The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review

Skyward Sword is the first considerable shift in the way Zelda games have been structured, and it is almost a complete success

skyward_swordUp until the release of Skyward Sword, it had been 25 years, or 9125 days, or 219000 hours since Nintendo first unleashed The Legend of Zelda onto the world. It is possible to say that, through that amount of time, there had never been a single second elapsed during which no developers inside Nintendo’s headquarters were working on a title of the franchise, just like there has never been a millisecond since then without a Nintendo system being turned on while a Zelda adventure unfolded on the screen.

Through that quarter of a century, Nintendo was constantly creating quirky characters, calculating puzzling dungeons, drawing stunning art, engineering immersive scenarios, and constructing moving plots; and during that same period, the company – with almost full accuracy – hit its target of creating games that rank among the best titles ever right in the bullseye.

Legacy, though, is a very heavy burden, and as it is to be expected, every new game in the series is already born with a huge weight on its shoulders: the weight of being automatically compared to its glorious predecessors. No series in the gaming world, and perhaps in the entire universe of entertainment, is as demanded and analyzed as microscopically as The Legend of Zelda, because no series has garnered the same level of respect for being so consistently amazing for so long.

skyward_sword2Whether or not The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the crowning achievement of the series is one endless discussion, but one thing is for sure: until its launch, no game in the franchise had tinkered with the pillars of a Zelda game the way Skyward Sword did. It is a title that doesn’t blow all other Zelda games out of the water, but it proves that – if necessary – successful changes can be implemented to the series; shifts that could give it enough vitality to roll for another 25 years.

Skyward Sword serves as the prequel to Ocarina of Time and deals with the origins of many legendary aspects that are recurrent throughout the series. An epic orchestrated piece sets the tone for the telling of the story of how the Triforce was created by the three goddesses – Din, Farore and Nayru – and entrusted to Hylia. Soon after that event, the Demon Lord, Demise, amassed an army in order to grab the Triforce for himself since the object would grant him his wish for endless power.

During the battle between the good tribes of the world and the evil army, Hylia used her power to send pieces of the land skyward in order to fully protect humans and the Triforce from Demise. The battle was fought, Demise was defeated and sealed, and with the passing of time the world under the clouds became a source of mystery, interest, and fears to those living in peace in the sky. And it is on one of those islands that Link, the chosen hero of the goddess, lives his life unaware of his fate.

From the get go, Skyward Sword manages to develop a deep relationship between Zelda and Link. He is the quiet absent-minded boy who is about to compete in the Wing Ceremony, an important competition whose winner gets promoted to a knight, and Zelda is the daughter of the headmaster of the academy where Link and other students have classes and train.

Through its first three hours, Skyward Sword takes a turn towards cinematic territory and develops its central characters masterfully. The underlying feeling of romance in Link and Zelda’s relationship is absolutely heartwarming and their dialogues are very well-written, not stepping into clichéd land-mines at any times.

skyward_sword6By the time tragedy strikes and Zelda falls to the land below the clouds following a mysterious incident, players will be so involved in the duo’s sweet relationship that the source of the urge for adventure will not be restricted to seeing what dungeon comes next. There will be real motivation in saving the damsel in distress and bringing those two friends back together, and the plot is smartly developed by alternating the unraveling of both the traditional good-versus-evil saga and the human aspects that surround the journey.

By the time one gains control of a fully equipped Link, it is possible to notice how big of an overhaul has been done in the controls department. They are definitely hard to get used to, not because they are bad – although there are indeed some hiccups here and there, but because never has a game been so integrated with actual motion controls.

Skyward Sword throws a whole control philosophy out the window, and brings in a new paradigm. Even the most experienced players will fumble with the setup at first, as if they were 5 year olds having their first contact with a joystick and having to look down at the position of the buttons before every move. It takes patience and a bag of good will, but within four or five hours the difficulties will be surpassed and it will be easy to see the benefits brought by the Wii Motion Plus. Zelda games have never been this streamlined and engaging, and it is all because of the controls.

Undoubtedly, the game’s focus on motion will disappoint some of the fans, which will see the little issues of responsiveness and a few other quirks – such as the occasional but far from bothersome recalibration that is prompted by the game – as proof that such philosophy does not work in a game of the Zelda brand. Those that are able to look past the little issues, though, will probably not want to go back to a traditional control method.

skyward_sword4There are two central benefits brought by this new implementation, the first one being combat. Players can now accurately perform a large number of different slashes, and it is all done by performing the correspondent move. It is possible to stab – a motion that sometimes is indeed problematic in its capture; perform vertical or horizontal swipes; and start moving the sword either from the left, from the right, from the top, or from the bottom. The game gives players total freedom as to what attack to execute.

The large array of moves becomes vital because all enemies in the game are designed so that only specific slashes will successfully land; for example, Deku Babas can have either vertical or horizontal mouths, which means only a slash parallel with its mouth orientation will defeat it. Combat has now become a puzzle in itself, and by doing so Nintendo has added a lot of value to a game whose battles would have otherwise been solved in button mashing affairs.

The second benefit comes in the equipping of items. Players no longer have to map equipment such as the bow, boomerang or hookshot to a limited number of buttons. Instead, all that it takes is a press of the B-button and a wheel with all items will open up. By dragging the cursor towards the item of choice players will select the item and quickly equip it. There is no need to pause the action, and the switch from one item to another can even be done as Link is walking.

Boss battles, dungeons and, as a consequence, the whole game gain a brand new dynamic, which is incredibly beneficial since for the first time ever the dungeons, the overworld, and the bosses require a balanced use of all the items in Link’s inventory. The item acquired in the dungeon is no longer the key to do everything, working – instead – as an extra ingredient on the recipe that allows Link to travel further and further into his quest.

The alterations brought by Skyward Sword are not limited to the controls, though. The game’s structure has also been considerably shifted although it still follows the pattern that has been present in the series since A Link to the Past. Here, Link will do a small quest above the clouds, which will open up an area below the sky; explore the area; reach the dungeon; and go back to the sky to open another area. It’s a cycle that repeats itself constantly, but that is made interesting by the different puzzles, scenarios, and enemies that show up along the way.

skyward_sword3During its second half, the game will make players backtrack into previously visited places, as there are only three distinct areas below the clouds. In Metroid-like fashion, the backtracking centers around the discovery of incredible brand-new locations that could not be accessed due to a lacking piece of equipment.

A few of those missions lack creativity and end up coming off as dull means to extend the playing time, but most of them are actually deeply engaging and creative, such as when Link – having lost all his equipment – must find smart ways to sneak through a slightly altered enemy-ridden version of a previously visited scenario while trying to recover his items; or the long mini-epic ocean-centered quest that leads to the finding of a haunted vessel.

The biggest difference between Skyward Sword and all previous Zelda games lies in the fact that, here, the dungeons seem to have leaked to the outside of their own structures; the overworld, instead of being the usual empty landscape through which Link mindlessly rushes with his transportation method of choice, has now become an open-wide dungeon where, in place of distinct rooms, players will find one large area that needs to be carefully explored by killing enemies and solving progressive puzzles so that Link can reach the actual dungeon in the area.

