Thursday, 18 August 2011

First Impressions: Monster Hunter Tri

Donkey Kong Country Returns, the game I reviewed a few days ago, isn't the only title I certainly shouldn't have missed out on when it was first released back in 2010. There is in fact another Wii game I arrived late on the scene in picking up quite recently, and that game is the epic Monster Hunter Tri, the third game in the monster hunting series to appear on a home console (unless you count the Japan-exclusive Monster Hunter G). In its native homeland the Monster Hunter franchise is extremely popular, but not so much here in the UK or in any other English-speaking countries for that matter. Well, Capcom eventually wanted to change that fact and teamed up with Nintendo to bring the series to the Wii with Monster Hunter's third iteration (excluding G). As it turned out, Nintendo's campaigns to promote the game actually worked, and Monster Hunter Tri sold a lot more than the previous games in the series. Despite this, I didn't pick up the game until recently, and in case you haven't figured out from the title of this post, today I'll be sharing my first impressions of this beast-smashing epic. So far, I love this title to bits, and in about five-hundred words of positive reactions, here's why...

The famous jingle that plays when cooking monster meat is catchy, and quite frankly hilarious. SO TASTY!!!
Despite Monster Hunter's ridiculous unpopularity, I actually happen to own a copy of the original game on PS2 which I loved back in the day. There really wasn't anything more joyous than battering beasts into submission with gargantuan swords, then carving up their remains and using these body parts and insides to create new weaponry and armour. Well, with Monster Hunter Tri it turns out that not a lot has changed since the original title. In fact, the Monster Hunter franchise essentially feels a lot like the Pokemon franchise, meaning that each title in the series takes place in a new location but uses the same engine and concept, expanding on the gameplay and visuals just a teensy bit with each installment. This isn't a problem however, as Monster Hunter Tri is still brilliant and is vastly superior when compared to the original PS2 game. For those who aren't in the know, the main meat of Monster Hunter is based around hunting huge dinosaur-like beasts and fulfilling other tasks across a variety of locations to boost your custom character's ego and ultimately finish each and every quest. The tasks you partake in range from hunting a number of smaller and more common beasts, to delivering items in fetch quests and battering massive monsters in the larger-scale quests. Outside of the various hunting grounds you'll be running around the hub world, which is in this case a small fishing village, purchasing items to help you out on quests, dining to boost your stats if you need a helping hand and doing various other things to help out the village. The Monster Hunter games are solely focused on questing and crafting armor and weaponry so there's pretty much no story whatsoever. However, in Tri there is some form of plot going on in the single player mode, based around the attacks your fishing village has been receiving from the massive, vicious sea monster known as Lagiacrus. In order to repel this monster, it's up to you to keep on hunting, gaining materials to craft new items that will in turn increase your stats and eventually grant you the ability to fight Lagiacrus with suitable equipment. And trust me, it's going to take a lot of work.

The deafening roar of large beasts can stun your character if you're not careful.
The joys of Monster Hunter Tri refuse to end just at single player though, as the series has offered brilliant multiplayer experiences in the past with this installment being no different. The online mode is essentially a completely different adventure, offering many new quests to participate in alongside up to three other hunters, as well as a completely different hub world and the opportunity to take part in online-exclusive events. These 'Event Quests' change from week to week, and while new ones aren't added any longer (this game is almost a year old now, after all) they're still great fun. Hunting with other players is practically lag-free, which is an impressive feat since a number of huge beasts can be found on a single map area at once on odd occasions. Capcom and Nintendo also ditched the annoying Friend Code system for Tri, allowing players to add each other simply by searching their name and sending a friend request. Wii Speak mic chat is also supported when playing with friends, as is the ability to plug in a USB keyboard to chat. It's safe to say that Monster Hunter Tri offers what is quite possibly the most robust and easy to use online multiplayer of any Wii title, which is no small feat.

As this is a First Impressions post, I won't go into too much detail over how brilliant this game is, instead saving all that lovely stuff for the inevitable review. Until then, all I can really say is to buy this game and enjoy the excellent beast-smashing experience that is on offer with Monster Hunter Tri. On a quick side note, progress on my blog's re-design is running very smoothly if anyone's wondering. I've basically just got to put together the graphics and sort out what size everything should be, eventually resulting in an infinitely more awesome site. Look forward to it!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

