I have been wanting to do video reviews for Shamoozal for ages, so it was fun to finally get the chance to make a video review of my own, even though it’s for Elder-Geek.com and not for here. That doesn’t mean I can’t share it with you folks though, so here it is.
What do you think? This was actually much harder to put together than I anticipated, and it unfortunately cut into the time I had planned to work on the new ROM episode. Remember that free weekend from the kids that I wrote about in the last post? Yeah, that was this past weekend and my time was dedicated to putting together this review. It was good for me though, it’s been a long time since I’ve edited a video together, and it was a great exercise in doing voice over work for this sort of thing.
Reading a review is much harder than it appears! I’m much more accustomed to recording a few lines of dialogue as a character. I put together two versions of this review, the first of which I read my written review almost word for word. It just didn’t sound very natural, so I went back last night and re-recorded my audio, instead trying to do the review as if I were having a conversation with someone about it. It’s not perfect, but maybe I’ll start to get good at these sorts of things if I keep up with them.
Anyway I’m interested to see how it gets received. I tried to put more emphasis on the mechanics of the game, and go less into what the game is about. I feel like so many reviews these days read like previews of a game with the occasional opinion thrown in for good measure. I’m more interested in talking about why I think a game works the way it does. I may not have gotten that point across in this review, but again, all part of the learning process. I almost didn’t even bring the story up, but I wanted to talk about the Skyloft characters so I felt like I needed to. Also kept all talk about graphics and audio to a minimum. I think the game looks and sounds fantastic, but the review was already running long and I wanted to focus on what I felt were the important aspects of the game.
So yeah, it was lots of work, almost my entire Sunday plus a bunch of hours Saturday and Monday night. I really under estimated the scale of something like this.
Unlike the previous list in which I went over my five favorite games from 2010 that did not come out in 2010, this list is made up of anything I have played from this year. Regardless of this rule, only one game that I’ve played from 2010 made the list anyway, so whatever. Anyway, the following five games are in no particular order and they vary in quality. Some of them are outright awful, while others just managed to let me down mostly due to expectations. Some picks will probably make you angry, while others you might agree with. That said, let us begin our journey!
Tomena Sanner – WiiWare – Originally released 2010
You’ve probably never even heard of Tomena Sanner, and that’s actually an okay thing. Being billed as a “One Button” game, Sanner takes players through a wacky world of whatever the developers could think of. I was drawn to Sanner because I’m a fan of quirky Japanese titles and the price point of 500 Wii Points wasn’t too shabby. After reading a handful of reviews that actually liked it, I decided to give it the ‘ol download. It took me an hour to finish the “game” and I immediately wanted my Wii points back so I could spend them on a much better NES game. Sanner sure does have a wacky sense of humor, but this on rails “one button does it all” game lacks any real thrill. You might laugh, sure, but there’s not much depth here and barely anything to keep the player coming back for more. It lacks the addictiveness of the simpler, much cheaper (or free) Canabalt and Robot Unicorn Attack, or the sheer ingenuity of one button gaming captured in the free One Button Bob from early this year. I suppose it isn’t so much that Sanner is a terrible game because it’s okay at what it does, just that there’s much better alternatives out there and for a fraction of the price (or in this case, zero price).
Shadow Complex – Xbox Live Arcade – Originally released 2009
I’m a huge fan of Metroidvania games, so when I first heard about Shadow Complex upon its anouncement, I knew I had to have it. Factor in the rave reviews when it was released and that made it even more clear that this was the 2D HD Metroid game I was waiting for. However, the game came out when my Xbox was dead, so when I finally got around to downloading Shadow Complex this year I was rather let down. Shadow Complex has the right intentions. It’s aping one of the greatest games ever created, but it does so in the most boring way possible. It looks about as generic as any other HD game with sterile, muted colors and boring environments. The lead character that might as well be Nathan Drake is an uninspired as they come, and his corn ball Master Chief meets Samus costume that he eventually earns is a joke. All of this would be fine if the core game held up well enough, but the awful control holds it back from taking advantage of what is actually a well thought out world map. The jumping mechanic is about as off as you’d expect in a 2.5D game, and the pseudo 3D twin stick shooting is a disaster. I eventually just gave up shooting and spent the entire game running up to guys and watching the same canned animation of the dude punching guards in the face. It’s a bummer, because the game offers plenty to do and would be an incredible value if it were actually any real fun. I ended up taking the quickest route through the game and never played it again. As an aside, the bitter gamer in me sort of hates the fact this game has probably outsold the games that inspired it (Symphony of the Night included) and it just sort of bums me out that people just want to play generic looking stuff like this. Anyway, it’s heart is in the right place, it just needs better art direction and tighter, more simplified control. Some music could help spruce things up too. Oh, and forget the lame story next time too.
