Kirby: Squeak Squad Review

Squeak Squad

Kirby has one of the most varied libraries of games in the entire Nintendo canon. Kirby games often follow their usual platforming formula, or do something completely different. Kirby’s unique combination of familiarity and freshness is perhaps surpassed solely by Mario in the realms of longstanding gaming franchises. Though Kirby remained absent from home consoles from 2001 through 2009, he was still right at home on Nintendo’s handheld systems. The Nintendo DS was a particularly noteworthy showcase of the two sides of the Kirby series. 2005 saw the release of Kirby’s Canvas Curse, which utilized the DS’ touch screen in innovative ways, becoming one of Kirby’s most unique adventures and arguably the first great game on the handheld. Fast-forward one year later, and Kirby returned to the Nintendo DS in the far more traditional Kirby: Squeak Squad.

It’s understandable that Squeak Squad was met with a more lukewarm reception. After Canvas Curse marked a creative departure for the series, Squeak Squad felt incredibly safe. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it remains a fun game in its own right.

Squeak Squad looks and plays a lot like the GBA entries in the series, but with even cleaner sprites due to the more advanced hardware. The characters are cute and well animated, and the gameplay remains simple, smooth and fun.

Kirby still goes through levels, eating enemies to copy their abilities. He still jumps, flies and slides. But Squeak Squad did introduce a somewhat intriguing addition in the form of bubbled powers and items.

When Kirby grabs a bubbled-item, he stores it in his tummy (displayed on the lower screen as an alternate dimension). You can store up to five items at a time, and many of which, including powers, can be combined by using the touch screen.

Don’t get too excited though. The ability to mix powers isn’t nearly as creative as it could have been. Kirby 64 remains the only title in the series where you could truly combine powers. In Squeak Squad, combining one power with another usually just results in a random roulette wheel to get another power. The only two powers that can be properly combined are Sword, which can be merged with Fire, Ice, and Spark, and Bomb, which can also be paired with Ice and Spark.

Though the ability to store powers for later comes in handy, you can’t help but feel that it was a hugely missed opportunity for the series to bring back Kirby 64’s mechanics and do something new with them.

Squeak SquadSqueak Squad does include some new powers though, most of which are pretty cool, but have yet to show up again in later entries. Some of the new abilities include Ghost, which allows Kirby to possess enemies, Animal, which gives Kirby sharp claws to dig through dirt and attack enemies,  Metal, which turns Kirby into an invincible metal form at the expense of speed and jumping height, and Bubble, which may be the most useful power in the game as it turns enemies into bubble powers.

Additionally, the Magic power from Amazing Mirror has been tweaked to become a proper power. With merging powers serving as a randomized roulette wheel, Magic Kirby can now attack with throwing cards, doves, and jack-in-the-boxes from a magic top hat. There are over twenty powers in the game in total, so there’s a good amount of variety in that department.

The story of the game is that Kirby had a strawberry shortcake stollen from him. He initially believes King Dedede to be the culprit, but his cake has actually been stolen by a gang of mouse-like bandits called the Squeak Squad. The Squeaks have bigger schemes brewing, but all Kirby wants is his cake, and he’ll take out the entire Squeak Squad in order to get it back.

The plot is probably the silliest in the entire series, but it’s not too important anyway. Still, when Kirby is usually out trying to save his planet, the whole cake rescue mission thing is kind of underwhelming.

Squeak SquadLevel progression in Squeak Squad is incredibly straightforward. There are eight worlds total, each consisting of five required level, a boss fight, and a secret level. Kirby goes from one level to the next, beats the boss, and moves on to the next world in line. Considering how flexible level progression has been even in early Kirby titles, the point A to point B approach feels like a little step back for the series.

The levels themselves are pretty quick, but fun. Most won’t take much longer than two or three minutes to complete, if that. There has been some depth added to them through the use of treasure chests, which return from Kirby and the Amazing Mirror.

Each level has one to three treasure chests, many of which require a specific power to find them. When Kirby claims a chest, they are stored in his tummy along with any bubbled items (and yes, the chests count among the five maximum items you can store. So pick what items you want to keep wisely). Upon completing a level, the chests are opened and reveal the items inside, which range from spray paints to change Kirby’s color, music to listen to on the sound test, keys to unlock the aforementioned secret levels, and heart pieces, which work similarly to those in Zelda and increase Kirby’s maximum health when you find enough of them, to name just a few of the prizes.

While the treasure chests add some depth to the levels, most are pretty easy to find, and don’t extend the game’s replayability very much. You might be able to complete the entire game and find every chest in about two hours or so. There are a trio of mini-games which can be played in multiplayer if you’re playing the original DS version, but the multiplayer option is absent in the Virtual Console release. Still, they only add so much to the package.

