Batman: Arkham Origins
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2013)
Rating: Teen (blood, drug reference, language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
This game has been taking heat for lack of innovation and bugginess, but I found this Wii U version to be relatively bug-free and just as addictive as the previous two Arkham titles. Origins features the same graphic style, fighting moves, stealth abilities, and even that familiar "kick the grate open" animation. The gothic visuals and the bone-crunching fights are still terrific, but don't have the "wow factor" they once did. Even the title seems a misnomer. Both Batman and the villains are fully realized from the start; they just don't know each other yet. Still, once I began playing Origins I remembered why I love this series. The controls are crisp and on-screen prompts provide timely hints. The combat has a slick counter system that lets our hero easily dispatch of several goons in rapid succession. Black Mask is the primary villain but there are plenty of supporting bad guys including the Penguin, Deathstroke, Copperhead, and the awesomely scary Killer Croc. As in previous games, you overhear a lot of conversations as you grapple between buildings and creep through dark hallways. A divide-and-conquer approach is wise when dealing with gangs, and it's fun to systematically weed them out. Navigating the city can be disorienting but a quick travel option helps ease the pain. The amazing scenery looks properly weathered and aged, and the dilapidated cruise ship is downright haunting
. Some areas do look very similar to others, giving you a frequent case of deja vu. I also found the upgrade system confusing, and using the control pad for the map doesn't work as well as you would expect. The graphical detail is commendable, especially with dust particles in the light fixtures and roaches scurrying across the prison floor. The only blemishes I could see were jaggy shadows and frame-drops when grappling between buildings. The game isn't particularly hard. After you die you pick up right where you left off and your progress is frequently saved. I think what I enjoy most about Arkham Origins is its wintry weather and holiday themes. Dating back to Batman Returns (1992), snow has always been a nice complement to the dark, gothic Gotham scenery. What I enjoyed least was the ridiculous boss battle with Deathstroke, which single-handedly gave me carpal tunnel! Overall Batman Arkham Origins has its share of been-there-done-that moments, but it's still one heck of a video game. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2014)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language, suggestive themes)
Most hack-and-slash adventures are constrained by stuff like gravity, physics, and logic. Bayonetta tosses that stuff out the window and the result is a beautifully incoherent spectacle. The opening stage sets the tone as our sophisticated witch is shopping downtown when a jet plane tries to crash into her. Bayonetta kicks it into the air like a soccer ball and proceeds to fight monsters on it as the plane buzzes the skyscrapers. Golden centaurs are crushed under giant ethereal boots, causing gold coins to spring forth not unlike a Sonic the Hedgehog game. After driving a car along the side of building and beating down a boss on a crumbling bridge, Bayonetta summons a colossal beast which swallows the boss whole. If this is all making sense, you should seek counseling immediately! The action is intense and even when you don't know exactly what's happening, you can't take your eyes off the screen. Bayonetta 2 is a game you can never fully wrap your brain around, but that's part of its charm. The gorgeous stages take place in magnificent cathedrals, underwater ruins, and other dimensions. Bosses appear early and often, and the game looks so epic that every
fight looks like a boss encounter. You'll face both angelic and demonic adversaries, and the creativity of their designs is off the charts
. These behemoths are intimidating in size and disturbing in appearance, but fortunately your witch can dish out punishment on a galactic scale. A well-timed dodge slows down time and lets her sneak in a series of quick hits. I love it when you "ride" one monster and use it to beat up another. When your combo meter becomes full, you can spank a beast of any size into oblivion. Best of all are the "torture" attacks which make traditional fatalities look like child's play. The violence is positively spectacular, and when the Japanese pop music kicks in during the knock-out blow, it's surreal. Bayonetta 2 also has a tremendous depth. In addition to loads of moves, you can equip a variety of weapons (to your legs and arms), concoct power-up items, and transform into animals like a panther or sea serpent. What's not to like? Well the shop is stocked with awesome items that are way too expensive. The interface for activating items in the heat of battle is clumsy. The story is incomprehensible, and the bad language and sexual references are just plain unnecessary. Still, these complaints seem a bit petty considering the sheer magnitude of this game. Bayonetta 2 will dazzle your senses and leave you breathless. The fact that the original Bayonetta is also included (on a second disk no less) makes this a slam-dunk purchase for Wii U owners. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is a likeable game but it has a certain stigma. That's because it's sold at a bargain price and its concept originated from the bonus stages in Super Mario 3D World
(Nintendo, 2013). Fear not - there's plenty of content here. More importantly, you'll have fun the entire time you're playing. Refreshingly simple in design, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is a slow, methodical platformer with small, rotatable stages. You control a cute little mushroom named Toad. He can't jump, but he can climb ladders, activate switches, and throw plants. The first few stages look like little castles in the sky. You can rotate them and zoom in to reveal all sorts of nooks, crannies, and hidden passages. Your goal is to retrieve the gold star in each stage, but you'll earn extra credit for collecting diamonds and uncovering secrets. Certain areas are patrolled by shy guys or birds, but you can yank plants out of the ground and toss them into enemies. I enjoyed exploring the ingeniously-crafted stages and uncovering all of their secrets. The game has a strong puzzle element. In one stage you control two Toads at once, and it works remarkably well. One element of the game that failed to win me over was its use of touch controls, required to turn gears or slide glowing blocks. Occasionally you'll even need to blow on the mic to activate fans (rolling eyes now
). Like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
(Hal, 2015), you're better off turning the TV off and playing directly from the control pad. There's a nice variety of stage themes including a library, haunted house, beach, train, and Wild West. The game also contains some unexpected surprises like first-person minecart stage and exciting boss battles. If another company had produced this game it would be hailed as a triumph of innovation and quality. But since Nintendo cranks out quality platformers all the time, Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker is easily overlooked, which is a shame. This sparkling little gem proves that not every console game needs to be epic. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
Nintendo has released several excellent platformers for the Wii U, but Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze takes the cake! I was instantly struck by the sharpness of the graphics. Donkey Kong's fur looks so soft!
