Tag Archives: Nintendo Wii

Interview with Next Level Games’ Audio Director, Chad York

I’ve always been a huge admirer of Next Level Games and the minds behind their games, particularly from the music point of view. Mario Strikers: Charged hit the scene a few years ago, and its music went by unrecognized. I honestly think it has one of the most underrated soundtracks of all time. Thankfully, I managed to get in contact with the man behind the music of that game and a few other Nintendo flagships, Chad York. I’m thankful that he lent his time for me to interview him through Skype. It was more of a conversation really, an insightful one at that. For my first interview ever, it turned out rather well. Hope you enjoy!

The Xenoblade Chronicles Highlight Reel Continues!

You think I was done with this game and recording its side quests? Far from it! Bit by bit, Xenoblade is getting to be one of my favorite games of all time and currently holds my personal record of the most time I’ve spent playing a game — I’m now over 160 hours in and I’ve just gotten closer to the ending of the main quest, while I still have a sizable chunk of side-quests that I need to complete. Enjoy this latest batch of videos and if I get enough feedback, I’ll make more. The last batch had quite a few standouts, with one video that has over 1000 views. Not bad if I do say so myself.

The video and playlist below will automatically be updated as I upload one video per day. 6 new videos are in so far for your viewing pleasure.

The Last Story Review

The Last Story (Available exclusively on Nintendo Wii)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1-6
Genre: RPG
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Mistwalker, AQ Interactive
Release Date: August 14th, 2012

Parent Talk: The Last Story has some mild profanity and sexual innuendo, but there is no explicit gore or sexual activity to worry about. Like most role-playing games, the content is tame enough for most audiences to handle. Younger children may have a more difficult time playing just because of the game mechanics, the lengthy amount of text, and figuring out the finer points of the battle system.

Plays Like: A hybrid of various game mechanics, including third-person action/hack-n-slash, menu-driven combat, and even stealth and shooting elements. Gamers familiar with action RPGs and typical hack-n-slash adventures may be able to slip into the battle system comfortably, it has a definite learning curve and necessary level of strategy required to tackle the battles.

Review Basis: Completed the game and played for about 30 hours.

*NOTE: As of writing this review, I did not have any experience with the online multiplayer.

The Great: A rich and rewarding combat system. Every character is important and indispensable in battle. Smart AI, varied and interactive environments, and a swath of gameplay features makes every battle unique and interesting. Like stated above, The Last Story has a real-time combat system that most may mistake for a simple hack-n-slash game at first glance. The truth is there is far much more to discover. The lead character, Zael, can bring attention to himself using his unique “Gathering” ability, which may sound familiar as a genre trait for experienced MMO players. Zael can not only attract enemy attention, but he can engage in combat with his sword, strike enemies from a distance with a bow, or issue out orders.

While in sword-based combat, everything feels comfortable and familiar. Controls and mechanics are easy to learn. The game subtly adds new features to make things more interesting though. Zael can charge his sword attack to use a powerful “Gale” move. This move is also capable of diffusing magic circles, which can be cast by your teammates. Basically, teammates cast magic spells that affect a limited area. By striking these magic circles, Zael can spread the effect to the whole field, whether it’s a spell intended to heal your allies or something meant to hurt enemies. This adds a profound layer of depth to the game.

Zael can also strike enemies from a distance with his bow, hide behind cover, and sneak around terrain to maintain a strategic advantage. The terrain also plays another role in combat—it can be used to hurt enemies. Enemies can sometimes hide in strategic locations, like in towers or on bridges. Zael can order the party mages to shoot magic spells at these places, causing them to crumble and fall. Sometimes crumbling terrain can be used to quickly dispatch hordes of enemies. A battle system with this much ingenuity is really something worth treasuring. As a quick note, it is recommended that you change the game to “MANUAL.” The default setting is on “AUTO,” which means that Zael will automatically swing his sword when an enemy is in range. This can get frustrating quickly, but switching to manual should alleviate these problems.

The Good:

+ A great cast of characters. Zael and his companions (Lowell, Mirania, Yurick, Dagran, Syrenne, and Lisa) are a surprisingly likable bunch. There are no “joke” characters or throwaways here. While the narrative doesn’t delve too deeply into all of the characters or spend time in developing all of them, they work so well together. I had legitimately enjoyed the character cutscenes. Yurick’s backstory was something I had not expected and I was glad that the game provided more depth beyond what I had expected. Again, the game does not spend an excessive amount of time exploring the personal motivations for each and every character, but enough time and effort was spent into making them distinct, interesting, and dynamic. Characters have a wonderful level of interaction. The English localization is charming and I found myself really attached to the English dub. I was a bit disappointed to see that there was no option to hear the original Japanese voices, but the cast did such an admirable job that I don’t think I could hear the game any other way.

+The romance between Zael and Callista (Lisa) was something I felt honestly attached to. A romance between main characters is not uncommon in role-playing games, but few games get you to care very much about the romantic relationships therein. The Last Story managed to spend suitable time in developing Zael and Callista’s encounters, making them grow individually as characters and then later as a couple.

+ Wonderful visual style. The best word for this game would be “focused.” The Last Story certainly doesn’t have the huge, sweeping environments from epic role-playing games like Xenoblade, but it doesn’t feel any less compelling. The narrative and the gameplay is more concerned with smaller, more defined, more detailed spaces and environments. Most of the game is set on Lazulis Island. The city that the characters inhabit is richly detailed and filled with life. I was surprised to see the level of detail on the buildings in the city. The colors are more muted and reserved than the typical JRPG, but there’s something calming and refreshing to have a RPG focused more on a single, more familiar location. The battle fields and environments don’t offer much to explore, but they boast the same level of attention and detail as the main hub. What’s important is that everything feels like they belong to a living, breathing, interactive world. The characters look great and are animated well, and the huge bosses are a spectacle.

