Sonic Forces Review

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Sonic the Hedgehog is one of the biggest names in the video game industry. Back in the 90s when SEGA still made consoles, the Blue Blur was a rival to Super Mario. It’s unfortunate that quite a few of his later games were mediocre. Secret Rings, Unleashed, and more recently Boom, all helped to sour the name of Sonic when it came to quality platforming. This year looked to reverse the trend. Sonic Mania, a throwback to classic Sonic side-scrolling, released to positive reviews. Of course, the time was right for a new 3D installment as well. Sonic Forces released this past week and is the first “big” game in awhile. It brought back familiar faces and was to feature a grand storyline. Combine that with fast-paced 3D and 2D gameplay, and we have what should be a platformer resurgence for the franchise. Sadly, the concept of Forces is better than the actual product. It’s a fun game, but lacks in some key areas.

The story begins when Sonic is called in to stop Dr. Eggman once again. The hero races through Green Hill and arrives in the city. Unfortunately, Eggman seems to have recruited Chaos, Zavok, Metal Sonic and Shadow. There’s also a new villain called Infinite working alongside the doctor. Sonic is defeated, and fast forward 6 months, Dr. Eggman has taken over the world. The resistance, led by Knuckles, has to somehow win the day. Though with Sonic seemingly gone, this could get hard.

Let’s discuss the story, arguably one of the game’s primary selling points. The concept of Dr. Eggman finally winning and taking over sounds awesome. The opening scene is filled with tension as Sonic is struck by his old enemies, and also a new powerful villain that Tails says is even faster. After this, the screen goes black with the text, “With Sonic defeated, Eggman’s army quickly took over. Within months, all but a few isolated areas in the world were under their control.” …What? Instead of telling me that happened, show me. The game is incredibly short, only a little over three hours long. This is due in part to the story taking shortcuts. According to the dialogue, Sonic was captured and tortured for months. Once again, don’t tell me, show me. Later in the game, Infinite traps Sonic and the Avatar in “Null Space.” Some time should have been spent in there, but the two heroes escape a few seconds later!

As one can see, the story seems to rush itself for no reason. Back in the early 2000s, the Sonic games had excellent, well-paced stories. Adventure 2 still stands above the rest when it comes to quality storytelling with actual emotion. Forces often lacks that emotional punch (Sonic was tortured for months, but when we find him, he has no bruises and gives no indication that he endured hardship) and has rushed pacing. Also, Sonic’s old enemies returning ended up being a massive disappointment – almost false advertising even. The story is still fun, but it’s a shame to think about what could have been. Infinite gets quality dialogue and is an interesting character. His last scene was anti-climatic sadly; he should have come back and be the true final boss.

The gameplay is another primary reason why one would pick up this game. The main Sonic gameplay uses a refined engine from Sonic Unleashed. This is sometimes a good thing, and a bad thing. It’s fun to blast through levels, but I can’t say there’s quality level design at work here when it comes to the main Sonic’s gameplay. The problem isn’t really in the levels themselves: the problem is the length. Just about every level you can beat in under two minutes. So, it’s hard to enjoy a level because it’s over incredibly quick. Ironically, the boost mechanic ends up almost being a negative, because it speeds up already short levels. (You can almost blast through Mystic Jungle completely with boost.) Why were the levels so short? It’s baffling.

Classic Sonic returns for retro gameplay. Again, the levels are too short. It’s a shame, because there is some quality design here. Iron Fortress late in the game was genuinely challenging, and even featured a nice auto-scrolling section. Just when I’m really enjoying the platforming, the level ends. This could have been better if each level had a second act, but that isn’t the case. There is a third type of gameplay, and that’s the “Avatar’s.” For some reason, Sonic Team thought fans would want to create their own character. To be fair, the Avatar’s gameplay isn’t bad. Personally, I would have rather been playing as Sonic but the Avatar’s levels were solid. (They are also sadly short as well.) The ability to customize Avatar’s weapon is a nice feature.

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Sonic Adventure 2 still features the best platforming of all the 3D Sonic games, and that came out over 15 years ago. The gameplay was fast, but not too fast where you’re zooming through the entire stage. The stages were of great length and memorable. (We all still remember City Escape and Metal Harbor.) You won’t be remembering many, if any, stages in Forces because they’re over before they get really good. Also, the gameplay mechanics didn’t seem very tight at times. Classic Sonic and Avatar in his/her 2D sections seemed loose, thus making some simple jumps seem almost risky.

One consistently strong aspect of the game is the soundtrack. From the heroic ‘Fist Bump’ to the villainous theme of Infinite, the music is one of the best in the franchise. That’s another reason why it’s too bad the levels are short: the music ends along with them. I wanted to keep listening to the amazing ‘Guardian Rock’ and ‘Aqua Road’ songs. The boss battles are solid. The Death Crab battle is well done and intense. It was lazy, however, for the big Infinite battle to be a re-skin of the earlier fight with Metal Sonic.

