Wii U Round-Up 4

Need for Speed: Most Wanted U

I’m not a huge fan of racing games generally. The things I most get out of them are the thrill of high-speed driving and viceral enjoyment from spectacular crack-ups at high-speeds. Basically the things I don’t get out of driving in real life. Racing around a track has little appeal for me (outside of fantasy tracks like Mario Kart or F-Zero) so this game definitely ticks the boxes: really fast cars and a game engine tuned to give you a sense of high-speed (without a corresponding lack of control), a “real-world” environment to race around in and fabulous smash-ups with effective use of slow-motion to sell the moment.

The developers have built a wonderful, self-contained city with surrounding countryside and plenty of bendy roads to drive your super-cars around. The Wii U shows it’s stuff not only in consistently high framerates and beautiful detail on the cars, but a lack of load times despite the large environment: you can drive non-stop for hours around town doing nothing more than blowing by speed cameras and running from the law without feeling limited by the size of the game world.

Of course eye-candy is just that and without a fun game surrounding it, wouldn’t count for much. I enjoy the Wii Wheel control option (though annoyingly you have to select the Remote from the Gamepad control menu every time you play): it provides a nice pick-up-and-play arcade feel. Everything in the game can be accessed in a couple of ways and there’s loads of achievements for those who like ticking boxes. Although a huge list of cars is immediately available, you can find others in hidden locations or earn them by scoring points via races and other achievements. The sooper-dee-dooper cars can be unlocked via the “Most Wanted” races against tough AI opponents.

You can jump into new cars on the spot via an on-screen menu system or the Gamepad and you can find cars in various locations (“jack spots”) allowing you to jump into the car at that location. Races can be started on the fly from a menu or by going to designated race areas and spinning your wheels. The variety is nice and caters to those who just want to start playing as well as people who like to drive around and explore or set missions for themselves. There are other achievements than finding car “jack spots” like blowing by speed cameras dotted about and if you sign up for the EA online account you’ll be set challenges based upon what your Wii U friends are doing in the game, as well as having the option to race with people online.

Whilst there’s no true local multiplayer, a second player can use the Gamepad to tweak things like night and day settings, traffic, car selection and mess with the cops whilst someone else plays with the Wii Remote. You can even take over the controls: kind of like a driving instructor with a second wheel. It’s a great way for a more skilled player to help a novice; alternatively for a non-player to participate.

So much for this being a mini-review, but Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is so much fun and so much care was put into it by the developers that anything less wouldn’t feel right. If you have a Wii U and enjoy racing or fast cars at all, get it!

BIT.TRIP Presents…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

I loved the original BIT.TRIP Runner so much I gave it a perfect score in my Nintendo Life Review. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who thought it was the best of the WiiWare series as Gaijin Games decided they needed to do a sequel as their inaugural HD game.

This game is similar to the original Bit.Trip Runner in basic structure: CommanderVideo runs and you press buttons to guide him past obstacles, collecting gold bars and items which boost the musical dynamics on the way to the finish. It would be unfair to simply write this off as a derivative sequel, however as changes made beyond the graphical facelift provide additional challenge and make the game more accessible at the same time.

As with the first game there are different stages in each level (world), however there’s now optional checkpoints at the halfway point of each stage in the form of a gate operated by “Uncle Pickle” (don’t ask). Jump over the gate to get bonus points (and respect) or break through it to avoid starting over at the beginning if and when you slip up and run into an obstacle.

In addition to unlocking a bonus round by collecting all the gold bars you get to try to score extra points by launching CommanderVideo out of a cannon into a bullseye. Frivolous? Yes, but if you’ve got Wii U friends who are also playing (and I certainly hope you’ve got friends that cool) that extra dose of perfection can be what you need to get the top of the online leaderboard, so drop the attitude!

There’s extra stages to unlock by finding secret keys and a fabulous/bizarre looking world to enjoy narrated by the Voice of Mario himself, Charles Martinet. I don’t know what else I need to say to convince you to buy this game – how about DLC in the form of alternate characters including Quote from Cave Story and Dr. Fetus from Super Meatboy? BUY IT!!!!

Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper

After greatly enjoying Samurai Warriors 3 for the Wii I sold that game and bought this, foolishly thinking it would be a logical replacement for it on my shiny Wii U. After all the same characters are in it and the game mechanics are the same. With HD graphics on top it would tick all those boxes and then some, right? Well, no, actually, not really.

The Warriors Orochi series appears to be a way of making a bit of extra dough by re-using assets from other games. It’s a mash-up of two different series: Dynasty Warriors (an action spin-off of the classic Koei strategy series “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” based upon the same legendary Chinese work.) and Samurai Warriors. That’s a bit unfair given there’s new voice work and stages, but the fact is there’s a lot of character design re-use and duplication (compare Kotaro Fuma’s profile image from Samurai Warriors 3 with Ma Chao’s in this game if you don’t believe me). Couple asset re-use with the thinnest veneer of a storyline that serves as an excuse for this rather bizarre combination of characters from wildly different historical eras and you end up with something that doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense other than trying to sell an extra game on the back of two others to the same niche audience.

It might sound like I really dislike Warriors Orochi 3, but that’s not really the case. I enjoy the beat-em-up style, the over-the-top combat and mowing down a seemingly unending series of demon warriors, but it’s just not gelling for me in the same way that Samurai Warriors 3 did. The Warriors games at their heart are a dramatic re-telling of historic events. Dynasty Warriors covers the expansive journey of China toward a unified state, whilst Samurai Warriors deals with the Japanese period of civil war following the decadent Heian period into a new empire. Although it’s true that there’s a huge cast of characters in Warriors Orochi as a result, the fact is that you don’t get to know about these characters like you do in the separate series they come from and the weaker narrative interconnecting the battle sequences makes for a less-compelling game.

I still replay Samurai Warriors 3 (I’ve since re-purchased it) and despite the extra game modes in Warriors Orochi 3 (which I still haven’t finished even several months on) I expect I’ll end up continuing to play and enjoy Samurai Warriors 3 a great deal more in the future, simply because the re-imagined history it portrays is more compelling than the goofy mash-up story from Warriors Orochi 3 (and the horses cannot jump *sigh*).