Crash Bandicoot – Playstation – Originally Released 1996
I only played the original Crash game briefly back when it came out. I never really cared for the character and as a result never played any Crash Bandicoot games ever. After playing Uncharted 2, I had this crazy thought that maybe Naughtydog was this amazing company all along and that’s when I decided to go back and play Crash Bandicoot. I was surprised to see that Crash had much more in common with classic platformers of the 16-bit generation than a real Super Mario 64 contender that it was made out to be when it came out. I was also surprised to find out just how damn brutal and punishing the game was too, especially since I expected to blow through it in an afternoon. I wouldn’t mind the challenge if dying was my fault, but generally you’re falling down holes thanks to a terrible camera angle, or getting hit by an enemy thanks to both awful hit detection and (once again) poor camera placement. It lacks the momentum based platforming of 2D greats like Mario, Sonic, Donkey Kong, and even contemporaries like Super Meat Boy, and considering the amount of evil jumps laced through every single stage, it just kills the entire flow of the game. It’s one of the most frustrating and poorly designed games I’ve ever played in my entire life. It amazes me that Crash Bandicoot went on to have a rather good career, though thankfully time has not been on his side and his latest games are pretty much ignored by the masses. It’s hard to believe that Naughtydog went on to create Uncharted, I imagine no one from the Crash days is involved, either that or that just learned a lot since then. If that’s the case, good on them.
Fantasia – Genesis – Originally released 1991
There are a handful of somewhat cherished Disney games on the Genesis, highlighted by Castle of Illusion and its successor World of Illusion and sorta spin off title Quackshot. Having played through Sega’s very capable if not a bit aged Disney platformers just a year ago, I happened across a copy of Fantasia for a whole dollar at this years MAGFest. I can honestly say that I think I played this game for less than 3 minutes before being completely disgusted by it and immediately turning it off, returning it to the shelf in which it’ll never be played again. The title screen was the dead give away that this was not going to be on par with the others as it was developed by Infogrames and not internally by Sega. It’s one of those awful 16-bit platformers with semi-okay graphics and animation but completely unplayable. The difference in quality between a game like this and Castle of Illusion is actually pretty amazing. An absolutely awful game, no wonder it has been forgotten by time.
Gears of War – Xbox 360 – Originally released 2006
I almost bought an Xbox 360 to play Gears of War, but that Christmas I had a hard time explaining to my then new wife that I needed another console after dropping close to 400 dollars on a brand new Wii and games that November. So I sucked it up and never muttered a word about it again. As time passed I eventually found myself owning a 360 anyway, but never ended up getting Gears until this past summer.
Let me start by saying that I can appreciate what Gears was in that it was probably the first game to really have that true next gen look. Most 360 titles up to that point basically looked like higher resolution Xbox and PS2 games, but Gears showed us the future of video game graphics. On top of that, I suppose Gears can also be credited for bringing co-op back to the forefront of a game experience. It could probably also be credited for its refined cover based mechanics that have obviously inspired the rest of this gen, but lets be honest here, cover based game design has been around since the sort of terrible Winback on the N64. In that way I can see why Gears was important when it released. It was a bold game at the time and its ideas have, for better or worse, affected this entire generation. That said, Gears is a boring, already out of date game which has given me zero incentive to stick with it let alone play more games in the series.
I was sort of digging Gears at first, the control is mostly solid and shooting guys was fun for a bit, but from my experience with Gears, what you see in the first hour is what you see for the rest of the game. The game never makes you learn much more than stop and pop, and it never adds anything new to turn the experience on its ear and demand more from the player. It does one thing semi-right and it sticks to that for what I’m going to assume is close to 8 hours. I wouldn’t know because I became so frustrated playing Gears on single player that I stopped completely.
