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Yooka-Laylee Review

*Review based on the Playstation 4 version*

When Yooka-Laylee was revealed to the world in 2015 as a Kickstarter title, it immediately turned heads. A spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series created by a number of the key members behind the Banjo-Kazooie games (now under their own studio, Playtonic Games), Yooka-Laylee’s crowdfunding was a resounding success. Here we are in 2017, and Yooka-Laylee has seen its long-awaited release. But does it recreate that classic Banjo-Kazooie magic?

The short answer to that question is yes. For everyone who has longed for a proper third entry to Banjo-Kazooie, or felt betrayed by the unnecessary departure the series took with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts nearly a decade ago, Yooka-Laylee is exactly the game they’ve been waiting for.

Yooka-Laylee really is Banjo-Kazooie 3 in all but name and characters: In place of Banjo the bear is Yooka the chameleon. Instead of the bird Kazooie living in Banjo’s backpack, we have Laylee the bat, who rides atop Yooka’s head. The role of mentor who teaches the duo their moves has been passed to the humorously-named snake Trowzer. The duo of Yooka and Laylee also get transformed, much like Banjo and Kazooie did in years’ past. But instead of a shaman using magic to alter the duo’s appearance, it’s the octopus scientist Dr. Puzz. Finally, in place of the wicked witch Gruntilda is a dastardly businessman (business bee?) Capital B.

“Capital B and Dr. Quack might just be my favorite characters.”

The story here is that Capital B, along with his recently bought-out lackey Dr. Quack, have built a machine that is stealing all of the world’s literature, in an attempt to have a complete monopoly on the book industry. In a nearby creek, Laylee managed to find a special book with golden pages in a pirate ship (which she has been using as a drink coaster). This book happens to be the magical “One Book,” which is the real reason behind Capital B’s sinister book-stealing plot. When the One Book gets swept away by Capital B’s machine, it scatters its pages (the Pagies) to prevent them from falling into Capital B’s hands. Thus begins Yooka and Laylee’s quest to Hivory Towers and the magical book worlds contained within, all to regain their stolen book (of which they have no idea of its true nature).

It’s an utterly silly, nonsensical plot. But it’s also original and fun. More notably, the story eventually starts giving hints at a much bigger plot, which Playtonic Games intends to use as the foundation for its own shared universe of games. In a time when shared universes only exist in super hero stories and ridiculous fan theories, the prospect of a shared universe between platforming mascots and other video game characters is certainly promising, not to mention different.

The goal of the game is nearly identical to that of Banjo-Kazooie: to collect a number of key items to progress through the game and make your way through the hub world.

The main collectibles are the Pagies, the same golden pages from the One Book that act like the Stars from Super Mario 64 or, more appropriately, the Jiggies from Banjo-Kazooie. Pagies are used to access new areas in the game, and in a twist to the old formula, can also be used to expand previously unlocked levels.

One of the main complaints with the collect-a-thon platformers of yesteryear was that many of the collectibles only existed for collections’ sake. Where Yooka-Laylee pushes things forward is that all of its collectibles serve a purpose.

Along with the Pagies, there are also Quills, with 200 of them to be found on every level, and are used to purchase new moves from Trowzer the snake. Five Ghost Writers (literal ghosts responsible for creating the magical book worlds Yooka and Laylee visit) can be found in each stage, which nabs an additional Pagie once all five are found. There’s a single Mollycool and Arcade Token in each stage, the former allows Dr. Puzz to transform the titular duo, while the latter is used to play the arcade mini-games by Rextro Sixtyfourus, a polygonal dinosaur.

That’s the gist of Yooka-Laylee. Exploring a vast hub world and five themed stages to collect the Pagies by accomplishing various tasks, all while nabbing the other collectibles along the way. It’s the same kind of gameplay you remember from Banjo-Kazooie, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

Yooka-Laylee also benefits from having fluid character controls. Many of the abilities Yooka and Laylee gain throughout their adventure are performed in ways that should be familiar to anyone who played the platformers inspired by Super Mario 64 back in the day, but whether through lessons learned from the past or simply by the benefit of modern technology, Yooka-Laylee plays a lot smoother than most of its predecessors. It’s simply a fun game to control.

