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Archive for the ‘3DS’ Category

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure

Developer(s):
XPEC Entertainment
Vicarious Visions
Toys for Bob
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Action/Adventure/RPG
Release Date:
PC
October 12, 2011 (AU)
Consoles
October 13, 2011 (AU)
October 14, 2011 (EU)
October 16, 2011 (NA)
Rating: E10+
MSRP: $69.99 (or better)

Do not let the cute nature and the toys fool you! Skylanders is an innovative title boasting some strong RPG qualities that can only be truly appreciated by a seasoned gamer. While the cost may be enough to keep away some, there is no doubt in my mind that Skylanders has the potential to be something great, or at the very least, inspire more games to move in this direction of creativity and innovation.

In Skylanders, the mighty Portal Master, Eon, has been reduced to nothing more than a spiritual voice to guide the player through the world of Skyland. Given the Portal of Power and a few of the heroes (referred to as Skylanders), it is up to the player to restore the land to it’s former beauty by squandering the bite sized menace, Kaos. As the Portal Master, the player is given the right to command over thirty tiny heroes in a grand adventure fit for any style of gamer. There are many worlds filled with exotic enemies and friends alike that will surely bring great enjoyment to anyone willing to make the investment.

I say an investment because the biggest issue that restricts a player from having the full experience is the cost. The game’s starter pack starts at $69.99, which comes with the game, a portal, and three beginning characters. Be mindful that each portal only works for their respective system, however the characters can be brought along to play from any portal. Each expansion pack (new character, new world, and extra items) or character pack (three additional Skylanders) are $19.99, and any additional single character packs are $7.99. Factor in that there are currently 15 available characters at the time of writing, three legendaries, and two exclusives, and it is easy to see how this hobby can turn into an investment rather quickly. I have, however, devised a guide below that should help you in determining whether or not this game is for you. But before I get to that, allow me to explain further the game as it stands.

The game itself is both deep and lighthearted. It is pretty easy to get lost in simple button mashing to get through most of the stages, and if the player chooses a character with long range attacks, it is even easier to do so without dying. If we look beyond that however, we see an RPG based system that is actually pretty solid for what the game looks like on the surface. Characters earn experience to level up their Skylanders up to a maximum level of ten. During that time, they earn coins to develop their skills, which eventually branch off into two separate paths. If a character decides to go down one path, then the other becomes locked out. There are also ‘heroic challenges’ that can be used to further develop each character, however the challenges are just that: extremely challenging at times.

Changing characters within the game is extremely simple: just pull the character from the portal of power and place another one on. By some higher force (or maybe magic), the game recognizes each character and within a few seconds the game resumes with the new character replacing the old one. To add a second player, simply turn on the second controller, press a button, and add their Skylander. It truly is that simple. If there are any more than two Skylanders, however, the game will stop and inform you of such, and ask you to remove any excess. This can also happen if your Skylanders are laying on their side and are too close to the portal. I didn’t notice any kind of problems with this system, but the faster the characters are changed, the more laggy each load will be. I can see this being a problem for kids anxious to try all of the characters they have every two minutes.

A lot of the game’s content can be enjoyed with the original three characters, but there is no doubt that without more characters, about half of the game will be missing. New characters unlock more heroic challenges, as well as elemental pathways within each stage, allowing players to acquire stat boosting hats and treasure chests. Each character also is attached to one of eight elements that are strong in certain aries of the game.  All of the trophies and achievements can  be  earned (that I have seen) without any more characters, however the in-game achievement system (accolades) will be locked without every character. So in essence, it is a simple platformer game that has tied in a small scale action-RPG system within it.

Skylanders’ sound effects and music are perfect for the ambiance within the worlds. Dark, eerie levels are accented with deep undertones, while beach stages are light and poppy. I personally haven’t found any tunes that truly stand out, and yet I am also not turning down my volume in place of something more worthy. At times, the characters can be a little annoying as they typically talk/make noise when they attack, and that becomes amplified when they attack extremely fast (i.e. Trigger Happy has two guns that he giggles maniacally, and they can be shot as fast as the button can be pressed). The voice acting wasn’t bad either, but I did notice the game had issues ‘catching up’ if the player speeds through the dialog. Outside of that, I truly had no complaints with what I was listening to.

