Tuesday, 22 March 2011

REVIEW: Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga
[Game Boy Advance] [Alphadream]
Mario and his many chums, foes and everyone in-between have made appearences in literally hundreds of Mario spin-off titles over the years. From sports games, the Mario Kart series, even Mario Picross. The pesky plumber's also appeared in several RPG titles over the years, three separate series' to be precise. The first was the Square-developed Super Mario RPG for the SNES, a game that never saw release outside the states until it hit the Virtual Console a few years ago. Second was the N64 bash at a Mario RPG known as Paper Mario, which spawned two sequels and an upcoming 3DS game. The third RPG series is quite possibly the best, known simply as Mario and Luigi. And what better way to celebrate the upcoming Mario 3DS titles than to review the first game in the series; Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga for the Game Boy Advance.

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga borrows many ideas from the previous Mario RPG titles, but implements them into a clever system of co-operation. It's called Mario and Luigi for a reason you know, because throughout the entire game Mario and his not so far behind brother are working together. No characters other than the two plumbers will join your 'party' in battle, and more often than not you'll be mixing each others' skills to solve puzzles in the overworld and battle your enemies. Speaking of which, throughout the game the two plumbers will unlock different abilities that can be used in the overworld or in battle, some of which are slightly varied for each plumber (Mario gains fire abilities while Luigi is granted lightning abilities) while others stay the same (both brothers can equip the same hammers). By a simple press of the L and R buttons, you can switch between Mario and Luigi's abilities at any time and use them to solve puzzles which open up new areas in the overworld and dungeons. The abilities you unlock are quite a bit like Zelda's items in that you can use them to open up previously inaccessible areas.

The abilities you unlock also come into play whilst battling enemies in Superstar Saga. The battle system is turn-based but is made pretty unique thanks to the special moves known as Bros. Attacks. These moves require you to press the A button when Mario performs an action and the B button when Luigi performs an action in a sort of quicktime event sequence. These moves are tricky to master, but once you've got the hang of them and use them a lot they'll gain an 'Advanced' version which allows a slight variation of the Bros. Attack that proves to be more powerful (and difficult to perform) than the regular ones. You can also make your Bros. Attacks easier to perform at the cost of more Bros. Points (MP). The co-operation aspect of Mario and Luigi makes the series different from its counterparts, as does the humour.

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga is easily one of the funniest games ever released, with the two sequels apparently even more hilarious (I ain't played them yet, so I'm yet to find out). Sure, the Mario RPG and Paper Mario games have their fair share of funny moments but nowhere near as many as the Mario and Luigi titles. This is mostly due to Fawful, the main baddie's right hand man in the game. This crazy character spits out some ridiculously silly dialogue every time you see him, kinda like Vince Noir or Howard Moon of Mighty Boosh fame, except ten times more insane. Some people won't find Fawful funny at all, much like the two stand-up comedians I just mentioned. It takes a certain sense of humour to take in and snigger at, but when you do find it funny - It is pretty damn funny. Take this quote as an example: "I am the great Cackletta's most best pupil, who is named Fawful! I am here, laughing at you! If you are giving us the chase, just to get your silly princess's voice, then you are idiots of foolishness! Princess Peach's sweet voice will soon be the bread that makes the sandwich of Cackletta's desires! And this battle shall be the delicious mustard on that bread! The mustard of your doom!"
The mustard of your doom indeed, Fawful.

The basic plot of Superstar Saga involves a mysterious character and her right-hand (Fawful) stealing Princess Peach's sweet voice and replacing it with bombs for a more than evil cause. You really couldn't make it up, but somehow the developers have. Mario and Luigi team up with Bowser to chase after their new foe, who turns out to be a resident of the Beanbean Kingdom where the whole game takes place. Beanbean is exactly what it says on the tin, a world inhabited by talking beans, much like the Mushroom Kingdom is for talking mushrooms. Throughout their adventure the Mario Brothers will meet various wacky Beanbean inhabitants to help them on their quest, much like in most other RPGs. Later on the plot thickens and turns in to a surprisingly epic and extremely fun outing, but spoilers are pretty much non-existent here on my Blog! Go spoil the ending somewhere else...

In short, Mario and Luigi is one of the funniest RPGs ever released, and currently my favourite Game Boy Advance game. The co-operation aspects mix the game up enough to make it original and different from the other Mario RPG titles, and the game also includes a pretty pumpin' soundtrack to add another layer of awesome to Superstar Saga (the final boss theme is particularly awesome). And so, I give this game a respectable 90%.


(Apologies if this review seemed a little low in comparison to my others, I kinda had to rush it before the 3DS comes out!)

Friday, 11 March 2011

Update: Upcoming Posts and the Nintendo 3DS Launch!

Well whaddya know, it's another update. Haven't done one of these in a few months. Anyway, this is once again basically just another post to keep you up to date with what's coming up post-wise. I've got multiple exciting reviews and features coming up, and even more excitingly several things on the 3DS. Yup, I've got my pre-order in, along with a copy of SSFIV3DE (which is apparently a limited edition one with a lenticular cover!). So, without further time wasting let's begin with what I'll be writing about over these next few months...

