Category Archives: Wii U

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

By now it shouldn’t come as a surprise to no one but these new games don’t really do the original Donkey Kong Country franchise its justice. The base games were the most spectacular experiences anyone could have in gaming, these new ones aren’t exactly bad in the new style they’ve chosen, but the controls ruin it nevertheless.

At first it was the abysmal wiimote, then came the 3DS version, and we were certain the nightmare was real, unchanging. The problem with the controls were half addressed in this sequel, though the road still feels long and treacherous. There were two main problematic aspects, the fact you couldn’t set the preferred method while maintaining the movement type and how loosy the mechanics were set.

The 3DS version of DKC Returns was especially horrendous, you either had to set the shoulder buttons to perform the roll or the front upper ones. Depending on which one you chose you could ONLY control with the analog stick or the D-pad. I had a really hard time with this since I would have chosen the D-pad over the analog stick but had to rethink my choice because using the shoulder buttons to run was too much of a hassle.

At least this time around you can choose the mode and the movement type. Something so basic that should have been mandatory on the Returns. Customized button-sets are rarely anything groundbreaking these days, Retro Studios should have little to no problems adding up. Still, they went ahead and added a whole new button to complexify a system so pure in its fundamental form.

Why someone would change the Super Nintendo DKC controls is beyond anyone’s range of thought, it effectively is the climax of game mechanics in video-games. The momentum system worked so well that even Mario should have learned a thing or two about how to give full control over to the player without jeopardizing anything, at all.

Nintendo and Retro Studios didn’t think so. I’m a little more inclined to think Nintendo had a say on this matter more than we want to admit because it might just sound natural to add another button and preserve newcomers from having a hard time dealing with a button that both attacks/rolls and runs. God forbid having to deal with an ill-fated roll press during the complex platforming within.

It doesn’t really matter who thought it was a good idea, it’s not. Another button not only resets the mindset from previous classics but also adds a whole new problem, it’s another button to keep track of and it’s a shoulder one. Shoulder buttons aren’t exactly everyone’s favorite and though it certainly changed a whole lot for the better when compared with the right/left buttons from the Super Nintendo era, it’s still not the most comfortable set.

Dealing with a double working button shouldn’t be a problem for anyone, the first three games did it proudly and nothing ever changed on how incredible they offered their control settings. The mechanics stand the test of time as much as the graphics, which is somewhat of an incredible feat to tell the truth. At least give us the option, that would be an ideal scenario.

I want to go out on a limb and say that this isn’t even the worst problem, we could even deal with that if they kept the movement tight. Donkey Kong moves are so loose that it’s a pain from start to finish. You get used to it like anything else, to a point you start counting on how imprecise the movements are and start regulating on your own.

The roll jump is way too powerful, leading to clumsy immediate momentum ending too soon to offer any depth in terms of maneuvering in mid-air. Gone are the days of perfectly timed off-sets from edges and welcome are the days of rocket blasting off from any jump roll you perform. Basically a wild card that in time will offer less and less dangers, but the ever-present nature of insecure controls is not something you can easily shake off.

The fact the game is not a walk in the park doesn’t ease things up one tiny bit. Boss battles are especially long and cut in different little episodes. Basically you need to hit the boss three times in three different acts to beat it. They take a little bit too much to develop but it’s clear that it’s better polished than in the past.

From a technical standpoint this is absolutely flawless. From the design to the songs that accompany the adventure, everything works fantastically. The soundtrack is especially good because it marks the return of David Wise, the one and only Rare composer that has composed for the classic trilogy as well as other classics like Diddy Kong Racing and, more recently, the attempt to return to form from former Rare employees that produced Yooka-Laylee.

It’s probably the best soundtrack in any game in at least a decade or so, it’s that good. It not only features key tracks from the original but it also does it right. We often see newer versions of classic tunes that simply turn into tiring rehashes. Look at Mario 2D, so many old tunes that are overheard mixed with others that just sound uninspired. David Wise manages to make the soundtrack really feels like a bonus when unlocked in the music menu after beating levels.

