Tag Archives: Video Games

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 Review

By 1995, Kirby had quickly established himself as one of Nintendo’s premiere franchises. Kirby’s Dreamland, though simplistic, found an audience due to the popularity of the Game Boy. It was with the 1993 NES sequel Kirby’s Adventure where the series really found its stride. Adventure gave Kirby his synonymous copy abilities, which in turn gave the series a stronger sense of depth in gameplay. Kirby had shown up in a few spinoff titles after his NES outing, but after three years it was time for the original Kirby’s Dream Land to get a proper follow-up. Kirby’s Dream Land 2 arrived on the Game Boy in 1995, and although it is a fittingly small game due to its hardware, its overall quality has held up almost shockingly well over the years.

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 adopted Adventure’s copy abilities, solidifying the mechanic as Kirby’s staple. Of course, the Game Boy had more limited capabilities than a home console, so the number of copy abilities were lowered to seven: burning, cutter, spike, ice, spark, stone and parasol. To compensate for the reduced number of powers, Kirby was given three animal friends for Kirby to ride (a la Mario and Yoshi), with each animal friend altering the copy abilities.

Rick the hamster, Coo the owl, and Kine the fish all join Kirby on his second Game Boy adventure. Rick travels faster on land than Kirby does on his own, while Coo takes to the air and Kine makes swimming sections a breeze. Best of all is that the game makes good and varied use of every animal friend. If you want you can stick with your preferred animal friend for most of the game, but certain secret areas will need the use of particular animals and/or powers to access. While most such areas provide hidden 1-Ups and similar items, certain levels contain an extra secret ‘Rainbow Drop,’ which are required to face the secret final boss.

Dream Land 2 is a much bigger game than the original. While the first Dream Land simply featured five short stages, Dream Land 2 contains seven worlds, each with multiple stages of their own. It still will only take players a couple of hours to finish, but things feel a lot more like a complete adventure this time around.

One stage in each world hides a Rainbow Drop, with the later drops being particularly difficult to find (often requiring you to have a particular animal friend and power just to find a clue, let alone the drop itself). If you find them all and defeat King Dedede, the true final showdown against Dark Matter takes place.

Some may wish that there were more hidden trinkets than simply one per world, but when you consider the limitations of the Game Boy, it’s actually quite impressive how much Kirby’s Dream Land 2 managed to pull off. Even Kirby’s Adventure had you go directly from Dedede to its big bad by default, so the fact that Dream Land 2 had you uncover secrets in order to obtain that final challenge was novel at the time.

Of course, being released on the original Game Boy, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 is not a particularly pretty game to look at. On the plus side, it was released late enough in the Game Boy’s life to take full advantage of the Super Game Boy (an SNES attachment that allowed you to play Game Boy titles on the console, with added color). This means that the added colors could later be found when playing the game on a Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, or in one of its later re-releases. It may not match the visual charm of Kirby’s Adventure, or the outright timeless graphics of the later Kirby Super Star or Dream Land 3 on the SNES. But if you manage to play Kirby’s Dream Land 2 on the proper hardware, it’s one of the few original Game Boy games that isn’t a total eyesore.

What Dream Land 2 lacks in visual fidelity, it makes up for in one of the Game Boy’s best soundtracks, with that distinct Kirby charm permeating through every tune. Each animal friend even gets their own theme (with Coo’s being the best).

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 may not match the “fire on all cylinders” feeling of Kirby’s Adventure, and it goes without saying that later entries topped it. But the core gameplay is fun and deep enough to make Kirby’s Dream Land 2 one of the few titles for the original Game Boy that has held up incredibly well. It’s still a lot of fun.

 

7.5

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Kirby’s Dream Land Review

The Nintendo Game Boy became a video game phenomenon. Taking video games on the go was a revelation, and Nintendo took full advantage of it by giving their established series handheld iterations on the Game Boy. But the accessibility of the Game Boy also opened the door for Nintendo to create new franchises on the console, an opportunity that would lead to the creation of Pokemon and Wario. Among Nintendo’s franchises that began life on the Game Boy was Kirby, who has remained one of Nintendo’s most reliable names ever since. It all began with Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992. Though the original Dream Land may be incredibly simple when compared to later entries in the series, it still succeeds in what it initially set out to do: be an introduction to video games.

