Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pokemon Puzzle League (N64) Retro Review

Let's do our first retro review of the month, shall we? It's for a Tetris Attack successor known simply as Pokemon Puzzle League for the Nintendo 64. Get your blocks off with this review.

Leagues Above Other Puzzlers

The original Tetris Attack was quite unlike the original Tetris. In fact, besides having colored blocks, it really had nothing to do with it. The game starred Yoshi as he played through several levels challenging opponents such as Wiggler and Navel Piranha in Panel de Pon combat. The second iteration on this classic formula is one of a gotta-catch-em-all theme, Pokemon. Is Pokemon Puzzle League the perfect puzzler?

Pokemon Puzzle League is set in the anime Pokemon world starring Ash Ketchum and all the lovable and not-so-lovable characters from the hit TV series. One day while relaxing poolside with his best buddy Pikachu, Ash gets a call from Professor Oak informing him that he's been accepted into the Pokemon Puzzle League contest. Without any hint of hesitation, Ash accepts and him and Pikachu head off to Puzzle Village to compete against puzzlers from all around the Kanto region.

Pikachu, stylish as always.

Pokemon Puzzle League has loads of things to do inside it. Who knew there could be so many variations of Tetris Attack/Panel de Pon? There's the one-player stadium mode where the trainer of your choosing goes off against the eight gym leaders to earn badges symbolizing your victory over said gym leaders. There's marathon mode where you play Tetris Attack until you can't go on any longer with an increasingly faster game board, line attack where the goal is to beat down Team Rocket while keeping your blocks under a certain line in order to clear the round, and puzzle mode where you're tasked to clear a series of blocks in a select amount of moves. There's also a new 3D mode which has you playing Tetris Attack among a tube which you can rotate around for three-dimensions of Panel de Pon action.

Match three or more same-colored
blocks in a row to clear them.

The gameplay of Puzzle League is very reminiscent of the early Tetris Attack game starring Yoshi. It's essentially that game with Pokemon paint painted all over it. You have a tower of multi-colored blocks that steadily rise to the top of the screen. Let them reach the top of the screen, and it's game over. To clear blocks, you need to match three or more same-colored blocks in a row either vertically or horizontally. The more blocks you chain together and combos you earn, the more points you score. In competitive matches, these chains and combos drop garbage blocks onto the opposition's side that can only be destroyed by clearing blocks adjacent to it. Watch out though as your opponent can also send out garbage blocks your way, too. As the game progresses, the stack of blocks rises faster and faster with little room for error.

Garbage blocks can be quite troublesome!

Pokemon Puzzle League's presentation is pretty much what you'd expect from a Pokemon game of this kind. There's plenty of Pokemon in the backgrounds, Jigglypuff is in charge of slowing and speeding up the board, and constant colorful characters parade around the screen. It's very pleasant to see. An opening anime cut-scene shows off Ash's acceptance into the Puzzle League, and the soundtrack is mostly based on remixes of the old 2.B.A. Master Pokemon soundtrack CD. Some might find the presentation too saccharin, however, for their tastes.

Ultimately, Pokemon Puzzle League doesn't stray too far from its Tetris Attack roots which can be a good thing or bad thing considering who you talk to. There's plenty of modes, challenges to face off against, and the competitive play is still as fast and frantic as ever. Those looking for some big innovation in the formula should look elsewhere, but for everyone else, Pokemon Puzzle League is a competent puzzler in its own right.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.25/10]

Elebits (Wii) Review

Two reviews in one day are planned for this Saturday. The first is a classic review from way back in early 2006. It's for Elebits, a game that saw an unconventional DS sequel. How's the original fare? Let's jump in and find out.

An Elebit of Fun

Konami steps up to the Wii plate to dish out their premier title for Nintendo's next gen piece of hardware. Their first title? The quirky Elebits. Elebits are small, cute, and sometimes dangerous critters that power all of the world's devices. Unfortunately for the world, the Elebits have begun to act rashly after an electric storm and now a young boy (trust me, it's a boy), Kai goes off with his father's Capture Gun to retrieve all of the crazed Elebits.

