Monday, 28 February 2011

REVIEW: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
[Wii] [Grasshopper Manufacture]
One of my Blog's high points last year (in my opinion anyway) was my review of the astoundingly brilliant Wii title, No More Heroes. It was a truly excellent game that was glazed with many coats of imagination and flair, despite a few issues with the actual gameplay. I gave it a high score for a good reason, and the  title still stands as one of my favourite games ever. However, No More Heroes isn't a standalone title. In fact, last year it spawned an infinitely better sequel that improves on the first game in pretty much every way. Subtitled 'Desperate Struggle', No More Heroes 2 is easily one of the Wii's best games and one of the most hardcore-pleasing titles available. Now that I've played through the game for the third time (I still loved every minute of it, too) I'm definitely ready to review it. So, without further ado - Let the carnage commence! 

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is not a direct sequel to the original game. Instead, it takes place 2 years after the original. Protagonist Travis Touchdown has fled the city of Santa Destroy and in doing so, he has walked away from the brutal Assassination game held by the UAA. After the introduction sequence a cut-scene begins, showing a lone assassin armed with a modified revolver and a huge sword standing on top of the same building that Travis begun his first killing spree in the original game. A lift rises towards the ceiling, and when it does, the lone assassin shoots through the doors leaving hundreds of bullet-holes. After the doors open, a cloak drops to the floor with no-one to be seen. Then, Travis Touchdown himself is seen behind the assassin, holding his legendary beam katana next to his neck. The No More Hero has returned, and has resumed work as an assassin.

After the excellent first cut-scene in which Travis and his opponent switch some epic lines, you begin the first Boss Fight immediately. This battle is essentially a tutorial for newcomers to get to grips with No More Heroes 2's beat-'em-up-esque antics. It is instantly made clear that No More Heroes 2 is a massive improvement in terms of visuals over the original game. The first boss takes place on top of a skyscraper, with realistic and atmospheric snow falling from the moonlit sky. It's the first time snow has ever fallen on Santa Destroy for over 200 years and my god - it's pure awesome. After Travis manages to behead his oppenent, Sylvia Christel enters via a United Assassination Association chopper. Sylvia was Travis's UAA 'Agent' in the original, and in No More Heroes 2 she returns to do the same job once again. Unfortunately, it turns out the first boss isn't dead (seriously? Travis cut off his head!) and he blurts out some poetic lines that basically translate as: "I may be dead, but I'll still get my revenge", before ripping off his own head. Soon after, the action moves to the Beefhead Video Rental store where Travis' best friend Bishop is murdered. The following day, Travis finds Bishop's head thrown through his window inside a paper bag, and the protagonist is instantly filled with huge amounts of hate and a urge for revenge. A 'Desperate Struggle', if you will. Travis soon finds out that the man behind Bishop's murder is coincidentally Rank 1 in the UAA tournament that he just got himself involved in. Fuelled by his revenge, Travis sets out to get to number one and take out Bishop's killer.

The level designs are much more 'out-there' this time. No more bland corridors!

My explanation of the game's opening segments really is bleak compared to the real thing - It is truly brilliant, especially for those who played through the original and loved it to bits like yours truly. This is going to sound kind of weird, but the 'choreography' in the cut-scenes is excellent throughout No More Heroes 2. It's kind of like a movie in a way, but with some awesome gameplay layered on top of it. Speaking of the gameplay, No More Heroes 2 improves on the original when it comes to that aspect too. As I previously mentioned, the first bit you play is the very first boss fight. The tutorial takes you through the controls as you advance through the fight, such as pressing A to attack with your beam katana and pressing B to perform melee attacks. The same system as the original is used in the sequel; You hold the Wii Remote either high or low to take a high or low attack stance. While in a stance, you can perform slashes with your beam katana to slash through your opponents or a variety of kicks and punches to stun them and perform wrestling moves. A new attack is the running slash, where you shake the Wii Remote to do a quicker slash while running, which is a good way to start combos. As in the first game, you perform a finisher move to take your enemies out of their misery when they are on their last breaths, however, you actually have to swing the remote in the direction shown on-screen this time, rather than simply waggling in any direction you wish. It's little subtle enhancements like this that make No More Heroes 2's battle system an improvement over the original's blander antics. On top of all this, NMH2 also features some amazing special attacks, one of which involves Travis transforming into a deadly tiger. If that isn't awesome then I don't know what is.

