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?

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!