Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze

Date Completed: February 19, 2017

I had this one sitting on the shelf for a long, long time.  I really enjoyed ‘Donkey Kong Country Returns’ and I was still hoping the Wii U would catch on when this game was announced so I was excited.  It too me a long time to get around to it and I ended up disappointed.  The level design didn’t really click with me like the previous game.  It’s not a bad game but it’s not great.  I was ready to move on when I was done.

  • Is it fun: Yes
  • Score: 6/10
  • Length:  ~12 hours
  • System: Nintendo Wii U
  • Genre: Action / Platform
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The Legend of Zelda : Twilight Princess

81c9da0f-07e4-45fd-a7b2-e7a98b77c1a1_1-e14cbcb4ecd1f43c9b74f04410c4d2c6Date Completed : October 24, 2016

I had been thinking about re-playing Twilight Princess and then BOOM! HD remake!  What wonderful timing!  I think Nintendo has implanted some sort of eavesdropping device in my brain so they can always provide me with what I want, when I want it.  Either that or they’re really good at marketing.

 

The original Twilight Princess came out in 2006 with the launch of the Wii console.  My girlfriend at the time (soon to be wife) tried to buy me a copy of the game and the gentleman at Toys R Us said “We’re all sold out”.  “WHAT?” I said.  “Software never sells out.  Hardware is hard to come by but pressing discs is easy!  How can you run out?”  In the end it didn’t matter, as Nintendo isn’t the kind of company to leave money on the table.  They printed more discs, I got a copy.  The world carried on.

My first play through of Twilight Princess was right after I was married but before we had kids.  I have fond memories of that time.  Many fond memories of sleeping in past 5:30.  Not wiping jelly off my game controllers.  Having time to play.  Perhaps that’s why I look back on this game so fondly.

Twilight Princess is kind of an odd duck.  It has all of the qualities that you’d expect to be present (more realistic graphics, mature story) in the greatest Zelda game of all time, yet somehow it fails to live up to the standard set by Ocarina of Time.  I suppose this game is the proof that we don’t always want what we ask for.  Not that it’s a bad game.  Even an average Zelda game is generally far better than anything else available.  Just in the grand scheme of ranking Zelda games Twilight Princess isn’t in my top 5.

My two boys love Zelda games ( I have taught them well ) so I wanted to make sure to play the game when they could watch.  This policy made it hard to find time to play.  I ended up moving the Wii U to the family room from the bonus room upstairs because I thought it would be more convenient.  It took a lot longer than my first time through the game but I finally finished up in time for the holidays.

So we have come full circle.  My marriage began with Twilight Princess, and now it has brought us closer together as a family.  Even my two-year-old daughter got to enjoy the game this time around (She especially enjoyed Link riding Epona and helping me tap Amiibo figures ).  I’d say that’s money well spent.

  • Is it fun: Yes
  • Score: 8/10
  • Length:  ~40 hours
  • System: Nintendo Wii U
  • Genre: Action / Adventure

StarFox Zero

star_fox_zero_naDate Completed : June 16th, 2016

I never played the original StarFox but I did play the ever-loving-snot out of StarFox 64 back in my college days.  It ranked with Goldeneye, Mario Kart and Smash Bros. for most played game cartridge.  Unfortunately every StarFox game since StarFox 64 (with the exception of Starfox 64 3D which was a remake and doesn’t count) has been in the range of mediocre to awful.  I wasn’t setting my hopes too high for StarFox Zero and when Nintendo bundled a second game (StarFox Guard) in for no additional cost I began to suspect that once again we would have a dud on our hands.

I thought StarFox Zero was a new game in the StarFox series but I had heard rumors that it was a remake of StarFox 64.  It turns out that it’s both new AND a remake.  It’s a reboot of the StarFox Universe with some new mixed in.  The first mission on planet Corneria  will be extremely familiar to anyone who has played StarFox 64 although halfway through the mission it switches into new content.  It’s a bit lazy storytelling-wis but I can appreciate that the world these anthropomorphized animals live in doesn’t lend itself to many story options.  Rabbits, Foxes, Birds and Frogs living together in harmony in a world where there is nothing to fear except giant floating Gorilla heads?  This stuff doesn’t exactly write itself.

So, how is the gameplay then?  Early on Nintendo marketed StarFox Zero as a game that would use the Wii U Gamepad to great effect.  The only effect however is that it makes it incredible difficult to play.  The motion controls do not improve the experience whatsoever and switching between the TV and second screen is incredibly disorienting.  I’d often be piloting myself into walls or buildings with my kids yelling at me that I was near death.  I attribute all of my failures on this game to poorly implemented controls, and not any lack of skill on my part.  It has been said that there is a difference between ‘challenging’ and ‘being hard to play’.  StarFox Zero is the latter.

