Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: New Super Mario Bros. U


New Super Mario Bros. U

Wii U
November 18, 2012

"Same Old Mario Bros. U"





When the New Super Mario Bros. series debuted nearly eight years ago, Nintendo promised a classic and nostalgic look back at Mario's 2D platforming roots.  The first installment was received with great praise and sales; Nintendo's focus on nostalgia for its advertising worked and rightfully so.  The series offered classic sidescrolling gameplay with new power-ups and modern mechanics (such as the triple jump) and melded it all into a formula that worked.


With every installment that followed, the nostalgia moniker began to fade while the implementation of innovative ideas remained at a near stand still;  New Super Mario Bros. Wii offered four player cooperation and New Super Mario Bros. 2 gave the player the ground breaking opportunity to gather as many coins as possible.  While it did offer a lot more than 2 had, New Super Mario Bros. U left me with a desire for something more.  Much more.

Nintendo's key launch game for the Wii U, Mario U's biggest innovation is the utilization of the Wii U gamepad not for controlling Mario or any of the other players but for creating platforms and halting enemies for your friends who are actually having fun playing the game.  It's a neat idea if there are five people around that want to get in on some 2D Mario action but I cannot fathom why anybody would want to play in Boost Mode for any other reason than to just "check out how it is."  Boost Mode can also be used to help you out with all your speed running needs but good luck convincing your friend to sit down and waste time just so he could poke the gamepad to make useless platforms that you probably won't even use anyway because none of the levels are designed with Boost Mode in mind.


The core game revolves around a gripping tale of woe, loss, and redemption where Mario and friends cross fire, ice, and valley to overcome not just the hellfire Bowser inflicts but the doubts and darkness within the heroes' heart themselves.  JUST KIDDING! It's about rescuing stupid Peach again but this time everything looks like Super Mario World!

Actually the aesthetics in the game are really gorgeous.  The art style of the backgrounds show off the theme of a modern Super Mario World that the developers intended to achieve.  The levels, Accorn Plains and The Painted Swampland in particular, display a potential in creativity that I hoped to see throughout every aspect of the game.  Unfortunately, everything in the foreground and all of the character models look just like they were ripped out from the Mario Wii and glazed over with a shinier finish.

Despite all of my complaints, Mario U does give the player a solid platformer.  The final levels are tough especially if you're trying for a 3 star coin run (which is the only true way to play the game) and call for some quick thinking and tricky jumping.  I replayed Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World before getting my hands on Mario U and found the difficulty to be on par and at times even harder than those Nintendo classics.

New Super Mario Bros. U stays true to the Mario formula, perhaps too true.  The strategic platforming and nostalgic homages are held down by static innovation and it's apparent need to play it safe.  If you've never played a New Super Mario Bros. game is definitely worth a buy as it is, without a doubt, the best in the series but if you're looking for a unique experience that truly builds upon the classic side-scrolling foundation then you best take your hopes and dreams elsewhere because Mario U is just the same old Mario game you've been playing for eight years.


-----------------------------------------

Statistics:

Gameplay:
7/10
Reused mechanics and virtually nothing new brought to the table. The core Mario game remains solid.

Playability:
10/10
Feels just as great as it it always had. Wiimote waggling to spin jump has been put to a trigger input.

Camera:
10/10
Great panning in and out for visual emphasis and stays with the character throughout.

Fun:
8/10
Questionable cooperative play and reused gameplay mechanics but otherwise a joyful platform experience.

Lasting Appeal:
10/10
Plenty of extras collectibles to gain, secrets to discover, and new modes other than the single player to sink your teeth into.

Graphics:
7.5/10
The graphics look that they were copy-and-pasted straight from the Wii. The backgrounds are the only sign of artistic and graphical power.  The HD makes the game look more colorful and vibrant.

Difficulty:
10/10
The beginning world is very Baby Mode easy but the final few levels see it that you discover what true hell is.

Sound:
5/10

The memorable chimes and jingles are dragged down with uninspired tunes and awkward Mario vocals.

Flow:
10/10
The game won't halt or stop you on your way kick Bowser's butt.

RANK:  B


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Feature: The Musicians

I want to take the time to celebrate the musicians of the video game industry; the composers who give video games life and their unique vibe. I present to you three of the most predominant musical figures in the video game universe.  

Yoko Shimomura
Yoko is best known for her work at Squaresoft later Square-Enix but she has composed for many game companies including Capcom and Nintendo. Yoko is known for being able to capture both epic and cheery happy-go-lucky moments in JRPGs. And this Yoko totally didn't break up the most important band in history.

One of her earlier and most notable pieces is the Forest Maze from Super Mario RPG. It plays while Mario and his friends are searching through a forest full of enemies. It's a simple and catchy song which is why it is the most remembered from Super Mario RPG. There were other musical gems in the game, but Forest Maze is the what comes to mind when thinking of SMRPG music.

This piece is a great example of her talent. Taking Modest Mossorgsky's classical Night on Bald Mountain and giving it her own take of it. This song plays while fighting Chernabog [that crazy demon looking thing that destroys a poor village at the end of Fantasia]. This is one of the more unique songs in the game but it still sounds like Yoko.

Now this song is very representative of the Kingdom Hearts series. It is whimsical yet dramatic. Dark yet childish. Sinister Sundown plays as a battle theme in the beginning of the game. You start as a young boy, Roxas, who finds some sinister creatures are causing mischief in his home. These creatures, you learn, are causing havoc and destruction in worlds afar. This song very much suits these battles.

This is an example of Yoko taking something as simple as Bowser battling his evil impostor and making it sound way too epic for its own good. Classic Yoko. It sounds fantastic but in context with the game's cartoony style, it just doesn't fit but stands as a magnificent piece in itself.

David Wise
Wise is known for his ambient influenced very 'groove-able' themes for the Donkey Kong Country series. For the most part he composes for Rare and Nintendo, having given them the zany music you might find in Diddy Kong Racing or the cool and relaxing tunes of Donkey Kong Country. There's no way of knowing how many of his songs have been covered and uploaded to Youtube. I would bet that he is the most covered video game musician out there.