The KONG letters count for completion and around the levels you must find pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Each stage has a differing number of pieces, sometimes 5, sometimes 7, sometimes 9. The bonus rooms feature basic puzzles that revolve in getting 100 bananas, most of them are repeated during the game and aren’t interesting at all.

You can buy items to make you life easier if you choose so. Stuff like extra defense for mine cart levels or extra hearts to endure stage are available. Since the reboot of the series you now have hearts bound to your character that work as life. When you break a buddy kong barrel you get double the life — yours and the kong you’re traveling with.

DKC Returns only had Diddy Kong and he was a secondary character, offering assistance to Donkey Kong making jumps and lasting longer in the air by using his jetpack, the same goes for this title. The good thing is that now not only Diddy Kong is available but also Dixie and Cranky Kong.

Dixie actually plays much like she did in DKC 2 with an added bonus, she is capable of flying a bit up in the air. This is extremely helpful to reach most places that tend to expect that little extra height from jumps. When you find a barrel most of the time it will keep scrolling between three initials (from Diddy, Dixie or Cranky) and whichever kong is picked up will come out of the blasted barrel. Sometimes only one kong is available, but only in specific locations where a determined kong ability is required.

The addition of Cranky Kong is kind of unexpected but it was well-implemented. He does a pretty singular type of jump, after pressing A you must press it again before reaching the ground to perform a cane jump. This jump is stronger than a regular jump — similar to a boosted jump after jumping on an enemy — and completely negates a thorn pit. You can basically keep jumping on thorn that would otherwise hurt donkey kong or any other partner.

Unfortunately only Rambi features as an animal buddy just like in Returns. I can only assume they will focus on different animals in a third installment of the series. It would be nice to see some of the ore famous ones like Enguarde the fish or Squitter the spider. I would love to see all of them in a future release but maybe they’d be disinclined to add some that were cut from sequels like the frog. Still, a Donkey Kong game without a wide array of animal buddies is never the appropriate approach.

Unlike what happened in games like Super Mario Bros. U the screen of the tablet controller is turned off based on what type of screening you wish to use. If you choose the TV you won’t have to worry about wasting precious battery time on a secondary screen that adds absolutely nothing to what is already happening on the televisions set.

The story revolves around a group of arctic baddies that invade kong island during Donkey Kong’s birthday, spreading the cold touch of its evil mastermind throughout the tropical paradise the kongs are used to. It’s up to ou heroes to save the day. I know, a DKC shouldn’t even have a story to begin with, but it just fits. Just think about the original when a stash of bananas was stolen, it was a good enough reason to embark on the most memorable adventure ever.

Since the overall graphical style was completely changed the aesthetics of the enemies were changed as well. It might take a little while to get used to them, some are quite bizarre, like oversized owls or viking-looking bears. The animation style was well designed and the bonus content containing the concept art for them are quite interesting to examine.

I might sound pessimist here but Donkey Kong Tropica Freeze is not without its problems. Anyone can easily overlook its problems especially if you don’t nitpick. Still, it’s a shame to see such a stupendous series not living up to its full potential. The DKC trilogy is one of the most solid pieces of gaming experience anyone can ever hope to play and the reboot games are simply good fun that could become marvelous if only they had better controls.

Advertisements

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

wp-1-500x282

I might be a minority here but I don’t remember freaking out on Zelda’s new style back in the beginning of the 2000’s. I remember waiting for the magazine that contained all the information of the game that was about to be released, I came home from the bookstore reading it and getting amazed at each picture I saw, each word used to describe it. When it was announced I didn’t give it much thought, I guess I was way too sure Nintendo wouldn’t screw things up. At that time, they really didn’t.

People were going crazy because Majora’s Mask wasn’t the grand adventure everyone expected, even if the original idea of a 7-day cicle came to become the game we have today it wouldn’t have the same overall style as Ocarina had. Who knows, maybe it would even be even more macabre than it already is. I for one loved Majora for what it was, maybe more than Ocarina. Sometimes I get too busy enjoying the game for what it was than what I wanted it to be.

