maanantai 18. heinäkuuta 2016

Mario & Donkey Kong: 35th Anniversary!

...Over a week ago, that is. I'm a tad late, but there are plenty of reasons for that, both proper and not so proper ones. I'm a really systematic guy, and after I wrote the review for New Super Mario Bros. 2 all those weeks ago, I found myself in a loop 'cause I had no New Super Mario Bros. Wii to review. I was heading into New Super Mario Bros. U instead, and that just wouldn't do. I had to get that one game from the between on my plate. So I went to a local retro store (I fucking love that shop) and found it immediately; for a very reasonable price, no less. Then, since I couldn't find a compatible controller combo for any sum relatively as reasonable, I turned to a favorable mail order company, and found a Wii Remote + Nunchaku combo for about 60% cheaper than anywhere else. Of course I ordered that set. Days went by, then weeks, then my schedule got filled with all kinds of stuff such as the Tuska Metal Festival and my birthday party, and I was totally hooked on a certain Legend of Zelda game, I kinda forgot the whole Mario and DK anniversary, and that I'm still waiting for the controllers to show up. It turns out they've still got my order, it's just that they had to order a new batch of those controllers and one of the games I ordered along with 'em themselves, which is the cause of the remarkable delay. That's fine by me, I wouldn't have had time to play any other games anyway. Well, I'm returning to my actual day job tomorrow - good vacation, btw - so if I'm going to do this, it has to be done right now. I'll get back to actually reviewing games as soon as I can - and it's kinda obvious my plans are to pay homage to the Zelda series' 30th anniversary as well, and get some reviews, which have been a long time coming, out of the way. But, only through reviews - I'm not that much of a fan of the franchise. These two guys, on the other hand, made up for the best parts of my childhood.

Radar Scope, the game that "evolved" into
Donkey Kong.
By early 1981, Taito's Space Invaders and Namco's Pac-Man had taken North American arcades by storm. A relative newcomer to the video game industry in the capacity of a developer, Nintendo had attempted expansion into North American territories numerous times, most recently with an arcade shooter named Radar Scope. While Radar Scope did become a big hit in Japan, only a handful of cabinets was sold in the West. Instead of attempting to launch yet another game, the company - under orders from the legendary president Hiroshi Yamauchi - recalled the unsold cabinets for reprogramming. 28-year old designer named Shigeru Miyamoto convinced Yamauchi that he's got a gameplay idea that could well be an international break for Nintendo. Hopeful, yet skeptical of the young designer's talent, Yamauchi appointed Nintendo's main designer Gunpei Yokoi as the project's supervisor, and a $100,000 budget for the game's development.

Around that same time, Nintendo had applied to King Features Syndicate for a license to make a video game based on the Popeye comic strip and cartoon - somewhat inspired by the recent feature film adaptation. The game, designed by Miyamoto, was basically done already, but when King Features turned the offer down, the game was basically converted into Miyamoto's Nintendo-saving project. Popeye was replaced with a carpenter called Mr. Video, Olive Oyl with a damsel in distress called The Lady, and finally, Bluto with a gorilla, as inspired by the film King Kong. He didn't want to create a monster, he wanted to create more of a character that was neither a hero or a villain, more of an endearing character with primal qualities that made him a nuisance rather than a manifestation of evil. The game is known as the first ever to have had a storyline written before the actual programming took place. Pleased with the results, Yamauchi laid down one more condition for the game's release: since it was targeted at North American audiences, he wanted it to have an English title. Instead of going over the numerous myths surrounding the title of the game, I'll just go with the most popular one: since King Kong was not an option, Miyamoto came up with the title of Monkey Kong, which he then rephrased Donkey Kong, because he and Yokoi felt that "Donkey" was a proper word to describe the quirky nature of Donkey Kong and his owner's rivalry - the "owner", originally called Mr. Video, then Jumpman, was renamed Mario in North American releases of the game (after Nintendo of America's landlord Mario Segale). His signature clothing and moustache were actually the product of Miyamoto's desire to create a fleshed-out human character as opposed to the matchstick men and formless protagonists of the past; his overalls were painted in the opposing colours of blue and red so players could see his arms move, and the moustache was added in for a distinguishing facial feature.

Gunpei Yokoi with his former apprentice, now master designer
Shigeru Miyamoto in 1994. Best known as the creator of Metroid,
Yokoi passed away in a tragic car accident in 1997.
Although Nintendo of America's sales manager disliked the game - reportedly for being so different from every other arcade game on the market - and even the distributors had doubts because of the game's title, Minoru Arakawa who was in charge of Nintendo of America at the time managed to convince them of the game's impending success, so a few machines were green-lit for testing. The initial turn-out was $30 per cabinet a day. The remaining Radar Scope cabinets were converted into Donkey Kong machines, and put on sale on July 9th, 1981. Thus, the legends of Donkey Kong and Mario were born - as well as the modern platformer genre, in which Donkey Kong is preceded only by Universal Entertainment's Space Panic from 1980.

After this story of how Mario and Donkey Kong were born, I hope to tell you more such stories as I go on doing this celebration of a marathon, until there are no stories left to tell. Needless to say, both characters are still going strong, both together and separate, with well over a hundred releases between them, and I consider myself blessed, having been a fan for over 25 years. Here's to the next 35 years, cheers!

maanantai 27. kesäkuuta 2016

The Legend of Mania: Article of Awesomeness

Fresh off the EPIC season finale of one God damn masterpiece of a TV show known to us sons of the North as Game of Thrones, I really felt like writing something. It's the excessive blood pressure that does that to a man. First, I thought about writing something on Game of Thrones, but it has come to my attention that many of my friends - and readers - haven't even gotten started with the new season at all. (Get a move on, Jon Slow!) Then, I thought about doing a quick review on Telltale Games' original story based on the lore, but it's been a while since I saw it through and I've yet to have found the energy to go at it again. Let's just say the six-episode series in the traditional (and worn) Telltale Games style had its moments, but it was far from being everything I expected from a Game of Thrones game adaptation. Continuing on with the Mario vs. Donkey Kong marathon is certainly a possibility, but I'm not quite ready to do that just yet. But, I will tell you this much: the marathon will continue much further than what I originally planned. There are a lot of games related to this classic rivalry that I suddenly feel the urge to review. But, it will not be a completely straight line of Mario and Donkey Kong reviews - I will certainly need a break at some point. But, I'm almost certain that I will be doing reviews of Nintendo games quite some time; I have a lot of catching up to do.

