Wii Must Say Farewell

With the recent release of the WiiU Nintendo has fully fazed out the original Wii. Really, they gave up on it after last year’s Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, releasing only a few dregs like Mario Party and the wholly excellent Kirby Collection since that. Sure, the Wii has been mostly dead all year, with Nintendo just now cutting off life support. While I am not surprised at the almost complete lack of anyone caring that it is gone, I am disappointed. Despite its bafflingly bad reputation, the Wii is one of my favorite gaming systems. It had its problems, like a lack of power and an unfortunate glut of crappy minigame collections, but the Wii also had some of the freshest, most original games since the original NES. I guess it is up to me to highlight some of the best things about the Wii.

The first is Nintendo’s own output for the machine. While there are many who suddenly decided they loved Nintendo’s Gamecube entries in their various series, Nintendo took what it learned from the at very least commercial failure of many of its GC games to good use with the Wii. It launched with a Zelda game. Twilight Princess is a great game, one of the best launch games ever. They followed up with 3 Mario games. No system had three new real Mario games since the NES. The Galaxy games were especially good. Mario Galaxy 2 is easily among my Top 5 favorite games of all time. They had a true Kirby game and an experimental Kirby game. A solid Metroid Prime game, though Other M is better off not mentioned. Then there are the other Nintendo series, a full complement of Mario Sports titles, the solid Super Paper Mario, WarioWare, a Fire Emblem, etc. The idea that the Wii was lacking in traditional games is laughable when Nintendo put out more than two dozen on their own.

Nintendo’s greatest success with the Wii was their new games, the games that got everybody playing. The Wii was a truly inclusive system, inviting everybody to play. Deride it if you will, but Wii Sports sold the system for a reason. While I was only really partial to bowling, there is something to be said for the magic of having your Grandmother play video games with you on Christmas.

The second biggest selling point of the Wii is the virtual console. While downloadable titles are commonplace now, the Virtual Console was what sold me on the idea. Many people seem determined to remember it only for the games it lacks, like the notable absence of Earthbound. However, the sheer wealth of classic games available for only slightly too much should be hard to overlook. While moving it over to my new WiiU, I realized that I have spent more than 200 dollars on VC games, and each one of them was worth the money. A significant chunk of the history of video games is on right there for everyone to experience.

There are also a lot of fun, experimental games. Games like the Trauma Center series, which turned playing doctor into an arcade-like experience or the pseudo-RTS Little King Story. Adventure games were already on their way back, but the Wii helped get them there fully, with games like the utterly charming Zack and Wiki. The motion controls of the Wii were not quite as revolutionary as some people hoped, but there is no arguing that they didn’t help widen the kinds of games available on home consoles.

In all, the Wii lived up to its original name of Revolution, though this Revolution turned out to be a short lived one. It was new and exciting, but Nintendo was unable to hook all their new gamers on buying things other than Wii Sports to play. The rise of tablets and gaming capable cell phones probably didn’t help either. Still there is enough to recommend about the Wii that it will receive an honored retirement at my home, sitting in a box alongside my decrepit PS2 and battered SNES, ready to be taken from the closet and hooked up at any time.

So what were the 10 best Wii games? Here’s my list

  1. Super Mario Galaxy 2: Just the best.
  2. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: Looks amazing and plays even better
  3. Super Mario Galaxy: Almost as good as its sequel
  4. Donkey Kong Country Returns: On any other system this might have been the best platformer
  5. Super Smash Brothers Brawl: It is hard to imagine any game topping this for a Nintendo love fest.
  6. No More Heroes 2: Brutal and hilarious. Old school in the best way.
  7. New Super Mario Bros. Wii: 2D Mario is back and I love it
  8. Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess: It is this low because it is better on the GC
  9. The Last Story: A great RPG with a nice tactical crunch
  10. Xenoblade Chronicles: An epic of epics, the closest thing we’re likely to get as a follow up to FFXII.

With two exceptions the best Wii games were published by Nintendo, and one of those two was developed by them and published by others. There were plenty of great games not made by the venerable king of video games. Here are the 10 best overlooked Wii games, though in no particular order.

  1. Little King Story. It doesn’t quite work as it should, but it is still fun
  2. Trauma Team. The culmination of the great doctor “sim.”
  3. Zack and Wiki. Some frustrating bits, but on the whole great fun.
  4. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles The Crystal Bearers. The title might be longer than the game, but it is a great RPG sandbox.
  5. Sin and Punishment: Star Successor. Shooter heaven.
  6. Fragile Dreams. Haunting, though rough.
  7. Klonoa. Even better than on PS1, but still just as ignored
  8. Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Beautiful, great fun.
  9. A Boy and His Blob. An awesome reimagining of a crusty classic
  10. MadWorld. Dark, violent, funny and tragically overlooked.

Honestly, I look at these two lists and can only think of the games that aren’t being mentioned, like Punch-Out, Kirby’s Epic Yarn or Boom Blox. I’ve also ignored Wiiware entirely. For the last five years I have done the vast majority of my home gaming on the Wii and have never felt like I was missing anything. That is not to say the PS3 and 360 aren’t great, just that we are living in a gaming golden age, where all three consoles have unique, vital games. The Wii deserves to be remembered as the great success it was. The games are different, often weird or ungainly, but they are also innovative and interesting and often fun. Thank you Nintendo, for you little white box.

