Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS Review

Smash Bros. 3DS

Super Smash Bros. on 3DS is a prime example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s not to say that no tweaks have been made – this is probably the most balanced Smash Bros. yet – but it serves more as a means to bring the winning formula of the series to handhelds than it does to push it forward.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There was a six year gap between Brawl and this 3DS addition to the series, after all. The series has hardly been exhausted. And when the game is as fun and addictive as this, why should Nintendo tamper with it?

It’s a great transition, I might add. The brunt of the Smash Bros. control scheme and mechanics translate faithfully to the 3DS, with only minor gripes directed towards the blocking and grabbing mechanics, performed with the system’s shoulder buttons, which feel a little less fluid than on the home console Smash Bros. titles.

The core appeals of the series, however, are the deep yet accessible fighting gameplay, and the ludicrous amount of fan service provided by the colorful roster of Nintendo characters, as well as the stages and items.

It’s the biggest Smash Bros. roster to date, with the majority of characters from Brawl returning along with a good number of new characters. Some of these new characters, like retro favorites Little Mac and Duck Hunt, or newer faces like Shulk and Rosalina, are welcome additions. Though some others, such as Dark Pit or Lucina, feel like Nintendo is scrapping the bottom of the barrel (in the case of the former, director Sakurai may just be giving himself a pat on the back for directing Kid Icarus Uprising). When one considers some of the fan favorites that were left out (Ridley, Dixie Kong), one has to wonder what exactly the criteria is to make it on the Smash Bros. roster these days.

Two new third-party characters brighten things up, with Pac-Man and Mega Man bringing an added dose of nostalgia and gameplay variety to the table (regrettably at the expense of Snake).

Smash Bros. 3DS

The great thing about this particular Smash Bros. is that it caters to both of the diehard Smash Bros. fan bases: Those who prefer the fun, chaotic party game aspects of the series, and those who take it as a serious fighter. Online modes, appropriately dubbed “For Fun” and “For Glory” cover both fields, with the former allowing all stage gimmicks and items and the latter featuring more straightforward, item-free stages. Both styles have their benefits (one gives you serious, “no excuses” victories and defeats, while the other lets you take full advantage of the toy box of items at the game’s disposal), and its good to see the series acknowledge its diversity.

There are the usual single-player and bonus modes. Classic and All-Star modes return, as do home run contests and break the target. One unfortunately lax new mode, Smash Run, features players running around a map, fighting classic game enemies and collecting stat boosting power-ups before facing off against traditional Smash opponents. It’s worth a look, but lacks replay value.

As usual for the series, Super Smash Bros. on 3DS includes countless unlockables. So just in case the insanely addictive multiplayer wasn’t incentive enough for you to keep coming back, unlocking every last stage and trophy might just have you hooked.

Of course, it’s that tried-and-true gameplay that makes Smash Bros. on 3DS shine. Play as your favorite Nintendo character, do some damage to your friends’ favorites, and send them flying off stage in an extreme sumo-style bout.

It may not be the same leap forward for the series that Melee was to the original or that Brawl was to Melee, but it does prove that the immense fun of the series is perfectly complimented on a handheld. Smash Bros. has always been a tough series to put down, and now that you can take it anywhere, that may be truer than ever.

7

Advertisements

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Review

Dream Team

Mario and Luigi’s fourth handheld RPG outing together sees things go back to basics. After being joined by their baby selves in Partners in Time and allied with the King Koopa in Bowser’s Inside Story, Mario & Luigi are back on their own. Though it’s Luigi who gets special attention this time around.

Dream Team sees the mustachioed brothers traveling to the land of Pi’illo Island for a vacation, only to find out the bat king Antasma has been trapping the island’s denizens in stone pillows. In order to save the day, Mario must enter the dream world through Luigi’s dreams via magic pillow, ally with Luigi’s dream version of himself, and rescue the Pi’illow folk. It’s one of the silliest plots yet in the series, which makes for some humorous writing and plenty of Luigi-centric sight gags.

The brothers’ actions are still controlled individually, with different button presses allowing Mario and Luigi to jump, defend and attack enemies, as well as interact with their environment. The game takes the usual top-down perspective in the outside world, but once Mario enters Luigi’s dreamscape, it turns into something closer to a sidescroller.

