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Donkey Kong Country Returns

Full Review

Donkey Kong Country Returns CoverI’m not sure if we ever needed to return to Donkey Kong Country. The original series is so firmly a product of the Super Nintendo era, with its shiny, Toy Story look that is unique to Rareware, and pretty bad collision detection for a 2D platformer, I would have been okay with having rose-colored memories about my trips with DK, Diddy, and the rest of the forgotten gang.

But Retro Studios, apparently bored with resurrecting Metroid moneybags every few years, was tasked with bringing back the old gorilla in Donkey Kong Country Returns. Surprisingly, this was not another 3D incarnation that Retro seemed to excel at (Remember DK64? No? Good.), but a pretty straight enhancement of the originals. The world was still 2D, but with a bit more depth, and all the old standbys were there: bananas and letters to collect, barrels to get shot out of, and obnoxious boss battles.

Released in 2010, Donkey Kong Country Returns has already earned a prestigious 10 from Jonathan Ramundi, and while I would have written a review no matter how much I agreed or disagreed, I have a rather differing opinion about the game.

The Last Story

First Hour Review

Last Story CoverOperation Rainfall strikes again.

The fan campaign that convinced Nintendo of America to actually publish a hardcore Wii game this year can now celebrate its second victory. Another high profile Wii game found its way to the USA last month, though leery NOA decided to pass the risk of publishing to Xseed Games this time around.

The Last Story is the latest game from director Hironobu Sakaguchi and composer Nobuo Uematsu, the duo that made Final Fantasy an institution (and vice versa). It’s hard to believe a publisher would refuse to localize a game with those two names attached, but Nintendo’s no stranger to unbelievable decisions.

I'd been waiting for this game to hit the USA for over two years. Then I had to wait even longer when my copy was put on backorder for a month after it finally launched. Here’s hoping it was worthwhile.

A Boy and His Blob

First Hour Review

a boy and his Blob CoverI’ve been on a bit of a Wii fix lately. Perhaps all the Wii U buzz inspired me to check out B-List Wii games that initially flew under my radar. Whatever the cause, my little white waggle box had a busy month, thanks to Lost in Shadow, Link’s Crossbow Training, and FlingSmash.

Up next, A Boy and His Blob. This 2D puzzle platformer is a modern take on the original Trouble on Blobolonia, one of many quirky NES games I remember seeing at the rental store as a kid. But I took home Super Mario Bros. 3 every single time.

In a way, picking up the new Boy and His Blob feels like atonement for Young Nate’s disinterest in anything without “Mario” in the title. But I also wanted it because it looks adorable. Seriously, you feed the blob a jellybean and it happily forms into a ladder. I probably had an imaginary friend just like that when I was six and couldn’t reach a tree branch.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Full Review

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 CoverI’ve played a fair amount of video games in my life, and I’ve been playing shooters since I was five or six. This isn’t a challenge of “Yeah, well, I started when I was four!” Don’t start, that’s just annoying. My point is, I’ve been around the block a few times. Here’s a list of the shooters I played online regularly in chronological order: Quake, Team Fortress Classic, Unreal Tournament, Counter-Strike: Source, America’s Army, Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

That’s really not that much, but it became impossible to keep up with the audiences. You want to play the most popular games (or at least popular games) so you actually have other people to play against, but once there was a new shooter coming out every freakin’ year, I just gave up.

Until one night, when my friend came into town for a visit and explained to me he had another copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and said it was mine if I wanted it. I thanked him and declined at first, but finally caved and accepted the offer. What the hell, it’s a free game, right?

FlingSmash

First Hour Review

Flingsmash CoverI had a craving for some motion gaming the other day. Skyward Sword’s mixed bag of waggle came and went six months ago, and the surprisingly smart Wii Play Motion ran its course last summer. It was time to try something new.

The list of Wii MotionPlus games on Wikipedia almost drove the craving away. Three years after the Wii remote finally got its necessary upgrade, a mere thirty-odd games support the device. Most have the unmistakeable stink of shovelware.

The only one that caught my eye was FlingSmash, a sidescroller where you smack a spherical character into bricks and junk. High concept, it’s not. But it seems like a good excuse to excitedly wave my arms around like a toddler with a bubble wand and a sugar high.

Link's Crossbow Training

First Hour Review

Links Crossbow Training CoverRemember when Nintendo gave Link a gun? I did when I found this baby at the media exchange shop. I wish I could say I just scored a Zelda game for a dollar, but there’s actually no “Legend of Zelda” in Link's Crossbow Training, so that would be incorrect. Also, it was two dollars.

