Standalone Wii Review: Star Trek Conquest

Before I get into the review proper, here’s some background to illustrate my qualifications and impartiality (or lack thereof): I’m a Star Trek fan. I grew up on repeats of the Original Series and have seen every film in the theatre upon release (yes, I’m that old). I’ve not been to a convention or dressed up, but I have played Star Fleet Battles in the school library at lunch and I have played the Fasa Star Trek Roleplaying game. My favourite shows are DS9 and TNG and I have both on DVD in their entirety (though I have limits — no TNG films on my shelf, thanks).

The premise is pretty straightforward: control one of six races in the Star Trek universe (TNG-era) and attempt to eliminate your opponents in a battle to control the galaxy (you’ll be reminded of this every time you boot the game because you cannot skip the message spelling it out). This has nothing to do with Star Trek per se, so we’re not doing diplomacy or exploration here folks, it’s basically Risk in space.

You have some Options you can set, but they’re sparse: Rumble on/off, SFX/Music volume controls; that’s pretty much it. Then the two game options: Campaign — the full game — and Skirmish (one-off Arcade Mode battle).

Campaign Mode

Choose your race and your starting admiral. There are three kinds of admiral in the game and each race can have up to three in play, though not all races have all admirals represented: Attack, Defend and Movement. The Attack and Defend admirals have extra attack or defense strength (weapons damage and shields, respectively) and the Movement admirals get an extra move. There is a bit of fan service in that the admirals are all characters from the shows with a little bio on each.

Your home system comes with one Large Starbase, one Research Station and defense turrets for each of them. Your starting fleet only has one ship, but you can have up to seven in any fleet. You have three ship types to choose from with one ship representing each type: scout, cruiser and dreadnaught. In some cases ships have been made up (the Klingons have a Ravenous cruiser between the Bird of Prey and Negh’Var — why not the Vor’Cha or K’Tinga?), but mostly you’ll be seeing ships from the shows. Scouts tend to be faster and easier to destroy and dreadnaughts lumbering with lots of guns, so you have balance and decisions to make on the makeup of your various fleets.

The name of the game is Conquest, so you need to start conquering. Unless you’re playing easy difficulty setting you’ll have a “fog of war” in play hiding the location of anything more than one or two systems from your own. Despite not being controlled by any of the major powers, you cannot just walk into any system you like as there is always someone home initially. Neutral worlds will be defended by some familiar faces in the form of Ferengi, Xindi, Orions and Borg.

You get the choice of engaging the enemy or retreating after seeing the strength of the opposition and then three ways to play out the engagement if you decide to commit your fleet to battle:

Instant Resolution The result is determined immediately and ships/facilities destroyed to fit the calculated outcome.
Simulation The opposing forces are shown on the same screen and shoot at each other in a way reminiscent of a game called Galactic Domination I remember playing on my 8-bit Atari 800XL. Again, you have minimal control in the form of directing your fleet to be more aggressive or defensive throughout the engagement.
Arcade Take direct command of the fleet using the wiimote/nunchuk for a hands-on battle that resembles Star Fleet Command in visuals, though not in actual gameplay.

Arcade mode is the meatiest option, so here’s a little more detail on that. You get a bit of fan service in the form of visuals of the system and trivia about it — all systems have featured in a show or film in some way — and then a little movie of your forces moving in.

You control one ship out of the fleet (cycle through available ships using +/-) and can choose to let the others free-for-all or put them into an offensive or defensive formation and move as a group. The control stick moves the ship(s) in 2-D space (against a lovely 3-D background of the planetary system) with indicators at the edge of the visual area to show the location of enemy facilities and ships off-screen. The vessels are pretty large so you won’t see anything of the enemy until they’re engaging you which makes it hard to plan for the actual fight.

The d-pad on the wiimote controls the fleet formation: left or right allows the AI to control the ships in your fleet, up chooses an attack posture and down defensive. Your admiral will bark out commands: “Fire at Will!” or “All Power to Weapons/Shields,” depending on which one you choose. You will also hear voices from your ship captains letting you know when their shields are failing or triumph at the destruction of an enemy ship or turret. I recognise some of these voice actors from Star Trek: Elite Force 2 or possibly even some character actors from the shows themselves. “A” button fires torpedoes and “B” phasers/disruptors; the pointer is used to target ships/installations you want to attack. Despite the flaw of the unchanging perspective it’s quite a hoot and I find it more engaging than looking at static images of ships with phasers flying back-and-forth until they blow up.

If you conquer the system you’ll get a little report from your Admiral whose experience increases. Once it reaches a certain level they go up a rank and get better at their jobs. This is rather key: if your fleet gets destroyed then you lose that admiral and having to start from scratch late in the game can be fatal if your opposition has experienced officers who add %50 to battle damage or can make four or five moves in one turn.

You get resources from your holdings in the form of credits. There are differing credit values for the various systems and they can be augmented by having mining facilities present in the system.

