Super Mario 64 DS

September 21, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

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Overview

Title: Super Mario 64 DS

Release Date: December 2, 2004 (JA) November 22, 2004 (US) March 11, 2005 (EU)

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: Platformer

Platform[s]: Nintendo DS

Storyline

Back in ’96 a well known plumber made his three-dimensional debut on quite a popular gaming platform, namely, the N64 – in 2004 a Nintendo DS remake was released.  Essentially the plot is mostly the same.  Despite her tendency to spend significant portions of time in Bowser’s prisons, Princess Peach (apparently a domestic goddess now) decides to bake a cake; she then sends a letter inviting Mario for a little munch on the said cake.  The moustached Plumber promptly heads to the castle, closely followed by Luigi and Wario… and so the story begins. Overall, the plot is typical of the Mario series – light-hearted, consistent fun!

Gameplay

Chances are if you’re reading this that you’ve already played the original, or at least know what the game is about.  So I’m going to begin by summing up the main additions to the DS version and then build on my explanation of the gameplay experience from there.

  • Super Mario 64 DS now has four playable characters.
  • The amount of Stars found in the game has increased from 120 to 150.
  • Controls.  After all, the player no longer has access to an analogue stick.
  • Character Caps which allow you to transform into other characters mid-level.
  • Multiplayer.
  • Minigames

The four playable characters are: Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and Wario with the game initially forcing you to play as Yoshi until you free Mario (which requires 8 Power Stars).  Each character has unique moves, and also controls differently in terms of speed and power.  As it happens Luigi has the advantage in this respect.  He manoeuvres a little easier and can jump significantly higher letting him skip certain platforms and challenges.  Diehard fans won’t like this I’m sure!

The extra added Power Stars present much more of a challenge, as before the aim is to complete levels (often multiple times) to earn stars which then unlock more levels.  Sure you don’t need every star to complete the game but to unlock every level hidden within Peach’s castle and to get the full Super Mario 64 DS experience it’s certainly something worth considering.

Controlling your character in Mario 64 DS is not going to be easy for everyone.  For some people the lack of analogue control is actually going to be what stops them enjoying the experience as whole.  As a player you’re presented with two ways to direct Mario & Co. one is via the d-pad (and remember the original M64 was designed to steer away from this) then another is through the DS’s stylus which is the only way to get precise accurate movements.  At first this is somewhat difficult as to pull off all the required move the player must juggle use of the Stylus, D-Pad and buttons – after a while this does become second nature but only once the initial learning curve has been conquered and lets face it, there are some who wont stay that long!

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In the original SM64, Mario could collect caps which presented him with a number of abilities.  There was the ‘Winged Cap’, ‘Metal Cap’ and ‘Invisible Cap’ now however our plump plumber is limited by only being able to float whilst Wario can turn into metal, Luigi can turn invisible and Yoshi can shoot fireballs. Much like N64 hit these “character specific” abilities aren’t available where and when the player chooses them but only when the character touches a special object before this was various ‘Power Caps’ this time it’s a ‘Power Flower’.  There’s also the Feather which enables Mario to fly.  Finally there are ‘Character Caps’ which are (obviously) unique to the NDS – with these characters can take the form of other characters (in appearance and ability at least) mid-level, these caps can be knocked off the character and must then be re-attained.

This is a Nintendo DS launch title.  Certain aspects were required in order to advertise the handheld’s true capabilities.  Touch control is one and wireless multiplayer is another.  As you know by now SM64DS has both!  Only one cartridge is required; everyone else can join via downloaded play.  Well, when I say everyone else I actually mean three other players.  Basically four different coloured Yoshis are dumped onto a map and have to battle it out for stars, to add variety the maps also contain Mario, Luigi and Wario Caps which means a variety of attacks in order to steal those stars.  It’s all great fun but more maps would have been nice.

Everything about the original SM64 is as you’d expect from a platformer.  Levels were filled with complicated jumps, traps and obstacles as well as numerous enemies.  All this remains the same for the NDS remake but with a special added extra: mini-games.  These said minigames are accessible in a room within Peach’s castle but can only be unlocked by catching rabbits in the main game.

Graphics

The Nintendo DS could probably have presented Mario 64 DS with slightly better graphics but the fact of the matter is it’s a remake and an improved one at that, as the texturing and polygon counts are clearly superior to Super Mario 64.  Yes there are bugs, errors and graphical glitches but that’s to be expected really.

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Sound

The audio is mostly the same as before but with a little bit of remixing here and there.  The soundtrack is upbeat as per usual with Mario games.  Peach now opens the game with a fully voiced introduction, something entirely uncommon with Nintendo and phasing effects have been added to emulate a multi-speaker environment with the console’s stereo speakers.

