Nate's reviews and writings

  • 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.

  • Art Style: PiCTOBiTS

    Full Review

    art Style Pictobits CoverMy Club Nintendo coins are finally going to good use, now that I can exchange them for games instead of cheap memorabilia. Fluidity was well worth zero dollars. And last month, I checked out Art Style: Cubello and found an interesting puzzle/lightgun hybrid.

    Another month, another Art Style game to grab from the Club. Pictobits (called Picopict in other territories) is my fourth from the series, all of them quite different from one another. Of the four, Pictobits is the closest to a traditional puzzle game, falling blocks and all. As someone who tends to burn out quickly on those competitive block-movers, I kept my expectations low.

    But Pictobits surprised me. It gets frantic, no doubt, but the bite-size challenges and uncommon variety pulled me over the speedbumps in the difficulty curve. The retro Nintendo style didn't hurt, either.

  • 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.

  • Kid Icarus: Uprising

    Full Review

    kid Icarus Uprising Cover

    In Super Smash Bros, Director Masahiro Sakurai stripped the fighting game genre of its finger-tangling combos and built a new style from the core sensation he enjoyed the most: the dynamic "ad lib" nature of the fights. It was arguably the Nintendo 64's best game. In Kirby Air Ride, Sakurai boiled down the racing game to drifting and acceleration, then layered that core with Kirby flair and garish extras. It wasn't exactly the next Smash Bros.

    Now, Sakurai's "disassembly and reassembly" approach takes on the shooter in Kid Icarus: Uprising. The father of Kirby and Smash Bros has transformed a quirky NES action platformer into half corridor shooter and half third-person shooter. It's no Smash success, but it's far from Air Ride's mediocre curiosity as well.

  • Tales of Graces f

    Full Review

    Tales of Graces f CoverIt was four minutes into Tales of Graces f that I met the amnesiac with the impossible purple pigtails. She didn't know who she was, or where she came from, or anything really. She was a deadly martial artist, but nearly walked right off a cliff. Later she asked the meaning of the word "friend." I threw up in my mouth a little and realized that Graces f would be a tale quickly forgotten. In hindsight, I guess the cover art should have served as warning.

    But if the whole game boiled down to waiting for the kid in the Elvis getup to realize that the king is possessed by a demon, I wouldn't have played it for almost ninety hours. Yes, a lot of time is wasted running errands through copy-paste corridors while the characters say how they feel and explain magical jargon. But then you run into a giant spider, and the kids' anime story melts away for a few seconds of glorious battle.

    I'll even say that Tales of Graces f has my favorite RPG combat, taking the crown from predecessor Tales of Symphonia. Graces f layers new abilities and limitations onto Symphonia's melee-and-magic arena skirmishes, and the end result is a more dynamic structure that makes earlier games in the series look like button mashing. It's also complicated as hell.

  • Art Style: CUBELLO

    Full Review

    art Style Cubello CoverIt's understandable that a hardware manufacturer like Nintendo would condemn app gaming. The company makes its fortune on dedicated video game machines and the traditional $30+ software pricing; the $1 mobile alternative is a serious threat to the viability of that strategy, especially in the handheld market. You won't see the House of Mario endorsing Angry Birds and its ilk any time soon (until it comes to 3DS, anyway).

    It's a shame that a Nintendo-branded smartphone is so unlikely, because gaming's biggest name already has a series perfectly suited for the bite-size mobile market. The little known Art Style franchise on WiiWare and DSiWare emphasizes "elegant design, polished graphics, and pick-up-and-play controls." Having played the gravity-manipulating Orbient on WiiWare and cardboard-factory simulator Boxlife on DSiWare, I can definitely see the Art Style brand as a viable and profitable iPhone series.

    Last month I picked up Cubello, one of the earlier Art Style games on WiiWare, from the Club Nintendo rewards program. It looks like the offspring of Tetrisphere and a Rubik's Cube got caught in a light gun game. I like it better than either of those things, though.

  • 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?

  • Tales of Graces f

    First Hour Review

    Tales of Graces f CoverThe long-awaited localization of two high profile JRPGs has delighted the dwindling Wii fanbase. After years of holding out, Nintendo was finally convinced to bring potential hits Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story to the new world by distribution partners GameStop and XSEED, respectively. The orchestrators of last year's Operation Rainfall fan campaign deserve a pat on the back (though I was doing it before it was cool).

    But another Wii JRPG topped my personal wishlist, then and now: Tales of Graces. The Tales series' claim to fame is its thrilling real-time battles, and Tales of Graces looked like the next evolution of that combat system. Months turned into years as I waited for a localization announcement, eventually accepting the improbability of my playing the game.

    Fortunately, Namco Bandai's love for milking the Tales series eventually prevailed; late last year, the PlayStation 3 port of Tales of Graces was confirmed for release here in North America. I've built up some expectations, no doubt aggravated by the years of waiting. For me, these first sixty minutes of Tales of Graces F weigh more heavily than a JRPG intro should. Does it crack under the pressure?

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