Friday, March 27, 2009

Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters (PSP) Review

To celebrate the announcement of Ratchet & Clank's next big adventure on the Playstation 3, A Crack in Time, let's take a look at the pair's first portable adventure on the PSP, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters!

The smaller they are, the bigger the adventure.

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Sony Computer Entertainment certainly has no quarrels with giving the green light to new Ratchet games. This year, two new Ratchet adventures join the four already developed in the span of five years-- Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction for the Playstation 3 and our focus, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters developed by High Impact Games. With a new developer in the creation of this game, one might worry that the quality of past Ratchet entries wouldn't make it into this portable version. Well, let me cast all worries to the wayside. This is a fun Ratchet & Clank game just like the four before it.

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She's spunky and rambunctious, but is Luna all that she seems?

We begin watching the robotic wonder in Clank constructing a life-size sand model of himself. Ratchet, the gun-toting, heroic lombax (think of a mutated lynx only with James Arnold Taylor's voice) mindlessly crushes the sand sculpture as he gets ready to officially begin his tour of rest and relaxation on the sandy beaches of Pokitaru. Suddenly, a flash startles Ratchet out of his seat and to the sandy floor. Another series of flashes-- from the camera of a little girl named Luna-- blind our heroes. Luna wishes to see her heroes in action, and with that, the tutorial section of the game commences. Luna will instruct or remind our heroes of the various moves they can do. Ratchet starts off with all of his moves intact unlike some previous games. Ratchet moves with the analog nub and strafes with the directional pad. This can be switched in the options menu. When faced with multiple enemies, Ratchet can choose to smack his foes with his wrench (seriously, what kind of plumber needs a life-size wrench?), or he can opt to use one of the many guns available to him. He'll start off with the Lacerator, a weak but rapid fire enabled gun, but when he reaches new planets and areas, weapon vendors will offer new guns such as the powerful close-ranged Concussion Gun, the fire-spewing Scorcher, or the Mootator which will turn any enemy into a defenseless cow. Also, an RPG element allows frequently used weapons to level up, gaining new powers and strength.

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Ready... aim... fire!

At the conclusion of the tutorial section, Luna will be captured by some mysterious band of robotic thugs, and that will leave Ratchet and Clank to explore the rather linear first planet, blasting away foes in the process. Once they gain on the kidnappers, they leave the planet, taking their captor, Luna, with them. There's also a side-story involving the superhero-that-was, Qwark, who wishes to discover the identities of his parents.

Playing the second planet, the jungle of Ryllus, puts players battling carnivorous plants, to uses the Hypershot to swing from orb to orb, and utilizing a new gadget in the form of Sprout-O-Matic to water flowers that can help create new ladders, catapults, or bombs to break open weakened walls to reveal new paths and goodies.

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Star Fox-inspired on-rails shooting segments
break up some of the platforming fun.

There's a lot of variety in Size Matters, and that can be good or bad depending who you are. Perhaps you'd like straight up platforming action without all the extra minigames and non-Ratchet segments that the game occasionally forces you to partake in. For the entire last half of Ryllus, players take the form of Clank solely. The goal of this one-time segment is to guide a series of six robots to special gates, thus opening a final door to open the way for Ratchet. Clank can order his followers to attack other enemies, wait on pressure-sensitive switches, follow him around, or enter the aforementioned gates.

There will also be special skyboard segments where you'll race against three other CPU boarders on a 3-D racetrack, flying in the emptiness of space,
catching boosts, and avoiding hazards. Clank will get a chance to release all that pent of frustration from having to continuously smell Ratchet's farts as he rests on his back by entering into a Battlebots-inspired robot deathmatch and participating in a space rail-shooter. There's also a basketball-ish Gadgetbot Toss game to enter and puzzle-based Gadgetbot Survivor to sharpen your thinking skills. The majority of these are not necessary to continue, but completing them does give you bolts (the currency to buy new weapons and mods), and they unlock certain armor parts and weaponry.

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Going my way?

Armor gives Ratchet new defense boosts. He only has a finite amount of nanotech (health) to work with, so he'll need all the help he can get! There's four pieces to each set of armor. Some are easily obtained-- they're right out in the open. If you miss them, I question whether gaming should be your hobby. Others can be found in hidden locations or earned from winning previously-described events. Completing a set of armor gives Ratchet a special ability depending on the armor he's wearing. He can even combine armor from multiple sets to create secret new armor combinations.

Size Matters is coined from Ratchet using the Shrink-Ray on himself to enter areas inhabited by the Technomites-- an advanced civilization-- as well as accessing areas like inside Clank. Hm.. I wonder what it would be like for MY best friend to be inside my body. Never mind. I know him, and I don't want to know. Anyway... this element to the gameplay adds something new to the series.

