Sunday, 27 May 2012

Project M - The True Final Send-off for the Wii?

Today I'll be writing about something a little different. Granted, the subject of this post is still related to gaming, more specifically Nintendo gaming, but the core subject is all but official and not in ties with the company. In case you're not aware of Project M, or think I'm referring to Metroid: Other M's code-name, allow me to enlighten you: This is a new evolution of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, completely fan-made and completely legal thanks to the clever, safe method used to launch what is essentially an unlicensed modification. In fact, scratch the word evolution from that last sentence, because in essence this development of Brawl is more of a devolution, and I certainly don't mean that in a negative way. You see, the main goal of the project's group of experienced developers is not to add new stages, items and characters, but to modify them to balance Brawl into an evolution of Melee, hence the M in the title of the project. Nicknamed Melee 2.0, this interesting project is anything but a step-backwards for Smash Bros. In fact, it might just be a worthy send-off for the Wii, even after the already flabbergasting Skyward Sword.

If you read my review of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, you'll know that I and many others believe it is among the greatest Wii games of all time, and I mean that as it's highly unlikely that it will be topped what with the Wii U coming along to replace the console soon. Project M is essentially a free expansion of the title, adding new stages and alterations to the character roster to balance things out. However, the main goal of the project is to bend Brawl more in the direction of Melee, adjusting the gameplay to make it much more fast-paced, skill-based and ultimately similar to the GameCube iteration of Smash Bros. As the project's official website (found right here) clearly states, however, Project M doesn't intend to be a full 1:1 Melee clone, and instead a brand-new version of the brawling experience we know and love; One with rich, free-flowing fighting mechanics, L-canceling and all. Excited? So am I. The second demo of the mod has been released, but unfortunately it's NTSC only - In other words, currently inaccessible to those playing on a Europe-based Wii, yours truly included. Americans, eh? Those lot get everything before us. Except Xenoblade. Ha.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Ranting Time! My Thoughts on New Super Mario Bros. 2

Last week I finally got around to finishing and publishing my thoughts on Super Mario 3D Land in the form of a comprehensive review. I expressed my opinions that, while the game was highly enjoyable and boasted the same excellent presentation you find in most main Mario titles, it suffered from a severe lack of innovation, difficulty and length, even when going for 100% completion. Despite the latter two concerns, it was the borrowing of 3D Land's predecessors' elements that was the main let-down for me, but when a certain new Mario platformer heading to the 3DS this year was announced at a recent Nintendo Direct mini-conference, I flipped. If you want a poor analogy to describe my views on the pesky plumber's next handheld outing briefly, here you go: If Super Mario 3D Land was a joke, this is a very, very bad joke. Me and my analogies, eh?

Let's get one thing perfectly clear before I express the initial concerns I have with this title; I realise that we've only seen four screenshots of it, and that the game will properly be announced at this year's E3 conference. I'll also admit that the game certainly doesn't look bad. I may have bashed 3D Land for its frustrating flaws, but that didn't stop the game from being very fun to play, leading to me awarding it a respectable score of 79%. I fear that New Super Mario Bros. 2, at least judging from the four images we've seen of it, will suffer the same fate as my most recently reviewed Mario platformer, in that it looks like it's going to be another uninspired affair. Unfortunately, it seems, even moreso than the aforementioned 3DS title. Let's hark back to the history of the 2D Mario platformer, shall we? Each individual title since Super Mario Bros. on the NES revolutionised the concept and look in some way or another, with the possible exception of the up until recently Japan-exclusive we know as The Lost Levels. Doki Doki Panic makeover or not, the English version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was significantly different from the original game, and Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced so much that you'd be surprised at the fact it appeared on the NES. Super Mario World stretched out the formula of Super Mario Bros. 3 to new boundaries not possible on its previous console predecessor. New Super Mario Bros. on DS brought the 2D Mario platformer back after many years in limbo, making itself the killer app for the dinky handheld. And finally, New Super Mario Bros. Wii added multiplayer for the first time, as well as some great concepts and the best visuals ever seen in a 2D Mario game. The ridiculously named New Super Mario Bros. 2 just appears to be the DS game again, albeit with some concepts from Super Mario Bros. 3 implemented. I don't know about you, but I'm beginning to get a little sick of the Tanooki Suit...