Overall Score & Replayability

Well, what we have is an enhanced remake of a Nintendo classic.  Graphically this is a better version, acoustically this is a better version and in terms of replayability this is a much superior version – the extra stars and extra characters mean more of a challenge and for those that choose it much longer gameplay.  Is this a perfect game?  No, the controls just take too much getting used to, but all-in-all this is definitely one of the best Mario experiences remade for an altogether richer experience… and it works.

Mystery Case Files: Millionheir

September 21, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

MysteryCaseFiles

Overview

Title: Mystery Case Files: Millionheir

Release Date: September 8, 2008 (US) February 6, 2009 (US) October 16, 2008 (AU)

Developer/Publisher: Big Fish Games/Nintendo

Genre: Adventure/Puzzle

Platform[s]: Nintendo DS

Storyline

The official plot synopsis attached to the game opens up something like this:

Eccentric millionaire Phil T. Rich has disappeared!  Only one person can find out what happened, and that’s you, Detective.”

Basically, the above mentioned millionaire is missing, is he dead? Has he been kidnapped? Well, that’s up to you to find out. It’s all a little cliché yes, but that doesn’t stop it being a whole heap of fun!

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Gameplay

The MCF games have been around since 2005 now; they all share the same basic principle – the player is presented with a mystery which they must solve by completing multiple hidden object puzzles.  The larger mystery is usually composed of several smaller ones.  Millionheir presents more of the same, but this time the series moves from the PC to the Nintendo DS, which works brilliantly, there are few examples of the NDS being used to its full potential but this is one.  Perhaps this is why Nintendo decided to include the game in their “Touch! Generations” franchise?

Gameplay is a combination of hidden object, jigsaw and slider puzzles accompanied by the obvious mystery theme but what makes Millionheir a step-up from PC counterparts Huntsville, Return to Ravenhearst and Madame Fate is the use of the stylus and microphone.  Having trouble finding a banana in the hidden object scene?  Then use one of your detection tools, such as the X-Ray machine – guide it with the stylus and find the object.  I won’t spoil the experience by saying what other tools there are and how they’re associated with the console’s features but this make the game feel very much interactive.

I would expect the casual and family markets to take a strong interest in MCFM, though fans of the smash hit Professor Layton and the Curious Village will find themselves a little bit disappointed I think, this is a one trick pony which although engaging and fun is more focused on the “Where’s Wally/Waldo” style gameplay… everything else is just an added feature!  Obviously this would mean that the difficulty is not too extreme and that someone with a bit of experience looking for cleverly hidden objects amidst a jumble of similar and random objects would beat the game in a weekend of play.

Oh and guess what?  The game even has a fun competitive multiplayer!  Battle it out against friends.  Same gameplay – more pressure.

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Graphics

Visually there isn’t all that much to say, the graphics are all quite comical, there is subtle humour with almost every image and in regards to the actual puzzles themselves – well – expect an awful lot of pictures and though cluttered (as they’re intended to be) everything is interestingly, solidly designed.

Sound

Acoustically everything fits into place absolutely perfectly. Music can be heard eerily populating the background. Sound effects accompany every scene as they should and all-in-all these things help to pull players into the atmosphere of the game.

Overall Score & Replayability

MCFH will remain fresh even after multiple playthroughs. It always provides something to do and yet where it lacks is by being a little bit too easy and by not having a serious storyline (just a sequence of clichés and puns). This is a game that you should buy; it’s worth owning but not as a serious title of which you pour your effort into, you can buy Professor Layton for that, but rather it’s a pick-up-and-play experience for car journeys, relative visits and rainy weekends.

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Batman: Arkham Asylum

September 1, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Overview

Title: Batman: Arkham Asylum
Release Date: August 25, 2009 (US), August 28, 2009 (EU), September 3, 2009 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Rocksteady Studios/Eidos Interactive
Genre: Action
Platform[s]: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Storyline

The story begins with The Dark Knight bringing his nemesis The Joker to justice after a recent escape from Arkham Asylum, during his escape The Joker launched an attack on the Mayor’s office.  At the same time, a fire breaks out at Gotham City’s Prison.  Things seemed a little to easy for Batman this time around and on top of that there must have been a reason for the menacing Clown Prince’s attack.  After a while, everything becomes clear!  I won’t spoil the story any further by revealing the plot behind B: AA but what I’ll add is that following the events portrayed above; Batman (as well as other known residents from Gotham) end up trapped in Arkham Asylum with a host of comic book villains such as: Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Bane, Scarecrow, The Riddler, Killer Croc and (of course) The Joker. 

