Archive for January, 2014

Minish Cap

I’ve owned The Minish Cap for some time now. Even started a playthrough once or twice, but for some reason, I could just never keep myself interested. A couple of weeks ago though, I decided to pick it up and get through it. After finally getting past the second section, which is where I stalled out, I found a game that was extremely appealing to me and which I couldn’t get enough of.

The Set-up:
You are Link and you have been tasked with accompanying Princess Zelda to Hyrule Castle during an annual festival. As you’re going there anyway, you must also deliver a sword to the castle to be used in a ceremony. I wonder why Hyrule doesn’t allow last names…

The Story:
Everything to do with the story is fairly typical Zelda fare. After delivering the sword, the recipient (by virtue of a contest) takes it, and immediately reveals himself as the villain of the game, Vaati. He turns Princess Zelda to stone, fights off the soldiers, and then leaves in search of a great power that he expected to find at the castle. At the center of his scheme is a sword crafted by the Picori, a tiny race of beings that saved Hyrule in the past but seem to have since vanished. As it turns out, only Children can see them, so Link is recruited to take the now broken Picori Blade to the Minish Woods in hopes of finding the Picori and having them reforge the blade, which should free Princess Zelda from her stone curse.

The wrinkle arrives when Link meets Ezlo, a strange creature that resembles a bird and a hat. Ezlo reveals that Link will have to shrink to see the Picori and has the power to help him do so. Ezlo then settles on Link’s head and serves a role similar to Navi from Ocarina of Time.

As with prior Zelda titles, reforging the sword is only the start of the adventure. As Link, you’ll battle through multiple dungeons and areas as you uncover Vaati’s history and Princess Zelda’s role in his plans. I admired the fact that Nintendo didn’t pull Vaati at the last minute and introduce Ganon as the primary antagonist. Vaati is a very good villain for the game and it was nice to not have a puppet type situation.

He just looks villainous. How did they not see this coming.

He just looks villainous. How did they not see this coming.

As a side note here, it’s worth mentioning that this game falls into the Four Swords subset of Zelda titles. Vaati is present in both of the other games and both make the Link splitting mechanic touched upon in Minish Cap a central aspect. I’ve never delved too deeply into those games, but felt that little factoid deserved a spot here.

The Gameplay:
Again, very standard for a Legend of Zelda game. You gradually find items that will open up new areas for exploration. There’s a town where you will buy supplies, characters you’ll interact with, sidequests, etc… There are, however, two aspects that set Minish Cap apart in my mind from other entries.

The first is the shrinking ability. Initially, I just assumed that you’d see larger versions of your surroundings, but it is actually implemented in a very clever manner. Shrinking is limited to certain areas, which allowed the designers to create puzzles around getting to new areas while tiny. It has a very Metroid type feel to it. You can see areas where you need to journey while tiny, but don’t yet have the equipment to get there. I loved this particular aspect of the game and felt it was brilliantly implemented.

A joke about tiny Link and a log would be totally inappropriate here.

A joke about tiny Link and a log would be totally inappropriate here.

The second mechanic is the entirely optional Kinstone sidequests. Kinstones are stone halves you’ll find throughout hyrule in the same ways you find rupees, hearts, etc… The key to these is that the other inhabitants of Hyrule also have Kinstone pieces. If you press “L” while standing next to one and they have a piece, they’ll offer to fuse with you. If you have the corresponding half, you can complete the Kinstone with them, leading to something happening in Hyrule (there are only about nine types of Kinstones, so you should generally have more than enough to fuse). Some will make chests appear, some spawn golden enemies that are harder to defeat, but worth about 100 rupees upon being defeated, while some open up doors or make other random events occur. While this is mostly optional (there is one point in the game where you must find Kinstones to proceed, but it’s confined to one area and is a relatively short sequence), it was very intriguing for me. I would revisit the citizens of Hyrule numerous times to see if they would fuse with me. This is the kind of non-forced sidequest that I love to see in Zelda games. Fun without a requirement.

The negative of Kinstone fusing being that Tingle character is sometimes involved.

The negative of Kinstone fusing being that Tingle character is sometimes involved.

Aside from those two conventions, as I said at the beginning of this section, this is mostly a standard Zelda game. There are the normal puzzles you encounter, some new items that are quite neat (I especially loved the leaping and gliding ability of the Roc’s Cape), and the ability to clone yourself as you add Elementals to the Picori Blade (finally making it the Four Sword, as seen in the Four Swords games). This ability doesn’t show up too often, making it a neat idea that doesn’t get tired. The puzzles using the clones (who all mimic your movements) are sometimes devious, but not hard enough to be frustrating.

Conclusions:
I think what I just said is the key to this game. There is no frustration to be had. Nearly all Zelda games have that one puzzle or that one temple that seems to slow the game down to a crawl, but that’s not the case here. Everything about this game is very measured, which makes for an incredibly enjoyable experience. It could be argued that the game is a bit short, but for a handheld title, I think it’s length is adequate. The best compliment I can give this game is that it feels like a spiritual sequel to A Link to the Past. No, it doesn’t equal Link to the Past, but it stands alongside it well and the design constantly made me think back to the Super NES masterpiece. For those still seeking a Link to the Past fix, even after playing A Link Between Worlds, I feel that The Minish Cap is the game you should visit next.

Despite my praise of the game, the inclusion of a brothel seemed very out of place in a Zelda title.

Despite my praise of the game, the inclusion of a brothel seemed very out of place in a Zelda title.

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Wii Music

This Top 8 is a bit of a cheat as I’ve previously posted two entries about my favorite gaming music. In those posts, however, I mostly cited games, whereas in this entry, I’m picking specific songs. Yes, this is a technicality, but I’m taking advantage of it.

If you’re interested, those two posts are located here:
https://justanothervideogameblogblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/my-favorite-gaming-music/
https://justanothervideogameblogblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/my-favorite-gaming-music-part-2/

I’m presenting these without comment. Music and songs are something that I have a hard time describing in words. I did so in those two previous entries, but I think in this case, I’m just letting the songs speak for themselves. I will say this though, in some of these cases, the songs are tied to a game in a way that enhances them in my mind. In other words, I’m ranking them based on not just the music, but what the music reminds me of as well.

8. Super R-Type: Counterattack ’91

7. Final Fantasy VI: Terra’s Theme

6. de Blob: Euphoric

5. Metroid Prime: Phendrana Drifts (Depths)

4. Xenoblade: Prologue B

3. Okami: Cave of Nagi

2. Castlevania Judgment: Bloody Tears (Carmilla’s Theme)

1. NIER: Hills of Radiant Winds

Appreciating Graphics

Posted: January 27, 2014 in Current Gaming
Tags: , , ,

Graphics

A few days ago I was commenting on a game and stated that the graphics were very well done. I then went on to qualify my remark by saying that gameplay is the most important aspect, but if the graphics were well done, I felt I should mention them. The more I think about it, the more I’m annoyed that I qualified that at all. Why is it a bad thing to compliment graphics?

