Batman Arkham Asylum

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Unfortunately when it comes to PC games — and this review is based on the PC version of the game — there are much more than the actual game to comment on. Sometimes it’s sad to say that the complex structures of PC builds aren’t up to the task of handling ports, in the case of this title however, there’s pretty much no technical problems standing between you and the caped crusade’s quest to save Gotham once again. Not much though not necessarily absent.

Any PC moderately decent should take care of this on mid or high settings. Those addicted to pixels on-screen can power up their NASA supercomputers for the ultimate graphical experience. Since the atmosphere is phenomenal, it’s at least worthwhile when experienced, much more than the “next-best-thing” first person shooter to up a few frames per second just for the sake of it. From a technical standpoint, the graphical settings are pretty optimal. From a artistic standpoint they’re even better.

If you don’t you should probably get your hands on an Xbox controller. Any version will do, the 360 or the One controller. It has reached a point where it’s basically the unofficial controller for PC gaming. That’s actually great news because of two main reasons: the controllers are great and it deals with the problem of support. The configurations aren’t really perfectly implemented for PC so the controller should prevent a few headaches. The mouse sensibility is way too high and there’s no options out of it, except the dodgy fixes you find around the internet at your own risk.

You’re “stranded” in Gotham City’s nearby island that holds none other than the most dangerous super criminals from the made-up world of Batman and the player needs to get things back on track after Joker takes over the place and decides to take over the place and create a big “party” for Batman. The eccentricities inherent to Joker back up most of the flow the story tells. People getting murdered, lots of innocent civilians and medical staff getting kidnapped, hostages being hold with gun in hand; chaos with the expected dose of demented humor.

The story is pretty well made when all gaming things are considered. I’m not exactly a comic books number one fan so I can’t comment on how deep it all goes in main storylines or how much “true” it keeps on a universe that has been thoroughly exposed in so many medias, including video-games. For a Batman-newbie like me everything was pretty self-explanatory, and when not, they kept a data info as unlockable prizes stating information about characters that made the cut in the game as well as those who never even had the chance.

You get to explore the island taken over by criminals in nifty little ways using the gadgets Batman has in store. The sense of improvement is ever so present, from not being able to get certain unlockable from the get-go only to find that an item acquired midway through the game will do the trick just fine to reach what was once unreachable. There are many stuff to collect, from The Riddler, a villain that is not even present in the game itself, but has scattered charades all over the place. Getting them correctly and inspecting the item it mentions unlocks new bios and hands out percentage in overall completion — it’s up to you to decide which one is more important.

Controlling Batman was one of my biggest fears. Games based on popular non-gaming franchises serve more often than not as simple cash-ins for whoever holds the rights to said franchise and generally skips a huge part of a game, be played. It certainly had potential, Batman is a human after all, his accessibility to near alien technology coupled with a side-story that elevates his physical endowment to some kind of super human without super powers is too good to be passed.

The best aspect this game offers is the ability to grapple to basically any ledge that offers this possibility, both within reason and game-design. Frail structures won’t give you this opportunity requiring Batman to, on his own words, “climb the old-fashioned way”. Grappling around the island feels awesome. Other items in Batman’s arsenal offer the good amount of freedom to be executed. In the end, it just works amazingly well.

Hidden beneath its shell, Arkham Asylum offers two types of gameplay. One of them is the combo-based combat system. The other is the logical usage of the terrain, items and AI to offer a stealth system based on shadowy advances. The second one is the better choice. I might sound bias when I say that stealth is always better but the combat system just isn’t all too interesting. It borrows some ideas from button-mashing action games to deliver a system based on punching, countering and executing some odd mixture of lethal moves or items.  You can manage just fine by attacking relentlessly while keeping track of when an enemy is about to attack you to just counter-attack.

Doing things slowly is a whole other beast of a game. Most of the time you’ll have to face off enemies by comboing them out but when you have the option to use the environment to your advantage, planning out every attack to get the most from them, dealing with armed thugs knowing that any wrong move could be your last is just more suited for Batman. You have a detective system implemented in your bat mask that gives out every type of information about your surroundings, including people around you, weather a foe or ally. It even tells you their mood at the moment. Guards that were once in a group which was eliminated to the point that only one person is alive will become terrified, which results in them freezing upon seeing the lofty stature of Batman in front of them or shooting out of sheer fear as his mind plays trick on them..

The detective cam is integrated with heat sensor that shows everyone in the room so you can plan your movements pretty well in advance and show the best positions to transition using the grapple to gain advantage over you enemies. The AI works spot-on on most occasions, though sometimes enemies kind of refuse to be lured in no matter how many batarangs you throw at their general direction. It really should at least hint them that something is not right.

The island is divided in sections that are available as you progress through the game. The medical area, the penitentiary, the mansion, the botanic area. We could argue on why an island created to hold the most dangerous crime masterminds of Gotham would have a botanic building but the only conclusion would be to allow certain character to have its share on the story. Still, one of the most beautiful places in the island. They had to work around the clock here to offer variety in such a gloomy, mysterious place.

After a while you’ll backtrack enough to feel like home in the island but not so much that it feels contained, small. The exploration offers a decent level of freedom for the sake of not losing the grip of storytelling and design. It wasn’t meant to be Assassin’s Creed in the dark, but it deals the right amount of mystery to make stuff worth revisiting.

Several rivals of batman do make the cut in the end and the glue that holds this type of universal antagonist fan-fest is pretty clear, the Asylum itself. The ones that never appear have still received proper care of having cameos as collectibles from the puzzles scattered around. Other decisions should make longtime fans satisfied with voice-over cast made up of familiar faces like Mark Hammill that made quite a cult following from his dub in the Batman Animated Series and replays the role of Joker as nicely as ever.