It’s true, while Kirby has become one of Nintendo’s most enduring series, it’s original title was created for the purpose of being a kid’s first video game. If young audiences found the later levels of Super Mario World too difficult, they could instead play Kirby’s Dream Land to get a better understanding of how games work. In this sense, Kirby’s Dream Land remains a roaring success. On the downside, that also means that Dream Land is an incredibly simple game that lacks depth, which is only more apparent today seeing as modern Kirby titles throw in as much extra content as possible.

Yes, Kirby’s original game is only five stages total in length. And more notably, while Kirby could still inhale enemies in his debut outing, he could not yet steal their abilities by doing so (that would be an innovation of the more substantial Kirby’s Adventure, released one year later on the NES). Kirby’s Dream Land can be completed in well under an hour, with an ever-so-slightly more challenging mode being unlocked upon completion.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Kirby’s Dream Land is as bare-bones as it gets. But at the same time, it still controls pretty well for a game originally released on the Game Boy. Perhaps more importantly, not only would it serve as a great introduction for young children to the world of video games, but if you’re interested in game design itself, Kirby’s Dream Land may also serve as a nice first-step in that regard as well. What Dream Land lacks in depth, it makes up for in its sense of education to how games work.

The layout of the stages and enemies serve as a study to the game’s mechanics (and by extension, the mechanics of platformers as a whole). And each subsequent stage introduces some new gameplay elements (including a space shooter segment, food that give Kirby new abilities, and a boss rush final stage). Yeah, it is a little cheap that Kirby can pretty much avoid any non-boss obstacle in the game by flying (later entries would provide enemies and hazards to prevent such an exploit of Kirby’s powers), but again, this was a title designed to introduce young children to the medium.

Kirby’s Dream Land may not be the most timeless of Kirby titles. If anything, it’s utter simplicity compared to its sequels and spinoffs may retroactively make it the weakest entry in the series. But it’s hard to be too critical on a game that’s simply trying to open the door for children to get into gaming, and the soundtrack holds up nicely (King Dedede has the longest-standing theme music of any video game character for good reason. His theme is awesome!). Kirby’s first adventure may not be a classic, yet it still has its charms.

 

6.0

Thoughts on IGN’s Top Video Games Of All Time List (2018 Edition)

“The above image belongs to IGN. If you think I made it, you give me way too much credit.”

Well, it looks like IGN has wrapped up another list of their “top 100 video games of all time.” And since I wrote a thing about it last time they did such a list in 2015 (my how time flies), I figured I’d write one about this as well. And because I’m such an opinionated bastard, I’ll give a little bit of my two cents on the selections and placements and such.

It seems like this time around, IGN’s criteria was mainly focused on how much of an impact a game had at launch, how “ahead of their time” they were, and how well they’ve stood the test of time. Which is a pretty decent list of requirements, I must say.

Of course, you can check out IGN’s actual list here, but if you like to read some random blogger’s writing about someone else’s list, then sit your butt down and stay right here!

Here, in full, is IGN’s most recent Top 100 list. Continue reading

The Video Game Movie Curse is Lifted (Sort of)!

Movies based on existing video games tend to suck. Sure, I might have some guilty pleasure in the occasional viewing of the Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter movie, but I would never tell you they’re good movies. At least those two examples had some excuse for their poor execution, however, seeing as they were among the first of their kind (in Mario’s case, the first), it’s understandable that studios would have trouble trying to translate the nature of a video game into the movie world.

Even now, however, when games have become more and more movie-like, filmmakers still can’t seem to get things right. And in fact, video game movies may be worse now than ever before (I said I take guilty pleasure in the cinematic versions of Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter, I can’t make that same claim for more recent entries). Granted, some (including myself) might argue that video games becoming more and more like movies makes actual movie adaptations of them entirely redundant, but at the very least it should allow them to be translated onto the silver screen with less appalling results than what we’ve been getting.

Well, it seems the video game movie curse has finally been lifted…if only partly.

I say only partly because, well, this strangely miraculous occurrence of a good video game movie comes in the form of a ten-minute short film. So while the short manages to successfully capture the essence of the game it’s based on, we still have to wait for a feature-length film based on a game to, well, not suck.

The short film in question is Papers, Please: The Short Film, based on the cult classic 2013 indie title, Papers, Please (one of my personal favorite indie titles, which I now feel I underrated in my original review).

