Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Lackluster Lineup

So I have good news and bad news. It seems that the good and bad always come packaged together. Too bad you can’t get just the good sometimes.

The good news: On December 17, 2008, Nintendo released on its website an article containing the Q1 2009 title lineup that spans almost 20 companies such as Activision, EA, Sega, THQ, Ubisoft, and, of course, Nintendo. Debuting on this list are beloved titles such as Sonic and the Black Knight, Monster Pals, Burger Island, Paws & Claws Pet Resort, and perhaps our favorite, DanceDanceRevolution Disney Grooves. Figure out the bad news yet?

The bad news: These games suck. Of the forty games on the list, not one sounds vaguely interesting. Oh wait, there's more. High Voltage Software’s The Conduit is postponed until May. Arghh.

Fear not, Wii owners. A few games that do not appear on the list for some inexplicable reason show some true potential.

The first is a promising title: THQ’s Deadly Creatures. Slated for a February 9 release, Deadly Creatures takes you on an adventure of epic proportions… as the Tarantula and the Scorpion. This action/suspense-thriller is based largely on combat as you traverse the striking desert landscape through the unique perspective of these frightening creatures, engaging in momentous battles against inhabiting predators such as the Rattlesnake and Gila Monster. Each beast has its own personal attributes, the Tarantula executing quick and nimble stealth attacks and the Scorpion exhibiting deadly brute force to overcome their rivals. Finish off each opponent with a cinematic finishing move. While the gameplay experience resembles an action/suspense-thriller, the story behind Deadly Creatures is deceiving with a dramatic nuance. Nintendo describes it as a “gripping story of human betrayal and greed,” with human characters featuring the voices of Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper. We’ll find out in February whether Deadly Creatures is as fun as it sounds, and hopefully it doesn’t bear a resemblance to any Bill Bob Thornton movie (ha ha ha).

Also absent from the list but touched upon in the article is the New Play Control! series of games, which features GameCube ports fused with the stylish Wii controls to present a fresh perspective on old favorites. The first two games in the series, with a March 2009 release, are New Play Control! Pikmin and New Play Control! Mario Power Tennis. This is the ideal chance for both newcomers and old fans alike to play these games in a fresh and exciting way.


To keep you engaged until May (with the exception of Deadly Creatures), might I suggest a few titles? Here’s my top 5 Must Play list of reputable stature to help you through the drought…

1) Resident Evil 4
2) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
3) Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
4) Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars
5) Call of Duty: World at War


Links:
Nintendo's Wii and DS Q1 Lineup
Deadly Creatures

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars

Today I will review the breath of fresh air for the Wii that is Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars.

Developer: Red Fly Studio

Publisher: Gamecock Media Group

Genre: Action Adventure/Platform

Rating: E 10+ for Mild Fantasy Violence and Animated Blood

No. of Players: 1, 2-player cooperative and minigames

Release Date: December 2, 2008

Since the young Red Fly Studio’s announcement of Mushroom Men back in early 2007, there has been much anticipation for this developer’s first game. Then, with Mushroom Men’s Wii-exclusive release on December 2, 2008, I must say that this anticipation is certainly not unfounded.

And it Hailed from the Sky…

The story, while a bit absurdist and resembling a classic ‘50s sci-fi movie, is unique, imaginative, and engrossing. A comet carrying an infectious green dust collides with Earth. Unbeknownst to humans, the strange dust transforms all flora and fauna within proximity into sentient species. Mushrooms thrived and formed tribes, living a peaceful existence. With peace, however, follows inevitable war. Enter protagonist Pax, a lone bolete mushroom and adept fighter, the sole remaining member of his clan after a deadly attack decimates his village. He is on a journey to find his place amongst his mushroom brethren.

The First Encounter

Pax’s first encounter is with a Morel tribe, the technologically and intellectually motivated ally of the Boletes. It is here that a hospitable Morel introduces you to the basic elements of the game, such as the control scheme and Gear menu. Primary controls for Pax, besides walking and looking, consist of jumping, attacking, rolling to dodge deadly attacks, and floating and blocking with his umbrella-shaped cranium. In addition to these, Pax possesses the power of Sporekinesis to manipulate and launch objects, such as baseballs, at unsuspecting enemies. Lastly, not too far into the game you will receive the Sticky Hand, allowing you to adhere to certain surfaces to zip-line you across the level to access hard-to-reach areas. These battle tactics, when used in conjunction, prove to be effective in advancing through the levels. And sailing precariously through the environments via Pax’s massive head somehow never grows old.

