No More Heroes Review

Foreword

Well, I just finished my last review over a month ago (sorry for the delay), so let’s complete this review to end all reviews for the Nintendo Wii once and for all! No More Heroes was published by Ubisoft but is developed by two companies Grass Hopper Manufacture and Marvelous Entertainment –  both led by the infamous Suda 51. He is the CEO of the former developer and was the brainchild behind Killer 7 for the Nintendo Game-Cube, which of course, makes it an inspiration of N.H.M. You know, both being a beat-’em-up game where you get to kill people for sport.

I honestly have no idea why G.H.M and Suda 51 decided to develop No More Heroes; not many copies were sold were sold yet a sequel and HD remake was released in 2010 and 2011 respectively. This is a game that I got and played very recently – like back in January and July – so my impressions are just fresh off the boat that is rare. N.M.H. was purchased alongside Monster Hunter Tri and the legendary Xenoblade-Chronicles in September 2015! I urged to get more third-party games and nothing to play at the time, though due to time constraints, I never started Xenoblade.

At first I blindly assumed that N.M.H was a mindless sword slasher with tons of blood and violence based on gameplay footage. But after I realized that there was much more to do with more fun than I imagined it to be, although I don’t recommend this to younger audiences due to the excessive mature content found here. To sum things up, N.M.H is a bloody action game which you hunt down assassins to be #1 with a light-saber, filled with humorous plot and catchy music, but low content and poor graphics. Of course, there’s more to it than that but spoilers are for later on.

Gameplay

No More Heroes is a game that consists of multiple genres and borrows its gameplay elements from various franchises, such as Zelda and GTA to name a few. Aside from being a beat-’em-up action game with the main objective of hunting down 10 assassins, it’s also an adventure game offering exploration, arcade offering mini-games and power-ups, and so on. Before each fight though, you must pay a huge entrance fee to the association, with the money earned via side-jobs and assassination missions.

It gets repetitive like right after the first 2 bosses; however, the different missions and jobs are diverse and fun to try out. Also, each assassin is unique with both the fighting style and personality so you’ll be entertained by the plot and gameplay. You get to kill an army of minions each time before a boss fight which is great practice and fun. Honestly, if there was much more to do and way more boss fights, N.M.H would be the perfect “hack-‘n-slash” for hardcore gamers.

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There aren’t that many game mechanics but I will discuss the sword-fighting and also the motorcycle mechanics. You’re equipped with a light-saber called a beam-katana here that serves as the only weapon; while slashing is done with button mashing, blocking and finishing moves are performed with motion controls. It is possible to upgrade with stronger and/or faster blades though training in the gym makes a difference. Motorcycle is you main method of transportation in the hubworld.

Commands that you can execute include boosting, drifting, and jumping besides just steering and accelerating. Boosting allows you to go faster but there’s a meter; drifting is very awkward though it helps so much if done correctly since the steering in this game is atrocious; and jumping is needed to reach the second and first assassins. Other game mechanics include the power-up system which is simple but complex. Whenever you kill an enemy with finishing moves you get a power-up randomly, as three casino slots must align with the same symbol to activate.

You either shoot powerful energy balls, enemies being in slow-motion, instantly killing nearby enemies, having super speed, and releasing an energy explosion killing everybody within your radius (ineffective towards bosses). They only seem to appear more often when you suck at the game, while the last power-up almost never appears as I only used it once out of the hundreds of times I activated the slots. You can also collect balls found in the hubworld and trade them to an old drunk to learn new techniques that I’ll cover later on as it’s more relevant then.

N.M.H is played only with the Wii Remote & Nunchuk strictly, which are very simple and intuitive to use. The control stick is to move Travis, C button is for 1st person view, and the Z button is for camera reset and enemy lock-on targetting. The d-pad is to change the camera angle or dodging when locked on to an enemy. A button is to swing the sword to attack enemies, perform combos, and unleash a charged slash when charged. B trigger button is for melee attacks that can also stun and activating wrestling moves.

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The – button is for using that explosion power-up and + button is for the map. Finally pressing the 1 button is to recharge the battery and the 2 button to toggle the mini-map on or off. In addition, the dodge move is needed for charged and unblockable attacks from enemies and bosses, whereas the charged slash goes through blocks and counter-attacks. If you repeatedly press A after charging, you will perform a beheading move the instantly kills multiple enemies. Swing the Wii Remote and Nunchuk according to the on-screen prompts for wrestling and finishing moves.

You can tilt the Wii Remote to perfom either a low or high block that can defend against said incoming attacks. Many enemies and bosses will attack and defend in these two stances, so it’s important to master it or you will easily die. There actually exists a special counter-attack called the quick or circle dodge, which is tilting the control stick right after a boss or enemy attacks you. Do it right and then you can attack them repeatedly for extra hits while they’re stuck in slow motion. However, some bosses and enemies are either immune or are fast enough to dodge this.

N.M.H has three difficulties to choose from, with the latter only available after beating the game once. They are SWEET which is the easiest, MILD as normal, and BITTER as the hardest, with differences in damage, health, moveset, and AI. I honestly recommend SWEET for casuals and beginners while MILD for all else. BITTER should only be for the extremely hardcore or skilled as it is very, very difficult. I actually found the game to be super easy on both SWEET and MILD as long as you’re not arrogant.

To be frank, only the boss fights and certain assassination missions as well as some side jobs are challenging, while the rest are pathetically annoying or easy. The majority of the game is spent on mundane and repetitive tasks, ranging from fighting swarms of enemies to picking up garbage on the streets. Players will always have to mash the A button then swing the Wii Remote to kill, and have to follow on-screen button and/or motion prompts for jobs which gets boring after awhile. It’s the bosses requiring skill and strategy with some even having instant death moves.

Presentation

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Being released in 2007, N.M.H has terrible looking graphics despite what critics and the developers have said otherwise. It’s sadly rendered in 480i SD running at a shitty frame-rate ranging from 20 to 30 FPS (sometimes even to 10-20) in the hubworld, but it goes from 30-60 FPS usually between 50-60 in the actual fights. Grasshopper decided to use a cel-shaded art style for characters and objects but normal aesthetics for all other in-game models and textures. Far away it looks good, average distance it’s okay…but then up close is when it looks like diarrhea vomit.

Textures are comparable to that of DreamCast games whereas coloring is dull and dark with browns, blacks, and greys. Seriously, the lighting is just done poorly looking like a person with to artistic skill or talent attempted to do water-coloring on regular thin paper. It unfortunately demotes the game to looking with GameCube graphics although the cel-shaded models actually benefit from its own unique lighting resembling a mix between comic book and realism. If it weren’t highly detailed models looking realistic and accurate proportions, N.M.H would not qualify as a Wii game.

The soundtrack is very repetitive with the boss themes and a few miscellaneous pieces that are diverse worth listening to. You’ll hear the main theme and remixes of it repeatedly but it’s very catchy and composed brilliantly – it will get stuck in your head which is great! Boss themes are memorable for their diverse genres, catchy tunes, and sophisticated compositions; I like the themes of the ninth, seventh, second, first, and the bonus-ranked assassins. The names given to the song are bizarre yet creative, such as Oxygen Graffiti and Pleather For Breakfast.

Sound quality is surprisingly good since the voice acting and BGM can be heard clearly without background noise or interference. It doesn’t sound too quiet or too loud, nor is there an imbalance with the different sounds. Consequently, it is loud and clear with almost all details heard resembling close to HD sound quality. With the Wii Remote speaker turned on, players can listen in on Sylvia speaking to Travis before each boss fight for hilarious and corny conversations.

Plot Analysis

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Before the story begins, you can choose one of three difficulties and then an interactive scene ensues prompting players to control Travis to ride his motorcycle. After leaving the motel like a crazy person, an introduction serving as the prologue follows suit. So basically Travis is a man-child who is obsessed with anime, wrestling, and video games that is near bankruptcy. He then decides to get a job during one night in a bar after meeting Sylvia Christel, becomes sexually attracted and flirts with her, and is hired as an assassin.

To become permanently accepted into the association, Sylvia requests that he take down two assassins: Helter Skelter and Death Metal. The former is killed in the intro while the latter is killed after Travis trespasses his mansion and kills all his guards. He qualifies to become a hit-man but realizes Sylvia set him up as his life is now at risk. Travis requests she engage in sexual intercourse with him if he becomes #1, which motivates him to take down the remaining 10 assassins – did I say 10…I meant 9!

