Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Happy Birthday Wii!

November 19th is an important date for Nintendo. It is on this day, two years ago, that their highly successful Wii system first emerged from its boxed womb to spread joy to gamers across the globe. Much like a new parent slowly learning how to care for a newborn, Wii owners slowly came to grips with its bold new motion-based gameplay. Mistakes were made, and lessons were learned, but we eventually figured out the basics of handling the Wii (wee-one) in our households.
Okay, enough of that.
In all honesty, the Wii has had a remarkable first two years, not just in terms of games, but also in sales. I doubt even the big N could have predicted that it would take this long for the system to be readily available.
So here's wishing a very happy birthday to the Nintendo Wii. Let's just hope that the "terrible twos" does not apply to pieces of plastic.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mario Kart Wii - Review

The Mario Kart series has been around for a while now, and like any 15 year-old franchise, it has been argued that the games have continually grown stale. After the gameplay-filled Mario Kart DS helped shred that reputation with its online races and Mission Mode, it looked like the series would find ways of growing. Unfortunately, the latest edition of the series not only doesn’t advance the formula, it seems to put the series in reverse.

Some people may argue that the game’s new additions to the races do advance the series in a new direction. These people would be wrong. The main new addition to the series is the ability to race on motorcycles. These new vehicles are fun at first, but are ultimately little more than a gimmick, as the karts prove to offer the more rewarding race experience.

There are some refreshing additions to the series, however. The new trick system, which rewards a well-timed action when launching off jumps, is a great way to keep skill involved in the series after removing the controversial “snaking” tactic. Additionally, the Wii’s motion controls translate remarkably well to the arcade racer. Granted, tilting the Wii Remote alone is a broken system, but the inclusion of the Wii Wheel shell makes a world of difference. After a few races, this control method feels incredibly natural, and surprisingly, makes the other control option unnecessary. This is even true during the hectic and highly competitive online matches. These races are even more hectic and competitive than before thanks to the addition of four racers per race, bringing the total to 12 drivers per race.

However, while these additions help make the races more fun, the overall package is still hurt by the lack of the Mission Mode. After Super Smash Bros. Brawl brought a huge variety of gameplay types to its formula, it would have been nice to see Mario Kart follow suit. Unfortunately, this means there are no alternatives for players tired of racing. Once this happens, the only option is to turn the game off.

While this lack of depth hurts the game’s overall score, it is difficult to rate the game too low. The 12-player races and some great track designs make Mario Kart Wii the best racing experience on the system, especially with a group of friends.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness - Review

Pokemon games sell a lot of copies. A lot of copies. It’s hard to deny this when every new addition to the series is released alongside a nearly identical version, and both games top the charts for weeks. This sales phenomenon continues to get more and more stupefying with the success of each set of sequels, which are almost indistinguishable from their predecessors.

All of this repetition is sure to make even the most diehard Pokefan anxious for something new, which is why it is so refreshing to see these pocket-monsters starring in spin-offs. This is especially true when the spin-offs are actually fun, unfortunately, in the case of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness, the game is only slightly refreshing.

The main purpose of the game is to give fans of the franchise a new way to play with their favorite character, and it succeeds at doing so. It is great to see the Pokemon in a new setting (some more than others…who really cares about some of the newer additions like Croagunk and Corphish?), and it is fun to be able to directly control a Pokemon rather than its cookie-cutter trainer. While the concept behind the game is swell, the actual game is less successful.

The gameplay is split into two locations. The first is within Treasure Town, the central-hub where most of the game’s forgettable story is told. While in city limits, players can use their time to purchase items, choose their teammates, and receive jobs to be completed in the second location: the dungeons.

Dungeons are where the majority of the game plays out. Players will travel through multi-level caves and gain experience by fighting wild Pokemon. These battles will be foreign to those used to the combat in the regular Pokemon games. Rather than having random encounters and separate battle-scenes, fighting Pokemon in the Mystery Dungeon games takes place in an almost real-time fashion with enemies that are visible outside of fights. Though characters still take turns attacking or using items, the actual skirmishes happen much faster than in traditional RPGs.