On the downside of things, the camerawork is no better here in Yooka-Laylee than it was in the early 3D platformers that inspired it. As fun as Yooka and Laylee are to control, the camera is just as cumbersome. Even the most beloved of N64 platformers receive flack for their camerawork, and it’s even the one aspect of Super Mario 64 that hasn’t aged gracefully, so it may be disappointing to know that it’s one aspect of Yooka-Laylee that feels like it came from the past, as opposed to being a tribute to it. Granted, the camera in Yooka-Laylee is never a chaotic disaster in the vein of Sonic Adventure, but it’s still unfortunate to see the one continuous flaw of the early 3D platformers is still at play.

On a more positive note, the levels, while few, are varied and creative. Playtonic clearly aimed for quality over quantity, and they’ve produced some memorable stages. Like most platformers, the levels all have their own themes. The first two have expected gimmicks, with the first being a jungle and the second a snow-themed world, but the remaining three are a little more unique. The third stage is a swamp with a mild Halloween theme, the fourth changes up the gameplay by setting everything in a Vegas-style casino, where you have to win tokens to exchange for Pagies. Finally, Playtonic made the smart move by saving the best stage for last, which combines an outer space setting with a sea-fairing pirate motif, and is definitely a standout stage not just for the game, but for the platforming genre.

The stages all leave an impression, with each one housing their own challenges that make for a great deal of variety. Though despite their many differences, the stages do have some elements in common with each other.

As stated, Rextro Sixtyfourus has an arcade machine in each world, with a different mini-game found in each. Each level also contains a different Dr. Puzz transformation, boss fight, and mine cart segment (inspired by the Playtonic team’s earlier work on the Donkey Kong Country series).

The boss fights and mine cart segments are some highlights from the game. The bosses can get pretty difficult, but feel like a breath of fresh air in the modern gaming landscape where traditional boss fights are a rarity (though also because of this, I kind of wish the boss fights weren’t limited to one per stage). The mine cart sections may not have the same level of heart-pounding action as those found in DKC: Tropical Freeze, but they are a fun change of pace all the same.

In the middle of the road are the transformations. The first two transformations aren’t particularly memorable, with the first being too slow and the second too hard to control. But the rest are all pretty fun, though their uses are varied. The third transformation is one of my favorites, but is only really used to nab two Pagies (one of which you can simply grab after transforming). The fourth and fifth transformations find some good use, however, with the fifth in particular being a whole lot of fun and is used in a variety of ways.

This brings us to the Rextro mini-games which, unfortunately, are the worst part of Yooka-Laylee. The Rextro mini-games simply aren’t fun. At their best, they’re merely forgettable. But at their worst, they are infuriating. The mini-game on the casino stage, in particular, felt unreasonably demanding and difficult. What’s worse, if you want to one-hundred percent the game and get every Pagie, you need to best each Rextro mini-game twice (the first time to get to the end, the second time to beat Rextro’s high score). I’m not exaggerating when I say it took me over two hours to get both Pagies from the casino mini-game.

Now, in all fairness, I think the Rextro games are supposed to be frustrating, as a kind of joke on the nature of a lot of old video games. It might be funny the first time around, and it certainly fits with Rextro’s character, but I think it’s a good example of a joke being taken too far.

The only other notable issue to be had with Yooka-Laylee is that the aforementioned concept of expanding the levels feels only partly realized. After a level has been unlocked, you can surrender a few more Pagies to expand it and uncover all of its challenges. It’s definitely a cool feature, but it would have been a game-changer if there were a little more to it. Perhaps if you could choose which section of a stage to expand piece by piece, it might feel a bit more engaging. As it is, expanding the levels feels like a nice first step to something greater that can hopefully be fully-realized in a subsequent game.

With all this said, any complaints to be had ultimately can’t take away how much fun Yooka-Laylee is. It really does feel like a labor of love from Playtonic Games. A love of their past work and a love for a genre that has tragically fallen into obscurity over the years. The fun of Banjo-Kazooie is on display at full force all throughout Yooka-Laylee, and it still manages to find some ways to tweak the genre it loves so much for the modern age.