9th ranked assassin begins with Dr. Peace, who is a Native American police detective specializing in illegal goods and investigations, as well as working for criminal organizations and the black market. Travis is forced to pay an entrance fee for the remaining assassins to participate in these fights; however, he is offered to work in side jobs and assassination mission to compensate for the expenses. After storming through Destroy Stadium, he hears him sing an amazing song before complaining about his estranged daughter.

Travis successfully murders him, also discovering the entrance fees are bit of a scam as they’re used for covering the expenses of the association and its members. He is called by Sylvia to meet with the next assassin in Santa Destroy High School – her name is Shinobu and is the daughter of a famous pro-wrestler who was murdered, hoping to avenge his father. She assumes he was the killer as her father was “sliced in two” from a beam katana. He of course spares her life for being too young and hopes she finds the truth.

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He confronts the seventh ranked assassin in Bear Hug Studio right after taking the subway and slaughtering dozens of people. He appears as an ordinary mail-man but then dawns a superhero costume, attempting and does trick Travis into being electrocuted by a tazer in his hand. Destroy-Man (his alter ego) proceeds to kill him with a shock-wave attack and laser blasts and beams. Miraculously surviving from the attacks, they fight which Destroy-Man yells out all his attacks making him very predictable.

Near death, Destroy Man tries to kill Travis one last time through bullets launched from slots on his nipples. He is sliced in two and Travis then moves on the next assassin at Body Slam Beach but not before killing dozens of military soldiers. She is foreign lingerie model from Sweden, having a prosthetic leg capable of shooting missiles and storing grenades, which makes Travis uncomfortable for fighting a woman. He eventually wins though is hesitant to kill her; Holly then sets a grenade to commit suicide to declare defeat, and her body is buried in the beach.

The fifth ranked assassin is a Russian magician by the name of Harvey which Travis confronts only because Sylvia bought tickets to his show for reserved seating. He boards the subway and dreams of a retro arcade shooting mini-game instead of killing people. After waking up, he arrives at his subway station and enters the theater with Sylvia in a beautiful dress. Harvey appears and performs a few tricks before inviting Travis on stage and apologizes for revealing that his parents passed away.

They fight after a failed attempt at killing Travis with the magician obviously using magic tricks as fighting tactics. Travis slices his eyes with his sword, blinding him and the assistants pin him down to the giant saw-blade, with Travis and Sylvia making out right after. The next hit-man isn’t fought at all since Letz Shake and his military robotic weapon are sliced in two by another lightsaber wielder by the name of Henry Cooldown. Travis is interrupted by Sylvia, allowing Henry to get away, angering him and asks if she knows him.

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Third-ranked assassin is an old lady with a laser shooting machine that can disguise as a shopping cart. Jeane (the cat, not his lover) goes missing and coincidentally finds her in a nearby city where the fight begins after arriving by bus. Thunder Ryu who is Travis’ mentor in wrestling, is seen struggling against a giant laser beam with a samurai sword, warning his apprentice to back off and has nothing left to teach him. He is blown up into smithereens, bringing both anger and sadness to Travis who swears vengeance.

Speed Buster is defeated once Travis reaches a pole that knocks down on her machine destroying it. He beheads her in anger and avenges his master, claiming his sword to use it and honor him. Sylvia seemingly disappears as her assistant reveals through phone and a note from a pigeon crashes through his bedroom window telling him to revisit Destroy Stadium. He takes his motorcycle inside and enters the hidden basement through a shaft in the baseball diamond. An attractive young blonde wearing a Victorian style dress is seen wielding a baseball bat.

She kills every man in bondage attire coming out from the conveyor belt, drinking soda to replenish energy and offers Travis some. He rejects it and is disgusted with her mentality with her job. Bad Girl cares not about him and fights in an extremely long and difficult battle though she is finally killed too. He faints on the ground with Sylvia’s assistants probably carrying him back to his motel while unconscious. Preparing to fight the final assassin, Travis has his motorcycle stolen upon exiting his hotel room and giving chase.

He finds it at the highway ramp, entering the highway to finish the assassin business once and for all. Travis soon finds out by Sylvia’s mother before that she is a con artist and the whole association was one big set-up. Upon reaching the forest, Travis’ motorcycle breaks down so he must travel by foot. He then confronts the ghost of Ryu and reads his letter complimenting him. Finally at the castle entrance, Dark Star appears as the last assassin, claiming to be his father and asking him to remember why he started his journey.

He reveals that he only became an assassin to avenge his parents who were tragically killed by his past girlfriend Jeane. Lo and behold, Dark Star is killed by Jeane herself appearing before Travis. He is mocked by being stupid and naive, to which he is surprised and angry at her, wanting to know why she killed his parents and destroyed his home. He reveals that while he discovered the association was fake, it was Sylvia who (along with Thunder Ryu and others) helped him exact retribution by killing the assassins.

It was sort of like training where he gained the skill and speed to defeat Jeane in battle. She tells Travis in a fast-forwarded cutscene that the two ex-lovers are actually half-siblings, since they have the same father but different mothers. Jeane’s mother committed suicide after their father married and fell in love with Travis’ mother. While to Travis he was a caring family man, in reality he sexually abused Jeane for her entire childhood, forcing her to run away and vowing to kill him.

She resorted to prostitution as a means to fund her martial arts training, eventually murdering Travis’ parents, prompting Travis to seek vengeance through training from Thunder Ryu and the UAA by Sylvia. He berates Jeane that two wrongs don’t make a right, and that “vengeance begets vengeance” to which she replies with a rude remark and begins the battle. After seemingly defeating Jeane in a long and tough battle, she ambushes Travis by fisting his stomach, only to have Shinobu come out of nowhere and slice her hand off.

This allows Travis to finally get revenge and kills Jeane, accepting her fate after wanting to no longer live her tragic life. Travis Touchdown proclaims that his career as an assassin is over with Sylvia and Shinobu watching close by. With the main story over, Travis shits in the bathroom when suddenly the door is sliced in two and a black man asks if he’s the first-ranked assassin. He wields a purple beam katana and attempts to kill him, but is sliced in half by Henry asking to fight in the parking lot.

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They fight a long battle with both evenly matched in both skill and power; Henry then reveals he is his older twin brother and Sylvia is in fact his wife. He is in shock, confused on how to end the game until they decided to both honorably kill each other. Credits roll with an art portriat of Travis and Henry about to kill one another, with Slyvia’s young daughter appreciating it, following her mother leave afterwards. Actually, both assassins live as Sylvia intervenes allowing Desperate Struggle to occur.

You can already tell that the atmosphere is dark and mature, yet funny and corny to balance out the violent and sadistic elements. I forgot to tell you readers the game occurs in a fictional poverty-stricken town called Santa Destroy in California, USA in 2007. Aside from the main characters, there’s Professor Naomi, an expert in beam katanas and wears sexy clothing; Bison, who is Travis’ best friend and owns the Beef Head store; and Randall Lovikov, a Russian alcoholic offering special techniques in exchange for Lovikov balls.

While the plot is written well, it suffers from not filling in the gaps between each boss fight making the transition awkward. But at least the plot is consistent and doesn’t die down throughout the middle only to be picked up during the end. It is sort of repetitive as with gameplay progression, though the confrontation with the assassins are always different from one another; interesting and funny to watch with times where it’s serious and realistic. Other supporting or secondary characters get involved which improves it.

Cutscenes are few and far in between, both in quality and quantity as most are that of Travis simply listening to his voice messages on his phone/fax machines. The best are obviously involving him meeting and killing (or defeating) the assassins and the interactions with Slyvia; as well as the introduction, prologue, conclusion, epilogue, and ending cutscenes. What sucks is they are all in-game so you can see how bad the graphics are with the low-rez textures, dull and ugly colors, terrible lighting/shadow, jaggy models, and inconsistent frame-rate.

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Since it’s presented in a cinematic and timely manner, they make N.M.H. feel like a plot-heavy game with plot progression beneficial to players who clear through the ranks in order to watch cutscenes as a reward. Animation is developed greatly with many special effects, techniques, camera angles, and choreography making it feel like a superhero and comedy movie. There aren’t any CGI cutscenes while QTE are limited to the ending cutscene to the fights of Dr.Peace and also Jeane (the assassin, not the cat).

