Review: The Legend of Zelda

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It didn’t matter if you were a fan of “sword and sorcery” games or not. When you saw the shiny gold cartridge that contained The Legend of Zelda, you were intrigued. At least, this was true for me. Until Zelda came along, I never gave much thought to things like wizards and dragons. I was all about spaceships and robots. But the lure of that glittering gold cart enticed me. Yes, the game cartridges for The Legend of Zelda were not grey in color like most others, but instead,as mentioned above, they were golden.

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I may have been initially lured by the physical box the game has housed in, but I was hooked by the game itself as soon as I pressed the power button. Instantly, I was hypnotized by a haunting lovely melody and the slow pulse of a the glowing title screen. It was digital crack.

The Legend of Zelda takes place in the far away land of Hyrule.  Zelda, the princess of Hyrule has been kidnapped by the evil Ganon. Ganon came into possession of an ancient artifact known as the Triforce of Power. Using it, he has taken over the kingdom with his terrible monsters. Our hero is a young man named, Link. Link must explore the kingdom in search of a similar artifact called the Triforce of Wisdom. However, for protection it has been cut into the eight separate pieces. Once the artifact is assembled, Link will have the power he needs to challenge Ganon and free princess Zelda.

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Link begins the game with no weapons or items at his disposal. But almost immediately he is given a wooden sword. Other items drop from defeating enemies and conquering various dungeons found through the game. These dungeons also hold pieces of the Triforce Link needs to complete his quest. They are scattered across the kingdom and Link must find them and defeat the monsters that reside in each and collect the Triforce piece and progress further.

Eventually, link makes his way to the final dungeon at Spectacle Rock. However, be warned, only a hero with the right weapons will be able to deal that final blow to Ganon! Once the game is complete, you unlock the ability to play the “2nd Quest” – the same game, but with a newly designed set of challenges.

The Legend of Zelda was the first of its kind and it spawned many sequels. It stands as one of Nintendo’s greatest successes – right up there with Mario. These days, you’ll be hard pressed to find many people between the ages of 25-40 that are not familiar with Link and his epic search for the Triforce.

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Difficulty: Medium –  For the most part, things are pretty easy going. In the beginning there’s a bit of a challenge until Link gets some decent equipment. However, players who are willing to exercise a little patience, and take the time time to locate many of the hidden power ups won’t have much of a problem until the last few levels. At that point, things get a little tough again.

Story: Originally, the story seemed a bit shallow. However, this was largely due to very poor in-game translation and a thoughtless game manual. Being the first title in the series, this game lays the groundwork for what will eventually become a mythology all it’s own.

Originality: Good marks here. The formula for the game, in a small way, is a bit like Metroid. You have a whole world before you. You can explore it as you wish. However, there are many roadblocks along the way that will become passable as you progress. The overhead view is nice change in a a world that was typically dominated by sidescrolling games. This was one of the first games I remember with a stash of collectible equipment the player could swap out and select as needed.

Soundtrack: Haunting, ambient, and adventurous! Great stuff here. Timeless themes.

Fun: This is classic game with hours of fun. There’s no telling how many times I’ve played through this game from start to finish. It never gets old.

Graphics: The graphics in this game are a little hard to define. I get impression that the art direction in the game is supposed to have a “cartoonish” feel to them. Colorwise- it succeeds. The biggest problem is that with such a wide view, there’s not a lot of detail. Regardless, everything on the screen is clear. There’s really no question what various on-screen objects are supposed to be. For an overhead game, the graphics were good enough.

Playcontrol: No real issues here. This applies to both the original release as well as the modern-day ports available. The overhead view of the game, and simple controls lead to an all-around precise experience.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – This is classic 8-bit Nintendo at it’s finest. For all the reasons listed above, this is one title that I have to recommend to every player regardless of age.

Available now on: Wii Viritual Console, Nintendo eShop

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ II – Link to the Past – Link’s Awakening – Ocarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild

Review: Metroid

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I love looking back at the these old games. When I think of classic NES titles, Metroid is one that immediately comes to mind. I received my first NES as a Christmas present and Metroid is one of the games I received along with it. It has captivated me ever since.

In Metroid, you play the galactic bounty hunter, Samus Aran. Samus is sent on a mission to infiltrate a secret base of Space Pirates on the world of Zebes. The pirates have stolen a batch of organisms known as Metroids from a research lab, and are illegally breeding the creatures for warfare. Samus’s mission is to sneak into their stronghold, exterminate the Metroid, and destroy the pirate’s base.metroid_nes-5B1-5D

Samus begins the game equipped only with an upgrade-able suit of armor and an arm cannon for defense. As you explore the planet, new weapons and enhancements are added to the arsenal, thus unlocking new areas to explore. The planet is home to two “mini-bosses” known as Kraid and Ridley. But, the whole space pirate operation is actually controlled by a cybernetic organism known as “The Mother Brain”. After much exploring and problem-solving, Samus eventually defeats the Mother Brain only to a planetary self-destruct sequence. If Samus manages to escape, the game is won.

