Yoshi’s Woolly World Review

Coming after the likes of Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, two of the best platformers on the Wii U, Yoshi’s Woolly World already had an uphill struggle to try and stand proudly alongside them. And it’s been a bit of a fumble.

Unless you’re dead inside then once you’ve gotten past the “OMG IT LOOKS SOOOOOO CUTE” phase of playing Yoshi, then everything seems fine. Early levels are easy, getting you to grips with the egg mechanic. Working exactly the same as previous games, collecting eggs (or turning enemies into them) then throwing as the curser moves on its own from top to bottom. Sadly the game doesn’t really evolve much as you work your way through the six worlds.

Differences as you progress are only really visual. Yes, all the platformer trademarks are here from ice to fire and the wool visual style really brings them to life, it’s just not particularly interesting. Early levels are incredibly easy, and while the majority of the challenge comes from the amount of collectibles in each level it would be nice to find an additional challenge in reaching the label’s end. It doesn’t help that the levels themselves are far too long. Some are double the size you’d expect to find in other platformers and maybe I’m just impatient, but I’d much prefer a short, but memorable level than a long, padded out one.

As I write this I’m struggling to think of moments that really stood out and I only completed the game a couple of days ago. Aside from the final stage that brings a unique, exploration aspect to the game it’s all so forgettable.

That aside, have I mentioned how beautiful the game looks? More than just an artistic choice, it’s quite clever how it interacts with the environment. Using Yoshi’s tongue to unravel blocks and enemies, yarn eggs to reveal platforms and just the way Yoshi himself transforms his body, from running really fast (legs turning to wheels as he trundles on) to completely unravelling as he catapults himself to the next world. Quite frankly it’s one of the best looking games I’ve seen, not bad for a game on the least powerful console.

The game does try to use its yarn aesthetic to really play around with each level. From enemies firing buttons at you to Yoshi transforming into a variety of vehicles during some rather fun mini levels. It feels like a game that was built around its graphical style. And while obviously graphics aren’t the most important factor in a game, if Woolly World didn’t have this style then it would really have nothing to fall back on.

A bit harsh maybe, as during the final levels it does pick up slightly with some good boss fights and a unique last stage where you’re left wondering where this challenge was earlier. And with five flowers, five pieces of yarn and stamps scattered across every level there is plenty here to keep you occupied but whether you actually want to go through the hassle is another thing entirely.

As it stands, unless you’re a die-hard Nintendo fanatic who will snap up anything put out for the system then you’re going to be left cold with Yoshi’s latest adventure.

Super Mario Maker Review

Are video game reviews even relevant anymore? Can you ever trust them? What sort of baggage does a reviewer bring with them each time they a play game? Why is it that all these indie puzzle platformers with a retro art style seem to do so well, or at least be so prevalent? Could it simply be that we’ve reached a point where all the critics are in their late-20s to late-30s and share a fondness for what they consider to be a golden age of the SNES and Mega Drive? It certainly could be that.

Imagine, for a moment, that videogames are a new phenomenon. Imagine they started with the PS4 and Xbox One, that we started with that level of power from the off. Would we still look at all these ‘retro’ styled 2D games with the same regard that we do now? How much of the appeal is just nostalgia? Have we simply convinced the younger generation to like these games through our repeated insistence that they’re great? Do they choose to also enjoy them due to some sort of willingness to conform or to impress the people they perhaps look up to? Or is it that they are genuinely good games that would shine through regardless of style or era? Who knows?

These thoughts have occurred to me a few times but they’re especially pertinent when playing Super Mario Maker which, in simple terms, is the toolset to create the very core of what videogames used to be until perhaps the mid-90s. When Mario Maker was first announced some people were shocked and delighted by the idea that they might finally get something they’d always dreamed of, whilst others were apprehensive about how much Nintendo would really hand over. The truth is, it’s somewhere in between, but it’s closer to that former dream than the potential disappointment.

Super Mario Maker is like having the world’s greatest film directors come together and give you stacks of footage to edit into a film of your choice, as opposed to actually going out with a budget and a crew of your own. Personally, I like this as what Scorcese and Tarantino might shoot for me will almost certainly be much better than anything I might come up with. But, let’s get one of the games supposed issues out of the way here – those directors aren’t going to trust you with everything just yet; they’re only going to give you a few scenes until you show them that you know what you’re doing and aren’t going to just combine all the sex scenes into one long porno.

Likewise, Mario Maker will only allow you to play with a basic set of tools on the first day and will gradually unlock more options over the course of the next eight or so days, dependent on you tinkering with each set for five minutes. I, again, like this approach as too often modern games overwhelm the player with too much choice and option paralysis sets in. Should you not share my particular niche opinion you can mess with your system clock to get around these restrictions.

The actual level designing is done with the sort of sense-making simplicity and panache we’ve come to expect from Nintendo and manages to squeeze in all the humour and charm you could hope for too. Upon starting the game you’re asked to play a part of a level and then finish off its construction before you head to the main menu where you can choose to play through some samples or other user’s uploaded creations. As you might expect, what you get is incredibly varied but I’ve generally been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found.

Some levels are just a bit crap of course, but some show some real effort to create things that wouldn’t be too out of place in a real Mario game. It’s also worth mentioning how good everything looks; seeing the older art styles in proper widescreen for the first time really is quite striking and the high-res upscaling or whatever it is they’ve done really makes everything very crisp and lovely. It’s not like playing the virtual console versions; there’s a graphical fidelity that makes everything feel modern.

There’s also a sort of joy that I hadn’t anticipated to the level creation itself; it feels like you’re communicating with people, that you’re sending out a sort of message in a bottle. One of the most famous pieces of game design ever is in the original Super Mario Bros. when you go up to the top of the level where the score and time are displayed. It feels like you’ve found a way to cheat or that you’ve broken the game, but then you discover the warp zones and realise that the developers knew all along that you might do that.

That sort of unspoken communication between the game’s designers and the player has been a central part of the Mario (and a lot of Nintendo) games’ appeal and it’s present here too, except this time you’re the one writing that message. It’s a nice feeling and one I hadn’t considered or expected to get from the game. This is emphasised even more by the feedback you receive for levels you’ve created. When playing through people’s creations you can leave them a comment or give a star to levels you’ve liked, it’s a nice way to keep that communication theme running through all aspects of the game.

So what else is there? Well, that’s it really. You create levels from four of Mario’s different styles and upload them for others to play. Then you play through the levels other people made. There are a couple of different ways to do that but the motivation has to come from you really; there isn’t much in the way of structure and the levels don’t run into each other like they might in a full Mario game – for example, collecting a mushroom at the end of one level doesn’t mean you’ll start ‘big’ at the start of the next, you always start small.

Also, you can’t really create a cohesive world or zone for people to play through. Whilst you might choose to make ten levels around a similar theme, it’s unlikely anyone will ever play them through in order as you might have planned. These are all small issues that are easy to forgive as it’s hard to see how these things could have been made to work on a larger scale. There is perhaps a slight feeling that this is an entry level version of more complex software, that perhaps a fuller-featured program might be available in the future or that some of those more complex options have been held back. However, that would be dismissing everything you do have and there’s a lot here, certainly enough to keep any Mario fan happy for, well, forever really.

Ultimately this game’s appeal will always depend on how much you like Mario. If you do have some history with the guy and have ever enjoyed any of his adventures, then this is an incredibly interesting piece of software. That’s what it is really, software for fans of Mario, perhaps more so than a ‘game’, though there is plenty of game if you, or others, want to build it. It might seem obvious but you will get out of it what you put in.

The score I’ve given it is a personal one based on my years of loving Mario games and the videogaming purity they represent. I like the fact that you’re a little constrained by the established rules of his world as they’re rules that work and that I like. You want to have that recognition and I feel it’s a large part of why this whole thing works. No matter what someone makes, you immediately understand how it’s all going to work; it’s that communication again.

It is worth remembering that the game is called Mario Maker, not platformer maker, and as such you’re making Mario games. I don’t know why you’d want to make anything else but if you’re expecting all the tricks of the ROM hacks you might be disappointed. If you’re still at all unsure, you can build and play levels in the SNES Super Mario World art style in widescreen for the first time ever. If that doesn’t sell you a game nothing will. But, perhaps that’s just my nostalgia. Who knows?

Splatoon Review

Trust Nintendo to take an established genre (the third person online shooter) and bring its own, colourful twist. It’s a style of game that you wouldn’t expect them to make, especially as the Japanese giant has been criticised many times for not quite understanding how the Internet works.

