Hands-On WiiU E3 Demos – First Impressions

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Thank you, Nintendo, for bringing to the some demos we can actually check out for ourselves! I don’t recall anything like that being done, before! Granted, it was one station at participating Best Buy stores, you had to wait in a crazy-long line, and it was only four games, but it was totally cool to actually feel like I’m part of the E3 fiasco.

Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze – This was the game I actually played. The first thing I noticed was the level of detail in the character and environment designs. It played like its predecessor on the Wii. The co-op worked nicely, and when the demo was over, I wanted more. I heard they brought back the water stages, which I thought were handled beautifully, if not the best of any platformer, in the Donkey Kong Country series for the SNES.

Mario Kart 8 – When I first saw the trailer, I thought this was going to be a dizzying experience. I can now take comfort in knowing that the character you’re playing as will appear right-side up. I also noticed that there are 4 more racers participating per race, making 12 participants on the track at the same time. With that being said, it didn’t look nearly as chaotic as it could have been, and that makes me happy. Another thing to note is that the frame rate is consistently at 60 frames per second, even amidst all the madness. To make it better, it looks absolutely BEAUTIFUL in 1080p.

Super Mario 3D World – If you’ve played the 3DS one, then you may know what to expect. The big difference here is that there is now a 4-player cooperative. It involves the same line-up as Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) – Mario, Princess Peach, Luigi and Toad. The abilities from that game have also returned, giving each character a unique play style. Toad is faster, Peach can float, Luigi can flutter, allowing him to descend slowly, and Mario is balanced and boring.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD – It most certainly is Wind Waker. However, it has gotten a well-deserved facelift. The graphics have been polished to an almost mirror-sheen (it would be weird if they were polished to that point). The shading is absolutely superb – among the best I’ve ever seen. It now resembles a painting more than ever. It also looks like they’ve made the sailing less of a chore by adding an even faster speed. There apparently have been more additions added to enhance and streamline the gameplay to make this HD version more than just an HD port and better than the original in almost every way.

However, they did not have a playable demo of the WiiU title other than Smash Bros. that I care about the most. Allow this video to do the talking…

Yume Nikki (PC)

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BET YOU DIDN’T SEE THIS COMING! Yume Nikki is a pretty obscure game that is quite the experience. I don’t exactly remember how I heard about it at first, but I have played it very extensively with a friend. It’s a free game made with RPG Maker 2003, and you can play it immediately after download, unlike certain Japanese games made with it. Also, this game is not a JRPG. Hell, I have no idea what genre you can throw this game in. I think it’s some kind of horror-hybrid. Regardless of what genre it falls under, Yume Nikki oozes style (sometimes literally), but with that being said, it comes with its fair share of flaws. Grab your helmet and body armor – this is going to be a wild trip.

Visuals – 9.0 – Like I said before – this game oozes style. Yume Nikki looks like a high-end JRPG from the 16-bit or Game Boy Advance era. What visually sets it apart is that certain areas have a static image as the background, and the floor is invisible. The images are often abstract and pretty goddamn unsettling. There are also some areas that are lacking in color, and all of the features are outlined with a color that stands out. I found my feelings conflicting when encountering these areas because they gave me a sense of childlike wonder and extreme loneliness. Outside of that, it looks, for the most part, like a 16-bit RPG. Every now and again, though, you’ll discover something that looks… odd. Have a look.

Sound – 6.0 – There isn’t too much to talk about here. The first thing you’ll notice will be the adorable sound of the footsteps of Madotsuki, the main character. They make a cute, little sound that you’d only hear in anime, or some shit. All of the time. All of the steps. FOR THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THE FUCKING GAME. And then, you get the bicycle! Bicycles can’t possibly make the same sound, BUT THIS ONE DOES, AND THE FREQUENCY OF THE STEPPING SOUND IS DOUBLED. It’s actually not that bad, but the decision to do such a thing is questionable.  There are very few other sound effects that really stand out, other than the odd scream that is let out when most things are stabbed with the knife (more on that in a bit). As for the music, I’ll give it the credit it deserves by saying it’s unique, and the composer deserves bonus points for creating it on their own. Even more credit has to be given because of the fact that each song is fitting to the area that you happen to be in. What’s a shame is that most songs are composed of one measure, and that measure is looped without end. Luckily, not a single song in the game is annoying. In fact, most of them are pretty soothing.