Aside from the main campaign you have the challenge mode which is also a two-faced coin. You have the combo challenges where you need to keep the combos going to reach a certain amount of points to earn the maximum number of 3 batarangs depending on how good you do. And you have the stealth challenges that focuses on following objectives based on strategies that revolve around certain aspects of taking enemies down, like hanging them from a vantage point or using explosives to take down 3 guys in one single detonation. The combo challenges are boring to a point of being useless but the objective-based stealth missions are pretty fun. At least you don’t have to unlock the subsequent one by beating the previous, everything gets unlocked via the main game. You can choose whatever suits you and forget about the rest.

Batman Arkham Asylum is a  game that deserves to be played. It might make you wonder how they would manage gameplay with a full concept in hand that needs to be addressed at all costs and still please the majority that might not even be big fan of games; whatever the challenge was it has been achieved. The game is dark and portrays the overall story of Batman in a meaningful way so as die-hard fans and people who are completely oblivious to it can all share a great time. The combat is always something problematic when you have a formula and needs to create a way for it to be played. The system can be improved upon but even in its current stage it’s pretty manageable and stands on its own. The game is as solid as Batman’s batsuit taking bullets from armed thugs.


















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Super Smash Bros. Wii U

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People, people, comparing anything titled Smash Bros with Melee at this point is poignant. When a developer wants to make tweaks to improve upon a game they’ve established they have two ways. Throw everything into the rubbish bin to start from scratch, but people will go nuts and complain like there’s no tomorrow because it has lost its essence; or you can maturely meddle in pretty much everything regarding to this to create a broader, larger-than-life experience that feels a superior version of such game.

Super Smash Bros is Nintendo’s Call of Duty. If Nintendo tries something new, people will go nuts and start jumping-off buildings; if they keep it safe and change a few characters added and new stages people will go nuts and start jumping off buildings as well. Either way, there’s chaos, you have to decide which way to go. The nepenthe in this situation is that it doesn’t really matter which path was chosen anyway, the game will sell like water in a desert post in the middle of the Sahaara.

You can’t have the same element of surprise you had for the monumental Melee transition, nothing here feels unexpected, nothing will give you that “wow-factor” from the entry cutscene which looked better than everything you had ever seen in video-games at the time to the plethora of game modes that seemed to just be endless. Every corner you looked another new mini-game was hiding, it seemed like you could be playing that game for the rest of time.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nintendo’s brawler you have an amazing roster of Nintendo and third party characters that will face in the battlefield in different types of battles. The damage you cause to your enemies will make a percentage meter go up, the more you’re hurt the more prone to fall or being blasted off the stage you are. So even if you have half of your foe’s damage you could still be sent off flying and lose the match if you opponents strategy is better performed. This makes Smash bros a mixture of fighting and party game that appealed to many people since it’s not as tight as a usual fighting game nor it’s completely devoid of skill such as most party games.

The first Smash bros game, on the Nintendo 64 created the foundation of what Melee was built upon. melee is one of the best game Nintendo has ever created, such an amazing feat, colossal in every way imaginable. Brawl came along and people complained that it felt too casualized, less intense and floatier than Melee was. they were right, some tricks that made the game even more hardcore were cut to basics. This new installment stands between the sheer hardcoreness of Melee and the more accessible Brawl.

Brawl was pretty much a mistake but it tried something new with subspace emissary. Sure it felt horrendously mashed together with a new character thrown in every couple of seconds just for the sake of it but at least it was a decent try at modernizing the adventure mode in Melee. This new installment doesn’t even try that. There’s no real adventure mode except for a Mario Party styled board game that doesn’t really feel interesting at all. You roll the dice and move around in a map that can be small, medium or big and collect stuff, fight and wish for luck.

The core game is what shines here for obvious reasons. This time around you can have up to 8 players at once fighting which is chaotic to say the least, but I can’t imagine anything more Smash Bros than that. The whole deal of impractical battles like sudden death matches and low gravity can all be selected for your decisive dose of fun with your friends.

If you decide to take things a little more serious there are online modes that disable items and are programmed to only allow certain maps. This is Nintendo keeping the hardcore fans fed. Unlike Brawl’s online mode this one works pretty nice, though you can’t have many different kinds of battles unless you’re playing with people you know. There’s also online with items for people who don’t really care about being competitive at all, which always feels more like Smash even though some game-breaking items still exist from Brawl, like that final smash thing which is simply wrong in so many ways.

Something kind of annoying in this new Smash which definitely didn’t occur in melee is know clustered the game modes seem to be. Choosing the game modes is pretty strange at first which led me to believe they had left out the classic mode, but I was just trying to find it in the wrong place. Definitely not a deal breaker in any way but it struck me by surprise at how Nintendo tried to make it look “cool” and just made everything worse, not functional in any way or form.

There’s another version, a portable one for the 3DS which works basically the same with tuned down graphics and different trophies based on handheld games and characters. You can link your handheld version for a few extras. If you don’t have a handheld version which most people won’t, since you either want to go HD or portable, you can still link your 3DS to use it as a controller if you really want to.

The controller issue has been present and will continue to exist since the GameCube controller was Nintendo’s last regular controller and it rocked. You can order adapters and improved versions of the original GameCube controller but I found that playing with the Wii U’s Pro controller was a pretty decent experience; especially since you can change the button settings. You might have a harder time using the tablet controller but it’s still pretty much a bulkier Pro version so you definitely do not need the GameCube to have complete control over you character unless you’re a real die-hard fan or some hardcore Smash player.