With all your moves used up and having spent as much as you can (or desire) you now end your turn. The opposition does their thing; each announces their respective loyalties (For the Empire! For Earth! For the Confederacy! For Cardassia! etc.) and something happens in the fog of war…

Before your next turn you get to look at reports of how many facilities you have and how many credits you’ve earned. You can check the health of your fleets at a glance and the progress of your research as well as the number of systems each race possesses — wait did I say research? Yes! Your research facilities cause a research bar to fill on the initial report page; when it fills up you get to choose an upgrade. The more research facilities you possess the faster this happens, though you’ll need to balance the desire to improve your technological edge against having more resources to build your fleet since you cannot have both research and mining facilities in the same system. You get six upgrades to choose from each with three levels of improvement. As these are not the same for everyone there’s a nice bit of variety and strategic choices to make.

Comparing The Federation and Klingon research upgrades will give you a flavour for the variety of play: The Federation can do things like reduce the cost of Admiral deployment, increase the output of research facilities and improve movement characteristics of ships (turning radius, speed and handling at high speed). The Klingons can reduce the cost of deploying new ships, increase shield strength and increase hull strength. There are others but this should give you an idea of how different your game can go. Given that I’ve only ever been able to apply six or seven upgrades in a game, there’s choices to be made which will make every game a bit different.

Special weapons development is also affected by the number of research facilities. There are a few available, but each race only gets a choice of three to deploy and only one can be active at a time. None are unique but they boil down to things that can shift the tide of a single battle and possibly a game. The duration is brief, so care needs to be taken that they can be exploited promptly. For example, you can create a wormhole from your homeworld to any other non-homeworld system, but given you cannot deploy a special weapon when a fleet is present, that would mean having a fleet right next door to go through the wormhole or the weapon is wasted. Others are about weakening your opponents: a virus weapon can cause an admiral to lose all experience whilst in a given system and the Genesis Device causes damage to all ships and facilities in a system.

Star Trek: Conquest has a simplistic veneer, but various elements combine to make for a fun, complex game that will take about an hour to play through in one sitting. If you don’t have the hour you can save between turns. The number of conquests you’ve made is tracked separately so you can always review your stats and try to better your performance.

Skirmish Mode

Pick a race, pick an admiral, pick the admiral’s experience level, do the same for the opposition, pick the ships and the system, decide whose system it is and whether there are starbases with defense systems and go at it in an Arcade Mode battle. By playing through campaign mode successfully with different races you get to unlock stuff to use in Skirmish mode. I won’t give anything away, but they’re pretty fun. Basically this is a way to get a quick battle in and try out different combinations of ships.

What could have been done better?

Well, I’d like a little more fan service in the form of extra ships or admirals to toggle through to fill the existing slots, rather than the fixed choices available. Online play really would have made this game shine, but the lack of any local multiplayer feels like a major omission on the Wii, given the focus on group play.

The AI isn’t necessarily the best, so if you’re an experienced player of strategy games of any kind you’ll want to start out with Hard difficulty for a challenge. This and the fact that the game sometimes locks up completely during Arcade Mode or experiences slowdown when full fleets are going at it in same, indicate a game that needed further time for debugging and polishing – don’t forget to save between turns!

Criticisms aside, you get a lot of bang for your buck — after all this was a budget release with an SRP of £19.99. If you’re a fan of Star Trek or like strategy games, you could do a lot worse than this.

Mahjong Taikai Wii Guide

Special thanks to Barticle for his contribution to translating missing game options and all of the static and customisable mahjong rules in the game! He has a separate faq/guide for Mahjong Taikai IV on the PS3 at GameFAQs that’s worth checking out as well.

Initial Screen

Top Choice is to create a New Save profile
Bottom Choice is to load an existing profile

“Street” View

Press up/down/left/right on the d-pad to choose which parlour to play in.
Two choices are initially available: a starting parlour and the tournament. Additional parlours can be unlocked through reducing ranked non-player characters to negative pride during parlour matches.

Press B to bring up “street view” menu

1. Return to “street view”
2. View ranked player stats (only those unlocked appear)
3. View “collection” (subchoices to view “coins” and medals won for winning tournaments and beating ranked players)
4. Free Play (a one-off game where you can set the rules and choose opponents)
5. Game Options
6. Save/Load (option 1 saves; option 2 loads)
7. Exit to Title Screen

Press A to start a game

1. Start
2. View Rules
3. Exit to “street view”

Before play (applies to parlour only — after choosing Start, above)

1. Continue to game
2. Exit to Title Screen

Before first hand (applies to parlour only)

1. Place Pride Side Bet with another player (Pride is the “currency” of the game; it determines standing and is used to buy entry to tournaments)
2. No Side Bet