+ Varied stages. While the game does not have an overworld map or large environments to explore, the stages are quite diverse. Players will see a main, sprawling city, a castle, a vast network of caves, underwater caverns, forested areas, and tombs. The color is lacking, but the stages manage to be distinct regardless.

+ The soundtrack is excellent and the voice work is far better than expected. The English localization is admirable, with plenty of excellent performances for all of the main characters.

+Character customization. Characters can be outfitted with a large variety of weapons and equipment. This is standard fare for most role-playing games, but it’s nice that the characters’ appearance actually changes with respect to what equipment is used. It adds a personal touch to the experience. Equipment can also be upgraded at shops in the game, which not only provide a boost in statistics, but also further change the appearance of the gear. The colors can be customized further, based on player preferences (though this has no impact on statistics obviously). Equipment can be purchased from stores and taken from fallen enemies and chests.

+ Quests. There is always a lot to see and do in Lazulis Island. Many characters have requests to make, some of which can be completed for benefits. Some of the quests can be completed multiple times, such as one of the challenge matches. These quests help pad out the game and give the player a chance to become better prepared for future battles.

+ No grinding. The Last Story is not designed around the idea that battles are separate from the game. Most RPGs treat battles like something that happens sporadically, usually asking the player to grind and level up to reach the next narrative segment. Here, each battle is an important segment, so the game is designed in a way so that the player doesn’t need to grind away on pointless battles to prepare for future challenges. The difficulty progresses at a nice, steady pace, gradually getting more difficult as battles get more complex.

+ It takes about 25 hours to complete the game. Last Story also offers a New Game + option as well as online multiplayer.

The So-So:

+/- The story treads some familiar conventions: the orphaned hero, the ragtag group of friends, the “save the kingdom” plot. Some of the elements come off as cliché, but may be more endearing to some players.

The Bad:

-Some of the environments aren’t as interactive as you would believe. There are plenty of “invisible walls” in the game’s design, but there is still much to explore.

-The game stops too soon. After learning more about the characters, powering everyone up, and getting acquainted to the town, it comes to an end. 25 hours is nothing shabby (and that’s 25 hours of solid gameplay, not watching cutscenes unfold), but the game certainly lacks the longevity of Xenoblade Chronicles. It would have been nice to have more quests, more story elements, and more content to pad out the adventure. While it certainly isn’t fun to have a bloated, overinflated adventure filled with pointless activity, it can be frustrating to have a good thing end far too soon.

The Ugly:

-The framerate drops during some of the more hectic battles. Also, when pushing up against objects and walls, I have noticed clipping. The visual problems are only slight though.

The Lowdown:

The Last Story is an engaging, robust role-playing game with endearing characters and a fantastic combat system. Its greatest sin is that it ends too soon once it gets going, but the adventure is well worth the price of admission.

Score: 8.5/10

Beautiful But Flawed

The gaming industry moves fast. Every year there are dozens and dozens of noteworthy releases, many of which are poised to become the year’s biggest, most memorable games—whether that’s because of the actual game’s merits, mass market appeal, or industry posturing is up for debate. But in the endless march forward, we tend to lose sight of so many other games. Games that have fallen behind the big-budget blockbusters or the industry darlings; sometimes they go on to be sleeper hits, cult classics, or unappreciated gems. These games aren’t necessarily “better” or “worse” than any of the titles implied in my previous statements. A sleeper hit may not have mass market viability because of its niche appeal, because it goes against what most people typically want in a popular game, or because it contains some legitimate flaws that keep it out of some gamers’ focus. I tend to love a lot of these games.

Fragile Dreams for Nintendo Wii is certainly one of these beautiful but flawed games. Review scores for the games are mostly average. These scores are certainly not without merit or validity. The combat system is poorly designed, the hit detection is spotty, and the controls and mechanics lack cohesion and grace. However, I’ve still fallen in love with the game. Its technical shortcomings are disappointing, and something I am happy people have addressed, but I can’t help but be won over by the game’s other charms. The somber, lonely atmosphere, the beautiful art direction, excellent characters, wonderful Japanese voice acting, and compelling narrative make it an adventure game that I will always remember.

Seto is a young boy wandering in a post-apocalyptic world. Rather than delivering something like Fallout 3/New Vegas’ Mad Max-inspired violent landscape or anything seen in any of the numerous zombie/horror games on the market, Fragile Dreams is notably different. It’s lonely. Wandering the abandoned buildings, the decrepit amusement parks, and dilapidated hotel doesn’t evoke feelings of fear or dread. There are some genuinely creepy moments in the adventure, but that’s not the point of the story. It’s about the difficulty of solitude. When the crying women ghosts came out to terrorize me in the abandoned hotel, I did get on edge. Every time I hear the enemy encounter song “Malice,” I feel a little uneasy. But I never got the same feelings that I tend to get when playing a horror game.

It’s easy to dismiss the game outright because of the flawed combat mechanics or to get the wrong impression of what the game is trying to “be.” When I told a friend about the game’s concept, his immediate reaction was, “Oh, so it’s a horror game, right?” After taking some time to think about his response, I can see the problem. Going into Fragile Dreams and expecting it to be the same experience as Silent Hill is a mistake. Wandering dark, haunted locations with flashlight in hand does sound like it would be something right out of Silent Hill. But the emphasis on collecting lost items, uncovering the stories of people who have died long ago, and searching for someone to talk to makes for a completely different experience. It clearly resonated with me and made me feel something very strongly. Even if the game didn’t quite “nail” all of the mechanics it needed to, isn’t the connection with the player what’s really important?

One particular element of the game that strikes me is the emphasis on finding lost items. These lost items carry the stories of people who have died. These stories can be mundane, happy, depressing, or uplifting. They aren’t essential to the main plot, but they flesh out the game’s world and establish a connection with the player. RPG fans may be reminded of the Xbox 360-exclusive gem Lost Odyssey.

