REVIEW DOUBLE-SHOT: DONKEY KONG COUNTRY RETURNS & SUPER MARIO ALL STARS L.E.
December 16, 2010
Donkey Kong Country Returns
When I got Super Nintendo at the tender age of 11, I had to play Donkey Kong Country because it was the only game I had. It turned out to be a lot of fun, but so frustratingly hard that I grew to be a bit of a potty mouth. More than 14 years later, Donkey Kong Country Returns (released in November on Wii) brings back old memories of exciting platforming gameplay – and some stress-induced vulgarities.
Evil Tikis have hypnotized the other animals on Donkey Kong Island and forced them to steal DK’s banana horde, leading Donkey and Diddy Kong to go on a big adventure to get them back. Extremely similar to the Mario games, you don’t need much background: You’re there to experience impulsive, top-tier platform gaming, not figure out who stole the Hope Diamond.
Many of the same comments I made on New Super Mario Bros. Wii (RCReader.com/y/mario) can be applied to the new Donkey Kong when it comes to the evolved presentation. The vile temptress known as nostalgia rears her head to make it feel like the classic Super Nintendo versions, with the graphical polish (great on standard display, pixelated in high-definition) and unbelievably catchy music (so cheerful and full of energy) lulling you into loving Nintendo all over again. The company has figured out the formula to make sure you love its games: spiff up the classics and give your audience a game they know with new levels, challenges, and secrets to make it feel both different and familiar.
Gameplay has a couple new twists with motion controls. Shaking the remote has different effects depending on the situation: DK will roll if you shake while he’s walking, pound the ground if he’s standing still, and blow a gust of wind if he’s ducked down. When paired with Diddy Kong, a coconut jet pack helps the duo stay afloat for a short time – a blessing in some of those precision-jumping spots.
Still, frustration is packaged with the disc. As with last year’s Mario, the early levels will ease you in to the game’s mechanics and platforming, but once you reach the midpoint, you’ll be praying for a lucky break. Mine-cart jumps require dead-on precision; riding barrel rockets shifts from delicate touches to button mashing; and grabbing a vine for swinging gets downright brutal. If Kirby’s Epic Yarn (RCReader.com/y/kirby) was an easy walk in the park, Donkey Kong Country Returns is the shady section of that park with muggings and possibly murders, just like old times ... .
When all is said and done, though, Donkey Kong Country Returns is a great game, bringing new challenge to the classic style. If you’ve been a fan of Mario’s recent outings, you’ll fall in love with Donkey Kong.
Super Mario All Stars
Why on Earth did I feel so compelled to buy Super Mario All Stars – a collection of four original Nintendo Mario games – on the Wii? I already own all the Mario games on the original Nintendo and have the Super Nintendo version of All Stars, and I’ve downloaded a couple of them on my Wii. There’s no graphical update; it’s the exact same game from Super Nintendo, imported onto a Wii disc. So why did I do it?
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the original Super Mario Bros., All Stars got a limited-edition re-release with a fancy box, history booklet of the games, and a soundtrack disc. Once I saw the package, my will broke. I know they’re the same games, but I also know it’s not likely I’ll see another Mario anniversary set for at least five or 10 years. Despite my frustration over the series retreading the same ground, growing up with the clunky gray Nintendo gives Mario a special place in my memory, regardless of reruns.
For $30, it’s actually a pretty good deal to get the classics in one package if you didn’t have them previously. Buying each title separately in the Wii store is $10 cheaper, but the collector materials make the small increase worth it to me. It’s also a lot easier than dusting off your 20-year-old NES, digging around to find one of the games, and then hoping that everything still works. They play just as great on new technology as they did on last century’s systems. My preference in playing falls to the Super Nintendo version, but only because I like the feel of the old controllers better.
If you haven’t invested in classic Mario before, now is one of the best chances you’ll have. If those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, is forgetting really so bad in this case?
Donkey Kong Country Returns is now available on Wii for $49.99. For this review, the author completed the main story.
Super Mario All Stars is now available on Wii. For this review, the author played patches of the games on Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Wii for comparison.
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Posted by: Luke Hamilton
REVIEW DOUBLE-SHOT: KIRBY'S EPIC YARN & NARUTO ULTIMATE NINJA STORM 2
December 10, 2010
'Kirby's Epic Yarn'
I sold myself on Kirby’s Epic Yarn (released in October for Wii) almost immediately based just on the presentation. With almost every game I play trying to create realistic settings or characters, the pink puff ball’s adventure in yarn form gave me a childlike sense of awe at first sight. What followed is a game with minimal challenge, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. It is undoubtedly a kiddie game, but you might find it surprising how delightful it can really be.
Told in a storybook fashion with chapters and a narrator, Kirby is transformed into yarn by the evil wizard Yin-Yarn and transported to Patch Land, a world made of fabric. With sections of Patch Land stolen, it’s up to Kirby and his friend Prince Fluff to recover the pieces and save the day.
The best way to describe the look is like an adventure style of Blue’s Clues. All the visuals are based on clothing; enemies are made of yarn that Kirby can unravel, and backgrounds have zippers and tags that can be pulled out. Kirby’s transformation powers turn him into a little car when he runs and a parachute when he’s falling. Even with the Wii’s lack of processing power, this game looks fantastic in its unique way.
Gameplay is similar to New Super Mario Bros., with the controller held sideways and your focus on running and jumping, minus the speedy reaction time required in Mario’s later levels. It’s not too difficult but not too easy, making it a better game for younger ages. But even as an adult player, it’s just plain fun running through levels and seeing what crazy cloth concoctions come up next.
Epic Yarn’s biggest fault is the inability to lose a life. There is no major penalty for getting hit by enemies or falling into pits; you just get knocked back a short distance and lose some of the buttons you collect in that level. With button-collection aimed at completists who want to unlock every piece of art and music, casual players won’t lose sleep over it and wrap up the game in six to eight hours.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn might not have been the challenge or adventure that I was looking for, but it’s worth trying as a relaxing experience, with child-at-heart fun. It feels a bit pricey at $50 if you’re not a fan of finding every little thing, but the ease of entry makes it a great choice for all skill levels. If you have a little one that watches you play games and wants to get into the action, I can wholeheartedly recommend Kirby.
'Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2'
I initially got Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 for myself out of enjoyment of the Naruto book and animated series, with no expectations beyond playing the story I’ve followed for the past few years. But what I got was a game with impressively cinematic gameplay and cel-shaded visuals that put you darn close to the animated series.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (released in October for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) starts at the beginning of the Shippuden story arc. You’ll encounter and play as many different ninjas, but the story focuses on main characters Naruto (as he defends his village and friends from the ninja group called Akatsuki) and his estranged best friend Sasuke (on the hunt for his older brother, a deadly rogue ninja). Fans know what to expect from the saga, but newcomers won’t be left in the dust; the game does a good job streamlining its tale for anyone to enjoy and also includes background for those curious about the prior events.
Gameplay is focused on fast-paced ninja combat, and it hits the mark with ease of use and dynamic fun. Striking, light-ranged attacks, guarding, and jumping are single-button controls that can all be combined with chakra energy to deliver a bigger bang when the timing’s right. A lot of action can be going on at any time, but it’s not too hard to follow and is exciting to watch. With online play available as well, two talented players can make the on-screen action simply outrageous.
Regular fights have their charms, but the boss encounters take the action to electrifying heights. What can start out basic can pick up in a flash with God of War-style events requiring quick button hits, giving battles intense cinematic quality similar to watching an episode of the animated series. You might not be controlling the action at that point, but it’s some seriously good eye candy.
Watching the game is a treat. The cel-shaded 3D graphics make it look like you’re playing the cartoon with bright coloring. The energetic and emotionally intense music puts you right in the midst of battle in the ninja world, and while the English dubbing feels lacking, it can be switched to the better-quality Japanese voice work with subtitles.
Roaming outside of battles tends to be the low point of play. Running around in the environments looks good, but options in the “actually doing stuff” category are scarce. There are side quests, but most require so much travel and tedious item-gathering that it drags the experience down.
Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 might not be for everyone, but it’s a pretty experience that can draw you into the animated ninja world.
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is now available on Wii for $49.99. For the review, the author completed the main story.
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is now available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for $59.99. For the review, the author completed the main story and side quests, and played several matches online.
Check out all of our reviews! Only at www.rcreader.com/gaming
Posted by: Luke Hamilton
RED DEAD REDEMPTION REVIEW
June 7, 2010
Red Dead Redemption
The sequel to Red Dead Revolver, a story of vengeance in the Wild West, has been a long-awaited title from Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar Games, with almost five years since its announcement. It was feared to be neglected with the developer's focus on 2008's critically acclaimed Grand Theft Auto 4 and its Liberty City expansions. Fear not though: This western tale (finally released in May) is a great experience that's heightened with finely tuned controls and a new innovation in multiplayer gaming.
Red Dead Redemption takes place in 1911 and tells the story of John Marston, a reformed outlaw whose family has been taken from him by the U.S. government. Reluctant to go back to his old ways, he can only see his family again if he hunts down his former brothers-in-arms and brings them to justice.
The Rockstar Games formula is in place: You've got an open-world game designed for the purpose of having fun. The game world is so large that it's easy to get distracted with all the options available, whether hunting outlaws or wild game, gambling on games of chance, or simply exploring. It's a bit slow getting into the meat of the story, but the traditional (and somewhat predictable) twists and turns help put you in the mood to act like John Wayne. It's a fine tale watching John Marston struggle with the changing times as the Old West is cast aside.
Gunplay is the main draw of this grown-up version of Cowboys & Indians, with a variety of pistols and rifles at your disposal. And what cowboy would be complete without a lasso? A snapping-aim feature similar to Call of Duty's allows players to draw their guns and instantly follow their targets for a second or two. This makes it easy to learn but still challenging, because the aim doesn't automatically go for a kill shot; you'll have to learn that one to quickly dispense enemies. The only exception to this snap-aim feature is duels; when the signal to draw is given, time slows down as you mark where you want to shoot your opponent. But don't dawdle or you'll be shot dead.
A big factor in whom you become is the appropriately named "honor" system. You earn honor by helping strangers in need or not killing your enemies, gaining you more leniency from the law as well as discounts at local shops. Dishonorable actions such as committing crimes will lower your rating, but you might become wealthier in the process. I had some difficult decisions, but the situations were usually so grotesque (choosing to hunt down a group of murders and rapists or aiding their escape) that I couldn't bring myself to do anything other than the honorable thing. For someone looking to be a dastardly villain, though, it's there for the taking.
Online multiplayer is taken to new heights with the base online mode "Free Roam." Instead of a plain screen where you wait to join in online play like other shooters, you're thrust into the same massive game world and can do as you please while encountering other players. You can run around solo or join up to seven other players in a posse to pursue bandits, take on the law, hunt wild game, or even jump straight into competitive team battles such as a death matches or variations on Capture the Flag in which you grab bags of gold. The more you do, the more points you get for new horses, weapons, challenges, and fancy cowboy titles to announce how tough you are. It brings an impressive number of options to the table for both casual and hardcore players.
The vibe of the Old West hits in full force as you ride trails on horseback, trot off into the setting sun, or watch the tumbleweeds roll by. Of course you can travel by stagecoach and skip the manual riding, but you risk missing out on strangers to help or attack, not to mention the great view. Voice work is also well done, with a strong cast of characters from snake-oil salesmen and drunks to ranchers and lawmen, all truly selling the era.
The game's physics are equally impressive. Shooting a man's leg out while he's on stairs will send him tumbling down unless he catches a railing; aiming a little too high will shoot a man's hat off; and you can actually see the muscles ripple on horses as they gallop.
The core story of Red Dead Redemption lasts almost 15 hours, while there's tons of potential for reliable fun just screwing around in both the main story and online modes. The idea of a Wild West game might not be new, but it definitely hasn't been done this well before.
Red Dead Redemption is now available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for $59.95. For this review, the author completed the main story & reached Rank 20 out of 50 in the online play.
Check out all of our reviews! Only at www.rcreader.com/gaming
Posted by: Luke Hamilton
NO MORE HEROES 2: DESPERATE STRUGGLE REVIEW
February 8, 2010
With the Wii game lineup containing so many titles geared to children and family play, 2008's exclusive No More Heroes made a statement that "mature"-rated games can succeed on the motion-based system. Its intense action combined with a crazy yet compelling story and parodies of the gaming industry convinced me the Wii wasn't just for casual players and tapped into the "mature" market, which only consisted of Resident Evil titles at the time. The new sequel, subtitled Desperate Struggle, continues the story with new methods of madness to boot.
Several years after protagonist Travis Touchdown becomes the top-ranked assassin in the fictional city of Santa Destroy and walks away from the profession, his former promoters are trying to drag him back into the fold. He has no interest in climbing the rankings again, but the murder of his best friend motivates him to enter and name his reward: his best friend's killer served to him on a platter.
After a hilarious fourth-wall-breaking segment telling players they don't need to care about events in the first game -- despite the obvious emphasis that No More Heroes puts on story -- Desperate Struggle gets erratic. There are ranked-assassin boss battles that are focused and have meaning in the story, but there are also battles that are so absurd -- one fight has 25 football cheerleaders combine into a giant robot like Voltron -- that it gets to be too much, even for a game renowned for its strangeness. When trained on Travis and his beliefs in honor and his struggle to find the value of life, the story shines.
Combat involves Travis using a weapon similar to a lightsaber, with the "A" button used to swing the saber and the "B" button used to use kick and punch; aiming high or low with the Wii remote determines where the attack is placed. It's not the most natural style, but it's easy to adapt to within five minutes. Once an enemy is weakened enough, gameplay slows down and screen indicators pop up for motion-based finishers utilizing slash attacks or pro-wrestling moves. These could've been done just as easily with a button press but are gratifying to do with the simple motions.
You'll rip through many grunts on the way to the assassins on each level, and combat is fast and fluid when fighting other melée-based enemies. Enemies with guns cause aggravation because options to avoid and block bullets are limited, and it can feel unfair when being shot from afar while close enemies stomp on you. Difficulty from tough opponents is acceptable, but here it's more a fault in the game design.
The boss battles with ranked assassins are where the big appeal lies. Most are balanced affairs with intelligent blocking and evasion being applied by the enemy, and one slip can lead to a painful combo -- a nice change from the standard attack patterns other games give their bosses.
While some boss battles are ridiculous in nature (cheerleader Voltron comes to mind), the majority are quite engaging. A couple opponents are true villains, but others are anti-heroes with their own ideals and hopes. Some are even likable, even though they're trying to kill you. The only disappointment is that there's very little background given for each fighter -- just a quick clip when the fight is initiated and another when it ends.
Given the Wii's limited processing power, the game does a decent job with its presentation. Punk rock dominates the background music, fitting well with the story and setting the mood for the intense assassin battles. Voice work is strong. During gameplay, however, you'll quickly grow tired of enemies calling you the same vulgarities over and over again. Character designs won't rock you, but they get the job done.
The No More Heroes series has been a major factor in me continuing to own a Wii. I like the console's casual games, but I get distracted by other titles so I don't play them for longer than a week or so. The action and story-building in No More Heroes kept me interested for the two-year gap between releases. I'll even pick up the high-definition remake of the original game for Xbox later this year; I think it's that good.
Anyone who owns a Wii and is craving a deeper experience than a game of golf or tennis will enjoy both these games.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is available for Nintendo Wii for $49.95. For this review, the author completed the story on "mild" difficulty.
Posted by: Luke
GAME OF THE YEAR 2009
January 14, 2010
The best games of 2009 included revivals such as Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros., sequels such as Assassin's Creed 2 and Modern Warfare 2, and hidden gems that were lost in the shuffle of major releases. But the two best were a fresh game that became a massive hit (Batman: Arkham Asylum) and a safe but perfectly made shooter sequel (Uncharted 2).
And there were contenders in every genre.
Long-awaited games such as the PlayStation 3 exclusive Killzone 2 and the Xbox 360 exclusive Halo 3: ODST were standout performers yet lacked new features needed to keep me playing for more than a few days. Borderlands was another noteworthy title; it got less publicity -- releasing in the middle of the holiday shopping season -- but its added role-playing-game mechanics made extended play more enjoyable than the rehashed styles of Halo and Killzone.
Modern Warfare 2 had a strong story, solid controls, and fantastic multiplayer, but it still wasn't enough to beat out the PS3's Uncharted 2. While I am still disappointed that the Uncharted sequel takes no risks in design -- with several borrowed concepts, such as Prince of Persia's platforming and Gears of War's cover system -- it's executed spectacularly well. Add in the best graphics I've ever seen in a game, and Uncharted 2 left me more impressed with a shooter than I have been in years.
The PS3 exclusive Demon's Souls is unmercifully hard to play, with an unusual style of online play in which other players can help or hinder your progress at any time, with or without your consent. Dragon Age: Origins is enormous in size and delivers an epic medieval story, but it requires a lot of dedication micromanaging your characters.
My favorite RPG this year was Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. The third installment continues the series' easy-to-learn, action-based play style, furthers the story established in previous titles, and maintains its great humor.
With online play nearly standard these days, fighting games have returned with a vengeance. It's like being in the arcade back in the early '90s, waiting in line to take on whoever wins a match. Tekken 6 and King of Fighters XII look good and play well, but poor online setups keep them from being great. Street Fighter IV was almost a shoo-in for my choice with great controls and online play, until a sleeper hit knocked my socks off in Blazblue: Calamity Trigger. With fluid controls that are easy to learn and hard to master, online play that has no noticeable flaws, and a lineup of unique characters with entirely different play styles, Blazblue is the new standard for fighting games.
Infamous on PS3 delivers a electrifying narrative with slick superpowers, but the pacing is erratic, and slow travel around the large city makes the game drag at times. Prototype's story didn't make much sense, but the high-octane action made it enjoyable nonetheless. Assassin's Creed 2 is a major advance from its predecessor but has limited replay value. Even New Super Mario Bros. Wii, while incredibly fun, does nothing to further the genre, with its combination of old features in a new shell.
In the end, the best of this category belongs to Batman: Arkham Asylum. Playing as Batman in the infamous mental facility against hundreds of thugs, the combination of Batman's fancy toys and bone-crushing martial arts creates an intense experience. It stands alone as its own great experience, but it also builds a strong foundation for the newly announced sequel.
Since the Nintendo Wii was introduced, developers have redoubled efforts to make simulations for all platforms more accurately mimic real-life activities. The latest games in the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises are fun, but they merely add more songs to their respective catalogs. Wii Sports Resort's use of the new MotionPlus accessory made great strides for motion-controlled games, but it branches out into too many fields rather than creating a stand-alone detailed experience.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 for the Wii with the MotionPlus does the best job bringing a near-real-life experience into your living room, and it even goes the extra mile with the most addictive disc golf a video game can offer. Maybe next year's edition will include a mini-game in which you flee from an angry wife.
The DS exclusive Scribblenauts deserves recognition for its amazing imagination-fueled gameplay, but it doesn't earn the top honors because of its frustrating controls. Peggle was recently imported from PC to Xbox Live, and playing quickly becomes compulsive, but because the original game has been available since 2007, I won't count it among this year's best.
Professor Layton & The Diabolical Box on DS takes the cake this year. The game offers hundreds of brain-bending puzzles that all fit in the context of a murder mystery that makes it go so much deeper than your average puzzle game. You don't just play for fun; you play to solve the mystery, and it immerses you.
Games of the Year
Out of more than 50 new games I've played in the past year, I can't recommend two games enough: Uncharted 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum. Uncharted 2 takes the safe approach in design, but it's because of that safe approach that there is so little to complain about. Batman was a wild card coming into the year, but all the concerns about its quality were knocked out with a batarang and left hanging in downtown Gotham for the police to apprehend. These were the two best games 2009 had to offer.
Posted by: Luke