sunnuntai 25. syyskuuta 2016

REVIEW - inFamous

GENRE(S): Action-adventure, Third-person shooter, Open-world
AVAILABLE ON: PlayStation 3
DEVELOPER(S): Sucker Punch Productions
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: May 26, 2009

inFamous is a game I've wanted to do ever since I first started doing this thing. It's easier to go over the reasons why, before going into the couple of why-nots.

1. It's an open-world adventure game currently laid smack in the middle of the history of action games set in an urban, open world. Long after Grand Theft Auto III, right before Assassin's Creed II, and long before Grand Theft Auto V came, saw, conquered, and destroyed all hope for future developments' (such as Watch_Dogs) chances to really succeed in the open-world genre. Plus, unlike Grand Theft Auto or Assassin's Creed, this game was set in a post-apocalyptic world. Post-apocalyptic is kinda like my middle name. I never seem to lose interest in the different possibilities of a post-apocalyptic (open) world.

2. It was the second time a dedicated Sony developer went out to break loose of their family-oriented image. Naughty Dog did it first with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and we all know how that game fared, not to mention what kind of stellar franchise followed that game. Sucker Punch were known for Sly Cooper, and inFamous was their ticket to young adult land; being a PS3 exclusive already meant a lot when inFamous came out, so all in all it was a widely anticipated game.

3. The overpouring similarities between the story of inFamous protagonist Cole MacGrath and the story of Peter Parker - which, no doubt, are intentional, and have even inspired some critics to establish a spiritual connection between this game and the classic sixth-generation Spider-Man titles. "With great power comes great responsibility." Peter Parker has embraced that as a rule. Cole MacGrath, however, is given a conscious choice. Will you choose ultimate power, or will you choose responsibility? Like in any good karma-based game, you won't be able to grasp the underlying greatness of inFamous without trying both sides.

Which brings us to the question: is the game good and interesting enough to endure multiple playthroughs? Back when I got this game as a present having not the balls to risk the invest myself, I thought it was quite good, but I couldn't possibly muster the energy for a second playthrough - which the game needs to unfold, there's no escaping that. Also, inFamous didn't have a franchise backing it up, so I kept pushing it forward 'til it would have at least one sequel to make me want to go for a marathon. I tried, both times that a major sequel broke through, to get motivated for inFamous again, but on both occasions, I found the game heavily outdated by its peers. Even moreso on the second try, of course. Well, now I'm finally on that one final crusade to find out if inFamous truly is as outdated as it seems, and if evil's truly the only way to go if you want to succeed in this game.

Electric Funeral

The sprawling metropolis of Empire City is caught in a massive EMP blast, which results in the deaths of thousands of innocent people, and a total, city-wide power failure. Caught in the center of the blast is deliveryman and urban explorer Cole MacGrath. Instead of succumbing to the blast, Cole becomes a human battery, a walking electrical conduit who is able to take advantage of any trace of electricity in any way he pleases. With these new powers constantly growing stronger, Cole is faced with the ultimate question: will he use these new powers to help Empire City back to its feet, or reduce what's left of it to mere ash?

A superhero with his villainous fits.
inFamous was released at the perfect time for a PlayStation exclusive. At first, no one really knew what kind of a game it was to be, except for the core story element of being able to play the superhero or a supervillain in a superhero game. Stick that in a PlayStation exclusive, one made by such a revered developer, albeit one who had only made games for kids or early teens at that point - remember Naughty Dog - get blessed with a couple of damn fine early reviews, and you've got another PlayStation classic right there. Well, inFamous did never reach the massive popularity of Uncharted; Uncharted 2: Among Thieves came out some time later - hell, they might even have picked up a few climbing points from inFamous - and once it did, people hardly remembered this game anymore. The Uncharted franchise became the new cornerstone of the Sony PlayStation family, something inFamous was always intended to be. Bad advertising, or a good game that just wasn't good enough? I guess there's a bit of truth to both claims. inFamous is a great game that had all the potential to be a great franchise. There are just a few things really off about it - the game, I mean. I'll have to take a rain check with the rest of the series. Let's talk inFamous.

The cutscenes are more than a little detached from the game,
but in themselves they look quite damn good.
inFamous is an open-world action game, a third-person shooter with some RPG elements. Your secondary objectives besides the story are to help out the people of Empire City on either side of the law to gain territory; collect different stuff to either boost your maximum shock energy, find out more about the game's (very nice) backstory beyond what the twists in the main storyline lay out in the open; and finally, no game of inFamous is complete before amping your abilities up to eleven, whether you're the hero or the villain of this story. It's not just about a few key decisions at a few key points of the game how your character develops - everything, and I do mean everything, you do in inFamous is tracked to determine your karma. When you're attacked by a horde of enemies in the middle of the street, when an electrified grenade or a gigantic hammershock to the center of the crowd would prove the most effective option, you should remember that any civilians caught in the blast become food for your karma meter. If you're generally playing it nice, you could try to compensate the situation by going over to and healing any surviving civilians, and capturing surviving enemies for the police to handle. Or, if you're playing rough, just unleash the mayhem. Throw in a few more bombs to make doubly sure they're ALL down.

Of course the storyline missions and the big decisions, which are thankfully thoroughly explained by short cutscenes to avoid making drowsy mistakes with and for your character, have the most impact on how the game plays out for you. The final battle and the ending are both pretty much the same for both karmic outcomes, with some differences in the final monologue of the game, just to ensure us that a sequel was always coming. Which is good, 'cause inFamous can get quite tedious towards the end - here's hoping they fixed the most major mistakes with the sequel.

Running out of juice

First and foremost, inFamous is all-around repetitive. For the first few hours, the side missions have a fine abundance of variety to them. Towards the end, they're starting not only to repeat themselves by a long haul, but they're also repeating elements from storyline missions that weren't that fun to begin with. Collecting stuff, now that's what I'd advise you to do all the time instead of saving it all for later - you have this kinda "Spider-Sense" that shows the collectibles readily available to you on the minimap. There's a whopping total of 350 Blast Shards hidden all over Empire City's three districts, and only 300 of them have any actual use in gameplay - the remaining 50 are a disappointing gift to all Trophy Whores out there. The rest of the collectibles aren't nearly as much of a nuisance in total than going after the 50 Blast Shards that don't have any use, and could be anywhere in this sprawling pile of a city. Empire City ain't exactly the most interesting sandbox there is - it's kind of like a post-apocalyptic HD remaster of Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto III. Just without the cars. And the distinctive landmarks. And the different layers of terrain. And the hoes. Each district is supposed to be distinctly different from the next in style, but to be honest, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the districts if not for distinctly different enemies occupating each one. Yeah, regular enemies come in three types. There are some variations to each type of enemy, but not enough to carry an open-world game.