To a degree the plot is somewhat typical of Batman – and I mean real Batman not the clichéd TV shows, cartoons and original movies which are nothing akin to today’s graphic novels.  The content is adult and pretty much on par with the movies Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  Expect sexiness, swearing and murder from every direction.  So, we have a solid story experience entwined within a morbidly dark world, works for me!

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Gameplay

Arkham Asylum is a third-person over-the-shoulder action game with stealth elements.  The idea being that The Dark Knight has to explore the facilities, stalk enemies from the shadows, solve various mysteries and also fight goons with his hand-to-hand combat expertise.

The fighting segments are easily executed thanks to the developer’s “freeflow” system, all that’s required is combining three buttons; Attack, Stun and Takedown which can be hit to initiate an attack or to counterattack (when the an on-screen indication comes from the enemy) and combining these attacks/counterattacks to defeat enemies eventually enables access to special attacks (as the combo metre grows), things are kept fresh of course by the fact that the weaponry used by the game’s baddies varies which forces players to adapt.  All this also helps build up experience which can then be used to upgrade Batman’s attacks and statistics.

In general these things are all pretty good and help to make B: AA an enjoyable experience but there are a number of aspects which transform Arkham Asylum from the mentioned “enjoyable experience” to the 360, PC and PS3’s must-have action videogame of 2009.  For example, the methods utilized to defeat foes are totally up to the player: there’s predatory tactics to make hits on the inmates one-by-one, utilize Batrangs, Explosive Gel and other accessories to cause explosions and take out numerous enemies at once or whatever else springs to mind.  It’s all fun. 

Then there’s also the Detective Mode which in the midst of battle allows Batman to analyse his environment and enemies.  This is useful for drawing important objects to your attention, picking up thug statistics and for solving mysteries.  This brings me to my next topic: The Riddler.  Without the Detective Mode it wouldn’t be possible to pick up all of his clues, these lead to challenges and unlockable items – with 240 of The Riddler’s challenges there’s a whole heap of content to invest a significant amount of time in. 

Beyond the story mode there’s also additional content in the form of extra Challenge Rooms (sixteen or so I believe) which is the perfect avenue for DLC from PSN or XBL.  In-fact I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see something in the next three to five months.  The aim of the mentioned challenges is to meet certain combat/predatory goals, often involving taking out multiple enemies in bizarre ways.  This didn’t instantly appeal to me but then I imagine I’m not the only one to feel this way, the thing is with scoreboards attached to these, more often than not score whores are going to have a barrel of laughs meeting these goals and beating the next guy/girl. 

My only fault with the gameplay as I write this is that unless played on “Hard Mode” the A.I. is about as bright as Paris Hilton and believe me, I’m being kind.           

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Graphics

Graphically I’m sure that you’ve seen all the screenshots by now, which means I’m sure you’ve seen the atmospheric backdrops of Arkham and the intense dark scenery. There are flaws; bad lip-syncing, occasional lag, minor pixilization and occasional modelling inconsistencies. None of these hurt the game much but it is saddening when so much effort has been made to perfect the gameplay just to see the graphics suffer on the small-fry stuff.  After all, these days it’s all about presentation! 

Sound

Fantastic!  Voice talent includes: Kevin Conroy (Lord Jack – Max Payne 2), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker – Star Wars Episodes IV, V & VI) and Arleen Sorkin (Rachel – Frasier).  Except for the henchman/goons who’re off-key and out of place at times all the voice acting found in B: AA is absolutely perfect as are the sound effects and ambience included in the game.  Of course the music also fits the mood brilliantly.    

Overall Score & Replayability

So, all-in-all a great game with a whole range of fantastic features but overshadowed with the occasional flaw.  Congratulations to Rocksteady for giving us the sort of Batman that the general masses have wanted since the recent movie reboots and hardcore comic fanatics have dreamed of for a very, very long time.  I just wish the A.I. was something more. 

For owners of both the Xbox360 and Playstation 3 I am inclined to encourage the purchase of the Xbox360 version; the reason being on this machine the in-game graphics and overall performance is slightly better (and without a three minute install of just over a gigabyte).  Saying that the PS3 version does offer the chance to play the Challenges as The Joker via PSN DLC but I expect the Sony exclusivity to last a year at the very most… Microsoft players will get it sooner or later I think and to be honest this game is a keeper, not a trade-in.

Dissidia: Final Fantasy

August 29, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under PSP, Reviews

Overview

Title: Dissidia: Final Fantasy
Release Date: August 25, 2009 (US), September 4, 2009 (EU), September 3, 2009 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action Role Playing/Fighting
Platform[s]: PSP

Storyline

Dissidia focuses on the eternal battle between Cosmos (the Goddess of Harmony) and Chaos (the God of Discord), eventually the two entities summoned warriors from across time and space to continue their fight.  As the battle wages on the forces of Chaos employ dirty tactics leaving Cosmos’ representatives on the verge of defeat… leaving but ten of the best to restore harmony and end the chaos.

