically. Still, I had not touched this game since the excellent Super Mario Advance 2. I was extremely surprised by how well this game has aged. Basically, you could delete the memory of ever having played World and start from new today and I guarantee you this would surpass the quality of 99.9% of the videogames released today. Even having played this to death already, I was hooked as if this was a brand new experience. I have logged in over 16 hours into this Wii U virtual console release since its launch. I can tell already I’ll double or triple that time during the Wii U’s lifespan.

SMW4

The Great:

Everything about this game is great! This introduced so many things to the Mario franchise, it’s sick. This was the birth of Yoshi. The first time Mario could jump on a creature and navigate his way around, upgrading his abilities doing so. This meant that you could simply eat most enemies, you could jump on some foes that would otherwise damage you. You could even “sacrifice” Yoshi to get to hard to reach areas. Super Mario World lets you pick up a shell and kick it upwards! Sounds silly but this is truly bad ass. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve died in a Mario game trying to kick an shell upwards only to have it bounce back in my face. It’s permanently printed in my brain, even though Super Mario World is the only game in the entire series that lets you do that. To top this all off, this introduces a fantastic overworld, filled with secrets that was just a joy to explore. Simply perfection.

SMW1

The Good:

+ Extreme amount of content. Getting a 100% file takes anywhere from 5 to 10 hours. And that’s when you already know where everything is. There are so many secret exits and goodies hidden all over the place that you won’t be able to stop playing until you’ve found them all.

+ Who can forget the star world? As a kid, I was marveled by the idea of having secret bonus levels that could make you speed your way to the final boss in less then 30 minutes. Of course, I didn’t have the skills to pull this off back then. I remember the first time a friend of mine told me at school about the existence of a star world. Then you discover the special levels for yourself. Those took days to complete back then.  Oh the memories.

+ The visual experience cannot be matched. Sure you have all the bells and whistles today, but there’s just nothing compared to classic Mario sprites. This game truly earned the word “Super”.

+ Miiverse community makes this even more fun as you can share you’re favorite moments from the game with the all other gamers out there. Chances are, you’ll meet many more retro fans who, just like you, grew up with Super Mario World.

+ What else can be said? This is Super Mario World, the greatest platformer ever created.

SMW5

 

The Lowdown:

Simply put, if you have a Wii U do not hesitate one second and download this. I don’t care that it’s eight dollars, this stands as my second favorite game of all time, right behind A Link To The Past. If by some miracle you’ve never played this before, I’d go as far as to recommend buying a Wii U just to experience it. With the added Miiverse community and restore points, this is the best version of Super Mario World out there.

SMW3

 

Final Score: 10/10

Super Ghouls’n Ghosts Review

250px-GhoulsSNES_boxartSuper Ghouls’n Ghosts (Available exclusively on Wii, and Wii U Virtual Console)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action Platformer
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Original Release Date: November 1991
Wii VC Release Date: March 5th, 2007
Wii U VC Release Date: May 16th, 2013

You’ve come to the perfect place if you’re yet undecided about purchasing this game or not. I had never played or even looked at screenshots or videos of Super Ghouls’n Ghosts before I bought this. I had always heard how difficult this series was, and decided to keep far away from them knowing how easily frustrated I get. I was the kind of kid who used to throw his controllers on the walls. It’s a miracle I never broke anything. So we’re in 2013, 12 years after its original release and I decided now was the time. Guess what? This game absolutely rocks! I haven’t had this much fun playing a videogame in years! Nowadays, most games hold your hand and pretend to let you play, but in reality you’re basically pressing buttons waiting for the next cutscene. Super Ghouls’n Ghosts will make you scream out of frustration one moment, and jump for joy the next. During all of this, the hours will pass like seconds, making you forget that you’re actually playing a videogame. It’s that level of fun and excitement.