The classic mode has changed a bit, you simply walk around in a board and choose which challenge you want to face off. Depending on which one you chose a some characters are discarded and some items can be gathered; I’m not exactly sure if this was necessary but it’s not something that will bother. Among the many, many types of items you get from playing anything there’s new CDs for new soundtracks, new special moves for character creation, money to spend on trophies and fighting challenges and costume items.

One of the exclusive features in this fourth installment is the opportunity to create your own fighter based on a Mii character you might have created. You choose the overall stance which this character will be based — brawler, sword fighter and gunner –, change the looks and include special attacks. Everything you have at your disposal for creating characters is gotten throughout the gameplay.

Not only can you build your own character but you can create your own stage as well. with the help of the tablet controller and a creator mechanism you can draw the form which your future created stage will look like and even choose stuff like ledges that allow characters to hang or not. Reminds of how you can create levels in Super Mario Maker though not so full of features.

There’s a cool new game mode which is called Special Orders. You have both Master and Crazy Hand (basically the bosses of Smash, for those not familiar with it) that propose fighting challenges for you to face off. Master Hands Orders are simpler, you choose a character and face off different kinds of challenges for a prize. The higher the difficulty the better the prize. You also need money to summon thee orders so you have to have money to generate more. If you lose then the money spent was wasted.

In the Crazy hand side things get a little more serious. This truly feels like the adventure mode that wasn’t added. You pay an initial fee or use a Free Pass to enter the competition — generally using a pass since the money required to enter is 5000 coins, which is rather a lot. The competition will hand out 10 minutes for you to face as many challenges as you can at the expense of losing money if you fail. When you feel you’ll run out of time or just think you’ve had enough you can attempt to fight Crazy Hand for the final showdown. The amount of HP you have and the difficulty level will depend on how many individual challenges you have completed. In more advanced fights other players could join the battle or even Master Hand, requiring you to fight both at the same time. Unlike normally found in Smash Bros, this final battle has you with decreasing health instead of increasing.

The fan-favorite home-run contest which you beat up a punching bag over a dome without causing it to fall before using a bat to send it the farthest you can possibly send is back. The initial force field that helped players in Brawl is also present here during the 10-second pre launch. The other famous mini-game target smash isn’t featured anymore, instead we get a modified version that isn’t really all that good. In Target Blast you do the same thing you do in home-run contest but to a smoking bomb that explodes after 10 seconds as well. Depend on how you launch it you’ll blast primary or secondary targets for points. The system is pretty similar to the cellphone game Angry Birds, which Miyamoto have already declared being a fan of.

Multi-man smash stays pretty much the same with the addition of rival smash which you fight to beat more enemies than your rival, and the absence of the brutal 15-man smash. To tell the truth, 15-man smash won’t be missed at all, it was more of an endurance test that once completed you could pretty much forget about it altogether. The other main mode, all-stars, is also present. It works the same as it used to, you fight all the characters, mostly more than one at a time, and have a limited set of items to heal up.

The event matches got a little make-over, you can have a list of challenges or go browsing your path. The system of difficulty settings introduced in Brawl is there. Every event has an easy, a normal and a hard mode. It also features special requirements that once met can yield newer paths, events, items or money. To make everything more cohese when it comes to sense of achievement you have the overall Challenges. These are a set of 140 requirements that range from defeating classic mode with a character without losing any life to hitting a certain distance in home-run contest using some character. Some are quite easy while some are incredibly hard and many types of bonus can be gotten from these achievements, from new characters to new stages.

The set of new stages is pretty good, some of them are pretty interesting while also having the usual simpler ones used in serious battles. Some are bigger than others which can hold up to 8 players at once. Stages from past games are also added in the mix so you’re sure to encounter familiar locations here and there. To complete the Smash experience in them yo can take snapshots and save replays which can be seen and reviews anytime in the Vault.

Many other interesting stuff is packed within the game like the trailers and preview videos released by Nintendo introducing some of the newer characters like Sonic and Pac-Man. Also, you get to try game available in the Nintendo Wii U’s Virtual Console like Super Mario World, Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the past, among others. You have a time limit to try them and while I have yet to play some Virtual Console game aside Donkey Kong Country 2, some demos feel strangely laggy for some weird reason.

The last mention I have about bonus stuff is the selection of music to compose the game. It’s not really a secret that most music in Smash bros is actually remixed versions of the games which the stages were built upon. All of them are cataloged in a nice playlist that indicates the game is was featured and many songs are featured in its original form. CDs are one of the items present in Smash Bros Wii U and getting them unlocked several amazing sound tracks that should sound familiar to those who have spent some time with Nintendo games in the past. You can pretty much let the playlist playing and have a really good time listening to some of the best original and remixes of songs from Nintendo and third party titles.

The best feature that Melee brought us was the trophies. The ultimate collectible in smash. every trophy has a description and is nicely placed in an expanding location to make the player feel proud of his achievements. These trophies can be gathered playing the game, beating challenges, playing home-run contest or by simply buying them at the in-game store using in-game coins. There’s also a mini-game which you chip in a few coins and play Trophy Rush, which you have to beak boxes that might contain trophies to earn them before the floor under your feet gets overwhelmed and collapses. Not something that will make you come back for more but there’s always a mini-game for trophies since Melee. With 700-plus trophies, any method is relevant.

This is it, Nintendo has packed most of what people thought was necessary for a good Smash Bros experience plus a pretty good online mode. Since the controls are not what Brawl had presented and the general speed is much faster, hardcore fans will surely find a home in it. It’s still a bit floaty but the controls are tight. Most of what’s actually included aren’t new or groundbreaking in any way, but that’s not what’s expected from Smash Bros anymore, it has to be build upon its roots to deliver the fighting experience players have been dealing with since the beginning. Playing solo is not the way to go with this, and while the online might be fine for most people, the best experience one can have with Smash Bros — and that can be said since the very beginning of the series — is having other people in the same room who share the same interest for a brawler like this. Super Smash Bros Wii U is the expected step forward.