After a hand is finished

View stats by pressing up/down to go through the options in the top left:
1. View scores of all players
2. View “Top” (score leader) and points of others relative to Top.
3. View human player and scores for others relative to human player
A = continue to next hand/round
– = Bring up submenu with following options:
Return to scores
View Rules
Game Options
Quit game
+ = Return to scores
1 = View Rules

Game Options

(these can be changed by selecting “street view” menu option 5 or in-game from the – menu between hands or before your play mid-hand):
1. Choice of sound between stereo/mono
2. Change music Volume
3. Change sound effects Volume
4. Change Character Voice Volume
5. Rumble On/Off (if “on” remote will vibrate when selecting a dora tile, red five tile or when any player wins)
6. Toggle Discard Speed (3 levels)
7. Character Speech On/Off (text still displays)
8. Character Text On/Off (audio still plays)
9. Display Final Tiles Remaining On/Off (when choosing between tiles to discard when declaring Riichi you will be shown how many of that tile remain unplayed)
10. Automatic Discard Following Riichi (On/Off)
11. Motion Control (On/Off) (declaring Pon, Kan, Chi, Riichi, Ron and Tsumo can be done with a remote wave or button press by default)
12. Discard Tile Identification (makes tiles you’ve drawn and promptly discarded darker) On/Off
13. Win Effect (special effect for Ron/Tsumo display) Normal/Simple
14. Swap A/B functions
15. Display colour test pattern
16. Revert to Defaults

After a game is finished you will get a prompt to play another game (any players who go into negative PRIDE will be out of the game and replaced) or exit back to street view where you can save your progress. If you win multiple successive games you’ll be automatically prompted to enter a tournament. Note there is no autosave function, though when playing a tournament you will be prompted to save between games.

Custom Rules

(accessed via menu options indicated above):
1. Kuitan (on/off) — All simples hand
2. Tsumo Pinfu (on/off) — Tsumo with no-points hand
3. Ippatsu (on/off) — Extra fan for going out within four turns of declaring Riichi
4. Dora (all/extra dora for kan or riichi /extra dora for kan/extra dora for riichi/normal dora only/two-tile mekuri – two dora tiles?) — Rules for dora tile reveals. The default is “all,” meaning all rules are in effect: starting dora and extra tiles for declaring kan or riichi). I’m not certain what two-tile mekuri could mean — two starting tiles only?
5. No-ten Payment (on/off) — Extra payment of 3000 points to players who are “tenpai” (one tile from a complete hand) by players who aren’t (“no-ten”) in the event the wall is depleted.
6. Continuances (nanba/houra/tsune ni/tenpai) — Conditions under which a player remains the dealer for the next hand; the default is nanba (dealer stays if East hand is tenpai; otherwise if he wins/draws the South hand)
7. Bankruptcy (on/off) — Default is “on.” The game ends if anyone’s score drops below zero.
8. Starting Points (25k/27k/30k) — The default is 30000. If a lower number is chosen the balance goes into a pot that is awarded to the winner at the end of the game.
9. Number of Rounds (ton-nan/ton-puu) — Default is two rounds (ton-nan) being East and South; the other option is East round only.
10. Conditional West Round (off/30k/30100/33000/35000) — If set it provides for rounds beyond the South, if the target score hasn’t been reached by any player. Default is 30100. This option is disabled in the event option 9 has been set to one round.
11. Scoring Adjustment (off/0-5/0-10/0-20/0-30/5-10/10-20/10-30/20-30) — default is 5-10. This setting determines the number of points (in thousands) paid by the player in 3rd place to the player in 2nd (the first number) and the player in 4th place to the player in 1st (the second number).
12. Winning Termination (on/off) — On by default, this gives the dealer the option to end the game if they’re in the lead after winning the final hand of the round (if this is you, then you’ll have an on-screen prompt).
13. Abortive Draws (replay/next hand – seats move/next hand – seats don’t move) — Action taken after any condition which would cause play to stop: four revealed kan, any player having nine or more terminals and honour tiles after their first draw (assuming they elect to abort play), all four players discarding the same wind on their first turn, all four players declaring riichi in the same hand, three players calling ron on the same discard. Default is to keep the same winds and deal the next hand.
14. Conditional Two Fan Minimum (on/off) — On by default. Normally a yaku worth one fan is required to go out; with this rule in effect two fan are required to go out if the dealer has won/drawn five times during the round.
15. Split(on/off) — Default is off. If this option is enabled the player upon whose side the wall is broken gets a blue marker and pays/receives double points (if also dealer, bonuses are cumulative) which are applied after calculating the rest of the score.
16. 8-hand limit (on/off) — Enabled by default, this option scores a yakuman for the dealer if they stay on for 8 consecutive hands.
17. Nagashi Mangan (on/off) — Enabled by default. If a hand ends in an exhaustive draw (all wall tiles drawn) and all your discards are terminals and honours — with none having been taken by other players — you score bonus Mangan points (8000 non-dealer; 12000 dealer).
18. Tokushu Yakuman (on/off) — Enabled by default. Controls whether or not the Tokushu Yakuman hands are allowed: Renhou (Blessing of Man) and Shiisanpuutaa (Thirteen Unrelated Tiles).
19. Double Yakuman (on/off) — Enabled by default. Controls whether or not special double-point versions of these traditional hands are allowed (conditions are based around completing them bar specific pairs, the full rules of which are beyond the scope of this guide): Thirteen Orphans, Nine Gates, Four Concealed Pon, Big Four Winds.
20. Double Ron Win (on/off) — On by default, this allows two players to go ron off the same tile, though if one declared riichi they alone benefit from ura and kan dora tiles. If disabled then the one closest to the discarder (going anti-clockwise around the table) wins.
21. Yakitori (on/off) — Every player gets a special marker which sits next to them on the table. When they win a hand the token is removed/inverted. Anyone who hasn’t won a hand by the end of the game pays a penalty.
22. Akadora (off/2 tiles/4 tiles/6 tiles) — Enables “red fives” which give an extra fan if part of a hand. 2 tiles are both five dots, four tiles consist of two five dots and one in each of the other suits, six tiles is two per suit.