Elebits makes use of the nunchuk control style in an FPS format. You use the analog stick to move around and the C and Z buttons on the nunchuk to squat and to rise on your toes. The remote functions as your pointer which you use to aim and then press A to grab onto objects or capture various Elebits in the game world. Each stage takes place in a different locale starting off as small as Kai's room to as expansive as an amusement park. By capturing Elebits your wattage increases allowing you to turn on appliances. These appliances hide power Elebits which strengthens your Capture Gun to pick up larger objects and furniture. In order to clear a stage you'll need to gather enough watts. Later levels will give you conditions on clearing such as making as little loud noises as possible to not breaking a lot of objects in a stage. Also in each stage are items such as the homing laser that targets nearby Elebits, a shield which protects you in later levels from rampant Elebits, and a noise reducer that cancels out loud sounds temporarily. These all can greatly aid you while you toss around furniture searching for hidden Elebits.

A red elebit lounging around on the job.

Boss battles help break up the action. These require you to dodge attacks while using the Capture Gun to take them down. If you get attacked either in a boss battle or in any level, your gun's durability will lower. If it gets down to zero, it's game over for you.

If the twenty five stage plus story mode isn't enough to whet your appetite, Elebits includes an edit mode which enables you to create your own levels. You can place furniture, hide Elebits under objects, set the wattage goal, the time limit, and much more. If that isn't enough you can trade and get levels from other Wii gamers on your friends' list. This greatly opens up the replay value and is a welcomed treat. Additionally a multiplayer mode allows up to four players to see who can capture the most watts. It can get hectic, but it's mostly fun in short bursts.

First we repossess you car...

Some problems I had with Elebits included doors sometimes not opening when I turned the Wii remote to turn their knobs. I'd have to fiddle with the game to allow me to open the door. Also, the environments can be quite claustrophobic especially with all of the objects and furniture in the way. Finding Elebits in these areas and grabbing the right objects to move can become a challenging mess. Finally in later levels the framerate can drop when a lot of action takes place. This can occur even in earlier levels when there's a lot going on.

And then we repossess your house!

Ultimately, Elebits is one of those games that awesomely uses the Wii remote. It's fun to play or just throw objects across the room, there's a lot of depth to the game, unlockables to be had, and even as I've had this since launch I'm continuing to come back to this game. If some of the slowdown and framerate issues were taken care of this game might have been even more soild than in its current form. Here's hoping for a sequel at the very least.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.75/10]

Friday, March 5, 2010

Endless Ocean: Blue World (Wii) Review

As stated, here's my review of Endless Ocean: Blue World. I didn't get to experience the first game, so now I'm curious after playing this one. I can't swim in real life, so to be able to visit the depths of the ocean virtually was quite an amazing experience. Here's my review.

Dive Into A Bounty of Blue

The original Endless Ocean is now a prized game upon collectors. The game is out of production, and it can set you back about sixty dollars on average for a new copy. For those of us who had an interest in this series late, it's a breath of fresh air to see a sequel that's much cheaper and of greater value. Packed with Wii Speak and commanding a thirty dollar price tag, is this an ocean-full of value or a deal doomed for the bottom of the dreary depths?

Endless Ocean: Blue World puts you in the shoes-- rather flippers-- of a college student on leave to investigate a phenomenon known as the Song of Dragons. It is foretold that any who hear the mysterious melody will have a curse fallen onto them. To assist in investigating is the L&L Diving Company, a grandfather and granddaughter run operation. The father lost his life searching for the treasure revolving around the sinister Song of Dragons, will your character be the next to fall?

Enter the colorful world of coral.

Starting out, you're given a basic look for your character by answering a duo of questions. This is similar to Animal Crossing except instead the questions are much more direct such as asking what your skin tone is. As you unlock certain missions, you'll be able to purchase new equipment like tubes that allow you to dive longer, new diving outfits, flippers, and colored oxygen tanks, and alter your hairstyle to make your character all the more you-like. Purchased goods are bought via money either acquired through exploration, salvaging items, and making off the game's aquarium.