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The Great:

The difficulty! Yes, challenge is actually a good thing. It makes you want to keep playing so you can finally make progress. One of the big reasons why this game is hard is the lack of checkpoints. Make the exact same game today and I guarantee you developers would include (rightfully) two or three checkpoints per stage. Even with those, it would still be unbelievably frustrating, but at least it would be doable. Enter restore points. Now I know you purists out there will kill me for even suggesting using those, but you guys already bought the game and are enjoying it anyway. Restore points give gamers out there the opportunity to finally experience one of the best games of the SNES era. I spent over an hour on the first stage before finally selling out, and using restore points. It still took me about five hours to beat the game. Then I learned I had to do all of it again, just this time they would make things harder for me. How nice of them? So I did, and I loved every minute of it. Thanks to restore points, I was able to experience all of what the game has to offer. Not only that, but I got better at it. Today, I could play this game on the original SNES and get pretty far. I could probably even beat it if I’d free up a few months of my life. Heck, I never did have the skills like Jagger, and reality will never allow such a vacation. So I’ll take those restore points any day. Still doesn’t take away the fact that this is one of the hardest games ever made. Just makes it a bit more attractive.

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The Good:

+ Tons of different weapons. Depending on how you play, you’ll go out of your way to avoid some, while being on the lookout for others. I personally prefer the bow, as it lets you attack multiple enemies at a time. It’s lock-on abilities really are a plus with the golden armor too, although they can sometimes be a nuisance as you can’t fire your weapon again until the last projectile hits something.

+ Breathtaking visuals! I’m not kidding, this game still looks amazing. There is some slowdown here and there because of how hard this game was on the SNES hardware back in the day, but you will still love those segments as it allows you a bit more time to dodge your enemies.

+ The platforming elements are a joy. Like Castlevania, once you jump, Arthur is committed but Super GnG introduces a double jump. Mastering that technique is crucial as some sections require pixel perfect landing.

+ Each level ends with an epic boss fight. Thankfully, they are not as hard as the levels (anytime you die, you need to restart from the beginning), but they still push you to the edge.

 

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The Lowdown:

I’m glad I finally got to experience Super Ghouls’n Ghosts. It’s an absolute masterpiece. With the original Ghost’n Goblins releasing today, do yourself a favor and pick this one up as well. You get a 50% discount doing so. When all is said and done, this has to be one of the best virtual console games available, and with restore points anyone can finally experience this classic.

Final Score: 9.9/10

Super Metroid Review

super_metroid_box_usSuper Metroid (Available exclusively on Wii U and Wii Virtual Console)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo R&D1, and Intelligent Systems
Original Release Date: April 18th, 1994
Wii VC Release Date: August 20th, 2007
Wii U VC Release Date: May 15th, 2013

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Super Metroid E for Everyone because of cartoon violence. Back when the game was originally released it was actually one of the most adult-oriented videogames Nintendo had published. It featured a creature slowly melting to death, and dead bodies, which was incredibly daring for its time. Today the game is considered suitable for two-year olds, but back then it likely would have been rated T for teen.

Plays Like: Today you could say it plays a lot like the GBA and DS Castlevania games, but the truth of the matter is this is the game that started the whole Metroidvania genre. You move around a giant maze, acquiring power-ups which grant you access to areas you couldn’t traverse before. While technically the original Metroid featured the same gameplay, it was the inclusion of a map system that really established the genre as we know it today.

Review Basis: Finished the game about a thousand times over the years. Having played through the game at least once a year for the past 19 years, I believe I have enough experience to write a review on it :-P

Leave that where you found it!
Leave that where you found it!

I can guarantee you one thing, this review is going to be omega biased. I’ve loved this game since purchasing it in 1994, and my love for it hasn’t diminished one iota in all that time. I believe it’s one of the very best videogames ever created, and it’s on my list of top three videogames of all time. The mood, gameplay, storyline, graphics and soundtrack remain just as awe-inspiring today as they did when I first plunked the game into my SNES all those years ago. If you’re ok with that, sit back and let’s take a look at greatness!

Zebes comes alive!!!
Zebes comes alive!!!

The Great:
Improving on the original in every way, shape, and form. From vastly superior gameplay, to the inclusion of a brilliant map system, Super Metroid improved on the original two games in every way possible. Samus could now shoot at an angle, or jump up and shoot downward, she had access to a wider array of weapons, and exploration was much more refined than ever before. The power of the SNES allowed each new area to look and feel distinctive, unlike the black backdrops of the original. By mastering more advanced techniques players could even sequence break and finish the game in under 30 minutes. All of these different elements came together to make Super Metroid something truly special for its time, and a game that feels just as fresh today, which is pretty amazing.

