Unite Morph!

Hideki Kamiya consistently directs games that I absolutely love: Viewtiful Joe, Okami, Bayonetta, etc. They are all inventive, deep games that positively revel in being video games. Instead of trying to hide their gamey-ness and present themselves as an “experience,” Kamiya’s games keep it up front and center, with visible high scores and level breaks. The Wonderful 101 is no different. It is a capital V video game. And it is amazing.

The Wonderful 101 is unique. There really aren’t any games that play like, though many of its individual elements can be found elsewhere. However, the combination of those elements is refreshingly original. Many of those elements come from previous Clover Studio/PlatinumGames games. Aesthetically, it looks a lot like Viewtiful Joe. It is mining that same Power Rangers/Super Sentai look, with lots of brightly colored heroes and gross alien monster villains. Like Joe, W101 has a ton of great characters and the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. W101’s cast is more expansive, from the serious, verbose Wonder-Red to the idiot surfer dude Wonder-Blue to the pop-star Dracula Wonder-Pink. Not all of the titular 101 are fleshed out characters, but a good dozen are. The story is a great winking Saturday Morning Cartoon. The stakes of the fight between the heroes and the alien invaders starts ridiculous and rises from there.

The game plays like a mix of Bayonetta and Okami. The general mechanics of combat are much like this teams previous action games. It features small, discrete fights and a flexible deep combat system based on switching weapons to maintain combos. It is fundamentally similar to Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. The wrinkle added to this system are the unite morphs, where the heroes team up to make giant weapons. Making these morphs is not unlike the brush powers of Okami. If you want a sword, draw a straight line, if you want a fist draw a circle, etc. While the action slows while you are drawing, trying to draw while continuing to fight makes for some tense combat. It is not an entirely intuitive system and the game’s biggest flaw is how awkwardly it eases players into a mostly new experience. Still, once it clicks there is nothing like it.

Where the Wonderful 101 shines is in how it keeps things moving. One minute you are exploring a lost city in the jungle, the next you are piloting a giant robot and having a Punch-Out!! style fight inside an erupting volcano and then you are shrinking down to fight viruses inside the body of your rival and then you are being aided by an even more giant robot to fight and entire armada of aliens in a shooter level. It never stops giving you something new to do. All the craziness would be distracting if the base game wasn’t so excellent. It all just meshes together so perfectly. The Wonderful 101 is at its heart a celebration of video games. Going over all the references to other games, but from Kamiya and Nintendo’s game could be a series of posts in itself. Some are little gameplay bits, like the Punch-Out!! fight, some are names, like the Lost Kingdom of Lowrule, but it adds something special to the game

The Wonderful 101 is the best game of the year so far and one of my favorite games, ever. From the look to the gameplay to how much it just loves being a video game, it seems made just for me. If you even remotely like video games, you owe it to yourself to buy this game.

2nd Quest: A Link to the Past

My attempt to beat all Zelda games last year, my 2nd Quest I called it, stalled out after about five games.  I burned out playing Majora’s Mask and writing about Link to the Past.  Well, lately I’ve been playing Wind Waker HD and Oracle of Ages and they’ve got me wanting to complete this replay.  So 2nd Quest is back with a long delayed look at A Link to the Past.

A Link to the Past is the game that really codified what a Zelda game is.  Every game after it, both 2D and 3D, has used a similar framework to LttP.  It is the original game on steroids.  It does all the good thing the first game does, but better and without many of the warts.

One thing A Link to the Past doesn’t do is waste the players time.  Some people, foolishly, judge Zelda games on how long it takes to get the sword.  By this incredibly flawed measure, LttP fares well.  The game gets the player from waking up in the rain to grabbing a sword and rescuing the Princess remarkably fast.  A first time player might take some time to find their way underneath the castle, but replays take no time at all.  Once you get past the intro part, the game lets you go free.  There are tons of things to do on the overworld and the next dungeon is rarely more than a couple minutes away.  The game is just snappy and while environmental hazards bar your path, there are no arbitrary barriers.  

