Keepin’ It Real

Lightning

Dear Retro(readers),

Been a minute and some change since we’ve all (five of us) chatted it up. If any of you follow me on Nintendojo, you’ll know that I’ve been far from sitting on my laurels, but my production here has been sadly abysmal, of late. There is a very good reason for this; actually, there are several reasons for this, so let me explain. First, school (which is proving to be more intensive in the summer than I was expecting!). Second, Nintendojo (they’re priority number one, without a doubt!). Three… is a secret. Shhhhhh. TOP secret, I should add. It might actually be priority number one, now that I think about it, but there’s no point in quibbling-it’s big.

So big, that things will continue to be a tad quiet around here for the foreseeable future. I will make a promise, though, and say that my super secret project I’m working on will be announced here when I finally do decide to make it known to the good people of the intertubes. Being real, for a moment, if not FOR Retro(spective), I wouldn’t even have the opportunity to work on what I’m doing right now, so I have to tip my hat to all my WordPress friends out there. Please bear with me in this crazy busy moment of my life. Retro is far from dead, far from done. Until things quiet down, I’m going to continue updating the Published tab, so if you’d like to keep up with my Nintendojo work, be sure to head there! Frankly, if you like what I type here… it’s not that different from the website.

More updates as I have them. Have a good summer, everyone! And don’t worry, the big reveal will be worth it when you finally hear about it, I promise! I will tease you a bit and say if you’re a fan of classic Nintendo… you WILL want to know what I’ve been working on!

E3 2014 Overview

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Whoo, buddy. E3 2014 was my first time to the big show, and what a show it was. All three companies came out swinging with solid showings, highlighting a variety of titles that seem to have a great deal of potential. For Sony, I found myself most interested in their reveal of LittleBigPlanet 3 and Uncharted 4 (though I’m really hoping that installment isn’t the end of the line for the series). Microsoft wowed me with its Master Chief Collection. That’s the sort of fan service that I’ve only ever seen come from a company like Nintendo, but I don’t think even its ever done anything as ambitious as what Microsoft is attempting. Nintendo, though, ran away with the show, as far as I’m concerned. Nearly every game on its show floor was a must-have, and the lineup was packed with both familiar faces and pleasant surprises. All in all, Nintendo had the complete package, and it was very apparent.

So, here’s looking forward to the rest of this year and beyond, and please check out my little gallery of pics, below!

 

REVIEW-Mario Kart 8

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It’s not every day that I can say I raced up the face of a waterfall. Well, until I picked up Mario Kart 8, that is. The latest entry in Nintendo’s storied racing franchise will be keeping me busy scaling cascading waters for the foreseeable future, as it’s crammed with that and many more memorable moments besides. While Mario Kart games have never been known for resting on their laurels, MK8 has managed to take the stellar foundation built by Mario Kart 7 and multiply it by a factor of ten. The raw horsepower of Wii U has allowed Nintendo’s developers to let loose with a cavalcade of innovation and creativity that sets MK8 firmly in the upper echelon of the series. Not only that, but Nintendo has also produced one of the marquee experiences of this latest generation of consoles.

Graphics aren’t the most important aspect of any video game, but there’s no denying when something extra pretty has graced a television screen. MK8 stuns with brilliant lighting, rich detail, and some of the most ingenious art design the series has yet seen. Moo Moo Meadows blew me away with its dawn sky, a florid pink pocked with clouds and a low hanging sun, complimented by effervescent puffs of morning mist hovering over the racetrack. Titles like Super Mario 3D World and Pikmin 3 have been landmarks for what Wii U can accomplish graphically, but during my time with MK8, I couldn’t help but feel that it might be the most beautiful game on the system. There is so much to soak in from the environments alone that a person could spend hours racing and see something new almost every time. The tracks are so fully-realized and unique that they warrant having a Mario platformer built around them. I’d also like to point out the wonderful, fully-orchestrated soundtrack. MK8 sounds as great as it looks.