Story – ?.0 – Madotsuki has some fucked up dreams. That… seems to be it…? I mean, there are other characters, but there’s no dialogue.

Gameplay – 2.0 – Yume Nikki manages to commit the worst offenses in terms of game design. Once you get her to sleep, you are able to explore her dreams. The only hints you are given appear when you start a new game. Outside of that, the game gives the player almost no feedback, so you just wander around, hoping that something will happen. Remember the floorless areas with a static image in the background? Well, as creative as they may seem, they actually suck. The lack of flooring makes it very difficult for you to know where you are. What’s even worse is that these areas loop, and you can’t tell how big or small it is, especially since, for whatever fucking reason, unique landmarks seem to be few and far between. It is 100% guaranteed that you will get lost, wandering around aimlessly, wondering what the hell you’re supposed to do.

If you haven’t given up after just a few minutes, you’ll run into something that you can finally interact with. Upon hitting the action button, you’ll see in small letters the word ‘GET’ with a text box on the bottom of the screen telling you what you have obtained. Finally, you’ve done something right! These are called ‘effects’, and they change Madotsuki in some way. Some are simply cosmetic, while others are purposeful in some way. Finding them is a major issue because, again, outside of the messages you get when starting a new game, you are given no hints or feedback. To make matters worse, doors that you may find can lead to a completely new area to get lost in. Stumbling across these is extremely frustrating because you don’t know whether or not you have seen everything a certain area has to offer, and you’re suddenly thrown into a new one that you have to explore.

At some point during your effect hunting, you’ll get the knife effect. Yes, you carry a knife around and use it as a weapon, but there’s only one actual enemy in the game. You run around the game killing things that aren’t trying to hurt you, mainly because killing things and hearing their screams is one of the few bits of feedback you get as a player. Other bits of feedback come from certain effects being equipped and the action you can perform with it. The best example is easily when you have the cat effect equipped. You can meow as the cat and most ‘creatures’ around you will move closer to you.

Another thing to note is that ‘events’ can occur. Some of them are just a luck of the draw, while others can be found or triggered by an effect. Again, the game tells you little about these things, but when they happen, they’ll catch you by surprise. Some are creepy, some are cute, and others just make you scratch your head wondering why it was put in the game in the first place.

Using the stoplight effect on the girl (left) triggers a full-screen event (right).

Using the stoplight effect on the girl (left) triggers a full-screen event (right).

Overall – 7.0 – No, your eyes aren’t broken. I know that I’ve said time and time again (especially if you know me in person) that gameplay is the most important thing in a video game. Yume Nikki’s gameplay is an abomination in how it only tells you how to play the game when starting a new file, and that’s it. You get lost, and you’re just supposed to deal with it. It has the most issues with conveyance that I have ever witnessed in all of my 22 years of gaming. On top of that, the story is absent, the sound is acceptable, and its visuals are nicely stylized, but that doesn’t save it. This game is a chore to play… but I gave it a good score for a reason.

GAMECHANGER – What I didn’t mention earlier is HOW you obtain the stoplight effect. You get it by interacting with a person that had met a terrible fate on a street. Obtaining the stoplight IMPLIES that there had been a car accident, and it had killed that person. Now, when you interact with the girl in the figure from earlier with the stoplight, she grows extra arms and looks utterly creepy. Hear me out on this – what if..those aren’t extra arms at all? What if she’s dead? Her arms must have been mangled in some way! The arm coming out of her head – brain matter? What could have happened to make her suffer such a cruel fate? The stoplight effect triggering this event IMPLIES that she was KILLED IN A CAR ACCIDENT, AND THAT PICTURE IS A CHILD’S INTERPRETATION OF HER MANGLED, DISFIGURED CORPSE. Shit like this is what makes Yume Nikki such an incredible experience. The theorycrafting that has stemmed from this game is absolutely mind-blowing and overwhelming. THAT is the saving grace of this game. People have picked this game apart and still are. Plus, so many have done it by now that the game has been turned into a science, which helps newcomers not feel so lost when playing.