There are many other beautiful but flawed games out there. There are many others I’ve enjoyed up until now and I’m sure there are many more I’ll find. What are some games that you’ve enjoyed?

Operation Rainfall: Pandora’s Tower Pitch

You know what I love? Japanese role-playing games. Most of my favorite games of all time fall under this genre. You know what else? Xenoblade Chronicles is absolutely fantastic. I think as a fan, I can’t help but extend a hearty gesture of thanks to the dedicated fan-group “Operation Rainfall.” With Xenoblade already released in the United States and The Last Story set for release in June courtesy of XSEED, an excellent publisher, the group has almost completed what it has set out to do. Now there is only one game left in what has come to be known as the Operation Rainfall Trilogy: Pandora’s Tower.

Who else wants this game? I sure do!

The crew over at Operation Rainfall have started their new campaign to pitch Pandora’s Tower to potential US publishers. You can read a breakdown of their strategy here. If you have even the slightest interest in any of the games mentioned, you owe it to yourself to check out Operation Rainfall’s campaign page. They really are passionate and dedicated fans–and ones who arguably get results. They intend to pitch the game to publishers that already have a solid working relationship with Nintendo’s Wii console and who have experience with localization Japanese titles already. Prominent examples include: Aksys Games, ATLUS, NIS America, Rising Star, UTV Ignition, and XSEED.

To help seal the deal, these fans are sending promotional kits to the publisher. This will include: a copy of the PAL version of the game, high-resolution printouts of the game’s concept art, as well as printed copies of game reviews (not to mention the fan petition). To help them reach this goal, they are asking for donations via Pay Pal. I’ve done this alone simply as a gesture of thanks for bringing Xenoblade and The Last Story here. However, they are offering some neat rewards for fans. Particularly interesting is the “Tier Two” reward. For a $10 donation, you receive a 3-disc collector’s case made of high quality glossy paperboard, featuring the Operation Rainfall logo on the front. It is the unofficial “Operation Rainfall Collection” case. Pretty cool.

Note: Design isn't final.

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.

Video Gaming Log: The Last Story — Chapters 5 through 7!

Behold, readers. More of my “let’s play” of The Last Story, clocking another two hours. I’m really liking this game so far. I should write gaming logs to accompany the videos, but I think they speak for themselves, particularly when I’m doing live commentary analyzing certain things from time to time. I’m also joking around here and there. I slightly modified the settings of my HDTV so the footage may look different from the last batch. Please comment whether it’s better, worse, or the same.

Here’s the playlist as usual, with parts 6 to 10 as new uploads: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC8EC15ED67DFB6B5&feature=plcp

The Last Story: Video Gaming Log — The First Two Hours!

I present to you, my “let’s play” of The Last Story for the Wii! The first two hours are here so far (divided into 5 videos) with live English commentary as I play:

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC8EC15ED67DFB6B5&feature=plcp

So I’m using an HD Canon camera to capture the footage off screen, but have it as authentic to direct capture as possible by centering the camera to the HDTV borders and only limiting it to the gameplay. Additionally, I’m using a Wii HDMI converter combined with my receiver’s 1080p upscaling chip to push the visuals to its limits. While it’s not true 1080p, this is the best the Wii can get in HDTV displays. So please comment on the quality of footage. I’ll adjust my settings if needed. Just don’t forget to set YouTube to 720p or 1080p for the best quality.

I hope you guys enjoy this footage and commentary, because based on the feedback I get, I’ll continue to put these up and maybe even make a video review once I’m done.

Sonic 4 – Surprisingly Fun?!

I won’t lie, I haven’t played a Sonic game in a very long time.  After Sega left the hardware race, I pretty well gave up on Sonic.  Don’t know why, but honestly Sega hasn’t been Sega since they stopped making consoles.  Lately I’ve been going crazy with Saturn reviews, which you can check out by clicking on our YouTube link at the top right of the site, or check out the Saturn playlist I created (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLF683F0069AE1354F&feature=plcp).  The bottom line is, I’ve been reliving some excellent Sega classics, and have been craving for more Sega love.  What’s an old-time Sega fan to do?  Download Sonic 4, that’s what!

I played for around three hours and I’m having a really good time.  Sure the physics aren’t what you remember from the Genesis days, but this is a beautiful and super fast Sonic played in 2D.  What more could you ask for?  Well, besides better physics…  I downloaded the PS3 version for the low price of $5.  I’m not directly going for the trophies, but have found them to add some depth to the game.  For example, you normally go for the Chaos Emeralds in a Sonic game, well now you score a trophy for doing so.  Beat the first level in under 60 seconds and bam, another trophy.  I like trophies and achievements like this, that make you want to go for them.  Fun and challenging.

I don’t want to go on and on about this because today has been an insanely busy day for me and COE-related duties.  I was on the phone and emailing tons of PR agents all day trying to secure games for January and beyond.  Trust me, it’s not easy.  So in-between doing this I figured I’d try Sonic 4, before recording some more footage for my next Saturn review.  I know many of you will be able to add your own comments on the game so I won’t go on.  Just know that I’m surprised by how much fun I’ve been having with a new Sega game.  That hasn’t happened in a very long time.  If you’ve been craving an old-school Sonic, be sure to check this one out.

For those interested, I finished off the first two zones, got all seven Chaos Emeralds and am going to try and finish the game tomorrow before starting on Sonic CD HD, which I hear great things about.  Really want to see how the HD version translates.  After that, I think I may just pick up Sonic Generations.  Could it be, could Sonic actually be back?

So what have you all been up to lately?

