Having launched with a range of great titles including the latest in a long line of Super Mario games, it looks like Nintendo is keen for 2013 to be the year of Wii U – with a line-up of releases that look set to cater for everyone.
There are Wii U games that promise platform fun, high octane racing and much more – but what can action fans expect? Here is our pick of the Wii U crop that have recently been released.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge
Nintendo kicked off the year in style with the latest entry in the popular ninja series that started out on the Nintendo Entertainment System and SNES over a decade ago. The story sees gamers take on the role of Ryu Hayabusa as he attempts to free himself from a terrible curse while battling all manner of powerful opponents and mastering an arsenal of weapons. Ryu is joined by Ayane, a female ninja who will help him along the way as a playable character in both solo and two-player online co-op mode.
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth
Based on the immensely popular comic book franchise and taking elements of story from the legendary Secret Invasion comic series, Marvel Avengers: Battle
for Earth is likely to be a tempting purchase for fans of the box office busting super hero team. Play as one of 20 different Marvel characters and use motion control to execute special moves and attacks, with game modes that include co-operative, arcade, campaign, versus and many more – providing loads of shelf life to enjoy.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
If you think your heart can take it, the long-awaited Aliens: Colonial Marines has hit the Wii U console this month and picks up the action that follows the 1986 James Cameron classic movie Aliens. As part of a team of marines, you’ll need to board the abandoned U.S.S. Sulaco and figure out what was the terrible fate befell its crew. Be warned though, there are
terrifying Xenomorphs everywhere looking to tear you apart at the first opportunity, so pick up your weapons and stay alert soldier!
Of course, Wii U isn’t the only thing on Nintendo’s agenda as there some great Nintendo 3DS games on the way too. As you’d expect, there are puzzle and brain training titles, but keep an eye out for some of the new action and adventure releases that will also arrive as the year goes on.
Back when the original ‘New’ genus of the Mario Bros. canon was released unto the world in 2006 it was heralded as a backwards-engineered marvel, a retro revolution. ‘Finally,’ the masses cried, ‘Mario’s back. No more open worlds, no more contrived companions. Mario’s back in the two dimensions he’s only ever belonged in.’
4 games later and the whole ‘New’ maxim has become something of a joke. ‘New? Don’t you mean Old Super Mario Bros.’ Arsey McFart would guffaw into a bag of chewy homebrew. And rightfully so.
The original 2D Mario platformers back in heady NES/SNES days were consistent harbingers of innovation, the veritable crafters of pretty much everything we today consider platformers to be. If it wasn’t for that little thing called ‘copyright,’ we should by right be playing ‘Marioers.’
These days…not so much. New suits, more coins, more players: Nintendo took the grandmotherly approach to food with their omnipotent portly plumber: more is better.
Fortunately, New Super Mario Bros. U – despite its Megazord of a title - is a tentative return to form, though it doesn’t exactly ‘innovate’ so much as renovate.
It’s a prototypically idyllic summer’s day and Peach is dining with her favourite whipping boy, his brother and two obviously aristocratic Toads (seriously, how come Messrs.’ Yellow and Blue get to dine at the big table while the rest wallow in the fields and live in houses made of Mushrooms which, you have to assume, they are in some way related to? Hypocrisy I tell you.) Then, presumably because he wasn’t invited again and suffers from crippling emotional/social behavioural problems, Bowser kicks off. Using a brand new airship – with a fleet of militaristic children in tow – and its remarkably dexterous giant hand appendage, he disposes of the mustachioed plumbers and proceeds to vomit lava everywhere in a misunderstood attempt at making friends. It’s then up to Mario and his subordinates to once again save the day and murder everything in their way.
All of your classic Mario staples are here and accounted for: themed worlds; plenty-o-platforms, power-ups and pitfalls; goombas, koopas and dry-bones; frustration, swearing and platonic violence. Just like the good ol’ days. And all the days since then.
In this sense New Super Mario Bros. U is your archetypal Mario experience. Either you know what that means – and how you feel about it – or you’ve been living under a rock for the past 30 years. Trying to convert a staunch opposer to Mario goodness with this game would be tantamount to trying to convert someone to vegetarianism by saying ‘hey, I know you don’t like carrots, but what about this surrealy similar grey carrot instead?’ Parsnip’s ain’t fooling nobody.
The most important question then is: what’s new? A refreshing amount actually.
While the world’s themselves are the standard fair – desert, lava, snowy, snore – individual levels contain a wealth of creative flair. A notable highlight is the level (yes, singular level, what the hell Nintendo!) entirely stylized as a living breathing watercolour painting. Reminiscent of the utterly gorgeous and generally brilliant Valkyria Chronicles, the background, platforms and perils all look like a Van Goughian wet-dream. In what is a universally very pretty game – and by far the visual pinnacle of the Mario series – this one level stands as the clear aesthetic highlight.
Elsewhere, textures are crisper and the series’ staple hyper-colourful preoccupations look glorious in HD. Stylistically the game is dissapointingly similar to the previous Wii iteration (there are innumerable comparison videos on youtube made by those with less pertinent things at hand) but looking at the proverbial big picture, in this case the TV screen rather than the Gamepad, and the overarching technical superiority is clear to see.
Gameplay wise the game is as good as unchanged. You run, jump, ground-pound, spin, wall-jump and murder your way from left-to-right, from level-to-level. The dedicated run button (1 on the WiiMote) is always welcome and the odd level (note: the ghost houses) mix things up a bit. Overall however, on the face of it, little has changed in the last 30 years.