You could fit inside that fish!

The basic structure of Endless Ocean: Blue World has you investigating certain underwater sights. The map is invaluable for this as the more you explore, the more money you'll receive from Oceana, the granddaughter in the L&L equation. Though for the story portion of the game, exploring is optional. Though the longer you dive, the more your diving level increases, allowing you to stay underwater for a longer period of time. Thus, it's a good idea to explore around a bit while simultaneously following the story. When your air approaches empty, you automatically get transported back to the L&L vessel. Regarding the map, a red circle will indicate where you need to go next. You follow to the point, wait for the next story element regarding the Song of Dragons to pop up, perhaps swim around for more clues, and then return the hub of the game, Nineball Island.

Meet your new home, Highball Island.

This island is where all the action really happens. There's loads to do such as training your befriended dolphins, using the journal to scope out any new quests and leads, develop photos taking via your in-game camera, talk to the island inhabitants for new jobs, look at your treasure collection, buy, sell, and appraise new items, and much more. You'll be returning to this island a lot in between your diving expeditions, and with the short loading times, venturing back to Nineball isn't as tedious as one might imagine.

Apart from following the story, there's a massive, almost daunting amount of things to do. You can literally play this game for a hundred hours and still not have seen everything there is to see. The sunken depths of the ocean, sea, and river waters are teeming with life, secret caves, and hidden treasure. One of main side quests is filling up your marine encyclopedia. By examining aquatic life, their data goes into your encyclopedia. There's hundreds of sea creatures to discover, and most only hang out in certain bodies of water or come out only at night. There's a vast variety of water organisms to find from mammoth-sized whales to bottomfeeders, legendary creatures long extinct to the common carp, dangerous animals like crocodiles and eels to jellyfish and sharks. These perilous creatures will chomp right into your flesh and bone, ripping your torso apart. No, actually they'll just strike you and make you lose a portion of your air. Same difference, right?

Crikey! Croc alert!

Then there's the various tools you have to assist you in your exploration of the dangerous deep. There's the camera that lets you take photos, develop them, and save them to an SD card to share them with friends or the internet. The pulsar is another tool. This sends a signal that ranges from dissuading sharks from attacking you to healing helpless creatures like a depressed dolphin. One tool is perfect for scanning the ocean floor for metallic treasures or hidden passageways. These treasures can be salvaged and then appraised for money and an entry in your treasure catalog. There's also a marker for drawing messages while playing online or to use like breadcrumbs to keep your bearings. Finally, the sea whistle calls animals over like a mother yelling "dinner" to her hungry kids. No matter the situation, there's a tool to be used.

Use the pulsar to soothe the savage beast.

There's about eight different venues to swim in, and most of these are quite expansive with loads of new aquatic life, treasure, and hidden passageways to discover. Your diving expedition will take you from the Red Sea to the tropical Pacific Ocean to the frigid waters of the Arctic. Each has different creatures to uncover, sights to behold, and breathtaking views. Each locale has various diving locations to start from, so reaching a particular area grows quickly convenient. If traveling by yourself gets you down, you can swim with a diving partner, each with their own specialty such as finding salvageable treasure, informing you of aquatic life, or in the case of a befriended dolphin, giving you a ride.

A game like this would not be a relaxing experience if the controls were frustrating to use. Thankfully, the pointer functionality of the Wii remote gives the game's controls a second nature to them. You won't feel like a fish out of water with them. You just point at a side of the screen to turn, much like an FPS on Wii. I would have preferred a faster way to turn around, but what we have already is serviceable. The map is "mapped" to the 1 button for easy access, and you can swim while the map is translucent instead of constantly pausing to see where you are and where you're going.