Then I realized this was the first time I've played a Donkey Kong Country game in high definition!
Unlike what the ill-conceived title might imply (bad
), the stages are not limited to snow and ice. In fact, most take place in warm locations like lazy island lagoons and African-style savannahs. You'll explore Alice in Wonderland-inspired giant fruit stages and quaint European villages with windmills and bells. In the opening stage you'll spot a frozen island in the distance, which is a forshadowing device used in many old-school games like Ghouls 'N Ghosts
(Genesis, 1989). The stage designs are incredibly inventive, and some of the visual effects will catch you off guard. It's fun to watch a big Viking ship run aground or witness a huge beanstalk spring forth from the earth. In one undersea stage the background illuminates to expose a giant octopus! The minecart stages are literally
rollercoaster rides - especially with their swinging vantage points. My favorite takes you through a working sawmill. As if dodging spinning blades aren't enough, you'll get dumped into the water below the mill as a thunderstorm rages in the background. It's just an amazing sequence to behold. Observant gamers will also notice subtle details like penguins armed with fish bone "spears", man-eating plants that drool, and baboons that stick out their tongue to goad you. Excellent controls complement the classic 2D gameplay. I love how slapping the ground breaks through weak floors, and pulling handles triggers all sorts of surprises. Don't be afraid of the water because Kong can swim just like Ecco the Dolphin
(Genesis, 1992). He can also carry a second character on his back like Diddy, Dixie, or Cranky. These imbue Kong with additional abilities like hovering or bouncing like a pogo stick. The difficulty can be pretty steep at times, especially when you're hopping between crumbling platforms or running for your life while making split-second decisions. Easing the difficulty are balloons you can purchase to provide extra lives or save you from falling or drowning. Tropical Freeze doesn't make use of the control pad, but it's not necessary so I'm glad Nintendo didn't force the issue. The game has tremendous replay value, considering all the coins, letters, and puzzle pieces hidden in each stage. A two-player co-op mode is also included. Heck, there's even a color manual! Granted, there's not much to it but in 2014 we take what we can get. The more I played Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, the more it dawned on me that this could be the best platformer I've ever
played. If you're still on the fence about the Wii U, that should be food for thought. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Duck Tales Remastered
Publisher: Capcom (2013)
As a fan of the original Duck Tales
(NES, 1989) I was disappointed when this remastered version was only available via download. Thank goodness Capcom decided to slap it on a disc, and at a low price! Upon starting it my ears perked up at those distinctive Capcom chimes, taking me back to my Street Fighter II days. Next, the irresistibly jubilant theme from the original game kicked in. It's really one of the more memorable video game tunes of all time, and this remastered version is great. In fact, the game's beautifully orchestrated music often overshadows its slick high-definition graphics. That soothing melody that plays over the level select screen is truly amazing. Duck Tales begins with a bank robbery that serves as a tutorial stage. It gets you used to whacking things with Scrooge McDuck's cane and also using it as a pogo stick. The zany characters and scenic backdrops call to mind the classic animated Disney shorts. The stage select screen offers the exact same locations as the original game: the Amazon, Himalayas, Transylvania, African mines, and the moon. It's pure old-school fun as you bounce between floating platforms, knock enemies clear off the screen, and snag huge gems. Remastered is true to the original Duck Tales - perhaps to a fault!