If you’re a massive fan of these games then you’ll get some enjoyment out of it, but if you’re new to the Warriors games or the main selling point for you is the story and character development, I think you’re better off sticking with Samurai Warriors 3.

Wii U Round-Up 3

Chasing Aurora

Of the handful of download-only eShop launch titles I think that many would agree Chasing Aurora is possibly the weakest.

It’s a game designed around multiplayer using the Gamepad as a vehicle for asymmetrical gameplay a la the “tag” games featured in Nintendo Land, with a great visual style and controls that nicely convey the feeling of flying birds around an obstacle course. The problem is that despite the nice controls (which remind me of the excellent swimming mechanics in Sega’s classic “Ecco the Dolphin”) and beautiful origami-styled art design there just isn’t much game here. You have numerous game modes, but they all boil down to either tagging other players or playing keep away with an object which is carried by one player and sought after by others with a few subtle variations on each. Single player consists of flying around the courses a set number of times in the shortest time possible, which isn’t something you’ll want to come back to more than a couple of times.

I honestly only picked this up because it was on sale and I’ll give anything a go for a fiver. The most fun is the end credit sequence where you fly a bird through a moving background of forest and mountains reading the staff names that appear as obstacles to fly around. It’s okay as a multi-player game, but you’d be better off with a more varied mini-game collection like Game & Wario or Nintendo Land.

Little Inferno

One of the pricier download-only titles that launched the Wii U eShop. Like Chasing Aurora it’s a title I was curious to check out and bought when it was on sale (one of many advantages of the Wii U eShop over the old WiiWare store).

It’s an interesting “non-game” where players buy things to burn in a home entertainment device which is basically a fireplace. There’s loads of not-so-subtle commentary on watching TV or sitting in the house playing games instead of socialising or going outside to play and a narrative which is gradually revealed as you burn your way through several catalogues of flammable mail-order items. The visuals and controls are great (I preferred the more kinetic Wii Remote interface) and it’s quite satisfying burning items and observing the effects without the usual hazards associated with pyromania.

If you like a little philosophy with your gaming entertainment then this “virtual toy” is worth checking out!

New Super Mario Bros. U

Read any of the Mario game reviews on this site and you’ll know that I’m not a big fan of Mario games (other than the original arcade Mario Bros.) or platforming games in general.

My primary motivation in picking up this title was wanting something besides Nintendo Land to play with my daughter – who has become a more keen player of video games over the past couple of years – and this was the most appealing of the launch titles in the eShop that fit the bill.

Like New Super Mario Bros. Wii you can play with up to four on-screen characters, oddly limited to Mario, Luigi and two “toadstool” inhabitants of Princess Peach’s Mushroom Kingdom. As with the rest of the series you’re trying to rescue Peach from Bowser; as with the last game in the series players can help or hinder each other. In multiple-player games instead of controlling a character the player using the Gamepad can add temporary blocks or freeze enemies – it’s a great way for less-skilled (or less-interested) players to participate and one of the things I hope we’ll see more of in Wii U games.

The HD visuals bring more detail to the party and there’s new suits and enemies, but anyone who’s played a 2D Mario game since Super Mario Bros. 3 will know what’s what. This is the first 2D Mario game I’ve played all the way through since Super Mario Land on the Gameboy over twenty years ago and I have to admit I’ve enjoyed it. Unlike Super Mario Bros. 3 this feels like a game Nintendo wants everyone to enjoy, regardless of skill (though I’m happy to say I resisted the temptation to use the green “walkthrough” blocks which appear in locations after you die a number of times a la New Super Mario Bros. Wii). A safe purchase for the kids or anyone who hasn’t played one of these games in a while and wants a nostalgia jolt and a beautiful game to watch in action if nothing else.


This was originally a retail release of an arcade game, but rather than simply make it available for download as-is, Namco decided to use this title as a pilot for in-game purchasing in the European eShop. TANK! TANK! TANK! is free to download, but other than a couple of levels that serve as demos, the various game modes must be unlocked by spending a little cash before they can be played. The price doesn’t turn out much different than buying the game disc at retail if you buy all modes, but if you’re like me and don’t want everything, you can get a couple and have some fun for a budget price.

Story Mode offers a pretty basic 3D tank game where you blast a bunch of robot monsters and occasional giant bosses. There are different tanks to unlock and upgrades to purchase to keep you replaying levels for better scores. These can also be played co-op with another player, using Gamepad and TV to give each player their own display rather than using split-screen on the TV. It’s a great use of the Gamepad and something we’ll likely see more of in multi-player Wii U games.

The other game mode I opted for is “My Kong” which sees the Gamepad player controlling a rampaging giant robot gorilla (featuring a face decorated using the Gamepad camera) and other players controlling tanks on the ground trying to destroy it. This is loads of fun; especially with a group.

Two things that would have made it better would be more tank-like dual-stick controls and online play. The fact that you’re prompted to take a photo which is then displayed over your tank during play makes it seem obvious that you’d have other players with their photos, but Namco apparently didn’t want to spend the money for that – shame! Having said that this an easy title to recommend to fans of simple arcade fun.

Wii U Round-Up 2

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge

The original Ninja Gaiden is a game I only remember from the arcades: a brutally difficult side-scrolling beat-em-up in which the “dragon ninja” pummels an array of hockey-mask-wearing weirdos in some bizarro near-future America. Most shocking was the animated continue screen showing your struggling hero strapped to a table whilst a circular saw slowly decends against a backdrop of ghoulish faces in the shadows(!)

Reborn on the Playstation 2 as a 3rd-person action game with a reputation for brutal difficulty, this port of the latest outing that originally graced the PS3 and Xbox 360 is one of the goriest games I’ve ever played and very much deserves the 18-rating it’s graced with. Players will guide the super-ninja Ryu Hyabusa (and his pink-haired buxom female counterpart Kunoichi in some interlude chapters made special for this “Razor’s Edge” version of Ninja Gaiden 3) through a number of stages in which he’ll be engaging in some serious limb amputation on a variety of suicidal baddies who just keep coming back for more like extras from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

It’s very much the heir of the original and not a game for casual players as even the most basic of enemies will clobber you if you don’t bother doing the odd bit of dodging and blocking between the hacking and slashing. Despite the brutal difficulty even the most impossible of boss battles can be bested if you can summon a bit of patience and focus on the array of attack patterns employed against you (and you’ve been successful at remembering and executing some key combo moves). I have to say I haven’t played a game this challenging since No More Heroes and I felt a real sense of accomplishment in not accepting the offer to dial down the difficulty until the final boss fight.