The only parts of this game that I really enjoyed were the parts where I wasn’t piloting any of the new vehicles, or looking at the gamepad (Essentially only the parts that played like StarFox 64).  It’s a shame because this game really presents itself well, and my kids really enjoyed watching me play it.  If you are not the one stuck fighting the control scheme StarFox is a lot of fun to watch.  If Nintendo released a patch that fixed the problems with the controls I would recommend this game.  In it’s current state I suggest you pass on it.

It’s worth noting that the game also came bundled with StarFox Guard for no additional cost.  I haven’t tried Guard yet and I’m not even sure what it’s about.  It may add a little more value to the whole purchase if you’re on the fence about it, but after playing the main game it’s hard to get too excited about anything else that came in the same box.

Is it fun: Meh
Score: 5/10
Length:  5 hours
System: Wii U
Genre: Action / Rail Shooter

 

 

 

Splatoon

Date Completed: November 2, 2015

Splatoon-Box-Art
I heard about Splatoon from the Nintendo Direct presentations and from the very beginning I thought it looked like a lot of fun.  The whole shooter genre is often ignored on Nintendo platforms for reasons that I won’t speculate on here and this looked like a fun game I could play with the kids.  It just so happened to launch right before my birthday so it was a no brainer to put it on my wish list.

The most unique part about Splatoon is the ink diving mechanic.  You can paint a whole level with ink that you can dive into and swim around in at an accelerated speed.  When I first heard about this mechanic I thought it would be complicated to control but the implementation is actually quite simple.  You can dive into ink to avoid being shot, hide from enemies and bypass obstacles.  It’s a lot of fun and I can see several other games benefiting from this particular mechanic.  Splatoon racing?  Splatoon Soccer?  Splatoon House-Designer?  Maybe not that last one…

Splatoon has a single player mode but it is clearly meant to be a multi-player game.  I could see myself playing a lot of this game if I didn’t have kids, a job or other games to play but these days my time is limited.  I prefer to dedicate my energy towards games that have clear endings, not towards open ended multiplayer games.  I tried a few multiplayer matches which I enjoyed but I haven’t been online in several months now.

I spent most of my time in single player mode. Single player is more of a series of obstacle courses bespeckled with occasional boss fights.  It’s a completely different experience from the online modes but is still quite a bit of fun.  The only down side is that it’s fairly short.  There is also a local multiplayer mode that I tried to avoid playing whenever possible because my kids were awful at it and they would get frustrated if I didn’t stand still in front of them so they could shoot me.

Long story short, Splatoon is a fantastic game.  My only complaint with the game is that after playing for about 30 minutes I kept getting motion sick.  At first I thought I was coming down with an illness of some kind (The kids are germ traps after all) but I quickly realized that I only felt sick after playing Splatoon.  I traced the issue back to the motion controls – I was using motion controls on high sensitivity for aiming because that gave me the best control.  After switching to analog controls I didn’t have any more issues with motion sickness.  I’ve played video games for decades, often in the back of moving vehicles on twisty mountain passes and this is my first experience ever with gaming related motion sickness.  Is this a sign that I’m getting old?  I hope not.

Pros

  • Fun Ink Diving Mechanic
  • Lots of post-release updates / support

Cons

  • Single player mode is lacking.
  • I got motion-sick.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 8/10
Length:  ~10 hours
System: Nintendo Wii U
Genre: Action / Shooter

 

Hyrule Warriors

hyrule_warriors_box_artDate Completed: March 29th, 2015

I wasn’t expecting a lot from Hyrule Warriors when I heard about it.  It was clear from the marketing material that this wasn’t going to be a proper ‘The Legend of Zelda’ game but it contains characters from the Zelda series, which in my book at least makes this game worth a glance.  My first impression was positive – this may not be the Zelda we’ve been waiting for but after seeing Zelda and Link for the first time on the big screen in glorious HD (Wind Waker HD may have been released first, but it doesn’t count) I was ready to forgive this game for any deficiencies.

The most satisfying part about playing Hyrule Warriors is killing dozens of enemies with each mighty swing of your sword.  Each level is full of hundreds and hundreds of enemies that can’t really hurt you and only serve to be targeted by your absurdly powerful combo attacks.  It can be very satisfying to see entire armies fall before your mighty blows, but if that was all there was too it the novelty would wear of quickly.  Fortunately the ‘filler’ enemies aren’t the only bad guys you’ll encounter, there are also stronger baddies that are capable of doing slightly more than dying at the sight of you.  Various bosses from previous Zelda games (such as King Dodongo) also make appearances and they require extended battles ( and usually a specific key item ) to defeat.  Learning enemies’ weak points and defeating them quickly is important so that you can get to the true objectives of each map – controlling the keeps.