Overall, Sonic Forces is a missed opportunity for something truly great. I had fun playing through it – the gameplay and music is a pleasure. Some of the levels have thematic quality (the Death Egg robots in the background of Ghost Town is one such example) and surprisingly the Avatar’s gameplay is interesting. Sadly, the levels are too short to enjoy. The game is probably the shortest Sonic 3D game, clocking in at a little over 3 hours, which is criminally short. Even the story is disappointing. There’s some great cutscenes, but too much untapped potential and often lack of emotion to be invested if you don’t care about the characters. One can mock Sonic 06’s romance, but the plot there was engaging and well paced. Forces comes off as a rushed gameplay experience.

6/10

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Super Mario Odyssey Review

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Super Mario. Those two words mean a lot of things for many people. For some, it references the nostalgic days of playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES in the 80s. For others, it’s about modern installments such as going through the new arrivals list in Super Mario Maker. And then for the rest, it’s a constant reminder of what quality platforming looks like. Super Mario Bros. was not the first video game, but it set the standard of what a quality platforming adventure is all about. In fact, Mario has been in the business of setting standards in the video game industry. First with Super Mario Bros., then with Super Mario 64 which defined 3D platforming going forward. This year marks a special time for Nintendo. The company released its latest console, the Switch, in March. Just as with any Nintendo home console, a new main Mario game was announced. That game was Super Mario Odyssey.

When Mario was jumping over barrels in 8-bit form while Mayor Pauline sang the now iconic ‘Jump Up, Superstar!’ at New Donk City, it was at that moment I knew that Super Mario Odyssey was a revolution. Not only was it a revolution, it was a celebration of what has made Super Mario the face of video gaming as a whole. It takes the concept of previous platformers, specifically Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario 64, and delivers an exciting experience for the current generation. As you walk up the stairs of the dark Ruined Kingdom, and later rush into the wedding hall for the final showdown, you know that Odyssey will go down as a legend.

“In the skies above Peach’s castle…” the text says as you start a new game. We’re then shown as exciting  sequence of Mario doing battle with Bowser atop the latter’s airship as Princess Peach hangs in the balance. Bowser in his new wedding tuxedo manages to hit Mario with his top hat, and the hero falls a great distance. Mario’s hat is shredded by the airship’s propeller, and soon we meet Cappy. The opening isn’t quite as thematic as the intro to the first Super Mario Galaxy, but it still nicely sets up the story. So, Mario meets a little ghost whom can transform into different hats and “possess” other characters. It turns out that Bowser also kidnapped Cappy’s sister, so he and Mario have a common goal: stop Bowser’s wedding with Peach. Cap Kingdom serves as a great tutorial area as the player gets to know Mario’s controls (anyone who has played Super Mario 64 will feel right at home) and how Cappy works. Let’s discuss Cappy for a bit.

Some part of me was worried that the game would rely too much on Cappy’s “capture” ability. This ability was heavily featured in marketing. It looked fun, but at the same time, if the game relied too much on the gimmick, some of the quality platforming could be lost. This is not the case. Cappy is used to enhance the experience and provide unique ways to go through the levels. From Mario becoming a frog in Cap Kingdom, to becoming a Banzai Bill to break through stone blocks, Cappy is smartly utilized. I haven’t mentioned how thrilling it is to become a Tyrannosaurus Rex or to swim through the water as a Cheep Cheep. Cappy is also utilized greatly in the boss fights, such as possessing a Gushen to blast water at Mollusque-Lanceur, and having Madame Broode’s golden Chain Chomp ram into her. Also, there’s almost nothing as satisfying as reigning down blows on Bowser with the Koopa King’s own hat.

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The boss battles are well designed and a lot of fun. Who can forget taking control of Knucklotec’s fist and then ramming it into his face? How about using a tank to blast away the MechaWiggler that’s wreaking havoc in the Metro Kingdom? I’ll never forget those, but perhaps the most epic was the fight against the Lord of Lightning atop the Ruined Kingdom. This was an example of showing how realistic graphics can exist in a Mario game. The Broodal fights are simplistic, but fun. Typically, the boss battles aren’t too difficult. This is understandable because the Mario series has been known for being accessible for all ages. Whereas a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild might attract older players, the Mario series attracts audiences of all ages. The boss fights, while not too difficult, are unique and provide a memorable experience. The final Bowser battle provides some good challenge and patterns to memorize.