Power-ups on the other hand are one-part carbon copies – the fire and ice flowers – one-part effective re-workings such as the raccoon suit and mini-mushroom.
We’ve seen the raccoon suit several times before and it ostensibly hasn’t changed too much. You use it to float, temporary sort-of fly a bit with a shake of the remote, cling to walls for a period of time and bounce callously across hordes of enemies like some lightweight ball of flubber death. The raccoon suit is very much what you make of it. Simply want help surviving pitfalls/skipping tricky sections? Go for it. Want to rack up the high scores on the game’s new Challenge mode? You can do that too. In single player it truly shines when collecting star coins and reaching hidden areas, deft use of the game’s robust wall-jump and float mechanics making it possible to reach seemingly impossible areas. It’s a suit of nuance and surprising skill, a subtle indication of gameplay evolution from the days of the one-two run-and-jump.
The mini-mushroom however – while functionally brilliant: run up walls, across water, through little pipes; bounces on enemies to safety; jump like an impish Spiderman – is something of a heterocosm for the game’s collective failings: it’s only available on two levels.
Much like with the watercolour level and many of the other pan-gameplay highlights – bouncy candyfloss clouds = ridiculous fun/genocidal death – the mini-mushroom is needlessly constricted to point of spitefulness. New Super Mario Bros. U is, when played with friends, possibly the most hectic balls-to-the-wall piece of local multiplayer fun and mayhem you could ask for. Single player however, while still undeniably entertaining, can start to feel empty regardless of the huge collection of levels and gameplay ideas therein. You will still have a good time, but the lack of cohesion throughout worlds and the flippant attitude regarding creative quirks haven’t got the whacky multi-player veil to hide behind.
Talking of multi-player, it’s suggested that you play with one of two groups of people: 1) complete strangers so you won’t care about causing them physical harm and 2) either loved ones or good friends who you could never murder because you like/love them or some silly crap like that.
Multi-player is fun. It is also the single greatest cause of domestic violence in the industrialised world.
Players can decide between working together or – as is almost always the case because every human is inherently evil to their rotten, spiteful, gangrenous core – against each other. Expect to die – a lot – Mr. Douchey McDouche, your ex-friend, moves that platform again. And you die. Again. It won’t be long – a matter of minutes maybe – before levels descend into one almighty free-for-all of petty one-upmanship. And it’s bloody brilliant.
Outside of the story levels (and it’s post-game content should you send Bowser back to his lonely hovel) New Super Mario Bros. U offers 2 bonus modes: Challenge and Boost. Challenge mode challenges (fwahaha see what they did there?) players to complete specific tasks such as clearing levels within a time limit or killing a group of enemies without touching the floor. Boost mode finds players traversing an automatically scrolling level, collecting coins to up the speed in an effort to finish in as quick a time as possible. In what is already a frenetic game, Boost mode ups the ante to ridiculous – but ceaselessly enjoyable – levels. Challenge mode however is where the true bonus enjoyment lies; many of the levels task players with mastering a specific element of the game – be it the raccoon suit or double/triple jumping – which, for the completionists among us, acts as an organic way of pulling out the game’s technical minutiae.
New Super Mario Bros. U is – on top of an admirable return to form for the chubby ‘hero’ – the triple distillated essence of multiplayer madness. As a technical game it is a peerless experience, the dictionary defined ‘platformer.’ Though it’ll never reach the nostalgic heights of the series’ youth and it’s doubtlessly guilty of laziness in certain parts it is, as a multiplayer experience at least (for solo you’re still better off with Rayman) completely untouchable. It also introduces the Baby Yoshi who are so ceaselessly adorable (they sing AND dance) you’ll have no choice but to gouge out your eyes save a lifetime of endless gushing at their relentless pudgy cuteness.
Story – 8
Gameplay – 10
Graphics – 9
FINAL SCORE: B+ (27/30)
Nintendoland is a tech demo, make no mistake. Its primary purpose is to show you exactly what your shiny new box can do and how to do it. It’s also a truckload of fun. So that’s good.
Set pointlessly in a ‘theme-park’ come Matrix-esque robotic oblivion, Nintendoland is a collection of mini-games that utilise the various gadgets and gizmos of the Wii-U. Ranging from 1-5 players because 4 players aren’t cool anymore and simplistic gyroscopic movements to full-blown gamepad wizardry, Nintendoland has that timeless Bronseal quality: it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Before we get into the actual games however lets make one thing clear: the true value of this game comes from it being an addition to your Wii-U. With the premium package Nintendoland comes along for the ride and is therefore a fantastic little package. At full retail price however…well, it kinda depends on how deep your love for Nintendo blooms. I can’t reiterate enough that Nintendoland IS A TECH-DEMO MINI-GAME COMPILATION. If that’s your deal, go nuts. If not, then any complaints you make will be e-mailed straight to the big bad down under for future reference.
Games range from 1 player experiences, 2-5 competitive multiplayer and 1-5 cooperative multiplayer. All in all there are 12 games and going through them all properly would turn this review into a scripture so we’ll focus on the best 3. As a gesture to the other fellas though, we’ll give them a sentence:
So there you have it, a quick summary of 9 of Nintendoland’s shockingly violent yet still relentlessly adorable offerings.