Although there is a single player component, Splatoon is largely being pushed as an online experience. Following a short tutorial explaining the moves (and unfortunately forcing you to use some terrible motion controls) you’re then thrust into the lobby area. This is where the real people hang out and share Miiverse posts with each other, or you can look at what items people have equipped and order them from the rather shady guy hanging out in the backstreets. There are also shops to buy new equipment and, of course, the main hub where you enter online matches. It’s like Destiny, but without the dancing.

There are certain moments during the game where it does feel like “my first online shooter”, which of course for Nintendo it is. So lobbies are very basic and the matchmaking doesn’t seem to know how to match with people in closer proximity. So a number of times I was matched up with players in Japan. Thankfully lag was unnoticeable in most matches with only a couple of disconnects occurring, but then that could be because everything was moving at such a high pace it’s hard to notice any latency in the paintballs hitting.

The first online mode that was added was Turf War. The aim being to paint as much of the map in your colour before time expires and naturally shooting the enemy as well if they get in your way. It means it plays completely differently to any other shooter out there. The first thing most players will do at the start is circle their own spawn point and paint it all before venturing out into the more contested ground. Weapons come with their own strengths and weakness, so for example while the paint rollers are great at painting the map, when coming across an opponent they’re only really useful in close quarters.

The most unique part of the game though is the way you can turn into a squid and travel through your paint. It means being able to scale walls, go through grates and take cover when you’re under attack. And it’s used to recharge your paint gun. It also graphically looks rather nice, much like the rest of the game. Nintendo certainly know how to get the best out of their somewhat limited hardware.

Actually since I started writing this review Nintendo have already added new modes. These are a King of the Hill style mode called Splat Zones and ranked matches. It bodes well for the future of the game, especially as it made it to #2 in the charts, something which seemed unlikely for a Wii U exclusive and new IP. Long may this support continue.

The six maps released so far are all brilliantly designed, making it hard to pick out a favourite. No team has the advantage, there’s plenty of different routes through the level and they’re not too big or small. It’s impressive when you consider this is Nintendo’s first attempt at this kind of game. As for the single player content, well that’s a bit of a surprise

Despite being positioned as mainly an online game, there’s still a good slice of single player content here. A number of stages are played out with the aim to reach the end, killing all the enemies and navigating the world in order to rescue the Zapfish. Surprisingly these levels don’t feel like an afterthought and actually have a number of clever features I wish were in the online portion, such as being able to travel along zip lines and a cleverer use of the terrain.

In addition, using one of the Splatoon amiibos unlocks a number of different challenges for each of the levels, and each coming with their own reward.

Splatoon just screams Nintendo. Everything about it from the bright, colourful world, to the addictive gameplay make this a great online shooter. It may lack the options of its realistic brethren, but I haven’t had this much fun online in a while. If Nintendo continue this continued support then this could very well be one of the best games on the Wii U by the end of the year.

Dex Preview

If there is one thing Early Access does well, it’s games that have become frankly, personal projects of love. The amount of pixel art on show here is ridiculous, it feels like more effort has gone into a background pigeon than goes into many completed games. If you like pixels you’re more than getting your money’s worth in Dex from that alone.

Dex itself is a 2D open world, thankfully with teleporting so you don’t need to constantly backtrack, and essentially a metroidvania with a very large a dose of RPG, levelling up unlocks skills, gaining quests by talking to characters etc. Apart from a heap of typos, there are whole words missing, everything there is done well.

The setting is pure cyberpunk, with all the good and bad things that brings. The world is breaking down, drugs, guns and sex being sold everywhere. The fact that an enemy is as likely to drop pornography as they are a t-shirt is fairly representative.

As it stands, combat is more of a chore than it should be. Ideally the game would offer a way to avoid combat entirely, but instead enemies appear on screen and attack, leaving your character rolling left and right and either kicking or shooting, then rolling again. There’s little more to it, and anything that can be done in the final stages of Early Access to improve it would be beneficial.

Due to release this quarter, it seems hard to imagine there will be significant changes before release and it doesn’t really need them. This isn’t a game that will appeal to everyone, but if the remainder of the time is spent well those that find the idea of the game appealing will be very happy with their purchase. Come back for the full review when the game exits Early Access!

(And it really is a well-drawn pigeon.)

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Review

But when pirates attack her home town, and her old nemesis Risky Boots appears to tell her about a mysterious Pirate Master, she has little choice but to try and save the day with nothing but her Kabuki Ninja-esque hair attack and ability to leap around.

This sets Shantae off on an adventure that takes her to a number of different islands looking for dens of evil, which much be purged to stop the evil Pirate Master from returning. Each island and environment is beautifully presented with some of the most colourful and vibrant 2D platform artwork seen in a very long time. They also contain different themed environments and enemies so there is always something new and varied to see.

Unlike previous games, instead of Shantae using her magic powers to transform into different forms, she now has to collect various pirate artefacts, which then grant her the ability to progress. It follows a template similar to Metroid in that you collect an object like a gun, which then allows you to operate a switch to open a door, which then allows you to move to a new section of the level. There is also a fair amount of wandering back and forth between the different islands and levels but as they are so much fun to explore and revisit, this isn’t an issue.

Level design remains strong throughout, with the islands and dungeons providing different challenges and puzzles to solve. The game is always challenging but never unfair or too harsh to stop progression for long. Finding heart squids will also increase your life and Shantae can buy upgrade shampoo and conditioner to level up her hair’s attack power and speed. The learning curve is set just about perfectly and players should feel like they are always prepared for what they come up against without it being a complete walkover.

One of the highlights of the game is the colourful collection of characters and ever-so-slightly twisted humour that runs through the game. Early on for instance, you’ll meet a former giant squid boss who is bemoaning the fact he feels he’ll only be used as a returning reference to the previous game so is planning to retire (naturally you’ll have to find him a travel brochure so he can start travelling the world for the just the right spot).

There are a host of well-known characters from the series to touch base with and it adds just the right amount of fan service for players of the series. The writing is also sharp and entertaining – if a little uncomfortable at times. Weirdly, there is a slight sexual undercurrent throughout. An early puzzle requires light to reflect off two untanned girls who won’t strip to their bikinis, while later Shantae acquires x-ray glasses from a disappointed character who has moved to a beach resort out of season so there are no girls to look at. It’s not overly dodgy, but something that parents of younger gamers will probably want to know about.

Some of the character design is also questionable. There are Mermaid characters that are topless (just without nipples), and what can only be described as a giant rolling ball orgy of naked women as a boss to contend with. While Shantae can be forgiven for her attire as she is both a genie and a dancer, both she and a few other characters seem to have ‘developed’ a little since last the last game as well.

Pixelated cleavage aside, the game is an absolute joy to play and an experience that will keep you smiling throughout. Shantae controls very well and always responds how she should. The different objects you pick up always add something new to mess around with and there are plenty of extra side quests and collectables to hunt around for. It all gives you an excuse to spend a bit more time with the game and when something is as joyful as this then it’s likely you’ll be happy to oblige it.

Overall, this is another top drawer entry in the Shantae series.  Shantae games are always more expensive than other digital games but they are also of a much more accomplished quality than almost everything else in the same genre. It’s a colourful, fun and inventive game and feels right at home on the Wii U. It would be great for the series to build up more of a fan base as they offer some of the best Metroidvania action out there. If you love your retro inspired platformers then you really need to own this.

Spy Chameleon Review

A stealth puzzler, in Spy Chameleon you control the titular lizard as he must avoid a various assortment of cameras in order to reach the levels exit. With seventy five levels, each increasing in difficulty there’s plenty of content here for the enticing £4.49 price tag. And it’s a damn fine game.

We do love it when a game comes out of nowhere and surprises us, Spy Chameleon is one of those games. What starts of as pleasant tutorials showing you what to avoid soon turns into a mess of cameras, attached to everything from roaming robots to fish tanks. And to avoid them the chameleons colour changing ability comes into play.

During the earlier levels you’ll come across rugs on the floor with a specific colour, and with the gamepads face buttons you can change your colour from green to blue, red or yellow. By matching the colour of the rug you’re able to hide from the cameras. This gets a lot more difficult later on with the likes of paint cans used in a similar way, and not to mention the changing, disco like floors. It means you’re always on your toes.

The levels are brilliantly designed and thankfully the controls are nice and responsive, something needed when you have the colours of the floor changing constantly, with one wrong slip sending you back to the previous checkpoint.