As with previous Mario games, the worlds in Super Mario Odyessey are incredible. Whereas Sunshine and Galaxy are limited by theme, Odyssey holds no limitations. We have the standard grassland in the form of Cascade Kingdom, the frosty Snow Kingdom, the food-themed Luncheon Kingdom, the New York City-inspired Metro Kingdom, among other fantastic worlds. These worlds are a nice size. They are not too big where players feel like they’ll never get all the moons. (None of the worlds are as annoyingly daunting as Hazy Maze Cave from Super Mario 64.) A fantastic soundtrack accompanies the kingdoms. From the soft Lake Kingdom theme to the intense Lost Kingdom theme, the music is a treat. And of course, ‘Jump Up, Superstar!’ is an absolute masterpiece. As a whole, the soundtrack might not be as strong as the Mario Galaxies’, but it’s still fantastic.

Finally, Odyssey is full of special surprises. I had a blast going through the short 8-bit sequences, which are an incredible throwback to Super Mario Bros., reminding the player when Super Mario began. I already mentioned the incredible sequence with 8-bit Mario jumping over barrels and eventually defeating DK as a homage to Mario’s first ever appearance in the arcade game, Donkey Kong. There is also this atmosphere of grand gameplay never before seen in the franchise. No one will forget when Mario turned into Lord of the Rings as the player faced a dragon at the Ruined Kingdom. Maybe even more epic was the Moon Kingdom, doing an even better job at putting Mario in space than the Galaxies. (The ominous wedding bells were excellent.)

It’s here in the Moon Kingdom when the game features a Metroid-like escape climax. As the characters break through blocks to escape as the beautiful song ‘Honeylune Ridge: Escape’ plays, it’s at this moment when the player realizes this might not just be the greatest Mario game, it might be the greatest game ever made. That’s why the final scene is a letdown. To really finalize the epic experience, the game should have had Mario tie the knot with Peach. The game plays around with that idea, but then it doesn’t happen. It’s a shame and insulting to over 30 years of the characters’ relationship. After such an epic climax, it’s too bad the game ended on a comedic note.

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Overall, Super Mario Odyssey should be remembered as one of the greatest games of this generation. The kingdom designs are diverse and engaging. You will not want to put down the controller. Cappy is the new F.L.U.D.D., and he’s just as smartly utilized as the water hose. There’s so much else to love about this game. It’s inviting and enthralling, not to mention epic. The callbacks to older games is an awesome touch for players who have grown up with the series. Aspects, like the hats/outfits and 8-bit sequences, enhance the experience. The soundtrack is a treat, and features two well done lyrical songs. Replay value is high, because there are over 800 Power Moons to collect. The game ended on a disappointing note, but the worlds, level design and just about everything works together so perfectly that I can’t hold back the perfect score. Super Mario Odyssey joins The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the finest games Nintendo has ever made.

10/10

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Review

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The Mario franchise is no stranger to different genres. Platforming is what the series is known for, but there have been many different types of games. There have been sports, RPGs, and even a dancing game on one occasion. Despite all this however, I don’t think many expected Mario to feature in an XCOM-style adventure. That’s the case with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. This game was a surprise when it was first announced. Not only is it the hero’s first foray with this kind of battle style, it’s also Mario’s first new game on Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch. Kingdom Battle delivers something special. It’s a unique, fun and sometimes quite challenging game that brings the heavily strategy-based XCOM gameplay into the colorful worlds of Mario and the Rabbids.

The story begins with the Rabbids warping into a human girl’s home. It’s a shame the story never went back there because she being a Mario fan was quite meta. Anyways, the Rabbids eventually warp to the Mushroom Kingdom. Because of one Rabbid’s fiddling of a helmet capable of merging, the Kingdom is now out of whack. Now Mario, the Rabbids and a few other Mushroom heroes go through four worlds to fix the Kingdom. The story is fun and engages the viewer from the start. Of course, part of that enjoyment is going to hinge on the Rabbids. Kids will probably like them, but for older players they can become jarring. Thankfully, the Rabbids never become overbearing. (I’m still wondering why we didn’t get Mario + Rayman instead.)

As fun as the story is, the gameplay is the primary winner here. Chances are if you’ve never played XCOM before, Kingdom Battle might look complex. Kingdom Battle’s gameplay however is quickly understood. By the end of World 1, the player is confident to press on. What makes this style of gameplay truly great is the amount of strategy it requires of the player. Players must make decisions on which weapons to use, which special abilities to implement, (should I heal my guys or make their weapons stronger?) which skills to upgrade, and how to use the environment to their advantage. One example is a battle that featured a Chain Chomp stage hazard. Eventually I figured out that I should use the Chain Chomp to my advantage. Another example of careful strategic planning is a battle that features an environment that circles around. The enemies featured here are mostly powerful Smashers, which do a large amount of damage. They however do not move very far; so players have to carefully maneuver and then attack them.