Super Mario 3D World

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This is the Wii version and follow-up to the reboot version of Mario released for the Nintendo 3DS a while back. I’ve already talked about the previous game, Super Mario 3D Land and argued that while it might seems strange at first it ultimately served its purpose and provided an adventure that was neither 3D nor 2D Mario, it was something in-between that felt and controlled like the 2D Mario as long as you stayed on track but could venture beyond the limits of 2D making it a perfect hybrid.

This time it is released for the Nintendo Wii U, a home console and in glorious HD. I must say the game starts pretty dull and takes quite a bit to actually get going but when it does, it’s awesome. It’s true that some people, at least I did, might go through 70% of the game feeling underwhelmed but it wasn’t much different in the 3DS release, it was just brand new and made more sense. It made more sense because the 3DS has certain limits to what it can actually portray so a full 3D Mario, while still easy to achieve, was probably not Nintendo’s main focus. This honor was in store for their next console, in this case, the Wii U.

The Wii U was Nintendo’s first console to feature high-definition graphics and this is one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen. Artistically everything is top-notch, in gleaming vibrance. It’s pretty much an updated, prettier version of Super Mario Bros Wii U which already looked fantastic. Mario games have always sported a lasting graphical style so it’s fair that when this stylistic choice has made its transition to high-definition it would shine brightly.

The overall feeling is slightly more childish than other Mario’s which weren’t mature to begin with, but this light-hearted version should please younger audiences with relative ease. There’s nothing inherently tough going through the levels and they’re pretty brief so experienced gamers should feel unchallenged at first. Later games offer a much better challenge but if you’re experienced the best thing to do is go for 100%, completionist style.

There’s quite a few stuff to collect through the levels. Every level has one stamp and three green stars that can be collected. Stamps were originally used in the in-game messaging for the Miiverse which has since been discontinued. The green stars go beyond mere collectibles since they unlock new stages. You can also track which levels you’ve achieved the highest point in the final flag pole, much like it was in the previous game.

There are several moments which you’ll get blasted to the past with a few honorable mentions and fitting homages to classic Nintendo games and characters. There’s one stage which is based on speed zippers that bring back the Super Mario Kart theme. Both the stage and music take inspiration in the classic Super Nintendo title, with one of the game’s most classic tune remastered. Other Nintendo games like Luigi’s Mansion, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario 64, and so on, have had interesting cameos. Super Mario 64 for example has the slide song remastered which is one of Nintendo’s most iconic tune ever produced.

The story itself is as skippable as it has ever been. Some fairy appears from a transparent pipe in front of the four major characters Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad and asks for help because Bowser imprisoned her peers inside bottles. It’s starts like that as the transparent pipes seem to take a major role in transporting through the levels, it sure looks much more stylish than the green ones.

Playing solo is fine, you’ll have lots of fun, but the game will only show its true colors if you have at least one more friend to play with. If you have four different people in the same room willing to have a good time with good old Mario then you’re up to one of the best co-operation multiplayer games ever produced. It’s that good. All players will share the same screen and should probably stay visible so you still have control over what you do, wandering off will just make things harder. Since, unfortunately, most of us won’t have that opportunity, it’s worth noticing that the single player still offers a full game experience.

Playing multiplayer has some other advantages like extended competition for who gets most points during the stage, whoever achieves that gets to control their character during overworld play, where the levels get chosen. The overworld is incredibly beautiful but stands a little less necessary than 2D Mario. You have full 3D control over the character while in the map but there’s very little aside from going from one stage to the other. It’s a step up from the 3DS game where you just had to choose the levels but it’s not like it will matter much anyway.

The character selection has clear influences in Super Mario Bros. 2, which is weird since that’s seen as the black sheep of the Mario series, as wrongly as that may be. Mario seems the regular one, Luigi has that leap jump he had in the second game, Peach features the same float she used to have, and Toad seems to be the nimblest, faster of the bunch. The same set of skills are found in Super Mario Bros. 2 and they work pretty well creating a dynamic between the characters here and not just shadowed versions for the extra players. If you’re playing alone you may want to choose whichever suits you better, Peach, as it was in the past, seems to be the easier choice while Toad the more advanced one.

Lots of new suits are available, the most noticeable is right in the box, the Cat Suit. The character becomes a cat and can use their claws to climb walls up to a certain point before they yield. The Cat Suit is the most present in the game, you’ll abundantly find it in many levels. There’s also a cannon suit — or box, if you will –, and boomerang suit. Aside from a few exclusive ones the omnipresent Fire Flower and Tanooki Suit are also present; the Tanooki Suit allows only gliding.

The newest and strangest addition is the Double Cherry item. It simply adds another character on you at that time, the same character. You’ll basically be controlling 2, 3 or even 4 characters at once, each taking up space on-screen. It gets pretty difficult to control all of them in synchronicity since one of them might get stuck or die because you timed your jump for the one closest to some ledge while the ones in the back will perform the same action at the same time. Still, some puzzles require 4 characters to be present at the same time to trigger elevator for example, mostly for the harder green stars, but still.

Aside from the twisted changes in how the courses are designed, like ghost houses and castles where there’s the usual mini-boss battle at the end, there’s a whole new type of challenge called Captain’s Toad Adventures. You absolutely need the Wii U’s gamepad to play these levels and they feel more like tridimensional puzzles with slight tinges of platforming left. They’re pretty fun, the only thing that might bug people off is the fact that Wii U Pro Controller users who probably have their gamepads collecting dust will have to dust them off and charge those bad boys again. It would be completely playable since the 3D gyroscope view can be controlled using the right stick so they could have made our lives easier.