The stage layouts are just like the original game, and the developers missed a few opportunities to improve the controls. Moving from vine to vine is just as painful as it was in the original game. In addition, I'm not a big fan of having gems appear behind
you - forcing you to constantly backtrack. That said, the stages are ideal in length and the boss encounters are exciting. Sadly, the flow of the game is constantly disrupted by endless, unnecessary dialogue! I commend Disney for hiring Sean Connery to do the voice of Scrooge (no, not really), but he just doesn't know when to shut up!
And the whiny voices of the kiddie ducks ("Unca Scrooge!") really
get on your nerves after a while. Thank goodness you can hit pause and then select "skip dialogue", which quickly becomes second nature. Duck Tales Remastered is a sweet homage to an old classic, but I wish the developers had refocused their attentions. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
ESPN Sports Connection
Publisher: Ubisoft (2012)
ESPN Sports Connection tries to pick up where Wii Sports
(Wii, 2006) left off with a half-dozen events geared toward multi-player action. There's tennis, golf, baseball, soccer, football, and a simple cart racer. The game uses Mii characters to compete and the venues are set in New York's scenic central park. You get some lovely views of lush green valleys with shiny buildings in the background. Tennis is similar to Wii Sports tennis, using the Wiimote to swing as your character automatically scampers around. You can use the GamePad instead, but "swiping" the screen to swing is no fun at all. Playing solo is okay but I can't get over how choppy
the four-player action is. The golf game has a lot of problems. The load times between holes are excessive and you have to recalibrate
your Wiimote before every hole!
What the [expletive] is that
all about? Adding insult to injury, this game is riddled with bugs. At one point my ball disappeared below the putting surface!
Baseball uses both the GamePad (to pitch/field) and Wiimote (to swing). Pitching is tedious as you use the stylus to draw a line to direct your pitch. The batting controls are surprisingly erratic, but the fielding is kind of neat because you hold the GamePad up to "catch" fly balls. Once again bugs abound, as you'll witness singles outside the fouls lines and home runs that never clear the fence. Thank goodness for the "mercy" rule. Soccer doesn't try to do too much, using conventional controls and limiting the GamePad usage to penalty kicks. I actually played this one with five
players, but the game kept changing players on the fly, confusing the heck out of everybody. The cart racer is bare-bones and forgettable. Football reminds me of Kinect Sports Season 2
(Xbox 360, 2011). On offense you use the Wiimote to hike the ball, aim, and throw. On defense you use the GamePad to draw lines directing your defensive backs. I like the idea of telling your players to fade back or go for the sack, but the action doesn't unfold as it should. Defensive backs in proper position don't make plays, and receivers catch passes that are nowhere close
. On a positive note, the music is good, the load screens are helpful, and there's positive reinforcement in the form of constant achievements. The ESPN license was clearly just slapped on to give the game some street cred. Sports Connection looks like a half-baked rush job trying to cash in on a new console. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
Publisher: Disney Interactive (2012)
The original Epic Mickey
(Wii, 2010) dished out some old-school Disney charm but suffered from the standard 3D platform issues (awkward views, confusing objectives, etc). Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two introduces cooperative action, and wouldn't you know - it's twice as bad!
Mickey Mouse is now joined by Oswald the rabbit as they navigate platforms, solve puzzles, and defeat robotic bad guys. Mickey is back with his paintbrush and paint thinner, and Oswald is armed with a remote control that can charge electric boxes and electrocute enemies. The game also introduces a lot of new play mechanics (fairy powers, picture-taking) that turn the entire affair into a colossal mess. Controlling Mickey via the GamePad is a big step back from the aim-at-screen controls of the first game. You position a reticule with the right thumbstick, which is especially clumsy since the right trigger squirts the paint. The GamePad screen gives you easy access to a map and menu options, but they aren't very useful at all. The stages tend to be generic floating worlds that lack a sense of wonder you'd expect from a Disney game. The designers dug deep into the Disney archives for characters but most of them look more creepy than endearing. Animatronic Goofy looks like a zombie
for Pete's sake! I'm all for split-screen and cooperative play, but joining up with a friend is more work than play. Oswald has the ability to glide and carry Mickey over gaping chasms, but both players have to struggle to get into proper position. It doesn't help that the difficulty (and quality of play) varies drastically from one area to the next. You get bombarded with things to do, and it's overwhelming. Whoever designed Epic Mickey 2 seemed to have a more-is-better mentality, and it's unfortunate. It will take some real perseverance to get all the way through this one. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence, suggestive themes)
The box describes Hyrule Warriors as "Legend of Zelda meets the massive scale action of Dynasty Warriors". I had never played Dynasty Warriors before, but apparently it's about hacking up hordes of enemies while achieving strategic battlefield objectives. The star of the game is Link but three more playable characters soon become available (Sheik, Impa, and Lana). Each stage unfolds on a map that contains a number of small forts. Your location is indicated by a large green arrow, but trying to get yourself pointed in the right direction is disconcerting. You're constantly being directed to flashing red areas on the map, where you'll find mobs of cartoonish-looking foes. The hack-n-slash action is very satisfying thanks to high-impact strikes that can send 100 skeletons reeling, their bones clanking all over the place. You'll mash buttons to obliterate minions but more technique is necessary to defeat bosses. When I call Hyrule Warriors a button-masher, I mean it!