As one can see, there’s quality strategic play at work in this game. Sadly, quite a few battles are on the easier side. It’s understandable that Kingdom Battle works as an accessible point into the XCOM world, but more battles could have been given a slightly harder push. With that said, the game does feature quite a few genuine challenges that forces players to carefully evaluate their losses and come up with new strategies. When it’s hard, Kingdom Battle is a masterpiece when it comes to strategic play. The final boss heals himself twice, and makes the player ask the questions, “Should I concentrate on the minions and then focus on the boss, or focus all firepower on the boss? Can I do both?” The boss battles are diverse, from Rabbid Kong’s shockwaves to having to turn off the spotlight on Phantom of the Bwahpera.

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To switch things up, the gameplay sometimes features “get to the goal” battles. Instead of fighting enemies, the objective is to get to the appointed yellow area. These were a nice change of pace. It especially gets interesting when you have to escort a non-fighter, such as Toad, to the goal without that character being depleted of his/her health.  While battles are the primary part of the game, you will spend a good amount of time exploring the maps. Here Mario and friends go from level to level often looking for secret areas that can yield artwork, new weapons, and other nifty things. You will also solve puzzles of varying difficulty. They are not a bad way to keep that strategic thinking going between battles.

The soundtrack is wonderfully orchestrated. From the tension-filled ‘Into the Pit’ to the epic ‘Bowser Returns,’ the music in this game is well done. It’s a shame there weren’t many Mario remixes, but since this is a crossover game, it makes sense the soundtrack wouldn’t be 100% focused on delivering Mario-specific themes. There are four worlds to trek through. That sounds like a small number, but each world has nine main sections, and they usually are not short. There are many collectibles to find for completionists. As for multiplayer, there are co-op challenges. That’s fine, but it’s shocking that there isn’t a versus mode. How fun would it be to challenge a sibling or friend whom has come over for some strategic play? Ubisoft made a mistake not implementing a competitive mode.

Overall, Mario + Rabbids is an unexpectedly great crossover. The amount of depth to the gameplay is amazing. Many battles you’ll think up different strategies as you see how far an enemy can move. You’ll use the environment to your advantage (while the computers do the same). The characters have diverse weapons and abilities. I personally liked Rabbid Peach’s heal ability and had her on my team. Maybe you will like Rabbid Yoshi’s Gatling gun-type weapon. There are other things to consider, such as skill points, further adding to the depth. More battles with higher difficultly would have been welcome however, and a lack of competitive multiplayer is almost a crime. Despite those things, Kingdom Battle is definitely worth a look, whether or not you’re familiar with XCOM. If you’re not familiar, this game will give you an appreciation for it.

8.5/10

Sonic Mania Review

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In recent years, Sonic as a franchise has been out of its prime. The last main game was Sonic Lost World, which wasn’t that great. To makes things worse, SEGA then released a new version of the series called Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, which was critically panned. Things started to look up last year in July when two new Sonic titles were announced. One of those titles was Sonic Mania. Similar to the underrated Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Mania was going to bring Sonic back to his Genesis roots. Mania took it one step further than Sonic 4, using the retro art style and sprites. The game saw release this year, and it ended up being a nice nostalgic trip reminding players why they fell in love with the franchise in the first place.

Mania has an impressive 13 zones. Eight of those are remastered while five are new. First, it was an interesting idea to remake old zones and even remix the themes. It’s nice to hop right back into Green Hill Zone and Flying Battery Zone. Stardust Speedway is iconic, but like in Sonic CD, it’s still a little uneven. Oil Ocean was intense, as it forces Sonic to watch out for the smoggy atmosphere that takes over the screen. So, it’s fun seeing some of the old zones back. At the same time however, it would have been great to see more original zones. In a new game, there should have been more original zones. Generations already had the idea of bringing back older zones. But, this isn’t a make it or break it deal as the old zones are still fun to play through, and the new ones are well made. Mirage Saloon Zone is a highlight.

Like the Genesis games, Mania puts an emphasis on speed. The player will be blasting through at many parts, but there’s also careful platforming. Getting squished is easy if one isn’t careful. The last zone, (not counting the secret final zone) Titanic Monarch, has plenty of platforming, forcing the player to slow down and carefully navigate the area. It’s a tough balance the Sonic games have to maintain, because on one hand the player wants to zoom through as the fastest video game character alive. On the other hand, just blasting through would make the game easy and quick. Mania nicely balances sonic-speed gameplay and platforming.