As stated, online is a component of Blue World, and the experience is quite positive. Two friends join up via friend codes and explore a vast body of water of their choosing together. Before players could only communicate with the marker tool, drawing messages, crude symbols, and stick figure porn. Now that Wii Speak is enabled, communication is all the simpler in addition to stick figure porn which rest assured, can still be performed. The only downside here is that new aquatic life discovered does not count for either player when playing cooperatively.

Aquatic life overload!

If you're more of a solo diver, there's still quite a bit of longevity to be had in Blue World. The main story will take upwards of ten hours while finding all the coins and treasures, befriending every dolphin possible, collecting all of the achievement-like titles, exploring all the locales, documenting every aquatic creature, and seeing everything there is to do in Blue World will take dozens upon dozens of hours to accomplish.

Blue World covers a lot of space, and it does so without any signs of slowdown-- something I am a stickler against. Pop-up and pop-in are kept to a minimum, and the ocean landscape is mightily marvelous. Going on land, however, there's a noticeable difference in quality graphically. It's still presentable, but it's not as rich and detailed as the underwater scenes the game has in store for the player. Many times when you visit a new area, you'll be taken out of the diving experience by a cut-scene, showcasing the area in one or two scenes. This gets irritating when you're in the middle of a dive, and you trigger a cut-scene while in the middle of doing something else. Just let me swim to myself for once, dammit! Meanwhile, the music ranges from tense orchestral music to the much more common poignant themes, some of which being lyrical. They're very calming, soothing, and they possess magnificent melodies to match. Those wanting mp3 playback from this installment of Endless Ocean will be deeply disappointed as that feature has been axed in this sequel.

Here's a game with so much water that one would have to worry about being waterlogged. Fortunately, there's enough variety in Endless Ocean: Blue World to keep things fresh. If you're willing to test the waters and play a game that's focused heavily on diving, then Blue World might just be an ocean worth diving into.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]

Endless Ocean: Blue World (Wii) Snapshots

Tonight, I'll be posting up a review for Endless Ocean: Blue World, but first allow me to share with you some photos I took using the game's camera tool. I saved them to an SD card and uploaded them for your enjoyment. Here are some gorgeous shots from the game.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

White Knight Chronicles: International Edition (PS3) Review

Last Thursday we had a game featuring a black knight. This Thursday, why don't we keep the streak going with a game starring a white knight? That is exactly what we're going to do with this review of White Knight Chronicles: International Edition.

Sorry, but your princess is in another castle!

It's taken awhile, but finally a steady stream of role-playing games are falling into the laps of PlayStation 3 owners. There's been Eternal Sonata, Star Ocean 4, and soon to be Final Fantasy XIII later this month. Now you can add one more intriguing RPG to the list with White Knight Chronicles: International Edition. Did this knight deserve to be knighted by her majesty?

White Knight Chronicles has you playing as a meager delivery boy named Leonard in the kingdom of Balandor. When a colossal celebration goes awry and the city is under attack, the enemy captures the princess and whisks her away. Meanwhile, Leonard somehow breaks the seal to the fabled white knight, makes a pact with the gigantic suit of armor, and uses it to drive away the enemy forces, longing to take the white knight for themselves. With the princess captured and a city in ruin, Leonard leads a rescue party to take back the princess. The story itself is full of cliches and other eye-rolling moments such as a holographic Leonard and Princess Cisna waltzing on top of a lake. There's your typical do-gooder hero, the bubbly pink-haired girl, the mysterious old man, the cocky comic relief, and the snark-filled dancer. Some players will be put off by the cliches, but I happened to enjoy them. Of course, constantly having the princess fall through the cracks and get kidnapped again reminded me of a certain portly plumber's ordeals in 1985.

Leonard controls the white knight armor.

Then there's you. At the beginning of the game you create your avatar, the person who will accompany Leonard and friends on their journey. You can adjust the sliders, customizing everything from brow height to shoe size. You can give your avatar a voice to use in battle, and countless other customization options. Unfortunately, your avatar will constantly be playing the role of the third wheel with no influence on the story at all. I would have loved to seen my avatar as the hero of the story instead of that wimp Leonard, but c'est la vie.

