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.

tiistai 7. kesäkuuta 2016

Health issues, new systems and general jib-jab

Five of my newest reviews - and my first public ones in almost two years - have been online for some time now, and I'm working on the next bulk as I speak, but first I'd like to tell you a little about what's been going on these past two years. So, I originally quit - without close to any notice - because I had kinda lost faith in my talent, and not only that, but I was really busy at work and preoccupied by all kinds of other stuff. That "other stuff" soon turned out to be a whole array of symptoms related to manic depression. I was officially diagnosed in the fall of last year, and this bitch I was dating at the time took full advantage of my mental condition and made my life a living hell for a few months. Things came to a close when I finally got this new apartment of mine after months of trying - one month without a home altogether - and with her out of the picture, I could focus on the main problem; my psyche.

You could say I've returned to the roots of this whole blog - I started this whole thing back in 2010 to vent out my frustration, it was therapy of sorts. However, now I'm also doing this because I've been told I'm good at this, and simply because I like it. Now that I live further away from any downtown temptations, I've been able to save up some money, and my hobby of game collecting has grown to some epic, borderline ridiculous proportions. With that, I am proud to welcome three new systems to the fold: the Wii, the Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS. Yes, after all my harsh words towards the Wii family in particular, I've finally jumped on the wagon, and found some AWESOME games along the way. Thanks to the Virtual Console services and the 3DS' seamless backwards compatibility with all versions of all Nintendo DS games, I am able to produce reviews of just about anything one could possibly think up. There were Nintendo DS reviews before, but I dared not review anything truly good without having a genuine DS system for my gaming platform. ...And yes, this means Mario is coming back at some point, and this time there might actually be some masterpieces left to review. Even reviewing the Metroid Prime series is now a very solid possibility, now that I've finally broken out of my FPS-hating shell, and now that my mind is generally open to just about everything. Oh yeah, and before I forget: last Christmas I got myself the best Christmas present I could ever get myself, in a new SNES system. I've already bought about twenty games for it, I simply love that machine - it seems like the ten years I spent without a SNES never happened. After all, I have two of the most important games of my former SNES collection - Chrono Trigger on the Nintendo DS (best version of the game, by the way) and Super Mario RPG on Virtual Console. My physical SNES collection includes gems such as Secret of Mana, Super Metroid, Super Castlevania IV, the whole of the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy, SimCity, F-Zero and whatnot. Let's just say that I've often cursed at the games I've sold at some point of my life - there aren't many of those left. I might still be struggling with manic depression, but as far as my favourite hobby goes, I'm quite happy with how things are at the moment.

As for the next reviews, I really can't determine a schedule. I'm on vacation right now, sure, but it's a very short one and I thought to take care of some more important business as far as this blog goes, and that, I think, is the layout. I'm also down with pneumonia - or rather the aftermath - which requires me to keep up a steady resting rhythm. Also, I'm moving to a new workplace next Monday, and I'm kinda stressed out by that - mostly in a good way. Anyway, reviews are coming, and once again, I think it's gonna be a blast with some choice cuts from Wii U and 3DS included. Classic Wii games will have to wait for some time, since I don't have a remote/nunchaku combo just yet, but they are coming too, sure as shit.

torstai 2. kesäkuuta 2016

REVIEW - Dishonored

GENRE(S): Action-adventure, Stealth
AVAILABLE ON: PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Arkane Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Bethesda Softworks
RELEASE DATE: October 9, 2012

Arkane Studios' work on their greatest hit – back then, just a handful of hope for the struggling studio – began in 2009, which was to be the year of the assassin adventure; in the end of the year, Ubisoft launched the mother of all sequels in Assassin's Creed II. A niche was getting set up, which might be one of the key reasons to ZeniMax Media reaching towards Arkane Studios and buying it in hopes for a different, yet just as groundbreaking tale of murder and conspiracy to be released under the oh, so fabled Bethesda Softworks banner. By the time Dishonored finally came out in 2012, the niche had gotten much bigger, it was all but perfect for a new stealth action IP. Assassin's Creed was no longer at the top of its popularity, but waned just the right amount for a new game to come collect its remaining harvest. Released almost a year before, Skyrim smothered the Bethesda Softworks logo in molten gold, and still continued to flourish, as fans all around the world were eagerly anticipating the arrival of the third and final add-on, the magnificent Dragonborn. There couldn't have been better circumstances for Dishonored to hit the shelves, and for a completely new game, it sold well. It was loved by critics and gamers alike, and hailed by many as one of the greatest new franchises of the century, the perfect mix of a stealth-based action-adventure and a Bethesda RPG, but never to my account, a real masterpiece. I don't remember anyone ever giving it a straight perfect review. That figures. Dishonored is not a perfect game. What Dishonored is, though, is a good start.

Requiescat in Pace, or don't

We're in 17th century England, a very industrialized and very fictional one. Empress Kaldwin's personal bodyguard Corvo Attano – a quite intimidating, soft-spoken guy with supernatural talents – returns home from a long journey, only to be brutally framed for his liege's (and lover's) murder, as well as her daughter Emily's abduction, by the Empress' spymaster and his hired help. Six months later, on the eve of his execution, Corvo escapes prison with the help of a group of imperial loyalists operating on the far outskirts of the city of Dunwall. With these loyalists at his back, Corvo starts picking off the spymaster's – now Lord Regent – cohorts one at a time, and aims to rescue Emily from her real captors in the process.