In my case, I’ve always been a gameplay first kind of guy, and have therefore created the image of someone that not only doesn’t pay attention to graphical presentation, but might even be put off by a game with better than usual graphical design. Essentially, my qualification was to avoid having someone call me hypocritical for decrying graphical performance, then praising it in a game I like. The problem is, I’m not that guy.

Okay, it is true that pretty graphics alone won’t win me over. Ryse looks gorgeous, but the gameplay I’ve seen is a major turn off to me. Why do we still have QTE in this generation? Has anyone every written a developer begging for more of these? No one I know likes these things even slightly! Ahem…but I digress.

:|

😐

As consoles have gotten more advanced, it almost seems like video game fans have been separated into two groups against our will. One group are the worshipers of crisp, amazing graphics, while the other group dismiss graphics out of hand and believe they add no value to a game. The problem with this is that it’s really not at all true. Yes, there are players that demand the most out of their graphics, but they also expect good gameplay to pull them into the world those graphics create. Conversely, those people that point back to the NES as proof that gameplay trumps all else, are still quick to note when a game looks fantastic. This is a debate that has almost become political. You’re only allowed to identify yourself as a Democrat or a Republican, so to speak, when in reality, there is a ton of gray area.

I’ll openly admit belonging to the latter group, those that would be looked upon as totally dismissing graphics. While it’s true that I don’t demand anything groundbreaking in the presentation of what I play, I do still appreciate it when a game just looks amazing. For example, when I first played Bioshock, I made my wife come in and watch the opening scenes because I was so impressed with what the developers had been able to do with the presentation of the game. Rapture was a tremendous joy to explore, and the graphical presentation made a huge difference in that. On the other side of the coin, NIER is often cited as having sub-par graphics, and was criticized in many a review for them, except I thought the graphics were fantastic. No, they weren’t Bioshock, but they were still detailed and stylistic.

One minute in, and I was immediately impressed.

One minute in, and I was immediately impressed.

I will not apologize for thinking the visuals of this game are fantastic.

I will not apologize for thinking the visuals of this game are fantastic.

This is what I mean when I say graphics aren’t as important as gameplay. I’m not saying they can be totally dismissed and everything should be 8 bit, I’m only saying that I don’t really consider them when I’m playing a game. They may add to my enjoyment of the game (Bioshock), but they never take away from my enjoyment (NIER). To me, with very few exceptions, graphics are just gravy. They enhance something I’m already enjoying. Many people would disagree with that statement, and that’s fine. It only means that their enjoyment is derived differently than mine. It’s not a right or a wrong, it’s just the way we play and perceive games that differs. In this situation, like so many others, there really is no such thing as black and white.

A full-fledged update might be more than just gravy.

A full-fledged update might be more than just gravy.

EA & Nintendo

It really annoys me when I encounter people making a generalization about Nintendo consoles only being for kids’ games. I don’t like generalizations anyway, but one like this that is so patently false and spawned of ignorance truly raises my hackles (note: I’m not actually a dog, just using hackles in a metaphorical manner). The positive that I can keep with me on this subject is that at least it’s confined to a loud minority with no real standing or influence over the video game industry.

“Nintendo was dead to us very quickly. It became a kids’ IP platform and we don’t really make games for kids.” – EA Source to CVG

.  .  .  .  .

Grumpy Cat

I rarely make a statement in a blog without prefacing it by saying that it is only my opinion and others will differ in their own opinions. I openly accept, acknowledge, and encourage dissenting opinions to my own. Everything I write is viewed through the prism of my life that no one else can see, just as I can’t see theirs. That said, this statement about the WiiU by EA is bullshit. And I don’t consider that my opinion, I consider it a verifiable fact.

First of all, we have to remove sales from this statement. If EA wants to complain that their games don’t sell on the WiiU, fine. That’s provable and has been true to date. EA specifically cited Mass Effect 3 being published on the WiiU as not performing well. Could it be due to the fact that it’s a game that builds upon your customized character from the previous two games, neither of which appeared on the WiiU, making it a more attractive purchase for those that owned the previous titles on the competing systems? That would be my guess. I’m sure it was at least a large factor in poor sales. This happened with the Wii as well. A company puts out a lesser effort on a Nintendo console, then points to the lack of success as proof that their titles don’t sell. Dead Space: Extraction was a fine game, but it was also an on-rails shooter, which is immediately a limited market, but it’s poor performance was absolute proof that an actual Dead Space game would never have worked on the Wii (ignoring the performance limitations of the Wii for the moment). It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That said, this isn’t a blog about why third party games struggle on the WiiU (but that’s a great idea for a future blog). This is about EA’s assertion that the WiiU is a console for kids’ IPs, a comment repeated, as pointed out in my opening paragraph, by many other individuals, and is the battle cry for at least a small segment of gamers. Really though, what is a “kiddy” game? In my mind, a kids’ game is game that is designed solely for children, age 12 and under, that is used for their entertainment and/or educational purposes. To be solely for kids, it would have to be a game that offered little to no appeal to the majority of game players outside of that age range. The difficulty would have to be low enough to allow the kids to complete the game with minimal difficulty. Just to offer some concrete examples, I would consider the following games to be good examples of “kiddy” games:

  • Winnie the Pooh’s Rumbly Tumbly Adventure
  • Dora the Explorer: Journey to the Purple Planet
  • Pillow Pets
  • Go, Diego, Go! Great Dinosaur Rescue
  • Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster
  • Zhu Zhu Pets: Quest for Zhu

You get the idea here. Those are kids’ games. I can vouch for this because, having a seven year old, I’ve seen three of those in action, and actively had to play one of them (Pooh’s Adventure). I can state without reservation that the vast, vast majority of these games aren’t meant for adults.

In its defense, it is at least a pretty game.

In its defense, it is at least a pretty game.

EA doesn’t interpret kiddy games that way though. I mean, I’m sure that in EA’s eyes, those are kid games, but my scope and definition is too narrow for them. To attempt to figure out what EA considers to be a kid game, let’s take their statement at face value. The WiiU is a console for kids’ IPs. Alright then, what are the top games for the WiiU (sales, ratings, buzz, etc…):

  • New Super Mario Brothers U/Super Luigi U
  • Super Mario 3D World
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
  • Pikmin 3
  • Lego City Undercover
  • ZombieU
  • Monster Hunter Tri
  • The Wonderful 101
  • Bayonetta 2

We’ll go ahead and omit ZombieU, Bayonetta 2, and Monster Hunter Tri because they are obviously meant for an older audience. I suppose we can remove The Legend of Zelda and The Wonderful 101 as well, for the same reason. That leaves us with four games (I intentionally left out Nintendo Land and Party games, they’re generally fun for all ages). We have two Mario titles, a Lego game, and Pikmin 3.