All this beauty would be wasted if the track design didn’t hold up, and luckily it does, with ease. Following the train of thought that inspired Nintendo to release the series into the sky and sea in MK7, Mario Kart is now also devoid of the limitations of gravity. Anti-grav features prominently in MK8, and entire tracks are designed around the new mechanic. Courses like Mount Wario have a bevy of vertical inclines and corkscrews that simply wouldn’t have been plausible within past series installments. Unshackling the developers as Nintendo did breathed fresh air into the designers, who have in turn rewarded players with some of the smartest and most engaging race tracks in years. Anti-grav adds to the wow-factor of the game, certainly, but it also serves to spice up some of the racing stratagems that fans have come to know like the backs of their hands. Image

Taking a cue from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, MK8 offers numerous control options. Motion controls, GamePads, Pro Controllers, Wii Classic Controllers, and Wii Remote and Nunchuks are all viable options to play MK8, and they all work great. Even Motion Controls, which I personally am not partial to, have been made more precise for MK8. Powersliding is much as it has been since Mario Kart Wii, but the re-introduction of coins on home consoles is a surprising and fun addition. Much like MK7, each coin collected provides a minute boost of momentum, while also increasing a racer’s baseline speed (which maxes at ten coins). The new items are also notable, with the Boomerang (which can be launched and returned three times!) and Super Horn (which obliterates Blue Shells!) being particular standouts.

Oddly, there’s a major change to item pickups that left me scratching my head. Where previous Mario Karts allowed for many items to be held in perpetuity behind a kart, which then freed the racer to snag another item to use afterwards, players are now limited to a single item at a time. Gone are the days of dangling a Banana behind a racer and keeping a Green Shell in wait! What this contributes to game balance is questionable, as it’s been a series mainstay for years with little to no complaint. The omission isn’t horrible, but it felt extremely limiting and unnecessary. Also somewhat odd is MK8‘s roster; though there are 30 racers to choose from, there is an overwhelming number of baby racers, not to mention all of the Koopalings. I was thrilled to see characters like the Shy Guys and Rosalina, but the variety of past Mario Karts has been somewhat diminished. It’s a joy to see the Koopalings, no doubt, but combined with the other members of the roster, that’s a lot of turtles and tiny characters!

Nitpicks aside, Nintendo has hit another home run with MK8‘s online multiplayer. Matchmaking is a synch, and I experienced smooth and solid races. I do find it grating that Nintendo continues to pessimistically limit online connectivity via headsets and private matchmaking, but MK8‘s multiplayer is fun whether offline or on. Mario Kart TV is surprisingly entertaining, by the way. Whether by phone or console, it’s easy to run through the highlights of a previous race and post them online. I made an especially wicked turnaround at the end of one race, and was thrilled to be able to share it with fellow Mario Kart fans. I can only hope that a similar feature makes its way into Super Smash Bros. There is one aspect of multiplayer that has been butchered, though, and it’s Battle Mode. Custom arenas have been replaced by a small selection of stock tracks, where players are tasked with zooming around aimlessly trying to pop one another’s three balloons. Whatever the reason for the mode’s diminished capacities, it’s a major letdown.

MK8 is easily a top three contender for best Wii U game. Outside of a few niggling oddities and small blemishes, the pure bliss of soaring across MK8‘s wonderful courses is as close to gaming perfection as it gets. I was enveloped by the sheer spectacle of it all, and have found playing has become almost compulsory, at this point. MK8‘s online multiplayer will inevitably prove to be as addictive as Call of Duty’s for most fans, and Mario Kart TV is a nice addition that suits the series well. Wii U’s library continues to grow, and with a bloom like MK8, it’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting to join the fun.