The game’s story is split three ways; Prologue, Destiny Odyssey and Shade Impulse.  There are ten different Destiny Odysseys, one for each protagonist and the epic conclusion is of course Shade Impulse, of which there’s only one of.  A majority of people will find the story doesn’t really take off until the last stages of the story arc which is quite a disappointment actually, particularly for a Square Enix title.  The story present in D: FF is a little clichéd; it’s not as deep or powerful as the individual Final Fantasy entries but how could it be?  This isn’t an RPG.  There are ten immediately playable protagonists plus a secret character and the same can be said of the antagonists.  What we have is essentially a compilation, yep it’s a tad diluted and of course it has to be because of the scale of the cast and nature of the genre.  

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Gameplay

It’s hard to know how to best sum-up Dissidia.  At the core it’s a fighting game but not like Tekken or Street Fighter more like Marvel: Rise of the Imperfects and yes I know that doesn’t instantly sell the game but worry not.  Let me explain, D: FF features the single-input command system found in Kingdom Hearts but rather than full in-depth worlds to explore the player bounces from arena-to-arena in order to defeat the next opponent in a one-on-one battle.  So as mentioned before imagine Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects coupled with Kingdom Hearts and the offspring (in gameplay terms) is this.  To stay alive and to do maximum damage the player has to consider two main statistics in battle: HP (Health Points) and BP (Brave Points), the idea (obviously) being to reduce the enemy’s HP to “0”.  This is done via a combination of HP attacks (circle) and Brave attacks (square), stealing the opponents BP ultimately means more power HP attacks.  This isn’t all though, there’s also the Ex Gauge!  This is a single bar on the HUD which is filled by dealing damage/taking and collecting items in the field.  If the bar becomes entirely populated your character will then be able to enter ‘Ex Mode’ which temporarily increases attacks, opens up new attacks and lets the player use ‘Ex Burst’ which is essentially an overly powerful move similar to what Final Fantasy fans will remember as ‘Limit Breaks’. All this is presented in an open arena, in which the aim is to do battle with a single enemy: combat is split between ground and aerial combos, dodge, block and counterattack manoeuvres and finally special moves.  It all sounds rather complicated but it isn’t, within an hour, maybe two, it becomes second nature.  Often battling in Dissidia feels like re-living the CGI movie Advent Children and by this I mean there’s a lot of wall-running, flying and aerial shenanigans – I want to add at this stage that a lot of people wont like this, just as a lot of people didn’t like the Dragon Ball Z inspired aerial dynamics of the movie.  I personally adored Advent Children and because of such none of is a bother to me but I know not everyone will share the love!

We’ve covered combat; hopefully you now have an understanding of how this works but one aspect which separates FF: D from other fighting games is Square Enix’s interesting RPG element.  Characters can push their way up to level 99, equip weapons and armour (for statistical not physical purposes) as well as link themselves to some of the franchise’s favourite summons.  Embracing this will give you a bit of an advantage but isn’t strictly necessary until the later chapters of the game.  Also aside from the RPG elements other interesting segments of Dissidia are the Calendar (which gives you in-game bonuses on certain days), Character Files (information on the story’s major players, the multiplayer, the museum (unlockable movies and music are stored here) and the Replay Editor (after a while you unlock the ability to save recordings of battles and edit the footage.  There’s also an Arcade mode which takes away the RPG side of things and instead throws players into a more traditional combat scenario. 

Earlier I mentioned multiplayer, didn’t I?  As with many PSP titles it’s an Ad-Hoc only affair I’m afraid (though there are workarounds for those of you keen to do so) but it’s an absolute joy to play none-the-less as almost everyone customizes their heroes in different ways so often each fight feels unique.  My only gripe is that occasionally lag occurs, not in an unplayable way but certainly in a noticeable way!  As you play multiplayer you continue to earn artefacts and gain experience so it’s well worth a go! 

This is a deep game with so many unlockables and so much playability but with a story that leaves much to be desired and somewhat repetitive gameplay things aren’t perfect.  In fact there are fan-boys/girls out there who will surely believe that this leaves a blemish on the Final Fantasy name.  I however don’t think so, you have to remember that this is a game aimed at action, not story and often this style of gameplay goes a long way in an action game.      

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Graphics

Think Kingdom Hearts and you have an instant visualisation of Dissidia.  Sure it’s not quite on par but none-the-less it is one of the best graphical games available for the PSP, especially the cutscenes – which a few more of wouldn’t have hurt.  I suppose it’s very much like Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII in the way things appear visually between cutscenes and gameplay. Which makes you wonder how Square Enix have managed to master graphical development for the Playstation Portable while so many other developers fall flat on their face.          