So what can we glean from these titles to help us understand EA’s thought process. Those games aren’t particularly easy, so it can’t be a statement on difficulty. They aren’t derived from popular kid’s shows, so we can jettison that argument. EA has done some platforming-esque games in recent years, so even that can’t be pointed too. What are we missing here?

Pictured: Platforming

Pictured: Platforming

Maybe we’re looking at the argument wrong. Maybe it isn’t that the WiiU is home to games just for kids, maybe it’s that the WiiU is home to games that aren’t only targeted to adults. Look at Dead Space 3, Battlefield 4, Dragon Age 2, and Crysis 3. All are rated M . I have no problem with that, I’m quite the fan of the Dead Space franchise, but it shows that EA is aiming for an over 18 market with their games (excepting Need for Speed, Sims, and sports games). So, with this quote, I think it’s safe to say that EA views anything that’s not a T or M rating as a game made for kids.

Rated E, meaning no adult has ever touched this title.

Rated E, meaning no adult has ever touched this title.

Here’s my problem with this situation. Dismissing anything that doesn’t look gritty or doesn’t have guns and gore and blood as not worth playing means that quite a few games are going to fall through the cracks. Mario may not have gore, but it’s still an extremely challenging game. Anyone that thinks it’s a kids’ game has never played the Special World in Super Mario Galaxy 2, or the Special Worlds in Super Mario 3D World (or Tubular in Super Mario World…[shudder]). They were designed to challenge the most seasoned of game players. Yet, the game can still be played by virtually anyone. Why is that seen as a bad thing? The same is true of Zelda, Pikmin, Lego City Undercover, and many other games. Sure, maybe anyone can play them, but does that make them less fun for an older gamer? It never has for me. We’re in a generation now that no longer looks for just fun, they seem to be looking for fun and [something serious and adult]. Fun and gritty. Fun and gory. Fun and bullets. For some reason, fun is no longer enough.

I’m not ripping on adult games here. As I said, I love Dead Space. I think Resident Evil 4 is one of the greatest games ever made. They all have their place in the market. I’m ripping on those people that automatically sneer at anything that isn’t of a certain rating or a certain seriousness as being too “kiddy” for them to lower themselves to play. It’s almost an elitist attitude: “I’m far too adult to enjoy a game an 10 year old might also play.” Where did that come from? If a game is fun, why is it still looked down upon by certain segments? If I prefer Mario Kart to PGR or Need for Speed, does that make me more or less of an adult? No. It just means that I derive more enjoyment from one of those than I do the other. While many in this segment would chide those of us that still play Mario or Zelda or Pikmin for being childish in our game choices, I think they’re the ones that need to take a step back and see that maybe they need to mature a bit and not be threatened by playing something that doesn’t have an “M” on the box.

I mean, come on!

I mean, come on!

Update:
Peter Moore has since responded to the quote I placed above:

“Don’t trust ‘anonymous sources.’ Nintendo’s a great partner. They never have been, and never will be, ‘dead’ to EA.”

Good for Mr. Moore, but I think this is more of a damage control statement than anything. EA is putting nothing on the WiiU. Blaming it on sales is fine, there’s a strong argument to be made there, but I still suspect that the attitude from the previous quote, and not addressed by Mr. Moore, is the prevalent attitude at Electronic Arts. No proof guys, just my personal opinion, as always.

Game Boy

Having completed my lists for Nintendo’s home consoles (excepting the WiiU, which hasn’t been out long enough to have a Top 8), I’ve decided to move on to their handhelds. I’ll openly admit that these lists will probably be more debatable to most people because I’m still a console first guy and missed out on some of the more revered handheld games. I do think I managed to catch the gems, especially when the Super Game Boy launched and allowed me to play them on the Super NES. Also note that I’m including both Game Boy and Game Boy Color games on this list. I feel that the Game Boy Color was more of an improvement on the existing system versus an entirely new handheld.

Yeah…No: Blaster Master: Enemy Below, Mega Man Xtreme, Castlevania Legends, Donkey Kong, The Final Fantasy Legend, Kirby’s Dream Land 2, Pokemon Gold/Silver

Gargoyle's Quest8. Gargoyle’s Quest
It’s very surprising that Capcom decided to give the Red Gargoyle (Firebrand) from Ghouls & Ghosts his own game, but anyone that’s played this title is probably happy they did. Blending RPG elements (world map, random encounters) with side-scrolling platforming levels, this game  is not only quite unique, but quite a bit of fun as well, and very ambitious for Nintendo’s Game Boy. Firebrand controls well and has the ability of limited hovering. I also give some bonus points to this game for spawning a sequel on the NES and the wonderful Demon’s Crest on the Super NES.

SML 27. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
As different as Super Mario Brothers 3 is from the original, that’s how different this game is from Super Mario Land. Super Mario Land 2 has quite the leap in graphics and gameplay from the original, leading to a much richer and varied experience. While featuring traditional power-ups (mushroom, fire flower), Mario Land 2 introduced the carrot, which gives Mario bunny ears and allows him to float as well as levels where you travel in a bubble and in an outer space setting, complete with Mario in a space suit. This title also marks the first appearance of Wario, who has taken over Mario’s castle (?!) in Mario Land 2. Wario has since become a regular character in Nintendo games, even having his own line of games on the Game Boy.

Zelda Oracle6. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons
The Game Boy seems very close, power wise, to the NES, so these two titles bear a strong resemblance to the original Legend of Zelda, but don’t think these titles are retreads. Both carve their own niche in the Zelda franchise. I included these two as one entry because they are truly linked titles. Literally. After completing one title, you can enter a password into the other to essentially bring your game over. This also lets you battle a true final boss that would otherwise remain unseen. Both games also feature a strong puzzle mechanic. Seasons allows you to change through the seasons, opening up new areas via melted snow, ice, etc… Ages similarly allows you to move from the past to the present, which will open up new paths as well, and allow you to influence the presence via actions in the past. Both are very strong titles and are both available on the 3DS e-shop, so there is no excuse to miss either one of them.

Wario Land5. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
Honestly, I wasn’t very thrilled at not playing as Mario in this game when it came out. It was a Mario game, so I wanted to be Mario. That’s how it works. Thankfully, I still gave this game a chance and it turned out to be one of my personal favorites, and one of the best platformers on the system. Playing as Wario is a ton of fun with his dash attack and array of hats that give him different powers (Dragon flames, Flying, etc…). Also, the game is packed with secret exits and hidden treasures to be found. The treasures, along with all the coins you collect, determine the size of Wario’s castle at the end of the game. It was gratifying to finally have a reason besides extra lives to collect coins in a Mario game.

Mega Man V4. Mega Man V
The Game Boy Mega Man games had always been a rehash of the NES games when Mega Man V came out. Instead of following that trend, Capcom instead came up with an original story as well as original boss characters for Mega Man to face, each one named after a planet in the solar system, while dropping the traditional “Man” part of the boss name. This game easily stacks up against any of the NES entries. The platforming is very tight, the weapons and upgrades are fun to play with, and the boss battles have the same challenge to them as the NES games. I’m not sure what motivated Capcom to get original on the fifth entry, but by doing so, they gave us the best Mega Man game to grace the system.