It seems blasphemous to send Link on an adventure without his trusty sword and shield, but is it outrageous that I’m kind of excited about the idea? Zooming the Wii remote’s infrared pointer around is my favorite aspect of playing Wii games, and my best memories of Twilight Princess involved loosing arrows at goblins from horseback. Seriously, if this game lets me shoot Ganon in the face with some crossbow bolts, I may have to give it a perfect score.

I guess that seems unlikely, as any confrontation with the ultimate evil is unlikely to happen during crossbow “training.” I’ll probably just shoot targets and maybe a goblin or two. But maybe someday I’ll get my sequel, my Link’s Crossbow Conquest...

Lost in Shadow

First Hour Review

Lost in Shadow CoverHudson Soft. Now there’s a name that you don’t see on game boxes much anymore. The company that used to pump out Bomberman and Mario Party titles wasn’t much of a player this generation, were they?

And it seems we’ll never see the old honey bee logo on another boxart ever again: as of March 1 this year, Hudson Soft is officially dead. The last of its assets have been absorbed into Konami, which will probably put the Bomberman brand to good use and seal Hudson’s other, less milkable properties in the vault.

That makes Lost in Shadow Hudson’s swan song. The company developed and published the  shadow-based puzzle platformer and released it in January 2011 in North America. Like most Hudson games, it found modest critical praise at launch and was quickly forgotten. With Hudson’s recent demise, I guess that makes this as good a time as any to try out the company’s last contribution to gaming.

Rayman Origins

Full Review

Rayman Origins CoverI never quite bought into the whole Achievements deal this generation. It's nice to have a (rather arbitrary) tally of "gamerness" on record, and I do like to occasionally check my friends' progress. But the achievements themselves tend to make a goal out of lengthy tedium, a checklist asking the player to kill X enemies using Y weapon, in a way that mimics the worst parts of grind-dependent MMOs. It's far from the creative metagame that I'd hoped would evolve through the generation.

As a result, my PSN trophy list accounted for 65 games long but lacked a platinum trophy. I had ambitions to 100% my very first PS3 game, Uncharted 2, until I saw that the majority of the trophies were based on finding "treasures" in the game, essentially an overgrown pixel hunt. I don't regret giving up that chase shortly after it began, and it kind of soured me on trophies in general. Still, there has always been this nagging feeling that, having played so many PS3 games, I should get one platinum trophy before the next generation arrives. Some people aspire to run one marathon in their lives. I figured I should have one pointless digital knickknack.

Now I have one. It's a bit underwhelming, actually. Maybe that's because it only took about fifteen hours of game time to achieve. Or maybe it's because Rayman Origins is fun enough that, even if the game lacked trophies, I would have finished all the requirements anyway.

Rayman Origins

First Hour Review

Rayman Origins CoverI had never played a Rayman game before last year, when I tried Rayman 3D. A port of the most renowned Rayman game, it didn't exactly endear the limbless whatsit to me. So when Rayman Origins was released six months ago, I was too busy scampering through Super Mario 3D Land to care.

Thus, I was busy gazing into a 3D mushroom kingdom when Origins earned rave reviews. The acclaim seemed fruitless, as Rayman Origins found slow initial sales and an early price slash. Still, the game made enough cash that a sequel is (almost certainly) on the way.

I had intended to check out Rayman Origins since it was showered with critical adulation, but it was the sequel leak (and heavy discounting) that pushed me into finally buying the game. I'm pretty keen at picking apart platformers in just a few minutes of play, so my first impressions of the game all but cemented my new outlook on Rayman.

Xenoblade Chronicles

Full Review

Xenoblade Chronicles CoverNearly two years after its initial Japanese release, and eight months after finding its way to Europe and Australia, Nintendo of America finally saw fit to grace North American Wiis with the critically acclaimed Xenoblade Chronicles (though not without a lot of pestering it would seem). Debuting at E3 2009 under the title Monado: Beginning of the World, Monolith Soft's latest immediately captured the attention of RPG-starved Wii owners with its large, open environments, colourful atmosphere, and intriguing storyline.

Probably most intriguing, however, was the gameplay. Xenobladeits title a tribute to Monolith's flagship franchise, Xenosagadeviates considerably from traditional JRPGs, doing away with random encounters and turn-based combat. Instead, players do battle on the very map they explore, without a transition to a battle screen, and with the ability to see enemies long in advance, as many are simply animals going about their business in the game world. Battles themselves are much more tactical, seeing players manoeuvring about the battlefield for ideal position and using abilities at advantageous times.

Never mind that I'd been craving some decent RPG action for a while, I definitely wanted to see what Xenoblade had to offer, and was more than a little disappointed when it first looked as if I wouldn't get the chance. Better late than never, I guess. At least my Wii has something to do now besides collecting dust.

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