Hitting Y seven times in a row is a perfectly valid combo! Awesome special attacks toss enemies around like rag dolls, but you'll want to be facing a crowd to maximize their damage. Unfortunately the close camera angle makes this hard, and I found myself constantly rotating to locate enemies. You're not alone in battle, but you might as well be! Hyrule soldiers mill around all over the place but they don't seem to be trying very hard. In early stages dashing between hot spots is no problem, but during later stages conflicts break out all over the place. You get pulled in too many directions and it's bewildering. Some of the puzzles don't make much sense. Release fairies to extinguish a blaze? Use a boomerang to break through a wall of thorns? Each stage is reasonable in length (well under an hour) which is ideal because I wouldn't want to play much longer than that in one sitting. The story bored me to tears and the upgrade system is unnecessarily complicated. You're constantly getting new items and it's just too much. In addition to the primary Legend mode, a branching Adventure mode lets you team up with a friend via split-screen. What's interesting about that is how one of you plays on the TV while the other plays on the control pad. Neat idea! The graphics are unimpressive but Zelda fans will appreciate the familiar sights, sounds, and classic references. Hyrule Warriors would probably rate higher on another system, but on the Wii U this is second-tier material. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
Publisher: Nintendo (2015)
It's been tough for Nintendo to incorporate the touchpad into its Wii U games, so this time they took a heavy-handed approach. With Kirby and the Rainbow Curse the entire game
is played on the touchpad! Don't even bother turning on the TV. At first Rainbow Curse gave me a serious case of deja vu. Sure enough, I discovered it's nearly identical to Kirby's Canvas Curse
(Nintendo DS, 2005). That said, I don't want to call this a rehash. I mean, how many people are going to remember some 10-year-old DS game? The idea is to navigate Kirby (a round rolling pink creature) through an obstacle course while bonking goons and collecting stars. Tapping Kirby makes him roll, and when you draw rainbow-colored lines he will follow along them. These can be used to create temporary ramps, allowing Kirby to climb or avoid dangerous obstacles. There are bombs to detonate, simple puzzles to solve, and even some Donkey Kong Country-style barrels that fling you around. You can use the stylus to clear away foam obstacles or block harmful laser beams. In special stages Kirby assumes the shape of a tank or sub, allowing you to blast targets. The graphics sport a fun "claymation" style and the orchestrated music score is pleasant enough. The controls take some getting used to but when you get into a rhythm the game feels very natural. It didn't maintain my attention for long, but when my little nephew Luke gave it a try he absolutely loved
it. Apparently kids really dig Kirby. If you don't mind games played solely on the control pad, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is worth a look. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, The
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (animated blood)
The original Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
(GameCube, 2003) was once the subject of controversy. Some hailed its cell-shaded visuals as innovative and stylish while others lamented its unrealistic, childish look. Love it or hate it, these graphics look pretty awesome in high definition, with sharp edges and vivid colors that leap off the screen. Rich surround audio adds to the experience, beginning with the relaxing sound of waves pounding the surf. In addition to the standard Zelda gameplay, Wind Waker adds the concept of sailing, so the world is your oyster! The townships you visit exude a fairy tale charm, and the dialogue has plenty of humor. The dungeon areas are thoughtfully crafted to encourage exploration without feeling overwhelming. The difficulty is fair and the game gently nudges you along. Wind Waker benefits from the Wii U control pad. Not only can you use it to view the map, but it has a handy "save game" button. Unfortunately you'll resume at the beginning of the current stage instead of exactly where you left off. One aspect of the game that hasn't aged well is the camera, which needs to be adjusted constantly. Certain actions (like swinging the sword) change your position slightly, which is a problem when you're on the edge of a narrow ledge. Some of the cut-scenes are a little too cute, especially when those Ewok-looking leaf people begin to sing (*wince*). Wind Waker HD occasionally shows its age, but it's still a remarkably well-designed adventure that's worth replaying. And if you haven't played it since the original release (11 years ago!) it'll be like playing it for the first time anyway. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Lego City Undercover
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Undercover is one of those easy-to-play games you can kick back and enjoy after a hard day's work. There's a lot of variety, good-natured humor, and enough content to keep you entertained for weeks on end. Lego City plays like Grand Theft Auto Light
, offering brief missions, funny cut-scenes, and a huge, bustling town that's fun to explore. The linear storyline is enjoyable enough, but you're always free to wander off the beaten path. When you do, you'll often stumble upon bonus items or secret areas. You can commandeer any car on the streets ("sorry, it's an emergency!") and GPS makes it easy to travel between destinations. Car chases play a major role in the game, so it's a real shame these vehicles handle so poorly! The Control Pad serves a number of functions, including a map, communicator (with crystal clear voices), and radar to locate suspects. Lego City gets off to a slow start but gradually gains momentum as you acquire new costumes. Changing outfits gives you various abilities and is key to solving most puzzles. As a policeman you can track down clues, as a miner you can use dynamite, and as a robber you can use a crowbar. The more progress you make, the more areas become accessible. The graphics are only average but the city contains a lot of interesting places. The cinematics can be corny but there are some genuinely funny lines and numerous pop culture references. The game is even self-referencing at times ("why was that thing even there?!
