Nintendo Consoles

Nintendo Consoles

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fast Racing NEO - A Neon Blitzkrieg

Fast Racing NEO - Wii U

Fast Racing NEO is a futuristic racing game attempting to scratch the itch left by Nintendo's abstaining from developing a new entry in their F-Zero franchise. Trailers and promotional material suggested that Fast Racing NEO would have everything a hardcore racing fan would want, but skepticism is inevitable when an impressive-looking title bears a $15 price tag. HD graphics and lightening-fast races while playing are considerably awesome, but a slightly underwhelming lack of content in addition to unstable online servers (at time of writing), make a strong case to justify Fast Racing NEO's extremely reasonable cost. 

Fast Racing NEO offers absolutely stunning graphics, extremely responsive controls, 10 racers, 16 different tracks split across 4 cups, 3 difficulty settings and 5 game modes. Of course what matters most are the tracks, which are exceedingly beautiful and masterfully designed. While many tracks have themes and environments shared between them, such as airborne rain forests, stormy oceans, and port-side bays, the tracks themselves are entirely unique and seldom bore, especially since the short races coming as the result of high speeds don't last long enough for you to get tired of any track. Moreover, an inspired color-based mechanic allows you to gain an advantage over your opponents while you race. At all times, each car glows either orange or cyan; certain boost-pads and ramps can only be utilized if your car's color matches that of the boost-pad and ramps. It is up to you to toggle the color of your car while you race in order to take advantage of each of the color boosts, resulting not only in beautiful displays of the game's visual style, but rapid inputs and easily punishable errors in timing. Mastering the toggling of your car's color and the layout of the tracks themselves is no easy task, but doing so will be necessary for victory rewarded by unlocking additional racers or circuits.

Even the most conditioned futuristic racing fanatic may want to begin their Fast Racing NEO career on Subsonic speed, before working their way through Supersonic and Hypersonic. Fast Racing NEO offers a challenging experience but much like F-Zero, is rarely unfair. This is said not to discourage those curious about NEO, but to make clear the fact that Fast Racing NEO is not a casual, fun-for-the-whole-family kind of game. While Fast Racing NEO is perfect for those seeking a challenge, it certainly occupies an area of the racing-game spectrum opposite of more casual racers, such as Mario Kart 8 or Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, both also found on the Wii U.

Though Fast Racing NEO contains both single player circuits, online multiplayer, and 4-way local multiplayer (with the multiplayer modes running acceptably well, albeit not perfectly), the real criticism comes from the dearth of content. F-Zero GX, released 13 years ago featured both single player circuits and an entirely separate story mode containing exclusive tracks and missions. This story mode in F-Zero GX made the game feel complete, instead of just a collection of tracks to play with. Fast Racing NEO feels incomplete with only its 16 tracks to be played at least 3 times each (once on each difficulty). Repetition plagues Fast Racing NEO, and those looking for an endless stream of new courses and content will be disappointed. Unstable servers also result in an inconsistent online multiplayer experience,  essentially eliminating the easiest way to extend Fast Racing NEO's life. 

The most important elements of a wonderful racing title are easily found in Fast Racing NEO. Spellbinding graphics, thrilling track design, and both local and online multiplayer definitely make this game worth $15, even $25, but not any more than that. Fast Racing NEO is sincerely excellent, but not quite perfect. That which is offered in F.R.N. is crafted with originality and inspiration, but it's small size leaves more to be desired. While Fast Racing NEO does very little badly, compared to F-Zero GX, it feels more like a large appetizer- not quite a full meal.  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

And Presto, It's Kirby! - Kirby's Adventure

Kirby's Adventure - Nintendo Entertainment System

A Kirby game will hit me like bad romance- I wake up one day, turn one on, play it, love it, beat it, go to sleep, wake up the next day, and wonder what the hell happened the day before. And not unlike a bad romance, there are a couple of Kirby games I return to every once in a while no matter how many times I might swear them off. Kirby Nightmare in Dreamland is one of those Kirby games.

