Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wii Micro-Reviews

Here are some reflections on titles I've played in the past year. I'll use a 5-star rating system analogous to that used by X-Play.

Mario Kart Wii (*****)

Easily my favorite Wii game, this is a raucous arcade racer with a surprising amount of depth. The tracks are colorful, varied, and each has its own little tricks that you'll need to learn if you're to compete and do well in this game. The single player Grand Prix events are good training, but it's the online play where the game really shines. The item system helps balance the odds and keep poorer players in the race. But they also help better players recover from an accident or an unlucky assault of items. I basically plateaued right around 8000 multiplayer points, and I don't think I can get better unless I get really serious. And that's where I draw the line, as this just doesn't seem like a game that one is supposed to get that serious about. :)

Super Mario Galaxy (****)

As platformers go, this has to be about as good as you'll find. Incredibly imaginative level design with a physics system that is both absurd and intuitive. It was a lot of fun, especially over the first 10 hours or so. The game's downfall, for me, was that despite the creative and highly variable level design, the game started to feel repetitive. You go on a mission, get a star, and then return to your home base. Repeat 60 some-odd times. The return to base was so anticlimactic, and the missions often so easy (to a gamer who's not much of a platformer!) that after the 25th or so star that I acquired, I really didn't feel much desire to continue onward. After all, it's not like anything interesting was going to happen in terms of the story. The level design is the heart of the game, but unfortunately it's also about all the game has going for it. For me, at least, it just wasn't quite enough. Never finished it.

The Sims 2: Castaway

It's a sims game on a deserted island. So, you start with no resources, no friends (except monkeys), etc. In other words, you have to do a fair bit of work before you can even begin to do any activities that make Sims games fun. I gave this game an evening of my time and then stuck it on a shelf. Maybe if I didn't have other games to play, I would have kept going with it. But I did have other games to play. I sold it on ebay a few weeks ago.

Super Paper Mario (****)

Despite the rpg elements, this is mostly just a platformer. And it's a good one, as I actually finished this game. The items make for a nice addition to the platforming action, with healing items to make precision a bit less important and attack items to provide some new ways to kill things. The story is barely tolerable in its absurd cutesiness and predictability, but as a (mostly) 2D platformer this was a lot of fun. Bonus points for nostalgia here--someone who didn't grow up playing Super Mario Brothers on the NES might not have the same reaction.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

This, perhaps like Galaxy, was a great game that just didn't do it for me. It's wonderfully imaginative with absolutely brilliant art and sound design, an engaging combat system that elevantes my adrenaline without being overly twitch-based, and a surprisingly compelling story. The problem, I think, is that it's so focused on puzzles. I like puzzles now and then, but I guess I'm not into platforming- or adventure-style puzzles enough to really enjoy this game. I had a good time playing this game, but I ultimately saw my progress slowed to a tremendous degree simply because it was taking so long to solve some of the puzzles. Toward the end, I found myself playing with my laptop open to a walkthrough. And that was pretty much the end of the line for me--if you're interested, I'm in the monkey dungeon after getting the wind boomerang thing. I might pick this up again, but probably not for a while.

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (***)

I thought that the gamecube Fire Emblem game (Path of Radiance) was absolutely brilliant, and played it last Fall on my Wii. Radiant Dawn still has the excellent turn-based combat system, with an interesting mix of classes and characters like we saw in PoR. But in crafting RD, I think the designers tried to get a bit too fancy. First, there are essentially three unrelated stories that take place in the game. As a result, you change party composition often, and don't get the opportunity to become as emotionally attached to your characters via cutscenes and combat as you did in prior games. Similarly, battles almost always include massive numbers of respawning enemies that will flank your team. As a result, I found the battles less immersive than in PoR--they were really just an exercise in trying to predict what the designers would do next. All of this made battles longer, more intense, and less fun than they were in PoR. It's a shame, because I really like this series and was looking forward to playing this game. I'll probably finish it someday, but for now I've put it on the back burner.

