Half-Hour Handheld Reviews

  • Kid Icarus: Uprising

    Half-Hour Handheld

    kid Icarus Uprising CoverEarlier this month, I played through the original Kid Icarus for the first time. It's a golden-age Nintendo oddity with a novel mishmash of action and RPG (novel in 1986, anyway) that provides more frustration than fun. It's okay, I guess.

    But through the years, enough fans yearned for a revival of Kid Icarus that an online petition could always be found on any sizable video game forum. Unfortunately for these die-hards, Nintendo never gives its fans exactly what they want: it instead creates something new that resembles fan demands. Besides, Kid Icarus was a strange game. The only aspect of it I could see living on was the oddball Cupid Versus Eggplants theme.

    Apparently Nintendo saw that too, because the new Kid Icarus: Uprising celebrates its strange heritage in a game style closer to Star Fox than a return to the original's platforming-action formula. Lifetime Kid Icarus fans are no doubt disappointed, but I couldn't be happier: the rail-shooting half of Uprising bears a strong resemblance to my 2010 Game of the Year, Sin & Punishment Star Successor, and the on-foot arena melees look no less enjoyable. Could Kid Icarus: Uprising be the 3DS's first worthy purchase of 2012?

  • Pushmo

    Half-Hour Handheld

    Pushmo CoverAfter languishing in a void of lackluster retail releases, lame battery issues, and an eShop brimming with nothing original to play, the Nintendo 3DS is starting to come around as a solid system to have and to hold. Okay, well, the battery issues still remain a problem, but whatever, at least there's befitting videogames to finally play on the dang thing. Since launching in June 2011, the system's eShop has featured 3DS Classics, such as Excitebike and TwinBee, Virtual Console re-releases, such as Kirby's Dream Land and Mario Picross, and then original 3DSWare games, such as...well, not much really. A handful of titles, but nothing too memorable.

    However, word around the Interwebz is that Pushmo (called Pullbox in Europe), the newest release for 3DSWare, is pretty stellar, akin to Picross 3D in terms of its puzzles and addictive nature. Seeing as I ate up over 350 puzzles in Picross 3D, more puzzles for on the go is something I need and quickly handed over my ecash to Nintendo.

    So, let's push and pull some blocks for thirty minutes and hopefully have a fantastic time.

  • 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.

  • Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker

    Half-Hour Handheld

    Dragon Quest Monsters Joker CoverTwo franchises I consider to be inherently Japanese are Dragon Quest—really, Dragon Warrior—and Pokemon, and both were born under the mighty and massive RPG tree, but have had their fair share of spin-offs. With Pokemon, its ranged from zaniness like taking pictures to brawling with other well-known gaming characters to rogue dungeon crawlers. As for Dragon Quest, they took a page out of their younger sibling's book, releasing Dragon Warrior Monsters in 1999 for the Game Boy Color; in it, a young boy is out to save his sister by collecting monsters, breeding them, and pitting them against other monsters. Pretty close to the Pokemon formula, but naturally featuring the classic monsters of the Dragon Quest franchise. Things like slimes, gremlins, and wyverns. There was more of a focus on taming monsters than simply capturing them, too. But it hooked players nonetheless.

    The monster-raising series has continued on over the years, and I'm here today to give TOSE's 2007 Nintendo DS release Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker a try, a few weeks shy of the sequel's release. I have no expectations other than Pokemon mixed with my favorite classic RPG monsters, and maybe some light implementation of the DS touchscreen. And I hope the joker subtitle has nothing to do with that crazy jester from Dragon Quest VIII.

    A half-hour review approaches!

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part One

    Half-Hour Handheld

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part one CoverSome months back, while browsing the shelves at our local GameStop, my wife picked out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One for the Nintendo DS; I had earlier warned her of the bad reviews for the Kinect-heavy atrocity of the same name that dropped on the Xbox 360, and we both assumed that the DS version would almost have to be better than that. However, she did not play for very long, returning to her staples of Animal Crossing: Wild World and The New Super Mario Bros. She either lost interest or got stuck; at one point, I had to help her through an unclear potion-making minigame.

    With the final installment of the final movie creeping closer, I thought this would be a perfect time to see how solid of a Harry Potter game it actually is. Plus, I had some time to kill while on vacation.

    Aparecium!

  • The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

    Half-Hour Handheld

    Legend of Zelda Links Awakening CoverMy favorite game is—and most likely will always be—The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It's a videogame that raised me, coddled me through the early years, showed me the potential games held, and reminded me that there's still good in this world. And strangely, there's never been anything quite like it since its debut way back in November 1992. I guess some games do come close: 3D Dot Game Heroes, Alundra, Beyond Oasis, and Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. Not surprisingly, nobody does Zelda quite like Nintendo.

    Nintendo's 2011 E3 conference opened with some love for the Zelda franchise, now twenty-five years big, and a surprise announcement was that The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was going to be available very soon on the Nintendo 3DS eshop. Sadly, I never got to experience this game before on the GameBoy, and a quick bit of research revealed that it both looked and played similar to what I consider to be gaming nirvana. Well, I downloaded it as soon as I could. Let's hope it lives up to my lofty expectations...

  • Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar

    Half-Hour Handheld

    Harvest Moon Grand Bazaar CoverLike many, I was first introduced to the concept of farming simulation via an obscure Facebook title called Farmville. Not sure if that game flopped or not, but I didn't stick around too long to find out as the idea of caring for crops day in, day out did little to excite me. Sure, I like managing and being organized and earning faux money, but in the end, there wasn't really much to do with Farmville other than pester friends with countless requests and click on the same things over and over. After some time passed, I got the hankering again to water some crops and decided to give Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon a try; unfortunately, despite being a farming simulator with bonus RPG dungeon-crawling elements, I still wasn't entertained.

    Scanning the shelves of my local GameStop recently, I noticed a bunch of other Harvest Moon games on the DS. Like, a ton. There were at least three sitting eye-level, staring me in the face, begging to be watered. And I got that itch again. I decided to give the most newest title a chance. Let's see if Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar is different enough to grow into something fun, something edible. 

  • 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?

  • Steel Diver

    Half-Hour Handheld

    Steel Diver CoverAny time a creator of game technology sets a new standard, they want to show it off in a way that gets potential customers dreaming about what games they might be playing with it. The Final Fantasy VII tech demo for PS3 was meant to show off the graphical leap that Sony's Spiderman-fonted grill console could muster...and, of course, hype fans up for a remake that would never exist. Peter Molyneux's Milo was a proof of concept that Kinect could, theoretically, be an interaction simulator. With the game's cancellation, it looks like that will stay a theory for the time being. And who could forget Epic's "meat cube" demo for Unreal Engine 3, newly improved for Gears of War 2? And yet, here we are in 2011 with no cubes of messy meat to play with whatsoever.

    Sometimes, what starts as a tech demo eventually becomes a retail product. Such is the case with Steel Diver, possibly the only submarine video game I know of. What is now a 3DS launch title was originally meant to show off the brand new use of the touch screen as a controller...six years ago, for the original Nintendo DS. It seems Nintendo decided to take that aged tech demo, update its visuals for the new hardware, and profit.

    So here we are at the 3DS launch, with three first party retail titles from Nintendo. One appears to merely be a graphical update to the Nintendo DS' second best-selling game. Another seems to be made entirely of assets from Nintendo's ridiculously successful Wii Sports series. Could Steel Diver, a tech demo that was forgotten a generation ago, prove to be a niche hit lurking in the depths, or will it continue to torpedo into obscurity?

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