Probably the script is the best feature of N.M.H plot of course. The humor is just over the top with offensive insults, slapstick comedy, breaking the fourth wall, mature themes, perverted and violent scenes, and excessive swearing. Despite it there are often times when it gets very emotional and serious, adding realism and enabling players to sympathize with characters and making their personalities very serious. Voice acting is performed amazingly well as it’s believable unlike that of Hollywood shows and movies.

Content

After beating the game, you will unlock Bitter difficulty and the New Game Plus. Bitter is of course the hardest difficulty; bosses and enemies have the most health, deal maximum damage, and are the most intelligent. This is only recommended for extremely hardcore gamers unless being fucking angry as an alcoholic is kind of a thing. New Game Plus allows you to have all of your weapons, money, techniques, strength, health, cards, and clothing in a new save file with only story progression and ranking erased.

Honestly, it’s the replay value where N.M.H. excels at as everything from missions and collectibles to the boss fights are repetitive yet addicting. It may lack quantitative content but the appeal to repeatedly play over and over provides both quality and quantity. Perhaps it’s the brilliant mix of button-mashing and motion controls, or it might just be the extreme violence, high profanity, as well as the blood and gore. In the HD remake on PS3 and Xbox 360, there’s Very Sweet Mode with the female assassins wearing revealing outfits.

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Santa Destroy serves as this game’s hubworld, and unfortunately for the most part, is one of the worst hubworlds for a sandbox game. Majority of the buildings are useless and just there for aesthetic purposes – nah, actually most of the town. Only roughly a dozen buildings are actually used by Travis and are all conveniently located closeby. What sucks is that walking is not even enabled inside buildings and interaction with people and objects are done via menus. Many buildings are also generic, vacant, and visually unappealing.

There are very few but unique buildings and areas that serve as landmarks with visual appeal…but you can’t go inside them unfortunately. Only the Destroy Stadium, Santa Destroy High School, Slam Body Beach, and the abandoned subway station are accessible as they serve as levels leading up to the boss fights. The roads are many in number yet the quantity is completely unecessary, as well as open pavement/concrete and fields littered across town. Alley-ways and parking lots have dumpsters with money and clothing serving as poor exploration.

For the levels, there’s the mansion of Death Metal, Destroy Stadium, Santa Destroy High School, the abandoned subway network, Bear Hug Studio, Body Slam Beach, that performance theatre, some underground tunnel, Speed City, and finally the highway. These are barebones as levels can get with little to no exploration, boring room layout, virtually no interactive elements, and being very linear as progress is made by defeating all enemies to be granted entry into the next room. But at least it looks nice and realistic to make up for the poor design.

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Since the town is near poverty, you won’t see much or do much though this is just a piss poor excuse by the developers for not trying hard enough. Santa Destroy as a whole is non-linear but the few accessible buildings are very linear. By the way, these rare gems consist of: No More Heroes Motel, Beef Head Video Store, Thunder Ryu’s Building, Naomi’s Laboratory, Area 51 (Clothing Store), Gold Town, Job Center, and finally K-Entertainment. With the exception of the motel and the training gym, all buildings are meant to serve one purpose.

In order to access the levels, you have to pay an entrance fee to the UAA’s bank account which breaks the flow and progression of the gameplay and plot. Once you clear them, they can never be accessed again albeit a few rooms and fields within assassination missions. Such pathetic stages only take 10 to 15 minutes to clear with the bosses also around the same duration. Before each battle, you can enter a room or open area with a bathroom to save progress, and also pick-up items to replenish health and battery.

N.M.H. offers a variety of different weapons, clothing, pick-up items, and hidden goodies to collect and/or to use. Clothing can be found within dumpsters and bought at the Area 51 store, including sunglasses and belts but are for purely aesthetic value. Hidden items are just trading cards or wrestling masks alongside with concept art of assassins and main characters hidden inside treasure chests scattered across the levels. It also considers Lovikov balls which can be found throughout the town and traded for techniques.

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Yup, these balls also force players to explore the barren hubworld; however, exchanging 7 of them to Randall grants you a skill each time. These give Travis new abilities expanding upon his arsenal of moves. They consist of dashing in the hubworld, performing a jump-attack, seeing enemies on the mini-map, extending the range of your grab, extending Dark Side mode, and the like. Pick-up is just pizza to replenish health and stereotypical looking batteries to replenish battery for your katana.

Weapons are all of course beam katanas, which can be bundled with upgrades that increase power output and reduce battery usage. Travis starts off with the weakest and slowest with no upgrades, the Blood Berry; then the Tsubaki MK-I, a longer blade offering upgrades and improved strength, maneuverability, and range. Soon later in the game, you unlock Tsubaki MK-II, having multiple blades with the best power but the slowest and heaviest. Finally there’s the Tsubaki MK-III, a samurai sword with the best speed, weight, agility, and range.

It is slightly weaker than the Tsubaki MK-II but stronger than the others, and it has a battery that never runs out so no recharging is required! Defeating each boss earns you extra health that is permanent; in fact, training at the gym in Thunder Ryu’s building increases even more health, extends beam katana combo, and also “strength” apparently making boss fights easier. Speaking of the assassins, they’re essentially the main focus of the game as you clear the rankings to kill Jeane and avenge your fallen parents.

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Each of them has their own fighting style, moveset, and weapons, with many fighting strategies and high damaging or instant death moves. They are from descending order. Helter Skelter, #10: Death Metal, #9: Dr. Peace, #8: Shinobu, #7: Destroy-Man, #6: Holly Summers, #5: Letz Shake, #4: Harvey, #3: Speed Buster, #2: Bad Girl, #1: Jeane, and Henry Cooldown. These bosses can take dozens of hits or even hundreds on harder difficulties, but quick dodge and wrestling moves enable extra damage.

While strategy and skill are needed, they all follow the same fighting process: wait for them to attack, dodge or block it, and then approach and attack, using quick dodge and wrestling when possible. Later bosses undoubtedly get much harder as it takes longer to attack them, many of their attacks must be dodged or blocked correctly, and the battle is dragged on forever. Enemies are freaking easy and nothing more for humor and to warm up before fighting the bosses.

Button mashing takes care of most minions, while others need to be blocked and then slashed repeatedly. Later on, you should use jump attacks, combos, and finisher moves to deal with multiple enemies. If I never mentioned it before, shaking the Wii Remote in addition to swinging in the specific direction on screen charges up the finisher move to deal massive damage and larger range. You can use an instant beheading move which I don’t really know how to execute though it’s very similar to charged combo attack.

Verdict

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Now while I did mention about replay value in the past, I never really discussed how long the content takes to beat nor its specifications. It take approximately 20 hours for the first playthrough, 30+ hours for the new game plus, and 5-12 hours for a speed run and/or consecutive attempts. Side jobs and killing missions have a ranking system which you’re given a medal and monetary record that shows your performance. Boss fights have this too but have time, damage taken, attack combos, and enemy kills as factors.

So not only for bragging rights and ego inflation but also for more and money as well as to unlock extra content. Side jobs are few (only 9) though completely different that offer creative tasks to complete such as hunting scorpions, finding coconuts, or destroying land-mines. Most of the assassination quests are just murdering all the enemies though some must be done in bizarre ways. They consist of using wrestling moves only, deflecting baseballs to athletes, killing a specific target, with controls and mature content adding fuel to the fire.

What sucks is that the awesome boss fights are a few star clusters in a large galaxy; however, the new game plus more than makes up for it. You’re able to relive not just the boss fights but also other great moments as well, without having to get back all your weapons, upgrades, skills, strength, collectibles, and money. So you can skip side quests if you despise them and forget about having to start all the way from scratch – plus, it’s easier and better to embark on harder difficulties this way.

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No More Heroes was a fun and addicting game that I thoroughly enjoyed all the way and my first time playing a mature-rated and beat-’em-up game. Okay, to be honest I got pissed off with many of the killing missions and struggled with the boss fights, but with enough practice, this no longer was an issue. This was the first time that the boss’ AI would outsmart me when I became too arrogant and careless which helped me in the long-run. I love the humor of Suda 51 and look forward to playing Desperate Struggle.

Even though I criticize the game’s flaws, I’m just trying to be realistic by analyzing it from a critical point of view. Graphics don’t look as bad except in the cutscenes while we all have to agree that even just a little more content would’ve helped. The plot and music are phenomenal with only minor flaws; whereas the controls are questionable with the awkward dodging, knockback effect, and bizarre lock-on targetting which create confusion and frustration in gamers.