Metroid II3. Metroid II: Return of Samus
I’m hard-pressed to think of what to say about this game. I fully believe it belongs here, but it’s hard, in hindsight, not to compare it to its sublime sequels and see where its faults are, which really isn’t fair. For its time, Metroid II was a pretty amazing game. It added to Samus’s abilities from the original game, and had her attack the Metroids directly on their home planet of SR388. This game also introduced the various mutations and evolutions of the Metroids, meaning that what we saw in the NES game (and in games since, sadly) was only the tip of the iceberg. Metroid II smartly included a battery save system, dropping the cumbersome password of the original. To be blunt, this game is extremely hard, and can be confusing due to the lack of an in-game map. Speaking of, I’ll always remember this game as the first I played that had me sketching my own map on a drawing pad. It wouldn’t be the last time I would do that.

Pokemon2. Pokemon Red/Blue
In hindsight, these games seem very basic and bare bones compared to today’s Pokemon games, but for their time, they were amazing. Hidden behind a very simple premise (Gotta Catch ‘Em All) was an extremely deep game. An RPG that wasn’t like any other RPG. I can still remember the excitement of encountering a new Pokemon that I hadn’t yet caught, or finally being able to snag that pesky Abra. The game was designed brilliantly. It was deep and offered a different playthrough each time you revisited it (assuming you chose to use different Pokemon). The ability to trade with friends to get Pokemon unavailable on your copy, or to snag all three starters was a genius move by Game Freak. Few games captured my time and attention the way this game did many years ago.

Link's Awakening1. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Being the first Zelda title to follow A Link to the Past on the Super NES was never going to be an easy task, but Nitnendo’s developers answered the call and gave us Link’s Awakening. Placing Link on an island outside of Hyrule, you must guide him through multiple dungeons to gather instruments that can wake the Windfish that rests on top of a mountain to get Link home. It makes a bit more sense in game…I think. Anyway, while graphically Link’s Awakening is closer to the NES than Super NES, the gameplay easily fits alongside A Link to the Past. This game also introduced the Roc’s Feather which allowed Link to jump for the first time, along with other new items for his quest. While the original release is fine for this title, if you’re looking to pick it up, I’d suggest purchasing the DX version which as been modified to take advantage of the Game Boy Color system, even adding a new color based dungeon to explore. This game may not match A Link to the Past in greatness, but it is still a great game and the best to grace the Game Boy system.

Mario Death

I didn’t want to write this blog. I like to write about fun and positive stuff. But then Nintendo had to go and completely miscalculate how the market would react to the WiiU. Damn it, Nintendo! You force me to write about some unpleasantness. And unpleasantness about my favorite gaming company on top of that. Why would you do that to me!?

Anyway, most people have read the news on this , but just in case you haven’t, here you go:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/gaming/2014/01/17/wii-u-sales-forecast/4575041/

Yes, Nintendo slashed sales forecast by over 6 million consoles. Not a big deal if you’re talking a cut from 50 million to 44 million, but when it’s from 9 million to 2.8 million, that’s a mighty big cut…and a mighty big miscalculation of the console buying market. Damn it, Nintendo.

The question you may be asking me is why I care about this. After all, this doesn’t affect how my WiiU performs or the enjoyment I get from the games. My investment is because I’m a WiiU owner. Bad sales mean less games. Extremely bad sales could mean near abandonment. That means that I have a console that potentially won’t be receiving a lot of games. Look back at My Top 8 Upcoming Games of 2014. The link is just to the left. Three of those titles are WiiU titles. Is their development in jeopardy? I have no idea, but you do have to wonder if behind the scenes they aren’t considering cutting their losses and cancelling some of their bigger budget titles that are still quite a bit of time away (if I’m robbed of X they may lose me forever). Or maybe they’re being put on hold to see how Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Brothers affects sales of the WiiU. Again, I have no idea, I just know that by cutting forecasted sales, Nintendo is openly admitting that they miscalculated with the WiiU and are indicating that the console is in real trouble. Damn it, Nintendo.

I can't imagine how important this title must be to Nintendo & the WiiU right now.

I can’t imagine how important this title must be to Nintendo & the WiiU right now.

Oddly enough, this seems to be the trend for console manufacturers after they’ve had a very successful console generation. Sony royally screwed up the PS3 launch after dominating with the PS2. Microsoft became a running joke after unveiling the Xbox One. Nintendo has been down this road before by sticking with cartridges on the Nintendo 64. There seems to be this belief by these companies that consumers aren’t fickle and unfaithful creatures when they really are, outside of a very small group of loyal fans. Whichever manufacturer finds itself in the catbird seat in the current generation, seems to think that those fans will flock to their new console due out for the next gen, so they feel that they can set the rules for how things will work. Everyone loved the PS2, so of course we can charge $600 for the PS3, thought Sony. The Xbox 360 did extremely well, so of course we can include regular online check-ins, thought Microsoft. The Wii sold like the PS2, so of course we can just slap a name modification on a machine a bit stronger than current gen and launch it, thought Nintendo. Damn it, Nintendo.

There is a reflex to point out that the 3DS was once in similar trouble, but is now a monster, outselling everything in 2013, but I have a problem with that comparison. See, the 3DS only had to compete against the Vita (I’m not discussing tablets and smartphones in this post), and Sony was hardly taking advantage of a weakened 3DS, plus the 3DS had quite the headstart on the Vita. The WiiU, however, is having to compete on two levels. Firstly, it has to compete against the PS3 and Xbox 360 because, rightly or wrongly, it’s seen as a contemporary to those in regards to it’s processing power. Secondly, it’s having to compete against the more powerful PS4 and Xbox One. The WiiU is over a year old while those are new. It’s never fun to compete against “New & Shiny” when you’ve been out a while. Combine that with a lack of games and a perceived (and probably factual) lack of power, and you have a console that’s going to be a hard sell. Damn it, Nintendo.

It does, and you're going to need it.

It does, and you’re going to need it.

Did I say lack of games earlier. My mistake. I meant a veritable drought of games. Look, Nintendo makes amazing games, I don’t think anyone would argue against that. Even if you don’t necessarily like most of their titles, you can appreciate the fact that Nintendo are among the absolute best when it comes to game designing. The problem is, no matter how good they make games, they can’t single handedly support a console. For all the grief the Wii gets when it comes to its game library (for reasons I don’t fully understand) in reality it had a very good library of games. My favorite game on the system only launched in North America in 2012. Nintendo was able to get third party support along with their own games. It was a good mix. That’s not happening this time. Oh, teaming with Platinum to publish The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2 was a genius move. Allowing Link to be used in a Dynasty Warriors based game is pretty cool, whether you like the series or not. But even with those two points, that’s still a ton of weight on Nintendo’s shoulders, and right now, only Activision and Ubisoft seem truly dedicated in putting their games on the WiiU. With none of those being exclusive, it provides no real motivation to move to the WiiU from an Xbox 360 or PS3 or newer console. The WiiU is becoming a console that is basically a Nintendo machine, and that’s just not going to be enough for many people, especially at the current price tag. Damn it, Nintendo.