Later on you'll unlock the amazing dual Beam Katanas. SWEETNESS!
No More Heroes 2 takes the same wash, rinse and repeat formula as the original No More Heroes, which I explained in detail in my review of that game. However, you now no longer have to pay money to enter ranking battles, instead they're just a click away on the brand new map system. That's right, they've ditched the original's hub and gone for a more simple approach in the form of a menu. From this menu you can select several options which take you to different places; From your ranking battle to several returning shops from the first game and the awesome new retro-ified minigames. That's right, they've sorted out the jobs too. The original No More Heroes' hub sections forced you to play dull minigames and slightly more exciting but at times impossible assassination missions in order to make money to enter the next ranked battle. Now, the minigames have been replaced with 8-Bit awesomeness - Each game is designed to look like a retro NES title, complete with the sound of a person blowing into the cartridge before each one 'starts-up'. While many of these minigames are a little dry, some of them are pretty fun and a cool way to earn money. Better than mowing down grass, anyway.

The assassination missions have now been replaced by No More Heroes 2's Revenge Missions. A little while after the game begins, Sylvia tells Travis that she has found out the exact men who killed Bishop, but they could be in any Pizza Batt-owned building. It's up to Travis to visit these locales and kill either a certain target or a certain number of opponents. Every Ranked Battle you play unlocks several new Revenge Missions, until you beat all ten unlocking a fairly awesome clothing option. The Revenge Missions and Retro Minigames are a huge improvement over the original No More Heroes' efforts, and if you don't like them then you don't even have to play 'em! However, if you wish to buy some awesome new threads for Travis at Airport 51 then you'll have to play the side-missions, as they are what reward you with the most money. Also, the Beam Katana shop returns too, and the new katanas are some frankly amazing pieces of kit that you wouldn't want to miss out on. If the original's minigames returned for the sequel, it would be a shambolic and annoying mess. Good thing the developers sorted it. Aside from the minigames, you can go work out at the Gym to increase Travis' stats or freely walk around in the No More Heroes motel, playing Travis' awesome anime video game, cutting down the fat on your cat or simply dropping a nice save.

Some of the later bosses are extremely epic, but I won't spoil 'em of course!

The main thing in No More Heroes games however, is the ranked battles themselves. In No More Heroes 2, you'll come across some of the wackiest, epic and downright insane bosses in the history of videogames. Throughout the game you'll find yourself fighting some truly ridiculous characters, as well as some returning bosses from the original game. Of course, I won't spoil anything at all, but one thing I will say is that No More Heroes 2 has a much better selection of bosses in comparison to the first game. You're gonna hate a few, but there's 15 boss fights in the sequel which is five more than there was in the original, so it's all good. Not every boss is followed by a level, but since the levels you actually do play are much better designed than the original's admittedly bleak efforts. You're gonna enjoy what's on offer here, so much that you'll want to keep playing and playing. Which brings us to No More Heroes 2's flaws...

As I've mentioned throughout this review, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is such a huge improvement over the original Wii game. So many of the first game's flaws have been fixed and topped off with a fresh layer of awesomeness. However, the sequel does have one rather large flaw: The length. If you choose to rush through No More Heroes 2, you'll have it done in around five or six hours on the standard difficulty. But, that is if you choose to rush through the game. If you sit back and take part in the other activities Santa Destroy has on offer in-between ranked battles, then you'll find that the game is a few hours longer. This shouldn't be a problem if you're a devoted No More Heroes fan like myself - I did say this was my third playthrough and I'm still loving it - but it would be a good idea to take your time if you want to enjoy NMH2 to its fullest. The main meat of the game is one fresh serving that must be chewed down in small portions, or you'll have the game finished before long. What an awesome meat it is though.