Score: 9.1/10

+ Superb graphics; tight controls; multiple controller options; great soundtrack; clever course design; smooth online; Mario Kart TV

- Odd item limitations; roster isn’t particularly varied; online connectivity remains rocky for folks wanting to play with friends; Battle Mode neutered

Intermission

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Getting tired of the semi-hiatus here at Retro(spective)? (All five of you, I mean). Me, too! I did warn everyone though, so I’m not losing too much sleep over it, but still, nothing worse than dead air. What can I say, school has been a beast lately, Nintendojo (which you all should be reading) always has something percolating, and well, I can’t write about games if I don’t play them! Summer approaches, though, so expect things to start getting livelier as we move deeper into June.

Mario Kart 8 will be getting the old review treatment, and expect the same for Tomodachi Life, too. Beyond that, E3 is going to be huge. What I don’t post for Nintendojo will be here, so look forward to hands-on time with whatever amazingness lies in wait for this year’s show. I’d also like to point out, Retro(spective)’s one year anniversary is also fast approaching! Maybe I’ll… give something away in celebration! Exciting times await, dear readers! I hope you’ll all be along for the ride.

Tomodachi Life: Move-In Version Impressions

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I really had no clue what to expect when I played Tomodachi Life: Move-In Version. Nintendo has been disseminating the demo (seemingly) at random to Platinum-status Club Nintendo members, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a download code in my inbox. Rather than the typical 30 uses normally allotted to 3DS eShop demos, Move-In Versionis a limitless, pared-down iteration of the full game. Even after watching the mini Nintendo Direct that detailedTomodachi Life, I found myself with more questions than answers, so I was stoked to get this opportunity to learn about the title firsthand. I have a feeling I’m not alone in my cluelessness, so sit back and join me as I delve into Move-In Version!

The demo started off by asking me to name the island where the game takes place. It’s not a tropical island, though, but rather a small city with a lone beach sitting in the water. I christened my new getaway Oakland Island (you’re stuck with the word “Island” no matter what name you choose), and from there Move-In asked me to make a duplicate Mii. Either an existing Mii or a new one can be selected, so I pegged the Robert already on my 3DS… and that’s when the hilarity ensued. After assigning a Mii, the demo wanted details like date of birth, favorite color, whether I was a grown-up or a kid, and most importantly, a name. The name, my friends, is where Tomodachi began to assert itself.

Tomodachi Life features a synthetic voice system allowing for in-game speech. Once I typed in my name and proceeded forward, I was shocked to hear my Mii start talking! To be clear, the voice isn’t in any way a true replication of how the player actually sounds. Instead, Nintendo opted for an intentionally digital and semi-robotic sound, instead, and handed customization of it to the player. I spent a few minutes tweaking the pitch and tone of the voice until it sounded close to me, in spirit, and I was chuckling non-stop as I did. It was very reminiscent of the pure joy I felt the first time I made Miis on Wii, as it was entertaining just to make avatars that looked like the people I know. With Move-In, that same whimsical spark is back, as it added another layer of immersion to the experience.

Nintendo also found an ingenious workaround for trickier name pronunciations via a phonetic input option. The game displays your name the way it’s written, but then allows for a phonetic version of it to be keyed in separately in case the computer doesn’t say it right. My last name, Marrujo, is pronounced muh-roo-ho; I typed in Murruho into Move-In, and the computer got it spot on! It’s a small touch, but I think very important for folks to really gel with what Tomodachi is trying to accomplish. With my name in place, Move-In proceeded to ask other questions about me to ascertain my personality. On a sliding scale, I set how fast I moved, how polite I am when speaking, and other traits, which the demo then used to formulate a snapshot of me as a person. It was surprisingly close! In this abbreviated version ofTomodachi Life, players are limited to two other Mii characters who can be made, and I had a blast recreating Angela (my sister and fellow Nintendojo writer!) and one of my friends.

Interestingly, I expected, after making my Mii, to be able to control him directly, but everything actually happens by way of menu screens and tapping the touch screen, instead. At first, I was disappointed, because I initially had visions of Animal Crossing with Miis floating through my mind, but then I started playing, and it clicked. Tomodachi isn’t Animal Crossing, though there are shades of it present, but something more akin to a really goofy, almost surreal Sims. The Miis players create all live in a big apartment, with their own individual residences. Players then go room by room visiting and interacting with each Mii and solving problems for them. Money is used in the game to go and buy the items needed to feed and clothe the Miis, and as problems are resolved, more money is rewarded and the characters level up. This leveling system rewards new items and other perks, like the ability to give the Miis catchphrases to say (oh, the shenanigans of putting words into other people’s mouths!).