“Is this Glitterglaze Glacier? Or Arendelle?”

Suffice to say the game is much prettier to look at than the N64 titles it borrows from. In a time when the concept of color seems reserved for games made by Nintendo, it’s great to see a game like Yooka-Laylee come around and introduce so much visual vibrancy. To see a game like this in full HD is a thing of beauty, and the visuals are complimented by a creative art direction, particularly in the environments (the snow stage looks like it was ripped out of Disney’s Frozen), which are then filled with charming and goofy characters.

“Even Shovel Knight joins in on the fun.”

More important than the graphical modernizations are how Yooka-Laylee adds new elements to the traditional 3D platforming. Along with the level expansion, there are many small tweaks that add to the gameplay: You now have a power bar, which is needed for Yooka and Laylee’s special moves. Butterflies can be found around the stages, and refill both your health and power bar (simply grab them for power, or eat them with Yooka’s tongue for health), which is a fun way to streamline the usual restoration items. Each level also hides secret items to extend your maximum health and power, giving a mild RPG element to the mix.

Then there are Tonics, which can be unlocked by completing various tasks in a way not dissimilar to Playstation Trophies or Xbox Achievements. Once unlocked, these Tonics work as gameplay modifiers, and change up the game in various different ways, like removing fall damage, alerting the player when a rare collectible is nearby, or making the special moves use less of the power bar. The Tonics are a great addition to the gameplay, and since you can only equip one at any given time, it prevents you from taking advantage of them and becoming overpowered.

It’s little touches like these that help Yooka-Laylee not just feel like a tribute to 3D platforming’s heyday, but a modern entry in the classic genre.

Of course, a classic platformer wouldn’t be complete without a memorable soundtrack, and Yooka-Laylee certainly has a great one. Playtonic Games really wanted to capture the spirit of their games from times past with the soundtrack, so they got a hold of former Rare composers Grant Kirkhope, Steve Burke, and the incomparable David Wise to compose Yooka-Laylee.

Kirkhope composes the majority of the tracks, which is incredibly fitting, as he composed the Banjo-Kazooie titles. Admittedly, Kirkhope has set the bar high for himself, but his tracks for Yooka-Laylee are as fun, catchy and memorable as any he’s made.

Wise and Burke are used in times that reflect their classic soundtracks, with the Rextro mini-games boasting the “new retro” sounds of Burke (undoubtedly the best part of the mini-games), while the mine cart segments are accompanied by the unmistakable sounds of Wise.

The fact that Playtonic Games brought together all these fantastic composers for a single game ensures Yooka-Laylee has an amazing score, but the fact that Playtonic understood when to utilize each composer to reflect their styles with the gameplay also makes it one of the smartest and most creative game soundtracks in years.

“I’m sailing away!”

Frankly, Yooka-Laylee is everything it promised to be. Although the camera could use some work, the world expansion and transformations could be more fully realized, and those Rextro mini-games definitely need to be either rethought or left out entirely from a sequel, Yooka-Laylee is ultimately a wonderful revitalization of one of gaming’s greatest genres. It’s the Banjo-Kazooie 3 we all hoped Nuts & Bolts would have been, and a wonderful example that modern video games don’t need to replicate Hollywood blockbusters or force themselves as works of art to be, well, works of art.

Yooka-Laylee isn’t perfect, but it is wonderful. The Banjo-Kazooie legacy is alive and well. And if Playtonic has anything to say about it, so is the collect-a-thon 3D platformer. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

 

8.5

 

Wayne’s World (SNES) Review

The 16-bit generation was something of a golden age in gaming. After years of perfecting the craft, developers seemed to have finally reached a level of quality in game design so good, that only in recent years is it being replicated in consistency.

However, even golden ages have their dark days. Even with the level of quality to be found in the 16-bit generation, a few stinkers still found their way. Among the worst of them is Wayne’s World, based on the popular comedy from the early 90s, which in turn was based on a Saturday Night Live sketch.