So there you have it. My review of No More Heroes 2, over. So, what score did I give it? Find out below. Look forward to my future posts! This is Noodle saying please buy this game and leaving


Saturday, 19 February 2011

Will The Last Story Stay Japan-Exclusive?

Many of you will probably know that I'm really looking forward to the UK release of The Last Story, the creator of Final Fantasy's last game and what looks to be one of the best Wii RPGs ever. Unfortunately, that release may not happen at all. After many rumours and much speculation, it has become clear that The Last Story might not be coming out in NTSC and PAL regions. Shocking, no? The Last Story was released in Japan a few weeks back, and it received one or two great import reviews (and no bad reviews, for that matter). With all this praise and much anticipation from gamers here in the UK and over in the West, why shouldn't Nintendo publish the game outside of Japan? This is Sakaguchi-San's last game, after all.

The Last Story looks truly brilliant. Some sites have even been calling it the best looking game on the Wii, and for good reason too. The shading effects are truly phenomenal and the character models look really well animated and are pretty realistic. The music also seems awesome, as it has been composed by the same guy who worked on previous Final Fantasy games. And that's not all, either. The bulk of The Last Story is in its battle system. You and multiple party members take the fight to the enemy in real-time, but you also have the ability to pause the action mid-battle to give your homies commands and think over what you're going to do next to outdo your foes. Speaking of enemies, The Last Story looks to include some fairly ridiculous beasts, including a shiny blue and white tiger, the game's first boss.

There's a distinctive range of characters in The Last Story. Not a bland/generic hero in sight!
Judging by these first impressions videos I've been watching, the story of the game kicks off straight away. The protagonists are apparently tasked with defeating several god-like beasts, much like in something like Shadow of the Colossus or even the Monster Hunter titles. Your party will take different forms throughout the game, thanks to the inclusion of more main characters that you'll find in most games. Each character seems to have a distinctive look, and hopefully each of them has an interesting back-story. The Last Story's developers have clearly spent a lot of time designing the protagonists in terms of looks. From muscular knights to eyepatch-wearing grey haired teenagers, you'll have a wide range of eccentricities join your party to fight alongside you. It's great to see that the developers have gone all out with the character designs in The Last Story, since we do see a hell of a lot of bland and generic 'heroes' in so many RPGs these days.

You can even get The Last Story in a Wii bundle over in Japan! That is one awesome box...
I've spent the last few paragraphs praising The Last Story and for good reason - It really does look like an excellent game and one of the best RPGs in ages. A wide variety of characters, an awesome looking real-time battle system and some incredible visuals form up to make what looks like an incredible Wii title, and it'd be a sin to not consider releasing it outside of Japan. So why aren't they? Of course, they have to do ALL the voice acting in multiple European languages, but they've done that with so many other dialogue-heavy RPGs in the past. Even if The Last Story would take a year or two to arrive in English, I wouldn't care and I'm sure many other gamers wouldn't either. There is apparently a slight glimpse of hope that they will translate the game, but it's unlikely for now. What a shame. Maybe The Last Story will see the light of day in other regions later on in the Wii's lifetime. Only time will tell...

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Feature: My Picks of the Nintendo 3DS UK Launch Games

A few days back Nintendo officially revealed the full launch day line-up of what we'll be able to play on our 3DS's from day one. And frankly, it's a pretty good selection of games. So, I'll be using this as an excuse to do a slightly shorter feature to fill in this month's feature gap, purely because I can't think of anything that isn't massive to do before the month ends. Anyway, today I'll be taking a look at my 3 picks of the 3DS's UK launch line-up. There will be 15 games available (or 13 if you count the three Nintendogs + Cats games as one title) on day one, but here are the best of the best in my honest opinion. Enjoy the feature!

