Wii Review Round-Up 53

Black Dragon (Virtual Console Arcade)

Though Capcom has become best known for the seemingly endless Street Fighter series of games, they did a lot of action and shooting games as well in the 80s. Black Dragon (or Black Tiger, outside of Japan) is certainly one of their very best. It’s an action-platforming title in which players control a burly Conan-style warrior battling various baddies through a series of massive dungeons and caverns, each ending in a boss fight.

Your goal seems to be to rid the world of dragons which you don’t start encountering as bosses until the third level. Your enemies get steadily tougher as you progress, but by saving the Zenny coins they drop (and finding hidden treasures in the walls) you can buy weapons and armour from traders you encounter in your travels.

It’s an extremely rich game with a simple joystick + two button control scheme. The weapon upgrades aren’t linear (though you’ll want to get the first one early on if you’re to survive for long) and more armour is purchased as you lose it in battle. In addition to being able to purchase armour you’ll earn more life bars as you progress and earn extra lives. Though this might make things seem easy, there’s lots of baddies to face and one-hit kills from falling rocks or deadly pits that will keep you feeling challenged, but without being cheap. It’s one of my favourite arcade games of all time; if you like action games, don’t pass it up!

1942 (Virtual Console Arcade)

Capcom games have always been more about action platforming and fighting than shooting, but if you were in arcades in the mid-1980s I have no doubt you’d have laid eyes on this gem. Capcom made several sequels to this game, but they never felt right to me, replacing multiple ships with life bars and adding far too many special effects as they did. No, the original is definitely the best in this case. 1942 puts your aerobatic wonder plane against what appears to be the entire Japanese navy and air force (odd coming from a Japanese game developer) in a classic hunt for the high score of the day.

Playing a vertically scrolling shooter fighting waves of enemy fighters certainly feels very old school, but the fluid animation marks it as a newer generation of game than something like Space Invaders or Scramble. There’s a fair amount of challenge here with only one power-up level to enhance your guns and a few loop-de-loops to evade enemies. Enemy fighters come in a few flavours which change periodically to keep things fresh and another nice touch is getting a break down of your hit-to-miss ratio between levels. Definitely one of the better shooters of its era and a must for fans of the genre.

Wii Review Round-Up 52

Dive: The Medes Island Secret (WiiWare)

I first previewed this game wayyyy back in May and I’ve owned it for many months since its July release, but didn’t want to do even a mini-review until I’d put in some quality time with it. As of this writing I have only the titular “Medes Island Secret” itself to locate, but I’m saving that for when I’m in the right mood rather than rushing it as this is a game to savour.

Dive feels very much like a souped-up version of the old Atari 2600 game, Aquaventure, in which players control a diver who spears fish to score points whilst avoiding sharks. Of course there’s much more to Dive than this as you’re actually hunting for sunken treasures off the coast of several islands in the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas.

Each of the maps is pretty large and there are some rather twisty and circuitous routes to take to find the main treasure; the location of which is always indicated in your radar. On the way you can find other treasures as well as air and spear pickups to replenish supplies.

There’s hazards aplenty in the form of the usual sharks, but also stinging jellies, giant anemones and aggressive poisonous fish. The visuals are definitely something to sing about. The 2D presentation has a good retro feel, but there’s been no skimping in the art department with loads of variety in the type and size of both hazardous and background fish. The environments are highly detailed and though you might have trouble telling foreground from background at times, it’s never a show-stopper. Animals and your diver have lifelike animation which, combined with some nice sound effects, wonderfully adds to the fun of simulated underwater exploration.

This would be nice enough, but the outstanding soundtrack is what really completes the package. Light and airy guitar notes deliver a mellow way to relieve some daily stress in the sunny seas, whilst more sinister organ sounds build tension in the dark depths where you have only an electric torch to light your way.

All the treasures are used to raise funds to upgrade your equipment, allowing you to reach greater depths on return visits to the earlier islands to do further exploring on the way to solving the central mystery. There’s achievements to be earned and you can read about the islands and treasures in data logs accessed via the pause menu. If there’s anything negative to say about Dive, it’s that there are some bonus treasures which are impossible to reach – apparently because someone forgot to program a path to them!

If you’re compelled to get every last item in a game before you can go on with your life, you’re doomed to disappointment. Nevertheless I certainly hope that won’t keep you from enjoying one of the best WiiWare games available.

Commando (Virtual Console Arcade)

Nostalgia can sometimes cloud a person’s objective view of old video games and this is rarely truer than of a game like this. Commando is sort of the successor to Taito’s Front Line: a vertically scrolling shooter in which you control a soldier fighting on what looks like a WWII battlefield. You shoot everyone in sight, try to rescue friendlies being escorted away as POWs and avoid enemy bullets and grenades whilst letting loose your own.

Not bad in description, but it’s an incredibly challenging game even on the default difficulty. Capcom have provided a variety of ways to make it easier such as boosting the starting number of lives and lowering the threshold for extras, as well as adjusting the game difficulty level, but my inner masochist just sucks it up and takes the default every time.

If you like your old-school arcade games on the challenging side give this a go – just be sure to turn off that Continue setting, okay?