If I wanted to sum up my feelings about this game in one word it would be “satisfying.” The story is ludicrous and silly just like the original arcade game and the combat is visceral: the use of extreme close-ups and crunching sound-effects when pulling off killing moves delivers some serious impact. The difficulty is balanced on a knife edge such that you know you can overcome your enemies, but that the wrong move will mean defeat. It’s been a long time since I played a game that provides this kind of adrenaline rush and many were the boss encounters that found me actually sweating afterwards!

If you like a bit of challenge and don’t mind a bit of the old ultra-violence then this is a must-have on the Wii U.

The Cave

Another multi-platform download-only title for the eShop, The Cave is an interesting platform game that takes cues from point-and-click adventure games of yesteryear.

The writing is quite amusing; which you’d expect from one of the creative minds behind the Lucas Arts classic “Day of the Dead,” but the gameplay isn’t your standard run and jump affair. Players guide three characters through levels patterned after their darkly humourous stories within the titular cave (which talks). This involves doing typical adventure game stuff like finding and using items to trigger events that open doors or otherwise progress the story. For the most part these are pretty obvious, but as with many adventure games you will occasionally get stuck and need to find a walkthrough online.

It’s generally good fun, though it can be a bit trying if you’re playing with people who lack basic platforming skills or don’t follow direction well since you’ll often need to put different characters in different locations – often not all on screen at the same time. Since focus will automatically shift to whichever of the three characters is selected last you can end up trying to perform some task with a character only to have focus shift to another character mid-step because a teammate accidentally pressed a button. You can’t die so there’s nothing game-ending about it, but it can get quite annoying!

It’s a worthwhile diversion for fans of story-based games who can appreciate a darkly amusing yarn and in the early days of the Wii U’s eShop it’s a decent and unique offering. Potential buyers should be aware the visuals haven’t been optimised for the Wii U’s HD output and there are a few game-breaking bugs that will force you to restart at your last checkpoint; given how long this game has been out I wouldn’t expect an update any time soon to address these issues.

Zen Pinball 2

I have an unnaturally strong love for pinball and pinball games were my main motivation for buying the Wii: namely Farsight Studios’ Pinball Hall of Fame series. Although their new virtual project The Pinball Arcade is apparently en route to the Wii U as I write this, the only pinball action to be had on the console at present is probably the most recognisable video pinball out there: Zen Pinball 2.

Unlike the pinball games that Farsight produces, Zen Pinball 2 is of the video variety, meaning that the tables have features you’d be unable to implement in a real pinball machine like animated figurines or warp zones wherein the ball is transported to another mini-table.

On the whole I prefer the real thing or an accurate simulation of same, but many of the tables on offer are quite entertaining; especially the licensed ones based upon Plants Versus Zombies and the Marvel super heroes, with my favourites being the Blade and Spider-Man tables. Around half of the tables are original and whilst none are that bad I only found myself wanting to buy the sci-fi themed ones Mars and Earth Defence. The physics engine is pretty good and the visuals are extremely pretty.

My primary gripe with this title is the table purchase mechanism in what is an initially free download. Some of the issues with in-game purchases are down to Nintendo since you’ll find that no eShop games allow you to make a purchase in-game as you would on an iOS device. Presumably this is in the interest of security: selecting the option to buy will simply launch the eShop and annoyingly you can only purchase five add-ons at a time.

What I can lay at the feet of Zen is the fact that although it’s nice that you can play time-limited demos of all the tables, you’ll need to download them individually via the eShop with the above-mentioned five at-a-time limitation attached. Given all purchasing a table does is remove the demo time-limit this isn’t optional even if you were happy to buy a table without giving it a free play. It took me over an hour to be in a position to test drive all the tables; having a fat initial download wouldn’t have delayed my play time any further and it would have been a lot less aggravating.

If I have a complaint about the game itself it’s that some of the table designs aren’t up to much and the voice samples can get quite repetitive on tables where it’s easy to hit the same loops over and over again, but there’s enough pinball action here to satisfy me until Farsight can bring their magnum opus to the stage. If only the initial set-up were less of a pain!

Wii Review Round-Up 63

Metal Slug X (Virtual Console Neo-Geo)

This is something of a strange game in the Metal Slug series: it’s more-or-less a re-skin of Metal Slug 2, but it has game sections and mechanics that are more fully-developed in Metal Slug 3. Consequently I feel it’s worth having in your Metal Slug collection.

Metal Slug 3 (Virtual Console Neo-Geo)

The third and arguably best of the Metal Slug franchise (the zombie sequence is a personal favourite). I’m frankly surprised this could be offered in the Wii Shop, because it’s pretty lengthy for an arcade game, but clearly some impressive work was done to compress the game’s soundtrack in order to make it possible.

As with other games in the series this is a fairly simple run-and-gun side-scrolling action game like Contra or a ton of other games from the 1980s-1990s. What has always set the Metal Slug series apart is outstanding animations, outrageous bosses and a healthy dose of humour. This third instalment takes elements of the previous games and turns it all the way up to eleven with an epic ending that has proved impossible to follow-up successfully.

Pretty much the definition of “quarter-sucker” – in the American parlance – the difficulty is such that it’s not really a question of whether you’ll need to continue, but how many continues you can complete the game in. A must-have for fans of classic arcade games.

Retro City Rampage (WiiWare)

To say this game is a labour of love would be an understatement. Largely the vision of a single individual’s desire to create what on the surface is an 8-bit version of the original Grand Theft Auto and years in the making, Retro City Rampage is a love letter to classic videogames. It’s small in size due to the pixellated retro graphics (surprisingly less than 60 blocks), but massive in scope with more jokes referencing game history and 80s movies than you can shake a stick at.

Any description I give wouldn’t do it justice, but let me just say that the GTA-meets-“Back to the Future” storyline provides a set-up for a raft of classic gaming nods that will provide you with hours of entertainment. If you’ve been playing games for more than 20 years this is an automatic purchase; if you’re a younger gamer this might well make you curious about gaming history. Either way it’s a lot of fun and well worth dusting off a Wii points card for.