Finally, be sure to check out Koei’s official site.

Standalone WiiWare Review: Rotohex

Rotohex is an engrossing puzzler which, like Cubello, I think the mathematicians will enjoy.

The hexagonal playfield is static with little colourful triangles falling into place forming lovely hexagons. Initially there are two colours, but after clearing a number of hexagons an additional colour will appear. Periodically a flashing triangle will fall; if the hexagon it’s part of is cleared, then all triangles of that colour will disappear. I got five colours on the screen at once before the playfield filled up which ended my game.

The mechanic is different to any puzzle game I’ve played and it took me a few minutes to get the hang of things. You can use the pointer or turn the wiimote on its side for a non-analogue interface and highlight different hexagons which you then rotate with A and B (or 1 and 2) buttons. You’re trying to make a solid colour hexagon which then disappears. Often you’ll need to rotate a series of hexgons to get your coloured triangles together and as you add more colours you need to start prioritising and try to figure out which colour has the greatest representation for ease of clearing. Periodically you see black lines streaking down the screen; clearing a hexagon in the path of the line when this is happening causes a hole to open in the bottom of the playfield and triangles to fall out giving respite to the triangle onslaught.

Hexagon rotation is a really good play mechanic and the colours are quite vibrant with the triangles having a subtle 3D effect on them. As you move the pointer you get a brief outline and the triangles become subtly reflective. After your game ends you can still move the pointer around to admire the beauty of the patterns created. It’s a really welcome and original puzzler. Play solo mode enough and you unlock Endless Mode (apparently solo mode has an ending — presumably after adding a sixth colour and clearing the requisite number of hexes of that colour).

Another great addition to the WiiWare library from Nintendo showing everyone else how it’s done.

Standalone WiiWare Review: Cubello

Cubello welcomes you with speech evoking Speak and Spell or GORF (if you’re old enough to recall either); Stephen Hawking on caffeine otherwise. It’s a friendly welcome which sets the scene for what could be a 70s Russian sci-fi art film: who is this voice and who or what is a cubello?

A tutorial will help you understand the spinning geometric form that is the game. The cubello itself is a small transparent cube with a glowing blue center; attached to it are blocks of different colours. The game is broken up into stages: in the first stage these colours are a very pale blue, grey and black, but later stages explode with colour. The mysterious computerised voice tells you every colour as you launch it at the cube-encrusted cubello.

This is the core of the game: launch different coloured blocks from a magazine at the blocks attached to the Cubello with the goal being to remove all of them. By creating chains of four or more blocks they fall away like groups of ripened…blocks. This also prompts a pronouncement from the voice: if you eliminate multiple groupings in rapid succession, you may get to hear it say “awesome!” — a reward worth earning!

Sadly you do not have an infinite number of blocks; nor do shortcuts present themselves. Unlike other colour matching games like Actionloop, you cannot simply launch blocks that do not suit you off into space; place must be found for them in the existing structure. Your score is determined both by the length of time and number of turns (cube launches) taken to clear the Cubello of extraneous blocks. Note that there is no clock, however. The game is not about frenetic block collisions as with Tetris or Columns; in fact haste is likely to have a negative outcome as each launch which fails to cause blocks to be cleared brings the cubello closer to the screen. If it “touches” the screen you’ll lose blocks in your magazine and if your magazine empties it’s Game Over. Likewise you must be thrifty with your magazine of blocks as the only way to ensure more blocks fill your magazine is to clear groups from the cubello, so make those cube launches count!

