No More Heroes on Nintendo Wii (6/10)

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No More Heroes is a spazzy fighting/action game for the Wii in the vein of say Madworld. It leans very heavily on humor and style rather than any sort of innovative game play. The player’s task is to run around a largely empty open-world city collecting money so that they can pay for your next ranked assassination battle.

As far as the fighting goes, it’s really basic: target-lock an enemy, then mostly hit the A button, sometimes hit the B button, and occasionally dodge with the crosshair button. When your opponent is ready to explode into a shower of blood, swing the Wiimote. It’s not horrible, and is definitely not as frustrating as a Devil May Cry or Bayonetta game, but it is far from the pinnacle of gaming variety.

Where No More Heroes shines is in its self-aware plot and dialogue. Travis Touchdown may be a super-cool assassin, but his reality is mostly that of an Otaku fanboy with anime posters, toys, and a pet cat. The game goes to great lengths to point out how much of loser he really is by having him constantly get embarrassing calls from the video rental store and making his home base a crappy motel room. This stuff is great. I only wish the fighting was a little more fun or the world more interesting to explore.

Cursed Mountain on Nintendo Wii (7/10)

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This “limited edition” version was one of the first games I bought for the Wii. It’s been sitting on my stack of unplayed games since June of 2011. At the time, I didn’t know anything about it beside the fact that it was really cheap (Amazon order history says it was $8.99!). It comes in a tin case (like Metroid Trilogy) and includes a DVD and CD soundtrack. Turns out, I shouldn’t have put it off for so long and it’s actually a decent game.

Okay, it’s decent by Wii standards. That means the usual control annoyances, bland graphics and simple story-lines. What it has going for it is a unique game world and premise. You play a mountaineer in the Himalayas on a quest to find his lost brother who disappeared in a search for a mystical artifact. Climbing and surviving the extreme elements become a critical part of the game as you get closer and closer to the summit and the source of the titular curse. The local religion, customs and culture are weaved in throughout the game. It’s not quite National Geographic the game, but it does manage to avoid the usual survival horror tropes.

The combat is a combination of if Wiimote shooting (hooray!) and waggle control finishing moves (boo!). It isn’t horrible but it gets old quickly. There are a few boss battles, but they don’t really add much variety either. The story is also simple and is told through a series of hand-drawn, slide show cutscenes. Nothing amazing, but there is a nice character payoff in the finale. A lot of potential here, but as it is it’s playable and fun but not earth-shattering.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on Nintendo Wii (8/10)

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Well, this is a Zelda game. The formula has remained unchanged ever since The Ocarina of Time. The princess has been abducted and you must work your way through the various dungeons one-by-one, collecting a new power in every dungeon. Each game in the series introduces a new game-play element. In the case of Skyward Sword that is its (supposedly) precise motion controls.

Skyward Sword requires the use of the Wii MotionPlus controller. While it’s definitely an improvement over other games that have tried to use the standard WiiMote as a sword, you still end up just flailing your arms like an idiot. The key here is to realize that the game is forgiving enough to allow you actually to take your time and be precise for many of the bigger battles.

The motion controls are also a large part of the flying sections of the game. They work well enough, but there really isn’t much fun to be had while flying. It just needlessly lengthens play time as you slowly navigate to the next zone. I found myself abusing the “dive” function as a hacky way to increase my altitude rather than concentrate on manipulating the bird in slow arcs.

Wii frills aside, this is really just a standard Zelda game. Like with the DS Zelda games, I found myself getting bored by the simplistic narrative. On more than one occasion I had to set the game aside and move on to something else for a while. I would eventually return and get a little farther on but there’s only so much un-skippable, insipid dialogue a guy can take.

Now, there are moments of inspired challenge, but for each one of those, there are mini-quests that have you back tracking over finished areas over and over. This was not a bad gaming experience, but Nintendo needs to kick it up a notch. I’m hopeful that Breath of the Wild might break from tradition enough to bring back this once great series.