Of the 12 however, two of the best also happen to be two of the simplest, demonstrating how a simple concept done well can entertain and intrigue just as well as any cacophony of buttons, waggles and touch-screen pointlessness a developer may throw together
Mario Chase (2-5P)
The Gamepad user is Mario and they must evade the pursuit of up to four Wii-Mote controlled Toads. The Toads’ use a splitscreen television and have only a distance counter and each other (or two Yoshi bots should a single toad be going mano-a-mano with Mario) to help pin him down. Mario, meanwhile, only has his wits and a map showing the position of the various Toads to warn him about oncoming danger.
‘Mario Chase’ is a game that requires a maximum of two buttons – to move and to tackle – and yet with a few friends (or family, even my mother could work this game and she legitimately refers to all videogames as ‘the nintendos’) it’s a riot. ‘Green, he’s in the Green zone!’ Herp will shout while Derp confidently swaggers away from the looming wave of Toady vengeance, grinning smugly to himself as the timer hits ‘0’ and those glorious words ‘Mario Wins’ wash across the screen.
That is effectively the entire 1-meter depth of ‘Mario Chase’ but, as a way of introducing the functionality of the Gamepad, it more than serves its purpose. A brilliant touch is the use of the Gamepad’s inbuilt camera. Somewhere on the TV a box will show the big shiny mug of the pad user, brow furrowed in concentration, for all of the pursuers to guffaw heartily at. More than that however, it allows the Toads to ensure than Mr. Mario isn’t taking cheeky looks at the TV instead of his Gamepad. Trust Nintendo to put a fun-filled spin on anti-cheat methods. Ultimately, it’s little touches like these that help to make Nintendoland as a whole, not just ‘Mario Chase,’ feel like a quality product.
‘Mario Chase’ is also an able ambassador for the Wii-U’s graphical capabilities. Each of the three levels is drenched in colour and look absolutely gorgeous in HD, testifying to HDs true vibrant destiny in contrast to the grim waves of grey and dystopian brown. Along with ‘Pikmin (naturally beautiful and verdant) and ‘Zelda Battle Quest’’s picturesque LittlebigPlanet ragdoll aesthetic of self-assembly, ‘Mario Chase’ ranks as one of the prime visual cuts of Nintendoland’s juicy rump.
Donkey Kong’s Crash Course (1P)
Possibly even simpler this one. Using the Gamepad you tilt a tricycle/egg hybrid of your own face left and right through an obstacle course Screwball Scramble style, managing jumps and platforms mapped to the prompted shoulder buttons or mic. That’s it. You have a certain number of lives and have to master speed and skill to make it to make to the bottom (or top) and rescue the 70s style retro princess.
Once again ‘Crash Course’ proves that addictive and challenging gameplay does not require complexity of design only parity of vision and execution. It’s near impossible to begin with and yet, with quick restarts and checkpoints, it’ll get under your skin quickly and stay there like some fungal infection. Its graphically charming and narratively bereft (this is an adaptation of the classic DK arcade system after all) but hits all of the exciting gameplay buttons. If nothing else, it’s a message to developers that just because the Wii-U has touch controls, a gyroscope, a camera, a mic and a toaster, they don’t have to force them all into one contrived package.
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion (2-5P)
A competitive multiplayer this one and my personal favourite. The Gamepad controls the ghost who must hunt down the Wii-Mote controlled chasers in various maze environments within the eponymous mansion. Using flashlights, the chasers must weaken the ghost until it’s health runs out, the only problem being that they can’t see it and only have controller vibrations to indicate how near the specter is to them. Using the Gamepad screen the ghost can see everything and must try to sneak up on its paranoid victims. Lightning flashes and ghostly dashes/battery draining attacks will also make the wraith temporarily visible.
‘Luigi’s Ghost Mansion’ is probably the most multiplayer fun I’ve had since Mario Kart 64. The multi-screen gameplay across the TV and Gamepad works brilliantly in the creation of tension/friendship warfare as the chasers attempt to work together against the ghost’s vibrating flirtations. With a choice of five levels and exemplary lighting effects it legitimately creates a fair bit of fear (there have been a few scared yelps in my playtime) and the stripped back but effective gameplays creates that all-important ‘just once more’ dynamic.
Conclusively, the attractions of Nintendoland are far more hit than miss. While the actual theme park aesthetic may be utterly soulless and the obligatory assistant (this time a robot with the personality of a lobotomised police warden) be the most irritating game character since Cream the Rabbit, it’s still a fantastic – mostly multiplayer – experience. Narratively the game is as lively as a comatose funeral but that’s to be expected in a mini (or more like ‘medi’) game collection. Having said that however, the few games that do have a sort-of narrative mission-based structure – Zelda, Pikmin, Metroid – do a good job of feeling temporally coherent without losing that vital drop-in drop-out aesthetic.
As a single-player experience Nintendoland rarely hits the mark and your potential enjoyment of it is directly correlative to the amount of friends you have playing with you. Having that said that however, if you’re looking for a good laugh that demonstrates everything your new piece of tech can do you can’t go wrong with Nintendoland. Even the poorer games implement tight and responsive controls and the package in general is a master class in small-scale gameplay. If you’re looking for a robust and moving narrative experience however…pop to the psychiatrists first.
Final Score: B-
Graphics – 8
Story – 7
Gameplay – 10
On the PGR menu: (more…)
With the Wii-U Nintendo have set out to achieve the impossible, question is: how close did they come?