Dead bodies in a Nintendo game?!?!?
Dead bodies in a Nintendo game?!?!?

The Good:

+ Beautiful graphics. Some games just don’t age well, other are apparently timeless. Super Metroid is one of those games. From the little details like the way Samus makes splashes with her boots as she runs through damp areas, to the Mode 7 special effects, Super Metroid looks just as detailed and impressive today as it did back in 1994.

+ Incredible soundtrack. Super Metroid not only featured voice acting, which was mind blowing for its time, but had one of the very best soundtracks. From the moody intro to the incredible themes that play as you progress to each new area, Super Metroid never ceases to amaze.

+ Feeling of isolation. While the original Metroid had certain elements where you felt like you were alone, SM took it to a whole new level. From the moment you step foot on Zebes you know you’re alone. The Wrecked Ship also enhances this feeling of isolation because it’s clear no one has been here for a very, very long time. Scatter a body or two here and there, and again, you realize you’re completely on your own.

+ Fantastic storyline. I know it seems absurd for a game with one page of story dialogue, but it works incredibly well. You begin where you left off, literally. Even certain areas from the original Metroid return, which was such an amazing touch. There’s only one Metroid left in the universe and it’s your job to rescue it for the good of galactic civilization. Oh, and the ending of this game is one of the most powerful of all time.

+ Creative and useful upgrades. Some of the items you acquire are so well thought out it will surprise you. From the X-Ray scope, which allows you to see secret areas, to the Speed Booster which allows Samus to run so fast she can destroy enemies and break through walls, Super Metroid has items that are constantly fresh and exciting to use.

+ Secrets worth going after. It’s entirely possible to finish the game without finding a couple of really neat weapon upgrades and items. By searching every nook and cranny of Zebes you’ll be amazed at just what you can find.

The amount of goodies you get is pretty incredible.
The amount of goodies you get is pretty incredible.

The Bad:

– The ending of this game said “See you next mission” and that was a blatant lie. Everyone thought it would be a few years before Samus’ next mission, not eight bloody years!!!

The Ugly:

Defeating Crocomire and watching him slowly melt to death. This was pretty harsh for 1994, and remains so even today. His skin literally melts off his bones and his screams still haunt my dreams.

It's go time!
It’s go time!

The Lowdown:

Super Metroid is one of a few games that is just as fun and impressive to play through today as it was when it was originally released back in 1994. That says everything. This is a classic in every sense of the word. It ushered in an entirely new sub-genre to action games and helped shape the future of the Castlevania franchise. The only sad thing about Super Metroid is that it brings back memories of just how long I had to wait for a follow-up. When Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion were both announced I remember vividly saying “Thanks Nintendo, it’s about F-ing time!” If you own a Wii or a Wii U, do yourself a favor and download this game right now. It’s incredible, and a true masterpiece.

Final Score: 10/10

Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two Review

Epic Mickey 2Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two (Available on PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, and Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: Action
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Blitz Games Studios
Release Date: November 18th, 2012

Parent Talk: Epic Mickey 2 is rated E for everyone. Imagine, if you will, the violence of a typical Disney animation motion picture and you know what to expect. The game was designed with children in mind, and that’s exactly who will enjoy this game.

Plays Like: Much like the original Epic Mickey, the game is all about creation and destruction using Mickey’s magical paintbrush. Players can wipe away obstacles with a simple stroke of the brush, or magically create objects that help them achieve their goals. At its core the it’s an action platformer, wrapped around these elements.

Review Basis: Finished the single player game, and tried the c-op mode.

I enjoyed the original concept of Epic Mickey. I loved the idea of bringing Disney’s lesser-known characters to the spotlight, and also giving players freedom to help shape the world with a magical brush. Sadly the original concept and the videogame we got were too far apart. While Epic Mickey 2 tries to fix some of the problems with the original, it ends up stumbling worse than its predecessor.

The Great:

Your goal in the Wasteland is to either help destroy it or restore it to its former glory. The story, characters, and the very universe itself push you to be good, but ultimately the choice is yours. The way in which various Disney characters and places are incorporated into the game shows the developers have a real love of the source material. It’s this choice, and how you can alter your game world and characters around you which really highlights the game’s potential.