The challenge of Metroid lies in search and discovery the various items needed to progress further into the title. As you continue to dive deeper into the mysterious planet, you uncover various areas, each with their own unique atmosphere. As you continue play the game, you will constantly move back and forth between these various environments.

The game uses a password-based system to allow players to save their progress. This method seems antiquated by today’s standards, but worked very well at the time.

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If you manage to complete the game in a certain period of time, it will be revealed that Samus Aran is actually a female. These days, that may not seem like a very big deal, at the time of the game’s release a female bounty hunter was something that surprised many players.

Many games have since been released that have copied the Metroid formula for success. What makes Metroid truly stand out is the fact that it was the first and arguably, the best. The developers did an amazing job of creating a truly alien environment for the player to explore. Everything from the strange creatures, to the unearthly soundtrack make for a great experience. This is one title that I certainly recommend for any gamer. It’s makes for a great latenight play-a-thon.

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Difficulty: Medium –  In early parts of the game, before Samus is equipped with a decent arsenal of weapons and energy tanks, things can be dicey. Patience is key. If you take your time, and don’t rush headfirst into a room of aliens you will be ok. The players that takes the time to explore and uncover a good amount of loot won’t have too much of a problem. Most the minibosses have their own tips and tricks that make them easier to defeat. Weapon selection is key.

Story: At first, the story seems just a little bit shallow. It’s good backdrop to the game, but provides little else at first glance. However, as the series developed later, the story behind Metroid is expanded and becomes quite a complex tale.

Originality: At the time it was released, Metroid was hands down a new experience. Nothing like it had ever been seen. The formula behind the gameplay proved to be so popular that many titles in the future would imitate it.

Soundtrack: Weird, alien, fitting. Again, another first. The music in the game is so unlike anything I had encountered before. Very ambient, with strange reverberated notes and mechanical noises. The tunes are still catchy today. I love it.

Fun: By now it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the game. I never fail to have a good time when I put it in.

Graphics: This was a launch title for the NES and in a way, it shows. The graphics are clear and the characters are distinguishable. But there’s not much going on in the background of the levels. Most of the backdrop is just solid black. That is my only real complaint.

Playcontrol: Spot on with the original release. After a few hours with the game, you really get a feel for what Samus is capable of. The Virtual Console version suffers from minor imprecision, but this, as usual, is due to the difference in the controller and not the emulation. I have never experienced this on my 3DS version

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Metroid is a classic NES title and one that I feel everyone should experience. I introduced my son to it when he was about 6 years old and he’s loved it since day one. If you have never played it, you’re really missing out. It stands the test of time well.

Available now on: Wii Virtual Console, 3DS eShop

Other Reviews In This Series:

MetroidMetroid IISuper Metroid – Fusion – Zero Mission – Prime – Prime II – Prime III – Other M

Review: Diablo III

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*note: For those that wish to find me in-game, my BattleTag is BaconMage#1654
*** THIS REVIEW HAS BEEN SUPERSEDED BY THE RELEASE OF AN EXPANSION ***

After nearly 12 years of waiting, Blizzard finally released the next chapter in the Diablo series. Diablo III went on the market around the same time I started this blog. Naturally, everything else on Earth stopped for me as I dived into the pits of hell one more time.

This title resumes twenty years after the end of Diablo II, this time the player assumed the role of “The Nephalim” a hero who arrives in the town of Tristram to investigate recent reports of a strange meteor. In Diablo III players can choose to create a character from the following class options: Witch Doctor, Barbarian, Wizard, Monk and Demon Hunter. As the plot unfolds, the player explores environments such as dark dungeons, disease infested sewers, war torn strongholds and even heaven and hell itself.

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The play style is similar to the previous games. Crafting of new gear is done via NPC, and items can be purchased on a community-stocked auction house. Skills are handled much differently in this entry in the series. As players level up, new skill runes are unlocked which grant new abilities. This allows for quite a bit of customization. This enables players to experiment with different builds to find a fit that’s right for them.

One of the more controversial aspects in Diablo III is the “always on” internet requirement. Having a constant connection makes teaming up with friends extremely simple. However, for those that wish to play solo, requiring a broadband internet connection seems a bit silly. In situations where internet connectivity may be an issue, the entire game is unplayable. This is the real pain point for many. During release, the game servers encountered massive congestion, thus leading to queued timers and frequent game crashes. Players that simply wanted to enjoy the game on their own were understandably frustrated. Further controversy erupted over the announcement of an optional real-money auction house. Simply put, players can sell items from the game to other players in exchange for real-world currency. The argument has been made that this provides wealthier players with a strategic advantage over others.