Which brings us back to business; after going over ideas on what I should write about for about ten minutes, it came to me clear as day. I totally missed E3 this year, focusing on getting accustomed to my new work habitat, getting to know a lot of new people and my plans for the last three weeks of my summer vacation. I certainly didn't forget the expo, though. As soon as I had some spare time, I dug up every trailer and every bit of info on every remotely interesting game presented at E3. Now if you have followed me since the beginning, or at least -ish, you know there was a relative shitload of games from my favourite franchises on show, including what I predict to be the game of the decade by its ten-minute trailer alone: God of War. However, I've written a lot about God of War and that series alone in the past, so I can't base another whole article on it with a good conscience. Let's take a deeper look at the best of what E3 had to offer. (Let me just say that I've pre-ordered all of the main games of this article already, although not every one of them has a confirmed release date... or even year.)

Say what you will about abandoning the
old. As a newborn near-fan, I'm excited.
What I find kind of funny is that some of these games, I first talked about them years ago on this blog, long before I took it offline, and even now they're not even close to fruition. First of these games is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Back then, it was simply known as The Legend of Zelda. Back then, I also said that it's surely an interesting game, but not for me personally, 'cause I'm not a Zelda fan, not a Nintendo supporter and I don't own a Wii U. All of those things have changed. While I still don't exactly consider myself a Zelda fan - I've been overtly critical towards the series since the release of Ocarina of Time all the way back in 1998 - I now own a legal copy of every game in the main series, with the exception of Spirit Tracks, and I've enjoyed many of them. Most notably A Link Between Worlds, of course because of its strong connection to my favourite Zelda game of all time, and Phantom Hourglass, to my complete and utter surprise since it's wholly based on the use of the DS touch screen, which I'm still not a huge fan of. I'm currently on the brink of completing The Wind Waker (the HD version), a great game as well - I'm moving on to Twilight Princess right after, and from what I've heard, that game has the potential of becoming my favourite Zelda right after A Link to the Past. So has this upcoming game, judging by what I've seen. Hell, what we've all seen. You've got to watch the trailer if you ever had so much as any respect for this series...

...But, the trailer's not that good in itself. I'm not a huge fan of these gameplay trailers that the rest of the world seems to love nowadays, 'cause they very often tend to paint a wrong sort of picture about the game. I'm more into the feels of a wholly cinematic trailer. Either way, the trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild did manage to show off a good deal of all the new sorts of elements that will surely be a large part of the game experience, and not bore me out of my socks like these gameplay trailers usually do. It would seem that this game has a more or less full voiceover track, which will surely divide opinions amongst those who prefer voice acting and those who prefer the random cries of "yay", "com'on!" and "splyysh" of the past. As to what the world looks like - I think I'd better dig up Skyrim from the dust for a warm-up. This is clearly going to be, by all means, the biggest game Nintendo has ever made, and the closest to an RPG they've ever made themselves - not to mention the closest to an RPG Zelda's ever been. At least I think that's a fabulous thing.

It's like meeting an old girlfriend at a bar. You're a bit confused,
but damn, you wanna hit that.
Speaking of gameplay trailers, it's already a good time to talk about God of War. Excuse me... GOOOOOOD OF WAAAAAAAAAARRRR!!! "I haven't forgotten you... or what you did that night." Throughout its span, Kratos' quest for vengeance (for things he brought upon himself, that beloved asshole) was (and still is) some of the best journeys I've ever taken, one which I will certainly embark on yet again in the future, in its non-flawless entirety. Most likely once the release date for this whole new chapter in the strange timeline of the Ghost of Sparta is nailed down. At first, when I heard that a game called God of War was up for release on the PlayStation 4, I naturally thought that they were going to re-release the series once again (which I'm sure they will, sooner than we think) under one title. Then, I heard it's going to be a new game. I didn't even consider the possibility of a new prequel, since Ascension didn't make much sense as what it was. Then I saw just a small weeny bit of the trailer and thought the guy who looks like Kratos is not Kratos at all, but some reborn namesake version of him, a physical piece of fan service. Then I paid attention to THAT scar and some very small details in the background that ensured me that this guy is the very same Kratos. Only now, he's in Norway, battling it out with the Gods of the North. ...How awesome can awesome get, exactly? Or strange?

Well, as we long-time God of War fans know - I love you, brothers - this was one of creator David Jaffe's original ideas, alongside the Kratos vs. brother schtick they used up in Ghost of Sparta, not to have the series stuck in one mythological setting. Kratos, the character, was probably not a part of that idea, but the current creative directors saw that Kratos belongs in God of War as much as Mario belongs in Mario Bros.. Which I totally agree on. I'm not sure how they'll twist this up, seeing that Kratos committed suicide in the end of God of War III, but judging by the gameplay trailer and the simple fact that God of War is coming back, as well as regarding my personal infatuation with Norse myth, I'm very interested in seeing how this turns out. Once again though, I would've preferred a cinematic trailer. This one shows off a little too much, and it goes on for too long. Never thought I'd say that about a sneak peek on a whole new God of War game.

On to another favourite of mine, which still remains an almost complete enigma, after being "shown off" at several expos throughout the last couple of years, and another game I already was going apeshit about a few years back. The developer's most recent title proved that they're still very much in the game, and I actually regret not having reviewed that particular title right before originally pulling the plug on VGMania (I still have the draft, but I'd have to make so many changes that I'd have to start it all over again in any case). The developer I'm speaking of is BioWare, that most recent title being Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the future game none other than Mass Effect: Andromeda. Judging by the very little we've actually seen, Mass Effect: Andromeda is a very logical sequel to Mass Effect 3, although the main emphasis is on rebooting the franchise, and bringing back all that stuff fans of classic Mass Effect love. Well, if the example of Dragon Age: Inquisition is anything to go by, here, I think we'll have exactly what BioWare promises. Alas, very little is still known of this upcoming sci-fi epic, besides some random details on Shepard's replacement Ryder, and the facts we've known since and even before the release of Inquisition. The trailer once again wasn't much of a trailer.

