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Harvest Moon: Magical Melody

First Hour Review

Harvest Moon Magical Melody CoverHarvest Moon has been one of my favorite video games series, but with as many Harvest Moon titles that have been released, there are bound to be a few that just don't click with me. This has been happening more often than I would like of late with my favorite farming simulator, and I blame that on essentially the two different series Harvest Moon has become. Ignoring all the spinoffs such as Rune Factory, Frantic Farming, and Innocent Life, the series essentially split at the Back To Nature/Friends of Mineral Town point about ten years ago.

Back to Nature for the PS1 was the first non-Nintendo Harvest Moon game and expanded on the previous console release, Harvest Moon 64. An enhanced remake/port was released for the GBA titled Friends of Mineral Town which I consider to be the quintessential Harvest Moon title. But at this point, the PS2 and GameCube were out, and the developers started going down the road of fancier 3D graphics on the conoles while basically every portable iteration has been based on the Friends of Mineral Town structure.

So what I call the portable Harvest Moon series is built on a very solid set of gameplay elements: farming, foraging, mining, and relationships. All aspects of the game are well-tuned and are balanced decently. On the consoles, it's a completely different story: we get a mish-mash of unbalanced, poorly tuned gameplay elements planted in a boring looking 3D world. The console "series" has suffered like this since Save the Homeland on the PS2, but I mostly blame A Wonderful Life, the first Harvest Moon game I ever played that I really, truly hated.

Magical Melody, of course, falls into the console series. Released on the GameCube in 2006 and then re-released on the Wii in 2008, Magical Melody continues the sorry Harvest Moon console tradition of not being very much fun. Whoops, did I spoil the first hour for you?

I've actually been sitting on this first hour review for an entire year, I had it completely written except for this introduction. I'm not really sure what I was waiting for; I think through a combination of Magical Melody being an older, quite unexciting game combined with the fact that it's a sorry game from one of my favorite series made me hold off. But I really need to get it off my to-do list, so here you go, the first hour of Harvest Moon: Magical Melody for the GameCube.

Emergency Heroes

First Hour Review

Emergency Heroes CoverI've managed to avoid shovelware pretty well over the years. I'm a knowledgeable gamer who's able to spot crap from four shelves away. But sometimes, games just land in your lap and you not only have no choice but to play it, you have to just to say you did and came out alive.

Emergency Heroes is that game, a semi-sandbox driving game that has you putting out fires, pulling over speeders, and clearing out traffic jams to save the day - all in terrific eight year old graphics with stellar voice actors found off the street wrapped in a hilariously bad SyFy Original Movie-like storyline.

Ubisoft released Emergency Heroes for the Wii in mid-2008, so this game has been burning up bargain bins for a while. I generally don't like Ubisoft for their DRM and other business practices, but I'm willing to make exceptions for exceptional games like this.

It can be fun to laugh at games like this though as long as the gameplay isn't frustrating. So will Emergency Heroes be a surprise and pull off an amazing first hour? Or will it be just what we all expect? Let's dive in and find out.

Disney Epic Mickey

First Hour Review

Disney Epic Mickey CoverMickey Mouse was never a big part of my early life. I guess that's to be expected: my grandfather remembers seeing Mickey Mouse cartoons when he was young, and a kids' cartoon character can only stay relevant for so long. I've never been into the whole corruption-of-childhood-icons thing, either. It always sort of struck me as puerile and cheap, like finding a genitalia-spacecraft dogfight penciled into the margins of a social studies textbook.

So when I first saw the Game Informer cover art for a dark take on Disney called Epic Mickey, I scoffed. I'd never imagined such a thing would exist, and I couldn't fathom it being worth a damn. I let out an unapproving sigh as I skimmed over the concept art in the magazine, featuring mechanical perversions of classic Disney characters. The designs themselves didn't bother me beyond their tired post-apocalyptic, steampunk styles, but the concept itself seemed like something a goth 7th grader might come up with after being dragged to Disney World by his family.

As it turns out, all of that imagery was just pre-production concept, used in the magazine to create as much hype as the shock value could muster. The final product has a safer appearance, one that most would say is more "tame." I think it's just less gimmicky. Further details would catch my interest as well, including the use of forgotten Disney properties to create an off-kilter gameworld (rather than just a dark one) and the moral freedom system that's supervised by a guy who excels at that sort of thing.

It's been a strange hype cycle, but Epic Mickey has finally arrived. For the first time, I'm actually anticipating a Mickey Mouse property. Is my newfound interest warranted, or should I have left it in the trash with that issue of Game Informer?