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Graphically, the game is beautiful. It’s without a doubt the most visually appealing entry in the series. The audio and score for the game is equally lovely. This is another example of a title best played on dreary, rainy days, or in a dimly-lit room in the dead of night. Content-wise, I have no complaints. The random levels, quests and encounters make for a unique experience each time you play. On a few occasions, I found the levels to be a bit longer than I’d like, and wished that the area was a bit smaller and less redundant. But this was not something I encountered enough to really be a problem. Overall, I found the environments and enemies in the game to exceed my expectations. Many of the boss fights are very well done and create a great feeling of suspense and awe.

In the age of Internet gaming, it’s easy to forget that this is primarily a single player title. The online connectivity makes for a very unusual hybrid type of experience. In a sense, it’s sad to log in now, four months later, and see my friends list filled with people who have not logged in in over 100 days. Once beating the game, many players have simply moved on. Which, for a single player title, is not at all unusual. Despite this, Blizzard is still planning new content for Diablo III such as PVP combat. So perhaps, in the coming months an update of this review will be in order. Overall, however, I have to proclaim to be Diablo III to be worthy of a purchase. Especially for fans of the series.

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Difficulty: Varies –  Again, several difficulty levels are unlockable as you progress through the game. A hardcore mode also exists as it did in Diablo II, giving you only one life. For those that like punishment, have fun trying to play the game on Inferno difficulty with a hardcore character. There will be tears.

Story: The best of all three games. Twelve years of development really gave Blizzard the time needed to create a storyline of epic proportions. Not to give anything away, but the character of Diablo does make a return, and the way this comes to pass will not disappoint. There’s a lot of nice throwbacks and easter eggs for those that are familiar with the older games.

Originality: There’s no mistaking this is a Diablo game. However, with the new skill and companion system, there’s enough fresh ideas in the game to keep things from getting stale.

Soundtrack: A beautiful score that is very fitting. In my opinion much better than the first two games. I actually have a copy of the soundtrack and find myself listening to it when writing or when I’m trying to get my creative juices flowing on some type of fantasy project.

Fun: The game can definitely be fun. At release a large number of issues caused a great deal of frustration. I was excited to the get the game home and play, only to find the servers down due to congestion. This, along with a few early bugs, really put a damper on things. Of course, now most of these issues are ironed out. Aside from the occasional gold farmer spamming the world chat window, there’s not too much to complain about. This title was designed with re-playability in mind, and if definitely succeeds.

Graphics: Absolutely lovely looking game. This one area where the game shines. Everything from the character sprites to the dynamic light looks stunning. This title is a huge improvement over the other entries in the series. Now…. if only they would redo those games on the new engine…

Playcontrol: Very similar to other titles in the series. Occasionally, during high energy battles and boss fights, I found it difficult to select the target. But aside from some occasional frustration, I found nothing to complain about.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Due to its troubled launch, and what I feel is a little overly-complex skill system, I cannot give this game a perfect score. It is a title that I certainly recommend, but I do feel that there was a bit more that could have been done to add some polish. I wish the game had an offline option, although I understand what Blizzard was trying to achieve with requiring connectivity. I’m not a fan of the real-money auction house, but it’s easy enough to ignore unless you live for online play. All that being said, Diablo III is an excellent title and well worth your dollars. It is a nice capstone to the series, and I hope to see an expansion of some sort in the future. At this point, I still feel that Diablo II offers the definitive Diablo experience. However, due to it’s age and inaccessibility it is hard for many new players to get started with it. I am looking forward to playing through Diablo III again with the release of the upcoming 1.05 patch.

 Available at retail and through Blizzards Online Store

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls

Review: Diablo II

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Four years after the original Diablo was unleashed upon the world, a sequel was produced. By this time, I was already living with my future wife and I appropriately warned her ,”You will not see me for about a week, once this game comes out.”

Diablo II is a worthy sequel to the original game. Everything that was right about the original Diablo is here, and just about everything that was wrong with it has been addressed. The game is familiar to anyone playing the original, but contains a slew of new features. Players are able to customize weapons using the new “gem” system and combine various pieces of gear in a magical “Horadric Cube”, there’s a community lockbox for players to place items so they will be accessible across various characters. The character classes are a bit different this time around, now featuring the following options: Amazon, Barbarian, Necromancer, Sorceress and Paladin.

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Gameplay between this and the original are very similar is many respects. However, instead of being confined to a dungeon players now find themselves battling in rocky highlands, vast deserts, and strange exotic jungles. Instead of constantly saving your progress like the original game, this game is separated by chapters. Quitting the game and resuming resets all of the monsters and explored areas. However, a new ability is available to warp to various checkpoints. This prevents a great deal or backtracking when loading a saved game.