Your buddies are the biggest dip shits in the universe. I made it to the sequence where stepping onto dark spots will send in a bunch of hungry bats that eat everyone alive within seconds and the only way through is by blowing up propane tanks to light the way. It’s not a bad idea, but the fact that I continued to be punished for the dumb choices my partner made infuriated me to no end. My partner, Dom I believe, must have died 10 times on this sequence alone (this isn’t counting all the other times he died). The poorly placed check point meant that each time he died I needed to go through a wave of enemies again (another part where he would become an idiot and storm the bad guys, falling and most likely dying) and then hope to the lord above that Dom would be able to control himself once we made it through them. The worthless commands assigned to the D-Pad didn’t help matters either. Your comrades are going to do whatever the hell they want to do regardless of what you ask of them. Why even have them in there? It completely breaks the single player experience. Between doing the same thing over and over again and having Game Overs left and right thanks to my idiot pal, I grew tired of the game and turned it off. I remember the night I made the decision to never play it again.
And that is the most I’ll ever play of the Gears of War series for the rest of my life. I’ll give it the credit it deserves, but time clearly hasn’t been kind to this game.
So what have you played this year that was a let down?
Donkey Kong Country was a pretty big deal when it came out. I’m not going to go into boring specifics, but needless to say I ended up loving it. Over the years since the hype has died it seems that most of the gaming community (especially the enthusiastic press) don’t really have any true feelings of love for the series. While it’s true that DKC never truly broke any new ground in the area of game design, that doesn’t mean what it was doing was bad. I personally love the feel of playing one of the DKC games because they really do have fantastic spot on control. There’s something about being able to blitz through a stage flawlessly and having absolute control over every single jump. It’s just fine platforming, I don’t care what anyone says. Don’t even get me started on DKC2, which I’m willing to say is pretty much a masterpiece.
So now you know my love for the series. Donkey Kong Country Returns, coming from the fine folks over at Retro (the dudes that also revived the shit out of Metroid with Metroid Prime) have managed to bring the series back to its roots, yet make enough minor changes to the formula to give it its own identity. This isn’t Donkey Kong Country 4, it’s more of a reboot of the series which forgets creepy characters like Candy Kong, ignores Rare’s Donkey Kong “cannon” (in that Cranky Kong is alive, would you believe he was actually killed in a game? It doesn’t get much worse than that) and boils everything down to its basics. This is all for the better of course, because the moment you start introducing over arching story lines and awful characters (though I do like Dixie) in games like this things just get ridiculous.
Anyway the big thing here is that the speed of the game has completely changed, or at least at first glance. With a camera that’s more pulled back than the original games, and a more weighty and realistic Donkey Kong, Returns comes off by feeling slower than its predecessors. That isn’t a knock, it’s just that the speed has been toned down as a whole, meaning unexperienced players won’t be running and jumping like Mario does New SMB. That said, experienced players will be able to use DK’s move set to propel themselves through stages in the blink of an eye. Rolling and jumping onto enemies help DK find new momentum and will send him flying through stages. In fact there’s actually an entire portion of the game devoted to speed runs. So while it may initially feel like a slower paced game, it can easily be played at a much faster clip. It goes to show the range of the game where players can approach it with caution, or go through stages methodically to find all the hidden trinkets, or master the art of using every enemy and object to their advantage. Nothing is put into a stage without thought, it all has a reason for being there. The game encourages all these different play styles and rewards them accordingly. Needless to say, players will be playing through the stages multiple times, but always coming at it from a different angle.
Donkey Kong controls nearly identical to how he does in the previous games, though oddly enough Retro has turned what was essentially a two button game into a three button game (counting the waggle as a button). While the roll used to be assigned to the run/action button in the original games, it is now performed by shaking the remote. The game still has an action button, but it’s mainly just used to grab objects. Considering there is no longer a run button, this button feels slightly under used as rolling is what players will be doing the most. At first I tried to play the game with the sideways remote as I kind of refuse to play platformers with an analog stick, but it’s much harder to roll when needed holding the remote this way. Because rolling is such an integral part of the game, I made the switch to the remote/nunchuck combination. I can say that this was likely the method of control the game was designed around. DK has analog controlled walking (that’s why there’s no run button) and pounding and shaking the remote in this way is much easier. For people that want to master the game, this is the way to play.
