Mario Kart 8 Review – New look, same great game

Ever since the Super Nintendo, Nintendo has been putting its genre defining Kart racer once per new system. We’re up to its 8th installment now and Mario Kart 8 offers up more of what we love from the long lasting franchise. It’s been a whole 6 years since the last console entry into the series and fans have been eager to see what’s next. After all, who isn’t excited to see their favorite Mario characters race it out in now glorious HD? Sounds great on paper and Mario Kart 8 doesn’t disappoint.

There should be no reason to explain Mario Kart gameplay to anyone, but for the few that have been living under a rock, it’s an arcade-style Kart racer. Up to 12 racers compete for first place and players can choose either a kart or motorbike. Power-ups are also available during a race and they can do things from obscuring the view of all other players to shrinking them. New playable characters and kart parts are unlocked as you finish Grand Prix alone or with buddies. It’s a tried and true formula that has consistently brought joy (and despair) to all who’ve played.

The Wii U was Nintendo’s step in bringing the company into HD gaming and Mario Kart 8 proves that they know what they’re doing. Courses and environments look beautiful from the shimmering water of beach levels to the seizure-inducing, eye candy levels like Rainbow Road or the newly introduced Electrodome. It’s also all in a solid 60fps while playing solo or with a buddy, or 30fps when playing with 3 or more players split-screen. Characters look awesome in HD with great attention to detail and expression. It’s always a joy to see replays of a race and seeing how your player was reacting from passing another player or his/her eminent doom right before a blue shell blew them up. It’s too bad you only see the back of their head throughout a race, because it’s really an amusing sight to see.

There are 16 brand new courses and 16 retro courses picked from all of the seven past Mario Kart games. This is a formula that was mildly introduced in Super Circuit for GBA and then a mainstay since Mario Kart DS. The new courses are all good, but I had trouble picking one out that was better than the rest. There wasn’t any definitive standout course in Mario Kart 8 like how DK Mountain was for Mario Kart: Double Dash!! or Waluigi Pinball was for Mario Kart DS. That being said, Twisted Mansion and the latest version of Bowser’s Castle are my personal favorites, because I’m a fan of that scary/spooky style. But for others, I can easily see how Sunshine Airport and Cloudtop Cruise could be front runners. The picks for retro tracks is a good batch with the majority of them being from the favorite Nintendo 64 version. Also worth mentioning is the music being beautifully orchestrated for both old and new tracks.

A new dynamic added to the Kart racing mix is the anti-gravity feature. On top of gliding through the air and driving underwater, now you can also drive upside down and sideways. Your wheels will begin to hover when the anti-gravity mode kicks in and this will also trigger an incentive of ramming into other racers, because bumping into each other gives both players a mini boost. Visually, although disorienting at first, it’s very cool to see drivers whizzing past you from all different angles. This new addition puts another layer of strategy to every race and I hope it’s something that remains in the series’ future.

The community features this time around is the best Mario Kart has seen. Replays and highlights are constantly worth revisiting, especially when you and your room full of pals just had an intense race. They can also be uploaded for friends to see on the Nintendo Network. Online play is solid and runs as good as if you were offline. There are instances where you wish you can yell your fellow racers for the unspeakable move they just pulled on you, but you can talk while waiting for the next race in the lobby. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction for a company who has largely ignored basic online gaming features for years.

Glaringly missing from Mario Kart 8 is the incorporation of battle mode stages. Arena style maps for players to duke it out are completely gone and players will have to settle with attacking each other’s balloons on the race courses. This is a first for the series and hopefully the last. Another missing feature is the ability to carry two of certain items. In the past, shells and bananas can be queued up and the item box can hold another power-up. Now, all items take up the item box until they are used. This may be for whatever balancing changes Nintendo is trying to pull, but I find it to be a step backwards in smart item management and overall depth during a race.

Mario Kart 8 delivers an experience that keeps the franchise remaining close to the top, if not the pinnacle of local multiplayer fun. It is an enjoyable and easy to learn game that can also become very competitive and addictive. Online play isn’t perfect, but it is competent enough to bring that same great offline play experience onto the internet. Wii U owners should not hesitate to pick this title up. This is why you bought this system.

Mario Kart 8
Genre: Racing
Platform: Reviewed on Wii U
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 1
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: May 30, 2014

Rating: 9 / 10

‘Wolfenstein: The New Order’ is compelling and eerily believable

In the world of first-person shooters, World War II is no stranger. It’s a story we’ve been told countless times, but what if the Nazis actually won the war? Wolfenstein: The New Order explores that grim alternate reality and does it in a way that makes the game both intriguing and emotionally driven. From our knowledge through history books and playing Call of Duty‘s and Medal of Honor‘s, the atrocities seen in this game are completely plausible, which makes the subject matter all the more frightening.