Red Steel 2 on Nintendo Wii (8/10)

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We are already two generations beyond the Wii and I am still getting caught up on all the games I’ve been wanting to play for years.

Red Steel 2 was the first big title to take advantage of the Wii Motion Plus controller. For some reason, the prospect of a motion controlled sword fighting game was always a big thing. I think Red Steel 2 comes close to fulfilling that nerd dream. It still is a bit of a waggle freak-out during hectic fights, but, when it’s focused, the motion controls work very well. This is a massive improvement on the previous game in the series.

I’m not even sure why this had to be a sequel. The plot and setting have no perceivable connection with the gangster themed original. This game takes place in a steampunk-ish, old-west-but-Japanese setting. It feels a whole lot like Borderlands in tone and art style. After the first few wacky cut-scenes I realized that there was not going to be any sort of coherent narrative. Something about a sword and a guy who wants your sword? Whatever. What matters here is that the game is fun.

As I have stated elsewhere on this Web site, the Wii’s controls are really good when it comes to console FPSs. The movement, shooting and sword controls very natural. Sure the sword strikes could have probably been bound to buttons, but the motions make sense. There should have been dozen of games like this released for the Wii, too bad this came so late in its life-cycle.

Red Steel on Nintendo Wii (5/10)

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I think this was one of the earliest titles on the Wii, and one that was supposed to showcase the new fangled motion controls. If anything, it showcases just how infuriating the waggle controls can be. I actually like the first person shooting setup on a lot of Wii titles such as The ConduitGoldeneye, and Metroid Prime. The shooting controls here a very wonky. You are required move the controller closer to the television to use gun sights and lock on to enemies. You have to waggle the nunchuck to interact with doors and objects. In both cases, just hitting a button would have probably been sufficient. To add to the problems, the game is just downright buggy with tracking aim. Often the cursor would jump to the center of the screen for now apparent reason, like it was losing connection with the WiiMote. Terrible.

Then there’s the sword fights. Again, the waggle controls do nothing to immerse you in to the game and only serve to frustrate and annoy. The timing is all off and my actions often failed to register. I think I threw out my shoulder chopping the controller trying to get to block attacks. I felt like a hype-man at an NYC hardcore show. Unfortunately this wasn’t Snapcase: The Game.

All this takes what could have been a simple yet fun Wii game with an interesting set up, and degrades it into budget bin trash.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 on Nintendo Wii (8/10)

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Well, it took me about half a decade, but I finally finished Super Mario Galaxy 2. I really liked the first one and this is a lot more of the same. There’s a bit of “been there, done that,” in my opinion of the game. A few new additions have been added, like being able to ride on Yoshi and use his tongue like a grappling hook. But, for the most part, this is pure 3-D platforming at about the best it will ever get. Which is to say, yeah it’s pretty good for a not-so-deep game.

As with the original, gravity and orientation are used to mix things up and give everyone in the room motion sickness. Once again, plot is an afterthought that doesn’t serve to motivate players to go farther. In the end, I don’t think I am an OCD enough gamer to keep going in an attempt to find every secret and collect every star. I’ll leave that for the youngsters who seem to have all the time in the world. Those, jerks.

Pandora’s Tower on Nintendo Wii (8/10)

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It’s been quite some time since I’ve played through a game on the Wii. Pandora’s Tower is certainly one of the best looking games on the platform. It follows the standard console action/adventure game formula: a series of areas to explore, a new ability added in each area, and a boss at the end of the section that requires mastery of that ability to be defeated. Wrapped around this is a sappy story of the girl who has been cursed and must now be fed monster guts in order to cure herself. I’m really not one for the Japanese anime-style of story telling, but it wasn’t as horrible and convoluted as the genre can be. I especially liked the scenes of Elena gobbling up gore… well, at least I did the first dozen times I watched that cut scene. The 39th time… not so much.

