What do the two best handheld games ever made have in common? Continue reading
Given the number of times I’ve reviewed games made by Intelligent Systems it should come as no surprise that I’m a fan of the Paper Mario franchise. This series of spin-off RPGs began on the N64 and have become famous for their creativity and charming stationary-themed world of paper-thin characters. This 3DS entry, the first on a handheld, is the fourth game in the series and, like the platforming-orientated Super Paper Mario before it, changes up the formula. The focus this time is on stickers. Continue reading
Pullblox pretty much defined the 3DS eShop. The game’s mixture of cuddly characters and demanding puzzles proved the perfect fit for the download platform. The sequel was inevitable but this is Intelligent Systems we’re talking about, they’re not prone to churning out any old cash-vacuuming rehashes and as you can imagine, Fallblox, known in some territories as Crashmo, doesn’t just give you more of the same. Continue reading
“Sorry to keep you waiting!” Those are the words angelic hero Pit greeted us with at the moment of the first ever 3DS game announcement. It was an appropriate thing to say on many levels. Think the wait for Duke Nukem Forever was drawn out? A full two decades, an eternity in the video game industry, separated Kid Icarus Uprising from the previous game in the series, the Game Boy game Of Myths and Monsters. In fact we would have to wait another two years after Pit’s apology to play his new title. So here comes the obvious question; was it worth the wait? Continue reading
The release of the Wii U is fast approaching and with it New Super Mario Bros. U the first brand new Mario platformer to launch alongside a new console since Super Mario 64. While the prospect of a new 2D Mario platformer might not be quite as exciting as something with the innovation and originality of the Super Mario Galaxy games after the botched launch of the 3DS whatever Nintendo can offer us on day one is very welcome. In the meantime we have the not insignificant matter of New Super Mario Bros. 2, another iteration of the venerable series that feels like a dry run for the main event. Continue reading
Is there anything Intelligent Systems can’t do? The creators of Fire Emblem and the Paper Mario games apparently not satisfied with their status as Nintendo’s most reliable and talented creator of RPGs have taken it upon themselves to provide the 3DS eShop with the killer app it needed. Since its release late last year Pullblox (aka Pushmo) has won the universal praise of critics and players and propelled itself to the top of the online store’s ‘most downloaded’ list.
Pullblox is a puzzle game that seems simple on first glance but hides ingenious complexity and is devilishly challenging. You play as tubby little sumo hero Mallo who must rescue children trapped inside Pullblox. These are murals made up of different coloured blocky shapes that can be pulled out to create platforms for Mallo to stand on. Each block can be pulled out to three different depths and must be manipulated strategically to give you room to move higher blocks pulling either from the front or the side. It’s a simple concept and you’ll breeze through the straightforward early stages but before long the level design gets devious giving your brain a very thorough workout.
It’s all about spatial awareness, planning ahead and being able to visualise in three dimensions and it’s seriously stimulating stuff. The 3D nature of the puzzles gives the stereoscopic 3D some clear relevance and keeping it on helps you tell how far you’ve pulled blocks out although smart use of colours make it quite possible to see this if you prefer to have it off. You will find as you play that different levels require different approaches to success, and the designers find plenty of mileage and variety from the basic concept with ingenious level design.
Once you’ve cleared a few dozen challenges a couple of new ideas are introduced to shake things up, including manholes which transport you from one part of the level to another as well as coloured buttons that propel every block in the puzzle out to maximum when pressed. This brings another layer of strategy and complexity to the game just as the idea is starting to get samey and gives the designers license to create more and more elaborate challenges.
It’s tremendously accessible with crucially thoughtful controls. Mallo waddles along at a steady gait and jumps with important precision. If you move close to the edge of a block Mallo will teeter on the edge to give you a chance to move away, only falling if you want him to. Make an irreversible mistake or take a fall and you can rewind time and undo as much as you want. The gameplay has been designed for maximum convenience and it makes it easier to concentrate all your efforts on working out how to crack the puzzle.
The amount of content on offer goes above and beyond the call of duty for a budget title. There are well over two hundred levels, I’ve spent eighteen hours chipping away at them and still have about forty to go and that’s without having even tried the level creator feature which will extend the life even further through the medium of shared user created content.
It’s a triumph of a game and comes about as highly recommended as budget titles ever do but for all its brilliant execution Pullblox is a bit of a one-trick pony that can’t offer anything like the variety of something like Professor Layton. That said there’s joy to be found in the many Nintendo mural levels in which you manipulate retro Nintendo sprites and it’s genuinely hard to imagine how the game could be improved.
Rounded and crisp visually with a wonderful depth of content made admirably accessible.
Early levels belie massive complexity later on. The thought that has gone into working out the level design is clear.
Smart and thoughtfully conceived and simple enough to get into and master quickly with tight controls.
Typically colourful, bright and appealing but lacking anything special to make the visuals shine.
Many toe-tapping tunes will entertain you while your brain is at work but the game isn’t about the audio.
Enough simple levels for casuals and younglings to enjoy but a huge wealth of absolutely daunting and brutal challenges later on.
The many many levels and high degree of challenge combine to make this a game that will absorb a huge amount of your time.
Brain-bending, intelligent and essential gaming with an unprecedented amount of content. If you own a 3DS you have no excuse not to download this delightful gem of a puzzler.
Early Star Fox games had a bit of identity crisis in Europe. A trademark issue meant that the SNES original which was the world’s first true three-dimensional game had to be called Star Wing here while the cult classic N64 sequel Star Fox 64, another trailblazer (it was the first game to support controller rumble) bore the title Lylat Wars in PAL regions. Now Lylat Wars is getting a remake (in truth an enhanced port like Ocarina of Time 3D) and the title in Europe is Star Fox 64 3D just to confuse everybody.
If you’ve played Lylat Wars you should know exactly what to expect from this handheld reiteration. You play as Fox McCloud, the heroic leader of the Star Fox team of space mercenaries who are hired by General Pepper of the Cornerian Army to liberate the Lylat System from the forces of the evil Andross, a deranged scientist with ambitions to rule the galaxy. You must pilot your Arwing fighter craft through a series of stages blasting Andross’ assault fleets and taking out bosses as you make your way level by level to the hideout of the ‘maniacal scientist’ on the planet Venom.
Stages are a mixture of classic on-rails challenges filled with scripted events and relentless action and open dogfights known in-game as All-Range Mode. Controls are simple and intuitive and the action comes thick and fast. Accompanying you are your three team-mates Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad and Falco Lombardi to lend a wing and offer advice. The basic shooter action is great but the joy of the level design is the scripted events. You might be asked to bail a team-mate out of trouble or complete a secondary objective such as taking out searchlights that can affect your route through the game.
You will need to complete six levels before you are allowed to tackle Venom and with most missions lasting just a few minutes it makes the game possible to complete in an hour or so but seeing the credits roll once far from spells the end of the game’s lifespan. Perhaps more than any other N64 game Star Fox 64/Lylat Wars encouraged multiple repeat plays in which players must complete secondary objectives or find hidden exits to chart a different course through the game opening up previously unseen missions. Depending on how you finish them missions can either be ‘completed’ or ‘accomplished’ and achieving seven of the latter bags you the best ending.
Star Fox 64 3D repeats this process wholesale, with enhancements to the experience proving chiefly cosmetic. The original’s graphics were never tremendously pretty even in the game’s heyday but they’ve been hugely updated for this reissue featuring much bolder colours and a lot more detail in the character models, textures and backgrounds. The visual design of some levels has been improved so well to make them almost unrecognisable, the red hot fires of Solar and polluted oceans of Zoness being the most visually striking. The graphics don’t push the 3DS to its limits but they still serve as a worthwhile treat for fans.