That said, I wish rolling had a button assigned to it. I died countless times from the remote not picking up on the fact that I’m shaking on it. I’m generally cool with motion control, but in a game like this it’s almost essential to have something as important as DK’s roll assigned to a button. I think it’s satisfying to pound the ground by shaking, but the other actions don’t call for it. I’d say this is a large misstep on Retro’s part, but the truth is that it’s not a game breaker. Watching crazy gold medal speed runs on YouTube prove players are completely capable of kicking ass with the control the way it is. Just expect a few hiccups here and there.
I’m currently more than 90% through the game. I have completed the main quest and now spending my time finding all of the hidden trinkets and eventually going to man up and try out the speed run challenges. I know there is even more stuff beyond just that, and I’m loving the fact there are still several stages I haven’t even played yet. The game just manages to keep on giving, and I’ve easily put on around 20 hours of game time with no sign of me slowing down any time soon. It’s kind of ashame, because I’d really like to go back and finish collecting items in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, play some more Super Meat Boy, or finally wrap up my brothers copy of Dead Space Extraction, but I’m pretty much hooked on this one for the time being and have been playing it exclusively.
So if you have a passing interest in platforming games or have any feelings in your heart about the original DKC, you’d probably do well to check this one out. It’s pretty fantastic.
Sometimes people don’t really know what they want. Both Nintendo fans and critics come down on the company for being guilty of creating sequels that feel very similar to one another. Zelda has been under fire for years now as most people believe the formula hasn’t changed since A Link to the Past. Metroid is in the same boat, with a formula that hasn’t changed since Super Metroid. As a result, Nintendo has finally decided to give the Metroid franchise a make over, and where Metroid Prime stuck true to form despite being in first person, Other M breaks tradition while at the same time going back to its roots from the NES era. The result? A split fan base that seems to either love or hate it. Maybe people really do want the same experience over and over again?
Back in 2007, Retro Studio used Metroid Prime 3 as a way to show people that the Wii remote was capable of delivering a tense first person experience thanks to then ground breaking IR control and some clever uses of waggle (the grapple beam) and motion control (opening doors). It came at a time where Wii games were simply mini-game collections (not much has changed) or broken traditional games (I guess not much changed there either). So it’s interesting that Metroid: Other M’s control lay on the other end of the design spectrum, yet just like Prime 3, paves the way for how action games should play not just on the console, but on all consoles period.
In a ballsy move, Nintendo decided that Other M should use only the Wii remote, meaning no nunchuck attachment. For the people that wanted nunchuck control as an option? Too bad, the players don’t have any options and are forced to play with just the remote. It’s an admirable move in an age where action games use every single button on a cluttered controller. People scoffed at the idea of playing a 3D game without an analog stick, and somehow after supposedly playing the game, they still want a nunchuck to control the action. I almost wonder if they were playing the same game I was because Other M plays near flawlessly.
I come from the camp that believes all 3D games should be played with an analog stick. I couldn’t imagine playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 with just the D-Pad, and I actually refused to play Mario 64 on the DS thanks to the lack of analog stick. The thing is, Other M is designed around the D-Pad as much as a 3D game is designed around the precision of an analog stick. The game intuitively guides Samus around 3D areas, at times she’ll automatically run around winding corridors as the player simply holds in the direction she should be going. Platforming feels fantastic thanks to bits of assisting when it comes to landing a jump. If you a miss a jump, chances are it’s your fault as the game thoughtfully locks Samus onto the area the player is trying to navigate to. Shooting Samus’ blaster in a 3D space is easy too, as the game will automatically target the nearest foe, or whomever Samus is currently facing. If all this makes the game sound too easy, well, that’s where the other interesting bits come into play.
Another element tailored to the D-Pad is Samus’ flashy “sense” move in which she can easily dodge enemy attacks by tapping away from them during the point of impact. Timing is tricky at first, but once ingrained into the player’s mind, they’ll have no issues jumping and rolling to safety. The reward for a well timed dodge is a automatically charged beam which can be used to either fire off some serious rounds, or deliver a punishing finishing move to nearby enemies. Speaking of which, even her cool finishers are handled by the use of one button, and it feels just as rewarding as when Kratos does something similar with a quick time event in God of War games. Just another example of the subtle yet genius touches in control when it comes to the overall design.