Again, not having control over the Miis’ movement seemed disappointing, but there was so much to do that I quickly stopped caring that I couldn’t move around in a traditional way. The island has different buildings and shops to click on, with some open right away, while others are constructed after completing specific criteria in the game. Between choosing different foods to feed my characters (which itself is interesting because not every Mii likes the same thing!), talking with them, and seeing what they’re doing at any given moment, I was enthralled with the wealth of activity taking place. With just three Miis (the full game allows for over 100 to be in the apartment), I was hooked waiting to see what they did next. What’s more, when the full version of the game comes out, I can transfer the Miis from Move-In and get a couple of exclusive panda outfits, as a bonus.

One other thing about the Miis: they start forming relationships with each other. When creating Miis, the player designates how they relate to the main, duplicate Mii. On my island, I listed Angela as a sibling and the other as unrelated (the game is only specific about familial ties). As the characters go about their lives, they can become friends, hate each other, or even fall in love and have a baby! The more of the Miis’ problems that are solved, the more the island grows and expands, and the more the Miis do, too. It’s an interesting system that seems rife with possibilities– possibilities that I can’t wait to check out in the full game. Especially because, as I mentioned earlier, the gameplay is just so darn entertaining and funny!

I was having a great time watching my Miis roll around on the floor of their apartments for no reason, or aimlessly dig holes in the sand at the beach. The animations aren’t anything beyond what other Mii-centric titles have featured over the years, but the personality and expressiveness is unlike anything yet seen with Nintendo’s lovable creations. Nintendo’s localization team is second to no one, as the quirkiness of the Miis, including the bombastic dialogue, is so perfectly conveyed here. While this isn’t a game that everyone will love, I think that fans of Animals Crossing, The Sims, and other offbeat titles should be excited for Tomodachi‘s release. The demo gave just enough to let me know what to expect when the full game releases, but also left me wanting way more. The handful of things I got to do just got me wondering what else to expect, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on Tomodachi Life when it releases in a couple of weeks on June 6!

Mario Kart 8 Impression

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In case you didn’t get in on the fun, Nintendo had Mario Kart 8 preview events at GameStops this past weekend, and I was lucky enough to give the game a go. I’ve been with the Mario Kart series since its debut on SNES, and have thoroughly enjoyed every installment since. Mario Kart 7 has become something of a benchmark for me following its release on 3DS, with its brilliant new air and underwater additions to the racing formula, so I had very high expectations for 8 as I walked into my local GameStop. I’m happy to report that if the final game is anything like what I sampled, fans have quite a bit to look forward to when it drops on May 30th.

From the outset, the MK8 demo hits the ground running, as players are greeted by way of Mario shouting the title’s name with total abandon. Just to reiterate, this isn’t the final game, so I’m assuming there might be tweaks to certain things in the game’s final retail version. That being said, I enjoyed the serenity of selecting a racer then quickly assembling a kart to my liking. As in MK7, 8 has carried over the simple mix and match system of combining chassis, wheels and tires, and gliders, which I hope is never abandoned. Besides the strategic aspect of it, kart customization adds a small flourish of individuality that I greatly appreciate. From there, players select from one of eight tracks, and it’s off to, well, the races!

It never ceases to amaze me how easy Nintendo makes track design look in the Mario Kart games. In just the small sampling of races that the MK8 demo affords, I was floored by an incredible variety of courses. Toad Harbor feels like a pseudo-San Francisco with its hilly roads and cable cars, while Sunshine Airport sends a jetliner straight at the player as they glide through the air. In terms of visuals, it’s easily one of the top games on Wii U. My eyes were darting all over the screen trying to soak in every glittery detail of the tracks I was zooming around. If Wii U is “last-gen”, I don’t ever want to leave.