Papers, Please was a game all about the immigration process, which may not sound like the most enticing video game concept, but managed to pull off its goals in spades. It managed to somehow be fun, while also being incredibly dramatic and forcing players to face serious ethical dilemmas in the role of a passport inspector in a war-torn nation.

The short film adaptation, released via YouTube in February of this year, manages to capture the game’s look and feel, as well as its unique sense of suspense and emotion (it probably doesn’t hurt that Lucas Pope, the creator/designer of Papers, Please, was one of the short’s writers).

Here is the short film for all of your viewing pleasure. Now let’s just hope that someone can make a video game feature film that so strongly embraces its source material while also providing a good movie in its own right.

Nintendo Switch: One Year Later

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the release of the Nintendo Switch. Geez, time sure does fly, doesn’t it?

And what a year it was. I’d say it was the best first year that any video game console has ever had! Switch launched with what is probably the best Zelda ever, and probably the second best launch game ever (sorry Link, but Super Mario World was a thing that happened). After that, it just kept coming with major releases: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Skyrim, Splatoon 2, ARMs, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Bayonetta 2, Pokken Tournament Deluxe, and the sublime Super Mario Odyssey.

Sure, some people like to point out that a number of those games are re-releases (as if that’s some kind of sin), but the fact of the matter is that’s a lot of big releases; and besides, the ones that were ports tended to be enhanced versions of their respective games (Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U was already the best Mario Kart, but the Deluxe edition made it one of the best Nintendo games ever). And let’s not forget the many indie games both new and old that have made residence on Nintendo’s hybrid system.

This has all helped the Nintendo Switch become a great success story, which is all the sweeter for the Big N considering the commercial failure of (the secretly pretty-darn good) Wii U. Nintendo’s fortunes have seemingly turned a complete 180, akin to what happened between the GameCube and the original Wii.

Here’s hoping that the Switch’s second year proves to be a repeat of its first. As it is, it already ranks as one of Nintendo’s best consoles.

Happy birthday, you little console/handheld thing, you!

Coming Soon…ish to Wizard Dojo: My List of All-Time Favorite Video Games…But First…

Oh lord, I’m doing this again, aren’t I? Well, let’s skip the crap and cut to the chase.

My recent review of Dragon Ball FighterZ was my 285th video game review here at Wizard Dojo. That means I have only 15 more games to review to hit the 300 milestone. As stated at the start of the year, hitting that 300 milestone will be something of a segue for me to finally get around to making my long-promised list of all-time favorite video games.

But first (oh, damn it!)…

Okay, so during (and after) the trek to 300, I will also be making a few other video game related lists to build up to the big one. Because, well, doing my all-time favorites list first would kind of undermine the others, don’t ya think?

I’m still going to try my best to not postpone all of this for too much longer, so hopefully you won’t be too mad at me for delaying my favorite games list once again. I don’t even know why I keep writing these things about it. Who besides me is all that interested in knowing my favorite games? I guess since I first mentioned making this list some time ago, I just feel a wee bit guilty that I keep going back on it. Yeah, that’s it. I’m totally not just writing these for the sake of writing something…

Okay, so basically, along with the 300 reviews milestone, my other big idea leading up to the big list is to make an updated version of My Game of the Year for Every Year of My Life. I’ve noticed more and more people in my blogging circle have started doing this, and cited others as the originators of the idea. But I did it first, damn it! Okay, so there’s probably plenty of people out there who thought of similar ideas in the past, but as far as my blogging circle goes, it was my idea!

*Ahem!*

Anyway, the new version of my Game of the Years will be made into a sub-page on this site, as opposed to a blog like last time. This way, I can update it every year after my annual awards.

In addition to reaching 300 game reviews and re-making my Games of the Years list, there are a couple of other video game related lists I’d like to do before I make my ultimate list of (probably 30) favorite video games of all time. Though whether or not I get around to doing all or just some of them beforehand just depends on how quickly I can get them done. Here’s what I have planned.

  • Top 10 Nintendo Platforms
  • Top 10 Nintendo Franchises
  • Top 10 SNES Games
  • Top 10 Switch Games (so far)
  • Top 10 PS4 Games
  • Top 10 Indie Games
  • Top 10 Retro Games
  • Top 10 Greatest Flawed Video Games
  • Top 10 Multiplayer Games
  • Top 10 Games from my Childhood
  • Top 10 Video Game Soundtracks (maybe separated by retro and modern?)
  • Top 10 Video Game Villains (and maybe heroes)

There are other such lists I’d like to get around to – top 10 N64 games, a revised version of my top 10 Wii U games (though that one seems to be becoming redundant with how it seems every Wii U game is becoming a Switch game) – but since I want to actually get to making my favorite games list, I have to narrow things down to the ones I want to do the most. Obviously, the last two lists that I…uhh… listed… don’t necessarily need to be done before my favorite games list, but they’d be nice to do, at any rate.