Who in the world is the Coon? Perhaps we'll find out in
December.
Last for the main course, we have the sequel to perhaps the most surprising hit of 2014: South Park: The Fractured But Whole (see what they did there?). Now when they first announced this game, it seemed it would take an eternity for this game to reach gold, but it was later I realized, and especially after hearing the dialogue in the actual trailer, that Parker and Stone were waiting for the opportune moment for a new South Park game to strike at what it was supposed to strike at, just like episodes of the show (and The Stick of Truth) before it. The new game is another RPG, loaded with timely satire (mostly on the Marvel and DC cinematic universes) and a casual, yet exciting and positively hilarious role-playing interface. At least that's what I'm expecting, and I'm counting on it so much that I actually pre-ordered the Collector's Edition of the game. It's the only game in the bunch that's confirmed to come out later this year.

Before I start packing for my 14th trip to the Tuska metal festival in Helsinki, plus getting together with tons of friends to have fun with besides the festival, there are a few more games I simply have to mention. First off, Skyrim is coming back as a new-generation edition with all of Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn in tow. Not much of a surprise there, but a word from the wise! I avoided Skyrim for years, until it was reasonably priced. If you're still in the dark about this game's greatness, do not hesitate to buy the new version right when it comes out. Even if you're not a big fan of RPG's, even if you're not an Elder Scrolls fan, I implore you to get this game. You'll not be disappointed. Batman is coming back not only by means of the Arkham collection, but the previously teased Telltale Games title. Now I know what I said about the Telltale Games style being a bit worn out after all these years, but... it's Batman. Troy Baker-voiced Batman. They're using the Animated Series font, for Alfred's sake. Speaking of Telltale Games, The Walking Dead: Season Three is also coming up. I guess I'll have to get that for completion's sake, but if Michonne is anything to go by, I'm not expecting great results. Square Enix failed to deliver a new presentation of the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake (can you say "FINALLY"?), but delivered info on the Final Fantasy XII remaster, the new Star Ocean game, and an intriguing throwback title called World of Final Fantasy, up for release on the PlayStation 4 and Vita in October.

Kojima Productions make their return as an independent developer, following up on the success of the Konami-produced Silent Hills P.T. demo with a game called Death Stranding, also starring Norman Reedus on a quest for... something very strange. We'll have to see how this turns out. Meanwhile, check out the teaser and make your own conclusions on what kind of game it'll be, I don't really care what kind of game it'll be. I don't care whether it'll take years for it to manifest, whether it'll turn out a PlayStation 6 or 7 exclusive. I just hope Kojima is able to fuck Konami violently up the ass. That company has totally lost its edge.

Speaking of (I love "speaking of") losing edge: Resident Evil VII: Biohazard. One of my lifelong favourites in the field of video games, Resident Evil turns 20 years old. There have been a lot of bad spin-offs, and four years ago, Resident Evil 6 contaminated the main series as well. For the first time ever, I was not crazy about a new main series title in the Resident Evil series - hell, I watched the trailer for the first time yesterday. Resident Evil VII seems to pick up where the aforementioned P.T. left off; it's just perfect, Resident Evil bluntly taking what its once-rival almost started. But, I'm still a bit torn about Resident Evil becoming a first-person ghostbusting game. I'll just have to see how it works. Since I'm more adjusted to first-person games these days, I'm not taking anything for granted, and because of my love for (games 1, 2, 4 and 5 of) this franchise, I'm willing to give Resident Evil VII the benefit of the doubt - as long as critics like it. But, I'm not placing my pre-order just yet.

Well, that's about it. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you once I'm ready to take on New Super Mario Bros. U.

lauantai 25. kesäkuuta 2016

REVIEW - New Super Mario Bros. 2

GENRE(S): Platformer
AVAILABLE ON: 3DS
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: July 28, 2012

Actually, this game should be called New Super Mario Bros. 3; it's actually the third game in the New Super Mario Bros. series, and I don't see any good reason as to why it's called "2". New Super Mario Bros. 3DS, that would've been consistent. Oops, I forgot: it's not a 3D game. OK, so what we have here, either way, is the third entry in the series that started with New Super Mario Bros. for the original DS in 2006. It's another spiritual successor to the very first Super Mario Bros. titles (including what we know as The Lost Levels), featuring a lot of gameplay elements, designs and mechanics that came along long after those classic games. The first New Super Mario Bros. game was a huge disappointment for me, and I have so far managed to miss the Wii game completely (it's actually one of those Mario titles I literally MISSED altogether, as in failed to note its release!). New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a very good game. It's not that different from what we've seen before in this particular series of Mario games, and its extra gimmick is not that interesting, but it's a fluid, extremely entertaining handheld platformer nonetheless, its influences come from the right places, and both its level and enemy design are far beyond what its direct predecessor had to offer - relativity noted - six years back. This is exactly what I expected from New Super Mario Bros. - it's not the best fairly recently released Mario game out there, but it's a damn good entry point to the modern times for Mario veterans and the new generation alike.

Mario '12

Mario and Luigi take off on a coin hunt. Meanwhile, you know who along with his seven bastards get the chance to snatch Peach (Toadstool.) in total peace. Upon discovering that they have YET another princess-rescuing mission ahead of them, the Mario Brothers decide to mix their little game of gold rush with serious work, Not only are they after Bowser, but the kingdom-wide record of finding one million coins along the way.

I can tell you right now, even if focusing on collecting the most coins possible isn't my favourite way to start a new Mario game, I had much better vibes with this title from the start than I ever had from start to finish with the first New Super Mario Bros. game. It's not that different, really - hell, some of the levels are almost identical to some of the levels in the first game. However, it has somewhat better controls, it looks absolutely fantastic, and no matter how much some levels indeed resemble levels found in the first one, the level design is generally speaking so much more innovative, clever and exciting. It's a much more daring game, in a word. After a game like Super Mario 3D Land, it's obvious New Super Mario Bros. 2 doesn't exactly push the 3DS to its limits, but it's just as technologically awesome as a vintage Super Mario Bros. game on a handheld can be. I'll give it that.