Pilotwings Resort
I'll be honest, I wasn't massively excited about Pilotwings Resort when it was first announced, probably because I've never played a game in the series before. Another reason could've been the fact that it essentially looked like a port of Wii Sports Resort's Island Flyover mode, but with two extra modes of transport. While that most definitely isn't wrong, I'm still looking forward to the game a lot more now than I was before. Judging by first impressions from the lucky folks who managed to go to the various 3DS preview events throughout the UK, Pilotwings's 3DS debut is awesome, and will most definitely be game that makes the best use of the 3D effects on launch day. For those who aren't familiar with Pilotwings, it's basically an aerial flight simulation game, where you can fly around a huge island using various forms of transport. The three available vehicles you can choose from are a plane, a jetpack and a glider. I'm most excited about the glider, purely because I think it will have that 'wind in your hair' effect when you plunge downwards. Speaking of plunging downwards, we all know what we're going to do in that volcano... Speaking of the game's setting, Pilotwings Resort takes place on Wuhu Island, the same locale seen in Wii Sports Resort. On top of this, nothing much seems to have changed aside from everything being 3D-ified. It's a bit of a shame, but it would appear that the game has some sort of challenge mode, due to all those targets and paths seen in various screenshots (and the boxart, for that matter). I'm also hoping there's a more relaxing mode where you can just fly around and check out the sights, much like in Wii Sports. Pilotwings Resort is one of the better launch titles in my eyes, and one that has the potential to make the best use of the 3D effects. Now, let's move on to my second pick...

Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition
That's a hefty title. So, Super Street Fighter IV 3D has been one of the most anticipated 3DS games, and one that's clearly had a lot of work put into it. How couldn't it? It is a launch title. Despite essentially being a remake, SSFIV boasts many new features, mostly to do with the networking elements of the 3DS. The StreePass functionality involves the player winning trophies by winning proper in-game battles. The trophies will be added to an inventory, where you'll find that they have various stats. Here's where the cool bit comes in - When you walk around with your 3DS in sleep mode on da streets (innit), your figures will fight any other figures you come across on other people's 3DS systems. When you open up your 3DS later on, you'll find that you've just kicked some guy's head in without actually needing to do anything. Pretty awesome, no? Of course, this is Street Fighter so the main thing is the actual fighting. Luckily, the game features a full-scale online multiplayer mode, where you can set up fights with your friends or strangers, and even spectate and bet in-game currency on occurring battles. Capcom have promised lag-free gameplay with their game, so let's hope they've stuck to that promise. On top of all this, there's obviously the main game and all the various modes packed into that. One ever so slightly unfortunate thing about SSFIV3D is the fact that the character roster hasn't changed at all since the game was released on consoles last year. Yes, there's still a massive set of fighters to choose from, but it would've been nice to see some Nintendo-exclusive characters in the game. Still, with all the other features and the fact that this will be the first time we'll be able to play Super Street Fighter IV on the go, this game is definitely one of the very best launch titles. Of every game available on day one of the 3DS's launch, this is my number one pick at the moment.

Ridge Racer 3D
If there was one genre of titles that Nintendo's previous generation of handhelds lacked, it was racing games. Yes, there was Mario Kart DS, but aside from that, there weren't really any triple-A racers on the system. This was probably because of the graphical limitations of the DS, but now that the graphically superior 3DS is coming up, racing games will be a lot easier to make. In fact, we're getting one on the 3DS's launch date. What is this mystery game? It's RIIIIIIDDDGGEEEEEE RACCCEEEEERRR!!! Okay, silly memes aside, Ridge Racer 3D looks excellent. It's by no means a realistic driving simulator like Gran Turismo, but instead a crazy arcade-racer featuring ridiculous drifts and silly modified cars. Many games journalists had a chance to check out the game recently, and judging by their first impressions it's really, really solid. In hindsight it's your bog-standard racing game, complete with a wide selection of cars and tracks. However, where the game really looks to shine is sheer craziness of it. Cars go ridiculously fast, and the drifting looks insane. The strategy element in Ridge Racer 3D comes in the form of the boost gauge. Three small tanks are seen in the bottom-left corner of the screen, and these are filled up by performing various daring stunts. These range from driving in another car's slipstream, performing drifts or staying in the air for a long time after a jump. When a tank is filled, you can activate nitrous which makes your already fast car go even faster. We've seen this sort of thing in racing games before, but not more recently. It all reminds me of the original Burnout games, which is definitely no bad thing. Ridge Racer 3D also includes an online mode, where you can race against several other players and even take a photo of your face (or just something random) to slap on your profile, which is a nice touch. Ridge Racer 3D looks great, and it could be the first excellent racing game on a Nintendo handheld that doesn't include flying shells.