Consequently, the game loses to its recent predecessors in terms of explorable area, but the result is an adventure that is just as long and much more engaging, as it is always demanding players that they look around, explore, find ways to get through treacherous land, and use their entire inventory in the search of items that will open up the way to the dungeon. Skyward Sword is, therefore, much denser and more constant in its challenge than previous Zelda games.

Once players reach the dungeons, they will be treated to the usual mind-blowing Zelda design, and it is worth mentioning that Skyward Sword has the strongest most consistent bunch of dungeons among all titles that preceded it. Because dungeons are no longer centered around one specific item, most of the puzzle solutions are much less obvious this time around, instead making Link dig to the bottom of his inventory to find previously acquired items that will help him in certain situations.

skyward_sword7Link’s inventory, which presents the usual items such as the slingshot and bombs, has also received some brand-new clever pieces of equipment that make use of the motion-centered nature of the game, such as the beetle – a flying insect controlled with the tilting of the Wiimote – and the whip, which can be used to beat down enemies or manipulate far away switches depending on the way players flick their wrist.

While the land does not offer any open-wide spaces where no goal is present other than going from point A to point B, the sky will satisfy players that still have that desire to feel like they are on a journey through a sprawling world. Controlling Link’s giant bird, however, can be a dull affair. Since all of the creature’s movements are done with motion controls, navigating to the hero’s destination usually takes more effort than it should, forcing players to keep the Wiimote pointed towards the screen while shaking it every once in a while so that the bird flaps its wings to recover lost altitude.

The main problem with the sky, though, is that – far more than that of The Wind Waker – it feels empty even though its size does not even touch the gargantuan proportions of The Great Sea. With the exception of Skyloft – the central town in the game – and another four pieces of ground where fun mini-games and interesting people can be found, the sky simply lacks cleverly designed islands, as most of them look like bland floating patches of grass.

Due to such general lack of life, the sky lacks the strong sense of discovery and exploration that was present on The Great Sea and that made traveling between islands for 3 minutes an engaging experience. Instead of the excitement of exploration, players will mostly smell the heavy air of missed opportunity while mounting their Loftwing.

skyward_sword8Like all Zelda games, Skyward Sword is filled with sidequests that complement the adventure. Skyloft is packed with interesting characters whose characteristics are made more extravagant by the game’s expressive visuals, hence giving them more personality and making them much more likable, and – as expected – most of them will have problems Link needs to solve by moving a little bit out of his central quest’s path. The rewards for clearing those tasks offer plenty of motivation, but while some missions are clever and provide neat bits of character development, a few of them feel padded and entail long trips through the world.

Additionally on the department of extras, under the sky, players will find Goddesses Cubes, which when activated by Link’s sword will open up treasure chests with big rewards located above the clouds. Finding and activating those cubes requires an extra deal of exploration of the earthly scenarios, and, in conjunction with the aforementioned sidequests, they are likely to turn Skyward Sword into a fifty-hour game for most players.

On the technical side of things, Skyward Sword is certainly – alongside the two Super Mario Galaxy games – the Wii’s finest hour. The art direction, a curious blend between the extremely cartoonish Wind Waker and the more realistic Twilight Princess looks perfect for the series. The Legend of Zelda has always been a series sitting between a real medieval world, strangely populated by extravagant characters, and the uncanny magical spiritual realm, and the graphics – which seem to have been taken out of a watercolor painting – convey exactly that. The anticipated orchestrated soundtrack lacks the catchy value some past Zelda songs featured, but in the other hand they add a lot to the game by making it undoubtedly grander and more urgent.

skyward_sword5In a game as huge and Skyward Sword some occasional missteps are bound to show up. Fi, Link’s companion through the whole game, is a character whose robotic behavior starts off as amusing, but ends up being tiresome and stops players from creating any emotional connection to her relationship with Link. Skyward Sword also presents the minor game design flaw, inherited directly from Twilight Princess, where – after resetting the game and picking up from where they left off – players will have to go through a quick explanation on any bugs or materials they acquire even if they had already done so in a previous gaming section, an unnecessary feature that breaks up the pace of the game and annoys players.

Finally, whenever players select an item from their inventory list, the game will recalibrate the Wiimote by considering the point to where the cursor was pointing to at the moment Link brings out said item as the center of the TV screen, players who fail to notice that will invariably have to go through the hustle of re-centering their Wiimote every time they use an item. The game could have made such process clear so that all players know that, when pulling out an item, they must focus the pointer on the center of the screen so that the calibration is not out-of-sorts.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the first considerable shift in the way Zelda games have been structured, and it is almost a complete success. The main staples of the series are all here: puzzles, stunning bosses, incredible dungeons, overwhelming scenarios, and lovable characters, but at the same time it is clear to see that Nintendo tried to move away from many features that were rusting with the passing of the years, and they have done so quite well.

With 25 years on its back, there may be no harder task in the whole gaming industry than creating an amazing new title on the Zelda franchise, because as soon as a new installment is born, it will have to shine brightly under the light of comparison against masterpieces like Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and Wind Waker. Therefore, Nintendo’s ability to constantly rise up to that challenge during the series’ long history is worthy of praise and many thanks, for The Legend of Zelda’s ability to conjure up the feeling of awe from both longtime fans and newcomers remains perfectly intact.

Skyward Sword

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Albums of the Month: June 2015

revolverAlbum: Revolver

Artist: The Beatles

Released: August 6th, 1966

Highlights: Taxman, Eleanor Rigby, Here, There and Everywhere, For No One

“Rubber Soul” showed The Beatles maturing past the silly lyrics of their first five records, retaining the themes of love and relationships but doing so with far more insight and thoughtfulness; and moving away from the standard rock and roll energy of their early compositions while walking towards more varied musical grounds. “Revolver”, then, is the natural progression of that process, as the group tackles new themes and simultaneously takes unique sonic trips that lead the quartet to untraveled paths within the realm of popular music.

Starting with Harrison’s “Taxman”, a riff-centered lighthearted mockery of the exaggerated British taxes; and ending with Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”, an Indian-inspired atmospheric marvel ridden with brilliant studio trickeries that attempts to conjure in sound the effects and feelings of meditation, “Revolver” is nothing short of  a landmark. Aside from “Taxman”, Harrison emerges as a solid songwriter on the sitar-based “Love You To”, a psychedelic oeuvre that goes along nicely with “Tomorrow Never Knows”; and “I Want to Tell You”, which falls right on the range of the band’s standard infectious pop-rock tunes.

Meanwhile, McCartney and Lennon keep solidifying their respective positions among the world’s best composers. The former starts to display his love for Vaudeville through “Good Day Sunshine”; pays a homeage to Motown with “Got to Get You into My Life”;  turns in the record’s most gorgeous melodies on the ballads “Here, There and Everywhere” and “For No One”; and delivers “Eleanor Rigby”, which – guided by a double string quartet and depicting the lonesome lives of numerous characters – is one of the album’s finest studio experiments. At the same time, John, showing an ability that rivals that of Paul in the writing of straight catchy tunes, but with a far rockier punch, with the likes of “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “She Said She Said”, keeps being The Beatles’ quirkiest and boldest musician.