Back in 2006, Nintendo’s (still) bizarrely named Wii console hit the gaming community like a jolly, Technicolor behemoth. Made of fuzz and squidgy loveliness. With a moustache.
With one look at the game-controller come TV-remote come sex-toy the console and it’s doctrine of motion controlled fun for the family was quickly denounced by the gaming press and public as king of the gimmicks, doomed to a Gamecube-esque fiscal failure before a swift collapse upon the rotting pile of consoles that time forgot. Over 100 million units later and the world ate its collective words, feet and faces.
In the final quarter of last year (and therefore long enough ago for this review to be less than pointless) Nintendo released its follow-up, the Wii-U. Even before its first sale the console faced a near-impossible task: following an incredibly fruitful device, the success of which was capitulated by its sheer surprise factor. Everything thing it did or didn’t do would be seen through the turd-coloured glasses of the Wii’s success, in much the same way the 3DS has never escaped from the looming, volumous shadow of the DS.
But this is all very silly. Like with the 3DS, the Wii-U deserves the chance to be judged off its own success and capabilities. Not to mention that judging anything according to the anomalous Majin Buu-esque success of the Wii is tantamount to fighting a bear with a celery stick.
This is that judgement.
As an actual physical box the Wii-U can be described as unattractive at best. Or maybe not so much unattractive as uninteresting. It’s rectangular, fairly thin, with slightly curled edges making for a sort of chunky, shiny hamburger shape. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s fine, the physical matte-finished embodiment of ‘meh.’ I can’t talk for the basic white package, but the shiny matte texture of the premium package certainly helps to pretty the whole thing up, albeit at a sacrifice to portability; the surface acts as an impractical finger-print detector, any effort towards moving the thing becomes an exercise in criminal print-based evasion.
The buttons, disk drive and two of four USB drives are located flatly across the front with the various power, input and accessory ports slapped across the backside like a salacious cow. No Gamecube controller ports this time around I’m afraid, unless they’re hidden beneath some secret panel I’ve yet to come across. Considering how there’s no Gamecube backwards ability however it seems unlikely. Fiddly little scratchy talon things act like a makeshift stand for the console too. It’s a neat idea but they unfortunately tear the matte casing to pieces when moved, like with religious holy marriage you must pick a spot and not move them goshdarnit.
The general mundanity of the console does nothing to what lies beneath however. Like the fabulous Butterfree from the lumpy Metapod, the Wii-U is a superficially misleading device.
I’ll make this argument until I’m blue in the face and dead in the brain: of all the consoles previous generation the one that would have best benefited from HD graphics was the Wii. The abundance and variety of colour, the diversity and creative implementation of artistic styles and nuances, you don’t need to look any further than Viva Pinata on the Xbox, LittleBigPlanet on the PS3, to see that the true beauty of HD lies in colour and flamboyance, not grim browns and grimmer men trudging through cut and paste muddy landscapes of post-apocalyptia.
With the Wii-U we finally get a custom-made device for this experience.
I haven’t played every release game and so I can’t comment on the ported games like Arkham City and Mass Effect 3, but the likes of Nintendoland and Super Mario Bros. U, experiences made by Nintendo themselves, look absolutely gorgeous and wonderfully demonstrate the prowess of the Wii-U. Textures, colours and animations shine lustrously.
The dashboard menus however, while looking clean and accessible, are a tad too clinical, too refined, to aptly convey the characteristic warmth of Nintendo’s enterprises. They also look a little washed out and ultimately boring, especially when not online. When connected to the rest of the world however, as politely but consistently demanded by the console from the get-go, your personal shiny homeland gets flooded with messages from the wonderful new online platform ‘Miiverse.’
It works. Works well in fact. And not just in contrast to the mewling mess that the Wii coughed up all over the carpet. It’s good in comparison to the best, the big-boys, the X-Box lives of this world. Except this one is free. And adorable.
Speed and download times are of course dependent on your personal circumstance, but seeing as I live on what can only be described as a glorified farm in the middle of nowhere in South Wales (which I doubt many people could even hope to point to on a map!) and even I had a fair speed on the go, I’d say things are looking rosy. That dreaded and well-documented initial update to even get online took about an hour which, so far as I was concerned, didn’t matter too much. I made a sandwich.
The primary draw in terms of online offerings is the Miiverse. Effectively a Ninendo-ised Twitter, Miiverse is split according to different games and apps each of which has it’s own community. You can go into any of these communities and post pictures, questions, statements, penises (although probably not because of administrators) to a limit of a fair-sized box or a hundred characters. It’s neat, addictive and moreish. Just broke a record on Nintendoland? One tap on the gamepad and you’re into the Miiverse community with next to no delay. From there you can post whatever you like and jump back into your game again, happy in the knowledge that you’ve improved someone’s day like some benevolent Bat-Man or Jesus.
The Miiverse is big and getting bigger, the best way of learning what it’s like is to get stuck in yourself. So what are you waiting for?
Finally, the various interfaces are clean, tidy (as mentioned before) and easy to manage which makes for a welcome difference to the Wii’s piss-up of an attempt previously. However, a lot of the convenience of interacting with the Wii-U’s browser and various apps (all the regulars here: youtube, facebook, twitter, lovefilm, Netflix) stems from the sheer joy of the Gamepad.