Boss battles in the Sonic series have been more on the challenging side. (Who could forget the Death Egg Robot at the end of Sonic the Hedgehog 2?) It’s the same with Mania; each boss is well designed and provides a quality challenge. One highlight is the encounter with Metal Sonic at the end of Stardust Speedway. It’s fast paced and intense, especially if you’re not able to hold on to your rings. Another highlight is Heavy Magician at the end of Mirage Saloon, where it impersonates classic Sonic characters Fang, Bean, and Bark. Oh, one can’t forget playing a round of Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine against Eggman himself at the end of Chemical Plant Zone. Multiplayer is a nice feature, and Mania also has a competition mode, which is always welcome. The soundtrack is fantastic, from the remastered themes to the original ones.

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Overall, Sonic Mania does a stellar job bringing back the original Sonic style of gameplay. It looks and plays like a Genesis title. It’s evident from the start that the developers care a great deal about the franchise. Though there’s too many old zones in comparison to new ones, they are almost all a blast to run through. Acquiring the Chaos Emeralds is a hard endeavor, so those wanting to get the true ending are in for a genuine challenge. If you’ve been absent from the series for awhile or just want some classic Sonic, Mania is worth the purchase. Sonic is finally back with a title worthy of his 25th anniversary, which looks to continue later this year with Sonic Forces.

8.5/10

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

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When one hears the name “Zelda,” one thinks of a princess, adventure, and dungeons. There’s also another word, and that’s “quality.” Since its inception in 1986, The Legend of Zelda has cemented itself as one of the greatest in the adventure platformer genre. Every main 3D console game has received critical appraise, from Ocarina of Time to Skyward Sword. The small console ones have too been well liked. The latest game, Breath of the Wild, had been highly anticipated since its unveiling. It looked to be the first game in a long time to shake up the core gameplay. Sure, every game has its unique gimmick, but Breath of the Wild looked to overhaul a lot of key things. It’s one of the most ambitious games Nintendo has ever produced, and one of the company’s finest.

When talking about some of the core concepts about Breath of the Wild, Director Eiji Aonuma in an interview with The Verge, stated that “…from the very start of Breath of the Wild, we wanted to, and set out to, create a world that wasn’t only vast, but where everything was connected. So you really could freely explore the world, without these barriers or gaps imposed.” These comments sum up what makes Breath of the Wild unique among Zelda titles: the vast open world. It takes Termina Field from Majora’s Mask to another level. It is such a great concept: if you see something in the distance, you can actually run to it and climb it; it’s not just decoration for the background. One can spend hours running around the map. In fact, it’s possible to not even explore the whole thing if the player is just set on following the core narrative. Nintendo succeeded in delivering a world that encourages players to check every inch of.

The Zelda series is known for its epic storylines, and Breath of the Wild continues in like manner. Hyrule was ravaged by “Calamity Ganon” 100 years ago, and Link has finally awakened from his slumber. Now Link has to take back the four Divine Beasts, eventually battling Ganon and freeing Princess Zelda from her burden of sealing the villain at Hyrule Castle. It’s a similar storyline, but also different and engages the player from beginning to end. It really feels like you’re part of something big as you hear the backstory from Impa early in the game.

After talking to Impa, the core part of the game begins: going to different areas and freeing the Divine Beasts from Ganon’s control. It’s smart how Nintendo did this; each area is placed far away from each other on the map. This forces the player to explore Hyrule. So, if players for some reason had no intention of exploring, they would still get much sightseeing.

As for knowing where to go, there are yellow indicators pointing Link to his destination. This was welcome, because sometimes in Zelda it can get a bit confusing where to go next. Breath of the Wild is more straightforward than Ocarina of Time. However, it’s not linear like a Crash Bandicoot level. Instead, Breath of the Wild almost perfectly balances having the player figure out what to do and being straightforward. Yes, there is an indicator on the map of where to go. But it’s up to the player to maneuver around obstacles and plan how to traverse tall mountains. The only part I was confused about was getting to Goron City. Link would soon heat up upon entry without the right clothes. I would be burning up looking for the shop at the city, where I would purchase the right attire to actually be able to live in the area. That worked, but it didn’t feel like that’s what the game wanted the player to do. Or maybe it was. Either way, getting to the different areas tested the player’s ability to plan on the go.

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The dungeons are of shorter length than the average Zelda dungeon. This is a good thing, because it can take awhile, almost 40 minutes even, to get to the next area. If the dungeons were super long as well, that would have been too much. The dungeons instead are just the perfect length. The length also doesn’t affect the level of brainstorming players must do in order to complete the dungeons. Zelda games are known for its dungeons and forcing players to consider how to use the tools at their disposal. Each dungeon in Breath of the Wild makes the player think, and every time a breakthrough would occur, it was a truly happy moment.