His are the trippy and beautiful “I’m Only Sleeping”; the intenionally childish “Yellow Submarine”, which gains an even stronger whimsical air thanks to Ringo’s singing; the surrealistic ode to his drug provider “Doctor Robert”, which might be the LP’s weakest cut but that stands as a commendable experiment; and the closing epic “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Ultimately, what makes “Revolver” so masterful is that every single member was willing to push themselves to new places and explore untouched musical terrain while keeping their sights tightly focused on delivering strong melodies. For that reason, “Revolver” finds and makes the tiny intersection between experimentation, innovation, and accessibility the home from which it towers over most of the world’s musical output, serving as a guiding light to musicians of all ages and backgrounds.

rock_is_deadAlbum: Rock & Roll Is Dead

Artist: The Hellacopters

Released: June 6th, 2005

Highlights: Everything’s on TV, No Angel to Lay Me Away, Leave It Alone, Murder On My Mind

For an album whose title claims that a once universally important genre is now a cold corpse, it might seem a bit odd that “Rock & Roll Is Dead” kicks off with a guitar lick that could have been written by Chuck Berry. But it actually makes a whole lot of sense. Right there, on its first few seconds, The Hellacopters make it clear that their choice for the record’s name is not a conformist statement; it is a protest. Although it comes as quite a considerable blow to the style that “Rock & Roll Is Dead” is The Hellacopters’ last work – hence marking the end of a bastion of the genre – it is neither an eulogy nor an attempt to suffocate it to death: it is a riot.

“Rock & Roll Is Dead” is a call to arms to either throw a final party before the musical apocalypse, which would make the title of its first song (“Before the Fall”) awfully appropriate; or an attempt to give the genre one final push before the Swedish garage rockers call it a day. The album’s construction with bricks made of pure unadulterated rock is not a surprise to anyone who followed the band’s trajectory, and it could be argued that – song-by-song – it is not as strong of a work as the behemoths of “By the Grace of God” and “High Visibility”. However, its position as the last statement of original material by a group whose youthful energy seemed to make them immortal lends it a whole lot of poignancy.

The clean crisp production that helped “By the Grace of God” make a splash in the United States is fully retained, and it is accompanied by honest songwriting, catchy choruses, and verses that seem to be powered by rocket fuel. The Hellacopters’ greatest gift, however, and one that is vividly present here – just like it is in all of their other efforts – is how skilled they are. In their spirited demeanor, they emulate the MC5, The Ramones, and The Stooges’ wild recklessness; conversely, where that trinity of punk thrived in the simplicity of their playing, The Hellacopters are flashy, a product of the band members’ background as musicians of Sweden’s incredibly prolific hard rock scene. Robert Dahlqvist, for example, often soloes like Hendrix, and the other players exhibt the same level of virtuosity.

It is not all a barrage of fast-paced tunes of anthemic quality, though, as the band mixes up a couple of slower tracks to keep things pleasantly varied, such as the beautiful gospel-rock of “Leave It Alone”. In the end, “Rock & Roll Is Dead” is a more than respectable farewell letter by The Hellacopters, and they bow out by sending their message effectively. On the album’s key cut, the dark “Murder On My Mind”, Nicke Andersson sings “That simple thing was meant to help and to heal / Somehow recently it lost it’s appeal” while pointing his finger towards the bigwigs of the industry and blaming them for the death of rock and roll. Fortunately, although rock music may have already died as a viable mainstream genre, as long as there is someone out there willing to spin a The Hellacopters record, rock and roll will live on; youth and energy will always prevail over corporate greed and pasteurized productions.

libertinesAlbum: The Libertines

Artist: The Libertines

Released: August 30th, 2004

Highlights: Can’t Stand Me Now, The Man Who Would Be King, Music When the Lights Go Out, What Became of the Likely Lads

On their second album, The Libertines suffer from the notorious sophomore syndrome. It is not that the self-titled record is a weak effort, though; it is just that it pales in comparison to the reckless riot of “Up the Bracket”. That work felt like a greatest hits compilation; it kept relentlessly coming up with hooks and iconic moments, a natural consequence of the fact the band had been active through five years preceding its release. “The Libertines”, on the other hand, feels like a more labored over collection of songs, one that constantly rocks out wildly but that, from time to time, walks around unsteadily looking for a goal without ever quite finding it.

The recipe here is, by all means, the same that made “Up the Bracket” soar. Mick Jones – the legendary The Clash singer, songwriter, and lead guitarist – lets Doherty, Barât, Hassall, and Powell run free, and being without leashes, constraints, and wisdom is the only way through which The Libertines can be their own kind of garage rock powerhouse. Within that freedom, the ragged beauty of their songs and performances emerges. Listening to a tune by The Libertines is watching a drunk man stand on a tightrope whose ends are tied to the Grand Canyon’s edges; sure, what he is doing while intoxicated is quite spectacular, but the most exciting part of that particular sort of entertainment comes from the constant wondering of whether or not he will make it to the end.

Although it always sounds as if one of them will stumble on a chord and fall to the ground, Doherty and Barât do reach the end of all of their tunes relatively unscathed, and the results are often mesmerizing. “Can’t Stand Me Now” is an alcoholic duet that works both as the description of a couple who looks down on the state of their love and as a comment on the duo’s convoluted friendship, and that high level of quality is preserved in tunes like the dramatic “Last Post on the Bugle”; “The Man Who Would Be King”, as grand of a song as the band could have written; “Music When the Lights Go Out”, a gorgeous ballad that stands out on the catalog of a group that has not written many of those; the adorably clumsy “What Katie Did”; the fitting closer “What Became of the Likely Lads”; and others.

The problem is that among the more-than-satisfying number of fourteen cuts, a few of them do not stand out, a slight disappointment on the heels of its invariably stellar predecessor. Tracks like the repetitive “Don’t Be Shy” and the innocuous “Narcissist” feel like undercooked jams that, if better developed, could have given birth to better songs. Yet, inserted within the context of an album with so many strong numbers, they work as an integral part of the libertine experience; they come off as the product of a band that is too drunk and too untamed to care, and their dullness clicks just like a speech drenched in alcohol sometimes sort of makes sense: not because it is thoughtful or cohesive, but because it is real and honest.

warAlbum: War

Artist: U2

Released: February 28th, 1983

Highlights: Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year’s Day, Like a Song, 40

With their third album, “War”, U2 found a theme that lived up to the band’s astounding intensity. On their impressive debut, “Boy”, the jovial themes of adolescence often felt too small for Bono’s dramatic delivery and The Edge’s signature guitar playing, which ranged between funky and sweeping jangly. Meanwhile, “October”, its successor, came off as excessively preachy on its approach of spiritual themes. Warfare, however, fit like a glove on the dramatic and ambitiously big U2 sound; after all, it is a subject against which only loud voices that can be heard over bullets and bombs have the chance of making a difference.