Epic Mickey 2_1

The Good:

+ The new co-op mode is by far the best way to play the game. One player picks up Mickey, the other Oswald and away you go.

+ Nice audio visual presentation helps draw players into this mysterious world.

The So-So:

+/- Given the more open-world design of the game, it’s important to have objectives that keep things interesting. That only happens about thirty percent of the time. The rest of the objectives are mundane and tiresome.

The Bad:

– Jumping is extremely problematic. From poor camera angles to questionable platforms, players will find themselves falling to their death more often than not.

– Mismatched hit boxes make combat a chore. Enemies can hit Mickey while very far away, but players have to get up super close to do the same. It makes combat frustrating.

The Ugly:

Left to his own devices Oswald is the biggest hindrance in the entire game. He gets in the way of attacking enemies, he won’t help you solve puzzles, and at the end of the day you’ll wish you could take your magic paintbrush and simply erase him from the game.

Epic Mickey 2_2

The Lowdown:

Epic Mickey 2‘s world is more impressive than anything else. From the songs, to the way the various characters and movies are all incorporated make you believe this is going to be something special. The problem is the gameplay. There is real potential for this franchise, Disney just needs the right people to harness it.

Final Score: 5.5/10

Virtue’s Last Reward Review

Virtue's_Last_Reward_Boxart Virtue’s Last Reward (Available on Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle/Adventure
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Chunsoft
Release Date: October 23rd, 2012

Parent Talk: Virtue’s Last Reward is absolutely not for children, not only because of the violent content, but also because of its difficult puzzles and emphasis on storytelling. VLR is a “visual novel” game, meaning that you have to read pages upon pages of text to advance the story. The story is dark and twisted, which should satisfy fans of mysteries and thriller movies. It’s not as overtly violent or gory as M-rated action games, but the game has a dark tone that permeates the entire narrative.

Plays Like: VLR is very similar to other games in the visual novel genre, especially 999, its Nintendo DS predecessor. Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton are also quite similar, because of the emphasis on puzzle solving and reading text.

Review Basis: Completed every story route, received a Platinum Trophy, and completed the previous game in the series.

3DS vs. Vita: There are no significant advantages in either version of the game. The 3DS obviously offers 3D effects, though the Vita offers a better audio and visuals. The Vita version’s biggest strengths are probably Trophy support and three save files. The 3DS only offers one save file. Some may focus on the fact that the 3DS has a stylus packaged in with the system, which makes writing notes and solving puzzles easier; however, you can easily purchase and use a stylus to use on the Vita.

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The Great: An excellent story. 999 excelled because of its strong characters and compelling narrative. It wove an intricate plot with multiple story threads and many different endings. Characters in that game were far from one-dimensional clichés; they had complicated back stories that required exploring. VLR offers substantially more than its predecessor. Each of the characters is unique, and that’s not just a reference to the visually striking character designs. It’s impossible to guess what’s going to happen next, which is essentially t any compelling mystery novel. The fun comes with trying to see what comes next and figuring out how to proceed.

Advancing the story isn’t as simple as just hitting the “confirm” button though. Each section of the game has an elaborate puzzle that must be solved, but the game encourages the player to be absolutely thorough in exploring the plot development as well. At certain parts in the story, there may be a “block” that the player can’t advance through without first going through one of the other story routes. This not only adds significant longevity to the game, but it also requires the player to think more about how the story evolves.

For your own sake, please do not read strategy guides that explain the story—that would absolutely ruin the experience. Like 999, VLR is a dark and twisted story. Nine people have been forced to participate in a bizarre competition called “The Nonary Game-Ambidex Edition.” In this game, characters must either choose to “ally” with or “betray” teammates in order to survive. To complete the game, a participant must accumulate at least nine points and then open up the number nine door. You can get points more quickly by betraying teammates, but then you’ll sacrifice trust, which is difficult to get back. If you choose to ally, you can reach a mutually beneficial outcome, but that’s only if you know your partner will also choose to ally.

Depending on the player’s choices, characters will be put into different groups, making each round full of anxious tension.  Each choice will open up a different story route, but it’s difficult to know which is the “correct” route to choose—a diabolical dilemma. If you fail to get enough points before someone else does, they will leave the facility, leaving you trapped…forever. Also, you can’t risk being too gullible either, because if your point total reaches zero, then you’ll die. Similarly, do you want to be responsible for the death of another character by taking away his or her points? This game is an exercise in moral dilemma.