This game requires a bit of patience; especially as you have no control over the slowly rotating cubello, except that each launch causes it to change rotation. A nice pulsation shows you where your cube launch will stick to the structure and this can be moved about with the pointer. Launching a cube requires a press of either A or B as you like. Spicing things up a bit is a Bonus Metre which consists of four squares each of which fill with different symbols when you clear a group of blocks. If all four symbols match you get “Bonus Time” where the normally void white space surrounding the cubello becomes black with pulsating lines of colour and your current block becomes the colour of one of the ones needing to be cleared. As Bonus time counts down the cubello comes faster towards the screen. If you only have a few blocks left you may actually clear it; if not keep launching until time counts down and you return to normal play.

Cubello is part of the Art Style series (similar to the Bit Generations series of games released for the Gameboy Advance in Japan) and the name is apt as the game has very clean, minimalist lines with an appealing look to it. The cubello rotation is very smooth and as mentioned earlier there are no shortcuts: if you clear a block with different coloured blocks branching off of it, rather than also dropping off into space they flow back towards the cubello at the core of the geometric structure they are part of in a smooth animated fashion (though if they form like groups of four in the process they will drop off as well).

It’s a nice game to look at and the lack of time limit means that you can appreciate it whilst looking for the next place to launch a block. Mathematicians should rejoice and puzzle fans have something different for a change that I think they will find just as engrossing as Tetris. For 600 points and little more space than an NES game you cannot go wrong. Twitchers need not apply.

Standalone WiiWare Review: Gradius ReBirth

Gradius (or Nemesis – as it was known when it originally appeared in European arcades) is one of the definitive side-scrolling shooters with iconic power-ups and great in-game speech (“Speed Up!”). This game has seen many sequels, spin-offs (in the form of Salamander/Life Force) and parodies (TwinBee and Parodius and its sequels).

It’s a classic in the truest sense of the word in both arcade and home console incarnations. The WiiWare game Gradius ReBirth is a nostalgic nod to Gradius and Salamander — basically a sort of “Greatest Hits,” if you will.

The graphics are a mix of classic 8-bit NES and modern, with some backgrounds and enemies being low-res sprites and some being modern 3D rendered objects with textures to make them look like low-res sprites. It’s a pleasing effect that works well. The levels are modeled on classic levels from Gradius, Gradius II, Gradius III and Salamander; the bosses echo bosses of the past without being exact copies.

As with Gradius III, there is a choice of power up sets along with fully customisable button layout and choice of controller: wiimote-only, wiimote + nunchuk, classic controller and Gamecube controller are all supported. There are five difficulty levels, each with its own local and online leaderboards as well as a Time Attack Mode wherein the goal is to get the highest score possible in a fixed time limit. These new features are probably the only draw for anyone who has already purchased the originals on the Virtual Console, because as much as the game is fun it’s strongly faithful to the previous games to the point where it may seem redundant. I didn’t download the VC games, so this satisfies any Gradius/Salamander itch I need to scratch.

At 1000 points it’s a little on the steep side, but this is a quality title and well worth it. Now all we need is Parodius ReBirth, right Konami?

Monster Lab Hints and Tips

Needless to say this is a game that was sorely under-promoted by Eidos; much to their shame as there’s enough quality and attention to detail in it that it’s clear the developers at Backbone Entertainment cared about putting out a good game. Here’s some general advice for new players, I hope you find it useful.

On the topic of part-making and experimentation

Part quality relates directly to the strength of attacks and to the amount of damage a part can take. Defects or enhancements are bestowed according to the secondary ingredients used, though there is no one-to-one mapping of each kind of defect or enhancement bestowed and you can end up with a different result each time you experiment (i.e. you’ll still get a defect, but maybe a different one if you repeat the exact same experiment).

So, just because the same primary ingredient will give you the same part, trying the experiment again with different secondary ingredients to see if you can get a really good enhancement is very much worthwhile.

I would never discount a part because of a defect alone. Some defects you can live with — provided only one part has them: power drain for example, is cumulative — and if you made a high level part with a rare ingredient you may not really be able to pass it up easily just because it has the Slow defect or reduces your power a little.

Always experiment whenever you can

Sure if you talk to the Mads back at the castle they’ll tell you to get on with the mission, but improving your monsters is something you’ll need to do as you increase in level and start encountering tougher and tougher wandering monsters and bosses.

Observation on parts:

I’ve noted that there seems to be two kinds of parts: ones that can take a lot of damage, but don’t dish out much pain and have a low energy cost, and those that put the hurt on, but are quite energy-expensive and are easily destroyed. This is very noticable in Torsos, where you find some really really tough torsos in the higher levels which output really minimal amounts of energy, but keep on experimenting because there are some that strike a balance.

You might think that all Level 4 parts are superior to everything else you’ve made, but realise that the higher level parts are also harder to make. Every lab has some parts that are easier to make than others. The level four biological parts are probably the hardest to make overall, but Cardio Chaos and Stitch-o-Matic have to be the worst. The Astral Rift (for making arms) in the alchemical lab is the only thing that comes close. As a consequence a really high quality Level 2 or Level 3 part can often be a better choice for a biological or alchemical part, but if you’re ace at those mini-games knock yourself out!