No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise Review

No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise [Available on PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii]
ESRB Rating: M
Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Feel Plus/Grasshopper Manufacture
Release Date: August 16, 2011

PSN: Downloadable Content
PlayStation Move Compatible

Parent Talk: No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise is inundated with explicit violence, blood, profanity. NMH has a crude, comedic, over-the-top story and bizarre characters, making it much different than the typical violent action game. This game is not suitable for children.

Plays Like: A super-violent, anime-style version of Grand Theft Auto.

Review Basis: Completed the game on the “Mild/Normal” difficulty setting, also finished the original NMH releases on Wii.

No More Heroes was, and still is, an action gem for Nintendo Wii. Its brilliant fourth-wall-shattering story and over-the-top ultra violence made it a cult classic. Sadly, Nintendo fans can no longer claim exclusivity to Suda 51’s product. This PlayStation 3 remake finally allows Sony fans to enjoy Travis Touchdown’s exploits. But are you better off sticking with the Wii original?

The Great:

An HD overhaul. No More Heroes is one of Wii’s great, early action titles, but far from visually impressive, even for Wii. The PS3 version brings a much-needed makeover. Lighting and effects are improved, and Travis’ model is more detailed. The streets are active with more NPCs and textures are improved.

The Good:

+ The complete, original adventure on PS3! If you haven’t played No More Heroes, do check out our review here for story and gameplay details.

+ Trophy support. Wii unfortunately doesn’t support achievements of any kind, so the PS3 version may entice newcomers.

+ PlayStation Move and Dual Shock support. Heroes’ Paradise welcomes both formats, successfully bringing the original motion and standard control to the table. The Move integration functions well and mostly replicates the Wii experience. There’s little more satisfying than chopping down hordes of bad guys. The standard controls work too and offer a suitable alternative for those who care not for motion control.

+ Replay cutscenes and boss battles. The ability to revisit any boss fight makes collecting trophies easier too.

+ New Score Attack mode and online leaderboards. Score Attack is a fun distraction from the main game, though hardly essential to the game.

+ New boss battles. In addition to the original NMH villain cast, Heroes’ Paradise brings several bosses from NMH2, including Matt Helms and Alice Twilight.

+ Replay missions immediately if you fail. In No More Heroes, you had to exit the mission and re-select it. This makes the process less tedious.

+ A value pricepoint of $40.

+ Fantastic voice work and music. The soundtrack is the definition of pulse-pounding.

+ New Game Plus motivates you more to replay the game.

+ An excellent, over-the-top, gratuitous story. It pays homage to anime and cult films breaking the fourth wall at every opportunity. The insane characters and funny dialog make it one of the most unique action games this generation. Travis Touchdown is a hard character to sympathize for, but he’s certainly memorable.

The Bad:

– Repetitious enemy cries. The few voice clips said are funny, but not after a hundred times.

– The side jobs quickly become tedious and slow down an otherwise fun and fast-paced game.

– You can’t quick jump to a location, except when you retry a mission.

– The new bosses face you immediately after the story mission boss fights. This eliminates any tension leading up to the encounter.

– Santa Destroy now has more NPCs roaming the streets, but they’re basically all the same characters. The PS3 is plenty more capable than this, yet Grasshopper chose not to exploit that.

– The PlayStation Move controller requires constant calibration and is not much better than the Wii remote. It also lacks a speaker, so the phone call scenes lose their gimmick.

– Driving is awkward and sometimes broken. Several times my bike got stuck on something in the environment. Collision detection is spotty.

The Ugly:

– Horrible screen tearing and other visual problems. The presentation is significantly upgraded, but a remake should never be buggier than the original. Screen tearing persists throughout the game and slowdown plagues the combat and tense cutscenes. This remake lacks polish and should have spent more time in development. Again, the PS3 is a perfectly capable system, so these problems shouldn’t exist. Hopefully Grasshopper will release a patch soon.

The Lowdown:

Despite crippling technical problems, No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise is a great action title worth experiencing. The Wii version is the cheaper alternative, but the PS3 version boasts trophy support, standard controller options, and extra content. Pick whichever suits your interests more.

Score: 7/10

 

Nintendo of America Localizing Itadaki Street Wii, JRPGs Still MIA!

I’ve been adamant of the Wii not being dead yet. Nintendo’s way of presenting it in this year’s E3 has been very poor, though. From Miyamoto’s comments that he’s moving on from the Wii to lack of coverage of the hidden games coming out this year — it’s been a disaster all around. NOA’s silent treatment towards titles such as Xenoblade and The Last Story has been particularly disturbing to hardcore Wii fans, especially since they’re publishing more obscure titles such as Rhythm Heaven outside Japan. Well, I have another piece of news that may excite yet disturb you all. For 20 years Square-Enix have avoided localizing this series outside of Japan because people just might not get it…until now. Thanks to a partnership with NOA, the most recent installment of Itadaki Street for the Wii will hit shelves, now known as Fortune Street outside of Japan. Since the most recent one crosses over Nintendo’s mascots with Square-Enix’s, it makes sense that NOA is handling the localization. What doesn’t make sense is the fact that this bit of news is from the E3 show-floor, yet IGN has just let us know about it weeks after the event. I’m not blaming IGN; I’m blaming Nintendo of America for not letting this fact known. Another weird factor is that Nintendo’s actually taking a risk on a rather obscure Japanese board game series instead of putting more effort towards safer and more consumer-friendly hardcore IPs such as Xenoblade and The Last Story. I’m rather perplexed by the whole situation. Perhaps it’s easier to localize Itadaki Street as opposed to JRPG which are voice and dialogue-heavy. That’s the only logical thing I can think of. But as many JRPG fans know, we actually don’t mind if the voice work stays Japanese as long as there’s English menus and subtitles. I know that Nintendo of America aren’t the best in providing games with solid voice-overs, nor do they have the will to hire talented English voice actors. At this point, I don’t even care about proper localization as long as I get my hands on those JRPGs. For God’s sake, just keep the Japanese voices intact!