There are LOTS of implications dropped in Yume Nikki, some of which is utterly disturbing. There is no actual answer as to what’s going on, though. Everything up to now has been nothing but speculation from the community that this game has created. If you dare to play it, follow a Let’s Play from youtube. Otherwise, browse the Yume Nikki Wiki (http://yumenikki.wikia.com/wiki/Yume_Nikki_Wiki). Like I said, this game is a wild ride. It’s only recommended for the truly daring.

I’ll catch you all in my next review. Keep on gaming.

First Impressions – Injustice: Gods Among Us

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I went in thinking that this game wasn’t going to be anything crazy good. I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG. This is quite the impressive fighter. It’s incredibly easy to pick up and play, but difficult to master, just how a fighting game should be. The best part about this game is that every time you play it, you’re most likely to discover something new. Yes, the fighting mechanics are that deep even though the control scheme has been simplified when compared to the last game by developer, NetherRealm Studios, Mortal Kombat 9. Plus, you can interact with objects in the background and use them to attack and/or evade.

Probably the weakest part of the game that I’ve experienced so far has been the story mode. I’m not saying that it’s bad – it’s just that the story itself plays it safe. It feels like you’re watching a long episode of Justice League, which is just fine. I would much prefer this over a confusing story, which it seemed like it was trying to set up early on. Luckily, they went away from that. Also, to mix up the pacing of the mode, they added parts where you would do some quick time events in between the fighting and the cutscenes. Winning or losing determines the health of you and your opponent when the upcoming fight begins. These break up the pace pretty poorly. They’re very unexciting, and you just want them to be over with so you can get to the fighting.

Anyway, enough talk. The video below will do all of that for me.

Resident Evil 6 (XBox 360, PS3, WiiU)

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Let’s get one thing straight – and crucify me for saying this if you really want, because I’m ready for it – Resident Evil 6 is BETTER than Resident Evil 4. To put it simply, RE4 has aged, and it shows. Still, it’s one of my all-time favorite games, primarily because of its overall execution and how progressive it was at its time. It succeeded in changing the original formula which paved the way for future installments of the Resident Evil franchise, and it even became an inspiration for games of today, such as Dead Space. RE6 has expanded and refined everything that RE4 established, including the fact that Resident Evil is no longer a survival-horror game – this is straight up action with horror ELEMENTS, primarily in the enemy design and environments.

Visuals – 7.5 – Once again, the enemy design is awesome. One of the overarching themes, especially when zombies or other enemies mutate, seems to revolve around insects and other little crawlies that Capcom decided to no longer make little. It looks like they mastered shadows, as well. They don’t have as much of a jagged-edge look like in most other games. It can sometimes get a little TOO dark, though. At most points, the shadow effects add a really nice contrast between the shades and colors, giving sort of a comic-like look. At other points, it keeps you from seeing beyond a mere ten feet in front of you. There’s a specific part in Jake’s campaign where it was far too dark to see anything, and it was a struggle to get through. Things like that would normally lead me to believe that polishing the game may have been a rushed job, but I can’t be too sure since the rest of the game looks great. Well-played, Capcom – you got me scratching my head again.

