December 24, 2007

Games Galore!

(NOTE: Errors are made visible via strikethrough.)

Like the movies, games have a very illustrious history. It started out from being the bleepy-bloopy 8-bit wackiness your parents/siblings/relatives from the 80's might know and love to being an orchestrated, true-to-life medium for storytelling and a lot of other things.

In the reviews we have here, we get a helluva a lot of Wii games, two DS games and a multiplatform title. And for the holiday season, I will also say the kind of audience you'll probably want to give these titles to. We head to the world of Flipside and flip out with Mario in his not-so paper thin RPG, we head to the courtroom to uncover the truth behind 4 lengthy, explosive cases in our two-tiered portable wonder, and we rock out to a good threequel.

Super Paper Mario (Wii)
In a nutshell: Humorous and crazy characters complement the equally excellent script. Graphics are truly unique in every level, some of them even emulating classic Mario platformers of past. Being able to flip between 2D and 3D worlds is cool for more unique level design but the camera during 3D view is bad.
Who I should give this to: Anyone finding a uniquely good Role-Playing Game. Not the type who searches for incredibly deep stories, but one who wants humorous happenings in between.

If saving the damsel in distress is a tired core concept of stories, so is the core concept of saving the world. Here in Super Paper Mario, it makes use of the two cliche concepts and infuses them with fresh wit and humorous writing, thus making me wonder why I ever said that the two aforementioned story concepts were corny and overused.

Speaking of the story, Super Paper Mario is about the two prophecies which are namely the Light and Dark Prognostici, the former being the one where the "Hero" prospers against the conspirators and the latter being the one where evil prospers and the world turns to mush. So, of course, being the "Hero", you'll have to make the Light Prognosticus true and defeat all sorts of bosses and conventional Mario monster fare to initially save the princess, your friends and eventually the world with the help of those aforementioned friends as well as some creatures called Pixls.

The different and cool thing that you have here is the ability to flip from 2D to 3D and back. But the condition set for this is that there is a limited duration to be in 3D mode because the Mario here is very paper-like and well, 2D. If you exceed that time limit (which is indicated by a bar), you lose 1HP. The problem with this concept is the execution. No, there's nothing wrong with the graphics in general as they are smooth and even humorously wacky at times but the camera. You won't be able to rotate it so if you encounter blocking err... blocks in your view while trying to jump that specific block, don't be surprised. It will happen most of the time.

The other main characters you get to play, namely Princess Peach, Bowser and Luigi, also have different abilities (but not the ability to "flip") and this makes for varition in gameplay as the abilities themselves react to different controls. On-the-fly character changing is also very convenient especially when solving a character specific puzzle.

Pixls also get the on-the-fly changing treatment as they help you through different types of puzzles as well. One such Pixl named Slim enables you to evade different traps and enemies therefore rendering you practically invisible, that is if you don't move. It also helps you get through ultra-thin holes that lead to another important room, hence the name Slim.

The biggest plus point the game has is its level design. Because you'll be able to flip between 2D and 3D worlds, there'll definitely be a lot of hidden objects that are simply fun to find and explore in as the game is chock full of them. But even without the 3D view does the level design still delight and challenge.

Overall, Super Paper Mario, while not perfect, has superb level design and a great story that benefits from a creative and humorous script. The gameplay in itself is also a highlight that fuses RPG and platforming elements together and meshes them well, the bad thing about the great concept is that the camera suffers in 3D mode as you cannot rotate it, much less move it. Nonetheless, the game delights and is a must-play by everyone, love or hate Mario.

Rating: 8.3/10 (Great)

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)
In a nutshell: It's a fun, puzzle-ridden and not to mention, lengthy journey. Though it has a lot of unlockables, I don't see myself replaying it again. Plus, it's a bummer that only randomly swinging your remote unsheathes the sword instantly, making it lacking a bit of finesse.
Who should I give this to: Hardcore gamers who don't mind the waggle, those who want to spend a lot of their spare time on a long journey.