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Ratchet & Clank Episode V: Attack of the Clones

However, just because you can shrink Ratchet doesn't mean you should shrink the game time either. For my first time I actually went through the game and completed it without much problem in approximately four hours. Although like any Ratchet game you should play through the game more than once. By beating the game, you have the option to enter Challenge mode, a harder version of the game where you can buy expensive but much more powerful versions of your old weapons. Everything carries over to the new mode, health, weapons, etc. Also, to add to the longevity of the game, there's titanium bolts hidden in each area (some devilishly clever as expected). These can be used to buy new skins for Ratchet. Additionally there's skill points which return. These are earned by completing various unspoken challenges such as completing a level without getting hit, defeating a number of enemies without dying, and breaking all of the boxes in a level. Use these to unlock cheats to add more to the game than one would expect.

Overall, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters is a competent platformer and worthy addition to the series. I do feel it's the weakest of the five Ratchet titles currently available, but that's still great company to be in if I do say so myself. There's a wide variety of activities available, plus there's an added multiplayer mode consisting of deathmatch and capture the flag for up to four players online. The chat system is quite clunky using a keyboard of a phone instead of a computer. Pain in the Qwark to type a word much more a sentence. Regardless, this mode is pretty cool to have. Size Matters may be short, but it's a PSP title that no owner should be without (unless of course you have a lombax fetish that you still need to work out).

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.0/10]

Thursday, March 26, 2009

MadWorld (Wii) Review

Continuing with the "M-rated" spiel, let's take a look at the newly-released MadWorld for the Wii. I mentioned this one in yesterday's article, but does that mean it's a bad game? Yes, it does. No, I'm just messing with you. It's great.

Let's Paint the Town Red.

After the poor sales of their last game together, Okami, Clover Studios was disbanded by Capcom. However, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the company lives again, but this time under the Platinum Games label. MadWorld is the Platinum Games' first of many projects for the upstart developer, and their game has finally launched on the Nintendo Wii. A brutal, bloody beat-em-up, Is MadWorld a title worthy of the same people who brought us Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and God Hand?

Jefferson Island has been designated at the venue for the Deathwatch Games, an event where it's killed or be killed-- no citizen is safe. You play as Jack, a gruff, seasoned expert when it comes to the "art" of killing. With a chainsaw equipped to his arm for easy access, Jack's motives for entering the Deathwatch Games are unclear. As the game progresses, you learn Jack's dark past, the reason for the resurgence of the games after years of its absence, and the shady men orchestrating it all. The story elements compared to the commentary, performed by veteran voice actor John Dimaggio and comedian Greg Proops, is like a night and day. While the story has a serious and mature tone to it, the commentary and in-game antics are juvenile at best, filled with lowbrow humor and blatantly over-the-top violence. This isn't a bad thing, however, as MadWorld doesn't attempt to take itself all too seriously at any point in the game. While the commentary often repeats itself, sometimes to the point where you can easily recite their lines after a few times heard, it's quite funny for those who aren't overly sensitive towards gallows humor, risque language, and lots of sexual references. Those looking for thoughtful, witty jokes and irony need not apply.

Just like the school buses, the public buses in
Asian Town sport spikes on their sides.

MadWorld utilizes a sensational stylistic visual approach perhaps to work around the Wii's technical shortcomings. Regardless of any reason, MadWorld plays like something out of a graphic novel with its monochromatic world and copious amounts of red blood to accent it. Cut-scenes are presented not only in full motion video sequences but also comic book-esque scenes supporting the style of the game splendidly. Things are fantastic on the sound front, too, as already evidenced by the wacky and hilarious commentary, but also as MadWorld features a terrific original soundtrack including a mix of rap, hip-hop, and metal perfectly suitable for destroying human life as you bop your head along in amusement. Small effects like the Wii remote's speaker sputtering like Jack's chainsaw as he uses it is quite a cool touch as well.

MadWorld has Jack starting from a low ranking position, trying to bludgeon his way up the rankings, killing higher ranks than him as he sets his eye for the number one spot as Deathwatch Games champion. Each level has Jack let loose in an area, trying to get as many points as possible until he's met the requirement to face off against the area's boss. These points aren't obtained by answering trivia questions asked by Marc Summers either, folks. No, the complexity of Jack's kills is all that matters. Every area has a multitude of marvelous ways to mutilate the games' moronic minions for maximum points. While Jack can grab an enemy and pound their chest into a spiked wall a few times for a fair amount of points, Jack can slam a barrel over their body, jam a signpost through their skull, and then hammer their bloody body through the spiked wall for an even higher point combo. If that seems too complicated, Jack can always just slice and dice unrelenting foes in two... or three... or four with his chainsaw, hold a foe up to a propeller blade as it skins them alive, toss a baddie into a grinder that doesn't care if it gets fed pork, beef, or human as long as it gets some action, or kill enemies through the many exclusive level deathtraps just clamoring to be used.

