Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year of Gaming (2014)

At the end of every year since the start of What They Call Games, I take a look back at all of the games I played during the year and give brief reviews of them. They aren't always the newest or most popular games; they're just whatever I happened to play during the year. And... here... they... are!!

Sonic Generations (PS3)
Maybe it was the nostalgia of playing 3D versions of classic Sonic levels, but Generations was the most fun I've had with a Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 2. The levels were consistently cool, fast, and fun. It still wasn't perfect - the story was lamer than ever and there were a lot of points where simply running and boosting got you through - but I still had a great time with it and fully intend to go back for 100% completion one of these days.

Spelunky (PC)
I freaking love Spelunky. It's tough as a raw steak, but oh-so-satisfying once you get good at it. This new remake adds tons of new content, easily making it worth the purchase. Basically, the gist is that you go down randomly generated 2D caves, collect treasure, and avoid traps. It's all about learning how to avoid the obstacles and adapting to the situations so that you can survive with whatever you have. I highly recommend it for gamers who like a challenge or who like roguelikes.
Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) (Related post)
Whoa. This game really is as good as the hype says (for the most part, if you like this sort of game). The story is awesome, the environments are huge and beautiful, and there's an insane amount of side quests. Here's hoping that Xenoblade Chronicles X will be even better.

Antichamber (PC)
This is a really unique first person puzzle game with weird puzzles that turn physics and spacial logic on their heads. It's a bit disappointing that the puzzles turn from that craziness to block moving puzzles during the second half of the game, but it's still really cool and worth checking out. Just don't spoil it for yourself by watching videos of it for too long.

Guacamelee! (PC) (Review)
I loved Guacamelee! so much that I played it twice in a row. It's a Metroidvania style game with controls and combat similar to Super Smash Bros.. The music rocks, the story is amusing, and there's lots of optional challenges that'll challenge even the most hardcore gamer. I can't recommend it enough.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC)
As a critic and gamer, I can tell this is a great game with lots to do and many ways to do it, especially with the insane amount of mods out there. But at the same time, I wasn't able to get into it personally. The story wasn't interesting enough to hold my attention, the world was filled with the same drab colors and unexciting locations, and I just couldn't find a reason to motivate myself to explore another cave.
Depths of Boatmurdered (PC) (Review) (Free download)
I may be slightly biased on this one considering it was made by my old college roommate and beta tested by yours truly, but seriously, it's surprisingly great. It's a horror game from a top-down perspective inspired by the "Boatmurdered" LP of Dwarf Fortress. You don't need to know anything about that to enjoy it though. It plays like a linear Zelda game and while it isn't really that scary, it has a few creepy bits and several epic bits. And it's free, so check it out!

Outland (PS3)

I bought Outland expecting a Metroidvania game, but it didn't turn out to have that much exploration and was more of just a series of levels that were incidentally connected to a central hub. But that doesn't mean it was bad; it's a very enjoyable and visually appealing platforming game with a tricky light/dark switching mechanic. Depending on whether you're switched to light or dark, you can dodge light or dark bullets, interact with light or dark platforms, and attack light or dark enemies. It's not a perfect game - I would've liked it to have some more background music, for example - but it's definitely worth checking out.

Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC)

I heard that this game was made by one guy, which makes it even more incredible. Dust looks great and plays great. I felt like the story was a bit of a letdown after its promising build up, but basically everything else about the game is fantastic. Once again, fans of Metroidvania games [and furries] should check this one out.

Dustforce (PC)

If you enjoyed Super Meat Boy, Dustforce will probably be right up your alley. It's a tough as butts technical platforming game that has you racing through stages to clean stuff up. It's simple to play, but insanely difficult to master. And there are plenty of levels that demonstrate just how high the skill ceiling can be. Also, the soundtrack is wonderful.
Puppeteer (PS3) (Review) (Video playlist)
As as platforming game, Puppeteer has some puzzling design choices/flaws: collectible heads that offer little benefit, somewhat awkward marionette inspired physics, longer than necessary tutorials, and secrets found by examining every background object. However, it's still a joy to play and is worth checking out for its brilliant art direction and charming fairy tale story. If you're one of the few with a Playstation Move and a 3D TV, Puppeteer was made to demonstrate the potential of those options as well.

