Resident Evil (REmake)

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It was a difficult time for us GameCube gamers back in the day but if there was one aspect that kept us going beside the obvious first-party games by Nintendo was the prospect of having the amazing Resident Evil 4 for our beloved purple cubes sometime in the future. It was all nice and dandy the fact we were going to get re-releases of every other Resident Evil worthy of attention and the prequel Resident Evil 0, but Resident Evil 4 was the main meal and we were eager for it.

Still, waiting for a game that turned out to be released 2 years after what was expected was hard and though we wanted the new experience that was promised by Capcom the first release and arguably the least interesting of them all was getting released first. It was a completely redone version of the first game.

Think about it, all games had something in their favor.

Resident Evil 4 was the new thing in town, the premise was too good to be believed.
Resident Evil 0 was fresh new experience, never released anywhere, but retaining most of what Resident Evil was known for.
Resident Evil 2 and 3 were both newer and more polished experiences.
Resident Evil: Code Veronica had also a newer scope.

Then there was the first game with its ancient structure, lesser scope and Jill sandwiches. Sure it was a classic, sure, but hadn’t the time passed and been quite harsh on poor Resident Evil from the original Playstation? Could it be that, one generation after, this game could be redone into something memorable, worthy of its time?

The answer is a resounding yes. Not only Capcom managed to make it completely fresh but also captivated us, eager waiters of Resident Evil 4, to go ahead and give them a chance to show us what they were about to do with Resident Evil. There was no revolution here, simply the work of polish in terms of graphics and gameplay to make it more in par with better 3D controls we had in 2002.

The infamous “tank controls” are still there, though one change which turned out to become ever-present in subsequent releases with pre-rendered background was introduced, the quick turn. By pressing back plus B you performed a quick 180º turn that made thing much more dynamic, offering different strategies to go head to head with zombies and the whole molecular engineered, DNA-twisting enemies that haunted the Spencer mansion in that iteration.

Tank controls simply mean that you walk frontwards while having the option to slightly change directions within the pre-rendered world. The camera is fixed at one point so the graphics are easily incredible, but they can’t be acted upon and are not in real-time. The scenarios by themselves are absolutely amazing noentheless, and they hold up their awesomeness up until this very day. The way Capcom used lighting with the background was eerily beautiful. The enemies reached maximum potential graphically. Hunters, spiders, dogs, zombies, all had assumed extremely detailed designs, something the atmosphere really profited from.

One of the aspects that got me more concerned when I thought of it as a remake of a 1998 game, the fact both RE2 and RE3 had accomplished the feat of extending the gameplay outside the bounds of a mansion or simply the outskirts of that central location, became one of its strong points. There’s heavy backtracking to be done here, no doubt, but it just serves to remind how beautiful and memorable each location was made out to be.

The claustrophobic thoughts abound your head thinking about such a clustered location full of secrets is unmatched. Some locations even had stuff like broken doorknobs, so if you used too much a door you wouldn’t be able to return through the original path, you’d have to rethink your movements around the mansion because of that. With such limited array of weapons and even more limited amount of ammunition, it was natural to kill enemies in corridors and pathways that you traveled more, while retaining the will to lose valuable resources with enemies in faraway areas or small one-time-only rooms.

Solving puzzles was basically what you had to do within the living hell you were placed into. There’s the average Resident Evil puzzle involving statues and weirdly-shaped keys. Along everything there was the intense sub-plots marked by journals, papers, notes and books found throughout the mansion stating the mundane everyday lives of the residents and Umbrella’s employees while working with some of the most dangerous chemically engineered bio-weapons one could think of.

The whole story of Resident Evil is one of the best-written pieces, not only in video-games, but in western culture overall. It revolves around a secret organization called Umbrella founded as a pharmaceutical company but hiding a much more morbid facade. Most people are already familiar with the general story but it’s worthy it to go into full-detail through the games and read all the small narratives. Reading them and forming the whole picture in your head is both gloomy as well as mysterious.