Each map has a several keeps which can be captured and controlled by either army.  Bad guys and good guys spawn from the keeps, and capturing keeps can help prevent enemy armies from pushing into your territory.  Most of the strategy of playing the game involves deciding when and where to capture a keep.  While you are attempting to capture a keep on the west side of the map the opposing army may be moving in on the east.  The game involves a lot of running back and forth and balancing between gaining new ground and defending what you’ve already captured.

CI16_WiiU_HyruleWarriors_LinkFightingEnemies_image600w

Link smiting some foes. 

I played almost the entire game with my oldest son who was about five and a half when the game came out.  Two player mode allows one player to use the Wii U Gamepad and another to use the TV.  Back in my college days I adopted a policy of owning my own controller and NO ONE ELSE EVER TOUCHES IT.  This hasn’t always worked out as a viable strategy for the Wii U as the Gamepad is unique to the console.   When my son was playing with me I was stuck squinting at the Gamepad while he enjoyed all the real-estate of the big TV.  My son had trouble navigating around the map by himself but he was able to follow me if I led him to where the battle was taking place.  I mostly let him wander the map taking out random groups of bad guys while I took care of capturing the keeps and moving the missions along.

Some parents may have issue with the level of violence in the game but since it was cartoony and relatively non explicit I was comfortable letting both of my boys watch, even though the game is rated for Teens.  While I was comfortable with the level of violence in the game I was a little less comfortable whenever the main antagonist came on screen.  The primary antagonist ‘Cia’ has been over-sexualized and when she appears on the scene the camera tends to linger on her barely concealed breasts (Killing : OK, Boobs : BAD).  With Team Ninja involved in the development it should have been obvious what kind of content to expect.  The boys didn’t seem to notice or care about Cia whenever she came on the screen but I still tried to complete any missions Cia was likely to appear in when the kids were at Grandma’s house.

Thanks a lot Team Ninja…

The game is easy enough for anyone to play.  I even managed to get my wife to help me with a few levels (which we completed in about half the time as when my son was helping).  My only issue with he game is the lack of variety in the missions.  Once you’ve gone through the exercise of killing thousands of enemies a few times it can begin to feel stale.  Fortunately there are additional modes that keep things interesting and the game has been receiving regular patching that has added capabilities such as Amiibo support and DLC.  While this might not be the Zelda game that we’ve been waiting for, it’s a worthy distraction until the real thing comes along.

Pros

  • Zelda characters in HD!

Cons

  • Missions don’t offer much variety.

Is it fun: Yes

Score: 6/10
Length:  ~12 hours
System: Nintendo Wii U
Genre: Action

 

Skylander’s Trap Team

TTBoxArtDate Completed : Feb. 11, 2015

This will be my first post for a game I didn’t play myself.  When I purchased Skylanders Swap Force my my boys I assumed I’d be playing it and they’d be swapping the characters out but it turned out that on easy mode my 5-year-old was capable of playing on his own.  In fact, he loved Skylander Swap Force so much that when he heard about Trap Team he started saving up his own money.  On launch day we drove over to Toys R Us and he paid for it himself with cash (including lots of loose change) that he had accumulated through chores.

He played Trap Team almost entirely on his own.  The only parts of the game he had trouble with were some of the jumping parts, and the boss fights.  Boss fights could be tricky because it wasn’t always apparent how to damage the boss, and sometimes his go-to strategy of walk in circles mashing attack button of choice was inadequate.

The new ‘Trap Master’ figures look awesome, but the Traptanium plastic is brittle and breaks easily.  I’ve used more superglue on Trap Team figures than on the previous three generations of Skylander figures combined.  We have a new shelf for Skylander figures put next to the TV now so there is a safer storage location between games.

I asked my son for his official review of Trap Team so without further ado here is the transcript of his in-depth interview (May contain spoilers)

Me: “What did you think of Trap Team?”

Henry: “You helped to beat Kaos.”

Me: “Is there anything you liked about the game?”

Henry: “Wildfire has stronger lasers now.”

Me: “Is there anything you didn’t like about the game?

Henry: “I didn’t like the cheese that turned Kaos into a genie.