To end this review off, No More Heroes is a funny yet serious game filled with adult content that compliments the action-packed gameplay putting off the 1980’s vibe. Despite it having atrocious graphics, frustrating combat mechanics, barebones content, the misadventure of Travis Touchdown is something recommended for the hardcore crowd. With memorable music, fluid controls, brilliant plot, and epic boss fights, this is a high-quality game that is not to be missed including Desperate Struggle and Heroes Paradise.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Review

Foreword

Okay, I know I haven’t been reviewing video games for quite some time, but I’ve been focusing on high school exams to get accepted into university for a brighter future. With that out of the way, let’s get straight into reviewing Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sega for the Windows PC, Mac OSx, Xbox 360, Play-Station 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS in 2010. It was also released for iOS and Android systems, being developed by Gameloft and released from 2011 and 2013 respectively. It was meant to serve as a reboot with Sonic racing games, and the indirect sequel to Sega SuperStars Tennis.

I got this game originally for iOS back in 2010, but after watching gameplay footage and video reviews of the more superior titles, I urged to get the console port. I originally wanted the HD port, but since I don’t have such a console, I opted for the Wii port instead. Seeing how the Wii version was similar to the HD ports, besides the graphics and online gameplay, I decided to purchase it (the Wii port usually gets the worst treatment when it comes to multi-platform games.) This was bought along with 4 other games in downtown Toronto during August of 2014, after I was satisfied with what I bought before.

Being a kart racing game, one can correctly assume that Sumo Digital ripped off of Mario Kart with the gameplay (and replacing Nintendo with Sega’s content). Despite this though, the game is still unique in its own way as innovating from traditional racers; taking what worked, leaving behind what doesn’t, and adding new concepts that are well-liked and “safe.” That’s not to say that this game has few flaws, as the aesthetic quality is obviously inferior to the HD ports, and there are many glitches due to Sumo Digital’s inexperience with racing games though nothing major.

Gameplay: 9/10

The goal of playing this game is like any other –  you try to beat others in a race with as much speed and skill as possible. In addition, there’s the drifting/boosting mechanic that lets you take sharp turns without losing speed and to go faster after turning or performing tricks. You can also use items and power-ups to get ahead of other players by attacking them or gaining incredible speed momentarily. The race tracks are unique being different and extremely creative compared to that of conventional racing games, with obstacles, enemies, and hazards to avoid.

New game mechanics include performing tricks in the air and the different types of vehicles, and the All-Star moves. While you can perform a trick only once in Mario Kart, you can actually perform many here with good timing. The distance and air time determines the amount, usually between one to three and rarely four to five, with smaller characters performing more. All-Star moves are essentially like the Smash Ball from Brawl and Smash 4; you undergo a transformation or acquire a powerful item unique to each character enabling high speed, invincibility, and strong attacks for a short period of time.

Just like in Mario Kart Wii, you can choose either racing with a kart or bike, but now you can even choose a hovercraft (and a plane and living spaceship LOL). As the name suggests, they do not have wheels , having the best acceleration and handling, being unable to be slowed down by terrain. However, they have mediocre drifting and boosting capabilities. Bikes aren’t that different, except performing a wheelie allows boosting if done successfully; along with being lighter, smaller, and maneuverable than karts, clearly making them superior over other vehicle types.

Sonic & Sega Racing enables compatibility with the Wii Remote (preferably with Wii Wheel), Wiimote + Nunchuk, and the Classic Controller/Pro (sorry Game-Cube fans). The last option (Pro version) is recommended since there are no gimmicky motion-controls, the handles and shoulder/trigger buttons, and the two control sticks offer complete control over the steering. Being good at drifting and boosting results in winning or losing a race; motion controls are inaccurate while using buttons are imprecise – analog sticks provide both accuracy and precision.

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Steering is done via turning the Wii Remote, pressing the d-pad, or tilting the left control stick; pressing the A or 2 button activates acceleration while the B, 1, or R buttons enable drifting/tricks/brakes/reversing. Pressing the Z, L, or the d-pad activates the item you currently have, while pressing the C, ZL, or ZR buttons gives rear camera view. Tilting the right control stick allows steering the vehicle even when drifting! So while drifting, steering the right analog stick turns the vehicle to go through 180 and 360 degree turns without slowing down (instead of just 90 to 135 degree turns).

I have to conclude that it is vastly superior to Mario Kart, since the more precise controls allow for sharper, faster, and accurate steering and drifting as well as pulling off expert techniques (snaking and fire-hopping). Such controls is why there are courses with tight turns at high speed without issues (*cough* Mario Kart 8 200 CC). Sonic & Sega Racing is more difficult due to the controls, race track design, and overall speed, so newcoming players need to adapt. Unlike Mario Kart, there is virtually no luck-based system and rubber-band AI, but the AI is more intelligent using expert techniques, taking shortcuts, and strategizing with items.

What adds unfair challenge are the collision detection issues due to the inexperience of Sumo Digital. I can’t even begin to recall the thousands (literally) of times I got assaulted by other racers and/or fell through the track because of the poor collision detection – often resulting in losing races with high frustration. It makes racing very difficult and on occasion unplayable for certain track segments; other issues like being stuck in the wall, items not working properly, and the in-game achievements malfunctioning are expected for players too.

Content: 8.8/10

Now the content is strikingly similar to Mario Kart yet still somewhat different, which the game modes serve as a good start. There consists of Grand-Prix, Time-Trials, Single Race, and also Missions for single player; Racing and Battle for multi-player; and all of the above except for Grand Prix and Missions for online. Players can also check game statistics and achievements, adjust in-game settings, view unlocked content, purchase more content, and the like. All these game modes are very self-explanatory included with gimmicks and improvements.

Time-Trials not only lets you race for the best time on a track, but also against your own and a staff ghost simultaneously  – you can also unlock a “Sumo” ghost which is more skilled, enabling three instead of two racers in Time Trials together. It lets you record best lap time instead of track time making it more generous. Mission Mode lets you complete challenges with set conditions not just limited to racing, which includes battling, collecting, drifting…and going through rings. There’s a rank given at the end but not after Grand Prix which is weird. All other game modes are sadly just direct knock-offs of Mario Kart with small modifications.

Being the forgetful person that I am, let me explain some things I missed earlier: the Sega Miles and the Sega Shop. Whenever you complete anything, it nets you points called Sega Miles which calculates your performance. The better you are, the more miles you win, representing in-game currency and experience points. You can then use these points in the shop to but locked content – ranging from characters, music, and race-tracks – instead of having to fulfill set conditions the traditional way, allowing players to progress through the game at their own pace.

Most characters in the game are, you guessed it, from the Sonic franchise though the remaining represent other IP’s (but it’s only one per franchise). We have the following from Sonic IP: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Shadow, Dr. Eggman, and Big. Exclusive to the Wii are the Miis, the Xbox 360 has Avatars and Banjo+Kazooie, while DLC for all HD ports offer Metal Sonic. Then there’s Billy Hatcher, Amigo, AiAi , ChuChus, Ulala from Space Channel 5, Jacky & Akira from Virtua Fighter, Opa Opa, Ryo Hazuki from Shenmue, Beat from Jet Set Studio, B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi, Bonzana Brothers, and finally Alex Kidd for the rest.

Despite the vehicle stats putting characters to similar categories – those excelling in speed and boost against those in acceleration and handling – each racer is still different in vehicle, appearance, weight, and controls. There are no clone characters or vehicles as each racer is tied to their own vehicle, which a blessing and a curse. It’s recommended to have more acceleration and handling than speed and boost, whereas the weight has little effect as Sonic & Sega Racing is skill based and not luck based like Mario Kart.

Honestly, the items is where Sonic & Sega Racing resembles Mario Kart the most, as they’re all direct rip-offs replaced with Sega content. There’s the Red Homing Missiles, Green Boxing Gloves, Rainbow Goo, Confusing Star, Pine Cone Mines, Bubble Shield, Giant Rocket, Speed Shoes, and also the Mega Horn. Of course, there is a variation which you have three times the original, each racer has their own special All-Star move. Those items mirror the Red Shell, Green Shell, Blooper Squid, Bananas, Blue Shell, and Mushrooms. Only the Mega Horn, Confusing Star, and Bubble Shield are original ideas not copied from Mario Kart.