“War”, therefore, clicks far more spectacularly than its two predecessors. Sadly, while some tunes showcase the band reaching a level of quality and maturity that had yet to be touched by the Dublin quartet, others meander without purpose, giving birth to a work of inconsistent nature. Thematically, the cards are finely set on the table: “Sunday Bloody Sunday” kicks things off with a poignant statement on the killing of fourteen civilian protesters by British soldiers, and all over the album there are mentions of nuclear weapons (“Seconds”), nonviolent resistance (“New Year’s Day”), and family issues caused by armed conflicts (“The Refugee”). The execution, though, is uneven.

When the songs soar, they reach epic grounds without ever abusing their running time. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” feels urgent from the get go, as a military-like drum beat announces the start of the record before The Edge locks into an amazing riff; “New Year’s Day” features a glorious crescendo, as its verses are guided by Clayton’s bass before the guitars move the song into overdrive as it approaches the chorus, where it explodes when Bono and The Edge come together to produce musical fireworks. “Like a Song”, guided by a beautiful guitar line and a remarkable drum beat; the funky “Two Hearts Beat as One”; and the closing ballad “40”, which perfectly complements the opening track by asking “How long to sing this song?”, are all equally excellent.

At its worst moments, sadly, “War” makes one feel like the writer’s block Bono had experienced during the “October” sessions was still in effect. “Drowning Man” has the singer tackling a seemingly underdeveloped melody over a instrumental piece that is not inspired, “The Refugee” is an awkward cacophony – with constant shouts of “War!” included – that lacks a consistent groove, “Surrender” goes on for over five minutes without considerable peaks or valleys, and “Red Light” is an odd mixture of the U2 sound with a repetitive hook and an exaggerated trumpet. As a rebound from “October”, “War” is a commendable effort, but the inconsistency of the material keeps it away from fulfilling its potential.

Posted in Albums of the Month | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Splatoon Review

Thanks to its flawless balance, Splatoon manages to be, at the same time, deep, competitive, and highly accessible

splatoonAs far as the Nintendo canon goes, Splatoon is – simultaneously – a point far out of the curve and a game whose nature is right at home with the company’s other franchises. Not only is its existence inside the third-person shooting genre an oddity for the new property of a developer usually focused on platformers and other whimsical adventures, its narrow focus on online multiplayer matches also represents quite a sharp turn for one of the last bastions where local couch competition stood strong and tall. At the same time, the title is a perfect summarization of the Big N’s spirit: a colorful, accessible, ridiculously fun, surprisingly deep, and light-hearted family friendly experience.

Splatoon has its home in a world where humans have succeeded in annihilating themselves out of the surface of the earth – that backstory is, indeed, shockingly dark for such a bright-looking work. With our planet’s solid portion now lacking a dominant race, both squids and octopuses slowly clawed their way out of the sea, transforming into humanoid species that were able to switch at will between their two-legged shapes and their original watery forms. War ensued between both legions and, with squids coming out on top, they developed a society on the ruins of human civilization. The main heritage of that conflict was the creature’s love for a sport that replicated those battles with a huge amount of ink-spilling weapons; that’s where Splatoon’s outrageous level of fun resides.

The game begins when the player’s inkling, an avatar that can be freely customized at any moment, walks up to Inkopolis – the city that serves as the hub for all the engaging battling. During that five-minute journey, Splatoon smartly introduces all of its core mechanics to gamers through a seamless tutorial. From straightforward moves such as jumping and firing ink from one’s gun of choice, to more advanced techniques like turning into a squid to hide in ink or activating secondary weapons, all of the moves are done with the simplicity of a button press and are utterly responsive thanks to one of the system’s tightest and most intuitive control setups.

splatoon2True to Nintendo’s philosophy to give gamers the chance to customize their experience, both aiming and camera movements can be mapped to either an analog stick or to the Gamepad’s motion, both of which can have their respective sensitivities properly adjusted. The former is suitable to those who are used to the dual-analog configuration in most shooters and the latter offers a steeper learning curve whose reward is far more precision and shorter reaction times.

With accessibility fully conquered through its control scheme and easy-to-perform mechanics, Splatoon moves on to achieve its second remarkable quality: competitiveness. As a statement on how the title’s core is its 4 vs. 4 online multiplayer madness, the entrance to the worldwide lobby sits right in the center of Inkopolis. Two modes are currently available (with more to come), one of which is Turf Wars, where players compete to see which team inks more turf within three minutes; and Splat Zones, where inklings must fill specific areas of the map with their team’s color, which will cause a timer to begin winding down, awarding victory to the team whose clock first reaches 0.

The matchmaking occurs almost instantaneously and within a few seconds the battle is underway. That wonderful efficiency, though, comes at the cost of a few features. For starters, the algorithm has no regards towards balancing both teams, sometimes setting up battles where groups filled with high-leveled players face a bunch of newcomers. Secondly, and most aggravating of all, Nintendo has opted to randomize the stage selection; although that is in fact a quality, given it avoids the underutilization of certain maps that eventually plagues all online multiplayer games, it is baffling that – out of the nearly 10 levels currently available – only two can be chosen at any given time.

Every four hours, the game changes – for each multiplayer mode – the two maps that can be selected by the randomizer, but that strategy – one that is far worse than allowing the script to choose among the whole pool of existing choices – causes players that want to sit down and devote themselves to a lengthy session of Splatoon (something that will happen often due to the game’s addictive nature) to play the same two levels over and over again for a long period of time. Although the game’s general fun makes up for that repetition, it is something that could have been easily avoided.

splatoon6When the battle begins, though, all minor issues that surround Splatoon are promptly forgotten. As those mad artists armed with a myriad of weapons start painting scenarios that were originally a pale canvas, Nintendo reaches for the kind of fun and competition found in the company’s other two multiplayer giants: Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. It is arguable, however, that Splatoon attains competitiveness in a much smoother and smarter way than that enormous pair, because while both of those titles embrace rookies and experts alike and try to give them equal chances to win through the creation of devices that allow those on the losing end to suddenly raise their chances of victory, Splatoon achieves the same with pure built-in balance.

Sure, the lack of items and other luck-based shortcuts means that here – to the relief of many – sheer skill is on the winning side much more frequently; however, that does not mean the ride is not fun or satisfying for both parties. Firstly, the Turf Wars mode, conceived with the goal of serving as the game’s more casual sort of competition, awards covering ground in paint more than killing foes and sending them back to their team’s re-spawn point. Given that painting terrain is a matter of pressing a button and aiming towards the ground – at least until one comes face-to-face with an enemy squid – all players, regardless of age and experience, can feel the satisfaction of contributing to the greater good.

Secondly, gunfights are – more often than not – decided by strategy and situational reactions, and not by who aims more accurately; a trick pulled off thanks to three central reasons. The first one is how well-structured the stages are. In terms of theme, due to a very cohesive focus on urban areas, they are a bit lacking as far as variety goes; nonetheless, their design is impeccable. Vertical variations, wide spaces, enclosed hallways, and tight corners support a wide array of approaches that include sneaking up on foes, going head-on into all-out 4 vs. 4 warfare, or looking for advantageous positions from which a large portion of the map can be observed.