Wii Review Round-Up 51


After selling Wii Motion Plus bundled with a few games, trying to sell the inevitable Wii Remote with the Motion Plus functionality built-in was a foregone conclusion. Even so Nintendo clearly felt a bit shy about selling a Motion Plus-only title without the requisite pack-in: hence Flingsmash being available exclusively bundled with the new Remote Plus.

I’ll dispense with the story except to say it’s your disposable “control the hero and save the day!” garden-variety pablum. Flingsmash at its heart is an arcade-style score attack game that sees you whacking a cute, yellow ball character through a series of horizontally-scrolling levels (with the odd vertical moments for variety) smashing bricks, collecting pick-ups and bashing baddies.

There are alternate paths within the constantly scrolling levels encouraging replays to bump up your high score and the odd changes in level conditions to add some challenge. You’ll also unlock mini-games by earning “A” rankings in all three stages which comprise each of the eight levels for added play value (though the tennis games against the computer are rubbish).

The main problem I had was the actual play mechanic itself. Despite conceptually whacking the ball/character, the absence of any on-screen paddle creates a disconnect between the player and the action. Although there’s a graphical representation of the remote that tracks the angle in real-time, it can get pretty frustrating trying to get that last coin you need to clear the stage. Repeatedly swinging at the wrong angle and getting a pop-up message that you’re swinging too hard can take its toll, so when you get a message every few stages suggesting you take a break, it might be a good idea!

The few moments of frustration are balanced out by good motion tracking elsewhere; playing with a friend would likely also make for a more fun experience. Given the price is only 10 quid over the Remote Plus on its own, it’s not a bad deal. As long as you don’t go in expecting brilliance you can have a good time.

Tron Evolution: Battle Grids

Let me get my biases out in the open by stating that I’m a big fan of the movie, loved the arcade game and am looking forward to the new feature film, so I had no problem making a blind purchase here.

For fans of the arcade game who might have been hoping for emulated arcade classics, they’re not here so go back to that copy of Tron 2.0 on your GBA or good old MAME. Even purists can’t be too disappointed though, because what we have here is a re-imagining of the arcade classics and I have to say they’re more fun than the originals.

The setting of this game is a sort of golden age following the events of the first film where programs are competing in their version of the Olympics. A now-retired Tron (voiced by Bruce Boxleitner – woo!) is looking for a successor to inspire the new breed of userless programs known as ISOs who have joined the grid population.

I was pretty surprised at the extent of the story mode which features different areas to explore and characters to talk to. It’s not an RPG by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s pretty cool that you get to name and create a custom avatar (mine is S€@n – cute, eh?) to control in-game; and there’s loads of extra customisations to purchase later.

Playing through story mode unlocks other characters to play with, though I prefer to play with my own avatar. I haven’t tried multi-player yet, but other than the disc and tank games they’re the usual split-screen affair. If single-player is anything to go by then it’s sure to be a lot of fun.

The vehicle-based games are definitely the best. You have a choice of using the Remote on its side Excite Truck-style – with Motion/Remote Plus support for added accuracy – or plugging in the Nunchuk if you want to use a stick instead. Given the Wii Remote is thus far the perfect driving controller for home consoles I cannot see the point of the latter. The lightcycles are so much fun to race in both arena battle and racing modes, that you could have sold me the game with them alone, but there’s also tank battles, four-wheelers called “Runners” that race laps or battle in arenas, Hyperball (the first game we saw Flynn playing in the original Tron with the big scoops) and disc battles.

Considering this is a budget game and a film tie-in, it’s impressive how much effort has been put into the presentation and extent of the play offering. There’s extra vehicles to unlock by earning “bits,” high scores to compete for and an overall ranking to improve. You can replay parts of the story mode to find extra pick-ups and unlock extra game modes, play individual games on their own or create your own little tournament with NPCs to take the empty slots (or omit the competition in races if you want to do a time-trial). When you play the games on their own or in tournaments you’ll find you can adjust just about every meaningful parameter in the game to provide the right level of challenge.

The development team could have gotten away with cutting a lot of corners, but they didn’t to their credit. If you’re a fan of the film or even the original arcade game, it’s a safe bet you’re going to enjoy this; with four player support, so will your friends. Kudos to Disney Interactive for bucking the trend in poor licensed tie-ins. This one is definitely a keeper!

Standalone WiiWare Review: Chick Chick Boom

It’s a shame that the term “flash game” has become something of an insult because Flash can be useful for trying out game concepts that turn out to be pretty good, with Chick Chick Boom as a case in point. This game started out as a little promo title on the Nintendo website a few years ago and has recently become a fully-fledged (ha ha) WiiWare title featuring a fun core play mechanic and challenging AI for CPU-controlled opponents.

Like most downloadable games your goal is pretty simple: beat your opponent’s team in a set number of rounds by inflicting more damage upon them than they do to you. Rather than your squad of bouncing, rotund chicks duking it out directly with their opposites they use a few different weapon types which are deployed using the rather novel mechanism of completing a little dot-to-dot drawing of them as quickly as possible via movements of your Remote pointer. The more quickly you complete the drawing the more powerful the attack you can execute by clicking a special icon that “orbits” an image of the chosen weapon. “Shoot” the dot, click the button to launch and watch the fun as either a large weighted object, a bomb or a carnivorous plant is inflicted upon your hated foes.

