Now Playing November 2019

Beaten

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse –

I bought this game a few years ago, but never really got around to until recently. It is a pretty typical Kirby game in a lot of ways. It colorful and pleasant and not particularly challenging. It plays much like the DS game Canvas Curse, with the player using the touchscreen to draw paths for Kirby to follow through the stage. Knowing how to draw lines to both direct Kirby and to deflect obstacles is intuitive. I don’t know that it is quite as satisfying as a normal platformer, but it still works really well. There is a multiplayer component, but I didn’t have the chance to play it, so I don’t know how well that works. The most striking element of the game is the graphics. Nintendo has long been the master of aesthetics, and Rainbow Curse is another high mark. There was Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which Nintendo took to the next level with Yoshi’s Woolly World. There was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, with its impressionist looking backgrounds that resolved into solid shapes when you got close. Rainbow Curse turns everything to clay. It looks amazing; Kirby rolls and squishes. Everything really looks like someone shaped them and get realistically deformed by various kinds of contact. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is like a lot of the Kirby series; somehow forgetably excellent.

Battlefield 1 – read about it here.

Persona Q2 – post coming soon.

Streets of Rage 2 – At Thanksgiving, me and my brother powered through this classic beat-em-up. I don’t have a lot to say about it; Streets of Rage 2 is really good. I had the first back in the day, and my brothers and I would beat it repeatedly. The sequel has some more complexity and gets pretty tough as it goes, but it delivers some classic brawler fun. There is just something mindlessly enjoyable about moving to the right and punching out hundreds of dudes. The brawler has always been my preferred arcade style game. This deserves its reputation as one of the best.

Ongoing

Judgment – Progress is slow, but I am liking this game. Despite its similarities with the Yakuza series, I can feel the developers attempting to give this game a different flavor. A lot of the detective specific stuff works. Examining a crime scene is fun. But some stuff feels like a step back. Like the modal running/walking switch. Instead of holding a button to run, and smoothly transitioning in and out of different speeds, you push a button to run and keep running until you stop. It is a small change, but just slightly more awkward than it was before. Still, this is really good. I hope with some time I can really dig into it.

Sega Genesis Mini – While I beat Streets of Rage 2 with my brother, we sampled almost all of the multiplayer games. When I am around my brothers, I will probably give them some more time. Some Golden Axe or Gunstar Heroes. I also played through about half of World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck with my three year old nephew. He’s not quite old enough to grasp the game past the opening stage, but we had fun. When I’m playing solo, I really want to get to some time with the more complex games; like Shining Force, Beyond Oasis and Phantasy Star IV. I am really liking the Genesis Mini.

Sonic Mania – I played two more stages. I think I might be done with this for now. I don’t have anything bad to say about it, I’m just not feeling it right now and I don’t want to force myself to play a game I’m not enjoying.

Upcoming

Life is Strange – There was a PSN sale, I picked up a few things. Like Battlefield 1. And this, as well as Cosmic Star Heroine and Dragon Age Inquisition. I am going to play this next, and with a month between semesters I should have time to finish it.

SteamWorld Dig 2 – I got some game for my 3DS during the Black Friday sale. This is the first one I am looking to get started with. I kind of forgot this game came out. I loved the first SteamWorld Dig game and SteamWorld Heist.

Shovel Knight: King of Cards – I’ve never actually finished any of the extra campaigns for Shovel Knight. I played about half of Plague of Shadows and a couple stages of Spectre of Torment. I really want to correct that oversight, and the release of the fourth campaign feels like the ideal time to do that.

Kirby Triple Deluxe

Kirby games tend to come in two flavors: weird experimental things like Mass Attack or Epic Yarn and rock solid platformers like Super Star or Return to Dreamland.  Both are indispensable to the pink puff ball.  I love the Kirby series because it has games like Kirby’s Adventure as well as games like Kirby’s Canvas Curse.  Triple Deluxe definitely falls into the regular platformer category.  In fact, it stands as one of the most impressive outings for the “normal” Kirby, with both outstanding level design and a deep roster of power-ups.

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Let’s get one thing out of the way up front, Kirby Triple Deluxe is easy.  It is a Kirby game, they are all easy.  I wouldn’t want a Kirby game that wasn’t easy.  Outside of setting limitations on yourself, like playing without power-ups, this game is not going to challenge any sort of experienced player.  If you are coming into this game looking for challenge, I recommend you both look elsewhere and reevaluate the life decisions that led you to this moment.

On to more important topics, Triple Deluxe has some excellent level design.  A lot of the game, making some of the best use of the 3Ds’s 3D capabilities in along time, takes place on two planes.  There is the foreground, generally where Kirby starts, with the usual linear 2D action.  Then there is anther background plane.  By using special stars Kirby can jump back and forth.  Enemies can do the same.  Cannons shoot from the back screen to the front.  Most of the puzzles are about how to get a certain power from the front to the back or vise versa.  There are also a handful of levels that cover much of the path and force the player to use a mirror in the background to navigate.