Before I forget, IGN’s featurette also highlights another solid games in the works for the Wii: the next installment of Rune Factory by Natsume. While they completely forgot to mention Mario Party 9 and Rhythm Heaven, IGN does a pretty good job in highlighting the remainder of Wii’s line-up.

Epic Mickey Review

Epic Mickey [Available only on Wii]
ESRB Rating: E
Players: 1
Genre: Action Adventure/Platformer
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Junction Point Studios
Release Date: November 25th, 2010

Parent Talk: Epic Mickey is ideal for children simply because of Mickey.  Disney has a long history of creating memorable cartoons, so children, parents, and grandparents should recognize the brand.  Epic Mickey isn’t a bright and colorful platformer though; it’s strangely dark with a unique, unsettling twist.  Bright and cheerful Disney images are combined with bizarre and gloomy settings.  The game isn’t inappropriate however; there’s no vulgarity, and Disney’s classic magic is all over.  If anything, EM is an interesting spin on one of their old characters—it references tons of old (even forgotten) Disney cartoons, merchandise, and even video games!  Young children might find some of the images a little scary, but the game is otherwise fine.

I don’t think comments for Mickey Mouse are necessary.  Everyone knows him.  There are countless cartoons, merchandise and video games based on him, among other Disney properties.  Disney has enjoyed a rich and…well, “epic” history.  Walt created so many characters in his time, and the studio is responsible for an unbelievable number of cartoons.  Epic Mickey explores unfamiliar territory though: Disney’s past, especially the forgotten aspects.  It’s sometimes somber and lonely…dark and twisted.  It takes the care-free, bright, and cheery Disney persona and juxtaposes it with a striking and visually-arresting art style that only Warren Spector could dream of.  The Wasteland is a sprawling and unique combination of landscapes: a mad scientist’s castle adorned with crooked spires, a bustling downtown, a mountainside cluttered with classic memorabilia and much, much more.

I doubt many would recognize the name Oswald, but that helps make the game interesting.  It creates curiosity in the player about Disney’s forgotten work.  It brings to light concepts we never considered.  While there are hitches along the way, Epic Mickey is one of the finest platformers this year and a must-own title for the holiday season.

The Great:

Fantastic art.  Among all of Epic Mickey’s positives, the art is the most noteworthy.   Disney’s characters look like the classic cartoons; lanky figures, cheerful expressions, bright white gloves, etc.  The scenery is an amalgamation of locations inspired by classic Disney influences (Mean Street especially), but it’s given a huge dose of extra imagination.   Robot Goofy, for example, is classic and creepy.  He first appears as a disembodied head in a glass case, with a single green eye glowing out of his cracked face, but sounds and looks as cheerful as ever.  The cutscenes also sport a cool visual style.  Rather than use the in-game engine or CG cinematics, the designers opted for 2D scenes.  These sequences have EXCELLENT animation and character expression.  Mickey is incredibly likeable, and the game is simply fun to watch.

The Good:

+ Solid design.  Epic Mickey values quality platforming, despite the art and visual emphasis.  Despite hitches, the game is genuinely balanced and fun.  The campaign is a 3D platformer, where you explore a large environment.  There’s usually multiple routes to discover.  You can quickly bypass most of the extraneous stuff and focus squarely on the story, but the environments and character interactions offer so much more.  You’re never forced to proceed and explore, but quests softly nudge you along.  Quests can even be skipped effortlessly, and sometimes quests assign conflicting objectives, meaning you must play through multiple times in order to witness different events and collect items.  For example, one quest asks you to return Little Pete’s ship log to prove his innocence, while another requests that you pawn it off to another character.  It’s a subtle good-or-bad pathway that makes things more interesting.

+ Paint and thinner.  The “Paint” and “Thinner” are the creative gameplay elements.  Think of them as positive and negative, good and bad, creation and destruction.  Paint fixes objects, rebuilds things, and even brainwashes enemies into behaving.  Thinner by contrast demolishes walls, removes enemy defenses, and reveals hidden passages.  Each employs unique functions to help you explore, but much of it depends on your approach.  For instance, you can conquer a section by using Paint to rebuild a broken machine, or just break through with Thinner.  Characters respond differently to your methods.  Some consequences are more subtle than others, and characters may reprimand you or think differently depending.  It’s a neat “good or evil” dynamic that’s present in many other games, but not often seen in a platformer.  You could think of the Paint and Thinner as the Super Mario Sunshine F.L.U.D.D., or the Okami brush.  Epic Mickey is unique though because you can alternate your actions depending on the situation.

+ Nostalgia.  Epic Mickey draws on much of Disney’s lore.  People may not recognize the characters, but that’s part of the message: exploring a forgotten past.  Compared to what the developers could have done (i.e. churned out a soulless game), this is a huge plus and it exceeded my expectations.  Exploring Mickeyjunk Mountain (which lives up to its name) features tons of references to old Disney products.  You can even see old Mickey Mouse NES and Super NES games stacked among everything else.

+ Value.  The adventure requires around 15 hours to complete, which is fair for a platformer.  It’s a far cry from the absurd content in Super Mario Galaxy 2, but there’s still plenty of bang for your buck considering the 15 hours applies to one playthrough.  By making different decisions (mostly by using Paint or Thinner), you can interact differently with characters and acquire different items.   The end also reflects on the choices you made, so there’s motivation to play more than once.  The results aren’t always immediately apparent.