Of course not all your attacks will hit their mark because both sides have defencive actions that can be taken by “drawing” on the playfield via the A button to negate the hazards sent over. A line above your chicks’ heads can stop that falling sofa, a barrier can be made around the bomb before it explodes and a climbing pole will cause the vine-like plant to grow above the heads of chicks so that it starves.

It makes for an interesting dynamic as you take turns sending attacks and then defending against them. Spicing things up a bit are special attacks like lighting storms or level-specific ones like giant sea monsters or UFOs which will pop-up randomly and can only be executed by the player who draws the matching pattern first. Extra activities take the form of shooting kernels off of “Corncobman” as he walks by in the background to get some extra health, or trying to get the pinata in your side of the playfield to get a defencive bonus.

Though the drawing aspects might sound a bit gimmicky the gameplay is actually quite engrossing due to the challenging AI of the computer-controlled opposition. This is definitely a game where you’ll want to play the tutorial and start out against the easiest level of AI difficulty until you get the hang of things as the next two difficulty levels aren’t playing around. Eliminating all five enemy chicks to win a round early isn’t an easy task and you may find yourself opting for simply having the most health when the round ends the majority of the time.

The default game mode sees you playing towards a winning number of rounds as opposed to the typical “best of X” match. The goal can be as simple as winning one round or an epic contest to see who can get six victories under their belt first. The other two games see players trying to get the most wins in a set time limit of varying length or playing with a fixed amount of health against as many opposing teams as you can face down in a sort of “iron man” endurance contest.

If this sounds like a game best played with friends, you’re probably right, though the single player game is pretty fun too. Records are kept of matches with one or two players against a CPU-controlled opponent, though there’s no way of identifying players outside of which of the three unnamed save slots you choose when the game first starts up. You have added play incentive in the form of an additional chick teams to unlock beyond the initial five available, with achievement-style objectives bringing them into play. The teams are really little more than skins, but thanks to some cute character design it’s still fun to try out different ones and unlock the rest.

With two players you can either play on the same team against the CPU or have a one-on-one match with the CPU offering some limited defencive drawing assistance as in the single-player games. Otherwise you’ll be playing against other humans in the normal two-on-two match. Two players on one team means that one player focuses on offence whilst the other does defence – definitely handy when the action gets more frantic.

I would have liked the option to switch teams without backing out through so many menus, but outside of that there’s nothing that sticks out as problematic. Chick Chick Boom is highly polished and offers up the kind of novel control interface I’d expect from a Wii game with the accessibility and “have-a-go” flavour you get with a download title. If you’re looking for something challenging and fun to spend those Wii Shop points on, this is definitely worth your consideration.

Wii Review Round-Up 50


Though I’ve never been the biggest James Bond fan (they broke the mould after my namesake, Sean Connery, left the role), I did find the idea of playing a first-person action game in the fantasy spy setting appealing. Eurocom have done a pretty decent game here, though a few issues stopped me from wanting to hang onto it and I never did finish that second playthrough thanks to a really irritating last couple of levels.

The highlights are the controls, superb voice-acting, the fact that there’s an attempt at storytelling at all and the visuals. As with their other Wii highlight, Dead Space: Extraction, the facial animations are amazing and convey even subtle emotion brilliantly (take a look at the intro to the St. Petersburg Statue Park mission for a prime example).

Though there’s only a half dozen actual missions, they’re divided into a few levels each and feel fairly substantial. On the downside, one of the last: “Enter the Cradle,” is a nightmare gauntlet that will require multiple attempts even on the easiest difficulty and is challenging to the point where it’s no fun at all. Ditto the penultimate “defend the scientist” level – honestly why do designers even put these into games; does anyone actually enjoy them? I don’t mind tying mission failure to the death of an ally, but having to defend said ally against seemingly endless hordes of attackers whilst they keep moaning at you to defend them gets really old really fast.

Though the controls are good, they don’t feel as good as The Conduit, it must be said. I don’t get how I can have the “continue tracking movement if pointer off-screen” option checked and yet have attempts to look down quickly stop as if I didn’t have that selected. I suppose I might have been able to get the desired result by tweaking the dead zone more, but without the ability to test settings realtime as I could in The Conduit, it ended up feeling like a chore.

Level design is excellent, making the levels feel less linear than they are, but the AI is a bit goofy and results in some amusing moments. Even when you’re moving ever-so-slowly whilst upright you can cause a guard to turn around as you sneak up on them, but crouched you can practically circle them undetected. Likewise if your weapon is silenced you can cause untold carnage and property damage and so long as you don’t cap the guy standing next to one of his mates no one will know you’re there. In the aforementioned St. Petersburg mission there’s a bit where you can go up on the roof of a building with some baddies inside and look down through skylights at them. Now you might think that shooting out any of these windows would raise the alarm, but if your gun is silenced you can not only rain down glass on their heads but shoot them down in what would actually be plain sight of their mates without anybody so much as blinking twice. It might seem like Yahtzee-style nitpicking, but those kinds of things do tend to take me out of the game a bit.