Things get pretty crazy with the Golden Flower.
What might also jog my curiosity and enthusiasm towards this game, including its sights and sounds, is its variety of influences, that most come from two of my absolute favourite 2D games in this series from ages past - Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. First of all, and most importantly, the three dumb power-ups that almost utterly destroyed a good part of the DS original are (almost) omitted from the fray. and replaced with the classic Super Leaf from Super Mario Bros. 3, and a couple of power-ups that primarily exist to produce a shitload of money - a Golden Flower which lets you shoot fireballs that break bricks into coins, and a very strange curiosity item, a "brick mask" that produces money from every move you make, the faster the better, for a limited amount of time, or until you take damage. There are also some golden rings about, which turn all the enemies to gold, and if you defeat them in that time window, they yield tens of coins upon defeat. It's kinda cool, really, but of course, you'd have to be into collecting coins a bit more than me. Also, since collecting coins is such a focus point in this game, and their primary function is still the same after almost 30 years, it takes no genius to figure out that it's almost impossible to see a Game Over screen in this game. There's a good bit of tension missing - but I guess that's the sign of the times.

What about the children?

The Mega Mushroom is still in, but as even more of a novelty
item than before.
The Koopalings already made their long-awaited return in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but since I missed that game - it's so damn good to have these rascals back! ...And, to be completely honest, these seven confrontations are probably my favourite boss fights ever against this particular collective of henchmen. The order in which you face these guys is a little shuffled up from the past, which is good, and what's even better: some of the Koopaling fights mirror the fights against them in Super Mario World, and some which were just basically harder copies off each other in that game have taken a turn into something completely new, moreover clever and exciting. Reznor returns, as a mid-world boss - that's a little disappointing, 'cause he (they) appears in every single world, and if you've played half as much of Super Mario World as I, he's easily dealt with throughout the game.

Every promising paragraph has ended with a slight downside, and it's true that New Super Mario Bros. 2 isn't the perfect Mario game, but the best thrills it offers are at the very least very close to what I'd expect from a 2D platformer with the Super Mario Bros. brand on it, and at even better times, the game manages to surpass my expectations. However, and still, having been released after such as mold-breaking masterpiece as Super Mario 3D Land (oops, I might've spoiled something there...), I still find this game somewhat lacking of excitement and true innovation. BUT, to a die-hard fan of classic Mario jump-action, I must say that New Super Mario Bros. 2 might very well be the best game in the NSMB series.

VERDICT

I kinda leaked it out there already, didn't I? New Super Mario Bros. 2 is everything that its direct predecessor on the original DS was, only a much better, more flowing and exciting platformer. If you're still in the dark of Mario's more recent exploits like I was a little over a year ago, but interested in how this jurassic icon is doing nowadays, I strongly suggest you dig up this game first. Like I said, it's a fabulous entry point for both young and old.

8.7

lauantai 18. kesäkuuta 2016

REVIEW - New Super Mario Bros.

GENRE(S): Platformer
AVAILABLE ON: DS, Wii U (Virtual Console)
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: May 15, 2006

As far as stand-alone Donkey Kong games from recent years went, I didn't have much choices. With Mario, it's a whole different story. I literally had tens of titles to choose from - which is probably difficult to believe, considering how many Mario games I've reviewed back in the day, and also considering that I laid the plumber to rest not once, but twice, due to the lack of games available. Well, suffice to say that me and Nintendo have resolved our differences in the last four years - I've bought a whole lot of Nintendo games, both new and old, in the last four years and a good bulk of them stars either Mario, Link or Donkey Kong. I've bought not one, not two, but three Nintendo consoles, and gotten a fourth for a Christmas present. So where the hell should I begin? It's obvious I can't do 'em all, and I don't even have a reason to go into the exploits of the extended Mario family just now. I don't have a reason to do any all-star games just now - this marathon is more about two central characters. That principle actually helps shorten the list quite a bit. Well, since I started with a game called Donkey Kong Country Returns, let's go to another comeback game from a little further back. The Nintendo DS was launched in North America on November 21st, 2004, and with it, as always, came a Mario title. Not a completely new one, though, but a complete remake of Super Mario 64. Although the remake was critically acclaimed for its technological prowess, and (almost) all of the extra content that set it apart from the original game, some people started speculating if Mario had run his course and all we'd get was remakes of hardly aged masterpieces from that point on; Nintendo had already announced a game called New Super Mario Bros., which didn't promise much by its name in this situation. However, New Super Mario Bros. was a completely new game; it was to be the first traditional 2D Mario platformer since Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins for the Game Boy, from 1992, and just as its title implied, a spiritual successor to the very first game in the Super Mario series from 1985. Its arrival was greeted with rave reviews - but is it really that good? Let's see. Classic Mario Bros. expert on the case.

You know my name

Mario and Peach (Toadstool.) are on a little walk through the gardens (here comes that innuendo again) when lightning suddenly strikes the Princess' castle. While Mario runs out to check if everyone's alright, Bowser Jr. sneaks up behind the Princess and snatches her. Mario's focus quickly shifts back to his pink-clad love muffin, and we know the rest.

First of all, I've got to admit that I've had experiences with Mario games from the last ten (plus) years in a wrong order. I've played better games than New Super Mario Bros., but they've also been newer games by far. Except for Super Mario 64 DS, but hell, that's a remake based on one of my favourite games of all time - it doesn't matter whether I hacked it to pieces at launch or just started it yesterday. However, putting things into focus, one can still write an honest review of New Super Mario Bros.; really good Mario games never grow old. The original Super Mario Bros. - I still love that game. Super Mario Bros. 3 - oh hell yeah. Super Mario World - magnificent. Super Mario Galaxy - never liked it too much to begin with. You get the idea. When a game called New Super Mario Bros. emerges, I have certain expectations. In the gist of it all, I expect a good, entertaining platformer. That much New Super Mario Bros. manages to deliver. Is it all I could hope for from a 2D Mario adventure, a subcategory of platformer games that is almost full of some of the greatest video games in the world? No.

