platformer

Shinobi

Half-Hour Handheld

Shinobi 3ds CoverNintendo takes a lot of crap for its reluctance to provide even rudimentary online features, and rightfully so. But I have to admit, I'm a big fan of the Virtual Console service on Wii and 3DS. The convenience of having Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 all in the same tiny system was too much for me to ignore: I happily bought them all even while their systems and cartridges were mere feet away from my TV.

It's more rewarding, though, to discover classics that I missed out on as a kid. One such game was Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. Though I owned a Genesis as a kid, all I ever played were Sonic games. Cutting through the excellent ninja sidescroller via the Wii's emulation service, I felt as though I'd rectified a childhood oversight.

Retro revivals are all the rage, and Shinobi's getting in on the action on 3DS. The new game is a prequel, simply called "Shinobi" in accordance with the entertainment industry's efforts to confound posterity by recycling the same titles over and over again. Judging from the low poly character models, I actually suspect Shinobi 3DS actually began development on Nintendo's last generation DS and was hastily upgraded. But hey, it's not the visuals that matter to me, it's the tough-but-fair sidescrolling action. Let's see if that's still intact.

Super Mario 3D Land

Half-Hour Handheld

Super Mario 3d Land CoverNintendo likes to think that the Mario series is a good gateway into this hobby. To its credit, the original Super Mario Bros alone is responsible for millions of current video game enthusiasts (myself included). Even today, I've witnessed the welcoming effect that games like New Super Mario Bros and casual-friendly spinoffs like Mario Party have on those who rarely touch games.

There's one segment of Mario's work that is an exception, far out of beginners' reach: Super Mario 64 and its successors in the same 3D platforming vein are not for newbies. I thought otherwise before I observed a friend floundering through the opening stage of Super Mario Galaxy for nearly an hour, steaming with frustration all the way. He can wind his way around a Mario Kart course. He outwitted GLaDOS at his own slow, careful pace. He even made admirable progress in Ninja Gaiden Sigma (on easy mode, yes, but Ninja Gaiden all the same). And yet, Mario's least-demanding 3D outing was far too much for him.

Nintendo sees this and offers Super Mario 3D Land. Borrowing aesthetics and rules from the NES games that birthed millions of today's gamers, the first Mario game for Nintendo's 3DS aims to nosedive the barrier of entry. That's a tall task in and of itself, but I'm more concerned that all this catering to beginners will diminish the things I love about 3D Mario: 64's complex and joyful movements, Sunshine's sprawling, layered environments, and Galaxy's inventive scenarios. Novices can work their way up to 3D Mario like I did, so don't deprive me of the next Super Mario 64 for their sake! What can I say? I'm selfish.

But Nintendo has earned my faith when it comes to Mario, so I start the game wary but eager.

Kirby's Return to Dream Land

Full Review

Kirbys Return Dream Land CoverFor the longest time, all I wanted from Nintendo was a new Kirby game with awesome copy abilities like in Kirby Super Star. No franchise has a track record like Kirby when it comes to spinoffs and experiments, but the SNES classic that boasted "8 games in one" is the series' greatest feat. For over a decade, my wish went unfulfilled.

But hey, we finally got one, appropriately dubbed Kirby's Return to Dream Land! It's exactly what I wanted: the twenty standard copy abilities are the series' best, with strong debuts and enhanced returns counted among Kirby's repertoire. It's amazing how many tricks you have up your sleeve with just a D-pad and a single button.

You have to be careful what you wish for, though. When dealing with a genie or blowing out your birthday candles, always make sure to choose your words deliberately and plan for stipulations and potential fallouts. Otherwise, you might end up with Kirby's Return to Dream Land, a game with tons of cool attacks and not much worth attacking.

Kirby Mass Attack

Full Review

Kirby Mass Attack CoverLike the titular pink puff, the Kirby series has worn many hats in its nineteen years. Almost every 2D action-platformer has been partnered with an experimental pinball sim or an arcade racer or some amazing miniature golf mutation. As much as I enjoy each iteration of the main Dream Land style, the spinoffs are what really intrigue me, even when they fail. Sure, Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble may be unplayable with the Game Boy Color's dark screen and restrictive viewing angle, but it broke ground for motion controls six years before Wii Sports taught us to waggle.

It's a good season for Kirby fans, as we get a bit of both sides in under two months. Kirby's Return to Dream Land in October looks like the long-awaited Super Star successor, and September sees Kirby get multiplied in Kirby Mass Attack. Revisiting the stylus-centrism of Canvas Curse, Mass Attack tasks players with flicking, dragging, and leading up to ten Kirbys at a time through a puzzle platforming adventure. It's not the most eye-opening Kirby spinoff -- the concept is essentially a pared-down Pikmin -- but it makes the most of a middling concept.

Kirby Canvas Curse was widely dubbed the Nintendo DS's first worthy purchase. Kirby Mass Attack may be its last.

MotoHeroz [Video]

First Hour Review

Motoheroz CoverAlthough it's common to see a physics engine mentioned in the opening credits of current generation titles, games that are driven by calculated friction, momentum, and the like are still so rare. Trials HD is one of the few I've experienced that uses complex physics as a gameplay core, rather than merely governing how crates jump and limp bodies flail after an explosion. Tellingly, Trials HD is also among the generation's most unique games, a blend of platformer, simulation, and racer that make it impossible to define with current genre labels and difficult for new players to grasp.

Developer RedLynx appears to preserve that essence and curtail the frustration in MotoHeroz, a WiiWare title that replaces Trials HD's injury-prone dirtbike rider with durable, tumbling buggies. Trials's garage skatepark courses are also traded for platformer-adventure mainstays like forests, snowfields, and deserts. Strip away the Wii-appropriate aesthetics, however, and the game seems to be a kinder Trials romp, very much the approachable but deep physics showcase of its Xbox 360 and PC cousins.