The lack of pick ups to refill missiles and energy introduces a new risk/reward element to the Metroid series. Similar to recharging the beam katana in No More Heroes, if Samus is low on health or ammo, tilting the remote upright and holding in the A button takes her out of action yet enables her to recharge energy and missiles. Speaking of which, missiles can only be fired by locking onto a target in first person mode, which Samus goes into when the player points the remote at the screen. Switching to first person also has a risk/reward element to it in that Samus isn’t capable of running around, yet is able to do serious damage. It isn’t gimmicky however, as switching to first person is absolutely necessary in finding hidden items and defeating certain enemies and bosses. I’ve heard complaints about switching to first person, but as someone that plays Wii games on a consistent basis, I personally found it fun and simple to do.
As far as the actual game plays out, it has more in line with Metroid Fusion than Metroid Prime. Instead of large labyrinths that you’d find in Prime, Other M almost mirror’s Fusion’s progression right down to the way the Sectors are accessed, meaning it’s more linear than your typical Metroid adventure. That said, there is still room to get sidetracked by hunting down hidden items or going back to previous areas to get those items you couldn’t reach before once acquiring new abilities.
Speaking of abilities, in another somewhat controversial design choice, Samus actually starts with all of her abilities. Tying it into the story, Samus is only allowed to use her abilities (like the Screw Attack for example) once the character Adam grants her permission. At times it comes off silly (why wouldn’t Adam automatically authorize her Varia Suit when she’s in an area with molten hot lava that’s hurting her?) while at others it’s kind of exciting (like when Adam authorizes use of the Ice Beam during the heat of a battle). Without trying to ruin anything, it eventually gets to a point where Samus just kind of says “f it” and takes things into her own hands. To be honest, I don’t mind the explanation of the item progression here. Samus still gets the abilities as the game moves on, so in the end it still feels how it would in any other Metroid game.
The story, which needs to be addressed, is acceptable and about on par with an average game plot. I don’t really understand all of the out right hate for what Nintendo delivered here. Does it have cheesy lines, and so-so voice acting? It sure does. Is the story going to win any awards? No, but it’s fun enough to see it through, and it’s full of a neat little things that long time Metroid fans should appreciate. Samus herself is seen as a flawed and conflicted individual, something fans can’t seem to wrap their minds around as they apparently want Samus to be nothing more than a female Master Chief. Sure, the story doesn’t hold a candle to something like the story sequences in a game like Uncharted, but it’s about average on a whole, and no where near as insulting as some of Nintendo’s other talky games like both Star Fox Adventures and Assault. As for the plot itself, it often feels like a simpler take on Metal Gear Solid 2, with The Bottle Ship (which ironically looks just like a baby bottle) having much in common with The Big Shell. The only thing that really bothered me with the story progression was the lack of a pause or skip button as they tend to go on for a while.
That’s not my only beef with Other M. There are times when the player is asked to focus on something that Samus is apparently looking at in first person mode. These sequences completely hold up the action while the player is forced to search an area for a sometimes obscure object. Actually, sometimes the object is clear as day, but it seems like you need to get the reticule directly onto a single pixel in order for it to take. These scenes are easily the low points of the adventure. There are also a handful of instant death scenarios that haven’t really been seen in a Metroid game before, and they aren’t welcomed by any means. Chances are these trial and error sequences will see you killed at least the first time, but the game is nice enough to start you a room or two behind and not at the save point making it more of an annoyance than a hassle.
Yet aside from a few hiccups, Other M still remains an amazingly well crafted and downright exciting game. The pacing is much faster than what you’d find in the sometimes overlong and padded Prime games, the combat has never been as slick, the boss battles are incredible and the moody environment is Metroid at its purest. It would seem to me that Other M will go down in history as one of Nintendo’s misunderstood classics (like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link) in that it’s a great game that decided to do things in it’s own unique way. At the same time, while it may have split it’s core audience, Other M makes for a great entry point into the series with its accessible control system. The title is also unique and exciting enough to potentially make new fans out of people that have previously been uninterested in the Metroid series, because believe it or not, those people exist.
The Wii Virtual Console has been dead lately, and well, Sunsoft has been pretty much dead forever. Seeing these two things revived thanks to this week’s release of Ufouria makes me pretty happy.
Ufouria is a late gen NES title that was due for release in the states but never made it outside of Japan and Europe. It was far along enough that magazines like Nintendo Power had write ups and advertisements for the game. Me personally, I always wanted to try it because I loved Sunsoft games. After nearly 20 years, the Virtual Console and Sunsoft have made that dream a reality. Yes, I know I could have just downloaded a ROM of it, but whatever. I’m legit.