The gameplay is based on few items you can travel around in your inventory while administering the dozens of others in infinite chests found all around. The term infinite just means that when you place an item in a chest it become available in every other chest you might access. Figuring out which items are used in each situation is what really keeps us awake at night besides the haunting atmosphere.

The fact you may get an item in the beginning of the game that you’ll only use later in the end is something you need to account for. Another new treat was the inspection of items that could reveal new items, secret uses or even evidences that could lead to solving a whole different puzzle. You can also combine items to form final forms of crests or keys or whatever the game presents. It’s all part of the experience of Resident Evil puzzle solving.

While is might get overshadowed by recent releases, and at the time it only the fact that it was the first one of all the Resident Evil games planned for the GameCube, but this game might be the definitive Resident Evil survival-horror experience. It’s tank controls at its best, and while tank controls are in itself love-or-hate, if somehow that bothers you there’s no chance that any classic Resident Evil will ever be your cup of tea.

If not, just enter the survival horror.

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.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

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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

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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.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

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Monster Hunter is one of those series that aren’t exactly mainstream in the West so the hottest market for it is Japan, side by side with many other games that seemingly sell like water in a desert in Japanese markets yet the rest of the world doesn’t feel so strongly about. The fact it’s developed and published by Capcom never helped the game for me either. I’m not exactly the biggest Capcom fan around. So like mostly everyone else I let this one slide for as long as I can remember.

Still, the fact this was one of the few games that sported a decent gain in performance when upgraded from the original 3DS to the New 3DS caught my attention. Not because I had a New 3DS and wanted to see it outperforming the old one, quite the opposite really. I bought and played on the XL version of the original console, anything else just spiced up my curiosity.

I’m kind of glad I ended up buying it because Monster Hunter is a truly unique game. It’s not a game I’d deem without flaws but it’s certainly a game that its own flaws might be one of the selling points for some people.

The first thing you need to know is that this game is hardcore. Yes, its core is hard as a diamond, unbreakable in its purest form. It was never developed to be just an experience on the hands of the player like many modern games are, neither was it developed to be a simple cash-in for quarters in an antique arcade machine. This was designed to be incredibly hard, unforgiving in the most pragmatic sense of the word, but it’s not a cheap game.

We all know the drill when it comes to RPGs, you start small-time fighting your way through enemies that near the end basically can’t even hit you. You develop the character, but it develops a whole lot. Monster Hunter doesn’t follow this basic structure, instead, it only offers players with upgrades for equipment that will merely make you slightly stronger than you were before.

There is no leveling up to be found except for the palicoes — members of you party. It features a deep battle mechanic that takes a lot of time getting used to. In fact, most of the first 5 or so hours will be spent figuring out how every weapon in the game works and completing tutorial quests. Of course, you must be open to give this one a try to really enjoy the ride, if you’re the kind of person with very limited attention span who gets bored easily this definitely isn’t for you. This is not a traditional game in any way, shape or form; keep that in mind at all times.

It does feature a whole lot of hand-holding in the beginning, though it still feels like the game abruptly throws you out there to figure things out. These mixed feeling occur because even though the game does try to walk through everything it has to offer, it’s all so complex that only time will really get you going. You should feel overwhelmed at first but things only get better when you finally get the hang of it.

It’s also unclear at the beginning if this features a main story or not. After spending hundreds of hours playing I can safely say; both are true, it does and doesn’t feature a main story, at the same time! No kidding, I can explain. It does have a main story that unfolds as you progress, it does revolve around incentives for going through the campaign, but it’s definitely not traditional. It’s just a fancy way to tell you “well, things have gone to hell somewhere, go out on this quest!”.

The quests revolve around hunting beasts in several different maps, gathering items from specific locations, mining ores and other stuff; or anything that has to do with these things in slightly modified fashion. Hell, some quests only require you to go and do whatever you want for two minutes, it’s that crazy. And you know what? These are awesome, they simply take all the pressure for a few moments and you can simply gather resources knowing that not dying is your only priority.

