Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Super Mario Bros. U Review

New Super Mario Bros. U

Enjoy it folks.  It and Lego City are pretty much the only worthwhile Wii U games until September.

Vivid, colourful and creative.  Same old same old.  That's not a bad thing, but it's certainly nothing revolutionary.  Everything is well-polished and it looks very good in high definition.
I have noticed some areas of jagged geometry on the world map though; nothing you'd spot if you weren't looking for it but at the same time rather lazy for a game on this hardware.
There are some pretty neat in-level effects, such as fog clouds and whatnot.  Particularly noticeable is the rim lighting that turns up on the walls/floors whenever something luminescent is near them (for instance a fireball, or a Star-powered Mario).  It's an appreciable effect.
The game looks good.  It won't blow your mind visually but it's still quite pretty.

A lot of the staple tunes of the 'New' series return here and...some I feel have overstayed their welcome a bit.  Some of the new tracks are quite wonderful though.  A particular standout is the world map music for Peach's Castle, which is a sinister-sounding remix of the castle's background music in Mario 64.
Just like the graphics, the music is exactly what you'd expect to find.  It's good, but aside from one particular track, it's not super memorable.
Yoshi appears in this game and, a la Super Mario World, hitching a ride adds percussion to the music.  In a nice added bonus, there are Baby Yoshis in the game as well who, when held, add harmonious choir to the music.
The sound effects are the exact same as the previous 'New' titles.
I will say that finishing a world made me smile every time because it ends with a dramatic off-screen explosion of the boss's airship followed by a simple, goofy "YAY!" from Mario.

The same super basic story of all traditional Mario games.  Bowser kidnaps Princess, Mario must save Princess by traversing multiple lands.
There's a bit of very slight formula alteration such as the final castle being Peach's own castle after being seized and altered by Bowser and the koopalings (as opposed to it being a castle that already belonged to them).  Additionally, the final boss of each world is fought on their own airship which you board after completing their respective castle.  These have no effect on the gameplay, but it's nice to seem some minor alterations to how things are approached in what is admittedly a very tired series.
Once again, we're given the Mario 3-style World Map, but certain hidden levels allow for considerable sequence breaking.
Presentation is all around appropriate and pleasing.

New Super Mario Bros. U, of course, plays just like all of the games in the New Super Mario Bros. series.  No drastic controls or physics alterations (none at all, really), and no real surprises.
The new Flying Squirrel Suit is neat and a welcome addition.  It's a well-balanced power-up that's fun to use.  I miss when a new Mario game meant more than just 1 new power-up though.  Several of the power-ups from the previous titles (such as the Penguin Suit and Propeller Hat) return after completing the game as they can be obtained in the secret Star Road world.
The game's overall flow is highly reminiscent of Super Mario World, even featuring a highly similar world map, if traversed in a different order.  The aforementioned hidden levels introduce new paths, and some levels can be completed in interchangeable orders.
One thing you're likely to notice coming into this game if you're familiar with the 'New' series, is that this game is immensely more difficult than its 3 predecessors; and I can't begin to explain how welcome of a change that is.  The New Super Mario Bros. games prior to U, especially 2 on the 3DS, seriously suffer from a lack of difficulty curve.
This game also has a very satisfying final boss (New Super Mario Bros. 2, on the other hand, had probably the most disappointing final boss in the entire franchise in my opinion).
The level design is actually some of the best in Mario history.  Nintendo's basically thrown every they have at the wall to see what sticks with the 'New' series, and U seems to have gotten just about everything good.
Replay value is found in the same Star Coin gimmick as the previous three games.  This isn't a bad gimmick in order to extend the longevity of the game, especially when collecting all the Star Coins in a world unlocks a new, high-difficulty level in Star Road, but I'm still strongly yearning to see some more originality in this series.  Maybe something along the lines of certain items that are hidden that help build something to get you to Star Road.  Or have just one Star Coin per level and have it be a taxing platformer puzzle to get to.  Just...something other than the same trick of 3 of them in, more or less, plain sight per level.
I cannot vouch for the multiplayer as I have no friends have yet to try it out.  I played New Super Mario Bros. Wii multiplayer rather extensively though, so I imagine it's pretty much the same (with the addition of a 5th player who can create platforms on the Gamepad).