Shadow of the Colossus.
Some things I've always admired Nintendo for, even in the years I spent in the between criticizing them in every turn, mostly for their refusal to accept modern reality, is innovation, their focus, how they polish their creations to the absolute hilt. During the time I've owned a 3DS or the Wii U, updates to the games haven't really changed anything - they've been complete games from the start. That's something Sony and Microsoft should study. The innovative part is what I wanted to talk about here, though. Even if New Super Mario Bros. is basically a spiritual successor to the original Super Mario Bros., it's expected to be an innovative game from the start, especially since it's a first-party DS game. I'm not seeing anything new and exciting, not until well over the midway mark of World 2. It's then and there when influences from all sorts of Mario games from the last 20 years really start to kick in and be crucial to your progress. I think it's a bit too late, though, and there have already been a lot of elements to the game which might've chomped off one bite too many - it just might be that you, whether you're an old-timer here for them old times, or a new-generation gamer, will just blast through the game as quickly as you can to be done with it. Doesn't matter, really. There's not much reward to be had for the tricky collectables, the new power-ups are basically useless, and the game can be frustratingly hard at some spots, regardless of your item reserve or how many extra lives you got stacked up. Good news for them blasters, you only have to beat six of the game's eight worlds to complete the game - the two are secret ones, strangely in the middle of the game - and there are a few tricks you can use to your advantage to get to the credits as fast as possible.

The graphics are just as good as you'd expect from Nintendo's very own research and development team for such a title. 3D character models and level effects against 2D backgrounds, plus of course the very physical movement of Mario creates a fluid feel to it all. No criticism there. Koji Kondo took a creative break (for all of 2005 and 2006 actually), and is credited as "sound director", while Asuka Ota and Hajime Wakai are in charge of the actual composition of the game. Another bundle of remixes, and some new tunes, which really aren't that great although the Overworld theme went on to be used in a lot of future games at some capacity. This is probably the first Mario game of any genre, developed by Nintendo, in which the music doesn't have any notable positive effect on me.

You know my game

New Super Mario Bros. is just about as standard 2D Mario jab as it can possibly get after his 3D exploits. Some random mechanics like the ground pound and wall kick manouvers are still in, but casual players will do just fine without 'em - just jump, dash, and shoot the occasional fireball, just like decades back, and you've got this. The level design really ain't that special; once harder levels set in, they're made harder with standard, tactically placed blocks, platforms and enemies instead of something really innovative and elements that would go to show what the DS was truly capable of. Bowser Jr. appears as a recurring miniboss who never really changes tactics, just the levels change a little bit (once in a while); the gallery of world bosses comprises of magically enhanced versions of standard enemies (like in Yoshi's Island, only on a smaller scale) and you'll butt heads with Bowser himself a few times, in a vintage Super Mario Bros. fashion - only the circumstances are a bit different from what you're accustomed to.

Facing off with Bowser Jr.. Just the first
time of many.
Every level in the game has a set of three hidden Star Coins, which you can use to open up pathways along your long walk through Mushroom Kingdom. However, these only help you to reach Toad Houses and some minigames for extra lives. To gain access to the two "secret" worlds in the game, you need to find a secret exit in one of the levels of each of the adjacent worlds. As expected, the levels in there are quite hard, but I can tell you: if you are able to beat the game, you're sure as hell able to beat the secret levels. Your arrival to World 6 is greeted by the forces of Satan, and they're escorting you to Hell from that point on. The bosses you can definitely handle. If nothing else works, try the Mega Mushroom.

The Mega Mushroom is quite the epic novelty item. With this, Mario grows in size to barely fit the gameplay screen and trashes EVERYTHING in his wake, which unfortunately includes paths that might lead you to Star Coins. You might perceive it as a frustrating item well beyond its cool factor, until you realize that it works on all bosses, including Bowser. (There, a hint.) This reminds me, that the item reserve from Super Mario World is back, placed on the touch screen along with a level "map" and your HUD. The Blue Koopa Shell... buhhhh... always wanted to be part of the Koopa Troop? Well, now you can, this one time, and as you will see, life in Bowser's army isn't that great. With the Shell, you swim faster, sure, and that's a good thing - Mario swims very slow. You can also withdraw into the Shell to protect yourself, and dash into a traditional spinning attack across the floor... which also spins you right out of control, and probably leaves you groaning at the bottom of a pit. The Mini Mushroom does the complete opposite of the Mega Mushroom, and shrinks Mario into a size he can't do shit to enemies, but is able to defy gravity and jump to incredible heights, and fit into smaller pipes. These are the new power-ups. Like 'em? Didn't think so. They're shit. Except that Mega Mushroom, for its occasional value - occasional.

VERDICT

Of course New Super Mario Bros. is a good game; it's a 2D platformer starring Mario, it can't go to complete waste. But, it is so uncharacteristically typical and plain from Nintendo, and gets more frustrating in its sheer staleness the further it goes. The new crappy power-ups and the collectables' lack of usefulness just drive the nail further in. It's funny how this game got all the glory and the next handheld game in the New SMB series was so disliked by many critics; I find the successor more innovative and exciting, not a perfect game by any measure but better. Some might say "it was 2006, cut it some slack", and my answer is "it was 2006, so I certainly won't". Good game, but I expected more.

7.5

tiistai 14. kesäkuuta 2016

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

GENRE(S): Platformer
AVAILABLE ON: Wii U
DEVELOPER(S): Retro Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: February 21, 2014

The well expected success of Donkey Kong Country Returns called for an obvious sequel, which arrived in the form of the Wii U exclusive Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze in early 2014. I didn't know anything about this game when I bought it, and the only experience I had with Donkey Kong Country Returns was the 3DS version, which I liked, but it was hardly amazing and not nearly as good as the last two games in the original SNES trilogy. It felt like half-cooked fan service at its near-worst and nerve wrecking crap at its absolute worst - thanks to some new gameplay mechanics, not to mention heavy repetition of those "new and amazing" level designs, and snotty controls - but then again, it just might be that the Nintendo 3DS or any handheld was never cut out to run a hectic and precise platformer like Donkey Kong Country properly. I thought to myself, would I like to play an amazing platformer like Rayman Legends on the Nintendo 3DS? Hell no! I dug up one single rating, not even a review, for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze before starting it up (I had already bought the game though, for DK's sake), from somewhere I trust. They said it was all right, and at the very least on par with the previous game. Then I wrote that review of Donkey Kong Country Returns, and ended it by saying that maybe I should see how this "new" Donkey Kong Country plays out on a bigger screen, with a better controller. The game itself can't be that different from the previous one, right? Well... it sure sports the same basics. Only those basics are honed to near-perfection here. To my complete and utter surprise, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the best and most satisfying Donkey Kong experience I've had since my first run with Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest. That was a fucking long time ago.