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It is never hard to reach the end of a level, but it can be take some careful examination of your surroundings to get each of the three or four sun stones hidden in each stage.  This is where the game can get truly devious.  You’ll need to find hidden keys and manage to transport them to locks, as well as various destructive items that you’ll need to clear the way.  I especially like the laser bar, that Kirby holds on one plane that stretched to the other.  He must avoid obstacles on his side while using the laser to clear the way on the other.  It is the kind of inventiveness one would expect from a Mario game, though it never gets to the point where it truly requires mastery.

The second thing that makes this game, and this series, so great are the power ups.  Triple Deluxe uses the same, mostly, set of powers as Return to Dreamland.  That means each power-up has multiple uses and skills, making each one a varied tool that does require some mastery to use effectively.  Old favorites like Fighter, Beam and Wing are present, each with a handful of uses.  There are also some new ones, most of which are good enough that I hope they stick around.  Circus is cute, but I found it to be largely useless.  However, Bell is both adorable and useful.  Beetle and Arrow verge on being overpowered, though no more so than Hammer.  Since each power has so many moves an uses, it is largely up to the player which one to use.

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The last new power is Hypernova, which gives Kirby the power to suck up anything. While this is technically a power-up, it has more to do with the level design than with the other powers.  It is required for the levels it appears in, and when its present the game becomes about using Kirby’s sucking power to solve all of his problems.  It is less a powerful tool and more a necessity.  That doesn’t make it not fun.  The Hypernova levels are some of the best in the game.

This is all wrapped in a cuddly package with some of the best graphics on the 3DS.  It is just a short, delightful game.  It oozes charm and personality, and backs that up with some truly excellent gameplay.  There are modes I’ve barely touched, from the 2 Dedede centric modes to the multiplayer arena battle mode.  Like its predecessors Super Star and Return to Dreamland, Kirby Triple Deluxe does so much right that it is hard to hold any of its little faults, length and lack of Hammer power-ups, against it.

Top 10 Games of 2011

With 2011 coming to a close, I am looking back on the games that I played this year and like all great minds, I am making a top 10 list of my favorite games. Now, I am limited to only Wii and handheld games, since those are the only systems I own and I only played about 20 new games this year. Most of what I played was several years old at least. So this is a somewhat limited list. Let’s get on with it.

10. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
This is still a phenomenal game, even after 15 years. The only reason it isn’t higher on the list is that it is an only barely touched up port of a 15 year old game. Still, it is a good port of a great game. If you haven’t played Ocarina of Time, what is wrong with you?

9. Okamiden
If I had stopped this game halfway through, it would probably have been 4 or 5 spots higher on the list. Okamiden started out a delightful romp, but the longer it went on the less fun it was. It looks and sounds great, but the early simplicity is replaced not with increasingly complex difficulty but with sheer tedium. It is hard not to compare Okamiden to the DS Zelda games and find it lacking. It has a cohesive, explorable over world, but it stumbles nearly everywhere else in comparison. Still, it is a very good game, if not a great one like its predecessor.

8. Pokemon White
It is a new Pokemon game. There are a number of changes on the periphery, but the core gameplay remains unchanged. I plowed through to main game right as I got this, but haven’t felt the need to go back for the post game yet. Still, it’s a Pokemon game, you already know it you like it or not. I do like it.

7. Kirby: Return to Dreamland
This doesn’t quite reach the magical heights of Nintendo’s best games, but it is still a terrific co-op plat former. This is the game Kirby fans have been waiting for since Kirby 64 and it didn’t disappoint.

6. Professor Layton and the Last Spector
More Layton is always good. There is little new in this fourth entry (except for London Life, which I’ve barely touched) but as long as there are new puzzles, I’ll buy new Layton games. Plus, newcomer characters Emmy and Inspector Grosky are some of the best new characters of the year. Good, good stuff.

5. Solatorobo: Red the Hunter
Solatorobo is a game that whatever its faults, of which there are several, it is so earnest and heartfelt that is it hard to hold it against the game. It is a delightful romp through a charming, fantastical world. Sure, the game never really moves beyond picking up things and throwing them at enemies and the plot goes off the rails near the end but the bulk of the game is pure cheerful fun.

4. Kirby: Mass Attack
While Return to Dreamland was a classic Kirby platformer, Mass Attack is one of the pink blob’s experimental games. One that worked out better than most. It is a surprisingly intuitive combination of platformer and RTS that is simply a blast to play. If you own any sort of DS you should own this title.

3. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
This comes from the makers of Ace Attorney, and obviously so. It has the same wacky yet dark story and some top notch writing. The story is really great and the puzzle-y gameplay is nearly perfect.

2. Tactics Ogre
I love a good TRPG, and this remake of Tactics Ogre may be the best I’ve ever played. It comes from the same stock as the classic Final Fantasy Tactics and it shows. I put more than 60 hours on this thing and didn’t quite beat it. This game is nearly perfect.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
This isn’t even close. I loved Skyward Sword. I loved every part of it. The new run button, the motion controller sword fighting, you name it. Plus, Groose is the best new character of the year. Every part of this game is great.