Sound

Hmmm… this is a mixed one!  On one hand the game has those awesome tracks we’ve all come to love from the Final Fantasy franchise.  There’s even the victory fanfare after every battles.  Unfortunately most of the voice-acting is dull and badly performed; this is an absolute shame as it takes away from the mood and is uncharacteristic of Final Fantasy as a whole. 

Overall Score & Replayability

So what do I think of Dissidia: Final Fantasy as a whole?  Well – the PSP unfortunately lacks somewhat in terms of quality games, sure there’s a few, but not enough… at least there’s one more now!  Here we have a fantastic game eclipsed by a few minor flaws.  There’s plenty to unlock and plenty to do which unfortunately some gamers wont witness as they struggle past the repetitive nature of the gameplay and occasionally difficult gameplay (and epically hard final boss).

New Super Mario Bros.

August 20, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

Overview

Title: New Super Mario Bros.
Release Date: May 15, 2006 (JA) May 19, 2006 (US) June 30, 2006 (EU) February 24, 2005 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer
Platform[s]: Nintendo DS

Storyline

Rather than Bowser kidnapping the princess – in an interesting twist – Bowser Jr. does and as per usual our pint-size plumber Mario gives chase.  The plot is completely minimal but it is existent though more so in subtle cues than full blown storytelling.   

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Gameplay

In the most recent entry in the mainstream Super Mario series since Super Mario: Sunshine we see a return to the NES style gameplay which propelled the series into the public eye.  Basically the player travels from level-to-level as Mario or Luigi, breaking blocks, collecting coins, jumping on enemies and travelling down giant green pipes.  In this case eighty levels are split across eight worlds (obvious maths would suggest ten levels per world) don’t worry though – it’s not a requirement to complete all levels to finish the game, with each world displayed on an over-map consisting of a mid-way boss and then a final boss before progressing to the next.  Oddly enough this makes the game itself a perfect blend of Super Mario World and the original Super Mario Bros; this is for the fans and what’s interesting is the fact that moves introduced in the 3D outings (wall jump, ground pound and triple jump) have been included in the game but work undeniably perfect in this format. 

To make things more interesting the traditional power-ups have been included: Super Mushroom – makes Mario/Luigi grow, Fire Flower – let’s Mario/Luigi toss fireballs and Starman – enables Mario/Luigi to become invisible for a while.  New power-ups added to the series are the Blue Koopa Shell – lets Mario/Luigi become a Koopa, Mini Mushroom – shrinks Mario/Luigi and the Mega Mushroom – enlarges Mario/Luigi to gigantic proportions).  The previously mentioned power-ups are one of the few aspects in the main game which utilize the touch screen features of the NDS, as the player collects their first it becomes immediately active thereafter it is stored on the bottom screen and can be switched on by tapping on it. 

On a side-note there are mini-games akin to those from Super Mario 64 DS which take full advantage of the stylus and microphone.  These can be tackled with one or two players along with the battle mode in-which Mario and Luigi fight it out for stars! 

Graphics

What we have is the perfect blend of 2D and 3D.  Character models and key objects are three-dimensional, backgrounds and such are two-dimensional.  It’s all very cartoony yet nicely presented.    

Sound

Nintendo knows what the fans want.  We have retro sounds remixed to a modern standard.  Sure there are the usual clichéd fake Italian voice effects introducing and ending each level but these can be easily overlooked!

Overall Score & Replayability

This is a fantastic platform game which can only be flawed in respect that it doesn’t fully embrace the Nintendo DS’s features.  However this is retro-Mario re-presented to a modern audience.  Ten years down the road I can see this being remembered as one of the consoles defining moments just as Mario 64 was for the Nintendo 64.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games

August 20, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

Overview

Title: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
Release Date: January 17, 2008 (JA) January 22, 2008 (US) February 7, 2008 (EU)
Developer/Publisher: Sega
Genre: Sports
Platform[s]: Nintendo DS, Wii

Storyline

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games on the Nintendo DS much like its Wii counterpart does not feature a story or any plot whatsoever.  This however is mindless sports button mashing and because of such requires no storyline is required.   

