Friday, May 28, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii) Review

Let's cap off the month right with a review of a big name game. It's arguably the biggest game released this month unless you really dig cowboys which I know some of my peeps do. A game like this doesn't come out every year, so it's important to cherish it as much as possible. Now I'm sounding like a Hallmark card, so let's just wrap this up and say here's my review of Super Mario Galaxy 2.

How is a game like this possible?

Every now and then a game comes along that not only revolutionizes the way we play video games, but it also constantly referred to by the industry in speeches and in forums for being a great innovator for years to come. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is not one of these games. However, it takes the concepts of its predecessor, mashes them up into bite-sized chunks, and creates a near-perfect gaming experience. This is Mario's galaxy, and we just happen to play in it.

Our modest tale begins with Mario receiving an invitation to Peach's castle for some scrumptious cake. Not even Mario can resist such a confectionery delight! On the way to the castle, he comes across a lone Luma, lost and alone. Mario joins up with the cute creature, and they make their way to a torn and tattered courtyard. Bowser is back and bigger and badder than ever before! He's got the princess locked in his palm, claiming that he will rebuild his galactic empire with Peach at his side. Knowing Mario needs help, a portly Luma named Lubba gives Mario a spaceship in the shape of Mario's noggin to chase after Bowser. Thus, the rest is history.

Storybook cut-scenes add some charm to our familiar tale.

Gone is the hub from the original Galaxy. Instead it's been replaced with a much more streamlined world map system. There's seven worlds in all with the majority of each concluding with marching through one of Bowser or Bowser Jr.'s intergalactic fortresses. As you earn power stars within the game's galaxies (there's usually 1-3 in each galaxy), you unlock new galaxies to explore. The cycle continues until you earn a Grand Star from beating down Bowser or his rascally offspring which opens up the next world full of even more galaxies to conquer. Starship Mario is your vessel of transport between galaxies. As you complete levels, new visitors pop up on the spaceship which is very cool as by the end of the game Starship Mario is packed with cheery friends.

Meet the easier to navigate map screen.

The galaxies themselves range from massive, fully explorable levels to disjointed planetoids, both big and small in size. The game does a fantastic job of introducing new obstacles and concepts at a consistent pace. Some games would drag on a gimmick throughout the game, but not Super Mario Galaxy 2. Instead, it makes use of a theme or gimmick in one galaxy and moves on during the next to something completely and totally different yet still awesome. One galaxy when Mario performs his spin attack, the entire floor flips-- reds turn clear to fall through, blues turn stable to walk on while another has you reminiscing the days of Super Mario Bros. 3's Giant Land with its absolutely gigantic platforms, pipes, and creatures.

If you've played a 3D Mario game before you know how it works. You enter a level with an objective in mind. This can be something like taking down a boss to grabbing a power star within a complex maze of platforms. Just like the flagpole signals the end of a level in Super Mario Bros., the power star represents the goal of a particular mission. The goals are quite varied, and you'll seldom find a star in the bunch that's merely there to be filler. No, sirree. Instead what you have is a series of well put together levels with goals that are rewarding and challenging to complete.

What's been beefed up is in the boss department. There's far greater, more epic battles to be had. One pits you against a long, menacing dragon with boils along its belly. When the opportunity arises, the goal is to smash these boils until the boss submits. Another boss uses a flip mechanic where you traverse on the underside of the planetoid, ground pound a tile when the boss crosses over it, and cause damage. While you may see some familiar ferocious faces in Galaxy 2, the majority of boss battles are fresh and unique and once again, rewarding and challenging to beat.

Megahammer is the awesome boss of World 3.

Then there's the prankster comets that come along once you've reached a certain point in the game. These are earned by collecting comet coins hidden or placed in an otherwise devious location in each galaxy, one per galaxy. The comets cause havoc on the galaxy they orbit causing new, fiendishly difficult challenges. What was once a series of slow turning platforms are now lightning fast. It's not just cosmetic changes either. New goals have you collecting purple coins or completing a level under a strict time limit while others have you retreading old goals only this time with an arsenal of Cosmic Marios in pursuit of you, trailing closely behind. It's these comets where the true challenge of Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes place, and boy, do you feel like a champ when you complete them. It's important to note that while these challenges are, well, challenging, they never come across as cheap or unfair.

Those Cosmic Marios are running circles around our tired hero.