At the heart of winter

Donkey Kong's birthday bash is ruined by Snowmads - an army of vikings from a faraway arctic land, led by one Lord Fredrik. Using his magical horn to summon a furious stormwind and a gigantic ice dragon, Lord Fredrik freezes the whole of Kong Island in mere seconds and sends the whole Kong family flying all the way to the edge of the surrounding sea, to Lost Mangroves, before claiming tyrannical (and cold) rule over the island. DK, Diddy, Dixie and Cranky embark on a long and difficult quest to travel back to their home island and chase away the unwanted birthday guests.

I'll cut right to the chase. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze feels like a fresh, new game from the very start. It still pays a lot of homage to the earliest games in this particular division of Donkey Kong games; as a matter of fact, there are a lot of times I think it's just about as close to classic Donkey Kong Country as you can get. You can change the controls to a classic mode if you like, and swimming is back (with a vengeance, I might add), with that weird blowing ability omitted from the fray. Rambi and Squawks are still the only classic animal buddies around; Enguarde's classic underwater attack is now practically a part of DK's own repertoire. The level design is absolutely marvellous, not to mention innovative, flowing, and exciting just to watch, and there is no unnecessary repetition; the one single part of the game where I felt just a little bored was the world where almost every level is an underwater level. Even then there's something to save the experience from becoming too stale. There are exciting gauntlet runs; the dash isn't any better or faster than before, but the controls are much better and the game much more forgiving when it comes to your speed. You just need to be very precise from time to time. Those rocket barrel rides which I hated in the previous game? Once again, MUCH better and responsive controls, AND an extra tick of health by default for your ride, be it a mine cart or a rocket barrel. There are only a couple of each types of vehicular levels in this game; again, no unnecessary repetition, and that's also one of the reasons they're so fun this time around. The game is full of glorious surprises. Such as the next part.

We're back in the water. Not that fluid, but occasionally fun.
This next part almost makes me cry. So I played a few levels, actually my best friend was sitting right next to me, and I went underwater for the first time. The music changes in real time, from the standard music to an underwater tune, and vice versa. While I was getting accustomed to the underwater controls, my friend noted "ah, what a familiar track - brings back memories, doesn't it?" I was like, "yeah, but they already remixed a lot of stuff in the previous game so it doesn't really surprise me". As I was listening to the track, though, I thought to myself that it really was an outstandingly beautiful remix. Then, the remixes stopped playing for an extended while, and all this new music set in. AMAZING music, which already, after the first two or three worlds, built up to the greatest video game soundtrack I've heard since the late 90's. When a fucking jaw-dropping remix of "Lockjaw's Saga", one of the greatest tunes in Diddy's Kong Quest, hit in an extremely creepy underwater level (just the right spot for it), it hit me. This is fucking David Wise. Not a Japanese dude covering him, all that's been playing is David Wise. It's gotta be. Is it? YES... with a few Japanese assistants, yes, but he returns as the primary composer of the game for the first time in the main series since Diddy's Kong Quest, and altogether as the primary composer for any major console game since GameCube's Star Fox Adventures. The years have done this man wonders. This is seriously the best and most memorable soundtrack in any game I've heard in a long, long while. It isn't just my admiration for Wise, or if it is, there's a reason for that admiration - and Tropical Freeze is a pretty damn good reason. To me, David Wise is an integral part of the true Donkey Kong Country experience. Now, on to the gameplay.

Family matters

The definitely lost vikings.
The basics haven't really changed, and every idea from Donkey Kong Country Returns, be it a good or an initially bad one, is rehashed - the controls are better, there's no force fed repetition. The level design is much more exciting and constantly changing, even within levels (2D to pseudo-3D in the middle of the hottest heat and vice versa, just as a quick non-spoiling example). This much I already covered. There's a lot more to it than first meets the eye, though. There are much more secrets in the game than just well-hidden jigsaw pieces, bonus rooms and KONG letters, and some secret extras that can be accessed by the acquisition of these. There are also secret exits hidden in certain levels, leading to secret levels in the worlds, the difficulty level of which varies this time - they're not all borderline impossible. There's also post-completion content in seven secret relics which will open the path to yet another "Lost World", I presume.

Funky Kong runs the shop this time, and the variety of items on sale hasn't practically changed at all. You will need to buy an abundance of extra lives at some point, presumably, and luckily they're still cheap assuming you're half of an explorer - you're bound to run into loads of extra money. He sells extra figurines for your viewing pleasure, though, that's the one addition. Cranky is a playable character.

And with the last sentence, we can end this review. 10 out of 10. Stay tuned for the next review.

...Just kidding. Actually, Cranky isn't even that good of a partner unless you need him to collect some specific collectables. Unless you're playing with a friend, your partners once again travel piggyback. Diddy is just the same as before - he can use his jetpack to make you hover for a short time and help you over large gaps without you having to resort to your insecure forward roll. Dixie pretty much functions the same, but she can also help you make a kind of a double jump to higher ground. Cranky is basically Scrooge McDuck. Seriously, his pogo jump mechanic is identical to DuckTales - the newer, simplified version - and yes, you can even cross floors covered with spikes with Cranky's cane. Just like Scrooge. Every partner is a gift - but in certain situations, such as most boss fights, Cranky is useless besides the fact of bringing two more health points to the table. Too bad. We love that guy. There's just one partner available for certain levels, but usually, and always in boss fights, you can make the choice between the three yourself. I usually use Diddy all the time I can - he's the most comfortable and familiar partner to use after all that time I spent on crying and cursing through Donkey Kong Country Returns. Pressing L or R once having defeated a set amount of enemies with your partner in tow, you can unleash a special attack that destroys every enemy on the screen. Doesn't do squat to bosses, though.