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Sound – 8.5 – Another game with its music and sound effects crafted by the hands and minds of experts. In the music department, they followed in the footsteps of RE5 in the sense that the score is very theatrical. Seeing as how this is an action game, this was the best option. The sound effects have also changed for the better, too. The physical attacks seem to have a lot more impact to them, and the gun sounds seem to be more realistic. What’s better than ever, though, has to be the voice acting. Every performance is believable due to its expert delivery. The only character that suffers in that department would be Leon Kennedy, but I’ll dissect his campaign, character and then some in another post.  As a supplement to the stellar voice acting, a separate disc containing language packs that are ready-to-install comes standard with every copy. You have the option of checking out the entire game in different languages. By the way, Sonic the Hedg- I MEAN CHRIS REDFIELD’S Spanish voice actor is FUCKING AMAZING.

Story – 6.0 – This was incredibly hard for me to rate, and it’s the main reason as to why it’s taken so long for this review to be finished. The story itself isn’t bad, as you can see from my rating – the actual STORYTELLING is bad. I understand that they were trying to give each character their own campaign, but you can choose which campaign to run through. This forces the player to focus ONLY on the main characters of the campaign of their choosing, thus drawing attention away from the overarching story that the developers expect you to follow. It’s a mess. Lastly, and I’m not giving any spoilers here, Leon’s campaign would have benefited from it being its own full-fledged game. It suffers from Call of Duty syndrome where things happen so fast that you’re never given enough time to care.

Gameplay – 8.0 – RE6’s gameplay is similar to that of RE4 and RE5, but with a LOT more freedom. The controls are no longer restrictive, and you will rarely ask yourself ‘why can’t I do this?’ only to realize that it’s because there was no prompt signaling that you could. You can turn a monster into swiss cheese, if you really want. You can pummel a monster into the ground with melee attacks, again, if you really want. It’s just that doing both in excess isn’t advised. Ammo can get depleted pretty fast and you have a stamina meter. Things like dodging, physical strikes and counter strikes use some of your stamina meter, and when it’s gone, your movements are GREATLY hindered. This gives RE6 a nice learning curve because the player has to be strategic with ammo and stamina use, but still quick enough to dispose of any immediate threats. That makes using the newly added ‘quickshot’ attack that much more of both a blessing than a curse. Simultaneously pulling both triggers auto-targets a nearby enemy, immediately followed by fire from your gun. Using quickshot will at the very least daze the enemy (unless it’s one of those special assholes), allowing for a melee follow-up, but using it costs one bar of your stamina, just like any of the other maneuvers that were mentioned earlier. This is probably my favorite aspect of the new combat mechanics. It quickens the pace of battle while forcing the player to learn how to conserve their stamina. Outside of that, it’s like the third-person shooter control scheme that they made for RE5, but you can move and shoot at the same time.

But how could I avoid talking about the quick time events that everyone hates so much? Yes, they return, but they are never ‘do or die’, except during cutscenes. Even if you miss, you’re dropped back into the cutscene shortly before the event, and you only lose points towards your end-of-chapter rank by missing it. In-game, you either take a bit more damage, or you inflict more damage. This is determined by filling a meter at the bottom of the screen, filling the meter before your enemy does, or by pressing the button shown at the right time. I still hate these because they aren’t a test of how good you are at the game, but I think this is as good as quick time events are going to get.

The last advancement that I recall people bitching about would be the regenerating health. Now, this is nothing like Call of Duty or Gears of War where you regenerate to being good as new by hiding like a wuss. If you’ve played Ninja Gaiden 2, then you may be familiar with how this works – you have six slots of health, and when a slot is empty, it is considered to be permanent damage. This means that it can only be refilled with a green herb. If a slot isn’t completely empty, then it will gradually regenerate back to full. Frankly, I am okay with this because, again, THIS IS AN ACTION GAME. There will be times when you’re surrounded by some tough baddies and you will get hit. A LOT. Without regenerating health, this game would be far too difficult.