The Gamepad was the ‘thing’ this time around, like the Wiimote or the double-screens or the 3D. Thankfully, it’s a thing that works like a charm.
I’ve spoken to a fair few people who own Wii-U’s and have read impressions from various spooky corners of the Internet and there is a definite prevailing first reaction: ‘Oh golly, that there Gamepad is sure smaller than I expected.’
It may look titanic in the adverts and promos but it’s actually just under a foot long and weighs about the same (or maybe even less) than a standard X-Box pad. Button’s are nicely placed to be within reach of all but the most irregular of hand-spans and the joysticks have a refreshing stiffness to them, reminiscent of the Vita’s offerings.
The main draw is, of course the touch screen. Measuring about the length of a standard Wii-mote the clarity of the screen’s HD image is remarkable.
While colours lack the vibrancy of their HDTV counterparts the Gamepad’s graphical capabilities are nothing to sniff at. Nintendoland, as it was indeed created to do, best demonstrates the relationship between the on-screen footage and that on the TV. While it can be a bit jarring to move from screen-to-screen it only takes a little getting used to and quickly becomes second nature.
Another neat feature is the Gamepad’s personal audio output. On the Wii-U’s own screens it outputs a small percussion beat to compliment the music from the TV. It’s a small feature but a brilliant one, showing a loving attention to detail and offering developers a fantastic tool for future projects. The Baby Yoshi’s on Mario Bros. U, for example, sing along to the main theme through the Gamepad. It’s heartbreakingly adorable.
Add to that a gyroscope, touch controls, headphone jack, mic and TV remote functionality and you’re left with the sonic screwdriver of video games.
The Wii-U is an impressive piece of kit. While unremarkable on the outside it is a smooth and striking beast within. Powerful enough to be graphically relevant (at least for now, things will very likely change over the next year or so) and full of fresh/ revised ideas, it has a strong foundation for a fruitful lifespan. It’s success and legacy depends, as with everything else in this industry, on its support. Nintendo will doubtlessly fill the device with its own charming creations but the main issue is predicated on third party support: will it go the way of lazy ports (ME3, Ninja Gaiden 3), or unique and interesting experiences à la Zombi-U? Time will tell and we can only hope. As it stands, the Wii-U has had a decent launch, the honeymoon period of which is approaching its end.
Question is: what’s next?
The PGR crew starts off the new year with an in-depth discussion about the 2013 line up of Video Games. (more…)
Shaky legs. Mildewy sweat forming along the top lip. Eyes dilate and breathing becomes labored. It’s your first day and you’re absolutely sh****g yourself.
Being new is hard.
It’s not often in life that you have to literally become a juxtaposition to survive; the very idea intrinsically denotes a bizarre paradoxical death. When you’re hungry you cannot both eat and not eat, when you meet someone you cannot be both polite and rude, when you’re falling you cannot both float and fall. Each time you will die, be it from malnutrition, a beating or nature’s biggest bitch: gravity. When you’re new however – whether in school, a job or even a public toilet (maybe) – you’d best be ready to bend a scientific principle or two.
Being new requires you to do two things with one hand while running backwards. On a treadmill. At night. In the snow.
You must, unfailingly and definitely, fade far enough into the background that no passing-by pre-existing folk decides to pound upon and – potentially, lets not rule anything out – violate the unwitting ‘ noob,’ to borrow one of the Internet’s most detestable terms. You must also however, do enough to stand out, be distinct and generally bask in the evanescent glow of individuality.
These two things cannot possibly co-exist. And these are the reasons why school can suck my arse.
Being New in Video Games: It’s Like Dying Forever
The Wii-U is the dictionary-defined ‘new kid on the block’ of the video game world. The first foray into the mythic ‘next generation,’ it arguably hasn’t got those detestable pre-existing dweebs to deal with. The Wii-U is a first, right? The very embodiment of the magical new era ahead of us. Like Columbus and his other colonizing murderers it has the heavenly ordained freedom to craft and mold the video game ether into whatever it deems fit. Right?
Well, no, as it turns out. Video games are like a school that never quite finishes. Albeit one with, y’know, a bit more of that ‘fun’ thing. Whereas in school you bounce up through the years until you finally emerge gasping, mewling and ruined on the other side, video games are an industry of constant evolution. There is no end point, no ‘graduation.’ Just a steady spiral of the similar consistently advancing upon itself. In other words: it doesn’t matter how new you are, the old boys will always be ready to knock you down a peg or ten.
Considering the intrinsic challenges imposed by an increasingly entitled society and the whole ‘EVERYBODY’S BROKE’ thing: how will the Wii-U possibly survive? Especially with a name that sounds more like a urinary infection than ‘magic box of fun.’
The Wii-U: Always Use Protection
Much like it’s predecessor, although with less schizophrenic vigour, the Wii-U is hitting our fleshy faces with a smorgasbord of creative impetus. But will these come together to craft a experience to be welcomed with open arms, or create a Frankenstein hybrid destined for life face down in a toilet bowl.
Case the first – the Gamepad:
Looking like an I-pad on Atkins, Nintendo’s newest controller creation stands out like, well, every other controller that’s ever popped out of their zany heads. It was, at first, met with symphonic derision, labeled as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘unwieldy’ (despite not having been wielded) and generally treated like overly enthusiastic first years at school or uni, too eager to assert themselves as either original or interesting. Stupid unmalleable humans.
