Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sonic Colors Review

Sonic just might have the most interesting profile of any video game character out there. After starring in five all-time classic platformers in the Genesis era, the quality of his games started to slide: Sonic X-Treme for the Sega Saturn was a cancelled project that was a main cause to its downfall, and the Dreamcast Sonic games, while enjoyable at the time, have not aged well at all. But things really went downhill starting with Sonic Heroes in 2004: the focus was starting to separate from Sonic and towards his underdeveloped sidekicks. In 2006, Sega released an unfinished trainwreck of a game simply called Sonic the Hedgehog, at which point most people lost their faith in the hedgehog completely. Sega realized how awful the game was, and released Sonic Unleashed in 2008, which was a step in the right direction, but was hampered by some awkward design choices. But in 2010, Sega finally got it right. After releasing the good Sonic 4 for download services, Sega unveiled Sonic Colors for the Wii, the best Sonic 3D Platformer ever and the best Sonic game in 16 years.

Sonic Colors is a 50/50 mix between 2D and 3D Platforming sections, and many different modes of control. Set inside a giant interstellar amusement part, some sections are intricate single-panel platforming sections (admitedly the weakest part of this game), long stretches of land, and overglorified quick-time events (more fun than it sounds). This balance is pretty tight: no section really overstays its welcome, but nothing feels underutilized either. The same can be said about the biggest part of this game, power-ups. A first for the Sonic series, Sonic can temporarily turn into multiple forms, including a spike ball that acts like the Spider Ball from Metroid on crack, a blue cube that turns certain markers into blocks, a rocket that blasts you high into the air, and, my personal favorite, a laser that bounces rapidly off walls and kills anything that comes into contact with it. The variety of worlds in this game is also well done, with the ability to play them in almost any order you want to. From a candy-filled wonderland to a starlight estraveganza to an interstellar aquarium, it's not just the usual fire-ice worlds that have done to death in the Mario games, a strength the Sonic series has had for a long time. The game even has a 2-Player sidequest, but while enjoyable, have some scrolling-death issues in multiplayer and pale in depth to the levels.

Challenge-wise, this game has it good. While you will run into some cheap deaths, the challenge is pretty fair and can set most people off. It's also a game for people who have quick reactions, and if you don't have this attribute, this game will teach you about it. If you're really stuck, though, you can set on a navigator, where Tails tells you how to beat the tricky parts. The Acts are huge and have 5 Red Rings hidden in them, acting as the main collectables in the game. You can also try to go for S-Rankings in each levels, which is the real test for hardcore players.

There's no questioning it: this game looks gorgeous. When you go onto some of the automated sections, take some time and oogle around the environments: they are incredibly well-done and detailed, Sega skipped out at nothing. From the cutscenes to the character models, everything looks good. Speaking of cutscenes, this game's ones can be pretty cheesy, with Sonic spouting some little puns and Eggman's robots providing comic relief. They're not the greatest things in the world, but provide a nice change of pace, and the voice acting this time is tolerable (thanks to Sonic's cool new voice actor and only him, Tails, and Eggman appearing). The game's soundtrack is also incredibly good, yet another stable of the franchise. Ranging from smooth rock, trumpet blasts, soothing piano tracks, and more, it's a shame this game doesn't have a sound test feature in it. Frequently appearing in the background are Eggman's PA announcements, and you should take the time to listen to them, they're genuinely funny.

So does this game have problems? Unfortunately, it does. There are some forced platforming sections that come right after high-speed sections, majorly slowing down the action, the boss battles are pretty dissapointing (bar 1 of them), and the Frenzy Wisp is just terrible to control in a 3D plane. Thankfully, these problems can be majorly overlooked, seeing that Sonic has faced MUCH worse issues than this.


GAMEPLAY: While it has some rough edges, Sonic has finally found 3D gameplay he's comfortable with. 9.0
GRAPHICS: Absolutely brilliant, tons of attention to detail put in. 10
AUDIO: Enjoyable as well. 9.5
Overall: Sega did it, they actually did it: they made a 3D Sonic game that can stand toe-to-toe with the Genesis games. Though nowhere near as legendary as those games, Sonic Colors is definitely worth a buy and, along with the upcoming Sonic Generations, proof that Sonic is far from dead.

9 Rings out of 10

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pokepark Wii: Pikachu's Adventure Review

There's no denying that the Pokemon RPGs are amazing games. But with every popular franchise comes the inevitable spin-offs, and Pokemon has had lots of them. Some were good (Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Puzzle League), but some were abysmal (Hey You, Pikachu!, Pokemon Channel). This new spin-off title, Pokepark Wii: Pikachu's Adventure is a treat for hardcore Pokemaniacs.

Before we start, some background information. Pokepark was an actual place that was open in Japan for a part of 2005. It was pretty popular, but not many people outside of Japan got to experience it. Pokepark Wii is nothing like the actual park, mind; mostly because actual Pokemon roam around the virtual one. You are a Pikachu who has been guided by Mew to the Pokepark, which is missing the Sky Prism pieces. You gain these items by beating the area leader's minigame, 14 in total. These activities range from a 100-meter dash, a vine-swing challenge, a jet ski-style race, a boxing challenge, and more. The best of these minigames is Bastiodon's Block-Bash, a Breakout/Arkanoid-style game with lots of little twists. Rhyperior's Bumper Burn also stands out from the crowd, with its bashing madness. The racing game is repeated way too many times thorough the game, though, but with minimal changes. The two flying minigames should also have better controls, too.

In order to succeed at these activities, you can't do it with Pikachu alone. By wandering around the Pokepark you see other Pokemon strolling around. Talk to them and they ask you to partake in a friend challenge, which is either a game of chase, a battle, a fetch-quest, or a quiz. The battles are especially fun and they show you what it would be like if Pokemon was an action RPG instead of a turn-based one. Win these challenges and they become your friend, allowing you to control them during the minigames. Each Pokemon is very true to their personalities, and you're bound to find someone you like in this game. The game also includes RPG-like stats, which, when trained upon, allow you to run faster, shoot larger Thunderbolts, etc. It's just so much fun to electrocute these adorable creatures.

The presentation is pretty good, too. The graphics are nothing extra-spectacular, but they get the job done. Control can be a bit wonky, though. You hold the Wiimote on its side, but it doesn't always lead to great controls because you're walking around a 3D world; I often found myself locked into a position where the camera couldn't turn. Sound is also okay, too. The Pokemon use their anime voices instead of their screechy cries, which is a positive and a negativ: some Pokemon are cute, while some are so damn annoying it's not even funny.

Gameplay: It's a mixed bag. Some of the events are boring, while some are really fun. 7
Graphics: Nothing too amazing, they work out. 7
Audio: Again, nothing that amazing. Some of the Pokemon voices are questionable, though. 6.5
Overall: Right now, this game is almost always priced at $50, so I advise to wait on this one. But if you are a Pokemaniac or like cute things, this game is right up your alley.

6.75 Mudkips out of 10.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Donkey Kong Country Returns Review

In 1994, Nintendo released a revolutionary game on the SNES: Donkey Kong Country. The gameplay itself was, admittedly, generic; but the game made true waves in its graphics department. It used the most powerful technology on the SNES to move wire frames on-screen, virtually creating "3D". Looking back, these graphics are extremely primitive, but at the time were startling. Now with consoles able to produce amazing graphics on the fly, Retro Studios (developers of the highly-popular Metroid Prime series) decided to revive the DKC series, and the result is something that far outclasses its SNES grandparents.

Donkey Kong Country Returns changes a lot of staples of the franchise from the get-go, though. The main villains are no longer the tired Kremlings, but new drum-inspired Tikis. They hypnotize all the animals on Donkey Kong Island to gather all the bananas possible, which leads Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong to go and stop this ridiculous mess once and for all. The plot is told by humorous and often-interactive GC scenes, with preposterous setups and other crazy moments.

Donkey Kong still has the same "weighty" feel to him from the SNES days, but his jumping and acrobatic prowess have drastically improved. Instead of having small, very weak hops, Donkey Kong now has the precision leaping of his plumber archnemesis. Ground-slapping and Rolling is now delegated to a quick flick of the Wii Remote, and it's comfortable and precise. A second player can join in for co-op, too, though relegated to Diddy Kong. The little ape is much more agile, and gains a bonus boost from his rocketbarrel, though doesn't have the same "power" feeling as the bigger ape.

In a Retro tradition, the environments and stages are ridiculously well-designed. From classically-inspired levels to sun-bathed oceans that make everything feel like an Ipod commercial to a beach infested with pirates to the crazy mine kart levels, no idea feels overused or underused. The bosses are also great in design, too. Excluding the first and sixth one, their patterns are actually difficult to completely figure out on the get-go, and they provide a great challenge, a rarity for platformers.

Another staple of the SNES games was their legendary difficulty; this is carried over in DCKR. Unlike the original games, though, the challenge level never feels cheap or unfair; you always feel like you can beat it. The new Rocketbarrel levels are a true testament to this: they have easy to understand controls, but have a sky-high challenge level. Each levels also features the staple KONG letters, and the new Puzzle pieces. Finding and obtaining them is a true challenge, and they unlock great bonus features, including the Retro-manditory Art Gallery, which has beautiful hand-drawn artwork.

Graphics-wise, this game lives up to the SNES testament of delivering the best 2D graphics possible. Donkey Kong himself shows a great deal of emotion, from facial ticks to fluid movement. The music is also professionally done, with stylish remakes of classic DKC songs.

So what doesn't work? Well, the new blowing function (ducking and waggling the remote) slows down the action a bit, playing Wii Remote-only doesn't work out well, Time Attack can get VERY annoying, and the game can be a bit frustrating for less-experienced gamers, though there is a Super Guide mode that works much better than in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Overall, though, this monkey still shines.


Gameplay: Still as fun as ever, and vastly spruced-up from the originals. 9.5
Graphics: Staggeringly good, with an astonishing attention to detail. 10
Audio: Well-conducted tunes will have your head bobbing in no time. 9
Overall: Donkey Kong Country feels like a true fulfillment of its SNES predecessors, and is another showcase that the Wii is the new system for amazing 2-D platformers. More fun than a barrel of monkeys.

9.5 Banana Coins out of 10

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pokemon Black and White Review

Pokemon has always been a massively popular franchise: 15 years since the Japanese Red and Green, and the series is still going strong. But as the years have gone by, the franchise has lost some of its luster, due to Game Freak's refusal to do any huge changes. But this is different: Pokemon Black and White is like GF's slap-in-the face: this is the largest change of the game in Pokemon history, and it definitelly paid off.

Now I'm not saying that the Gen 4 games were bad: quite on the contrary, I enjoyed them a lot. But once you play this game, there is simply no going back.

Pokemon Black and White starts off like any other Pokemon game: waking up in your house in the Unova Region, you get to choose from the 3 starter Pokemon (The speedy and defensive Grass-type Snivy, the powerhouse Fire-type Tepig, and the all-arounder Water-type Oshawott), and then build a team from there to beat the 8 Gyms and then the Pokemon Leauge. This may sound simple enough, but the more you dive into it, the game's true colors show: this is one of the most complicated games ever made. Hidden under its childlike designs and bright colors is an RPG with many intricacies: stats are determined on type, natures, styles, orientations, breeding, and much, much more. The learning curve is steep for the newcomer, but once you scale the cliff, you will be hooked. This game is more addictive than drugs: it starts to become a lifestyle, an endless treasuretrove of fun.

This is all old news for the Pokeveteran, so what does Pokemon Black and White offer to them? Answer: a whole lot. A change in plot is the biggest difference, with Team Plasma having a much more dedicated villan role than past evil teams. The side and main characters have much more personalites, like how Gym Leaders help you around town and with activating new areas rather than just sitting idely in the same place forever. The main story is about averave for a normal RPG: about 20 hours, but with training and catching Pokemon devouring the rest of your time.

Possibly the largest improvement in Black and White is the step-up in graphics. Instead of those slight seconds of visual trickery as seen in Generation 4, these games have huge, sprawling bridges, giant 3-D castles, cities actually the size of cities, and spectacular camera angles. The battles are the biggest leap, though. Before, battles were just cardboard cut-outs moving slightly and throwing words at each other. This time, the Pokemon move, jump, flap their wings, dance, and make poses all through battle, making encounters feel really alive. Battles also move at a 2x faster rate than before, so you never feel bored.

Much has been made about the new Pokemon in the game. There are over 156 of them, each more unique than the last. But the big reason they've got so much attention is that they are the only ones that appear in the game: for the fist time in Pokemon history, caves are not littered with Geodudes and Zubats. This also means that veterans have to rethink strategies instead of going into random battles autopilot, and newbies have a fresh start without having to learn all about the other 493. Don't worry, Dragonite and Garchomp lovers: Pokemon from the other 4 Generations appear after the main story is done, and the ability to mix the old Pokemon with the new ones is extremelly enguaging.

Pokemon Black and White also succeds on the slightly smaller changes: the music is much more enjoyable than Gen 4's, TMs are now unlimited usage (a practical godsent for people like me), leveling up is much easier due to obtaining two Exp. Shares and one Lucky Egg early on (which were practically impossible to find in previous generations), Legendaries seem easier to catch, the ability to have many Key Items selected, and the mulitiplayer options are greatly expanded, with random matchups and super-fast Infared connection.

Game Freak may've fixed many of the problems with Pokemon, but a few still persist. As with the aformentioned situation with a steep learing curve, the dialoge seems a bit more cheesy this time, and Pokemon encounter rate has seemed to have shot up a bit. These are minor problems, and only add tiny scratches to this pure gemstone.

Gameplay: Improved by tenfold. The best in the whole series. 10
Graphics: Also a major step-up. A world you can really relate to. 10
Audio: Brillant. One of the only DS games that you need headphones for. 10
Overall: Game Freak truly lived up to their slogan "A New Beginning". Perfect for any fan of the series, whether they be newbie or Pokefreaks. If you could only have one DS game for the rest of your life, make it this one.

10 out of 10 Starmies

Friday, March 4, 2011

Peggle Review

Popcap, already making huge bucks and massive downloads with their famous Bejewled, decided to go off the beaten track and make a new sensation: Peggle. Peggle is part pachio, part pinball, part shooter, part psychadelic trip, and all awesome.

Peggle is a hard game to describe if you don't try it for yourself. You have 12 balls, and there are 65+ Pegs on the board. You shoot the pinballs out of the cannon placed atop the screen, and they bounce off the pegs like The Price of Right's little game Plinko. Your task: to get rid of the 30 orange pegs on the screen. You can rack up insane combos and perform long shots, 10-in-a-rows, and much more; what's better is that these combos are insanely satisfying to pull off. Plus there are character-specific power-ups that can drastically alter your final result.

Not only is Peggle unique with its gameplay, but the visual aesthetic certainly isn't holding back. Each character has outrageous design and the levels reflect their themes. When you get major combos, a rock-heavy gerbil screams out a radical message to you. Getting a lucky shot will flash the words "SUPER LONG SHOT!", along with a huge bang. And when you hit that last orange peg, Betthoven's Symphony plays, and rainbows fly everywhere. It's all kinds of crazy.

Gameplay modes are not in poverty: there are 50 Levels, 75 unique Smash Bros-style Challenge modes, a Vs. Mode, and Free Play to reflect your skills. The only thing lacking in this game is the music, with the same 4 tracks playing over and over. Though if you are playing the Ipod versions, you can change it to what's currently playing.

Gameplay: Starts off simple but then turns into a crazy, swirly masterpiece. A truly addictive experience. 9.75
Graphics: Whoever works at the visual and design department of Popcap needs an even bigger paycheck. 9.75
Audio: Slightly lacking, but easilly fixable, because you can use your own. 7.5
Overall: This is highly recommended to all no matter what your gaming experience is. Unfourtunatelly, the best version is the Ipod Classic version (because it was made with the clickwheel in mind), which is hard to find on the Itunes Store.

9.5 out of 10

Friday, February 4, 2011

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island Review

In 1995, the gaming world's eyes were fixed on Nintendo's next new gaming wonder: the Nintendo 64. The pre-rendered silicon graphics and Blast Processing of the day were being overtaken by the rise in 3D gaming. Not ignoring the people who already had a SNES, Nintendo pushed everything the 16-bit machine could do into one single game: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. This game became an instant success and gave Yoshi a long-running franchise in gaming.

Yoshi's Island is a prequel to previous Mario games: the stork is carrying babies Mario and Luigi to their parents when the evil magikoopa Kamek abducts greenie, leaving Mario plunging towards an island. He lands on Yoshi's back by coincedence, and the two instantly bond: Yoshi is charged with protecting the little plumber from the evil all around them. This game plays very differently from the past Marios: there's no time limit, no power-ups (in the traditional sense), and instead of controlling Mario, you control Yoshi. This has been the center of debate as if this is really a Mario series game, but for my money, this goes amongst the plummber's other platformers.

Players instantly found out that Yoshi controls much differently from Mario: he can dash without holding a button, has a long tounge that can go into any direction, can produce eggs and throw them using an ingeniuos Egg-tossing system, can Ground-pound (the first game it appears in), and can flutter to gain extra height and width on his jumps. Yoshi can also encounter Transformation Bubbles, which turn him into a helicopter, mole tank, train, etc., each with a more distinct feel than the last. But if he gets hit, Baby Mario floats away in a bubble (crying obnoxiously), and a timer ticks down until 0, when he will be abducted by Kamek's croonies and a live will be lost.

The levels are the true highlight of this game. Besides one or two levels, the rest all are brilliantly designed. Nearly every one has its own unique gimmick, then that same gimmick is multiplied tenfold in the later level. There are too many of them to list, but the most notable are merry-go platforms that move by your weight, jelly blocks that conform to you and the wall, the fuzzies that make you dizzy and the world go wavy, and much more. This game's difficulty level is no child's play, either. The first two worlds give you the basics, then the challenge ramps up evenly until levels become pure madness. Yoshi's Island also has a high emphasis on collecting: with 30 mini-stars, 5 Flowers, and 20 red coins to collect every level. Trying to get 100% on every level certainly adds a huge replay value.

The game's graphical style is one of the most unique in gaming history: the art, levels, enemies, and effects seem straight from a child's coloring book: it still looks beautiful in motion today. Yoshi's Island ran on the Super FX 2 chip, so it could process these astounding graphics on the fly. The music is also worth a great look. Out of all the tunes from the SNES era, this game probably has the most catchy and memorable.

The only real problems with Yoshi's Island, besides the aformentioned 2 unfun levels, is that the difficulty spike might be too much for smaller gamers, and there could be much less of Baby Mario's obnoxious crying.

Gameplay: Well-polished and tight. Yoshi can definitelly do what Mario doesn't. 9.75
Graphics: Still a charm. This graphical style eventually carried over to games like Paper Mario and Kirby's Epic Yarn. 9.75
Audio: Joyous. Tunes that get you up and running in the level. 10
Overall: The huge variety quantity of insanely fun gameplay should keep you well into this game for months. If you plan on owning one SNES game, make it this one or Super Metriod.

9.75 out of 10