The items are fun to use, add more variety to the race, and best of all are skill-based that is balanced. None of them have the issues associated with Mario Kart; no items are overpowered, all racers are entitled to most items regardless of position, and many stronger power-ups can be countered with the weaker items. Skill is now on your side as it is possible to dodge the effects of any item (excluding the All-Star moves and the Giant Rocket) with enough practice! This bundled with the Ai makes Sonic & Sega Racing more and fair than compared to that of Mario Kart.

Where Sonic & Sega Racing truly shines is the race tracks because of the superior level design, which is creative and innovative, filled with gimmicks that compliment and improve the courses. These stages aren’t just filled straight paths, curves, bumps, hills, and ramps; they include new features that are shuttle loops, half-pipes, twisted and circular turns, open ended sections, multiple pathways, and anti-gravity segments. The non-linearity is something rarely seen but provides exploration, shortcuts, and natural transition blending in with the racing and tracks.

Just the way these courses are designed are not only superb, but also corresponds with that of the theme and franchise it represents creating relevancy. So you’ll see a ramp cleverly disguised as a ramp in an urban city track, or a glass tunnel built underwater to allow racers to travel to another island instead of random set of bridges. It shows that Sumo Digital is being more creative and realistic, rather than just copying Mario Kart with illogical race tracks. Shortcuts and alternate pathways not only allow faster race times, but also gives another perspective and appreciation of the aesthetic appeal of the tracks.

Obstacles, hazards, and enemies are common throughout the game, while “bosses” are rare although these track features should be avoided at all costs to win the race. They obviously relate to the track and franchise they represent, with no newer enemies and hazards originating here but do seem out of place of their location. Proportions and design have changed from past games to accommodate to the racers and tracks in general. Overall, these gimmicks are sadly nothing but lame rip-offs of what’s available in Matio Kart, so don’t expect to be amazed by anything.

Several missions throughout the game take advantage of them and used within the conditions and objectives. You may be required to attack certain enemies, dodge all obstacles, or computer players may slow you down intentionally with items. It’s quite fascinating how something so simple is implemented to serve a complex purpose. Skill is something not needed to dodge and defend as they at most slow you down, but Sumo allowed players to defeat or destroy them by boosting into them. There are a few like that stupid stereo box only avoidable with good timing.

Presentation: 7/10

Because I’m strictly reviewing the Wii port and not all versions, I will refrain from complimenting the graphics of the HD port and instead be much more honest and critical with this port. Sonic & Sega Racing runs at native 480 i SD with an inconsistent and pathetic frame-rate of 30 FPS maximum. You’d think that they would render a racing game at 60 FPS or consistent at solid 30, but all the console ports suffer from this issue. This combined with the glitches sometimes make Sonic & Sega Racing sometimes even more unplayable than Sonic ’06!

Polygon count, lighting, and modelling range from average to good, but I’d have to conclude the graphics engine and low-res textures are atrocious. While the former makes it look close to being HD, the latter mentioned downgrade it to that of the Nintendo Game-Cube, thus demoting it to standard definition graphics. Color is done well with the vibrant colors to give a child-friendly environment and cartoony look, resembling somewhat the CGI models. Many of these complaints excluding the frame rate are only present in the Wii version, with the HD ports looking very very sexy (trust me on this one).

Resolution is also poor with both the textures and screen, with many things looking blurry and ugly to look at. Animation hasn’t changed that much but still awkward; particle and shadow-effects are dull and not realistic enough to be appealing. Many special effects and lighting in the HD ports have been removed to adjust with the limitations of the Wii. These shortcomings are what causes the Wii port to look inferior to the HD ports. This is such wasted potential because it would have looked much better if Sumo Digital tried like Sonic Team did with Sonic Colors.

What’s recycled isn’t just the characters, but also the audio, as literally every single voice clip, sound effect, and music is taken directly from older games. The only exceptions are the CGI intro scene (which is just an extended cut of the E3 trailer), the menu theme, post-racing theme, and the corny yet hilarious racing spectator. He actually comments as the race goes on, making jokes and references to older games to entertain both young and old gamers, making it feel like you’re part of the racing event. Unfortunately, he says the same lines after awhile and he never got credited, thus remaining anonymous to the public (but not to Sega and Sumo Digital).

Of course retro music isn’t necessarily bad, but Sega could’ve at least made remixes to make already good compositions sound even better. Genres range from rock ‘n roll to hip hop to jazz to even techno and much much more. There’s a several dozen songs available, and there are just too many good tracks to list that I find very memorable. Sound quality isn’t what I would say is great but not terrible either for sound effects, but the music and voice is top-notch. Consequently, the aesthetics don’t seem to impress me as it’s downgraded from the HD ports.

Verdict: 8.7/10

Like any Sonic game, Sonic & Sega Racing has an abundant amount of replay value, thanks to several fighters such as the point system, rank performance, racing rules, locked content, and specific game modes. These are all self explanatory and increase the gameplay time manifold; playing it with friends and strangers both locally and online take it to unimaginable scales. Since everything is for fun and no main game objective exists, Sonic & Sega Racing varies with each person, but it usually takes 30 hours offline and at least double of that time online.

I pretty much enjoyed playing this game from start to finish, being amazed in awe with how good racing games can be, if it were more creative and the mistakes were fixed. There was virtually no complaints or frustrations besides the inconsistent frame rate (which I adjusted to) and the collision detection issues. Sonic & Sega Racing was more difficult to play than Mario Kart Wii at first, but it was easy to master and only skill was needed along with speed to win the races. Sumo Digital has definitely earned a new follower and I will look forward to playing the sequel of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on the Nintendo Wii U.

All in all, I’d have to say that Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is a fair and fun game that improves and innovates upon Mario Kart DS and Wii.While a lot of ideas and content are unoriginal, it at least builds upon them to prevent it from becoming a game based on luck instead of skill; bad design and rubberband AI; and mediocre controls and aesthetics. Its friendly and simplistic environment immerses players to enjoy it alone or with others having just so much to do. Sometimes the copy is indeed superior to the original unlike what most people would have you believe.

There aren’t exactly any pros and cons that I still have that wasn’t included in the review, but I do say they should innovate more as well as fixing the issues. I would also love to point out how realistic the in-game physics are especially with the momentum. Despite being released in 2010, I still highly recommend gamers interested in vintage games to buy it through online shopping or at an antique shop second-hand. As I keep repeating myself, get Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing for a more superior experience and game compared to the likes of Mario Kart DS and Wii.

Final Review Score: 8.4/10

Donkey Kong Country Returns Review

Foreword

Oh I remember playing this game! It was extremely difficult and frustrating, forcing me to be very precise with the controls and have fast reflexes, or risk dying over and over again…but enough about my rambling. I bought this game at Wal-Mart in February 2014 after getting only one game (Other M) at Downsview Flea Market two months prior, which was a disappointment. I already knew what I was getting myself into after reading online reviews; however, it would change everything I knew and experienced about video games (like with Twilight Princess).

After the barrage of mediocre games that plagued the IP on the Nintendo Game-Cube, the big N wanted to reboot DK the way Metroid was with the Prime series. Since they were pleased with the results, they asked Retro Studios to develop another game for them. A few years back, they decided to make Donkey Kong Country 4 on the DS as a side-project, though they brought the idea over to the Wii in 2009. This was a smart move, since the console could accomplish feats not possible with the original trilogy first seen on the Super Nintendo and later the Game Boy Advance.

Returns is an excellent reboot that has superb graphics and a heartwarming soundtrack, simple yet precise controls and a superior gameplay, redeeming the reputation of the franchise. It’s faithful to the original trilogy, full of references that invoke nostalgia in veteran players, adding new concepts and mechanics that will captivate newcomers. As mentioned before, this is a highly challenging game that requires fast reflexes and precise button mashing to overcome the obstacles which are real brain teasers. Therefore, this is not something for casual gamers to play.

Presentation: 10/10

The graphics will immediately blow you away, with near high definition visuals in a colorful and vibrant world all rendered at native 480p SD and consistent 60 FPS. Retro Studios went for a more cartoony look, so you won’t be seeing realistic fur or photo-realistic backgrounds (though Tropical Freeze takes that route). Unlike Mario though, this is a 2.5 D sidescroller in terms of both graphics and gameplay; thus, you’ll occasionally control the ape in the background and foreground, which enemies and obstacles can harm DK in the middle (I find this to be awesome).