Three years after the events of 2009’s Wolfenstein, The Nazis have the upper-hand against the allied powers through their advancements in military power. William “B.J.” Blazkowicz and his crew make one last run against the German fortress before getting overtaken by General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse. They are then taken into a human experimentation laboratory, which is something that absolutely existed under the real-world Third Reich. Their fate seemed all but sealed until Blazkowicz and a handful of his remaining crew manage to escape. Unfortunately, Blazkowicz doesn’t come out of the ordeal unscathed.

With a serious head injury, Blazkowicz is out of fighting condition all the way until the 1960’s. Through the lens of this character, we get a time lapse of all he sees while in a mental asylum in Poland. Emotions are messed with here as the Nazi mistreatment of handicapped and defenseless nurses gets your blood boiling. It takes a little while to get back into the action, but once the guns are put back into your hands, it’s a non-stop ride through Wolfenstein: The New Order.

There are lots of guns and perks here, and it keeps things fresh as you’re playing through the game’s 8-10 hour campaign. You can take the sneaky approach with a silenced handgun or go Rambo-style with two of any gun. Perks and unlockables are earned by fulfilling set challenges, such as killing enemies with headshots or blowing them up with grenades. Then, depending on which play style you choose to use, you will unlock perks in different areas, including stealth, tactical, assault and demolition. My favorite perk is the stealth-oriented ability to throw knives.

While gunplay is fun and overall competent, there are a few hiccups that are hard to ignore. Like Bethesda’s last game using the id Tech 5 engine, Rage, all ammo and health packs dropped by enemies have to be manually picked up. This is overtly tedious when the game is kicking your butt from all angles and you also have to manage your ammo. Another issue is the imbalance of certain weapons. With a game that let’s you dual-wield any weapon, you would think that holding two assault rifles would be a big help. Turns out that holding just one is much more efficient due to the ridiculous amount of recoil two guns can bring.

The writing here is compelling and it’s matched by great game design and voice acting. The environments often tell the story, like the cadavers littered through the laboratories or the 60’s esque pop songs done in the German language that really brings the alternate reality scenario to life. The cast of characters you meet, both good and bad, all fit this dark setting quite well through believable voice acting. Everyone from the old-fashioned and innocent mother to the overly disturbing Nazi officers fit their role in this world perfectly — and I’m sure Nazi officers weren’t as arrogant and nonchalant when their empire was dwindling down and eventually overtaken. The Nazis really made me want to punch them in the face and that only means a job well done by the MachineGames team.

Presentation in The New Order is as good as other modern day shooters with strong visuals and scale. Enemies are metallic and intimidating as the Nazis seem to have gone overboard with attaching steel and armor to their men and dogs — yes, even their dogs. Scale is realized as buildings collapse and giant machinery blow up, which makes the desolate and “end of world” feel come through as you’re playing. There are also choices presented to the player that will shift the campaign dramatically and they are especially tough to make when the game conflicts you with your own emotions. Bastards.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great step for the series to go as it makes leaps in making a believable alternate timeline in our world history. The foundation can use a little tweaking to make the shooting a bit more fun and a little less cumbersome. But overall, the campaign is thoroughly enjoyable during an initial run at it and there are several secret areas and varying choices in your story that warrant multiple plays. The New Order doesn’t redefine the genre, but it does redefine the franchise itself and that’s a good thing. I look forward to seeing what’s next in the over 25 year old series that (pun intended) is rich in history.

Wolfenstein: The New Order
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox One (also available on PS4)
Developer: MachineGames
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: May 20, 2014

Rating: 8 / 10

Kirby: Triple Deluxe – Hefty Fun in a Cutesy Game

The Kirby series has a knack for getting sidetracked with experimental games like Epic Yarn and Mass Attack. Though good, Kirby games are best when the main focus is absorbing the powers of any enemy on the fly. Kirby: Triple Deluxe is another core Kirby title and it delivers more of what makes the pink puffball so lovable. It is Kirby’s first entry on the 3DS and delivers an experience comparable to the last console game, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land.

In Triple Deluxe, Kirby’s latest adventure begins with a Dreamstalk growing under Dream Land and carrying various landmarks including Kirby’s house and King Dedede’s castle into the sky. While in the new, displaced area of Floralia, Kirby discovers the culprit is Taranza and Taranza has trapped once enemy, now pal Dedede. It is up to Kirby to hunt the six-armed baddie down to restore Dream Land back to normal and rescue Dedede. It’s not very sophisticated, but hey, if you need a reason to play through this awesome platformer, there’s your story.

The name of the game is platforming and Triple Deluxe sticks to the trademarked basics. Kirby jumps, flutters infinitely, dashes and sucks. Yes, Kirby sucks in enemies and the right ones offer power-ups. Favorite power-ups return including the parasol, ice and fire powers and new ones are introduced like bell and beetle. Each has dynamic properties and multiple moves to boot, like the spear’s ability to be used underwater or feather allowing you to maneuver through the air faster. Experimenting with each power-up is a blast and players soon discover their favorite. Mine is the hammer simply because it dishes out tons of damage. A new ability, similar to the limit breaking power-up, Ultra Sword seen in Return to Dream Land, is also introduced in this title and it’s called “Hyper Nova.” I don’t really consider this a power-up since it is forced upon you in order to continue, but it does make you feel like a badass sucking everything up in your path.

