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 felding 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 homeruns 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.
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.
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 throw-away bonus game that doesn't even use the GamePad. It's a simple pachinko-style game where you drop bouncing balls down a peg-board 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.
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
The original Scribblenauts (Nintendo DS, 2009) was a groundbreaking title. It presented the player with a series of puzzles solved by writing down the names of objects which magically appeared on the screen. I would characterize the style of play as educational, but that would imply that it's not fun. Scribblenauts Unlimited takes the same winning formula and applies it to a big, open world. You can now freely travel between diverse locations like a fire station, museum, haunted mansion, castle, and even a Jurassic Park-style dinosaur sanctuary. In each location you'll find a bunch of people milling around in need of your help. The user interface makes it easy to enter words, and if your spelling is off a helpful "did you mean this?" feature comes to the rescue. The game will materialize just about any object you can think of, so let your imagination run wild. Some puzzles can be taxing on the brain, and it seems that the simplest problems can be the hardest to solve. My main issue with Scribblenauts Unlimited is the "unlimited" part. The game is lacking in structure, so it feels like you're just meandering between random locations, solving puzzles and collecting stars for no particular reason. Navigating the multi-tiered stages is confusing and it's not always clear what you're supposed to do next or whom you can interact with. On a positive note, if you get stuck you can simply move on to a different location. The graphics and music are pleasant and have an innocent charm. The game is controlled almost exclusively with the stylus, and frankly I don't even look at the television when I play. Scribblenauts is a game everybody should experience, but if you've already played it on the small screen you may find this Unlimited version a bit underwhelming. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed
Publisher: Sega (2012)
This racer takes me back to my Dreamcast days, when Sega games were bright, inviting, and easy to play. Transformed picks up where Sonic All-Stars Racing (Xbox 360, 2012) left off, pushing the limits of kart racing (maybe a little too
far). Your cars will now transform into speedboats and jets while blazing through elaborate courses based on classic Sega franchises. The transforming car idea was first seen in the original Spy Hunter (arcade, 1983) and the concept has been underused ever since. Tranform's drop-dead gorgeous courses are inspired by Sega franchises like Panzer Dragoon, Super Monkey Ball, Afterburner, Samba De Amigo, Skies of Arcadia, and, of course, Sonic the Hedgehog. In addition to the standard characters (Sonic, Knuckles, Ulala, Alex Kidd, Amigo, etc) you also get to race as Wreck-it Ralph and... Danica Patrick?!
The game's dynamic nature adds excitement, especially when you drive off a cliff and turn into a plane! The weapons are fairly tame, including snowballs, fireworks, and a baseball glove to catch incoming missiles. The controls are crisp as you navigate the wide, elevated tracks. The boat racing segments look amazing with their shimmering blue water, calling to mind Hydro Thunder (Dreamcast, 1999). Some of the courses are very elaborate, with alternate paths, loops, obstacles, and routes that change between laps. These things can make the courses confusing to navigate - particularly in the split-screen mode. In one instance I drove into the water expecting to transform into a boat, but sank instead. Due to the extra screen provided by the ControlPad, Transformed allows up to five
players to compete via split-screen. Unfortunately since the GamePad is registered as player one, the other player positions don't correspond with their controller assignments, which is confusing. The branching career mode offers a variety of challenges, and I like how you only need to finish races in the top three to advance. Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed is a little over the top, but its fun, arcade spirit shines through. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ubisoft (2012)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
I've learned to be skeptical of third-party launch titles, but Zombi U is high in quality and genuinely scary. You view the action from a first-person perspective and the slow, deliberate pace allows suspense to properly build (Capcom should take note). I'm tempted to say Zombi U puts the "horror" back into "survival horror", but come to think of it, it puts the survival
back in too! The game creates a sense of isolation and desperation, and you'll need to be resourceful to stay alive. You begin in a "safe house" in a London subway, gradually exploring your surrounding areas before eventually winding up in Buckingham Palace. The dark, post-apocalyptic streets and underground passages will make you paranoid. You never know what's lurking in the shadows, and the sound of knocks, screeches, and moans are downright alarming. The zombies amble around in a slow, old-school way, but they can lunge quickly. The game has a flair for the dramatic, so that lifeless body you walk past might spring to life, making you jump out of your seat. The combat is gory and intense as you bash a zombie's head with a cricket bat until there's nothing left. Zombi U is heavy on exploration and looting is just as fun as it is in real life (very!
). You can close doors behind you and even barricade them shut. The idea of continuity between lives is brilliant, but the frequent reloading and retracing of steps can be time consuming. The GamePad is utilized in a number of ways. It's your map by default and a radar button indicates locations of nearby zombies. Your guide talks through the controller's speaker, offering guidance and some funny one-liners. The pad also functions as a scanner that you hold up and move around with your arms. Zombi U does an admirable job of leveraging the pad, but occasionally it's hard to tell what you're supposed to being looking at - the TV or the pad. The multiplayer mode is pretty worthless but the single-player campaign is riveting. Zombi U is so intense that I could almost forgive a nasty lock-up incident and the fact that the game asks for your consent to having Ubisoft collecting your play data. [Expletive] no
, but thanks for asking. Nice game, by the way. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com