Of course (and I say 'of course' having only learned this a few years ago), Nightmare in Dreamland is a remake of an NES game entitled Kirby's Adventure. I must assert that better graphics, better animations, and better controls render the remake a higher quality game, but that doesn't mean the original wasn't amazing in it's own right. In fact, Kirby's Adventure is the only NES title I've ever completed, as it's easy for a NES game albeit widely more difficult when compared to recent entries in the Kirby franchise. Praise for Kirby's Adventure in any retro gaming community is not hard to find, but what's so striking about K.A. is how well it still holds up and how modern the game feels.

Kirby's Adventure is a side-scrolling platformer featuring 7 worlds, 35 levels, and 1 fat pink guy who can copy the abilities of his inhaled foes in order to progress. K.A. is the first title ever to feature Kirby's signature copying ability, although it is the second game in the series. What's fascinating about specifically the levels in Kirby's Adventure is that they would really be pretty boring in any other platformer. Each level contains a lot of flat ground without many traps, and enemies are often spread far apart; but these levels wind up being incredibly fun because of the numerous abilities Kirby can gain during them, with no one ability being clearly the best, and some abilities not even particularly good. Each ability feels extremely balanced, and obtaining one of the temporary powers in no way guarantees your safety. Instead, each ability, such as the ability to wield fire, sword, tornado, hammer, i.e., must be mastered and used cleverly to traverse each stage. Often, environments, platform placement, and enemy quantity will pose a bigger or smaller threat depending on which ability you choose to wield. Replayablity is high (as established previously) because of the many different ways you can defeat each boss and complete each level.

K.A.'s aesthetics are sincerely among the best on the system. Bright colors, clear sprites, and even some costume variety that comes with certain gained Kirby-powers (Ice FTW) all contribute to make Kirby's Adventure one of the most beautiful games on the NES, especially when compared to earlier titles like The Legend of Zelda, released 7 years before.

Remarkably, almost nothing about the gameplay is changed from Kirby's Adventure to Kirby Nightmare in Dreamland- a testament to the title's timelessness. Perfectly designed levels that consider each of the many abilities gained throughout the game combined with high variety in aesthetics and environments make Kirby's Adventure ideal for an afternoon of gaming. The title is short, and easy by 1985 standards, but it contains everything required to make an exceptional gaming experience + tons and tons of root beer.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga

Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga - Gameboy Advance

The Mario and Luigi titles are a series of RPGs starring the most famous brothers in gaming history. Each entry in the collection features Nintendo's Mario and Luigi teaming up and embarking on a Princess-Peach-saving journey employing a surprisingly rich turn-based battle system, tons of puzzles, and an expansive varying map. This series is still seeing entries to this day, and while asking my close friends what they thought of the latest installment on the 3DS, they informed me that the original was certainly the best. Normally, I don't get much into turn-based combat systems, but fond memories of playing (albeit never finishing) this game as a child had me wondering if there really was something to be said about the original title in this beloved franchise.

You know me- I'm not one to beat around the mustache: Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga is incredible. Not completely without flaw, but still a phenomenally great game.

For an RPG, Superstar Saga is definitely on the short side, taking me, a highly experienced and really good-looking gamer, around 18 hours to complete. The short length ensures that the game doesn't overstay it's welcome, as the main plot seems to end the moment it begins to feel boring. Essentially, the game takes place in a large interconnected world, and the Mario bros. must travel to each town and region to discover new secrets, gain new abilities or talk to new characters all in the effort to thwart Bowser's and new-comer Crackletta's attempt to take over both the Beanbean and Mushroom Kingdom.

On the way from town to town, the Mario Bros. will often be faced with puzzles whose solving of will allow a way forward, or they'll be faced with assortments of different enemies, whose defeating of will grant the way forward. The puzzles are usually solved by utilizing recently acquired abilities, meaning that while puzzles themselves may get old, their solutions stay as fresh as your abilities are. Moreover, the abilities that double as attacks in battle will prevent the battle system from getting old. New abilities are acquired often, constantly maintaining a perfect pace. However, while switching back and forth between each ability to solve more complex puzzles is mostly fun, having to toggle between them all individually by pressing either L or R several times can be frustrating when it is necessary to act quickly.

The main complaint is how the game ends. Without wishing to spoil anything, the last bit of work to be done in the overworld before taking on the final bosses is a large fetch-quest similar to that seen in Zelda: The Wind Waker. The quest actually didn't take as much time as I thought it would, but it still felt like a lame way to extend the length of the story.