As far as course design goes, the MK8 demo is also tops. Course layouts are intentionally pulse-pounding, with mini-events like the incoming jetliner I described packed into every course, which is both visually arresting but also a means of keeping players on their toes. What seem like simple eye candy is often an obstacle or hazard in disguise, tasking players to act on the fly to avoid crashing and falling behind. What’s more, sometimes these events happen once per race, which further amps up the thrills. It’s not as jarringly chaotic as I’m making it sound, either, as players will have clear indications of when road conditions change or a hazard is incoming; it’s a more than fair setup. Essentially, it’s a new way of making every race unique and fun, no matter how many times someone plays through the game.

Finally, the controls are as rock solid as ever. I played using the GamePad and Wii Racing Wheel, and while I race exclusively with traditional analogue stick and button controls, I was pleasantly surprised at how much better the motion tracking was in the demo than Mario Kart Wii. That not to say MK Wii had rotten motion controls, but MK8 is clearly a step up. Regardless of which setup I used, my racer controlled perfectly. That’s important, given the insane amount of action happening on the screen. The transition from land to sea to air is as smooth as it was in MK7, and the new anti-grav mechanic is equally sound. It might seem like a mundane new feature, but anti-grav is a thrill to experience. Racing along a wall with other drivers below me was mind-bending and exciting. The avenues this opens for finding shortcuts was not lost on the developers, either, so look forward to secrets peppered about that tie-in to the mechanic.

Overall, I think Nintendo has put together a racer to be proud of. I couldn’t get enough of the demo and found myself even more hyped up for MK8 than I was before. May 30th can’t get here soon enough, and when it does, I’ll be following up with a full review!

REVIEW-Kirby Triple Deluxe

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Let’s get something out of the way early; Kirby games are intentionally made to be easy to play. While not a genre, in the traditional sense, the approachability of Kirby games is a part of the series’ DNA. As such, I go into playing any Kirby title with my expectations set accordingly. I don’t pigheadedly declare that Kirby has to be harder, just like how I don’t decide that a first-person shooter shouldn’t have shooting, or that a racing game should have much less driving. I don’t think it’s right to slam a game for not being what I want it to be; a game should be reviewed for what it is and if the developers made their vision into a reality.

With that out of the way, let’s return to Kirby Triple Deluxe, the latest platformer from the talented folks at HAL Laboratory. Like 2011′s Kirby’s Return to Dream Land for Wii, Triple Deluxe is a traditional 2D Kirby platformer, with the usual dynamic compliment of copy abilities, inhaling, and floating in tow. Players are cast as Kirby, who finds his world being pulled skyward by a mysterious, giant beanstalk (called a Dreamstalk), and his arch-nemesis/sometimes-buddy King Dedede being carried away by a mysterious figure. The chase is on to find out where the stalk is from and who’s abducted Dedede! Kirby games do a good job of balancing between recycling plots and characters of old while also introducing new ones, and Triple Deluxe is no different. It’s no Shakespeare, but I was genuinely curious to find out who was causing all the mayhem.

3DS continues to amaze me with the quality of visuals it’s capable of producing. Triple Deluxe is a triumph of art direction and graphics that ranks right up there with Kid Icarus: Uprising and Super Mario 3D Land. I don’t know if it’s a company mandate that Nintendo platformers no longer stick to worlds with specific themes (ice, lava, forest, etc.), but continuing the trend was a brilliant move, as Triple Deluxe is a visual feast as a result. Levels float freely between different types of hazards and aesthetics, which helps keep gameplay varied and interesting. One level featured pillars of water shooting from the background forwards, surrounded on all sides by pools of magma. The texture work is stunning, and the animations of Kirby and his enemies fills the game with life. If there’s one weak link in the presentation, it’s the music. While it’s not as sickeningly saccharine as more recent soundtracks in the series (which I appreciated), it’s pretty by the numbers. There are some memorable tracks, but I wasn’t wowed by it, for the most part.