+ 2D sequences.  When visiting other areas, accessed via “projector screens,” Mickey enters some fascinating 2D platforming sections, which could have been their own game.  They’re short, consisting of a few screens or sections.  Despite the lengths, Disney made ample use of the license by designing each one as a “film reel” of sorts, as if Mickey entered another cartoon entirely (reels even run on screen)!  Mickey can’t use his Paint or Thinner abilities, but instead must rely on basic attack and jumping skills.  There’s also a collectible film reel to grab during each scenario.  Playing multiple times can be annoying, but you’re never forced to.

+ Great music.  The score is awesome.   The lead composer, James Dooley, has an impressive resume.  He worked with Hans Zimmer, the orchestrator for The Da Vinci Code and Emmy winner in 2008 for Pushing Daisies.  The music in Epic Mickey combines the playfulness of classic Disney, with strangely dark themes and rousing orchestral scores to create a wholly satisfying mix.

The Bad:

– Lack of voicework.  I said before that everyone knows Mickey.  Well, you see him in the game, but why doesn’t he talk?  Despite capitalizing on the license, Disney dropped the ball by choosing to forgo voice work.  Characters are incredibly expressive during cutscenes and act convincingly through animation, but the cutscenes could have been better with voice work.  Nintendo fans are entitled to a presentation, but alas we’re disappointed.

– Inconsistent framerate.  Sometimes during hectic moments, the game slows down.  It never reaches “game-breaking” territory, but it’s noticeable and can grate on the nerves.

The Ugly:

The camera.  This is unmistakably EM’s biggest problem.  It can be circumvented once you learn how to manipulate it, but it’s a pervasive issue especially during the more difficult platforming segments.  The worst comes with mid-jump camera transitions, which are disorienting.  Aiming your Paint or Thinner can also be challenging.  The viewpoint either makes targeting tougher than necessary, or objects obscure your line of sight.  It’s very frustrating at first, and the main problem of Epic Mickey.

The Lowdown:

Despite the camera, Epic Mickey is a wonderful game and must-own.  The design has a few hiccups, but the experience is pleasantly imaginative.  It doesn’t dethrone Super Mario Galaxy 2, but it should still be played.  It surpasses expectations for visual style and music, meets the criteria for a solid and fun platforming game, but falls a little behind in presentation and polish.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn Review

Kirby’s Epic Yarn [Available only on Wii]
ESRB Rating: E
Players: 1-2
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Good Feel
Release Date: October 17th, 2010

Parent Talk: This is an ideal kids game.   Not only is it incredibly vibrant and adorable, it plays like a storybook.  Kirby’s Epic Yarn is colorful and cute, while also simple and fun to play.  The co-op option means parents can jump in as well.  Best of all; the adventure is worthwhile for gamers of all ages.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is bright and colorful (to an almost ridiculous degree) and is arguably one of the most visually creative games for Wii.  Not only is the game visually unique, but it also runs beautifully in motion and even gives some of the games from the HD consoles a run for their money.  Of course, this is Nintendo we’re talking about, so whenever graphics are concerned, there is much more of a focus on color and uniqueness as opposed to hyper-realism.  Even better, Epic Yarn is a solid platformer that is truly fun and offers a great co-operative experience.

The Great:  Awesome [co-op] gameplay.  Kirby’s Epic Yarn prioritizes fun.  While the game is straightforward, and downright easy frankly, it’s always a blast to play as each level pushes you to explore and find all the treasures.  Core fans may complain about the lack of difficulty, but a hard game doesn’t automatically mean a good game.  With single player, it’s great; but with two, it’s even better.  Co-op makes exploring the levels more satisfying and reminds you of Kirby Super Star.  The stage design perfectly complements co-op, and even the vehicle portions are more involved with two players in the mix.  For example, one of the early stages pits players in some kind of hybrid tank, with each controlling certain functions.  Your partner can even be used as an offensive projectile.

The Good:

+ Stunning.  This is one of Wii’s best visually.  Better yet, the style integration affects not only the eye candy, but how levels are actually played.  Kirby can pull zippers to make pieces of the stage fall down, or literally scrunch the “fabric” of a level together by pulling a string.

+ Extras.  Completing every main level and acquiring each items may take most around six or so hours to complete.  But there are additional levels to conquer afterward, like the hide-and-seek, bead-collecting, and carry challenges.  Additional “patches” can be earned by defeating bosses [and gathering enough beads doing so] which unlock additional levels.   Players can also customize their “room” with collected items.  Littered across stages are different pieces of furniture and other items, which can decorate Kirby’s room.  Wallpapers and items can be obtained by playing levels or buying them from the shop.

+ Clever design.  You undoubtedly associate Kirby games with inhaling enemies and borrowing powers—the franchise’s gimmick.  It was a gutsy for Nintendo to drastically change the series’ formula.  The premise is explained well enough and the new ideas are clever enough so the change doesn’t disappoint.  Yes, the “yarn” appeal may be novel, but it works well and is a sign that Nintendo can change the primary hook of a tried-and-true system yet still make it worthwhile.  Some may be alienated by the abrupt new direction, but it deserves a chance.  Kirby and his pal Prince Fluff can also transform into tons of things, like robots, UFOs, dolphins, fire trucks, rocket cars, or trains.

The Bad:

– Short.  Epic Yarn can be finished in six hours.  For a platformer that’s not surprising, but Nintendo could do better.  Super Mario Galaxy and SMG2 both have extraordinary value.  Kirby’s Epic Yarn emphasizes being a simple game that appeals to the casual market as well as the Kirby fan, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to be short.

– Forgettable music.  The soundtrack isn’t as memorable as other games in the series.  It’s cutesy and fitting for the theme, but nothing stands out at all.  The music isn’t bad per se, it’s just disappointing that the tunes aren’t as catchy.

The Lowdown:

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is easy, cutesy, and definitely aimed at a younger crowd—but it can be fun for anyone.  Core gamers may feel ‘too mature’ to enjoy this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they slipped in for some co-op action.  It’s an addictive and fun co-op platformer that’s a must for Nintendo fans.