The camera has pretty strict movements since this relies so heavily on having an original axis to which you’ll move the character. Having a closed camera in some angle — say, 90 degrees, 45 or right beside your character — helps keeping controls manageable for a game that is not full 3D. In the end it works. I can say it works and anything other than that would cause more trouble than solving, so as far as this fake 3D goes, this is pretty spot on.

Overall the presentation is pretty tight. The music tends to get muffled in the background way too often. One of the new trends in gaming is taking options off the hands of the player. It would be awesome to turn down some of the SFX sound to hear the composed music more clearly but in an unfortunate decision they didn’t give us that option, nor any options at all. Mario compositions have had a pretty nice twist when Super Mario Galaxy came out and the whole orchestrated compositions became a thing, but as of now it just became more and more of the same. Some are catchy, some fit pretty well with the style of the level, but few of them actually stand out.

Super Mario 3D World take a little too long to actually sink in but when it does you find it to be a pretty solid Mario game. The one problem it might face is the fact that it’s a hybrid version of both 2D and 3D Mario’s, which could please both world, but could just as well make both hate the direction they’ve taken with this. This should be treated as a spin-off of the Mario series which right now is just an index for several types of spin-offs. If you think about it, even the real 3D ones are somewhat of a secondary version of what it primarily was. While the 2D ones are legacy re-imagined versions of what should had become outdated.

The Mario series lives on in its many forms, this happens to be one of them.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD

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It was a decisive moment for Zelda at that time and age. The wheel was set in motion when Ocarina of Time broke the boundaries of 2D to delve into the 3-dimensional realm. Having sowed the seeds for the way Zelda was imagined in newer generations to come, any unexpected outcome would only surface after people were said and done with whatever was shipping within the confines of those cartridges so eagerly expected. Judging from both the public and critics’ reaction, at the time and decades after, it was certainly jackpot.

When you have something of such a secure formula in your hands and needs to drop a few millions to deliver a “sure thing”, what would you do? Stick to what you know it’s proven certain or dare to go beyond? Nintendo tried to go beyond with Majora’s Mask. Not in the actual sense of bigger or better, but fundamentally different. The same thing can be said about Wind Waker, the hissy fits from fanboys thrown over a direction that wasn’t directly apparent, logical, had coalesced in the view of lost potential. Strangely, some seem oblivious to the fact that not everything surveyed from a perspective distanced from the every-day brainstorm within a project may only serve the wild imagination of those who think safe. Yes, ideas were had and ideas were materialized.

When the next Zelda was still in development people were excited because the new Zelda would be the long-waited sequel to Ocarina of Time, whatever that might mean. Like it was set off-track in the two absolutely stellar sequels and now we’d finally be able to relive all those moments we had with Ocarina. One can develop a sequel, one can’t recreate the zeitgeist of the time, nor can they expect to meet expectations when these expectations were basically set in stone.

Unfortunately Nintendo felt the need to quench the thirst of those people, Twilight Princess has the “feel” of Ocarina of Time, which is not always a good thing. Link now lives in a quiet town with his neighbors and friends when they get kidnapped. Decided to go on a quest to rescue them he gets entangled in something far more sinister, he somehow goes beyond his own reality and into a dark, twilight world where chaos seem to reign. He’s also somehow transformed into a wolf and gets help from a mysterious figure that decides to stick with him.

Most of the characters aren’t really memorable in Twilight Princess and the story is not something to be proud of. It features the twists you’d expect from a game so largely based on Ocarina of Time but it fails to deliver anything beyond the ordinary for a Zelda title. It would be something far worse if not almost all Zelda titles weren’t the same. The one character that stands above all is none other than the mysterious being that helps Wolf Link in the beginning, an inhabitant of the Twilight, a vespertine version of Hyrule.

Her name is Midna and over the years she has gained quite a cult following because of her lasting personality, often mocking Link for his actions and giving a special spice to an otherwise incredibly dull story. Also, most locations in Hyrule aren’t memorable at all. The overall map seems strange and incredibly limiting, while what you find in the fields feel like the same thing over and over. It’s certainly one of the least inspired over-worlds for a Zelda title.

Instruments quickly became a series’ staple, this time the howling of the wolf took part in doing what other games had in differing forms and usages. Still, it feels like it was ultimately underused and simply thrown in just for the sake of it, Wolf Link can howl at certain locations a few songs that are going to be played precisely twice and then forgotten to unleash an ancient master of arms or some sort who will teach Link a few skills for battle, but that’s all. The timing to play the instrument is awful and it’s just not worse because you don’t need to handle them with the atrocious Wiimote+Nunchuk anymore.

They felt they needed to bring back Kakariko Village this time around, though we certainly would have been fine with any other town. Gorons and Zoras both have their play in the story. There’s a central market that, although completely filled with people coming and going all over the place, feels empty, with very few stuff to actually interact during the adventure.

The style is also largely based on Ocarina of Time, the darker tone is all over the place. Because of this, though it came after Wind Waker, it still feels more outdated in the graphical department. Wind Waker had an HD remake for the Wii U as well and the result should impress a lot more than Twilight Princess. It’s still a pretty sight to see an old game like this in high-definition, even if the graphical direction took its toll on it because it featured a more mature look, and that tends to age fairly bad.

A few items have made a comeback from previous games and serve in many new ways to Link. The hookshot now works in a different, even better way. The boomerang can be locked onto up to five targets before being released and also somehow have the power of the wind, which comes in handy to make stuff get back in movement along the way. This installment also has the honor of featuring the one item that probably would win a contest in weirdness for all games; basically a spinning cog wheel that can be engaged in wall rails to make Link traverse walls while also having the ability to simply catapult himself out of it. Brilliant — in a dark futuristic twilight-ey kind of way.