Don’t forget the defense!

You can create a monster with attacks so awesome that the opposition crumbles quite rapidly, but trust me Baron Mharti’s Manor has some real tough hombres guarding it and if you lack a part with a really good quality block, the final boss is pretty much unbeatable.

Don’t forget the old ingredients!

Sure that Caustic Juice couldn’t make more than a 1st level part for a long time, but hey, you’ve got some Neutronium as a 2nd ingredient and wow, look what you can make now!

You can swap out secondary and primary ingredients to see the level of part before you experiment. So, every time you turn up a new ingredient of any kind try using it with all the other ingredients you have available. Just because a new mechanical ingredient only makes a Level 1 or 2 part when combined with your other mechanical ingredients doesn’t mean it won’t make a Level 3 or 4 part when combined with a biological or alchemical ingredient. This will mean shuffling through the different labs with all your ingredients, but no one said being a mad scientist was all field work!

And what will you do with 15 buckets of mud?

Well Leo Lumiere is willing to do a swap for some nice burlap sacks after you’ve put Mharti in his place…

Standalone WiiWare Review: Shootanto: Kakohen (Past Chapter)

Shootanto is a game in it’s own genre. It’s very much like a couple of old arcade games: Cabal and Blood Bros. In both of these games you control a character on the bottom of the screen who shoots various enemies in the “background,” using multiple 2D planes and forced perspective to create the illusion of three dimensions. Your character moves slowly in relation to a cursor on screen which you use to target enemies. In Shootanto: Kakohen your opponents are polygons rather than sprites, but the idea is the same; improved by using the pointer on the wiimote to separate targeting from movement.

The theme is certainly novel: you control a primate which starts out as a small monkey and then becomes more human-like as you progress through the stages. Your opponents are a range of prehistoric-looking insects, reptiles, fish, and mammals. After destroying some pre-set amount of scenery and creatures you progress to the next stage. There appears to be 3 stages per level; the number of levels isn’t clear.

Controls are easy enough: the nunchuk control stick moves your monkey back-and-forth. Pressing a direction+C will make him do a rolling dive to avoid attack (enemies throw various things or charge at you). Pressing Z will zoom in on a small area around your cursor so you can hit far away enemies more easily. The A button throws your limitless supply of coconuts; B throws a more limited supply of bombs. You get various weapon enhancements like rapid fire and exploding coconuts, as well as more bombs by destroying various background items and certain enemies. In addition to the wiimote+nunchuk controls above, you can also play with the Zapper or the Classic Controller.

It’s quite a challenging game: I’ve not managed to make it past the first stage on Normal difficulty; only to the 2nd level 2nd stage on Easy. The number of enemies on screen increases quite rapidly; even with all of them throwing things at you the game maintains a good framerate. No online component at all, though there are local leaderboards and the game can be played by one or two players just like the classics it’s aping (see what I did there?).

For 600 points it’s a fair bit of entertainment, though I prefer more straightforward lightgun games like Wild West Guns or Ghost Squad.

Standalone Wii Review: Let’s Tap


In case you haven’t heard of this game, Let’s Tap! was one of the more interesting games seen at the Tokyo Game Show in 2008; the premise being that this is a game where you don’t touch the controller at all. Instead you assemble one of two included reinforced cardboard boxes and rest the wiimote face-down on it. The wiimote motion sensors that get so much grief in the gaming press for their imprecision are able to detect movement sufficiently that several minigames could be put into a collection all about sending motion information by vibrating the controller using taps.

You know you’re seeing a piece of gaming history when after pressing A+B to start you’re presented with a screen showing a picture of the orange Let’s Tap! base next to a picture of a blue box which has “Tissue” printed on the side — no joke, the suggestion seems to be that you can use a kleenex box as an alternative accessory for the game. Brilliant! But, before you can play you need to complete a tutorial about tapping.

There are three types of tap: soft, medium and hard, but you also need to be able to double-tap, at which point you might be thinking “why not have a tablet add-on controller?” which will become more hoped for later, but clearly a cardboard box is a cheaper accessory, no? From here on out you can use the tapping as the sole interface to the game. Single taps cycle through selections; double taps launch games or exit. This is possibly the most frustrating part because you need to double-tap by doing a strong initial tap and a weaker second tap — you’ll get the hang of it, I promise! And if you don’t get the hang of things with the default settings you can tweak the sensitivity and the double-tap detection in a configuration screen accessible as the third option on the main game menu.


Tap Runner — run a 4-person race (any racers not controlled by human players are controlled by the computer). There are several levels with four stages per level. They can be replayed at will after each match. Run with small taps; jump with big ones. As you get to higher stages you have more obstacles and alternate routes. Coming in 1st gets you a gold medal and a triumphant pose for your little stick-man. Visually it’s quite appealing with transluscent coloured backgrounds and playfield. It’s fun, but will stress your fingers in the higher levels unless you’re a professional typist!