VLR-_zero

The Good:

+ Interesting characters. The character designs are bizarre, but they certainly are memorable. Every character has a uniquely defined personality and a complicated back story. Figuring out their motivations and deciding who can be trusted makes the narrative even more intense. Each route focuses on a specific character, but that doesn’t mean you won’t learn anything new about certain characters in other routes as well. Like 999, the story plays with your expectations.

+ Homage to 999. Playing 999 will properly set the stage for VLR, but it is not a requirement. In other words, the story can be understood and enjoyed on its own. The stories between the two games are unmistakably linked, but that may not be apparent even to those who have played the first game until much later in. The stories and characters from the first game are still important, but they are purposefully kept hidden and vague until much later in the adventure. This clever misdirection is meant to keep players guessing and wondering where the story will go, rather than pigeonholing this game as a blatant sequel.

+ Tense music. The music perfectly sets the stage for the tone of the narrative. My personal favorite track is “Blue Bird Lamentation,” which perfectly punctuates a more melancholy piece of the game’s narrative. Fans of 999 may even recognize some familiar music as well, in the song “Ambidexterity.”

+ Excellent voice work. There is a significant amount of spoken dialogue in this game, and it’s actually good. Really good, in fact. Character dialog can either be set to Japanese or English, but in either case, the voices perfectly match the characters. The performances are great and there’s hardly any poor or overacted lines at all.

+ Challenging puzzles. At its core, VLR is most certainly a puzzle game, even though it is wrapped in a lengthy narrative. Each section has a difficult puzzle to discover and master. However, these challenges aren’t just simple math or logic problems. Like 999, the puzzles are often contextual and have significant length.  Players must explore a room or series of rooms in search of clues. Hints gained from these bits of cryptic evidence are then applied in a series of smaller puzzles, each of which usually yields some small reward: a key, a new clue, some directions, etc.

Many of the puzzles require a unique form of input and sometimes they make interesting use of the system’s features. For example, in the Vita version of the game, certain puzzles may use touch screen input or motion controls. Some puzzles simply require you to input clues found in the room, while others require you to be a little more creative and come up with new solutions. After solving the puzzle, you will receive a code which will unlock a safe. Doing so will not only net some rewards, but will also open up the path forward. However, some puzzles have multiple solutions, and uncovering them may bring added rewards. Finding the hidden passwords will give the player more treasures from the safe. This adds significant replayability.

+ A well-developed world. One of the hallmarks of a great game is a rich, well-developed world. This can be done through intricate environments, but it can also be done by giving the player that the game world is larger than it appears, making the game appear more than just one adventure. In VLR, the hefty amount of notes and files left behind in the safes make for interesting reading material and help expand the game’s “world” far beyond what is expected. Some of these notes are trivial. Others explain mundane character activities, scientific principles mentioned in the puzzles, story elements from the previous game, story elements not mentioned explicitly in VLR or 999, back story, etc. All of these come together to make an established canon that immerses the player into a compelling, through-provoking world of mystery and intrigue.

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The So-So:

+ Every character is ridiculously intelligent. A great mystery story uses the right amount of misdirection—using vagueness and confusion to addle the audience at first, while slowly revealing more and more clues to reveal the puzzle. When things come together properly, the characters in the story should come to realize the truth at the same time the player does. If the player has everything figure out right away, the story has failed. However, here, the characters are so incredibly articulate and intelligent that it’s almost ridiculous. They all have some passing knowledge of academic schools of thought and complex scientific principles, which makes the dialog less believable. It pushes the game further into the realm of science-fiction. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can make the game hard to follow.

zero escape ally betray

The Bad:

-Minimal animation and movement. For most of the game, you will be looking at static screens filled with text. There isn’t much of a sense of movement. Even in tense scenes, most of the story scenes are played out via short animated segments, followed by text. Many of the scenarios described are either implied in the text or glossed over. That’s not to say that everything is lifeless, though. During exchanges of dialog, characters move about slightly, rather than just sitting still like portraits.