Most quests have a 50 minute limit so you can’t just stick around for as long as you’d like, knowing how stuff works overall is pretty important especially in more advanced ones. From the items you gather in quests you can trade with merchants, earn money or combine items to create other, more useful items. I call myself a minimalist when it comes to RPGs, I always want to face challenges without having to spend items I might need in the future, when I reach the final boss I generally have enough to fight it 10 times over. This can’t be done here, unfortunately.

Combining items is such an essential part that even people like me who tend to focus on character evolution instead of a strong medicine box will have to rethink the way they see RPGs. Making stuff like Potions and Energy Drinks is essential to move through the game. You also have a limitation on how many you can take on a quest so over-preparing can only be done to a certain limit. Anything else you need to gather in that run and around the map you’re currently at.

You also have way too many things to keep taking care of. For instance, your weapon gets noneffective as you use it, so it’s always wise to bring sharpeners. Hunting a monster with an unsharpened sword is basically useless. As you move around and run your fatigue bar not only drains out, it also gets smaller. Having items to restore it is as important as keeping your health bar in good shape. In maps with lava or ice your health/fatigue bar can be depleted without ever reaching combat, so you need cool or hot drinks to keep your character up from intense cold/heat.

To fight you can choose up to 14 different types of weapons. From run-of-the-mill sword and shields to gunner weapons that require being loaded with ammunition constantly. Each of these 14 styles have unique ways of functioning and combos so most people will actually find out which one suits best for them and try to master it instead of constantly keep changing it. Another thing that comes into play are upgrades, it’s hard to keep a vast arsenal upgraded, so two or three weapons might be the way to go for most people.

Also, the monster you’re hunting won’t simply stay there and wait to get hunted, so you need to bring stuff like paintballs with you to track him down easily on the map instead of running around waiting luck to be on your side when it decides to flee. Another aspect is that the game is never paused — unless you hit the HOME button on the 3DS —  so the actions you take must be done in real-time while dealing with monsters that might chop off half of your health bar with one nicely landed attack.

The nature of the monsters are all very distinct, they are often separated in grounds of stars, the more stars a monster has the more dangerous it is. Some of them are just herbivores that barely attack you while others are incredible beasts that might take the whole of the 50-minute duration to plan out, find and execute your strategies of hunting them down effectively. Especially since some of them can throw stuff around, like some kind of corruption that hampers your defenses and only adds other items to the list you need to bring with you to recover from ailments.

You see, Monster Hunter has a wacky sense of humor, both in its comical dialog and interactions and the overall sense of it. The characters are awesome, the humor added in every bit of their character is refreshing and quite amusing. The game makes you at least grin in positive demeanor from its sillines while constantly slaps you in the face with its hardcoreness. You need to be prepared for whatever you’re about to face, if you aren’t, you will fail, and the game will make sure it happens without any trace of mercy.

The maps are simple overall, just a few numbered locations connected with each other; each map has like 8-12 locations disposed in varying ways. In low-rank you always start out in the camp with a few items needed for the quest to come. When you reach a certain point in the adventure you get promoted to high-rank which will randomly cast you out there with no primary equipment to fend for yourself. By the time you reach high-rank you’ll be able to discern which items you need and which items you don’t.

There’s also the palicoes which are adorable fighting cats that will accompany you during your quests. You have your main palico which will be the leader, after a while you’ll be able to find palicoes in maps and ask them to join you. Palicoes have differing attributes like healing, fighting, bombing, protection, and you can quest with your main palico and another one of your own choosing. Contrary to your main character your palicoes have levels which can be brought up as well as upgrades in equipment and skill set, though the end results are not as stark as the main character’s.

A few other game modes are present like quests to be done with friends both online or local. Generally the same ones you face in single-player but with some added difficulty when played in group. There’s also the expeditions which you don’t have a time limit and can explore and fight monsters to earn guild quests. Guild quests are good for those willing to grind since every time you beat a challenge you level up the challenge, and hunting higher leveled monsters generally hands out better loot.