Here's a challenge: see if you can spot anything new in this screenshot! Clue: There isn't anything new in this screenshot.
I wouldn't have as much of a problem with New Super Mario Bros. 2 if they had shown-off something brand-new at the games announcement, but alas, they didn't. Somehow, Nintendo had the cheek to unveil the game alongside four screenshots consisting of elements from New Super Mario Bros. on DS, with the addition of the Tanooki suit. It makes the 'New' in the title of the game utterly ironic, and not even in a hilarious way. Speaking of the title, why is it called New Super Mario Bros. 2? Surely they should've called it New Super Mario Bros. 3, or better yet New Super Mario Bros. 3D given it's the third in the semi-series. Just another rant-inducing gripe that the announcement imprinted into my skull. Even under close inspection there's absolutely nothing to speculate about the game so far, and while I'd be surprised if Nintendo didn't innovate in some way or another with this title (possibly with foreground-background elements like Donkey Kong Country Returns?) it's not exactly clever to unveil a game with nothing new to accompany it in the form of footage or screenshots. I would've been happier if the Big N hadn't shown any screenshots at all, at least then I'd be anticipating the game without any annoyance. Here's hoping that the obvious E3 announcement of New Super Mario Bros. 2 proves more interesting. Mario's latest platformer is coming in August on this year, which is the main reason for my rant. If a game is out in a matter of months and it seems that they don't have anything new to show of it, that's a bad sign. Regardless, we'll find out more next month...

Sunday, 13 May 2012

REVIEW: Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario. The duo-tone suited, mustachioed plumber that kick-started it all. Back in the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System in the mid-eighties, this platforming hero begun to gain popularity and eventually became a household name, granting Nintendo the clear view of making the dinky hero who truly launched the company into the realms of success, like the plumber himself advancing through a stage with the use of a novelty human-cannon, their proud mascot. Over the past 25 years, Mario has featured in quite literally countless games, a wide variety of genres and many different scenarios, with very few hiccups along the way. The main 2D titles; Super Mario Bros. and its two sequels, Super Mario World, a number of handheld iterations and more recently, the New Super Mario Bros. games have retained a feeling few other platformers have to offer, and this sustainability is mostly thanks to the fact that Nintendo rarely stray away from the roots of the franchise, with each title typically involving similar gameplay mechanics and the usual 'princess is kidnapped by giant turtle, plumber sets out to rescue her' storyline. This simplicity may have grown roots over the years, but never too many to transform Mario's main games, 2D or polygonal, into something as complex as Zelda or Metroid, at least if you forget some of the various spin-off titles, Mario role-players in particular. You should forget about those for the purpose of this review, however, because today I'll be dissecting Super Mario 3D Land, the most recently sprouted olive branch from the tree of simplicity that is the 2D Mario genealogy. This branch is one that sticks out at you more than any of the others, and it's all thanks to stereoscopic 3D, but while the game certainly holds up visually, how does it fair against its predecessors?