Wii U Round-Up 1

Nano Assault Neo

Shin’en have wowed gamers in the past with what they achieved visually on the Wii in the teeny-tiny storage footprint of WiiWare and here they are doing something similar on the Wii U. For a download-only title of this size there is some pretty amazing stuff going on.

Spiritually descended from arcade games of the past, Nano Assault Neo sees players controlling a ship on what is supposed to be a cell, moving over the surface and blasting enemy microbes(?) that are encountered before hitting a kill threshold and going to the exit.

It’s fast-paced, has a varied techno soundtrack to put you in the zone and looks gorgeous. This was my second eShop purchase and if you’re a fan of good old-fashioned arcade action it’s a must have.

Nintendo Land

My first eShop purchase, Nintendo Land wasn’t something I was initially interested in, but the more I read about it the more it sounded worthwhile. Some compare it with the Wii Play collection: an assortment of mini-games that showcased the Wii Remote+Nunchuk controls of the Wii. To a degree that’s true, but the games in Nintendo Land are more fully-formed than those of Wii Play and they cover a broader range of gaming styles.

I won’t go into detail on the games themselves (you can find that information easily enough elsewhere), but suffice it to say it’s a great way to sample some of Nintendo’s biggest franchises and give you an appetite for more – just make sure you have some Wii Remotes and Nunchuks around for multiplayer.

Trine 2

Possibly the most beautifully detailed game on the Wii U thus far. Trine 2 is an action-platforming puzzle game – at least that seems like a comprehensive enough description – in which you use three different characters to work through a fantasy story about a princess and jealousy and, well, I don’t want to give it away.

It’s really geared for multi-player since some of the puzzles (largely of the “how do I get that door opened?” variety) work better with two players working in concert. If you’re on your own, don’t fret because online multiplayer complete with voice support via the Gamepad allows you to enjoy the multiplayer goodness without having someone present in your living room. I’ve enjoyed local multiplayer with my daughter and online multiplayer with a fellow Nintendo Life forumite and I think playing with others is the best way to enjoy this title. Nice to see 3rd parties supporting Nintendo’s notion that gaming should be a social activity!

Wii Review Round-Up 62

Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise

I don’t know why Europe needed a more bombastic title for this game, but arguably we lucked out in getting both the North American and European soundtracks so who’s complaining?

The Japanese made music-rhythm games what they are today and this is a pretty challenging one. At first glance it looks like it would be quite easy: press one (sometimes two) buttons in time to some on-screen action complete with a corresponding animation to indicate two grades of success or one of failure. Rhythm is the key however and though the visuals are lovely, they can throw you off as success means being in time with the audio; not the video.

A training mode will help test your sense of rhythm and bears going through the first time you play as it gives you a good idea of what to expect. There’s a raft of mini-games on offer with some pretty catchy tunes and cute animations. Completing each series of four followed by a mash-up of all of them will unlock the next grouping and they get even harder from there. If you’re feeling a bit defeated you can take a break with a virtual barista in a virtual cafe which also allows you to check out some “audio toys” and other unlockable treats before jumping back into the fray.

The presentation is high quality, as we’ve come to expect from Nintendo, and I recommend it for fans of the genre without reservation. I wouldn’t suggest it for young kids as it’s pretty unforgiving and is likely to just leave them frustrated, but my daughter enjoyed watching me struggle with it all the same!

Horizon Riders (WiiWare)

Sabarasa are no strangers to the Nintendo download scene, having cut their teeth on the DSi with cute puzzler “Save the Turtles.” This time they’re taking us to the arcade, circa 1988, with a polygonal rails shooter on the Wii.

The story sees some funky-looking space mercenaries getting a job to trash an alien AI defence system gone amuck, but this game isn’t story-driven so let’s move on. You choose your merc and then jump straight into the action on your hover-board, space sled – whatever, shooting everything in sight and racking up points through a series of stages punctuated by the occasional boss fight.

At first it just seems like a lacklustre Space Harrier wannabe, with slower pacing and less challenge, but after the first boss fight things definitely improve and pretty soon you’re struggling to keep up with the baddies. What Sabarasa have done within the limited memory footprint on WiiWare is pretty impressive and fans of games like Space Harrier won’t be disappointed.

It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I appreciated the challenge and I definitely rate it over Space Harrier: the proper 3D polygonal presentation is less confusing and the control is a lot tighter. I didn’t try out the optional Balance Board controls, but I expect they put you into the game a bit more since your avatar is riding a similar contraption. I’d like to have seen more variety in the visuals and enemy design, but I expect that’s more down to the limitation of what’s possible with WiiWare.

Ultimately I think this is a game which would have benefited from retuning as a Wii U eShop title (using the Gamepad to snipe at enemies to the sides and rear would be a nice touch), but for a WiiWare title it’s not bad.

Wii Review Round-Up 61

Pandora’s Tower

This is the third in a trilogy of Japanese RPGs which Nintendo of Europe decided to localise (probably as a bit of market research to see how many so-called “core gamers” were still out there playing Wii).

To be honest I was only moderately curious about this game. The story sounded weird and it seemed like it could be fun or possibly too limited in scope to be of much interest. Both of these things are true, but I bought it mainly to show my support for Nintendo’s efforts in the hopes we might see other games that haven’t been localised like Earth Seeker, Captain Rainbow or even Excite Bots (I can dream, can’t I?).

Well, as I said the premise is pretty weird: you control a dashing young man with cute hair who rescues a princess (some kind of lass of importance) who changes into a monster one day when heading a festival. You flee to a foreboding (forbidden?) part of the world where a bunch of towers on a floating island are apparently holding the crust of the earth together via giant chains. Gameplay consists of daily excursions to nearby ruins to fight monsters and try to find a cure for the princess.

There’s a funky dating-sim element that breaks up the monster-thumping action which comprises the bulk of the game. Your character needs to kill monsters in the towers on the floating island and bring their pulsing flesh back to the maiden for her to eat, lest she turn into a monster forever. The weird crone who has helped you by cluing you into this cure for the maiden’s curse helps you further with upgrades to your weapons (for a price naturally) and recipes for the ingredients you take off your defeated enemies to create other useful items.