Ufouria: The Saga revolves around four cute Pokemon-like characters (get it? You-Four-Of-Ya) in a quest to return home. The game is very much a Metroidvania title, so exploring, learning the map, and back tracking is the name of the game here. While one character, the Frosty the Snow Man looking Bop Louie, is selectable at first it doesn’t take long to track down the other selectable characters. Of course, each character has their own unique skills (the lizard is the only one that doesn’t fall on his face on ice, the frog can swim, ect) so there is plenty of swapping going on between the four during the game. Eventually though, I found myself almost using Bop Louie and the frog almost exclusively, only going back to the lizard and ghost when I had to.
I found it interesting that for a game done in the early 90s, that Sunsoft had the sense to add arrows that pop up early on in the game to help keep players on track so that they don’t get lost or frustrated. Only after acquiring some key items and the map opens up do the arrows go away. It’s a rather forward thinking move on their part, and it’s something that hasn’t really become a standard in games until somewhat recently.
However as bold a design choice as that is, I’m baffled the game never teaches you how to attack. For the first 20 minutes I thought my character was worthless since I couldn’t harm any bad guys. I knew something was wrong and actually consulted the digital manual included with the game where I found my answer. Holding in “down” while jumping is the only way to stomp enemies. It’s a strange move in an era where we were conditioned by Super Mario that jumping on heads is the way to go. Why throw the curve ball in there? I suppose it adds some skill to how the player attacks, but as good as the game is about explaining what items do what, I’m surprised they missed such a crucial step. Still, fans of Ducktales would feel right at home after they figure out what to do.
That said, the game features a well designed and interconnected map with plenty of incentive to keep playing as the game almost constantly rewards the player with new items and gizmos. While the game does have a certain old school bite in the difficulty department, Game Overs aren’t the end of the world and are more forgiving then they might seem. Once revived the player always starts from the same point on the map, but all of the items acquired are still accounted for and since the map is so tight it isn’t too bad getting back to where you were. The game becomes even more forgiving thanks to the Virtual Console’s save function. If the player so chooses they can write down Mega Man style passwords, but the save function does the job just fine.
As a late gen NES title the game sports some nice, bold, and well animated graphics. However, the awesome Sunsoft soundtrack is nearly ruined by the fact that this is the PAL version converted for the Virtual Console and not the Famicom one, so the audio is sped up more than it should be. Though I never played the original game, I felt the soundtrack was off and doing a bit of research (ie looking on GAF and seeing people talking about it) confirmed my suspicions. It isn’t a deal breaker, just a slight bummer.
For 600 Wii Points some people might find the game to be too short (took me about two and a half hours, a half hour worth trying to figure out the final boss), but for someone that doesn’t want to pay the absurd asking price for the PAL version on eBay, that figure is rather fair.
While my love affair with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker continues to flourish, I had the chance to pick up another highly anticipated title of mine, Super Mario Galaxy 2. As I continue my slide further and further into the realm of the “casual gamer”, I’m finding that my consoles are collecting and ever growing coat of dust. Believe me, it’s not for a lack of wanting on my part. So when I had a few minutes to kill the other day, I stumbled into the Best Buy in Union Square (open 24 hours no less), and picked up a copy of SMG2.
Yesterday, after pulling my hair out trying to coax my rechargeable batteries into actually charging, I popped it in my Wii and gave it a spin. Like I said, it has been some time since I picked up a Wii remote. I plugged in the nunchuck and was smiling to myself as I played through the opening little cinema. However, I instantly noticed one of the biggest flaws with the remote and nunchuck set-up that has plagued me since I first played Zelda: Twilight Princess at the Wii’s launch, and that is which it is not friendly to left-handed people such as myself. Allow me to explain.
Historically speaking, a large majority of home consoles all have similar button layouts. Since at least the NES, all major platforms have a controller where the directional D-pad is situated to the left, and a varying set of secondary buttons to perform actions are to the right. Meaning, to move a character onscreen has always been done using my left thumb, and jumping and shooting is done with my right thumb. This has almost always been the case. Then the Wii comes along.
