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.

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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

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Paper Mario: Sticker Star Review

Sticker Star

Sticker Star looks to return the Paper Mario series to its turn-based RPG roots, after fans cried fowl at Super Paper Mario’s platformerization of the series. But turn-based is just about all Sticker Star can claim to have in common with its predecessors. Super Paper Mario may have strayed from the formula, but retained the series’ charm and humor. Sticker Star, by contrast, feels like it took the template from the first two games, and stripped them of their depth.

Yes, turn-based battles are back, but now Mario’s every action is dictated by the various stickers he’s collected. Mario finds stickers on walls, floors, hidden in chests, pretty much everywhere. Collecting these stickers is more fun than actually using them, as you can only carry so many at a time, and after just a few short battles, you’ll find you’ve exhausted your entire pool of stickers. More powerful objects, aptly titled ‘Things’ can be turned into uber powerful stickers, but come at the cost of taking up more room in the already limited sticker inventory. An even bigger problem arrises with boss battles, which take a drastic leap in difficulty over the rest of the game, and each will probably have you use up all your hard-earned stickers in a few short moments.

A roulette wheel gives Mario the opportunity to use two or three stickers in a single turn, but relying on chance just to use more moves only makes the battles feel more tedious, and should you destroy every on-screen enemy before executing every sticker, you still lose all the stickers you selected after the spin of the wheel. The battles simply become taxing.

It doesn’t help that the other RPG elements have been stripped away, either. Mario no longer gains experience points, any and all new moves and actions are obtained through, you guessed it, stickers. Mario gains additional hit points from finding HP blocks, and Mario doesn’t have any partners by his side this time around, meaning the gameplay (and charm) of the game lacks the variety of the older Paper Marios.

Mario’s only ally is a floating crown named Kersti, an attempt at giving the famed plumber a comedic sidekick, but not a very effective attempt. The writing lacks the wit and personality the series is known for (this includes Super Paper Mario, which was hilarious). When Bowser – who has been promoted to primary antagonist in a Mario RPG for the first time since the original Paper Mario – doesn’t even get a single line of dialogue, after having been a wonderful source of comedy in past RPGs, the lack of oomph in story and writing is only magnified.

There are some highlights: Some of the game’s sub-plots are amusing, an example being in the game’s third chapter, where a Wiggler has become magically segmented, leaving Mario and Kersti to bring the segments back to Wiggler’s head. The game includes some of the best 3D effects on the 3DS, with enemies flying into the background and foreground after Mario gives them a whack with a hammer. And the use of a traditional world map, while differing from past Paper Marios, feels at home in a handheld entry.

On one hand, you could say Nintendo deserves some credit for trying something different with the series, when they could have easily played things safe. Unfortunately, this is a case of change bringing less-than desired results. Paper Mario: Sticker Star retains the accessibility of its predecessors, but from its battle system to its story and writing to its absence of partners, it forgets the very reasons we loved the series to begin with.

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Mario Party: Island Tour Review

Mario Party Island Tour

Mario Party: Island Tour brings Mario Party to the 3DS. With it comes the good and the bad of the series. When this party game is scaled down for a handheld, one can’t help but feel something gets lost in translation.

Mario Party: Island Tour’s primary mode uses a similar board game setup as previous games in the series, with mini-games sprinkled after a set number of turns. Unlike previous games in the series, however, the goal is no longer trying to gain the most Power Stars, and instead the objective is simply to make it to the end of the board before the other players.

Each game board comes with its own gimmick: One sees Mario and friends in a Galaxy-style stage riding miniature rockets, where winning mini-games adds strength to a rocket boost that you can later use to get to the finish line faster. Another course is set in a haunted forest where players are given magic cards that can help or hinder their progress.

The stages are all good and fun, though mini-games are used more sparingly than in previous installments (only in one stage do they have their usual consistency of one mini-game per turn). The longer gap between mini-games ends up feeling pretty noticeable, as the gimmicks to the stages can only hold your interest for so long on their own.

Thankfully, mini-game mode is always an option, where you can play any mini-game of your choosing whenever you feel like it. Or for a more challenging (and time-consuming) approach, there’s the “Bowser’s Tower” mode, which throws players in a succession of mini-games to progress through the titular tower, which also includes a boss mini-game on every fifth floor.

These additional modes come more highly recommended in an handheld iteration of Mario Party, since the “party” atmosphere of the game can gets lost on handhelds. You can link together with friends using only a single game cartridge, which is a huge bonus, but something still feels missing when everyone can just play the game from a distance instead of sharing the same console. In a strange way, the handheld Mario Party games feel more like they’re meant to be played solo compared to the more party-oriented console versions.