Who needs talk when you can just cut to the chase?

As Jack's point total increases to a given amount in a given level, new bonuses and events pop up. These range from more dangerous enemies to new deathtraps powering on to health items and weapons being unlocked to the ultra-violent Bloodbath Challenges. These events are timed challenges focusing around a deadly device or "gimmick". For example, the Death Press challenge's goal is to toss as many unsuspecting goons under a giant press that will crush their bodies in a cacophony of crimson while Man Darts' goal is to smack a flurry of enemies into a giant dartboard for points. Beats the hell out of the Grand Theft Auto IV's dart game any day, am I right? The levels themselves are mostly non-linear. They're not too large to explore, but they're not too small either. They're the perfect size to offer enough exploration without getting lost or wondering where the heck the enemies scurried off to. To break up the brawling, some levels feature Jack on a motorcycle duking it out with other disgruntled drivers on a fixed track.

The object here is to toss as many enemies
into that propeller as possible.

Once enough points have finally been earned, Jack can either keep hunting enemies down in the level (if the time limit permits) or ring the boss challenge bell for his ranking battle. The bosses in MadWorld are extremely cool to face off against. From taking on a giant ogre to taking down a tag team of electrical elites, the boss battles make MadWorld more than enough for any bloodthirsty gamer out there, and you know most of you are bloodthirsty to begin with. Each boss has a pattern that must be learned if Jack wants to gain any sort of advantage in battle. Every boss has an opening allowing Jack to rev up his chainsaw and go in for a clean strike.. er.. well, as clean as a chainsaw strike can be. There's also opportunities for Jack to go into a power struggle with the enemy which is essentially an elaborate quick-time event. Winning such a cinematic and entertaining struggle really does some damage to the baddie in question. Once a boss' health is all the way down, Jack is prompted to finish him/her/it/them off, and each death seems to be more outrageous, sensational, and crazy as the last. And I thought a gunshot to the head was a violent way to go... these deaths have nothing on that.

The bigger they are, the more bones they break!
Right, Michaelangelo?

Murdering multiple men as Jack is pretty simple to develop a rhythm for. Both the Wii remote and nunchuk are used for maximum carnage. Punches are mapped to the A button, holding the button grabs an item or enemy) while the chainsaw is mapped to the B button and swipes of the Wii remote. Other motion control occurs to toss foes like the rag dolls they are, complete QTEs such as slamming a foe's sword through their own chest, and various other situations. These all work well, but sometimes I didn't even move the Wii remote the right way, yet the action was still done on screen. To be fair, I'd rather have the controls work half-assed in some situations than not at all.

What doesn't work as well is MadWorld's camera. While it's usable, it's quite clunky, and a bit cumbersome. Locking on works, but only if you're facing the enemy or boss. If that aforementioned enemy or boss leaves your line of view, you're pretty much S.O.L. until you can lock-on again. It's much more troublesome than it should be, but it's nothing game-breaking at all. It will make the hard mode, where Jack only gets one life to work with and the enemies are much more offensive and deal more damage, much more frustrating to play.

"Don't mind me, guys. I'm just tired."
Thank you. I'll be here all week.

Although MadWorld can take an upwards of six hours to complete (and that's stretching it), the bonus goodies unlocked give the player new toys to tackle the abundantly more difficult hard more. Attempting to improve upon you highest scores in levels bring some old-school fun to the game as well. Back in my day and all that. Additionally, various Bloodbath Challenges can be played in two player split-screen for double the pleasure and double the lacerated limbs.

While not a perfect game, MadWorld is indeed a game for Wii owners coming off House of the Dead: Overkill looking for another balls-to-the-wall, over-the-top, I-can't-believe-they-just-went-there experience. It's definitely not for everyone as ironically the "mature" rating is mostly for juvenile reasons. Those who don't care either way will have a great beat-em-up with a visually impressive style and the top-notch presentation to make one enticing package.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rated "M" For Misnomer

NOTE: This article contains certain expletives not normally used on the site.