Super Smash Bros. 3DS / Wii U

SmashBoxAccording to WordPress this is going to be my 100th post! So, congratulations to me.

Super Smash Bros. came out for the N64 when I was in college but it was later in the N64’s life cycle and I had already begun moving away from the N64 as a platform of choice.  I might have never tried the game at all, except some of the gentlemen down the hall were REALLY big fans of the game. I wasn’t especially good friends with the gentlemen down the hall, but they enjoyed gaming and avoiding schoolwork as much as I did so we had a lot of common ground. I played a LOT of Smash with those gentlemen, enough to forge some lifelong friendships and move off campus together the next year (where of course we played even more SMASH).  When the Gamecube came out I bought one and we Smashed even harder. Smash became one of the games that defined my college experience, so it is psychologically impossible for me to not purchase new versions when they are released.

This time around Nintendo released Smash Bros. for two consoles, the Wii U and the 3DS. They are NOT the same game as I originally believed although they do have a lot in common. The roster of characters are identical and many of the levels are the same, but there are unique features to each that make the experience for each game distinctive. The games are NOT cross compatible – you can’t play against a Wii U owner with the 3DS version of the game, although in a somewhat unusual move you CAN use the 3DS as an extra controller for a Wii U.

The game hasn’t changed much since the Gamecube iteration. To get started you only need to learn two buttons – attack and special attack. Pressing in a direction with one of the attack buttons will slightly alter which move is performed. All fighters use the same controls so even if you are using someone new you should be able to get a few hits in. This is in contrast to other fighting games (such as Injustice which I recently reviewed) where all fighters have different controls that must be learned separately. I’ve good results introducing new people to Smash by showing them how to jump, and use the two attack buttons. Both of my boys (Who are 5 and 3 years old) were able to play the game and my 5 year old even managed to beat me once or twice (more on that later).  After learning how to use your attacks, advanced players may learn the other two buttons – block and throw.  These are helpful to know but not entirely necessary for enjoying the game.

Fighting games generally aren’t noted for being fantastic single player experiences and Smash Bros. is no exception.  Fortunately Smash makes up for a somewhat lackluster single player experience by including BUTT LOADS (Figuratively) of different modes that can be enjoyed.  These include (but are not limited to) Classic Mode, All-Star Mode, Street Smash (3DS), Smash Run (3D), Smash Tour (Wii U), Event Smash (Wii U), Special Orders (Wii U) and online battle modes.  Completing each of the modes with each of the 50 playable characters will take a significant time investment.

Fight

You can post screenshots through the Miiverse.

 

So, Smash is great, but what was my experience like?  Well, on the 3DS I played through most of the single player challenges myself and the only achievements I have left are the ones like ‘beat all-star mode with every character’.  I tried a few online matches for fun but never really got into it.  One of my colleagues at work got a copy for Christmas (I bought mine at launch) and we’ve had a few cooperative battles on break, which is a lot more fun than work.  Taking Smash on the road is a lot of fun, but the opportunity to play it doesn’t come up as often as I would like.

The Wii U version of the game is all about the Amiibos for us.  I may have gone a bit overboard with Amiibo fever – I signed up for the Lootcrate Amiibo promotion which netted us most of the launch characters.  My boys both wanted Link’s Amiibo for Christmas ( I couldn’t convinced them to ask for different characters – Link is too awesome ) which combined with the Lootcrate promotions brings our household total to about 13.  I thought the game would be too hard for my boys to play themselves so the Amiibo integration seemed like a good way to get them involved.  It turns out that they are both able to play the game with at least some measure of success and they HATE it when their Amiibo beats them.

My 3-year-old son isn’t entirely sure what he’s doing so he generally stands still while spamming the attack button.  Sometimes he decides he’s controlling a different character than he started with (which doesn’t affect his results any), and sometimes he gets bored and wanders out of the room. My 5-year-old son is a bit more hardcore about it.  He and I have an agreement to not attack each other so I’m often left attacking the Amiibos on my own.  Periodically this strategy results in my older son winning as I take all the damage and he shows up to knock the bad guys off the stage.

You must have JavaScript enabled on your device to view Miiverse posts that have been embedded in a website. View post in Miiverse.

My progress with the Wii U version achievements is a lot slower since the boys insist that we play the 2 minute Smash battles.  I’m OK with that though, it’s a lot more fun than playing alone.  I think Smash will be a popular diversion for the boys and I for a long time.

Pros

  • Lots of playable characters.
  • Single player story mode was enjoyable.

Cons

Is it fun: Yes
Score: 9/10
Length:  ~40 hours
System: 3DS / Wii U
Genre: Fighting