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In this game, you find yourself in pursuit of the “Dark Wander”, the hero of the last game, who has become possessed by the spirit of Diablo. Eventually, your ultimate goal of defeating the Lord of Terror is once again made clear. Despite being a huge success, many players found themselves feeling a bit unfulfilled. Luckily, not long after the initial release of Diablo II,  the add-on: Lord of Destruction was unleashed for players to devour.

In the opinion of many, LoD really completes the original game. It integrates itself into Diablo II perfectly, adding two new character classes, the Druid and the Assassin, new items, as well adding a whole new final chapter to the original game. I am one of the many that tend to look at Diablo II: Lord of Destruction as inseparable from the basic game itself.

In this expansion, the lead character pursues Diablo’s stronger brother, Baal in hopes of defeating him for eternal peace.

As I mentioned before, Diablo II takes all of what was great with the original and expands on it in a masterful way. This is a fine example of a company that took their original creation and actually improved upon it rather than just slapping on a new coat of paint and hoping no-one notices.

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Difficulty: Varies –  Like the original, there are various difficulty settings for the game, ranging from normal to insanely difficult.

Story: Diablo II features a much richer story than the original. Cutscenes exist between each chapter. Also, banter with NPCs is more frequent and is often more integral to the story.

Originality: If you are familiar with the original Diablo, you will feel right at home here. However, Blizzard added enough new and original features to keep the game fresh.

Soundtrack: Very similar to the the original Diablo. Great songs that seem to fit in very well with the environments throughout the game.

Fun: Even better than the original! The scenery changes enough so as not to be repetitive. However, I did find myself wishing that the seemingly endless jungle levels would just hurry up and be over. My favorite part of these games is seeking out new shiny weapons and armor. There no disappointment for treasure hunters.

Graphics: Released at the dawn of 3D acceleration, this title boasted Glide and Direct3d acceleration. These days, no one has a Voodoo card so, you’re stuck with D3d. In my opinion, on a modern system, the 3D graphics are a bit muddy. In some respects, I feel the the original Diablo is actually a bit more polished visually.

Playcontrol: Excellent play control via mouse and keyboard. No real issues worthy of mention

Overall rating (out of four stars):  4 Stars – This is the essential Diablo experience. A classic game brought to perfection with the Lord of Destruction pack. You can’t go wrong with this title.

Available today through Blizzard’s online store.

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III – Reaper of Souls

Review: Diablo

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Today, I’ll be taking a change of course for a bit. One of the first PC games I ever purchased with my own money was Diablo. With the recent release of the long-awaited Diablo III, this is a franchise that really needs no introduction.

In the summer of 1997, as a highschool graduation present, my parents gave me the funds required to build my very own personal computer. Oh, I remember it well. It was a Pentium 166 MMX, with 16 megs of RAM. I loaded it with the OEM version of the OSR2 release for Windows 95 and it ran like a dream.

One of the first things I did after building my system was catch up on a lot of great PC games I had missed over the last few years. I gobbled them all up. Duke Nukem, Quake, Heretic & Hexen, to name a few. Then one day at Media Play I came across the Diablo box and I was enthralled. Here was a game I could actually play online for FREE. I snatched it up and brought it home.

Diablo appealed to me almost instantly. It was a modern take on the classic dungeon-crawl games I loved so much. Essentially, there is a giant dungeon under the town filled with hordes of evil monsters and demons. But among those dangers are riches and spoils beyond your wildest dreams.

When creating your hero in Diablo, you can choose between a Warrior, Rogue or Sorcerer. Each had their own advantages and disadvantages. I felt right at home.

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The game was unique in that when donning a new suit of armor, or equipping a new weapon, you could actually see it on your character. That was a new, but welcome concept for me. Also, in a way, you never played the same game twice. The levels were created at random every time you started over. There was a bank of quests or tasks that would be shuffled out when you created a new game, so no two games were exactly alike. It was revolutionary and I was amazed by it.

Eventually, your character ventures down to deepest levels of the dungeon and discovers the shocking truth behind the terror that has enshrouded the town above. The game ends with your character defeating Diablo, one of the very Lords of Hell.

The multiplayer portion of the game never appealed much to me. I found it extremely difficult to play with friends using a modem connection, and attempts to play on Battle.net were fraught with lag. Not to mention that Battle.net was filled with cheating players. Ultimately, I enjoyed Diablo as a single player title. But for many, “online” was a favorite way to play.

Even today, I feel that there’s a lot to be offered by this now classic title. The game has a lot of atmosphere. The visuals mixed with the ambient soundtrack match the tone of the game perfectly. This is one you’ll want to play on a nice autumn night with the lights out, perhaps with only a candle burning on the desk. So, If you enjoyed Diablo III and want to see where it all began, or if you’re new to the series, I do recommend this title first. Not to mention the lore and myth that is the Diablo story, gets it start here.