Another place that Skylanders doesn’t truly stand out, but doesn’t falter in either is the graphics. During the cutscenes, the graphics are late PS2 worthy, being smooth and refined, but not something that should be expected of a seventh generation game. During gameplay, the graphics change only slightly, but not by much. Where I would say this game shines graphically is actually in the figurines. When I first pulled them out, I didn’t pay much attention, but upon closer inspection one can notice a great amount of detail put into each figure to ensure that they are all painted well. Each character sits on a platform made up of it’s element, which is convenient for a quick glance survey of who may be needed next in a level.

One of the things that pains me about this game, and maybe I am a victim of my generation, is the lack of any real multiplayer. Don’t get me wrong, this game supports 1-2 players, but it is local only. I am not greedy, but I feel that having only two players local is a little dated for my tastes. At the very least, I would ask for either four player local, or making the two player available online as well. I understand that in this day and age to get four people into a room to play a game is tough, but when I pick up and play Skylanders I immediately see the potential of having four players, and this game simply lacks that feature. If you consider the audience this game was geared towards, it becomes a little more understandable, but if you are going to go through the effort to make a separate web based experience, at least add the ability to play with two more friends. Again, that could simply be me being a victim of my age, growing up around the N64, Dreamcast and Gamecube.

Now comes the innovations, which I believe was the saving grace for this game, and why it shines in my opinion. The reason each character sits on a base is not purely for aesthetics, or because it’s easy to see their element, but in fact all of the character data is stored within that base. Remember above where I said each figure is compatible with any portal, no matter what console? That is the reason why. The player is now allowed to take their customized Spyro, for example, and bring it to a friend’s house and play along with their Spyro. Add in the fact that each character can wear a hat and have a nickname, and it is easy to see why this could be a great time for kids. “Rusty” (my Drobot) is easily one of my favorite characters, and I can now share him with anyone who has a Portal of Power. It gives a sense of ownership and some form of randomization that it would be highly unlikely (but certainly not impossible) that two Skylanders would be identical.

There is also a web application that is available that a lot of people seem to overlook. While it is only in it’s Beta stages, I feel it is a very integral part of the game as well. If you register on the website http://www.skylandersgame.com, you can download the drivers to allow the Portal of Power to connect to your PC, and it allows players to register their Skylanders to their username and play within the browser. Inside this ‘Web Skyland’ players are able to connect with each other in a virtual world via chatting using their Skylander of choice as an avatar. Within the world, players are also able to level up (I haven’t reached the max yet, so I am unsure of what that may be), and play various mini-games both shown in the console game, and original ones designed just for the web. The coins earned within those games are used to customize the players’ “lair” with various caves, trees, and bridge. They may also travel to other player’s worlds to eat flowers, destroy barrels and haystacks, and so forth. The web side of the game is far from perfect, but it sets up a strong foundation of what’s to come.

Overall, this game is really a wonderful, innovative piece of technology that shows that toys and games do not have to be separate, and that owning a physical product doesn’t hurt us either instead of making everything DLC. That last bit could be because I’m still old school, however. As I mentioned above, I wanted to provide scenarios to those who are unsure about the costs and features available to them, and if you are teetering on either side of the fence, let this be the information you need to help you make the decision. I’ve come up with ultimately three scenarios that you may find yourself in, should you choose to play the game, and average costs:

