Tag Archives: Wii-U

The Edge Joystick Review

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With the recent news that the NES Classic Edition is going back into production next year,  you might be looking forward to the re-release. Especially if you missed out the first time around. Of course, with any new console (yes even the all-in-ones) come a host of third-party accessories, and peripherals. The Edge is one of them.

PROS: Arcade grade buttons. Also compatible with the Wii U, and Wii!

CONS: Mediocre base.

ADVANTAGE: The controller pays homage to Nintendo’s NES Arcade Stick.

The Edge is modeled after Nintendo’s own NES Advantage. A legendary controller that any NES collector should own. It was designed with arcade games, and ports in mind. Donkey Kong, Galaga, Pac-Man, Mario Bros, and Double Dragon were just some of the classics that were even more enjoyable with a proper arcade stick.

Well, several of these games’ ROMs came on the NES Classic Edition. With no official NES Classic Edition version of the NES Advantage (Nintendo only made the Control Pads) EMiO enters the fray. EMiO is known mostly for common accessories like cases, and wall chargers for portable devices. They’re also the company behind the Mega Man headphones.

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With the NES Classic Edition launch, the company capitalized on the lack of an arcade stick with their own Advantage clone. They also made knock off Control Pads to capitalize on the shortage of first-party branded ones. I can’t comment on these as I don’t have them to test out. But I did happen upon The Edge, and this is what I found.

The Edge Joystick gets a number of things right, and has a few nice features under the hood. It’s stylish, and really does capture the look of an actual NES Advantage. It has turbo switches, and dials like the original. It also has a slow motion button, and adds an A+B button which performs actions in games that require pressing both, A, and B simultaneously.

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One really cool thing about this one is the inclusion of arcade joystick grade buttons. They’re nice, comfortable, and give you the familiar clicking you’d expect. The stick also has a nice arcade spring, and feels nice when moving it around. They also included interchangeable joystick knobs. There’s the ball style that the NES Advantage had, and then there’s a more traditional wedge style you can use instead. These easily twist on or off, so you can use whichever style you like with ease.

One other thing to keep in mind is the NES Classic Edition uses the same ports for controllers as the Wii mote controllers have for attachments. That makes the controllers for the NES Classic Edition compatible with the Wii, and Wii U. The Edge Joystick can be used with old games purchased on the Wii Shop Channel, and Nintendo E-Shop. I tested it with several games, and the results were mixed.

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On the Wii U, I tried the stick with Mighty Final Fight. In this case things were pretty good. The controller was pretty responsive, and I was able to play the game fairly well. Nothing to complain about. I also fired up Wii Mode, and proceeded to go into my roster of classics. I started up Donkey Kong, which is also on the NES Classic Edition. This was the first game I had a big problem with. For whatever reason going from walking right or left to climbing up a ladder would never go seamlessly. I had to stop walking, then push up on the joystick to climb. Donkey Kong pretty much requires spot on movement, and this put a big damper on the game.

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I then tried a few non-NES games just to see how well it worked with some of the other emulated systems. Boulder Dash for the Commodore 64 in Wii mode worked okay. Not great. Not bad. Just okay. Holding the stick in any direction often overshot where I wanted to be by one tile. But tapping the stick allowed me to move one tile at a time well enough. It was playable, but Boulder Dash is another platform, puzzle game that requires spot on movement. In later levels where speed is as important as planning, you may just want to use the Wii Remote for this one.

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I also used the stick with Cho Aniki for the TG-16 in Wii mode. This controlled just fine with the stick, and I didn’t have much to complain about. I was able to move in all directions smoothly, and firing was just as responsive. Another one that played well with The Edge was Contra Rebirth. Running, jumping, and firing in all directions were smooth during my play time with it. I closed out the tests with Ninja Combat for the Neo Geo on the Wii. If not for the fact the game requires a four button controller, this would have been the best test game. Moving, shooting, and jumping worked perfectly. Unfortunately, only having two buttons meant I couldn’t perform every function required to play properly. Still, it was a nice surprise.

One nice touch is the Nintendo Power pastiche included in the box. It’s a small booklet with some strategies, and cheat codes for the 30 games included in the NES Classic Edition. So if you’re picking this up with the console, it’s a fun little bit of bonus material for you.

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Aside from some iffy performance on some titles, the big problem with this controller is the inconsistency with the build. The nice, arcade buttons for the A, and B buttons are great, and the stick component is pretty good. Regrettably though, I have to point out the very light, and cheap feeling plastics for the controller body. If you come into this looking for the same hefty, build quality of the original NES Advantage you’re not going to find it.

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The Edge is a mixed bag. For some games you’ll like it fine enough, while on others you’ll just want to roll with the standard pad or Wii mote.  The real disappointment is the flimsy feel of the plastics aside from the rather nice buttons. There are worse controllers for the Classic, Wii, and Wii U. But this isn’t going to be the most well-rounded option either. Unless you’re dead set on using a joystick, and don’t have the hundreds to drop on a high-end arcade stick, I would stick with the standard first-party control pads. Or a Wii Classic Controller Pro for playing on the NES Classic or the original Wii. Wii U owners can also use the Wii U pro controller for games on the eshop.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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Freedom Planet Review

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Sonic The Hedgehog. He’s seen a number of ups, and downs over the years. The consensus seems to be his earliest adventures on the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Master System, and Game Gear were his greatest glory days. Fast, frantic, platforming action that involved any number of paths to victory. But after the Dreamcast faded into obscurity Sonic went in all kinds of directions. Many of them terrible. A few of them average, and a few that were pretty good. But I’m not here to talk about Sonic this time.

PROS: Really amazing pixel art, chip tunes, and the game play you remember.

CONS: The shortcomings you remember. Padding.

BIKES: If running fast isn’t enough you can speed around like Chris Pine in Star Trek.

When Sonic The Hedgehog was released it was only a matter of time before the imitators would come about. People dump on Bubsy, but that game was far from the worst clone. Awesome Possum, Aero The Acrobat, even The Road Runner had a Sonic inspired game. So with so many others that didn’t hit the mark, what makes this game stand out in the sea of Sonic contenders?

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For starters, Freedom Planet absolutely nails the feeling of Sonic The Hedgehog. The physics, the sense of speed, all of it. If you’re a big Sonic fan who longs for a return to the 16-bit glory days of yesteryear, buy it. I could end it there. I’m serious. This is bar none, one of the best Sonic clones you can get. But there are a lot of things that set it apart from its biggest inspiration.

Freedom Planet has a deeper, darker, storyline than the Sonic games. Most of the Sonic games feature Dr. Robotnik/Eggman imprisoning animals, stealing emeralds, and holding the world hostage. Freedom Planet instead involves a much more detailed plot. It opens up with a King being killed by a despot in cold blood in front of his son. Who is then taken hostage, and forced to fight for the despot. It wasn’t something I was expecting going into this. But it got my attention for sure.  From there you discover that there is an all-powerful stone that three kingdoms on the planet safeguard, and of course the despot wants it for himself.

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From here the game opens up, and you can choose to play either an adventure mode or a standard mode. Playing the adventure mode, will let you experience cut scenes, and the stages are played in different orders depending on which of the three characters you choose. Going with the standard mode eschews the cut scenes, and you play every stage in order. Like a traditional platformer from the era the game pays homage to.

The interesting thing with the adventure mode is that you’ll get a slightly different experience each time you play through it. That’s because the game is played through the eyes of each character. The three characters are: Carol, a green wild cat. Lilac, a purple dragon, and Milla (an unlockable character), a dog. Each of the characters has their own attacks, and abilities making each play through a little bit different. Carol has some speedy punches, and kicks. She can also ride a motorcycle if you find gas can power ups. Lilac has a useful double jump. Milla has a shield, and can throw cubes.

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Once you start playing though you will immediately be reminded of Sega’s most popular mascot platformer. The same sense of speed. The same loops, twirls, and crazy tracks fill the game’s 14 stages. With all of the collectibles, 1-Ups, power ups, and health items in each of them you can opt to try to find everything, or you can try to clear everything as fast as possible. I know I’ve waxed on about how many Sonic influences there are, but the game also has a surprising number of similarities to Capcom’s Mega Man X series too. This becomes apparent in the game’s combat, and enemy designs. Instead of jumping on bad guys to defeat them, you’ll punch, kick, or hit them several times to take them out. Freedom Planet is also a big fan of putting in multipart stages, and mini-bosses. Some of these are really imposing, and lead you to believe you’re at the end of a stage. Only to discover you still have a way to go.

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Boss fights themselves are grandiose in Freedom Planet. These moments feel more like playing an arcade beat ’em up than they do a platformer. Although you’ll discover they have attack patterns, again in the vein of a Mega Man X title. But some of these, especially toward the end of the game can be really impressive in both challenge, and visual flair.

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Freedom Planet also has the courtesy to grant players four different difficulty levels. If you’re absolutely horrible at this sort of platformer, or even platformers in general the Casual setting is for you. It is nearly impossible to lose a life if you’re even remotely good at these kinds of games. But from there you have Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulty settings. With the latter going very much into the “Get good!” end of things. Aesthetically, everything in the game is beautiful. Galaxy Trail’s pixel artists should be commended for just how well they’ve recreated the look of games of the early 90’s. As you play through this one, you’ll be constantly reminded of those days on the Genesis, and Super NES. It really is a beautiful game to look at. The soundtrack is just as good, going for the twinge lo-fi synth of the Sega Genesis, and early computer sound cards like the AdLib. The tunes themselves are filled with hooks, and melodies you’ll want to hum along to. If you want a game that will satisfy your nostalgia, while giving you something new, this fits the bill.

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There are also some other small galleries you can visit when not playing the main game. Throughout the main game are cards you can find, and these will unlock sound files, songs from the soundtrack, and concept art in these galleries. Not something that the average player might get into. But for players who become big fans of the story, characters, and lore, it gives an incentive to replay the game a few times.

Of course, I did have a few minor complaints with this one that may be bigger concerns for someone else. First off, because it adheres so closely to many of Sonic The Hedgehog’s rules it has some of the annoyances. There are times you’ll have to make blind jumps, only to land on an enemy or a hazard. This can lead to some moments of trial, and error. While not a major problem that ruins the game, Some might feel it detracts from an otherwise enjoyable experience.

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Another issue is near the end of the game there is a shoot ’em up stage, and it doesn’t feel up to the same standard as the rest of the game. The bigger issue is there is no checkpoint after completing it. It is considered a part of the following stage, which is a pretty long one. So if you run out of lives, shut off the game, and come back to it later you’ll have to play the entire shmup part again. So unfortunately, instead of feeling like some variety, it ends up feeling like padding. Again, not a problem that makes the game unplayable by any means. But it really could have used a checkpoint at the end.