For those worried that they won't be able to see the ending of the game due to these comets, don't worry about it as these challenges are merely optional bonuses. Though those wanting to collect all 120 stars will have to be put through the ringer. If a challenge becomes too daunting and several dozen lives are lost in the process of attempting to complete a given mission, the Cosmic Guide will appear. This optional guide will play through the tricky section of a level for you, but in return you only gain a bronze star as opposed to a golden one. The Cosmic Guide is an ingenious feature as it allowed the designers to make the game as difficult as they deemed fit. Hardcore players could opt to play through the levels without any help whereas beginning players could use the Cosmic Guide for assistance.

A Mario game wouldn't be a Mario game without awesome power-ups. Well, there's always Super Mario Sunshine, but some might not call that the perfect Mario game. Regardless, there's a smorgasbord of super specialties for Mario to grab. Returning favorites such as Bee Mario allows Mario to hover and fly up in the air for a limited amount of time, Ghost Mario which is severely underused along with Spring Mario which can propel Mario high into the air even if it's a bit unwieldy to use for beginners. Finally to round off the old power-ups, the Fire Flower makes its return allowing Mario to toss fireballs like candy to trick-or-treaters for a limited time.

The Haunty Halls Galaxy is full of spooks and frights!

New power-ups include the fantastic Cloud Flower which when grabbed turns our portly plumber in Cloud Mario. When he spins, he summons a cloud platform. Up to three of these can be dropped with one power-up. If Mario wants to make more, he'll have to reload by collecting a new flower. These cloud platforms may be temporary, but they have more than enough uses such as reaching taller heights. The clouds can also be blown to and fro to cross greater distances, too. Other new power-ups include the Rock Shroom which, you guessed it, turns Mario into Rock Mario. With a waggle of the Wii remote, Mario will transform into a boulder to bowl over anyone and anything that gets in his way. There's also a spin drill which opens up the gameplay possibilities considerably. Mario can drill his way through soft soil and come out the other end of a giant planetoid. On a circular planetoid against a specific boss, Mario needs to dig his way through the center of the planet to reach the otherwise impenetrable underside of the boss.

Drill through the planet to hit Diggaleg's underside.

That's not all that's new with Galaxy 2 either. A familiar friend at long last returns, and this time he's not afraid of the water-- Yoshi! Yoshi plays beautifully with the player pointing at enemies and objects for Yoshi to consume. Some objects like boomerangs and Bullet Bills can be spit back out at enemies or obstacles. A taste of their own medicine-- just the way I like it! Yoshi's tongue can also latch onto certain pegs to swing the lovable duo across gaps and otherwise dangerous chasms. Yoshi can also transform using one of three types of fruits. The red pepper item gives Yoshi supersonic speed to roar through sections of levels, the blue fruit fills Yoshi up with air, making him rise up for a limited amount of time, and the bulb berry illuminates previously darkened platforms for Mario and Yoshi to safely cross before the light goes out. Yoshi is a welcomed addition to the Galaxy formula, and it's great to see him used more often unlike New Super Mario Bros. Wii where he only showed up for a handful of levels.

Those who played the original Mario Galaxy will feel right at home with tight, responsive controls of its sequel. Mario can perform nearly all of his moves from his 64 days from the long jump, the wall jump, somersault, and even the Galaxy-exclusive spin jump to give Mario extra hang time with a flick of the Wii remote. The pointer is used to pick up loose star bits, and even a second player can join in, grabbing onto and defeating enemies, grabbing coins and 1-ups that are just of reach for player one. It makes it so anyone can enjoy the game which I'm all for. The motion control exclusive activities are more limited this time around featuring the return of the ball-rolling mini-game as well as the all-new Fluzzard gliding race which admittedly takes some getting used to.

Whomp, along with many other old enemies, returns.

There's 120 individual stars to gather throughout the cosmos, and it'll take most players at least twenty hours to collect them all. Even then, your work is not done as new challenges open up. Exactly what is a surprise I shall not spoil though it's tempting. Each star you collect you'll be going "ooh, one more. Ooh, just one more after that one that I said would be my last one! I promise!" Relish in the moment. Relish this game and all the time you spend playing it. Though one beef I do have with the game is that every time you quit, your lives counter reverts back to five. Sure, you sometimes can share lives with a player on the same console, but still it's pretty weak that you can't hold onto your collected lives when in New Super Mario Bros. Wii you could.