These checkpoints being favourably positioned, allowing you to quickly try again if you’re caught. Doing this though doesn’t reset the timer and this is a game all about finishing levels in the fastest time possible. Not surprising when there’s actually a “Speed Run mode”.

Reaching the end of each level is challenging in itself, but the longevity in Spy Chameleon really comes from doing all the challenges. With each level you need to complete it in a set time, collect all the flies and then collect all the ladybugs (which are unlocked after beating the level once before). With it being impossible to do these in one run, levels will need to be replayed, at least doubling the games longevity if you want to 100% the game. There are also a number of achievements, some of which can only be unlocked in hard mode, which if you really want to get the most out of Spy Chameleon is the way to play.

Graphically everything is bright, colourful and cartoony. Serviceable would be the best way to describe it, not exactly setting the world alight, but it does the job. Music is the same pretty much, though it does have an opening theme song, the beat repeats after a few seconds which managed to burrow into my soul like very few themes do.

As has already been said with Spy Chameleon, going back and beating your previous times is a major part, which can be considered both its strength and weakness. Nintendo are not the best at advertising small, indie games, and with the Wii U’s sales being less than stellar it means getting a group of friends to buy the game will be a tough task. This is despite it being well worth the asking price. There is a global leaderboard, but beating your friends is where this sort of game thrives. It may seem harsh criticising a game for something like this, but it’s the stone cold truth that unless it goes multiplatform onto PS4 and Xbox One it may just sink without a trace. And that would be a shame.

Bayonetta 2 Review

By all sensible and logical business reasoning, Bayonetta 2 shouldn’t exist. The first didn’t sell anything worth a damn, despite it (insert ‘probably’ here for the  opinion-as-fact-Nazis) having the best combat system of any third person action game made and being absolutely bashit mental in many of the right ways (and, unfortunately, some of the wrong ones). It tapped into niche gameplay mechanics lots of people don’t care about and made obscure references from SEGA games anyone under 30 may not have played. It didn’t help that SEGA can’t market their way out of a paper bag.

For a long time fans of the first game held empty hope for a sequel, secretly resigning themselves to a future without one. So when it was announced that there was indeed going to be a sequel and it was exclusively coming to Wii U there was a strange elation/disappointment dynamic for a lot of people. It’s a sad fact that without Nintendo picking it up out of SEGA’s dumpster there would be no Bayonetta 2, so be grateful.

Bayonetta 2 doesn’t alter the template too much from the first game, but when Platinum got it so right it’s difficult to see why they would. Just in terms of aesthetics Platinum are practically untouchable. That much you can see from the first game, Vanquish and Wonderful 101 to name three but Bayonetta 2 takes that cool and turns it up to deafening levels. Character design, environments, colour pallette, animation, weapon design, enemies, costumes. I could go on. But I won’t. If you bought the edition that gives you the first game you’ll see the difference in fidelity between them. The first Bayonetta looks very washed out compared to the vibrancy of the second. This may be a byproduct of porting from older systems, but the difference is immense.

The story is usual type of nonsense we expect; Umbra Witch Bayonetta is off on some ridiculous journey to save her fellow Witch Jeanne from Inferno after one of the Demons that Bayonetta controls escapes its portal and kills Jeanne.

A screenshot from Bayonetta 2.

Sporting a new slinky, impish haircut and an amazing array of retorts that will either make you chew your knuckles or bark with laughter, you lay waste to the denizens of Inferno and Paradiso while listening to some God-awful accents from insufferable secondary characters. So far, so Platinum and by God it’s glorious.

The gameplay remains much the same but tightened within an inch of it’s life. All new animations mean combat flow is improved and the already impressive combo system has been expanded upon. The wonderful thing about Bayonetta’s combat is that any cack-handed chimp can chain together a string of punches and kicks and it looks spectacular. Mash that pad and you’ll make it through the game fine, but the real trick is to do it all flawlessly, with variety and style. Each combat section is graded with medals from Stone to Pure Platinum depending on time taken, combo multiplier and damage taken, and it’s here where the replay factor is with Bayonetta.

The desire to actually be good at the game is immense, and the combat is so much deeper than would you would initially guess (if you hadn’t played the first game, obviously). The Witch Time dodge, Dodge Offset and even the use of Taunt being essential to racking up the combo multiplier. There’s the addition of a magic meter consuming Umbran Climax move you can trigger instead of Torture Attacks, as well as switching between weapon sets mid combo. I could try to explain it all in depth here, but I don’t have a word count high enough and I’m still rubbish at the game myself.

There are people out there who won’t play it because they don’t (or won’t) own a Wii U, or don’t agree with the powerfully overt sexualisation of the main character (I’ll leave that discussion to people more intelligent than I), or they simply don’t get on with third person brawlers. They’re missing out on one of the most inventive, gorgeous, sheer-off-of-its-tits experiences modern gaming has to offer.

Bayonetta 2 is an outright fantastic game. It’s another very good reason to own a Wii U and it outclasses practically every other game of this type by a considerable margin.

 

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker Review

Nintendo over the last year or so have been on quite the hot streak with regards to the games they have published for the Wii U. From Super Mario 3D World, and up to the release of Super Smash Bros , Nintendo have hardly put a foot wrong.  Their latest release is Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, which is a expansion of the Captain Toad stages in Super Mario 3D World, sadly unlike that game and the other Nintendo games of late, this one is a little disappointing.

But lets start with what this game does well.  Graphically like all of Nintendo’s WIi U games it is another stunner.  As you would expect from a game that uses that same engine as Super Mario 3D World, its technically flawless, full of colour and has some those little touches you only seem to get from Nintendo games. The soundtrack is also up to Nintendo’s usual high standards, and Toad himself sounds just as adorable as he looks.   It is also very fun to play, moving toad around the 64 and 18 bonus levels is a simple task(apart from one thing, which will be mentioned later), and most of the levels themselves are a joy to play.

There is no denying it is hard not play this game without a smile on your face, it’s fun, charming, looks and sounds amazing and it never really becomes frustrating(though getting every gem on all the levels can be a little tricky),  But there is something missing that stops it reaching the heights Nintendo’s other Wii U games have and becoming a must-buy title.

For starters while Captain Toad may give you over 80 levels,  these are mostly consist of a single screen, and you can easily burn through them in pretty quick time.  It may take a little longer to find all the gems, but as the challenge in most levels is simply rotating the camera until you can find them, even this wont take the average gamer an awful long time.

As easy as it is to control little ol Toad, the glaring emission of not being able to turn off the gyroscope to control the camera can become annoying very quickly, as any slight movement of the pad causes the camera to swing wildly around causing you to lose many avoidable  lives.

Overall, the whole game just feels a little bit twee, maybe it would have been better released as a budget title or even as DLC for Super Mario 3D world, as for £40 you don’t really get a lot of game for your money.  It is a fun game to play, and I would expect most people will enjoy playing it, but Nintendo could have put a little more content in, and a two-player co-op mode would have been nice as well.

 

 

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U Review

The discussion of whether Smash Bros can be considered a fighting game is best left by the wayside, what it is however is the pinnacle of party entertainment. This latest entry even has a Mario Party style board game, only a lot better. In the new mode called Smash Tour, players select a Mii and then move their way around the board, powering up and collecting characters. Traditional smash fights scattered throughout, winning gets you that player’s character. It all culminates in one last fight as, hopefully, you will have amassed a decent roster in a winner takes all fight. It’s a nice new addition that will hopefully be built on in future instalments.

Over the years Smash really has grown exponentially in regards to content. The original N64 game was a fairly bare bones affair and now there’s so much stuff it can be quite overwhelming. There’s a regular single player, a bunch of challenges, trophies to discover, new characters to unlock and mini-games to play. Oh, and there’s also an online mode.

It could just be bad luck, but so far every online game of Smash played does suffer from a little bit of lag. And with a game as frantic as this, a little bit of lag could mean life or death. You could say it’s hardly surprising, Mario Kart 8 is perfect online for instance, but then that is a more slow paced affair, Smash is absolutely mental. And this insanity is really what appeals the most about the game.

More often than not rounds end with people asking “what the hell happened?” If turned on, items come thick and fast with everything from Pokeballs to the ship from Galaga. It makes Smash Bros such a unique beast, because usually this sort of randomness has us cursing the screen, and yet, that never really happened, particularly when playing with people on the same couch.