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Overall though, Freedom Planet is a wonderful platformer. It feels like an homage to Sonic, and Mega Man X while also being unique enough to stand on its own. It has some of those mechanics, but it adds enough of its own original ideas, and tweaks thus avoiding becoming a forgettable wannabe. In fact, the game did well enough when it launched three years ago that a sequel is around the corner. So whether you play it on the Wii U, PC, or the recent release on the PS4 you won’t regret it.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild Review

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Well it’s been out for a few days, and you’ve heard everyone tell you to run out, and buy it. Not only the game, but a new Nintendo Switch to play it on. As well as a pro controller, extra joy cons, and maybe a case or screen protector. “It’s a killer app! Totally worth spending over $400 on!”. But with no other major titles coming until the summer, you might feel like I do. Is it really worth spending all of that now?

PROS: Nearly everything about it.

CONS: Pointing out the few things wrong with it almost seems like nitpicking.

WOW: This will impress Zelda, WRPG, JRPG fans, and those who like none of those things.

Well to some, it will absolutely be worth spending the extra money on a new console to play this game. To others it won’t be. But if you happen to own a Wii U, and collect games for it, you will want to buy the latest Legend Of Zelda title. Just like the Twilight Princess, this entry comes on both the platform that is retiring, and the platform taking the other’s place. If you’re waiting on the new system, and have the old one play it on the old one. If you simply have to have a valid excuse to buy a new console no matter the circumstance then play it on the new system.

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I could end things there, telling you to just buy the game. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you just why, all of this hype, praise, and fervor is warranted. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild does something previous Zelda games, including the best ones, haven’t been able to do. This game does something for every type of player. Previous games might have been too RPG for an action fan. Or not RPG enough for an RPG die-hard. There wasn’t anything cerebral enough for the Simulation fan, or maybe competitive enough for someone who rarely touches a single-player game.

Other people like me, are generally casual Zelda fans. We’ve played a couple of the hallmark games, like the original NES game, or A Link To The Past on the Super NES. But haven’t gotten into the 30 plus years of the lore. So this game does a wonderful job of giving lapsed fans, and newcomers a window into just why so many devoted Zelda fans love the series so much.

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Things start closely to the way they did in the original Legend Of Zelda. As Link, you are taken out of a deep magical slumber. Though it eerily resembles the cryogenic machines you see in many a science fiction story. There’s a voice that tells you, you are needed once again. You exit a cave, and see a vast, vast land upon you. When I say vast, I really do mean vast. The world of Hyrule in this iteration is one of the biggest open worlds ever presented in a video game. If you thought any of the Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, or Elder Scrolls games had large worlds you haven’t seen anything.

But more importantly, and equally impressive, is that there is almost always something to do in Hyrule. You can spend tens to hundreds of hours completely ignoring missions. Just spending it wandering around without it getting old. Sure, one can cite driving over people in Saints Row 2 for a couple of hours. But eventually, you get tired of it, and shut the game off. Here, you’ll stumble upon enemy camps. Or you’ll find something out-of-place, investigate it, and get an item from the creature who moved things around. You can go mining for raw materials to have things crafted. You can go fishing, or hunting animals for meat. You can collect wild fruit, and vegetables. You can use all of the stuff you’ve harvested to cook meals.

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Cooking meals is not only something fun to screw around with, it’s an important part of the game. Meals can often net you benefits akin to power ups. Some meals will give you warmth to survive sub-zero temperatures. Others will make you run faster. Some can give you increased attack power, or cause you to take less damage. On top of that, the game implores you to experiment. Try adding unconventional ingredients to meals just to see what happens! Often times you’ll get meals that would make someone projectile vomit, but sometimes it results in something that would even make Gordon Ramsay pleasantly surprised.

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Of course, this is still a Zelda game, so you’ll be doing a lot of the stuff you’d expect from an action RPG, or an adventure game. You’ll find towns, talk to people, and be granted with all kinds of side quests, and errands. Doing these often nets you with rewards that make the main quests you’re given, a bit easier. Which is something for newcomers to keep in mind. You can go anywhere in Hyrule. Not figuratively, literally. You can get to any vista you set your eyes upon. The thing is, some of these areas will be quite hostile, and lethal when you get there. Especially if you’re unprepared.

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But that’s also what makes this version of Zelda so fun, the fact that the game doesn’t hold your hand. A main character may tell you where you need to go. But they’re not going to tell you what route to take, or when to go. Only that you need to. In the interim there are many other things you can choose to do. You can try to find the many shrines in the land for instance. These are dungeons that will force you to solve puzzles or defeat enemies with functions on your Sheikah Slate. (Minor spoiler: You get a magic tablet in the game at some point.)

The storyline is a bit of a departure from previous games. In most of the previous Zelda games, you had to save Zelda from Ganon, and that was the main goal. In this one, you find yourself in a Hyrule Ganon has pretty much held hostage for a century. Zelda isn’t a captive this time, she’s an active combatant. I won’t say much more than that as the game is still new enough that I’m trying not to reveal too much. But there are a ton of characters you’ll meet, and interact with. These conversations, and experiences tell some of the story, but that’s just it, it’s some of the story. A big chunk of this game, again, feels like a Western Role-Playing game, where your game play experience is a bulk of the story. You’re deciding where Link goes, what he’ll level up first, and what weapons he’ll use to fight.

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There are all kinds of weapons in this game too. Even things you wouldn’t think of as weapons, can be used as weapons. You start the adventure with no weapons of any kind. Alone, you have to go into the wilderness, and discover things on your own. Run into a monster unarmed? Better find something, anything to defend yourself with. You can use sticks. Limbs of a defeated skeleton. Farm equipment you stole from a village. There are bows, swords, and spears to be found. If you’re resourceful enough you can find your way out of a situation. Every weapon in the game, intended or improvised, can break too. So you really have to make sure you have something in reserve for a backup.

But you can also play very stealthily, and avoid a lot of combat by trying to sneak your way into shrines, landmarks, or other objectives. This is actually the preferred method when all of your weapons are broken, you’re low on supplies, and the nearest town is a fortnight away. You can climb any surface, save for during the rain, where things become slick. (Because there has to be *some* realism). Though you also have to keep an eye on your stamina. Get too tired, you’ll fall off of that cliff to your doom. Or drown in the pond. Or pant after sprinting, and get shot by a goblin archer. Or gored by a wild bull.

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Which brings me to another point. The difficulty. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is tough. If you’re ill prepared at any time, there’s a good chance you’re going to die. As stated a moment ago, there are a zillion ways to die in Hyrule. On top of the environment killing you, or the wildlife, the enemies are especially brutal. Particularly once you get beyond the initial area. Even when you think you’ve got one of the villains on their last leg, they’ll one shot you, and it’s a Game Over. Bosses in the game are also hidden. You never know when you’ll stumble onto one, and when you do you’ll panic.

The thing is, the sense of wonder, and discovery balances out the trepidation, and frustration really well. It isn’t hard “Just to be hard”. It’s to more or less affirm that in Hyrule, much like life, you have to get out there, and take chances. You have to go fight zombies at night. You have to risk falling to your death to get that treasure. You have to sneak up on that wild horse, and make him your pet. That’s right, this game also has mounts. You’ll want to use them to get you across long distances. Sure, you can fast travel between shrines, but that doesn’t always get you headed in the right direction. You can also fight while on horseback, which is yet another really cool feature. There are stables where you can keep your horses, and there are shops where you can get new clothes, weapons, food items, and other stuff too.

All of this in addition to the campaign’s many missions. It all culminates to make one of the best single-player experiences in a long time. It also supports any Zelda themed Amiibo toys you may have. The Breath Of The Wild figures, aren’t the only ones. If you’ve got the Super Smash Bros. themed Zelda characters those work too. The in-game content varies, some of them clothing items, but most of them random loot drops.

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Visually, the game is pretty stunning. I own the Wii U version, though I’ve seen the Switch version first hand. They’re largely similar, so whatever Nintendo machine you decide to buy the game for, it isn’t too different. That being said, I have noticed the Wii U version has lower texture quality (Think a PC game’s *medium* setting as opposed to *high*). But the physics of the wind blowing grass in the fields, or the little touches like insects flying off of flowers, or tiny birds fluttering about, are all here. Unfortunately the one major issue affecting the game is performance drop off. It isn’t uncommon for open world games to have performance issues, as they’re some of the more demanding games for video cards, and chipsets to render. In the case of Zelda, some of the drops are really rough in some areas. The initial area seems to be the worst since it is so densely populated with objects, and NPCs. Factor in the special effects, and the frame rate begins to take a big hit.

 

Now the good thing is, these still aren’t bad enough to make things unplayable. It’s still responsive enough to do what you need to do. But it will be noticeable, both from a visual standpoint, as well as feeling. Movement becomes sluggish, and frame drops will sometimes make it look choppy. The other saving grace is these usually only last a few seconds, and in the scope of the game world, they’re pretty small areas. Still, for some players it is going to be really annoying.

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The other issue is that at least on the Wii U, you’ll see a significant amount of pop in a few areas, as it looks like the draw distance was adjusted to increase performance. It’s a pretty minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things. Still, seeing wild sheep randomly appearing as your parachute passes over a farm, or seeing details of rocks load in when you get closer to a mountain, are noticeable things. Nothing that ruins the enjoyment, but it is a technical issue that open world games often have, and Zelda is no exception.

 

Be that as it may, the game still looks beautiful, taking the pseudo cel shaded look of Skyward Sword, and merging it with some of the realistic look found in Twilight Princess. The result is pretty great, giving a nice mesh of fantasy, and realism. It can be very vibrant, rich, and colorful when it needs to be. It can also be very grim, frightening, and full on terrifying when it needs to be. This gives an already great game, an amazing sense of atmosphere. The dynamic soundtrack does this as well. In many ways it reminded me of playing one of the Metroid Prime games. A song that fits any situation. When things are bleak, the music reflects that. When things are hopeful it reflects that too. Even when things are calm, it manages to come off with something light, and nurturing. Unless you start thinking things are too quiet. In which case the game probably thinks that too, so the soundtrack begins to change.