Overall – 7.0 – I found myself having a lot of fun with Resident Evil 6. I feel that people need to not ride atop their high-horses with frozen poles up their asses on soap boxes while wearing nostalgia goggles, this coming from one of the ultimate offenders of wearing nostalgia goggles. As an action game, Resident Evil 6 is good. This is not a horror game, people. It’s got creepy enemy design and intense moments, but that’s as horrifying as it gets. RE6 is good because of its combat mechanics, its visuals, and its advancements on what was established since RE4. Yes, it’s storytelling wasn’t that good, but it’s gameplay is strong enough to overcome that. Call me biased, call me a fool, call me anything. I believe that this game is better than RE4. The only thing that RE4 has over this is the particular era in gaming in which it was released. I’ll save that for another time.

Gamechanger! – There’s a little mode called Agent Hunt that’s similar to the mode where you invade someone’s game in Dark Souls. Piss of your friends! Or better yet, piss off random people! While Mercenaries is as fun as ever, Agent Hunt is a neat little mode where you can be a dick. And I’m all about that.

I’ll catch you guys in my next review.

First Impressions – Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (XBLA)

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Hoooooooly crap! As far as visuals go, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is one of the most impressive of the XBox LIVE Arcade gallery. The hair physics are… odd… but since everything else in the game is so stylized, it doesn’t seem that out-of-place. I’ll just let this video do the talking:

As far as gameplay goes, this is not your standard platformer. It is heavily inspired by Super Mario Bros., (and if you knew the story behind the creation of Giana Sisters, you would understand why) but switching between the sisters at the touch of a button or the pull of a trigger (depending on the situation) adds a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay. Hell, even the graphics and music completely change, as you probably noticed in the video above.

I will give this game a full review once I’ve finished it. At this point, expect a good rating. I recommend playing this, especially if you like a good challenge. The only way this game wouldn’t become recommendable is if one of the unlockables was the entirety of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, and you would be forced to play through ALL of that in order to re-play the Giana Sisters game. SURELY THAT CAN’T HAPPEN, RIGHT?

…right?

Sonic Colors (Wii)

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Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a game that has become VERY important to me. Probably the most important game of this generation, to me. Why? Well, Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis (Megadrive for anyone outside of the U.S.) was one of the very first games that I can remember playing. To some, that may not mean much, but to me, this was Sonic’s last chance at redemption. Over the past decade or so, Sonic has had a remarkably bad track record with console releases. With this installment, however, redemption was definitely achieved.

Visuals – 9/10 – Although the Wii’s graphical output isn’t as strong as its competitors, the visuals are still very impressive. The developers were well aware of the little brick’s graphical limitations, so they made the brave and smart decision of stylizing the graphics in a more artistic, if not cartoony, direction and adding lots of pretty lights, colors and minute details. Visually, there is a lot going on in this game, but never did I have to stop and think “What in the world am I looking at?” Even with its maximum output of 480p, all renderings are well-defined. The only thing I have noticed that suffers is the frame rate, but that isn’t even that big of a deal. It seems to run at a constant rate of roughly 30fps (I can’t really tell the exact rate), but never dips. NEVER. Another thing to note is that when you release the giant flock of wisps (the cute, little alien thingies next to Sonic in the header image) from their ‘prison’ (a.k.a. Auschwisp) upon completing certain levels, they aren’t individual 3D renderings. If they were, the game would most definitely have a violent dip in frame rate. Still, it looks really cool. See for yourself. All-in-all, this game looks fantabulous.