Like We Ever Left Dreamland

Some thoughts on Kirby: Return to Dreamland

As prevalent as Kirby games have been on Nintendo systems since the pink ball first appeared, it is amazing to think that Kirby: Return to Dreamland is his first main series console outing since 2000’s (I think) Kirby 64. Most of his games have been relegated to handhelds and even then were mostly remakes and offshoots. The few home games have been aberrations (Air Ride) or not really Kirby games at all (Epic Yarn, though it is delightful). For his first primetime outing in a decade, Kirby proves that he still has it.

Return to Dreamland is also a return to Kirby’s best game, Super Star on the SNES. Kirby’s trademark power-ups in both games have more than just one or two uses; most of them give Kirby an expansive new move set. It may take some time to learn how to use some of the powers, but for most of them, it is worth it. And the best always has been and always will be fighter, tied with parasol. While sometimes a specific power-up is needed, the game most fun when you simply chose a power you like and wreck the game with that. Another thing Return to Dreamland takes from Super Star, though admittedly it likely also takes it from New Super Mario Bros Wii, is the co-op mode. Four players can play simultaneously. While it is one of the games biggest draws on paper, it is mostly the games greatest failure.

Okay, maybe it’s not quite a failure, but 4 player is not as good as it could and should be. Disappointing is what I’d call it, especially compared to the madcap perfection of NSMBW. There a several problems in playing with more than 2 players. First, the screen is zoomed in too far, crowding the players into a tiny area. There is just not enough room for 4 characters. The second problem is the ability for players to ride on each other’s backs. Not that it is a bad idea, but it is way to easy to accidentally hitch on to one of your buddies, messing up some tricky platforming section. This is compounded by the zoomed in problem. The two together make 4 player a mess.

Kirby: Return to Dreamland falls just short of classics like Kirby Super Star and New Super Mario Bros Wii. It is still very good, and mostly enjoyable, but the aforementioned flaws–and a few others like the shared life pool–make merely a very good game instead of a great one. It does capture that wonderful joy that is inherent to the Kirby series, easy to beat but hard to master and fun for everybody. It just further cements the Wii as the best system for Nintendo games since the SNES.

The Cutest Murderous Mob You’ll Ever See

A new Kirby game has been released and it has become my life. Fortunately, Kirby games are often short affairs, so it is dominion over my free time is sure to be short lived. (note: in the time between typing and posting this, I beat the game.) Kirby Mass Attack is a fitting last Nintendo game for the DS, as it seems like it may be. (I know that Nintendo is publishing Professor Layton 4 next month, but that is a Level 5 game, not a Nintendo one.) It is a platformer that combines the best of SNES era 2D gameplay with controls that are only possible with the DS’s touch screen. Mass Attack is the epitome of what the DS has offered over the last half-decade or so.

The best DS games, the one that aren’t ports or remakes, combine traditional types of gameplay with inventive use of some or all of the DS’s unique functionality. There are gems like Trauma Center, The World Ends with You and Kirby Canvas Curse. Canvas Curse is a great comparison for Mass Attack; they are both nontraditional Kirby games and they are possibly both the first and last great games for the system. While Canvas Curse was the game that announced the arrival of the DS as a full-fledged system and not a gimmicky blip next to the gameboy, Mass Attack is the culmination of five plus years of capitalizing on the potential Canvas Curse revealed.

Not that all uses of the touch screen or the second screen or anything else were good, but even some bad games had at least uniqueness to offer. There were disasters like Lunar Dragon Song but more often, there were interesting failures, like the various attempts to force a RTS on to the system. From Lost Magic (I’ve never played that one) to Heroes of Mana to Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings, it was tried many times, but never was it wholly successful, though Revenant Wings came close. Mass Attack also attempts to be something of an RTS, but it succeeds by adapting that sort of gameplay to a style of game more suited to the DS: a platformer.

At its heart, Kirby Mass Attack is not too different from Kirby Super Star, right down to the different mini-games. However, the RTS touches add an interesting wrinkle. Many DS games have tried full touch screen controls and as well as they have worked some times — the Zelda games for example — there is an inherent loss of precision. This can be a killer in the intense portions of most action games. Mass Attack’s RTS elements help alleviate that by giving the player direct control of 10 characters rather than one. The lack of precision is made up for by the mass of avatars the player controls. Best of all, the stages are designed with the strengths and weaknesses of the controls and screen size in mind. There are fewer precise jumps, because that is hard to do with no jump button, but more flat line hazards, which are still difficult and less frustrating.

Mass Attack looks and feels like an SNES game, but controls and plays much differently. It manages to be deliciously old school and entirely fresh and innovative at the same time. It is a Kirby game, despite how much it deviates from the norm (which is more and more becoming the norm for Kirby), so it is fairly short and mostly easy. I beat it in less than a week, though my completion percentage is only 74%. Putting this game over the top from very good to great is the slew of outstanding mini games unlocked by finding medals in the stages. There is pinball game, and a fake RPG and a wholly enjoyable shooter and several more I haven’t yet played. This game really seems to be a labor of love, as the best games are. The days of the DS are waning quickly, and titles like Mass Attack are helping the best video game system of the millennium (so far) go out with a bang.