Gameplay

Much like the earlier released Wii version of M&S the gameplay is still a simple affair.  Two headlining characters pit it out in a series of events taken directly from the Olympic Games and the featured events are mostly the same as the Wii’s but with a couple of minor exceptions such as the exclusion of relay racing and rowing though with the inclusion of cycling and the dream events: basketball, boxing, canoeing, long jump and Skeet Shooting.  Game modes included are: Single Match, Circuit Mode, Challenge Mode and VS.  In Circuit Mode the player chooses a pre-defined Circuit to play which consists of a series of events – the highest scoring competitor wins.  Single Match lets gamers choose individual events rather than the predefined Circuits.  Mission Mode offers character specific challenges (some quite hard) and VS mode is quite obviously the multiplayer option in which you can play friends either via DS Download Play or Local Wireless if they own the cart.  M&S takes full advantage of the DS.  Both screens are used (the lower for interaction in most events) and in many fast passed games (running, swimming, cycling etc) the stylus is used quite aggressively to ensure victory – this is a problem, I would like to think that my handheld can take such a beating but it just downright feels like I’m tearing the thing apart.  I know this is the “Touch Generation” and that the emphasis on consoles such as the NDS is entirely about getting physical but I’ve seen other people accidently drop or throw the their styluses and indeed DS’s whilst playing overenthusiastically and it just isn’t cool!

To conclude the gameplay consists of using the stylus, the buttons, the microphone and a degree of self-awareness.  It’s an enjoyable romp but little more than mutton mashing though not as fun as the Wii where you actually feel worked out afterwards.  The singleplayer does not have a steep difficulty and were it not for the aggressive controls I’d say this is a great game for the little ones. 

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Graphics

Cartoon imagery to suit the theme of the titular protagonists presented in your typical old-school 3D (e.g. PS1) which is absolutely fine bearing in mind the handheld’s hardware restrictions.  The only genuine gripe I have is that the action-replays are angled uselessly.

Sound

The usual sound effects coupled with mediocre music.  Clearly the acoustics are not the title’s key selling points.

Overall Score & Replayability

We at VGR found Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games to be an altogether enjoyable experience on the Nintendo DS but for a number of reasons it just doesn’t match the Wii.  The sound is inferior, the controls aren’t as great and the multiplayer just isn’t as enjoyable!

Professor Layton and the Curious Village

August 20, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

Overview

Title: Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Release Date: February 15, 2007 (JA) February 10, 2008 (US) November 7, 2008 (EU) 10 April, 2008 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Level-5/Nintendo
Genre: Puzzle
Platform[s]: Nintendo DS

Storyline

Layton is big in Japan, its unfortunate that we’re so far behind them in terms of content.  This is the first episode in a series of the titular character – what we have is a puzzle game that’s engaging and interesting.  Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke visit the village of St. Mystere due to a letter request from Lady Dahlia, widow of the late Baron Augustus Reinhold.  The idea is that Lady Dahlia needs our heroes to solve the mystery of the Golden Apple and thus enable the inheritance of her husband.  Story is an ever-present theme in the game and it continuously allows the occasional break from the ever growing complications of sleuthing.     

 Layton-Screen

Gameplay

So, what is Curious Village all about?  Well – puzzles!  Via an assortment of traditional logic, graphic, jigsaw and brain teasing puzzles the player is continuously tested by the village who oddly enough seem to be bizarrely obsessed with them.  Luke and the Professor must explore St. Mystere and the only way to progress is often by challenging the locals (people and pets I might add) of course some puzzles are necessary while others are entirely optional but either way a keen eye is always required as many are hidden from plain sight.  Difficulty levels often spire and plummet – sometimes it’s all a simple flick of the stylus, other times it can be a ball-busting affair where the answer is nowhere within the reach of your seemingly limited intellect.  I struggled through and managed to resist the dire urge to Google myself out of these situations but I know my fiancée didn’t – then again she finished the full 120 brain-teasers whilst I only went for the bare minimum so it all depends on what you want from your experience… out of 120 I know that 19 she looked up online and to be honest that’s not so bad.  Don’t think that there’s no in-game help should you struggle though, there are Hint Coins scattered throughout the game but they’re all very limited so common sense dictates that you use them wisely.

This is a Nintendo Wi-Fi compatible game and should you conquer it, more puzzles are available to download.        

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Graphics

Professor Layton is a graphically stylized 2D puzzle game, which despite its Japanese origins is very much inspired by European cartooning.  You can’t fault it because in the end everything is designed as the developers intended – only this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea I think.

Sound

Crisp, faultless use of sound which all helps to aid the nature of the game.

Overall Score & Replayability

In conclusion Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a casual-friendly game, the pace is mostly slow and the puzzles are varied enough to guarantee themselves as engaging but replayable?  Well, not all of them.  You will remember some puzzles and they will remain the same second time around thus losing their effect.  Others like the slider challenges maintain difficulty through multiple playthroughs.  Obviously the use of Wi-Fi was included to combat this!  Not everyone enjoys puzzles and brainteasers but if you do this is a NDS must have.