There’s a boss at the end of every main dungeon. Breath of the Wild isn’t the easiest game out there, and the bosses are evident of that. They are genuinely challenging. (One won’t forget facing Waterblight Ganon.) Arrows are a key aspect in facing these bosses, and that’s another thing making this Zelda game unique among other entries. Link can find arrows out in the open (of course, he can also purchase them) and also weapons. These weapons, from a woodcutter’s axe to tree branch, eventually break. It would be a shame to have everything break or run out in the middle of a boss battle; that’s why players want to stock up and carefully use different weapons throughout the game. This adds another layer of strategy as players trek through the 30 hour story.

As for Link himself, he plays similarly to previous incarnations. The biggest difference is that he can now jump. It’s a little strange to see him jump after all these years. (Then again, he’s always been able to jump in Super Smash Bros.) Another change is that Link has unlimited access to bombs, and can even stop some things from moving. These are nicely implemented for puzzles and boss fights. On the giant map there are many mini-dungeons called Shrines, which also serve as checkpoints Link can warp to. These are great because running back and fourth across the map would grow tiresome. Entering and completing these mini-dungeons are optional, but doing so will eventually give Link more stamina and hearts. Those things are important, so they’re a good incentive for players to complete the Shrines. Another new feature is cooking food. There’s a lot of food in the open to replenish hearts, and cooking adds special benefits. It’s an interesting feature that, once again, adds a layer of strategy.

The final boss battle is epic and provides a satisfying finale. The award to greatest Ganon boss fight still belongs to Twilight Princess, but Breath of the Wild’s was well done as well. (The final Light Arrow shot won’t soon be forgotten.) Actually getting to Ganon is one of the most well done parts of the game. Getting to the top of a ravaged Hyrule Castle with some of the classic Zelda theme playing was intense. Unfortunately, acquiring the Master Sword is optional. Characters make mention of it, but it’s a side quest. It should have been a main quest because completing the game without it just doesn’t feel right.

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Overall, Breath of the Wild lives up to its grand presentation. The open world is one of the best, encouraging players to run around and see what they can find. The story is enthralling and full of memorable characters. The soundtrack is also great. There are many variations on the Zelda formula, but they never feel out of place or different just to be different. That’s because there’s a level of quality and class to the gameplay and story, as one would expect from a Zelda title. Link’s mission to take back Hyrule from Ganon is epic. Breath of the Wild makes the case for game of the year. Though, with Super Mario Odyssey coming out in October, Breath of the Wild is going to have big competition.

10/10

STAR FOX ZERO Review

It’s always great to see a franchise return after a rather long hiatus. Mario and Zelda are fortunate enough to get titles frequently, but it could take awhile for others. (Metroid for example.) In the case of Star Fox, it had been 10 years since the last main game. Yes, in 2011 there was the 3DS remake of 64, but the last new game in the series, Command, came out back in 2006. One could then imagine the immense hype when ZERO was announced. This would be the first home console game for the title character since Gamecube’s Assault back in 2005. This would also look to be a much needed addition to the Wii U, which lacks a large array of great titles. Zero brings the franchise back to its roots and attempts to be much like what Super Mario Galaxy was to 64. It contains many of the classic elements while being something new. Sadly, there are quite a few aspects holding it back from being called a “great” game.

One of the more interesting aspects is the game’s story mode. For awhile it was quite vague whether this would be some kind of reboot or not. Well, it definitely is. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up for debate. On one hand, it had been a long time since the previous game so it makes sense Nintendo would want to revamp the story for a new audience. On the other hand, starting over and erasing a rich history could be a bit alienating. On the onset Nintendo does a pretty good job setting up the story through a solid intro. It sets the tone and introduces the characters well. After that however is when the writing takes a turn for the dull side.

Despite being a reboot, the game assumes you know these characters. Because of this, there isn’t much in the way of character development. Most of the time, you can interchange any character for any line and it wouldn’t make a difference. Instead of great banter between the characters, we get generic dialogue such as “Way to go Fox!” and “Are you OK?” Even worst, Star Wolf appears for basically a non-role. Again, the game assumes you know these characters and the relationships between them. This kind of thinking doesn’t work for a reboot. Who is Star Wolf? Why does he look similar to Fox? Are they old enemies? Instead of answering these questions, the game speedily has the player do the missions with very few cutscenes or explanations. This leads me to the game’s biggest drawback: the length.

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I personally would say any mainstream game (as in one that will cost you $60) should aim to be at least 8 hours. You can beat Zero in under half that. You can pick it up at 10 am and have it done before 2. That is unacceptable and makes it feel like we got half a game. It’s a shame because it has the making and look of an all-star title. The story is rich in concept, but the game doesn’t utilize it effectively. According to the intro Pigma pretended to be with the team, but was found to be a traitor working for Andross. The game could have spent some time on that aspect of the plot, because in theory that should be pretty deep. Instead, we have Pigma saying uninspired lines such as “Stop treating me like a pig roast!”