Metroid: Other M Review

Metroid: Other M (Available only on Wii)
ESRB Rating: T
Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Team Ninja/Nintendo
Release Date: August 31st, 2010

Parent Talk: Other M is the next entry in Nintendo’s long-running Metroid franchise, starring famous gaming heroine Samus Aran in her mission to battle aliens and discover the plot of the Galactic Federation.  There are large doses of violence which admittedly look realistic, but it’s toned down thanks to the sci-fi presentation.  Samus doesn’t kill humans.  The “T rating” is rightly appropriate.  Parents should know their children’s play habits to determine whether or not they are mature enough to handle the game, but OM is a far cry from ultra-violent, realistic shooters like Call of Duty.

Metroid fans have waited a long time for Other M.  Relieving Retro of franchise development, Nintendo opted to co-develop the game with famed Team Ninja.  The end product is difficult to describe, but satisfying to play and a spectacle to watch.  OM also moves away from the series’ usual non-linear worlds.  The game’s primary goals include presenting a cinematic story and focusing on Samus Aran as a character.  Combat is more intense than ever thanks to extreme new abilities and interesting use of camera angles.  What does this mean for the long-time Metroid fan?  Is it an insult, or a sign of new and wonderful things to come?

The Great:

Wonderful presentation.  First party Nintendo franchises emphasize play over plot.  That’s not necessarily bad, but gamers haven been yearning for serious narratives, especially for the history-rich Metroid.  I would never slander past Metroid games, and particularly the arguably perfect Super, but they’re light on story and focus more on exploration.  Samus now narrates her escapades and behaves like a legitimate character.  The plot takes place immediately after Super Metroid and before Fusion, an incredibly interesting prospect.  Fans may question aspects of Samus’s character (more on that later), but the attention to detail is admirable.  The game even attempts to explain that Samus maintains her abilities, but requires authorization from her CO.  It sounds groan-inducing, but the concept is integrated in an intelligent way.  It’s interesting how Samus reacts.  There’s a scene where she usurps Adam’s authority and activates powers, but other outlets ignore this fact.

The Good:

+ Voice acting.  While unimpressive at times, the voice work is generally plausible regarding Samus and her [former] CO Adam Malkovich.  The lip-syncing is slightly off, but it’s hardly an egregious offense.  The actors decently portray each persona as a whole, but no performance is memorable.  Still, it’s respectable and a huge step for the series.  Given Nintendo’s reputation for avoiding voice talent/heavy plot, Other M is a breath of fresh air.

+ Visuals.  Other M is beautiful in motion and runs well.  Load times are lightning-fast and accessing new areas is quick and easy.  Doors no longer require constant blasting to open.  Samus’ model looks classic and animates beautifully.  She enjoys a wide array of attacks and her motions are rendered well.  It’s a nice change of pace to actually see Miss Aran in action.  Bloom lighting, varied environments, detailed and well-designed enemies combine to make a visually-satisfying game for Wii.

+ Action-packed.  Metroid: Other M is difficult to describe on paper.  Taking cues from Ninja Gaiden and the 2D Metroid games, Other M is an intriguing combination of both.  First-person shooter elements and QTEs are thrown in, making for varied and intense gameplay.  Cinematics blend seamlessly, with quick camera changes and fast-moving combat.  It’s all manipulated with the Wii remote.  There is a learning curve (more on that later), but the game is fun and engaging.  Parts are reminiscent of the classic side-scrollers.  You can quick dodge with the D-pad at the right moment, and shoot and jump respectively are mapped to the 1 and 2 buttons.  Unlike previous games however, enemies don’t drop health and missiles.  Instead, players “recharge” Samus’ missile count or regain some health by “concentrating”, but she must be in critical status.  This provides a different experience.  It might seem to make the game easy, but some fights are still difficult, especially since not all enemies afford the chance to recharge.

+ Music.  The quality is excellent.  Several themes are redone versions of those heard from Metroid games past, which should please long-time fans.  The soundtrack is well-arranged and fits the campaign well.  Effects are equally great.

+ Secrets.  While Other M doesn’t highlight exploration, there are still plenty of secrets.  Discovering several items and hidden routes require backtracking and detective work.  Items include energy packs to boost your charge speed, since Samus doesn’t have to reacquire her power-ups.  Missile expansions and life tanks also make obvious appearances.

The Bad:

– Stiff control.  The developers mapped everything to the Wii-mote, without utilizing the nunchuk.  This may lend to a simple game, but controlling a 3D game with 2D input can be cumbersome.  Movement feels as though it’s meant for a 2D side-scroller still.  It’s bizarre, but practice will help you learn.  The most jarring change is switching to first person.  By pointing the remote at the screen, players can “scan” the current area, use missiles or the grapple beam.  Initially the new mechanic is awkward, but it feels natural in due time.  Some become acclimated, while others struggle.  This design makes sense given the developers’ intentions, but I wonder if the game would’ve worked better with nunchuk utilization.  I became disoriented using the grapple beam, but that wasn’t the case after several uses.  It’s worth mentioning though.

– Character changes.  There’s the controversy.  This may very well be the first time a more concrete stance has been taken on Samus’s character.  Some may disagree and refer to her past behavior.  Samus has always been painted as a stoic, brave figure.  She spoke little and did her job.  In Other M, she narrates, hesitates, exhibits more emotion, bravely storms into battle and even breaks down.  She’s usually calm and composed, offering [mostly] intelligent observations that support her status as a strong, female lead.  Occasionally the game emphasizes Samus as a woman first, then a bounty hunter, which can come off as sexist.  One scene in particular shows her confidence crumble.  To avoid spoilers, I won’t say how or why specifically.  It provides an emotional dynamic not present in past games, but it can be interpreted as demeaning.  At the end, I’m satisfied, even if the writing could be better.