It became joyous just watching the various moves each character performs, even when your character is on the receiving end of them. This is particularly evident with the Final Smash moves. Smash the floating icon and you get this ultimate attack that perfectly captures the feel of each character. Seeing Pac-Man turn into a giant version of his 2D incarnation, chomping through enemies is a sight to behold. There’s Mega Man who calls upon all the different versions of himself to destroy everything, Captain Falcon who runs over people in his F-Zero machine and Dr Mario who just throws giant pills at everyone, because of course he does. They are all encompassed with a barrage of colour making the game wonderful to look at. Who says the Wii U is underpowered?

Fan service also comes in the form of the music. The musical library is just astounding, with themes from every Nintendo game you can think of (and some third party ones). Fighting outside Dr Wily’s Castle with a Mega Man 2 remix playing will bring a smile to any retro fans face. All songs are locked away in the vault, and we won’t lie, we occasionally put the game in just to listen to them.

Probably the main criticism you can level at Smash Bros is that playing by yourself is quite a lonely experience. Yes, there’s a ton of single player content, more than you might expect, but playing with friends in the same room is the games main selling point. It would be nice if the online compared to something like Mario Kart, but sadly all the games we’ve encountered so far have had bouts of crippling lag that was never encountered with Mario Kart.

Smash Bros shows that despite the Wii U’s constant struggle to gain mainstream acceptance, Nintendo are still ploughing ahead, producing the most fun content you can find. Gather some friends together and there really is nothing better.

Tengami Review

Tengami caught our eye well over a year ago at the Eurogamer Expo back in 2013. Amidst the throng of noise and colour around the Nintendo stand was an unassuming screen displaying a delicate looking game.  A very apt first impression, this is a very calm and thoughtful game that is much more about contemplation and the journey than it is about simply getting to the end.

There is no real plot to speak of as your journey follows a lone Japanese wanderer as he seeks to return four cherry blossoms to a bare cherry tree. It’s very similar in tone to something like Journey where it is the adventure that subtly writes the story into the minds of the player rather than having it explicitly stated.

The main draw of Tengami is its art style. The world and everything in it are created to look like a paper pop-up book. The game starts by opening the book and as you progress you literally turn the pages.  The environments are absolutely gorgeous and no other game has had us continually reaching for the Wii U screen shot button.  It is also underscored with some lovely sound to fully immerse you in the oriental world it is portraying.

Aside from wandering around beautiful environments you will need to solve puzzles in order to progress.  This is done via the Wii U pad and generally involves sliding things around or making different parts of the environment pop-up. There are also musical puzzles (normally revolving around bells), and puzzle boxes that need to be unlocked by looking around the environments for symbols.

The puzzles range from being very simple to quite fiendish in design. The puzzle boxes which require looking around the environment can be very tricky – until you realise you may need to hold turning pages half open to see some of them. It certainly makes you think and there is nothing here that should stop you completely dead in your tracks for long.

Our only real gripe with the game is its length. We managed to get through it in a couple of hours and though there are Miiverse stamps to collect there isn’t really too much to come back into it for. Unlike journey where the thrill of the ride is enough to replay, here you already know the puzzles so unless you want to wander the beautiful world again there is very little to draw you back.

This certainly isn’t going to be for everyone, it moves at a fairly slow pace and there is a lot of wandering to be done between puzzles. That said, we feel that everything it sets out to do it has accomplished pretty much perfectly.

Overall, Tengami is unashamedly the game it wants to be and there is little compromise to players that might not get it. For those looking for something different this could be the perfect game. It merges the concepts of art and video games and has created something unique. Yes it’s short, but the fact we wanted more speaks volumes of the experience we had with it. There are things here that will make you smile and show you small moments of magic and for us that’s more than enough.

Shovel Knight Review

Shovel Knight has been looking like a good game for a very long time and we loved it when we tried the PC version out. Another in the long line of retro styled platformers, it has always had something a little bit special about it. It’s taken a while to get here from the PC and we are delighted to say that it’s still as excellent as ever.

The game follows the tale of Shovel Knight who used to act as one of the champions of the land, defending it from evil along with his companion Shield Knight. One day the two knights fall fowl of a cursed amulet in a magic tower. Shovel Knight awakens to find Shield Knight has been sealed in the tower and the entrance is now impassable. While Shovel Knight hides away from the world the evil forces of the enchantress take hold. In doing so she unseals the magic tower and Shovel Knight sets off to rescue Shield Knight and stop the evil.

Shovel Knight is a platform game that wears its influences very plainly on its sleeve. There’s a  bit of Mega Man in there, (though you don’t take powers from fallen bosses), Some Duck Tales style bouncing, a bit of Castlevania 2 and 3 with the sub weapons and even a touch of Dark Souls. The thing that sets it all apart though is while all these elements are identifiable the game feels like something unique. It’s not just a trip down memory lane but a game that has taken key elements and forged its own identity with them.

The graphics and music are 8-bit themed and it certainly feels like the sort of thing you could be playing on a NES or Master System. Despite the potential limitations of the style each level is filled with detail and they each have their own clear identity. This is where the main Mega Man influence comes and it keeps things fresh as you never really know how an enemy boss knight’s stage is going to have to be approached until you get into it.

The adventure is set across a map screen with locks at the edge of it. Defeating the correct enemy boss knights releases the locks and allows you to move to the next section. As well as the enemy castles there are villages where you can get new gear and special levels which offer up gems or unique adventures for our hero to conquer (You can also go and speak to a big fish thing which fills up empty chalices with magic). You’ll need all the gems you can find as it acts as the in game currency and allows you to buy a whole host of secondary weapons and shovel and armour upgrades.

It should be pointed out that though the game is called Shovel Knight, this is not a title in the same vein as Steam World: Dig or Spelunky. It’s very much a platformer in the Mega Man or Castlevania style with skilful jumping and boss fights on the menu for intrepid explorers. The game is challenging but it has a very well balanced difficulty curve and we never felt completely out of our depth. Levels also have a large amount of checkpoints and there is no lives system in place so you can keep continuing. The main penalty for death is losing a chunk of your money. When this occurs it hangs around the area you died and must be reclaimed. If you die again then it’s gone, much like Dark Souls.

It’s a game that wants you to keep playing it. The constant supply of gems and available upgrades, the gradual revealing of the map, the extra levels – it all just keeps you wanting to see what else is out there and what’s going to be next and there is always something more to see. You’ll get random monsters and bosses roaming the map like in Mario 3 or pick up a new weapon and be able to complete a level you couldn’t before. You’ll just keep going and going until the end and then there’s always new game +.

Overall, Shovel Knight is a brilliant game. Everything is does it does well and everything works. It’s balanced and challenging and constantly offers up new surprises. The controls work perfectly, the levels and enemies are well designed and there’s a nice chunk of humour in there as well. This probably is it for the 8-bit retro styled platformer as to beat this would really take something. We tried and tried but it simply cannot be faulted. It’s just a magnificent game.

Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones Review

Welcome to one tough game, here you play as a clone who has escaped right at the beginning, your enemy in the game (apart from the deviously designed levels by Curve Studio) is an obsessed man who simply must be the best at his job.

With cut-scenes throughout the game, your story unfolds gently. You are guided through test chambers via a large overworld in which you must use the gadgets that you earn thoughout your time with Stealth Inc. 2 to traverse levels. Some items allow you to block beams that otherwise would kill you, some enable you to reach those higher platforms to escape the test room. There are others, but the fun is discovering them and their abilities for yourself.

As I mentioned, this game is tough. It is not going to hold your hand throughout, gently guiding you to the eventual exit. You will be scratching your head on several occasions. Stick at it, the reward is always worth it. One thing I did find clever was quite literally, the writing on the wall. The humour in this game is definitely tongue in cheek and marvellously done.

Graphically this game is adorable, there is something incredibly cute about the clones, their dumpy little bodies & goggles that they wear. I found this allows you to become involved with the game very early on as you start to feel responsible for your little clone, willing him to get to the end of the chamber unscathed.

Dying is not an issue either as you restart at a recent checkpoint so you don’t lose too much time or effort getting stuck back in. One point of note is definitely the soundtrack to this game, changing styles throughout as you progress which fits perfectly and quite the lovely thing.

Curve use the gamepad in Stealth Inc. 2 to great effect. You can play through the whole game with a partner, using the gamepad to reveal hidden enemies & hacking terminals together. Playing through in single player is great fun too. Using the gamepad in this way is reminiscent of the Murphy levels from Rayman Legends.

Finally, there is a level editor within the game for all you budding creators out there with a wealth of options to create levels, which you can upload for others to play and vote up or down. Having played some, there are some brilliant creations already out there.

Curve have built on the first game, and made it that much better. Worth a play in any Wii U household.