") An auto-save kicks in frequently and is clearly indicated on the screen. Unfortunately Lego City's chief weakness is hard to overlook: excruciating load times. I'm no stranger to long load times, but this is ridiculous. Not only does it take forever to get the game up and running, entering certain buildings (like the police station) repeats the whole loading process. Is it really worth the wait? Well, yeah, actually it is. Give Lego City Undercover a chance and it will grow on you. This is one likeable, family-friendly title with tremendous replay value. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Publisher: Nintendo (2016)
Most of my friends wrote off the Mario & Sonic Olympic series years ago. Since appearing on the Wii in 2007 the games have been hampered by awkward motion controls, excessive set-up screens, and events that drag on for far too long. Rio 2016 addresses many of those concerns with events that are well-organized, easy to play, and short. The splashy, colorful graphics and upbeat salsa music are bound to put you in a festive mood. The controls are usually limited to two buttons, with on-screen prompts to help you along. I kicked things off with football (that's soccer to me) and I love the short, three-minute match format. You view the action from the side and it's great. The next event, rugby, is presented with a vertical view to change things up a bit. I don't know the first thing about this sport but I had a ball playing it. Volleyball boasts some appealing sunny visuals but oversimplified controls make the action feel automatic and unsatisfying. Equestrian and BMX Racing are both similar in design, prompting you to hit buttons at specific times to execute speed boosts and tricks. The 100M Dash is one of the few games that require button mashing but it's over in just a few seconds. The triple jump and javelin events place the focus on proper timing. Swimming looks gorgeous thanks to some dazzling water effects but the controls are needlessly confusing. Boxing is surprisingly simple and fun. Rhythmic gymnastics owes its mechanics to Guitar Hero, and watching Mario prance around is only slightly less hilarious than when Will Ferrell did it in Old School
. Table Tennis is my least favorite thanks to endless volleys that continue until someone pulls out a super-cheap flaming shot. I enjoyed Rio's single-player mode but the multiplayer can be a hassle. Forget trying to associate Miis; it's bad enough having to select a new set of characters for every event. Sometimes you need to assemble an entire team
for Pete's sake! For a while the game displayed instructions before each event, but at some point that stopped, which is really inconvenient. Top scores are recorded but couldn't they be displayed during the actual events so we know what we're shooting for? There's plenty of content in Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games but the quality is uneven. I have to give the game credit for realism however after seeing Tails robbed at gunpoint and watching Eggman become violently ill after ingesting some water. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)
Whenever I try to play Mario and Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games with friends, it's just a confusing mess. Setting up the game is a pain in the ass. You never know what controller to use or if you're supposed to look at the TV or the control pad. Depending on the mode, you may or may not get an explanation of the controls. Each player is besieged with annoying, unnecessary prompts like "aim at the screen and click A", "touch the control pad to continue", or "lay your Wii-mote face down... again!
" Press A to continue. Press A to continue. How many buttons do I need to press just to play a [expletive] event?!
It seems any glimmer of fun is promptly snuffed out by the horrifically over-engineered user interface. Your best bet is the Legends Showdown mode which lets one player methodically work through all the events while earning points and unlocking stuff. The polished visuals feature soft rolling ski slopes and sparkly indoor arenas at a location that's clearly not
Sochi. Some events are moderately fun. Tilting the Wiimote to ski down the slopes works well, and rhythmically waving it from side-to-side effectively propels your speed skater. The bobsled and skeleton events convey a palpable sense of momentum, and I love the sound of grinding ice coming from the control pad. The curling event combines skill and strategy and is probably the highlight of the entire game! Many events are poorly designed. The Biathlon forces the player to needlessly switch between the Wiimote and control pad. I have no idea how to land my jumps in slopestyle, and there are no instructions
to fall back on. The idea of catching wind drifts during the ski jump event is almost as idiotic as having to strike a pose
during the landing! And watching my favorite Nintendo characters parade around during a fabulous
figure skating spectacular makes me want to barf!