The dream world features Luiginary Works, strange happenings in Luigi’s subconscience that Dreamy Luigi can interact with. These Luiginary Works serve as a means to add various touchMario & Luigiscreen controls and new play styles to the game. They certainly help the dream sequences separate themselves from the rest of the game, as does the battle system.

In the outside world, battles remain largely as they’ve been in the past three games. Mario and Luigi have jumps and hammers at their disposal, with special moves (referred to as “Bros. Attacks”) using input from both Mario brothers. The dream battles, by contrast, involve Mario fighting alone, until he uses special moves (here referred to as Luiginary Attacks) which involve an army of Luigis forming various shapes, like skyscrapers and boulders, that require more unique uses of the 3DS (such as motion controls or the touch screen) to do maximum damage.

The Dream sequences are the highlight of the game, as they house more creative twists in gameplay, whereas anything that takes place outside of Luigi’s dreams – which, unfortunately, is the brunt of the game – feels like it’s running on the same ideas as the previous three Mario & Luigi titles. That’s not to say that the non-dream segments don’t provide any fun, but after the wildly inventive Bowser’s Inside Story – which seemed to throw new ideas and gameplay around every corner – Dream Team feels relatively restrained.

Dream Team is an enjoyable game when taken on its own merits, with fun gameplay and a wonderful Mario & Luigimusical score, and the character animations are more lively than ever. But in some notable ways it feels like a step down from its predecessor: The writing can be hilarious, but you’ll miss Fawful and the like. The Luiginary bits are fun and funny, but never match up to the sheer entertainment of controlling Bowser. The dream concept is a good setup, but fails to match the creative promise of that premise.

Dream Team is another solid RPG in the Mario canon, and certainly more worth the time than Paper Mario: Sticker Star, its 3DS sibling, but knowing what came before, you know Mario & Luigi could have dreamed bigger.

6

Star Fox 64 3D Review

Star Fox 64 3D

Star Fox 64 3D not only brought the beloved Star Fox 64 to a new generation (complete with graphics recreated from the ground up), it also elegantly transitioned a Nintendo 64 classic onto a handheld system.

The adventure is as it’s always been, Fox McCloud and his team of bounty hunters are out to save the Lylat System from the evil Andross and his empire. Being a Nintendo game, this means venturing to such locales as a lava world and a level themed around a train chase. It’s the same beloved game as it was on the N64, but with a new coat of paint.The visuals are a hefty upgrade from the blocky original, and 3D effects are used effectively.

Barrel Roll Most stages are an on-rails affair, with others being a singular battlefield where you and your allies fight hordes of enemies before a big bad appears.  You will only play seven of the game’s fifteen stages on any given playthrough, but taking alternate paths, finding secret routes, and besting your top scores on each stage give the game a great deal of replayability even today.

Star Fox 64 3D now includes two primary modes of play, appropriately named after the N64 and 3DS, with the former sticking close to the original blueprint and the latter making accommodations for the 3DS’ features, utilizing more 3D effects and featuring “gyro controls” using the 3DS’ motion-sensing gyroscope. The 3DS mode is worth a look, but piloting an Arwing is best left to the traditional control method.

The gameplay is of course the real star. Star Fox 64 has aged more gracefully than most of its N64 brethren, and that simple yet polished gameplay is left intact: Fire lasers, throw bombs. Defeat enemies, don’t hurt allies. Find upgrades, uncover secrets and beat your high score. The mechanics are simple, but used to their fullest.

Multiplayer also returns, though questionably with the absence of any online features. It’s a true shame, as Star Fox 64 has always been a fun multiplayer experience, and could have been made all the better with online functionality. The multiplayer battles are fun – which now include team battles where you and your buddies face off against CPU opponents – but the lack of online modes makes it all feel incredibly limited.

 Star Fox 64 3D It’s also sad knowing that, aside from a few visual and technical bells and whistles, the game remains largely identical to the 1997 original. That’s not a bad thing in terms of what is presented, given the game’s overall quality. But for being remade from the ground up for the 3DS, one can’t help but feel there were some missed opportunities for new modes or added content to the original adventure.

Star Fox 64 3D plays things a bit safe then, but it has enough fun and polish to fall back on to make that not such a terrible thing. Star Fox 64 was always one of the most cherished games on the N64, and now you can experience it all again, on the go. Barrel rolls and all.