His delivery service just got a whole lot faster.
Finally, the story, as unique and exciting it basically is - it's a God damn open-world superhero game of completely original design! - is not told very well. Most of the voiceover work is fair enough, but the dialogue itself is clumsy, and somehow even aggravating, I can't really describe it any better. The cutscenes that are stylized after classic superhero comic books look really nice, but they're detached from the game and occasionally, they even seem to go against the karmic settings of your character, and the rest of the cutscenes are just bad cinematics. The exchanges between Cole and his ex-girlfriend, or his fat, dumb, jealous and arrogant (read: clichéd) best friend are painful to watch and listen to. There's just no emotional charge there of any sort.

My second round through inFamous was certainly a nice one, but that's only 'cause six years had passed. There are two people I know to have played this game through twice in a row to get to the Platinum Trophy, but I simply could never have done that. In all its length and size, not to mention how boring and repetitive a true open-world adventure in this game can get, and the crappy dialogue, in my opinion inFamous is not a game to be thoroughly completed at once. But, back to the original and more important question, is it outdated? No. General gameplay mechanics are actually way better than I remembered, and Cole's climbing ability is superior to any assassin's in the Assassin's Creed series, as far as gamer's comfort is concerned at least. So there, a very essential complimentary point before I wrap this up and delve into the sequel(s) for the first time.


inFamous is full of both superficial pros and superficial cons, a fairly even splice between good and bad karma. But, focusing on what's truly essential about an entertaining action game, inFamous excels in a whole bulk of it. The controls are fluid, the core mechanics of the game work fantastic. The new abilities are easy to grasp, and easy enough to execute with this terrific control scheme - except for the final ability which is another example of how useless the Sixaxis always was. Although it's not always carried that well due to the monotonic and clumsy dialogue, the story is fascinating and unique, and the resolution, regardless of your choices, paves an interesting path to a very interesting sequel. So, if you're on the market for a fairly entertaining open-world action-adventure apart from the more high-profile must-haves of its kind, inFamous is quite a solid choice for you.

+ Near-perfect controls
+ Fantastically delicate karma system
+ Great story...

- ...Brought down a tick by average voiceover work and frustrating dialogue
- Repetitive side missions
- Monotonic world and enemy design

< 8.1 >

tiistai 13. syyskuuta 2016

REVIEW - New Super Mario Bros. U

GENRE(S): Platformer
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: November 18, 2012

New Super Mario Bros. U was the first brand new Mario launch title, actually starring the man himself, for any new Nintendo console since the original Super Mario 64 - and that is by far the only special thing about it. I am so frustrated with this series right now, especially after a solid line of fresh experiences in the Mario franchise, some of them even positive surprises. I was thinking of dragging this a little further down the line to spare it from my wrath, but then again, I realized that all this stuff swirling in my head was there from the very beginning; it's not going to change in the future. I still took another round of New Super Mario Bros. U straight to the gut, to see how it played out with a different controller. It's somewhat better with an old school control scheme, as I suspected, and believe me, the game ain't bad to begin with. The ultimate question, however, is...

...What is so God damn NEW about it?

Bowser invades and takes over the Princess' castle, of course trapping the Princess inside it, while hurling the foursome of Mario, Luigi and a couple of Toads for generic multiplayer fodder to the outer limits of Mushroom Kingdom. Apart from non-linear, yet all-mandatory progression, we know the rest of the deal - through and through - and in 2012, 27 years of the Super Mario franchise and three New Super Mario Bros. games already behind us, we are getting bored. Moreover, we find ourselves wondering how in the hell did Nintendo manage to spend THREE YEARS on making and disguising what is essentially New Super Mario Bros. Wii in high-definition?!

I never thought to say this, but looking at those star-shaped
thingies makes me miss Super Mario Galaxy.
Yeah, I'm furious. All the pros and cons I noted concerning all of the previous titles in this series match the pros and cons of New Super Mario Bros. U. Why? Because it's the exact same game. The first New Super Mario Bros. title on the Nintendo DS was the one I criticized the most, for being such a simple, yet at the same time, very strange, successor to the first Famicom titles, and generally speaking not the fresh and innovative first-party Nintendo game we were safe to expect in 2006. You can double down on a game that was released on Nintendo's eighth-generation powerhouse in 2012, and basically - despite some gratuitous Miiverse social media bullshit and a freeform world map to cover it all up - IS THE EXACT SAME GAME as the previous major console title in this particular series!! Well not the exact same game to be honest, there are more levels in this game, but all the levels from the previous one are recycled by some degree. ALL of them - except for all of the most important boss fights. I guess those ones are made different, 'cause kids always remember bosses best. Successful cover-up, then? Not by a long shot.

Super Mario 3D World was originally supposed to be the final game of this marathon, simply because it's the newest out of all Mario platformers - excluding Super Mario Maker, if you count that as a platformer or even an actual game - and 'cause it's also the best Mario platformer in ages. Firstly, I kinda got sidetracked from the New SMB series by taking on Super Mario 3D Land on my 3DS one night, and I followed up with Super Mario 3D World like a zombie, forgetting all about a review of New Super Mario Bros. U. Secondly, in honest hindsight, if I had written this review before Super Mario 3D World, I'd probably had spent half the time bashing this game even more than I already have, or will. With Super Mario 3D Land out, and Super Mario 3D World on its way, New Super Mario Bros. U was a gap-filler, nothing more. It's a good game, of course it is, it's based on a simple and functional formula. Should you buy it, should you keep it in mind? Should you remember it? If you don't have any of the earlier games under your belt, sure. Otherwise, no.