Worst of all are the "fantasy" events which include a blatant rip-off of Star Wars pod racing. What in the [expletive] is that
doing in the winter Olympics?!
The auto-save works well, but I wish the game would stop pestering me about uploading my records to the internet (for the last time - [expletive] no!
). Mario and Sonic at the Sochi Winter Games packs plenty of content and there is some definitely some light-hearted fun to be had. Sadly, you'll have to dig deep for the good stuff and wrestle with the annoying user interface every step of the way. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Find Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games on eBay
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
If playing Mario Kart 8 doesn't convince you to get a Wii U then there's no hope for you. You're a miserable person who hates everything fun and nobody likes you. Mario Kart 8 continues a 20+ year tradition (!) of family-friendly, arcade-style racing mayhem. As the first edition rendered in high definition, the graphics are extremely easy on the eyes. Half of the 32 tracks are remastered from older games (yawn), but 16 new tracks is nothing to sneeze at, especially when they are this fun and imaginative. You'll zip through a pristine airport, plunge into a submerged amusement park, glide over a candy wonderland, and race through a storm cloud while avoiding lightning strikes. In addition to the standard cast (Donkey Kong, Yoshi, Peach, etc) there is an alarming
proliferation of "baby" characters. I'm not even going to ask how that
happened! The control pad gives you the option of steering with motion controls or the thumbstick. Most will opt for the thumbstick, but the motion controls are surprisingly good, especially when using a Wii-mote with a steering wheel attachment. New weapons include a boomerang, a voracious chomping plant, and a horn that sends shock waves in all directions. I like how the squid ink attack now only obscures random parts of the screen. The blue shell is back, much to the chagrin of some fans. You can only hold one item at a time. I love the new hang-gliding sections, originally introduced in Mario Kart 7
(3DS, 2011). It's exhilarating to weave around lava geysers or take off alongside an airplane. The tracks also incorporate gravity-defying sections that let you drive on walls and even upside down
. In the haunted house it's hard to tell which way is up! These anti-gravity segments add interesting detours and give the game a Super Mario Galaxy
(Wii, 2007) flavor, but they can make you feel downright queasy
during extended play. Do not
drink beer while playing this! The addictive grand prix mode lets you quickly unlock tracks and characters, and the split-screen supports up to four players. The battle mode is great because it takes place on the actual tracks with competitors racing in both directions. Spectacular and fun, Mario Kart 8 is too good to resist, so don't fight it. Play it and love it, but try not to throw up. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2015)
Since the innovative success of the first Mario Party
(Nintendo 64, 1998), the response to its endless sequels has become progressively less enthusiastic. Each game has incorporated new elements (voice, motion, etc) with varying degrees of success. So how will Mario Party 10 deal with the Wii U's control pad? Well the new Bowser mode lets one player compete against the other three, using the pad to set traps and target certain players. It works better than I expected, and the idea of Bowser chasing down players adds tension. The traditional four-player mode requires all players to use standard Wiimotes. The game offers a beautiful selection of boards including an amusement park, undersea kingdom, and haunted graveyard. Most can be played in about 30 minutes, which is a great feature. Unlike previous editions, all the players now travel around the board together in a little vehicle. The goal of the game is to collect the most stars. Some spaces award or subtract stars while others initiate mini-games. You collect dice as you play, and by selecting your die you exert influence on where you might land. The heart of any party game is its mini-games, and as usual they are a mixed bag. You'll be torn as to whether you want to bother with the time-consuming practice modes. You usually get the hang of a game just as it's ending. A few of the mini games are great, but like the golf one where you swing if a ball appears but not a bomb. A lot of the games are memory-oriented and some are just lousy. The boards look nice from a distance, but their mini-games are chosen at random and don't match the theme of the board. Stars tend to be redistributed often, and at the very end extra stars are awarded to underachievers. Even my young niece and nephew felt there was way too much luck involved. The pacing isn't bad but prompts to have players "check in" to mini games or reorient their controllers feel unnecessary. The cute animations will seem tedious to older games but my six-year old nephew couldn't get enough of Mario Party 10. For that reason I'm recommending you bump the grade by at least a full a letter for players under the age of 10. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash
Publisher: Nintendo (2015)