Tokyo Jungle
(PS3) (Review)
Now this is an odd one. In Tokyo Jungle, you play as an animal in post-apocalyptic Tokyo and have to find food, avoid predators, and mate in order to survive as long as you can. The graphics may look like a PS2 game and there may be annoying invisible walls all over the place, but once you get the hang of it, it's surprisingly fun. It's a bit boring starting from the beginning every time (if you're not doing story mode) since you pretty much do the same things every time to start, but there are randomized challenges and events so each playthrough isn't exactly the same. It's not quite a roguelike, but it's close. If you like that sort of thing, check it out.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Well, it's probably the best Mario Kart game yet, but it doesn't really do much different. It's got a bunch of new tracks and characters in glorious HD and antigravity bits that let you bump into other racers for a boost. The gameplay is as great as always, but comparing it to other kart racing games, it has next to no single player content. It would've been nice if it had additional single player missions and variations on the standard racing. Also, no battle mode arenas? What gives!?

Risk of Rain (PC)
It's a randomized actiony platformy multiplayery game! It's quite fun since you never know what kind of items you're going to get and because each character has a very unique play style. I just wish the areas were more randomized. As it is, they pretty much just move some ladders around.

Knytt Underground (PC) (Review)
I've been a fan of Nifflas's Within a Deep Forest and Knytt Stories for a while now, so I was hyped to finally try Knytt Underground, which combines gameplay elements from both of the aforementioned games. The world to explore is huge and there are a lot of secrets, but overall I was a bit disappointed. Even though the world is so big, you get all of your abilities early on so there isn't really much progression, causing it to get old before the end. It would've been nice if there were new abilities to find rather than just arbitrary quest items.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D (3DS)
Donkey Kong Country Returns was a fantastic and challenging platforming game on Wii and that transfers pretty well to 3DS. This version has a bonus world of new levels, though they aren't really all that spectacular. Thankfully, the waggle controls from the Wii version are now mapped to a button. Un-thankfully, there are points where the small 3DS screen makes it somewhat hard to see during parts when you're in the background. It doesn't really matter much which version you play, but I highly recommend DKCR in one form or another.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+ (PC)

It's Pac-Man for the modern gamer! Actually, even though it looks similar to ye olde Pac-Man, it plays pretty differently. It's fast paced and makes getting a high score super satisfying with huge trails of ghosts that chase you and then consequently turn to blue. Unfortunately, after a bit of playing, you'll probably notice that the gameplay is a bit too simple and repetitive. You could say the same thing about the original Pac-Man, but since getting a high score in Championship Edition just amounts to making the same obviously correct turns without messing up rather than reacting to unexpected situations like in the original, I don't see it having the staying power of the classic arcade game.

Kirby Triple Deluxe (3DS) (Review)
After the masterpiece that was Kirby's Return to Dreamland, I had high hopes for the similarly styled Kirby Triple Deluxe. And, well, it ain't bad. It just ain't spectacular either. It has the spiffy 3D gimmicks you'd expect from a 3DS game - better than most 3DS games even - and it has the fantastic Kirby gameplay from Return to Dreamland. However, it lacks the amount of content that Return to Dreamland had and its level design rarely grows beyond simplistic proofs of concept. It's a fun game, but it's disappointing to see it so close to being amazing and fall short due to merely average level design.
Pikmin 3 (Wii U)
I hadn't played Pikmin since the stressful experience of renting the original soon after getting a GameCube, but I'm sure glad that I gave Pikmin 3 a chance. The stress is gone, thanks to a generous time limit that encourages efficiency without being prohibitive. It's beautiful and unique. The satisfaction of exploring new areas and finding new fruit and enemies brought me back to my first experiences with 3D gaming in Nintendo 64 collect-a-thon games. The single-player campaign is a tad short and annoyingly doesn't tie up many loose ends in the plot, but the additional challenge modes and multiplayer modes help to add a good bit of extra content. If you asked my sister, she'd probably say this was the game of the year for her (even though it came out in 2013).

Odama (GCN) (Video playlist)
I'm a sucker for bizarre experimental games, so when I heard there was a voice-controlled strategy-pinball hybrid game, I knew I had to try it. Odama certainly brings something new to the pinball genre, but even though the voice controlled commands work pretty well for ordering your troops around, hitting your target with the flippers and pinball is as awkward and unpredictable as ever. Maybe I'm just not a pinball wizard, but the struggle of trying to hit a pinball with precision was too much frustration for me to handle.