However, much like with the D-pad, joystick and motion sensors that so characterize Nintendo’s previous generations, the Gamepad is – shock horror – proving successful and popular. As featured on Kotaku last week, a couple of famously sharp critics have sung the praises of Nintendo’s newest gimmick as – OH CRAP – a superior experience to PlayStation and X-Box’s silly old man controllers. Come on guys, what isn’t better with a screen in it? Except Dreamcast but let’s not go there.
Case the second – magical transferrable play:
Not only does the Gamepad look like a techy’s wet-dream it performs like one as well. Through what can only be assumed is some degree of magic or wizardry, the Wii-U can take a game off the television and transport it purely upon the Gamepad’s screen. Now you can play games and watch TV! Whereas the Wii promoted healthy waggling like there was no tomorrow, the Wii-U veritably promotes sedentary ogling, two screens worth in fact.
Case the third – Mario’s HD moustache:
‘Nintendo goes Hi-def!’ To those brought up on the muddy browns and burly men of Sony and Microsoft this statement will mean as much as a stock fluctuation in Guam. To others – like this writer – this is reason enough to commit murder in the name of celebration. For the critical minded, it’s a brutal shame that the Wii was not in HD as it was by far the console best suited for it. It’s graphical limitations demanded that its games (the good ones anyway) moved away from realism and instead towards artistic interpretation, melding art styles, colours and filters to create an experience that was visually engaging without relying on the basic expression of digital reality. Those colours, those styles: it was for that that HD viewing was destined. Take a quick look at New Super Mario Bros. U or Rayman Legends for all the evidence you’ll ever need that the Wii-U has the tools for visually enthralling experiences. Which leads us to…
Case the fourth – it isn’t built on a fiscal volcano:
Video games are getting damn expensive. A million units doesn’t mean anything anymore. Some games (Battlefield 3) are targeting 5 million units sold to make a profit. Video games are at the stage where even critically and commercially successful games like L.A. Noire can lead to the death of their studios (RIP Team Bondi).
This vast ridiculous expense partly (mostly) stems from the fact that the graphical demands of modern games are so hideously expensive even Mitt Romney would balk (ha ha, political satire). Not to mention the sheer people power required: Resident Evil 6 had over 600 people working on it, that’s more people than my country’s national population.
So what in the name of Diggidy Dan is going to happen when Sony Microsoft release their new and even more powerful devices? Costs are going to blow Mario’s moustache clean of his face is what’s going to happen.
The Wii-U then, with hardware mostly equivalent to current-gen HD consoles, is best poised to not hemorrhage money and die a horrible, drawn-out, deathly death.
It isn’t all Sunshiny Happiness However
Despite a strong start in North America (selling 400,000 units in its first week) and sell-out preorders for its UK release last week, the Wii-U’s success will live and die on the strength of it’s software. We can of course expect strong first-party support (Mario, Zelda, Samus, Pikmin and all those charming chaps…and lady) but what about third-party support? A huge amount (note: most of) the negativity pelted against the Wii was predicated on the fact that 3rd parties treated the device like the spawn of the bubonic plague. The Wii-U has, thankfully, had a decent start with Batman and Ninja Gaiden 3 releasing with the console and others – Aliens: Colonial Marines, Darkstalkers 2, Mass Effect 3 – penciled in for release in some foggy future. That these are all ports (and shamelessly lazy ports in some cases) is cause for concern however.
A lack of identity may prove to be an issue as well. The Wii quite quickly found itself a previously untapped market of older gamers and every other bugger who got turned on by the notion of virtual tennis. While it’s competitors kept hold of the traditional ‘hardcore’ market.
Where is the Wii-U going to sit?
It can’t possibly abandon it’s gargantuan Wii-founded market without risking going the way of the Gamecube and yet it seems resolute on trying to pick up a piece of the ‘hardcore’ gaming pie. Head of Nintendo America, Reggie ‘the Bulldozer’ Fils-Aime, has already – incorrectly – stated that ‘the specs are quite different than the competitive systems, much more graphically intensive’ going on to fabulously state that games look better on the Wii-U than they do elsewhere. Well…that’s just wrong isn’t it Reggie? At least for the time being. The point here is that already the Nintendo bigwigs are investing time and energy into pushing the Wii-U as a superior ‘hardcore’ experience whilst ignoring the casual market that their empire is currently built upon. Where will the Wii-U go without the casual lot? Probably down a certain rancid creek without a paddle, but that all remains to be seen.
Overall, the Wii-U seems set to be like the kid who gets it right. Intelligent but personally so, sporty but without the arrogance, friendly but not superficial. Ultimately, regardless of your console allegiance and even your feelings towards the Wii-U itself we all, as one and as gamers, should wish it all the best.
Its success is the industry’s success and than can only be a good thing.
E3 2012 has come and gone and, as always, at center stage this year was the press conferences. This is the big show, where major game publishers show off what they have in store for us for the next year. After the past few years, my expectations have been lowered to the point where I honestly didn’t expect anything from these conferences. However, after watching E3 this year, I can honestly say that I’m not entirely sure what the hell I watched.
So, without further adieu, here are the five worst moments from E3 2012.
I still don’t know what Wonderbook is
I actually thought that Sony had a fairly decent press conference. It was steady, with a decent line-up of games. Sure, there were a lot of third party games shown, but even those were decent. Then Wonderbook happened. I watched, what seemed like an eternity, of gameplay footage and I still have no clue what Wonderbook is. Maybe it was because the game looked boring as hell. Maybe it was because the demo didn’t work for about five minutes. Or maybe, JUST maybe, it looked like the single worst PlayStation Move game ever made. As someone has played a lot of PlayStation Move games, I can honestly say, this looks like the single worst thing the peripheral has ever been responsible for.
What the hell did Microsoft just show me?
Microsoft had a strong open. Showing Halo 4 footage, debuting Splinter Cell: Blacklist and even showing brief footage of Gears of War: Judgment were brilliant moves. Then, well, sports happened. Hey guys, isn’t it exciting that Joe Montana plays Madden? HE’S JUST LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE!!! This was followed by Nike+ Kinect and the announcements of a bunch of sports apps for the Xbox 360. Between this, and the Microsoft SmartGlass debut, hardly any time was dedicated to the core audience…at an industry press event. Oh, and Usher happened at us.
LANA!!!!!!!!! and Toby…
I absolutely loved almost everything that Ubisoft showed us. There were games that appealed to every part of the audience. What really made me hate this press conference was how much talent was squandered. Presenting the show was Aisha Tyler, who plays Lana Kane on Archer (one of the best television shows on the air), and…Tobuscus. Toby was completely un-sure of himself and simply couldn’t keep up with Aisha. On top of that, I had absolutely no clue who this guy was, even though I got the feeling I was supposed to. Turns out, this guy makes videos on the internet. Yea, didn’t realize that until I was writing this piece. I hope that they bring back Aisha next year because she genuinely seemed to hate Tobuscus as much as I did by the end of the night.
Reggie is in his dark place
Now, this mostly happened at Nintendo’s 3DS showcase that happened on Wednesday night. Reggie Fils-Amie, COO of Nintendo of America, was on stage to present Scott Moffit, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Nintendo of America. Before he did, though, he insulted the guy in a way that felt a bit real. I know it was probably part of their script but DAMN. He seemed angry for some reason…
Reggie reveals his true form
OH GOD! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOUR FACE!!!!!! LOCK THE DOORS AND BAR THE WINDOWS! REGGIE’S BODY IS READY TO FEAST ON HUMAN FLESH!
Nintendo has gone to its Official Wii-U Facebook Page to tease three “initial game releases” for the Wii-U.
In a recent post, Nintendo asked their fans to “guess what the initial game releases will be for Nintendo’s new home console.” That message was followed by three blurred out entries of thirty-three, twenty-seven and nineteen characters.
There was no word on when the blurred out games would be revealed but one has to assume it would be during their E3 Press Briefing on Tuesday, June 5.
Now the fun begins. The Legend of Zelda would fit perfectly into nineteen characters when you incorporate any spaces. What do you think will be announced for the Wii-U? Work it out in the comments below.
Xenoblade Chronicles has been a long time coming for North American Wii owners. The game released last year in both Japan and in Europe while Nintendo of America held fast to the notion that it would never make the trip across the pond. Due to an overwhelming response as part of Operation Rainfall, a movement started to get three high-profile Wii games released in America, Nintendo decided it is worth their time to bring it out in America.
The world of Xenoblade Chronicles is one that is definitely foreign and unique. There are two giant creatures, Bionis and Mechonis, who literally form two separate worlds for all existence to live on. The beings on these worlds are at war with each other in a timeless battle that stretches back to when Bionis and Mechonis themselves were awake and fighting. Now the two behemoths sit dormant while the life on them carries on the conflict.
Shulk starts out as just a simple guy trying to get with a girl.
Amongst this huge battle is the main character, Shulk. He’s a teenager who lives in the relatively quiet town of Colony 6. It’s been one year since the last major battle against the Mechons and the young man spends his time examining a legendary sword, the Monado, which was the key to the previous victory. The Monado is capable of cutting through Mechon armor, making it a highly helpful weapon in the war.
When Mechon forces return and attack the peaceful town, Shulk is forced to take up the Monado and fight back. With the colony devastated and people killed, Shulk takes up the task to seek out the Mechon and get revenge. What starts out as a simple tale eventually turns epic, as Shulk and the Monado become the centerpiece for the war and the key to saving the entire world.
Environments are just plain massive.
To call Xenoblade Chronicles epic is about as apt a description as possible. It’s a lengthy journey with massive, open environments and an adventure that has Shulk and his companions crossing the entirety of the Bionis and beyond. The scope of the game is incredibly impressive and there are few games that have such a giant world, let alone a game on the Wii. Throughout your world-spanning tale you will visit bright plains, dank caverns, snowy mountains, floating cities and much more. Being a Wii game the textures are muddy and there are some bouts of slowdown but the design and scale of the world is amazing.
Another reason the game feels epic is because of the carefully crafted story. The simple duo of Shulk and his best friend Reyn quickly jumps to a full party of various races. The vast majority of the cutscenes are fully voiced and the acting is solid all around. Similar to how your party grows, the plot jumps from simple to complex over the course of the game, with several great twists along the way. By the end of the game you will hardly recognize how simple the story was at the beginning of your tale.
The hamster-like Nopon play the comedic role in an otherwise serious tale.