Anyway, I hope you look forward to whatever I write, and I really hope I can get around to writing all these as soon as possible. Thanks!

Dragon Ball FighterZ Review

licensed video games are usually a bit of a gamble. After all, they’re more often than not little more than advertisement for whatever property they’re representing, than they are games in their own right. There are exceptions, however, with some licensed games – such as Duck Tales on NES and Goldeneye 007 on Nintendo 64 – being fondly remembered. Going a step further, there are some franchises that seem to segue into the video game medium with a sense of consistency. Star Wars would probably take top honors in that department (its combining of fantasy storytelling with science-fiction settings, as well samurai and western influences would make it a strong candidate for video game transitions even without its insane popularity to consider), but other franchises have proven to have a decent amount of reliability in the video game department as well. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has proven surprisingly versatile, with successful RTS titles, movie tie-ins, and original games to its name. But perhaps no other franchise in pop culture that didn’t originate as a video game is better suited for the medium than Dragon Ball.

Dragon Ball – and more specifically, Dragon Ball Z and subsequent installments – are more or less just about a bunch of super powered beings duking it out, firing lasers from their hands, blowing up planets, and making the occasional bad joke. The original series had a lighthearted plot, but once things got into ‘Z’ territory, it really did amount to little more than which musclebound hero/villain could cause the biggest explosions by powering up. And it was (and is) awesome!

Combine its colorful and charming nonsense with the fact that the franchise seems to find countless ways to resurrect deceased characters, and Dragon Ball really does start seeming more and more like the video games that were around at the time the manga was at the height of its powers. It’s no wonder that the series has produced a number of beloved fighting games (as well as dipping its toes in the waters of other genres, to much less consistent success). Sure, not every Dragon Ball game has captured the brilliantly stupid mentality of the manga/anime, but there’s probably never been another franchise in pop culture that openly lends itself to the fighter to the extent of Dragon Ball. And Dragon Ball FighterZ, the most recent entry in Dragon Ball fighting games, might be the best realization of the series’ transitions to gaming yet.

Dragon Ball FighterZ comes from Arc System Works, famous for their fighting franchises Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, and replicates much of those series mechanics whilst melding them into the Dragon Ball universe.

It’s a match made in heaven, really. Arc System Works’ fighting mechanics blend effortlessly with Dragon Ball’s action, and the adoption of Arc System Works’ established cel-shading makes Dragon Ball FighterZ a visual treat, giving the game the look and feel of actually playing an episode of Dragon Ball Z.

“My main man, Majin Buu!”

The game also takes inspiration from the Marvel vs. Capcom series, with players selecting a team of three different characters to partake in battle. The roster is comprised of a (mostly) all-star lineup of characters from Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super: you have the obvious Saiyan characters like Goku, Vageta, Gohan and Trunks; classic villains such as Freiza, Cell and Majin Buu; fan favorites such as Piccolo and Krillin, and newer characters like Beerus.

The three-person setup is well utilized, with switching between characters (or calling one of them for some backup) working smoothly. Better still is that the mechanics as a whole have an “easy to learn, difficult to master” feel to them. Everything is smooth and fast-paced, and in a breath of fresh air for a competitive fighter like this, the combos are pretty easy to pull off and chain together, without being so easy as to make matches feel completely one-sided to whoever can land the first combo.

Matches can also be refreshingly lengthy for a game of this genre. If you have two players of similar skill level going at it, you can have a good, long match that looks and feels straight out of the anime. The mechanics of these matches are also surprisingly deep, despite their accessibility. Players may find certain moves can prove vital at any given moment, and its easy to imagine different people basing their strategies off different aspects of the game’s mechanics (some players may prefer to use their built up energy meters to teleport around enemies and chain combos out of it, as opposed to using said energy on more traditional character specials).