As far as the gameplay goes, it is great.  Familiar to fans of the NES Legend of Zelda, but the small flaws in that game are sanded off.  Now bombable walls are hinted at, no more bombing everywhere to find secrets.  There are more buttons to equip weapons and tools.  It’s just a lot smoother than the somewhat stilted first game.  There is more structure to the dungeon set up. There are the first three dungeons, which allow Link to get the Mastersword. Much like nearly every game after that, the first three dungeons are an intro to the game. They are not necessarily too easy, but they are all about teaching players the rules as they go, without tutorials. After that the game gets serious, and dungeons are out to beat the player. It never gets too hard, but the series has rarely approached this level of difficulty since. The world of Hyrule is much more realized in this game. It is not just a hazard filled wasteland like it was in the first game. It is also not the RPG approximation that was Zelda II. There are forests and deserts and mountains and even a town, but present in that same top down view of the first game. It is magical and unforgettable.

A Link to the Past is widely considered one of the best games of all time. It definitely deserves to be in that conversation. This game hammers home to me not only just how great this series is, but how few games there are that try to out and out copy them. There are tons of platformers cribbing off Mario, but surprisingly few Zelda-clones. The only games I can think of to compare Zelda games to are other Zelda games (and Okami). The series could do with some clones, I think. Especially if they brought something new to the table or challenged Nintendo.

What I Read in September ‘13

At this point I am just having a down year for reading. September was another 2 book month. I don’t know why I’m just not reading at the pace I normally do, but I’m just not. Let’s get on with it.

Lord Peter Views the Body

Dorothy Sayers

This one is a collection of Wimsey shorts. Some are good, some were not as good. Some had serious, high stakes; others were jokey and inconsequential. Mostly they were good. The first is another one of these with an absolutely gruesome conclusion. It’s hard to write much about any of these stories without giving the mystery away. Many of them are so short there isn’t much there beside the set up and conclusion.

Wimsey is still an interesting character, even if he is largely beside the point in many of these stories. He shows up and solves the mystery, but the stories are about the mystery, not the characters. It is a nice change of pace from the full length mysteries.

4:50 From Paddington

Agatha Christie

I thought this was my first full length Christie, but then I remember that The Mysterious Affair at Styles was not a short. So it is my second Christie and my first Marple. I’m not familiar with Mrs. Marple, but her role in this story seemed strange to me. Her friend thinks she sees a murder while on the train, but the police don’t believe her. So she goes to Mrs. Marple, who does believe her and does some investigating. She finds the spot where the murder was likely to have occurred, then hires a woman to work as a housekeeper at the nearby home. That woman, Miss Eyelesbarrow, then takes over as the primary character. She investigates at the manor, meets the family all of whom are suspects and uncovers tons of red herrings. Then just at the end, Marple swoops in with the conclusion.

I didn’t love this book. The mystery doesn’t cheat, but the conclusion kind of comes out of nowhere. I get that a mystery’s goal is generally to mislead the reader so they don’t figure it out, but in this case the conclusion was not satisfactory. It really feels like the least interesting choice was made for the killer. His plan was just bad. I’ve been told that 4:50 From Paddington is not one of Christie’s best, and I believe it. This was moldy entertaining, but I wouldn’t call it good.

Next month: I am sure I will have read more than 2, but probably not enough to have any hope of hitting my yearly goal.

What I Read in August ’13

August continued my trend this year of not really getting any reading done. I read only two books in the month. Both of them were quite good, but the high quality doesn’t quite make up for the continuing lack of quantity. August was also the month that I finally ran out of new Jasper Fforde books to read. I truly was a sad day when I finished The Woman Who Died a Lot and realized that I didn’t have another like to immediately start in on. Hopefully Mr. Fforde has something coming soon. Maybe I should start rereading the Thursday Next books from the start. Decisions, decisions.

Gaudy Night
Dorothy Sayers
This is ostensibly a continuation of Sayers’ Peter Wimsey mystery series, but he is very much not the protagonist of this novel. That would his love interest Harriet Vane, the mystery writer first introduced in Strong Poison. She gets involved investigating some harassment happening at her Alma Mater, Shrewsbury College.
While there is definitely a mystery to be solved, Gaudy NIght isn’t so much a mystery as it is an examination of the changing roles of women in society at the time it was written. It is about Harriet’s relationship to Lord Peter and whether marriage, both in their case specifically and in general, is desirable or even worthwhile. It looks at the role of women in a world where the idea of separate spheres for the gender’s is crumbling. Harriet attends her class reunion and sees women who have taken all sorts of paths in life. Some married high, some married low, some gave up their studies to marry, some gave up marrying to study and very few that managed to have it all. She must face, after the end of her longtime relationship with a fellow writer, what path she wants to take. No one choice is shown to be absolutely right or wrong, she must decide what is best for her. It is fitting that culprit is someone upset about a woman supposedly usurping the rightful place of a man in academia.
Gaudy Night works as both a mystery and a feminist examination. While many of the problems are not particularly relevant here some seventy years later, a surprising number of them are. It is nice to read a mystery not wholly bound by it genre.

The Woman Who Died a Lot
Jasper Fforde
Yet another Thursday Next book, one I take as proof that while Thursday’s adventure’s may be coming to a close, though I hope not, Fforde is far from out of ingenious ideas. In a big change, this entry in the series almost totally ignores the BookWorld that has been such a big part. Instead, it features the return of the giant, evil Goliath Corporation as immediate villains. It also finally deals with the continuing Jenny situation.
The biggest thing The Woman Who Died a Lot does is hammer home that fact that Thursday is getting old. While that has been a running plot thread in the second series, it is really front and center here. The only way she knows that she’s been replaced by a synthetic duplicate is that they are in much better shape than she is. She solves a mystery dealing with stolen duplicates, the last gasp of the ChronoGuard and the final ramifications of the stupidity surplus. Most importantly, at least to me, is that she finally deals with Aornis Hades and her fictional daughter Jenny.
Shocking no one, I loved this book. It isn’t my favorite Fforde, that’s still Shades of Grey, but I would put this one in the upper half of the Thursday Next series. I eagerly await whatever Mr. Fforde has coming next.

Now Playing

Since I don’t have the time, or really the inclination, to expound in depth on all the games’ I’ve been playing recently, I am just going to do a monthly rundown of what I’ve been playing like the ones I do for what I read.


The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD – I’ve just started playing this remake of one of my favorite Zelda games. I’ve made it to Dragon’s Roost and I’m loving it. It looks even better than before. I’ll be playing this for a while.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages – I started this way back when the two Oracle games were released on 3DS, but lost track of it around the fifth dungeon. With no game being currently played in my 3DS, I figured I’d try to beat it before Pokemon X/Y hits. I’ve made it through the fifth dungeon now and should make it.

Lunar Silver Star Harmony – With a new PSP and a stack of games to play on it, my sudden cravings for the anime stylings of the Lunar series was serendipitous. I don’t know if I like this version better than the PlayStation one, despite it being objectively better in several ways. I just have a lot of nostalgia for the first remake and nostalgia is Lunar’s biggest selling point. It’s still Lunar though, so I’m having fun.


Bit.Trip Saga – I picked this up on the cheap from the eshop and have had my fun with it. I beat Beat and Void, both of which I greatly enjoyed. I was completely stymied by Core and gave up and I still absolutely detest Runner. The other two I didn’t play enough to from much of an opinion on them. It’s on my 3DS permanently and all of them are the sort of game that work great just randomly playing on occasion. I will probably do so for a long time.

Toki Tori 2 – Another game I started months ago and just now got around to finishing. I did right as they released a patch, making it Toki Tori 2+, so I only got to experience the fixes right at the end. It is a terrific little puzzle platformer. You are a bird who can tweet and stomp and you must solve some pretty dastardly puzzles with those few abilities. For such a cutesy game, it does almost no hand holding. Loads of fun.

Valkyria Chronicles II – The first game I tried out in my new PSP. It should be right up my alley; a strategy game with a focus on getting to know your army. That is formula Fire Emblem rode right into my heart. But in VCII, you army is a group of unlikable imbeciles. The gameplay is excellent, it is that gaggle of braindead “characters” that killed my interest in this game. Not a single one of them does anything but grate on my nerves. I might come back to this later, but I’m done with it for now.

