Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild cartoon violence)
At first I wasn't too enthused about Pikmin 3. Sure, I enjoyed the original Pikmin (GameCube, 2001) but never even bothered with the sequel. That said, I fell for this third edition hook, line, and sinker. Pikmin 3 is a family-friendly combination of real-time strategy and arcade action. You play a diminutive astronaut exploring a gorgeous, lush planet inhabited by plant-like life forms called Pikmin. These adorable little creatures obey your every command, and it looks hilarious to watch a group of them follow you around. You can grow Pikmin, toss them at creatures, and have them haul giant pieces of fruit back to your spaceship. Pikmin come in several varieties, including red ones that are impervious to fire, black rock ones that can shatter crystal walls, and yellow ones that conduct electricity. Multitasking is what makes the game fun; its satisfying to put groups of Pikmin to work on parallel tasks like breaking down walls and building bridges. Upon locating your fellow crewmates you can toggle between them to further divide the labor. The game is played one day at a time, and sunset is usually a source of tension as you frantically try to collect up all the scattered Pikmin. Once your ship takes off those left behind fall prey to scavengers, which may be the most heart-wrenching thing I've ever experienced playing a video game. A typical "day" only lasts about fifteen minutes, after which the game auto-saves. Pikmin 3 is easy on the eyes, and even my wife commented on how beautiful it looks. There are two control schemes - one that uses the control pad and one that uses the Wii-mote/nunchuck combo. Neither is perfect. The thumbsticks on the control pad aren't very precise, but the second stick comes in handy for adjusting the camera. Using the Wii-mote makes it easier to aim, but the camera control is limited. Despite some occasional awkward moments, Pikmin 3 is the most captivating game I've played in recent memory. There's some ramp-up required, but the payoff is huge. The sense of progression is terrific, and you'll always want to play "just one more day" to investigate some new hidden passage or mysterious new fruit. Charming and fun, it's not a question of if you'll like
Pikmin 3, it's whether you'll love
it or not! © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ubisoft (2013)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence)
It's a shame to see a game this sensational undermined by poor marketing. I'm probably not the only one to mistake Rayman Legends for a Wii U version of Rayman Origins (Xbox 360, 2012). Not only is this game completely different, but it represents some of the best 2D platform action you'll play in the modern era. Rayman may lack a body, but his hands and feet pack a wallop. As he treks through enchanted forests, haunted castles, and voodoo swamps he'll kick enemies, smash obstacles, vault off walls, and collect glowing fairies. The controls are right on point and the layered, illustrated scenery is a feast for the eyes. You can select your stage and new areas are constantly being unlocked. Each stage brings something new and imaginative to the table. In one you're gliding on winds between beanstalks, in another you're hopping between roasting food items, and in another you're trying to keep above the fray as structures collapse all around you. The stages tend to be dynamic, and sometimes you need to keep moving just to avoid being crushed. There's never a dull moment and there are plenty of surprises, including some astonishing musical stages. The only parts of the game I didn't care for were the tedious "bonus" stages, which I actively tried to avoid
. You set your own difficulty by how you play. If you prefer to breeze through each stage you can ignore extraneous passageways and hard-to-reach items. Of course, you can always go back and replay any stage. What separates Legends from other Rayman games is its touch screen stages. Some may regard these as annoying, but I found them to be a refreshing change of pace. Instead of controlling a character directly, you clear the way by sliding platforms, cutting ropes, and smushing enemies with your finger. It sounds like a gimmick but it's actually a heck of a lot of fun. Shooting down dragons with catapults is especially satisfying (in an Angry Birds kind of way). I did get stuck at one point due to an apparent bug, but a handy "restart stage" option is available on the pause menu. The soundtrack ranges from happy-go-lucky whistling to an expansive Pirates of the Caribbean-style orchestrated score. This is the kind of game you pick up for a quick romp and end up playing for hours on end. Rayman Legends packs so much platform goodness, my only question is: how can Ubisoft possibly top this? © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Resident Evil: Revelations
Publisher: Capcom (2013)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, language)
Resident Evil: Revelations provided superb survival horror for the Nintendo 3DS, and it looks even better on the big screen. In many ways it's a throwback to the original Resident Evil trilogy that appeared on the Playstation in the late 90's. The story is cheesy, the dialogue is ridiculous, the puzzles are familiar, and the controls are stiff. The game also happens to be a heck
of a lot of fun, and its slow, deliberate pace allows suspense to properly build. Despite having previously played the 3DS version, Revelations still
scared the living [expletive] out of me. The story takes place at sea on a luxurious abandoned ocean liner with a lot of narrow hallways, lush cabins, and dark service areas. The story makes no sense but it doesn't even matter. Freaky white zombies come out of the woodwork and you'll reduce them to goo with knives, shotguns, and decoy bombs. The main heroine Jill Valentine is a knockout in high definition (and low for that matter), but these graphics aren't exactly state of the art. The audio has problems with lip-syncing, and certain sound effects are just plain wrong. In one "flashback" mission you trudge through snowy mountains yet it sounds like you're stepping on clanking metal. This Wii U version feels rushed. There's no manual and the control pad isn't integrated very well. It's nice to have a map at your fingertips, but when you hit "menu" you're directed to the television to do the rest. In addition, the overly sensitive analog stick controls have an annoying all-or-nothing quality. The act of aiming a gun or adjusting the camera feels clumsy, and you can't even tweak the sensitivity via the options menu. Even so, this game is too good to be ruined by some wonky controls. It feels like classic Resident Evil except with all the modern bells and whistles like high definition graphics and the ability to save at any time. I have a soft spot for the 3DS edition, but once you begin playing Revelations on the Wii U, it's hard to stop! © 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.
Sonic Lost World
Publisher: Sega (2013)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild cartoon violence)
Like most classic gamers I have a soft spot for the blue hedgehog, which makes it all the more painful to play something as wretched
as Sonic Lost World. First things first: who is the jackass
at Sega who insists that every Sonic game contains 3D elements? I swear he's killed this franchise ten times over!
Lost World basically drags Sonic kicking and screaming into Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007). Square peg, meet round hole! Each stage is a series of three dimensional objects that rotate as Sonic scurries around (or inside of) them. There's little sense of geography, eliminating the desire to explore. The Sonic franchise was built on speed (hence the name) but these stages are hardly conducive to that. Adding insult to injury, the hedgehog that once popularized "blast processing" has apparently let himself go, and has become a slow lard-ass. Lacking energy, he labors just to maintain a jogging pace. In some chase sequences, it feels like Sonic is moving in slow motion!
Another hallmark of the series - simple controls - has completely gone out the window. Just about every leap requires a double-jump, which takes you out of your spin and makes you vulnerable to damage. Sonic's trademark spin-dash has been relegated to a trigger and is rarely useful. Instead of pouncing on creatures, Lost World forces you to use "lock-on targeting" to defeat foes (hit circle button when red target appears). Especially with bosses, these targets appear arbitrarily and unpredictably, making the game feel broken. The "laser" sequences (which employ the touch pad) are confusing and I could never even get them to work at all. The stage designs are boring with long sections that repeat three or four times. Annoying hazards like green goo stop you dead in your tracks, ensuring the player never gets into any kind of rhythm. The idiotic cut-scenes are unwatchable. Sonic Lost World is an exclusive title for the Wii U. Please Sega, don't do us any more favors! © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Super Mario 3D World
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Let's face it: 3D platformers tend to be less fun than their 2D counterparts. It's probably because the limited perspective encourages a slower, more deliberate approach. That's what makes Super Mario 3D World so remarkable; it manages to deliver real 3D action with all the fun of a 2D title. At first it plays exactly as you'd expect. The stages are attractive but unspectacular as you jump between platforms, bump blocks, collect coins, and pounce on enemies. The camera maintains a safe distance so you see everything you need without having to adjust. The stages are mostly linear but they do contain many hidden areas and alternate paths. I love the concept of whooshing through the new transparent pipes - especially since you can change directions where they branch. Super Mario 3D World also introduces an awesome new "cat suit", giving Mario the ability to attack, dive, and claw his way up walls. When Mario isn't a cat, you'll want him to be a cat!
The stages are inventive and constantly introduce interesting new concepts. One stage is played by watching shadows. In another stage you ride down waterfalls on the back of a huge dinosaur. The haunted house stage is loaded with optical illusions. Providing a nice change of pace are the Toad-only stages, where you must figure out how to navigate a non-jumping Toad through square, multi-tiered levels. The new cherry power-ups creates multiple Mario clones, and you can imagine how much fun it is to unleash fireballs from five Marios at once! This game never stop surprising you, and it's fun to revisit old stages to discover what you missed. There is very little use of the touch pad, and I think that's for the best. Depth perception is occasionally an issue (especially in stages that constantly scroll), but this is offset by an abundance of power-ups, including the one that turns Mario into a rampaging giant. Upon completing a stage your progress is automatically saved. As icing on the cake, up to four people can participate at once. Super Mario 3D World was a long time coming, but it's the gift that keeps on giving. Frankly, this is the kind of high-quality, family-friendly title only Nintendo could deliver. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Wonderful 101, The
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, animated blood, fantasy violence, suggestive themes)
Wonderful 101 is one of those Nintendo originals you really want
to love, but the game seems to fight you every step of the way. Playing a comical superhero who resembles Viewtiful Joe (GameCube, 2003), you lead a mob of superheroes to protect the world from invading robots from space. You create an army of heroes by transforming normal civilians walking the streets. Once you round them up (ala Pikmin) you can transform the group into huge weapons like a red fist, sword, or even a gun. You then tap buttons to unleash carnage on a grand scale. After taking a hit your heroes scatter, forcing you to gather them up and repeat the process. As you forge through war-torn city streets you'll solve occasional puzzles (like turning giant gears) and form human ladders to climb obstacles. The graphics are pretty spectacular - like a world of giant toys. I like how entering indoor areas switches the action to the control pad, giving the game a Wii U flair. The characters are rendered with humor and personality, and the villain "Geathjerk" has pretty much the best name ever. The dialogue has its share of funny lines but tends to be far too wordy for its own good. What's more hilarious is the heroic anthem sung by a booming male chorus featuring some brilliantly dumb lyrics. It's a shame Wonderful 101's charm is undermined by problematic (and often maddening) gameplay. The high overhead view makes it hard to tell where to go and invisible walls abound. During battles your character can get lost in the fray, and it's hard to tell what the [expletive] is going on. Fighting large armored robots can grow tiresome, especially when they lash out at you like heat-seeking missiles. The pathetic vibration feature of the control pad is annoying. Worst of all, the controls require you draw patterns to materialize weapons. Not only is this mechanic clumsy and inexact, but confusing messages on the screen exacerbate the situation. Wonderful 101 is brimming with style and humor, but it's not enough to save the game, much less the planet. © 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