8

The Wonderful 101 Review

The Wonderful 101

With colorful character designs, bombastic action set pieces, and an explosion of style, The Wonderful 101 looks to have all the makings of another Platinum beat ’em up classic. Unfortunately, Wonderful 101 ends up being a case of good intentions being muddled by clunky controls and poor camerawork.

It’s far from a completely broken experience, the idea of controlling 100 different gimmicky heroes at once, and using the touch screen to draw different shapes, transforming these heroes into an assortment of weapons – from a simple fist to more extravagant shapes like whips, guns, swords and bombs- is both fun and creative. But if it sounds like a bit much, it probably is.

The Wonderful 101Too often does drawing a shape on the Wii U Gamepad produce something other than the desired weapon. When Okami provided a similar setup with a drawing mechanic back on the PS2 and Wii, it felt a lot more responsive. The GamePad’s touchscreen seems more ideal for the concept, but somehow it rarely works as effectively here. And too often do your heroes seem to be lost in some nook or cranny of a stage, and losing troops is more troubling here than in Nintendo’s own Pikmin 3, since losing more heroes means your transformations are that much less powerful. While players may actually feel compelled to go out and search for a missing Pikmin, in Wonderful 101 losing troops feels more irritating than anything.

Then there’s Wonderful 101’s biggest flaw: the camera. Keeping track of 100 different characters is a difficult enough task as it is. But combine that with a camera that feels sporadic and rarely seems to capture the perfect angle of the action, and it becomes a problem.

Wonderful 101 has its qualities: It’s got a sharp sense of humor (complete with a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards video game stereotyping), the battles can be fun when you actually get a grip on the situation, and the set pieces you find yourself in are thrilling and bursting with personality.

The problem though, is that The Wonderful 101 may just be more fun to watch than it is to actually play. It shares many of the traits of previous gems created by Platinum’s development teams. You may find traces of Viewtiful Joe, Okami and Bayonetta here and there, but Wonderful 101 doesn’t share the fluidity of those games. It’s ambitious and thrilling, and boasts a lot of promise. But it’s a hampered experience in its execution. Some Platinum diehards may find a more enjoyable game here than the uninitiated, but the Wonderful 101 lacks the precision in design that Platinum usually makes look so easy. It’s hardly Viewtiful.

4

Lego City Undercover Review

Lego City Undercover

Lego City Undercover is a cute, family-friendly rift on Grand Theft Auto, and a fun game in its own right. Set in the titular Lego City, players take control of Chase McCain. In a bit of role-reversal from the GTA games that inspired it, McCain fights for the right side of the law, though being undercover cop gives the developers an easy means to allow McCain to partake in some shady activities while maintaining its target audience.

Chase McCain is on a mission to stop a recent crime wave and catch an escaped convict name Rex Fury. It’s a very basic setup, but it works for the game, especially since it’s filled with good humor, fun personalities (McCain’s bumbling sidekick, Frank Honey, is a highlight), and sprinkled with various movie and video game references (the game is the first in the Lego series to be published by Nintendo, so expect a good few winks to the Big N).

Lego City UndercoverIt’s a fun story to boot. One that takes advantage of Lego-ness to do things the more realistic and gritty GTA cannot, including riding a mechanized T-rex fossil and taking a trip to the moon, among other wacky situations.

But while the script is entertaining and funny, the great thing is that its also a well thought-out game. Lego City is a massive open-world filled with things to do. You can continue with the main story or partake in the many optional side quests throughout the city and its surrounding areas. Or you can always spend your time in Lego City “borrowing” motor vehicles, if that’s your thing. You can even find some opportunities to build new structures and vehicles within Lego City, provided you’ve collected enough blocks.

Unfortunately, the general gameplay is Lego City’s weak point. As fun as it is to roam around the streets in a recently “acquired” vehicle, controlling Chase on foot feels bland. The combat is overly simplistic, and the overall sense of movement feels slow. Chase can disguise in an array of getups -from spaceman to farmer- which add a little variety and some fun gimmicks. But as a whole the gameplay falls short of Lego City’s humor and ambition. There are some moments that use the Wii U Gamepad to aid chase in his crime-solving antics, which provide a welcome change of pace from the clunky combat.