In this opening level, you will first witness the beautifully-rendered environments. OK, so it’s not the Xbox 360 here, but this Wii game truly shines when it comes to graphics. It is evident that much attention was paid to meticulous detail, from the mushrooms’ dwellings to the richness of the surrounding plant life. For instance, as Pax sustains damage, slices of his head remove to reveal his brain underneath. This also never quite grows old. Additionally, the dark and sinister environments are appealing and compelling, flawlessly capturing the mood for the game’s entirety; it really feels as though you’re a miniscule fungus amidst a gigantic world teeming with menacing forces. Some of the level sizes are substantial, requiring much prodding and poking around for items; prepare yourself for some hefty exploration.

Alongside the graphics, the ingenious and engaging music created by Primus’s Les Claypool and Gl33k utilizes an innovative metronome-based system that superbly adds to the overall quirkiness and absurdity of the experience.

Platform Peril

As Mushroom Men is a platformer, you will be immersed in the usual medley of platform elements as you would expect. Such an element is collectibles, an integral feature of the game, ranging from health-replenishing Spore Goo and valuable weapon ammo, to miscellaneous items such as rocks and rabbits' feet to open bonus concept art in the Gallery and meteorite chunks to boost Pax's stats. You can view the intriguing concept art, listen to funky Mushroom Men tunes, or partake in five minigames with a friend in the Gallery. The minigames and cooperative mode are the only 2-player features, but they are nothing to get too excited over.
The game controls pretty well, but sometimes you’ll find yourself stumbling over the controls and missing vital jumps. Soon thereafter your Wii remote will be lying in pieces and you’ll have to purchase a new plasma television set. Well, it’s not that frustrating, but you’ll surely find yourself gnashing your teeth at some point, such as when you finally and painstakingly maneuver your way to the top of a ceiling beam only to fumble a ledge and go plummeting down to the floor amongst a feeding frenzy of rabid rabbits. Ughhh.

There are a couple notable differences between Mushroom Men and other platform games such as Mario Galaxy. The first is that Mushroom Men has eliminated the familiar lives system. If you die, you regenerate from a safe place in the level that the game decides for you. While this seems to be only a minor offense, it can be an annoyance to make the tiring trip back to your desired location. The second difference is that the health bar has been replaced with a physical indication of inflicted damage: Pax's head. As previously mentioned, quarters of Pax’s head are removed with each attack like slices of pie, revealing his brain. On the fourth attack, Pax’s brain is fully exposed. On the fifth attack, he will die and regenerate elsewhere.


Baddies Galore

The enemies you will encounter throughout the game range from pesky pests such as spiders and hornets to rampant rodents such as mice, moles, and rabbits. Generally, these baddies are mere nuisances and can be pretty tough in swarms. Then there are the more threatening enemy mushrooms: the Amanitas and Lepiota, complete with weapons and spore powers. These creatures will certainly test your skills in battle, as they often attack in large numbers; the aforementioned dodging and blocking techniques will be valuable resources at your disposal. The boss fights are fun and interesting albeit relatively effortless once you determine the catch to completing them.

Heavy Artillery

Pax has at his disposal an arsenal of weapons. He has to first build them, however, by partaking in an expedition for “Scav,” or scavenged items, which are essentially the individual weapon components. While this weapon-constructing element of the game appears to be exhilarating, its supposed greatness is just a fa├žade. For some arbitrary reason, the weapon components are not merely lying around like normal everyday objects should be, which would make for a more gratifying, weapon-hunting experience; instead, they are hidden in those plastic gumball machine eggs and scattered throughout the levels, making it quite obvious that it’s Scav. Depending on your mood, this task can grow quite monotonous as some eggs are hidden in some seriously obscure locations that may take much climbing, maneuvering, and TV-bashing to reach. Once you recover all of the components, you simply press “A” in the Gear menu to fashion your new weapon. It would’ve been a more rewarding experience to actually build the weapon manually from scratch. But maybe that would require too much thought. Additionally, levels incorporate finding weapon components and building a weapon in the Goals list, making it mandatory. If I want to build new weapons, I should be able to do so of my own free will. Not because some guy says I should.

Okay, so maybe I’m nitpicking a tad. It is fun to yield an array of weapons (and when I say an array, I mean an array: 25 different weapons) with disparate methods of functioning, such as bashing, slashing, thrusting, and firing, and exciting to finally possess the pieces to build them all. Finding spare junk and fashioning weapons from them is an inventive idea in itself (even if executed a bit inadequately) so it does boast some merit. The custom-weapon system serves to create a fine balance within the game’s fighting scheme, as melee combat grows a bit stale after a while as the game employs the familiar “one-two-three” swing of the Wii remote. The assorted types of weapons and their diverse functions, along with the dodging, blocking, and Sporekinesis techniques, help keep the combat fresh and exciting.