So what does Nintendo do? Throw their hands up and start preparing for the next generation now? Go all in and throw money at developers to increase game releases for the WiiU? You know, I don’t have a clue. Nintendo has been in business a long time. I feel fairly confident that they are smarter than I am. Also, Nintendo has surprised us before. I’m so used to Nintendo pulling things out of the dark that it wouldn’t shock me to see them announce Half-Life 3 as a WiiU exclusive at E3…assuming they have an E3 presentation this year. I’d think they have to, assuming they’re going to fight for the WiiU. They could certainly use some buzz and excitement and there’s no bigger venue than E3. Nintendo Directs are a cool idea and all, but nothing matches the audience reaction at a new game reveal. Just imagine the live reaction of Mega Man’s reveal for Smash Brothers. It would have rivaled the now famous Twilight Princess reveal. I hate that we were robbed of that. Damn it, Nintendo.

You know you love this moment.

You know you love this moment.

I’m an unabashed Nintendo fan. I love the company, I love their games, I want them to succeed. I’m an invested customer, but I’m also invested because this company defined my childhood. To see them going through such trouble now is not something I enjoy but, at the same time, something I think they deserve. They mistakenly thought they could dictate the rules of console sales and are now paying for that miscalculation. This is where the forecast slashing becomes a positive. To solve a problem, you first have to see it and admit you have it. Until now, Nintendo hadn’t done that. The idea that they would sell nine million WiiU’s was absurd to everyone but them. Now that number’s gone. Nintendo is finally admitting their misstep, and maybe they’ve done it early enough to at least reverse their fortunes somewhat. Understand, I don’t believe that the WiiU will kill Nintendo. Nintendo as a company will be fine. They have deep pockets, but even with those, they can’t afford to continue supporting a failing console. The question now is what do they do to turn it around. Again, I don’t know the answer to that (but it should be interesting to watch). The WiiU will not win this generation. That ship has sailed. At the same time though, it can still be workable and sell respectably. I don’t know how that happens, but I firmly believe it can. I’ve thrown out ideas on Twitter, but people much more experienced in this than I am are calling the shots. As a WiiU owner and Nintendo fan, I just hope the hole isn’t yet too deep for them to dig out of. Damn it, Nintendo.

DK64

Coming off a very successful trio of Donkey Kong Country games for the Super NES, it was obvious that Nintendo would want a title for the Nintendo 64, it was just a matter of when it was released. Rare answered the call with Donkey Kong 64 and, like most franchises during that period, it took advantage of more powerful hardware by going 3D. Recently, my son requested I play through it again (he likes watching me play), so I revisited the world of DK Isle.

The Set-up:
You are Donkey Kong, chilling in your hut when, once again, King K. Rool attacks. He’s captured your four friends along with your banana horde and has his currently broken down cannon….gun….weapon ship pointed at your island. You must rescue your friends, Diddy, Tiny, Lanky, and Chunky, as well as your precious bananas, and stop K. Rool before he can arm his weapon and take you out. Luckily, Cranky, Funky, and Candy Kong, as well as Snide, a former worker for K. Rool, are present to help you out.

K. Rool's Ship

Place your bets!

The Story:
As pointed out above, this is typical Donkey Kong fare. You’ll encounter “Mad Scientist” Cranky Kong fairly quickly, as well as “Arms Dealer” Funky and “Music Afficiando” Candy. You’ll set out to find your lost bananas and your friends by journeying into different worlds via portals located on DK Isle, which acts as the hub world, but also has bananas for each Kong hidden away to find (Golden Bananas are Kong specific). To advance to new worlds, you must obtain both bananas and boss keys that will open locks on the locked away misfit, K. Lumsy, who was just too kind to be a kremling. With each new removed lock, K. Lumsy will bounce in celebration, leading to movement on DK Isle opening up new worlds.

Like Rareware’s other works (Banjo-Kazooie, Conker, etc…), DK64 is filled with humor and plays the story for laughs at every opportunity. By and large they succeed, right up through and including the final battle with K. Rool. There are very few parts of the game that won’t make you laugh at least a little. I still chuckle about the kremlings with sheets over their heads pretending to be ghosts in Creepy Castle. Even when swapping Kongs out in the change barrel, each has their own reaction to being chosen. The most humorous being Chunky Kong, the biggest and strongest of the troupe, actively trying to encourage you to not pick him (as he’s obviously afraid). When not in the spotlight, the other Kongs will wave and motion for you to select them. It’ s a fun little gag that never gets old, and is just one of many little touches that you’ll find throughout the game.

The Gameplay:
This is a platforming gaming. Anything else beyond that is just gravy (or a curse). While you initially begin the game with only Donkey Kong, soon enough you’ll free his partners in crime: Diddy Kong, Lanky Kong, Tiny Kong, and Chunky Kong. I do have to pause here to wonder what made Rare go with only Diddy as a returning character. Tiny is an obvious stand-in for Dixie Kong, whereas Chunky could have been easily swapped out with Kiddy Kong. This doesn’t affect the game or the gameplay at all, but is just one of those things that makes me go “hmmmmmm…”

Anyways, each Kong has their own special abilities, gained from one of the supporting cast of Cranky, Funky, or Candy. Cranky provides general special abilities (Diddy’s now popular jet pack, Tiny’s ponytail twirl), Funky gives each Kong a gun with differing ammo, but are otherwise virtually the same, and Candy gives each Kong an instrument and will twice increase their life by an extra watermelon. These aren’t just passive gifts used as an excuse to include these characters. You’ll find these new abilities to be a must as you work through the game. At least one Golden Banana in each world will require special abilities to collect, and it’s usually more than just one.

Guns also come with an FPS mode. Who needs COD?

Guns also come with an FPS mode. Who needs COD?

Speaking of collecting, DK64 will definitely have you collecting items. I can honestly say that I’ve never played a game that had more stuff for you to watch out for. For each individual Kong, every world holds five Golden Bananas and 100 regular bananas, along with scattered banana coins. Totalled, that’s 500 total regular bananas and twenty-five Golden Bananas. You’ll also be hunting for banana fairies to capture with a special camera so that they may be returned to the main banana fairy. This doesn’t sound like much when listed here, but when you realize that only a certain Kong can pick up their specific items, it becomes quite the task. You also can’t just skip over the banana collecting because, to access the boss, you must feed the boss door guardians (?) a specified number of regular bananas. Also, each world has a Portal Guardian that will only go away if you have the correct amount of Golden Bananas, allowing you access to the world. There are 201 Golden Bananas in the game and you must have 150 to finish the game, to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with.