In North America, the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) uses a series of ratings to properly identify who a game's content is appropriate for. The major ratings are as follows:

  • EC = Early Childhood (3 years and older)
  • E = Everyone (save over children under six years old-- go figure there)
  • E10+ = Everyone over 10 years old
  • T = Teen for ages 13 and up
  • M = Mature for ages 17 and older
Let's zero in on that last one, shall we? Mature. Ma...ture... Before we can understand whether or not such a title for the rating is completely accurate, we'll have to get down to the very basics of the defintion of the word and how it relates to video games. For conveniency's sake, let's cherry pick the definition as it is intended to be portrayed in the industry.

ma⋅ture - intended for or restricted to adults, esp. by reason of explicit sexual content or the inclusion of violence or obscene language: mature movies.

The video game industry has definitely seen a large expansion in demographics since the renaissance of gaming back with Super Mario Bros. For the longest time up to the 16 bit era, the vast majority of games were created with younger audiences in mind. Now that isn't to say that all of those games were only suitable for children, it's to say that the content was appropriate for everyone to play without psychological trauma. Of course, games with more "mature" content were around at that time and even earlier. On October 13, 1982, the virtually immediately infamous Custer's Revenge attracted an abundance of attention, and none of it was for positive reasons. The game had you play General Custer as you saunter your way across the screen, dodging arrows, all for the purpose of planting your visibly erect pole inside a bound, big-breasted, and in the buff Native American woman. I make it sound much more descriptive, but it's essentially a game about raping an indian woman. Then you have Mortal Kombat which was an adequate fighter that gained notoriety (government attention included) due to its excessively violent and over-the-top "fatalities". This game brought forth the industry to create a self-regulating body to rate games for consumers. It would eventually become the ESRB that we know today.

When you think of a movie that you would consider to have "mature subject matter", what would come to mind immediately? Let's narrow it even further. How about a movie that you'd just consider "mature"? Let me help out by replacing the word mature with a synonym. How about cultured or sophisticated? Ooh... I like that one. Sophisticated. Are there any movies that you can think of that you would consider sophisticated? I'm sure there's more than you can count. The Godfather, Million-Dollar Baby, Schindler's List, and so forth (I'm just pulling them out of hat, folks). Now let's shift to video games. The industry is still young compared to the movie industry, so obviously some leeway/slack needs to be given. What games would you consider to be sophisticated? I don't mean when you play them you feel better than everyone else or anything snobby like that. Let's not get pretentious-- I do that enough so my readers don't have to. Let's examine a bunch of recent games that are armed with the "M" for Mature rating, and see how they hold up.

Gears of War 2 (360)

"I don't think this gun is cool enough."
"I know! Let's put a chainsaw on it!"
"Awesome! That is greaaaaaat!"
*high fives all around then beer pong*

That's honestly what I picture the developer roundtable at Epic Games being. Despite being heavy on cheese in storytelling, Gears of War 2 is just cringe-worthy most of the time. "There's a giant worm taking down cities!!!" And who doesn't love roided up space marines so the pre-teen kids and the 30 year old man-children who think like them can hop online and call people completely repulsive names from the safety of their bunkers made out of empty cans of Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel! Hell yeah!!! When a player's main enjoyment is the way they can viscerally kill their opponent, there's something wrong here.

Killzone 2 (PS3)

There's an exhausting amount of backstory and lore that the writers placed into the Killzone universe from planets to races-- you could get filled in on as much of the universe as you want. How did it translate into a 7-8 hour campaign? Well, it's as if an entirely different group wrote the dialogue of the game.

"Shit! Shit!"
"Get the fuck down!"
"Fuck me!!!"

You get the idea. It's as if some man-child game designer recalled his days of playing with his G.I. Joes while watching a rated R movie and saying to himself, "man, cussing makes everything cool!" Seriously, it's actually far away from hyperbole to say that Killzone 2's characters swore every five seconds per discussion. Speaking of G.I. Joes, what's with all of these young 25-35 year old developers making futuristic military shooters? This is essentially Halo with a different skin and gorgeous visuals. Yelling racial and sexual slurs at people while blasting away other ADD people online is great for frat parties, but for a sophisticated experience, this is game is nowhere near "mature".

Madworld (Wii)

Despite all of the incredibly entertaining ways to kill an enemy whether it's slamming a signpole straight into their skull or ripping out someone's still-beating heart, MadWorld suffers from an extreme amount of juvenile content. However, for this game it seems to work as the entire game does not take itself seriously at all. Does that make it sophisticated? Of course not, but at least it doesn't pretend to be. The game does suffer from the annoyance of the commentators-- while oftentimes hilarious-- seem to have caught the "If I say fuck five times in five seconds, that is fucking funny, you fuckface! ...Fuck." It's the horribly lack of wit sense of humor that abusing cuss words is funny when in fact making something funny or funnier is based on timing-- y'know-- something actual comedians have in spades.