The unique game play mechanic is your chain weapon. It’s a little bit like Link’s hookshot in that you can use it to grapple around the environments, but its primary function is to bind up monsters and rip them apart. As you do so, you collect more and more chunks of beast-flesh to feed to Elena. The weapon is well-suited for the Wii-mote control scheme: point at a target then jerk the controller back to extract meat and cause damage. The longer you pull against the chain before jerking, the more damage you cause. Ahem, phrasing?

One the key threads of the game’s narrative is your relationship with Elena. There’s a meter running up the side of the screen which gauges her affinity towards you. The way to build your relationship is to keep giving her gifts, chatting with her, and, most importantly, not letting her become a cursed monster by dawdling too long in each castle. I’m sure otaku anime fanboys will love this, but I couldn’t be bothered with what essentially is a dating sim. Because of this, I got a mediocre ending despite all my work ridding the world of end bosses. Now, I should feel challenged to play through again and get the best ending, right? Hell, no! That’s what YouTube is for.

Dragon’s Lair Trilogy on Nintendo Wii (7/10)

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Dragon's Lair Trilogy

It took about twenty years, but I finally beat Dragon’s Lair. That’s twenty years of dying for no reason, guessing moves and general hair-pulling frustration. Dragon’s Lair is not a good game. It breaks just about every rule of good game design. What it does have going for it is beautiful visuals, the novel concept (well, novel for the early eighties) of an interactive cartoon and tons of nostalgia for middle-aged gamers.

The Wii version is, as far as I can tell, identical to the original laser disc version with the added bonus of optional infinite lives, move hints and a special extended cut. The disc also includes the follow-up game Space Ace and the long-delayed sequel Dragon’s Lair II: Timewarp. Both of these follow-ups fix some of the broken mechanics of the original such as moves being more clearly indicated with flashes. Space Ace adds a little variety in choosing your path through the movie and Dragon’s Lair II adds special items which can be grabbed (but which have no apparent effect on the path of the story).

However, there’s not much to make this game appealing to modern gamers. It takes the lamest gameplay mechanic from recent games, the quick-time event, and stretches it out into a giant ball of frustration, repetition and rote memorization. Those of us who grew up in the eighties will enjoy it purely for the nostalgia, and some younger players may get a kick out of just watching the cartoon play out in its entirety without the gaming. Now I want to get a Wii version of favorite laser disc game, Cliffhanger.

A Boy and his Blob on Nintendo Wii (8/10)

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I’m not a huge fan of 2-D platform games. Even modern ones tend to be rather shallow when it comes to story. Rather, these games tend to lean a bit too heavy on item collection as a player goal. This can be a fun challenge, but its appeal is of a more casual, occasional pick-up-and-play type. A Boy and his Blob follows this formula, and more specifically uses the puzzle-platformer tropes laid out by earlier puzzlers like Oddworld or Braid. The focus here isn’t twitchy platforming skills, it’s finding the correct solution for getting from point A to point B. In your toolkit is Blob’a polymorphic alien whose transformations are controlled through the ingestion of various flavored jelly beans. Need to get up one level? Turn Blob into a ladder or a trampoline. Need a weight to hold down a button? Turn Blob into an anvil. You get the idea. There are about a dozen different objects he can become, but you only are allowed access to a few of these powers per level. Towards the end of the game this becomes a real challenge. Beyond that, what this game has going for it is its hand-drawn animation and art direction. Even the universe swallowing enemies are cute and squooshy. Also includes a “hug” button.

Conduit 2 on Nintendo Wii (8/10)

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Fresh off of Goldeneye 007 I am continuing my Wii FPS fix with Conduit 2. Apparently somewhere between 1 and 2 they may have lost the definite article but they gained a sense of self-aware humor. It helps that Micheal Ford is now being voiced by Jon St. John of Duke Nukem 3D fame.

Again, this game is looking about as good as you can on the Wii. The motion controls are very natural feeling (a bit better than Goldeneye in my opinion). The levels are a much less repetitive than the first Conduit game and the enemies offer just about the right amount of challenge for this aging gamer’s reflexes. This is not groundbreaking stuff here, but on the Wii, you take what they give you.