For the most part, the collecting of these items, and the platforming in general, is quite a bit of fun. There are camera issues, but they’re only slightly worse than anything else from the N64/PS era, mainly rearing their head during a couple of boss battles. Most of the game is very reminiscent of Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64, in both graphical strength and gameplay, which is pretty high praise.

Camera issues do make this battle much harder than it otherwise should have been.

Camera issues do make this battle much harder than it otherwise should have been.

The biggest negative I have with DK64 is the mini-games. And trust me, this is a very big negative. All too often, after completing some kind of task to get what you think is a banana, you’ll get a banana barrel instead. These insidious spawns of Satan will launch you into one of about six or seven different mini-games (they repeat and get more difficult as you progress). If the games were at least interesting, it wouldn’t be so bad, but all too often they’re just exercises in frustration. One game has you firing watermelons at snakes so that they’ll continue to spin a turtle on their tails. That sounds even dumber typed out. It’s not hard, it’s just dull. The most offensive one is Beaver Bother. In this little irritation, you as a Klaptrap have to herd the generic DKC beaver into a hole, except they don’t want to go into that hole and you can’t just push them in. These got so bad that I did just give up on a few of them. There’s no fun in them at all, only tedium.

It's even worse than it looks...and did I forget to mention that it's timed?

It’s even worse than it looks…and did I forget to mention that it’s timed?

This also happens a few times outside of banana barrels. One such instance is a race between you and a scarab that is very reminiscent of the slide in Mario 64. The difference here is that the scarab is hard to beat and, while fending him off, you also need to collect 50 banana tokens. Oh, and you lose three of those if the scarab bumps into you. By the way, there are only about 70 tokens, so you can only stand to miss a few. It’s hard enough just winning the race, but the collecting of tokens is absurd. It’s these moments that ground the game to a halt and make you not want to play anymore, and they show up too often to be completely ignored.

Conclusions:
Despite the shortcomings of DK64, and how frustrating they can be, it is still a strong entry into the series and a game I would still recommend for the Nintendo 64. The platforming is very strong, as I said earlier, and the writing and animation of the characters is top notch for the console. Yes, you will get frustrated from time to time, but *most* of the time it is possible to simply move on, unless you’re after the 101% completion rate. I think this game compares favorably with Banjo-Kazooie (I actually prefer it, but think most people prefer Banjo). If you can see through the faults, you’ll be rewarded with an entertaining game that culminates in one of the most inventive and entertaining final boss battles you will ever experience.

You knew a reference to this was coming.

You knew a reference to this was coming.

2014I bemoan my backlog for a while, then post about the games I want in 2014. Nothing absurd about that. Anyway, in regards to this list, my only limitation on titles is that they can’t have been released yet. I didn’t limit it to games on systems I own or anything. These are just the games that I’ve seen that appeal to me the most for this year. Of course, there is no guarantee that these are definitely coming this year, but I’m being optimistic. I’ve also used placeholder names in cases where the final title is as of yet unknown.

Keep Training, Grasshopper: Strider, Yoshi’s New Island, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Alien Isolation, Fantasia: Music Evolved, Bayonetta 2, Phantasy Star Nova, Deep Down, Dying Light

Yarn Yoshi8. Yarn Yoshi
Nintendo showed this title off in a Nintendo Direct last year, then promptly seemed to forget that it existed. Yarn Yoshi (as it’s known) is being developed for the WiiU by the same company that developed Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which is exactly why I’m excited for it. The short preview we’ve seen looked gorgeous, and, while being a bit more 3D than Epic yarn, shared many of the same design choices of that game. While I doubt this game will be groundbreaking, the wonderful design of Epic Yarn makes me believe this game will be more than competent in that regard. My personal hope is that we see the return of Yin-Yarn in this game, after his exile from Dreamland.

Sunset Overdrive7. Sunset Overdrive
Normally, a game like this wouldn’t do anything for me (because the premise is a bit old at this point), but when I see that it’s being developed by Insomniac, I begin to take notice. The bottom line for me is that this game seems to have strains of Ratchet & Clank in it, in terms of design and humor. I love the Ratchet & Clank games, so that is immediately appealing to me. That aside though, the gameplay looks intriguing in its own right. It appears to be fast-paced and open, as in, there are a variety of ways in which you can take on tasks. Similar to Dead Rising, maybe. I’m also curious to see how the “living world” aspect of this game works. If it’s implemented as I’ve read it will be, it could keep this game very up-to-date and relevant for years to come.

Zelda U6. Zelda U
As time has passed since I finished Skyward Sword, I can more clearly see the flaws of the game. It was fairly linear and despite the heavy praise people gave the 1:1 sword movement with the Wii Remote, it just got on my nerves. All that said, I like what the developers have done with A Link Between Worlds and what’s being said about this game in terms of layout and linearity. I’m still clinging to the tech demo from the WiiU’s unveiling as the graphical style of choice, but that’s hardly been confirmed. It’s also unconfirmed that this game will grace us in 2014, but with the WiiU floundering, I’m hard pressed to believe that Nintendo won’t do everything in their power to have this title present for the holiday season in an effort to boost sales of the system.

Evil Within5. The Evil Within
While survival horror games will always appeal to me, it’s the pedigree behind this game that makes me want it. Shinji Mikami, who worked on the Resident Evil series and created the sublime RE4, is directing this title. If there is anyone I want watching over this type of game, it is someone such as Mr. Mikami. Even if you aren’t a fan of the fixed camera of the original RE games, the fear and dread they were able to create was amazing. RE4 was able to keep the bulk of that fear while making the actual gameplay much more user friendly. My hope for this game is a further blending of the fear in RE with the ease of play of RE4 (I think that sentence makes sense).

The Order (1886)4. The Order: 1886
A game set in 1886, featuring some steampunk elements and a rich story going back through the Arthurian Knights? Yeah, I think I’m probably sold on this title. The back story for this game has humanity fighting off monsters/mutants throughout history. After suffering many defeats, mankind has finally turned the tide when, in 1886, a new threat rises. Other than the plot, not too much is known about this title yet, but I still rank it this highly because I find that plot very intriguing. I just hope the gameplay impresses as well.

Lords of Shadow 23. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
I’ll always prefer the style of older Castlevania games, but Lords of Shadow did quite a bit right. The idea of taking that style of that game, moving it to an open world with a Metroidvania feel is extremely exciting to me. While I don’t relish playing the “bad guy” (which I’ve written about before), in a case where you’re taking on the rise of Lucifer, it’s more of a lesser of two evils situation. All printed previews of this game praise it, so I can see this as a title I try to purchase quickly and play immediately. One of the most appealing aspects of this game is that it’s a continuation of the previous games and will completely close off the story that began in those titles. I like the idea of a developer setting out with a story in mind, even if it advances over a couple of games.