Dear sir, I do believe you're getting fucked.
Dishonored has a very interesting story, that I personally think goes to waste, just a bit, in a comic book environment. Got to keep in mind, though, that this game is really, really violent. It's not all that more or less violent than Assassin's Creed was at this point, but it's a first-person game, so it's a bit different; photorealism might've seriously pissed censors off. The first-person perspective threw me off a little too, at first. It's a challenging perspective for me as it is, but a stealth game? That's serious shit. It's surprisingly adaptable once you get over it. The stereo surround is awesome, it's one of your greatest tactical advantages. Many stealth- or stealth-oriented games tend to have problems with distancing chatter or footsteps properly, Dishonored does it just right. Headphones, or some really juicy home theater set-up are recommended for this one. To further praise the sound department, the music's quite OK, and we have talented voice actors we ALL know placing their bids here – Susan Sarandon, Lena Headey, Michael Madsen, Carrie Fisher, and Brad Dourif, for starters.

Double, double toil and trouble

Dishonored actually has much more in common with Metal Gear Solid than it has with Assassin's Creed, IF it can really be compared to any earlier game in existence; it really is a rare game of its very own kind. So, let's just leave any comparisons to any game that came before out right now, and just concentrate on the distinguishing features of Dishonored.

And down he goes.
Dishonored is cut into 16 distinct chapters, 9 of which are your primary missions and the rest are more or less tutorials or small quests that work towards the story. During these missions, you'll be visiting different parts of Dunwall, very often the same parts, but not without some significant changes, always for the worse – and side missions are always designed to accommodate a specific main mission, so if you're gonna do them, do them right away. As to why Dishonored has more in common with Metal Gear Solid than Assassin's Creed, is that in Assassin's Creed, the only true solution to any situation or major confrontation is a knife to the neck. It's just the approach you can decide for yourself. In Dishonored, you can decide most of everything for yourself. You don't have to kill any of the guys and gals on your list, you can go for an indirect approach to make sure no one hears or sees them again. Such as utterly humiliating them; humiliation has no cure in this fancy-ass town ruled by self-important dicks. Or, if you necessarily want them dead, but are tired or bored of sneaking behind their backs and venting their necks with your blade, very often you can find an alternative, more difficult but rewarding method. The side missions in the game very often give you clues to some really cool assassination plans, and it's really hard to resist trying them out.

To effectively sneak around in this severely plagued police state, Corvo has a wide array of gadgets and supernatural talents granted to him by a spirit of an intentionally vague alignment; he's kinda there to remind you of your own alignment and the ending you're going to receive for your actions. No need to browse through them all, but a few examples would be nice. You can possess rats (which there are plenty of, I can assure you, and all the more if you keep icing folk), bloodhounds and fish (really) to access certain types of path- and entryways. At a more advanced level of this ability, you can also possess regular enemy soldiers. You can't do anything to directly harm anyone – except push them off cliffs by just walking into them, that's fun (not to mention walking off a cliff yourself) – but this is a standout method to get closer to any enemy that's actually your target, including main mission targets. Your basic method of stealth movement is a teleportation ability you'll gain almost immediately after the first mission of the game, it's a real diverse hoot once you learn to use it properly and to great effect. Of course, as in any self-respecting game nowadays, you can hack all sorts of enemy equipment to function for your cause with the Rewire Tool. Finally, I guess I'll mention Thief Vision, which allows you to track enemy movement behind walls. So, it's kind of like Batman's Detective Mode, only you can use this for a very limited period of time and it really isn't quite that useful. Oops, a comparison.

Ouch. That'll leave a mark.
Last, I'll speak of what's left in the levels besides the missions and side missions, what makes them last for hours. Well collectables, of course, and not just any dolls or statues that reward you with a warm soul and a Trophy, but really important stuff; Runes to upgrade your abilities with, and Bone Charms, role-playing accessories which allow you to augment yourself with multiple passive abilities and perks. As the game developers practically encourage you to survive this game without improving on your default abilities too much, the Bone Charms are not all that essential to your success, the augments are not really that awesome, but they can be of surprisingly great help from time to time. To find these collectables in each stage of each level, you have a ”sonar” called Heart... which, actually, is literally a still beating human heart. Nice to have one in your pocket on these long trips, huh.

Dishonored is full of good, innovative ideas, but their execution is very rough-edged, very clanky at times. The gameplay never quite leaps the expected standards of the publisher or the genre. Close combat is somewhat clumsy, ranged combat has somewhat random registration, and the radial menu for the abilities and weapons is a complete fucking nightmare at its worst. Instead of the ability you pick, the game very often picks another one. Let's say you pick Blink to teleport right behind an unsuspecting guard to stab him in the neck, and when you use it, you notice that well, the game didn't like your choice and chose a hand grenade to throw at the guard and perhaps kill him, but also alert every damn guard in the vicinity. Like I said, a fucking nightmare. Always double-check.

VERDICT

Dishonored's flaws might be few, but it's a fairly lengthy game, and these problems, few as they are, follow the trail from the beginning to the very end, only getting worse with time and difficulty. It's not a stellar game as far as gameplay is concerned, but it has so much great ideas, a whole new, such great take on the stealth action genre, and such a good story to it, that it really should not be ignored by anyone. Not with a sequel on the way.

8.4