  • Scenario 1) This is going to be for those players who simply want to purchase the game to have it. Maybe at one time you were a fan of Spyro, or are intrigued by the toys mixed with electronics. Either way, you now have a copy of the game, and you’re worried about what to expect. Worry not! You will be able to enjoy the full story of the game, as no additional characters are required to complete the game from start to finish. You will know how the ending wraps up, and will be happy to know that you’ve supported a game style that is very new to the industry. You can also achieve every single trophy and achievement that the game offers. You cannot, however, get all of the in-game accolades as well as explore all of the alternative paths that may net you more hats, gold and experience. Your average cost will be $69.99 plus applicable tax.
  • Scenario 2) This is for the players who want to experience a little more than just the story straightforward. With this method, I recommend owning at least one character of each element to allow access through all of the elemental doors and areas through the game. With this method, the player will be able to get all of the trophies/achievements, in-game accolades, as well as experience the world via many different options. There will also be more heroic challenges available to further develop the player’s characters as they begin to max out each one’s levels. Your average cost will be around $110 plus applicable tax, depending on if you purchase individual characters only, or if you buy character packs.
  • Scenario 3) This is for the hardcore players who are completionists and want everything. You will be able to do everything mentioned above, plus have bragging rights and a diverse selection of characters (and two new worlds to play in, to boot). Outside of those expansion pack characters that offer new worlds, and getting the last of the accolades (one of which is to own all 32 characters), there hasn’t been any benefit that I could see to owning all of the characters. Fans of Pokemon and the like will be more inclined to attempt this feat. As of now, all of the characters are not available, however if my math and memory still serve me well, I would estimate your average cost to be around $175, give or take $15, plus applicable tax.
For reference, I fall somewhere between Scenario 2 and 3. I really wanted to have all of the elements, but the more characters I get, the more fun I am having developing them and leveling them up. For me, at the very least, I will probably own the first batch, but I’m not sure at the cost I would invest in more than 32 as it stands right now. I would have to see some significant improvements in some of the things that matter to me (such as the multiplayer aspect). Needless to say, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed owning the game, and if you work together with some friends, you can collectively all own the entire set without causing your bank account to be too depressed. Skylanders definitely redefines a new way to play games, and even despite the cost, is a refreshing take on the monotony.

NOTE: This review, unfortunately, only covers the console versions. I have read around that the 3DS version differs slightly, but I don’t have the resources required to try it for that console as well. If anyone has input or experience, I would ask that you send me an email to peter.thomas(at)thegamingeffect dot com and I will use your mini-review as a guest supplement to mine. Many thanks in advance!

Likes:
+Simplified RPG system
+Several characters to choose from
+Vibrant world with lovable personalities

Dislikes:
-No online/4-player local (2-player only)
-Sound effects can be overbearing at times
-Can’t find reason to own more than eight Skylanders

Innovative:
~Portal of Power brings figures ‘to life’
~Figures retain all of the character data inside of them
~Adventure can be played either on the console or on the web

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Developer: EAD Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date:
GB
June 6, 1993 (JP)
August 1993 (NA)
December 1993 (EU)
GBC
December 1, 1998 (NA)
December 12, 1998 (JP)
January 1, 1999 (EU)
3DS
June 7, 2011
Rating: E
MSRP: $5.99

Link’s Awakening brings all of the action and excitement, and of course, storyline into a portable adventure much bigger than the two inch gray cartridges they were packed into. Typically, when gamers see a franchise come to a handheld, we brace for a watered down, wannabe version of the original. With Link’s Awakening, that is far from the case. In fact, this adventure is very close to the title prior to it in scale. Being re-released for the 3DS has given me yet another opportunity to enjoy this timeless classic once more. My review will be covering both the original and the DX version, and I most recently completed it on the 3DS.

The story begins with a red-headed girl named Marin, who finds Link unconscious on the beach. Worried, she brings him back to her hut where she lives with Tarin. When Link awakens, he notices that he is no longer in Hyrule and does not recognize his surroundings. Marin explains that he is on an island by the name of Koholint, and that his boat must have capsized in the water at some point. With his mind a little foggy, he takes his shield from Tarin, and sets off to find a way off the seemingly isolated island. He comes across his sword and is encountered by an owl, who states that the only way off the island is by awakening the Wind Fish. This can only be done by collecting the eight Instruments of the Sirens from the temples on the land. Throughout the course of the game, the story is told and secrets are revealed further by the owl.

Sticking to what the fans love, Nintendo has retained the top-down method of exploration in this game. The old motto ‘don’t fix what’s not broken’ applies here, and works well, especially for this game in particular. The old formula of going from one dungeon to another, fighting a boss, and moving on until the very end has been retained and should not feel unfamiliar to anyone. I did notice, however that the dungeons felt very short (I was beating them very quickly), generally completing the first five to six dungeons in about 15 minutes a piece. This was also not my first time ever playing this game, so I for the most part knew exactly where I had to go.

Fighting enemies and progressing through the game itself is both simple and difficult. I lump these two in the same category, simply for the fact that to get through certain areas of the game, the player is required to use items at given points. Items and basic equipment (sword and shield) are all kept in the inventory screen and assigned to either the A or B buttons. With that being said, there are points in the game where there is a LOT of pressing start just to change equipment to match a given situation. While it isn’t as bad in the beginning of the game, it starts becoming very irritating towards the end. This is especially true when an item is needed to lift an object, an item is needed to jump, and an item is needed to jump further. It can definitely be time consuming (think Iron Boots from Ocarina of Time).

There are also portions of the game that are played in a sort of side scrolling style, similar to Zelda II. These parts are few and far between, but add a very unique way of looking at the game when they are required. Needless to say, it is much more appropriately executed than it was in Zelda II. There are also plenty of items to garner throughout the game, and surprisingly enough, are actually used frequently beyond the dungeon they are obtained in.

Even though the original Game Boy (and later the Game Boy Color) didn’t have much to speak of in terms of sound output, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening had some very beautiful soundtracks to match the game. There were a few tunes that were very catchy, and overall provided a joyous experience while playing. For its time, the graphics weren’t all that bad, but improved tenfold at the release of the DX version. The colors enabled players to see a much more vibrant world, and enemies who would once be lost amongst the olive green screen are now completely identifiable.

This game in particular plays host to a variety of other Nintendo character that can be found throughout the adventure, and is a nice surprise if they are able to be found and recognized. There are also a few side quests that can be done during the progression of the game, and in the DX version, there was an entirely new dungeon offered to players that made the game a little more ‘colorful.’ This dungeon was added in as a way of showing of the capabilities of the then revolutionary Game Boy Color.

Seeing this game re-released for me was very nostalgic, but I am extremely happy to see it available to another generation of gamers. If you own a 3DS and have access/permission to purchase this game, I highly recommend it. It is a very good deal for being such a solid game. The only thing I did not approve of in this newest remake for the 3DS is that pressing start is actually quite awkward.  However, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a timeless adventure that will ring the hearts of both old fans and new alike.

Overall: 8.0 / 10.0

Likes:
+ Original story
+ Big adventure
+ Hold in select when booting the game for the 3DS. ;)

Dislikes:
– Item switching is cumbersome
– On the 3DS, pressing start is somewhat of a challenge.

Innovative:
~ Link can jump!
~ Handhelds can have full fledged titles
~ Hyrule isn’t the only place for adventure

Pilotwings Resort

Developer: Monster Games/Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Flight Simulation
Release Date: 3DS
NA – March 25, 2011
EU – March 27, 2011
JP – April 14, 2011
AU – April 14, 2011
Rating: ESRB E
MSRP: $39.99

When the need for a casual flight sim, with easy going objectives and a laid back feel arises, Pilotwings Resort steps up and rises to the call. Having nearly a 15 year break from the franchise, Nintendo chose an ideal time to launch a sequel to the franchise. I was certain that a game of this caliber, with a very small fan base of only the most hardcore gamers would be laid to rest after the Nintendo 64 title, Pilotwings 64, was launched. However, born anew under the turn of the new revolution for handheld games, Pilotwings Resort brings all of the fun into a whole new dimension.

Pilotwings Resort is very self explanatory from the moment the game is turned on through each and every menu. From the title screen, there are two separate game modes available: Mission Mode and Free Flight Mode. The other menu option (aside from Options) is Diorama, where unlockable images of the vehicles are placed to view. Fans may recognize the island that the game takes place on. It is none other than Wuhu island, the same place used in Wii Fit and Wii Sports Resort.

In Mission mode, the objective is to advance through the classes, starting at Training and ending with Platinum, totaling 42 missions all together. Each mission is assigned a specific vehicle that must be used to complete the objectives while being graded on the very familiar scale. This scale measures how fast the mission was completed (with a time set to obtain the most points), how many rings/orbs/speed panels must be obtained, landing impact, and landing accuracy. These points are then tallied up at the end of a stage and give a ranking of one, two or three stars. The three stars can also be outlined in red, signifying a perfect score (140/140, for example).

Free flight mode isn’t as simple as it sounds. Using any vehicle, the player is able to freely fly about the island with only one restriction: a time limit. While flying, there are balloons, rings, trophies, stunt rings and information circles that can be flown into to collect. As those items are obtained, more time is given during free flight, and dioramas are unlocked. The vehicles available to use are based on which ones were unlocked during the Mission mode, so there is a lot of reliance upon each game mode to complete the game. The game also requires the player to use all of the vehicles to obtain the different balloons and rings, as only the ones applicable to the vehicle being used are actually highlighted and able to be accessed during that flight.

Some of the new features that they’ve added is the ability to use a Mii saved on the console to be the avatar within the game. The Mii isn’t blatantly visible except when a mission is over, or the vehicle has been wrecked in some manner. Speaking of, wrecking in this game no longer constitutes an immediate mission failure, but rather restarts the aircraft in the last viable place to continue the mission. This makes for a much more fluid experience as the player is no longer required to restart from the very beginning just because of one simple mistake. There are also the addition of speed plates. These plates require the vehicle to be traveling at a certain speed to break through them and score the points. This can also be challenging, as the plates must be broken towards the center as well to obtain the maximum points. Therefore accuracy and speed are both needed to ensure a good score at the end of a level. There are also a few brand new vehicles that have been added to the repertoire that add quite a new flair to the game. While I will not spoil all of them, I will talk about one: the squirrel suit. Quite easily the biggest surprise, the character starts off with a jet pack, and after flying through a special ring, the Mii throws off the jet pack. Much like sky diving was in the old games, the character is plummeted towards the island. However, the suit that the Mii is equipped with is webbed under the arms and legs, allowing for wind resistance to slow and maneuver the character within the sky. It absolutely blew me away the first time I saw it.

Visually, the game is beautiful. With no 3D, it is easy to see that the 3DS makes leaps and bounds above the DS/DSi’s graphics. With much smoother polygons, as well as a further visibility range, it is quite easy to see the difference between the two systems, and just how much raw power that the 3DS is capable of. Where the “awe factor” really comes into play is the 3D aspect. It took my eyes a bit of getting used to, but, as stated in my 3DS first impression, that the 3D slider does not make the images pop out of the console, but rather adds depth to the game, allowing the player to determine distance with greater ease. Rings are much more easy to fly through, there is no more last minute correcting to fly into an orb, and accidental tree smashing are no longer a problem. The aircraft’s relative distance to everything in it’s surroundings are all very clear now. This became very apparent when I had to fly through a cave. I (nearly) made it through without hitting a wall. I got a little bold, however, and went a bit faster than I should have.

Musically, the game does retain the peaceful soundtracks that I can remember from the older games. Flying a hand glider will present much softer music than, say, using a jet pack. I personally was not overly impressed, and actually don’t feel like I am missing anything when I turn it down to listen to something else. Still, the game is not renowned for its impeccable soundtrack, and therefore, I have not judged too harshly on it. It still goes with saying that listening to the soundtrack will not spur the urge to hunt on import sites to purchase a copy to listen to outside of the game.

A few things I wish they had or kept within the game were the second rendition of the hand glider. In the Nintendo 64 version the player was presented with a hand glider that had an enormous wingspan. It looked a lot more incredible flying with that than the stumpy hand glider that is usable in this game. Also, I miss having the instructors for each flight class. A flight simulator is hard to give ‘personality’ to, but those instructors, who were done away with after the first game added personality and flair to the game. They were proud when the player’s score was high, disappointed when it was sad, and angry when the player made foolish mistakes. It might just be my own personal preference, but I do believe they added an element into a flight sim that simply will not be found anywhere else. With the addition of the 3DS’s new online capabilities, some way of sharing best times or even flying with friends would have been a simple, yet effective way to prolong the life of the game. While it has a decent amount of re-playability, Pilotwings Resort, unfortunately, will not last forever.

Overall, for brand new 3DS owners, Pilotwings Resort is the perfect game to not only demonstrate the capabilities of the 3D features, but also a perfect introduction game to ease the player’s way into the 3D gaming realm. Without being high stress, games like this are few and far between. Offering seven vehicles, 42 missions, and hundreds of collectibles during Free Flight mode, there is enough content in this game, despite its multi-player drawbacks, to make Pilotwings Resort a solid game to own.

Likes:
+3D is gorgeous
+Lots of objectives
+New vehicles

Dislikes:
-Soundtrack is okay at best
-No multi-player functionality
-Re-playability is low after game completion

Innovative:
~Vehicles
~Crash Sequence
~Free Flight Mode is Objective oriented

Overall Rating: 7.5/10