So there you have it. My three personal highlights of the Nintendo 3DS launch day line-up. I hope you enjoyed this slightly shorter feature! There's still a lot more to come this month...

Saturday, 5 February 2011

REVIEW: GoldenEye 007

GoldenEye 007
[Wii] [Activision/Eurocom]
When the original GoldenEye hit the Nintendo 64 back in '97 it wowed thousands of gamers. Being one of the original 3D first-person shooters, it was a highly exciting title to play and remains one of the greatest games ever to this day, treasured in the minds of many people. It was and still is a true classic. So what happens when a brand-new GoldenEye title for Wii is unveiled at 2010's E3 conference? People get excited, but also a little sceptical. For starters, the original game was developed by Rare, a games developer who are now owned by Microsoft, making the possibility of a true GoldenEye remake for a Nintendo system slim. The development for the Wii version was instead handled by Eurocom, the same guys who made the fairly rubbish Quantum of Solace game, making gamers even more sceptical. On top of all this, the game was released at more or less the same time as Call of Duty: Black Ops, a game that would undeniably sell billions for no apparent reason, giving anyone an excuse to ignore GoldenEye. Gamers had a very good reason to be so worried about the game. It's a sheer wonder then, that GoldenEye 007 is a truly brilliant title. When it was released last year it was a surprise hit amongst many gamers, and many claimed that it reached the dizzy heights of the N64 original. I picked up GoldenEye last month and after completing it several weeks later, I can safetly say that I loved every minute of it. It was so good, in fact, that I decided to review it.

When it comes to level design, the Dam stage is easily the most reminiscent of the original game.
I'll start by saying that the production values in GoldenEye 007 are truly incredible. The game boasts the sort of production team that would work on a proper Bond film. For example, Daniel Craig stars as Bond and provides full voice acting for the character, as well as Dame Judy Dench and others providing voices for their parts. The game's opening level features a proper James Bond intro, complete with some famous lady singing the GoldenEye theme over the footage. The guys at MGM who wrote the original GoldenEye have re-written the story for the GoldenEye remake, too. These sorts of things aren't really what you'd expect from what is essentially a movie tie-in (even though the GoldenEye film came out years ago). All this professionalism is a unique plus-point for GoldenEye 007, but of course, this is a game. So, does the gameplay live up to the production values? The answer to that question is a simple "it definitely does..."

The N64 release of GoldenEye was a first-person shooter, and the Wii remake is no different. Only this time, they've taken several elements from the original and cranked them up to make the new game actually feel 'new'. Despite the fact that this is a remake, Eurocom have tried their very best to make it feel like a brand-new experience, while still hinting at many of the original's themes. Like I mentioned earlier, the story has been completely re-written to suit the less cheesy Daniel Craig version of Bond. This means that you won't really expect what's going to happen next as the story feels more fresh. However, the game does feature many returning levels, even though they mostly differ in design. Some good examples of this are the Dam and Tank levels - They use the same blueprints but are recreated to be more suited to the newer game. Many annoying aspects of the original have been ditched too, such as those annoying sections where you had to protect someone who would keep yapping on for ages, or the endlessly re-spawning enemies. The exclusions seem to have worked out for the better.

The Smartphone helps mix things up a bit. You can even hack turrets to do your bidding!
The FPS gameplay of GoldenEye 007 is fairly standard. You use whatever controller you wish (there are several options, including Classic Controller and Gamecube Controller support) to aim an on-screen reticule and shoot. However, there are some differences that make the game feel unique compared to other shooters. On many levels you have the freedom to use stealth to take out your enemies silently without getting spotted, or engage in a huge gunfight with them. I found the stealth elements really fun, as there's a superb feeling of satisfaction when you sneak up to a soldier and silently knock them out with a melee take-down. Several levels also have multiple paths and secret areas, which add to the replay-value. Your second playthrough of GoldenEye could be slightly different from your first if you want it to be. Another nice addition is James' Smart Phone. This gadget can be used to hack wifi nodes, which allow you to make enemy gun turrets your own, or erase security footage in secondary objectives. It's a neat idea that is well implemented, although it could be put to more use. Each level of GoldenEye sees you playing as Bond, in an attempt to complete several primary objectives (or secondary ones too if you're playing on a higher difficulty). You could be planting charges on fuel tanks in the Facility level, or finding someone in a nightclub. Speaking of the levels, most of them are very well-designed. My favourites were one were you had to infiltrate a Siberian warzone, and another where you made your way through a nightclub turned battlefield, complete with excellent music from Deadmou5 (another aspect that proves how amazing the production values were).

GoldenEye 007 also features a great and varied multiplayer mode, featuring both online and offline play. Less and less games are featuring split-screen gameplay these days, so it's nice to have that back. Of course, how couldn't you? This is GoldenEye, after all. I've played quite a few games of split-screen with my brother, and overall it's pretty good. It's by no means the best multiplayer FPS ever (that title would go to TimeSplitters 3) but it is fairly enjoyable. There's a decent selection of maps and many characters to choose from, including classic Bond villains like Jaws and Oddjob. However, the amount of different game modes in split-screen multiplayer was weak. Essentially, there is only two game modes to choose from, even though one of them is the iconic Golden Gun mode. This is ridiculous, as I know for a fact that there are lots more in the online mode. Why didn't they let us play them in local multiplayer? Did they forget or something? Speaking of online, I unfortunately haven't had a chance to try it out yet as I rarely get wifi access. However, I have heard good things about it. It's got a proper XP system and tons of game modes and customisations for your persona to unlock. I can't wait to try it out, but for now I can only say it's looks really good from what I've seen.

On top of the excellent campaign, GoldenEye 007 offers both split-screen and online multiplayer.
This paragraph is pretty much going to be dedicated to my complaints about GoldenEye 007, so prepare for some ranty writing. I've already mentioned the split-screen multiplayer's lack of modes and bots, so I won't go any further into that. Instead, I think I should write about the game's biggest problem: The INSANE difficulty. Okay, so playing through the game on the lowest difficulty is fine, and even if you move up a few levels it's still a fair challenge. However, there's two modes that annoy me. Those would be the Time Trial and 007 Classic options. The concept of 007 Classic is pretty cool, you play it just like the original GoldenEye, with that game's health system. However, the enemy AI is boosted to impossible levels, and you have to tackle all of the secondary objectives! The Time Trials mode seems like it's just been thrown in at the last minute. You try to beat a level under a certain time limit, but the time runs through the cutscenes! Now that's lazy. They're also painfully difficult. I'd go as far as saying that these two modes are harder than Sin and Punishment 2 on the hardest difficulty!!! Now that's ridiculous in every sense of the word. Despite all this, I don't really have any other complaints with GoldenEye 007, and these issues don't really break the game at all -  You don't have to do them.

Overall, GoldenEye 007 is an excellent game. It's the best first-person shooter on the Wii, for that matter. Despite the few annoying flaws I addressed in the last few paragraphs, I still really enjoyed the story, ridiculously high production values and brilliant gameplay mechanics that GoldenEye shows off. It's not as charming as other games, but if you're a fan of FPS games then pick this title up without hesitation. The game has some competition coming up in the form of Conduit 2, but for now you really can't get better than this.