The game looks great, with the Lego visual motif getting a new sheen on the Wii U hardware, and it uses licensed music sparingly but effectively.

Lego City Undercover may not be a killer app for the Wii U, but it does serve a fun addition to its library, and in a genre that is primarily grounded in grit and cynicism, this lighthearted and good-humored deviation is a refreshing spin on tried and true designs.

6

Game & Wario Review

Game & Wario

The WarioWare series is one of Nintendo’s secret weapons. It’s never had the mainstream appeal of Mario or Zelda, nor does it have their depth, but in many ways, it’s as purely fun as anything Nintendo has made. The winning formula is simple: play a series of seconds-long micro-games in rapid-fire succession, each of them being as simple as a button press or two, but each one containing its own gimmick and sense of humor as to be sure the player is left with a goofy grin when all is done.

So when Game & Wario promises to take those micro-games, and expand them into something bigger, it sounds enticing. If WarioWare is as delicious as a main course as it is an appetizer, than it should be quite a satisfying feast.

It should be, or so it seems on paper. But it isn’t.

Game & Wario’s main issue isn’t that it’s innately broken, but that its execution feels hollow. Whereas WarioWare houses hundreds of little bite-size pieces of fun and game design brilliance, Game & Wario’s mini-games feel empty. The games are bigger, but stretched too thin, and clocking in at only sixteen games, their just aren’t enough of them to make up for the lack of creative spark.

Some games provide good entertainment: Arrow is a simple tower defense-style game where the Wii U Gamepad is used as a bow and arrow to fight off invading robots, and Kung Fu is a plat former in which the character can’t stop jumping, with the Gamepad screen providing a different view of the stage than what’s displayed on your TV, with the dual perspective setup being a fun twist on platformers.

These titles may be fun, but simply aren’t deep enough to hold their own, and when the vast majority of the packaged games aren’t half as entertaining, it becomes clear that Game & Wario has a very limited bag of tricks at its disposal.

A skiing game – aptly titled Ski – fails to recapture the replayability of one of the events of Wii Sports. Design, a seemingly simple sketch game that uses the touch screen to draw what’s instructed, feels unresponsive. Four of the games are based around multiplayer, but none of them make for very compelling party games, and considering that’s a field where Nintendo usually excels, it stings all the more.

Game & Wario may promise bigger games than its WarioWare brethren, but it’s proof that bigger isn’t always better.

    Game & Wario

4

ZombiU Review

ZombiU

ZombiU is a game that isn’t short on ambition, but stumbles in execution. It’s nothing short of an attempt by Ubisoft to solidify the Wii U as a console that can support “gritty” and “mature” titles like it’s competitors, and in this sense, ZombiU succeeds. It’s scary, violent, and filled with guns and exploding zombie heads. It fits right into the mold of the over saturated zombie apocalypse FPS we’ve all grown accustomed to. But as a gameplay experience, it feels clunky, unfinished, and worst of all, boring.

The player assumes the role of a survivor in the midst of a zombie outbreak. You are not armed to the brim with guns from the get-go, instead you have to track down weapons and items in a zombie-filled London. Should you manage to be killed by a zombie (which becomes an increasingly annoying habit), you will then take control of a new survivor, and you’ll have to find your zombified previous character, and kill them if you want to get your equipment back.

The setup is a nice twist on an increasingly stale genre. Making weapons and items more difficult to come across and the permanent deaths of your characters give the game a sense of urgency that has slowly disappeared from survival horror. But the tension and atmosphere can’t make up for the poorly-executed controls.

ZombiU makes some clever usage of the Wii U Gamepad, using its screen to manage your inventory and view mini-maps feels at home. But controlling your character is another story. Combat feels sloppy, with melee weapons in particular using an odd setup of multiple shoulder buttons, which makes for a slow and clunky execution. You’ll find more often than not that your survivor has  died at zombie hands not because you were too slow to act, but because your character was too slow to react to your button presses.

Multiplayer is included, but feels a bit tacked on. A survivor versus zombie mode is fun for a few quick rounds, but soon becomes repetitious and shallow.

There are some nice little ideas at work here in ZombiU (it even takes a page from Dark Souls and allows players to write messages for other players during their play through of the game), but for all its promise it all ends up being a mediocre affair. The questionable control scheme and overall sluggish pace of the game make it feel like, well, a zombie.

5