Attack of the Friday Monsters – This is a charming little adventure game, set in a town used to shoot monster a monster TV show in the ’70s. As the young boy protagonist, you make friends with neighborhood kids, play card games and run errands. There really isn’t much game here. That doesn’t stop Attack from being wonderfully charming all the way through. I’m not sure there is a better way to spend three hours.

The Wonderful 101 – I will have a full review of this at some point. This is another game from genius game director Hideki Kamiya, the man behind classics like Viewtiful Joe, Okami and Bayonetta. It is just as excellent as his previous offerings (I know it is disingenuous to suggest that a video game is the product of one man, but the games this man directs are uniformly awesome). It looks like Viewtiful Joe and plays like Bayonetta with a little dash of Pikmin. I am in love with this game. I will likely keep playing it after I finish with Wind Waker. It is probably the best game released all year. Buy it. I don’t care if you even have a WiiU, you should buy this game.

On the Horizon:

Pokemon X/Y – I am inordinately pumped for a new Pokemon game, even though we got new ones each of the last two years. I am ready to catch them all again

Ace Attorney 5 – No matter how pumped I may be for Pokemon, it pales in comparison to how pumped I am to return to the world of Phoenix Wright. I had all but given up hope of seeing more from this series, but it is coming and soon.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 – I enjoyed FFXIII more than most and have had the sequel sitting on my shelf for more than a year. With the third part of this trilogy coming soon, I feel the need to play this game. I am at least certain it will be pretty. Maybe I’ll get started once I finish a Zelda.

Earthbound – I was so excited when this came out on the VC, but I only played it for an hour or two before promptly just leaving it sit on the WiiU. I really need to play it, it has been too long since I’ve done so

Resident Evil: Revelations – This will go in my 3DS around the end of the month; it seems like a good Halloween game. Or course, that is only if I am done with AA5 and/or Pokemon. Still, I will at least pop it in for the holiday.

What I Read in July ‘13

Three straight book posts? Well that’s what I’ve got ready to go. July basically confirmed that I am not making my usual 50 books read this year. I again came up short of the pace, having only read three books. None of which were particularly long. Still, three books is three books.

Clouds of Witness

Dorothy Sayers

The second Peter Wimsey book has a much more personal case than the first one. This time it is Peter’s brother who is suspected of murder. Suspected for the murder of their sister’s fiancé. All Lord Peter knows is that everyone involved is lying, including his siblings. There are holes in his brother story of taking a midnight walk and holes in his sister’s relationship with the victim. Our intrepid detective eventually uncovers everything, even though he has to make a daring transatlantic flight to do so in time.

I have one real problem with this book. It has to do with the ending, so if you don’t want the mystery spoiled don’t read the rest of this. My problem is there is no murder. It is a suicide. They set up a house party and everyone is a suspect, but they are all red herrings. There is still a mystery for Lord Peter to solve, but it is the immediately suspected and dismissed option. Still, it sis a fun read.

Strong Poison

Dorothy Sayers

The cheap Sayers mysteries skipped to the introduction of Wimsey’s eventual love interest Harriet Vane. She is suspected of murdering her lover. She is also something of an author stand in, being a mystery writer herself. Lord Peter immediately falls in love with her and vows to clear her name.

It’s hard to talk about these mysteries without spoiling them. This is another good one. Harriet is better character than she might seem at first. Seeing Lord Peter go gaga over her is entertaining. It is kind of odd that Lord Peter is not the one doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the investigation, at least not the part than ends up mattering.

Llana of Gathol

Edgar Rice Burroughs

This is the last Barsoom book that Burroughs finished and it reads like a capstone for the series. While there is clearly some self-parodying going on here, it also features nods to just about every previous book in the series. Most of the primary characters reappear, as do all the various races of Martians. Still, it gets repetitive to see John Carter repeatedly captured, only to get forced to fight an arena and beating all comers. Carter and his granddaughter, the titular Llana, at one point get caught by Martians that can make themselves invisible, but not just to the enemies but to each other as well. The whole thing is more ridiculous than even the usual Barsoom book.