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I could probably fit another 8,000 or so words into this review talking about the excellent weather effects, how you’ll freeze to death in the snow without the right clothes. Or how great the animations are for any situation. Or the effective use of day, and night cycles. Or the neat little effects like fire burning grass when you swing a lit torch at a bad guy in the fields. Or about how you need to solve the shrine dungeons to get enough McGuffins to go to another place to extend your life meter (Okay, another spoiler there.). I could talk about the importance of towers, and constant saving (Again, you will be screaming “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!” a lot.). But I don’t want to give everything away, nor do I want to prattle on too long. The point is, that yes, The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is worth getting, even if you’re not a rabid Zelda fan. The technical hitches keep me from calling it sheer perfection. But if you haven’t owned a Nintendo console since the Gamecube, it makes for a very strong launch title for the Switch. Likewise, if you own Nintendo’s current system, and want to wait until there are more games for the Switch before buying one, this is a terrific sendoff for the Wii U. It’s a huge game with hundreds of hours of content. Not busy work. Not banal tasks. Real stuff. Plus, by the time you do see everything the digital expansion pack they’re working on will be out, which could possibly make a great game even better. Early adopters get some in-game cosmetics, but I recommend waiting, until it arrives. There’s already a ton to do in the initial game.

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is excellent, and an early contender for many GOTY lists. Whether you experience it in the flashy new sports coupe or the old jalopy you’re going to be going on one hell of a ride. I’ve still got a long way to go journeying through it. But at 40 hours in, I think it’s safe to say this is one ride worth taking.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Mighty No. 9 Review

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Released last year under a mountain of controversy, Comcept’s, and Inti Creates’ spiritual successor to Mega Man was met with reactions from reviled to merely tepid. Suffice it to say, people didn’t like it. This didn’t come without good reason. But now that the dust has begun to settle, there’s a question left over. Is Mighty No. 9 really that bad?

PROS: Voice acting, character designs, a few inventive moments.

CONS: Unbalanced stages, poor graphics, technical issues, dash mechanic.

LUCK: You’ll need a lot of it in key areas.

In some ways, yes Mighty No. 9 is that bad. I listed many of the reasons under the cons. Graphics are the first thing we notice when firing up any game. In this game your first thought is going to be “Oh no.” Remember the later Mega Man X games on the PlayStation 2? Mighty No. 9 has a very similar look. 2.5D with low quality textures, and simple geometry. In this game everything renders at 1080 p so it looks a lot sharper. But it also makes many of the games sprites look grainy, as they don’t appear to have been made in HD. So the higher resolution actually makes some parts look worse.

This is especially true of explosions, bullets from your arm cannon, menu items, and background touches. This results in some really jarring moments. On the plus side, the character designs are pretty cool. Especially when you meet the other bosses. These are the moments that remind you of classic Mega Man games, fighting robot masters in confined spaces.

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Gameplay is about what you’d expect. Like the Mega Man, and Mega Man X series you choose the order of stages in the hopes of finding the best route through the game. Every boss has a weapon you can assimilate, and you have to figure out which weapon defeats which boss. Unfortunately, even this aspect of the game isn’t nearly as good as it is in the games it borrows from.

There are several reasons for this. The most obvious being technical issues. For whatever reason, Mighty No. 9 suffers from terrible slowdown in certain spots. Reportedly, some versions are far worse than others. I played the PC version, so I can’t comment on any of the console versions. But I think it’s safe to say no matter what version you play, you’re going to get frustrated. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why the slowdown occurs. I tried lowering the settings to rock bottom, it still happens. And there are a fair number of options you can change in the PC version. You can also play it with a keyboard, but you really do want to use a game pad. Especially with some of the problems here.

These issues don’t make the game impossible, but they immediately begin to sour you on things. Lowering the fun factor further is the unbalanced nature of stages. When playing any given level you’ll often find a spot that has over the top difficulty in it. Usually involving enemies that swarm you, a pixel perfect jumping section surrounded by traps that kill you instantly, or both.

Now, the Mega Man series has sections filled with death traps that require pixel perfect jumps, and maneuvers. The differences are that 1.) in most cases they don’t come out of nowhere, and 2.) the controls are tighter. In Mega Man, these areas often come up after you’ve been eased in. A room will introduce you to something new to learn. You’ll use that in subsequent rooms, each gradually adding onto the challenge until you learn well enough to feel comfortable taking on that giant trap. Case in point, the infamous death beams way back in the Quick Man stage in Mega Man 2. You got a taste early, but after figuring it out quickly, you played through the stage, and when it brought it up again, only harder, it was a challenge. But it didn’t feel insurmountable. You got a feeling of persistence.

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In Mighty No. 9 these sections seem to just come out of the blue. Moreover, you don’t have quite the same level of control. So you’ll get into an area, have no idea what to do, and just be plunged into it. No teaser, no taste, no feeling of “Oh THAT’S what I need to do.” When you finally do figure it out, it won’t be a sense of discovery, it will be a sense of dismay. “Are you kidding me?” is probably the most common question you’ll scream aloud. Your fun will be decreased even more when you discover that instead of refining things, the game brute forces you through by giving you random power ups as you near the end of your lives. As if to say “Here, take a lot of damage, but scrape by with some beefed up power, and E-Tanks.” That doesn’t make it more fun, that just cements the fact that the designers realized they’ve created a chore rather than a challenge. There are also a few gameplay moments that get repeated throughout stages, the biggest being what I call swarm rooms, where you have to clear a wave of enemies before you can continue.

Another difference between this, and Mega Man are how you find replenishments. In the Mega Man games, you gain health, and ammunition two ways. Finding them drop out of robots when you kill them, or else in the play field. Sometimes you might have to solve a puzzle or have a certain robot master’s weapon to get them. But pretty straightforward. In Mighty No. 9 you have to use the game’s dash mechanic. This works like the one in Mega Man X. You can press the shoulder button, or double tap. When you shoot low-level bad guys enough times, they’ll glow blue, red, green, or yellow. Then you have to dash into them. The blue ones fill your E-Tank (of which you can have two), the green ones speed you up, and the red ones make your arm cannon more potent. Yellow reduces the damage you take from getting hit. You’ll also have to use the dash to get over a lot of the game’s pitfalls.  The thing is, the dash is also a tad bit slippery here. So you’ll sometimes hit spikes you wouldn’t have in Mega Man X, or fall into pits you wouldn’t have in Mega Man. This makes those aforementioned death sections all the more infuriating. So again, it’s no wonder this game has the bad reputation it does.

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But I will say it isn’t all bad. The bosses, and subsequent fights are generally pretty cool. These are the parts of the game where it starts to feel a little bit more like a good Mega Man game again. There are some interesting patterns to learn, and the designs of the bosses are honestly pretty awesome. They also make some of the death sections moot if you play them in the correct order. This is because they come back to help you in the story, which clears out some of the hazards. In these moments, Mighty No. 9 becomes pretty fun, and entertaining. This is in part because of some wonderful performances from the actors. All of the characters have personality, and flair because of them. Even Steven Blum shows up in it, as a boss!  That boss fight is also interesting because they do something original with it. You have to explore the level, and find him three times before it unlocks the boss room for you to face him. It’s a genuinely fun moment. Of course, the discovery of boss order is also ruined when you realize that the correct stage to play adds a second advice tab on its description. If you click said tab, you’ll hear the boss you defeated last, give dialogue. At this point, you just look for whichever level has the extra audio log displayed before entering.

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Another fun moment, (aside from an infuriating death trap section) is when you get to take control of the Roll stand-in, and infiltrate a base. It’s a Metal Gear themed stealth mission. But it’s done well, and shows off a completely different play style rather than just slap Mighty No. 9’s mechanics onto a different model. Even the boss in the level takes advantage of that. The final stage is a hodgepodge of everything you force yourself to learn throughout the game, and without giving too much away, the final encounter both requires you to know the mechanics, as well as getting lucky with item drops. At least in an initial play through. I will also give the soundtrack a nod in that the end credits feature a really cool performance from Mega Ran, as well as a chip tune OST you can turn on in the options. None of them are as memorable as the ones in early Mega Man games, but they aren’t half bad, and fit the action well.

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Mighty No. 9’s story isn’t too much different from the original Mega Man’s either. All of the robots in America go haywire, and Mighty No. 9 has to go save the day. The alterations here are that the enemy robots aren’t destroyed. Instead, their defeat somehow removes the computer virus making them go awry, and they grant Mighty No. 9 their weapon program afterwards. There’s even a Dr. Wily stand-in, although they throw in a twist you can see coming from a mile away.

If you do happen to become a super fan somehow, Mighty No.9 does have other modes that unlock as you play. These are a combination of timed challenges, co-operative challenges, and then some competitive internet speed runs. The trouble is, that with the lack of online players you’ll likely never play the speed runs, or co-op challenges.

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Mighty No. 9 made a lot of Worst Of 2016 lists. Really, the game itself probably isn’t the worst released last year. It has numerous problems, no doubt. But it’s still functional enough to play through. There are bright spots in it where it becomes fun as well. If not for the technical issues, and design flaws, this could have been above average. And you can see while playing where whatever happened behind the scenes during development killed potential. If the game looked as good in those early teasers, and played as well as the NES Mega Man games like it was supposed to, we’d be looking at a really good game. Instead, we’re looking at a barely average game marred further by a controversial development cycle. We’ll probably never learn what went wrong, or why it took so much money to give us something this ugly, unbalanced, and hobbled. If you’re morbidly curious about it, you could do worse. But you should probably invest in that Mega Man 2 Game Pak  for your NES instead. Or any of the Mega Man collections. Really any Classic Mega Man game will do.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

Slain: Back From Hell Review

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Generally I don’t do end of year lists, because I simply don’t have the resources to play everything. But sometimes that can be a good thing as this year proved that many games have been, and will be taken out of the oven too early. Slain is one such game. At least it was initially according to most who looked at it.

PROS: Everything you love about Castlevania 1, Golden Axe, and Heavy Metal!

CONS: The insane difficulty of NES Castlevanias.

DIE: Everything will kill you in this game. Usually in horrific, and gory ways.

When Slain was released, the initial reception wasn’t very good. Performance was terrible on many computers, it had bugs, crashes, and other problems. But things didn’t stay that way for very long. Where other developers may have spent eons trickling out patches to try to get things working, made excuses, or worse, given up entirely, these guys didn’t. The people behind Slain put out major overhauls for a few months. Once the game was in the state it should have launched in, it was given a subtitle to reflect it, and relaunched.

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So this revamped version I received for Christmas is really good! It has brisk action. It has a blend of fighting, and puzzles. It has really inventive character designs, and a head banging soundtrack. What it doesn’t have is a ton of exploration, a deep story, or a wide cast of playable characters.