Fable2. Fable Anniversary
Sure, it’s a re-release of a game that’s been out for some time, but what a game. Despite it’s flaws, I loved the original Fable. It never lived up to it’s expectations (but in fairness, no game could have done that), but what it did it did exceedingly well. Take that game, add some content, sharpen up the visuals, and bring it closer to what it was predicted to be, and you have one heck of a potentially amazing game. I’ve made it clear that I will rarely purchase a game quickly after its release due to both my backlog and tight funds, but this is a game that I will pick up relatively quickly after its release on 2/4. That is how pumped I am for this title.

X WiiU1. X
Xenoblade Chronicles was not only my favorite game for the Nintendo Wii, but one of the best games I’ve ever played. I never expected a psuedo-sequel to be produced, so my surprise and delight at this game being unveiled was beyond measure. X appears to be connected to Xenoblade in some fashion, which is, of course, exciting for me, but even if it were not, I would still be just as excited based on the previews I’ve seen so far. X seems to be set in an open world with a combat system very similar to Xenoblade. Traveling takes place both on foot as well as in large mechs (“Dolls,” according to the trailer). It also appears that there will be online coop, though that isn’t confirmed, just suspected. Regarding visuals, this game looks gorgeous. I don’t demand wonderful graphics so long as the gameplay is fun, but if they are wonderful, I will compliment them. This is a game that will put all my other games on hold once it is released. I only hope it receives the appreciation I imagine it will deserve upon it’s release on the WiiU.

Backlog

In no less than three recent posts, I’ve bemoaned my backlog. While I do stand by the points I made in those posts, I’ve realized that having a large backlog is not entirely a bad thing. Actually, there are quite a few positives to be had from having those games setting around.

Game Variety
I don’t know if anyone else does this, but when I finish a game, I generally like to move to another game that isn’t very similar to what I’ve just completed. Let’s say I’d just finished up a Final Fantasy game. I’m not the type to move on to another RPG after that. Most likely, I’d pick up a more action oriented title. Something that isn’t turn based or narrative heavy. I’ve learned that if I stick in one genre for too long, I get into a rut and am more likely to abandon a game without finishing just because the play style is getting tiring to me.

Increasing Value
Anyone out there ever checked their games on Ebay only to find that one (or more) of them has increased dramatically in value since they purchased it? I purchased Electroplankton for the DS right after it came out. I believe it cost me around $40 via Amazon. I did play it, but after a year decided that I could live without it (and the play modes were being released via the DSi e-shop) and checked pricing on Ebay. Imagine my surprise when I found that it was going for about $70. I encountered the exact same situation with my copy of FFVII (yes, I did actually own it) and, more recently, with Xenoblade Chronicles and Metroid Prime Trilogy. I have no intentions of selling those last two, but the point is you never know when a game you purchase may suddenly jump in value due to lack of supply and/or interest.

Game Availability
Similar to my first point, you’ll always have something to play. I imagine that nearly all of us have gone through times in our life when money for gaming just wasn’t there. You may not be able to play the latest game to come out, but you’ll have access to a few that may be a couple of years old, but are still fun games. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should stock up on games for lean times the way you might stock up on food and ammunition for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, but it is still a positive spin on having  a hoard of games you’ve never taken out of the case.

An Excuse to Not Buy More Games
Again, I’m kind of extending a previous point, but if you do find that you’re like me or have the mindset of the collector, except you don’t want to collect or really can’t afford, having a sizable backlog can be a great way to dissuade yourself from buying the latest games. You may want that new GTA or Madden game (for reasons I still don’t understand) or may find yourself, like me, tempted by the latest B2G1 sale at Gamestop, but if you’re trying to save money or just avoid adding to your collection, realizing that you’re only pushing back older games you bought will give you pause in laying out the funds for the new game. Now, obviously, there are some new games that you may want to get and play immediately. For me, the upcoming “X” game on the WiiU is a good example of one of those. In those cases, it’s a bit of a different story, but generally speaking, if this is something you want to work on about yourself, use those unplayed games as a guilt trip to avoid adding yet more games to those that will most likely go unplayed themselves for at a least a while.

Discovering an Unknown Gem
When you buy games, you are generally buying them because you’ve heard good things about them or the description and screenshots on the back appeal to you (impulse buys). This happens to me quite a bit and is how I came to own Ghosthunter on the PS2. It was another casualty of a sale and sat on a shelf with other games for a good while before I finally picked it up. What I found was a game that kept me hooked for my entire playthrough. I had no idea when putting it in for the first time that I would enjoy it to the level that I did. This is the promise of every unplayed game. It may just be okay, but you always hope that it’s going to be one that rises above just good and cements itself in your memory for years to come. That’s when having those games you don’t know too much about sitting in your backlog pays off the most. Ghosthunter isn’t the only game I’ve experienced this with, but it’s still the perfect example of this point. By the way, if you haven’t played Ghosthunter, it’s an inexpensive gem for the PS2.

I truly don’t know why I’ve been so focused on backlogs recently. I believe it’s just a case of my own unplayed games beginning to weigh on me, as I talked about in my other recent posts. That said, I do think I’ve finally exhausted this subject (collective cheers from anyone that reads my blog regularly), so now we can move on to more interesting issues and topics…like games I want to buy and add to my backlog.

Wonderful 101

When I first got a WiiU, one of the games I was most anticipating playing was The Wonderful 101. I watched the Nintendo Directs and read up on everything I could find about the game. When it was finally released, I was saddened both to see the poor sales figures since I was hyped and wanted others to be hyped as well, and because I wasn’t able to pick up a copy due to limited funds. Finally though, in late November, my wife gave it to me as my birthday gift. I immediately started playing it, which is testament to how excited I was to have it (if you’ve been reading about my backlog, you’ll know this rarely happens).

The Set-up:
You are Wonder-Red…and Wonder-Blue…and Wonder-Yellow and Wonder-Pink and Wonder-Clown and, well, a whole lot of other heroes…and temporary hero-ized citizens. You’ll control them all as a group, swapping out leaders fairly regularly. All of your heroes are actually ordinary citizens that Wonderize in order to defend the Earth from the brilliantly named GEATHJERK (Guild of Evil Aliens Terrorizing Humans with Jiggawatt bombs, Energy beams, Ray guns, and Killer lasers). I don’t care who you are, you have to get a kick out of that name.

The Story:
The story to this game is really something else. At varying times it’s serious, tragic, and hysterical. That doesn’t sound as if it would be a range of emotions that would blend, but the writers do well in making it work. The narrative is told through numerous cut scenes will full voice acting, and can be further studied by reading the secret files you can find during gameplay. Speaking of the voice acting, it is very strong here and features many veteran video game voice actors (Batman: Arkham City, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, etc…). As you work your way through the operations and missions the game throws at you, you’ll uncover more information and even have a couple of minor twists. None of these are anything groundbreaking, but do shake up the plot a bit. I must also say that the dialog is generally very funny in an absurd sort of way. This game may look like it’s for kids, but much of the dialog is aimed at adults.