Bold as it was for Nintendo to stray away from something that seemed to have grown with Ocarina and add so many new stuff that made the game much more of a gamble than just give the fans a second Ocarina following every step of its predecessor and staying safe, Nintendo took this bet to astronomical levels with Wind Waker.

Some things just can’t be changed, the reliance on defined dungeons that offered the true leveled experience within the confines of the story unfolding in an overworld that tried to be as pulsating with life and inviting as it could be stayed true to the formula. The item mechanics had gone through different paths between Ocarina and Majora and it was only logical to improve upon some of them while adding new features to previous versions found in the new 3D iterations.

What was in question here wasn’t how the mechanics would have changed, it was pretty obvious that Nintendo didn’t have much problem with changes when they released Majora, what caught the eye was the visuals. New at the time, the cel-shading style became famous after Wind Waker successful use of it. The visuals were less mature and took form of a cartoony style in spite of taking itself way too serious.

If you think about it, Link has always been somewhat of a blank sheet of paper, it had its “oohhh”‘s and “ahhh”‘s at specific times but his reactions lacked any organic idiosyncrasy to showcase any type of real emotion toward Nintendo’s most treasured attempts at some kind of meaningful story. Nintendo games were never about stories, they were about gameplay and we all knew that, still, Zelda tried so hard but Link couldn’t be par with they had been achieving.

Right at the beginning of Wind Waker you realize why they chose to draw Link with that fully expressing face of his, his quest begins when a malign gigantic flying bird drops a stray pirate girl at the forest of his home island, Outset Island. The pirates had been chasing this bird down up to that point when the girl end up in the forest. Link goes to the location to try to rescue the person in distress but she seems to have managed herself pretty well. She meets up with another pirate friend and leaves.

Upon leaving the forest they have to cross a bridge to reach the other side and standing there on the other end of the bridge is none other than Link’s sister who lives in the island with him. At that moment she waves her hand at her brother and he returns back the waving with a big nice smile. That moment of happiness and bond between the two siblings is pretty brief but so important for the immersion of the player because right after that, before they could meet up crossing the bridge the evil bird returns and snatches his beloved sister.

Link is desperately heartbroken and decides to go after her. After striking a deal with the pirates to help him out they sail away to the horizon. The story unfolds nicely when after reaching the forsaken fortress and failing to successfully rescue his sister he is rescued by a talking boat named King of the Red Lions. That’s when the adventure really takes form and the evil that lurks that strange place seems far more sinister than just a kidnap.

Wind Waker takes its time with the player, I remember back in the day reaching to a conclusion that it would take close to 15 minutes to cross diagonally the Great Sea from one end to the other. Quite a long time will be spent in the sea and the distances from one island to another aren’t really inviting, but unlike the DS version of sailing the Great Sea seems much better suited to get lost within its confines. Most of the islands at the beginning demand items that only later in the game you’ll have access so they remain clouded in mystery for a while while you’re running along with the main adventure.

The high definition format made Wind Waker shine brighter than ever, a game can hardly be 15 years old and still look absolutely amazing, all thanks to the change of style. No overhaul was needed to make it one of the best looking games ever, just the higher resolution and horizontal/vertical rate tuned according to newer TV models. The timeless visuals do all the work, pulsating with vibrant, vivacious display of scenery.

The controls were ported nicely. The tablet isn’t just an emulated useless screen like in other releases, it actually helps keeping the menu in fully functional even in action. You can change to view the map or item selection screen for example. The wider range of options available in the Wii U’s controller allow for a better, yet quite complex, set of controls.

There’s also a new feature that lets people write messages and embed pictographs — in-game photographs — within a bottle and throw in the sea. The message is send through the network and if another player find your bottle and opens it he’ll be able to read your message and save your photo. Something similar happens in New Super Mario Bros. U. Unlike in Mario, which could have used an online multiplayer, Wind Waker’s system is just and added bonus that shouldn’t get in the way of people who just don’t care.