REVIEW: Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong Country Returns
[Wii] [Retro Studios]
Today I'll be reviewing one of last year's greatest hits on the Wii - An amazing platformer that I shockingly missed out on when it was released many, many moons ago. A classic game that I finally picked up (or borrowed off my friend, rather) about a month ago, and what is quite possibly one of the greatest games on the Wii and of its genre. I'm talking of course, about Super Mario Ga... Wait, Donkey Kong Country Returns! Phew, that was a close one. Anyway, I'm pretty ashamed to admit that I didn't even get this game when I should have back when it was released late 2010, because it's one brilliant title that any Wii owner shouldn't miss out on. Donkey Kong's fantastic return was revealed back at Nintendo's E3 2010 conference just over a year ago as a part of the biggest name in gaming's stunning range of retro revivals, which also included GoldenEye's Wii iteration and Kirby's Epic Yarn among many others. Of course, out of all the revived Nintendo heroes that came out of last year's big E3 conference, Donkey Kong was one that hadn't been in the glorious spotlight for quite a long amount of time. Sure, we've seen plenty of re-released DK classics over the past few years and we've also seen a number of spin-offs, yet the big ape just hasn't starred in a truly excellent game since Donkey Kong 64 and the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the SNES. Thanks to one of Nintendo's number one developers however, Donkey Kong Country made a spectacular 'Return' on Wii last year and the game still stands as one of the very best titles you can pick up on the platform, and I really can't see that statement changing anytime soon.

Retro Studios, the same lovely folks who developed the epic Metroid Prime trilogy and are currently working on Mario Kart 7 for 3DS took charge of the Donkey Kong Country Returns project. It wasn't long before E3 2010 where the game was first revealed to the shock of hundreds of gamers when Retro stated that Nintendo asked them to work on a new Donkey Kong title. Well, all I can say is it seems that the big N picked the perfect developer to work on the hairy ape's retro revival. They don't call them 'Retro' Studios for nothing, you know - These guys did revive the potentially dead Metroid franchise with Prime, of course. As I mentioned, Donkey Kong hadn't really seen a true full-on adventure since the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy which was developed by the now Microsoft-owned and long dead Rare for the SNES. This trilogy was received extremely well by fans back in the day, offering the first true experience that starred Donkey Kong as the main ape in a full-on platformer after doing very little other than trying to stop Mario by chucking barrels all over the place in his previous arcade games. Not only were these games critically acclaimed for their excellent platforming antics, but they were also some of the first games to make use of a polygon rendering technique that made sprites appear 3D, somewhat of a revolutionary breakthrough in graphics. Back then Donkey Kong Country was actually in some ways a revival for Nintendo's number one hairy ape, just as the Retro-developed Donkey Kong Country Returns is today. Returns borrows many ideas from the previous three titles, only with the addition of Retro Studios' charm and excellent game development skills mixed in which in fact make the Wii title the very best of the lot, in my opinion at least. Why is this you ask? Well, read on and I'll explain...

A load of stuff happens in the foreground and background to the extent where I reckon this was originally a 3DS game. Just some ridiculous speculation!
When you first start up Donkey Kong Country Returns you'll be treated to a full CGI animation which serves it's purpose as an opener to the game's slightly ridiculous plot. A meteor hits the Volcano located in the centre of DK Island, Donkey Kong and co's tropical home and the setting of the game. Suddenly, a bunch of Tiki guys burst out of the Volcano and steal Donkey Kong's gargantuan banana stash by using hypnotic powers on the animals of the island. When a Tiki dude reaches Donkey Kong's hut, he tries to hypnotise the big ape but unfortunately for the little wooden menace (here's my theory anyway) Donkey Kong is far too stupid to be hyponotised. I don't know. Anyway, after the protagonist's perpetrator gets battered to death and flung out of the ape's hut, Donkey and Diddy Kong set out to retrieve their stolen banana stash and take an awesome platforming trip around DK Island in the process. Of course, the plot doesn't really matter in this sort of game, it's all about the gameplay. Luckily, Donkey Kong Country Returns offers an awesome experience and then some thanks to Retro Studios. The basic premise of Donkey Kong Country Returns is similar to that of the 2D Mario platformers, which would mean you have to get from one side of a stage to another, taking down enemies and avoiding nasty falls and other traps along the way. What makes Donkey Kong Country Returns different however is the huge amount of collectibles that can be found in each stage, in a nod to the original trilogy. The KONG letters are four objects that are almost always in plain sight, but you'll need to take some tricky risks in order to reach them. The Puzzle Pieces however are always hidden away in secret areas and are very tricky to find. Find all of these collectibles and... Well, that would be telling. Let's just say if you're an OCD collectible maniac you'll love this game if only for this aspect. Other secrets and stuff can be unlocked throughout this adventure, such as secret levels, extra modes that mix things up a bit and loads of other stuff.

The Sunset Shore stage is beautiful and original, as are various other stages later on that make use of the same clever effects.
What sets Donkey Kong Country Returns aside from other 2D platformers is just how charming it is. Character and enemy models are beautifully designed and fluidly animated, and the great art style seen in each and every part of the game just leaks colour and originality. Where the art style really shines however is in the few levels where everything is a sillouette (see above) in the foreground moving around beneath a setting sun in the background. It's lovely, and it shows that you don't need fancy graphics to make a good looking game. The music is also superb, and is strangely similar to the Metroid Prime sountracks at times. Donkey Kong Country Returns' various compositions are made up of re-hashed mixes of classic tunes and some brand new tracks that are just as atmospheric and jazzy as all the old stuff. So far so good with the music and art design, but what about the actual gameplay? Quite frankly, Donkey Kong's Wii outing is one of the best modern platformers around. Unlike a certain New Super Mario Bros. Wii, DK's 2D revival doesn't make use of lazy tile-based levels and instead is built from the ground up, offering something brand new in almost every single level, much like what Super Mario Galaxy 2 did to 3D platformers in the same year. In some levels you'll be avoiding traps to the beat of the background music, and in others you'll avoiding nasty gunk that slows down movement when touched. It's safe to say that the game never really gets boring throughout its eight worlds. Each of the worlds located around DK Island takes place in a vastly different area; From DK's lush jungle home all the way through the likes of a crab-pirate infested beach and a mineshaft filled cave to a ridiculously mechanical factory and the extremely deadly Volcano world. This varied selection is another thing that makes DKCR so special.

There are a ton of easter eggs in Donkey Kong Country Returns. Just check out the tie on this statue - It's the same one that an ex-Donkey Kong Arcade record holder wore.
Oh, and speaking of extremely deadly stuff, Donkey Kong's Wii outing dishes out some very extreme difficulty from as early as the second world. Trust me, however skillful you are a 2D platformers, you will die an uncountable number of times throughout this game. If you want an idea of how hard this game really is, then imagine if age ratings were based on difficulty. If they were then this would have a much higher rating than the measly 3+ it has been given. In fact, the Australian age rating for this game is a freaking zero! That's certainly something I've never seen before... Not to say that Donkey Kong Country Returns is unfairly hard at all. In fact, every time you die will be because of your own faults - Because you shouldn't have jumped onto a fast moving platform at that point or because you should've blown the flames off an enemy before bouncing off it for example. And however hard this game is, it's still very accessible thanks to the various forms of help that are available to you. After completing a few levels in each world you'll unlock Cranky Kong's shop, home to DK's slightly bonkers pops. If you wish, you can buy various helpful items using the coins you've collected throughout your adventure here, such as an item that will boost the amount of hits it takes to take down the big ape or a potion that grants temporary invincibility from enemy attacks. And if you simply can't finish a level even with these beneficial items then the next step is to activate the Super Guide, which basically finishes a level for you. Naturally, gamers like myself would stray away from using this option but for more casual players it's certainly a welcome extra, and it helps make a potentially brutal game accessible to the sort of people you'll see on the disgusting Nintendo of Europe adverts. You get the idea.

The Mine Cart sections from the original titles return in DKCR and are somehow more brutal than ever.
Donkey Kong Country Returns overall is the perfect modern-day example of a 2D platformer. The environments are lush, the character and enemy designs (not to mention the brilliant bosses) are brimming with character and the gameplay is just super charming and awesome in general. The short set-pieces in levels where you blast through barrels and other antics make levels fresh and exciting, and the fact that each level isn't made up of recycled tiles like in most other platformers simply adds to the charm factor. While it doesn't take a massive amount of time to beat the game, you'll discover that when you reach the 100% mark you've actually got another 100% worth of gameplay in the form of the extra challenges in each level, such as the Time Trials and other stuff. With this in mind, Donkey Kong Country Returns offers a solid experience, one which many other modern 2D platformers fail to grasp (and yes, I've had a go at New Super Mario Bros. quite a lot in this review, but that doesn't mean I don't like it). Oh, and I found it very difficult to point out flaws in this review, but for good reason - There really isn't anything majorly wrong with this title. Sure, it's extremely difficult and that can get annoying but help is always on your side in the form of the Super Guide and Cranky Kong's Shop. And to be honest I think the game stretches it a bit in length - After you finish every level and collect everything you've still got to go through each one again in two other modes, which to be perfectly honest aren't all that fun. Apart from these two things however, I really couldn't find any issues with Donkey Kong's excellent revival. There's a lot of things I missed out on throughout this review for the sake of getting it posted quickly such as the co-op mode, so just buy the game and discover the joys of it yourself or with a friend. Until next time, I'm out!