The story is intriguing in the way the origin of the curse is revealed, but the gameplay is the big weak point. This is very much an action game: the interludes where you chat with the maiden are the only thing that’s really RPG-like beside stat-levelling. That’s fine because I like 3rd-person action games, but unfortunately the environments aren’t terribly varied and neither is the action. You go through each tower trying to locate and unlock a door to the tower’s “master,” fighting loads of lesser beasts on the way with a meter in the corner counting down the minutes until your fair one turns into a monster herself. The clock runs down sufficiently fast and exploring each tower takes enough time that you’ll need to head back to your base near the towers at least once to give the maiden some ordinary monster flesh to hold off the progression of her curse. Once she’s asleep and her “curse meter” is temporarily reset you return to defeat the boss and then come back for some more chat and gift-giving before moving on to the next tower.

After doing a few of these, I felt I had pretty much seen everything Pandora’s Tower had to offer. The idea of going through a dozen of these towers in two or more trips each fighting the same minor monsters over and over again just didn’t grab me, interesting story or no. I don’t regret the purchase because I do want more Japanese games localised (and I’m getting a groovy complementary coin set for my Nintendo club rewards), but there are better action games with RPG components to be had on the Wii than this.

Pac-Man Party

I’ve been playing Wii more with my daughter so I felt this party game would be a good choice and besides I’d finally get the classic Pac-Man arcade game for my Wii, which is strangely absent from the Virtual Console Arcade. A lot of critics picked on the fact that the mini-games included really don’t have a lot to do with Pac-Man and that’s fair enough, but it’s actually a pretty decent game in the “video board game” mould, so it shouldn’t be completely dismissed.

The object is to travel around the board trying to collect a set number of dots (referred to as “cookies” in-game), building castles as you go (think Monopoly house-building and upgrading). Mini-games are used to work out control over castles when multiple players are on the same “square” or if a player lands on someone else’s castle. There’s co-operative boss fights in each of the “board” variants included to break up the mini-game battles and a couple of special spaces which result in awards or penalties that can turn the tide of the game. There’s a decent amount of movement possible in the scores, so it’s quite possible for a player to start a turn in the lead and reach the end of the board last depending on their fortunes in the mini-game battles.

The biggest attraction for old-school gamers like me is the “arcade” bonus area which contains a choice of three games: Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Galaga. The emulation is generally decent (though shockingly this version of Pac-Man lacks the intermissions), but considering Pac-Man Party was released for the 30th anniversary of the original arcade game I really expected something more – like every Pac-Man sequel and variant released in the arcades, maybe? It’s an extra so it’s not worth crying about, but considering Pac-Man is Namco’s corporate mascot, you’d think they’d have made more of an effort.

Pac-Man Party isn’t the most creative use of a license I’ve seen, but it’s pretty fun and a decent representative of the party game genre. As long as you aren’t looking for a classic arcade fix you’ll be fine.

Prince of Persia (Virtual Console SNES)

A classic 8-bit computer game given the Super Nintendo treatment. You’re put in the role of a young prince who must rescue a princess from an evil vizir or king or whatever and must traverse deadly pits and time-based challenges in order to get a sword and defeat the baddie before time runs out and she’s executed or whatever. Ground-breaking in its use of life-like character animation, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who was playing games in the 80s who didn’t at least hear about this game.

The SNES version is true to the computer-based original with a bit more graphical detail and larger colour palette, but it’s just as unforgiving. Players get sent back to the start if they die (if there are checkpoints, they’re pretty widely spread apart) and there’s a fixed time limit. There are unlimited lives, but each attempt will use more of the sand in your hourglass. There is a code system you can use if you need to stop partway through (though with the Virtual Console pause feature you won’t need this), but this is a game that pretty well demands you finish it in one 30min. sitting.

It’s hard to imagine people paying full-retail for this when it first released given the punishing difficulty, but for the low price of 800 Nintendo Points it’s a nice bit of history for old-school platforming fans.

Wii Review Round-Up 60

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Twilight Princess was my first exposure to the Legend of Zelda franchise. Whilst I enjoyed it, it wasn’t a game I actually wanted to own for it’s own sake; rather because I wanted to use it to hack my Wii. I enjoyed it well enough to make sure that the next instalment would be a pre-order, though to be honest I didn’t expect it to improve upon its predecessor and figured it would end up the same way: trade-in fodder for something else.

That didn’t happen and it’s not because the controls are any better; in fact I’d say the use of Motion Plus and the focus on using directional sword swings rather than learning new combat techniques is a big minus for this game (and my sword arm). No, it’s because Nintendo did what they seem to do best: create a world that’s enjoyable to play in filled with likeable characters and a story that you want to see through to the finish.

Some folk might not be as happy with the more cartoony look of Link and the other inhabitants of Skyloft, but I found the designs quite appealing. The animation of the characters is even more impressive than the previous Zelda game with great subtlety of emotion and quality motion-capture bringing these voiceless characters to life. As with Twilight Princess, empathy with our mute hero was a big part of my enjoyment of Skyward Sword and I was happy to have my expectations exceeded in the story and acting departments over the previous instalment.

There are certain aspects of every Zelda game that make it a Zelda game, but the creative teams do enough with the story and setting that it doesn’t simply feel like a dressed-up retread of the last Zelda game you played. As with other Zelda games there are a few element-themed areas to explore and revisit further as the story advances, but it doesn’t feel like a chore thanks to the ability to fly between shortcuts. Motion controls are put to good use in flying between ground areas and Link’s home in the floating islands of Skyloft, providing peaceful interludes between monster battles on the ground below the cloud cover.

You’ll find the trademark Zelda puzzles when trying to navigate level sections (the rather clever use of “timeshift stones” in the desert area being a particular highlight), but none of them are so tricky as to require going to cheat sites. If you do get stuck there are stones about which will give you hints if you talk to them, but I used these sparingly.

After a successful finish you’re given the option to replay with a harder difficulty. I’m not hanging on to Skyward Sword so much for the extra challenge of that harder mode, but more because I think my daughter would enjoy playing it someday and it’s nice to have a game like that in my collection.

