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


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.

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.


-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.


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:


     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

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

Price: 53.99

     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

     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

     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 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.

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.

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.)