Everything seems pretty nice and it is, though there are some things that actually bug me. Most of them are not exactly problematic in the most worrying sense of the word, but it makes the game a bit tedious at times. I’ll try to list every one of them.

The most problematic aspect in my opinion —  and naturally the worst aspect of it all — is hunting during expeditions. Instead of a limited time for completing the quests it features limitless exploration. The problem is, to even out the system, they added a mechanic that makes the monster to flee after some time. It only makes the game frustrating because if you have entry-level gears you won’t be able to effectively kill or capture the monster in time. In fact, even with high-end gear some monsters are purely based on luck for having them stay long enough.

Something else that might frustrate some but it’s certainly part of the Monster Hunter experience is how often you need to sharpen you weapons. During a normal hunt you’ll probably do it twice while some harder monster might require 3 or 4 sharpenings. That’s a little frustrating when you have so many stuff to be taking care of. Some monsters also run away too fast, especially when hurt; I know it simply makes sense, but still bothersome.

It’s sad to see how limited you are when it comes to items, if you could somehow carry whatever you wanted you could probably bypass the insane difficulty by taking more potions for example, the time limit would still be present so it wouldn’t be too steep of a change, allowing people to at least have a shot at higher difficulty challenges. All of these aspects are just me nit-picking on some of the more hardcore mechanics that would actually make the game more accessible while still maintaining its core gameplay.

Overall, this game is truly unique. Certainly not an adventure that will please most gamers, especially those accustomed to today’s standards where developers are too afraid to hurt their targeted userbase’s feelings with unnecessary difficulty. Monster Hunter seems to have a laugh at those who can’t penetrate its monolithic wall while pleasing those who dare further the steps onto it. If given enough credit, this game might please many while making others cringe in disappointment.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

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I have good memories form the original Luigi’s Mansion, one of those “hidden gems” from the GameCube days, since the GameCube itself is a hidden gems, it seems. It was a simple game that did many things right at the time. The follow-up, Dark Moon, is basically a simple game that does even more things right.

The light story behind everything offers just the right amount of details to make up for its humorous outcome, nothing is overdone, nothing taken extremely serious. Nintendo is not the best out there when it comes to story so it’s a relief that they didn’t try what they can’t deliver well.

Professor Elvin Gadd from the first game is back, he now lives in harmony with the ghosts and went on to become one of the leading experts in the field of paranormal science and ghosts. He lives in Evershade Valley after finding out that, somehow, the ghosts in this location are friendly and actually quite keen on helping humans. His research was going well until someday the ghosts started to become unwieldy and violent.

Being the scientist that he is he soon discovered that the reason the ghosts weren’t wild savage beats attacking everyone on sight was because of the strange moon called Dark Moon that existed in Evershade. Not surprisingly, the same day the ghosts started to wreak havoc around the lab was the same day the Dark Moon disappeared from the skies. Professor Elvin then realizes he need help from the one and only Luigi, the best and only ghost hunter he knows.

Luigi, upon being pixelated and transported through his own TV set, awakes in the lab of his old friend only to hear the briefing of what had happened. Luigi’s doesn’t seem too hell-bent to help set things right with all the ghosts wandering around but ultimately he agrees to do so. The Dark Moon has been shattered and it pieces scattered around, it’s up to you to find them all.

The best thing about this story is how humor plays a central role in all this. Professor Elvin is save and sound in a banker he had built beforehand which no ghost could ever gain entry while Luigi had to go through the horrors of the adjacent houses and locations. Luigi soon find the Poltergust 5000, an improved version of the previous Poltergust 3000, the vacuum cleaner used to capture ghosts.

The deal is pretty much the same, shed light onto the ghost to stun him for a brief moment and use the vacuum to suck him. Each ghost has a different set of attacks and health points which must be emptied to be able to completely capture them. Some of them will use everyday objects found within the house to shield themselves from the light, like pans or sunglasses. You should first disarm them before using the Poltergust.