All these things I hate revolve around me

Here's something nice for a change. That oil painting in the
background is freakin' rad.
Let's play it a bit nicer for a change and say that New Super Mario Bros. U "plays very close" to New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Having that out of the way, let's get straight to control business: if you're hell bent on playing and beating this game just for collection's sake, do yourself a favour. Put the Wii U Gamepad to rest and dig up a Wiimote. I know 'cause I tried both options: even though the same odd mishaps that plagued the "original" occur when playing with the Wiimote (such as Mario ducking in the middle of a dash if your thumb is just slightly off-key), the old controller is just so much more practical for not only a casual game of New Super Mario Bros. U, but also the levels near the end of the main world campaign that are solely based on the controller's motion detection feature - the MD lifts, if you remember. Trying to control the lifts with the bulky Gamepad, especially if you're playing too close to a living room table or any other piece of furniture, is a nightmare. Either the furniture disrupts your movement, or you, having no control over your physical powers, will end up accidentally smashing the Gamepad to the table. Before long, you'll be doing that on purpose. (Those pads are God damn expensive, by the by.)

Bowser's the biggest thing in this game. Literally.
There's just one completely new power-up in the whole game, and even that's a combination of a 21st century Tanooki Suit and a Propeller Box; it doesn't even have an actual name to my knowledge, it's just called a flying squirrel suit, and it doesn't need a whole lot of explaining if you've seen how those two power-ups have worked in the last couple of years. The Mini Mushroom makes its "anticipated" comeback; this time, you can run on walls with it. Well, yippie-ki-yay. Yoshi turns up once again, on some very few choice occasions, but the game is littered with different-coloured Baby Yoshis that have some special abilities to help you out in some levels, on a totally random level of necessity. If you can carry the Baby Yoshi all the way to the goal, you'll gain an extra life. Isn't that swell? As if the game didn't shower you with 1-Ups already; seriously, the game is so unrewarding it hurts. With the exception of the final boss fight - that's "final", before a special world once again turns up to issue its very own assrape-class challenge. Ironically, the Bowser battle is once again great, and more innovative than the whole game altogether. The only innovative thing about the rest of the game is the addition of a fifth player for the multiplayer scheme, to aid the player with Boost Blocks, which are exactly what they sound like. What makes no sense as an idea makes even less sense when you realize that you'd do 99% better in the hunt for the main world campaign's Star Coins with the aid of a Boost Block player.

I'm outta here.


What you've got to understand once more is that New Super Mario Bros. U is not a bad game by any measure; it's just a huge disappointment, another aggressively recycled New Super Mario Bros. title faintly disguised as a brand-new game. Clearly, it was not made for adults to play, not to mention review. Alas, all of the articles I've ever read concerning this game shower it with praises, often leaving true masterpieces such as Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World coughing up the dust trail. I don't get it. I'm sad that Mario has to make his exit from the blog this way, but at least this time I know for certain that New Super Mario Bros. U is not the last game on my list. Just the last one for a prolonged while to come.

+ It's still New Super Mario Bros.

+ It's still New Super Mario Bros.

< 7.2 >

maanantai 12. syyskuuta 2016

REVIEW - Super Mario 3D World

GENRE(S): Platformer
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo, Brownie Brown
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: November 21, 2013

Let's imagine it's 1990. You have a handheld game out, called Super Mario Land. You have a series of previous major console titles called Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2 (two of them, actually), and Super Mario Bros. 3. What should you call a game that would sound significantly "bigger" in name than a game called "Land", and a far departure from the previous series of games as well? The answer: Super Mario World. The year 2013 - same question. You have a handheld game out, called Super Mario 3D Land. You also have a series of games called New Super Mario Bros., New Super Mario Bros. Wii, New Super Mario Bros. 2 and New Super Mario Bros. U. What should you call a direct, major sequel to Super Mario 3D Land, all exclusive to your superconsole that is still (arguably) missing its definitive Mario title? The answer: Super Mario 3D World - of course. As expected, Super Mario 3D World is just as superficially attractive as its 3DS predecessor. It's exciting, beautiful, and fun, through and through - and undoubtedly a great multiplayer game, a partial throwback to the Western version of the classic Super Mario Bros. 2 and a partial 3D adaptation of the New Super Mario Bros. multiplayer scheme. Perhaps a tiny bit of Super Mario 3D's most basic magic is lost on the big screen. In good news, Super Mario 3D World has more than a few tricks of its own to almost immediately compensate for the vaguely lingering lack of passion, and finally prevail over its predecessor.

The greatest pipe dream you've had in a long time

Mario, Luigi, Toad and the Princess find a broken glass pipe from somewhere near the castle (why can't any of their nice little walks be just NICE LITTLE WALKS?). Mario and Luigi do quick work on the pipe and a faerie called a Sprixie appears, to inform them of a situation at Sprixie Kingdom; apparently Bowser has finally given up on the thought of conquering Mushroom Kingdom and moved on to this beautiful, but mild and meek world to enslave its citizens and rule as its tyrant king. Mario and Luigi join forces with Toad and the Princess for the first time since their journey to Subcon, and head to this wonderful new kingdom to give their long-pestering arch nemesis the boot - in a-3-a-D-a!

Super Mario 3D Land was a really, really, really good game - but everyone didn't like it. Many high-profile critics questioned the game and its importance to the Mario franchise, or platformer gaming in general. It would seem that the necessity of its fancy 3D effects was under the heaviest fire, which is where I give up on understanding some people - Super Mario 3D Land was not only a fucking great looking game, the 3D effects were awesome and fun, the controls were no less than perfect, the game was an early milestone of all things the Nintendo 3DS could do, and most importantly, it was such a refreshing game after the couple of stale (still good) New Super Mario Bros. titles. Those critics spent all the praises they had in store on the New Super Mario Bros. series, and went all "meh" on Super Mario 3D Land. I don't get it, I simply don't. Then came Super Mario 3D World. A few of those same critics loved this game, they said that now the 3D thing truly shines, and the core gameplay is so much better on the Wii U. Again, I don't get it - of course I had to get this game to see if there was any truth to the game being notably better than Super Mario 3D Land. Well, it's not a NOTABLY better game (I will defend that first one to the end), but then again, it's not any worse either. Actually, it's a pretty damn good game, to put it blunt it's one of the greatest Mario games ever made. It's basically Super Mario 3D Land on the big screen, with a very strong emphasis on multiplayer, something the original game didn't have at all, plus some other fine treats that never could've been accomplished with the original game, including one special level design which even made it into its own spin-off game! I'm once again leaving the multiplayer mode's greatness for someone else to figure out; I'm in for the single-player experience. Which is both everything and nothing like everything you've ever experienced before - and it's fucking grand.

