Wii U Reviews M-N

Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Grade: C
Publisher: Nintendo (2016)
Reviewed: 2016/7/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotMost 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.

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1 to 4 players 

Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games
Grade: D+
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Reviewed: 2014/2/11
Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)

screenshotWhenever 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 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.

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1 to 4 players 

Mario Kart 8
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
Reviewed: 2014/6/10
Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

screenshotIf 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 are 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.

1 to 4 players 

Mario Party 10
Grade: C-
Publisher: Nintendo (2015)
Reviewed: 2015/10/20
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSince the success of the first Mario Party (Nintendo 64, 1998), its endless sequels has been received progressively less enthusiastically. Each 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 letter for players under the age of 10. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash
Grade: D
Publisher: Nintendo (2015)
Reviewed: 2015/12/2
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIf 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 a 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.

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1 to 4 players 

Mighty No. 9
Grade: D
Publisher: Nintendo (2016)
Reviewed: 2017/1/1
Rating: Everyone (10+)

screenshotOn paper Mighty No. 9 looks like a sure winner, resurrecting the timeless Mega Man platform-shooting formula in gorgeous high definition. Your character is a kid decked out in a robotic suit that lets him fire, dash, and change forms. One key feature is the ability to dash through dazed enemies to absorb their powers. This should have been a great feature but it's not.

First, why would they assign "dash" to the upper right trigger? Most people forget that button even exists! Second, the move is not very satisfying and the benefits are negligible. I much prefer the robot-blasting destruction of the original Mega Man games, with nuts and bolts flying all over the place.

Mighty No. 9's graphics are modest, and while that's understandable for an old-school romp, did they have to be so boring? The stages are selectable including a hazardous oil refinery, a rainy highway, and a vertigo-inducing radio tower. That gray water stage is just plain ugly. The background music in Mighty No. 9 so muted I barely noticed it, and I couldn't page through those inconsequential dialog bubbles fast enough.

The platform shooting is okay but you have to pound the fire button like there's no tomorrow! The jumping action requires good timing to survive collapsing platforms, deadly drop-offs, and one-hit deaths. The game is a challenge, but where is the fun? Mighty No. 9 comes packaged with a poster and small art book, but I would have preferred a colorful instruction manual (what a concept!).

I tried to get into this game but it left me with the same empty feeling as Mega Man Powered Up (PSP, 2006). Mighty No. 9 looks the part but lacks the magic.gh to win over younger gamers, but Ultra Smash comes off as lazy and perhaps rushed effort. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Grade: F
Publisher: Capcom (2012)
Reviewed: 2015/6/4
Rating: Teen (blood, crude humor, fantasy violence)

screenshotI'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 just feels hastily assembled.

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.

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1 to 4 players 

NES Remix Pack
Grade: D-
Publisher: Nintendo (2014)
Reviewed: 2015/2/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIf 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.

1 player 

New Super Luigi U
Grade: C+
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Reviewed: 2013/10/15
Rating: Everyone

screenshotNew 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.

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1 or 2 players 

New Super Mario Bros. U
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (2012)
Reviewed: 2013/1/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI 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.

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1 to 5 players 

Nintendo Land
Grade: C
Publisher: Nintendo (2012)
Reviewed: 2013/1/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAs 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.

During 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.

1 to 5 players 


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