Pokémon Diamond & Pearl

August 18, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

Overview

Title: The Pokémon Diamond/Pearl
Release Date: September 28, 2006 (JA) April 22, 2007 (US) July 25, 2007 (EU) June 21, 2007 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Game Freak/Nintendo
Genre: RPG
Platform[s]: Nintendo DS

Storyline

Welcome to the fourth generation of Pokémon and the first mainstream title on the NDS.  This time around we visit the region of Sinnoh, an island divided in half by Mt. Coronet, the rocky and snowy landscape here makes everything feel much further north than the previous settings of Kanto, Johto and Hoenn.  As per usual the story revolves around catching Pokémon, collecting Gym Badges, defeating a crime syndicate (Team Galactic in this case) and finally winning against the Elite Four. The plot is hardly deep but it is existent.       

DP-Screen

Gameplay

Every mainstream title (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Gold, Silver, Crystal, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Fire Red and Leaf Green) has used the same format in terms of gameplay – albeit with a few new defining features – D/P are no different.

Navigation throughout the world itself is done from a top-down perspective, the player can control their characters movements, who they speak to and use special actions in the field (e.g.  ‘Rock Smash’ to destroy rocks, ‘Strength’ to move boulders and so on) that is of course as long as all necessary requisites are met.

Battles can occur in one of three ways; randomly whilst navigating through certain environments (grass, water, caves etc), legendary Pokémon present in the field and also in the form of other trainers.  All combat is turn-based and it is executed simply by selecting which move you would like to use, this can be selected via the ‘d-pad’, the stylus or even your finger.  It’s all very minimalistic but there is a science to it all.  Most players rely entirely on attacks (taking into consideration elemental affinities) but others will expertly take down rival trainers/potential Pokémon with expertly chosen status effects.  Capturing those crafty little Pokémon is a simple affair, weaken it, throw a Pokéball (or one of its many variants) and pray you’re lucky.  This can only be done in battle of course and the tension really builds up when there’s a risk of one of your six being wiped out or worse still your target running away.  With 493 monsters to catch though you’ll definitely be busy – well, you will be at least if you have friends to trade with, the GBA games, a Wi-Fi connection or a Gameshark cheat device!  As legitimately you cannot catch all these alone but more than half are available and the rest can be picked up from the in-game Global Trade Centre (Wi-Fi connection required) through importation of your caught Pokémon found from Fire Red, Leaf Green, Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald (the mentioned carts just slipping in the GBA slot of the NDS after a certain point in the game.  Nintendo have tried to keep newcomers and diehard fans enabled in this respect!

Now for the NDS specific features: movement is not like Pokémon Ranger (which utilized the stylus) it’s all about the d-pad, instead the stylus is saved for combat (though optional), beauty contents, the Pokétech and the ever present Pokédex.  More the trivial features rather than general mechanics.  In regards to the earlier mentioned Pokétech, it is basically what you will come to know as the primary occupant of the NDS’s bottom screen.  It’s a clock, time, pedometer, map, drawing pad and more, not really revolutionary but certainly more interesting than nothing at all!  The internal microphone also gets the chance to be used in the optional underground environment of Sinnoh, as do a number of other NDS features.  Basically the underground is an MP area with treasure, minigames and challenges – something from the usual battling.

All-in-all Diamond and Pearl are basically the same old Pokémon experience with some shiny new features.  There’s the simple adventure for those who just want to collect and complete or the EV/IV obsessed stat mongering for those drawn towards competitive battling.

DP-Screen-2

Graphics

Without a doubt the mild use of 3D does make a difference but for the most part Game Freak have visually kept the style as the series always has been.  Whether this is a good choice or a bad one is nothing but personal opinion… I however feel its time it updated itself.

Sound

Catchy tunes, annoying tunes and the usual sound effects (Pokémon noises, jumping noises and the like) – everything is simple in this respect but that’s not a bad thing, is it?

Overall Score & Replayability

So what we have is more of the same.  Both games are great fun to play whilst shallow and deep at the same time just as long as either way you know the only difference between the two is aesthetic the overall content is the same and so you’ll still get the same experience in the end.

Super Star Wars

August 18, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo Wii, Reviews

Overview

Title: Super Star Wars
Release Date: August 10, 2009 (NA)  TBC (EU)
Developer/Publisher: Sculptured Software/LucasArts
Genre: Action
Platform[s]: Wii (Virtual Console)

Storyline

Super Star Wars was originally released for the SNES back in ’92.  It was a videogame representation of the film hit Star Wars Episode IV: a New Hope.  So as you might expect it follows the same plot: a young farm boy’s tragic coming of age and his epic adventure in a galaxy ruled by the tyrannous Empire.  Of course this isn’t enough to base a game on apparently and so the developers took the liberty of applying a little artistic license – Luke fighting his away atop a Jawa Sandcrawler to save R2-D2 is one such example.     