You see, at first glance many people will think Slain is going to be a Castlevania clone, and they would be partially right. But these folks aren’t thinking of the  right Castlevania games. These days a lot of people are wistful for the entries like Symphony Of The Night, or Aria Of Sorrow. Versions of the formula that mixed in the exploration of Metroid into the series. Leading to the term Metroidvania. But Slain follows more closely to the first Castlevania most people who owned an NES played. Castlevania.

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So what you’ll be doing here is going through linear stages. At the end of each stage you’ll fight a horror themed boss, and then move on. After you complete the first stage, you do get to go to a hub level, where you can choose the order you want to play the stages in. Well, partly. Because two of them are locked until the second, and third, are completed. You can also replay any stage you’ve previously beaten. But no matter what order you choose there aren’t any changes. Each of the six stages does give you a pretty wide variety of settings. The entire game is oozing in Heavy Metal. The style of the characters, and even the pixel art itself, is right out of album covers. Old school fans will immediately think of the art on albums by Iron Maiden, early Metallica, Sepultura, Dio, Thor, and Iced Earth.

You’ll be fighting in old burned out towers, desolate plains, ethereal worlds, and blood soaked towers. There are also booby traps everywhere. Trap doors that will have you falling on spikes. Blood puddles that pull you down, and drown you. Background statues that attack you, ceilings that crush you, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The enemies will take you back to times of playing Castlevania. Albeit with a dash of Golden Axe. Instead of fighting one or two enemies at once, you’ll often be swarmed with five or six. All of the enemies look gorgeous. As far as monsters can. The details in the sprites are just as impressive, and imposing as the backgrounds. Plus, every character has a ton of animated detail. If you take five seconds to analyze something as simple as a skeleton walking toward you you’ll notice it instantly. He’ll then hack you to death with a machete because you weren’t paying attention.

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Which brings me to the death animations of your character. Because it goes along with everything else. You’ll see your organs fall out after a monster has you disemboweled. You’ll see the flesh fall off of your bones when you fall in an acid pool. You’ll see your head get severed by an enemy knight. or your character become paste when he gets crushed. The ways you go down in this game can give Mortal Kombat a run for its money.

So how do you survive? Well the game does take a few cues from Castlevania in that you’ll have to plod through areas, avoiding traps, killing enemies, and trying to make jumps without bats or Medusa heads knocking you into pits. The game also has both a health, and power up bar. But the similarities begin to end there. For starters, instead of picking up random secondary weapons from candles, you have a charge attack. The longer you hold the charge, the more powerful a burst of fire you can throw.

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But I can already hear you asking where to find mana to replenish your secondary ammunition. You find it in battle. Slain, has a pretty respectable fighting system. True, you can hack n’ slash your way through via Golden Axe inspired brute force. But you’ll actually have an easier time once you discover that timing is everything. Slain gives you an attack button, a jump button, a secondary attack button, and a block button. Holding the block button can , well, block attacks from enemies. The thing is blocking too many attacks will actually cause you to go into a hit stun, where enemies will finish you off.

However, if you time your block perfectly, the enemy gets hit stunned, allowing you to get off a critical hit. Many enemies will die after one or two of these, and it is here you get mana. But it goes further. Some bad guys will shoot projectiles at you. Instead of blocking these attacks, you can time your primary attack. Hitting the projectile at just the right time will knock it back, like a baseball. This is crucial to master, because for some of the larger enemies, mini bosses, and bosses you can’t survive without it.

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And before you go thinking you can instantly make the game go from difficult to easy by doing this, every enemy type has a different timing requirement. In the case of boss fights, you’ll also need to learn their patterns. Attack at the wrong time, you’re dead. Go on a flurry of hits blindly, and you’ll soon be on the business end of a super move that will one shot you. Even if you have full health at the time.

Still, you’ll need to master every trick at your disposal, because much like the early Konami, and Sega games that inspired it, it is difficult. But difficult in a good way. You’ll die 20 million times. But every time you’ll still want to play again. It gets you hooked on perseverance. That constant feeling of just one more try. You will give it one more try, and another, and another. Because every stage has a hidden piece of a talisman you’ll need to find. There are also elemental versions of standard swords, and axes. But the way they’re implemented is really cool. Again, the amazing sprite work, and animation is on display. These weapons aren’t just recolored, and buffed versions. The wild designs make each of these feel unique. Like the embers of fire trailing off of your flame sword. Or the water, and ice dripping off of your axe. Slain always has some new detail you’ll be discovering.

The soundtrack also takes inspiration from vintage metal, though it has elements of subgenres. There are moments where it feels symphonic, other times there’s a sense of power. Often times it will evoke crunchy, speedy licks, and solos. Curt Victor Bryant (of Celtic Frost) did a wonderful job giving players a soundtrack that matches the imagery in Slain. Again, it will remind you of early metal albums. If you grew up in the 70’s or 80’s listening to a lot of the heavier, darker albums, you’re going to love the music in this game.

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Unfortunately, the story we’re given isn’t nearly as interesting as the world it takes place in. You play Bathoryn. An old, expired warrior who is resurrected, and commanded to liberate six realms from monsters. There are some dialogue boxes between Bathoryn, and some of the characters, like the being who wakes you from your slumber. Or the banter with boss characters before, and after fights. But the exposition doesn’t show you the story, it just tells you what is happening. You go tracking down a villain named Vroll. He shows up from time to time to taunt you on your quest, and sometimes just before a boss fight. Throughout the game you also run into a mysterious mystic, who grants you the aforementioned weapons, as well as introduce some of the new enemies. The final confrontation does fill in some of the blanks, and there is an interesting twist at the end. I just wish the narrative could have been as interesting as everything else.

Be that is it may, Slain: Back From Hell is an excellent game overall. It is true, that it has a very high difficulty, but then so do many good games. If you’re someone who is willing to press on, there is a lot to like. Even if you’re not a big fan of Heavy Metal, the game’s horror elements, and atmosphere will still keep you entertained for hours. It isn’t a very long game at just six stages. But the challenge will have most people playing it for a long time. Even if you do become good enough to master it, you’ll likely come back to it for replays, or speed runs.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Axiom Verge Review

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Wow. Just wow. This is one of the most impressive games I’ve played through in a while. It would be easy to write Axiom Verge off as a Metroid clone. Because when you get down to brass tacks, it is. It drops you in a map, and forces you to explore. Forces you to find the exit, only to tell you you’ll have to go back to that area to get something later on. The thing is there are but a mere handful of examples of games that tried to do something a Nintendo game did, and did it well. There are even fewer that have managed to do it as well. Especially this well.

Axiom Verge has. This game feels like it could actually fit in the Metroid universe somehow, or that you could call it Super Duper Metroid, and that it is the successor to Metroid fusion. Metroid fans would be completely okay with that. That isn’t an exaggeration or hyperbole here. It is seriously THAT good.

PROS: Spot on labyrinthine level design. Pixel Art. Chip tunes.

CONS: Not the most original story. (But still good!)

SECRETS: Who knew nostalgia could be so trippy?

I could end the review with that introduction. It really does live up to the hype it has had for almost a year. But a lot of you who missed it, or have been on the fence, or for those who are skeptical you might need more. Axiom Verge is the tale of a scientist who is transported to another world when his experiment goes awry, and his lab explodes. If that sounds a bit familiar it’s because that is also the setup to Eric Chahi’s Another World (a.k.a. Out Of This World). But beyond the initial intro, it is a completely different narrative than that game’s. You’ll meet other characters while heading back, and forth through areas who give you a little bit of back story. But they also don’t spell everything out for you either. Your character asks questions, tries to figure out where he is, and in the process some key things are revealed. But the details are kept vague. Not everything is revealed, even when you finish the game.  But the characters do get enough development that you can at least get behind them, and they are memorable. Notably the giant mechanical beings you’re introduced to. All of them become more important toward the end of the final act.

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That said, the story isn’t the strongest part of the game.  Although it is told better than many game stories. Still, you’ll see a lot of inspiration from stories you’ve seen in other mediums. But like the game it writes a love letter to, it lets the gameplay tell the bulk of the story, and it’s better for it. You can take your time, and try to really find every possible item, or secret. You can try to rush through to the end as fast as possible. In fact, Axiom Verge even has a speed run mode. Of course, choosing it shuts off one of the really cool features in the game.

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The boss fights are another area where the game really excels The sprite scaling does a wonderful job of showing you the scope of any given battle, while throwing you into a situation where you have to act fast. But in doing so you have to analyze the situation. “Do I have the right tools for this fight?” “Is there a discernible pattern?” “Is there something in the background I should be paying attention to?” You’ll have a limited amount of time to ponder these questions because once you’re in a boss chamber it’s sink or swim.

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Not only does the game have a large number of areas to explore, there are secret areas beyond those. These areas actually kind of screw with your mind a bit, because of a really cool set of visual effects. When you get near one of these areas, the game’s graphics will suddenly add scan lines much like you’d find playing old games on a 30-year-old standard definition television set. Get a little closer to find the brightness, and contrast will change. Actually go into one of these areas, and things can even become a bit surreal. Moreover going into these areas usually hides an item or a power up you’ll probably want.

 

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Interestingly, the game will  increase the number of these secret areas depending on the difficulty you choose to play, with the easiest setting giving you the fewest, and the hardest setting giving you the most. Do note if you play the speed run mode you can’t get into any of these areas when playing that mode. Speaking of the graphics, these are some of the nicest retro-themed visuals of their type. They’re on par with games like Shovel Knight most of the time, and sometimes even exceeds them. But where it really stands out, are some of the eerie character, and object designs. They both clash, and fit in with the rest of the game’s art style. It looks really good.

The visual cues of the secret areas, also tie into the game’s story somewhat. Over the course of the game these  secret areas, and even some normal areas will be blocked by garbled graphics. These look comparable to what you’d see on your television if you put in a dirty cartridge into an old game system. At some point you can find a power up that lets you clean up these graphics, in order to enter these areas. it ties into one of the details of the story too. If you do find yourself really invested in the storyline, there are also a number of journal entries, and logs hidden throughout the game as well.

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The game also has an amazing soundtrack, with a lot of different influences felt throughout the game. Like Metroid, each of the areas in Axiom Verge have their own particular background music. You’ll hear Industrial Synth in one section. New Wave in another, Electronic Tribal in yet another, Synth Pop in yet another, and so on. Most of this music is very memorable too. Even though much of it is ambient, fitting the scope of the game’s world, you may find yourself hearing it hours later. In your mind, as an ear worm on loop. If you find you really enjoy the music, you can purchase the soundtrack as well.

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There is an immense level of replay value here. With over 20 weapons, items, data logs, you’re probably not going to see everything on your first play through. Between these, and the secret areas in the game you can easily spend days playing it before finding everything. Then factor in the speed run challenge, and that’s even more play time.

But the most impressive thing about the game is that it was all made by one person in their spare time. Thomas Happ deserves all of the praise he has received for this game. It is an amazing feat when one considers how much is crammed into this 175 megabyte folder. To put that into perspective, Super Metroid had at least ten people working on it. Sure, one could argue it’s easier now to make a game like this than it was in 1994, But the amount of effort, and care put into this title really shows.

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I really couldn’t find much fault with anything during my play through. Sure the story borrows from other tales a bit. But it isn’t a bad story. It might be a Metroid clone, but it’s a damn good Metroid clone.  One that frankly still does plenty enough to set itself apart from Metroid. Functionally, I never had a crash, everything performed well, and I never saw a glitch in nearly 16 hours of play time. The PC version also has some basic options that can be toggled if you have a fairly old computer.

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Axiom Verge really does live up to the lofty praise it has gotten. It’s simply a must play game whether you choose to play it on a PlayStation 4 or a computer. The game is also coming soon to the Wii U with some enhancements for the game pad. This is a game that I highly recommend you pick up. It’s interesting, fun, and will keep you busy for a while.

Final Score: 10/10

Star Fox Zero Review

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Star Fox is the one Nintendo property aside from perhaps F-Zero that can’t seem to catch a break. A recap. Way back in the days of the Super NES it burst onto the scene at a time when polygon models were a rarity in home gaming.  It was also one of the most entertaining rail shooters ever made. Even though today one could look at its low frame rate, and dismiss it, they would be a fool to do so. Star Fox was awesome. It combined the feel of a Star Wars movie, with the action puppetry of Thunderbirds, and Fireball XL 5. Even a dash of Muppets fandom to boot.

Star Fox 2 never came out. It was shelved despite being nearly done, because the Nintendo 64 was around the corner. Instead we saw Star Fox 64. Heralded as one of the best rail shmups of all time. With good reason. It took everything we loved about Star Fox, made it prettier, and deepened an already better than average action game lore. It had a bunch of great voice samples, and dialogue as well as an excellently directed ending sequence. It made force feedback a necessity in gaming moving forward. After SF64, many N64 games began using the Rumble Pak, and Sony went as far as to re-release the PS1 with their dual shock controllers. But things soured a bit after that blockbuster.

PROS: Excellent visuals. Solid controls. Audio. Challenging. Super Mario Cheat Box.

CONS: Controls take some getting used to. Super Mario Cheat Box.

SLIPPY: You will still want him jettisoned out of the closest air lock.

When the Gamecube  came out we saw Rare move Dinosaur Planet from the N64 over, and we then saw creator Shigeru Miyamoto suggest it become a Star Fox game. Which it did. Many may not remember this but people decried this. Many people loathed Star Fox Adventures. Some for not being a rail shooter. Some for not remaining Dinosaur Planet. This is despite the fact that it was a pretty decent adventure game, that actually sold well.

Then we would see Nintendo partner with Namco, and bring us Star Fox Assault. Which would mostly be a rail shooter. This game was a combination of rail shooter, and third person shooter. Once again a lot of people derided it for not being 100% like Star Fox 64. Even though it did pretty well. Next, Star Fox Command hit the DS. It implemented a lot of the things Star Fox 2 would have introduced. It was even worked on by Dylan Cuthbert who worked on Star Fox, and Star Fox 2 before leaving Argonaut. But again, there were voices upset that it wasn’t a full-blown return to form.

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I had to drag you through the brief history lesson, in order to drive a point home. Star Fox seems to be stuck in a catch 22. If it deviates from the formula set up by the first two games, one group of people will be furious. On the other hand, if it doesn’t do enough to be new, or build upon the old games there will be another group of people who will be furious. So this time around it tries its absolute best to do both of those things. But undoubtedly, there are going to be fans in both of those camps who will still be upset.

In a way, Star Fox Zero’s narrative is a shot for shot remake of Star Fox 64. There’s no tiptoeing around that fact. The story is almost identical. Five years ago,  James McCloud goes off to stop the mad scientist Andross from blowing up Corneria, and taking over the universe. He sacrifices himself in the battle to save the day. But now somehow Andross has amassed a new army, and James’ son Fox is leading a team of mercenaries with his dad’s old wingman Peppy Hare. They’re joined by the brash Falco Lombardi, and the ever annoying Slippy Toad.

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Of course Star Fox Zero is the best looking game in the series yet. People were blown away by the first game, then blown away again by Star Fox 64. Even for all of the complaints the people who didn’t like Adventures, or Assault had, graphics weren’t one of them. Nearly everyone agreed that those games looked pretty great. Zero blows all of them out of the water. And yes I know that going from any of the old platforms to this one should look better. But Platinum Games always seems to have a knack for making the Wii U pull off really pretty stuff. This game can hang with Bayonetta 2. It is that good.

Locales have all kinds of intricate little details thrown in. Things that you might not think twice about have had the extra mile traveled in order to impress you. You’re not going to mistake this game for a bleeding edge PC game, or a big budget PS4 game. But you can’t deny it looks really good. All of that, along with the excellent orchestration makes everything feel like Star Wars with Muppets once again. The voice overs are especially great. Even Slippy. Although you’ll still want to shoot him down, and drop a smart bomb on his flaming cadaver.

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As I’ve said before, it feels in many ways like a shot for shot remake of Star Fox 64. The stages are all new of course, but you’re going to be on many of the same planets, in many of the same environments. As in SF64 you’ll start on Corneria, and try to make your way to Venom, and ultimately Andross. Once again there are all kinds of secret paths, and exits in every stage. So there is a lot of replay value in trying to discover every possible route to the end of the game.

Basically, they’ve given some vocal fans exactly what they’ve been asking for since the Nintendo 64 game came out. More Star Fox 64. Prettier Star Fox 64. More difficult Star Fox 64. But they’ve also tried to appeal to other vocal fans who want more than a pretty retread. Shigeru Miyamoto came up with a cockpit view mechanic, and in Star Fox Zero there are a few places where it is a part of the design. When you first turn on the game, it will make you go through a tutorial on how the cockpit controls work.

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Basically, the gyroscopic function of the Wii U game pad controls your head. You control the vehicles with the thumb sticks, and buttons. But you move your head by tilting the controller. Because of this you’ll be looking at the game pad screen to look out the windows of your vehicle, and up at the TV the rest of the time. You can also switch the screen positions making the TV the cockpit, and the pad, behind the plane.

If you’re really worried about that don’t be. Quite frankly, most of the time you don’t need to look down at the controller screen. You basically play while looking at the TV. But there are certain times when you’ll need to. Case in point, in one stage you fly a helipad stealthily in order to shut down reactors. On the helipad you have an R2-D2 stand in, who is used to hack terminals. You’ll lower the robot to the ground, and move him into little buildings. This is where you have to take your eyes off of the TV, and look at the pad to see what the droid sees.

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This isn’t that bad, and honestly does add a bit of depth to the game. You can also see ninety degrees to your left or your right while piloting vehicles by tilting the controller, and looking at the pad. Frankly, anybody who plays a lot of deep flight simulators on their PC may even find this second nature.

But this is where I will humbly submit some of the ire about controls may have a bit of merit. In an arcade rail shooter like this, a cockpit view in this vein isn’t intuitive. Make no mistake, I am not deriding the controls. The motion controls actually work the way they’re supposed to 95% of the time, and pushing in the left thumb stick will automatically center the camera again. The problem actually isn’t the functionality here. The problem is that a lot of people aren’t going to be able to divorce the left thumb stick from the rest of the game pad in their minds. Not right away. So if they move the pad left, and the ship keeps moving forward there will be a sense of confusion, and frustration. On the TV set moving the pad around simply moves the cursor. But looking down at the pad screen is moving your head, and the cursor. The cursor is also a little bit more accurate on the pad. So in some spots even if you’re doing alright on the TV, you might want to look down to find targets above or below you that you don’t see on the TV.

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All of this is a lot less confusing than it sounds, but it is still something some people aren’t going to pick up during their first play through. The opening tutorial’s lessons give the basics, but really most are going to have to replay the game a number of times to really get acclimated to how things work. You can also go into the control settings, and make it so the motion controls only come on when you lock onto something. I didn’t notice too much of a difference, but for someone else it might be a benefit.If you’re willing to spend a couple of campaigns getting used to the setup you’ll find a very good game here.

A very difficult good game, because there are some very high challenges to contend with. Some of these are carry overs from older Star Fox games like taking down nukes while also trying to keep the Great Fox from being destroyed  at the same time. Others are new missions like the aforementioned stealth stage. Of course the showdown with Andross is the hardest part of the game. The game is still new, so I won’t spoil it. But suffice it to say you may want to rip your hair out during this phase.

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But don’t do anything rash. The game does have an option to help you out. Oddly enough, it’s something that again, draws ire from some players. Nintendo has taken a cue from a few Mario games, and added a power up. If you’re forced to continue multiple times on any given level, a care package is dropped. Picking this up will give you invincibility so that you can beat the stage, and move onto the next one. If you use it, it won’t save your score or stats for that stage however. So you’ll have to replay it to win legitimately.

This is something you’ll avoid doing if you’re looking to challenge yourself, or you’re the type who competes against friends. It completely negates all of the difficulty because you can all but let the game idle until the next boss fight. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind the world that Star Fox is a game geared for just about everyone. The giant “E” on the box is a reminder of that fact. The Super Mario Cheat Box is actually a nice feature for kids getting into tougher genres. Or for older people who have very limited time allotted to gaming. But even they have the option to skip it if they want the satisfaction of being able to say they beat the game on their own.

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Star Fox Zero also has one other trick up its sleeve, and that’s a cooperative mode. This can even alleviate confusion some might have with the control scheme. Because in this mode one person uses the cockpit to fire at all of the threats, while the other person uses a controller to pilot the vehicles on the television. This is pretty cool because it can give two friends the sense they’re piloting, and co-piloting. They still need to work as a team, sometimes the gunner will be barking the pilot to head in one direction. Other times the pilot will be telling the gunner to take out a target that isn’t quite in their view.

Beating the game unlocks an arcade mode where you’ll be able to save times for speed running the campaign. Each stage will have a time listed at the end, and these times add up together for a total time. If you clear the arcade mode once, you’ll get one other unlockable. A sound test. This lets you play the game’s various audio clips, and music.

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Rounding everything out are training missions. You can use these to get better acquainted with how each of the game’s vehicles operate, and then try to complete specific challenges with each of them. There is also some amiibo functionality here if you have the Fox, or Falco figures from the Super Smash Bros line. If you use Fox, you can use him to fly the arwing from the original Super NES Star Fox. But if you use Falco you get a beefier version of the arwing. This one is painted black, and has more powerful Vulcan cannons on it. However there is a price, and that is dramatically weaker shielding. The Falco arwing can go down pretty quickly. Neither of these are really all that necessary, and in the case of Falco, actually make the game harder. But these are fun novelties if you happen to have the toys. If you don’t, you can still get the extra arwings. But you’ll have to be an absolute master to do so. You’ll need to get every hidden medal in the game.

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Ultimately, Star Fox Zero is a pretty cool game. But it is going to be reviled by two camps. One that vehemently refuses to even try to adapt to a different controller set up, and one that will keep lamenting the similarities to Star Fox 64. Should you fall into either category, this review isn’t going to change your mind. But if you’re someone who doesn’t mind trying something new, or putting in a lot of practice you might want to give it a shot. It’s a fun game with enough challenge to warrant playing through it multiple times. Sometimes that’s all a game needs to be. Retail copies also include Star Fox Guard,  which is a separate digital purchase if you buy it on the eshop.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

 

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review

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Earlier this year Nintendo brought back its discounted rerelease line. Nintendo Selects, which has gone by other names on previous consoles includes some great Wii U stuff this time out. Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, and the NES Remix pack being popular choices. But there was another inclusion that doesn’t seem to get as much recognition.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is the follow-up to Donkey Kong Country Returns. A game that came out on the Wii, and has also been re released in this iteration of the Selects line. Both of these games were developed by Retro Studios the studio known for the excellent Metroid Prime Trilogy.  DKCR was met with a lot of praise as well. Tropical Freeze was also lauded, but didn’t make the splash previous Donkey Kong games have.

PROS: One of the best Donkey Kong Country games ever. Possibly the best.

CONS: Some might find the game too brutal under the cute exterior.

SADISTIC: The Snomad penguins. Explosives. Death traps. A Gundam. YES A GUNDAM.

Which is a shame, because Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a really good iteration of the series. In fact in many ways (as blasphemous this may seem to some), it is actually better than the Rare games released on the Super NES. It takes everything that was great about those classic Game Paks, and eschews some of the annoyances. All while having its own feel, and taking some chances.

The first chance the game takes is replacing the antagonist. Donkey Kong is celebrating his birthday with his friends Cranky, Diddy, and Dixie when a chill blows out his candles. Upon looking out the window, the Kongs see a massive army of penguins, walruses, and seals converging on the island. The invaders effectively take over Donkey Kong’s homeland, and so he has to drive back the occupants, and save the day.

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But as in the days of Rare, things won’t be easy in this Retro helmed game. The Snowmads (This is what the antagonists are actually called) have created some of the most difficult platformer stages ever conceived. One thing you’re going to notice right off the bat are how each world has a theme. You’ll also notice each stage within the world has a spin on that theme. In one world you’ll see fruit themed levels, some are jungle stages with a fruit theme. Others have a more science fiction feel, but still incorporating a fruit theme. Giant blades chop up watermelons, and oranges. Watermelons, and oranges you happen to need to walk on to get ahead.

All of this stuff isn’t just for show. Much of it is actually built into the game play itself. An enemy may set a platform on fire. You can put out the fire, but then the platform has a finite number of seconds it can support your weight. Part of a level may sink into the icy ocean, but Donkey Kong needs to follow that sinking part in order to uncover a secret.

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The game has a plethora of secrets too. The number rivals that of the Super NES DKC, games as well as Super Mario World. It even takes a page from SMW by adding secret exits in many of the stages which can then lead to secret stages. The game also has a pretty good variety of things to do. Some stages are your typical horizontal, or vertical platforming stages. Others are rail sections invoking the mine car play of the original games. There are also on rail rocket levels, where you have to control a rocket by pumping a gas button.

Tropical Freeze reuses these mechanics a number of times throughout the game. But each time it does, it finds a way to make it feel different or new. Sometimes this can be a simple perspective change. Other times it can be an excellent use of the world’s theme. Often times you’ll find stages that combine all of the mechanics to make for a really challenging experience.

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Speaking of challenges, on top of the secret stages, the game will give you the optional task of collecting not only the letters K-O-N-G but puzzle pieces too. Finding enough of these will unlock some sketches, and test renders. The letters are usually in plain sight. But the puzzle pieces aren’t. Often times they’re found in hidden pathways, or behind a piece of scenery. There are also hidden mini game rooms in levels. These will take you back to Donkey Kong 64’s numerous ones. Completing these also gets you puzzle pieces.

Normally you might not want to bother with that sort of thing. Except that in this game finding all of that stuff, along with every secret exit will unlock a hidden world, as well as an even more difficult mode. This mode makes you complete the game with a single hit marker, zero checkpoints, and without any help from the other Kongs. It even kneecaps you by shutting down the game’s shop system, which I’ll explain a little bit later.

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While some of the later stages can feel punishing, they don’t usually feel unfair. Save for a few exceptions, you’re going to know it was your own fault for dying. But that doesn’t make it any less difficult. Tropical Freeze is unabashed in its insistence you suck it up. Yet, it still manages to throw you a few huge bones. First of all, it is very easy to earn 1-Ups. There are the expected 1-Up balloons. But there are tons of bananas, and banana coins in every stage. More than enough for you to earn several extra lives. In fact, even the worst player can probably expect to have over 50 lives by the time they reach the final boss.

The other major favor the game provides is the shop. Going in with your banana coins allows you to buy an extra heart for the health meter, Barrels to start with Dixie, Diddy, or Cranky who act as assist characters, and an invincibility potion among other things. There is also the gum ball machine for you to be given randomly selected collectibles. Again, while they might not be something most players care about, those who go for pure completion of their games will. That means in order to play the secret world, and hit up masochism mode, getting those models is worth it.

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Tropical Freeze also has a two player mode. In this mode players work cooperatively to get through all of the game’s worlds, and stages. Both players choose their Kongs, and controller of choice. This mode can be a blessing and a curse. While tackling the bosses may prove easier, some of the levels might actually prove harder. Why? Because like Battletoads, both players are going to need to be at around the same skill level. Particularly when getting to later levels, where being on the same page is paramount. Thankfully, if one of you fails, it doesn’t completely penalize the other player. But in sections where things are easier with say, Donkey Kong, and Dixie Kong, losing Dixie Kong will make it that much harder.

Speaking of the Kongs, each of the three has their own distinct advantages. Cranky Kong, the withered grouchy, old Kong will give you the option to bounce higher off of his cane. Think of him a lot like Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales. The difference being you can’t just hold down the jump button to bounce on forever. Each bounce requires a perfectly timed button press to master.

Dixie Kong has her helicopter blade move where her hair twirls around for flight. She also has an advantage in water stages, as her hair lets her fight water currents that the other Kongs simply can’t compete with. She’s probably the one most players will align with most. I know in my play through, I found her the most versatile character.

Finally you have Diddy Kong, and as expected he has his trusty jet pack. This lets you hover for a few seconds, and it gives you some assistance crossing some gaps in the game. It is even helpful in other areas as well. Overall I didn’t use him as much as Dixie, but there were some cases where hovering did work better than flying.

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That’s another thing about the level design. Some stages are really built around having a specific Kong employed to help you. Don’t get me wrong, each of these stages can be completed without using any of the Kongs. But using a specific Kong is necessary for navigating some areas, or even finding secrets. Case in point, using Cranky to pogo jump off of a spiked ball onto an owl, and into a hidden puzzle piece. Or using Dixie to fight an underwater current to swim to a secret exit. The game has a ton of this stuff, which makes me wonder how some players are good enough to beat the hidden hard mode.

Bosses also follow the fair, but difficult design philosophy. When you first encounter some of the game’s bosses you’ll want to rip your hair out in frustration. But if you persevere, and don’t give up you’ll eventually learn their pattern. With enough practice you’ll realize what you have to do during that pattern, and rise above. Eventually you may even find clearing some of the bosses easy. Except for that fish boss. That thing has to even stress out the masters of Donkey Kong.

But even after you clear it the first time you’ll want to go back to find all of the things you missed. The game has a wonderful amount of creativity behind it. Whether it’s finding new ways to use its mechanics, the music, the art style, or the new characters. Even something as simple as giving the Kongs a new enemy to face really does help the game grow beyond the designs we’ve seen since 1994. For some it may feel like going from Bowser to Wart. But that isn’t a bad way to mix it up.

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I didn’t even talk much about the graphics, and sound. These are both astonishingly well done. While some screen shots in this review or footage on YouTube might give you a good idea of how things are, it looks even better on your TV or monitor. The character models have a lot of small details that you might not appreciate at first, until you realize just how few games really go this extra mile. Even games on more potent hardware. The fur on the Kongs. The engravings, and dings on the Snowmads’ armor. The textures on not only objects, but the terrain. These little touches really do show just how much work Retro’s artists put into a project.

Beyond the graphics, are again, little flourishes in the animation. The expressions on the enemies’ faces changing. The look of water pouring from the background to the foreground. The transitions the game often employs continue the attention to detail throughout the game. You might not have time to look at some of it because you’ll be trying to survive. But if you have 70 lives stored up, risk ten of them to take in some of this stuff. It may not be the flashiest stuff you’ve seen in a game, but it does make the world seem just that much more alive.

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The music, and sound effects are also exceptional, with little grunts, squeals, and other noises going along with the animated characters nicely. The soundtrack also has a wider variety of genres than you might expect. You’ll have the typical tropical island themes, but also some nice instrumental folk music, tribal drum music, some alt-country themes, and the game even manages to throw in some heavy metal now, and again.

If you have a Wii U, and haven’t played this one yet you might want to give this a spin. It’s a lot of fun to play, has a lot of charm, and a lot of challenge. It definitely should hold a place among some of the best platformers in recent years. Retro Studios really did outdo themselves with this one. Though giving that one relentless penguin a Gundam may haunt me the rest of my days.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Devil’s Third Review

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I know. I know. I’m late on this one. But I have a really good reason. I only recently managed to secure a copy. The game initially showed up stateside, where GameStop had a mere 420 copies nationwide. To say that the speculator market went insane over this is an understatement. For at least two months the game went for as much as $300 in online auctions. Nintendo quietly released more into retailers hands. The aftermarket price did fall a lot, but you can still pay as much as $80 for one. I lucked out, finding mine at retail last week, and it was likely the only new copy in my State.