Being a solo gamer I didn’t have a chance to try out local multiplayer – though having even a 42″ screen carved up into four doesn’t seem like it would be the best multiplayer FPS experience. Despite another concurrent Activision title, Call of Duty: Black Ops supporting the new Headbanger headset for the Wii, Goldeneye has no such support or any other method of interacting with other players during online play beyond shooting them. Playing against the equivalent of clever bots never really interested me in the early days of online multiplayer on the PC; without so much as keyboard texting available I couldn’t be bothered to do more than confirm that the online multiplayer works.

Overall this is a decent game if you’re a fan of the genre, but in all honesty I’d hold out for Conduit 2, which will support the new Headbanger headset, won’t require friend codes for voice chat and will offer both a more substantial single-player campaign, better visuals and on-the-fly control adjustments.

My Starry Night (WiiWare)

I skipped Hudson’s other non-game title, My Aquarium (mainly because I have a real one), but my interest in the heavens combined with the low price made this seem like a safe bet.

You get several fully-voiced and text-based planetarium-style star shows about the constellations and major stellar objects that easily make this worth the meager 500-point asking price, but I couldn’t help feeling like there could have been more content. There’s no DLC, but that just seems like a missed opportunity. Though there is a mode where you can highlight objects of interest to review the matching entry in the glossary it feels like My Starry Night is lacking in visual data beyond a few Hubble telescope images. Being able to view maps of our moon, Mars, Venus and other planets in the solar system as well as information about the human exploration of space would have been great and certainly worth downloading for an extra fee.

You’re getting more information than the average gadget catalogue “home planetarium” at a fraction of the cost – even if it’s not as visually impressive. If you share my interest in the night sky – and also live in an urban area where light pollution prevents you from seeing most of it, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Wii Review Round-Up 49

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

I tend to avoid licensed tie-ins like the plague – especially multi-platform ones – but I was drawn to this one because I’m a fan of the classic Spider-Man comics and it looked like a quality port rather than the half-assed Wii release you’d probably expect. Having played through once I can say that whilst the game has its share of bugs (ha ha), it’s quite playable and doesn’t feel like a dumbed-down port in any way. From a story perspective the plot is as lame as the worst of shoddy comic-book crossover event stories, but what makes it fun to play is quality voice-acting and often-humourous dialogue combined with simple beat-em-up action.

The main graphical issues are those I’ve come to expect from any 3D game: namely camera glitching and the odd bit of clipping. The camera never breaks the game, but it does have an odd tendency to rotate around your character a bit when you perch on a high point for more than a couple of seconds. I did get trapped in a wall and stuck on scenery once, but I was able to resolve matters without having to restart from a previous checkpoint.

Controls are an area that is relatively trouble-free, but for the near-absence of user-definable settings. There are two control schemes which offer a choice in the method of executing normal and strong attacks. By default attack strength is tied to a tilt of the remote – not a huge deal, but there are combos that require rapid switching between strong and normal attacks and it’s nigh impossible to pull this off with any degree of consistency. The alternate control scheme offers separate buttons for strong and normal attacks, but replaces the ability to quickly block/dodge by holding/releasing a button with a toggle between offensive and defensive postures that feels awkward and decidedly less agile than Spider-Man should be. In the end I chose to suck it up and avoid combos that involved toggling between attack strengths so I could retain the ability to quickly pop in-and-out of a defencive posture. If I had the ability to remap controls I could easily have found a compromise that would have made pulling off many combos less hit-and-miss.

The game’s length feels just right with a dozen missions split between the four characters. Despite some differences between the attacks of the four heroes (and the Noir universe gameplay) there’s a lot of repetition because nearly all the bosses bar the Noir ones fling out mini-me versions of themselves to fight as fodder, revealing a lack of imagination on the part of the game designer.

What has kept Shattered Dimensions on my shelf is the great dialogue – especially Stan Lee acting as the narrator – though the one-liners peppering the fights are over-used and repeat too often, to sometimes embarassing effect. The new characters created just for this game are so well-designed and acted that you wouldn’t know they weren’t based upon a character written for one of the comics. There’s also loads of unlockables in the form of extra attacks, stat levelling and alternate costumes to justify extra replays for completists.

Whilst not as strong as Marvel Ultimate Alliance, it’s still a good bit of fun for Spider-Man fans despite the flaws. I enjoyed the cut scenes, in-game dialogue and the data files for all the characters, though I’d love to see a stronger Spider-Man game in the future which addresses the shortcomings of this one.

Batman: The Brave and The Bold, The Videogame

Hot on the heels of Spider-Man was the release of this DS/Wii-exclusive Batman game. In many ways it’s the superior game: better writing, glitchless gameplay (thanks to the old-school 2D perspective), solid controls and incredible animation-like graphics. Where it falls a bit short is length: only four episodes you can blast through in under five hours. With five characters to play as (four + Batman) and multiple weapons to level-up you’ll get some decent replay value though.

The biggest edge this game has over Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is that dialogue between characters continues throughout each episode rather than being over-reliant upon canned one-liners for background noise. This dialogue is often amusing and keeps the game engaging despite the repetitive beat-em-up gameplay. Way Forward really did a great job here and I like the fact that the tone of the episodes is closer to the Batman Animated series from the late 70s than the darker Batman of modern cinema. For fans of classic beat-em-up action it’s not to be missed!