This system has its advantages and its drawbacks. On the plus side, taking the time to partake in battles to increase your experience is a much faster task and is less likely to become a chore than it is in traditional Pokemon games. Unfortunately, this method only allows control over the main character, leaving all actions of the supporting crew up to the computer. This lack of control can be nice on unimportant battles, but the computer is more likely than not to make some bad decisions during struggles with more difficult enemies.

Also, in an attempt to make the battles flow better, attacks are mapped to button commands rather than through menus. However, there is only room for one of the character’s four special attacks in the control scheme, so menu access is necessary quite often. The menus are a little too difficult to manage for simple tasks that would ordinarily be done efficiently. To perform the average task of choosing an attack that is not assigned, a player must enter four different menu pages. There were times when I chose to ignore my fight strategy and just use the assigned attack, rather than go through all that trouble.

In a game that is fun to play through, however, these complaints about the fighting mechanics can be overlooked. Unfortunately, the dungeons aren’t terribly fun to experience.

All of the game’s dungeons are randomly generated. This is generally thought of as a great way to keep players interested in levels after playing through them. Since the terrain is created on the spot by the computer, the experience of exploring a cave is never the same twice. The problem with this system, however, is that it prevents the developers from creating worlds that are worth exploring at all. With no interesting environmental sights or puzzles, the emphasis of playing through the game is put back onto the flawed battles.

Obviously, there is a lot to complain about with Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness. Of course, some people do appreciate what randomly generated dungeons add to a game. These people will definitely find some worthwhile content in this title. There are also the people that will buy anything that has a Pikachu in it. These people will find even more to like about this game. However, those who have only a passing interest in RPGs or Pokemon should check out Pokemon Diamond or Pearl instead. It’s not like it will hurt Nintendo at all; the game is still going to sell a ton of copies.

Score: 6/10

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nintendo's Forgotten Gems


Electroplankton might seem like an odd choice for a Forgotten Gems article. For one, it was released in 2006, which is much more recent than other games that have been, or will be, covered in this series. Second, it’s not really a game. Sure it plays in your handheld video game system, but it was created by interactive media artist Toshio Iwai as a piece of interactive art. However, the title has already been forgotten by the vast majority of the gaming community, and it is definitely a gem, so I figured its inclusion in the series would be appropriate.

Every part of this non-game is open from the outset, allowing players to experiment with the software however they see fit. Players are given the choice of 10 different musical experiments, each with unique Electroplankton that respond differently to different types of interactions.

For instance, Tracy is one creature that will continuously follow a line drawn by the player. The sounds emitted from the Tracy will differ depending on the directions of the line and the speed at which it is drawn. Another creature, Rec-Rec, allows players to use the microphone to record four short sound-bites which are put on a continuous loop. Beatboxers are sure to get the most out of this particular Electroplankton.

Of the remaining eight stages, Nintendo enthusiasts are sure to be most enthralled by the NES inspired Beatnes. While playing on this stage, players are encouraged to tap different parts of the Beatnes to recreate sounds from Super Mario Bros. while music from a variety of Nintendo games plays.

So why has this creative work already become a forgotten gem? A lot of it has to do with Nintendo’s distribution decisions for the software. The only store that ever carried it was the Nintendo World Store. Unless you lived in, or planned to travel to, New York, your purchasing options were limited to those of the online variety.

Also, timing was an issue for the title. It preceded the non-game craze spurred by Brain Age by a few months, which is unfortunate considering the appeal the title could have had within the expanded audience crowd.

Nintendo did honor the software and its fans recently by including a level based on the game in the widely-purchased Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The small percentage of gamers that actually know what Electroplankton is where pleased by this homage, while the majority of smashers let out a collective “huh?”

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nintendo Fan Network brings Gamers and Jocks Closer Together

Baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest now have a use for their Nintendo DS besides rescuing princesses and lowering the age of their brain. The Nintendo Fan Network has been available for download at Safeco Field since last season, but this season, the service is being offered for free for the first time, and will include many new features.