I spent an hour bounding through the Story Adventure and climbing the leaderboards in some daily online challenges. Check out some of the footage pulled from that sixty minutes.

Bionic Commando and Bionic Commando

First Hour Review

Bionic Commando nes CoverThere once was a game named Bionic Commando, and then twenty years later there was another game named Bionic Commando. In some media, this would be called a remake, but when one features a generic soldier battling through different locations with a grappling hook and the other features a dreadlocked dude battling through an office building with cheesy one-liners, I wonder where the remake line is drawn.

Bionic Commando was released for the NES in 1988 by Capcom. It landed among a glut of platformers where characters did normal things like run and jump, but Bionic Commando bucked the trend and put you in the body of a slow-moving soldier with only his grappling hook at hand to move vertically. Its combination of solid but difficult gameplay and a branching level select entrenched it in the mind of gamers, which led to...

Bionic Commando was released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows in 2009 by Capcom. It landed among a glut of actiony-platformer shooters where characters shot things until they died, and Bionic Commando did not buck the trend. Its combination of generic yet insulting gameplay and derivative story made it largely a totally forgotten game.

Neither Bionic Commandos is meant to be confused with Bionic Commando: Rearmed, which is an actual remake of Bionic Commando (for the NES), and released a year before Bionic Commando (the forgotten one on the more whiz-bangery systems). Or Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2, which is a sequel to the remake released before the game with the same name as the original.

I've played around with this tom-foolery before, particularly with Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden. A pair of games that both featured the same name and ninjas, but that's about it.

I'm going to play the first half-hour of each Bionic Commando, which adds up to an hour of Bionic Commandoness. I will then judge them entirely on 30 minutes of gaming and move on with my life.

Infamous 2 - Video

First Hour Review

Infamous 2 CoverI vividly recall some trials and frustrations in my time with the original inFAMOUS (not the least of which was that horrible spelling which will henceforth be abandoned), but overall I really enjoyed the game. As much as the sticky platforming, messy mission design, and transparent morality system bothered me, I ultimately had a great time surfing on power lines, tossing electric grenades, and guiding a concentrated lightning storm down alleys of soon-to-be-corpses. It was inevitable that the game would get a sequel due to its ending (and the sad, predictable nature of this industry), and I really hoped that Sucker Punch would iron out a few of the teeth-grating problems I had with the original.

Lo and behold, it's one month and two years later, and there's another Infamous game. Boasting a locale with more colors than gray, melee combat that's not completely worthless, and the promise of acquiring more elemental powers, Infamous 2 certainly seems like the kind of sequel that boasts incremental improvements over the original and hasn't yet worn out the franchise's welcome. Pretty typical of a "2," really.

I find it amusing that the game arrived in my mailbox last Monday, the same day that Sony featured a trailer from the game in its E3 conference. Shortly after their presentation, I had my first taste of Infamous 2. I grabbed three clips from my first hour: arrival at the new sandbox city of New Marais, the first new power tutorial, and an early choice between good and evil sidequests.

Rayman 3D

Half-Hour Handheld

Rayman 3d CoverPlatformers may be my favorite genre. Maybe I'm a product of the era I grew up in, when so many developers tried to beat Super Mario Bros. at its own game. Most failed, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the multitude of games that celebrated the uncomplicated joy of running and jumping skillfully across tricky terrain.

That said, the move from sprites to polygons did not treat the platformer kindly. So many of the colorful characters that were born in two dimensions were simply confounded by a third axis. I can only think of a handful of 3D platformers I've really enjoyed, and almost all of them begin with the words "Super Mario." To be fair, my standards are very high, and my definition of "platformer" is quite narrow as well.

And I've missed out on more than a few fondly-remembered 3D platformers, one of which is Rayman 2: The Great Escape. Originally released for the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast, Rayman's first sequel (and first step into 3D) has become a cult classic of sorts. It's at least popular enough for Ubisoft to revive the game for the 3DS, just as it had seven years ago for the launch of the original Nintendo DS. Actually, according to Wikipedia, this game has been ported from the Nintendo 64 to Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Dreamcast, iPod Touch, and PC, in sum.

So how does Rayman 2 hold up after ten years and two ports to a picky platforming purist like me? And do the 3DS' stereoscopic visuals add a significant difference to the experience, as Nintendo claimed they could?

VVVVVV

Full Review

Vvvvvv CoverNot often will games come along and surprise you these days.  In our age of information, developers and publishers go to great lengths to push their products.  Specifically, they hope to get fans hyped enough to buy the game day 1 as well as keeping the title in the public mind for continued spontaneous purchases of their product.  This is why we're rarely surprised and blown away by a game.  For me, VVVVVV was that type of game.

Monster Tale

Full Review

Monster Tale CoverI love genre mashing, and Monster Tale is certainly a special case of mixed, but excellent heredity. We have the popular and super combination of Metroid and Castlevania, plus monster training that mixes Pokemon, Tamagotchi, and E.V.O.: Search for Eden. Excellent genes also bears the burden of high expectations, however, can Monster Tale possibly meet them?

Released on the Nintendo DS late last month, Monster Tale was developed by DreamRift and published by Majesco. It pairs up a young girl and her monster that evolves and grows throughout the game. Trapped in a world ran by children who think themselves royalty, our young heroine is a bit like Dorothy in Oz, just with Chomp for companionship.

I originally meant to write at least a half-hour handheld review of Monster Tale, but I kept playing and before I knew it, the game was over. Here is my review of Monster Tale for the Nintendo DS.

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