New Super Mario Bros. U is the best game in the 'New' series.  It plays exactly like the other games, has the best difficulty curve, has the best level design (in fact, the best level design of traditional Mario games since World), and marginally the best soundtrack and graphics.
If you're not sick of Mario, this is a very good game to have.  If you have not played any of the 'New' Mario games, or have only played 2*, this game is a must-play.

*Can you tell I'm not happy with NSMB 2 yet?  Very bland level design and extremely unsatisfying final boss.  All I have to say about that one.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


It's been far too long.
Let's keep it simple:
-lack of posting due to work and art commissions taking up most of my time
-little to no activity with games or movies leaving me with almost nothing worth posting to this blog

So, why am I back now?  I am putting notes together to write a review of New Super Mario Bros. U as I just beat the game this morning.
I would have loved to do Rayman Legends but Ubisoft went to delayed it until September for no properly justifiable reason.  The demo of that game is available on the Wii U eShop and, in my opinion, it's fantastic and was pretty much the only upcoming Wii U game I was excited for.
I've had considerable Mario burnout after New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS (a game which I was not very satisfied with) but with no Rayman, my brother recommended me to try out Mario U so I did.  He hasn't played as much of the 'New' series as I have but nonetheless I trust his opinion.
It's better than New Super Mario Bros. 2, so it definitely has that going for it.  Full review to come.

In other news, in what little time I had between my current job and the aforementioned commissions, I have been hired by Bardel Entertainment.  I'll be starting my first true career job next month and I am, of course, ecstatic about it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Know That Voice

So, this is actually old news but I want to mention it nonetheless.  I have a lot of love for the world of voice acting and voice actors and actresses themselves. There is an upcoming documentary about the art of voice acting called 'I Know that Voice'.  Trailers above and below.  Enjoy and please support this movie; words cannot express how excited I am to see it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Wii U First Impressions

So, I honestly had no idea if I was going to bother getting a Wii U anytime soon, or at all really.  I was never wowed by it and the most tempting games to me are Scribblenauts Unlimited and Super Smash Bros. "Universe"; both of which are or are going to be 3DS titles as well.  However, a few days ago, after receiving some Christmas money from my parents and checking my bank account to see that my last pay was really quite nice, I decided to treat myself to Nintendo's new toy.
Now, when I moved to Vancouver, I didn't bring any of my Wii stuff with me (console, games, controllers) so that does stifle the Wii U experience a bit, particularly because the only game I have at the moment is Nintendo Land.  I have since sent for my things so hopefully I'll have a more complete experience soon enough.
You may wonder why I used a picture of the Basic Set and not the considerably superior Deluxe Set.  That's because I didn't get a Deluxe one, somewhat to my disappointment, as the Best Buy (3 blocks from where I live, which is awesome by the way) was out of them and I didn't want to wait a week and a half for them to restock.  So, rather than go with the package that came with Nintendo Land, I bought the bare bones set and bought the game on top of it.
Also, I bought a TV to go with it, which is a moderately amusing story on its own.*
So, let's just get Nintendo Land out of the way first.  As I am hundreds of thousands of miles away from the vast majority of my friends, I've only played single-player ventures so far and only on the Gamepad.  Unfortunately, some of the attractions in the virtual theme park are multiplayer-only.  Some others, like The Legend of Zelda Battle Quest, have alternate methods of play depending on whether you use a Gamepad or a Wii Remote.  For that particular attraction, I wish I had my Wii Remotes here since I'd rather play as the swordsman Link than the archer Link.
I'm not sure what game it's based on, if it even is based on a previous game, but the ninja star throwing game is a lot of fun.
All in all, what I've played of Nintendo Land is not exactly impressive.  It's not a bad game by any means but it's not a standout.  It's certainly a much nicer tech demo than Wii Sports was, and that's not to say I didn't like Wii Sports (because I did); Nintendo Land is just much more heavily featured.  Additionally, I absolutely love the concept of a video game being a virtual theme park with attractions based on its own developer's franchises.  I especially like that concept being the premise of a tech demo for a new system, it's just a brilliant idea.