Super Mario Galaxy was and still is one of the Wii's best looking games. Super Mario Galaxy 2 updates the engine somewhat but the difference really isn't noticeable. Those looking for a graphical update out of their sequels will be out of luck with this title. Still, the game looks phenomenal and none of this "for Wii" disclaimer either. It looks gorgeous from the impressive fur shading to the advanced lighting-- everything is a joy to gawk at. Galaxy 2's soundtrack perfectly complements the gameplay and setting to a "T". The orchestrated music may not be as high in quality as the original Galaxy simply for the fact that the original has been in our heads longer, but it surely beats out most soundtracks on any console this generation. Hearing orchestrated renditions of Koopa Road and Super Mario World's Ghost House sent shivers down my spine. They were that remarkably composed. The other side of the coin, the synth tracks, are pretty much hit and miss, but mostly hits.

Ultimately, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the better game when pitted against its already excellent original brethren. We wondered how Nintendo could possibly outdo themselves with Super Mario Galaxy, yet somehow they managed to do it. No hyperbole, no exaggerations, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a masterpiece in game design and most importantly fun. The challenge that was absent in the original Galaxy is here, the level design constantly throws new things at the player, and the presentation is just astounding. If you own a Wii and have any interest in seeing gaming perfection, pick up Super Mario Galaxy 2. Even if you don't, the original and its superior sequel should be more than enough of a reason to pick one up. This is why we play video games.

[SuperPhillip Says: 10/10]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3) Review

As promised, here's my review of 3D Dot Game Heroes, a game that owes a lot to the work of one Shigeru Miyamoto. Do you think the creators of this game spent their childhood playing inside caves and adventuring? Me neither, but that doesn't stop this homage from being a good one!

A Chip Off the Old-School Block
All Screenshots by SuperPhillip

Nostalgia is a many splendored thing. Many of us now in college or even older hark back to a time where boops and beeps reigned supreme, where arcade high scores were that era's trophies and achievements, and where gaming was just much simpler. Atlus and From Software have teamed up to recreate such a game for current-gen hardware, 3D Dot Game Heroes. While it borrows heavily from a certain Nintendo franchise featuring a mythical princess and a triforce, 3D Dot Game Heroes offers a unique twist on the Zelda formula. What the game lacks in originality, it makes up for in sheer fun and charm.

The kingdom of Dotnia is in serious need of a hero. Legends tell of a young warrior who gathered the six fabled orbs to vanquish an ancient evil, sealing it inside the dark orb. It is many eons later, and a new evil has arisen, stealing the dark orb. It is up to your custom hero to seek aid of the six sages, conquer foe and beast alike, and reclaim the six orbs to take the fight back to the sinister Fuelle. It's nothing we haven't see before, but the simple story works. There's numerous game references and humor thrown in to keep what small amount of story there is fresh.

As you begin the game, you're opted to choose a pre-made hero or create your own from scratch using the wonderful character creation tool. If neither of those options suits your mood, you can always edit a preexisting character and animate them from walking animations to celebratory movements. The creator is simple enough to use, so anyone can start churning out character after character as the game allows you to choose a new hero to play as once you boot up the game.

One of many friendly locales in Dotnia.

Progression in 3D Dot Game Heroes is relatively simple. You traverse a sprawling world map, picking up clues from NPCs on where to venture off to next. As you acquire new items, you can access previously unreachable areas of the world map to explore even further in the kingdom of Dotnia. The main focus are the six temples where the six sages keep their six orbs. Inside these dungeons are your standard Zelda fare. There's rooms where the goal is to eliminate all of the enemies in the room, block-pushing puzzles, switch-throwing puzzles, and the occasional use of a special item to be found. Each dungeon has keys to unlock new rooms and further move along your progression in said dungeon, a special treasure that endows new abilities or a new item, and a boss key which opens up the door to the big bad boss' chambers where the battle for one of the six mystical orbs takes place.

Use the Paralax spell to discover
which statue needs to go where.

Boss encounters are the highlight of the game as fighting wave after wave of normal enemies can get a tad tedious. Unlike more recent Zelda games, all that is needed to slay each boss is your normal sword instead of the item found within the monster's dungeon. You'll match sword and shield with giant worms, a laser-spewing rock golem, dragons, a tentacle-slamming octopus, and many, many more. The trick here is to study the patterns of each boss as there are several trophies available for beating each boss completely unscathed.

From worms to golems, the bosses here are no pushovers.

A hero is nothing without their arsenal of cool weaponry. As you progress through each game's themed dungeons, you'll unlock new skills and items to wield. They can be as simple as bombs to destroy cracked walls to unveil hidden caverns and passageways or more complex such as the hookshot-like item used to cross chasms by attaching itself to a post and pulling the player across. Once again, these items are very akin to the Legend of Zelda. There's even enemy-stunning boomerangs, bows and arrows, and magical shields thrown into the mix for good measure. If you're going to take the weaponry of a game, why not take it from the best in its genre?

Thankfully, there's also an abundance of helpful sub-items and swords to obtain. Each sword has its own set of stats and can be upgraded a finite number of times at the local blacksmith. Finding all of the swords in the game is no easy task as not only do you have to participate in long-winded trading sequences, but there's also several mini-games to play for your prizes. For instance, one has you dashing through an obstacle course to achieve the best time while enough is your typical tower-defense game. The variety here is more than welcomed as questing through dungeon after dungeon slaying foes can make a hero grow weary in a hurry! There's also life up and magic up trinkets scattered all around the world of Dotnia for players to discover. As yet another nod to the Zelda franchise, gathering four of these will up your hero's maximum health. You can opt to collect empty bottles and fill them with helpful potions to recover health as well. The Zelda influences don't even end there. All the way up to the hidden fairy fountains which restore your health to maximum and the cave that if you bomb the resident inside demands you to pay him to fix the door, there's a multitude of similarities between 3D Dot Game Heroes and the Legend of Zelda.

This is but one of many available camera views.

Playing 3D Dot Game Heroes is like an acid flashback to a simpler time in gaming, only this time we have many more buttons to work with! Players can cycle through their inventory with the shoulder buttons, guard attacks with a flick of a shield, and slash enemies into oblivion. With full health, your sword is strong and versatile taking up a huge portion of the screen. When your hero is damaged, the sword's swipe becomes increasingly weaker, almost flaccid when you approach death's door. By gathering red apples, the health-restorers of Dotnia, your sword's attack becomes stronger.

He's overcompensating for something with that big sword!

3D Dot Game Heroes uses a stellar art style where everything from the houses to the townspeople to the monsters are made up of blocks. When a monster is vanquished, they explode in dozens of dots. The game offers several different camera views for playing such as at a 45 degree angle to your hero to an isometric view to a purely over-the-head perspective. There's something for everyone here when it comes to camera control. Things up close appear bright, colorful, and crisp whereas things in the background end up all blurry. There's seldom any stutter in the framerate, and load times are kept to a minimum. (You can opt to install the game on your PS3 for faster load times.) The soundtrack on one hand is very simplistic and old-school. To me, most of it just comes off as grating to my ears. I appreciate the ode to 8-bit music, but a little goes a long way for me personally.

Overall, 3D Dot Game Heroes makes no attempt to hide its copying of the original Legend of Zelda. Would I call it a rip-off? Not by any means. Homage is the better word for it. Most players will plow through this game within 10-15 hours. Then there's all the optional side content, hard-as-nails trophies to unlock, and miss-able events to watch. Players can spend literally dozens of hours in the character creator alone much more the actual game. Those yearning for an old-school Zelda game in Atlus clothing will absolutely fall in love with this title. Everyone else may be put off by the now archaic game design to give this game a second glance. Those that stick with it, however, will find a game that is definitely worth owning and Dotnia a kingdom worth saving.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.0/10]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Most Played Wii Games According to the Nintendo Channel - Games 30-21

It's time once again to delve into the Nintendo Channel to find out what games I'm playing the most. This time we're checking out games 30-21. This will be the final installment of our three part series, so I hope you cherish these last few moments we have together! All kidding aside, here's where you can check out past installments:

Most Played Wii Games According to the Nintendo Channel
Most Played Wii Games According to the Nintendo Channel - Games 20-11

And with that, let's begin with number thirty!

30) Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros' Treasure - 15 Hrs. 54 Min.

What an infuriating game this turned out to be. Combine a cute aesthetic with bone-crushing hard puzzles and you get a game that definitely is for a limited group of players. The later stages were just frustrating as all get out due to lackluster motion controls. This is a game that would have greatly benefited from Wii MotionPlus. Alas, Zack and Wiki, may you get that sequel that you so graciously deserve.

29) Metroid Prime Trilogy - 15 Hrs. 57 Min.