Despite my metaphorical description of a tree that houses the 2D Mario titles, the plumber's 3DS debut isn't strictly speaking a game that plays out on a 2D plain. In fact, as you'd expect from a platform that can handle this sort of thing, the game involves movement in all angles with full 360-degree movement being nothing but compulsory while you navigate levels, yet 3D Land has a lot more in common with the 2D classics than the more recent epics such as the Galaxy games. This is, in essence, a 2D Mario tribute that plays out on a 3D plain. The mixture of the side-scrolling games' formulaic structure and the tight controls of the polygonal releases certainly makes for a delectable experience, albeit one that isn't quite fresh - if anything, close to becoming rotten. Super Mario 3D Land isn't at all a bad game, it's just the flaw of it being all too familiar brings it down a little, and what's worse is that the gripes I and others had with the stereoscopic debut of the plumber don't end at a lack of innovation. Without trying to sound like a sceptical Mario hater, this release is far too easy, far too short and full of re-hashed ideas. With the plumber's 3DS debut, it feels like Nintendo have taken the ingredients that made past titles starring the heroic plumber so superb, and mashed them all up into one, afterwards adding a sauce that acts as the glitz of eye-popping (calm down, not literally) three-dimensional visuals. Super Mario 3D Land is without a doubt new enough to warrant a purchase, but that doesn't stop it from feeling familiar to its predecessors and unfortunately lacking in innovation.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Update: The Revolution Begins...

If you've got a pair of working eyes engraved into your visage, there's a chance you may have noticed something new here on the blog. If you haven't and incidentally are taking a peek at the sidebar, you'll see what I like to call the Reviews Index which, as described next to the link to the page, is a comprehensive guide to each and every game review I've written and published here on the blog thus far. Please take a look if you're seeking a simpler way of checking out my word-based opinions on several videogames (some of which are sadly a tad outdated, in other words naively and poorly written). I'm given the greatest pleasure to announce that this new function is only leading something of a miniature revolution for this blog that I've spent several years improving. Some of you may remember the big redesign last year, which  transformed this journalistic metaphorical abode from a bland, generic design into a personalised new one faster than you can say Get Your House in Order. Obscure references (and lies about the time it took to finish the redesign) aside, I'm currently working on finding a way of expanding the background of the current design, adding more characters and the like for extra visual flair and ultimately less boring blank space.

Also incoming is my long-unfulfilled promise of new banners, which I've mentioned many a time in past updates. With the help of a handy image randomiser tool, you'll see a different piece of artwork standing tall above my journalism, rather than the standalone Skyward Sword banner I've had as a page header for several months. With these exciting improvements out of the way, we reach the topic of incoming posts. As per usual, the promised reviews as of the last few updates are still on the way, with Super Mario 3D Land leading the charge. There's two things I can promise regarding this review, the first of which is that it's not biased in the slightest (and that isn't sarcasm) and secondly that it will undeniably be published within the next few weeks before the month ends. Also, the climax of Persona 4 is almost in my grasp, so I plan on reviewing that soon after 3D Land and possibly Mario Kart 7 are opinionated in the form of my journalism. As for new reviews, I can only confirm that I'm currently replaying The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and F-Zero GX (which, as you'll see on the review index, has previously been reviewed). I have no plans to review either anytime soon, but Ocarina of Time, being the classic that it is, is a game that one day I will have to tackle in word form. On top of all of this, everything I've promised in the past few updates is still coming in good time.

And now, we're brought to another subject: the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 as the number one gaming conference is better known as. If you're a gamer with at least a slight amount of knowledge, you should know the drill by now, but if not I'll briefly explain. E3 takes place for one week every year, and is home to some of the biggest announcements in gaming from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. It's where we first heard about Twilight Princess, Super Mario Galaxy, the Wii and 3DS, as well as many other landmark announcements, and this years conference should prove to be extra-special with the true unveiling of the Wii U, which was shown-off in a rather disappointing fashion last year. The date has been set: E3 will begin on June 5th, with the big N leading the conferences before the show floor floodgates even open, which could mean something exciting. My hopes and expectations of this year's Nintendo conference will once again be expressed in the form of a post; a Feature once again titled my predictions of this year's Nintendo E3 conference, or something along those lines. I also plan on posting my views on what is announced after it's shown-off, albeit in a slightly briefer fashion than last year. I don't want to spend another month waffling on about E3, and I'm sure you lot don't want me to either. While these posts were to be expected after the last two editions here on the blog, I hope you're anticipating reading them as much as I am writing them. And on that bombshell, it's time to end this update. Granted, I haven't announced any posts not to be expected just yet, but we'll leave that for the next update, shall we? This is me, signing off.