Go See Lincoln!

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a powerful movie. It is a riveting account of the final months of his life, of one of our greatest President’s struggles with Civil War, family tragedy and permanently ending the evil of slavery in America. While the dialogue is sometimes stilted, though I understand much of the dialogue to be taken from what we know was actually said, the emotion and import is real and vastly entertaining.

The greatest triumph of the movie is without doubt Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln. Though I am far from an expert, it is one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever seen. If I didn’t already know who was playing him I do not think I could have guessed it. His Lincoln is as interesting a person as he is a historical figure. He is funny and irreverent, though weighed down by hard choices and numerous tragedies. You can almost see his shoulder’s sag under the great burdens he bears. But though there are no easy choices, you see the strength and care with which Lincoln makes them. It is truly an amazing performance.

The rest of the cast is also good. Tommy Lee Jones actually makes you forget he is Tommy Lee Jones playing an abolitionist congressman. Sally Field is great as Mrs. Lincoln, a woman at the end of her rope and who we know is soon to face another great tragedy. There are many more familiar, talented faces, like Joseph-Gordon Levitt as Robert Lincoln and James Spader as a vote buyer. Like all movies attempt to do, Lincoln really takes the viewer there and that is largely on the shoulders of the great cast.

The focus of the movie is on Lincoln’s attempts to get the 13th Amendment passed in the House of Representatives before the Civil War ends and the return of the Southern states make it impossible. Lincoln must weigh some less than upstanding methods needed to secure the two thirds majority needed with his desire to officially end the evil of slavery as well as attempts to broker a peace with the South. Should he meet with Southern leaders to end the war and stop the loss of life, or let is wind to its inevitable end while he eliminates the central cause of that war. There are no perfect options. It is both entertaining and illuminating.

Spielberg has brought countless classics to the big screen. (Countless = 10) Lincoln definitely belongs among his best. It is on the same level as Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. I expected to like Lincoln, but it might be the best movie I’ve seen this year. The word that constantly comes to mind is powerful. Do not miss it.

Professor Layton and the Great Disappointment

For the last five years or so, the Professor Layton series has been one of the best things in gaming. It combined charming story and characters with terrific, brain breaking puzzles for some of the best handheld games ever made. Each of the first four games were great. The previous success us why my expectations were so high for Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, and why I was so crushed when it failed to get even near those expectations.

While the core gameplay remains what is always was, a myriad of small problems almost render this latest Layton game unplayable. First are the new 3D graphics. The charming characters do not make the jump from two to three dimensions very well. Some, like Emmy, look just fine. More, like the now creepily beady-eyed Layton, look horrifying. While there are some advantages to the great range of animations available, but they lose all of their charm in the translation. This is a small problem, and one that is easy to get past, but it does lessen my enjoyment a little bit.

Then there is the new looking around mechanics. Instead of using the stylus to poke around the bottom screen, the player uses the styles on the bottom screen to poke around to top screen. This causes an unforgivable disconnect. While it does highlight the places where there is something interesting to see and let the environments be in 3D, it is imprecise enough be annoying.

Last, and worst, is that the balance between puzzles and story has tipped to the story. And that is bad. Over the first 4 hours of this game I got to less than 40 puzzles. It was too much talking and not enough puzzle solving. There are as many, or more, puzzles in this game as there have been in previous games, but they are spread out over nearly half again as much game. Most of the Layton games take about 10-12 hours to beat. Miracle Mask took me nearly 20. By the end I was really ready to be done with Layton. The game was slightly less fun to play but it lasted much longer. It became tiresome. The story here is actually not bad, but there seems to be less happening in it than in previous games. There really isn’t enough story to last the extra 5 hours this game does.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is still a solid game. It isn’t as good as the previous Layton games, but the basics of the gameplay are still here and are still entertaining. It just hurts that this series has been so much better in the past. I hope the next, and reportedly last, Layton game gets things back on track.

The Sky is not falling

Daniel Craig’s turn as James Bond has been widely praised, even though reactions to Quantum of Solace as a movie have been mixed. I had no opinion, because despite me being a Bond fan, until a couple of days ago I had not seen any of the recent Bond movies. There are several reasons why. The first is that the Brosnan era ended on the sourest of notes. I loved Brosnan as Bond. Sure Goldeneye was the only true classic in his run, though I will defend The World is Not Enough, but Brosnan was the best Bond since Connery; less jokey than Moore but not humorless like Dalton. Die Another Day was such a turd that it kind of killed my interest in the series. Then there was the long wait between movies, which kind of let me forget that I once liked this series. Most damning, though, was my perception of Casino Royale as a gritty reboot. I reject utterly the idea that realism is inherently better than the fantastic. Casino Royale seemed to be being sold on the fact that it was better because it was more realistic than previous Bonds. That rankled me. After watching it recently, I saw that Casino Royale was better because it was better written, acted and just flat better made than most Bond movies. After seeing Casino Royale, I felt that I needed to see Skyfall.

Casino Royale excised the detritus that had built up over 40 years of Bond. Elements that were there because they had always been there, things like Q and Moneypenny and gadgets, were gone. All that was left was Bond himself. Now that who Bond is has been reestablished, Skyfall starts to add that stuff back in ways that fit with the new tone. As a result, Skyfall feels more like a Bond movie, but it is still exceptionally made. Familiar elements return because there is now a place for them, a reason for them to exist.

Skyfall starts with a rousing action scene, with a motorcycle chase and a fight on top of a train. It is well shot and everything one could want in an opener. While it does set up the rest of the move the end though, goes for a shock that really isn’t followed up on. That is the one problem with Skyfall. There are a lot of great looking scenes and a plot that is simple enough, but the various acts don’t really flow together that well. It just short of jumps to the spot it wants to be at, and the logic getting there is sometimes spurious. Still, that doesn’t greatly harm the experience.

After a surprisingly great credit theme, in the past I really haven’t enjoyed them, Skyfall moves to Bond hunting down the person who stole the information on undercover agents while M deals with governmental questioning the usefulness of her organization in wake of losing said information. Bond goes to Shanghai for a some very entertaining spying and we meet our villain Silva, played by Javier Bardem. Silva is the best Bond villain since Sean Bean played Trevelyan in Goldeneye. Like that villain, Silva is a dark reflection of Bond, a cautionary tale of what happens when a spy goes bad. After Silva interacts with M and Bond, we get to the last part of the film. The third act, instead of more espionage, it is just a complex home invasion and shootout. It works, but it feels somewhat out of place for the climax of a Bond movie.

Skyfall is a really good action movie. It has its flaws, but they are far outnumbered by its strengths. The biggest of which is the acting. I still like Brosnan more than Craig, but Craig is a more thoughtful Bond. Judi Dench is still great as M and Javier Bardem makes Silva simultaneously pathetic and scary. Plus, there are some really great action scenes here. Skyfall is a lot of fun, like a Bond movie should be, but without losing the seriousness that has been there recently. Basically, it is all fans could ask for in a Bond movie.

Wreck is Ralph is Excellent

Going in to Wreck it Ralph, I was expecting it to be nothing but Toy Story, but with video games. I would have been perfectly satisfied with that; Toy Story is great and even a crude facsimile would likely be worth watching. For the first fifteen or so minutes, my supposition seemed like it was correct. On top of a healthy dose of video game allusions, it set up a world for arcade games that was not unlike Toy Story’s world of for toys. After that, though, Wreck it Ralph surprised me by being its own thing and by being pretty darn excellent to boot.

First, the loads of video game references made it easy for this movie to endear itself to me. I love video games, especially old video games. By filling it with imagery from those games it drew me in. The Donkey Kong like Fix it Felix Jr looks like a really fun arcade game. The jerky, simple animation of the characters from that game was really neat. I just loved the setting of the film. However, had they been just empty video game references, I would probably not have enjoyed it as much. Fortunately, the references serve the story instead of the story serving as a vehicle for the references. That is why most of them went away after the first few minutes. The movie needed to set up the world in the arcade, and the best way to do that was with recognizable characters. It is a short hand to help viewers identify with Ralph and Felix. Ralph is like Bowser, Zangief and the Ghosts in that he is a villain, but that is the role he plays, not who he is. After we have been eased into the world of Wreck it Ralph, the familiar characters are no longer needed, so they go away. They are used just enough to make old arcade lovers happy and to set up the story, but then disappear instead of overstaying their welcome.

While the story of Wreck it Ralph is a pretty standard hero’s journey, the characters are great. Ralph and Felix are a great Mario Donkey Kong stand in pair, with believable lives and problems. Calhoun’s overwrought similes are a riot, and she is suitably out of place in all the places that aren’t her game. King Candy is (spoilers) one of the best Disney villains in a long time, both hilarious and menacing. And Vanellope is perfectly grating. She is annoying, but just the amount she is supposed to be. She annoys Ralph, and the audience so they can feel Ralph’s annoyance, but usually characters like that go overboard into unlikable little goblins. Vanellope, though, is sympathetic even before the bullying scene. The movie really soars on how strong a character Ralph is. His goal is simple but nearly universal, especially with youngsters. He wants to belong. He wants to be invited to the party, to be recognized for his talents. He isn’t really a gentle giant, because he is prone to outbursts of anger and Hulk-like smashing, but he tries to be better. Unfortunately, he is Wreck it Ralph, he wrecks things.

Wreck it Ralph is one of the best animated movies I’ve seen in years. Easily the best one since Toy Story 3. I didn’t even go into how great the candy jokes from Sugar Rush were. This movie hits like the great Pixar movies, in that it is fun for both kids and adults. It doesn’t talk down to kids or over their heads, but it still retains plenty for older viewers to enjoy. I hoped it would be good, but I didn’t really expect it to be great. Wreck it Ralph was great.