Admittedly, that’s not the only reason why  the additional modes of the game are more recommended than the more traditional Mario Party gameplay. The board game levels, true to the nature of many entries in the series, can feel based more on luck than skill. Often times you’ll find yourself winning mini-game after mini-game, only for you (or an opponent) to land on a particular space that undoes all your accumulated achievements in a single round. You could be on your way to victory and have a bad roll of the dice bump you to last place in less than a minute. Such randomness has always been a part of Mario Party, and adds a bit of unpredictability to the affair. But one can’t help but feel after a while said randomness feels more aggravating and unfair than anything.

There is still fun to be had in Mario Party: Island Tour. The mini-games come in a wide variety of fun little endeavors that make good use of the 3DS (some use the touch screen, others motion controls, and of course the standard button presses come into play), but mini-games can only go so far.

Mario Party: Island Tour is fun while it lasts, but you may find it’s best played in small bursts in its mini-game modes, as opposed to being the get-together party game that the title suggests.

5

Mario Tennis Open Review

Mario Tennis Open

Mario Tennis Open should feel familiar to anyone with experience in Mario’s past tennis ventures. Singles and doubles matches return, and players use tennis shots such as lobs, slices and dropshots through different button presses. The 3DS interface makes for a nice setup, and it won’t take long to master the different shots.

New to Open, rays of light will randomly appear on the tennis court, and performing a shot while standing on said rays of light will turn your move into a ‘chance shot,’ which are super powered versions of the standard shots. It’s a fun little addition to the gameplay, but on the downside the opportunities for chance shots occur far too frequently, making most matches more about rushing to those chance shots and less about genuine strategy.

Mario Tennis Open makes some additional use of the 3DS hardware, with the gyroscope getting particular attention. Rotating the 3DS focuses the game’s camera on your character, which may give you an appreciation for the fluid character animations, but the effect’s oversensitivity often has the camera fluctuating its focus back and forth to distracting levels.

The roster is comprised of the usual Mario mainstays, from beloved icons like the Mario Bros. themselves to the Mushroom Kingdom’s fillers Waluigi and Daisy. There aren’t any surprising new additions, but the game makes good use of Miis, who can be customized through unlocked gear. Unlocking Mii uniforms, shoes and costumes can take a while, but it adds a good dose of replayability to the game.

New modes, simply referred to as ‘special games’ are short, condensed bursts of fun that add a little variety to the package: Ink Showdown sees you and an opponent in a match where Piranha Plants lob tennis balls and ink blots at you, Ring Shot has you hitting the ball through rings for points, Galaxy Rally has you knock the tennis ball back and forth on disappearing platforms, and Super Mario Tennis sees your character playing perennial classic Super Mario Bros. by hitting the tennis ball against the game’s screen. These special games may not boast a lot of depth, but they do add some additional flavor and challenge to the experience.

Mario Tennis Open may not be a particularly innovative entry in the Mario sports canon. But, despite its flaws, it provides the fun and quirks the series is known for, and an additional online mode ensures that you can always find a tennis partner (or rival) with ease.  It may not provide the senseless hours of entertainment as Mario’s finer spinoffs, but Mario Tennis Open does offer solid fun.

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Rayman Legends Review

Rayman Legends

As a follow-up to Rayman Origins, Rayman Legends retains much of the side scrolling mayhem of its predecessor, while ironing out some of Origins’ shortcomings.

First and foremost, level progression has been streamlined so players can go at their own pace. Each of the game’s world’s and stages are accessed by jumping into paintings in a central hub. You’ll still need to collect Lums (think Mario’s coins) and rescue creatures called Teensies in order to unlock more stages, but often multiple stages are unlocked all at once, leaving players to decide where they should go next.

The difficulty has been better balanced from Origins. There are still plenty of difficult moments, but its less demanding, and less punishing than its predecessor. Some platforming veterans may cry foul at the game’s more accessible approach, but its more stable difficulty curve makes for a more enjoyable, less frustrating game.

Characters such as Rayman, Globox and Teensies are playable, just as in Origins. They are now joined by a cute barbarian girl named Barbara. Various other characters can be unlocked throughout Legends, though they are mainly just reskins. The Wii U version even includes versions of Rayman and Globox decked out as Mario and Luigi.

Legends benefits for being just as much fun to play alone or with friends. The recent craze of four-player sidescrollers finds a good balance here. It never feels empty when playing alone nor does it feel overcrowded with four.

The gameplay remains unchanged from Origins. Rayman and friends have all the moves they Rayman Legendslearned in the 2011 title, and have no room to learn any new tricks here. Whether or not this absence of new mechanics is a means to make the game more accessible or just a cop out for a lack of ideas is up for debate.

Thankfully, the level design makes up for any other creative missteps. The stages here are a chaotic frenzy of platforming. There’s rarely a moment that doesn’t keep players on their toes. There’s always something to be jumped over, bounced on, or slapped into oblivion. The best are the music stages, which require you to progress through the level in sync to the background music. The music selections include such crazy mashups as a salsa version of Eye of the Tiger and the theme music from Kill Bill sung in a giggle-inducing gibberish. Sadly, the music stages are few, and not all of them feature such creative twists on licensed music.

The Wii U version features stages built around the wii U Gamepad, in which players take control of a creature called Murphy. Murphy doesn’t take part in the platforming, but works as a sort of cursor through the Gamepad’s touchscreen. Murphy can interact with the environment in ways to help out Rayman and hinder enemies. He can even double the points awarded for Lums.

The Murphy stages are a bit of a bittersweet deal, however. They are creative, and make good use of the Gamepad. But they are intended for a multiplayer crowd. These stages are vastly more fun with one player controlling Murphy and the others controlling Rayman and company. If played by oneself, the player must take turns playing as the platforming character and as Murphy, which not only makes for awkward breaks in gameplay, but also leaves a less-than-reliable AI in control of the platforming character when the player takes control of Murphy.

The visuals are a bright, cartoonish treat. The hand-drawn visuals of Origins return, with added flairs in lighting and shading. The music is equally as delightful and silly.

Rayman Legends may feel like more of an extension of Origins than a full-on sequel (it even includes most of Origins’ best stages), but its a darned entertaining game filled with style and charm. It’s not the most creative platformer out there, but its so fun you might not even care.

7

Kid Icarus Uprising Review

Kid Icarus: Uprising

Kid Icarus Uprising sought to resurrect Nintendo’s long-dormant Kid Icarus franchise (last seen on the Game Boy twenty-one years prior) and turn it into a modernized action game. For the most part, Uprising succeeds in its mission. Taking cues from the likes of star Fox 64 and God of War, Uprising’s stages alter between hectic on-rails shooter and grounded beat-em-up.

Both segments use the same style of control, Pit’s movements are controlled with the thumbstick, the touch screen is used for aiming,and the L trigger performs attacks. It’s a simple setup that’s easy to learn, and works in surprisingly versatile ways. Though the setup works best in the flying segments, because when Pit is on land, the touch screen is also used to control the camera. As one might guess, using a touch screen to move a camera and target enemies can feel muddled, which takes away some of the smoothness from the experience.

Kid Icarus: Uprising

The story is typical Nintendo: The forces of the underworld are causing mayhem and chaos, and the goddess Palutena sends her warrior angel Pit to put a stop to it. It’s a simple plot, but one that comes alive due to the colorful personalities of the characters, and a good dose of fourth-wall breaking humor. It does introduce the trope of a black-clad “dark” version of its main character, but at the least, the game and character in question are aware of the trope. What might have otherwise been a series of anime cliches is made into an amusing parade of charm and character. There are also few cinema tics, with the characters instead giving their say-so about nearly every situation Pit finds himself in. It can get a little too chatty at times, but for the most part it’s entertaining banter.

A sleek visual look make the game one of the most eye-catching in the 3DS library. The character models are detailed, and the world’s colorful. It’s 3D effects are limited, but turn the 3D off and you’ll soon find you want it back on. The musical score is surprisingly versatile, taking cues from Super Smash Bros., Uprising’s score is suitably epic and oftentimes gives the game an heir more akin to a console title.

Multiplayer modes come in two varieties: Free-for-alls see players battle each other down to the last man standing, while Light Versus Dark mode sees two teams of three face one another, once the team members of a team are damaged enough, one of their comrades will become one of the angel characters (Pit for light, Dark Pit for dark). Victory is attained by defeating your opposing team’s angel. These multiplayer modes are fun additions to what is already a hefty adventure, and playing both modes unlocks more weapons and items that can be used in single and multiplayer, giving you plenty of reasons for return visits.

Kid Icarus: Uprising

There are many unlockables, trophies and challenges to be found. Long after you’ve finished the main adventure, Uprising makes sure you have plenty more to do. You’d probably want to replay it all anyway, as the story mode is a much larger scale adventure than you would expect from a handheld title. And the multiplayer modes – while sometimes a little too chaotic for their own good – are fun little deviations. It’s not only a great 3DS game, it also brought a relevance to an abandoned Nintendo franchise that it never quite had before.

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