While everything seems bleak when you start thinking about it, there’s certainly one aspect that makes this game shine and probably stands as one of the best cases in Zelda series yet. The dungeons. Whatever lack of creativity creating the over-world they went through in development it was gone when they decided to start crafting the dungeons. Not one of them is forgettable, though they probably won’t be featured in any lists of fan-favorites, they’re some of the most well-structured I’ve ever seen in Zelda, and probably in a video-game. Wind Waker was the complete opposite of this when the dungeons were all pretty dull, this time things are way different.

Some of the dungeons featured in the game have completely unfamiliar structures like venturing through the house of Yeti and his wife who has fallen ill. You start looking for something and end up helping her get better. The “water dungeon” here certainly offers less backtracking then Water Temple in Ocarina of Time, but it can become a pain to go through if you’re not observant enough.

The dual gameplay certainly adds a flavor in terms of diversity of actions. Wolf Link hasn’t got the ability to use any of Link’s items, but he can use his acute sense of scents to track down people or objects. He also can use Midna’s power in teleportation and attacking since Link becomes Wolf Link when he traverses off his own realm and into the twilight realm. Being Wolf Link in front of people will just scare them off and cause trouble, though you are able to talk to animals, which, perhaps not strangely, have much more stuff to say that’s actually worth something.

Zelda Twilight Princess is quite flawed in the way that it tried to be a pretty safe bet to please fans with the serious facade, the larger-than-life story elements and the clear inspiration in Ocarina of Time — especially the mid-game complete turn of events that Ocarina so famously featured. The overall experience feels unnecessarily dull and the overall world is pretty uninspiring. Though, if you’re playing a game for the challenge just know that the dungeons are some of the best to ever grace a Zelda game; they do follow the old formula somehow, but end up being Twilight Princess’s strongest aspects. All in all, a pretty solid game that should offer a quality time.

Pokemon Shuffle

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The new trend in gaming are the infinite games that leave you with two main choices, you either pay for whatever currency it features or you’ll have to stick to its sluggish presentation to advance. Since it finds its most fertile ground on smartphones, this false “free game” is somewhat understandable for the kind of deals often found in digital stores. It ultimately even makes sense, after all, they have to convince the player to buy the game after they started playing, and still have a profit to look for. Pokemon Shuffle is one of those modern breed in gaming.

Along with Pokemon Picross, Pokemon Shuffle is a puzzle game somewhat tucked into a famous franchise to win a profit. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, you know it’s a spin-off, you know it’s not what it’s crafted up to be, you know it’s not what a main game would offer, so you’re not exactly fooled. In case you didn’t, then I should warn you that it’s nothing like the regular RPGs you have probably gotten so used to by now.

In case you haven’t seen or heard much of it, think of it like this; you start the game getting lots and lots of items, getting easy, voluptuous wins while feeling the thrill of what it might provide. As you progress it starts getting harder, a lot more scarce and requiring time to fulfill the necessary hearts you desperately need to actually play it. Since not everyone will have the patience to wait every 30 minutes to refil the heart meter for one play, they’ll probably accept to pay for content.

Pokemon Picross had a better system overall since after a while you simply wouldn’t have to spend any more money, you’d have free access to infinite amounts of energy. Pokemon Shuffle might suck you dry if you really feel like spending. You can play for free as long as you keep it in small doses every now and then, just don’t count on it to have an optimal experience at all.

Gameplay itself is absolutely simple. Just try to make matches with groups of at least three Pokemon while having the opportunity to change their location at will. The ones that form a match will disappear and give way to newer Pokemon that will fall from the top. If those make new matches as they fall you’ll enter in a combo, for crazy amount of damage and points. You choose which ones you’ll use before the battle and later on even Pokemon you don’t own and didn’t chose will appear to make things a little more difficult.

Making matches is the goal and the more you make the more damage you’ll inflict on the Pokemon you’re battling. You might get combos of hundreds of matches after the first ones disappear, but that is mostly luck with a tiny dose of guessing involved. You have a certain amount of turns to achieve the best result possible and the less turns you take the better are the chances of you capturing the Pokemon at the end of the battle. If you have enough money then you can even double the chances you first had and try capturing it with a great ball.

That’s the thing, everything in this game costs money, and later stages will almost demand some kind of item, or items, to make them doable. Getting money is pretty difficult so you may have to rely on your real wallet. For example, after finishing a level you’ll probably have acquired the first-time prize money of 100-200 in-game coins, beating a stage a second time will most likely hand out measly 30 coins. If you’re panning on buying a -1 (minus 1) Pokemon on the battlefield — which will facilitate the process of making matches — you’ll have to dole out a whopping amount of 9000 coins. Having hundreds upon hundreds of levels can turn this process into a nightmare easily.

The whole thing is one big crowning achievement. Even if you go ahead and spend the coins there’s no guarantee that you’ll beat the level or even capture the Pokemon, so it might be all for nothing in the end. Another thing it features are the ‘S ranks’ which are based on how many turns you had left when beating a Pokemon. Some have very few turns, like 2 or 3; while others may go as far as 50. Getting S ranks on later stages basically demands the use of items.

There’s also another type of challenge that is primarily based on time instead of turns. The player has a fixed amount of time to make as many matches as possible, being able to keep changing the place of Pokemon at will. These are called expert stages and offer better, rarer Pokemon like the legendary birds from Kanto and the roaming dogs from Johto.