The Last Story

My last round-up covered the excellent Japanese RPG Xenoblade Chronicles and as much as I’d like to say that the second in a series of three Japanese RPGs to get European localisation is another quality title, I’m afraid I cannot.

I put over 140 hours into Xenoblade Chronicles, but less than 20 hours into The Last Story I threw in the towel. It wasn’t because of the voice acting, which was excellent (the audio being limited to English dub will disappoint purists) and it wasn’t because of the novel realtime combat system. I couldn’t complain about the visuals or the soundtrack either. The Last Story is an extremely slick-looking Wii title, with flashy menus and visual effects. The soundtrack is cinematic and also of high quality. In fact everything about this game makes it seem like it could be on-par with or even exceed Xenoblade Chronicles, but for one key factor: it’s a story game without an interesting story.

Unlike Xenoblade’s high-concept setting on the body of a dead god and surprisingly deep metaphysics, The Last Story is a more conventional sword and sorcery tale. As with Xenoblade Chronicles it features the totally overdone “chosen one” for a main character, but there’s just not as much to do and the story doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. The villains are obvious and the conflict just isn’t compelling. The first time I hit a tough boss battle, it was only a few attempts at beating it before I realised I just wasn’t interested in seeing what happened next.

Aside from the limited settings to explore (I’ll warrant the city you can run about in is large), it’s the linearity that gets me. I accept that the story overall is going to go a certain way, but honestly why give me two dialogue options at key points in the game only to have a response to one of them end up effectively being “actually you want to pick the other one.” Seriously what’s the point of that, other than to present the false illusion of choice and waste my time? Added to a rather small collection of side quests, I often felt that the story was only plodding along to give me the feeling I was getting my money’s worth. As I’ve said about the Resident Evil games: if you have a short story to tell, tell it well and make it worth repeating; don’t pad it out and make it feel like the reader (or player) is investing a lot of time for minimal payoff.

If you’re such a massive fan of the genre you feel that you must play them all or if you want to support localisation efforts by buying every niche Japanese title Nintendo publishes, go ahead, but I’d rather replay Xenoblade Chronicles or Skyward Sword instead.

Williams Pinball Classics

It’s probably safe to say that when it comes to retro-gaming nothing hooks me more than a quality video pinball game. Farsight Studios are the “Kings of Pin” for doing re-creations of actual pinball machines from yesteryear – their ongoing mission being to keep these artistic marvels alive into the 21st century.

System 3 took their sweet time bringing this to British shores; I think by the time it popped through the mail slot in August 2011 I had waited a total of 3-1/2 years since the original American release! Needless to say the wait was well worth it. Not only are Williams the creators of the best pinball tables of the 80s-90s (in my not-so-humble opinion), but this collection manages to address a lot of issues from the Gottlieb collection which preceded it as a system launch title.

You’ll still find those brilliant narrated table tours which tell you how to play the machines and a choice of camera angles and unlockable ball effects, but the motion-controlled “nudge” feels a lot more natural and, more importantly, the ability to unlock tables for free play is a lot easier. Rather than having one extremely difficult table goal, each table has five standard and five “wizard” goals to complete. Each of these on their own is a lot easier to accomplish than the goals from the Gottlieb tables, so a decent amount of play on each machine will see you getting those tables unlocked in no time. Of course you can also unlock free play on a machine by purchasing it with 100 credits and these are also far easier to come by than in the Gottlieb collection, where it seemed you’d have to play for months to accumulate enough for even one unlock code.

The flip side is that there are no cheats for unlocking anything, so if you want to play the bonus table, Jive Time, you really do need to complete the Williams Challenge by beating the target score on all the other tables in the collection in one sitting. Thankfully this is a brilliant collection of tables with not a dud amongst them (Jive Time itself is debatable), so you should enjoy that particular “chore.”

The regular table list reads like a who’s-who of some of the greatest pinball machines ever made:

Black Knight
Space Shuttle

so if you’re only going to have one pinball game for the Wii, this is definitely the one to get.

Fans of Farsight Studios’ efforts at preserving these old machines by creating video reproductions of them will no doubt be interested to know that Pinball Arcade is where they’re putting their future efforts with tables from this and the Gottlieb collection as well as tables from Bally and Stern getting the treatment. You can find the Pinball Arcade in the iOS and Mac App stores as well as Xbox Live and the Playstation online shop. Hopefully we’ll see it on the Wii-U as well because nothing can beat that motion-controlled nudge on the Wii!

Wii Review Round-Up 59

Xenoblade Chronicles

Historically I’m not a big fan of RPGs because of their time-consuming, life sucking aspect, but given the unusual circumstance of having the European translation of a major Japanese title before even an announcement of a release date for North America I felt duty-bound to pre-order this game and give it a shot. Besides, how could I pass up a game with a fantastic setting like the body of a long-dead god?

Xenoblade Chronicles stands-out generally because of the focus on story: not only the setting, but the progression of the tale from one of revenge to a deeper philosophical discussion. I was quite impressed with the maturity of not only the themes, but the characters themselves: their development and inner struggles ably conveyed by the excellent voice talent employed in the British localisation (Japanese audio with English subtitles is also available).

Of course games are more than stories and here Xenoblade Chronicles also impresses, using a hybrid combat system that mixes realtime and turned-based aspects implemented with a simple control scheme. Controls are limited to buttons and analogue stick, with neither motion or pointer put to use. The Classic Controller is supported, but I preferred the more flexible posture afforded via the traditional Remote + Nunchuk scheme.

The unconventional combat is a bit jarring at first, but you’ll quickly get into the swing of things: realtime character movement is used to change which part of a monster you face for the use of different attack types, but has little meaning in terms of defence. Standard attacks happen automatically and build up a store of points which are expended to carry out special attacks that are divided into categories that have further effects on enemies when used in a certain sequence. These attack sequences are primarily put to use during “Chain Attacks” which allow for the selection of special attacks used by the otherwise AI-controlled members of your party.

In addition to statistics which are enhanced via levelling-up characters (experience is earned through combat, exploration and quest completion), there’s a large number of skills and skill trees which affect gameplay. Your active party is limited to three out of a selection of up to a half-dozen or so characters, so developing these is dependent upon which characters you choose to play with over any length of time.

Skill development, quests and the different combat strengths and weaknesses of your party mean that you’ll be changing your roster regularly in the course of play. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the the way various characters control in combat because it’s fairly different from the main character Shulk. Shulk has an additional range of powers courtesy of the Monado sword he wields which is central to the plot of the game and though you’ll be tempted to use him exclusively there are moments where you cannot and the transition will be quite jarring if you haven’t tried using any of the other characters as your primary one previously.

The game world is vast and enhances the story’s epic feel, supported by a terrific cinematic score. Each section of the game world is cleverly designed to largely eliminate the need to pause for loading or limit viewing distance. The trade off is that monsters will pop-into view long after you’d have been able to see them in “real life,” but given the breathtaking vistas stretched out before you, it’s well worth it. There’s so much to explore and so many characters to talk to that I couldn’t adequately cover it all even in a dedicated review.

If I have anything negative to say it’s that the game world is so vast that sometimes finding locations you’re directed to in various quests can be really challenging. You’re often tasked with collecting items that are freely available (marked by glowing blue dots visible from quite a distance) and also items dropped by certain monsters. I would strongly recommend not throwing away or selling anything you pick up casually as I learned the hard way that some of these items are extremely rare. You can trade with NPCs for some of them, but you won’t know that until you’ve chatted with all named NPCs and carried out most of the quests for that part of the world to increase your “affinity” with them. Needless to say I consulted FAQs A LOT towards the end, but if you’re a bit more patient than me and enjoy exploring every little corner of virtual game worlds, you’ll get on fine.

Suffice it to say it’s probably the deepest game I’ve played in terms of character customisation and exploration. The side quests are numerous and interesting and there’s additional character moments to unlock in various parts of the game world. It’s a welcome change from the normal level-grinding that typically marks the path to progression for this style of game. Even after clocking 140hrs. of play before the end credits rolled I feel like I’ve only experienced 2/3rds of what was on offer and I’m already looking forward to replaying it someday. If the only reason you haven’t purchased this game is because your Wii needs a service to read dual-layer discs, shame on you – get your machine fixed and buy it!

escapeVektor Chapter I (WiiWare)

It’s no secret I enjoy a good old-fashioned arcade-style game; the crustier the better. Nnooo appear to have the same not-so-secret love that I do because they’ve delivered a WiiWare game in the same class as the Bit.Trip and Art Style series in what is billed as the first in a trilogy of games that combines the simplicity of the early arcade with modern special effects and a terrific soundtrack into a lovely package.

The bright pastels and simple geometric shapes (you control a white arrow on a series of grids) remind me a lot of ancient games most people won’t have heard of like Targ and sequel Spectar, and the gameplay strongly echoes Konami’s classic Amidar. The over-arching story has you taking on the role of a person trapped in an old video game, a la Tron, working your way through various levels to piece together your memory of how you got there.

The gameplay is basic, but the developers have added enough clever twists to keep the formula fresh. Players are tasked with guiding their white arrow through a series of white grids, changing the paths to a pastel green in the process. Once the grid is completely repainted the level is cleared and you move on to the next.

Roaming about the grids in pre-set patterns are enemies to avoid that will speed-up once they catch sight of you, so you really can’t just go blundering along – although early on you’ll gain the ability to put on some extra speed for a limited time to escape the baddies. Later levels feature towers which send killer pulses down nearby lanes at set intervals and lethal electrified barriers which get enabled or disabled as you cross circuit paths. There are also free-roaming enemies that spawn from gates when you trip pathways that require a bit more strategy and skill to avoid.

Without some kind of offensive weapon the later levels would prove nigh impossible (though presence of a reward for clearing a level without using weapons, suggests that it can be done), so thoughtfully you can earn charges that will destroy all enemies in the vicinity. Despite your extra abilities escapeVektor is still quite challenging and unforgiving. The difficulty ramps-up such that by the second “world” the gloves are definitely off. Arcade veterans will find this is a game every bit as tough as those classics of yesteryear.

The core game mechanics are sound and entertaining; I wouldn’t bat an eye at seeing this in an arcade upright even today. The visuals are simple, but there’s some interesting background effects happening that make your grid appear to be a 2D structure floating in 3D space. It looks really slick without being overly flashy or distracting. Calling the playfield a “grid” doesn’t really do it justice, as this isn’t a simple sheet of graph paper. Rather there’s a symmetrical pattern of connected squares and rectangles which changes from level-to-level. During play the camera is kept zoomed-in on the currently occupied section of the playfield with your arrow in the centre. Given the repeating patterns which compose the levels it’s easy to get lost sometimes – not to mention making it hard to avoid hazards, so the ability to temporarily zoom-out for a full view of the playfield to reorient oneself is welcome.

The combination of visuals and gameplay make this a solid addition to the WiiWare line-up, but what puts it amongst the elite is the brilliant ambient techno soundtrack. There’s a nice variety of tracks which brilliantly complement play and I was really happy to see it available for download on iTunes.

If you’re a fan of early arcade classics or know and love the Bit.Trip series then you really owe it to yourself to check this out. I sincerely hope we’ll see future series chapters from Nnooo; hopefully they’ll live up to this brilliant debut.

Wii Review Round-Up 58

Wii Play Motion

Wii Play Motion builds upon the runaway success of Wii Play by including a remote which is not only a special colour (red), but integrates the increased accuracy of spatial positioning offered by the Wii Motion Plus add-on and is consequently referred to as a Wii Remote Plus.

To be honest as a solo gamer I don’t find the line-up as compelling as that of Wii Play. Where this collection really shines is in multi-player; especially with kids. Outside of the red Remote my primary motivation was to get a game that I could play with my daughter and in that respect it’s well worth it.

The stone skipping game takes a real knack that I frankly don’t have and it’s the only game my daughter can beat me at without my intentionally tipping the balance. Another big hit is the ghost-hunting game which cleverly uses motion plus and the remote speaker to turn the Wii Remote into a ghost detector you point around your room to find scary ghosts. Once captured in your Ghostbusters-style particle stream, you need to slowly point your remote back at your screen and guide the ghost into a trap. Really big ghosts (featuring outlandish decorations) require the cooperation of both players to capture. Another two-player game involves the joining of both player’s Miis at the feet. They constantly bounce about like tumblers and each player gets to control the orientation of the pair when their character is upright in a cooperative game based around bouncing up the screen into a goal.