Game progression couldn't be simpler. You explore towns, gather items, weapons, and skills, talk with the locals, gain clues on where to go next, watch a cutscene, go to the next dungeon, watch another series of cutscenes, and repeat the process over and over. A helpful map assists you in guiding the way with a star on the map detailing where Leonard's team has to go next. Even on the world map which is just made up of locations to select from shows where you need to go next on your arduous adventure.

Big Helga shows why she has her namesake.

The main single-player mode takes around twenty hours to complete, and that's just with no dilly-dallying included. When the game is completed, a new game plus option opens up for players to sink their tenacious teeth into. This mode carries over all of your weapons, armor, items, money, and experience levels as you play through the game all over again only this time with new treasures sprinkled throughout the games many expansive, incredibly long dungeons. New weapons and armor show up in-game, worn by your characters, which is a very cool touch to keep things interesting.

If the single-player campaign isn't your cup of tea, you can try one of the fifty some-odd quests that can be played solo (for more experience and money) or with up to three other players. These quests are varied and all have a one-hour time limit to them. Some will have you slaying a certain boss monster while others will have you interacting with the environment to solve simple puzzles. As you complete quests, you earn points. The more points you earn, the more your guild rank will go up. The more your guild rank goes up, the more quests and equip-able weapons and armor will be available to you. Unfortunately, this can be quite a grind involving players to boost through the same mission(s) ad nauseum in order to level up. Playing online with friends or strangers is easy with you either creating or joining a quest from the world map screen. Players can communicate with keyboards, voice chat, or good old fashioned emotes.

Most will want to level up their own avatars.
Screw Leonard!

Speaking of grinding, you'll do a lot of that to level up experience wise, too. There's no better way to do that than combat. Combat involves a free-roaming active time battle system. You probably just said "what" to yourself right now. That is, you freely roam around areas, hacking and slashing enemies. When you see a monster, you press the attack button to enter combat. When the circular gauge fills up, it's your turn to attack. The process continues until all monsters and enemies are slain. Combat isn't as fast-paced as I would have liked, and it can feel pretty clunky at times. Regardless, once one gets used to it, it works like a charm.

There's two types of points used to attack: action chips and MP. Action chips slowly regenerate allowing your party to perform more powerful moves and combos. MP is used for things like magic spells and some abilities. Each move takes a set amount of action chips to perform, and when they run out you're stuck using basic attacks like hack and slash. You can combine attacks into one combo that deals massive damage-- and not just to giant enemy crabs either (old joke-- kill me).

The bosses are big, bad, and bountiful.

In battle if Leonard has enough action chips in his possession, he can transform into the towering white knight mid-battle. This makes a lot of fights incredibly easy-- more so than they already are. The suit of fabled armor is nigh-indestructible, and it only makes things easier when a second party member can turn into a knight.

I didn't know I could transform in battle
until the end of the game. Joke's on me.

Each time a character earns a new level they earn skill points which can be used to tailor your character's skills as much as you like. Want them to be a divine magic user? Spend skill points on white magic. Want them to be proficient with a long sword? Spend skill points on long sword abilities. Apart from new attacks, there's also stat bonuses to earn, too, such as increased strength or speed. You can outfit your characters to be as similar to different as you want.

"The bigger they are..."
"The more bones they break?"

White Knight Chronicles is a gorgeous game. The towns and dungeons are impressively huge with lots of things going on in them. There's the occasional dip in framerate, but overall the presentation package is top-notch. Most of the time cut-scenes are in-game showing off your custom armor and accessories equipped, but sometimes you'll get a CG cut-scene thrown in for important scenes. The soundtrack is orchestral, and if you're not sick of the battle theme by the end of the game, I salute you. The rest of the score is largely forgettable with one or two tracks sticking out.