With the exception of the game's last few hours, Superstar Saga is exceedingly good. The constant acquisition of new abilities keeps the entry from becoming boring or stalled, while the bright colors and varying aesthetics are strong enough to keep one hooked while the game might otherwise feel like a bit of a grind. Even for someone like me who doesn't normally jump to turn-based combat, Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga is a highly addictive and thoughtfully-crafted RPG that deserves every single sequel it ever got.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Super Mario Strikers

Super Mario Strikers - Nintendo Gamecube

Lists of top-ten best Gamecube games are usually comprised of about 9 first-party Nintendo titles, and Resident Evil 4. You always have Metroid Prime and The Wind Waker in the top 3, but after that I've seen Pikmin, Pikmin 2, Wave Race, Twilight Princess, Luigi's Mansion, etc. And sometimes, every once in a blue moon, hovering at around the 9th or 10th spot is a third-party title featuring first-party characters shoving and checking each other in pursuit of a soccer ball. This title is Super Mario Strikers.

Super Mario Strikers is a soccer game with slight modifications to the traditional rules of the international sport. The goal is still to kick the ball into the net of the defending team, but this wouldn't be a Gamecube game without some re-imagining of sorts; Super Mario Strikers is the only Mario-sports game I can think of to place this much emphasis on violence. During a match, you are encouraged to switch back and forth between each of the 4 players on your team to score as many points as possible. Normally this would mean good teamwork and skilled playing, but Strikers cares much more about the instant-gratification that comes with punching and slide-tackling your opponents than it does about adhering to classic soccer techniques. It's super fun and easy to knock the members of the opposing team into the electric walls surrounding each soccer field, and combining these attacks with Perfect Passes, Super Strikes, and dekes is the best way to ensure you have an extremely exciting Mario soccer match.

The main issue with Super Mario Strikers is the dearth of variety between game-modes. There are Cup Battles, Super Cup Battles, and Grudge Matches. Cup battles are your beginner-level single player mode. Beat all the cups, with the teams (in this mode) set to Rookie difficulty, in order to unlock Super Cup Battles. Super Cup Battles are the same thing with higher difficulty, and beating each of these tourneys unlocks different "cheats", such as Field Tilt and Explosive Power-ups, to be used in Grudge Match (man, remember cheats?). Grudge Match is simply your multiplayer mode, where up to 4 people can join in on the gnarly soccer fun. This being said, your friends can actually drop in and out from game to game to play all of the single-player modes Co-op. Each Cup can last anywhere from 5 to 15 matches total, so it's really nice for a friend to be able to join in for 3 or 4 matches, then drop out without having to change modes or exit menus or anything. The point is that completing the single player modes awards nothing more than enhancements to the multiplayer experience. This makes Strikers a perfect party game, but very little more- it just doesn't have enough content to hold up as a single player experience.

The unlockables in Super Mario Strikers, not including the cheats, also leave something to be desired. There are 9 playable teams in the game, and only 1 of them has to be unlocked by playing Cup Battles. You will also unlock different stadiums by completing certain cups, and although I do have my preferences now that I've unlocked them all, each are barely more than color-swaps, and none of them change the gameplay at all.

Super Mario Strikers is sincerely addicting. Even in the single player modes, you can adjust the length of any match to be 2 - 15 minutes, making them an awesome way to kill 15 - 20 minutes. It's also a great game to liven-up a party, or just hang out with a couple of friends and some snacks on a Thursday night. Unfortunately, Strikers suffers the most when those friends leave and all you've left are the single player modes. Playing the game alone is fun for a little while, but when a title is this silly and this violent, it can have the tendency to leave you with an itch that can only be scratched by shoving your friends into electric walls. If you have friends to play this game with and you collect for the Gamecube, buy Super Mario Strikers; if not, don't.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Kid Icarus: Uprising - Sorry to keep you waiting!!

Kid Icarus: Uprising - Nintendo 3DS

Kid Icarus: Uprising is a 3rd person shooter / rail shooter released for the Nintendo 3DS back in 2012. Immediately upon launch, the game was met both with ruthless criticism and professional acclaim. 25 years separates this sequel from the franchises' original 1986 installment and as a result, both games are radically different.

