E3 2017: Thoughts and Words

If during E3 2016 Nintendo did not have much to show other than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was pretty understandable given the colossal impact the game had, E3 2017 was a quite different scenario. Looking to power the Switch through its first year of life while keeping the flame of its sales phenomenon pretty well-fed with oxygen, and trying to show gamers that the 3DS is still a system that will receive their support, the company gave fans quite a bit to look forward to. Games that were still unknown to the general public were revealed, and upcoming projects whose names have been written on people’s calendars for quite a while were further detailed.

fe_warriorsFire Emblem Warriors

Nintendo and Tecmo struck a pretty nice, albeit not extremely deep, gold mine with Hyrule Warriors; one that is mutually beneficial for both companies. Nintendo is able to throw their fans a bone by outsourcing straightforward spin-offs of their favorite sagas, and Tecmo slaps the names of extremely famous franchises to their Dynasty Warriors series, therefore making it rather appealing to markets outside Japan, which wouldn’t – in general – pay much attention to entries of their hack and slash saga. It is a good synergy, and it is arguable the Fire Emblem property is more suitable to be adapted to the Dynasty Warriors format than The Legend of Zelda was, given it is filled with the epic-scale combats Tecmo’s game builds its gameplay around.

kirby_switchKirby Switch

Given Kirby fans – at least the ones who are more inclined to the character’s traditional gameplay style than to his most recent experimental ways – have had a knack for complaining many of his latest outings have run away from the franchise’s characteristics, Kirby Switch comes as a rather pleasant sight. With looks borrowed straight from Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, and a brief video that gave the world a glimpse of returning – and long-missed – skills such as The Crystal Shards’ mixed abilities and Kirby Super Star’s helpers, Kirby Switch is one of the examples shown during this year’s E3 that indicate Nintendo has been listening to its audience.

mario_rabbidsMario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Rumors about Kingdom Battle had been circulating for quite a while before it materialized, and it is not hard to understand why so many dismissed them as fake; after all, pairing up the main characters of the Mario universe with Ubisoft’s polarizing Rabbids and giving them guns to shoot at each other is one of those concepts that is a bit too far-fetched to be true. As it turns out, though, the information that had been spreading through the web is true; and, even more shockingly, the game actually looks like it is a blast. Kingdom Battle is a clear indication that Nintendo is becoming slightly less protective regarding its core properties and giving them freedom to branch out – which has been the greatest mark of Kimishima’s tenure as president. The fact it looks so great and that the idea of turn-based shooting with Mario, his crew, and wild Rabbids is so appealing and fresh is a testament that such strategy is paying off.

metroid_prime4Metroid Prime 4

Metroid Prime 4 was long overdue, and nothing makes it clearer than the fact that out of all great reveals and announcements Nintendo executed within thirty minutes, it was the one that created the most buzz. More impressively, it did so with the most absurd teaser trailer of all time: one that showed nothing but a logo while the series’ theme song played on the background. Retro Studios’ absence from the project may come off as a disappointment to some, but the bases of the saga have been so firmly established (and the release of its most recent entry is so far into the past) that just respecting them will go a long way towards the delivery of a classic. Furthermore, a new staff will most likely mean plenty of refreshing ideas. It is in the combination of that long absence with the possibility of added twists to the formula that lies the potential of Metroid Prime 4. And if the game is going to be as great as everyone expects it to be, having a load of potential is the only start it could have had.

metroid_samus_returnsMetroid: Samus Returns

It is arguable Nintendo has been way too keen on remakes lately. During the past years, the company has built new versions of Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, The Wind Waker, Star Fox 64, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 8, Yoshi’s Woolly World, Xenoblade Chronicles, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and more. However, Metroid: Samus Returns feels both welcome and necessary. Not only was the Metroid franchise in dire need of a sidescrolling handheld entry, given the last one (Metroid Fusion) came a whopping fifteen years ago, but Metroid II: Return of Samus was also crying to be rescued from the black-and-white obscurity of the original Game Boy. Samus’ second adventure will become available – in brand new shiny visuals and gameplay enhancements – to an audience that never had the chance to play it, and the Nintendo 3DS will receive yet another strong release, one that will fill the void of the system’s lack of a decent Metroid title.

pokemon_switchPokemon Switch

Besides giving Kirby fans the full-fledged traditional game they had been long claiming for, reviving the Metroid Prime series, and allowing Samus to have another shot at the sidescrolling gameplay, Nintendo – like an overly generous Santa Claus – decided to go ahead and also please Pokemon lovers who had been dreaming, for a good portion of the last two decades, of a console RPG entry. Ever since 1996, the company had been pretty adamant about keeping the major Pokemon games restricted to handhelds, leaving everyone to wonder in sad amazement about the unbridled greatness the franchise could achieve on more powerful machines. After this year’s E3, those dreams can be accompanied with joy rather than hurting, because the Pokemon games will take that long-awaited leap to home consoles, and if Nintendo goes all out when it comes to freedom (like they did with Breath of the Wild) and online features, the game and the Switch will most likely become unstoppable worldwide phenomena.

splatoon2Splatoon 2

Splatoon 2 does not really need to do much to make those who fell in love with the original happy. The formula is so solid, the premise is so fresh and universally appealing, and the game’s embedded charm is so irresistible that the addition of new stages, characters, weapons, and gameplay modes will most likely guarantee that the game will be as well-received and commercially successful as its predecessor. What is most appealing about Splatoon 2, though, is how it perfectly captures the spirit of the system that houses it. The ability to take it anywhere to play alongside friends, and the ease with which LAN parties can be organized with the Nintendo Switch can make the borderline overly utopic world that Nintendo envisioned in the console’s introductory video become a reality. If Splatoon 2 cannot do it, no other game can.

odysseySuper Mario Odyssey

With the Super Mario Galaxy games and Super Mario 3D World exploring linear 3-D platforming gameplay to the last inch of its extent, and yielding astonishingly great results, it was clear that it was time for Mario to go back to his free-roaming days of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. Given the technological jump that has occurred since the release of those two last titles, it is no wonder Super Mario Odyssey looks absolutely astonishing. It is quite delightful to know, though, that Nintendo is not solely relying on Mario’s return to open worlds in order to make Odyssey stand out from recent releases. The travelogue format Odyssey seems to have has given its worlds ridiculously varied themes, and Mario’s ability to take control of other objects and creatures will make the game’s platforming possibilities both nearly endless and infinitely entertaining. Super Mario Odyssey is already looking like a classic.

xenoblade2Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Xenoblade Chronicles was a JRPG with MMO elements sprinkled onto its surface; meanwhile, Xenoblade Chronicles X inverted that recipe, taking the form of an MMO game that flirted, on certain occasions, with JRPG tendencies. On its title, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 had always indicated it was leaning more towards the former than to the latter, as the number attached to its name nodded it would be more of a sequel to the Wii’s masterpiece than X was. And the trailer shown by Nintendo seems to confirm that tendency, which is good news considering how Xenoblade Chronicles X – despite its undeniable quality and achievements – could indeed seem purposeless and soulless from time to time. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, with its beautiful cartoonish character models, is built out of the same bricks that turned the inception of the series into a classic, and if the track record of the saga is a sign of what is to come, then Nintendo may end up having – for the third time in a row – one of the best JRPGs of the generation.

