Wii U Reviews A-D

Batman: Arkham Origins
Grade: B
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2013)
Reviewed: 2014/3/8
Rating: Teen (blood, drug reference, language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotThis game has been taking heat for lack of innovation and general bugginess, but I found this Wii U version to be as slick and 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.

The title seems to be a misnomer. Both Batman and the villains are fully realized from the start; they just don't know each other yet. 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 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.

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1 player 

Bayonetta 2
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sega (2014)
Reviewed: 2014/11/23
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language, suggestive themes)

screenshotMost 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 a 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!

Bayonetta 2 is a game you can never fully wrap your brain around, but that's part of its charm. The action is intense and even when you don't know exactly what's happening, you can't take your eyes off the screen. 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 boasts 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.

1 player 

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Grade: B
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
Reviewed: 2016/7/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotCaptain Toad Treasure Tracker is a likeable game but it carries a certain stigma. The game is 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.

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1 player 

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Grade: A+
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
Reviewed: 2014/4/12
Rating: Everyone

screenshotNintendo 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! Despite what the title might imply, 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 foreshadowing 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 passengers imbue Kong with additional abilities like hovering or bouncing like a pogo stick.

The difficulty can be 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.

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1 or 2 players 

Duck Tales Remastered
Grade: B-
Publisher: Capcom (2013)
Reviewed: 2013/12/6
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAs 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 no less! Upon starting it up 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 show kicked in. It's really one of the more memorable video game tunes of all time. In fact, the game's beautifully orchestrated music often overshadows its slick high-definition graphics. The soothing melody that plays over the level select screen is fantastic.

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 an imperfect yet sweet homage to an old classic. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 


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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, YouTube, Moby Games