To be fair, Wayne’s World is at the very least playable… In the sense that it isn’t flat-out broken like Wizard of Oz on SNES or Dark Castle on Sega Genesis. Nor does it have a control scheme as utterly dumbfounding as Batman Forever on SNES. What places Wayne’s World in that same ballpark, however, is its sheer uninspired presentation, and its utter ineptitude in execution.

The game is basically a 2D platformer, where you play as Wayne Cambell, trying to save his buddy Garth. It’s very basic stuff, with Wayne running, jumping, and shooting shock waves out of his guitar to fight enemies.

The first thing you’re bound to notice is how ugly the game is. Wayne has a huge bobble head, and the level design is generic aesthetically, and a complete mess in terms of design. The first stage alone is a baffling labyrinth of loud speakers and electric barriers that hurt you when touched. The levels feel like they recycle the same few elements and traps over and over, making it confusing as to whether or not you’re progressing or just going through the same areas over and over again.

To make things worse, the platforms are all cramped close together, so often times when you’re trying to jump over a trap, you’ll jump back to an earlier part of the stage. It’s some of the sloppiest, most confusing level design you’ll find in a video game.

Wayne’s World is equally offensive to the ears, with a short list of sound effects and voice clips from the film that replay ad nauseam. Every time Wayne grabs a power-up, he exclaims “excellent.” Taking damage always results in Wayne shouting “Not!” (which doesn’t even make sense). And dying will continuously assault your ears with “Not worthy! Not worthy! Not worthy!

I would go on and on about how terrible the game is, but really, there’s nothing else to it. It really was just a cheap, thrown-together cash-in made to capitalize off the popularity of the movie (which is actually decently funny for a 90s comedy). Wayne’s World is just painfully uninspired gameplay mixed with atrocious level design, topped off with ugly visuals and irritating sounds.

As Wayne Cambell would say, “Most excellent… NOT!

 

2.0

Win, Lose or Draw (NES) Review

Win, Lose or Draw on the NES is quite possibly the stupidest game I have ever played. It’s not the worst, mind you (though it’s probably somewhere on that list), but it’s almost guaranteed the dishonor of being the stupidest.

What do I mean by “stupidest,” exactly? Simply that, by concept alone, this game never would have worked. But the developers went through with it anyway, and playing it for just a few minutes will prove just how pointless it is.

Long story short, Win, Lose or Draw was an American gameshow that ran from 1987 to 1990, and worked like something of a televised version of Pictionary. A team of men went up against a team of women, with one team member drawing an object, and the other members of the team trying to guess what they were drawing.

It certainly makes sense as a gameshow, but how do you translate such a concept to the NES? As it turns out, not very well.

In the video game, players can select to be a team of men or women (which does nothing but change the genders of the crudely animated characters sitting on a couch on-screen). You have two primary options of playing the game: one in which the computer automatically draws the subject, with players taking turns guessing the answer, and one where one player draws, and the other tries to guess.

The former mode is certainly the easier of the two, but seems to take away the whole point of the game itself. And who’s to say the players can’t just help each other out in guessing the answers?

The latter mode, in which players do the drawing themselves, sounds more ideal in concept, but we’re forgetting a very important detail: you have to draw with an NES controller!

Win, Lose or Draw of course uses pixel art, which you have to draw by using the D-pad. Suffice to say, it’s not ideal for drawing, particularly when the game asks you to draw round objects (my attempts at drawing a ball always ended up looking like diamonds). Sure, it’s not impossible to draw with a D-pad, but it is insanely difficult to draw most of the objects within the allotted time limit and make them even remotely discernible.

What’s even worse is that the game finds a way to make the process even more difficult. You would think that you’d simply have to hold down the button while moving the D-pad to draw, and letting go of the button would give a brief pause in the drawing in case you need to reposition the curser. But no. Instead, you just press the button to activate the “ink” and then move the curser with the D-pad. You then have to press the button again in order to turn the ink off. It sounds like a simple gripe, but it’s an awkward setup that just goes against your basic instincts. Coupled with the already tedious task of drawing using a D-pad, and it becomes disastrous.

Much like how players could potentially help each other when the computer is drawing, there’s really nothing that prevents the guessing player from seeing the word describing what the drawing player is supposed to draw. Players are asked to look away or close their eyes, but again, there’s nothing from stopping the players from helping each other out or cheating by looking at the answer ahead of time. This is just a concept that was doomed to fail.