Standalone WiiWare Review: ROBOX

Fuelled by nostalgia we’re seeing a resurgence of the 2D platform game from smaller developers looking to relive the glory days of the late 8- and 16-bit eras – though thankfully they’re generally better-crafted than in the time of the “platform glut” of that era of gaming. Dreambox Games’ new WiiWare game ROBOX is one of the most recent to grace the Wii Shop, combining the open-world exploratory feel of Super Metroid with the difficulty of old-school platformers like the Super Mario series.

>In true retro fashion there’s a paucity of choices in the startup screen: start one of three possible save games (good for a household with multiple players) or view the credits. An opening text sequence introduces the story of a robot probe dropped on an alien world. Damaged in the landing, our hero – looking like a cross between a car battery and “Marvin the Paranoid Android” from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – must fend his way through assorted hostile alien lifeforms whilst trying to collect the tiny, but helpful creatures who will effect his repairs.

As befitting a game of this type the controls are very simple and use the remote on its side with buttons for jumping and shooting. Despite the use of an arm cannon to blast a few enemies, this is definitely more of a platforming game and you’ll find yourself hopping over obstacles and having to bounce vertically through mountains and trees as you explore strange alien environments.

Your overall mission is to collect tiny creatures found in globs of yellow amber scattered about the vast game world. Once you have them you’ll need to effect repairs by switching to the alternate play mode inside your robot via the “-” button. In this portion of the game you point the remote at the screen in order to select the little creatures and move them about with the d-pad. Each has different abilities you’ll need to figure out on your own, but they work together to repair damaged circuit pathways to switch on weapons and other enhancements used in the bulk of the game. You can only use each one once, meaning you’ll always be on the lookout for that next bit of amber to get something else turned on to help you reach more places in your planetary survey.

There’s a further mode of play in which you shoot bugs with the pointer during intervals where your robot travels through the trees squished into the side of a giant caterpillar, but this merely serves to break up the platforming sections from time to time. Mostly you’ll be jumping and occasionally blasting enemies in order to pick up that next little critter to try and turn on another enhancement.

If I have a serious complaint with Robox it’s the level of difficulty which symbolises pretty much everything I dislike about platforming games in general. There’s plenty of leaps of faith where you’re up in the trees and cannot necessarily see the platform you need to jump to; missing it can mean a bit of a slog before you can try again. Often you’ll need a small running start to make leaps at the limit of your abilities or there will be obstacles that inflict damage and cause you to fail a jump unless you time it just right. The frustration factor can be pretty high – especially considering you can go through some serious gaming hell only to find a bit of amber outside your reach because you haven’t gotten that extra jump boost repaired.

Checkpoints abound and save points seem nicely placed, but even so there’s a few gauntlets to run where a mistake means repetition and there’s no margin for error. Given you can only take three hits before falling to pieces (though over time you’ll be able to increase that figure) you’ll find yourself starting back at the last checkpoint a lot. You can transport between save points, but without a map your only clue of where to go next is the indicator showing the total number of amber pieces to find in any sub-level on the transport screen. You’ll have to be the kind of person who enjoys exploring just for the heck of it (and doesn’t mind respawning enemies) if you’re going to perservere.

Although I’m clearly not enamoured of the game’s genre or difficulty, what I cannot complain about is the brilliant artistic vision Robox presents. This is definitely amongst the most beautiful Wii games full-stop, with an art style clearly inspired by funky animated films like Yellow Submarine and Allegro Non Troppo. The creatures and landscapes are full of character and there are wonderful touches like butterflies flitting about. Despite terminal frustration in my time with Robox, I always enjoyed the brilliantly animated inhabitants, quality sound effects and the soundtrack.

There’s a lot of game here (and a good-looking one at that), so if you do like the old, hard-as-nails platform games of yesteryear you’ll probably get on well with this one. For novice gamers or folk who like their games less than back-breakingly challenging, tread cautiously: this one’s definitely for the core platforming crowd.

Wii Review Round-Up 48

Metroid: Other M

If you’ve read this site at all you know I’m not a big fan of Nintendo’s core franchises. I haven’t played many of the original releases and I’ve not been terribly thrilled with their current incarnations on the Wii. The reason I bought a Wii is because of 3rd party content and that continues to be the bulk of my software purchases.

Nevertheless I do recognise that Nintendo puts out a quality product, so I find myself roped in by the hype that surrounds the latest entries in their long-running franchises like this new Metroid game. Moving away from the awkward first-person perspective of the Prime games was certainly a good move and gives the game broader appeal. It’s technically brilliant: the graphics are amongst the best on the Wii and it’s possibly the most cinematic experience I’ve had playing a game without feeling like a mere spectator thanks to using the d-pad to trigger fantastic dodges – replacing what would probably be a passive QuickTime event in a lesser game.

The addition of a narrative structure is also a big draw and makes Samus and her universe feel more real. Part of this is the way new abilities are earned: rather than having some initial set-up strip her of the extra powers as in the Prime games so she can find them all over again, she conceptually has the extra abilities, but can only use them when given permission by her commanding officer.