Aside from the main game and the expert stages the latest update brought many good stuff to the table, like special stages, missions and daily prizes. The daily prizes can be gotten by connecting to the main server every day. A sort of systematic schedule to keep players playing. If you’re planing on doing this low-cost it’s certainly mandatory. The missions are pretty straight-forward, just survey whatever they want you to do and do it.

The special stages are lots of fun. You get new Pokemon daily and have lots of different challenges like Safari and powerful rare Pokemon. Some are just silly, like the insane amount of different Pikachu — costume Pikachu, angry Pikachu, wiking Pikachu. The Safari offers random challenges with Pokemon you’re not even sure which ones might appear. The rare Pokemon found in this are pretty difficult to catch and S rank, and some of them are only available during a limited time period.

One of the best new type of challenge is the Escalation Battle. You start on level 1 being able to beat the Pokemon easily and having just 1% chance of capture and you go raising the level and having better chances of capture. After catching the Pokemon it’s possible to receive exclusive items that increase the power of the Pokemon even further. Again, it’s another great feature to suck you out of hearts and yield to input credit card numbers, at least its pretty enjoyable.

The Pokemon you choose to enter the stage have the usual weaknesses and effectiveness you find in the main games. Water is strong against fire, which is strong against grass, which is strong against water and so on. It plays a major role, but it also features levels, the higher the level the more damage you can obviously cause. Nothing groundbreakingly new there, most people are so familiar with this process by now that it’s not even a problem anymore.

At first the game capped levels at 10, you couldn’t go beyond that. After the last major update a new item was introduced that would allow player to raise the maximum level of a Pokemon when used. It’s not a common item per say and different Pokemon have different number of times it can be used on them, which makes low-evolution or weaker Pokemon somewhat usable now because they generally have more slots for their max level to skyrocket and somewhat reach the legendaries and fully-developed ones.

Each Pokemon also has an inherent skill which can or not be triggered after getting a match. It all depends on the type of match and how good it was. For example, 3 Pokemon icon matches have the lowest percentage, 4 Pokemon gives you a decent but still low chance of happening, while 5 Pokemon matches are an almost certain way to trigger the skill (90%).

Bringing the newest aspects of the latest games into play we have mega-evolutions. You can take one, and only one Pokemon who can mega-evolve. This strange aspect, caused by having the mega-stone of certain Pokemon while also having him, will make a meter appear on the left side of the screen. If you make enough matches the meter will reach its peak and the Pokemon will mega-evolve. Mega-evolving lets you use the mega skill and it can be the key to success since it’s triggered after getting any kind of match (even the most basic, 3 in line). What the skill actually does depends on which Pokemon mega-evolved but there’s handy stuff like making all the icons of the mega poke-icons disappear, or destroying some icons diagonally or vertically, or destroying unbreakable blocks that might have fallen, or some other useful trick.

This Pokemon puzzle game is in its very core very dependent on luck. Of course you still can maximize the chances, but that doesn’t always yield results. The reason lies in the casual nature of the title. This is also available on cellphones which makes much more sense. It’s a game to live with you for a few months, you get to play a few games a day but that’s all; generally when you’re on the go, on a bus ride or the subway. It serves its purpose just fine with a powerful logo to turn heads in heed. We should be looking at more Pokemon spin-offs in the future, mainly because they work so well.

Chrono Trigger

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Not many games get to have a legendary status that dares to transcend the test of time, among this panteon of titles stands Chrono Trigger as one of the few that helped define the action RPG scene, moving a large fanbase over the years. The re-release of this beast makes a loud statement that games are not only meant to be carried on by nostalgic fanboys from days gone by. One of the most noble acts which the 3DS gets to perform is finally enabling later Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 titles to be played on-the-go with no major downgrades and, sometimes, with better remakes.

Sure, relive classic games is fun enough, but anyone who didn’t have the chance at the time has a pretty good reason to right the wrongs of the past. Chrono Trigger is not a technically impressing game per say. It was released at the end of the Super Nintendo’s life cycle and pretty much missed the full 3D party by a mere 1 year. The Playstation was doing well in Japan and eventually crossed the Globe to become the messianic anti-Nintendo. The title would eventually reach the shores of Sony’s console, once again, late in the cycle.

One might say Chrono Trigger was caught in the eye of the storm when it came to be, shortly before two heavy-weight home consoles that would forever change how the industry nurtured decision-making in the years to come were released. Chrono Trigger was meant to be played on the Super Nintendo and the looming new technology apparently didn’t have much effect on it. It would certainly tarnish the work done at that point and, as we’re led to believe, hard work is one of the recipes for this.

The game mimics 3D the best way it can during the demise of 2D-focused releases of the time. The Nintendo DS version is not a remaster nor a remake, it’s a straight-out port with a few add-ons thrown in there. Most of them aren’t really stellar, a side-story about a reptile-like individuals with consequences that go through the ages and insane amount of back-tracking to the point it gets boring; a few vortexes popping around to revisit a few locations and enemies; and a spin-off of the main antagonist featuring rehashed pallets and familiar battle location.

The main adventure is a blast from the past, both in-game and history-wise. It features a pretty self-explanatory action-oriented battle system in real time. The “real time” I’m talking about here is still distant from what we would later get used in games like ‘Tales of’ and it’s also the root of dozens upon dozens of brand new ideas from the best minds in Square to create an appropriate RPG gameplay and an engaging story hardly ever seen in video games. The ‘Tales of’ series for example would go on to integrate the overworld gameplay with some giant flying machine that in this case, is an improved time machine.

The art style is colorful and the ambiance fits every location pretty nicely. Since it deals with time travel the artists had a wide range of artistic decisions dealing with how the atmosphere was going to be crafted. The characters travel back and forth using time portals from pre-historical backgrounds to devastated futuristic landscapes in a period where 3D wasn’t yet a thing. It goes to show how some older games reached a pinnacle of 2D design around the mid-90’s before having to deal with increasingly more powerful machines and bigger budget gaming.