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Difficulty: Varies –  This title has a fairly accurate difficulty setting. Occasionally, you may find yourself swarmed by monsters, but there’s never much you can’t overcome on the standard setting. But on some of those harder modes… God help you.

Story: The storyline is revealed as you progress through the dungeon. Those players that skip through most of the text are missing out on quite a bit. For those that are willing to take the time to read and listen, you will certainly be rewarded.

Originality: Diablo really set the stage for a new type of dungeon crawl. It redefined what a hack and slash game based in a fantasy world could be. When first playing it, I was reminded a bit of the classic arcade game Gauntlet. But the similarities soon faded.

Soundtrack: Amazing. Simple, yet elegant ambient music. It really sets the mood for the game. The soundtrack is a work of art.

Fun: This game provided me with many hours of fun over the years. It’s a title that I’ve often found myself turning to again and again. I recently played through it a few months in anticipation of D3‘s release and was surprised at how well it has stood the test of time. If you like dark scary dungeons and demonic monsters, this will be right up your alley.

Graphics: At the time it was released, the graphics were really top tier. There’s no 3D acceleration or dynamic lighting, so it certainly looks dated by today’s standards. However, it holds up quite well. Modern Vista, Win 7 and Win 8 systems experience a color issue when first booting the game, but there are work arounds  available to correct this.

Playcontrol: Point and click. It couldn’t be easier. I admittedly burned through a few mice over the years playing these games.

Overall rating (out of four stars):  3 Stars – Diablo is an excellent game. I do feel it had potential to be a bit more than it was. The network issues and online cheating became a large problem for many players. Many of “gaps” in the game were filled by the semi-official expansion known as Hellfire. But despite it’s few shortcomings, Diablo was a game changer in the PC world. Recommended.

Available today through Blizzard’s online store.

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

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Taking a break from the retro reviews for a moment, I’m going to share my thoughts on a title a little more modern. Back in April, I purchased the long awaited RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles. And I am so glad I did. This game has been a breath of air.

For the last five or six years, I’ve really neglected my single-player console games and focused more on online multiplayer titles. It’s been a while since a single-player game has hooked me the way Xenoblade has. This is a classic JRPG is every sense of the word. The storyline is deep and filled with twists and turns. The characters are memorable, the locales are exotic and beautiful. The music is simply top notch. The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time. This game has all the elements that a true RPG should strive for.

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The game takes place largely on a world known as Bionis. You see, Bionis is actually an enormous organic sleeping titan upon which people live out their daily lives. For eons, Bionis was engaged in an eternal struggle with another titanic entity, the mechanical Mechonis.

While the two titans themselves has long been dormant, the people of Bionis are constantly on defense from invasions by the robotic forces of Mechonis. It is in this world, that the game begins. The lead character, Shulk becomes entrusted with a legendary sword (The Monado). This blade is the only known weapon actually capable of harming the Mechon attackers. As the game progresses, Shulk and his friends learn more about the reason for the Mechon invasions and discover some real earth-shattering secrets behind the struggle between the two world-titans.

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This game features a vast world filled with what seems like endless content. Aside from the main storyline, there are more sidequests and optional storylines than you can shake a stick at. On top of that, your in-game actions have a real effect on the relationships between non-player characters. These “affinity levels” end up having a major impact on the game as time goes on.

I’ve never played this type of game on the Wii before. At first, I was a bit confused by the control scheme and by all the options that Xenoblade had to offer. However, after a while things started to click and when they did, I found myself in a world so immersive that I was truly impressed by the sheer masterpiece that the developers were able to put together. This is truly one of the greatest games I have ever played.

Xenoblade was one of the games responsible for the Operation Rainfall campaign. If it is any indicator of the types of games we are missing out on here in the west then for goodness sake, we have truly missed some exquisite gaming. In my opinion, part of the wonder of this title is discovering it for yourself. That being said, I shall say no more and leave this review with the following breakdown.

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Difficulty: Hard Most of the base game is fairly straightforward. However, towards the end there are a handful of boss fights that can be extremely brutal unless you take some time to really think out your strategy. Many of these fights will require shuffling around your party members and making sure they are geared to match the situation at hand. A lot of the optional content in the game, requires A LOT of patience and the will to go above and beyond the normal grind.

Story: One of the greatest stories I have experienced through a video game. The basic set up is fascinating as it is, but just wait, you will be amazed at how the plot unfolds

Originality: This is not your standard RPG. Everything about this title seems to be re-imagined from the ground up. The combat system is designed specifically for the Wii, regardless of what controller you choose to use. The affinity system provides a new take on interactions between your characters and the “fluff” NPCs that typically populate a game world.