This is no longer bullshit. I kinda like it.
The boss fights are simply awesome. The previous game had a few great bosses, but here no one disappoints. Their strategies change with every bit of damage taken, they look amazing, and the tunes that serve as their themes kick ass. The final boss fight against Lord Fredrik is one of the most frustrating, but at the same time satisfying platformer bouts I've been part of in a long time, and there are definitely more than one or two solid pointers to the many vintage fights against the one and only K. Rool. It's great.

If there's one flaw in this game, I'd have to go to my favourite subject of criticism in any platformer: ice. Being called Tropical Freeze, this game obviously has its share of icy levels... but surprisingly, those levels are fun in the challenge they provide. There's also a certain attraction to them - I think fans of Donkey Kong Country Returns will love these levels in particular. But, underwater levels are not that fun, especially comparing them to the nicely flowing underwater sequences in an obvious game of comparison, Rayman Legends, which came out a bit before and obviously influenced this one a little in many ways. The swimming mechanic is not that good, and can turn out really frustrating, considering how many underwater levels there are in this game. None as frustrating as the rocket barrel levels in the previous one, though.

VERDICT

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze simply does everything better than its predecessor, there's no way around it, and there's no way to describe by words how much the slightly tweaked controls, as well as the general atmosphere brought on by great music and altogether genius level design change the face of the game. Going into this game, I said something along the lines of "let's get this over with". Coming out of the game, I can easily rank Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze one of the greatest platformers I've played since the 16-bit era.

9.1

sunnuntai 12. kesäkuuta 2016

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D

GENRE(S): Platformer
AVAILABLE ON: 3DS
DEVELOPER(S): Monster Games
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: May 24, 2013

Note: All screenshots are from the original Wii version of the game. If Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is played in Original Mode, superficial differences between the games are minimal.

There seriously can't be a better title to start off this new Mario & Donkey Kong marathon than a game called Donkey Kong Country Returns. The very original Donkey Kong Country from 1994 was the most important key reason why I truly wanted to have my own SNES system in the first place. When Donkey Kong Country Returns was first announced in 2009 or so, history repeated itself; for the first time, I thought about getting a Wii. Stubborn and hostile as I was towards Nintendo at the time, and as broke as a man could be, I never really gave it a second thought. Even when the game was finally released and Retro Studios got showered with all forms of godly praise for bringing back what Rare was once forced to abandon, I refrained from actually reading any of those positive reviews. Then, I got myself a 3DS, and it was then I really noticed, that Donkey Kong Country Returns had been ported to the handheld some time ago. I went to great lengths to find this game; good games for the 3DS (as well as the original DS) are surprisingly hard to find. I did find the game, though, and went at it like a hawk - I felt all of those old emotions come over me like a tidal wave. Sadly, those emotions include severe anger and deep frustration. No Donkey Kong Country game has ever been this full of those moments when you seriously want to kill someone. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D has some breathtakingly great moments - but it is not everything I ever hoped from this return.

Return of the swing

An ancient tribe of malicious Tikis is woken from their deep sleep by the eruption of their home volcano. They set off after the greatest treasure of Kong Island - Donkey Kong's famous banana hoard - hypnotizing the animals of the island to do their bidding. After years of peace, Donkey and Diddy Kong - who are both immune to the mass hypnosis - journey forth through the perils of Kong Island to reach the volcano and banish the creatures for good.

Donkey Kong Country Returns (3D) is very much like a blast from the past, made with those who grew up with the original trilogy firmly in mind, but at the same time, it draws influence from more recent 2D platformers, especially in constantly breaking the 2D mold of the game with amazing 3D effects and multi-layered level designs. The original Donkey Kong Country trilogy was simply a marvel to behold. Rare's technology and design was something never seen before. In this day and age, the sort of jaw-dropping moments such as seeing the intro to Donkey Kong Country for the first time can no longer be experienced. Graphics, as such, have reached a standard very few even try to break nowadays. They're no longer Donkey Kong Country's greatest draw. Now it's all about the level design. And man, Donkey Kong Country Returns is one hell of a ride; there's some slightly revamped old stuff in there, and a lot of new stuff. All of which is not that fun to play. Let's focus on the part which is, though.

The backgrounds are not what they seem.
Donkey Kong Country Returns could might as well be called Donkey Kong Country Rebooted - it's very clear that this game was made by different people than the original trilogy, and it's fully understandable that Nintendo wants to really own this series again. It was more or less Rare's property back in the day, which probably made it very hard for this series to return after they were bought out by Microsoft. However, David Wise's original music remains, heavily remixed by a tight-knit group of Japanese composers. Most of it sounds pretty damn awesome, and once you reach the Factory world, you might want to turn up the volume to max; avid fans of the original Donkey Kong Country know that theme damn well. The music plays a surprisingly important key role in building up the game, 'cause it WILL feel weird at first. All of the classic enemies are completely ousted from the fray, DK has some strange new abilities (and he seems to have lost the ability to swim), Rambi and Squawks are the only returning animal buddies, and single players will have to live with the fact that they're going to play as the ever-so-bulky DK all along the way. Diddy - who's now DK's nephew instead of his best friend - is an irreplaceable companion as always, but he plays out very differently from before.

Monkeys in Hell

Diddy travels piggyback and boosts your jumps with his jetpack; he also brings in two extra hearts of health (three, if you're playing the 3DS' New Mode). As long as the easy-going, hang-loose platformer schtick goes on, he feels like a small, useless bonus, but rest assured, the game isn't like that for very long at all and soon Diddy becomes irreplaceable. So irreplaceable, that I would almost make a claim that some levels are simply impossible to complete without Diddy's help. I know it's not the truth, but it's pretty damn close, frustratingly so. The levels do have fair checkpoints, but a little too often reaching a checkpoint means you're cut off from perhaps the only DK barrel in the whole level, whereas in most situations in the old games, a DK barrel was placed right next to a checkpoint. The returning Cranky - my man! - has a shop from where you can buy some helpful items for your reserves kind of like in Super Mario Bros. 3, but if you leave a level in midway to pick some item you find yourself in desperate need of, you'll have to start that level all over again, and the collectables you've already gathered from that level go back to zero; just so happens that those collectables are very often the main reason for your constant failures to complete the level.