Oh how long have I left this review blank? Well anyway, this Zelda game, released alongside the Wii console in 2006, is actually a greatly made adventure that will probably go unmatched in probably this console generation as it dishes out the challenging puzzles it is known for. Though people complain that (despite the complexity of said puzzles) they are comparably easy from its predecessors, this measure was probably taken to help people ease into the Wii, which was new at the time. And unlike Nintendo's other blockbuster franchise, Mario, Zelda has a more mature story though when you dig deeper, you'll find that the goal is almost the same as Mario's: rescue the princess and save the world. The twist here though, is the presence of the "Twilight World" (which might as well should've been dubbed the "Twilight Zone") where you, Link, turn into a wolf that is ridden by a girl named Midna who is a denizen of the aforementioned world.

Though nobody will probably care to know, Link was left-handed (because Shigeru Miyamoto, creator, was left-handed as well), but because people, even lefties, prefer to hold the Wiimote in the right hand and clutch the Nunchuk in the left, they reversed everything, therefore making left, right and right, left (but not up, down and down, up). So if ever you are to consult a so-called FAQ, make sure you find a dedicated Wii version, not a GameCube version.

Moving on, graphics are kinda decent at best for Wii, because it is actually a GameCube port. There are practically no framerate dips and graphical glitches though the presentation itself seems and feels old (despite the fact that this is the first Zelda game I've ever played).

It's especially fun to ride Epona, our green protagonist's horse as it feels exhilirating and speedy. The combat works well, but the thing is, you'll just whirl and whirl your hand in a bored manner so you can defeat your enemies, making combat feel like a chore. There's more variety in being Wolf Link though, as you can chain-attack three enemies in a fast amount of time, but after that, well, there are the shield attacks, but controls just feel rushed, tacked on and without finesse. Aiming is of course faster and more precise here as you use Link's trademark weapons such as sling shot, bombs, arrows, bomb arrows, etc..

But overall, if you can forgive the tacked-on combat system, you'll find that there is a lot of fun in Twilight Princess. Puzzles are challenging, the story is decent and it is lengthy. You'll even clock in 50 hours through the whole thing, even more so with unlockable searching. Honestly though, there were some yawn-inducing moments... but that's just me.

Rating: 7.7/10 (Almost, but not quite)

Cooking Mama: Cook-off (Wii)
In a nutshell: If you though a cooking sim would be perfect for the Wii, I'd probably agree. But this one? Well, controls are not responsive every time, there is not even the tiniest bit of story and it shines best in multiplayer.
Who should I give this to: Casual gamers who are drawn by cutesy drawings and music, Patient.

Hate it or love it, Cooking Mama, Office Create's cooking sim, is an undeniably cute and shallow (but in a sense, fun) game. And you'll hate it at times when the game doesn't even detect movement like a 360 movement while uhhh, squishing (?) meat or grating ginger.

In the graphics department, the game delivers below-par 3D renderings that look like upscaled DS graphics (kinda like when Trauma Center made the jump to Wii) but it's still decent to look at, but it's something I wouldn't call impressive.

"Good, better than Mama!" is what you'll be aiming for if you want to perfect cuisine... in this game at least. And you'll even be hearing it read in a Japanese-trying-too-hard-to-be-Italian manner by its voiceover which kind of contrasts the quirky, cute background music.

But once you get a hang of the controls that are assigned to every different mini-game (that presents itself as one step to making a certain food), you'll probably want to get to the "Let's cook" mode of every recipe which doesn't give you any help while making one, it also feels more fast-paced this way.

For what it's worth, the Wii version of Cooking Mama doesn't justify a purchase if you're an avid supporter of original games. But for P150 (pirated), you'll feel much better. Why? There is not even a storyline to follow, not even a stupid big cooking contest held in a stinking arena! But hey, if you're playing with friends/family, it'll be better appreciated, though the experience is once again marred by inconsistently responsive and clunky control method. Making it worse is the bad explanation before each mini-game that doesn't help (do they know how to use the Enter button???!!!!)! Its developer must've assumed that the game is so easy to pick up and play that there need not any tutorials anymore. Wrong! But maybe Mama's cuteness and quirky background music will pull you in anyway...