The Lowdown:

This should be one your “must have” list for 2012. No matter which platform you own or choose to play it on, Virtue’s Last Reward should be experienced. It’s difficult to pigeonhole the game into a genre, especially because terms like “puzzle game” and “visual novel” are nebulous at best. The compelling mystery story, the interesting characters, and challenging problem solving alone make it one of the best handheld games of the year.

Score: 9.5/10

Punch-Out!! Video Review for the Wii

I recently purchased Punch-Out!! for the Wii, and figured it would be a good idea to post a video review for the game.  Timothy Magana, the official mascot of C.O.E. texted me and said the game was nothing but a simple button masher.  When I heard that I assumed right away that he never actually played the game, so what you see in the video is a combination of button mashing, and pure skill.  Ok so I don’t actually have any skills in this game, but that’s not important.  What’s important is that this is one of the best games on the Wii and one you should purchase right this second.  It’s classic Nintendo fun at its best.

I hope you enjoy the video. I’ve got a lot more coming!

Gaming Log Playlist + Video Review: Xenoblade Chronicles!

Continuing where I left off in my personal channel, my let’s play of Xenoblade Chronicles changes direction as I convert to all English commentary due to the tumbleweed niche audience of Arabic/English dual commentary. In a unique twist, the first video of this session/playlist acts as a video review as well, reflected by my written review over at the site. The batches after the first video also touch base on a couple of review-like aspects in form of commentary, but it gets less and less as I play on.

Note: this session has twelve videos overall, each ranging from 15-30 minutes. They will appear as YouTube continues to process them, so keep it locked until they’re all done! In the meantime, subscribe to our alternate channel for more updates. Essentially, this channel is a placeholder for videos longer than 15 minutes as our default channel does not accept them for the time being.

Xenoblade Chronicles Review

Xenoblade reaches North America after about a year’s worth of campaigning by Operation Rainfall, a fan group dedicated to seeing a trio of swansong Wii RPGs localized for the west. One down, two to go. After spending 70 hours with the UK release, it’s time to critique. Does it sink or swim? Is it the most important JRPG of this generation? What does it sound like, play like, and look like? (What does it taste like?) Read on for the details.

Parent Talk: Xenoblade Chronicles is a role-playing game set in a fantasy land filled with humans, animals, mythical creatures, and robots. The Teen rating by the ESRB takes into account the fantasy violence. Children older than 10 years may also play providing their parents don’t mind sporadic profanity, skimpy outfits, and alcohol/tobacco references. Xenoblade aims for Chronicles of Narnia-like vibe, which wasn’t afraid to provide adult-oriented fantasy violence from time to time. The narrative and gameplay may be too complex for younger gamers though. However, well-implemented tutorials and a low difficulty curve may ease parents into experiencing it with their kids.  Trust me; there is something for everyone in Xenoblade Chronicles, and once the whole family starts playing, be prepared to be hauled in for the long run as this isn’t a casual game to turn on half an hour per day.

Review Basis: 70 hours complete with 1/3 of the main plot remaining. Focused on completing missions and sidequests. That’s a lot of content, eh?

Plays Like: Final Fantasy XII, .hack, and White Knight Chronicles. In layman’s terms, Xenoblade is an offline RPG trying to be an MMO. Surprisingly, there’s no connection to Xenogears or Xenosaga other than in name. Its battle system and level-up micromanagement are as overwhelming and fun as Star Ocean, yet not up to Disgaea levels of detail and ridiculousness. What really sets it apart from the pack is the innovative use of the Monado, a  mystical blade that wields the power to look into the future and damage mechons (robots), among other things. It smartly integrates canonical events into its battle system for strategic use. At first, your blade bears the simple power to damage mechon, so you must constantly  manage its wielder (Shulk) in your party. However, progression grants Shulk and Co. unique abilities, which force you to take a second look before leaping  into action. The coolest is premonition; if an enemy is intending a devastating attack to kill your party, a five-second clip plays said future event, giving you the chance to prevent/avoid it. It’s a one-of-a-kind time mechanic in an RPG that I haven’t really seen before.