Background of levels corresponds with map, such as seeing the edge of the jungle upon entering the beach. Diversity is key as the color and lighting change for different environments that adds realism and beauty. Few levels have an art style of water-color painted background and a foreground (including the apes, enemies, and hazards) rendered in black vector silhouette…beautiful. Animation and modelling is breath-taking though the sharpness makes everything jaggy. Unfortunately, textures are rough from being a mix of cartoon and realism.

As soon as the title screen appears, you are immediately greeted with the original title theme, followed by familiar melodies in levels. These come from the original trilogy remastered to appeal to veterans, but that’s not to say newer tracks are neglected. Games ranging from jazz to blues while instruments including piano, bongos, and sxaphone all add something to spice up the soundtrack. This plus being rendered in glorious high definition (the audio, not graphics), and perfect balance between sound effects and music make Returns very rewarding to the ears.

Plot Analysis: 5.0/10

Story starts off with a volcano on a tropical island that erupts, releasing lava and a dozen fireballs that transform into sentient musical instrument – wooden carving hybrids called Tikis. A gigantic Tiki that is made of stone and lacks being an instrument is erected at the top, commanding its minions to hypnotize the islands’ animals. They are then brainwashed into stealing all the bananas on the island, including Donkey Kong’s banana hoard. Diddy Kong notices and gives chase, while DK is taken hostage by a Tiki, who fails hypnotizing the ape (guess he’s too stupid to know).

Now he must re-claim both the island and the banana hoard. Along the way, he is aided by Cranky Kong, Squawks, Rambi…and that pig. The couple fights many beasts that are brainwashed by the Tikis which are all eventually defeated. We soon a discover a factory manufactures that bananas and mined resources into Tiki minions. When they climb to the top, the apes discover Tiki Tong, the mastermind behind all this and uses bananas to power-up. But Tiki Tong is successfully defeated and peace returns to the island once again when DK punches the moon to crush it.

The plot isn’t something that is as good as say Zelda, though simple enough to captivate players and immerse them to play the game. This target audience is obviously kids, so get used to the corny jokes and sheer stupidity of the characters (yes, it’s worse than Colors). No words or speech are present, although the body language is very expressive to make up for the lack of dialogue. What’s a damn shame is the plot is bare-bones compared to more recent DK games, but I guess that’s just a consequence of rebooting the classics instead of the 3D installments (DK 64 was the only 3D game, sorry).

Cutscenes are few and far in between, and besides the intro and conclusion (rendered in stunning CGI), all else simply depicts them of the apes interacting with the Tikis and bosses. These mundane clips repeat the same formula: they arrive in the boss’ lair, Diddy Kong notices it, Donkey Kong stares and growls at it, Tiki hypnotizes the monster(s) and the fight commences. While the animation, camera, special effects, and choreography are done very well, the lack of quality and quantity of these corny cinematics are weighing the game down negatively – not good for a reboot.

Gameplay: 8.0/10

There is a limited amount of health that makes this extremely challenging, forcing players to be extremely cautious. You start off with only two hearts and can upgrade to four if equipped with Diddy Kong or even five with a power-up. Back then, it was only one to two HP with no checkpoints so be grateful. The young chimpanzee allows DK to hover with his jet-packs for longer and more precise jumps; a friend can join in and play as him for co-op, as Diddy is lighter and more agile than the gorilla. Different modes of transportation such as mine-carts, rocket barrels, and barrel cannons add more fun.

A new feature is the rocket barrel, which is what its name suggests and is an inspiration for the mobile game Flappy Bird…though less difficult and more fun. Another is the foreground/background concept I mentioned earlier; however, it’s hard to see DK so far away (background) though it helps you predict upcoming enemies and hazards (foreground). Vine walls and ceilings are a plus but Rambi is the only returning animal (for some reason the ostrich and swordfish are gone). So overall you can tell that it’s a game worth to be played.

You can either use the Wii Remote alone or combine it with the Nunchuk extension to play. The d-pad is to move; 1 button is for running, grabbing, and climbing; 2 button is to jump and maneuver rocket barrels and barrel cannons. Shaking the Wii Remote (and the Nunchuk if used) enables rolling, stomping, blowing, and beating the ever-living shit out of the Tikis and barrels. Diddy Kong hovers and shoots instead of jumping and stomping, while the control stick, A button, and B trigger do what the d-pad, 1 and 2 buttons do if you’re using the Nunchuk variation.

Precision is a must with the consequence of immediate death or health reduction. This creates many issues like added difficulty and small reaction time, with more frustration for the player. I did notice a benefit as it allows temporary invincibility when hit and poor collision detection in some instances (just like with Mario). It’s very simple to learn and master the controls, making the game welcoming to newcomers and casual gamers. There are no glitches that make this unplayable or unfair, so just keep practicing and you should overcome the aforementioned setbacks.

Believe me when I say this – Returns is the hardest game you’ll play on the Wii and for the 7th generation (okay, besides Dark Souls and Monster Hunter). It’s just as frustrating and challenging as the originals, if not even harder if you aim to be a completionist. This game is fair though since Cranky Kong has a shop that sells extra lives, heart booster, puzzle finder (Squawks), and map key…though you can choose to ignore these. Also, there is a Super Guide available if you die 8 times in a row. Returns does stay faithful by making you play until you quit from sheer frustration.

Content: 8.8/10

If you think beating the game alone wasn’t a challenge, then 2 player co-op and Flip Mode should make you want to pull your hair out. A friend or sibling can join in and play as Diddy Kong; however, both players do not share lives (just like Brawl), rocket barrel and mine cart levels is solo. To top it all off, Diddy Kong’s fast speed, great agility, and light weight makes it unfair to play as the gorilla. Flip Mode is simply playing the whole game again and with added difficulty: DK only has one heart, Cranky Kong’s shop and Diddy Kong are off-limits, and all levels are mirrored.

(But hey, if you’re a veteran and want extra challenge, then go for it). By having two controllers, one person can choose to play as Diddy Kong only, which is this game’s easy mode. Levels can be completed faster, enemies and hazards more easily avoided, and platforms are easier to cross – even the boss scenes and CGI ending changes. All these advantages make him superior to his…uncle? Time Attack Mode is a must for completionists; you basically beat a past level as fast as possible without checkpoints, being rewarded with a medal based on your time.

Level selection is achieved through a map of the island, rendered as a 3D tropical island with 8 different environments that somehow don’t blend into each other. Levels are represented as red dots and have landmarks to give you an idea of what to expect (much like NSMB.Wii). Beating them turns it blue and unlocks a single or multiple paths – you do need the map key to unlock the secret level. Defeating the boss unlocks access to the next world, while collecting all K-O-N-G letters unlocks a bonus level called a Kong Temple (clear all eight for a surprise post-game).

At first it may seem like a typical map hubworld, but it totally triumphs NSMB and rivals that of Sonic Colors. The eight worlds are brilliantly designed, with the landscape rapidly changing as you transition to the boss with different landmarks and scenery (not just the levels). As you climb up the island, you’ll also notice that the areas are in a specific order that transitions smoothly at an aesthetic and gameplay level, plus being very realistic. The island consists of jungle, beach, ruins, cave, forest, mountain, factory, and volcano (too bad there’s no desert or tundra).

Level design is what I have to admit is the strongest point of Returns. Retro Studios managed to successfully reboot the DK franchise to its former glory and retcon the flaws. Common but creative features such as hazards and enemies of giant proportions, enemies and areas from fore/background, platforms bringing danger and rhythm, and being chased by enemies and/or hazards are just too amazing. And with the unique levels like the rocket barrel, mine cart, barrel cannon, vector silhouette, and Rambi levels makes Returns a very enjoyable game.

Special memorable levels include the vine climbing, giant octopus, tidal wave, bat cave, insect swarm, giant musical instruments, and rising volcano all come to mind. If I were to describe a particular level, you’d instantly recognize it as each level is unique for being creative, frustrating, or amazing to play. They contain mechanics that appear in those levels never to be seen again. They’re filled with K-O-N-G letters and puzzle pieces to collect, as well as hidden rooms that serve as free mini-games. While there is only one goal, there exists multiple paths for some levels.

Most of the enemies are Tikis while others are animals respective to the specific world. This is underwhelming for such a diverse game – the enemies that are unique only appear in a few levels like the octopus or bat. You can easily defeat them by jumping, rolling, blowing then attacking, stomping, or throwing a barrel (works against all enemies). Because of this, they’re extremely forgetful, which brings down the fun of playing the levels. Tropical Freeze no longer has this issue though, as Retro Studios noticed and learned their mistakes by preventing it in the sequel.