Soundtrack: This soundtrack is a must have. It rivals anything from the Final Fantasy series. The song selection seems appropriate for the various areas in the game. Often, the music will change depending on the time of day. Songs fade in and out as you switch zones, making everything seem to fit into place. Listening back to the theme from Makna Village on my iPod, triggers memories of the exotic little Nopon village. I can almost feel the warmth of the little city in the trees 🙂

Fun: This game is a great way to pass the time. The only drawbacks are that a few of the boss fights seem to be much more difficult than called for. This will lead to some frustration for some. Also, the game is EXTREMELY big. I fear that some players will grow impatient.

Graphics: By Wii standards, this is a work of visual art. Even when compared to other consoles with more graphical power, it’s not too shabby. Despite being a bit pixelated, the developers have managed to create some truly beautiful scenes.

Playcontrol: Overall, the playcontrol is pretty much spot on. There are some frustrations with the camera, so I can’t give it a perfect score, but overall this is not a really big problem.

Overall rating (out of four stars):  4 Stars – If you like RPGs and own a Wii, this title is a must have. This is probably one of the top three RPGs I’ve played in my lifetime. Definately the best in the last 10 years or so.

Available today on: Wii

Review: Super Mario Bros 3

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Oh, Super Mario Bros. 3. How I longed to get my hands on this game as a child… I remember my first encounter with this title. I was at an arcade machine in a Japanese shopping mall and immediately became re-obsessed (Is that even a word?). It was Mario as I’d never seen him before. This time instead of just stomping turtles and mushrooms, Mario could fly! He could throw hammers, swim like a frog, it was glorious for a young child like me. But alas, I did not get to spend the time I wanted with the machine before being torn away by my parents. The travesty!

A few months later, the game was officially unveiled to the western audience thanks two a 2 hour long Nintendo commercial – err… motion picture – called The Wizard. When the game was unveiled in that movie, there was an audible gasp heard across the theater. It sent kids into a fever pitch. Of course, I had encountered the game in the wilds of Japan, but I cannot described how excited I was to know I would finally get my hands on this game at home.

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Mario 3 was the game to have at the time. It represented Nintendo at their finest. Everything that was loved and cherished by Mario fans was cranked up a notch with this this title. Exotic locales, strange and quirky power ups. The new overhead map system, complete with secret areas was an innovative and welcome touch. It was, and still is, a magical title.

This time, Bowser and his children had turned the various rulers of the Mushroom World into animals and stolen the throne from under them. It is up to Mario to defeat them and transform the mushroom royalty back into their proper form!

Playing through this game again as part of  the Mario 25th Anniversary collection reminded what a classic title this was. This cartridge is a fine example of the what the original NES was capable of. Its hard to say this, because the first two entries in the series are classics in their own right, but if you had to choose one of the original 8-bit Mario titles as best representative of the original trilogy, I’d have to give this one the honor.

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Difficulty: Medium– Probably the most difficult of the original trilogy (not counting Lost Levels). Some of those floating ship levels can be a real pain. But nothing too difficult without a little practice.

Story: Same old basic plot, but with a few new twists. But hey, it’s Mario.

Originality: While it’s obvious to see the progression of the series, there’s enough original ideas here to really make the game shine on it’s own. The mini games, map system, and diverse levels really make this game a breath of fresh air for the series.

Soundtrack: More fun, silly tunes! A classic soundtrack. Nothing else to say.

Fun: This is a great buddy game. The two player system makes for a lot of fun more so than in SMB 1. The color level design and quirky enemies add a lot of fun to this game.

Graphics: This is pretty much the original 8 bit Nintendo at it’s best. Nothing was on par with this at the time it was released.

Playcontrol : By this stage in it’s development, Nintendo had perfected the control scheme. On the original hardware, it’s a nearly flawless execution. The Virtual Console versions suffers many of the same issues that often come up with VC games. You’re playing on a control not originally designed for the game. There are some minor quirks, but nothing too bad.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 Stars –  If somehow you’ve missed this title. You owe it to yourself to check it out. This is classic Mario at it’s prime.

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Review: Super Mario Bros. 2

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I still remember the day I got my first issue of Nintendo Power magazine. Not only was it MY first issue, but it was also THE first issue. Featured on the front cover was a colorful clay sculpture of Mario and the words “Super Mario Bros. 2“. I had never been more excited.

When I finally got my hands on the game, I was a bit perplexed. Something didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Little did I know at the time, but our Super Mario Bros. 2 was actually another game changed up and turned into a sequel for American audiences. (Well, actually it was a Mario game, turned into another game, turned BACK into a Mario game… but that’s another story..) Instead of Gombas and Koopas, there were little midgets wearing masks, and strange bird-ladies shooting eggs out of their noses…  HUH? Also, jumping on an enemy does not kill them. WHAT?! We we not in the Mushroom Kingdom anymore, that much is for certain….