Everything is perfectly wrapped up with the absolutely amazing soundtrack. You don’t really need nostalgia to understand that the tracks are showcased in the right amount to stick with you long after playing while still not sounding overdone, overused. The DS version has a pretty handy sound-test menu option that lets players easily access the music included. It still sounds like your typical 16-bit arrangements, but they’re memorable 16-bit tracks that might pretty much be some of video-gaming’s best to date, especially taking in consideration the experience as a whole.

The story is surprisingly inventive. The fact that Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama was part of the project could automatically indicate a level of genius that, although not certain, had high chances of becoming reality. As always, his characters are extremely likeable and unworldy. They all gather around the three present day heroes to help them save the world from a mysterious life-form known as Lavos, each joins the party at certain events in their own time and stays in the crowd depending on how the story unfolds, some leave during brief periods while others can leave for good — or never actually join you.

The battle system has aged fairly badly compared to what we have today, it’s still tolerable and adds the right dose of depth not to become robotic or mechanized. You have a melee attack, special attacks and item usage. The special attacks can be performed single-handedly by one character but the stronger ones require two or all three to be used. All players must be ready, and this readiness happens after a while depending on the character’s speed skill.

One might be unsure whether the system is turn-based or some hybrid set at first but it’s actually the way action was handled at the time. You don’t control your character and only chooses their actions; still, how fast you perform actions have a play on the whole thing since you’re always prone to being attacked, time only stops while someone or something is actually attacking or using some item. The depth of battling is designated by differences in elemental damage or certain enemies that are imune or resilient against magic or melee.

The story unfolds in a very weird manner since it involves constant time-travel and the same world being re-imagined in different time frames, even the continent’s movement is simulated as time goes on. Most of the time it’s somewhat easy to understand what to do next but sometimes it simply leaves you in the dark. There’s not really an objective screen so it features some of that legacy difficulty we were so used to in younger days.

Even side-quests are featured in a nifty kind of way. Some weird-looking man in the end of time itself will mention them and it’s up to you to go after the requirements. After finishing the quest the old man stops mentioning it so it’s easier to keep track without an objective screen to index what you’re meant to do next. As I’ve said, the game has aged a fair bit since it was released and some newer audiences might find it a little overwhelming at first but it certainly doesn’t stop the adventure from enduring.

The way the art-style was handled is probably the stronger aspect, it succeeds in setting the mood for basically everything it sets out to portray. The enemies are varied and although the gameplay doesn’t offer much in terms of options aside from the duality melee/magic, with spells being learnt as the character progresses, the player still feels they can pull some trick out of their sleeves.

This game offers an experience that truly is memorable and should entertain any gamer who enjoys role-playing that takes its time to develop while providing the right amount of gameplay. It does show age and pales in comparison to how action RPGs are created this day. Very few other games have the soulful playfulness and attention to detail featured here. Players should be aware that while they might not have nostalgic reasons to pick this one up, it still showcases an important part of gaming history that shouldn’t be passed.

Picross Touch

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What do you expect from a lighter? Fire? Bring peace to the Middle East? Resolve math problems? There’s some things which are simple because they don’t need to be any more complexity. Picross Touch is one of those games. It’s so simple it’s hard to judge. Does it do its job well? It does.

You have Picross which is some one type of game made incredibly easier in electronic formats. You’re given clues about which block you need or not to fill and try to resolve the entire puzzle by grouping right clues together. The thrill is that if you get something wrong in the beginning you’ll probably carry it until a point of no return. Each move must be made with absolutely zero second-thoughts.

This is what you get here. The environment is stripped-down to basics while puzzle-solving is taken to the extreme. You’ll probably never run out of puzzles to solve since it features an ingenuous sharing system that anyone can create a puzzle and send it over. The initial set of puzzles can be completed in a few dozen hours while the rest is there to fulfill any need you might have in the future for Picross.

A while back the game offered up to 25×25 squared puzzles to be solved and submitted. The game came with a set of 5×5, 10×10 and 15×15 originally — which can be called the base, or main game. Now people can submit not only the 3 original sizes and 20×20 and 25×25, it’s possible to create 30×30 and 35×35 puzzles. There’s a whole lot already submitted so the meta is made and running. When you try to create a new puzzle the game automatically tries to solve it and if it’s impossible you won’t be able to send it over. So if its in the system, as hard as it might be, it’s still possible — presuming the computerized system isn’t prone to errors, of course, which generally isn’t.

This is probably the be-all-end-all of Picross puzzle since it’s a pretty basic principle that doesn’t really need a whole bunch of graphical extravaganza — here you can choose the color you wish to see along with the full range of grey shades. Unfortunately it doesn’t feature keyboard controls. The mouse works the way it should, you can actually opt for a more complex approach in which pressing the screen will start filling every square it touches while you might think it would become too unwieldy and stay in easy mode where only the specific axis fills squares.

Some options are available to better suit the needs of those more willing to delve into the wonders of Picross but overall the basic principle is the same, click a square with the right button to fill it, click a square with the left click to cross it out. Use the same button to erase any action you which to undo and solve the problems. The only way to make it simpler would be to make it so you could fill squares with the power of the mind.

Picross is as simple as any other kind of paper game, sudoku, crosswords, etc. If you enjoy to pass some time solving these kinds of puzzles you’ll have a blast with Picross Touch. The game is free so even if you’ve never heard of it it’s still worth trying it out. If somehow it’s not your thing, there’s not a single element of this game that would suffice to change your mind. Because there’s only one element that needs to be there, and it’s Picross.