Rayman Raving Rabbids

Sort of like Super Mario Galaxy, this is one of the more creative games I've played. While essentially a long series of mini-games, the art and sound design are so brilliantly inventive (and funny) that it stays fresh in game after game. The on-rails plunger-shooting is the best part of the game, but most of the other games are a riot to play in short doses as well. My only real complaint about the game is that, despite being a collection of mini-games, it just isn't a very good party game. Most of the games (except the shooting and dancing games) can only be played by one person at a time. For this reason, we usually bust out Super Monkey Ball instead of Rayman when people are over, despite the fact that Rayman's a much more enjoyable game. Trading off the controller with my wife during the single player campaign, however, has proven to be much more enjoyable.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (***)

More than a year ago, I wrote up a full review of this game here. But the short story is that the single player game seems outrageously hard and unfun, and so the multiplayer party games is where it's at. And of the 50 or so party games, I'd estimate that at least 5 are broken beyond all repair, and another 10 are extremely not fun despite working "properly." But the other 30 work well enough, and 10 or so are extremely enjoyable. Most seem to be best-suited for 2 players, but many will allow four players to play at once. The bird flying game continues to be my personal favorite--best use of the wii-mote I've seen to date. Seriously. Overall, it's a good game to have for a party, but if you're like most of us and don't have Wii parties every weekend, you're unlikely to get much use out of this game.

Trauma Center: New Blood (***)

Neat idea here and good execution. The graphics are beautiful, clear, and are stylized to a degree that they don't bring any kind of grossness factor (to me at least). And the Wii-pointer controls are extremely well done, with a more responsive cursor than any other game I've seen thus far. The story is also engaging, with good tension provided by good ER-style voice acting. I'm not the most skilled of twitchy-type gamers, however, and I found the game to be virtually impossible to continue by about the 15th or 20th mission. The multiplayer offers the opportunity for a really neat experience with a friend on the couch and the possibility to complete the more challenging surgeries. But for it to work well in the more complicated surgeries, you'll need a partner who is as dedicated to learning to do these pretend procedures as you are. I can imagine that there are couples out there who are practiced enough that surgeries become an unspoken and well-coordinated dance--it'd be fun to watch in person. But for most of us, one party is likely to just get stuck on epinephrine duty, and that gets old fast.

Dr. Mario (***)

I'm torn about only giving this one three stars, because to be honest, this, along with Mario Kart, is the game that my wife and I have enjoyed the most. There's not much new in this version compared to prior versions. There is a new dragging-based virus buster game, but we didn't find that very fun. Basically, we just start up a traditional game and play in flash mode, which makes for shorter and more frantic games (you only have to kill 3 specific viruses, rather than clear the whole board). What makes it work so well is that we're pretty evenly matched, and with the quick games that flash mode permits, we can tear through 8 or so games in just 20 minutes. Nice way to close out a night before going to bed. Ultimately, though, while it's very good at what it does, it's "just Dr. Mario"--this is the same game that has been available for years on Nintendo consoles.

Final Fantasy Chronicles: My Life as King (**)

This game has potential and was fun for the first 5 hours or so. Graphics are nice (though rather unvaried in the stand-alone release), and the concept is interesting. But the game has a striking lack of depth, which becomes clear pretty early on. The result is that after you've built one of each of the main types of structures, and started on your way to building a productive town, the game basically succumbs to being nothing but a grind. Send out your adventurers, get your gold and mana (or whatever it's called), and ultimately build something else. I guess there's some sort of story, but I didn't last long enough to develop it much. Much has been made about the necessity of buying downloadable content, but I honestly don't think that would help much--new outfits and building types still wouldn't result in there being any kind of genuine strategy associated with this title.


Well, that's it for the Wii. Looking up, it seems as though I actually have gotten a fair bit of gaming in over this past year. But of all of those games, I only completed ... well, I'd probably say that I've only really "completed" Mario Kart. And even then, there are a few mirror races that I haven't finished yet, as I usually just play multiplayer. My gaming sessions these days tend to be short, and so with little sense of progress in titles I seem to lose interest. ...

I think it's also the case that I've been playing out of genre for the past year. My love is and always will be in rpg's, and that's where I intend to return now that I have the xbox...

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