For the weapons I could buy this no problem, but the cracks started to show when I found Samus taking damage in a lava field only to be ordered to turn on the heat protection in her suit later – wait, she was willing to die because she hadn’t been ordered to turn on a built-in feature? A very poor design choice which broke the “realism” of the game for me. Likewise she has a grapple beam that can be used to swing between hard-to-reach areas, however she’s only allowed to use this when she needs to reach a colleague in danger – again defying rational sense when the use of the beam would have helped her in completing earlier missions without any harmful side effects.

Ultimately what killed the game for me was that it simply wasn’t bold enough in structure. Though it’s certainly more action-packed than all of the Prime games put together, the fact is that it’s too much a prisoner of the previous games in the series. Apparently the designers feel that the fans want to essentially play the same game over and over again – and given the sales and howls of anger when there’s a major deviation from formula they’re probably right. For people who aren’t longtime fans though, it means you’ll start to feel serious deja vu when you play your second game in any series.

Samus has her standard beams and does the same stuff as seen in every other Metroid game: fight in a fire world, ice world, sand world, jungle world, etc. against the same basic enemies that change slightly to fit the new setting. There’s a sub-boss and main boss in each of these areas which are decent enough, but not always that fun to fight. I got as far as what I presume to be the first encounter with Ridley (who seems to appear in every Metroid game like a bad comic-book villain) before throwing in the towel due to the length and monotony of the fight.

I’m a bit disappointed because I really wanted to like this game. Samus appears to inhabit this rich universe of limitless adventure possibilities and yet she’s effectively fighting the same battles time and again because that’s what the fans want. Well, you guys can have it; the only Metroid I’m interested in is Metroid Prime: Pinball on the DS.

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (Gamecube)

This was my first attempt at playing an FPS using a joypad since the Playstation days and man is it awful. I was drawn in by nostalgia as this is the best Jedi Knight game going and I played it many times through all difficulty levels on the Mac before I largely left Mac-gaming behind in favour of the Wii.

Using a second analogue stick instead of a mouse is simply horrible as I knew it would be, complicated by the fact that your view will auto-centre when you start moving. I was hoping that when you got your light sabre and the camera switched to 3rd person it would play like any other 3D action game, but sadly you continue to use the C-Stick to change view which feels really awkward. The inability to freely remap controls makes it even worse – why the jump button is A and firing weapons or using the force is mapped to the squishy analogue triggers is beyond me. It adds to the feeling of fighting with the controller to do the most basic things and it’s really not worth it in the end.

Visually the game is pretty much the same as the PC versions, though the cut scenes which are played out using the in-game engine on the PC/Mac versions look like they’ve been tranferred off an old videotape, which is pretty jarring. I would be over the moon if Lucas Arts remade this instead of working on more Force Unleashed stuff, but that’s just a fantasy.

If for some bizarre reason you actually like playing first-person action games with a gimped dual-stick interface then have at it because it’s the best Star Wars action game going, but otherwise play something with less crappy controls and save yourself the bother.

Standalone WiiWare Review: Kentōshi Furi Furi Boxing

When I was a kid growing up in the States in the 1970s, I can remember very much wanting a Rock’em Sock’em Robots set, though I only ever got to play with a friend’s and never actually had my own. For the uninitiated, two players each press buttons to execute their robot’s uppercuts in order to cause the other’s head to pop-up before pushing the head back down again for another go – pretty basic stuff.

Around the same time, Tomy was making something a bit more sophisticated which had little plastic figures made to look like proper boxers that could pull off jabs and uppercuts, bob-and-weave and block. I couldn’t really find any information about it online, but apparently Parker Bros. sold it as “K.O.” in the States. Now Takara-Tomy has released a WiiWare version as part of a series of downloadable games based upon their classic toys (there’s a train town game and one with racing plastic cars, too).

Though the controls are pretty much the definition of the Wii put-down “wagglefest,” it’s the presentation and OTT cheesiness that makes this a must-buy in my book. Right from the get-go you know you’re in for a treat when an announcer says the name of the game: “Ken-toesh Foory Foory Boxing,” followed by a dramatic Japanese pop song – presumably the Takara-Tomy equivalent of “Eye of the Tiger.”

There’s two primary play modes and a couple of mini-games included. The controls are the same for all games: Nunchuck and Remote motions perform left and right jabs, respectively, whilst holding the Z or B button will perform an uppercut with that hand. Holding A blocks and you can use the control stick or d-pad to bob-and-weave. Before each game you need to choose your fighter – and your opponent if playing solo – from a selection of four, with more to unlock during the course of play. If you can’t make up your mind there’s also a random selection button.

In the first play mode you’re participating in a straight-up boxing match: either a single bout or a four-way tournament (if solo, the other three will be CPU-controlled; otherwise it’s a two-player game). Both players have stamina and health gauges to watch. You can either throw a lot of jabs and quickly tire yourself out, meaning a vulnerable recovery period where your fighter sits defenceless for a few seconds, or try to time those uppercuts. Uppercuts deal more damage and use less stamina, but they’re slow to execute and leave you exposed to a counter-blow.

If you lose all your health you’ll get knocked down and need to alternate presses of Z and B in order to build up your stamina and a little of your health again before the announcer counts to ten. Every time you get knocked down requires more button presses to refill your stamina and you’ll get back less health. After a couple of canvas make-out sessions you’re unlikely to get back up again.