Three times the Prime, but you can tell with the amount of time I put into this title that I didn't plow through all three games like I planned. Instead, I played through the entirety of the original Metroid Prime, played a little of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and completely skirted on playing the third. I had just played that one a couple years back. The new Wii motion controls worked wonderfully with these games, and I can't imagine going back to a more traditional controller to play them.

28) No More Heroes - 17 Hrs. 9 Min.

Travis Touchdown's first bloody battles in Santa Destroy were a blast to play. The game's caveats were the bland world map and sometimes uneven difficulty. Waggle was kept to a minimum only used to recharge Travis' katana. Meanwhile, motion controls used for finishing moves gave the game an extra oomph to combat. While the game was far from perfect, No More Heroes was a fun diversion until the next big Wii title came along.

27) Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles - 17 Hrs. 16 Min.

Armed with a new chapter to the Resident Evil franchise in Operation: Javier, The Darkside Chronicles was close to surpassing the House of the Dead: Overkill as my favorite on-rails shooter. It had everything from intense bosses to upgradable weaponry to mission rankings and bestiary info. It was a Resident Evil fanboy's wet dream. It had so much content that a fan could sit there for hours playing until the only thing he could utter was "Brraaaaaaaains." Definitely pick this one up if you're a fan of the genre and can handle the sometimes erratic camera.

26) The House of the Dead: Overkill - 17 Hrs. 28 Min.

Even though the main game is only six levels long, it still beat out the Darkside Chronicles by twelve minutes. I must have played through these half-dozen levels ad nauseum, upgrading my weapons, blowing the skulls off of the undead, and partaking in a particularly disturbing adventure with more F-bombs than an Eddie Murphy stand-up special. Am I dating myself with that reference? Regardless, Overkill remains my top pick for best Wii rail-shooter, and lord are there a lot of them.

25) Super Swing Golf: Season 2 - 17 Hrs. 30 Min.

My first Wii golf love, Super Swing Golf: Season 2 is just two minutes ahead of the House of the Dead: Overkill in playtime. How about that? Nonetheless, the game had you playing fantasy golf with a likable cast of customizable characters. You could outfit them with purchased and earned costumes as you saw fit. The story mode took place on a Super Mario Bros. 3-like game map with you taking on challenges to advance. Better played with buttons than motion controls, Super Swing Golf: Season Two will give you more pang for your buck (pang is the currency of SSG, get it?).

24) Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity - 18 Hrs. 13 Min.

Now this is one of my guilty pleasures. Before Sonic opted to match Mario in go-karts, he raced on air boards. The gimmick here was that Sonic, Tails, Eggman, and the rest of the crew could call upon the power of gravity to make sharp turns. The game got exceeding difficult the further you played through it, but everything from the course design, unlockable characters, and soundtrack kept me playing more and more.

23) The Conduit - 18 Hrs. 17 Min.

I'm just trying to understand how I played this game for over eighteen hours. I couldn't have played online that long since it was full of hackers and cheaters, and the story mode campaign was quite linear and not too worthwhile. So where did these eighteen hours come from? Did I sit idly on the title screen for all that time? Who knows. Regardless, The Conduit was a remarkable first effort by High Voltage Software at crafting their own IP. It may have been rough around the edges, but it was a fun and enjoyable game if you kept your expectations in check.

22) MySims Kingdom - 18 Hrs. 54 Min.

The MySims franchise branched out into the adventure genre with MySims Kingdom. The same building and socializing aspects the previous game touched upon were there, but new challenges and puzzles were thrown in. Your cast of heroes sailed from island to island fixing problems the various MySims characters had. Throw in some hilarious dialogue, and you have one game that sucked up a lot of my time.

21) Super Metroid - 19 Hrs. 27 Min.

The only Virtual Console game on this list period, Super Metroid is a Super Nintendo classic now playable on Wii. My older brother and I each had our own save files and completed the game with 100% of the collectibles-- which without a guide-- was not an easy task. Powers like the space jump, the spin attack, and speed dash brought all-new levels of awesome to Samus' 16-bit debut. It wouldn't be until 2002's Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion would Samus Aran return to gamers near and far.

That does it for the Most Played trilogy. What about you? What games are you currently playing a lot of? Let me know in our lovely comments section!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3) Screens

With a new game that allows the player to take photos comes new screens I've grabbed from 3D Dot Game Heroes. This time around, there's someone familiar parading around the world of the game. I guess he really needs no introduction. Expect a full review of 3D Dot Game Heroes later within the week.