The background and foreground play a huge role in Triple Deluxe and it makes this game stand out from other Kirby 2D platforming ventures. There are layers upon layers of depth that Kirby can move to and enemies will take advantage of this, too. So not only will Kirby have to be wary of enemies coming from the front or back of him, but his sides as well. An example of this is where an enemy will chop down a tree from way in the background and it will fall to the side toward your point of view of the screen and Kirby. It’s a neat way to incorporate some 3D gameplay elements, but still stick true to a traditional 2D-sidescrolling fare. Triple Deluxe also has some of the best 3D effects I’ve seen on the system, so I suggest turning up that slider for this one.

Getting through Triple Deluxe isn’t a tough task, but collecting all the Sun Stones can change that. This passive challenge to collect all the Sun Stones will unlock extra stages, which will in turn give you more hours of play. These collectibles are put in plain sight in the beginning, but are tucked away nicely later on in the game. Key chains of Kirby and the cast throughout the series’ history is also sprinkled throughout stages and they’re all in their classic form. My favorite is the 8-bit, black and white key chains from the Kirby Dream Land 1 and 2 days.

The entirety of the game can be finished in 5-7 hours and a bit more if you go for all the collectibles. On top of that, there’s some extra incentives to play through the game again –wink wink– and some mini-games as well. Kirby Fighters is a head to head, power-up against power-up brawler not unlike Smash Bros. and Dedede’s Drum Dash is a rhythm-based, high score seeking mini-game. Kirby Fighters can be played via multiplayer off of a single cart, but there’s no co-op for the story at all. That was a huge letdown, because I think Kirby played with a friend is one of the coolest features in past games.

Rock solid controls, a hefty amount of fun and interesting power-ups and a very good looking, albeit cutesy game sums up Kirby: Triple Deluxe. It is a bit easy and can be short compared to your Bravely Defaults and Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, but it still has a lot to offer. Fans of the series will find an above average version of a game they’re already familiar with. First timers, I suggest you give this a whirl if you get a chance, because it’s definitely worth checking out. Kirby is back and he is absolutely more adorable than ever.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe
Genre: Platformer, Action
Platform: Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: May 2, 2014

Rating: 8 / 10

‘Yoshi’s New Island’ – Even nostalgia has its ups and downs

One of Nintendo’s most adorable characters is the star of another game and it’s in the third game of a beloved series, Yoshi’s New Island. Yoshi is back at it with Baby Mario and the mission is the same as before: Save Baby Luigi. The story starts with baby Mario and Luigi, like all babies, being delivered to their parents via stork. But the stork must have gotten the wrong address, because the lovely couple that came to the door wasn’t expecting any babies. In panic, the stork rushes to get this problem resolved. Then suddenly, Kamek and his gang attack and snag baby Luigi away whilst Mario falls to the island full of different color Yoshis. From there, the adventure begins. There’s no real explanation why and how Baby Luigi got kidnapped again or if it’s even following some sort of Yoshi’s Island canon, but who cares?

Yoshi’s New Island features 6 worlds and each world has 8 stages each. The formula sticks to having 6 regular stages, a midpoint castle and a main boss castle. Kamek is always the midpoint boss and the main boss is Kamek transforming a normally unintimidating enemy into a giant version of itself. Bosses are not very hard, but some are interesting and fun to face, like shooting eggs in specific angles to hit your target or shooting them into balloons to drop missiles from above.

Running, ground-pounding, Yoshi tongue action and egg shooting make their return in another duo adventure with Yoshi and Baby Mario. Losing Baby Mario occurs when Yoshi is hurt by an enemy and when a replenishing countdown from 10 hits 0, a life is lost. Lives are also lost instantly when falling off a stage, touching lava and landing on spikes. It’s mostly the same as before and not much new is introduced. The biggest (literally) new addition to the series are giant eggs and giant metal eggs that destroy everything in their path. It must be a god complex, because, much like turning giant in New Super Mario Bros., I love seeing normally stationary things like pipes and walls be destroyed by my hands.

The last game in the series, Yoshi’s Island DS introduced big changes like adding baby versions of Peach, Donkey Kong and Wario into the mix that each had specialties whilst riding Yoshi such as climbing and floating. Rather than build off of that, New Island sticks to only Baby Mario as the featured infant and builds off of what was established in the original Super Nintendo game instead. That’s fine, but it’s almost as if they ignored everything

Yoshi’s New Island is a very easy game if all you’re going for is seeing the final stage. Levels are not exceptionally challenging, even towards the end of the game. They’re also not as memorable as the original’s stages like “Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy.” The game can be finished in a measly 2 hours, but that’s if you ignore all the collectibles and hidden areas. Some of the more enjoyable parts of the game is had in bonus areas and secret passages, so it’s encouraged that you go after exploring as much as you can in any given stage. Included in these areas are tilt driven transformation stages that see Yoshi turn into various vehicles like a submarine and mine cart. These portions of the game change things up and some variety is always welcome.