Final Verdict

Novel, fun, and even a bit eccentric, Mushroom Men proves to be a unique and gratifying experience for the Wii. It boasts some of the prettiest graphics since the Wii’s release, and it even invokes a bit of nostalgia from the halcyon days of N64 platforming long gone. Not to mention the extraordinarily bizarre, captivating, and gorgeous artistic style that the game exhibits. The concept is original and riveting, a rare find on the Wii market these days. The gameplay, while sometimes too straightforward and analogous to other platformers, is justified by the distinctive combat style and the clever assortment of weapons. If you’re looking for some major fun on the Wii, without feeling like you’ve been ripped off (cough Red Steel cough), be sure to give Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars a play through.

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Concept: 8.5

Very unique story compared to others on the Wii. Finally, a fresh and original Nintendo game!

Graphics: 8.5

The game looks pretty. Character models and environments are detailed. Exceptional artistic flair. Among the best the Wii has to offer.

Sound: 9.0

Imaginative, original music by Les Claypool of Primus fame. Metronome-based music is interesting and fun to play to.

Gameplay: 7.0

Not drastically different from other platformers when it comes to gameplay. Combat style is fun due to the inventive custom-weapons system and assortment of moves Pax can perform, though it could be a bit more difficult especially for a seasoned gamer. Some frustrating platforming moments.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Much fun to be had with this game. Immersive worlds, zany characters, and fascinating story.

Lasting Appeal: 9.0

Very unique game compared to everything else out there for the Wii. Truly stands out.

Overall: 8.5

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Star is Born...

Welcome to Frank’s Wii Reviews: Prologue!

I’ve been an avid video game player since I was 1, according to my parents, at which time I picked up an NES controller and haphazardly steered Mario around Mushroom Kingdom. Since then I've played a countless number of video games, my favorites among those of Nintendo consoles and handhelds. Hence, I thought it would be a fun idea to conduct weekly Wii reviews. Why the Wii, you ask? Well, as my dear friends have come to know, I love Nintendo. Always have, always will. I don’t know what it is about Nintendo that I find so alluring. Maybe it’s the timeless and charming characters. Maybe it’s the dazzling Resident Evil series that the GameCube boasts. When it comes down to it, no matter what gimmicky rubbish Nintendo decides to release to the public, no matter what ghastly sins Nintendo commits, I always come crawling back repentantly to my cherished roots.

Really, though, I think Wii is unjustly overshadowed by the alleged greatness and popularity of the Xbox 360. Sure, the Xbox 360 is undoubtedly a tremendous monster capable of one day ruling the universe with a flick of its mighty finger, but one can partake in the equal greatness of the Wii. My primary goal is to uncover these gems and shed some light on games that have yet to receive their moment in the industry's spotlight. Concomitantly, I hope to forever condemn the games that should NEVER have made it past the scratch-paper stages of development.

I’ll try to eliminate the brilliant from the bullshit so you don’t have to waste any of your precious time and money. Because, as we all know, there’s an alarmingly high rate of bullshit out there. And very little money in your pocket. So read my reviews and thank me later.

So now many of you are probably inquiring, “OK, so Frank loves Nintendo. He will probably go on a long, drawn-out tirade about the merit of virtually every Wii game solely because they’re on the Wii and assign them an inexcusably high score.” Well, you’re wrong. I will make an earnest attempt to leave my bias out of every review to deliver truthful and accurate evaluations of games.

I will assign games a score from 1-10 (1 being incomplete, 10 being an exceptional must-have) that will encompass six categories: Concept, Graphics, Sound, Gameplay, Fun Factor, and Lasting Appeal. From these scores I will derive an average Overall score…
  • Concept: Is the idea new, fresh, and exciting? Or is it a dull and hackneyed experience that conveys that all-too-familiar feeling?
  • Graphics: Does the game boast up-to-date graphics (by Wii's standards)? Or those of the N64 days (not that the N64 is a bad system, but come on, it’s 2009)?
  • Sound: Does the game's music and sound effects complement the gameplay? Does it have a memorable or moving musical score? Does the music add that extra emotional punch to the game? Or are the music and/or sound effects trite and insufferable?
  • Gameplay: What are my experiences playing the game? Are the controls efficient and suitable for the game, and do those controls affect the difficulty of the game? Are the levels, characters, and plotline elements unique and interesting? Are the maps or environments realistic, thrilling, and inventive? How does the AI interact with the player? Etc. etc...
  • Fun Factor: Was my experience playing this game fun and unique? Or would I have rather played ten straight hours of Guitar Hero? *oh snap*
  • Lasting Appeal: Will I reserve deep within my heart a special place for the game? Or will I curse myself for ever laying eyes on it?

In addition to reviews, I will bring you the latest Wii news to keep you in tune to significant happenings in the Wii universe.

I hope you decide to share in my Wii reviews! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions! Thanks!