Rhythm Tap — Music rhythm game very similar to Namco’s Taiko Master: tap in time to the appearance of coloured dots in one of five initial tracks with more to unlock. Delivering the proper intensity of tap rewards more points, but the main thing is to hit the mark on-time. Music is nice ambient electro and J-Pop — the Let’s Tap! theme is ace and I do hope a soundtrack CD is released.

Silent Blocks — Basically it’s jenga with discs. Discs are highlighted one at a time from top to bottom and you tap to select one, then tap again to choose which angle to push it out, then tap to push the disc out whilst trying not to upset the stack. There are two game modes. In “alchemy” you remove discs to clear out groups of three of the same colour. Clear enough and the level increases which introduces more colours. The other mode involves removing all discs below a treasure chest in order to get it on the ground. It’s the weakest offering in the collection if only because it’s not always clear if your actions are going to topple the tower: sometimes you can have it in a precarious position and it won’t fall; other times the same unbalance will topple it. You don’t really have a sense of jeopardy because of the physics being so imprecise. Still, it’s a fun diversion once in a while.

Bubble Voyager — Use taps to make your polygonal space hero fly through a horizontal playfield filled with mines, asteroids and pickups. Get as many stars as you can, pick up the power-ups and avoid the baddies! Fun stuff. Double-taps to launch rockets (upgradable) at space squids and rocks; also to unlock power-ups. At the end of each stage is a landing platform to recharge your battery (repair damage) at which point it’s like Lunar Lander using taps on the box to fire retro bubbles (rockets). Nice retro action with a multiplayer battle mode to boot.

Visualiser — Different ambient musics with different backgrounds. Tapping causes events on-screen like fireworks, water droplets, paint splashes, etc. You can play one at a time or create a playlist. One at a time loops the music until you press the B button to move on. Your actions produce different effects depending upon the Visualiser: Fireworks creates special fireworks in response to different patterns of hard/soft tapping, River reveals different animals in the river. Paint and Ink show you different objects. In the Gem visualiser you’re making balls fly in the air and trying to get them in little cups — more game-like than the other Visualiser modes. Achieving certain goals in the game will unlock an additional Visualiser mode featuring coral reefs, turtles and whales amongst other creatures.


Well, is it up to snuff? Surprisingly, yes! Tapping becomes second nature to make selections and the like. For the painting visualiser you’ll wish you had a tablet so you could control the paint strokes, but a tablet controller add-on would cost more than a cardboard box, wouldn’t it? When I bought it upon release it worked out to £40, though the NA and EU releases come in a lot cheaper. Is it worth it? Well, you have a novel control interface and 4-1/2 decent minigames — of course I think you should hop on a plane and buy this if that’s what it takes!

What’s good about it?

Leaderboards (local only) for the four game modes and fun gameplay. Tapping is fun!

What’s bad about it?

Well, vigorous tapping makes your wiimote want to fall off the box, so you’ll need to keep an eye on it. Doing the double-tap in the menus can be a bit hit-and-miss at first, but you get the hang of it in time. You only get two base boxes, so extra players will need to bring tissue boxes to play. My ex-wife said listening to the tapping was like Chinese water torture and suggested that it’s a good thing there’s an extra box included just in case something happens to the one being used — oh and add finger strain to the list of The Sun’s Wii Medical Ailments — tapping is torture!

Standalone WiiWare Review: Yakuman Wii

Yakuman Wii is a Mahjong game published by Nintendo. Not only does it have Mii support, but it also has WiFi play with up to three other human players and AI to pick up the slack. If you can read Japanese and don’t know riichi mahjong rules, there’s a Mii of a Japanese Mahjong champion who’s happy to teach; otherwise you can find out how to play many places online.

When playing a local match it’s quite similar to Mahjong Taikai Wii (the disc-based Mahjong Tournament game from Koei) in the lack of time limit and the control scheme. Tile selections are made using the d-pad and A button with no pointer support at all. This appears to be the norm for console-based Mahjong games, but it’s not clear why pointer support couldn’t have been implemented as an option.

When playing online you have a time limit to decide your move which gets shorter if (like me) your luck runs poorly and you end up losing points. It puts extra pressure on individual players, but does ensure the game keeps moving at a decent pace.

Miis are used to represent players and you can change (and earn extra) Mii clothing and tile/playfield colour in the config screen. What is weird is that whilst the human players use Miis, the AI doesn’t: instead they are more slick looking, like the characters in Family Ski. I guess this could be to distinguish them as AI, but it’s still an odd choice; especially since this is a Nintendo title. AI players have a rating in stars which appears to represent their skill level. You get to pick them to make up your opposition in single-player mode to increase the level of challenge; online they seem to get chosen based upon the skill of the human players which is represented by a Dr. Mario-style ranking that goes up/down depending on how well you do in online matches.