Most people are righties, meaning they use their right hand for almost all daily tasks like writing, picking things up, playing sports, and so forth. This means they already feel comfortable holding the remote in their right hand, and keeping the nunchuck in their left. Righties are already used to this as they still using the same exact thumbs to perform actions they have done in the past as described above: you still are controlling your guy with your left thumb, and hitting the Wii’s singular A button with your right thumb.
This is where the problem comes in. Since one of the primary functions of the remote is as a pointer, I naturally feel inclined to use my left hand. I can quickly and accurately point to the TV with my left hand. When all I have to do is use the remote by itself, this is just fine, however the moment the nunchuck is involved my brain starts to stall. Since I am conditioned to control my in-game character with my left thumb, I want to hold the nunchuck with my left hand. However, that now means I have to hold the remote in my right hand which feels clumsy and awkward. The speed and accuracy just isn’t there with my right hand. So, I use my left hand to hold the remote, and the nunchuck in my right…which I’m sure is the reverse of what everyone else does.
What then starts to happen is that I have to actually THINK to make my proper hand press the button to make Mario jump. Put on top of that is I am now using the opposite hand that I am used to (that’s my right hand, folks) to make Mario actually run around. It kind of sucks, and I have to acclimate myself to it every time I play a Wii game where some time has passed. It struck me again yesterday as I sat down to SMG2 that I still haven’t figured this out yet since I played Zelda:TP a few years ago. I actually flipped back and forth for a while trying each one out for a while, and the one I settled on is holding the remote in my left, and the nunchuck in my right.
Bottom line is, I’m screwed. I’m either sacrificing speed and control over Mario, or im giving up accuracy with the pointer which there are plenty of times its used throughout the game. Not only do I have trouble holding a pair of scissors and using most computer mice, but now even playing a Wii game is a chore for my poor, addled brain. Sucks being a lefty.
Everyone has reviewed Mario Galaxy 2 by this point. Hell, I even had my own review all typed up and ready to go but realized I offered nothing you couldn’t find elsewhere, and it very much echoed my review from the original game.
Tonight I just about wrapped up the second half of Galaxy 2. If you’re a Galaxy 2 virgin, and know nothing about the game at this point and would like to keep certain things spoiler free, I highly suggest you stop reading right now.
There, I have given you a warning.
After finding all 120 stars and beating the game again, an additional 120 stars open up in what is known as the Green Star Challenge. These stars are hidden within all of the courses that the player would have gone through countless times by this point in the game. Some stars are clever, others are devious, countless of them brain dead easy, and a handful are borderline insane.
In the original Galaxy, finding all 120 stars allows the game to be played through again with Luigi with the promise of a new hidden level for finding everything as Mario’s bro. It was an easy way to bloat the game and give it an extra bit of replay value for those interested. I myself finished the game as Luigi a few years later, but never decided to find everything all over again. In Galaxy 2, at least the developers decided on creating a whole new set of stars… for better or worse.
Finding the stars is generally rather easy. They’re sometimes in plain sight, and if they aren’t, they all make a noise that gets louder the closer your get to them. Most of the stars require the player to master Mario’s triple jump if they haven’t already. Some of the more creative stars really test your skills as you essentially make Mario the master of parkour by bouncing him off walls and areas you didn’t think were possible or accessible. It’s those few stars that really make the journey through Galaxy 2’s worlds worth it again. There is just something really satisfying about climbing up a ridiculous obstacle and grabbing a star in the middle of nowhere in which your punishment for missing would be instant death. It’s just a good feeling defying the odds.
Another thing I sort of liked about this quest is how it brought back some slight feelings of Mario 64. It becomes more about the environment and the hunt and less about getting through the gauntlet. While I much prefer the way things the Galaxy games do versus how Mario 64 did things, it offers a slightly different pace than the rest of the game. Considering most players will have just come off of doing some ridiculously hard and annoying purple coin challenges and dare devil runs, the almost leisurely pacing of the first few green stars is welcomed.
That said, I was close to giving up on the green star challenge about 190 stars in, but I kept on slowly trucking along because I figured since I was that far along I might as well see it through. I felt somewhat accomplished when I grabbed my final star tonight, only to be hit with an awful truth. In order to fully finish this game, I now need to grind an additional five thousand something star bits to give to the banker Toad (he needs 9,999 of them) in order to unlock the final comet run. The idea of doing this at the moment just isn’t even an option. I sort of gave up on trying to collect star bits during this second run since I didn’t think I needed them, and now I’m paying the freaking piper. If only I continued to collect those stupid star bits. How was I supposed to know that the banker Toad needed all those? And the only reason I do know is simply because I didn’t have a gold crown next to the final stage causing me to check out GameFaqs to see what the deal was. It makes me sick just thinking about it. I’ll get those bits eventually, but I need a few days to wind down a bit.