Everything about Xenoblade Chronicles mimics this simple-to-complex path. The combat is perhaps the best example of this. Fighting is a mixture of real-time action with an ability cooldown system like one you might find in an MMO. Enemies roam the world and you can choose to attack them or avoid them. Many are docile and will ignore you while others will attack on sight. Combat takes place in the world; you aren’t transported to a battlefield and then whisked back upon victory. Being in real time means that you can move your character around and target different enemies as you wish.
If you don’t touch anything the game will do a simple auto-attack. However, every character has several abilities, called Arts, which can be used as often as you like, barring the cooldown. Every Art is unique to the character and each usually has multiple uses. Shulk’s Back Slash, for example, does high damage but the damage is tripled if done from behind an enemy. Similarly his Air Slash will make a foe suffer Break but if done from the side it will also slow the enemy. These qualifications make each battle fun as you aren’t just standing in place spamming the same Arts over and over again; instead you are forced to move around the battlefield.
The Arts and auto-attack are just the beginning of the complexity of combat. Each character also has a special ability known as Talent Arts which unleashes some special power. You use the Talent Art by filling a gauge through auto-attacks, meaning you want to use a nice mix of auto-attacks and Arts in order to be successful. There is also a system of Break, Topple and Daze that helps incapacitate enemies for greater damage. Lastly there are Chain Attacks, which allow your party to coordinate attacks of your choosing for significant damage.
Battles are fast paced and tons of fun.
Combat is an absolute blast and throughout the long journey never gets boring. It does suffer a bit from over-reliance on the standard Tank/Healer/Damager system but there is enough complexity in the characters that you can mix and match to find your favorite combination that works. While Shulk is the main character of the story, you can play as any character and Shulk doesn’t even have to be in your party. Of course there are moments where you will want to keep him in, like battles against Mechon. The Monado also gives Shulk the ability to see visions of the future, which you can then take action to prevent. Basically you don’t have to have him in your party but you probably always will.
A big part of what makes the combat work is the crazy amount of customization available for characters. Characters can have eight Arts available at a time and almost everyone will have far more than that, allowing you to design a character to fit a role. You can further affect this through equipment and weapons, of which there are tons. Each piece of equipment also changes the look of your character, which is always a cool thing to have in an RPG. Some pieces of equipment have innate abilities while others have open slots to insert gems, allowing you to really decide what attributes of a character you want to focus on. You obtain gems through a great crafting system that is complex but fun to learn.
Another aspect of customization is being able to rank up various passive skills for each character. You can then link these skills to other characters based on their relationship. This is based off a system called Battle Affinity that tracks the relationships between characters in your group. During battle there will be QTE-like moments where you have to hit B to either encourage or compliment another character, increasing the relationship. It might sound silly, and maybe it is, but it’s cool to be in the midst of battle and do a great attack and then hear “Nice one Shulk.”
I adore when a game’s cutscenes reflect what armor and weapon a character is using.
The main story of Xenoblade Chronicles is long. I had a mostly streamlined playthrough and ended up around 55 hours to beat the main story. However there is is plenty of side content to get lost in along the way. Side quests are abundant, with some quest givers handing out four or five at once. These quests are great ways to explore the different regions more fully and are also great for making money. For some reason, few quests offer experience points for completion but you will fight plenty of monsters during them, meaning it’s not a total loss.
The only downside of the side quests is that there are so many of them it’s hard to keep track. The game has a full quest journal but it does a poor job of telling you where to go for each quest and there are no map markers or anything like that. It does do perhaps the most brilliant innovation in all of side-quests in games: when you have collected your item or defeated your monster the quest is complete. You don’t have to trek back to town to get your reward. Instead you get it immediately. On top of the many, many side quests are plenty of other activities like side story moments called Heart-to-Hearts to seek out, an item trading system and an entire colony reconstruction side-plot. As if that wasn’t enough, you can start a New Game Plus with your levels, weapons and items intact.
The gem crafting system is just one of the many distractions you can partake in.
The last thing that needs to be mentioned in this review is how the game controls. This is a Wii exclusive but luckily it doesn’t offer any type of waggle or motion control. The game can be played either with a Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo or with a classic controller. I played through with the Wiimote and found the controls to be great except for the absence of a second analog stick. The camera controls are pretty bad and will require babysitting at times. It’s not too bad for most of the game but when you enter situations with close quarters it can be downright terrible. Without a second stick you are forced to use the d-pad for adjustments but it’s just not the same. It’s possible that these problems are avoided with the classic controller but I could not test it out.
Xenoblade Chronicles is a massive game in both the scope of the game and the options available. It’s one of the deepest RPGs you will ever play and the story is very good, keeping you interested throughout your long journey. The brightest spot for Xenoblade is definitely the combat, which is complex but highly rewarding at the same time. If you own a Wii you owe it to yourself to play this great game.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: The last big Wii game was Skyward Sword and while Xenoblade doesn’t offer any waggle, they are fairly comparable. Both offer huge worlds with tons to do. Both also have great art design that is marred by the power of the Wii and the lack of high definition. Xenoblade offers the superior experience through a more cinematic story and a much fresher experience overall.
Star Wars: The Old Republic: Xenoblade Chronicles feels a lot like an MMO in many ways. It has the cooldown of abilities, massive open environments, mobs of enemies to fight; even the side-quests are handed out like in an MMO. Xenoblade offers an MMO-ish experience with all the online stuff taken out and honestly it might be a better game for it. The story is presented much better and you have a greater cast of characters to draw from. Of course it’s not Star Wars but that’s hardly fair to complain about.