– Lack of exploration. Other M is significantly more linear.  Other games in the series, especially the originals, encouraged exploration and discovery.  Areas were inaccessible due to lack of power-ups, forcing you to backtrack and find them.  Other M rather forces your hand.  Often after plot progression, you have to follow the game even if you want to look elsewhere.  Then even when it seems feasible, locked doors step in the way.  To be fair, this trend has been introduced moreso in other recent Metroid games, and Other M is fun regardless.

The Ugly:

The “glitch”.  I never encountered it and don’t think it’s widespread, but it’s been reported and is worth noting.  In Sector 3, after you leave the desert refinery, the door may be locked.  If so, you’re stuck, requiring a revert to an earlier save or a total restart.  Nintendo is aware of the issue, but hasn’t announced plans to address it.  It’s not clear what triggers the glitch, so proceed carefully.

The Lowdown:

Core fans could spend all day picking apart Other M and its series changes.  While stiff control is the largest flaw, it doesn’t break the game nor should it hold you back from playing a legitimately great title.  There are several minor issues that I hope are addressed for a sequel in this style, but I’m very pleased with the experience in the end.  The attention to detail is unprecedented and the action awesome.  Still, past games remain superior and some core fans may feel a twinge of disappointment.  While a Metroid missing our highest honors may seem ridiculous, Other M is hardly a failure when it comes to providing an entertaining experience.  My recommendation is to Buy It.

Sin & Punishment Star Successor Review

Sin & Punishment Star Successor [Only available on Wii]
ESRB Rating: T
Players: 1-2
Genre: Shooter
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Treasure
Release Date: June 27th, 2010

Parent Talk: Sin & Punishment Star Successor is a third-person rail shooter, meaning you shoot everything and anything on the screen.  There’s no blood or gore, just lots of explosions and intense action.  Japanese developer Treasure has a solid reputation for crazy action games, some of which are available on Virtual Console (Gunstar Heroes/the original Sin and Punishment).  This game is easy for kids thanks to its simplicity.  Parents looking to avoid mindless violence for their children may want to steer clear, Star Successor but it’s not really a poor choice either way.

North American gamers finally gained domestic access to Treasure’s epic N64 shooter Sin & Punishment via the Wii’s Virtual Console , and it’s great.  No one expected the legendary development studio to bring a sequel for it though, but it’s finally happened—Star Successor is here.  The gist of it?  It rocks from beginning to end.  Is Treasure capable of making a bad game?   Star Successor isn’t merely one of Wii’s best action games, it’s one of Wii’s best, period.

The Great:

Super intense action.  From start to finish, Star Successor barrages players with enemies.  Monsters come left and right, the bosses are huge [and continuous], and the controls are spot-on to take ’em all down.  Treasure is about simplicity, and therein lies the beauty.  This is the ideal game to pick up and play, zap some monsters and pursue higher scores.  Most games are concerned with tutorial missions and/or long-winded plots; Star Successor is short and to the point.  It’s difficult, but not overly so.

The Good:

+ Excellent control.  The Classic and GameCube controllers (and Zapper) are supported, but the usual Wii-mote/nunchuk setup is ideal.  It’s perfect to use the IR pointer for aiming, while moving the character with the analog stick.  Furthermore, the character can move in front of the camera, even while the AI-controlled view changes.  All the while, you blast enemies, and their incoming attacks.  Who you use determines if lock-on is manual or automatic, and switching between rapid fire, charge blasts and sword strikes is seamless.

+ Epic boss sequences.  Boss encounters could very well be entire levels on their own!  Each is unique and awesome, sometimes spanning multiple forms.  Their patterns aren’t hard to decipher, but still challenging to avoid, so taking down a boss is oh-so-satisfying.

+ Pulse-pounding soundtrack.  The techno beats help the action move at a frantic pace, and the great sound effects complete the experience.  Lame music in an action game just doesn’t cut it.

+ Striking visuals.  There are always tons of explosions and light beams going off, making Star Successor great in motion eye candy.  The boss designs are cool and creative, ranging from mutated underwater creatures to gigantic robots.  The characters’ aesthetic design is notably Japanese, but it only adds to the game’s flair, despite the cover designs looking strange compared to their in-game counterparts.  The frame rate runs smoothly, despite the impressive on-screen action.  The graphics aren’t the most sophisticated on the Wii, but SS is no less a pretty game.

+ Online leaderboards.  Players can upload scores to compete with others around the globe.  Sadly, there are no achievements/trophies to speak of, which would fit Star Successor perfectly.  Oh well, leaderboards are always a nice addition.

The Bad:

– A short game.  Completing the adventure requires about five hours, which may be a deal-breaker considering the $49.99 price tag.  I would argue that Star Successor thrives on its appeal to be replayed over and over.  It’s a great choice to just randomly enjoy shooter action on a rainy day.  Still, length is a legitimate concern for those who would consider a purchase.

– Limited co-op.  Co-op is great, but only one character appears on the screen.  Lame.  I’m not sure why this is the case; the game could clearly handle otherwise.  Perhaps they thought a second avatar would’ve been confusing, but it lessens the experience for player two.

– Thin plot.  There is a story, but not much reason to care about it.  Besides, it’s all about shooting everything.  S&P doesn’t have a need for memorable canon, so I don’t blame the developers for writing something thin.  Gunstar Heroes and Ikaruga didn’t convey emotional plots either.

The Ugly:

-The voice work.  Next time, can we keep the Japanese voices, please?

The Lowdown:

No one expected Sin & Punishment Star Successor’s arrival, but I’m eternally grateful for it.  It’s one of Wii’s finest action offerings, no bones about it.  The length is the black sheep factor when deciding on a purchase ($49.99 for five hours), but the replay value and all-around quality of this third party’s efforts nets the game my seal of approval.