“There’s nothing preventing you from seeing the answer and then guessing correctly before the picture is even drawn.”

Sadly, this is a game that is easy to imagine could work on more recent hardware. Imagine a similar game on PC, where one player sees the name of the object they’re supposed to draw, and use a mouse to draw it, while the other player gets a view of what’s being drawn and has to guess from their own computer and keyboard. Or what about a Wii U version, where one player draws the object on the Gamepad’s touchscreen, while the other players look at the drawing from the TV screen and type the answer using their controllers?

Basically, the very concept of Win, Lose or Draw is decent enough fun. But there was never any way that it would ever work on the NES, and it shows. The NES was just too limited to accurately capture the idea behind the gameshow in any sensible way.

I admit that I’ve played worse games than Win, Lose or Draw, and more broken ones as well. But with the exception of Where’s Waldo (also on NES), I can’t think of another game where the developers could have (and should have), at some point, stopped and realized there was just no way the game was going to work out.

 

1.5

Castlevania: Bloodlines Review

In its early years, Castlevania was synonymous with Nintendo. With the exception of Mega Man, Castlevania was probably the most revered third-party franchise on the NES. In 1997, the series would move on to Sony’s consoles with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which not only revamped the entire franchise, but remains one of the greatest video games of all time.

Somewhere in between the NES era and Symphony of the Night, however, was an oddity of the series: a Castlevania title on the Sega Genesis! This lone Genesis entry is Castlevania: Bloodlines. Though Bloodlines has received praise over the years, it’s largely overshadowed by its Super NES counterpart, Super Castlevania IV.

Most people still consider Super Castlevania IV to be the series’ best pre-Symphony title, which means that both Bloodlines and the “other” SNES entry, Dracula X, are often in its 16-bit shadow. Personally speaking, I find Dracula X holds up better than Super Castlevania IV due to more fluid controls. Perhaps I’m just destined for unpopular opinions, but I also find Bloodlines to be a more enjoyable game today than its more famous SNES alternative.

In Bloodlines, Dracula is (of course) on the verge of being resurrected once again, this time by the hands of his own niece, who plans on reviving her vampiric uncle by causing mass bloodshed, which she initiates by starting World War I. A distant descendant of the Belmont family, John Morris, seeks to stop the resurrection by making his way through Europe, slaying monsters along the way. Morris is aided in his quest by Eric Lecarde, who seeks to cure his girlfriend of vampirism, after Dracula’s niece cursed her.

What separates Bloodlines from most of its predecessors is that players can play as the two different heroes. Morris is equipped with a whip, giving the game a more traditional Castlevania feel, while Lecarde uses his trusty spear, to change up the gameplay.

Not only do the two heroes have different weapons, but some of the levels include different paths depending on which character is chosen. Further character-specific exploration is performed through Morris’ whip, which can be used to swing past gaps, while Lecarde can perform a high jump with his spear.

The game works like the other traditional Castlevanias, with players simply making their way through the stages to defeat the bosses at the end. But being able to experience the game in two different ways was a nice, unique touch for the series.

Another highlight of Bloodlines is that – much like in Dracula X – the basic sense of control feels more polished than Super Castlevania IV. You can now jump while going up and down stairs, so you don’t feel so vulnerable to attack or awkward to control. The jumping itself also feels a bit smoother, though it’s still a shame you can’t change trajectory mid-jump (sure, it’s more realistic, but not exactly ideal in a game with this much platforming).

On the downside, both Morris and Lecarde suffer from the series’ infamous knockback when hit, meaning that most of your deaths will occur by being sent down a pit after being hit by an enemy. Though on the bright side, when you fall down on a more vertical level after ascending for a while, you’ll just fall back to a previous section, whereas in Super Castlevania IV such areas would suddenly become bottomless chasms after they left the screen.

The level design is a real treat, with many stages taking advantage of the 16-bit hardware in fun and unique ways. One section of the second stage, for example, sees the bottom half of the screen covered in water, with the action on the upper half being reflected in it. Meanwhile, the game’s third boss torments the heroes by spinning the tower they’re standing on, which makes for a great visual effect.