Rating: 6/10 (Fair; Multiplayer makes up most of the score)

Trauma Center: New Blood (Wii)
In a nutshell: This new edition of the famous surgery sim scores big with me and is a big improvement over its predecessor.
Who should I give this to: Hardcore surgeons, high score freaks, semi-casual gamers

If its predecessor, Second Opinion, was a great albeit graphically deficient translation of the surprise DS hit Trauma Center: Under the Knife, then New Blood, which literally has new blood for its newest cover stars and characters, is better than great.

This time, precisely 10 years after the GUILT outbreak, a new virus has arrived, and this one is called Stigma. No acronyms, no brouhaha, just Stigma. But still, alleviating it is more or less the same as killing GUILT, at least at first (via laser), but when it gets worse, hell breaks loose. No really, it's very hard. Even in the cases that don't involve the virus such as making skin grafts to cover burns. It's already mind-racking, and that's just in "Easy" mode. Then again, it's a quality that it (Atlus) didn't correct from its predecessors (even in the first DS version) and has probably become notorious for it. Despite that, everything that has changed is for the better.

For one, the presentation, which was lackluster in Second Opinion, gets a boost. Yes, the dialogue is still presented in non-motile, occasionally expressive anime/manga drawings but the backdrops have become more detailed and not to mention more. The 3D renderings of the human body have also improved as well, as they are smoother and more detailed as well.

Nothing has changed with the gameplay, which is good. And though there is a bit of medical drama that occurs between operations, you'll probably want to skip them anyway, as you'll want to proceed with the operation instantly. It will be hard to get a high rating though, so don't be surprised if you get constant C's. One new mode is the challenge mode wherein the game challenges you to treat as many patients as you can in 5 minutes without the nurse guiding you. Plus. the game also benefits and gets easier from its new Multiplayer mode which lets another doctor helm the Wiimote for guidance. And hopefully your friend won't be afraid of virtual blood. If he is, there's not much of the red stuff anyway which makes this a more accessible and social game.

There are still some sound effects and background music retained or remixed from its predecessors and they will sound familiar when they're blared. Other than that, there is also some forgettable new tunes. Another major improvement is the inclusion of solid voiceovers which helps enliven the text-based dialogue, and I mean every word of it. Unfortunately, the talent is wasted on a generic script, but it's not actually bad.

Now for the first time in the series do I see a lot of replay value especially due to its fun co-op. If you've been withholding the purchase of the franchise, get an appointment and release your inner surgeon. In fact, this is probably the best original effort from third-party publishers (in the Wii or DS) ever seen.

Rating: 8.5/10 (Excellent)

Soul Calibur Legends (Wii)
In a nutshell: The camera is especially terrible and the gameplay's repetitive. If you are a fan of the famous sword clashing game, you'll probably treat it like it never existed. Too bad I got a copy. :p
Who should I give this to: Nobody. They'll hate you for this!

I was a very big fan of the Soul Calibur fighting series especially when I was still loving my PS2, so when I heard of a Wii translation, I was so excited. Too bad it didn't work out. I mean, I'd rather get a port of Soul Calibur from the Dreamcast (and purchase it in VC if ever it was available) which garnered a perfect 10 in Gamespot by the way.

No really, this game will definitely taint the image of this classic fighting series as it features an irritating camera and repetitive controls. Somehow, I feel that the game is even unfinished especially because the single player and multiplayer campaigns both suck- big time.

The graphics are similar to the PS2 which is actually not bad. If you just want to see Taki or her -ahem- peculiarly shaped bosom, well, she's here too. But there's not much eye candy other than that especially if you're looking at almost the same designs as the last room you've been to.

It's just indefinitely terrible as I don't think I can find anything good with this game... Even the die-hards will hate it, even if the story is about Siegfried's journey to find power, este, the Soul Edge. After playing this game... I don't think I wanna know anyway. It just feels like your blabbering grandma especially when you combine it with the text-based presentation.

God, I've mentioned it all, so do I need to reason even more out?