Adding more missions would have been a solid way to prolong the main mode, but that in itself wouldn’t have been enough to save the story. The game has excellent animation, some of the best graphics on the Wii U. It’s a shame it’s wasted on recycled radio scenes. Also adding more missions could have made the gameplay repetitive, so I think they should have brought back the on-foot patrol from the criminally underrated Assault. This way we could have had another gameplay element stopping the Arwing and Walker parts from becoming tedious. Of course, this would have only mattered if the game were longer. Sadly, you’re paying for half a game.

One more aspect of the writing worth discussing is Katt Monroe. As longtime fans know, Fox had a love interest named Krystal starting from back in Adventures. Sadly, Nintendo dropped the ball and ruined her in Command. I suppose the thought process here was to erase that and have someone else. The problem is that Katt appears out of nowhere. What’s even more strange is that she appears and Fox for some reason doesn’t say a word. It’s incredibly bizarre. Then, she reappears and hints at apparently knowing Falco at some point. Here Fox acknowledges her, but she disappears again for the rest of the game. Who was she? How does she know Falco? Was Fox simply awed by the pink color that he couldn’t speak? These are questions the mediocre writing leaves.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the game is the gameplay. Nintendo opted to use motion control with the Gamepad. Motion control isn’t inherently a bad thing, but often can take away from the core gameplay, making things unnecessarily complicated or worse: making what would be good gameplay broken. Here the game gives us two options: have motion control always on, or only when targeting. I’m really glad they added that second option, because to leave it on all the time is too “loose.” You’re bound to miss more with motion control always on, so there’s virtually no reason to keep it. With that said, the gameplay besides this is solid. It plays like how a Star Fox game should be. There are some instances where it feels like the controls are working against you (such as in the first battle against Pigma) but for the most part Nintendo has the player make excellent use of the cockpit in Gamepad view (plus fantastic use of both joysticks) and big screen TV view.

A good chunk of the missions are very well done and forces the player to strategize. Later you have the ability to shift from Arwing mode to Walker, which mixes up the way the player does things. Despite surprisingly appearing very little, the Landmaster is also put to fantastic use. There’s a sense of urgency and danger to most of the missions, starting right from the entrance to Corneria. This leads to perhaps the game’s biggest positive: a genuine difficulty. Even the most seasoned of players will have some trouble with a few of the boss fights. The Landmaster vs. Subterranean Weapon Scrapworm was very well done for example. The final boss was also challenging and I doubt many will be able to beat it on a first try. As a whole, the game harkens back to Nintendo’s glory days of providing legitimate challenges, which makes most of their modern entries, such as Yoshi’s Woolly World, look even worse.

Another strong positive is the game’s soundtrack. Nintendo is typically known for its great music, and this game is no different. Starting from the game’s intro it brings back many of the classic Star Fox themes for a new age. While Wolf was sadly underwritten and underused, at the very least his remixed theme song was a blast to hear. There’s also some excellent choir at the right times throughout the story. How about other modes? The game offers cooperative play, which is nice, but there should have been a separate “vs.” also. Assault had one of the greatest multiplayer modes from a Nintendo title, so it’s a shame we didn’t get something like that here. There’s also Arcade mode, but it’s essentially playing the entire game again. If there was a reward worth acquiring, it might be worth it, but the only other unlockable mode is Sound Test, which is incredibly disappointing.

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Overall, Zero has a lot of good features but too many drawbacks hindering what could have been a stellar product. $60 is a lot of money, so I expect something that’ll last a bit, not a game where one is able to complete in under 3 hours. The gameplay needs a little polishing, but I think the usage of a cockpit view working alongside a general view is brilliant, and to be fair it does work most of the time. (With motion controls turned off anyway.) The aerial and ground fights provide a solid challenge for old and new fans alike. The story sadly is incredibly lackluster. With more of an emphasis on writing, it could have at least made the short game more engaging on that front. Still, to call Zero a bad game would do it injustice, because it’s not. At its best, it provides a definitive Star Fox experience. It however lacks enough substance to be called anything other than “pretty okay.”

6.5/10

Pokkén Tournament Review

Pokkén is a concept I’ve always wanted to see in the Pokemon series. The games are famous for their turn based gameplay which has endured over 30 years since Red came out, but it’s always great to see different takes on a series. Zelda jumped into the beat ’em up genre with Hyrule Warriors recently and Sonic had Sonic the Fighters. While turn-based will always be the staple of Pokemon, I’m thrilled to see an installment with a more intense backdrop. For the first time we can see the Pokemon not subdued by trainer commands and battle it out like Digimon. Tournament takes the Tekken engine and puts a really unique spin on it. Like Super Smash Bros., this is a game that is simple enough for anyone to enjoy but is also very technical for those who enjoy competitive play.

Since Pokken is inspired by Tekken’s gameplay, it has more in common with Street Fighter than Smash Bros. On the onset the player can have fun just button mashing in local play. But once you play competitively with people that know what they’re doing, things get truly interesting. One can see that a lot of thought was put into the fighting mechanics and character movesets. Grabs negate shields and counterattacks goes through just about all others. Then there’s the excellent use of support Pokemon. The large amount of choices there from Fennekin to Eevee are impressive. “Synergy” has the ability to change the momentum of the match and secure a win. The split second strategies one has to come up with are never ending in this fantastic gameplay.

Let’s jump into the fighters. Pokken grabs characters from all throughout the generations. The game features 16 of them. Now this wouldn’t be a bad number if they were just the starters. But this is all the game features, which is disappointing. The only two unlockables are both Mewtwos. In a world where Smash Bros. can start with over 30 characters, we shouldn’t be seeing such a low amount from such a rich universe as Pokemon. (Since the game originally appeared in arcades is probably the reason for this, which in that case more characters could have been developed for the Wii U port.)

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The actual roster ranges from fantastic to questionable. We know the greats (Charizard, Blaziken, and Pikachu for example) but one has to imagine how we got Chandelure and not say Blastoise. (When you look at the cast as a whole, there is a severe lack of water types and an overabundance of fire types.) Pikachu Libre at first was a bizarre inclusion. I was annoyed in the beginning because clones shouldn’t exist in a franchise where there’s hundreds of characters to choose from. Libre however has a completely different moveset than Pikachu, so I must give props to Bandai Namco for not taking the easy way out. Libre in this case is welcome, although I think it would have been better if she had been Raichu instead. (That way we get a new character and representation for the criminally underrated Pikachu third form.) Each of the movesets are diverse and you’ll have fun trying each one out whether it be for fun or seeking to find your main for competitive play.

Another annoyance with having so few characters is that in the game’s single player mode one is going to be battling the same Pokemon multiple times. This is one of the reasons that makes Ferrum League sometimes boring to get through. The League, while nothing outstanding, at least gives something for the single player to do offline. The opening tournaments are incredibly easy, and the difficulty goes up during the third one. This mode is often not that exciting sadly and one definitely doesn’t feel motivated to get through it all in one sitting. (Considering also if you lose at some point in a tournament, you have to start over from it.) The game does give this mode a much needed boost of excitement after the first tournament with an incredible CGI cutscene. This is also a tease since we could have been getting excitement like that instead of the ongoing formulaic tournament.

The game features what one would expect: local 2-player, online, single player, and practice. As a whole it can be lacking. There’s no survival mode and not much to unlock outside of achievement titles and attire for your avatar. After one completes Ferrum League, there isn’t much to do besides online play. So, let’s discuss that part. Nintendo only recently jumped into the online format, and Pokken could be the best yet with it. Unlike Smash Bros., there’s an actual leaderboard system. You can see your worldwide and regional ranks. Hopefully future competitive games from the company utilize this. Also unlike Smash about 95% of the time the matches play smoothly. There is lag sometimes unfortunately, but it doesn’t render matches unplayable and isn’t too much of a factor.

The soundtrack blends into the fights very well. While it would have been nice to have some remixes of the classic themes, these are some really great ones for during battles. (Perhaps the best is Dragon’s Nest.) Like Street Fighter and Tekken, the stages aren’t really a factor. To put it bluntly, the stages in those games are virtually all the same, just recolored backgrounds. There’s nothing wrong with this: this kind of gameplay doesn’t really allow for stage hazards. Pokken’s has some nice, bright backgrounds such as Magikarp Festival to the darker ones such as Haunted House. Apparently some have bigger rings, but it’s hard to tell in-battle.

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Overall, Pokken Tournament is a dream come to life for many. Pokemon in frantic, high quality fighting gameplay is a fantastic concept this game makes great use of. Each of the characters have a diverse moveset and the actual battling always provides a blast as the opponent seeks to overpower & outwit the other. The Wii U now has two great 1st party fighting games: Super Smash Bros. and this one. As an arcade title it deserves a 9, maybe even a 10. But as a $60 Wii U port it feels a little bare-bones. The lack of modes and short character roster are the reasons for that. The enthusiastic narrator Nia is always nice to have around (even if she can become annoying talking every second in Ferrum League) but even she can’t bring the excitement once one completes the League and sees there isn’t much to do afterward outside of online ranking. (For many however, online ranking is all one needs.) These drawbacks don’t take away from the fact that Pokken is one of the finest fighting games out there. It takes the close intensity of a Street Fighter battle and adds a Poke-touch. It’s a must have for fighting game and Pokemon fans.

8/10