Looks Like: Someone threw Transformers and Real Steel robot designs into the Lord of the Rings’  sets of lush fields, disgusting marshes, towering forests, and dark looming castles. The second half of Xenoblade moves away from that and introduces futuristic and tribal locales instead. From medieval sturdy armor to the casual fashion of today–characters mix and match attire, even if it doesn’t fit the time period. If you’ve watched John Carter, you’ll understand. Xenoblade’s world is a strong mix of various aesthetics. Nothing looks out of place. The medieval influences and technology blend perfectly, similar to Lost Odyssey’s attempt a few years ago.

Sounds Like: Have you caught on the trend of bands and popular artists? Branching out via a multi-disc album where each side adapts a different style/genre of music?  Xenoblade’s OST walks down that road as well. My best comparison is the work of The Early November’s “The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path”, a 2006 triple-disc album with sub-genres of rock enveloping each one. The first disc contains in-your-face rock ‘n roll, the second mellows out into acoustic instruments and orchestrated material, and the third disc contains experimental spoken vocals backed by abstract instruments. Xenoblade follows the first two discs to a T, then branches into Celtic music with its experimental third act. It even occasionally combines these three styles into single tracks. Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts) took charge with her signature blend of classical and celtic styles, while a new band collectively called ACE+ get down and dirty with rockin’ battle themes and chillin’ acoustic arrangements of some of Yoko’s work. It’s a bulky soundtrack that contains some of my favorite music of this generation. It channels the spirit of Motoi Sakuraba’s work on Baten Kaitos, another Monolith niche RPG.

Best Thing About It: A living, breathing world. JRPG worlds don’t often mesmerize me as three gripes tend to stand in the way: a) an overworld that’s too small or tedious, b) it’s not interactive enough, and c) lack of immersion when traveling between towns and dungeons. The latter is a staple in most RPGs, as towns are peaceful locales populated by NPCs, weapon shops, and inns; in contrast dungeons are monster-filled, gloomy areas with hidden treasure chests and boss fights, and the overworld merely connects the two. Xenoblade’s greatest triumph is bucking these three cardinal faults and bringing a full-immersion playground. The lines between towns, overworld and dungeons are constantly challenged and shaded here; you encounter actual people in dungeons, the overworld hosts a lot of secret mini-dungeons and refugee camps, and cities can be invaded as part of the narrative and subsequently transform into dungeons. Moreover, the sky’s the limit with the overall scope. The developers were so confident that they included two perks from the get-go: fast-travel [to cut down on repetition] and time manipulation [to fully explore areas as their inhabitants change from dusk till dawn]. Being a perfectionist, I opted to explore every nook and cranny and talk to every NPC, in turn avoiding fast-travel unless necessary. Interestingly, talking to NPCs matters as most of them have actual lives, curfews, ambitions and problems. Inspired by Majora’s Mask, Xenoblade is armed with an affinity chart that tracks important NPCs in each region. The more you talk, the clearer the relationships are. For example, conversing with one’s sibling lists him/her as such in the chart, followed by a status represented by smileys. If the terms aren’t good, you’ll eventually acquire side-quests which may grant an opportunity to reconcile. Imagine this expanding to the whole family, friends, and even acquaintances who live in different regions/countries…and you’ve got the affinity chart in a nutshell. I reached a point of actually caring for the countries I was saving because I knew their citizens inside and out.

Most Polarizing Feature: The graphics. From the open fields and high mountains to the tropical forests and high-tech, futuristic castles, locales looks absolutely stunning, even by Wii standards. My friends double-took when they watched me play, assuming it was a PS3/Xbox 360 title. Upon closer inspection, however, the character models have obvious stiff animation, bad lip-syncing, jaggies and clipping. That makes the game more PS2-like. The developers tried to hide those blemishes with customizable attire and well-directed, excellently-choreographed cut-scenes, but the Wii’s capabilities sadly prevented the full potential. Compare this to Xenosaga and Baten Kaitos, which went toe-to-toe with the big dogs of last generation.

Worst Thing About It: The narrative and cast are serviceable, yet not as memorable as Xenogears and Baten Kaitos. They’re not bad, but I enjoyed the NPC stories more than the main plot. The solid British voice-acting attempts to inject emotion and good humor, but I always knew what to expect around the next corner. The ending contains a surprise or two, but it just doesn’t live up to Monolith’s past works…which is unfortunate because the introduction and concept are gripping at first. The world is slowly revealed as the bodies of two giant robots frozen forever in combat stance, yet two-thirds of the quest doesn’t take that awesome premise to the next level. Instead, it focuses on a typical orphan boy with a mysterious past who comes across a mystical blade that only he can wield for some reason…all of which is eventually explained via deus ex machina.