The climbing mechanic's actually quite nice. Too bad any of
that nice didn't rub off on some even more important
mechanics.
Coins are needed for shopping at Cranky's, obviously - his items are actually so cheap that you will never run out of lives to live out in this game, assuming you're not one serious speedrunner. Jigsaw pieces are littered all over the levels, some hidden in plain sight, some in secret passageways, and some in traditional bonus levels - which you'll have to complete, and in one try, to make 'em count for the 100%. Bananas are for the exact same purpose they ever were, but then come the KONG letters. If you collect every single KONG letter in all levels of a single world, you'll get to try a "Lost World"-type of bonus level, which of course is one hellish piece of work. There's also a whole world of bonus levels waiting to be visited after the completion of the game, which is the actual "Lost World". If that's not hard enough for you, and you manage to complete the hellholes of this God-forsaken place, you'll be rewarded with a hard mode, with all levels unlocked, with alternative design for you to "enjoy". Donkey Kong Country Returns is, for all intents and purposes, the hardest game in all of the series. Yes, even harder than Diddy's Kong Quest, and by far. However...

If you're not too judgemental towards yourself, you can always use a Super Guide. The Super Guide mode activates every time you die eight times in a single level, and offers you a chance to automatically complete the level by watching Super Kong do it. Your most severe penance for this is not finding any collectables from that level. As long as these bypasses have existed in video games - the original Wii version of this game might be one of the first - I have heavily criticized them, but seeing what sort of trainwrecks await you in the last couple of worlds, I'm all in for the option.

Rockets set my eyes in red glare

The game is at its absolute worst - in all senses of the description - during mine cart rides, which make their extremely notable return from the old games, and the new types of vehicular levels, where you'll be using a rocket-fueled barrel to navigate through tight passages, in both horizontal and vertical levels. I'm amazed I didn't mention this before, but the controls, at least in this version of the game, are not perfect. So many moves are mapped to one single button, that it's very easy to make mistakes when the game's tempo reaches 200 for every single level. The analog disc is so damn sensitive, and no, there's no option to use the digital pad for precision moves. In most of the rocket barrel levels, there's just one button for you to use: the button to fly upwards, which you'll be needing to keep balance as middle of the level as possible. That is until the hazards from all over the place set in. Then you're up shit creek. It's as simple as that. The rocket moves extremely weird; often, it feels like it ascends and descends on its own. Yep, as you might've guessed, these levels are one-hit kills. I fucking hate these levels. Just when you think you've been through the worst and there are no more of these coming, they fall like snow in February. Even the final boss fight of the game starts with a rocket barrel sequence, as I already guessed hacking through the level which I think was meant to be sold as the final one, judging by its sky-high difficulty. (And one level which I totally Super Guided, with no remorse.)

This is bullshit, bullshit, BULLSHIT! ...And I don't like it.
Two more serious flaws remain, and these are also gameplay issues that get worse as time and levels go by. Like I said, there are many moves assigned to a single button (Y), and of course one of them is the ability to dash. Well, let's say DISability. One of the basic core elements of just about any platformer ever made is complete fluff in this here game. After starting up the dash with a roll, DK takes a few running steps, and returns to a speed just barely above his walking speed until you roll again. Most levels that mandate the involvement of Rambi are even worse; these levels require a consistently fast speed, and Rambi can only dash when you tap the Y button at well-timed key points to slap his ass (literally) to make him take a few running steps. Having Diddy along doesn't help Rambi with running jumps at all, since he's too heavy for Diddy's jetpack to carry anywhere beyond his normal jumping distance. In short, the game borders on impossible to keep up with, the tempo gets that damn crazy after the first couple of worlds.

Then, the final flaw - trial and error. There's a lot of that involved here, again many thanks to the tempo, but there's also a graphical issue, which blurs the line between a static background object and a solid obstacle a bit too often. Playing the game with the 3D graphics set to minimum helps a little, but not much in the more difficult levels where there's much happening as it is, all kinds of shit's flying all over the place, and you're fully focused on mere survival like in the rocket barrel levels. Once again, a short version: Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is the hardest game in the franchise, but all of its difficulty does not stem from the proper place.

VERDICT

Although it makes you feel quite homicidal, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D has a sweet purpose behind it. I would very much like to try the original game, 'cause I believe a lot of the issues I had with this experience come from the fact that it's a hectic, non-stop platformer on a handheld system, and my eyes and hands are both 32 years old. I'll have to see how Tropical Freeze checks out, and if it supports this theory at all. Anyway, this is a good game. Not quite what I expected after almost 20 years, but it has lots of entertaining moments and a great atmosphere.

7.7

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: The 35th Anniversary Marathon

Yes, you read quite right. Last time, I was talking about returning to the roots... well, let's up the ante a little. I'm returning to the two franchises where I started from back in 2010, for two simple reasons. One, come July 9th, the original Donkey Kong arcade game created by Shigeru Miyamoto turns 35. Second, I've played a lot of Mario and Donkey Kong games lately, with my quite recent acquisition of the Nintendo 3DS and the even more recent acquisition of the Wii U. 35 years, with both main characters of Donkey Kong still very much alive and kicking (though mostly in their own separate divisions nowadays) - that's a LONG time, and me, a Nintendo kid and retro gamer to the core cannot leave this celebration unnoticed. Of course, most retro games in these franchises were already covered a long time ago - it's time to focus on some choice efforts from the last 16 years. I'm very excited to return to these two long-standing favourites of mine and see how the years have treated them during my time apart from Nintendo.

With luck, the marathon starts tonight. With almost as much luck, it starts tomorrow night, and will last until July 9th (give or take, June 28-July 8 is a busy time for me), and it is then I will write a bit more definitive speech for modern gaming's eldest arch rivals and the celebration of their big day.