If there is one tiny complaint I’d have with how things were done regarding the controls and the bottled message system is that you can’t really do some stuff while sailing. If you’re going to spend so much time sailing a boat basically doing nothing but trying to spot treasures to take them off the bottom of the ocean, and even that particular thing gets old pretty fast, it would be nice to not have to stop sailing to manage messages in bottles to pass the time. It would be an ideal method of making the long journeys between islands less tedious for some.

There’s also quite a lot to do in terms of side-quests, like the Nintendo gallery where you go around the world taking pictures of living things and the numerous people that are bound to make outrageous demands for the poor Link and his boat. By the way, the two make up for a great team. It actually goes right to the list of revamped stuff, gladly. To complete Nintendo gallery Link had to take pictures of people and monsters along the way and show to the figurine maker. We didn’t have any indication that the shot was good to go

Nothing major was changed from the original but a few tweaks made the game much more pleasing. At a certain point you come across a Swift Sail that will double the speed of sailing and even better, the wind will automatically change to whichever direction you’re facing. Not having to keep constantly conducting the wind song to change direction and sailing at sluggish speeds certainly brings joy to anyone who has spend hours upon hours sailing in the original.

The aforementioned Nintendo Gallery actually goes right to the list of revamped stuff that used to make us suffer but now doesn’t as much, gladly. To complete Nintendo gallery in the past Link had to take pictures of people and monsters along the way and show to the figurine maker. We didn’t have any indication that the shot was good to go. Now we have, a yellow thingy will show the picture is acceptable to be transformed into a figurine. It also used to take a whole day for it to be done and the maker only made one each time. Needless to say the extreme grinding of the song to skip the day/night was unbearable. Still there was more, only 3 photos could be taken each time, which made the long travels between places and the figurine isle such a hassle. Not to mention the ones that had to be taken before the character/monster was gone for good or had the need for the long-gone Game Boy Advance-GameCube connection. Unfortunately the former remains a problem.

Video-game redone in glorious high definition. Though most wont see much reason to pick this one up again it still stands as one of the most well-suited games to stand the test of times graphically and its adventure is as lively as no other Zelda could match until this very day. A timeless experience nonetheless, whether you feel like reliving all over again is debatable, but the greatness of this game is not.

New Super Mario Bros. U

nsmbuslide

The “new” in the name is pretty much redundant as of now, presented here is what we were all introduced in the Nintendo DS glory days of 2006. Ever since that DS game 2D Mario has been a constant for Nintendo. There’s nothing that can really go wrong here so it’s safe to say that anyone that found even the slightest reason to pick up a previous 2D Mario in this new era should be hooked within no time.

The first releases of the renewal for the plumber on 2D had a Super Mario Bros. 3 vibe attached to it. The whole thing was divided in worlds which you advanced using items that didn’t seem to give you as much freedom of movement as Super Mario World had done in the Super Nintendo days. It was safe to say that both paths seemed good enough for our eager desire to play Mario 2D so it hardly matters. This time things are somewhat different.

Newer audiences are going to have to deal with the loosy mechanics that were transferred over ever since the first “New Mario”, it has come to a point where it’s no longer a problem, that’s just how Mario games work these days. You still feel like you have full control but not in the same style as Super Mario World used to be.

The arsenal on your hands is quite diversified as well. In the Wii installment we were introduced to the horrendous mechanic of shaking the wii-mote to perform some upward hurricane motion that. Though interesting in concept, it wasn’t really made green and pleasant with motion controls. This time around you can use one of the shoulder buttons to trigger this movement, any of the four for your main controller will do the trick so one of them is bound to suit your needs.

Since the Wii U allows the wii-mote to be used the player can choose to keep using the shake to perform the spin, you can even do it with the regular main tablet-controller since it features built-in motion controls. I have caught myself performing the shake motion for spinning more often than I want to admit in the beginning, kind of like a leftover mannerism from the time I played the Wii version. Quite weird.

Unlike previous ones you actually have a full map to traverse, just like Super Mario World had. Instead of just creating several locations and have Mario jump from one to another they decided to take the Super Mario World card from their sleeve and make an overworld to shake things up a bit. It’s quite pleasing really, with internet access people can send messages through to each course; if you can’t beat a level you may want to send your frustration while others who may have perform incredible feats might want to boast, like beating the level without receiving damage.