Ultimately, White Knight Chronicles: International Edition is a worthwhile purchase for any RPG-starved PlayStation 3 owner. It certainly has enough content, longevity (good luck getting half of the trophies), and fun to last players into the hundreds of hours. While the game is a tad on the easy side, with a cliched story and cast of characters, and there's a metric ton of grinding to be had for those who enjoy that kind of thing, White Knight Chronicles is an intriguing take on the RPG genre. Just don't be surprised when you find out that once again your princess is in another castle.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.25/10]

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Games I Liked, Others Didn't Redux

You know how it is... People gush over a certain game while you finally play the game and think it's garbage. We're going to focus on the vice versa with this article. A long while ago I listed some games that aren't exactly the queens of their respective balls. Many critics disliked the games I selected, but I happened to find them entertaining. You can find that article here. This is part two of that with five new games that weren't media darlings that good old SuperPhillip happened to enjoy.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (360)

When a new Banjo-Kazooie is announced, what do you expect? Tight and robust platforming, expansive worlds, note and jiggy collecting? Well, two out of three ain't bad at least. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was a great departure from what fans enjoyed from previous bear and bird games. This time the focus was on constructing and driving elaborate vehicles through multiple challenges and worlds. Would I have liked to have had Banjo and Kazooie starring in an HD platformer exclusively? You bet, but this game is still a blast to play. Building the right vehicle for the given situation, jetting across the sky, and revisiting old friends made this installment a fantastic adventure!

Perfect Dark Zero (360)

For the longest time there was no multiplayer game better than Perfect Dark Zero on the 360. Halo 3 bumped PDZ off many gamers' lists, but it still remains number one in my heart. Well, at least until the Perfect Dark remake hits Xbox Live Arcade! While possessing a weak story with dreadful voice acting, the single-player campaign was a lot of fun with its objective-based mission structure. You completed a series of objectives in missions such as sabotaging communications or securing all hostages. Multiplayer was the coup de grace with gigantic maps with hidden passages, single or team-based gameplay, and loads of weaponry. Add in a kickass soundtrack, and you have a package that I cannot resist.

Geist (GCN)

Let's continue with the first-person shooter theme here with Geist, a supernatural shooter starring a specter that can infiltrate other people's bodies. By scaring a host into a state of panic or fear, our hero can possess their body be it a scientist, soldier, or CEO. The game was awfully linear with only one way to properly scare a given individual. That said, it was like a puzzle seeing what combination of possessed objects would and would not scare a person into submission. The multiplayer as well was fantastic with multiple maps, possession-based gameplay, and several intelligent bots to shoot down. If you're looking for an FPS that tries its hand at innovation yet stumbles a little, check out Geist for the Nintendo Gamecube.

Mega Man X8 (PS2)

After the botched experiment in 3D that was Mega Man X7, Capcom opted to go back to X's roots with 2D gameplay. Well, 2-1/2D gameplay. What culminated was some twitchy, awesome platforming action and some terrific presentation. X8 is easily the best X game since X4 and free style motocross. The formula remained the same after so many years. Eight mavericks each with their own weakness and strength. Eight stages ranging from volatile volcanoes to cyberspace. There were countless hidden goodies from armor-boosting capsules, health-increasing heart tanks, new weapons, a new monetary system to purchase new moves and abilities, and a fabulous soundtrack to get your heart pumping to. For unrivaled X action on the PlayStation 2, try Mega Man X8.

Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity (Wii, PS2)

The first Sonic Riders focused on air as the main gameplay mechanic. Zero Gravity on the other hand, focused on gravity as the title would suggest. This was your atypical racer where pulling off tricks and grinds would fill your gravity meter allowing you to make sharper turns with ease. A lot of critics hated this idea, but I happened to enjoy it and the game in general. The tracks were many and well-designed, there were secret characters such as Ulala and Billy Hatcher, and the difficulty eased you into the game before pulling out all the stops. For an unconventional racer overlooked or ragged on by many, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity is top-tier in my book.

Have you any games that you adore that other people give you grief about liking? Let us know in the comments section!