The stages are all well designed and creative, and the hordes of monsters to be found in each mean there’s plenty of action to be had in each of them. Unfortunately, at only six stages, the game is even shorter than Dracula X. Granted, quality is always more important than quantity, but you can’t help but wish there were a little more to the adventure at hand.

Still, Castlevania: Bloodlines remains a stellar installment in the storied series. The gameplay is fun and smooth, and made just a little more varied with the addition of a second character. The graphics are still impressive, with plenty of inventive visual tricks spread throughout. And like any worthwhile Castlevania game, Bloodlines has a memorable soundtrack.

It’s simple Castlevania action. But sometimes, that’s all you need.

 

8.0

Super Bomberman R Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

It’s been a long time coming, but Bomberman is finally back! Once developer Hudson Soft – creators of the Bomberman franchise – were purchased by Konami, the series took an extended hiatus. Konami was so quiet in regards to Bomberman, in fact, that many wondered if we’d ever see the beloved multiplayer series again.

Thankfully, such fears can be put to rest, as Konami’s first original Bomberman game arrived as a launch title on the Nintendo Switch, in the form of Super Bomberman R. But is Bomberman better than ever, or does his return prove to be a little rusty?

It may as well be said now, Super Bomberman R is very much the Bomberman you know and love. Though it may not be the best of the traditional Bomberman titles (that honor would go to Saturn Bomberman), it is a welcoming return to the series that may also serve as a fitting introduction to the classic Bomberman gameplay for new players.

Just as the case is with most titles in the series, Super Bomberman R sets players in single-screen arenas, where they have to blow up blocks and other obstacles to make their way through. Along the way, they can pick up power-ups that allow you to plant multiple bombs at once, increase the length of the explosions, allow you to throw your bombs, and so forth.

The gameplay – being identical to the majority of Bomberman titles – is fun, though its over-familiarity may make the Bomberman initiated feel underwhelmed if they were looking for anything more than a simple return for the series after years of absence.

The game has two primary modes: Story and Battle.

Story Mode sees one or two players progress through a series of single-screen levels, where they must simply get to the exit to move on. Though they must first activate the exit by meeting a certain requirement (usually it’s defeating every enemy, but you may also need to escort characters to a designated spot, collect keys, or simply survive for a set amount of time). Each world consists of eight such levels, followed by two boss fights.

The first boss fight always pits players against one of the Five Dastardly Bombers, who each have their own unique bomb type. You only have to hit them with a single bomb, but their AI is quite crafty, and at times can feel like you’re up against a human player, making for some intense encounters.

The second boss of each world is much larger, and involves one of the Dastardly Bombers piloting a large robot or other vehicle. Unfortunately, these bosses aren’t nearly as fun, primarily because they quickly become tedious. Each boss has their own pattern, which never really changes during the fight, and having to expose their weak point only to hit them with one or two explosions before the process starts over quickly grows monotonous.

One notable complaint to be had with the story mode is the perspective. While not bad for the most part, the perspective during the story mode is at a slant, which can become difficult in certain stages where there are higher and lower grounds to traverse, as it can be tough to discern when which plain certain objects and enemies are on.

This perspective issue is also noticeable during the aforementioned giant boss fights. Oftentimes, the bosses are so large that they take up most of the screen, making it difficult to see your character as they disappear under the mechanical bosses. What’s worse, you may often get killed by accidentally touching part of the boss when you can’t even see where your character is.

All this is a non-issue in battle mode, however, as the camera is fixed in the series’ usual top-down style. Battle mode is where you’ll be spending most of your time with the game, as you can battle other players locally or online in deathmatches which are as fun as ever. Super Bomberman R doesn’t do anything new with the Bomberman multiplayer formula, but after years of a Bomberman-less gaming landscape, it is good to have it back.

In the end, Super Bomberman R may not be one of the greatest entries in the series due to its lack of innovation to the classic formula and some camera issues and tedious bosses in its story mode, but it does provide that classic Bomberman gameplay that it sure to bring a good deal of fun in multiplayer sessions, whether battling various foes online or teaming with a friend in story mode. Combine that with some pretty gorgeous visuals and catchy music, and you have another healthy reminder of why this series was so memorable to begin with.