All of those nuances are supported by the second pillar that makes combat so exciting: the ramifications of the characters’ ability to turn into a squid and swim while occult by their team’s ink. It is a skill that kicks the door open towards various gameplay possibilities, such as secretly stalking enemies, setting up surprise attacks, or inking walls – which do not count towards the final score of painted turf – in order to access elevated locations quickly.

splatoon5As an extra touch, and in a smart use of the Gamepad, players will be able to view a map that displays how the stage is currently painted and the position of their allies. More than a visual aid, the map can be used to jump to a friend’s location or to the re-spawn point with a simple touch. The downside of that move, however, and one that adds strategic layers to its usage, is that a marker will display the jump’s ending point, allowing nearby enemies to patiently wait for the jumper’s arrival to shoot him down.

Splatoon’s astounding balance – its most polished and remarkable feature – comes together in its weaponry; all guns are perfectly viable options and the available arsenal is flooring. The more powerful ones are held back either by slow firing rates, heavy ink consumption – which forces players to reload frequently by swimming in ink, or poor range; whereas the weakest ones tend to be superior in those three areas. The weapons support an amazing array of play-styles, given they can behave like standard pistols, machine-guns, long-ranged snipping tools, one-hit kill blasters that fire slowly and eat a lot of ink, and even the wacky – and appropriately themed – paint rollers and paint brushes.

Every standard weapon comes with a predetermined sub-weapon and a special move that is unlocked whenever players fill up a meter. The former group includes different sorts of bombs, sprinklers, mines, seeker bots, and others; while the latter features a ink-tornado-firing bazooka, an air strike, a temporary shield, a radar that tells enemies’ positions, and even the ability to turn into a kraken. With all of those pieces added, players will have an incredible amount of choices to consider and to explore before they can settle on a gun that suits their taste or that is more effective on the stages that are available on the randomizer’s pool of options.

The game’s balance only truly suffers when disconnects, which are generally infrequent, take place before or during a battle. As a misstep, Nintendo opted not to replace those that disconnect – accidentally or not – with a CPU-controlled character, which means that any team that loses a member will be in severe trouble when the match begins. Other than that, Splatoon’s colored wars are affairs that invariably keep players on the edge of their seats thanks to their fast pace, strategic undertones, and – especially – the fact that most matches hang in a very tight balance since any small accumulation of gunfight defeats by any team can allow the other side to quickly advance and regain lost ground.

splatoon3As players battle, experience points are earned and higher levels are reached, which unlock new weapons and clothing to be purchased on Inkopolis’ shops. The latter are especially important because, other than giving one’s inkling their own sense of style, they come with one main ability and – as each piece is leveled up – new ones (up to four) are added. Those include higher attack or defense, the ability to swim undetected, quicker re-spawns, ink-saving, and countless others. The gathering of a set of abilities that goes along with one’s play-style and weapon of choice is key when it comes to succeeding against Splatoon’s more experienced players.

As a pleasant company to the game’s true meat, Nintendo has devised a six-to-eight-hour single-player mode where players are recruited to go through five worlds, each with a bunch of levels and a boss, in order to stop the rise of the octoling army. Taking place in clever stages with a Super Mario Galaxy vibe that has the hero jumping between disconnect areas and obstacles, the mode is an entertaining mixture of shooting and platforming that has some flashes of brilliant game design.

splatoon4Splatoon’s overall package is excellent. As an evidence of its status as the first step of what will hopefully become a long-standing franchise, a few areas and quirks offer plenty of room for improvement – such as the disappointing lack of a communication system that could have been implemented via a group of short and predetermined messages mapped to the control. However, the bottom-line is that by tackling a genre with which they were not familiar, Nintendo has unearthed a gameplay that thanks to its flawless balance manages to be, at the same time, deep, competitive, and highly accessible.

Like the best games of the company’s canon, Splatoon will welcome people from all ages and gaming backgrounds and immediately charm them; and, in the long run, it will offer a great constant and lengthy learning curve to those who want to become masters of this delightful world where mad wars of paint are the main source of entertainment.


Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Matters of the Mind

inside_outIf Pixar’s storyline were meant to be like a well-developed movie, then Inside Out would be the moment of redemption. Following two movies whose reutilization of original material – Cars 2 and Monsters University – heavily shackled each one’s ambition to reach the golden standard of the company’s usual creativity, and one whose internal turmoil deteriorated an intriguing concept – Brave; the outlook of, finally, having a completely new flick, and one without any reported production issues, hitting the theaters seemed like a fresh opportunity for rehabilitation.

As it turns out, Inside Out is not rehabilitation; not at least in the sense of being one little step towards showing the world that the animation wizards are back in business. In the case of this real life movie, Pixar’s transition from a studio struggling to match the house of Mouse to one that finds the recipe to a cartoonish Nirvana is not a smooth one; it actually takes the shape of a heart rate chart of a patient that had been dead for half a decade and that suddenly awoke full of vitality. Inside Out does more than show that Pixar is back in business; it proves that, when their imagination is allowed to run free, they find places nobody else is even capable of dreaming of.

The movie chronicles the life of Riley, a Minnesota-born young girl who sees her routine turn upside-down when her family moves to San Francisco. From the moment she is born, five core emotions also start existing inside the headquarters of her brain: Joy, which tries to keep her happy; Fear, which keeps her away from harm; Anger, which allows her to fight for what she feels is right; Disgust, which keeps her from being poisoned in a physical and psychological way; and Sadness, which gets looked down on by its peers due to the perceived purely negative effects she has on the girl.

inside_out4From the get go, the film apparently sets a trap for itself: characters everywhere are rightly panned for being too simplistic, so how could a flick that gravitates around five one-sided emotions find depth? The answer, of course, lies in their interactions amongst themselves. The relationship of the five entities and how they are able to cooperate directly affects the external behavior Riley presents; therefore, Inside Out builds an amazingly complex web of internal actions triggering external reactions – and vice-versa – that, aside from lending the script its powerful fuel, allows Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness to show their surprisingly varied facets and, eventually, grow alongside Riley.

Ultimately, that is one of Inside Out’s greatest triumphs. It builds a very intricate story with bricks that, by themselves, would not be all that interesting; it finds, within supposedly one-dimensional personages, a depth that few animations have dared to touch. The big change that occurs in Riley’s life naturally sends the control room of her brain into massive disarray, and the difficulty the emotions have in coping with what is going on leads the girl – and her family as well – down a path ridden with conflict.

The mess is so considerable that, after brawling, the five emotions accidentally cause both Joy and Sadness – the movie’s stars – to be ejected from the headquarters and thrown into the wilderness of Riley’s brain. Their journey to get back to where they belong, the explosive chaos that is created by Joy’s distance from the control board, and the many attempts they make to mend the harm they have done to themselves and to Riley comprise most of Inside Out’s running time.

It is, undoubtedly, a great premise, and it soars to unimaginable heights because of the work’s greatest prowess: the constant sense of wonder its endless creativity causes in the audience. Starting from its first few seconds, Inside Out pulls the curtain on a realm that is awe-inspiring. Through colors, visual cues, shapes, and pure magic, Pixar materializes the astounding complexity of the human psyche in an universe of highly appealing design. It is an unparalleled audio-visual work of art that turns an awfully abstract subject into something incredibly didactic yet psychologically coherent.

inside_out3Memories are glowing orbs whose colors reveal the emotion most closely attached to it and are stored in sleek compartments; key personality traits are wacky islands floating out on the horizon like gorgeous clockwork carnivals; and a giant dark abyss marks the location in which everything that has been forgotten is sent to slowly fade away. As Joy and Sadness are suddenly thrown out of the comfort of the control room, viewers are invited through a wondrous trip – which, to be fair, in a few points feels to drag slightly – where elements like fears, the imagination, the subconscious, dreams, nightmares, trains of thought, imaginary friends, forgetfulness, and other phenomena of the mind gain life in amusing, funny, heartwarming, and unbelievably clever ways.

A whopping twenty years ago, Pixar introduced itself to the world by building a universe in which toys, with all their limitations and quirks, came to life in a believable and intelligent way. That same strategy was used take us to places where bugs, monsters, cars, robots, rats, fish, and others starred in impossibly touching adventures. Inside Out does the exact same thing for the mind, but it feels like a much bigger victory because not only does it deal with a matter that possesses an astonishingly hard-to-grasp nature and an intricacy that is unparalleled as far as animation – and maybe movie-making itself in general – go, but it also produces laughter, tears, and moments of sheer awe in a level of its own.

inside_out5Walt Disney’s idea was to create entertainment that pleased kids and parents alike, offering a plot that is easy to follow for the infants but also bringing in emotional messages and undertones to keep the older folks hooked. Arguably, Inside Out stretches that cloth as far as humanly possible, and some might say it tears that fabric apart. While youngsters will be concentrated in its more superficial humor and its seemingly straightforward characters, adults will be blasted – by the second – with deeper jokes, tongue-in-cheek references to vices of the human behavior, and some rather entwined bits of psychological analysis.

However, as a project whose thematic ambition is without equal as far as animation goes, Inside Out’s only issue – one that is completely negligible to grown-ups – is that a few of its plot developments might alienate some kids, for their full comprehension requires a level of maturity that is unreachable to the little ones. The apex of the movie’s script, as an example, is an extremely poignant (yet low-key – as Pixar usually thrives in doing) commentary on how Sadness is totally vital to human growth and how trying to bury it or pretending it does not exist is a major road-block in the way to any sort of life-changing enlightenment.

inside_out2Whereas an audience that has yet to reach their teen years may not see Inside Out as a pastime as engaging as Monsters Inc. or Toy Story, those that are able to grasp all incredible messages, references, and blinding sparkles of creativity that Inside Out emanates in every one of its 94 minutes will find an animation of unequaled ambition. Only a company with the boldness of Pixar – one that gave the world thirty minutes of silent animation in WALL-E, and a plot centered around an old man and his deceased wife in Up – could dare to pull something of this scope and intricacy off. In the end, the daring maneuvers are finely delivered and the project lands on the silver screen with style. Who knew that a company that shone in dealing with matters of the heart, even those belonging to originally inanimate objects and creatures, would reach its imaginative pinnacle with matters of the mind.

Posted in Animation | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

E3 2015: Thoughts and Words Part II

On the second part of this review of Nintendo’s showing at E3 2015, we continue to navigate through the mixed list of games the company had to display while trying to separate the good from the bad and looking ahead to see what those titles are bound to offer.

federation_forceMetroid Prime: Federation Force

Next Level Games has an impeccable track record. Besides producing the most downright insane and fun games of the Mario Sports line – the Mario Strikers pair, the Canadian studio has also given the Luigi’s Mansion and Punch-Out franchises their very best outings. Therefore, they have more than earned the chance to work on a flagship Nintendo property. With that being said, there is no beating around the bush: Federation Force has come out of the gates looking like one dreadful mistake. Turning the Metroid franchise, a brand cherished for its meticulous exploration and sense of isolation, into a multiplayer shooter on which its signature character does not star is suicidal, especially considering the long lull that has followed the release of the most recent Metroid title, one that did not please many fans.

One might argue that, without the sacred Metroid Prime tag, the game might have been more warmly received, but initial trailers make it seem like a generic blip on a radar that is already saturated with space-based shooters. The Metroid franchise has never been a big seller, so perhaps – after looking at what the multiplayer madness of New Super Mario Bros. did for the already high sales of the plumber – Nintendo thought the online cooperative component could boost the Metroid franchise as well. However, such assumption is ridiculously out-of-line with what fans have been claiming for. At this point, the best those people can hope for is that the title does not fail hard enough to make Nintendo consider putting the franchise into hibernation for the wrong reasons.

star_fox_zeroStar Fox Zero

After witnessing the damaging face-lifts undergone by Animal Crossing and Metroid, the Star Fox audience can let out a sigh of relief: Star Fox Zero is precisely what was expected, a vehicle-based interstellar opera where the titular team – with all its beloved original members – will soar through inhospitable planets shooting down bad guys and avoiding barrages of hazards. The graphics are still a bit on the clunky side and the Gamepad-centered controls, which have players trying to manage two screens at once, are reportedly a bit hard to get used to, but those are items that can be easily improved as development rolls along.

The sole confirmed letdown, albeit one that might still change, is the absence of a multiplayer mode: a valuable component on both Star Fox 64 and Star Fox Assault, and one that could have gained a lot from the current online infrastructure. Yet, that means Miyamoto and his team are hard at work on coming up with a single-player experience that captures the magic of the first two games of the saga, where a short adventure that could be finished in one sitting gained astounding amounts of replay value due to extra missions – each planet is confirmed to feature optional goals, challenges, and attempts at higher scores.

mario_makerSuper Mario Maker

On last year’s E3, Super Mario Maker was announced as a rough sketch: not much was known about the game except for the fact it would allow players to create their own Super Mario stages. With that basic information, the game – which was born as an internal tool meant to be used within the company – was already looking like a must-buy title. It was only natural that, twelve months after its original reveal, Nintendo would unleash waves of juicy information regarding their latest Mushroom Kingdom effort. Armed with those new tidbits, it would not be bold to dub Super Mario Maker one of the greatest things to ever exist.

The game will support the use of the visual styles and gameplay elements of four decades’ worth of Super Mario goodness. Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U will be reinvented by creative gamers that, with the aid of the efficient Gamepad touch screen, will be free to mesh hazards and enemies from the Mario universe in any way the see fit: Piranha Plants that shoot cannonballs are totally possible. The best part of what was shown at this year’s event, though, is by far the strong online component – the blood that will give oxygen to the whole experience. A powerful search tool, automatically assigned difficulty classifications, ratings, comments, course stats, and various lists of different natures (including stages recommended by Nintendo itself) will be available to give Super Mario Maker endless legs.

tri_force_heroesThe Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes

Unlike Metroid Prime: Federation Force, which transformed a signature franchise by ripping out all of its noteworthy characteristics, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is an intriguing twist on the Zelda gameplay. The New Super Mario Bros. syndrome – which sees the addition of multiplayer as a major marketing point to move more software copies – that afflicted both Metroid and Animal Crossing, games that thrive on being single-player, fits like a glove on the Zelda universe. The dungeon-focused gameplay will throw three differently colored Links into a puzzle-ridden maze and force them to cooperate through riddles and bosses to find their way out.

Having three characters that will need to work cooperatively, including the new ability to stack up to form a totem that will allow the heroes to reach new locations; and a clothing-based mechanic that will give each Link unique abilities according to the piece they opt to wear will likely create amazing opportunities for game design, something the team at Nintendo will undoubtedly take advantage of. While it is disappointing to see Nintendo lazily re-utilize assets from the fantastic A Link Between Worlds, a game whose weakest point was precisely its average art direction; Tri Force Heroes is bound to be a success if the company packs it with hordes of dungeons and a solid online mode that boosts replay value.

xenoblade_xXenoblade X

At this point, after having watched dozens of Xenoblade X trailers of the past eighteen months or so, all Nintendo fans wanted out of the company was a release date to the sequel of last generation’s greatest JRPG. As it turns out, that was exactly what the Big N gave us – alongside yet another breathtaking compilation of scenes from the incoming epic. Xenoblade X will hit the American market on December 4th, and anyone who has played its predecessor is already counting the days.

Based on the video, it is possible to tell X will follow tightly on the footsteps of Shulk’s gargantuan adventure: wide-open scenarios that stretch further than the eyes can see, a pleasant mixture of exploration and action-based battles, and a progression that pairs up elements of traditional Japanese role-playing games with the scope and freedom found in the very best MMOs. If all goes according to plan, Xenoblade X will certainly be the Wii U’s biggest game – at least up until the next Zelda comes around – and also one of the best. December cannot come soon enough.

wooly_worldYoshi’s Wooly World

From a purely artistic standpoint, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and Super Mario World 2 all easily rank among the most beautiful games Nintendo has ever produced. From the looks of it, Yoshi’s Wooly World is not merely trying to reach that heavenly tier: it is trying to surpass it to stand on a ledge of art style perfection of its own. The latest trailer shows a presentation that is far beyond gorgeous and the seamless merger of cloth, yarn, and other elements with the Yoshi’s Island world seems like a match made in heaven.

It is more than graphics, though. Wooly World is apparently packed with excellent gameplay ideas. The traditional egg-throwing and transformation mechanics of the Yoshi games are complemented by fabric-based gimmicks that will undoubtedly be creatively used by the folks at Good-Feel, which will take the opportunity to expand on the charming tricks they implemented on Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Coming a month after Super Mario Maker, on October 16th, Yoshi’s Wooly World will give Wii U users an extra doses of sidescrolling greatness during the second semester.

Posted in E3 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

E3 2015: Thoughts and Words Part I

Nintendo’s showing at E3 2015 was notable not because of the games that were shown, but due to the strong negative reactions from fans the presentation triggered. The company approached this year’s virtual conference with a theme of transformation; taking notable franchises out of their comfort zones and into new grounds. While some of the shape-shifting yielded results whose outlooks are promising, others fell poorly flat. Like pretty much everything in our mundane world, the overall output was neither as dark nor as brilliant as it is being currently painted, it landed somewhere in between on a intriguingly gray area. It is time to tell the good from the bad.

happy_home_designerAnimal Crossing: Happy Home Designer

Happy Home Designer is powered by a brilliant concept. It takes one of Animal Crossing’s most beloved features – collecting ridiculous amounts of furniture to decorate spacious rooms as one sees fit – and smartly expands it. Players become interior decorators that must appease the needs of the various villagers, which are unlocked through the purchasing of Amiibo cards, based on statements that hint at what kind of style they seem to be looking for. The more homes are designed, the more items become available so that gamers can let their imagination run wild within the themes desired by the lovely animals.

However, any Animal Crossing fan looking at Happy Home Designer is bound to wonder why in the world the game exists individually instead of being an added feature on the next installment of the franchise. It is highly questionable such concept, as fleshed out as it might end up being, can offer enough value on its own. The option to offer decorating services to villagers may wind up on the next Animal Crossing game and work as a new fantastic gameplay tweak, but as a standalone title Happy Home Designer feels like a cheap, quick, unambitious, and easy way Nintendo found to cash in on the gigantic Amiibo fad by making a game that heavily relies on extra cards.

amiibo_festivalAnimal Crossing: Amiibo Festival

To top off a bad day for the followers of Nintendo’s charming life-simulation saga, the Animal Crossing franchise fell victim to not one, but two shameful cash-ins. Aside from serving as a vehicle to the selling of Amiibos, which will seemingly be used to unlock characters in the game, Amiibo Festival is a total transfiguration of the series we all know and love. Transforming a game to great lengths is by no means inherently bad – the Mario franchise has had uncountable successful spin-offs, but when said transformation is the turning of a pleasant community simulation into a party board-based title – an area Nintendo has got more than covered with Mario Party, it is a disaster.

The Nintendo Wii U, though a great system, is lacking in many genres, but the party niche is certainly not one of them, which makes the introduction of Amiibo Festival feel like an even greater slap on the face of those who wanted a real Animal Crossing game to follow and improve upon the mesmerizing New Leaf. The existence of Amiibo Festival does not kill the chances of the system ever getting a true Animal Crossing experience, but the fact a talented team at Nintendo is hard at work on yet another party game – worse yet, one that is made to sell action figures – shows the company’s focus is pointing towards the wrong target.

fire_emblem_fatesFire Emblem Fates

Easily, Fire Emblem Fates was one of the obvious highlights of Nintendo’s E3 Direct. However, the fact the game was already well-known beforehand (its release date in Japan is coming within a few days), diluted the good effects it could have had on the overall perception of the show. Positive reactions and attention are merely accessories, though, and the title will get plenty of both as its American launch approaches. The bottom line is Fates already looks like it is destined to be one of the finest titles on the Nintendo 3DS’ library.

The storyline’s division into two kingdoms, one where players must defend the place from violent invaders and another on which a revolution will be started, will offer slightly different gameplay scenarios for gamers to tackle. Nintendo’s trailers for the game have been heavily focusing on its cinematics, which is no wonder: Fates flaunts an art style that is a sight for sore eyes.

hyrule_warriors_legendsHyrule Warriors Legends

Although not a universal critical success due to its repetitive gameplay, Hyrule Warriors was quietly beloved by most fans of the Zelda universe; the endless bashing of brainless and weak enemies was surprisingly addictive and the game proved to have more than enough content to sustain those cravings for more action through hundreds of hours. Now, almost one year after its original release, and as a statement on how its sales were satisfactory, the hack and slash is getting a remake on the Nintendo 3DS with some intriguing extras and – possibly – punctual improvements.

The decision to – after such a short period – remake a game is certainly questionable. More importantly, much like it happened with the unexpected 3DS version of Super Smash Bros., it is partially shocking to see Nintendo strip the Wii U – a struggling platform, especially when compared to the 3DS – of one of its signature exclusives. Yet, it is a release that will certainly please many and one that might end up convincing some dedicated aficionados to splurge on both versions.

ultra_smashMario Tennis: Ultra Smash

Following a disappointing 3DS outing that was panned for lacking in content, the Mario Tennis franchise is looking for rehabilitation with Ultra Smash. While the Nintendo 64 version of the game was grounded in a relatively realistic gameplay, with little in the ways of gimmicks; the Gamecube sequel, Mario Power Tennis, had a considerable focus on super shots and other special tricks that could turn any point around in a flash. Ultra Smash seems to clearly lean towards the latter, as its trailer constantly displayed characters becoming gigantic via Mega Mushrooms and unleashing stronger shots.

Fortunately, the nature of those, however, seems to be far simpler than that of those from Power Tennis, which featured overly elaborate special moves that removed the focus from the actual match by displaying short cutscenes whenever one of those moves was activated. The greatest expectations regarding Ultra Smash will certainly lie on its online gameplay. In Mario Golf: World Tour, Camelot failed on the single-player offline experience but delivered a downright spectacular online mode. If the company is able to replicate that magic here, while listening to the fair criticisms World Tour received due to its very thin offline segment, Ultra Smash could end up being one of the finest Mario spin-offs in years.

paper_jamMario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam lies on the opposite spectrum of the two Animal Crossing disappointments. That pair is, at first sight, a double example of how to transform a franchise the wrong way; Paper Jam, on the other hand, looks like a brilliant, smart, and completely unexpected way to bridge the gap between two excellent RPG series: Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi. From a plot perspective, the collision of both worlds is perfectly fertilized terrain for hilarity to ensue: the interactions between the sprites of the Mario & Luigi universe with their paperized versions is a comedy gold mine.

At the same time, on the gameplay front, Paper Mario’s addition to the team of Mario & Luigi opens up many gateways to new mechanics. The highly interactive battles of the Mario & Luigi saga, which feature cleverly contrived and extremely creative moves that require players to timely press buttons, gain an extra member that is bound to make attacking even more engaging and complex, and defending more demanding on the reflexes and attention. Out in the field, it allows the Mario & Luigi exploration to meet the Paper Mario puzzle solving. Paper Jam is an incredibly creative move by Nintendo that shows that, at its best moments, the Big N knows better than its fans how to move their franchises to new places where inventive ideas will be abundant.

Posted in E3 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

E3 2015 Predictions: Dream a Dream Edition

Dreams are a powerful thing, but they can also be incredibly painful. At the gates of every E3, the mind of every Nintendo fan is bursting with wild hopes of seeing a far-fetched and highly desired game materialize. Sometimes, it is an important franchise that has been gone for long and whose resurrection seems unlikely; and on other occasions it simply is a project that would make a lot of sense with the hardware the company currently holds. Regardless of what makes them a nearly impossible dream, the announcement of any of the following titles would make a lot of folks happy.


The history of the F-Zero property makes absolutely no sense. While most franchises would use an extremely successful entry as a launching pad towards more investment and new installments, Captain Falcon and his gang of outrageous intergalactic personalities simply vanished after F-Zero GX, which – by all means and effects – is one of the finest racing games ever. Nintendo fans loved it and even those outside the realm of the Big N’s influence still look positively towards a title that was as absurdly hardcore as a game that sends ships speeding through loops, corkscrews, and cylinders that hang above miles lava and other hazards can be.

Since then, it seems the company has created a weird aversion towards F-Zero. GX has been publicly criticized by Miyamoto himself, which shows a considerable diversion between what the fanbase thinks is ideal for the franchise and what Nintendo’s creative leader envisions as F-Zero’s truest and purest form. Therefore, not only is it questionable if a new installment in the series will ever show up, but there is also a huge question mark hovering over the exact form and shape of that hypothetical game. The only thing that could clear those doubts away is the game showing up for E3.

luigiLuigi’s Mansion

Some might say that, thanks to the existence of Luigi’s Mansion, the world’s most famous green plumber has gotten what he deserves: a franchise to call his own. However, as the perfect physical (at least in a virtual sense) definition of the adjective “overlooked”, the Nintendo haunted house adventure has gotten a meager two installments over an interval of fourteen years. Dark Moon, its latest release, came out only two years ago, but it was a game of such overwhelming charm and technical prowesses that it stands as one of the 3DS’ finest releases. Moreover, the game solidified Luigi’s Mansion as a property Nintendo is willing to revisit and keep it running for a long time.

While a handheld game was nice, Luigi’s Mansion could heavily benefit from the Wii U’s hardware and – in turn – it would add yet another great title to the console’s ever growing library of amazing first-party releases. As Nintendo Land displayed through its ghostly mini-game, the poltergeist-ridden dark rooms could serve as the flowering grounds for various Gamepad-related gameplay ideas, an area on which the Wii U is lacking terribly. With that kind of creativity, a third Luigi’s Mansion installment could – more than take advantage of the success and buzz generated by Dark Moon – learn from that game’s tiny mistakes and push the franchise to an elevated ground where only Nintendo’s strongest properties sit.

pmMario RPG

Differently from F-Zero, the void left by the main line of Mario RPGs is not due to its total absence; it exists thanks to the dubious quality or quirky nature of its latest releases. While the Mario and Luigi saga has kept on delivering a great high-quality share of Mushroom Kingdom role-playing goodness, the Paper Mario franchise has sunk in a flash. Super Paper Mario was very good, but as a sequel to The Thousand-Year Door – a true epic – its light-weight battle elements combined with its focus on platforming yielded a result that was far from what fans wanted. The main quality it retained from the Gamecube and Nintendo 64 masterpieces that preceded was its stellar script, even if it was a bit too verbose.

Meanwhile, Sticker Star embraced a clever concept embedded in the franchise’s paper-made universe and proceeded to fail miserably, delivering one of the worst Nintendo games in recent memory. Consequently, people who have gone through Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, and its amazing sequel are desperate for some Mario RPG goodness. The announcement of a game of that kind – even if dressed up in a new coat of paint or packed with unique elements that turn it into a monster that is not Paper Mario, but one that stays true to the series’ RPG roots – would be a dream come true.


Ever since the unknown Ness appeared as the ultimate secret character on 1999’s Super Smash Bros., the Mother series has transformed from an ugly duckling deeply admired by a few to a popularity phenomenon. Time and time again, true to its stubbornness, Nintendo of America had denied to give the property another shot on American soil even when faced with an ever-growing fanbase that found a way to experience Earthbound (known in Japan as Mother 2) through other means. The battle, and Nintendo’s incomprehensible refusal to make some money (rumored by some to have been caused by licensing problems with some of the title’s songs), ended when – in 2013 – the game hit the Virtual Console to big sales and warm critical reception.

One considerable sin has yet to be addressed, though: the fact neither Mother nor Mother 3 have ever been released outside Japan. There are many ways Nintendo could achieve that: the games could be released on the Virtual Console after localization efforts, remastered editions could be sold physically for the Nintendo 3DS, or – better yet – a big package containing the marvelous trilogy either in an updated or preserved state could be produced. It is a highly far-fetched scenario, but it is hard not to imagine the success of Earthbound’s re-release has made some people inside Nintendo scratch their heads and wonder if such projects would be financially viable.

Posted in E3 | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments