Wii U Reviews E-L

ESPN Sports Connection
Grade: F
Publisher: Ubisoft (2012)
Reviewed: 2013/1/31
Rating: Everyone

screenshotESPN Sports Connection tries to pick up where Wii Sports (Wii, 2006) left off with a half-dozen events geared toward multiplayer 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.

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1 to 5 players 

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two
Grade: D-
Publisher: Disney Interactive (2012)
Reviewed: 2013/1/31
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe original Epic Mickey (Wii, 2010) dished out its share of 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 would you believe 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.

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1 or 2 players 

Hyrule Warriors
Grade: C+
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
Reviewed: 2015/1/10
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence, suggestive themes)

screenshotThe 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 this 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.

1 or 2 players 

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
Grade: C
Publisher: Nintendo (2015)
Reviewed: 2016/7/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIt'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.

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1 player 

Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, The
Grade: B+
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Reviewed: 2014/6/10
Rating: Everyone 10+ (animated blood)

screenshotThe original Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube, 2003) was the subject of some controversy in its day. 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 a replay. 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.

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1 player 

Lego City Undercover
Grade: B
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Reviewed: 2013/5/14
Rating: Everyone

screenshotUndercover 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 Lite, 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.

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1 player 


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