Upcoming Posts
So, now that my No More Heroes 2 review is over you're probably wondering what I've got in the works reviews-wise. Well, I'm going to try and stray away from Wii games for a little while and concentrate on GBA and GameCube titles, before moving on to a review of Capcom's legendary thrillride that is Resident Evil 4. Before all that though, I'll be doing a review of Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga for the GBA this month, and a review of the extremely difficult but equally awesome F-Zero GX for the GameCube next month. Definitely something to look forward to. On top of that, I'll try to get in another review next month too. Namely, SSFIV3DE - The game I'm getting along with my shiny new 3DS. In the features department I have one or two posts planned, and something rather large. However, that won't be coming for a few months so I'll leave you to guess what it is. All I'm saying for now is that it's No More Heroes-related. Now, moving on to the 3DS-related posts I'll be working on...

Nintendo 3DS Launch! 
Like I've already mentioned several times in this review, I've finally pre-ordered a 3DS along with my number one pick of the launch titles - Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition. As we all know, the console's out here in the UK on the 25th of March, which happens to be the month we're ploughing through at the time of writing. So, I'll undeniably have a first impressions post up on both the console and Street Fighter up a few days after I've played around with them. Later on down the line, I'll be doing a full review of the console which should be pretty damn exciting as it's my very first console review. Finally, I'll be working on a 3DS feature next month, but once again I'm not giving away the details for that just yet...

I hope you're looking forward to these awesome posts I've got coming up, happy reading! 

Friday, 4 March 2011

Iwata Keynote 2011 Round-up - A New Skyward Sword Trailer and Super Mario 3D!

Yesterday Nintendo president Satoru Iwata held a presentation at the GDC (Game Developer's Conference) which involved several massive pieces of news which I really couldn't avoid sticking in a blog post. If you're a Nintendo fan who's been living under a rock (over-used phrase for the win!) for the past few days, prepare to be excited. Why? Because three things we've been waiting for are finally here: A shimmering-new trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and the announcement of a new 'main' Mario game in development for the Nintendo 3DS. Alongside this, Nintendo also revealed The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D's release date, as well as a bunch of new screenshots. The game's set for release in June, which is pretty awesome! Anyway, let's discuss the two biggest announcements of the keynote...

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Trailer!
The thing I found most exciting about the keynote yesterday was undeniably the new trailer for Skyward Sword, the next Zelda game for the Wii. The trailer showed-off a ton of new gameplay elements, mini-games, bosses and a mysterious new male character who appears to be the same species as the character shown in the original 'Zelda Wii' art we saw at E3 2009. One of the most notable things about the trailer is the fact that the graphics have clearly under-gone a ton of polish since we last saw the game at E3. The same art-style is still kept intact, but everything just looks a hell of a lot cooler. The main focus of this trailer was showing off the gameplay rather than the story aspects of Skyward Sword, which is a little unfortunate but certainly better than nothing. So, what's new? Well, the trailer itself involved many locales, including an outdoor forest area and some fire and ice sections, all of which look brilliant. Some exciting new uses of the MotionPlus unit have also been shown, such as a bamboo-chopping minigame and balancing on a tightrope, as well as some brilliant combat techniques. While fighting certain enemies, you'll have to pay attention to their appearance and where they are holding their various forms of sheilds. If you swing the Wiimote in the correct motion, then you're guaranteed a hit. It's a clever idea that, while shown off a bit way back at E3 2010, is now much better implemented. The bosses revealed in the new trailer were pretty awesome, including a four-armed Stallord (skeleton) and a massive statue-like boss armed with various weapons, which is notably much bigger than Link hinting at more epic battles in this installment.

Meet Link's newest nemesis! Or not. I can't really confirm anything!
Now for some insane speculation, and exciting stuff that you may have missed in the trailer. First off, the head of the character shown in the Zelda Wii artwork is seen mapped to the D-pad, as well as a harp very similar to that owned by Sheik from Ocarina of Time, which is extremely speculative and interesting considering this is a prequel to that title. Anywho, Link's apparent partner will probably behave like Midna from Twilight Princess, dropping hints if you're stuck and maybe warping you from area to area. Link's also armed with a new sword in the trailer, as well as a new item that doesn't really look like anything you could relate to in past Zeldas. It is only seen equipped on Link, and not actually used so we don't really know much about this new item yet. What could it be? Finally, I reckon I should mention the new figure shown in the trailer before wrapping this bit up and talking about Mario. Towards the end of the trailer a white skinned, male character appear. He is seen sitting above one of the bosses, sporting a cape and a slightly evil grin. Right at the end of the video, the character clicks his fingers and coolly disappears in a flurry of squares. Perhaps this is Skyward Sword's main antagonist? Who knows... Anyway, that's all on the game for now. Admittedly I got much speculation from this page, which showed a brilliant analysis of the trailer (the trailer itself can be watched there too). Right, now on to Super Mario 3D...