There’s a fair number of games to explore and although they play differently solo versus multi-player, they really don’t grab me enough to recommend this to anyone who only plays alone (unless you really want that red Wii Remote). If you have a household of Wii gamers though, you’ll find some good fun here so you should definitely pick it up – just be sure you get another Wii Remote Plus or Motion Plus add-on as the regular Wii Remote on its own isn’t supported.

Hello Kitty Seasons

My daughter, like many little girls, is a big fan of Hello Kitty. She started out playing games on my DSi LL and has a couple of DS Hello Kitty games (they’ll be given the mini-review treatment in the future), so it was no surprise she would want this. I did resist however, because I hadn’t read anything terribly brilliant about it and it transpires that instinct was correct.

In theory Hello Kitty Seasons sounds pretty cool: you travel around Sanrio Town and meet and help your favourite characters and build up the town Sims-style. The “seasons” gimmick involves the game changing seasons to match the local weather by keying off the Wii’s date/time settings. Who wouldn’t want to play an Animal Crossing game with Sanrio characters in a world that changes to match the real world?

There are several disappointments here for the die-hard Kitty fanatic: firstly you don’t actually control Hello Kitty or any of the Sanrio characters. Instead you create a human child avatar which has unlockable customisations like clothing and hairstyles. Secondly you don’t actually build up the town: you perform various fetch quests for different characters and once you’ve collected enough of certain items you merely upgrade existing structures. Lastly the mini-games played to earn items for town improvements are rubbish. I don’t mean the games themselves – this is an all-ages title so they’re necessarily simple, but they often use motion controls and the motion controls suck.

A good example of the poor control on display is a gem-sorting game featuring Dear Daniel, Hello Kitty’s paramour. Red and green gems come down a conveyor belt and you need to motion up or down to put the gems in the matching colour basket and then motion sideways to crush rocks which match neither. The motion detection is awful and it’s pretty much impossible to perform any of these actions with any accuracy. For young or beginning gamers it’s needlessly frustrating and could have benefited from more fine-tuning or a different control interface altogether. None of the mini-games really stand out unless it’s due to problems like this, which only adds to the likelihood of this title collecting dust on the shelf.

If you have very young children, say under five, then this might be okay, but honestly I don’t see why your five year-old would be playing video games in the first place. For older children the frustrating controls and lack of real interaction with the game world will likely mean a loss of interest after a few plays. In my household we didn’t get to see one change of season – not that this would have mattered. Of course being able to control one of the Sanrio characters might well have made the difference, but I’m not sorry to have seen it traded in.

Harry Potter Lego: Year 1-4

My daughter is midway through the Harry Potter series of books so it’s no surprise she was keen to play a game based upon it. I’ve played Lego Star Wars on the Wii and the Mac so I figured this was a safer bet than the typical movie-license tie-in. Although it’s proven a big hit with her there are a couple of issues that are worth highlighting for parents who may also be harangued into purchasing it.

If you’ve ever played a Lego game on any platform then you know what to expect: control one of two characters (like other entries in the series a second player can jump in or leave play at any time) with the Nunchuk and the Remote and navigate through various platforms to an exit which must be unlocked by destroying and building things made out of virtual Lego bricks in order to proceed to the next level.

The starting point is a pub called the Leaky Cauldron. From here you’ll start the various years or play through individual missions in Free Play mode once completed. Once you start a year you’ll often find yourself at Hogwarts Academy and here you’ll need to roam around the school grounds following a ghost who leads you to various lessons to learn more spells used to complete missions and unlock more areas of the school where you can earn special items and unlock additional characters. The school and its grounds are so expansive that players can spend a lot of time simply exploring and messing about for ages without undertaking a single mission.

Fans will love the funny cut scenes and numerous references to events in the books. According to my daughter (who in fairness has seen only clips of the films) the game appears to be a combination of movie and book, with the look of the characters more closely following the books than the films – well, as much as Lego characters can.

Although it is a game featuring Harry Potter and Lego, it’s definitely not for beginning gamers as a fair amount of coordination is required to move the on-screen character with the control stick whilst casting spells; many of which involve tapping and then holding down buttons and pointing at the screen with the Remote. My daughter has really improved her hand-eye coordination playing this, but it’s still challenging in places.

Most notable of the new platforming challenges are staircases built by grabbing and placing Lego bricks using the Remote pointer in order to access elevated areas. For younger players this will be the greatest source of frustration; especially when there are background and foreground areas on either side of the staircase, requiring players to line their character up properly and make precise jumps to ascend. There is often a picture in the background which shows you how to stack the different-coloured bricks, but it’s easy to get it wrong and sometimes targeting specific bricks with your levitation spell can be difficult. Consequently Mum and Dad will likely be summoned for these bits.

Of course if you play for any length of time with another player you’re going to encounter another new aspect of this Lego game in comparison to others: the dynamic split-screen. Game levels aren’t really any larger than in Lego Star Wars, but the camera tends to be closer to the characters, making them larger on-screen. It’s also more dynamic in its movements (more on this in a bit) and when characters move away from each other the screen will suddenly split diagonally so that players can freely move wherever they like.

Although the split-screen can bit a bit disorienting the worst is when one player’s character is in the background and the other in the near foreground. This causes the camera to move in response to the foreground character alone. For the player whose character is in the background this can be rather nauseating because the camera moves won’t match their character’s movements. I’ve been playing games for over 30 years – a lot of them with a first-person perspective – and I’ve never had a game make me feel physically ill until this one. It’s actually bad enough that I cannot play it with another player for more than 20 minutes at a stretch unless it’s during a boss battle where the camera is fixed.

It’s also worth noting that in the hub areas either player can begin the transition from one room to another just by walking through a door, which can be frustrating if the other player was in the middle of doing something else.

For a Lego game it’s very deep: there’s loads of characters and virtual Lego kits to unlock, numerous bonus levels, great multi-player (provided nobody suffers from motion sickness) and vast environments to explore. Without a doubt fans of Lego and Harry Potter will enjoy it, just be prepared to lend a hand to your wizards in training.