I would have to say that the bosses are somewhat better but not by much; most are what you expect while some lack imagination. Fighting them is much, much better as they have multiple phases which they use different attack strategies, and take 6 to 9 hits defeat just like Zelda or Metroid. They’re not hard in the sense that they require you to problem solve, but their attacks are difficult to dodge and you can easily die if you’re too reckless. You fight two rhinoceroses, a team of pirate crabs, giant bird in a pot, mole crew riding a train, sentient fruit caterpillar, chicken in mech, and Tiki Tong itself.

Verdict: 8.3/10

Beating the game without collecting anything takes 4 hours; collecting all K-O-N-G letters and puzzle pieces increase it to 8. Clearing Time Attack Mode takes 16 hours, and completing Flip Mode takes 30 hours plus. As you can tell, trying out everything is where Returns truly shines and is heavily dependent on for fun…just like Colors. Collecting puzzle pieces unlock concept art, music, and dioramas whereas Time Attack Mode increases your skill, reflexes, and ego. You can even track your progress with a percentage on your save file for you completionists.

While this is a frustrating game, if you play it safe or only attempt harder tasks later on, it will be a fun experience. Returns is still forgiving in the sense that it offers ways to let you “cheat” without forcing it on you, and the levels are designed in a way to guide the players…just like Metroid. Beating the game with the amazing aesthetics does wonders for your senses, as well that practice does lead to perfection for mastering the controls. But believe me, trying hard and having a fast-processing brain to fix mistakes and have great reflexes is needed or you will die frequently.

Donkey Kong Country Returns is a superb game that not only rebooted the IP, but also brings difficulty in an era when games have become way too easy. It defies our expectations by implementing both great gameplay and aesthetics, something that is also rarely achieved. I personally enjoy playing the extraordinary levels – rocket barrel, mine cart, barrel cannon, silhouette – while I despise collecting the K-O-N-G letters and puzzle pieces. If you’re a DK veteran fan or just a hardcore gamer looking for a challenge, then Returns is the game just for you.

Final Review Score: 8.0/10

Sonic Colors Review

Foreword

Well my fellow readers, it’s been several months since I’ve published reviews, and I think it’s time to go out of that hibernation state. Sonic Colors is a game that I was ignorant of (despite being a Sonic fan), that I eventually learned of its existence through reviews – whether it be written or videos – and gaming sites in 2011. What influenced me to buy it was the similarities to Sonic Unleashed; the lack of third party games (and in general); and the positive reception, finally getting it in March of 2012.

Almost all of you already know about the history, but I’ll give you a brief synopsis on it anyways. After the atrocity known as Sonic ’06 made the franchise go rock bottom, Sega decided to return its IP to its former glory. First, they developed Sonic Unleashed, though only somewhat of a success. Then came along Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode I, which both received critical acclaim. With fans and critics beginning to re-trust Sega with the series again, would Sonic Colors finally be the game?

Then in 2010 it was finally released, living up to most of its hype. It received positive acclaim again, and some even considered it to be the best since Sonic Adventure 2. Sega brought back the daytime levels from Unleashed, and replaced the godawful werehog levels with more 2D sidescrolling segments, alternate routes, and platforming. Aesthetics are of high quality as usual, the plot was “retconned” to the early days…before Shadow The Hedgehog, and the only gimmicks this time around were the power-ups.

Plot Analysis: 8.0/10

So the story starts off with Sonic and Tails in an amusement park within outer space built by none other than Dr. Eggman “to make up for his past transgressions.” Of course, Sonic doesn’t buy into this scheme, and decides to investigate even further to uncover any evil plots just the day before it opens. Lo and behold, his suspicions are confirmed when he saves an alien from Orbot and Cubot (Eggman’s personal robots) who reveals his plans to Sonic. In reality, the park is really just a set-up to fool people into being ignorant of his true intentions.

The alien (whose name is Yacker) reveals that he comes from a race called Wisps, and his race along with their home planets (disguised as attractions) were dragged “halfway across the universe, ” bound by chains through several different generators. Since Eggman discovered discovered they produce a type of energy in their bodies called “Hyper-Go-On-Power,” he decided to harness it via the energy reactor disguised as the park, in order to hypnotize the citizens of Mobius to do his bidding to aspire for universal domination.

All of this is received by Tail’s alien translator after many humorous attempts at troubleshooting. Sonic goes on his way to destroy all five generators and free the kidnapped Wisps, while exploring and sightseeing the beautiful attractions (okay, the player does that). Once this is done, they all celebrate for their hard work – when suddenly Dr. Eggman claims that Sonic’s efforts were in vain as he already harnessed enough energy to put his plan into effect. However, just as the satellite can activate, Orbot’s missing arm is revealed to be jamming it, causing the entire plan to completely backfire.

Sonic and Tails runs for the exit as the park is being destroyed, only to be stopped by Dr. Eggman in a giant killer robot (that also uses the Hyper-Go-On-Power). Sonic sacrifices himself by letting Tails take the ride back home while he stays to fight (and obviously) defeat the doctor for the 9000th time. Although the reactor collapses upon itself to create a mini-black hole (or purple wormhole), the Wisps save him from his doom by taking him back to Mobius. They all depart back to their regular lives after Tails whines about the Wisps leaving when his translator finally works.

Sonic Team this time decided to go with a simple plot equivalent to that of a children’s cartoon. And it works well, as we all know how tired we are of the long and mediocre plots that plagued the series. It’s aimed towards children, so despite the lame jokes and corny lines, they did their job well with presenting kid-friendly material to their targeted audience. What I find to be a major disappointment is there lacks returning and new characters that could’ve made the plot more developed.

Colors may just be a Wii exclusive (the DS port is both non-canon and a spin-off), the cutscenes rendered in this game are of high quality, almost being a rival of Unleashed (well, not the CGI of course – though Colors also has CGI of its own). Animation and lip syncing are accurate, though the use of certain sound effects is questionable – even if used for comical purposes. Another good thing is that it doesn’t abuse cinematic time by going straight to the point without any plot holes or paradoxes.

Just like the story, the script revolves around comedy, corny jokes, and a simple layout in order to appeal to children. But don’t be fooled, as long time fans can also be entertained with the jokes poking fun to nostalgic references and humor that only adults and youth understand (though not to children…hopefully). This is a good change, since we all know how bad previous Sonic games were, focusing on realism and mature content when the characters are just talking anthropomorphic animals!

Gameplay: 8.0/10

Like in most Sonic games, the goal is to complete the level (called acts) as fast as possible from point A to B. You do this by utilizing traditional mechanics such as the homing attack, spin dash, and light speed dash seen in the Adventure titles; while also taking advantage of newer techniques like the speed boost, drifting, quick-step, and sliding/stomping introduced in Unleashed. At the end, you’ll be given a rank based on your overall performance, which is influenced by factors consisting of time, rings, bonus points, skills, and enemy count.

New to this title are the aerial tricks, double jump, and the jump dash, which are pretty self-explanatory. Power-ups make a return, in the form of Wisps inside capsules, each representing a different color and ability; thus, the game’s name, plot, and gameplay is focused around this one gimmick but it works pretty well. Other than conventional sections like shuttle loops, grind rails, and linear paths, Colors brings back the 2D sidescrolling sections and the quick-step chase sequences from Unleashed, which add more to the gameplay.

The controls is somewhat of a blend of Adventure, Unleashed, and Rush put together. You can play Sonic Colors with either the Wii Remote, Wiimote + Nunchuk, Classic Controller, or also the Game-Cube controller. Many recommend the retro controller for its lack of motion and ergonomic design, although I find the Classic Controller Pro to be great too (since it has handles and improved shoulder buttons). Overall, the controls are very precise and responsive, but at the cost of slippery controls that is a nuisance to inexperienced players.

If you practice often, develop quick thinking/reflexes, and have played Unleashed, the controls should be a breeze. The controls for Sonic is similar to that of a spaceship – control stick to steer, face buttons to use the ship’s main functions, and shoulder buttons to activate special features. Colors puts more of an emphasis on platforming and 2D sidescrolling, so it’s not like you can simply just “boost to win” as Unleashed was heavily criticized for.

Although there are many control styles, I’ll still do my best to explain it. You use the d-pad or control stick to move; A or the 2 button to jump, double jump, spin attack, and perform the homing attack; B or the 1 button speed boost and jump dash; X, Z, or B button to stomp/crouch/slide; and the R or Z button to activate power-ups. Of course, you have to shake the Wii Remote to use the Wisps if using the first two controller variations. What sucks is that you can’t customize it to suit your preferences like in Brawl.

Quite surprisingly, this installment is actually pretty easy; if you only care about beating the game by clearing each level, watching every cutscene, and defeating all bosses, then you can beat it within a few hours. But if you achieve high ranks, find all collectibles, explore every nook and cranny, and complete side quests, then that’s when it’s difficult. However, in general (and to balance it out) though, it’s still easy as there are a surplus of check-points, warning signs over most death traps, on-screen button prompts, hint system, and hazards easy enough for kids to avoid.

Content: 7.4/10

There really isn’t anything to play besides story mode and replaying old levels, except for Sonic Simulator and the Egg Shuttle. In Sonic Simulator, up to two players can participate (simultaneously or alternating)  in 21 different levels inspired by past Sonic games; you can unlock more levels by collecting red star rings and beating three acts for all seven zones unlock the Chaos Emeralds (which brings back Super Sonic). And the Egg Shuttle is sort of like a speed run, in which you attempt to beat all the levels in one run with no extra help as fast as possible.

It’s nice to have multi-player for a change, although the drawbacks outnumber the benefits of Sonic Simulator. Similar to New! Super Mario Bros. Wii, all players share the same screen, so the second player can often die if left behind (though warping is available). Just like in Donkey Kong Country Returns, both players share the same life count, so you better make sure that you work well as a team or you’ll both suffer. Though in my opinion, it’s quite fun and easy with most levels being 2D and the Wisps being used in ways not seen in campaign.

One of the major downsides to Colors is the level design. Sonic Team finally listened to the criticism and their fans by removing all bad gimmicks and different gameplay styles, but as a result had boiled everything down to its basic foundation. More than 80% of the levels are in 2D, which slows down the fast-paced actions we got from Unleashed. The 3D sections are few and just consist of straight linear paths, quick-step sequences, drifting curves and grind rails with little to no hazards, and automated sections such as shuttle loops.

I’m not saying it’s mediocre as said before, they removed what the fans hated. The levels make use of the park and space themes without being a rip-off of Super Mario Galaxy; each act being different from the last and each world feeling alive. Who can forget memorable levels like the hamburger tower, outer space rollercoaster, or even the galactic parade? It also puts a larger emphasis on platforming, bringing Colors somewhat back to its Genesis roots. Each level also has multiple paths and goals which rewards you with hidden goodies and racks up the total score.

Eggman’s Interstellar Amusement Park (as the doctor likes to call it) has 7 different attractions that can be accessed as you progress. The hubworld in Colors is just for visual purposes as you can’t explore it; the park itself is a map which you use the cursor to choose the attractions similar to Unleashed (PS2/Wii ports) and Adventure 2. Each attractions represents a different theme, and resembles the map system of the NSMB games. All the levels are represented by dots connected by lines with landmarks indicating what to expect just like in Donkey Kong Country Returns.

Now let’s talk about the game’s power-ups, or the Wisps, as they are the main focus of the plot and the main gimmicks. It may seem like Sega is just ripping us off and appeal to kids at first. However, the Wisps aren’t forced on you to beat levels (for the most part and are temporary if forced), only mandatory to access hidden routes and collect red star rings. Each of them has a unique ability and can be used strategically in different situations. When you do use them, they’re simple to use, have a time limit, and rack up extra bonus points.

There’s the Cyan Laser Wisp to bounce off walls and use diamonds and optical cables; and the Yellow Drill Wisp to travel underground and underwater at high speeds. The Orange Rocket Wisp to reach high places; Blue Cube Wisp to change blue blocks to blue rings and vice versa; and the Green Hover Wisp to travel over long gaps and perform the light speed dash. Finally we have the Magenta Spike Wisp to maneuver around walls and ceilings and do the spin dash; and the Purple Frenzy Wisp, becoming a Nega-Wisp to eat everything in sight and getting bigger over time.

As you can tell, the Wisps aren’t just situational limited in one use *cough* Mario items. You also have the White Wisps that fills up your boost gauge, thus you can’t just boost whenever you please (whereas you could in Unleashed with rings). Red Star Rings are pretty self explanatory are pretty straightforward, hidden throughout the levels that test your curiosity and skill, since they’re hidden well or difficult to get to. Actually beating the Sonic Simulator grants you the Chaos Emeralds to become Super Sonic in normal levels but disables the Wisps.

For some reason, Sonic Team decided to make this game extremely easy including the enemies and bosses. The homing attack, stomp, and speed boost make it easy enough to make the enemies seem like flies, but they nerfed the bosses by reducing their health, having a repetitive fighting pattern, slow obstacles and attacks, and giving you a power-up (if you’re fast enough). On top of that, the hint system even directly tells you how to defeat each boss; and the second set of bosses is just clones of the first three bosses, but at least the enemies are very diverse.

Presentation: 8.5/10

Before anybody assumes that Colors has bad graphics being a Wii game, then let me prove you wrong. It’s considered by many critics and fans to be one of the best looking Wii games, praising it to have near HD graphics. Upscaling the resolution from 480i to progressive scan makes it look close to Unleashed (and I’m not exaggerating). The models are accurate and detailed, seeing how they based the characters from their appearances in Unleashed – I hear that even the game engine and its physics is taken directly from it too.

Although at 30 FPS and not 60, it’s still consistent and usually never drops unlike in Unleashed; textures are a bit odd looking with the art style being a split between Sonic ’06 and Unleashed. Still, the lighting is done very well, combined with the bright and vibrant colors (pun somewhat intended), giving it the look of a cartoony feel from the Genesis titles. Being in a park, there are many breath-taking environments that take advantage of the graphics and it make feel lively, from Sweet Mountain to Planet Wisp to even Starlight Carnival.

Music is phenomenal with the soundtrack being catchy and memorable, different genres to suit everybody’s tastes, and tunes being relevant. It doesn’t sound as sophisticated as say Sonic Unleashed, since Sega finally stopped trying to make Sonic serious and cool for once which really works. They even made multiple re-mixes for each attraction (and I love all of them, even the 8-bit variations). Who can forget about the orchestral remix of the main theme used in the final boss battle, and is it me or does the generic boss music sound like Silver’s Boss Battle Theme from Sonic ’06?

Nothing much to complain about the sound effects, but the in-game sound is realistic to balance out the goofiness. Sometimes the music drowns out all other sound…especially when you want to listen to the hilarious announcements made by Eggman. I know this happens whenever you speed boost, but they should’ve just sped everything up instead of muffling the noise (on top of adding a rocket sound effect). I forgot to mention voice acting, though it’s not much besides new voice actors (except for Eggman) to rid the series of corny sounding adults that never hit puberty.

Verdict: 8.7/10

Completing the game takes 4 hours; trying to go above and beyond takes 10 ; and doing everything takes over 20. Getting all the red rings is a pain, so make sure you use a walkthrough guide. It’s worth it because Super Sonic is this game’s super easy mode, but they nerfed it by taking out flight (though you can fly a little with the jump dash), and the top speed is only a little faster but you have unlimited speed boost. You have to go back to get the full experience; not just to extend time, but to discover secrets and get rewarded, as opposed to just bragging rights.

Overall, Sonic Colors is a game that truly shows that Sega doesn’t need to implement different gameplay styles, loads of content, and a serious plot to make a decent Sonic game. As being my first 3D Sonic game, I have to say that it left a great impression, and I’ll definitely buy more Sonic titles in the future. Colors is short and sweet by favoring quality over quantity; the fast-paced action mixed with power-ups and exploration makes it addicting; rewarded with extra content for finding secrets; and great aesthetics and plot to compliment all else.

To make up for the cheesy plot, low difficulty, barebones level design, and lack of content, Sonic Team balanced it with amazing aesthetics, humorous script and voice acting, precise controls, superb gameplay, and high replay value. I personally enjoy the little things that add extra charm such as the radio announcements, enemy animations, and backgrounds; however, I dislike the fact that you must adapt to the controls and platforming to truly enjoy Colors. Sonic can definitely talk the talk and walk the walk, deserving to be played by any Wii owner and Sonic fan.

Final Review Score: 8.1/10