But different, in this case, is awesome. Though the NES Kid Icarus took the form of a vertical platformer, featuring our protagonist, Pit, jumping to scroll up and down to complete levels, Kid Icarus: Uprising features Pit soaring through the skies, shooting down soldiers of the Underworld Army, and using Mega Lasers, explosions, and swords to defeat famous mythological bosses over the course of 25 levels. The game employs fully 3D models, has bright colors, a consistent frame-rate, impressively adjustable difficulty levels, an appealing interface, a variety of game modes including multiplayer, customizable weapons and ability configurations, a good length, high replay value, cute dialogue, likable characters, beautifully crafted levels, and fun gameplay that should be appreciated both in long and short play-sessions.

Wow. That's a lot of good things. How is it that this game hasn't got everyone foaming at the 3DS-game-deprived mouth? 1 thing: the controls.

The controls of Kid Icarus: Uprising are really the only thing that keeps the game from perfection. Stay with me here as I describe them.

You have two different sections of every mission: Air and Ground. The air sections are on rails, so your flight path is taken care of for you, but dodging enemy fire is your own responsibility. Use the Circle Pad to dodge and move. Great. Shoot and attack with the L button. Strange that attack is not A, B, X, or Y, but whatever. Fine. Circle Pad and L. Now aim by sliding your stylus on the touch-screen- an action that uses up the entirety of your right hand. While on the ground, everything is the same, but camera is controlled by flicking the touch screen, much like how you would spin a globe to rotate it, and you use the circle pad to move through the levels as you would in a typical action game.

Basically, in order to really aim effectively with your right hand on the touch screen, you must hold your heavy 3DS in your left hand alone. This can be uncomfortable. And dumb. It really does take away from the experience. Everything offered in Kid Icarus: Uprising is crafted with extreme attention to detail and with mastery of game design in general, but the hand-fatiguing controls will inhibit you from playing more than one or two levels at a time.

DISCLAIMER: the controls can be changed in order for aiming to be performed with the ABXY buttons, but while this is way more comfortable, it is slower, less accurate, and less responsive.

The controls are disabling enough to warrant considerable score reductions for Uprising, but they do not make this game bad. Kid Icarus: Uprising is still a fantastic shooter overflowing with Nintendo charm, but it is nearly impossible to play for long stretches of time, which is a huge bummer. When a game is this good, it is disappointing and frustrating to have it physically hurt to play. Still, during the moments without discomfort, I argue that Uprising is a masterpiece. Simply put, it is a hard sell: if you can get past being unable to play this title for more than 30 minutes at a time, you'll love it; if you're looking for something to relax with and play for hours and hours on, say, a long car ride, Uprising is not for you.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Time To Make Some Crazy Money!!! - Crazy Taxi

Crazy Taxi - Nintendo Gamecube

Crazy Taxi is one of those games you see almost everywhere. Whether it's taking its original 1999 form in an arcade, waiting to be downloaded on Steam, or enjoying life on any of the sixth generation consoles, Crazy Taxi is nothing less than a classic title screaming with personality. I find this game, with its dumb yellow box, at retro game shops and flea markets everywhere I go. Usually a single copy will be accompanied by a second and third and fourth just sitting on the shelf unwanted, bearing a humbling $5 price tag. I recently grabbed a copy to use its box to brighten up the aesthetics of my Gamecube collection, but instead I found myself hooked on burning rubber.

Even on consoles, Crazy Taxi still retains its arcade feel. Gameplay involves picking up and dropping off passengers on the streets of what appears to be an exaggerated, cartoon version of San Francisco. You are free to drive around the town, disobeying all traffic laws, flying over sidewalks and off of truck-beds, but time will quickly expire if you neglect to pick up pedestrians waiting for a taxi ride. Both taking on and unloading passengers will award you additional time, and the game ends when time runs out. That's pretty much it. The console version keeps track of your high scores, and as long as you're playing the "Arcade" or "Original" version of the game (selected on the main menu), achieving a respectable high score is all there is to it.