yoshi_switchYoshi Switch

Quietly, Yoshi’s Woolly World was not only one of the best recent sidescrolling platformers (which is quite a feat considering the genre saw a huge revival during the past decade), but it also easily ranked as one of the top games to ever star Nintendo’s charming green dinosaur. It oozed with so much charm and creativity (of the visual and game design kind) that it was hard to imagine a title could ever be so delightfully adorable. As it turns out, Yoshi Switch may surpass it on those categories, for besides cleverly replacing the fabric-related tricks of its predecessor with paper-like materials that open up wide gameplay possibilities, it also opts to play around with the depth of its 2.5-D scenarios. It is still too early to know if the Switch, like the Wii and Wii U before it, will be proficient in delivering a stream of great sidecrollers. But regardless of how many of those games may show up, Yoshi Switch looks like a strong early contender for the throne awarded to the very best one.

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Snipperclips Review

Snipperclips is a launch title with a Nintendo touch for a Nintendo platform; it is hard to ask for any more than that

snipperclips1Two anthropomorphic popsicle shaped sheets of paper running around simple scenarios that completely fit onto a small screen while trying to solve puzzles by snipping pieces off one another to change their shapes. That right there is the summary of the premise of Snipperclips, one of the Nintendo Switch’s digital launch titles and certainly a piece of software that ranks among the most original and charming efforts to ever hit Nintendo’s library of download-only games. And nothing speaks more for its inherent simplicity and universal appeal than the fact Snipperclips is often mistaken for a first-party title; after all, Nintendo has a lengthy history filled with electronic products that embrace straightforward and somewhat ridiculous concepts that sound way too fun to be ignored, and Snipperclips would seamlessly fall into place among the likes of Rhythm Heaven, WarioWare, Pushmo, and other secondary franchises that use such qualities as their calling cards.

Coined by the small indie studio SFB Games and published by Nintendo itself, which must have unquestionably seen a lot of its brand of creativity when glimpsing at Snipperclips, the game is more than an appealing little gem of a launch lineup that was clearly lacking in terms of noteworthy exclusives. It is a title that takes advantage of the Switch’s hardware in three fronts. Firstly, there is how its minimalistic presentation and gameplay make Snipperclips be a highly portable game, one in which there is little loss in the transition between the television and the system’s built-in screen; secondly, its division into forty-five brief stages walks hand-in-hand with the Switch’s duality as a home console that also happens to be a handheld, given Snipperclips can be enjoyed both in long sessions and short bursts; finally, the game is especially fun when played alongside others, which is perfect for the on-the-fly multiplayer the Switch supports with its two detachable Joy-Cons.

Snipperclips is played with the Joy-Cons turned sideways, like NES controllers with far more buttons and mind-blowing technology; and even though the goal of each of its levels is rather basic – using Snip and Clip to cut one another into shapes that will be useful to solving the puzzle – the controls are surprisingly complex for a game of its kind. The shoulder buttons are used to rotate the characters clockwise and anticlockwise; meanwhile, the face buttons allow Snip and Clip to jump, cut, regenerate their bodies either step-by-step or completely, and – if only one player is controlling both characters – switch between them. With so many possible actions to perform, inexperienced players may feel a bit overwhelmed with having to remember which button does what; that longer-than-average learning curve, though, can be navigated without frustration since Snipperclips lets gamers tackle its challenges at their own pace and leaves plenty of room for mistakes thanks to the ability to undo cuts that have been performed.

snipperclips4Although the game’s forty-five stages center around the same action of overlapping regions of the bodies of Snip and Clip and, like a child in art classes, making the cuts little by little so that the piece of paper will take on a shape that will serve its purpose, there is quite a bit of variety to them. Some require that players combine Snip and Clip into an outlined shape, such as that of a heart; others feature large sheets of paper that must be cut into a specific format, such as a rocket; while action-based challenges will have both characters interacting with levers, moving objects around, altering the flow of liquids so that they reach a certain place, popping balloons, fishing, helping a little doll get home by carving a path on paper, and more.

As a somewhat disappointing twist, those levels are grouped into three sets of fifteen, with each taking place in a thematic world. The changes that occur in the transition between those themes, though, are mostly relegated to the visual realm; there are considerable shifts in the stages’ consistently alluring art styles, but the overall mechanics of Snipperclips remain unaltered and there are no remarkable theme-exclusive elements to be found, turning the groupings into more of a formality than something that is relevant to the gameplay.

Snipperclips is a lot of fun in the way it requires a creative kind of reasoning, as Snip and Clip are the unpolished canvas with which players must work to solve the problems the game throws at them, making it unlikely two people will solve the same puzzle by employing the same strategy. That nature of not only finding but also building a solution makes the game even more delightful when two people are involved, as it becomes utterly imperative they interact with one another and think together to reach common ground, because – without the other – Snip and Clip are nothing but useless popsicles with legs.

snipperclips2Since there is so much freedom in the solving of Snipperclips’ puzzles, one problem arises, which is how some of them (especially those that are more action-focused) can be solved by sheer brute force. In other words, at times, if players try hard enough, it is possible to clear a level without snipping the characters into the shapes that would be more adequate to do so. While some will positively appreciate that such a possibility exists (after all, there is always a certain beauty and an added replay value in a puzzle game that allows more than one answer to its riddles), such feature becomes a level design issue when finesse is excluded from the equation behind the solution and is replaced by strength, as it is the case with some of the stages here.

Snipperclips smartly recognizes its main strength lies in bringing people together around its clever concept and explores that prowess by complementing the forty-five puzzles of its main campaign, which can be played solo or as a pair and that should take about four hours to be cleared, with a smaller set of stages that are multiplayer-exclusive. Those are mainly divided into two types: cooperative and competitive.

The former are much like the ones from the main campaign, with the natural difference that it takes a whopping four characters to deal with the problems that are proposed, hence considerably increasing the need for interaction and the madness, and potential fights, that ensue. The latter, meanwhile, run straight into the accessible and easy-to-grasp nature of the Mario Party mini-games by throwing the smiling pieces of paper into arenas where they will face off in frantic versions of basketball, air-hockey, and even a rather brutal take on the free-for-all Super Smash Bros. combats, with the caveat that the goal here is to cut one’s opponents into nothingness in order to score points. As fun and hilarious as those competitive activities may be, though, they ultimately suffer from shallowness: they are way too simple to hold the interest of players and maintain the outbursts of laughter for too long. Nevertheless, they are certainly a welcome addition to what is an already impressive package of multiplayer gaming.

snipperclips3Snipperclips has clear room for improvement in a few key areas, but the quality and cleverness of its concept are just too big to be denied, and the wonderful multiplayer sessions the game produces make it easy for one to overlook its flaws. As the initial exploration of a brilliant idea, it may not take it as far as it undoubtedly could, but it does a pretty great job at making it materialize in a game that is full of charm and engaging levels. And even though it is not a title that could only have been made for the Nintendo Switch – as its gameplay would be easily portable to other platforms – it succeeds in understanding what the console is about and using its notable features to its own benefit. Snipperclips is a launch title with a Nintendo touch for a Nintendo platform, and it is hard to ask for any more than that.