Conversely, going after all the red coins, stars and flowers can be an overwhelming burden. The goal is to collect all of them, but some of these collectibles are tucked away very cryptically or require knowledge beforehand, which is cheap and not very dependent on skill. I found myself rubbing against every wall or ledge to uncover invisible items that only appear when touched or replaying entire levels because I wasn’t aware I would need to carry three eggs with me in a particular area. It’s a cheap way to prolong a game and I’m certainly not a fan of that.

Visually, New Island looks great with its blend of Yoshi’s Island and Yoshi’s Story graphics. The 3D effects do look decent on this title, but there are certainly titles that have put better use to the feature. The sounds aren’t very memorable, but are expectantly upbeat and Yoshi-like (if that makes any sense). The difference between playing on a 3DS XL and 3DS/2DS is quite noticeable as the colors do wash out a bit because of the significantly bigger screens, as is the case with most 3DS titles.

Yoshi’s New Island is everything you remember the original to be 20 or so years later and that’s both a good and bad thing. The first title was great, but developer Arzesta played it safe with little risks taken nor any new direction for the series to go. It’s a solid platformer that offers a good amount of variety and there are some areas with clever gameplay that can be discovered if you try hard enough. But in the end, it’s too easy to beat, frustratingly difficult to finish 100% and offers little to return to. Sad to say, but saving Baby Luigi this time just wasn’t as enjoyable as the first go-round.

Yoshi’s New Island
Genre: Adventure/Platformer
Platform: Reviewed on Nintendo 3DSDeveloper: Arzest
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: March 14, 2014

Rating:

6.5 / 10

‘Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare’ – Fantastic creativity with an abundance of charm

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is as absurd as it sounds, but it is an absolute blast to play. Taking the vast cast of characters from the tower defense games Plants vs. Zombies 1 and 2, Garden Warfare re-imagines them to fit into a third-person shooter. What you get is a system that works perfectly and everything you’d expect from a “hardcore shooter” is all here. Varying classes, high-paced action and tons of players duking it out on the battlefield is all present here.

First, all the characters from the previous Plants vs. Zombies games have been sculpted into their 3D form and they all look great and detailed — from the freckles of the Sunflower to the individual leaf of a Peashooter. Environments are also great looking albeit it’s all in fun, cartoonish form to fit the established tone of franchise. So all you graphic junkies can look elsewhere for your hyperrealism fix. Maps are also distinct and different enough to keep things fresh from game to game, such as a stage with a pirate ship on a beach or a quiet neighborhood with buildings and cars.

Gameplay is quite solid for the first venture the series has taken into the shooter genre. Each class of character has three unique abilities that set them apart and it is seemingly balanced throughout as no class seems to be “OP” or overpowered. Abilities include bursts of speed for a short period of time or burrowing underground to plan sneak attacks or getting out of harm’s way.

The meat and potatoes of the game is in the 24-player Team Vanquish or “deathmatch” mode. Players are pitted against each other and first team to 50 kills gets the win. It’s your standard shooter mode with the hook being all the cutesy characters ripping each other apart. It’s really hard to not smile as it is a joy to watch and hear. Gardens and Graveyards is another mode where a team of zombies is set out to take over gardens. Once a garden is taken over it becomes a grave and the game ends with a unique round that ranges from destroying a giant sunflower to blowing up a base with Z4 (get it?).

Garden Ops, which is the mode I usually find most enjoyable in a shooter, is a wave-based, tower defense portion of the game. Here, up to four players can team up and defend their garden from hordes of zombies. Players can set up their defenses with walls of walnuts or plant stationary peashooters to assist with extra fire power. After a handful of waves, a boss wave takes place and this can either be really difficult or manageable as it is completely random. At the end of 10 waves, the team is expected to evacuate into Crazy Dave’s aircraft at a designated area and not doing so spells disaster as zombies chase you down.

Garden Ops is also the only place where split-screen is possible and it’s a drag that it closes off any online options. The possibility to mix and match on and offline isn’t here, so you can’t play with two other online players while in split-screen to bump the team total to four. Split-screen is two players and that’s it. Thankfully, there is the exclusive to Xbox One option to play in “boss mode” here where a player can assist via smartphone or tablet and the Xbox Smartglass app. So technically, up to three people can play together.

Throughout all the modes, currency is being built up and this in-game money can be used to buy card packs. These random assortment of cards can be opened and inside are new characters, costumes, extra plants, etc. It feels good to play and continue to build your cash flow as there is so much to collect and discover. It is also vital to open a couple of these before a Garden Ops match, because plants such as Sunflowers are a must if you plan on surviving.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a great experience, with fantastic creativity and an abundance of charm. Being an almost entirely multiplayer game with little options of split-screen play, the game does feel incomplete. Even with the budget price, three modes isn’t enough to consider this a must buy title. Despite that fact, it is a solid outing and worth taking a look at.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox One (also available on Xbox 360)
Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: February 25, 2014

Rating:

8 / 10

‘Max: The Curse of Brotherhood': A Magic Marker of ‘Aha’ Moments

Max, like any of us with normal relationships with a sibling at one time or another, wishes his little brother would just disappear. Well, just like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone or Jennifer Connelly in Jim Hensen’s Labyrinth, Max’s wish comes true and he soon realizes it was a big mistake. After reciting a spell that actually worked, Max chases his newly kidnapped brother into a new world he doesn’t fully understand.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood at its core is a very basic platformer. You go, jump and climb walls and there are no features like sprinting, double jumping or any of the bells and whistles other platformers have adopted as standards. What makes Max unique is the ability to interact with the environments to progress in the game. Each area is a puzzle that needs to be solved and it is manipulated by a magic marker. This magic marker can be used to build and knock over pillars or grow and cut vines. It is a challenge that is certainly different from the pinpoint precision or quick reactions demanded by your Sonic the Hedgehog‘s or Rayman‘s.

Playing Max is quite clunky as platforming and controlling the magic marker cannot be done simultaneously. Max comes to a complete standstill before any magic marker use can be achieved. There are moments where Max goes into bullet time when making huge leaps and swift use of the marker is needed, but that’s as close as you get to juggling both. I can see why allowing both at the same time could have potentially been too much to handle, but games like Super Mario Galaxy pulled it off quite nicely and I believe this could have too.

The biggest challenges were the ones that were completely optional. I found myself stuck in areas for upwards of 20 minutes just to obtain collectibles that were placed in plain sight, but required extra brain power. This adds to the already lengthy 8-10 hour story and gives incentive to revisit levels again. Acquiring every item isn’t required to finish the game, but it sure does give achievement hunters something to work toward.

Downfalls in Max are plentiful and it is what makes what could have been an excellent experience a mediocre one. The basic mechanics of running and jumping are flawed and it’s what will lead to many frustrating deaths. Falling off a ledge or not being able to make it past an enemy is dependent on how smooth the game is running at any given time. This adds an extra layer of challenge that is surely unintentional.

Outside of looking quite nice for a 2.5D platformer and handful of great “aha” moments, Max offers little to gamers to come back for. With the biggest hook being the magic marker, it feels very gimmicky and could have been much better implemented. Something more intuitive or perhaps even Kinect motion controls could have brought to the table something more unique. Having to use analog controls for a game like this feels very dated, especially when 10 year old games like Kirby: Canvas Curse have already achieved greatness in the realm of drawing and platforming. For what is offered, the price is right, but there a plenty of other great downloadable platformers out there worth more bang for your buck.

Max: Curse of the Brotherhood
Genre: Platformer
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox One (also available on Xbox 360)
Developer: Press Play
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: December 20, 2013
Rating:
6 / 10

‘Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures’ is an entry-level game for kids in need of some polish

Pac-Man is back and opposite of recent releases like hyper arcade-style Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+, this is a more fleshed out version of the yellow muncher. Normally, I would say it was not a good idea to have overly simple and cheesy voiceover used in this 3D platformer, but it does stick to the source material. Ultimately, this game is aimed toward fans of the TV show of the same name and to a lesser extent Pac-Man fans and if it were up to them, the direction taken totally works. Even though the game isn’t so great, for a videogame based on a show that is based on a videogame, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures does it better than most within the realm of TV/movie games.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures takes place in Pacopolis and the duty of Pac-Man and his ghost friends are to protect their world from evil ghosts. Interestingly enough, Pac-Man’s gang of friends are Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde, who are the cast of the original Pac-Man games. Yes, mortal enemies are now pals and Pac-Man is now chowing down on other ghosts and while saving others. It’s almost as disturbing as Mario and Sonic putting aside their differences to compete in the Olympics. Almost.

Taking traits seen in the original arcade game, Pac-Man has the ability to gobble ghosts up and scare them. Much like the autolocking attack mechanics seen in 3D Sonic titles, Pac-Man, when within certain range, will lunge at ghosts to eat them up. Scaring ghosts will render the ghosts helpless and much more easily eaten, but this power is granted sparingly. Then, there are a variety of power-ups at Pac-Man’s disposal, but they range from really cool to really useless. Special pellets are laid across stages and they grant Pac-Man a new ability while taking away the ones mentioned earlier. So while having ice or fire power to shoot at enemies, you lose the ability to chow down on ghosts. You lose the special power-up when you’re hit just once. At times, it’s better to stick with normal Pac-Man, because certain abilities, like the tongue-whipping chameleon power-up, are much more inefficient than just munching and biting.

What I do like about Pac-Man is that I feel more challenged here than some other platformers. Unlike the latest Mario and Rayman titles, Pac-Man actually does offer an incentive to actually stay alive. Scattered throughout each stage are checkpoints and when you lose the allotted lives granted to you, you get a ‘Game Over’ screen and are sent back to the beginning of the stage. However, I did feel I was extra cautious to not die only because I did not want to go through the trouble of replaying areas I’ve already cleared.