The other game mode is a bit simpler but has the same choice of single game or four-way tournament for one or two players. Instead of trying to wear down your opponent who can then get back up again, you need to land enough blows on them to wipe out their hit points (these vary from fighter to fighter), which automatically knocks them down. There’s no uppercuts in this game so it bears a closer resemblance to Rock’em Sock’em Robots, with players furiously bobbing, jabbing and blocking in order to land a few hits to knock the other guy down. The first player to get the pre-set number of knockouts required wins the game.

The two mini-games provide a decent challenge, but aren’t quite as engaging as the main game. The first sees the player’s chosen fighter facing four panels which can be hit with jabs and uppercuts. A series of round targets will appear in front of them which must be hit in order to rack up the points. Make a wrong move three times and it’s game over, with the highest score being recorded for each individual fighter.

The second mini-game is called Speed Knockout and sees players fighting every other boxer back-to-back in an effort to knock them all down in the least amount of time possible. Your opponents won’t punch you, but they will dodge and block as you wear them down, just like the first game mode. As with the other mini-game the best time is recorded for each fighter separately, though there are no leaderboards or initials for bragging rights.

Furi Furi Boxing shines in the visual department with large figures standing in a base with buttons that looks just like the classic toy, sitting in a boxing ring with an audience of coloured pegs. The light glints give a plastic appearance to the fighters and their movements are slightly stiff and jerky just as you would expect the toy to look in action. After being knocked down the virtual plastic boxers wriggle about trying to get up and if they succeed it’s in one smooth movement – excellent. After winning a bout the victor bobs up-and-down in time to the music with one fist raised whilst a voice-over says “YEAH!”

There are eight fighters in total with four available initially (actually there’s twelve, but I’ve yet to figure out how to unlock the special metallic ones). You’ll encounter all of them in the Speed Knockout game. Unlocking the others is pretty simple: play 10 single player games of each of the two primary modes, 10 of one of the mini-games and then ten tournaments of either kind.

Possibly the greatest part of the game is the brilliant voice talent. Each boxer says “Good choice” in their own voice when selected and announces their name before the fight. The fighters have the English names of various animals and pronounce them with a lovely Japanese accent. I never get tired of hearing “I am Beyah” (Bear) or “I am Tigger” (Tiger), etc. before the fights. After winning a tournament a picture of the smiling face of the winning boxer appears with the voice-over saying “I am Champion!” – classic!

For the importer this is an easy choice. The menus are pretty simple and the options include a selection of three camera angles (I opted for behind the fighter for all the modes as the side views make it too hard to dodge blows) and whether to turn off the music – though during a game you can only change the latter. There’s an illustrated tutorial which goes over the controls and how to unlock the extra boxers as detailed above so you don’t need to refer to the Operations Guide in the Wii Shop (though that includes a comparison of all the fighters’ stats – including the special metal ones).

I think a little nostalgia is worth the 1000-point price tag of this little gem. Cheers to Takara-Tomy for bringing back some memories.

Standalone WiiWare Review: A Monsteca Corral: Monsters vs. Robots

It’s a well-worn cliche that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover; the gaming equivalent would probably be not to judge a game by its teaser trailer – a sin I was certainly guilty of with regards to Monsteca Corral. Orange plasticine figures stomping across a hillside, robots, astro-maggots – what the heck is this? If you’re willing to take a chance, however, you’ll find a fun game with a strong artistic vision and a surprising level of challenge.

Monsteca Corral is superficially similar to games like Pikmin and Little King’s Story: players guide a group of orange monsters called “Stompys” across a landscape of trees, water and robots in a quest for gas bubbles to feed to a giant grub called the Astro Maggot. The reason for feeding gas to this colossal subterranean caterpillar is to blow it up like a balloon until it can fly your stompys away into space – apparently they want to find someplace not overrun with annoying robots bent on locking them up and digging up the countryside.

Although the game’s premise may sound bizarre it’s pretty straightforward to play: use the Nunchuk to control the camera and the remote pointer and B button to direct your stompys in a given direction. Initially you’ll start out with a lone stompy that comes stomping (ha-ha) in from the fog surrounding the playfield who must then “corral” the others who are just lazing about picking fluff out of their navels or whatever. When an active stompy runs into a stationary one they join the march and it won’t be long before you have a small army of the things running around collecting gas bubbles, beating on robots and trashing their buildings.

Robots are your nemeses. They have little time for pesky orange beasties and will try to lock them up in special jails or give them a good pounding, so you can either avoid them or get a gang together and strike first. Hitting a robot with a group of stompys will send it flying, but if you don’t want it coming back to get you, you’ll want to drive it into a body of water to founder until a Heli-bot can rescue it; by which time you should be safely out of the area.

A group of stompys can also bring down large installations by surrounding them, with a little pointer jiggling over the offending structure to speed things along. The robot buildings release multiple gas bubbles when they collapse, giving you an incentive to knock them down rather than pursue the time-consuming process of roaming the countryside to collect the precious stuff before running over to the Astro Maggot to drop off your bounty. Once your Maggot is ready to take flight, just guide your corral to it as it emerges and touch it to establish a silk tether to ride it out of there!