Now onto the beef of this post:  The nightmare that was getting the day one update installed.
If you've paid attention to news on the Wii U, chances are good you already know that there is a mandatory firmware update which the console asks you to download and install right out of the box.  What you may not know is that you can skip it during the initial setup, but you'll still need to get it sooner or later.
I skipped it, preferring to play some Nintendo Land before I worried about all the connectivity and bells and whistles and such.
For most people, this update takes about an hour to download, and you can't do anything with the console while it's downloading it.  For me, the update took an approximate and an accumulative 8 friggin' hours, spanned over 3 days (thankfully the download progress remains when you turn off the console).  I'm honestly not sure what's to blame; whether it's the Wii U's wireless hardware or my landlord's router or something else.  I know I'm not alone but that I'm also in a minority.  Every time I attempted the download, I would get an error message at some point.  More often than not, the error would occur before the console had the chance to download any data.
After exploring dozens of potential solutions through Google to no avail, my only option was to manually resume the download each and every time I got an error.  You know how sometimes you can look at a shadow cast by a static object on a sunny day, not actually notice the shadow moving because of how slow it is but still notice that it has moved because of outside reference points?  That's what watching the progress bar on my Gamepad screen was like.  It moved so slowly, when it wasn't being interrupted, that I could not tell when it was and wasn't making progress.
This equated to very considerable amounts of my free time spent keeping a close watch on my Gamepad screen so as to be able to resume the download ASAP every time it failed to hold a connection.
Basically, prior to the update and speaking strictly in terms of user convenience, my Wii U was a pile of crap.
The happy ending:  Once the update finally finishes, it addresses all of these issues.  Following the initial update, the Wii U can download software in the background allowing you to continue on with whatever else (welcome to 2005, Nintendo).  The downloads will also automatically resume after connection breaks.  And, as a bonus, there's also an option that tells the Wii U to turn off once all downloads are finished, meaning you can comfortably go to work/sleep while leaving it on to finish.

Alright, now let's do some bullet points.
Things I like:
-The Gamepad is very light-weight.  Maybe slightly heavier than a DS and it feels good to hold.
-The Gamepad's camera is not completely abysmal in quality like those of the DSi and 3DS.
-The Gamepad has a headphone jack.  This is sort of a personal perk because I just hate having sound leaking out of my room, especially when my roommates are around.  Having a headphone jack right on the controller is of great convenience to me.
-The touch screen is super responsive.
-The Gamepad can be configured to be used as a remote for your TV.  It's a pretty basic remote setup, featuring number buttons, channel up/down buttons, volume control and input selection, but it's a very nice feature to have all the same.
-There are a lot of things you can do without having the TV on or at the Wii U's input since a lot of the menu navigation and main action happens on the Gamepad's screen.  This means I could be playing some of the Nintendo Land attractions while someone else could be playing, say, Mario All-Stars (as I have both my Wii U and Retro Duo hooked up to the same TV) in the same room.
-The system comes preloaded with placeholders for some useful applications like YouTube, Netflix and the like.
-In addition to move convenient download management, the system update includes a surprisingly fast web browser.
-The web browser has tabbed browsing.  The web browser has tabbed browsing!
-The Gamepad's battery charger has a very long cord so you shouldn't have any trouble getting continued playtime while charging.
-I have not actually tested this but I can only assume it's true based on hearsay from people who would have no reason to lie about the matter:  No more Friend Codes!