Steamworld Dig Review

Rusty is the name, he is our intrepid robot prospector in Steamworld Dig, this time released on the Wii U. Within minutes of starting the game, Rusty has procured a precious and incredibly useful pickaxe for it is with this that you will use to chip away further & further into the land below the town above, getting richer as you dig & with time uncovering the ancient threat lurking below…

The Wii U version is a definite upgrade graphically from the 3DS etc with high resolution 1080p graphics, some lovely dynamic lighting and best of all a clutter free UI with the map etc now displayed on the Wii U gamepad too.

The mines are randomly generated in Steamworld Dig, which means that no matter if you have played this on say PS4, 3DS or Vita it presents a new path each time, much like Spelunky in this respect. Not only are you armed with your now trusty pickaxe, but you also carry a solar powered light. Yes, you read that correctly, a light that slowly over time depletes so you need to continually make trips topside to recharge it. Sounds like a bind, where in actuality it brings some welcome relief and enable you to power up using the money that you have made from collecting the loot that you find below in your ongoing adventure. You can also upgrade a number of items, from your light & pickaxe to adding new items or abilities also.

Slowly but surely, you chip away through the mine, defeating enemies & minor puzzles as you go, every so often retreating to the cool bright & balmy world above to charge your light and boost your toolset allowing you to inch closer & closer to the bottom of the mine. The enemies in the game are quite varied throughout & as you progress some definitely pack quite the punch proving quite tricky in parts. The whole look & design of the game is simply spellbinding, colour is used to brilliant effect throughout os you aren’t simply seeing brown and red as you travel further & further towards your goal. Luckily, you don’t have to retrace your steps either when you do decide that it is time to head aboveground again, as you can use magic (and incredibly handy) portals to get you to & fro in a mere flash!

Throughout the game you will come across new upgrades, giving you an ability to progress through somewhere you could not previously, such as the speed boots which allow you to traverse disappearing platforms in a moment without dropping into the enemies or spikes below. Steamworld Dig will draw comparisons as it feels in a way a cross between Dig Dug (remember that!) & Metroid. Believe me this is not a bad thing. One more than one occasion I said to myself ‘I will play just for a little bit’ only to fin myself still playing much later than intended.

The core of Steamworld Dig is a simple one, yet with the charm & wit it possesses really hooks you in. Couple that with the insanely catchy mid western style score and you have a great game for all ages. If you haven’t played this yet, I couldn’t recommend it more & I for one cannot wait to play Steamworld Heist, newly announced by Image & Form, the creators.

One Piece: Unlimited World Red Review

We’re not going to lie and say we’re the foremost knowledge on all things One Piece, because apart from a few short clips of the anime, this game is pretty much our only experience with the series. And yet despite this, there is an awful lot to like about Unlimited World Red even from us non-fans.

Although obviously aimed at the core One Piece fan base, the developers haven’t just used this as an excuse to throw out any old rubbish for them to inevitably purchase. Set on an island that Luffy and his team of Straw Hat Pirates have arrived on, incidents occur that revolve around who we assume are long standing One Piece characters, and that’s really how the game begins. If you don’t already know the characters from the off then it can be difficult to understand, but as the game progresses you start to gain a better understanding of what’s happening and actually start to get involved in the story.

What could have been a bog-standard licensed action adventure is set apart by Transtown. The main hub world where you can stock up on supplies, save your game, and most importantly aid in rebuilding. On your travels you’ll be collecting all sorts of materials that can be put to good use in Transtown by building new shops and helping make your life easier. It definitely adds to the experience, stocking up on supplies before you make your way to the next area, but it can be slightly annoying when you’re forced to build certain things to progress the story. The game then essentially forcing you to farm for items, items which are largely random and can take a long time to actually discover.

When you’re done getting prepared then it’s on to your adventure. New areas becoming available per chapter with their own unique look and types of enemy to face. You can take up to a three man (or woman) party at any one time, each character controllable with their own unique attacks. It’s your standard action game with hammering of the X and Y buttons unleashing all sorts of combos. There is a tactical nuance to it with the use of the dodge and counters. During specific enemy attacks it’ll flash up on screen whether you can press the A button to perform a doge or counter attack, vital against bosses who will destroy large chunks of your health bar. There are also a number of special attacks that can be utilised once your SP meter is full and a way you can do more damage by performing specific on screen combos.

As you’re in a team of three the other two AI companions will be on the battlefield giving you a helping hand, sort of. On the one hand they really don’t appear to be doing that much damage, but on the other they do a very good job of staying out of trouble. In fact, even when hit it looks like they don’t lose any health at all, which means you’re pretty much playing through the game with three health bars. But then this is preferred to the constant annoyance it would be if the AI kept on getting hit.

Graphically, One Piece is as you’d expect. A style that matches the anime quite well with some neat visuals on display, nothing special, but they do the job. What is disappointing for the Wii U is the lack of any gamepad use. There’s literally nothing there of note, it just has a message basically telling you to look at the TV. The only other thing is a button at the top which swaps the TV feed with the gamepad one and vice versa. There’s not even a map, which is quite baffling as you’re constantly being forced to pause the game to look at it. Why not just put it on the gamepad screen? That’s what it’s there for! It’s disappointing to see so many companies not utilising the gamepad in any meaningful way.

A few minor annoyances aside, the developers should be commended for not just putting together any old licensed pap and waiting for the One Piece fans to lap it up. A lot of effort has clearly gone into capturing what people enjoy about the anime, coupled with some strong gameplay and you have a worthy package for fans of the series.

Mario Kart 8 Review

Driving into the final corner, you jump and drift giving you a much needed boost. Victory is within your grasp, but at that moment a red shell appears. You are hit, coins flying, you are inches away from the finish, but alas cannot gain enough speed to make it across. As you finally come to the realisation that your victory is ripped away, out of the corner of your eye you see Luigi. He looks, glares at you with pure evil behind those eyes, and drives across the finish. Welcome to Mario Kart 8. Where the Year of Luigi lives on. Forever.

Arriving on the Wii U to much fanfare, and incredibly solid sales for a struggling console, is Mario Kart 8. The granddaddy of the karting genre has returned and shows once again why it’s always been on top. On the surface it’s very much like any other MK game, but get deeper and you’ll find a number of key improvements that make it actually one of the best in the series. And not just because of the abundance of Luigi gifs that have appeared across the internet.

Tracks once again split between classics and new, however even the classics have had something of an overhaul. Less a copy and more of a remake, classic tracks are now adorned with a number of new features, none more so than the anti-gravity sections. Tracks like Toad’s Turnpike now come with added jumps and drivable walls to navigate. It adds a different layer to each track, and with the new graphical grunt of the Wii U they look simply magical. Despite being vastly more underpowered than the PS4 and Xbox One, Nintendo still manages to make their game look glorious, simply because they put art style before anything else. This can proudly stand alongside the likes of Infamous and Ryse and that is a testament to Nintendo’s ability at getting the very best out of their hardware.

MK8 really feels like it’s had pure joy injected straight into the veins. Even in 150cc where the difficulty really ramps up, and you’re left reeling from hit after hit, we very rarely stopped smiling. The difficulty being something that has definitely been raised since the last iteration. In 150cc this may be the most challenging Mario Kart game since the original. This is a good thing.

As frustrating as it can get when on the final lap you’re hit by anything and everything, it never became controller smashingly annoying. Our loss was accepted and we simply retried until those final championships were conquered. And you’ll need to beat all the championships to unlock everything, and there is a ton to unlock. Hidden characters, new kart parts and Miiverse stamps are all waiting and will take a lot of time, skills and luck.

Where Mario Kart 8 really shines is, believe it or not, online. Nintendo are finally getting to grips with online play and it’s a joy to see. Okay, they may not be on the level of Sony and Microsoft, but they’re trying! Able to either race in Grand Prix’s, Tournaments or Battle Mode, joining games is incredibly seamless. Choose a room and you’re pretty much good to go. Battle Mode however is quite a disaster. Gone are the arenas that made the SNES and N64 versions so fun, instead you just get the standard tracks featured in the main grand prix. It’s an incredibly lazy cop-out, which is something you rarely ever see from Nintendo. The tracks are designed for racing and it shows.

Much like Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8 shows that nobody makes games quite like Nintendo. A master class in design that shows how tragic it is that the Wii U finds itself in such dire straits. A sure fire system seller that everyone who owns the console should buy, and if you don’t, now’s the perfect time to buy one.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Review

A bunch of floating platforms are placed in front of you, taking one leap you land safely on the first before something in the environment is triggered, platforms are falling and you make a lucky jump to the platform ahead. With vines located on the roof you’re able to jump and grab them while everything else collapses around you. In doing so you fail to see the enemies that come flying towards you, in a panic you try and avoid them and fall to your death. This has happened for the tenth time. The Wii U gamepad proceeds to fly against the wall. Welcome to Tropical Freeze. Who said games these days are too easy?

Retro Studio’s second go with the DKC license is more challenging than we remember any previous game in the series being. And note the word “challenging” was used, because while there are many moments of rage quitting, swearing and shouting, it never feels unfair. Whenever you fall to your death or get hit by a projectile, once the red mist has cleared you’ll come round to the fact it was probably your own fault.

In a way, Tropical Freeze could be considered a companion piece with Super Mario 3D World. While not capturing the pure joy and majesty of Nintendo’s flagship Wii U platformer, DKC can stand proudly alongside it. 3D World felt very much like it was open to everyone, welcoming in newcomers and veterans alike. Tropical Freeze is for those people who grew up on those platformers of yesteryear. Ones that after one slip up will furiously pummel you into the ground till you’re a quivering wreck.

The first world in Tropical Freeze doesn’t present that many problems, but from world 2 onwards is where it picks up. Gameplay wise it’s very similar to the previous DKC game, only this time waggle is left at the door. In fact, there’s zero waggle or touch screen support in the entire game. Perhaps not so much an admission that the unique abilities of the Wii U hardware are pointless, more admitting that there’s very little that can be added without turning challenge into frustration. The weakest area of Super Mario 3D Land were the levels that required use of the gamepads touchscreen, and with a game like Tropical Freeze that is more fast paced in its execution, it could be a nuisance. With that said, it would be nice if Retro Studios could’ve at least put something on the gamepads screen. Maybe a map or even a logo would be better than the black screen that has been given.

The new addition, and if you watched the painful demo at the Spike VGA’s you’ll know what this is, is Cranky Kong. Now in playable form, Cranky Kong is basically Scrooge McDuck, using his walking stick to pogo off the ground and enemies. Donkey Kong is always the controllable character, Cranky along with Diddy and Dixie give you their own unique abilities (and two extra hearts). Diddy able to use his jetpack to hover and Dixie channelling the spirit of Luigi and giving Donkey extra airtime when jumping. Dixie being the most useful of the characters, almost to the point where the other two became insignificant. Cranky especially as his ability can lead to all sorts of accidental deaths. Dixie’s ability also making each jump a lot easier to hit, and quite frankly we’ll take all the help we can get.

The level design while staying close to the DKC roots (with floating barrels and your standard world structure) still manages to feel fresh. Yes, the mine cart levels and flying barrels both return, but there’s still enough diversity in each level that you’ll want to see what the next one holds. It also helps that the game looks absolutely glorious. Worlds are vibrant, animations are smooth and now Donkey Kong looks better than ever. On top of the music (that borrows themes from older DKC games and gives them their own twist) this feels like a complete package and not just a rehash of the Wii game which is what everybody first feared. There is a multi-player elements added, but really this is not the type of game that benefits from two players the same way a Mario game would. Still, there’s plenty of longevity to be found in the sheer amount of collectibles and secret levels. KONG letters being scattered through each level and jigsaw pieces that are extremely well hidden, there’s plenty here for the completionist.

Tropical Freeze is a trip to a time when games didn’t hold your hand or treat you like some sort of imbecile. It revels in its challenge and while there will be many moments of screaming and frustration, it never feels unfair, and that’s what makes this game great.

Super Mario 3D World Review

Nintendo are masters of their craft. Even with a series that has seemingly been around since the dawn of time, they still manage to amaze, astound, and create a sense of wonder that takes you back to your childhood years. All of these feelings come thick and fast with Super Mario 3D World. The time to own a Wii U is now.

Following the Super Mario Bros 2 rules, the playable characters are Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad, each having a different feel to their jumping. Following the initial character selection you’re treated to a charming little cut scene showing Bowser once again cause havoc and kidnap a bunch of fairy-like creatures called Sprixies. It’s nothing if not predictable, but then you don’t exactly play Mario games for their intricate plot.

Starting off as very reminiscent of Super Mario 3D Land, the best Mario game on the 3DS, levels are fully 3D, but still have that element of 2D about them. Able to walk around in a full 3D space, the majority of levels do still have a clear beginning and end, as opposed to the more exploration focus of a Mario 64 or Galaxy. The levels themselves are nothing but a joy, with not a single blemish in the many worlds you’ll explore. They may follow the familiar pattern of old (Ice, desert, fire etc.), but they do enough different with each level that you won’t care. From the short, but sweet Mario Kart throwback to the water slide dinosaur ride, each one will produce a smile on even the most jaded gamer’s face. It also helps that the game looks absolutely gorgeous. Who needs next-gen?

Mario and co do have a new suit to add to their already impressive arsenal, in the form of the cat suit. A lot has already been said about it, as it’s really hard to miss with cat Mario adorning the box and, for some reason, being one of the things pushed by Nintendo. Despite its weird and a little disturbing aesthetic, it does add to the experience. Giving the player the ability to climb up walls for a short time and a couple of new attacks, the wall climbing being the most important element, as it will be needed a lot when it comes to finding the hidden items across each level. It is a little disturbing though as while wearing the suit Mario will be running around on all fours and making cat noises. The fact that somewhere there was a 58 year old man in a recording booth making cat sounds into a microphone is a little disconcerting.

Aside from creepy cat suits there is also the addition of a cherry power up that clones the character. The more cherry power ups collected, the more clones created. Much like the cat suit there are levels built well around this feature, and that’s really what sets Mario 3D World apart from other games. Everything has a purpose, it’s a master-class in design that few companies are able to create. While, much like Nintendo’s other recent offering A Link Between Worlds, 3D World has one foot firmly rooted in the past while still exploring new ideas and gameplay tricks. There is a definite nostalgia in each world, with levels inspired by other games in the series, while classic themes are played and enemies re-appear.

The features of the Wii U are utilised, albeit sparingly. Firstly, after each level you’re able to post messages to the Mii-verse, it can be anything from helpful advice to your general opinion on the level, or maybe a terrible joke which was seen all too often. There are even stamps that can be found in each level depicting characters in the Mario universe that can be used in each message. It’s a simple system that has its charm. On top of this there also a few areas where the touch screen comes into play. Just simple pressing the block to make It move situations that thankfully don’t get too complex, as anyone whose held a Wii-U gamepad will attest, multi-tasking can be a challenging thing, especially when pinpoint jumping precision will be required.

What starts off as almost a walk in the park soon becomes a surprising challenge, with the latter worlds costing many a life. The challenge mostly coming from collecting the three stars hidden across each level, most being in hard to reach places that require platforming finesse. And once the final boss is defeated, it’s certainly not over yet as a further challenge rears its head.

A mastery of games design, Super Mario 3D World shows that Nintendo are still on top of their game. Blending the old and the new into platforming gold, this is everything we could’ve wanted and more. The reason to own a Wii U has arrived.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

It’s clear that no other Zelda game from years gone by would look this good in glorious HD. Originally released on the Gamecube, Wind Waker had something of a rocky time at first. A complete revamp of the graphical style, it was met with scorn, ridicule and general hatred from the more vocal of Zelda’s fans. It was an amusing and downright sad turn of events. Those who were able to overlook this ‘kiddy’ aesthetic were then treated to one of the best games in the series. An opinion that remains unchanged ten years later.

Once again the story of Link battling the forces of evil who hope to obtain the Triforce, what Wind Waker lacks in an original setup it makes up for on this new land you’re able to explore. Gone are the green fields and high mountains of Hyrule, and in its place is the Great Sea. A massive ocean populated by a number of islands you’re able to traverse and explore. Riding along Hyrule Field on Epona may have been a great moment in Ocarina of Time, but there’s something even better about Wind Waker and travelling around the sea on your boat The King of Red Lions. Just travelling along the ocean and seeing the islands in the distance get closer and closer before you arrive makes this on par with any other open-world game. The only scar on this otherwise beautiful moment being the disappointingly high amount of pop-up you’ll encounter. Not to mention the occasional framerate hiccups that occurs when the action heats up. Seeing as this is, at its heart, a Gamecube game makes it disappointing that technically it’s not on par with its graphical enhancements.

More than just a straight up port, Nintendo has put in some effort in ironing out the issues people had with the original. Some animations have been improved, getting hit no longer sends you flying off your boat and there is now a new, faster sail where the wind is always behind you. Meaning there’s no more need to use the Wind Waker to change wind direction constantly. That is if you find this new sail. Instead of being given to you as part of the main quest, it’s found during a side mission, something that can easily be missed. Which is surprising considering this was one of the main improvements that people seemed to really get behind.

Aside from the gameplay enhancements control has been seamlessly translated over to the gamepad. The second screen essentially acting as a pause menu where you can access your items or the map. Dragging each item to a button in order to equip. First person items also being able to be controlled using motion control if you so choose.

Wind Waker is probably one of the few Zelda games where the overworld is more interesting to explore than the dungeons are to conquer. That’s not to say the dungeons are bad, far from it, it’s just that each square of the wide world holds so many secrets that the main story becomes secondary to exploration. With each new item becomes a whole new way of finding hidden areas, usually containing heart pieces or treasure charts. The charts revealing hidden items on the sea floor that can be pulled up to your boat. While dungeons may feel like they’re taking a backseat, they still offer enjoyable moments. They may not revolutionise the design (if you’ve played a Zelda game before most of the puzzles will feel familiar), but they are still fun to explore and offer a decent challenge.

The wonderful world of Wind Waker is probably why the latter section of the game was never really an issue. Without spoiling, it requires a lot of travelling across the Great Sea. Obviously aware that this was people’s least favourite part of the game, Nintendo have now streamlined this section of the game, taking less time than it did before. This could be considered a welcome addition or not, depending on your opinion of the original.

Wind Waker HD may not be the Wii U debut fans were hoping for, many people possibly would’ve preferred an all new adventure. But what it does show is that nobody makes games quite like Nintendo. After ten years Wind Waker is still as magical as it was when it was first released. The Wii U is all of a sudden looking like a console worth considering.

Kung Fu Rabbit Review

It’s an ordinary day in the Kung Fu Rabbit dojo when it’s suddenly invaded by Aliens who kidnap the rabbits to eat later. One brave rabbit remains and it is now up to you to rescue your friends. It’s a 2D platform game somewhere between Super Meat Boy and N+ with a toned down difficulty (compared to those two), and rabbits. If that’s got your interest then read on.

Starting life as an iOS game, Neko Entertainment has given Kung Fu Rabbit a few alterations to make it more suitable for the Wii U. The most obvious of these is that in app purchases have been replaced by in game collectible currency in the form of carrots. The carrots can then be used to buy upgrades and new equipment to help you in your quest. The resolution has also been upgraded and the controls changed to make everything that little bit better.

The game is set out into around sixty small levels, with further bonus levels unlocked as you progress. The aim of each stage is not only to reach the captured rabbit at the end, but also to collect the three normal and one giant carrot found in each area. This starts out simply enough but soon requires real skill to achieve.

When you die you have to restart the stage from scratch and any carrots collected will need to be picked up again. This creates a nice risk/reward scenario where you will be always weighing up if you really need that last carrot right at the end of the stage.

Dying is also fairly easy. Enemies patrol the levels and will kill you with one touch. They can be taken out by our fearless rabbit, but each enemy needs to be approached in the correct way to despatch them. Attacks are carried out automatically and mistiming your approach will often end with the bad guy coming out on top.

Aside from the enemies there are numerous pits, spikes and toxic substances around to stop you as well. All this means you need quick reflexes and strong platforming skills to win the day. The main ability (aside from jumping), that our hero has is the ability to stick to walls and then hop up them. Using this technique is vital when trying to time your leaps properly. It also gives players time to assess the situation and plot their journey through the multitude of moving traps. When you complete the three worlds, even harder remix versions of the levels are unlocked to further test your skill and sanity.

Levels get more difficult quickly so you will need all the skills you have available. New dangers and obstacles are introduced every few levels and precise timing becomes more and more important as you progress. If things do become tough then you can take a trip to the dojo in order to stock up on items to help you. Items such as claws, extra chances and even an easier difficulty are available. You can also get new costumes for your rabbit and items to help reveal hidden passages.

Aside from the instant deaths, Kung Fu Rabbit is a beautifully cheerful game. The music sets a nice oriental mood (although one or two of the tunes could do with not looping quite so quickly).  The look of the game is also striking in a minimalist way. Graphics are clear and colourful and create a pretty, oriental, look throughout most of the levels. The design is simple but highly effective and it creates a focused style that works well.

Overall, Kung Fu Rabbit is a bit of a surprise. We didn’t expect much from it at first glance but this is a really good effort from the development team. Controls are intuitive and slick, and the game world is bright and charming. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable platform game that really deserves attention from Wii U owners and it looks great on the gamepad as well.

BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2: Legend of Rhythm Alien Review

After his exploits in the previous BIT.TRIP games Commander Video is back to running in everyone’s favourite retro themed series. To try and describe the madness of the plot is somewhat pointless but we can say it’s something to do with our hero crashing his spaceship in a strange place and then deciding to run a lot.

Unlike previous entries into the BIT.TRIP series, Runner 2 is no longer 8 bit styled in terms of how it looks. The stages are now rendered in a glorious array of crystal clear colours and everything is also much bigger on screen. There are still retro looking levels to be unlocked but the majority of the time you will be screaming along at breakneck speed in a more HD friendly landscape.

Gameplay is based on a fairly simple concept. You start at one end of the course and run continuously to the other. Players have no control over Commander Video’s running and he continues on until you reach the end of the stage or crash into something.

As you run along different types of obstacles will appear which need to be negotiated. This starts out with players simply needing to jump over things but on an almost level by level basis the obstacle count increases and thus, so do the moves needed to get past them.  Soon you’ll be locked in a rhythm of jumping, sliding, kicking, spinning and dancing in order to reach the end of each course.

As well as avoiding obstacles you also need to pick up the gold bars that are in each course. There are normally between thirty to sixty gold bars in each level and collecting them all triggers the chance to get bonus points by Commander Video being fired, head first, into a target at the end of the course. If you think the course is too easy you can also jump over the mid-point checkpoint to put the game into challenge mode for even more points. Still not enough? Then you can spend your fleeting free moments making our hero dance to gain even more points. The score attack aspect of Runner 2 is here to stay for a very long time.

Once you master that even more moves are introduced and everything keeps getting more hectic to the point it all begins to blur into a state you aren’t quite sure the human brain should be able to deal with. It’s at moments like this that you realise where the ‘rhythm’ part of the title comes from. Perhaps deceptively, Runner 2 is not really in the same category as endless runners such as Canabalt. It should really be grouped with games like Rrequency, Parappa the Rappa and is perhaps most similar to Vib-Ribbon.

Courses are also deceptively packed with things to find and navigate. Many of them have multiple routes with some leading to hidden objects such as new costumes, while others will take you to a different exit. This in turn will lead you to hidden levels or the much sought after ‘Key Vault’. Conquering the Key Vault will then open up even more routes and collectables in the courses found in that world.

An array of map icons is present for each course to help keep track of your progress with the ultimate goal to have each level completed, with all collectables found, the bonus bull’s eye hit at the end of the course and the mid-point checkpoint jumped so the game goes into challenge mode. Levels get hectic very early on so it’s a relief to find that each course gives you infinite lives to get through it. When you hit something you will move back to the last checkpoint and lose any points or objects you have acquired. The unlockable retro levels remain hardcore and give you three lives with which to navigate them.

The game can still be maddeningly frustrating at times as once you lose your rhythm in a level it can be near impossible to get back. You will persevere though as everything is fair and each collision results in a lack of skill from the player or in the fact you haven’t reacted to something quickly enough. Learning each level does come into play but we rarely came up against the sort of ‘memory test’ gaming with objects you had no way of avoiding first time that games like Donkey Kong Country used to employ.

Overall, it’s easy to recommend Runner 2 on any system. On the Wii U where there is a lack of decent games at the minute and it becomes a pretty essential purchase (and yes, it can be played on the pad). The charm and fun present are not easily found elsewhere and it’s great to see something which sets itself out as a pure gaming experience without the pretentious overtures that many bigger budget games now have. It’s both something old and something new and you should stop reading now and go and buy it.

 

Trine 2: Directors Cut Review

We’ll admit here at Gamestyle that we hadn’t really been paying much attention to the Trine series until it arrived on the Wii U eshop. As such, this review comes at you from a newcomer to the series point of view. This review also takes into account the recent update which improved graphical performance and added voice chat and pro controller support. As this the director’s cut you also get the expansion pack and an exclusive Wii U level as well.