Along with Kirby’s Hypernova powers (which we’ll get to in a bit), the game’s primary gameplay hook is the ability to swap between the background and foreground of the environment. Similar to Donkey Kong Kong Country Returns, the game’s camera will often remain stationary as Kirby shrinks into the background, where gameplay continues unabated. HAL really had some fun with the new play control dynamic, as there are a ton of new challenges centered around switching back and forth. It’s never treated arbitrarily or abused, either; the use of swapping is expertly balanced so it that never feels like a gimmick. Unlike many of the more recent releases on 3DS, Triple Deluxe relishes in the 3D capabilities of 3DS. Switching planes is one aspect of the game that really benefits from the visual trickery, and while not necessary (2DS users will be able to play just fine), it adds some flair to the already beautiful graphics.

There are other areas where the level design shines, in particular the mini-boss and boss battles. The mini-boss battles, I’d like to point out, aren’t limited to the usual encounters with bulkier baddies like Mr. Frosty, for instance, but full-on fights. The battles are impromptu and kept me on my toes, as I never knew when to expect them. Each successive fight had me grinning from ear to ear as I learned to lob things into the screen to hit the enemy on the background plane, or whatever unique stratagem was needed to come out victorious.  One tool that came in handy during some of these battles was the aforementioned Hypernova ability. Granted by a piece of fruit that appears in certain stages, it allows Kirby to inhale godly sums of items and enemies, regardless of size. While perhaps not the most original move added to Kirby’s repertoire, HAL employed some wonderful uses of Hypernova. It was fun using Kirby’s giant maw to pull back on a ball and chain to destroy obstacles, as well as inhale gargantuan eels. I hope Hypernova finds its way into future Kirby games.

In the spirit of Return to Dream Land‘s Energy Spheres, Triple Deluxe has a number of Sun Stones to find in each stage. The final stage in a level can only be reached if a certain number of them have been gathered, and those who make the effort to find all of them are rewarded with an extra stage. Along with the Sun Stones, there is also a whole host of 8 and 16-bit keychains to obtain throughout the adventure. The trinkets range from common to rare, and are randomly awarded at the end of each stage. As I mentioned earlier, Kirby games aren’t known for their difficulty, but coupled with its excellent level design and some truly dastardly Sun Stones to retrieve, Triple Deluxe is no pushover. Boss battles in particular can be quite beastly if a less than optimal copy ability is equipped beforehand! Between the Sun Stones, keychains, and smart level and boss designs, even hardcore players will face a respectable challenge. I will note, though, that sometimes the boss fights spike the difficulty level a bit out of the blue, and with ability selection being something of a crapshoot, it made some altercations unfairly cumbersome. It’s not game breaking, but I think that HAL could have done better, here.

Beyond the single player campaign, Triple Deluxe also offers a handful of other modes. Kirby Fighters is a fighting mini-game that plays somewhat like a scaled-down Super Smash Bros., and Dedede’s Drum Dash, a rhythm-platform mini-game. While not beefy enough to warrant their own full games, both are excellent diversions and time killers. I was particularly taken by Drum Dash, which offered a  potent mixture of game mechanics. Finally, StreePass is devoted to swapping keychains with other players. The keychains, by the way, act almost like the trophies in Smash Bros., as they’re each based on a character or enemy from past Kirby games, recreated pixel by pixel. StreetPass should neatly assist satisfying what will surely become an addiction for many fans! Altogether, there is a ton of content to experience in Triple Deluxe that will keep players busy well beyond the conclusion of the main game. This is a game easily worth any player’s time, be they a rookie or veteran player. Make your day deluxe and buy a copy of Kirby’s latest game!

Score: 8.7/10

+ Excellent graphics and art direction; Level design is brilliant and varied; Hypernova ability and keychain collecting; Plane swapping provides for some clever battles and puzzles.

- Some boss battles arbitrarily ramp up the difficulty level, with players unable to compensate with at least a favorable ability equipped.