At the beginning of The Wonderful 101, the Earth has already been attacked by the GEATHJERK twice in the past, and both times defended by the Wonderful Ones, citizens that gain super powers via a Wonder-Mask and Amulet. It has been 20 years since the last attack, but that all changes while you, as Wonder-Red (but in your guise as a teacher) are on a field trip with your students. The game places you right into the fray as you must rescue the children you’re accompanying, then advance along the group of buses as the aliens bombard you. After a few small battles, Wonder-Blue joins up with you. Besides setting the story up, this level also serves as a tutorial to the controls of the game. Once the the mission with the buses is complete, you’ll be whisked away on the Virgin Victory to be briefed by Commander Nelson. It’s at this point that you’ll truly begin the meat of the game.

Nothing says Hero like stammering.

Nothing says Hero like stammering.

The Gameplay:
Wow…I’m not completely sure how to describe this game. At it’s heart, it is an action game, so we’ll start there. As I said above, you control a group of heroes. They’ll all stay grouped together and move as one unit (though you can have some of them individually attack enemies). Your method of attacking is via the Unite Morph. This is a morph in which those in your group will form a weapon of some form, ranging from a fist to a sword to a whip (personal favorite) among other things. The more people on your team, the larger your morphs, meaning the more damage they do.

The morphs are initiated by drawing the shape either with the right analog stick or on the gamepad itself. For instance, to attack with a sword, you draw a straight line, the whip is a curvy line, the claws a zig-zag, etc…While having your primary morph, you can also draw another shape and press X, which will form the weapon and auto-attack for a few seconds. This mechanic works fairly well, but there are times that you will be trying to draw one morph and have the game interpret it as another. This usually isn’t a big deal, but during timed events, can trip you up.

There are seven primary morphs to attack with and your current leader depends on the morph you last drew. This is actually an important aspect of the game as you can unlock more combo moves for each morph by using it more often. Also, you will level up your heroes, adding vitality to your gauge. As an aside, you can swap out the primary color coded heroes with the lesser ones that join you along the way. Each has one of the seven morphs and will level up faster this way. In addition to the attack morphs, you can purchase others in the Wonder-Mart. These are varied, but some are almost a must. I can’t imagine even attempting more than a couple of missions without Unite Guts, which makes your group into a blob that can repel quite a few attacks and stun the enemy by doing so.

I'm the rubber and you're the glue...

I’m the rubber and you’re the glue…

Okay, so the bulk of the gameplay has you moving through a given area in a rather linear manner (though it pays to explore a bit to find some secrets and new characters) and engaging the enemy as they appear. Enemies escalate in difficulty as your progress, but it’s more than just them having more life or packing more of a punch. For many enemies, you need a specific strategy to harm them. As an example, an enemy that is covered in blue spikes will hurt you upon attacking it if you don’t first use the whip to remove the spikes. This is a lesson you learn early on. Another enemy will shell itself up and require you to use the claws to pull it open so you can continue attacking it. This is a clever mechanic, but can sometimes grow tiresome after fighting the same enemy with the same strategy for the third time in one Mission.

Yes, I love that whip.

Yes, I love that whip.

While that is how you will play most of the game, there are times that other gameplay types will be utilized. After just a few missions, you will have to take control of the Virgin Victory and steer it through the city while blasting the enemy you’re chasing. You will also have a few areas that are more akin to an R-Type or Gradius game. To avoid spoilers, I won’t reveal the biggest surprise (in my opinion), but at one point, you engage an enemy in a manner that is clearly a shout out to an NES classic, right down to the enemy animations during the battle.

I have mixed feelings on the change-up of play styles. On one hand, I appreciate that Platinum varied the game to keep interest high and avoid tedium, but on the other, it was jarring to be thrown into something and have to adapt to completely new controls. I would find myself getting frustrated at this because the game doesn’t let up on you in these sections. This is a hard game, which is fine during the regular missions, but frustrating when trying to learn new controls without dying (on an unrelated note, I died a lot).

Totally new controls halfway through the game? Sure, why not?

Totally new controls halfway through the game? Sure, why not?

That leads me to what is the biggest strength and biggest weakness of this game. It is unlike anything you have ever played before, which means that you will have to really commit yourself to the game to get everything out of it. Now, that’s generally a positive thing and I have no issues with a game making me work. The weakness here is that the game doesn’t always give you enough information to be able to get everything out of it. Example: On the results screen, there is a line for enemy recruits. Now, during a couple of sections of the game, you can pick up a device that brings any regular enemies on screen to your side. My assumption was that this was the only way to make them join you. It wasn’t until after I had finished the game that I learned that if you draw a circle around a dying enemy emitting a purple light, it would save them and they would join you. I literally completed the entire game without knowing this. I’ve played through some operations since and had many of them join me. Why wasn’t this explained at some point? This was also the case with not knowing that my team could pick up most dazed enemies and throw them for massive damage (you don’t even have to strike their weak point 😀 ) by drawing a circle around them. This is explained nowhere in the game and these are only two examples of this happening. I actually learned most of this by watching YouTube videos, which I sought out because I just felt I was missing something, and, as it turns out, I was.

Conclusions:
In many ways, The Wonderful 101 is a throw back to the challenge of NES games in a number of ways. Firstly, as I stated above, it is a very difficult game and doesn’t baby you. But, making it even more like NES games, it’s often full of trial and error moments. I recall one section where I died nearly eight times, all in quick succession, because I literally had no clue what the game wanted me to do to advance. As it turned out, I had to Unite Gun and shoot at a large rock, but that wasn’t very obvious and I only figured it out because I was randomly attempting actions in an effort to move on. This happens quite often and can be jarring when you’re trying to finish a mission.

So, with all of those complaints, you have to think I hate this game, right?. Actually, no. I loved it. Sure, it has its flaws, but when you finally master those areas that were frustrating you, it’s a pure joy. I had a blast with it. For every frustrating part of this game, there are a dozen that are enormously entertaining.

Like I said at the beginning of this blog, you have never played a game like this before, and that will turn some people off. For far too many people, it’s just not reasonable to ask them to learn how to play a new game. Too many expect games to fall into existing genres that they already have experience with. After having played it, I can see why this game sold so poorly. It has a high barrier of entry and isn’t easily marketed. I’ve completed the game and still have trouble describing it to people. I don’t even think I’ve done it justice in this blog post, but it truly is one of those games you simply have to experience to know if you’ll enjoy it or not.

Oddly enough, The Wonderful 101 is almost a micro-cosm of the problem with selling the WiiU. It’s the experience that sells it (well, and quality games, but that’s another post), not words or ads. My bottom line is that you need to commit yourself to this game. You will get frustrated from time to time, but if you stick with The Wonderful 101, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most enjoyable and unique games to come out in a long, long time.

King Ghidorah obviously got mixed up on which franchise he's in.

King Ghidorah obviously got mixed up on which franchise he’s in.