Rayman Legends (Wii U)
Rayman Origins was one of the best platforming games in years and Legends is more of the same in all the right ways. It feels a tad easier than Origins, but maybe that's just because I got better. Easier or not, every level is a blast to play and feels even better designed than the previous game's levels. If you like platforming games at all, Rayman Legends is a must-play.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch 

Ni no Kuni is almost fantastic, but then a bunch of minor flaws make it just a little above average. The story starts strong, but then stagnates for hours. Core gameplay elements are inexplicably withheld from you until certain points in the game. Voice acting is disappointingly sparse. And most quests are mind-numbingly simple and repetitive. It's too bad, because the game otherwise looks great and has a pretty unique and fun battle system. The characters are likable and the voice acting and translation/writing are great whenever there actually is voice acting. I just wish more time could have been spent during development to iron out the obvious flaws.

The entire Virtual Boy library (Related post)
This year I played and beat all 22 games on Nintendo's failure of a console, the Virtual Boy. Contrary to popular belief, there are games worth playing on the console. In fact, most of the games are good or great with their only flaw being the short length which plagues every system's launch games. If you haven't already, give Virtual Boy games a second look and a second chance.

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS / Wii U (3DS/Wii U)
Not much has changed in the transition to this latest version of Smash Bros., but all of the minor tweaks have brought welcome improvements to the already fantastic gameplay. It's incredible that, like Pokemon, the Super Smash Bros. series has been able to cater so well to both casual players and competitive players. Everything about the series is like a masterful love song to the history of Nintendo. Personally, I would've preferred that the content of the 3DS version had been merged into one game on Wii U, but it's cool to have a portable version I guess. Smash 4 is a masterpiece of gaming.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (PC) (Related post)

This game is super fun and even better than Mario Kart in many ways (which I wrote about in the related post). I loved how many single player challenges there were and that the difficulty could really be cranked up high. I didn't love that the plane and boat controlled a bit awkwardly and simply weren't as fun as driving the kart. With just a bit more polish, the next Sonic kart racing game really could surpass Mario Kart in greatness.

.hack//Versus (PS3)
It's a fighting game with .hack characters and it also includes a full-length .hack movie on the disc as well (exclusively in Japanese with no English subtitles). The character and stage selection is disappointingly small, but what characters are available all have very unique play styles. Also, the story mode has optional missions on each fight which unlock stuff. Most importantly, (as far as I'm concerned anyway) the controls are intuitive and easy to learn unlike the awkward button combinations of most arcade-style fighting games. Even though the controls are simple, there's a surprising amount of depth as well. I like it and wish there was more of it.

That's it for this year! Coming next year: a huge backlog! See you then!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

FTW: Upcoming mod makes local multiplayer-only Wii games playable online

The pair of hackers/modders behind the few spiffy Mario Kart 8 hacks and a bunch of other neat stuff on MrBean35000vr's channel have just done it again! At the moment this post is being written, they have just unveiled an alpha version of online multiplayer for New Super Mario Bros. Wii on their Twitch channel.
The mod is still early in its stages of development, but it has been demonstrated to work between a Wii and a Wii U both playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii (and splitscreen Mario Kart Wii as a proof of concept). The mod won't allow single player games to become multiplayer or allow for more players than normal, but it will let you play with other people across the world online, even for offline multiplayer games. It even works if a player enters the Wii's Home screen.
As of now, there are a few limitations: it's fairly easy for the players to desynchronize (shaking the remote will do it, for instance) and loading times are extremely long. Also, half the screen is covered by a console, but that is only for development purposes. It's likely that certain games will also require game-specific fixes in order for them to be fully functional with this mod. Using the same mod, it will also be possible to act as a spectator to another player's game session and playing GameCube games and Virtual Console games online may also be possible.
It's pointless, but as a proof of concept, you can also play splitscreen MKWii multiplayer online.
For more up to date information, check out MrBean35000vr's Youtube channel. As of now, the mod isn't yet available to the public, but you can be sure that something this good will be released for all to enjoy just as soon as more of the bugs are ironed out. Stay tuned!

Update: Official demonstration here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

5 Things Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed Does Better Than Mario Kart 8

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is good. Dang good. Maybe not quite better than Mario Kart 8 overall - its name is way too long for one thing - but it still does a bunch of stuff better than Mario Kart. It makes me wonder if the developers of recent Mario Kart games are just slacking because they know you'll buy the games anyway... Well, in any case, let me tell you some cool stuff about Sonic & Blahblah Transformed, counting down to what I consider to be the biggest and best things.

#5 - In-game achievements which can be displayed on your license
In Mario Kart, there's no one place to go to marvel at all your achievements. That's not a huge deal. What's a bigger deal is that there's no way to show off your achievements publicly next to your name when playing online as you can in Racing Transformed. You can't even have stars next to your name in Mario Kart 8 any more for beating all the grand prix with star rank or higher. In Racing Transformed, not only are there unlockable stickers for doing obvious things like winning a grand prix, beating staff ghosts, and progressing through World Tour, there are also fun achievements for stuff like passing a certain number of people in a single drift or having a certain accuracy percentage with attack items. Out of all the stickers unlocked, you can pick three to put on your license, which will show next to your name while waiting in online lobbies. Also, you can view any other player's license and statistics in more detail at this time as well. It sure would be nice if Mario Kart let you do that.

#4 - You can change your character/vehicle between online races
Note that I played on the Steam version and that characters vary between versions.
In Mario Kart, you'd better be sure you picked the vehicle you want when playing online, because you won't be able to change it again without leaving the lobby. This is in spite of the fact that, in an interview somewhere I can't find any more, one of the developers of Mario Kart 8 acknowledged that different vehicles have the advantage on different types of tracks. That's to be expected. So why can't you change your vehicle in between races? Well, you can in Racing Transformed. After the next track is selected, there's a bit of time for you to strategically change to a vehicle suited for that track.

#3 - Tracks transform between laps
Differences are usually much greater than a floating island getting blown up, but harder to show in screenshots.
Does this happen in Mario Kart? I don't think so. Except in Grumble Volcano (Wii) where the ground falls away throughout the race and in that one homebrew course, tracks rarely change at all throughout the race. In Racing Transformed, on the other hand, pretty much every track changes between laps. Usually this makes use of the game's transforming gimmick by having parts of the track be destroyed or rerouted so that you're forced into boat or plane mode. It's not hugely necessary, but the dynamic nature of all the tracks certainly makes them more interesting and is a fun twist.

#2 - Tricks require risk, not just a guaranteed boost
It may be hard to tell in this screenshot, but I'm flipping out right now.
The tricks introduced in Mario Kart Wii are dumb. The reason why is that they're essentially guaranteed speed boosts that require no skill whatsoever. All you need is the knowledge that a trick can be performed at that particular place and the press / mash of a button. It's a freebie. There may as well be a boost pad at those trick points because it'd be just as easy to get the boost. But, in Racing Transformed, doing tricks for boosts actually requires a bit of skill. Instead of pushing a button for an instant, unfailable trick after every jump, tricks can be performed anywhere you can get air. Not only that, but you can do front flips and back flips and more than one at a time for greater boosts upon landing. That means that you have to judge how many flips you can fit in before landing and need to time them to be not too early or too late. This way of handling tricks is more skill-based and more fun - much better than Mario Kart's mindless button presses.

#1 - There are more single player challenges than just Grand Prix and Time Trials
One of my biggest complaints about the Mario Kart series is the games' lack of single player content. You always get grand prix and time trials and that's it. I thought we were making progress with Mario Kart DS's Mission Mode, but then that was gone in every future sequel. Laziness! That's what this is! Thank goodness Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has this covered with a buttload of fun different challenges on each of the tracks, each with four different difficulties to attempt (not to mention the sticker achievements mentioned earlier). These aren't just races. There are drifting challenges, where you have to try to drift within a certain area to keep the clock from counting down, there are traffic avoiding challenges, boost pad hitting challenges, deathmatch challenges, tank boss destroying challenges, and more. Winning on harder difficulties nets you more stars, which let you progress through this World Tour mode and unlock new vehicle mods and characters. This mode offers a range of challenge and makes unlocking things more satisfying and fun. Grand Prix and Time Trials are still there, of course, but World Tour is far better suited for a single player experience. Mario Kart's Grand Prix: a monotonous character/track-unlocking prerequisite. Racing Transformed's World Tour: a mode that uses existing tracks in new ways and offers a fun break from online multiplayer that you'll actually want to play. Let's hope that Mario Kart gets with the program and starts doing more than simply being a bunch of new tracks with each game.