The Lowdown: Despite a familiar plot and bland band of protagonists, Xenoblade Chronicles has rekindled my love for JRPGs…which was ironically blown out by a popular series that stirred that love in the first place. Forget Final Fantasy XIII. I’ll gladly step on some toes in declaring that this is what Final Fantasy XII should’ve been! Monolith Soft successfully brought the best of MMO RPGs to an offline one, while developing a lively world and level of immersion which will be remembered for decades to come. That’s what I call keeping the Japanese flavor alive despite heavy westernization. It’s like biting into a classic American cheeseburger coated with teriyaki sauce and adorned with wasabi instead of mustard. Mmm, that thought is making me drool. Will somebody make it happen?

Average Review Scale: 8.5 +/- 1 out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9.5/10 (Inflated)

Reasons for +1 Inflation: You love huge worlds with much to do outside the main quest, or just think Skyrim.

Reasons for -1 Deflation: Strong narrative and cast are most important for your RPG experience; you refuse to play 480p games.

 

Rayman Origins Review

Rayman Origins (Available on PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Release Date: November 15, 2011

Parent Talk: Rayman Origins is rated E10+ by the ESRB because of comic mischief, cartoon violence, and mild suggestive themes.  Rayman would be about as damaging to minors as Mario.  In other words, parents don’t have to worry about this game.

Plays Like: Any side-scrolling platformer.

Review Basis: Completed the PS3 version with a buddy.

Rayman returns in one of 2011’s best platformers, offering veterans a challenge. It also combines modern gameplay elements like infinite lives and checkpoints to help newbies get sucked in to this stellar experience. If there’s a platformer you need to play this year for consoles, it’s Rayman Origins.

The Great:

The most amazing game world I’ve experienced. Everything in Origins is creative and exciting.  From how the flora reacts to Rayman as he zips by, to pillars that crumble under his feet, everything connects beautifully. It’s all thanks to the superb art direction of Michel Ancel, who delivers a cohesive world. Just look at the screenshots provided. Have you seen a more magical and mystical showpiece?  I haven’t.  With incredible level design, beautiful art and a tight framerate, Rayman Origins turns what you think game worlds should be on its head. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

The Good:

+ Challenging, but fair. Checkpoints and infinite lives will prevent players from pulling out their hair. This is no cakewalk, however.

+ Achievements/Trophies will make speed run enthusiasts smile, among others.

+ Best local multiplayer of 2011.  I’ve played the year’s best releases, and Rayman Origins is the most fun I’ve had with friends under a single roof.  It’s amazing teaming with two players, and ultra-crazy with four.

+ Creative, innovative progression. The characters learn new abilities from one level to the next, and they stick with you. Meaning, backtracking yields different results.

+ Variety promotes replay. If there ever was a game to “just one more stage,” this is it.  From underwater caverns, to riding on the backs of giant mosquitos, Rayman Origins offers an overabundance of fun and originality.

+ Slapping a friend is priceless.

The So-So:

+/- Back and foreground blending. This happens occasionally, making progression a little confusing. These moments are far and few though; usually you’ll have no problem knowing where to go.

+/- Single player makes unlocking later levels a bit of a chore (you must collect things), but revisiting stages with new powers and friends is wonderful.

The Bad:

– No online co-op. That’s a shame, because how many of us live with three friends?

The Ugly:

Looking at other platformers once you’ve finished Rayman Origins.

The Lowdown:

Ubisoft took a huge risk developing Rayman Origins. It bucks the trend, allowing you to experience a side-scrolling adventure unlike any.  It’s a great example of what happens when you let a creative mind go wild, but keep the gameplay as focused as the art. This is one of the best platformers available. Don’t miss it.

Average Score Scale: 9.0 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 9/10 (Neutral)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: You crave platformers, and enough friends to enjoy 4-player whenever you like.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: Lack of online co-op forces you to go solo instead of living it up with friends.