If I had to say something nice about Mario Tennis Ultra Smash, I'd mention how bright and crisp its graphics look. There's not much scenery but the sunny arena and colorful court surfaces look inviting. The assortment of loveable players include Donkey Kong, Boo, Yoshi, Bowser, Peach, Toad, Wario, and Rosalina. It's a shame Ultra's gameplay falls so flat! The new Mega Battle mode tosses mushrooms on the court, transforming players into 20-foot giants. While you'd expect this to dramatically improve your power, it mainly just obstructs your view and frankly looks ridiculous. There is a serious depth perception issue with this game. Mega Ball mode is another unwelcome addition, challenging players to bat around a huge, slow-moving beach ball. Nintendo wouldn't need to rely on gimmicks if they delivered a solid tennis game, but even the "classic tennis" mode suffers from Ultra's lackluster gameplay. You can never get the ball past your opponent with a normal shot, even if it's perfectly placed down the baseline. A circle appears where most shots are about to land. Stand on that spot and you're prompted to hit buttons, resulting in some kind of crazy curve or smash. The problem is, the characters have such wide range they return just about everything you dish out. Only when you have the random opportunity to unleash an "ultra smash" does the volley come to a merciful conclusion. The Knockout Challenge is a barebones tournament mode that doesn't even refer to the players by name. Who is this female Toad character I'm playing against, and if I beat her, shouldn't she be unlocked? Coins earned for each match are used to unlock new characters and courts. I was anxiously anticipating the "ice court" (for winter) but it's just the standard tropical court with a shiny blue surface! I don't even think it even affects the gameplay! The exuberant charm of this whimsical sports title may be enough to win over younger gamers, but Ultra Smash comes off as lazy and perhaps rushed effort. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Publisher: Capcom (2012)
Rating: Teen (blood, crude humor, fantasy violence)
I'm told legions of gamers love this game, so good for them. I despise
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. The RPG Critic warned me that the first few hours could be painful, and that was an understatement. You'd expect a game with "3" and "Ultimate" in the title to be finely tuned, but it seems hastily tossed together. You are a warrior visiting an island inhabited by prehistoric creatures. Embarking on tedious missions, you'll collect mushrooms, slay creatures, and gather monster guts (yummy!
). The combat system is terribly clunky. Counter-intuitive buttons and laggy response times make the simple act of swinging a sword feel like a chore. God help you if you embark on an underwater mission. The buttons normally associated with actions are used to cycle items, so when you try to do something you end up swapping items instead. Monster Hunter 3 is run by arbitrary unwritten rules. You can only use an item when the game deems appropriate, and even then it doesn't register half the time. The interface is a nightmare. I can only view my items at the shop, and only equip armor and weapons between
quests. That's one of many crucial details you'll need to figure out on your own. The instructions for "turning kills into resources" are poorly explained, referring to options that don't even exist. An old man told me to acquire a pick axe, and I ran all over God's creation before realizing I already had one
. If you like picking up stuff you'll love Monster Hunter 3. When you come across ten mushrooms you'll press A and watch an animation of your guy picking one. You'll have to repeat that nine more times
to gather them all. And why does it say they are blue mushrooms when they are clearly red? Nothing in this game makes sense and nothing is consistent. The scenery is sparse and I couldn't help but notice there were no trees
in the forest area. Missions refer to areas by names yet your map identifies them with numbers. You'll hike across the same stretches of land over and over but sometimes hit an invisible wall. The missions are bewildering. Slay five Jaggia? What the [expletive] is that?
This game was programmed by twelve people who never talked to each other. I know some swear by Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, but I feel like the only guy at the party who's not in on the joke. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
If you don't know what NES Remix Pack is, that's understandable. It contains both NES Remix 1 and 2, available via digital download. Judging from the box you'd expect to be getting a full set of classic NES titles in high-definition. Instead you get bits and pieces
of them in the form of mini-games. These "challenges" have you do stuff like jump a ramp in Excitebike, kill a monster in Zelda, or break barrels with a hammer in Donkey Kong. Many challenges last less than 10 seconds
for Pete's sake! "I don't do anything
in ten seconds!" exclaimed my friend Scott. "Well, almost
anything" he added with a wry grin. Upon completing a challenge points are tabulated, stars awarded, and more challenges unlocked. The impressive selection of games includes Super Mario Bros (1-3), Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros., Balloon Fight, Dr. Mario, Kirby's Adventure, and Wario's Woods. A bonus game called Super Luigi Bros. is included which is basically a mirrored version of Super Mario Bros. with a few tweaks. The pixelated graphics look sharp and the audio is crystal clear, but the mini-game format is unsatisfying. The challenges feel like glorified tutorials
as they walk you through the basic controls and fundamental techniques. Worse yet, they are so short you spend half the time watching points being tallied. And for what? To unlock worthless "stamps"? NES Remix is little more than a marketing ploy to peddle digital download versions of these games. It works too because I jumped on eBay and bought a copy of Balloon Fight! I'm all about spreading interest in classic games, but Nintendo is perpetrating a fraud. Who charges for demos?!