That's enough calling on these games. There's certainly nothing wrong with playing and enjoying any of them. I'm just saying that when you have a rating that can be exchanged for "cultivated" and "sophisticated", perhaps a better rating would be in order. Regardless, that isn't to say there aren't any games that are rated M and are sophisticated in a too violent for children, some tasteful sexual conduct, etc. as well.

I'm going to list some games, and we'll see if we can agree upon whether these are actually mature (as opposed to [im]mature like the ones listed above). Now these have to already be rated M to be counted.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3)
Dead Space (PS3, 360, PC)
Call of Duty: World at War (PS3, 360, Wii, DS, PC)
Bioshock (PS3, 360, PC)
Tenchu: Shadow Assassin (Wii, PSP)
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PS3, 360, PC)
Fallout 3 (PS3, 360, PC)

The main point of this article was not to say that any game is horrible because of the immaturity of the content. It's just that so many people seem to have the idea that those playing Mario and the like are childish or immature while they go forth and play games rated "M" but full of adolescent content that a 13 year old would be giggling over. The mindset that a game with color or for everyone is less sophisticated than a game where you can shove someone's limb down their throat and pull it out their ass is more popular a philosophy than it should be. It's very frightening that even some developers share this ideology, too, and many show it every day. If this industry wants to be taken seriously and grow up, then it has to start from within.

Feedback Appreciated!

What do you think about this article? What views would you like to express to the public on this subject? Let your opinion be known!

Professor Layton and the Curious Village (DS) Review

To commemorate the announcement of the rest of the Layton series being localized, let's take a look back at the mystery that started it all, Professor Layton and the Curious Village for the Nintendo DS. Lisa Kudrow not included.

Curiosity killed the cat but founded a village.

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Level 5 is well-known for its sea of RPGs such as Dark Cloud, Rogue Galaxy, and Dragon Quest VIII. Now, teaming up with puzzle master, Akira Tago, professor of psychology at Emeritus Chibi University in Japan and writer of several best-selling puzzle books, Level 5 is entering new waters with Professor Layton and the Curious Village for the Nintendo DS. Is this perplexing puzzler gifted, or does it need to stay after class?

The tale begins with Professor Layton and his apprentice, Luke, driving towards the town of St. Mystere per request from the late baron's wealthy widow. His will speaks of a secret treasure, the Golden Apple, hidden somewhere within the confines of the village. The lucky person who finds it gets control of the baron's estate. Now it's up to Professor Layton and Luke to search the village for clues of the Golden Apple's whereabouts. During their search the pair will come across townsfolk with puzzles on the brain for Layton and Luke to solve as well as other mysteries around the town such as strange rumblings, odd disappearances of villagers, a foreboding tower sitting behind the village, and a murder to solve to boot. The mysteries and story are intriguing enough for players to press through the many puzzles and challenges the game throws at you, and each time you return to the game the story will quickly be recapped to you. No worries if you haven't played for months as the game will swiftly refresh your memory.

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Point and click to an area to be transported.

The main meat of Professor Layton and the Curious Village lies within the over one hundred puzzles and brain teasers the game challenges you with. No, you don't simply play through a list of puzzles. Instead, you converse with villagers who bring up a puzzle in their dialogue which is an ordinary occurence with the puzzle-obsessed populace of St. Mystere. Likewise, you can also come across puzzles within the environment. Most of the time there will be a puzzle or series of puzzles needing to be solved to unearth the next part of the story, and if you miss any puzzles you can visit Granny Riddleton's puzzle palace (i.e. shack) in the center of town to play any skipped puzzles. Clearing as many puzzles as possible is usually a smart idea as many of the riddles will unlock new gizmos, furniture, and painting pieces used to unlock more challenging extra puzzles. In addition to the already exhausting amount of puzzles in the story mode, there's puzzles that can be unlocked via download. They're not really downloadable puzzles as all you're doing is downloading a key to unlock puzzles already on the cart. Still, it's a welcomed addition for puzzle-craving players to wrap their brains around even further.

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Can you solve this early puzzle?

