E3 2014 Overview

Image

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!

 

Intermission

Image

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

Image

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!

REVIEW-Kirby Triple Deluxe

Image

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.

Virtual Consolation

Image

As much as I’m desperate for Nintendo to get its Game Boy Advance games onto 3DS, I’m stoked for tomorrow’s launch lineup of titles hitting Wii U’s Virtual Console service.  People love to tout games like Super Metroid and A Link to the Past (as they should!), but I truly believe that GBA had a rich catalogue that easily equalled some of the best 16-bit titles of the SNES era. Games like Metroid Fusion, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, The Minish Cap, and Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance are just a handful of the excellent experiences that players got to enjoy on GBA. It’s essential that this initiative succeeds on Wii U to help insure that these wonderful titles don’t fade into obscurity.

As much flack as I’ve given Nintendo’s Virtual Console service over the years, there’s no denying what a wonderful thing it is for gamers to have access to. There are so many exceptional games to play on VC that most folks can only dream of ever getting hold of as physical copies. Unlike just about every other form of media and entertainment, video games, especially the old, classic ones, are landlocked to whichever piece of hardware they first appeared on. No old NES meant no old NES games for years, until VC launched on Wii. Thankfully, Nintendo is opening the vault to give a greater variety of its handheld games some time in the sun.

GBA remains one of my favorite consoles of all time. All three form factors were comfortable and attractive (yes, even the original, with it’s unlit screen and AA batteries). The SP is usually the default favorite for many when it comes to this generation of Nintendo handhelds, and for good reason, as it represented a true evolutionary leap in design for the company. I’ve always loved the Micro best though; sleek, light, perfect. GBA, like GameCube, was also the end of simple consoles. Plug in a game, flip the power on, and straight to playing a game. No user interfaces or home screens to be bothered with, just pure, unfettered gaming.

Oddly, there’s not much recognition for the fact that GBA helped keep 2D game design alive and thriving. The world was enthralled with polygons and 3D worlds at the time, so classic platformers and top-down RPGS were all but gone from home consoles. GBA let devs continue to produce the sorts of titles that were being shunned elsewhere, up until the industry finally realized there was room for both styles of play. Metroid Prime is an incredible game, but the world would be a less interesting place if Metroid Zero Mission never was released. GBA kept the old traditions alive for an entire generation of gamers that would have been robbed of them, otherwise.

When the eShop gets updated tomorrow, I’ll be ready to start downloading some very fun games. Good luck tomorrow, Nintendo! Here’s hoping folks show these games the appreciation they deserve.

REVIEW-Tappingo

Image

Tappingo | 3DS eShop

According to my 3DS’s Activity Log, I spent about six hours playing Tappingo from start to finish. Don’t let what sounds like a short playtime deceive you, as that’s actually six hours of feverish, enthusiastic engagement. Someone taking their time will likely get through Tappingo over a longer period of play, as its 104 puzzles are challenging and take some thought to get through. This is the sort of puzzle game that is worth playing; fun in spurts or long sessions, cerebral, and balanced.

Tappingo is reminiscent of Picross, as a series of square tiles must be arranged to form pixelated images of a variety of objects and creatures. Like Nintendo’s puzzler, Tappingo‘s numbered squares indicate how many tiles need to be placed in a given row, but there’s a catch; the player extends the line of tiles manually, but the line won’t stop until it hits another tile. Thus, tiles marked with a two, for example, are only supposed to shoot forward two spaces, but unless another line is jutting out to halt its progression, it won’t end where it should. Players spend their time in Tappingo extending lines so that each intersects with another to hit the right length and finish the picture.

Image

Unlike Picross, the flow of lines is forgiving, with no penalties for backtracking to rearrange tiles properly. This lets the player be less conservative while solving puzzles, but to avoid being completely non-aggressive, the game tracks completion times to keep things competitive. Speed freaks will get a thrill out of shaving seconds off their best times, which also adds some replay value to Tappingo. The music was pleasing but not particularly memorable; I would have liked a couple of different tracks just to keep things more interesting, While the game also isn’t a tour de force of 3DS’s graphical muscles, I found the pixel art charming and well-done. Some of the later images were particularly intricate and impressive. There are also some nice 3D effects when the final image is revealed at the end of a puzzle.