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Once again, for the sake of this playthrough, I chose to play the All-Stars version of the game, due to the improved graphics. In Mario 2, you get to choose your character at the beginning of every level. You can pick from Mario, Luigi, Toad, or Princess Toadstool. Each character has their own advantages. So the common strategy for me is to choose whichever person is best suited for the level you’re about to play.

This time playing through, I actually found the game to be a lot more likable than I remember as a kid. This was another one of those titles that everybody and their grandmother owned, so I had played through it countless times and eventually it got bored with it. I guess all the years away from it have done some good, because I actually had a blast playing it again.

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I was pleased with my ability to remember many of the secret rooms and power-ups even after all these years. One ability I seem to have lost with time, however, is the bonus game at the end of each level. In Mario 2, after each level is completed, you get to spend any coins that you’ve earned on a slot machine style mini-game that rewards extra lives. Back in the day I had a knack for scoring triple cherries almost every time, thus earning a ton of 1ups. It seems I have lost my touch.

In an odd turn of events, this title does not feature Bowser, instead the final boss is an evil frog wizard known as Wart. Upon completion of the title, you discover that the whole thing was dream created by a sleeping Mario. Well gee… that always seemed a like a cop-out to me. However, looking back in retrospect, I am able to forgive this silliness.

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Difficulty: Medium –  Overall, I find this game to be much easier than the first two titles in the series. Most the really tough spots don’t manifest until the later levels. Some of the boss fights are tricky, especially when you have to catch projectiles in mid-air and toss them at the monsters.

Story: Completely different than the original, Mario finds a door that takes him to a strange land filled with odd creatures. No rescuing the princess this time! Still sparse on the plot line, but definitely fresher than we’ve seen in the series.

Originality: I have to give this title a pretty good score here. This is very different from it’s predecessors. It’s quirky and fun, and was unlike anything us Mario fans were expecting at the time.

Soundtrack: Fun, silly tunes! Who could forget that opening theme for world 1-1? Good stuff here.

Fun:  I find this game to be one I recommend often for family game nights. It’s just right children around age 8+. My family has a lot of fun passing the controller back and forth between levels and turns. Despite the challenge in later levels, it never gets exceeding frustrating.

Graphics: Colorful, fun. An improvement over the original in terms of graphics. Again, this is based on the game at the time of release. I apply the same rating to both the original 8bit and the 16bit remake.

Playcontrol: The Wii version of the games suffers the same issues as many NES platformers do. Sometimes the controls feel a bit laggy, or imprecise. However, it seems to be a bit better than Super Mario or The Lost Levels. No sure why.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 Stars –  Another classic from my youth. It doesn’t matter which version you might play. This is a must have for any video game collection.

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Operation Rainfall – Why It Is Important

It is August 22nd, 2012. Yesterday, I received in the mail, my copy of The Last Story. I couldn’t be happier.

The Last Story is a Wii title that was released in Japan some time ago, but is only just now seeing the light of day here in the United States. This wouldn’t have happened without an online movement known as Operation Rainfall.

A while back, three great games were introduced in Japan. These games are: Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower.  Later, these games were introduced to the European audience. However, Nintendo of America showed little to no interest in bringing these games to the American audience. All these of these titles have received rave reviews and many gamers in the US eagerly awaited their release.

Initially, Nintendo made it clear that for a variety of reasons they had no intention of localizing these titles. Once it became obvious that their minds would not be easily swayed, the Operation Rainfall movement was born. What started a group of IGN forum users soon became a much bigger phenomenon. Operation Rainfall began a social media blitz, that is still ongoing to this day.

OP Rainfall had it’s first success with the announcement that Xenoblade Chronicles would in fact be released in the US as a Gamestop-exclusive title. Finally, after almost two years the American audience received what is considered by many to be one of the best RPGs in a decade. The game rocketed to the top of the charts. Outselling even the expectations of its fanbase. Pre-orders for the title came with a breathtaking book of original artwork for the game.

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I purchased Xenoblade upon it’s release and I have been nothing but pleased. This game has sucked me in completely. Everything from the environment, to the characters have me hooked. The music composed for the title is some of the best I’ve heard. I listen to it on my iPod when I’m at work. It’s magical. I’ve been playing it almost exclusively since its release and there is so much content packed into this title that I’m still only about 3/4ths of the way through.

Not long after Xenoblade’s success, it was announced that Xseed Software would distribute the North American release of The Last Story. This is a title that holds a special place in my heart. It was created by the original inventor a Final Fantasy, a series that I have cherished for more than half of my life. I have high hopes for it, and once I’ve finished my time with Xenoblade, this will be my next focus. Like Xenoblade, the first run of this title comes with an artbook and a limited edition game soundtrack. My only complaint is the soundtrack only features seven tracks, it is not the complete game score.