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Full Review

Donkey Kong Country Returns CoverIn case you hadn't noticed, in the last couple of years, the Nintendo Wii has been subject to the revival of a number of key franchises in the company's portfolio; franchises that have either strayed far from their humble beginnings or simply haven't been seen in many years, if not both. The beloved Donkey Kong franchise is the latest to follow this trend—in the footsteps of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Kirby's Epic Yarn, and even, to some extent, Metroid: Other M—with its newest incarnation, Donkey Kong Country Returns. Interestingly, the game's developer, Retro Studios, is the same company responsible for the reimagination of another classic Nintendo franchise, in the form of the Metroid Prime saga. However, this time—as mentioned—the company was tasked with bringing a series back to its roots, rather than taking it (quite literally) to another dimension. It's been 13 years since we've seen the Kong family in 2D platforming fashion. In fact, the game's titular character hasn't been played in this form since Donkey Kong Land for the Gameboy back in 1995. Well, as the name suggests, he makes a return in DKCR. And what a triumphant return it is.

I previously wrote a first hour review of the game, and now, after spending much more time with it (and considering Retro's history with Metroid), I'm of the opinion that Retro should be given full responsibility over all major Nintendo IPs henceforth. This game is—and I'm trying really hard not to oversell it—perfect. Okay, well, maybe not perfect, but about as close as you can get. I kind of had trouble writing a review because of this. I didn't know exactly how to convey the sheer brilliance of this game, but, at the same time, I know words can only go so far. Only after playing will you understand why everyone's going ape over this—and hopefully, if nothing else, this review will get you to do so.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers

Full Review

Final Fantasy Crystal Bearers Cover"Some of this game is fun...is that enough for me to keep playing?"

Ever had that feeling? Maybe you trudged through an RPG with a terrible battle system just because you liked a few of the characters. Perhaps you put up with a broken sports game just because the presentation was TV-true. Or maybe you played any of the open-world Spider-Man games recently, swinging joyously through the boxy Manhattan skyline, full of texture pop-in and framerate dips.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers is kind of like that. Except where the fun elements of these previous examples are woven into the overall progression of the game, FFCCTCB never actually shines the spotlight on its best feature throughout the otherwise lackluster adventure, leaving it merely as a side attraction.

I was hoping the game would improve after its first hour, and it did...but was it too little, too late?

Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

Full Review

Zack and Wiki Quest for Barbaros Treasure CoverI don't think I've been this disappointed in a video game since Assassin's Creed. Zack and Wiki started off great, but then some realizations start to sink in, and then everything falls off the track. To say I didn't have fun with Zack and Wiki would be a lie, but there are some major problemms with this game.

Before we get into the review proper, Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure was released in 2007 by Capcom. I admitted in my first hour review of the game that this was the first non-Nintendo published title I was actually interested in playing. Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 are incredible, but I was having a lot of trouble finding something that interested me on the Wii beyond those. Zack and Wiki had been nagging at me for a while and received great reviews, seemed like it was the right way to go.

I understand that my opinion probably differs quite a bit from the normal reviewer, it makes me question whether they actually played the entire game or if expectations of Wii gameplay has really changed this much over three years? But if I wasn't honest in my review, what's the point in writing?

Trauma Team

First Hour Review

Trauma Team CoverClassifying video games into genres can be a tricky ordeal. For example, let's look at Fable. It's a role-playing game because it uses dynamic statistics as modifiers to its core mechanics, right? But one of the traditional indicators of an RPG video game is that it plays out with little regard to nuanced player input: its action is menu driven and often turn based. Fable's real-time combat, on the other hand, relies on player dexterity (as in an Action game) as much as it does the quantifications of the battle engine. So, in our propensity to create subgenres when things don't fit so neatly, we just call it an Action RPG. However, it's hard to be satisfied with this conclusion when one could replace every instance of "Fable" in this paragraph with "BioShock," "Mass Effect," or even "Star Ocean" and it would be no less true, even if all of these games feel completely different in once you get your hands on the controller.

Okay, so there's obviously a problem when so many games in the same genre are so dissimilar. But what about when a game comes along and has no precedent to compare to? Case in point, where the hell does the Trauma Center series belong?

Trauma Center: Under the Knife arrived on the scene in the Nintendo DS launch window, requiring players to perform lightspeed surgeries using a variety of medical instruments through the handheld's touch screen. Ignoring the dearth of surgery games (or even touch screen games) to use as precedent, Trauma Center was still very tough to define. Can we really use the catchall Simulation genre for a game where heart surgery lasts all of a minute and Space Invaders can be found in the patient's lungs? Is it part visual novel merely because operations are bookended and pervaded by character portraits and dialogue? Not content to let us try and figure it out after four games, Atlus' fifth title in the franchise, Trauma Team, complicates things further by providing six different scenarios to play through, each with its own exploration within (and sometimes a bit outside) the traditional Trauma Center structure.