On the technical side, Pac-Man is competent enough to be considered a solid platformer. There are moments where the camera dips into inconvenient angles, but those occurrences happened scarcely. One gripe I do want to mention is that the camera would switch from free and in your control to fixed more times than I can count. I’m not particularly bothered by either gameplay style, but I say just pick one and stick with it. Overall, platforming works, it offers up a challenge and the game gets quite clever with the varying obstacles thrown in, such as using ice powers to create new platforms or using the long tongue of the chameleon to swing from bar to bar.

Multiplayer takes the approach of being a first-person view of the original arcade game and each player takes control of a ghost. Grabbing special attacks and battling the other players for points is the name of the game. Defeating Pac-Man ends the round or when he clears the board of all the pellets. It’s an interesting take on the classic game and the anxiety that kicks in when Pac-Man is chasing you when you’ve turned blue is exhilarating. However, the novelty wears off quick after you realize the sluggish pace and repetitive gameplay isn’t keeping your interest for very long. And not that it was expected to have it, but this mode is exclusively offline.

Nothing in Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures particularly stands out, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For seasoned gamers and platformer fans, like myself, Pac-Man is not a first choice when you think of a game you want to spend time playing. But for the kid who has been bamboozled into buying the videogame of his favorite new Saturday morning cartoon no matter how good the game may be, it’s a decent entry-level game. The game could use some more polish and multiplayer could have more to return to, but overall it’s a good kid’s game. Not every game can pull off the mass appeal of Mario and cater to people of all ages, but Pac-Man never promises to be that.

Man and the Ghostly Adventures
Genre: 3D Platformer
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360 (also available on Wii U, PS3, PC and 3DS)
Developer: Namco Bandai Games America
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games America
Release Date: October 29, 2013

Rating:

6.0 / 10

‘WWE 2K14′ Review – A Wrestling Franchise in Need of Change and a Spark of Inspiration

It’s another year and the annual WWE videogame has arrived once again. This time, the WWE license is under a new publisher in 2K Sports, but not much has changed to make the game better under the new helm. WWE 2K14 does add to an already solid series of games, but this means nothing when core issues from previous iterations aren’t addressed. What you have in WWE 2K14 is a game that has all the extra flash and flare, but the foundation is just as weak as before.

The hook with last year’s WWE ’13 was the opportunity to play through the biggest and best moments of the famed attitude era of wrestling. Taking that concept a step further, WWE 2K14 allows you to relive the greatest matches within the last 30 years of WrestleMania and the company’s premier event is plentiful in that regard. Because of the sheer amount of historic matches revisited here, the roster may be the best ever put together for a videogame. Mainstays like The Rock, Stone Cold and John Cena are all here and they are joined by huge stars of yesteryear, including Goldberg, Yokozuna and The Ultimate Warrior. Also, Yukes has really upped their arena game by not only including every TV and PPV arena of the calendar year, but also every single WrestleMania arena from 1 to 29 and a concept of the 30th. That, for a fan like me, is very impressive.

Newcomers will be greeted to a hefty and historically accurate account of WrestleMania history with fantastic video packages and mission based gameplay with the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode. Lifelong fans, like myself, will enjoy rewatching old footage and being able to play epic matches like Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker or even some of wrestling’s biggest blunders like Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg. Going above and beyond the simple objectives, such as using a certain move to gain a pinfall, will unlock extra content, so it’s better to attempt to recreate WrestleMania moments than not.

WWE Universe Mode makes a return and it follows the same formula established in previous iterations. Customization is at an all-time high with even more options, such as the ability to have a women’s championship established as a major title. That’s right, no more sexism here, folks! You can now also set up rivalries, assign default attires and choose how many matches you want to have per show. Fans who are looking for more flexibility with their booking have even more to tinker with in WWE 2K14.

Character customization has also been built upon with even more options than before. Newcomers to the creation process will be overwhelmed by the continually growing options. Every detail from the angle of the camera when a superstar enters the ring to the little tattoo on the left ankle of a wrestler can be customized. One neat new feature that has been added is the ability to add a twitter handle when a custom superstar enters the ring just like on TV. It’s a cool way to have online creations give their creators some shine when downloaded by others around the world.

Completely new to the WWE franchise is The Streak mode. Since The Undertaker’s streak has played such a pivotal role in the history of WrestleMania, it’d only be fitting to have a mode dedicated to it. Here, you can choose to defend the streak or end it. It’s not as fully fleshed out as the 30 years of WrestleMania or WWE Universe mode, but it is a novelty that offers up a challenge that fans can appreciate. I got my butt kicked multiple times trying to break the streak, but once I got it done, it was a very rewarding moment.

When it comes to the overall gameplay of WWE 2K14, reoccurring issues and glitches bring down the what could have been amazing experience. The AI is still very finicky and the collision detection leaves much to be desired. I don’t believe I was able to have an entire match without something questionable happening. Whether it be my superstar mysteriously floating, objects warping into other objects or unexplained animations that should not have occurred, something annoying happened and it’s the same problems we’ve seen year after year. And anything outside of a simple one-on-one match, forget about it — it’s a circus.

Presentation also hurts the overall experience of WWE 2K14 and it’s a fix the franchise desperately needs. The menus and selection screens have remained largely the same for the past two years. If it weren’t for a giant glaring logo in the background, I would think this was the same game two years ago. I don’t mind it too much as it isn’t a necessarily bad thing, but it does make me rethink the value I’m getting out of my dollars. Plus, when games under the same publisher like NBA 2K14 are putting up amazing soundtracks, I would like something more than the same superstar themes repeated. WWE ’12 had original music, why couldn’t this? Also, the announcing team sound worse than ever before. I could understand I will hear the same lines after a while, but it shouldn’t happen as often as it does in WWE 2K14. I was using the steel steps on my opponent and heard the same two lines repeated.

Taking the game online, my experience was met by unpleasant matches to say the least. Matches were either sluggish or imperfect enough to throw off my precision in this heavily time-based game. When in the middle of a crucial pin, forget about kicking out because there is no way you’ll time it just right. The only way to actually get out of the pin would be by sheer and random luck. Again, same problem that has not been properly addressed.

WWE 2K14 looks great and has content that can last you ages. However, the sub-par gameplay and unplayable online makes the entire experience crumble apart and this notion is magnified when you’re a veteran of WWE games. It feels aged and it’s time for some drastic changes or the franchise will start losing fans, like myself, by the multitude. As much as I wanted to like this game, I just couldn’t look past the problems that have plagued the franchise for years — not this time. Let’s hope the next generation of consoles will spark some inspiration for 2K15.

WWE 2K14
Genre: Professional Wrestling Simulator
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360 (also available on PS3)
Developer: Yukes, Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Release Date: October 29, 2013

Rating:

7.0 / 10

‘Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate’ for PS Vita is Stuck back in 1997

The good thing is the highly regarded Batman: Arkham series has finally made its way to handhelds. The bad news is Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate offers only a taste of the precedent set by the main series. Blackgate borrows some mechanics and certain gameplay elements from the console games, but ultimately decides to be its own thing and not an open-world action-adventure. Instead, Blackgate is a 2.5D side-scroller with gameplay that closely resembles Castlevania. Although the concept is completely acceptable, the execution was all wrong.

Blackgate‘s story is told through comic-style art accompanied by decent voice-over, which you will appreciate once you hear the first set of banter between Batman and Catwoman. The work may not be on the level 90’s Batman: The Animated Series, but it’s certainly above average. Blackgate takes place 3 months after Arkham Origins finishes and the 3 main foes are Joker, the Penguin and Black Mask. Commissioner Gordon sends Batman to investigate an explosion at Blackgate Prison and winds up embarking on a rescue mission to save the guards and security men who have been taken hostage.

Batman begins this adventure with a limited set of moves and equipment. As you make your way deeper into the depths of Blackgate Prison, you will discover and unlock new gadgets. From there, you can make your way back to that originally unopenable door you passed 30 minutes ago and bust it open with your new found toy. It’s a tried and true gameplay style that has served many classics well, but Blackgate screams unpolished and mundane.

Getting lost in Blackgate is fairly easy, because environments in Blackgate Prison look vastly similar and maps are represented only in 2D. Every area has a fixed camera angle and path and that’s where the problem lies. Because the game is constantly pushing and pulling Batman into the background and foreground, it is disorienting and it’s hard to tell which direction you’re going in regards to the map. Most of the time, I found myself checking the map as a reference point, going a certain direction for a few steps and then checking the map again to confirm which way I was going. It’s a poor design choice, because maps should be intuitive and easy understand.

Gameplay in Blackgate is very constrictive in terms of what you can or can’t do. Jumping, crawling and even using some of the Bat’s tools are completely context sensitive. Discovering a path or secret ledge is determined by whether or not you decided to try out the grappling hook’s autolock or not with a push of a button. What ends up happening is you try to autolock on stuff in every area, which is not only repetitive, but also makes sweeping a room of all its nooks and crannies incredibly easy.

What isn’t context sensitive are Batman’s combat moves. Punching and throwing batarangs are available for use at any time, but this also adds to some of Blackgate‘s troubles. There is a half second delay when you approach a door or a ledge and are prompted to act upon it. So, what ends up happening more times than desired, especially for impatient speedsters like me, is that you end up swinging wildly at a door that you simply wanted to open. It makes the entire experience feel clunky and becomes very noticeably bothersome as you progress.