The game has been a bit of a pariah since its release. Not only was there an initial speculator craze, that made a handful of second-hand sellers a considerable chunk of change, there was negative reception. There was a lot of negative reception. From other reviewers who hated it, to average players who hated it, the word of mouth got around fast. But is it really that terrible? Is it deserving of the ire not seen since the likes of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie?

PROS: Fun mechanics. Large weapon assortments.

CONS: Technical issues. Dumb A.I.. Microtransactions negatively impact multiplayer.

DTV: The action, and cheese are right out of a B-Movie.

Before I get into just why Devil’s Third is so reviled, I have to give a little bit of background. Way back in 2008, Tomonobu Itagaki left Tecmo, along with several Team Ninja members. He had announced he was leaving because he hadn’t been paid what he felt the company had promised him. He also announced he was suing them. Shortly thereafter he, and the others would form a new studio Valhalla Game Studios.

Valhalla would immediately begin work on Devil’s Third. In 2010 it was showed off at E3 for the first time. There wasn’t much focus on it compared with all of the other stuff at the show, but that wasn’t where the bad news would begin. During development, the game switched engines a number of times. The initial engine they started on had to be scrapped when the company they licensed it from went belly up. The game was then restarted on Relic’s Darksiders II engine. After awhile the team ran into other problems, and they moved the project to the Unreal 3 Engine.

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Things became worse for Valhalla in 2013 when THQ went out of business. During the sale of THQ’s assets the IP for Devil’s Third was given back to Valhalla. But they now had no cash flow to finish their game. Itagaki spent a year trying to find another publisher. Eventually Nintendo would pick it up. Nintendo would also dictate that Devil’s Third would be a Wii U exclusive.

Upon firing up the game you’ll go through the typical credit screens. One for Valhalla, one for Epic’s Unreal 3 Engine, and you’ll finally end up at a calibration screen. Before you can even get to the title screen you’ll be asked to move the screen borders to your TV’s actual borders. After that you’ll make your way to the title screen.

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The title screen has three menus. A single player mode, a multiplayer mode, and an options menu. In the options menu you can choose preset button configurations for the game pad. You can also revisit your border settings, volume, and contrast settings. One nice thing is the ability to tweak the sensitivity of the thumb sticks. It isn’t going to make it anywhere near as seamless as mouse look in a PC game. But it does give you a leg up on a couple of other games.

The single player campaign is a mixed bag. The story is right out of a direct-to-video action movie you’d find in a Best Buy bargain bin. In a war torn future, the global landscape has changed. The US was broken up into different territories, most of the world is in ruins, and an old cold war era terrorist has destroyed satellites. This has resulted in much of the world’s economies wiped out, as the decimation of the satellites has caused an EMP-like situation. Many computer systems are out, modern vehicles don’t work. Everything is in ruin.

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A US Official goes to Guantanamo Bay to release one old prisoner named Ivan who was involved with this old threat in a past life. So as Ivan you have to escape the prison (where your cell is a lavish apartment replete with guitars, and a drum kit for some reason), meet up with an old war hero, and fight your former allies for revenge. You go to all different kinds of locales in the campaign. Panama, Japan, a shipyard, are but a handful of them.

The game plays like a combination of Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden games from Tecmo, Call Of Duty, and a hint of Max Payne for good measure. You can go into firefights using both melee weapons, as well as an assortment of guns, grenades, rockets, and other projectile weapons. You can actually do some pretty cool things with the system. Like Ninja Gaiden, enemies can be dismembered in various violent ways. Some of the projectile weapons cause them to explode into giblets. Swords, axes, knives, and pipes will often crush skulls, and chop off limbs. There are even a lot of cool canned animations for the melee attacks that make it feel even more like a fun Dolph Lundgren B-movie.

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Using the melee attacks will eventually fill a meter. Once full, you can activate a melee buff, that makes your attacks much more potent while your tattoos flash. There are some sections where you’ll have no choice but to use this mechanic as the game throws  you up against mini bosses that can withstand a lot of gunfire. The unfortunate thing if you come into this as a fan of modern hack n’ slash titles is that there isn’t much of a combo system.

Devil’s Third has two melee attacks. You can do light, or hard swings. Light swings do less damage, but you can get a few of them in in a short amount of time. Hard swings do a ton of damage, but have cool down periods between swings. These are only around a second, but in many situations that can feel like too long. You can also block incoming melee attacks. After you get two or three swings in, the aforementioned canned animations occur, usually killing an enemy. The problem is that there aren’t any of the intricate challenging combos you’re probably used to. Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, and God Of War, all let you do some pretty deep combos. Many of which could even help you those times where you found yourself completely surrounded. Not so, here. You can get a few light swings in, maybe combine them with a hard swing, and that’s about it. You do have the ability to throw your melee weapon as well, which can sometimes be beneficial.

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There’s also a pretty good dodge system in place, so you can dive out of the way of firepower,  peek out behind cover, and toggle a run command. The run command can also be used to parkour on certain surfaces to get to higher ground. You can also combine the movement commands with melee to perform an instant takedown that can be really handy in certain situations. Finally, you can slide to cover while running which is cool.

The shooting mechanics fare considerably better. Most of the guns, have a nice punch to them, and work the way you’d expect. Machine guns, sub machine guns, being best at medium range, shotguns being great at point blank, and everything being decent at a range. Explosives also have splash damage, so you have to be careful about shooting them too close. Devil’s Third also tries to keep itself from becoming monotonous by adding some turret sections, and a few sections where you use your X-Ray glasses to find traps, or to lock onto targets for air strikes. Some of these succeed in what they’re trying to do, others feel like busywork. None of them go on too long though.

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If there are any complaints to be had with the shooting, it’s that the right thumb stick’s responsiveness isn’t quite as smooth as in other games. It takes a little while to get used to. But while you’re acclimating yourself you can expect to miss a few shots, and get beat up by an enemy that probably seemed like easy pickings.

Speaking of enemies, there is a surprisingly large variety here. You’ll see your usual video game mercenaries. But there are Predator stand-ins, Resident Evil monster stand-ins, mech like super soldiers, enemy vehicles, and many more. Again, there is an issue that rears its head here, and that is the inconsistent A.I.. Sometimes you will find enemies have the most dead on aim in the game, or the best possible blocking times when you go to swing that emergency fire axe. But then you’ll get to the next section of the level to find the next run of henchmen are complete idiots. They will stand in the open practically asking you to shoot them in the face. Even when there may be a ton of optional scenery to duck behind.

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This can even affect the bosses sometimes. You could fight a boss in ten long battles, all of which you narrowly lose, only for them to become a pushover in fight eleven. It takes you out of the moment, especially after having to pull out all of the stops so many times. It’s almost as if the game just decides to randomly put you over for no apparent reason. But the inconsistent A.I. really isn’t the biggest problem with the game.

Those would be the technical issues. The game will randomly suffer from frame drops, and micro stuttering. Make no mistake, it’s infrequent. It isn’t a constant problem while you play through the campaign. But it can happen at the worst possible time, and get you killed. Even on the easiest difficulty setting. It doesn’t matter if there are 2 enemies, 60 enemies, or even no enemies. Your frame rate will go from an acceptable 30 frames per second down to 5 frames per second for around fifteen seconds. The conditions are arbitrary. It isn’t something where it happens when too much is going on for the Wii U to handle. It will randomly drop. In my play through I had it happen around ten times during the campaign. The campaign will get you between six to eight hours of play time depending on how fast you pick up the nuances. Difficulty settings honestly don’t impact the game much. In my case going from the easiest setting to the hardest one, I only noticed that enemies did more damage. The A.I. didn’t improve much, and they seemed to take only slightly more damage when I hit them.

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Some have really given the game’s graphics a hard time. To their credit, it does look like some of the earliest textures, and models were carried over from older builds to the final build on Unreal 3 Engine. You can probably notice it in the screen shots in this article. I won’t sugarcoat it. The visuals are pretty inconsistent. Ivan looks pretty amazing. There are a lot of little details on the model, and in some parts of the game you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at an Xbox One game. But then you have structures, and other models that have the complexity of a very early Xbox 360 game. Some of the textures aren’t as good as other textures. That is until you realize that the game has another technical issue. It seems like there is an issue loading textures. Go into one of these bland areas, and hold still for a moment. Eventually, things begin to look considerably better as details begin to show up on brick walls, marble floors, or painted surfaces.

While I don’t think it looks as bad, or plays as bad as some of the criticism would have you believe, you can’t entirely dismiss it. Devil’s Third does have some issues that really bring it down a lot. Having said that, I still had a pretty fair amount of fun playing through the campaign. It has a lot of problems yes, but they aren’t so bad that they make the game completely unplayable. It’s very simplistic fun, and that’s okay. If you can forgive the inconsistent graphics, and occasional frame drop, you can honestly find a fair amount of enjoyment in the campaign. Even if the A.I. goes from Einstein to dumbass out of nowhere.

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You can also find enjoyment in the multiplayer portion of the game. It has the typical modes you’ve likely come to expect. There’s a standard death match, and team death match mode. There is also a capture the flag mode, a bomb mode similar to the one found in Counter-Strike, as well as a fruit mode. This makes teams compete to capture fruit, and put it in a device for points. Finally, there is a Siege mode. This reminds me a lot of Sanctum, where you defend or attack structures in a map depending on your team. Moreover, Siege actually encourages players to form clans, as you can place structures in maps, and compete for territory.

Siege will give you the option to join a clan, or be a mercenary. If you join a clan you get the perks of having your base placements effect matches, as well as having a neat little icon next to your name. If you would rather play with your friends, you can also form your own clan, and invite them into it. When people ask you to join their clan, you’ll get an in-game email notification that you can accept or deny. If you opt out of being in a clan, and play lone wolf, you can still play Siege. But you will mainly be there to help whichever team you’re assigned to. You will get rewards for playing the mode however.

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Before you can play Siege you’ll have to get set up with gear, take a brief tutorial, and then fight through the other modes of your choosing until you reach level 5. But of course, this is where once again, there has to be a problem getting in the way of what could have been an excellent game. Microtransactions. I hesitate to say that the ones in Devil’s Third are as nefarious as the ones in a lot of free to play games. They aren’t. But by God are they still pretty dubious. The game has two forms of currency. In game cash you can use, and golden eggs. Golden eggs can be used to buy some items, while the cash is for others. You can also convert the eggs into cash. Beating the campaign gives you a lot of eggs, and winning or placing in matches gives you one to a few.  Finding all of the trophies in the campaign adds more. Thankfully, the weapons in multiplayer are all purchased with in game cash. So beating the game will essentially give you enough eggs to turn to credits to unlock every gun in the multiplayer.