Sound – 8/10 – The sound quality in Sonic Colors is excellent. Everything sounds very expertly-produced and clear. Sega and Sonic Team have had a few run-ins with this in the past (Sonic Adventure probably being the most notorious), but they seem to have obtained a fantastic balance. For starters, the voice-acting this time around is also top-effing-notch. Part of this may be due to the fact that all of the 4Kids cast was replaced (THANK CHRIST), except for Dr. Eggman, who is still voiced by Mike Pollock because he is that good. Also, Sonic now shares the same voice actor as CHRIS REDFIELD. THIS STILL BLOWS MY MIND TO NO END. As far as the soundtrack goes, it ranges from epic orchestra scores to cute-sounding, catchy tunes. My problem with the soundtrack comes from the fact that some songs repeat from one act to the next. They may be SLIGHTLY re-mixed, but it’s hardly noticeable. Lastly, there’s the sound effects. For the most part, they fit when they’re supposed to – when things blow up, they go boom. The developers did add some nice touches here and there, though. When Sonic is under water, the music will sound muffled, as if the player was actually under water. A similar effect also happens when Sonic is boosting. They also added a few sound effects that every 16-bit era gamer like myself can truly enjoy, such as when Sonic gets an air bubble while underwater… or that stressful ‘oh shit you’re gonna drown’ music. You take all of this into account and squeeze it between two pieces of bread and you got yerself a delicious-sounding sandvich.

Story – 6.5/10 – As far as the story is concerned, there’s not too much going on, but just enough to keep the player interested by tying events from one place to another. The story begins with Sonic and Tails visiting Dr. Eggman’s space amusement park because they felt that he’s up to something, primarily because of the fact that his name is attached it. They seriously went there because Eggman is not allowed to have nice things. Our heroes discover that Eggman is harnessing the power of these cute, little aliens so that he can power whogivesashit and eventually take over whateverthefuck. Once again, it’s up to Sonic and Tails to stop him. That about sums it up, and that’s a good thing. The simplicity of this story is actually quite refreshing. Ever since the Dreamcast era, console releases of Sonic games tried far too hard to tell a really good story. There are no twists or turns here – just silly, cartoony characters doing silly, cartoony things, and that is quite okay. Maybe they’ll take a page out of Pixar’s book and bring something emotionally or morally driven but still kid-friendly to the table. For now, this safe route of storytelling will do.

Gameplay – 9/10 – This is easily the strongest part of the game, and it should be so with any game, in my opinion. For starters, Sonic controls very well. His movement starts with a walk and accelerates pretty quickly to a steady running speed. He also has a double jump (for some reason) and the homing attack has a lock-on system SO IT ACTUALLY WORKS 100% OF THE TIME. He also gains new abilities from the Wisps that are obtained from capsules scattered throughout the levels. Each one has a different ability and can take Sonic to different areas, adding an element of exploration in each level. While accommodating for acquiring and using those abilities, the levels are also designed with two different gameplay styles – speed sections in third-person perspective and sidescrolling sections with more emphasis on platforming. There are transitions between these sections within each level, and not once do they interrupt gameplay. The boss fights are also designed around those gameplay styles, but they are sadly not very challenging. Once all of the levels are completed and the bosses are defeated, it will be clear that quite a few of those red star rings that are (sometimes) hidden through each level have been aggregated (unless you suck that bad). Collecting these unlock extra levels, and beating these extra levels reward you chaos emeralds. This aspect adds a bit more replay value and some very welcome challenge. What’s even better is that once all the emeralds were collected, a reward that Sonic veterans have wanted ever since Sonic 3 & Knuckles returns, and the mechanics and designs of certain levels will change to better suit said reward. It’s another breath of fresh air. Well-done, Sonic Team. I never thought I would say that again.

VERDICT: 8.0/10 – Despite disappointing bosses, the recycling of songs and a simple story, Sonic Colors exceeds all expectations. The visuals are exceptional for what the Wii is capable of, the music has both catchy and epic songs, the story is at least fun and comical, and, most importantly, the somewhat familiar gameplay was refined to become something that the series needed. As a bonus, there are great rewards to reap from collecting those red star rings. This game is fantastic. Finally, it took about a decade, we have a great console release of a Sonic the Hedgehog game… but is there a way to make it better?

GAMECHANGER – To really appreciate the greatness of Sonic Colors, play a Sonic game that was released on consoles between the time Sonic Heroes was released to the day just before Sonic Colors was released. Play one or as many as possible – just play to the point of vomiting. Just before the oral eruption, start playing Sonic Colors. It will feel like a religious experience.