The look of the game is a bit of a hitch if you start to reflect on it too deeply. The stomach-turning, semi-set-piece 3D effects of the previous game are omitted from the way of a more straightforward 3D game - but, with more levels primarily viewed from your character's back (including "racing" levels) and a "free" camera to compensate; at any time, you're allowed to change the camera angle to the left or right by one tick, and there are certain levels where you can rotate it into any direction you wish. It's no less than the whole idea in those levels; I'll talk about 'em later, 'cause they're kinda awesome. The basic gamepad's special features such as touch screen controls and the microphone are utilized, thankfully in the least possible amount. (I'm old school.) The soundtrack is a gigantic mix of the brand new stuff, and stuff heavily remixed from ages past, as far back as Super Mario Bros., and our version of Super Mario Bros. 2, to which a lot of the game's core gameplay owes to. All of it's in the exact right spirit, it's awesome. Even the New Super Mario Bros. theme song in its few appearances stays fresh here, despite sounding like a broken record in its original habitat.

Super Mario 3D World is much lengthier and richer in content than Super Mario 3D Land. While that doesn't exactly come as a surprise, the cynical expectation is that the game recycles a lot of the 3DS game to gain more berth. Not at all - while almost all level design elements from the previous game are carried over, the levels are all new. They're fun - for the absolute most part - and full of all new stipulations, ideas and concepts that'll make you giggle like a little girl. (Assuming you're not actually a little girl. If you are, stop reading. Lots of gratuitous f-words coming. Oops, might've slipped some in already. My bad.) Unlike the previous game, the game is also NOT linear. There are lots of secret sub-bosses and even whole levels "hidden" (not very well) within the worlds, that you aren't required to beat for a simple completion of the game. Completionists will get their chow with eight worlds for the normal round, and a whopping total of FOUR secret worlds, all of their unevenly divided levels spammed with three Stars and a Stamp - kind of like Nintendo's answer to Trophies and Achievements - to collect. Plus, of course, a true completionist will go for the best flagpole score in each and every level. The completionist who's so awesome he's kinda awkward goes for completing each and every level with each and every playable character in the game. Oh yes, hah-hah: Super Mario 3D World is fucking huge.

The return of the awesome foursome, plus one

The special talents of each player in the field are exactly the same as they were in Super Mario Bros. 2. Mario is an all-around character with good basic talents, Luigi can jump higher than everyone else and has good (and sometimes very useful) hangtime, Toad runs the fastest, and Peach (Toadstool.) can use her skirt to float for a short (and sometimes VERY USEFUL) period of time. After you've conquered the main game, as well as a few levels in the first extra world - a Star World based on Super Mario Galaxy, so you probably know what's coming - Rosalina is added in as a fifth playable character. She can spin around without the help of any power-ups to defeat enemies.

Oh shit. Back in Limbo.
All the power-ups from the previous game are there, and Mega-Mario/Luigi/Toad/Peach from the New Super Mario Bros. series makes a few appearances. The new prominent power-up of the year is the Super Bell, which morphs the character into a cat, capable of climbing walls and executing two different lunge attacks from the ground and from the air. It's a quite cool power-up once you learn to use it, and you'd better, since it's so frontline stuff for this game. The game isn't complete without a whole series of strange, gimmicky power-ups we've grown to expect in the times of New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy. You'd best see the bulk of 'em for yourselves, but I've just got to mention the double cherry from Super Mario Bros. 2, which creates up to five clones of your character. While the game sometimes borrows level designs even from Mario Kart and Luigi's Mansion (I just can't bear to play the Ghost House levels with anyone else but Luigi, since they're clearly designed with him in mind), you'd not expect it to borrow from Mario vs. Donkey Kong. You can beat the clone levels without being able to bring the clones to the goal, but very often you need to do your best to keep them alive throughout the ordeal to be able to collect all the hidden stuff. It's a neat gimmick, but very often hellishly frustrating.

The Mystery Houses are no longer just sporadically respawning blocks for you to gain a lousy extra Star every once in a while, but challenge rooms with as many as five to ten Stars for you to collect in gradually toughening speedrun challenges, related to some core element of gameplay. Nothing too merciless, but properly challenging fun. The boss fights are so much better and there's more diversity to them than on the handheld. Boom-Boom and Pom-Pom make a few appearances, yes, but they're accompanied by several sub-bosses including new ones such as Brolder and old favourites such as the Hammer Bros., a strange being calling himself King Ka-Thunk, Bowser's new henchmen Hisstocrat and Motley Bossblob, and of course, the big man himself, who you'll be facing a total of three times. Bowser won't show up in flesh after the main world campaign, probably because the final fight with him is kinda hard to outdo. It's quite possibly the best Bowser brawl we've witnessed in any game since Yoshi's Island, or at least shares the top spot with New Super Mario Bros. U. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Speaking of Bowser, you need 170 Stars to enter the final level of the campaign; although that sounds like a lot, it's not nearly as brutal as some of the requirements in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Even on my first round of the game, I had 192 Stars in tow by that point.

One of Captain Toad's easier exploits.
Now for the most special level design of the game, which went on to become its very own spin-off title due to the popularity of these levels. Remember the cowardly and borderline narcissistic Captain Toad from Super Mario Galaxy? Well, he's back for adventure in puzzle levels that (allegedly) haven't been influenced by Fez at all, but they sure do look like it. Here you are stripped of all the basic elements of a platformer; there are enemies, but you cannot hurt them. You cannot even jump. You need to find a way to each of the levels' Stars doing nothing but move around in a limited 3D space you can freely rotate up, down, left or right, sometimes taking advantage of the enemies' M.O. to get to your goal. These levels are really hard to explain beyond the simple fact that they're absolutely magnificent, great changes of pace at the exact right places - challenging enough for those who aren't that good with puzzles, and at the very least relaxing for those who are. I might dig up the actual spin-off some day, not sure if I'd pay for a whole retail of this schtick, but I'd sure like to give it a go.