If you simply want a quick dose of traditional Kirby goodness, then Squeak Squad is still a thoroughly enjoyable game. But if you’re familiar with the series, you’ll know that Kirby can do better, whether as a platformer or something else entirely.

 

6

Advertisements

Kirby’s Avalanche Review

Kirby's Avalanche

Though the Puyo Puyo series has become one of the more popular puzzle games out there, in the mid-1990s the series was still getting off the ground. In order to get the series some attention in its western release, the game was given various makeovers that implemented established video game characters into the puzzle game. While the Genesis version became Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine and used aesthetics from the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon series, the Super Nintendo version became Kirby’s Avalanche.

As you may have guessed, Kirby’s Avalanche gave Puyo Puyo a heavy dose of Kirby. In single player, you take control of Kirby, who challenges various enemies from his series as he makes his way to King Dedede and claim the title of Avalanche champion.

Of course, the aesthetics are as far as the Kirby element goes for the game. This is still very much Puyo Puyo title. But the Kirby characters give the title a great sense of charm, and the game includes some excellent remixes of classic Kirby music.

If you’re familiar with Puyo Puyo, you know how the game plays. Groups of two colored blobs fall onto your board, Tetris-style, and you have to match up four blobs of the same color in order for them to disappear. If the blobs stack to the top, you lose.

Kirby's AvalancheThe blobs come in five colors: red, blue, yellow, green and purple. The blobs can be connected vertically or horizontally, which not only gives you a greater opportunity to clump four of them together, but if you can strategize quickly enough and react fast enough, you can link one elimination to another, which will send marble-like blobs onto your opponent’s board. Naturally, your opponent can do the same to you, and the only way to eliminate the marbles is to complete a set of four blobs adjacent to the marbles.

That’s really all there is to the gameplay. But as simple as it is, it’s equally fun and addicting. It really will have you strategizing every little move in hopes you can outlast your opponent. It can become a genuinely hectic, head-scratching challenge.

As fun as the gameplay is however, it should be noted that the game becomes devastatingly difficult pretty quickly. The first few stages won’t be a problem, but later levels increase the speed in which the blobs fall drastically, giving you very little time to plan ahead. The later stages will leave you absolutely no room for error, which becomes very difficult with how your every decision becomes an on-the-fly one.

Kirby’s Avalanche also features a multiplayer mode where two players can go head-to-head. Sadly, the game lacks any additional modes of play. So unless you haven’t played a number of the other Puyo Puyo games before, there’s not a whole lot here that you can’t find elsewhere.

Really, the only real problems with Kirby’s Avalanche are the insane difficulty and the lack of freshness for those with previous Puyo Puyo experience. Still, it’s hard not to get sucked into the gameplay, and the addition of Kirby characters and music just adds that much more charm to it.

 

7

Super Smash Bros. Really Needs More Donkey Kong Characters

Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash BRos. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS saw another major update recently, with a lot of additional content including Tournament Mode, the ability to upload videos to YouTube, and DLC stages and costumes for the Mii Fighters.

Unfortunately, one of those Mii Fighter costumes includes King K. Rool, the recurring antagonist from the Donkey Kong series. Why is this unfortunate? Because K. Rool has been one of the most requested characters to join the Super Smash Bros. roster, and him being included as a Mii Fighter costume almost feels like a mere token. He’s included as a Mii costume, so will Sakurai just stop there?

Now, it is possible that if K. Rool (or anyone else) gets enough votes in the Smash Bros. character poll he could potentially still be added. But that really depends on how many new characters the poll will allow. It’s an uncertainty.

I understand it’s difficult to write coding and add a whole new character to the game, so I understand people can’t get every character they want as DLC. My problem though, is that the Donkey Kong series, one of Nintendo’s premiere franchises, is sorely underrepresented in Super Smash Bros. DK shouldn’t have to wait for DLC.

"Not like this... Not like this..."
“Not like this… Not like this…”

Donkey Kong and Diddy are great characters in Super Smash Bros. But considering the series’ importance to Nintendo’s history (it was their first full-fledged franchise, the Mario series itself is a spinoff from it, I could go on), having just two characters when it has more to work with seems unfair to the beloved series. Especially when one considers that Kid Icarus, a series that didn’t even have a new entry for over two decades, has three characters. And don’t get me started on the small army of Fire Emblem characters.

I’m not even saying that the game needs to include the whole Kong family (no one wants Chunky Kong), but Dixie Kong should have already been in Super Smash Bros. some time ago. Not to mention her prehensile hair could give her a unique moveset. King K. Rool would also be a great addition, since he’d not only bring more DK representation, but the series could use some additional villain characters (the current games only have Bowser, Bowser Jr., Ganondorf and King Dedede filling the villain roster), and K. Rool could add to that category nicely. Even Cranky Kong makes more sense than a lot of the characters who actually made it into Smash Bros. (because seriously, Dark Pit)!

Metroid is another series that is sorely underrepresented in Smash Bros., also having only two characters (both of which are two versions of the same character). But I understand that Metroid has a bit less characters to work with. So while Metroid definitely deserves more characters, it isn’t quite as baffling as DK’s underrepresentation. There’s no shortage of material to work with when it comes to Donkey Kong.

Again, there is still some shred of hope for the DK faithful with that character poll. But the big question is, why should Donkey Kong, one of Nintendo’s greatest franchises and one of gaming’s most iconic series, have to rely on the character poll just to get one additional character?

Hopefully, the K. Rool Mii Fighter costume is just an appetizer for something better for the DK crew around the corner, and not just compensation.

EarthBound Beginnings Review

EarthBound Beginnings

It’s been a long time coming. Mother – the predecessor of beloved cult classic Earthbound – was released on the NES in Japan back in 1989. It was intended to make its way to the rest of the gaming world, but due to the rise of the 16-bit generation, the game’s (finished) English translation went unreleased, as Mother wasn’t an immediate success even in Japan. Its Super NES sequel would create a cult following unlike any other in the world of video games, and for over two decades fans have waited (often hopelessly, or so it would seem) for Nintendo to give the original an official worldwide release. And now, after all this time, we finally have just that. Mother has been revived under the new English title of EarthBound Beginnings through the Wii U’s Virtual Console! But does it live up to its almost mythical reputation?

On the surface, EarthBound Beginnings is a tried and true, old school RPG. Players traverse an overworld where they encounter various locations and meet many characters as they progress through the plot, while a traditional, Dragon Quest-style battle system provides the action. What sets EarthBound Beginnings apart from other RPGs is its personality.

EarthBound BeginningsWhereas most RPGs of its day (and today, for that matter) boast traditional fantasy or sci-fi settings, EarthBound Beginnings is set in a contemporary American-esque backdrop. Swords give way to baseball bats, potions are replaced with hamburgers, and filling the roles usually reserved for orcs and goblins are hippies and bag ladies.

The world of EarthBound Beginnings is funny and charming, complimented by fun character designs (the main cast resemble Charlie Brown and company from Peanuts). Though some of the visuals show their age, the game’s personality shines through its technical limitations. Better still, the soundtrack is one of the most versatile in the NES library, with the overworld tracks ranging from upbeat and catchy  to melancholic and somber. The battle themes are similarly versatile, with riffs on rock and roll and more psychedelic inspirations accompanying appropriate enemy types. The music never quite reaches the heights of its successor, but it’s a standout NES track nonetheless.

But what of the gameplay? It’s here that EarthBound Beginnings, while mostly solid, can sometimes show the effects of both age and a lack of polish. The core gameplay itself is a fun enough RPG, and although it’s obviously retro, the simplistic battles grow on you the more you play it.

EarthBound BeginningsThe trouble is these battles occur in the form of the most poorly-aged of all RPG conventions: random encounters. These random battles happen at an annoyingly frequent rate, and often when you just want to get from one place to the next you find the trip takes considerably longer than it should because of the amount of random battles you’re bombarded with.

What’s worse is that you’ll still run into weaker enemies once you’re strong enough to make the rewards they give you not worth the time. You have the option to run away, but it only works so often, and when it doesn’t it just drags the battle on that much longer. EarthBound would later fix these problems by removing the random aspects from battles and having weaker enemies either run away or being instantly defeated upon contact.

Another problem arises in the game’s difficulty. There are various points in the game where the challenge takes a steep difficulty curve. Even in earlier portions you’ll find yourself running into enemies that are well beyond your level. This, of course, means that you are often required to level grind for large chunks of time before you can progress further. Grinding isn’t a problem in RPGs when it’s optional, but when the player feels forced to take extended periods of time to level up just so they can continue the story, it really breaks the flow of things.

If you’re used to the more refined EarthBound, then going back to EarthBound Beginnings can feel like a big step backwards in these regards.

EarthBound BeginningsThe narrative serves as another highlight overall, but it too is hampered by some underdeveloped aspects. The plot itself is simple, as an evil alien presence is creating a dark influence in the world. People and animals are acting strangely, robots are invading towns, and inanimate objects are coming to life and attacking people. It’s up to a young boy named Ninten (or whatever the player chooses to name him) to save the day. The plot is simple enough, but builds into something more profound, with the ending in particular being emotional in a way that’s rare to find even in today’s games, making it a piece of gaming narrative that was ahead of its time and then some.

