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!