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That brings up to Pandora’s Tower. As of today there is still no official North American release planned for this game. Operation Rainfall is preparing a final-effort pitch to Nintendo of America. Beginning on August 31st, a three-day blitz with be launched. Supporters are urged to email, message and call Nintendo to politely ask that this title be brought to the USA. With sales of the previous two titles doing better than expected, it is our hope that Nintendo will finally see the light and give gamers what they are asking for.

This campaign is important because aside from these three titles, there are a number of great games that may never see the light of day in the US for a variety of reasons. I’ve recently reviewed Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, this is a prime example of a game that was held back because it was assumed American audiences would not find it favorable. For many years, North American gamers went without Final Fantasy II and III for the same reasons.

As a fan of the Wizardry series, I would love nothing more than to sink my teeth into those mysterious Wizardry Gaiden and Neo Wizardry titles that have so far been exclusive to Japan.

I would urge you to read the following post from Operation Rainfall and participate. I’ll be all three days. If the campaign is sucessfull, Op Rainfall will distribute a special collectors sleeve designed to hold all three titles.

Operation Rainfall: The Final Push

 

Review: Super Mario Bros – The Lost Levels

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Continuing on with my Super Mario series playthrough, I’m brought to the next installment in the series, Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels.  This title was released in Japan as Super Mario Bros 2 – For Super Players. It was the original sequel to SMB and was designed with a much higher degree of difficulty.

This game is hardcore beyond all human reasoning. The premise is the same as the original Super Mario Bros, but with the added option of playing either Mario or Luigi  in single-player mode. (Luigi has different jump physics, thus making the experience drastically different). The levels in this game are extremely difficult. Sometimes laughably-so. There are pits the span 1/4th of the entire stage that can only be crossed by bouncing off the backs of flying turtles. If you manage that, you’re likely to find an arm of fireballs waiting for you on the other side. One of more popular upgrades to the game is the introduction the poisonous mushroom, a trap disguised as a power up. Touching it will either weaken Super Mario or kill regular Mario. There are also trampolines that will launch Mario completely off of the screen leaving the player to guess where he might land. It is sheer terror, but in a good way.

I did it once back in 2003 and I said I would never do it again. But, yesterday, I played through this title all the way to the end, and I managed to do so without warping. World 1-9 and A-D. If you’ve ever played this title, you’ll probably agree that that is quite a feat.

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The game was rejected for release in the US by Nintendo of America due to high degree of difficulty. It didn’t see a  western-release until the Super Mario All-Stars collection, many years later. That being said, the All-Stars version is actually EASIER than the original 8-bit release. In the original release, you must play through the game a total of EIGHT TIMES to unlock the secret “A-D” levels. In the re-release, playing through it once without warping is enough. The JP audience also had the slap-in-the-face of starting back on the first level of whichever world they were on if they had to use a “continue”. The updated version allows players continue on the same level in which they die. If you are a Mario fan, and you have the patience, I do recommend playing through this title at least once in your life. There’s a lot of cute Easter egg-type of content in the game if you have the willingness to play all the way through.

Other than the ramped up difficulty, and the new challenges listed above, it’s very similar to the original classic. After clearing this game, I felt like I could handle just about anything Nintendo could throw at me. Finishing this game was a proud accomplishment.

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Difficulty: ExtremeThis game makes the original SMB look like a cake walk. I’m not exaggerating this one bit. As far as twitch/platformers go, this is probably the most difficult I have ever played.

Story: The exact same plot as the original. But If you look at this as a harder version of the first title, it’s easy to forgive.

Originality: While this title really doesn’t bring anything original to the series, its intention was to be nothing more than a challenge for people who fancied themselves to be SMB experts. While many aspects of the game are the same, there are several new twists and tricks that will throw many veteran players off.

Soundtrack: Identical soundtrack to the first release, but classic tunes nonetheless.

Fun: This game is so difficult that after a certain point, playing it is almost a chore. Many points in the game make you ask yourself “Why am I doing this? This is not fun.” However, finally finishing the game, does seem to make it all worth it. Again, it is what it is, an extreme challenge.

Graphics: Both 8bit and 16bit versions were pretty much state of the art at the time of release. The original NES version actually offers a slight improvement over the original.

Playcontrol : The Wii version of the games suffers the same issues as many NES platformers do on the virtual console; sometimes the controls feel a bit laggy, or imprecise.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 Stars – This is a classic title, and I do recommend it to any Mario fan. However, due to the extreme level of difficulty and the lack of any real innovation, I cannot rate it as high as the original SMB. This is not a title for a the casual player. Young children will more than likely be turned off by it. But if you’re wanting to prove to the world that you are a Mario Master, than look no further.

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach