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

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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

NEW! Super Mario Bros. Wii Review

Introduction

Man, it’s been a really long time ever since I wrote my last review back in April, huh? After this and the Metroid Prime 3 review, I’ll be moving on to the third “saga” of reviews. Getting back on topic and as the name implies, this is basically the console successor to the original NEW! Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS. What I’m trying to essentially state is that it’s the rip-off to a rip-off. The irony of such a claim is that it’s actually the most unique game in the spin-off series, because its successors NSMB2 and NSMBU on the 3DS and Wii U respectively are even more ripped-off.

It started development and was surprisingly published in the same year of 2009. This was when the Wii was at its peak, only a few months later for it to be the casual kiddie toy that it’s remembered…er…forgotten as today. I recall everyone getting hyped for the game since it was the return of 2D Mario on consoles; there was co-op multiplayer for the first time; and the reboot of old characters like Yoshi, Kamek, and the Koopalings (okay, Yoshi sort of doesn’t count). I didn’t get it until December 2010 as I was too busy playing Mario Kart Wii back in 2009.

Plot

Just like with any typical 2D Mario platforming side-scroller game, all is well until Bowser comes and kidnaps Peach, prompting Mario in pursuit to save her. This time; however, it’s her birthday with the plumbers , along with two generic Toads as invited guests, which gets crashed by the Koopalings and Bowser J.R. Peach is brought to and taken hostage into their air-ship, where they head off to escape Mario’s grasp, but not before the game’s new power-ups being launched by cannons throughout the kingdom to aid Mario.

If you honestly expected this game to have an amazing plot, then this is the wrong place to look for. I understand that Mario games were never really strong in the story department, but ever since the cinematic storyline in Super Mario Galaxy and Super Paper Mario, it’s very disappointing to downgrade as something as shitty as this. They should’ve at least put some story cutscenes to expand upon the plot (besides the prologue and epilogue) and also place some dialogue text boxes for character interaction.

Gameplay

Basic concepts such as platforming and power-ups are present; however, there are some new gameplay mechanics. As with most Wii titles, motion controls are implemented in gimmicks one way or another. Unlike other games, NEW! Super Mario Bros. Wii inputs them as control commands such as spinning, grabbing/throwing, or activating motion-controlled “vehicles” and platforms. Another mechanic is the 4 player co-op that will be emphasized later; while objects, platforms, and enemies being of different proportion is a deliberate level design choice that will also be elaborated.

Other than single player, there’s also multi-player; three friends can join in the fray and play together simultaneously on-screen with four different characters. Each player has an option of either Luigi, Yellow Toad, or Blue Toad…with player 1 having Mario as default. It’s nice to have several people helping each other out to get hidden goodies or beat tough challenges that a single person usually can’t do alone. You can take advantage by grabbing, throwing, and even jumping on other players too – there’s also this super move that occurs when 2 or more ground pound at the same time.

Since it’s a series first, I’ll let some strings loose and not judge it for lacking online or having good teamwork design. On the contrary, I do find the screen and camera to be an issue because it always zooms out extremely with four players; it chooses which player to focus on – not always the first player or leading one; and anybody behind the camera can get killed and anybody ahead risks getting damaged by incoming obstacles and enemies. The whole co-op idea is a good start, though it honestly hinders progress more often than increasing it if your goal is to seriously beat the game.

Coin Hunting and Free-For-All are solutions to it as they fix these annoyances. The former is getting as much coins as you can by beating custom levels that are full of coins; the latter is beating any level except that no progress is saved and the screen isn’t as messed up as it usually is. The downside to these game modes is that you have to beat the levels in the main game in order to play all the levels in these modes, and also that your progress automatically gets deleted when you reset, turn off, or leave the multi-player menus.

What I forgot to mention was that the characters themselves are also underwhelming to play as. There is no difference in terms of stats at all, so each character are all clones and/or palette swaps of each other. Don’t assume that they’re as unique as they are in Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) or in Super Mario 3D World. Returning from past titles are the Koopalings, Yoshi, Bowser J.R, and Kamek. The returning villians are much better in their modern appearances and boss battles, whereas Yoshi and Bowser J.R are disappointing with theirs.

Similar to NSMB, the Mushroom Kingdom is comprised of 8 worlds. Each area is based off of stereotypical environments such as forest, desert, and beach. They are all third-dimensional in terms of exploration with nice layouts and several great landmarks. Fortresses, castles, and houses fill up the maps, and each level icon has background objects giving clues as to what to expect when you play them…similar to Donkey Kong Country Returns. Alternate paths, hidden areas, and enemy battle-grounds are just some of the gimmicks used to enhance the map’s appeal and replay value.

Level design is above-average – most ideas are ripped straight from older Mario games or NSMB as I said before. Anything new is just enemies, hazards, and platforms of different sizes that gives the illusion of microscopic or gigantic proportions (which is actually pretty damn cool), motion manipulated platforms and vehicles are used too. Some levels use gimmicks only seen once and never again, such as skeletal roller-coasters over lava and flying manta-rays in the sky. It seems interesting but it pales in comparison to that of DKCR (which is a much better title).

There are returning and new items that are gimmicky but not situational. Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, 1-Up Mushroom, Mini Mushroom, and Star-Man are old items and are pretty self-explanatory. New power-ups consist of the Ice-Flower, Penguin Suit, and the Propeller Mushroom. The Ice Flower allows you to throw ice balls to freeze enemies into ice blocks; the Penguin Suit lets you have ice balls, better swimming controls, and sliding on water and ice to smash through enemies and blocks; and the last item grants flight and is the most OP.

Star Coins, alternate goals/paths, warp-pipes, cannons, and secret rooms are all the hidden goodies in NSMBWii unlockables include a completely new hidden world that is space-themed…spoilers, Toad House mini-games, and also extra game modes and hint videos. They’re all fun to find and collect, definitely adding to the replay value, though they do get tedious and boring afterwards. There are these golden stars that you can earn as you progress through getting the unlockables, but it’s just for aesthetics as it’s displayed on the save file.

Any player, for any odd reason, who cannot beat a tough level or boss battle can activate Super Guide. This is basically a giant, glowing green block with an exclamation mark that appears after dying in a level 8 times in a row and at a checkpoint (or the beginning of a level if you return after leaving it). When activated, the game will simply play itself and beat the level for you, which you just sit back and watch a computer controlled Luigi that slowly beats it. I honestly find it pathetic for the developers to spoon-feed the casuals, and very offensive to use gamers for making the game easier than it already is.

Controls

You can either choose the Wii Remote or the Wiimote & Nunchuk combo, but the former option is recommended and it’s the default. The d-pad is to move, crouch, enter doors and pipes, and toggle menu options. Pressing 2 is to jump and confirm menu selections; and the 1 button is to run and/or throw projectiles or objects. If you played the original on the DS, then you’ve pretty much mastered these controls too. Motion based commands include shaking to spin, grab, and throw certain enemies and items; titling the Wii Remote left and right enables the use of motion controlled platforms and vehicles as repeated dozens of time before.

Music

Another minor thing is the music which is a replica of the prequel’s sound track. There are some new compositions and remixes here and there but overall the tunes are generic, repetitive, and corny as usual. Different genres and instruments are evident; however, anybody who played NSMB agrees with me on how useless these efforts are to increase the music’s quality. Nintendo should’ve tried harder like they usually do with other IP’s instead of going the lazy route and not composing good music which they did here.

Graphics

Nintendo also put up a half-hearted effort with producing the graphics, and you can tell just by looking at it. The textures are extremely high-rez and the models being exactly accurate of CGI artwork; but everything else is mediocre and makes NSMBWii look only slightly better than its DS predecessors (which looks as bad as a N64 game). While resolution is at 480p standard definition, the frame rate is only at 30 FPS – and it’s not locked or consistent as it sometimes can drop to 25 FPS. Lighting and shadow is superficial since the graphics resemble a CGI cartoon animation with plastic, cartoony models like in Sonic Adventure DX.

Verdict

I honestly didn’t expect this review to be so short; replay value is ironically where this game shines the most, as beating the game by taking the most linear path; clearing all eight out of nine worlds; and defeating Bowser and his children to save the princess takes about roughly 8 hours. However, attempting to clear all levels, unlock every alternate map route, collect all Star-Coins, activate every warp pipe/cannon, and clear World 9 – which is not easy, even for skilled players – increases it to 40 hours.

We’re at the end of this, and you guys know what’s coming…so here goes. I like how this game is simplistic and easy, yet still being difficult with extra optional challenges. I also hypocritically enjoy the gimmicks, old mechanics, and the corny music despite what I said as it actually adds to the fun atmosphere and experience in my opinion. I despise how this entry lacks creativity and originality as almost all concepts are rip-offs from older Mario games. With that, I do suggest getting it but only at a reduced price through vintage stores/sites, and for casual gamers and Mario fans, so not a recommendation or a must-have. I mark this game off with a 6.6 out of 10.

 

Kirby’s Epic Yarn Review

Introduction

Kirby was one of Nintendo’s few IPs that started out great but ended up being neglected as the big N decided to milk their most popular franchises and start new ones like Pikmin and Animal Crossing. In 2009, what originated as a yarn game starring Prince Fluff as a new second party franchise for the Nintendo Wii somehow became a reboot to the Kirby franchise. Despite not quite being the game that long-time fans asked for, it still received positive reception from many critics and gamers alike. Coming out in 2010, it was released alongside Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M, and Donkey Kong Country Returns to make the Nintendo Wii “hardcore” again and retcon to its former greatness.

And yes, if you’re asking this now, this is one of my other short reviews that I’m doing before I move on to my third review style. If you never knew, this was one of five games that I bought in downtown Toronto back in the summer of 2014 at A & C Games and Game-Center. I heard about this game through online and in-store ads (opposite of how Nintendo’s marketing is today with the Nintendo Wii U LOL), but I never got it since I didn’t know much about Nintendo’s IPs back in 2010. I actually wanted to get it with Metroid: Other M, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and Donkey Kong Country Returns back in 2013, but they never had it so I got it last year at said stores.

When I first started researching about the game, I was also a bit skeptical about the game’s…uniqueness. It  looked and played so different, and it didn’t feel like a Kirby game at all (I played Kirby’s Adventure on an NES Emulator the time I was in China); yet it still had that charm and I knew I would enjoy it in the long run. So right after purchasing it, the next few days were spent (as well as other stuff) on playing Kirby’s Epic Yarn. For the most part, I actually quite enjoyed it despite it being so radically different from other Kirby titles. This may seem like a spoiler, but I love this game and certainly recommend it to Kirby fans…unless you have xenophobia.

Plot

Since the prologue (and basically the whole plot) is stated in the instruction manual, it’s technically not spoiling and is sort of redundant. Kirby is out for a walk in Dreamland when he sees and sucks up a bright red tomato upon a bush. An evil sorcerer that looks like a stereotypical Mexican gangster tries to stop Kirby but fails, resulting in a magical glowing sock to suck the pink ball up. Kirby wakes up and manages to find himself teleported in a world made of nothing but clothing and yarn. He tries to help a blue boy running away from a monster, but his copy ability fails as the wind passes right through his body when he tries to suck up air. Kirby then miraculously transforms into a car and saves the boy and ditches the monster.

The boy then introduces himself as Prince Fluff, the ruler of Patch Land, explaining that he is on a journey to stitch back the continents be finding magical yarn (hidden inside powerful monsters…um, spoilers). He reveals that Yin-Yarn was the cause of all this (the Mexican from earlier, and no, I’m not racist to them) and Kirby agrees to help Prince Fluff undo the damage and defeat the evil sorcerer. And that’s just about it, with the couple restoring Patch Land by defeating the boss of every continent to gather the stolen magic yarn. Of course, while Kirby is absent, Yin-Yarn takes over Dreamland by ambushing, kidnapping, and brainwashing Meta-Knight and King Dedede to defeat Kirby and not be a nuisance to his evil schemes.

Besides the previously mentioned , there’s not much else (other than the store managers and apartment roommates that I can’t remember their names and they are irrelevant to the plot). Patch Land consists of seven continents which are as generic as the 2D Mario games, such as grass, volcano, desert, etc. It’s definitley targeted to young children with its simplistic, colorful, and happy mood/atmosphere. Overall, it’s not really content heavy, cinematic, or as dark, but that’s because Kirby games aren’t like that nor were they to begin with or evolve into. The plot of Kirby’s Epic Yarn is pretty mediocre, but it’s excusable since it’s…Kirby and everything else in the game more than makes up for it.

Odd as it is there’s actually voice acting – well, at least only for the narrator. He speaks in all of the cutscenes and the lines for the characters. I admit this person (too lazy to check the credits in the game manual) does a great job at voice acting and sounds spot-on when imitating the characters when it comes to characters and expression (if they had their own actors though). Some of the lines do sound a bit forced, awkward, and/or cheesy, but it’s for children between the ages of 4-7. Maybe that’s why I’m not used to it (okay, sort of since I encountered such weird voice acting in Metroid: Other M and Sonic Colors).

Graphics

One of the things that brought huge controversy were the graphics as the game’s art style, engine, and textures was literally nothing but yarn. Besides that, the aesthetics were absolutely amazing – with no jaggies, pixelation, or geometric imperfections even when zoomed in or out. The graphics fool many to believing that it has 720p HD graphics instead of the typical standard definition, as well as being able to rival that of Brawl, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and Sonic Colors. There is nothing wrong with the graphics since it is near-perfect and shows what the Wii is capable of and how much the so-called inferior hardware can handle. What once started out as skepticism is now turned out to become perfectionism.

What I said that the graphics had some flaws, I meant the resolution/frame-rate (specifically the frame-rate). While the game is rendered at 480p SD, the frame-rate is unfortunately at a low 30 FPS. It’s obvious since the movement is slow and the animation is unnatural and sluggish; plus, the delayed response of the controls may even fool gamers into assuming that the game has choppy frame-rate or frequently drops and stays at 20 FPS. But I guess the developers purposely designed it this way for the sake of simplicity for the children. Or maybe not because they’re probably using that as a scapegoat for bad game design – Mario and Pokemon have better animation and they’re pretty easy and are targeted to kids as well (especially the latter).

Though the actual characters may seem inferior to the plot, their models are actually quite important to the presentation of the plot and the quality of the graphics. Models in-game are literally 1:1 to their CGI counterparts, with the only difference being resolution and lighting effects (as the latter is pre-rendered at high definition quality while the former is limited by weak hardware). Since everything is yarn, the models of Kirby, King Dedede, Meta-Knight, and other returning characters and enemies may be a turn-off for some, but the basic shape of the characters are still relatively the same from past Kirby games.

Controls

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is played with the Wii Remote held horizontally, but occasionally is held vertically for in-game gimmicks, namely pointing. Moving is executed through the d-pad; however, tapping it twice left or right quickly transforms Kirby into a car to move faster, and pressing down while airborne makes him into a heavy weight to crush obstacles and enemies (and on the ground is crouching). The 1 button is to pull out a thread of yarn, which has many uses such as destroying obstacles and enemies; grabbing/throwing said subjects; opening zippers, buttons, and patches; and much, much more. Pressing the 2 button is to jump and pressing it while in the air transforms Kirby into a parachute, granting the ability to slowly descend to cross large gaps and accurately land in specific areas.

The yarn gimmick itself may seem simple, but it’s actually quite complex as it allows bodily transformations which imitate different copy abilities, so in a way, his yarn “incarnation” alone allows Kirby to use many abilities at once. The yarn thread is also an actual game gimmick as many enemies, obstacles, puzzles, and levels must be solved or defeated with it. Pointing is mandatory to renovate your apartment and there are these metallic-icons that serve as power-ups, transforming Kirby into different vehicles/creatures that feel cheesy and are inferior replacements of the copy ability.

I have mixed opinions/thoughts on the controls; while I do like the simplicity, I also dislike the gimmicks. Works fine for a 2D platformer (nothing broken or glitchy) but there always seemed to be a delayed response and sometimes fools me as well to assuming there’s lag or nothing worked, resulting me in pressing the buttons more than needed. Doesn’t result in cheap deaths (um, spoiler, but you can’t die and you don’t lose health either), but it unfortunately adds more challenge than there already is. The power-ups that came from those metallic orbs feel unsatisfactory and are a cheap way to make up for the exclusion of the trademark copy ability, which has been a staple of the series, and you can’t use them anywhere except in the specific levels they are in.

Music

Another changed portion that still seems amazing despite being so unique is the music. Though it’s mostly piano, it still manages to represent a variety of genres, tempo, mood, etc (who knew that one instrument could do so much?) If there were different instruments and sound effects used just like in past Kirby games – there are; however, they’re created from a keyboard – then it would be more memorable. Not saying that these compositions are forgettable, but because only piano is used, everything seems to blend in with one another. Oh, and there are remixes of famous compositions like Meta-Knight’s Theme and Gourmet Race remastered in piano. Some tracks I swear are plagiarized like the squid boss theme sounding almost exactly like the Jaws theme.

Gameplay

This may sound seemingly repetitive, but Kirby’s Epic Yarn is widely different from past (and even new) Kirby games. The main goal of each level is not only to go from point A to B, but also to collect as much goodies as possible, whether it’s beads, CD’s, or hidden treasure. You’ll be rewarded based on not on your skill level or time record, but rather the amount of beads you collected, with bronze medal being the worst and getting the gold medal for being the best (and extra beads for collecting the treasure).

Yarn is the main mechanic in this game, and while it seems simple in theory, it’s actually quite…wait, did I say this before? Anyways, almost every single enemy and boss must be defeated with Kirby’s yarn thread, including the fact that doors, puzzles, and treasures must be solved with the yarn thread too. Even the graphics, marketing, and controls are influenced by the concept of yarn. The different transformations that Kirby assumes are a neat thing as they allow Kirby to use many copy abilities to their fullest potential which is way better than those stupid power-ups!

Besides Kirby, you can also play as Prince Fluff. For the first time in Kirby, a second player can join in for simultaneous co-op play. Other than aesthetics, Kirby and Prince Fluff play exactly the same in terms of controls and stats. When the two join after using a power-up, it’s usually one becoming the form and other inside or on top as opposed to a bodily fusion (Dragon Ball Z pun intended). All in all, co-op mode is very underwhelming, especially the fact that it came out after NEW! Super Mario Bros. Wii (even Donkey Kong Country Returns that came out around the same time had better co-op despite being criticized otherwise). Oh well, Kirby’s Return To Dreamland improved with 4 player co-op, allowing others to play as Meta-Knight, King Dedede, and Waddle (Spear) Dee.

Patch-Land is divided up into 7 continents, each with their own geographic theme ripped straight from the NEW! Super Mario Bros. games. There’s the Patch Kingdom consisting of the castle, plaza, shops, and apartment; a grassy area; a volcano with desert; a gigantic mountain-sized cake; a tropical island with lots of water; an arctic tundra; and finally a futuristic sci-fi city in outer space. Patch-Land acts as both an overworld and hubworld as you can access the levels from a 2D plane, and unlocking more is done via obtaining and using patches. Another thing I forgot to say is that you can visit Dreamland, but only near the end and it’s stuck in yarn.

Let’s get right into the power-ups I keep mentioning. Sure, they don’t disappear once you get hit and they completely change the control scheme when used, but that’s just about it. These items are a sad excuse for removing Kirby’s copy ability, which are hundreds of times better than these gimmicks. Just like the unique power-ups in Super Mario Galaxy, they’re extremely limited on what they can do; forced even though unnecessary; and lack any significance or remembrance whatsoever.

Bosses are very satisfying unlike the generic enemies and boring items this game offers. Each of them are unique, and while they’re obvious of what they are, they’re still memorable. While I don’t remember the specific names expect for Kirby’s arch-rivals and Yin-Yarn, I do recall the others as a medieval dragon, fiery phoenix bird, giant squid, and an anthropomorphic pumpkin that is a magician. These bosses are extremely easy to beat; however, they are still challenging as they have a ton of health, use different tactics and go through many battle phases, and can only be damaged in certain areas with certain methods (though skilled players can accomplish otherwise). Collecting many beads not only rewards you a medal, but also a bonus patch to unlock the hidden level in each continent.

It’s been obvious that I’ve been neglecting the apartment, so I’ll simply explain it briefly here. The apartment is not only where “Kirby” lives during his stay, but also where the other people move in and live with them. These roommates not only have rooms that you can visit, but they also allow you to play mini-games with them. By the way, you unlock more roommates by purchasing more floors to build (total of three) which automatically becomes available as an offer by the apartment manager. These games have a set amount of conditions to fulfill, such as collecting beads, defeating enemies, or racing, and all have a time-limit; thus, they actually pose some kind of challenge. Beating each level unlocks fabric to decorate your room (including treasure found in the levels), and items bought from the shops can be used as well.

Similar to all Kirby games in general, there is little challenge for gamers to progress through. Levels are filled with simple puzzles, weak enemies, little hazards/obstacles, and easy-to-reach platforms. This was a design choice as Kirby is targeted to young children and was always easy. It’s so easy now that you can’t get injured; you won’t lose health nor will you die, as you will only lose beads and/or be saved by Angie which is an angel that picks you up from pits should you fall into them. Only the mini-games and bosses pose any real challenge as they force you to think and worry about your beads. The later worlds do tend to get harder as well as the bonus levels, but it’s still easy enough for even non-gamers and beginners to play through and beat.

Verdict

 At first it may seem lackluster; however, there’s a decent amount of replay value here. Medals, beads, and collectibles all serve as great replayability value for regular levels (and also bonus levels), encouraging people to improve their skill, scores, and medals. Bosses are always fun to beat and the hidden levels can only be unlocked by obtaining the bonus patch, in which you must surpass even the gold medal to obtain. The mini-games and decoration of the apartment also add replay value…oh, did I mention that you can take photos of your apartment, as well as decorating the rooms of your roommates too? The plaza shows all the stuff you unlocked, from the cutscenes to the fabric, and everything gets calculated into a percentage total which is a gift from heaven for completionists.

Wow, this review was very short too (I gotta stop breaking the fifth wall and I still never used a thesaurus). Anyways, I enjoy this whole yarn concept and how it was implemented into the gameplay, plot, controls, and even the graphics. I love the apartment as it lets you take a break from the regular stuff and lets you do many fun ‘n creative things such as the mini-games. I admit I love the easiness, as it took several years of frustration and stress away from me in only two weeks (that I received from playing video games from my childhood till now due to my inexperience or they were too difficult). I dislike the fact that it’s completely different from other Kirby games, that if it weren’t for the returning characters and enemies, it wouldn’t even feel like a Kirby game. It also fails to satisfy Kirby fans and myself as a reboot to the franchise (sort of nitpicking but still valid).

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is definitely a must-have game for the Nintendo Wii for its superb graphics, fantastic gameplay, and high replay value. Despite it being entirely different from the other Kirby games (past and future); filled with forced gimmicks; basic plot and cheesy script; and having many standard mechanics – especially the copy ability – being removed and replaced by bad gimmicks, it’s still a great game that deserves to be added to any Wii owners’ and Kirby fans’ collections. If you can still get it at retailers as the Nintendo Wii was retired in 2012/2013, then purchase it at a reduced price or buy a used copy. If not, then flea markets, vintage gaming stores, and online shopping is the way to go. I’ll grant Kirby’s Epic Yarn an 8.9 out of 10.