The console version also has a challenge mode. Challenge mode presents players with different scenarios, such as seeing how far you can launch off of a ramp, or how quickly you can escort a certain number of passengers. Gameplay stays pretty uniform no matter which mode you play, but challenge mode does its best to mix things up, sometimes successfully and other times just adding more of the same.

The best way to play Crazy Taxi (in my experience) is to put it on if you have 10 or 15 minutes to kill before you need to go to work or something. As many times as I have booted Crazy Taxi since I purchased it 3 days ago, I haven't yet played for more than 20 minutes at a time- this is not a game meant to be played for hours and hours at once. That being said, it is addictive and the punk-rock soundtrack featuring early hits by The Offspring is an excellent compliment to the fast-paced bad-ass attitude the game proudly demonstrates.

Don't get me wrong, Crazy Taxi isn't going to change anyone's life. But it is really fun and undoubtedly worth $5. I recommend this to anyone who is looking for something dumb to bust out at a party, or to anyone whose video game box collection is severally missing the color yellow.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pokemon Shuffle - Shuffle the Monsters

Pokemon Shuffle- Nintendo 3DS

Pokemon Shuffle, released on February 18, 2015, is a free-to-play download-only title on the Nintendo 3DS; right in this first sentence is everything you need to know before you download it: it's free, it's a Pokemon-themed game, and it is for the 3DS. There's really no excuse not to own it.

Of course, Pokemon Shuffle is not a traditional Pokemon RPG, rather it is a puzzle game similar to and arguably as addicting as Candy Crush (as long as Pokemon appeal to you more than candy does). 

Pokemon Shuffle is broken up into puzzle-levels themed after different Pokemon. The Pokemon you are "battling" in each level appears on the top screen of your 3DS, while a grid of adorable Pokemon-face images will appear on the bottom screen. Your task is to rearrange the Pokemon faces in the grid to make rows of at least 3, if not 4 or 5, matching images. Once each row is forged, it disappears, damage is inflicted on the opposing Pokemon, and the disappeared Pokemon images are replaced with new ones. Each level is completed once the Pokemon you are battling has its HP reduced to zero.

What sets Shuffle apart from similar titles, such as Bejeweled or the aforementioned Candy Crush, is how the traditional rules of Pokemon are re-imagined and integrated into the Poke-puzzle interpretation of the classic JRPG. Though this game is played by creating rows of matching Pokemon images, the goal is still to inflict damage on the opposing Pokemon, just like how it is in the RPGs. While there are no familiar Pokemon moves to be executed in Pokemon Shuffle, type match-ups do play a huge roll in defeating each Pocket Monster. 

The Pokemon that actually appear on the puzzle grid are yours to choose right from the beginning of the game. After each Pokemon you encounter is defeated, you get a chance to capture it- if you complete a level without using up all of your available moves, your chance of catching the opposing Pokemon will increase significantly. Once you capture a Pokemon, you are permitted to select that Pokemon to use in later battles. Matching Pokemon with a type-advantage over the Pokemon you are trying to defeat will do double-damage onto your opponent the same way it does in the Pokemon RPGs. 

However for all that makes Pokemon Shuffle unique, there are some pretty frustrating cons that come as a result of the game being free-to-play. For example, you only get a certain number of attempts to play each level before you are forced to wait an arbitrary real-world 30 minutes, after which you are allowed to resume playing. You have the option to pay real-world currency for the time limit to be removed, but the game really isn't addicting enough to convince me to pay for additional tries. Moreover, power-ups that make completing levels easier can be purchased with coins earned by completing puzzles. Then, you are awarded with 500 coins every time you "Check In" to see the latest Pokemon Shuffle offers by connecting to the internet, but you can only check in once per day- these are the only two ways of getting coins, thus getting power-ups. This has put me in frustrating positions where my lack of power-ups and my inability to earn coins other than by checking in for several days in a row renders me unable to get past more challenging levels. Of course, there is an option to pay real-world money for power-ups.

Despite these few minor drawbacks, Pokemon Shuffle is perfectly suited for the 3DS. Everything from its art-style to its price (once again, free) is begging for you to download it and give it a shot. At its best, Pokemon Shuffle is a charming puzzle game easily accessible to fans of both Pokemon and puzzle games; at its worst, it will easily grant you the means to kill time if you've simply nothing else to play.