Trine follows the adventures of a mage, knight and thief bound together by a magical artefact known as the Trine. A 2D puzzle platform game, Trine 2 tries to do something new with a genre more typically found back in the 16-bit era. Indeed, we found our thoughts drifting to The Lost Vikings as we began utilising the three hero’s unique abilities.

The knight is best at fighting and can use his shield to reflect light beams and deflect objects. The thief shoots arrows and can use a grappling hook and the mage can conjure and move objects. Each character can be upgraded by seeking out experience points in the form of magic bubbles. This unlocks further abilities such as exploding arrows, stealth abilities and a number of other things which help fight off the many Goblins and giant spiders you’ll encounter along the way.

With the different abilities on offer and different ways to play the developers have given the players multiple options in how to solve the puzzles. Playing single player has one character on screen which can be changed at any time, while multiplayer has all characters on screen at once. This means that certain puzzles would by default need a number of different ways to get through them.

The great thing is that the Trine world and physics are very tactile and effectively sets up a big toy box for you play around with to accomplish your task. Players who prefer the mage will be able to upgrade his abilities to summon large numbers of boxes and ramps to get around. While those using a mixture of the characters will find the need to use a combination of grappling hook swings, magical platforms and brute strength.

You could for instance spend time re-arranging pipes to get the water level right to reach a high ledge or alternatively use an ice arrow to freeze the pool and then stack some mage created boxes on it, while in multiplayer there would be much more opportunity for cooperative lever pulling . The choice is yours. We found this flexible approach refreshing and it meant that progression was always steady as you weren’t left searching for the one way the developer intended you to get through an area.

The first thing that strikes you about the game is just how jaw droopingly gorgeous the whole thing is. The backdrops and landscapes are beyond stunning. We have never seen a 2D game that looks so good. Sunbeams shine through leaves, ice glistens and everything looks as magical and enchanting as seems humanly possible. The attention to detail is staggering and this combined with the physics engine creates a solid and immersive world that you never tire looking at.

The music is also suitably epic with bold fantasy themed tunes subtly underscoring your adventure. Even better news is that Trine 2 has an excellent script and group of voice actors. As the heroes adventure their comments and conversation can’t help to raise a smile. Everything seems to have been done with just the right amount of tongue in cheek humour.

Graphics and sound are all good but don’t mean anything if the game doesn’t play well. For the first hour or so we were a little worried that the controls wouldn’t gel. But after that the gamepad controls feel like second nature. The only slight issue is having the action button just above the character change button. Initially we were swapping characters when we wanted to fight and this did cause a problem. However, you soon get used to it and after the first few levels it never posed an issue again. An option to configure controls would have been useful though.

The Wiimote and Nunchuck and Pro controller can be used but we found the gamepad the best. It’s worth noting that the old Wii classic controller is useless as the button used to change characters is miles away from anything else. You can play it solely on the gamepad as well.

The game itself is very smooth with everything acting as it should and combat working well. The only slight issues is that after years of playing games like Flashback and Prince of Persia we instinctively expect the edge of a platform to be in a certain part of the graphic. Trine 2’s is a little deeper and this left us missing jumps a number of times. Again, once you get used to it there is very little here to complain about, and if you get really stuck you can just head to the Miiverse and post a screenshot in the community area and await help.

This is a good thing as the game is pretty sizeable with the normal quest taking around ten hours and the add-on content pushing that up by another five to eight depending how good you are. Searching out all the hidden chests to get paintings, poems and the maps pieces needed to access the Wii U exclusive area will also take a fair amount of time.

Every level is strong and there was never a time when we found ourselves wanting the game to be over. It’s one of those titles that eats up your free time without you really realising it. When it ends you just wish there was more of it and we can honestly say this is the most pure fun we’ve had with a video game for years. Everything about Trine 2 just makes us smile and anyone slightly put off by the price tag really shouldn’t worry. The amount of value and enjoyment present here is to be commended and it’s clear the developers really have gone that extra effort to make something that deserves to be held up with the very best in the genre. In fact, we are a little disappointed this hasn’t been made a full retail release and the amount of content and quality on show certainly justifies it.

If you haven’t guessed by now we like this game a lot. It takes players on a magical and beautiful adventure while always remaining enjoyable and throwing in some absolutely stunning design. If you own a Wii U this game is as essential as anything else you can buy. This is definitive version of one of the best games to come out in an absolute age. There really is no excuse not to own it.

New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)

A new Mario game released with the launch of a new Nintendo console is always something to look forward to. However, though solid and enjoyable, the ‘New Super Mario’ brand has seemed somewhat tired of late. Both New Super Mario Bros Wii and New Super Mario Bros 2 were largely forgettable and by the numbers in terms of the quality we have come to expect from the heroic plumber.

With this in mind we approached New Super Mario Bros U with hesitation. We are delighted to say that what we found was a game with all the charm and style of the best in the series. This really is a game worthy of the Mario name.

Right from the first level you can tell something is different. It just feels so much better than other games in the NSMB series. Everything seems to have had that little bit more attention paid to it. The mechanics feel tighter, the music seems stronger and it looks absolutely beautiful – all little things that add up to something which just feels so much better than before.

It all starts with the world map which is now in the more traditional style of Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World instead of the line of levels running from left to right. It helps makes the multiple routes feel more like an exploration and the secret levels see paths winding off into unknown parts with islands popping up and rainbows forming. What is on display shows the imagination of classic Mario and this is also present in the level designs.

Many of the NSMB levels before this felt generic and tired. Here, levels are fast and devious and contain tricks and gimmicks that may only appear in a handful of places, or even just once. This means that players will come away with levels that they remember and love playing. Nothing is overdone and some of what is here equals the very best of Super Mario Bros level design.

One level in particular is set out in a spooky illustration style, a graphical effect which is present nowhere else in the game. One water level might have you dodging a continually circling dragon, while the next will see you climbing up through a series of water bubbles trapped in the air. Everyone will have their own favourites.

The bosses are also much better than NSMB2. The Koopa kids return along with Bowser Jnr and a few others. But this time they take more than five seconds to defeat. Still not as difficult as some of the bosses of old but at least now you feel a sense of achievement for toppling them.

In terms of power ups there are the usual suspects of the fire flower and invincibility star. The ice flower also returns (but is now much better implemented), and the mini mushroom makes very fleeting appearances. Yoshi is also here in both adult and baby form, though he will leave you at the end of a level. The new addition is that of the flying squirrel suit. This allows you to float over large distances and gives you one extra jump while in the air. This subtle difference to the Racoon, Cape and Tanooki costumes of the past allows for some excellent and clever use through the levels – something you’ll have to make good use of to find all the hidden coins.

The game is likely to last you a while as well. You can race through the main levels in three or four days but there are many secret routes to find and getting all three star coins will take a long time. Once all the coins in a land have been found it unlocks a Star Road level which will put your reflexes and brain to an even tougher test. Even with all the levels finished and secrets found we find it hard to believe any gamer would put it away and never play it again. It manages to capture that retro ethos of running through the levels you already know just for the sheer fun of it.

The social and multiplayer aspects of the game also work well. Whenever you do something such as collect all three star coins or get through a level without taking damage, the game invites you to post a message. This message can then be read by your friends and other gamers on the world map. The game also invites you to post if you have found a level particularly tough. This allows for gamers to give hints to each other or post warning in a kind of friendly version of Dark Souls savage system.

Challenges are available such as time trials and the coin attack mode found in NSMB2. There are also specific special challenges such as dodging fireballs or staying in the air for as long as you can by bouncing off Goomba heads. There is also a special boost mode which allows one player to play while the other adds platforms to help them through the level.

Multiplayer takes the form of Coin battle mode as players fight to gain the most coins. The four player story mode in the previous Wii game is also here and still proves as awkward and chaotic as ever. A fifth player can also join in to add platforms via the Wii U pad. The levels of the main game certainly seem to have been designed with single players in mind. It’s fair to say there’s nothing amazing here but they prove fun additions and distractions from the single player story game.

There may not be anything as revolutionary here as Super Mario galaxy but New Super Mario Bros U shows that the old 2D Mario still has the magic when the property is treated with care and affection. In truth this is a fine successor to Super Mario World and could have held the title of something closer to Super Mario World 5 (if we don’t count Yoshi’s Island). That alone should be enough to convince you to own a copy. It’s close but not quite strong enough to warrant a purchase of a Wii U on its own. However, it certainly is a game that every Wii U owner needs to have and by far the most fun Wii U game we’ve played so far.