Things I don't like:
-The Gamepad's battery life isn't the greatest.
-The aforementioned hell of getting the system update.
-The very fact that there even was a 5 GB system update to download at launch is also pretty damned irritating.  The console should have come with that firmware installed if it was going to be available on launch day.
-The misleading 'Close' button in the web browser.  I have this exact same issue with the 3DS's browser.  When you open the main menu, a 'Close' button comes up.  It's all too easy to mistake this for a button that closes the menu.  It actually closes the browser.  Considering both consoles have a Home button integrated into the hardware which serves the same purpose, this is not only a misleading inclusion but a purposeless one as well.
-Although the browser does have tabbed browsing (yesyesyesyesyes), it does not appear to have a way to open links in new tabs.  You appear to have to open a tab first and then bring it to the URL you want.  Considering how much use my center click gets when I'm browsing, this is extremely tedious for me.
-While I seem to be alone on this, the impact of a Nintendo console having high definition is completely absent to me.  Perhaps it's because the TV I'm using is only 720p, but I'm just not seeing anything that's as beautiful as some of the praise of the system might lead one to believe.
-I want to buy Scribblenauts Unlimited for the Wii U but I already have the 3DS version and they look to be mostly the exact same game.  But...but...I just want the Wii U one and I don't know why.  This was an easier situation to deal with when it came to games like Sonic Colors where the DS and Wii version were totally different games and buying both was perfectly justifiable.

In the end, only time will tell but I think I'll end up being happy with the Wii U once the game selection gets going.  I loved the Wii despite it's rather minimal selection in worthwhile games so I guess I'm not all that picky.

*I had never used the HDMI port on my laptop.  For some reason, I honestly assumed it was an input port and I brought the Wii U home expecting to be able to display it through my trusty Toshiba.  Shortly, I realized my error and promptly rushed back to Best Buy to get the cheapest HD TV I could find.
Incidentally, I had a similar occurrence when I first bought a Wii.  The TV in my bedroom at the time was a rather old hand-me-down from my parents and didn't have AV cable ports.  After bringing the Wii home and noticing I couldn't hook it up, my mother and myself took a trip to...I forget where exactly...and I got a standard definition, 20" brick of a TV that served me relatively well these last 6 years.
But hey, now that I have a TV at my new home, I can finally play my Retro Duo here!  I can actually play my legitimate copy of Super Butouden 3!  That's just so cool to me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Link Figma Inbound

Well, after a frightening month of financial troubles, I'm back on my feet.  I now have a partial management position at a local Mark's and am pretty damn happy with the job.  My first order of business after being hired was to celebrate by preordering this beauty of a toy.
The Japanese Figma line is soon to release a highly articulated figure of Link from The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword.  If you've seen the review I did on Skyward Sword several months back, you know I absolutely loved it and absolutely love the Zelda series in general.
The fact that this even exists, along with the previously released Figma of Samus from the Metroid series, is quite shocking.  Nintendo usually keeps a very tight grip on their licenses and thus getting figures of their characters with even decent articulation is almost a lost cause.
Although, Nintendo might actually be letting up a bit since not only have their characters gone to the Figma line, but a few also appeared in the recent movie Wreck-It Ralph.  A fantastic movie by the way but I'll get to that some other time.
For now, this is just a heads up that this thing exists and it looks awesome.  Link is supposed to be released sometime next month and I believe he is still available for preorder on  Samus is already released but I don't know offhand if she's still in stock anywhere.

Friday, October 26, 2012

TMNT 2012 Thoughts

You may be aware that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have recently received their newest television revival in the form of a computer animated cartoon on Nickelodeon.  I've never been a really big fan of the franchise but I've always had some interest in it so I decided to give it a shot.  I'm now caught up with all 5 episodes that have aired and have some thoughts I'd like to share.

What I like:
-The animation.  It's good.  It's skillfully done, it follows all of the principals most of the time and, when it doesn't, it's clearly intentional; dropping fluid animation specifically for the sake of comedic emphasis, and it works.
-The turtles' designs.  For the first time, all 4 turtles have totally unique bodies; they aren't just recolours of the same model.  They each have their own height and body type, and each part of their body is uniquely molded.  They even have character specific battle scars, such as Raph having a prominent crack his left pectoral shell.
-The stories.  The 2003 series hit a really good balance of still being a goofy Saturday morning kid's cartoon on one hand, while still treating it's audience with a bit of respect and having a lot of well-written story arcs.  So far, the new series seems to be doing that pretty good as well.  There haven't been any real arcs per se, but the episodic stories are well-told.
-The voice acting.  The first time I watched the 2003 series, I was really thrown off by Raphael's voice; seeing one of the Ninja Turtles and hearing a voice that deep coming out of him was really strange.  I quickly got used to it and ultimately really liked it in the end, but that initial awkwardness still stuck in my mind.  That's not the case in this show.  Each of the turtles sound very much like what you would expect to hear out of their appearance; Raph isn't super-gruff but he's still a hothead and still sounds the part.  Donatello, played by Rob Paulsen, is a particular standout; he's fantastic in the part.
-The character interactions.  While exaggerated in the manner of most children's cartoons, the banter between the turtles feels very genuine.
-Some of the humour.  There's a couple gags I'm not fond of (more on that below) but there are a handful of jokes in the show so far that are actually pretty funny.