Even if you aren't familiar with his name [or not too keen on video games for that matter], odds are you've come across this tune. This song plays on the first level of Donkey Kong Country and acts like its theme throughout. The song shows a bit of how ambiance is used in his songs but the key element here is his use of percussion which stays dominant throughout most of his DKC songs.

This is definitely my favorite David Wise tune. The sound of what appears to be hammers slamming against mine cart rails flows with the rhythm of the song so well. The atmoshere that this song sends to the player is trance inducing. I have to admit, the first time I heard this song, I just let DK and Diddy idle for a bit while I took it all in.

This song wasn't including in the original DKC3 on the SNES. The original Stilt Village sounded way more campy. In 2005, it was changed to this gem. I would love to know why Wise decided to change the music for the level but whatever reason, it was a great idea. I love this song.

Koji Kondo
His name may not be as recognizable as his music but I'll bet that I could go to anyone walking down the road and they'll know his work. Kondo is the man behind some of the most famous tunes in video game history, including the Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda themes. That should be enough to make him the most respected man in video game music but Kondo has quite the resume of ear pleasing songs that span his entire career.

People often forget that Yoshi's Island is actually the sequel to Super Mario World. It is a solid game with music on par with the original. I don't know if it's the twinkling affect or the just the overall composition that sets the song apart from the rest in Yoshi's Island. Anything Yoshi related in the Mario universe has a certain sound to it (whether it be added bongos or drums in general) and I believe this is the most well composed one.

With the help of some friends and a live orchestra, Kondo helped bring Super Mario Galaxy 2 to life through music. Most of the songs are whimsical but this song is rough and tough. Kind of like most of the parts of the game. Hey, not all of the levels in SMG2 can be fluffy and fun. This song reminds me that I spent hours of pain staking platforming and perfectly timed jumps to get passed each level. The great music helped me from throwing the control out the window at times. (Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic game).

These are only 3 of the many talented musicians creating works of art for every video game being developed. Music is just as important as the graphics or gameplay and without it, some games would just feel incomplete. Here's to all the video game musicians out there who continue to caress my eardrum with angelic melodies!  I plan to highlight even more musicians in the coming weeks.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns


Donkey Kong Country Returns


Developed by Retro Studios
Published by Nintendo
for the Nintendo Wii
Released November 21st, 2010


Vintage difficulty replicated at its finest:


After 15 years, the world finally returns to Donkey Kong Country. Back in the 90's, Rare created one of the most influential and widely remembered video games with Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo. The DKC games would go down as the defining series of the 90's in the minds of most gamers. Three generations later, Nintendo along with Retro Studios decided to try and bring Donkey Kong and his fans back to the glory days. While Donkey Kong Country Returns may not feel like the Donkey Kong Country 4 fans had hoped for, it does bring a solid platforming experience all unto its own.

DKCR begins with an erupting volcano releasing an evil group of creatures known as the Tiki Tak Tribe. The Tikis use a serene melody to hypnotize the animals of DK Isle and force them to steal away Donkey Kong's hoard of bananas. DK and Diddy, immune to the Tikis hypnotic power, set off to rid the island of the Tikis and restore DK's precious bananas. Unfortunately, both King K.Rool and the Kremlins are absent from this story which is an omission that definitely lowers the nostalgic value.  While the Tikis do bring some character to the game, it just doesn't feel the same.

When looking for the nostalgia factor, it'd be wise to open your ears. The music is a blast of nostalgic bliss. The songs are remixed versions of mostly DKC1 songs. Remixes of old classics such as Jungle Hyjinx and Minecart Carnage sound great while the remix of Forest Frenzy with its arrangement of instruments actually sounds better than the original. It really is a shame that David Wise wasn't on board for the game but the title seems to hold up well with both classic and original tunes. I'd bet that Wise would be extremely satisfied with the renditions made to his masterpieces. When it comes to the sound effects, the new grunts that DK makes sound awkward while Diddy sounds too whiny, although it's not like you'll be paying attention to the sounds the monkeys make after those beautiful melodies hit your ears.

While failing to bring forth any nostalgic emotions as the music was able to do, the graphics are beautiful. The graphics have that cartoony look that only Nintendo can achieve. The silhouette levels, that take place during a setting sun and portray DK, Diddy, and the entire foreground in black with the exception of the glowing red of DK's tie and Diddy's hat, look absolutely stunning. It once again proves how Nintendo can compensate graphical power for pure creativity.  The jungles and oceans in the background are vibrant and feel just as alive as everything else in the game.  In my opinion, it would have been neat if they focused on old-school pre-rendered background visuals that the first three games achieved so well. The visuals remind me nothing of the first DKCs but they are still pleasing to the eye.

The controls take a while to get used to. There are two ways to play; with a nunchuck or with a sideways Wiimote. The nunchuck feels more appropriate as there is no way of getting out of shaking the controller in order to roll. With the sideways Wiimote, you'll just end up pressing 1 in hopes of rolling only to run right into an enemy or off a cliff not to mention how awkward it feels. The implementing of motion controls in this area seems very unnecessary. If Nintendo wanted to achieve the nostalgic feel that they had hoped for then they should have incorporated the use of the Classic Controller. I guess I just have it programmed in my mind to press B to roll, not to waggle a stick around.

New to the series are climbing on grass-covered walls and blowing wind. Blowing wind (holding down and shaking the Wiimote) is an unnecessary addition to the game as it just feels weird to slow down the flow of the game in order to blow a dandelion or a candle to get a puzzle piece. Climbing on walls is simple and adds a lot to the gameplay as it is pulled off so well. Looking back at the older games, I wish they would have implemented this technique back then. Ground pounding with the motion controls seems more appropriate and feels really satisfying flailing your arms as DK smashes down a stone block.

Multiplayer allows both DK and Diddy to play together simultaneously. If one player gets lost behind, he will teleport back to the other player. If one player dies, he can either press a button and come back to life immediately at the cost of a balloon or he can wait until the other person grabs a barrel and releases him. When riding Rambi or controlling a barrel, both players have the option to control so it comes down to either losing control and dying or to allow one player to sit back and watch.