Screen Shot 1  

Gameplay

Back in the nineties it wasn’t uncommon for successful movies to be converted into side-scrolling action platformers, one of these was obviously Super Star Wars and thereafter its two sequels. 

Levels consist of the standard run, gun and jump split across Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca.  As a welcome break there are also a couple of vehicular sections namely in the form of an overpowered Landspeeder and an X-Wing.  Diehard SW fans will no doubt wonder why their pre-Jedi Luke uncharacteristically murders countless Jawas in the opening stages or why they’re hiding some kind of hideous fire beast in their less than humble abode – these aspects exist in order to keep players busy and whack up the difficulty by overwhelming them but is this truly required?  Super Star Wars is hardly an easy game; your average gamer won’t finish SSW on either the “brave” or “Jedi” difficulties and so for those wishing to get their money’s worth “easy” is the only way to go… so expect to die.  All this is hindered somewhat by the controls which occasionally turn out to be unresponsive particularly with the harder life-threatening jumps – don’t blame the Wii or the emulation though because this is a problem found in the original version.                 

Screen Shot 2

Graphics

Graphically SSW is a typical of its era.  There isn’t much that can said which isn’t demonstrated in the imagery found in this very review. 

Sound

What to expect?  Well the typical Star Wars music though presented in MIDI format rather than the orchestral excellence of the movies is a given.  Obviously verbal communication is a no-no and as with any sci-fi you can surely expect the familiar sound of lasers.  

Overall Score & Replayability

Currently no release date has been announced for the UK but none-the-less those Wii gamers stateside have an enjoyable slice of retro action to keep themselves busy and it’s no secret that Europe wont be left out – it’s only a mater of time.  So watch this space.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games

August 18, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo Wii, Reviews

Overview

Title: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
Release Date: December 25, 2007 (JA) November 6, 2007 (US) November 23, 2007 (EU) November 22, 27 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Sega
Genre: Sports
Platform[s]: Nintendo DS, Wii

Screen

Storyline

Sports games don’t typically have a storyline; M&S is no different.  Unlike other Sega and Nintendo titles which when dead on the plot-front have an excerpt in the manual at least – this does not but then again why should it? 

Gameplay

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is a simple affair – in theory at least.  Two of the biggest mascots in videogame history (along with fourteen others taken from each franchise) battle it out across twenty-four Olympic Events.  Gameplay is then split over three modes: Circuit, Single and Mission.  In Circuit Mode the player basically chooses a Circuit to play (a pre-created sequence of events in which the highest scores win gold, silver or medal), this is the main way to play and as you complete – more Circuits become available as you progress through.  Single Match lets gamers choose individual events rather than the predefined Circuits.  Unlike the other modes which can be played alone or with up to three friends Mission Mode is single-player only and consists of a series of character specific challenges.  All events are controlled in the sort of mini-game fashion we’ve all come to know from Wii titles, wiggle the Wii Remote, spin the Wii Remote and thrust the Wii Remote/Nunchuk alternatively and so on.  Ultimately it’s all about time and speed something fans of other Olympic games will know well.  It replaces the usual button mashing with controller thrashing!  There are some deviations from this rule though and for me the real fun comes from such events such as the Archery which forces you to use the Wiimote and Nunchuk more like you would a bow and arrow.  Now it’s quite easy to see this as yet another mediocre, unimaginative sports format made approachable only by the branding associated with it.  The thing is it should be and when you play alone there are times when it probably is but the real fun comes in the form of multi-player where some how this title shines.  This is a party game through-and-through and perhaps because of the very novelty factor and the competitiveness associated with it this is potentially one of the most fun experiences on the Wii to date!  For those obsessed with proving their greatness to the world there is even an online scoreboard for you to place on.                 

Screen2

Graphics

Graphically the game is solid.  The entire experience is given a cartoony feel to fit in with the overall feel of the characters included.  The open cutscene is perfect and advertises the competitive nature of the events.  Camera angels are mostly fine.  My only gripe is with the low frame rates used in the action-replays.

Sound

The game opens with a somewhat epic score and from there onwards there are a lot of musical themes which seem somewhat inspired by the big ‘N’ and their associated content.  The crowd is present though there isn’t any proper communication beyond the usual one liners.  Everything is good.  Not great but good.

Overall Score & Replayability

Let’s get this straight, M&S does not present us with anything new or awe-inspiring but it does deliver a solid experience of pure fun.  Everything is enjoyable and the more people who join in the better.  This is only the first step in what will no doubt grow into a series of titles and it can only get better!

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