What I don't like:
-The villains.  3 of these first five episodes have centered on a group of villains called The Krang.  If you're familiar with the 80's cartoon, and certain parts of the 2003 cartoon, to a lesser extent, you'll recognize that as the name of a single villain from them.  In the 80's cartoon, Krang was a secondary villain to Shredder.  He was an alien-brain-thing with a humanoid robot body.  The Krang in the new series are a large organization of alien-brain-things with humanoid robot bodies.
As for why I don't like them...they're boring.  They have an overly robotic way of talking (things like 'We must go to the place that is not the place that we are in because it is the place that we must be.') which, while I understand that it's meant for child-oriented comedic effect, gets really annoying.
-Mikey's running gag of naming villains and other things.  5 episodes in and this exact same, lame joke has been done 3 times:
Mikey: "It's Spider Bites!"
Others: "..."
Mikey: "Y'know, 'cause he's a spider and he bites--"
Others: "We get it!"
That's not the exact dialogue but the point is it's not funny, it makes me cringe, and it's a recurring theme.
-Anime expressions.  While it's not super-exaggerated, the turtles will often times adopt certain expressions that are staples of anime in response to some situations (usually in response to insults or fear).  I don't mind the concept of their facial features changing for the sake of expressions like that, it just bothers me that I can almost pinpoint exactly what anime the animators were watching when they decided to include those expressions (hint: it's Naruto).  If they had been more original with the (and I hate to use this term) cartoony expressions, it would have been better.
-April's design.  Not much to say about her, she just looks awful.  Her design looks like something rejected from the early production stages of a Pixar film.  She barely looks like something I'm supposed to think is a human being.  I'd say it couldn't be much worse but then I looked at her upcoming toy...
-The theme song.  Uuuugh.   The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" chant sounds just fine but the rap interludes are abysmal.

If the first 5 episodes are a good sample to go on (and they probably should be), it's a pretty good show and I think I'll try to keep up with it.  As of now, I think the 2003 series will probably remain my favourite but the new show definitely has the potential to change my mind.  If you haven't already, give it a shot.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lickle Samson!

I want to talk about a game I recently discovered...
Lickle!  I mean, Little Samson!  I mean, Lickle Samson!

Samle Litson is an NES platformer from 1992 and basically was made by a team of programmers who had recently left Capcom.
I'm not going to waste any time building things up; this game is amazing.  Pixel-perfect platform, beautifully-done 8-bit graphics, super-polished controls, wonderful level design and great diversity in the gameplay.  You take control of 4 separate characters, the titular Little Samson/Lickle, Gamm the Golem, Kikira the Dragon and K.O. ...the mouse!
Each of the 4 characters has unique abilities and you'll be guaranteed to use all 4 of them in any given level (following the 4 intro levels where you have to play as them separately).  The levels are all planned in a way that each character has a section where they're the best choice.
Lickle can jump high, shoot magical bells (..yeah), and climb on walls and ceilings.  K.O. can also climb walls and ceilings, move through small passageways, and, despite having the least health, has the strongest attack:  Bombs.  The mouse uses bombs.  Aw yeah.
Gamm moves really slow but can walk on spikes, has the most health, and can attack upward and (when jumping) downward.  Kikira can fly for about 5 seconds (similar to Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Bros. 2), shoot fireballs in spurts of 3 that 'swish' upwards and charge her fireball up to deal more damage.
Throughout the game, you will find health bar upgrades that you can use to extend each character's life.  Each character has his/her own max health bar length so, even maxed out, the characters are still pretty balanced.
There's a lot to say about the game but to keep it simple, this game is a ton of fun.  Play it.