If you’re a Bomberman veteran, you’ll feel right at home with Super Bomberman R. If you’re new to the series, it serves as a good introduction to what the franchise has to offer. Either way, it’s great to have Bomberman back.

 

7.0

200 Video Game Reviews!

“Sadly, this isn’t one of the game’s I’ve reviewed…”

Now I’ve done it. I’ve really done it! My review for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is my 200th video game review here at Wizard Dojo!

That’s right, childrens. Wizard Dojo now houses 200 different video game reviews, all written by yours truly. From all-time greats like Super Mario Bros. 3 to atrocious disasters like Dark Castle, I have become a bicentennial man of video game reviewing-blogging things.

I launched Wizard Dojo on Christmas day 2014, with the very first post published on the site being my review of the stellar Mario Kart 8. Within my first year, I managed to crank out my first 100 game reviews, and although the next hundred took me a wee bit longer, they’ve all been well worth the effort.

From Mario Kart 8 to Breath of the Wild, you can find all of my video game reviews in one snug place over on the game reviews page, or you can just skip to the cream of the crop and check out the page that directs to my exclusive list of games I’ve awarded a perfect 10 or a near-perfect 9.5.

There are still plenty of other games I own that I have yet to review, as well as a number of games on the horizon you can be sure I’ll check out. I’m not sure if I can keep up this same pace of video game reviewing – what with life and all that, not to mention my continuing efforts in learning game design, and my hopes to soon begin creating some YouTube stuff or something -but I’ll try to break them out whenever I can.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed some of what I’ve had to say, even in my most contrarian of times. I love writing (even if my errors are apparent and plentiful), so I hope you’ve had some fun, or maybe gained some interest, with what I’ve had to say about these first 200 games.

My next gaming milestones are 250 and 300, so I guess I’ll be seeing you then… Or, y’know, I’ll be writing another filler post with a gif or two then.

Thank you, my loyal readers, for giving me incentive to keep writing my opinions on the medium we all love. I couldn’t have done it without you. Well… I guess I could have, since I’m writing my own opinions on games, but without you I’d just be writing this for myself to read. And that’d make me look like a weirdo.

Thanks again, good peoples!

“Luigi is so happy about my 200 video game reviews, he’s crying!”

Dynamite Headdy Review

Developer Treasure is known for their unique brand of game design, often taking popular genres and filling them with oddball characters and an insane level of action. Though they were made famous for their first game – Gunstar Heroes on the Sega Genesis – Treasure released another game on the same console which, although not as popular nor quite as good as Gunstar Heroes, greatly epitomizes Treasure’s approach to gaming.

That game was Dynamite Headdy, an action-platformer that, in many ways, is one of the best examples of the genre. But one whose immense difficulty may not make it to everyone’s liking.

While Gunstar Heroes was a run-and-gun platformer, Dynamite Headdy is a little more straightforward. Players take control of Headdy, a puppet-creature with a detachable head, which can be swapped out with other heads that give Headdy different abilities.

Headdy controls simply enough. The C button jumps, B performs your current head’s ability (Headdy’s standard attack is throwing his head in different directions), and the A button removes one of the power-up heads.

These additional heads come in a variety of forms, each bringing a different power. One head shrinks Headdy so that he’s more difficult for enemies to hit, and can explore areas he otherwise couldn’t. A shuriken head allows Headdy to stick to walls, which can uncover more paths throughout the stages. The hammer head doubles your damage output for a short time. The pig head shoots homing stars out of its snout. And a sleeping head heals Headdy, at the expense of making him temporarily immobile.

This is just a sample of the many heads Headdy can find, which are obtained by (how else?) throwing your head at little boxes held by one of the friendly characters.

Dynamite Headdy is separated into nine different worlds (called “scenes” here, as the whole game is presented like a stage play), each of which are separated into different sections, which work as stages, in the sense that they are each given a label like 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, and so forth, similar to Super Mario Bros. But calling them levels wouldn’t be entirely accurate, as some of the sections are just a singular boss fight, and others are just abrupt cinematic moments.