Okay, so I don't really know what to call it. A more important concern, though, is whether or not it's fun. So how did my first hour go with this...whatever it is?

 

Donkey Kong Country Returns

First Hour Review

Donkey Kong Country Returns CoverIf you were to ask me what game I was most excited for following the events of E3 2010, my answer, without a doubt, would have been Donkey Kong Country Returns. It's announcement marked the return of one of my favourite platforming franchises of my youth—and something I hadn't experienced in years. In the E3 trailer, I noticed the hairy ape brought back all of his signature abilities, plus a couple of new tricks. I saw old friends Diddy and—in later trailers—Rambi make a return. I saw vine swinging, barrel blasting, and mine carting. I saw banana grabbing, KONG letter finding, plus new items to collect. In fact, after seeing what I saw, to say I was excited would've been an understatement; I was overwhelmed with anxious anticipation; I couldn't wait to get my hairy paws on this game.

And now, the day was finally here; November 21, 2010. I woke up bright and early, refreshed, and ready for a full day of barrel blasting, ground pounding, tiki crushing fun. I set out and purchased the game at a local EB Games outlet about one minute after opening. I was their first customer. I rushed home, popped open the case, threw the disc into the Wii, and fired it up–all the while singing the DK Rap in my excitement (I wish I was joking).

The game features two control options–Wiimote plus nunchuck, and classic Wiimote. I choose the classic style and begin my session...

Sonic Colors

First Hour Review

Sonic Colors CoverHi everybody. My name is Nate, and I'm a disgruntled Sonic fan.

I was five years old when my dad brought home a Sega Genesis with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. That game was like catnip to me: its lightning speed, vibrant colors, and catchy soundtrack were all I could think about through elementary school. The only reason I put down Sonic 2 for good was my migration to its sequel duo, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Catnip was now crack: I was hooked for life. I loved the game then, but it wasn't until years later that I realized the genius of S3&K. The sprawling, interconnected stage designs were like races on the playground: your goal was to get from one end to the other, but you could do so in dozens of unique ways. I still play the game annually, and even after so many trips from the beach of Angel Island to the Death Egg in outer space, I can still find new secrets by experimenting with the physics and stage design in ways I hadn't thought of before.

Fast forward to the launch of the Dreamcast, when Sonic Adventure started a new era for for the blue blur. New playable characters, new gameplay modes, cutscenes and spoken dialogue...all in 3-D, of course. And while the addition of a dimension provided the potential for even more spacious stages, the final product was a far more restricted affair than its 2-D predecessors. Gone were the intermingling tunnels and paths, replaced by a string of land strips that were suspended over an endless chasm. I dug the thrilling dashes through those corridors for a while, but I now I only realize how many flaws I overlooked in those days when I replay Sonic Adventure, its sequel, and its successors.

It's been over a decade since the franchise changed course, and while Sega recently made an attempt to recapture the Genesis style, I just don't see the same brilliance in Sonic the Hedgehog 4 that made its prequels so timeless. On the other hand, 3-D Sonic's roller coaster runs have been tampered with throughout the years -- rarely for the better -- and the most recent experiment is Sonic Colors. It sure doesn't appear to be what I want from a Sonic game, but I'll admit that it looks like a huge improvement over the rest of the Adventure-spawn. I decided to give it a chance, something I swore I wouldn't do after Sonic's Arabian Nights-inspired adventure broke the camel's back. Was my change of heart warranted, or am I simply a glutton for punishment?

Kirby's Epic Yarn

Full Review

Kirbys Epic Yarn CoverAttendees of the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo were witness to many exciting announcements on June 15th during Nintendo’s press conference—one of them being the highly awaited return of Kirby to home consoles. This would mark Kirby’s first appearance on a home console since 2003’s Kirby Air Ride for the Gamecube, and his first platforming adventure since 2000’s Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. It clearly had a lot to live up to. But alongside roaring applause, the announcement was met with many raised eyebrows regarding our pink hero’s return—for he had undergone a change the likes of which a Nintendo mascot hasn’t seen since Paper Mario. Kirby was made of yarn. Yes, yarn. And his new game, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, would see him battle across a world of felt and fabric against a new foe, and with a new friend. Nevertheless, everyone was excited and anxiously awaiting its release. So, did Nintendo weave the world a masterpiece (yes, I just said that)?

Editor's Note: If you're interested to see how Kirby's Epic Yarn starts, check out Nate's first hour review of the game (and his overall conclusions at the end of the article).

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