If that sounds simple, it’s because for the most part it is. The game levels aren’t designed to be difficult to complete since there’s no real “game over” condition. Instead, the challenge lies in completing enough achievements in the available levels to unlock the next group for play.

Achievements consist of simple tasks like completing the level within the par time, evading robot detection or completing the level with all stompys and no injuries. You can also try to destroy all the buildings within the time limit – though this can be rather time-consuming in some of the later levels with a high risk of failure. Working against you is the fact that the par time is a bit tight and only two of the achievements aren’t tied to it: no injuries (you’ll need to collect all the stompys within the par time to earn this) and the robot evasion award. On the plus side, once earned achievements don’t need to be earned again so you can focus on different ones over multiple replays.

As you go through the levels additional controls will be made available and further opposition will appear in the form of the aforementioned Heli-bots and the most implacable opponent of all, the dreaded “Imposter” bot. New controls take the form of using the – and + buttons to select a subset of stompys to control. The idea seems to be dividing them into groups to do different things, though it’s a bit impractical until later in the game when you can start using “slug juice” to paint a trail for stompys to follow on their own using the pointer and the A button.

Best to leave dividing your corral into smaller groups for multiplayer games where a few of your friends can join-in to directly control them. Whilst the group and trail controls work well enough in solo play, the limited rotate/zoom camera control and single-screen presentation make dividing your stompys into groups on your own a risky proposition – especially with the Imposter Bot and his pals about.

The Imposter Bot hangs out in a little house and will emerge if your stompys are up to mischief nearby like dumping digger bots in the drink or smashing a building. He’ll run right at your stompys and can move over difficult terrain quicker than them. If he gets close enough he’ll leap into the middle of your corral and explode, sending stompys flying and forcing you to gather them up again, costing you precious time. The Heli-bots are less problematic but still a threat as they’ll pick up your stompys and put them in the “monster jail” until you can smash that building and bust them out. Destroying their landing pads is the only way to get them out of the picture, but carries the risk of getting nabbed.

If those pesky robots weren’t bad enough, achieving par is complicated further by the fact that the Astro Maggot only stays above ground for a limited time to feed, so you need to gather a lot of bubbles when you get the chance. Of course if you collect too much gas your stompys start to float a bit which slows them down or worse results in them taking to the skies. A quick flick of the Remote will make them “release” the gas (complete with grade school chuckle-inducing sound effects), but that applies to your whole corral – not just the one or two floating ones – meaning less gas to deliver to your ride out of there.

After the Maggot has had its fill it takes several seconds to emerge again, with no real indication of where it’ll pop-up. If you only have a quarter of the par time remaining you’re almost guaranteed to fail if you haven’t topped up the Maggot completely considering the time required to reach it and get aboard thanks to some slightly dodgy motion control implementation for stompy jumping.

The lack of sensitivity settings means false detection of motion direction is common, so you’ll jump left when you swing right, etc. When boarding the Maggot dirigible you need to either be right there when it comes out so you can just touch it to get your stompys tethered (rare) or you need to get them under it and motion upwards to try to jump up and hit it. The camera angles are such that it’s hard to tell which stompys aren’t tethered and whether or not they’re jumping in the right direction. It’s a minor issue overall, but when you literally only have seconds to make par it can be very frustrating to miss it over a couple of stragglers.

The biggest mediating factor for any frustration you might feel is the overall experience of playing the game. Rather than opting for highly-detailed designs, the development team have packed an impressive 20+ levels into a small footprint (only 125 blocks – smaller than many Virtual Console games) by opting for a simple, but unique look for their game. The environments and their inhabitants are brightly-coloured models with textures largely limited to certain terrain types and terrific water effects. The consistently excellent frame rate and absence of noticeable glitches indicate a well-polished game.

When it comes to the interface minimalism is the order of the day, allowing for the playfield to be largely unobstructed by gauges and the like. The stompys have icons floating near them which change colour depending on whether they’ve been corraled or not and can be seen through the terrain to act as an aide in locating them. A flower in the upper-right corner grows a petal for each stompy corraled, which also shrinks if they get injured. Round icons in the lower-right corner indicate the achievements and their current status and a gauge in the opposite corner will show you how full the Astro Maggot is. This gauge also flashes when it surfaces and pulsing green rings emanate from its location to show you where to carry your bubbles (if only there was the vaguest clue of where it was going to emerge next time)

In keeping with this clutter-free presentation, the level-select screen is represented by an uncoiling fern-like plant – though to be honest it took me three play sessions before I figured that out! Having the currently selected level also highlight the flower on the branch which represents it would have made this a bit easier to suss out rather than just pressing the control stick in various directions and noticing the background image changing.

Binding everything together is a delicate and lovely soundtrack of simple tones. The whole experience immerses you in the game world which resembles an interactive art installation, so complementary is the look and sound. Monsteca Corral’s levels contain other colourful creatures besides the stompys, leaving me with the impression there are more Monsteca adventures to come, which is certainly welcome.

Considering you can complete a level in 10 minutes or less (not counting replays for achievements, mind), the combination of music and visual style makes for a relaxing break from blasting aliens or pummeling people senseless in other games. For 500 points, it’s well worth checking out, so take the chance and enjoy.