The puzzles of St. Mystere call upon the player to rely on his or her logic, observation, and critical thinking skills. The beginning puzzles are as simple as circling the town where no other roads lead to it, turning the DS upside-down, or trying to send animals across a raft in as few steps as possible. At the beginning of each puzzle, you'll see how much the puzzle is worth measured in picarats. If you fail the puzzle, the maximum score you can earn will decrease. By finding hint coins hidden throughout the village and found by tapping a certain spot on the screen, you can unlock hints. There's three hints per puzzle, and you'll definitely be relying on them for the second half of puzzles. Sure, you can just hop onto GameFAQs and spoil the answer for you, but it's definitely worth solving a problematic puzzle on your own than taking the low route. If you're like me, you'll probably check for the solution after an hour or so of struggling, and then you'll feel stupid in hindsight for not coming to the right conclusion beforehand. This way the game will probably take you anywhere from 10-20 hours. You might breeze through the brain teasers, or you might become stumped often like me. Regardless, it pays not to take the low route unless it's absolutely necessary.

Speaking of the low route, this game definitely did not take it presentation-wise. The art style is charming and very old-school. It brings added life to the many personalities of St. Mystere. Fully animated cut-scenes flesh out the important scenes of the game, and they run smoothly. The voice work is top-notch, and the amazing thing about it is that only two people played all of the parts. The music is laced with the accordion, and it's very quaint and doesn't distract. By no means is this a soundtrack that you'll want to download the audio rip from.

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This puzzle needs you to think backwards
for the fastest solution.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a wonderful experience. The many puzzles will demand the player to use all their critical-thinking skills, the story is intriguing and well-worth solving all those brain teasers, and the sheer amount of the aforementioned puzzles is easily worth the price of admission. Unfortunately, there isn't too much to do after completing the story besides some extra brain busters. Regardless, if you're looking for an endearing game that will beat your brain into shape and has more content and charm than Brain Age or your daily newspaper's sudoku, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is the game for you.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.25/10]

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Animal Crossing: City Folk (Wii) Review

This game has so much content and things to talk about that it ran much longer than I was expecting. Regardless, I hope it's a good read for everyone. The only pictures used that weren't taken on my own are the box art and online one (that one is so cute by the by). Enjoy this review of Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Nintendo Wii.

Give me a home where the buffalo roam,
and the deer and the antelope live next door.

Have you ever dreamed to live somewhere else? Perhaps Spain, France, Japan, the Caribbean, or out of your parents' basement? (No, YOU'RE late on the rent!!) We all have, but how about inside a town full of anthropomorphic animal citizens? If you jumped up with tears in your eyes and a passionate song in your heart, then Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Nintendo WIi is right for you! Of course, if you just want a fun game, then yeah, I guess Animal Crossing: City Folk is good for you, too, but is City Folk merely an expansion of past games or is it something more palatable?

As a character out on his or her own for the first time, you ride the bus towards your new home. On the bus you meet a fellow traveler named Rover. Your answers to the questions he asks determine how your in-game character looks. When you get set loose in the world, you can outfit your character however you like by acquiring new shirts, headgear, and accessories like glasses, flowers, and the like. You can even create your own shirt, hat, and umbrella designs to make all of the neighbors jealous. New to the game is a feature allowing you to design your shirt by part: front, back, and left and right sleeves, so let your inner fashionista run wild!

"Wait! Don't close that door! I forgot my wallet!"

After the introductory ride concludes, the bus makes its scheduled stop to your brand new town. Each town is randomly generated so no two towns are ever the same. Of course, things like the town hall, tailor, shop, museum, and such are in every town, but they're located randomly as well. Your first stop is the town hall where you'll receive the go-ahead to pick one of four vacant houses to occupy. Unlike past versions of Animal Crossing, each of the four eligible homes are spread out across town. Once a house is selected, the proprietor of Nook's Cranny, the coy raccoon Tom Nook has your soul indebted to him. As long you still have Bells (the currency of the Animal Crossing universe) to pay him for your house, he essentially owns you. Of course, the game is lighthearted and whimsical, so this truth won't be revealed. Regardless, any older player can easily read between the lines. The debt must be paid, too, or else you'll still get letters in the mail from your in-game mom, but they'll actually be forged by Tom Nook because he'll have already killed her. Thus, you best pay up.

You can honestly become attached to the little devils.

To start off paying off the debt, Nook hires you as a part-time worker at his store. Note: His last part-time employee can be fished up in a nearby lake. You'll do odd jobs for the sole purpose of learning the basics of the game. You'll be asked to plant flowers and trees around town to make your bustling burg more presentable, deliver furniture and other goods to your fellow neighbors, as well as learn to mail letters using the in-game letter writing tool. These are all tasks that you'll be doing regularly if you want to get ahead in Animal Crossing. The main goal of the Animal Crossing series is to pay off your debts to Tom Nook. After each round of debt on your house is paid off, he'll opt to expand your humble home. At first your place is a cramped room not fit for more than two people-- much less just one! As each increasingly higher debt is paid off, your house gets larger and larger. Your first floor will be more roomy, you'll gain a second floor to place furnishings in, and you'll even get a basement to store excess goodies inside. Of course, that's just one of the many goals you can strive for. Animal Crossing: City Folk is very much a sandbox for you to explore and play how you want to play. Don't want to pay off your debt? You don't have to. Nook will kill real life family members, but you don't have to if you don't want to.