2/10 (Utterly Dreadful)

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All (DS)
In a nutshell: An addicting game with engaging characters and well-crafted cases, this courtroom drama is something anyone should play though its pace is not as fast as the prosecutor's whip... No really, it's a whip.
Who should I give this to: The intellectual, or most anyone.

The DS has been the hotspot for the conception of games that buck the trend. First Atlus gave you the opportunity to play doctor, now Capcom gets you in the courtroom. No, it doesn't really share the former's quality of being excessively punishing, but the cases themselves have a lot of twists and turns that will definitely have you sweating but not swearing.

The presentation is actually effective despite the fact that the game is presented in the old-fashioned text box manner because the music aids with the expression of certain characters as well as their poses and screen flashes. So if ever you gotta talk to someone for information, it will definitely be full of personality, thus making them amusing to read and watch.

If you don't mind looking like a fool in a public place, then you can hold the Y button and yell whatever you need to shout (it will be written) like "Objection!" or "Take that!" so you can present some evidence or point out a contradiction in a person's testimony. But if you're not much of a fan of touch-screen and/or microphone controls, the game works as well with traditional tactility (este, buttons).

The things that really shine in the game are its great characters, right down from you to the most minor character, who even have a backstory of their own as well. Usually, these back stories even serve as strong evidence in defending your client, but of course, you shouldn't randomly present the dirt to the court, especially if the situation isn't that related to what evidence you have. Which leads me to the courtroom battles themselves. They are very intense especially those between the prosecutor von Karma who even holds a whip and made a career in Germany when she was just 13! But the fourth and last case is a very explosive one, not to mention very lengthy. And an action done in this part of the case will trigger either a good or bad ending. No, the bad ending is not the part when you get a game over verdict of "Not Guilty" and restarting from where you save (which is anywhere) but something that you'll have to find out for yourself.

A few bad eggs exist though: one is that the game relies too much on another action to trigger the next one, making it too linear, and two is that the evidence you have to present is almost unrelated to a certain contradictory statement in the testimony, making you scratch your head when you find out that this evidence is the one you'll have to present. So you'll probably want to occasionally peek through the walkthroughs made for the game.

I haven't played its predecessor, which they say was definitely better, but lawyer Phoenix Wright's second outing is something you should play anyway, not only for its intense courtroom battles, but also for its engaging characters and stories.

Rating: 8/10 (Great)

Mario Kart DS (DS, duh)
In a nutshell: Mario Kart DS is one of the best kart racing games ever made, especially with online features.
Who should I give this to: Best for children, but fun for all ages anyway. Probably your rival as well.

Nintendo's last-gen lunchbox actually had a lot of masterpieces, and Mario Kart, they say, was no exception. But because Nintendo was anti-online gaming back then, there was no online. Well, thank Nintendo for cleaning up its act when it released the DS and the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, because frankly, it's a ton of fun to race with people around the world.

But before more of that, let's focus on the aesthetics first. Well, the graphics are actually good for the DS and the action is smooth- very important for racing games. Plus, the kart designs, which there are a LOAD of, are varied and their qualities are actually noticeable and different from one another.

Online is just the icing of the cake, and this one is a great game to play, even if you're alone. There is actually varied gameplay here, from the conventional Grand Prix to the increasingly difficult Missions as well as "Shine Runners" and "Balloon Battles". Well, the game will keep you busy for weeks as there is a whopping number of stuff to unlock, like courses or karts.

The courses themselves range from the boring to the extremely hazardous. I mean, I'll never forget the many times I've hit that damn ball in the Waluigi Pinball course. But this makes for even more varied gameplay. And if you got 7 more friends, you can race against them (even if they don't have the game itself).

An irritating, but competition inducing feature is the power-ups and the quality of them. Actually, you'll never feel as if you're gonna be in the lowest position for long, as the power-ups you receive are better than what you get in the higher places. So if you get bombed by the opponent just inches before the finish line, don't be surprised.

Overall, the production value is apparently great for a DS game, the single-player campaign is more than enough to justify the tag, but the addition of online play and 7 player, lag-free, no-card multiplayer makes this game an excellently made one, not to mention addicting! After playing a bit of Mario Kart DS, I have high expectation for the imminent Wii console version.

9.0/10 (Superb!)

Guitar Hero II (PS2)
In a nutshell: It's the same old Guitar Hero we all probably know, with a few unwanted additions.
Who should I give this to: The rock fan, the casual gamer

Guitar Hero has helped bridge generation gaps by putting accessibly fun and increasingly difficult and addictive gameplay to the front. This is especially true with me as I definitely enjoyed the tracklist of the second one. Well, the new addition, developed by Neversoft instead of the usual Harmonix, is no different and is actually a bit more solid than last.

The graphics remain unchanged along with a bit of the presentation because the only (un)significantly new thing is the animated drawn aspiring rockers whose (not much of a) story gets played after 4 songs or so.

The gameplay is also unchanged except for the addition of a so-called Battle Mode which you can find in the Multiplayer Versus Mode of the game. Well, this concept isn't much of a good one, especially if the player you rock against gets down real fast, thus having practically no use for it. To put more insult to the injury, this concept is also found in the new "Boss Battles" that pit you against real guitarists like Slash from Metallica (correct me if I'm wrong) who's a fan of the past games.

Gamespot has noted though, that the difficulty has been ramped up. And since I can't afford the original package which includes a guitar, I'm not sure if I can handle Hard mode even on a controller! So this one, as they say, is for the fans!

Guitar Hero III is still the same Guitar Hero anyway, and if you're a hardcore fan, you'll be put in a challenge against the ramped up difficulty. But if you're a newcomer, I'm not saying that the best time to dive in is now, but the game is actually very accessible to many people, especially the fans of 80's to '07's Rock and Roll!

Rating: 7.0/10 (Good)

These are the games I have played or seen played up close and personal, but not played enough to get a review (especially for the latter scenario).

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (PS2)
Atlus' long-running series of Role-Playing Games (RPG) has proven to be one great game after another, and Persona 3, is probably another one of them.

The game's presentation is simply solid and comic book-like, complete with onomatopoeia and it's gameplay is what you'd expect in any RPG. But what drives it is its very unique story that revolves on the occult and what looks like repetitive suicide attempts as you will always shoot yourself in the head to do a command. It doesn't actually come out old, in fact, it still looks fresh even after a million times. The PS2 may be in its twilight years, but this game is good reason to get it out and go through its offbeat story, especially if you're a fan of RPG's.

Making it even more unique is its needs mechanic. This "mechanic" is somewhat "The SIms"-like but in school. You study, you make relationships, you join clubs, you live the high school life... complete with Japanese Pop (which fortunately appears when it's needed) and the restroom. There is actually pay-off for doing this as you also get tired when you go on midnight trips to a tower called the Tartarus, and your Personas benefit from social actions.

Speaking of Personas, they are spirits of monsters in my understanding that give you a variety of moves to choose from. They are customizable and you can even fuse two or three of them to get a stronger one. Apparently, even playing an MMORPG can boost a Persona's attribute in one way or another, so don't even think that the times the game is set is not modern.

I'll have to play more of this game, though, because so far, I haven't really felt how it's actually played.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii)
It's confusing and I don't wanna play it anymore. The presentation is actually kinda cool and not what I'd actually expect from a Nintendo game, but it's actually good. And when I'm not dizzy, the controls actually work well and feel responsive. Targeting is also faster due to the point-and-shoot mechanic that you can utilize with the motion-sensing Wiimote.

Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS)
You get a job, you plant trees, you sleep, you eat, you do stuff for animals! Apparently, this game sounds like The Sims or Harvest Moon but on the same vein is also Animal Crossing. I don't usually dig this kind of simulation stuff but hey, I like The Sims though...

Anywho, the game's 3D graphics are cute and colorful as is the music and its not so annoying Animalese language. The gameplay works well and occurs in real time, so the next time you fire up your DS, a person err, animal will probably be doing something else. But I'll get bored and I won't even bother reviewing the title anyway so... uhh... I guess this game will appeal more to girls. 'Coz they say that the game is infectiously addictive. Got none of that...

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