The touch controls were handled well; very responsive, which is important because some puzzles run to the very edge of the touch screen. My one gripe with the interface was that an errant tap of a single tile can sometimes send an entire line shooting back, which disrupts multiple other sections of a puzzle and ruins all your hard work. A simple reset button would have been welcome, as opposed to going back and manually readjusting everything all over again just to right one, little mistake. On the other hand, the puzzles are timed, so it’s possible the developers were trying to emphasize accuracy, but with tiles so small, it felt a bit unreasonable.

For a paltry $2.99, 3DS owners can snag this wonderful puzzle game. The concept is fresh and innovative, and with a perfect difficulty curve and forgiving gameplay, players will want to make their way to the final puzzle. While it can be brutal having to redo sections, the satisfaction of weaving all the different lines together is very rewarding. Go download Tappingo today!

Score: 8.5/10

+ Fun gameplay with a unique gimmick; pleasant pixel art; a lot of puzzles; balanced difficulty curve; decent replay value for speedsters.

– Backtracking to redo sections can become monotonous; not enough music variety.

E3 Anticipation

It’s only March, but I can’t help but think about E3 2014 and how very close it is. Soon, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft will be promoting their newest games (and maybe hardware!) for the world to see, but half the fun is guessing what those reveals might be! Here are five things I’m looking forward to seeing at E3 2014!

5) Halo 5

Last year’s demo built hype, certainly, but it seems likely that we’ll finally get a true glimpse at Halo 5 this E3. Or Halo something-or-other, because Microsoft has been coy about committing to the traditional numbering from the Xbox and Xbox 360 days. Taking a cue from the comic book companies and trying to ditch “intimidating” high numbers on its boxes might be Microsoft’s goal (which sucks), but no matter what Halo 5 is ultimately called won’t mean a thing if the game can’t maintain the high quality the series is known for. Given how embraced Halo 4 was, I think it’s a safe bet that Halo 5 will be just fine. That being said… what comes next for Master Chief?! I’m torn whether I want to see something radically different or more of the same, awesome Halo gameplay we all know and love.

4) New Vita IP

I don’t care what anyone says, Tearaway was an amazing game that played to Vita’s strengths. It was as charming as LittleBigPlanet and a breath of fresh air regardless of platform. I’d love to see a sequel make its way to Vita (or even PS4), but I’d also like to see some more, original IPs head to the handheld, preferably straight from Sony itself. PSP brought the world the wonderful Patapon and Loco Roco series (which need Vita sequels, like, NOW), and I’m curious what other sorts of unique, fun handheld games Sony has up its sleeve.

3) Mega Man

It’s just sad that fans have been waiting years now for a true, new Mega Man game from Capcom, but that’s the world we live in, folks. With all the attention that Mighty No.9 has been (justly) receiving, it would be foolish of Capcom not to capitalize on the Blue Bomber. There’s room for both series in the world, and maybe now would be a good time to unveil a Mega Man title to create some friendly competition between Comcept and Capcom. Fans would be the winners, in the end, no matter what! Just to geek out a bit, here, but after the Worlds Collide crossover between the Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog comics by the folks at Archie, I’d love to play a video game with the two characters. The comic was fun and introduced some weapons concepts that would be awesome to see in action!

2) New Nintendo Hardware

I’m thinking that Nintendo will either reveal a new variation of the Wii U hardware or a redesigned 3DS. As far as Wii U goes, I don’t foresee a full-blown redesign, but I can picture Nintendo either doing something to make the system differentiate itself more from the original Wii, or offer models with way more memory or a slimmer GamePad. A redesigned 3DS is probably the safer bet here. The base model 3DS remains the weak link of the three versions of the handheld, with low battery life and some clunky design choices (I’m looking at you, Home/Pause/Select buttons!). As it stands now, the 3DS is the middle child and not all that appealing. I’d be pretty happy to see Nintendo put out a new model that’s reminiscent of the XL’s design, with rounded edges, better buttons, slightly bigger screens, and longer battery life. Make it ultra thin, and it would be pretty dang cool.

1) New Zelda

This is a foregone conclusion, as Nintendo has already confirmed we’ll be seeing the first glimpse of the next installment of Zelda, but no one knows what it’s going to be like. Realistic graphics? Toony? A middle ground like Skyward? Will the waggle be back? Where in the timeline is it going to fall? So many questions! Just talking about it gets me excited, and with the incredibly fun and gorgeous games that Wii U has already graced us with, I know that the next Zelda is going to be amazing. I just want to know more about it!

A handful of predictions/guesses, but here’s hoping that some of them come true! Until then, I should probably get to actually finishing a bit of the mountainous backlog of games I have piling up. Till next time!