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Mario Party 3 Review

Even if it does not do as much as Mario Party 2 did for the formula, it is able to – through the punctual polishing it gives to the visuals, boards, and mini-games – take the franchise to its Nintendo 64 apex

mario_party32The original Mario Party built the formula, but with so much time and effort devoted to putting together a board game that would work within the confines of a console, it ended up leaving the overall structure a bit too stripped down. Mario Party 2, then, swooped in and took advantage of the vast room for improvement left by its predecessor to make matches wilder, more eventful, and give players strategic options that allowed them to have more control over their destiny on the board. Given all good additions made by its prequel, Mario Party 3 had pretty solid ground on which to stand: it did not really have to bring much to the table in order to deliver a remarkable party experience; instead, it could focus on polishing up the franchise’s rough edges and address its frequent targets of complaints, and in the process of doing so it created not only the Nintendo 64’s definitive party game, but the favorite Mario Party of many who see the first three titles of the series as untouchable.

Anyone who has spent a good amount of time with the game’s two prequels and decides to sit down and play Mario Party 3 for the first time will most likely be surprised by the title’s graphical style. Where Mario Party and Mario Party 2 were visually lackluster, Mario Party 3 is actually full of personality. During the game’s opening scene, which exposes a plot that is downright silly and only serves as an excuse for all of the dice-rolling and board-roaming, the starring characters are transported to the interior of a toy box, and Hudson Soft takes advantage of that new setting to give the franchise an artistic overhaul that does wonders for its presentation.

Perhaps inspired by Paper Mario, which had come out one year earlier, Mario Party 3 decorates its boards and the setting of its mini-games with numerous paper assets. Chilly Waters, an ice-covered and Christmas-themed board, has igloos, cabins, pine trees, snowflakes, and mountains that are made of sheets that have been brightly colored and painted to look delightfully cartoonish. It is an artistic decision that yields three benefits: giving the game have a distinctive look and feel when compared to its predecessors; freeing more of the system’s processing power to worry about the character models and their movements; and allowing both boards and mini-games to feature more detailed visuals, therefore making them far more appealing.

mario_party33Speaking of the boards and mini-games, these are two areas in which Mario Party 3 greatly thrives. Boards are still centered around the same goal: in other words, for every turn that goes by all players will roll the dice and move the designated number of spaces looking to reach the place on which the star, which costs twenty coins, is currently being sold. However, even though the six stages offered by Mario Party 3 are mostly constructed with the same elements found in Mario Party 2 (in other words, the very same types of spaces; and important locations such as item stores, Boo’s house, and banks), they manage to be more interactive and action-packed.

For starters, on most boards, the happening spaces – designated by a question mark – trigger different events depending on their location, a fact that lends each board an extra dose of character. On Deep Bloober Sea, for example, landing on happening spaces found near a chasm on the ocean floor will cause a giant Blooper to grab players and take them to the other side of the crack; meanwhile, happening spaces placed close to an enormous open-mouthed fish will make it try to suck in whatever characters are in front of it, and players will have to desperately press the A-button if they wish to stay where they are.

Additionally, all boards also have one or more events dubbed action time, which are triggered either by happening spaces themselves – as it is the case with the aforementioned water-sucking fish – or when players arrive at specific locations. On Spiny Desert, for instance, a key junction that can serve as a major shortcut has two cacti standing on the way, and if players are to make it through they need to press the A-button right on time so that their character can successfully jump over the plants; the punishment for failing is being sent jumping away, presumably with a few thorns stuck on the body, towards a random direction.

mario_party31When it comes to the mini-games, Mario Party 3 tramples on its predecessors both in terms of quality and quantity – as the game features a whopping seventy-one of them. Mini-games where luck defines the victor are, with very few exceptions, completely removed from the equation; and item and duel mini-games, which in Mario Party 2 were board specific, making the experience of replaying the same mini-game over and over again during the match’s twenty turns somewhat boring, are now defined by a roulette just like the free-for-all, 2 vs. 2, and 3 vs. 1 affairs that happen at the end of every turn. Mario Party 3’s set of mini-games is especially remarkable due to its simplicity, variety, and great design, as all of its pieces are easy to learn and will – regardless of the level of the players that are involved in the match – provide a tight competition that is rather fair.

Where Mario Party 2, somewhat wisely, recycled and revamped the very best mini-games of Mario Party, the third installment goes for a fully original group of challenges. There is hide and seek; racing on mini waterboats; a quiz competition; a few memory tests; a pizza-eating duel; a vine-swinging race; a wild catch-the-chicken bout; a mad relay in which one player takes the skies on a hang-glider while the opposing team pilots different water vehicles; a unique and rather tense take on snowball battles; a golfing approach challenge; a face off on bouncing balls while standing on top of a slowly crumbling platform; an epic dogfight; a simplified take on Tetris; a Super Mario 64 inspired Bowser tossing joust; and far more.

With the basis of its multiplayer matches firmly in place, and with a spectacular collection of mini-games that makes both board-playing and mini-game-only competitions extremely alluring and fun, Mario Party 3 sets its eyes on fixing the franchise’s most glaring weak spot: the overwhelming dullness of its single-player experience. Mario Party 3 tries to do it by introducing a campaign mode in which one must play, and win, all boards in order to collect stamps and earn the rank of Super Star. As the description implies, other than the fact that clearing boards allows gamers to get a stamp and move onto the next challenge, there is nothing that is really different about Story Mode when compared to sitting home alone and playing random boards by oneself against three CPUs. Therefore, the introduction of the mode does not really fix the fact that Mario Party is only truly remarkable when at least two people are playing it, for it is a game that relies on human interaction as much as it does on the actual playing.

mario_party34What the single-player mode does that is indeed different from what other Mario Party games had done is the introduction of duel boards, which – naturally – can also be played outside of that mode and against one friend. After winning a free-for-all board, and just when they are about to receive the stamp that will represent that victory, players will be challenged to a duel by one of the playable characters. The goal on a duel board is not earning stars or coins, but emptying the adversary’s five-piece heart gauge; something that is done by running across them on the boards (which are naturally much smaller and simpler than the free-for-all ones) and attacking them with a partner.

Partners are secondary characters from the Mario universe – such as Toad, Baby Bowser, Koopa Troopa, Goomba, and others – who have their own statuses (attack and defense power; one special ability; and a salary, which when not paid causes the partner to go away and makes players unable to attack and more vulnerable) and are randomly earned when the duel starts or whenever players walk by the starting point of the boards. Duels are much briefer than free-for-all matches, and move at a much faster pace given there are only two players, less events, and due to the fact mini-games do not take place every turn. They are a quite different experience when compared to normal boards, even though both are basically built using the same materials. And although they fail to capture the magic and madness of Mario Party to the same level as four-player skirmishes do, they are a fun addition that adds some degree of variety to the table.