In the GameCube days we had to use the C-stick to pull the ghosts away from the direction they were running to, only then you’d be able to decrease their health. In this one the lack of C-stick doesn’t even make a difference, you simply point to the inverted direction using the analog-stick, same one used for movement. If you think about it, it’s not different at all since you’ll probably be going the opposite direction anyway.

Many other gameplay mechanics were added like the flash from your flashlight. Before you just had to point the lantern to your foe to stun him, now you charge the flashlight and unleash a beam of light. The more you charge the wider and stronger the beam will be, good for capturing stronger foes and more than one ghost at a time. There’s also the dark-light lantern which lets Luigi see the invisible, be it ghosts, Boos, doors or furniture. Being invisible means that a special type of ghost has possessed said object and only by sucking them in it becomes visible again.

As it was, the R trigger sucks while the L trigger blows air. You sometimes have the opportunity to suck a balloon and stick it at the end of the vacuum’s tube. Blowing air out fills the balloon allowing Luigi to float around while sucking air deflates the balloon, making him lose altitude. Even without the C-stick to point the vacuum it’s still possible to at least point it up or down using the X and B buttons.

It also features the Power Surge, a special bar that starts filling out when capturing a ghost. When it fills up you can use the power to “super suck” health from the ghost, it starts with a level 1 Power Surge that deals 10 HP but upgrades can unlock better equipment that deals more damage. Power Surging a ghost hands out loot depending on the level used and how many ghosts were captured at one time.

The missions are as diverse as they can get, ranging from cleaning the house from spider webs to rescuing the professor’s assistants and getting them to safety.  There are more than one location to explore so this time you won’t be stuck in a single mansion, which is great.

Completionists had fun collecting money in the previous game, and this time they’ll have just as much. Every mission has records of how well the played has done in terms of time, number of ghosts captured, health lost and money collected. The money is not only for bragging rights or to get a 3-stars rating on missions, it’s also used to buy upgrades for the Pultergust 5000.

Another big plus here are the boss battles, each of them has a distinct and memorable touch. All of them require specific stuff to be done in order to succeed. Some of them even a little complex. After a while you should get the hang of it, but it’s not so obvious as in other Nintendo games, especially in those of Luigi’s brother, Mario.

Other than the main game mode you can check your collection of ghosts and their description at the vault. You can also check the weigh of the heaviest ghost of each type because apparently it’s also a thing. Then there’s the ScareScraper for those who want deepen their ghost-busting routines. A multiplayer mode that lets players take on local and online multiplayer up to 4 players in different difficulties and settings.

The multiplayer is pretty good, it’s one of the best multiplayer modes no one plays. There’s a few conceptual problems with it. For instance, it allows up to 25 floors of ghosts in ascending difficulty. People who want to complete the entries for both the main game and the ScareScraper ghosts might find it difficult to form a team that goes all the way up there. It should be allowed to join an on-going match after drops to make it more playable. If you have other 3 people willing to take up the challenge it turns out great.

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is as light-hearted as it can be, and with that it does most things it plans on doing absolutely right. It’s not groundbreaking in any way, the art style is reminiscent from the first game and even the sound effects, many are reused for an added nostalgia effect. The adventure is lengthy — around 20 hours or so — and should please most people. It’s nice that at least Luigi found a niche style for himself.

Mario Kart 7

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Good thing this release has the number on the name because, frankly, after Double Dash I simply lost count. Mario Kart seems stuck in time for all the good and bad reasons anyone could think of. There’s little to no room for improvements and whatever this room may be it’s pretty much covered here, online gaming.