One questionably included element to battles shows up – somewhat ironically – in the forms of the Dragon Balls themselves. If players can land a combo of seven hits, they’ll “unlock” a Dragon Ball. If they can do this seven times during a match and obtain all seven Dragon Balls, then proceed to hit one more seven-hit combo, they’ll summon the dragon Shenlong who will grant them a wish (revive a partner, receive full health, etc.). The problem here is that – not only is the method of summoning Shenlong kind of awkward – but if you actually manage to pull off all these combos, your opponent will likely almost be defeated anyway, making the bonuses obtained by Shenlong feeling like they give you an unfair advantage when your opponent is more or less already bested. It’s fun that they tried to actually implement the Dragon Balls into the game, but you can’t help but feel that, with how they’re utilized, they may as well have been left out.

Though Dragon Ball FighterZ boasts several different modes, most of them fun, one of the game’s other notable shortcomings is its story mode. This story mode sees the introduction of a new villain character, Android 21. 21 is more or less a combination of other DBZ villains (sharing many abilities with the similarly named Androids and Cell, as well as the ability to turn her enemies into sweets, which she then consumes to gain their power a la Majin Buu). Android 21 is gaining in power, and soon threatens the entire planet. Meanwhile, the usual Dragon Ball heroes are losing their power, with their only way of regaining their full strength being to link with a wandering soul (the player) who keeps traveling from character to character.

Now, I’m not going to fault the story mode for its plot. This is Dragon Ball, after all, and any DBZ fan can tell you that roughly 87% of all the show’s dialogue was about someone increasing their “power level,” and the remaining 13% was focused on how hungry one of the character’s was at any given time. I don’t exactly expect Shakespeare, here.

The problems with the story mode lie in its bloated nature, repetitious battles and cutscenes, and insultingly easy difficulty. The story mode is spread out between three different stories (one through Goku and company’s perspective, one through the classic villains’ points of view, and one that shows Android 21’s side of the story). While that’s all fine in concept, these stories end up overstaying their welcome by quite a bit. Perhaps the length wouldn’t be so noticeable, if it weren’t for how it becomes really redundant really quickly.

“If you play as Goku, do everyone a favor, and switch it to the English version. Goku’s Japanese voice is insufferable.”

Needlessly long cutscenes repeat the same plot points ad nauseam. The story introduces “cloned” versions of characters to give it all some length, which is understandable. But you’ll quickly find that these fights have no variety, and never really seem to pick up on difficulty (throughout the entirety of one story mode, I never even lost a single character, let alone a match). There are some fun ideas at play, like the ability to level up the different characters and gaining equipable bonus as rewards (extra XP, boosts in health and special attacks, etc.), but it’s hard to care too much when your opponents barely ever fight back.

The story mode features three primary match types: tutorials, which reward extra points for using specific moves; fights, which are exactly what they sound like; and boss battles, which will advance you further into the story when completed. Don’t let these match types fool you, however, as none of them end up feeling different or more difficult than the others (even the moves the tutorials require quickly begin recycling themselves). Because of these many shortcomings, the story mode ultimately feels like the most boring way to play Dragon Ball FighterZ, and by a good margin.

On the bright side of things, this is a competitive 2D fighter, and multiplayer was always going to be where Dragon Ball FighterZ shined. And for the most part, shine it does. Once again, the fighting mechanics are both accessible and deep, and more importantly, they make for a whole lot of fun. Tie them together with the beautiful and fluid character animations, and I really can’t stress enough how the game feels like you’re playing an episode of the anime.

I did use the words “for the most part,” however, and the caveat here being the unreliable and sometimes confusing connection issues when playing online. I have yet to experience any particular issues in a match itself, but more often than not, the game will find and drop several matches before I find one that I actually end up playing. Additionally, after a few matches you might find yourself having to suddenly select a different server to connect to, and in perhaps the most egregious example of connection issues, it took me several tries and a 20+ minute wait just to spectate a match.

“Just…look at this!”

Even with the online problems and lackluster story mode, Dragon Ball FighterZ still manages to outshine its shortcomings simply because of how much fun the core gameplay is, and how well it captures the essence of the show. Once you find a good opponent, you’ll likely find yourself transfixed by the action. Even if you’re watching a friend play, the visuals alone are something to behold. In terms of being a Dragon Ball game, Dragon Ball FighterZ is as good as it gets. If some of the kinks can be worked out either in updates or in an eventual sequel, its power level might be over nine-thousand!

 

8.0