Super Mario 3D World is pretty much a perfect Mario game, but it has some bumps. The controls are not, relatively speaking of course, quite as perfect as 3D Land would allow us to expect. Many levels do not only support the use of certain characters, they are lingering on the border of being absolutely impossible to beat without the use of certain characters - not really common in the main campaign, thankfully so. The game only saves single Stars and Stamps when you actually complete the level they're found from, which basically means you'll have to grind a ton of levels, including boss levels, from the beginning to the end, several times before you're sure to have found everything, whether it depends on a mandatory character or a mandatory power-up. There are even some random cases where the game practically finishes the level for you before you've even noticed you're missing something. Grinding is always a fucking chore, imagine having to play every Star World level AT LEAST twice, all the while remembering that there's far worse shit coming up after you've conquered that world.


I was making excuses there. The truth is, I've not left a Mario game this happy since I played Super Mario 64 for the very first time 20 years ago. Super Mario 3D Land restored my faith in the Mario franchise, Super Mario 3D World capitalized on it after a briefly bland start, and then some. While the game does at first look a little too ordinary in contrast to what we expected from a major adaptation of Super Mario 3D, it begins throwing hard punches at us at a rapid pace in about 20 to 30 minutes, and doesn't let up 'til the fat turtle burns. It's been too long since I said this about any game, let alone a Mario title; Super Mario 3D World is one of the best video games ever made.

+ The level design is all about one surprise hit after another
+ Having multiple characters to play (around) with in a Super Mario Bros. 2 kind of set-up is a hoot
+ Having us dig for secrets is truly the game's greatest strength for a change (although grinding's not that fun, see below)
+ The Captain Toad puzzles
+ The Mystery House challenges
+ The boss fights - including a very different, but mega-epic Bowser brawl

- Feels a little flat at first, but grows stronger by the minute
- Lots of forced grinding and backtracking, especially for completionists
- A few control issues, nothing too notable

< 9.6 >

tiistai 6. syyskuuta 2016

REVIEW - Super Mario 3D Land

GENRE(S): Platformer
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: November 3, 2011

The creation of Super Mario 3D Land began with the most obvious and logical thoughts; the Nintendo 3DS didn't have any launch titles starring Mario, or any big plans for a Super Mario or Legend of Zelda title to be outed in the handheld's first months. Since this was a handheld that boasted on fancy 3D graphics, the new game was a near-obligated 3D title, but there was no way the most recent Super Mario Galaxy series could be ported to the Nintendo 3DS with full steam. So, Mr. Miyamoto once again had a fantastic idea. How about they made a 3D game that played out like a perfect cross between New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy, a 3D game that 2D Mario fans could just as easily access, one that would serve as a sort of "bridge" to those old-school gamers just getting into 3D Mario? As always, Mr. Miyamoto had a fine nose for this stuff - but this time, he outdid himself. Super Mario 3D Land is basically New Super Mario Bros. 3DS - just lightyears ahead of that series of games, no less than one of the best Mario games ever made. Especially considering the system it was exclusively released on.

Mamma mia, this is awesome!

The most severe thunderstorm in Mushroom Kingdom history strips the rigid Tail Tree of its leaves; these leaves being what gave Mario his flying ability in the jurassic times of Super Mario Bros. 3. Bowser quickly catches on to this mishap and sends his troops to gather the fallen leaves and bring them to him, so he can bless his army of miscreants with the magical powers of these leaves and once again capture Princess Peach, with hopes of finally being able to defeat Mario with the powers he once used to defeat him. Good thing we are here to prove the stubborn old turtle wrong.

I don't think I've ever used this word to describe a game before, but there's no way around it this time: Super Mario 3D Land is an extremely "attractive" game. The box art is pure Mario. Classic enemies, classic power-ups and Mario himself appear in a fancy, colourful 3D setting that really tells a lot more about the game itself than you could imagine. The back cover blurbs "Classic Mario Action with a Modern Twist!" and "Jump and Dash Your Way to the Goal Pole in an all-new adventure" sound like blurbs for New Super Mario Bros., but looking at the screenshots, we're more reminded of a Super Mario 64 of the new age. An image of a game that plays out like a classic Super Mario Bros. game, but looks like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy (and is named after an 80's handheld classic) seeps into our minds. What's even better, that's exactly what the game is like. Super Mario 3D Land is as close to a new Mario classic than a new Mario game could possibly get, and very likely the singled-out best game the Nintendo 3DS has to offer.

It's classic from the start.
Pitting Super Mario 3D Land against the two prominent strings of platformers of the 21st century reveals that the game truly is a cross between New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy, although the most essential of its core influences come from the 8- and 16-bit eras. The game is even more straightforward than any iteration of New Super Mario Bros., actually straight as an arrow - there are no secret exits or levels to be found within the confines of a single playthrough - but surprisingly it really doesn't matter at all. The worlds don't have any distinct themes; it's a total mash-up of different experiments - presented just like the different galaxies in Super Mario Galaxy - usually dealing with the fanciest 3D effects and the most diverse level designs the 3DS could handle. Well, at least the game stays fresh all the time! No excessive abundances of anything, that's good. A human heart can only take so much ice and water. In exchange for the game's humongous dose of diversity, the boss fights leading up to the once again epic final battle against Bowser are gradually toughening versions of the same battles against fake Bowsers, or Boom Boom and/or his female counterpart Pom Pom. Not a big problem. The game doesn't have any big problems, actually, beyond some usual technical problems with the 3DS' game screen itself if you're going at the game in full 3D - which have probably been all but harvested when playing the game on a New 3DS.

The NEW Super Mario Bros. you always wanted

Our princess is probably in another castle.
Making a cross between two completely different spheres of Mario, the developers have to be a little careful - judging from the whole cavalcade of power-ups they came up with in the 15 years (or so) leading into Super Mario 3D Land, being careful's good. NO Mini-Mario, NO Mega-Mario. Just Mario, Super Mario, Fire Flower-smelling Mario, Starman-humping Mario, and then the couple of new ones, which are God damn great. Tanooki Mario ain't exactly new, it's just heavily modified from what it was in the oh, so classic Super Mario Bros. 3. Since the levels' design is limited to what you see on the screen - very unprofessionally speaking, but I trust you know what I mean - you can't fly using the Tanooki Suit, but you can hover for a very generous amount of time after a high or long jump. The Tanooki Suit is an irreplaceable life saver in many different situations. The Super Guide of the game is no longer an automatic CPU yawn-fest; failing a level a set amount of times gives you a chance to beat the level yourself in a golden Tanooki Suit, wearing which your only weakness are the bottomless pits. If you can't handle the levels even with the help of this power-up, a P-Wing appears to send you straight to the end of the level. I know it sounds easy, but here's the best part: once you get to the secret worlds of the game, these items no longer appear, and trust me: most of those worlds are SHIT with a capital S. They're basically the same designs brought over from the main game, but heavily modified and stipulated, the heaviest stipulations being the constant appearance of the oh, so pleasant company of the Cosmic Clone, reprising his role from Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy 2, and sometimes, a 30-second time limit to finish the level at hand. Although the main game is quite easy - yet comfortable as hell - keep in mind that to complete Super Mario 3D Land, you need to beat it three gradually toughening times.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm loving this.
The Propeller Box allows you to jump to great heights, and usually appears in some special - outright awesome - levels. Finally, the completely and utterly original Boomerang power-up is a blast. With this, you basically gain the power of the Boomerang Brothers who make their first appearance since Super Mario Bros. 3, if I remember correctly. The boomerangs have a long range, and can be used to collect items out of your reach, including Star Medals. Yes, the three Star-somethings in each level from New Super Mario Bros. are back, most of them hidden in plain sight on the first playthrough. You actually need these to unlock certain levels in each world, which makes them much more useful than in any New Super Mario Bros. game - the levels these trinkets unlock are some of the best and most exciting ones in the whole game. Be ready for some retro madness, as well as levels that generally put the 3DS' capabilities to the ultimate test.

Not one bad word, huh? Well, not exactly. Super Mario 3D Land is just that damn good; here goes, nevertheless. The first round is a bit short and easy, with the exception of a few strings of really difficult levels in World 6. The worlds that unlock after the first playthrough are not different enough to spark interest for a second playthrough right away, but the extra challenge is interesting. The third playthrough, well that's starting to feel like the game is outright bullying the player. The levels are still designed pretty much the same, but they're ultra-hard to the constant point of total frustration. ...Here I'm talking like that's a bad thing. Die-hard Mario fans eager for challenge will love the shit out of those levels.


Instead of starting it simple with New Super Mario Bros. when I first got the Nintendo 3DS and started to collect all the Mario titles I've missed during these years, I went straight for Super Mario 3D Land, 'cause it was just so damn attractive. I was most pleased to witness that the attraction is real. If you've long craved for a bridge, the smack middle, of the two graphical dimensions of Mario, you should go, get yourself a 3DS (preferrably the new one), and dig up Super Mario 3D Land. You will not be disappointed. This game is fucking awesome.

+ Looks and sounds delightfully perfect
+ The perfect cross between 2D and 3D Mario
+ Innovative and constantly surprising level design
+ The perfect atmosphere for a bridging title
+ Great tempo, great controls, great power-ups
+ The Bowser fight is one of the best in the best company

- The rest of the boss fights
- Three playthroughs is a bit too much for perfect completion
- Some problems with the game screen blurring up, probably fixed when playing with the New 3DS

< 9.4 >

sunnuntai 4. syyskuuta 2016

September updates

The first steps for the VGMania clean-up program have been taken. All the external links are removed for later replacement, and the FAQ/About Me section (The Story So Far) has been updated, and somewhat revamped. Feel free to check it out. The next two or three - maybe even four - reviews are scheduled for Tuesday night, so see you then.

maanantai 29. elokuuta 2016

R.I.P. Summer of 2016

Summer has ended. Winter is coming. [insert image of a dead Stark here]


A lot happened to me this summer. Some of it bad, some of it worse, some of it quite damn good. Either way, things that occupied my mind for extended periods of time. Summer is always a critical time for me, mostly because of my actual work. Lots of special stuff to sell brings lots of customers. What I'm trying to say is that after the massive reboot of this blog in spring, I haven't been able to capitalize on it. Yet.

I've talked plenty about what happens next, but none of those ideas are even near fruition. Designer's block has not been an exception, it's been a rule - a clockwork rule - for the past months. Luckily I've managed to clock in a couple of reviews, but a couple ain't nearly enough considering how excited I was about restarting this thing. However, just so we're clear, the Mario vs. Donkey Kong marathon wasn't supposed to last that long anyway - I have more games to review on that front, but I'll save them for later. For my own, and your sake - it's not healthy to take on dozens of games from the same franchise in a row. Trust me, I know. Once more, after three more reviews, the Mario vs. Donkey Kong 35th Anniversary Marathon is over. I'll stop when it's still fun.

So, as I was saying, the next three months are all about change. As I was reviewing different layout options last week, I realized that the biggest mistake I made when I rebooted this thing, was deciding on a thorough change all at once, with zero actual ideas for any part of it. So, it will be a gradual one instead. I'll start with the FAQ section - I've already washed the old one out - and by tomorrow night, you should be able to read a more comprehensive and up-to-date bio of yours truly, if you're interested in the man behind the "clusterfucks" and "rock hard controls". I'll then move on to work on the external links, and those which link to my own pages, I'll check that their respective contents are up to date as well. The reviews will once again change to the acclaimed Ups/Downs format starting with the next review. Uh, actually, a bulk of reviews will be heading your way next week, if not before - with at least two reviews which are totally apart from the previous marathon.

As for more marathons, do I have line-ups planned for ya or what? October's the time of Monster Mash as it always was - because of Halloween - and I've already got a couple of reviews written for it, kind of like to pay back for the couple of very short-lived Mashes of the past. I already mentioned The Legend of Zelda 30th Anniversary Marathon, but I'm still not sure whether I want to go at it now or in the distant future when Breath of the Wild comes out. Rest assured, though, it's coming - I've actually been dying to continue where I left off the last time. Never thought I'd say that, at least in public. It's hard to jot down the next RPG Time!, 'cause I'm not sure of the amount of spare time I'll have towards the end of the year. But, both Final Fantasy XV and World of Final Fantasy are coming VERY soon, and I'm playing about three J-RPG's in a very loose tandem on my 3DS. It's not impossible for an RPG Time! to rear its head before 2016's over. In addition, there are a couple of smaller "marathons" coming up very soon; the first one comes right after Mario vs. Donk... OK, just Mario, and the second one is part of the Monster Mash. What comes in between? Hell if I know. I'm going where the wind takes me. :) As a matter of fact, I do know. Sorta.

I made a promise to myself some time ago, that once I had rounded out my Legend of Zelda collection with the two games that were missing - a little over TWO YEARS after buying the first one! - I would stop collecting games for as long as it takes for me to reach total financial security. You see, for the last seven years that I've collected games, even good paychecks have barely left me enough to eat after rent, after bills, and after feeding my inner monster. I have always lived on the principle that I have to get myself something special every month, just to remind myself why I go to work every day and motivate myself. For the last seven years, it's been a game or two. Well, this summer's done a real number on my bank account. Actually, that's a poor choice of words - there are no numbers on my bank account. So, two weeks ago I took the bull by the horns and fulfilled my promise. I bought the last two Zelda games I was missing - Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword - and declared that I will no longer make random game purchases. Anyone who catches me buying a game that's not already on my pre-order list, gets a twenty, no negotiation, until the time I publicly declare to have started collecting games again, which could be years from now.

Seven years is a long time; a 566-game long time, to be exact. Plus, I still have vast ROM libraries for several systems to punch through at will, so don't you worry about me not having enough to go on here. Actually I feel like I have more than ever, now that I'm finally focusing on playing my old games before buying new ones. Who knows what kind of gems I'll find? Or what kind of stinking heaps of overrated horseshit might've I missed during all this time? Time will tell...

...And that time is now.

sunnuntai 7. elokuuta 2016

REVIEW - Super Mario Galaxy 2

GENRE(S): Platformer
AVAILABLE ON: Wii, Wii U (Virtual Console)
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: May 23, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy, as we all know, spread like wildfire in the Wii community. Not only was it named one of the greatest video games of all time upon arrival, it also served as Nintendo's one defining underdog asset at the peak of the last great console war. After its release, Mario creator and developmental manager Shigeru Miyamoto quickly commissioned an updated version of the game to capitalize on its success, and gave the team a year to complete Super Mario Galaxy More. Its updates largely consisted of material that was cut from the original game due to time restraints and gameplay issues. As the game began to take shape, and as the creative designers seemed to come up with completely new ideas by the hour, the deadline of the game expanded by over a year, and it was decided that the game was to be a true sequel to Super Mario Galaxy instead of the intended re-release of the original. Upon its arrival - in the twilight of the original Wii - Super Mario Galaxy 2 was hailed as yet another masterpiece in the exact vein of its predecessor. This one, I missed completely, as even none of my friends were active Wii gamers at that point of time. Super Mario Galaxy proved to be a positive surprise after a lousy first impression from years back, let's see how this one fares now that I've got all the bases covered. It was an update, sure, but were all the black spots that plagued the original truly harvested?

Dinosaurs in outer space

Effectively retconning the events of Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Galaxy 2 begins with the Princess once again inviting her favourite plumber for cake (yup) during the Star Festival, a time when comets fill the skies of Mushroom Kingdom, raining down Star Bits. On his way, Mario finds a stray Luma, who immediately takes a liking to Mario and tags along as Bowser, having grown to enormous size after munching on Grand Stars, attacks the castle and snatches the Princess. Afterwards, the villain escapes to the center of the universe. Mario takes to outer space, and finds a stranded planet, which turns out to be mobilized and serving as a starship. The ship's owner, Luma mechanic Lubba asks Mario's help in rescuing his crew along with the usual Grand Stars and the Princess, and in return, he offers his ship.

I hadn't even started with Super Mario Galaxy for the second and definitive time, when not one but two of my friends were already telling me that Super Mario Galaxy 2 was so much better. Well, I'm a completist, I didn't really care all that much, but granted, these sudden praises, as well as the surprisingly good taste Super Mario Galaxy left me with, got me all pumped up about Super Mario Galaxy 2. Firstly, what we've got here is one gigantic game - there are over 240 DIFFERENT Power Stars to collect in Super Mario Galaxy 2 (with 70 once again being the minimum to beat the game), 49 galaxies to explore, a serious multiplayer mode for those who care (whereas Super Mario Galaxy only had the daddy's little helper mode available for a second player), and a hell of a lot of secrets to unravel. Though, once again, most of these secrets are pretty much shoved in your face. Be that as it may, beating Super Mario Galaxy 2 will take a good while. Completing it... will not happen for casual players. I'll surely get back to the game's enormous difficulty level.

Here we gooooooo...
The game definitely looks and sounds the part of what is essentially an update - fucking fantastic. I always thought that design-wise, the original Super Mario Galaxy looked kinda odd. It had occasionally strange enemy and level design, it didn't really feel like a Mario game from time to time. Well, some of the aforementioned designs are up for reprisal in "Part Deux", but to compensate, we have nostalgic, innovative, mostly fabulous designs heavily inspired by some of our all-time favourite games in this franchise. Exploring new, recently unlocked galaxy belts is always a party; there's sure to be at least one galaxy in each world designed to blow your mind if you're a long-time fan. My absolute favourite level in the game spills it all by its name alone: Throwback Galaxy. A throwback to what? That's for you to find out. The music is even better than before. Koji Kondo and Mahito Yokota are joined by Wii Sports, New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart composer Ryo Nagamatsu, to work on a massive soundtrack filled with rehashed Super Mario Galaxy jive - those epic outer space adventure tunes we so kindly adored - new tunes, and a whole truckload of remixed stuff from days past, mostly from the original Super Mario World. Just one proper level into the game, we can see why.

He's green, he's lean, he's a digesting machine

Yoshi's back in the supporting role he's most famous and acclaimed for, and as the one key element that really separates this game from its predecessor. He's also a good key to start talking about the power-ups, since he's kind of like a power-up in himself; like all power-ups in the world of Super Mario Galaxy, he's only required for certain, occasionally optional, tasks to be completed. I was kinda frightened how Yoshi's core features would work using the Wiimote controls - the 3D setting, not that much, since I already had experience playing as him in the Super Mario 64 remake. You use the Wiimote to point at stuff to eat and press the B trigger; it's a solution worth tipping your hat for in most situations, in the most precise ones it's a bitch. When you're crossing a raging lava pit using Yoshi's tongue to swing from one connecting point to another, you'll wish you'd had a larger TV - it feels that not even 48" is enough to constantly register a connection to the remote.

Gee. It's Bowser. Oh my God.
Adding to the previous game's list of gimmicky power-ups, we have three more gimmicky power-ups which are only required in few choice situations in few choice levels - and of course, two of them in the final boss level (the final boss level for casual players, that is). First up is Cloud Mario, probably the most useful and easiest to use out of the three. This allows Mario to jump somewhat further by default, and also, to create up to three cloud platforms from thin air to stand on; the energy needed to create those platforms is refreshed each time Mario picks up another cloud. It's utilized quite neatly, and works like a charm. The Spin Drill allows Mario to drill through certain types of soil with his spin attack, to the opposite side of whatever rock he's standing on; to find secret items, solve puzzles or even fight bosses. Finally, the Rock Mushroom turns Mario into a devastatingly fast and destructive rolling rock. It's initially quite cool, as you can smash through all kinds of backgrounds and most enemies in the game - excluding Chomp - but just wait 'til you get to parts where you must actually steer the rock. There's no way to avoid witnessing these situations - time and luck will tell if you actually have to deal with them to boot. We're just a snap away from discussing that difficulty level of the game.

Yoshi has his own short set of gimmicky power-ups, and man, will you rupture a vein or two. The Blimp Fruit allows Yoshi to float upwards for a short spell. The Bulb Berry's a strange one, as it illuminates and "creates" platforms that otherwise aren't really there. The Dash Pepper makes Yoshi run straight forward like crazy, and he's even more of a bitch to control than Rock Mario, not that much if you're going for level completion, but God forbid if you're trying to actually do something in particular, like collect coins or a Comet Medal or something. Which finally brings us to that enormous level of difficulty critics have sometimes blasted the game for - as will I.

Yup. The bosses are huge.
In Super Mario 64, I never had any trouble of finding the 70 Power Stars I actually needed to complete the game. Of course, every time I went for the kill and set on a trip to find all 120 of them, I ended up crying my guts out. Finding the mandated amount of 70 Power Stars in Super Mario Galaxy was almost automatic for the any-player, as long as you had the will to explore, and unlock those secret galaxies. Well, if you're a casual player, you might just reach 50 Power Stars in Super Mario Galaxy 2. You'll really have to fight for the remaining 20. Let's start with the Comet Medals; each galaxy in the game holds one, and by finding a certain amount of these unlocks a Comet Challenge in some random galaxy of the game. The challenges are pretty much the same as in the first game: speedrun challenges and such. In this game, you simply MUST take part in them if you're going for the minimum amount of Power Stars to merely beat the game. You also MUST take part in other challenges that were made for not only 3D platformer veterans, but grand masters of the Wii control scheme, and hope for the best. You will think to yourself, that hey, maybe I can just collect enough coins and Star Bits to feed those Lumas, birth me a couple of new galaxies to explore, and collect the easiest Stars from those levels for compensation. Yeah, that's not gonna work. First of all, the secret galaxies in the game very often just have one easy Power Star - that's not enough to raise the total to the warranted amount. Secondly, the amount of coins and Star Bits those Lumas ask of you are preposterous. The ones that ask for coins, are almost without exception hidden in levels where it's either hard as fuck to collect coins altogether, or waiting at the end of very hard levels, where you'll have probably died a few times on the way, losing all of your coins. The ones that ask for Star Bits to chew on ask for such amounts, that you'll basically be forced to replay levels, preferrably the easiest levels in the game, to come up with such sums. That's not hard - that's boring. Even as an explorer by nature, I ended up having 60-something Power Stars when I reached the final threshold to Bowser's keep, having conquered about 99% of the "normal" challenges the game has in store, plus already a few "optional" challenges. Yeah, the game is hard. If I were a gambling man, I'd say it's even outright unreasonable at a whole bunch of occasions. As per usual in the Super Mario Bros. (and World) series, an extra world is unlocked after the initial ass-kicking is done; why not just give us one extra world to begin with... we could really use one.

Further adding to the difficulty are the controls, which are still not perfect, and make us fear all the new stuff this game has in store. Surprisingly it's the Nunchuk that seems to break more often than the 'Mote; Mario seems to either slow down, or stop altogether whenever you suddenly change direction in the middle of the most urgent run, and both Rock Mario and Dash Pepper-powered Yoshi are almost impossible to keep in some modest form of control. I've lost hundreds of lives in this game just because of the glitchy analog control and that alone. That's not an angry gamers' view, that's a fact which I've had other people see for themselves - people that would be happy to point out that I'm just a bitter, frustrated old gamer, and that there's nothing wrong with the controls. Since the quality of the controls at the very least is a flaw that the player can't do zilch about, "unreasonable" is pretty much the one word to describe Super Mario Galaxy 2...


...But, if only it were that simple. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is also, at its core, a very good and entertaining game, and slightly better than the first one. Hell, let's just say it: one of the best Mario platformers there is, at the very least of the few most recent generations. Whereas New Super Mario Bros. goes for the faithful recreation of the most classic 2D Mario set-up, Super Mario Galaxy does the same to the 3D schtick of Super Mario 64 (adding in the gravity mechanics, of course). Neither one of these arcs never hit the prime of their respective concepts, in my opinion; it was the actual cross (not just an occasional mash-up) between the 2D and 3D realms of the Mario franchise that hit the ultimate jackpot of these times. I guess that one's up next.

< 8.9 >