Super Mario 3D Announcement!
The Legend of Zelda wasn't the only series to get a slice of the cake at the keynote. Nintendo's main man Mario also jumped in and scoffed up a large slice by appearing in a few screenshots for a brand new Mario game for the 3DS. There isn't a title at the moment, just a logo saying 'Super Mario', although for some reason the logo has a tail sticking out of the right-side. Could this mean the return of the legendary Raccoon Suit from Mario 3? Well, I've got more retro-related speculation for the new Mario game, but first let's take a look at the four screenshots that were shown. Take a look...

If you take a look at the four screenshots that were revealed at the keynote, you'll notice in one of them that there's Mario in his smaller form. If you're a more knowledgeable Mario fan then you'll most probably have figured out that the bottom-left screenshot looks a lot like World 1-1 from the original Super Mario Bros., but in glorious polygonic form. The top-left screen looks a hell of a lot like Thowmp's Fortress from Mario 64 too. You'd be right to assume these things, as Satoru Iwata dropped a hint that we'll be finding out more about these references at E3 2011. So, I reckon they've decided to do a 'greatest hits' collection of sorts by recreating classic Mario stages in 3D from multiple games, with some of the new elements from the 3D games incorporated (can you spot the Comet Medal in the bottom-right screenshot?). It'd be pretty damn awesome if they did do this, despite the fact that Mario ain't celebrating any anniversaries this year.

So, there's my roundup of the two biggest announcements from Iwata's Keynote at the GDC. Like I mentioned earlier, we can expect a full reveal of Super Mario 3D at this year's E3 conference. Until then, I'll probably be playing my 3DS in anticipation, something extremely exciting in itself. That's right, I've saved up enough pennies (and notes for that matter) to pre-order a blue 3DS, along with Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition. You can expect my first impressions of both the console and my game later on in the month! For now, bye bye.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

First Impressions: Ōkami

Recently, I've been wanting to get my hands on a huge adventure game for my Wii. Something on the scale of Zelda, but not one I've already played. Well, it turns out I've found that game. That game is Ōkami. Ōkami was originally a Playstation 2 title, but despite its excellent feedback it had next to no sales. The game implemented an innovative 'Celestial Brush' system, which involved the player drawing various symbols to solve puzzles and use different brush techniques. It was a good idea in theory, but drawing with the PS2's analogue stick didn't make it easy. So, when the Wii was released several years later the developers of Ōkami decided to give the game a second chance. With Nintendo's new Console's innovative control scheme, the Celestial Brush would be made much easier, and hopefully the game would be opened up to a wider audience. It was definitely a good idea to move the game to the Wii, because Ōkami really is better suited to a Nintendo console.

So, what's Ōkami all about? Well, it's a Zelda-like adventure in which you play as the female Wolf incarnation of the Japanese Sun God who goes by the complex name of Amaterasu. The story in its most basic form can be explained like this: Amaterasu (or Ammy for short) has teamed up with a glowing bug-like creature called Issun and is on a mission to save Nippon, the fictional country where the game's setting takes place. Ammy and Issun need to cure cursed zones around Nippon in order to bring peace back to the various villages, forests and fields you'll visit. Sound basic? Not even close. Ōkami's story is a brilliantly complicated tale featuring hundreds of zany characters and an epic back-story that sets the scene for Amaterasu's adventure. I've explained it in a very basic form for the obvious reason - This is just a First Impressions post. When the inevitable review comes along I'll explain Ōkami's story in more detail, but for now let's discuss the gameplay.

Like I previously mentioned, Ōkami is a lot like Nintendo's Legend of Zelda games. In the game, you do essentially visit dungeons and fight bosses, but the sections inbetween these dungeons are a lot more epic in scale. There's an absolute ton of side quests in Ōkami, each of which will earn you Praise Points. This is where Ōkami comes into its own, as an original title. You see, the Praise Points are essentially a basic form of Experience points. You use your obtained Praise to upgrade Amaterasu's stats so she can perform better while the story unfolds. Praise is earned by pretty much improving the game's locales, therefore leading in Ammy getting praised. If there's a cursed spot, you simply fill it in with flowers using the Celestial Brush earning you Praise Points. If there's some animals lurking about, you can feed them various foodstuffs such as meat and seeds in order to earn their Praise. It's a very clever way of earning experience, rather than just leveling up after battles. Speaking of the battles, Ōkami's battle system is a very intuitive one. You can implement your Celestial Brush techniques into your various encounters with demons to perform much better in fights, rather than just waggling the Wii Remote to simply bite your opponents. There's also many other aspects to be discussed about Ōkami's battle system, but I'll save them for the review.

Ōkami is one awesome game. I'm seven hours in and I've only finished the second dungeon, an impressive feat that no Zelda game has ever accomplished. It's probably because I've spent so much time trying to fill up my Bestiaries and taking part in the addictive side-quests to upgrade the chalk-white wolf. I have a feeling that Ōkami is going to take a very long time to beat, but when I do finish it expect a review. For now, all I can say is this: If Ōkami was a Zelda game, it would be one of the very best.