The original’s sound was iconic, not because of its music or sound effects, good though those are, but because of the voice acting. Put simply it’s gloriously, hilariously, peerlessly cheesy, the script presented in bite-size chunks making every single line easy to remember. The quality of the recordings has received a noticeable mark-up here and while some lines have been detectably re-recorded most of it sounds very much the same as before. The most quotable script in video game history (‘Do a barrel roll!’) remains thankfully untouched, Slippy is just as annoying as ever, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The game does offer some augmentation to the gameplay. You can play in either N64 mode or the slightly easier-for-newbies 3DS mode with or without gyro controls that are, to put it mildly, unusable. The stereoscopy helps to sell a sense of depth in the on-rails missions but does nothing for the gameplay.
Star Fox 64 3D retains what made the original a classic but the lack of any real attempt to update its general presentation or add any significant new content (new missions would have been nice) results in a game that is showing its age a little. That said fans will undoubtedly get a kick out of the nostalgia factor mixed with the modernised look and first timers should give it a try to see how great the franchise was before third party-developed titles like Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Assault experimented with the formula with inferior results. More than this though it’s still ridiculously good fun and one of the most entertaining titles gracing the 3DS.
A tad basic in places but the peerlessly entertaining voice acting makes up for the shortcomings.
The on-rails missions in particular are an absolute blast and the locations are varied and imaginative.
Fast, frantic and fun with straightforward controls.
A clear improvement on the slightly blocky original with an excellent amount of detail and charm.
That unforgettable voicework is accompanied by a fitting score that really suits the space opera story.
Depending on what route you take completion can be fairly straightforward. The real challenge is in earning medals.
Short but rammed with replayability both by merit of the game’s structure and how gosh-darned fun it is to play.
A winning update that keeps everything that made Lylat Wars such a favourite without really adding to it. Still a must for fans and a great history lesson for the uninitiated.
For all Mario’s roaring success in practically everything he turns his gloved hand to there’s one angle of video games on which he doesn’t hold the monopoly – handheld platformers. Game Boy launch title Super Mario Land and its follow-up Super Mario Land 2 – 6 Golden Coins were both quality titles but not the industry defining paragons his home console outings were and they were both overshadowed by his alter-ego Wario’s own superior handheld series. The lack of difficulty and length offered more recently by New Super Mario Bros. on the DS made a missed opportunity out of an otherwise excellent game. There’s one exception, the outstanding update of Donkey Kong released in 1994 for the Game Boy but that was more of a puzzle platformer created with a very different design philosophy from the main series. Now the portly plumber is having another shot at bringing goomba-stomping and coin-grabbing to a handheld.
The shape of Super Mario 3D Land is both familiar and new. Your goal in the three-dimensional environments is not to hunt for stars but to race through series of linear levels complete with flagpoles. The health bar found in previous 3D home console iterations is absent in favour of the three-tiered system seen in the 2D series. If normal Mario takes a hit he will shrink (and lose his cap) whereupon another hit will cost a life. Grab a mushroom and you’ll return to full size with another power-up, such as a fire flower, elevating you to the third tier complete with an offensive ability. This marriage of 3D worlds and 2D sensibilities is jarring at first but once you accustom your gaming brain to the idea it becomes second nature and allows an old-school and traditional Mario experience to live in three dimensions.
The levels themselves are a mixture of the usual jumping challenges and gauntlets of enemies with a thoughtfully-integrated selection of Super Mario Galaxy style gameplay gimmicks such as the red and blue platforms that flip over whenever you jump. There’s a good amount of variety but not to the same degree offered by the Wii games, Nintendo gets a lot more mileage from fewer concepts here. The other focus is on the power-ups, particularly the much-loved Tanooki suit returning from Super Mario Bros. 3 which was at the centre of the hype since the game’s announcement and takes centre stage in Super Mario 3D Land where it occurs very frequently. The raccoon-shaped power-up works slightly differently in this game, you can’t use it to fly any more but instead holding the jump button will slow your descent so empowering your jumping ability with far more range, rather like Yoshi’s flutter jump. It’s a sensible alteration and while the suit can still make progressing through levels considerably easier than usual it’s an exhilarating experience blasting through otherwise challenging sections. In addition to this you can press B to perform a tail-spin to take out enemies. It’s among the most useful power-ups Mario has ever had and even highly skilled players will have trouble resisting the urge to abuse it. A notable new addition to the arsenal is the boomerang flower which imbues you with boomerang-throwing abilities used to bash baddies and grab distant items Zelda-style.
The basic and addictive purity of Mario’s gameplay is duly present but the level and balance of control you have isn’t as flawless as it usually is. The major drawback in the gameplay of Super Mario 64 DS was the lack of proper analogue control for movement (you could have analogue control with the touch screen but it was a dog to use), this meant having to hold B to run at full speed which works fine in the 2D games but felt awkward in three dimensions. Strangely despite the presence of the fully analogue circle pad with the 3DS hardware it’s the same deal here. Having to hold B to run properly isn’t game-breaking by any means but it makes things just a touch more fiddly than you feel they need to be particularly when it comes to precise jumping. Other than that the controls are pretty tight.
The game is arranged into eight worlds made up of half a dozen or so levels, among them challenging airship and castle themed stages that throw back once again to Super Mario Bros. 3. Most veterans of the series should zip through these without much difficulty but there’s more. It’s prudent to issue a mild spoiler warning here but the fact is that the game is far from over when the credits roll after beating world eight. Anyone who completes the main story is given another eight special worlds which double the length of the game. Many of these new levels are essentially the same corresponding stages from the original eight worlds tweaked to make them more challenging, for example you might be given a tight time limit or have to complete it with a Shadow Mario following you, but just as many are completely new. This is an important point to raise in the review because these bonus levels are more than a reward for compltionists, they’re half the final game and transform what might have ended up another comparatively short and easy title into something much more long-lasting, difficult and ultimately worthwhile.
The additional objective of gathering three star coins in every level makes a welcome return to boost the game’s lifespan for those that seek 100%, and is tied to a new rating system that shows up on your StreetPass profile, Nintendo again extending the longevity of their games by playing on gamers’ desire to show off. StreetPass hits will send power-up gifts to Toad Houses for you to make use of as well as showing you the best times other players have managed to complete individual levels, introducing a competitive edge that speedrunners will relish. It doesn’t make StreetPass essential to fully enjoy the title but it’s nice all the same.
Super Mario 3D Land was always likely to be the poster child for the console’s stereoscopic 3D, which is made better use of here than any other game on the system so far, offering the best depth of field. Then there are the rooms that employ clever optical illusions for which you’ll need the 3D switched on to see how to reach the tantalising star coin but these are few and far between. What the 3D doesn’t do is improve the gameplay and as such it’s looking increasingly like stereoscopic 3D will struggle to do this at all, working instead as a purely cosmetic enhancement. The brilliantly colourful and crisp worlds of Super Mario 3D Land look superb as it is, flaunting some of the best and clearest visuals seen on the handheld and the 3D gives them a slight edge.
The only slight downfall in the graphical presentation is the game’s relative lack of character. Super Mario 3D Land is a far cry from the vibrant open worlds of Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine or the adventurous wonder of Super Mario Galaxy, which gave a sense of context to the playgrounds you explored. The old-as-the-hills story aside there’s little real purpose to Mario’s traversal of these rather cut-and-paste level themes which play out like purposefully designed collections of platforms arranged in a 3D space. Of course that’s exactly what they are as it has always been but the designers have done very little to mask this. The airship and castle levels convey a sense of place but they’re driven by nostalgia and not original creativity. Everything else is very generic and lacking in detail. It’s pure efficient video game level design, not a bad thing as such, there’s an unfussy simplicity to it that reminds you of the design philosophy that puts gameplay ahead of everything else, but a well-judged deeper context to the craziness would have been nice. The game is constantly striving to entertain, never to immerse.
This fairly unimportant point aside what Super Mario 3D Land does it does very well indeed and delivers a richness of content and challenge that the character has never seen in a traditionally ordered handheld platformer before. This is the kind of game that gets into your brain becoming second nature. It’s got that one-more-go factor that perfectly offsets the level of challenge, never making success seem impossible or too tough to make its pursuit fun. The last levels can be absolutely devilish but the adrenaline associated with beating them overwhelms. Once again Nintendo have exploited their golden balance of appealing characters, gameplay simplicity and fiendish design to craft a must-have title that can satisfy the casual and the hardcore. It’s been a cliché for a long time but one of the best games on the console is a Mario game.
Clear, concise and well-ordered. The map screen is particularly reliable at showing all the relevant information completionists need.
Excellent use of platforming gimmicks and a faithful regard for the series’ history combine to great effect. It could have been more detailed though.
That a game this addictive and fun is actually one of the loosest in controls should only be taken as a mark of the franchise’s enormous standards. It’s top-notch stuff.
Approaching a home-console level of colourful crispness. The visuals don’t show off, they just get on with the job of looking pleasing.
The effects are all age-old classic chimes, bounces and thuds, the soundtrack an appropriately chirpy mix of old and new.
A Mario game as rock-hard as the NES days wouldn’t really be appropriate for modern audiences but this still manages to provide something robust for veterans.
Beating every level should take you at least ten hours. Then there’s finding 100% and replays.
The long wait for a classic Mario platformer on handhelds is over. With its excellently judged marriage of styles, superb design and satisfying amount of content 3DS owners finally have an original one-player experience to shout about. Was it ever in any doubt?
One of two late 2011 releases that the 3DS badly needed to bring its underwhelming sales figures up (the other being Super Mario 3D Land) Mario Kart 7 was a timely release for Nintendo but not just as a system seller. The latest in probably the most popular series of spin-offs in video games and the first to reflect its position in the chronology by sticking a number in the title is a watershed publication for many of the handheld’s features including its online play. Its success was a foregone conclusion, as was its ability to ship hardware, more important is its status as the best of its kind Nintendo have produced.
You know the drill, choose from a host of Mushroom Kingdom regulars to race around various colourful and creative courses in 50, 100 or 150cc. You get ahead of the pack by exploiting cunning shortcuts, drifting round corners for a boost and making strategic use of randomly acquired power-ups. It’s a tried and tested formula that still works. Other than Grand Prix runs and time trials there’s little for lone players to get stuck into but the real value is found in the multiplayer.
The lack of single player depth is something I’ve always rather taken issue with in the Mario Kart series. Rare’s Diddy Kong Racing, one of many imitators of the franchise introduced a tremendous adventure mode that gave the racing the kind of depth, context, lifespan and replayability that Mario Kart has never achieved. That game remains my favourite in the genre and while I would have liked Mario Kart 7 to finally offer something similar I never expected it to. The good news is it didn’t need to to take its place as the best game in the series to date.
To clarify that bold statement, it’s the best in the series that I have played, which is every one but the trailblazing SNES original Super Mario Kart, a game that still commands massive respect among those who were there to experience it in the early nineties. One day I’ll get round to downloading it but until I do I can say with confidence that Mario Kart 7 rules. Much of that fact is down to the gameplay, which is tighter than ever and empowers a skilled player to feel like they are in total control like the series has never managed before. The best way I can illustrate this is by pointing to a particular shortcut in Dino Dino Jungle, one of the retro tracks included here. There’s a wooden bridge that features a couple of branching paths one of which can save you time but is very narrow to negotiate that the game’s heavy handling put me off from ever using but I made a beeline for every time in Mario Kart 7 which makes it easy.
Drifting has been tweaked so that boost sparks appear far more quickly when turning into a corner than powersliding sideways. This has been done to eliminate snaking, a technique not intended by the devs that experts at finger gymnastics abused in Mario Kart DS, which slightly spoiled that game’s online multiplayer. Now you have to put much more strategy and forethought into your drifting to reap the rewards of the stronger boost which can only really be achieved on corners of ninety degrees or more. Once you’ve mastered drifting it will become an obsession as you strive to make the best use of the technique possible to gain that tiny advantage over your competitors.
Of course mastery of the weapons remains paramount as failure to do so can cost even a skilled player. All the usual favourites return including bananas, red and green shells, invincibility stars and go faster mushrooms and they are joined by new additions such as the fire flower, a mainstay of the platforming series making its karting debut (Mario and Luigi’s unique character weapon in Double Dash!! doesn’t count as that was just a fireball) giving you a few seconds to throw flames forwards or backwards. The Tanooki Leaf which takes centre stage in Super Mario 3D Land also makes an appearance here imbuing your cart with a tail that will protect you from shells for a short time. Better still you can perform a tail spin with a tap of L to take out rivals, an act that commands great satisfaction. The wildcard is the rare Lucky 7 which gives you a septet of toys that rotate around you and are used in turn. It’s tough to judge which item you’ll use each time making it hard to use strategically and other racers can grab weapons off you but it’s a lot of fun all the same. And the dreaded blue shell returns more devastating than ever in that it no longer flies to its first placed target but runs along the ground bashing other racers like it used to. It can still rob a superior driver of a deserved first place but doesn’t appear as often as in previous games. Overall the weapons are excellently balanced and enjoyable as ever.
The major new gameplay draw is the addition of airborne and underwater sections which shake things up with mixed results. Mario and buddies can now soar through portions of courses by attaching gliders to their carts or take a dip and play submarine complete with propeller. This is one way in which Mario Kart 7 does mimic Diddy Kong Racing which allowed you to race in planes and hovercraft although here rather than letting you choose your kart essentially transforms in the appropriate places according to the design of the course. Once you’ve got used to the controls, gliding becomes a superb addition to the gameplay allowing for some very strategic play and the scope for finding shortcuts whilst airborne is irresistible. The underwater sections on the other hand are sluggish and lack nuance adding nothing to the experience other than a bit of variety.
The other major new feature is the ability to customise your cart, which leads me to another returning feature. The coins previously seen in the original and the GBA’s Super Circuit are back to increase your vehicle’s speed the more you collect with a limit of ten. The game also counts the number you accumulate and new vehicle parts including bodies, wheels and gliders are randomly unlocked once your total hits certain milestones. Your selection of parts affects every aspect of your kart’s performance, including speed, acceleration, handling and weight allowing you to mix and match to find a combination that suits your style of play. After some experimentation I settled on the Blue Seven body with Sponge wheels and the Parafoil with Toad as my driver. It works well and unlocking every part will necessitate hoarding a hell of a lot of coins thereby increasing lifespan.
All these features don’t mean much unless the racecourses are up to snuff and Mario Kart 7 doesn’t disappoint offering some of the best designed tracks in the series. There are plenty of basic Mushroom Kingdomy courses such as early offerings Toad Circuit and Daisy Hills that are good value but the more creative ones stick longer in the memory, among them the musical Melody Motorway, the Arabian Nights-themed Shy Guy Bazaar or Wario’s Galleon which is easily the best course to make heavy use of the aquatic sections. Most races are split into three laps as usual but three are structured as one long continuous road split into three sections, among them two courses imported from Wii Sports Resort, Wuhu Island Loop and Wuhu Mountain Loop, both welcome inclusions. The other is none other than the new Rainbow Road, which might be the best example of the recurring course to date, as twisty and dangerous as ever with good aerial sections and planets and moons to traverse along the way.
The returning retro tracks are an excellent selection all told, many of which have been chosen for the opportunity they afford to be altered to include aerial and underwater sections, such as standout Wii courses Maple Treeway and Koopa Cape. Other highlights include N64 favourites Koopa Troopa Beach and Kalamari Desert, as well as Luigi’s Mansion, Waluigi Pinball and Airship Fortress from the DS iteration and Daisy Cruiser and the aforementioned Dino Dino Jungle from Double Dash!! not to mention the original Rainbow Road. Aside from the rather dull Luigi Raceway from the N64 and the odd lack of GBA courses (Bowser Castle 1 is the sole inclusion, I’m still holding out for the return of Ribbon Road) it’s a great range and they all look wonderful having been put through the modernising machine by the masterly Retro Studios.
I’ve never found the desire to invest myself in online gaming much in the past but Mario Kart 7 changed that. The DS version suffered from issues such as snakers and races forcibly halted by someone quitting while playing the Wii version online always seemed a little pointless given the ease and accessibility of local multiplayer, which I have always maintained is a lot more fun. The new game being a handheld one is at a disadvantage in that local multiplayer obliges multiple console ownership among players which makes online a better bet for multiplayer. It looks like Nintendo are finally branching out from Friend Codes, a welcome move they seem to be maintaining judging by the limited details of the recently announced forthcoming Nintendo Network online infrastructure. The more freely organised options of Mario Kart 7 allow continuous play against anyone in the world with matchups based on a personal ranking system that increases or decreases your score based on your performance. Otherwise you can create or join any number of online communities with customisable rules or take on friends or opponents you meet via StreetPass.
Playing the game online is extremely addictive and really boosts longevity and not just because it makes you want to race and beat people from all over the globe. If you can achieve perfect ratings in all of the single player Grand Prix challenges your achievement shows up online which makes pursuing the previously less rewarding status of perfect ratings more appealing so you can show off to people in Mexico. There are only two faults I can detect with the online options. The ability to customise rules for communities could do with a wider range of options such as the ability to swap out exactly which weapons you want. The other thing is a glitch that shows up in Wuhu Mountain Loop where falling off the track in a particular place sees you put back on much further on, something that everybody exploits online. The glitch itself isn’t such an issue – once you’ve figured out why everyone keeps dumping themselves into the drink in the same place and ending up winning by miles it’s easy enough to do the same thing and level the playing field. The only trouble is that a disproportionate number of players habitually choose the course every time in worldwide play making Wuhu Mountain Loop by far the course you’ll end up playing most online. It’s the lack of variety this can cause that irritates but it’s more of the fault of the players than the developers. In truth it’s a fairly minor point but one worth noting. On the whole the online experience is excellent.
Mario Kart 7 also makes good use of StreetPass and SpotPass both of which deliver plenty of ghost data to test yourself against in time trials which breathes new life into a mode usually only pursued by bored solo players. You can also collect people’s Miis and find them showing up in Grand Prix mode or else race against them for real online. You can access all the relevant data on the Mario Kart Channel located on the main menu.
Mario Kart 7 is an overwhelming success and the most continuously engaging game in the series. Even without local multiplayer I’ve clocked up more than thirty hours with the game and counting. It’s a quality package very well presented with some of the best and crispest graphics yet seen on the system. The stereoscopic 3D brings decent depth to the racecourses but doesn’t offer much improvement in the gameplay department – aiming those green shells is as tricky as ever. And although the frame rate doesn’t suffer with the 3D slider at max I ended up mostly playing in 2D, mainly because maintaining the 3D sweet spot on crowded tube trains is a bit tricky. The only minor quibble I’ve yet to mention is the reduced size of the character roster which drops several characters in favour of such newbies as Wiggler and Super Mario Galaxy’s Honey Queen. Bringing in these creepy crawlies ahead of more obvious choices isn’t a major crime exactly but the omission of Waluigi is puzzling given the inclusion of Waluigi Pinball among the retro tracks. Other than that it’s a brilliant package that introduces a lot of successful new features and has rightfully given its host machine the boost it needed.
Clear menus and balanced arrangement of modes allow appropriate ease of access for players of all skill levels.
A great set of courses packed with the greatest variety of shortcuts yet to be found in the series.
Extremely tight, addictive and satisfying to play with perfectly judged handling controls. Only the underwater sections are a slight let down.
Every bit as colourful and polished as you’d expect from Nintendo and Retro. The new courses are all lovely and even the most old-school tracks have received a good makeover.
Generally to a high standard but most of the tunes aren’t memorable, the odd little accompaniment for Rosalina’s Ice World and the stirring Rainbow Road tune aside.
The relative ease of one player Grand Prix modes is remedied by the much greater challenge to be found online.
The absorbing nature of the gameplay and addictive online experience give the game serious legs.
Despite a few small quibbles Mario Kart 7 is the most complete experience the popular series has yet produced with the online features taking centre stage. If this game had been available at the launch of the 3DS one suspects the console’s early sales might have been considerably healthier.
3DS, Fire Emblem Kakusei, Kid Icarus Uprising, Luigi's Mansion 2, Mario Party 9, Mario Tennis, Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D, Nintendo, Paper Mario, Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright, The Last Story, Wii
As we canter into another year it’s time to look at the best incoming games. As a primarily Nintendo gamer with no immediate aspirations (or necessary funds) to buy the other consoles my options for this list have been rather limited. My equivalent post last year very accurately predicted both my Game of the Year and the runner-up but I’m not expecting that this time. Nintendo’s newest home console, the Wii U is due out in the second half of the year but no first-party titles have been unveiled yet so we don’t know what’s going to be available to play at launch. My guess is we’ll get Pikmin 3, which Nintendo have confirmed they are working on for Wii U but the game hasn’t been shown off in any official capacity or been given a release date yet so for that reason isn’t eligible for the list, nor are any third-party publications confirmed for the system that have already been released on other platforms so there goes Batman Arkham City. The result is a list dominated by 3DS games and featuring a few titles I’m not 100% certain I’m going to get. So here we have the ten Nintendo games due before 2013 I’m looking forward to most even if there are other hitherto unannounced projects that might prove more appetising.
I’m a massive Professor Layton fan but have never picked up a Phoenix Wright game so this crossover only half appeals to me. The story pitches the two popular characters into a strange mediaeval town rocked by strange goings on where a young woman stands accused of witchcraft while gameplay will stick to the formula of each franchise depending on which character you choose. As Layton creators Level 5 are the developers in charge of the project we know it’s going to be quality. The only question is how well the idea will work.
Another title I’m not sure I’m going to get, this latest entry in the Mario Tennis series will have to make good use of the hardware to justify its existence. Mario Tennis on the N64 was a cracking sports sim and gave the world Waluigi. Mario Power Tennis on the Gamecube was pretty much the same game with better graphics and power moves that spoiled things somewhat. With any luck Camelot will judge this handheld version a bit better.
The Wii isn’t dead quite yet. Mario’s long-running party game series has been missing for a few years following the weak Mario Party 8 but I’m hopeful this second Wii entry will make more engaging use of the Wii Remote in mini games and feature better-designed boards. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for the series but this is another entry on this list for which my decision to buy it or not will depend on reviews.
This long-awaited sequel to the Gamecube launch game looks set to eclipse its predecessor by featuring multiple mansions for Mario’s scaredy-cat brother to explore in search of ghosts to vacuum and treasure to hoard. It’s already looking pretty sweet and with a reported stronger focus on puzzling is in with a good shout to end up as that rare thing, a superior sequel. Check out my Luigi’s Mansion review.
Appearing on this list for the second year in a row Metal Gear Solid – Snake Eater 3D is finally due for release in March. This port of the PS2 classic is looking better every time we see it, features ingenious use of the handheld’s features and should be spectacular in 3D. Despite being an enhanced re-release it’s set to be one of the biggest third party games for the system this year.
The first 3DS game ever revealed missed launch by a whole year but in the intervening time has caused quite a stir with its heavily action-orientated content. Pit’s first game in two decades feels like a whole new IP for Nintendo given how different the 3D experience is looking. Circle Pad Pro support has been confirmed to give lefties an easier time and the game itself looks better and better each time we see more of it.
It’s going to be a busy year for the puzzling professor especially with his first ever foray on 3DS due to arrive in Europe some time before 2013. Once again Layton Luke and Emmy are challenged to solve the mystery of a town suffering from a severe case of unexplained happenings. Quality is assured but how the game makes use of the console’s unique features will be of great interest.
Although my early impressions of Xenoblade Chronicles haven’t been the best that hasn’t put me off wanting this other Wii exclusive JRPG, which always appealed to me more anyway. It’s been out in Japan since last January but perhaps thanks to online campaign Operation Rainfall is finally seeing the light of day in Europe in February. Could this be the last great Wii game before the Wii U arrives?
Another game to make successive appearances on this list is the latest instalment in the Paper Mario series from the godly Intelligent Systems. Paper Mario – The Thousand-Year Door is one of my favourite RPGs and after the franchise shifted to a more platforming focus with the Wii’s Super Paper Mario it’s great to see it returning to its roots with its first handheld instalment and a slew of new features. The paper world concept will work brilliantly in 3D and Intelligent Systems have a habit of making some addictive RPGs. That being the case…
Fire Emblem – Shin Monshō no Nazo: Hikari to Kage no Eiyū, which placed high on last year’s list never made it out of Japan so I’m desperate for this first 3DS entry to reach UK shores. It’s already looking wonderful with the new double-teaming concept proving an intriguing prospect and is rumoured to become the first Nintendo game to feature paid DLC. I can’t wait to see what other new features the game will offer, not to mention what the story will be about. If it does get greenlit for a western release it’s still possible it won’t appear this year but all the same if there’s even a chance it will that’s good enough for me to consider it the 2012 game I’m most eagerly anticipating.
The onset of the 3D era in the mid-nineties was arguably the most exciting period in the progression of the video game industry. Gamers used to exploring worlds in two dimensions found themselves in unknown territory as they entered the third. The earliest 3D games look crude and are typically unwieldy to control today but at the time there had never been anything quite like moving a blocky, polygonal character around an open space. The boundaries had changed and video games as a medium seemed to have opened up and matured with limitless possibilities. All the same this was unexplored territory for developers and many early 3D titles suffered from a slew of control issues. The industry needed a standard-bearer to show the way by building a template for gameplay and design when creating games for 3D environments. That game arrived in the form of Super Mario 64.
With its analogue interface, intelligent camera controls and imaginative level design Super Mario 64 became the new benchmark against which all 3D games were measured, inspiring innumerable copycats. It was fitting that such an important game should have starred the portly plumber since it was Mario who revitalised the sliding industry with Super Mario Bros. on the NES. This transition from 2D to 3D that Mario made so effortlessly proved much trickier for some classic franchises however. Big names like Sonic and Castlevania encountered big problems when trying to make the jump leaving space for new players to occupy their market share. Most of Nintendo’s major franchises including Mario Kart and F-Zero made successful transitions but there was one property above all that was attracting the most attention with its first foray into the third dimension.
Since its unveiling in 1995 the next chapter in the Legend of Zelda saga was the focus of much anticipation among gamers everywhere, particularly series fans anxious to return to Hyrule after a very long wait since A Link to the Past and the Game Boy’s Link’s Awakening. That wait would have to continue – originally planned as a Nintendo 64 launch title the game saw numerous delays which only served to build the hype. Finally, missing its intended release date by more than two years the game entitled The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time was finally released and it surpassed all of the lofty expectations that were riding on it.
Ocarina of Time wowed gamers worldwide with its epic quest that excelled in every aspect of video game design. The story was sweeping and fantastical, filled with unforgettable characters and genuine twists. The graphics were the most detailed and realistic of any console game to date. The immersive sound design completely sold players the sense of being in a believable ambient world. The soundtrack remains one of the most beloved of all time at turns soaring, atmospheric, quirky and mysterious. The difficulty level was perfectly judged combining threatening enemies and huge bosses with fiendish and innovative puzzles in the brilliantly designed dungeons. Most importantly the gameplay was unparalleled, taking all of the conventions of classic Zelda and making them work in three dimensions, pioneering concepts that would become industry standards such as automatic jumping, horseback riding and the game’s crowning glory, Z-targeting. The game became the darling of critics and gamers alike and remains to this day the most critically acclaimed title ever made.
For me the reason Ocarina of Time stands out above everything else the industry has created is the fact that it was the first game that made me feel like I was going on a real adventure. The various elements combined to create the most immersive, beguiling experience I have ever had with a game. There is nothing like crossing the beautiful Hyrule Field with its infectious theme lifting your heart or stepping into its labyrinthine dungeons to lose yourself. Other games have drawn me in, inspiring me to spend hours on end in their fictitious worlds but Ocarina of Time did it first and did it best. It is my absolute favourite game and probably always will be.
Someday I’ll review Ocarina of Time properly but for now there’s the question of this remake. The title has seen numerous re-releases over the years including the remixed Master Quest which featured tougher enemies and reworked dungeons that offered a greater challenge than ever but by far the most significant reissue so far is this handheld edition. To call it a remake is not strictly correct as we’re essentially getting the same game again with better graphics, streamlined presentation and interface and stereoscopic 3D so a better way to describe it would be an enhanced port. All the same The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D is the most worthwhile and entertaining port you could possibly hope for.
Since half of this game’s target audience is those unlucky gamers who missed the original N64 release in 1998 it seems prudent to offer a refresher. The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time is an action based fantasy adventure set in the mysterious and beautiful open world of Hyrule and casts you as Link, a member of the child-like Kokiri living in Kokiri Forest, the only one of his kind not to have his own guardian fairy and beset by nightmares of a man in black. The guardian spirit of the forest, the Great Deku Tree sends Navi the fairy to summon Link and requests that he fight to break the curse placed on him by an evil man of the desert before sending him away from the forest in search of the princess living in Hyrule Castle who will help him fight against the antagonist.
So you set off on a sweeping adventure that combines exploration, combat and puzzle solving. Much of the world is open to you from the start allowing very free flowing progression as you take time out from the main quest to find secrets and complete side quests. As the story progresses and you traverse the numerous dungeons you build up an arsenal of weapons and items including series staples such as the bow, boomerang and hookshot as well as new creations like bombchus, deku nuts and magic beans. You also gain two ocarinas over the course of the story including the titular Ocarina of Time with which you can manually play various mysterious melodies that have magical effects from causing rainstorms to changing day and night. Enemies are everywhere and can be fought with one of several swords and shields you gather on your journey or by using your inventory weapons. Just as troublesome are the puzzles which are frequent and imaginative especially in the dungeons and make imaginative use of your many items throughout.
The game world and everything you do in it has aged well, no doubt about it. Everything has its place, every side quest makes sense yet the game challenges you to go out of your way in pursuit of them, the level design remains highly engaging, the dungeons powerfully atmospheric mazes that make you feel like you’re in an antagonistic fortress, a lion’s den at all times. The characters are still loveable, quirky and well-placed, at once driving the narrative and encouraging you to take time to get to know them. Hyrule is still a huge, flawlessly designed world, convincingly full of life, a joy to explore always seeming to contain more to discover. The plot is still full of mystery and little touching moments full of heart, hinting at a deeper mythology than the game ever explicitly reveals. It’s a fantasy world that will hold you in raptures without ever feeling too detached, it’s a friendly, inviting place even when it’s full of monsters.
Of course these are all of the things that remain unchanged and timeless about the original title so let’s look at what’s new. The graphics have received a sharp upgrade, objects are detailed and smooth, textures full of colour and depth, the lighting subtler than before and many environments have received a revitalising facelift. Character models have benefited a great deal from the technical facelift and now resemble the game’s original character art more than ever, NPCs such as Saria, Kaepora Gaebora the owl and Princess Zelda herself look like how the original development team would have wanted to make them look had they had more advanced tech. The interiors of buildings and shops in particular are much improved, convincingly filled with foreground objects and papers attached to walls lending the places deeper variety and life. Everything everywhere looks better than ever before and somehow GREZZO, the dev trusted with the project have managed to maintain the unique sense of immersion despite translating the world to a handheld screen. It’s a gorgeous game.
It’s this aesthetic enhancement that has always been the most tantalising prospect of the 3DS edition of the game. The greatest joy to be had whilst playing for a long time fan is rediscovering old areas of the world and seeing how they’ve been improved. It’s a simple, satisfying pleasure to see the sun hanging low over Kakariko Village, the improved detail and clarity of the market or the sheer immensity of the Desert Colossus all polished up and presented in such gorgeous pastels. GREZZO have done an admirable job of updating the visuals without losing the soul of the game’s style. This is definitely Ocarina of Time and it has, perhaps obviously, never looked better.
Then there’s the interface which is clearly different and mostly improved. The bottom touch screen is used brilliantly displaying most of the important information such as life and magic meters, freeing the upper screen of clutter and also features a permanent map. You can easily access the various subscreens by touching the appropriate tabs on the touch screen. Assigning items to buttons can be done either with the cursor and D-Pad or Circle Pad or by touch and is a smoother experience than before. The button configuration has been improved but still feels very familiar. Z-targeting is now L-targeting and the R trigger still brings up the shield, B and A swing your sword and perform context sensitive actions respectively just as before. X and Y are used for items that can be assigned to them and there are a further two hotspot buttons on the touch screen for two more items. The Ocarina has its own permanent hotspot and can played using three of the face buttons and both shoulder buttons or on the touch screen. The iron and hover boots are now assignable items allowing for quick use at the touch of a button, a design choice made with Water Temple in mind and yes, it does make exploring that dungeons watery depths a lot less hassle not to have to pause the game every time you want to put on or take off the iron boots.
Every action controls just as well as ever and remains intuitive throughout and it feels like you’re playing the same perfectly balanced game. A new addition is the use of the gyro sensor for first person aiming which involves you moving the system around to point at your target and is actually very accurate but makes maintaining the 3D sweet spot tricky. Which leads me neatly to the stereoscopic 3D and I can happily say that I was right in assuming that Super Street Fighter IV – 3D Edition was not the best game to judge the feature against. Playing with the 3D slider at max adds huge depth to the world and adds an extra layer of immersion despite the slight frame rate drop. Seeing the fireflies of Kokiri Forest floating around in open space is great and the effect makes Hyrule Field seem more real and huge than ever. It’s really worth playing through the game with the 3D permanently on. Gameplay-wise it adds very little but it does make the best use of the pop-out effect I’ve seen on the system so far namely when Link gains a new item and holds it up – it really looks like the item is floating just outside the screen.
The game also introduces a hint system that seems to be in vogue in Nintendo games these days. If you get stuck you can access innumerable hint movies from the Sheikah Stones in Kokiri Forest and the Temple of Time. These movies point you in the right direction without explicitly showing you how to solve a puzzle and can be a useful reminder if you’ve got stuck into a side quest and forgotten what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Knowing the game as well as I do I didn’t need to make use of them more than to just see what the little movies are like and many gamers will choose to ignore them in favour of striving for the satisfaction of solving a problem without help but it’s the kind of feature younger, less experienced or less able players will no doubt appreciate.
Everything about the game has recent a new coat of paint to make it fresh again but the sound has probably received the least attention. I had hoped for a full orchestral remix of the entire soundtrack but the same arrangements as before remain although they’ve been cleaned up and sound better than ever. It’s a slightly disappointing oversight but it’s a mark of the brilliance of the soundtrack that it still sounds superb and is a joy to listen to. As far as additional features go, there’s no Streetpass or online support but there is a new boss rush mode that lets you tackle the game’s end of dungeon behemoths in succession and work towards improved times but more important is the inclusion of the remixed Master Quest with its altered dungeons and greater challenge although some may be disappointed to find that it’s not available until you’ve completed the game once. Still, this is an absolutely packed game full of content. If you know Hyrule like I do you can get through the main quest in under twenty hours but newbies will take a lot longer and whatever your completion time is it will increase significantly if you try to hunt down all of the heart pieces and Gold Skulltulas and that’s before we even consider Master Quest. Plus it’s just such a wonderful game that many will want to experience the whole thing again and again.
Playing Ocarina of Time the first time around all those years ago is the best experience I’ve ever had with a game. No matter how good a re-release is it can never recreate the joy of that first time but Ocarina of Time 3D is nonetheless an absolutely mesmerising experience for a gamer who has seen everything Hyrule has to offer. It is probably newcomers who will get the most out of the game though but since the flesh of the game is thirteen years old it still cannot have the same impact as it did in 1998. But this is Ocarina of Time after all and the quality speaks for itself. There is nothing better to play on the 3DS and probably never will be. As it was with the GBA and DS the best thing to play on Nintendo’s latest console is a game designed for home console but that’s no reason why you should ignore it. If you are in any doubt just remember that this game is still considered by so many the best ever made and in an industry that advances as quickly as this that’s not a fact you should take lightly. The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D is a phenomenal title that really invigorates the N64 original and reminds us all why we play video games and shines a light for escapist entertainment, fantasy storytelling and interactivity like so few can.
Returning to Hyrule in 3D with improved graphics was always going to be a massive treat but GREZZO have made it utterly fantastic with every design decision they have made. If you have any love of the series, action games or video games generally and especially if you’ve never played the game before, take the journey and allow yourself to be transported. Simply magical.
Another E3 has come and gone and as usual the video game industry’s foremost event where developers and journalists gather to show off and play the newest hardware and software was not short of talking points.
Being a massive Nintendo fanboy I will, of course, be focusing on Nintendo’s showing but it would be remiss of me not to give some mention to Microsoft and Sony so here goes. Microsoft was the first hardware manufacturer to take to the big stage and although their press conference featured the news that the Halo franchise is returning with a remake of the original game and an all new trilogy including a teaser trailer for Halo 4 a lot of the online reaction to the company’s performance was pretty negative. I didn’t see the conference but it seems the company disappointed its fans by concentrating on casual games for its Kinect hardware. I did, however, watch Sony’s press conference live and the PlayStation manufacturers seemed to do rather better. The president of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, Jack Tretton opened the brief with a sincere and admirable apology to Sony fans for the PlayStation Network’s well-publicised outage. With that necessary issue neatly handled the focus shifted to the company’s upcoming handheld hardware and successor to the PSP. The handheld’s new name PlayStation Vita was announced and a number of games that exploit its nifty technology were demonstrated. The revelation that AT&T would handle the machine’s telecommunications was met with an amusing smattering of boos but when the competitive price of $249 was greeted warmly when it was announced. What the conference lacked was big announcements. With the exception of Sly 4 the conference had little for the hardcore gamer to get excited about in an E3 uncharacteristically devoid of big surprises.
Nintendo’s was the last big press conference taking place on the Tuesday morning in LA. It was known long before the show that the company would be unveiling its new console to replace the Wii and rumours had been swimming around the net for weeks speculating what it could do, the most convincing of which suggested the new controller would feature a sizeable touch screen making it vaguely reminiscent of the Dreamcast controller.
The conference opened with a great musical tribute to the Zelda series for its 25th anniversary. A live orchestra played a medley of classic tunes from the series while a montage of clips from the games played on the big screen culminating in the first showing of the newest trailer of Skyward Sword. Zelda remained the focus of the show and we were told of Nintendo’s plans to celebrate the anniversary detailing plans for a series of concerts dedicated to the series and revealing that The Legend of Zelda – Four Swords will be made available as a free download for the 3DS. Nintendo’s new handheld took centre stage after that and we were given a taste of the big first party franchises upcoming for the system including Star Fox 64 3D, Kid Icarus Uprising, Mario Kart 3D and most importantly Super Mario 3D as well as revealing Luigi’s Mansion 2 for the first time.
Nintendo saved their biggest news for the end and their new HD console, dubbed Wii U was finally showcased. As rumoured the console does feature a large touch screen in a design that resembles an iPad. The new controller also features forward facing cameras, a gyroscope, a microphone and a traditional button setup including two circle pads, D-Pad, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons and two triggers. We were given a fair amount of detail regarding what can be achieved with this system such as the possibility of switching gameplay from the TV to the controller screen, a feature useful for when someone wants to use the TV for something else whilst you’re playing. We were given a few tech demos and a promising list of big third party titles in development for the system including Batman Arkham City, Assassin’s Creed and Dirt but there was nothing on any first party titles except that Masahiro Sakurai’s team will soon begin work on a pair of new Smash Bros. games for both Wii U and 3DS. We didn’t get a clear idea of the machine’s specs either. There was some confusion among the watching public regarding the showing as Nintendo showed nothing of the actual console during its briefing leading many to mistakenly believe that the Wii U was nothing but a new controller but Nintendo officially released shots of the console itself after the show to allay these fears.
It was a good show, maybe the strongest of the three but it wasn’t as good as last year, nowhere near. I was hoping for more big game announcements for new and existing consoles but Nintendo chose to leave its announcements until after the show. The promise of new Kirby games for both Wii and DS were quietly shown alongside Mario Party 9 and a similar looking game called Fortune Street that matches Mario characters with Square Enix ones. The best news was the confirmation of Pikmin 3 for the Wii U but I was hoping to see a new Star Fox or Fire Emblem or at least news that the newest Fire Emblem game for the DS will see release outside of Japan. Most frustratingly though we still don’t have any news on a new F-Zero game. Nintendo’s futuristic racer is one of their best and most consistently excellent franchises, my favourite after Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Fire Emblem and we haven’t seen a new entry in the series in ages.
So what about the Wii U? I’m cautiously excited. The name is pretty bad but the tech is highly intriguing. Nintendo’s demos caused quite a stir by showcasing some of the possibilities for the new controller. Since the show we’ve gained a bit more information about the console. It seems each one will probably only support one of the new controllers with existing Wii controllers necessary for multiplayer games. The console won’t play DVDs or BluRays but, we’re promised, will feature a much more robust online setup. There are some concerns regarding the timing of the console since rumours regarding the specs suggest it will be roughly on a par with the PS3 and Xbox 360 although some sources claim it will outstrip them a fair amount. Either way Nintendo could still find themselves lagging behind in the hardware stakes if either Sony or Microsoft decide to one-up them in the near future. Still, the prospect of Nintendo franchises in HD is too good to ignore, a point most obviously shown by an HD Zelda demo. The demo is not that of a new game in development but an example of what the series might look like in HD. It featured an interactive movie of Link fighting a giant spider that allowed the player to alter things like lighting in real time. We’ll have to keep our eyes on the Wii U as we near its release next year.
In terms of software the 3DS was at the centre of attention for Nintendo with its big names attracting plenty of praise. Super Mario 3D is looking great mixing some of the conventions of Super Mario Bros. 3 with the design ethic of Super Mario Galaxy. The fixed camera limits the sense of freedom found in Mario’s non-stereoscopic 3D games so far but Nintendo have always put plenty of effort into their mascot’s games so it should be great. Mario Kart 3D looks like a fairly typical game for the series except for a few additions. Your kart will become a glider when making big jumps and gains a propeller when underwater as well as featuring the option to swap different machine parts. Let’s hope Nintendo gives the title a deeper one-player mode than the series is known for too. Star Fox 64 3D is looking great as the second big N64 remake to hit the system and the announcement of Luigi’s Mansion 2, though not what I most wanted still looks like a fun follow-up to a fine title.
The star of the show for me was undoubtedly The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword. The Wii was given very little attention at the show but this last big release still yielded plenty of praise and has me very excited. The new trailer is great, finally giving us a look at Link’s world above the clouds. Skyloft is a fair bit smaller than I was hoping but it looks like an interesting community and the bird riding gameplay looks a lot more fun than Wind Waker‘s sailing. At the this stage it bears a striking resemblance to Skies of Arcadia. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. The new trailer featured the same theme tune as before, the same music from the last trailer, which, it was discovered a few weeks ago, is actually Zelda’s lullaby backwards. Zelda herself features in the trailer, playing the part of Link’s childhood friend as she did in Minish Cap. Her new design resembles her character art for A Link to the Past and I have to say she’s adorable. We also were given a first proper look at the new villain, Lord Ghihiram who featured in a gameplay demo on the show floor. He seems an interesting baddie at this point perhaps filling the same role as Zant in Twilight Princess. We were also given an idea of the game’s structure. It seems the line between dungeon and overworld will be blurred in this game and the story will see you revisiting dungeons (which I called). It’s looking brilliant, the stylised graphics may lack technical greatness but they’re lovely to look at nonetheless and by all accounts the Motion Plus swordplay is fantastic. The game looks set to eclipse Twilight Princess which suffered from a lack of defining features. Hopefully Nintendo will give it the same depth and originality of Majora’s Mask. We can only wait and see.
So that’s how E3 2011 panned out. It wasn’t the best show we’ve seen down the years but it certainly had its moments. We’ll wait and see what Nintendo does with its new hardware and keep a close eye on its games until we return to LA next year.
It’s all been happenning lately. Little Bear rehearsals are in full swing and half of my time has been focused on rehearsals, costume hunting and line-learning while the other half has seen me glued to the internet and the reports coming in from Los Angeles and E3. My report on Nintendo’s performance at the world’s foremost interactive entertainment event is on the way, as is The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D, which has me quivering with anticipation. All this has distracted me from this blog somwhat and I’m well behind in my reviewing so once again it’s time for me to apologetically cram several into one post, starting with the films.
X-Men, a superhero property I’ve always had a soft spot for, has seen its share of highs and lows on the big screen but this neat reboot comfortably registers as a high. Removing to a 1960s cold war setting First Class is a textbook prequel that chronicles the meeting of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Professor X and Magneto, one of superhero comics’ foremost pairs of frenemies. Xavier (James McAvoy) is an authority on mutation a subject of particular interest to him since he possesses telepathic powers. His expertise draws the attention of the CIA who are on the tail of ex-Nazi Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who is also a target for Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), a holocaust survivor possessing the power to create magnetic fields out to wreak vengeance on the man who murdered his mother. Xavier saves Lehsherr from killing himself in pursuit of his goal and the two gradually form an unlikely friendship as they scout for mutants to join the CIA’s super secret new Division-X. Meanwhile Shaw, a mutant-supremacist commanding the ability to absorb energy plots to insite nuclear war by orchestrating the Cuban missile crisis. This dip into history lends the film a strong sense of tension and authenticity, a perfect fit for the franchise. The film’s greatest strength, surprisingly, is comedy, featuring highly amusing recruitment and training montages, great in-jokes and a perfectly judged cameo. James McAvoy appears to have a lot more fun than his reported grumblings about the script would suggest and Kevin Bacon gives a smirkingly sinister turn as the near-invincible Shaw. There are some complaints, the first few scenes don’t fit togehter very well, there are plot holes all over the place and one reel seemed to be missing a whole heap of subtitles rendering scenes in Russian a bit hard to follow but the action, characterisation, humour and acting lift the experience irriesistibly.
Animated flicks about talking animals are ten-a-penny and always have been but Dreamworks’ action-packed martial arts comedy about Panda Po’s Kung Fu misadventures stood out from the crowd for its incredible fight sequences and nicely balanced comedy. This sequel looks to make lightning strike twice as Po and the Furious Five are pitted against Lord Shen, a villainous peacock intent on destroying the world of Kung Fu, cue the necessary frantic action sequences and pratfalls. Once again Dreamworks have found their mark combining thrills and laughs. The set pieces are bigger and bolder and the story more interesting as Po struggles with flashbacks of his childhood and finally gets round to questioning why his dad is a goose. Every bit as entertianing as the first film the film rattles along at a breakneck pace full of slapstick and lightning punches while setting itself up for an intriguing threequel.
The third entry in the blue blur’s superb early series is every bit as good as its predecessors, sending you through another half dozen brilliantly designed zones varying from the tropical Angel Island to the frozen Ice Cap. It was the fastest Sonic game to date but, like all the great early titles didn’t get carried away with the speed and slowed Sonic down for some challenging, slower platform jumping sections. Its this intelligent balance between fast-paced thrills and refined precision. The game introduced some wlecome new elements such as three different shield upgrades that would grant Sonic cool new abilities and an addictive new isometric psuedo-3D special stage design that saw you tracking down blue spheres, not to mention this was the first time you could manually fly (and swim) as Tails. It was perhaps disappointingly short and the ending a bit underwhelming following Sonic the Hedgehog 2 but it made up for it with the series’ most bombasic visuals and best soundtrack to date.
out of 10
The content created for Sonic 3 turned out to be too much for a single release so Sega did something a bit different with its fourth entry in the series released in the same year as the third. With all the missing zones restored Sonic & Knuckles also came on a unique cartridge that allowed you to plug Sonic 3 into it thereby unlocking Sonic 3 & Knuckles, a combination of the two games that allowed you to play through them as one for the most epic and rewarding Sonic experience ever. Not only did the game feature Knuckles as a playable character for the first time but it also boasted the best and most atmospheric level design in the series so far such as the fungal Mushroom Hill Zone and the desert themed Sandopolis Zone complete with its intense, haunted second act. The game built to the franchise’s biggest climax ever with a secret final zone unlockable for collecting all the Chaos Emeralds. This was the peak of Sonic’s once-illustrious career.
out of 10
With the Nintendo 3DS eShop finally up and running Nintendo have made the first in a new line of old classics enhanced by the system’s stereoscopic 3D available. For a limited time the title is free to download making the title hard not to recommend at least for a while. Excitebike, an early NES title that has seen a handful of re-releases down the years, is a racing sim in which you must negotiate tricky linear courses against the clock or other racers. To succeed you must master changing lanes to avoid hazards performing wheelies to give you the best angle for jumps, using your turbo to give yourself the right amount of lift and angling your bike to land smoothly. It’s a tricky and often intense challenge that retro gamers will lap up. The rather basic visuals are complimented by the 3D well enough although the feature adds little to the gameplay. The sound and design are decidedly retro and the game represents an engaging if not compelling challenge but there’s really very little of it. Worth a download while it’s free but only those with fond memories of the original should consider paying for it.
out of 10
Well, quite a lot has happened since my last post. First the Nintendo 3DS was released to immediate success with an underwhelming day one software lineup and the inevitable knee-jerk media backlash over a handful of reports of the 3D causing mild sickness following soon afterwards. More important than that, for me at least, I moved to London and hit the reset button on life itself. It should have happened the day after the 3DS release but the house being without a gas safety certificate, just one of a million problems surrounding this move, delayed me for a week. So my new housemate, AntBuoy, and I have spent the last few weeks dodging cockroaches and mice, transporting bits of furniture through Lewisham and going to the cinema, a lot. With Astarico moving in with us today the three of us will soon be starting our theatrical careers. We’re all three Dick Whittington, seeking our fortunes. If only we had a cat to deal with the mice.
Now that we have the interent (it took a while to organise) I find myself with a lot of blogging to catch up on. AntBuoy and I have both bought Unlimited Cineworld cards allowing us to see as many movies as we want for £15 a month. Looks like I’m keeping my new year’s resolution then. In the coming days you can expect reviews of Source Code, Sucker Punch, Rango, Winnie the Pooh and Your Highness, but first there’s the small matter of a new Nintendo handheld to cover.
It’s always a bit difficult to judge a new platform so soon after its release. I could talk about the various features and built-in software but what really defines a console is its games and I’ve only played one so far. The stereoscopic 3D is obviously the big new development and it certainly works well although it took a little while to fully adapt to. The only real problem with it is the way you need to hold the machine in the exact right position to get the effect. You can train yourself to keep your hands steady but this is obviously going to be harder to do in some games than others, case in point, Super Street Fighter IV – 3D Edition.
I’ve never been particularly big on fighting games. Yes, I’m a Nintendo man so I love me a bit of Smash Bros. but Street Fighter is a different beast. It’s relentless popularity thrives in spite of the fact that very little of the gameplay has changed in nearly twenty years. The fourth generation of the series featured beautifully stylised and very colourful 3D graphics on the HD consoles. Naturally the 3DS can’t replicate these graphics in the same detail but the vibrant colours look great and every character and mode from the original SSFIV remains intact. Capcom have clearly spared no expense in bringing this title to the 3DS and as such it is clearly the pick of an otherwise forgetable launch lineup.
You know the drill by now. You pick a world warrior and guide them through an arcade style gauntlet of foes, hadokening your way to the final boss. Punches and kicks are mapped to the four face buttons and two shoulder buttons and each charcter boasts a wide range of tircky-to-pull-off comboas as well as a handful of Super and Ultra combos, requiring some deft finger-gtmnastics to activate. It’s as cathartic as ever and fun for casual players and veterans alike due to the various difficulty settings. Each charcter has their own extremely loose story told in animated cut scenes complete with cheesy voice work but the basic structure doesn’t change. In fact it hasn’t changed since the early nineties, even the bonus levels are the same as ever. This edition does feature a few notable additions to the gameplay. First and most controversially is the mapping of moves including super and ultra combos to the touch screen. Purists inevitably and rightly point out that this is cheating and potentially makes the game too easy but at least its optional and playing online you can elect to choose only opponents who fight with this setting switched off. Does it dumb the experience down? A bit but it depends on the individual. Secondly there’s the 3D mode which lets you fight in an over-the-shoulder perspective, which is the game’s best showcase for the stereoscopic 3D but feels a bit confusing when you’re used to the classic side-on view. Then there’s the Street Pass support which pits collectible figurines against total strangers but I can’t comment on this mode as I’ve never used it.
So what about that 3D? Does it enhance the experience? No, is the short answer, but a fighting game played on a 2D plane is not the kind of title best suited to sterescopic 3D. There’s just no depth to it. It serves as a giddy thrill for a little while but once you’ve got over the novelty you’ll no doubt realise that the game actually looks sharper and better in 2D. We’ll reserve judgement on the console’s 3D feature until the main event, The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D, comes out in June.
Super Street Fighter IV – 3D Edition is an admirably ported title but I have little doubt that the HD versions are a lot better despite having never played them. It looks and sounds good and it’s fun and if you’re industrious enough to complete a hundred per cent it could potentially last ages. I got bored much sooner than that though. The game needs a deeper, more involving one-player mode to fully frame the gameplay which isn’t quite perfectly suited to the 3DS button layout. The frantic nature of the fighting means maintaining the 3D sweet spot is nearly impossible but aside from these gripes it’s a quality title and the best thing available for the 3DS so far.
Presentation – 7
Audiovisually superb but the limited number of modes and eccentric stories fail to set the title alight.
Gameplay – 8
Iconic but not best suited to the handheld platform.
Graphics – 8
Consistently lovely to look at but 2D is better than 3D.
Sound – 7
Tunes are decent, voice acting mostly lame but the battling sound effects are great.
Difficulty – 9
Brutal if you want it to be.
Longevity – 6
It really depends on how into it you are but there’s not enough variety to maintain attention for a significant amount of time.
A succesful miniaturisation of a conservative classic that doesn’t quite feel at home on the console but nonethless excels in its ability to entertain.
out of 10