And the casualties were only two broken legs!

One of more addicting qualities of Animal Crossing is collecting and accumulating wide varieties of furnishings for your house. Your house is yours to decorate how you want. You can customize the wallpaper and carpet in your house, and place and maneuver furniture as you see fit. A house following one set series of furniture plus matching wallpaper and carpet will earn you big points by the Happy Room Academy who judges home decorations. If you want to see all of the hundreds and hundreds of unique furniture, carpet, wallpaper, and other knickknacks there are to see out in the world of Animal Crossing, you'll need to log in some serious time and/or get some friends online to trade with. Certain items only appear on certain days at certain times, and others can only be obtained through hidden ways. For instance, there's a whole batch of Nintendo-related apparel and furniture that can only be collected by shopping enough at Nook's.There's plenty of ways to stockpile items from purchasing them from Nook's shop to helping out your fellow neighbors with their problems.

Your home is yours to decorate to your liking.

These fellow neighbors you'll be seeing a lot of as your entire town is made up of animal denizens. Yes, you, and perhaps up to three other humans who can live in your town, are the only human beings in town, and you live in a community full of bipedal animals. I know some people out there are getting smiles on their faces right at this moment. Regardless, up to ten animal neighbors can move into your town. Compare this to the original Gamecube Animal Crossing where 15 was the max, and the Nintendo DS' Wild World where 8 was the limit. Ten is a fair amount, and you never feel that you're overwhelmed trying to speak to all of them. There's over one-hundred animals total in the game, and it's completely random which ones inhabit a given town. While there's a lot of variety in the characters design-wise, there's only a handful of different personalities which is a shame. There are goofy jock, cantankerous grouch, bubbly girl, pleasant lady, and two other animal personality archetypes, and each personality uses the same batch of dialogue. More variety in personality would have made things more interesting. As it is, there really is an exhausting amount of dialogue in the game, and seeing the same speech isn't as common as one would think. Not to mention that the dialogue is quite humorous and sometimes even laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The pointer makes grabbing and selecting items a breeze.

Animal Crossing is a world that goes on whether you're there or not. The game runs on the Wii's internal clock, so when it's 9 p.m. in your time zone, it's also 9 p.m. in your Animal Crossing town. Just like in real life, the animals and shops in City Folk have sleeping/closing schedules, too. Animal Crossing even runs on the same calendar as the real world and celebrates many of our own holidays as well as other special events. For instance, the fourth Sunday of every month is a Flea Market where you can enter other animals' homes and purchase their wares and vice versa. Some furniture and special event items, given by the mayor Tortimer, can only be acquired on such special holidays and events, so those wanting to collect rare items for their homes better keep track of the constant happenings of their town.

Every Saturday night K.K. Slider takes requests for songs that
you can bring home and listen to whenever you like.

The seasons are also an important part of Animal Crossing. In winter, the ground is coated in a perpetual snow where gift-giving snowmen can be created while spring blossoms with vibrant green all over. Bugs and fish have different months and time when they're in-season, too. In order to collect all of the species of insects and water-life available, a player will have to play City Folk all year long. Not only can they be sold to Tom Nook for Bells (along with fruit, flowers, fossils, and seashells), but they also go a long way to obtaining rare tools like the Golden Rod and Net which make their respective catches all the more easier to capture.

The titular feature of the Wii version of Animal Crossing is the city, and to be honest, it's not that entertaining. Sure, there are various stores and buildings to visit, but most of them are only interesting to view the first time. There's a hairdresser who can style your character's hair differently or enable you to use the heads of one of your Miis, a fortuneteller who can grant you good or bad luck, a extravagant clothing store with even more extravagant prices, a practically useless auction house, a comedic theater, and probably the most notable place, a seedy shop where some rare items appear for sale weekly. For such a lackluster new feature, I wish some attention was added to making the various neighbors in town have more depth to them.

You can meet non-citizens of your town in the city.

A feature that was given more attention is the online component of the game. To visit another player's town from across the series of tubes the kids called the internet, both players need to exchange and enter one another's friend codes. Then, a player opens their gate, and the other player can freely visit their town while it's open. Up to four friends can be inside a town at the same time. Everything runs smoothly with no hiccups (save for your drunk nights of play with your buddies), and the addition of Wii Speak adds up to some fun times without interrupting play just so you can bring up the keyboard tool to write "ya". Unlike Wild World, City Folk neighbors aren't relegated to staying inside their homes as the DS version was because of obvious limitations.