In case of the latter, it feels a little bit like a waste. When you reach a new level, you kind of want an actual level, not a single screen where you just walk for a few seconds to activate a cinematic. Though in the case of the former, the boss fights are plentiful, varied and really creative. Major bosses are referred to as “Keymasters” and are identifiable by their immense size by a key that’s visible on their person.

The boss fights are a definite highlight of the game, and showcase Treasure’s unique brand of insanity (the first Keymaster is the game’s secondary antagonist – a teddy bear named Trouble Bruin – inside of a giant, inflatable wiener dog, with an orchestra playing a rendition of The Nutcracker Suite in the background). The good news is that the levels themselves showcase a similar variety, many of which take advantage of the Genesis’ graphical capabilities to the benefit of gameplay.

One early level sees Headdy jumping on rotating platforms, with players able to move Headdy in either a two-dimensional or three-dimensional plane, depending on the current position of the platforms. Another stage has Headdy jumping vertically up a tower, which rotates as Headdy moves from platform to platform, all while avoiding another of Trouble Bruin’s contraptions, which will remove sections of the tower at a time. The entire sixth world changes the game’s genre to a shoot-em-up, with Headdy getting three heads unique to this section (a plane, a bird, and a rocket, each with different shooting patterns).

The sheer variety and creativity in the game’s levels and boss fights are among the best of any 16-bit platformer. And they are complimented by colorful graphics, quirky character designs, and a fun and catchy soundtrack.

What prevents Dynamite Headdy from reaching the top of the 16-bit platforming mountain, however, is its unforgiving difficulty. Thankfully, the game doesn’t start out ludicrously difficult, but once the challenge does pick up, it’s downright brutal. Later stages will often have enemies and dangerous projectiles coming from all sides, some of the bosses begin using attacks that are random (which just makes them feel unfair), and more one-hit kill deathtraps are introduced as the game progresses.

Perhaps worst of all, the game features one head that is intentionally useless, as it’s so heavy that Headdy can only crawl on the ground, unable to even jump. And unlike the other heads, you can’t manually remove it, and have to wait for its time to run out. While I can appreciate the joke at hand, the problem is that this “power-up” is often placed in the heat of boss battles, where it’s really easy to grab it by accident, at which point you’re basically screwed. Again, it’s a funny gag when you first see it, but given how difficult the later bosses already are, placing this useless item in the midst of them feels like taking the joke too far.

What really makes this high level of difficulty a detriment is that you have very limited lives, and the levels don’t feature checkpoints. Die once, and you have to start the current stage all over again (including tough-as-nails, multi-phase boss fights). Get a game over, and you have to start the game over from the beginning.

“This is the boss of the shoot-em-up world, in the process of changing forms. It’s even more difficult than it is weird.”

It is possible to refill health, by finding bananas (Headdy’s favorite food) or grabbing the aforementioned sleeping head, but extra lives are incredibly rare. What’s worse, the only way to get a continue is after defeating a Keymaster boss, where you have to grab a large amount of the orange cubes that pop out of the boss’ explosion. The number of cubes don’t stack with subsequent bosses, so if you don’t grab enough cubes after a single fight, you don’t have any continues.

There is a saving grace to this, however, as there’s an easy-to-learn cheat code you can use at the title screen to select a stage. Normally, I wouldn’t want to resort to such things, but with how brutally difficult Dynamite Headdy is, and how stingy it is with the extra tries, I had no other choice but to use the level select code to get back to the levels I kept dying on. I don’t think I could beat this game without it. Even with it, some of the later bosses took several attempts to take down.

Dynamite Headdy is a game that showcases Treasure’s approach to game design in a nutshell: It’s weird, action-packed, chock-full of memorable boss fights, aesthetically pleasing, and really creative. On the downside, Dynamite Headdy’s embodiment of all things Treasure also includes their notorious difficulty, which is taken to all new levels here. Dynamite Headdy is a great game in so many ways, but its lack of opportunities to tackle its challenges outside of cheat codes gives it a weird disconnect with the player. If a game is going to be this difficult, at least give me some extra lives!

 

8.0