The main purpose of the service is to give DS owners the ability to track team and player stats and view updated scores from MLB games around the country. Fans stuck in the nosebleed section can get a better view of the action by watching the in-stadium television feed of the game on their handheld.

Other content on the service includes trivia competitions and chat-rooms for fans in the ballpark. Plus, it includes the ultimate feature for lazy people: the ability to order food and have it delivered to your seat.

As a fan of both baseball and Nintendo, I would be very interested in seeing this system adopted in stadiums throughout the nation. It would be great to have something to keep me occupied during slow innings, and may even give fans a reason to stay to the end of a particularly brutal team-beating.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that the Nintendo Fan Network will expand. The system was implemented at Safeco Field due to Nintendo’s ownership of the Mariners. Unless the features are a huge success and draw demands from baseball fans from coast-to-coast, it is likely that Seattle residents will be the only ones lucky enough to combine these two pastimes.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Nintendo's Forgotten Gems

If you took the time to scroll down to the bottom of this article, you may have noticed that it is significantly shorter than the last edition of Nintendo’s Forgotten Gems. While there are many reasons for this decrease in word count, it largely comes down to the fact that shorter, bite-sized articles will make it easier to post these more frequently, as well as to allow you readers to enjoy them without having to invest too much of your precious time. Be sure to let me know if you like this change, or if you prefer the old format.


Gumshoe is one of the strangest platformers you are likely to ever play. It’s not strange in a Michael Jackson way, though. In fact, upon first inspection, it seems like a fairly typical side-scroller, complete with a typical storyline involving a detective on a quest to rescue his kidnapped daughter. It isn’t until you find out how the game plays that it throws you for a loop.

All of the action in-game is commanded by way of the Zapper light-gun. Want to clear away your enemies? Shoot them. Want to collect ammo-replenishing balloons? Shoot them. Want to make your character jump? Shoot him. It is a unique system that is completely foreign and captivating at the same time.

Though most people may not remember Gumshoe, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place in history. The game likely played a big role for the inspiration of the on-foot sections of Yoshi’s Touch and Go for the DS. Both are auto-scrolling platformers that utilize a non-virtual item to directly interact with the game through the screen. However, rather than shoot Yoshi or his power-ups, players simply employ a tap of the stylus.

So, if Gumshoe was good enough to inspire a game twenty years later, why has it become a forgotten gem? The main reason is that it was never really given a chance by most players when it was first released. At that time, gaming magazines were not a very popular way to stay informed on the industry. Most game-buying decisions were based on knowledge through advertising or by choosing a box that stood out on the shelves. Unfortunately, there were no ads for the game, and the screenshots on the back of the box made the game look, well, lame.

Also, despite the immense popularity of Duck Hunt, Zapper games were largely ignored at retail. Plus, due to the Zapper’s lack of precision, certain games were difficult to play and required a high level of skill to play effectively. This is especially true in the case of Gumshoe, which has many small targets and requires a quick timing. It is very likely that any kids that did give the game a chance quickly became frustrated and deterred their friends from making the same mistake.

Still, the game is definitely worth experiencing for Nintendo fans, if not for the enjoyment of the game, then at least for a history lesson.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wii Fit Officially Priced

Some may argue that certain aspects of life, such as happiness and health, are priceless. Nintendo would beg to differ, insisting that being fit is easily worth $89.99.

That’s right. The game that has already become an overseas phenomenon will be sucking just under 90 bucks from your wallet come May 21. For those keeping track, that’s the equivalent of almost 30 Big Macs. Maybe the real trick to losing weight with Wii Fit is that it prevents you from being able to afford food anymore.

While the cost of the game may seem a little high, those who have played it do claim that it is a good investment. Even the news anchors on the Today Show seemed to have fun with it in a recent pseudo-news story. Plus it is important to remember that one of the most popular games in recent years is the equally expensive Guitar Hero. This proves that a slightly higher cost will not deter purchasers as long as the product is of high quality.

If 90 big-ones still seems like too high of a price to shape-up in front of the television, there are other alternatives. Allow me to recommend Richard Simmons - Sweatin’ to the Oldies…Suddenly $90 seems a lot more reasonable, doesn’t it?