In addition to the core Mahjong game there’s also a series of quizzes from the Mahjong sensei giving you various hands and asking you to choose the tile that fits whatever query/scenario he’s positing. If my Japanese comprehension was better (or existed) then I’d enjoy it better, but it’s an interesting diversion nonetheless.

It would be nice if Nintendo localised this and I’ve written to Nintendo support suggesting that they do so since there are Mahjong players outside of Japan, however this is extremely unlikely to happen so the best way to play this is to get it from the Japanese Wii Shop. Indeed I’d say if you’re a rabid Mahjong player this game alone is reason enough to buy a Japanese Wii even if you play nothing else!

Shanghai Wii Guide

My guide to the Japanese menus and interfaces for Shanghai Wii from Sunsoft. Be sure to read my review!

Initial Menu

User ID; basic preferences
Name: 4 characters, kana or roman
Icon (choice of 10)
Option to use icon as pointer

2nd Menu

In clockwise order these are:
1. Single player Normal Mode
2. Single player Challenge Mode with leader boards
3. Multi-player modes
4. Preferences and Options

Single Player Normal Mode

Two Choices: progressive or one-off
Progressive game options
Board Sets: 1-6 in increasing difficulty. 12 boards each with four to unlock or 16 available per set.
BGM: seven choices, no preview
Tileset: six choices initially; unlockables up to 24.

One-Off game options
Difficulty: 1-3 stars
BGM as above
Tileset as above
Background: 10 choices initially; unlockables up to 64.
Boards: 1-22 initially; unlockables up to 104.
Cheats: Zero, 1, 3, 5 or unlimited.


Tiles Remaining
Time Limit (bar)

In-game Pause/Exit menu:
Restart and Shuffle
Exit and Save
Exit without Saving (next start will result in prompt to load)

After Loss Menu:
Restart and Shuffle

Single player Challenge Mode with leader boards

1st Mode of 4, top left: Time Trials; high score lists for each difficulty mode and each board. Beat 5min. to get on the board.
Difficulty: 1-3
BGM as above
Tileset as above
Background as above
Boards: 1-8


Tiles Remaining
Time Elapsed

Try to clear the tiles in the least amount of time possible to get the best score.

2nd Mode of 4, top right: Get as many tiles cleared as possible in fixed number of cycles. Top score for level 30, 50, 100 recorded.
Difficulty: 1-3
BGM as above
Tileset as above
Background as above

Add Tiles

Tiles Cleared

Small clock on the right side counts down approximately one minute. During that time on-screen tiles must be cleared; if not more blocks are added after clock counts down. If you get stuck click the button to cause the clock to go to the end and put more blocks on screen. Clock seems to count down four times in total. Object is to clear as many tiles as possible during this time. Special rainbow blocks appear which turn other tiles to gold; increasing points. Score tables indicate Level 30, 50 100 for scoring; unclear what advances level.

3rd mode of 4, lower left: Complete one pair of boards within the least time possible.
Difficulty: 1-3
BGM as above
Tileset as above
Background as above
Choose Set (there are four pages of two sets each; each set has four boards for a total of 8 sets to choose from)

Swap Set

Tiles remaining
Timer at bottom to count total time taken

Try to clear two boards in the least amount of time for the best record. If you get stumped; change boards. Must do two out of four to complete.

4th mode of four, lower right: Clear as many tiles as possible in 3min.
Difficulty: 1-3
BGM as above
Tileset as above
Background as above


Tiles Cleared
Timer at bottom to count down from 3min.

Remove as many pairs as possible. Clock expiration results in a new board being placed on the table (approximately 30sec. each rotation) if you don’t clear it first. The reshuffle/redeal button can be used in the event no pairs can be cleared. Play stops when the 3min. timer runs out.

5th menu option is High Scores table with a separate button for each high score mode and an option to exit.

Multi-Player Modes

Five menu options as with single-player alternate modes. The fifth option is also a leaderboard as with the single-player alternate modes.

Every multi-player game allows for a choice of 1-4 players which can be a mix of real and CPU players and the option to have everyone for themselves or two teams of two each. The screen with these choices is presented after choosing a game mode. Once team or individual play is chosen a button on the bottom of the screen is pressed to start the game.

1st mode of four, upper left: Try to clear your board before everyone else!
CPU Difficulty
Choice of 8 boards


2nd mode of four, upper right: Most tiles cleared wins; like 1st mode without borders separating player boards so pairs can be made from any of the boards on the screen. Tiles continue to appear on screen until time limit expires.
Number of Minutes (1-3)
CPU Difficulty

Timer Countdown

3rd mode of four, lower left: Clear two pairs before anyone else. Same as alternate single-player mode. Player’s boards are separated.
CPU Difficulty
Set (choice of 8)

Board Swap

4th mode of four, lower right: Battle mode. Conditions Unknown. All players can access all boards; each player has a separate time limit for clearing pairs. Pressing 1 button allows for use of special powers.
CPU Difficulty
Set (choice of 8)

Timebars for each player.