Up to four friends can hang out in a town.

Animal Crossing: City Folk can be played with Wii remote and nunchuk together or the Wii remote by its lonesome, pointing to where you want your character to run and talk to. I prefer the combination-- being able to use analog control to move around town freely and pointer control for pointing to exactly what I want to interact with, to make writing letters much more manageable and time-saving, and to select items to sell much more easily. A great shortcut given to players is the ability to switch tools on the fly with the d-pad. No longer does a player have to open up the item screen to change tools (e.g. removing a shovel to equip the watering can). This makes traversing your town faster without the added tedium of the past. Additionally, some motion control is available from flicking your wrist to cast your lure to swiping at an insect with your net. These methods of control are completely optional for those of you out there with the irrational hatred of slightly moving any part of your body except for your thumbs.

As stated, City Folk runs smoothly online, and that hopefully means it runs just as smoothly offline. Yep, this is indeed the case. The presentation has definitely improved from the previous console entry from 2002. Colors are vibrant, music suitably changes every hour on the hour, characters are cleverly designed and show great humor and charm, and the writing is superb and appropriate (and funny) for all ages. Instead of separating each town by different screens as in the original Animal Crossing, City Folk utilizes a spherical design to exploration as in Wild World. This works much better in order to traverse your town without all of the stopping and going that different screens resulted in. Not all is good though on the visual front, however. One odd design choice on the presentation side is how grass will turn into dirt the more you walk on it, so a month into the game, a lot of your town can look like a barren desert devoid of any grass. This was intended to give players the ability to make paths, but it's just infuriating to have your town look less stellar than it could because of such a silly implementation.

"Well... I love you, too, man."

Animal Crossing: City Folk is really the best of both worlds. It takes a lot of elements from the original Animal Crossing, combines them with a lot of elements from Wild World, and adds in some totally new content for an updated an enhanced experience. While not a completely fresh game, the millions of new Wii owners will definitely have a new and exciting experience for their collections. Animal Crossing fans still interested in the series despite the lack of anything revolutionary to move the series forward will definitely enjoy this version as it is the best overall. Those either burnt out or bored of the series should steer clear until something big comes to the world of Animal Crossing.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]

New Punch-Out! (Wii) Trailer

Yesterday, Nintendo released a new trailer for Punch-Out! coming out to the Wii this May. I never have played any version of Punch-Out! no matter the amount of exclamation points in each title or not. I'm looking to dabble with the series with Super Punch-Out! sometime soon. Maybe I'll do a retro review just for fun.

Monday, March 23, 2009

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - Zelda II Edition

This is our second of two weeks examining the music of the Legend of Zelda universe. Last week we looked at the 2D offerings, so it only makes sense that this week we survey the 3D games. From Ocarina of Time to Twilight Princess, this week's VGMs have you covered.

V276. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Kokiri Forest

Let's transition from the classic 2D top-down Zelda titles to Link's adventures into three-dimensions. We'll start off with two tracks from my favorite Zelda and favorite game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The first track is the Hyrule Symphony version of Kokiri Forest, a place serving as host to a young boy's humble beginnings.

V277. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Gerudo Valley

Our second piece of music from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in this Zelda themed set of videos comes from Gerudo Valley. It's definitely a mandatory song for a favorite video game music compilation, don't you think? Stylized with a Spanish flair, Gerudo Valley is a wonderful track stirring memories of leaping across a broken bridge with Epona over and over again.

V278. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask - Boss Battle

No doubt my favorite boss theme that The Legend of Zelda franchise has to offer, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask's Boss Battle theme was and still is quite epic-- though I hate to use that word since it's hip to overuse the word with today's youth. I think it's an actual honest use of the word though, no doubt!

V279. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker - Ocean

This is the overworld theme of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Instead of an overworld full of land to traverse, the majority of the world was covered with water meaning Link needed to sail across the deep blue seas from destination to destination. This was occasionally tedious to do especially during an infamous end game quest, but otherwise the game was yet another fantastic installment in the Zelda series.

V280. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - Ordon Village

We wrap up our look and listening to the Legend of Zelda series of videos with a selection from Link's newest adventure, Twilight Princess. I am ashamed to say that I only got past the second dungeon before a flood of other games, shorter games, grabbed my attention. Regardless, this theme comes from Link's hometown of Ordon.

That concludes another week of music. Tune in next time when it will be on like Donkey Kong!