Race picturesque tracks against Nintendo’s all-stars using all sorts of nonsensical items aiming for victory at all costs, that has been the premise since the beginning, and continues to be so.Nintendo got rid of some inclusions made throughout the years in favor of cohesion, like the Chain Chomps for example; it works.Items come in two forms, usable or equipable. Like the mushroom which gives a speed boost and is simply discarded afterward, or stuff like the Raccoon tail which lets you swing at enemies. Some of these equipped items are momentary, like the afore-mentioned Raccoon tail, others simply stay there like the circling shells.

The circuit quickly becomes too chaotic for its own good, I wish Nintendo would simply implement a single player mode where no items would be allowed. You can do it on multiplayer but on single player you need to deal with the abhorrent waves of blue shells every time you’re in first place, as well as the rubber-band CPU which will catapult the enemies right at your tail whenever you get too good for your own well being.

There are 8 cups, each one has 4 stages within. Along the way, as it’s been for a while, you can unlock the mirror mode which does exactly what you might have guessed. The first four regular cups have new tracks while the other four all feature old Mario Kart tracks for previous games. this has been a must have in the series since the first Game Boy Advance release. It’s a good move because you instantly recognize these ones, also, some feature simplicity in design, like the ones found in Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64, which is always a good idea. In tracks so full of jumps, underwater pathways and minimal design sequences made simply to appeal the eye, simplicity comes to be welcomed.

The difficulties are the same as always, 50, 100 and 150 cc. Also known as easy, normal and challenging. Again, as long as overall difficulty goes, the differing speeds won’t make much difference when the CPU can speed up the its racers whenever it feels like it. It controls fine however, they didn’t go Double Dash on this one and kept the jump button, it’s through jumping that the mini-turbos are performed, how it should be kept as far as I’m concerned.

The differences between racers are less eminent here. What really changes things up are the parts you choose for the kart. You get to choose 3 different pieces, the body, the wheels and the glider. Jumping and gliding is such an integral part of Mario Kart 7 that a specified item will take care of that, changing how your kart deals with jumps. Heavier karts have less air time while lighter vehicles could even cut good amounts of a track simply by gliding through it. A few shortcuts might come about here and there involving this mechanic.

The wheels are the main speed modifier and some even go beyond this. Like the sponge wheel which ease the extreme speed loss when going off-track. In multiplayer you can change before each track played while in grand prix mode you need to play all 4 tracks with whatever set you chose at the beginning. The body part also affects speed but also tells how heavy you car is. Some designs make a come back, like the barrel train body from Double Dash.

The added bonus for Mario Kart has always been the deathmatch stages where people fight with balloons, trying to burst each other’s with items while keeping their own. This time the balloons are back along with a coin chase mode which chooses the winner based on how many coins they can gather in a determined period of time. You can play these modes online so it’s a pretty sweet deal.

The online is what makes it stand out, for the first time it’s done well. It’s also worth noting that Mario Kart continues popular throughout the years so even years after the release it’s quite easy to find people willing to have a few races in the world wide web. before it begins everyone chooses a track and a randomizer will determined which of the chosen tracks will be played.

Players can create groups which gather information about who are the top winners and stuff like that. These groups also let other types of rules be chosen, like only mushrooms races, for example. Each player can keep track of how many wins and loses they have. It works great because you don’t have to necessarily reach first place to win. let’s say you gather 8 people to race and you finish 5th, you still have 3 wins for that much as well as 4 losses. If you make it first place you get all 7 wins as you beat all other players. Great system.

It’s safe to say that Mario Kart is a fail-proof kind of game, as long as Nintendo sticks to basics and don’t try to change the core mechanic of the game people won’t complain. It could lead to disastrous results (Double Dash) or it could lead to this, a well balanced racing game that does nothing except what’s expected of it. It can be a good thing for some, it can be bad for others, take you pick.

What you get in the end is a solid Mario Kart experience that should quench the thirst of anyone aching for the regular Mario Kart. Anyone expecting more that that, especially since Nintendo in the last few years basically seemed to only release games that have a definite stir in the way they are played, be it touch screen or motion controls, should tread cautiously. There’s nothing beyond ordinary here, maybe that a good thing.