So while the Green Star challenge is a decent enough bonus (think of it as sort of a Second Quest like from the original Zelda), I’d say it’s only for those people who are true completionists. I’m generally not one of those people, but for whatever reason I felt compelled to keep going through Galaxy, even if some of those stars drove me absolutely bat shit insane.
Most brawlers these days have more in common with God of War and Ninja Gaiden than they do traditional 2D beat ‘em ups of yesterday like Turtles In Time or Double Dragon. Vanillaware’s latest Wii effort, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, takes the core concepts that fuels today’s action games, and blends them seamlessly within a classic 2D environment, while at the same time manages to throw in a large helping of JRPG, and even a dash of Metroid to keep things interesting.
Since the game is mainly about fighting, you’d hope that it better be good, and in this case I believe Vanillaware nailed it. The game opens up with a quick tutorial showing players every single move available to them. At first it seems a little overbearing, but considering they’re showing you everything (minus special attacks that differ from sword to sword) it only takes a little while to adjust. Within a few hours, most players will likely be whizzing around the screen slashing up ninjas and monks in style. In an effort to add a bit of depth to the actual battles, players must juggle between three swords of choice, each with their own “health” meter. General use of the blade, by either attacking or blocking, slowly wears the meter down, and once it drops, the sword breaks. Thankfully the swords heal on their own, but there are plenty of times where bad guys will snap your blades with a single blow, rendering you almost useless in battle. It takes a bit of time getting used to checking on the different sword meters, but it adds a fun strategic variant to the fights.
The swords themselves all have different strengths and weaknesses, and come in either an easier to use lightweight blade (my personal choice) or a heavier long blade (which takes a bit more skill and patience to use). Outside of battles, which happen randomly like in a JRPG, players have the ability to forge new swords on the fly. Forging said swords uses a combination of souls, which are earned from fallen baddies, and spirit, which is gained from eating and cooking delicious food from items that are either picked up during play or bought from merchants.
The entire game is focused entirely around these core concepts, and rarely does it deviate from there. Is that enough to sustain an entire adventure? I think so, as I feel compelled to continue on with the experience after having finished the game with female lead Momohime. Currently, I’m about halfway through the game with male lead Kisuke, and have every intention of finishing up. While both characters control and perform moves exactly the same as one another, they each have their own unique (but slightly hard to follow) story lines, fantastic boss encounters, and separate paths through the game world.
Speaking of which, the game world takes a page from the Metroid school of design in that everything is all interconnected. Players have the ability to go where ever they want at will, though most of the exists are blocked by barriers that can only be knocked down by particular swords which are rewarded after boss encounters. On paper, this sounds great, but Vanillaware’s world is sprawling, becomes repetitive, and features no distinct level design what so ever outside of visuals. If it wasn’t for the fact that the game has an arrow pointing in the direction for the player to go, progress in this game would be absolutely impossible. Well, maybe not impossible, but there would be plenty of lost players. While the developers have an handy on screen map that overlays on top of the game screen, I found myself using it as a crutch way too often. I think I spent more time following my yellow dot run through boxes on the map than I did my actual character running through the environment, only to put my attention to the foreground once a battle commenced. Needless to say, the game has lots of extra padding that it doesn’t need.
The poor navigation through Muramasa’s world is the fundamental issue with the game. Between this and Odin Sphere, Vanillaware’s late great PS2 title, it is easy to see that while the team can absolutely nail deep and engaging combat, they know zero about level design. Players literally spend their time running through a series of interconnected boxes. Occasionally a screen will make use of some platforming, or may even introduce a hazard such as bamboo shoots popping up from the ground, but outside of that, there isn’t much else going on.
Had Vanillaware built a more focused game map worthy of Super Metroid or Symphony of the Night, we would have been looking at an instant classic. What we’re left with however, is a very capable, fun, and polished Wii effort worthy of anyone’s time that enjoys a good blood bath here and there…. sans any actual blood of course.