The fire and ice flowers are fully featured and perform like they used to do in previous installments. The flying item, now called Flying Squirrel, has received a major overhaul and now functions quite differently than the usual Tanooki Mario, but not quite like the cape worked in Super Mario World. It simply gives the ability to glide across small distances. There’s actually two types of gliding, a short and a long one. Most times by simply falling Mario triggers the longer glide but if you at any time during that period trigger the spin jump mid-air Mario will receive a boost at the cost of getting a much steeper glide that won’t last long.

Knowing how to handle the new flying item is essential because it’s pretty much the only real difference between what we’ve been playing in the past. Yoshi is also present and his movements are the standard one. One addition is that whenever he eats a fruit it builds up some kind of meter that once filled gives out a random item. Think of it as an actual functioning mechanic of Yoshi eating fruits in the first levels of Super Mario World, it was useless at the time, now it isn’t.

It actually a bummer that Yoshi can’t be taken to other courses beside the ones he is present. When you finish a level riding Yoshi it pretty much says goodbye and the next one will be without him one way or another. Though you can’t take full grown Yoshi out for a stroll around in any course you feel like you can actually take a baby Yoshi wherever you want. They’re actually mostly found on the overworld — though some are found within courses — and you’re expected to carry him around to eat stuff and give you a hand with useful abilities.

Super Mario World had baby Yoshis though they evolved to fully grown ones after 5 enemies eaten, it doesn’t really happen in Super Mario Bros. U, they always stay little no matter how much they eat. What’s actually new is that each colored Yoshi have a distinct ability that will save you from a lot of trouble if used well. The red Yoshi inflates becoming a balloon to help Mario. the blue one shoots out bubbles that trap enemies and turn them into coins, the bubbles can also be used to hop. Finally, the golden one lights up the place, this is the one found within courses with no source of light.

As always they don’t really take much time introducing any reliable story because, let’s be honest here, no one really cares. Bowser and his kid kidnaps princess Peach and Mario takes upon himself the job of rescuing her. The koopas responsible for keeping the castles in each land are back from Super Mario World. The three big golden coins found in each stage for completionists is also back, which is always good because it adds to replayability.

Aside from the main story there’s the challenge mode which is phenomenal. The challenges are pretty hardcore and should evoke the maximum potential of all the abilities that aren’t really taken to extremes in the main courses. Depending on how well you do in them you receive a bronze, silver or golden medal. Getting golden medal in some of them is pretty tough, some insane jumps and incredible timing are required.

There’s Boost Rush, a slightly modified version of Coin Rush from the 3DS version of Mario 2D, I also find it a bit less fun. You basically need to race against the clock and the screen moves at a certain speed, to increase the speed you need to gather coins and, of course, not lose lives. There’s a few difficulty levels where a set of two or three levels are played in order. Unlike Coin Rush, which what mattered was the total number of coins, here what matters is how fast you can play these levels. Of course, getting a good time requires getting lots of coins too, but in a good pace rather than a good amount.

The coolest feature, and widely marketed by Nintendo as the best new feature, is the Boost Mode — not to be confused with the previous mode, Boost Rush. In Boost Mode up to 5 people can play together each controlling one character (Mario, Luigi, Yellow Toad and Blue Toad) while another one plays using the tablet-controller to assist the other players. Whoever gets the job of assisting doesn’t really control any character, he simply is tasked with creating blocks for the other ones to travel through the level easier.

Unfortunately this mode doesn’t feature an online multiplayer mode so it will have to be played locally, which always harden the process. With online being simply reserved for random little messages you can record for other fellow players over the internet we can pretty much say that it’s almost non-existent. A future Mario featuring this Boost Mode and online gameplay would be ideal.

Although in artistic department most of what you find is the same thing rehashed over and over, it’s still a delight to see Mario running in high-definition for the first time ever. The music and effects are starting to sound dull and overused while the graphics are as beautiful as they have never been in glorious HD. All in all, it’s the good old Mario side-scroller, you probably knew whether you should or not get this before reading all this.