Agree? Don't? Let me know in the comments! 

Monday, December 8, 2014

What does Bowser want with fairies?

Shout out to Gnoggin for turning this into a YouTube video!
Most Mario games aren't exactly know for their stories. Generally, Bowser captures the Princess and the Mario Bros. have to rescue her. No one questions it because bad guys capturing princesses is just an accepted and normal part of non-reality at this point. Bowser doesn't need a reason; he just captures the princess because that's what he does. Maybe it's a show of strength or something, like a way of laying claim to the Mushroom Kingdom. Whatever. It doesn't matter. It's normal. What's not normal is capturing fairies, which is what he does in Super Mario 3D World (technically, they're "sprixies" in the English, German, and Dutch translations, but let's be honest, they're fairies).
Okay, so if you're not familiar with the beginning of Super Mario 3D World, it goes like this: Peach, Toad, and the Mario Bros. are walking around checking out fireworks when Toad spots a mysterious crystal pipe. Mario and Luigi do their jobs for once and fix the plumbing, just in time for a bunch of unregulated foreign powerups, which will surely destroy the Mushroom Kingdom's ecosystem and economy, to spill out, followed by one of the aforementioned fairies. The fairy hurriedly explains that Bowser is capturing fairies in bottles, when, lo and behold, Bowser himself pops out of crystal pipe, sticks the fairy in a bottle, and escapes back into the Sprixie Kingdom. Now, an interesting thing to note at this point is that Mario and Luigi show no sign of going to save the fairy until Peach falls into the pipe. That doesn't relate to the story in any way as far as I can tell, but it does shed a bit of light on the Mario Bros. character.
Upon exiting the crystal pipe, the adventure has begun and the rest of the game is simply running and jumping through levels and rescuing each fairy princess from the castle at the end of each world. But why, after all this time of persistently wreaking havoc in the Mushroom Kingdom, did Bowser seemingly give up on Peach to capture the sprixies of the Sprixie Kingdom? It could be simply that he likes taking over places and that capturing sprixies is the natural progression of his princess capturing obsession, but I like to think that Bowser isn't as simple minded as that.
One must keep in mind that all of these games are told from the Mario Bros. perspective and thus portray them as the infallible protagonists and Bowser as the mindless villain. However, even with this intentional bias and deception in favor of the Mario Bros., it is possible to glimpse some of the truth behind Bowser's motives. Just because Bowser is a bad guy, that doesn't necessarily make him a bad guy after all. It doesn't make him necessarily not a bad guy either, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt. In fact, Bowser was directly involved in saving the Mushroom Kingdom and Star Road during the events of Super Mario RPG, as well as defeating Fawful during Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. There are other examples as well of Bowser being a force of good. He usually tries to mask these good actions with selfish motives, but that's really just his awkward way of trying to be humble. Even capturing Peach was likely done with good intentions; in Super Mario Sunshine, he does so because he wants his son to have a mother. I suspect that his motives in 3D World were similarly altruistic.
Consider what is unique about the sprixies. Whenever Mario rescues one, they are shown to be able to build crystal pipes out of thin air in mere seconds. It's unclear whether they're only able to build pipes, but one would think that they can also magically build other things. I theorize that Bowser captured the sprixies in order to harness their magical building powers. Sure, he probably could have just asked them for help, but Bowser isn't exactly known for his social skills. But what would Bowser want to build? Castles. Bowser clearly has a thing for castles and somehow has at least one new castle in every game and often several for his minions. Castles aren't cheap, and even if he builds them with slave labor, they take a while to build. Keeping sprixies on staff would make castle building a cinch. 
Now, you're probably wondering how this is altruistic. The answer is that Bowser no longer has to capture Peach and steal her castle or any other occupied castles since he can build his own, in a totally separate kingdom no less. Furthermore, going by percentage, very few of Bowser's castles are actually built for himself. Instead, he can now reward his loyal followers with their very own castles. But that's not all! Near the end of 3D World, we see that Bowser has also built a large amusement park. Seriously. It's an amusement park. What could be more fun, happy, and non-evil than that? Once again, Bowser just wants to reward his friends and family with a fun place to hang out. And Mario has to come and ruin everything again. That jerk.

But that's just a theory. A game theory! It's better than the in-game story though. Let's just give Bowser a break for once. He may be socially awkward, but he just wants what's best for his koopa troop and child(ren).

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...