Although it takes a fair shot at fixing the series’ lack of an engaging single-player experience, Mario Party 3 fails in that regard, just like all of its sequels eventually would. However, even if it does not do as much as Mario Party 2 did for the formula, it is able to – through the punctual polishing it gives to the visuals, boards, and mini-games – take the franchise to its Nintendo 64 apex. Some of the Mario Party games may have done one or two things a little bit better – such as the orb system introduced on Mario Party 5 or the boards governed by different rules of Mario Party 6 – but Mario Party 3 was the very last time (to those who have been following the series since its inception )in which it felt like the franchise took a good step forward, consolidating what had been done before it and propelling the package to a new level of quality.

Mario Party 3

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Mario Party 2 Review

Mario Party 2 is a game that gives players way more tools to mess with their dearest friends than its predecessor did, something that will inevitably work, at some point, both for and against all players regardless of their level of expertise

mario_party21Given the original Mario Party was, for the gaming world, one remarkable first, the primary instance in which a video game was capable to capture the joy of board games; its sequel, released one year later, had it easy. Mario Party 2 did not have to reinvent the wheel: all it had to do was pick up the formula forged by its predecessor and build upon it, implementing ideas that were originally left on the cutting floor due to a lack of time and resources, and coming up with ways to improve the partying experience based on external feedback. And that is what it did, for Mario Party 2 preserves its prequel’s uncanny ability to gather gamers of different levels of experience around a console while making the franchise’s first installment seem like bare bones in comparison. More than an improvement over what came before it, Mario Party 2 marked the first appearance of many great features that would become staples in the series, and for that reason it easily ranks as one of its finest outings.

When it comes to the ultimate goal of Mario’s line of partying games, Mario Party 2 does not alter it one tiny bit. This is still a game in which players must, during a configurable number of turns, roll dice, move around the board, and collect coins in order to buy the coveted stars, which will determine the winner of the match. Likewise, the end of each turn sees gamers facing one another in addictive and simple mini-games of various formats (free-for-all; 2 vs. 2; and 3 vs. 1) that will reward victors with ten coins. It is easy to explain, simple to understand, and engaging enough to keep aficionados and casual players alike glued to the chairs for the one hour the shortest board battles take to reach their end.

The magic of Mario Party 2 is how it adorns that experience with elements that, in general, have two positive effects: the creation of strategic layers that the original title did not present; and the increase of the importance given to reasoning and skill, with the luck factor becoming much less prominent than it was in Mario Party, where chance reigned supreme. However, Mario Party 2 is able to do that without sacrificing the franchise’s accessibility and balance, as not only can inexperienced players grasp its ideas quite fast, but they can also feel like they have a shot at beating their more veteran peers after spending a few minutes with the game.

mario_party22Mario Party 2’s most noteworthy addition is certainly characters’ ability to buy and use items on the board. Either found in stores (which are placed in fixed positions around the levels) or acquired through item mini-games (which are one-player affairs triggered whenever a character lands on an item space), items have varied helpful effects. Regular mushrooms allow gamers to roll two dice during the same turn; skeleton keys open doors that lock the entrance to specific areas of the board; magic lamps take its users straight to the space where the star is currently being sold; warp blocks randomly let characters swap positions with one of their rivals; and more.

Items are a great addition because besides giving players another asset on which they can spend their hard-earned gold, they – given their price – serve as a competitive advantage to players who win many mini-games and have, therefore, plenty of cash at their disposal. Moreover, deciding which item to purchase or to aim for when playing an item mini-game, and figuring out the best time to use it adds a good deal of tension to matches, as – for example – players approaching a star will tremble in fear one of their foes will activate their magic lamp and swoop in to take it away; and those with much to lose – such as an absurd amount of coins or stars – will certainly worry when they see someone acquire a Boo bell, which lets its user summon the ghostly figure so that it can rob someone’s goods.

When the potentially devastating effects of items are taken into account and summed with the residual luck factor from Mario Party that still stands – as tragic and somewhat random events around the boards still happen, and Bowser and chance time spaces still exist to disturb the peace of mind of anyone sitting on a comfortable lead – Mario Party 2 becomes a big bomb that is always on the verge of exploding. Although it gives skilled players more tools with which they can gain an edge, it also has the capacity of producing great swings within a few rolls of the dice.

mario_party24Those swings get even bigger when one considers the addition of two new kinds of mini-games: battle and duel. The former kind takes place whenever a character lands on a battle space (designated by a lightning bolt) and has the form of specific free-for-all mini-games in which competitors fight for a jackpot that consists of coins taken from players themselves, with first place getting 70% of the lot and second place taking home the rest of the pile. The latter kind is a board-specific mini-game, which happens either when someone uses a dueling glove or when two characters happen to land on the same space; duel mini-games can have especially high stakes as it is up to the player who initiated the duel to determine how many coins will be put into the jackpot, and the only limitation regarding that reward is that both players have that amount of coins to bet.

The inclusion of battle, item, and duel mini-games – and of the usage of items themselves – makes Mario Party 2 much more eventful, thrilling, and action-packed than its predecessor. At the same time, even if most of those mini-games favor skill over luck, a few battle and item mini-games – and one specific duel from one of the boards – leave the door slightly open for fate to come in and determine the outcome of the tightest matches, something that will leave those who were infuriated with the original’s randomness pretty dissatisfied, once more, with what the game has to offer.

That eventfulness and those tight windows through which aleatory elements can sneak in are also present on the boards themselves. The levels are better designed and more complex than those of Mario Party, and although there is little to nothing that is really original about their themes, it comes as a pleasant surprise that characters dress in costumes that match the scenario of the boards. For that reason, when traveling to Western Land, Mario and company will roam the board as cowboys; while their time on Horror Land will be spent inside a wizard’s outfit.

mario_party23The boards’ greatest improvement, though, is that in addition to being far more visually appealing than their Mario Party counterparts, the events that happen on them are also far more entertaining. Horror Land, for example, has a day and night cycle that alters how some locations around the level work; Western Land features both a milk bar, at which players can splurge to invite all of their friends for a round as an excuse to draw them away from the star, and a train that can be boarded to reach the following station while running over everyone that is standing on the way; and Space Land includes police patrols and a deadly laser, activated when a countdown reaches zero, that will make anyone it hits lose all of their coins.

In other words, Mario Party 2 is a game that gives players way more tools to mess with their dearest friends than its predecessor did, something that will inevitably work, at some point, both for and against all players regardless of their level of expertise, as even though experienced gamers will have more control over their fate here, they will still be quite vulnerable to the turns destiny loves to take. And that factor will make its skirmishes far more fun, hilarious, exhilarating, and infuriating; making Mario Party 2 quite easy to recommend to anyone who has neither a weak heart nor a short temper.

Even though it carries all of its predecessor’s shortcomings (namely, a single-player experience that is awfully dull; a bland soundtrack; unimpressive graphics; and an always looming luck factor), Mario Party 2 is a far better game due to all the features it adds and a collection of mini-games that is vaster and more solid. Mario Party will always stand as the franchise’s true ground zero, but thanks to all elements it introduces – pieces that are still key components of the series many years later – Mario Party 2’s fuller overall experience feels like the true beginning of a lot of what was to come.

Mario Party 2

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Albums of the Month: May 2017

damage_joyAlbum: Damage and Joy

Artist: The Jesus and Mary Chain

Released: March 24th, 2017

Highlights: All Things Pass, The Two Of Us, Mood Rider, Can’t Stop The Rock

To most bands, two decades is a long period; there are enough days in twenty years for a musician to change his style and way of thinking a half dozen times. That truth, however, does not seem to hold for The Jesus and Mary Chain, as “Damage and Joy” proves. Maybe it is the fact brothers Jim and William spent a good portion of that period away from one another (as the band was inactive between 1999 and 2007), or maybe it is the fact they have always been cold-faced rebels (and true rebels, as it is known, never change their ways); but one thing is for sure, “Damage and Joy” – their first album since 1998 – does not feel like a record made by two guys halfway into their fifties. It comes off, instead, as a continuation of its distant predecessor, “Munki”; it is an album that does not push any envelopes that have never been pushed before, and therein lies the reason it is reasonable to either like it or dismiss it.

It is important to remember that The Jesus and Mary Chain have never been rock and roll chameleons. Their debut, the noisy and violent “Psychocandy”, hit the world hard due to its audacity in the merging of The Velvet Underground’s feedback with The Beach Boys’ melodies. It was a daring move that yielded great results, and the group was so fascinated by it that they went on to produce another five albums with that very same mixture, in which the only variation came in how some of them were noisier while others were poppier. “Damage and Joy”, therefore, roams inside that clearly delimited spectrum, and given the number of stoned ballads it holds, it is fair to say it leans more heavily towards the pop. In fact, it seems to be so enamored with the band’s knack for producing soothing melodies that it is almost too soft for its own good (and soft is not exactly an adjective that one wants to use when referring to the work of a band whose shows produced violent riots in its heydays).

Certainly inspired by “Sometimes Always”, the gem in 1994’s “Stoned & Dethroned” that centered around a duet between Jim and Hope Sandoval, “Damage and Joy” features a whopping five tracks in which vocals are shared with a female singer; a number that speaks volumes in relation to how the band seems to be retreading rather than moving forward. Meanwhile, “Amputation”, the opening track, has the synthetic beats that marked much of “Automatic”; “Black and Blues” seems to look back on the catchiest moments of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s poppiest record, the noise rock masterpiece that is “Darklands”; and “Simian Split”, in which Jim proclaims he was the one who killed Kurt Cobain, recalls the mentions to Jesus Christ and JFK made in 1992’s “Reverence”.

That is how all of “Damage and Joy” is constructed: its bricks are references to the past. They, however, are mostly good, because if there is something these twenty years have not been able to change – besides the group’s approach to songwriting – is William’s ability to produce excellent riffs and Jim’s nose for good melodies. “Damage and Joy” may be hurt by a sound that is too clean (which is a shame given a dash of repugnance has always been key in making the group sound dangerous and subversive rather than plain and accessible); lyrics that are occasionally too dumb for their own good; and by Jim’s forced vocal delivery (as he clearly has to stress his voice to sound like he did in the past), but it is a fun listen. Even if it is a bit too neat for the band’s standards.

humanzAlbum: Humanz

Artist: Gorillaz

Released: April 28th, 2017

Highlights: Saturnz Barz, Andromeda, Busted And Blue, Let Me Out

A party taking place right before the end of the world, in an alternative reality in which Donald Trump had become president. It is the instruction Damon Albarn, the leader of Gorillaz and the singer of Blur, gave to the sixteen collaborators that would give birth to “Humanz”, the fifth album by the virtual band and the first since the 2010 pair of “Plastic Beach” and “The Fall”. Back when handing out those instructions, little did Albarn know the parallel dimension he envisioned would materialize; and, given the world’s political state signals the apocalypse is indeed right around the corner, “Humanz” could have come off as the work of a visionary, an album that captures the atmosphere of the context in which it was released, like some self-shaping sponge. Sadly, that does not happen, for while “Humanz” delivers the party – as it consists of fourteen dancy tunes (discounting all interludes and the intro) of electropop and hip-hop – it fails to conjure the apocalypse.

The album’s concept, therefore, was left shattered on the ground somewhere in between its planning and execution, and it is relatively easy to see why: it is just too hard to pull off any kind of coherence when all tracks feature at least one collaborator both in writing and performing. Albarn’s experimental soul, and his wish to work alongside others, yielded excellent results in “Demon Days” and “Plastic Beach”, so it is not that the Gorillaz formula is inherently bad; it is just that something did not quite click this time around. That is why “Humanz” ends up being a record in which great tunes like “Ascension” and “Strobelite” (which do represent Albarn’s original concept – the former by pleading a love interest to give in to desire because the sky is falling and the latter by posing questions about the frailty of existence over a pulsating beat) share space with “She’s My Collar”, a song about relationship angsts in the digital era.

If the inconsistency of “Humanz” existed in thematic terms only, it would be rather negligible; after all, numerous are the great albums that do not gravitate around the same subjects. Likewise, the same could be said about the fact “Humanz” feels more like a compilation by various artists than a work by musicians working together, as the unifying elements of the Gorillaz sound (such as 2D’s voice) are more absent than present. The problem here, though, is that such irregularity leaks into the quality of the tracks. “Saturnz Barz”, in its alternation of Popcaan’s rapping and 2D’s nonchalant singing, has the makings of a Gorillaz hit; and the dreamy electropop duo of “Andromeda” and “Busted and Blue” is equally brilliant. Sadly, “Humanz” has just way too many tracks that are either downright terrible or unremarkable.

“Momentz”, with its grating beat and high-pitched vocals, is a disappointment given the previous collaboration with De La Soul had birthed the classic “Feel Good Inc.”; “Charger” is devoid of lyrical meaning and musical purpose; “Sex Murder Party” and “Carnival” meander without going anywhere; “Hallelujah Money” has powerful lyrics but, with its lack of melody, is too close to pretentiousness for comfort; and “We Got the Power”, the long-awaited product of the partnership between two Britpop geniuses (Albarn himself and Noel Gallagher) is a cheesy conclusion with an empowering message that could have been penned by someone in primary school. In the end, even if it has moments that will go down as some of the finest by the band, “Humanz” is too fragmented to rate as anything higher than an average and disjointed apocalyptic party.

audioslaveAlbum: Audioslave

Artist: Audioslave

Released: November 19th, 2002 Highlights: Cochise, Show Me How To Live, Like a Stone, I Am The Highway

How do you replace a singer whose voice had been compared to a weapon? It seems like an impossible task, especially when one considers such voice was responsible for uttering – with the utmost fury and anger – leftist ideas supporting a revolution and a total dismantling of the system. Yet, it was that very same challenge the instrumentalists of Rage Against the Machine had to face when Zack de la Rocha left the band. Morello, Commerford, and Wilk found the new voice to their music in Chris Cornell – the former vocalist, guitarist, and main songwriter of the grunge group Soundgarden. And through his impressive use of the belting technique, which makes his screams come off as the sound high-pressurized air makes when it finds a breach through which it can escape into a rarefied environment, he lent them anger and anguish to match the pounding sound of their playing.

Qualifying Audioslave as Rage Against the Machine with a different singer is, at the same time, accurate and misguided. The precision of that statement rises via the fact a lot of the songs on their debut feature the blueprint that guided Rage Against the Machine through their three records of original material: in other words, many tunes are carried by rhythmic riffs that land somewhere in between Black Sabbath and AC/DC and that culminate in explosive choruses in which the singer lets his voice loose. The mistake of seeing Audioslave as a mere renaming, though, is ignoring that even though the dynamics of numerous songs are certainly grounded on what Rage Against the Machine did (perhaps a reality that stems from how the four members had yet to gel as a unity here), Chris Cornell is not Zack de la Rocha: neither does he rap nor is he politically engaged enough to use his lyrics to express his ideas.

That means “Audioslave” is a record that replaces social matters with existential ones. And although Cornell’s lyrics are not exactly brilliant, they approach those subjects in a more mature way than in which they were treated inside the grunge movement. Moreover, the fact that he puts melody and singing – rather than rhythm and rapping – over Morello’s fantastic riffs means Audioslave is more hard rock than alternative rock; they sound like a heavy metal band from the 70s would have sounded if they had come to be after the turn of the century. The final dimension Cornell adds to the group comes in the form of balladry: where Rage Against the Machine only worked in one gear (the most vicious one available), Audioslave knows how to mix up guitar attacks with introspective moments, and the record’s quietest tunes (“Like a Stone”, “I Am the Highway”, “Getaway Car”, and “The Last Remaining Light”) are uniformly moving.

“Audioslave”, though, has flaws that go a little bit beyond irregular lyrics and being the product of a group that had yet to come together. Like many albums released during the early 2000s, it tries to fill up the length of a CD when it clearly does not have enough material to do so. With fourteen tracks that produce sixty-five minutes of music, the record falters at some points either because there are certain tunes that are simply lackluster (namely, the entire sequence of “Exploder”, “Hypnotize”, and “Bring Em Back Alive”) or due to not having enough stylistic flexibility to justify such a length. Nevertheless when it clicks, and it does so more often than it stumbles, “Audioslave” is an immensely enjoyable fix of adrenaline punctuated by powerful beauty. Unlike what Rage Against the Machine produced, it does not aim to change the world; it, instead, alternates the wish to set it on fire with the sinking into its dark depths.

make_yourselfAlbum: Make Yourself

Artist: Incubus

Released: October 26th, 1999

Highlights: Stellar, Drive, I Miss You, Pardon Me

Good music must be written with a purpose; it needs to be fueled by genuine intentions and, most importantly, it requires a clear target. Songs that are composed for everyone usually end up striking no one in particular, standing on a weird middle ground that separates universal adoration from total indifference. In “Make Yourself”, Incubus seems to be stuck on that island: there is little to nothing about the album – save for few tracks – that is truly remarkable; likewise, almost none of it – with the exception of occasionally embarrassing lyrics and “Battlestar Scralatchtica”, a four-minute instrumental starring turntables – is downright awful. Its strongest songs (which include the notable ballads “Drive”, whose acoustic setup was a first for the band; and “I Miss You”, with its swirling delicate guitar and a brief touching chorus on which the title is sung with heart) will still move those who grew up listening to them; however, save for that understandable nostalgic beauty, the record falters under a contemporary light.

And that is because “Make Yourself” does not seem to be willing to make the effort to get to the place where it wants to go to. It is quite obvious what Incubus wanted to do here: the band was bent on surfing the radio-friendly nu metal waves of the turn of the century. It is quite unmissable, though, that the group did not make it, for “Make Yourself” is still stuck on the funk rock wackiness of the two records that preceded it, and trying to pair up the extravagance and tongue-in-cheek humor of that genre with mainstream aspirations – which are evidenced in the album’s clean production and blatant hit singles – can only be done when one has the flexibility of the Red Hot Chili Peppers during their “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” era, and there are not many groups that can make that claim.

Despite the fact it is walking on a tightrope between the Red Hot Chili Peppers (sans the self-awareness), Jane’s Addiction (minus the delightful debauchery), and ensembles from the nu metal scene (with a prominent DJ included), without the bravery to jump straight into any of those pools, “Make Yourself” manages to hold some good moments in addition to the pair of calmer tunes that propelled it to stardom. “Stellar”, for instance, is a great exercise in dynamics, with a quiet verse that explodes into a chorus backed up by a wall of guitars Linkin Park would ride to the top of the charts one year later; “The Warmth”, meanwhile, has a chorus that – melodically – might be the album’s finest hour, and – as a bonus – it has a perfect merge between turntable effects and distorted guitars; and the title track sends a message of self-reliance and independence with a vocabulary that is aggressive enough to justify the tune’s loudness.

Three records into their career, Incubus attempted to grow out of their funk rock beginnings; and, while such a move was definitely commendable, its conduction was definitely a bit misguided, because “Make Yourself” lacks purpose and audacity, trying to move to new grounds and simultaneously making sure its roots are still attached to the place it has just left from. Thankfully, though, such a period was not in vain, for it was a change that – down the line – would yield positive results in the shape of “Morning View” and “A Crow Left of the Murder”. That, however, does not save the album from being, at best, average and inoffensive.

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Mario Party Review

Mario Party works because it mixes the concept of having a group of friends sitting around a table and reacting to each other’s moves and actions with the craziness only a video game could provide

mario_partyCheckers, Chess, Monopoly, and Clue all have something in common. Firstly, and most obviously, they are all board games; and despite their variety in terms of complexity and intricacy, they are widely beloved and undeniably entertaining, as if they tapped into some sort of pure transcendental form of fun that is impossible to resist and impervious to the effects of time. Likewise, all of them have, at some point, been translated to the world of electronic entertainment only for gamers, critics, and developers alike to notice that regardless of effort and hard work, there are intangible values these board games hold that just cannot be captured and sent to a television screen. It is a reality that has made their virtual counterparts fall somewhere between downright lousy, and decent but not as a great as the real deal.

Although pinpointing what exactly was missing in those video games is hard, singling out the reason behind such absence is easy, and it has a whole lot to do with the word adaptation. The process of adapting something entails modification; it requires adjustment. And it is in those slight shifts that the untouchable values escape between one’s fingers. For a video game of a board game to succeed – for it to be more than a simulation of the true act of playing – it had to be neither a translation nor an adaptation: it had to be built from the ground up with the thought that it would be played by groups of friends sitting around a console instead of a table. As it turns out, Nintendo was the one to figure it out before everyone else did, and the original Mario Party – the first installment of a lengthy franchise that has received more flak than fanfare – is the product of that realization.

Mario Party is not perfect; and it will never be. For starters, there is little to no value to be found in its single-player experience, as it makes as much sense (and it is supposedly as much fun) as playing Monopoly against oneself. Secondly, its reliance on luck, with boards that hold random traps that can send one towards disaster in the blink of an eye and a few mini-games that are as fair as a casino roulette, will certainly leave many players angry once they see a solid lead become dust. Finally, it has no desire to be technically flashy, as it features graphics that are far below standards and a soundtrack (save for a few remarkable tunes) that is more elevator music than worthy of a video game orchestra.

mario_party2However, Mario Party is fun, and its first outings are especially noteworthy because the formula was still fresh, as its gameplay was quite a finding by the partnership of Hudson Soft and Nintendo. In it, four characters from the Mario universe take turns rolling dice and moving through the number of designated spaces around boards. As it happens in all games of the sort, the boards are packed with different kinds of spaces that trigger distinct events, and it holds one ultimate goal: reaching Toad and purchasing a star, given that by the end of all turns the player with the biggest number of stars will be declared the victor (with coins serving as a tiebreaker).

Despite the fact there is a great deal of satisfaction to be found in moving around the boards while trying to reach the coveted star and attempting to avoid passing in front of the villainous Bowser, who is not embarrassed to force players to buy absolutely useless items for a steep amount of coins, the real highlight of Mario Party comes at the end of each turn. That is when the game adds an explosive component to the board game format; one that could only be done in an electronic medium: the series’ famous mini-games.

These brief activities (which are divided into free-for-all; 2 vs. 2; and 3 vs. 1) are, quite literally, the life of the party, as winners get ten coins as a prize while losers leave the arenas empty handed and likely distant from the twenty coins that are required to buy a star. Mario Party has a solid collection of fifty mini-games, and although some are clearly better than others, the overall quality is spectacular, for the challenges are able to join simplicity, competitiveness, fun, and addictiveness into tiny packages.

mario_partyWhat is most impressive about these mini-games, though, is how stunningly varied they are. There is basketball, bowling, bobsled racing, rope jumping, limbo dancing, instrument playing, mine-cart racing, mimicking, balloon bursting, hot potato, tug of war, diving for treasure, fishing for gold, block smashing, skateboarding, musical chairs, platform jumping, avoiding bombs on a tiny floating platform, trying to bump adversaries into the water while standing on a ball, and much more, all sprinkled with Nintendo’s charm and the wackiness of the Mario universe. Mario Party’s take on basketball, for instance, involves a bob-omb; and its skateboarding takes place over fiery lava with a collapsing floor and Thwomps that stand on the way.

Mario Party’s mini-games work because, in their simplicity, they allow even the least experienced players out there to get a hang of them quite easily; it is casual gaming before such an expression became a marketing fad. Moreover, even though the fact that the commands that must be used on each of them are limited – at most – to a couple of buttons, the mini-games mostly rely on skill. Therefore, although there is a certain leveling of the field of play (which is excellent because it makes parties and multiplayer sections thrilling beyond compare), practice and dedication will – most of the time – come out on top, which makes Mario Party one of the few games out there that can be simultaneously enjoyed by rookies and veterans, because the former group will feel like they have a shot pretty quickly (and that is indeed true because the mini-games’ learning curve is short) and the latter will never feel cheated.

The problem is that while the mini-games do a fantastic job in setting up the grounds for fair competitiveness, the boards tend to act against it, because on them randomness is the overwhelming ruler. For example, chance spaces, which are few, trigger a twisted game show in which players will roll three dice to determine the exchange of a specific amount of stars or coins between two players; similarly, happening spaces activate events on the board that can easily send someone who is well on their way to reaching the star right towards the beginning of the board or – even worse – to the clutches of Bowser.

mario_party5Moreover, all of the game’s eight boards, which feature varied scenarios and clever themes, have built-in encounters with chance; and those encounters will most likely determine if one will be sent towards the star or towards Bowser. On Peach’s Birthday Cake, for instance, players need to plant seeds at a crossroad, and the fruit the seed bears will indicate the path that must be followed; on Wario’s Battle Canyon, which is formed by five separated circular platforms, moving between these islands can only be done through canons and the direction towards which they will shoot is chosen by a roulette; meanwhile, on Mario’s Rainbow Castle, Bowser and Toad stand on the very same tower at the end of the cloudy road, and every time somebody reaches it – or steps on a happening space – the character who inhabits the tower changes.

All of that means there is plenty of room for frustration in Mario Party. Instead of taking the path traveled by the mini-games (one in which parity between players is achieved through simplicity), the boards rely on devious methods to level the field. And even if they leave some room for strategy and reasoning through their design, luck remains the biggest player on this stage. Fortunately, to those who are way too annoyed by the random tendencies of the boards, Mario Party is kind enough to let players tackle a mini-game-only mode in which all that matters is coming out on top in those skill-based activies.

In spite of the punctual anger that will occasionally afflict some players when they see fate take a bad turn, and despite all conflicts that may arise when someone openly hires the devilish Boo to steal coins or even a star from one of their friends, Mario Party is mostly a bliss. Its casual value and its incredible simplicity make it – more than any game that came before it – capable of gathering people around a console. Mario Party does not quite capture what it is like to throw a party around a video game system because such a concept did not exist prior to its release; Mario Party invented the very idea of throwing a party in which a video game system was the main star, and the straightforward nature of its mini-games and – yes – the outrageous twisted evil tricks its boards play on gamers were the fuel for that fire. And that fun still stands even if the original game feels a bit archaic and stripped down given all good additions its successors would make.

mario_party3Mario Party works as a virtual board game because it mixes the concept of having a group of friends sitting around a table and reacting to each other’s moves and actions with the craziness that only a video game could provide. By building something that leans on human interaction as much as it relies on the interface between players and machine it successfully makes the magic of Checkers, Chess, Monopoly, and Clue materialize in the electronic gaming world. It makes it clear that these games do not simply work because they are addictive or well-designed, but because they pair that prowess with the ability to gather people so that they can laugh, get angry, and shout together. That is the beauty of board games; that is the beauty of Mario Party.

Mario Party

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Punch-Out Review

Bringing a franchise that basks under its arcade simplicity to a modern home console is both bold and challenging; however, Little Mac was never one to run away from a big adversary

punch_out2Out of all old-school Nintendo franchises that spent an obscene amount of time inside the company’s merciless limbo, Punch-Out was not among those that were likely to make a glorious come back. While the game’s first two home-console versions, released for the NES and the Super Nintendo, were packed with fun and challenge, the latter being a feature that is not exactly prominent in modern gaming, its mechanics were extremely simple; perhaps way too straightforward to warrant a full-fledged sequel in a scenario where most games need to have huge scopes to be successful.

However, all rules have their exceptions. And, maybe by feeling that, with the emergence and praise garnered by smaller indie games, the market was becoming warmer towards titles with arcade-like simplicity, Nintendo was brave enough to believe Punch-Out could once again achieve greatness. The responsibility to deliver on that promise was, then, given to Next Level Games.

In a superficial analysis, the Wii version of Punch-Out could easily be described as more of a refurbishment than an overhaul; it is a bright new coat of paint put over a structure that was left mostly unchanged when compared to its arcade origins. Therefore, it would not be surprising to catch one singling it out as a lazy effort that does little to update a franchise that had been dormant for fifteen years. However, playing the game’s Wii version is realizing that the formula still works remarkably well, even when used as the core of a full-fledged console title; and, in that sense, Punch-Out knocks out all accusations of complacency to reveal its true nature: that of a game which is, in equal measures, the product of boldness and sensibility.

punch_out3Those two concepts come into play because Punch-Out never runs away from what it is: a boxing game that plays more like a puzzle than an actual fighting effort. Players step into the ring as Little Mac, an underdog boxer from New York who needs to climb up the ranks of three circuits (Minor, Major, and World) in order to become the world champion. Punch-Out, though, exists in a parallel universe in which boxing is, to put it in mild terms, weird: moving around the ring is not an option; there are no weight categories; and psychological evaluations of athletes are certainly not performed, because such an absurd cast of lunatics would never be allowed to step into the fray in normal conditions.

Due to the limitations of movement, in Punch-Out players have two main concerns: dodging and punching. Button 1 performs a left hook while button 2 executes a right hook; when combined with the D-pad’s upward direction, these buttons are used to land jabs. Avoiding attacks by the adversary, meanwhile, can be done by dodging to the sides, ducking or blocking. Finally, it is possible to unleash a special punch with the A-button; the move, however, is only activated once three stars – which are earned by punching adversaries at very specific moments – are gathered.

Given it is a Wii game, developers did not miss the opportunity to utilize the system’s motion controls. They exist here as an option in which the Wiimote and Nunchuck represent the character’s left and right hands respectively, and although there is some excitement in watching Little Mac punch faces and bellies as one recreates the same motions in their living room, the novelty is bound to wear out with time. The standard NES configuration of the Wiimote, with the device turned sideways, proves to be ideal for the intense gameplay of Punch-Out, which requires brutal timing and absurdly precise responsiveness.

punch_out5Such need for accurate response stems from Punch-Out’s incredibly unique, borderline inimitable, brand of gameplay. Little Mac’s way to the top will be paved with the tears, and invisible blood, of thirteen boxers. And, for each one of them, the general process for the achievement of sweet victory will be the same. All boxers follow a blatantly predetermined pattern: every one of their attacks is preceded by cues that will let players know what is coming, and dodging them successfully is the only way to land blows on the opponent, as they become temporarily vulnerable.

It is all easier said than done, though. As matches go on, cues become briefer, attacks come in at a faster place, and new surprising moves are thrown into the pattern to catch Little Mac off guard; and, naturally, as Little Mac climbs up the ranks, adversaries with larger sets of techniques, smaller vulnerability windows, more powerful blows, and faster gaps between cue and punch will show up. Punch-Out, then, is one constant delightful grind that requires memorization and rhythm; it is a dance in which one wrong move does not end with a toe that is stepped on, but with a cheek hitting the cold floor.

The total number of rivals – thirteen – may not seem like much, but Punch-Out’s approach to boxing makes each encounter last considerably, as players need to learn the behavior of opponents to perfection. Moreover, the game’s legs grow considerably once one takes into account how after winning it all, Little Mac will go through a title defense that includes rematches against all of his defeated rivals, who will reappear with more complicated patterns, stronger attacks and new ways to defend themselves. It all sounds brutal, and in a way it is, but Punch-Out’s lengthy uphill climb is smooth, satisfying, and rewarding: battles get progressively harder all the way through the game, but – with so much sweat and tears involved – players’ agility, perception, and endurance also improve as Little Mac advances.

punch_out6To those who are looking for even more content and to have the limit of their skills tested – and Punch-Out is a game that will bring out such desire for many, thanks to its addictive simplicity – there are the challenges of the exhibition mode. Once boxers are defeated in the career mode, it is possible to face them in friendly combats, which would not have been truly special save for one sweet detail: the fact that each of the two forms of the boxers, the regular one and the one that is encountered during Mac’s title defense, comes with three challenges to be met.

These sound, at first, downright impossible, such as beating a mighty boxer without dodging or taking one down with just one punch. However, not only are they doable with clever tricks and absolutely impeccable timing, they are also incredibly fun to perform, as players will slowly find new ways to beat their opponents down and uncover all twisted little secrets hidden within their attack patterns.

Speaking of Little Mac’s rivals, they have been – historically – one of Punch-Out’s signature and most appealing features, and the Wii version of the game retains that quality. Coming from different nations around the world, Punch-Out’s main stars are built around stereotypes related to those countries: there is the fragile croissant-eating Frenchman; the Spanish Don Juan who doubles a bullfighter; the vodka-drinking Russian; the drunk, and positively psychotic, Irishman; the Canadian bear-loving lumberjack; and more. Although such brand of humor has fallen out of favor with many, those who are not offended by it will be absolutely thrilled with Punch-Out’s over-the-top depiction of the boxers and their habits, a quality that makes each adversary an immediately likable and undoubtedly iconic character within the Nintendo canon.

punch_out4Due to having its home in a console that is significantly more powerful than the one that had housed its prequel, Punch-Out gives the franchise a big update in presentation and sound. All of its characters are voice-acted, and those who are born in non-English speaking countries have plenty of lines in their own language, which is a nice detailed touch; additionally, the game is supported by very solid sound effects and songs that, albeit a little repetitive, get the job done. Moreover, the break between fights is usually adorned by cutscenes that show Little Mac training beside his mentor, the legendary Doc Louis. It is a shame, however, that the introduction of Little Mac’s adversaries is done via slideshows of pictures that portray the boxers’ hobbies and personalities, as cutscenes would have been far more effective and welcome.

The star of the show, in the presentation department, though, is certainly the game’s cell-shaded look. Not only does it work towards alleviating a lot of the violence that happens inside the ring, it also fits like a glove when it comes to Punch-Out’s general humor, which turns the fights into extremely light-hearted affairs thanks to the characters’ dialogues and reactions. The game takes advantage of its simple setup, as only two characters appear on screen, to present their moves and models with as much detail as possible, turning the whole package into an incredible sight for the eyes.

In the end, Nintendo’s brave decision to bring a game that was born in an arcade to the arena of modern gaming without altering an inch of its core structure pays off in a big way. Punch-Out’s inborn simplicity has not made its gameplay age one tiny bit. In a world where games are becoming more complex and bloated by the hour, its straightforward ways actually highlight the brilliant charm of its design and augment the addictive nature of its setup. Through punches, dodges and a whole lot of hard work, Little Mac proves he can stand side-by-side with all of the industry’s giants. They may be bigger than him, but – as Punch-Out shows – taking down adversaries of a much larger stature is what that humble boxer does for a living.

Punch Out

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