It's a shame that Diddy cannot be played in single player. In single player, Diddy helps out by giving DK two extra hearts and by using his signature jet-pack to stay afloat for a short period of time. In multiplayer, player 2 takes control of Diddy. Diddy is a blast to play as. He's quick and nimble when he needs to be and not only can he use his jet-pack but he can also use his peanut shooter while ground pounding. It really is unfortunate that the game does not allow you to switch between the two in single player just like the good ol' days

Those who shun the Wii for its plethora of casual games be warned; this game is tough! The difficulty isn't a result of bad controls or poor game design, it's sheer ruthless gameplay that tries incredibly hard to prove that the player is no match to the games superior level design. You'll be surprised how many times you'll go to Cranky Kong to replenish your stock of life-giving balloons. You'll be needing them more than you'd ever imagine. Beating the game is tough enough, but achieving 100% (including collecting all of the K-O-N-G letters and puzzle pieces) is a true challenge. The levels are designed brilliantly to provoke split-second thinking and strategy. Despite no familiar faces like Gnawty the beaver, the bosses are unique and require more than just the normal 3-Hit-Pattern to stop these beasts in their tracks. DKCR is a great throwback to the old SNES games that took you many days, many tantrums, and many headaches to beat.

In the end, Donkey Kong Country Returns doesn't rely on bringing the players back to the SNES days but instead gives us a brand new adventure with familiar faces that is of the same caliber as the first three games of the series. DKCR gives us a must-have experience tied together with tightly woven platforming along with cheerful graphics and groovin' music. If you want a game that will really put your gaming skills to the test look no further than Donkey Kong Country Returns.




Fun:  4/5

Playability: 3/5


Camera:  3/3


Lasting Appeal:  3/3


Graphics:   2/2


Sound:  2/2


Difficulty:  2/2


Variety: 1/1


Flow:  1/1


RANK:  A-



Friday, August 17, 2012

The V Files: L is Real 2401


On the first post of the V Files, which takes video games myths, legends, and lore and analyzes them, I've decided to go with one of the most famous (or infamous) legends of video games. The L is Real 2041 legend.


In Super Mario 64, there is a courtyard which contains a small fountain or pond. In the pond is a statue much like the one you see to the left. It's in the shape of a star with scribbled words below it. Fans everywhere have created such a ruckus over these words that in turn created a mystery and legend almost as big as the game itself (Well, maybe not THAT big.)



Many people who played the game didn't even notice the texture. Others thought it just read "Eternal Star" referring to the final obtainable star in the game. But then, there were the few that took it to a whole new level. They claimed that the awkward spacing of the letters couldn't possibly spell out the word "eternal" and the "star" looked more like a number.

They claimed it to read "L is Real 2401"

But what does this mean? L is universally understood to refer to Luigi, who does not appear in Super Mario 64. Hopefuls everywhere took it that the cryptic message was proof that Luigi could be playable in Super Mario 64 . . . or perhaps in another game altogether.



Could Mario's green clad brother be behind this mystery? All theories point to Luigi being the subject. In fact there was a picture [below] in Nintendo Power that showed Luigi standing right behind Mario just outside of Princess Peach's Castle. Although it turned out to be a badly Photoshopped hoax, it nonetheless fueled the flames of Luigi's existence in the classic 64 title.





Here are a few possible explanations that fans have come up with to explain the odd text:

Luigi will appear in the game after 2,401 coins are collected.
This theory was debunked quickly as many gamers who have collected every single coin in the entire game still come up a couple hundred coins short of 2,401.



The text refers to Luigi's appearance in Paper Mario

Luigi appears in Paper Mario which released on the Nintendo 64 about five years after the release of Super Mario 64. People claim that the 2401 refers to the date that Paper Mario released which they claim is February 4th, 2001. There are a few things wrong with this explanation, however. First is the length of time between SM64 and PM. It is highly unlikely that Nintendo planned a whole generation ahead for a single game let alone boast about the appearance of a secondary character. Second, Luigi appeared in many other games such as Mario Kart 64 and Super Smash Bros. before the release of Paper Mario. And finally, Paper Mario was released on February 5th not the 4th.

Others
Many people have put various Latin lettering, Chinese, Russian, and Japanese characters to fill in the markings of the plaque but the only things that do fit are in fact "Eternal Star" and "L is Real 2401" Not much has been determined about the scribbles below the legendary text as it is much too blurred to make any real claim about it.



Most Logical Conclusion:
The blurry text on the plaque may be nothing at all just referential images to take the
place of words, much like the lettering on every other sign in the game. If anything the
programmers just tried to make the blur spell out "Eternal Star". People just made it into much
more than it was supposed to be allowing Nintendo to run with it and put it again Ocarina of
Time to further increase interest. Oh, Nintendo, you so curazey.




Game Booster: Greased Lightning


Here's an explanation on how I beat Green Hill Act 1 on Sonic Generations in under 1 minute.  Beating this level in under 1 minute satisfies the Greased Lighting Achievement/Trophy.  The video depicts me playing on the PC version, and while I can confirm this method works on the 360 version as well, I have not played the PS3 version so I can only assume that it's exactly the same (why wouldn't it be?).  The video also lags a lot so beware of that too.  This is a sure-fire way of beating the level in under a minute.  There are certainly other ways that you can experiment with but this one is just to get you passed the goal in the necessary time.

Awards:




-Greased Lightning Achievement/Trophy (10G/Bronze)


The Method:
-As soon as the level begins, hold the spin dash (instant - X on 360, Square on PS3, A on PC) for half a second or so and let go.  Keep going until Sonic stops and when he does, spin dash again until you hit a ramp. (Note: If Sonic continues to roll in a ball even after losing speed, simply jump and as soon as you land spin dash to the ramp.)

-Run forward until you get to the middle of the rosebush in the background.  When you do, jump while still holding forward.  You'll hit the Crabmeat, and if done right you'll continue on to hit another Crabmeat and then a Buzz Bomber until you finally end up on the high-ground. (Note: while bouncing on the enemies make sure to hold forward)

-When you land from hitting the Buzz Bomber, spin dash through the loop, and get ejected by the spring.  When you land from the spring, Spin dash again into another spring that will bounce you off onto another stretch of land.

-As soon as you land, Spin dash but as soon as you hit the Check Point, jump, and with you momentum you should land and higher patch of land.  Keeping the momentum, jump again and you should make it to a bridge.  (Note: the grassy area and the edge of the bridge will collapse if you do not hurry causing you pursue the lower and much more slower route)

-Spin dash from the bridge and in one boost you should be able to make it through a spiral and roll into a tunnel slide (which boosts your speed once again)

-After the tunnel slide, you will be launched onto a crumbling grassy platform.  As soon as you land jump onto the next platform, and then jump onto the yellow spring which will send you up to a wooden bridge.

-Spin dash here and you will be launched in the air.  You should automatically hit a Buzz Bomber and land safely onto ledge where you will continue through a loop and spiral down a small rocky peak.

-As soon as you hit the check point, Spin Dash and you'll end up rolling into a series of springs that will eject you upward.  It's very important that you land and the tiny area of land before the Buzz Bomber, so try to slow down your speed in the air to adjust your fall.  From this area, jump on the Buzz Bomber and bounce off of it and onto a spring that will send you up onto a grassy stretch of land.

- As soon as you land, Spin dash then jump and you'll be propelled through the air onto piece of land, hit the spring and you'll end up safe ground again. (Note: This is the trickiest part of the level.  If the you jump too soon or too late after the Spin Dash, you'll end up falling down into the slower route costing you precious time.)

-When you land, Spin Dash through two loops. Right after the second loop, Spin Dash through the spiral.  As soon as the spiral ends, Spin Dash again and make it through the goal!







Sunday, August 12, 2012

Random: This is why DMC is going to suck.

Here goes Capcom ruining another franchise yet again, let's see why DMC is going to break more hearts of dedicated fans:

An in-depth look at the dumbed-down gameplay:

Apparently hitting something 3 times is  worth an SSS rank (and  half of the boss' health)

That's a smirk worth a punch or two.

CRAAAAWWWWWLLLIIIINNNNNNG IIIIINNNN MYYY SKIIIIIIIIIIINNNN!!!!!!


Dante, Original Character, DO NOT STEAL







DMC is a joke, step-up Capcom

Feature: Joining the PC Master Race

So after many years of hearing how gaming on the PC is beyond comparison to consoles and how the "true" version of every game released is the PC version, my roommate and I decided to invest our time and money into making a rig capable of putting our years of console gaming to shame.

We had a budget of about 1,000 dollars to use on whatever we needed for our PC.  But when came to anything PC, we were illiterate.  So basically we had 1,000 bucks and no idea on how to use it, what we needed to buy, or what would make the best combination of parts to create a great gaming rig for considering our budget.  We both spent a week doing research.  We looked up countless websites that gave in-depth descriptions of each major component and what they do.  We asked a bunch of forums on their opinions of the best set-up and we looked each brand, type, and compatibility of each part.  After much search we decided on this set-up:

CPU:

     Intel Core i5-3570 Ivy Bridge 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Turbo Boost) LGA 1155 77W Quad-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 2500 BX80637i53570

Price:  214.99



RAM:
     CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model CMZ8GX3M2A1600C9B

Price: 53.99




Motherboard:
     ASUS P8Z68-M Pro LGA 1155 Intel Z68 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard with UEFI BIOS

Price:  119.99





Hard Drive:
     SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive


Price:  89.99




Video Card:
     EVGA 01G-P3-1561-AR GeForce GTX 560 Ti FPB (Fermi) 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card

Price: 219.99




Case:
     APEX PC-389-C Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case


Price: 16.99




Power Supply:
     OCZ ModXStream Pro 600W Modular High Performance Power Supply compatible with Intel Sandybridge Core i3 i5 i7 and AMD Phenom

Price:  74.99




Monitor:
     Hanns-G HL229DPB Black 21.5" 5ms Widescreen LED Monitor 250 cd/m2 Active Contrast 30,000,000:1 (1000:1) Built-in Speakers

Price:  129.99





We bought all of the parts from Newegg.com and considering shipping, promotion codes, and sales, the whole deal came out to about 920 dollars.  Other things such as a keyboard, mouse, a desk, and Windows 7 will be acquired once the equipment actually arrives.

After a few days of eager anticipation, we finally received the parts in the mail! We immediately opened up the boxes, reluctantly refused to play with the packing peanuts, and began assembling the PC.  We followed this guy's method in putting it together.  It was all very easy although we did get stuck on a few stupid parts like how we couldn't fit the video card into the motherboard (we tried and we tried and on one random attempt it fit.  We still don't know what we did differently.)  

After booting our not so genuine copy of Windows 7 Ultimate , I installed the motherboard and graphics card programs, connected to the internet and everything was ready to go.  I imported my Steam account from my laptop (gaming on a laptop, I know) and installed a few of my games.  Half-Life was the first game I tried out.  Not exactly the most appropriate game to test out the graphical power of our new machine, but it did prove that it ran perfectly compared to playing the laggy and glitchy version on my laptop.  

I would eventually download Team Fortress 2 and Just Cause 2, and I was amazed at how fluid and gorgeous everything played and looked. Sonic Generations blurred by in a beautiful haste just as older games such as Fallout played flawlessly.  I now believe what everyone said about how consoles hold back the graphical potential of the industry.  I also downloaded a bunch of emulators including Dolphin which plays Gamecube and Wii games in 1080 HD.  I have to say that playing Wind Waker in beautiful HD is breathtaking. 


 The PC is definitely an investment worth making if you're serious about video games.  Each port I played looked much better than its 360/PS3 counterparts and while a keyboard isn't always the greatest when it comes to control, there are many different styles of usb controllers out there to fit your needs.  With a console, you are limited to what the companies offer, but with a PC there are no limitations; play anything, mod anything, do anything.  I see myself devoting a ton of time with this machine, so here's to a glorious two years of high-end performance.


















Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My Vision: WWE All-Stars


WWE All-Stars
Developed by THQ San Diego
Published by THQ
for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, PSP, Playstation 2
Released March 29th, 2011

In the first edition of My Vision, I take the over the top WWE game and turn it into something that I, as a wrestling fan, would have been proud of. WWE All-Stars began as a step in the right direction. It gave fans the ability to pit current superstars and legends against each other in a digital squared circle. It brought the fans an almost cartoonish, larger than life interpretation of the WWE programming that we knew and loved as children. It also brought back the retro gameplay and health meters featured in wrestling games of the past. It should have been the greatest video game tribute to the WWE ever released but in the end it didn't quite meet up with the hype.

What Went Wrong?:
So, why didn't this game meet my expectations. All of the factors were there that would have made All-Stars an absolute blast; only if they were fleshed out a bit more. There were a limited number of matches to perform in, a boring and unnecessarily long story mode, and most importantly repetitive and sometimes awkward gameplay. I should have loved All-Stars but instead I'm constantly thinking of how I would have made the game much much better not only for myself but for any wrestling fan.

The Graphics:
I loved the action figure like, anatomically defying muscular character models of All-Stars. Aside from the poorly detailed fans, what I didn't like were some of their animations. Why would Kane show of his physique by doing push ups on his downed opponent? Or why would Jake Roberts, or The Undertaker do it for that matter. It's like they gave everyone a set of victory poses and didn't think of the superstars that would be performing them. I would have had unique and signature victory poses; Randy Orton heading to the top rope with his arms spread out, Undertaker doing his signature darkness kneel, Hulk Hogan trying to listen to the fans cheer him on as if he were deaf.

Seriously, why don't any of the wrestlers have unique victory poses!? I'm baffled by this.
It would be a nice touch if they had included numerous different titantrons. For example, they could have Edge's current titantron depicting him as the Rated R superstar but also a titantron showing him with Edge and Christian from the past or even one of the Brood. Of course, this would really only apply to the Superstars as some of the Legends didn't even have titantrons.

Alternate costumes. There should have been way more alternate costumes than what is offered in the game (most of which being palette swaps of their main attire.) I loved how they had unmasked Kane and old masked Kane but how about more. How about half masked Kane or the first Kane with one arm exposed. How awesome would it be to have a black and white Hollywood Hogan alt costume. Just take every important persona the wrestlers went through and put them in the game. My eyes are watering from the pure excitement of seeing The Ringmaster Stone Cold and the American Badass Undertaker (with customary bike entrance).

Now for the arenas. The number of playable arenas in All-Stars is simply pitiful. If you're going for over the top, cram as many venues as possible. Get all of the versions of the Raw and Smackdown! arenas, as many notable PPV venues such as Summerslam, Royal Rumble, or Survivor Series (at least), and every Wrestlemania arena to date. Hey, maybe even throw in Nitro or Bash at the Beach (or even the Hammerstein Ballroom of ECW fame). Now that's thinking of the fans.

Damage wear on the wrestlers and the ring itself would be an awesome touch as well.

Sound:
Much like the titantrons, why can't we have various versions of each wrestlers theme music. How about including both of John Cena's theme songs "My Time is Now" and "Basic Thuganomics." Or maybe Triple H's "Blue Blood" and "My Time" instead of just "The Game."
Now I understand that you can't get all of the actual wrestlers to play themselves but at least make them all sound different when they're being given a submission. They could even hire people to play late legends such as Andre the Giant or even use archived sounds.

Gameplay:
I would keep most of the wrestling intact. I would maybe increase the room for reversals (not by much). It may also make the matches more intense if a player that has no more health left to be able to recover up to one full bar over time. This would make the gameplay more varied instead of the simple signature, signature, reversal, signature, finisher that plagues almost every match.

Story mode is a mess. Story mode consists of ten matches where you end up fighting either Randy Orton, The Undertaker, or DX. It's awesome how after every few matches they show a cutscene of the respective "final boss" giving a speech about how your journey to the WWE Championship (or tag championship) is futile. Unfortunately, the "journey" takes forever with too many uninspired matches that are either rushed single matches or triple threat matches. There's rarely a cage match thrown in. Instead of the whole fighting for the belt idea, I thought it would be best to take each superstar and go through their career. They would have a set matches, against set opponents, and then face a designated final opponent. Taking Rey Mysterio for example, the first match could be a singles match from his days in the AAA (or a no DQ match in the ECW if there is some legal issues). This would take him to high flying matches against Eddie Guerrero in the WCW, all the way up to his triple threat match at Wrestlemania 22 against Randy Orton and Kurt Angle where he won the World Heavyweight Championship. After each match there would be live action clips of his career that would introduce each match to come. Or how about the Heartbreak Kid with his first match in the late 80's to him winning the WWE title against Bret Hart to his final match against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 26. It would bring a much needed boost of fan service to a game that is in designed for it.

It would be a nice touch to be able to reverse Finishers if the opponent has a Finisher ready to go. Each special would have its own unique animation (Such as Stone Cold catching Shawn Michael's leg from the Sweet Chin Music and spinning him around for the Stone Cold Stunner.)

And for God's sake, more damn matches. I want ladder matches, table matches, TLC matches, Hell in the Cell matches, Iron Man matches, Bra and Panties matches (if we would actually add some Divas), Elimination Chambers, Royal Rumble, First Blood matches, Casket matches, inferno matches, buried alive matches, ambulance matches, I Quit matches, Last Man Standing matches, hardcore matches. COME ON GET WITH THE PROGRAM THQ!!!!!!

I would keep the Dream Matches just add more  wrestlers than the small amount that is present in the actual game.

I have so many ideas for All-Stars. I absolutely love wrestling and I have the greatest respect for all of the performers who put their bodies on the line when they enter the ring. To me wrestling is a physical art form that cannot be mimicked. It's like a live action comic book with larger than life human beings playing the roles of villains and heroes in (sometimes) exquisite story lines. There's a reason why I've been a fan of wrestling non-stop for 13 years. The performances, the music, the writing, the characters, and the atmosphere are combined in such a way that I have yet to find a media form that can match its electrifying feel that the WWE and other wrestling promotions have given their fans for generations. Alas, my dreams for the perfect wrestling game stay within my head (unless THQ or the WWE wanted to hire me then I would be more than happy to quit whatever McJob I have and go work for Vinnie Mac.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Sonic Colors (Wii)

Sonic Colors


Developed by Sonic Team
Published by Sega
for the Wii
Released November 16th, 2010

Reaching for the Stars:

When it comes to the Sonic franchise, speed means everything.  The reason why the Genesis games were so revered was because it gave gamers a sense of speed never felt before.  When converting from its 2D origin into 3D, this vital element was lost among all the new gameplay gimmicks implemented, cheesy character additions, and try-hard story-telling.  Now, in Sonic's odyssey through space, he has finally regained what was lost to him almost a decade ago.  Sonic Colors revives the long dead franchise and sends it in a glorious new direction that devoted fans will appreciate and admire.

If you take the best parts of Sonic Unleashed, fine-tune them, and add a bunch of colorful alien abilities then you'll end up with Sonic Colors.  When you begin the first level, you'll instantly gain a sense of haste, something that Sonic Team has attempted to find for over a decade. The capability to boost by collecting Wisp bubbles adds even more agility to the already supersonic experience.  Not only did they find that perfect level of heart-pounding speed, they created a game that flows incredibly well and has enough variety in its Wisp abilities to never allow room for a dull moment.

In every level, Sonic has the option to use different Wisp abilities that alter the gameplay dramatically.  Amidst the thrilling rush of each level,  Sonic will be able to shoot faster than light with the White Wisp's Laser, burrow underground with the Orange Wisp's Drill, and shoot up to the stars with the Red Wisp's Rocket, among many others.  With each new Wisp unlocked, the game offers more and more ways to blaze passed a level.  Although, the game is painfully short (you'll beat it in under 5 hours), Sonic Colors offers a stunning amount of replay value.  You'll spend hours going through each world again and again trying to figure out the right Wisp combination in order to obtain the five hidden red rings or to achieve S rank.

There were a few controlling quirks that had me thinking they could have done a better job with the control scheme.  There are forced sections in certain levels that has Sonic running straight forward making the player move him left or right to avoid enemies or objects.  They designated the analog stick for this maneuver but because you'll already be holding the stick up to run, it makes dashing right and left a little tricky as Sonic will either refuse to move or will move twice in one direction.  Another forced section has you braking while turning in order to drift.  This actually feels great it's just a shame that you aren't able to do this any time you'd like.  Drifting would have really come in handy during some sections that don't designate it.  The option to use the Gamecube controller along with the Classic controller gives some leeway to players who aren't comfortable with the default Wiimote controls.

Even boss levels in Colors give the player a sense of speed as Sonic is must chase after warping Space Ships and take them out with homing attacks or Wisp abilities.  The bosses, although entertaining, are interesting at first but they begin to feel rehashed and overused.  There are three different boss styles that are slightly altered to be played in all six major worlds.  It would have felt more complete if each world had a boss unique to every planet.  I won't gripe too much about it as the final boss more than makes up for this flaw and instantly made the list for one of my favorite boss battles of all time.

Sonic Colors gives longtime fans of the Blue Blur a charming story full of humor and spot-on voice acting.  With beautiful, vibrant and (needless to say) colorful environments that perfectly blends with the high levels of breakneck camera blur mixed with another amazing soundtrack, this installment gives everybody a reason to love Sonic once again.  Sonic Colors plays like a Sonic game should; fast-paced, intuitive, and exhilarating.


Graphics:  2/2


Sound:  2/2


Playability:  5/5


Lasting Appeal:  2/3


Fun:  4/5


RANK:  B+ 



Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: Sonic Colors (DS)

Full Review:
Sonic Colors


Developed by Sonic Team & Dimps
Published by Sega
for the Nintendo DS
Released November 16th, 2010


Sonic's Truest Colors:


Like his life long mustachioed rival before him, Sonic takes it to the stars and gives Sonic fans something new and unique with Sonic Colors. Everyone's favorite (or most tolerated) hedgehog has had some trouble reliving the glory days of the past by either attempting to rekindle the elements of his 16-bit era (Sonic 4, Sonic Advance) or by taking him out of his element all together and putting him in a type of game that's simply weird or unnecessary (Sonic Riders, Sonic and the Black Knight). Fortunately for gamers everywhere, Sonic Colors breaks the streak of awful Sonic games by combining high speed platforming with innovative game design to create Sonics greatest adventure since the good ol' Genesis days.

Let's get the story out of the way first since I know that absolutely no one plays a Sonic game for its ever so intuitive story telling. Dr. Robotnik, being the generous psycho-genius he is, decides to create an intergalactic amusement park to make up for all of his past sins. Sonic and Tails, suspicious of their arch nemesis, check into the matter only to find out that, sure enough, old Ivo is stealing energy from a group of aliens called Whisps in order to create a mind control device. Sonic, along with the help of the Whisps, must now stop Dr. Robotnik and put an end to his treacherous amusement park for good.

The Whisps give Sonic plenty of new power maneuvers to utilize on his journey, which sounds a bit off putting to old school Sonic fans but actually offer an absolutely fun experience. Of course, it wouldn't be a Sonic game without the mindless speeding and dashing through miles of exotic levels and spin homing badniks to pieces and trust me, there's plenty of it. The main game plays like a charm with only minor physics errors such as air dashing when you mean to jump and vice versa.

After every world or so you gain the powers of new Whisps such as boosting, rocket blasting, fire booming, drilling, etc. By gathering energy from enemies or trapped Whisps, Sonic can boost with Y or transform into any of the other colored powers with X. The game greatly utilizes these powers by making the player perform certain energy maneuvers in order to complete a level (although some levels give the player the option of using the moves or just speeding to the finish.) Whether you're fire booming your enemies to oblivion, boosting at top speed through the level, or drilling the boss badnik to death, it's a fun experience that adds a lot to Sonic's worn out gameplay.

Of course, we can't forget about the classic special Chaos Emerald stages. In these special stages, Sonic runs through a half-pipe (very reminiscent of Sonic 2) as you try collecting as many colored orbs as possible before Sonic makes it to the finish. Colors utilizes the stylus in these stages which is a blast aside from the occasional stylus-to-screen lag. The biggest problem I have with the Chaos Emerald stages is that they are way too easy. In most other Sonic games, it would be unlikely to complete your first run of the game with all seven chaos emeralds, but Colors is an unfortunate exception as it is rather unlikely that you won't be snatching the emeralds before the end.

The main game itself is incredibly easy and can actually be completed in literally, one sitting. I would mark it down for this grueling flaw except that Colors offers so much replay value you'll be spending hours and hours trying to get S ranks on every level, finding secrets in each level with the new powers you obtain, collecting all of the star emblems, and finding all of the hidden unlockables. Not to mention just trying to complete a few of the games many side missions will have you shaking your DS violently for hours. I suppose it's a better idea to have these time attacks, enemy & Whisp hunts, and ring collecting missions not mandatory. They're challenging; which is nice but I just wonder to myself why the actually game is humiliatingly easy while the missions create sudden difficulty spikes.

The one thing I hate about every Sonic game is the hedgehog's voice. It's just too damn annoying. I thought I had all I could take with his whiny, high pitched voice in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. When I booted the game up and prepared myself for the opening dialogue, I prepared for the worst. I was shocked to find out that I wasn't annoyed at all with his voice. Sega actually found a guy (Roger Craig Smith) who could provide a voice to Sonic I can actually listen to. In fact, all of the voice actors do a pretty good job and that's a definite plus in my book.

The music itself is corny. I'm not too fond of the opening track or much of the music but there were a few tunes that seemed melodiously out of place which had me tapping my foot. The sound effects are the best part, though. The booming blasts, the crackling fires, and the awesome "Burn!" or "Rocket!" screams Sonic makes before transforming are, dare I say, cool.

The graphics are gorgeous, vibrant, and colorful. The backgrounds are beautiful as are their animations. Everything seems to jump off the screen. The replacement of sprites with 3D character models are a pleasant surprise. It works very well. The biggest problem with the visuals is the use of the duel screen gameplay. Both screens are used to play; with Sonic switching between both during certain areas of each level. Sometimes, my eyes follow Sonic like magic and swiftly switch between screens (which feels awesome) but other times my eyes stay on one screen while Sonic speeds far into the other. It's a small annoyance that can cost you all of your collected rings.

Sonic Colors offers gamers a Sonic experience like no other. The new gameplay offers so much that it will make you wish the actual game was more than five hours long. Colors not only gives Sonic fans the okay to wear their Sonic shirts and backpacks with pride again, but it also reminds gamers everywhere how great Sonic was and potentially can be.




Graphics: 2/2

Sound: 1/2

Controls: 5/5

Lasting Appeal: 2/3

Fun: 5/5


RANK: B

















Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

Full Review:
Sonic the Hedgehog

"Can't Go Fast"

Developed by Sonic Team
Published by Sega
for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Released on November 14, 2006


If there is one franchise that had such an incredibly dramatic fall from grace, it would be Sonic the Hedgehog.  From his glorious days spinning around on the Genesis to his iconic Adventures on the Dreamcast, Sonic had never been stopped dead in his tracks until this atrocity was brought into existence.  This game, to put it simply, is bad.  Nearly everything about it is either broken, not fun, or doesn't work.  To properly dissect the problem that is Sonic 2006, we're going to have to analyze the major mechanics that plague the Blue Blur's first run in the seventh generation.

Sonic 2006 plays like a broken down version of Sonic Adventure.  The Adventure games were in no way perfect but they were far from broken.  The first time playing through Sonic Adventure was fun despite losing its luster over time.  The first time playing Sonic 2006 was not fun and will, without a doubt, become worse with time.  The game constantly switches off between seven members of the cast along with the annoying and horribly portrayed newcomer, Silver the Hedgehog.  With seven different characters comes seven different ways of playing the game, unfortunately none of them work as well as anybody would hope.

Now don't quote me on this but I'm going to make a bold assumption that Sonic levels are meant to be fast.  I suppose the Sonic Team didn't get the hint  after fifteen years that slow and steady doesn't win the race in a Sonic game.  With this game, you lack any sense of control.   When speeding through an area or dashing on a wall, one slight flick of the control stick and you'll run right of the ledge.  Despite having the natural urge to run at super sonic speeds, the only way to ensure you'll stay alive is to take your time.  There are rushing sections where Sonic runs straight forward and it's up to the player to move him around and jump when necessary much like the special stages in Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  However, unlike Sonic 2, the controls are frustrating.  Sonic's movements are so sensitive, one tap of the analog changes Sonic's angle much more than anticipated and Sonic runs faster than you can fix a mistake.  If Sonic runs into a wall he loses his rings but will still flail forward at the same speed only to get hit again and lose a life.  This creates a major difficulty spike where all of your lives can be lost if you do not use the utmost precision.

The Knuckles and Rouge levels are slow which means better platforming, unfortunately they don't offer much  else to the gameplay.  Tails levels are both slow and control awkwardly.  You're able to fly around but it's next to impossible to control Tails while he's in the air as he'll move so sporadically that platforming becomes an imprecise mess.  To top it off he can only stay in the air for a couple of seconds before becoming tired and falling, usually to his doom. Amy offers a very unnecessary stealth feature by going invisible, undetectable  by enemies.  It's too bad that defeating the enemies will take you much longer with Amy's Piko hammer than it would with any other character.  Blaze plays just like Sonic except with the homing attack replaced with a much less accurate spinning attack that will certainly send you careening off a level.

Shadow's levels are the most interesting in that it brings the most variety to the table, the only problem with it is that it's all too redundant.  Shadow plays just as Sonic does except that Shadow can kill enemies, that require multiple attacks to defeat, in one swift combo.  Interspersed between running phases you will be forced to ride in vehicles that accomplishes two things for the game ; to slow down the flow of the game and to waste time.  Shadow's infamous motorcycle returns and gives him the ability to move at the exact same pace except now he has the ability to shoot bullets which will rid the enemies in the same amount of time as his homing attacks do.  The buggy is only required once, every other time it is useless and a much better idea to just continue the level on foot.  The glider and hovercraft could have been scrapped from the game altogether.  The scenes that they are required are short, slow, and require no skill.

Silver is the most tolerable of all the characters.  He is slow so you can focus on platforming much more, especially with his ability to hover making accidental falls less frequent.  Silver can use his psychokinesis to make objects in the environment move, such as a log hanging from a tree can be used as a pendulum to either propel Silver forward or to break massive objects in his way.  He can also take a hold of crates and rockets and send them flying at enemies.  Taking control of these objects is easy, it's throwing them that's the problem.  You'll often find yourself flinging the item off a cliff or throwing it at an entirely different enemy due to the absence of a lock-on system.  Later on in the game you will learn how to stun enemies allowing you to kill them in a single hit.  Of course, in a game full of halting flaws, Silver's gameplay is no different.  Silver has these sort of cup & ball mini phases which stops the flow of a level so you can spend twenty minutes trying to "psyho-slap" a giant ball across an area without having the ball fall down a wrong hole.  You also have a limited number of hits to get the ball in the hole, although I'm not entirely sure if it's based on hits, time, or both because the timer on the balls seem to just count down whenever they feel like it.  I couldn't fathom how they could take the best levels in the game and put such a time waster that absolutely ruins the pace of the level.  Even when the pace is slow to begin with, they somehow found a way to slow the game down to a comatose state.

Every other Sonic game has a good understanding on how to keep up a good pace; slow when required, fast every other time.  Each of these drastically different styles of gameplay were always separate, allowing you to prepare for a change of pace.  Sonic 2006 has a nasty habit of stopping the game right in the middle of all the action and forces the game to slow things down.  You'll be rolling around at the speed of sound as Sonic, going through bumpers and getting zippers, and without a moments notice you become Tails and everything that seemed decent with the world suddenly falls apart.  That's honestly how I would describe it.


The level design is far from clever.  Every level is straight forward with only a few, if any, different routes to take to reach the goal.  Some require no thought at all; just a few platform jumps, some killing of enemies and presto, you're at the goal.  Although, there are three different stories you can play through, it only means that you will be playing through each level three times with only a few minor differences.  I would have accepted maybe the same levels with different routes or areas, but no they are the exact same thing in each story.  It just seems lazy on the developer's part.

The camera, unsurprisingly, is sporadic, uncontrollable, and will cause you death any chance it gets.  The first thing I noticed about the camera is that it wasn't inverted.  I prefer my camera controls inverted so I scrolled through each of the menus but there was no such option.  NO OPTION FOR CONTROLS!  Not even to invert the camera.  That is just simply inconsiderate.  I was legitimately offended by the developer's gross lack of consideration.  So, I'm forced to trudge through the entire game getting use to the camera controls, losing countless rings in blind effort.  The camera also has a mind of its own.  It will focus solely on bosses leaving you entirely out of the picture.  You'll be moving, trying to avoid attacks just to fall off the edge because you had no idea where you were.  The camera will also follow a quick moving boss.  The camera will change so quickly that your character will instantly change directions and fall off the stage.  But that's not all, the camera will also get stuck behind walls, zoom in and out rapidly, and sometimes even go black.  Yeah, the game will go blind and you will die.

Speaking of bosses, they're not good either.  Besides the horrible camera, Bosses tend to either drag on too long or be excessively difficult.  Bosses should never have infinites but Silver does.  If you're in the wrong place, he will grab you, throw you, then before you can get back up and get some rings, grab you again, throw you again, and kill you.  The bosses cause difficulty spikes not based on your skill but broken game mechanics.

Reminiscent of Sonic Adventure, the city of Soleanna acts as a hub world between every level.  In Soleanna, there are extra missions to be completed and items to be bought.  The citizens of Soleanna stand around doing nothing all day except to give Sonic and his friends useless info or mundane tasks to complete.  All of the mini-games consist of jumping through loops or beating a certain number of enemies.  There really is nothing else to do in the city besides waste time.  One mini-game had me talk to man who said that one soldier knows how to access a certain area and he told me to beware that two other soldiers who will tell lies.  After going on and on, the mission started but I accidently pressed the conversation button on the same guy and the mission ended.  Apparently he was the liar and knew the whereabouts of the secret area.  I got an S Rank.  It's this moronic level of dispassion that caused them to add redundant side attractions to an already deteriorating game.  Had the items needed to complete the game were hidden within the stages, the hub worlds could have been scrapped entirely.  Instead we are forced to wade through uneventful and dull side missions.

If it wasn't enough to have broken game mechanics, the game itself is buggy and contains many game killing glitches.  I've experienced enemies that will sink through the floors making it impossible to kill them.  This would be excusable except it ONLY seems to happen when defeating every enemy in the room is vital to level progression.  I end up having to start from the last check point thus losing a life.  Beware also that the game will kill you if it feels like it.  When battling a boss, I hit its weak point and flew back to safe ground in the usual Sonic fashion.  However, instead of landing in the field, I landed on top of a search tower.  Instead of allowing me to fall back down to the field, the game decided to fade to black and start me back over with one life missing and a boss that was back at full health.  It's important to stay cautious when playing this game and always expect a game breaking glitch to occur at any moment.

Not only is the gameplay a total loss but the graphics are not up to par.  Even though this game was one of the first of its generation it doesn't cover up the fact that this game looks like a bad Sonic Adventure texture mod.  The textures are bland, the models are choppy, animations are over exaggerated, and the levels appear unfinished.  The most unforgiving of all aspects is that there is pop-up.  Yes, pop-up in a game made for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  I also found the art style unappealing.  Sonic Team tried to go for a realistic look with the townspeople and the city which is in direct conflict to the cartoony and vibrant look of Sonic and his friends.  Even Dr. Eggman lost his animated look to a more realistic (and horrifying) take.  I know that graphics aren't everything but after trekking through a level, it would have been nice to see some decent looking visuals as some sort of pitiful reward.

The only positive thing that's possible to say about this atrocity is that the soundtrack is phenomenal.  I can confidently say that music was the only aspect that kept my interest afloat.  In my opinion, Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 has a perfect soundtrack.    Each stage had two or three versions of a song that had me constantly wondering how such musical talent could have been wasted on such an awful game.  Composers, Senoue and Ohtani, definitely deserve to have their work portrayed in a game much more befitting of their talents.

With long loading times, a very short story mode, flawed mechanics, atrocious voice acting, and awful visuals, Sonic the Hedgehog proved to be the point of absolute zero for the Sonic franchise and a shining example of how not to make a video game.  At this point, it's up to Sega to take this blemish, learn from their mistakes, and work their hardest to make Sonic the Hedgehog a credible name in gaming once again.

RANK:  F

Fun:  2/5
Playability:  2/5
Lasting Appeal:  1/3
Graphics:  0/2
Sound:  2/2