On his travels, Ninten is joined by a young girl named Ana who, like Ninten, can use psychic powers in battle. A geeky boy named Lloyd, who makes up for his lack of supernatural abilities with his knowledge of fire crackers and laser beams, is the first mainstay partner Ninten encounters. Finally there’s Teddy, the leader of a local gang who uses more traditional video game weapons.

The game doesn’t include extensive moments of character development, but the moments it does have can be genuinely touching. Ana, Lloyd and even silent protagonist Ninten all leave their mark. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Teddy, who ends up only joining the party temporarily, leaving you to wonder why he was added to the game to begin with.

As stated, the story itself was ahead of its time in some ways. Sadly, the progression of  that story isn’t always consistent, and sometimes it can be downright cryptic where you’re supposed to go next. I had to resort to online walkthroughs for much of the game, often because I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to go.EarthBound Beginnings

Still, the game has enough novel ideas to keep players engaged even in its confusing moments. Having Ninten calling his largely-absent father in order to save is a nice touch, and the dialogue of just about every character you encounter further displays the game’s uniqueness, with NPCs saying things both trivial and contemplative. Rarely do they just point out the obvious goings-on with the plot.

When EarthBound Beginnings works, it’s a roaring success. The more dated elements do prevent it from reaching the same heights of its sequel that we’ve grown to cherish, but the simple fact remains that there are so few games that feel like this. Its personality, sense of humor and sentiment create a unique experience out of a tried and true foundation.

Mother was a unique oddity in its day, and its reputation has turned it into something of a legendary treasure. Today, EarthBound Beginnings feels like that treasure has been unearthed. It doesn’t always shine brightly, and may be a bit rusty. But in its own way, it’s a treasure nonetheless.

 

6

Kirby Triple Deluxe Review

Kirby Triple Deluxe

Kirby’s 3DS debut is one of the best displays of the 3DS hardware. Kirby can traverse between the foreground and background – with enemies and obstacles often switching between spaces – which makes for some of the best 3D effects on the system. Motion controls also come into play, leaving the player to tilt and rotate the system to solve Kirby’s more difficult puzzles. In terms of what Kirby Triple Deluxe does with the 3DS’ capabilities, it may just be the best showcase of the system since Super Mario 3D Land.

But Triple Deluxe isn’t just a display of the 3DS’ bag of tricks, it’s also one of the most fun Kirby games in years. Many argue that Kirby is at his best when he deviates from his own formula (Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby Canvas Curse), but Triple Deluxe proves that, when he wants to, Kirby’s more traditional adventures are just as good.Kirby Triple Deluxe

Kirby once again eats enemies and gains their powers – including returning mainstays like sword and fire, with a couple of new powers such as Circus and Bell joining the lineup – but now Kirby has an extra trick up his sleeve: Hypernova Kirby. Besides sounding like a Digimon’s special attack, Hypernova provides a unique twist on traditional Kirby mechanics.

Hypernova Kirby sees the pink hero turned into a super-powered version of himself, where his inhaling ability turns into an all-out vortex. Kirby can eat enemies by the dozens, suck up trees and other chunks of the environment, and can even manipulate the stages themselves. Hypernova Kirby only appears on a handful of stages, but each instance is used intelligently, making these segments among the highlights of the game.

The stage design, although lacking in the intricacy and challenge of Mario or Donkey Kong, is a step up from some of Kirby’s more recent offerings. Finding hidden ‘Sun Stones’ helps Kirby progress further into the adventure, while collectible keychains give the game an obsessive-compulsive replayability.kirby Triple Deluxe

Aside from the primary story mode, two additional mini-games are included: Kirby Fighters works like a simplified, Kirby-centric Super Smash Bros., where players can select different copy abilities and duke it out with other Kirbys. Meanwhile, King Dedede’s Drum Dash works as a rhythm-based platformer where players take control of King Dedede, where they jump on drums, collect coins and avoid enemies to the beat of classic Kirby music.

Both of the side games are fun, but they do have a few drawbacks. Kirby Fighters is fun in small doses, and even gives the game a multiplayer option, but Kirby’s copy abilities are not as refined as the fighters of Super Smash Bros. Some powers have a lot more to offer than others, meaning that it isn’t exactly a balanced fighter. It’s definitely a fun concept – and the stages play off Kirby’s history, including retro music and some forgotten characters making a comeback in some levels – but hopefully one that can be better elaborated in future Kirby titles.

King Dedede’s Drum Dash, while certainly an entertaining diversion from the main adventure, only has a handful of stages, and they can be surprisingly difficult, especially considering the more easygoing nature of the main game.

But none of these complaints are so strong as to take away from the whole package. Kirby Triple Deluxe is brimming with the series’ trademark charm and sense of fun. It’s packed with content, and it understands its hardware better than the majority of its 3DS brethren.

 

7