A few of my friends found NES Remix mildly enjoyable, but even they admitted they wished they were playing the actual games instead. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
New Super Luigi U
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
New Super Luigi U is a standalone title, but Nintendo made it clear that this is basically an expansion pack for New Super Mario Bros. U (which explains the reduced price). Now it's Luigi's turn to shine as he traverses a harrowing new set of stages. This kind of reminds me of Sonic & Knuckles
(Genesis, 1994) except without the "lock-on" technology. Before reviewing this game I went back and played the original Mario U to calibrate my expectations (yep - it's still awesome). Compared to that, New Super Luigi U is a faster, more challenging experience. The world map, themes, and bosses are basically the same, but the stage designs are totally new. The difficulty has been ratcheted up substantially, and there are a lot of those limited visibility stages. Even in the very first stage you'll struggle while contending with ground that shifts below your feet. In the "rotating gears" stage the danger is heightened by giant flames that fire at regular intervals. On top of everything, the pacing is faster since most stages are timed. Luigi has a slightly different look and feel than Mario. His comical voice is an octave lower and he has the ability to hover in the air. An extra oomph lets him reach high ledges, the downside being that there's sometimes no place to land when he comes down! The game isn't rocket science, but it's definitely geared toward skilled gamers who mastered the first game. I prefer the easier difficulty and leisurely pace of the original, but this low-cost add-on serves its purpose. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
New Super Mario Bros. U
Publisher: Nintendo (2012)
I think my friend Eric perfectly characterized this game with his remark, "I could play this all day
." Familiar yet fresh, New Super Mario Bros. U is a slam-dunk title for the Wii U. Its platform gameplay is just like all the other 2D Super Mario titles dating back to the NES. You explore side-scrolling stages while jumping on platforms, collecting coins, bumping blocks, and pouncing on enemies. For the first time however, its wondrous worlds are rendered in high definition. The sharp visuals are inviting but remain true to the style of the classics. In fact, the game looks nearly as good when played on the GamePad (in case you need the TV for football). The story mode is better than ever thanks to a map screen that provides mini-games, alternate routes, and other surprises. As a "seasonal" gamer, I appreciate the option of selecting Frosted Glacier (a winter wonderland) over Sparkling Waters. The stage designs are thought provoking and there are inventive new gadgets to keep things fresh. Each stage offers a nice balance of risk-reward, so serious gamers can go for hard-to-reach coins while casual players can take the easy route. Power-ups come early and often, allowing you to do things such as glide like a flying squirrel or transform enemies into ice cubes. In the glacier stage I encased a penguin in a block of ice and proceeded to "surf" on him through most of the level. Pretty sweet.
Up to five players can participate at once. The person using the GamePad plays in "boost mode" (aka "girlfriend mode"), which lets them help or hinder other players by creating blocks and interacting with objects. It's a wonderful opportunity to annoy the hell out of your friends. Super Mario Bros. U uses the exact same save system as the DS/3DS Mario games. You can only save at certain points although there is also a "quick save" option (which you can resume from only once). The surround sound in this game is extremely effective, and the audio emanating from the GamePad adds another dimension. Overall, New Super Mario Bros. U is everything I thought it would be. Yeah - it's that good!
© Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2012)
As the pack-in game for the Wii U Deluxe set, Nintendo Land does a decent job of demonstrating the system's capabilities. Each of its dozen mini-games uses Mii characters and incorporates the GamePad in a number of creative ways. There's a ninja game where you flick your finger across the screen to hurl throwing stars. In the maze game you'll tilt the controller to navigate a wooden obstacle course. In a flying game you use the stylus to create wind currents to propel your character. There are Zelda and Metroid-inspired games that let you hold up the GamePad to view your surroundings. These are all family-friendly and many support up to five players. In the chase variations the player holding the GamePad can see more than everybody else. For example, in Luigi's Mansion he plays the role of the ghost, sneaking up on other players and scaring the heck out of them. All of the games are mildly amusing but none could really hold my attention for more than a few minutes. Even the Metroid shooter made me yawn after a few waves. A robot provides tutorials and hints, but she talks way
too much. Ironically, the best game is a throwaway bonus game that doesn't even use the GamePad. It's a simple pachinko-style game where you drop bouncing balls down a pegboard and into slots. Nintendo Land is a nice way to get acquainted with your brand new Wii U, but it won't sell systems like Wii Sports did for the original Wii. None of these games could stand alone, but taken as a whole it's not a bad package, especially if you have kids. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
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