Combat closely resembles its console counterpart and translates well onto a 2D plane. Enemies with guns are a bit tougher here, because shots just need to be going your direction in order to hit its mark whereas the 3D world offers the ability to sidestep. Boss battles are one of the only highlights of Blackgate as they are a breath of fresh air compared to the constant backtracking and trial and error door hacking. The bull-fighting esque battle against Solomon Grundy or one-on-one battle against Joker serve well as entertaining and challenging battles.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is everything you would want from a Batman game if this was 1997 and the Arkham main series hadn’t already set a bar really high. The thing is, Blackgate is certainly not on par with your Castlevanias and Metroids and is not anywhere close to being a good Batman game comparatively speaking. For that, it’s hard to forgive the missteps taken by Armature Studios, a team that consists of key members who worked on the Metroid Prime Trilogy. For now, it’s best to steer clear of this handheld companion game and revisit the consoles titles.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
Genre: Action-Adventure
Platform: Reviewed on PS Vita
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: October 25, 2013

Rating:

5.0 / 10

‘Rayman Legends’ Review – Brilliant execution of 2D gameplay (Wii U)

The brilliant precedent set by Rayman Origins in 2011 has been surpassed by the latest entry in the limbless hero’s 18 year legacy. Ladies and gentlemen, Rayman Legends has arrived and it reminds us all why we adore 2D platformers. Clever gameplay, speed, challenge and demand for swift reaction are everything you look for in a platformer and it’s woven into every crevice of Legends. Ubisoft Montpellier makes it blatantly evident that much time and care was put into every level of Rayman Legends; throughout the entire 8-10 hour venture, there was never a dull moment.

As if a platformer ever needs one nor do you even care, Rayman Legends does have a story and it joins Rayman and his gang after a 1,000 year slumber. They soon find out that the 10 princesses of the land and the teensies have been captured and it’s up to you to save them. Simple story material here and it is told through charming cutscenes. Once you decide to watch or skip these cutscenes, you arrive at the meat and potatoes of the game.

Other platformers with multiple worlds and stages seem like a blur after playing through them, but that’s not the issue with Legends; no two stages are alike. This is especially telling when you can go back to the front of previously played areas and can reference at least one moment that stands out as being exceptionally fun. One stage will have you frantically scaling collapsing platforms and next would be a 2D airplane shooter-style board. The variety seems endless and the game is constantly introducing fresh ideas.

Boss battles are also a blast to play as they require the old-school sense of recognizing patterns. Whether it’s learning how a giant dragon is going to breathe down fiery death next or where the next punch of a giant luchador is going to go, you sort of don’t want the epic battles to end just because they’re so darn cool. The boss battles here are truly the perfect complement to the rest of the game.

Running, jumping, wall-jumping, attacking and sliding all return and are vastly similar to Rayman Origins. The only major gameplay inclusion in Legends comes in the form of the touch-screen and tilt required stages where you guide another player or an AI controlled character if you’re playing alone. Cutting ropes, clearing paths or blocking the flow of lava are just some of the assistance you will give via the Wii U gamepad touchscreen. 

Roughly a third of the game’s main stages are touch required and it is much better played with a friend. In fact, playing the touch stages with the AI as a partner is the game’s biggest downfall. The computer isn’t intelligent enough to know that the path is unsafe no matter how small the danger may be; you can clear a path, leave only a tiny piece of a sharp object protruding and the game is unaware it should make a very capable jump. Add the fact that the computer moves at a snail’s pace and what you have here are slow and frustrating levels you want to get over with to get back to running and jumping. As long as you play with another human player, touch and tilt works very well and adds a layer or depth and strategy that wasn’t met in the game’s predecessor.

Legends can be tough, especially when you’re going after all the collectibles and challenge levels, however, it is quite forgiving as well. Every stage checkpoints often and there is no such thing as an allotted amount of lives, so losing a life goes practically unpunished. There were a few areas where dying set me back further than I would have liked, but this certainly pales in comparison to other games that may actually have you replay entire levels or two for visiting the game over screen.

Co-op is an enjoyable experience to be had with friends, but it does get a bit hectic with three or four players. Adding a fifth player is also possible and that person can be part of the team as the touchscreen only player. When there’s 5 people playing at once, it’s easy to lose track of your player when so much is happening on one screen. I don’t think there’s any way around this, but at least characters look different enough which makes pinpointing your character a bit easier. Unfortunately, there’s no online capability and that’s a shame when Legends is at its best when played with other people.

Replayability is here with full-force as each level has multiple hidden passages and challenges and you can unlock levels from Rayman Origins as well; it’s as if this were two games rolled into one. Even after the credits roll, there is still so much content to explore and you definitely feel as if you got your money’s worth. Folks with the obsession to collect every little thing in a game will find themselves invested into Legends for well over 30 hours.

Beginner or seasoned veteran, little kid or grown adult, Rayman Legends is one of those games that anyone can pick up and play. Much like that first time you saw Super Mario Bros. or even the original Rayman in 1995, you can understand the game quickly and have a good time. Legends doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does take everything we love about 2D platformers and pulls them off with near perfection. Aside from some frustration when playing with the AI and the lack of online play, this is the best Rayman has ever looked and arguably for all 2D platformers.

Rayman Legends
Genre: Platforming
Platform: Reviewed on Wii U (also available on Xbox 306, PS3, PS Vita, PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: September 3, 2013

Rating:

9.0 / 10