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However, some things like multiple load outs for you to preset weapon combinations with, and costume pieces need to be purchased with eggs. Many of them require fifty eggs to unlock. The costume pieces also have negligible buffs, and nerfs on them. One shirt might take one less damage point from bullets while reducing you one speed point. The differences are so miniscule they rarely have any impact in combat whatsoever. They seem pointless to even be there. Really, they serve a mainly cosmetic purpose. But it doesn’t feel any better. Especially since you can pay real world money for eggs if you don’t want to grind out battles for eons. Siege mode also gives you a finite number of ammunition, so you’ll use the in game currency to replenish it. Again, another example of microtransactions  running amok. Thankfully, you’re still given plenty, and the rewards you get for playing generally cover you well enough. So you really shouldn’t have to buy any eggs to convert to cash to resupply with.

Prices for eggs will make you laugh your ass off, and ask the game if it’s serious. One hundred eggs will cost you $20. Go back to what I said a moment ago about how many eggs you need for a costume part. This means if you don’t want to grind your way to costumes you can easily spend a few hundred dollars. On nonsense. This is almost as bad as the technical issues, and for some players it might actually be worse.

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This is all disappointing because the underlying multiplayer game play is actually quite good. It makes effective use of the mechanics from the campaign, allowing you to use the same melee, movement, and gunplay. The maps are well designed for the different playable modes. I’ll go out on a limb, and say if not for the microtransactions this could have given some other online shooters on the Wii U some competition. It feels a lot like the multiplayer from Max Payne 3, minus the bullet time. In place of that are super weapons you can use for a short period of time after filling a meter. These do feel pretty beefy, and will have you cheering when you take people down with them. But they’re not win buttons either. You can still be taken out pretty easily when using them. Be it a shot from afar, or a sword from behind.

The technical issues from the main game do sometimes crop up here. Sometimes just before a round starts there might be a hiccup, and you’ll notice texture pop in. But outside of that, the death matches run really well. Interestingly, you can also plug in a USB keyboard to use in the chat room before matches. You cannot play the game with it though, so don’t expect to have a PC experience here. The game doesn’t support headsets or microphones though. Peculiar seeing how they went to the trouble of adding keyboard support. Anyway, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter much since the most played mode is death match. The goal of which is to be a loner who racks up the most frags.

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Overall, I wouldn’t call Devil’s Third a completely terrible game. There are many issues that keep it from being an exceptional single player game. The microtransactions really hinder the online experience much more than help it. In spite of all of these problems though, I can say there is fun to be had here. The story, while full of plot holes, and clichés does live up the B-movie vibe it goes for. It’s still a riot to cut down waves of low level grunts with a shotgun, or an iron pipe. You’ll still feel an enjoyably surprising shock when a boss knocks a weapon out of your hands. The 75% of the time that the A.I. is smarter than a box of rocks it can be an exciting challenge. Especially when there are new tools given to you to try out. None of this is going to blow you away, but you’ll likely enjoy playing through it over a weekend.

Multiplayer actually is a blast though, which is why it is so disappointing to see it marred by a microtransaction system. The weapons, and mechanics are so enjoyable. Some of the extra costumes you can customize your character with do look cool. But they’re nothing anybody should spend real world money on. It’s the type of thing that should have been a  DLC pack you would find in a Call Of Duty game. If it had to be sold as an extra at all. The system here just nickel, and dimes you. It isn’t quite the level of a free to start game, since again, you can at least get all of the weapons by playing the campaign. But man, does it come ever so close to it. Beat the game, use the credits on the weapons, and enjoy the multiplayer that way.

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If after all of that you want to jump in, you can try to hunt down a copy like I did. But you can also buy it on the Nintendo eshop. In the end though, you’re getting into an average game. Nothing revolutionary. Nothing you haven’t seen elsewhere. But you’ve also played far worse. Although being average isn’t bad, there are many better games to choose from. If you do decide to play it anyway, you’ll have some fun. If you temper your expectations.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

Shovel Knight Review

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I know, I’m late to the party again. I can’t always help it. Once, again you probably don’t need me to tell you to play Shovel Knight either. It’s gotten all sorts of critical acclaim, and has done so well that the folks at Yacht Club Games have a physical disc version out for consoles. Not to mention the amiibo figure for fans of the Nintendo Wii U version.

PROS: Old school action platforming inspired by Mega Man & Duck tales!

CONS: High difficulty will scare away some. Anticlimactic end boss.

WHAT?: There’s a super secret mode for those who can beat the game.

So what can I say about Shovel Knight you might not know about? Probably not very much, but I’m certainly compelled to attempt it. Shovel Knight is a 2D action platformer with art, and music inspired by games that came out on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Most notably, the first six Mega Man games, and Duck tales.

The game also borrows ideas from Super Mario Bros. 3, and Zelda 2. Basically, if you were a big fan of Capcom or Nintendo, in 1987, there is a lot of fan service here for you. The game starts you out with some entertaining cinema screens to set up the action. You play a knight who goes into a depression after losing his comrade on a mission. He retires, and in his absence a sorcerer takes over the land. Fearing for their lives, many powerful knights align themselves with her, and plunder the surrounding kingdoms, each one taking a kingdom over.

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From here your knight picks up his trusty shovel (hence the name), and proceeds to go on a quest to take back the land. After an introductory mission, that helps get you acclimated to the controls, you’ll be placed on a map much like the one in Super Mario Bros. 3. There are mission stages, wandering enemies, villages, and bonus stages. Each segment allows you to play three missions in whichever order you choose.

Villages work the same way games like Zelda 2, the Ys series, and other action RPGs do. You can go into shops, get items to use in missions, level up your life capacity, weapons, and even interact with characters. Shovel Knight even adds a number of hidden secrets in the villages, as well as throughout the game. Some of them are almost necessary to find if you want to be victorious.

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As in the classic Mega Man series, you will face a boss at the end of each mission. The boss will have a pattern you need to analyze, and learn in order to defeat them. On your way to the boss, the stages are full of the tricky jumping, and challenging enemies you would expect. Much like Scrooge McDuck, and his cane, Shovel Knight has a pogo move with his shovel. He can also swing the shovel at bad guys, and use the money he finds in the stages to level it up. Also like Duck tales, there are hidden rooms throughout the stages that give you access to treasure, sheet music that you can bring to a minstrel, and hidden shops.

Finding these hidden shop items can be a Godsend. Some of them make getting through some areas much easier. In the case of some of the game’s bonus levels, they’re actually required. They can also deal higher damage on bosses than your shovel, or magic items you find in the towns. But the standard magic items are important too, giving you the secondary weapons that work better on certain grunts, or even bosses. Again, it certainly feels like Mega Man, except that the bosses aren’t the ones leaving you the weapons.

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Clearing the mission levels will break the barriers on the map (similar to Super Mario Bros 3’s locks), and open up newer areas. Again, revealing three more missions, and other spaces. The wandering enemies on the board are also worth going to. Most of them are mini boss affairs, but defeating them will give you a lot of cash, and a bit of background lore.

Speaking of cash, it is also important to collect as much as possible. It’s also important that you fail as little as possible. Shovel Knight doesn’t give you a traditional lives system the games that inspired it do. There isn’t a game over screen upon losing a certain number of lives. Instead the game takes away a big chunk of your money every time you die. It leaves some of that money hovering above your resting place for you to take back on your next attempt.  But each failure costs, more, and more until you have nothing left.

 

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The game also has a woman in one of the towns who keeps tabs on the gold you’ve collected, number of times you’ve died, among other statistics. It also gives you a final tally at the end of the credits if, and when you do manage to complete the game. Beating the game also gives you the chance to replay the entire game in the role of one of the bosses.

Shovel Knight does have a few minor differences between its versions. If you play it on Xbox One, it includes a showdown with the Battletoads. PlayStation 4 owners get a similar showdown, but with Kratos. Wii U players get a cooperative mode, while 3DS users get a list of challenges. If you play the game on your computer, you’ll have  a couple of performance options over the console versions. Console owners can also buy the game physically for a bit more than the price of the digital download.

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Any way you choose to go though, is going to give you a good time. I know I’ve mentioned similarities to some great classic games. That isn’t really a complaint though. Shovel Knight takes the best aspects of those old games. But it also does a lot of new things with them, including some well made puzzles built around them. I also didn’t talk much about the style of the game. If you haven’t played it, and are only looking at screenshots here, you might want to sigh at first. True, a lot of small businesses making platformers these days have gone for the look of an old system.

But Shovel Knight has some of the best sprite work around. It really does emulate the look of an NES very well. Better than many of its contemporaries. It also does a lot of clever visual tricks, and uses these tricks in the actual game design. For example near the end of the game, there is a section where a storm comes into view. During which, all you can see are silhouettes of characters, and objects. In this section many of the platforms are hollow, and you’ll fall through. It is only by looking for one specific detail that you can tell where you need to go.

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It does something similar in one of the boss encounters. Even when it doesn’t effect game play, it just nails the look of an NES game.  The palettes, the parallax scrolling, all make Shovel Knight feel like it could have been made by Capcom back in 1988. The music isn’t too shabby either. Yacht Club made sure that every song sounded like it is playing on an NES. Five channels, with the bending frequency noises, and orchestrated in some of the catchiest chip tunes in recent memory.

Again, all feeling like a late 80’s NES game made by Capcom. If you were a big fan of Mega Man, or Duck tales back in the day this is certainly a game that will be up your alley. It’s also going to be a great game for anybody who appreciates a great challenge. There are some very difficult parts in this game. But in all of the right ways. It’s the kind of challenge that will be infuriating at times. But also addictive enough that you will keep chiseling away at it until you’re victorious.

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If I have any complaints with Shovel Knight, it’s mainly that sometimes you’re going to feel a little bit off. You’ll feel like you should have been on a surface, but the game will disagree with you. It is mainly on one or two very rare occasions, that involve a very specific object that I don’t want to spoil for you here. Granted, I know the game has been out awhile, but there are still plenty of you who didn’t get around to checking this out yet.

But you should, because aside from that one grievance it’s a really good action platformer. One that is still being supported heavily by its creators over a year later. So much so that there are even free expansions yet to come for it.  If you missed out on it before, or are the sort who has to have a tangible copy of every game you own on a shelf, pick it up. The physical disc version came out recently, and doesn’t cost too much more than the downloadable version. If you choose to play the PC version however, I highly recommend a game pad. You can use a keyboard if so inclined, but things will feel a bit more natural for most players.

Final Score: 9 out of 10